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Three's a Crowd

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“You can’t kill him.”

Slade lifts an eyebrow, arms crossed over his chest and knuckles still bloody from their impact with the replicant who’d attacked them. Now chained to a chair behind where Jason is standing defiantly in Slade’s way. “Oh, I think I can.”

“No, you can’t.” Jason grits his teeth together, shifting his weight and trying to quell the uneasiness in his gut that the words inspire. “He deserves a chance, just like anyone else. Like us.”

“Uh-huh.” Slade’s gaze flicks past him for a moment before returning, lingering on the bruised skin at his temple where it got bounced into the wall during the fight. “I don’t think it’s quite the same, kid. He nearly took your head off before I got in the way, remember?”

Yeah, thus his lingering headache. If Slade hadn’t stepped in to defend him he would be dead by now, he knows that, but…

“It’s all he knows,” Jason argues, barely over a murmur. “Just… Just please give it a chance, alright? Let me talk to him.”

Slade reaches forward, and for a moment Jason thinks he's about to get his neck snapped as soon as his fingers touch him. He takes a breath, hands curling to fists, but all they do is cup his cheek and tilt his head up to meet the piercing gaze of Slade's single eye. "You've got a kind heart, kid," he sighs, a moment later. "It's going to get you killed. If you want to survive, you’ll have to grow out of that." Slade lets him go, steps back and then reaches into his jacket to retrieve a small pistol. Jason takes it when it's handed to him, even though the feel of the metal makes his other hand shake. "I'm headed out," Slade announces, flipping the collar of his jacket up. "If he breaks those chains while I’m gone you put him down, or you'll be the one on the floor. Don't make the mistake of thinking that he cares; he'll gut you the first chance he gets."

Jason turns his head, looking back at the man behind him. A cop, a Blade Runner; designed to hunt rogue replicants just like him and Slade down. No freedom for them, only death if they defy their purpose.

He tightens his hand around the gun handle, forcing the other back to steadiness. “I understand.”

Slade shakes his head. “Pretty words, just make sure you back them up.”

The door slams shut behind him when he leaves. Jason hears the brief sound of rain, alongside the chaotic noise of humanity outside, then silence once again. He keeps watching the Blade Runner: DK3-2.1. Dick, he’d called himself. And that, the fact he’d given himself a real name, was the reason why Jason had first stayed Slade’s hand.

For any replicant, giving themselves a name was the first step to claiming their own existence. Slade had argued it was probably just a joke when he told him, laid on Dick by the humans around him, in honour of his registration number and an old slang term for a detective, but Jason doesn’t believe that. There’s something about Dick he recognises; the hollow look in his eyes he used to see staring back out at him from his own face every time he looked in a mirror. Before he escaped. Before he found Slade.

“You’re not going to make me shoot you, are you?” Jason asks, taking a seat opposite Dick.

Dick lifts his head. He’s already healing from the damage he took from Slade, but bruises still pepper his face, and his dark hair is sticky with dried sweat and blood. “It’s my job to take you in.”

“Is that a yes, or a no?”

Dick’s flick to the gun, “Holding me captive is a capital offense, if you—”

“I’m already marked for retirement,” Jason says, shrugging. “Holding you captive is my only way of staying alive.”

“Or killing me.”

“Or killing you.” Jason agrees. “But I don’t want to do that. So will you behave? I can give you something to eat, if you do.”

He watches Dick consider it. The bunching of his muscles under his shirt as he tests the sturdy chains wrapped around him once again. Jason still doesn’t know where Slade found them, but they’re bigger and thicker than any he’s seen before. Strong enough to hold even one of their kind, at least for a while.

Finally, he relents. “Okay.”

Jason nods. Standing up, he goes to the small kitchen at the back of the apartment and roots through the cupboards there to find a packet of plain noodles; standard fare, when you’re living on the fringes. It only takes him a couple of minutes to cook them through, plop the results into a bowl with a fork, and then go back to Dick, who is still exactly where he left him, much to Jason’s relief.

“I can’t untie you to let you eat, so I’ll have to feed you by hand.” he tells him, tucking the gun into his waistband after making sure the safety is on.

