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One of the Crazy Ones

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He's programmed to wake up to that sound.  Well, to respond.  He's programmed to respond to the sound.  The waking up part is arguable when he answers a call from the precinct by mumbling, "Whadya want."

"Hey John."  It's Madge's voice, which is never good.  "Call for you from the L Zone.  One of the parents is reporting suspicious activity outside her house."

"Don't they have night cops over there?"  John crawls out of bed, tossing his phone on the table as he hops toward his leg.  "Wait, don't tell me.  No phones.  What are they doing staring out the windows at one in the morning, anyway?"

"Checking for suspicious activity, looks like."  Madge's voice follows him across the room.  "ELPD's already responding.  They say you wanted to hear everything.  This is everything."

"Charge," his leg tells him.  "Sixteen percent."

Great.  He'll be hobbling by the end of the day, but he doesn't have a choice.  Not if he wants to walk.  "Shoot me an address," he says.  "I'm on my way."

The car's running before he sinks inside, seat warm and the engine a low hum.  John hates the calls that matter, calls that wake him up because someone's world just ended, or is about to.  But he hates the calls that don't matter more.  The ones from people who are bored, entitled, feeling like they should make something happen just because they can.

"Dorian," he says, and the car picks it up.  "Where are you?"

"Factory," Dorian's voice replies immediately.  "We rolling?"

"Yeah."  John turns for ChargeFac, the familiar route fast and quiet at this hour.  "Call from the Luddite sector."

"You mean the Electromagnetic Limitation Zone?"  Dorian somehow sounds disapproving and concerned at the same time, which, who wants a machine that can do that?  "Another abduction?"

"Paranoid parent," John says.  "The Rainers think they saw a ghost.  We get to search the dock."

"Sounds like fun."  Dorian's tone is noncommittal, but the sad part is he probably does think it's fun.  Because he's weird like that.  He likes being sprung from "the factory"  at odd hours, because apparently there's some kind of robot hierarchy based on how many times they don't get to complete a charge cycle.

"If fun is cold, wet and dark," John grumbles.  "Then yeah.  Sounds like great fun."

"You're right," Dorian says.  "You know what, I give up.  I'm just gonna go back to bed.  Why bother going out when it's so miserable?"

"You get your ass outside," John tells him.  "You'll be ready to get in this car the moment I pull up, or I won't even slow down."

"And you'll get in trouble for riding alone," Dorian replies.  "Face it, John; you could do a lot worse than having me as your partner."

"Yeah," John says, most of his attention on merging.  "I could be married to you.  Then it'd be all you, all the time.  Twenty-four seven.

"Oh, wait," he adds, before Dorian can interrupt.  "It already is."

"Did you know," Dorian says.  "Most LA detectives see more of their partners than they do their spouses?  It's not surprising that the relationship shares some similarities with married life."

"Ask me on a date," John says, "and I put in for an upgrade."

"No need."  Dorian sounds unworried, even smug, which is basically his default tone.  "We're way past the dating stage, John.  By now I think you should be buying me potholders and awkward three-month anniversary gifts."

"What do you need potholders for?"  John tries to imagine why that came out of Dorian's mouth first.  Like so many things that come out of Dorian's mouth, though, he can't come up with a single plausible explanation.  "You baking in your spare time?"

"CT burns through welding gloves with alarming regularity."  Dorian's voice is matter-of-fact, almost distracted.  "I owe them several pairs by now."

John wonders who's hearing him talk, if he's still walking through the halls or if he's on the street already.  "I think they can buy their own gloves.  They have a budget for that."

"That's hardly the point of a gift, John."

He rolls his eyes, because that's just what he needs: the android lecture on thoughtfulness.  "Fine, whatever.  Send me the specs and I'll see what I can do."

His phone beeps with incoming data before he's even finished speaking.  He doesn't look, because that would make him an irresponsible driver, and also because he doesn't want to know what Dorian's making him get now.  If bots could put in their own req orders, his life would be less embarrassing.

Dorian waits until he's in the car to ask for the case update.  He's wearing a dark red jacket, one that's been kicking around Rudy's lab for weeks, and John doesn't ask.  It's technically his business.  Dorian would tell him, but he doesn't really care and they don't have time for it anyway.

