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Powder Keg
damien listening guitar
rogoblue
Number 10 in the Let's Pretend Series

Title: Powder Keg
Rating: R (violence, language and sex)
Author: rogoblue
Summary: Adelle and Laurence discover who arranged the meeting between Dominic and Casey and Laurence struggles with all of the pressures coming to bear upon him. Tenth in the Let’s Pretend series (ninth is Cutting it Close, eighth is NSA, seventh is Return, sixth is Flight, fifth is Tactical Maneuvers, fourth is Strategic Planning, third is Parisian Complications, second is Pretending to Pretend. Link to the ninth is below this summary. You can get to the others from there or via my live journal. Link to this one is below the dedication.

I must ask you to name your successor.

Words: 7,500
Spoilers: Season 1 a tiny bit and 2 a little bit through episode 12.
Disclaimers: The toys are Joss Whedon’s. The idea is mine.
Dedication: To anyone out there who believes, as I do, that this beast of a story will actually end.




“What are you thinking, Laurence?” Adelle DeWitt asked, looking up at her companion, head resting on his shoulder in the car transporting them from a restaurant where they’d had appetizers to her home.

Tightening the arm he had around her briefly, Dominic said, “About Mitchell Cameron, Taylor Brock, Milicent Montgomery and Juan Juarez.”

“What about them?” Adelle prompted.

“Whether they’re friends, foes or red herrings,” Dominic said, kissing Adelle on the forehead.

“Red herrings?” Adelle said.

Thumb tracing lazy patterns on her upper arm, Dominic said, “Langton gave me those files before we boarded the plane to Paris, Adelle. I didn’t know or suspect any plot against you.” He smiled. “Did you or was that just your excuse to drag me off to Paris?”

“I did,” Adelle said, sharp tone at odds with her indulgent expression.

“Based on what,” Dominic asked, wondering at her widening eyes. “Adelle?”

“An email I received,” she whispered, eyes questioning his.

“From an anonymous source?”

“Well, yes, but all the facts therein seemed to be accurate.”

“Damn,” Dominic muttered, lowering his head, kissing her hard and fast. “We’ve been played.” He sighed. “I’m not one hundred percent sure of it, but it feels right. I mean, come on. An anonymous tip that you’re in danger is delivered to you, files of the relevant parties are given to me, we’re kidnapped and nearly killed in France, someone sends me photos of your past lovers plus one of Victor, one of my own tries to get me fired and then goes missing, freaking NSA tech shows up in the chair, Langton’s screwing with Whiskey—literally, someone is screwing with Echo’s imprints—also literally, I get promoted in the guise of becoming an aging boy toy, although I guess we have you to blame for that, and we meet Casey at Judith’s new favorite restaurant because of someone named Adam Adair who’s a couple of inches shorter than me, blonde and sort of gentle looking. Shit like this doesn’t just happen. It’s orchestrated.”

Adelle turned her upper body toward him and wound her arms around him. “But by whom?” Dominic’s heart skipped several beats. Something must’ve shown in his eyes, because Adelle murmured, “Laurence?”

“Adam, biblically speaking, was the first man.” Haunted eyes found Adelle’s.

Arms tightening convulsively around him, she said, “Alpha.”

“He can look gentle when he wants to.” Resting his head against the plush cushions of their car, Dominic closed his eyes. “A lot of clients said so. Damn.”

“Alpha meets the rest of the criteria.”

“He’s not much shorter than me,” Dominic muttered, “if he’s shorter than me at all.”

“When he’s in gentle mode, he slouches.” Adelle stared into Laurence’s eyes. “Always has. It was one of his trademarks as an active.”

“What part does Alpha play in all of this?” Dominic snarled. “The cast in our melodrama is already large enough as it is.”

“I wish I had an answer for you Laurence.”

Dominic watched the tension drain from Adelle as their car pulled up to a lovely house. The benefits of being home. He got out of the car, came around to her side, opened the door and offered her a hand up. Smiling at her focus, Dominic stepped into Adelle’s straight line path to her house. “We have to wait for the security detail.”

Shoulders slumping, Adelle whispered, “I just want to be home.”

“I know. It won’t be long once they get here.” He tilted her chin up and kissed her gently, persuasively. Eyes drawn to the headlights turning their way, he said, “Just a couple of minutes more, Adelle.”

He felt the nod of her head against his shoulder. Meeting Monica Elm’s eye as she passed him, Dominic willed the woman to make the sweep as fast as possible. Trying to pacify Adelle, he led her into the foyer of her house behind the security detail and took her in his arms to make the denial of further ingress as palatable as possible. Monica and her partner Elaine took the main floor and sent the younger men to the basement and the older pair to the upper floor. Four minutes and twenty-three seconds later, the basement and main floor contingents returned to the foyer. Everyone stared up the stairs.

“Parker, accompany Dominic and Ms. DeWitt to the car,” Monica said. “Kirby with us.”

“Ms. Elm,” Dominic said, glancing at Adelle, seeing his own suspicion mirrored in her eyes. “You may be facing Alpha. I should go with you.”

“You should see that Alpha doesn’t get a free shot at her,” Monica murmured, gesturing at Adelle with her free hand. “Get her out of here.”

Stephan’s command to take the borrowed car and get out of Paris ringing in his ears, Dominic said, “Be careful.” Ushering Adelle out into the pleasant evening air, watching young Mr. Parker out of the corner of his eye, Dominic considered how Alpha might act and what he might want. Sensing Parker’s nervousness seeping into Adelle, Laurence slid his arm around her waist, surreptitiously caressing her hip, returning the small smile she sent him. Dominic stopped. “Where in the hell is the car?” he demanded. “We didn’t tell your driver to go.”

Parker pulled out a cell phone, presumably to inform Elm of this development. Adelle dialed her driver. Dominic stared at the house. “He’s not picking up,” Adelle said, concern at war with annoyance in her tone.

“Neither is Elm,” Parker whispered, eyes wide.

“You,” Dominic said, pointing to Parker. “Get Grayson on the phone. Tell her we’ve lost at least two and we think it’s Alpha. Stay here until reinforcements arrive. Right fucking here, is that clear?” Considering for a moment, Dominic added, “Unless Alpha comes out the front door whistling a happy tune and heads your way.”

