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Battle of Britain--Chapter 14
red
rogoblue
Title: Battle of Britain Chapter 14


Rating: R (language and sexual situations)


Author: morgan72uk and rogoblue


Summary: Laurence and Adelle continue the sometimes painful process of getting reacquainted.






Several days of travelling and the shock of literally bumping into Laurence had taken their toll. Exhausted, Adelle fell asleep shortly after her companion. When she woke early in the morning, the thin curtains offered no barrier to the weak wintery sunshine.

Beside her, Laurence shifted, his face contorting as something disturbed his sleep. “It's all right,” she said, stroking his shoulder to soothe his agitation. In response to the words, the sound of her voice or perhaps even her touch, he settled, curling towards her. Up close, he looked like someone who needed more than a single decent night’s sleep.

The feelings of alienation he’d described didn’t surprise her. In London, he had been moving away from his closest friends. His experiences in the field had separated him from his family, or so he believed, and leadership had inevitably set him apart from the men he commanded.

He’d shut himself off in order to function, despite the losses he had sustained, during the relentless pressure of battle. With care and time, she believed much of the old Laurence would re-emerge, albeit tempered by age and experience.

Talking about what had happened would put some of his demons to rest. Today, his surprise at seeing her had lowered his defences; she didn’t know how comfortable he would be repeating the exercise once the shock wore off.

He looked peaceful now, his relaxed features giving him the appearance of a slightly gawky adolescent. There was nothing adolescent though about this deeply intelligent man, who had fought as well as strategised.

Adelle faced challenges of her own. Pursuing the truth about her missing agents, particularly the women, had consumed her for months. Her own future was in abeyance until she found the answers she sought, even though that future seemed limited. She had no home, few close friends, and the organisation she had devoted the last five years to would soon cease to exist. A quiet job in some civil service backwater held little appeal.

For now, she had something important to accomplish and her journey had brought her to Nuremberg and to Laurence. Smiling, she watched his chest rise and fall as he slept. Content, she soaked up the warmth of his body and wondered when he might wake.

“Dom, we’ve received a big batch of communiqués and Nelson said something about...” The officer who’d entered the bedroom without knocking came to an abrupt halt at the sight of her. His gaze slipped to Laurence, who gave no sign of waking.

“Sorry for the interruption, ma’am.” He looked down at his feet, though the sheet covered her.

“You’re excused, Major,” she responded. “The Colonel will be with you shortly.” He nodded and almost fell over his feet rushing out of the room.

She didn’t wish to wake Laurence, but didn’t want his men to think him derelict in his duty. Shaking his shoulder gently, she kissed his cheek and murmured his name. He stirred, before yawning magnificently and opening his eyes. “Good morning,” she said.

“Morning.” He rolled her underneath him and kissed her.

She gave in to his insistent mouth, kissing him back enthusiastically. “As nice as this is,” she said between kisses, “and it is very nice; I told the rather embarrassed Major who sought you out that you wouldn’t be asleep much longer.”

“Damn.” He rolled off her. She winced when he stretched and his neck cracked. Rubbing a hand over his face, he said, “They’re used to me being available all the time.”

“Will they share?” she asked.

* * *

“They don’t have a choice,” Laurence Dominic said, smiling at Adelle DeWitt as he pulled on his shirt. “That is, I mean, if you want to be here … with me.” She dropped the sheet and arched her back, as if offering her upper body to him. “If that doesn’t mean yes, your communication skills have slipped since I left London.”

“I thought you might appreciate a gesture more than a mere word.”

Her smile warmed him from the inside out and, for the first time, he felt reluctant to leave his bedroom. “I very much appreciate the opportunity to look at you naked, or partially naked.”

“I plan to shower you with such opportunities, if you’re amenable.”

“I was being amenable, when you told me Farlow barged in.” Dominic sat beside her and toyed with a lock of her hair. “I have to go into the next room to shave before seeing what’s happened.”

“Something about the number of communiqués.”

“Tragic,” he muttered before leaning in to kiss her gently. “I’ll have someone escort you back to your hotel whenever you’re ready.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Nuremberg is reasonably safe, but I’m not taking any chances. You’re too important.”

“I’ll be nobody special soon enough,” she said.

“You’ll never be nobody special, Adelle.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “Don’t cry,” he pleaded. “I never know what to do when a woman cries.”

“Pat yourself on the back in this case.”

“Um … what?”

She laughed and Dominic thought it the best sound in the whole world. “I admire your intelligence, but I do enjoy moments when it fails you miserably.” He frowned, but she laughed again. “Your words made me very happy.”

“Your aunt and uncle told me you’ve been special ever since you were a baby. The dismantling of the SOE can’t change that.” She quickly looked away and Dominic mentally reviewed the conversation, searching for his misstep. “Adelle, look at me.” With noticeable reluctance, she did. “You’re beyond special to me.” He wracked his brain for the right word. “You’re precious.”

“I’m going to cry,” she murmured. Dominic patted himself on the back and she playfully punched him in the shoulder. “I’m so grateful I came to Nuremberg.”

“You and me both.” He allowed her to pull him in for a kiss and sought to communicate everything flowing through him with his mouth on hers. His eyes dropped to her breasts when they parted. After placing light kiss to each nipple, he said, “ Will I see you tonight?”

“I’m already looking forward to it.”

Major Farlow stared out a window when Dominic stepped into his office. Vandermeer shrugged out of his coat, a bag of something that smelled amazing gripped between his teeth.

“What’s this I hear about an uptick in the number of communiqués?” Dominic asked.

Farlow spun to face him. Vandermeer pretended not to be interested, busying himself making coffee. “I’m sorry, sir,” Farlow said. “I didn’t mean to speak in front of a civilian. I had no idea you weren’t alone or that you were sleeping.”

