Ana Stelline has her hand against glass. On the other side: Rick Deckard, who has just told her a story. His fingers are pressed to the glass opposite her hand, so her smaller, paler fingers are framed by his – sun dark and time-worn with many lines creased into the topography of his palm. As close as she can ever come to touching her family since her adoptive parents went off world and left her in her perfectly constructed cage – a sea of money to support her tiny world and tools to build new worlds within it.
“This is… the most hateful I have ever been,” she says softly, “of this single pane of glass.”
Deckard laughs. “I feel the same.”
Ana smiles, but it’s unsteady. Like she’s forgotten how to do it. She is butterflies and nerves. She is lit up and lost.
She looks at his other hand. In it: the tiny wooden horse, rough-hewn and smoothed by time. Ana is nevertheless gratified to find she remembered it well. She longs, in that moment, to hold it in her hand and see if it feels the way she remembers. Something warm and cut from a once-living thing. Wood has such a cost, she thinks. There are tears trembling on the of her eyelashes.
“How did you find it?” she says, the fingers of her other hand touching the glass.
“I didn’t,” Deckard admits. “A friend. He brought me here and gave it to me. No idea how he managed either, quite frankly.”
Ana looks up sharply. “What friend?”
“Joe. He’s waiting outside.”
“Joe?” she says softly. “Oh…”
“Hmm,” says Deckard. “That was a look. Why do you ask?”
“It’s… ah, nothing. A thought.”
“I doubt that. Best just say it; nothing worse than not saying a thing and it costing you later."
Ana traces little circles with her fingertips against the glass, staring at the toy. So long lost. So impossibly lost. A core and vital memory, so profound it ate through her in childhood and into adult years. So heavy, she’d carved it out of her (a living thing from a living thing) and put that burning memory into other living things to carry and…
“There was a replicant,” she says. “An LAPD officer. He came here… troubled and his kind are never troubled, well, not troubled like that.” She feels those tears come finally, breaking over her eyelashes and running down her face. She wipes them. “He had a memory that was killing him, you see. He wanted me to look at it and… tell him if it was real, because I’m the one who made his memories after all. My name is on his manufacturing card. I…”
She wipes away the tears, which are not stopping.
“I’d hoped he’d come back.”
Deckard cuts her off. “Joe is a replicant.”
Her head jerks up. “What?”
“Joe is his nickname, uh, I think. He’s weird about names. His serial number is Kay Dee Six Dot Three Dash Seven. He found me. He’s the reason I’m here.”
Ana’s heart clenches in her chest. Her hand closes against her collarbone.
“Can… can I speak with him? I need to –” Apologize? For what? For giving him the tools to survive? For weaving a loose thread into the fabric of his thoughts? For gripping it in her fingers and pulling on it until he unraveled in her foyer? “I need to talk to him. I did a terrible thing to him.”
Her father of five minutes, studies her. “You gave him a real memory, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” Deckard nods, almost tiredly.
He’s got the soul of an old policeman. Not that Ana would know it from experience, but seeing him… she knows this is what it looks like and she could construct a million million memories from that single tired way his shoulders tighten and slump. From the knit in his brow and the way his face draws together. He nods again.
“I’ve seen what real memories do to a replicant,” he says. “That makes sense now, looking back on it. Explains the horse at least. Heh. No wonder he was such a head case.” He gives her a look. “And, by the way, I wouldn’t say you did him a cruelty just yet. Your mother did well enough with her stolen childhood.”
Ana covers her mouth with one hand.
“I’ll get him for you. We have time now.”
“Yes,” she says, marveling, “I guess we do.”
Deckard leaves the carved horse on the small desk-shelf beneath the scanner hub and, with a nod, he turns and exits through the main door. When he’s gone, she kneels on her side of the glass and looks at it, fingers pressed to the pane. It’s just a little dirty. Faded. There is still ash in the crevices. She thinks of the memory as Officer KD6 experienced it – filtered to her observation panel in vivid blurs of fire and metal, a labyrinth of footsteps and the soft teeth-gritted gasps between the impact of fists. The emotion, she knows, she burned it in like synaptic fire into fabric of her design: Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you, I will not give in.
