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Rating: PG13 for some language and mention of death
Pairing: Dominic/DeWitt
Fandom: Dollhouse
Summary: A Dom/DeWitt Epitaph era fic with snarkiness, teamwork and comfort
Words: 3,200+
Disclaimers: The characters don't belong to me, the idea does.

He had been leaning against the side of that beat up shed watching her for a few minutes now, hearing her curse to herself in the most British way possible while she tried to fix whatever was wrong with the even more beat up pick-up. He could’ve said something, but he didn’t. Whether it was curiosity or some quiet pleasure at watching her struggle, he couldn’t say. Didn’t bother asking himself. It was only when he couldn’t take it anymore that he piped up, arms folded across his chest.

“You want a hand with that?”

DeWitt looked back at him, little bit amused by his quiet cheek. She wouldn’t have said it, though. Not ever. Wouldn’t accept help the first time, either. Not unless she was paying him for it. “I’ve got it, thanks.”

She didn’t have it. Not by a long shot, but he bit back his comment, stepping over the dirt ground. “You sure?” She stiffened as he stood behind her, close enough to look under the hood. She was always a little stiff after he got back from a long outing, like she was still pissed at the fact he dared to have any sorta mission that didn’t revolve around her. Lighten up, DeWitt. It’s only the end of the world. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Bloody thing won’t start,” she answered, exhaling. Good. That explained a lot. He wasn’t sure he did such a good job at containing his incredulous expression.

“Doing that grinding noise when you try and start it?” Typical that instead of actually answering him, she’d arch her brow like that, offer some snide and ridiculous remark.

“Since when do you know anything about vehicles, Mr. Dominic?”

Was that a joke, or a challenge? Her tone had been humourless as ever. Not that he could judge. “After all that, you still want to think you know everything about me.” She didn’t comment. Good. Not like there was anything she could say. What was done was done, and they’d both eaten the bullet for it. He was pretty sure he’d exceeded the number of times he could rub it in her face that he had seen this coming, no matter how good it felt to watch that mask of confidence crack sometimes. He occupied himself with the engine instead. Probably wasn’t anything too serious. They’d be fucked if it was. Wasn’t as if they were drowning in tools and spare parts. With all the extra pieces Victor, or Tony or whatever he was calling himself had in his head, Dominic would’ve thought he could figure out how to fix a rickety engine. She probably hadn’t asked him, stubborn as she was. The thought both irritated and impressed him. “Starter motor is all greased up. Easily fixable. Wanna grab me a wire brush from the shed?”

He could practically feel her heat radiating from behind his shoulder, taste the comment on the tip of her tongue, but it never came. When she came back with it, her gaze was scrutinizing. He didn’t thank her as he took it from her hand. What was there to thank her for? Manners hardly seemed to matter at the end of the earth, and he didn’t owe her anything. He was starting to take it as a personal insult that she still looked surprised by the time he had taken the necessary pieces apart and put them back together in working order.

“Try it now.”

He could’ve told her to fuck herself when the engine started, but he just shut the hood, an implied ‘you’re welcome’ in the small slam.

“All right, out with it,” she said, before he could take off. “Where did you learn that trick?”

“Wasn’t a trick. I like knowing how things work.” It served him well, especially in a world like this one. Not that he had had that in mind when he’d learned. He liked to take things apart and putting them back together. Once upon a time, he’d liked doing it for her – usually without the back together part.

“Do you?” she grinned. He didn’t like the look of it. Didn’t like that she was still trying to get in his head. After all this time, definitely felt like she’d got enough of that.The fact it tormented her, knowing so little about what’d been the truth and what’d been a lie was one of the only pleasures he had left. “The secret life of Laurence Dominic: Mechanic, or Laurence Dominic: Engineer, perhaps,” she mocked.

“You know my mechanical skills just saved your ass, right?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, you’re quite the gallant hero.” He thought that was that, but her next words fell a little more softly, more like a blanket than a hammer. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, no problem,” he nodded. “How come you were doing that, anyway?”