Vandermeer spilled a spoonful of coffee grounds. “As I’m usually neither of those things,” Dominic said, “your lapse is completely understandable. However, if Miss DeWitt has her way, and she generally does, I’ll be getting more sleep in the future.”

“More sleep,” Vandermeer said, laughing eyes wasting the effort he’d made to keep his tone flat. “Yes, sir.”

Dominic said, “We’re helping her gain access to certain German prisoners to facilitate her work for the Special Operations Executive.”

“She’s the one Williams told me about?” Farlow asked, pointing to the door to Dominic’s living quarters.

“I was the liaison between our army and the SOE in London before Sicily. She essentially ran Section F, directing operations throughout France.”

“Seems you took your liaising duties very seriously,” Vandermeer observed with his customary, not terribly veiled cheek.

“I always take my duties seriously, Vandermeer. What’s in that bag?”

“Someone got out of bed early enough to acquire the best pastries in Nuremberg, fresh out of the oven,” Vandermeer said. “That someone, heading to Berlin as he is, is willing to share with the man liberating him and those who will be left behind in vile servitude.”

Major Farlow frowned, likely at the reminder of Lt. Colonel Harding’s new posting, but he took a cream filled confection. Dominic chose a kind he’d not had before, confident he wouldn’t be disappointed. He approved of Vandermeer’s favorite bakery. “Tell me about the communiqués,” he ordered just as the blast of sugar, flour and butter hit his system.

“From Harding’s staff,” Farlow said, lifting an impressive stack from Dominic’s desk. “All versions of ‘we need to understand the lay of the land’, as if Nuremberg’s still a combat zone.”

“Send one reply,” Dominic suggested, wincing as he burned his tongue on the coffee Vandermeer had handed him. “You’ll find everything in order upon your arrival and then make damn certain that’s the case.” Dominic pointed to Vandermeer. “You’ll escort Adelle back to her hotel. If a British officer gives you any grief, act dumb.”

“I hate to act dumb.”

“Understood, but in this instance I expect you to follow my orders to the letter.”

Vandermeer snapped off a salute before he glanced to Dominic’s left. “Good morning, ma’am. Would you like a pastry or some coffee? We don’t have any tea, but I will rectify that sorry situation.”

Dominic turned to watch Adelle enter the room like she owned it.

* * *

“A cup of coffee would be quite acceptable.” Adelle DeWitt smiled at the bespectacled young man. “Thank you Corporal...?”

“Vandermeer, ma’am,”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Adelle bestowed a smile on him, before she turned her attention to the man doing his best to avoid meeting her gaze. “We weren’t formally introduced earlier.”

“No ma’am – I suppose not.”

“Adelle DeWitt.” She offered him her hand.

“Thomas Farlow,” he said, adding, “I am sorry about this morning.”

Realising he was embarrassed, she patted his hand. “You have nothing to apologise for.”

“Vandermeer will escourt you back to your hotel,” Laurence announced, his expression dissuading her from arguing the point. “He’s also responsible for gaining access to the prisoners on your list. The requests were made yesterday. With any luck you should hear later today, but I have to go. Major Farlow and I have an inspection to review.”

He hesitated and she thought he might be trying to decide whether she expected a kiss. Letting him off the hook, she said, “We’ll have dinner,” touching his hand as she crossed the room to accept coffee from Vandermeer and inspect the pastries.

“Vandermeer, if Miss DeWitt persuades you to do anything that’s actually illegal; you’re on your own.” She rolled her eyes and Laurence laughed, startling both of his men. “Underestimate her at your peril.” He clapped Farlow on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”

“This is excellent,” Adelle complimented Vandermeer, when they were alone.

“I’ll track down some tea for tomorrow,” he promised. “You’ll be here tomorrow?”

“I’m not the only tea drinker in Nuremberg,” she replied, raising her eyebrow to indicate her understanding of what he hoped to discover. “It won’t go to waste.”

“Yes ma’am.” He seemed disappointed, as he poured over papers spread out across the desk.

“Do you have a question, Corporal?”

“It’s none of my business.”

“I give you permission to ask.”

He looked up and made his decision. “Farlow said the Colonel was asleep?”

“Yes, it was still early.”

“He doesn’t sleep much.” Vandermeer took her empty cup. “He’s up by the time we get here and still working when we leave. If there is an incident or new information overnight, we’re expected to tell him. I can’t recall the last time that meant getting him out of bed.”

“You and his other men seem highly efficient,” she said, smiling her thanks as he opened the door for her. “Surely, he need not be available constantly?”

“There’s plenty of work to do, but he’s ... well, he’s relentless, the way he was in the field. That’s what the men called him.”

“You were there?”

“No ma’am, I’m strictly back room, but Williams was for some of it and Captain Esteban. The Colonel's a hero, decorated for bravery I don’t know how many times. He saved a whole platoon by mocking up tanks. The Italians retreated in the face of heavy armour that didn’t exist. He said some crazy Brit had shown him...” He trailed off, looking worried. “That wasn’t you, was it?”

“No, but it was someone who worked for me. He used to call Laurence 'Captain America'. He was very put out when promotion rendered his witty nickname obsolete.”

“I ... um ... heard the Colonel had been poisoned instead of you?”

“He saved my life.” She couldn’t see the harm in telling the rest of the story. “The Nazi’s sent a man to assassinate me. He would have succeeded but the Colonel intervened. The poison turned his hand and arm black and he was rather unwell for several hours. Fortunately, he suffered no lasting damage and his quick thinking impressed the Prime Minister, who felt it warranted a promotion.”

