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If These Walls Should Fall

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Cop bars are all talk and darkness and noise, and it’s evident to Dorian that Rudy is more intrigued by the idea of them than attracted to the reality of them. He retreats to a corner before long and stays there, nursing his beer, trying to be invisible. He doesn’t exactly belong here, Dorian thinks. Neither of them do. Dorian’s been here before, is used to not fitting in. But seeing Rudy here is a reminder.

He goes over to sit by Rudy and Rudy visibly relaxes.

“We can go somewhere else if you like.”

There’s an abrupt flash of relief in Rudy’s eyes that he quickly hides.

“You want to?” he says.

“Sure,” Dorian says. “Or I can walk you home.”

Rudy shrugs, winces – a little irritably – at the movement, straightens up. Dorian wants to help but there’s no need.

He thinks again that he should not have helped to talk Rudy into going undercover. Too much risk, too little preparation. At least he got Rudy out again.

***

They go back to Rudy's apartment together. Dorian goes with him up the steep narrow steps that lead up to his door and waits while Rudy finds his key.

The night is dark and the streets are bright with lamplight and rain. Rudy fumbles lefthandedly with the key for a moment and gets the door open, keeping it ajar with his foot.

“Thanks for coming in after me,” he says, after a pause.

“Thanks for telling them you got me off the black market.”

“You’re welcome.”

It feels as if this is as much as they will ever discuss it.

Rudy knows that Dorian is scanning his wound. He doesn’t mind. It’s not intrusive. He’s quite used to being around androids, and he can pick up on things about them that no one else can; Dorian’s used to that, too.

“Are you OK?” Dorian says.

Rudy nods, although his arm is aching despite the painkillers and he feels tired and a little ill. Probably the combined effects of two new chemical formulas, pain meds, and alcohol. “I think I’ll go to bed,” he says resignedly. He’d like to invite Dorian in or stay outside to talk to him, but he can’t see himself being good company.

“See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” Rudy pauses, half turned away, propping the door open with his shoulder. “Come by the lab; I’ll fix those –” He gestures towards the scratches in Dorian’s face.

His hand shakes a little as he closes the door, and it’s a relief, after all, to be alone at last.

He is trying not to know what he knows: that he is inadequate for this kind of dangerous work, that the world of the city is one he avoids, that the plan was a reckless one, that he should not have been there.

He knows, too, that Dorian should not have been there, was not supposed to be there, and was only there because Rudy had needed help.

He does not want to feel guilt.

He knows that trauma was one of the things that killed the DRNs. Not only the trauma witnessed in the city but the indifference of cops, police brutality, that they were made to be human and then treated as things. He’s always known that, although no one ever said it, and he hates remembering it.

***

Rudy calls in sick the next day – the after–effects of the chemicals are counteracting the painkillers – but the day after he arrives earlier than usual and calls Dorian down to the lab.

He lays out what he needs on the nearest surface and pulls a chair across to beside Dorian. The movements in his right arm are a little stiff, Dorian notices, but Rudy does not seem to pay it much attention now.

“Sorry I couldn’t help more,” Rudy says, abruptly.

“You did a lot,” Dorian says.

“I meant you,” Rudy says. “The other android. Not that bleeding on him would have done much good.”

Dorian remembers the sight of Rudy’s blood. He’s never known pain, and he’s never known sickness, but he knows fear, now. He knows the sight of blood and he knows Rudy fearing for him, because it is only here that his vigilance counts for anything.

Rudy glances at him, briefly and quizzically, but does not ask. He pulls the light in close so that he can better examine the damage.

“Excuse me,” he says. He runs his thumb over the scratches, smoothing the edges. Little by little he fuses the pieces of new skin in place and traces his fingertips over the seams. He works slowly and very carefully, healing each scratch in turn. Dorian lies still, feeling Rudy’s touch gentle on his forehead, his cheek, the bridge of his nose, his jaw, his lips. It is not strange to him, for Rudy’s is the only touch he really knows. But it is not reciprocal. The touch is professional, not affectionate. He cannot touch Rudy like this.

At times like these it feels as if touch is the only thing that matters between them, as if Rudy could diagnose him and mend him entirely by touch. Rudy puts all his gentleness into his hands. The sensation of Rudy’s skin against his recalls the other times, of diagnostics and repairs. Yet he realises that Rudy never touches him more than he needs to, and he appreciates it but also finds himself regretting it.

