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The Way They Fly

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*

"Open your eyes."

Gerard watched as Frank's eyelids fluttered open. Gerard beamed.

"Good! That's excellent."

Gerard sat back and took a drag of his smoke. He'd based his droid's appearance on an old photograph he'd seen in the university archives, back when photographs were 2D. Something about the primitive image spoke to him. Sure, he'd tweaked it a bit – he thought this droid needed shorter hair, and it really did look better dark. He'd guessed on most of the body, since the t-shirt and jeans were so baggy in the original image.

Gerard twitched with the feeling of success, the wheels of his chair squeaking underneath him. "Who are you?"

"I'm Frank, prototype of Android 2300-D." Frank's voice was slightly nasal, just like Gerard had imagined it when he'd built the voice-box.

Gerard laughed and nodded. "You sure are, Frank." He squinted and tilted his head this way and that. Sitting on a bench in front of him, Frank was perfect. Gerard had left the upper left portal open for now, just to see if Frank needed tweaking, but once he was ready to close it, nobody would be able to tell, apart from him.

But first, some preliminary tests.

"How old are you, Frank?" Gerard ashed into his abandoned coffee.

"Born today, although it's taken you a year to complete me." Frank paused, and even Gerard found himself surprised by how realistic that blink was. "Also, it would have taken anybody else roughly two and a half to three years to do what you have done in one."

Gerard laughed in delight. "That's right! You're a quick learner, Frank."

"Thank you, Gerard." When Frank smiled, Gerard found himself mesmerized with joy.

He had done it. He had done it. He had completed Frank, and Frank was perfect.

Gerard reached out and touched the warm portal of Frank's left pec before pressing it closed. "How do you feel?" he asked, wheeling himself back so he could look at Frank's entire body. He'd done a hell of a job on that, too, if he did say so himself. He tried not to look below the waist, as if Frank had a modicum of modesty, anyway.

"What do you mean?" Frank tilted his head.

"How," Gerard repeated, watching his face carefully, "do you feel?"

"Cold," Frank responded immediately and Gerard watched, his mouth dry, as Frank raised his hands and crossed his arms over his bare torso. "Clothes would be awesome."

Gerard's ridiculous giggle echoed over the walls of his lab for what felt like forever.

He'd done it. He couldn't wait to tell Mikey.

*

"Did you build yourself a boy-toy?" Mikey asked from a safe distance where Frank couldn't overhear them. Although, Gerard had given Frank one hell of a range. He probably could, but he appeared too busy tucking and untucking his shirt. It took Gerard's brain a moment to catch up with Mikey's words, then he smacked him.

"Fuck you. Seriously, are you watching this?"

They both stood and stared as Frank finally seemed to settle into untucking his shirt once and for all. Gerard had forgotten to buy clothes that would fit the droid, and his t-shirt strained at Frank's shoulders, wider than his own, and the pants drooped at the bottom. It was easier to make Frank shorter than have to reach too far while building him, and there he stood, all 1.7 meters of him, blinking at his own reflection.

"I can't believe you finished him, man," Mikey breathed and Gerard bounced on his toes beside him.

"Fuck, right? I'm a motherfucking genius."

"You really fucking are."

"So, this is Mikey?"

Frank's voice startled them both. Gerard was definitely not used to a third voice in his house, much less a voice that was still so unfamiliar. Much less an unfamiliar voice that sounded so familiar with Mikey.

"Uh."

"How did you know about Mikey?" Gerard asked, taking a few cautious steps toward Frank. Frank turned and smiled a smile that was somehow ridiculously human, and shit-eating.

"You inserted your own knowledge into me, remember? Like, family and shit."

"Gerard," Mikey whispered and hit him hard in the back. "Your droid can swear."

"Of course he can swear," Gerard whispered back, not taking his eyes off of Frank, "I built him."

"And he wrote a genius colloquial program into my speech patterns," Frank confirmed, looking away from them and back into the mirror. "Why do I look like this?" he asked, and as Gerard watched, Mikey breathing down his neck, Frank reached out and touched his hand to its mate in the surface.

Gerard took a few slow steps forward until he could lean against a wall. He couldn't believe he was having this conversation. He was having it with his droid. It took him another few seconds to gather his thoughts. "I found an old image of a student who attended SCNY, back when it was first started."

Frank, still touching his own hand's reflection, turned his head towards Gerard. Seamlessly. It was astonishing. If he hadn't spent two grueling months perfecting the movement mechanisms, Gerard would never have noticed tiniest kink in the neck turn. "Did you find that… symbolic?"

Gerard blinked, feeling like a droid himself. "Yes."

Frank smiled. "Cool! What about my name?"

Gerard felt Mikey tugging on his shirt. "Gee, this shit is crazy," he whispered into Gerard's ear, his breath hot. Gerard licked his lips and nodded.

"You should guess," he told Frank.

For a moment, Frank was a droid. He froze where he stood, and his eyes stopped focusing with mechanical movement. He was calculating. This was a tough one. Gerard really should have started with something simple, eight hundred thousand multiplied by π, or something, but this was human-level tough.

The moment stretched between him and Mikey and this – this thing that he had made. It was almost easy for him to forget that Frank was a thing, because Frank had a human face and a human voice, but Gerard had seen him - it - disassembled, watched his own two hands put all the parts together. Inside the warm, humanoid body was a complicated world of wires and circuitry.

It was still disconcerting to see Frank's face light up with the answer. "Frank, for…Frankenstein? But if that's true, then it's wrong."

"How do you figure?" Gerard asked, his voice maybe breaking a bit.

Frank pursed his mouth – Jesus, who taught him to purse his mouth, oh, right – and said, "Frankenstein was the maker, not the monster."

Gerard nodded. "Yeah. That's true. But I had no other ideas, and –"

"And Gerard is a gigantic nerd who's into pre-classic literature," Mikey piped up behind him. Even without seeing him, Gerard knew he was smirking.

"Fuck off." He smiled and watched as Frank's eyebrows drew together. "He was mocking me," Gerard explained before he could stop himself.

"Mocking. Gentle teasing? Oh, I can do that," Frank replied, and distinctly turned towards Mikey. "Your hair is weird, man."

Gerard doubled over with laughter. He was a motherfucking genius.

*

"You are a motherfucking genius." Ray beamed at him from across his desk.

Gerard nodded in agreement, not being able to stop his grin from spreading. He felt like he wasn't even sitting in a chair but hovering above the ground.

"When I can see it?"

"Hmmm." Gerard had been in such a hurry to tell Ray of his success, he hadn't considered the consequences of having to show Frank off. Something about it made his neck itch. "I don't know, Ray. Give me a week to run tests and make sure he doesn't break down on me, okay? He's still brand new."

Ray's hair shook. "You sound like you're talking about a puppy that needs to be potty trained, Gerard. You've done something remarkable, and now you're keeping it from me? Do you remember who's been feeding you grants for the last two years?"

Gerard rolled his eyes and tapped on the desk with his fingertips, barely noticing. "Of course I do. But this is huge for me, okay? I'm just not ready for what this will mean to the, uh, community. Just. Just give me a week, Ray. Please?"

Gerard's own voice rang in his head as Ray considered him. Gerard always felt the need to use veiled terms while inside SCNY, even in the confines of Ray's office. Ray was great and all, but he was still Gerard's boss, the man who held the purse strings in one hand, and the government ties in the other. Gerard didn't dislike the Trustees, so much as feeling distinctly uncomfortable whenever he felt them breathing down his neck.

Ray finally took a deep breath and pushed away from his desk. "All right, fine. A week. After that, I'm breaking down your expensive chlominum door, you got it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Gee- "

"Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist," Gerard grinned and got up off the chair, leaving it spinning in place. "See you in a week, Dr. Toro."

"Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"

*

"So!" Gerard clapped his hands together and sat down across from Frank at the kitchen table. "What did you do while I was gone?"

"I waited," Frank replied without hesitation. Or, rather, without pausing. Gerard had to teach himself not to assign Frank's actions human motivations. It was a lot harder than he could have predicted, considering the face watching him back.

Maybe if he pretended Frank was his stuffed penguin from childhood.

Maybe that was weird.

"What did you do while you waited?" Gerard asked, reaching for his cup of coffee, only remembering it was empty when he looked inside.

"I sat on the couch, then I watched TV," Frank told him. He was watching Gerard's movements, and before Gerard had a chance to respond, Frank got up and, skirting the table, grabbed Gerard's mug right out of his hands.

Gerard blinked and watched in silence as Frank went unerringly for the right unit, grabbed the nearest coffee packet, and ran his mug under the hydrator.

"Is this how you take it?" Frank asked after adding the creamer and sweetener. Gerard peered into his face as his hands reached for the steaming mug automatically. Frank was wearing a friendly, neutral kind of expression. God, it was weird. It was weird.

"Yeah," he answered finally after the first sip. "Uh, thanks, Frank."

Frank beamed at him. "You're welcome, Gerard!"

*

After the Frankenstein issue, Gerard threw the first set of tests he'd been idly preparing right out the window. Clearly, there was no issue with the mental portion of his droid.

Gerard had Frank run a mile on the nearest track.

Frank ran it in under six minutes.

Superior speed, Gerard typed, then looked up again.

Great agility, he added, watching Frank run past him for a second go-around without stopping. Gerard lost track of the timer beeping in his hand, becoming mesmerized by the movement of Frank's feet hitting the track.

When Frank ran past him at the same speed without stopping for the fifth time, Gerard finally remembered to beep the horn and decided that maybe now would be a good time to start leaving the lab for some human interaction.

Frank ran up to him, grinning absurdly. He looked the same as always, only his hair ruffled lightly by the wind.

*

"Seventy two point two kilos," he mumbled to himself, then pointed the laser from the top of Frank's head to his toes, already knowing the answer. "One point seven meters."

"And how much do you weigh?" Frank asked, his chin rising. Gerard blinked at him in surprise.

"None of your goddamn business!"

"Typical," Frank sniffed - sniffed - and went back to staring over Gerard's shoulder. It couldn't be that he was getting annoyed by the testing, but he sure was good at impersonating it, Gerard thought irritably.

"Give me cheek, and I'll power your ass down," he warned, poking at Frank's stomach.

"That's uncalled for," Frank answered and glowered. "It isn't night time yet."

Gerard stepped back. "Will you calm down? I need to do this for the committee, and it needs to be precise. Just another hour, and I'll come up with something better for us to do, all right?"

Gerard could see the moment Frank's body relaxed; or rather, let go, somehow, because there was no muscle to relax. God, Gerard thought again, he was a goddamn genius.

"All right," he said after several blessedly silent minutes. "You can sit now."

Frank sat immediately. Sometimes, he moved exactly like the droid he was, at moments when Gerard least expected it. Gerard slowly pulled up a stool across from him. Frank watched him with that passive, neutral expression again.

"I have to test your reflexes and touch circuitry," Gerard told him. He really didn't know why he kept talking to Frank, except maybe that he had gotten tired of hearing just his own voice when he was first building him. Frank was at least a humanoid face.

Gerard pushed his hair out of his eyes and reached for Frank's hand. "Now, when I squeeze your fingers, tell me your reaction, okay?" he asked, his voice growing quieter with the shortened distance between them.