She indicated the road they should take, wondering why her talkative companion had suddenly clammed up. A glance revealed him to be quite stunned. “Corporal?”

“You know Churchill,” he said, awe evident.

“Yes – quite well.”

“Are you really important? A Duchess or something?”

“I’m not important and I’m certainly not a Duchess. Churchill knew my father, a long time ago, and he knows my Uncle, who’s a senior naval officer. My role brought me into contact with the Cabinet on a fairly regular basis.”

“So you don’t have a title?”

“No.” After a moment’s reflection, she thought it wouldn’t hurt to tell him the rest. “My Uncle does. Actually two of my Uncles have titles, although only one is hereditary. A third Uncle is a Bishop.”

Vandermeer swallowed. “To think you drank my coffee this morning.”

“It was very good coffee,” she said. “I’m here to do a job, just like you.” He considered that, as they continued on their way towards her hotel.

“You and the Colonel obviously know each other well.” This time, he dropped the interrogative. “I’ve never seen him smile so much, and the way he reacted to you yesterday.” He shook his head. “None of us thought he’d be that enthusiastic about anything.”

This wasn’t gossip; concern for his superior officer imbued every syllable. She didn’t want to breech Laurence’s confidence, but Vandermeer deserved an explanation. “We hadn’t seen each other since 1943,” she said.

Vandermeer remained silent until Adelle halted. “Here?” he muttered. Her dirty and ramshackle hotel failed to impress. “Would you like me to find you alternative accommodation, ma’am?” Although tempting, she thought she ought to remain part of the British delegation – at least nominally.

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. Please tell the Colonel I’ll see him later and if you need to contact me, they should be able to track me down from here.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He saluted smartly and marched away. She watched him, amused by his quirks and obvious loyalty to his Colonel.

“Adelle, there you are.” Cecil Craddock, raised a hand as she crossed the reception area which had been transformed into a communications centre. “You disappeared,” he said with mild reproach.

“I went to encourage the Americans to take my request more seriously.” She wouldn’t apologise for taking matters into her own hands rather than relying on him. “It took longer than I expected.”

“It’s not how I’d suggest going about things.”

“I realise that and you’ve been immensely helpful, but you know why I’m here. I don’t have time to sit around and wait.”

“More members of the War Crimes Unit have arrived,” he said. “Neave is serving the indictments on behalf of the Tribunal, poor sod.” That explained the increase in activity and gave her the opportunity to speak to more relevant people.

“They’re at the Grand Hotel?” He nodded. “Give me 10 minutes?” His handsome, slightly weak face settled easily into disapproval. No doubt he’d noticed she still wore yesterday’s clothing. He’d no business judging her, when she’d been politely fending him off for the last two weeks. Presumably, he wouldn’t view her as a woman of easy virtue, if she had spent the night with him.

* * *

“Aren’t you meeting Miss DeWitt for dinner?” Corporal Vandermeer asked, handing Laurence Dominic the latest transition report.

“You’ve been in Europe long enough to know they eat later over here,” Dominic said, setting aside the letter he’d been writing. He sighed when Vandermeer rose on his tiptoes in an effort to see the addressee. “As per your instructions, Corporal, I’m writing to my mom.”

“She worries, if she writes more than three to your one, sir.”

“Understood.” He tapped the report. “Any surprises?”

“No unpleasant ones.” Vandermeer bounced from foot to foot. “You could go to the hotel and continue your letter over a drink, if she’s not there yet.”

“What are you and Nelson planning that you don’t want me to witness?”

“Nothing, sir. Really.” Looking spectacularly earnest, he added, “It seems the two of you have some catching up to do.” He shrugged. “A lot has happened since 1943.”

“Maybe too much,” Dominic muttered. The vague sense of foreboding that had dogged him throughout the day holding sway again.

“Only one way to find out!”

Curious, Dominic said, “Burying myself in everything attendant to the move to Berlin has its appeal.”

“Oh, no, sir.” Vandermeer looked shocked. “You can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

A blush spread across the young man’s cheeks, but he held his head high. “Everyone who’s seen you today has commented on your mood and you’ve smiled more in the last twelve hours than in as many months.”

“Maybe I should include that in my mom’s letter.”

“I would, if I were you.” Vandermeer glanced at the door, where Nelson hovered. “Besides, you have to be hungry. All you’ve eaten today was the pastry I brought for you.”

“Coffee doesn’t count as food, sir,” Nelson observed.

“All right, all right,” Dominic placed the transition report on the top of his stack. “If it’ll make the two of you happy, I’ll go to dinner.”

Vandermeer slipped into his coat. “Nelson and I will be at the pub across the way, if you need us in the next hour or two, sir.”

Dominic nestled the letter he’d begun in the interior pocket of his jacket along with a pen. Despite the soundness of Vandermeer’s logic, he felt sick to his stomach rather than hungry. He’d nearly arrived at his destination before realizing he was nervous. The previous evening seemed more dream than reality and he didn’t know what to expect.

“May I help you, Colonel?” asked a well dressed older man.

“I’m looking for Miss DeWitt,” he said. When the man merely waited, he added, “About this tall,” showing the man with his right hand, “dark hair, green eyes, about my age, British.”

“Ah, yes, very good, sir. Right this way.”

He followed the meandering path and thought his host might be showing off an American Colonel to as many patrons as possible. Dominic slowed when he spotted Adelle in close conversation with a group of serious looking men.

“Here she is, sir,” the man announced grandly.

“Laurence,” she said, turning gracefully. She smiled, closed the distance between them and kissed him on the mouth, as she’d done only once before in public—in response to Neville’s insistence on the appropriate way of thanking someone for saving your life.

