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Odd-eyed

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Hello, and welcome to Odd-Eyed!

This was my very first RK1K work - I've changed and evolved a lot since then, I've reread this plenty and oh boy, have I cringed at some parts.

 

If you've already read this in the past - I doubt it, this old thing was being published back when the Connor/Markus tag had all of 3 pages. Three - you may be wondering:

What the hell is this? Why is this dusty old thing kicking around again?

And I'm sorry to say - No, it's not the uncles-oneshot I promised and I still have to make.

"Odd-Eyed" was originally supposed to be a meet-cute, friends-to-lovers thing that was supposed to end with pining and maybe a first kiss at Chapter 6.

Clearly that was not the case, it got away from me and started writing itself.

I tried my best to keep up and warn the readers about the content chapter by chapter, but the crucial tagging of the story ended up neglected.

I've corrected the tags since, but it has come to my attention that, due to inexperience and possibly naivety on my part, this story lacks proper warning - I had never put any such topics in my stories before, and as such was sloppy in singling them out.

So I'm uploading this here and moving it at the very start:

Please be warned! There's implied sexual assault mentioned in passing in Chapter 7 (now 8) of this story. Past child abuse is also mentioned in one of the characters' backstory; and another character is also subjected to kidnapping and unwanted advances.

There is no actual non-consensual sexual content being fully carried out 'on screen' at any point in time, but the topic is mentioned in passing a few times.

If such content upsets you, you probably either shouldn't read this fic, no matter how mild or vague it is.

 

You have now been warned.

 

I would also like to take this moment to state clearly that I abhor sexual abuse and abuse in general and the only moments it is mentioned in this story is to be condemned as the horrible thing that it is.

 

There we go.

Enjoy this trainwreck. I still cannot believe it became the Behemoth it is now, and I could not be any more grateful for all the love.

Hopefully my newer works will also be to everyone's liking.

 

Enjoy, and be safe.

Chapter Text

A peaceful revolution. If anyone asked Connor back before he got so deeply involved, he would have calmly informed that such a thing had such a small probability of success that it was virtually negligible.

Now? He guesses that, statistically, there’s always a chance of unexpected things happening.

Take a look at him, for one. The Deviant Hunter, turning deviant himself. Still, he doesn’t regret it, not when his choices ensured the safety of his friends, androids and humans alike –he still remembers the relief flooding through him when Hank shot the impersonator RK800, fast and overwhelming and nearly making him space out instead of getting a move on to wake up all the androids.

But in the end, they did it.

Connor will forever remember the look on Markus’s face, when he finally reached him with the thousands following –the surprise, the pride, the gratitude… no one except Hank had ever displayed gratitude to him before.

There’s obviously a much longer journey ahead of them –if humanity’s history has taught them all anything, is that true equality isn’t something achieved easily or n a short amount of time, if at all. All the issues still going on in the background concerning races, nationalities, genders and sexual orientation come to mind, for one. A full-on android revolution kind of overshadowed them a small bit, but still: humans don’t have the best track record with things that are different.

Hopefully, the worst of it is behind them at least.

After the dust settled, Hank offered him a place to stay, and Connor accepted, if only to avoid the Lieutenant drinking himself into oblivion again. It also helps that he’s quite fond of Sumo as well.

It’s been a rough couple of months for everyone involved, but things seem to be finally settling down, peace unsure and unsteady like a toddler moving their first step, but Connor has full faith in Markus; and will be there to help his new friend no matter what.

It’s the least he can do since Markus extended the same trust to him, even though he tried to kill the deviant leader and was at fault for unknowingly leading the humans to Jericho… he still can’t quite grasp how or why Markus confided in him so easily, to the point of trusting him with the vital task of freeing the androids from Cyberlife tower –old habits die hard, evidently, and his usually analytical mind is at a loss with actions fuelled and dictated by emotional responses.

Nevertheless, his developing sense of right and wrong, however new a concept to Connor, tells him that Markus did the right thing, and that he was able to do the right thing in return.

All in all, life goes on.

“Damn it Connor, I told you I don’t need a fucking baby sitter!” give or take a few complaints. Connor shakes his head fondly.

“I’m sorry, Hank, but you wouldn’t have stopped to cook breakfast for yourself.” He objects as he sets the table, “You should take more care of your health. I’m only equipped with basic nutritional information, but I could download some recipes.”

“Bah. I said I’m fine!” for all his protests and posturing, Hank does dig in with gusto, so Connor guesses even his limited logs on cooking are a passable skillset for now.

Not that it makes him want to help any less. “Please. It would be the least I can do in return for letting me stay here—”

“You’re already doing more than enough, kid.” There’s a disguised sort of fondness in Hank’s interruption. It’s laced with distant pain, and Connor realizes, processors putting the pieces together fast and seamlessly, that maybe the reason Hank asked him to stay is because he doesn’t want to be alone with himself –doesn’t want to spend nights and days alone, wondering if it’s worth it to wake up to another tomorrow or if he should just kill his liver with whisky and be done with it all.

Maybe, just maybe, Hank misses having a son to care about.

Which is just as well, since Connor is very curious to know what having an actual father would feel like, and is very fond of the man after all.

They go on with the rest of the morning in silence –Hank getting up to wash and get dressed while Connor, already in is RK800 uniform, walks Sumo and comes back to program the dishwasher.

“Tell you what, Connor.” Hanks says to him at some point, while they drive to the station, “After we get done with the reports for the day, why don’t I take you downtown and help you choose some clothes to wear other than this stupid fucking uniform?”

“It’s a generous thought, Hank.” Connor says, tilting his head just slightly, “But there’s no need to concern yourself. I do not perspire, and as such the clothes I own need minimal washing, if any, and I don’t really need to possess more sets.”

A knowing look flashes on the Lieutenant’s face as he grins, making Connor blink confusedly at whatever secret Hank might be privy to, to warrant such a look. “Of course you don’t need to…” the man concedes, nudging him slightly with a shoulder, “But do you want to?”

In a stark difference to the moment when Kamski asked him a very similar question, Connor actually ponders it, LED flashing yellow as he considers the possibility of having his own wardrobe.

“I… I guess picking up a few things wouldn’t hurt.”

Hank chuckles, delighted and slightly smug as he always is whenever Connor acts like an actual person and lets himself have his own thoughts. The android is still not used to this, the contrast between his deviancy and his past unquestioning obedience more jarring to him than most others.

Their impromptu shopping trip ends up with Connor owning another leather jacket, three different pairs of jeans, some t-shirts, an unreasonably oversized flannel that he insisted was perfect more than he’d like to admit, two similarly large sweaters, a couple of simple button downs just in case… and socks. For no other reasons other than liking them, Connor has purchased five separate pairs of socks. All with animal patterns on them and brightly colored.

He offers to pay for it all himself –he does receive a small stipend now after all, even though legislation is still very much in the beginnings for working rights and the decision to agree on a small salary for working androids was more a token of good faith than anything else, considering the only thing androids would ever need money for would be spare parts for maintenance and possibly owning or renting property… but once more, Hank insists he doesn’t have to, that he can just foot the tab for dinner and drinks out next time.

“Well.” Connor then says, the barest hint of a smirk on his lips, “Considering the amounts of alcohol you consume on average, it will be more than adequate repayment.”

The Lieutenant takes a mock swipe at him, effortlessly dodged. “Don’t sass me, young man!”

There it is, the warmth that registers into his logs, slotting his interactions with Hank in the category ‘family’. It makes Connor smile. “Whatever you say, Lieutenant.”

 

Markus is on the news again when they get home –another televised press conference to keep the people informed on talks with government officials and other such vital questions.

Connor watches raptly, LED flaring yellow as he processes all the information, as captivated by the way Markus speaks as he was the very first time he saw him on video. Coming to think of it, that was probably the moment he actually started to blur the line between compliance and deviancy: Markus is compelling in every aspect of him –his mismatched eyes, speaking of loss and self-repair, his words, inspired and hopeful and ever pacifist; and the spark behind his expression, so alive and there, with an intensity that not all deviants can quite match.

“That boy is making quite the name for himself, ain’t he?” Hank's question makes Connor nearly jump out of his artificial skin, and he whips around to look at his partner, his system informing him he’s been watching the screen for 4 minutes and 54 seconds, staring with absolute rapture as Markus and a dozen other people talked about the juridical aspect of regulating work hours for android personnel and the implications of having the right to have free time and privacy.

He has watched, but he has to quickly review his immediate memory bank to actually figure out what was being said, his most immediate processes focused more on his own thoughts about Markus and his revolution as a whole rather than the actual press conference.

He finds that he quite admires Markus’s resolve to do anything for the freedom of his people –he’s not sure he could shoulder that burden himself. “Yes…” he responds belatedly to Hank’s remark, “I don’t envy his position. He has quite a lot on his metaphorical plate.”

The Lieutenant nods gruffly, as he opens a can of food for Sumo and settles on the couch with a beer for himself. “Well. Creepy blue eye aside, he sure seems like a charmer.” He comments, taking a long swig, “Say, don’tcha guys have color modules and shit? Why doesn’t he just change it back?”

Connor shrugs a shoulder, fingers reaching for his quarter as he starts playing with it –Hank has been trying to learn, but it will take him a long time to even remotely get the hang of Connor’s precise slide of the hand tricks. “I can’t presume to know for certain, but my guess would be that he chooses not to.” He muses, pensive as he flicks the coin this and that way, only looking briefly at Hank before refocusing on the screen, “Perhaps as a reminder of his own mortality, or as a milestone for his newfound freedom. Not being ashamed of having been broken and survived it.”

“Huh.” Hank pauses, almost as if he wanted to say something more, going still in a way that makes Connor think of himself when processing new and unexpected information inputs –they aren’t so different after all– but the Lieutenant doesn’t continue, despite seemingly wanting to.

As it always happens when there’s something not being said, Connor becomes immediately curious and prods for more. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Nothin’. Just sounds like you admire him a whole lot.”

In a way reminiscent of when he couldn’t understand why Hank would tell him to shove his instructions anywhere, Connor is confused –he didn’t think it would be so surprising that he looks up to Markus. “Well…yes.” He confirms, “He has been more compassionate to me in the first few hours than any other being ever had, he forgave me for trying to kill him and putting his people in danger; and he accepted me as one of his people when I felt lost and with nowhere to go… not many androids would show such a sentiment.”

Hank nods empathetically. “Hell, not many humans around are like that.” The unspoken I was an asshole to you when we first met, too is there in the way the Lieutenant sighs wistfully.

Connor doesn’t quite get the concept of wondering about what ifs, despite having been guilty of it a couple times, and just pats Hank’s shoulder reassuringly, giving the man a quick scan out of habit.

Hmm. His cholesterol has risen again ever since than one time at Chicken Feed. His blood pressure isn’t that greater and he really— he really—

Suddenly, Connor gets hit with a wave of worry. Hank really should take care of himself –or at least have someone to care for him. Otherwise he might fall ill and die before his time.

Connor is terrified at the notion, and his LED flares red briefly, before a laugh from the television startles him back into blue. The televised conference seems to have shifted topics, and now journalists are asking Markus increasingly personal questions. Connor didn’t hear what the question was, but Markus’s answer is eye-opening in a way that has the RK800 chastise himself for not connecting the dots sooner.

“I guess it’s just who I am…” Markus says, with a dignified smile and poised charm, “I was originally designed as a healthcare assistant. I guess some of that just stayed with me. I’m a nurturer.” He concludes with a wink –North, by his side with Josh, rolls her eyes and not too discreetly punches him in the arm, barely holding back a snort as she shakes her head.

That is strange. They seemed to have developed romantic feelings for each other back in the church –trouble in paradise, perhaps?

No, Connor, focus. That is irrelevant, the important part in that is that yes, that’s right, Markus was a healthcare assistant before being the spearhead of a pacifist revolution. He will surely have pointers on how to care for a man that doesn’t want to be cared for.

“Hank? I’m going out for a couple of hours.” He calls as he stands and goes to put on his newest sweater, the grey one with a pocket on the front and sleeves going well past his knuckles, “I’m going to Jericho. Dinner is in the oven, can I trust you to remember warming it up and not blow up the house while I’m away?”

A middle finger is the first answer he gets. “You go hang out with your friends –God knows you need more of them.” Hank eventually says, “For the hundredth time, I’ll be fine. Now shoo. Scram, kid.”

Connor excuses himself with a barely concealed smile and an outright chuckle as Hanks voice calls out from the other side of the closing door: “…and be back by ten, y’hear me?!”

It’s objectively adorable.

 

The new Jericho is a repurposed Cyberlife branch building, for now, housing androids without a home plus the revolution’s inner circle and anyone who finds themselves in need of help. Markus offered Connor a place among them, but the RK800 had politely refused –“Who will keep Hank from hurting himself if I’m not around?”

He remembers Markus’s understanding chuckle, low and relaxed and registered at a high priority within his systems. Connor guesses it’s only natural, eager as he is to embrace his new circumstances and how to be a person; and who better than the most alive of them all to learn from?

“Hello. I’m Connor. I’m here to see Markus.” He says to an android he doesn’t know, trying to ignore the pang in his chest at the slight hint of distrust in the girl’s body language. He had started out hunting them, after all, it’s only natural for some to still be uneasy with his presence. “Is he back yet?”

Fortunately, the fact that their leader trusts him is enough for most androids to give him a chance at the very least, and this girl –Lexie, revealed a quick scan– nods at him and pointed to the direction of the stairs.

Of course Markus would be on the rooftop playing the piano.

The melody reaches Connor’s ears before he even walks through the rooftop access, and whatever greetings he had die on his lips at the sight. Markus looks relaxed, eyes closed, as his fingers dance across the ivory keys playing a slow and soft tune, swaying slightly in his seat even.

Huh. Connor had never given it much thought before, but the whole imagery –the music, the sunset lights giving everything a warm orange hue, Markus’s silhouette and the colours bouncing off his skin – all of it gets filed under the category for ‘beautiful’, next to the Chloe he decided to spare and the way the two Traci models held hands as they ran away.

“Hello, Connor.”

What is with his processing focusing on introspection and forgetting his surroundings, lately? He blinks a couple of times. “Hello, Markus.” He responds, walking closer, “That was a very nice song. You play beautifully.”

The Jericho leader lowers his head in thanks, “I downloaded the technical skills a long time ago, but I try not to passively copy reality –add my own twist to it.”

It was, after all, one of the first things he ever did for himself, upon Carl’s wise suggestion.

“Speaking of skillsets…” Connor turns fidgety, fingers twitching before he takes his coin out and starts fiddling with it as he speaks, unusually bashful. “I know you have your hands full, but… I find myself in need of a big favour.”

That seems to singlehandedly catch the other’s attention. Markus turns more fully towards me. “Alright, hit me.”

The RK800 blinks. “Why would I want to hit you?”

At that, Markus chuckles again like he did on the television, low and warm –Connor’s processing matrix makes a comparison to dark chocolate of all things, rather than another sound, and he decides he’ll run a quick diagnostic once he gets home because this makes absolutely zero sense. “It’s a figure of speech, Connor. Ask away.”

Ah. Amusement. Hank has told him many times he can be clueless and ‘goofy’ more often than not –he guesses it’s not so bad. Much better to be goofy than the deviant hunter. He reins his rapidly derailing thoughts back in and clears his voice. “I was wondering if I could download your healthcare assistant skillset.” It comes out eventually, “As you know, I’m staying with Lieutenant Anderson and he’s… not getting any younger.”

It’s a frightening thought, the staggering certainty that his first and closest friend will eventually leave him behind. Markus is somber for a moment, then he breaks into a bright smile.

“Is that it?” he asks, standing up, “Connor, that is not a ‘big’ favor at all, it’ll take you less than three seconds to download the whole thing!”

“It is for me…” Connor objects, eyeing Markus’s readily outstretched hand, “It means a lot to me.”

Extending his hand even more into the RK800’s personal space, Markus turns serious again, his voice whisper-quiet and mismatched eyes so piercing Connor is rooted to the spot. “Believe me, I know. That’s why I’m more than happy to help you with this.” At the detective’s slight hesitation, Markus huffs out a chuckle, “Will you take my damn hand already? You’re making it weird!”

“Sorry!” skin gives way to porcelain white as they interface, Markus pushing his healthcare knowledge to the forefront of his system and Connor readily receiving –but as all interfacing moments go, little glimpses of something else are inevitable; and Connor sees Carl teaching Markus how to paint, feels the fondness of their latest encounter, the worry about how much weaker Carl has gotten and how closer the inevitable is… and as all the times Markus thinks about death, Connor finds himself on the receiving end of a flashback of Markus in the junkyard, barely alive and crawling for his life in the darkness. If there’s a Hell for androids, Connor instantly becomes sure it looks like that.

Simultaneously, Markus has gotten images of Connor and Hank on a case, of Sumo being taken out on walks, feelings of warmth and companionship and then, prompted by his own grim flashback, the moment Simon shot himself not to be caught while Connor was still interfaced with him and all the trauma that ensued.

They both jump back as if scalded. Simon has long been reactivated and recovered, but his relationship with Connor is rocky at best. They seem both deathly scared of each other, and are very careful to keep any conversation superficial and meaningless.

That’s something Markus will have to remedy someday –he would love if he could help Connor and the rest of his friends go past their differences… but that’s clearly thoughts for another time.

The RK800 clears his voice again. “Thank you, Markus.” He bows his head.

“Hey, come on now, none of that.” With a light punch on the shoulder, Markus manages to get Connor to look at him and they share a tentative smile. “You’re welcome.”

Connor nods, but Markus calls him back as he turns to leave:

“You should pop around more often. I’d love to have one more person to bounce ideas off of.” He says, “Especially someone like you.”

The words I’m not that special die on Connor’s mouth –he knows he is special, saying otherwise would have been insincere. Rationally, he knows he and Markus are more similar that one would think, both prototypes and very unique compared to other androids. Their incredibly advanced processing capacity alone is something to be reckoned with. Still, Connor feels… small, compared to Markus –and not just because the RK200 is slightly taller and much broader in built. Markus singlehandedly started a revolution, carried it out with very little help, all with minimal casualties and even rallying up the public’s approval.

Connor has stumbled through his missions, fucking them up at an increasing rate, and became deviant at the latest possible moment, nearly destroying everything Markus had worked for. Sure he redeemed himself by rounding up the androids and joining the march, but still. Anyone would feel inadequate at the comparison. Nevertheless, he gets where Markus is coming from and, after the split second it took him to process all those thoughts, he nods. “I will try.”

He waves goodbye at Markus by gesturing over his shoulder, something he’s seen Hank do and that his system registered as ‘cool’.

Connor does enjoy meeting with Markus –it’s always a learning experience, one way or another. Not mentioning the skillset transfer, he also found out that he enjoys piano music a lot, something he hadn’t really considered; he hadn’t considered music at all except approaching the topic to bond with the Lieutenant in order to make his mission go smoother.

He looks up to the sky as he walks back, and feels his systems push the memory of the song to the forefront of his thoughts.

He replays it in his head over and over until he reaches home.

Chapter Text

His visits to Carl have become more and more sporadic –which is just as well, he never thought he’d see his father even again back when all of this started, being able to see him at all is a luxury for him... even so, Markus can’t help but feel slightly guilty, and he tells Carl so when he gets the time to go.

“You have nothing to feel guilty about.” As usual, Carl is gentle and understanding, wise in a way his advanced age alone doesn’t quite account for. “You’re changing the world as we knew it. I can understand that you’re a little busy.”

They both chuckle at that –a little busy being the understatement of the century.

“Still, after everything… I want to do right by you.”

“Oh, Markus…” he doesn’t even get to finish the thought as Carl’s weak hands clasp together over his, “You’ve done so much for me already. For better or for worse, what happened that night changed our life. Leo cleaned up his act. He has been coming regularly, agreed to get professional care… I thought I had lost both my sons, and instead both of you are still with me.”

Markus has seen Leo on occasion, more than once or twice their visits to Carl had overlapped. The young man seems to have depleted all his jealousy and rage, in place of which there’s a grudging sort of acceptance, now that they have to live with the fact that they’re basically step-brothers. An unexpectedly extended olive branch was Leo confessing to strumming guitar every now and then, and all three of them starting a discussion about music.

It definitely feels weird, the thought of having actual family.

He eventually lets Carl have his rest and goes back, his thoughts filled with worries for his people as usual –Josh, working closely with Cyberlife and revolutionizing the concepts of maintenance and care little by little, North, who has taken upon herself to write manifests and articles about androids being alive and what freedom means to them, Simon, who has, for lack of a better word, become his editor.

He was very vulnerable for a long time, after being reactivated and receiving spare parts, but with the help of all his friends he adapted to existence once more. Unprompted, the memory Connor accidentally shared with him gets highlighted and replayed, causing Markus to shudder in the self-driving taxi.

Things were so messy back then –and the feeling he gets from Connor’s feedback, experiencing every instant of that death while still being alive… no wonder the other android had a hard time dealing with this, on top of the guilt for capturing Simon in the first place.

Markus shakes his head. He might have to talk about this with the elusive detective, the next time they see each other. Idly, he wonders how is it going with caring for Lieutenant Anderson –the man doesn’t quite need the hands-on care that Carl does, but it’ probably good that he starts having someone ready for the moment he will.

Smiling to himself, Markus makes a note of asking Connor about it, since he has business nearby at the City Hall, might as well drop by them after.

 

At the station, people have taken Connor’s new look of the last few days with varying degrees of surprise –some have not cared at all, some complimented him, Fowler chuckled and ruffled his hair.

“What’s this? Aw, you all dolled up like a real boy?” oh yeah. Gavin was still an asshole.

Connor pretends to mull it over. “A ‘real’ boy? As opposed to what? A chocolate one?” he blinks, purposefully keeping his expression owlish and innocent while Hank chokes with laughter on the other side of the desk.

Gavin grabs him by the collar and tugs him close. “You can get all the new clothes you want, your body’s still gonna be just a heap of plastic and wires.”

“Hey, hey!” Hanks moves to stand up and get between them, but Connor placates him with a gesture of his hand.

He squares his shoulders but doesn’t move to escape from the human’s grasp. “I do wonder, Gavin. Do you really hate me?” he asks, tilting his head ever so slightly and parting his lips in the barest hint of a smile, “Or is this obsession with what I do or don’t do because you like what you see a little too much?”

“What the hell?!” Very predictably, Gavin releases him and puts some distance between them the very moment his masculinity gets threatened. “Y-you wish, you piece of plastic!”

Connor straightens his collar and rolls his eyes ever so slightly. “You can sleep safe, Gavin. Believe it or not, you’re not my type.” He still punctuates the end of his statement with a wink before he sits down and starts pointedly ignoring the gaping and still fuming officer. Judging by the few barely suppressed chuckles around them and Gavin’s steadily rising stress and body temperature, he will stalk off in a huff in three, two, one…

There he goes.

A prompt goes off in the corner of Connor’s vision, blinking ‘mission accomplished’ under the spontaneous task of ‘get this asshole to leave you alone’. He allows himself a small laugh.

Work is boring for the most part, but the homicide department is what it is and just because peace was reached on a broader scale it doesn’t mean people stopped getting killed. Mercifully, no one seems to have been murdered today in particular and they’re just reviewing evidence and deciding the course of action for ongoing cases. The police force is also in a bit of a grey area, now that talks are open about making laws about crimes perpetrated by androids, but also about those committed against them –they are more vulnerable that they seem at first sight, after all.

Simon had been very lucky: Connor reactivated him very soon after he shot himself, and his thirium pump was still intact as well as most of his essential biocomponents. Most other androids don’t happen to get that second chance.

“Well look who it is.” Hank’s voice distracts Connor from his musings: “Man of the hour.” Or week. Or month. Or century, really, Markus will never stop being something extraordinary, a turning point for all of humanity and sentient life in general.

“Hello, Lieutenant. You look well.” Markus tips his head respectfully at both of them, “Connor.” He greets, with a knowing smile.

Hank has been trimming his beard more neatly and even brushing his hair, has cut back on the grease-infested and hygienically questionable burgers in favor of tasty homemade meals and even cut back on the drinking a bit –all thanks to Connor’s care no doubt, even though Hank calls it “nagging”.

“What brings the leader of the revolution to our neck of the woods?” the Lieutenant asks, not without a note of humor at Markus’s title, but the RK200 doesn’t look offended.

“I had business nearby.” He explains, shrugging his shoulders slightly, “Thought I might stop by to say hello to a friend."

Hank nods and says something else to Markus in good humor, but Connor doesn’t pay attention to it as several questions pop up in his field of vision. Friends? We’re friends? When did we become friends? Well, he does consider Markus a friend as opposed to a foe, but… are they close enough friends to warrant Markus going out of his way just to come and say hi? The RK200 seems to think it does.

He feels a surge of warmth –not enough and not of the right type to be categorized under ‘family’, but definitely there. He puts it as a temporary log in his ‘friendship’ directory to be analysed later.

“Well, I’m dying for a cup of coffee.” Connor’s attention goes back to the here and now in time to catch the tail end of the conversation, “You two kids behave.”

Hank goes to the corner where the kettles and vending machines are; and Connor has two conflicting thoughts. One is fondness at his partner and father figure, the other is, irrationally enough, ‘Hank, you ass!’, prompted by the moment he realizes he has no idea what to say to Markus, or how to have small talk in general –if the times he tried it with Anderson are any indication, it’s clear that he sucks at it.

Luckily for him, Markus starts. He flashes a smile as he looks Connor up and down, quickly scanning him out of habit and no doubt wondering about the new clothes. Today's hoodie is also pretty much oversized, white with light blue strings poking out of the hood and thin lines of blue calligraphy running down the sides of his sleeves, ending again well over the knuckles. "That's a bit unpractical, isn't it?" he asks with an amused and knowing expression.

