Sick Leave: Chapter 10
There was no hope of sleep for John. Dorian was charging in the back room and the gentle hum of his dock should have been the perfect lullaby. Instead, John's mind was buzzing and offered him no respite as he watched the moon trek across the skylight over his bed.
There was an odd conflict of emotions coursing through his head. He'd lost the trail on Insyndicate once again. Despite the tremendous setback, he felt a strange new comfort from Dorian's emerging role in his life. It had been years since anyone had cared for him as unconditionally as his partner had in the past week. Up until last night, he'd thought unconditional love had died with his parents. Dorian's newfound investment in his well-being was forcing him to navigate feelings of joy and unworthiness.
Unable to cope with the persistent insomnia, John launched himself up and sat on the side of the bed. Fuck it. He wasn't going to squirm and toss uselessly all night. He hopped over to his leg and rotated it into place, waiting while it calibrated. Yawning, stretching his back, he headed over to his dresser, pulled out a pair of jeans and half-stepped, half-stomped into them sluggishly. He dragged a black t-shirt over the top of his black tank top and zipped on a black sweatshirt. He looked like he was getting ready for a heist.
Finally, he dug through the bottom of the closet until he found the item he was looking for and stuffed it into his back pocket.
Before leaving the apartment, he quietly checked in on Dorian, who was charging in his dock, a peaceful, blank look on his face. It made John smile despite his grogginess. Quietly lifting his keys out of the bowl, John crept through the front door.
The streets were much less congested at four in the morning and listening to his music as he drove along placed the worry-drained man in a Zen mood. Of course, now he was feeling tired. He feared he could fall asleep if he blinked a little too long. He slapped himself lightly on the side of his face with his open palm and gave his head a quick shake. When he rolled the window down, the brisk air on his face woke him up and galvanized his resolve.
Arriving at his destination, John pulled into the underground area and parked his car. The witness protection area was guarded at all times. The MX on duty eyeballed him as he stepped out of the cruiser. "Detective Kennex," the MX said.
By way of greeting, John yawned loudly, covering his mouth. He stretched his arms out and walked over to the door and gave it a knock. The MX turned to him. "No one is in that apartment, Detective."
"I know she is sleeping," John said, "but she's leaving in the morning. I don't think she'll mind." He knocked again.
The MX persisted, "Miss Vaughn is on an overnight flight to San Francisco. Her plane departed one hour and seventeen minutes ago."
It took a moment for John to register that news. His hand dropped from the door and he leaned his forehead against the cool reinforced steel.
"Are you feeling ill, detective?" the MX asked, scanning John's vitals.
"I'm fine," John muttered. "Tired." He headed back to the car numbly.
The MX cocked his head slightly as he watched John walk back to the cruiser and slide into the driver's seat.
John drove out of the underground holding area and headed for home. His eyes hurt and he felt foolish for making the trip. When he parked in the garage, the sky was starting to grow lighter. He leaned forward and pulled his father's hat out of his back pocket and held it in his hands with a frown. He told himself that it had been a stupid idea anyhow. Even if the psychic could speak to his dad, he wasn't even sure what he wanted to say. Just that he missed him, and that his murder had been so sudden and unfair. He needed someone to tell him that he was doing alright, to call him 'kid.'
John swallowed a lump of grief in his throat. He suddenly felt unreasonably tired. His body was heavy and incapable and he didn't want to walk from the car to the apartment. He briefly considered leaning the seat back and closing his eyes for a few minutes. However, he knew better and forced himself onto his feet and out into the cool air. When he stumbled into the apartment again, he sloughed off his shoes wearily. Dorian was perched on the couch in the pre-dawn silence and John groaned in his throat when he saw him there.
"John," Dorian said, softly.
"I'm too tired," John said, waving his arm weakly at the DRN. "Please." John was expecting a fight but he wasn't sure why. He was a grown man and could leave his goddamned apartment any time he goddamned please. Still, an inexplicable brick of guilt settled on his chest.
Dorian approached quietly and helped him out of his coat. John handed Dorian the hat and shoved his pants past his hips and clumsily kicked them off of his legs on the way down the hallway.
Setting the hat reverently on the dresser, Dorian frowned. The MX had already alerted him to John's activities, but he hadn't understood the motivation until just this moment. "Maya caught a redeye to San Francisco," the android said softly, plagued with heartache at the realization that John had gone to speak to his departed father.
John sat on the bed and pulled his shirt up over his head groggily. "I don't care, anyhow," he muttered.