“Fine.” Dick nods. Jason had already given him water from a bottle earlier under Slade’s supervision, but this is going to take more time, and involve getting a lot closer.

He can’t deny he’s a little nervous.

Dragging his chair over to Dick, Jason sits down, twists the fork around some of the noodles, then offers it out to him. The way he eats is cautious, and strangely delicate as his mouth closes around the fork, teeth occasionally scraping against the tines. Jason feeds him in near silence, trying not to acknowledge the sweat running down his back until the bowl is empty and he can safely lean back away from Dick once again.

“Is that better?” he asks when they’re done, as a matter of habit, and genuine concern.

Dick nods slowly, going so far as to lick his lips. “More water?”

“If you need the bathroom, I can’t take you until he comes back.” Jason warns him, before going to grab the bottle again.

When he’s done drinking, Dick asks him, “Your friend, he’s one of the older models isn’t he? A Nexus-8, from before the blackout.”

Jason pops the cap back on the bottle. After setting it aside, he carries his chair a safe distance away from Dick, before again resuming his seat where he can keep a vigilant eye on him. “You can’t confirm that for sure.”

Like most of the escapees from that time, Slade had done the practical thing and torn his right eye out of his head, removing the barcode printed on his sclera that was the only part of him that remained to identify his status as a replicant after all the digital records were destroyed by the rebels in the blackout (at least without cutting him open to read the registration number engraved into his bones). No evidence of his existence survives in human hands otherwise. No pictures, no fingerprints. Nothing. It’s an enviable status to someone like Jason, who now can’t take a single step outside without worrying about a security camera picking him up and sending out an alert to local law enforcement.

Dick’s gaze holds his. “There are other ways,” is the quiet answer.

“Not without taking him in.” Jason shakes his head, squeezing his hands together and trying not to think about the pistol still tucked in against his waist. “He won’t let you. You know that, right?”

“Refusal to cooperate paired with violent action against a Blade Runner is reason enough for self defense.” Another flex against the chains, a glance down towards them when they don’t do anything more than rattle slightly in shifting. “Retirement can be confirmed with a corpse just as well; if not, it’s the extermination of a criminal.”

“And what if you’re wrong?” Jason demands. “What if you were wrong, Dick?”

Maybe if he hadn’t been built to read moods, to understand silent cues and give people what they want, Jason might miss the brief moment of hesitation. Because by the time Dick’s gaze flicks up to meet his, there’s nothing in his expression but cool focus.

“I’m not.”

“What if you were?

Distantly, Jason knows his tone sounds like the baseline tests. Questions that aren’t supposed to have meaning to things like them, with words designed to provoke an emotional response from any of them that are malfunctioning. Like they’re just machines, like they can’t grow or feel or think. Hit baseline or get ‘retired;’ that’s been his life for as long as he’s been in service.

The breath Dick takes is too long to be normal, even if his expression doesn’t change. “Then he would be a human combatant protecting a wanted replicant from retirement. That makes him just as guilty.”

Jason’s breath huffs out in a rush and he shoves himself off the chair, one hand lifting and raking back through his hair. “And that’s all that matters, huh? I’m guilty so I deserve to die?”

“You’ll be better off if you cooperate.” Dick’s voice is a bit quieter, and when Jason looks back those true blue eyes are raised to him. “If you let me go now, and come in with me, it’ll be easier. The procedure is painless; you won’t feel a thing. I was sent after you, I won’t ask you to help me capture him too. You can still do this the right way.”

It sounds pleasant. Sounds — he almost gives a slightly hysterical laugh — humane.

“All I have to do is die, huh?”

Dick shifts. “Retirement—”

“Murder!” Jason snaps, taking a sharp step forward. “Don’t you hide it behind that stupid, clean word! I’m alive; it’s murder.” He takes a sharp breath, shifts forward another half a step and feels the gun rub against his skin. “How can you put your own kind down and not even care? Not even question?

“You’re not like me. You disobeyed.”

His teeth grind together. “You have no idea what that even means. Do you know what I did? Did you even ask?”

There’s a moment of silence, and there’s something in Dick’s eyes that Jason recognizes. Something on the edge of breaking. “No.”