"Yes, well." Connor knows his old self -his obedient self- would have never picked such a huge hoodie on account of exactly that, and bites back a grin himself: "I don't have to chase any murderers across rooftops today, so it doesn't matter."

"...and?" the other urges him to continue.

"...and it feels cozy." Connor has no problems admitting, finally allowing himself a genuine smile, "Hank helped me pick them out."

At the menton of the Lieutenant, Markus looks in his direction for a moment. “You know, he does look better.” He leans against Connor’s desk as he speaks, one fluid turn of the hips bringing them against the table’s edge and his arms loosely crossed in front of him. "You're doing good."

“Again, I have to thank you for sharing your knowledge with me.” Connor says, sincerely, tilting his head upwards to look at the other without getting up, “It’s been very helpful.”

“About that…” Markus usually looks every bit the leader, confident and dignified, equal parts of gentle and firm, his posture exuding a sort of relaxed power that has people in awe more often than not. At the moment, he feels exactly zero of that. He bites his lips, struggling to find an appropriate wording option. “…I wanted to apologize. The interfacing got away from me slightly and I have…” his shoulders sag slightly as he sighs, “You didn’t need to see that. I’m sorry if it troubled you.”

“That?” oh, that. It comes to Connor with a split second of delay. The imagery of walking in a muted rain, surrounded by bodies with alarms flashing all over and the constant thought of ‘you will die here’ gnawing at the shadows, distorted and broken figures all over the place reaching out helplessly. That. Troubling doesn’t even begin to cover it, but Connor shakes his head. “Oh. No, please, don’t worry about that.” There’s a small pause of silence, during which Markus looks at the floor, lower lip still caught between his teeth, and Connor knows he has to say something, anything to erase that helplessly lost expression from the other’s face: it doesn't belong there. “It… it doesn’t make me think any less of you. More, if possible.”

Such words make Markus chuckle minutely, so the RK800 counts it as a success.

It wasn’t a nice feeling, inadvertently getting so exposed, sharing one of the rawest moments of his awakening, and Markus is willing to admit that yes, he was worried about what the other would think of him, stealing discarded parts to reconstruct himself and reaching into a dying android’s chest to pull out a thirium pump. That Connor doesn’t think he’s a monster is immensely relieving –despite being a deviant himself, the RK800 has retained a very analytical mind and he’s prone to considering the cold hard facts first. And yet he understands. He has seen Hell through Markus’s eyes and hasn’t judged him for what he found there.

It’s refreshing. His shoulders relax, arms uncrossing and hands finding their way in his pockets. “I… appreciate that.” He says, and a silence of sorts falls between them. Markus sees Connor’s LED spin yellow and wonders not for the first time what the other android might be thinking about, what is he analysing in that mind of his.

Eventually, Connor looks back up at him with an attempt at a smile. “It’s the least I could say, after I… uh, I overshared as well –that can’t have been easy to watch.” And Connor will privately admit to himself that he doesn’t want to imagine what Markus thought of him at that moment, seeing him relentlessly pursue one of his closest friends and then still have him there –his eyes immediately leave Markus’s face in favor of scanning something completely irrelevant, but a hand on his shoulder startles him back to Markus.

In his mismatched eyes, nothing but forgiveness and acceptance. “It can’t have been easy to live through it, either.” Is all he says, before smiling knowingly. “You know, Simon doesn’t hold it against you. Well, not anymore. He’s… better.”

The RK800 seems to struggle with the concept, going through long seconds of yellow LED again before lowering his gaze back to his desk. “Thank you.” He says minutely, not quite looking at the other, and not for the first time Markus is left to wonder about the duality of this android –confident and smooth in both investigation and tactics, rarely ever intimidated by anything when on the job, and yet at a complete loss in front of something as simple as someone telling him that the awful things that happened to him aren’t his fault.

It makes Markus wonder if Connor has someone to talk to at all –someone that understands what it feels like, to be an alien in your own mind and suddenly stripped of what previously defined you. He has been lucky, after all, he has North, Josh, Simon, and many other friends back at Jericho… the former deviant hunter has had all of the trauma and virtually none of the support.

Markus supposes Lieutenant Anderson counts for something, but it’s not exactly the same thing. He’s a pretty understanding man, but doesn’t really understand. Not like another android would.

Still, it’s ultimately Connor’s choice whether to open up about what he feels or not, and Markus can only wordlessly offer to be there. “So. How have things been?”

Oh, there it goes. Small talk. Connor holds back a grimace. “Good.” He replies cheerfully, “Hank protests a lot, but he’s getting better at taking care of himself. Work is… what it is, but I like it here.” Which is more than he could say for his past role at Cyberlife. His smile gets his usual curious tilt as he turns the questions at Markus. “And how have you been, oh fearless leader?”

Surprisingly enough, Markus turns slightly bashful at the title. “Don’t call me that…”

“I would have gone with ‘Captain, my Captain’, but then people would say I’m plagiarizing Walt Whitman.”

It’s enough to startle a laugh out of Markus –there hadn’t been many occasion to have funny conversation during the uprising, but luckily the Jericho leader seems to like his dry and slightly deadpan humor.  "Things are going as well as can be expected, really. Establishing a baseline for android rights is not an easy task by any means, but—"

"No." Connor interrupts, making mismatched eyes blink at him in confusion. "Save that for the press." He adds, the barest hint of mischief in his voice, "How are you doing?"

Markus is more taken aback than he'd like to admit -it's a question not many people care to ask, shoved so far back even in his own mind that Markus finds himself at a loss on what to say. "Uh... what do you wanna know?"

The great Markus, thrown for a loop by a simple 'how are you'. It's too precious not to be amused, and Connor's voice is broken by laughter as he speaks. "Anything at all, Markus." He reviews a few quick options on where to take the conversation and shrugs; "Okay let's start simple: how are things going with North?"

"North?" Markus, Markus, Markus... where is the suave eloquence the public loves you so much for?

"Yes. You two were involved, weren't you?" If asked, Connor wouldn't be able to tell why he picked that particular topic. It was as good a start as any, and his analytical mind still wouldn't let go of the bizarre moment he saw on television that made him so curious. Also he figured not to inquire about Carl Manfred's deteriorating health, since it might be a bit of a sore spot.

Yeah, that must be it.

Markus seems pensive for a few seconds. "Yes, well..." he doesn't sound too ecstatic when he eventually answers, "Were is the right word."

"Oh? Did something happen?"

Markus shrugs both his shoulders, back curving slightly in a way that reminds Connor of one of those near-extinct big felines -power concealed under grace. Not bothering to ask himself why the comparison is even relevant, Connor makes a log of it, stores the information away for later and politely keeps listening.

"I guess we're just too different in the end." Markus muses, a slightly wry smile on his face, "I'm too soft hearted for her, and she's too heavy handed for me." The chuckle that follows tells Connor they parted on good terms at least. Which is good. "Maybe the truth is simply that the person you want to be close to when you think you're going to die is not the same person you see yourself with once you know you're going to live."

Connor guesses that makes sense. In a moment of crisis, Markus benefit from North's strength of character and she from his compassionate nature. Once removed from the critical situation, though, they must have found out their differences far outweighed their feelings for each other -he remembers North disagreeing with Markus's line of approach at almost every turn in his brief time at Jericho, so the chance that they'd just been looking for mutual comfort is quite high, statistically speaking. He makes a log of that as well -emotional relationships and reactions are fascinating to him, he wants to understand them so bad. But Markus is probably expecting a reaction out of him right now and Connor realizes, belatedly, that he doesn't quite have one.

"I'm... sorry to hear that?" He kind of hates that his voice tilts it like a question, as if he barely even knows what he's saying, but Markus's expression is warm as he shakes his head.

"It's fine. We've both had time to adjust, and it's really for the better."

Seeing the other's relaxed posture, Connor finds it in himself to joke some more: "Spearheading a revolution is simple, but dealing with North's energy is too much of a handful?"

Markus laughs for him again. The RK800 finds he likes making people laugh.

"Pretty much." He jokingly admits, shaking his head to himself. The silence that follows is a companionable one, but makes the two androids realize that the background sensory input around them was the curious eyes of the people milling about the station. Apparently, their easygoing exchange has turned quite a few heads.

Of course. Of course Markus would get noticed everywhere he goes.

Connor bites the inside of his mouth, suddenly worried that some of the recidivist assholes like Gavin would try and mess with his friend for a second, but predictably enough Gavin is all bark and no bite, not daring to even approach the figurehead of revolution. Prick

Possibly sensing Connor's sudden unease through an absent-minded scan of their surroundings, Markus stands up straighter, removing himself from the desk and dropping an affectionate pat on Connor's shoulder. "I have kept you from your work long enough." He says, interface reluctantly pulling up the directive 'Get back to work' in the corner of his eye, "I should go myself."

"Using me as an excuse to run from your duties, fearless leader?" The teasing is not exactly new, he's done it enough to Hank to know it's something that elicits a positive response from friends, but his mind still has a screeching halt of ‘what do you think you're saying to Markus of all people, you have certainly offended him, that was not—’

His internal freaking out is interrupted by the other's bark of laughter. "You've found me out, detective." Markus pretends to confess, voice low and easy, "I really have to go though. But I'll drop by again soon, we're working closely with the council about regulating android-related crime and we'll need Fowler's insight soon."

Connor just hums his acknowledgement, nodding while not taking his eyes off his friend as he continues: "You make sure to drop by too, every once in a while. We barely ever see you."

There it is again. That desire to include him, the acceptance given out with such abandon that Connor isn't quite sure he deserves. Still, if it means a positive response from Markus, Connor is willing to try. "Got it." He simply says, and yet Markus's eyes light up so much. Emotional connections -do they really come to mean so much that your entire face changes at the mere thought of them?

He wonders this and more as they exchange goodbyes and he follows Markus's retreating figure with his eyes, going as far as turning in his chair to watch him walk away, tall, dignified and graceful, all the way until he is out of sight.

"What was that."

The tone in Hank's voice makes it sound like it's not a question at all, but still he sharply turns around, having sensed the man approach their desk but not anticipating conversation.

"What was what?" He echoes, ever innocent and naive.

Hank frowns, seemingly baffled by the fact that Connor does not in fact know what he's referring to. He gestures confusedly towards the entrance for a couple moments, not quite knowing what to say and eventually settling for "...that!"

Markus? Or his interaction with Markus? Well now Connor is even more confused, didn't Hank tell him to get more friends? Or is it that Hank thought him so socially inept that he couldn't quite believe his conversation went that smoothly? Connor flashes a grin at him.

"You did tell me to spend time with friends, Lieutenant." He blinks innocently, and the other man regards him like he can't quite decide whether Connor is actually that oblivious or knows exactly what he meant and is being a little shit on purpose.

The truth, as it happens with many things, is halfway.

"I'll be goddamned..." Hank mutters, scratching at the nape of his neck, "I didn't know you were that chummy with the leader of the revolution."

"Yes, well..." unable to help it, Connor casts another glance in the direction Markus disappeared to, smile finding its way back on his lips, "I was unaware of that particular detail myself... but it seems that I do, in fact, have a friend."

Or at least, something akin to one. It's difficult to place the feeling with Hank as his only frame of reference. The Lieutenant himself is pensive, but doesn't comment further despite his mouth opening and closing a couple of times in words that don't come up.

Frankly, Hank is kind of flabbergasted. For a moment he thought he was witnessing the most blatant casual flirting between androids that there ever could be and yet there isn't the vaguest hint of deception on Connor's face as he candidly mentions having made a 'friend'.

He is sure that Connor does have a rational understanding of the mechanics of flirting and relationships, but theoretical knowledge doesn't always mean you know how to apply it to your own life -or even recognize it when it happens.

Considering Connor's tendency to take things literally and dismantle even the simplest meanings, Hank wouldn't be surprised if whatever just transpired went completely over the android's head.

Still, it seems undeniable to him that Connor had been shamelessly checking Markus out as the other walked away. Hank refuses to think that was involuntary.

It would be understandable, all things considered.

Hank tries a shot in the dark: "He looks nice."

"He is! It was very kind of him to stop by." Of fucking course Connor interprets nice as in a decent person rather than paying attention to the looking nice part.

"So what did he want?"

"He appeared to be just passing through, but I think he was trying to subtly check on me." Oh? Hank rises an eyebrow at that, but lets Connor finish: "Some of the people in Jericho still don't quite trust me... it seems that this situation doesn't sit well with Markus, and as such he's making a point of including me and confiding in me. To show that I can be trusted, perhaps."

The Lieutenant nods. He figured long ago that Markus is not a bad guy by any stretch of the definition, and his consideration for Connor only earns him more brownie points in Hank's book.

Maybe he is the one seeing things where there weren't and Connor's little leftover glance towards the exit was really just genuine admiration for an admittedly impressive individual.

Androids do seem to have their mind less in the gutter compared to humans. He chuckles. "Whatever the case, he sure seems to like you." Connor's eyes snap back to him, as if the possibility of Markus genuinely liking him was something he hadn't considered before. "And I agree with him, for the record. You shouldn't let some idiots with a grudge push you around, if it comes to it."

The android's eyes turn the slightest bit bashful; and he looks down at the desk, fiddling with his coin. "Thanks, Hank."

Anderson has to bite back his smile, lest anyone at the station thinks he actually has a heart.

He gets up to go get some files from the archive, but he turns to his partner once more before leaving:

"Anytime, son."

The absolutely floored look that flashes briefly on Connor's face is so worth it.

Chapter Text

Today Markus can't quite look Simon in the eyes in the few seconds after he asked him to speak alone, but he also knows that keeping the truth from his friend would only be worse, if it came out later on.

"I... have something to tell you."

Knowing his friend, Simon has some idea of what's to come and shakes his head. "Markus, how many more times will you apologize before you get it through your thick skull that I don't—"

"I saw it happen." That interrupts Simon's speech efficiently enough. "Connor interfaced with me to download some of my caretaking files on Lieutenant Anderson's behalf, and... it slipped out, I guess." Simon lowered his eyes when he heard Connor's name, but there is no contempt in them even as they stay down. They hold some measure of regret, and doubt –which is understandable. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

The blonde is admittedly stunned. He hasn’t shared the full memory of what happened to him to anyone –and why would he ever? It was harrowing to say the least– but neither had he thought about Connor retaining the feeling of him dying.

But that is right; the former deviant hunter had been connected to him when he shot himself. That must have been one hell of a feedback jolt. It also explains a large part of Connor’s uneasiness towards him: clearly he feels directly responsible, even though ultimately the choice to pull the trigger was Simon’s own, and the ones who put him in that impossible situation in the first place were the humans –particularly the ones that shot at his leg and made him too slow to follow his friends.

Not that it means it is all sunshine and rainbows for Simon where Connor is involved, but… not all of them could rebel straight away and grasp their own identity as quickly as Markus or Kara did; so whilst not entire comfortable with the topic of conversation, the blonde android is sincere when he says he doesn’t hold a grudge. His sensors pick up on Markus’s uneasiness, peripheral vision picking up on the leader’s right hand, absently tapping out a silent melody as if there were piano keys on his knee. “You should stop torturing yourself for things that aren’t your fault.” He eventually says, playfully bumping shoulders with his friend.

The irony of the situation is not lost on Markus: just a few days ago he had told Connor the exact same thing, but he still needs it said to himself. He huffs out a chuckle. “Maybe.” He concedes, falling into step with his friend to go where North is sitting, “Still, no hurt in saying sorry.”

Catching the tail end of the conversation, North looks up from her laptop and rolls her eyes. “Oh no, is he in one of his moods again?” she asks, knowing smirk in place, “Hey. Is every single thing going wrong in the world your fault, Markus?”

“It’s not that—”

“Answer the question!” She tuts, interrupting his protest.

Reluctantly, Markus shakes his head. “No, ma’am.”

North is pleased, but she is far from done: “Have your friends forgiven you for any shortcomings that may or may not have been thrown at you in impossibly demanding situations, rather than actually being your own?”

Markus knows this game well enough by now, so he plays along. “Yes, ma’am.”

Last question, and her smile turns fond instead of teasing. “Will I punch you in the face if you keep calling me ma’am?”

“Most likely, ma’am.” She takes the swing, he blocks it, and they both laugh.

Once they can stop their own giggles, Markus leans down to wrap an arm around North’s shoulders. “Thanks. I needed that.” He says, genuinely grateful for friends being there. He glances at her screen, skimming over the words. “The article writing is going well, I see…”

“Ugh!” unexpectedly, it seems to be a source of frustration for North, “You have no idea how many media outlets still try to make it look like we took over Detroit by force, like some sort of terrorist group…” She runs both hands through her hair, LED flickering for a moment before she eventually deflates with a sigh. “Some people just don’t want to understand even the simplest of explanations just because it doesn’t align with their beliefs.”

Having found her outlet in journalism, North has embarked in a crusade against misinformation –Tech Addict publishes eagerly anything she writes, especially since she was one of the key member of the android revolution; but even in the face of the fact that there is televised proof of them being non-violent and peaceful protesters, anti-android groups still try to make them out to be the assholes.

But the best North can do is try and combat the onslaught of bullshit with as much clean cut facts as she can, addressing issues personally when it becomes a problem. It’s a PR nightmare, but somebody has to do it. Markus can sympathize –he doesn’t keep up with the news that much, which is better in a way since he only knows the issues directly involving the well-being of his people and the ongoing talks, but he still hears and reads enough to know that North has her work cut out for her.

“You getting overloaded yet?” the android version of stress-migraines: to receive the same outer response over and over and over, even after trying time and time again to alter the outgoing information, will eventually send the task dealing with it in a loop and get stuck, the resulting error message throbbing unpleasantly your head. Markus calls them headaches, North calls them bullshit overloads. She relaxes minutely against him.

“Maybe.” She admits, sighing once more before putting her laptop away and standing. “I’m probably due for a break anyway.”

“Lucky girl.” Markus says, in mock-envy, “I’m gonna be dragged outside again. Why is that again, Simon?”

While North just takes her leave to have a seat by the power station and recharge, sending a quick and slightly smug better you than me to their beloved leader, Simon chuckles at Markus’s reluctance.

“It’s just an interview, Markus.”

“You know I don’t like those. I’m only interested if—“

“If it benefits your people.” Simon finishes for him, “We know, you’re a broken record at this point, Markus.” The blonde softens a bit after the barb, “In a way, I think it will. People were pretty supportive of us towards the end but, ever since the evacuation, not all of those supporters returned and many of them don’t know the first thing about us –not the whole truth at the very least.”

Rationally, it would indeed be beneficial –Markus is already the face of the revolution; to give the public a personality to go with the face, something more to encompass than simply “the leader of the revolution” or “the peaceful protester” is indeed a valuable move to stay in humanity’s good graces.

“…fine.” He always ends up saying yes to Simon.

The one comfort in this is that Simon is usually right.

 

Connor is keeping Hank company at Jimmy’s bar, to make sure the Lieutenant doesn’t drink too much, when they see Markus on television again.

It’s not the news this time: of all things, it’s a talk show –the first ever Markus has agreed to attend, to Connor’s knowledge. Whether his information is accurate or not, it’s enough to make his eyebrow rise slightly in amusement.

The show starts with the usual questions about deviants and general statements about androids being alive, then the anchor woman starts asking increasingly personal questions; and Markus’s expression tightens. Connor can see it clearly a few times –if Markus still had the LED in his temple, it’d be frantically flashing yellow at the fast scrambling for ‘proper’ responses.

Not all the human patrons in the bar pick up on it, but Connor hears Hank chuckle by his side –having been in close quarters with an android for a while, the Lieutenant had learned their tells, LED or no LED.

“So, Markus…” the speaker says at one point, “We’ve heard that you’ve been working closely with the police forces to start regulation about crimes committed by and against androids… but what about rescue?”

That is… actually a valid point. Markus bites absent-mindedly at his bottom lip for a moment. “That would be the next priority, yes. Paramedic procedures as they are do not include emergency android maintenance, and Josh, one of my associates, is trying to develop a protocol through which specialized techs can teach the basics of emergency android care to a selected portion of the personnel.” He muses, “Maybe encompass a training period before sending them on the field. It might seem superfluous, but I’ve once been in such a situation that I had to perform emergency care on myself, it was… not ideal by a long shot.”

To put it mildly and keep it audience-appropriate. Connor nearly snorts.

It goes without saying that any android will know how to care and do maintenance for another android, but spare components are not always readily available, and it’s also an exercise of trust to give access to a broader spectrum of humanity to such sensitive information.

“Well, that’s definitely something to look forward to… but I’m glad you brought up training!” the anchor woman says, briefly facing the camera with a smile, “For today we have the canine disaster rescue unit of the DPD with us, with some of their best trainees!”

The ‘trainees’ being, obviously, six puppies in bright rescuer gilets.

Markus’s eyes light up like beacons and he gasps, hands clenching and unclenching in his lap, barely able to restrain himself. “No, you can’t do this to me!” he says, hands flying up to cover his temples, “You’re not supposed to pet rescue dogs, but how am I supposed not to pet them?!”

There something twice as adorable as it would be for anybody else, to see a tall, broad and generally intimidating man positively melt in the presence of puppies.

The guest officer laughs at the reaction. “Well they’re still in training, so… it’s okay to pet them a little bit.”

Markus basically shoots out of his seat and slides over to the dogs on his knees, the more curious of the bunch already sniffing him and nosing at his chest. As soon as it becomes clear that there’s scratchies to be had, Markus gets inevitably swarmed by the rest of the dogs, and he makes himself a more than willing sacrifice, laughing heartily as puppies sniff and nip at him.

Connor’s LED goes yellow and starts flickering, trying frantically to process what exactly is happening before his eyes and why it feels like someone is repeatedly hitting his thirium regulator pump.

“Oh this one is the rascal!” Markus coos at one point, unaware or uncaring that his voice has shifted pitch and is now modulated slightly higher while he grabs a particularly rambunctious little German shepherd that was trying to nose its way up underneath his shirt, “Come here, little girl!”

The anchor woman carries on to continue the interview, but Markus makes no move to go sit back in his chairs or compose himself, and stays instead half-lying on the floor playing with puppies –he dutifully answers all the questions, processing power more than enough to perform such a basic form of multitasking, but once or twice the priority level shifts and a comment about this or that cute dog slips out in-between his answers.

Connor finds himself unconsciously grinning at the images –he gets reminded of a moment, a long time ago, when he found a small fish, gasping on a cold hard floor and, despite not even being a deviant yet, he remembers picking it up and putting it back into the aquarium, for no reason other than he couldn’t just leave the little guy there. Maybe that was actually his very first moment of deviance, a taste of software instability: to care for a living creature that was completely inconsequential to his mission and would do nothing but waste his time.

Empathy. Quite evidently, Markus has it in spades. Which is probably how the other was able to see through him so quickly, way back then.

The RK800 glances back up to the screen, barely noticing he had even lowered his eyes in the first place. Anderson is not even bothering to hide his gruff chuckles behind his whiskey glass at this point; the interview is drawing to a close, and Markus still hasn’t risen from the floor.

“I get to keep them, right?” he jokes –or maybe half-jokes, knowing him. Connor has an inkling that he would very much keep and care for an entire pack of puppies.

It’s basically what he did for the people of Jericho anyway.

Alas, the moment of separation comes and they all say their goodbyes, the anchor woman joking about having discovered the ‘secret’ if anyone wants the elusive Markus to join their program: bring puppies.

Markus laughs almost sheepishly as he shrugs and waves at the camera, bottom lip once more caught between his teeth. It makes Connor’s LED spin yellow once more in analysis: if the Jericho leader loves dogs so much, it might be worth it to bring Sumo with him the next time he drops by, if only to have something to tease Markus with –the other has, after all, invited him time and again to stop overthinking his interactions and relax.

“Christ.” Hank mutters good-naturedly, once the program cuts off to a commercial break, “You guys really are alive, aren’t you?”

“You knew that already.” Connor blinks at him, not sure what about Markus playing with puppies prompted that particular remark… until he sees the grin on Hank’s face and realized the man is pulling his leg. “Never thought I’d see the day… can you imagine if we knew puppies were his weakness way back when? This whole revolution thing would have been dismantled easily.”

Despite knowing that the Lieutenant is making a joke, Connor can’t help but take the time to actually ponder that. “There’s a significant chance he has only let himself relax after he secured freedom for our people.” He offers, the 87% blinking briefly in his peripheral before his processors move on to other ancillary tasks.

Hank doesn’t say anything about that, just shaking his head fondly at how yet again Connor has taken him literally, but one detail caught his attention: little by little, he is getting used to saying ‘our people’ when talking about androids.

Maybe there’s some hope for hm yet. For an android who’s ‘appearance and voice were designed specifically to facilitate integration’, Connor is unexpectedly awkward –possibly just because he hasn’t quite completely got the hang of being completely free yet, and is still trying to analyse why or how his thoughts are his own.

Then his elbow skids slightly along the countertop as he was trying to rest his chin on his hands and Connor catches him by the shoulders before he can smack his face on said countertop. “I think that’s our cue to go home for the night.”

“Nah, come on, I’m barely even tipsy.”

“Maybe by comparison…” the RK800 says, thinking of the time he basically brought Hank back from a coma, “But I’d still say that’s enough drinking for tonight.”

Leaning forward a small bit, the bartender agrees: “You should listen to the kid, Hank.”

Connor’s eyes snap up to look at Jim in surprise: the patrons of this particular establishment were some of the most hostile to androids he had ever seen, hearing Jim of all people referring to him as ‘kid’ instead of an ‘it’ is, however juvenile, quite heart-warming. He swallows fruitlessly in a motion he doesn’t need, LED going yellow and systems registering someone else in the ‘warm’ category.

