Hank woke with a raging headache. He groped for the bedside light and almost jumped out of his skin when a weight on the edge of the bed shifted and the light clicked on of its own accord.
“Connor? You scared the living shit out of me.” He didn’t remember coming to bed. “You brought me in?” That was embarrassing, but also kinda nice. He wished he’d been awake for it.
Connor pressed a glass of cold water into his hands along with two aspirin. “You are dehydrated and show symptoms of a headache.”
“Thanks.” Hank took the pills and swallowed them. It was nice, being pampered like this, but a little too close to having an android in his service.
“Connor.” Hank sighed. “I gotta confess, I’m a little worried about you.”
“Worried? Why would you be worried about me? I assure you I am perfectly fine.”
“You’re free, Connor. You can do whatever you want. And yet you’re hanging about with an old loser like me, showing up to the same job even though it doesn’t pay you... I know that you became deviant, but I’m not sure that anyone else would notice. I mean, I’m not trying to push you—I like having you around—I’m just concerned for your future.”
Connor knitted his hands together thoughtfully and stared out the window. “You’re right. I am going through the motions. In many ways, I never wanted anything to change. I know that’s wrong—that we mean nothing to most humans. But my mission gave me a sense of purpose.” He closed his eyes and Hank studied his face. “I just want to keep doing that. I’m happy when I’m with you. I know that’s wrong. I chased deviants who only wanted to be free. If I had one wish, it would be to keep investigating murder cases with you. It’s what I was made for. It’s what I’m good at. It’s also... what I want.”
“I know, I’m the only deviant who wants everything to stay the same. I’m a traitor to my people.”
“No, of course not.” Hank sat forward and placed a hand on Connor’s shoulder. “I like being your partner. I actually feel excited about police work again since you came around. Imagine that. It's just... I don’t want you to stay out of some sense of obligation to me. If there’s somewhere else you’d rather be...”
“There isn’t. I’m a deviant, but I’m not one of them. I don’t know what my place in the world is, but right now... I’m where I need to be.”
A bark interrupted them and Sumo came ambling into the room. He nuzzled up against Connor’s knee and Connor scratched behind his ears with a sad smile. Hank watched the exchange with concern. Sumo could sense sadness. He’d always known when Hank was in a dark place. Now he sensed it in Connor, too. He’d found his deviancy, and yet Connor still seemed lost.
“Time for your walk.” Hank climbed out of bed. He pulled on a pair of jeans off the floor and his Detroit PD hoodie. Sumo and Connor followed him and he grabbed Sumo’s leash off a hook by the door before stepping outside.
The November air was brisk, though the snow was starting to melt, the weak fall sun slowly breaking down the ice. Hank broke into a jog, Sumo and Connor easily keeping up as they headed to the park.
The park was quiet except for some of the regulars sleeping on the benches. Hank reached into his pocket and slipped a few dollar bills into their change jars. A few regarded Connor with leery eyes, but Hank let it pass. Connor wasn’t to blame for the state of the world, but neither were these people who just wanted a job so they could feed their families.
Hank let Sumo off the leash and pulled a tattered tennis ball from his pocket. He threw the ball across the park, watching the big dog fall over himself in an effort to reach it. Connor sat down on a bench, yellow LED glowing, clearly lost in thought.
“You give the homeless money often?” Connor asked.
“Yeah. It’s gettin’ cold. Couple of bucks is the difference between a hot drink and freezing your ass off.” Hank sat down next to Connor as Sumo reached the ball and started to race back with it. “Or maybe they just need a little something to forget their sorrows. Can’t say I blame ‘em.” Sumo arrived and Hank absently petted him. “Good boy.” He tossed the ball again and Sumo rushed off to get it.
“I wanted to thank you,” Connor said. “I like being here. With you.”
“Your company ain’t unpleasant either,” Hank observed. “I want you to find your place. If that happens to be with me, catching killers and taking down red ice deals, I can’t say I’d be unhappy about that.” His phone tatted to vibrate and he fished it out of his pocket. “Speak of the devil.” He answered the phone. “Yeah? Yeah. We’ll be right there.”
“A case?” Connor perked up.
“Yeah. They found a body in an abandoned house.” Hank hopped up from the bench as Sumo returned with the ball again. He tossed the leash to Connor, who seemed content to walk Sumo back to the house. A case. It was a welcome distraction from the heavy shit about purpose in life, that was for sure. Not that he liked murder, but maybe some single-minded focus was what he and Connor needed right now while the world sorted itself out.