“A will to live,” she whispers, smiling.
Which is when, exactly, she hears a slam against the door.
She jerks, startled, to her feet. The door handle jiggles wildly, unlocks, and then rips open, rebounding against the wall as Deckard falls through the door with a body (a thing, an object) in his arms. Blood splatters the floor, diluted by snow.
“No,” she says.
“He’s bleeding out!”
Deckard’s breathing hard, has his arms hooked under a younger man’s armpits, hauling his dead weight through the open door. Officer KD6-3.7 (her officer, the one from her foyer) is unconscious, his head falling back so far over Deckard’s arm that Ana can see how bloodless the arc of his throat, how lifeless the slack of his hands, that someone beat a gash into his hairline, and split his lip and brow wide open. Someone did terrible violence to him. From here, she cannot tell if he’s breathing and if she is looking at a beautifully manufactured corpse.
“Bastard! He fuckin’ lied and I –!” Deckard shakes it off. “Ana, he said this was a closed facility. You have on-site medical? A first aid kit, anything?”
“Side door,” Ana shouts, slapping the glass and pointing to a hatch. “There’s an auto doc.” She races to the wall, touching the control pad and an entire previously white-opaqued pane of glass de-saturates to transparency. This way, she can see the interior medical ward adjacent to the foyer. “I’ll break the seal and prep it.” The door unlocks from Deckard’s side. “Hurry. There is a secondary seal. You won’t contaminate my room.”
Deckard gets through the door. The medical suite is sterile and white as the rest of her facility. A plain white table under smooth plaster-white scanning nodes. Deckard struggles momentarily lifting the replicant’s dense, combat-reinforced body to the medical platform so Ana disengages the lock on the table and the platform immediately drops three feet. Deckard rolls Joe (or K? Did he call himself K?) onto the table, pushing him onto his back.
He looks dead under the fluorescents – gray and still, blood and bruising beaten into his brow. The blood starts to pool immediately on the table. It’s like paint, dripping on canvas from his fingers. Boot prints of it on the disinfected floors. This close, Ana can see that Officer K’s eyes are half-closed. That his eyes are gray and unfocused – frozen staring at what? What was he looking at out there while they spoke?
“Bio-foam,” Ana snaps, pointing to a cabinet on the wall. With her other hand, she warms up the auto-doc, the scanning node blinking awake. “The orange pens. Place the tip in the wound and hit the plunger. Hold him down if he moves.”
Deckard rips the wall cabinet open, grabs one of the pens and goes back the table. He finds the soaking split in Joe’s side and pulls his sopping shirt up. There’s a wound, deep, gaping, pulsing slow with blood. Deckard shoves the head of the pen between his broken ribs and hits the plunger, sending a burning, expanding seal of medical coagulant and stabilizer into Joe’s damaged chest cavity. The experience, she knows, is excruciating and she’s not sure if it’s horrifying or a relief when Joe jerks, his face spasming with pain.
“There you go,” Deckard hisses. “C’mon, Joe. Come back.”
Joe gasps, baring his teeth and crying out. His head slams back against the table, his hands shuddering, rigored in agony as the bio-foam pushes deeper into him. He tries to scream, but nothing comes. Deckard grabs his wrists to stop him clawing at his ribs and Joe, delirious says, “And a blood-black… a blood… black nothingness began to spin….” He gasps, ragged. “A system of cells interlinked within… within…:” He shudders. “I can… I can do it…”
Deckard, through his teeth, says, “I’m not retiring you, kid.”
“Hold him,” Ana says, cycling through the auto doc commands. The scanners run as white bands of holo-light along Joe’s body, penetrating clothes and skin, rendering his insides in sonogram. Her screen lights up with warnings. She maintains her calm. “He needs a transfusion. The foam should seal the… yes, an artery cut. He’s military grade so it started to close off immediately but… but whoever did this knew how to cut him.” She feels tears on her cheeks, but keeps speaking. “The foam should seal it, but he’s lost too much blood.”
