Looking back on her life, Adelle Dewitt knew exactly what decision she had made that would send her to Hell.
It wasn't missing mass, like her grandmother said.
It wasn't the temp receptionist work she did at the abortion clinic either, despite what all the protester signs claimed.
She also knew working for Rossum might seem to be the damning decision, but she was destined for eternal hellfire long before she began working for the massive corporation. Long before she became head of the LA Dollhouse.
Adelle was damned to Hell when she was nineteen, and looking back on her decision from her office above the Dollhouse, the whole affair seemed impossibly far off in her past. Even if it had lived with her every day since.
She laid her hands in her lap and stared out the window, knowing concentrating on work had just become a lost cause.
"Something on your mind, ma'am?"
Adelle looked at Laurence Dominic from the corner of her eye. "Just wondering if my view in Hell will be more appealing."
She could see his lips twitch towards a smile. Of all the people she knew, he was the only one who understood that she was being serious- for her, the question was an honest speculation.
"I'm sure you'll appreciate whatever it is you end up with."
Adelle smiled in turn, moving her focus back to the computer monitor and her unfinished work.
She first met Laurence when she was nineteen.
The smell of sulfur still clung to her hair no matter how many times she washed it, a lingering reminder of what she had just done. She was spending the last week of summer holiday with friends in Blackpool, trying one last gasp at being normal. Leaving the two other women to the cheap beer and karaoke, she had slipped out into the dingy streets under a light polluted sky and attempted to navigate her way back to the hotel.
She ended up by the water, debating whether or not to take off her shoes and walk in.
As far as first impressions went, their introduction on that beach could have gone a lot better.
"If I may ask, why are you thinking about it?"
The polite attitude he had adopted in recent years surprised her, though she was slowly growing used to it.
"A morbid curiosity over took me." The cursor on the computer screen blinked steadily up at her.
"You find existence after death morbid?" Amusement colored his tone.
"Knowing that souls are legitimate and have a purpose hasn't changed my life, just what comes after. It wasn't death I thought was morbid, but the fact that there is something after that."
"Now that death is no longer such a great mystery to you, you have to think of living past that as the cold truth in your future? You've turned life into the thing to fear at the end of the tunnel."
She wiggled the mouse so that the screen saver wouldn't appear. "I never said I feared it."
"Just that it was morbid."
"To you, morbid means fear?"
"Morbid means sadness. Death. You generally aren't happy when afraid."
"Generally. And just because you aren't happy doesn't mean you're sad."
She didn't respond.
At her silence Laurence continued, "that report is due today."
Adelle looked at the time on her monitor. Two thirty.
"Then it is good to know that I have nearly twenty-two hours to complete it."
Laurence stepped closer to her, hovering over her shoulder. He was frowning, "if something is going to happen, it would be best for you to tell me."
That he legitimately did work to protect the House was something she still found unbelievable, and she often questioned her sanity in taking him on for the job. She frequently questioned her state of mind though, with just about everything she had done in the past twenty-odd years.
"However am I going to know if you respond well to a crisis if I continue to tell you what is going to happen?" She side-stepped.
"I think I handled Alpha well."
Adelle grimaced at the reminder. Truth was, watching Laurence react to something she saw coming was one of the few entertaining variables left in her life.
When you sold your soul to the Devil and were granted foresight, life got boring, very quickly.
"You did," she finally responded. "And that means you should have no problem with what is coming next."
"That makes your reason for not telling me completely hypocritical," he pointed out, beginning to sound irritated.
"I believe you know the real reason, Laurence."
"You want a change in view," he deadpanned.
Adelle bounced on Topher's trampoline, trying to get the crisp into her mouth without smashing it into her nose first.
She wondered how Laurence was faring at the college.
"We should have theme specials," Topher announced from his couch.
After a crisp came close to being jammed into her eye, Adelle stopped bouncing and stepped off the trampoline. She wobbled slightly, legs growing re-accustomed to a solid floor.
"What kind of themes?" She asked, flopping onto a cushion next to him. A crisp made it successfully into her mouth.
Po-ta-to ch-ip, Topher had sounded out to her earlier.
Crisp, she had responded. He stared at her a moment before agreeing that her way took a great deal less time.
"Like.. Secret agent, James Bond week, and then.. Star Wars. Everyone loves Star Wars."
Adelle didn't mention that she saw Star Wars in theaters when she was a little girl. Remembering it made her feel old.
"Yes, the actives are either a double-o or a Bond girl."
