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Road Trip Part 1/?
damien listening guitar
Title: Road Trip Part 1/?
Rating: R (language and sexual situations)
Author: morgan72uk and rogoblue
Summary: Adelle DeWitt is holed up in the Dollhouse until an old acquaintance arrives to destroy an already shattering illusion of normalcy.

It felt as though only minutes had passed since she had fallen asleep, which probably meant that she hadn't got a great deal of rest. The small office she had long since appropriated to sleep in was completely dark and precious seconds ticked away as she struggled to distinguish what had woken her. The most simple explanation was that she had awakened because the couch was uncomfortable; it had, after all, been designed for seating rather than for sleep. But the world had not been that simple for a long time, so that explanation was immediately discounted.

Tightening her grip around the barrel of her revolver she sat up, weapon pointed towards the place where she sensed the danger lay. A shape moved faintly in the darkness and she narrowed her eyes but didn't flinch. "Topher's awake, he won't let me anywhere near him." Claire's voice sounded completely matter of fact, giving no indication that they were sitting in the dark with a gun between them.

Adelle DeWitt reached over and switched on a small lamp. From a seat across the room the woman who was still, at times, Claire Saunders gazed back at her. Adelle noted that her instincts in terms of which direction she should point the gun had been entirely accurate, but that was small comfort. "I tried to get him to take his medication, but he's hysterical.”

It was entirely possible that their former Doctor had disturbed Topher on purpose. At times she seemed to take great pleasure in torturing him while on other occasions she was the caring physician whose imprint her victim had created. Unfortunately there was no way to predict which persona they would be confronted with on any given day.

Perhaps they should have wiped her, or removed the imprint altogether. In this instance Adelle couldn’t help thinking that she should have been more ruthless; no one would believe the direction in which she had erred. But it was too late now to start regretting the things she could not change; that particular exercise in futility was one that once begun would not end within any reasonable timeframe.

"I'll see to him,' she said as she pushed herself to her feet and rolled her shoulders to work out the residual stiffness.

"I know you're exhausted." The hairs on the back of Adelle's neck stood up at the odd note in the other woman's voice making her wonder how long Saunders had sat in the dark and watched her sleep. She resolutely pushed away the feeling of vulnerability – she had no use for it.

Claire trailed after her as they crossed the silent and deserted atrium, but then drifted off before they reached the room Topher had holed up in. Adelle shivered and told herself that she was jumpy only because she had been awakened abruptly and not because she was trapped in an enclosed space with an ailing genius and a young woman who was becoming more disturbed every day.

They were buried alive down here; there was no other way to describe it. All the exits were closed off and even if she had been inclined to risk the many dangers above ground, she would not be able to get there. Though she tried very hard not to view this as her tomb, that was exactly what it was.

She found Topher curled into the corner of his room, cowering in fear – his eyes bright and startled. The walls were covered with scribblings and the random items he had collected were scattered across the floor, leading towards what could only be descrbed as a 'nest' of blankets and papers. Once she would have been irritated by the sheer chaos but now she scarcely noticed. At least today he knew who she was, reaching for her straight away - clutching her hand and pulling her down beside him.

"I thought you'd gone” he said and the panic and desperation in his voice tore at her, “everyone goes." He tightened his grip on her hands, "you can't answer the phone, not ever. I can't lose you as well."

"It's all right," she told him as she settled beside him and touched his face gently. "I'm still here."

"You won't leave me?"

"No sweetheart." He nestled his head into her shoulder as she rubbed his back, trying to calm him down. His muttering and murmurs died away as his terror eased, she doubted that he was asleep but at least he was quiet and as peaceful as Topher got these days.

He'd been having the same nightmare for months now - since Caroline and the others had left. Despite his fears of being abandoned, he was the one who had refused to leave her. Caroline would have taken him to Safe Haven but Topher had thrown a spanner into the works when he refused to budge without her. If there was one thing Caroline had been absolutely determined of, it was that there would be no Safe Haven for Adelle DeWitt.

Her pride was far less absolute than people imagined, she'd had very little difficulty inasking Caroline to try to persuade Topher to leave, or failing that to pump him full of drugs and carry him off with them. Anything to avoid consigning him to share her fate.

But Caroline had not wanted to deal with a hysterical Topher and the journey was apparently too long and arduous to keep him sedated for its entirety. Even the prospect of his genius finding a way to save them had not been enough to persuade her - a tactical error in Adelle's view.

She had lost track of how much time had passed since they'd left - the days merged into each other down here and the lack of a routine was exhausting in its own way. She'd tried to remain active, using all of the expensive and now abandoned gym equipment to the extent that she was now rather fitter than she had been in years. She rationed their food and water carefully - though none of them were really eating a great deal and she stayed well away from Dr Saunders' supply of drugs and the remaining bottles of alcohol.

She knew that she ought to have some plan, a way to get them out of here - but there were no options left open to her. There really was no way out. "Don't be sad," Topher whispered and she cursed the fact that he had seen so much in her expression. She didn't want to add to his fears.

"I'm not sad," she replied – sounding practical, even a little brisk. "Shall I read to you for a while?" He nodded against her shoulder and let her up for long enough to find a book. When she returned he curled into her once more. "Do you remember where we were up to?" She didn't really expect an answer, he didn't actually listen – it was more that he seemed to like the sound of her voice. Sighing she opened the book at a reasonable place and started to read.

