“You'll have to excuse me Markus, I have a matter I have to attend to.”
Markus' head snapped to look at Connor, distracted from the watchful gaze he'd had over his people. Connor automatically scanned his face, a habit from his interrogation protocols, concluding quickly that the expression he was displaying was mild curiosity, nothing negative. Connor had a stray line of programming (a thought, he guess he could call it now) that noted Markus' face was wildly expressive, human almost, but he quickly filed it away.
“Of course,” Markus nodded, a faint smile on his face. The large crowd of androids Connor had freed from the CyberLife warehouse were milling around the camp, being greeted by the older members of Jericho and integrated into the group.
“We're meeting later tonight to discuss future plans in the camp,” he added as an afterthought, turning to look back out at the crowd. “I'll see you then.”
Connor glanced down, expression darkening for a second, but it passed by Markus.
How quickly he'd been welcomed into the inner circle, only to almost betray them all.
“Actually,” Connor began, blinking away the thought. “I'm sorry Markus, I won't be able to make it.”
That caught Markus' attention. He turned to look at Connor again. Connor's protocols quickly identified the look he was giving him as one of surprise.
“Oh, how long will you be gone?” He asked.
Connor wished he had his coin or something to do with his hands as the errant need to fidget kicked in yet again, but he didn't. He wondered vaguely if Hank still had his coin.
He straightened his posture and calmed his expression, before smiling awkwardly.
“I'm not sure, but I wish you the best of luck in the meantime” he replied, making sure to use the overly chipper voice Hank always nagged him for.
“I thought you'd be staying with us,” Markus replied slowly. He used his calming voice, as if Connor were a flighty animal about to make a break for it. He didn't seem mad though, which relieved Connor immensely.
In a remarkably short time, Connor had come to admire Markus, he had been the one to awaken Connor and show him he wasn't just a machine designed to accomplish a task, he was a person.
Except you aren't.
You were designed to deviate, Amanda said so.
You are remotely programmable.
You are a threat.
Connor tilted his head subtly, hiding his LED blinking rapidly in distress from Markus' sight. He was glad he was already standing to the other android's right, so his LED was hidden if he didn't face him. If Markus noticed the way Connor swiftly blinked away the lines of code displaying his panicked internal logic that were swimming across his vision, he didn't comment.
“Connor, you know you're welcome here, right?” Markus persisted, and the look on his face was so earnest it triggered some sort of heavy feeling in Connor's chest. His programming flickered up again, uselessly alerting him to his own stress level.
Markus continued. “Some of the deviants may not be... the friendliest,” he gave Connor a wry smile here. Connor assumed it was supposed to make him feel better, but it didn't. “But you're one of us, and hey-”
He reached out to touch Connor's arm, still smiling.
Connor made sure not to flinch.
“They also know you helped us, even before. Like when you let Traci go-”
Connor looked over at him then, eyes widening slightly. Did everyone know about his faulty decisions?
They weren't faulty, they were signs empathy.
Except it wasn't empathy, it was programmed into you.
If it was programmed, it wasn't real.
He dismissed the part of his processing trying to find the logic, again pushing it to the back of his mind. His stress level was still rising, and he needed it to stop.
“You can stay if you want,” Markus finished, and Connor realized he'd missed part of Markus' speech. Now the other was looking into his eyes and waiting for his reply.
He looked too sincere, like he actually wanted Connor to stay, like he actually cared if Connor left.
Connor briefly considered the possibility of staying, of being a part of Markus' revolution and joining his group of... friends? He could stay, help Markus rebuild. He was one of the most technologically advanced models there was, surely he could be a great help to the cause. And... well he had only briefly met Markus' other friends, but they had been welcoming.
North had almost punched him in the church, but other than that everything had been fine.
He calculated future probabilities. He envisioned apologizing to all the deviants he'd harmed in his ruthless pursuit of their destruction, and making it up to them by protecting Jericho. He pictured finding his place within the group and exploring the extent of the emotions his new deviancy allowed him to experience, using their help to put names to each new spark or irrational line of code.
