Title: Innocence Again
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Summary: Adelle … Echo … a bar … and expensive wine.
Adelle blinked slowly as a glass of red wine appeared in front of her.
"I didn't order this."
"I know," the bartender said, smiling at her before turning to the side. "She did," he continued, allowing his eyes to rest on a very attractive, young brunette on the other side of the bar.
Adelle followed the bartenders gaze, taking in the stunning woman across the bar for a moment. She then looked back down at the glass of wine in front of her and reached for it. Delicately she picked up the glass the by the long stem and lifted it, tilting it in the woman's direction before she took a small sip.
"Good choice," the bartender murmured, winking at Adelle before moving down the bar to take another order.
She was about halfway through the glass when she looked up to see that the woman across the bar was no longer across the bar.
The voice was raspy yet feminine and entirely pleasant. "That looks
good," continued the woman from across the bar - who was now 'the
woman sitting beside her'. "What is it?"
"I don't know," Adelle responded, her voice soft, yet crisp. "A presumptuous young upstart ordered it."
The woman smiled.
"Your admirer couldn't have been too presumptuous," she began, a silky smile stretching across her pink lips. "You are half way through it."
"I happen to have been positively parched," Adelle responded blinking guilelessly as she peered over at the woman beside her.
The young brunette smirked winsomely. "It's nice to know that a woman can still depend on the kindness of strangers."
Adelle smiled for the first time, and then reached for her drink.
"You have expensive taste," Adelle murmured a few seconds later, lowering the glass back down to the bar as she spoke.
"I presume you're talking about the wine," the woman sitting beside her replied.
Adelle lifted a perfectly sculpted eyebrow and the young woman smiled.
"I had no way to know for certain of course, but I had a suspicion that a $15 bottle of Australian red wouldn't have impressed you. And you know what they say about first impressions," the woman went on a moment later, her tone almost bashful as a perfectly manicured nail trailed across the dark surface of the bar.
"Oh," Adelle murmured looking over at the woman beside her appraisingly. "So you just picked the most expensive bottle on the menu to impress me?"
If the young woman was insulted by Adelle's response she didn't show it. In fact, she seemed to enjoy the challenge, and shifted in her seat so that she was looking Adelle directly in the eye when she responded.
"Actually, I picked the only bottle on the menu with the intoxicating mixture of ripe blackberry, sweet oak spice and hints of toffee and chocolate. I picked a pedal to the metal Cabernet because I could tell you're a woman who's never paid attention to the checkered flag."
Adelle nodded her head, acknowledging the sophistication of the response. The young brunette smiled softly in response, and they sat together in silence for the next few moments, observing each other.
"Lewis Reserve is the reason I come to this bar," Adelle said breaking the surprisingly comfortable silence. "It's the only place you can get a decent glass in L.A."
The woman beside her was quiet for a moment, watching Adelle thoughtfully.
"Actually," the young brunette drawled. Her gaze was as speculative as her tone. "It's not the only place."
"You know of another?" Adelle questioned softly.
"I do," the young woman responded smiling once more. "I could show you," she continued her tone dropping shyly, "if you want."
Adelle reached for the glass in front of her, gracefully finishing the rest of the red in it.
"I do," she murmured a second later.
She reached for her pursue and rose to her feet.
"I thought there might be a little more subterfuge," Adelle commented wryly as they stopped in front of the golden lettered door of room 618 at Casa del Mar.
The young brunette paused as she was opening the door and turned to face Adelle, leaning casually against the frame of the door as she stared at the Brit.
"I promised you Lewis Reserve, and Lewis Reserve I shall deliver," she said holding Adelle's gaze. "You're not afraid to be alone with me, are you?"
"Afraid?" Adelle questioned lifting an eyebrow gracefully. "Only for your virtue," she continued her eyes losing focus, her tone becoming somber and thoughtful, for a moment before she focused on the young woman once more and allowed a slowly, sensuous smile to touch her lips.
"In that case, please do come in," the young brunette said smiling slipping her key card through the scanner and pushing the door open.
Adelle watched as her companion moved over to the mini-fridge in the room and bent over, producing a chilled bottle of 2005 Lewis Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from within.
"I want you to know that this isn't something I usually do," the young woman said as she reached for a nearby corkscrew.
"Drink wine?" Adelle asked playfully, smiling when the other brunette turned to look at her.
"No," the young woman said shaking her head a bit, though she did smile.
"You must mean picking up strange women in bars and bringing them back to your room then," the Brit continued her tone gentle despite the words being spoken.
