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Part 13 of the Let's Pretend Series

Title: Arizona
Rating: R (violence, language and sex)
Author: rogoblue
Summary: Dominic tests out Topher’s Thief, Saboteur, Assassin imprint by going to Tucson to obtain one of Harding’s wedges. Complications occur. Thirteenth in the Let’s Pretend series (twelfth is Thief, Saboteur, Assassin, 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 twelfth is below this summary. You can get to the others from there or via my live journal. Link to this one is below the disclaimers.

I’m looking forward to achieving my goal, 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.

“The patient is in here,” Ivy said, returning to Topher’s office with Dr. Saunders.

Adelle DeWitt sat on the floor, cradling Laurence Dominic’s head in her lap, hoping the doctor wouldn’t choose now to exact revenge for what Dominic had done to Boyd Langton. Adelle had meant to have Topher stabilize Saunder’s imprint, but she’d forgotten in light of recent events. Regrets won’t protect Laurence. I must.

Dr. Saunders knelt next to Dominic, immediately reaching for his throat. Adelle barely restrained the impulse to slap her hand away. She’s checking his pulse. That’s all.

“His pulse is erratic,” Saunders murmured. Harsh glare aimed at Topher, she said, “And slow. What did you do to him?”

“Why do you assume it’s me?” Topher whined. “Sure, in this case, it was me, but I hate being the default villain.”

“Answer the question,” Adelle ordered, fingers trailing through the hair of the unconscious man, eyes drawn to the blood starting to flow from his nose.

“We installed active architecture and a subtle imprint,” Topher said.

“In a man who suffered a severe concussion less than 48 hours ago?” Saunders questioned, tone clearly indicating its rhetorical nature. “And you claim to be a genius.”

“Time was kind of … of the essence,” Topher said, tone and posture defensive.

Taking a syringe and a vial from her medical bag, Dr. Saunders muttered imprecations about those who rush into everything without thinking.

“What are you administering?” Adelle asked.

“Adrenaline,” Saunders said.

“Won’t that just add to the pain,” Ivy asked, tone holding a hint of dubiousness.

“We need to take one problem at a time,” Saunders said. “The longer he stays unconscious; the less likely his brain will recover from the new trauma Topher heaped on to the existing trauma.”

Heart pounding, Adelle hoped she made the correct decision in letting Dr. Saunders inject Dominic. Eyes glued to Laurence’s face, a spike of fear flew through her when nothing happened. “How long before the adrenaline has an effect?” Adelle asked.

“Not long,” Saunders said, taking Laurence’s pulse at his right wrist this time. “If it has an effect at all.”

Dominic’s low groan allowed Adelle to release the breath she’d been holding. Just under four minutes later, he opened his eyes. They were impossibly bloodshot. “Wha … What …?” His eyes drifted closed.

Saunders slapped his cheek sharply. Eyes flying open, Dominic tensed his muscles as though to sit up. Adelle gently pressed on his shoulders to keep him in place. He tilted his head slightly to look up at her, his confused expression as eloquent as Dominic’s low grunt of pain.

“Topher installed the active architecture and the imprint, Laurence,” Adelle said, maintaining a soft, calm, matter of fact tone. “Your concussion made it difficult for your brain to handle the manipulation. You … you passed out.” Adelle looked to Saunders, silently willing her to add to the explanation.

“I’ve given you something to assist your body in handling the ancillary effects of the trauma,” Saunders said. “Unfortunately, there’s little I can do for the trauma itself. I can treat the pain, but the brain will recover or not on its own.” Resting the palm of her hand on his forehead, Saunders asked, “How are you feeling, Mr. Dominic?”

“I hurt all over and my head feels like it’s going to explode.”

“Would you like something for the pain?” Claire asked.

“Will it make me sleep or high?” he asked.

Slight smile gracing her scarred face, Saunders admitted, “Higher than a kite.”

“No thanks,” Dominic whispered. “I … I’ll manage.”

Clearly surprised, Claire said, “Are you sure?” He nodded and groaned at the pain of the mistake. “A half dose?” she asked.

“I doubt a half dose would touch it,” Dominic murmured.

“I agree,” Saunders said. Rising to her feet, she advised, “Get as much sleep as you can. Your body heals best when you’re resting.”

“Ok,” he managed. “Thanks.” Without more, Dr. Saunders left the room.

“You need to wipe her and reinstall Saunders,” Adelle said, nodding to Topher. “She’s not been herself, lately.”

“As the good doctor said, one thing at time.” Topher gestured to Dominic. “We should check to see what took.”

“As the good doctor also said, Laurence needs to rest.”

“But—,” Topher began.

“No,” Adelle said. “I’m fully aware of the tight time table, Topher, but I do not believe we have another choice.”

“No,” Ivy murmured. Adelle followed Ivy’s gaze. Laurence was already sleeping.

* * *

Laurence Dominic’s head pounded. His stomach churned. He didn’t want to open his eyes. Afraid he would hurl, he kept them closed and focused on bringing his breathing back in check. What the hell is going on? He risked opening one eye and saw Adelle DeWitt reclined next to him on the bed. He closed his eye, counted to ten and tried again. She was still there and, this time, Dominic recognized the room as the bedroom between their offices. Dominic watched Adelle sleep while he took stock of his situation. When the nausea had passed and the threat of hyperventilation subsided, Dominic reluctantly accepted the headache as a given. “Hey,” he whispered.

Her eyes opened. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “Fell asleep.”

“Been there, done that,” Dominic said. “Are you ok?”

“You’re the one who keeps passing out,” she said.

“Blame Topher,” he muttered. “I do.”

Adelle wrapped her arms around his neck. “Tell me the truth, Laurence. How are you?”

“I’ll get you one of Harding’s wedges, Adelle. If I can’t pull that off, everyone’s wasted their time.”

