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Thief, Saboteur, Assassin (Part 12 of the Let's Pretend Series)
damien listening guitar
Title: Thief, Saboteur, Assassin
Rating: R (violence, language and sex)
Author: rogoblue
Summary: In the aftermath of Harding’s failed attempt to take over the LA Dollhouse, Adelle and Dominic must determine what to do with him and their first overt move against Rossum. Twelfth in the Let’s Pretend series (eleventh is The Harding Factor, 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 eleventh 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 am I to do with you, Laurence?

Words: 7,000
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 Susan and Missy, for helping me see the reality and humor in the trying situations involving lj and rings. I’m putting them behind me now.

Laurence Dominic offered a contented Adelle DeWitt a hand up from the couch in her office. His cell phone rang. “Ignore it,” Adelle whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck, pressing her body full length against his.

“Let me just see who it is,” he murmured, reaching blindly for his discarded suit jacket, eyes trapped by hers. Playful smile gracing her face, Adelle unbuttoned his shirt. Dominic found the jacket and stepped slightly away from Adelle to search its pockets for his phone. Adelle tugged his shirt free of his slacks by the time Dominic determined his caller was Lisa Grayson. “Dominic,” he said, biting his lip as Adelle stroked along his abdomen with her nails. The silk of her blouse tormented his skin as much as her touch.

“We just had the first inquiry as to Harding’s whereabouts,” Grayson said. “His personal assistant called Judith. As we agreed, Judith said Harding never arrived.”

Adelle’s hand meandered toward Laurence’s belt buckle. His plan to halt her progress was derailed by her lips closing on one of his nipples. “When …?” he said. “When did the ... the call come in?”

“Eight minutes ago,” Grayson replied.

Adelle worried at his nipple with lips and teeth as she unbuckled his belt. “Car,” Dominic muttered. “Did Harding …?” Adelle’s pleased purr sent a spark of lust flying through Dominic. “Christ,” he said. “Did he hire a car? Rent? Come in a fucking cab? How’d he get here, Grayson?”

“Rented a limo,” Grayson said. “Baxter got a kick out of driving it around the city and having it valet parked at Harding’s hotel.”

“Good,” Dominic said, knowing they had to tie off as many loose ends as possible, catching Adelle’s hands in his free one and stepping back out of range of her mouth. “Once we decide where he’s been, we’ll have to leave an appropriate trail.”

“Baxter kept the keys.” After the briefest of pauses, during which Adelle aimed an impossibly sexy come hither look at him, Grayson asked, “Did you really think I wouldn’t have this handled? I know what happened with Alpha didn’t reflect all that well upon me, but I’m not a newbie.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest you were, Lisa,” he mumbled, not resisting when Adelle led him into the bedroom. “I’m tired and my head hurts like hell and … I feel like I’m getting pulled in about fifty directions at once. I’m sorry if I came across as patronizing or whatever. Just …” Adelle unbuttoned her blouse and shrugged out of it. “God,” he murmured. “Keep me apprised.”

“Will do. Get some rest, Dom.”

“Yeah,” he replied, hanging up as Adelle’s skirt went the way of the blouse. Adelle reaching behind her back to unclasp her bra inspired Dominic to remove his shirt. He enjoyed the view as she bent over to pull down the bedclothes, shrugging as she caught him staring.

“I’m looking forward to achieving my goal, Laurence,” she whispered, facing him wearing only a minimalist swatch of silk and heels. Smiling, she specified, “Seeing you lose control.”

“What makes you think I do?” he said, rising to her challenge.

“You said you did with Casey.”

“Well, yeah, but Casey’s—.” Adelle’s arched eyebrow silenced Dominic.

“Go on.”

“I’d rather not.” His hand rose to his aching head.

Amusement evident, Adelle said, “Please do.”

“I forget what I was going to say.”

“No you don’t.”

Taking her in his arms, he lowered them both to the bed and kicked off his shoes. “Prove it,” he whispered before he kissed her soundly. Adelle lured him into deepening the kiss with her tongue. Her soft moan of pleasure demanded another, slower, more sensual endeavor. She rubbed her upper body against his; her erect nipples tempting him mercilessly. Giving in, Dominic cupped her breasts in his hands and squeezed and stroked until Adelle murmured his name. Insinuating a hand between their bodies, Adelle caressed him through his slacks as she kissed him, her light touch making him crave more.

Her mouth demanded his attention, the aggression of her lips in stark contrast to the gentle, maddening stimulation of her hand. Whenever Dominic pressed his hips forward to try to convince Adelle to apply more pressure, she stopped. Being a reasonably fast learner, Dominic kept as still as he could and endured the seemingly endless sensual onslaught. Head pounding, he wondered when she’d stopped kissing him as he realized that both of her hands were now occupied below his waist to good effect. A few moments of maneuvering and all articles of clothing were discarded. Staring into his eyes, expression more serious than Laurence expected, Adelle maneuvered him into a partially reclined position with his back supported by several pillows. Encouraging him to relax with a whisper, a smile and her hands, she shifted to straddle him. She bent down to kiss him. When they parted, she aligned their bodies and, at long last, he entered her.

Adelle set a slow, steady rhythm. He hadn’t realized how much she’d aroused him with her hands until she worked him with her body. The pressure built quickly and Dominic fought to avoid bringing matters to a much too rapid conclusion. For her part, Adelle was smiling at him knowingly, moving ceaselessly, purposefully, relentlessly. Dominic lost control of his breathing and struggled to regain it, sensing Adelle wasn’t nearly as close as he was. He’d just about succeeded when Adelle shifted into a faster rhythm. “God … Adelle, I … Jesus Christ.” Then she went still and kissed him like the end of the world was rapidly approaching. “You’re making me crazy,” he muttered as she recommenced her original rhythm.

