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Road Trip Part 5/12
damien listening guitar
Title: Road Trip Part 5/12
Rating: R (language and sexual situations)
Author: morgan72uk and rogoblue
Summary: Laurence Dominic, Adelle DeWitt and Topher Brink move on, only to face obstacles of their own and others’ making.

Dominic had never minded silence. In fact, he preferred it. But the brand of silence that permeated the Jeep for the thirteen hours he’d driven straight was filled with too many unspoken words. He’d decided to drive well to the east and somewhat north just in case Rossum was tracking them. Hell, with boosters, I could drive to Rhode Island and back and I might need to because we’re a fair distance from any safe house I know of now. Topher lounged across the back seat. Adelle dozed fitfully in the passenger seat. Dominic drove and tried to keep his mind blank. To avoid unwanted thoughts, he hadn’t taken a booster. Exhaustion numbed his brain. The next thing he knew the Jeep was crossing over the shoulder of the road, heading for the trees alongside. Forcing his eyes open, swerving back into his lane, Dominic swore silently.

“Should you take a booster?” Adelle whispered.

“Maybe,” he allowed. “I think I might just need a break.”

“Are we there yet?” Topher asked, rubbing his eyes.

“No,” Dominic said. “Go back to sleep, Topher.”

“I want to watch the sun come up,” Topher said.

“Knock yourself out,” Dominic muttered.

“It seems we could all do with a break,” Adelle observed.

Feeling her eyes on him, Dominic sighed. “Fine. Keep an eye out for a place where we can pull well off of the road.”

Sixteen minutes later, they were out of the Jeep. Topher sat on a large flat rock, facing east. Adelle went in search of the stream they could hear but not see. Dominic walked the perimeter of the small clearing, unable to deny the appeal of the fresh air and light breeze. As he passed the neuroscientist’s position, Topher said, “You made her sad.” The blatant hostility in the child-like voice he was becoming accustomed to surprised Dominic into stopping. “She was happy. She talked to you. Now she’s sad.” Glaring at Dominic, Topher demanded, “I don’t like it when she’s sad.”

“You won’t like it when I’m angry either,” Dominic muttered, wondering if the strange feeling surging within him was his blood pressure rising.

Topher screamed. From the diaphragm. Full throat.

“Stop that,” Dominic said. “Topher, Jesus, stop.”

He did. Smiling in a way Dominic didn’t like at all, Topher hissed, “Fix it.”

Adelle burst from the trees at a dead run. “What’s happened?” she panted. “What’s wrong?”

“You found the stream,” Dominic said, gesturing to the damp cuffs of one of the button down shirts she’d appropriated when they’d met the pheromonals.

“Yes,” she murmured, looking Topher over for obvious injury, staring into his eyes, running her fingers through his hair. “What’s wrong?” Topher turned guileless eyes to Dominic. “What did you do?” she asked, turning on Dominic. “What did you say?”

“I didn’t do or say anything. He just screamed.”

Topher screamed again.

“Like that,” Dominic muttered, amazed that the neuroscientist managed an increase in volume, unnerved by Topher’s emotionless stare and Adelle’s frantic, increasingly accusatory eyes. The ensuing silence was profound. “Will …,” Dominic began, then shook his head and glanced over his shoulder at the Jeep, longing for escape. Seeing Topher open his mouth and the threat of another scream in his expression, Dominic said, “Will you show me where the stream is?”

“I don’t think we should leave him alone,” Adelle said, hands resting on Topher’s shoulders. “Especially because we’re unsure what prompted this outburst.”

“I know what prompted it,” Dominic said.

“You said you didn’t,” Adelle said.

“I said I didn’t do or say anything to prompt it. I didn’t say I didn’t know what prompted it.”

Adelle closed her eyes and Dominic imagined her counting to ten very slowly and precisely. “Follow me, Mr. Dominic,” she said, voice low and controlled. He did. They didn’t speak and the tension mounted with every step they took away from Topher. Adelle looked back periodically as if the unseen gesture would keep the neuroscientist calm.

Dominic relaxed slightly when they came upon the stream. Kneeling beside it, he submerged his entire head. The frigid water sent a spike of adrenaline through his system. “Damn, that’s cold,” he muttered, plunging his hands in the stream.

Sitting down next to him, Adelle asked, “Why did Topher scream?”

No other remotely plausible explanation came to Dominic’s mind and he had little interest in evasion for evasion’s sake these days. “Because I made you sad and didn’t run right after you to say I’m sorry when he called me on it.”

Adelle laughed. When Dominic merely stared at her, she stopped. “You aren’t joking.”

“No, I’m not.” Cupping his hands, Dominic stalled for time by drinking some water. Inspiration didn’t come. Wariness slowly giving way to curiosity, Adelle waited. “You were right before,” he began, tone tentative and quiet. “The past is what it is. Should have and could have don’t matter. Why does matter though. I know why now. Thank you for that.” He sighed. What’s the damn saying—in for a penny, in for a pound? “I won’t apologize for doing my job and I don’t expect you to apologize for doing yours, but I am sorry that you felt humiliated back then. You didn’t deserve that.” Picking up a small stone, he finally faced Adelle. “Do you think you could at least try to look less sad? We have another long stretch in the car to get back on plan after the detour I took us on, hoping to lead Rossum astray. I don’t think I can do it with Topher repeatedly reprising the role of the terrorized, cute blonde bimbo in a horror movie without warning.’

“I can,” Adelle said, a tentative smile becoming brilliant when Dominic tried to return it. “Can you?”