“What do I do then?” Parker asked.

“Pray while running like hell.” Dominic took Adelle’s hand. “I don’t want to leave you with him or alone, so you have to come with me. But I want you well back, ok?” He drew his weapon as she nodded. “If anything happens to me—.”

“It won’t.”

He’d opened his mouth to argue but thought better of it. “We’ll probably meet up with them in your foyer anyway.” Adelle said nothing and he respected her all the more for it. They stepped into an eerily quiet house. “Describe the layout of the upper story to me.”

“The hallway runs along the front of the house. My study, bedroom and attached bath occupy the rest of the floor. The first door along the corridor goes into my study.”

“Is there a door from your study to your bedroom?”

“Yes, it’s about a third of the way along the north wall.” Adelle took a deep breath. “The second door from the corridor leads to my bedroom.”

“That’s where Alpha will be,” Dominic murmured, thinking hard and fast, squaring his shoulders, marshalling the will to do this. “Remember, Adelle, stay well back,” he whispered in her ear. When she nodded he started up the stairs, slowly, carefully, silently. Adelle matched him, several stairs below his level. When he reached the landing, he motioned for her to join him. As she arrived, he kissed her hard and stared into her eyes, “Upon further review, don’t get too far back in case he’s changed locations on us, ok? I don’t want him sneaking up on you from below if I can’t stop him.” Her calm solemn nod spoke to him. He whispered, “Quietly competent women totally do it for me, Adelle. Just FYI.”

She smiled. So did he. They both looked up the stairs at the same time. Dominic started up, noting that Adelle was less far behind. When they reached the top of the stairs, Dominic moved with predatory grace to the second door. He waved Adelle forward until she was just out of the sight line from inside the room if he opened the door wide. At that point, he held out a hand for her to stop. She did. Taking a deep breath, Dominic turned the knob slowly and pushed the door open an inch or two. A deep male voice reached him, but Dominic couldn’t make out the words. The only other sounds he heard were soft sobs and whimpers. Crouching low, Dominic pushed the door open further. Seeing nothing but a large bed and the dresser beyond it, he moved forward. On the south side of the room, Dominic saw the corpses of the men who’d made the initial foray to this floor.

Alpha’s whisper was low, haunting and confusing. “They bleed beautifully, don’t they? A symphony of red pouring forth. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye.” Alpha paused. “Or, in your case, a plethora of them.” Alpha laughed. “They gave me these skills, you know. With a knife. With my hands. To inflict pain. To give pleasure. It’s one and the same, really.” Another pause. “Really.”

“Stop.” A female voice but Dominic didn’t know whose. Inching around the bed, Dominic saw Elaine sprawled on the floor, blood staining the carpet beneath her. Alpha’s talking to Monica then.

“What do you want me to stop, beautiful?” Alpha purred. “This?” A low keening sound felt wrong to Dominic. “Or this?”

“Oh, God!”

What in the hell is going on?

“Maybe this?” Alpha’s tone was playful but there was a hard edge beneath. “You know what I think, beautiful,” he murmured. “I think you want just the opposite and it frightens the sane, conservative, repressed bitch you are.” He chuckled. “Am I right? Well, am I right?”

“Nah … nah … no … Yes!”

“Of course, I’m right, my dear,” Alpha said. “Didn’t I say just that when you came into this lovely and extraordinarily tasteful room. Look at the woman who hasn’t had a man in far too long. Or a woman for that matter. And I bet she feels dirty if she touches herself. I could have just looked, but what I really wanted to do was touch. But not half as much as you wanted me to touch you. Not that you could admit it, of course. The same way you can’t admit your fascination with your erstwhile colleagues who’ve bled out. Look at them. Aren’t they exquisite in their lack of suffering? Isn’t the finality freeing?” Laughing now, Alpha said, “What say you?”

Dominic risked a glance around the corner of the bed. Alpha held Monica Elm with her back against his chest, scalpel at her throat, his strong legs pinning hers to the floor. His other hand was between her thighs. Tears streamed down Monica’s face as she struggled against Alpha’s hold and moaned in obvious excitement. The boy who’d accompanied Monica and Elaine upstairs lay dead at her feet. Standing swiftly and fluidly, Dominic brought his gun to bear on Alpha. Wishing for a better sightline, he said, “Let her go.”

Alpha smiled up at Dominic and altered the rhythm of his stimulating movements. Monica jackknifed upward as the orgasm hit. A small bloody heart appeared on her throat. Damn, Alpha’s fast with that blade. Alpha lightly kissed his artwork and licked the scalpel as well. When they refocused, Monica’s soft brown eyes found Dominic’s asking for he knew not what. Forgiveness. Understanding. Benediction. Dominic searched Monica’s face for willingness to do what had to be done—rip free of Alpha’s grip when he nodded. It wasn’t there. Maybe because Alpha’s hand was still moving over her sensitized flesh. “Let her go!” Dominic repeated.

“I can’t, Laurence,” Alpha said, the unspoken ‘obviously clear in his tone. “Because then you’d shoot me without hearing me out and we’d both be the worse for it.” Smiling at Dominic, Alpha said, “Hello, Adelle.”

“Alpha,” she said from her position in the doorway to her bedroom.

Dominic started to move, instinct to stay between Adelle and Alpha, but the realization that he’d give up any opportunity to extricate Elm if he did stayed him. “Alpha,” Dominic said, dropping his gun to his side. “You let her go; I’ll toss my gun aside. You’ll have the advantage with the blade and we’ll talk.”

“No, Laurence,” Adelle said, now three steps into the room.

“Adelle, back up,” Dominic said.

“No,” Adelle said, not coming further into the room but not retreating either.

“Ah, she loves him,” Alpha said. Whispering into Monica’s ear, he said, “Can’t bear to see him putting himself at risk. Isn’t that special, sweetheart?” Silent tears were Monica’s only reply. “I said … isn’t that special, sweetheart,” Alpha growled.

“Lighten up, Alpha,” Dominic said. His eyes briefly darted to Adelle as he amended, “Please, back up.”