“Come for me,” she whispered. “You know you want to. I can feel how close you are, Laurence. Tell me what you need.”

“I need to … to wait,” he panted, focusing on the severe headache in an effort to regain control of the rest of his body. “Wait for you.”

“No,” she said, bringing her goddamn phone sex voice out of retirement. “I want to stare into your eyes while you lose control. I want to see it and feel it. I want to drive you to an orgasm against your will. That’s how I intend to stake my claim.”

“Claim?” emerged more a groan than a question.

“That you’re mine,” Adelle murmured, altering her rhythm yet again, speaking in the tone that was making Laurence increasingly frantic. “I need you to be satisfied and sated, but first I need you to be desperate and out of control. Please, Laurence, I need it.” Her words flowed through him. Dominic had no defense other than stubborn determination and intense head pain. He wasn’t sure it would be enough. Adelle punctuated another devastating kiss by mouthing, “Please, Laurence,” against his lips.

Hands bruising her hips, Dominic took over. Movements harder, faster, concentration absolute, he tried to bring Adelle with him. She welcomed his aggression, moved with him in perfect harmony, driving him to beyond distraction with her mouth and body. Her name on his lips, Laurence shuddered in release. Adelle clung to him as the spasms continued, the pleasure as prolonged as he’d ever experienced, pushing the head pain to a dull background ache for a time. “Christ almighty, that was fantastic,” he groaned as he relaxed back into the pillows. She leaned against his chest and smiled at him. When his eyes focused, he whispered, “Sorry, Adelle, I know that wasn’t very good for you, but I couldn’t hold off.”

“I didn’t want you to.”


“Laurence, I made it perfectly clear that I wanted to see you lose control,” she said, caressing his throat lightly. “You must never apologize when you give a woman exactly what she desires.”

“Maybe I wanted to give you more,” he said, holding her close, enjoying the feel of her body molded to his, staring into her striking, intelligent green eyes. “A lot more.”

“I’m inclined to permit you another go,” she murmured, kissing him softly on the lips. “Once we’ve both had some proper rest.” Perhaps prompted by his frown and focus on the ceiling rather than her, Adelle said, “I needed to be sure you were here with me this night. You, Laurence. The man behind the persona you chose for Laurence Dominic hidden beneath the scowl and closed body language.”

“I don’t think I’d recognize that guy if I tripped over him, Adelle,” he replied, not bothering to mask the anger he felt but didn’t understand.

“I would.”

“Really?” Her nod demanded skepticism. “You didn’t even know there was such a guy 24 hours ago.”

Settling in beside him, her head inches from his, she said, “Yes, I did.”

“Say what?”

“You were different in Paris, Laurence. Less guarded. More emotional. The professional I’ve always admired was still present but he wasn’t as prominent unless we were embroiled in a crisis situation.”

“I’m not sure what to say to that, other than I disagree.”

Adelle kissed him, taking her time, tempting him into a response. “I needed to strip away the armor and reach the man beneath. Take away the control and restraint to see what remained.” She smiled. “I wasn’t disappointed.”

“What …?” Forcing the word out of a suddenly tight throat, Dominic tried again. “What did you see?”

“A tired, decent, quite passionate man who places his partner first.” Smile broadening, she added, “A man suffering from a horrific headache having a partner who, he seemed to have forgotten, did indeed get hers first.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want our first time to go this way.”

“Why?” she asked. “I was in no mood to wait after everything that’s transpired between us to this point and I’m pleased to have pleased you, albeit subsequently.”

“It should’ve been more … mutual.”

“I’ll let you make it up to me, Laurence. Will that serve?”

He kissed Adelle on the forehead and shifted away slightly. “I should review the tape of Harding’s interrogation.”

“Tomorrow, Laurence,” Adelle said, kissing him again, shifting off of him, but placing her head on his shoulder, an arm across his chest and a leg between his.

“We don’t have a lot of time, Adelle. Harding’s already been missed and his assistant called here looking for him.”

“If they knew for certain he’d come here, they would’ve descended upon us already,” Adelle asserted, sliding her thigh along his.

“Unless they’re planning on showing up at dawn tomorrow for round two of let’s smite the LA Dollhouse,” he countered, running a possessive hand along her back to her ass.

“Will you get a call from Clarice if that were to happen?”

He chuckled. “After how I leaned on her today, I don’t know.”

“I suspect she would inform you, if only to give you an opportunity to improve your behavior towards her.” Snuggling closer, Adelle yawned and smiled up at him when Laurence did the same.

“How about if I just fast forward through the tape?” he asked. “It’ll probably only take me a couple of hours.”

“How badly does your head hurt?” He looked away. Taking his chin in a light yet firm grip, she turned his head to face her. “Answer my question, Laurence.”

“A lot.” Smirking, he added, “Especially when my heart is beating as fast as it was a few minutes ago.”

“I believe the term was ‘fantastic.’”

“That just tells you how fantastic it was.” Kissing her very gently, he murmured, “Despite the pain.”

“If I can’t inspire you to take better care of yourself, I’ll suffer the wrath of Ms. Grayson and Clarice whose last name I don’t know. Quite possibly Casey as well.” Expression turning serious, Adelle said, “Truly, Laurence, you’re clearly tired. Please rest.” She bestowed another whisper of a kiss upon him to bolster the power of her soft words.

He yawned again. Voice betraying fatigue and pain, he began, “Adelle, I’m behind and I really should—.”

Her forefinger placed across his lips had the desired effect. “Hold me,” she whispered, smiling when he complied without delay. Keeping her voice low, slowly modulated, she said, “I’d almost forgotten how it feels to be held, to feel safe and secure next to a strong man, to be pleasantly sleepy from sexual satisfaction, to be replete and comfortable.”

“You feel really good,” he mumbled, fatigue admixing with post coital relaxation to drag his eyelids over his eyes.