"Pray tell, what would prevent them from assassinating the client or attempting world domination?"
"Right.." He stole a potato chip- crisp- from her bag.
She pulled the bag closer to her chest, despite having pilfered it from his drawer of inappropriate starches.
"Weren't we conducting an experiment?" Adelle asked.
"Oh yea," Topher leapt up from the cushion and bounded onto the trampoline. "I can jump way longer than you."
She wasn't sure if that was exactly it, but sat back and watched him anyway. Adelle wondered if world domination would be an experiment she could consider. Maybe she would discuss it with Laurence later.
Laurence was glowering at her.
Adelle didn't really care, though. He was laying on her desk, head hanging off the edge. She wondered if there was a term for an upside down glower, like how people tended to mix up smiles and frowns.
Heels in one hand, she walked across her office and whapped them on his nose.
"How was the college, Mr. Dominic?"
"I laughed," he sounded insulted, as if it had happened just because it would piss him off, and completely ignored the assault on his face.
She decided not to mention crying on Topher's shoulder.
"The best happens to the worst of us," dropping her shoes she moved around the desk so that she could sit in her chair.
Laurence's feet were bare and resting on her seat, so she lifted them up, sat in the chair, and then dropped them onto her lap.
The last time she had seen his feet bare she had been twenty three, and they had sex in the boathouse at the university she was attending. The rowing team couldn't get through the blockade they set up against the door and missed practice.
"You could have told me."
"Where would I get my fun then?" She ran her nail along the bottom of his foot, making it twitch.
"I'm not here for your fun."
Adelle wondered if his face would turn red if he continued to hang upside down.
"No," she agreed, "you're here to collect when the time is right."
She never could be sure how he would respond to certain things. Demons were a little unpredictable when it came to the physics of the human plane of life.
"Damn straight," he muttered, a marker that his mind was still a little addled from the drug. His vernacular tended to be more sophisticated. Laurence wiggled his feet in her lap. "Why did you stop?"
Adelle stared at the photo of federal agent Paul Ballard, suspended, and sighed.
"Order a hit on a federal agent?" She eyed her head of security skeptically.
"I could take care of the matter personally," Laurence offered.
"A waste of your talents, surely."
"Sometimes overkill is just a simpler solution."
Adelle watched him a moment, a little unsure if she should be laughing or not, before asking, "do you believe Ballard is the force behind Echo's continual survival?"
She saw his jaw twitch. Adelle wondered if the guardian angel that kept ruining his plans honestly angered him that much, or if he was mad at being called on his other agenda.
"No. That angel is hidden somewhere here. Ballard is a human."
"Then surely you'll trust my judgment in dealing with the human."
Laurence suddenly smiled, "you sound more and more like a demon everyday."
Adelle smiled back.
"Leave him be, for now," she ordered.
He nodded, smile still in place. "Anything else?"
She was about to say no, when something completely different slipped through her lips, "Mr. Dominic, how do you feel about world domination?"
"We're beginning to wonder if your actions lately have truly been made for the betterment of this company."
Adelle kept a patient, rapt expression on her face as Harding finished up his speech. Knowing that these visits were coming didn't make them any less dull. Rossum couldn't do anything to her, so any fear they were supposed to instill was lost. Were she to do anything that would cause them to try and remove her, Laurence would pluck her out of it and they would be on their way. The date of her collection was to be set only by him, and judging from his expression he wasn't happy with this visit. She had even told him Harding was coming, meaning the irritation wasn't meant for her.
Omissions of future events were the only thing that she could do that would draw his ire.
"What of my decisions haven't been for Rossum? Keeping my House at peek efficiency seems to be the best way to help." She spoke up after a moment of silence, finally noticing Harding had been waiting for a response.
"You honestly believe your House is doing well?" Genuine surprise laced his words.
"My House has been the sole advancer for this technology for the past three years. I fail to see a problem with improvement." She found it incredibly difficult to keep the undertone of sarcasm out of her words.
Laurence stood behind Harding, near the door. Her comment made him smirk and she felt herself smile back in response. She didn't feel like she was acting more and more like a demon, she felt like she was acting more and more like him. Sometimes, it became difficult to remember the connection between the two.
"If you can't take this seriously-"
Adelle reminded herself that it was impolite to smile during a scolding and interrupted him, "if you can't come up with a serious accusation, I hardly see the point."
Perhaps she could convince Laurence to kill Harding.
She doubted it would take that much convincing.
"Have you ever heard of a House under suspension before?"