* * *

Laurence Dominic halted at the door leading to the correct floor of the building, listening, breathing normally and glancing over his shoulder at the stairs he had just climbed. Life on the road is good for stamina. Hearing nothing, Dominic raised his gun, pushed open the door and peered into the dark hallway. No one. Just as he’d expected. He glided down the hall to the door he wanted. To his surprise, the knob turned readily. Stepping into the office, he swept the room with his eyes. Empty. Dominic thought it had been for a while from the smell and feel of it. Free hand on the wall, he made his way toward the elevator. Unzipping his backpack, Dominic removed a crowbar and a simple apparatus of ropes, pulleys and lightweight metal mesh. He left the latter on the floor and forced the elevator doors open with the former. Holding the doors ajar with a shoulder, Dominic shined a flashlight into the elevator shaft. Excellent, the elevator is on the ground floor.

In less than ten minutes, he alighted on the top of the elevator, flexing his cramped fingers after releasing the elevator cable. In sixty seconds, he removed the ceiling panel, lowered himself into the elevator and retrieved the crowbar. Dominic cursed as the crowbar slipped from the second set of doors and put him off balance enough so that the first set closed as well. He took a slow, steadying breath and tried again. This time, he succeeded and set foot in the Los Angeles Dollhouse for the first time in over a year and a half. “Where would I hole up if I was a neuroscientist whose tech had ended the world?” he muttered.

“Among your toys,” said a familiar voice.

Bringing his weapon to bear, Dominic spun and gaped. What in the hell is Saunders, Whiskey, who the fuck ever, wearing?

“Hello, Mr. Dominic,” Saunders said, clasping her hands demurely in front of her formal dress as though holding a corsage.

“Hi,” he said. “Where are Topher’s toys?”

“She’ll be angry if you disturb him.”

Can She with a clear capital S be anyone other than Adelle DeWitt? “She’ll be angry no matter what,” Dominic countered as he consulted his watch. “I don’t have much time … ah …” Pick one, Dom. “Dr. Saunders,” he decided, “Where is Topher?”

Saunders took his hand. Hers was freezing, but Dominic suppressed the urge to yank his free. Saunders made her way through the house at an almost ceremonial pace. This feels weirdly matrimonial.

“She’s waiting,” Saunders said.

Capital S She again. “For what?” Dominic said, eyes drawn to their clasped hands.


His mouth opened in shock, but he closed it immediately as Adelle DeWitt stepped out of a room ten feet from him and Saunders. She turned toward them and her sharp eyes met his. A crisp nod seemed insanely difficult, but he delivered it nonetheless. Saunders dropped his hand like it burned her and Dominic wondered what that meant.

“What are you doing here?” Adelle said.

Dominic wished for better light, because he couldn’t interpret Adelle’s tone or see her expression clearly. “I’m here for Topher,” he said.


Can anyone else put that much disdain in a single syllable? “Rossum knows he’s here. They’re coming for him.”


More syllables. Same disdain. Damn, I definitely don’t have time for a debate. “He stays here. He dies. It’s as simple as that.”

“Nothing is that simple.”

Closing his eyes, Dominic searched for inspiration. “This is. I’m not joking or exaggerating. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“I had a bad dream.”

Years of discipline enabled Dominic to keep his gun at his side rather than levelling it at Topher. Seizing the chance to stay on plan, Dominic focused on the neuroscientist. “You need to come with me,” Dominic said. “It isn’t safe for you here anymore.” When Topher stepped back and to the left to bring himself almost directly behind Adelle DeWitt, he said, “Caroline told me you wouldn’t leave the House without Ms. DeWitt, Topher. She respected that. So do I, but the situation has changed and not for the better.”

“How so?” Adelle asked.

Eyes drawn by her voice, Dominic perfected his posture. “One of Caroline’s raids went south. She lost three. She thought they were all dead. They were, but Ballard got word that one of them lived long enough to talk. We’re not sure of the extent of the disclosures, but no one has kicked down the door to Safe Haven yet.” Struck by how much the situation reminded him of a daily security briefing, Dominic took a steadying breath before continuing. “Caroline’s convinced we’re good in that regard, but there’ve been rumors circulating about bringing Topher to Neuropolis. That can’t happen for the obvious reasons. She asked me to prevent it.” Dominic wondered at the quizzical look alighting on Adelle’s face. Is her issue with the word “asked” or “prevent?”

“What do Ambrose and Harding plan for him?” Adelle asked, stepping to her right, exposing Topher to Dominic’s view, her hand coming to rest on the younger man’s shoulder in a clear supportive gesture.

“I don’t know what they want him to invent,” Dominic said. “Or how they intend to motivate him to do whatever it is they want. Knowing them, I could take a few guesses, but I doubt he wants to hear them.”

“Won’t go,” Topher mumbled, ducking behind Adelle again. Peeking out at Dominic, Topher pointed at Adelle. “Stay. With her.”

“You don’t have the option of staying here with her,” Dominic said, taking a slow step forward. “You can go with me or go with whoever Rossum sends. That’s the only choice you have.”

Topher peeked around Adelle a second time. “You have a gun,” Topher said, voice low, tense, somehow both breathy and steely.

Dominic holstered his weapon and said, “Several.” Feeling Adelle’s eyes on him, Dominic met hers for a moment, surprised by the concern and dismay he saw there.

