derevko_child: (dh | D/D | hands)
derevko_child ([personal profile] derevko_child) wrote on April 22nd, 2011 at 10:55 pm
Dollhouse fic: There was a time you had it made (Everything was going your way); PG-13
Title: There was a time you had it made (Everything was going your way)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own Dollhouse or the characters.
Characters: Juliet/Adelle Dewitt, Laurence Dominic, Roger!Victor
Words: a lot? 11, 801
Summary: Okay, maybe this is the time to stop asking questions. The flimsy explanation that all Actives are volunteers is being blown out of the water every time she answers his questions. He doesn’t need this. Not now.

Notes: This is the third fic for Alternate Universe #1 aka the Juliet Series. Some details from Everything's Not Lost and Counting Up My Demons are included in this part.

This is for [livejournal.com profile] oltha_heri. I hope you love it. Thank you to the ever-lovely [livejournal.com profile] sunney for the beta. I'm sorry if I made your eyes bleed. ♥

All mistakes are mine. I hope you enjoy.



“You might be wondering why I asked to talk to you.”

He is. After what happened today, he doesn’t really know what to expect.

“Take a seat, Mr. Dominic.”

The Head of the LA Dollhouse, a voluptuous woman with thick brown hair and clear blue eyes gives him a polite and a rather empty smile as he sits down in front of her. They’re in the Head of Security’s office, and it’s empty, except for the two of them.

Laurence watches as she rummages through the desk drawers. After a few seconds, she finally finds what she’s searching for—a bottle of Scotch and an empty glass.

“Drink?”

He shakes his head. “Thank you, ma’am.”

She fills the glass halfway through before drinking it in one gulp.

“You’ve heard about what happened to our former Head of Security?” she asks as she puts the glass down on the table.

He opens his mouth to answer, but she cuts him off, “What was I thinking; naturally, you’ve heard of it. Secrets don’t stay secrets for long in this place.” He can hear bitterness in her tone.

He doesn’t say anything. She’s obviously angry; there is no need to aggravate her.

She pours herself another glass and leans back on the chair. She looks at him and raises the drink to her lips to take another sip before asking, “how would you have handled the situation?”

He blinks. What? “Excuse me?” he replies.

“I know you heard me the first time, Mr. Dominic,” she says, gesturing with her free hand. “How would you have handled the situation? When Topher comes running in, telling you – the Head of Security – that he found alien technology in his chair. What would you have done?”

Okay, so he might not have expected that.

He stares at her and she, once again, leans back against the leather chair.

For a few minutes, Laurence doesn’t speak. He doesn’t know what to say. Is she for real?

“Mr. Dominic, why should you be the new Head of Security of the LA Dollhouse?”


Several hours earlier…

“Morning, Dom.”

He looks up and sees Ramirez entering the lounge.

“Look who’s chipper today,” he remarks, bringing the coffee mug to his lips. It’s his second cup of the morning and, even though their lounge is Spartan and feels more like an armory than a place to relax, he’s got to admit that they have excellent coffee.

Ramirez goes to the espresso machine (yes, they have those here, surprise) and gets a cup for herself before sliding down in the seat beside him. “I got my initial schedule for the week,” she says. “And I have another date with Ms. Lonelyhearts. Today.”

“Don’t you like that?” he asks, briefly glancing at the newspaper on the table. “You get more slow time outside.”

Ramirez scoffs, “Yeah. In a van, watching Victor’s vital stats go through the roof because he’s got the hots for some wrinkly, creaky Septuagenarian in a walker.”

The thought of Victor romancing a very old woman who can barely walk brings a grimace to his face. “Nice imagery," he says dryly.

Ramirez stands up and takes her coffee with her. “Thanks. I like to spread the joy around.” She says in a conspiratorial tone. “Gotta go.”

He gets the newspaper when Ramirez leaves and quickly scans through the pages. After a few minutes, he checks his watch and finishes his coffee before leaving for the facility.