He keeps his eyes on the ceiling, on the lights of the machines, on the daylight coming through the stained glass windows up high.

He wants to know everything and to know everything of Rudy: his past, his studies, his travels, people he has known, images he carries inside him, fears, secrets. All these things he does not ask. If he waits long enough maybe Rudy will tell him things, let things show through.

Human movements have an articulacy to them that interests him. Rudy talks with his hands, could find his way around the lab in the dark.

Rudy leans back in the chair, twisting away to check the scans. He always moves away fast. “You had any issues?” he asks, getting to his feet to gather up the tools.

“Nothing.”

“Yeah, you look all right. I mean, according to the scans.” He sounds half as though he’s talking to himself.

“Might need to replace your chestplate,” he says after a few moments; “it’s a bit dented. I’ll have to order one in.”

“When will it arrive?”

Rudy shrugs. “A few days, a few weeks – hopefully days, but it depends.”

***

Rudy taught himself to build things and to take them apart. He designed his own programmes and learnt his way inside others’. He did not expect to end up working with the police. It happened. He finds it interesting: the rapidly evolving technologies, the androids he works with.

He knows how badly Dorian wants this job, and to be good at it; and it is a dangerous job, all the more so for androids being treated as more expendable. And so he remains protectively vigilant over Dorian’s wellbeing: to keep him where he wants to be, to keep him alive.

The MXs were made to be identical. The DRNs may have been made identical but did not remain so. Rudy doesn’t mind the MXs but he always liked working with DRNs. Their malfunctions – their self destructions – their decommissioning – were the hardest part of his job. Perhaps that is one reason why he now devotes more time to Dorian.

He’s accustomed to being thought strange for the work he does. He’s accustomed to people viewing androids with fear or suspicion. It is not something that he much understands. He sometimes thinks he’s better at being around androids. Friends are not always easy; lovers are not always kind. People tend to expect things from him that don’t always come naturally, like small talk. He knows he’s flawed and difficult and reclusive. (Dorian is a better person than him, he thinks: better at kindness, better at talking, better at being a friend to Rudy than Rudy is to anyone.) The isolation of his job suits him, for the most part. It is easier, sometimes, to be considered an eccentric.

***

“Don’t go out without a chest plate again, yeah?” Rudy says when Dorian visits the lab again, finally at the end of the day.

Dorian shrugs and says, “I’ll try,” and Rudy glares at his computer and mutters something about last–minute plans.

Dorian knows he’s fascinated by Rudy. Perhaps he’s fascinated by everyone. But – maybe due to the closeness that they necessarily share – his focus keeps coming back to Rudy.

It’s almost as if the lab has grown up around Rudy, because everything in it has been organised to his liking: every instrument, every book, every surface. Rudy dislikes having his work interrupted or interfered with, and he’s noticeably more at ease when Dorian visits him alone. He has a gift for disappearing into dark corners when there’s someone he wants to avoid. (Something Dorian had only realised from much observation and listening to conversations was that Rudy had, at some point, argued with almost every other member of staff in the building.) He’s never done so with Dorian, but Dorian doesn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or to put it down to Rudy knowing it wouldn’t work with androids.

Sometimes he’d like to touch Rudy – times like now, when Rudy is bent over his work. But he doesn’t want to startle Rudy, or even to distract him; he knows how dedicated to his work Rudy is. He wants to be able to touch Rudy and for it to seem natural to both of them, for it to be a comfort to both of them.

He’s afraid there will not be much time before either he is destroyed or irreparably damaged in the line of duty, or decommissioned by the department.

Within these four walls is some safety, this enclosed world that Rudy maintains for the androids in his care. If Dorian had a home, this would be it. There is nowhere else.

***

Dorian is never alone and Rudy can’t imagine how that must feel. It seems natural to him therefore that Dorian would choose to come to the lab; it is the quietest place in the facility, and no one else comes in unless they have to. He lets Dorian do what he wants, trusting him not to move or damage anything, and since Rudy is often working it’s usual that they pass much of the time in silence. It relaxes him unexpectedly to have Dorian’s company while he works. Sometimes he almost forgets Dorian’s presence, until some movement catches his eye.