“Then I have a choice,” Topher whispered.

“No you do not,” Adelle said, facing the neuroscientist. “Mr. Dominic will not shoot you.” Her tone changed in a manner Dominic couldn’t readily classify when she added, “Not to kill at any rate.”

“It’s a solution,” Dominic said, stepping back involuntarily as Adelle whirled on him.

Far from the cold calculation he remembered, her eyes blazed with fury. “No, it is not,” she snarled.

“Yes, it is.” Dominic held his ground when Adelle stalked toward him. “He can’t be taken by Rossum. The risk of them pushing him to make this mess even worse is too high. Ending things right here, right now isn’t the worst case scenario by a long shot.” Gaze shifting to Topher, who looked to have frozen in the act of movement like a deer in headlights, Dominic said, “He seems to understand the—.”

“I said, ‘No,’ Mr. Dominic.’” Adelle stepped into the light of a wall sconce, allowing Dominic to perceive the strain she was under.

“With all due respect, Ms. DeWitt, this isn’t your decision.”

“Don’t fight,” said Topher. “I hate fighting.”

“We aren’t fighting,” Adelle said, smiling at Topher, a more gentle expression than Dominic could remember ever seeing on her face. “We are having a disagreement. There is a distinction.”

“Topher,” Dominic said, waiting for the neuroscientist’s eyes to find his. “Rossum is coming for you and they won’t treat you gently. I’m willing to help you evade them. Will you try?”

Topher took Adelle’s hands. “Echo wouldn’t take her. Will you?”

Oh for Christ’s sake. I can’t leave Topher here, because I suspect what Rossum has in mind for him makes The Attic look tame, but I didn’t sign on to have Adelle DeWitt along for the ride. Caroline Farrell is going to owe me. Big time. Dominic sighed. “Yes, Topher. I will.” Gesturing to Saunders, he added, “Her too, if it floats your boat.”

“I must stay,” Saunders said, a faraway look appearing in her eyes. “He’s coming back for me.”

“Ok,” Dominic muttered, nodding to Saunders. “Do we have a deal, Topher?”

“Caroline wouldn’t approve,” Adelle said, voice tight, controlled and highly familiar.

“Caroline isn’t here,” Dominic countered. “Do we have a deal, Topher?” Topher offered a trembling hand. Dominic shook it. “Pack light and wear comfortable shoes,” he advised. “We leave in an hour.”

* * *

Adelle had packed her meagre belongings in rather less time that her former head of Security had allocated for the task.

To the items of clothing that she considered essential she'd added a first aid kit, a small swiss army knife with a myriad of functions she didn't understand, water purification tablets, a few sachets of dried food and tea bags. The latter were not her first choice when it came to a beverage but they were considerably easier to transport than loose leaf tea. Her only real luxuries were a small tube of moisturiser; expensive enough to be used sparingly and two bars of pleasantly scented soap that would also serve as shampoo. It wasn't a great deal to show for the life she had lived so far.

From a hiding place she was sure only she knew about she'd retrieved a small box that contained among other things a data card and two medium sized diamonds. Traditional forms of currency were largely worthless these days but she recognised that she had other items that could be traded if required.

With time to spare, even though she would no doubt have to help Topher to pack, she sat on the bench in what had once been an employee changing area and tried to decide what she thought about this latest development.

She was, irked by the way Laurence Dominic had calmly waltzed back in here and taken command; even if he appeared to have reined in the rage that had all but consumed him during their last encounter. He was in control of himself once more, every inch a man of action with the skills to survive in the current, unpleasantness. She needed those skills, if only to get Topher to Safe Haven where he would be cared for - even if she was not expecting to be welcomed with anything approaching open arms.

It would have to be an uneasy truce at best, because she would never trust him again. She couldn't afford to when his betrayal had cut so deep and robbed her of one of the few certainties that had remained to her. But she no longer had much use for certainty or trust; in fact a great many things she had once valued were now entirely superfluous. Getting Topher to safety was her priority - what happened to her once that had been accomplished really didn't matter a great deal.

Dominic's allegiance with Caroline was however worthy of further consideration. Adelle hadn't expected to find him doing the former active's bidding and there had been something in the way he'd described the raid that had gone awry which made her question the extent to which he had thrown his lot in with her.

Which meant what? That he was an unwilling conscript, an ally, a man acting alone who co-operated with Caroline only when the necessity arose? Or something else entirely? For all she knew he could be the one planning to hand them over to Rossum. This whole scenario could be a trap to draw them out to the surface. Although equally the intelligence that said Rossum was on its way was too significant to be ignored. So what choice did she have?

"None at all," she murmured, before realising that she had actually started talking to herself. It wasn't so surprising, neither Topher nor Claire had been in the mood for conversation these last few months. Perhaps Mr. Dominic would remedy that; even disagreeing with him would be a welcome change.

As she'd anticipated Topher hadn't been able to decide what he should take and what he should leave behind. He had pulled out piles of quite random possessions to aid his decision making and then been distracted by some of them. It took all of her persuasiveness to get him to agree to pack a change of clothes, more water purification tablets and some food. He wanted to take notebooks, pens, a few of his action figures and a whole bundle of papers that he'd already covered in random equations and half-formed sentences. The only way to get him ready to leave had been to give way to him and she'd done so under Dominic's scrutiny.