“I’ll need a booster to do much of anything.”

“Then take one.”

Standing, Dominic offered Adelle a hand up. He didn’t think too much about how strange it felt to release it or how natural it felt to fall in step beside her.

* * *
The mood in the car had lightened considerably and Topher showed no inclination to start screaming again. Instead he was entertaining himself by playing with a brightly coloured elastic band one of the children had given him. He'd been clingy after they'd returned from the stream – hugging her as though he had been afraid she wouldn't come back. When he'd let her go and turned to Dominic there had been a distinct hint of amusement in the eyes that were so often unfocused these days. “Don't even think about it,” Dominic had informed him forestalling even an attempt at a hug.

Instead he'd rested his head on her shoulder and observed, “someone's still grumpy.”

But Adelle didn't think Dominic was grumpy, reserved perhaps and exhausted in spite of the boosters. Even though they had resolved something, doing so had drained them both and for the moment she was content not to think too much about what that resolution really meant. It was enough to be looking out of the window, apparently intent on the passing scenery, but all of the time aware of Laurence in her peripheral vision.

Laurence. The name was coming more easily to her with every use. She liked the slightly antiquated feel of it and wondered how he had come by it. "Is Laurence your real name?" Only an hour ago that question would have been loaded, but now it surprised a laugh out of him.

"Yeah," he looked quickly over at her. "I was named after my grandfather. I got a fair amount of flak over it as a kid."

"I imagine you dealt with that."

"Didn't have much choice." The answer was satisfying on a number of levels - it meant she could continue to become accustomed to calling him Laurence but also he'd revealed a snippet of his past.

"What about you, how did you end up called Adelle?" Apparently she wasn't the only one who was curious, though discussing names was a fairly safe way to indulge that curiosity. Everyone had some sort of story about their name - and she was no exception.

"My parents couldn't agree what to call me. My father wanted to name me after Hildegard of Bingen. My mother was less keen; she thought it likely to be shortened and disliked the idea of a diminutive. Adelle was a compromise."

"And no one ever shortened Adelle?"

"When I was growing up - only my father."

She hadn't thought about her parents for some time - they were both long dead of course and that was a blessing of sorts given what had befallen the world – not to mention the part she had played in its fate. But they represented 'home' in her mind and though the US was her adopted home there was something about her that remained distinctly British.

"You ever get homesick?" he asked - demonstrating a surprising ability to follow the direction of her thoughts.

"More for the idea of home than the actuality of it. There's nothing and no one there for me." Perhaps her tone revealed more than she would like about her past, but he didn't remark on it.

"The next place we're stopping at is, interesting." He said, after a few moments of quiet. She didn't quite know what to make of that.

"Define interesting." He just about contained his grin.

"You ever ridden a motorcycle?"

"No," she didn't think that answer came as much of a surprise to him.

"Or drunk beer?"

"Not since I was a student."

"Thought you Brits were big beer drinkers?"

"Laurence?" The hint of steel in her tone only seemed to amuse him more.

"They're bikers - they party a lot, play loud music,"

"And drink beer presumably."

"Brew their own."

"Of course they do." She raised her eyebrow, "I'd be interested to know how you imagine we'll be safe around a lot of drunk bikers?"

"I have a feeling you can handle them - and if not, chances are they'll be too drunk to shoot straight." That wasn't exactly the reassurance she'd been looking for.

* * *

Watching Adelle DeWitt contemplate future interactions with beer brewing bikers was fun. Laurence Dominic couldn’t recall the last time he’d had what anyone would remotely call fun. Teasing Priya came close, but he thought, if he were to be honest, he’d have to look back to sex with Haley. She had a carefree way about her in bed that swept away negativity along with inhibitions. Or maybe his last beer with these guys. He couldn’t remember which had been more recent. “They’re fun,” he said. In response to her quizzical look, he said, “The bikers, especially if they’re buzzed. When’s the last time you had fun?”

Her expression closed down.

“Sorry,” Dominic muttered. “It’s been way too long for me too.”

“I had fun with the chair,” Topher said. “Making it go up and down and up and down and up and down. I liked the blue light. It was pretty.”

Is Topher actually trying to help me dig my way out of the conversational hole I fell into? “I wasn’t partial to the blue,” Dominic said.

“It was nice!” Topher insisted. “Bright and cheerful.”

Unless you’re the one with the plastic stick in your mouth. Well, that did it. The concept of fun sent Adelle’s day south and the blue light from the fucking chair sent mine the same direction. It’s a good thing we’re almost to Kevin’s brewery in the woods. A cold one would be outstanding right about now.

“Was that our turn, Laurence?” Adelle asked, voice only the slightest bit sharp.

“Huh?” Dominic slowed down and looked over his shoulder.

“You said they had painted the tree trunks on either side of the road leading to their domain with red and purple stripes,” she said. “I can’t imagine they started a trend.”

“You have a point,” Dominic conceded, turning the Jeep around, already missing the breeze that had been streaming in his window. The booster he’d taken not long ago seemed to have raised his body temperature more than usual. He stopped the Jeep just before the turn, smiling at Adelle. “Are you ready to step into another world?” he asked. “What?” he said, prompted by her frown.

“I imagined we would be able hear their music from the main road,” she said, looking over at him.

“Yeah, yeah, you normally would,” he said, straining his ears. Hearing nothing, he drew his gun and released his seat belt. “Arm yourself,” he said. “I’ll have a look around. It’s only about a quarter of a mile to the cabins, so I won’t be long.” He was a few steps away from the Jeep before he turned back. “If I’m not back in twenty minutes, go.”