"Hate to say it Boyd, but this is new territory for me too."
Adelle stopped on the walkway, interested in how their conversation would play out. She didn't really have anything to talk to Topher about anyway, with no engagements currently allowed.
"Do you think," the handler continued tentatively, "that Dewitt is acting a little strangely?"
"Strange how? Boss lady is always odd."
Always odd. She had never heard herself described that way before.
"This doesn't seem like something she would let happen."
"You don't let this happen, man friend. You try to prevent it."
There was a moment of silence before Topher responded, "you don't think she tried?"
"Letting someone shut down her operation just doesn't seem right."
"Yea, but.. she's gotta have a plan."
If only they knew how right that thought was.
With the House activity suspended, all Actives were under the roof while there was a minimal contingent of handlers. Security had been thinned down to a skeleton crew, and she ordered key scientists to the labs. They thought they were working on something to appease Rossum. If they thought she was a part of Rossum still, they would be partially correct.
She recalled the look in Laurence's eye when she shared her plan.
Adelle remembered her new office chair was yet to arrive. Excess enthusiasm only had so many outlets. They would have to move onto the couch.
"Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if I hadn't sold my soul?"
"Slightly more tedious, but I never would have gotten sand thrown in my face."
"There are some things Laurence, that you should learn to let go." Adelle paused before continuing, "besides, I can't have been the only creature in the universe to have done that too you."
"No, you weren't, but you were the only creature that greeted me that way. Why ask?"
It took her a moment to recall what question he was referring to. "When the future becomes fixed the past is what I can speculate on."
"What ifs exist regardless of outcomes."
"Outcomes can only change if the past is different."
He mulled over her words a moment before asking, "what do you think your life would be like if you weren't born in England?"
"With my parents still being English?"
The House was put on lock-down, and no one even noticed. Actives drifted from painting, to yoga, to massage. Topher and Ivy alternated between darts and pinball. All remaining handlers played poker in the break room.
Adelle stood on the walkway above the general activity, trying not to slip up on her image and lean against the rails. She couldn't remember the last time she was allowed to slouch in public.
"Everyone is here today."
She turned to see Echo at her side.
"Yes," she replied. "They are."
Unlike the other Dolls, Echo frequently wandered up and down the stairways. For any other Active they might have been walls, unless it was time to get a treatment.
"I haven't had a treatment. They make me my best. I try to be my best."
Laurence had told her once that the Divine left behind a smell on those it assisted. When she asked what that smell was, he had said sharp cheddar cheese. She didn't quite believe him, but she had never seen him eat cheese, either.
Echo continued to stare at her, wide, dark eyes not nearly as unknowing as they should be.
"Don't we all, my dear?"
"You're.. you're kidding right?"
"I assure you, Topher- I am not."
She smiled, wondering if confusion would become his new default expression.
"Ma'am, is this really necessary?" Laurence broke in.
Demons, Adelle had come to learn, did not care for technology.
"Necessary? I'm the only one here who can make your crazy plan work!"
The silence that followed Topher's outburst marked the falseness of the statement. Ivy could be coerced if he wouldn't cooperate, and if push came to shove Adelle could use the equipment herself, though she wouldn't be able to make new imprints.
"Topher," Adelle began gently. "Think of this as an opportunity to test the limits of your talents." She paused a moment before continuing, "you could be remembered as one of the true horsemen of the apocalypse."
The sincerity of her words seemed to scare him more than what she was asking of him. Topher looked subdued, eventually nodding his head.
"I'll.. I'll get started on what I can."
"I look forward to seeing what you produce," she smiled encouragingly at him.
When he left Laurence moved around the desk to stand at her side.
"I think we need to implement something other than Topher as our plan of attack."
"Quite right," Adelle picked up a pen from her desk and rolled it between her fingers.
"Do you have anything else?" Exasperation laced his voice.
"Mr. Dominic, I know everything else. What greater plan can you think of?"
"How about an actual plan?"
She laid the pen down on the desk and turned to face her head of security, "do you have so little faith in me?"
It was the first time she saw hesitation in his eyes.
"You're mad, Dewitt- Adelle-" Boyd began to look desperate, eyes frantically moving around the room.
The other handlers were uneasily pressed against a wall, eyeing her and Laurence warily.
"Quite right Mr. Langton, but I'm afraid knowing that is hardly going to change your position."
"Is it really wise to admit insanity in front of the staff, ma'am?" Laurence almost looked bored in his address. The intensity of his gaze on her marked his nonchalance for the show it was, he was worried.