He'd arrived while she'd been coaxing Topher to co-operate and had leant against the wall, watching them in silence, saying nothing about her capitulation; though perhaps the scorn in his expression was response enough.

He seemed to have taken the time to shower and change clothes, though he still looked tired. She doubted he would appreciate the suggestion that he got some rest before they headed out.

She didn't know what to expect from a man who had calmly discussed putting a bullet in Topher's brain as an alternative to letting Rossum get to him. In a way it had been familiar, the response of the man who'd warned her about Alpha and about Echo, who'd guarded her house with skill and dedication for three years. But she couldn't afford to fall into the same trap twice and she couldn't allow herself to forget that she had no idea where his loyalties lay - except that they didn't lie with her and they never had.

* * *

“So this is how you managed to get in,” Adelle DeWitt said as she stepped into the elevator with Laurence Dominic.

Unsure how to interpret her tone, Dominic merely nodded and adjusted his loaded backpack for the third time. It’s going to be a bitch to climb up carrying more than my body weight in gear, but I don’t want to haul it up with Topher or Adelle either. Or take the time to haul the gear separately.

“The elevator doesn’t work,” Topher said, looking at Dominic with what appeared to be pity.

“I know,” Dominic muttered, jumping to grab the edges of the hole in the ceiling and pulling himself up. “I’ll climb up and lower a harness. Then you two can—.”

“I do not require a harness, Mr. Dominic,” Adelle said, grasping the wrist of the hand Dominic offered her and assisting him in his effort to lift her as soon as she could reach the ceiling. “I can climb.”

Dominic appraised her silently, thinking back to everything he’d seen since he returned. She’s always had decent muscle definition, but there’s …more athleticism to her now. The ever present grace has more power behind it. Stalling for time, Dominic hauled Topher to the top of the elevator. The neuroscientist hugged his backpack like a teddy bear and looked up the elevator shaft with wide eyes.

“Go first then,” Dominic said without looking at Adelle. “I’ll follow close behind in case you get into trouble.”

“Don’t concern yourself on my behalf,” Adelle muttered as she took the cable in hand and started up with technique that wasn’t half bad.

“Don’t leave me!” Topher screamed. Adelle’s grip faltered on the cable and Dominic half caught-half steadied her as she landed.

“I am not leaving you,” Adelle said, voice calm, irritation barely evident. “I am merely climbing this cable to spare Mr. Dominic the effort of moving me from point A to point B.”

“What about me?” Topher demanded, bottom lip protruding in an excellent imitation of a petulant toddler.

“Once we’re … ah … at point B, I’ll lower the harness and bring you along,” Dominic said. “Ok?”

“You’re going to take her from me,” Topher insisted. His wild, clearly frightened eyes curtailed a small amount of Dominic’s rising frustration. “You’re going to leave me down here all by myself.”

“Why would I want to do either of those things?” Dominic said, stepping away from Adelle in an effort to further establish his intentions not to make off with her.

“You hate me,” Topher whispered. He dropped his backpack and kicked it lightly. “Everyone does, because it’s all my fault.”

Dominic glanced at Adelle. She raised an eyebrow at him, her slight smile a clear challenge. Ok, so some things haven’t changed. Turning to Topher, Dominic said, “If I hated you, I certainly wouldn’t take Ms. DeWitt away from you. She’s a large part of your punishment for crimes against humanity.”

“Oh, ok,” Topher said. He sat down next to his backpack, evidently to wait.

Shaking his head, Dominic made an “after you” gesture to Adelle. Aiming a clear look of haughty disdain in his direction, she began to climb once again. Dominic started up after her, wondering if Adelle was an excellent climber or if she was channeling her emotions into the effort very productively. He’d never admit it, but he was hard pressed to keep up. Damn weapons are heavy. She hesitated when she reached her goal, presumably trying to determine how to get from the cable to her old office.

“Take off your backpack and throw it over first,” Dominic advised as he took his own suggestion, grunting with the effort of heaving his burden up an additional six or seven feet as well as over. As Adelle followed his lead, he climbed up beside her. “Now you,” he said, keeping his expression perfectly neutral, bracing himself with his legs, resting his hands lightly on her waist.

“You intend to toss me into my office like a piece of baggage?” Adelle asked, expression clearly mutinous.

“More like a five foot, eight inch woman,” he said. Lips trying to twitch into a smile, he said, “A piece of baggage would be easier.”

She closed her eyes, opened them, took a deep breath and sighed. Looking him square in the eye, she ordered, “Do it.”

His grip tightened immediately. “Let go.”

The instant she did, Dominic lifted her up slightly and then propelled her toward her office, overbalancing to be sure she made it. He heard the thump of Adelle’s landing and noted how her grumble turned into a startled gasp as he slid about twenty feet down the cable before he regained a proper grip.

“Mr. Dominic, are you quite all right?” she asked, gazing down the shaft at him.

“I’m fine,” he said as he began the climb back to the top. He keenly felt Adelle’s eyes on him as he came even with her office. She followed his progress avidly when he climbed a bit higher. She’s actually curious about how I’m going to do this. Wonders really do never cease. Smiling incredulously, Dominic released the grip with his legs and swung back and forth to generate momentum. Much like a child jumping off of a swing, he let go as he swung toward the opening not far below. Relaxing to absorb the impact, he very nearly stuck his landing.