“And he loves her right back,” Alpha said, shifting a lock of Monica’s hair with his scalpel. “Balance is good. None of that unrequited bullshit here.” Speaking directly into Monica’s ear, eyes on Dominic, fingers never ceasing the skillful stimulation, Alpha stage whispered, “Wouldn’t you like your partner to be willing to die for you? Wouldn’t you like your lover to ask you to comply rather than demand?” Gesturing grandly with his scalpel, Alpha said, “Was there ever any doubt about these two, regardless of how well they played the ‘I’m just as professional as you are’ game? Is there any doubt, despite the secret that separates them?” Smile a challenge, Alpha said, “How was your reunion with the most incredibly lovely Casey?” Not giving Dominic a chance to respond, perhaps assuming he wouldn’t, Alpha continued, “I still can’t quite grasp that you passed on her to take the job at the Dollhouse. Traded in your own personal hottie that you could hit any time to protect a bunch of yoga doing, romaine lettuce nibbling, cheerful yet empty headed people whose lives were so fucked up they chose the yoga-nibbling-cheerful-empty path. That had to suck. I mean, seriously. And yet, here you are—trying, valiantly I might add, to ignore the impulse to look at another beautiful woman. Beautiful in a different way, of course, but undeniably so just the same. Talk about landing on your feet. I admire that, Laurence. I do.”

“What do you want, Alpha?” Laurence demanded, disturbed more than he’d ever freely admit by Alpha’s words, as he undoubtedly was intended to be.

Alpha held his scalpel away from Monica’s throat. Dominic threw his gun on the bed, watching it slide toward the far side. Alpha kissed Monica softly on the lips and released her, smiling at her uncertain whimper of relief or protest. Standing, Alpha regarded Dominic as though he’d just done something extraordinarily interesting, drumming his fingertips on his right thigh. “I want to see Echo.”

“Why?” Dominic asked.

Smiling, pulling Monica to her feet, steadying her when she stumbled, Alpha drawled, “Because.”

Smirking, Dominic said, “Why because?”

“Were you always such an ass?” Alpha asked, glancing sidelong at Monica, gently pushing her shaking hands aside and helping her back into her underwear and slacks.

“Since birth,” Dominic averred.

“I want to talk to Echo,” Alpha insisted, drumming on his thigh with his fingers again.

“What’s in it for me?” Dominic asked.

“This woman’s life,” Alpha said, patting Monica on the shoulder. Gesturing in Adelle’s general direction, he said, “Hers and yours as well.”

“As if,” Dominic muttered. “And?”

Glancing down, Alpha stepped toward Dominic, angling his body away from Adelle. Eyes dropping as well, Dominic realized that Alpha was no longer idly drumming his fingers. He was drawing or … or writing. A straight line, a diagonal one, followed by another straight line, a serpentine motion, an inverted V crossed near the top. NSA. What the fuck is Alpha going to do with that piece of information? No doubt seeing the understanding in Dominic’s eyes, Alpha grinned.

“Do get on with it, Alpha,” Adelle demanded.

Dominic’s heart pounded at what had to be an unhealthy speed. His entire body hummed with tension. Alpha basked in the moment. “Oh, don’t worry so much!” Alpha said, placing a hand on Dominic’s shoulder. “That’ll make you old before your time. Your secret’s safe with me.” Alpha winked. “Who would I tell?” Smirking, Alpha said, “On to the business at hand. The enemy in your House is one of many. You’ll eliminate him, one way or another, Laurence.” Alpha smiled. “I have faith in you. But he’ll rear his ugly head in some other ugly head. I’ll give you advance warning. That’s my offer.”

“What?” Dominic asked, eyes drawn to the hand on his shoulder almost against his will.

“Are you saying our enemy is an imprinted active?” Adelle asked.

Alpha bowed to Adelle and said, “She asks far better questions than you, Laurence. The answer is not exactly, Adelle. He’s a copy of your enemy who actually resides a comfortable distance from here. One of several.”

Adelle and Laurence shared a look. “It’s already begun,” she whispered. “The technology is already being abused.”

“Echo is you in the making,” Dominic said, holding a hand out to Monica, sensing she saw the gesture despite her failure to acknowledge it, feeling the shame radiating from her. “I don’t see any advantage to us in letting you talk with her.”

“He wants you to get clear, sweetie,” Alpha said, moving to Monica, hand to the small of her back propelling her forward. Dominic took over and directed Monica to Adelle who gently guided her out of the room, speaking softly and calmly urging her to go down the stairs. Smirking at Dominic, Alpha said, “How much have you told the fair Adelle about your past? I’ve made a study of you and, I must admit, I didn’t expect it to be so utterly fascinating.” Alpha laughed. “I particularly enjoyed meeting Casey and all of the artful misdirections on your resume.”

“He’s explained those to me,” Adelle said, wincing as Alpha draped an arm around Dominic’s shoulders.

“Really?” Alpha said, smiling genially, undoubtedly enjoying the tense musculature beneath his arm. “How trusting you’ve become, Adelle. Is he that good in bed?”

Feeling the weight of Adelle’s stare, Dominic asked, “Why do you want to talk to Echo?”

Scalpel resting comfortably in the hand at his side, Alpha said, “I want to explain.”

“Explain?” Dominic ventured, eyes on Alpha’s face, all too aware of the restless motion of Alpha’s scalpel bearing hand.

Alpha said, “I want to explain my actions to her in the hope she’ll understand. Sound familiar?”

“Step back, Alpha,” Adelle said, the voice of command loud and clear.

Alpha raised his hands, backed up and laughed. “Well played,” he murmured. Adelle DeWitt aimed Laurence Dominic’s gun at Alpha’s chest. “Kudos to both of you,” Alpha said. “Seriously. But remember, I can help you keep track of your enemy. You get rid of one guy; he’ll come back as someone completely different. I’m dialed in. Take my offer and you won’t be blindsided.” Looking from Dominic to DeWitt, he added, “One or both of you can be in the room listening with Echo and me. I don’t care. I need to speak with her.”

“Fine,” Adelle said. “How can we get in touch with you?”

Alpha took a business card out of his pocket. Smiling, he tossed it onto the bed. “Call me within the week,” Alpha said. “Or else.”

“Don’t be melodramatic,” Adelle ordered.