Frank nodded and looked down where Gerard was grasping his hand. Gerard squeezed, marveling at how warm and human the siliskin felt, and looked up into Frank's face.

"Feels like pressure," Frank told him, looking down at their hands. "Squeeze harder."

Gerard obeyed. "More pressure. And it's warm," Frank told him. "You're sweating. That's weird."

Gerard dropped Frank's hand and pursed his mouth, laughing a bit. "Sorry. It's warm in here."

"It is!" Frank said, eyes locking with Gerard's. He looked almost excited about that. "It wasn't earlier, though. Can you lower the temperature?"

"Uh, sure. El One, lower temp to 16 degrees," he said. The immediate drop in temperature was almost like stepping outside on a crisp fall morning. "Better?"

"Mm-hmm!" Frank nodded, smiling. "Thanks."

"You know, the Els will listen to you, too," Gerard said absent-mindedly, typing into his notepad. When Frank didn't answer, Gerard looked up. Frank was frowning. "What?"

"They don't."

"What?"

Frank shrugged. "When you're away, I try to talk to them, but they don't recognize the frequency of my voice."

Oh, shit. "I hadn't thought of that. Have you had success switching the environs manually?"

Frank nodded. "Of course. I'm not an idiot."

Gerard rolled his eyes. "Well, I'm sorry. Let me play around with the settings, I'll rig it up for you, Princess."

"Fuck you, asshole," Frank replied gleefully.

Gerard just shook his head. "Let's get back to the testing, shall we?"

*

When Gerard got home after dinner with Mikey, he called out to Frank first thing.

"I'm in here!" Frank yelled. Or, well. He didn't yell so much as project his voice. It was super weird, actually, and Gerard considered twiddling with those settings a bit. It was pretty disconcerting hearing Frank's voice from the other room like he was standing right next to him.

Gerard found him in the lab, scrolling through the main screen. "Why don't you have a dog?" Frank asked, eyes rapt on the screen.

"Uh."

"A dog, a human companion, why don't you have one? Do you not like dogs? Why wouldn't you like them?" Frank watched the projection, his hands busy waving picture after picture of puppies in front of his face. Gerard was pretty happy to see El Two responding to Frank's touch, but what the hell?

"Why are you suddenly so interested in dogs?" he asked, dropping his jacket on the drafting desk.

"Everybody owns one, why don't you?" Frank finally paused his slideshow and turned his gaze to Gerard. The room was dark, and Frank's face was illuminated by the holo-glow of the screen. There were times when he blinked less often than usual. Those times kind of freaked Gerard out.

"I – I don't know?" he stammered out and reached for his smokes. "I don't have time to take care of one, I guess."

"Why?"

"Because I've been a little busy!" Gerard replied a little hysterically, flailing his arms. He couldn't believe he was having this conversation with his droid, for fuck's sake. "I mean, you're here, you know? I –"

"Exactly!" Frank beamed, the glow reflecting off his grin, making him look a little crazy. Gerard had a fleeting thought that he'd created a monster, after all.

"What do you mean, exactly?"

"Well, if you don't have time for a puppy, I can take care of one. And I'll remember better than you, anyway, I've got a built-in alarm system. I don't suffer the same memory lapses as humans, either, so -" Frank trailed off. Gerard forgot he hadn't yet lit his smoke and almost bit the end off trying to inhale.

"You – you want a puppy?" You want anything? Gerard finally fumbled to get his cigarette lit.

Frank just – beamed at him, letting the slideshow start up again. "I like that kind." He pointed as a particularly butt-faced mutt scrolled past.

"Seriously?" Gerard wasn't sure what he couldn't believe more – that Frank wanted a dog altogether, or that he wanted that dog. Frank just nodded, grinning in a way most people would call "happily."

Gerard shook his head and couldn't help but laugh. "All right, well. We'll see what we can do about that, I guess."

"Cool!" Frank turned back to the screen, zoning out on the images scrolling by.

Gerard sat down and took notes as surreptitiously as he could.

*

Gerard tossed and turned and finally gave up. He stumbled out into the living room and planted his ass in the chair Mikey had given him for last year's birthday. It was fat and didn't go with anything else in his apartment, and it was his favorite. It sat facing the glass wall Gerard loved so much, and he stretched his legs out on the coffee table, watching the view.

He had blackouts, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd actually touched them at all. He loved his view. He could see the entire city, from the old part to the new. Blue lights twinkled at him, unperturbed by the fact that most people were sleeping.

The apartment was too quiet like this. Everything powered down, right down to Frank.

Frank. Gerard turned until he could see the couch, with the moon lighting it faintly, like in a movie. Frank, it turned out, liked to sleep. Or, not sleep, of course.

He'd power off every night, after Gerard went to sleep. He'd asked Gerard for permission to bunk on the couch, which was a weird request on so many levels. Gerard had obviously let him, and now Frank lay on his back, with Gerard's old afghan thrown over him, like he needed it. He slept in a thin t-shirt and shorts. Gerard found himself realizing that he hadn't considered much at all while working on Frank all that time.

Gerard turned away and settled deeper into his chair. He was asleep the next moment.

*

After his monthly meeting with his underlings, Gerard always wanted a drink, a dose of something. It was a rare case when at least one of them wasn't hopeless, and that was stating it generously.

Gerard didn't drink, but he smoked the entire way, starting in the elevator, then outside, in the skywalk, back outside again, all the way until he was trailing fallen leaves down his own hallway.

Today, he was on his third smoke when he opened the door and Frank walked out before he even called him. "Cigarettes kill," he informed him.

"No," Gerard answered, not taking the smoke from his mouth as he shrugged off his jacket, "cigarettes used to kill, back when they were made out of fucking – tobacco and whatever the hell else." Gerard still couldn't believe that, either, but hey, that was how progress was made, after all. You try something once, it fails, you try something new and different.

"Oh." Frank's smile dropped off, and he frowned, looking at Gerard's reader in his hand. "This told me cigarettes kill." Gerard watched with interest as Frank's eyes went droid-still, searching out his database. The speed really was astonishing – it only took about six seconds for Frank to get back to reality. "Oh, right. I should have remembered the Public Health Act of 2167." He paused. "Duh."

Gerard giggled and patted him on the shoulder before passing through to the living room. "You trust what you read. That's not the worst thing in the world, unless you never check your sources."

He flopped down onto the couch and looked around him. "Have you been – cleaning?"

"Reading and cleaning, yes," Frank confirmed, sitting down on the opposite end of the couch. "You haven't gotten me a puppy yet, so I have to use my time up in other ways."

Gerard rolled his eyes. "Like going through my shit?"

Frank shrugged. "Your shit is messy. I am really good at uncluttering. You should really give it a try sometime."

Gerard yawned and reached for his next cigarette. "So you found my reader?"

Frank hefted it in his hands. "I didn't have to find it, it was next to your bed."

Somehow, it had never occurred to Gerard that while he was absent, Frank just rattled around his apartment like a lost puppy. Maybe he should get one of those, after all. Somehow, the thought of a real dog pacing his place was less unsettling than Frank doing the same, his droid brain collecting and storing info on Gerard, like where he left his dirty clothes at night, or what he read before going to sleep.

"So, you've been…reading?"

Frank smiled and his fingers went to work on typing something in the reader until he was holding it up for Gerard to see. "I read these today," he announced.

The list of novels was definitely long, and not all of them were familiar. "Have you been shopping for reading material?" Gerard squinted as he skimmed the twenty-odd titles.

Frank blinked. "Your books didn't interest me when I scanned them," he told him. "So I got others."

Gerard sighed and leaned back, closing his eyes. "I have to pay for those, Frank. You know, with money?"

"Oh!" Frank's eyes widened. Damn, was he realistic-looking. For a second, Gerard even forgot to feel annoyed that his droid was, apparently, reading him out of house and home. "Should I stop? I'm –" His eyes did that pausing thing again. "I'm sorry, Gerard."

Gerard froze with his cigarette halfway to his mouth. "You're –"

"I'm apologizing. I shouldn't have bought those novels with your money," Frank said, in a voice that simply acknowledged what happened, but even with that, it felt… It felt like a genuine apology.

Gerard shook his head and stood up before he even made the decision to do it. "No, don't – don't be sorry," he mumbled and escaped out onto the balcony, where he leaned against the railing and breathed in cool air until the unsettling panic receded.

Maybe –

Maybe he was –

Maybe he was somehow in over his head. He had no idea what he was doing.

Toro had given him until Monday, and it was Friday night.

Gerard turned his head slightly and watched over his shoulder as Frank set down the fucking reader on the coffee table and sat back against the corner of the couch. His eyelids lowered, nothing moving.

Gerard turned back to the city in front of him. "Fuck." What the fuck was he doing here?

*

"Are we going outside again?" Frank asked when Gerard herded him towards the door the next morning.

"Yes, yes, we are. You have to learn how life works. I'm taking you shopping."

"Shopping?" Frank stopped, and if he'd been a real person, Gerard would have been able to pry him loose and get him to move, maybe, but as it was, Frank stood immovable, his head tilted towards Gerard in a question.

"Yes," Gerard nodded and tried to nudge him towards the door again. "I'm going to teach you to buy shit."

"Oh, cool!" Frank gave him a sudden grin and immediately bounced up to the door. He pressed the exit button and when the door swished open, turned towards Gerard. "Well, are you coming?"

*

Gerard bought Frank his own reader and then loaded it up with a hundred new novels. "These should keep you entertained for the next three days or so," he said.

Frank nodded vigorously, sarcasm whooshing right over his head as he scrolled through the contents. "This is awesome, thank you, man," he said. "Have you read these?"

Gerard took a quick step back when Frank looked up at him. He'd been standing close while Frank was hunched over the reader, trying to make out what Frank was looking at, but something about the closeness weirded him out and he looked away, shrugging. "Some, but not too many. Haven't really had time."

"Because you were busy making me?" Frank asked, tilting his head in a way Gerard had come to learn meant he was interested.

"Well… Yeah." Gerard couldn't stop himself from looking at Frank askance. It was strange, the connections Frank made. Gerard supposed that it was a natural A to B route, the kind that he himself would have made without any prior knowledge, but it was just. It wasn't a droid connection to make.

"You should tell me about that sometime," Frank said, then gave him a smile and went back to scrolling through the contents of his reader. He, apparently, was not troubled by his own mind at all.

*

"You should let me buy this," Frank told him as they approached the check-out guy. Gerard gave him another look.

"You think you can do it?"

"You bought eight things before now. I've got it," Frank answered and turned a sudden smile to the silent check-out guy, who was giving them the side eye. Gerard supposed it had been a weird conversation to overhear. He probably sounded like an overprotective brother or – or a husband.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes!" Frank chirped. "I would like to buy these groceries, please." He thrust the basket at the guy. "They smell delicious."

"Uh-huh," the guy – named Steve, apparently – didn't even look at Frank as he scanned the bag and came up with the total. "That'll be thirty-four dollars, fifty-five cents. Will it be cash or charge?"

"Charge," Frank replied before Gerard could even decide. Then he grabbed Gerard's bag and came up with his ID card, which the guy proceeded to scan without even pretending to look at Gerard for appearance's sake.