When there is a case to work on he is kept busy. When there is not he runs checks and experiments, reviews developments, build butterflies that he later dismantles.

He doesn’t like crowds, to be around lots of people – they get in the way – but he likes it when he finds people he can talk with easily. There aren’t many, and he’s grateful that he works with one.

Rudy keeps manuals to hand in his lab and Dorian likes to go through them, out of nothing more than curiosity it seems, for he doesn’t need books; he has access to all the information he needs. But he’s not content to be given information; he likes to find new sources.

Rudy begins, surreptitiously, to bring more books to the lab for him – technical books, physics, thermodynamics, old science fiction, some poetry. He’s secretly gratified when Dorian reads them all. And so it goes on: him moving books to and from the lab, Dorian reading them, until all Rudy has left to lend is a collection of 1940s British noir he’s not sure he should even admit to.

He’s not supposed to supposed to give anything to the androids, he finds out: a scrap of information buried in one of the regulation documents. But by then it’s too late and he thinks it doesn’t matter as long as nobody notices. He hasn’t given anything, only left the books lying around conveniently, and the regulation irritates him besides. He wonders if he can destroy it.

Dorian’s mind is beautiful to Rudy, his knowledge far beyond that of most humans. He’s one of the few people Rudy enjoys talking to about science. He’s touched by Dorian’s friendship, confined though it is, and he likes the times when they can work together. It’s not the solitudes he minds here, nor the silences, but when days go by without having a conversation he enjoys they begin to weigh on him. He’s enjoyed working at the station more since Dorian was recommissioned.

He hopes Dorian doesn’t read him too accurately, hopes there are enough things Dorian doesn’t understand. He’d like to be read and he’d like to be understood. But loneliness is the more calculated risk.

***

Rudy could, for all Dorian knows, lay all his thoughts bare. Rudy can see inside him and learn him and analyse him in a way that he can’t with Rudy. But he trusts Rudy with himself.

Dorian understands touch as information but he is still learning what it means to humans, what it is to Rudy. From what he can tell, Rudy does not often touch people. He watches Rudy all the time now.

He’s intrigued by the butterflies Rudy builds and dismantles again. The only animals he has ever seen are the ones found in cities: scavengers, pets. Scientists had begun by building animals, he knows, before they built androids such as himself. Some of those creations, now, are owned almost as pets; some, like those modelled on extinct species, are in museum displays.

Rudy spoke of horses, once.

***

Dorian often goes to the lab, between the shift’s end and Rudy’s departure, to spend time with him. He’s off duty but Rudy never seems to be, or never seems to want to be – he has, upon occasion, worked late enough to miss the curfew and slept in the lab instead. Dorian has to remind him to leave, and while Rudy never argues he sometimes forgets again.

Tonight when he arrives Rudy is already beginning to shut down the lab and Dorian feels an odd sharp sense of disappointment. Nevertheless he waits, keeps him company: watching Rudy move around the lab without haste, shutting down the machines, sweeping the floor, hanging up his apron in the corner.

“Can I walk with you?” Dorian says before Rudy leaves, and Rudy gives him the look he gets when he’s analysing a software issue. Dorian can tell he’s weighing up the situation. It’s not breaking any rules, but he should probably clear it with Maldonado first. But at this time there’s no one here but them and the MXs, and he knows that Rudy cares about him and gets tired of being alone, and maybe he’s taking advantage of that, just a little.

“All right,” Rudy says at last.

***

Rudy’s apartment is within walking distance of the station – twenty or thirty minutes, he says. There is a train but Rudy often prefers to avoid crowds. Their route takes them under great neon signs, past old warehouses and ruined buildings. The Wall can be seen from here, as it can in almost every part of the city. Homeless people sleep in the old buildings for lack of anywhere else, and the police conduct periodic raids on them. Under the bridges, there are blunt spikes set into the ground alongside the sidewalks.

The other side of the Wall, they say, is worse. It’s rumoured that the Wall was built to contain a plague infection. (They always say it’s a plague, Rudy said once. Like all the plague pits in London.) Neither he nor Rudy has ever known the city without the Wall.

Outside the station, in the city, he always hears so many more languages spoken. Most of the cops only use English. But even now, less than an hour before the curfew, he has counted seven languages in passing.

