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Strategic Planning (#4 in the Let's Pretend Series)
damien listening guitar
rogoblue
Title: Strategic Planning
Rating: R (violence, language and sex)
Author: rogoblue
Summary: Adelle and Dominic are still in Paris to try and flush out an enemy of Adelle’s, among other things, and the complications have developed complications. Fourth in the Let’s Pretend series (third is Parisian Complications, second is Pretending to Pretend.
Words: 6,200
Spoilers: Season 1 a tiny bit and 2 a little bit through episode 12. Set somewhere between 1.06 and 1.09.
Disclaimers: The toys are Joss Whedon’s. The idea is mine.
Dedication: In looking for someone other than myself to blame, I must at least share it with you folks who are reading along with me and egging me on. Thanks. I think.



The dull throb in his shoulder annoyed Laurence Dominic as he stalked into the living area of the suite he was sharing with Adelle DeWitt in Paris. Hair wet from a shower managed after he’d pulled the tight silk T-shirt over his head, barely screaming at all from the pain of a shoulder he suspected was separated, Dominic said, “Adelle, have you seen—?” His question died in his throat. Lisa Grayson sat on the couch sipping tea, gaping at him as though she’d never seen him before.

“All is well with the plumbing, I trust, Mr. Dominic,” Adelle DeWitt said, expression falling far short of neutral to Laurence’s eyes. “Shall I order you a late lunch?”

The mention of food released saliva in his mouth. It seemed like forever since he’d had Chef Pierre’s seafood special. Barefoot, button down silk shirt hanging untucked over perfectly fitting jeans, Dominic muttered, “Yeah, thanks,” before he fully considered how her ordering for him might look to Grayson. Unsure whether he needed to recover the situation and of how to go about doing it it, Dominic took a breath. Eyes lighting on the battered duffle bag resting on the floor at Grayson’s feet, he said, “Thank Christ.” Focused, he swooped in and hefted the bag onto the coffee table with his good arm. “Is this everything?” he asked, tugging at the zipper.
.
Grayson’s lack of response forced him to look at her to see her nod. “Why do you need all that, Dominic?” she asked.

“I won’t,” he muttered, rummaging through the bag, taking a quick inventory. “What’s this?” Dominic asked, holding up a small device roughly the size and shape of a pen.

“Topher called them blockers,” Grayson said.

“Them?” Dominic asked at the same time DeWitt said, “What do they block?”

“Audio and video pickups,” Grayson replied, eyes on Adelle. “Topher said Ivy thought Dominic probably had better things to do than sweep two hotel rooms multiple times a day.” Shrugging, Grayson added, “He was actually channeling Q. The bad British accent gave it away.” Grayson turned her attention to Dominic. “I can send one back if you don’t need both.”

Unflinching, he said, “I have a use for it.” Ignoring Grayson’s clear interest in what that use might be and whether appearances were, in fact, deceiving, Dominic began to check the weapons she’d brought.

“Don’t you trust me, Dom?” The hint of hurt in Grayson’s tone surprised him. Her too, evidently, as she hurriedly continued, “I handpicked every item I brought.”

“I don’t use any weapon I haven’t checked myself.” He sighed, harkening back a few hours. “Unless events dictate taking that risk.” Assembling the sniper rifle with quick, economical movements, Dominic said, “It’s nothing personal, Ms. Grayson. Your work, work ethic and technique are excellent.” Glancing over at Grayson, he said, “You have it in writing, most notably in your last several performance reviews.”

Nodding slowly, Grayson put down her tea cup. “What’s the situation, Dominic? How can I help?”

“By taking a commercial flight home tomorrow,” he said. “I want the jet available.”

Grayson regarded Dominic for a long moment. Her sharp eyes darted to DeWitt for an instant and she frowned. Dominic continued to work his way through the weaponry. Adelle sat quietly, reading a book, yet undoubtedly listening. “How bad is your shoulder?” Grayson asked.

Ruthlessly suppressing the urge to shrug, Dominic said, “Hurts a bit.”

“What about your hip?” Grayson asked, voice low, intense. “Or is it your thigh?”

“Obviously, Ms. Grayson, those injuries must be very minor because Mr. Dominic has failed to mention them.”

Wincing at the harshness in Adelle’s tone, Grayson mouthed, “Sorry,” before she asked, “Have you seen a doctor?” He shook his head. “The protocol—.”

“I’m well aware that protocol specifies a medical examination of an injury sustained in the act of duty as soon as is reasonably practicable.” Dominic faced nearly matching female glares. “It hasn’t even been unreasonably practicable yet.”

Heaving an exasperated sigh, Grayson turned to Adelle. “Have you at least taken a look at his shoulder?”