“You aren’t finished,” he said, sensing hostility from some of the assembled men. His hands rested on her waist. “I’ll get a table and wait.” He smiled. “I won’t be bored. I brought something to do.”

“I won’t be long,” she said.

“Good.” He redirected his gaze to encompass the entire group. “Excuse me, everyone.”

To a number of ‘not at all, Colonels’, one ‘damn Yank’ and three glares of varying ferocity, he nodded and found a table. He acknowledged to his mother that there had been a time when he would’ve taken pleasure in being on the receiving end of that brand of jealousy. Now, the experience saddened him. He’d written another page and a half before Adelle slipped into the seat across the tiny table. “Which of your undoubtedly international set of admirers is going to challenge me to a duel?”

She laughed. “You flatter me.”

“I get to pick the weapon, right? That seems only fair.”

“I believe that’s the case.” Adelle gestured toward the letter he’d folded and placed on the table beside him. “Who are you writing to?”

“My mom,” he said, mildly embarrassed. “She’s not going to know what to think. This is the first time in a while she’s gotten more than three or four lines.”

“You have a lot to say this evening?” she asked, smiling at him over the rim of her glass.

“I had to bring her up to date in case the duel goes badly.” After a bracing pull on his beer, Dominic said, “Do you mind if I tell her a little about you?”

“I think I might be wounded if you didn’t.”

“Good,” he said, raising his glass to her. “Now I don’t have to rewrite the bulk of it.” They settled into silence, but Dominic didn’t mind. He could sit and look at this woman for hours.

* * *

They gazed at each other; Adelle luxuriated in being able to sit with him in public and not care too much about what they revealed. She thought the reprisal of their ability to communicate without words a good sign.

Finally she dipped her head, smiling slowly. “Will you tell me about your day?”

“It started off pretty well, but then Major Farlow and I had yet another discussion about the balance of mercy and discipline in relation to some of our most frequent miscreants. Later on, I learned coffee doesn’t count as food and rumor has it that I’ve been smiling more than usual.” Giving truth to those rumors, he smiled at her.

“There was another task,” she said, trailing her fingertips over his knuckles.

He turned his hand over to caress hers. “It’s been discretely handled. How was your day, Adelle?”

“I had a very interesting conversation with Corporal Vandermeer.” He frowned but didn’t comment. “And then I spent some time at the courthouse, trying to determine my next steps.”

“Is that what you were discussing with your admirers?” He nodded in the direction of the table she had left.

“In part. The Tribunal is being convened; the indictments have been served. Since the wheels of justice have started to turn, I doubt I'll be able to see any prisoners over the next few days, even with your able assistance. I thought I’d make my enquiries in the Russian zone.”

“At Ravensbruck?”

“To begin with.” His smile vanished. Tightening her grip on his hand, she said, “The Russians aren't giving many people permission to travel into their sector, so I'm not going to ask. Hopefully, that I speak the language and am looking for evidence of war crimes will be enough.” She decided not to disclose that some had advised her it was better to go before their erstwhile allies changed their minds about co-operating.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Adelle, but a woman might not get very far with the Russians.”

“Cecil will assist in persuading them to let me travel where I must.”

“Which one is Cecil?” he asked, looking towards the other table.

“He isn't here this evening. My return to the hotel this morning after having spent the night elsewhere was not well received.” It would be churlish of her to tell of Cecil’s tendency to sulk.

“Sore loser,” Laurence commented. “He isn't the type to allow the personal to impact the professional, is he?”

“I won't allow it.” He didn't look happy, but he nodded and chose not to debate the point.

Her gaze fell on the letter he'd been writing and she felt warmed by the knowledge that he had mentioned her to his mother. She ought to reciprocate with a communication to Uncle Edgar, who would be delighted to hear of their reunion.

“I have something to show you, Laurence.” She reached into her handbag and removed photographs from a packet and, after sorting through them, showed him one. Priya's serene face gazed up at them, a young baby cradled in her arms. Anthony stood beside her, his stance at once proud and protective.

“Thank Christ,” he muttered.

“They resurfaced a few weeks after you left. A communication bearing all of the hallmarks of being from us sent them out of their area and kept them out of contact. It screamed of Alpha, even if we couldn’t ascertain his purpose.”

“You pulled them out?”

“In the run up to the Normandy landings. Priya was pregnant by then, so Anthony went back on his own. This young man,” she pointed at the baby, “Anthony Junior, was two months old when his father came home for good.”

“Are they still in London?”

“Priya’s family were in Shanghai, so we don’t yet know if they are all right. Anthony has a large family in London who’ve welcomed them.”

“Thank you for telling me.” She watched him carefully, understanding his slight air of melancholy. His friends would not be going home, falling in love or having children. She touched his face gently, smiling at him.

“Are you hungry, Laurence?”

“Are you really asking me if I want to eat, or is this one of those conversations where I think we’re talking about food but we aren’t?”

“Since you haven’t eaten a great deal today and we both now know coffee doesn’t count as a meal, I am literally suggesting we have dinner. Besides,” she looked across the room to where a group of US Army Officers watched and appeared to be discussing them, “Major Farlow and his friends seem eager to join us.”

* * *

“Is that all right with you?” Dominic asked, not entirely sure how he felt about it.

“I wouldn’t mind getting to know your men,” Adelle countered, leaning over the small table to kiss him on the cheek.

“They aren’t all my men,” he muttered, even as he waved Farlow and company over. “Several of them are cooling their heels awaiting orders.” Giving Adelle a hand up, he steered her toward a larger table and the men settled in around them. He felt oddly distant. “Adelle DeWitt, you’ve met Farlow and at least heard of Captain Esteban. The others are Captain Taggert, Major Ells, Lieutenants Summers, Wilson and Bartholomew and Major Killington.”