“I don’t know the blood type.” Deckard sounds afraid. “For his model.”
“AB,” she says softly. She keys it in. “All military-grade replicants are universal receivers.”
Joe is moaning. Deckard takes his right arm and pulls it free of his overcoat, shoving his sleeve to his shoulder and pinning his arm flat to the table. The auto doc threads an IV line into the replicant’s arm and Deckard holds him still while the machine arm pulls the lead up toward the ceiling, clipping into one of the bags stored in the locker above. Seconds later, red runs down the IV line.
Joe’s not moving anymore.
“Hey,” Deckard says, still gripping Joe’s arm in a vice-hold. “C’mon. You’re fine you dramatic son-of-bitch.” He lets go of Joe’s arm. “Wake up, Joe.” He moves to cup his head, his thumbs framing the line of his jaw. “Breathe, you little bastard. Breathe.”
“He’s breathing,” Ana says, pressing her hands to the glass. “He’s not… he’s just unconscious.”
Deckard stands there, bloody, breathing hard. “You sure?”
“Auto doc has his vitals. You should take that jacket off. It’s soaking. And… there are towels in that closet. To wipe the… the blood.” She sinks to her knees by the viewing panel, pressing her sleeve to her mouth, shaking. “He’s going to need a surgery eventually. Once he’s stable.” She wipes her face. “I can pay for that. I can…” She covers her face with her hands. “I should pay for that.”
And then she is weeping.
Deckard kneels by the glass, pressing his hand to the window until she is done.
Then they wait.
Joe doesn’t wake up.
But he does stabilize.
They sedate him and let the auto-doc perform a minor surgery, opening an incision between his unbroken ribs and precisely gluing the damaged artery, knitting up the malfunctioning bio-machinery while Joe sleeps on. The auto-doc scans and re-scans, the senor nodes swiveling with a reassuringly regularity and pinging back, yes, again, that he is alive and his vitals improving. The auto doc applies calcium strips to his broken ribs, stitches up his side, gives him a dozen pain and vitamins injections. It meticulously disinfects and rinses the blood and sea-water from his skin and hair.
When it’s done, Deckard, by habit Ana thinks, presses a thumb against Joe’s pulse.
“This is just my work room, you know,” says Ana. “There is a bunker below. I… don’t use it often but it’s a home. Not an office.”
Deckard looks at her. “You think we should move him?”
“Yes. The patch job on a replicant… you won’t reopen his wounds if you move him.”
“Yeah, but why’s it important?”
She hesitates. “This medical suite is… it’s very much like the ones in the LAPD, I think.”
Deckard frowns, not following.
“When a blade runner goes off baseline, they take him to the on-site medical ward and give him a lethal injection. This will look like a killing floor to him.”
She thinks she sees rage flicker somewhere in Deckard’s haggard face, but then it’s gone. Subsumed by a sea of resignation and he looks over his shoulder at the new generation of blade runner lying quiet and still beneath the medical ward lights. In any other context, she’d say he looks peaceful. But in this context, all Ana can hear is the dull fear in the officer’s voice as he tried – bleeding out and burning from the inside – to recite his baseline.
“Let’s move him then,” says Deckard. “No point making a rough life any rougher.”
Ana feels tears sting her eyes again.
The guest suite is an exact mirror of her own suite. Directly beneath her work room the living quarters is split down the center by privacy glass that reacts on both sides to the command of the occupant to desaturate from a plain gray wall to a pane of clear dura-plex. Each suite is a single rambling studio proceeding from living room, to dining room, to kitchen. The floors are false wood, polished and dark in the dining room and kitchen but the living room is carpet, plush and still soft.
