Title: A Balance Struck
Pairing: Adelle DeWitt/Laurence Dominic
Warning(s): Sex, violence, language
Summary: "The measure of a man's reach is the amount of devastation he can inflict when he leaves... and that upon his return." Laurence Dominic escapes, and takes Adelle with him.
Wordcount: 4778 words
Disclaimer: Dollhouse does not belong to me.
A/N: Written for dollhousefics' challenge #11, reach.
Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.
- John Le Carre
Adelle always knew she would suffer a violent death, but it wasn't until recently that she factored Laurence Dominic into the equation.
The air was insufferably humid, thick and heavy, coating her skin with easy-earned sweat as Dominic prodded her along the black pavement. The parking lot was empty. Not a soul to witness her humiliation, held at gunpoint by a man she once trusted more than anyone.
They halted feet in front of a used Honda something-or-another that seemed to be a relic from the seventies, the pale blue coating having rusted around the tires and the front end. Dominic went through the routine of checking it out, while Adelle stood quietly, watching, a bead of sweat working down her neck and under the neckline of her sodden shirt. She didn't feel particularly elegant in the least, but watching Laurence conduct yet another one of his futile measures gave Adelle a momentary stab of superiority.
"They'll find us," Adelle taunted, without letting much inflection into her voice. "There is no distance great enough, no hole deep enough. Whatever unfathomable measure you've planned for this, they'll find us. You must know that."
Dominic lifted his eyes to her briefly. "I plan on it."
Adelle had never doubted that. They had spent the last few hours trading cars, moving from place to place, a gun digging quietly into the small of her back whenever they went anywhere remotely public. It had been hours since she'd seen another living soul, though; he needn't have bothered with such measures. But then, of course, Laurence Dominic was a lot of things and careless was never one of them. It was an asset she had benefited from on more than one occasion, but lately it hadn't been as admirable.
He had an endgame, but Adelle had yet to deconstruct it.
She suspected Saunders. Possibly Boyd. Both had the tendency to show sympathies that didn't perfectly align with those of her House.
When she'd first received word that Dominic had escaped – been set free, Boyd declared that morning – Adelle ran a gambit of emotions. There had been a resurgence of anger and alarm, some morsel of relief that betrayed her, but above all else, there had been a quiet sense of knowledge that this event had been inevitable. Laurence Dominic wasn't a problem she could neatly store inside a box and forget; not even in her line of work where either option was a routine course of action.
When they hit route 66, Adelle adjusted the handcuffs on her wrists and glanced aside. "Who set you free?"
Dominic didn't even glance in her direction. "Your house has leaks, Adelle. That can't surprise you at this point."
She flinched against the criticism nearly as much as she flinched against the use of her first name. Adelle knew she'd never get an answer from him. But the question was a necessity, a formality; most people said hello and goodbye and talked about the weather; their conversations had been reduced to the banalities of accusations and subterfuge. Round and round they went, and Adelle suspected neither would get anywhere.
"My security was never what I hoped it would be," she offered into the dead silence of the cab. "Apparently it's hard to find efficient help these days."
"Efficiency was never my problem."
"Oh?" Adelle replied easily. "You got caught, didn't you? I doubt the NSA would think that was terribly efficient of you."
"My problem was never efficiency," Dominic repeated. "My problem was always you."
He betrayed her. She tortured him. He shot her. She watched his mind wiped clean.
Neither had ever flinched.
In that regard, they were well matched for one another. Dominic had always been, in certain ways, an equal to her. Challenging. Poised. Cultured. Articulate. Professional. A trained liar – apparently he'd been particularly skillful at that last bit. For all his faults, in which disloyalty clearly topped the list, Adelle had never underestimated him and yet she had never seen his betrayal coming. Adelle wondered if that revealed more about herself than it did about him.
She almost drifted asleep at one point, but managed to catch herself with a jolt awake.
If he wouldn't sleep, then neither could she.
They drove south all through the night in utter silence.
Day Two of this little misadventure and Adelle had more than enough of it. The sunrise illuminated the eastern sky and rose above the horizon, and Adelle dropped down the visor. The silk off-white camisole didn't afford her any protection in this desert heat, and her pale shoulders now stung with recent sunburn.
