fake love, artificial love.

Such was the problem with cybernetics: They could malfunction. They could fail and in Kang’s experience, they hurt when they did—both in a physical sense as his arms seized up and muscles tensed against the pull of mechanical implants meant to enhance what they naturally did and the mental where his pride was concerned. Without his shoulders, he couldn’t work. Without his arms, he couldn’t be sure his patients were getting the care they paid for. Without his hands, he was about as useless as a vacuum unit in a dirt field, unable to wield any equipment with the precise accuracy he had expected out of going under the knife in the first place.

Still, it hadn’t kept him out of the clinic even if there was a viable reason to call out, Kang still present to oversee operations as best he could. Even if not an active participant in treatment, he could still give his professional opinion where requested and make suggestions as to how to proceed. He could still see to his consultations for everything from surgical procedures to cybernetic implants, even if most of those cases would have to be sent to another facility for completion until Kang was able to see to the repairs of his own modifications. He could be of some use without even if it wasn’t necessarily to the full extent he would have liked, especially with his name being on the front of the building, emboldened by the red cross that spoke similarly across all language barriers that might have still lingered across the galaxy.

More importantly, he could keep his mind off the trouble of it all—off the procedure that would replace the damaged parts, off the impending physical therapy, off the unexpected expense that would dent his account significantly, off the reason it had happened in the first place.

Things had been good. Things had been great, even, and in one fell swoop, everything had turned upside down with a knife to the back—literally. One minute, they had been in an embrace, the kind of moment that called for all his defenses to be down, open and vulnerable, and more than willing to be seen as such. The next, Kang had been immobilized, the hardwiring sliced right through with the cold metal of a knife, severing the connection to his nervous system at his shoulder, no time between one minute and the next to see what was coming at him, especially not with his back turned.

“It was inhuman,” he had said as he took care of the other arm, Kang only able to try and push the weight holding him down off for a fraction of a second before it too was severed, body falling against the bed without arms to support him—not unless he intended to do more damage to parts already damaged.

“You don’t need them,” his voice echoed, and no, perhaps Kang didn’t, but with years of use under his belt, years of letting his sensory system meld with the wiring to a point where their movements were as fluid as human parts, they were as much a part of his as what remained of his arms were.

“You’re better without them.”

“That is arguable.”

It had been the only thing said even as he threw his clothes back on and left the scene of the crime, Kang staring across the room from where his head rested on the flat of his mattress, not staring at anything in particular even as his shoulders bled, the trickle of warm red just as familiar to his natural skin as it was the silicon that had once protected his shoulders. He would have to call the police eventually, get an ambulance to make sure he didn’t bleed out, unable to administer his own medical gel even if there was a supply in his Winlock Park home, but for that moment, he could only stare, expressionless even with the thoughts running through his head.

That was the last time he had let anyone in.