The walls are painted blue in the living room and red in the kitchen. The kitchen is dark granite, tiled walls painted in little vines and flowering plants. The facilities new and industrial and gleaming. Synthetic plants, anti-septic and fake, grow from mounted clay pots along the walls and hanging from the ceiling. There is art – holographic and real canvas both. A single hall at the back of the dining room peels off into the laundry, bathrooms, and a gym. Small… but a mansion against the standard cost of living. There are fake windows panes. Holographic rain falling in a holographic forest.
“It’s a doll house,” she says, when Deckard seems stunned by the extravagance. She sits down in the floor of living room on her side of the glass, legs crossed, directly in front of the separating pane. “My adopted parents made it for me.”
Deckard doesn’t comment.
They put Joe in the living room, on one of the couches. Deckard finds a blanket and tucks it around his body with a kind of… paternal annoyance; arranges his knees and makes sure the blanket covers his bare shoulders and chest. (They had to cut off his blood-soaked shirt for the surgery.) Deckard does not notice that the blanket is just a little too short for Joe. His bare feet are still visible just under the edge of the blanket. (They had to remove his frozen boots off to stave off hypothermia.)
“You got showers here?” Deckard asks.
“In the back. Hot water too.”
Deckard whistles. “Boy howdy.”
“Small pleasures,” she says.
“Keep an eye on sleeping beauty, here?”
“I’ll be right back,” he says, like he’s not sure if he should say that. Like she might think he’s going to vanish again.
She smiles, pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “I know. I’ll see you then.”
“See you then.”
The wooden horse is on the coffee table.
Joe continues to sleep, curled on his side where Deckard dumped him, annoyed, on the sofa. His right hand hangs off the edge of the cushion. There is something… extremely vulnerable and absurd about Joe’s bare toes sticking out from under the blanket. A furious part of Ana seethes because she cannot do something as simple as get up, cross the room, and pull the blanket down a little. Instead, she drops her chin on her knees and watches him breathe.
“I’m sorry I didn’t help you,” she says.
Joe says nothing, obviously.
“I’m sorry I gave you my memory and… I’m sorry it caused you so much trouble.”
“I always wanted a sibling,” she says very quietly. Then feels a reel of nausea and wishes she hadn’t said that, even to an unconscious listener. “I’m sorry. That was… wrong. You can be whatever you want now.” She wipes her face. Her hands feel shaky so she clasps them in front of her mouth and closes her eyes like she can pray to someone for a synthetic soul. “Please wake up.”
He does not wake up.
“Constant KD6,” she murmurs.
“What’s that?” says Deckard.
“The tagline they used to market his model to the LAPD,” she says. “The third generation KD6 line was a custom order, you know. A commission by the mayor after the Black Out.” She closes her eyes. “They realized regular military models made bad blade runners. They needed to invest in a new design.”
Ana is sitting with her back to the glass and Deckard is sitting with his back to the glass. Back to back but separate. Deckard has coffee. He’s had a shower and laundered his clothes. It’s been forty-eight hours and KD6-3.7 has not woken up. Ana, meanwhile, cannot sleep without seeing her own memory playing back to her on a screen. This is one of many conversations. Joe is asleep on the couch nearby and every so often Deckard will get up and sit with his hand on Joe’s shoulder and say to him, “Wake up, you stubborn fuck.
Which does not work.
Deckard looks over his shoulder. “You worked on Joe’s line?”
“It was… ten years ago that Wallace brought me the assignment. One of my first.” She smiles, but it’s not a smile. “They needed to be emotional and intelligent to hunt the Nexus Eights… but that very quality made them unstable. Prone to trauma. None of them could pass baseline after more than three kills.” She shakes her head. “A bad investment,” she whispers. “They needed something to stabilize their product, but something simple. To keep the price point down, you see.”
Deckard doesn’t say anything to that.
“I couldn’t get it right,” she whispers. “For six months I worked on nothing else, but they just… like candles you snuff with your thumb…” She stops. Restarts. “They just couldn’t stay on their baseline. So… I cheated. I took this piece of myself and I put it in them. Just to see what would happen.” Her laugh is a sob. “And they opened their eyes and I knew, immediately, they would never do that again. They would never flinch off their baseline no matter who or what or how they were hurt. No matter the assault on their psyche, they would always… still in the aftermath.”