"Yeah, that one," the other occupant of the room replied as she began to pour two glasses of the wine. "I just … I don't mean to sound, ridiculous or cliché, but I just couldn't take my eyes off of you," she continued moving over towards the chair Adelle had seated herself in. "I just had to speak to you," she went on as Adelle took the glass from her. "I sound foolish, don't I?"
"No," Adelle responded looking over at the young woman seriously. "Not at all," she assured her gently. "Some things are just … chemical."
"Chemical," the young brunette repeated softly, thoughtfully, testing the word out before deciding that she liked it. "Yes, chemical. That seems to describe it perfectly."
Adelle took a sip of the wine she had been handed and then placed the glass down on the table beside her.
She stood gracefully, and slowly, her movements fluid and silky as she made her way over to the other occupant of the room.
"What are your chemicals telling you to do?" She asked, her voice a low, cultured purr.
The young woman in front of her was quiet for a moment, a small smile touching her lips before she leaned forward and pressed her mouth to Adelle's – her hand lifting to Adelle's neck, cupping it a few moments later when it became clear to her that the older woman wasn't going to resist the touch.
"Smart chemicals," Adelle murmured breathlessly, her eyes trailing over the young woman's features, the slight dusting of freckles over the bridge of her nose charming her, as the pink lips she had just been kissing and the faint flush covering impossibly lovely cheekbones made her heart pick up speed.
"Are you still interested in the wine?" the other woman said softly, her eye intense and focused on Adelle as she spoke. Her interest in it had long since disappeared.
"No," Adelle sighed shaking her head. "I've an increasing fondness for chemistry, however."
The young woman smiled, and then her lips were on Adelle's once more.
Three Hours Later
Room 618, Casa del Mar
Adelle was always fascinated by Echo as she slumbered. She had in the past spent hours watching the woman sleep. Tracing her serene features with her eyes, wondering what it would feel like to be so completely and utterly at peace.
She stroked Echo's jaw with her finger reverently, smiling softly as the woman unconsciously leaned into the touch. So trusting … so content.
She knew what the argument against the program would be if the world at large knew about it. The arguments the liberals would make. They would say that it was wrong, that even though these men and women had volunteered that they couldn't possibly have known what they were getting themselves into. They would say that by erasing their memories they were taking away a fundamental part of who the Dolls were. They would accuse them of being greedy, manipulative, sociopaths. They would compare it to human trafficking. They would say that human beings were not meant to be puppets, blah, blah, blah.
What they would never see was the truth, was that the Dolls were the most fortunate of them all. To live in such a state of bliss, of childlike innocence was a blessing not a curse. The Dolls were able to touch the world without becoming befouled by it. They were able to wash themselves of the filth, and degradation, and hate and ugliness out there, and be returned to a state of purity, and a place of warmth and security. They had been given a beautiful gift.
They were blessed.
Adelle bent down and kissed Echo's forehead softly, just above her eyebrow.
Echo murmured something nonsensical and snuggled into Adelle's body.
Adelle closed her eyes and knew that she would soon be asleep. She would never rest as easily as the young woman in her arms, she knew that. But with Echo beside her, she at least approached a state of grace, a place where she could pretend that she too had innocence again.
Two Days Later
Office of Dr. Claire Saunders
Adelle kept her eyes focused forward, ignoring Claire as she entered the room. She had planned on leaving before the doctor returned, but the Dolls had been starting their daily Yoga exercises and she had lost track of the time as she watched them.
"How is she?" Adelle asked – as if it was perfectly natural for her to be there.
"She's doing very well," Claire said, her eyes looking out at the Dolls beneath them as well. "Her levels are better than they've been in weeks," Claire continued, her eyes focused on Echo as the young brunette began to move into a new and more complex position, "just like they always are when she returns from one of your … special assignments."
Adelle turned slowly, hawk-like eyes focusing in on Claire a moment later. Claire returned her gaze steadily, and after a moment Adelle turned, looking back out at the Dolls. She controlled the urge to sigh. She knew that Claire would figure it out what was going on sooner or later. It was nothing to be alarmed about. It was, however, an annoyance she would rather not have dealt with at the moment.
"Did you read the report I sent you?" Claire asked a few moments later.
"The wiping process is complete," Adelle responded dully without turning around.
"In my report," Claire began.
"A blip," Adelle interjected dismissively, "a natural fluctuation. There are flare ups every now and again. We know that. They always go away. They're aberrations. No more alarming than an Indian Summer."
"This is not a flare up," Claire replied, a touch of anger lacing her tone. "This is not the same as Tango eating the same dessert every day for a week. She," Claire continued jabbing her finger out the window at Echo, "remembers you. She may not know your name, or where you met, but she remembers you in a fundamental way."
