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Draw the Line (Then Let Me Cross)

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This is the kind of shit they don't show you in the recruitment videos, the tedium of real detective work. The door to door, ask everyone about everything stuff. It's boring and it's awful and nine times out of ten anything useful needs to be pried out of the witness's head with kid gloves, because the human brain attaches importance to things that aren't important and tends to neglect the importance of things that are. That's just the contrary nature of the beast.

"Okay," Dorian says when John explains all of this as they move between houses. There's another door to knock on, another resident to question. "So you're saying witnesses are useless? Our close rate would beg to differ. Witness statements have contributed to more than 78% of—"

"Aw, cram it," John grumbles. He raps on the door before Dorian can retort.

The door opens, and Dorian doesn't seem to be ready to speak anytime soon. His mouth hangs open and his jawline is flashing whorls of blue. John glances at him, annoyed, then turns his attention back to the solid-looking woman at the door. Sure, she's pretty. But lots of women are.

John makes a mental note to go over professionalism in the car later. Christ, that's the last thing he needs: his "quirky" DRN decommissioned for drooling at the witnesses.

"Can I help you, officers?" she asks, and her face glows with a thread of gold.

Oh. Oh. John swallows.

"If anyone heard something, it's you," Dorian says, nodding his chin to the scene behind them, the pool of flashing lights and digital investigation tape.

Her designation--her name, Dorian asks for her name--is Evelyn. Dorian tells her he likes it. She's a nannybot; the official product title is SRX, a kind of specialized synthetic that comes with a subroutine for nurturing and some semblance of autonomy, both of which are necessary for raising a child. That's why, Evelyn explains, she didn't hear anything. She'd switched off her long-range sensors to "concentrate" on her charge, two-year-old Lizzy.

That's enough for John, but Dorian lights up at the mention of a baby, and Evelyn brings the kid to the door, perched on her hip, to say hello.

"Hey there," Dorian says. His voice is quiet and gentle. His fingers reach out and the kid latches on. Must be used to the feel of synthetic skin, John figures, because the kid is squealing and clutching like this is Christmas. Evelyn laughs. John's eyebrows shoot up at the sound.

He's never heard any synthetic but Dorian laugh.

"Thank you for all your help," John says abruptly.

Dorian's lightshow is going again. "I'm sending you our departmental contact information. In case you want to—" He smiles. She smiles. The baby burps. John makes a face. "--get in touch," Dorian finishes softly.

Evelyn's face glows in response as she shuts the door slowly, peeking through the crack as long as she can.

"Think we should canvas again tomorrow?" Dorian asks when they slide back in the car. "Get all the residents who weren't home?"

"I think you're on thin ice." John starts the car's electric engine and guides them into traffic.

Dorian's face turns away from the window to peer at John. He seems to be analyzing his profile. "I was just being friendly," he says.

"You were flirting," John accuses.

Dorian looks down at his lap. Bites his lip. "That obvious?" he asks.

The steering wheel will soon be reduced to dust if John's hands have anything to say about it. "Oh, this is funny, huh? Playing Robo Don Juan?" He scoffs. "Knock it off before the Captain starts getting complaints."

That seems to set Dorian off his good mood, and he turns back to the passenger window for a few miles of staring. Then, just as John was starting to relax into the driver's seat, Dorian spins back. "Would it really be so bad if she called? We have a lot in common. We could talk. Commiserate. You know, off duty."

John rolls his eyes. "What are you going to do? Take her on a date?"

"Why is that such an impossibility in your mind?" Now Dorian sounds truly affronted. This isn't the easy banter it had been.

"Oh my god, think, Dorian. Where're you going to take a date?"

"Bowling." Dorian says it fast, like he's been thinking about this for awhile.

"With what money?" John fires back.

Dorian chews his lip. The car is silent for another mile. Then, "Hey John?"


"Can I borrow your bitstick?"

John looks over to his partner with a sour pull to his mouth, but Dorian is smiling beatifically. A joke. The fucker.

"Shut up," John says.

Dorian hums some terrible ballad all the way back to the station.

The thing is? The goddamn thing of it is….

Evelyn does call.

It's John's line that rings the next day, because Dorian doesn't have a phone. He is a phone, kind of, so it would be pretty useless to give him one at a desk.

"Kennex," John barks into it. The ID plate lists the caller as Richardson, which doesn't ring a bell.

"Hello detective," the soothing female voice responds. "I hope you don't mind me calling."

Right. Richardson: the name of Evelyn's owners. "Did you or your household have something to report regarding the investigation?" John asks.

"No, it's just—" She laughs. Again. This time, self-consciously. "I have a curiosity program that enables me to adapt to Lizzy's growth and learning. I can't shut it off, you know?"