~*~

Ivy takes a deep breath as Juliet takes a seat in the chair. She then turns towards the computers and as she starts to type, the chair tilts downwards.

“First time Topher let you touch his toys, Ivy?” he asks.

“Yep," she answers, almost absent-mindedly.

Topher slides into the view. "Just for the day, man-friend," he says. “Or maybe until I finish fixing this. Bullets," he explains with a flick of his hands. “Not exactly compatible with the chair.”

The programmer stands up and wipes his hands on his pants. “How ya doing, Dom? I never really saw you after you brought back Juliet from her self-guided journey.”

Laurence glances at his Active in the Chair. “Costley gave me three days off for my efforts to save her from herself,” he answers simply. He had lied about what had transpired in that house and decided to go along with what they had initially assumed. It’s not as if Juliet can tell them what happened.

“Niiice. You can be one of those, you know, people at the other end of the suicide hotlines," Topher says with a grin.

Ivy gives him a look. “Suicide is a serious matter, Topher.”

The man-child pauses just for a split second before resuming his conversation with him. “So, this imprint came from Washington, made by Bennett Halverson himself,” he says with the enthusiasm of a kid. “Suffice to say you and the imprint have met.”

“Her?” The imprint with no name. “Again?” This is the sixth time. The client specifically wanted the imprint to be made by the Washington Dollhouse, to Topher’s annoyance—a blow to his ego, no doubt. But then again, every time the name Bennett Halverson’s mentioned he starts gushing like a little girl, so, maybe not.

The chair stops whirring and he stands at attention.

Juliet sits up and opens her eyes.

“Ma’am,” he greets and takes a sideway step towards the door.

She blinks and glances around. He sees confusion passing over her face, but she quickly masks it. “Good morning, Mister…” she trails off, not completing her greeting. Because unlike her other imprints, this one doesn’t seem to get updated every time the wedge returns to the Washington house,

“Please forgive me,” she says, tilting her head to the side. She’s perfectly poised with a matching posh British accent. “But I can’t seem to remember your name.”

“It’s Dominic, ma’am,” he says and motions to the door. “Shall we…?”

She slides off the chair, ever so elegantly. “Of course.”

He notices Topher giving him a funny look. He ignores him, as always, and follows Juliet (Ma’am) out of the room.

~*~

“Hello, Dominic,” Franklin greets him. “And who are we today?” he asks Juliet (as he always does) as Dominic hands him the work order. Franklin gives it a quick read and whistles. “Hello, Ms. She-Who-Has-No-Name,” he says before giving them a flamboyant flick of a hand.

“Oh, you.” Franklin gives Juliet the once-over, “Always so serious. Give it all back to Mr. Dominic. Serious suits him better.” Franklin then gives him an exaggerated wink and returns his attention to Juliet, “This is Tanya. She’s at your beck and call.”

Juliet looks at him before following Tanya to the back. He then proceeds to one of the chairs. Ramirez is seated at the far end of the room and seems to be reading a trashy magazine.

He grabs a National Geographic and sits at the other end of the room. He sighs and leans back on the wall. It takes an hour, more or less, for Juliet to finish whatever it is they do in there.

Victor steps out from the dressing room, wearing a three-piece suit. The Active turns to Ramirez and strikes a pose.

“How do I look, Ms. Ramirez?” he asks. He takes the rose Karen hands to him. “Thank you,” he says with a smile. Topher really dumped all the suave and the charisma he could find into this personality— the Doll’s practically a one-woman James Bond.

He hears Ramirez sigh in annoyance. “Ready to go, lover boy?” she asks.

“Yes, of course,” Victor says.

“Bye, Rooooger,” Franklin calls to him.

Laurence doesn’t tear his eyes off the magazine. He could do away with the imagery of Victor getting it on with an old lady.

He’s reading the fourth article when he hears Juliet’s voice getting louder. He puts down the magazine and stands up. This personality isn’t the type to waste time.

