Disclaimer: I don't own Dollhouse, Echo, Laurence, or any of the characters. They are the property of Fox, Joss Whedon, Eliza Dushku, etc.
Story: Laurence Dominic was told the Dolls couldn't think. Well, he believes otherwise with the Active Doll Echo. Now he's playing cat and mouse games. The question is, who's the cat…and who's the mouse?
Set after episode S1.5 ("True Believer").
Spoilers: Definitely, all vague now but there's specific mentions of things that happened in episodes. Major spoilers coming up. EDIT: watch for spoilers for episode "Man in the Street" (S1.6).
Warnings: Violence, language, sexual situations, etc.
Pairings: Laurence/Echo, Topher/Claire, slight Paul/Mellie, slight Paul/Echo, and slight Boyd/Claire.
A/n: Do NOT read unless you've seen episode 6.
Happiness in Misery
Chapter Three: The Shade of Noir
Dr. Saunders had always been Dr. Saunders. Everyone avoided Topher altogether, if they could, and Adelle was 'Ma'am' to most. Boyd called everyone by their titles, and everyone called him Langton (except suspiciously Dr. Saunders and Topher because he liked to annoy him). Laurence, surprisingly, was just Laurence to everyone –though Adelle had a habit of sometimes calling him Dominic.
Perhaps he should introduce himself to Echo, so she had something to call him by.
Yes, he was very much in denial about that moment.
"Echo, just to be clear, my name is Laurence. We'll be spending time in my office here, while your wound heals."
She nodded, preoccupied with looking around and touching various things all about his office. He watched before shrugging it off and sitting at his desk, intent on doing some paperwork.
"Watch some TV," he mumbled, sliding the remote across his desk to her.
The TV was turned on and he could it hear low in the background.
"You look like Ty, you know," she stated in a child-like fashion, half an hour later.
"What are you talking about?" he asked without looking up.
"Ty. From Dancing with the Stars. He has a sweet smile," Echo continued dreamily.
Laurence finally looked up and saw what she was watching, and saw who she was talking about.
"He looks nothing like me," he said gruffly.
"He looks like you. His smile is adorable. You should smile more."
He rolled his eyes, even though she couldn't see it because she was so focused on the TV. "I can smile. There's just not a lot things to smile about around here."
She tilted her head and faced him, just as the dance ended on TV. "Will you smile for me?"
He involuntary chuckled and smiled in affection, but then he realized what he was doing and frowned, turning back to his work and completely ignoring her. When he realized how hungry he was, he put down his pen and reluctantly glanced at her. His eyebrow raised when he saw her watching a rerun of Hell's Kitchen.
"Are you hungry, Echo?" she murmured her assent. "I'm going to get Chinese food. Do you want some or do you want something from the cafeteria?"
"What is Chinese food?"
He hadn't really thought she would need that to be explained to her. "Long, complicated explanation. It's, uh, a type of food."
"Are you going to eat it?"
"If you're going to eat it, then I want to try it," she smiled at him, and for a moment she looked…different. She looked more real. With that smile, she looked like Caroline.
He looked at her closely, scowling fiercely, and her smile began to falter in the onslaught of his stare.
"I'll be back," he said shortly.
For the first time, Laurence had nothing to do. Because of Echo's presence, he had been motivated to finish his work. And now he sat side by side with her, and actually watched his unused television. Watching some drivel he really didn't know the name of. He should add how unconcerned he seemed to be.
He glanced at her, seeing her having trouble with the chopsticks. He honestly didn't know how to instruct someone in using them, so he did the next best thing since he didn't have any other utensils.
"Echo, you're having a hard time. How about I feed you instead?" he awkwardly suggested. Echo nodded absentmindedly, staring at the chopsticks.
He turned off the TV, honestly having no idea what was going on, but he set it to record since Echo seemed to like whatever it was. Instead, he put on the stereo and let her pick whatever she wanted to listen to, just as he started to feed her. He winced internally when she began playing Kelly Clarkson's 'My Life Sucks Without You.' Who the hell had set the music and channels in his office?
He paused in feeding her momentarily, changing the song to the Eagles' 'Hotel California.'
"I like this too," she hmmed.
"Just be quiet and eat," he muttered, embarrassedly holding the food to her lips.
This was going to be a long couple of hours.
Indeed, an hour later, Echo had finished eating and had fallen asleep on his couch. He stared horrified at her sleeping figure and wondered how he could get her back into her bed. It would raise too many questions if he carried her there, as there were still people lingering around. And he couldn't wake her up.