"Your receipt will be emailed to you," he mumbled and turned toward the next person in line.

Gerard let Frank walk out of the store ahead of him, the bag of groceries clutched in his hand, and smoked.

*

The puppy was an ankle-biter, her droopy face lighting up at the sight of Frank dropping down to his knees and reaching out to her right there in the store.

"We're getting her," Frank announced, his voice mumbled by all the fur. Gerard had maybe already figured that out, but he still cracked up at Frank getting hit in the face by her wagging tail.

She yipped when they got her through the door, and Frank scooped her up and carried her the entire way home, smiling like a lunatic.

"Mama," he said, when Gerard asked what he wanted to name her. "It's the world's most common first word."

Gerard almost walked into a pole. Frank just laughed at him and kissed Mama on the nose.

*

Frank hummed. It was strange, whenever Gerard needed to test another function and had to take hold of Frank's wrist or shoulder, he didn't feel a pulse, but a faint, consistent humming.

Gerard had noticed it the first time he'd checked Frank out, and thought of it now only because he wasn't sure if the humming was the same. Something about it seemed a little strained.

He checked Frank's vitals again, for lack of anything better to do, and decided he was imagining things.

"You're good," he told him and smiled, dropping Frank's hand.

"I am." Frank met his gaze silently and his lips tilted up in a tiny smile, dropping back down again after a second. Gerard scratched his neck, feeling sticky despite the room being cool and pretty dark.

"El One, lower temp by two degrees, please," he mumbled and went back to re-typing his notes, while Frank left the room. Gerard heard him settle onto the couch and then nothing at all, which meant Frank already powered down for the night.

*

When the doorbell rang, Gerard almost sloshed his coffee onto his shirt. His already-stained, sleep-sweated shirt, and that was the thought that was running through his mind as he gave Frank and Mama a quick look and walked out into the hallway.

He breathed in deeply in the dark, then shook his head to clear it.

This wasn't the inspection. This was Ray. Ray was a friend, no matter their titles or positions.

Of course, Ray was also the person next to Gerard most invested in this, for reasons Gerard never actually wanted to contemplate.

"Gerard," Ray nodded.

"Ray!" Gerard forced a smile and stepped aside to let him in.

He hadn't had anybody over to his place besides Mikey in the last six months. Besides Frank, really, but Frank had come from this place. He was part of it.

Ray had dressed well. It was clear that one of them was way more prepared for this meeting than the other. Ray smiled at him – he always looked genuine when he did it, which reassured Gerard despite some paranoid rumblings from his brain – and preceded Gerard out into the living room, where he stopped dead at the sight.

Gerard couldn't blame him. No matter how used he'd gotten to Frank's presence in a mere week, Frank was not to be discounted as something to see, especially while he clutched a panting Mama to his chest.

"Wow, you'd think that…that with everything we've already done, a humanoid robot wouldn't be that far-fetched," Ray breathed over the song Frank had going in the background.

"Mm," Gerard replied noncommittally, and turned to Frank. "Hey, Frank, this is Ray."

Frank let Mama down, and ordered El Two to pause the music. Gerard watched his every movement like an outsider, assessing the agility with which he strode over to Ray and avoided Mama running in between his feet, tilting his head to see the natural curve of Frank's smile. Gerard had already memorized all these things about him; he wondered what it must have been like for Ray to see it for the first time.

Then again, Ray wasn't the one who'd created Frank in the first place. Gerard had a sudden flashback to a night, two months ago, when he covered Frank's wires and circuitry with the siliskin. Seemed like forever ago.

Gerard snapped to when Ray reached out and shook Frank's hand, his mouth kind of gaping open.

"Nice to meet you," Frank said, letting go of Ray's hand.

Ray darted a quick look at Gerard before licking his lips and nodding. "You, uh. You too, Frank. I've heard, well. I've heard a lot about you."

Frank grinned. "I bet! Gerard told me you're the one who financed his project. Right?"

Gerard perched his ass on the couch arm and decided to take some kind of evil pleasure in watching Ray squirm in front of his droid.

"That's right," Ray nodded, and Gerard could tell he was fighting not to talk to Frank like he was a child.

"Cool! Why did you do it?" Frank asked, surprising even Gerard, who thought he was more or less used to Frank's mercurial shifts by now.

"Uh." Ray darted another look at Gerard and slipped down until his ass hit the couch. "Well. I believed it was important, I guess."

Gerard didn't know who to pay more attention to. He sat quietly and waited for whatever would come out of Frank's mouth next.

"Important to what?" Frank settled down on the floor and watched Ray expectantly. Gerard tried not to squirm, a tiny bit of dread building in the pit of his stomach.

Ray shot him a look before answering. "Well, it's an incredibly, uh, important step in human sciences, of course. Artificial, uhm. Artificial Intelligence is a field that is, uh. Uhm." Gerard really could sympathize with Ray tugging on his collar like it was cutting off his circulation.

"Are you too hot? El One, please lower the temp by three degrees," Frank said and grinned at Ray. "It listens to me now. Sometimes I just ask it to do shit for me just because I can."

Ray shot another look at Gerard and laughed. "I do, too. My wife gets pissed at me, but it never gets old."

"Right? It wouldn't respond to me at first, but Gerard re-calibrated it. He's a fucking genius."

"He really is," Ray agreed, smiling at Gerard. "You did good, man."

Gerard shrugged like it was no big. He didn't know why he was so wound up, but something about this whole scenario was setting his teeth on edge.

"Seriously, the Trustees are gonna shit themselves," Ray told him, grinning. "This is unprecedented, I mean – he looks and sounds real."

Gerard screwed up his face and looked at Frank. Frank's head was tilted to the side, watching Ray with interest.

"Who are the Trustees?" he asked. "Are they in charge?"

"Uh. Well. Yeah. They were, uhm. Really interested in Gerard's work, so they commissioned – you, I guess. Or, for Gerard to make you," Ray explained. Gerard chewed on his cuticles as he watched Frank take it in.

"So, they're the ones in control, then."

Ray shot Gerard a look, and Gerard looked miserably back. "Ki- kind of. Yes."

"Okay," Frank chirped. "I can make you both coffee. Do you want coffee?"

*

"Wanna watch a movie?" Frank asked as soon as Gerard pushed his bowl away from him.

"Do – do you?" Gerard asked, not knowing why he was surprised, exactly. Frank had already proven himself to be a glutton for all things entertainment. Maybe Gerard was surprised because he had somehow never once watched a movie since Frank had been made.

"Uh, sure."

He watched as Frank popped out of his chair, side-stepping a yipping Mama who promptly jumped up to take his place, and went over to the screen. He scanned the titles for only a few seconds before ordering El Two to start Phoenix Riders and flopping down on the opposite end of the couch. "You'll like this one, it's really good," he told him, eyes already on the screen.

Gerard just stared at him. "You've already seen it?"

Frank nodded, squirming until he settled into a comfortable-looking position in his corner. "Yeah, and it was awesome. You've never watched it, I checked the history. You should really watch it."

Gerard hadn't seen it, it was true. Mikey had given it to him for his last birthday, but Gerard couldn't remember the last time he'd watched anything besides the occasional news on in the background. He could barely remember the last time he'd spent time on anything but building Frank.

He tore his gaze away from Frank just in time to see the credits start up and the sound fill his apartment. He tried his best to un-tense his shoulders and at least appear as comfortable as Frank seemed to be, and forget about anything else.

*

"Oh, shit, I'm sorry…" He wiped drool off his cheek and blinked over in the darkness to where Frank was sitting and staring at him, Mama snoozing under his hands. Gerard made a move to sit up and felt the afghan tumble to the floor. "Wait, uh –"

"You fell asleep an hour ago, so I figured you'd probably want a blanket," Frank said. "You missed the best part, man. Want me to start over?"

Gerard blinked again and groped for the afghan. "Uh, sorry. Guess I was tired? Uhm." Or pathetic. He couldn't believe he'd just fallen asleep like that.

Frank shrugged. "It's cool. I don't mind watching it again. Or watching something else. Wanna watch something else?"

Something wiggled against Gerard's shins and he nearly jumped from surprised. Frank's toes touched him again and Frank continued watching him, his head tilted to the side.

Jesus, he was. He was.

Gerard rubbed his eyes, shook his head, and forced himself up, up, off the couch, right now.

He had to. He.

"N-no, sorry, Frank, I'm just gonna – I'm just gonna crash, ‘kay?" he mumbled, looking anywhere but at Frank. "You should. You can watch whatever you want, though, all right?"

When Gerard finally looked at him, feeling ridiculous and out of place, the afghan still clutched around him, Frank's face was unreadable. "Okay."

Gerard nodded and, gathering the afghan so he wouldn't trip over it, legged it to his room, shutting the door firmly behind him. His bedroom was as dark as the living room, and he didn't bother to turn the light on, or shut the curtains, or do any one of a hundred things he could do to act like a human fucking being, and instead fell into bed in his jeans and t-shirt, the blanket covering his feet.

It was 7:48, and all he knew was that he couldn't be out where Frank was, and his head was swimming from sleeping at a weird time, and all he needed was the dark and the quiet.

*

The sun hit him square in the face, which felt quite a bit like his hangovers used to, only worse.

By the time he staggered out of his room, his mouth tasting like death, the apartment was flooded with light, and empty.

The surge of panic almost knocked the breath out of him. "Frank?"

Not in the kitchen, or in the lab. Just for the hell of it, Gerard checked the bathroom.

It wasn't until he was almost out the door when he noticed the message on the e-board. Out with Mama, Frank

Gerard sagged against the wall and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm until he saw stars.

"Jesus."

What had he even thought?

So many possibilities, of course. Ray, taking Frank away with no warning.

The board, after hearing Ray's testimony.

Frank. After Gerard was an idiot to him.

The list just got worse from there.

It was stupid, of course. Frank was a robot. Humanoid, a genius creation, but still a robot. Absolutely none of those possibilities had to have dire consequences, and one was completely impossible.

Of course, now that Gerard could think straight, he could also remember the panic button, the one that activated the tracking on Frank that, had Gerard not been an utter moron, he would have remembered in the first place.

He was standing barefoot in his hallway, clutching at his hair, and his heart was still hammering. It was eight in the morning. Maybe he was going crazy, and maybe all he needed was a cup of coffee.

He made his legs move and trailed his way into the kitchen, just barely avoiding walking into Mama's feeding bowls. He made himself coffee, smoked half a pack of cigarettes, and watched the sun move leisurely over the city in silence.

*

"Hey," Frank called out. Gerard hadn't adjusted his voice register yet. He'd gotten used to Frank projecting his voice so that it tickled Gerard's ear from any distance, any barrier.

Mama's clacking little paws preceded Frank into the kitchen. Gerard turned away from the window and watched with a certain amount of awe as Frank started putting away the groceries. "Hey, yourself. You went shopping?"

Frank shrugged without turning around. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but Gerard could still make out every movement of his arms lifting, his back shifting as he worked.

"Did you, uhm. Did you have a nice walk?" Gerard attempted, because the silence was weird, somehow. Strained, now there were three of them.

