Chapter 1: DRN-274
The year is 2049. Evolving technologies can no longer be regulated. Dangerous advancements forever alter the criminal landscape. Police are not prepared. Law enforcement combats this corruption with a new line of defense… but not all are created equal.
Now all cops, human and manmade together, take on the battle to watch over us all.
The nightmares don’t plague him every night anymore, and John’s not really sure why. His leg bothers him less too--less unbearable pain from a limb no longer there. That one might have something to do with the new state-of-the-art synthetic leg Dorian gave John a little while back, though. He still gets a little embarrassingly emotional whenever he thinks about the gesture, but he’s managed to not show that around the DRN. Dorian would never let him hear the end of it if he knew.
A year ago if you’d told John Kennex that he’d be more functional than not and happily partnered with an outdated robot, he’d have laughed in your face. But here he was, and he and Dorian had just snagged first place for number of closed cases in the division. They worked well together. Really well.
They also bugged the hell out of each other.
“It just seems like an antiquated form of toxic masculinity,” Dorian said as they walked in the precinct at the start of the day.
“You’re just saying that cuz you know I’d kick your ass in a good ol’ fashioned game of football,” John shot back with a shit-eating grin. Dorian raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him.
“John, I know you set records in high school, but I’d remind you not only was that thirty years ago, but I’m also capable of outrunning and outsmarting you on your best day.”
“Thirty years?” John echoed incredulously, perching on the edge of his desk. “How old do you think I am?”
Dorian didn’t get the chance to respond, though John did catch a hint of a smirk before his attention was drawn away.
“Kennex!” Sandra barked from her office door. She caught his eye and gestured for him. “Dorian, you too.”
Dorian gave him a gentle shove on their way to the captain’s office. John only got the chance to give the DRN a grumpy look. He’d give him hell later in the cruiser.
“Yes, Captain?” Dorian asked, ignoring John. John pulled his attention away from his partner to look at Sandra, realizing only then how harried she looked.
“I have a case for the two of you,” she said, and she was trying hard not to sound stressed. “I need it taken care of quickly and quietly, understand?”
“Sure,” John said. “What’s up?”
Sandra let out a little sigh, looking between John and Dorian. Her eyes settled on Dorian with something John couldn’t quite interpret.
“There’s a DRN stationed at the DMV uptown,” she started and then stopped like she was deciding on how best to say this.
Dorian nodded. Clearly he already knew this. John watched Sandra closely. He hadn’t seen her this stressed since… well, probably since the XRN got loose again.
“About half an hour ago, DRN-274 went rogue.”
“Rogue, Captain?” Dorian echoed. His eyebrows were crinkling downwards, and there was something hollow in his voice. John felt something tighten in his throat and swallowed thickly around it.
“Yes,” Sandra said, nodding curtly. “It was performing its regular duties when all of a sudden it got up and walked out the door. When someone tried to stop it… well, the man’s in the hospital right now. He’s fine, he’ll live,” she said quickly at the look on Dorian’s face, “but I’m sure you understand the severity of the situation. Even before we shut down all the DRNs we never had any show this level of unprovoked violence towards humans.”
John noted the use of the words “towards humans” and tried not to react visibly. Some of the DRN suicides had been pretty damn violent. But Sandra was right. None of them had attacked a human. Only the XRN had.
Dorian had gone stiff. “Do we know where 274 went?” he asked rigidly. John was already regretting getting up that morning. It wasn’t like Sandra had another choice of teams to send on this case, but the aftermath of the XRN case was still too fresh in John’s memory. This was gonna do a number on Dorian.
Sandra was shaking her head. “The DMV sent 274’s records to Dr. Lom a few minutes ago, and he’s already sorting through the data. Hopefully there’s some indication of where it went in there. Or some way to shut him down.”
Sandra might’ve missed the glint in Dorian’s eyes at that suggestion, but John sure as hell didn’t. He stepped forward quickly before Dorian could respond.
“We’ll head over to the lab right away,” John said, putting a hand on Dorian’s arm. The DRN didn’t relax at all, but at least he didn’t say anything.
Sandra nodded again. “Good. And John? Remember--quickly and quietly. We’ve got too many DRNs stationed throughout the city for this to get out to the public.”
“Of course,” John agreed. “We’ll update you when we have a lead.” He waited briefly for her to nod and shoo them out before dragging Dorian out of the office with his hand still on his arm. Or, well, Dorian let him drag him.
“Oh! Good timing!” Rudy called as John and Dorian entered the lab. “I’ve just managed to get into 274’s locator.”
Rudy obviously had just been hunched over his computer, eyes bright at the sight of the cops. John watched as Dorian gave the technician a tense smile. The ride over had been unbearably quiet.
“What took so long?” John asked. He’d honestly been expecting a call from Rudy in the car.
“Ah, I’d guess whatever set him off is also messing with his locator,” Rudy responded with an awkward shrug.
“Any idea what that is?”
Rudy shook his head, turning back to the computer. “I’d need to actually examine him probably.”
“So where is he?” Dorian asked, and John shot him a look. That was a bit snippy for Dorian.
“Uh, right. DRN-274 is here,” Rudy said with a little bit of dramatic flair, turning his computer screen so they could see the map on it, one blinking red dot in the middle. “Charger Enterprises. They, uh. Make those nice mass tech chargers that can charge anything within a certain radius. I’ve been trying to convince the department to buy a couple for the MXs and the lab, actually, but they’re fairly pricey.”
“What could he possibly want there?” John muttered.
“How long has he been there?” Dorian asked, and, Jesus, he just wasn’t even trying to relax.
“Uh, dunno,” Rudy said, eyes flicking between the two of them, “and he only just got there. It’s a ways away from the DMV.”
Dorian nodded curtly and turned to John. “Let’s go,” he said tersely and started off towards the door. John held back the curses and looked to Rudy quickly.
“Keep us posted if he starts moving again.”
“Yeah, uh, of course,” Rudy called as John chased after Dorian. “Good luck!”
Charger Enterprises didn’t look like a crime scene as they drove up to it. In fact, it looked like no one had opened shop yet. Strange, but John would take it. Less injuries, and it kept things quiet like Sandra had asked.
Dorian was already to the door before John was even out of the cruiser. Grumbling under his breath, John jogged after him.
“Will you wait up?” he yelled, but Dorian had already opened the door and gone inside. John swore and picked up pace, noting the smashed lock on the door. Now that looked like a crime scene.
“Dorian!” John called when he made it inside. The insufferable android had vanished. John got it, he did. When anything ever came up that put the validity of DRNs’ continued existence into question, Dorian got touchy. And John supposed if the same were to happen to him, he’d be a bit upset too. But, dammit, Dorian was usually better than this. He was still a cop.
“Dorian!” John shouted again. Still no answer. But there, behind the front desk, there was a door and it was open just a few inches like someone had run through, letting the door swing mostly closed behind him. John ran after him.
Through the door were stairs and down the stairs there was a hallway. And at the end of the hallway, if there’d been any doubt as to whether there’d been a break-in or not, there wasn’t anymore. The card reader by the door had been torn off, wires cut. The door itself had been torn off its hinges and was leaning haphazardly on the wall. John really hoped it had been 274 who’d torn the door off, not Dorian. Beyond the doorway, John could just make out various objects thrown to the floor. It was quiet, though, so either Dorian hadn’t found 274 yet or John had already missed all the action.
With a sigh, John pulled out his sidearm when his phone started ringing. Wincing, he glanced at the caller ID only to growl at Rudy’s name.
“What?” he hissed, readjusting his grip on the gun and heading quickly down the hallway.
The room was a disaster. Tech was overturned and tossed carelessly, out of drawers and off of shelves. Plenty of it was damaged, and John didn’t even want to think about how much money it would all cost someone. 274 had clearly been searching for something specific, and he hadn’t been worried about being careful while he did it.
“Um, you asked me to update you if 274 moved, ” came Rudy’s voice over the phone. Dorian appeared from behind a stack of shelves that had been pushed over, looking frustrated. He met John’s eyes, his jaw stiff.
“He’s--well, he’s on the move right now. ”
“Yeah, we got that, thank you,” John grumbled. “Any idea where he’s headed?”
“Uh, well, he’s on 23rd headed right. I mean, east. ”
“Call me when he stops,” John ordered before hanging up and glaring at Dorian. “Will you wait for me next time?”
“Sorry,” Dorian mumbled, not sounding particularly sorry.
“Any idea what he was looking for?” John asked, deciding he could give his partner hell when they weren’t in such a rush.
“Whatever it was, it was big.”
“What makes you say that?”
Dorian led John back the way he’d just come from, behind the shelves. A huge empty area--at least three feet by four--was there on the ground, in the middle of other forgotten tech.
“Because whatever it is, he has it now.”
“Think he’ll be moving slower?” John asked, staring at the glaringly blank space. Carrying that thing had to be awkward as hell at the very least.
“Until he unloads it,” Dorian agreed. John nodded.
“Inform Charger Enterprises of the situation,” he said quickly, already moving back towards the door, Dorian close at his side. “And figure out why the hell they aren’t open. Let Sandra know we’re back on the move, and let’s get going.”
Chapter 2: DRN-494
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
A second DRN goes rogue. Captain Maldonado calls John and Dorian back to the precinct to regroup and grounds Dorian until they know more. Dorian insists they pick up the DRN they worked with on the heart implants case on the way.
For the record, I'm using production order of episodes instead of airing order.
“You doing all right, Dorian?” John asked, keeping one eye on the road as he glanced at his partner. He was still being uncharacteristically quiet, staring out the passenger window like he was spacing out. Could androids space out? That seemed dangerous.
“Can we focus on the case, please?” Dorian said, still staring out the window.
“Oh, come on. Really?” John scoffed. Dorian turned to look at him and, wow, it’d been a while since John had seen that much condescension in those eyes.
“I’m sorry I’m taking this situation seriously , John.”
“Yeah, I think you’re taking it a little too seriously,” John argued. “C’mon, it’s not like he’s killed anyone or something. And it’s just this one unit. We’ll track him down in no time--”
John cut off to his phone ringing. Sandra’s name flashed on the car’s display, and John hit the answer button.
“John, I need you and Dorian back at the station asap. Another DRNs gone rogue. ”
“What?” John said, ignoring the pointed look from Dorian. “What’d this one do?”
“Up and left its post at the post office, like 247. This one’s designated 386. Lom’s working on tracking it down now, but it looks like this is on a bigger scale than we thought, so I want you to come back to regroup. And Dorian?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to ground you. Until we know more, I can’t risk it.”
“Whoa, wait, you’re saddling me with an MX?” John protested before Dorian could respond.
“Unfortunately, no, I don’t have the time for that. You and Detective Stahl will work on this together until we can figure out another solution.”
At that, Sandra hung up, and John bit back the sigh sitting at the back of his throat. Turning the car around, he glanced at Dorian. Normally at this point the android would make some immature teasing comment about Valerie, but instead Dorian just looked even more disgruntled than before.
“Look, we’ll figure it out, okay?” John said as reassuringly as he could manage. “They can’t ground you forever, else I’ll have to go into early retirement.”
“I’m not sure anyone would have a problem with that, John.”
There they were, that was the Dorian everyone knew and loved. John grinned and shook his head. “Hey now.”
Dorian gave him a sidelong look. “Besides, that’s not what I’m worried about. You can drop me off at Rudy’s after we go to the precinct, and I’m sure he can update my systems so I’m safe. I’m worried about 494.”
“494,” Dorian repeated. “The DRN we met on our third case together.”
“Our third--you mean the one you made me drag along from that hospital?” John asked incredulously.
“Yes. The hospital isn’t that far out of our way,” Dorian said casually. “We could pick him up on our way to the precinct.”
“Wh--are you--you’re kidding me, right?” John said, staring at Dorian. “I am not doing that again!”
“What if he’s the next one, John?” Dorian said in that annoyingly patient tone of his. “What if this time someone dies because they got in the way?”
God, John hated the bastard sometimes. “If anything goes wrong this time, I’m blaming you,” he growled.
“I believe you did that last time as well.”
“What is this?” Sandra demanded as John walked in, Dorian and 494 in tow. John stepped aside, gesturing for Dorian to explain. John was taking zero responsibility for any of this, thank you very much.
“494 and I developed a bond when he helped us out on the heart implants case last year,” Dorian started, and John couldn’t help rolling his eyes. Helped them. Sure.
“I thought we could keep him somewhere safe until everything’s resolved.”
Sometimes it was easy to forget how small Sandra really was. She could be intimidating when she wanted.
“Somewhere safe?” She looked at John, a glint in her eyes. John raised his hands defensively.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” he said. “I tried to talk him out of it.”
“I can personally vouch for him, Captain,” Dorian continued earnestly.
“I won’t be any trouble, ma’am, I promise,” the other DRN chimed in.
“Neither of you can actually make me any promises of the sort, not when we have no idea what’s really happening here.”
Dorian looked like he was about to continue arguing for a split second but thought better of it. Sandra glared at all three of them in turn, steely-eyed and angry, before shaking her head.
“Fine. We’ll lock him up in one of the interrogation rooms.” She nodded at the closest MX and gestured for it to usher 494 away, ignoring the look of relief and gratitude on Dorian’s face.
“Paul is already on the road going after the second DRN,” she said, turning on John. “Drop Dorian off at the lab quickly before following the first.”
Valerie approached with a smile. “You ready?” she asked brightly.
“Of course. You good to go?” John asked. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Dorian’s amused expression. At least the little shit was feeling a bit more like himself.
“Sure am,” Valerie said with a nod. “Let’s--”
John ducked on instinct at the sound of gunshots. Wildly, he looked around at Valerie and Sandra who both look as off-kilter as he felt. Dorian was still standing, looking around quickly for the source of the gunfire. When his eyes landed on it, John could’ve sworn his face went pale.
DRN-494 had a gun in his hands, and the MX that had been taking him to the interrogation room was on the floor, half of its face blown off.
“Shit,” John hissed, pulling out his sidearm, Valerie and Sandra already ahead of him. But Dorian, on the other hand, was walking towards the DRN, calm as you please, hands in the air with his gun still holstered. Other cops closer to 494 were between the two DRNs, taking aim as 494 methodically mowed them down.
“Wait! Wait!” Dorian called over the gunfire. No one was listening.
“Dorian, get down!” John barked, but Dorian paid him no heed.
“Hey, hey, man, come on, this isn’t you!” he yelled to the other bot. “We both know this isn’t you!”