“I’m not,” Alpha countered. “I’m establishing the parameters.”

“Grayson’s here by now, Adelle,” Dominic murmured, internal clock calculating response times and deployment options. “We could take the chance on ending this right here, right now.”

“We may have need of Alpha’s information, Laurence.”

“I think we can get by just fine without it,” Dominic snarled.

Swooping in quickly, Alpha kissed Dominic on the cheek as he turned the slightly taller man’s left hand palm upward. “I miss you too, big guy.” Waving, he added, “Bye, Adelle. Be in touch. Within the week.” Without more, Alpha stepped through the French doors to the deck and disappeared. Dominic stared down at the palm of his hand. The scalpel work had been too rapid to follow but he knew what he was looking at—an N with an S carved on top it and an A atop that.

“He cut you. Damn.” Adelle headed to her bathroom in search of medical supplies.

“It’s fine, Adelle,” Laurence said. “It’s nothing.”

Glancing briefly at the cut before pressing a clean towel to it, Adelle murmured, “I suspect you’ll live.”

I’m beginning to suspect just the opposite.

* * *

Laurence Dominic entered his office with a sigh of immense relief. He’d spent the bulk of the night helping Grayson manage the Alpha situation at Adelle’s house. Reluctantly, he’d allowed young Parker to watch over Adelle while she packed a few bags, so she’d have more clothes at the House and to drive her back. Adelle’s driver claimed to have received a call indicating that the situation at her house was a drill and that he was to return to the House without delay. Dominic wasn’t sure he believed him. In any event, Lisa Grayson had needed the help. Although Grayson would never have admitted it, seeing Monica Elm reduced to a near personification of shame had taken a huge toll on the new Chief of Security.

Something’s different. Dominic’s sidearm was in his hand before he realized what he’d perceived as off was a new piece of furniture—a narrow glass table, God bless Judith, bearing a selection of liquor bottles. Trusting the glassware was in the cabinet below, he selected something to take the edge off. His hands shook only slightly as he took a tumbler from the cabinet and poured a measure of single barrel bourbon into it. Having a scalpel wielding Alpha inches away running off at the mouth about the secret Dominic was keeping from Adelle had done nothing to improve an already dangerous situation. I’m well into the red on the stress meter. I think something went critical when Alpha fucking carved NSA into my palm.

Sipping bourbon, Dominic tried a deep breath. It didn’t seem to help, but it hadn’t hurt either, so he took another. His email brought no new surprises or bad news of any kind. Thank Christ.

“How is Ms. Elm?”

He spun toward the sound of Adelle’s voice surprised, although he shouldn’t have been given the hour, by her deep purple silk nightgown. “I sent her home with a three man security detail and the business card of the shrink we use.” He sighed. “She’s not cleared to return to the active roster until she’s deemed mentally and emotionally fit. My money says she won’t be back.”

“Does Ms. Grayson agree?”

Shrugging, he said, “Lisa knows her better than I do, but I think it would be tough for anyone to get their head back on straight enough to work here—where they might have to face Alpha again.”

“Alpha was imprinted with all manner of sexual techniques.” Adelle sauntered toward Dominic’s desk. “Physiology is what it is. Ms. Elm was as much his victim as the personnel Alpha killed, if not more.”

Elevating his glass slightly, Dominic questioned her with a look. He smiled at Adelle’s ready nod and headed to the liquor cabinet. “People like you and I will say it isn’t her fault, Adelle, but all Elm will hear are excuses. She won’t be satisfied with that.”

“The voice of experience, Laurence?”

Grateful for the simple tasks of obtaining a glass and pouring liquor that allowed him to look away from Adelle, he murmured, “Yes.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Adelle’s tone was light, calm and peaceful.

Dominic simply wasn’t anywhere near the positive emotional space Adelle seemed to occupy. “No.”

“Then you should tell me the secret Alpha insists you have.”

He sighed as he met Adelle back at his desk. Handing her the second drink he’d poured, Dominic said, “What makes you think Alpha wasn’t just messing with us?”

“The tension that took up permanent residence in your body the moment you realized what he meant.” Closing his eyes, Dominic wished for solitude and willed his heart rate to decrease. He attained neither goal. Adelle slipped her free hand in his. “Tell me,” she whispered.

“I can’t.”

“Why ever not?” Adelle asked, obviously stunned by the strain in his tone.

“You’re up in arms about efforts being made to take me from you and how Damian’s poem argues against that. Rightfully so, in my opinion.” He took a breath, fingering a narrow shoulder strap of her gown. “I don’t want to be the one who does.”

“You don’t want … You think what you tell me will drive us apart?” she asked, stepping closer, stroking his cheek lightly.

“Yes.”

“Do you think so little of me, Laurence?”

The hurt in her eyes snapped his control. “No, God damn it! I don’t. I just … sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. It’s just … it would be too easy.” Shoulders slumping, Dominic drained his drink. Lowering his voice, staring at the floor, he muttered, “The misdirection would be simple. Telling you a secret that’s not the secret. I’d already decided to do it, but I just … well, I just can’t.”

Adelle took the empty glass from Laurence and refilled it. Dominic could tell her mind was engaged, no doubt rigorously assessing. “A secret, rather than the secret?” she ventured. He nodded. “I’m intrigued.”

“Do you trust me, Adelle?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” he demanded, voice far more harsh than he’d intended.

“Why not?” she countered. “You’ve never given me a reason not too.”

Frustration uncontainable, Dominic spun and hurled his fresh glass of bourbon into the wall. The shattering of the glass, the spattering of the liquor, the bourbon trails running down the wall, nothing eased the tension humming throughout his body. Laurence yanked his tie loose and looked in vain for a way out. “I’m sorry, Adelle,” he whispered. “I am so sorry.”

“For what?” she asked. Taking his hands in hers, Adelle stared into his eyes, clearly alarmed by what she saw. “Laurence? What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he muttered. “Forget it. I have to go home. I need to be away from here. I’m not sure …” He took a breath. “Good night.”

She caught his arm. When he stopped, she kissed him. There was nothing short of desperation in his response. One hand tangled in her hair, Dominic backed Adelle up until she was seated on his desk. Mouth unrelenting, other hand questing, Dominic demanded more and more from Adelle. She refused to disappoint, not caring when she heard one of the seams of her night gown give. When they finally parted, panting hard, she whispered, “Please tell me what’s going on.”