"No word on either of the missing kids," John says.  "Rainer's still convinced hers is being targeted; no idea why.  ELPD's fed up enough to call us."

"You told them to call," Dorian reminds him.  "You explicitly said that you wanted to hear about any development, no matter how small."

"Well, I didn't mean at one o'clock in the morning," John grumbles.

"Next time you should be more specific."  Dorian isn't snippy about being woken in the middle of the night.  No more snippy than he usually is, anyway, which isn't saying much, but it's not like he's really been "woken" either.

"How many bonus points do you get for call outs like this?" John asks abruptly.  "You know, in your android king of the hill war."

"I'm disqualified," Dorian says.  "My charge cycle is different from theirs.  I just play for pride."

"Yeah, so?"  John hadn't even known that.  He should have.  "How many points?"

"A lot," Dorian says, and he might be giving John a hard time but his self-satisfied smirk is typical.  "The most.  It's better to get called out late than it is to be picked up early."

There's a brief hesitation, barely there, before he adds, "Least points for being kept on past optimal cycling.  Oddly."

"Wait, why?"  He might have ignored it if Dorian didn't pause, or call it strange.  "It's the same thing, right?  Interruption of the cycle, or whatever?"

"Being needed when you're off is a sign of importance, of respect accorded by a human partner."  Dorian is watching the road go by, his reflection flickering in the windshield.  "Being run down while you're on is a sign of ignorance.  A failure to educate."

John frowns at the tail lights up ahead.  "Or dire, irreplaceable need."

That gets a smile, and he sees Dorian glance at him out of the corner of his eye.  "Well," Dorian says.  "We do get some recognition for it."

John has the uncomfortable feeling that he's that recognition.  Which is bull, because bots don't need kudos for doing their job any more than he does.  So he doesn't say anything, and the next thing Dorian comes out with is the statistical improbability of passing only black cars.

It isn't until they're seconds from the wall that he looks over again and sees the blue lighting up under Dorian's skin.  "We're almost there," he warns.  "Turn it off."

"Two hundred sixty-four meters to go," Dorian says, watching John shut down his phone, the car's network card, anything that might transmit.  "I'll turn it off when I'm ready."

They have to crawl through the gate anyway, and when John looks again Dorian's face is dark in the shadows of the L Zone.  "You have a lot of attitude," John tells him.  "You know that?"

"Maybe you don't have enough," Dorian replies.  "You're human, John.  Exercise your range.  You could try something other than brooding or surly."

"Hey," John says.  "Brooding and surly work for me."

"Do they work for your dates?" Dorian asks.

"I can be charming," John tells him.  "Maybe I'm only brooding and surly because I'm around you."

Dorian smiles.  "I'm glad you feel you can be yourself around me, John."

He scoffs, but without GPS he has to actually follow directions, so he doesn't answer.  The residential area they're headed for has old-fashioned reflective street signs, and he can't see them until he's right on top of them.  Dorian could probably call them out a mile in advance, but like hell John's going to ask.

Luckily, the L Zone does have real lights on their squad cars, and someone's left theirs going outside the building.  Bad policy--neighborhoods hate it--but it makes them easier to find.  John kills his own as he pulls up behind them.

"It's Officers Page and Magnussen responding," Dorian says quietly.

"Thanks," John mutters, then pushes his door open.

It's Magnussen that meets them; Page is still talking with the family.  Or talking with the family again.  John hopes they haven't been tied up with Sophie Rainer this entire time, but Magnussen says she's drawing them a map.

"A map?" John says, while Dorian scans the surrounding buildings from the street.  He's probably getting soft, letting his partner do all the tech work.  They tell him that's the new way.  John wonders what was so bad about the old way.

"She saw lights down at the marina," Magnussen says.  "We looked, but we can't find anything.  She won't leave the building with her kid inside, so she's drawing a map."

He even says it with a straight face, which John has to give him credit for.

"I see," John says, looking back toward the apartment complex.  He doesn't know which one's hers, but the building has a great view.  No reason to think she can't see all the way to the water.  "They're above the wall, then?"