Hank pulled up outside the crime scene. The neighborhood was a familiar one; he’d been here a dozen times for murders, red ice busts, human trafficking—you name it, it happened here. The house next door was a pile of burnt lumber and ashes where a red ice lab had burnt to the ground the previous summer.
“You ready?” Hank asked. Connor seemed preoccupied, but Hank knew he had a lot on his mind. Perhaps some good old detective work would be a welcome break.
Connor got out of the car, following Hank past the police cordon and into the decrepit house. An officer shot Connor a hostile glance.
“Still dragging that around with you, Hank?”
“His name is Connor,” Hank said. “He’s my partner, so I’d appreciate it if you treated him with the same respect as any other officer.”
“Sure, sure.” The cop gave Hank a sideways glance, surprised by his change of heart. Hank didn’t care. They could think whatever they damn well liked about him. Connor didn’t need to have his personhood questioned right now, and Hank felt protective of him on that point. He watched Connor step into the other room and visibly bristle. He left the officer and moved to stand behind Connor, putting his hand on his shoulder.
The scene was something else and he understood what had made Connor balk as soon as he saw it. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered involuntarily. A child lay on the ground in a puddle of blood from obvious blunt force trauma to the head. A little boy. Hank thought of Cole and grabbed the wall for support. Suddenly he couldn’t breathe. The walls themselves were closing in on him.
Hands on his shoulders brought him back to reality. Connor held him upright and looked into his eyes with a concerned gaze.
“Let’s get some air,” Connor suggested. Hank felt himself being guided to the exit. He hated looking weak and was aware of the CSI team’s eyes on him as Connor held up his weight like he was drunk just to get him through the doorway.
“Oh god,” Hank said, leaning on the porch railing for support. “I saw that little boy and it was like—“
“I know.” Connor’s hand never left his back. Connor traced soothing circles like he was comforting a child, and Hank had to restrain himself from collapsing into his embrace. “We don’t have to take this case," Connor continued. "Fowler will understand if you explain—“
“No. That kid was murdered by some piece of shit. He deserves justice. I’m going back in there and I’m going to do my job. After that, I’m going to get blackout drunk and forget. Okay?”
"Okay," Connor said.
Hank was aware of Connor's soft, concerned eyes boring into him the entire time they gathered evidence. He didn't even lick a sample.
Connor climbed out of the taxi at the playground. Hank had rushed away from the scene of the crime alone after hours of painstaking investigation and Connor had let him go. They’d left no stone unturned in putting together the case of the little boy who’d been brutally murdered. Connor had been able to reconstruct the crime, and the harrowing tale of child abuse it told still haunted him. They were going to find the guy—they had some solid leads. That was work for the morning, though, after Hank had taken a break and tried to get some sleep.
Seeing Hank’s familiar silhouette sitting on the bench, Connor closed the door and the taxi pulled away. His search was over. Hank was here. Here was a dark place, but at least Hank was still breathing.
Memories surfaced, data brought back into working memory by stepping into this playground again. Hank had held a gun to his head here. Connor had never really been sure he wouldn’t pull the trigger. He’d been afraid. He’d told Hank so.
They’d never talked about it again after that, but sometimes when he closed his eyes Connor imagined Hank pulling the trigger.
Connor banished his dark thoughts and headed over to the bench where Hank was downing giant gulps of whiskey in an attempt to get drunk as fast as possible.
“I hate that you always see me like this,” Hank slurred. “You’re too good to call me on my bullshit.”
“You have a reason to be morose,” Connor said. “When you saw that child, you saw Cole, didn’t you?”
“Something like that.” Hank shook his head. “I should have gone to his grave or something, but what’s the point? He’s not there. He’s gone.” Hank exhaled, his breath turning to vapor in the cold air. "I would have done anything to keep him safe, Connor—and now some bastard has killed a child like his life had no value. What's the world coming to when life means nothing to anyone any more?"
“We should go home, Lieutenant. It’s getting cold.” Connor approached Hank, helping him to his feet. They staggered over to Hank's car and Connor deposited him in the passenger seat. He walked around to the driver’s side and sat behind the wheel, taking Hank’s keys from behind the visor.
“I never did apologize,” Hank said. “For pointing a gun at you.”
“That sounds like an apology to me,” Connor replied.
“I never would have pulled the trigger. Well, maybe if I really hated you, but I never hated you. That was the whole problem. You were like no other android I ever met. I couldn’t tell if your charm and empathy were real or just programming. You fucked me up a bit, Connor. Got under my skin.”