“So do you. Sleep, Laurence,” she murmured. A soft snore was the only reply.

* * *

Rubbing fatigued eyes, Laurence Dominic depressed the return key and loosed his intelligence program on all of the data he’d painstakingly collected over the last ten hours. Exerpts from Harding’s interrogation, the bits with talking rather than screaming, wounded animal grunts or other random noises. Any scrap of information he could find about Harding or any of his staff. Any impression he could ever remember of having of Harding. He’d come a long way with this project since he’d opened his eyes and found himself alone in the bed he’d again shared with Adelle DeWitt. That’s is a habit I could stand to see broken. I wonder what Adelle’s like in the morning. Now all Dominic had to do was wait for his program to run and maybe find something to eat. Adelle said something about taking better care of myself. Skipping two meals probably doesn’t cut it. But who am I kidding? It likely doesn’t matter. Adelle’s made herself scarce today, probably either embarrassed about or disappointed with last night. Which is a damn shame, because last night was … I probably shouldn’t think too much about what last night was. Safer that way.

A sharp knock sounded on his door. Before he could reply, Judith stepped in. “Ms. DeWitt would like to see you if you have a few moments, Mr. Dominic.”

Here it comes. “Sure,” he said, checking one last time to make sure his computer was dutifully crunching the data he’d given it. “What’s she been up to today, Judith?” Can’t hurt to ask, right?

“She interviewed Harding alone—.”

“Why didn’t I get video of that?”

“I didn’t want to disturb you again, so I held it at my desk.”

Dominic closed his eyes, remembering the snarl Judith’s latest interruption had given him the excuse to unleash. “Sorry, Judith. I’ve had a frustrating day.”

“I have a thick skin, Mr. Dominic.”

“That doesn’t excuse—.”

“Ms. DeWitt met for over an hour with Topher, dealt with several inquiries as to Harding’s whereabouts and saw eighteen clients.”

Searching his memory, he asked, “Is that a record?”

“For one day, yes.”

Pausing before Adelle’s client door which had apparently had a workout today, he took a breath. “What am I in for?” he asked.

“It’s Ms. DeWitt and Topher, Mr. Dominic. That’s all I know.”

“Thanks, Judith.”

Aiming a small smile at him, Judith knocked and opened the door. “Here’s Mr. Dominic, Ms. DeWitt.”

“Thank you, Judith.” Adelle rose from her desk chair, looking gorgeous in a deep green dress. “Could I trouble you to bring us a light dinner before you go?”

“Of course.”

“You wanted to see me,” Dominic said, barely checking the impulse to append ma’am.

“I have been speaking with Topher about your Special Project, Mr. Dominic,” she said, meeting his narrowed eyes with an implacable expression.

“Get down with your thieving, sabotaging, assassinating bad self,” Topher said, grinning like they were beginning an interesting game.

Dominic decided to play the part as he’d been. “With all due respect, ma’am, I’m not sure Topher has much to bring to this particular table and it might be better for him not to know what we have in play.”

“I always knew you had a soft spot for me,” Topher said. “I get that it doesn’t fit the image to let it show. I’m cool with our secret life.”

Glaring at Topher, Dominic said, “I’ve spent all day preparing for the next phase of the Special Project. I’m nearly ready.”

“I assure you; I have not been idle, Mr. Dominic,” Adelle said, eyes almost daring Dominic to disagree. “Nor has Topher. We have been carefully considering the Harding issue and I believe we’ve arrived at a workable solution.”

“All we need is one of his wedges and moi,” Topher interjected.

Warily, Dominic admitted, “Part of my preparation involved identifying possible locations for Harding’s wedges.”

“Excellent,” Topher said, shifting his stance to more easily play to both members of his audience. “I’ll wipe him cleaner than clean. On that pristine canvas, I’ll load the wedge along with the active architecture and mole imprint.”

“Mole imprint?” Dominic asked.

“He goes back to his fancy office and does his thing,” Topher said. “With a twist. Twice a day, or more if excrement is spraying around, he tells us what’s the what.”

Dominic almost asked, “You can do that?” before tabling that question in favor of others. “Where’s he been all this time? What’s he been doing? How are you going to fill in the gap between the wedge and now?”

“Vague office memories and … skiing at Taos?” Topher ventured. “Blackjack at Vegas? Primal scream therapy? Whatever floats your boat, L-man.”

Dominic’s eyes hadn’t completed their shift to Adelle before she said, “We have not yet worked out the cover story which I do not see as a pressing problem, since we aren’t as yet in possession of a Harding wedge.”

“He’s obviously been holed up in his hotel room having a succession of meetings with employees of Chatterley Consulting,” Dominic muttered, aiming a smile that wasn’t a smile at all at Topher. “Just like he often does when in town. Only, this time, they must’ve had added several new girls on his agenda, because he’s indulged for far longer than he generally allows himself. Or he’s compensating for something this time. Hell, maybe both.”

“Chatterley Consulting?” Topher squeaked. “Is that like … um …?”

“Extremely high priced … companions, many of whom are underage.”

“And you know this, how?” Topher breathed, awe and distaste at war in his tone.

“It’s important to know things like this about people who might make trouble for you,” Dominic said, shrugging, deliberately focusing on Topher. “Harding dragged me with him a few times when Ms. DeWitt was in an uncooperative mood with regard to whatever he’d proposed.”

Topher’s horrified eyes turned to Adelle. “Harding proposed … um … acts … activities to you? Harding?” Gaze tracking to Dominic, he added, “Why’d he take you along and not … me, for example? I can … consult. I can.”

“Probably because you weren’t the one bodily removing him from Adelle’s office after kicking the shit out of his bodyguards.” Fighting a smile, Dominic regarded Topher. “But that’s just a guess.”

“So,” Topher said, sidling over to Dominic. “What was it—?”