“An impressive maneuver,” Adelle said, a recognizable enigmatic expression on her face. “Wherever does a person learn such a skill?”

Shrugging, Dominic arranged the harness to his liking and lowered it. Deciding silence in reply to the edge in her tone sent the wrong message, he said, “Probably the same place you learned to climb like you were born to it.”

Was that a real smile I just saw?

* * *

Laurence Dominic reviewed an extensive mental checklist as he, Adelle DeWitt and Topher Brink descended the stairs in the main building the Dollhouse was located beneath.

“I’m five nine actually,” Adelle said, maintaining a steady pace, hovering between two and four steps above Dominic.

“Hmmm?” Dominic muttered as he wondered what they were going to do if Topher broke an ankle jumping from five stairs above every landing. At no time did I agree to carry his sorry ass to Safe Haven.

“I’m five foot, nine inches tall,” Adelle said, tone holding the slightest bit of amusement.

“I’m taller,” Topher said, passing Adelle with a burst of speed and looking immediately horrified to have done so. Gazing thoughtfully at Dominic, he said, “So are you.”

Dominic sighed. “The pecking order with respect to height has been established,” he muttered. “I can cross that off of the damn to do list.” Ignoring Topher’s sunny smile, he said, “I have a vehicle at a secure location not all that far from here, but it could take us a while to get there. We need to make it before morning. If we can’t get to the Jeep, we shift to plan B.” Before either of them could ask, he said, “There’re some abandoned buildings the NSA has secured for use in emergencies. I know the access codes. Alternatively, other groups, mostly military, have manned locations scattered around the city. I know where most of them are.”

Two floors passed in silence. “Is there a plan C?” Adelle asked.

What, Adelle, no room for spontaneity in your screwed up life? “We find somewhere else to hole up, at least until midday,” Dominic said, doggedly holding onto his temper. “There’ll be fewer people out and about then. It’s always that way when it’s hot and it’s going to be.”

“Is it straightforward to find somewhere to … hole up?” Adelle asked.

“No,” Dominic said, running his fingers through his hair, mouth nearly on automatic pilot as he went over his checklist again. “But we’ll figure it out, if it comes to that.”

“Have you done this before?” Adelle asked.

Slowing as they approached the ground floor, Dominic said, “What?”

“Maneuvered with … encumbrances in broad daylight?” Adelle asked, hugging herself as though she was cold.

“Yes, ma’am, I have.” He swore Adelle DeWitt looked as though she was going to perpetrate an act of violence upon his person. This shouldn’t be funny, but it is. Reaching the ground floor wasn’t much of an achievement, but Dominic was determined to do it safely. “Stay close.”

Topher took his order to heart, forcing Dominic into judicious use of his left elbow to establish a bit more space between him and the neuroscientist. When they reached the ground floor, Dominic stepped out first, keeping the other two at bay with a splayed hand. When no one appeared to challenge him, he beckoned. Adelle emerged, eyes darting around, clearly assessing their situation. Dominic smiled slightly. She’s on plan at least.

Dominic dropped to one knee and rummaged in his backpack. He drew out a small, light automatic weapon. Offering it to Adelle, he said, “Fires a bit high and to the right. Medium kick. You can go full auto if you need to press the pedal to the metal, but I’d like you to be more judicious if possible. Ammunition could become an issue.” He shrugged. “Especially if we’re delayed at all.”

Meeting his eyes, Adelle took the weapon and hefted it. Dominic wondered whether it felt good in her hands. Watching her, he decided he’d chosen well. She held the gun like she was ready for anything which, to his mind, was the right way to approach Los Angeles proper at the moment. Returning his attention to his backpack, Dominic armed himself.

“Where’s my gun?” Topher asked.

The kid in a candy store expression disturbed Dominic on a fundamental level. “You don’t get one,” Dominic said, zipping up the backpack in an effort to end the discussion.

“You gave her one and took three yourself,” Topher whined. “That’s not fair!”

“Life isn’t fair, Topher,” Dominic muttered.

“I’m not going with you,” the neuroscientist announced, backing up three steps, head raised in defiance.

Gritting his teeth, Dominic settled his backpack on his shoulders. Adelle stepped to Topher’s side and smiled. “I’ll share my weapon with you, Topher,” she said.

Dominic had his mouth open to protest vehemently, when Topher said, “Ok,” and took Adelle’s hand. She raised an eyebrow at Dominic, no doubt daring him to comment and quite possibly initiate another rebellion. A yawn he couldn’t suppress dropped his hand to the pocket of his battered leather jacket. He could feel Adelle’s eyes on him as he swallowed a small red pill. The energy boost hit even before Dominic had put the bottle away. This is a most excellent batch. Up on the balls of his feet, thoughts racing far more quickly than they had been, Dominic took several deep breaths to regain control. Still, the urge to move was overwhelming. “Let’s do this,” he muttered, heading for the door, stopping when he realized that neither of his companions had followed.

* * *

Adelle checked the gun thoroughly – ignoring Dominic's impatience since she presumed that he knew as well as she did that it wasn't a good idea to fire a weapon you weren't familiar with.

Early on in her tenure as head of the LA House she had realised that it would be useful for her to be familiar with weapons and acted accordingly. An active had been imprinted to instruct her long before Laurence Dominic had been recruited as her Head of Security and she hadn't needed to be told to maintain her proficiency.