Not knowing what to do with the stricken expression that flew across her face, he interrupted. “Twenty minutes, Adelle. Ok?” Her nod freed him to trot into the woods. Relatively wide gaps between the trees allowed for fluid running. Dominic arrived near the top of the rise that shielded the twelve cabin community and dropped. Moving forward on his forearms, he peered over the edge. “Fuck,” he muttered when he saw a minivan parked next to the row of 27 Harleys. Silence. No one moving. No one drinking. And a minivan. This goes nowhere good.Not a patch of leather on either of them. Damn. Where’s Kevin? A taller blonde man darted from the minivan to the others, waving a small device excitedly. Both men looked down the dirt road toward the highway. Dominic retreated as the dark haired man reached for his sidearm.

Running back to the Jeep, Dominic thought about the asserted range of the Topher Finder. The Jeep was within a quarter mile of the cabins. Barely. Damn. Sifting through his options, Dominic hurled himself back into the Jeep. Adelle let him pant for a few moments before she prompted, “Well?”

“A Rossum strike team is waiting for us,” he said. “If we run, they’ll follow and call in reinforcements once they flush us into a more open area. Hell, they might even have access to air support. If we wait here, they’ll come to us, knowing we suspect something.”

“You propose to spring the trap?” she asked.

He’d never been more thankful for Adelle’s ready grasp of complex scenarios. “I do.” Dominic started the Jeep and put it into gear. “Keep your gun out of sight. I’ll park away from the cabin they’re using—the largest one.”

“No surprise,” Adelle muttered, checking her weapon.

“None,” Dominic agreed, easing the Jeep onto the dirt road, oddly comforted by the arrogance that characterized Rossum. “I’ll get out of the vehicle and draw the active to me.”

“An active?” Adelle said, turning startled eyes to Dominic. “There were no actives in the group that attacked us on the road.”

“I know, but there’s a pretty girl and a blonde guy that could be a Speedo model in this group. One or both are probably actives.”

“What if they both are actives?” Adelle asked, watching him closely.

“If they’re both imprinted with what Topher always called ninja skills, then we are likely what is commonly referred to as screwed.” He enjoyed the small smile that flitted across Adelle’s face. Might as well take whatever positive I can into the fray. “Be sharp, Adelle,” he murmured, braking the Jeep, shifting into park. “It’s show time.”

Dominic stepped out of the Jeep. Keeping the door open for cover, he pitched his voice loud enough to be heard by the people in the large cabin. “I’ll go and see where in the hell Kevin is. Stay here.” He winked at Adelle and noted with approval the subtle squaring of her shoulders. Taking a deep breath, he slammed his door shut and shouted, “Kevin! Where the fu—?”

The young blonde man stepped out from beside the cabin closest to Dominic. Closing impossibly fast, the kid aimed an elegant karate kick at Dominic. Laurence dodged and chopped his opponent on the throat as he went by for good measure. “Who might you be?” Dominic asked.

“The person who is going to kick your ass,” the kid replied.

“Do you have a name?” Dominic asked as the two circled each other.

“Charles.” The kid flowed into motion in the characteristic way actives not programmed by Topher tended to approach karate. Dominic had watched weeks and weeks of security footage of enough different actives from different houses to be able to accurately assess Topher’s imprinting abilities for the NSA. Not going for the fake, Dominic slammed a fist into the kid’s solar plexus.

“That’s enough,” shouted a male voice.

Must be the handler. Dominic slipped into the woods.

“I’ll get him,” Charles said. “You take the others.”

Good luck, Adelle. Mind clear and settled, Dominic ran. He didn’t worry about the trail he left; the active had to be imprinted with advanced tracking skills. Dominic just ran. Careful not to get too far from the cabins, Dominic headed roughly northeast. Then he reversed his course, slow and quiet. When Charles overran him, Dominic headed back in earnest. The telltale pop of a tranquilizer gun sounded and a dart caught Dominic mid back. Reaching around, Dominic yanked it out and scanned the area for a place he could defend. Seeing nothing, he put on a burst of speed and headed directly for the cabins. Charles appeared in front of him and fired. The dart embedded deeply in Dominic’s chest and he went to one knee. Grinning, Charles hit Dominic on the side of the head with the stock of his tranquilizer pistol. Dazed, sprawled awkwardly on his back, Dominic stared up at the active.

“Enjoy the bears,” Charles said. “I hear they like blood and viscera. Beer bellies have plenty of both.”

Damn it, Kevin.

"I'll have to try the beer before I take Topher to Tucson." Bending down, grabbing Dominic’s jacket to haul the older man up a bit, Charles whispered, “It’s amazing what people will tell you when you’re hurting them. The pretty boy we caught gave up this location after we broke only one finger.” Charles shook his head and released Dominic’s jacket, sending him to the ground hard. “Some people have a really low threshold of pain.” Charles frowned. “Unlike you, apparently.” Waving a hand as if to dismiss his own observation, Charles said, “We’re racing another, more experienced team, looking all over for you and you deliver them to me like a dog bringing a ball back to its master. Gotta love the irony.” With a jaunty sarcastic salute, Charles turned and headed for the cabins.

* * *

"Out of the Jeep - now. Keep your hands where I can see them." Sparing only the briefest thought for Laurence, Adelle moved slowly. As she opened the car door she hoped that her demeanour gave the impression that she intended to obey.