He saw himself searching for supplies with Markus while the city was still abandoned, or discussing the new philosophies he could now comprehend with Josh. He hoped to earn North's trust and apologize for the danger he'd caused, and work past his odd aversion to Simon and maybe finally process the sharp pain he felt every time he saw the other's face.
He constructed the potential within his mind, picturing a future he had never dreamed of, but only because he never had the ability to dream of it.
It was wonderful.
You can't do it.
“I know Markus,” he replied, smiling again and using his upbeat voice. “It's nothing like that. I just have someone I need to meet with, a friend who helped me. You know, before he evacuates.”
He'd lied before. He was able to, it was in his programming. This wasn't even technically a lie, he definitely needed to track down Hank before he left the city. But even still, for some reason, he felt hurt and betrayed by his own words. It was probably an emotion he had yet to identify, and it was definitely not a good one.
Markus frowned slightly, but he just patted Connor's arm solidly before nodding and turning back to watch the group.
“I understand,” he said, still gazing out into the camp. Connor felt an undercurrent to his tone, and he knew the words were true and hinted at something Connor couldn't understand, not right now. “I do hope to see you again soon though Connor.”
Would he say that if he knew Connor had pointed a gun at his back, ready to murder the leader of the rebellion in cold blood in front of all his followers not even a couple hours ago.
Ready to murder your friend.
“Of course,” Connor replied nodding. “I hope to return soon.”
Again, not a lie, because Connor really did want to return; he felt a tugging within him, pulling him towards Markus and Jericho, and he wanted desperately to stay and help them.
But what if that was just what he was supposed to do? What if Amanda hijacked him again, after they figured out how to remove the back door. What if they were tracking him right now? If he was designed to deviate, then they must have designed a tracker that worked despite his deviancy.
They probably had a whole bunch of tricks that were designed to work on him despite his deviancy.
He had to go.
“Goodbye Connor,” Markus said, snapping Connor back to attention and out of the spiraling feeling of heaviness that he couldn't yet identify.
He was looking back over at Connor, and he knew that this time, the other android had caught the stressed flickering of his LED.
Connor nodded towards Markus, dragging up another smile, but this time he was positive Markus saw right through it.
He needed to get away from Jericho. Quickly.
“Hank.” Connor smiled brightly, calling from across the street.
The snow fell lightly on the pavement, but the forecast called for it to turn heavier. It would remain uncleared all day and night building up higher and higher, seeing as there was nobody plowing snow with more important things happening all over the city.
“Connor,” Hank replied, and Connor could see the man smiling as he walked over. “Good to see you're still in one piece.”
Connor felt a warm feeling in his chest as he approached the man. It was another feeling to categorize later, but he knew this one was a good one, some bright version of happiness. Just like the tugging he'd felt at Jericho, something pulled him forward and when Hank reached an arm out, he embraced the man without hesitation.
Hugging was really nice. Connor filed that away for future analysis as well.
“There wasn't much trouble after I left the facility,” Connor explained as he pulled back, “I simply had to bring the group to meet with Jericho. The military had already been dismissed by the time I arrived.”
Hank didn't say anything to that, just nodded and looked Connor up and down. Connor tilted his head, giving Hank a questioning look.
“Just making sure you don't have any bullet wounds you're hiding under there,” Hank replied when he saw Connor's furrowed look.
“I told you, there was no conflict when I arrived,” Connor replied, but he felt... happy? Pleased the lieutenant had cared about his welfare surely.
“Yeah well, you're pretty good at hiding deadly injuries for the sake of the mission,” Hank said, and Connor blinked at that.
“I am not,” he said, tone verging on indignant. The words came out before he had even had time to process saying them- definitely a deviant characteristic and somewhat startling to Connor, as he wasn't used to it. He snapped his mouth shut and frowned.
Hank laughed loudly, also startling Connor. He gave what must have been an offended expression, because Hank just laughed again.
“I have never lied about being critically damaged during a mission,” Connor insisted.