It’s Dorian’s natural tendency to walk faster than humans, but he keeps pace with Rudy, as always. The night air is cold and he sees Rudy shiver and push his hands into the pockets of his jacket. Rudy cranes his head to look up at the sky.

“Can you see the stars?” he asks.

Dorian nods.

“Mm. I can’t.” The lights from the street are too bright, the pollution too thick.

They are standing outside Rudy’s door and Rudy is unlocking it and Dorian is remembering the last time they were here. Rudy gets the door open and lets him in first.

Rudy hangs his jacket on a peg by the door and runs his hands through his hair and hesitates. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “All yours.”

The bookshelf is too small for the number of books it holds; there are books slotted in horizontally and stacked on top. There are manuals stacked on the floor next to the desk; there is an empty mug on the desk and a box of wires and cables beneath it. There are a number of technical drawings pinned on the wall over the desk, a photograph of the first air show. There are odd bits of old tech: an analogue clock, a bedside lamp. It is like Rudy’s lab, and not.

“I could probably rig up some kind of charger,” Rudy says thoughtfully; “not much power, though. Probably wouldn’t be much good.”

But he gets to work on it regardless, pulling out wires and tools and boxes from every corner. He sits down on the floor and begins to go through them, piecing parts together, dismantling others, splicing, remaking. Dorian sits down opposite him, following his movements, disentangling wires, moving faster than Rudy can.

“Should have asked you sooner,” Rudy says.

He doesn’t seem to notice when his hands brush Dorian’s.

“You know cat’s cradle?” he says then, and for a moment it seems a non sequitur. He has a habit of jumping between subjects, forgetting what he has and has not said aloud. Dorian hazards a guess as to his chain of thought, concedes that the tangle of wires does look a little like a game of cat’s cradle, if an unsuccessful one.

“This probably isn’t the time,” he says gravely.

Rudy smiles. “Probably not,” he agrees. He finishes what he’s doing and pushes himself to his feet. Dorian stands too, and Rudy goes then to plug the makeshift charger into the wall.

It makes a faint whirring noise as it starts up. Then it dies with a sharp, staccato sound, and all the lights in the apartment go out with it.

Wouldn’t be much good,” Rudy murmurs, under his breath.

He gathers up the remaining wires, puts them away, and crosses the room to glance out of the window. Dorian follows. He can tell there is no power left in the building. Rudy checks the windows of the other apartments above and below, and sighs. He looks around, catches Dorian’s eye.

“They’ll all know it was me.”

“Of course they will,” Dorian says. But he reaches out to Rudy.

***

In the darkness he kisses Rudy. It is very gentle. Rudy is warmer than him, now, after the outdoor chill has gone.

Rudy is frail and human and heart and blood and skin.

Rudy’s fingers twitch against his collar. A moment more and he’s breaking the kiss.

“It’s not appropriate,” he mutters. “I’m your technician. This isn’t… this is an abuse.”

“You’re not making me do anything.”

Rudy looks him in the eye. “But I could,” he says.

“But you wouldn’t.”

“No,” Rudy says, but he doesn’t sound wholly reassured. He is unmoving and not quite touching him, not quite withdrawing from him.

“I trust you.”

Rudy doesn’t reply for a long moment.

“It’s my job to look after you,” he says, at last.

“This doesn’t change our jobs.”

“I don’t know what it changes,” Rudy says; “that’s the trouble.” He hesitates, exhales all but silently. “There are rules,” he says, “and I want you to be safe.”

Dorian thinks of how close to death they have both been. Remembers the other DRNs. “We were never really safe,” he says.

***

Rudy is very careful with others’ boundaries, he observes, and he wonders if it’s natural or learnt, sensitivity or defence mechanism or both. Rudy’s thumb brushes his wrist, very gently.

“Do you like being touched?” he says at last and Dorian sees him ready to pull away at a moment’s notice. He doesn’t altogether know the answer to the question because so few have ever touched him, but he likes it when Rudy touches him and so he nods, and Rudy lets his hand rest there.

Somehow this makes his body into a different thing. He knows he is designed to adapt but he is not used to understanding others through touch.