She'd never seen the man before - but the short stocky build and the cut of his suit screamed Rossum security. She wondered how many of them were holed up safely in Tucson while the world went to pieces around them. She supposed he could be an actual who'd been imprinted, but it didn't matter. At this point it was kill or be killed.

"I don't want to," Topher whined - cowering away from the unfamiliar presence.

"But I've got someone who's looking forward to seeing you again." With the security man’s attention on Topher, Adelle moved her hand carefully to the place between the seats where she'd stowed her weapon. "Come out here and say hi!" At his shout, a young woman emerged from the doorway of the cabin. Adelle gasped, from this distance the resemblance was remarkable. Topher scrambled forward, swinging the car door open to get to her.


Adelle's hand wrapped around the gun and as Topher bolted she raised it and fired - hitting the other man straight between the eyes. "Topher," she stopped only to kick the dead man's gun aside. "It's not her. You know it's not." He'd come to a stop within touching distance - his expression confused, hopeful and a hundred other things that were equally heartbreaking. Up close the resemblance wasn't as striking and the young woman looked scared to death.

"Don't you know who I am?" Topher demanded, before turning to Adelle, "they hurt her!"

"I'm sorry - I just want to go home. Please, let me go."

"Don't leave me again." Topher pleaded, "please Bennett."

"My name's Courtney - I was in Tucson and they brought me here, I know I look like someone but..." At the crack of gunfire the words died abruptly, red blossomed just beneath her breast. As Courtney's knees buckled Topher howled and flung himself to the ground with her. Adelle raised her gun, but it was too late.

"Drop it!" There was no doubt that this was the active and to play for time as much as anything else she complied. "I knew bringing her along was a stupid idea," he said - aiming a kick at the body which Topher now cradled in his arms. "Your guy’s not coming back by the way. I left him tranq'd up; he'll be fine dining for the bears before he comes around. They'll be coming for miles once they smell the blood and the bikers left a lot of blood."

"Why not tranquilise her?" Adelle asked - the news that Dominic wasn't returning not really sinking in, though her stomach had given a decided lurch at the news.

"Playing for time?" He raised an eyebrow. "Believe me, I gave him enough to drop a horse. I suppose he might be awake by the time the wild animals come for him, but he won't be going far. Tranqs are supposed to be for him," he nodded towards Topher who was shaking Courtney, obviously trying to wake her up, "I had to make sure I had enough left to get us back to Tucson. I do, so we won't be needing you"

At a dead run Laurence Dominic emptied a full clip into the man before he'd even had time to turn to face his assailant. The reason for the overkill became apparent seconds later when Dominic was leaning forwards; vomiting and struggling to breathe.

"Laurence!" She helped him sit, sparing a glance for Topher, knowing she had to get him away from the body. The damage to Topher had been done and the man with the physical symptoms had to take precedence. "How many did you take?" She demanded, feeling how hot he was. His hands were shaking; it was a miracle he'd been able to shoot straight.

"Four," he groaned, "had to. The tranquilisers would have knocked me out."

"Keep making yourself sick," she advised, rubbing his back as he retched again. "I'll find you some water."

"You'll have to drive." He screwed his eyes shut and then opened them, she could tell he was desperately trying to focus. "We need to get out of here."

"Just, stay here for a while - OK?"

"What happened to Topher?" It was a question she really didn't want to answer.

"He lost someone he cared about - again." Her fingers felt for his pulse, it wasn't a surprise that it was racing. "I could kill them for doing this to him."

"Seems like between us we handled that."

"Good." The savage spike of pleasure she felt wasn't just because of what they had done to Topher. "Your friends are all dead - I'm going into the cabin to find you some water and whatever else might be useful. I need you to stay with Topher."

"Yeah, OK."

"I don't think he's going far," she said before getting to her feet and crossing to her other patient.

She'd done this before, she reflected, denied him a chance to mourn because the circumstances dictated otherwise - and who knew what harm it had done him. "Topher," she cupped his face in her hands. "Bennett's gone sweetheart, she's been gone for a while. This wasn't her."

"She left me?" He whimpered. Adelle blinked back her tears, focused on Topher and his pain - which was all too real once again.

"Mr. Dominic needs our help," she said as she stroked his hair. "He helped us, remember?" His slight nod encouraged her to continue. "He's sick, I need you to stay with him for a little while."

"Don't go!" He gripped her arm hard.

"I'm only going into the cabin. I need you to stay with Laurence. Can you do that?" His lip trembled but he nodded, when he tried to look back at the body she held him fast. "We'll bury her, I promise and I'll find you a clean t-shirt."

"She didn't know who I was."

"Because she wasn't Bennett. Bennett would know you."

* * *

Laurence Dominic fought for calm. Heart racing, bile rising again, he tried to place the low keening sound he heard. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Dominic forced his pounding head up and to the right. Topher Brink huddled quite close, in as near to a fetal position as Dominic had ever seen an adult assume.

“Why does everybody shoot her?” Topher asked, presumably addressing his question to the small stone he kicked when it didn’t reply.

Dominic wracked his tired and stressed brain to make sense of the words. Failing that, he improvised. “Some people are unlucky that way,” Dominic said.

His eyes widened when Topher faced him. The tears streaming down his cheeks made the neuroscientist look impossibly young and incredibly lost. That’s the sound I heard—Topher crying. Dominic’s mind offered up an image of Adelle DeWitt speaking softly and touching Topher soothingly. Not exactly my strong suits. “She was pretty,” Dominic murmured, patting Topher on the shoulder awkwardly. “Your friend, I mean.”

“She’s smart,” Topher said, unwinding his posture a bit.