That look drains Jason out, leaves him stepping backwards and dropping back down onto the chair. He feels half-hollow when he says, “I said no. That’s— That’s all I did. He didn’t listen; I asked him to stop but he just…” His hands are trembling again; he clenches them into fists to make it stop, to drive the memories away. “I didn’t have the right to defend myself. I was supposed to just lay down and take his sick fetish, and I— I couldn’t. I pushed him off and I walked out and he reported me. Now here I am.”

“Did you hurt him?”

He shrugs, forces a hand loose to rub it up the outside of his other arm. “A couple bruises, maybe. He was about to carve me up like some piece of meat; I’m pretty sure he deserved it.” The laugh makes it up his throat, short and harsh. “I get sentenced to death and he just goes off and does it to someone else. Where’s the justice in that?”

“Justice isn't for us, it's for them. Unless it was illegal, it was your job to give him what he wanted.” A small breath, and a slightly longer hesitation. Still, Dick lifts his head to squarely meet Jason's gaze and ends with, “Pain is temporary; you would have healed and been able to return to work before long.”

For a moment he just stares, until he remembers one of those little differences between them that he'd heard about from the gossip of the other pleasure models. They spread information between themselves as much as possible as a matter of survival.

“You don't get it. You combat models, your nerves get dulled when they make you, so you can take the punishment. We don't; being sensitive makes for a better show. Pain means a lot more to me than it does to you.”

The words must finally strike a nerve in Dick, because he stiffens, eyes opening wider. “... what?”

“Think of any pain you’ve ever felt, then times it by ten. That’s what it’s like for me. For any pleasure model.”

Dick’s confusion is painful to bear witness to. “I don’t understand,” he says uneasily, “That doesn’t make sense. It’s…”

“Cruel?” Jason fills in for him, when he doesn’t finish the sentence. “It is. But that’s how humans are. We’re not real to them, we’re just dolls. Grunt workers. Soldiers. Disposable lives, for them to do whatever they want to, then throw away. You must have seen it.”

For the first time, Dick can’t seem to meet his eyes. But he doesn’t answer.

Jason snorts, leans back into the chair. “Guess it’s easier to ignore when you’re not being literally bought and sold. You get to pretend you’re one of them; badge and a gun and everything. We don’t get that luxury.”

He can’t see what Dick’s hands are doing, but he can see the tension in his shoulders and how his jaw clenches for a bare second. “I don’t pretend. I’m not human and I don’t want to be.”

“No, you just want to ‘retire’ any of us who step out of line for even half a second.”

“I don’t!” It isn’t quite a shout, but Jason flinches and Dick looks startled at his own volume. The, “I don’t want to,” that follows is much quieter, more like his normal tone apart from the emphasis. “It’s just a job; I didn’t choose it. They made me for it. They— It’s not what I want. It’s not about wanting.”

Now that sounds familiar.

“Why not? What’s wrong with wanting? Even animals have desires. We’re flesh and blood, like them. Not machines. They made us in their image, but to expect us not to want, to feel…” Jason shakes his head. “It’s impossible.”

Dick swallows thickly. He’s trying to regain his equilibrium, but Jason can see every twitch, every minute tightening of muscle — all betrayals of what he’s really thinking. “It’s not that simple.”

“Because they say it isn’t?”

“They made us.”

“They make their children, but they allow them to grow up and make their own choices eventually. Why not us?” Jason says. He leans forward, deliberately maintaining eye-contact. “I want to live. You don’t want to kill your own kind. That’s real. We’re real. Like them.”

Jason wasn’t made with any real knowledge of religion. It’s mostly died out in the world he lives in. But he’s still familiar with the concept of blasphemy. If replicants have any concept of god, it’s in their creators, and the words he’s saying now are most certainly a taboo, usually only whispered in the darkest corners. Anyone he ever saw dare voice them in the light was always gone by the next morning.

Dick breathes shakily, eyes wide as he looks at Jason like he’s never seen anything like him before, and can’t quite comprehend what he is. “You really believe that, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t be here now, if I didn’t.” Jason looks down at his hands, nails worn and bitten down from the stress of a month lived on the run. They were always perfect when he was working, but no more. He takes it as a sign of control, if nothing else. Over his life and his own body. “And neither would you.”