“Thank you, Tanya.” She walks out of the dressing area. Her hair is down and she’s wearing a dark blue dress made out of… something shiny he’s forgotten what it’s called; he could ask Franklin, but he’d probably get a lecture about every fabric known to man) and a pair of really high heels.

“Mr. Dominic?” She turns to him half-expectantly as Tanya assists her with putting on her coat. Laurence notes that she’s almost as tall as he is as she walks towards his position.

He doesn’t say anything and leads the way out.

~*~

This is the nth time the gray, noisy, static lines have appeared on the monitors, completely blocking Juliet’s vital stats. He’s tried fixing it by asking the driver to drive the van out of the underground parking, but their location isn’t the problem.

She has a romantic engagement, which means there aren’t any real threats (unless the client turns out to be a psycho killer, like what happened in Echo’s engagement), but it doesn’t hurt to check the computer once in a while, especially since she asked him to watch her back.

Laurence takes his phone and presses the speed dial to Topher’s office.

“Whoever you are, I’m busy.”

The greeting immediately makes his temper flare. “Well, if that’s the case, you shouldn’t be answering the damn phone.”

“It’s something of a second nature to me, Snarly Gnarly Man. Phone rings, I pick it up.”

“My signal’s getting interferences. The monitor’s getting static every few minutes.”

“Not-o my problem-o.”

Times like these are times when he seriously wished he was in the same room as Topher so that he could throttle him with his bare hands.

“And besides, it’s a romantic engagement. Echo gets all the creeps, so, chill.”

His cheek twitches. “Fine,” he growls, knowing too well that the programmer’s right. “But fix this.”

“Okay. Fine. Gotta go.”

With insolence that only Topher can demonstrate, his call gets cut off. Laurence takes a deep breath before putting his phone down (gently) on the metal desk and then hitting the side of the monitor. The static hisses and then goes out, giving him a clear screen.

He doesn’t take his eyes off the monitor for a few minutes. Juliet’s calm; no action in this front as of yet.

“Ryan, can we go back to where we were parked when we first got here?” he asks.

The engine revs up and the van starts moving.

~*~

“What are you doing, Dom?”

He doesn’t like it that people have started calling him Dom without even asking him if he wanted to be called Dom. But then, he supposes Dom is better than Larry. And Lorenzo.

“Crossword,” he answers and looks at the driver. Ryan doesn’t talk most of the time, but when he does open his mouth, he turns out to be an annoying prat.

“I’m playing Lemonade Tycoon on my phone.”

“That’s great,” he responds sarcastically and checks Juliet’s stats on the malfunctioning computer.

“Check it out. I’m year 3 in my lemonade stand business and we’re still in this underground garage. How boring is this life?”

He gives him a scathing glare, which immediately shuts the driver up. He glances at his watch before he tries finishing the newspaper crossword.

“I’m thinking of buying a taco from one of the stands on the street. Want one?” Ryan says, out of the blue.

Laurence doesn’t lift his head from the paper. “Now you’re breaching protocol.”

“Hey, we’ve been here almost six hours. I’m not like you, Dom. I ain’t a robot.” Ryan adds, “I won’t pee in a cup either. Do you want anything or not?”

He merely grunts a reply and then ignores him. Ryan starts to grumble while opening the driver’s side of the door and slamming it shut behind him.

When he’s alone, he puts down his pen and the newspaper and lets out a deep breath. It feels different doing this, after what happened in that house with Juliet. He’s quite sure she wasn’t a volunteer; the way she knew things suggests that she might have been connected to the Dollhouse before she became a doll.

To think that Rossum can basically force anyone to do their bidding is unsettling, but not surprising. The truth that they can get away with it, however, is the most horrifying part.

Laurence tries to shake away the thoughts from his head and turns his attention back to the crossword. When Ryan returns to the van, he still hasn’t figured out what the ten-letter word for a parasite living in the host’s tissues is.

“So I got you some tacos. And a large cup of iced tea so that you can pee in a large cup if ever we end up spending more than twelve hours in this place,” Ryan starts and puts a brown paper bag beside him. “You owe me five bucks.”