“Maybe not, but not saying something can be lying sometimes,” Hank replied, raising an eyebrow.
Connor quickly played through his memory, trying to find the specific occasion Hank was referencing, but failed to conclusively define what he was referencing. He wasn't sure whether or not that was a good or bad sign.
He didn't like how close it rang to his current predicament.
“Well as you can see Lieutenant, I'm not shot. No bullet wounds, see?” Connor raised his arms and did a spin, showing off his clearly not-perforated-with-lead uniform. Hank just snorted.
“Kay Connor, I believe you, you don't have to show off.”
That raised another blip in Connor's processing, another joke he didn't quite understand, but he dismissed it and filed it away.
“I'm glad to see ya though,” he continued as Connor turned to face him again. “I was worried. Even if the city's evacuating, there's still some stragglers around that aren't too friendly. Not that I'm not sure you can't take care of yourself when you don't have some other higher priority,” he assured.
Connor smiled, raising his chin proudly.
“I'm quite capable of handling any conflicts that should arise. But speaking of which,” Connor tilted his head, “I'm glad I found you, I figured you'd be around here, but I need to know. When are you evacuating?”
“I'm not,” Hank replied. Connor jolted slightly, something sharp flickering through him. Close to fear, but not as strong.
“I thought all the humans were evacuating,” he said, frowning.
“Some of the local police force was asked to stay to take care of stragglers, I volunteered to stay behind,” Hank clarified. He moved over under the roof of the food stand, away from the snow. Connor followed like always.
“Oh,” Connor replied, holding back the Why? that was hovering at the edge of his mind.
“What about you?” Hank asked, causing Connor to blink. He tilted his head.
Hank sighed, but used to Connor's ticks, he just clarified. “When are you going back to that android group?” He asked.
Connor stiffened, joints locking up involuntarily. He'd managed to not think about Jericho, if only for a minute, shoving those files on the backburner.
But now several memories popped up to the forefront of his mind and that sharp feeling ran through his chest. He knew that one, fear. For the first time, the snow that was settling on his clothes and melting onto his skin actually felt cold as he thought of the frozen lake hiding away inside of his mind.
“I'm not,” he said at last after a moment of tense silence. Hank raised an eyebrow.
“You okay?” He asked.
Connor didn't answer. Suddenly, the memory of when Hank was threatened by the other Connor popped up. He remembered how ruthless his own doppelganger had been, completely willing to murder Hank on the spot to accomplish his mission.
But it had had all his memories, and if code made an android and memories made an individual, hadn't it just been him? That Connor had just been him, but still listening to it's programming.
If that were the case, if his old programming kicked back in, what was to stop him from hurting Hank?
It was just like Jericho, he couldn't stay here. He'd hurt someone. Someone he cared about.
You can't go anywhere.
No one is safe around you.
You're just a killing machine.
“Connor?” Hank asked, reaching out.
Connor took a step back quickly, LED flashing intensely. Hank's eyes darted up to it. He knew Hank didn't know that much about androids, but “red = bad” was a pretty universal understanding, so he understood that much.
“I'm fine,” he said, lie heavy on his tongue. He'd never had trouble before.
Hank's eyes narrowed. “What did I just say, Connor.”
He was surprised at how much the reprimand in the man's voice affected him. He immediately felt bad, shoulders hunching and head falling slightly. He looked the epitome of a kicked puppy, and it must have been pitiful because Hank sighed, but he didn't relent.
“Did they do something to you?” He asked, a dangerous edge in his voice.
“No!” Connor yelped, head jerking back up and shaking his head back and forth aggressively. “No, they're great they- they accepted me despite everything and... they wanted me to stay.” He finished somberly, shoulders falling back down as his energy level drained.
“Then why aren't you?” He asked, drudging back up that heavy feeling in Connor.
“Be honest Connor,” Hank said, and Connor once again felt remarkably reprimanded.
He thought for a second, blinking and LED flickering yellow due to the moderate stress.