John looks up to check on Dorian's current position, and he sees him over by Valerie's desk, gesturing at something on her tablet. "What are you curious about, Evelyn?" John says into the phone. His jaw tics.

"Your partner, Dorian...he's not an MX," she says slowly.

"Ain't that the truth," John mumbles.

"He's an older model? A DRN?" She's making it sound like a question, but it's not. Synthetics know these things. It's in their brains. "I've never met one before."

"Yeah, the rest are kind of on the fringes." John rubs at his eyes. Fuck, he's tired. "Why? Looking to hire a second string nanny?"

"Oh, no!" Her laugh is surprised now. Nuanced. "I was just wondering…."

John frowns. Waits. He's not giving an assist. Not to this.

"Does Dorian's work schedule ever allow for downtime? That is, aside from charging?" Evelyn says all at once.

John thinks of a dozen instances in the last three months: the bar after work, the noodle joint, shooting the shit with Rudy, shooting actual shit at the range. Yes, Dorian has downtime, John thinks. And it's all been spent with John. Until now.

"Ma'am," he says, "please understand. We have a lot of work to do."

"Oh." A beat of silence floods the phone line. "Of course. I'm sorry."

Well, now John feels like the biggest asshole this side of the wall. He crushes the heel of his palm to his forehead and regrets what he's about to say.

"But, you know, we work as a team, and as one half of that team, I need to sleep eventually. I'm sure there's some time, like, a few hours, that Dorian won't be on call this weekend."

"This weekend?" Evelyn's tone has brightened considerably.

"Yeah." His gaze catches Dorian again, and damn, now those big blue eyes are staring at him quizzically. It occurs to John that Dorian can probably hear him across the bullpen. "He likes the park, the one near you with the big fountain." He knows this because Dorian had said so as they drove past it.

"I like that park too!"

John grimaces. Yeah, yeah, everyone loves the fucking park. "Tell you what. Why don't you meet him there on Sunday, say two o'clock? I'll drop him off. He needs some fresh air, I'm always telling him to get out more."

That's a lie, and Dorian's face creases in confusion as John says it.

"Thank you, Detective Kennex! I'll be there. And I'll let Mrs. Richardson know. And I—" She paused. "This is okay, isn't it? I won't be getting Dorian in any trouble, will I?"

John gestures expansively, as if she can see his boundless generosity. "Not against the law to take a walk in the park," he says.

Evelyn thanks him again, and assures him (again) that she'll have Mrs. Richardson's permission to go on this little field trip. John hangs up feeling like he's been hit by a truck. His neck is sore, and his leg is doing this little jumpy thing.

"Hey man." Dorian stands over him with a barely contained smile on his face. "Did you just set me up on my first date?"

John thinks of noodles and bar fights and nights when Dorian had just allowed himself to be driven around the city, no destination, just John behind the wheel and the two of them talking about nothing at all.

"Mazel tov, you're on your way to becoming a man," John grouses, and turns back to his terminal to get some goddamn work done.

The date seems to go well, for a robot date. John picks Dorian up at the park gate at four, waving an awkward hello-goodbye to Evelyn, who's walking toward her home. The Richardsons' home. Dorian starts his debrief, going over every little detail of his afternoon with Evelyn for John's benefit. And because Dorian's memory is eidetic, there's a lot to go over.

John endures a very precise description of Evelyn's base codes, which, Dorian maintains, are pretty genius, until he can't take it any more. "So are you going on a second date?" he interrupts.

Dorian blinks, eyes downcast. "Evelyn said the Richardsons warned her not to make a habit of this."

John snorts. "Of what? Going to the park?"

"No, John. Of seeing me."

Eyes dart from the road to Dorian. His brows are drawn, and John feels at once triumphant and childish.

He rolls his shoulders and speaks to the windshield. "Well, Dorian, you knew this wouldn't be easy. Two synthetics...I've never heard of something like that happening. Like, aside from a kinky sexbot thing. But that's programming. What you're looking for— What are you looking for, anyway?" He sneaks a look, but Dorian's face is blank. "It's not like you can marry this girl. Can't move in together, can't have kids. Can't— Well, maybe you can have sex. Can SRX's have sex?"

"I didn't think that was an appropriate question to ask on a first date," Dorian replies primly.

John shrugs. "You know what I mean. I'm just saying, dating isn't going to be the same for you as it is for humans."

"Wow, John. I'd almost forgot. Without that reminder, I might have just marched into city hall and asked for a form." Dorian's face is deadpan, but his tone is biting.

John almost double-takes to his partner. "Wha—? You're mad at me now? I got you this date, remember? A thank-you would be nice."

Dorian is silent and staring for almost a full minute before he says, "Do you know why Evelyn called you to ask about me?" John opens his mouth, but doesn't get a chance to answer before Dorian barrells on. "She needed your permission because, in her mind, you're my owner."