Several lies leapt to his tongue. Shaking his head as if to dispel them, Dominic said, “I don’t know anymore.”

Not relinquishing his shoulders when he attempted to move away, she said, “I’ll share what I know. You’re more tense than I’ve ever seen you, perhaps than I’ve ever seen anyone. For the controlled man I know you to be to hurl fine liquor at a wall, there most certainly is a reason and a good one. What is it?”

“I’m tired and stressed out and I want … I just want …”

Eyes calm, expression encouraging, she said, “Go on. Tell me what you want.”

“You to understand,” he whispered. Seeing the shock of recognition in her expression, he added, “Yeah, Alpha was right about he and I having that in common.” Giving into temptation, he placed his hands on her hips, eyes widening slightly at the tear in her gown. “Did I …? Damn, I did. Sorry,” he said, fingers slipping through the newly created opening to stroke bare skin.

“Be careful what you apologize for, Laurence,” Adelle said. Kissing him lightly, she added, “You know how women tend to twist anything a man says into an insult if even mildly provoked.”

Curbing the impulse to assert that provocation wasn’t required in his experience, Dominic stared into Adelle’s eyes until his breathing came back under control and his decision was made. “I’m going to trust you,” he muttered. “I’ll go nuts if I don’t.”

“Trust me with what?” Adelle asked, smiling slightly.

“My life.”

Wary green eyes met vulnerable blue. “Your life?” she asked. He nodded and his mouth and hands descended upon her again, this time with infinite gentleness. She smiled up at him, licking her bruised lips. “I … I’ll take good care with it, Laurence.”

“God, I hope so.”

“Pour yourself another drink and let’s have this over,” Adelle suggested, running a soothing hand across the small of his back.

“Judith’s going to be pissed about the wall.”

“No, she isn’t,” Adelle asserted. “She’s fully expecting to have this painted. The timing of your outburst was fortunate in that respect.”

Thoughts racing as though to attain escape velocity and exit his brain, Dominic poured himself another drink and brought the bottle with him back to his desk. He unsnapped his holster and placed his gun on his desk. Catching Adelle’s hand, he sat in his chair and encouraged her to sit on his lap. Tactical error or brilliant move? Only time will tell. Pensively sipping his drink, he stared out the window at the darkness of the wee hours of the Los Angeles morning. With the intuition he admired, Adelle waited. “Will you hear me out, Adelle?”

“You’ve earned at least that much,” she said.

Catching her chin in his hand, Dominic said, “I’m NSA. My mission is to stop people from playing God with the tech. Nothing else. Certainly not this.” His laugh held only a small amount of bitterness. “Not sitting with my boss on my lap confessing my sins.”

Adelle’s body stiffened. “You’re serious.”

“We have people in all the Houses, sprinkled throughout Rossum too. I don’t know who they are. They don’t know me. The sleeper cell structure was put in place in the interest of security, but I’ll bet my first bigger paycheck the pretty boy bartender in France is an agent. I’m the senior guy. I’m here because we felt we might be able to handle things through LA because of you.”

Some of her stiffness gave way to shock. “Me? Why me?”

“You aren’t a lemming, looking for the fountain of youth or a sadistic, otherwise unfeeling bitch, despite all those rumors to the contrary. The Agency, my boss in particular, thought we could work with you.”

“The National Security Agency assessment is that I will betray my employer.”

“Aren’t you?” he asked.

“I prefer to think of it as correcting an error in judgment.”

“Then I’d have to say the NSA assessment of Adelle DeWitt is that she’ll correct errors in judgment with lethal force, if need be.”

Adelle regarded him for a long moment. “That is what we discussed.”

“It could still flow that way,” Dominic said. “The one man job thing could work. The salient point of potential overt NSA involvement is simple. If things get to the stage where we need more people, more resources, international cooperation, anything on a large scale, I’ll be able to hook us up in a way that we still call the shots.”

“Are you certain of that?” she asked.

“I’ll make certain.” He took a deep breath, framing her face with his hands. “I’ve been around this block more than a few times, Adelle. I know how covert operations work when they stray toward overt. I can protect our interests.”

Putting her hands atop his, she said, “Our interests?”

“Yes. I believe in what we’re doing in a way I could never believe in the Dollhouse concept in general. I’m here to do the very thing you want done.” Freeing a hand, reaching blindly for his glass, more pleased than he could describe by Adelle’s slight decrease in tension. “Prevent the tech from being abused.”

“What would you have done if I’d accepted Renee’s offer of eternal life in a series of beautiful bodies?” Adelle asked.

“You didn’t.”

Hands coming to rest on his shoulders, Adelle persisted, “What would you have done?”

“Tried to talk you out of it but not directly.” To her look of puzzlement, he said, “I’d have wondered out loud how dumping you into a no more attractive body helped people. How it helped the active whose body it was. But that wouldn’t work.”

“Why not?”

“Because someone would get the idea to put you into someone who had brain damage that only the installation of active architecture would fix. That way, you’d arguably be helping them by taking over.” He shrugged. “Or devise some other way for what you were doing to be construed positively.”

Fascination obvious, Adelle asked, “Failing that, then what?”

“I’d have tried to get my name on the bodysnatching list too.” Sipping his drink, he added, “By whatever means necessary.”

“Including seducing me?”

“Yes.” Not wanting to dwell on that topic, Laurence said, “Then I’d have figured out a way to disrupt the process myself or with minimal help or to find out where all the bodies were buried, so to speak, and loose the NSA hounds to dig them up. Or, if it seemed nothing less would work, I would have chosen a moment to try and bring the whole house of cards crashing down at once. Regardless, I’d have offered you immunity for information and help in picking up the pieces.”

“I see.”

She was staring out the window, so Dominic couldn’t see her eyes. “For the record, I didn’t put that tech in the chair and the NSA doesn’t know who did.” A smile tugged at his lips. “They told me to hide behind you and keep my head down.”

“That isn’t like you.”

“I mentioned that.”

Curiosity clear in her expression, Adelle asked, “What did they say?”

“Do it anyway.”