“Not the entire injured portion, no,” Adelle admitted, placing her book on the small table beside her chair. “What I saw was bruised and swollen.”

“You’re vulnerable hand to hand and you’re sending me home?” Leaning forward, Grayson said, “Why?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Of course it is,” Grayson agreed with a tight smile. “And it’s also very simple. Operating in hostile territory at less than eighty percent effectiveness is stupid.”

Knowing Grayson was right didn’t render the words easier to hear. The fact that it simply didn’t matter whether she was right helped some. “Then it’s fortunate I’m functioning a bit better than that.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

As she would have every right to be if we were going to go by the book on this. Dominic stood, every molecule of his being screaming Chief of Security, despite the casual clothes and bare feet. “Thank you for flying the weapons over, Ms. Grayson. Enjoy your evening and have a pleasant flight home.”

Her eyes indicted him for recklessness. “I’ll see you both back in LA,” Grayson said, “assuming either of you make it.”

“I’ll overlook the insubordination due to the extenuating circumstances,” Dominic said, crossing his arms in front of him. “Don’t make a habit of it.”

“Dominic,” Grayson said, hand coming to rest lightly on his injured shoulder. “Reconsider. I’m in room 1134. Damn it, I’m seasoned, not some kid. I won’t get in your way.”

“I know.”

“You wouldn’t sanction anyone else on our team doing what you’re doing,” she muttered as she headed to the door. “No one.”

“That may well be the only benefit of being the boss,” Dominic said, pleased at the small smile he received from Grayson.

“Be careful,” she said, hand on the doorknob. “Better the devil you know and all that. Who knows who’d be foisted on us as Chief if anything happened to you?”

“I’ll do my best to spare you the effort of breaking in someone new.”

Dominic closed his eyes when the door shut. “She’s right,” Adelle murmured.

“I know, but I have no intention of dragging anyone else into this until we have a better idea of exactly what this is.”

“Let me see your shoulder,” Adelle said, stepping just into his personal space. “And your other injury.” Without waiting for a response, Adelle unbuttoned his shirt with admirable British efficiency. Slowly, carefully, she slipped it over his left shoulder.

Seeing the relief in her eyes, Dominic said, “I’ll hold my own,” and started to pull the shirt back on.

“Stop.” The ring of command was clear, as was the sinking feeling in Laurence’s stomach when Adelle moved around him to view his shoulder from behind. “Good God, Laurence,” she muttered.

“It looks worse than it is,” he countered.

“Really?” Adelle asked, stabbing the center of the bruise with her forefinger. Dominic’s eyes watered but he remained silent. Caressing along his spine with one hand, Adelle pushed at his shoulder a different angle with the other. Dominic’s knees buckled. The knock on the door sounded just as his ass hit the floor. Shaking her head, Adelle moved to answer it.

Please be room service. I really don’t want to watch her gunned down in front of me because she called my bluff. Fortunately, Gregory entered with the sandwich and salad Adelle had ordered, but not before Dominic managed to tumble onto the couch. Opening the bottle of red wine with a flourish, Gregory poured for Adelle and awaited her approval with just the right amount of deference. Dominic used the time to button his shirt. Adelle tipped him from my wallet. What the hell? Just before he left, Gregory removed the lids from the plates holding the sandwich and the salad. The scent of delicately grilled salmon drew Laurence’s full attention. God, I need to eat. Dominic launched himself into the sandwich and salad.

“Is your other injury that severe?” Adelle asked as she handed him a wine glass. Mouth full, he shook his head. “Approaching that severe?” she persisted. Realizing the Caesar salad was awesome, he shook his head again. Adelle sighed. “Breathe between bites, Laurence. No one is going to take it away.” Smiling gently, she added, “I know you’re hungry. I was also, but, unlike me, you have an audience.”

Taking a sip of wine, Dominic inclined his head in Adelle’s direction. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I’m starving.” Making a supreme effort, Laurence slowed down his eating. “I took some shrapnel, but I extracted it and stitched myself up to the extent necessary. I’m fine.”

“Where?” Adelle asked. Dominic indicated a spot at the midpoint of his right hip and several arrayed lower. Adelle rested a hand on his hip. “How did you stitch them?”

“Mirrors are useful.”

Adelle stared at him for a moment. “You sat on the marble counter in the bathroom and gave yourself stitches using the mirror to see?” He nodded. “You can reverse the perspective in your head?” she demanded.

“After a few mistakes, yeah,” he admitted before returning his attention to his food. And his wine. Damn, this is good. Thank Christ I’m not on pain meds, so I can actually drink it. “I’ve always had decent hand-eye coordination.” Watching Adelle taste her wine, he asked, “What’s on the agenda for whatever’s left of today?” Looking down, he muttered, “Sorry, I slept so long. Won’t happen again.”