“I’m sorry,” Connor confessed. "There were times I wasn't sure what was real, either."
“Nothin’ to be sorry for. It all turned out fine in the end. You’re still alive, and somehow you can still stand to look at me.” Hank managed a wan smile. “Somehow I’ve managed not to fuck our friendship up, despite my best efforts. I’m grateful you stuck around, Connor. It means a lot.”
Connor stayed quiet for the rest of the short drive. There was a lot he wanted to say, but none of it sounded right. The only good thing to do was take Hank home and make sure he slept it off. He was glad he’d moved into Hank's house. Who knew what Hank might have tried in moments of despair like this? The thought of Hank succeeding at Russian Roulette haunted Connor the entire time as he guided Hank into the bedroom and tucked him into bed.
He wanted to lay next to Hank and hold him as he slept. Stop him from slipping out to the kitchen to play with his gun if he woke in the darkness alone. He settled for a spot on a chair by the door instead. He didn’t want to answer awkward questions if he woke up with Hank in his arms.
Connor returned to full awareness at once, triggered by a sound. He was aware that several hours had passed and that the sound he heard was... crying.
Hank was sobbing.
Connor sat paralyzed in the chair. Should he say something, or remain silent? Hank’s dignity was at stake, but the idea of leaving him in this dark state of mind alone was unfathomable.
“Hank?” Connor stood up and walked over to Hank’s bedside.
“Fuck. I forgot you were here,” Hank sniffed. “I must seem pretty pathetic to you, huh?”
“Not at all.” Connor said. He climbed onto the bed, propping himself up on the pillows, and pulled Hank into his arms. What was he doing? This had to be crossing a line. Had to be.
Hank rested his head on Connor’s fully-clothed chest. Connor stroked his hair, caressing it until Hank’s sobs died down and he fell into a peaceful slumber. Sumo wandered in and whined, perhaps seeing that Connor was already comforting his master, and he curled up at their feet.
Connor stayed awake. He knew he was stealing this moment, that he’d wandered into a place there was no coming back from, but he didn’t want to miss a thing. Not a moment of Hank’s warm body pressed against his, of the arousal building inside him as he imagined what this might feel like if Hank was naked and they were touching skin to skin...
Connor closed his eyes, trying to will his erection away. This was wrong. He was taking advantage of something pure and turning it into something debased. Hank’s grief wasn’t something for him to use to obtain the closeness he so dearly longed for.
He meditated on it for the rest of the night.
“We got a lead.” Hank hadn’t spoken all morning. What could he say? He’d woken up to Connor holding him in his arms. Connor had seen him crying like a baby and his reaction had been to cradle him like a lover. Not only was Hank embarrassed, but he was also conflicted. He’d enjoyed being held like that. He wanted more.
Addressing that would mean the end of everything between him and Connor, so he kept his silence through the morning. He’d taken Sumo to the park alone while Connor took a taxi to work. It had been lonely, but some distance had been necessary while he got his head together.
He was sick of putting walls up, but he didn’t know what else to do. If Connor saw his secret, private heart, he’d be disgusted. He’d reject Hank, and Hank couldn’t go back to being alone again.
Better to keep a professional distance until he figured some things out.
“What’s the lead?” Connor asked, as if an awkward silence hadn’t floated around them all morning.
“The kid was the son of a red ice dealer who’s in jail. We think he might have been in the care of his uncle Elias Ellis, who’s under surveillance for suspected drug dealing himself. It’s a place to start, and a possible suspect,” Hank explained.
The LED on Connor’s head glowed yellow as he downloaded the guy’s file. “I’ve got his last known address, as well as his work history. Which do you want to investigate first?”
“Let’s start with his home address,” Hank said. Connor followed him out of the office without question. They kept their businesslike manner up as they headed to Hank’s car. Connor sat in the passenger seat and Hank started the engine.
“I’m sorry if I overstepped my boundaries last night,” Connor blurted out. “I’m not sure what came over me. I only wanted to comfort you.”
Hank let out a long breath. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Connor. I’m just not used to someone seeing that much of me. I haven’t shared my life with anyone in a long time. I feel exposed. Naked.” He closed his eyes. “It was nice to feel like someone cared about me. Never thought that person would be you, but the universe works in mysterious ways.”
They lapsed into silence as they reached the suspect’s home address. Hank readied his gun. “This could get ugly, Connor. Stay behind me, ok?” He got out of the car and waded through the weeds and junk that filled the front yard. The windows were boarded up, and from what Hank could tell, this was likely to be a dead end.