"Mama likes the park," Frank said after sliding the last cupboard shut and getting down on his knees to let Mama off the leash. His fingers worked expertly, but maybe a bit too slowly, like they were stiff from the wind. "Have you been there?"

Gerard nodded distractedly, watching as Frank's fingers continued working in the same movement even after Mama was released from her leash and on her way to the water bowl, fingers moving faster and faster over nothing. Frank didn't seem to notice, but Gerard had. The problem was, he could barely make himself move.

"Fr- Frank –" His throat was tight and raw when he finally managed to make a sound, and then he heard the chair skidding out from under him.

He was on the floor in front of Frank the next moment, hands clamping over Frank's. Frank was slow to meet his gaze. "Frank, what happened," Gerard demanded, unsure whether his hands were shaking on their own or if it was Frank's regular hum.

"I don't know," Frank said slowly. He sounded normal, but now that Gerard was close, he could hear something – else. An irregular kind of hum.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, that didn't sound right.

"All right," Gerard whispered. "All right. It's all right."

He let go of Frank's hands slowly, and just as slowly staggered up. He led Frank to the lab in silence, Mama trailing them until she settled between Frank's legs with a quiet huff.

Gerard didn't think he could stand, so he forced a silent Frank down onto his work bench across from him.

"Okay, I am. I'm gonna have to, uhm." Why hadn't he picked the back of the neck, or… or the arm, or some other accessible place for a primary panel? His hands were clammy, and he wiped them on his jeans. "You'll have to take off your shirt, okay? I need to open, uhm. Open you up."

Frank stripped off the next second. Gerard watched his every movement like a hawk, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. When he pressed his hand against Frank's peck, the siliskin jolted him with its warmth and vibration.

"Uh, do you – I just have to look under here, do you want to be asleep for it?" he asked belatedly.

Frank shook his head.

"You okay?" Gerard had no idea why he was asking, but watching Frank's droopy head, his fingers resting calmly on his thighs, made him wonder.

Frank finally looked up at him and nodded, giving him a wan smile. "I'm fine."

"Okay."

Mama huffed at their feet. Frank stared ahead of him as Gerard clicked the panel open.

*

Frank wouldn't wake up the next morning. Gerard had stumbled out of his bedroom only to find Mama whining from where she'd beached herself over Frank's chest. Frank wasn't moving. Mama's weight should have been enough to set off his internal wake-up call, but his face was impassive, eyes closed, hands resting on the couch like he was -

"Frank." Gerard nailed his shin on the coffee table as he ran towards him. "Frank." Frank stayed still. He didn't wake up until Gerard shook him hard enough to almost overturn the couch, and when he opened his eyes, they looked completely blank.

"Frank, Frankie - can you hear me? Do you understand me?" Gerard heard his own voice rising, sounding weird and hysterical, but he couldn't stop. "Frank, look at me. Look at me."

The next moment felt eternal, until Frank finally gave a slow blink and turned his head. "Gerard? Why are you mad?"

Gerard gasped and sank to the floor, legs giving out. "Are you okay?" he managed. "Move something, move your hand-"

Frank lifted his hand and petted Mama, who'd been licking his arm for the last minute. "I'm fine. Was I not okay?"

*

"You said there was nothing wrong with him, right?" Mikey's voice sounded weirdly far away, and Gerard had to strain to hear him.

"Are you peeing right now?" Gerard screwed up his face. "Could you not while you're talking to me?"

"Can you hear me peeing right now?" Mikey asked, right before Gerard heard the toilet flushing.

"Oh, gross." Gerard felt like yanking the transmitter right out of his ear for a second.

When Mikey's voice came back, he sounded like he was grinning. "Hey, when nature and you call at the same time. Not my fault."

"Ugh, you're a dick."

"Whatever. So, you were saying that there's nothing wrong with Frank, right? So why are you freaking out?"

Now Gerard could hear him just fine, of course. He sighed and waved his hands around.

"Because I think that there is, I just can't figure out what. He's running hot a lot, like the cooling system's not working properly? And he wouldn't, uhm. Boot up this morning. It was freaky."

"Mmm-hmm."

"But, the thing is, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong mechanically. Everything is running perfectly. Everything is calibrated, everything works." He felt his own voice rising again.

"All right. So, what else is wrong with him?" Gerard could hear the fizz of Mikey's soda in the background. He wished he'd gotten himself a coffee before locking himself up in the lab.

"His hands did this weird repetitive motion thing…"

"Again?"

Gerard shook his head, then remembered Mikey couldn't see him. "No, not – not yet. But why wouldn't he boot up this morning?"

"Stop freaking out."

Gerard laughed almost despite himself. "Is that an order, or what?"

"It's for your own good. Frank is fine. All…machines have something weird happen to them every once in a while. He'll be okay."

Gerard so badly wanted it to be true. As he and Frank settled in to watch Dragon Riders later that day, he thought he could almost believe it. When he got up to pee in the middle of the night and watched the moonlight slither slowly over Frank's features as he lay, powered down, on the couch, Mama snoozing at his feet, he thought he did.

It wasn't until he was sitting in Ray's waiting room on Monday morning, his fingers still numbed from the fall chill, that the possibilities started scrolling through his head once again.

The siliskin was being rejected by the mainframe. Was it melting and somehow affecting the connections?

Something about the movement programming, maybe.

Maybe. Maybe he hadn't checked the cooling system properly, after all.

Were the calibrations destined to fail?

"Fuck, Jesus, shut up," he mumbled just as Ray's head poked out of his office.

"Gerard? What is it?"

*

"You think there's something wrong with the mainframe?" Ray looked genuinely concerned, offering Gerard water and sliding a cigarette towards him.

Gerard took the cigarette, leaving the water for now, and shrugged. "I don't know. But I need time to figure it out, okay?" He lit up the smoke.

Ray paused and looked at him. "How much time?"

Gerard bounced his leg up and down, chewing on his lip. Who knew? "I – I'm not sure. Have you, uh… Have you contacted the board yet? Have you told them?"

Ray's mouth pinched in a thin line. "I had to, Gerard. They would have heard sooner or later, anyway. This way, there's no – this way, it's better. I sent them some of your preliminary data, too."

"Right." Gerard felt his insides writhing with some kind of unnamed panic, something he couldn't place. "Okay, well. Tell them that as Frank is a, a prototype, any early successes may not be indicative of, you know. Permanent success." His stomach flipped over. "Of anything."

Ray nodded. "I'll pass it along. Just – Gerard, you have to know. These men are not scientists. They may not –"

"Get it, I know, I know. Just. Hold them off, Ray, okay?" He felt like pleading, but instead he just held Ray's gaze until Ray nodded, sighing.

"I will, Gee. Go, and figure it out, all right?"

Gerard nodded and staggered out of the chair.

*

"Frank?" He unwound his scarf and dropped it on the hanger before stomping off his boots and walking into the living room. Frank had been greeting him every time he'd come home, but all he heard now was the gentle clicking of Mama's fingernails on the kitchen floor.

It was starting to get a bit dark, the dark of fall afternoons, the setting sun streaming through the windows, covering everything in a cold orange glow.

"Frank?"

Gerard looked at the couch, over at his chair, nothing. He made his way to the kitchen.

Frank was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, petting Mama as she crunched food from her bowl. Gerard forced himself to un-tense and dropped down to his knees beside him. "Hey, Frank."

Frank looked up at him with a start, almost like he was surprised. "Oh! Hi, Gerard. I didn't hear you come in."

Gerard wondered how that was possible, but didn't ask. "What have you two been up to today?"

Frank smiled down as Mama wagged her tail. "We went to the park and Mama played with another dog. I think they liked each other. She still smells like the other dog's butt."

Gerard cracked up. "You can smell that? That's – kind of gross, dude."

Frank shrugged, fingers running over Mama's tail. "It isn't. It's just. There. You know? I find it interesting." He paused and met Gerard's gaze. His hair looked almost red in the light, his forehead and cheekbones glowing. "I like it."

Gerard bit his lip and nodded. "I'm – I'm glad." He reached out and took Frank's hand. "How are you – feeling?" He had no better way of asking, really, even as he knew the question was probably stupid.

Frank looked down at his and Gerard's hands and reached out to touch them both with his free hand, fingers playing over fingers, eyebrows drawn. Gerard's breath hitched despite himself. "This feels nice," Frank told him. "I'm okay. Do I not look okay? Do you think I'm okay?"

Gerard felt slow and lethargic, he didn't know whether his hand was clammy and warm on its own or if Frank was running extra hot, after all. He leaned in and, forgetting to ask for permission, laid his other hand over Frank's left panel. The buzzing was insistent, and, what was worse, irregular. Gerard closed his eyes and tried to will himself to understand through touch alone.

Insistent whirring thrummed under his hand. Frank's t-shirt felt like it had come out of the dryer, as if it could give off its own warm sparks. Frank was entirely still, not even a twitch, which made sense, Gerard supposed. It was so strange, touching a person who didn't breathe.

When Gerard finally lowered his hand and opened his eyes, he felt like they'd been closed for hours. "I want to do more tests. Will you let me?"

*

Frank wanted to be awake for this round, too.

This time, Gerard worked on his back. Carefully laying aside the second panel, he scanned the circuits. Nothing was out of place. It made no sense.

He went back and tested the siliskin connections. He re-calculated all of his programming. He smoked about a thousand cigarettes. Every now and then, Frank piped up.

"Is it the modules interacting with the wires badly?"

"When is Christmas, again?"

"Should we add more food for Mama? And can we buy her a puppy pillow? I saw one with stars on it, I think she'd like it."

Gerard answered without thinking, eyes burning a bit from all the smoke and the bright lab lights.

After a while, Frank commanded El Two to play his new playlist, and Gerard hummed along to the songs he knew.

He found nothing wrong. Frank shrugged and put his shirt back on.

"I'm going to take Mama out for her walk. Do you want to come?"

*

"So, I want tattoos," Frank announced after they'd settled in on a bench and let Mama run around the pond.

"You – what?"

"Tattoos. I've been seeing a lot of them, in movies and in pictures and I want them," Frank explained like it was normal.

Gerard watched Mama's tail wagging as she sniffed whatever it was she found under a nearby rock. "You want – okay? I."

"It doesn't have to be now, but soon, okay?" Frank interrupted. "Do you think you can do that?"

Gerard felt Frank's gaze on him but didn't turn. Let's just figure out what's wrong, first he wanted to say, but stopped himself. "I'll try."

"Cool." Gerard saw Frank turn to watch Mama's progress with the rock out of the corner of his eye.

Gerard smoked half a cigarette before finally asking. "What would you get?"

Frank didn't answer for a while. Gerard almost gave up, thinking that maybe Frank hadn't thought it through that far, and then Frank spoke. "I'll start with a heart. Like. An anatomical heart, a heart that looks like a heart. And I want stars. And birds – I really like birds, I like the way they fly. And – there's more, but that's to start with."

Gerard watched Frank and the way his hair whipped back and forth with the wind and had no idea what to say, or think, or do.

*

Mikey stared at Gerard across the table, their sushi untouched between them.

"Is it that you're worried you've failed?" Mikey asked and sucked his water loudly through a straw.