She wipes her eyes. “And I was right.”
The silence presses on.
“Did you know they baseline them every forty-eight hours?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Madness,” she says. “Kill. Then baseline. Kill. Then baseline. When a human officer kills another human, they take a mandatory two weeks off. They see trauma specialists for thirty days. But if you’re a blade runner… they kill you for flinching.” She makes a gun with her fingers and puts it to her head, her eyes closed, and imagines she’s Joe. “Two for flinching,” she whispers.
“What makes that memory so strong?” Deckard asks.
“The emotion.” Ana drops her hand. “And the trauma. It creates a pre-adapted susceptibility so the rest of their conditioning takes root more naturally. You see, it damages them a little, in the right way, so they internalize a resilience. The perfect psychological profile for their function.” She opens her hands the closes them, gently, like she’s holding onto something. “The KD6 line fixates on small things and says, ‘There, that is a good reason to live’.”
She drops her head back against the glass. “I just meant to be kind,” she whispers.
“You are,” says Deckard.
“I put Band-Aids on war wounds. I am not kind.”
There’s another quiet.
“I see the resemblance now,” says Deckard. “You’re both a bit gentle for this world,”
“You an’ Joe.”
Ana turns, stricken.
But Deckard’s still got his back to the glass. “Guess it runs in the family.”
Ana wakes up.
It’s 6:15AM. She is not sure what woke her. She lifts her head from her pillow and looks over her shoulder toward the divider wall. It’s translucent still so she can see into the living room of the guest suite. She can hear water running in the bathroom. Her father – Deckard, Rick, a stranger who might have her eyes – is taking one of his early morning showers. The heat eases the ache in his joints which have returned with the cold. Ana rubs her eyes and brings the lights up with a murmur.
“I’m up,” someone says.
Joe is moving on the couch.
He pushes himself up on one elbow, shielding his eyes with his hand.
“Joi, m’up,” he mumbles, still mostly asleep.
“Joe?” Ana says, rising from her bed.
Her voice seems to bring him out of it.
His eyes open – “Look up and to the left.” – rove, then fix on her. Confusion, then recognition, and then… something. Horror, part of her breathes, he’s horrified. Joe swallows and clenches his eyes shut, then opens his eyes again and there is purpose now in how he looks around the room and gets his bearings. She can see him note the exits and the sound of water running from the other room. He doesn’t try to sit up further. He just… lies there, absorbing his surrounding until the facts of it sink into his skin. He looks at her.
“Hello,” Ana says, her insides shivering. “How do you feel?”
He stares, uncomprehending.
“You worried me when I last saw you,” she says gently as she can. “Are you okay?” The question seems to confuse him so she says, “This is not a baseline test. Deckard brought you in. You’re in my home.”
Joe says nothing. Then, in a blank kind of voice, “Why?”
Her eyes sting instantly. “Because… you were hurt.”
This seems to neither please nor displease him.
K sits up. The blanket slides off his shoulders and in the dim light Ana can see the hollow valleys between the band of each rib and the seam in his side. His entire flank is still dark with bruising. If it pains him, K gives no sign. He just sits for a minute with his eyes shut and Ana, cautiously, dims the lights just a little. He blinks in to the new darkness. Then…
“Can I have a shirt?”
“Uh,” Ana says. “Yes, um, there is a sweater on the… the arm of the couch just there.” She points. “It’s a little big.”
K nods and with a wince leans over to grab it. Ana watch him laboriously pull it on, tugging it over his head with a kind of stunned lethargy. He gets it on then sits there again, swimming in the sweater, like a kid in adult clothing. Then he sits forward and – oh – picks up the wooden horse from the coffee table. His expression is a wasteland, revealing nothing. He rolls it in his palm for a moment… then he puts it back exactly where it was.
Ana moves toward the dividing wall. “Joe?”
“It’s K,” he says, like he’s correcting her pronunciation. A beat. “Sorry.”