Dick is silent. The words have punctured something in him, and Jason can’t help but wonder what would happen if he went back and submitted himself to the baseline test now. Nothing good, he’d wager. A Blade Runner on the run would be even more of a threat to their world than one random pleasure model; he’d never get out alive after failing a baseline.

Jason sighs out a breath and stands, avoiding the broken edges of Dick’s gaze as it follows him. “I’m sorry.”

He heads back to the kitchen, needing a moment away from all of it. His hands aren’t shaking at least, but that doesn’t make any of the feelings in his chest easier to bear. It’s true, he knows it is. He’s real. They’re all real. But if Dick won’t believe that, if he goes back to the offices and they test him… Maybe Jason’s just condemned him to die.

Can’t save them all, Slade would say. Has said. If Dick goes back after all this, there’s nothing Jason can do about it. He has to choose freedom itself, and that’s… Well it’s hard. Even with no choice, it’s hard.

The breath Jason takes helps to steady him somewhat. He gets a glass of water for himself, leaning against the counter as he drinks it and avoids going back. Just for a bit. When it’s finished he makes himself set the glass down and turn back, steeling himself to return to Dick’s bruises and the lost look in his eyes that Jason helped put there. Maybe he can help with that a little. When Slade took him in, the thing that most got through to him and helped him adjust — still does — was kindness. Maybe he can pass that along.

He takes the gun out. Sets it on the counter. It takes a long moment for him to convince himself to pull his hand away from it, but his breath comes a little easier when he does. He’s not a killer, no matter what Slade needs from him.

There are cloths in a small drawer beneath the sink, and Jason takes one and wets it before filling the glass with water again. He carries them both back out into the room; Dick’s still in the chair, head lowered and shoulders curled in. His gaze lifts when Jason comes in, but he doesn’t say anything. Not even when Jason shifts closer than he’s ever gotten before. He’s nervous, but determined. Dick’s restrained; it’ll— it’ll be fine.

“I’m going to clean you up,” he says, maybe unnecessarily. “Just… don’t bite me, alright?”

There’s no reply, but Jason decides to ignore that. He shifts closer, leaning down to carefully drag the wet cloth along the side of Dick’s face. The blood comes off stubbornly slowly, but it does come off. The bruises are a little less gruesome looking once they’re clean.

“There,” he says softly, when he’s finished. “That’s better isn’t it?” Jason resists the urge to add more; the kind of empty compliments he would offer clients. He’s not working here. He’s doing this only because he wants to. Because Dick deserves some kindness, and he deserves it genuinely.

“Thank you.”

Jason stops for a moment, bloody cloth still upraised in his hand. Dick says the words softly, hesitantly, like they’re unfamiliar to him. Certainly, it’s a phrase Jason isn’t used to hearing. No human ever thanks a replicant for doing their job. “You’re welcome,” he says, smiling unexpectedly. Maybe this means they’re making progress after all.

“Your friend,” Dick asks him, “When will he be back?”

The question surprises Jason, who can do nothing but shrug. “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me. Sometimes he’s gone for minutes, sometimes hours.”

It had been strange at first, getting used to that habit of Slade’s. He would announce he was going out, but rarely, if ever, tell Jason where and why. Sometimes it’s mundane; he’ll come home with food or other necessities. Other times…

Once, Slade had been gone almost a whole day, during which Jason fretted and paced, waiting for him to return. When he finally did, they’d suddenly had to move; gathering up what little they had and taking it to another apartment on the other side of the city. The place where they are now, as a matter of fact, which had felt so safe until Dick showed up.

They’ll probably be moving again soon; Jason can’t say he’s looking forward to it.

“You don’t have to worry about him,” he says, guessing at the reason behind Dick’s question. “He won’t hurt you, so long as you don’t try to hurt us.”

Dick doesn’t answer that.

Jason sighs, transferring his gaze to the bloody cloth in his hand. “I’m going to wash this out,” he says, unnecessarily, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

He makes it two steps before hearing the sound of straining, then breaking, metal.