“Agent Dominic, status report.” The drill sergeant in her tone spoke to him.

“I’m hurt but functional.”

Adelle leaned in to kiss him, whispering, “Fully functional?” against his lips.

He laughed. “Not just now, as you Brits would say.” Taking a deep breath, he said, “I’m ready to go after that wedge, Adelle.”

Framing his face with both of her hands, Adelle shook her head. “No, Laurence, you aren’t. You’re in pain and we haven’t checked any aspect of the imprint. You’re telling me you’re ready, because you know that’s what I need for you need to be. Let’s see how well your fantasy matches reality, shall we?” Adelle stood and straightened her clothing to the extent possible. Meeting his eyes, she offered her hand. Dominic took it and let her assist him to his feet.

“Christ,” he whispered, balance precarious, he grabbed the headboard of the bed.

“Do you need to make a phone call?” she asked, tone soft and non-judgmental.

“What … what day is it? The date, I mean.”

“The twenty-fourth,” Adelle specified.

“It’s … um … Thursday?” Dominic queried. She nodded. “Yeah, I … I need … yeah.” Gazing about the bedroom, Dominic tried a couple of deep breaths in an effort to calm down and rein in his rising heart rate. “My phone?” he asked. Adelle handed him his cellular and watched as he carefully punched speed dial number two. “Do you want to listen?” he asked. In reply, Adelle stepped close to him.

“Dominic?” Clarice said.

“Your roses don’t look so good,” Laurence said.

“A common problem with cut flowers,” Clarice countered. “How are you, Dom? You sound … tired.”

“I’m … I think I screwed up, Clarice.” Dominic held up a finger to Adelle. With an obvious effort, she swallowed what she’d been about to say. “Things have escalated here as you know. In an effort to keep up, I agreed to be imprinted with certain skills.” Talking over Clarice’s dismayed protest, he said, “Because of the concussion, it didn’t go well. I feel like crap. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do what needs doing.”

“You will, because you have to, Dom,” Clarice said. “We have no alternative. Neither do you. What fucking possessed you to let Topher put you in the chair?”

“What do you think?” he snarled.

“You have to stop doing your thinking from below the waist.”

“Adelle said she was afraid for me, Clarice. What was I supposed to do?”

“Act from below the waist and convince her not to be afraid.” Clarice sighed. Dominic imagined her silently cursing his name. “You never had trouble with that before. Do I need to call in a Viagra prescription for you?”

“Not if I’m with Adelle.” Dominic smiled at the one armed hug he got from Adelle and the rude noise he elicited from Clarice. “Listen to me, Clarice,” Dominic said. “We’re starting down the back side. Tell Clyde to be ready to work his international magic within eighteen months.”

“Are we hitting it piecemeal?” Clarice asked. “By region or continent, maybe?”

“One fucking fell swoop,” Dominic countered. “I hope.”

“Excellent,” Clarice said. Dominic envisioned her predatory smile. “Clyde will be pleased. Bring this home, Dom. For all our sakes.”

Glancing at Adelle, Dominic said, “Yes, ma’am.” Holding Adelle’s gaze he said, “Tomorrow is pansies.”

“Take care, Dom,” Clarice said.

“I’ll try.” Dominic took a deep breath after terminating the call.

“Bravo, Laurence,” Adelle said, kissing him quickly on the mouth. “Am I correct in assuming you’re now playing a role vis a vis the NSA?”

“I always have been.” Their eyes locked and Dominic saw recognition in Adelle’s eyes. “We all play roles, don’t we?” he ventured.

“To one extent or another,” Adelle admitted. Steering him toward the elevator, Adelle said, “Let’s see what you can do with Topher’s imprint.”

* * *

Topher sat Dominic at his computer. “Just relax and answer the questions, L-man. You’ll see a schematic of your target and the program will prompt you for your impressions. Ok?”

“Sure,” Dominic muttered, wondering if this was going to hurt as well. Topher’s computer showed him a blueprint of an office building, highlighting an office on the 84th floor. ACCESS POINT? Without conscious thought, Dominic indicated the west entrance to the basement. ROUTE? Elevator to the 90th floor and down the central stairwell. ENTRY? Kick the damn door in. EXCELLENT.

The computer displayed a marina with a plethora of houseboats. THE HIGHLIGHTED TARGET HAS A CACHE OF EXPLOSIVES IN THE HOLD. APPROACH? Dominic’s eyes were drawn to the metal awnings above the house boats. From above. WEAPON? Small bomb with a timer, so I can get clear. INNOCENT SINGLE MOM AND DAUGHTER LIVE THERE. I regret what’ll happen to them or whoever might be on the houseboats moored nearby, but I can’t help them without calling attention to myself and the impending explosion. EXCELLENT, THEY WEREN’T HOME ANYWAY.

Dominic saw a complex of seventeen buildings. TARGET IS IN CENTRAL PAVILIION. APPROACH? Eyes darting briefly, Dominic took the mouse in hand and traced his path. VANTAGE POINT? Hill across from the pavilion. WEAPON? Dominic looked at the displayed choices of sniper rifle. He chose the smallest and lightest. EXCELLENT.

Topher took the headphones from Dominic. “He’s locked and loaded,” Topher said. “A+ on all three tests.” Topher’s hand hung in the air for an instant as though he’d just caught himself in mid-reach to pat Dominic on the head. “Just for fun, I included a few bonus tracks—serious computer skills, some enhancements to stamina and rearranged how your pain is managed.”

Voice low, somewhat dangerous, Dominic said, “Stamina?”

“You aren’t going to be getting enough sleep and a lot of the stuff you’ll be doing will be … physical,” Topher said, eyes darting to Adelle only once and very briefly. “I included a little bit of stuntman to keep the other aspects of the imprint company.”

“How do we know we’ve added to Laurence’s knowledge?” Adelle asked.