“K,” she says softly. “Of course.”
He just sits for a minute with his hands over his eyes, briefly smoothing his fingers over his nose and mouth.
Then, “Whose shirt is this?”
K lifts his head from his hands, where he’d been pressing his face into the fabric, and stares at his palms. “Oh.”
“Are you okay?”
He puts his hands on his knees and sits up a little straighter. “I don’t know.”
She hesitates, then says, “Do you know who I am?”
His brow knits and he gives her a look just north of neutral.
“Sorry. Just checking.”
“Are you… hungry?”
K blinks then stares at her.
“There’s a kitchen over… over here. You can have anything if you…” Oh god, what the hell is she saying? “…if you want.”
K keeps staring. It is, honestly, unnerving.
“I’m sorry. I can’t… come over there and help. I’m afraid I’m going to be a terrible hostess.”
K’s non-expression softens a little. “That’s fine,” he says.
He stands up. Briefly, he presses his hand to his side. Then he walks toward the kitchen. Ana, on her side of the divide, mirrors him. His jeans are still dirty. Incongruous against the clean carpeting and the polished floors. He’s moving more confidently now, like he’s not injured at all. He runs his palm over the top of the kitchen island, swings around the counter and pulls the fridge open. In the relief of the interior light, his expression is blank. Dissociative and empty. Ana watches him contemplate the options, then grab a vitamin can.
“You can have anything,” she repeats.
“This is fine,” he says, snapping the top. He drinks the whole tasteless contents in one long mechanical pull, then closes the fridge door. “The garbage is…?” He looks around until she points, puzzled, at the sink. “Thank you.” He tosses the can under the sink and closes the door. He puts his hands on the lip of the sink and for a moment just leans there staring out the holo-graphic window into a false forest. The sound of rain against the window murmurs. “I can be gone tomorrow,” he says.
“I can be gone tomorrow,” he says again. “Thank you for—” He pauses– “fixing me,” he decides.
“Can you look at me?”
He turns immediately to face her, but the lights are still dim and she cannot make out his face. The holo-light from the window runs murky blue across his shoulders and the nape of his neck and she can see he’s standing with his hands at the small of his back – military ease. Her eyes sting, but she keeps her voice steady.
“Could you come closer, please?”
He hesitates. Then he moves toward her with a sudden purpose and for a moment, she thinks he’s going to come through that glass like it’s cellophane. But he stops inches in front of the barrier, near as he can get. His hands rest flat against his thighs. His looking down and away.
“You don’t have to do what I say,” she reminds him, softly.
“It’s fine,” he says.
K closes his eyes. Ana’s eyes are adjusting, and she can see his features now, so she moves forward too. Her kitchen is full of green things. Synthetic as the blade runner in front of her and, in some case, more expensive to produce. She has known, for years, that life is cheap in the economy of the human race and spent like currency to the advancement of their worlds. But here, in her kitchen, Ana presses her palms to the glass.
“K, I owe you an apology,” she says.
He opens his eyes.
“My memory. I’m afraid it turned on you.” Her hands curl against the glass. “Forgive me.”
Joe doesn’t say anything for a moment. He glances at her hand. Then, like he’s not sure, he moves a hand toward the glass and with one finger taps it. Like he did the first time they met. Then he presses his palm to the barrier, pushing like he just might come through, like it’s something he could try.
While he’s distracted Ana puts her hand to the glass, palm to palm with him.
He notices her hand aligned with his and stares. “You don’t have to say that,” he whispers.
“Yes, I do. Because you’re not fine, K. You laid down and tried to die at my front door.”
K lowers his eyes.
“Are you alright?” she whispers.
“You’re not fine.” She touches the glass near his cheek and she hates that she knows, somewhere down the manufacturing line, someone recommissioned his facial structures. The original KD6 line was Japanese and she can see a little of it in his mouth, strangely enough. In his fingers and in his voice – the features in the core product. “I know you can lie now, but I wish you wouldn’t. I wish you would let us help you. I want to help you. Please.”