Sandra and Valerie had moved ahead, hiding behind desks on their way. 494 paused briefly to reload and continued firing. It didn’t even seem like he had a destination in mind or anything--just like he was determined to cause as much destruction as possible. John watched as the DRN’s eyes fixed on Dorian and for a moment John actually thought Dorian had broken through. But then he noticed the usual spark in the DRN’s eyes--the same one Dorian shared--was missing, and 494 was taking aim.
John didn’t even think. In the space between heartbeats he was on his feet, launching himself toward Dorian. He slammed bodily into his partner, and they both crashed to the floor. John barely had time to register the look of incredulity on Dorian’s face before Sandra’s voice rang out through the room.
Dorian was immediately back on his feet, John following a bit more slowly. He tried to ignore the burning on the back of his neck. He’d thrown himself in front of a bullet for an android. Great, John. Just great. Dorian was gonna live this one up for the rest of his goddamn life.
But Dorian didn’t seem in the mood for teasing right now. He was staring at the collapsed DRN between Sandra and Valerie and looked crushed. He’d really believed he could get 494 to stop, John realized. He put a hand on Dorian’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Dorian.”
“Kennex!” Sandra called. “Get this to the lab. Have Lom figure out what the hell is going on.”
Chapter 3: Two Down
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
Dorian asks John an uncomfortable question. Valerie and John drop Dorian and 494 off at Rudy's and then chase down 274. Charger Enterprises tells them what was stolen.
Valerie insisted they take her cruiser and that she drive. They loaded 494 into the trunk--which Dorian very pointedly didn’t say anything about--before climbing in the car and getting on the road. It was tense and quiet for a few blissful moments until Dorian spoke up from the backseat.
“John, why did you jump in front of that bullet for me?”
“Whoa, what?” Valerie exclaimed, looking wildly between the two of them. John resisted the urge to sink into his seat and gritted his teeth instead.
“It was instinct,” he muttered.
“Instinct to protect an android?” Dorian said skeptically. Valerie was still stealing looks at John and, dammit, why had Dorian decided now was the best time for this conversation?
“Instinct to protect my partner, dumbass.”
“Who’s an android,” Dorian pushed. John finally whirled to glare at him.
“Look, I was taught that protecting your partner was one of your most important duties as a cop,” he seethed, “and I’ve always taken that very seriously. Has a little something to do with my missing a leg, in case you hadn’t noticed. And you happen to be the first android partner I’ve had, so excuse me if I haven’t exactly gotten used to that.”
It was hard to read Dorian’s expression. For someone “made to feel”, the guy had quite the poker face when he put his mind to it. John sat back in his seat, ignoring Valerie’s raised eyebrows.
“We’ve been partners for a year, John,” Dorian said. God, John was gonna kill him.
“Okay, boys,” Valerie interrupted quickly. “We’re here.”
John made a point not to meet Dorian’s piercing gaze as they unloaded the other DRN and hauled it inside the lab.
“Oh, good, maybe I can actually get somewhere now instead of running after five tasks all at once,” Rudy said in lieu of greeting.
“Got a location for 274?” John asked. Rudy looked up at him with a glare more vicious than normal, and John raised his hands in surrender.
“Yes,” Rudy said snippily. “And I have an EM pulse for you so you can shut him down since talking doesn’t seem to help. You’re welcome.”
Valerie took the device Rudy was holding out for them, frowning at him.
“You okay, Rudy?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m fine, I’m just the only person capable of saving countless lives, both human and DRN, and have a lot to do and little time in which to do it so--”
“Rudy,” Dorian interjected calmly. “Take a breath.”
Rudy nodded jerkily but didn’t slow down in the slightest. “Right. Sorry. It’s just a lot of pressure, you know?”
Dorian nodded complacently. John shared a look with Valerie and held out his hand for the EM pulse.
“This one actually gonna work?” he said, inspecting it closely. Of course, inspecting it didn't tell him anything. It all looked the same to him.
“What?” Rudy said, looking up from where he’d already dived headfirst into the mess of a DRN on his table. “Yes, of course. Dr. Vaughn programmed the one you used on Danica, and since he obviously wasn’t on the level, of course it didn’t work.”
“Of course,” John said, giving the device a once over before handing it back to Valerie. He looked at Dorian standing at Rudy’s side, ready to give help where he could.
“You gonna be all right?”
Dorian looked mildly amused. “I’ll be fine, John.”
“Dorian?” Rudy said without bothering to look up this time. “Oh, he’ll be fine. Once I figure out what’s going on I can create firewalls in his code that will protect him from whatever this is.”
John nodded slightly. “Good.”
Valerie cleared her throat. “So where’re we headed, Rudy?”
In the car, Sandra called again.
“Two more have gone rogue. ”
“Jesus,” Valerie whispered. John had to agree.
“How many do we have stationed around the city?” he asked.
“Seventeen, including 494 and Dorian,” Sandra replied. “I’m contacting their supervisors and informing them of the situation, but I’m having trouble reaching a few of them.”
“Why’s that?” Valerie asked.
“One works in sewage and is underground. One’s got the spot Dorian was supposed to have at the space station. And three of them are stationed on or over the wall.”
“Over the wall?” John echoed incredulously.
“Yes, John,” Sandra said, sounding overly patient. “Someday the city would like to be able to bring the wall back down.”
“Yeah, in like a hundred years or so,” John muttered. It didn’t matter what efforts the city put forth--there was no way that thing was coming down in John’s lifetime.
“Back to the matter at hand,” Sandra said testily. “This situation is quickly getting out of control. If we want to keep things quiet, we need to do it fast. How close are you to apprehending 274?”
“About a block away,” Valerie responded. “He’s stopped at the Central City Bank.”
“I take it we still haven’t figured out a pattern in their targets,” John said.
“Not yet. Charger Enterprises got back to us--apparently all the employees got a message saying not to come in today, but no one knows who sent it.”
“Sounds suspicious,” John said.
“Yes it does.”
“So whoever’s behind this doesn't want to hurt anyone,” Valerie mused.
“Except everyone in the station back there,” John pointed out.
“Whether they want to hurt anyone or not, they clearly don't have a problem with it. Charger Enterprises also was able to tell us what went missing.”
“Yeah?” Valerie said.
“Apparently they've been working on a prototype for a charger that has a larger radius.”
“How large?” Valerie asked.
“A square mile.”
John whistled. “Jesus Christ.”
“Exactly,” Sandra agreed. “No word from Dr. Lom on the cause behind this yet, but I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything.”
“Well, hopefully we can take out another DRN in the next few minutes,” Valerie offered.
As Valerie hung up, John started to notice people up and down the sidewalk, running. They rounded the corner towards the bank, and it became clear why.
Half of the bank’s tall glass windows were blown out by bullets. Only a few stragglers were left in the bank, and most of the surrounding crowd seemed unhurt, but there were still a few holding open wounds.
“Dammit,” Valerie hissed.
“Can't believe I'm saying this, but I kinda wish we had a couple MXs with us,” John agreed as they hopped out of the cruiser and suited up.
“I'm getting an ambulance over here. How did this one even get a gun?” Valerie asked.
“That's a good question.”
Both of them realized they weren't getting an answer to that question any time soon. Instead they hurried to the scene.
“I'll take the lead?” John whispered. Valerie nodded.
“I've got the pulse.”
“So I'll distract him.”
John glanced inside. The DRN was taking a look around the room, assessing whether anything left was a threat. There was an unmoving body near the door, and a couple more moaning closer to the bot. Seeming satisfied, 247 turned and headed off to his destination. John looked back at Valerie one more time, took in her grim and determined face, and then slid inside.
“Hey, DRN!” he yelled. “Why don’t we get you back to the DMV?”
247 turned, shotgun already raised--shotgun, goddammit, how had John missed that?--and let off two ear-splitting cracks. John ducked and evaded them easily, making a run for a nearby desk, safely pulling the bot’s attention away from the front door.
“Not in the mood to chat?” he called. A shot hit the desk, and John jumped as a large splinter of wood grazed his forearm. There was the sound of something metallic hitting the floor, and John looked up over the desk. Valerie had made it in and was creeping along the wall, eyes fixed carefully on the bot’s back. The DRN had tossed the shotgun to the floor and was coming at John with nothing but his bare hands. Not that he needed anything but his bare hands.
John aimed a few shots directly at 247’s chest, but he barely even flinched. He did seem a little bulkier than any other DRN John had met. Maybe he’d found kevlar in addition to the weapon. Valerie was edging closer, but she was still too far away. And one of those moaning bastards was in her way, pleading for help. John just hoped 247 was too focused on John taking aim again to notice.
John only managed to let off another one-two shots before 247 shoved the desk out of his way and yanked the gun from John’s hands. John went to back up and give himself enough space to deliver a good, hard kick with his synthetic leg, but the DRN moved faster. John barely even registered the movement before his vision was swimming, a trail of blood was trickling down his temple, and he had somehow found himself on the floor a few feet to the left. He scrambled for his footing, but 247 was already there, hauling John up by the collar and looking him hard in the eyes. John grabbed onto the DRN’s grip and blinked him back into focus. Those bright blue eyes were dead as an MX, he realized vaguely. Just like 494.
And then John noticed the android had stopped trying to kill him. It was just staring at him, still holding John up by the shirt.
Before John could even react, it was like time suddenly hit the play button again. 247 blinked, let go of John’s collar, and socked John right in the gut, and John dropped to his knees heavily, wind knocked out of him. A knee to the head, and John rolled with a grunt. Valerie had to be close. He hadn’t gotten the chance to find her during that strange moment there, but she had to be close. With a sweep of the leg, John tried to unbalance 247, but he righted himself before John had even finished the kick. He rolled backwards and away from the DRN, jumping up to his feet, fists ready, just in time to see Valerie stab the EM pulse in 247’s neck. The DRN froze, shuddered, and his eyes went black. Then it collapsed.
Valerie looked up from the DRN to wince at the sight of John. “You okay?”
John let out a breath and let his arms fall.. “Yeah,” he said with a nod. “I’m good.”
“Sorry I took so long,” she said, pulling out a tissue and offering it to him. “The guy back there was sure he was dying. He got grazed on the leg.”
John snorted, taking the tissue gratefully and mopping up the blood on his face. In the distance he could hear the siren of the ambulance coming closer. About time.
“Back to Rudy’s then?” he said, pulling out his phone. A voicemail was waiting for him--from Rudy. John held it out for Valerie to see and hit speaker.
“Hey John. I’ve, uh, figured it out. Someone’s hacked into the DRN’s systems--very impressively too, if I might add. He’s got to get past all the government encryption, and he’s doing a decent job of hiding himself. Don’t know who he is yet, but Dorian should be safe because of his extra police security. Maldonado still wants me to install some extra firewalls, though, so I’m working on that right now. Should be done in about half an hour or so.”
I finally have somewhat of a posting schedule for this! I will update a chapter once a week--more, if I can, but at least once a week.
Chapter 4: Seventeen Down
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
More DRNs are hacked. The captain has her people pull back and regroup. Those with higher pay grades than Sandra make a decision that Dorian protests.
Back at the lab once more, John and Valerie hauled the stiff form of DRN-274 inside.
“Rudy, we’ve got a live one for you,” Valerie called as they entered.
“Oh, good. I should be able to find more about the hacker with a live model.”
“How’s Dorian?” John asked as they carefully carried 274 down the stairs.
“I’m fine, John.”
John looked up to see Dorian, looking somewhere between amused and exasperated. He walked over to them and took the DRN out of their hands, setting it gently on one of Rudy’s work tables. John frowned at Rudy.
“He good to go?”
“Hm?” Rudy hummed as he started in on 274. “Oh, Dorian? Yeah, he’s good. Only a professional could get to him now.”
“I thought you said this guy was good,” Valerie pointed out.
“Well, sure, good enough to get through the government security measures, but with Dorian’s new firewalls and his police security, no one but about five people in the whole country could get to him. And I’m one of those five people.”
John frowned at Rudy and looked at Dorian again. Rudy wasn’t doing a great job about making John feel better about the entire situation.
“How’re you feeling?” he asked Dorian. He shrugged a little, rolling his neck.
“A bit… heavier, I guess, than I’m used to,” Dorian said with a small frown. “It’ll take some getting used to. Otherwise I’m fine, John. Thank you for your concern.”
There was a slight twinkle in Dorian’s eye that John went to respond to with a snarky comment, but his phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw a text waiting from Sandra: Three more. Regroup at the station. Bring Dorian and Lom. John looked up to share the news with Valerie, but she had her phone out as well.
“Maldonado wants us at the precinct,” Dorian announced. “Rudy, you too.”
Rudy looked up incredulously. “But I--”
“Captain’s orders,” Dorian interrupted. Rudy’s protests collapsed, and he tossed his gloves to the side.
“All right, I’m coming.”
Sandra met the four of them at the door, tense and with a hard look in his eyes. “Since I texted, another DRN’s been hacked. That puts us at nine out of seventeen, with only two down, and I’m running out of units to send after them. We’ve got two more people in the hospital, not including those from the bank, and a total of four casualties so far. As of now the media hasn’t caught on yet, but this is out of control, and I’m out of options.”
“Meaning?” John asked.
“Meaning we’re shutting them down,” Sandra said tightly. “Dr. Lom, I need you to shut off the frequency the DRNs run on through the entire city. We have all the equipment you need set up in the conference room.”
Rudy looked stunned for a minute before nodding and running off to follow orders. John felt sick and glancing at Dorian’s shell-shocked expression only made it worse.
“I’ve sent out MXs to collect the DRNs once they’ve been shut down. Paul is still out there helping, and Valerie, I need you to help as well.”
Valerie threw John and Dorian sympathetic looks before heading out. John finally found his voice again.
“Dorian will be turned back on immediately afterwards,” she said, tone gentle all of a sudden. John decided not to examine the wave of relief that rushed through him.
“And the others?” Dorian asked. Sandra met Dorian’s stare and sighed.
“I’m sorry, Dorian.”
Dorian blinked and then swallowed heavily. It took John a moment to realize how strange a reaction that was for an android.
“What if we took them to the lab,” Dorian said, voice weighty. “Rudy could install the same firewalls he--”
But Sandra was already shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Dorian, but that takes too much time and too much money. No one’s willing to spend that much on a second incident with the DRNs. They won’t be waking back up again.”
“Then why is Dorian?” John asked. The relief from just a moment ago was gone, replaced by a strange hollow feeling that he also didn’t want to figure out just yet.