“By the speed,” Topher said. “Even if L-man would’ve aced the tests on his own, there’s no way he’d have done it that fast. None.”

“Laurence?” Adelle said.

“Is the new plane standing by?” Dominic asked. She nodded. “I’ll be back with a Harding wedge in eight hours.”

Adelle exchanged a glance with Topher before she asked, “Where are you going?”

“The closest place with a high probability and a few friendly faces. Tucson.”

“You sure you’re up to taking on the Death Star, L-man?” Topher asked.

“I’ll be sure to use the Force, Topher.”

“That exhaust port is awfully small,” Topher whispered.

“Unlike your mouth,” Dominic countered.

* * *

Taking a deep, settling breath, Laurence Dominic strode through the front doors of the Rossum Headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. “May I help you, sir?” a pretty brunette receptionist said.

“Laurence Dominic to see Craig Carstairs.”

“I’ll let Mr. Carstairs know you’re here, Mr. Dominic,” she said. Dominic poured himself a cup of coffee while the receptionist called the Security Chief for this facility. “Mr. Carstairs will be right down, Mr. Dominic.”

“Thanks,” he murmured, sipping his coffee, examining an odd painting on the wall above the coffee service. He’d just about finished his beverage when Carstairs appeared.

“What brings you to Arizona, Dominic?” said Carstairs, a short, stocky, powerfully built man in a suit that looked to be one size too small.

“Ms. DeWitt has convinced herself that the work Bennett Halverson did here before her injury had security implications.” Shaking his head, Dominic continued, “I don’t recall hearing anything to that effect, do you?”

“I’d trust Adelle’s memory over mine,” Carstairs said, smiling, gesturing toward the elevators. “I’ll find you a free computer downstairs, so you can soak up the lab rat atmosphere while you bore yourself to tears.” As they approached the elevators, he said, “This sounds like make work, Dominic. The rumors I’ve been hearing about the two of you don’t mesh with make work.” When Dominic didn’t comment, Carstairs asked, “What’d you do to deserve this?”

I told her I was an NSA agent, got the shit kicked out of me by an active and cleaned Harding’s clock before Topher fried part of my brain with an experimental imprint. Shrugging, he said, “Ms. DeWitt’s had Bennett Halverson on her mind for some reason. Any chance you could put me close to where she worked?”

“I don’t see why not,” Carstairs said. “It’s not like they’re full up down there, with so much of the neuroscience research being conducted in the individual houses these days.”

“Thanks,” Dominic muttered, mentally going over his checklist.

“So … what’s Adelle really like beneath the upper crust Brit exterior?”

Stepping into the elevator with Carstairs, Dominic said, “You don’t really expect me to answer that question, do you?”

“How about a hint?”

Dominic laughed. “I knew the LA House had its resident gossips, but I didn’t realize how pervasive the behavior is corporate-wide until recently.”

“The Adelle thing is a recent development then?” Carstairs asked as they emerged into a corridor leading to several individual pods of well appointed laboratory space.

“Yeah,” Dominic muttered, eyes taking in every detail. When they passed a glass door through which Dominic could see what had to be at least a thousand wedges, Laurence stopped. “You don’t run actives out of here, so why do you have so many wedges?” he asked. “Are you planning on building a harem or an army, Carstairs?”

Carstairs looked away. “Neither,” he mumbled as he resumed walking at a much faster pace than originally.

Fuck! We are officially out of the frying pan. “What’s going on with the wedges?” Dominic asked, grabbing Carstairs by the upper arm. “C’mon, Craig. This is me.”

“Where was the full disclosure when you and Adelle waltzed in here without so much as a mutter of warning eighteen months ago when a nice chunk of my lab space got blown up by that psycho female terrorist?” Carstairs spat.

Adelle’s instruction to keep the Farrell-Halverson connection between them ringing in his ears, Dominic said, “I was ordered to keep you out of the loop.”

“You think I’m supposed to let you in on this one?”

“No,” Dominic began, choosing his words carefully. “But that was one girl. This … I don’t know what this is, but it feels like it goes beyond a random act of terrorism.”

Spinning on his heel, Carstairs led the way back to the wedge filled room and slid his card key through the access panel. “The walls you’re about to get a better look at have very good ears,” Carstairs cautioned. Dominic followed him in, scanning the room, noting the walls lined with rows of wedges and a safe with a reasonably sophisticated alarm system in the far corner. Dominic estimated upwards of ten thousand wedges, all of which were letter coded and bore a numerical designation between one and five. I need the key to these codes. Dominic pointed to INF, angled his head to keep his face from appearing on any of the security cameras and mouthed, “Infantry,” at Carstairs. Carstairs nodded. Finger aimed at SS, Dominic said, “State Security?”

Carstairs mouthed, “Sharpshooter.” In this manner, the two men matched the letter codes of a number of specialized military skills ranging across all branches of the armed forces.

When they reemerged in the hallway, Dominic asked, “What do the numbers mean?”

“Skill level.” Wiping sweat off of his brow, Carstairs said, “The larger the number, the higher the skill level. The ratings are subjective and based upon a set of geekezoid reference points.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Dominic said, nodding absently at two technicians who were moving in the opposite direction along the corridor.

“Rossum’s getting ready,” Carstairs said, unlocking another door with his card key.

“For what?” Dominic asked, following Carstairs, glancing around the small, cramped and deserted office.

“To protect itself from anything and everything, including a strike from within the organization.” Carstairs regarded Dominic. “Anything you might know about such a strike, you want to forget, Dominic. You want to have forgotten it yesterday.” Sitting down before a terminal, Carstairs keyed in the access code and password.

Dominic made no effort to look over the other man’s shoulder. “I have nothing to forget,” he said, because Carstairs seemed to need to hear the lie spoken aloud. “An attack from within?”