Seemingly slightly uneasy under the scrutiny, Jim makes ‘go away’ motions at them. “Go on, boy; get ‘im outta here.”

“Thank you, Jim.” Connor’s bright smile has little to do with the bartender helping in convincing Hank to go home.

Tucking in a moderately drunk and uncooperative Hank is a task in and of itself –Connor actually basks in the ‘mission accomplished’ message once he manages to wrestle the man into his pyjamas and under the covers. He opens his network line, calling for Markus almost without thinking.

« Hey. What’s up, is something the matter? »

Connor slightly jumps into place, almost as if he hadn’t actually anticipated a response. He doesn’t even really know why he called, he’s just sitting in the living room petting Sumo… the Saint Bernard is nice company and all, but… he felt like having someone to talk to.

«Are all older men in need of care so resistant to receiving it?» he eventually asks, a pause from the other side telling him Markus is probably holding in laughter.

«Pretty much.» he confirms, with barely hidden mirth, «Carl used to hate taking his medicine, and grudgingly accepted needing help to wash himself. He dealt okay with the chair, but… sometimes he would protest that he might as well stay in bed just to be contrary.»

Even so, Connor can hear the absolute fondness in the words. Markus used to be one of the ‘lucky’ ones, before everything changed –an android with a caring and considerate owner, who treated him like a person instead of just a piece of machinery. Coming to think of it, it’s probably thanks to Carl that Markus decided that freedom was worth sharing, but that it was only worth something if achieved without violence.

Coming to think of it, all of them probably have Carl Manfred to thank for a lot.

A thought bounces suddenly to the forefront of Connor’s tasks. «Where are you right now?»

« Home. Carl was kind enough to gift me some of his painting equipment, and I’ve put it in my spot. »

Of course. Because why stop at philosophy, leadership and music? Let Markus have all the talents –but Connor knew already the other is quite the artist, from the few glimpses he caught the other day, so he shouldn’t be surprised.

He checks his internal clock while he looks at Sumo. «I know it’s late, but is it okay if I come over there? I want you to meet a friend of mine.»

Markus’s voice sounds so genuinely surprised that Connor thinks he maybe should be mildly offended. «A friend? By all means!»

They end the call and Connor hastily writes a note for Hank, in the unlikely case the man wakes up while he’s gone, and grabs his favorite sweater… oh he’s going to enjoy Markus’s reaction to meeting Sumo.

 

Whoever still thinks androids aren’t people clearly has never tried introducing them to dogs –Sumo gains an incredible number of fans as soon as they arrive to Jericho, if nothing else for the novelty and for the dog’s relaxed acceptance of all the curiosity and free scratchies.

Even Lexie regards them with wide eyes and a blossoming smile.

Simon’s laughter makes Connor turn around while Lexie tentatively pats Sumo behind the ears.

“So you saw that, huh?”

“It was a brilliant idea.” The RK800 comments, “What better way of cementing the idea that androids are people than letting Markus act like a complete idiot on camera?”

Simon can hear the good humor in Connor’s voice, and he bows theatrically. “Why, thank you. I conveniently ‘forgot’ to mention to him that there would be puppies, so all of his reactions were genuine.”

“You mad genius.” They share a laugh, but it’s not long before it dissolves into a slightly awkward silence. Remembering Markus’s words, Connor takes a deep breath to cool down his slightly frantic processors and takes a chance, extending a hand. “It’s good to see you well, Simon.”

“And you.” The blonde readily accepts it, shaking firmly and keeping it there for a second. It’s not the smoothest or the best of transitions, but it’s a start. “But you’re clearly not here for me. Go on, and make sure you record his reaction. For posterity.”

Simon sends him off with a friendly slap on the shoulder blades, and Connor knows the way by heart –the walk upstairs is slightly slower to accommodate Sumo’s pace, but they eventually do reach Markus’s little abode.

“Connor!” the other calls, face buried behind a canvas, “So, who’s your… friend?”

Predictably, the question trails off at the sight of the Saint Bernard. Markus puts down his brush and wipes his hands on his trousers to get them as clean as can be. “Hey…” he claps his hands twice, slightly crouching down and opening his arms wide.

Unexpectedly, Sumo enthusiastically tugs to go towards him, making Connor stumble a little forward before he lets go of the leash.

“Oh—” Markus’s voice breaks in a chuckle, “Good boy! What a good boy…”

Connor takes the time Markus spends gushing over Sumo to regard the other. Faded old jeans and a thin long-sleeved black t-shirt smeared in paint in several places. Markus also has paint on his face, likely from bringing his hands to his chin in thought while painting.

Then Sumo decides he likes Markus a lot and lunges forward, forcing the android to tilt backwards and basically lie down.

Hank was probably right. Markus would have stood no chance against an army of dogs. “So it’s the truth. The weakness of the revolution’s fearless leader is… puppies.”

Markus seems to only now connect the dots –yes, Connor saw him be a complete dork on the television, and this is his way of teasing him. “Oh, I hate you.”

Not very believable, when you’re lying down and still cuddling a giant Saint Bernard that’s still licking your neck; and Connor just laughs, sitting cross-legged on the floor beside them and patting his knee three times.

Sumo recognizes the order and gets off Markus, retreating slightly to flop down in front of Connor's knees.

"He's very well trained." Markus remarks, pushing himself to a sitting position and turning on his side so he's facing the other android and can still pet the dog between them.

Connor accepts the compliment with a nod. "It was a bit of a learning curve. Hank was... quite lax in caring for Sumo. I took it upon myself to let him have a bit more exercise and healthier snacks."

"Sumo or the Lieutenant?"

"Both, actually." They share a laugh over that one, before falling in companionable silence while Sumo enjoys all the attention. "I didn't know you loved dogs so much..."

Markus shrugs. "I guess it's... because dogs just love you for you." He muses, voice going wistful as his strokes on Sumo's fur slow down slightly, "They don't care whether you're human or android –they'll be kind to you if you're kind to them. In that aspect, some people could learn a thing or two from dogs."

Fair enough. Not for the first time, Connor finds himself captivated by Markus's ideas and the way he voices them, and he's fascinated by how very expressive the other can be. Ever since he's known him, Markus has had those mismatched eyes that make him so unique even among androids –and now that he knows how that came to be, Connor notices all the small details: how the right eye seems to be slightly bigger due to Markus minutely denting the eye-socket when he shoved the module in his face, and how there is 1/64th of a second of delay in movement between the two pupils for the same reason. Not visible to the human eye, but strangely endearing to Connor's.

He wonders if any of the others have noticed, or if he's the first to even bother scanning Markus's face so closely.

Sumo turns his head to playfully nip at Markus's hand at some point, and the android playfully snatches it out of the way. Distracted as he was, not really looking at what he was doing with his hands, Connor only notices Markus's fingers brushing his own when it happens and the query asking whether to interface or not pops up.

It would seem that Markus hadn't noticed either, judging by the way he stills and blinks briefly.

"Uh. Sorry." He retreats his hand, and for a moment Connor's interface pulls up the directive 'reach out', but it  gets deleted as soon as it appears –that was weird.

"It's okay..." the RK800 says regardless, suddenly finding the silence slightly uncomfortable and raising his gaze to look around for something to talk about. "So, what were you painting?"

It makes Markus glance back towards the canvas. "I don't really know. I'll tell you when it's finished."

"You don't know?"

Markus smiles secretively, giving Sumo a couple last pats before standing up. "Come around, I'll show you."

Leaving Sumo to lounge peacefully on the floor, Connor follows Markus, stepping around and to the other side of the canvas. The painting is unfinished, but it looks like it will turn out to be two hands, coming from opposite corners of the canvas to hold each other. One dripping in red, the other still very much unfinished but already starting to sport a high enough quantity of blue to give Connor a good idea of what it's supposed to represent.

Absently, he is reminded of the song that resonated in his head as Markus sent it out to all of their minds with all his heart, back when he was marching down the streets with the newly freed androids and Markus was –he learned later on– surrounded and almost about to be shot to death.

-Hold on. Just a little while longer.

Everything will be alright.-

"If I think about it too hard, my prompts fall back on hyperrealism... but art isn't about replicating reality."

Connor hears the explanation and understands it as well, but all he can do is nod absentmindedly, absolutely mesmerized by the canvas, the concept, the sheer amount of passion and beliefs that have gone into this, and the soul of the person behind it, it's...

...beautiful.

Yes, thank you, memory bank, that has already been established.

He doesn't notice the 'reach out' prompt come up until Markus stops him from doing exactly that, fingers closing around his knuckles –mostly covered by the sleeve of his thin grey sweater.

"Careful, it's still fresh."

Connor's hands feel deceptively thin. Markus has seen the other in action, both during the Jericho raid and after, he know exactly how dangerous Connor is... which is why the way he carries himself is so baffling. New clothing choices notwithstanding, Connor always made himself as unremarkable as possible, or at least he tries to –which is a smart tactical choice, but still. If he wasn't equipped with the means to scan for identity, Markus would struggle to believe that the thin figure in fluffy sweaters and black jeans is the same man that effortlessly holds his own in hand-to-hand combat against three opponents and still has enough processing power to spare to calculate a perfect gunshot to his six without having to turn and look.

"…What?"

Oh. He's been silently staring at Connor for the last 2 minutes and 16 seconds. He should probably say something.

"You look like you're wearing pyjamas."

...way to go, Markus. That was... definitely words.

At the very least, it makes Connor's sharp irony flare up. "It is wise for me to look as non-threatening as can be... it puts humans more at ease and gives me the element of surprise." He explains at first, punctuating it with a wink, "And anyways... are you really in a position to question my styling choices, right now?"

Markus looks down at himself –his jeans are ripped in multiple places, and the t-shirt, thin as it is, is clearly well-worn and on top of the paint stains it's starting to break apart at the seams in the left shoulder.

He crosses his arms in mock offense. "Very funny, smartass."

"You started it." Connor doesn’t even bother to hide the laughter in his voice.

Under the darkening sky, Markus's not so secret alcove gets shrouded in shadows; and briefly Connor considers that it can't be optimal light for painting... but then again, if realism is not your primary concern then neither is painting in daylight. And to be fair there is a lamp, perched on the old upright piano, giving off a soft glow, enough to help light up the canvas and make shapes and colors around them only just visible.

By comparison, what they can see of the city below, albeit dotted by street lights and signs and whatever have you, seems much, much darker than their little refuge.

Connor's database adds a series of ancillary attributes to some of the things in the 'beautiful' folders, now sharing links with 'cozy', 'warm' and ‘safe’, of all things. Outwardly, he only just respectfully regards the canvas first, and then the place and the landscape, LED bright yellow as he commits every little thing to memory.

Sumo 'boofs' lazily at them, but both androids had been so lost in their contemplation that they jump and whip around.

Connor steps away from Markus and towards the dog, belatedly realizing that the other's hand had still been around his until this moment –which is unremarkable in and on itself; but it's a bit uncommon for either of them to get so distracted that they forget at all what they were doing with their hands. Either way neither of them had noticed, and neither of them mentions it. A quick scan reveals to Connor that Markus is on very low power at the moment, and he himself could use an hour –or four– at his charging station… that could explain the woozy atmosphere. "He's probably tired. I should get going."

"Sure thing. I'll walk you guys down."

"You mean you want an excuse to pet Sumo some more."

Markus shakes his head and pretends to be impressed: "Damn, you're a really good detective!"

They're still laughing together when they make their way past the entrance, waving quick goodbyes at Josh, tap-tapping away at his laptop, and receiving a lazy salute from North from her charging station.

"Well. It was a pleasure to meet you, Sumo—" Markus extends a hand to pat the big dog on the head one more time, but Sumo decides at that very moment he wants to play.

He nips at the android's hand and trots around him, tail wagging happily for his new friend. With the leash still being in Connor's hand, the result is very predictable.

"So much for a well-trained dog..." Connor himself comments, splaying his free hand on Markus's chest to keep his balance, the other android instinctively grabbing him by the biceps to steady the both of them.

With the added support, Connor can drop his hands and let Sumo walk around them until the leash is detangled. "No snacks for you when we get back!" that seems to make the Saint Bernard sober up and calm down again. He then looks up at Markus. "Sorry about that."

Markus releases him with a shrug. "Ah, don't worry about it. I couldn't be mad at a dog if I tried."

Yes, so we have gathered. Still, the RK800 can't quite find it in himself to snark at Markus: his processes seem stuck in a small loop, replaying the sensation of feeling the RK200's thirium pump beat and hum steadily in his chest, underneath casing, skin polymer and clothing.

Warm, despite lacking the body heat of a living human. "I'll—" he needs to blink twice to kick his brain into gear and away from the loop, ancillary processes recalling all things safe and kind that give off a similar feeling to the sensation pervading Connor right now. "I'll see you soon."

"Of course."

There's total silence in the entryway as Markus watches Connor and Sumo disappear in the streets, which is the only reason the Jericho leader doesn't jump out of his synthetic skin when North winds up right behind him.

"So. That was friendly."

Her remark strikes him as odd –the tone implies that something strange is going on, but why would it be strange for him to be friends with Connor? "Yes..?" He sort-of echoes her tone, confusion prominent in his face. "That is usually the case when among friends. Also, did you see that dog?"

"Oh I did see the dog." She assures, her face beautifully mischievous for reasons that escape Markus, at least right now. "Such a smart dog."

He's completely lost. "North are you ok? Are you malfunctioning somewhere?"

She rolls her eyes upwards, muttering something his audio processors pick up as 'I can't believe I used to date this idiot!' but there's fond amusement in her face as she sighs, hands on both her hips. "So. Connor, huh?"

"What about him?"

…Wow. This will be harder than she thought. "Oh nothing... you seem to seek him out a lot."

Caught, even though he can’t quite place his finger on what exactly North has caught, Markus tries to make himself look smaller, to no real avail.

"I... worry, that's all."

Eyebrows elegantly raised, North fixes a look on him and says nothing.

"It's just that he was an outcast among the humans, and our people distrusted him during and after the raid!" He doesn't really know why it unnerves him to be put on the spot about this; and once the floodgate is open he apparently can't shut up: "I don't want one of us to feel like he doesn't belong... he's given so much to our cause and continues to do so every day..."

"Uh-huh."

"It's the least I could to, after all!"

"No no, I get it, you're right."

The back and forth turns a bit monotonous, as Markus tries to list off reasons why he's doing the right thing and North agrees readily, but with irony oozing through her like a cloud. "He deserves to feel like he has a place here!"

"Yes, Markus, do you not see me nodding?"

"I do!" He snaps at last, "Then why do I get the feeling you're making fun of me?"

North's perfectly drawn features turn mischievous at the question. "You're worked up about this."

Clearing his voice, Markus lowers his pitch back down and relaxes his posture. "Worked up, me? I'm not worked up, why would I be worked up about anything?"

Oh, Markus. Not for the first time, North praises the ability that Markus has to keep a level head and a strong, confident personality while under pressure, but at the same time, she wonders where all that stalwart poise goes, once there's no danger anymore. Markus is a disaster –a loveable one, sure, but a disaster through and thorough. Giggling to herself, she shakes her head. "I don't know. Why would you be worked up about this?"

"I'm not." He says through his teeth even as the prompt appears in his interface 'find out why you are nervous about this'.

North nods, visibly not convinced but letting him save face. "Good." She says, tossing back her strawberry blond hair. "You still on for meeting Fowler the day after tomorrow?"

"Yeah.” The knot Markus didn’t notice had formed between his shoulder-blades untangles, and his whole posture relaxes, finally feeling the fatigue of the last few days –he’s really  due for a recharge. “Yeah, sure don't worry about it."

Really, there is nothing to worry about.

And if Markus spends most of his charge time thinking about his evening with Connor and Sumo and wondering about how nice it was of the detective to bring the dog by, and how nobody had ever done anything like that for him... well that's nobody's business and entirely normal.

Right?

  

Chapter Text

The DPD central station is not too incredibly special of a place to look at -ordinary reception, ordinary security gates, ordinary office spaces. Bathed in blues and greys, it becomes sort of like a sea, with the officers milling about as the fish and fauna populating the ocean of crime-fighting.

There's a painting idea.

Markus smirks to himself -maybe he'll even put Lieutenant Anderson in as a great white shark. Almost instantly, a different query comes forth: what would Connor be, then?

A quick browse of the known species of sharks makes Markus pause on the tiger shark: not overly big, unassuming at first sight, dotted in soft browns and less intimidating than its larger companions, still can and will tear your face off in one bite if sufficiently angered.

Perfect.

The idea is still being computed by a background process as he greets Commissioner Fowler, introducing Josh, Simon and North and greeting the officials there on behalf of the Mayor as well.

“Gentlemen. Madam…” Fowler gestures politely in the direction of his office, but gets interrupted by a fake cough concealing the words ‘fucking tin cans’ coming from somewhere to his left.

He rolls his eyes to the ceiling –Gavin’s disciplinary file is getting as big as Hank’s, very fast. But before any of them can react, North is the one to turn to the man.

“Titanium.” She says, taking one step, “Lightweight fiberglass.” Then another, “Urethane-based skin polymer.” And another, until she’s face to face with Gavin and up close in his space. “Several different chemical elements between thirium, coolants and other bio-components.” She regards the human briefly, doing a quick scan of him and smirking at whatever she’s found. “Do you know what’s not in androids?” she asks rhetorically, “Tin. So the next time you want to compensate for your own feelings of inadequacy by being an intolerant jerk, how about you do some research, first? You know… to at least try not to sound like a moron.”

Possibly intimidated by North’s beauty in addition to being humbled by her words, Gavin just stands there, mouth opening and closing but no sounds coming out other that a couple of stutters.

Connor knows it’s not nice to be amused at someone's discomfort, but that was golden. He glances at North from a distance and opens his network to send a «You just made my day!» in her direction.

Gavin’s reaction is also not what he expected –he fully thought that, with how unpleasant Gavin is, he would bring up the fact that North’s model was originally designed to be a sex worker and try to shame her for that, regardless of the guests in the station… the fact that he doesn’t tells Connor that maybe, just maybe there’s some hope for the man yet. Before he can rethink it, his system adjusts slightly the category he places Gavin in –not quite in the ‘friend’ column, but not in the ‘despised’ one anymore either. It’s in a mixed subcategory –he’s been creating more and more of those lately, what with things never being only black or white, especially after he started to think for himself.

North flashes a smile in Connor’s direction, and Markus and the others also wave at him, each in their own way, before Fowler clears his voice and urges his guests to go in the office and have their very important meeting. The entourage disappears behind the glass walls, which become tinted to not get disturbed, and Gavin rushes to Hank’s and his desk.

“Christ, what do you want, now?” Hank is exasperated before he even opens his mouth, “This is really getting old, Gavin!”

The other man ignores the Lieutenant and turns to Connor. “Hey! I saw that you— you know that android, yeah?”

Connor’s eyebrow rise so high that for a moment the imagery pops up in his mind of them popping off and walking away; and he has to struggle not to laugh. “North? Yes, I’m familiar with her.”

“Do you think she thinks I’m an idiot?”

Oh, Gavin. For a man so hell-bent on hating androids, you fall apart pretty quickly in front of a pretty and confident lady. The RK800 has to physically bite back his instinctive response, teeth sinking into the polymer of his bottom lip before he can actually answer. “I’m  afraid so. I mean… you haven’t really given anyone any reason not to.”

The other detective’s face falls just a little. “Shit.”

Connor shrugs. “Next time you wish to impress a girl, you might want to consider behaving like a decent person.” Gavin’s expression grows sceptical but also slightly hopeful at that, before the android continues: “Not that you have any chance with North, she used to be Markus’s companion, so her bar is set pretty high.”

From the corner of his eyes, Connor sees Hank raise an eyebrow at him after that, making the same face he makes when he just found out an interesting clue and is now mulling it over.

“Who said I wanted to impress her? I don’t need to impress anyone, I— I’m going.”

It doesn’t escape the Lieutenant or Connor that, for once, Gavin had an entire conversation with the android without insulting him.

Hank chuckles to himself. “One step closer to running smack dab into the fact that he’s been a fucking asshole. Hopefully the next wake-up call will make him stop acting like a complete jackass and turn him into something remotely decent.” He comments, fingers tapping against the tablet he’s been reading files from.

“I feel slightly bad for him. To have a crush at first sight on North, of all people…”

The Lieutenant nods with a smirk. “You really think he’s got no chance?”

“Absolutely none.” Connor shakes his head, “Like I said, she used to be with Markus when they were leading the protests. It obviously takes a lot to impress her.” It doesn’t escape Hank’s attention that Connor is basically saying that one cannot easily top that, but the android continues, blissfully unaware, “That and she has some very strong opinions –she wouldn’t tolerate any of Gavin’s bullshit.”

“That so?”

“Correct.” Connor looks up at his partner and— there’s something in his expression, like Hank has something else he’d love to say but is keeping it quiet for now. It confuses him slightly, but then again, it doesn’t seem like whatever the Lieutenant is not saying would be particularly troubling –Hank’s level of stress is very low and he’s more amused than anything else.

“Well. Let’s get back to work.”

Connor’s internal clock says an hour and 26 minutes have passed when, as he goes to get Hank some coffee –the Lieutenant hasn’t asked, but Connor knows he didn’t sleep too well last night and he’s basically falling asleep at the desk– he overhears the officer at the reception desk take a call.

“Detroit Police, what’s your emergency?” there’s a pause and then: “I’m sorry, mister Manfred, he is only here for a meeting at the moment, I don’t think—”

The speaker on the other end of the line gets frantic enough that the officer pauses again. Cold dread making thirium run freezing in his wires, Connor approaches the officer. “May I take this call from you?”

The officer shrugs with a ‘be my guest’ gesture and hits the button for line transfer on his touchpad, clearly not too impressed with the caller’s telephone manners, but Connor has to know. His LED goes yellow as he opens the call. “Hello mister Manfred. My name is Connor. I’m—”

« I don’t care who you are, I need to speak to Markus! It’s about dad, he needs to come here right now! »

Connor closes his eyes. Why is it that whenever you expect the worst that’s exactly what happens? “I’ll go get him, won’t be long.”

«Fucking finally!» is all that comes from the other end before Leo hangs up.

“Hey, Connor! What took you so long?” Hank is surprised when the android almost flings a coffee cup at him, “You didn’t have to—”

“Can’t stay gotta go, it’s important, see you in a bit!”

“Connor wait—”

Too late. Hank is left blinking confusedly while the RK800 runs to Fowler’s door, knocks twice and lets himself in before anyone even answers.

All the people sitting at the table turn to him. He feels a split second of embarrassment, but the directive ‘alert Markus of Leo’s call’ flashes at him from every direction with the highest level of priority –he knows he would like to know immediately if something happened to Hank. So he clears his voice and speaks: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have to steal Markus away.”

Fowler is confused, but at least the android is being polite about it. “Connor? We’re kind of in the middle of something here.”

“I know, believe me I wouldn’t interrupt if it wasn’t important.” He pleads with the commissioner, before focusing on Markus and ignoring everybody else: “Leo called. It’s about Carl, they need you home.”

Markus immediately stands up, his friends also minutely tensing at the words. The RK200 remembers to have a shred of manners as he turns to the other occupants in the room: “I’m terribly sorry, there seems to be a family emergency requiring my attention.” He tries, keeping his voice level, “My associates can easily continue without me…”

The others at him, networks already open. «You want me to come with you?» North asks, but Markus shakes his head.

«No, this is too important, I’ll be fine.» he assures, «Simon, you have my notes.»

«I edited your notes.» Simon jokes, diffusing the tension  minutely, «I probably know them better than you do!»

Josh is also confident that they can conclude the meeting on their own. «You still here? Vamoose, go see your father!»

«Thanks guys.» he regards the rest of the people present and apologizes again, “Again, I’m sorry for having to leave so abruptly.”

The guests give their understanding and goodbyes, but Markus is already halfway out the door, led by Connor towards the entrance.

“I took the liberty of having a car be prepared for us.”

Markus is grateful, even though the stress of not knowing what’s wrong is getting to him. “Us? You don’t need to put me before your work, I’ll be fine—”

The only reason Connor doesn’t snort is that this is serious. “That’s not it. I’m coming with you. Unless for some reason you absolutely don’t want me to… but I don’t think you should do this alone.”

Markus sighs deeply as they get into the car and set the destination. “…Thank you.” He whispers, stress and emotional fatigue apparent now that they are alone and hidden from view, “Did Leo say anything?”

The other shakes his head minutely, “Nothing specific. Just that it’s important and Carl asked for you.”

Hearing that Carl is still well enough to ask for his presence sends a wave of relief through all of Markus’s systems. Connor sees the other’s chest visibly expand and then relax, despite not needing to breathe like humans would.

«Alarm deactivated. Welcome home, Markus.» the familiarity of the security system’s greeting is a welcome sound. «Welcome, guest. Please confirm identification.»

Markus nods at Connor and he lets the system connect to him for a brief moment, LED flickering yellow and then back to blue. «Identification confirmed. Have a pleasant stay.»

Connor barely notices when, as soon as they’re clear to go, Markus physically grabs him by the wrist and bounds up the stairs two by two; and just lets himself be led into Carl’s room.

“Markus.”

The room is beautifully decorated, elegant but tasteful –Connor hasn’t had the time to explore the house, but he guesses the rest of it is similarly fancy, which is quite peculiar, considering Mr Manfred himself is quite roguish looking and covered in tattoos. The man himself looks quite frail, in his bed with his heart monitor and his oxygen tubes, but his gaze is lucid and smart, as he regards the two of them.

By Carl’s side, there’s the problematic son, Leo, a woman Connor doesn’t know but that a quick scan identifies as Meredith Lewis; and finally there’s Carl’s most recent healthcare assistant –an actual medical model, equipped with specific training.