Taggert bowed. The twinkle in the Captain’s eye reminded him of Devon and Dominic’s heart rate accelerated even as his gut twisted in pain.

“Ma’am, you are a sight for sore eyes,” Taggert said, smiling winningly. “Thank you for allowing us to share a meal with you.”

“You’re quite welcome, Captain,” Adelle said, as she shifted her chair closer to Dominic’s to make room for Killington. “I’m newly arrived in Nuremberg and look forward to hearing about the important work you all are doing.”

Killington laughed. “Taggert, Bartholomew, Ells and myself are sitting back and watching, Miss DeWitt. We’re between assignments and grateful we won’t be here much longer.” He met Dominic’s eyes. “The regime change wouldn’t be to our liking.”

“I worked with Harding some before Italy,” Ells said. “He’s no one you’d take a hill for, is all.” Ells gestured to Dominic with his half full beer. “Nothing like every tale I’ve heard about you, sir.”

“You know how it is,” Dominic said. “They get taller with every telling.”

Ells shook his head. “Yours stay about the same, because they were tall to start.” He leaned forward, clearly addressing Adelle. “Did Dom ever tell you how he held the first line in Italy?”

“And the second,” Taggert added, elbowing Dominic in the side.

“John Devon held the first,” Dominic said, voice soft and simmering with emotion. Bishop and Hill had held the second and secured the third. “I led the main force in the advance.”

“Holding the line is tougher, ma’am,” Summers said, “under most circumstances. In Italy, every inch of ground came at such a steep price, it took a man among men to inspire his troops to advance.”

“Stop, ok?” Dominic said.

“Why?” Summers asked, expression genuinely curious. “You’re a fine leader and a legitimate hero. Shouldn’t she know that?”

“I’m not a hero,” he muttered. A shiver rippled along his spine. “I just did the job to the best of my ability.”

“Tell that to Jack Billings and Donny Molito,” Farlow said, intense gray eyes focused on Dominic. “They were cut off, ma’am,” he continued, turning to Adelle. “Our orders were to leave them to their fate and press on. The advance took precedence over two men with nine kids between them. Dominic took seven men and made a hole for them and they all rejoined the advance. No one knew Dom had been shot clean through the shoulder until almost 12 hours later.”

Dominic stared at his drink, suffocated by the attention.

“Billings and Molito are back in Indiana and Nebraska today because of Dom,” Farlow said. “Crane threatened to bust him down to Lieutenant but never did.”

“This young man wishes to know what we’d like for dinner,” Adelle said, slipping her hand into Dominic’s beneath the table. After they’d ordered, she said, “Am I to understand the rest of you were idle during the Italian campaign?”

The men rushed to disabuse Adelle of that notion and Dominic settled in for some serious drinking.

“Laurence?” Adelle whispered.

“What?” he said, both grateful and wary to find her piercing green eyes on him.

“You didn’t leave those men behind,” she said, kissing him on the cheek again. “Just as you told me shouldn’t be done.”

“It was stupid,” he muttered. “I risked too much to do it. Crane should’ve disciplined me.”

“I sincerely doubt Messers Billings and Molito feel the same way.”

“What’s with you tonight, Dom?” Summers said. “We’re just telling war stories.”

“The war is over.” Dominic pointed at his empty glass when the waiter glanced his way. “I see no point in dwelling on it.” Everyone looked stunned, except for Adelle.

“I wouldn’t mind going to Berlin with you, Dom,” Taggert said, sighing wistfully as he broke the awkward silence and raising his beer to his lips. “I hear a good time can be had there, if you know where to go.” Fortunately, the conversation then turned to the relative merits of Berlin to other cities in France and Germany.

“They admire you,” Adelle murmured in his ear as the soup course arrived.

“They admire who they think I am,” he countered, reaching for the pepper. “I’m a man who could barely write to his mom for well over a year,” he hissed. “There’s nothing admirable in that!”

“You’re heading to a prime posting and on the fast track to a star.”

“I’m too worn out to do either of those justice, Adelle. I know it and it’s only a matter of time before the powers that be know it too.”

* * *

While not surprised by Laurence’s response, Adelle blamed herself for precipitating it. She had no intention of allowing him to lapse into a moody and self-recriminating silence. She hated seeing him in pain and doubting his place in the world. He couldn’t reconcile his fear that the Army would reject him for what he perceived as failings and his anger at that same institution for costing him his friends. Yet he was as connected to it as ever by his responsibility to his men. He belonged in and to the Army and even if he hadn’t yet accepted that, instinctively he knew he had nowhere else to go.

She envied him that sense of belonging. Some day, she might go so far as to point out that the Army would prove a far more complicated and demanding mistress than she could ever hope to be.

Adelle suspected the others had concluded that something was amiss. Laurence’s statement about the war had shocked them and Taggert had, intentionally she believed, offered a sorely needed change of subject. Picking up on it, Adelle asked them to tell her about New York, pleased that her question carried them over the next course.

“Is it true you’re here to interview German prisoners, ma’am?” Lt. Bartholomew asked. He looked to be the youngest of the group. “Captain Esteban said you were, but he’s conned me before.” He looked so earnest; she imagined that taking him in might have become something of a spectator sport.

“On this occasion, he isn’t. Although technically I’m here to discover what happened to some missing British agents, interviewing the prisoners is part of the process. I sent them into occupied France and they didn’t come home. It’s my responsibility to give their families as many answers as possible.”

This audience understood her mission, even if the idea of a woman running a network of spies met with shock and discomfort. How fortunate she had been to work with Laurence, who had decided whether she was qualified based on facts rather than prejudices.