“Did they say please?” The flicker of amusement crossing Adelle’s face surprised him.

“She did, actually.”

“She?” Adelle sighed. “Dear God. More competition I simply cannot abide.”

Channeling that extremely reckless NSA agent freely now. “No worries, Adelle. Clarice and I know each other too well to go beyond the occasional inappropriate comment.”

“You say that as if it’s supposed to diminish my concerns.”

“I’ve never even contemplated tearing her clothes off, much less begun the process.”

“Laurence, we are having an extremely difficult and worrying conversation. Loyalties, once thought unwavering, have been revealed to be suspect. The trust I’ve placed in you appears to have been misplaced. It troubles me that you’re contemplating such things at this critical juncture.”

“Adelle,” Laurence murmured, taking the risk of pulling her into his arms. “You’re sitting on my lap at this critical juncture.”

“That is quite beside the point.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said. “What’s changed, Adelle? You aren’t giving off the NSA equals Attic vibe. How can a day or so make that much difference?”

“After our conversation about what I believed to be your hypothetical status as an NSA agent, I thought about what you said. About us being in this together so long as it didn’t inconvenience me in any way. The essential unfairness of such a situation was apparent, particularly as you are seemingly more at risk now and are undoubtedly going to be undertaking additional risk in the future.” She smiled ruefully. “I could see the stress you were under, the tension that never seemed to release. I feared my controlling tendencies were contributing to those things, perhaps even the cause of them. That thought was uncomfortable in the extreme.”

“I wasn’t that bad off,” Dominic grumbled, lying with practiced ease.

“Be that as it may, I wondered if anyone’s intentions are perfectly pure, Laurence. When I’d deemed a perfect purity test unworkable, I considered whether intentions mattered at all beyond being more or less the same with respect to the ends rather than the means.” She took a moment to sip her bourbon and cross her legs. “Then you went missing.” Eyes boring into his, Adelle whispered, “I was afraid something had happened to you. The mere thought of bearing this burden alone was one I didn’t want to consider. I realized I didn’t have the stomach to fight Rossum by myself.”

“You could do it,” he murmured.

“Perhaps, but I strongly suspect I wouldn’t, unless backed into a corner. This self-realization forced me to accept that I needed a partner in this crime and my preference was you. I’m apparently not alone, if Damian’s verse means what I believe it does.”

Nodding thoughtfully, unable to quite believe the other shoe might no longer be poised to drop, Dominic asked, “So what happens now?”

“I ask questions. You answer truthfully with no misdirection intended and we determine our way forward.”

Reflecting briefly upon the oddity of her sitting on his lap through this as well as the surreal quality of the conversation as a whole, Dominic said, “Ok. Fine.”

“Tell me, Laurence. What’s it like to live a double life day after day?”

“For the most part, it’s just life, Adelle. The double aspect kind of fades into the background, particularly when things are as crazy as they’ve been for us over the last little while.” He toyed with a lock of her hair. “You become the role.”

“Is Laurence Dominic your real name?”

“Yes,” he said. “We felt it was safer, given how many pies Rossum has its corporate fingers in and their paranoia level security protocols.” He laughed softly. “It’s still kind of strange answering to it again, even after all this time.”

“How much of the history you’ve related to me is true?”

“You’d make a fine interrogator,” Dominic muttered, sipping his bourbon.

“If you wish me to consider a non-Attic address for you in the foreseeable future, I suggest you answer my questions to the best of your ability.” Her fingers sliding through his hair softened her words. “Without stalling.”

“The Casey and Giselle bits are obviously true,” he said. “My crisis of confidence in my superiors as well. Hell, if it wasn’t for Clyde wanting someone who’d think for himself and who had at least a rudimentary moral compass for this project, I would’ve been out on my ass or stuck behind a desk to rot. Neither of those are particularly pleasant futures. Maybe not as bad as the Attic but nothing close to an idyllic retirement, that’s for sure.” Careful to meet her eyes, he said, “The Kara/Alexis part is a true story, just not mine.”

“Why did you tell it?” Adelle asked, relaxing against him yet Dominic knew her full powers of observation were trained upon him.

Caressing her upper arm lightly, he said, “The truth might have led you to draw parallels I didn’t want you to draw.”

“I think this is a story I need to hear.”

“It’s late, Adelle.”

“Do you have somewhere you need to be at this hour?” she asked, stroking his cheek with gentle fingers. “I don’t.”

In a bar getting really drunk. His sigh was long and suffering. “I joined the NSA right out of college. My first field assignment was counter-espionage. Kim and I were posing as a married couple in a company town built around a corporation generating guidance systems for smart bombs. She was the senior agent, obviously.”

“Tell me about Kim.”

“She was older. Thirty one or two.” Relaxing back into the chair at the realization that he had very little left to lose, he said, “Kim looked a bit like you. She was a tall, slender, brunette with green eyes. She was very emotional, extremely passionate, kind of over the top in a lot of ways. Fun to be around, though.” Dominic sipped his bourbon, eyes losing focus as he harkened back. Enjoying the feel of Adelle’s body tucked next to his, he said, “We hung out for almost a week pretending to be newlyweds and feeling like idiots, so we talked about maybe having sex to make things more believable. We did and once that horse was out of the barn it wasn’t ever coming back.” Adelle sighed. “Give me a break,” he countered. “I was twenty-two and having a blast. Anyway, we got the guy about eleven months in and were in the process of being reassigned when Kim told me she wanted to continue our relationship. I was already on to the next thing. The mission with Kim was done and I was stoked to be heading to Europe. She was heading somewhere flat and cold—Iowa maybe. I said, ‘No, thanks.’”

“How did she take it?”

“We fought.” Staring at his computer screen, blank in hibernation mode, he muttered, “More than once. I played the role I’d been told to play. That particular drama had had its run.” Seeing something in Adelle’s eyes he didn’t like, he said, “It wasn’t as though it meant nothing to me. We had fun. I liked her, but that was as far as it went.”

“You were young.”