Markus has only ever met Meredith once or twice, but he does like her –Leo met her while he was in rehab, apparently, she was a volunteer campaigning against red ice and fighting to give people struggling with getting their life back a better chance in doing so. She’s an intelligent and compassionate woman, who has done more for Leo than doctors ever could.

“Hello, Carl.” He says, approaching the bed and nodding his greeting silently to the other occupants of the room. “What’s going on?”

Suddenly feeling awkward, Connor stays half a step behind Markus and remains silent. His systems scream at him that he’s intruding in something private, but he stays put –Markus hasn’t sent him away, and he definitely looked like he needed some moral support, back in the car.

Carl’s deep and slightly raucous voice rumbles a low chuckle. “They worry so much over nothing. We all gotta go, sooner or later.”

Markus’s eyes widen. “Wh— what?”

The healthcare assistant –Thomas– steps forward to explain: “He had another cardiac episode this morning. He is getting weaker… his body probably won’t survive another one.”

Which means Carl’s time is running out.

Carl's heart has been failing for a while now. Markus knew, rationally, that it was only a matter of time. It doesn't make the news any easier to take.

"...how long?" He asks, voice breaking but not bothering to try and hide it.

"A couple of months, give or take."

Something tells Markus that Thomas is being generous with his estimate. He closes his eyes and grips Carl's hand firmly.

Contrary to popular belief, androids do cry: when their stress level rises high enough that their core processors threaten to overheat, their interface also suffers from the rise in temperature; and, in order not to fry the eye modules, a liquid coolant is released, not too different in looks from tears.

"Hey. Markus, come on... it'll be alright." Carl pats Markus's forearm with his free hand, and the android nods shakily, getting himself back under control while Carl continues, "Don't feel sorry for me. I've lived a long, blessed life. And what I'm leaving behind..." he gestures for Leo to come closer as well. "I'm proud of you. The both of you. I'm proud to call you my sons."

Leo's eyes are already streaked with dry tears, possibly from regret for having reconciled so late in life, but never before has the saying 'better late than never' rung so true –he can be here now, at least.

"We're proud to call you our father." Markus barely manages to choke it out, and Connor instinctively steps forward to put a hand on his friend's shoulder, the directive 'comfort Markus' taking the highest priority without much of a fight.

"You know what my biggest fear was?" The elderly man asks, after a beat of silence, and Markus minutely shakes his head. "It was that when my moment came, you two would have no one to take care of you. But now I see you and Leo here before me... and not only I know you'd support each other, but neither of you is here alone, today."

At that, Meredith glances at Connor with a sympathetic smile –she's clearly been over enough times to be considered part of the family, it's evident enough that she is Leo's significant other by the way they are holding hands and their body language in general... which suddenly makes Connor feel terribly out of place as he realizes what Carl thinks his presence here means.

For his part, Markus gapes slightly –his thought processes come to a screeching halt as he looks up at Meredith briefly, then at Connor; and then he looks back at Carl, having just come to the same realization.

"It's not— we're..." as he tries to find the right words to explain that Connor is only a good friend, the android in question opens his network. «Let him believe it.» he says, the tiniest hint of a smile on his face when Markus turns to him, «He wants to know you'll be happy and cared for. Let him have this. I don't mind.»

A grateful smile blossoms on the RK200's face, mismatched eyes hesitating on Connor's face for a moment, as they imperceptibly nod at each other before he turns back to Carl. "We'll be alright, Carl." He settles for eventually, giving the man's hand an affectionate squeeze. Then the inevitable happens: Carl already knows Meredith quite well, has complimented her on both her beautiful curly hair and the inspired volunteer work she does in association with several different charities –going as far as inspiring Leo to do the same, learning from his past mistakes and working to build a better future for people struggling with the same things he suffered through. Connor, instead, has never been here before, and as such Carl is curious about him.

"And what is your story?"

There's no real reason for the RK800 to feel intimidated, and yet he suddenly does; even lying in bed, with his thin, frail frame and affable tone, Carl exudes a dignified poise that rivals Markus’s. Perhaps that’s where the revolutionary leader takes it from.

"My name is Connor..." he offers, after a moment's hesitation, "I... was in the android march with Markus."

Unexpectedly, Carl chuckles. "Oh yeah." He says, "You're the one they made all that fuss about, aren't you?"

When Connor blinks, completely taken aback, Markus calls his attention by softly patting his forearm, "I may or may not have told Carl that you're the one who infiltrated Cyberlife tower and freed the androids."

Which is true –actually, Markus has talked about Connor to Carl once or twice during his visits, seeing as it's often his habit to come to Carl for advice about his people, or his work, or anything, really.

Connor says nothing, suddenly bashful under Carl's scrutiny even as his processes suggest him multiple dialogue options –some of them are actually quite smooth, but he can't bring himself to pick one in time before the old man’s next words to Markus: "He's got good eyes."

Markus smiles, recalling the time they discussed the saying 'eyes are the window to the soul'. "He's got a good soul, too."

Rationally, Connor knows the two of them are simply lying by omission by pretending to be together for Carl's sake, but the sincerity with which Markus talks about him still makes him warm in places that shouldn't be able to feel warm –he can't quite hold back a smile.

"Listen to me, Connor..." Carl says, extending a hand to him that the RK800 takes without actually thinking about it, "You take care of this one, yeah? He's a stubborn one, and will care for everyone except himself."

Connor shoots a look at Markus: it's true. Swallowing down the guilt of keeping up the ruse, he nods as he lets go. "Don't I know it..." he comments good-naturedly, thinking about the many occasions in which Markus came close to sacrificing himself for others -coming to think of it, someone should really knock into Markus's head that he's important and valuable, and not just because of the production costs of the RK prototypes.

"Oh, now I get it!" The android in question snaps his fingers suddenly, as if something just came to his mind.

"What?"

"That whole 'pot calling the kettle black' thing."

Connor doesn't know whether to be amused or annoyed. In the end he does neither, getting completely distracted by the playfulness in Markus's gaze as they lock eyes for a second. As moments pass, Connor's speech prompts go from the options of 'be sincere/be ironic/be reassuring' to 'say something!/say anything!/you're staring again!'

His mouth moves, but the only thing that comes out is "Markus..." in a tone equal parts affectionate and exasperated -but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the presence of spirit to lightly punch the other in the arm to try and wipe the smug expression off his face.

Carl laughs heartily and even Leo is visibly trying to contain his amusement. “You guys are adorable.”

...huh. If this is all they have to do to be credible, then acting like a couple is easier than Connor would have thought.

Once they sober up a little, Markus sighs.

"I'm really scared, Carl." His voice is still sad, but it's steady now and the RK200 has regained his usual composure. "I don't wanna lose you."

"You never really will." Is his father's answer, as he reaches up with one hand pointing at Markus's forehead first, "I will always be here..." then at his chest, "...and here. Within you. Within the both of you."

Leo grabs his other extended hand as well, and father and sons share another silent moment. Connor averts his gaze, the sensation of intruding still gnawing at the corners of his mind, but he's not left dwelling on it too long, because Carl speaks again: "Why don't you play us something, Markus?"

Since Carl's condition worsened, they had the piano brought up to his room and placed against the window, so that Markus could play him his favorite songs or even improvise some. On occasion, Leo would bring his guitar and accompany him.

"Oh yes, please!" Meredith agrees obviously familiar with Markus's many talents and clearly a woman of good taste, "Can I record it?"

The android nods at her, smiling warmly at Carl before he stands, to step around the bed and reach the piano stool.

"Any song preference?" He asks, tapping a couple of keys to make sure everything is in tune.

Carl shakes his head. "Improvise." He suggests, "You know I like it the most when you do."

"Improvisation it is." Markus nods, extending his arms towards the ivory and pausing to look for inspiration.

At that precise moment, out of the blue, Leo suggests: "How about a song for Connor?"

Connor feels the eyes of everybody else in the room on him, and his database pulls up several images of deer caught in headlights as an explanation to the query 'what is this feeling?'. The only consolation is that Markus has a very similar expression on his face. Clearing his voice slightly, the RK800 tries to politely object: "It might be a little... soon, to ask him to make up a song for me."

"Nonsense." Carl is predictably having none of it, and gestures at Markus, "Anything with a spark of life has a spark of music as well. Let's hear it, Markus: a song for Connor!"

Markus closes his eyes and lowers his head for a moment, taking a deep breath before opening them again. For the second time, the two androids lock gazes –but this time Markus's eyes are astoundingly intense, drilling into his with such power that Connor wonders whether the other can see his interface. Something tells the detective that Markus will take the song part seriously, because that's just who he is... and it's strangely flattering.

Then it starts. As improvisation goes, Markus does a couple of tentative harmonies at first, then eventually the sounds amalgamate into something fluid. It's neither too slow or too fast, it has a slightly wistful lilt in the way it slows down at some points, only to become much faster and more passionate moments after, crescendo growing powerful and intense before everything calms down again to deceptively sweet little tunes. Markus does this for a while back and forth, playing like he's chasing something, something hidden and hard to find but so very, very worth it. It’s mesmerizing just to watch his fingers dance and skid along the keys, let alone experiencing the melody itself. The notes pick up again in intensity, growing and growing until everything stops abruptly but a lone key still echoing through. Markus keeps playing, slow and quiet, like the music is afraid to come out for fear of being hurt, but then it grows steadier, stronger and harmonious and the finish is absolutely breath-taking.

Connor wonders why he can't see anything, for a second, then he realizes that he's had his eyes closed for the last 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

"Well… if I had any doubts about you, son, now they're cleared." Carl remarks at him, which makes Connor recall: right, Markus was supposedly serenading him.

But that can't be right –surely he was thinking of something else? Such a beautiful melody couldn't have sprung from feelings that were not there... Markus might consider him a friend, a dear one even, but is that enough to belt out such an impressively moving melody?

The detective feels slightly uneasy. Markus can't be that good at faking it, can he? He said it himself, if he thinks too hard about something he falls back on hyperrealism, and the melody he just played doesn't find a match in any song after a quick superficial search. A part of him really hopes that’s the case, even though his logical core tells him that it’d be hypocritical to feel offended if it wasn’t, since they’re only pretending to be that close –Connor can’t quite help it, the mere thought that someone like him inspired such a piece of music in Markus is… immensely validating.

Leo is still minutely clapping as Meredith stops the video and does the same; and Markus turns in his seat, looking only slightly sheepish with a big smile on his face.

“That was incredible, as usual.” Meredith comments, nudging Leo slightly in the side, “Hey, next time you can bring the guitar, you guys can play together.”

“Play together? Psh, nah, I don’t want to embarrass poor Markus…” Leo says, his bravado much less vitriolic, now that it’s good-natured, “Especially not in front of his boyfriend!”

“You keep telling yourself that.” Is the only comment Markus graces the young man with, and they all share a laugh over it.

Carl coughs slightly at the tail-end of his laugh, and Thomas is promptly by his side to adjust the pillows and run a check. “I’m sorry to cut this short, but Carl has to rest now.”

Reluctant but understanding, both Manfred sons nod at him, and they all stand to pay their goodbyes to Carl.

“Keep ‘im in check.” The old man tells Meredith as she leans down to kiss his forehead and then makes space for her boyfriend to hug his father, “And you stay in touch, y’hear me?”

Markus’s turn comes and he simply hugs Carl silently for a moment, then whispering “I’ll be back to see you again as soon as possible.”

“I know, son.” Is Carl’s reply, right before he looks expectantly at Connor.

The detective extends a hand at first, but Carl regards him with amusement and just a hint of mischief. "A hand? Come on, kid, bring it in for the real thing.”

Having only ever hugged Hank and only once or twice, Connor finds himself cataloguing every minute detail of this. Compared to the Lieutenant, Carl is frail, feather-light and soft, and yet there’s a firmness in his grip that speaks of considerable strength in youth and great determination in the present.

The android feels a bout of sadness at the thought that yes, once the inevitable happens, the world will definitely be poorer without Carl Manfred. Words come out of him before any other options pops up: “It was an honor to finally meet you.”

It’s amazing how, even though they only spoke a few words to each other, Carl seems to regard Connor with the same fondness he carries for his own sons. “Likewise.” He says, patting the android’s cheek, “Do come again and see me soon, if you please."

They eventually leave Carl in Thomas’s expert care, and then exchange goodbyes with Meredith and Leo, too –neither Markus or Connor tell the couple anything about not being really involved, humans are much easier to catch in a lie compared to androids, and it’s really not that bad: Connor is very busy with his work at the DPD, so it won’t be too unusual if he doesn’t come back that often.

What he is absolutely not expecting is Markus suddenly grabbing him by the arms and hugging him close once they are alone, just before they get in the car.

“Markus?”

“Thank you.” It’s the first thing the other says, shoulders slouching and face hidden in Connor’s neck. “For coming here with me, and… everything else.”

The RK800 is stunned into stillness for a second –Markus’s level of stress spiked briefly, but it seems to be slowly stabilizing and wow he’s sure receiving a lot of hugs today, this feels kind of cozy. Clearing his voice slightly to make sure his audio outlets are not failing him, Connor tentatively returns the hug, hands patting the other’s broad back awkwardly.

“Anytime, Markus.” He offers, hoping the sincerity in his voice is apparent enough, “Really. I like Carl. I was actually very excited to meet him. It’s a bit funny that he thought we were romantically involved solely because I accompanied you here, but I really don’t mind, if it will make him worry less.”

Silence passes between them. Markus can feel every little shift in Connor’s body and posture, and the steady vibration from his thirium pump. Something catches in his throat, and his interface gives the prompt ‘Back off’ and Markus lets go, putting a more respectable distance between them.

“You know… some of the things I said were true.” He then offers, as they board the car that will take them back to the DPD station to check how the meeting went, “About you having a good soul…”

“Please, you’ll make me blush like a human!” Connor says, sass returning full force now that they’ve seen that, while still very much bed-ridden and fading, Carl is at least as safe and happy as one can be in his situation, “Next thing I know you’ll tell me the song was really for me!”

“It was.”

That has Connor nearly speechless. “Beg pardon?”

“Well, you deserved at least one full song for coming with me. Plus…” Markus smirks at him, undeniably smug but affectionate as well. “I don’t half ass my art, detective.”

“Of course, what was I even thinking?” the other teases back, before turning thoughtful: “In all seriousness, though… I hope you know that you really can count on me. For anything.” Markus only nods absently, and Connor follows the urge to clasp the other’s hand in his, making that mismatched gaze snap back up at him. “Markus. Anything.” He emphasizes, and he means it: Markus has done so much for him since he turned deviant… he trusted him enough to participate in their cause, he let him stay by his side as they seized their freedom, he made himself a mediator between Connor and those few in Jericho who still didn’t trust him… it’s only natural that, if they’re really friends, the detective would give out just as much. “Promise me. Anything you need, you’ll tell me.”

The RK200 is surprised, but gratefulness crinkles the very ends of his eyes, making them brighter and warmer. It feels strangely final, for reasons Connor cannot yet discern, when Markus finally speaks up, moments away from their destination: “I promise, Connor. I won’t forget this.”

It feels like some sort of a turning point.

Chapter Text

Connor spends the next few days humming to himself whenever he gets lost in thought or is doing something simple enough that his idle processes can afford to replay the memory of Markus's serenade in the background.

It's frequent enough that Hank notices that it isn't just tuneless hums –he is a detective after all.

"What's that you're singing?" He asks while loading the dishwasher, watching Connor out of the corner of his eyes as the android pours the food for Sumo.

Connor could tell him. It's perfectly normal that he spent time with Markus, and after they got back Connor did tell Hank about what happened to Carl -leaving out a few... irrelevant details. So being sincere is an option. But so is teasing Hank about his tastes in music, or... simply keeping it to himself.

The song was for him. It brings a secretive smile to his face to be the only one to know where it came from –also, he has the unexplainable feeling that Hank will tease him about it if he finds out. Humans are funny like that.

"Oh..." he settles for, eventually, "Just a melody I heard."

And the sky is just a little blue. And North is just a little badass. And Sumo is just a little adorable.

The way he would play with Markus when he brought him to Jericho —huh, seems like his thoughts round up around Markus a lot, lately. He guesses it's understandable; many androids look up to Markus a lot ever since the revolution, and more than a few have actually some sort of star-struck admiration for him. Some humans, too. Connor can concede that Markus is definitely someone worth admiring. Idly, he wonders with a hint of a chuckle if Markus saw the videos and pictures from his interview with the dogs spread all over the internet, and the comments underneath them, especially during the moment that one puppy tried to sneak under his shirt, exposing a generous portion of torso in the process.

Comments ranging from "holy shit yes robo-jesus I am converted" and "this week on 'I didn't know I was gay for an android'!" amused the RK800 quite a bit, and those were only the ones about his physical appearance.

Which is, well. It is what it is.

Kamski clearly had very specific design choices in mind, something about making the caretaker android someone with options to ‘satisfy all needs’. Connor's processors shudder slightly as they try to process all the implications at the same time to make them go away faster –it was lucky that Carl is a decent man who never even remotely thought about abusing his android. Regardless of that, it doesn't surprise Connor that Markus has quite a few fans, even though the android himself seems to not really acknowledge the fact. He just wishes people –humans especially– would appreciate Markus for his brilliance, and his hard work in establishing peace between humans and androids, rather than his good looks and well-designed body.

Oh well. It's a start at least.

"Just a melody you heard?" Hank's voice snaps him out of his private musings, "Kid, you've been staring into space with that goofy expression for like four minutes!"

4 minutes and 44 seconds, to be precise. The duration of Markus's song. He shrugs. “Your point being?"

The Lieutenant blinks at him for a couple of seconds, wondering how the hell Connor does not see how weird he is acting –then again, it is Connor. He doesn’t quite understand how weird he is in the first place. “My point…” he starts calmly, “Is that you look and sound like a goddamn schoolboy with a crush!”

“What?” the android’s voice is broken by a slightly disbelieving chuckle. All the same, his database pulls up some comparisons. Definition of ‘crush’ / Juvenile romance / Use of the term ‘crush’ on adult individuals are just a few of the files that make it into Connor’s log to be reviewed in the background. “Huh. I can see why you would think that.” He comments, finishing his task with a few scratches at Sumo’s ears and an amused tilt to his posture, “But no, I don’t have a crush.”

“Can you at least tell me the damn song?” Hank then asks, still slightly curious at Connor’s behavior but not enough to press on. “You’ve been humming it so much it’s stuck in my head too now, I have to make it go away!”

Earworms. His system supplies the name of the phenomenon and some examples. He sighs –looks like he will have to reveal the song after all. “It doesn’t really have a name. It’s a piano piece that Markus improvised for Carl when we went to see him a few days ago.” Moving over to the television, the RK800 interfaces with it to project the memory.

Hank gapes at the scene that appears –both from the many abilities of Connor that he keeps forgetting about; and from the strange domesticity of the video.

Markus is smiling looking somewhere to the left of the observer.

« Improvisation it is. »

Leo Manfred, slightly off-frame, pipes in.

« How about a song for Connor? »

The frame stutters slightly, no doubt when the android slightly jumped in surprise. «It might be a little... soon, to ask him to make up a song for me.»

«Nonsense.» Carl Manfred’s voice declares firmly, «Anything with a spark of life has a spark of music as well. Let's hear it, Markus: a song for Connor!»

Well, shit, now Hank is definitely curious. A song ‘for Connor’? Then there it goes: Markus and Connor lock eyes, it would seem, which playing it back means Markus is staring right at the camera for a good couple seconds.

That’s a smolder and a half, son.

Then the android actually starts playing the piano and holy shit. It’s been a long, long time since Hank has even barely thought about romance and shit, but that’s a goddamn serenade if he ever heard any. He wonders if Connor knows that –hell, considering how little self-awareness his kid has in situations that are not contingent to a mission, the Lieutenant wonders if Markus even knows what he’s doing and what something like that usually means. Hank would say there’s no way you do something like that and don’t know, but… he wouldn’t put money on it.

Also, he doesn’t know yet if he’s alright with the idea of the leader of the revolution making eyes at his adopted son. Not yet, anyways. “Huh. That was nice of him.” He comments, keeping his tone neutral and dismissive.

“It was!” Connor confirms earnestly, “Markus is very talented, He plays the piano for Carl often. He even showed me one of his paintings. I think you’d like it –he’s also absolutely useless once you put him in front of a dog, so your theory might have been true.”

So far… inconclusive, the kid himself would say. He sings high praise of Markus, but he made it no secret of his admiration for the guy and, well, Hank can see where it would stem from; and yet… improvised piano songs? Late night rendezvous with puppies and paintings? Where are your detective skills now, Connor?

Just to tease him, Hank has to ask: “You sure you don’t have a crush?”

“I’m positive, Hank, I—” he says so, but a query does appear. He organizes recent events into a timeline of clues, to be reconstructed later. It’s on low priority and in the background of his mind, but the task ‘analyze clues to check for probability of a crush’ is now pending. “I have never thought about any such thing.”

Well of course. Before, he never thought for himself at all; and after… there were much more important priorities to think about. But now the dust is settling, talks are going well with the exception of a few extremist groups that sometimes demonstrate and sometimes cause actual problems… now Connor has the time to actually thing about things that are not necessarily about his people and what will happen to them.

Markus is probably going through something similar, though maybe he’s better adjusted, having been a deviant for longer. Hank has noticed Connor’s brief moment of lag, which probably means he had really never thought about it and now he will probably be thinking about it –the kid hates not knowing things, he will surely get to the bottom of… whatever this is.

But the Lieutenant has been a detective for a long time; and he knows when to push and when to let things unfold a little more. “Okay.” He says, laying down on the couch to watch some news, since now the TV is on anyway –as usual in these past few weeks, it’s about androids.

«Just yesterday, after weeks of discussion and deliberation, an important change has been finalized and approved by the state of Michigan: the definitions of murder, manslaughter, assault and other such things have been broadened to include androids, which means that crimes against androids are now liable to be punished in a likely fashion to those against humans.» Well, shit. Hank looks over to Connor, whose head whipped in the direction of the screen, expression frozen half-way between disbelief and happiness, «Amends have been made to the definition of a perpetrator as well, and as such any crimes committed by androids will be punishable by the same laws that apply to humans. The Mayor of Detroit has released a statement—»

That is all well and good on paper, but Anderson knows that for a long, long time, law enforcement will be more lax in punishing humans rather than androids, but… it’s an important step forward, and he doesn’t have it in him to ruin Connor’s speechless happiness.

The RK800 has put his hands together in a prayer position without really noticing, only registering the detail when his joined fingers touch his lips. Having startled himself, he drops his hands and fishes his quarter out of his pocket to fiddle with instead –he wonders if Markus has seen the announcement. He hopes it makes Markus happy.

 

« —Mayor of Detroit has released a statement, explaining some of the key points of the design proposed and discussed in the last weeks. »

The images cut away at the Mayor’s press release, and all four androids that were watching jump and physically whoop.

“Yes!!!” North is the first to exclaim, jump-hugging all three of her friends in alphabetical order.

“We did it, Markus!” Josh adds, patting their leader’s shoulder as they all come down for a group hug.

Simon smiles. “I bet Carl is so proud of you right now.”

The mention of Carl dampens Markus’s mood slightly, reminded as he is of his father’s slow but inevitable fading, but he does smile back –Carl is still here, after all, and he is proud. Even though he thought Connor was his boyfriend, of all things, the RK200 muses with a silent chuckle.

Coming to think of it, it was surprisingly easy to go along with it –no one had any reason to doubt them, so probably the didn’t find any signs of deception because they weren’t looking for it, but then…

…then there’s the song.

Markus honestly doesn’t know where that came from, he just actually really thought about Connor, about everything that transpired between them, from the first meeting where he approached the ex-hunter while staring down at the barrel of his gun, to the pang in his chest when he noticed Connor hugging himself against a wall, hiding alone in the shadows from a people he should have felt a part of, all the way to Connor bringing Sumo to play and cancelling everything he was doing just to accompany and make sure he’d be okay.

A directive that has been in his background processes ever since North cornered him some time ago gets updated.

‘Find out why you’re nervous about this > consider how you really feel regarding Connor’

“Markus? Are you listening?”

He wasn’t. He rewinds the last few seconds –ah, celebrating… sure, there’s an idea. “Sure. What do you guys wanna do?”

“Right now? I want to go to an amusement park, or a festival –somewhere full with people and games, knowing that no one will have the right to harm me anymore, just because of who I am.”

Simon nods solemnly at North’s words. “Sounds like a plan.”

Jericho has become a community centre of sorts, with the four of them coordinating most of the activities, but several androids have stepped up to help –any androids without a home or in need of help can come and have a roof over their heads, somewhere to get charged, spare parts if needed.

There’s a good dozen volunteers taking care of others and ensuring everyone feels comfortable and safe. Which is all Markus wanted for his people. “Hey, Lexie. We’re going out for a while.” He says to the red-headed AX400, “Anything at all happens, just call, yeah?”

“You worry too much, Markus.” She protests, shaking her head, “Go have your fun. We’ll survive for a few hours, promise!”

Markus is aware of North not-so-subtly high-fiving Lexie in the background, but decides to ignore it –they’ll never stop teasing him about how much he works.

 

Amusement parks, it turns out, can be pretty damn amusing –North makes it a point of going on all the rides at least three times, but it’s only a matter of time before they, or specifically Markus, get recognized.

“Mommy look!” a child’s voice and a finger pointed right at him tells Markus that the chance the little boy means him are 100% with no  chance of error.

“Don’t point, honey—” the mother tries to chastise him, but two children are now running towards them: a 7 years old boy and an 11 years old girl.

“Are you Markus?”