“Unless you need to rest, Laurence.” Sighing, Adelle regarded him over the rim of her wine glass. “You’re only human, I might point out.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he snarled.

“It’s a statement of fact,” Adelle said, clearly puzzled. “Nothing more.”

“Would you rather have an active programmed to order?”

She moved to sit quite close to him. “If I did, I’d have one,” Adelle averred.

The truth of that statement was difficult to deny. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I’m in pain, hungry, worried about how I’m going to protect you and wondering from what exactly. I haven’t brought my A game to this assignment, Adelle. That’s not an excuse for my behavior. It’s the reason.”

“We’re going to the opera.”

“Huh?”

“You asked what was on the agenda for tonight. I’ve told you. The opera.” She couldn’t seem to settle between a subtle smirk and a tacit grin. “I cannot wait to see you in the tuxedo I found.”

Before taking an extra large bite of his sandwich, Dominic muttered, “My absent tux is classic. I like classic in a tux.”

Patting him on his good shoulder, Adelle smiled. “Mine isn’t quite, but I will have to avail myself of several of your weapons to keep poachers at bay.” Timing the moment perfectly, Adelle leaned in and kissed him at one of the few instants he had no food in his mouth. “I wouldn’t want to lose you to a countess with an opportunistic bent.”

“Don’t you have to have me to lose me?” he asked.

“Your logic, as usual, is impeccable,” Adelle said. “The moment you’re finished eating, I intend to rectify the situation.” Kissing him on the cheek, she whispered in his ear, “Sex is long overdue, don’t you think, Laurence?”

“So is a conversation,” he murmured, catching her hand in his, smiling.

“I’d rather have sex,” she said.

“Me too,” he said, looking her up and down, the soft supple silk of her dress covering yet concealing nothing of her curves. “After.”

Smiling a challenge, Adelle straddled his thighs. “As they say, Life is short, Laurence. Sex first.”

“If I wasn’t staring at the indisputable visual evidence to the contrary right now, I’d be wondering if you had a Y-chromosome with that kind of attitude.” She took his mouth with a power and a passion he’d never before experienced. The second time, he met her on equal footing. And the third. “Adelle,” he groaned, “We need to talk.”

Unbuttoning his silk shirt, slowly and sensuously this time, she asked, “About what?”

“How we can stop the abuses of the imprint technology.” He panted lightly, allowing her free reign on instinct, willing her to meet his eyes. “I have some ideas.”

Hands stilling, she asked, “How do you suggest we proceed, Laurence?”

“One way is to cut off the head,” he said, resisting the urge to move his hands to her hips. No can do, Dom. You need at least one hand free to eat. “Find out who the ringleaders are and eliminate them. Those next in line might have the same ideas some day, but it’ll take a while. Or, if they’re already on board, elimination of those higher up on the food chain ought to suggest a different course of action. If not … we go for round two.”

“Define eliminate.”

Meeting her challenging gaze, he said, “Kill.”

“I’m to imprint an active as an assassin and—.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Dominic said, sneaking in another bite of Caesar salad around Adelle. “Topher won’t have to stress his single celled conscience.”

“Who do you propose—.”

“Me.”

“I believe … conducting multiple assassinations is a task requiring experience, don’t you?” Adelle froze, something in his expression undoubtedly giving her pause. “You … you have … assassinated people, Laurence?”

“Yes.”

Climbing off of his lap, Adelle once again settled in next to him. “Strange. I don’t recall anything to that effect on your resume.”

“My resume wasn’t … entirely accurate.” I’m getting the hang of this understatement thing. Hell bent on finishing his salad without pain, Dominic shrugged his right shoulder only. “Maybe it’s better to say it glossed over a few, possibly salient details. The assassinations fell under the general heading of Special Forces which was a moderately more palatable substitute for black ops. Three quarters of the stuff I did is still classified, Adelle.” He laughed with little humor. “Most of the rest would be if the powers that be thought anyone would believe me if I told them.”

“How will we populate your … hit list, I believe the term is?” Adelle asked, as she tore a small piece from his baguette.

Dominic poured Adelle more wine. “The option I hate is for you to pretend to join their group. I’d prefer to identify our targets another way. Practically any other way.” Unconsciously, he reached for his sore shoulder as he sat back. “Alternatively, we find a way to sabotage their maiden voyage.” Smiling at the question in Adele’s eyes, he said, “We make sure it doesn’t work the first time they try to download the full monty of a powerful shit without morals into a more attractive vessel. Turn Renee Deveroux or Clive Ambrose into a slobbering vegetable, however attractively packaged, I think they hesitate before trying again.”

“And if they use someone not of their ilk as their guinea pig?” Adelle asked, hand coming to rest lightly on his upper arm.

“Too bad for them.”