It was a precaution that had served her well and now her movements were swift and economical – though apparently not rapid enough to satisfy Dominic who was all but chomping at the bit. She didn't know if he realised how much his demeanour had changed immediately after he'd swallowed some kind of tablet and she was prepared to table the question of what he'd taken and why for another, more propitious occasion. But she had every intention of getting an answer to that question, whether he wanted to tell her or not.

He grunted with what might have been approval when she tucked the spare ammunition somewhere accessible and nodded that she was happy. But the resulting abrupt movement sent Topher into a panic and he whimpered, resisting taking that first, decisive step away from the building. “It's all right,” she told him, gently pushing him on his way. “You and Mr. Dominic have an agreement – he's a man of his word.” She might have imagined the way the shoulders ahead of her stiffened, she wasn't even sure that he'd heard her. It certainly hadn't been intended as a dig about his deception – but it was a reminder that just because they weren't discussing the past didn't mean they'd put it to rest.

She'd known, theoretically at least, that destruction and chaos reigned on the surface but she hadn't been prepared for the reality. It was over a year since she had left the safety of the House and things were already much worse than she remembered.

“Look as though you know where you're going – watch the corners of buildings – don't stop to sightsee.” The instructions should have been easy to follow, but doing so with Topher in tow proved to be almost impossible. He found it hard to keep up with the pace Dominic set and jumped at every untoward sound; gunfire, explosions – screams.

Dominic's frustration at their slow progress was all too evident and she imagined that he was biting back a comment about how well they would fare without him in the world they had created. Her job was to keep her charge moving and she couldn't afford a lapse in concentration in that regard. She refused to be the reason something went wrong, or that an already dangerous situation became worse.

Their guide, if that was what he was, looked around him all of the time; choosing their route, steering them away from any sign of what remained of the city's inhabitants – even when it meant a scramble over the rubble of half destroyed buildings. “You know the city,” she commented at one point when they stopped to allow Topher to catch his breath.

“This isn't the first time I've been back.” He replied shortly, surprising her by adding, “it changes all the time, so even what I know is a bit out of date.”

“We aren't moving as quickly as you'd hoped.” Her gaze rested on Topher as she spoke. The reason for their delay was drawing complicated symbols in the dirt with his finger and concentrating on the task so fiercely that it reminded her painfully of the past.

“Maybe you should have had him participate in your workouts,” he replied dryly.

“On a good day I can normally manage to get him to leave his sleeping area and eat something.”

“So – this is a very good day then?” He gestured to their surroundings, voice more than heavily laced with irony.

“Only if it doesn't occur to him that he played some part in all of this.”

“Break's over,” he said gruffly and she recognised the evasion for what it was. Rather than debate the issue she helped Topher up and strapped his pack onto his back, taking him firmly by the wrist once more and waiting for Dominic's signal to move from their makeshift shelter out into the fragmented city.

The first group to intercept them seemed to come out of nowhere and despite the blankness of their expressions she knew that their presence was far from benevolent. Dominic moved swiftly and purposefully away and she followed his lead – dragging Topher along in her wake.

Twenty minutes later she fired the weapon he'd chosen for her for the first time.

* * *

“No one’s luck is this bad,” Laurence Dominic muttered, wiping the light sheen of sweat from his forehead and his damp hand on his jeans.

“Except ours,” Adelle DeWitt said, panting lightly as she struggled to keep Topher wedged into the small space between a dumpster and the remains of a brick wall. Dominic appreciated her efforts to avoid pushing him out of the hiding place when Topher jostled her.

“No,” Dominic said, thinking back on the last several hours of walking, jogging or running from trouble and, failing that, fighting their way free of butchers. “There are too many butchers around. Way too many. Something’s not right.”

“I don’t like it here,” Topher moaned.

“Me neither,” Dominic said, bracing his feet and leaning back into Adelle in an attempt to provide some leverage for her to use in her wrestling match with Topher.

“How far are we from your vehicle?” Adelle asked, gazing over her shoulder at Dominic.

“Farther than we were back at the House.”

“What?” she demanded, wincing when she realized she’d raised her voice.

“We’re being pushed to the southeast,” Dominic said, risking a peek around the edge of the dumpster, determinedly not thinking about fatigue or the mounting set of small, nagging injuries they’d all sustained. “We don’t want to go southeast.”

“I’m hot,” Topher said, pushing at Adelle. “Get off me!”

“Listen up,” Dominic said, no nonsense intensity capturing the others’ attention. “Did anyone touch either of you? Anyone at all?”

“One of the men you shot in the face grabbed my arm when I was trying to get Topher away from the woman who bit his ankle.”

“Check his ankle for a small puncture wound,” Dominic ordered as he shifted his body to nearly face Adelle. “Not from teeth. Something narrower. Which arm?” he asked.

“Left bicep,” Adelle said, leaning away from Dominic and down to squint at Topher’s ankle in the very dim light of approaching dawn. Unable to be sure, she gently ran her fingers over Topher’s skin. “I can’t feel anything,” she said as she offered her left arm for inspection.

“Damn,” Dominic muttered, frowning at the bruises on Adelle’s flesh. Taking her elbow in his hand, he moved her arm to the side. “There,” he murmured, tapping her arm to draw Adelle’s attention to the injury. “Does it hurt?” he asked, both because he was curious and because he wanted to draw attention away from the knife he drew from an ankle sheath.