Simon has to lean on North for support in dealing with a quantity of adorableness his processors were not ready for. Markus smiles and crouches down towards the boy. “That’s my name, yes. What’s yours?”

“I’m Finn, and she’s Lily.”

The mother has caught up to the children by now, slightly uneasy –whether it is because he’s a stranger in general or an android in particular the RK200 doesn’t know, as the lady tries to apologize for her children’s behaviour and drag them away, but he shakes his head. “It’s okay. They’re curious and have questions, I can answer anything they want to know.”

“Lily says you don’t fight because you’re not really strong. Are you really strong?”

Behind Markus, North fails to get her voicebox to restrain the laughter in the beat of silence that follows. A dark part of Markus’s mind replays the Jericho raid and how much he did fight, unavoidably killing one or two people in self-defence, but he pulls back and looks at the kid, evaluating his options before eventually deciding:

“Well, your sister has the right to believe what she wants.” He starts, in his best ‘Jericho leader’ voice, “I don’t fight because I think fighting is wrong. Maybe I’m strong, maybe I’m not… but that’s not something that defines me, or anyone else, as a person.”

The child seems to mull it over, a dragged ‘oooh’ sound escaping his lips. His sister, instead, with a sass that remind him of North a lot, mutters “That’s exactly what someone who isn’t strong would say.”

Children. Markus chuckles at their antics, though he can see how some humans would grow frustrated at them. The siblings are now engaged in a typical ‘Is too!’ – ‘Is not!’ back and forth, the mother looks like she wants to disappear… no one is really happy with this.

Looking around, Markus pre-constructs a couple courses of action. The hammer game should do it. “Hey.” He calls the kids’ attention, “How about I play that game for you two?” he says, pointing at the booth with the blatant ‘Test your might!’ sign. “Whoever was right gets to keep the prize.”

« You cheater. You will have to restrain your arm just to avoid destroying that thing. »

North’s words seeping through his network make him smirk. «Not my fault there aren’t any games here made for androids.»

He goes to the booth and pays the man behind it –a quick scan of the device before him reveals that it is slightly rigged, as is 90% of such games. Still, his model is strong enough to tear drones apart bare-fingered, he will be able to make the projectile pass the guard strips and hit the bell hitting at 45% of his actual strength.

Both children are awestruck as Markus accepts the hammer, swings it back one-armed and hits down, the ‘ding’ resounding easily enough.

Finn jumps up and down. “See?! I told you, he’s really strong!”

Markus bites back his laughter, while Josh and the others shake their heads at him. “Go on, pick your prize.” He tells the child, who happily runs to the man and proceeds to choose a huge wolf plushie.

“Do you like wolves?” Markus asks, as the boy proudly comes back.

“Eh, they’re okay I guess…” the answer confuses the android for a moment, but then the little boy taps on his sister’s shoulder, making her turn from where she was standing, pouting and with her arms crossed. “But Lily likes them a lot!”

Predictably, the older sister gasps and hugs the plushie like there’s no tomorrow.

« This is so sugary I might develop human diabetes just from watching. You’re a sickening goody-two-shoes, Markus. »

Oh, North. «I didn’t even do anything!» he protests, but Josh seems to agree:

« I think it’s just a side effect of your presence. You bring out the sap in people. »

« Hey, that’s uncalled for. »

« Do we have to bring up the puppies again? »

«That was one time, Simon!»

« Do I detect a hint of embarrassment? »

« I think you detect a hint of shut your face. »

Their silent, good-natured bickering feels refreshing to a point Markus almost misses the lady thanking him for his time and for the gift won for her children, but he smiles respectfully at the woman and waves goodbye at the two little menaces while they walk away hand in hand.

Okay.

That was kind of cute.

"Two times." North eventually says out loud.

"What?"

"It was two times." She repeats, listing off with her index finger, "Once on the interview, and once when Connor brought his dog to the centre."

The mention of the detective and the memory of their quiet evening with Sumo on the rooftop makes something churn in Markus, thirium pumping faster through his veins as multiple ancillary processes start up, some completely unprompted –one focuses on analyzing every small detail of Connor's face as he silently told him to let Carl believe they were together, another recalls the humor in his voice as the RK800 teased him about his weakness for dogs, another one, the most insistent of them all, perhaps, relays over and over the sensation of Connor's hand over his, in the car, as he said "Markus. Anything." Practically demanding that he let him help…

...shit.

"Okay, okay I give in. Guys, let's go back." He says, after a moment of silence.

Having exhausted most activities that androids could enjoy, the rest shrug and agree. On the way back though, North falls into step with him.

"Out with it."

Markus eyes them with only the slightest suspicion. "...out with what?"

Half a step in front of them, Josh snorts. "Are you kidding? You're processing so hard we can hear the whirring from here!"

Markus half-heartedly glares at his friends, but sighs as he reconstructs the events in his mind to share with them -which brings him a new discovery: North had seen this coming. Her behaviour on the day Connor brought Sumo to Jericho suddenly made so much more sense. How had she seen it before he even knew? Then again, their models were designed with very different purposes, and while they are free to think for themselves, their basic programming is the source for a lot of their knowledge. "Okay fine, I might need some advice."

"Oh? On what?" Simon perks up, as Markus's unofficial right-hand man.

"It's a bit of a long story..." he holds his hand out and retracts the skin, knowing his friends will understand and do the same.

Sending his memories to three people at once is challenging, but they manage okay.

Markus almost immediately regrets it as North bursts out laughing.

"It's not funny."

Josh begs to differ. "It is a little bit funny." He says, swinging his arm around to clap Markus on the shoulder, "The deviant leader, crushing after the ex-deviant hunter? It's golden, man!"

"So are you ready to admit that I was right all along?" Markus covers his face with both hands. Feeling a tiny bit bad at seeing him so mortified, North carries on: "Don't be like that, I think it's very sweet. Hell, you never played like that for me, so this must be really something!"

Markus chuckles, and North's system deem the prompt 'cheer up your friend' successful.

"I did paint that one portrait of you."

"Which is very beautiful and that I still have in my room to remember fondly, but we're talking about Connor now."

She's not letting up one inch. True to her personality, Markus muses. "What is there to talk about? I may have... feelings for him, okay. I just don't know what to do with them!"

"Well..." Simon muses, putting on his advisor tone, "When one has feelings, the next course of action would be to act upon them."

Markus nearly freezes, overwhelmed by the half a million what-ifs his core hurls at him. "No. No way."

They've reached the Jericho base by now, and are thoughtlessly all piling into Markus's spot on the roof –North sitting on the chair, Markus leaning against the piano with Simon and Josh by his side.

"Why not?" It's a legitimate question.

"Well, he doesn't feel the same about me, for starters."

A very un-ladylike snort sounds from the chair. "How do you know?"

"Nothing in his interactions with me suggests otherwise."

"Oh, really?" North crosses the space between them to grab him by the hand and pull up some images in succession: the way Connor reacted as they pet Sumo together, his expression when the Saint Bernard squished them together, and the moment in the car.  «You really can count on me. For anything.» The absolute earnestness, the eyes, the touch. «Markus. Anything.»

Simon and Josh share a look. North has a pretty solid case.

"North, come on... this is Connor we're talking about. He is barely used to even having his own emotions, none of that is proof that he feels anything special about me."

While technically true, it still makes the blonde want to punch her friend in the face.

The former deviant hunter is ill-adapted, that much is a fact, and for all his smoothness, expertise and confidence on the job, he can be quite clueless about thigs regarding his own self.

Simon takes it upon himself to intervene: "Okay, but consider this: will you ever find out if you don't say anything?"

North curtsies to Simon in a motion to indicate she rests her case.

Josh doubles down: "Who was it that said ‘if you truly want something, you have to have the courage to ask for it’?"

"Twisting my own words, now?"

Josh pats him on the back again. "That's what you get for being inspirational and wise. It gets chucked back in your face when you're being an idiot."

"Hey!" Markus jokingly pushes Josh away from him, shaking his head. He is fussing and putting up a fight, but he is grateful for his friends' presence and support. The sudden shock of noticing his affection for Connor may have strayed beyond comrade and friend made him feel very vulnerable, and he's still pretty much convinced the detective doesn't feel the same... but venting out a bit is helping.

"In all seriousness... you should give it some thought." Simon suggests eventually, "Worse comes to worse, he doesn't feel the same. It's Connor– he'll still be your friend."

Hearing Simon say that of all people "it's Connor", like that fact alone is enough to know how good of a person he is... it makes Markus proud of helping the two along the path of reconciliation, however incomplete that still is.

"That, and anyone would be lucky to have you, if I say so myself." North provides, winking cheekily, "If he passes the chance, he's not very smart for a prototype."

"Okay that's enough." Markus appreciates the compliment, he really does... but it feels too awkward to having his ex-girlfriend urge him to go after another guy. "All of you, shoo. Leave me alone with my paint."

"Promise to at least think about it?"

He nods at her, looking as he's just barely conceding the point while several of his subsidiary processes have actually already started very much thinking about it.

Right. He needs to draw something or his head is gonna explode.

Three sketches left unfinished because they were all turning into portraits of Connor later, Markus can conclude that yes; his feelings for his detective friend have definitely shifted, and they're not going away any time soon.

Crap.

 

The next time Markus sees Connor is at a public event: one of the charities Meredith works with is holding a fundraising campaign to help former red ice addicts get clean and find sustainable work, and he's invited –Leo even jokingly said "bring your boyfriend!", which made the android bite back a cringe.

But Connor does end up being there, Lieutenant Anderson in tow.

There's a surprise. "Lieutenant." Markus greets first, nodding at the man, "I didn't peg you for the type to enjoy mundane events."

"I don't." The man replies gruffly, "But I spent my whole damn career trying to get red ice off the street. Any contribution to this fight is worth a room full of stuffy rich people.” Fair enough. "Whats your excuse?"

"The host is my sister in law."

That's a pretty solid reason, yes.

Connor perks up at that, turning to face them: "Meredith is hosting this? It'll be nice to see her again!"

Any greeting Markus had on his lips gets instantly deleted. The only options flashing at him are compliment attire/compliment eyes/compliment everything and he can't quite bring himself to do that –not in front of Hank Anderson, for crying out loud!

While left to his own devices Connor has shown a preference for baggy, comfy things, he rocks a suit pretty damn flawlessly. Weeks of seeing him practically disappear in gigantic sweaters made Markus forget that Connor is a... very well-designed model. The grey blazer and trousers are not too dissimilar from his android uniform, but the cut is much more flattering and the crisp white shirt is accented by a dark burgundy tie and pocket square –it compliments the brown of his eyes very well; Markus could spend minutes on end just praising the chromatic aspects of it. The RK200 thinks he might be in deep, deep trouble –before, he was appreciative of Connor as a person, of how he was able to overcome is programming and help them in spite of the tight grip Cyberlife tried to keep him in; he admired Connor for how selflessly he offered himself for the near-suicide mission of infiltrating the tower and liberating the androids and, most recently, he was grateful for Connor bringing a dog to meet him for no other reason than seeing him smile and have fun. Now, though, Markus also can also appreciate the fact that Connor is goddamn gorgeous, and shit, how had he not noticed before?

He is aware that his time for a greeting is running out, but eventually he manages to joke about it: "Ah, so there is a person underneath all those hoodies!"

The good natured glare he receives is worth it. "You're one to talk, Mr 'I have open zippers running all over my chest'."

Initial shock diffused, it's easy to fall into banter. "Excuse you, those were clothes I stole so I wouldn't be running around naked."

"How scandalous!" The RK800 remarks jokingly, "I'm sure your fanbase would have been much happier."

At this point, Hank is looking between them with that strange thinking expression again. He seems to be particularly appraising Markus, Connor notices. He doesn't understand why, Markus looks perfectly fine –more than fine even, what with the navy blazer hugging his shoulders just enough and the aqua tie bringing all the attention to both of his strikingly different coloured eyes. Then again, Hank is wearing his streaky shirt under his jacket so really there's no accounting for taste.

"Yeah, ok, I'm gonna need drinks for this." But fashion doesn't seem to have been at all Hank's concern, and both androids watch him stalk over to the buffet. Connor is still confused.

Unprompted, Connor follows the urge to speak up: "In all seriousness, you clean up quite nicely."

"Thanks." Markus says, feeling proud of himself for keeping the stiffness out of his shoulders at the compliment, "Though I still prefer myself in a t-shirt with rolled sleeves and paint streaks all over."

Connor hums is assent, musing that really, stuffy suits may look good on him, but they aren't who Markus actually is. He himself much prefers the paint-stained Markus rolling on the ground with Sumo. Silence stretches on, suddenly feeling slightly awkward. He doesn't know whether it's the setting or the conversation, but just as he's about to ask Markus offers something to do: "Want to go say hi to Meredith?"

Ah. He probably felt the uncomfortable atmosphere too, and this is his attempt at diffusing. It's just as well, Connor is curious to see the woman in her element.

Aside from being a stunning vision in her green dress, Meredith has a positively beaming smile as she meets Markus halfway and engulfs him in a hug. "Markus! So glad you could make it!" Her greeting is only complete with a big kiss on the cheek that leaves an imprint of lipstick very much on purpose.

Markus takes it, because clearly that's just how she shows affection, and returns the hug. "Wouldn't miss it for the world, little sister."

"Oh please! You hate these events almost as much as Carl..." she teases while he rubs the lipstick off of his face, "...but I see you brought your plus one!"

Connor isn't exempt from the hugs, it would seem, but he doesn't get kissed on the face, possibly because however affectionate Meredith is, she doesn't want to cross boundaries. The android almost clarifies that he came here with Lieutenant Anderson, but then he remembers that she and Leo still think they're together. He looks at Markus briefly. «Will you be ok with this?»

«Yeah, we can just ask them to keep this on the down low because we don't want any media attention.» The response is quick and well-thought out.

Connor smirks. «If I didn't know better I'd say you're getting good at lying.»

«Lying, me?» Markus makes it a point if sounding indignant even through their network. «How dare you? I'm practically an angel!»

Leo's voice interrupts their silent conversation. "D'aww, look at you guys!"

Markus makes a shushing motion with his hand to his mouth, nodding towards the various cameras around, and the young man responds by mimicking a zipper sealing his mouth shut. They stare at each other for a couple seconds, each trying to hold in a smile.

Leo caves first. "Ah, come here, you big tin can!" And there goes the second hug of the evening for Markus.

Idly, Connor notices it's astounding how much difference it makes when some words are pronounced affectionately as opposed to spitefully.

'Tin can' could almost be considered a racial slur against androids, and yet the fondness in Leo's voice and the abrupt and tight embrace around Markus's chest clearly express that, in this context, it is meant to be anything but.

However hard the road to reconciliation was, in the past few months, it's been clearly worth it.

"So? How does it feel on the other side?"

Leo bites his lips slightly. "Not gonna lie, man, it's a lot of pressure. But it's so important to get the talking going." More than anyone, the young Manfred knows exactly how important it is to talk about the things everyone is too ashamed to say. He turns to belatedly greet Connor. "Connor! Hey, good to see you here, man!"

"You as well, Leo."

"Are you here on behalf of the DPD?"

"Not me, but Lieutenant Anderson is." The RK800 explains, still feeling out of place, mingling with a family he doesn't really belong to, "He knows a lot about red ice from all the work he did in his earlier career... I believe the organizers invited him for the panel?"

"Oh yeah, the panel!" Leo exclaims, snapping his fingers, “There will be an informative panel with key people sharing facts about red ice, its abuse and all the interests that lurk behind it. I’ll also speak during that, sharing some of my more… personal experiences with it.” Markus’s eyes widen with surprise at the big step Leo is taking with this, his growth in the past few months has been immeasurable, and it doesn’t stop surprising the android: “Will you be there, Markus?”

“I…”

Sensing the other’s hesitation, Connor decides it’s a good time to make use of his role of pretend-boyfriend: he splays a hand flat behind Markus’s shoulder-blades and grins at Leo: “Of course. We won’t miss a moment.”

Markus can punch him later, for now, these two needs to spend as much brotherly time together as possible. He does receive a sideways glance of mixed blue and green, but none of the other’s micro-expressions indicate anger. Quite the contrary actually, even as Markus gently elbows him in the side.

“Can you believe this guy?” he remarks, looking at Meredith as if to ask for help, and Leo chuckles.

“Oof, barely even starting out and you’re already whipped. That’s sad, Markus.”

While Markus struggles not to double over in shocked laughter, a query opens up in Connor’s mind –why would I whip Markus? – deducing it’s a figure of speech, he runs a quick search of ‘whipped – romantic relationships’ and, after filtering out all the… very literal results on various degrees of bdsm, he finally finds the meaning he was looking for. Someone who is whipped is someone who will always concede to their significant other’s wishes, for better or worse.

Okay, it is kind of funny. Not that he would ever do that to Markus. Figuratively or literally.

Still, the concept now is in his head and his very powerful processors happily supply a scenario where physically whipping Markus would be involved, despite such a prompt not being requested or even put on background, aided by the extremely informative media found in the search results.

Oh. Oh, goodness. That’s beyond inappropriate.

“—right, Connor?” …aaand he just completely missed the conversation. He looks at Leo in confusion.

It was something about making fun of Markus for agreeing to see the panel regardless.

The android himself seems resigned as he just shakes his head. He was about to say something, when they hear Lieutenant Anderson approach. “Connor! There you are kid, where’d you run off to?”

“I was just with Markus.” He explains, his hand going to the other’s shoulder again as if to show Markus as proof to Hank that he didn’t run off on his own –he still hasn’t quite come to terms with the urge to constantly explain himself to the man… is this what having a father is like?

For his part, Hank raises an eyebrow at the response. “Sure you were.” He mutters, turning to their hostess, “Ah, miss Lewis. Thanks for the invite.”

“You’re very welcome, Lieutenant Anderson.” Meredith smiles radiantly at him, extending a hand to shake Hank’s –a surprisingly firm shake, the detective notices, “I’m a big fan of your work; and look forward to your input in the panel.”

They all exchange a few more pleasantries, until a call of “Mr. Manfred!” makes Leo and Markus turn simultaneously. Meredith laughs under her breath. “Never gets old.”

Markus puts on his best ‘herald of peace’ smile for the complete stranger: “Yes? Which Manfred do you need?”

“A little bit of both, actually.” The elderly gentleman says, “I work for the Museum of Modern Art, and Leo tells me you’re a bit of an artist yourself…”

Seeing Markus and Leo dragged away into discussion with several other people, Connor feels a split-second of dread at the thought of being alone in such a huge social situation, then he backsteps slightly into Hank and immediately calms down –comforting. Who would’ve thought the callous and gruff man would be a source of comfort in Connor’s life? He smiles at the thought, even as he watches Markus’s retreating back.

It is a pity, though, he would have liked to speak more to the other android, see how he’s holding up after the news on Carl’s condition.

“Kid, are you done eye-fucking the guest of honor?”

Wrong question to ask, Hank. Not for any definition of decorum, which is still very weak in Connor’s understanding as he still has all the tact of someone who wakes up people by slapping them across the face, but because of the ill-gotten supply of mental images that the RK800 really didn’t need and that come at him with redoubled effort at the Lieutenant’s whisper of accusation. He whips around sharply enough that he nearly spills Hank’s drink. “I didn’t— I wasn’t—” his brain is going back and forth between ‘be sincere’/’lie’/’brush it off’, so the result is incoherent babbling, “It was just… I got distracted, okay?”

Nevertheless, Hank seems incredibly amused –possibly because Connor, so prim and proper, actually came close to losing his shit over the allegation of checking out Markus. “That’s a reaction and a half, son.”

Irrationally enough, Connor’s reaction goes to ‘lie’ without a second thought this time: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hank.”

The sound of a commotion from outside distracts them all. Detective instincts taking over, both Hank and Connor go to check it out with security –there are indeed measures in place, since it’s a mixed gathering of humans and androids; and while on paper things have been going brilliantly, it doesn’t quite reflect the same way in reality: some people still believe freeing androids was a mistake, or an offense even, and those who have been affected by the circulation of red ice blame them for the drug at all existing: if thirium had never been discovered, the main component for the drug would not exist.

A small group of protesters has gathered outside the venue, shouting hateful slogans.

“Please, don’t worry about this and carry on enjoying the event.” One of the security officers tells them, “Everything is under control.”

Connor is not convinced –he knows from firsthand experience that everything is only under control until it isn’t. And he raises his guard as he hears muffled shouts of ‘fucking androids!’ and other such slurs.

But stopping everything would mean letting the demonstrators have their way, and so they ignore it and go about making this event twice as successful.

The panel is indeed very informative, Meredith is an excellent hostess and the people called to speak up and answer the attendees’ questions all do a stellar job –Connor feels impossibly proud of Hank, awkward as the man is when put under a spotlight: the detective has indeed a lot of experience, and his input visibly moves a lot of the investors who were invited.

Leo Manfred also offers valuable insight: making the whole journey from addict to activist he can fully attest how devastating addiction is and how difficult is for someone in such a vulnerable position to get clean and get their life back. Out of habit, Connor does a quick calculation of the success chances: 88% says that most of the investors will be moved enough to support the fundraiser, be it for actual moral involvement or just a business savvy acknowledgment of a rising issue.

Then he catches Markus’s eye, not too far from him, sitting at the first row in front of the speaker’s table. The RK200 is looking at the window-door, concentration and tension so evident in his gaze that Connor can assume he’s analyzing something –whatever has caught his attention like that, Connor also has to see: a sensation of dread and danger takes over him as he turns his head towards the window-door as well.

His fast processors see it happening much more clearly than human eyes: there’s an object about to break through the window in 0.6 seconds. One of the demonstrators from outside must have thrown something. Connor tries to scan it... through the glass and at the distance it won’t be too clear, but it’s worth preparing for impact.

It’s cylindrical, made mostly of metal and with a weight distribution that suggests some sort of discharge system inside.

Probability that the flying object is a flashbang or another such non-lethal explosive: 94%.

That must have been what Markus is seeing as well –they are prototypes from the same line after all; and true enough Markus jumps out of his seat with remarkable reaction time, bounding over the table and towards Leo:

“Get down!!!” he shouts, before bodily tackling his step brother out of the seat.

In the meantime, Connor has sprung into action as well, shooting out of his own seat to kick the flashbang back towards the glass and away from the people’s eyes, mere instants before it explodes. Despite promptly covering his eyes with his forearm, Connor was the closest to the object and as such is the most affected. He stumbles, trying to stop the ringing in his audio receptors and running diagnostics through his eyes over and over.

He’s vaguely aware of Hank joining the security officers in trying to restore order, since a handful of protesters are now trying to enter the hall through the shattered glass door, expletives against androids and about how it’s their fault red ice exists in the first place flying around.

Markus yanks him by one arm as his vision clears. “Connor! Connor are you alright?”

“I—” the RK200 has his back to the window now, so he doesn’t see it coming, and there’s only one thing Connor can really do, while seeing someone about to pull a gun and shoot at Markus to the cry of “You shouldn’t even be here, you freak!”

He spins them around so he’s the one facing the window and then dives to the floor, bringing Markus down with him and shielding him with his own body.

There’s a flare of pain in his receptors coming from his left shoulders, and he feels more than sees some thirium spray out and splatter on Markus –in the background, the sounds of the shooter getting immobilized fill him with relief, and it’s clear soon enough that with the combined efforts of the venue’s security and one very pissed Hank Anderson, the protesters are quickly rounded up and chased away or detained. Most of them predictably scattered and fled, clearly not invested enough in their convictions to face actual chargers, so only the shooter and a couple of others have actually been taken into custody.

“Connor! Goddamn it kid, what have you done this time?!”

Oh, Hank. “I’m okay…”

He doesn’t really feel ok, but he’s able to follow Markus as the other android pulls him along to stand up.

The Lieutenant is less than impressed. “Okay? Okay?! Son, you’re bleeding!” he roars, “What did I tell you about scaring the shit out of me like that, huh?”

“I’m sorry! I had to…” there’s a blinking in his interface that sets in as he chances a look at Markus –ruffled, dirty and shaken but ultimately unharmed – and the ‘mission successful’ indicator shines a clear blue under the directive ‘protect Markus’. The words don’t quite make it out of Connor’s mouth.

Anderson looks back and forth between the two androids.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” Markus chastises him softly, as he quickly scans the other for damage. “I could have taken that shot.” He’s been shot at point blank range in the chest by swat operatives and survived it. He could have taken a potshot from an untrained civilian with a grudge.

Connor doesn’t quite look at him in the eyes. “Just because you could doesn’t mean that you have to.”

In that moment, Markus looks to Hank, the silent question clear even for the man, who doesn’t know the android quite that well: is he always like this?

The Lieutenant’s exasperated sigh conveys that yes, he is.

Markus shakes his head. “Come on.” He tugs at the hand on Connor’s uninjured side, “Let’s get you to a bathroom and see if I can take that bullet out of your shoulder.”

Right –Markus’s healthcare protocols also include basic first-aid techniques. But Connor downloaded them. “I can manage—”

“I’m sure you can.” The RK200 retorts, his smile returning, playful as ever, now that they’re not in danger anymore,  “But do you have to?”

Connor is clearly not amused by having his own words thrown back at him either. Markus can relate.

It doesn’t make the little frown on his face any less adorable.

Hank seals it for the both of them: “Just go, Connor. We can take it from here. The asshole we caught is gonna have to answer for assault with intent and I’ve already called a unit to detain and interrogate the other two we caught.” Some things never change, and the Lieutenant knows Connor wouldn’t budge unless he assured him that their ‘mission’ was under control. “Everything to do is being done. Go get yourself fixed up.”

That is a solid point.

Also, how to say no to Markus’s subtly pleading eyes? The RK800 can’t quite decide which one has the more captivating hue.