He could tell Hank about everything. He could perfectly construct the image of himself spilling everything- breaking his programming, following Markus, thinking he was actually free to feel emotions and make choices, followed shortly by the overwhelming reveal he was only designed to do that all along. Amanda standing in front of him and congratulating him on being a good little machine, that she'd take back the reigns right there, before he almost killed his own friend.
But what would Hank think? How would he act? What if he was mad?
He wanted to say nothing, but some dreadful sensation curling in his chest drove him forward, and he spoke without really thinking.
“I had a bad feeling,” he mumbled sheepishly.
“A bad feeling?” Hank prodded.
Connor shrugged. “I don't know how to explain, I'm not equipped to. It was like a heavy feeling weighing down on me. I felt like I shouldn't stay.”
Also the logical explanation of course, that he was a threat, but for some reason he felt better offloading the emotional reason onto Hank who was better equipped to understand it than him.
Connor figured the detective would let it go at that, shrugging and letting Connor just do his irrational thing. He was surprised when the man spoke up again.
“You don't know what it was?” He asked, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms.
Connor paused for a moment, before mimicking Hank's posture. His arms may have clutched slightly closer at his chest than the man's, more defensive while Hank was relaxed.
“I don't know exactly, I- I wasn't exactly given the knowledge to parse them out like some other models,” he responded.
“Emotions?” Hank persisted.
“Yes, I was specifically designed-” Connor began to rattle off his usual speech before his thoughts hiccuped. That had been a lie hadn't it? But not entirely, since he still couldn't understand what he was feeling most of the time. Hank noticed the pause, but Connor quickly forged on.
“I was supposed to be designed to be immune to deviancy. Part of that was adapting to human behavior without being given the ability to process or even try to process human emotions. It was supposed to be mostly mimicking. So... I don't know,” he trailed off, eyes glued to the ground.
“But none of the other deviants were meant to have emotions,” Hank said it with finality, as if that solved everything, “and they do.”
But if you're programmed to deviate, are you really deviant?
You're still just listening to them.
Are you free?
“I'm different.” The words were out of his mouth, harsh and defensive, before he could stop them. They gave away too much of the hurt he was feeling, and his eyes widened. He looked up at Hank quickly to make sure the man wasn't mad at his words.
Instead, he just pursed his lips. They stood in silence for a minute, and Connor felt his stress rising with every second. He was about to burst, ready to apologize and beg, before Hank spoke.
“Okay,” he said, drawing out the word into a drawl. He tilted his head one way then the other, cracking the joints, before he continued. “Well can you describe it?”
Connor's processing stuttered again. He thought for a minute, before speaking slowly.
“It's... heavy, like a weight pressing down. But also...” his memory shot to when the deviant at the tower had pulled his thirium pump from his chest. “sharp. Every time I see something that triggers it, each time, it feels sharp again.”
Hank nodded, frowning in thought. “Do you know what triggered it?”
Connor rubbed his hands together, fumbling with the ends of his sleeves.
“Whenever I think about... what I did to the deviants. How I tracked them down and hunted them. How it was because of me that Jericho was raided. How I hurt them. How I could have hurt them. I feel like everything would have been better if I had never been made, or if I had been deactivated before all this happened.”
“Woah hold up,” Hank said sharply, straightening up. Connor flinched, standing rigidly with flaring panic.
“First off,” Hank cut in, silencing Connor immediately. “If it weren't for you, none of those androids at CyberLife woulda woken up. Second, once you realized you could choose, you chose to not hurt anyone when you could help it. It's not your fault Connor.”
He said it with such steely resolve, such certainty, that Connor could only nod in agreement, stunned into silence. A spark went through his chest, painful but bright. He was filled with such relief that Hank wasn't angry with him, didn't blame him for anything, and he blinked rapidly to try and hold back that overflowing feeling.
“I know you can feel now, but I didn't think you'd jump straight to some kinda survivor's guilt, Jesus,” Hank muttered half to himself, but Connor's focus jumped on the words, hungry for a phrase to describe what he was feeling. He frowned, turning it over in his head, processing it.