“How did you get a job like that, ma’am?” At least Wilson possessed the courage to ask, though his tone left something to be desired.

“By being more devious and ruthless than any Nazi spymaster,” Laurence said, his small tentative smile suggested he worried she might be offended. “You know what the resistance and the SOE did when we landed, how the sabotage helped us win through. Truth is, they were giving the Nazi’s hell in occupied territory, while we were still working out where Europe was.”

“Christ,” breathed Bartholomew before he blushed bright red. “Sorry, ma’am.”

“I’ve heard worse, Lieutenant,” she responded lightly.

“She must have met Bishop after he’d had a couple of drinks,” Esteban said. A collective burst of laughter followed an evidently well established witticism, but Laurence stiffened.

“It’s too bad old Danny got stuck with West Point Pete,” Wilson observed, obviously not noticing the way the conversation had affected his Colonel. "The rat bastard survived the war, proving that wonders never cease."

Laurence’s expression had hardened. “It’s late,” he said, finishing his drink and setting the glass down on the table with an audible thump. He rose. “I need to get back, Adelle. I’ll walk you to your hotel.”

Had the command been issued in London, she would have baulked. In Nuremberg, Laurence needed her, whether he knew it or not. “Of course.” Smiling at the assembled men, she stood and brought them all to their feet in her wake. “Have a pleasant evening, gentlemen.” She looped her arm through Laurence’s, remembering his appreciation of her willingness to touch him in public and let him lead her briskly out into the chill night air.

* * *

“Adelle, where are we heading?” Dominic asked, cutting into the tense silence that had fallen after he’d grunted in response to her few attempts at conversation.

“Just down this road,” she said, shivering as a gust of frigid wind caught up with them.

“You’re not serious?” When she kept walking, he said, “This neighborhood?”

“It’s no worse than anywhere else in the city,” Adelle said, turning toward a gigantic door.

Obeying the edicts of his mother’s teachings, Dominic rushed to open it. Incredulous became stunned when they stepped into a foyer not much warmer than the street. “Is there heat in your room?” he demanded.

“Sometimes.”

Some decisions were simple. “Get your things and check out.”

“I doubt I’ll be able to find alternative accommodations tonight and—.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and stared into her eyes, glad to be able to exert some control while struggling not to completely lose his shit. “My quarters are warm and I’ll be working, so you’ll be able to get some sleep. Vandermeer will figure something out for you in the morning.”

“Laurence —.”

“Please don’t argue with me about this, Adelle.” She didn’t and he realized a tall, dark haired man also watched her progress across the spacious lobby as she departed to collect her possessions.

The other man slowly meandered toward Dominic. “So you’re him?” he asked.

“Him?”

The man listed to port and belched. “The American Adelle slept with in order to further her plans to interrogate German prisoners.”

“You’re drunk.”

As the man loomed closer, Dominic learned his poison was gin. “You’re taking advantage of a fine woman, you yank bastard.”

“I’m taking her somewhere that has heat, which is an improvement on this place,” Dominic snarled, determinedly not clenching his fists even though every cell in his body spoiled for a fight.

“I ought to teach you a lesson.”

Something Adelle had said earlier leapt into Dominic’s head. “Stand down, Cecil.”

“How did you know my name?”

Dominic smiled nastily. “I’m just like Adelle. I know everything about everyone.” The fear flashing behind Cecil’s’ eyes stirred something dark and dangerous within Dominic. “I suggest you make yourself scarce before she comes down.”

“Or … or what?”

“I’ll make sure she won’t recognize you if you pass on the street for at least a month.”

Cecil hightailed it. Dominic spun and stepped forward aggressively when someone touched his shoulder. Adelle held her ground. “What was that all about?” she asked, gesturing in the direction Cecil had gone.

“Nothing. Let’s get out of here.” Unexpectedly, given the concerned looks she kept aiming his way, Adelle didn’t converse while they walked, argue when he settled her in his quarters or protest when he returned to the work piled on his desk. He’d plowed through six reports and a stack of communiqués, supply requisitions and transfer requests when the door between his quarters and office opened. With an impatient sigh, he rotated his chair to face Adelle. “Yes?”

“Are you ready to discuss Sergeant Bishop?”

“There’s nothing to discuss. He’s dead.”

“There’s how he died, where it happened and who else was involved.” Her soft spoken words slugged him in the gut and her graceful steps in his direction shot him to his feet. “Why the mere mention of his name nearly completely shut you down or -”

“Stop!” The plea in his voice embarrassed him. “Just, please, not tonight, Adelle.” Much softer, he whispered, “Not any night.”

“Is the reason you don’t sleep that you don’t want to dream?”

The urge to walk out into the night and keep walking had never been stronger. “We’re not having this conversation.”

“Yes, we are.”

He waved a hand toward his desk. “I have work to do.”

Adelle glided toward him. “Tell me about Bishop.”

“I can’t. You’ll think I’m nuts!”

“Try me.”

Dominic sought something, anything to distract her. Nothing presented itself. “I … um … I see him sometimes … out of the corner of my eye and … and I hear him too. Foul mouth and all.” He risked a glance at her, but Adelle’s expression offered only attentiveness. “He speaks the truth. I saddled him with Peter Greyson. I thought Bishop would help him and his men get through the war. He did. He just couldn’t do that and watch out for himself.” Meeting Adelle’s eyes, he said, “Daniel Emerson Bishop stepped on a landmine while looking back over his shoulder to make sure Lieutenant Greyson was still putting one foot in front of the other after a brutal firefight. He loved to cuss and put on a show, but Bishop practically worshiped caution. I killed him by giving him an officer who didn’t deserve the rank.” The words he’d never spoken flew from him. “None of them would have died if I’d been smarter about protecting them. Not a single one of them.”