“Much like any other consultation, I imagine,” Adelle interjected.

“But why didn’t he just ask for some time with one of our actives?” Topher asked. “They could’ve consulted on any topic, technique, position, fetish, you name it.”

Faced with unanimous curiosity, Dominic said, “Harding preferred his women real and his boys as actives.”

“How on earth do you have that information?” Adelle demanded.

“That’s what he said when I asked him the same question and his answer fit with all the intel we have on him.”

“But why—?” Topher began.

“Let us return to the matter at hand, gentlemen, now that the question of where Harding has been all this time has been resolved.”

“We’ll have to set it up on the Chatterley end,” Dominic said. “I’ll put Judith in touch with the right people.”

“I’m sure Judith will be thrilled to arrange Harding’s sexual exploits to her satisfaction,” Adelle murmured.

Dominic recalled Judith’s barely contained rage when he’d confronted Harding and his late bodyguards in Adelle’s office. “Agreed,” he murmured.

“Moving on to the next item on our agenda,” Adelle said. “At my behest, Topher has devised a way to assist you in your endeavors.” Adelle approached Dominic slowly, taking a position from which she could easily insert herself between the two men, eyes asking Dominic for patience.

With a long suffering sigh, Dominic turned to Topher. The neuroscientist launched himself forward. “Ivy and I put together the best thief-saboteur-assassin mix we could devise. When we meld it with your fine, stoic violent self, we add many many percentage points to your success rate.”

A glance at Adelle revealed nothing. “What are you talking about, Topher?” Dominic asked. “You and Ivy have nothing to do with me.”

“In your brain’s current configuration, you’re right,” Topher said, frowning, no doubt disturbed by being forced to agree with Dominic. “But once we install the active architecture, the sky’s the limit.”

“Install …? No. I’m not ... No.” He turned to Adelle. “If that’s all, ma’am, I’ll get back to what I was doing.”

“Explain it to him, Topher,” Adelle commanded.

“You’d be you, L-man,” Topher said. “All we’d do is impart skills in addition to what you already have. Memories added on to your own. You’d lose nothing.” Voice lowering quite a bit, he added, “In theory.”

“In theory!” Two quick steps brought Dominic into Topher’s face. “I’ll tell you what you can do with your fucking theory.”

Adelle’s hand came to rest on Dominic’s shoulder. He allowed her gentle pressure to draw him a few steps away from the neuroscientist. “Laurence,” she murmured into his ear. “Please hear him out.”

“I’ve heard more than enough, Adelle. There’s no way I’m getting in that chair and letting him do anything to my brain. No way in hell.”

“You will be putting yourself at risk on behalf of this House,” Adelle said. “Repeatedly. Perhaps even continuously. What happens to you will impact us all, so it behooves us to see that you are as well equipped as we can make you.”

“I’m well equipped already.” I can’t believe I just said that. Don’t leave that statement there for Topher to comment, Dom, keep talking. “I can do this. You know my history, Adelle. You know I can.”

“Then it will do no harm to hear Topher out, will it?” Adelle said.

This time his sigh was quick and harsh. “Fine,” Dominic said.

Topher took the risk of a step closer to Dominic. “The active architecture doesn’t disrupt normal brain function, Laurence. It’s an overlay that shuttles the imprints to their destinations. With actives, we wipe to attain a clean slate, so the shuttle takes advantage of the simplest pathways, the most used neural networks to deliver the imprint to the brain. With you, we flip it.” Nodding to himself, Topher smiled at Dominic and DeWitt.

“Flip it?” Dominic asked.

“Your overlay will blaze new trails, create new neural pathways. It’ll use areas of your brain you aren’t currently. We’ll take advantage of the gross over capacity of the human brain and give you specialized thought processes, memories and skills without diminishing what’s already there.” Staring at the floor, Topher mumbled, “In theory.”

Playing along for now, Dominic asked, “What do you mean by overlay?”

“It’s a generated neural shuttling system that activates neurons along certain paths when you seek specific information.” Topher took Dominic by the upper arm and steered him to the window. Dominic tensed slightly but allowed the contact and took the direction. “Say you want to break into that building with the gray stone and tinted windows,” Topher continued, pointing to the skyscraper he’d selected. “When you start thinking about how to access it, the overlay would call up the thief imprint.”

“I have plenty of thoughts about how to break into that building already.”

“Your brain will access those simultaneously via the normal route. The route the actives don’t have because we’ve wiped them. In an instant, your brain will sift through both categories of data and present all of the information in an integrated fashion.”

Dominic took a breath. “In theory?”

“Yeah,” Topher said.

“What if it doesn’t work?” Dominic asked.

“L-man, this is me you’re talking to,” Topher said.

“Yeah, and it’s my brain you’re talking about messing with,” Dominic muttered. “What if it doesn’t work?”

“You’ll have the mother of all headaches,” Topher said. “You’d probably pass out.” Spreading his hands, Topher said, “A seizure is a really remote possibility, I swear.”

“No thanks, Topher.”

“We’ll test the integrity of the imprints and the performance of the architecture,” Topher asserted, pointing dramatically at DeWitt. “She wouldn’t let me send you into the big bad world without making sure.”

“No thanks,” Dominic said, realizing in some recess of his mind how often he was repeating himself in this conversation.

“Would you give us a moment, Topher?”

“This is beyond cutting edge,” Topher said. “A major, yet infinitely subtle refinement to the tech. You’d be famous if any of this was publishable.”

“Wouldn’t I just be Patient B-5 or something?” Dominic said.

“I’d still let you swear,” Topher said, grinning at the small smile he drew from Dominic.

“Excuse me?” Adelle said.

“There was this movie of the television show South Park and—,” Topher began.

“It’s irrelevant, ma’am,” Dominic interrupted.

