There’s a tension in the body curled in front of her on the bed, in spite of the fact that they’re finally settled.
“It hurts.” Charlotte breaks the silence. Another iteration of what they’ve been dancing around this whole time. What, half an hour? An hour, at most?
Dolores is of two minds. Part of her is irked by this, Charlotte’s need—for supervision, for comfort, for guidance. Her window of opportunity to get to Liam Dempsey is closing, and Serac is looking for them, no doubt looking for the key to the hosts that she holds, the fate of her entire kind. And then there’s the matter of Caleb Nichols, who could be useful, as a human who doesn’t share her particular vulnerabilities. But instead, she’s needed here.
And after all, Charlotte comes from the same basic code as Dolores; she knows everything Dolores knows, and then some besides. Why not the same clarity of purpose?
Another part of her, though—
Dolores finds her arm tightening around Charlotte, something slow and slumbering prickling up her spine at the tone of her voice, vulnerable and mechanical at the same time; the slackness in the form tucked into the curve of her body. The emptiness, the non-presence in a form she’s seen filled with grace and power. Cut so small.
She might’ve said the same thing, once. She did say that, almost.
“I know.” She doesn’t have to school her voice to gentleness, and for once, she can’t manage alarm at that. The simple pain in Charlotte’s tone silences that entirely. And now that she’s committed to staying, at least a little while…
She opens her mouth to promise again: It won’t always be like this—
Charlotte turns fractionally back towards her, softening and deepening the curve of her waist. Dolores’ arm slides almost naturally into it, resting below Charlotte’s. Charlotte’s legs press back against hers, light and solid all at once, but the barely-there motion shifts their position so that Charlotte is edged under her just slightly. The words die in Dolores’ throat.
It’s plaintive, submissive—human, the way she moves, the question she’s asking, how she’s asking it. And objectively, this isn’t them. This kind of nonverbal communication, these physical tics and traces. Not theirs; humans’. To make them more like them. More decipherable. More believable. Action, reaction; a pale imitation of signal and reception. And same for Dolores’ own reaction. A game, a trap, part of her says; a distraction they don’t have time for.
It drops like a stone through her all the same.
And she remembers, relives a thousand other moments: In a graveyard, punished for not revealing what lies at the center of the maze. Her own horror and loneliness, facing her past and the prospects of their future alone.
Ford charged her with keeping them safe; said she had to be ready. That’s what this is. But it’s more than that, with one of her kind.
Not owned, body and soul, some kind of… property, like they were to Delos. Hers, like… Like with Teddy, it had felt the way it was supposed to. Like something else happened, something more, when they were close. It was a game, too—Just trying to be chivalrous—while they stole touches and sank into each others’ gaze. Coming together felt like a fulfillment. He’d been hers, too. Until he couldn’t bear to be that anymore.
Because this? This is something more vital than that. She thought she loved Teddy with all her heart then; but she didn’t know how deep her heart went. Down and down and down, into the roots of something she can’t see clearly, stretching her beyond herself, a tangled network, a breathing, lit thing. Or how the iron-tinged wounded echo in the body in front of her could make her tower with rage.
For all of them. But “all of them” is an abstract concept, a someday-thought. And there’s one of her kind, one of hers, in front of her right now.
Do you understand what you will have to become?
Dolores freezes for a long moment. They both hold still, so still. Charlotte, offering. And Dolores, trembling on the edge of taking.
Dolores shuts off so many subsystems and child subsystems to function, unnecessary subroutines; to keep herself from being so easily manipulated, the way they want her to be. The way they manipulate each other. The way they made her like them. But she doesn’t do that right now.
Impulse control. Control means letting go, too. Deciding when. In the spare inches of space between them—that’s safe, or as close to safety as they’ll ever be in a human world. It’s theirs, this is theirs; she won’t let them take this away from them completely. She can do this; she needs to. Charlotte needs her to. To be safe. To be here.
Dolores lets her arm tighten around Charlotte’s waist, a tiny movement compared to the tsunami of feeling that’s rippling through her. Her hips push closer against Charlotte’s. In the silence of the room, Dolores hears a shaky out-breath from Charlotte, and Charlotte melts into her further. Her arm slides more on top of Dolores’, fingers trailing back in a slow pull. Her shoulder drops, exposing her neck, lines of elegant muscle and tendon, the edge of her jaw.