"No. Yes. I don't know." Gerard looked at Mikey pleadingly. Sometimes, it really felt like he was the younger brother. All the time he'd spent at school, all the months lost to the various labs and research project; all the times he never left the house while building Frank. All that time, Mikey had been living his life, working his job, loving his wife. "It – it doesn't feel like it's because I've failed," he confessed.

"So, it's…"

"I don't know," Gerard whispered and took a sip of his lemonade. Mikey just looked at him. Gerard shrugged and pretended not to notice the look as he reached for a tuna roll.

Mikey slurped his water.

*

On the way home, he got a text from Ray.

board wants to convene within the week. heads up. r.

When he walked through the door, Mama scurried up to him and clamped onto his boot. He didn't bother taking off his jacket before he ran.

*

"Frank, Frank, no, no, no, wake the fuck up. Frank. Wake up."

Frank jolted up so suddenly, Gerard fell back onto his ass. For a crazy moment, he wondered if his kitchen floor was fucking cursed. "I'm awake."

"Frank, what happened?" Gerard demanded, not even bothering to move them out to the lab, but stripping Frank of his shirt right then and there. "How long were you out?"

"Gerard?" Frank blinked and looked down at himself. "Oh. Am I broken again?"

Gerard thought he was going to cry, so he laughed instead. "No, you're still – you're fine. You're fine, I just…I need to know how long you were out for."

"I – I don't remember," Frank whispered and looked up at Gerard in what looked to be genuine panic. "Gerard, I don't remember. I'm never supposed to forget anything. I have an internal clock that works better than the national digital, I. I'm supposed to know how much time passes even when I'm off. I know that you take seven and a half minutes to shower. Mama pees for thirty seconds at a time. It takes three seconds to brew you a cup of coffee. Mikey always calls at-"

"Frank. Frank, stop, wait, stop." Gerard grabbed his shoulders and shook him. He was burning up. Gerard forced himself to keep holding on. "Frank, I need to know. Has anything else been happening to you while I've been away? Have you had other episodes? Has – has anybody been by?" It hadn't occurred to him until he asked, but suddenly, it felt like a real possibility. He thought wildly of all the bridges he'd burned at school.

"I've been reading," Frank told him. "And watching movies. And going out for walks with Mama."

Gerard's mind whirred on the edge of hysteria. This was absurd. He knew Frank inside and out. Literally, he knew how every single part connected to all the others. He knew this. He did. But right at the moment, he felt like he knew nothing at all.

"And that's it?"

Frank nodded, then slowly reached out until Gerard's hands were no longer on his shoulders but between Frank's fingers. "I don't think – I don't think it's mechanical, Gerard."

"You – you don't?" Gerard blinked and looked down at their hands, absurdly noticing the way Frank's legs looked folded up on the floor. He licked his lips. "Why, uhm. Why don't you think so?"

"Because I've been running self-diagnostics, too."

Gerard's eyes felt like they were going to pop out of his head. "You have?"

Frank nodded and lowered his head. "Your hands feel warm."

Gerard was flying without a net. He badly wanted a drink. "They do?" he croaked. What the hell did that have to do with anything?

Frank nodded. "And soft. And my diagnostics have revealed no mechanical flaws at all. So I've. I've run other diagnostics."

Gerard was completely at sea. "Like… Like what?"

"There are many diagnostics you can run, did you know that? Of all kinds." Frank looked up at him and got closer. "And just now, I - I think I've figured it out," he said, and kissed Gerard.

Gerard had seen him get closer, then end the distance between them, but the second in which everything happened wasn't enough to process it.

When Frank moved away, their hands still pressed together, Gerard couldn't move. He wanted to say Frank's name, or ask what he'd just done, but he couldn't. His throat was shut and dry, his mouth glued together. Frank's touch still lingered on his lips.

And then his hands went cold as Frank dropped them, just as suddenly as he'd kissed Gerard - kissed Gerard - and he was scrambling up, feet almost tripping over Mama who whimpered and scurried over to a corner.

Gerard only found his voice when the door whooshed closed behind Frank.

*

"Frank, wait. Frank. Frank!" Gerard's street was a wind tunnel on a good day, but tonight it was knocking him back off his feet. He saw Frank moving ahead of him, an unstoppable force whereas Gerard felt like a pull-toy being dragged by a really fucking annoying child. He staggered slower and slower behind Frank, but wouldn't stop, he had to get to him. He cursed when he saw Frank disappear around the corner.

By the time he turned the same corner, the wind had at least died down enough that he could open his eyes and not feel like his skin was being scalped off his face. Through some burst of strength, he managed to catch up with Frank's stride just as Frank was about to cross the street to the park.

"Frank, wait!" He yanked on Frank's arm, but it would have been a mere gesture had Frank not actually listened and stopped. "Frank…" Frank finally turned to face him, completely unreadable.

Gerard had no idea what to say. He needed to get out of the wind, and out of the goddamn street.

He needed Frank to listen, he needed him to stay.

"Are you cold?" Frank asked, like he hadn't sent Gerard out on a wild chase through the city a minute ago. "Do you want coffee?"

Gerard really thought for a moment that he might cry. Instead, he laughed and on an impulse, pulled Frank in until he was surrounding his thrumming, humming body, and Frank's arms slowly came around his waist. "Jesus, what the fuck," he whispered into Frank's neck. He barely breathed when he felt Frank shiver.

"I love you," Frank whispered back. "I'm sorry, Gerard. I couldn't stop myself."

*

"How?" That was the first question that popped into his head, and he burst out with it before he could change it to anything else. He'd led them back home, Frank's hand clutched in his own, and sat them both down on the floor in the middle of his living room where the sun was pooling its last hurrah before setting. Mama circled them both warily before settling down against Frank's thigh.

Gerard felt like he was swimming through molasses, slow and completely out of his depth.

"You're – Frank, you don't have an emotion chip. I never – I had never meant for you – I don't understand," he confessed. He ran his hand through his hair over and over again, like it would give him clarity, or at least some purchase. "This wasn't – this wasn't why –"

"I know," Frank said simply and ran his fingers over Mama's scruff. "I didn't understand it at first, either. I thought I was – broken. I didn't – I was slow, and my thoughts – my thoughts kept getting stuck."

Gerard nodded slowly, with no idea where this was going, and not entirely unconvinced it wasn't all an elaborate joke. "But, you're. You're not –"

Frank looked at him and tilted his head, like he had on that first day when Gerard had completed him. "I've been reading a lot," he said, which was such a non sequitur, Gerard wondered if he wasn't broken, either, because nothing was making sense. "Here, let me – let me show you."

Frank leaned and slowly, so, so slowly, touched Gerard's cheek with his thumb, sliding it down in an agonizing line until he was stroking it over Gerard's neck, down until it caught on Gerard's collar bone. Gerard barely breathed. As if from far away, he heard Mama scampering into the kitchen.

"Love isn't a feeling, everybody is wrong about that," Frank whispered. "Love is sensation combined with knowledge." His finger slid down until it found Gerard's pec and then his hand splayed over it, hot and heavy. Gerard could feel his heart beating wildly, all the blood flow leaving his extremities and gathering in the one place that Frank was touching. "You don't need an emotion chip to love, you just need sensation," Frank said. "And you gave me that."

Gerard swallowed and placed one shaking hand over Frank's. "So you – you can feel?"

Frank nodded. "I can."

Gerard shut his eyes. "That's." Impossible, he wanted to say, but. "I didn't. I didn't know."

When he opened his eyes again, Frank was watching him. He was so beautiful. He was so beautiful, and for the first time in weeks, Gerard allowed himself to really feel it; to experience it. If he wanted to, Gerard could retrace every step he had taken to make Frank what he was now, but no programming or careful sculpting of his musculature or facial structure could have ever predicted this. This - being, in front of him.

Frank felt. Frank loved him.

Frank watched him now, silent, expectant.

Gerard reached out and grabbed Frank's t-shirt, tugging. Their second kiss was less of a surprise. Frank met him halfway, hand curling around Gerard's neck, pulling him in. His body hummed against Gerard's, his lips a shocking wave of warmth against Gerard's. When Gerard opened his mouth, Frank's followed, and after that, Gerard stopped thinking. Frank was hot and pliable, a force Gerard couldn't imagine wanting to stop. He kissed like he had done it before, and Gerard was pathetically grateful for it.

The taste. Gerard hadn't kissed anyone in over a year, but even he could tell the difference. Frank tasted like siliskin, just a little bit like plastic, a little bit synthetic, and underneath it all, coppery, tangy, thrumming. Gerard moaned and deepened the kiss, felt Frank respond, get even closer.

This was. It felt so fucking good, Gerard couldn't have stopped if he had wanted to. And he really, really, really didn't want to now, despite knowing better. Frank was pulling him down, hands clutching Gerard's hair, hot tongue and mouth working, letting Gerard in, taking fucking everything. Gerard felt Frank's mouth get even hotter, his skin growing warmer by the second under his touch.

"Wait, wait –" he gasped as he came up for air. Frank's eyes were half-closed and he wasn't drawing breath so much as – "You're – you're overheating again, you're – " He put his hand on Frank's chest. "You're – you aren't breaking down?"

Frank slowly smiled and shook his head. "I was. Before. This isn't the same. See?"

And Gerard felt it, the difference. This thrumming wasn't irregular, and the heat wasn't scorching. "Jesus, you're…fuck," he breathed and Frank giggled and pulled him down again until Gerard's dick was grinding against his hip, and - fuck. "Frank."

"I can get it up," Frank mumbled in his ear, and the hysteria that had been building up in the pit of Gerard's belly gave a kick and sluiced through his whole body until it erupted between his lips, laughter and maybe even some tears because laughter alone couldn't contain all the weirdness of it all.

"Oh my God," Gerard wheezed above him, and wiped at his eyes. "Jesus Christ."

"What? Is that – is that bad?" Frank's eyes were huge and questioning and Gerard forced himself to settle and calm the fuck down, because.

"No. Oh God, no," he said, voice still wobbly. He ran his fingers lightly over Frank's face, his skin tingling. "It's – remarkable, maybe. And. Super weird, to be honest," he added in a whisper. He'd only now noticed that darkness already descended onto the room. The street lights never reached his penthouse.

Frank's face relaxed into a slow, dim grin. "You made me that way."

"I did," Gerard agreed."But I. I just – I was going by anatomy, not out of some weird -"

"You didn't make yourself a boy-toy?" Frank asked and giggled.

"Fuck, you heard that?" Gerard groaned and buried his face in Frank's shoulder. "Fucking Mikey."

"I like him," Frank said.

"Good."

"I'm still hard. Are you still hard?" Frank asked in the exact same tone that he'd been talking about Gerard's brother just a second ago and Gerard lifted himself up and forced his body to roll off of Frank's for a minute. His back hit the cold floor with a thump.

"Okay, okay," he told the ceiling. "I have no idea what I'm doing right now, okay? So, like. We need to. I just."

He heard Frank rolling over onto his side and then his shadowy face loomed into view, hair sticking up. Gerard could just barely make out his wide open eyes. "I just want you to touch me," Frank whispered, hand a shocking warmth on Gerard's chest. "And I want to touch you. So much."