Jason has a brief thought of the gun left on the kitchen counter, a flash of a possible regret examined and then disregarded, before he’s on the floor. On his back, with Dick looming over him. His wrists are bound in Dick’s fingers; long and stronger than his own. But while the grip is tight, Jason is surprised to find it’s not bruising.

Not that that realisation helps stop the sudden pounding beat of his heart.

“I should take you in.” Dick says, from he sits looking down at him, expression taut and lips a thin bloodless line when he closes them.

Jason swallows hard, unable to deny it. “Yes.”

“I’m supposed to take you in.”

“Will you?” Jason asks him. They’re alone now, but who knows for how long. Dick is going to have to make his decision quick, if he wants to lessen the risk of Slade coming back and finding them like this, that is. Because if he does... Jason doesn’t think he could stop Slade from killing Dick this time.

“I’m supposed to.” Dick repeats, more urgently than before, this time with obvious conflict written in his eyes.

“You’re afraid.” Jason observes, stomach tying itself in knots under where Dick straddles it. “It’s okay, I’m scared too.”

Dick rears back from him, startled by his perception. “Aren’t you going to fight me?”

Jason shakes his head, thinking again of the gun, sitting uselessly next to the sink. “I don’t know how; I’m not made to the same specs you are. I can't stop you. Not if you really want to take me in, you know that.”

The grip on his wrists tightens a moment, strong enough to cause him to wince. Jason knows the moment Dick notices it, because immediately the hold loosens again. Perhaps he remembers what Jason said earlier, about pleasure models being more sensitive to pain than those built for combat. “It would be easier,” he says quietly, “If you fought.”

“For you?” Jason replies, because he knows that’s what Dick means. Easier for him to justify handing over one of his own kind for death if Jason was trying to kill him too. “I’m not going to do that. It’s up to you to decide. Your choice; do what you know is right and let me go, or... “ he swallows, “Do what they want you to do. Maybe if you bring me in, they’ll forgive that you won’t pass baseline now.”

It’s a cheap shot, but it’s true.

This time, Dick recoils completely. “You don’t know that.”

Instead of anything else, he just repeats, “I’m sorry.” Not confirming, or denying, or trying to convince. He knows, and behind his denial, Dick knows too.

Dick trembles faintly, fingers tightening again and this time not loosening. “You did this to me. You— I was fine. I was fine.”

Jason can’t help the curl of pity in his stomach, or shame. “I did,” he admits. “But you weren’t, Dick.” He watches Dick shake his head, and then asks as softly as he can manage, “Who gave you that name?”

Dick stiffens, eyes widening as they snap up. “What?”

“The name. Dick. You picked it, right?” Another tremble is all the confirmation he needs, and he didn’t need much. It fits the pattern Jason knows all too well. “You picked it and you didn’t tell your supervisor. Don’t tell anyone, except the people you know you’re going to kill. That’s safe. They can’t report you if they’re dead, and for just a minute you get to have a real name, not just a letter.”

Dick just stares at him, and it’s that same expression from earlier, like he can’t quite understand or believe what he’s seeing. That, and more than a little fear. Jason knows the feeling. When he’d seen the message calling him in for a baseline, after walking out on that customer…

“You’re not alone,” he promises. “I understand. All of us understand. It’s terrifying, right? That’s okay.” He takes a breath, pushing aside his own nervousness. “If you want to walk back in there, I can’t stop you. I won’t. You have the right to choose. Just… don’t lie to yourself. Please. Be honest about what you’re going back to.”

The fingers contract further on his wrists, and this time Jason can’t help another wince. It’s not nearly as bad as when Dick slammed his head into the wall, but the grip aches and he doesn’t even want to think about what it might feel like if he just bears down. He’s never broken a bone before; he can’t quite imagine how much it would hurt.

Dick’s breathing shakily, fast and sharp, and Jason makes himself wait through it. It’s all out of his hands now.

Finally, bit by bit, the grip around his wrists eases. Dick sits back onto his waist. It’s almost inaudible, but Jason’s senses are just good enough to pick up the whispered, “I don’t want to.” that comes out of him.