After a moment of consideration, Adelle nodded. “How?”

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “Sabotaging the chair they use would certainly work, but we might not know where they plan to do the deed in time. Something more … generic, maybe.” Dominic gestured with his fork. “Possibly more benign. If Topher could find a way to alter active architecture to prevent a full download and herald it as an improvement in efficiency, everyone would fall all over themselves to implement without ever considering what Topher might have sacrificed to get the job done. Only a handful of people on the planet could follow what Topher did. We’d eliminate them if necessary.”

“Understood,” Adelle said, leaning into Dominic, luring him into putting his arm around her. “But all of this is beside the point if we’re discovered to be in opposition. Or if we fail to make it back to Los Angeles per Ms. Grayson’s prediction.”

“Or we order the seafood special again.”

Adelle looked aghast. “I beg your pardon.”

“All the fuss everyone made over you in that restaurant and Chef Pierre doesn’t emerge with his weapon of choice to see that you are being completely satisfied in every way?” Gazing sadly at the diminishing salad, Dominic said, “It doesn’t track.”

She poured the rest of the wine into Dominic’s glass. “I did think it odd Pierre didn’t come to our table, but I concluded Charles had told him I was there with a man I appeared to wish to be with this time, so he didn’t feel the need to perform.”

“More likely, he objected to someone doctoring up two of his seafood specials.”

“Do you think they hurt him?” Adelle asked.

‘If he’s the culinary institution you suggest he is, I doubt it. Dramatic people with a claim to fame complain loudly and longly about perceived or actual mistreatment.” Adelle’s chuckle drew his eyes from the stray piece of salmon he’d rescued from oblivion beneath the decorative garnish. “What?”

“Are you so very hungry, Laurence?”

“Yes.” It felt strange admitting something so very insignificant to her, but Dominic recognized he lacked the time to consider why.

“You believe our meal was drugged,” Adelle said, frowning, obviously turning the idea over in her mind.

“The timing works better than anything in the cab,” he said. “And it explains the cab. It would’ve tracked us to pick us up whenever, working in concert with a couple of people on foot.” He laughed. “We just made things easy for them by being … distracted.”

“You’ve given many things an amount of thought in the last few hours,” she said. Caressing his cheek lightly, she added, “How little sleep did you truly get?”

The combination of the gentle touch, the quiet question and concerned eyes robbed Dominic of the ability to lie. “I … um … well … not much.”

Adelle pulled his head closer for a soft kiss that lengthened comfortably. “You need to take better care of yourself or Ms. Grayson will reprimand me severely.”

Laughing, Dominic said, “I’m sure that’ll go over well.”

“It would actually,” Adelle said, “because she’d be correct.”

“As you saw earlier, being right isn’t the be all and end all.” Dominic rested a hand on the back of Adelle’s neck, teasing the column of her throat with his thumb. “Sometimes being right gets you squat, because it doesn’t matter. Sometimes what’s right is wrong.” He frowned at how inarticulate his statement sounded despite its accuracy. “Like it’s wrong for Lisa to stay. If things go south, she’s cannon fodder. You or I someone might have a use for. Not her. Not yet.”

“Lisa?” Adelle asked.

“Lisa Grayson,” Dominic muttered.

Eyeing him speculatively, Adelle said, “You like her.”

“I respect her.”

“And like her.”

Dominic rolled his eyes. “Yes, I like her.”

“Enough to bed her?”

“Maybe, if she didn’t work for me.” Making an inarticulate noise of frustration, Dominic kissed his boss as though she were his lover, with the best kind of malice aforethought. “But she does and I don’t sleep with my people.”

“What must you think of me?” Adelle asked.

“What?” Understanding dawned and Dominic fought a grin. “I don’t think you’re sexually harassing me, Adelle. I’ll sign a release if you want. I won’t sue.”

“My relief is profound.”

“Good. So … back to stopping Renee from inhabiting someone like …,” Dominic swallowed hard, memory raw and incredibly vivid of the gorgeous active burning alive, “… Alpha.” Closing his eyes briefly, he added, “Renee’s Alpha.”

Adelle sighed, looking sidelong at Laurence as though she’d rather not speak. “What you described—identifying the perpetrators and eliminating them or modifying the technology to foil them—sounds plausible, theoretically speaking. I fear the transformation of the theory into reality will prove difficult.”

“No, Adelle, you’re wrong.” Pointing to himself with his sandwich for emphasis, Dominic said, “I lived that life for years. One guy, maybe two, can topple anything—a family, a syndicate, a corporation, a government. All they need is good intelligence, some decent support and a bit of infrastructure behind them. And the will to do what’s called for.” He offered her a forkful of Caesar salad. “You should try this, it’s good.” While she chewed with an expression connoting agreement on the salad issue, he said, “In some ways, the fewer people the better. If you have to shoot your way out, it can be a bitch, but you can’t beat a one man job for keeping things covert.” Don’t think about what you just said, Dom. Nothing good will come of it.

