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The Harding Factor
damien listening guitar
rogoblue
Part 11 of the Let's Pretend Series.

Title: The Harding Factor
Rating: R (violence, language and sex)
Author: rogoblue
Summary: To add another layer to the morass, Harding shows up at the Dollhouse with an agenda Adelle doesn’t approve. Eleventh in the Let’s Pretend series (tenth is Powder Keg, 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 tenth 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.

What are you thinking, Laurence?

Words: 7,150.
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 morgan72.uk for reminding me of my bias. This story is better for it.




Adelle DeWitt sat at her desk. She crossed her legs and stared at her laptop screen without really seeing it. Uncrossing her legs, she came to her feet with customary grace and strolled to her window. Leaning her head on the glass, Adelle sighed deeply. What am I to do with you, Laurence? You admit to being a spy. You’ve lied to me for years, yet you protected me and this House as well. You’ve reported on our activities to the NSA, but the government has not interfered with us. You claim you’re here only to prevent abuses such as are currently being contemplated and you have shown the willingness and may even have the ability to do so. But perhaps not. You appear to desire me, but profess to be able to turn your emotions on and off at will. Who are you? The stoic competent professional I thought I knew? The articulate, charming and passionate man I was beginning to know? Or someone else entirely? Perhaps the adorably boyish man I met earlier. Unbidden, a smile tugged at Adelle’s lips.

Three Hours Earlier

Laurence Dominic lay sprawled across the bed in their office suite, deeply asleep yet his position gave the impression of motion hastily ceased. His face was quite bruised and it had been difficult for Adelle to wake him each time she’d tried. This is more than a mild concussion, Laurence. I understand your reluctance to see Dr. Saunders, given her feelings for the late Mr. Langton, but I don’t approve of your decision to see another doctor today. I want you in the House, not traversing the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area for an appointment with the top neurologist on Rossum’s payroll. I don’t know why, but I feel uneasy. I’d call it a premonition if I was given to melodrama. Which I certainly am not. If you had wanted to return to the NSA fold, you would’ve already done so. If Rossum corporate wants you dead, you will be. Running her fingers through his hair gently, Adelle smiled. Even if I kept you here under lock and key—an idea having a certain appeal.

With a small sigh, Adelle shook Dominic’s shoulder, lifting her hand immediately when he cried out in pain. I’ve been so concerned about his head; I forgot about his shoulder. “Sorry,” she whispered, giving the opposite shoulder a shake. The sound he made this time was clearly one of protest. I must wake you every two hours, Laurence. Standard procedures are standard for a reason. Adelle thought she heard him mutter, “No,” when she shook his good shoulder again. The clear leave me alone body language of his rolling away from her made Adelle smile, imagining the stubborn young boy he must have once been. In an effort to appeal to the man, Adelle lounged beside him, pressing against his back, stroking lightly along the line of his throat. He raised his shoulder toward his ear to remove her hand. Undeterred, Adelle began again the moment he lowered his shoulder. “Wake up, Laurence,” she whispered, tickling his earlobe with her tongue, nipping it lightly. Watching the slight smile gracing his face widen, she whispered, “Wake up. Don’t force me to use pain to open those magnificent blue eyes, because I will. I won’t derive any satisfaction from it, but I will do it.” She kissed her way along the trail her fingers had blazed on his throat. Dominic turned his head toward her and groaned in pain. Observing his struggle to open his eyes, Adelle sat up, clasped her hands in front of her, the epitome of polite concern. “Laurence?”

“Time is it?” he murmured, staring up at her, looking impossibly young and very sleepy.

“Almost noon.”

“Noon?” Blue eyes shot wide open and Dominic was half sitting up before Adelle could move. His eyes caught a shaft of sunlight at about the time his brain seemed to register the pain in his left shoulder. He was flat on his back in an instant, hand over his eyes, gasping in pain. When he caught his breath, he said, “I feel like shit, Adelle.”

“You look the part.”

“Thanks.” He forced a wan smile. “Echo?”

“She bruised her knuckles a bit. And she has a bump on her head also.”

Dominic mustered a respectable scowl. Under the circumstances, Adelle was impressed. “Imprint?” he prompted.

“Proper Catholic girl cutting loose,” Adelle replied, charmed more than she’d ever admit by the befuddlement on Laurence’s face.

“With her fists?” he asked.

“Topher insists the barroom brawling skills were not part of the imprint.”

“More.”

Confused now as well, Adelle said, “I don’t understand.”

Laurence took a couple of deep breaths as he tentatively lowered his hand from shielding his eyes. “Echo. Langton. Hit team.”

“Why do you say that, Laurence?”

“Move …” He swallowed and blinked a few times. “Moved in concert.”

“I wouldn’t know.” Taking his hand, Adelle smiled. “I had been unceremoniously thrown to the floor from the lap of the man responsible for my personal security. Would you like to see the bruises?”

“I’ll inspect them later.” Squeezing her hand, he asked, “How long?”

Interpretation was simple. He’d asked the same question every time she’d woken him. “You’ve been asleep for nearly eight hours now.” Anticipating the same chagrin at doing something so undeniably human as sleep, she said, “You need to see a doctor.”

“Not Saunders.”

“Agreed.” Staring into his eyes, allowing her concern to show, Adelle said, “We’ve had this discussion, Laurence.”

Tone guarded, he said, “We have?”

“Every time I woke you.”

“You woke me?”

Adelle tried not to show her amusement at how closely this part of the conversation tracked their earlier ones or give any indication that this was the first time she’d done it wearing something other than her slightly ripped nightgown. “It’s a precautionary measure taken with regard to concussed persons.”

“You didn’t have to—.”