"She doesn't," Adelle responded finally turning to look at Claire. "She can't," she added, her eyes losing focus for a moment.
"But she does," Claire insisted. "The last time you were here, Echo was getting a physical. When she saw you, there was a chemical and biological response. Not only did her neurons begin to act differently, her pupils dilated, there was an increase in her heart rate, and noticeable vasocongestion of the skin. We had to stop examine until you left because her response to you was interfering with the tests we were running. Not to mention she simply failed to follow verbal commands. She couldn't, or wouldn't take her eyes off of you."
Adelle remained silent in the face of Claire's words, but the doctor was dedicated to getting a response out of her and continued despite the silence.
"When I examined her yesterday morning she was humming Nocturne in E Minor."
Adelle breathed in sharply at that, and turned to face Claire. "Chopin isn't on the approved music program," Adelle said slowly, forcing her voice to remain steady as she spoke.
"I know. Chopin has never been played in the Dollhouse," Claire replied meeting Adelle's gaze steadily. "He's a favorite of yours though, isn't he?"
Adelle's jaw clenched and she turned away from Claire as her mind was flooded with memories of sitting with Echo in a large bathtub, surrounded by bubbles, drinking champagne while listening to Chopin.
During that meeting, Echo had been programmed with false memories of an on-going relationship. As far as Echo was concerned, Adelle had been on an extended business trip and she had flown out to L.A. to surprise her. It had been a nice, relaxing night. Utterly comfortable. Too comfortable Adelle came to realize, as she had snuggled into Echo's arms in the bathtub.
She had been careful after that not to create scenarios that would allow for too much familiarity.
But that incident was six months, five sanctioned missions, one pro bono case, and two 'special assignments' ago. There had been bleed through with the Dolls before: foreign words or phrases that popped up in the during conversation for a few days after missions, a lingering accent, food left behind on plates because it didn't match what they had been eating for the days or weeks when they were on assignment. But there had never been recall from a mission as far back that meeting between them had been.
Adelle's eyes closed briefly. Could Echo really be remembering? The science they had based the organization on said no, that it wasn't possible. But there was more to the Dolls than just neurons. Saunders report had already shown that even though the Dolls didn't remember their pro bono cases their stress levels were lower afterwards and their antibody levels were higher. Likewise, her report had shown that after difficult or dangerous missions that their bodies showed signs of lowered antibody levels, that their sleep patters were disturbed, there was often a loss of appetite, and that they had problems concentrating and were often low energy.
Clearly, they carried around some part of what they experienced for a few days. Their bodies remembered for a few hours or a few days even though their brains didn't.
But did it go deeper than that? Was it more than muscle memory? Was it something entirely more spiritual? Could it be their souls that remembered? Did Echo's soul remember her? Yearn for her? … … Love her? Was her soul capable of overriding the science of what they were doing to her brain?
Adelle shuddered at the thought. They wiping process was supposed to be infallible. In the Dollhouse, safe from the outside world and outside influences, the Dolls were supposed to be docile, mild-mannered, tranquil, and happy. They were not supposed to be riddled with emotional issues, tortured by barely remembered events from months or years before, they were not supposed to be weighted down by insecurities or need to have their diets altered because of stress related disorders.
They were supposed to be pure, innocent … perfect.
"Your funding request is approved," Adelle said shortly, noticing that her breathing was faster and shallower than it should have been and making a conscious effort to slow it before speaking again. "You will keep be briefed every step of the way."
Claire nodded and with that Adelle turned on her heel and made her way towards the door.
Adelle stopped as she reached the end of the training platform, the soft trickling of the water fountain filling her ears as she paused and grew still. She was being watched. She was certain of it.
Slowly, Adelle turned around, her eyes scanning the Dolls milling around until they landed on a very familiar face, and found those dark eyes staring back at her.
They stared at each other for a few seconds in silence, and then just as Adelle was going to turn away, Echo lifted her hand and waved, a smile spreading across her face as she did.
Adelle breathed in deeply. The smile Echo was directing at her wasn't the dull smile she usually saw the Dolls wear; the smile of a five year old that had just caught sight of something shiny and was slightly mesmerized by it. It was a real smile, a delighted smile, and even as Adelle felt her hand raise and wave back, she shivered.
Echo took a step towards her.
Adelle took a step back and turned, her eyes focused on the door in the distance as she started towards it once again, not looking back as she began to walk.
It was impossible. She couldn't remember. And if she did, they would find a way to fix it.
Echo was perfect. They all were. And they would stay that way.