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 S1.6 ("Man on the Street").
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 "Echoes" (S1.7).
Warnings: Violence, language, sexual situations, etc.
Pairings: Laurence/Echo, Topher/Claire, slight Paul/Mellie, slight Paul/Echo, and slight Boyd/Claire.
A/n: Longer than my usual chapters, but not as long as the last one. Couldn't find the transcript for episode 7, so mostly summarized the dialogue, events, etc.
A/n: Do NOT read unless you've seen episode 7.
Happiness in Misery
Chapter Four: The Sound of Silence
"You did a good job on fixing her up. I don't think there's anything more I can do," Claire commented, observing Laurence's work.
Echo sat silently on the table bed, her upper torso mostly bare except for her bra. The dressings Laurence had used to wrap around her wound were laid to the side.
"I'll have to rewrap this, but she'll be fine. You'll just have to take her to Topher."
Laurence nodded, starting to rewrap the wound himself, so Claire stood off to the side and watched curiously.
"Laurence…I'm surprised you went out of your way to retrieve Echo like that."
He didn't answer for a moment. "Langton wasn't there to watch over her and she was alone on a high-risk engagement. I was worried."
"About the engagement or her?"
"Her," he grudgingly answered, pausing again.
"You're not worried about her glitching…you're worried about her well-being," she breathed out in amazement.
He finished up dressing Echo's wound, handing her his jacket again, before facing Claire.
"Last time I went after Echo, I left her for dead," he admitted remorsefully. "I went after her this time to make sure she was okay. I guess a part of that was wanting to repay her for the last time."
He took Echo by the arm and led her out, leaving a stunned doctor in their midst. Laurence led the way to Topher, who said nothing when he delivered Echo to him, but the question was in his eyes anyway.
Leaving her behind, he headed to his office and started to deal with the work he'd left behind. Starting with that tap video of the Active November in Ballard's apartment. He grinned viciously while watching Hearn get his ass thrown around before a satisfying snap to his neck ended his life. He watched it several times, feeling himself start to feel better from the dark mood his confessions had sent him in.
"I understand, thank you. We'll talk soon. Agent Paul Ballard was suspended of duty pending an investigation into the shooting of Officer Hardin. Accusations of violent paranoia, the attack on Mr. Mynor's bodyguards, the feud with the Borodins, as evidenced by the break in at his apartment," Laurence reported to Adelle after hanging up on his contact.
"Hearn's fingerprints?" a satisfied Adelle inquired.
He refrained from smirking. "Came up Russian. A floater, not linked to anyone with power. It's all tied together, ma'am. With a pretty bow," he finished smugly.
"And our sleeper Active performed perfectly," she allowed herself to smirk.
"I replayed the tap," Laurence morbidly added merrily.
"More than once? It did not lack for poetry. Bring her in so Topher can run a diagnostic," she said amused.
"Are we pulling her?" he asked as they started walking towards the elevator.
"Now that Ballard's off the case?" he ended asking inside.
"No. A man like Ballard doesn't take himself out of the game just because of this."
She pressed a button and they started traveling down.
"Besides… she loves him," Adelle commented, even more amused at the prospect than at him replaying Hearn's death video over and over again.
"You played a good hand, ma'am," he complimented.
"I played a very bad hand very well. There is a distinction," she retorted, still a little irritated at the situations that had come up in the first place.
"Of course," he agreed anyway, his turn to be amused at her lingering irritation at the obstacles that had come up.
The elevator stopped, and they arrived at the upper deck of the main quarters.
"I want you to contact your counterparts in all the other houses, tell them about what happened to Sierra," she ordered, all business again.
"That won't look good for you."
"It can't happen again. Anywhere," she reiterated firmly.
"She's all right?" he asked sincerely as they watched Sierra reading. His thoughts trailed and he couldn't help think that at least it wasn't Echo.
"Topher did everything he knows to remove the experience," she said solemnly.
They both glanced over to see Topher and his assistant Ivy working on another imprint.
"Ignorance in this case truly is bliss," Adelle gravely commented.
"I don't think they're as ignorant as they're supposed to be." Echo wasn't ignorant. He'd suspected and known all along. Now he'd definitely had to quit denying it. He was adamant about it before anyway.