He leans his forehead against the glass.
“K?” she says.
“There were seven of us.”
Her heart clenches. “I know.”
“They killed two of us,” K goes on, “for non-performance. Two of us died on the job. There’s one more still bagged and the blade runner before me… someone took him from his apartment.” K’s eyes, still shut, clench tight. “They made me watch the snuff-site footage – what they did to him – over and over and then they made me do a baseline.” He shudders. “I passed. I always passed.”
“It’s okay. It’s okay that you passed. You’re alive because you passed.”
“Tell me what to do.”
“I won’t do that.”
“Please.” The word trembles on his tongue. “I don’t know what to do now.” His hands close against the glass and is expression fractures along a fault line. “I don’t know what I am now.”
“You’re okay,” Ana whispers. “You’re going to be fine.”
K’s legs seem to give out suddenly and he drops to his knees and for a horrifying moment he’s on his knees in front of her and the image is a knife wound, pressed into her belly and wrenched up. She drops instantly to kneel with him. Hand-to-hand with him. She watches something drip from his chin, tears triggered at no particular signal. He’s breathing fast. He’s shaking. A death sentence before a post-trauma baseline.
“K? You can stay here if you to. You can stay with us.”
He looks up at her.
She drops her forehead against the glass, instead, face-to-face with him.
“We share a childhood, you and I.” Ana holds his gaze. “I’m afraid we’re interlinked.”
“Interlinked,” he says, and she can’t tell if that’s a question.
“You don’t have to stay,” she says. “I would never order you to stay.”
“I thought I was you,” he confesses, like she doesn’t know.
“Of course, you did.”
“I feel… so…” His brow draws down. “I can’t come back to baseline.”
“You don’t have to. Not anymore.”
K shudders again, his shoulders buckling. “Are you real?” he asks.
“This is not a dream.”
She runs her fingers across the glass where his breath has left a touch of condensation, fading even as he breathes in. She watches him follow her fingers with his eyes and, when she stops… he leans into the touch that she can never give him. She would shove her wrists through the pane, let the glass slit her open if she could just be a child again and touch, finger to finger, for just a moment. She leans forward, instead, moved by impulse and she kisses the barrier wall where he leans against it.
“You can stay,” she says, her lips still warm against the glass. “It’s okay to want to stay.”
When Deckard comes back into the room, it takes him a moment to find them in the kitchen. K’s fallen asleep again at the corner where the barrier meets the kitchen island, between the fridge and the counter. He’s got his arms folded around himself, his knees bent up and curled toward the glass. Ana kneels with her hand on the pane where K’s shoulder meets the surface because the dura plex has begun to warm from both sides – the heat transferring finally through the separating medium.
Deckard sighs and grabs a blanket from the couch.
“I was gone ten minutes,” he says when he comes back
He takes a knee next to K and drapes the blanket over him, then puts a palm against his neck.
“What did he say?”
“He says his name is K,” Ana whispers. “Not Joe.”
“We’ll see,” says Deckard.
K has nightmares.
This far off his baseline, his conditioning has begun to fray and his terror doesn’t restrict itself to the confines of his unconscious and instead runs up the back of his throat at 2 in the morning.
The rest of his physical conditioning holds very well though. With their mind still locked in REM, a replicant will not thrash or buck or lash out in any way that might injure a nearby civilian or damage property. A safe-guard long since made standard since replicants do dream and, it’s known, mostly dream in fucking nightmares. It doesn’t do to have your pleasure models ripping their owner’s jaw off in the night because the horror catches up with them.
So Ana and Deckard wake to the very strange circumstance of K, laying on his back, knees bent, arms rigid at his sides just… screaming. No words, just this loud, unbroken wailing scream. Like someone is cutting him open. He screams until he runs out of breath, then screams again. He screams until it’s a sob when he draws his next breath, until his hands are opening and closing, clawing at his own thighs, his head pushed back into the mattress. It’s the worst sound Ana has ever heard, and she has to cover her ears.