"Dominic, are you in there?" Adelle's voice was right outside the door.
Laurence sighed. Well, it couldn't get any worse, could it?
"Yes, Ma'am?" he opened his door to let her in. Her sharp eyes immediately caught sight of Echo on his couch, and she looked back to him.
"Should I carry her to her bed?" Laurence asked stoically.
"No, leave her. I don't want her disturbed. I only came by to tell you that there will be a mission for Echo tomorrow. The usual for Joel Mynor. I've warned him about Echo's injury and he's assured me that he will be careful with her, and desired no change in Actives. Be ready to prep Echo and the area tomorrow, and arrange the proper settlements."
"Of course, Miss DeWitt."
She left with one last look at Echo, leaving the two alone again. Laurence got to work, trying to get it finish early, when Echo groggily started waking up.
"I fell asleep," she said simply.
"Yes, you did. Only for a little while," he paused and blinked at that. Too much like a handler. Boyd might get jealous and think that Laurence was trying to take his job. He smirked at that errant thought, and shook his head.
"You…are happy. Why?" Echo asked him.
"Not happy, Echo. Just amused."
Echo looked like she was trying to understand that, so he just changed the subject.
"You probably don't remember, or maybe you really do, but I used to say a lot of…" he trailed off, not really sure how he should phrase what he's trying to say. "I use to be…really mean to you. I use to…say stuff."
She smiled brightly, but there was a look in her eyes that unnerved him and made him feel that this was one of those times where she was more aware than she was supposed to.
"I almost killed you, you know. It was indirect and everything, but I still left you for dead."
She didn't even blink at that. He sighed in frustration. "Why are you so adamant on staying with me?"
"Oh, look. That artwork is broken," her eyes glazed over, staring at the abstract painting over the couch.
"If it was up to me, I would stick you into the attic," he bit out harshly, trying to get a rise out of her, and very aware how alike that statement was to one he'd made before. He hadn't used such a harsh tone then…
Her eyes watered and her lips trembled. He winced and stumbled towards her, trying to pacify her.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't mean that," Laurence said quickly, awkwardly embracing her. She sniffled a few times, and he definitely thought he should tell Topher he was dead wrong about Dolls not being able to feel.
"Go to sleep, Echo. You have a busy day tomorrow," he said resignedly.
It took another hour, but he rocked her to sleep.
It didn't make sense to him why he felt so restless at the idea of Echo with another man. He shouldn't be so upset. Echo's been with other men before, and it's never unsettled him. In fact, Joel Mynor was a regular customer of Echo's since she's been a part of the Dollhouse, and always on the same day of the anniversary of his dead fiancé's death. He was one of the kinder and more sincere customers, so it really shouldn't bother him.
But it did.
Adelle had called him in to prep and look over another assignment that Victor was supposed to go on, straight after dealing with Echo's assignment. And then he comes back to hear that that bastard Ballard had interrupted the engagement and Echo was back early. An unfinished engagement was practically unheard of. The Dollhouse did not pull back from assignments like this. There were instances before, but not like this. They were never forced to abandon a mission, it had always been their decision to pull out or if the mission was an absolute failure.
And he was actually worried about Echo.
Never mind the fact that now there were accusations going around that Sierra was raped, and by Victor no less. God, Dolls disgusted him, but there was no way in hell he would ever condone something like that happening.
His phone rang, bringing him out of his thoughts. He was just about to head over to Echo to check on her when it rang, and he reluctantly answered it first.
"Mr. Dominic? Boyd Langton is on the line. He says he has to talk to you about something important. Should I transfer him to you?"
"Go ahead, Reese," Laurence sighed, and then he was talking to Boyd.
"Langton," he acknowledged and waited for the man to continue.
"Yes, you need to take Victor off the floor."
"Are you sure?" Laurence asked anxiously.
"I'm sure. Isolate him…and his handler."
"Alright…So you're saying Victor is guilty?"
There was a pause on the other line. "No. But you have to do this."
Laurence felt a headache coming on. "Langton, please tell me you at least know who it is."
"I…have a hunch on who it is. I just need to confirm it. He needs to think he's in the clear, Mr. Dominic."
Pinching the bridge of his nose, he lightly growled under his breath. "Fine. But this better work."
"Don't worry. It will."
He hung up and then called Reese, telling his secretary to call in one of his men to help him retrieve Bicks, Victor's handler. He told him to then report to Claire and tell her to have her people send several of them to pull Victor.