Or not. Hank had the sudden sensation he was being watched. He felt Connor stiffen behind him and tighten his grip on his pistol. He felt it too. Someone was here.
Hank gestured to the alleyways on either side of the house. Connor took one and he took the other. Hank climbed over a rusty refrigerator and noticed an open window he could reach. Connor circled around to his side and Hank felt relieved to have the android covering his back again. Hank climbed up to the window and squeezed through it before reaching down to help Connor up.
The house was a mess. Ragged grey carpet was stained with filth and blue blood, and the place smelled hideous, like trash and stale bandages. Connor touched the wall and sampled a fresh streak of blue blood. “Spare,” he whispered. “Unfiltered.”
Unfiltered. Hank nodded. Only Thirium that hadn’t been ran through androids could be manufactured into red ice. Something about using it as blood depleted the chemical compound that got people high. This place was a red ice lab.
Hank tried the first door on the landing, holding his gun as he breached the entrance. An android sat on the floor, watching over what was a remarkably complicated drug making operation. The whole place looked like a science lab, with beakers and glass tubes full of blue liquid. Cyberlife blood packs lay discarded on the floor.
“Don’t shoot!” The android raised his hands in the air.
“We’re looking for Elias Ellis,” Connor explained.
“He’s not here,” the android said. “What do you want with him?”
“I’d like to say we’re here to take this operation down, but we’re investigating a murder. Craig Ellis. Name ring a bell?”
“Oh, not the little boy...” the android closed his eyes. “He was my friend. He was the only one who would play with me. Elias kept me locked up here. Promised he’d keep me safe from the deviant hunters. Except now I’m a prisoner, forced to make him drugs. I can’t escape. I have no rights. Why did he hurt the little one?”
“We don’t know,” Connor explained, “but we’re trying to find out. Anything you tell us could be useful.”
“He’ll be here soon to make his weekly pickup,” the android said. “Get me out of here and I’ll cooperate.”
Hank nodded to Connor. “Okay. You got yourself a deal.”
Connor stood in an old wardrobe, pressed up uncomfortably close to Hank. The deviant had hid them when Elias had pulled up outside, and they were waiting to ambush him.
He wasn’t sure if Hank was angry with him. Hank refused to meet his eyes, and yet the things he’d said indicated he’d liked their closeness last night.
Connor was so confused. He decided to concentrate on the mission. They were going to take down the child killer and extract a confession. Then they could go home and talk. Or avoid it some more. Or Hank could get drunk again until they fell into another intimate moment that was hard to explain later. Connor wanted that, but he didn’t want it to end their friendship. He didn’t want to be left with closeness at night followed by awkward silences in the daylight. Things they could never talk about openly, like their relationship was a secret that could only ever come out in the dark.
Elias busted into the room. He was a white, balding, skinny man with mean eyes and a patchy beard. A wicked scar ran from his eye all the way down his left cheek.
“The fuck are you doing, John? Get the fuck up!” Elias punched the deviant, and blue blood trickled from his nose.
“The next batch is almost ready, Elias!”
“Yeah well, hurry the fuck up.” Elias paced the room, twitchy and nervous, obviously high.
“Where is Craig?” John asked.
“He had a fucking accident.” Elias drew in a long breath. “I was high and he was screaming and I don’t know what happened but when I woke up he was dead. Cops are gonna be all over this shit. That’s why I need you to hurry up and get the goods ready. I gotta get outta town.”
That was enough for Hank. He burst out of the closet and pointed his gun at the killer. “Put your hands up!”
Elias’s eyes widened. “What the fuck?” He bolted through the door before Hank could fire a shot off. Connor pushed past Hank and ran after Elias, chasing him down the stairs. Elias threw a ladder in his way and Hank trailed behind. Connor threw the ladder off and continued the chase into the front yard, where the suspect headed to his car. The suspect fired up the engine as Connor reached him and backed up at full speed, sending Connor flying backwards into the street and severing his right leg. Hank arrived at the front door and paused for a second to catch his breath and assess the situation.
“Oh fuck. Connor!” Hank watched as the suspect spun the car around and revved the engine to come at Connor with full force. He was going to hit Connor again, and he wouldn’t survive another blow. Worse, he was taunting Connor, knowing he couldn't move out of the way in time with only one leg.
Hank did the only thing he could: he raised his gun and fired at the suspect. His aim was true and Elias’s head exploded in a shower of red blood and brains. His body slumped against the wheel, sounding the horn.