“You don’t know that, Laurence. You can’t. No one can.”


“I do!” he snarled. “I was so in love with being in charge, with finally getting the chance to make big decisions, I lost sight of who was important to me and they paid the price. Somewhere along the way, I became my ambition.” His laugh had a shriek embedded in it. “Now, I don’t even have that. I’m a pathetic excuse for a man who puts up a good front most days, but the mask is slipping, Adelle. I feel it.”


“They didn’t want your protection; they wanted your respect.”


“Devon died because I asked him to do the impossible and the son of a bitch did it. Gardner died getting a few of his men out of an ambush I ordered them into to flush out an Italian force based upon intelligence we had every reason to believe was suspect. I’ve told you what I did to Bishop.”


“What of Hill?”


“Hill volunteered for a damn fool stunt that won us across the border into France. It was my idea, but I was safely tucked away behind the lines thinking up damn fool stunts, rather than in any position to take the risks they entailed.” A tear leaked from his right eye and slipped down his cheek. Adelle wiping it away cued another. “I killed them all. My best friends in this world are dead because of me and I don’t know how to live with that.” Tears flowed in a steadier stream. “It should’ve been me. Not them. Me.” Recalling a conversation with General Crane, he said, “Don’t preach to me about survivor’s guilt, either. This isn’t about surviving. This is about my decisions and what my ambition drove me to do. Besides, it’s shame, not guilt. That’s why I couldn’t write to my mom. I didn’t want her to be ashamed of me, too. I can’t live with that, either.”


* * *


Adelle didn't speak for a long time, instead cradling Laurence in her arms and praying his staff had learned not to barge in without knocking. His shoulders tensed, as though just now realising how much he had revealed and she knew he would attempt to pull away before he did.

“I don't deserve comfort,” he mumbled when she resisted.

“For an intelligent man, you have taken to saying some remarkably foolish things,” she said.

“That shouldn't come as a surprise.”

She'd been trying to determine how best to respond, but the utter defeat in his tone made her angry. “Listen to me,” she said, waiting for him to look at her. “I believe you that it's not survivor guilt, because it's hubris. You're right. Your ambition spurred you on, the need to fight and to win fed it along with a part of you that enjoyed showing what you could accomplish. Perhaps you lost sight of the consequences of your decisions, or perhaps you did what you've been trained to and provided leadership. Either way, you've magnified this so that you and only you are to blame. Not the enemy, the politicians or anyone who contributed to the war's antecedents – just you. You aren't a God, Laurence. You're a man, a man capable of making mistakes and apparently of torturing yourself afterwards. Is the hubris not enough? Do you need some greater burden than the truth?”

“It is the truth.”

“Oh, for heavens sake! Did you lead 10,000 men into the valley of death, make a tactical error which cost you a battle, or the war? Did you send millions of people to their deaths in gas chambers out of racial superiority? Your sense of perspective is sadly lacking.”

“Maybe you don't care about four good men.”

“At the moment I'm questioning whether you do.” He recoiled, as though she’d struck him. “They died. I know it’s very sad, but their deaths weren’t caused by mistakes; not even Bishop’s. Your friends died following reasonable orders from someone they respected and who knew what he was doing. It didn’t have to be you and, whether you like it or not, it wasn’t just you. You’re a link in the chain of command and you had orders as well.” He shook his head, looking mutinous. “That's what happens in war, my love, good people die for no reason. It’s why it’s so bloody terrible. Mourn the deaths of your friends by all means but stop acting as though you’re responsible.”

“You don't understand.” He pushed past her and headed for the door.

“Of course I don't understand. I wasn’t there and I'll freely admit I've never had friends like the men you lost.” She took a breath. “Accepting the vagaries of war rather than the blame will leave you feeling as though you've lost them all over again.”

His expression had darkened, but anger warred with despair and despair had the upper hand. “I won’t pat you on the head and tell you that wallowing in guilt and self-recrimination is perfectly fine, Laurence. I can’t do that. Despite everything, you feel just a tiny bit better, because you’ve said the words aloud.” He shivered. “I’m here; let me help you.”

“You’re going away,” he said, his tone slightly plaintive.

“I’m also coming back; I’ll come back to you for as long as you’ll allow it.” He didn’t seem to want to look her in the eyes, so she whispered, “I’m here now.”

“I don’t know what to do.” It was progress of sorts, but she doubted he saw it that way. Slipping her hand into his, she pulled him a few steps in the direction of the bedroom. “I need to work,” he protested.

“You need to sleep; you’re exhausted.” He stood, irresolute, so she guided him the rest of the way into the bedroom and started to undress. For a moment he watched her and then, slowly, began to take his clothes off.

She sighed with relief when he followed her into bed, curling her body around his so she could provide some comfort. “I’m not going to labour the point,” she whispered, “but will you think about what I’ve said?”

“I don’t know.” As concessions went, it wasn’t much, but she sensed she’s pushed enough for one evening. She pressed her lips to his shoulder blade and stroked his back. “You can rest, Laurence, I’ll keep your demons at bay tonight.”

“You’ll probably persuade them to work for you,” he mumbled, before a huge yawn overtook him.

* * *

Men lined the long, straight as an arrow road. Dominic sensed them and felt their anger but couldn’t see anyone. A black fog made everything uncertain. Dominic walked, away from and toward he knew not what; however, he suspected he’d not leave this road alive. He quickened his pace when he realized the black fog had expanded to encompass a portion of the road on either side of him. A piercing shriek set him to running. The blackness advanced. He ran faster. A cacophony of voices combined into one—John Devon’s. “Faster, you sorry son of a bitch. Do they only have slow idiots in the UP?”