They stopped for gas, picked up Mexican food from ill-advised locations, and only once for a bathroom break. The ladies' room had been on the second floor, and after he'd run a sweep of the place, he'd left her to her own devices for privacy. Of course, Adelle had used the opportunity to her favor, and pried open the small back window above the stall.
The drop from the second floor hadn't been as hard as it could have been; she broke her heel, twisted an ankle, and only ended up a little bit dusty for her troubles. The real insult had been Dominic, leaning against the building with his arms folded over his chest, idly waiting for her to notice his presence. He'd been expecting her attempt at escape; of course, he had.
His smug smile was a bit too much for her to handle. "These shoes costs more than your first salary," she muttered, angrily brushing away dirt from her skirt. "I don't know why you have me here. If your plans are to kill me, then do it already. Save us both the theatrics of drawing out this little charade."
"This isn't a charade," Dominic said, pushing off from his post. "And if I wanted to kill you, I wouldn't do it quickly."
The harshness of his words was lessened when he offered her a hand up. She refused it, rising on a twisted ankle and a broken heel. She hobbled awkwardly back to the car, aware her dignity was taking a hit every second. Pains lanced up her left leg, but it was a fate better than reaching for his hand.
"You really are a piece of work," Dominic remarked, lazily, snidely.
Adelle hid a flinch.
She started a little at the tired greeting and opened her eyes to find him looking to her, lines of exhaustion as brutal as her own etching Dominic's face. Damn it. She'd fallen asleep. The sun had set, the road was still empty in front of them, and there were handcuffs dangling from his fingers.
"I need to sleep for a few hours," he declared, and she knew exactly what that meant.
He cuffed her to the steering wheel, then left the car briefly only to stretch out across the backseat. She watched him through the rearview mirror as he removed his outer shirt, muscles bunching, sleek with sweat. Dominic had always kept himself in excellent shape – broad chest, strong arms – and for a second, despite herself, she couldn't look away. She did, eventually, but not quickly enough to evade getting caught.
"I used to wonder if we could have been something," he offered, as her face flushed with heat. On their own accord, her eyes returned to the mirror and found his knowing gaze riveted on her. "In fact, after a while, I was almost positive of it. But then… you could have just killed me. The Attic. Why the fuck did you send me to the Attic?"
"You betrayed the Dollhouse," Adelle replied brusquely. "I wanted to make an example out of you."
"That's it?" he demanded, anger darkening his steady voice. "You fried my brain like scrambled eggs as an example?"
She held his gaze unflinchingly through the small mirror. "You weren't worth anything more."
The radio played all morning the next day to cover for the silence. Christian contemporary, news/talk, 80's rock, but Dominic eventually settled the station on some sports talk show, no doubt a new form of perverse punishment for Adelle. She'd never grown fond of American football, and honestly, the talk of pre-season drafting was worse than listening to Topher ramble on about his newest video game.
"Why are you doing this?" she snapped. "What do you want from me?"
Despite the fact that there had been dead silence between them for the better part of four hours, Dominic didn't miss a beat. "You know their dirty little secrets. You know the Dollhouse's weaknesses better than anybody else."
"I'll never tell you anything."
The corners of his mouth turned upward in a mockery of a smirk she had once found dashing. "You think I don't know that?"
"Because your bosses don't know you half as well as I do. We've been gone for two days. Two days where they've been exposed. They're probably dismantling the L.A. branch as we speak."
"You plan on ransoming me?"
"I plan on selling you," he corrected, "piece-by-piece if I have to. They can't afford you spilling their secrets. They'll pay whatever I want."
Adelle narrowed her eyes. "You don't want money."
"This has never been about money."
It was the third day before they stopped at a place to rest. Adelle nearly wept with relief – figuratively, of course. Three days in a small compact vehicle, in desert heat, and the only company afforded to her was a man that was more likely to kill her than provide scintillating conversation.
Besides, Adelle desperately needed a shower.
The town was small, and Dominic spoke broken Spanish for them while pressing a hidden gun into the small of her back to keep Adelle muzzled. There were a few rusted cars with scrawny dogs sleeping off the stubborn heat. They found a place to stay, and the room was small, with stains on the carpet, horrendous wallpaper and lighting in the bathroom that flickered on and off in an annoying rhythm. Adelle deemed the term "flee-infested, rat-trap" as overly generous.
"Charming," she said out-loud, bleeding sarcasm into the word.
"The Honeymoon Suite wasn't available," Dominic drawled.