“I’m aware of that, Laurence.” Adelle stood, smoothing her skirt. “Are you feeling well enough to dress and eat a spot of breakfast?”

“I’ll pass on breakfast.” To her inquiring look, he merely shrugged. “I’m not sure I can keep it down.”

“You haven’t had a proper meal in quite some time,” she observed, curbing the impulse to touch him again, unnerved somewhat by how strong it was despite the fact that she’d held him all night.

“I’ll try to do better in the future, ma’am,” he said, eyes clearer than she expected and somewhat sad.

“See that you do,” she said, turning, fleeing the room at an unhurried pace. Her retreat didn’t concern Adelle overmuch. She knew she required more time in order to arrive at an answer to the burning question of the moment.

* * *

Now

I’ve had nearly three additional hours to think for all the good it’s done me. Adelle stretched her back and sighed. What am I to do with you, Laurence?

“Mr. Harding to see you, Ms. DeWitt,” Judith announced, holding the door of her office open to the visitor.

“What a surprise,” Adelle said, rising smoothly, forcing a smile. Harding strolled in, extending his hand. Adelle took it, trying to interpret the smile—no, not a smile, a smirk. Harding doesn’t smirk. And yet he is. Why? Her next thought made her smile more genuine. He doesn’t smirk nearly as well as Laurence does.

“I hope this isn’t a bad time,” Harding said, bringing her hand to his lips, ignoring or failing to notice her reluctance to allow the gesture. “I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“Not at all.”

“Well, actually, I misspoke. I mean to inconvenience you in an insurmountable way.”

Adelle’s heart accelerated at his calm, matter of fact tone but she schooled her expression to mild interest. “Excuse me?”

Her client door opened again. A large man wearing a dark suit and sunglasses threw Judith inside. “Did you want us to kill her too, sir?” he asked.

“You took out Ms. DeWitt’s security detail?” Harding asked.

“We put the bodies in her office,” the dark suited man said, gesturing to Judith who was pulling herself into a seated position, glaring defiantly through her tears. “You want we put hers there too?”

Adelle arrived at Judith’s side. “Are you all right?” Adelle asked.

“Those bastards shot Doug Givens in the throat and beat Jennifer Thomas to death, Ms. DeWitt,” Judith replied. “I swear they got hard doing it.” Judith accepted Adelle’s help to rise. “I can’t wait until Mr. Dominic gives them what’s coming to them.”

“Ah, yes, the hero of the piece,” Harding said.

“What are you doing, Harding?” Adelle demanded, steadying Judith with grim determination, mind whirling with possibilities.

“Delivering the death blow to your precious House, Adelle.”

“What? Why?”

“I step on your corpse and the ruins of your organization to get to the highest level. Unless I drag you with me by your pretty long hair and use your lover’s dead body as my stepping stone.” Smiling in an indulgent uncle way that always put Adelle off food, Harding continued, “I wouldn’t mind watching you watch Dominic die at what is undeniably my hand.”

“What has this—whatever this is—to do with Mr. Dominic?”

Harding laughed. “Surely, it’s Laurence now, considering how intimate the two of you have become. Come now, Adelle, everyone’s talking about it. Adelle DeWitt spreading her legs for the help.” Shaking his head, Harding added, “It’s sad, really.”

Adelle stared Harding down. The moment he looked away, she demanded, “What are your intentions?”

“My people are going to breech your House at every possible point, overwhelm your security force, move through and kill everyone other than the ever inventive Mr. Brink and your glorious Echo.” Stepping next to Adelle, he said, “Including, without limitation, the sartorial splendor that is Dominic.”

“He isn’t here,” Adelle announced with more satisfaction than she intended.

“What?” Harding asked.

Turning abruptly to face Harding, smiling inwardly at his slight flinch, Adelle said, “Laurence isn’t here.”

“Of course he is. He’s always here. If you’re here, he’s here.”

Regardless of her earlier unspoken wish for Laurence’s presence in the House, Adelle breathed a sigh of relief. “Obviously, he had reason to be offsite this afternoon.”

Glaring at Harding, Judith said, “Mr. Dominic has more going on than sitting around waiting for you to do something remotely interesting.” Harding gestured sharply. His security man closest to Judith slapped her across the face. Judith spit in his and ducked the fist he threw at her.

“Enough!” Adelle commanded. Everyone froze, Harding included. “There need be no further violence. We shall discuss this matter like civilized persons.”

“There’s nothing to discuss, except for the problem of Dominic’s absence,” Harding muttered, looking much like a child who had been denied a treat for misbehavior. “I want this done in one fell swoop.”

“Perhaps you should return another day?” Adelle suggested snidely.

Brightening visibly, Harding said, “I’d rather wait.”

* * *

Laurence Dominic slid his card key into the slot calling the elevator that led to Topher’s lab. Taking a breath, rolling his neck, trying to release tense muscles without getting dizzy, he realized he couldn’t remember everything the neurologist had told him. Good thing he wrote it down. The elevator arrived and Laurence stepped inside, glancing briefly at the doctor’s instructions before returning the paper to his pocket. When the doors opened, Dominic stalked out, met Kyle Beale’s eyes and pointed two fingers at him.

“L-man, hold up a sec,” Topher said, “I’ve got—.”

“Not now, Topher,” Dominic said. Instants later he stepped out onto the upper level of the Dollhouse, walking purposefully.

* * *

“The man of the hour,” Harding said. “Finally.” Pulling out his cellular phone, Harding dialed a number and said, “Go.”