Idly stroking the silk of his shirt, Adelle asked, “What sort of support would such a man require?”

Halting what little was left of the sandwich half way to his mouth, Dominic said, “Depends on the mission objectives. Admittedly, we don’t know what form the various aspects of this mission will take, but we have a huge advantage over your average, run of the mill, black ops guy. Topher. He can tee up whatever we need.”

Adelle regarded him for a moment, eyes straying to his injured shoulder and hip. “And the infrastructure?” she asked.

“We have the very latest in computers, cutting edge surveillance technology, weapons, helicopters and other serviceable vehicles. We’ll make do.” Tilting his head to look her in the eye, he allowed a slow smile to form. “I’m good at this sort of thing, Adelle. I met my mission objectives routinely. All of them.”

“Why aren’t you still in the covert operations business then?”

An excellent question. I wish I could give you the better answer. “I am in a way.” Sipping his wine, he murmured, “Security is similar in many respects. The thought processes are close, particularly in a situation like last night.” Acting on impulse, he said, “I’m sorry my resume wasn’t explicit in every detail, but that works to our advantage now. No one knows what I’ve done. What I can do. That could be huge for us as we go forward. We can use all the tactical advantages we can get.”

“Why did you get out?” she asked.

“I don’t talk about that.” His sharp clipped tone earned him a gentle kiss he didn’t feel he deserved. Compelling green eyes forced him to mutter, “I just don’t.” Her eyes didn’t falter and Adelle’s hands framed his face. A full minute passed. And a second. “I followed orders,” he snarled. When she failed to flinch or back off, Dominic found himself saying, “I did what I was told and I couldn’t deal with it. They called it burn out. My shrink said I was pushed beyond my moral boundaries. That wasn’t it. It wasn’t about me at all. Not really. It wasn’t what they asked me to do so much as the fact they’d asked me to do it. I couldn’t believe in my superiors anymore. They’d lost touch with their humanity.” Breathing hard, Dominic tried to stop the flow of words. “Not that I was any better, but … I don’t know. What’s that they say about pornography—without redeeming social importance and I’ll know it when I see it—right? That’s the space I was in. I knew what they asked me to do was so fundamentally wrong that the term fundamentally wrong failed to capture the horror of it. I also knew there was nothing redeeming about it. I did it anyway. And I … I … drank pretty much all day, every day for a couple of weeks, popping whatever pills came my way on top of it. They said I was suicidal. Maybe they were right. I just wanted to forget.” His laugh had a frightening desperate element to it. “Could’ve used Topher to erase that memory. I’d probably still be on that payroll if that tech had been an option. My shrink classified me as unstable. A … a risk to myself and any mission they might give me. So I got an honorable discharge, a medal and a couple of citations to go with the guilt. That’s it.” He hadn’t realized he was trembling until Adelle hugged him close, kissing him on the cheek, then on the lips. “I …,” he had to take a deep breath to continue, “I’ve never told anyone before. I mean, I know I didn’t tell you any details and you don’t want them, believe me, it’s just that I’ve never … said it out loud. Not like this. Not to anyone.”

“I’ll do my best not to burn you out,” Adelle whispered, resisting his effort to pull away. “That I promise you, Laurence.”

“Thanks,” he muttered. Forcing a small smile, he asked, “So when’s the opera?”

“One hour,” Adelle murmured, watching him closely.

“I’ll need that time,” Dominic mumbled, looking away.

“Of course,” Adelle said, giving him the gentlest kiss he’d ever received as an adult. “I’ll be in the bedroom getting ready if you need me.”

Grateful to Adelle for giving him some time alone, Dominic made several calls and determined the most reliable chauffer service in Paris. He checked references and quizzed their people on security arrangements. With the company he favored, Laurence asked to speak with their driver, Francois. The man had a no nonsense way about him that appealed to Dominic. Satisfied, he hired the car for the night. Faced with leaving for the opera in a little over ten minutes, Laurence knew he had to face the tuxedo Adelle had chosen. It’s a monkey suit, just like any other. Deal. Stepping into the bedroom, he came face to face with a vision in a deep blue gown with an amount of cleavage that should be illegal. “God,” he murmured. “I’d feel better about spilling my guts had you been wearing that. It would’ve felt … inevitable rather than inappropriate.”

Smile tentative, Adelle strolled toward him, taking his hand when she arrived. “I’m pleased you felt you could speak to me about such a significant topic. On a lighter note,” she nodded to his right, “what do you think?”

He stared at his new tuxedo. “Is that … silver?” he asked.