He wedged a chair under the doorknob, and then ran a quick search of the area with his fingers curled possessively around his sidearm.
Still, the mattress was clean and that was all that mattered, even if it did sag pathetically under her weight. She'd kicked off her heels, gratefully, and though she'd long since removed her pantyhose, the itch was still there and would remain so until she could scrub herself clean.
It took her a moment to realize an obvious problem with the layout of the room. There was a singular bed, a dingy floor, and no couch. The sleeping arrangements were going to be negotiated, she suspected – or at least, she hoped.
"I'm gonna take a shower," Dominic declared, and held up the handcuffs. "You know what that means."
It took her a second to fully grasp the arrangement, though. There were no hard surfaces in the room, except for… "You are not handcuffing me to the bed!" she protested, incredulous.
It seemed a little foolish that her pride would prickle over this than all the other indignities she'd suffered the last few days, but a bloody line had to be drawn somewhere.
"Relax," Dominic muttered, humor burgeoning in his eyes that she wanted desperately to wipe clean. "Look at it from this perspective. We're both adults. There's one bed. And I have the gun. You don't have a choice, Adelle."
Her wrist had been chaffed raw, but Adelle couldn't help but toss and turn uncomfortably in bed as Dominic took his time in the shower. With no ceiling fan or air conditioning, the heat in the room was stifling and she was pouring sweat. Again. She had a fairly good idea what the sleeping arrangements for the night would have in store for her, and Adelle wasn't going to take that lightly.
She tried reaching for the landline phone, but it was disconnected. She tried finding a weapon to utilize, but there wasn't even a letter-opener in this rat-infested place. She spent a few moments searching anything within reachable vicinity, but her troubles were fruitless.
To add insult to injury, when Dominic emerged from the bathroom, he was bare-chested and in sweatpants, running a towel through his hair. He looked refreshed and clean, and Adelle fumed silently while he seemed content to ignore her presence for a few more moments.
"You're not nearly as clever as you think," she informed him.
He glanced aside, smirking, and finally unhooked her cuffs. "Clean up quickly," he ordered, then tossed her a duffle bag. "We're only staying here for a few hours."
Adelle opened the bag to find a pair of men sized sweats and a black t-shirt. She rubbed her wrists as she quietly entered the facilities, immediately assessing the place for anything she could use. There was a small window in the upper right hand corner; not even a child could fit through. It was as hopeless as every other pit-stop they'd visited between L.A. and this little shithole.
Resting briefly in front of the mirror, Adelle studied the reflection with a disparaging glare. She looked… horrible, put plainly. There wasn't a spot of make-up on her face, her hair was in disarray, and her clothes had been soaked through with sweat more than once. She spun the faucet angrily and watched cold water spurt out. Her face was darker than usual, not quiet sunburned, but getting there. She scrubbed her face first, thankful for the cool touch of water for the first time in days. Adelle was tempted to take her time to run a bath, but she didn't trust the facilities that much.
The shower proved adequate, but as she stood under the tepid warm water and rinsed her body clean, Adelle was still preoccupied. There were noises from the other room, and she wondered what Dominic was doing.
Three days, and not a single peep regarding their intended destination, not even something that gave her a half-formulated clue beyond that ofsouth of the border. There had been nothing except 72 hours of silence jabbed with the occasional sarcastic barb. That was almost more than the stoic Adelle Dewitt could endure. Releasing a sigh, she ducked her head under the stream of water and closed her eyes.
She needed to get out of here, and a thought suddenly occurred to her.
Adelle wrapped the piece of broken glass in a hand towel, and looked silently to the door. The shower was still running, hopefully giving Dominic the illusion that she was still busy. The sweatpants swamped her hips, and the black-T wasn't Dominic's size, so she knew without asking that someone else had given him these clothes. Once she was free from here, there were probably other obstacles she'd have to face, but Adelle decided to take her escape one step at a time.
When she silently emerged from the bathroom, Dominic was sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to her. Adelle studied him for a beat; there was a mobile in his hand, and a white pad of paper resting on his thigh. She was tempted to get an angle at his notes, but that was for another time. She treaded silently forward, her hand clutching the shard of glass in front of her.
She took him by surprise, lunging forward, but the shard missed his jugular and nicked his shoulder instead. Dominic rebounded swiftly with an elbow to her face, grabbed her right arm and twisted so that Adelle screamed out. She stuck out her foot, trying to trip him but he responded with a block and pushed her back. He sent her stumbling backwards and skidding across the floor.
Dominic advanced, and Adelle kicked out, winging him in the shin with her heel. He pitched forward to the ground, and Adelle attacked. But this wasn't like fencing at all. Dominic made things messy and brutal as he always did. She managed to land an open palm to his face, but Adelle had never before given enough credit to Dominic's training, because he suddenly seemed imposing.
He hefted Adelle around the waist and hurled her into the wall by the bed. She crumpled to the floor, winded, then stretched across for the blade of glass again and swung out, intending another killing blow.
He edged back, and Adelle rose. "You stubborn idiot! All this potential, and you waste it in meaningless measures like this. You can't bring down something like the Dollhouse."
"Nothing is untouchable," he declared, coldly.
"Now who's being naïve?" she tossed back, before she saw his gun lying by the nightstand.
She pitched forward, but Dominic dove in the same moment and during the ensuing struggle the gun clattered to the floor, out of reach to either of them. They wrestled on the floor, but Dominic disarmed her within two moves, pulling Adelle to her feet. He caught her arms and Adelle nearly dislocated a shoulder thrashing against his hold. He pushed her against the back wall, pinning her hands beside her head.
"Stop it!" he yelled. "Stop struggling, Adelle!"
She stopped fighting for just a second, staring wild eyed at him, his face resting inches apart from hers. Her breath came in short jagged bursts, and she wanted to tell him to go to hell.
The sudden shock of his lips crashing down on hers stalled all words. Her eyes flew open, shock registering in every fiber of her body at the unexpected move. Dominic proved demanding and aggressive with the kiss, unrepentant about taking over her mouth as he backed her up against the wall. Her backside collided hard, and she wanted to resist – she should have resisted – but the struggle only lasted a second until her hands felt bare skin under her touch and her body suddenly kindled a fire that was wrong and damning, but Adelle couldn't stop it.
She responded, blindly, a dark want spiking through her tense body. Arms moved up his chest and snaked around his neck, and she gave back everything he took and more, the kiss intense and brutal. Tongue toying, teeth biting, the kiss was almost a continuation of their fight if it weren't for the fact that both were moving toward the same conclusion.
He all but threw her to the mattress, and then Dominic was on top of her, heavy and solid, kissing her senseless until there was no moment to think. To protest. There was no hesitation, no uncertainty, just pure dark desire that Adelle had denied herself for so long. She'd always felt an attraction to Dominic, a quiet lust tainted with emotion. She'd suppressed it first with duty, then with anger. But now no measure of reason could cloud her judgment.
He dragged his mouth away for a second, panting heavily. "Adell—"
"Shut up and kiss me," she ordered tersely, and thrust her hand through his hair, pulling him back down to her waiting mouth.
Colored lights floated, vision blurring with a lack of oxygen from his relentless kisses, and the press of his hardening dick against her thigh felt sinfully right. The sheets on the bed tangled as they rolled, chests rubbing as they strained together; needing more touch, more feel – they needed to take more.
"Christ," he gasped, "oh, fuck."
There weren't many words after that.
When he woke up, Adelle was waiting with her palm resting idly over his sidearm. He bolted up, but it was too late. She aimed her gun, and Dominic offered a curse under his breath. For the first time in days, the power structure had been restored to its rightful balance.
Funnily enough, Adelle didn't feel as thrilled as she would have expected.
"What are your intentions toward the Dollhouse?"
Dominic groaned, settling back against the headboard with a scowl on his face. "The Dollhouse. The Dollhouse. The Dollhouse," he mocked. "All work and no play make Adelle a dull girl."
"Mr. Dominic, perhaps now is not the best time for your customary default acerbity. Answer my question."
"Mr. Dominic?" he repeated, incredulous, lifting his chin to meet her gaze. "We weren't so formal a few minutes ago."
"Yes, and now I have the gun in my hands."
He smirked. "What? You fucked me to take advantage of me?"
"In a word, yes."
"Bullshit," he called, seemingly confident. "I wasn't thinking a damn thing about strategy, and neither were you. You could barely even remember your own name."
Adelle adopted a look of wry amusement. "My, my, someone thinks highly of their performance."
"You care about me."