Adelle moved to the screens on her wall display, heart sinking. Laurence appeared on none of them at the moment, but so many others did. Good people. Her people. Her responsibilities. She spared a glance at Harding. He was relaxed, completely at ease, anticipatory, yet ever alert and watchful, never allowing Adelle to approach her desk. Not that she particularly had a desire to gain proximity to the large security man who lounged in her chair as though he was watching a sporting event instead of an impending disaster. The small automatic weapon Laurence had chosen for her tantalizingly close in her drawer, yet unattainable.

Re-focusing on the monitors, Adelle waited. Sensing someone close, Adelle turned. Without a word, Judith took Adelle’s hand, smiled fleetingly and faced the monitors. Two men burst into Topher’s lab. Ivy screamed. Topher ducked behind the chair. Kyle Beale shot both intruders in the head. Twice.

A glance at Harding revealed him to be unperturbed. A minute became two. Two became four. Suddenly, three men emerged at the south entrance. Baxter and Gill gunned them down from perfect crossfire position. Harding frowned. Four shots were fired in rapid succession from much closer to hand. Harding’s security guards bled freely. Judith turned with Adelle to face the door to the bedroom/bathroom of the office suite. Laurence Dominic leaned against the wall next to it, looking the worse for wear, panting, gun aimed at Harding’s forehead. Movement drew Adelle’s attention back to her screens. A single man came through the west entrance, hands raised, weapon discarded. Lisa Grayson gunned him down. After about thirty seconds, Grayson turned to the camera, her gesture a clear inquiry.

Dominic found his cell phone as Adelle reached his side. Adelle wiped the sweat from his forehead with a cloth Judith had forced into her hand. He mustered a small smile. Adelle frowned. A sprint up that many flights of stairs cannot have been what the neurologist ordered, Laurence.

“Are you all right?” Adelle whispered.

“I’ll let you know in a few minutes,” he said, fumbling with the touch pad on his phone. Shaking her head, Adelle lifted the phone from his hand, hit speed dial four and handed it back. “Thanks,” he said, shifting position to allow Adelle to hear the other side of the conversation as well. “Lisa, have everyone hold their positions. When I get the all clear, I’ll pass it on.”

“How did you pull this off, Dom?” Grayson asked.

“I called in every favor I’ve ever been owed,” he muttered. “Stay alert.”

“What the fuck did you do?” Harding demanded, stepping forward, stopped in his tracks by the coldness in Dominic’s eyes.

“Saw to it that you and yours took it up the ass,” Dominic snapped.

“You won’t get any information out of them, you know,” Harding said. “They don’t know anything.”

“That’s fine,” Dominic said, the nasty smile Adelle so thoroughly enjoyed making an appearance. “No one’s planning to ask them any questions.”

“What?” On that single word, Harding’s voice lost the veneer of a cultured, civilized man. Adelle heard the cornered prey in his tone.

Turning to Adelle, Dominic asked, “Are you ok? Did he hurt you?”

“I’m fine.” Their eyes locked. Relief flooding her system, Adelle gave in to the impulse to step into her former Chief of Security’s personal space and slide her arms around his waist. Betraying her, Adelle’s body trembled at the thought of what she’d almost lost—everything that she’d worked for and everyone she worked with—and her grip on the safety Laurence Dominic had recently come to represent tightened. When his arm settled across her back and the hand holding his gun came to rest on her hip, Adelle felt her composure returning.

“You’re not fine,” he whispered directly into her ear.

Smiling at his recently re-injured shoulder, she said, “No, but I’m on the mend.”

“Well, isn’t that precious?” Harding sneered. “I wish I had a camera.”

To Adelle’s surprise, Dominic laughed. “That’s not what you wish you had,” he said.

Before Harding could retort, Dominic’s cell phone rang. “Hold this,” he said, closing Adelle’s hands on his sidearm. “Thanks,” he said, lifting the cell phone to his ear, keeping an arm around Adelle, once again holding her close enough to hear the entire phone call. “Dominic.”

“Six got through,” Clarice said.

Dominic glanced down at Adelle. She nodded, smile showcasing satisfaction as well as relief. “We picked up the spare,” Dominic said. “Did you clean up your mess?”

“Every last bloodstain,” Clarice retorted. “How are things on the DeWitt front?”

“Unknown,” Dominic said, glancing down again as Adelle sharply poked him in the side with his own gun.

“Be sure she knows the agency came through for her.”

“Consider it done.”

“Be sure she knows why, Dominic.”

“Adelle has more of a results orientation when it comes to full frontal assault,” he said.

“She’s listening to this conversation isn’t she?” Without waiting for a response, Clarice said, “Damn it, Dominic. Is there any rule you aren’t going to break this time out?”

“None that I can think of,” he said. Voice lowering, he said, “Pleasure doing business with you.”

“I look forward to my next opportunity to serve,” Clarice said. Tone imbued with seriousness, she said, “Call me tomorrow and tell me what I need to hear.”

“There’s nothing I’d like more.” Grip on Adelle tightening, he said, “I take that back. There’re one or two things I’d like more.”

“I’ll bet. Tomorrow, Dominic.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Dominic severed the connection and dialed Grayson. “We’re clear, Lisa. I’ll be bringing a prisoner down. Prep one of the secure areas for him.”

“I’m not your prisoner,” Harding stated, forward motion curtailed by Adelle sighting down the barrel of Dominic’s gun.

“In this one isolated instance, I agree with Mr. Harding, Laurence,” Adelle said.

“What?” Dominic said.

“Instruct Ms. Grayson to have Mr. Baxter take charge of things down there. Our new Chief of Security should come up here with a couple of her people to personally transport Mr. Harding to his … interview.”

“Change of plan, Lisa,” Dominic said. Staring questioningly at Adelle, he relayed the order.