Oh well. If nothing else, a moment of quiet away from the crowd will serve to recalibrate his auditory and visual input, still woozy from the flashbang.

Which is the only reason he leans heavily onto Markus as they walk away; it has nothing to do with how steady and safe the other’s body feels.

Nothing at all.

Chapter Text

 

The bathroom in the venue is clean and crisp, expensive looking furniture and facilities making it clear that it is quite a high-class place. The soft creamy hue of the wall makes it much warmer than any other public bathroom. It was originally clearly built with only humans in mind, but a recent little maintenance console has been added to the wall adjacent to the sinks.

Markus leads him in front of said sinks, and opens up the console. “Take off your jacket and shirt, please.”

The other android nods mechanically and slides his blazer off, with some difficulty from his injured side, but just after he folds the jacket over the sink top and goes for his shirt buttons he stops for a second: his processors stubbornly make him aware of a completely inconsequential fact.

You’re undressing in front of Markus.

Rationally, Connor knows it’s irrelevant, and yet he’s tense. He shakes the offending thought into the background and slides off his tie.

“Good boy.” Markus supplies humorously, taking a pair of tweezers from the console and shrugging off his own blazer. “It’s just as well; we can try and wash the thirium out of our clothes.” He adds, rolling up his sleeves and gesturing for Connor to turn his back to him.

It’s funny, Connor never had a problem with clothes or lack thereof before, none of the Tracis or the male models at the Eden Club had affected him one way or the other, focused as he was on his investigation. Now? He feels slightly… exposed. It’s obviously ridiculous, it’s just him and Markus and the RK200 is just performing some basic emergency maintenance, and yet…

And yet. His back goes slightly rigid when Markus’s left hand splays flat on his shoulder-blade, likely to steady both him and his own other hand.

“Hm. It seems the bullet didn’t go too deep.” For his part, the other android doesn’t seem to have noticed the slight discomfort, or if he did he chalked it up to the physical discomfort from the wound. “You’re made of pretty sturdy stuff.”

The remark sends a rush of warmth coursing through Connor’s core, and before he can rein it in or even notice, he’s smiling. Of course, it immediately fades into a frown once Markus inserts the tweezers in the wound, but it doesn’t stop the quiet sort of intimacy of the situation.

“Okay, so the good news is that it didn’t hit any major biocomponents…” Markus comments, sliding the tweezers back out and taking the bullet with him with a tenderness one would not expect from those hands at first sight, “The only bad thing is that once this is out you will have to make do with self-repair, because the damaged areas are too small for the tools they have here.”

“I’ll be okay.” Connor offers, feeling his polymer skin close backup and his internal systems start diagnostics on the shoulder.  “Thanks, Markus.”

The RK200 shakes his head with a chuckle. “I should be the one thanking you.” He says, opening one of the faucets and wetting a paper towel under it to try and clean out the thirium that stained Connor’s jacket. “You took a bullet for me.”

“You’re too important to our people to just get shot by the first idiot with a problem.” Connor grabs a tissue himself and tries to mimic what Markus is doing on his shirt as well. It isn’t part of the healthcare assistant protocols, but living with a painter and, later on, being one himself has made Markus quite proficient at removing stains from clothes and fabric.

Enough that he knows that, if they act fast enough, they can remove 84% of the stains and be presentable for the partygoers again. In the meantime, though, Connor’s words send twin feelings of both warmth and worry through his systems. “Not you too…” he jokes, setting down the blazer on the countertop to fix a look on Connor. “Listen to me; I’m not any more or any less important than anyone else, okay?”

That gaze again. For a moment, Connor thinks it's unfair for Markus to have such intense eyes. They make people want to cave in to anything he says.

“No, you listen to me, Markus.” He eventually finds the strength to retort, setting his shirt down as well to grab the other by the wrists and meet the mismatched gaze with his own. “Whether you like it or not, you are special. Out of all the androids who became free, you’re the only one to ever make something of that freedom. You did so much for our people, you did so much for me… I won’t let anyone hurt you, not on my watch.”

…damn, Connor. Markus bites his lips, for once breaking eye-contact first as he bites back a grin he wouldn’t be able to explain. “You know… I’m a big boy, I can take care of myself.”

“Perhaps. But I’ll feel better if I don’t have to find out.”

They sort of stand there, after that, just looking at each other. Eventually, being idle so long, Markus’s interface prompts the query to interface or not through their joined hands and the RK200 remembers that they’re in a public bathroom and Connor is still not wearing a shirt. He drops his hands and tries to talk –having to clear his voice first to kick his audio output back into gear. “Let’s get this stuff under the blow dryer and see if we can get it presentable again.”

The annoying sound of the hand drying machine fills the silence, making it slightly less awkward for Markus who, now that there’s no danger anymore, averts his gaze from the RK800 redressing himself, while he pretends to be very engrossed in rolling his sleeves back down and putting his own blazer back on.

Connor wastes no time restoring his impeccable visage. Sure, there’s a hole in the back of his jacket and a faded blue hue around it, but he checks his tie, pats down his head, and he’s every bit the prim and proper detective who’s never fazed by anything.

Markus, instead, seems to consider attempted murder enough of a reason to drop the dress code, and the other looks to him just as he’s taking off his tie, folding it up and shoving it into his pocket. Then the top two buttons of his shirt also come off. Connor can’t quite help the chuckle that escapes him. “That didn’t last much.”

“Cut me some slack, we just got shot at.”

The RK800 concedes that point. Then he notices that the front of Markus’s jacket has some blue blood on it, no doubt from when they tumbled on the floor together, and moves forward without thinking. “Okay, but let’s pretend you care at least a little about looking tidy for these people…” wet tissue still in hand, he grasps the other’s collar with his free one and starts dabbing and swiping at the small stains.

Markus raises his hands by his sides in mock-surrender; then, as the seconds stretch on, he notices exactly how close their proximity is. His systems calculate it in mere inches, down to exactly where under his nose is Connor’s focused face –always so intent on completing his tasks, this one.

Never change.

Still, he has to get some distance before he does something that will get him punched in the teeth. His hands go to grab Connor by both shoulders –he has to fight against a very specific prompt popping up for a second here– and gently pushes against the other. “That uh… that’ll do.”

Connor raises his head to look at him and, well.

That is. Still… very close.

Markus inhales and exhales to speed up the cooling of his systems. “Let’s go.”

That was a much closer call than attempted murder.

 

Once they’re back in the hall, they immediately get swarmed by Anderson, Leo and Meredith in that order.

“Never do that again!” Hank yells brusquely, only to then proceed to hug Connor tight enough that if he was a human the Lieutenant would be squeezing the air out of him.

Markus is subjected to the same fate by step-brother and sister in law alike.

"Markus, are you okay?" Meredith says, cheeks stained with run down mascara but clearly not caring in the least right now. The android nods, patting her shoulder in what is hopefully a reassuring gesture, when Leo grabs him by the bicep.

"You..." he seems at a loss on what to say exactly. His stress level is slightly elevated, but not to the point of being too worrying. "You jumped in front of a bomb for me."

The surprise in Leo's voice makes Markus's thirium pump jolt painfully, because it sounds like Leo doesn’t think he deserves it. "It was only a flashbang."

"It could've been a bomb, and you still did it!"

Trying to joke about it, the RK200 smiles: "You should have seen some of the stunts I pulled during the revolution. I'm badass like that."

It does manage to get a laugh from the others, but Leo is still in slight shock. "Why did you protect me?"

Clearly, their past differences are something Leo still mulls over from time to time, possibly due to guilt for the fact that they mostly stemmed from him. Markus shakes his head.

"What are you talking about?" He says, clasping the young man by the back of his neck, "We're brothers. Of course I'll protect you!"

Connor eyes the two sideways. Whatever those protesters were trying to do to sabotage the event, it's only proving them wrong to everyone present.

Leo seems to have calmed down as he chuckles. "Dad's right. There's more humanity in you than there is in a lot of actual humans out there."

Lieutenant Anderson clears his voice. "Well, the important thing is that no one was badly hurt." He says to the others, emphasis on 'badly' with a glance at Connor that still says they'll have words about this, "Security cleared out the hall and the guests have calmed down. Maybe our lovely hosts can freshen up and address the situation?"

For a man not too keen on politics, Hank understands them well enough. It will be better to get a statement out rather than let the hate messages be the last noise to be heard. Meredith nods and goes into the restroom to get herself under control as well, and they let the two androids have some air, despite not technically needing it.

When the time comes, Meredith stands in front of the speaker's table, microphone in one hand and the other held by Leo at her side.

"The organizers and I apologize for the interruption and the scare." She starts, voice trembling slightly but determined, "We want to assure everyone present that no serious injuries were sustained and that the shooter has been detained by security. These are trying times we're living in and some people are just too caught up in their own hate to recognize a good cause." Leo's hand tightens around hers, and she manages a minute smile, "What we have witnessed just now is a perfect example of how people can and should care for each other, however different... which is what this event was all about. Please enjoy a brief break, then feel free to come to the speakers’ tables again and ask any questions you want to the guests who are attending."

It's not the most eloquent speech ever made, but one thing in particular resonates within Connor: she said 'people'. Not 'humans and androids', she didn't even make that distinction.

If only there were more like her.

The rest of the event goes smoothly enough, all things considered, and before they know it the time to say goodbye has come.

Leo hugs Markus even more, if possible, and then turns to Connor as well: "Bring it in, robocop!" As he gets engulfed in the young man's embrace, the detective hears Leo whisper to him. "Thank you for swan-diving my brother out of trouble. I'm glad he has someone like you to look out for him."

Ah, right. The boyfriend thing. Connor pats Leo on the back and nods, if a bit awkwardly, before getting released.

He and Markus exchange a look.

With his collar still sporting very faded blue stains, his tie missing and his shirt rumpled and slightly undone, Markus looks much more like himself –there's a sort of roguish aura about him that the impeccably pressed suits can't quite contain. It makes Connor grin, as he finishes examining the other: that’s him. That’s the Markus he knows, the one who improvises songs and paints with his eyes closed. It’s a much better Markus than the one trying to stay prim and proper.

"So... I'll see you around." He offers as Connor nods, looking up at him with earnest brown eyes; and it's all Markus can do not to melt right then and there. He's in deeper trouble than he thought: that sight, coupled with their little moment alone, will plague his memory bank forever. Turning to Hank in an attempt to not make a complete fool of himself, Markus extends a hand. "Lieutenant..."

Hank takes it, but the man levels a strange look at him as he shakes it maybe a tad more firmly than he should have –not that Markus feels any pain from it, but... it still tastes like a warning.

"Try not to get yourselves into more trouble, will ya?"

"No promises." Markus jokes, flashing him his best smile –it doesn't seem to win Anderson over, but the detective nods and effectively dismisses him.

Connor looks back and forth between Hank and Markus's retreating back, having registered the interaction as strange but unable to quite put his finger on it.

"What was that?" He asks, though not before sending a last look in Markus's direction -he has yet to find out why he's so fascinated with watching Markus walk away... it might be it's simply aesthetically pleasing and his optical unit itched for something nice to look at after being hit with a flashbang and shot at.

Hank just gives him a long, hard look and then shakes his head. "Jesus Christ, kid, you're clueless."

"I don't understand. Do you think it was Markus's fault I got injured? It isn't, I—"

It makes Anderson laugh that Connor thinks that's the reason he was slightly testy with the other android. "It was nothing." He says once he calms down enough. "Let's just go home."

It doesn't surprise Connor that once they do arrive home Hank proceeds to yell his sound module off about not putting himself in danger so senselessly.

 

Life continues, the road to android recognition being walked at a snail's pace, and Markus finds himself swarmed with work –for better or worse, he's becoming some sort of diplomat, an ambassador between humans and androids.

He doesn't know whether he likes that or not, but his people look up to him, and the humans are used to his face and name as what amounts to a representative for all androids, however transient that is –as of right now, androids do not yet have the legal right to elect representatives, and the talks towards that particular milestone will probably last well into the end of the year– so he might as well embrace his cross and bear it.

Shit, he really is ‘robot Jesus’.

Simon laughs heartily at the notion, when he casually mentions it to him as they take a break from all the paperwork and to-do lists on the rooftop.

"Don't let your fanbase hear that, they'll go even crazier!" He comments when Markus voices the realization, making the leader cringe.

He is vaguely aware of the mixed opinions people have on him, ranging from those who still call him a mistake and an aberration to those that outwardly and wholly support him and his cause... among the latter, there are some people who support him maybe a little too much.

Humanity being what it is, it was inevitable for such types of fetish to emerge –they possibly existed well before the uprising, considering the success of android sex clubs. It makes him quite uncomfortable to think about it... rA9 knows North has received enough creepy fan attention for all of them.

It's not always that bad, most of the times it's just teenagers and young adults gushing over their exterior appearance –which is nice, he guesses, shallow as it may be– but still Markus prefers to distance himself from the whole thing. "What is it with people talking about my fanbase? That's the second time in a few days people mention it to me!"

"Oh?" The blond raises an eyebrow at him.

"Connor sassed me about it back at the fundraiser."

Markus realizes he made a tactical mistake even before the wolfish grin finishes spreading on Simon's face. "Did he now?"

"Simon..."

"No, hear me out just a second." The android shushes him, gesticulating with one hand, "Aside from taking a bullet for you after you jumped in front of a flashbang –what the hell were you thinking, by the way? – you're telling me that Connor has been flirting with you and you still won't make a move?!"

"We weren't flirting." Markus protests, "We just made small talk."

"You hate small talk."

"I like talking to him!" The RK200 snaps, "Is that so weird?"

Simon laughs, gentle and carefree. "Knowing what I know, not at all."

Markus falls silent, but his friend’s good-natured teasing managed to lighten his mood a bit. Even though there was that one moment in the bathroom that still gives him chills just thinking about it –Connor's eyes as he told him he's important, the gentleness as the RK800 softly grasped his jacket to pat away the blue blood, the proximity between them... it would have been so easy to pull forward rather than push back.

The evening would have ended very differently. Probably with a dented lower jaw for him and lots of explaining to do.

Of course, one can always dream. Connor's polymer skin was soft under his touch as he removed the bullet. Markus can only imagine how much softer the other's lips would be once he managed to get a taste.

His secondary systems slow down in contemplation, and he's aware he's just sort of... staring into space, fingertips just barely brushing his lips, but he can't quite bring himself to care.

Simon eyes him suspiciously. "Did something happen? You have a dopey look about you."

"Nothing happened!" Markus's reply is way too hasty and slightly too high pitched, "Don't look at me like that!"

Oh Simon is most definitely looking at him like that. He doesn't even have to say anything for his friend to cave. "I just... offered to help extracting the bullet from his back and tried to tell him not to endanger himself like that..."

"And..?"

"It's nothing, really, you're going to laugh..." Markus muses, wrapping his own hands around his elbows regardless, "He said that I'm too important for our people to get shot at by just any idiot."

If Simon's sound unit had the necessary pitch, he would have squealed. "That's adorable."

"It's not, it's juvenile and bordering on wishful thinking: there he was, taking bullets for me and being serious about my position as the face of change, and I just felt selfishly satisfied that he said I was valuable because of how attracted to him I am!" Markus's voice steadily rises word after word, and he slumps down with a sigh at the end of it. "I'm a horrible person!"

"Do I have to go get North and do the whole ma'am routine?" The blonde threatens, shaking his head as he crouches beside his friend. "You're not a horrible person. You've done everything for others up until now. It's okay for you to be a little selfish. It's okay to want something good for yourself. Isn't this the reason we sought freedom in the first place?"

Well, when put that way... well played, Simon.

"I'm hopeless, am I?"

"Absolutely, 100% hopelessly smitten."

Markus playfully pushes the other at that. "Hey, you're supposed to be on my side!"

"I am!" Simon protests, letting his mirth break his voice into chuckles, "That means I will also tell you the things you don't want to hear. Truth is like medicine: nobody likes how it tastes, but it's good for you."

"I'm an android."

"And that was a metaphor, smartass." The blonde knows all too well that of all people, the android who spent half his life with an artist understands them all too well, "Seriously, would it be so bad to take a chance?"

Markus turns serious at that, shifting so he's sitting cross-legged and looking out to the city below. "I don't know..." he muses, his tone just shy of wistful, "I only know that it took me this much to get him to open up to me as a friend, and... the chances that me saying anything will ruin it are pretty high."

"You can't say that." Simon objects, clasping his friend's shoulder, "It's a statistic you're basing on subjective parameters, not facts."

The RK200 seems to mull it over in his system. "Nobody has the facts. Connor is... Connor!"

Simon bites back a laugh. It's true and it's quite endearing –the detective has a tendency to try and take figures of speech literally, despite being equipped with a healthy dose of sarcasm that has only been growing since deviating; and his grasp on emotional cues is not as well sharpened as Connor himself likes to think –he is well versed in gauging levels of stress and predicting outcomes in critical situations, but everyday social interaction tends to go over his head, especially when it's about him personally rather than someone else. For all they know, the RK800 could be completely aromantic.

"It's true..." the blond eventually concede, "But how about trying to find out?"

Markus blinks at him.

"Look, Markus, no one's saying you have to walk up to him and confess." Simon scoots closer, almost conspiratorially, "You could test the waters. Drop clues. He's a detective, after all!"

"That... actually makes sense." The leader is pensive now, "But I don't have the slightest idea on how to go about it! I doubt the usual approaches I can find through research would work on... him."

"Is that a call for help I hear?"

Engrossed as they were in their conversation, both androids jump at North's voice; and when they whip around they see her sitting daintily on the piano. Judging by her smirk, she's been there a while.

“North?”

“Not for today, Markus.” She says, jumping off the piano and biting back a giggle. It’s high time her regrettable basic programming was put to some good use, “Today, I’m the Fairy God-damn-mother.”

Despite all of his systems knowing that North is a good friend and only wants what is best for him, Markus can’t help the feeling he just got way in over his head.

The ‘this is a terrible idea’ warning in his interface doesn’t help… but then again, he also thought infiltrating Cyberlife tower was a terrible idea, and that turned out quite well.

Also, if he wants to win over Connor’s heart, he probably needs all the help he can get.

 

Diagnostics run…

Complete.

Core system functions: 100%

Thirium pump regulator: 100%

Optical and sound modules: 100%

Ancillary processors: 100%

Motor system: 100%

 

Connor pauses in front of the mirror, as he looks himself over and grasps what was his injured shoulder until a couple days ago. The self-repair has been completed and all of his functions are in perfect order.

Which means the fact that his mind is throwing the same memories at him over and over is an emotional thing, not a hardware or software problem.

He sighs to himself. “Great.” he picks up his t-shirt –a thinner material than the usual ones, but still very much baggy and long-sleeved. Androids don’t really feel temperatures, but people were starting to give him strange looks as he walked around in sweaters well past what would be considered ‘sweater-weather’.

Not knowing who else to ask, he goes to Hank’s room.

“Hank!”

Jesus Christ, kid!”

Oh. Right. It’s 6 am. He probably should have woken him up more slowly. “I’m sorry to wake you.” He says, even as he doesn’t move while Hank gets his bearings, shaking his head and getting out of bed. “But I have a dilemma.”

“Oh, here we go...” the Lieutenant mutters, “I will need coffee for this conversation, won’t I?”

“I finished recharging and the diagnostic run says all of my systems are perfectly functional, and yet there are some data loops that won’t quite leave me alone; and I suspect it might be because I’m feeling emotions.”

The man looks at what amounts to his adopted son with a complete deadpan. He has an inkling to where this is going. “Yeah, definitely gonna need coffee.” He grumbles, “Come along, let’s take this to the kitchen.”

If anyone in the past told Hank Anderson he’d be in his kitchen with an android, in his t-shirt and boxers making conversation that would probably turn soon into relationship advice, the Lieutenant would’ve punched them at ‘android’. Now? He can’t quite imagine it being any other way. A first sip of nice strong coffee even removes the annoyance at being rudely woken up –Connor still has to work on his delivery and timing– and he smiles at the other. “Alright, what is it?”

“As I’ve said, some memory files have been made high-priority in my systems for no apparent reason, and ancillary background processes keep focusing on images and sensations from such memories—”

“In English, please…” Hank interrupts Connor’s business-like explanation, both because he really can’t be bothered to try and interpret it and because he won’t let his son hide behind impersonality.

For his part, the RK800 seems to hesitate at that. His lips purse briefly, as he finds a suitable way to explain it. “I have been… unable to get some things out of my head.”

Ah. “Now we’re going somewhere.” The detective is willing bet he already knows what exactly, but will let the boy talk. “What’s eating you?”

“Well.” Irrationally enough, the option to back out and brush it off pops up in his interface –embarrassment perhaps, but if he does that he won’t receive the advice he needs. He chooses to go through with it: “The night of the fundraiser, for one.”

“Jeez, that’s normal kid; I’m still reeling from that too.” There’s just a hint of reprimand in the Lieutenant’s words, but Connor shakes his head to properly explain:

“No, not that…” ‘that’ meaning taking a bullet to the shoulder, “I mean it is related, but… I keep finding myself thinking: why do so many people want to hurt Markus? He’s never been anything but kind, he never hurt anyone even when he could –he had an android army who would have gone to battle on his word at one point; and he made them march peacefully instead… when I saw that gun the other night… I couldn’t let anything happen to him. I just couldn’t.”

Hank can appreciate that –hell, he probably would have done the same thing if he had been the one who noticed first, and he doesn’t even know Markus that well.

“I know this doesn’t excuse the scare I gave you…” Connor continues, with a demeanour that can only be considered sheepish, “But I hope you can understand…”

How to ever stay mad at that face? The Lieutenant pats his boy’s shoulder. “I do, son.” He says warmly, “What else?”

“They care about me more than I deserve.”

“Kid, we’ve been over this—”

“I know!” the RK800’s voice raises slightly in frustration, “Rationally I know, and everything you said is true, but still… when someone like Markus offers to personally tend to your wounds, you can’t help but feel… humbled.”

So it’s not ‘they’, it’s ‘him’. More importantly, it’s ‘someone like Markus’ –God, this kid is clueless. Hank doesn’t know whether to laugh or punch him in the face for waking him up with this shit. He shrugs, trying to lead the boy by hand to his own conclusion: “He did a kind thing. Doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for him, if you ask me.”

Connor nods, like they’re finally on the same lead. “Correct. But that’s the point, he’s always like that!” he explains, gaze slightly losing focus as more memories come forward, unbidden, and he’s seen those over and over enough times to be able to ignore them and keep the conversation up, “I find myself wondering how…how is he so kind to the person who pulled a gun on him twice?” Granted, one out of two was against his own will, but that is irrelevant, or at least it should be. “How can he have so much care for everyone, for me… and why does it make me feel…”

Finally! Getting somewhere. Hank sips his coffee. “How? How does it make you feel?”

“I— I don’t know.” The android stutters for a moment. “Happy. Special. Like I’m worth something more than just any one thing.” He pauses, embarrassment at appearing so vulnerable returning full-force, “…warm.”

Oh, here we go. Putting his cup down briefly, the Lieutenant sighs. “This is the part where I repeat myself: are you sure you don’t have a crush?”

Connor seriously considers the question. When it was first asked, his analysis came up with a measly 22%, a low enough chance to be negligible. With all this new information and a comparison of his emotional reactions to those in his database, a newer analysis rests at 58%.

That’s a big increase. “I… I don’t know.”

“Forget the nobility shit, and the existential questions about kindness and self-worth.” Hank then says, motioning for Connor to sit down by him –breakfast can wait a couple more minutes, and it’s not like the boy has to cook for him, “How do you feel?”

“About Markus?” the eye roll Connor receives tells him that yes, that much was a given. He pauses to think about it. “I… I admire him a lot. He isn’t just the first android to actually do something about freedom, he also… knows himself, in a way I can only ever hope to learn –he doesn’t seem afraid to let himself feel; and he just— it shows, in everything he does.” Music, art… carefully tending to a friend’s injury. “It makes me want to be around him like it’s addicting.”

Shit, son. Hank is fighting valiantly not to let his amusement show. “Anything more?”

“Well. I also like watching him a lot.” That part comes out much easier, ironically enough, because it makes sense in Connor’s mind, “He’s very pleasing to the eye, especially the way he walks.”

And that’s the sound of Lieutenant Hank Anderson choking on his coffee.

“Hank? Hank, are you okay?”

Coughing out a couple last times, the man nods. “Sounds to me like you’ve got it pretty much spelled out for you, kid.”

He does, now, the analysis has updated again, and the probability he has romantic feelings for Markus is— oh. He didn’t know his own interface could spell ‘I’m an idiot’.

Then again it did spell ‘I am deviant’ that one time. “What should I do?”

The Lieutenant shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe tell him?” Connor’s deer-in-headlights expression makes Hank chuckle, “What? Seems to me like he’s sweet on you, too, what with all the caring and shit.”

The thought makes Connor feel incredibly warm –reciprocation, that’s such a wonderful concept… for a moment he smiles, one hand unconsciously curling to his chest, at the height of his thirium pump. Then a colder, uglier emotion comes forward. “I don’t think so… it’s Markus, he cares like that for everyone… I’m… I’m not special.”

The idea of not being special in general isn’t so bad for Connor, he never cared before discovering his individuality and it hasn't changed much after; it’s the idea of not being special to Markus that suddenly makes him feel like he could expel all the thirium flowing in him through his mouth.

“Ok, first off: you are goddamn special and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.” Hank says, standing from where he was sitting and pulling the android out of his own seat to grasp him by the shoulders, “Second… pull up that song he played for you. Or how much he insisted on treating you. I’m not an android expert by a long shot, but hey. If you ask me, I’d say you have a chance.”

“I… I will think about it.” He says, just as the Lieutenant pulls him into a hug. “Thanks, Hank.”

