When Hank first begins coughing there is no cause for alarm. It’s December in Detroit and humans are still liable to get sick, even with the medicinal advancements they were privy to. He recommends the Lieutenant see a doctor and Hank grumps at him to “Mind your own business, I’m fine!” They compromise and Hank starts carrying cough drops when they go out. The scent of medicine and cherry clinging now to the older man’s clothes.
Connor isn’t worried.
The cough lingers. Days turning into weeks, a dry grating sound turning into something wet and hacking. Still Hank refuses a doctor. He says it’s just the season for it, that he’ll get over it once the cold lets up, that he’s always like this in the winter.
As per their new agreement, Connor doesn’t use his optic scanners or any other android means to diagnose his partner. It was part of the bargain when he’d moved in with Hank.
“You can do whatever you want around the house and on crime scenes, but none of that robot shit on me. Got it?”
And Connor has honored that agreement. Hank is his only real connection to the human world and he’s loathe to let it go. Markus and the other androids are still in the city, still learning and living and becoming so much more than what they were built for. While Connor is here, in Hank’s house, doing the same thing he did before he ‘woke up’. The only difference now is that he does it because he chooses to.
So Hank continues to cough and Connor continues to not worry.
The first time Hank coughs up blood they’re at the station. Connor is reviewing the files of a recent homicide. Open and shut, murder case where the wife killed her husband that had been physically abusing her. A crime of passion, as Hank had said in the moments when the coughing had let him speak. Every word seems to be a struggle these days, as if the man is speaking around a blockage in his throat that gets worse with every word he says.
There’s the sound of choking and then Hank is bent double over his desk, red splattering across the glass.
“Lieutenant!” Connor is on his feet in seconds, circling their desks to drop to one knee at Hank’s side. He settles a hand on the arm of Hank’s chair and gently turns the man toward him. “Are you alright?”
Hank has a hand over his mouth, breath rattling in his lungs so loudly that Connor can hear it even without his enhanced sensors turned on. Hank pushes at Connor’s chest, unable to even get a word out as he stumbles unsteadily to his feet.
Captain Fowler is there now, the door to his glass office open wide as he takes a step toward them.
Hank waves him off, red and blue spilling between his fingers and Connor’s non-existent heart stops in his chest. A servo clicks uncomfortably, error messages flashing at him in warning as he locks up there on the floor.
It’s not blue blood, he knows it’s not. It wouldn’t be rational, wouldn’t be realistic. And yet.
There’s a drop of blue on the floor and Connor reaches out on instinct. His promise to the Lieutenant rises in his memory banks but he chooses to shove it down. This is more important.
Instead of liquid his fingers touch something solid, velvety soft and curling under his touch. Connor takes it between thumb and forefinger and raises it to eye level, optics whirring as he scans the offending object.
noun: hyacinth; plural noun: hyacinths
a bulbous plant of the lily family, with straplike leaves and a compact spike of bell-shaped fragrant flowers. Native to western Asia, hyacinths are cultivated outdoors and as houseplants.
a light purplish-blue color typical of some hyacinth flowers.
another term for jacinth.
Hank has never kept flowers. Nor does anyone else in the station keep them. The petal is in perfect shape, other than being colored with Hank’s blood and wet with saliva, so it couldn’t have come from a tea. His wealth of knowledge is coming up empty and it is causing a system cascade failure.
Something is wrong with Hank. Something is wrong with Hank and he doesn’t want Connor to know. Something is wrong with Hank and Connor cannot figure out what it is.
Something is wrong with Hank and Connor cannot help him. Something is wrong.
“Jesus, Connor snap out of it!”
There’s pressure against his forehead and Connor blinks, eyes focusing on Hank’s face oddly close to his own.
Hank sighs with what sounds like relief and sits back in his chair, breath rattling out of him like a storm.
“Don’t scare me like that. If it hadn’t been for your LED still blinking like crazy I would’ve thought you were dead.”
Connor looks down to find the flower petal missing from his hand and his eyes dart back up to Hank’s tired expression. He makes another choice and disregards their agreement once again. The world goes grey at the edges, freezing as he processes what he’s seeing.
There are trace amounts of blood in Hank’s throat, the skin there raw and irritated from the near constant coughing.
There are petals clinging to the lining of Hank’s trachea, partially blocking the airway.
There are roots in Hank’s lungs. Current lung capacity is at sixty two percent.
“You are dying.”
Hank doesn’t look surprised. He looks more resigned than anything else.
“Let’s go home, Con.” The softness of his voice makes something in Connor jump uncomfortably. “Not having this conversation in the middle of the fuckin’ station.”
Home is just as tense as the station. Connor stands completely still as soon as the front door closes behind him, watching Hank move around the house, shrugging off his coat and letting it fall over the arm of the couch as he continues into the kitchen. All of it without another word. He reaches for the cupboard where Connor knows the whisky is kept and there’s a rush of heat in his core systems, not unlike when he overheats from exertion or a particularly troubling algorithm.
“Lieutenant I don’t think that’s the best idea at the moment. Your current state of health is-”
“I know my current state of health, asshole. I am not having this conversation without a little help.”
Connor takes one step further into the house and stops again, all straight lines and inhuman stiffness that he can feel in his joints.
“You are dying and I want to know why. Why you-” He stutters over the next bit, eyes locked on a point between Hank’s shoulder blades. “Why you didn’t tell me.”