“Why don’t you take him yourself, Dominic?” Grayson asked.

Adelle traded Laurence’s gun for his phone. “Mr. Dominic will not be questioning our guest,” she said.

“He won’t?”

Smiling at the sheer disbelief in Grayson’s voice, Adelle said, “No, Ms Grayson. He will not.” Adelle met Dominic’s puzzled gaze. “See to him, won’t you? I’d rather his fate come as an unpleasant surprise.

Harding’s blazing eyes lost their focus when Dominic brought the gun butt into forceful contact with his temple. “Topher’s little experiment with Echo as a spyhunter suggested to me that she’d make an excellent bad cop,” Adelle said.

“To Sierra’s good cop?” Dominic suggested, smiling, presumably at the intriguing visual image of the two young women interrogating Harding.

“I think I’d rather enjoy that,” Adelle said. Turning to Judith, she said, “Please inform Topher of the imprints he is to design on your way to see Dr. Saunders.”

“I’m going to see Dr. Saunders?” Judith asked.

“You have a split lip and are well on your way to at least one black eye,” Adelle said. “You should let her look at you.”

The elevator door opened to Grayson and two young security men. While the boys lifted Harding, none too gently Adelle noted with approval, Grayson regarded Dominic. “How difficult will the press be to manage?” she asked.

“There won’t be any press coverage to speak of,” Dominic said.

“You didn’t alert me to an impending major security breach on the basis of six guys. How much of a bloodbath do we have outside the building?”

“I deal with professionals, Grayson. They didn’t leave the bodies where they fell. They took them and destroyed any evidence of what went down.”

Frowning, Grayson said, “There wasn’t enough time for that.”

Dominic shrugged. “Go out and take a look if you don’t believe me.”

“Come with me to bear witness to this miracle, Dom,” Grayson said.

“Sure,” he said with only a brief backward glance at Adelle.

* * *

Laurence Dominic didn’t know what to expect when he returned to Adelle DeWitt’s office. They hadn’t spoken about his confession of early that morning or of much of anything else during what was turning out to be a long day.

The instant he stepped out of the elevator, she said, “Why does the NSA want me to know why they assisted us today?”

Us is good. I think. “The outside of the building is clean, which makes the few eyewitness accounts of wholesale slaughter look like drug induced hallucinations or a mild form of hysteria.”

“Answer my question, Mr. Dominic.”

Taking out his phone, Dominic punched in a very complex and far too long series of numbers. “I’ll let you hear it for yourself,” he said as he waited for the confirmatory tone acknowledging his instruction.

“You have NSA technology in your phone?” she asked in a rhetorical manner.

He decided to answer anyway. “Yes. It really is surprisingly easy to install.”

“I see.”

Stepping up behind her, smiling as he realized she was watching Echo and Sierra with Harding, he activated the speakerphone feature.

“Dominic,” he said.

“Are you running an anti-assault drill at the Dollhouse?” Clarice asked.

“Huh?” he said. “I’m not even there, Clarice.” Alarm clear in his voice, he demanded. “What’s going on?”

“Assault teams are standing by at every entrance to the LA Dollhouse.”

“Standing by?”

“They look to be waiting for a go code, Dom. What’s your ETA?”

“Twenty-five or thirty minutes. Damn. Clarice, get some people over there.”

“Why?” she asked.

“What the fuck do you mean ‘Why?’”

“This could be the answer to our problems, Dominic. Think about it. Things are getting too hot for you there and these guys are armed to the teeth. They don’t look like they’re going in to intimidate or merely take control. This deployment has all the hallmarks of a kill order.” Clarice paused for a moment. “You aren’t there. You didn’t know anything about it. You’re clean and you know too much for Rossum to let you walk. Someone in the organization will snap you up and we can continue as we have been.”

“Get people over there or I’m done, Clarice. I’ll walk regardless of what might happen to me and you’ll have nothing but Clyde, the king of paranoia, all over your ass.”

“You aren’t thinking clearly.”

“There’s nothing to think about. I’m not going to leave her to face an all out assault or take on the abuse the tech contingent from Rossum. I’m heading back and, if you let that assault happen and I buy it, Clyde will be all over your ass.”

“Stop with the Clyde all over my ass.”

“The only scenario where he won’t be is the one where you out assault the assault team.”

Clarice sighed. “Listen to yourself, Dominic. What you’re suggesting isn’t in the best interests of the mission.”

“I told her, Clarice.”

“You told who what?”

“I told Adelle I’m NSA.” Dominic winced at the silence that fell the second time as he had the first.

“You told her? You’re kidding. No, you’re not. Of course, you’re not. There are simpler ways to commit suicide, Dom.”

“I don’t expect you to understand or approve, but I’m the guy on the ground and I made the call, Clarice. There was no other way to go forward. I was coming apart at the fucking seams. I was barely holding my shit together and my grip was loosening. The trust card was the only one I had left to play.”

“Dominic, stop. You’re in too deep. You’re going fucking native. You need to come in and we’ll talk this through.”

“Give the order, Clarice. Get some guys over there!”

“I gave it already, Dominic, and I’m going to rescind it if you don’t get your ass in here.”

“Don’t force my hand, Clarice. Please don’t. I need to get back.”

The pause in the conversation was prolonged. “Please? From you, I get, ‘Please.’ Christ, Dom.”

“You want me to beg?” he asked. “I’ll beg. I don’t fucking care anymore. I need that assault team neutralized and I have to go back.”

“So she can put you in the … the Attic, whatever that is?”

“She might not.”

“You’re going to gamble your life on ‘She might not?’”

“I guess so.”

“Call me tomorrow to discuss—.” Dominic cut Clarice off and immediately started punching numbers into his phone.