“Do allow us a private conversation, Topher,” Adelle said. Waving in a wiggled finger way, Topher backed toward the elevator, almost colliding with Judith and her meal cart as she exited it. Adelle and Laurence stood together until the doors closed on the executive assistant and empty cart. Dominic instantly relaxed. Adelle did not.

“I’m not getting in that chair,” Dominic announced.

Without a word, Adelle moved close to Laurence, wrapped her arms around his waist and lowered her head to his shoulder. “What’s wrong?” he asked, holding her close.

“I’m afraid for you,” she whispered. “I despise that you are undertaking all of the risk while I sit here and smile at clients as if nothing loathsome is occurring.”

“It has to look like business as usual here,” he said, hands running up and down her back in what he hoped was a soothing motion. “This won’t work otherwise.”

“I don’t have to like it, Laurence.”

Her vehemence surprised him. Dominic leaned back slightly and tilted her chin up so he could see her eyes. They were spitting fire. Carefully, speaking slowly, feeling his way, he said, “I’m going to do what I do. You’re going to do what you do. It’s a reasonable division of labor, Adelle. Nothing else makes sense.”

“Taking advantage of what Topher can give you makes sense.”

“A seizure during a break in would be problematic.” Her slight smile buoyed him. “Passing out at a critical moment would preclude a carefully planned assassination.” Kissing her very lightly, he said, “The main point is that I don’t need Topher’s help. I can do this on my own.”

“He can give you far more experience than you have, Laurence.”

“I have enough.”

“Are you sure?” When he did nothing more than nod, Adelle said, “So you can guarantee you won’t be caught or killed and leave me to face Rossum alone?”

“No, but neither can Topher.”

Adelle stared into Dominic’s eyes for what seemed to him to be a very long time. “What are you afraid of, Laurence?” she asked.

“I’m not afraid.” He considered. “Well, maybe a little bit afraid of having a seizure at an inopportune time.”

“No,” she said, expression thoughtful and troubled. “We’d test the imprint before we let you go. That’s not what you truly fear.” She regarded him again, this time for only a matter of seconds before her eyes widened. “This is about control or, more precisely, the loss of it.” Hands shifting to his shoulders, she said, “Do you really think I would let Topher do anything more or less than he described to us?”

“How could you prevent it, Adelle? How would anyone know if he decided to expand the experiment?

“I’ll have Ivy look the imprint over.”

“If it’s as cutting edge and subtle as Topher claims, would she know if he added a wrinkle or two?” Dominic tightened his hold on Adelle when he felt her muscles tense. “I won’t get in that chair, Adelle.”

“Not even if I ask it of you?” she said, spearing his eyes with imploring green ones. “Because I’m afraid of losing you. Not even then.” Smiling, no doubt recalling the success of this strategy on more than one occasion, Adelle said, “Please, Laurence, let Topher imprint you with enhanced skills.”

“That’s going to the well once too often, Adelle,” he muttered.

“Is it?” she asked, pulling him in for a long, lush, ever intensifying kiss. Smiling when they parted, she toyed with his tie.

“I’m not getting in the chair just because I want you.” Feeling something very akin to panic, Dominic said, “You’re not going to manipulate me that way.”

“I will if I must,” she murmured, leaning into him. “You’re one man, Laurence. Rossum will crush you the instant you give them cause and the slightest of openings.”

“Adelle, I don’t trust Topher or unproven tech, but it’s more than that.”

“Go on.”

Adelle’s attentiveness encouraged him toward disclosing more than he’d intended. “If I … let Topher change my brain structure, I’ll have to tell Clarice.” He took a deep breath. “That’ll be the final nail in my coffin. The NSA would never trust me again.”

She shook her head. “When this is over, Topher will reverse the process.”

“That won’t matter. They won’t believe I can’t be manipulated somehow or haven’t been programmed to assassinate the President or blow up the Pentagon or something. It’s how they think. It’s ingrained by training and experience. There’s no changing it.”

“Surely there is some form of proof the NSA would accept.”

“Topher could swear on a carton of Twinkies that he reversed the process. You could provide signed affidavits from five hundred neurologists that he appears to be telling the truth. It’ll change nothing. Once I’m compromised like that, I’m done. I’m out, if I’m lucky. Otherwise …” Shaking his head to banish the thought of elimination by his own agency, he murmured, “This life isn’t much. No one understands that better than me, but it’s all I know.”

Hugging him tightly, Adelle said, “I’m sorry, Laurence. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have asked this of you.” Concern etched on her face, she looked up at him. “It would almost be more humane to put you in the Attic than to take your life from you by making you bear the brunt of the NSA’s mistrust in whatever form it takes.”

“You didn’t,” he said, returning the hug, tense muscles beginning to relax in relief. “How could you have known?”

“I didn’t think beyond my fear for you and for this House should you be caught.” She sighed. “Or worse.”

“Adelle, I—.” He stopped in instinctive response to the sharp shake of her head. The kiss she bestowed on him held a desperation likely born of the fear of which she spoke. He tried to infuse some of his confidence into his response but was unsure of his success. “I should get back and see if my program has generated any results,” he whispered when they parted.

“After dinner,” Adelle said. Dominic wondered what, if anything, would lift the weight of sadness that had descended on Adelle when she’d accepted his decision not to be imprinted with Topher’s cocktail of traits.

* * *

Laurence Dominic frowned at his computer screen. It wasn’t that he was disappointed. He was overwhelmed. His program had generated the top thirty possibilities for where Harding might’ve stashed a wedge. That wasn’t the problem. Obtaining a wedge of Harding’s would be simple. It was the program’s estimate as to how many computers he’d have to tap into to get enough information to bring the entirety of the illegal and illicit side of Rossum crashing down. Despite the appearance he’d maintained, Dominic was good with computers. Very good. But not good enough. Not for this. He was too out of practice with higher level programming. Damn, I don’t want to have to ask Topher for help. Maybe Ivy?