“That’s how I’d take an organization like Rossum down.” Not looking at Dominic, Carstairs said, “Wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but what good are wedges without actives? Not even someone as persuasive as Adelle could get volunteers for that many wedges.”

“Someday soon, over a few drinks, I’m going to get you to tell me just how persuasive Adelle can be.”

Carstairs’ avoidance of his question sent Dominic’s mind whirling. Are we giving up the fiction of volunteering completely in favor of conscription? Heart and head pounding in time, Dominic forced himself to take slow measured breaths. Now isn’t the time to pass out or worse, Dom. Get a grip.

“You’re in the system as far as you need to be to access Halverson’s work. Make sure you don’t inadvertently trip any alarms by going beyond that.” Eyes haunted, Carstairs stood. “I’ll see you on your way out, Dominic.”

“They might make you SS, Level-4 for showing me those wedges,” Dominic said.

“They might make you dead for inquiring,” Carstairs countered. “Don’t be long.”

Dominic sat down and took a data stick from his pocket. Inserting it into a USB port, he quickly copied Halverson’s files onto the stick to cover the download of a program from the stick onto the system. Thorough, bold, eminently Topher, the program slowly opened the Tucson mainframe to LA Dollhouse perusal and erased any and all traces of doing so. Access from his terminal vastly enhanced, Dominic wrote two small programs to search for the information he wanted. Keying them to run while the Halverson file scrolled across his screen, Dominic stood and stretched. Hand in his pocket, he meandered toward the door. Activating one of Topher’s audio/video blockers, Dominic exited the office and headed back to the wedge room, glancing in offices along the way.

He found what he wanted in the second office. A young scientist had tossed his card key on his desk. Dominic took it and let himself into the wedge room. Seconds later, Dominic knelt before the alarmed safe and pulled on surgical gloves. Working swiftly, Dominic bypassed the alarm with a few spliced wires. He glanced at his watch, knowing he had seven minutes and seventeen seconds. Now we see if Topher’s imprint really took. Leaning close to the safe, Dominic spun the knob clockwise, slowing instinctively as the sound altered, stopping at a dull click just at the edge of his hearing. Counterclockwise and then clockwise again. Taking a steadying breath, Dominic grabbed the handle. It pulled down and the safe opened. In contrast to the plenty outside of the safe, there were only four wedges within. Rossum. Version 2.0. Whatever the hell that means? Another version of Rossum? Harding. Dieter Blank. Dominic replaced Harding’s with one Topher had provided, giving a passing thought to what the neuroscientist might’ve loaded onto it in yet another joke in poor taste. Locking the safe, Dominic rearmed the alarm and tugged off the surgical gloves. There was no one in the hall when he stepped out. Relieved, he ducked into the second office and tossed the card key back onto the desk. When he emerged, he nearly ran into a stern looking young woman.

“Are you lost, Mr. …,” she said, raising her eyebrow at his lack of proper identification.

“My name’s Dominic,” he said, pointing to the office he’d been using to distract her while he reached into his pocket to turn off Topher’s audio/video blocker. “I made a wrong turn, but I think that’s the office I want.”

Suspicion appearing in her darting eyes, she said, “That office is empty.”

“I’m using it for the time being,” he said.

“For what?”

“You are?” he prompted. She pointed to her identification. “Ms. Emerson,” Dominic began, voice low, controlled, perfectly in character. “I’m Chief of Security for the LA Dollhouse and I’m looking into a possible security issue. That is far more information than you’re entitled to, so now it’s my turn. What is it you do here?”

“Mind the babies.”

“Excuse me?” Dominic wasn’t adverse to making Emerson smile under the circumstances, but he really didn’t appreciate being thrown for another loop.

“That’s what we call wedges.”

Dominic laughed. “What’s involved in minding wedges? Don’t they just sit in their slots until someone needs them?”

Smiling enigmatically and proudly, Emerson said, “Our wedges are more … dynamic than yours, Mr. Dominic.”

“What’s that mean?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t want to bore you with the explanation of our rapidly advancing tech.”

“I’m bored by explanations of tech, rapidly advancing or not, routinely,” Dominic said, tone proving his words. “I work with Topher Brink.”

“You do?” Eyes widening, the young woman clutched his arm. “Oh my, God, do you?”

He nodded. Topher has geek groupies?

“Tell him … tell Topher we expose the wedges to a well of data potential and let a very binary god sort things out.”

“Established imprints are linked to additional data and the computer updates them?” Dominic asked.

“Constantly,” Emerson said, expression both startled and impressed, presumably that he’d understood.

“I’ll let Topher know.” Smiling slightly, he asked, “May I go now?”

Grinning like … well, like Topher, she said, “If you like.”

Dominic made his escape to the small office. One of his programs was done, so he now possessed the key to the codes for the “babies.” The other was nearing completion and Dominic scrolled down the growing list of passwords and access codes—computer network, building and various restricted areas—for all Rossum facilities. “Excellent,” he muttered, clicking on one of the codes to check the cycle. We’re only in day six of forty-five. That gives us plenty of time before they change to convince the mainframe to pony up the full set of new ones however many times we need to. With the codes and passwords, Topher can pre-program a lot of what I have to do. If I don’t need to manually enter codes, every bit a breaking and entering will go faster. A soft tone told him his program was finished. Topher’s clean up protocol kicked in to remove any record or trace of his activities at this computer beyond looking into Bennett Halverson’s work. After the requisite seventy three seconds, Dominic closed down the computer and left the office behind in favor of the light and airy lobby.

“Find everything you needed, sir?” the receptionist asked.

“I did, thank you,” Dominic replied. “Craig told me to check in with him before I left. Would you let him know I’m done, please?”

“Mr. Carstairs was called into an executive session, Mr. Dominic. He told me to let you know he’d catch up with you soon.”

“Oh, all right,” Dominic said, wondering if Craig Carstairs was paying for Laurence’s curiosity regarding the wedges.