"No. We're working on it."
He wasn't all that sure he wanted them to work on it anymore.
Adelle split from him to head over to Echo, and he really wanted to come with her and see for himself how the Doll was doing. But he was acting suspicious enough already, and he was lucky Adelle hadn't found out about his unauthorized decision to supervise Echo's "engagement" with Ballard.
Not even a half hour later, Adelle was back at his side.
"Prep the Mynor case again. Call him and ask if he wants to redo his engagement today," she told him.
"Ma'am?" he hesitantly asked, confused.
Adelle smiled thinly. "Echo made a drawing. Of a house. And two people. She stated quite clearly it isn't finished."
"She's…not talking about the painting," he concluded in dread. Echo was showing more of her awareness. Adelle was intrigued, but there's a limit to that intrigue, Laurence was sure. And he should be concerned as well. And he was. Just not concerned about the right things. He shouldn't be concerned for Echo's fate. He should be worried she could turn out to be like Alpha.
"She wants to finish it."
Laurence sighed. "Of course, Miss DeWitt. I'll get right on it."
He also shouldn't be bothered that Echo wanted to finish the romantic engagement. Or that she and Joel Mynor really were going to be able to be romantic this time. He refrained from calling Ballard and giving him a lead.
When she'd returned in the morning, she'd immediately been handed over to him.
"Did he feed you breakfast at least?" Laurence asked, still miffed but hiding it better than yesterday.
"Who?" Echo was confused.
"Never mind," he muttered, dragging her along and taking her to his car, handing her a Starbucks bagel sandwich to eat on the way.
Adelle had approved his request to take Echo to the library, on the condition that he'd clear a space and keep her away from others. After being disgruntled about Echo being with Mynor all day the day before, he'd preoccupied himself with doing that just to be able to go ahead with his plans with her the next day.
When they finally reached the library, he'd had to take Echo through the back and then into the secluded corner he'd prepared. All the required books he'd taken out were in a stack in the middle of the round table, and he sat her next to him in the armchairs provided.
"I like to read," he told her promptly.
"Sierra likes to read too," Echo told him with a smile.
"Yes, yes," he waved her off. "I'm going to read to you."
Her eyes widened and her smile grew bigger and more genuine. He, of course, knew the Actives read. But they didn't read. They were given picture books to preserve their child-like innocence and understanding. If there were any words, they were small and easy to comprehend. There were more pictures than words anyway.
While he would've liked to have gone straight to Sun Tzu's The Art of War, it would probably be too much for Echo to handle. He settled with starting off with The Diary of Anne Frank instead.
"I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope you will be a great support and comfort to me," Laurence began and Echo listened raptly. Pleased, he continued until he was almost halfway.
"We have to go now, Echo. You have an early day tomorrow, so you should just relax for the rest of the day."
"Can we go in there?" Echo pointed at the booth that was hidden nearer the exit.
"You –you want to go into the photo booth?" he looked anxiously at it. He didn't have an unnatural avoidance of taking pictures. Really. He didn't.
She'd already started walking towards it eagerly and he really wanted to pull her back and just leave. Yet he didn't, and he followed her reluctantly. When he caught up to her, she had already selected the number and sizes of photos she wanted.
She waited patiently for him to take his seat next to her and then pressed start.
"I can smile. There's just not a lot things to smile about around here."
"Will you smile for me?"
There was no one else there but he and Echo, and she wouldn't say anything about it. He reluctantly smiled at the same time as the first picture was taken, and he hadn't noticed that during his mental recollection that Echo had wrapped her arms around one of his and had leaned her head against it. He looked down at her when he finally noticed it, an involuntary softer smile coming out of him. A flash signaled the second picture had been taken and had caught him by surprise. He was going to look back forward when Echo looked up, still holding onto his arm. The smile on her face was as real as if she had been her own person, drawing another involuntary action from him, face reddening slightly and his smile a little open mouthed. The third picture was taken then, and Laurence awkwardly tried to gain the situation back by moving away. Only she was moving closer and he was cornered, and then her small hands were on his chest and she was kissing the tip of his nose. The last photo was taken.