“Ah, Connor.” Hank’s sigh turns into another coughing fit and Connor hears the wet sound of something solid hitting the sink. Hank wipes at his mouth and turns around, red streaked across his mouth and something unpleasant twists in Connor’s body. It’s so similar to the feeling he’d had when his copy had had a gun pointed at the Lieutenant’s head. “It’s not anything against you, I promise.”
“Then what is it?” Connor demands. Emotions and error messages and everything he doesn’t know how to deal with clogging his system caches as he takes another step forward. “Why have you not sought medical attention? Why are you continuing to work in your current condition? Why won’t you let me help you?”
“Because you’re what put it there!”
The raised voice sends Hank into another coughing fit, blood staining his lips and clenched teeth pink when he turns to face Connor, his knuckles going white with strain on the countertop. He coughs again, clearing his throat and expelling an entire blossom onto the tiled floor between them.
Connor goes completely still. The kind of still only someone who doesn’t actually need to breathe can go.
“Search your databases for Hanahaki Disease.” Hank says tiredly, words barely above a whisper.
The phrase brings up many things, myths, fan stories, rare cases, fatalities.
“You can cure it.” He says softly , matching Hank’s tone of voice unconsciously. “There are multiple cases that resulted in fatalities, but there are also cases where the one inflicted was able to have the growth removed and live a healthy life.”
“You’ve learned a lot about us humans and our fucking complicated emotions, Connor, I’ll give you that.” When Hank looks up at him there’s something there Connor has never seen in any human before. “But you gotta leave this one alone.”
Connor takes another step, passing the couch and cataloging the change in the floor as he hits the tile of the kitchen. “I can’t do that, Hank. You know that your well being is one of the highest priorities.” The Lieutenant growls at that and Connor’s concern ratchets up another notch, the probability of successfully extracting an explanation falling.
“Yeah yeah, all your mission bullshit.” Hank coughs again, spitting petals on the floor as he draws in a ragged breath. “That’s why this ain’t gonna work, Con. This isn’t one of your missions. This is me being so in love with a fucking android that apparently my body doesn’t give a damn whether or not you’re capable of returning anything, that it’s already decided I’m shit outta luck.”
Hanahaki Disease, Flowering Death; the growth of plant life in an individual’s lungs when there are unreturned feelings of love and affection. Thought to be caused by a mutation in the lung tissue that comes with the loss of serotonin and dopamine associated with negative emotion. The definition leaves much to be desired and Connor is at a loss.
“You say you have feelings for an android? It is not uncommon for humans to become attached to their companions. Why not simply have the growth removed though? I still don’t understand.”
“Don’t wanna lose it.”
Hanahaki Disease. Only known cure; removal of plant growth at the root. Removal of roots also results in removal of the positive feelings toward the respective individual. There are rare cases, if caught early enough, where the feelings may be retained, but success rate is below 10%. In very rare cases, confessing these feelings can at times cause the conditions to become treatable.
“But if the feelings aren’t returned, why would you want to keep feeling this way?”
“Because it’s the only positive feeling I got left right now, ok?”
It doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical.
“Who is this android?”
“I didn’t think my question was funny, Lieutenant.”
“You really are that dense, ain’t ya.” It’s not a question. Hank smiles grimly, blood drying at the corner of his mouth as he catches Connor’s gaze and holds it. “Already told’ya. It’s you, you fucking idiot.”
When Connor steps forward this time it’s with a steadiness that he doesn’t feel. His body is made to never falter but he’s shaking apart inside.
Hank loves him?
Months of smiles and jabs and little moments play through his memory like an old movie reel, disjointed and broken, and they still don’t make sense. Connor knows the definition of love but he has no context, nothing to compare it to in an attempt to understand what Hank is feeling. Instead he continues moving forward, not allowing himself to stop or think or any of those things the old him would have done. The old him that was asleep for so long. He’s awake now and nothing is ever going to close his eyes again as he fits one hand over the ball of Hank’s shoulder and leans in.
It is both exactly what he’d been expecting and nothing like it at the same time. There is warmth and pressure on his lips, his oral sensors taking a reading of Hank’s blood before he can turn the function off. His eyes are open, taking note of the way Hank’s have slipped closed as the older man pushes forward into him for the briefest of seconds before he’s being pushed away.
“What the fuck, Connor?!”
Connor doesn’t go far. He allows himself to be pushed back enough to speak but he doesn’t step back. Something tells him that if he moves away now that will be the end of it.
“You said that you love me. If the feelings are returned your condition will improve.” That’s just logical.
“You can’t just suddenly develop feelings like that for someone in less than a second.” Hank’s heart rate is spiking, damaged lungs working double time to pull in oxygen in their limited capacity. “That’s not how this works.”
“An intense feeling of deep affection.”
“Love is defined as being an intense feeling of deep affection.” Connor parrots. “I have never known what affection feels like, but I know that there is something in my programming telling me that I would not function correctly if I were to lose you.”
Hank visibly swallows and fists both hands in Connor’s collar. “Don’t do this to me you bucket’a bolts. Don’t -”
“Heartbreak is defined as suffering from overwhelming distress; very upset. I may not have a heart to break, but I can accurately say that those feelings are present when I think of being without you.” The hands still fisted in his jacket are shaking and Connor folds his own over Hank’s fingers. “None of this makes sense and I am more and more confused with every new emotion and encounter, but I know that if I had to do it alone I would no longer be myself.”
“I need you, Hank.”
He presses their joined hands against Hank’s chest and leans in again. This time Hank lets him. Under his fingers Hank breathes in and there is no rattle, no hack, no blocked airway. Just a full, deep breath. Hopefully, the first of many.