“Your car is waiting for you, Mr. Dominic.”

Why are you trying so hard to rush me out the door, Ms. Receptionist? Unable to think of a reason to delay, Dominic said, “Thanks,” and headed outside. Mind occupied with what he’d learned, Dominic settled into the car. The powerful sedan had pulled out of the parking lot before he met the driver’s dark eyes in the rear view mirror. What? “Where’s Smithson?” he asked.

“He took ill, sir,” said the new driver, younger than Smithson, earnest looking, no one Dominic recognized.

“I see,” Dominic muttered, seeing potential danger all too clearly.

The driver accelerated onto a two lane highway. Dominic turned around in time to spot a black SUV pulling in behind them. Fuck me! What’s the play, Dom? His driver took the curves in the winding road as though he was on the NASCAR circuit, accelerating into them, passing all lesser vehicles not traveling at a speed well in excess of the posted limit. “I’d like to make it to the airport in one piece, if you don’t mind,” Dominic muttered.

His driver smiled in a way that was difficult to interpret. Dominic followed the young man’s gaze. The manner in which the driver fixated on the opposite side of the road, eyeing every telephone pole as though it was a potential lover, gave Laurence pause. The driver accelerated rapidly and screamed in what sounded like exultation. Fighting the air stream around the fast moving car, Laurence forced his door open and dove out. While Dominic rolled clear, moving from asphalt to sand, hearing the unmistakable sound of high velocity metal impacting a stationary, relatively immovable object. When he came to a stop, Dominic saw the smoking hulk of wreckage that had been his car. Nearer to hand was his favorite pair of sunglasses—crushed to small, sorrowful looking bits. Clambering to his feet, mindful of the trailing SUV, ignoring the pain all along his left side, Dominic jogged into the desert and dug in the pocket of his suit coat for his phone. Not willing to entertain the thought of no coverage, Dominic awkwardly thumbed in a number he’d recently memorized.

“Captain Barksdale.”

“Get the fucking plane back to LA,” Dominic snarled. “Just go. Don’t wait for me or for anyone who isn’t on board right now. If there’s any appreciable delay from the tower, abandon the plane, rent a car and drive to LA.”

“But, sir—.”

“That’s an order,” Dominic said. “I’ll be in touch.” Ending that call, rapidly becoming aware of the heat of the late afternoon, Dominic hit speed dial number two as he lengthened his stride.

“Dominic?” Clarice said.

“I need an extraction. Triangulate on my phone.”

A matter of moments later, Clarice said, “I have you outside of Tucson, heading into the desert … on foot.”

“Yes, and the guys after me have four wheel drive, Clarice. My lead isn’t sustainable.”

“I’m mustering a helicopter as we speak, Dominic.” He could hear Clarice typing in the background. “Do you see a defensible position?” she asked.

“Not at the moment,” Dominic muttered, wiping sweat off of his forehead, concentrating on looking for cover and seeing if he could muster a sprint. “I see some high ground ahead, but I’m not sure how far away it is—a mile, maybe a bit less. It looks like it might be steep enough to be trouble for a vehicle.”

“The helicopter’s ETA is sixteen minutes, Dominic,” Clarice said, voice calm and supportive. “Find somewhere to hide.”

Dominic sped up, mentally thanking Topher for whatever the hell he’d done vis a vis pain management, because he was aware of the pain of his most recently sustained injuries and the continuing effects of his concussion, but it seemed muted somehow. And the fucking boost to stamina. All enhancements were employed in Dominic’s all out sprint for the higher ground. I’m in good shape, but I never would’ve been able to run the whole way, not with the headache and whatever else from my abrupt exit from the car. When he stopped at the base of the rise, Laurence fell to his knees as the headache returned full force, no doubt exacerbated by the bright sun and strenuous exercise. Pulling himself to his feet, Dominic climbed, head aching fiercely, the left side of his body burning with pain. Ten feet became twenty. Twenty became fifty. Dominic was nearly one hundred feet up the rise when the bullet flew past his head. Finding a burst of energy from he knew not where, Dominic climbed up another fifteen or twenty feet and came to rest with his back against a boulder. His vision swam. Hands shaking, legs trembling, Dominic leaned to the right and squinted.

The SUV was parked at the base of the rise. Three men huddled on the driver’s side, likely setting strategy. Dominic glanced at his watch. The smashed crystal and stationary second hand told him all he needed to know on that front. Estimating the distance to the next boulder as twelve feet, Dominic decided risk it. From there, he spotted a sorry excuse for a cave that he thought might offer cover. Slowly, methodically, Dominic made his way up the rise. He crawled away from the edge and risked coming to his feet. Hunched over, he jogged across the rise and peered over the edge. A man lurched into view. Dominic hoped he was one of the men from the SUV, because four opponents were plenty under the circumstances. Young and cocky, the man wore a huge grin and decent looking sunglasses. Dominic put him down with a bullet to the throat and took the shades. His head thanked him for the reduction in glare.

They sent junior around to the far side of this rise. Where in the hell are the other three by now? A sound that might’ve been a rotor reached his ears. Dominic hoped he wasn’t imagining it. The harsh repetitive noise grew louder in the desert stillness—both a blessing and a curse. Increased volume meant help was getting closer but also made it more difficult to hear anyone else approach. On one knee between a small boulder and a saguaro cactus, Dominic split his attention between scanning the sky and watching for signs of movement on the small plateau where he’d taken refuge. Mindful of his ammunition situation, a full clip less the shot that had taken out junior plus a spare, Dominic settled in to wait. A furtive movement to his left drew his attention. He sensed the stalk of a rifle bearing down on his head from the right at the last moment, barely managing to duck and lash out with his right foot to impact his assailant’s knee with a satisfying crunch. Without a conscious thought, Dominic shot the man in the face and scanned the area for the others.