Adelle stopped short, the words having the unwanted effect of halting her snide comments dead in their tracks. And suddenly, she was right back in her living room that fateful day, with Echo standing to the side and Dominic sitting in a heap in front of her, bloody and beaten but no less confrontational. He'd hurt her, in a way that no man or woman had ever managed to do before.
She'd trusted him, but no more.
"Once upon a time," Adelle conceded. "Yes, I did care about you."
"And what? Tonight was just about whoring yourself out to get the gun? Bullshit," he called again, and Adelle tensed despite herself. "It's still there, whatever we had. Have. It's still there."
"Oh, do stop with the declarations," she snapped. "Tonight wasn't Bridges-of-Madison-County love-making. It was a fuck, in the basest terms possible. There is nothing between us except the betrayal you erected. I trusted you once, but I'm not in the habit of falling for the same ruse twice."
"I told you before I never lied about my methods or my priorities," he said, and Adelle flinched, because even months later the mere echo of that conversation stung like a fresh slap across the face. "I always cared about you, more than I should have. I still do, even after what you put me through."
"Then you're a fool," Adelle declared, and rose to snatch his mobile.
"If you let the Dollhouse stand, one day you'll die when the roof caves in."
"A poignant turn of phrase," Adelle muttered, scrolling through his mobile's history; unfortunately it was clean. "But I don't plan on letting poetry or any amount of pretty words dissuade me."
"They're not just words! Damn it, listen to me!" he barked, and Adelle looked up. "You don't know the Dollhouse's purpose as well you think. Have you heard what the Manhattan Division is doing? The government is on to them, and these types of unauthorized experiments are going to burn you all. You can't be this blind."
Adelle held his gaze as evenly as she could, and as much as Adelle looked for it, there wasn't an ounce of deceit in his eyes. He really didcare for her; it hadn't all been a lie. Swallowing back something in her throat, she searched the room before she found the familiar pair of handcuffs.
She tossed them to Dominic. "To the bedpost. Quickly."
"Adelle," he began.
"I won't repeat myself. Do it."
When he was done, she retreated to the bathroom to make her phone calls in private. Or so she told herself. For the first few minutes, though, after she slammed the door shut Adelle rested with her back against the solid frame, and tried desperately not to let any tears fall. His words stung, and Adelle dropped her head onto one hand and ran shaky fingers through her hair.
How many times could she fall for the same man?
How naïve could she afford to be?
"We'll send a team right over," Boyd said, over the phone. "They'll be across the border within an hour, maximum."
"Sooner," Adelle ordered, and refused to look at the shattered reflection in the mirror, one she had broken mere hours ago. "Bring Echo and Sierra as agents. Leave Victor behind as security for the Dollhouse."
"Understood," Boyd answered. "It's good to know you're all right, Ms. DeWitt."
She finally met the eyes staring at her from the mirror, and Adelle had no idea if she would ever be all right with everything with Dominic. He was like a wound that never healed; it just festered and puckered red like an open cut.
Aloud, she only said, "As soon as I get a fresh pair of acceptable clothes, I'll be no worse for wear."
She hung up without another word, resting open palms against the porcelain of the sink. She waited patiently, seconds-to-minutes later, then finally lifted her head and looked to the bathroom door.
Adelle walked back into the bedroom to discover Dominic gone, the handcuffs dangling off the bedpost and the front door wide-open. She felt no shock, no alarm, no sense of trepidation whatsoever. Instead, with a quick sweep of her eyes, she looked to the bedside table where a note rested.
It said, You handcuffed me, but didn't search for the keys. Some would call that sloppy. I know you better than that.
Before Boyd's team arrived, Adelle lit a match and watched the note burn.
Three weeks later, she was sitting behind her desk, reviewing the latest report from the Manhattan Division regarding some trouble they had recently with security measures, when the phone rang.
"Adelle DeWitt," she answered.
"Do you want to know what the Manhattan Division is doing?" a familiar male voice asked. "I have proof now, and you're going to want to hear this. It affects you."
Adelle paused in quiet contemplation. A new tentative balance could be struck. It could come back to haunt her, of course, but Adelle was willing to see where this all played out. Laurence Dominic may have had some use left in him, still. This made her neither naïve nor foolish. Adelle was doing what she always did.
She was playing a bad hand very well.
Adelle pivoted in her chair. "Tell me, Mr. Dominic."