“As smart as you?” Dominic asked, amused despite his heart doing its level best to beat its way out of his chest.

“Smarter,” Topher whispered, smiling through his tears. “Bennett was brilliantly … brilliant.”

A memory tugged at Dominic. Frowning in concentration, he chased it down. “Bennett Halverson?” Dominic asked. “Rossum’s neuroscientist de jour before you showed up?” Topher nodded. Bennett Halverson’s file appeared in Dominic’s mind’s eye. Closing his eyes to sharpen the image, Dominic told Topher Bennett Halverson’s life story. He felt Topher shift into a seated position and imagined his expression as one of rapt child-like attention.

“You have an excellent memory, Mr. Dominic,” Adelle whispered when he struggled to “see” page three of the biography portion of Halverson’s file.

“Part of the job,” Dominic said, reaching for the glass of water Adelle offered.

“Let me,” she said, holding the cup to his lips.

Despite shaking hands, Dominic began, “I can—.”

“I do, of course, realize you are capable of many things, Laurence,” Adelle said, smiling. As she brought the cup of water into position again, she added, “I am merely requesting that you humor me in this regard.”

Accepting the placating lie for what it was, Dominic acquiesced to Adelle helping him drink the water that soothed his raw throat and hit his stomach like a punch. The next thing Dominic knew, he’d thrown up again and Adelle was washing his face with a cloth dampened with water colder than that she’d given him to drink. His instinct was to pull away, but Dominic knew Adelle was right to try to lower his temperature. While eminently practical, the gesture was also frighteningly intimate. The memory of the last time she’d been this close to him surged to the fore. Booster overdose was a poor substitute for predatory pheromonals as an explanation for his eyes focusing on her lips and his ears tuned exclusively to the sound of her voice.

“I told Topher we’d bury Courtney,” she whispered. “Can you help me?”

“Well, we can’t expect Topher to, can we?” Dominic replied, noting how rapidly contemplating digging a grave created proper distance between them. With Adelle’s help, he rose to his feet and limped off to find a shovel.

* * *

Improbably it took them just over 20 minutes to prepare to leave, burial included, but another ten minutes for her to coax Topher away from the graveside. He had started reciting the information Laurence shared with him under his breath and she imagined that they’d be listening to details of Bennett’s education and early career for some time.

Her other patient still looked pale and his hands shook as he lowered himself into the passenger seat. A muscle in his jaw tightened as she started the Jeep and reversed out of the clearing to head back towards the main road. She doubted that he enjoyed leaving the driving to someone else, but he had the sense to keep his reservations to himself.

She hid a smile as she felt him relax – presumably when he realised that she was perfectly competent behind the wheel. A moment later she sobered, remembering how it had felt to see him in such a state, to see him suffer because he’d been trying to protect them and to know there was another team out there – looking for them.

Need and want were not concepts that she could afford to trust these days. But there was no denying that she had needed to touch him, to reassure herself about his condition, to help him. From there it had been all too easy to find herself arrested by his eyes and by the way he’d been gazing at her.

But he had scarcely been able to focus and there was no knowing what he had seen when he’d looked at her. That was the logical and rationale explanation – it was the one favoured by a woman who desperately needed to protect herself. But the same woman was emerging from long months of darkness and she was observant; noticing things that kept happening between them even though she refused to make the intellectual leap necessary to put the pieces together.

* * *

Laurence Dominic stared out at the night sky through the windshield of the Jeep, trying to recall the trade caravan route and the tentative schedule Haley had told him Gavin had put in place. Not knowing what other of the safe locations he’d painstakingly set up had been compromised by Caroline’s ill-fated raid, Dominic had opted to avoid at least the ones closest to where they’d buried Courtney and left Charles and his handler to the bears. The only safe assumption is that Rossum expects its teams to check in periodically and that they probably already know we paid the team at Kevin’s place a visit. Damn, I’m tired.

“Which way, Laurence?” Adelle DeWitt asked. Dominic blinked at the T intersection. He didn’t remember a T intersection. “Are we lost?” she asked with no judgment at all.

“No!” he snarled. “No, no, we are not lost. We’re not.”

“Take your time,” Adelle said, placing a hand on his forearm.

He glared at her. She appeared unimpressed. Frantically, his mind sought the solution to the enigma. We had to get off of the highway and cut through this town in order to pick up the road heading south. But there isn’t a goddamn T intersection. Yet here one is. How the fuck—? “Turn around,” Dominic said. “I don’t remember this intersection because I didn’t come this far. That’s all. That’s all,” he repeated, staring at each possible right turn as they drove back the way they’d come. Ligonier. That’s it! “Turn here,” he said. “In two miles or a little more, we’ll take 17 south. We’ll be on that until morning.” Glancing sidelong at Adelle, he added, “I can take over if you want. I’m feeling better.”

“I’m fine,” Adelle said. “Do we have a destination?” she asked.

Appreciating that she’d given him time and space to work out his next move, he nodded. “It’s a caravan,” he said, “that moves in an almost elliptical route. The southernmost edge will put us pretty close to Safe Haven. The last time I was there, the traveling community had just reached a thousand. Gavin’s trying to grow it to a point where he could push back if Rossum takes exception to what they’re doing. They trade with pockets of actuals. If it wasn’t for Gavin’s brainchild, a lot of actuals wouldn’t have a prayer of getting a lot of the things they need.”

“Why would they take us in, if they don’t want to incur Rossum’s ire?”