He was worried, but he wasn't too uncertain of the situation. Boyd was an ex-cop and more than good at it. If anyone would be able to handle this, Boyd could.
Laurence had to give it to Boyd. The man was good. And he had a hell of a right hook.
He'd gone after Binks with one of his men, Malcolm, and had escorted the screaming man out as the nurses were taking Victor. He winced remembering the man's screams.
"Who authorized this? I didn't rape the Doll! Laurence, Laurence, I didn't do this!"
"You know me, man. I wouldn't do this, man! Come on, you know I didn't do this! I didn't do this!"
His eyes had drifted down, and he'd seen Echo with Boyd and Hearn. He still hadn't had time to check up on her, and was getting agitated with everything that was getting in his way. She'd glanced up and gave him a vague smile before focusing on Boyd again.
After that, he'd followed Boyd and figured out the man had seen a blind spot in the cameras. That, Laurence resolved, was going to be fixed later, after this whole mess. Boyd hid in the room and Laurence stealthily kept close and hid nearby. Boyd was an ex-cop, but he had military experience. His blood boiled hotly when he saw Sierra enter the room and then Hearn came in from another entrance.
"Do you trust me?"
"With my life."
"Do you want to play the game?"
"But you remember to be very quiet during the game, right?"
"Noise is upsetting."
"Lift up your dress."
When Hearn had started taking off his jacket, he'd nearly whipped out his gun to shoot the man. However, Boyd revealed himself first and punched Hearn through the glass doors. Laurence couldn't help snickering out loud and clapping after Sierra had commented how that wasn't quiet.
"Wasn't meant to be," Boyd commented, before turning to look at Laurence with raised eyebrows.
"Well, you definitely confirmed the culprit," the Head of Security smirked.
"Glad to be of service," Echo's handler said sarcastically, but he returned the smirk.
Hearn groaned in pain and all three turned back to stare down at him.
Hearn was put in a holding cell, and Boyd was given a bonus. After he'd left, Adelle was still troubled and Laurence watched worriedly, though a large part of his worry was set aside for Echo, who he'd still not seen.
"What do we do with Hearn?" Laurence questioned, blood heating up just at the mention of the name.
"I'll let you know," Adelle said distractedly.
"And you saw the other thing, the tap?" this Laurence was more reluctant to bring up.
Adelle pressed play, watching Mellie interact with Paul Ballard in the apartment. She scowled heavily, eyes darkening at the footage. She paused it and contemplated what she watched.
"Ma'am, do you have an exit strategy?"
She gave him a look that was in between calmed anger and cooled disbelief.
"We have a handler abusing an Active, a federal agent interrupting an engagement, spilling his guts to the nearest civilian. I take much of that as my responsibility, but the higher-ups will target you if this all goes south," he gave her a reality check.
"Your concern is touching, but my bags are not packed. You will bring the handler to me. And as far as the intrepid agent… tell Topher to prep Echo. I think they're ready for a second date," Adelle recollected her bearings and cooled her emotions, a soft smirk crossing her mouth.
Glad that she had recovered her cool demeanor and wasn't subtly panicked any more, he chose to be more disgruntled about Echo going out on a dangerous mission. And really, did Adelle have to use those exact words? Echo and Ballard were not meeting on dates.
He bit down on his comment about Echo's wound, and went on to retrieve Echo to bring her to Topher. At least this way, he could finally check on her. He'd call Topher though, so the idiot could get ready.
"There you are, Echo," he murmured, seeing her painting calmly at a table.
"Laurence," she smiled at him.
He ignored the part that said she wasn't supposed to remember him after the wipe from the Joel Mynor engagement.
"Are you alright?" he asked, putting his hand on her forehead and pushing it up, moving the hair upwards.
She looked up at him with a blank smile, but he was close enough to see the awareness lurking in her eyes.
"I'm fine," she said in her usual airy style.
"It's time for your treatment, Echo."
He began leading her away, towards Topher's imprint room, reluctantly leaving her before going back to Adelle's office after retrieving Joe Hearn.
In her office, he handcuffed the man's hands behind the chair placed directly in the middle of the room, and waited behind him.
"Can you imagine at all why it is you are not dead?" Adelle calmly asked the bloodied man.
"You probably got something worse planned. You gonna erase my brain; turn me into one of your fantasy boys?" he suggested scornfully.
Laurence moved a bit closer to his back, his mind thinking how pathetic the man was.
"I find it a bit sad that you think of yourself as a candidate for anyone's fantasy," she scoffed disdainfully.
"Ah, you know you're a little sweet on me," the ex-handler grinned darkly.