He sprinted full out and tripped, falling head long into a jumble of mangled and bloody body parts. Heart pounding, eyeing the approaching blackness, he waded through the mess. When he reached pavement again, he limped at best possible speed, glancing back over his shoulder at the carnage. He thought he saw another soldier, but then the world exploded around him. Pain, incredible unendurable pain lanced through his body as it tore apart. The pain of impossible reassembly paled in comparison to the fear generated by how near the black fog had advanced. An arm reached out, the hand grabbing at Dominic’s uniform, Hill’s watch hanging loosely from its wrist. Dominic struggled but he couldn’t get free and the darkness inched toward his right boot.


“Laurence!”


He pushed Hill away, back into the darkness. Mustering up a trot and whispering an apology, Dominic continued his journey, only realizing he’d gotten turned around when he encountered the mass of broken limbs again.


“Laurence!”


Dominic’s eyes flew open and he shot into a seated position, heart and head pounding. Much to his relief, he could make out shapes in this brand of darkness—non-threatening domestic sorts of shapes.


“It was just a dream,” Adelle said, rubbing his back lightly.


He jumped at the sound of her voice, shied away from her touch and immediately felt foolish. Someone had called his name and liberated him from his nightmare. “I think a couple of demons snuck past you,” he whispered.


“I’ll endeavor to be more vigilant, but first I’m going to get you a glass of water.” She winced as she shifted on the bed.


“Did I hurt you?” he asked, remembering all too vividly the struggle with Hill.


“You were dreaming.”


“Jesus Christ! I hurt you. Let me see.” She seemed tempted to balk, but leaned back against the headboard while he turned on a small bedside lamp. Taking her left hand, he drew her arm into the light. The bruise was already visible. “God, I’m sorry. Is that the only one?”


“The only one that hurts,” she replied. “Let me get you that water.”


“Don’t go, Adelle.”


She looked at him for what felt like an hour but could only have been a minute or two. “I have to Laurence.”


Understanding dawned. “I didn’t mean don’t go into the Russian Sector. I know how important that is. I wish I could go with you. I wish you’d let me send a couple of men with you, but I know the first can’t happen and you won’t accept the second.” He sighed and ran his hand over his face. “Anyway, I only meant that I can live without a glass of water and would rather hold you for a couple more minutes before I go out to do some work.”


“It’s the middle of the night,” she said, handing him his watch as a form of proof.


“I’m not going to sleep anymore,” he said. “I have too much on my mind.” He hugged her close and kissed the top of her head. “A wise woman told me some things I think I needed to hear.” He tilted her head up and kissed her very gently. “Thank you for telling me what an ass I’ve been. No one else has had the guts.”


“I didn’t say you’d been an ass, Laurence. I said you were taking too much on yourself. There is quite a monumental distinction.”


“No, there isn’t,” he said, wearily reaching for his underwear. “Hubris means pride. I didn’t think I had any. You showed me I have too much. That’s a tough pill to swallow.” He pulled on his pants and located his shirt before sitting on the bed again. “It is like losing them again and I think I have to weather this storm on my own.” Hesitant, annunciation careful, he asked, “Is it wrong that I’d sacrifice the others if I could have Devon back?”


“It’s human,” Adelle said, kissing him on the cheek and then just below his ear.


Cupping her chin in his hand, he asked, “What time should I wake you tomorrow?” He tried for stern. “Please tell me you’ve hired a car or convinced someone who should know better to take an armored Jeep across.”


“I’ve hired a car which will be at my hotel at 8:00 am.”


“I’ll see you there myself, if I can.”


“Do wake me a bit early, Laurence,” she said, sliding her hand along the inside of his thigh. “I’d like to be sure you’ll remember me while I’m away.”


“You’ve promised to come back.”


“For as long as you’ll have me.”


“Be careful what you wish for, Miss DeWitt, because you’ve insinuated you aren’t on board for as long as we both shall live.”


“Are you ready to call my bluff?” she asked, tucking herself neatly beneath the blankets.


“Not yet,” he admitted.


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Haven't read it yet, but when I saw the link I said,"Happy Birthday to me!!"

For some ridiculous reason I fell behind on this story, and I just caught up from around.. chapter six or seven.

Quite the ride.

Great evolution to their relationship from the start to here :)

Great to have you caught up. Dom and Adelle have certainly come a long way from Chapter 6 or 7 to this point. I'm glad the evolution played well for you. It's sometimes difficult to tell in an AU setting.

Oh my god, poor Dominic! Gahh, it just makes me want to cry. And Adelle is being so wonderful. Ugh. This is great!

Poor Dominic is my fault, I'm afraid. The more I thought about it; the more I wanted to try and write him broken and defeated, worn out and blaming himself. I did cry when I wrote some of this as I recall. I confess I also wanted to see if he could cry without being unmanly. I think that worked.

Also, I agree that Adelle is there for him in a way he can accept (at least more or less).

Thanks for reading.

No, it definitely worked! It really did. I think Dom being broken and defeated was in character for me and I liked that he cried. I wouldn't ever think of Dom as unmanly and I certainly didn't when he got emotional. It all rang very true to me.

Gah! Poor Dominic! That is some serious guilt that he is living under but good on Adelle for being supportive while still talking some sense into him.

This was lovely! <3

For whatever reason, I wanted AU!Dominic to have close friends that he lost, rather than the isolated seeming Dom of the show. An undercover agent's life has to be pretty lonely. Giving him the friends and then taking them away was kind of cruel, but it makes for an interesting (to me) vulnerability.

Yes, yes, yes to Adelle being there and speaking truth.

Thanks so much for reading!

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