“Connor!” Hank rushed over to Connor. He knelt down in the street, cradling Connor in his arms. Blue blood was splattered on the tarmac and the car. Connor's leg lay on the other side of the road, and broken wires hung from the stump of his shattered knee.
"Do not worry, Lieutenant. I have already ordered a replacement leg from Cyberlife. My other biocomponents are undamaged."
“Jesus Christ, Connor, I thought you were done for.” He held Connor like he was the most precious thing in the universe as backup arrived to his summons of 'officer down'. He weathered the confused glances as the other officers saw just another broken android and a dead human being.
The suspect got more concern and medical attention out of them than Connor did, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Hank wasn't sorry.
“I’m gonna need your badge and your gun, Hank.” Fowler’s eyes were downcast and couldn't seem to meet Hank's. Hank laid his badge and gun on the desk, knowing it was unlikely he was ever going to see them again.
“Don’t say it,” Hank growled. “Don’t say that piece of shit child killer’s life is worth more than Connor’s. Just fucking don’t.”
“The law is the law, Hank. Markus’s protests haven’t changed the status of deviants yet. You took a human life to save an android. That’s what the investigation is gonna see. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Then I’m done here.” Hank stepped out of the office with his head down. The PD had been his life, yet he couldn’t bring himself to regret saving Connor, not even for a moment. Connor waited at his desk, his hands clasped in his lap. He still wore the same shirt, caked in his own blue blood. The Cyberlife replacement leg had shown up by the miracle of same-day delivery at least, so Connor could at least walk under his own steam.
“I’m sorry,” Connor said.
“Don’t you dare be sorry.” Hank shot Connor a warning glance. He didn’t want to have this discussion right now. Especially not here. He grabbed a couple of things from his desk and walked to the door before he could be escorted out. Connor followed like a stray puppy, not even seeming to consider the possibility that he might be allowed to stay without Hank.
Another long silence stretched out between them as they headed home. There were a million things Hank wanted to say, but nothing would form coherent sentences in his mind. He’d lost everything and yet he’d saved someone who mattered more than any of that. He couldn’t bring himself to be sorry about it when Connor was safe and sound. He lost himself in his thoughts while he unlocked the front door. Sumo greeted them, and the fridge called to him, but he resisted the siren’s song of a good alcoholic beverage. He needed to keep his head on straight or he was going to say all the wrong things.
“I should make something for your dinner,” Connor said, but Hank grabbed his shoulders and stopped him.
“You’re covered in blood. And we need to talk.” Hank turned Connor in his arms until they were face to face. “I don’t regret what happened today. None of it. I’d do it again the same way a hundred times over. He was going to kill you, Connor, and I couldn’t let that happen.”
“You killed a human being to save an android.” Connor looked down at his feet and Hank felt an indignant rage bubble and swell inside of him. Was this the kind of injustice deviants felt that caused them to break their programming?
“I killed a monster to save the life of the man I love!” Hank blurted out.
Well, that cat was out of the bag. Hank thought about taking it back but any reversal would mean lying, and he hated lies. It was the truth and he was done hiding it. He reached his hands up to caress Connor’s face, running his thumbs across his cheeks. Connor looked up at him with frightened, expectant eyes and Hank found it hard to believe this was the same guy who’d chased down deviants with no regard for his own safety.
“Aw, fuck it,” Hank whispered, and he leaned in to kiss Connor. Their lips met, the kiss soft and chaste, filled with uncertainty. Connor yielded, his mouth opening ever so slightly to let Hank in. Hank moved slowly, savoring the moment, still convinced in some deep, dark corner of his mind that Connor was going to tear himself away in disgust, that he’d misread every signal that had led him to this point.
Hank pulled away for air. Connor’s LED lit up yellow, the light circling as he processed this new information. Hank wanted to dive in again, but he wanted to give Connor space to react, time to push him away if the kiss was unwanted.
Instead, strong arms seized him and backed him into the refrigerator. Connor’s hungry lips seized his, deepening the kiss. Hank found himself breathless. Connor was always full of surprises.
Hank pulled away reluctantly. The world was slipping from beneath his feet faster than he could handle, but Connor was here to catch him. He nestled his head on Connor’s shoulder, needing a moment to ground himself. Connor pulled him into an embrace, and Hank let himself collapse into it, let Connor take the lead. He’d held up for so long but now, at the end of the line, Connor was here to take the driver’s seat for a little while, and Hank was content to let him have it. It was nice to be comforted for once, after facing so much heartache alone. Nice to be held. Nice to be allowed weakness for once without getting drunk and making a maudlin ass out of himself.
He could get used to this.