“Those are some expensive tacos.” He puts down the newspaper and digs out change from his pocket.
His eyes fall back to the monitors. There’s been consistent interference with the equipment all day and complaining to Topher hadn’t fixed the problem. He hasn’t even called back.

Laurence hits the monitor and the fuzz on the screen disappears. He then tosses his money towards Ryan before taking his taco, leans on his chair and starts eating.

“Besht. Tacosh. Ever.” Ryan blubbers.

The man is exaggerating (they aren’t the best tacos ever), but they’re good enough. And he is hungry; the last time he ate was almost five hours ago.

Laurence absent-mindedly chews on his food as he stares at the monitor. Sometimes, he wonders why the client would specifically want an Active from Los Angeles, but would insist that the programming be made by the Washington House. Would there be an obvious difference (so to speak)?

But then, the client is an excessively rich (and probably insecure) man; he can request whatever damn thing he wants.

He reaches for his iced tea when he notices something off with Juliet’s statistics. He looks (really looks) at the monitor and curses under his breath when the static comes back again.

“What’s wrong, Dom?” he hears Ryan ask.

He grabs his cell phone and calls Topher, but the call doesn’t go through. He tries again, using another number, to no avail.

“Ryan, call Torres from central. I can’t get through to the lab,” he says and turns on the GPS tracer.

A deep frown creases his face when he sees that she isn’t in the building anymore. “Start the van, Ryan,” he barks to the driver.

His tone doesn’t betray the fact that panic has started to rush through him. The spike on the monitor isn’t excitement; it’s fear and pain. Juliet’s afraid, probably even hurt, and she’s out of the building. Hell, looking at the tracker, she’s just gone out of their radius.

“The House is in a lock—”

“—just start the damn van, Ryan!” he growls and checks his gun.

~*~

The house is empty, eerily silent.

Laurence walks silently across the foyer, with his gun drawn. Of all places for Juliet to hide, she manages to find her way to this particular house.

He inspects all the rooms on the first floor (her coat and her purse are scattered in the living room) and, finding no one, proceeds to the second floor.

He checks the tracker. She's still in this location.

“Ma’am?” he calls out and cautiously goes up the steps. There isn’t a response. It makes him wish that this imprint had a name; it would be easier to seek her out.

He reaches the top of the stairs and glances around. There doesn’t seem to be a single soul here.

He checks the rooms, one by one, before making his way towards the room at the end of the hallway. The door is slightly ajar and he pushes it slowly, his gun still in front of him.

The room is a mess. The pillows, the bed sheets, and the lamps are strewn around, like a hurricane had just gone through.

“Ma’am?” Laurence says, even more cautiously than before. He doesn’t know what she’s doing. He doesn’t even know the parameters of this damn engagement, only that it’s ‘romantic, nothing hardcore, don’t worry about it.’ (He’s going to kill Topher later).

He sees Juliet in the corner, gripping a lamp without its shade. She seems frightened.

He slowly puts down his weapon. “Everything’s going to be all right,” Laurence states, rather gruffly, hoping it will appease her. He never liked the way she freezes when he brings up the word treatment when her personality isn’t calm.

She doesn’t make any move to put down the lamp.

“Juliet.” He hides his gun. Her expression turns that to confusion. “Ma’am,” he corrects, wincing inwardly. “Everything’s going to be alright,” he repeats, gentler this time.

She lowers the lamp slightly. “Now that you’re here.”

“Do you tr—”

“—I need you to help me find something,” she interrupts, turning away from him to rummage in a drawer.

The ease with which she dodged the protocol leaves him standing there without knowing what to do. She’s never done that before. He hasn’t heard of an Active doing that before.

He stares at her, observing her. Juliet retreated to this place when her personality was imprinted back into her; with a wholly different personality, she goes back here during a time of panic.