“More of a light gray with a hint of a metallic overtone. The blue bowtie will bring out your eyes.” She laughed softly. “You hate it.”

“No, I’m just … surprised.” He approached the clothing as though it might shape shift at any moment. “I expected black with a very modern cut, not gray with a classic look to it.”

“You haven’t left yourself much time to don it,” Adelle commented, stepping to his side. “Shall I go down and meet our driver without you?”

“At the rates we’re paying, Francois can wait a couple of minutes.”

“Of course.” Patting him on the shoulder, backing away a step, smiling, Adelle said, “I’ll be arming myself to defend your honor.”

“You do that.”

* * *

Having survived the opera without a splitting headache and tiring of glancing behind them to see if they were being followed, Laurence Dominic finally relaxed back into the comfortable upholstery of the hired car. With a small sigh, Adelle DeWitt linked her arms around one of his and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Thanks,” he whispered.

She tilted her head to look up at him. “For what?”

“For not pushing.” When her curious look didn’t fade, he said, “For not asking any questions about my abrupt exit from the fascinating world of black ops or wondering aloud if I’m ready, willing or able to jump back into it on your behalf.”

“There’s no need to thank me, Laurence. It seemed evident you’d said all you intended to say on the subject, at least for the time being, and the circumstances failed to dictate forcing the issue.”

Meeting her eyes, he trusted his instincts. “I was vulnerable when I told you. A lot of women would have been all over that.”

“You would never trust a woman who pushed you in such a moment again.”

Dominic nodded. “True enough.”

“We’re going to need to trust each other going forward, Laurence.”

Extricating his arm from her grasp, he repositioned it across her shoulders. “We haven’t up until now?”

Serious green eyes spoke directly to something fundamental within Dominic, even as Adelle said, “Not as we must if we intend to oppose gross abuses of the technology.”

“Don’t tell me you want us to do some teambuilding exercises, Adelle. There are very few things I hate worse than teambuilding exercises.”

Adelle laughed until she had tears in her eyes. “Do you remember the one that gnome-like facilitator made you do with your team shortly after you arrived? The scenario where your ship had run aground and you were all stranded on an island with limited resources you had to stretch until rescue arrived.”

“Vaguely,” Dominic muttered, not sure he wanted to know what Adelle found so funny.

“Everyone had to write out their responses.” Adelle aimed an impressively sardonic smile at him. “A very agitated facilitator shared yours with me, insisting that you had missed the point entirely.”

“No I didn’t,” Dominic said, teasing the memory from his brain. “I was supposed to creatively use the people and resources. I did.”

“Killing everyone except for the strongest four, in case of attack by predators or hostile natives, and eating just fine wasn’t supposed to be an option.”

“There wasn’t anything in the rules about murder being off limits.” Her artfully raised eyebrow pulled a smile out of him. “I know because I was so bored with the stupid thing I actually read them.”

Adelle kissed him lightly on the mouth. “I’ll cherish always the expression on the facilitator’s face when I applauded. Reading the simple, single sentence response to that elaborate exercise, I decided I liked you.”

“And what did that say about you?” Dominic asked.

“I had very reasonable and appropriate expectations of my Chief of Security.” Leaning in close, she whispered, “My current expectations differ slightly in that they remain eminently reasonable but have become somewhat to wholly inappropriate.” When he looked away, Adelle caught his chin in her hand and turned his head back toward her. “Have my revised expectations become problematic for you?”

The truth struck Dominic as a fine option. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I focused more on you than the opera. And I … I just can’t do that. I need to concentrate on protecting you, not on the way your eyes shine like a cat’s.” He bit his lip. “On top of that, I’m more than a little embarrassed about … before. I was fucking shaking by the time I managed to shut my mouth.” He sighed, laughed and shook his head. “I don’t trust myself very much right now.”

“Do you trust me?”

Rubbing his hands over tired eyes, he muttered, “Not completely, no.”

“And, yet, you’ve shared intensely personal experiences with me.” Adelle crossed his ankle with hers. “Why do you suppose?”

He laughed. “I’m human, Adelle. You … you’re … you. Damn it! You … call to me at a level too basic for me to tune out. But it’s more than that. The urge to just … give in, to freaking submit is strong and it scares the shit out of me. I’ve never done that. Not ever. Not fully. That’s just not who I am, but …” Kissing her briefly and hard, he added, “With you, I feel out of control and perfectly rational at the same time. I know how nuts that sounds, Adelle, but I … Christ, I don’t want to admit this.”

“Laurence?”

“Pretty night,” he muttered, staring out the window. “It’s not as cold as they predicted.”

“Laurence.”

Sighing, he faced her to whisper, “I can imagine exposing my throat and handing you a knife.”