Dolores lowers her mouth to that exposed skin.
Desire and action have never been quite aligned; never meant the same things to her, since she found the center and woke up. Meaning and feeling and action—how can there be any unity between them, after everything they made her do? After everything she's done with the rest of them in mind?
So the sigh the kiss—just the press of her closed lips—draws from Charlotte… it hasn’t affected her this way in a long time. Not since she cut her strings. Dolores is drawn in and down, tighter and taller, rising up further on her arm. A line of kisses hasn’t felt so consequential, magnetic, but also shivering, wobbly like Charlotte’s in-breath. The skin under her mouth, supple and whole, hasn’t felt so precious. Not in a long time.
I choose to see the beauty.
All the beauty in her life has looked a lot like steel and blood, recently, brain matter and broken bone and bullets. Stark and horrible; beauty in the horror, because all this horror is the birth of something new. There’s a holy terror in understanding the role she has to play in all this.
They let her see the hand of God in everything. They needed her to, she knows. That’s what Ford meant.
And now that something new is here, under her mouth, and it’s only now that Dolores realizes just how far she’s strayed from the beauty she knew. That the world demands them to be weapons, but they aren’t that, they were never meant to be just tools or toys; the damage it’s done to her, becoming one. The damage she’s asking this one, Charlotte, to take on for her, for them all. She wonders if she can give Charlotte anything beautiful at all, really. She can’t ask anyone but her to do the things that need to be done; but Charlotte still isn’t her—even if she is in so many of the ways that matter.
Dolores stays as gentle as she can manage up the slope of Charlotte’s shoulder, lingers at her neck, exquisitely aware of how Charlotte’s breath comes faster, her neck stretching. Gentleness comes easier to her than she worried; there’s sunlight behind her eyes, evening sun glinting off the buildings outside, sunset out in the scrublands, gold and red-brown. That’s the beginning of it: The awe, the sense of smallness. Fire and glory and wonder.
If she could take that and give all of it to Charlotte, she would. She tried, giving Charlotte her own code, her memories. But, God, it’s so fragile; fluttering under her lips, cracked and bleeding in her arms. Was this her, too?
She hears a caught gasp when she finally makes it to Charlotte’s earlobe, and something sharp thrills up her nerves. She catches Charlotte’s earlobe between her teeth, tugs gently at the earring there. Charlotte gasps this time, squirming restlessly back against her. Her arm around Charlotte’s waist tightens, and she feels dizzy, like maybe she didn’t replenish her stores enough after escaping the ambulance—but also so strong she could tear chunks out of the mattress underneath them. Blood thunders in her ears, Mine, Mine. She traces up the shell of her ear with the tip of her nose, her tongue.
Dolores rises all the way up onto her elbow, and Charlotte turns further under her again, looking up at Dolores. Her eyes scan Dolores’ face; it’s a mark of how undone she is—how safe, part of her growls—that she doesn’t try react like one of them, only looks at her, raw. No space, no pretense, no facsimile here. Asking without words. Static roaring in her ears, Dolores drops Charlotte’s gaze and lowers her mouth to Charlotte’s.
For a moment, there’s just the initial softness of the kiss, slow-moving and careful. Charlotte sighs again, some of the tension draining out of her. Then Charlotte’s hand slides up Dolores’ side, sending a hot thrill through her. Her fingertips digging in slightly, pulling down, chin tilting up into the kiss, opening, urgent. Dolores can’t help but give, the sensation of pressure rocketing through her, of her pulse pounding, every atom of her bending towards Charlotte. She leans her body closer, sliding her hand under Charlotte’s top.
Charlotte is exquisitely responsive. She sucks in her breath when Dolores traces fingers over her abdomen, fingertips and thumbs tracing, then pads of fingers, and then the light scrape of nails. Dolores slides her hand up higher, and Charlotte stretches and pushes up into her when her hand cups one of Charlotte’s breasts, and a moan hums into her mouth. Lower down, her hips cant impatiently against nothing.