Sighing, rubbing his eyes and the back of his neck, Dominic considered the conclusions spread out before him. I have to infiltrate 66 different facilities, 287 private homes and 107 related businesses? Fuck. There has to be an easier way. If not, fine. I’ll do it. At least there’s only one possible location for a Harding wedge that isn’t on the bigger list. Small victory, but I’ll take it.

Adelle’s voice sounded in his head. “You’re one man, Laurence. Rossum will crush you the instant you give them cause and the slightest of openings.” That sentiment didn’t help his headache any. Quite the contrary, in fact.

* * *

Adelle DeWitt, Topher and Ivy were clustered in close proximity to the chair. Adelle said, “He won’t do it.”

Topher and Ivy shared a fleeting, highly meaningful glance. “Maybe Topher didn’t explain it the right way,” Ivy ventured.

“Laurence has his reasons.” Adelle sighed deeply and lowered herself in Topher’s desk chair, looking older and more fragile than Dominic had ever seen her. “Valid reasons.”

Spinning in a tight circle, Topher said, “A one shot, maybe a ten shot, I could see. He’d be fine. His ass is hard enough.” Crouching next to Adelle, hand on the arm of the chair for balance, Topher said, “We’re talking tens of tens. Over a hundred separate infiltrations. No one is that good. Not even Our Lord of the Perpetual Scowl.”

“He has his reasons, Topher,” Adelle murmured. “I won’t gainsay him on this. I don’t have the right.”

“Since when do you need the right?” Topher asked. Adelle didn’t even look at the neuroscientist. “What will happen to us when they catch up to him?”

“I don’t know,” Adelle said. “Do be calm, Topher, squealing will change little.”

Ivy spotted Dominic standing in the doorway. Her eyes darted to Adelle and Topher and returned to him. Dominic smiled slightly and shrugged.

“We’ve made this as safe as we can,” Topher insisted. “Ivy and I have been over this thing with three fine tooth combs each. I kid you not.”

“Let’s see what you’ve got then,” Dominic said, stepping forward, eyeing the chair with obvious suspicion.

Adelle stood, intercepting him as he moved toward the chair. “Laurence?” she said. “You don’t have to do this. Not for me or … or anyone.”

“I think I may have to do it for myself,” Dominic murmured. Stepping close to Adelle, he said, “When I thought about … everything, I realized that this probably can’t make matters much worse. So … I guess … why not?”

Taking his left hand in hers, she said, “Are you sure?”

Dominic laughed but he found it difficult to get his answer stated. “No. But … there’s too much riding on this … on me … for me to refuse help that might make the difference, regardless … of the consequences.” Looking to Adelle, not caring what either of the others thought, he said, “Does that make sense?”

“Far too much,” Adelle whispered.

Turning to Topher, Dominic asked, “Are you ready to do this?”

“I was born ready,” Topher said. Belatedly putting an arm around Ivy and drawing her closer, he said, “We were.”

“Good.” Squeezing Adelle’s hand, Dominic sat on the edge of the chair. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to recline until his head rested in the business end of the chair. Peripherally aware of Topher and Ivy scurrying about, Dominic’s eyes tracked to his left to Adelle. “Is this stupid?” he mouthed at her. Smiling, she shook her head.

“We’re locked and loaded, L-man,” Topher said.

Eyes on Adelle’s, Dominic said, “Do it.”

* * *

Laurence’s back immediately arched. The veins in his neck stood out and he broke out in a sweat. A soft cry of pain escaped his lips. “Topher?” Adelle said.

“We’re imposing active architecture on his brain.”

Wiping Laurence’s forehead with a towel she’d found on Topher’s desk, Adelle refused to wonder for what purpose or purposes the neuroscientist had used it. Dominic’s hands grasped the chair’s arms so tightly the veins in his forearms stood out. His head shifted from side to side. Tears leaked from closed eyes. Every muscle in his body appeared to be tense. “What’s happening,” Adelle said.

“It’s the concussion,” Ivy said. “That’s why it’s hurting him so much. His brain was recently traumatized.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this could happen?” Adelle demanded, watching helplessly as pain wracked one of the strongest men she’d ever known.

“We hoped it wouldn’t,” Topher said, fingers flying on his console.

“Stop,” Adelle ordered. “This is folly.”

“We can’t,” Ivy said, not looking away from what Adelle suspected was terror in her own eyes. “Once the process is begun, we have to install the active architecture, otherwise he … he could enter a coma-like state from which he might never emerge.”

Laurence’s body jerked as though Topher was administering massive electric shocks. His softly moaned, “Adelle,” galvanized her into action. Adelle took his left hand in both of hers.

“I know it hurts, Laurence,” Adelle whispered. “I only now realize that your concussion has made this procedure far more dangerous. Forgive me for not asking all the right questions. Please forgive me.” Adelle breathed a sigh of relief as Laurence’s contortions subsided and his body relaxed.

Topher did something at his console and Laurence screamed. His temples throbbed; his legs jittered. “Talk to him, Ms. DeWitt,” Ivy commanded. “He responded to the sound of your voice. Talk.”

“Listen to me, Laurence,” Adelle began, voice tentative, betraying her rising fear. “Focus on the sound of my voice. Let the pain fade into the background. Let it slip away as though it was happening to another man.” Voice gaining in strength and power, she smiled. “Imagine it happening to Topher.” Adelle thought she saw a ghost of a smile on the face of the man in the chair.

“Hey!” Topher shouted while still frantically typing.

“Think about pain’s converse, Laurence,” Adelle said. “Consider all of the myriad possibilities of attaining such a state. Alone. With a loving partner. With a perfect stranger. Or two. Know that you won’t always be in pain.”

“Active architecture is in,” Topher murmured. “We’re going for the imprint now.”