“Not really,” she said, shifting her arm to examine the puncture more closely. “You think someone is tracking us?”

“It could explain the number of butchers,” Dominic muttered, “but I haven’t heard of anyone using them like this before. Dumb shows, yes. Butchers, no. Butchers have been trained to be feral predators. I’ve never seen them as shepherds in a really bad mood.” Dominic shrugged his backpack off of his shoulders and sighed. “My first aid kit is at the bottom of my pack, Ms. DeWitt, so you’ll have to take your cut without antiseptic until we’re clear.”

“My first aid kit is on the top of my pack, Mr. Dominic,” she said, pivoting to allow him to unzip hers. “I believe I’ll take my cut concurrently with my antiseptic.”

“Fine.” Working swiftly, Dominic made cuts in the shape of an X over the puncture. Holding the skin out of his way with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, he used tweezers he’d also taken from her first aid kit to more easily extract a thin strip of tracking tech. Dutifully, he bathed the area with antiseptic, cleaned away the blood and bandaged her arm. The only sound Adelle had made was a sharp hiss at the initial cut. He met her eyes and nodded approval.

“Now what?” she asked, a hint of the pain she was in evident in her tone.

“You two wait here,” Dominic said, holding the tracking strip before Adelle’s eyes. “I’m going to make someone else a target.”

* * *

They’re gaining. Laurence Dominic mustered an all out sprint. To the extent a person can be grateful about anything when he is out of ammunition and there are five butchers chasing him while brandishing a wide variety of sharp objects, Dominic was grateful he’d left Adelle and Topher holed up in the alley that was now approximately a half a mile away. He was also grateful that the total number of butchers in pursuit had decreased from eleven to five. Dominic looked over his shoulder and grinned. Make that four. This is working.

As he ran, Dominic thought back on the events of the last hour. He’d shot his way through three large groups of butchers. Then Dominic got what he wanted—a pair of dumb shows. Dominic came at them hard and fast, pistol whipping one in the head and tackling the second. As they grappled, Dominic put the tracking strip into the dumb show’s pocket. Allowing the dumb show to fight his way free, Dominic chased him to the southeast. A shot in the calf inspired the dumb show to keep going in that general direction. Satisfied, Dominic had begun to jog his way back to Adelle and Topher and nearly ran right into fifteen butchers. He’d shot four before his ammunition ran out. He’d been running ever since and the pursuing butchers had been slowly peeling off. How are they getting word that the tracking strip is elsewhere? Back in the day, I’d have asked Topher. That option isn’t exactly available anymore.

Making a mental note to get information about this new and exciting way to use butchers to what remained of the NSA, Dominic looked over his shoulder again. He’d just ascertained there were only two butchers behind him when he went flying, landing hard on his forearms and chest. What the fuck did I trip over? The butchers were almost upon him when one of them altered direction without missing a stride. The other dove for Dominic. Rolling to his left, Dominic picked up a brick and bashed the butcher in the head with it. Taking advantage of the stunning blow, Dominic repeated the action until the butcher became an unmoving bloody mess. Dropping the brick was surprisingly difficult. Breathing hard, body aching in any number of places, Dominic rose to his feet and made for the shadows. Time to collect the luggage. Glancing at the sky, Dominic swore softly and quite creatively. We need to find somewhere to go to ground for a few hours and we’re in a part of the city I don’t know well at all. Perfect.

* * *

Adelle sucked in a breath, tasting the ash and smoke in the air and feeling it coat her lungs; leaving an indelible imprint of the city's destruction. Her gaze was fixed on Dominic as she waited for his signal, her fingers twitched restlessly around Topher's wrist but even he was silent as he watched and waited.

Some of Mr. Dominic's impatience had clearly transferred to her. The adrenaline raced through her body – fight or flight response engaged in a private battle. She hated feeling hunted, that she was prey. Her preferred role had always been as a predator of sorts and it was disquieting to recognise that her cleverness wouldn't help them now, that survival was more a question of chance than anything else.

Sweat had dripped down her neck and her arm twinged from the cut needed to extract the tracking technology. But these were minor concerns, easily set aside. She refused to allow herself to dwell on the fact that she had followed Dominic’s orders so far, or that their positions had once been reversed. Before she'd had him removed from her sight and placed all thought of him in a box in her mind labelled 'betrayal'.

Their current predicament made things at once simpler and more complicated. But she set aside that thought as well because suddenly she saw the strategy behind his movements, recognised the path he was forging, the position he’d occupied to give them the cover they need.

“Don't stop, don't look back, don't fire unless there is someone in your path and don't come back for me. When you're clear you can give me cover – not before.” His instructions rang in her ears and she could see the logic behind them as clearly as she could see the path to the building he had selected. When he had delivered them, all crisp urgency despite the blood and grime that covered him, she had not thought it worth pointing out that without him she and Topher would be as good as dead – so leaving him behind was not an option. She had always been an independent and creative thinker and that hadn't changed.

It all came together – the chaos shifting to clear their path. She anticipated his signal by a split second – sprinting rapidly for cover, Topher for once keeping up. She didn't spare Dominic a glance as she passed his position but the moment she reached the doorway she turned, reaching for her weapon to clear his path as best she could. They needed him. It was a simple as that.

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Fantastic!! I can tell that this is going to be fabulous!

Thanks for saying so. It is always nervewracking to post something new that's long. It's nice to know that it, at least, has begun well.