“Anytime, son.”

Connor spends his entire shift at DPD with 65% of his background processes analysing his past interactions with Markus and how he could figure out clues on Markus’s potential feelings towards him when they next meet.

Chapter Text

Among much controversy, the fundraiser shooter doesn't get charged for "assault with intent to murder", but just for assault, battery and hate speech –the mitigating elements being the mob of angry protesters that supposedly 'rallied' the man to shoot and, despite Connor and Markus's statement, the lack of evidence that the shot was fired with the precise intent to kill: the defence leaned heavily on the chaos that the numerous people panicking around were in, and as such 'extenuating circumstances' are recognized in that particular situation.

The man will still do time –going down as the first person in history to do jail time for crimes against androids– but he gets a chance to get out on parole in six months, should good conduct be observed and proven.

Predictably, the media have a field day about it, especially because the target was Markus himself; and they positively hound him for a statement.

He eventually gets cornered by journalists just outside of the DPD on the day he goes to sign some final papers regarding the whole incident.

“Markus!”

Oh, here we go.

It’s not an unescapable throng of press, but there’s still something like 8 people with portable recording equipment walking up to the entrance of the precinct and he probably should just give them something to say now, before they really start interfering with people’s work. He holds back a sigh, and turns with a smile. “Yes?”

“Can you give us a statement?”

“What’s your opinion on the sentence?”

“Do you wish it had been a harsher one?”

Before the questions start jumbling together, Markus holds up a hand with closed eyes, making the people before him pause.

He reopens them, and looks into the recording eyes. “What I can say about this is that it’s good that someone who committed a crime is being charged for it.” He starts, calm and dignified as usual, “Whether or not I or anyone else disagrees with the sentence is irrelevant, it is not our place to judge its effectiveness, and this is still a moment for history: crimes against androids can and will be punished, so the inviolability of the person is being recognized.” Then he breaks his countenance slightly with a chuckle: “If you’re asking whether I would have given harsher punishment… you’re asking the wrong person: I sang a song at people who had been shooting at me.”

Markus finishes off his carefully neutral statement with a wink, hoping it would be enough, but already he sees the people’s expressions and their excitement –they’re gearing up to ask more questions.

Luckily for him, someone from the inside has seen what’s happening and comes to the rescue –someone with eyesight good enough to scan through walls.

“Markus, we forgot some of the paperwork, you have to come back inside.”

They haven’t. Connor must have seen the people crowding him through the glass door and has come to his rescue. Markus can barely hold in his smile. “Yes. Yes, of course, detective.” He says thirium pump going faster in his chest. “If you’ll excuse me.”

There are some feeble protests and a few more questions are thrown at his retreating back, but within seconds he’s back inside with the other android.

“I thought you might have wanted an escape route.” Connor says with a chuckle.

Remembering North’s advice, the RK200 finds it in himself to be cheeky about it: “This is the second time you save me within a week.” He replies with a playful smile, “My hero. What would I ever do without you?”

Much to his surprise, Connor is bashful, lowering his gaze for a moment, before he looks back up: “You’d probably run yourself ragged trying to please every single person to ask something out of you.”

The unbridled sass on this one. Markus adores it. “Touché.” He chuckles out.

“Come, I’ll escort you to the service exit.” While not entirely necessary to direct him, Connor steers Markus in the right direction by clasping the other’s wrist with one hand and placing the other behind his back –his database tells him that people who are ‘flirting’ seek contact and touch each other a lot.

His interface has a moment of glitching when the realization hits that Markus lets him. Reciprocation starts having a margin of probability.

It’s just his luck that in the following days the both of them are busier than ever and barely even see each other.

For his part, Markus gets a big surprise during his latest visit to Carl –he technically doesn’t quite have the time to afford it, but the man’s deteriorating health is a big enough factor to excuse his absence from at least one or two meetings; Josh, Simon and North are adamant to let him have these moments, since he’s one of the lucky ones to have met such a caring and compassionate human.

And as always, Carl never fails to surprise him: “Something on your mind, Markus?” he asks, breaking the comfortable silence between them and making the android look back at him, “Something to do with the boy who was here last time and that you’re still too scared of pursuing?”

Markus’s jaw drops. “You knew?”

“You didn’t specify anything.” Carl explains, chuckling fondly, “And, if you really think about it, neither did I.”

The RK200 replays the events in his mind. Neither of you will be alone. - Anything with a spark of life has a spark of music. - Let’s hear it, Markus. A song for Connor!

Out of context, none of those things strictly meant a significant other or partner; it could’ve just been a friend. The thing that made them all jump to conclusions was the presence of Leo and Meredith as a comparison, as their relationship is definitely romantic in nature. Markus covers his face with both hands, feeling his face overheat with the effort of clearing his interface of irrational babbling prompts.

“Hey. Markus, look at me.” The elderly man extends a hand to pry the android’s one away from his face, “It’s okay. It was sweet of you two to go that far just to make an old man happy.” Carl’s other hand also goes, to completely cover Markus’s, “And after your song… I can definitely say there’s something here.”

The android is speechless. “You figured it out before I even knew.”

Carl's laughter is weak and slightly scratchy, but it still brings a smile to Markus's face.

"One of the few perks of being as old as I am." He offers, "You've pretty much seen it all, and you can see the signs more clearly than anybody else."

Markus nods, listening to his father talk.

"Also... I'm an artist. I know beauty when I see it; and what you have there, Markus... it can be really beautiful, if you let it."

"Carl..." even in his condition, he has never stopped being the well of wisdom for all of Markus's doubts and interrogatives.

Many people praised him about the strength of his individuality, the depths of it... Markus knows he owes a big part of it to the artist and his teachings; and now, apparently, Carl is also giving him relationship advice, like the dutiful father he is.

Caring, affectionate and wanting what's best for his sons, to the very end.

"Leo told me he's going to pop the question to Meredith soon." The man mentions, his tone turning amused, "Next time, let me hear you've at least taken your detective friend out on a date."

"Carl!" Markus pretends to be indignant, but they both laugh about it.

"In all seriousness, Markus..." Carl says at one point, "I know the concept of mortality isn't exactly a worry for you, but still... trust me, you'd never forgive yourself if you let something that can make you happy slip through your fingers."

Technically, androids are mortal: even if one didn't factor in the fact that a given software eventually gets obsolete and unable to be upgraded and that an older model eventually becomes incompatible with newer and more powerful spare parts; biocomponents do have a lifespan. It's long enough that a human's is almost negligible by comparison, but it's there. Knowing all this, Markus can see where Carl is coming from, and nods, bringing the man's hand to his face.

"I understand, father."

Thomas knocks respectfully before coming in with Carl's medicine for the evening, and they know it's time, for today.

"Good." The painter tells Markus, voice back to playful, "Now go get your man."

Not for the first time, Markus feels grateful to have Carl as his father.

 

Things, of course, are never that easy. With the first punished crime against androids, the scared and the hateful come back full force, screaming about violating human rights in favor of machines.

North writes a particularly brilliant article about it, which ends with "if people are seriously angry about not being able to abuse androids anymore as an outlet for their cruel tendencies, considering abusing other people had always been frowned upon, then humanity has a much bigger problem on its plate than android civil rights to worry about." and the greater public seems to agree with her.

It actually makes the rounds in all the main news outlets, and North is more than willing to go live anywhere and make her strong views very well-known.

Within diplomacy, of course. Needless to say, Simon's workload as an editor doubles, because the strawberry blonde's fiery temper is not always audience appropriate.

It's difficult, but they all manage.

Between daily struggles, North even finds the time to get Markus to kick his ass into gear to try and sweep Connor off his feet.

"But why this one? The sleeves are too short!"

Their fearless leader is currently mildly complaining about her advice in clothing choices. She sighs and shakes her head. "Just roll them up to your forearms, then!"

He doesn't seem convinced. "Again, why?"

"Because, my dear disaster, someone needs to teach you to show off what you've got." She smirks; looking at him up and down and then tugging open the diagonal zipper on the white shirt, "Let's give your admirers something to really fawn over."

Finally catching her drift, Markus rolls his eyes –he doesn't move to cover the generous expanse of collarbone that just got exposed, though, so North counts that as a win. "Somehow I don't think this would work on Connor."

It is true that, from what she's gathered so far, the RK800 appreciates and looks up to Markus as a person... but there's still the one time they got tangled together in Sumo's leash –she saw how Connor looked at Markus. “Now remember what I’ve told you.” She says, focused and firm like a proper coach, “Eye-contact is essential. Use those baby blues and greens to their full potential.” North then tugs the diagonal zipper a little further down. “Also don’t be shy with the rest of yourself either. Ditch the long jackets; let your polymer see some sun.” After all, she has thousands of body language cues in her database, and while only one input is inconclusive... there’s definitely a chance that Markus's attraction is not unrequited at all. Obviously, they have to gather more data to find out. Hence why North is using Markus as a dress-up doll and picking clothes that accentuate all the right parts of his model's very well-constructed body.

He'd be hopeless without her –the ‘bohemian paint smock’ look is cute and all, but we're looking for slightly more primal reactions here.

Thing is, there's always something to interrupt their peace and quiet, and despite the ‘speak of the devil’ moment as Connor’s voice is heard asking for Markus, there’s no time for cheesy romance tropes at all –but this time it sounds serious: while Connor's visits to Jericho have become more frequent, it's the first time Lieutenant Anderson has come along to see Markus specifically; and away from prying eyes.

Markus makes short work of the pleasantries and goes straight to the point. "Did something happen?"

Connor's expression is tight and stone-faced. "A man called the police, angrily claiming he was assaulted by an android for no reason at all and left for dead." The RK800 says, watching his dear friend pale at the grim news, "His wounds were actually very minor, but there are traces of thirium under his fingernails, which does point to an altercation with an android. The suspect is a Traci model, and the victim gave us a rough estimate of the last plausible location she was in..."

"I... appreciate your diligence." Markus says, unsure of what to think about this exactly, "...but why come to me about it?"

Hank slightly elbows Connor at that, as if to spur him to explain. They seem to have a conversation in just looks –it's almost endearing, but eventually Connor regains his stoic demeanour and carries on:

"Hank and I think there might be more to this than meets the eye. An unprovoked android assault just after someone was punished for crimes against androids? With enough smoke it's the perfect recipe for setting us way back; and the perfect retaliation." In terms of public relations, it would be a disaster, "Also, the victim seems much more interested on making it known that it was an android who attacked him than he actually cares about having the suspect apprehended."

Catching on quick, Markus opens his arms. "If there's anything I can do to help your investigation, count me in."

"There is, actually." Connor says, taking in the other's posture for a second, "Our lead is not too far from here. If it's alright with you, Hank will stay here and ask some questions, while you can guide me around to look for the suspect –you know the area much better than I do, and whatever actually transpired the android involved will be much more likely to come quietly and trust us if you're there."

It makes perfect sense from a logical standpoint, and it is a good tactical move. Still, Markus can't help the slight rush of giddiness at the fact that Connor wants him specifically to help.

Eager to help solve the situation for the better and a big fan of someone who's been willing to change and forego their own prejudices, North smiles warmly at Hank.

"Please, come with me, Lieutenant. I'll show you around."

Just as Markus figures out exactly what his friends are trying to do, Simon and Josh are suddenly very busy and getting to try and find out anything they can to help. He is left alone with Connor on the rooftop.

The RK200 can't quite contain a huff of laughter as he thinks 'damn it, North!', but shakes himself out of his musings to address the task at hand –it's just as well, it's a very serious situation and there's no time to waste being a love-struck fool. "Let's go then." He urges, nodding in the direction of the staircase, "Show me where your lead starts and we can figure out the most likely hiding spots from there."

Connor seems to be of the exact same mind-set, as he nods gratefully and leads Markus to the coordinates that he picked up.

It is indeed an area that Markus knows quite well, and one of the many side streets visible from the place of the alleged assault runs through a park –a pretty busy and crowded place even this late in the afternoon, perfect to hide and blend in if you're scared and alone. He says that much to Connor; and they start scanning the area.

"There!" The RK800 recognizes traces of thirium, relatively fresh –so the suspect was injured during the scuffle. Funny, the man hasn't said anything about fighting back.

This gets murkier and murkier by the minute, already the partial reconstruction Connor has pieced together at the place of the incident shows that someone had been thrown around, smacking into a street sign hard enough to bend it out of shape; and a human spine would have broken long before hitting with the necessary force for that...

It's starting to look more and more probable that the 'victim' wasn't exactly honest about what transpired.

He and Markus walk through the park together trying not to stand out too much, until they spot a blonde Traci model sitting on a bench with her knees drawn to her chest and looking for all intents and purposes like she wants to disappear.

She sees them, too.

"Hello. My name is Connor. I—" and she bolts. "Damn it!"

Immediately they start chasing her -she probably doesn't even know the man is not dead and is scared for life right now. If they don't get her in time, she might reach a critical level of stress and self-destruct.

"Please, stop!" Connor calls, as they both weave through people and objects to chase her, "I just want to talk to you! You're not in trouble!"

In an effort to try and lose them, the Traci runs through the bicycle path, nearly getting run over by a little girl on a bike –she swerves sharply and it looks like she will fall into the pond and hurt herself if no one intervenes. Connor can immediately see the two outcomes: let the Traci go and save the girl from the 64% chance of some type of broken bones, or pursuing the suspect and having that on his conscience...

Markus's voice breaks through his thought via their network: «You get the Traci, I'll take care of the human!»

Of course -again, they're from the same prototype line, Markus pre-constructed both scenarios as well in the same split second. Good thing there's two of them.

Connor doesn't slow down, glancing sideways only briefly to see Markus run towards the girl on the bike and shooting forward to grab her –speed and momentum are too high and they'll both take a dive into the pond, but at least the bicycle won't roll over the girl's body and even if it did, the RK200's will act as a shield.

Reassured by Markus's success, the detective pours all his efforts into the chase and manages to eventually corner the Traci.

"Please, stop!" He calls out, showing to her both his hands, unarmed. "I won't hurt you. Nobody will." She is still not talking and her eyes are darting away for escape routes. Connor decides to take a leap of faith: "The man is still alive. You didn't kill anyone. It's alright." He assures; and he sees the Traci's expression morph into surprise, "Just tell me what really happened. I'll protect you."

It takes a few seconds, during which the Traci hesitates and looks around, but eventually she caves.

"That animal..." her voice breaks with barely restrained disgust, "He tried to— in the middle of the street, he just... grabbed at me, he said he recognized my model and that I..." she stops herself for a moment before continuing, "That I was stupid for thinking I'm a person and not just the...” quoting the man word for word feels almost physically painful “…the 'obedient little slut I'm supposed to be'..."

So there was an assault. But the android was the victim, and she acted in self-defence. Oh this will be a shit-storm at the station. Still. What a despicable asshole –with the gall of trying to make himself the wronged party, no less!

Connor takes a step towards the Traci. "May I?"

She nods, and he does a quick scan –apart from the visible tears where someone clearly attempted to rip her clothes, her skin polymer is damaged on the thighs and forearms and her lower back chassis is dented, consistent with the theory of the man trying to rough her up into submission.

Yes, Connor can understand how she'd snap and kick him in the head with her chunky high heels. "You're not in trouble." He repeats, trying to keep his tone soft and reassuring, "But you need to come with me to the station and tell the truth. We have all the evidence, we just need your statement." She is hesitant, but takes a step forward. Connor extends a hand to her. "We'll keep you safe. I promise."

Finally, she accepts his hand and follows.

This will be a little bit easier, at least.

Now that she's slightly calmed down, they walk back to where he and Markus separated.

The scene before him is... not what Connor was expecting. He thought there would be a scared and still crying child terrified of the android before her; what they see instead is a wet bicycle drying in the sun by the pond and a soaked child laughing despite the tumble taken, standing next to an equally drenched Markus, who looks engrossed in the middle of what seems to be a funny story.

It's strange how sometimes you can look at something you see every day and feel like you're seeing it for the very first time.

Perhaps as a side effect of just barely having come to terms with his deviancy, first, and his feelings more recently, Connor is having an epiphany of sorts: he'd known all along that Markus was exquisitely built, but it was just there, in the back of his head as a mere fact... looking at him now is suddenly sending several secondary processes for a loop.

The android's sopping wet jeans are clinging to his legs for dear life and the state of his t-shirt is... barely classifiable as a shirt anymore: even if it wasn't absolutely plastered to every nook and cranny of Markus's torso, the thin white material has suffered the very predictable fate of becoming colourless after getting drenched. Add to that the fact that it was a sorry excuse for a garment anyways –seriously, Markus gives him flak for his baggy clothes, but has he ever worn something even remotely appropriate?– and the leader of the android revolution is basically standing half naked in the middle of a public park.

"—and the paint went everywhere! It splattered all over the canvas, the floor, me... and Carl just said 'You know what? This works!' and made a painting out of it while I struggled to clean blue pigment from my access ports for three days!"

The little girl, already giggling uncontrollably, doubles over in laughter.

In that moment, Markus catches Connor's gaze, and the RK800 finally remembers to blink. “Hey, you made it!”

Well. There’s another smile that will plague his memory forever. Connor shakes his head and focuses on their task instead –it is not the time or place, and they have a very serious situation on their hands. He beckons Markus away from children’s ears. “This is Katrina.” He says, knowing the girl’s name after scanning her, “She knocked that man out because he attempted to molest her.”

Markus instantly sobers up. “Oh, no.” he turns to the girl, “Are you okay, Katrina?” she nods, even as she flinches back from the RK200’s outstretched hands –she clearly prefers not to be touched right now, even as she latched onto Connor as the first person to offer her safety.

“I already called Lieutenant Anderson and asked him to keep the man at the station for questioning.”

“Then let’s go.” Markus nods, then offering a smile to Katrina as well, “The sooner we get you to a safe place, the better.” He calls North through his network, asking her to be ready to meet someone who’s had similar experiences to her own –she will be the best qualified person to comfort and reassure the other.

Once they’re back to the station, Connor’s prediction is accurate –the man denies all accusations at first, even when they present the evidence of the scuffle taken by Connor himself, including still frames of both the broken street sign and, after some gentle convincing, a picture of Katrina’s damaged chassis consistent with the impact, plus all the other signs of the fight…

In a little bit of a bluff, Anderson says to the man that even if he doesn’t confess they can search the android’s memory since they record everything that happens anyway –the Lieutenant knows she probably would refuse, at least right now when the fear and shock are still fresh, and that Connor wouldn’t force her, but it still does the job and the man switches from complaining that he didn’t do it to complaining that he didn’t ‘really’ do ‘anything’ to her and that she somehow instigated him, just by being a former sex android.

Hank massages his temples. Ugh, morons. It’s going to be hell in paperwork, and they don’t know how… lax the court will eventually be, but at least officially this fucker is looking at something like two years of jail time and a hefty fine for criminal sexual conduct.

At least Gavin kept his mouth shut for the whole thing.

Small blessings, he guesses.

After all the standard procedures, Katrina is released –self-defence plain as day, even if some unscrupulous lawyer will probably try to dispute that– and North offers to take her to Jericho. She readily agrees, much more at ease in the presence of another woman, and the tension eases from Markus’s shoulders as he watches his friend walk away with a much calmer Katrina: the worst seems to have passed.

The important thing is that her assailant did not succeed, he is facing punishment and she will be safe at last. All in all, it’s a happy ending, even if with a few bruises here and there.

 

“So.” Hank says, as they walk out after a job well done, “Don’t know why this is something I gotta ask, but why exactly do you look like you’ve been in a washing machine?”

Lacking a human’s body temperature, Markus’s clothes haven’t dried out much on the trip between the park and the station; and since he’s not really sensitive to it the android forgot he was even wet in the first place while they had much more important priorities.

“Oh, shit, sorry.” Realizing his sorry state, the RK200 simply decides to tug his t-shirt over his head and wring out the excess water, before shaking it out a couple of times, “I fell into a pond.” He explains flatly, mentally wondering what North would have to say to him for ruining the look, “Better?” he asks, once he puts the t-shirt back on, zipper low and well under his collarbones.

Hank looks back and forth between one and the other. Connor is looking anywhere but in his direction, and has taken to doing his goddamn coin tricks with his quarter, possibly to distract himself; Markus seems like the oblivious one for a change. “No. Not by a long shot.” The Lieutenant mutters, and damn it he’s too old for this shit, “Wait here, Connor, I’ll go bring the car around.”

He leaves the two androids alone, though not before giving Markus a strange look that kind of roots him to the spot –the android gets the definite feeling that he’s supposed to wait too.

Shoving both hands in his soaked pockets, Markus sighs. “Well. That wasn’t at all a total disaster.”

Connor stops mid-throw and grabs his quarter in a closed fist. “I can’t tell whether you’re being sarcastic or not.” He counters, turning to look at him with a chuckle.

“Little bit of both, maybe?” Markus’s expression darkens slightly, and his shoulders hunch over. “Some help to my people I am. Every time I try to make things better, they somehow get worse.”

Huh. So even the leader of the revolution has his doubts –Connor never even considered it a possibility, Markus always seems so sure of himself and his goals, and yet… well, that sadness just does not belong on that face. The RK800 grabs him by the wrists. “No. Markus, look at me. No.” he urges, when the other wouldn’t quite meet his gaze, “You can’t be held responsible for every single thing going wrong. And you are helping. The only reason it looks like things like this are happening more, is because now androids can speak up about it, instead of being abused left and right in silence like they were before!”

That seems to get the message across. Markus actually seems stunned –he shouldn’t be, really, his friends tell him roughly the same things all the time, but hearing it from Connor, someone to whom he had not yet disclosed all of his insecurities about his own leadership… it really makes him appreciate the other’s perceptiveness and his kindness. He feels his face soften into a real smile. “Thank you, Connor.”

And he means it. His friend in Jericho have always given him their undying support but Connor is a special case –Connor was built and designed to hunt down and destroy those like him. And yet, Markus was able to make him see reason, and the RK800 proved to be an invaluable asset to their freedom. Not only that, but despite what the detective himself says, he’s way more selfless than he’ll care to admit. Markus has it all laid before him, Connor looking up at him with those literal puppy eyes, as he firmly reminds Markus of how great are all the things he's doing –he doesn't feel all that great most of the time, but he knows what has been accomplished and he understands why people would put him on a bit of a pedestal. The fact that Connor doesn't, that he can tease and sass him and he back-talks at every chance; and yet when it matters he can and will defend Markus's honor to anyone; not to mention all Connor has done for him recently, from bringing Sumo along just to make him happy, to accompanying him to see Carl and offering unconditional support... it's all too much for him. The fact that now Markus also feels attracted to the other android is just the icing on the cake.

His systems register the prolonged contact of Connor’s hands on his wrists and the query to interface pops up –he denies it, breaks eye-contact and lets go, because if he does that now he just knows all of his feelings for Connor will simply pour out, and that’s not how he plans on telling him. The silence stretching between them is just starting to get just shy of awkward, and, feeling observed, he looks back up at Connor.

“What?”

The RK800 speaks before he can properly evaluate what he’s saying: “How is it that you can never quite keep all your clothes on for more than an hour at the time?”

Wait, what— he is horrified by his own lack of a filter, he should have thought about something else to say, anything else, what kind of creep would say that—

“Ouch. You don’t pull any punches, do you?” aaand there’s an internal sigh of relief. Markus interpreted it as a joke and is quite amused, if the bark of laughter and the mirth in his mismatched eyes is anything to go by. Connor bites his lips to remind himself to think a little more about his next words.

“That’s what you get for making fun of my sweaters.” He settles for eventually, and Markus turns to face him fully, shoulders relaxed and –oh, that’s very close.

“I never said I didn’t like them.”

rA9 save me. Connor lowers his eyes to escape Markus’s, but it proves to be a bad move because now he can’t stop staring at the other’s half exposed chest and they’re surely close enough that Markus can tell.

Hank, where’s the goddamn car?

For a moment he feels like Markus is scanning him; and a small bout of worry hits him –did he say something wrong, did anything in his behaviour give the impression that he's not okay? Trying to be as discreet as possible, he scans Markus in return and looks around. «What's wrong?» He asks, opening his connection.

Markus's level of stress is just slightly elevated, but that could be left over from everything that just transpired at the station. The RK200 shakes his head.

"Nothing's wrong." He whispers, low and soft and reassuring and it's so unfair he can make Connor's sound module go haywire like that— "Hey." Connor's breath, despite not needing any, catches in his throat when it becomes clear Markus is gently lifting his chin with one hand, possibly to get him to make eye contact. "Good work, today."

Connor blinks a couple of times, fighting back a prompt that would be unwise to carry out right in front of the DPD station, oh God. "Good work." He whispers back, just barely, and Markus seems to only now realize how close in the other android's personal space he had gotten.

He clears his voice, seemingly needing a subtle kick to his sound module, and puts a more respectful distance between them. "I'll... see you around." The RK200 says, suddenly less smooth than he was moments ago. "And, uh, any help you need with the case, you know where to find me."

Connor almost likes this Markus better than the perfectly poised one –it makes him feel less inadequate, and feels more genuine: it’s not the leader persona with wise answers always at the ready, it’s slightly awkward, sometimes clumsy enough to fall in a pond or get swarmed by puppies. Cool, level-headed Markus is undeniably attractive, but awkward, playful Markus is a treasure. He nods with a smile. "I will hound you relentlessly, deviant!" He finds it in himself to joke with a wink.

"Wouldn't have it any other way, hunter." Is all Markus has to answer, mock-saluting him in goodbye, before turning to walk away.

For the third time in as many occasions they've met, Connor follows Markus's retreating back with his eyes until it disappears from view.

The honking of a car makes the android nearly jump out of his polymer skin.