His cell phone made a chirp indicative of a text message. For Christ’s sake! Deciding on a whim not to ignore it, Dominic accessed the message.


He dropped to the ground just as the helicopter swept in from out of the glare of the sun and strafed the plateau. As it banked sharply and came around again, Dominic glanced down at his phone. Well, are we coming in with guns blazing again? When no message appeared, Dominic took the risk of rising to his feet. Seeing no one else, he moved to a spot that was more exposed and hoped the air cavalry had secured the area. The helicopter maneuvered closer than Dominic thought particularly safe, but he didn’t care when strong arms dragged him aboard. Only belatedly did he wonder whether the helicopter held rescuers or captors.

A young man neatly injected Dominic with something while another held his arm steady. “Enjoy your nap,” someone said.

* * *

“Our brand new jet returned to LAX without Laurence?” Adelle DeWitt said, staring at Lisa Grayson in disbelief, swearing the younger woman had aged five years in the last week or so.

“The captain says he was acting under Dominic’s direct orders.”

“Bring him to me,” Adelle said, tone full of menace.

“I would if Dom’s cell phone wasn’t also in LA,” Grayson agreed.

“Where?” Adelle demanded, rising from her chair with regal dignity befitting the Queen of England to mask rising fear.

“Somewhere downtown,” Grayson said. “We’re having trouble triangulating the signal. The phone might have been damaged.”

Or Rossum is merely toying with us or the NSA has decided they do not wish for us to find Laurence at this time. “Keep trying,” Adelle said.

“We’ll find him.”

Grayson’s soft spoken words uttered in a tone of understanding ripped through Adelle. “We better,” she said. “We need Harding’s wedge.” Grayson opened her mouth but, prudently to Adelle’s mind, closed it again without speaking a word of clarification, protest or disagreement. “Keep me apprised, Ms. Grayson.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

* * *

Laurence Dominic’s eyes opened. He was in some sort of office, reclining on a charcoal gray couch. Through blurred vision, he saw figures across the room. Three? Five? He wasn’t sure. Sounds carried to where Dominic lay, but he couldn’t make words out of them. His brain felt sluggish, slow, heavy, as though he had been taking part in a sleep deprivation experiment for a very long time. Eyes sliding shut once more, Dominic lost his hold on consciousness, with the question, “Where am I?” fading from his mind.

* * *

“We’ve narrowed Dominic’s location down to a three block radius,” Lisa Grayson informed Adelle DeWitt.

“Why do you say that as though it isn’t good news?” Adelle asked, looking up from her calendar of the client appointments Laurence insisted upon to keep up appearances.

“The relevant area contains nothing but hotels and massive office buildings. We don’t have the manpower to canvass it.”

“Damn,” Adelle said, welcoming the frustration and rising anger in the hopes they would overwhelm the fear. “How is Mr. Harding behaving?”

“Badly,” Grayson said. “He hasn’t given up on trying to intimidate my people.”

Adelle frowned, toying with her fancy fountain pen as though waiting for an important document to sign. “The forceful interrogation conducted by Echo and Sierra failed to beat that impulse out of him?”

“I think being reduced to tears by the actives embarrassed him, so he’s trying to get some of his own back.”

“I see.” Sighing deeply, Adelle said, “Anything else I should know?”

Grayson glanced down at the piece of paper in her hand. Adelle couldn’t help but think that Laurence had never referred to notes when updating her. “I don’t think this is cause for alarm, but it is unusual, so I’ll bring it to your attention,” Grayson said. “Dr. Saunders left the premises for two hours this morning.” Meeting Adelle’s eyes, she said, “I’m not sure exactly how long it’s been since she’s done that, but I know it’s measured in months not days.”

“Do you have any idea of where she went?”

“No, ma’am,” Grayson said. “In going over this morning’s logs, Baxter noticed she’d logged in and out.” Mind obviously making connections, Grayson frowned. “Unless she loaned her cardkey to someone else.”

“Has Topher refreshed Dr. Saunders’ imprint?”

“I don’t know.”

“Find out,” Adelle said. “If he hasn’t, instruct him to do so today.” Voice pitched far lower, Adelle said, “And find Laurence.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

* * *

“Rise and shine, Dominic,” said a familiar voice.

Don’t wanna. Tired.

“He’s not responding,” said the familiar voice. “What did you give him?” The reply was full of large medical terms and scientific names. Dominic couldn’t make sense of it. “Give him something to counteract the effects.”

Hands gripped Dominic’s arm. He yanked it away and muttered, “No.”

“Then open those pretty blue eyes in five … four … three … well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“Clarice?” Dominic whispered, staring up at soft brown eyes set in a narrow face framed with dark hair streaked with gray.

“Happy to see me?” she asked.

“Where am I?”

“Where I want you to be, Agent Dominic,” said a different, yet also familiar voice.

“Clyde made the trip across the country to speak to you in person,” Clarice said, helping Dominic to rise to a seated position without commenting on the need to do so. “Aren’t you special?”

Dominic stared down at his legs. Jeans? “Where’s my suit, Clarice?”

“That puppy was a goner. They don’t design them to withstand jumping out of a rapidly moving vehicle, sprinting across the desert, scrambling up a steep hill and fighting for your life. I had someone pick up these clothes from your condo.”

A feeling of wrongness grew within Dominic. “Why not another suit?”

“There were none there. Our operating theory is that Adelle DeWitt wants you further under her thumb.” Clarice smirked. “Or some where similar. For whatever reason, all of your work clothes appear to have been relocated to the Dollhouse.”

The memory of a needle and a helicopter surged to the forefront of Dominic’s mind. “What the fuck did you do to me, Clarice?”

“Saw to it that you got a bit of much needed rest, plus some general upkeep.” Smiling at his obvious confusion, Clarice said, “We cleaned you up. Treated your injuries. Delivered you here so Clyde can say his piece in private.”