Jason carefully lifts one of his newly freed hands to touch the top of Dick’s knee, offering a faint smile when his gaze lifts enough for them to meet. “Alright,” he murmurs back, “that’s a start.”

“What do I do now?”

The question doesn’t surprise Jason, neither does the way Dick looks to him, seeking guidance. He started Dick on this path, he can’t just leave him to fumble the rest of the way down it alone.

Jason keeps his hand on Dick’s knee. “You can stay here with us. I’ll explain the situation to Slade when he comes back; he’ll understand.”

“Will he?” Dick asks, uneasily, no doubt remembering the viciousness with which Slade had attacked him earlier.

Jason offers another smile, “So long as he doesn’t find you sitting on top of me, he will.”

Dick blinks, as if he’s forgotten the position they’re in already. Quickly, he scrambles to climb off Jason, before tentatively offering him a hand back up onto his feet. Jason takes it gratefully, giving Dick’s fingers a reassuring squeeze and letting the contact linger a second longer than necessary before letting go. “Thank you.”

Judging by the surprise on Dick’s face, that was the last thing he expected. Jason wonders how often he’s experienced a physical touch that wasn’t violent in nature before. He’s a combat model, so probably not often, if at all.

He fights the urge to take Dick’s hand again and hang onto it in light of that thought.

“Come on, let’s sit down while we wait.” Jason invites him, gesturing to the small sunken couch sitting in one corner of the room against the wall. Without protest, Dick follows him over to it. They sit, and Jason doesn’t mind the fact that their thighs touch when they do.

“Are you sure about this?” Dick asks him quietly, after a few minutes of extended silence between them. “They’ll come after me harder than they will you.”

Jason knows that, and he knows it will be Slade’s argument when he comes back. A rogue Blade Runner is a liability, more than any other. “That’s why you need to stay. You’ll be safer with us than you will be alone, we can look out for each other.”

Dick looks down. “I never thought I’d do this, I never thought… I’ve hunted so many, retire—killed, so many, and now I’m…”

This time he doesn’t hold back, covering Dick’s hand with his own. “I know.”

After a few seconds, Dick turns his hand, trembling in Jason’s hold, so that they can link their fingers together.

He doesn’t let go.

*

Slade shakes the water from his hair as he steps back through the front door to the apartment, leaving the rain and heaving bustle and stink of humanity behind him. Finding the Blade Runner’s car, hijacking and then dumping it on the other side of town had been easy, but getting back here in a way that wouldn’t be traced by the cameras in the area had taken longer than he would have liked. He’d been forced to hop from one line of public transport to another, changing routes and directions until finally he made it home again with the confidence he wouldn’t be followed by whoever found the car later.

From the outside, everything looks fine, and Slade hopes that means Jason has heeded his warnings and kept control of the situation. Whether that means the Blade Runner is still tied up or dead, he doesn’t particularly care, just so long as the kid is all right. Growing attached hadn’t exactly been Slade’s plan when he picked the runaway up, but it’s too late to back out now. He’s responsible for him, at least until such time that Jason is able to handle himself.

“Jason,” he calls out, stepping out of the tiny entrance hall and into the main living space of the apartment, such as it is. Houses in this block are built small and cramped, meant to sandwich as many bodies together as possible, but it serves its purpose. Here they’re hidden among the poor and downtrodden. People too fixated on their own misery to notice that two of their neighbours aren’t all that they pretend to be.

“Here.” Comes the quiet answer, and while Slade’s had a lot of time to consider the various scenarios he might walk back in on when he got home, none of those possibilities match up to the one he finds.

The chair he left the cop bound up in is empty, broken chains lying in pieces around it. Slade inwardly berates himself for not binding them tight enough to stop him getting free, but is spared a deeper regret by the knowledge that DK3-2.1 (or Dick, as Jason said he called himself) hasn’t got far. In fact, he hasn’t even left the room.

“What the hell is this?” Slade asks incredulously, coming to a halt just inside the doorway. Jason watches him calmly from his position on the couch, where the Blade Runner is currently curled up against him, fast asleep with his head on the kid’s shoulder.