“Because he already has extra security,” Sandra said. “And because I did a lot of begging on your behalf.”
John looked at Dorian, hoping to give his partner some sort of comfort or sympathy or even an apology through a silent look, but Dorian refused to meet his eyes.
“Captain,” he said instead, quiet. “Please.”
Sandra placed a hand on Dorian’s arm. “It’s out of my hands. I’m sorry.” She met John’s gaze before continuing, back to business but still gentle. “You two should wait in the conference room so Rudy can turn you back on when it’s done. Then I want you both to take the next couple days off.”
John nodded, and Sandra started to leave. John caught her by the arm quickly and glanced at Dorian before saying in a hushed undertone,
“Sandra. Thank you.”
She gave him a wry half-smile. “You two are my best detective. I’m not letting either of you walk out on me any time soon.”
John hated seeing Dorian turned off. The wide black that covered his eyes was unsettling, and he was too still. Somehow, even without a pulse, Dorian still had a certain humming energy under his skin when he was on--something alive. The order had come to flip the switch, and Dorian had just sat there, obediently waiting with his life in someone else’s hands. Rudy moved with the familiar wand in his hand, about to turn Dorian back on, when he looked up at John and stopped.
“Here,” he said, holding out the wand. John frowned at him briefly, taking the tool and staring at Dorian.
“You remember how to do it?” Rudy asked quietly. John shot him a glare.
Rudy nodded jerkily and looked down at his hands fiddling in front of him. John chewed on the inside of his cheek, looking back at Dorian again. Those dead eyes weren’t the same as what he’d noticed in 274 and 494, but it was too damn similar. Quickly, John shook off the weird funk that had settled in the room and touched the wand to Dorian’s left ear.
With a loud gasp, Dorian’s eyes melted into blue, and he blinked wildly as his systems came back online. He met John’s look, then Rudy’s, and all the life that had reanimated the DRN faded into a subdued expression.
“It’s done?” he asked quietly. Rudy nodded.
John reached out to settle a hand on Dorian’s shoulder. “C’mon. Sandra wants us to take the next few days off. You should come over to my place. We can watch a movie or something. Take your mind off things.”
Dorian didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t argue either. He nodded slightly and stood up.
“I want him home before midnight!” Rudy called in a wholly inappropriate joking tone as Dorian walked out the conference room. John glared at Rudy as he followed, and Rudy’s face fell. “I just mean he still needs to charge and all.”
“Yeah, I got it. Thanks,” John replied sarcastically, closing the door and hurrying after Dorian. “Gotta stop by the store on the way,” he told him, trying to sound casual and bring back a sense of normalcy. “Need to pick up some groceries.”
John waited for Dorian to make some comment about John’s eating or shopping habits, but none came. Instead Dorian just nodded, and they walked out to the cruiser.
The drive to the store was just as quiet. John kept trying to get a response--any response--out of Dorian to no avail. All he wanted was something a little more than what an MX would give him. Some proof his partner would be all right eventually. Not yet. John didn’t expect Dorian to just be able to be fine. John had thought it must be a hell of a thing to meet your maker and then be betrayed by him. Suddenly finding yourself to be the last remaining being of your kind… That would a whole different ballpark.
Still, John tried all the same. Maybe if he kept trying, kept making an effort, Dorian could accept the reality of the situation and start to move on. Start to be okay, at least. Moving on probably wasn’t exactly possible. So John tried cracking jokes, suggesting movies, even gave Dorian several easy openings for mocking John. John thought he caught a slight smile at one point, but he couldn’t be sure.
It was later in the day than John had realized. The sun had almost set, and the tiny convenience store they stopped at was all but deserted. Dorian helped carry groceries quietly, offering a few suggestions when John tried to decide between items. At one point when John was purposefully being difficult about which flavor ice cream to grab and Dorian just told him to get both, John stopped and looked Dorian hard in the eyes.
“Look, you gonna be okay?” he asked. Dorian raised his eyebrows. John sighed and put the ice cream--both flavors--back in the freezer.
“Do I need to worry about you?” he said. “I know this is hard and shitty, but I need to know if you’re going to be all right. Eventually, at least.”
“I’m the last of my kind, John,” Dorian responded dully.
“Yeah, I know. But would you rather not even be here?” John pushed. He was being a bit of a dick, and he knew it. But maybe that was the only way to get a real reaction out of Dorian. “I mean, you once told me you wanted nothing more than to be a cop. You still feel like that? Or are you regretting being here now?”
Dorian blinked, looking a little surprised by the question. “No. I-I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
He stammered, John thought distantly. That couldn’t be right.
“Anything?” he echoed. “Not even the lives of those sixteen other DRNs?”
Dorian’s expression went dark. There. That was a reaction. An emotional response other than melancholy. He seemed to struggle with the question for a few seconds before finally saying, quiet and ashamed, “Not even that.”
John nodded curtly. “Right. Well. Then. Buck up, buddy. At least you’re still here.” He turned and headed for the checkout. He could hear Dorian hurrying to follow.
“That’s not really much of a consolation, John.”
“I lost every single man on that raid, Dorian,” John replied, taking groceries out of Dorian’s arms and handing them to the cashier. “Every last one. And somehow I made it out. And I didn’t make it out because someone went out of their way to make sure I returned. I made it out out of pure luck, and I made it out to find no one was left for me. I barely even had my job. You still have yours. And you still have me and Sandra fighting for you.”
“It’s not the same,” Dorian said, voice almost quiet enough to be a whisper.
“I know it’s not,” John said, scanning his bitcoin before grabbing a few bags of groceries. “That’s not my point. My point is, this is shitty. And it’s going to be shitty for a while. But you don’t have to let it destroy your life. You still have a lot going for you.”
Dorian gathered the rest of the grocery bags and followed John out back to the parking lot. John glanced at him once, just to get an idea if he’d gone too far or not far enough, but Dorian looked contemplative. Maybe a little upset, but that was a good thing. Better than shutting John out, anyway.
John pulled out his keys to unlock the cruiser when suddenly there was a thud and crash of groceries hitting the pavement. Confused, John turned back around to see all the bags Dorian had been carrying dropped on the ground a few feet behind John.
“The hell? Dorian, you--”
And then Dorian was in front of John, a fist pulling back, and hitting John square in the nose.
Chapter 5: Broken Hand
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
Dorian's been hacked.
John felt something break in his nose as he reeled backwards. He raised a hand to tenderly feel the break, staring incredulously at the puddle of blood his palm came back with.
“What the fuck?” he said thickly, breathing heavily through the mouth. He looked up to start yelling at Dorian (because seriously--what the fuck?), but he never got the chance. Dorian was already rushing John, catching him by the torso and slamming him into the cruiser. The wind knocked out of him, John tried bringing his elbows down on Dorian’s back to loosen the android’s grip, but Dorian didn’t even flinch. Instead, he hauled John back with him a couple feet before ramming him into the cruiser again. Once more, and John felt his natural leg give way. Dorian finally let go, and John fell weightily to one knee, hand to his chest. At least one rib, one the right side where Dorian’s shoulder had been, was cracked, John could tell. He looked up at Dorian again.
“What is wrong with you?” he barked hoarsely, trying to shakily get back up to his feet. “Get a gr--” John cut himself short as Dorian approached again, his electric eyes fixed on John with a deadly look. No. Not a deadly look. A dead look.
Just like 494 and 274.
Somehow, despite all of Dorian’s security, the hacker had gotten through. And it seemed Dorian’s task was to beat the living shit out of John. Or worse.
Yet John found himself more worried about the aftermath of this. The reason Dorian had been allowed to live was because they were certain he couldn’t be hacked. Now there would be nothing stopping them, and there was nothing John or Sandra could do about it. The slight buzz of panic growing steadily in John’s thoughts was cut off abruptly when Dorian’s fist connected with John’s face again. The split above his eyebrow from earlier that day reopened, and the back of his head cracked against the car loudly. Head spinning, John managed to roll out of the way of Dorian’s next blow and unsteadily pulled himself to his feet. Dorian rounded on him, and John raised his arms in defense. A part of John was telling him he should fight back, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to. This was Dorian, after all, underneath the hacker’s commands. Not to mention John couldn’t make a dent on the android.
“Dorian,” he tried, the DRN’s fist making contact with John’s face again. John spit out blood and what was probably a sizeable chunk of a tooth and tried again.
A fist hit John’s ear, and he felt and heard something crack, an excruciating ringing starting in his head.
“D’ri’n,” he mumbled, knee dropping to the pavement again. “Pl’se…”
That was a foot, crashing into John’s chest, forcing him to fall hard on his ass. John scrambled backwards blindly, holding his left arm out in front of him in some sort of mockery of a defense.
“Please,” he repeated, barely aware of his own voice through the ice pick drilling through his ear. “D’ri’n, c’mon, man, I know you’re in there…”
A grip tighter than steel took John’s outstretched hand and tightened. John heard a bellow break through the still night air, the small, fragile bones in his hand snapping like toothpicks. The grip vanished, and John cradled his hand against his chest, losing his balance against the pavement. Still, he kicked against it, trying to get enough leverage to continue his retreat. Dorian was looming over John, oddly still and… well, robotic as he reached down for John. Frantically, John found himself reaching back for Dorian with his good hand, wrapping his fingers around the android’s wrist. Dorian froze and looked down at John’s hand, and John could distantly hear his own voice babbling, broken and sluggish, through the blood sitting on his tongue and streaming out of his nose.
“C’mon, Dorian. This is me. I know you’re in there. You--you can’t do this, they’ll shut you off. You don’t wanna do this. C’mon. Please. Don’t do this.”
Dorian’s eyes stayed fixed on John’s hand wrapped around the DRN’s wrist, but John could see him blinking, eyelashes moving rapidly. The world seemed to still and focus in on the moment, everything else fading back into a blur. The screaming coming from John’s ear and hand dulled into a slow throb, and his breath hitched as he waited. Dorian’s attempts to talk sense into 494 had failed, but Dorian was better, stronger than that other DRN. He could fight this. He could win. He had to win.
Suddenly John’s grasp was on empty air, and the heat of the machine looming over him gave way to the cool night breeze. Blinking wildly, John looked around the parking lot, only to catch a glimpse of Dorian disappearing behind the corner of the store. John stared in the direction Dorian went for a few moments, the sounds of the city slowly filtering back into his consciousness. Finally, with a groan, he rolled over and dragged himself back to the car.
All the groceries were a bust, scattered around the parking lot, jars busted open and milk puddled on the ground. It took John a moment to find his keys, dropped before the groceries so they were underneath a couple of stomped on frozen dinners. Once the cruiser was unlocked and he managed to haul himself inside, he pulled out his phone. He hesitated for a moment--if he called this in, there’d be a manhunt, and if John couldn’t control it, Dorian would be done for. But he couldn’t find Dorian without the department’s resources. He at least needed Rudy to track Dorian down, and things would go a lot faster if more people were looking.
It only took a ring and a half for Sandra to answer. “John? Is everything all right?"
John cleared his throat, trying to find the right words. “Uhm. Not exactly.”
There was a pause and then, “You sound funny. What happened?”
“They got to Dorian,” John said, spitting out some more blood into his hand. He grimaced at it and wiped his hand off on his shirt. It was stained all to hell anyway.
Another, longer pause this time. “What happened?” she repeated tersely.
“He went off the rails,” John said, gingerly inspecting his left hand. “I got a broken hand, and I think my eardrum might be ruptured, but he stopped before he… well, he stopped and ran off before anything else happened.”
“Jesus, Kennex,” Sandra hissed, and he could practically see her running a hand down her face wearily. “Where are you? I’ll send a medic team your way, and I’ll get started tracking Dorian down.”
“Whoa, no, wait,” John said quickly, sitting up straight and wincing as the sudden movement jostled the piercing pain in his ear. “I’m leading the search, Sandra.”
“John, he just tried to killed to you.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t,” John argued. “That has to count for something. He managed to stop somehow, despite the hack, so he’s gotta be saveable. Let me do this.”
“You just told me you have a broken hand and a ruptured eardrum,” Sandra pointed out.
“And a broken nose and a chipped tooth and a cracked rib,” John agreed testily. “So let’s patch me up and I’ll be good to go. We all know I can handle worse.”
“Sandra, he broke through the hack. There’s still hope for him.” He could hear the begging in his voice, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “Let me do this. Please.”
It was silent, save the ringing in John’s ear, for a few tense seconds, and John closed his eyes, already formulating a plan if she said no. He could go to Rudy, the technician loved Dorian so he’d be more than ready to help, and he could convince (or threaten, depending on how much Sandra scared the technician) Rudy to keep the manhunt off Dorian’s scent, and then John could go after Dorian without worrying who would get there first, and then…
“Fine. You’re taking a whole squad of MXs with you, though.”
As long as they didn’t get in John’s way, he didn’t give a fuck. “Thank you.”
“If we can’t fix him, John, there’s nothing I can do. You understand that, right?”
They had to fix him. John wouldn’t accept anything less. But instead he said, “Yeah, I get it.”
“Okay. Now where the hell are you? You shouldn’t drive in the condition you’re in, so let me send a medical team your way. Then we can find Dorian.”
By the way, if you want to follow me on tumblr, my url is "spacefeathercollections". :*
Chapter 6: Hurt Me Too Deep
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
They track down Dorian. Paul and a handful of MXs act as backup that John orders to stay outside.
Sandra showed up soon after a medic set John’s nose. The medic’s working on his hand and trying to convince him to go to the hospital for his ear when Sandra parked and walked up to him, hands in her coat pockets. John stopped arguing with the medic to frown at her.
“Well, you look awful,” she said in way of greeting. John scowled.
“What’re you doing here?”
Sandra didn’t answer for a moment, peering at John like she was trying to find something specific in his expression. “Paul is putting together a team right now. I’d like him to take the lead.”
“Fuck no,” John spat without thinking. Sandra raised an eyebrow.
“That’s what I figured you’d say,” she said with a nod. “Maybe a little more professionally, but I’m not surprised. So Paul will be your backup--and you don’t get to argue with me on this. I already spoke with Dr. Lom, and he’s currently tracking Dorian down. He did seem a little hesitant, though.” Sandra eyed him suspiciously, and John raised his free hand defensively.
“I haven’t talked to him,” he said. “I thought about it, but I didn’t.”