Gerard closed his eyes and took a deep breath, along with an inventory of his body and mind. He'd fallen for Frank long before Frank had spoken a single word, and now that realization flooded him whole. Jesus, he was – he was Pygmalion, falling for his own making, and of all the things he'd ever thought himself to be, this wasn't – wasn't it.

Frank watched him, carefully, and waited. He always waited, like he knew Gerard just needed time to get there.

"This doesn't seem right," Gerard confessed, squeezing Frank's hand. "I – I'm your maker. Why do you want this?"

Still on his back, he felt Frank's body crowding closer, knees touching his thighs, belly pushing up against his hip. Gerard's side felt warmer just from the touch. "Because I love you. Because everything about this is telling me I want it."

A horrible thought crossed Gerard's mind and he turned to look Frank in the eye. "Did I – program you that way? I've given you all of my knowledge, some of my memories… Is that why? Frank, is it?"

Frank shook his head. "By that logic, you should have fallen in love with yourself," he said, in all seriousness, and Gerard just gasped out a laugh, unable to produce more.

"You're not programmed to fall in love with your maker?" he asked again, this time lifting one hand and running it through Frank's hair. He was so proud of that when he'd put it all together. Silky smooth, and gorgeous. He tugged once and Frank shut his eyes and moaned. "Jesus." Gerard's throat went dry, his skin zinging. "That… That does it for you?" How, how, how?

"That feels so good," Frank replied quietly and lowered his face until their noses nearly touched. "I fell in love with you because you're you, and I am me. All you did was instill knowledge in me, but the core has always been something else. You don't control the way my mind works, Gerard. I do that for myself."

Gerard only had to reach a short distance to kiss Frank again. His head thumped against the floor when Frank answered the kiss, deepening it, taking everything Gerard had to offer. His teeth grazed Gerard's lip and Gerard couldn't stop the gasp from escaping.

"Fuck," he breathed. "Where the fuck did you learn to do that?" he asked grabbing hold of Frank's waist and hauling him up until Frank was covering Gerard with his body, a solid weight that crushed Gerard's lungs in a way he didn't want to stop.

Frank ducked his head and licked up the side of his neck, forcing a shiver down Gerard's side. His tongue felt like velvet. "I told you, I've been watching movies," Frank whispered and bit down on the same spot he'd licked a second ago.

Gerard saw stars and tried to laugh, but he couldn't get enough air. "Porn?" He grunted and shifted until Frank was no longer crushing his lungs quite so much, because. "You've been watching porn?"

"It was educational. You told me to educate myself," Frank explained, his expression completely earnest in the dark.

"Fuck, I love you," Gerard breathed and rolled them over until he was the one crushing Frank, because fuck it, Frank could take it. Frank, who felt so human, so real, despite being a collection of wires and circuits. Gerard ground his hard-on into Frank's hip and felt Frank's dick pressing at him right back.

Jesus. Frank's dick.

"Bed," Gerard whispered hoarsely while Frank laughed underneath him and pawed at his ass. "I'm fucking taking you to bed."

*

They barely got the door shut against Mama when Frank had Gerard's jeans unbuttoned and his shirt on the ground. "Damn."

"Android speed," Frank grinned and got to work on his own clothes. Those were off in ten seconds, and there he stood, naked but for the slatted moonlight coming through Gerard's blinds. The shadows hid his nipples, but revealed his belly button, the one Mikey had mocked Gerard for. His dick stood out in shadows, but it was there, just like – just like Gerard had made it.

That was too weird a thought for Gerard to contemplate, so he ran his gaze up over Frank's torso, past his Adam's apple, and his tiny grin, until he was looking him in the eye. "C'mere," he whispered, and let Frank walk him backwards until Gerard's ass hit the covers on the bed.

"What can I do?" Frank asked, seemingly unaware of the way Gerard's hands were roving all over his back and ass and legs. Gerard just couldn't stop touching him, Frank's skin so smooth and warm under his palms. His fingers itched to scratch and to mark and his mind called back to Frank asking him about tattoos. He – he really wanted to give them to Frank, put them on himself, make Frank his even more than he already was.

"What – what do you want to do?" Gerard managed to breathe out and then almost yelped when Frank's hand landed on his dick through his briefs. "Oh – oh, I see… Ngh."

"Hang on," Frank whispered and suddenly, Gerard was being lifted and tugged until his whole body was on the bed, and Frank was sliding his jeans off of him, and then Gerard's briefs joined them in the black hole of his floor.

Gerard blinked. "Android speed, huh?"

"And strength." In the light, Frank's grin was almost wolfish. Jesus Christ. "I wanna touch you. And I want you to touch me. I want you to suck me off. Do you want the complete list or is that a good start?"

When did he get so mouthy, Gerard wondered in the space of two seconds before Frank's hand was back on his dick, in earnest this time, starting to jerk him off. "Oh fuck, oh God, oh Jesus," he mumbled and looped an arm around Frank's neck, bringing him closer in. "Fuck, Frank – that feels –"

"How?" Frank never stopped moving his hand, and it was so strange that the same man who had just lifted Gerard off the bed like it was nothing was the same one who was being so gentle with him now. Gerard writhed beneath him, one hand clutching the bed covers. He could feel sweat pooling at his spine, itching his skin. "How does that feel, Gerard?" Frank asked, watching his face with wide eyes. "Tell me, please please tell me, how does it feel?"

Gerard gulped and threw back his head. "Like I'm gonna die," he managed. "In a really, really, really fucking good way." Jesus, he hadn't felt anything but his own hand on his dick in far, far too long.

"Gerard, I want to feel that," Frank whispered. "Please make me feel that."

Gerard didn't need asking twice. Using Frank's own body as leverage, he flipped them over and then his hand and mouth were on Frank's dick and fuck, that was weird. Frank jerked beneath him and Gerard's scalp stung where Frank's hand gripped his hair. Gerard moaned and shut his eyes.

He hadn't sucked dick in longer than he cared to think, and he fucking loved sucking dick. Sucking Frank's dick was. Something else. Frank didn't need air, so he didn't gasp, didn't writhe the way Gerard had, but his hand twitched around Gerard's hair, and tiny staccato ‘ahs' escaped his throat. When Gerard took him in deeper, Frank began to swear.

"You're – you're actually doing it, you're sucking my dick, oh, fuck. Gerard. That feels – that feels –"

Gerard managed a tiny little moan of encouragement around his own spit and smarting lips. He wanted to know so badly what it felt like for Frank. His dick tasted almost the same as his mouth and tongue had, like Gerard was sucking off a dildo. But fuck, it was so much better than sucking off a dildo. Frank's dick was warm, and when Gerard sucked hard, he felt it twitching in response, Jesus, that was -

"Oh God, that's – I can't – Gerard, this feels so good, I don't know – what do I do, G- Gerard, don't stop, don't stop - I wish –"

Gerard kept at it, his own mind whirring, until it snagged. He'd made the skin on Frank's dick thinner, it was true, and added sensation. He wanted everything to be anatomical. But Frank couldn't come. There was no fucking mechanism for it. Fuck.

Gerard pulled off but didn't stop jerking Frank off. Hauling himself up awkwardly until they were face to face, he whispered, "I'm sorry I can't make you come, Frankie." He kissed Frank on the lips, their mouths buzzing with Frank's energy, working overtime.

"It's – it's okay, this – this feels amazing," Frank moaned and buried his face in Gerard's neck. "What's coming like?"

Gerard licked his lips and almost laughed. "Mmm, God. Indescribable." Maybe. Maybe he could do that for Frank. Somehow, someday, maybe he could.

"I wanna see," Frank whispered. "Tell me how to make you come."

Gerard shifted until their gazes met. "Do you –" He couldn't believe he was offering, but he also couldn't pretend he didn't want it so much, it gnawed at him. "Do you wanna fuck me?" he asked, ducking his head at the last minute to lick up Frank's neck.

Frank sat up immediately, their knees knocking together. "Like – like, fuck you, fuck you? You want me to -"

Gerard grabbed Frank's ass and pulled him in. "I want you to put your dick in my ass," he whispered and kissed Frank's neck, then his collar bone. He was keyed up, hanging by a thread now. His whole body was made of anticipation. "Yes. I want you to fuck me, fuck me."

When he looked back at Frank's face, he nearly laughed. "You're so amazing," Frank breathed and rolled Gerard onto his back. "We need –"

"In the bedside table," Gerard waved. He watched a police siren-colored shadow move over the ceiling and disappear. Jesus, like with everything else, it had been a while. Gerard tried to relax but knowing he was about to get fucked, and fucked by someone whose dick never had to go down if he didn't want it to, was not really conducive to relaxation.

Frank's fingers on his belly, though, made him tense up in a whole other way. "You have to tell me what to do," Frank told him, eyebrows creased. "I don't want to mess it up."

Gerard licked his lips again and attempted to smile. "You won't, I'll tell you."

There was nothing sexy about lube, really, but lube on Frank apparently really worked for Gerard. He couldn't stop staring at the way Frank's hands worked over his dick, the way his hair hung over his forehead as he watched his own movements.

"How – how does that feel?" Gerard croaked. He couldn't believe how much Frank fondling his own dick was turning him on.

"Feels – feels good, like. Almost like when you were doing it to me," Frank answered, then kneed his way up. "Now what?"

"My turn," Gerard whispered and squirted more lube onto Frank's fingers. "Slow, okay?"

If Frank could sweat, Gerard was pretty sure he would have dripped all over Gerard's belly with how slow and methodical he was going.

"G-Gerard, are you sure it'll, you know… Fit?" Frank asked him after a minute of slowly sliding his finger into Gerard. Gerard couldn't help choking out a laugh, and gave a stuttering nod, trying to relax against the pressure. Fuck, he'd missed this.

"It will," he said. "Just – keep doing that. You can add another finger." If it had been anyone else, he probably would have felt idiotic, but Frank was – he wasn't anyone else. Gerard tried to breathe, to zone out. He couldn't get enough of Frank working him open, going so slow and careful. It wasn't until it started feeling like desperately not enough that he finally said, "Okay. Okay, you can –"

Frank's fingers slipped out immediately. "Uhm, okay. Okay."

Gerard rolled onto his side, then his belly. "This might be easier," he said and dropped his head down. "Just –"

He felt Frank's hands wrapping around his hips. "You're… Okay."

Gerard was about to say something else to make sure Frank knew yes, please, fuck me, but then Frank was pushing in and Gerard cried out, his whole body going limp. Fuck. Fuck, yes.

"Gerard?"

"Nrggh – go, please, start – just –" You've seen it, he wanted to say, but Frank really had, and so he went. He fucked Gerard slow and steady, his hands gripping Gerard's hips so hard, they would probably bruise. Gerard moaned, feeling like he would split apart, it felt so fucking good.

He wished he could see Frank, see his face, but he couldn't keep his eyes open, anyway. He bit down on his own knuckles and tried to breathe. He was dizzy, swimming in pure sensation, the hot feeling of Frank fucking him through the fucking bed washing over his every pore. His dick weighed him down, throbbing, insistent, and he wanted to hold off, just a little bit, just to feel this for a little longer, but his hand disobeyed him. He was already jerking himself off, fast and hard, while Frank swore and cursed above him, telling him how beautiful his back was, how tight his ass was, how much he loved it when Gerard moaned.