He had expected something like ‘Victor was busy’ or ‘I’ll be damned if I have to rely on others to make it through my days’, but he got something different. It was vulnerable, honest, and about as un-DeWitt as he could comprehend.

“My mother thought it was important to learn, in case I was stranded somewhere. Of course, it’s been some time since then, hasn’t it?”

He couldn’t picture DeWitt having a mother. He couldn’t imagine her as anything but what she was. He could face an apocalypse, but the thought of her as a teenager in bell bottoms and tie-dye with a Ford Panda? Too much.

 “Yeah? Think if some roadside slasher went after you, I’d pity the slasher.” Where had that come from?

“How terribly sweet of you.”

“Not really,” he shot back, not exactly sure if she had been giving him a hard time, but definitely sure he couldn’t let that last comment float her way without a couple of sharp edges surrounding it. She glared at him before he broke the silence with a shrug. “What?”

“Nothing at all, Mr. Dominic.” She picked up the rifle that had been standing on idle against the tire. He would’ve taken it for some sort of gesture if she’d been paying him the slightest bit of attention. “I’m going on a supply run now that my steed is ready. Would you care to join me?”

“You?” he retorted in disbelief, and she looked back at him with an expression nothing less than coldly challenging. “Guess things sure have changed since I’ve been gone.” He had just got back from rounding up actuals last night. By rights, he should’ve been sleeping it off, but there weren’t many king beds in hell. He crossed the couple of feet to the shed, tucking a handgun into his belt and grabbing another rifle for good measure. He wasn’t looking to waste ammo unless they had to, and the area had looked pretty clean on his way through, but he wasn’t about to go out with anything less. Who knew, if the mood struck, she might wanna march him to the middle of the country and leave him there. Apparently, he took too long arming up, because she was looking at him with that disapproving glare of hers when he got back.

“Get in before I change my mind.”

“Still giving the orders,” he shot back as he slipped in beside her.

“Do you have a problem with that?”

Yes.

“Ask again later.”

She shook her head as they hit the road, and he couldn’t resist the urge to twist another teasing knife in her shoulder.

“What’re we looking for, ma’am.”

She smirked briefly as his use of the throwback, but it wasn’t exactly unfriendly. What he wouldn’t give sometimes to figure out how her warped mind worked.

“Anything that remotely resembles hospitable. We’re out for the usual, although a new shovel would be nice. Tony broke the old one before heading off.”

Victor. That explained why tech-boy hadn’t been around to mess with the mechanics.

“Topher will run low on medicine soon, but we’ll manage, for a while.”

Her voice got this low, quiet quality when she talked about him, like she was reliving all her biggest regrets.

“You like him, huh?” Enough to curl up with him and read him bedtime stories to make him feel better, if he had heard right. Wished he coulda been around to see that. She frowned at his question, her gaze saddening.

“He trusts me, and anyway, he’s my responsibility.”

“Sorry, but how exactly is that?” He never figured her for the mommy type. The thought there might have been as much he didn’t know about her as there was that she didn’t know about him pissed him off more than he liked to admit. When she answered him, it was with a heavy eye roll.

“I know you were otherwise occupied, but I’d have thought you’d put together the fact that I presided over Topher’s breakdown, along with most of civilization, if the others hadn’t gossiped about it already.”

He held back that bitter chuckle he felt in the back of his throat, watching the wasteland roll by around them. “Maybe I just wanted to hear you say it.”

“And are you satisfied?” she asked flatly.

“Sure am. I came back from the hell you sent me to, right into another one. Ain’t life grand,” he sneered with irony.

“Would you rather I left you there?”

Were they having this conversation, now? Was this what was happening?

“Since we’re discussing it, I would have preferred it if you didn’t send me at all. Twice.”

His words echoed the phrasing she had used with him, right before she had done it. Funny, coming from the man who tried to kill her. Twice. Felt like decades ago.

“You would have died if I hadn’t put you back,” she answered matter of factly, as if she were commenting on something simple, like the weather.