Laurence smacked him hard upside the head, taking some satisfaction from his pain.
"You think I'm gonna beg? You want to kill me? You want to put me in the Attic? I can't stop you. The jig is up," he breathed heavily.
"How many times?" Adelle stiffly asked, staring the man down with a cold stare.
Hearn kept panting, but Laurence could see his nervousness growing. It made his own disgust and dread grow.
"I can find out, but I want to hear it from you," she continued contemptuously.
"Four," he admitted.
"You're disgusting," Laurence spat out, completely disgusted with the bastard. In the back of his mind, he thought of what would happen if it had been Echo who was being abused. He wouldn't allow it. Hell, he wouldn't allow the bastard to live.
"Don't give me that. You put her under dome fat, old emir –it makes it better because she thinks she's in love for all of a day? We're in the business of using people," Hearn snarled mockingly.
"You understand less about this business than you think," Adelle narrowed her eyes in cold anger.
"And you don't get how it actually works down there. You put a bunch of stone foxes with no willpower and no memory running around naked. Did you think this wouldn't ever happen?" he mocked them more.
Laurence started shaking with anger. Did the asshole have no self-restraint? Laurence had been around longer than him. He had control of his faculties and refused to compromise himself to hurt any of the Actives like that. Yes, Dolls generally disgusted him. Yes, their blank states made him want to turn away. Yes, he was disgusted with the idea that any of them would willingly submit to giving their lives and wills up. But there was no way he'd ever abuse them or take advantage of them in their child-like state. It was a disturbing thought.
And that one time with Echo had been a mistake, a mistake he deeply regretted. It was a mistake that he'd made on conflicted feelings, and wished he'd never made.
He snapped back to the present when Adelle went to a file cabinet and retrieved a file.
"Did it make it better? That she didn't struggle?" she asked in a deceptively nonchalant voice.
"No. It made it easier."
Laurence's finger twitched on the trigger.
"Mr. Dominic, would you leave us?" Adelle's voice cut into his violent thoughts.
"Ms. DeWitt, I…" he trailed off in shock.
"I'll be perfectly safe. Please?"
Laurence reluctantly left, the last words he heard coming from Adelle.
"We are in the business of using people…"
"What are you doing here, Langton?" Laurence asked, still disgruntled at having to leave.
The ex-cop turned handler frowned and leaned even more heavily on the railings with his arms. "Echo's on a mission. I'm not on it. They're putting me on hold. I have a feeling Topher lied to me about the engagement. He said it was some life coach gig."
"Life couch gig?" Laurence repeated in disbelief.
Boyd became alarmed. "What?"
"Langton, they sent Echo out on a high-risk engagement to take out Ballard. I thought you were going to be on it!" Without waiting for a response, Laurence turned and ran to Topher's headquarters.
Immediately, he strode up to the tech genius and grabbed his collar, slamming him against the wall. He snarled at Ivy to leave and then went back to glaring at the suspended man.
"Why isn't Langton on Echo's case? Who's with her right now?!"
"Woah, woah! Calm down, Laurence. Boyd just took out another handler. I told him to just go out and have a drink to celebrate. He's on hold for at least 48 hours because of that incident, you know," Topher explained hastily.
"Who. Is. With. Echo."
Topher winced, "No one."
Laurence swore and slammed Topher again against the wall. This time, Topher was the one to swear.
"Dammit, Laurence! What the hell?! This is like the second time now. I don't appreciate this! First time, you're worried about Echo. Now, you're still worried about Echo…except…in reverse order? She's not glitching this time…Are you –are you really worried about her? I mean worried worried?" Topher started calming down and was staring at him curiously.
Laurence let go and let Topher drop to the ground.
"Shut up," he snarled, and left.
He arrived in time to see Ballard and Echo enter the back alley behind the Chinese restaurant, and both of them were dealing hard blows to each other. He was surprised to see Ballard not holding back against a female, and while he knew Echo was capable of such feats with an imprint, it was still odd and awe-inspiring to see her fight back and give as good as she got. Actually, it looked like she was doing better than Ballard.
He crept closer, gun out and aimed perfectly at Ballard's head. He wanted to shoot him, but he wasn't supposed to be dead. Just incapacitated and out of the way. But if he went too far with Echo…
Laurence was close enough to hear them talking. Echo had just faked looking scared, which put Ballard off and she used that to her advantage by knocking him back and kicking his feet from underneath him. He went down face first and Echo planted a foot on his back, pointing his gun at him.