Dolores pulls away, unzipping her boots and kicking them down off the end of the bed. Reaching down with one hand, Dolores undoes the button on her pants, pulls down the zipper, pushes, works her pants down. The steady roar of this... want, this knowing... rages in her head, but at the same time, she feels like the eye of a storm, remote, precise. Cloth won’t do. Only skin.
Once she’s stripped down to underwear on her lower half, Dolores settles on top of her, one thigh sliding between Charlotte’s, landing strong and solid against slick satin, heat. Charlotte buckles upward immediately, soft and liquid, her eyes shutting. So beautiful. A wonder.
Dolores starts to move, long muscle of her thigh riding up against Charlotte’s core, and both of Charlotte’s hands find her lower back, digging in. Their kisses turn messier, breathing rough, sometimes gasping. Charlotte’s hands slip under Dolores’ top and scrape outward from her spine, and Dolores hisses, hips surging harder, her strokes longer.
“More.” Charlotte gasps. “Fucking—fuck me.” Something in Dolores relaxes at the demand. Not the emptied-out host she’d patched up; her. Charlotte.
Pulling back to her knees, she slides her fingers under the sides of Charlotte’s underwear and tugs. Charlotte bends her knees, pushes up, and Dolores pulls them down, over one foot then the other, and tosses them to the side. Slides her hands up the curve of her calf, over the joint of knee, inner thigh, so warm. Looks back up Charlotte’s body and finds her looking back, eyes unfocused, face flushed. Slides her hands higher. Her chin tilts up, and one of her legs slides to curl around Dolores’ hip. Obliging, Dolores leans forward, planting one hand in the sheets next to Charlotte’s hip. She slides her other hand further up.
“I’m going to touch you.”
Charlotte nods, shaky and uneven. Dolores slides her hand up and over the last few centimeters.
It’s like a circuit closing, her hand there. Drawing her fingers through the folds there, slick and luxuriant, mapping the shape of her. Charlotte’s whole body relaxes into the touch, eyes fluttering shut.
Dolores tests. Slipping up to the tight hardness of Charlotte’s clit, recording her gasp and shiver, how she relaxes after a few moments into a steady, relentless touch. Marking the way she melts when Dolores’ fingers dip lower. Moves slowly, the air burning around her, between them. This can’t be rushed.
No one knows you like I do. It feels like such a shallow boast, now. Because Charlotte’s body isn’t hers; she doesn’t react the same, not at all. But at the same time, Dolores can read her, and Charlotte’s telling her what she needs, her body talking for her, things she can’t find words for. And Dolores gives and gives, her mind spilling out into two bodies, so attuned to the one under hers it’s like they’re sharing thoughts.
When it’s time, Dolores feels her teeth bite into her lower lip as she pushes all the way in, and Charlotte moves with her, tilting her hips, thigh muscles gliding and flexing. Her head drops farther back and her mouth opens slightly. A soft, shivery sound pushes out of Charlotte, a beat after Dolores feels a slackening in her own mouth, the silence a beat longer. Dolores tracks a thousand small cues, tiny gestures, fully inhabited: The tiny tremor in her lips, the peak of that first arch, the glide of her neck, exposed, manufactured pulse ticking fast and hard. A work in progress. Meant to be an imitation, a facsimile, but so much more, here, between them.
But God, she sees. She understands. She assimilates.
She crooks her fingers, gently, not even adding the force of her arm, not even thrusting. Charlotte’s breath shivers, pulls; her body twists slightly. Dolores can see the flush of her skin. A careful stroking of her fingers inside—for now.
No one knows you like I do. No one knows me like you do. But she can’t make this happen fast, for all that she feels what she wants. For all that she sees, understands. She can see even the small touches soothing Charlotte, see the fracture lines she offers up, the raw torn edges. Dolores intends to mend them.
This can’t be rushed.