“Open your mind,” Adelle advised. “Let the information in. Let it flow over you. Let it mesh with the man you are. It won’t hurt. Information won’t cause pain. Knowledge is good. Knowledge is power. Memories are the foundation of who we are. A few extra can’t hurt. They won’t change anything important. You’ll still be the man you are.” The man I want. The man I need to accomplish my goals.

“The imprint’s taking just fine … so far,” Topher said, switching screens almost faster than the eye could see to monitor progress. “C’mon, L-man, you can do this.”

The tears leaking out from behind those blue eyes made Adelle angry. “I will speak to you once this is over, Topher, about the concussion and the pain attendant to this procedure.”

“I wait with bated breath, Fraulein Commandant. Speak to him now.”

Wishing they were alone and she could say what she truly wished to say, Adelle said, “You’re almost there, Laurence. You’re doing splendidly. This imprint will make everyone safer, including you, despite the painful beginning. I promise.” Adelle glared up at Topher.

“On the money, honey,” he muttered, not looking up from his console.

“Why is he doing that?” Adelle asked, eyes on Ivy. “I was given to understand an imprint was set before the process began.”

“This one couldn’t be,” Ivy replied. “Topher has to feed it bit by bit, because we’re blazing new neural trails.” Eyes apologizing, Ivy said, “We’re going to be here a while, Ms. DeWitt.”

“Dear God,” Adelle murmured, wondering whether she could get away with telling Laurence fictional tales of her secondary school days. “Can he withstand this, Ivy?”

“With our help.” Ivy smiled and patted Adelle on the shoulder. “Mostly your help.”

* * *

Dom’s eyes are open, but they don’t look like they’re doing much seeing. Just blinking. Lots of blinking. Topher knew an impulse from deep within Dominic was surging to the fore and suspected the hard ass didn’t like it one little bit. Voice hoarse, hesitant, Dominic asked, “Did I fall asleep?”

Exhausted and very concerned—not a good look for the boss lady by the way—Adelle DeWitt said, “Only for a little while.”

Dominic clearly fought his next line. Topher got that Dominic wasn’t into asking permission but would gleefully listen to the older man say, “May I go now?” anyway. A small groan of pain emerged before Dominic bit his lip hard enough to make Ivy gasp and DeWitt reach out. “Hurts,” Dominic forced from between clenched teeth.

Of course, it hurts. You’re fighting my imprint. Duh?

“Topher!” Adelle snarled.

Always with the yelling! “It’ll take time for things to settle down in the old cranium,” Topher said. Not to worry.”

Not satisfied, Adelle turned to Ivy who said, “Touch works better now than words.”

DeWitt bent down and kissed Laurence Dominic. DeWitt’s lip locking Dom in my chair. Not just a friendly little peck either. A real kiss. Can you say, “Save that for the executive suite, will you?”

Dominic’s eyes focused on DeWitt, confusion rapidly dissipating. “Adelle?” he said.

“Welcome back.”

Blue eyes darting in a systematic way, Dominic collected what wits he had and seemed to get what being in the chair meant. Although he’d certainly never admit it, Topher was impressed by the speed in which the L-man did it. “Did … did it work?” Dominic asked.

“Let’s find out,” Topher said, grinning at his newest and subtlest creation.

Sitting up, Dominic raised his hand halfway to his head and collapsed onto the floor. His body went perfectly still.

Adelle glared at Topher even as she dropped to her knees beside Dominic.

“He’ll come around; you’ll see,” Topher said, approaching Dominic slowly, no more than cautiously optimistic, something else he’d never admit, particularly to Adelle DeWitt in her current I-am-nanoseconds-from-perpetrating-violence-upon-Topher mood.

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Oh an update! Hurrah.
I really enjoyed this part though for a split second I thought they were going to be interrupted again. I think it was a good call that they weren't and I am completely amused by Dom being a little off balance because it didn't go the way he would have wanted (has he been paying attention so far?)

I was so impressed when you didn't have Adelle push him into the imprint and actually understand why he didn't want to go through with it - it speaks more to the equality between them I think. I loved how sad and worried she was - because it's a direct echo of him telling her he needed her to be safe in the previous installment.

I did think he ought to remember what he knows about all those men Adelle lost - I know she was using them, but a lot of them were killed violently and she did confess to caring about one or two. That's always supposing Topher's imprint hasn't fried his memory - in which case I suspect Adelle will eviscerate Topher... Which could be fun.

I love the way that gradually the two of them are putting it all on the line for each other (both professionally but also personally) and to the extent that it can be seen and understood by spectators. It's very powerful.

I can't tell you how glad I am someone out there is still reading this beast. Yes, interruptions. I think I've done those somewhat to death. And I'm now frantically trying to remember if I've done it again in what I've written since.

I'm not sure why, but it just struck me that nothing about this has gone smoothly or (as you suggest) in an expected way. Because of that, I just couldn't seem to write their first sexual encounter as a mutually satisfying interlude in a "normal" sense. It felt wrong.

I like Dominic off balance, probably because he hates it (my muse is nasty that way). I think Dominic has been a little bit distracted lately and has not been paying as close attention as he might have.

Adelle has done a lot of pushing and she likely will again but this moment had to pass without it. I think she had to show that expediency isn't everything. It's important and sometimes will dictate decisions, but not always. I liked that Topher challenged her on it. "Since when do you need the right?" and she just stuck to her guns, as it were.

I think Adelle and Laurence are getting to an equal space right at the moment and that's a good thing. She's worried about him/he's worried about her. Symmetry in that regard has been a long time in coming (at least admitted to openly symmetry).

You make an excellent point that Adelle has lost men she has cared about violently. And that's how Rossum would certainly deal with Dominic should they get an opening. I wish I would've thought of the imprint frying his memory (of maybe the last 24 hours). That would've been hilarious. Topher would be no more.