"The Dollhouse is real. They know you're after them and they are going to have you taken off the case. That's why they sent me."
Laurence froze in shock. What in the world? What was going on and why was Echo saying those things to Ballard?
Echo let Ballard get up, and Laurence was confused on what he should do. Were they compromised? Was there a leak in the Dollhouse? Was Echo glitching? Or did Adelle purposely put that into the imprint just for Ballard, as part of the whole plan she was weaving?
"Why are you telling me this?"
"We have a person inside. This person corrupted the imprint while the programmer wasn't looking, added this parameter." Was this true? Or a mislead?
"Is this the person that sent me the tapes and pictures?" Alpha. He knew someone was sending Ballard information, and he had a hunch it was the rogue Active.
"No. This is their first communication. Security inside is very tight." Not Alpha. Someone else. More threats.
"Where is it?"
"You can't know that. You're going about this the wrong way."
"I have to take down the Dollhouse." Persistent little shit. Take what you've got and be grateful. Tactical retreat.
"There are over 20 Dollhouses, in cities around the world. They have ties to every major political power on the planet. You cannot possibly stop them alone." Too much information. Who was the informant? His hands on his gun were trembling.
"You're going to help me?" Echo would never.
"The person that sent this message is." Who, who, who?!
"The Dollhouse deals in fantasy. That is their business, but that is not their purpose." What? He didn't know that.
"We need you to find out. We'll contact you again –if possible, with this same body. But you have to let the Dollhouse win. Make them back off. You have to trust me." It was a good idea, but Laurence didn't want Ballard to follow the good advice. He wanted to take him out now, before he became even more of a threat.
A lone policeman started running towards them and Echo put the gun back into Ballard's hand, coming up close and looking like she was being threatened.
"He's got a gun!" she yelled out.
She pulled the trigger and the cop fell to the ground. Ballard stood in shock and disbelief.
"You have to go now. He'll live. You'll be blamed."
Ballard looked like he barely heard her, trying to get to the downed cop. She stopped him.
"The engagement is complete; they'll never know I spoke to you." Well, Laurence knew.
"No," Ballard said dazedly.
"You have to go. They don't want to kill you, but they will protect the information."
Laurence glimpsed a man from the restaurant peek outside. Apparently, so had Ballard.
"Call an ambulance! Officer down!"
"Go!" Echo kept urging him.
"You can't just…" Ballard looked pleadingly at her, like some love-sick puppy. Laurence's lip curled up in a sneer.
"They will protect the information. They don't want you dead. But anyone else…" she hinted.
"Mellie," Ballard whispered horrified. He started running like a bat out of hell and Echo took a few seconds to watch his back, before starting to run herself.
Laurence finally got himself together and his hand darted out and grabbed her. She looked shocked and confused, about ready to fight him off.
"Who –who are you?" she gasped out, trying to twist her arm away.
"Echo," he firmly called, calmly dealing with the now and pushing his thoughts and whatever else happened to the back of his mind.
She stopped struggling against him and stared, a slow recognition entering her eyes. "Do I know…I do know you."
"You do," was all he said and he didn't bother to think how too aware she was of him all the damn time.
He led her to the van he'd commandeered to get her, making sure this time not to sign it out like he had the jet. Technically, that meant he stole it.
"I hurt," she whispered softly.
He looked at her side where the gun wound was, and sighed when he saw blood staining through the cloth. In the van, he had her take off her shirt, ignoring everything else but the wound. He cleaned it up, disinfected it, and re-stitched it himself. He dressed it afterwards and lent her his jacket to wear, since her shirt was practically ruined and too bloodied to wear again.
"I'll take you to Dr. Saunders straight after, when we get there."
She nodded and looked at the ground. He settled himself in the driver's seat and started driving away wearily.
Started 3/21/09 –Completed 3/28/09
A/n: Don't expect to have continually long chapters like this one. I hit a stride as soon as I saw episode six and just started typing –probably why it took so long to finish. The next one might sort of be like this. I liked episode seven too. A lot of dialogue taken straight from a transcript of this episode, but edited and formatted so that it was in third person and had all that good stuff (emotions, thoughts, etc.). A lot of creative license, especially with inserting Laurence in scenes he's not in. You know, just writing up stuff that didn't happen in the original…You would know the difference if you watched the episode first. Transcript link: h t t p : / / d o l l h o u s e w i k i . f o x . c o m / p a g e / M a n + o n + t h e + S t r e e t + T r a n s c r i p t.
And review. Reviews are motivation (hinthint).