When Frank said, "I've wanted to fuck you, Gerard, so, so much," Gerard cried out and came, spasming under Frank, blowing his load right onto the covers and his hand and his belly.

"Oh my God – you came, right? That was you – should I – should I stop –"

"No, fuck no," Gerard managed, and steadied himself with both hands. "Please, please keep fucking me," he begged. Fuck me unconscious, he thought crazily.

Frank went faster, maybe he didn't even realize it, and Gerard gave up on trying to control anything at all. His voice echoed all across the room, a steady stream of curses and shouts. His body was tipping over from sated to sensitized, to over-sensitized, until he was a collection of pure sensation. He thought his skin would melt right off his bones, and saw white. He thought he heard himself sobbing.

After a moment where he barely breathed at all, Frank ran his hands slowly over Gerard's back, stilled, and just as slowly, so agonizingly slowly, pulled out and lowered Gerard onto his side.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Gerard managed and didn't even care that his hand had landed in his own jizz. "I'm sorry, I've just gotta –" He passed out the next second.

*

He woke up under the covers. It was still dark out, and for a second, he could barely remember what day it was. Then he shifted and felt his entire body wake up to pain. The good kind, the kind he'd really missed feeling. He hummed and turned his head.

Frank was lying next to him, asleep. Powered down. Whatever. Gerard shifted, aware of every single muscle that felt like he hadn't used it for months until that night, and carefully put one hand on Frank's chest.

He was in sleep mode, not fully shut down. Gerard could feel the slightest humming just under the surface, but Frank's skin was cool.

Frank's skin. When had he forgotten to think of it as siliskin? Gerard propped himself on one arm and slowly slipped the blanket down Frank's body, revealing it bit by bit.

Smooth, generous skin – perfect. No hair, no sweat, no marks. Gerard wished he'd been able to leave marks on Frank when they fucked. He slid his hand down until his palm covered the space below Frank's belly button. Without thinking, he followed the movement until he was kissing the same spot his hand had just touched.

His mind was slow, languid. He wanted not to think. He slowly kissed his way up Frank's belly and chest, wondering idly when Frank's internal alarm would wake him up.

It happened just as Gerard's lips had reached Frank's. Smoothly, Frank gripped Gerard's hair and kissed him back, mouth opening up to his instantly, tongues touching, everything in Gerard waking up all over again. Frank flipped them over and held himself up over Gerard.

"You're hard," he whispered.

"So are you," Gerard noted, and Frank ground down against him. Gerard hummed, and ground up in response. Frank watched his face as he did it again, and then again.

"Is this – can I?" he breathed.

Gerard threw back his head, gripped his pillow overhead, and spread his legs.

*

"Your face is different when you come," Frank whispered afterwards, his head heavy on Gerard's chest, Gerard's fingers tunneling through his hair.

"It's stupid," Gerard said. "Everyone's face is stupid when they come."

"No, it's not. I liked it."

Gerard laughed. "Thanks, I guess."

Frank scraped a fingernail down Gerard's chest, a jagged Z that turned into an S and then curved into a J. "I love this. I love being like this."

Gerard shut his eyes and breathed deeply in. "I love it, too."

Frank leaned in and kissed him in the dark.

*

"Uh. Hang on." Mikey leaned backwards and called out, "Hey, Alicia? Gerard and I are gonna, um, take a walk. I'll be back, uh. Maybe soon."

"All right!"

"You first," Mikey said, indicating the door. Gerard hung his head and pressed the ‘exit' button.

They didn't talk the entire elevator ride, and it wasn't until Mikey had bought them each a hot coffee and forced Gerard onto a bench that he finally said, "What did you do."

"I – don't know," Gerard prevaricated, fiddling with his cup.

"Yes you do."

"Okay," Gerard agreed miserably. "I know what I did. I just don't know what I'm doing."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mikey sit down next to him, sidling up close against the wind. They bumped shoulders and something in Gerard's gut loosened a bit. This was Mikey. "I… I think I'm in love with Frank," he managed.

Mikey was quiet for a moment, sipping his coffee. "Did you –"

Gerard nodded, silent and intent only on his coffee. Mikey shifted a little beside him, then took another sip.

"So," Mikey finally said. "How did it happen?"

Gerard bit his lip before saying, "Do you want to know the logistics or how we got from point A to point B?"

Mikey swatted at him with his free hand. "Fuck you, I so don't need the logistics. I wanna know how you wound up fucking your android in the first place."

It was the first time either one of them actually acknowledged it out loud, and Gerard groaned and buried his face in his knees. He felt the warm trickle of coffee sloshing down his leg and dropped the cup altogether. He felt like he was a teenager again, confessing his first time in the dark. "I didn't start it," he mumbled to his knees.

"What, he was…curious?" Mikey's finger poked Gerard's ribs. "Gee, get the fuck out of there, come on, man. Talk to me."

Gerard groaned again, just for the hell of it, then sat back up and gave a dry chuckle. "Fuck, this is fucked up."

"I know." When Gerard looked over at Mikey, he didn't look mocking. He looked – worried. Gerard gave a rueful smile and shrugged. "Apparently, I managed to make a droid who can feel without an emotion chip."

Mikey's eyebrows shot up. "What?"

Gerard sighed and turned away. "You know how I thought he was, you know –" Gerard waved his hands to illustrate.

"Breaking down?"

Gerard nodded. "Well, apparently, it wasn't – mechanical." He really wished he hadn't dropped that coffee, because he desperately needed something else to focus on. He went for his smokes, lighting a cigarette with stiff fingers.

Mikey was quiet when he finally said a tight voice, "Are you telling me Frank was dying of a broken heart?" He paused. "Over you?"

Gerard nodded and scratched his head. "I – yeah, I guess."

"Gee." Gerard turned his head and saw that Mikey's lips were twitching. The asshole was laughing at him. "Gee, please tell me you are fucking with me," he wheezed, suddenly doubling over and shaking so hard, his glasses slipped down his nose.

"Fuck you," Gerard protested, slapping him on the shoulder. "You're such an asshole, I'm spilling my guts to you, and you're fucking – stop laughing, Mikes, seriously, I'm not kidding, he's in love with me, too, okay?"

Gerard saw a passing girl shoot a quick grin in his direction before disappearing around the corner. He shook his head and slapped Mikey again, trying to lower his voice. "C'mon, Mikey, please."

"Okay, okay," Mikey breathed, finally coming up for air. "Hang on, give me a minute." He chuckled again and wiped his eyes before turning his attention back on Gerard. "All right, I'm sorry. It's just. Gee, that is fucked up. You know that, right?"

"No shit," Gerard answered, trying not get too pissed, because, well. It was.

"So, what happened?" Mikey asked. "Tell me everything."

Gerard gave him the side-eye. "Thought you didn't wanna hear everything."

Mikey shook his head. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of really do, because this is-"

"Fucked up," Gerard finished for him.

"Sorry, Gee," Mikey shrugged, then reached out a hand and gently shook Gerard's knee. "Just. Start from the beginning."

*

They wandered through Mikey's neighborhood until it started to get dark and Gerard suddenly realized that he'd left Frank all alone for half the day. Frank hadn't called, so – so maybe it was fine, but as soon as Gerard had the thought, the only thing he wanted to do was run all the way back home and pin Frank to the wall, pull him to his bed, cover them both with blankets.

Mikey just gave him a wry look and shrugged. "Do what you gotta do. But we're not done talking here."

Gerard winced and looked away, stamping his feet against the cold. "Don't tell Alicia, okay?"

"She's gonna find out one way or another," Mikey told him.

Gerard nodded. "I know, but I just… Just, let me tell her."

"All right."

They hugged, Mikey warm and bony against him.

"Love you," Gerard threw over this shoulder before legging it for the subway.

*

He barely had time to walk through the door before he was grabbed by the collar and pinned up against the coat rack.

"Why were you gone so long, I thought you'd left me," Frank whispered before sealing his mouth over Gerard's. Gerard moaned and melted into it, hands encircling Frank's waist and pulling him in. Frank was so unyielding at times, his body having little give, but Gerard couldn't imagine him otherwise. He craved Frank's solidity, his own mind scattering into fragments as they kissed.

"I just needed to – talk to – ngh, Mikey," he managed to ground between kisses, Frank's hands roaming all over his body, concentrating largely below his belt. "I'm – I meant to call –"

"It's okay, you're back," Frank replied and sank to his knees.

"Frank –"

"I wanna try it, shhh," Frank said, looking up at him with huge eyes. The only light streaming in was a muted lamp in the living room, the beam landing on Frank's stomach and shoes. Gerard bit his lip and grabbed Frank's hair. Jesus Christ.

Frank clearly had a plan. His quick fingers had Gerard's pants opened and down the next moment, quickly doing the same to his briefs. Gerard was already hard, of course, and might have been embarrassed about it, except for how Frank went for his dick immediately.

Jesus.

"Tell me if I do it wrong," Frank whispered and slipped his mouth back around the head of Gerard's dick.

"Oh my God, this isn't – this is -" Gerard breathed and shut his eyes. "Fuck, don't stop."Frank didn't get lockjaw, and he had no gag reflex. What he did have was a gorgeous mouth and a velvety tongue, and Gerard held off as long as he did only so he could keep being on the very edge, with Frank on his knees in front of him, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks, mouth slick, and hands never tiring.

Gerard pulled him off right before he came, and Frank grinned at him just as Gerard's come slid down his face and mouth and neck.

*

Frank didn't need to eat, but Gerard was starving. He rummaged around his units, feeling Frank watching him the entire time. He was feeling the post-coital looseness in his body, like if he stopped thinking about what he was going, his legs would go right out from under him.

"I have soup in the fridge," Frank said off-handedly.

Gerard turned around. "You do?"

Frank nodded and smiled, looking very pleased with himself. "The kind you like, broccoli and cheddar."

As if on cue, Gerard's stomach growled. Frank grinned harder and slid his chair over and slid open the fridge door. "It's right in there. I can heat it up for you if you want."

Gerard slowly pushed off the counter and walked across the kitchen until he was crowding Frank up in his chair. "If I could get it up for you right now, I would," he said.

Frank grabbed his hips and laughed, burying his face in Gerard's belly.

*

Gerard didn't think about anything outside of this tiny world of him, Frank, and Mama for the next two days. Whenever he was alone for even the smallest amount of time, he would force himself not to think. For those two days, nothing existed but Frank, his body riding Gerard's like a wave, his quiet laughter echoing in Gerard's ear, his lips, his tongue, his hands.

There were movies and cold morning walks with Mama; there were dinners where Frank asked Gerard what apples tasted like, why he loved bread so much.

There were whispered conversations in the dark, the kind that Gerard hadn't had since he was twenty and desperately in love for the first time.

There was quiet; there was peace.

And there was always the feeling that, any time now, in the quietest moment, somebody would throw a pebble at their window and shatter whatever illusions Gerard had managed to rig up for himself.

But the feeling was thin, fleeting, and mostly, easily ignored.