“Because they owe me and … and, well, I … ah … have a little pull with a member of Gavin’s family.” Well aware that he could as easily be overstating as understating his case with respect to Gavin’s daughter Haley, Dominic said, “They’ll take us in. We’ll have to take precautions and follow whatever dictates Gavin sets down, but … they’ll take us in.” A visual image of Haley smiling up at him from that ridiculously narrow bed of hers intruded.

“I see.”

Wondering what his expression had shown, Dominic heard the skepticism, curiosity and hope embedded in those two words. Sensing danger in giving Adelle an opportunity to pursue her train of thought, he asked, “So … why aren’t you in Tucson, sipping a cocktail, choosing your next body?” Dominic froze. “Not … ah … not that there’s anything wrong with the current one. Nothing at all. Just … planning for the future, you know.”

Adelle smiled in a scary way. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the current one?” she prompted.

He sighed and looked out into the night. Voice low, clipped, he muttered, “I called you a beautiful woman. I meant it.”

“How long have you held this opinion, Laurence?” Adelle asked, easing onto the on ramp for route 17 south.

“Since I met you.” The shock in her expression allowed him to smile. “Don’t try to convince me you’re unaware of your … allure. It’s just that Laurence Dominic was dialed down to such an extent that thinking that way about his boss was impossible.”

“You never gave any indication …,” she murmured.

“I couldn’t. It was contraindicated.” He laughed, wincing at the bitterness. “I’ve met my share of beautiful women, Adelle. I’ve slept with a few pursuant to various missions sanctioned by the NSA. Never understood what any of them saw in me.”

“Might it have been that you’re an attractive intelligent man?” Adelle said, hand migrating over his bicep to his shoulder.

She finds me attractive? No, that’s not possible. She’s playing an angle.

* * *

The suspicion that settled on his face before he smoothed it away to replace it with something more neutral was enough to warn her off further inquiry.

She withdrew her hand and concentrated on driving as she thought bitterly, he doesn't trust me and why should he?

But after a few moments some of the other things he had said came back to her. He'd told her that he'd made love to women according to the dictates of his missions and then admitted that he'd been attracted to her not because of his mission - almost in spite of it. That meant it was possible that the suspicion she had just recoiled from wasn't about her.

What must it be like to live so long as different people? How could you possibly hold onto who you were, live any semblance of a normal life under those circumstances? Unlike the actives he knew exactly what he was denying himself for all of the time he was undercover. That had to leave an impact on a person. Although she had no idea what it had done to him her instincts told her that his response was part of that legacy. She'd have to proceed with caution - but it was definitely something that would bear further investigation. She risked a glance at him, taking in his profile while her imagination supplied the image of his toned physique. Honestly - there was a lot about this man that she wanted to know better.

"I'm not in Tucson because I turned down my spot on the lifeboat," she said - knowing it wasn't a good idea to leave his question unanswered any longer. She glanced in the rear view mirror to where Topher lay; he was wide awake, eyes peeping out from a bundle of blankets and other things he'd gathered to him. He reminded her of a small boy reading under the covers by torchlight and it was almost impossible to believe that he had willingly helped her to do terrible things. But only almost.

"I tried to hide from the inevitable for as long as I could, to play both sides - but that position quickly became untenable. Everything I tried to do to protect the people I was responsible for went wrong - led to more mistakes, greater abuses of the technology. I realise now how much I was being manipulated but at the time I couldn't seem to find a balance between holding onto power to protect people, to protect myself and giving Rossum the means to destroy us all."

At his startled expression she smiled, bitterness tainting her words. "I obviously got that decision wrong as well. After that tour de force, I tried oblivion. Drunk and insensible wouldn't have been a bad way to see out the end of the world. But something pulled me back. Maybe I thought they still needed protection, or guidance - or something equally arrogant. I decided the only way to fight Rossum was to restore the others, even Caroline - and only I could make that happen."

She almost wished she could stop talking, because she was giving him ample reason to maintain his distance and his suspicion. With every word she was demonstrating that while she might be beautiful the decisions she had made were ugly.

"It's not a particularly noble tale. In my kinder moments I like to think that everything was lost as soon as Rossum discovered Caroline Farrell's existence, maybe as soon as the technology was invented, that I was damned whatever I did. On the other hand I knew Rossum had to be stopped, it took me so long because I couldn't bring myself to admit that the only way to do it was to help Caroline."

"There was time for you to get away," he pointed out, which wasn't exactly the reaction she expected to her confession. "Before the blanket signal I mean, why did you stay?"

She looked down at her hands, they were clenched around the steering wheel. "Leaving would imply that I had somewhere to go," she said - as though the admission meant nothing at all. "Perhaps I thought there was less chance of my causing further pain and suffering if I bricked myself up in my underground kingdom."

"Like sleeping beauty," a voice piped up from the back seat - a further demonstration that Topher could follow a conversation when he wanted to.

"Definitely more the wicked witch sweetheart," she told him keeping her attention firmly fixed on the road. It was easier to focus on the long, dark path ahead of her than the one she had travelled thus far.

* * *

She had nowhere to go? The enormity of that revelation defied description. Never in a million years would Laurence Dominic have thought Adelle DeWitt so solitary. So alone. Nor would he have imagined Adelle using alcohol to forget or as a crutch before discovering that she had no one to turn to for solace.

Dominic tuned back in to the sleeping beauty versus wicked witch debate, amazed that Topher had Adelle smiling after the intensity of her explanation of her parting of the ways with Rossum. “If I’m remembering correctly, the wicked witches and evil stepmothers in those stories were generally attractive,” Dominic offered. Adelle aimed a wry smile in Dominic’s direction. “Just an observation,” he added.