John blinks. Maybe he should pull over, he thinks. "Dorian—"

"Like a piece of furniture. Or a pet," Dorian bites out. "What's it like to own something, John? Tell me. Because I'll never know."

"Oh, come on, don't—"

"So yeah. Thanks, man." Dorian sits back in his seat and stares ahead. "Thanks for showing me how stupid it is to hope for something different."

Silence until they pull into John's designated spot in the station lot. A sigh. Neither move.

"Do you want me to talk to the Richardsons? I could explain the situation. Synthetics with autonomy subroutines…. I don't know, there's got to be leeway for things like this," John tries.

Dorian shakes his head through the whole speech. "It's like talking to a wall," he says, and pops the car door.

John sits in the front seat alone for a moment before following, for lack of a better plan.

"Is Dorian angry at you?" Valerie asks him the next day. They're sequestered in a corner of the bullpen, no eavesdroppers or MX's around to tattle. "John, he seems like—" She glances around to make sure they're alone. "--he could be losing it."

Leave it to Val to notice. Dorian's been nothing but professional all day. And that's just it. Just professional, no jokes, no smiles, no sideways glances at John. Just yes-sir-no-sir-right-away-sir. 

John sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "When the DRN's were still in operation," he asks, "what were the protocols for...romantic….?" He can't even finish. He just flounders, gesturing.

Val's face squishes with concern. "Oh no."

"It's just that, they have feelings, right? There must have been instances of DRN's feeling things for— Why are you staring at me like that?"

The concern intensifies. "I saw this coming," she says in a whisper. "John, I know it's been lonely for you since you came back, and Dorian has been a source of stability but—"

"Whoa, whoa! I meant, DRN's with each other." He slaps his palms to his chest defensively. "Each other. Not Johns."

Valerie squints in confusion. "Dorian expressed romantic interest in another synthetic?"

John's hands fall to his sides. "Yeah."

"And you think he's mad with you because," she says slowly, "you tried to shut him down?"

"Nah, that's not it. I was a total wingman on this one. Set him up with the girl and everything." John scratches the back of his head.

"So you encouraged him?"

"Yeah. I mean, within reason." At Valerie's stare, John hisses, "It's not like it was going to go anywhere. It's harmless."

Val shakes her head. "I'm guessing that's the attitude Dorian's got a problem with. And I don't blame him," she says.

She floats off into the din of the bullpen before John can ask her what the fuck that means.

It takes him a few nights of staring at the ceiling when he should be sleeping. The annoying jump in what used to be his leg helps jog his memory. Helplessness. Waking up to a world where nothing mattered. An empty apartment to come home to.

Cold sheets.

Dorian's probably never even laid on sheets, John thinks.

"You're coming over," John says when Dorian protests, "so quit whining."

Despite his residual resentment, Dorian is curious about John's place. That much is obvious when he steps into the foyer and immediately goes lightshow, looking around like he's cataloging for a crime scene.

"What are we doing here?" he asks.

"Christ," John mutters, because hell if he's going to put this into words. He merely digs through the hall closet and produces the box.

Dorian stares at it, then takes it with what can only be called a gasp of delight. "3D Bowling Hero for the PS6?"

"Yeah and, hey!" John stabs a finger at the blue strands of light on Dorian's cheek. "No downloading cheat codes or whatever. We're playing this man to man, okay?"

Dorian pointed the box toward his own chest, grinning. "You called me man. Finally."

Dorian doesn't drink, so it's a pretty cheap date, besides the hall mirror that would need to be replaced due to an unfortunate opening gambit. They have to stand shoulder to shoulder to register on the ancient system, but Dorian doesn't seem to mind. He bowls terribly and laughs.

"So what is this? An apology?" He flings another gutterball. "A guy's night in? A bro thing?"

"Just call it a damn date," John says as he completes a spare. He waits for Dorian to take his next turn, but the hoverscreen doesn't change. He sighs and turns to look at the face too close to his, wide eyes blinking in disbelief. "What?"

"That's not funny, John," Dorian says.

"Wasn't supposed to be. Take your turn."

"No, I—" Dorian drops his head to the side, ear almost to his shoulder. "It's not funny. Even if you weren't joking, you know this," he gestures between them with his controller. Gutterball. "This can't go anywhere."

"Well." John raises an eyebrow and gives a considering nod. "A guy can dream, can't he?"

The game beeps again. Gutterballs everywhere.

"Don't you at least want to try?" John asks quietly.

And Dorian smiles. His free hand, the one that's not losing the game rapidly, finds John's. Their fingers tangle. "I'd like that," Dorian says.

The final score is dismal. John screenshots it, the laughable results of their first date.