"Yeah, she moved here for work and never left," Magnussen says.  "Her kid goes to school in the green zone."

Shielded intranet.  Wireless tech.  Teaching kids to grow up in the modern age, even behind the wall.  John's done his research, because Emmi Rainer's mom might be paranoid but she isn't oblivious.

"K Street Juniors," John says.  "Same as the other two, right?"

"All the K Street parents are nervous," Magnussen says.  "But if there's any connection beyond the school, we can't find it."

"All right," John says, and Dorian turns to catch his eye just as John looks over at him.  "Can we talk to her?"

"Be my guest," Magnussen tells him.  He gives Dorian a weird look as he turns away, but John's used to that so he ignores it.  Dorian doesn't even seem to notice.

He does, of course, but he doesn't seem to.  John thinks Dorian's life would be a lot easier if he didn't see half the things he pretends not to.  But hey, life is hard; welcome to humanity.  Or whatever.

"There's been activity at the wall," Dorian says, and John frowns.

"What, like, unauthorized activity?"

"I can't tell from here.  But it lines up with the side of the marina Ms. Rainer wants investigated.  Want me to check it out while you talk to her?"

Kicking the wall isn't his idea of fun, but Dorian's not used to working without the network.  He's handicapped here, and John doesn't like it.  "I'll go with you," he says aloud.  "Hang on a second."

Sophie Rainer has in fact drawn them a map.  Dorian takes one look at it, nods, and John figures he's got it committed to memory.  It takes John longer to figure out what they're looking at, but he's not expecting to find anything anyway.

Which of course is why the maintenance access at the bottom of the wall has been jimmied, silver marks glinting on the black composite when he runs his flashlight over it.  The wall, built up from the old seawall, is secure in some places by accident rather than by design.  But there are gates at all the roads and access points above and below every bridge: there's no legitimate reason to sneak through.

"New?" John asks, even though he knows the answer.

Dorian crouches, running his fingertips over the marks.  "Today," he says.  "Tonight, probably, but I'll need access to the material specs and local atmospheric data to know for sure."

"Someone went through here," John says.  "Leaving, or being let in?"

"The other side might tell us," Dorian says.

The nearest gate is back the way they came.  Unless he counts the marina gate, visible for miles and probably under surveillance from both sides.  Even if their troublemakers have cut and run, someone must have seen them.

John spares a glance for the wired security camera set up high on the wall.  The one on the other side will be wireless and networked, and if Dorian wasn't respecting the law they could have that footage already.  Leaving will solve the problem, but it could take hours to find out where the feed on this side goes and who has the authority to surrender it.

"Can you open this?" John asks at last.  He doesn't want to climb into a dark tunnel under the water line, but he's not going back empty-handed.

Dorian pulls the composite cover off like it's a piece of paper someone stapled across the opening.  "I'll lead you in?" he says, waiting for John's nod.  The opening is bathed in red light as Dorian eases through, and John's own flashlight is awkward and jumpy in his hand.

They should call in their movement, tell someone they're going in.  But John's phone is off, and Dorian is running on radio silence.  Rules of the zone.  As long as they don't run into anyone underneath the barrier, they'll be able to transmit again on the other side.  That should satisfy procedure.

"Clear!"  Dorian's voice echoes in the concrete chamber, and John rolls his eyes.

"Did you scan the compartment?" he asks, lifting his flashlight.  The hole they came through is a lighter shade of black, just enough light through it to show where it is.

"We're underground," Dorian says.  "There's an EM barrier above our heads, and I didn't send anything past the walls.  No one's going to know."

"Oh, well," John says.  "If no one finds out, then it's perfectly legal."

"I play by your rules," Dorian tells him.

"Great," John mutters.  "So we're all screwed."

"I prefer to think of it as mutually compromised," Dorian says.  "You don't turn me in, I'll do the same for you."

John completes his flashlight circuit of the tiny space, shoulder to shoulder with Dorian in front of the back door.  "Are you blackmailing me?"

"That would be unethical," Dorian tells him.

"But not against my rules?" John says.  "Open this door."

"It's locked," Dorian says.  "I have to find the code manually; it might take a few minutes."