Sandra continued to eye John carefully for a few seconds before deciding to believe him. “We can’t let Dorian slip away, John,” she said with a sigh. “Not if we want any chance to save him. Presumably he’s going to try and finish everything the other DRNs started, and if we can catch him before morning we may be able to avoid any deaths.”
“Dorian won’t kill anyone,” John grumbled, pulling his hand back from the medic and frowning at the bandages.
“You should really go to the hospital,” the medic tried one last time. John just shot him his most menacing glare, and the medic sighed heavily.
“Take these then,” he said, pulling out a bottle of pills. “They’ll help with the pain until you get some sense knocked into you.”
John snatched the bottle from the man’s fingers and dry swallowed two pills immediately. He frowned at the contents, disappointed but not surprised to see only a handful of doses. He could feel Sandra’s steady gaze as he shoved the bottle in a pocket.
“What?” he snapped.
“You sure you’re okay enough to do this?”
“I’m fine,” he bit tersely. “Dorian won’t kill anyone,” he repeated, not convinced Sandra had heard him the first time.
“Three other DRNs did.”
“Yeah, and none of them managed to stop like Dorian did,” John pointed out. “Dorian’s different. He won’t kill anyone.”
Sandra shook her head, pulling out her phone which was buzzing irritably. “I hope you’re right,” she said before answering the call. “Dr. Lom. You have something for me?”
Rudy directed them uptown, about two blocks from the Wall, where a handful of factories and warehouses lay abandoned. It was a high crime area, and Sandra reminded John to be careful as the chances Dorian had gone to meet the hacker were good. John met up with Paul and his vanful of MXs outside the building Rudy had pinpointed Dorian.
“You gonna be able to handle this, Kennex?” Paul asked skeptically, holding out an EM pulse. “I know you get a little emotional over your bot.”
John held back a snarl and grabbed the pulse from Paul’s hand. “We won’t be needing this,” he said, shoving it in a pocket. Paul’s eyebrows shot upwards.
“What do you expect to happen? Him to come peacefully or some shit?”
John didn’t respond. They were wasting time. “Stay out here. I’m going in alone.”
“Jesus, Kennex, you gotta be kidding me.” Paul gestured at John. “He almost killed you. We’re here for backup so that doesn’t happen again.”
“So give me backup from out here,” John said, pulling out his gun and starting towards the warehouse.
Paul threw his hands in the air. “Fine! But I’m not taking the blame for this! And you better call us in the moment things go sideways!”
John flapped his wrapped-up hand at Paul dismissively and slipped inside the warehouse. It had been owned by some old film production company that went out of business ages ago, according to Rudy, and it seemed convincingly abandoned, judging by the lack of transportation outside and visible movement inside. So if Dorian wasn’t meeting up with the hacker here… well, what could an old film production warehouse possibly have that they could want?
On instinct, John kept his gun raised. It was awkward with only one good hand, but at least his good hand was his right hand. He kept his finger off the trigger--it would have to be a well-aimed and close shot to do any damage, but he didn’t want to risk it. Besides, the prop and set pieces scattered around this warehouse in the middle of the night were enough that John kept thinking he saw something. A few mannequins almost were ridden with bullets. Fucking creepy bastards.
After John was finally convinced this wasn’t “home base” for the hacker, John called out, “Dorian?”
Something metal knocked loudly against something else, somewhere to John’s left. He moved quickly towards it. “Dorian, c’mon, buddy, it’s me. Let’s figure this out. Get you back to Rudy’s and track down the son of a bitch behind all this. You’ll be fine.”
A giant fake jaguar’s head (what the hell kind of a movie had that been?) was jostling slightly about twenty-five feet in front of John. He hurried to it, watching the fur rustle with movement.
The relief that washed through John was unbalancing. He took a step to steady himself and let out a long, thin breath. His ear was starting to throb again. John lowered his gun a fraction, waiting for Dorian to come out from behind the shelves and giant head.
“Dorian?” John repeated when the android didn’t appear.
“John, you need to leave.” Dorian’s voice was rough--scared, maybe.
“I’m not leaving you behind.”
“Send in the MXs,” Dorian pleaded (pleaded?). “Please tell me you came with backup.”
“If I send in MXs, they’ll kill you,” John argued. “The hell is going on, buddy?” John took a step forward, reaching out to push the jaguar head to the side.
“No!” Dorian cried sharply, and John froze, watching the jaguar’s glass eyes uneasily. There was something unsettling about them.
“It’s just you,” Dorian said quickly, an edge of panic in his voice. “Whatever this is, it only affects me around you.”
“How do you know that?” John asked hand still on the jaguar’s face. He pulled it back quickly, mouth twisting.
“I tested it. After coming into contact with several civilians and even seeing an MX in the distance, I tested my theory using stored data with you in it. There’s a rather expensive-looking desk a few rows down that’s been split in two.”
Split in two. What would that kind of force do to the human body?
“But you stopped,” John pointed out.
“I don’t know how that happened, John,” Dorian argued. “I don’t want to risk it. It’ll be better if you just go away and send in the MXs to take care of me. I don’t want to hurt anyone, least of all you.”
“They’ll kill you,” John said through gritted teeth, tucking his gun back into its holster. Maybe he could get to Dorian directly, going around the tall shelving. The end of this row was only five feet away.
“Better me than you. I’m only a synthetic, John. I won’t be missed.”
John decided that load of bullshit didn’t deserve an answer and stepped around the shelves. Dorian was leaning heavily against them and looked up in surprise at the movement. John watched in fascination as the shock fell into despair for the briefest moment before shutting off into nothing. Before John could respond, Dorian had stalked up to him, his fist hitting John directly in the stomach.
Distantly, John realized right about now would be the time to call Paul and the MXs in, but he also knew that if he did there was no chance Dorian would get out of this alive. John had been able to talk some sense into Dorian last time. He had to believe he could do it again.
“Dorian, I know you’re in there,” he said as soon as he caught his breath. A punch to the face and the ringing in John’s ear was back to full bloom.
“You can fight this,” John continued, a headache that had been sitting, waiting, threatening to make its way to the front starting to form behind his eyes. Dorian grabbed John by the kevlar and tossed him, John flying through the air to hit the wall of the warehouse with a loud thud before falling heavily to the floor. A distant part of him was trying to decide whether to be grateful or not that Paul happened to be waiting on the opposite end of the warehouse and wouldn’t have heard the racket yet.
John’s vision was blurring, thanks to the pain in his ear, the forming headache, and the sudden vertigo. Quickly, he tried to stumble back to his feet, but his natural leg didn’t seem to want to cooperate. Suddenly Dorian’s figure was standing over John.
“Dorian, come on, you can fight this,” he slurred. God, his head was spinning. Vaguely, John could see Dorian raising his leg and stomping down on something that made a loud mechanical splintering sound. John tried getting to his feet again before realizing what it was Dorian had destroyed. Dimly, through a heavy haze of pain, John stared down at his right leg to see the lower portion of the synthetic leg--that beautiful, top of the line leg Dorian had given him--barely hanging on by a few sparking wires.
Which meant John wasn’t going anywhere.
A sudden panic wrapping itself around John’s throat, he scrabbled for his gun. Dorian ignored the frantic movements and hauled John up by the neck, holding him up against the wall. Coughing and spluttering for air, John blindly aimed the gun behind Dorian, firing until the thing was empty. Paul would hear it and would realize something had gone wrong. Dorian’s fingers were unyielding, getting tighter and tighter. John heard something clatter to the floor, going numb everywhere except for his throat.
The world made a sudden swooping movement, and he suddenly found himself on the floor, gasping desperately for air. He tried to look around, get his bearings, but his vision was too hazy. He heard crashing and yelling in the distance, over the sounds of his own ragged breathing, but he couldn’t hear Dorian. He tried to roll over, push himself up, before remembering his right leg was useless and slumping to the floor. Where was Dorian? Would the MXs get to him? Could Paul stop them? Would he stop them? John tried gasping for breath again, but nothing seemed to help. Somehow it still felt like a merciless grip was wrapped around his throat, letting in nothing but the thinnest breaths of air. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe.
He couldn’t breathe.
Chapter 7: A Familiar Experience
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
John wakes up in the hospital with Maldonado by his side. She fills him in. John spends the next couple days grumpily trying to recover quickly.
The first thing John was aware of was the pounding in his skull. For a while it was all he was aware of. Just the thud-thud-thud-ing that felt like a marching band parading through his head. After a few moments of just listening to its beat, he realized there was no sharp piercing on the left side of his head, not even the underlying throb that had stayed in the background through the pain meds. His eardrum must’ve been fixed. That was nice.
His hand was having difficulty moving. Either that meant he was weaker than he thought or his hand was still wrapped up tightly. John wasn’t sure which one he’d prefer. His throat, though. His throat felt raw, like someone had worked over it with an old metal rake until all that was left was tatters of flesh. At least his nose felt better so breathing wasn’t a complete chore.
Slowly the room came into focus. John felt a sudden wave of deja vu hit him as he took in the bright white lights and equally white walls. There was a steady beeping in time with the thudding in his head, and a thin itchy blanket scratching his shin. A hospital. He was in a hospital.
Before another thought could cross John’s mind, a searing, all too familiar pain swept up his right leg. He gasped, tensing as he tried to ride the pain out, a line of it running up his spine and to the back of his head. God, he was supposed to be over this. Those stupid phantom sensations had died out a long time ago, partially in thanks to the barely noticeable vibrations the synthetic leg Dorian had given him--
Everything snapped into focus, and John looked up to see Sandra standing by the wall opposite of him, her back to him as she finished her conversation on the phone.
“All right. Okay. Thank you. Keep me informed.”
She ended the call with a sigh and turned back to John, stopping when she noticed him staring at her. “You’re awake,” she said, relief coloring her voice almost as much as it had the last time John had woken up like this.
John grunted in response, trying to push himself up. Sandra hurried to his side, pressing a hand against his shoulder gently and handing him the remote for the bed. “Take it easy,” she said firmly. “You’ve been out for four and a half days.”
She sat down heavily in the chair that had been pulled up close to the bedside before fixing John with a glare. “You know, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop going into comas. I’m starting to develop an ulcer.”
“Dorian,” John said after adjusting the bed so he was sitting up, surprised at the hoarseness of his voice--it sounded almost as bad as it felt. Sandra frowned at him.
“He crushed your trachea,” she explained. “You should try not to speak for a while to help it heal. They had to do surgery on it and your ear. You’re just lucky it wasn’t any worse.”
“Where’s Dorian?” John pushed, wincing. God, it was like some animal had clawed his throat up. Sandra watched him carefully for a few moments, and dread welled up inside John like a slow volcano. His throat felt tight on top of shredded.
“We haven’t found him yet,” she said finally, somber. “It seems he’s managed to turn off his tracking somehow. Rudy’s trying to figure that out, but I’m not sure I trust him. He’s been acting more twitchy than normal. And he’s moved himself to a different frequency, which I didn’t even know was possible, so we can’t shut him off remotely.”
John managed to keep his mouth shut--talking really was painful as all get out--but he stared at Sandra desperately, hoping she’d figure out his next question. After a moment she sighed.
“There’s nothing I can do, John. He put you in a coma, and it’s pure chance he didn’t kill you before Paul showed up. I can’t believe you had him wait outside, by the way, that was probably one of the more idiotic things you’ve ever done.”
John kept staring, and Sandra shook her head.
“The moment we find him, he’s gone. It’s out of my hands.”
“It’s only me,” John protested hoarsely. “Whatever the hacker did to him, it only happens around me.”
Sandra stared at him blankly for a moment. “How do you know that?”
“He told me,” John said.
“He was lucid?” Sandra asked, looking stunned. John nodded frantically.
“It’s just when he sees me,” he continued, and god, he could really go for some water right now. “For some reason this hacker’s got some personal vendetta against me and is using Dorian to act on it.” He coughed, wincing, and Sandra stood, grabbing a paper cup on the table next to the bed and walking over to the sink to fill it up.
“That still means he can’t be your partner,” she said musingly, handing John the cup. He took it gratefully and savored the sensation of the water soothing his throat.
“It means Rudy can fix him up without being in danger,” he disagreed. “As long as I’m not there, Dorian can be fixed without putting anyone in danger.”
Sandra was quiet as she sat back down and John took another drink. The relief on his throat was frustratingly temporary. After a while, Sandra nodded shortly.
“Okay. I’ll see what I can do. I make no promises, but I’ll try.”
John tried not to look childishly relieved. “Thank you.”
Sandra’s mouth twisted at the thanks, and she shook her head with a familiar “what am I going to do with you?” look she’d perfected years ago. “In the meantime, I want you to focus on recovery. Don’t be a pain, please. Listen to the doctors. They’re just trying to help, okay?”
John couldn’t help the scowl. “How long do I have to stay here?”
“As long as the doctor says,” Sandra responded easily. “I’ll go let him know you’re awake now. I’ve got to get back to the station. I’ll stay in touch, okay? Let me know if you need anything.”
John gave her a grumpy nod of acknowledgement, and she slipped out the door to find the doctor. John shifted in the bed, reaching down to scratch at his knee. He glanced around the room, trying to find a new synthetic leg or at least some crutches so he could go use the bathroom, but he was interrupted by the doctor coming in.
“Detective Kennex,” the bright old man greeted with a smile. “I’m Dr. Ianni.”
“You got some crutches around here or something?” John asked bitingly. “I gotta piss.”
“Of course! Here, let me help you,” Dr. Ianni said, grabbing a pair of crutches from under the bed--under the bed, what good did that do anyone?--before reaching to help John to his feet. John accepted the help grumpily, remembering how weak he’d been after seventeen months in a coma. Four and a half days wouldn’t be half as bad, but John still felt his knee shaking under the strain of holding himself up.
Dr. Ianni was nice enough. Once John got back from the bathroom, he explained the surgeries and injuries John had suffered in easy to understand terms without seeming condescending. He said depending on how well John was doing he might be able to go home in as little as a week and mentioned how the recovery from the coma would be a lot easier since John had already done this before. He already had all the physical therapy equipment and everything at home. Dr. Ianni left John with a steaming cup of tea with lemon and honey, telling him to drink the whole thing to help soothe his throat. John took a skeptical sip after the door clicked shut behind the doctor, making a face at the taste. But after only a moment he could already tell the difference, so he finished the drink anyway.
Sitting around in a hospital bed all day was just as awful and aggravating as John remembered. Sandra brought him a book the second day, but he’d already finished it the next time she came to visit. The physical therapy Dr. Ianni was forcing him through was less awful than last time, but it still was frustratingly exhausting. John was also forced to drink that disgusting lemon and honey concoction three times a day and while it was definitely helping, it left a bad taste and gross feeling in his mouth.