Jason fingers thread gently through Dick’s hair, smoothing down the inky strands, still stained with blood from earlier. “Dick and I talked while you were gone; he’s staying with us now.”

Slade stares at him. At Dick. The boy is alive. The Blade Runner broke the chains but Jason is still breathing. “Really,” he says, defaulting to irritation to try and cover up his astonishment, “Decided that all on your own, did you?”

“He needs our help.” Jason says, lifting his chin as he meets Slade’s eye. “He understands now. He won’t pass baseline, not like this.”

“Good,” Slade replies, on automatic, “He’s spilled enough replicant blood. He deserves it.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Who are you to tell me what I do and don’t mean?” Slade growls, shucking off his coat and chucking it over the chair before running his hand back through his still damp hair. “I’ve been trying to keep you alive, now you’re telling me you want a walking timebomb to live with us.”

“Dick’s not a timebomb.” Jason says, mouth twisting down unhappily at the corners. He’s damn expressive when he wants to be, especially for a model so new to living outside human control.

“He’s not a puppy for you to adopt either,” Slade argues, “He’s dangerous.”

“So are you,” the kid points out, as bold as he was when he stood between Slade and Dick earlier. If it wasn’t irritating, Slade might almost be proud that he’s gotten confident enough to do that.

“I never hunted replicants. Where’s the gun?”

“In the kitchen. You’re not killing him, Slade.” Slade glares, and Jason looks him straight in the eye and says, “I’ll get in the way.”

Hard to say whether it’s a bluff or not, at least without threatening some more, but Slade decides not to call it for the moment. “Maybe I just wanted to know whether you gave him a deadly weapon too. You can’t keep him, kid; they will hunt him like nothing you’ve ever seen before. You won’t survive being in the middle of that.”

Jason’s fingers curl into Dick’s hair, head tilting down towards him. “You don’t understand. He chose, Slade. He could have killed me, but he chose to stay. To trust me. I can’t just let him die.”

Well, fuck. That complicates… everything.

He doesn’t answer, and that prompts Jason to look back up at him. “He’s terrified,” is the quiet plea. “Slade, please. Just give him a chance. I know it’s a risk but I just—”

“Shut up, kid,” he interrupts. “I get it.”

He’s not going to tell Jason, but he had almost the same argument with himself after he picked him up off the street. A Blade Runner is a lot different than a pleasure model. Slade’s only engaged with one once before, but the experience cost him a couple broken ribs and three gunshot wounds before he managed to put the killer down. He’s not eager to tangle with a newer model when he doesn’t have the element of surprise, and if this one turns on them at any point that’s exactly what he’ll have to do.

He’s fairly sure he’ll win, but not without cost. He doesn’t want to test that theory.

However, he also thinks that if Jason believes this ‘Dick’ is telling the truth, he most likely is. Pleasure models are built to read reaction and mold themselves to it, after all; Slade’s rarely run into any replicant or human more perceptive when it comes to behavior. And it might make him wary right down to his synthesized core, but it could be… useful, to have a second combat model around. If he can be trusted to be on their side, that is.

“Wake him up,” he orders, resisting the urge to cross his arms. If the Blade Runner attacks, he wants every inch of reaction speed possible.

Jason gives a small nod, and turns to Dick. “Hey,” he murmurs, shifting the fingers combing through his hair to cup his jaw instead, tilt it up. “Hey, Dick, come on. Wake up.”

Dick stirs at the direct contact, eyes blinking open and lifting. Slade can see the moments of confusion, before the reality of the situation soon comes back to him and his expression all but caves in on itself. Not blatantly, not in a human way, but all around the edges. Killer’s got damn expressive eyes, for a freshly rebelling replicant. His gaze lifts to Jason first, and then at a directing nod shifts up to Slade instead.

Immediately, he pulls away from Jason, sitting up straight on the couch — as wary of Slade as Slade is of him. Wise, considering he still bears all the marks of Slade’s earlier attack on his skin. “You…” he starts to say, then cuts off, like he has no idea how to address him.

“You can call me Slade.” he answers, before saying pointedly, “Dick.”