"Didn't stop you up there."  There's a vibration in the ground that John doesn't like, something that reminds him of the tide and the original function of the wall.  "Is there any drainage down here?"

"It was built to hold back the ocean," Dorian says.  "I can't just tear it off its hinges.  And no, we're underground, where water typically drains in.  Not out."

He flips his light over the ground, then back toward the ladder, stilling only when Dorian's free hand lands on his elbow.  "John," Dorian says.  His voice is calm but quieter than before.  "There's someone up there."

"Police," John says, but he doesn't raise his voice either.

"I don't think so."

John knows what the drag of composite means, and Dorian is already shoving him back when the access hatch slams into place.  The android is up the ladder before John can lift his flashlight, but something else falls onto the hatch and John figures they're not stupid.  If they identified Dorian, they know exactly how much he can lift.

"There's an alarm," John begins.

"I just set it off," Dorian says.  It's another violation of zone protocol, but right now John is more worried about the way the back door suddenly flashes red pressure numbers next to a countdown: ten seconds.

"Is that gonna open, or explode?"  He's got his light on it, ancient codebreaker pressed to an even older door, but if Dorian couldn't get anything from it then his outdated tech won't do much.  "Why is it shaking?"

"Probably open," Dorian said, still braced against the hatch.  "There shouldn't be water on the other side, but those numbers say there is."

"Can you stop it from opening?"

They're down to three seconds when Dorian lands beside him, batting John's codebreaker out of the way and pressing his whole hand to the panel.  His fingers are blue and lightning fast but it's too late.  The door pulls away and the water roars in, high and cold and loud.  John has time to secure his codebreaker and his light before Dorian's grip is the only thing that keeps him from being forced into the wall.

"Not good!" John yells, waist-deep in rushing water and grabbing for Dorian's arm in what's effectively darkness.  His flashlight's already underwater and he doesn't know how long it's going to last.

"I might be able to get us out the other side!" Dorian yells back.  "If they haven't blocked it off, if the water's being shunted from somewhere else--"

"Too many ifs!"  Not that he's going to have a choice.  If that's their way out, then he's going to hold his breath and trust Dorian to pull him through.  "Any read on the L squad?"

"I can't contact them directly."  Dorian's holding both his shoulders now, a solid anchor in the bone-chilling cold that swirls around his chest.  "They'll see the alarm and come investigate."

The roar is falling off now that the water's stopped crashing against the floor and walls, but it continues to rise faster than John can think.  "I'll try to breathe," he said.  "When it's over my head.  Keep me from drowning when I pass out, okay?"

"I can do better than that," Dorian says, louder and easier to hear when he moves in close.  "But you're not going to like it."

"I don't like drowning," John snaps.  The cold is making it impossible to concentrate, stealing what breath he has.  "I'll take whatever you've got."

"Internal air changer," Dorian says.  "I can scrub CO2.  It won't be able to keep up--"

John's not listening anymore, pushing down panic when the water hits his chin.  The top of the compartment's right over their heads; there won't be any air pockets to hide in.  "How internal?"

He closes his mouth when bitter saltwater washes over his face, then jerks back when Dorian gets too close.  But he can't move in the water, not fast enough, and there's nowhere to go when Dorian kisses him hard.  Too hard.  Fucking robot doesn't know his own strength--

So inappropriate, he thinks, disjointed with shock.  Dorian has no boundaries.  They're not going to die here.  But Dorian is forcing his mouth open, hand on the back of his neck to hold him still, and John gasps in a breath as the water closes over their heads.

An actual breath.  Dorian isn't breathing, but John is.  He keeps it together just enough that he doesn't suck water in through his nose.  He's panting disbelief and sheer terror straight into Dorian's mouth while Dorian tries to seal the water out with his lips.  John pushes back, closing the gaps, swallowing saltwater and trying to concentrate on his breath in the blackness.

Before he closes his eyes against the sting he sees blue flicker up and down Dorian's face.  He's probably yelling for help on every frequency there is, but it won't get past the barrier.  He might be able to override the wired call boxes on the road, or a nearby land line, but it will take time.

Time John doesn't have.  He knows how rebreathers work, knows that Dorian can't actually generate oxygen.  He doesn't need it.  John does.  He can't reuse the same air endlessly.