On the third day John was awake, he got a phonecall. Having just finished a session of physical therapy and trying to make it through another cup of tea, John answered very irritably.
“John, oh, thank god. Are you alone?” Rudy’s frantic voice came over the line. John frowned, sitting up slightly.
“Yeah. What’s up? You found Dorian yet?”
“Um, well, not exactly. You see, he, uh. Well. He found me. A few days ago. Before you woke up.”
“What?” John said, quickly glancing out the window. Sandra had already come that day, but he didn’t want to risk it. “How is he?”
“He’s, uh. He’s fine. Freaked out a bit--you are, don’t deny it--but I’m working to, to try to fix this. I don’t know if they’ll let him stay on still, I know the captain said she was trying to do what she could, but I was thinking maybe we could smuggle him around or something if I can stop this from happening again.”
“Is he there right now?” John asked.
“Uh, well, yes, but I don’t--”
“Can I talk to him?” He needed to talk to Dorian, tell him he was all right, make sure Dorian was all right, make sure he knew that this wasn’t his fault and that John didn’t blame him.
“Um, well… No,” Rudy said awkwardly. “He… he doesn’t want to talk.”
Somehow that hurt more than anything Dorian had already dished out. John swallowed hard against the disappointment, taking a sip of the tea to counteract the sudden tightening in his throat.
John ignored the apology and pushed forward. “You think you really can fix this?”
“I’m gonna try everything I can,” Rudy assured him. “I just wanted you to know he’s safe.”
John nodded. “Thanks, Rudy. I appreciate that.”
The next evening John decided he was done. Dr. Ianni had left the hospital for the day, and John felt fine. So he was going home. He attached the new synthetic leg to its port, grumbling at how obvious it was that it was an older model than the one he’d gotten used to, pulled on his real clothes, and sneaked outside the room and to a side entrance.
Sandra’s car was waiting in the parking lot, Sandra leaning against the hood, frowning in John’s direction like she’d been waiting impatiently for him to show up.
“The hell are you doing here?” he asked, limping up to her. Right, it was official. He hated this leg.
“Taking you home,” she answered easily. “I saw the look on your face this morning. I’m no idiot, John, I knew you were thinking about sneaking off.”
“You’re not gonna take me back inside?” he asked, already moving to the passenger seat.
“Again, not stupid. I know that’s a fight I’ll lose.”
The drive was quiet. John stubbornly refused to feel uncomfortable, despite the fact that the conversation with Rudy the other day was at the forefront of his mind. He hated lying to Sandra. It was a relief for more reasons than one to see his house as Sandra pulled up in the driveway. She made him promise again to call if he needed anything before pulling away. John watched her tail lights disappear down the street before turning to the house and pulling out his keys. He moved to unlock the door, freezing when he noticed the door was already open by just half an inch.
Cursing mentally, John took a mental inventory of the house, trying to decide where the closest gun was. There should be one under the side table just inside the door. He wished he’d chosen the sliding door entrance to go through--then he could get a better idea of what was inside. Instead, he gritted his teeth and quietly pushed the door open.
The lights were still off and everything seemed to be in its place. John grabbed the gun taped to the bottom of the side table and switched off the safety, wincing when his left hand twinged in protest. He could see a figure in the living area, shadow moving slightly on the wall, but he couldn’t tell anything about them; male or female, build, any weapons. John gritted his teeth and stepped into the doorway, gun aimed in front of him.
He froze, aim faltering, as the figure before him turned her head, a smirk playing on her lips.
Anna grinned, her long fingers waving at him mockingly. “Hello, John.” She gave a short nod to someone behind John, and he felt a sharp crack on the back of his skull before everything went black.
...I'm adding Anna as a tag next chapter because I didn't want to give away the ending of this chapter...
Chapter 8: St. Christopher
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
John wakes up cuffed to a chair in some dank and dirty room he doesn't recognize, with Anna and an XRN watching him.
John woke up with a start, freezing wet running down his face and the back of his neck. He spluttered, gasping in shock, blinking the water out of his eyes before the figure in front of him finally focused.
No, that couldn’t be right. The XRN had been blown to bits by her own grenade, John had been there. He’d seen the pieces. And then the pieces had been incinerated. This couldn’t be the XRN.
But the figure stubbornly stayed the same, with that same steely-eyed stare. Which had to mean Vaughn had made more. He’d stolen the synthetic souls, this had to be why. Fuck.
Still blinking through the freezing cold water, shivering slightly as what had hit his shirt soaked through and made the fabric cling to his skin, John tried to get his bearings when his eyes fell on someone standing a few feet behind the XRN.
The bitch was smirking at him and nodded at the XRN who stepped back from John and took her place just behind Anna. John looked between the two of them with wide eyes. If the XRN was taking orders from Anna and the XRN had been made with the synthetic souls Vaughn had stolen, that meant Anna and Vaughn had to be in contact. They’d theorized that inSyndicate and Vaughn were connected after figuring out it was the XRN’s head they’d broken into the station for, but they’d never found any proof. Until right now, that was.
John closed his eyes momentarily, trying to shake off the panic creeping up his throat and actually shaking off as much of the ice water the XRN had dumped on him. Suddenly feeling very off-balance, his eyes snapped open again, looking down to his lap and the chair his arms were tied around, to see a glaring blank space where his synthetic leg should’ve been. He looked back up to Anna again wildly. Her smirk had widened.
“We destroyed it,” she said easily. “You won’t be going anywhere any time soon, my dear.”
Jesus Christ, that was two legs destroyed in less than two weeks. John swallowed his snappish retort to the term of endearment and felt for his restraints. Cuffs. Good. He could work with that. Especially since his hand had just been broken. He could easily break his thumb again and get out of the cuffs without even breaking a sweat. He just needed to make sure Anna or the XRN didn’t notice. Of course, what he would do once free, he had no idea. Anna was right--he wouldn’t get far with only one leg.
“What do you want?” he bit, staring her down. It made his skin crawl to see her again. Honestly, he felt kind of sick. How long had he been out? His throat was burning again, and he was fucking exhausted--the kind of exhausted that he could feel deep in his bones.
“Well, I will admit, at first I just wanted you dead,” Anna replied with a shrug, inspecting a nail. “You are quite a thorn in our side, darling.”
“Good,” John spat. His fingers were itching, and he wanted nothing more than to wrap them around her throat. They’d been together for so long, he’d fallen in love with her so quickly. She’d been everything, his whole world, and then in one fell swoop, everything had been taken away, all thanks to her.
Anna chuckled. “Mm, yes. But now I’m curious.” She looked up from her nails to meet his glare, her eyes piercing and dark. John’s heart ached. Those eyes had been a source of contentment and happiness, and now…. The sick feeling in his stomach throbbed.
“How did you manage to get that DRN to not kill you?” she asked casually. “I can’t understand it.
John stared at her and blinked. “It was you.”
“Yes, very good,” Anna agreed with a small sigh. “Now how about it, John? How’d you pull that off?”
He’d never heard his name in that voice with so little… anything. Emotion. There’d always been love, adoration, wistfulness, joy, even heartache or irritation a few times here and there. Now it was just like a business transaction. Nothing there but professionalism.
He shook it off. Head in the game, Kennex. He could mourn the past some more later, once he was out of this mess. His head hurt, and he remembered with sudden clarity the crack to the back of his skull back at his house. There was a pinprick point of pain, thudding to the beat of his heart softly.
“You’d have to ask Dorian,” he answered with a shrug. Anna regarded him carefully.
“Perhaps,” she said softly, her voice almost a purr. Something ran up the length of John’s spine, and he tried not to visibly shudder. It was just too familiar yet so wrong all the same time.
“This was stupid, Anna,” he said, trying to suppress a hacking cough. He’d never thought he’d long for that awful lemon and honey concoction, but here they were. “They’re going to find me, and then your entire operation’s going down.”
Anna’s smirk returned in full force. “Oh, John darling, no one’s going to find you for a very long time. As you can tell by the stinging in your arm, we’ve removed your tracking device. And, even if you had two legs and somehow got past Danica and myself, you wouldn’t get very far. You’re not exactly in the most hospitable of environments.” Anna moved a couple steps closer as she was talking, putting a high window in the wall right above her right shoulder. Frowning, John looked outside and felt his stomach drop.
There wasn’t much to see out the window, but what he could see was enough. Dark green skies with angry and full clouds. Debris whipping past, riding dangerously high winds. A strange grey fog that looked like a particularly unappetizing soup. John’s breath caught in his throat and the nausea in his stomach threatened to rise. He looked back at Anna, not even trying to disguise the horror on his face.
They were over the Wall.
“Oh, don’t worry, this building is perfectly safe,” Anna assured him with a pleased smile. “We sealed it and weather-proofed it long before setting up. Nothing this place can dish out will reach us inside. Of course, as soon as you open that door…” She indicated a door over to the side of the room. It was tall, fortified metal, sealed tight with a dozen different measures. Still, John suddenly had the urge to try and get as far away from the door as possible. As soon as someone opened that door, it would be minutes before everyone in the building was dead. The toxic air alone would kill you, if the ever-tumultuous weather didn’t first.
“Jesus, Anna, you’re insane,” he rasped. Anna’s eyes brightened and suddenly she threw her head back with a loud laugh, nothing like any laugh he’d ever heard from her. John winced in surprise at the harshness of it before quickly taking advantage of the sound bouncing off every corner of the dank and dirty room. He held back his gasp of pain, well aware of the XRN’s gaze still on him, and bit down on the inside of his cheek.
“Oh, John,” Anna said, mirth dancing in her voice when she turned her full attention back on him. “You and I both know you know by now that’s not my real name, so how about you stop calling me that?”
John blinked stupidly for a moment before frowning at her. “You gonna tell me your real name?”
Anna seemed to consider the question briefly. “Hm. I suppose there’s no harm in it, since you won’t be getting out of here alive.” She turned her eyes back on him and her grin turned positively poisonous. “It’s Dorianna.”
Everything seemed to come to a screeching halt. John tried to keep his expression neutral, but he had no idea if he succeeded. After a few stunned moments his brain caught up and started working overtime, trying to figure out what the hell it meant. Dorianna. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
Anna looked absolutely delighted. “Yes, that’s right. Your precious partner was designed with me in mind. I guess you kind of have a type, don’t you?”
The cogs in John’s brain halted again, and he stared at her. What on earth did that mean? Anna clapped her hands like a child at a circus.
“Oh, John, that nesting doll wasn’t the only bug I gave you.”
John continued to stare as it sunk in what she was talking about.
Stumbling out of the bar, an arm flung over Dorian’s shoulders…
Being shoved into the passenger seat and pulling Dorian down with him…
A pleased hum when he realized just how real Dorian’s lips felt…
Fingers carding through Dorian’s coarse, tight curls…
Dorian pushing him off gently, a soft smile on those spit-slick lips…
“John, you’re drunk.”
“So I’m not sure you can even get it up right now.”
An amused huff and a sigh when John pouted exaggeratedly…
“And I’m not exactly convinced you actually want this.”
“Then let’s try this again in the morning.”
He’d never gotten rid of the St. Christopher medallion Anna had given him. After finding the bug in the doll he’d wanted to, but he couldn’t bring himself to actually toss it out. Instead, he’d taken it off from its place around the rearview mirror and stuffed it in the glove box.
That sick feeling was back in full force, but John tried to continue his neutral expression. Judging by the look of glee on Anna’s face, it wasn’t working.
Chapter 9: A Rescue
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
Anna makes a stupid move, but John pays for it. A rescue is made.
John had seen glee on Anna before. It was bright, it was happy, and it was infectious. It was the kind of smile you couldn’t help but return. Something warm and glowing in your chest as you realized once again that this was where you were supposed to be, this is where you were the happiest.
This glee was something entirely different. It was poisonous, a sickly green dripping like blood. This was the kind of smile that made thousands of tiny insects crawl up your back and neck and into your spine, burrowing and prickling so you couldn’t sit still. John kept trying to keep a straight face, he was trained for this, he could handle it, but the shivers running up his spine were making him shudder and the harder he tried to prevent it, the harder it got to stop it.
“You know, I’ll be honest,” Anna said, looking too sincere. “I never really pegged you for someone to fuck a synthetic. Much less fall in love with one.”
The nausea transformed instantly into anger. How dare she. How dare she. Use the term “synthetic” and then make accusations and assumptions she knew nothing about. All she had on him was that one night after a particularly trying case when John had dragged Dorian along to the bar and then gotten far too drunk. That one moment when inhibitions had fled. That was all there had been. Dorian had driven John home and helped him inside and then left. And John hadn’t tried again in the morning. He’d been too embarrassed, too scared, and he couldn’t quite believe it had happened. They’d never fucked, and John sure as hell hadn’t fallen in love.
“I suppose I just broke you,” Anna hummed thoughtfully, drifting closer to John. “You used to be so impressive and smart and romantic and optimistic, and now you’re just pathetic and desperate. I almost pity you.”
John gave her the dirtiest glare he could muster, trying not to recognize the truth in her words. He was impressive and smart, thank you very much. Maybe… maybe not as romantic or optimistic as he maybe once was, but that had nothing to do with Anna. Nothing at all.
Anna was directly in front of him now, and she raised a hand to stroke his cheek. John jerked away from the touch, but he could only go so far. Anna chuckled softly and grabbed him by the chin, guiding him to meet her piercing gaze.
“Now, now,” she murmured. “I know you want this.”
Before John could frown in confusion--what the hell was she talking about?--Anna tugged his face up closer and caught his lips in a long, slow, deep kiss.
There was a moment--a very brief moment--where the puzzle pieces of the world seemed to just slide into place. He knew those lips. Those lips were sweet and perfect and tasted like the vanilla chapstick Anna always used. He knew the tongue slipping inside his mouth, how it felt against his tongue. He knew the sweet kisses, the desperate kisses. He knew the good-bye kisses and the love-making kisses.
But then he remembered the cuffs around his wrists, and the reality of the situation hit him like a train. Gasping and trying to pull away from Anna’s grip, he slipped his hand out of the cuffs and brought his arms around. He yanked the gun sitting in Anna’s thigh holster out and spun her around by the shoulders, an arm around her neck and the gun to her temple.
“Stay back,” he gasped at the XRN, who’d taken one step forward, her hand on her own gun. A low, genuine chuckle came from Anna, and John pressed the gun harder against her. “Shut up,” he hissed.