The doctor-prescribed self-fulfillment journey didn’t seem to have fixed the glitch. And he knows that reporting this behaviour would send her to the Attic. Laurence finally decides to let this play out, just to see where this road leads.

“Ma’am, what happened?” he asks, keeping his distance from her. “Why are we here?”

“Mr. Dominic.” Juliet turns around. “Please.” Exasperation and urgency tinge her tone.

He crosses his arms in front of his chest. “What happened.”

She puts a hand on her hip and looks at him. Her face is unreadable.

“Can’t you trust me on this one, Mr. Dominic?” Her tone is fused with dryness and she stares at him with an air of command. The imprint is a woman who gives out orders and expects that they be done, and paired with the crisp British accent, she exudes the aura of a woman who asks for what she wants and gets it. Immediately.

He finds himself relenting. “What exactly are we looking for?” he asks as he squats down to check under the bed.

“I… don’t know,” she says and resumes searching through the drawers. He looks at her almost in disbelief. He should have known that that would have been the answer. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

“Ma’am—”

“—oh, for God’s sake,” she snaps irritably. “Stop calling me ma’am.” She massages the side of her head. “Those people…” she breathes out. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. There’s something very wrong, Mr. Dominic. And I can’t work out what it is.”

This is not good. They can’t let an imprint realize what – or who – they truly are.

“I don’t know what I’m searching for, but I know it’s here. I hid it in this house,” she continues.

He should probably stop this line of inquiry. “But why this house?”

“I live here,” Juliet answers, an odd expression flickering across her features. “I’m a researcher…” she trails off and disorientation appears on her face. “I’m researching…” she starts, but trails off once more. She looks at him again, her brows drawn together, “… enzymes.”

Juliet takes a step back, blinking at him, trying to figure out what’s going on with her.

Okay, maybe this is the time to stop asking questions. The flimsy explanation that all Actives are volunteers is being blown out of the water every time she answers his questions. He doesn’t need this. Not now.

“Everything’s going to be alright,” he says, reaching out to her.

She frowns. “Now that you’re here.”

“Do you trust me?” he continues, not breaking eye contact. Betrayal quickly flits by her face, something that shouldn’t even be possible. She doesn’t respond. “Juliet, do you trust me?” he presses.

“With my life.”

He nods his head, almost in relief and touches her arm. “It’s time for your treatment.” She nods and then he adds, “If you want, I can come back here and find it for you.” He takes her wrist, to make sure she leaves with him, and leads her out of the room.

“You don’t know what it is I’m looking for,” she says.

He shrugs. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

~*~

“I understand from your initial report that Juliet didn’t complete her engagement?”

He briskly nods. “Yes, ma’am. She ran off at around 3 PM.”

“Hmm.” Costley reads the file – most probably his report – and doesn’t say anything else. Topher’s behind the head of the house, looking grim and fatigued. Ivy’s gone home; after the events of the day (almost being sent to the Attic because she was made to look like the mole), he doesn’t blame her.

“Fear and pain?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She looks at him. His first impression of Madeleine Costley was that she looked like the sweet, girl-next-door who knew that the right kind of make-up would imply otherwise. Right now, she’s looking more of the girl-next-door than the savvy businesswoman she projects.

She quickly averts her gaze from him and hands the file to Topher. “I’ll consider it as part of our mole-related incident.” She starts walking away, then stops and looks at him again. “May I have a word, Mr. Dominic?”




IMPRINT: VICTOR


He looks at himself in the mirror, thinking about Catherine’s reaction when she sees him. He arrived from London earlier than expected and he wants to surprise her.

Karen hands him a set of cufflinks he chose earlier. “My, my,” he admires the design first before putting them on.

He straightens up and runs his hand down his coat. She loves him elegant in a suit as much as she loves him out of one.

“I believe I’m done here, Karen.” He turns to his assistant. “You have my rose for Ms. Ramirez?”

“Here it is, Roger.”

He follows her out of the dressing room and into the waiting area. A man sitting near the door gives him a throwaway glance before looking back to what he’s reading. Ms. Ramirez is at the far end of the room.