The water is pushing at him, the eddy and pull making him dizzy.  All he has for a reference point is Dorian's mouth, the hand on his neck and the grip on his arm that holds him down.  He focuses on drawing air in and forcing it back out, knowing that he won't be able to feel fatigue or see the darkness that will warn him his oxygen is running low.

He's heard drowning isn't the worst way to go.  Freezing is better, though, and at the rate his temperature's dropping he thinks hypothermia might get him first.  He manages not to smile: don't break the seal.

Dorian is pushing him, forcing him to step back.  Stays with him until his back's against the wall.  It stabilizes him, kills some of the dizzy feeling when Dorian pins him there.  And it's quiet under the water, at least.  The frantic fight of going under is subsumed by the cold certainty of death hovering just at the edge of his perception.

John feels Dorian's hand move, frightening with the threat of loss.  But it just slides down his arm and covers John's hand.  John feels his fingers scramble for contact, clinging to Dorian's and squeezing hard.  Dorian squeezes back, the arm over his shoulder an immovable weight, and John thinks about how no one ever wants to outlive a partner.

Then Dorian's jolting him again, squeezing hard enough to make the numbness hurt, but John can't let go.  He feels his own hand pressed against his hip with Dorian's.  The hand on the back of his neck slides up to his head, keeping their mouths together even as Dorian jostles him into something sharp and hard.

The hand on his head disappears.  He claws at Dorian's jacket, trying to hold on, but there's a hand on his other side and he's being pushed away.  He manages to close his mouth as the water rushes in, swallowing hard and trying desperately to hold his breath.  It's a losing battle with instinct taking over, and the saltwater burns all the way down.

New cold slaps him in the face, harsh and unforgiving.  The water's pouring down his face.  It takes him several seconds to recognize foreign hands grasping at his clothes and his arms, hauling him up.  Out of the water.

He spends the next few minutes with his eyes squeezed shut, trying to breathe without choking or throwing up.  He misses Dorian's exit, but he recognizes the robotic style of first aid when he gets a clap on the back and a blanket tossed over his shoulders.  Someone else hands him a thermos and helps his shaking hands hold onto it, but he can't stop coughing long enough to drink.

Sophie Rainer, he realizes, when the spasm finally start to ease.  "Hey," he rasps, nodding at her over the thermos.  It sets off another round of coughing, but he can force his throat open this time.  "Thanks."

"Thank you," she says, and she looks worried enough that he dislikes her a little less.  "I'm so sorry.  Are you all right?"

"Getting there," he croaks.  He looks around, dislodging the crinkly space blanket draped over his back.  "Dorian?"

"Yeah," Dorian says, stepping over and pulling the blanket over his shoulder again.  "Paramedics are on their way.  How are you feeling?"

"Half-drowned," John growls.  He has to grind his teeth to keep them from chattering.  "I don't need an ambulance."

"Do you understand how one of those statements contradicts the other?"  Dorian crouches down in front of him, but his gaze cuts to Sophie Rainer.  "We're still working on logic.  It's not his strong suit."

John doesn't look to see if she smiles.  "We're still working on communication," he says.  "Thanks for the warning, man.  That wasn't at all terrifying."

"You're welcome for saving your life," Dorian tells him.

"Can I get some dry clothes?"  John looks around again, and this time he sees more lights and hey, maybe they'll have extra scrubs or something.  "When can we have that camera footage?  Someone must have been physically present to block the hatch."

"Officer Page is working on it now," Dorian says.  "Ms. Rainer has volunteered her phone as a point of contact."

"Get the feed from the other side, too," John says, and Dorian does that thing where he looks too calm to be rolling his eyes.

"We've requested all local surveillance," he says instead.

The EMTs are on them in seconds.  On John, anyway, pulling him away from his blanket and his thermos, and Dorian follows as they coax him toward the ambulance with the promise of sweats and a place to change.  He balks when they try to close the doors behind him.

"Him too," John says, glancing at Dorian.

"John."  Dorian looks less amused than usual, but he doesn't care.  "The cold doesn't bother me."

"Yeah, but you're gonna drip all over the car," John tells him.  "Put on something dry or walk home.  Your choice."