Erasing a taped call is a royal pain in the ass.

After what struck Dominic as a long time, Adelle said, “You sounded frightened.”

“I was.”

“She … Clarice was correct. Allowing the assault to take place would have solved your problems.”

“No, it wouldn’t have,” he said, oddly grateful that Adelle had finally turned to face him. “If Harding wouldn’t simply have had me killed, it would’ve taken me time to build relationships and trust wherever Rossum assigned me. Time I doubt we have if the abuses are already occurring or about to start. We’re at the top of the slippery slope, if we haven’t already started down. Changing horses at this point is pointless.”

“So you came back to ride me if you can break my spirit sufficiently?”

Her sharp tone got his blood up, but Dominic held his temper. “I came back to help you if you’ll let me.”

“Is that all?”

“Is what all?”

“You came back to … help?”

“I’m backed up ten times over, girls. I’m the only one other than Rossum and his talking dummy so far. Me. Not Adelle. Not Clive, poor guy, although he was supposed to be next. I’m protected in the best way imaginable. That’s why I just don’t care what you do to me.” Harding’s hoarse defiance effectively derailed the conversation.

“Backed up?” Adelle whispered, eyes seeking Dominic’s. “My God, they’ve made ten wedges for him already.”

“Fuck,” Dominic muttered, meeting her eyes, taking her hand. “We’re already on borrowed time.”

Adelle turned into his embrace. They held each other for a full minute. Looking up at him, she whispered, “Why, Laurence? That’s the question I can’t answer.” It was difficult but Dominic waited for clarification. “You could’ve wooed me as you did Giselle and then told me about the NSA. Why didn’t you?”

“I couldn’t.”

“What does that mean?”

Speaking slowly, striving for articulateness, he said, “Something like that requires control. When it comes to you, I don’t have anywhere near enough.”

“Are we now about to answer the question I posed before Mr. Langton and Echo so rudely interrupted?”

Risking holding Adelle a bit tighter, he said, “I’m glad they did.”

“You’re glad?”

He nodded. “I knew what I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “I’d convinced myself I was doing it. Playing the part. Pretending to pretend to pretend, if you will. That had to be right, because my last thought before bracing for the impact of the punch Echo never landed was that I might’ve just managed to convince you to keep me around only to be beaten to death by the active I truly can’t stand.” His brief chuckle held little humor. “I’ve thought things through and I realize what does and doesn’t track. If I was really pretending to pretend to pretend, I wouldn’t have told you about the NSA. I wouldn’t have felt like I had to, because I wouldn’t have cared how you’d feel if you found out from someone other than me. If I was just playing you in the interest of accomplishing my mission objectives, I wouldn’t have been so fucking scared that something was going to happen to you today and I wasn’t going to be able to get back quickly enough to stop it. I wouldn’t have basically threatened a woman I’ve worked with for more years than I care to count to try to be sure that didn’t happen. If I was dialed in to Laurence Dominic, NSA agent, I would’ve insisted that I interrogate Harding myself. I wouldn’t have needed to come back up here and make sure you were all right.”

Adelle didn’t hesitate. “Are you merely playing a role, Mr. Dominic?”

“No.”

“Have you, as Clarice suggested, gone native?” she asked.

“No.” Her eloquent arched eyebrow called Dominic out, but he wasn’t ready to comply. Hesitating, he tried a shrug. She just raised her eyebrow higher. I didn’t think that was possible. “What do you want me to say, Adelle?”

“As I have told you before, you’re charming when you mumble, Laurence. Truly.” Resting both hands on his chest, she said, “But I am not in the mood to be diverted.”

“What are you in the mood for?” he asked, successfully keeping a smirk at bay.

“A straight answer.”

“Strange,” he muttered. “I always thought you favored convoluted.”

“Not in this case.”

He returned the smile Adelle reluctantly bestowed upon him. “What was the question again?” Laurence asked.

Adelle laughed. “I can’t quite recall,” she admitted, “but I know I want a straight answer to it—whatever it is.” Running a hand along a smooth cheek, she sighed. “You stopped at home when you were out of the House earlier.”

“Yes,” he ventured, surprised by the subject change.

“To shave,” she murmured.

“And to bring a razor I know how to use.”

“Pity,” Adelle said. “I was looking forward to you baring your throat to me on a more regular basis.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Encouraged by her amusement and her continued proximity, Dominic asked, “What is your question, Adelle? Seriously. Ask and I’ll try to answer.”

Harding’s pain influenced exclamations and exhortations almost drowned out Adelle. “Who are you, Laurence?”

He closed his eyes briefly, hoping for inspiration. “A guy who’s trying to do his job.”

“Which one?”

“Both of them.”

With a sigh of exhaustion, resignation or both, Adelle rested her head on Dominic’s shoulder. “I see,” she said.

“I don’t think you do.” She raised her eyes to his without lifting her head. Gently, nearly reverently, he stroked her cheek with the tips of his fingers. “I need for you to be safe.”

“I am,” Adelle whispered.

“For now,” he agreed, fingers migrating to the line of her throat. “Harding will have to be dealt with somehow, though. All eleven of him. Will you be safe until that’s done? Will you be safe after?”

“Isn’t Rossum paying you an outrageous wage to ensure just that?”

Knowing he looked as surprised as he felt, Dominic asked, “Will you let me?”

“I lack a viable alternative,” Adelle said, toying with the button of his suit jacket. “With his actions today, Harding has openly declared me an enemy. Even with the scope of his declaration unknown to us at present, he has effectively removed the option to simply close my eyes to the situation if I don’t care to face it alone. Also, I doubt I can prevail against Rossum without help from someone who understands clandestine operations. Having a strong preference for survival, I intend to go to war with someone who knows what he’s doing watching my back.” Unbuttoning his jacket, Adelle slipped her arms within to encircle his waist. “Damian knew you were NSA, didn’t he?”