This pairing deserves more writers like you!

More. More, more, MORE!

I love your stories.

Re: This pairing deserves more writers like you!

It's been a long time since I've written with anyone else and I found this experience to be excellent (last minute technical difficulties notwithstanding). I've admired morgan72uk's Adelle DeWitt for a while and it was nice not to have to muddle through on my own for once.

More to come and relatively soon.

Re: This pairing deserves more writers like you!

Thanks for the nice feedback Sivonni! I have to say it was a relief to leave Mr Dominic in Rogoblue's extremely capable hands and only have to work on DeWitt. I love the journey she, that is Rogoblue, takes him on - though actually there are any number of journeys in this fic :)

SO good! I've been dying to read this for ages - morgan72uk kept tormenting me with slivers of information - and it's even better than I expected. Good work!

Thanks for the kind words. We worked hard on this beast, trying to do justice to these two characters in an odd setting (series of settings, I should say).

I particularly liked the gentle way in which morgan72uk pointed out that "Er, the elevator wouldn't work" when I enthusiastically shared my visual image of Dominic emerging from the elevator into the Dollhouse in his first scene. Not to be deterred, I did it anyway (but, thankfully, in a realistic way given the circumstances).

sharing, possibly encouraging - not tormenting.

Wonderful beginning. I look forward to future chapters!

Thank you so much. It's always a relief when the initial chapter comes off well. More to follow soon.

And so it begins...YES!!!!!!!!

First off, great start you guys! It's not easy combining two separate styles to flow in such unison, yet you're both doing an amazing job.

Morgan: Your Adelle is right on the money. Her inner thoughts are upsetting yet totally plausible, she caused this mess and now she's paying for it first hand. It's so crazy how much empathy your characterization evokes for a character that's done so much wrong. Then again this is Dollverse, nothing is black and white and so far I'm loving your grey.

Rogo: What can I say, aside from the fact that you were born to write Laurence Dominic. Yes, he's still angry, yes he's messed up, but he's still the quick thinking NSA agent/Head of Security we all know and love. I loved your action bits, they're even more vivid than they were before (how do you improve on something that was already great?) Whatever you did, it worked and I'm loving it.

I like where this is headed, and I'm super curious about what pills Dominic is popping, and why. Yet obviously I'm not the only one ;)

Now onto chapter 2 :)

And so it begins...YES!!!!!!!!

First off, great start you guys! It's not easy combining two separate styles to flow in such unison, yet you're both doing an amazing job.

Morgan: Your Adelle is right on the money. Her inner thoughts are upsetting yet totally plausible, she caused this mess and now she's paying for it first hand. It's so crazy how much empathy your characterization evokes for a character that's done so much wrong. Then again this is Dollverse, nothing is black and white and so far I'm loving your grey.

Rogo: What can I say, aside from the fact that you were born to write Laurence Dominic. Yes, he's still angry, yes he's messed up, but he's still the quick thinking NSA agent/Head of Security we all know and love. I loved your action bits, they're even more vivid than they were before (how do you improve on something that was already great?) Whatever you did, it worked and I'm loving it.

I like where this is headed, and I'm super curious about what pills Dominic is popping, and why. Yet obviously I'm not the only one ;)

Now onto chapter 2 :)

Re: And so it begins...YES!!!!!!!!

The styles flow more easily at some points in the story rather than in others, but I think that's ok. Adelle thinks differenly than Dominic does. She's more introspective than he is in some ways.

I really don't know what it is about Dominic. I have a very clear view in my head who he is and yet I changed him up somewhat in this story in ways that will become evident as time goes on. Part of it was to see if I could make the character trait work with that character. With morgan72uk's help, I think I did. Dom is, indeed hopefully, recognizable as Dom.

Action sequences get better with practice, I'm finding.

The pills actually have a rather significant part to play in this story (the most significant of which was morgan72uk's idea).

nvdisvboliubgVP;UIBRDSP;IVBUJS;VK. this is awesome.

like blow your mind and start a brainpocalypse awesome.

and there are already THREE parts yyyaaaayyyy!!!!

Hopefully a brainpocalypse is a good thing! Thanks so much for the kind words and non-words.

Gahhhhhh! Why does it stop here?! *flails*

The intro is fantastically creepy and sets the mood awesomely. Topher is breaking my heart and is nicely broken and insane; Adelle is fabulously in character. I feel like she just jumped off the TV screen, particularly the parts with her and Topher bonding. And then Dominic has a gun and is shooting things....that's pretty much all I needed here, lol. Although, it amuses me to no end that he took a red pill (how Matrix-y of you!) and while I realize this is the thoughtpocalypse and all, I too, am a fan of sleep in a pill. :P

Also, Claire! And her creepy perceptiveness! !!!!!!! And her white dress of eerieness!!!!

Also, "She with a capital S" is possibly the best description of Lady DeWitt I've read so far!

It should stop somewhere interesting so folks want to read part 2. Success!

The thought of Topher, Claire and Adelle alone down there is creepy to me so I'm glad that worked. I kind of like the idea of Dom just showing up and taking command and doing what he needs to do to get his motley crew underway.

Claire still "waiting" for Boyd seemed important too.

She with a captial S does fit Adelle, certainly at least from someone like Dom's perspective.

Thanks for reading. Gives me an excuse to reread!

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