“Where will you go?” she asked, not in the least bit cowed. “You gonna hop around until the poisonous air kills you?”
Anna rolled her eyes, shaking her head slightly. John readjusted his grip on the trigger and turned off the safety. “I swear to god--”
“It’s all right, Danica,” Anna said easily, ignoring John. “He won’t kill me. He’s not that kind of man.”
“A lot’s changed since you knew me, Anna,” John seethed. “I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“It’s Dorianna, darling,” Anna corrected. “Do try to keep up.”
The XRN had pulled out her own gun slowly, steadily, while John had been focused on Anna. John noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye and tightened his grip around Anna’s neck.
“Back the fuck up or your boss here bites the--”
The movement was too fast for John’s eyes to track and suddenly his ears were ringing with the crack of a gunshot, his shoulder was burning, and he was falling backwards in the chair, hitting the ground with a hard thud and a yell. The gun fell from his fingers, and Anna rolled off him, snatching the gun quickly and aiming it at him. John blinked, warm blood soaking the right shoulder of his shirt. Anna lowered her aim, scowling at him magnificently.
“Tie him back up,” she ordered curtly, losing the charm she’d held up until this moment. “Make sure he can’t get out again.”
John tried to follow her movement, but she was leaving, she was disappearing down a corner, and he wanted to yell at her, ask her where she thought she was going, but goddamn, his shoulder hurt and the XRN was pulling the chair upright and yanking his arms around behind him to cuff them too tight, his fingers already tingling. John coughed and gasped and tried to clear his head, but his cough morphed into hacking and then he couldn’t think of anything else.
John lost track of how long Anna was gone. The XRN just stood there, watching him, her hand resting on her holstered gun. John’s head hurt, his thumb throbbed, and his shirt was ruined thanks to the still growing bloodstain. He’d tried to convince the XRN to dress the wound, that Anna wanted him alive, right, so him bleeding out wouldn’t be helpful, but she merely glared at him. Meanwhile, his breathing was getting more and more ragged, and he couldn’t tell if it was blood loss or his recently crushed trachea.
He wanted to sleep. He’d wanted to sleep before getting home the other night, and that plan had been foiled. He was tired and still trying to heal, but he couldn’t quite convince himself that sleeping was a good idea. Anna could come back. Or someone worse. Vaughn, maybe. Or someone new. John had to stay awake, stay alert, just in case something happened.
Outside he could watch the weather take a turn for the worse. The wind picked up, howling angrily, the sky opened up to sheets of rain, and there was a flash of lightning that lit the entire room followed by a crash of thunder that John could’ve sworn made the window shake. Wincing, he glanced at the XRN. She didn’t even blink. He wondered if Dorian would.
Dorian. God, Dorian. Had Rudy fixed things yet? Would he be able to or would he need the information that John could now give him--that this was inSyndicate, that Anna was behind this? Who knew Anna could hack? Or was it actually Anna or someone under her command? He still didn’t know how high up the food chain she was. She couldn’t be too high, could she? She’d been at the raid--someone high in command wouldn’t have been at the raid. Except that apparently the DRNs had been designed after her. Which meant that Vaughn had been working with inSyndicate before the first DRN had come off the line. The whole time DRNs had been on the force, the man who’d made them was working with the enemy.
Jesus Christ, this was bigger than they’d thought.
Another crash of thunder rattled the window and even the door a little, and John winced again. Anna had said they’d weather-proofed the building, but had they really? Weather over the Wall was so volatile, so unpredictable. John had never experienced it for himself, but the stories in the papers before the Wall had gone up… Well, there was a reason the Wall had gone up, that’s for damn sure. After those research companies had fucked shit up, there’d been no hope but for the city to shut the affected side out. Just the simple knowledge that John was now just an open door or window away from everything this side of the Wall had to dish out was freaking him the fuck out.
The third crash John naturally assumed was just another roll of thunder until the wind swept in. Swearing, John turned to the doorway, panic making his breath come in short, to see the door wide open and Dorian standing there, face full of righteous fury. It took a moment for the XRN to react, and by then Dorian had already rushed to John’s side. John held back a flinch, gasping against the toxic air, as Dorian pulled a face mask out and secured it over John’s mouth. John tried to catch his breath, but he could feel the damage the toxins had already done, his chest burning and his throat itching. He tried pulling his hands out of the cuffs again but, just like every time since Anna had left, they were too tight.
The crack of a gunshot rang through the howling wind, and Dorian, who’d stood back up to face the XRN, flinched before raising his own gun. The XRN moved fast, kicking the gun out of Dorian’s hands, and Dorian rushed her, knocking her weapon to the side. John winced as Dorian pulled her back and slammed her into the wall again and again. That was a familiar move, and John felt his back twinge in sympathy. The XRN twisted out of Dorian’s grip and grabbed for one of the guns forgotten on the floor, but Dorian got there first and unloaded the clip in the XRN’s face. John stared, waiting for it to get back up and keep on fighting, but nothing happened. Dorian turned to John and walked back over to him, a tense smile on his lips.
“Someone will’ve heard that,” he said, making quick work of the cuffs. John tried to respond but all that came out was coughing. Dorian winced sympathetically and gathered John up in his arms.
“Hey!” John protested through the hacking. “Dorian!”
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, ignoring John’s attempt to twist out of his grip and hurrying to the still-open door. The bastard. Couldn’t he just help support John instead of carrying him? They crossed the threshold of the building, and John instantly stopped protesting. Already soaked to the bone, he instead covered his head against the wind and rain and waited for Dorian to get them to safety.
Heeyyyy, everyone's favorite bot is back!!!
Also, friends, it's been a hard week. To everyone who's anxious, scared, or in despair, I love you. I support you. Take care of yourselves. If you need someone to talk to, I'm here.
When Dorian finally found somewhere that was apparently suitable for their needs, John almost didn’t notice. His teeth were chattering, his throat was burning, and his entire body was tense. Dorian set John down, leaning him up against a wall and taking a quick inventory--and probably a scan--of John’s injuries. He reached out for the face mask John was still wearing, but John caught him by the wrist.
“Is it safe?” he managed to rasp. Dorian nodded before reaching for the mask again and gently pulling it off of John.
“There are a surprising number of buildings here that have been fortified. It probably has something to do with the criminal element.”
John could only respond with a huff that he hoped Dorian understood. Dorian looked tense and worried, and John could feel every ounce of it pointed directly at himself. It was a little suffocating.
“You yourself?” he asked quietly, hating himself for it. Dorian didn’t look offended, though. Instead, he just looked guilty.
“Considering I haven’t tried to kill you yet, I’d assume so.”
“Yeah. Once he was done working on me, and we got word you’d gone missing, Rudy was able to track the hack. We assumed you missing had something to do with the fact I hadn’t managed to kill you.”
“Lucky guess,” John said before dissolving in a coughing fit. Through the tears welling up in his eyes he could see Dorian rummage in his pockets and pull out a handful of pills.
“Here,” Dorian said once the coughing subsided. John frowned at the pills.
“For your throat. Should numb the pain a bit, make it easier to breathe,” Dorian explained. “I grabbed some once Rudy figured out you were over the Wall. Thought that with the damage to your throat you could probably use it.”
John took the pills and swallowed them easily, surprised when the burning sensation immediately started to lessen. “Thanks.”
Dorian nodded and gestured at John’s shoulder. “May I?”
John nodded, letting his head fall back to the wall, his eyes closing. He could hear the sounds of bandages rustling and winced when Dorian put pressure on the wound. He waited for Dorian to make some comment about how much blood John had lost, but none came. Maybe Dorian figured John already knew.
“Try and stay awake, please, John.”
John pried his eyes back open, glaring at the top of the android’s head. He knew the importance of staying awake--they still had to get back over the Wall, after all--but he was just. so. tired. He hadn’t slept in way too long, and he’d lost a lot of blood, goddammit. He deserved some rest.
“I know,” Dorian said, voice soothing, and John realized he must’ve said all that out loud. “But you can rest without falling asleep. Just for now.”
John grumbled in response and shifted slightly. His ass was going numb. There was a small chuckle from Dorian, and John realized he had to’ve said that out loud too. Jesus.
“It’s okay,” Dorian said. “I don’t mind. As long as you’re okay.”
John blinked at Dorian, who looked up to meet his gaze with a small, sad smile. He broke the eye contact short, though, and focused back in on dressing the gunshot wound. John let his head fall back again, blinking slowly at he tried to focus on the ceiling to keep himself awake.
“I’m sorry,” Dorian said quietly after a few moments. John looked at him again, confused.
Dorian shook his head, not looking up, finishing dressing John’s shoulder with a tight knot and sitting back. “You know why.”
John did know why, but it still took his brain a moment to catch up. “It wasn’t you.”
“That doesn’t make it okay--”
“It wasn’t you,” John repeated, louder this time as he tried to sit up straight. He winced as he jostled his shoulder, and Dorian reached out to steady him.
John grumbled again, but he tried to make it sound sort of grateful at least. “It wasn’t you, Dorian,” he said again. “You stopped. You actually managed to stop both times, and that--that was you. You had nothing to do with the rest.”
Dorian looked thankful, but he still didn’t look exactly convinced. John sighed. He wanted to prove to Dorian that he didn’t blame him in the slightest, but he just didn’t have the energy for it right now. The wind was still howling outside, but the rain sounded like it had probably stopped, so John just tried to keep his breathing steady as he listened to the wind.
“So did you actually see Vaughn or was it someone else?” Dorian asked after a few moments. John looked over at him, confused for a moment before realizing why Dorian had made the assumption. He grimaced and tried to shift again--seriously, he couldn’t feel his ass anymore, and it was uncomfortable as fuck.
“Well, we can confirm Vaughn and inSyndicate are working together,” John said in way of response. Dorian looked puzzled, and John picked at a string on the bandages on his shoulder.
“It was Anna.”
There was a beat of bewilderment before Dorian spoke. “Are you okay?”
John scoffed. “Do I look okay to you?”
Dorian cringed, and John feel a stab of guilt in his gut. He hadn’t meant that to come out so harshly. “I’m fine,” he said quickly.
“What did she want?” Dorian asked softly.
“To figure out why you hadn’t killed me, she said,” John said with a half shrug. “She…” He cut himself off, thinking back to that ugly kiss. “I never really knew her. Which I knew, I mean, obviously, but she… I knew that face and some of those mannerisms were the same at some basic level, but everything else was just… wrong.”
John shook his head, refusing to look at Dorian who he just knew was watching him carefully, sympathetically. “I thought I was over it, you know? It’s been years, and I’ve moved on. But all of a sudden she was there, standing in my living room, and everything came rushing back. She even kissed me, for god’s sake.”
Out of the corner of his eye, John could see Dorian frown at that.
“Why would she kiss you?”
“I think she was just trying to knock me off balance,” John said with a shrug. “The whole thing was about her trying to get a reaction out of me.”
“Did it work?”
John finally looked up to meet Dorian’s eyes and debated telling him. “Let’s try this again in the morning.” How would Dorian respond if he knew? If he knew how Anna’s accusations and mockery had actually hit a cord? But then Anna’s admission of her real name “Dorianna” rang clear in John’s memory, and he couldn’t. Not now.
“She… inSyndicate and Vaughn’ve been working together for a long time,” John said instead. Dorian frowned.
“What makes you say that?”
“You’ve seen pictures of Anna, right?” John started. Had Dorian ever noticed how alike they looked? Same caramel skin, same ever-present sparkle in their eyes. How had Vaughn achieved that? That spark that made the DRNs’ bright gaze seem so much more real?
Dorian nodded, and John took a deep breath. “Turns out the DRNs’ design was based on her. Her real name’s Dorianna.”
Dorian didn’t react for a few long moments. When he did react, he seemed to sink backwards, eyes wide and disbelieving as he stared at John like he was hoping John would grin and yell “psych!”.
“So what does this mean?” he asked quietly, voice tight. John shook his head.
“I don’t know. But we gotta tell Sandra as soon as we can. How far are we from the Wall?”
Dorian’s mouth twisted. “We’re still about seven miles east of it.”
John blinked at him, stunned. “Jesus Christ. How am I supposed to do that?”
“Slowly,” Dorian responded dully, pushing himself up to his feet. “I should go out and try to find you some crutches or something. Me carrying you the entire way isn’t going to work out.” He pulled out a handgun and held it out for John, who took it gratefully, inspecting the bullets.
“I won’t be too long,” Dorian said. “Try to stay awake. I know you’re tired, but I’ll try to find something for you to eat while I’m out as well.”
“inSyndicate needs to eat too, don’t they?” Dorian said with a shrug, turning back to the entrance they’d come in. “I’ll knock before I come back in so you know it’s me. Hold your breath.”
John nodded, taking in a large gulp of air before Dorian turned to the door, opened it, and disappeared into the howling wind.
John woke up with a start, just barely missing clocking Dorian right in the nose. Dorian made a face somewhere between amused and annoyed and held out his hands in surrender.
“Hey, it’s just me.”
John blinked rapidly, taking in Dorian and the prosthetic he was holding, staring around at the building as he tried to get ahold of his surroundings. He must’ve fallen asleep almost as soon as Dorian had left, he realized, and his legs--leg was numb and his neck had a knot the size of a baseball in it. He grunted as he tried to roll it out and rubbed at his leg irritably to try to bring some feeling back into it.
“How old is that thing?” he asked, nodding at the prosthetic.
“About a decade, but I made some modifications so it should still do the job,” Dorian responded.
“Oh, good,” John muttered. A decade old prosthetic wasn’t much better than a pair of crutches. Getting out of here was going to take them a goddamn month.
“May I?” Dorian asked, moving closer with the prosthetic. John grumbled but nodded. Attaching the thing was going to make more skill and effort thanks to its age and any modifications Dorian had made. And John was still trying to wake himself up fully.
Dorian attached the synthetic leg to port easily enough, talking as he worked. “The storm has died down enough that we should be able to make some good headway. I also found an oxygen tank you can use. It should hold together, but it’s only got a little less than half a tank left so we’ll have to be careful. I want you to promise me you’ll tell me if you need a break, okay?”
John was about to make a snarky comment when he was interrupted by his stomach growling. Dorian glanced towards the sound and quickly moved to his pile of findings.
“Here,” he said, coming back with something green and brown in a small paper bag. John frowned at it.
“What is it?”
“Food,” Dorian said, shaking it slightly. “It’s edible, I promise.”