This time, Dominic flowed more quickly with her subject change. “I’m not sure he knew which agency, but he knew I was in the game.”

“A knight alone,” she mused. “How do you manage?”

Hands resting comfortably at her waist, Dominic asked, “Manage?”

“Being in hostile territory all by yourself.”

“I’m used to it.” Risking a smile, he added, “For the record, I’m not picking up much in the way of hostility at the moment.”

“Really?” Adelle sidled closer, mere millimeters from full frontal contact.

“Really.” Heart rate accelerating, he said, “We should listen to Harding’s confession.” Smile slowly blooming, Adelle tightened her grip on his waist, closing the tiny gap. “Adelle, we really should listen.”

“We should.” Her perfectly agreeable tone somehow heightened Dominic’s already acute awareness of her body.

Watching Adelle closely, he moved his hands over her hips to settle on her ass. Her eyes closed when he pulled her more tightly against him, making him smile. When they reopened, the unprecedented vulnerability he saw called to him at a fundamental level. “What do you want from me?” he asked.

“Many things,” she whispered, sultry tone sending a shiver of desire through him. “First and foremost, I want to watch you lose control.”

Giving into a sudden strong impulse, he asked, “Why?”

“Doing so will give me pleasure.”

He nodded, adopting a thoughtful expression. Adelle repositioned her hands to around his neck, and exerted firm downward pressure. For the first time in what felt like weeks, Dominic relaxed.

“Dinner is served,” Judith announced, backing into the room with a cart laden with covered dishes. “I was starving after all of the excitement and thought you might be too.” Turning around, Judith stopped. Barely blinking at what was obviously an embrace, she asked, “Shall I put this on the coffee table, Ms. DeWitt?”

“Please,” Adelle said, not even attempting to step back.

“Thanks, Judith,” Dominic murmured.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Dominic,” Judith said, transferring everything from the cart to the coffee table with admirable efficiency. “Bon appetite,” she said, wheeling the cart toward the door.

“Are you hungry, Laurence?”

Eyes locking onto Adelle’s, he murmured, “Very.”

“I was speaking of food,” Adelle said, voice low, sexy.

“No you weren’t.” The first kiss was a battle to an extremely pleasant draw. The second was more of a sensual dance. The third a mutual seduction. Attention never diverting from Adelle, Dominic removed his suit jacket and tossed it in the direction of the couch. Adelle’s wince told him he’d missed his target. Adelle beat him to his tie. It was difficult to stand still with his hands at his sides as she untied it and slid it from around his neck with a “Take me right now” look on her face. The urge to touch her was nearly overwhelming, but Laurence had no shortage of discipline and he used it to advantage in this first, self-imposed test of his control.

“Pick up your jacket,” she whispered as she neatly folded his tie. Resisting the impulse to argue, Dominic did and draped the garment over the back of the couch. “Come back here,” Adelle said, mischievous smile incongruous with the commanding tone. He obeyed. “Undress me.”

“Don’t go in there!” Topher Brink burst into Adelle’s office. Judith trailed in his wake. “I’m sorry Ms. DeWitt. He doesn’t listen.”

He would if Adelle spoke to him in the tone she took with me just now.

“Aren’t you out of uniform?” Topher asked, impish grin aimed at Dominic.

Laurence swallowed the insult that flew to the tip of his tongue. That’ll only keep him here longer. “What is it, Topher?” he asked.

“I came to ask how my girls were doing,” Topher said, splayed hands adding an unspoken ‘obviously’ to his statement. “Grayson wouldn’t let me watch.” Frowning exaggeratedly, Topher muttered, “She’s not as fun a Chief of Secuirty as I thought she’d be. I even asked kind of nicely and everything.” As if he was as tired of Topher babble as Dominic, Harding screamed. Topher’s eyes followed the sound. “Echo is hard core scary.” Smiling at the image, Topher added, “And Sierra is nice with a sexy backbeat. He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance—.”

“Is that all, Topher?” Adelle said. When he looked blankly at her, she said, “You have seen your … girls. Is there anything else?”

“Um … no.”

“Good.” Adelle’s smile held no warmth. “You may go.”

“What?” Topher asked. “My dinner invite lost in the mail?”

“No,” Adelle said. Judith ushered a protesting Topher from the office and locked the door behind them. “Where were we?” Adelle asked.

“You had just ordered me to undress you,” Laurence replied.

Hands on her hips, Adelle faced him. “Must I repeat myself?”

“I’m giving you an opportunity to rescind that order.”

“I don’t wish to rescind that order, Laurence.”

Smiling, he muttered, “Good.” Unbuttoning the first fastened button of her blouse, Dominic leaned in to kiss the newly exposed flesh. He repeated the process with the second button. The third somewhat exposed her undoubtedly expensive, deep blue lace bra. Adelle gasped when he kissed his way along the top of her right breast. Her hands found the back of his neck when he traversed the same territory with his tongue. Enjoying her response, he continued the stimulation with his fingers as he kissed her hard on the mouth. The want he saw in her expression hit him like a hammer.

“Don’t you dare stop,” Adelle murmured and Dominic’s control slipped several notches.

The elevator doors opened and Victor’s handler and Dr. Saunders emerged. “Victor should be cleared for all engagements,” his handler said.

“I’ll place him back on the roster when I deem him fit for romantic engagements,” Dr. Saunders said.