The silence that fell was profound yet not uncomfortable. “That sounds remarkably like trust,” Adelle observed. They stared at each other for a moment fraught with potential for good or ill. Then they were kissing, demanding, giving everything, taking nothing. Adelle was on his lap and he bruised her lips ruthlessly. Slowly, they relaxed into the endeavor. Teasing, coaxing, seducing, tempting, they dueled quite pleasantly for a time.

“Your hotel, sir, madam,” Francois said. Staring out his window, Francois said, “Forgive the interruption, but I suspect you will be more comfortable in your hotel room.”

Breathing hard, Laurence offered his credit card. He made the mistake of glancing at Adelle, his eyes falling prey to the dress of amazing cleavage. Perhaps sensing her advantage, she pulled him in for another kiss.

“I’ve added my tip, sir,” Francois said. Dominic signed the credit card receipt and handed the driver a bill randomly picked from his wallet as well. “Thank you, sir, do call on me again for your transportation needs in Paris.”

Dominic nodded to the driver and took Adelle’s hand. She matched his pace and the intensity in his eyes. The warmth of the hotel lobby hit them like a physical force, inspiring Dominic to tug at his bowtie and Adelle to slap his hand away from it. They stood before the bank of elevators staring at each other. The soft bell tone announcing an arrival called to them. Dominic moved first, putting his hand against one side of the opened elevator doors, gesturing for Adelle to enter. She flowed with him and into his arms as he pressed the number for their floor.

“Hold the elevator!” someone called, shattering the moment.

Frowning slightly, Dominic hit the door open button and two obviously American young women burst into the small space. His risk assessment took mere seconds. The hand Adelle had on his back undoubtedly felt him relax fractionally.

The young Americans almost collided as they drew to a halt, sharing a glance before one said, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Dominic said, sensing amusement radiating from Adelle, uncertain he approved of that development.

“You guys look nice,” said the redhead. “Were you at a party?”

Adelle elbowed Laurence lightly in the side. “The opera,” he said.

“Was it any good?” the blonde asked.

Chuckling softly, Laurence looked at Adelle. “I couldn’t tell you. There was this distracting woman sitting next to me. Um …,” he made a show of thinking hard, “the tenor was the hero and a bunch of people died, but I think good triumphed over evil in the end.” He frowned. “Or not.” Turning to Adelle, he asked, “Did good triumph over evil in the end?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Adelle replied, taking his hand.

The girls oohed and ahhed over Adelle’s accent. “How long have you been married?” the redhead inquired, eyes on Dominic.

We look married? “Three years,” Dominic said without pause for reflection. Adelle squeezed his hand, whether in approval or annoyance he didn’t know. Facing two pairs of widening eyes, he sighed. “That’s not as boringly married as you might think.” Grinning at Adelle, he said, “I remember the I-need-you-right-now days, don’t you, sweetheart?”

“Vividly.”

“Where did you meet?” the blonde asked as they neared their floor.

“A Manchester United match,” Dominic said. “The guys I was with were trying to wean me off of American football.” He raised Adelle’s hand to his lips. “All it took was an introduction to a fascinating woman who hated it.” Tugging Adelle forward when the elevator door opened, he said, “Have a nice night, ladies.”

He pretended not to hear the red head say, “I’d totally hit that,” but had to smile at the blonde’s pronouncement of, “I’d hit either.”

“What’s on your mind, Adelle?” he demanded, feeling her urge to speak, or maybe to laugh, like a prod to his injured shoulder.

“I fear you may be too high maintenance for me, Laurence.” Smiling up at him, she said, “There’s simply too much competition.”

“Or none,” he whispered as they reached their door. Eyes glued to Adelle’s face, Dominic put his card key in the door. Ushering her into their suite, he whispered, “You’re beautiful. And highly intelligent which is why I’m having trouble figuring this out, I think.” Meeting her eyes, he asked, “What do you see in me?”

“I see a man I believe can please me as well as he works with me.” Wrapping her arms around him, Adelle said, “What’s not to like?’

Dominic picked Adelle up, smiling at her laughter, heading with speed to the bedroom. “I want you, Adelle.”

“You may have me however you like.”

“Well, damn,” Dominic said, coming to an abrupt halt just inside their bedroom door. “That’s one concern we can cross off the list.”

Adelle tightened her arms around his neck to bring her face level with his. “Concern? What concern?”

Pivoting, nodding to the bed, Dominic sighed and said, “Clive Ambrose won’t be hijacking anyone like Victor.” Shaking his head, he added, “Unless he already has and this is someone’s idea of a joke.”

Spread eagled on their bed, Clive Ambrose sported a gaping hole between his eyes. “Damn,” Adelle said.

“I already said that,” Dominic said.

“Some things bear repeating, Laurence.”