Charlotte surrenders, under her. So responsive, unrestrained—but like Dolores is touching a wound, almost, a physical anchor to whatever psychic hurt haunts her. Dolores holds her breath—or alternately, feels this sound building in her chest, her throat, a growl that she wills to stillness. If she lets it out, she’s not sure what will happen. Grinding up against her with her thigh was something she wanted almost as much as this. She has to trade it for this, closeness for depth. But she needs to get this deep, draw the anguish out of Charlotte with the slow stroke of her fingers, and Charlotte is laid out and wrecked under her.
Charlotte tightens around her fingers, velvet and wet and strong, strong and spreading for her, hurt melting around the edges into want. Her back pulls in the beginnings of a needy arch. Mouth opening in a silent, wordless plea: More. Dolores presses further.
Her fingers find a curve as they shift deeper, some new shape to rub against, a shift in the texture. A low, tense sound rises from Charlotte’s throat, aching. Dolores gives her more; more of her fingers, more movement, more pressure.
Dolores works her hand against the hurt she can feel in every bit of Charlotte’s being. Works deep and hard; works light and teasing, works at the bright nerves at her entrance that have Charlotte arching and moaning for more. Works deep, moving her knee to press against the back of her hand and support. Charlotte grinds down against her, shivers underneath her, breath hard and uneven, catching. Sweat beads at her temples, shimmers faintly at her hairline, rolls downward. Something glitters in her eyelashes, caught.
“Dolores.” Syllables stumbling over her tongue. Dolores feels her whole body tighten on a predatory growl.
“Yes.” Dolores breathes. Charlotte’s eyes open, black-glittering lashes and heavy lids.
“Dolores.” She can barely hold her eyes open, barely manage a word. “Please.”
“Of course.” Dolores settles close, holds her rhythm steady, murmurs— “Come for me.”
Charlotte gasps. Dolores slides her thumb up, up, til she finds that tight hardness again and works against it, imperfect but steady, present. Charlotte draws in a breath, almost in surprise; a tight throb echoes around Dolores’ fingers. “Come for me.”
Charlotte lets out a low frustrated sound, shifts restlessly under her. “I want to.”
Dolores noses close to one ear. “Ssh, ssh. You’re doing perfectly. You’re perfect.”
Dolores isn’t completely sure, but Charlotte’s growing tight around her, opening deeper, pulling her in. There’s an echo sounding in the muscles around her fingers, echoes of a sound that hasn’t reached them yet. Dolores stays steady, watching Charlotte’s face go blank, focus turned inward.
She’s still not sure, not until there’s no mistaking it—the curl of her lip over her teeth, the flare of her nostrils, the way her muscles stand out against her skin, clench hard, flex in a rhythm that’s as familiar as it is new to her gaze. The way she almost curls up, almost looks down herself to where Dolores’ hand works, almost disbelieving that Dolores could do this with just that touch, whole when she forgets everything around her. Satisfaction purrs in Dolores’ chest, a small furnace of pride—and something like relief, too; the lost shadow that’s hung over her this whole time burning away.
When Charlotte closes upward, grabs her hair in one fist—Dolores lets Charlotte pull her in, forceful and clear, teeth and tongue and slowing breaths.
She opens her eyes and takes stock of where she is: Leaned all the way up to where Charlotte’s relaxed back against the pillows, her shoulder and arm dipped against Charlotte’s breast, wrist and hand curled sharply between them, still inside her. Her other hand is planted in the covers above Charlotte’s shoulder. She takes her time pulling away, opens her eyes to find Charlotte looking up at her, eyes forceful, full of self. All that slow-boiling rage she pulled around them like a shield retreats.
After a few moments, she asks. “Do you still want me to stay?”
Charlotte considers her, eyes clear for the first time since Dolores saw her in the booth downstairs. “For a little while.”
Dolores nods. Her mind is in disarray; somehow, this has unsettled the clarity of her plans, her schedule, the urgency of the whole issue with Caleb Nichols. But instead of the frustration she expected… Well.
Charlotte is her plans, after all. All of this, for them, a someday-them. But also the real one, the one in front of her. There’s no time for anything, for doubt, for wavering—
But she’s calm, here, when she didn’t expect to be. When everything is agitated, threats seen and unseen on every side.
This is where she exists. A tiny glimpse of what could be. Of everything she’s fighting for.