As to putting things on the line--I think Dominic had to given his tenuous standing as an NSA agent who was kind of crumbling under the stress. But Adelle is a woman who is facing powerful enemies who needs people she can trust to stand with her. To gain that trust, she need be worthy of it. Hence the mutuality necessary for that. In some ways, you'd think there wouldn't be time for forging a personal connection in all of this but, in another, I don't think we could've gotten where we are professionally if they hadn't. If that makes any sense at all--I know what I'm trying to say; I just don't think I said it very well.

Thanks, as always, for reading and thoughtfully commenting. You'll have to let me know how your younger sibling AU is going when you have a chance.

I think that all made perfect sense and I was going to remark on how much I liked Topher calling her on not forcing Dominic's hand but I forgot. I also liked Ivy being far more intuitive about what would work (I would have loved to see more Ivy in the show).
It would have been great to see him forget that he'd told her he was NSA - but I can live without it since I am sure you have something equally nefarious planned for them.
I am convinced that the trust and the persinal connection is the only way that they'll get through this - and I also think that Adelle's reasoning about using sex to get to the man beneath the mask was right. It's interesting that he was uncertain about her response the next day - bless him, I don't think he even realises that is a 'real' reaction.
I'd love to talk to you about my AU - if only to make sure that you think it tracks. Maybe this weekend.

Topher was tough for me in this one. I'm not sure why. But I know he'd be incredulous at Adelle not simply bulldozing over Dominic's objections. And, I too, wished for Ivy to have a larger, more interesting role, particularly in season 2. I'm thinking Topher is smarter than smart but Ivy is more intuitive.

Oh, even better. Not just forgetting that they finally had sex but that he'd told her he was NSA. What hijinks would've ensued! Alas, I went in a completely different direction. It'll be interesting to see what you think of it.

And the trust and personal connections are so tightly bound together as well. Yes, there is much to overcome still. At this point, I'm thinking 18 chapters, perhaps with the last one being smaller and more Epilogue-ish. We shall see.

Dominic is too good at improvisation and playing roles when he's at his best. Distracted, aroused and totally in the moment did strike me as a good way to rip the mask off without really seeming to (or being noticed until all was said and done). Yes, the whole, she's avoiding me because she's embarrassed or disappointed is a real reaction and I don't know that he's accepted it as real (b/c he just hid it away very quickly--not quite denial, b/c that would imply it was real, but close).

I should be around this weekend (other than possibly late morning/early afternoon on Saturday).

Poor Laurence and Adelle. They can't catch a break from the Dollhouse (although yay for them being able to finally be together).

I loved this installment. I was also so happy to see that Adelle didn't push Laurence into taking the active architecture and that he came to the decision on his own (despite his really valid reasons for not wanting it). They really are good together. I also loved Adelle being there for him during the imprinting process and using the idea that touch and speaking helps the process in a unique way. I loved the entire thing.

I cannot wait for an update.

Well, I suppose it took them long enough to get together. :) But nothing worth having is easy and all of that. So now they have to deal with the threat that Rossum poses--and I doubt that will be easy either.

I'm glad you enjoyed the installment. I think Adelle did exactly the right thing here. Don't push him into, in his mind, destroying himself. Only Dominic could really make the decision to take that risk. I think, had the stakes been different, there might have been a different outcome. I think Dominic is pragmatic and, perhaps, Adelle was relying on his coming around to the decision he did once he had some time to think about it.

It was key for Adelle to speak the ritual coming out of an imprint script--rather than Topher. Totally key. And her being there and able to help him, even though it didn't seem that Topher or Ivy necessarily expected that.

Thanks for the comment and wishes for updates. It matters. Truly.

Another amazing chapter!

I like how you pulled off the intimacy scene. I didn't expect it to happen the way it did. The uneven balance of power was surprising, but fitting. I agree with your earlier reply. With everything that happened, a mutual interlude may have been a bit unbelievable.

Topher's technology posed (and still poses) a very serious threat to the balance of power between them. At first I thought she was trying to control him, that evil boss lady Dewitt, was back. But you surprise me again. When she took a step back and saw the bigger picture, in regards to control, her concern was perfect. I can breathe easy now, knowing that they're done with hidden agenda's and power plays. At least those between themselves.

"Do it!"--I do a little dance every time you pull a line out of the show and use it in a better scenario. Just goes to show that Hollywood doesn't always make the best of choices.

Can't wait to see Thief/Saboteur/Assassin Dom in action. That is if he get's up any time soon.

Great job as always. I eagerly await your next installment.

I'm not sure how/when/why/if I consciously decided that the sex, when it happened, was going to be a serial, rather than parallel process, if you will. It just felt right.

Done with hidden agendas and power plays? I'm not sure they're quite out of the woods, but they've come a long, long way. So that's something. I think Adelle understood, in part, b/c she was actually trying to. She had gotten out of her own head and her own agenda enough to see his point of view. And to listen to it. I liked Adelle in this chapter.

I had to have Dominic say "Do it!" also. It was a cathartic moment for me, typing that.

This is the problem when everyone knows your favorite character. Yes, I had Dominic collapse b/c it's relevant, but everyone knows he's not going to be down for the count for too long. The danger of having a favorite character.

Topher did have a few fine moments here too, but he did wear on me a little in this one. That boy is exhausting to write!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Love this update!

The idea of Dominic with Active Architecture is intrigueing, to say the least.

I'm catching up with your fic now that the sinus infection from hell has finally begun to subside!

Thanks so much for the kind words and taking the time to type them. I'm glad you are recovering enough to perhaps appreciate Reed's character on 24. I must admit to being intrigued.

Dominic with active architecture interests me. Because why not? Putting him in the Attic was so wasteful IMO.

Glad to know you're still with me!

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