“Theory was that I was supposed to die when I killed myself up there, but I didn’t. Guess I’m tougher than you think.” That was supposed to mean that he’d have made it, if she’d given him a chance out there, but like everything, she took it wrong.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Some days, it is.” His voice was plain and steady, free entirely of self-pity. “Turn off here,” he instructed before she could comment. “Saw an old farmhouse when I was making my way back yesterday. It’s outta the way, behind that ridge. Might have been left alone, and you might find that shovel you were looking for.”

He got way too much of a kick out of how impressed she looked, but he kept his face impassive. She nodded with approval when his memory proved correct a few miles down what was barely left of the road. There was a shovel and a garden fork resting against the side of the barn, like the whole place was untouched by everyone else’s disaster, like the owners might come back at any second to do a little gardening.

“Mr. Dominic, you may have found us a winner.”

There it was again.

“It’s still creepy when you call me that,” he answered, shaking his head as he climbed out of the cab of the truck, readying his weapon in case the place wasn’t as abandoned as he thought.

“Is there another name you’d prefer me to use?”

Since when did she give a damn about his preferences, anyway? Matters of free will and consent weren’t exactly valued in her world. He rolled his eyes.

“I don’t know. Laurence sounds weird too.” He flicked the safety off his gun. “Maybe... we just stick with Dominic, for now. No Mister.” It’s what most of the others had taken to calling him, anyway. She was the only one who had clung to the formality. He didn’t have to tell her to be on guard as they looked around. She might not have been a veteran of their little raids, but if there was one thing he could credit DeWitt with, it was not being a complete dumbass.

“All right, keep your voice down, Dominic, in case we aren’t alone.”

He couldn’t suppress the tiniest grin. God damn her for always surprising him.

“Yes ma’am.”

The barn and farmhouse proved to be quite the treasure trove. The empty storm cellar with its wide-open doors meant they had been prepared for some sort of disaster. Must have taken everything in the house so that they could protect it, if raiders or butchers stopped by. They filled a couple of crates with cans of shit that must’ve been processed to high hell in order to get use-by dates that far in the future, but you know what they said about beggars and choosers. Medicine cabinet didn’t have any of the heavy duty stuff, but pain killers and antibiotics were nothing to turn a nose up at, either. Still, he couldn’t shake that deep, nagging suspicion that the place was too good to be true. He had stopped believing that horse crap about how there was untouched beauty in the world. There wasn’t anything untouched any more. The farthest corners had been breached by the wrath of Topher Brink’s so-called genius. Apparently, genius really did have side-effects, and the collapse of civilization was one of ‘em. Knowing it didn’t make it any easier when you saw the side-effects up close.

He was emptying the back room when he saw them, silhouettes against the sun, swinging in the breeze. Two large, the owners, and two small. He stared, expression blank and distant. It was hardly his first dead body. World like this, you saw ‘em more often than live ones, but the eerie peace of it, the sudden explanation for the silence, it struck him like a heavyweight boxer, winded him, left him staggering, even if only in that figurative kinda way. He hadn’t paid attention to DeWitt following his gaze til he felt her stiffen, in spite of the feet of distance between them. It was almost eerier than the bodies, the way they found their way back in tune again, like they’d never missed it.

It was almost like a foreign object when he felt it, her hand on his shoulder. “They should be cut down, at least,” she said grimly at his side. Was she serious? They had better things to do than go around digging graves in hard earth, so why did he want to offer to make use of that shovel, suddenly? Wasn’t like he’d stopped for any funerals amidst all the destruction he’d encountered along the way these past months. Maybe it was the fact he was surprised she wanted it, that the icy exterior he had come to know was thawing out before his eyes. “I’ll do it.”

And the surprises just kept on coming. He turned, looking at her in disbelief. Both her tone and body language carried authority, but there was doubt there, too. She didn’t want to do it, he realized. She just felt she had to. She felt responsible. Probably ‘cause she was. Somehow, he figured now wasn’t the time to remind her.

He shook his head. “I got it.” Didn’t know where that’d come from, either, like he still felt like it was his job to get his hands dirty when she couldn’t. That hardened exterior he had been thinking about, it was cracking. She didn’t have the will to hide it out here, with just him and the bodies.

“That’s not necessary.” Her tone was gentle, but firm. “You need not protect me from everything. Not any longer. And I think we’ve put you through enough for now.”