Rudy runs his hand along the edge of Dorian’s and Dorian traces the shape of his fingertips. As if they are both practising touch. He presses his fingers through Rudy’s. He finds Rudy’s wrist and traces up to the elbow: feeling the warmth of flesh and hardness of bone through the thin fabric.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to know how to seduce people,” Rudy murmurs.

“Does that mean it’s working?”

That actually makes Rudy laugh. “Yes, it’s working,” he says.

Dorian knows the name of every part of the human body but he has never been so close. And Rudy knows every part of him, but he has never touched him like this. And never would have, Dorian thinks. Rudy watches their hands. There are faint traces of iodine on Rudy’s skin: on his fingertips and on his knuckles.

“Is this all right?” Dorian says, and Rudy nods, not looking up.

“Tell me,” he says. “Tell me if you want to stop.”

Dorian nods too, if only to reassure him.

He kisses Rudy again, and Rudy’s mouth is warm and his pulse fast.

***

Rudy hasn’t been kissed by anyone in a long time. All of his lovers have been human. But he knows that if this is new to him it must be still newer to Dorian. Dorian doesn’t push, doesn’t hurry him. He asks before touching Rudy again, before kissing him again.

Now he wonders if he’s always loved Dorian in some way.

He wants this, even if he needs time to adjust to it happening; he wants Dorian with him; even if it doesn’t happen again he wants it for tonight.

“Stay with me tonight,” he says. “Just to sleep.” They’re here now, and he doesn’t want either of them to be alone, not when they don’t have to be. There’s a flicker of something in Dorian’s eyes, of hope or relief or something Rudy can’t name.

***

They leave their clothes on and go to bed still dressed. That way it almost feels simple; that way it almost feels safe. Rudy wants to touch Dorian’s skin, his face, the way his bones are built. Dorian unknots Rudy’s tie and kisses him, pushes his fingers against Rudy’s hair and kisses him. It feels good and gentle. It feels like everything.

Dorian’s body covering his feels like shelter. He is stronger than Rudy by far but that’s easy to forget when he is gentle. Dorian’s hand is on his chest, against his ribcage. Rudy doesn’t know why Dorian wants him.

In many ways Dorian is more powerful than him, but there are times and ways in which he is not. He wonders if that makes them equals. He wishes that it did.

***

Against Dorian, Rudy is pliant and gentle. He seems to relax at each small touch: Dorian’s fingers against his wrist, in his hair, over his shirt. Dorian wants to learn every line of him.

He doesn’t fully understand human desire, and he doesn’t fully understand his own, and maybe it is not important to understand it. He draws back a little, a very little, remembering all Rudy’s hesitancy.

He wants to say Tell me everything, tell me everything, but he waits, still waits. He wants Rudy to feel safe here with him, even though they’re not safe, they were never safe, they never will be safe. He is seizing on a freedom that he doesn’t have. He is risking everything he has and he is risking Rudy’s job and future and he knows that Rudy knows this too.

The way Rudy’s head is bent, Dorian can’t see his eyes.

“I’ll take you in early tomorrow,” Rudy says quietly.

“To avoid your neighbours?”

Rudy winces slightly at the reminder. Only briefly, before his thoughts turn to other things. Lying next to Dorian, he's half illuminated and half in shadow from the lights outside. Then he brushes his knuckles across Dorian’s fingers and smiles wryly. He doesn’t look up.

“What is it?”

“This is going very badly.”

Dorian kisses him then. The future seems an alien thing. Rudy kisses him back, almost roughly. His fingers close around Dorian’s and he doesn’t let go.

***

The time passes. Rudy lies quiet, and waits. He doesn’t sleep. He pushes himself into a sitting position, rests his elbows on his knees. He watches the night through the window. Pale blue light of street lights and neon signs through the cracks in the blinds.

There was never any chance of the MXs transgressing in this way; he almost smiles at the thought.

But that of course, he thinks, was the point. The MXs were designed not to have agency. This is why the department prefers them. The loss and subsequent dispersement of the DRNs forestalled the risk of rebellion. Dorian is considered far less dangerous because he is the only one left.

He suddenly wants Dorian very badly, too much perhaps to sleep. But he doesn’t touch him. He stays beside him.

He could try to keep them both safe. Or he could help Dorian – quietly and with everything he has – to be dangerous.