“Too young to make any sort of real commitment. Eager to see what would happen next in life. Self absorbed. I didn’t hear what Kim was really saying until far too late.” Wondering how his bourbon had disappeared, he said, “I didn’t get that she cared. Really cared. That wasn’t supposed to happen. We weren’t supposed to have feelings.” Aware of his need to finish the tale, Laurence said, “I went to Italy. Kim went on to her next assignment. She infiltrated the organization she was supposed to and had them dead to rights. All she had to do was wait for backup. Five fucking minutes was all. Ten at the most.” Staring into his bourbon, he said, “She didn’t. Kim died getting the evidence the Agency needed. No one called it suicide, but I knew what they were thinking. Hell, I was thinking the same thing.”

“You felt responsible,” Adelle ventured.

“I was responsible. I didn’t stop to think things through. I thought she was sandbagging when she said she wasn’t like me. That she couldn’t turn on a dime emotionally.” Eyes asking for understanding he suspected would never come, he said, “I could do it, so I thought everyone in the intelligence game could too. I wasn’t experienced enough to know that wasn’t true.”

After several minutes of silence in which Dominic craved another drink, Adelle said, “You didn’t tell me this story, because you didn’t want me to think you were merely playing a role.”

“That’s right.”

“Are you merely playing a role, Mr. Dominic?”

“Adelle, I—.”

The door of his office burst open. Dominic shoved Adelle from his lap onto the floor, grabbing his sidearm from the desk. Echo and Langton entered, fanning out in opposite directions. Obviously fresh from an engagement, Dominic took the chance Echo wasn’t armed, opened his flank to her and focused on Langton. He brought the larger man down with two well placed shots before Echo slammed into his side, sending his left shoulder and right hand into his desk. His gun fell to the floor. Pain excruciating, Dominic didn’t raise his left hand to block Echo’s fist, because his arm had ceased to obey his brain’s commands. Mouth bleeding after impact, he wedged his right hand between them, but Echo chopped his elbow to force the joint to bend inward. Gaining sufficient proximity, she grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head into the side of his desk. Once. Twice. Three times. He got his right arm up again but knew he couldn’t hold her off for long. Fuck, I think I might have convinced Adelle to give me a chance and Echo cleans my clock. There’s no justice in this world.

He watched Echo’s fist draw back and braced for impact as best as he could. Echo’s eyes widened and she slowly toppled to his left. Adelle stood above her, a paperweight in her hand. Slowly, Adelle sank to her knees, bringing her head to Laurence’s level. “Are you all right?” He shook his head. Determined, Adelle grasped him under the armpits and said, “Let’s get you up.” After a horrifically unsuccessful effort during which he may have screamed just a little, she said, “Work with me, Laurence.”

Making his sluggish legs bear part of his weight, Dominic rose, only to regret it as his head swam and dizziness overwhelmed him. Adelle was on one side, his desk on the other. Bile rose in his throat and Dominic made a strangled sound. Moving immediately, Adelle supported him into the bathroom where he dropped to his knees and was violently ill into the toilet. When the bout of nausea passed, Adelle helped him to sit on the edge of the bathtub. Head pounding mercilessly, Dominic pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. After the third try, he handed it to Adelle. “Grayson is speed dial four,” he murmured.

Dialing as directed, Adelle asked, “Who’s speed dial one?”

He smiled. “Who do you think?”

She smiled back, running her hand gently through his hair. In the dim recesses of his mind, Dominic thought she was probably feeling for injuries. “Ms. Grayson, we have a problem,” Adelle said. “Please meet me in Mr. Dominic’s office as soon as possible.” Adelle listened for a few moments then ended the call. “You look like hell, Laurence.”

“I’ve heard I clean up well.”

“That you do.”


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1. YAY ALPHA!! I love Alpha. And after reading this I'm alarmed by how much I still love Alpha ^^ You know what? After this amazing saga finishes you should write more Alpha stuff because you rock! Creepy and sadistic and sexy and completely insane, while still being entirely comfortable and totally in control. It's so hard to write characters like this and I think this is the best I've read.

2. ZOMG HE TOLD HER! Even after everything that's happened to them, wow that was brave. Also I love how she seems more concerned at the possibility of him 'playing a part' with her, than him being a threat to the Dollhouse.

I can't really put into words how amazing this story has become. I can't wait for the next installment but I'm sad that it's (possibly?) starting to come to an end...?

Alpha is interesting. I don't have any idea how Joss envisioned Alpha getting from this place to the place in Epitaph 2 but I guess he had 10 years so a lot could happen. He's fun to write (and I won't ever tell how quickly his stuff came to me--ever!). I wrote an Alpha story that involved Dominic as well. It's on ff.net as rogoblue and I'm trying to remember the title--Truth and Consequences. I think Alpha might have been better in that one.

He had to tell her. He had to. He was under far too much stress and had no idea how many people knew he was NSA. Alpha did. Did Langton? Who else? I like to think the elevated level of stress seemed natural and everyone has their breaking point. Dom was the powder keg until he managed to tell her.

Adelle's reaction I think is in keeping with the sort of woman she is. This time, she's had some time to think about motivations and intentions and means and ends and to come to terms with the idea that intentions don't need to be pure. Her response is much more intellectual than knee jerk emotional this time (although the concern re playing a role does have an emotional component). Plus, he does not seem to be acting as someone who's a threat to the DH. However, as you point out--the question of him playing a part remains unanswered ... for now.

I'm glad you're enjoying the story. It has b/c something so far beyond what I originally intended that sometimes it's hard for me to actually remember what it was I originally intended. There are several more parts--maybe as many as six. I don't think there will be double what I have now but the characters have gone strange ways before, so ... All I can say for sure is I'm into 14 in rough draft form.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

I love that he told her - and the way that he told her; I agree that he had to. If he hadn't taken that opportunity I can't see how she would have could have expected to be merciful when she found out at some later point.
I think somewhere in the back of her mind she has probably been considering this possibility since he mentioned it. She's too good a strategist to just dismiss it just because she trusts and wants him. I know his disappearing is the trigger for her deciding she doesn't want to do this alone and I like the way that links back to what happened in the show - where she is alone and is backed into a corner.
I'd love some Adelle POV on all of this at some point but I can see why this all had to be his perspective.
I can't wait to see how you deal with the issue of whether he is still playing a part - not to mention the rest of the plot.