"A simple statement of fact, Mr. Dominic. One you yourself provided." She didn't bother to try and appease him.
"I said it was an eventuality," he corrected.
"We can debate specifics later, kill anyone who hesitates." Adelle turned sharply and walked out of the room, shouting picked up behind her immediately.
She didn't make it three feet before the screaming started.
It was just noise. Adelle wasn't sure when she began to register suffering in such a way.
"Taking over really is the simple part," Adelle watched the pen as she spun it across her fingers. "It's maintaining things where it becomes difficult."
"You don't seem to be trying to maintain anything," Laurence pointed out.
Her eyes drifted over to the couch in her office, where Topher was sleeping.
"No," she responded simply. "But you don't need me to tell you why that is."
"No," he muttered softly. "You don't."
"Is the day set then?"
"In this case ma'am, they'll be coming to you."
Adelle set the pen down and slowly stood up. "Delightful. I don't much care for traveling these days."
As she stepped around her desk a distant explosion lit up the sky, and a moment later the office rumbled quietly as the sound reached them. Topher shifted on the couch but didn't wake. When he whimpered, she didn't put down a hand to comfort him.
Laurence turned away.
"Is this really what you want?"
"I believe the more appropriate question, given the circumstance is, 'is this really what I wanted?'"
Laurence sighed, exasperated. "It isn't what I'm asking."
Adelle turned to look at him, what once would have earned him a look of amusement now showed him nothing but blankness. She wasn't there anymore.
He wondered how long he'd been ignoring the signs of her descent into insanity. It was always difficult to tell, with humans.
She answered his question, "I desired it in the past, and now that it is here-" Adelle paused. "It is what I want." There was no conviction in her statement.
"Sometimes people change their minds," Laurence responded. "Or make mistakes."
"Is this a mistake?"
"This?" Laurence gestured out before them, catching sight of dirt on the edge of his cuff. He would have to change soon, he wondered if he would miss the suit. "This," he repeated. "Is part of the cosmic plan. It would have happened regardless of your actions."
Adelle crossed her arms, head tilted just slightly to the side as she surveyed the scene. Ash fell in her hair. "Hell on Earth."
"I always knew I would see this," he continued.
"Surprised that you stand by a human to do so?"
He scoffed. "Humanity was always going to do this to itself." Laurence suddenly hesitated, "I just never expected it to be you."
He would miss her, no need to wonder about that, he already did. Had been? Humans. There was a reason he didn't do these collections, and typically it all had to do with boredom and not attachment. Now though, looking back on that policy, Laurence almost let himself regret the jobs he had refused. Maybe they would have met in a past life of hers, though souls rarely made the same mistake twice.
His father had never pushed him to take a job like he had with Adelle's contract. Bastard probably knew what was going to happen. Had happened. You had to experience it to know it, he always said. When you know how they feel, you know how to manipulate them.
Laurence scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed. He was tired of this human skin. No- he was sick of this feeling, even if a part of him wanted it to never go away.
Adelle turned to look back at him, a curiously blank expression on her face.
"I'm going to change things."
"There's nothing in any future that could change this." She told him.
She. It. Just a face he used to know. Wanted to again.
Laurence resisted the urge to reach out and touch her.
"I'm not talking about changing things, I'm saying I'm making it different so it can be different."
"You can't change the past," she reminded him.
"No. But I know someone who can."
She wasn't coming back, but he could make sure she never left. He didn't want what ifs, he wanted possibilities.
"What would be the point?"
"You'd know the answer to that again." Laurence sounded more convinced than he felt.
"Did I ever?"
"No," he conceded. "But you knew it was important to ask."
There was a long pause, filled in by the sound of the waves. He had found her out here yesterday, and she had decided that she liked him.
Why? He'd asked, it's not like you can see the future. Maybe I'm planning to kill you.
Laurence, no one can see the future. That's what makes life interesting.
His mind wandered back to the present in time to hear her question.
"Do you ever wonder how we got here?"
He never took his eyes away from the water, though he could picture her face in his mind. At nineteen, Adelle wore her hair short, just coming to her chin. There was a spark behind her eyes that only youth could supply, though she definitely carried the shape of a grown woman. Her lips held a soft curve, as if she were always just barely holding back a smile. With this question, her head would tilt to the side, causing hair to fall over her face. She wouldn't notice, eyes too focused on finding an answer.
Laurence tightened his grip on her hand.