Frank took up too much time. Gerard was not about to waste any of it.

*

It happened on a Thursday, just after Frank had come back in with Mama and found Gerard reading, spread out on the floor. Frank had just settled himself on top of Gerard, his nose digging into Gerard's neck, hands idly playing with Gerard's ass.

"Call from: Ray Toro."

Gerard groaned and settled deeper into the floor. "Fuck. El Three, take a message?"

"I'm sorry, Gerard, he says it's urgent."

"Ugh, all right." He breathed in deeply and gently shoved Frank off of him, making an apologetic face. "Pick up, El Three."

Ray's voice sounded over the speaker. "Gerard, we have to meet. When is the soonest you can get here?"

"What? Why?" Gerard sat up, gently pushing Frank off of him, keyed up in an instant.

"There's been a meeting. It's about – your project."

Gerard knew he'd gone white before his skin broke out in a cold shiver of sweat. No. "Ray –"

"We have to talk, Gerard."

Gerard was on his feet the next moment. "I can't – I'm." He paused. Breathe. Think. "When?"

Ray's breath ghosted over the speaker. Frank was motionless on the floor, watching Gerard with a furrowed brow. "As soon as you can. I'll see you shortly."

"Call ended," El Three announced.

Yeah. Gerard closed his eyes. Damn.

"Was that about the board?"

Frank's voice startled Gerard out of his stupor. Heart beating, he walked the extra step to the couch and dropped down, burying his face in his hands. "Mm-hmm."

"Gerard?" Frank's weight settled against him, solid, unmovable. But his touch was always soft. "What are you afraid of?"

Gerard laughed and raised his gaze to Frank's, letting his hands droop between his legs. "I worked on you for years," he said.

"A year," Frank countered.

"No." Gerard shook his head. "I built you in a year. But I worked on you for years." He turned until their faces were almost touching, Frank's eyes so close they swam in Gerard's vision. Gerard ran a shaky hand through Frank's hair. "You're. There's nothing, no one, like you. I can't – I won't –"

Let them take you, he thought. They can't have you.

"You don't – you don't know that they want to," Frank said.

Gerard rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm. "I know. I know, I'm just. I – I don't know." He managed a smile, but it was stupid. He knew. He knew because Ray had never called anything ‘urgent' before in the entire time he'd known him.

Because sometimes, Ray knew Gerard better than he knew himself.

*

Gerard sat across from Ray. For some reason, the lights were off, the only light coming through the window fading quickly. Ray was watching Gerard back like he was waiting for Gerard to ask first.

"They want Frank," Gerard said, his voice catching despite his best efforts.

Ray nodded. "They want to test him themselves. They asked for your research notes as well, anything you've got. They want to start making replicas as soon as possible. They want you to oversee the project on a larger scale."

Gerard's stomach tightened, he looked away. "No."

"Gerard –"

"No. They – Ray." He turned back to Ray and took a deep breath. "Frank has failed."

Ray didn't flinch, only his mouth tightened. "Failed?" he asked in a neutral voice, like Gerard was giving him a mundane weather report.

Gerard nodded, not breaking eye contact. "The Android 2300-D prototype was - a failure. I'm sorry to tell you that, after – everything you've done for the project."

Ray nodded and leaned heavily on his desk. "In what way did it fail, Gerard?"

"He – it – turned out to be flawed."

"Flawed," Ray repeated.

"Yes."

Ray was quiet for a long time; so long, Gerard had time to scratch his scalp raw. Everything itched. He only breathed because he couldn't afford not to.

"I'm – sorry to hear that," Ray finally said quietly. "Can you tell me in what way?"

Gerard looked at him. He had to trust someone. Of all the people involved, Ray was the only one he could trust.

And in a day, none of it would matter, anyway.

He weighed each word. "Artificial intelligence is…more complex than I had anticipated."

"I see."

Suddenly, Ray rolled open a drawer and took out a tablet, typing something in before sliding it towards Gerard.

"Can you please tell me what you believe went wrong with the project?"

did you become attached, Gerard read.

Gerard licked his lips and looked away. He knew Ray would have seen his nod because he was looking for it. Gerard had barely felt it.

"I believe that the mainframe wasn't strong enough to support the kind of output required for such a sophisticated model."

"I see," Ray said and typed in another sentence.

it's still a robot. They may not harm it

Gerard grabbed the tablet from him.

"Yeah, so. I might have been - over-reaching in my goals. I am sorry to have wasted so much time and money," he said as he typed.

he's got emotions. He. Can feel. Emotion. He has life.

"I understand. Of course, you will have to present a full report for the board. I cannot do it for you."

he's still artificial. Why must it matter. He's not flesh and blood

"Dammit, Ray!" Gerard was out of his chair the next moment. He wanted to punch a wall, but resisted, knowing that it would only hurt him, in the end. He shook his head furiously and dropped back down into the chair, typing hard enough to make Ray wince, saying words that he barely followed.

"You know I'm no good at presentations, can't I just give you my notes, and someone else can do it? I hate looking like an idiot."

he has emotions. It doesn't matter that he wasn't born from us, he can feel, he can feel pain. I won't let them take him away and experiment on him

"They will want your research," Ray whispered, his eyes huge. "Gerard, think about what you're saying."

"I –"

I am. They can't replicate these droids. Ray you have to see that. It would be inhuman to build them only so they can die

"They wouldn't-"

Gerard just looked at him.

you and I both know who's on the other end of his project

Ray breathed in and out. "Okay."

He took the tablet and methodically erased their entire conversation before sliding out its memory chip and breaking it into two clean pieces. Gerard breathed out and sagged back into the chair. He closed his eyes.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Mr. Way," Ray said loudly. "I'm going to need a full report on this entire experiment by next Monday, then. I will let the board know and send your regrets. Please include all of your research and data, we will want to review it in full."

Gerard smiled despite himself and lay a hand on the smooth surface of Ray's desk. "Thank you," he whispered.

Ray smiled tightly and nodded. "Good luck, Gerard."

*

"Alicia can get you untraceable tickets," Mikey said, throwing Gerard's favorite t-shirt into Gerard's bag. "You won't even have to get ID'd."

"Mikey. Mikey, I'm sorry –"

"She'll be here in an hour." Mikey side-stepped Mama, and rescued Gerard's old reader from under the table. "Frank will be easy to pass off as her friend Richard, I think."

"Mikey –"

"Gee, I know." Mikey finally stopped twitching and allowed Gerard to look him in the eye. "I know. They're gonna be after you."

Gerard thought for a moment that he would burst into tears. "I'll – I'll be in touch. I just. I can't stay here. Not after what I'm about to do."

"For the greater good?" Mikey smirked, then shook his head. "I know, Gee. You gotta do what you gotta do."

Gerard watched his brother's face, his pinched eyes behind the glasses he insisted on wearing, his slightly sunken cheeks, the familiar tilt of his mouth. "I'm gonna miss you so fucking much," he breathed and grabbed Mikey around the neck. Mikey's arms came around him a second later, hands clutching his shirt.

"Don't get caught," he whispered and pulled away.

Gerard barely noticed Frank's face peering from around the doorway. "Frank –"

Frank came in with a shuffle, like he was making himself walk. "Hey," he nodded at Mikey. "If you need – help. With, like. Packing." He paused and bit his lip. "I'm sorry."

Gerard watched as Mikey cracked a tiny smile. "Don't be."

Gerard scratched his head and turned around, rummaging for more socks and other useless shit he apparently couldn't live without.

Frank helped him pack.

*

"I can't believe you're fucking your robot," Alicia said as she handed over the untraceables. "That's fucked up."

Gerard rolled his eyes. "I know, thanks. Now I'm also fucking myself, apparently."

"You got that right." She grinned and grabbed him in a tight hug. "At least he's a hottie," she noted, apparently watching Frank packing over Gerard's shoulder. Gerard snorted and squeezed her harder.

"He really is," he agreed.

*

He made everybody leave before he did it. Mikey and Alicia were taking Mama with them until Gerard could provide them with a safe spot to send her. Frank had drooped at the suggestion, and Gerard almost relented, but their trip was going to be shitty enough without having to worry about taking care of her. He hated the very thought of leaving her. He kind of hated himself.

He took inventory of the place. There was his chair, and his view. His couch, his rug. The door to the bedroom stood ajar and he could just make out his dresser, and the corner of the bed.

The kitchen was spotless, so Frank had clearly been at it.

His lab was quiet. The pile of twisted, broken shards that remained of the years' worth of research and notes lay on the floor. He dropped down and picked up a tiny little thumb drive. Pressing down, he twisted and warped the metal seal until the plastic cracked between it.

That was the advantage of being a motherfucking genius. Not everybody knew how to set fire to a place and be able to control it.

Gerard did. No one would even be able to tell that 134B went up in flames until they came for him, and by then, he and Frank will have been thousands of miles away.

Gerard kicked over the coat stand, just to make it harder for them to enter, and pressed ‘exit'. The explosion saw him out.

***

"Is it always so warm here?" Frank asked, kicking the covers off completely.

"I'm pretty sure, yeah," Gerard smiled and turned over. "Come here," he whispered, slipping his arm beneath Frank to bring him closer.

"Ugh, it's hot, though," Frank complained, but went willingly enough. He threw his leg over Gerard's, tangling them together into a naked mass of limbs.

They lay quietly, listening to the strange noises of the night. Cicadas and crickets, Gerard thought. He hadn't heard those in years, not since he was a kid. It was strangely soothing, as if anything that separated them from their past protected them from it, as well. If he strained hard enough, he could hear the ocean.

Frank was drawing patterns on Gerard with his finger, nail catching on his nipple, making him shiver.

"Will you give me tattoos soon?" Frank whispered.

"I will," Gerard answered. He'd been thinking about it constantly, the best ink to use, what wouldn't hurt Frank in the long term. What will look best.

"Good." Gerard thought he detected a smile in Frank's voice.

"Your heart is beating," Frank said after a minute. "That must feel weird. Is it distracting?"

Gerard laughed quietly. "Only when you point it out."

"Sorry." He didn't sound sorry. "Gerard, why do I look like this?"

Gerard stiffened a little. "You already asked –"

"No, no, I know. But – why him? Just because he was the first student at your center?"

Gerard reached over with his free hand until he could grab the simmering smoke off the ashtray on the nightstand. He thought about his answer for a while as he smoked. Frank waited silently. "He didn't look like anybody I'd ever known. I wanted to – I was making something different. I wanted him – you – to be different."

Frank shifted until he was propped up over Gerard, intently watching his face. "I look just like everybody else."

Gerard let the cigarette drop back down into the ashtray and put his hand under Frank's chin. "You look human. But you're different to me. I know you."

"I know you, too," Frank whispered and leaned in until their mouths touched.

*

"What do you dream about?" Frank asked him, hours later. "You always look so serious when you sleep."

Gerard rubbed his eyes and frowned. "I think I was dreaming that I was flying, but really, really low. Like I was going to scrape the ground with my toes any second."

"That sounds cool," Frank said, one hand sliding under his cheek like he was a kid.

"Do…do you dream?" Gerard asked, realizing it had never occurred to him that Frank might.

Frank shook his head.

"Do you want to?"

 

***