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OK, this is my favourite installment so far. It's tender and heartbreaking and I love how you've developed their relationship. Also, you killed Ambrose. That makes me ridiculously happy, because I hate him quite a lot. And I am very happy to be egging you on because this is so insanely FABULOUS.

The fact that Clive Ambrose still breathed in 2020 was one of my biggest ICKs of Epitaph 2. Steps had to be taken and, assuming Dominic is wrong in that he hasn't already switched bodies, they seem to have been taken by someone.

That big paragraph in the middle where Dom describes where he got out of the black ops business kind of upset me but then Adelle's description of his "solution" for the team building experiment cheered me right back up--writing wise, so I guess a little heartbreaking is ok.

There were a lot of little moments that suggested themselves to me as I wrote--small statements or physical things that I hoped would show an increasing comfort around each other. Glad it seemed to have worked.

So much to love in this - not least that they were interrupted again. Adelle's reaction to all the women around Dom is interesting - I love how it is changing as they get closer.

Their conversation was so intimate, they almost don't need to have sex; they've both made themselves so vulnerable. I'm egging you on as well - even though I think this is going to make me so sad by the end.

This episode wasn't supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be more action oriented and most of the events in part 5 were planned for this one. The characters had other plans for me. I just take dictation sometimes. Having said that, I like how it came out. The interuption was fun to contemplate--whom did I want to get rid of.

I think her reaction to the women around him is changing in direct correlation to his unambiguous declarations of interest in her. Secure in that knowledge, Adelle can be more amused than anything.

The conversation is what got me started on all of this. Could it be funny and intimate and ... I don't know ... real sounding, I suppose. So ... if I interrupt them again and get any grief ... can I quote you? "They almost don't need to have sex." Hmmmm. You did slip that word almost in there, didn't you? No, can't foist off the blame for that one.

Oh well, I'm glad you enjoyed it. This has been both simple and incredibly difficult to write. I'm not exactly sure why.

Make you sad by the end? I don't know the answer to that yet. The end is still a bit nebulous in my mind.

Okay, the interruptions are killing me almost as much as they're probably killing our sexy duo, but this chapter was great. Loved getting into Dominic's head and getting glimpses - however filtered - of his past.

\o/

Interruptions are such excellent ends to chapters. But, alas, I feel your pain. I'm glad you liked the chapter despite the somewhat nasty interruption.

I was trying to explore the theme of identity here that's kind of central to Dollhouse. Who is Laurence Dominic really? For what it's worth, I don't think he's a good enough actor to make up and pull off that long paragraph near the middle of the story. I believe there to be a lot of the truth--at least in that part.

Thanks for sticking with me.

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The ALMOST did need all caps, I suppose. They do seem to be proceeding in the correct direction. If there weren't all these pesky conspirators milling about Europe, things might have been able to progress a bit differently.

Who is Dom anyway has kind of been an interest of mine since Spy in the House of Love. But there's also the deeper question of what is identity anyway. Isn't it, to an extent, who you appear to be?

I'm glad folks liked this one b/c it surprised me in how much depth emerged. In trying to keep the chapters at a reasonable length, this one simply had no more room. On to #5, I guess.

Ha, so I finally got an account, this way it'll be easier to leave you a proper comment. First off, I've gotta say I love their relationship progression. Everything from trust to self disclosure is being established at just the right pace. It never feels rushed or forced.

The elevator scene rocked. Lol, it's funny how this show made me appreciate elevators a lot more. Their dialogue with the 2 American girls was fun, it provided a nice contrast to the more personal and emotionally heavy conversation about his past. Which was also gold by the way.

Looking back I really liked when he asked "What do you see in me?"
He just sounded so cute and vulnerable at the same time it was really sweet, and Adelle had the perfect answer. Even though I could probably elaborate a bit more on his attractiveness, but that could take pages ;)

Love this fic, and this community, keep up the good work!

The progression of their relationship is something I've just written almost on the fly in a what feels right at this point in time sense. The need for trust (based on the evolving situation) has sort of driven the disclosures (however accurate) and self realizations required to get to trust. So I'm glad the pace has seemed fine.

I saw all the elevator stuff on the show but never appreciated it until the smiles as the elevator door closed on Echo in Tuscon in Getting Closer. It just seemed like they needed a break, however short, in all the stuff that's been happening. I know they went to the opera but I think at least Dominic was kind of weirded out by the earlier conversation almost until the elevator.

I also like Dominic wondering what Adelle sees in him. Hmmmm. May require a black ops disclosure length speech for her to explain the physical attractiveness piece. Wonder if that could fit in? Ha!

Seriously, I'm glad you liked it and took the time to comment. It does matter. Incentive to get #5 and 6 moving. There will be at least 6, I think.

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