Suddenly, his surroundings faded to black and Clyde’s face hove into view. “Rossum knows what Caroline and her friends are trying to do,” Clyde nearly shouted. “They’re going to deal with them after they’re done with me. No,” Clyde said, grabbing Dominic by the shoulders. “Listen to me. They’ve decided to eliminate me. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s to do with what we’ve been about in here. You have to carry on. There’s nothing you can do for me other than not allow my technology to end the world. Promise me, Laurence. Promise me, you’ll take out the mainframe.” Eyes desperate, fingers digging into Dominic’s shoulders, he said, “Promise me.”

Dominic heard his name being called. The voice was female, familiar and frightened. He blinked and realized he was in his Jeep and that it was stopped on the side of a highway. Adelle’s palm rested on his sweating forehead. “Laurence?” she said. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m ok,” he said. Looking away, he said, “Sorry. I spaced.” Seeing that the vague explanation did nothing to assuage her concern, Dominic sighed. “When I’ve been on boosters for a while, I have … flashbacks. I just relived a … bad moment in the Attic.” He took a slow steadying breath. “Where I made a promise I didn’t keep.” Adelle put the Jeep into gear and pulled back out onto the road. “Did … did Caroline tell you about Clyde?”

“The inventor of the imprint technology, yes,” Adelle said.

Dominic noted her careful tone and how she shifted in the driver’s seat as though she expected to be dealt a blow. “It’s strange,” he mused. “I’m not even sure how long I knew him. It seemed like years, but it had seemed like I’d been stuck behind a desk in the NSA field office for years before I met Clyde and Echo—I mean, Caroline—indicated it hadn’t been that long. Having emerged when I did, I know she was right. Anyway, Clyde and I talked about a lot of things.” Another memory drew a laugh from Dominic. “He tried to explain cricket to me once.” Shaking his head, he continued, “I didn’t get it. Anyway, when he told me Rossum was finally going to kill him, he made me promise to carry on with what we were doing—helping people face their fears, trying to figure out how to take the mainframe offline and such. I did, but … after he was gone, my heart wasn’t in it.” He frowned. “I’m not sure I can explain this.”

“Try,” she suggested, hand coming to rest on his shoulder.

“I’ve been an undercover agent my entire adult life. If I wasn’t undercover, I was preparing to be or debriefing. I always had a mission. Then came the Attic. I was stuck behind a desk without a mission. When Clyde came to kill me, it was almost a relief to have something to do. I fought him off and pursued him.”

“That became your mission,” Adelle said, glancing over at him.

“Yeah,” he said. “Then Caroline, Priya and Tony showed up and I realized I had an opportunity to, in part, fulfill my original mission. So Clyde and I worked together and things seemed—I don’t know, slower and … less relentless when we were together. I think we anchored each other or something. After he was gone, I … I just … wanted to quit. I wanted … to die. So I went looking for a fight, found one and got my wish. And I woke up in the Dollhouse. I figured after I told you guys what was happening, I’d done my bit. I was ready to die. I wanted it.” Meeting Adelle’s eyes, he said, “Losing myself in a bottle would’ve been better, I think.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Adelle whispered, her grip tightening on his shoulder. “Believe me, Laurence, it wouldn’t.”

Putting his hand over the one on his shoulder, he muttered, “I believe you.” Determined to see this through, he said, “When you put me back in the Attic, I tried.” Meeting her eyes, his begged for understanding. “I did try, Adelle. I swear I did but … I just … wasn’t effective. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t just go through the motions. That’s not me, but something inside of me gave way when Rossum killed Clyde.” Staring out the windshield, he asked, “Am I making any sense at all?”

“Perfect sense.”

He chuckled. “Thanks for saying that.” Squeezing her hand, he said, “I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that I know what it’s like to have nowhere to turn.”

* * *

The cold, clear morning air was refreshing and she stretched, trying to work out stiffness in her back and legs from long hours in the Jeep. Standing here, looking out at the hills as the sun rose, Adelle had to admit that somehow she felt lighter.

It wasn't the altitude. They weren't high enough for that, even though mere inches from where she stood the side of the road fell steeply away and some distance below she could make out the glint of a stream snaking its way across the valley floor. The news that this was the last marker, that the caravan was close by had brought relief and a dawning of hope. The hope refused to leave her, even though she wasn't exactly sure whether Laurence's influence would be sufficient to gain shelter for two refugees from Rossum. In their place she wasn't sure she would be prepared to take the risk.

Taking in another lungful of the bracing air she turned to look at her companions. Topher, still shrouded in blankets, was sitting in the doorway of the Jeep. He hadn't wanted her to open the door and to even have him emerge this far from his cocoon was a victory of sorts.

He'd had a bad night, waking from a dream calling out for Bennett. His distress had been sufficient to persuade her to stop the Jeep so Laurence could drive and she could get into the back to try to calm him down. In the end he had fallen asleep during her telling of a version of the Selkie myth that she remembered from her childhood.

She moved slightly to give her an improved vantage point from which to observe her other companion. She knew that Laurence had played a significant part in making her feel better. Understanding was far more than she had any right to expect from him; yet it seemed to be there anyway. Rooted in the sense of loss and hopelessness that they were both only too familiar with.

He'd looked haunted by his flashback to the Attic and she was certain that what he had described to her was only the tip of the iceberg. Her instinctive reaction was to blame herself, to allow the guilt to define her response. But she'd pushed it aside, focusing instead on the man who had lived through the experience. She didn't know how to help him, but she knew that she wanted to try.