“How do I look Ms. Ramirez?” he asks as Karen hands him a long-stemmed rose. “Thank you,” he says, smiling at Karen and at Ms. Ramirez.

He sees Ms. Ramirez roll her eyes. Oh, that woman, he thinks. She proclaims to everybody that there isn’t a romantic bone in her body, but he sees her reading all those romantic novels to pass the time.

“Ready to go, lover boy?”

He starts walking. “Yes, of course.”

“Bye, Rooooger.”

He gives a little wave goodbye to the mousy man in the lilac shirt and hurries to catch up with Ms. Ramirez. “This is for you, ma’am.” He hands her the rose, which she accepts without a word.

“I don’t get a thank you?” he asks good-naturedly. He knows she isn’t used to such flirtatious overtures, but he likes her and he thinks it’s a fine gesture to give her.

They’re waiting for the lift when she turns towards him slightly. “Thank you for the rose, Roger,” she says. “It’s lovely.”

He grins. “You’re welcome.”

After a few minutes, they’re up in the garage, walking towards the vans.

“Don’t even start; I got him on another Lonelyhearts engagement.”

“What’s that make, four?”

He buttons his coat as he watches the people Ms. Ramirez is talking to. A tall man with a deep voice with a lady wearing a very skimpy leather outfit.

“Five. How pathetic is that old bag?”

He stops himself from scoffing, “Ms. Ramirez pretends she’s jaded, but she’s got a secret stash of bodice rippers in the van. I’ve seen it.”

She shrugs her shoulders. “Not true.”

He folds his hands in front of him. “She wants to be kidnapped by a pirate,” he says, almost conspiratorially.

“I know a guy,” the leather-clad woman starts. He notices that she’s holding a whip.

He turns to Ms. Ramirez and quips, “If only I wasn’t madly in love with my darling.” He gently places his hand behind her back. “I’d shanghai you myself.”

She gives him a look before glancing at the tall man. “I’ll take S&M Barbie over him any day.” She motions to him to follow her, “Come on, your geriatric princess awaits.”

They’re going to one of the vans when Ms. Ramirez suddenly stops and reaches for her leg.

“Ow!”

He looks back and sees that the woman in leather has flicked Ms. Ramirez with her whip

“It’s love. Show some respect,” she states. Of course it’s love. Who’s the geriatric princess Ms. Ramirez has been mentioning? He doesn’t have a princess; he has a queen and she’s barely into her forties. He glances at his companion, who straightens up.

He hides his smile and follows her to the van.

~*~

Ms. Ramirez drops him off at Mrs. Dowd’s house. He brings the lovely woman a bouquet of red lilacs – her favorites – and stays for morning tea and an animated conversation (she’s almost finished with her needlework, and the garden’s shaping up beautifully). After spending almost an hour-and-a-half in the kitchen, he heads towards the garage and hops into his car. He takes a careless glance at the black van parked outside Mrs. Dowd’s house before gunning the engine and speeding away.

He caresses the dashboard as he would a woman, admiring his handiwork. He restored this car himself, a project that he had undertaken as a de-stressor from his work.

After turning right from the main road, he passes through several stoplights and intersections before arriving at the busy part of the city. Los Angeles is very different from London and though he prefers his home city more, he likes Los Angeles’ energy.

He pulls into his usual spot in the underground garage and proceeds up to the laboratory. He looks at his watch; it’s not too early for lunch, he thinks, as he takes off his sunglasses.

He breezes through the hallways, saying a friendly hello to those who greet him. When he turns the corner, he sees Matthew Harding coming out of the lab.

“Matthew,” he greets rather suspiciously as he walks towards the doors. “Adelle despises people who hover.”

“Roger.” Harding gives him a sycophantic smile. “I’m not hovering; I’m supervising,” he explains.

He stares at the older man. “She also despises being underestimated," he says. He knows Harding personally; he also knows that Adelle isn’t fond of the man and the only reason she hasn’t walked out of this place is because she knows her work is important.