As it turned out, Echo had chosen to have a small filmstrip for the four pictures, the same ones wallet-sized, the four of them in 5x7's, and the last one in 8x10. He sighed to himself, but paid for them.
"Hide the filmstrip somewhere," he said, twitching when she folded it up neatly and tucked it into her bra.
Well, the day wasn't so bad.
Then again, considering the next day, his day with Echo had been spectacular.
Echo was out again, on another assignment with another regular. This one particularly grated on his nerves, always winding up with Echo in his bed. And Echo was still healing from her wound.
"I don't get it. I put Echo on hold. She's not supposed to be on any assignments until she's fully healed, but they're still sending her out! Her wound keeps tearing open," Claire ranted to Laurence.
She turned to see him glowering at her computer, but certainly didn't seem like he was paying attention to her. That was actually fine, because judging on the look on his face he looked ready to murder someone.
"This is bullshit," Laurence growled to himself. "Echo's still hurt, Langton's not with her, and she's stuck with that pig. Why does she have to deal with him anyway? Hell, why does she get stuck with these kinds of assignments?"
Claire's jaw was slowly dropping. Was Laurence…jealous?
"Why am I talking about this with you?!"
"Um…because you don't have anyone else who knows about whatever it is between you and Echo to rant about Echo with?" she said quickly, without taking a breath. "Well, there's Topher, but I'm sure you'd rather not have to deal with his incessant and annoying crudeness. Any other time you'd get along fine with Boyd, but I doubt he'd be willing to listen since he's Echo's handler."
"Yeah. Right. You're right," he grumbled, glowering at the floor this time.
She gave him a small smile.
He looked up with a hesitant look. "T-thanks."
"You're welcome," Claire answered simply. "You can brood in here until she comes back."
His plans on brooding in Claire's office until Echo came back were interrupted, when Adelle called him in to work on another job. Apparently, a sample of some experimental drug Rossum Corporation was working on had been stolen and he and a team of Actives were to go out to retrieve it. Not really his cup of tea, but whatever. It's even weirder walking next to "Doctor" Sierra, pretending to be a cop, and generally feeling like he was a part of the A-Team.
And then having Victor be an NSA agent, therefore totally outranking Laurence.
When he got back, he and Topher were going to have some words over this whole thing.
Still, he was relatively just bored the whole time, waiting with the non-Actives and just missing Echo. It was strange that he did, but he was too afraid to question why.
Frowning to himself, he grabbed his gun and checked his cartridge. He started feeling weird, his mouth twitching upwards, and he checked his gun again.
Oh shit, he was infected. He just knew it.
"Hey, are you alright?" Victor, NSA agent persona, asked him cautiously.
Laurence smirked, getting up smoothly and aiming the gun at the Doll. "Yeah, I'm just fine."
Victor and a couple of others held out their hands and tried to get closer, but he just held the gun more firmly.
"Woah there. Why don't you just put the gun down?"
Laurence smirk grew, but then he frowned. "I know how to solve problems."
Victor nodded reassuringly. "I'm sure you do."
He relaxed his grip on the gun and it tilted forward. "Man, this thing is so heavy. It makes my arm so tired," he pouted.
"Alright. You, uh, want some help with that?" Victor asked hesitantly.
Laurence nodded and Victor grabbed the gun. Another guy came over and Laurence leaned on him.
"My whole body feels heavy," he groaned.
She's here. Echo is here.
Laurence saw her following another guy, who was definitely not the client she was supposed to be with, and he'd followed. He snuck up behind her when the guy she was with darted away, and he placed his hand on her shoulder.
She jumped into the air and whirled around to face him, confused and wary.
"It's you," thank God, it was Echo. He just really felt like he needed to see her. "I am so sorry. I tried to kill you by leaving you to burn in a building. I mean, who does that? Burn someone?!"
Echo tried placating him, but the more he went at it, the more Laurence felt remorse, upset, and distressed.
"It's okay. Really. I forgive you."
"No, you don't. You're still looking at me with hate in your eyes!"
Always, always staring at him intensely.
You hate me, don't you?
"There's more to Laurence Dominic than this! The whole guns, running around, barking orders. That isn't all me. That's just my job. I have a lot more going on, like this suit. This suit is so soft…"
'Damn it, Laurence, you idiot! Fight the drug off and be more serious. Talk to Echo. Get her to stay and listen to you. Apologize correctly!'
But Echo was gone and he was alone again.
He was lying down alone in the temporary medbay that was sanctioned off for the people who had been infected. Everyone was asleep, except for him and his thoughts. The drug was still in his system, but not nearly as bad as it had been before. Now he could just lie there and not be an idiot.
His thoughts were interrupted when Echo snuck in and spotted him. He watched wearily, knowing if he said anything it would turn out to be idiotic.
"Echo," he couldn't help saying though.
"It's Alice," she responded, but she took a seat next to him and held his hand.
'You still have to apologize correctly…'
"I'm sorry, E –Alice. You won't remember this and you probably don't remember what I'm talking about, but I really did leave you to die once. I knocked you out and left you to die. And I'm so sorry."
"It's…fine," she smiled at him reassuringly, but a hint of confusion was still in her eyes.
"I never got to apologize to you before. I mentioned it to you before, but I never said I was sorry. I don't…I don't say sorry often. It's hard for me to say and I didn't think you'd understand. Or remember."
He was still mumbling, spilling his guts out to her, but she wasn't going to remember anyway and he could blame it on the drugs.
She climbed onto the bed behind him, and let him cushion his head and upper torso on her.
"Freedom is all I need. Freedom from my misery," she sang and he listened peacefully, even though he should be worried she remembered that song. He leant up and kissed her jaw line, before promptly falling asleep.
She kept singing, combing her hand through his hair, looking up only when Adelle came into the room and saw them. The head of the LA Dollhouse almost looked confused before it was wiped off her face.
"He looked uncomfortable," Echo said airily, in response to the silent question.
"I see," Adelle murmured. "I also see that he's still asleep. I'll return later. There's almond-encrusted salmon if you'd like to eat, Echo."
"Okay," the Doll smiled blankly.
Adelle glanced back one more time at them before she left.
"You are a disgusting piece of trash. It makes me want to beat you until you can't even feel the pain any more," Laurence spat out, glaring angrily at the handcuffed figure of Joe Hearn, Sierra's handler.
"Oh, I am, am I? You should take a look in the mirror. I've seen the way you look at her," Hearn taunted him.
"What are you talking about?" the blond hissed, fist hovering too close to the bloodied man's face.
Hearn licked his lips nervously, but then a more suicidal gleam entered his eyes. "That little pretty cunt boss lady's so fond of. You're getting a little fond of her too, ain't ya?"
"Don't talk about Echo like that!" Laurence growled, grabbing his collar and bodily lifting him, attached chair and all.
Hearn choked, dangling from the air. "You said her name…I could've been talkin' about anyone else…She's a sweet lookin' thing. If she wasn't Boyd's, I would've tried my hand at her too."
Laurence backslapped him and Hearn flew a couple inches to the left, clattering to the floor. The ex-handler coughed up blood and spat out a tooth, but he was still grinning.
"You say I'm disgusting, but what about you? You're the same as me. You want her, don't you?"
"Shut up, you little freak," Laurence stalked closer, hands just itching to throttle the man.
"You want her. You just want to have a little taste. You want a little taste and then you want more. You want more and then suddenly you want all of her."
He slammed his foot into Hearn's face, breaking his nose.
"You're just like me, Laurence. Just like me."
Laurence groggily woke up, the dream having jarred him from his drug-induced sleep. He frowned from his dream and angrily ran a hand down his face. His dream was a memory. Right before he'd taken Hearn to see Adelle, they'd had that talk…
He was alone. Glancing to the side of his bed, he saw a note attached. Adelle's handwriting, and it seemed she wanted to talk to him. He skimmed through the reports at his bedside, and groaned. He fixed himself up lethargically, before slowly moving and heading to Adelle's office.
"Mr. Dominic, please come in."
"Thank you," he awkwardly walked in. He remembered quite well what had happened while he was under the influence of the drug, including that small kiss he gave to Echo. If Adelle had called him in for that…not to mention he was still embarrassed he'd done any of that anyway. It was completely unlike him to act so emotionally and expressively. He, and Adelle as well, were people used to being in control and having control. The drugs stripped them of that and it wasn't a feeling either enjoyed experiencing. And the things he said…
She closed the door behind him, and he tried to school his expression to the normal professional mask he wore every day, watching as Adelle tried to uncomfortably smile and then offered him a drink.
"No, thank you," Laurence managed to say, wondering if Adelle's uneasy behavior was attributed to the same reason as his –that for the fact they acted like idiots and were vulnerable for all of a couple of hours.
"All the Actives have been evaluated and processed. Everything seems satisfactory," he reported.
There was another uncomfortable silence before Adelle smiled politely. "Wonderful news."
The silence stretched on again before Adelle led the way to her desk to hand him his gun.
"Yours, I believe?"
"Yes, uh, thank you," he inelegantly walked towards her and grabbed it, walking away uneasily. Damn, most of what he'd said kept going back to just saying thank you. "The, uh, press is running with the story we sold them. Student drugs classmates before committing suicide."
What about Echo? Did Adelle find out what had happened? Was he going to get fired? Was Echo going to be scrubbed?
"I suppose you'll be recommending she be sent to the attic," Adelle continued tersely.
Oh, it was about Echo going off task…Well, of course he wouldn't. Not that he could say that, it would be unlike him to support Echo and would put him in suspicion.
"That's entirely your call, ma'am," he forced out, averting his eyes.
"For God's sake, quit calling me 'ma'am'. We got drugged. We behaved like…idiot children. It happens, it's over," she reprimanded, though he wasn't sure if it was towards him or towards herself.
He stared at her after her mild outburst, but she moved on.
"You may go."
He nodded and left, trying to come to grips with his recent behavior. She would probably be doing the same, though Laurence was sure there was more on Adelle's plate than just her actions and he guessed that it had something to do with Echo. He consoled himself with the fact he was handling his out of character behavior better than Adelle was.
"Topher, have you seen Echo?" Laurence asked as soon as he reached Topher's imprint room.
"Yeah, just had her scrubbed."
Laurence froze. "Scrubbed? Why?" They'd already been wiped. That was what the reports said.
"Boss lady wanted them all scrubbed after the drug incident, especially Echo. She went off task, remember? I thought you would be the first to want to throw her into the attic. Must suck having a girlfriend who doesn't remember you the next time you see her," Topher joked.
"I see," Laurence said hollowly. Topher didn't know just how close to home he hit.
He drifted away, lost in his thoughts. He looked for Echo, intent on finding her. He found her on the main floor, meditating with the others. He wasn't worried about being seen talking to Echo. None of these people, especially the other Dolls, would say anything about it or report it to Adelle as suspicious. And the only ones with the guts to do it would be Topher, Claire, or Boyd –none of which were there to see him with Echo anyway.
He waved off the instructor that had been coming over to talk to him, and focused instead on the girl he just had to talk to.
"Echo, do you remember me?" he asked quietly.
"Do…do I know you?" she looked lost and confused, but there was an underlying trust aimed at him. He hardly could understand how she could trust him. It didn't make any sense at all.
'You silly girl,' he thought reluctantly fondly.
"Yes. You do. You just don't remember." He took her hand and squeezed it. "I'm going to read to you."
Her eyes lit up. "Oh! I'd like that."
He led her away; knowing this time Echo really didn't remember him at all. Being wiped, Echo seemed to know him. Even now, after being scrubbed, she instinctively knew him. But the truth was, it was harder for Echo to retain that semblance of awareness he'd always looked for in her. After being scrubbed, Echo couldn't remember –couldn't know him like she could after a wipe.
It makes him hate Topher even more for being right, even if the idiot didn't know it.
Having Echo not call him Laurence, and the silence that was unfamiliarly painful between them (because they could be comfortable in silence, and this was even worse than the silence he'd suffered with Adelle), caused an agonizing ache in him that he never expected to have.
Silence really does echo.
Started 3/29/09 –Completed 4/5/09