She watched him move around the Jeep, checking it over - he looked less tired she thought, the rejuvenating effects of the mountain air perhaps. He seemed to have overcome the worst effects of the booster overdose, though perhaps now there would be other people around them he would feel able to allow himself to rest. His circuit of the Jeep over, his eyes lingered on Topher; though he was wise enough to leave him be, turning to take in the view instead.

She glanced over her shoulder, following his example, enjoying the way the hills rose gracefully in the distance, before turning back to find Laurence looking straight at her.

He looked away hurriedly and she smiled at his reluctance to acknowledge what might be happening, even as he seemed drawn to watching her. She was increasingly sure that he was holding back and not because of anything she had said or done to him. She looked back and caught him just turning his head away from her, as though he found it easier to watch her when she wasn't aware of his scrutiny.

She relished the slight fluttering in her stomach. Whatever this was between them it was something real, something she hadn't managed to destroy. God it felt good.

The sting was like nothing she had ever experienced before and bizarrely the crack came after the pain. Her leg gave way with the impact and even as she heard Laurence and Topher calling out she stumbled. She was too close to the edge, there was nothing to give her purchase and she tumbled - feeling the ground slip away beneath her; too startled even to cry out.

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eeeek! wonderful ending.

I'm loving this, it's so bittersweet and heartbreaking.

The two of them have an awful lot to sort out, that's for sure. It was interesting to write some of these conversations because they became very intense very quickly. I tried something a little different with Dominic this time and he seemed to mesh with this particular Adelle pretty well. I'm glad it's working for you so far.

Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

Excellent chapter.

Ugh cliffhanger (and a great one at that), I cannot wait until you next update.

Thank you for the positive feedback. I'm working on the next update as I type. I don't want to leave the cliffhanger ending too long. Maybe as soon as tomorrow, but most definitely by Thursday.

I'm so glad you're along for this ride.

Well damn, there's something you just don't see coming. Adelle passing out like that was actually kind of creepy, and exciting as well. I'm on the edge of my keyboard, please update soon!

Overall the chapter was good. It got a bit to hectic during the fight scenes, but was nicely rounded out by meaningful conversations. I especially like how they're both testing the waters but can't completely jump in, totally understandable given the circumstances. And yet they seem more like a couple every chapter. This relationship is just so tragic, twisted, hot and passionate, all in one messed up package. Keep doing whatever it is your doing, because it's working.

Update has already happened. See what quick service you get sometimes!

Fight scenes are not my specialty, but I do try to keep them at least semi-coherent. Sounds like I managed that.

The conversations in this story are solid. I'm very pleased with them. They are the parts of just about any story that interest me and I'm glad these are holding up to scrutiny.

I think Adelle is a little ahead of Dom at this point in thinking about their relationship. Dom seems to be actively trying not to think about it. But, as you point out, actions can speak louder than words. And if they look like a couple, and seem like a couple, then, perhaps, ...

Their relationship is coming out of such a dark place that it can be nothing less than you describe it.

Glad the story is working for you.

It's nice of you to say that they seem more like a couple with every chapter. I think that was what we were hoping for - even though we didn't plan it that way. They are both in dark places and it's never going to be easy to build something and yet there was a real fluidity to their interactions before. Thanks for the comments.

Eeeeeeeeee! Another action packed chapter! Now to unpack! :)

TOPHER! First you're adorable and then you're tragic and lost again! :-( :-( :-(

Dominic wracked his tired and stressed brain to make sense of the words. Failing that, he improvised. “Some people are unlucky that way,” Dominic said. Oh, Dom, lol. That's just...that made me giggle possibly more than it should have. I mean, he's exhausted, he's puking his guts out...so naturally he defaults to the bluntly true; it's awesome.

Also! The Boosters! Dom! Puking is preferable to your heart jumping out of your chest, but not by much! *hand flail of concern*

"I realise now how much I was being manipulated but at the time I couldn't seem to find a balance between holding onto power to protect people, to protect myself and giving Rossum the means to destroy us all." <--- This is a fantastic summary of the craziness that was going on in Adelle's head in the last few episodes where I wanted to brain her against the wall. This quote makes me feel much more sympathetic to her.

The fairytale metaphor returns!!! Also, not that it matters in this stage of the game (or apparently to Dominic), but while the wicked step-mother was always beautiful, she was never more beautiful than the heroine. Not that I suppose that matters if you're not Prince Charming... (Sidenote: Also, it's always the older sister that's the evil one... That used to bother me quite a lot when I was younger... and then I became an evil stepsister and it bothered me less....)

ATTIC FLASHBACKS!!! YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! BRING ON THE TRAUMA!!!! My personal fanon is that the Attic was a thousand times worse for Dominic the second time around, partly because he felt all depressed and betrayed (and was weaker) and because Rossum knew he was capable of escaping and so turned up the torture.


It was fun to take Topher from funny to tragic to pathetic to insane and jump around between all of them.

Puking!Dom=Philosopher!Dom (sort of).

Yes, morgan72uk has Adelle DeWitt down pat. Her summary said it in far fewer words than I ever could.

You know, I didn't realize that the fairy tale metaphor permeated this thing until you pointed it out. How interesting? Kept coming back to it without realizing it. I'm very sure Dominic doesn't see himself as Prince Charming. Very very sure.

I enjoyed writing Attic flashbacks. They make it still seem so immediate and part of him.

There had to be some cliffhangers in this. There just had to.

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