John wanted to protest, but his stomach grumbled again, louder this time. He sighed and took the food, wincing at how the mushy texture, held his breath and took a bite. Dorian smiled slightly.
“Good. Now promise me you’ll let me know if we need to stop, all right?”
John swallowed the food heavily, forcing himself not to gag. “Fine. Fine.”
Dorian actually looked relieved. “Thank you. We’ll start out as soon as you finish eating.”
John forced down another bite of the “food”, frowning at Dorian curiously. “How’re you doing on your charge?”
Dorian shrugged. “I’m doing fine. My emotional responses won’t be going quite yet, if that’s what you’re worried about. Actually, I think inSyndicate must’ve picked up that stolen charger already and was keeping it in the same building as you, because I picked up a bit of a charge while we were there.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Convenient.”
“Well, that XRN needed to keep on her charge too, so it makes sense.” Dorian nodded at the half-eaten whatever still in John’s hand. “The sooner you finish eating, the sooner we can get home.”
John looked down at the mush again, hating how his stomach still rumbled at the sight of it, before shoving it down without allowing himself to taste it.
Travel to the Wall was slow. They had to take way too many breaks for John’s taste, and at one point Dorian had to go find another oxygen tank. Near the end, when John could finally make out the Wall through the fog, after Dorian sent a message to the Guard to let them know they were coming, Dorian finally started to go a bit loopy. Or, at least, John assumed that’s what was happening. Either that or Dorian was just really excited about finally getting out of here--which John couldn’t really blame him for.
John didn’t know how long the whole trip took. He thought maybe the sky had turned darker and then after a few hours lighter again, but who could really tell with the fog and thick, angry clouds? He could’ve asked Dorian, but he also wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.
An MX was waiting at the Wall when they finally arrived. John was pretty sure the MXs weren’t supposed to show emotion and the judging look on this one seemed a bit too convincing to just be the bot’s face, but it waved them through without any questions so John didn’t think about it too much.
Dorian ducked out from where he’d been supporting John for the past mile--damn ancient relic of a leg--to let Valerie approach, slamming into John with a hug. John glanced at Dorian briefly, only to get absolutely nothing out of the neutral expression on his face, before returning the hug. After a moment, Valerie backed up to get a good look at him.
“Are you okay? What am I talking about, of course you’re not okay. Let’s get you in the car, and I’ll take you to the hospital--”
“Home,” John interrupted with a shake of his head. “Just take me home.”
Valerie hesitated, looking him up and down. “John…”
He shook his head again. “I just need some rest.”
Valerie glanced at Dorian who nodded. “He’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“You need to charge,” John argued.
“Actually, Rudy gave me this portable charger before I came over here,” Valerie said. “It just needs to plug into a wall, and Dorian should be good to go.”
John knew there were more arguments he could make, but he could practically hear his bed calling his name so he just shook his head and climbed in the passenger seat of Valerie’s car. He must’ve fallen asleep on the drive because the next thing he knew, Dorian was helping him inside his house and then he was face-first on his blankets, succumbing blissfully to sleep.
By the time John woke up again the sun was high in the sky, and he could smell bacon and coffee. Blinking against the bright light, John rolled over to see Dorian in his kitchen with an actual apron on, whistling as the bacon crackled on the frying pan.
“The hell you get that apron?” John asked, smacking his lips against the taste of sleep in his mouth. Dorian turned and smiled.
“Good morning. Or, should I say afternoon?”
John groaned and looked around for his alarm clock which seemed to be suspiciously missing from his bedside table. “What time is it?” he asked, pushing himself up to sit on the edge of his bed and looking around for the prosthetic from over the Wall.
“It’s almost 1:30. But Valerie only dropped us off here around three am so you didn’t really oversleep that much.”
“What’d you do with my alarm clock?” John asked. “And the leg?”
“I moved the alarm clock to the drawer so it wouldn’t bother you,” Dorian explained. “And I tossed the leg out. Rudy’s bringing by a new one later today. In the meantime, I pulled these out from your closet.” Dorian left the kitchen briefly to bring a pair of familiar crutches over to John, hurrying back to the bacon as soon as John took them.
John frowned at the crutches uneasily, a pit opening up in his stomach. He hadn’t pulled these out since before going back to work after the accident. The last time he’d used them he’d still been skinny as a stick, trying desperately to work the muscle and weight back up to something resembling normal after a year and a half of a coma. He hadn’t shaved in weeks, and the only person he saw on a regular basis had been his physical therapist. He hadn’t even allowed Sandra to come by. Even though he’d known she’d already seen him since the raid, he still didn’t want her to see him like that. It had only been after he’d started using the synthetic leg regularly that he let her stop by the house.
“How many eggs do you want?” Dorian asked, breaking through John’s reverie. John blinked up at him, his brain taking a moment to catch up.
“Hm? Oh. Two’s fine.”
“How do you like them?”
“Over easy,” John replied, gritting his teeth and hauling himself up to his feet--foot, before limping over to the island in the kitchen. “I didn’t know you could cook,” he said, propping the crutches up next to him.
“I didn’t either,” Dorian answered with a smile, presenting John with a plate of bacon, eggs, toast, and a mug of coffee. “You’ll have to tell me if I’m any good.”
John dug into the food enthusiastically, humming in appreciation and giving Dorian a thumbs up in lieu of a response. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until just now. Dorian gave him a brilliant grin before turning to start cleanup.
“Captain Maldonado is coming by,” he said conversationally, though John thought he could hear a note of tension in the DRN’s voice. “She said she just wanted to check in on you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she wants a briefing as well.”
“Did she know you were back to yourself yet?” John asked between bites.
“Rudy told her, apparently,” Dorian said, but that tension was still there. John took a gulp of coffee, wiped at his mouth, and frowned at Dorian.
Dorian stopped loading dishes into the dishwasher to meet John’s gaze. “I almost killed you, John. Twice.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t. And you also just saved my life. Again. And Sandra likes you.”
“Just because she liked me before all this, doesn’t mean she’s going to risk her career to keep them from shutting me down.”
Dorian blinked, staring at John in shock. John stared back, mentally shoving down a freak out. That response had been automatic. He hadn’t even thought about it until after it had already left his tongue, but now that he was looking back on it… he couldn’t deny it. Without Dorian there was no point in continuing on the force. So, yeah, he’d risk his career. Without a single regret.
John waited for Dorian to protest. To tell John that he wasn’t worth it, that John doing the work they did was too important to put Dorian in front of it. But Dorian just kept staring, the shock slowly morphing into something else, something softer.
“Thank you,” he said quietly. John nodded curtly, determined not to let the moment drag on too long.
Chapter 12: Pull You Up Short
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
Sandra comes by with noodles, makes sure Dorian's himself, takes John off duty, and puts him under protective detail.
After finishing breakfast, John dragged himself to the bathroom for a shower. It took him a few moments to turn on the water, prop up the crutches where he could still reach, and hop inside. He flipped down the seat that had been installed when he’d come back from the hospital the first time and sat under the stream of scalding water irritably. The leg Dorian had given him had been waterproof, making showers a lot less mortifying. The one before hadn’t been--not enough to withstand a shower anyway. Rain? Sure. But swimming and bathing were out of the question. He really didn’t want to go back to that.
John knew it shouldn’t be feel humiliating to have to sit, one-legged, in his own goddamn shower. No one ever saw him like this. He hadn’t had to have someone help him bathe since the hospital, and it wasn’t like he was having sex, much less shower sex. Still. The seat was visible to anyone who used the toilet at his house--which again, wasn’t often--and he knew it. It felt like he was an old man who was starting to lose control of his own damn body. He’d seen his grandfather get old and useless before he’d finally passed away, and his grandfather had had a seat in the shower as well. It wasn’t something John had ever expected to have in common with the man.
So John showered as fast as he could, despite the fact that the hot water felt heavenly on his sore muscles and he had the grime and awfulness of everything past the Wall caked on his skin. (At least, that’s what it felt like. The cleansing process while passing through the Wall hadn’t felt nearly sufficient.) By the time he was out of the shower and had managed to wrangle some clothes on, Dorian was done cleaning up the kitchen and had even made John’s bed. Now he was picking up the mess of files and food wrappers on the couch, making John feel even more embarrassed.
“Stop,” he said harshly, using the crutches to limp over to Dorian as fast as possible and snatching a granola bar wrapper out of the android’s hand. Dorian looked mildly shocked.
“I just thought I would make myself useful--”
“It’s my own goddamn house, Dorian,” John grumbled, picking up more trash from the couch and awkwardly holding it against the crutches’ handles as he took it to the garbage can in the kitchen. “Let me take care of it. You don’t really need to be here, you know.”
“You barely made it to the kitchen just now,” Dorian pointed out, frowning. “By all rights you should be back in the hospital. I can’t just leave you here alone.”
“I can take care of myself,” John growled, dropping the crutches back on the floor before collapsing on the couch. With a little more force than strictly necessary, he grabbed the remote and switched on the TV. “You should go back to Rudy’s.”
Dorian was quiet as the quiet sounds of some news anchor discussing the rescue of some dog on the edge of town filled the room. John discreetly glanced over at the android, surprised he wasn’t still trying to argue. Dorian wasn’t looking in John’s direction but at the floor, expression somber. John started when the doorbell rang, and Dorian looked up.
“That’ll be the captain,” he said. John leaned forward for his crutches, but Dorian was already headed for the door. “I’ll get it.”
Muttering under his breath, John grabbed the crutches anyway and made his way over to where Sandra was giving Dorian an assessing look before turning to John with a smile.
“I brought noodles,” she said, holding up a white paper bag. John could smell the delicious goodness inside already and threw her a grin.
“Have you eaten already or should I put this in the fridge?” she asked, shedding her coat as Dorian silently closed the door behind her.
“I’ve eaten, but I could eat more,” John said, holding out a hand for the bag. Sandra ignored it and moved past him, setting the bag down on the island before going to the utensil drawer and pulling out a fork. John held back an annoyed sigh and went to sit where she’d left the food, opening the bag and taking a moment to revel in the smell. He took the fork from her graciously and dug in.
“How’re you feeling?” Sandra asked. “Valerie said you looked like hell last night.”
“‘M fine,” John said through a mouthful. “Thanks to Dorian.”
“Yes,” Sandra said. “About that.”
John watched carefully, still shoveling food in his mouth, as Sandra looked up at Dorian again. Dorian looked cowed, like he was trying to make himself seem smaller, waiting (im)patiently for Sandra’s assessment.
“How are you feeling?” she asked pointedly.
“Better,” Dorian said with a nod of acknowledgment. “Much better.”
“Good. I don’t want to lose you, Dorian,” Sandra said. “You’re a valuable member of my team. A good cop. Going over the Wall to save John’s life should help your case.”
“His case?” John spluttered, letting his fork drop. Sandra glanced briefly at him before continuing.
“The Android Officers Review Board will be conducting interviews to determine your future status,” Sandra explained.
“He saved my life!” John argued, pushing himself to his feet and stumbling slightly before remembering his lack of synthetic leg. Sandra sighed and met his glare passively.
“And he also tried to kill you. Twice. If it were up to me, Dorian would stay. He’d be on probation for a while, but he’d stay. As it is, the decision is not mine to make. So I suggest the two of you keep your noses clean in the meantime.” She turned back to Dorian, a little bit of sympathy showing on her face. “It’s the best I could do.”
“Yes, sir,” Dorian said with a nod. He met her gaze, the gratitude practically leaking out of his eyes. “Thank you.”
John grunted, turning his attention back to his noodles. Dorian was acting like Sandra had just given him a rare gift when in all reality there still was a very real chance of him being shut down. It was such a load of bullshit.
Sandra turned at the grunt, raising her eyebrows at him. “Meanwhile, you’re off duty until you recover.”
John looked at her in despair. “What? Sandra, I’m fine!”
“You’re currently confined to crutches, you were just shot in the shoulder, it looks like you broke your hand again, and if you don’t stop arguing with me you’re going to lose your voice,” Sandra listed easily. “You’re not fine. In fact, you’ve been put through the ringer the past little while, and if you don’t stop, get some rest, and let your body heal, you’re going to do some serious damage--more serious than what you’ve already been through. So you’re off duty until I say you can come back.”
John really wanted to argue, but he was interrupted by a hacking cough. Through the reflexive tears in his eyes, he could see Sandra’s face turn smug while Dorian hurried to the cupboards, pulling out honey and lemon juice to make a cup of tea.
“I’m also giving you a protective detail,” Sandra continued when John was able to catch his breath again. “I should’ve known better than to drop you off here by yourself, and I’m not making that mistake twice.”
“I’m not allowing an MX in my damn house,” John growled hoarsely. Sandra hummed in response as Dorian set the microwave timer.
“Dorian, Rudy has assured me it’s impossible for anything to happen to you like this again. He also has told me he can monitor your systems 24/7 and inform me the instant anything suspicious happens. Something about having to build your code back up from the bottom?”
Dorian nodded. “Yes sir, that’s correct.”
Sandra turned back to John. “Would you be comfortable with allowing Dorian to be your protective detail?”
John’s brain halted for a moment, and he glanced between Sandra and Dorian.
“It’d be perfectly acceptable if you’re not,” Sandra said. “We’ll just have to figure something else out.”
John stared at Dorian, wishing he didn’t know why Sandra was asking this question.
“I’d understand, John,” Dorian said quietly, though John knew, he just goddamn knew that if he said he wasn’t comfortable things would never go back to normal.
“I survived the past couple days, haven’t I?” John grumbled in response, hating the instant relief on Dorian’s face. Sandra nodded.
“Good. Makes my job easier. Now.” She sat down on the chair next to John, adjusting it so she could look at him more easily. “Tell me what the hell happened. Dorian said something about inSyndicate.”
John took one last bite of his noodles before turning to respond. “Yeah. inSyndicate and Vaughn.”
“Nigel Vaughn?” Sandra clarified, looking mildly surprised. John glanced in Dorian’s direction who only had time to barely meet his eyes before being interrupted by the microwave.
“inSyndicate’s got at least one XRN,” John explained as Dorian handed him the steaming mug of tea. He blew on it gently before taking a careful sip. “I’d be surprised if they don’t have more. And it seems the DRNs’ design, uh. Was based on Anna.”
John didn’t have time to register the look of professional shock in Sandra’s face when Dorian interrupted gently,
“You need some groceries,” he said. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
Dorian hurried out the door after a nod from John. Sandra was sitting back in her seat, letting the revelation sink in. John waited for her to react as he took another sip from the tea.