“Without further ado, I’d like to get on with just that,” Clyde said, running a hand through short cropped curly hair, drawing attention to his receding hairline as he dropped his very thin, nearly six foot frame on the couch next to Dominic. “But I have to commend you first, Clarice. The present state of affairs is a miraculous improvement over what the cat dragged in.”

Smiling at Dominic, Clarice said, “Thank you, sir. It was my pleasure.”

To forestall any reply Clarice cared to make in response to Clyde’s snort of mild rebuke, Dominic said, “What’s this about, Clyde?”

“You should know that our little project is getting interest from upstairs, downstairs and all along our very own corridor,” Clyde said.

“There’s nothing little about this project,” Dominic muttered.

“If we want to control the outcome, we’re going to have to withstand a siege, Dominic,” Clyde said, eyes boring into Laurence’s. “Are you ready?”

“Not yet, but I will be.”

“If I were you,” Clyde said, “I’d be ready well in advance of releasing any information to our august agency. To both withstand the siege and move on Rossum.” Patting Dominic on the forearm, Clyde rose. “That’s all. Carry on.”

The instant the door shut behind Clyde, Dominic muttered, “That’s fucking all?”

“Clyde doesn’t want anyone to wrest the Rossum operation from him,” Clarice said. “Not the Oval. Not Homeland Security. No one.”

“I got that but—.”

“And he’d rather see you in an ongoing role, rather than as collateral damage.”

“I sensed that too but—.”

“No buts, Dominic. Clyde will do what he can. The rest is up to you.” Dominic laughed. Clearly startled, Clarice said, “What?”

“I think it may actually be up to Topher.”

* * *

Laurence Dominic felt self-conscious entering the LA Dollhouse in a snug black T-shirt, jeans and a battered, distressed leather jacket. This is as out of uniform as I’ve ever been on the premises. His thoughts were immediately derailed by the large group of people gathered in front of Dr. Saunders’ office. Topher standing off to the side by himself, Lisa Grayson and several security people huddled together conferring about something, six actives—Sierra and Echo among them—looking on, expressions mildly fearful. What the fuck is going on now?

Echo looked up and met Dominic’s eyes. Wondering at the impulse, he made his way over to the active. “What’s happening?” he asked, feeling decidedly stupid. It’s ok, Dom, your choice to ask Echo a question is obviously the product of trauma induced brain damage.

“You were lost and she was afraid,” Echo said.

“Well, I’m not lost so—.”

“Dr. Saunders was angry, because she was afraid.”

Dominic’s eyes widened. “Saunders has Adelle?” he asked. Echo nodded, eyes vacant yet somehow holding a perfect understanding of how hard the news hit him. “Is Saunders armed? Do you know?”

“Doctors like knives,” Echo said.

So does Adelle. This has the potential to go very bad very quickly.

Circling around the security group, Dominic reached Saunders’ door. “You can’t go in there,” Grayson said.

“Hell I can’t,” Dominic replied, hand resting on the knob. The stunned expressions on the faces of the entire security detail, occasioned by his odd attire no doubt, would’ve been funny under other circumstances. “How long have they been in there?”

Grayson looked at her watch. “Thirty-two minutes.” She bit her lip. “Dominic, Saunders cuts Ms. DeWitt every time anyone opens the door.”

“I didn’t know,” Topher whispered. “I didn’t know when I went in to look for Tango’s file. I swear I didn’t.”

“Fine,” Dominic said. “You didn’t know. Now we do. How many cuts due to opening the door?”

“Two,” Grayson said. “Baxter went in to try and reason with her. He’s good at that.” Lisa looked away. “Saunders wasn’t impressed. It was my call, Dominic. My bad.”

“Well, look on the bright side,” Dominic muttered, drawing his sidearm. “The third one won’t be your fault.”

“You can’t shoot her,” Topher said.

“Why the hell not?” Dominic demanded.

“She said not to,” Echo said, startling Dominic by her close proximity.

“Adelle?” he asked. Echo nodded. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, that woman is impossible!” Feeling moderately better for stating exactly what he felt, Dominic offered his weapon to Grayson. “Wish me luck, Lisa.”

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Ugh, Saunders and her crazy in taking Adelle hostage. I'm thinking this will not end well, especially with Dominic now in the picture. I do feel bad for Saunders though, nothing is really racking up in her favour and going from bad to wrose (Boyd manipulating her, her imprint being corrupted, panicking, and taking Adelle hostage).

I loved this installment and the fact that the NSA (especially Clarice) came through in rescuing Dominic despite him having been imprinted.

Plus: bonus points for Topher groupies!

You are so right that Dr. Saunders has had kind of a rough go in this story--much like she did on the show. It wasn't really intentional and it troubles me slightly that it worked out this way. As to ending well, Adelle did stipulate that Saunders not be shot, seemingly evincing an interest in her surviving this encounter. So that's something to hold onto, I suppose.

Yes, the NSA came through despite Dominic's nearly continuous rule breakage. I'm thinking they don't have much of a choice if they want their Rossum project to continue. Still ... it is nice to see.

Topher surely has groupies. I refuse to believe otherwise!

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Both are much appreciated.

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It only stands to reason that Topher has groupies. He and Bennett had kind of a mutual admiration society going, but I think groupies are in order.

I'm not even sure why I dragged Bennett into this (even if only by reference). I think I can only say, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

I so pleased you liked this installment. They are harder to do when Dominic and Adelle are not in the same place at the same time. Also, we went back to some action bits in this one.

And, yes, how is Dominic going to deal with Saunders holding Adelle hostage, particularly with Adelle effectively taking the gun out of his hand.

Thanks for sticking with me. But, then again, you asked for this beast to continue, didn't you? :)

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I'm grateful not to have disappointed. And it has indeed been a crazy ride.

Crazy's how we like it here on LJ-Dom/Dewitt :D

What can I say, besides...AWESOME!