“We both know that woman can do whatever she wants and the company won’t bat an eyelash.” It’s a crude way of saying that Adelle DeWitt and her research are important investments for Rossum.

The smile on Harding’s face turns into a sneer. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Harding walks away. Puzzled, he turns towards the man’s retreating back. Harding never backs out of a verbal tussle. His sudden departure is quite baffling.

He shakes his head and raps on the door. After a few seconds, he hears Adelle call out for him to come in. A grin appears on his face as he turns the knob.

“Good morning.”

~*~

“Frankly, I don’t understand how Harding expects me to finish my research when he keeps transferring my assistants for other projects. One is in Norway, while my newest assistant is in Switzerland.”

He watches her huff out her frustration (although she might tell him, rather impertinently, that she doesn’t huff) as they walk towards their favorite bistro, merely a block away from the building.

“At least he’s not cutting your budget,” he remarks.

“And there’s that,” she says somewhat sardonically. “With all those missing extra hands and brains, I’ll consider myself lucky if I get to the final testing phase within the year.”

“Your assistants will be back,” he tells her in an assuring tone, casually putting an arm around her waist.

He feels Adelle look at him and he takes in the sight of her. She gives him a smile and he’s struck at how ridiculous it is that he keeps on forgetting just how beautiful she is when she smiles.

“I’m sorry. How was London?” she asks, changing the subject and leaning towards him.

“Warm,” he replies. “Unusually so.”

She sighs, almost wistfully.

“I miss home.”

He pulls away from her and turns, his fingers sliding down her arm to hold her hand, and he starts walking backwards just so he can look at her. “Let’s take a month-long vacation. Two weeks in London, and then we’ll go around Rome and maybe Paris?” God knows she needs a break from all of the research. “Or maybe we go to an island paradise. We could rent a villa and laze in bed all day?”

A soft smile appears on her face, which makes him believe for a moment that she’s actually going to say yes. “A vacation? That sounds nice.”

“It is. And it’s something that doesn’t involve wearing lab coats, probing under microscopes, or torturing those poor mice. It’s something everybody needs.” He stops walking and adds, “It’s something you need.”

She makes a slight face and takes a step forward to kiss him.

“I’ll think about it.”

~*~

“Addie? Is something the matter?”

She appears quite disorientated and he doesn’t know if it’s what he said or something else entirely. She’s staring at his hand.

He slightly tugs at her hand. “Adelle, what’s wrong?” he asks, gravely concerned. Adelle blinks and shakes her head.

“I… don’t know,” she replies and pulls her hand away. He feels her stare at his very soul before shaking her head. “It’s nothing.”

He gives her a skeptical look, “Really now?”

She doesn’t speak for a few minutes. She doesn’t even move an inch.

Finally, Adelle takes a sip from her glass of wine. “Oh, all right,” she says. She lowers her voice to a whisper, “I may have figured out what I’m doing wrong with the current formula I’m working on.”

“And how does it work?”

She smiles at him, albeit a little uneasily, and begins to explain that sudden hit of inspiration. A change of enzymes, she says, and if she gets it right, she’s certain it’s going to be successful on her little lab mice.

He’s not quite sure if she’s telling the truth (about that moment being entirely about her formula), but she has resumed eating. It’s her very subtle way of saying that she’s not going to talk about this anymore (whatever this is).

The silence lingers on for a few minutes. He tries to lighten the abruptly somber mood with a joke about their engagement, but it is only met with a small smile (in retrospect, it was a bad idea).

“I’m sorry, darling.”

She looks up in surprise. “Whatever for?”

“For whatever I said that upset you,” he earnestly replies. Because frankly, he doesn’t know what just happened moments ago and the only solution that he can come up with is to apologize. It worked before and he still doesn’t know what happened.

Adelle looks at him intently before she starts laughing. She reaches out across the table and touches his face. “You’ve done nothing wrong.” She rubs her thumb against his cheek. “Work has unfortunately overtaken my brain, love. I should be the one apologizing.”