“Did you see her?”
John snorted softly. “She was standing right there when you dropped me off,” he said, pointing at the spot in the middle of the living room. “Real name’s Dorianna. And she, uh.” John looked over at the door where Dorian had disappeared, waiting to see if the android would come bursting back in.
“She also thinks I’m in love with Dorian.”
Chapter 13: A History Lesson
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
Sandra explains some things about Dorian's past.
John waited, thumb running along the handle of his mug, watching the steam rise. Sandra was quiet for a few moments, and John could feel her eyes on him, assessing. Finally,
“Why would she think that?”
John blinked up at her. Of all the responses he’d been imagining, that was not one of them. Sandra shrugged.
“I mean, you do, don’t you? To a certain extent, at least. He’s your partner. I mean, John,” she said with a bit of a laugh, “you were willing to disobey orders and attempt a search and rescue by yourself after Dorian almost killed you. Twice.” She eyed him with a brow raised, challenging. “That’s not exactly something someone does for someone they just like.”
“Maybe ‘in love’ isn’t the right way to put it, sure,” Sandra interrupted, continuing. “Maybe it is. I wouldn’t know, would I? I assume there’s something else that made Anna think that, though. Is there?”
The back of John’s neck heated, and he wanted more than anything to look away from Sandra’s stare. But that would be admitting guilt.
“I was drunk,” he said in a grumble. Sandra nodded slightly.
“Did you sleep with him?”
“Jesus, no,” John burst automatically. Then he looked back at his tea. “You know Dorian. He’s too much of a gentleman for that.”
Sandra actually smirked at that, and John really wanted to hate her for it. There were disadvantages to having your best friend also be your boss.
“So do you love him?”
John’s eyes widened.
“I’m asking as your friend,” Sandra amended gently. John’s grip on his mug tightened, wrestling with himself.
“No. I mean. I don’t… Christ, Sandra, I don’t know. He’s a bot. He’s my partner. Without him, I’d be dead a million times over by now.”
Sandra sat back in her seat, those assessing eyes looking over John again. Sometimes John wondered what she saw when she did that. She’d known him for so long, he almost thought she could tell what he was thinking before he actually thought it.
“You once asked me why Dorian. Why when you tossed that MX out the car I pulled Dorian off the rack and assigned him to you.”
“Yeah, and you said he was special,” John said, remembering. He’d still sort of hated Dorian at the time. But it’d been more of a “hated him because he liked him” sort of situation.
“I knew Dorian before the DRNs were decommissioned the first time,” Sandra said. “Not well, but I knew the officer who he was assigned to.”
John stared, no idea how to respond. All of Dorian’s records from before had been redacted, out of his paygrade. He’d always figured Sandra knew something she wasn’t telling, but he’d never thought she might’ve actually known Dorian.
Sandra smiled, almost wistfully, almost amused. “Dorian was always different. Most everyone else saw it as a defect, but I wasn’t convinced. And his partner defended him as almost stubbornly as you do. But Dorian has always gotten attached to people easily. Usually it wasn’t that big of a deal. A couple times it’s helped him on cases. But it got him in trouble a number of times with his first partner.”
John felt strangely sick and suddenly wished he hadn’t eaten those noodles so quickly. The smell of the lemon-honey tea wafted up towards his nose and he winced, pushing the mug away.
“They were never as close as you,” Sandra said, a knowing smile on her lips. “And before you get bitchy, I didn’t ever think the two of you would get this close. But when you needed a new android partner, I knew it had to be Dorian. You’ve always lived off of your relationships with people, John. And after the raid, after Anna disappeared, I knew I was all you had left--and you weren’t even letting me in. I knew you needed someone. Or we were going to lose you. So I assigned you to Dorian.”
John swallowed heavily, grimacing at the taste of bile at the back of his throat, then clearing it loudly. God, he needed more of that tea, but he just wasn’t sure he could stomach it right now. “What’s your point?” he asked tersely.
Sandra sighed. “My point is I know you and I know you’re a stubborn ass. I know the only reason anything actually happened between you and Anna is because she started it so I don’t really expect anything to happen between you and Dorian. If something were to happen,” she continued, giving John a significant look, “I’d be happy for you. It’s perfectly normal, for the record, especially with someone like Dorian. As your boss, I’d tell you to keep it at home and not announce it because you could get into some serious trouble. But as your friend…” She shrugged with one shoulder, light and easy. John could only stare at her.
Sandra shook her head with a smile and stood, putting a hand on John’s uninjured shoulder. “I should get back to the station. Let me know if you need anything. Check in with the doctor as soon as you can so we can get an idea of how long before you can come back. Okay?”
John nodded numbly. “Yeah, fine. Okay.”
Sandra smiled again. “I’ll see you around, John.”
After Dorian got back with far too many groceries, Rudy came by later that afternoon. He walked John through all the features of the new leg, Dorian watching as well so he could help out just in case. John was determined not to need Dorian’s help at any point. Especially not after the conversation with Sandra that morning. After Rudy left, Dorian tried to convince John to call the doctor like Sandra had ordered, but John stubbornly refused. Tomorrow, he said. He’d call the doctor tomorrow.
The doctor estimated about a month before John could return to active duty, and John almost broke the man’s nose. Because the gunshot wound was on his right shoulder, it would be an easier recovery, but it was his shooting arm. He needed that arm to do his job. The doctor cleaned the wound, complimented Dorian’s in-the-field work on it, reset John’s thumb, handed John some pain meds and another ingredient to add to the lemon-honey tea, and told him to see a psychiatrist. John ignored that last order. He knew was the psychiatrist would say. He’d already been unfit for duty the first time he’d gone through all this shit. If Sandra was willing to ignore the psych eval, John didn’t need to take another one.
A couple days later, Valerie stopped by with takeout from the greasy hole-in-the-wall place John loved from the sketchier part of town. She stayed over for a bit, a welcome reprieve from the almost stifling silence that had settled in the house the past few days. Throughout her visit, John kept looking at her, trying to conjure up that schoolboy crush he’d once had on her. He tried to bring back that feeling from that night when they’d drank bourbon and watched soccer. Running, bright lights, and bourbon. Apparently the medium psychic had been wrong.
A little shorter than normal, but hopefully the content makes up for it
Chapter 14: Limited Time
Chapter by Briar_Elwood
Dorian is concerned his constant presence will trigger a PTSD episode. The Android Officers Review Board conduct their interviews. John misses the state-of-the-art leg he'd gotten used to.
MY LOVELIES I'M SO SORRY I DISAPPEARED FOR SO LONG. Excuses mean little, but the holidays destroyed my schedule and then my mental health took an impressive dive. I'm still trying to recover, so I still may not be as consistent with updates as I used to be, and I apologize for that. In the meantime, have some angsty Jorian schmoopiness with a touch of plot...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After a couple more days of oppressive and awkward close to silence, Dorian finally said something. John had been waiting, the tension in the house steadily growing and growing. Part of him wanted to do something about it, but he didn’t know what, and he knew eventually Dorian would do something. So instead he just waited.
“Are you sure you’re okay with me staying here?”
It was a relief for the silence to be broken, but the question was not the topic John wanted to discuss. Not that he had a topic in mind.
“I said I was, didn’t I?” John grumbled.
“I’m just worried my constant presence is a hindrance to your recovery,” Dorian said, standing awkwardly far all the way in the kitchen, his eyes watching John closely from where he sat on the couch.
“How do you figure that?” John asked. “You’re helping with my PT, you’re taking care of the house, you’re cooking all my meals--hell, I haven’t eaten this healthy in years.”
“Anyone could do that,” Dorian argued. “I’m talking about your mental health. I know you’re having nightmares again. I’m afraid my presence will trigger an attack.”
“An attack?” John echoed, even though he knew damn well what Dorian meant.
“PTSD. Panic. I don’t want to force you to go through that.
“Dorian, you know I’m not stupid, right?” John said snappishly. “I know it wasn’t you.”
“But does your subconscious?”
“For the--Jesus-- Dorian,” John said, turning fully to glare at the android stonily. “I said I was fine with you being here. You’re helping a lot and, I might add, you did save my life over the Wall. You’re fine. We’re fine. The only reason we wouldn’t be is because you’re making a big deal out of nothing and it’s bugging the living hell out of me.”
Dorian was quiet. John waited for a response for just a few moments before turning his attention back to the TV, knowing full well Dorian hadn’t been convinced. And, honestly, John didn’t blame him.
A couple weeks into John’s time off, the interviewers from the Android Officers Review Board came by the house. John really, really didn’t want them in his home, but he was still recovering and both Sandra and the interviewers had insisted (ordered) so he wouldn’t have to strain himself.
They interviewed John and Dorian separately, Dorian waiting in the back room while John went first. He tried to be as casual and positive as the last time he’d talked with these vultures, but he couldn’t help but be a little tense. They were in his home, after all, invading his personal space, and this time… this time there was so much more at stake. Not only was Dorian’s life and career on the line, but John was slowly coming to terms with the idea that maybe he was in love with the damn android. And if the board decided to take Dorian away, to end his life… Sandra had at least been right about one thing. Dorian was all he had anymore. Sure, there was Sandra herself and Valerie and in a weird sort of way Rudy as well, but Sandra was his goddamn boss, he still barely knew Valerie outside of work, and Rudy was, well. Rudy.
Not to mention last time had been routine, and there’d been nothing really to worry about. This time was in response to a disaster of epic proportions.
John couldn’t get a read on the board members as they finished up, and he gave Dorian what he hoped was an encouraging smile as they switched places. He then spent the whole of Dorian’s interview working off nervous energy with his PT routine, trying hard not to imagine what he’d do if the board decided on a negative review.
“You look more worried than I feel,” Dorian commented mildly from the doorway, startling John out of his reverie. “They’re gone,” he added. “Said they didn’t want to bother you any further.”
Damage already done, John mused irritably. “How’d it go?” he asked. Dorian shrugged.
“We’ll know in the next couple days. Best make the most of the time I have left in the meantime.”
“You say that like there’s no hope,” John said, heart leaping to his throat as he reattached his leg and got up to meet Dorian at the doorway.
“I tried to kill you twice, John,” Dorian said simply. “They’re not just gonna gloss over that.”
“Will you stop saying that?” John snapped, shaking his head. “You didn’t try to kill me, Anna did. You saved my life and dragged me around for seven miles over the fucking Wall. You realize an MX wouldn’t’ve even crossed the Wall for me?”
Dorian didn’t respond, looking down so John couldn’t catch his eyes. John suppressed the growl of frustration building up in the back of his throat and pushed past the android to settle back down on the couch.
“I’m starving. What’s for lunch?”
Dorian’s eyes were dead and black. John could hear laughter somewhere in the distance, familiar but wrong. Anna . Dorian’s still form drifted away, disappearing into the dark, and everything was empty. A wide, empty chasm, swallowing John up and wrapping itself around his middle, his throat, his heart. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t feel--there was nothing but the emptiness steadily consuming him.
“John. John. John, wake up.”
John woke with a start, jerking upright and grabbing the gun under his pillow on reflex. The heavy pressure on the bed next to him vanished, and Dorian stood, hands held up, looking distressed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--you were crying out. I just wanted to help.” Dorian paused, eyeing the gun in John’s hands cautiously. “I realize now that was a mistake.”
John let out a shake breath and lowered the gun, setting it on the bedside table. “Shouldn’t you be charging?” he said, ignoring the way his voice wavered.
“I was finishing up some cleaning,” Dorian answered quietly, letting his hands fall back to his sides.
“How the hell are you finding this much shit to clean?” John asked, running a hand through his hair, trying to force himself to think of anything but that awful emptiness. He could still feel it inside, grappling at his throat, trying to come out and ruin him.
“You’d be surprised,” Dorian said. He turned away, moving towards where the charger Rudy had lent them had been set up by the wall. “I’ll put my charger in the back room tonight. I don’t want--”
“What?” John interrupted, looking up at Dorian sharply. “No. That wasn’t--” Jesus, Dorian thought he’d been dreaming about him . Well, he had been, but not about the attacks.
“You said we should make the most of the time we have left if the review board says no,” John said instead. “You’re staying in here.”
“John, obviously my presence--”
“Your presence has nothing to do with it,” John spat. “Maybe it did at first. Maybe I kept an eye on you in the middle of the night while you were charging, and maybe I slept like shit and had nightmares reliving my best friend being possessed by my evil ex-girlfriend, and maybe part of me worried in the dark that you’d be hacked all over again, but then my subconscious finally decided to get with the program and realize it wasn’t you. And Rudy’s rewritten your fucking code to protect us. Anna’s showing up more in my dreams now, I’m reliving over the Wall, if anything, so will you please just stop with the self deprecation routine and come here?”
Dorian actually blinked in surprise at the last demand, and John tried not to not recognize the twitch at the term “best friend”. Slowly Dorian walked back towards John and, when John didn’t stop him and continued to stare the android down like he could just will him to stop being an ass, Dorian sat tentatively on the edge of John’s bed. John continued to glare at him, waiting for the dumbass to relax for god’s sake, until a shooting pain ran up his right leg and all the way to the base of his neck.
“Your leg’s bothering you,” Dorian said gently, shifting closer. John grimaced and tried to ride the pain out as usual.
“That leg you gave me kinda spoiled me,” he admitted through gritted teeth, trying to make a joke out of it.
“The vibrations,” Dorian said with a nod. “May I?” he asked, reaching towards John’s leg. John frowned at him, no idea what the android meant to do, but he pulled back the blankets to reveal the port and nodded. Dorian reached over him, moving from where he was sitting to reach more easily, and placed his hand on the bare skin just above the port. Goosebumps immediately ran up John’s spine, and he hoped to god Dorian didn’t glance at John’s crotch--his boxers were way too thin for this--but before John could worry too much the constant ache in his leg subsided, melting away into something much more manageable. He couldn’t hold back the sigh of relief, and Dorian looked up at him quickly.
“This okay?” he asked gently. John nodded mutely, sinking back down to his pillows. God, he hadn’t felt this little pain in weeks--not since that leg had been destroyed. He wanted to say something to Dorian, maybe thank him or ask if he could stay a while, but his eyes were slipping shut and before John knew it, he was drifting off to a dreamless sleep.
Again, I'm so sorry for disappearing for so long. Hopefully I'll be able to get back into the swing of things. My fiance just gave me the whole series on DVD for Valentine's so that should help ;)