He unhooked his leg and let it clunk to the floor before slipping into the covers and cuddling up against his pillow. Dorian took the leg and put it on the charger. When he turned back, he took note of John's curled frame in the sheets. He looked pitiful and sad. Dorian walked to the other side of the bed and slipped into the covers.
As if magnetically drawn, John turned toward Dorian and slid closer until his forehead was resting on his chestplate. The android placed an arm around John and said, "Try to get some sleep."
It didn't take long for John's breath to grow softly cadenced.
. . . . . . . .
John awoke to the sun in his eyes and turned into his pillow to shield himself. It took his brain only a few seconds to catch up and realize that it was well past morning. He jerked upright and looked at the clock. Almost 11:00. Had he slept past his alarm? He turned to look at the other side of the bed. Had Dorian been in bed with him last night?
The back of his head throbbed. John threw back the sheets and fumbled to his leg. He had to pee, he'd slept past role call and beyond, and the residual sadness from his wee-hours escapade had yet to wear off.
After he finished with his morning routine, he walked through the empty apartment. Dorian wasn't there. There was a holonote on the desk that read, "Went to grab a few things. I'll be right back." Of course Dorian would leave a fucking note. The android out-classed him in every regard.
He poured himself a hot cup of coffee and burned his mouth on it as he loomed in the silence of his apartment. He felt uneasy and strangely abandoned even though he had been waking up this same way, alone in his apartment, since he woke from his coma.
The front door clicked open and John peeked around the kitchen wall to see Dorian entering with his arms full. John cradled his hands around the hot coffee mug and leaned against the wall. Dorian had a bag over each shoulder and a thick load of clothing on hangers slung over his right arm. The crook of his left elbow was slung with grocery bags and on his left hand he balanced a pink box.
"Donuts?" John asked, walking over to lighten Dorian of the pink box. He took it to the kitchen, leaving the overloaded DRN in the doorway with the rest of his haul.
"Hey, get back here," Dorian called to John.
John came out of the kitchen with half a donut in his mouth. He looked at Dorian in surprise.
"Yeah, you," the android said. "You're not sick anymore. Give me a hand here." He held out the grocery bags to John and watched as he slowly, reluctantly set his donut down and walked over to take them. "Put them away, please," Dorian added, addressing his bed-headed human.
"Wha'd'ya'get?" John poked around in the bags.
Dorian walked past him to set his items in the back room. John smirked at all the produce and went to the kitchen, dumping the bags on the counter. He picked his donut back up, plucked another from the box, grabbed his now drinkable coffee, and went down the hall after Dorian.
"We're late for work," he said, watching the DRN hang clothing awkwardly on the side of the charging dock. His bags were on the floor.
"I called you in this morning," Dorian said, cringing as John took a way-too-big bite of a sprinkled pastry. "You didn't get nearly enough sleep."
The mention of sleep made John blush with the memory of cuddling up to Dorian in bed. He'd fallen asleep so peacefully with Dorian's arms around him.
"Get dressed," Dorian urged.
John almost looked upset. "Where are we going?"
"I need a proper place to hang my clothes." Dorian gestured to the bags and the poorly hung outfits.
"So this is official, eh?" John grinned into his cup of coffee, concealing his happiness with a sip. "I'm stuck with a roommate."
"You need a keeper."
John set his coffee down on a shelf and chewed on those words for a minute, processing them and determining just how offended he ought to be. He ironed his shoulders against the wall while he thought.
Dorian watched as John's eyes looked all over the room, anywhere to prevent eye contact. John was avoiding a deeper truth, a truth he wished for last night when he sought Maya's help to reach his long-departed father. He was mourning the close connections that he had once had in his life.
John hadn't liked the few minutes this morning when he had the apartment to himself. It'd felt empty and dead without Dorian there with him. He wondered if the fever and freeze had ruined his brain. Not long ago, he was expounding the joys of solitude. He closed his eyes tight, attempting to hold his emotions inward. Even then, when he said he was happiest alone, he was just pacifying himself.
A warm hand found its way into his hair, brushing across his forehead and sliding down his face, raising his chin. He opened his eyes to Dorian's blues shining at him. "It's okay, John." He was telling, not asking, but John nodded anyhow.
"What were you hoping to gain from talking to your father through Maya?" Dorian's other hand smoothed along John's arm reassuringly.
He felt safe and trapped at the same time. "I-uh-I don't know," John hoarsely replied, disarmed completely by Dorian's reassuring tone despite the brazen question. Dorian held him in his gaze, unrelenting. "I guess I wanted his forgiveness? Reassurance?" He felt stupid for admitting that aloud and fought off the mist of tears by looking up sharply toward the ceiling.