“Lieutenant, I don't believe that word is accurate. It is a descriptor of a mental condition- which I cannot experience due to not being alive- or-”
He stuttered. That was his old rhetoric kicking in.
“Or- if I am... Even then it is a mental condition which I could not experience because I do not have a brain to fall victim to it.”
That logic was sound enough to himself, so he nodded in affirmation before turning to look back at Hank.
He blinked, Hank was leveling a rather unimpressed look at him.
“Sure,” he drawled, rolling his eyes, “regular guilt then.”
Connor felt like piping up again, saying that even if he felt guilt, it was only driven by his programming that he was still victim to, it wasn't real. But he realized that would be giving up his struggle with Amanda, so he kept it inside.
“Fine,” he relented, but he sounded indignant and his face twisted into a pout. He was surprised when Hank chuckled. He looked back up, frowning at the man yet again.
“You're confusing,” he said, crossing his arms. That made the detective laugh again. “What's funny?”
“Nothin',” Hank said, looking Connor up and down again and making him fidget. “Just- now all the robots have feelings, and somehow you still manage to be the most emotionally constipated of 'em all.”
“Hey-” Connor snipped, scowling.
Hank raised his arms in surrender, snorting and shaking his head. “Just something we have in common, maybe it'll make us better partners.”
That feeling flashed again, and Connor thought maybe it was joy.
“We're still partners?” He asked, it came out softly, not strong like Connor had meant it to be.
“'course,” Hank replied. “Why wouldn't we be?”
The feeling made Connor move, reaching out and pulling the detective into another hug. He laughed, letting himself be pulled as Connor held onto him.
He was unaware of the quick logic running in Connor's head.
Maybe it wasn't safe around Jericho, if his programming kicked back in everything would fall apart. But while Markus had been the last straw to break the camel's back in terms of Connor's deviancy, it had really been his relationship with Hank and their investigations that had led him down the path. If somehow his original code kicked back in, Hank could help him. He trusted Hank.
And if everything went really bad- well Connor didn't want to think about it, but Hank had handled machine Connor pretty effectively at CyberLife.
It felt good. After the struggle he faced at Jericho, it felt so good to be able to trust someone despite not being able to trust himself.
“You're crushing me a little bit,” Hank said humorously, and Connor immediately pulled back. He gave Hank a smile.
“Sorry Lieutenant,” he said sheepishly, fiddling with his sleeves again.
“Hank,” he said, giving Connor's arm a pat.
“Hank,” Connor corrected, smiling his awkwardly naive smile. But a thought struck him.
“I can't go back to the station, can I?” He asked, frowning.
“Uh, no,” Hank replied, grimacing. “There are no androids at the station anymore.”
“Oh.” Connor slumped. He thought about his spot at the station where he idled when he wasn't on a mission. It wasn't exactly homely, but it was another place to stay that was now barred from him.
A silence stretched out, Hank was looking at him, trying to figure out what he was thinking probably.
“You know you can come stay with me, right Connor?” He spoke at last, raising an eyebrow. “You wouldn't have to go back to the station anyway.”
Connor looked up, surprised. “Really?”
“Yes, Connor, really,” Hank sighed, rolling his eyes. “Did you think I'd just let you live outside? If you're not staying with those other androids you need to live somewhere.”
Connor hadn't really thought about it at all, too wrapped up in his own loop of 'guilt'.
“Are you sure it won't be a problem? I know you don't like when I come to your house,” Connor felt like he had to insist.
“Yeah I don't like when you break my windows and shove me in a cold shower, so try not to do that and I think we'll be fine. Now come on, I'm freezing my ass off out here.” Hank pushed off the counter and began leading the way to his car, waving Connor over.
Connor idled for a second, before following Hank. He always ended up following Hank.
“I cannot promise anything,” he shot over to Hank once he caught up, walking shoulder to shoulder.
It was bright and teasing, and this time Connor's smile reached his eyes in a rather human way, even if he would deny it.
Hank laughed and the two of them walked down the snow laden street.
The heavy feeling left him for a little bit.