After shielding Adelle from view while she buttoned the last he’d undone, Dominic listened with half an ear and prowled around the coffee table lifting the lids off of the plates of food Judith had provided. The halibut looks phenomenal and the asparagus smells fantastic. Feeling watched as he speared a piece of asparagus with a fork, he looked over his shoulder. Face a mask of polite interest, the rest of Adelle’s body was taut with tension. She looks like a guitar string that’s about to break. He finished the asparagus before wandering over to the screen showing Harding’s interrogation.

There were tears in the older man’s eyes as Sierra spoke quietly and calmly to him. Her hand rested lightly on his shoulder and Harding nodded in agreement. Echo leaned in quickly, snarling a question and Harding shrank back, angling his body to hide behind Sierra. Echo turned away, expression screaming disgust. Amused by the exchange and the sidelong hopeful look Harding gave Sierra, Dominic settled in to watch. Peripherally aware of Adelle’s arbitration of the dispute, Dominic watched Echo terrorize Harding into greater and greater dependence on Sierra for relief and respite. The look on Harding’s face when Sierra’s smile shifted from girl next door to sexual predator was a thing of beauty. He felt the frown Adelle aimed at his back when he chuckled. I want some more asparagus, but I don’t want to miss this. Echo leaned over Harding and looked to be warming into an extended harangue, so Dominic risked a trip to the coffee table for another asparagus spear. He returned in time to see Sierra steer Echo away from Harding. Taking a new tack, Echo slowly unbuttoned Sierra’s shirt to generate some cleavage for Harding to admire, staring into the blonde woman’s eyes as she did. The noise Harding made as he watched the action called to mind a mortally wounded animal. Harding’s mouth dropped open when Sierra sauntered back to the table and he began to babble when Sierra intimated that she wouldn’t let Echo hurt him any more if he answered her questions like a good boy. Her moue of disappointment stopped the flow of generalities. A request for specifics brought slightly less general generalities. Her hand on Harding’s thigh garnered a reprise of the wounded animal sound.

“The decision is made; the matter is closed,” Adelle said. “Thank you both for bringing this issue to my attention.”

Saunders looks pissed. So does Adelle. Damn. Another wounded animal noise disrupted Dominic’s train of thought. Shaking her head, expression clearly very disappointed, Sierra buttoned her shirt. Harding looked as though she’d punched him in the gut.

“How is the asparagus, Laurence?” Adelle asked, joining him before the monitor.

“It’s good,” he said.

“And the arrogant Mr. Harding?”

“He’s afraid of Echo and wants Sierra, although he wouldn’t mind watching Echo make Sierra beg.” Smiling at her nod of satisfaction, he asked, “Why’s Saunders angry?”

“I’ll tell you over dinner.”

The meal was decidedly pleasant. They ate excellent food, chatted a bit about the Victor issue, watched Sierra and Echo work over Harding. Full but not overly so, Dominic leaned back with a glass of wine and watched Adelle finish her piece of halibut. She returned his gaze and smiled. “Thank you, Laurence.”

“For what?”

“Saving this House from Harding. I understand what you risked and I’m grateful for it.”

Volumes passed between them in the silent moments that followed. Forgiveness was not on offer, nor were rationales or excuses. Adelle accepted his dual role. Laurence acknowledged her acceptance. “You’re welcome,” sounded inadequate to Dominic’s ears, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Increasingly uncomfortable, he said, “Where do you think Harding’s stashed his backup wedges?”

“That is a question for another day.” Settling in next to him, Adelle gestured to the screen with her wine glass. “As is what on earth we’re going to do with him.”

“Good, because my head hurts too much to think about Harding right now.”

“Surely you aren’t going to rely on that tired excuse,” Adelle said, placing her wine glass on the coffee table.

He smiled. “I do have a headache, Adelle, but I intend to play through the pain.”

“Wise decision,” she said, plucking his wine glass from his hand, resting it next to hers.

They faced each other on the couch for a long moment. “I want you, Adelle,” he murmured. When she merely smiled at him, Dominic pulled her blouse free of her skirt, sliding a hand beneath, skimming over bare flesh with the lightest of touches.

“No,” she whispered, catching his hand and repositioning it between her legs. “There will be time for creative foreplay later.”

“You’re the boss.” Laugh a low sexy rumble, Dominic pushed up Adelle’s skirt to obtain more room to maneuver. A groan tore its way out of her throat when he slipped two fingers inside her. “Don’t tempt me to tease you,” he whispered as he set a slow maddening rhythm, establishing an alternative rhythm with his thumb.

“Don’t tempt me to … to put you into … my God, Laurence … the Attic.” Adelle’s hips moved in counterpoint to his hand as her words flowed into pleased sounds.

“Is that a threat?” he asked, picking up he pace of his movements, pulling Adelle close with his free hand, kissing his way along her collarbone from beneath her chin to her right shoulder.

“Promise,” emerged like a sigh from her irresistible lips.

When he ended the kiss, Dominic couldn’t tear his eyes away from Adelle’s face. Desire and desperation, want and fear, need and hope—in ever changing combinations fascinated him. When all of those emotions coalesced into an expression of physical pleasure, Adelle moaned in what sounded like relief and her lower body lifted off of the couch. He held her as she came back down from her peak. “You’re gorgeous when you let go,” he whispered, enjoying the contentment she practically radiated.

“Take me to bed, Laurence,” she murmured and Dominic knew he would gladly kill to put that expression on her face again.

Grinning, he said, “Yes, ma’am.”


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I've been lurking on the dewitt_dominic community and only recently found this.

This is amazing! I love the plotline, it's very well written and always keeps you guessing. The characters are so in character and the original characters (like Lisa) are unqiue and well written. All in all, this is excellent! I love it.