He takes her hand. “Does this mean you won’t be staying for dessert?” He already knows she’s going to say yes.

“I’m afraid so.”

“I can’t convince you to stay?”

She pulls her hand back to her side. “Well, I am in need of an assistant. If you’re willing…” she tells him with a twinkle in her eye.

“Sadly, this isn’t my area of expertise. I’d possibly be the worst assistant you’ve ever had,” he replies with a chuckle. “You’d curse to me high heavens. I'd perhaps even end up breaking more Petri dishes than you could ever imagine.”

Adelle gives him a teasing smile. “You? Break Petri dishes? I doubt it.” She puts the table napkin beside her plate and gathers her purse and coat. “I’ll see you home later?” she asks as she rises from her chair.

“I’ll be swimming in the pool naked.”

“I’ll be expecting that.” She kisses him on the cheek before walking away, but immediately goes back to kiss him again, this time capturing his lips with hers and in a way that’s making him wish that she’d just agree to skip work, go home and watch the day go by in the comfort of their bed.

“See you later,” she says huskily before leaving for real.

He sits in his chair for a few minutes, grinning like a fool, before getting the bill.

~*~

He's walking through the parking garage when he sees Harding standing by his car, clearly displeased, waiting for him.

“Matthew,” he greets with caution. He wonders how long he’s been by his car. He had taken a long stroll after paying for lunch, checking out some stores within the area.

“Roger,” the older man replies, looking at him with beady eyes. “May I have a word?”

He shrugs. “All right.” He leans on the hood of his car and waits.

“In my office.”

He waits for a beat, half-expecting the theme from Twilight Zone to start playing. “All right.”

Harding leads him to one of the private lifts. The elevator doors open with a ding and Harding bares his teeth at him, a poor attempt at a smile, before stepping inside.

The short ride to Harding’s office is tension-filled. He’s not fond of Harding and it’s not difficult to see that Harding isn’t fond of him either.

“What is it you want to talk about, Matthew?” he asks, the moment he steps into Harding’s office.

Harding goes to his mini-bar. “Adelle’s notes.”

“What about them?” He sits in the leather chair in front of Harding’s desk and looks around surreptitiously. For someone with Harding’s ego, the room is quite bare.

“We can’t make heads or tails of out them. I was wondering if you could take a look.” Harding turns to him. “Drink?”

He shakes his head. “I’m a businessman, Matthew. Not a scientist.”

Harding doesn’t say anything and instead walks towards his desk with a glass of Scotch in his hand. He then takes a seat and pushes a brown folder towards the desk’s edge.

He takes it and opens the file. “Is this your way of getting back at me for simultaneously withdrawing my support on your Rossum projects, Matthew?” he asks. “Because it’s slightly anti-climactic.”

Harding doesn’t say anything.

He puts the folder on his lap and browses through copies of Adelle’s handwritten notes. He doesn’t understand any of it.

“Why not ask Addie?” He tosses the file back to Harding. He’s smart, but he isn’t Adelle—

“Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind,” Harding starts, watching him over the rim of glass of scotch.

His mind buzzes and his entire body goes lax.

“If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you, as the wheels of the oxcart follow the footsteps of the ox.”

“How is Addie’s research coming along, Roger?”

“Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a pure mind, happiness will follow you, as a shadow clings to a form.”

— DeWitt; science isn’t his forte. “They’re her notes, after all.” He leans back in the chair and suddenly blinks and looks around. There’s something… off. Harding has polished off his drink, but he can’t remember seeing him drink all of it.

He looks back at Harding. There are hints of displeasure and impatience on his face. He looks angry even. Harding doesn’t say anything.

He keeps himself from looking at his watch. “Is that all, Matthew?” he asks with annoyance.

“Yes, that will be all, Roger.” Harding clasps his hands on top of his desk. “Would you like a treatment?”



Part 2
 
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