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Irreplaceable

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Detective Paul and the MXs got to John first.

"Just the guys I wanted to see!" John said, still gasping for air, half-laughing. He gripped the dead bomb collar tightly, trying like hell not to feel like he was choking.

"Perimeter," Paul snapped to his MX. "Evidence collection." The bot nodded once and gestured to his fellows; they spread out and started a standard crime scene sweep.

"Tell me MXs come equipped with wire cutters," John said. "Folded into their arms, maybe, like great big Swiss army knives?"

"We can't just saw this thing off you, Kennex." Paul gestured at an MX, who came over carrying a toolkit. "We gotta do it right, preserve it for forensics."

"Well hurry up, will you?" John was starting to feel an itch building on his neck right where the collar pressed hardest. "And while you're at it, brief me on the suspect. He's not gonna get another chance."

"No," Paul said meaningfully as the MX selected a tool John didn't recognize. "He ain't."

"Yeah? So'd you trace him or— ow!" John glared at the bot, who looked back at him with what John could have sworn was smugness. "Look, could we maybe have someone do this who understands that human beings have skin? With nerve endings?" He looked around. "Just let Dorian do it, okay?"

Paul waited a beat too long to answer, and John's pulse kicked up again, like a punch to the chest. "What. Richard, what!"

So Paul told him.


John shoved through the crowd of cops and techs and saw Dorian lying on a gurney. The murdering asshole who'd caused all this was being wheeled away on another gurney, surrounded by MXs with weapons drawn, but what the fuck did John care?

"Detective Kennex," the MX following him said again with the exact same tone. "You must hold still for precise removal of the bomb collar. Evidence preservation regulations state—"

But John couldn't hear him anymore over the ringing in his ears. He leaned over Dorian, whose open eyes were huge and black and utterly still. He knew that

Pelham lay face up. His eyes were wide, his pupils blown. John knew

androids weren't dead when they had power shutdowns, he knew that

it was too late, and after everything, his partner was dead, staring like someone in terror, and

those dark, blank eyes didn't mean anything at all. Just that Dorian had exhausted the last of his energy reserves

all for John, he'd come here trusting John and

He sobbed for breath.

"Dorian," he muttered, "wake up. Wake up."

Someone else was talking to him, hesitant and earnest. He blinked water out of his eyes and tried to concentrate.

"...older paths for the circuitry, very complicated, and of course irreplaceable, not like we have a bunch of surplus DRNs back at the lab for parts, as you—uh, as you know, if you're even listening, which it appears you may not be. But if you were, you'd hear that we have to take our time with this, but he's going to be absolutely—"

"Rudy," he managed to say, and it came out almost as a shout.

"—fine, no harm done, and... Yes?"

It really was Rudy, standing on the other side of the gurney. He looked jittery, as he usually did when around unfamiliar stuff like outside and crowds. But John didn't think he was lying.

Still— "Wake him up. For a second. Can't you just..."

Rudy's lips pressed together, and John knew what he was going to say. He couldn't stand it.

"Please," he managed, his chest tight.

Rudy stared at him, his eyes wide. Then he pulled something from his pocket and stooped over Dorian, hair hanging down like a lank curtain.

The faintest sound, almost inaudible, like the whine of a mosquito, and Dorian's eyes were suddenly there somehow. He looked at John.

"Just one percent," Rudy said, "and only for a minute, the safest way was to access the overflow buffer so we can still—"

Dorian's eyes moved slightly, a crease appearing between his brows. "You still have that collar on," he said. His voice was pitched low and quiet, with an uneven warble, but it was him.

"Well, I wouldn't, if somebody wasn't lying down on the job," John said.

The corner of Dorian's mouth moved faintly. "Disarmed?"

"Yeahhh, I snipped it," John said. Then he swallowed, feeling his adam's apple rub against the metal. "Guess I wouldn't have been in time if it hadn't been for your little stunt."

Dorian looked like he was about to speak, his brows still drawn together, possibly ready to argue the uncertainties of prediction and hindsight. But then he stopped, pressing his lips tight, and his eyes flicked downward. John followed their gaze to see Dorian's hand twitching weakly.

John grabbed it and held on. His throat felt like it was swelling shut, as if the bomb collar was screwing itself down, constricting. He barely registered the cool air rushing over his sweaty skin as an MX completed the last precise adjustment and lifted the heavy thing off.

As John pressed Dorian's hand in his, Dorian simply looked at him. The worry-lines on his forehead eased. His eyes were so deep with feeling, and John couldn't seem to look away.

Dorian said faintly, "I'm...sorry, but at this...power level, my emotional controls are not..."

"Shut up," John said hoarsely. He wrapped his other hand around Dorian's.

"Never thought I'd be so...glad to hear that," Dorian said. His lips curved in a soft smile.

John couldn't answer. All he could think of, suddenly, was how much he wished he could bend down and press his lips to Dorian's. His mouth would be as warm as his hand, as welcoming as his eyes, and he and John would breathe life into each other. It didn't matter that one of them didn't technically breathe at all. It was shocking, actually, how much it didn't matter.

"Don't get used to it," Dorian said.

John shook his head.

"John," Dorian said slowly. "You should turn around. My buffer will...shut down, and...to your eyes it may appear that I am...am..."

John glared at Rudy, who shrugged nervously.

"...John." Dorian's voice, though almost too faint to hear, was irresistible. John looked down at him one more time.

Dorian's lips moved. It's okay.

John quickly squeezed his hand—and what was too tight for an android, anyway, no such thing—and turned on his heel to walk away. He scrubbed both fists over his eyes.

Sentimental, he told himself. It's just a power outage. Might as well get all soppy over a blown fuse.

He could go home. He could strip, shower, sleep—he could forget, and put it behind him with everything else he had crammed back there.

But he kept seeing Dorian's lips moving, soundlessly. It's okay. Dorian's eyes, alive and deep with feeling, searching his. Dorian's face, drawn and worried on John's behalf even though Dorian was the one on the gurney. Dorian would be wheeled off to the charging bays and wake there alone.

"Hey," John said to a passing MX. "Someone have my car?"

The MX stopped and considered, tilting its head slightly. Its eyes looked flat and far away. "Locator data indicates it was returned to headquarters by MX unit one-sev—"

"'Kay, thanks," John said. "Could you give me a lift to the station, please?" It stared at him for a moment, and John was just about to rephrase—something with more syllables and less idiom, maybe—when it gave an awkward nod.

It would take Dorian hours to get checked out and restored. But John would wait. And when Dorian woke up...well, maybe John could look after him for a change.