As much as I love Dollhouse, why couldn't this have happened on the show?

I'm glad you did. It's always good to know that even on chapter 11, there are folks still with me.

Um ... the plotline ... yeah. This was supposed to be a one shot. Then it seemed to need a sequel. And, after that, it required a real plot. So it somehow morphed from a fun, kind of light foray of 'what if' into my take on what would've or could've (maybe should've?) happened had Dominic not been sent to the Attic.

I'm glad the characterizations have survived 11 of my efforts for you. That's good to hear, b/c it's hard to know sometimes if they still sound like them to others. Also, thanks re the original characters--there are suddenly (it seems) quite a few, so I guess it's a good thing they play.

Something kind of like this might've happened had the focus of the show not been Echo. I've tried to include Echo somewhat but, honestly, not all that hard.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

It was a bold move to enter Adelle's head. I applaud the valiant effort, and it was an interesting change of view.

That jerk Harding just doesn't know when to quit. I can't wait to read about all of his backups getting smashed to bits.

I'm curious as to why Saunders is angry. I guess it's got something to do with the fact that Boyd's dead?

Finally, after many incessant interruptions, these two get some much needed alone time. It was so sexy and adorable at the same time, so them.

Great work, keep it up!


I had to enter Adelle's head to show things when Dominic wasn't there. I do it a bit more as this moves forward because it sort of feels right. I'm glad it read ok.

Harding is on my list of despised characters. I had to torture him a bit. I just couldn't leave him out.

Saunders is angry b/c Dominic killed Boyd and she had feelings for him.

The incessant interruptions in that scene were intentional. I was curious to see how many I could put in before it got too crazy. Both our protagonists are obviously far less tolerant of interruptions by this time.

I'll try to keep it up through the end (which I think I can see through the mists of my mind now). That's progress, I think.

Thanks for reading and commenting at such a busy time for you.

Your foray into Adelle's point of view was really successful. I love this part for lots of reasons including:
- their watching Harding's interrogation the way another couple would watch the news.
- Judith and how protective she seems to be of Adelle.
- the way Dominic is aware of Adelle's tension and his chosen method of relaxing her. It's interesting that his release from stress so far seems to have been violence, while her release is sex... and that he may have figured that out. I like her giving orders and his choosing to obey them, I suspect he won't always be so co-operative.

I like the recorded conversation with Clarice - though I wonder about the part he didn't let Adelle overhear. I think Adelle's response to his actions to protect her (and her people) as well as her realisation that Rossum mean business on this one was a perfect push for her to step up. I'm also amused that Rossum are apparently paying Dominic an exorbitant salary to protect Adelle from well, them.

Can't wait for the next bit.

Whew! What a relief. And a reward of sorts also for straying outside my comfort zone.

Watching Harding like watching the news. LOL! I actually had to go back and look to fully appreciate what you meant. How quintessentially male--people come into the office have an issue that has nothing directly in Dominic's purview so he checks out what's for dinner and what's on TV. Sometimes stuff happens w/o conscious thought on my part.

I've tried to give Judith something of a personality. I think she deserves one. I've refrained from describing her as I think most people have their own idea of what she might look like.

Yes, Dominic doesn't mind a little violence when he's stressed. In fact, you might argue he needs it. Adelle is different. I'm not sure if Dominic got it before the end of this episode, but he does now. Choosing to obey, yes. It's just that, a choice. But if that choice is ever taken away ... hmmmm what might happen then.

I did think it important that Dominic let Adelle hear him defend her and her house to Clarice in addition to witnessing the aftermath (the repelling of Harding's people and clean up and what have you). Because the motivations are laid out there (presuming they are accurate and when folks are under stress they tend to be more accurate).

I think Dominic kind of put his money where his mouth is (so to speak) in this episode. I said I'm here to protect you and deal with Rossum. That's what I just did. So there. (I'm kind of really in a pro-Dominic mood now b/c I just wrote a scene further along in this beast where I kept thinking, "How can you do that to him, you ... expletive deleted?"

At least Harding means business, if not Rossum as a whole, yes. The idea of needing help is a lot easier to swallow when the person you're turning to has proven that he can help you.

The irony of Dominic getting a big raise to be a pain in Rossum's behind is a good thing. To my mind, anyway.

Working diligently toward a conclusion. Really.

Thanks for reading/commenting.

Forgot to mention. In the scene I referred to in the prior comment where I was feeling bad for Dominic, Adelle is justified in what she did and why, it was just unfortunate and kind of sad.

I thought you were talking about Adelle and it made me sad since I guess I had decided that whatever else was happening they were on the same page and were going to be more or less OK. These two just can't seem to get a break.

What is it again that never runs smooth? And it's not over yet, although I have most of it in my head now. Oh, and Domnic kind of got a talking to that he needed yesterday too. Quite an eventful day in my little AU world. Take heart--all it not quite lost.

OH for heaven's sake, the last bit was obviously (I hope) me.

Yes, it's OK - I had realised that it wasn't some other person commenting on the development of your fic. I'm glad your AU world went well and I promise not to give up hope. :)
I came up with a whole new AU world yesterday that's sort of a close relative (younger sibling perhaps) of the world we know. Unfortunately the story set in it seems likely to be long so I am working up to starting writing it.

I will be the last person (as of a little while ago) to pressure anyone to write a story that's bound to be long, but you'll have at least one reader if you do. Being a younger sibling myself, I'm rather partial to them.

well, I've finished work - it's the weekend (does dance) I have nothing planned and I can hear the opening scene in my head... My overburdened oldest child sense of responsibility will probably mean I have to write it.

Succinct. To the point. I like it.

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