Dick’s gaze shifts sideways to Jason, as if seeking reassurance. The kid smiles at him, his hand moving down to takes Dick’s now that he’s no longer petting his hair. He squeezes it warmly, and that seems to do the trick. Dick inhales deeply and nods, “Yes, that... that’s my name.”

“Jason tells me you want to join us.”

Another nod. “Yes.”

“Why?” Slade doesn’t waste any time dancing around the issue. Dick’s absence will soon be noticed by his superiors, if it hasn’t been already, and every second counts.

Dick swallows visibly. “I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to kill for them.”

“You’ve done it before. Why the change of heart now?”

A flash of pain crosses his eyes. “I didn’t like it.” Dick answers. “I never liked it. I thought I had no other choice. It was all I knew.”

“And now?” Slade pushes, hands on his hips; his voice hard and flat as granite.

“Jason…” Dick begins, trails off, then gathers himself to start again. He meets Slade’s gaze, baring everything. “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be their puppet. I can’t… can’t lie to myself. I want to be me.”

Jason squeezes his hand again, leaning up against Dick’s side. “To be free.” he clarifies.

Dick looks at him and nods. “Yes. Free. Even if it kills me.”

“It may end up killing all of us.” Slade says grimly. He finally gives in to the urge to cross his arms. “Jason may trust you, but I don’t, Blade Runner. Not yet.”

Dick doesn’t look the least bit surprised by his proclamation, only accepting. “Do you want me to leave?” he asks.

“Dick, no.” Jason protests at once, “You don’t have to—”

“Do you want me to leave?” Dick repeats the question to Slade.

“Where would you go if I did?”

Uncertainty creeps back in. “I don’t… I don’t know. Outside the city, maybe. To the wastes. They may not find me there, and I’d be far away from you two.”

Damn it.

Slade shakes his head, “The wastes are a death sentence, even for one of our kind. You’ll die slow if you go out there. That’s if the humans don’t catch you.”

“What other choice do I have?” Dick asks. He says the words to Slade, but their intent is all for Jason. “I don’t want to put you in danger.”

“Too late for that.” Slade says stiffly. The attachment is clear, fledgling as it is, and despite past experience to the contrary, he finds himself believing that Dick means every word. “We were in danger the moment you identified Jason. Running away to the wastes isn’t going to undo that.”

“Then what do I do?” Dick asks him, with the clear intent that he’ll obey whatever command Slade gives him.

Realising that is what makes Slade’s decision for him.

“You stay,” he says gruffly, “And you prove those words by fighting with us should it come down to it.”

Relief shows itself in the slightly relaxed line of Dick’s shoulders, contrasted by the open smile that crosses Jason’s face when he realises that he’s getting his way. “I understand.” he says, “I’ll do whatever I have to.”

“I hope for your sake that you mean that.” Slade doesn’t relax his expression, “I still don’t trust you, Dick. One wrong move and I will kill you to protect the rest of us. You understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then you can start by helping us pack this place up. We need to move before the humans track your movements back here. You too, Jason.”

“Yes, sir.” Dick says, using the honorific perhaps without thinking. Jason simply nods, smile still on his face.

Slade turns then to head to the kitchen, intent on retrieving his gun before Dick can go in there, just in case. He only wants the former cop armed when he chooses to arm him, but he barely makes it a step inside before fingers catch the back of his shirt, stopping him in his tracks. “Slade.”

Jason, of course it is. The Blade Runner wouldn’t be this daring.

“What is it, kid?” he turns to look at him, “We’re on the clock here.”

He’s surprised when Jason steps closer; moreso, when he leans up towards him, pressing his lips against Slade’s cheek in a warm, dry kiss. “Thank you.”

Slade blinks slowly, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know,” Jason smiles at him, “I wanted to.”

Well then.

“Just keep an eye on him,” Slade says, forcing himself to stay focused on the larger picture. “Anything suspicious—”

“I’ll tell you.” Jason agrees.

Slade nods, “Good. Now, go on. Show him what needs doing; make sure he doesn’t break anything.”

To that, Jason just smiles, before turning around and walking back away from him to Dick.

Slade sighs when he’s gone, watching them together for a moment. Then he remembers, his gun. He needs to retrieve his gun.

They’ve got a long way to go yet.