The action sequences were very powerful and dynamic. You managed to give, Dom, heightened abilities without jumping into the realm of the unbelievable.

"Without a conscious thought, Dominic shot the man in the face and scanned the area for the others."

I love this short conservative style of your action narrations. They nicely keep things going, while at the same time illustrating a vivid picture. You make writing action scenes look easy.

The ambiguity of whether he was picked up by friendlies or hostiles added a great touch of adrenaline. I too was happy to see, Clarice save his ass. Again!

That, Saunders. Seriously woman, your man died, deal with it. It's not like he was in it for your benefit either. I guess, hell hath no fury...

Great installment. I'll keep my fingers crossed to see Assassin Dom in action. Nobody lays a hand on Ms. Dewitt. Nobody-Except our favorite head of Security!

Heightened abilities is one thing--super powers is something else. So I wanted Topher (on his own for whatever reasons he has) to have added something to the mix that would help Dominic w/o making it too easy. The pain management stuff worked so long as he was moving fast enough. The stamina enhancement was barely enough.

My action narration is concise b/c it's difficult for me. The fewer words--the less I can screw up. Still, I focus on action and try to make it flow and believeable.

Clarice rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!! She takes care of our Dominic. But I liked the belated thought of "Did I just make a mistake getting into this helicopter?"

I don't blame Saunders. She's been dealt a tough hand and is doing her best.

Dom has territorial issues vis a vis Adelle. That much is certain. More is coming soon. Editing is underway. But, you must understand, we are a hockey household. My husband is from "downriver" in the Detroit metro area and I'm from outside of Pittsburgh. Things have been "interesting" in the last 2 Stanley Cup finals.

I enjoyed this installment - and trying to find something different to comment on, I thought I'd tell you how much I enjoyed what can only be girlfriend envy from the guy in Tuscon - Carstairs. I think the idea of half of Rossum gossiping about Adelle apparently amazed that someone apparently got through her exteror - and cooing over the fact that it was Dominic. Yes, they are taking over the world - but they still have time to gossip.

I think Dom's 'that woman is impossible' at the end was overdue - because she is of course - but she's also probably right and he knows it (he also knows he's going to try to do what she asks).
I like the use of Echo here as well and though I didn't love her in the show I am interested to see if she is going to get to be part of the plan to take down Rossum.
I like that Rossum might be ready for them - the sense that Adelle and Dom are really running out of time is actually scary.
And - hmm, looking forward to seeing how the hostage situation ends. Before I read this I had been thinking that poor Dom had been pretty beaten up of late. Maybe it's time the shoe was on the other foot a little.
Can't wait for the next part.

Repetition in comments is fine. I'm not picky. :)

Yes, girlfriend envy, and why not? Adelle is a beautiful woman who has in this AU of mine held herself aloof from everyone she works with despite numerous attempts to break through the walls she's erected around her. And I think it was split about 50/50 around the various water coolers and coffee services at Rossum b/w "I knew she and Dominic had something going!" and "Dominic? Laurence Dominic?" Even people who are taking over the world need water and/or coffee.

Adelle is "impossible" at times, particularly for a man such as Laurence. And Dominic is relatively compliant when it comes to Adelle's wishes. Relatively.

Every once in a while, I feel I have to throw Echo in ... just because. Because I was disappointed in her in the show, maybe?

Rossum is getting ready for a lot of things. We'll see how they do. And the clock is indeed ticking, but the ways of large corporations aren't usually lightening quick, so things might be ok. I'm glad the sense of urgency is coming through. It makes things more interesting.

I'm all about balance, as you know. So ... perhaps it is Adelle's turn.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
How goes your AU?

It seems that Rossum is not immune to the effects of Adelle's distance and air of enigma - so yes, I can really see how finding something out about her personal life would be water cooler fodder.

I imagine that part of what Adelle enjoys about Dominic is the sense that he follows her orders for lots of different reasons but at times might choose not to. I think that slight sense of danger is interesting to her on a lot of levels (but perhaps more on a personal than a professional one).

Because I know how you feel about balanace I was wondering if it was time for Adelle to be hurt and for them to have a role switch on that front.

Also - though Echo often disappointed me on the show as well, it occurs to me that you do have her in an interesting position here. No Langton, no Ballard really and no composite event from Alpha. That means her fate could be more in Adelle's hands than it was ever allowed to be in the show.

The first part of the AU is done - the sales pitch was successful. I've written but not typed up a good chunk of the second part. I like to be three or four parts in before I post anything - just to make sure I like what I have and will be able to finish it.

I think a mysterious and attractive person is fair game for gossip just about anywhere. And I think you're right about Adelle being attracted to the "dangerous" aspects of Dominic. I concur that this is more a personal thing for her. Maybe it goes back to not really wanting to be "in charge" all of the time but being a little afraid of the converse.

Balance is important. I'm pleased with how the confrontation with Saunders came out (differently than I imagined--so what else is new). I'm trying to get the beast ready to be posted.

Echo is in a different place, that is certainly true. But I still see her as not being as clean a slate as advertised. Despite that, I can't seem to get interested in her character.

I'm glad the AU is progressing and I totally get the let me see if this has legs before I post. I departed from that for this and I got a little carried away. :)

I totally forgot to leave a comment when I read this the first time! Not much to say except that I'm so drawn into this story, and the only thing that stops me wanting to find out what happens next is that then it will be over sooner ;)

btw, hope you don't mind that I friended you!

Forgetfulness is something I can't fault (or I'd be condemning myself). I'm so pleased that you are enjoying the story. I think I've finished it (in first draft form). I have 18 chapters. I'm actually really proud of this and am contemplating how I make transform it into an original piece of fiction. A couple of my readers have helped me with names and locations and that's highly cool.

I have no issue with being friended. I appreciate your continued reading and commenting--it truly helps.

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