I knew he was going to tell her at some point b/c I think the handwriting was kind of on the wall after the remake, so to speak, of Spy in the House of Love. Nothing good would've come from Adelle finding out from anyone else. Despite the stress level, Laurence is perceptive enough to understand that. Having said that--I think if Adelle would've let him go when he said he had to get out of there, he would've gone and this moment might've passed forever. So it was a good thing she wasn't willing to let him walk away under so much obvious tension.

I don't think Adelle thought he was NSA, but she knew something was up b/c of how vigorously he questioned her "off to the attic with you then" reaction to the possibility he was NSA. She did consider that there was something real behind his questions re loyalty and trust and she considered all of those issues very carefully in the time she had.

I'm glad the linkage back to Adelle alone in Season 2 worked. It would've been such a different show if Dominic had still been around.

I'm trying to do a bit more with Adelle's pov but it's both harder for me and so much of this is Dominic's story. But I am trying. I agree that this had to come from Dominic's perspective, though, b/c of the mental/emotional space he was in.

I am valiantly trying to tie this thing up in a pretty bow. We'll see how close I come.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

I don't mind being a sounding board if you need someone to talk to Adelle about sometime?

Excellent. Don't think I won't take you up on that! Thanks.

No problem, I would love to help and it's not exactly a chore to discuss Adelle. I think you can email me via live journal, but if not let me know and I will give you my email address.

I have tried to figure out how to email via LJ and have failed (not surprising when it comes to me). I'm doing ok with Adellee. I realized after this exchange that a bit of the next piece is from her pov and it reads ok to me.

She's conflicted and I think her question finally simply comes down to "Who are you?" It will be interesting to know if Laurence can even answer that question to her complete satisfaction.

If she's committed to taking on Rossum, she can see how his help will be invaluable. Professionally, the decision is simpler. Personally, there is still a sense of betrayal/being lied to, etc. It's difficult to meld all these things together and get something sensible on the page.

Add in the seemingly mutual physical attraction and respect and affection--all dialogue, internal and otherwise, gets kind of intense, b/c there's so much going on.

I'm not trying to whine. I'm trying to explain that I'm working with complicated characters in a complicated situation both professionally and personally. It's a kick b/c it's a challenge, but it's difficult to know how well I'm doing.

Hopefully, this made some modicum of sense.

I may just have managed to send you an email, or not.

You added me as a friend, so I added you in return. But no separate email so far.

I forgot. My email is esau.picard@sbcglobal.net

(Deleted comment)
Alpha was a very interesting character but somewhat difficult to understand. I'm glad my take on him reads ok. Alpha is just out there. I liked his speech regarding Adelle and Laurence and them playing the "I'm just as professional as you" game. That scene was fun in a really twisted way.

When I thought about Dominic encouraging her to sit in his lap, I thought you're really really really rolling the dice here. Keeping her close in an intimate (more or less) position while you bare your soul. Brave or stupid? Tough to say in anything but hindsight.

I'm gratified to know I'm improving as I go. That's a good thing. Thanks!

This is so beautiful...amazingly beautiful...

(Please give me a moment to pick my jaw off the floor)

OMG HE TOLD HER! Like Illyria, I too held my breath. I felt every agonizingly filled emotion within him, it was so vivid, tense and incredible. The NSA, Langton, and now Alpha, this maelstrom of situations was at its convoluted breaking point, how any one human being can handle all that is beyond me. My respect for your version of Dominic has risen to new heights (if that's even possible--because I love this guy!).

I breathed a deep sigh of relief that Kara and Alexis were not his. It would just feel strange to have this potential family man mixed up in all of this. I just don't see Dom as the type of guy to keep doing crazy deep cover missions when he's got a kid. But damn he talked a good game. Especially those tales of burnout and wondering what angle Alexis was working when she was running around calling for her daddy. Those stories sounded totally believable, no wonder Adelle's unsure of his authenticity as the real Laurence Dominic.

I feel for Adelle right now, I really do. I'm glad that she's taking this with a calm and calculating head, but I can totally understand how the uncertainty is bothering her. Especially after all they've been through.

I loved the way you addressed the hypothetical questions from earlier. It would've been unbelievable if she didn't at least suspect a hint of truth to his questioning.

Also as Morgan stated, this tied in seamlessly with the Adelle we saw on the show.

Again, I'm so glad with this confession. It was amazingly well timed and just perfect.

Alpha, was extremely well written. Keeping such a morally flawed/controlled/insane/ambiguous character, in character is no small feat. His actions were extremely creepy (in a good way). I was screaming at my screen, when he branded Dom with such a telling mark. Things could have went south extremely fast--not that we weren't deep country already.

I didn't see the Echo/Langton thing at the end. But it was a pleasant surprise, this couple has the worst luck when it comes to interruptions.

I'm loving this, I really am. This installment, re-affirms my conviction that writing for the screen is your calling.

Can't wait to read more!

I think it all just became too much for Dominic. He was besieged and he really wasn't sure how many enemies he had who knew his identity. And I think he wanted to tell her for a variety of reasons, only a few of which he'd actually acknowledge at this point.

The Kara/Alexis story and the father who "solved problems" were aspects of the life story of a fellow NSA agent who became a friend a while back. I can see the logic of choosing it. If things go south, will Adelle go easier on me if she thinks I have a kid. And the I don't really want to tell her the truth b/c she'll think I'm playing a role.

Adelle is uncertain and a realist. She needs Dominic in order to deal with Rossum, but she's uncomfortable because of that. The interesting bit will be to see if they can work around that somehow.

I agree that it wouldn't have been in character for Adelle to dismiss what Dominic said about "what if you did think I was an NSA agent?" Maybe if he asked the question and then dropped it, but he explored her rationale a bit. That had to be a red flag of some sort to her.

I think the elements of his confession and Adelle's (she wouldn't take on Rossum alone unless backed against the wall) may enable them to move past this. They need each other at this stage.

Alpha was fun. He comes easily to me and I try not to dwell on what that might say about me. Really.

I finally wanted Langton to do something definitive. And, of course, he would drag Echo into it. So Echo got to beat Dominic up, just not toss him half out of a window this time.

If only I could figure out how to go about writing for the screen, I'd give it a whirl. Why not!

Thanks for reading and commenting.


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