Dorian recognized that look and pulled him close, folding his arms around him, settling his lips against the curve where John's shoulder met his neck. Then he boldly lifted his head and pressed his lips into John's softly, thrilled as he felt them part to allow him in. John dropped the donut out of his hand, a thud and then the 'shush' of sprinkles scattering across the floor in the quiet. They shared their first kiss in the dim back room with the pocked drywall sorely in need of paint, Dorian's hand behind John's neck, John's hands balled with fistfuls of the android's shirt.
"From now on, you'll seek your comfort from the living, Jonathon Reginald Kennex," Dorian chided gently after breaking away. He kissed him again, shorter, more forceful. "Okay?"
All John could do was numbly agree. He looked slightly dazed and leaned against the wall again.
Dorian smiled at him and continued to fuss with this clothing in the tiny room. "Gonna get dressed?" he asked John, who still stood there, unable to focus on anything but breathing.
John nodded as Dorian went out past him and into the kitchen. He found the grocery bags on the counter and grumbled as he put the food away. "I asked him to do one thing," he muttered.
In the back room, John placed both his hands on his chest and thought about what the hell just happened. They'd kissed. Dorian kissed him and he kissed back. His heart was romping painfully in his chest. He needed some air.
He walked on jelly legs to his bedroom and slipped out onto the balcony, surrounded by the bay. He stood in the breeze and thought about Dorian. He was attempting to banish the feelings of happiness that filled his chest and head, diminishing them with unattractive facts. Dorian was his coworker, he was an android, a synthetic, a machine. He didn't age. He was bossy. He didn't eat. He drove John crazy. He was making him go shopping and taking away his trophy room. His mind slung fact after fact at his heart. His heart was persistent. I don't care about any of that, John thought. Then he said it aloud, "I don't care." Finally, he looked toward the city, standing there in his sleep shorts and a tank top. He held out his arms and shouted, "I don't fucking care!"
Dorian lifted his eyebrows as he stepped onto the dock and examined his troubled human. "You don't care about what?"
John spun to look at Dorian and smiled. "Nothing." He couldn't keep his face straight. He wanted to kiss more but he held himself in place.
Dorian gave him a sidelong glance. "John, c'mon man. Get dressed."
John hated shopping, period. Furniture shopping was the absolute worst. "Dee," John smiled, "let's go another time. I need to shower."
"Take a quick shower then."
John pulled a deep breath of air into his lungs and pushed it back out again slowly. He knew how to play his android to get what he wanted. He turned to Dorian, giving him big eyes and letting his bottom lip slide just a little bit forward past his upper lip. "I'm not really in the mood to go shopping, Dorian. I had a really rough night." He waited with bedroom eyes, willing his lips not to twitch into a smile. This was the part where Dorian was going to tell him it was 'okay' and suggest they watch a movie on the couch.
Instead, Dorian looked unimpressed. "I think you may have cabin fever; a little time out will do you good. Get dressed."
That was it; John was going to have to put his foot down. "Okay, Dee, listen. I'd rather jump in this icy water than go shopping for furniture. And not just today, either. Ever. Ever. Let's order things online and you can run your patience program until they get here."
Dorian nodded a moment, looking down. He stepped toward John suddenly, hip-checking him into the bay with a splash.
John sputtered to the surface of the water and gasped, running a slick hand down his face to clear the water from his eyes. He gasped at the cold, treading and looking up at Dorian in shock and anger. "What the fuck, Dee!" He punched at the surface of the water.
"There, you are showered," Dorian grinned. "Hey, while you're in there, see if you can find that eye of mine you lost; it wasn't cheap you know. And then get dressed."
Dorian laughed at the angry look on his partner's face and walked back inside while John yanked himself up onto the deck, shivering, and went in to shower and get ready to go. There was no point in arguing. While he raked his fingers through his lathery hair, he couldn't help but smile despite his best efforts to stay angry.
Even though the last week had been hell, he was glad he had been lonely enough to use that fucking dating service. Even if he did get drugged. He dressed himself, thinking that he ought to go onto the dating site and delete his profile.
Of course, Dorian had already done that three days ago.
This is the last chapter of Sick Leave.
It makes me sad to see it end, but I'm not done with these boys.
Big huge hulking thank you to DJLiopleurodon for being my amazing, no-bullshit editor.
AND more thanks to everyone who read this story! And to those who commented, you make me smile so much my face hurts.