This gets them an EMT in the ambulance with them, which is awkward and way too crowded, but she produces more clothes before climbing into the front.  John shivers his way out of his sopping wet clothes, fingers clumsy from the numbness.  By the time he struggles into sweatpants and a t-shirt that barely fit with a sweatshirt that's too big, Dorian's done and guarding the door.

He looks weird in sweats, but he sounds normal when he glances back and asks, "You okay?"

"I'm freezing," John says.  Even his hair is cold.  He'd like to wrap that blanket around himself about now.  "And, uh.  Thanks for not letting me drown."

"Thanks for not dying on me," Dorian says.  "You're the only cop unstable enough to need a DRN these days."

John scoffs.  "I don't need you," he says, but it's automatic.  He couldn't not say it if he tried.  Even if he's gotten to the point where he admits--sometimes, and only to himself--that it isn't true.

"You need someone," Dorian says bluntly.  "And you like me."

"I don't like you," John tells him.  "I don't hate you as much as I hate everyone else.  There's a difference."

Dorian pushes the doors open and gets out, so John thinks he won that one.  He bags his soaked clothes and tosses them out on the curb.  His wet shoes chafe on bare feet--what kind of emergency personnel carry spare clothes but no socks?--and he makes a face.  So far, his night is going exactly as well as he expected.

"Emmi Rainer is in the car," Dorian says, passing him the mom's thermos when he jumps down.  "Do we get her a protective detail?"

John turns, but it's Page and Magnussen's squad car that has a blonde pre-teen in the back.  "She's not the one they were after," he mutters.  He keeps it down, though, because if this is gonna be the ELPD's problem then he feels more forgiving.

Dorian hears him, obviously, and he replies just as quietly.  "Try telling her mother that."

He's going to have to.  But not tonight.  Tonight they have footage to review, criminals to identify, and activity they need to tie to the kidnappings if they're going to make any headway in this case.

Plus he's pretty sure it's not just coffee in this thermos, and he's already forming a truce with Sophie Rainer in his mind.  She called him out of bed and almost got him killed, but she also made him Irish coffee.  So there are mitigating factors.

"Hey," he says, catching Page as she passes.  "You gonna leave someone here overnight?"

She eyes him: wet shoes, thermos, sweats and all.  "At this rate, we'll be lucky if any of us leave.  Do you often get people trying to kill you, Detective?"

"More than you'd think," he tells her.  "We're gonna go see what we can get off the cameras.  You need anything else here?"

"No," Page says, and there's a wry twist to her lips that says she might be joking.  "I think you've helped enough."

"Call us if there's more," John says.  He knows better than to take the bait.  Our Precinct Is Better Than Yours is a time-consuming game when he's the one standing around in uncomfortable shoes.

She nods once, frowning faintly at Dorian before she turns away.

He doesn't see Sophie Rainer anywhere on his way to the car.  He can't leave her thermos on the ground where anyone could pick it up.  So he tells himself he'll wash it when he's done and return it, and he tosses the mostly full container into the back with his wet clothes.

"Clothes in the back," John calls, when Dorian doesn't appear next to him before he closes the trunk.  He leans around and catches Emmi's odd look when she stares at them through the back of the squad car.

Not them, he realizes, when Dorian goes around the opposite way to stow his bag.  She's watching Dorian.  They probably don't see many bots behind the wall.

It makes sense, he supposes.  Curiosity is normal.  Of course she wants to see more of Dorian.  If it wasn't so absurdly early in the morning, and after one of the worst fuck-ups in case history--that's rule number one, try not to be the one who needs rescuing--they'd go over and say hi.

As it is, they both look like shit and they have better places to be.  John only waits for Dorian to slam the door before he peels out, seatbelt still connecting, almost as an afterthought.  "Back to the precinct?" Dorian asks.

"Why?" John says, like there's a choice.  He needs Dorian if he's going to get through half of this by shift change.  "You get more points if you're called out and don't come back?"

"As a matter of fact," Dorian says.  "I do."

"Good."  John guns the accelerator on the quiet streets, skirting the wall as they head for the gate.  Back to civilization.  "Let's go."