Deckard has to slap K to bring him out of it.
His eyes fly wide.
Instantly, the animal terror vanishes. His face draws itself together to a calm blank. Deckard has his shoulders in his hands, is kneeling on the couch, one knee in the cushion by his hip, looking at him like he’s never seen K properly until this moment. K just blinks.
“What?” he says.
“Were you dreaming?” Deckard asks through his teeth.
K blinks. “Yeah.” A beat. “How… did you know?”
“You were talking in your sleep,” Deckard says delicately.
K frowns. “I don’t do that.”
“You do. Trust me.”
“No,” K says. There’s another silence then, uncomfortably now, he insists, “No, I don’t talk in my sleep. If I did that I –”
Deckard pulls K forward, hooking his arms around the replicant, one arm up behind his head so K’s chin is pulled over Deckard’s shoulder. K jerks, surprised, then freezes like he doesn’t know what to do. It’s very likely he does not know what to do or, worse, any other context in which this has happened before has led to something horrible. K’s hands hang, undecided, somewhere between pushing Deckard away and just accepting what’s happening. He seems afraid to move.
“Sapper used to do that,” Deckard says gruffly. He runs a weathered hand up the back of K’s neck, rests it against the back of his head. “It doesn’t bother me, boy. Just take a breath.”
“I killed Sapper,” K whispers.
“I know. You keep telling me.”
“Sure,” says Deckard, not letting go of him.
K’s hands are shaking.
“You heard that?” K says.
“Yeah. Like I said, it doesn’t bother me. Just breathe.”
K’s eyes clench shut and Ana can see wetness gleam suddenly in a line down his face. K lets Deckard hold him until it stops and Ana sits against the glass, listening to the sound of their breathing. K falls back to sleep eventually. He doesn’t scream again that night.
“You gonna eat that or just eyeball it?” Deckard asks.
K, seated at the kitchen island in a blue pull-over and cargos, blinks at the man like he’s never fucking seen him before. Rick Deckard doesn’t seem to give a damn because he’s got coffee on drip and he’s cooking eggs – “Real eggs, boy. I don’t give me that owl-eyed look. That’s a fuckin’ miracle.” – and Rick Deckard is very good at not acknowledging that anything is strange.
There is fried rice in a bowl in front of K with a fried egg on top, two chopsticks poking out. Yolk is running into the rice. When K, warily, picks up the bowl Max – Deckard’s dog – immediately barrels around the kitchen island to drop his head on the replicant’s knee and stare balefully up at him.
K gives the dog the same look he gave Deckard.
“Don’t spoil him,” Ana says over her coffee.
K’s hand, already going for the egg, freezes.
The kitchen island meets in the middle, at the partition glass. It was designed that way so she could sit and have dinner with guests. Or at least, give the illusion of it. She’s seated on the stool nearest the middle. K is also seated on the stool near the middle. His elbow touches the glass. This is how they start every morning now. ‘Every morning’ meaning the last seven. Three of which, K hasn’t eaten anything. Or rather, he would eat but hours later vomit it back up. Rice he can keep down. Egg is new.
K stares at the dog.
“Do not feed that dog real eggs,” Deckard growls.
K, somewhat surreptitiously, picks the egg apart with the chopsticks. Ana watches. When Deckard looks away, K immediately feeds the dog a large portion of egg with his fingers. Max snorts happily, smacking with extremely audible satisfaction. Deckard turns around looking apoplectic. K, poker-faced, stares until it looks like Deckard is winding up for a lecture. Then he interrupts:
“You gave that dog real whiskey.”
Ana spits her coffee into her mug a little.
“That is beside the point,” says Deckard.
“How?” says K.
“Shut up and eat your breakfast.”
K glances over his shoulder at Ana who is grinning still over the lip of her mug. K does not smile – it’s possible he doesn’t remember how – but something in his jaw loses a bit of tension and he bends his head to eat. He rests his arms on the counter, so his elbow is against the glass again and she shifts so her forearm lies along the same spot. Eventually the glass warms.