He looked down, quiet a moment. Jesus. There must’ve been a good argument to keep her from going out there. When he couldn’t find one, he stepped back, dropping the supplies back into the truck before pulling out the shovel and placing it in her hands. She nodded slightly, as if she had won a victory she didn’t really want, before he grabbed the thickly-pronged pitch fork.

“It’s a two person job anyway.” She didn’t argue. It was the first compromise he remembered them having, ever.

By the time they were done, covered in dirt and sweat and having emptied at least two and a half canteens of the water they had just filled, the sun was losing its high position in the sky. He slunk back on the deck. They could catch a few minutes of recuperation before heading back, he figured. He didn’t know where DeWitt had gone. He didn’t care, except for the fact that he did. Footsteps said she was close, but all he was watching was the ground. When she joined him on the decking, it was a bottle of freshly opened Jim Beam that greeted him when he looked up.

“I had planned to stow this away, but it seems like the opportune time, wouldn’t you agree?”

He nodded. The things they agreed on had been plentiful, once upon a time, now they were like candles in a rain storm. Wasn’t as though there was anyone to pull them over for drink driving any more. They polished off half a bottle in silence, passing it between them in quiet toasts to the dead and their melancholy before she said his name.

“Dominic?”

“Hm?”

“...Thank you.”

He shrugged, taking another long swig of warm liquid before passing it back.

“What for?”

“Take your pick.”

Like that wasn’t vague. He left it alone, losing himself in the quiet again Yeah, life wasn’t exactly perfect, but he couldn’t imagine being in a house full of comforts, and food a-plenty, and being so weak and fucked up that hanging your own kids from a tree before hanging yourself next to ‘em seemed like a better idea than facing the days. The world was a shit-storm, sure, but this... This was something else. He spent a couple of minutes dwelling on that thought before he noticed DeWitt had been watching him, like she was reading his mind, or at least giving it the good old-fashioned try.

“You’ve never drank with me, before,” she commented, her mind apparently having wandered a couple miles from his.

“Didn’t think it was a good idea,” he answered plainly. He left his reasons unsaid, unthought, even. She could figure them out well enough.

“Our secret,” she answered. He nodded. He heard her put down the bottle, but didn’t see it. His eyes rested on the dimming skyline as he wondered if it would take a couple of dead kids to get them to work together again. Dominic felt DeWitt’s hand grip his, just for a moment, before he answered his own question. He suddenly had a feeling the ‘our secret’ part wasn’t just referring to the booze.

“You got it,” he answered quietly, offering her a glimpse at a sad sort of smile before he lightly squeezed it back. Wasn’t much, but he figured it was a start. The world still had plenty of shit to offer to drive them together.

“C’mon,” he said, after a while. “We’re losing the light.”

He let go of her hand and stood up, not clarifying, even to himself, whether he meant that in more ways than one.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
rogoblue
Aug. 9th, 2013 03:52 pm (UTC)
I'm partial to post-apocalyptic fic to begin with but this story brought home to me the despair attendant to the scenario and the strength required to continue in the face of that.

Even more so when you bear some responsibility for your own and everyone else's despair.

Thanks for sharing this.
darling_ashes
Aug. 9th, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
This was absolutely phenomenal!
laurencedominic
Aug. 9th, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you, guys! This is my first fic and the fact you liked it enough to comment means so much.
marzipanilla
Aug. 10th, 2013 03:18 am (UTC)
This was great. The anomisty tempered with familiarity.. and the little bits that they offered up of themselves.
derevko_child
Aug. 10th, 2013 09:47 am (UTC)
“You got it,” he answered quietly, offering her a glimpse at a sad sort of smile before he lightly squeezed it back. Wasn’t much, but he figured it was a start. The world still had plenty of shit to offer to drive them together.

*claws face off and screams because dewitt/dominic*

I really like the way you wrote the thoughtpocalypse and how both Adelle and Dom seemed to have gotten over it faster than most, but then dead bodies hanging on trees happened and ugh. I love how you can almost taste the despair in this fic. Awesome.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )