He'd like to think he didn't just trade Mellie like some kind of business transaction, but the look in Adelle DeWitt's eyes tells him otherwise.
She explains to him the particulars of the contract. Watches, cool and detached, as he signs away his soul.
And tells him she'll see him tomorrow.
She doesn't look like the type of person who's often wrong, but she is now.
He reaches the exit at the same time as Mellie -
(Madeline, but she'll always be Mellie to him.)
- and someone steps in front of them, blocking their way.
"I wouldn't go out there, if I were you," he says.
He does anyway.
Dimly, he can remember a time when he was good at following orders.
("What did you see out there?" Mellie will ask him later, and he'll say -
"Hell on earth."
Funny, he always thought that was in here.)
Adelle and Boyd stand by the stairs, discussing the situation in hushed tones. He's one of them now, he supposes, and he should probably join them, but his gaze is drawn to the actives -
(Dolls; they don't move unless someone instructs them.)
- standing unafraid, as if they're unaware the world is ending. He wonders if fear is something that has to be programmed into them.
Mellie looks afraid, standing beside him. "They look -"
"Helpless?" he asks. It's not exactly what he was thinking.
"Peaceful," Mellie says. "I wonder if I was like that."
She was never peaceful. Abused, frantic, suicidal. He was responsible for most of that.
"I'll bet you were," he says. There's no use in twisting the knife.
"Mr Ballard," Adelle says. Undemanding, but certain. Like he's hers to command.
He glances at Mellie, and Adelle sees. He thinks she probably sees everything.
"Ms Costley," she adds. Her voice is a little warmer, but only for her. Paul thinks she might almost be amused. "You're welcome to join us."
He'd like to think it isn't some kind of gift, like Mellie is still the Dollhouse's to give.
(The look in Adelle's eyes tells him otherwise.)
Mellie stays beside him, and he wants to take her hand. He thinks maybe neither of them are getting out of here.
"And what would you suggest we do?" Adelle asks Boyd. Paul could swear there's almost a genuine question underneath it somewhere.
"I hadn't exactly planned for doomsday scenarios," Boyd says. And then -
"Perhaps Mr Dominic would have."
Something flashes in Adelle's eyes that Paul should probably take note of, but he doesn't see much point.
"Perhaps he would have," she says archly.
"I can program the actives," Topher says, and Paul thinks he gets far too much enjoyment out of his job. "I think."
"Program them to do what, exactly?" Boyd asks. Not unreasonably, though Topher seems to think so.
"To fight," Topher says.
"To fight what?"
"To fight the ..." He waves his hands away from him, indicating, Paul thinks, the outside of the compound. "You know. Monsters and demons and whatever."
Paul's been outside, but it still sounds ridiculous spoken aloud.
"You can program them to do that?"
"I suppose you have existing imprints of people who've fought ... demons."
"Relax," Topher says, but he doesn't look particularly relaxed. "Are you forgetting I'm a genius?"
"Well," he says, ten minutes later, "I didn't say I could do it immediately."
In the midst of some bad horror movie apocalypse, it seems surreal to be sitting in an overdesigned cafeteria calmly eating pancakes, but at least the food is good.
"I can't remember the last time I ate," Mellie says, and that shouldn't strike him as being as funny as it does.
"I'll bet there's a lot you don't remember," he says.
(That part isn't so funny.)
She looks at him curiously, setting aside her fork. "Do I know you?" she asks.
He isn't sure.
"We met," he says. Unbidden, he thinks of Mellie, naked beneath him, cooking him dinner, pinned to the wall.
She smiles a little, as if it's some mystery to unravel. "Do I like you?"
He isn't really hungry any more.
"I always thought I'd feel -"
Broken, damaged, expendable. He's no better than any of them. He looks at the person sitting in front of him, actual and whole, and thinks about how he once used her like nothing so much as an empty shell.
"Don't you have people waiting for you?"
(He wonders, for the first time, what she was running away from.)
She looks like he's just slapped her, but all she says is, "No."
"I think I've got it," Topher says, like he's daring anyone to say they hadn't believed him.
Adelle looks unruffled, as always. "Good."
"When will it be ready?" Boyd asks.
Topher rolls his eyes, and Paul hates that he's already getting a feel for his new work environment.
"Soon," he says, and looks back down at the computer. "Don't you have your own job to do?"
"Inform us when the imprint is complete," Adelle says.
"What about Echo?" Boyd asks, and Adelle looks thoughtful.
After a moment, she says, "I think not."
The sun comes up.
(He's only guessing.)
"This is all ..."
Paul doesn't know how to finish the sentence for her. All he can think is that he freed her, and she's still trapped.
"It'll be okay," he says. He doesn't believe it for a moment, but she smiles at him, and he thinks maybe she was Mellie all along.
(Who they are. At their core. I don't think that goes away.)
He doesn't know if that's supposed to make him feel better, or worse.
She still smells like Mellie; he remembers waking up to it, running his hand along her skin, breathing her in.
Her hair, he thinks, always reminded him of the colour of late autumn.
"I feel like I remember you," she says. They're in some well-lit corridor, hellishly serene. "Is that weird?"
(There aren't words.)
"No," he says. She takes a step towards him, and he smiles. He thought he didn't know her, but he's been wrong about a lot of things.
"So I do know you," she says. "I feel like -"
Her lips are warm, as soft as he remembers. Her kiss is different.
(He tells himself he doesn't mind.)
"I remember that," she says, and reaches up to touch his cheek. On her wrist, faded, barely visible, there's a bruise.
He feels like he's going to be sick.
She kisses him again, and he lets her.
"Oh," Topher says. "I, um. They're waiting for you."
Mellie looks faintly embarrassed, and she takes his hand. Her skins feels like it's burning his where it touches.
Maybe she's the one twisting the knife.
"I'm a genius," Topher says. "If I do say so myself."
Boyd says, "You always do."
"I started with some combat skills, threw in a little special ops training, and - here's the best bit -"
"Does it work?" Adelle interrupts him. "Is it sufficient for ... whatever we're facing?"
"It works," Topher says. He still looks pleased with himself.
She nods. "I'd say we're going to need more actives."
Paul steps in front of Mellie.
(He doesn't have any right to protect her.)
("I was hardly suggesting -" Adelle says.
He doesn't care.)
"You mean, like, an army?" Topher asks. "An army of demon fighters. This is so cool."
"That's hardly the word I'd use to describe it," Boyd says.
"Furthermore," Adelle says, "we hardly have an army at our disposal."
She very carefully doesn't look at him.
("I'm sure if I asked her -" Adelle says.
This time, he's able to stare her down. "You won't.")
"Well," Topher says, "we're going to need something. Those things out there -"
"I'm quite aware," Adelle says.
(She doesn't let it break her cool. "And if I asked you?")
Boyd instructs the handlers, and Paul can't help thinking they're marching a bunch of innocent people to their deaths.
Adelle says nothing, but she watches him guard Mellie with something almost like amusement.
"You're sure this will work?" he asks Topher, mostly so he has something to distract him.
Topher looks at him like he's stupid for even bothering to ask, but he says, "Pretty sure. Mostly sure. I'm a little sure."
(He doesn't know why he ever expected to be comforted.)
"Well," he says, "as long as we've really thought this through."
("That's not what I signed on for," he says. He wishes he knew what he did sign on for, even now.)
"The actives are ready," Boyd says.
Adelle doesn't look at him. "Send them in."
("We are down one active," Adelle says. She holds his gaze for a moment, and then looks deliberately over his shoulder.
"You're the one who agreed to the deal."
"And if," she says, almost like it's a game, "in the end, it should come down to a choice?")
"I'm nervous," Mellie says. "I mean, that's probably crazy, right? It's not like I'm the one going out there. This is all just -"
Hell on earth.
"- it's crazy."
He holds her, because she presses into him, and because he still remembers the way she fits in his arms.
He wonders, for the first time, if it's possible to care about someone you've never met, or if he's as crazy as the rest of them.
("I feel like," Mellie had said, alone in the corridor, and paused. "It's crazy."
"It's not crazy," he had assured her.
It probably was.)
Adelle doesn't ask the question, just raises an eyebrow.
"The imprint looks good," Topher says. "But they're going to have a hell of a battle out there. We need more people."
"I'm inclined to agree," she says.
He holds her hand until it's over.
(Do you trust me?)
In the end, it comes down to a choice.