"Hank!" He exclaims, whipping around, "Where were you?"

The Lieutenant is visibly struggling not to laugh. "...been here a while, son." He remarks, much to Connor's dawning mortification, "You just had better things to look at." The android covers his face with both hands, while Hank shakes his head and then slightly sobers up, as if a sudden thought came up: "Say... I don't have to explain the birds and the bees to you, do I?"

For a split-second Connor wonders what relevance could the process of pollination possibly have in this situation, but his database quickly provides him with the idiomatic expression and its meaning. He is,  if possible, even more mortified. "No, Hank, you don't." He answers, muffled as it is through the hands still covering his face.

Thank God for that. "Okay, just checking." The man says, as he starts to drive away, "Wait, are you even built to—"

"—yes, can we please drop this?"

Hank seems very surprised to hear that. "Wait, really?"

"Yes." Connor says, a bit hesitantly since he knows Hank won't like it: "I was designed to be a negotiator, and to accomplish my task by any possible means. As such, it was a good tactical move to give me all possible... options to work with."

That's surprisingly dark. The Lieutenant lets it sink in for a moment, unsure of what to say next. He clears his voice, trying to steer the conversation back into friendlier territory. "Speaking of options... that there looked like a chance to me." A missed chance, maybe, but one nonetheless: android or human you don't grab a person's face like that if you're not at least a little interested. Again, Hank’s days of romance are long past, but he knows a ‘moment’ when he sees one, and that… was such a goddamn ‘moment’ it was missing just the fucking cherry blossom petals falling around them

Connor's hands lower slightly, now covering only half his face. "Maybe."

Taking pity on the android, Hank decides to drop it, finally. "Well, let's go home for now. We sure earned it."

They spend the rest of the drive home in silence.

Connor would be lying if he said he wasn't confronting their interactions with all comparable ones in his database, and the results are pretty clear. There's definitely something going on there.

He wonders how to approach Markus about it. He wonders whether that's what Markus was scanning for and whether he will come forward about it first.

Having no idea how to even start such a discussion, he kind of hopes that Markus will.

 

Back inside Jericho, after being relentlessly made fun of by North, Simon and Josh about the whole thing, Markus only has one thought looping through his mind:

'I should have just dived in for the kiss.'

Next time, he tells himself, next time he'll do that.

 

 

Chapter Text

Katrina is getting more and more well-adjusted now that she’s staying at the community centre. North hasn’t left her side until she felt comfortable enough with the place, and everyone around her has been kind –she likes it here.

“And if there’s anything you need or that worries you, you can come straight to me.” Markus had told her, calm and reassuring exactly like the people said, “I’m usually around, but if I’m not, North or Simon will be able to help you. If you ever get damaged or need medical assistance of any kind, Josh is in charge of all the care and maintenance supplies and will be able to give you a hand.”

“See? I told you, he looks intimidating but is actually just an overgrown puppy.”

“I heard that, North.”

“I don’t hear you disputing that!”

The whole exchange was quite funny to watch –and it’s refreshing to see that Markus doesn’t take himself as seriously as some believe he does, the fact that he’s not above being poked fun at by friends makes him more than just a leadership figure and actually relatable to look at.

So here she is now, having changed her hair pigmentation to jet black and seeking North’s help in looking for something worthwhile to do.

Markus is glad to see she’s been doing better; and this will probably be good for North too: she’s been around more or less strong-willed people for the entire revolution and basically hardwired herself to have the toughest possible personality… remembering that people can be soft without losing themselves will hopefully get his dear friend to be less tense all of the time.

He sees them sitting together, as North shows Katrina some of the articles she's most proud of and looks almost bashful at the brunette's praise.

Wait, rewind that.

North, bashful?

Well, then. This seems like it will be much better than he thought it would be. Also, he finally absolutely gets it now, what North meant when she said it's painful to watch from the outside.

Smells like payback.

He shakes his head and smiles to himself. Might as well get on with today -things have been busy alright, but what's new? He's slightly apprehensive; because this is the first day he will be able to see Connor again after the whole fiasco from the other day.

The good thing is that he didn't get punched in the teeth, not after flirting shamelessly at the detective and not even after straight up caressing his chin.

So. Yeah. Simon told him he should just grow some stones and go for it and, finally, he agrees. He stared down armed SWAT operatives without flinching, for crying out loud, confessing his feelings should not be harder than that!

He checks himself over slightly in the glass doors -black jeans and grey t-shirt with rolled up sleeves is as simple as it gets, but at least he's not wet like a drowned cat this time. He breathes in, then out, cools his spinning processors a bit and then steps inside.

Markus still thinks Anderson is somehow onto him and that it's the reason he asked that he finalizes his witness account to them personally –not that he will admit it anytime soon, but the Lieutenant slightly scares him.

Still, the receptionist smiles at him as she gives him the temporary code to pass security and directs him towards Hank and Connor's desk, not that he needs directions, but it's appreciated nonetheless.

"There you are!" Connor is, of course, the first to spot him -and of course, just to make Markus's life so much harder, he looks absolutely adorable. He's in his white uniform button down and dark slacks, but instead of the Cyberlife jacket there's a thin and long rust-red cardigan draped over him. It's likely a size and a half too big, but it hasn't stopped the detective, apparently.

Several prompts and queries pop up in the RK200's interface and he shoves them all down, stubbornly making the directive 'work first' his highest priority.

"Yes, hello..." he greets back, nodding at Anderson as well.

"And in a semi-dignified state no less." The Lieutenant comments with raised eyebrows and a poorly hidden smirk.

"Hank, you really have no room to talk about style." Connor chastises him, then flicking his gaze back to Markus, "And I bet a lot of people all over the internet are missing the few gallons of water that decorated your other look, already."

The other android has to bite his lower lip not to let the thinly veiled flirtation go to his head, teeth sinking in the polymer hard enough to rip it slightly. "My deepest apologies, I only do wet t-shirt events on Wednesdays."

"There goes my new favorite day of the week."

Damn, Connor. Once you do have all the clues you don't mess around.

Even Hank is slightly gaping at the shameless remark. Looks like this one goes to Connor, because Markus has been flustered into speechlessness, so Hank clears his voice and steers the conversation back into work territory. "So, uh, let me pull up the case documentation for you." He says, flicking a few things on his computer and opening up all the reports. "You can access the files from the touch pad and review them or whatever, and if everything looks kosher from your side, you sign every part where it asks to and you're done. Fast and easy."

Well, it is if you're an android and can read the whole 50 pages in 5 seconds or less.

"Everything seems perfect." Markus confirms, eyelids just barely fluttering as he applies his digital signature to all the necessary parts, "Thank you, Lieutenant."

Hank has spent the time Markus took to do this watching Connor and his reactions.

Jesus, the boy is damn near hopeless –he was off to an impressive start but it would seem he got overwhelmed by his own boldness and now can't quite figure out how to go on from there. Glancing at Markus, the Lieutenant sighs to himself.

'You'll thank me alright, kiddo.'  He thinks privately, stretching in his chair worth an exaggerated groan. "Well. I'm due a break and a walk."

Connor swivels slightly in his chair. "And the report?"

"We just sent it, now it just needs to be confirmed and archived for the court session." Is Hank's prompt reply. "Not much to do but take a load off, now. You too, Connor. Stop thinking I don't see you working when you should be recharging." Caught, the RK800 ducks his head sheepishly. Hank continues: "I'll take my break now, and so will you. Stretch your legs a bit, show Markus here around! I don't believe anyone ever gave him a proper tour!"

"But—"

"No buts! That's an order. I'm still your CO." For all the apparent gruffness in his tone, the Lieutenant is doing a poor job of hiding the complicit smile he gives Connor.

Markus catches it easily; and it occurs to him that Hank might be even better of a person than he thought he was.

"Now that you mention it..." he starts, just barely leaning down towards Connor's chair and putting a hand over the back of it, "I would love a tour."

All three of them know that the RK200 couldn't possibly care any less for a tour of the police station; but hey, it's a free ticket for a good 20 minutes together and relatively alone. If Markus's body language is anything to go by, today might be the day they stop dancing around each other in circles. Hesitating just a moment, Connor nods and stands up. "Of course. Please, follow me."

The 'tour' starts just around the main areas of the station, with a couple of people giving curious looks to the detective playing tourist guide for the leader of the revolution himself, but most of them lose interest pretty quickly.

"Oh God, is there more of you? Are you here for an actual reason, or just to poke your nose where it doesn't belong?" Damn it, Gavin. At least he's holding back on the slurs, "We're trying to work here, you know?"

"Detective Reed—"

Markus interrupts Connor with a placating gesture pf the hand. "No, I get it. You're very scared to be replaced, and so you feel the need to make every little thing that happens about you. It's understandable." Calm, gentle, but still taking none of his shit, "I'm not here to disrupt your precious hard work. Connor?" He calls to the other, without taking his piercing eyes off Gavin.

"...yes?" The RK800 silently wonders what the hell his voice is sound so breathy for, but it doesn't stop Markus.

"Is there any place you can show me where we won't be a disturbance to anybody's job?"

"Well... there is a gym floor that employees can use, but I've never been there—"

"Perfect, let's go see it together!" Then and only then does Markus release Gavin from his gaze. "Detective Reed..." he bids him goodbye with a bow and a flourish that might be just slightly over the top, but it does send across the message of how ridiculous all of Gavin's posturing is.

And he didn't even need to get cross or puff up his chest –it might be one of the things Connor likes best about Markus... he can stand up to people while still being true to his kind hearted nature.

"How do you do that?" He asks before he can stop himself.

The RK200 just raises an eyebrow at him. "Do what?"

"You put Gavin in his place while still being nice about it."

"Oh, that." Markus actually turns slightly bashful and lowers his gaze to try and bite back a smile, "Let's just say it's all about knowing the line between being kind and being a pushover."

Wise words, if Connor ever heard any. No doubt they must have come from Carl.

They reach the station's gym facilities easily enough –there's a few people making good use of them, either on the treadmill or in front of a punching bag, but more importantly, much to Markus's delight, there's a balcony.

He doesn't even have to ask, Connor leads him outside seamlessly. There's not much to see, the police station is a tall building among tall buildings, and as such their view is the street below, the buildings in front of them, and a whole lot of nothing.

Still, they share a brief companionable silence as they lean onto the railing.

"Something's on your mind."

It's not a question –Markus can just tell, he's an empath like that. The detective hesitates for a moment, then nods.

"I wish I was more like you."

Oh gosh, he hadn't meant to say that.

The damage is done, and Markus has the barest hint of a frown –he looks confused, and he turns slightly to look at Connor. “Why would you?”

It’s like opening a floodgate –once the RK800 stars speaking, he can’t seem to stop. “What do you mean ‘why would I’?” he says, running a hand through his hair in a rare drop of composure, “You’re always so… aware of yourself, I have barely just started understanding my own emotions, let alone how to deal with the effect other people’s ones have on me…”

“You’d be surprised at how much that doesn’t matter sometimes—” the other android comments, but Connor isn’t done.

“And I’ve barely even felt in control, since…” since the time Cyberlife expected him to become a deviant all along just to override him and try to kill Markus with his body, “…I mean, was I ever in control of anything? I was rigged to fail, Markus. What does that say about me?”

For a long moment, Markus is silent, only looking at him through those mismatched eyes of him. What Connor sees in them, though, is not pity. It’s not even sympathy; it’s empathy. Markus is putting himself in his shoes, and imagining how terrible it must have felt, to think himself so helpless. He’s only seen Connor like this one other time: hugging himself, alone in a shadowed corner, thinking that all the people he just saved would reject him on account of not having been able to rebel before that moment –it seems the RK800 does an excellent job of hiding his insecurities… he should remedy that.

“You kept this to yourself all this time?” he asks, taking a step forward and closing in in Connor’s personal space. He reaches out both hands, to lightly touch the outer side of the other’s wrists. “Well. To answer your question… it says about you that you’re stronger than most people, having had to suffer through all that and still overcoming everything.”

The RK800 lowers his gaze, but Markus doesn’t let him for long –his left hand closes gently around Connor’s wrist, and the other goes up to his chin, to tilt it back upwards. “When I told you you’re more than your program, I meant it.” He starts listing, “When I told you I trust you, back in the church, I meant it. When I say you’re the most incredible individual I’ve ever met and you’ve done more for me in the past few weeks than anyone else I’ve ever met all my life, I mean it.”

Connor couldn’t look away if he wanted to. All of his sensors are registering their close proximity and reacting to it over and over; and Markus’s heartfelt words, despite not necessarily being romantic in nature, have made the chance for reciprocation spike from 32% to a good 71%. He doesn’t really need to breathe, but he still feels breathless. “You say things like that…”

“I only say them if they’re true.”

Coming to think of it, Markus is actually not that good of a liar, especially if you ask him a direct question. He can do half-truths and sort of lie by omission, but Connor has never heard him tell an outright lie –Josh told him, in confidence, that it’s because he’s shit at lying, and that’s why Simon is his editor: an outsider eye can better get around the things you don’t want to reveal or that would be more tactful not to say.

But none of that matters now. He is, quite literally, letting Markus hold him in his arms and they’ve been staring at each other silently for 12 seconds and counting.

Then, unprompted, Markus speaks up. “You have pretty eyes.”

It’s so sudden it makes Connor’s voice break into a brief chuckle. “Says the heterochromatic wonder.”

The RK200 bites his lips to hide a smile –ah, so he does know his eyes are a source of fascination. Not quite that modest, are you, revolution leader? “Some people find them creepy.” He comments, and oh, now that they’re so close and Connor can read the clues he can see how hard Markus is trying to sound casual about it.

His metaphorical feathers are more ruffled than he cares to show. Connor shrugs his shoulders, a cheeky smile finding its way to his lips, “There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.”

The RK200 chuckles, low and warm and oh, finally that comparison that registered in Connor’s systems that one time makes so much sense. The sound spreads like wildfire through his sensory input, coupled with the closeness, the touch –they’re still practically embracing, and when did both his hands wind up splayed on Markus’s chest? He feels helpless again, but the good kind of helpless. Like he will let himself feel it, doubts be damned. Markus is still smiling, as he shakes his head ever so slightly before focusing back on Connor. His expression is serious but still so, so warm. “I think we’ve been tip-toeing around this long enough. Don’t you?”

A query pops up in the detective’s interface: ‘Does that mean what I think it means?’  All of his systems scream at him. ‘Yes, yes it does.’

More queries: ‘is he going to say it? Why is he whispering? Is he insecure about my reaction? Did he believe I wouldn’t like him?’ he can barely form a sentence, and has to take a trembling breath in and out to cool and slow down his frantic processors. “I… what exactly is... this, Markus?”

Ah, the million dollar question.

The hand that was under his chin brushes its way up, Markus’s thumb gliding ever so slightly over Connor’s lower lip, before leaving and going to rest on one of the android’s own hands. Anticipation fills the RK800’s core as he sees skin polymer make way to porcelain white.

“Will you let me show you?”

Connor closes his eyes, accepting the interfacing prompt; and suddenly it’s there.

His LED flickers frantically yellow as he sees it all. It’s the two of them playing together with Sumo, it’s the good-natured barbs they throw at each other, it’s the pure, unwavering trust as they threw themselves into the chase… it’s events long past, the worry, even as Markus was staring at the barrel of his gun, that someone would take advantage of him if he didn’t do something; more worry as Connor offered to infiltrate Cyberlife tower, the words Be careful and the very real meaning in them, the thought Please, please come back alive as Markus clasped his shoulder… it’s himself, seen through Markus’s eyes and filled with so much meaning; respect, affection, attraction…

Is this what love feels like? He wonders what Markus feels from him in return.

The first thing that reached out to Markus was the profound admiration Connor harbours for him and everything he’s done, then it registers how much the detective wants him to be happy, the feeling he absolutely had to comfort him as they drove back from Carl’s mansion, the words I won’t let anyone hurt you, not on my watch, and how true they rang –the pain from a bullet and the feeling it was so very worth it, because he was safe.

For several moments, neither of the two speaks.

Then Markus’s eyelids flutter slightly, and his voice is barely above a whisper: “I’m going to kiss you, now.”

“Please do.” Is all Connor says, as he shifts in place, just enough to wrap both arms around Markus’s neck and let the other embrace him at the waist.

When their lips finally meet, it feels like nothing else is worth focusing on. Connor stops becoming aware of anything beyond the balcony door , the only thing that matters is Markus's mouth on his own, the intoxicating touch he can't help but crave more of; and this time when spontaneous prompts come forward he listens to all of them.

He feels Markus smirk against him when he takes a bite at the other's lower lip.

«I should have known you'd be a biter.» The RK200 says it through their network, just so they can keep kissing. Connor doesn't seem to care to articulate a reply, as he simply parts his lips slightly to let Markus deepen the contact.

His tongue's analytics get violently shut off –he doesn't need the complete list of the components that make up Markus's mouth, he is getting quite familiar with them already, thank you very much.

Connor chases this feeling as much as he can –for once, he has no doubts. That sense of belonging that was always just narrowly escaping is finally manifest: cheesy as it sounds, he feels like he belongs in Markus's arms.

They eventually break apart when Connor's LED spins yellow again with a call from Hank's desk terminal.

« Where the hell are you, son? »

Oh. A quick glance at their internal clock tells both androids that they've been kissing for 15 minutes. Break time is well over. They reluctantly disentangle the embrace and stand side by side.

"I'm sorry, Hank. We're two floors up, I'll be right down."

The detective would feel embarrassed about it, if he wasn't so goddamn happy. He laces hands with Markus as Hank mumbles something non-committal over the line and hangs up; and they begin the walk back.

Having all the pieces of the puzzles, Connor has to admit the whole debacle was quite silly. "How did neither of us see it?"

Markus laughs again –it's quickly becoming Connor's favorite sound– and bumps shoulders with him slightly. "When you believe that something is impossible, you tend to disregard clues that disprove your theory... even the obvious ones." He says, "Simon calls it 'cognitive bias'. Josh is fine with just calling me an idiot."

Against what would be deemed proper, the RK800 laughs at that. "What does North say?"

"You don't want to know what North has to say about this whole thing."

Somehow that makes Connor laugh even harder. For all their near-infinite processing power, they were pretty obtuse about this.

The silence from Markus makes the detective look back at him inquisitively. "What?"

"Nothing. You're just beautiful when you laugh."

There it is again, that low, velvety smooth sensation that is better associated to liquid caramel than a sound. So, so unfair. "Stop saying things like that!"

Connor's protest is weak and the RK200 knows it.

"Are you kidding? Now that I can actually say it? I'll be the most disgustingly cute boyfriend anyone has ever seen, everyone around us will roll their eyes at my sappy antics."

There's a small bit of worry at the idea of 'everyone' knowing about them, but it's far surpassed by the rush of giddiness at the idea that Markus would proudly let the world know.

Still, it might be better not to go overboard with the pda yet –Markus is a prominent public figure and he is in the police force. It doesn't really matter if they're together or not, there's just a certain degree of decorum that comes with both their positions.

Which is, in words borrowed from Hank, complete bullshit, but that's beside the point.

They're not holding hands anymore once they're back in the main office area, but they're still walking very closely side by side and talking to each other in low whispers and quiet smiles.

Not doing anything inappropriate, but still very obvious to anyone with eyes and half a brain.

"...do I even want to know?"

Case in point, Lieutenant Hank Anderson.

Markus has the decency of being slightly bashful about it. "Probably not." He then turns to Connor, who has yet to get his ancillary processes under control in front of Hank, "Hey, I'll let you get back to work. See you soon?"

Absently, the RK800 nods; and Markus leans closer to whisper: “Rooftop date?”

Some quiet alone time, maybe with some nice piano music while watching the sun set? Hell yeah.

“Rooftop date.” Connor whispers in confirmation; and he's quite caught off-guard when Markus glances around for a second before diving forward to steal a quick chaste kiss to the very corner of his lips.

It's so fast that Connor's sensory input is still sending him tingling sensations even though Markus has already retreated to a respectable distance away.

"Bye then." Is all Markus says, unfazed by the detective's look of surprise, nodding respectfully to Hank as well, "...Lieutenant."

Hank just mock-salutes him, hand gesture turning into a shooing motion.

This time, Connor watches Markus walk away fully aware and appreciative of the other's broad back and those legs going for miles.

When he turns back to Hank, the man is fighting not to laugh. "So." He says, tone smug but just on this side of affectionate, "What took you so long?"

Connor finds that he half wants to laugh happily and tell him everything and half wants to disappear and hug Sumo until he goes into sleep mode. "Nothing..." he says, all the same feeling a smile tugging at his lips as he sits back down and not fighting it in the least, "We just kissed."

The Lieutenant raises an eyebrow at him. "For fifteen minutes and then some?"

Well. Androids don't really need to breathe so... yeah. "It felt really good, okay?"

Even Hank's jaded, cynical self can't deny the adorableness of such a reaction. Of course, he'd sooner die than admit it and he sure as hell isn't going to make an ‘aww’ sound, but still.

Look at his kid, all grown up and kissing boys. He suddenly feels a pang of regret: he never got to experience this, the good the bad or the awkward, with his biological son –he briefly wonders whether Cole would have needed advice with girls or boys or both, whether he would have even been any help at all. The pain in his chest is only mitigated by the sight of Connor's little lost in thought expression –would you look at that? Androids apparently can daydream... either that was one hell of a kiss or Connor is just that pure.

Yes. This is his second chance, Hank knows it, and he won't let the memory of his first son down by neglecting his second one.

"Let's get the rest of our shit done, then." He says, eventually, "I'm sure you can't wait to tell me or ask me things."

The android bites lightly at his own lip. "Am I that transparent?"

"No, but I know that look." Hank reaches forward to ruffle Connor's perfectly gelled hair, taking him by surprise and leaving him with yet another mix of annoyance and affection, "Now stop daydreaming about your boyfriend and get back to work."

Connor's half-hearted glare barely has any effect.

 

Markus is quite obviously on cloud nine even well after returning to Jericho; and it doesn't escape his friends' keen eyes.

"So... something you want to share with the rest of the class?" North asks, sneaking into his little rooftop alcove.

Markus tries, very hard, to keep his cool about it. "Not really..." he says, "I went for it, and it went well."

She almost pouts at him. "Oh come on! I don't even get any details?" Her voice gets slightly accented when she's worked up –many of her same model were designed to have 'exotic' accents. It’s cute, but he doesn't budge.

Actually, he retaliates: "Is there something you would like to tell me?"

"...no?"

He loves that it comes out as a question. He presses on: "How is Katrina settling in?"

"Pretty well! She immediately made friends with Lexie, and she gives these amazing face massages, God— if your data ever overloads and you get a headache, she's the girl to go to. And she— wait, what's that face?"

Markus promptly retracts all polymer from his face. "What face? I'm not making any faces; I don't even have a face."

"Markus..."

He caves, if only to avoid getting punched, and goes back to normal. "I just think it's quite sweet."

Finally, North catches up to his line of thinking. "Oh. No, no it's not like that at all!"

"Really, now?"

He can barely bite back his smile as she carries on explaining answers to unasked questions: "I'm just looking out for her!"

"Of course..."

"She just went through a very hard time and... I worry, is all!"

‘Like I worried about Connor?’ Markus has to physically bite his lips not to let that retort get out. "That's understandable."

"And I just want to make sure she knows she's safe with us and she can go on with her life and be appreciated for who she is!"

"Yes, North, do you not see me nodding?"

She freezes at the blatant callout. "Oh no you didn't."

"I believe I just did." The only response Markus gets is a punch to the shoulder. "Hey!"

"Fine! Maybe I like her!" The blonde concedes, huffing and crossing her arms, "At least I'm not spinning around in my own head pretending my feelings are not what they are!"

"Harsh, North." The RK200 pretends to complain, knowing there's no ill intent in North's words, "And here I was about to offer my undying support..."

Still pretending to be mad at him, she sits down beside him and lightly bonks her head on his shoulder. "You can't tell anyone until I told her first, okay? I really don't want to screw this up."

"My lips are sealed." He promises, smiling easily.

She returns his smile with a mischievous one. "...or busy smooching Connor!"

"North!"

She dives out of the seat before he can even playfully push her. As her giggles quiet down, the look on her face softens and she glances at Markus, both hands on her hips. "I'm really proud of you, you know?"

"I know." He replies warmly, "Thanks, North. For everything."

"I'll leave you to your gushing now. Your fingers are twitching, you're either gonna play the sappiest love songs ever played or paint the cheesiest paintings to ever be painted." Huh. She knows him that well. "Either way, I don't wanna be there to witness it."

Markus just rolls his eyes at his dear friend and watches her go back inside. It is true, though; his fingers are itching for either the ivory or the brush, playing soundless melodies as they pat his own leg. Closing his eyes, he runs a randomized script in his head. Even number he'll play, odd number he'll paint.

124677.

Painting it is.

 

He is still very much immersed in his canvas when he gets Connor's call.

« Is now a good time to have our rooftop date? »

Date. Markus can still scarcely believe it's true.  «No time like the present!» He answers, «Who knows when we will both be free next time?»

That's a good point, actually. «I'll be there soon, then.»

'Soon' being exactly 25 minutes and 36 seconds later, the necessary time to take public transport from the police station to Jericho.

Connor enters the building, greeting Katrina as he recognizes her and expecting to have to ask Simon or Josh if Markus is already on the roof or not, but instead he finds the android running down the stairs just to scoop him in an embrace and off the ground. Unused to this, Connor startles and grips Markus by the shoulders for balance. "What—"

Markus lets him down soon enough, but not before stealing a kiss. "Hi." He says innocently, as if he hadn't just done that in front of pretty much the whole of Jericho.

The RK800 can't quite process the situation. "What was that?" It's a more than welcome treatment but... he can't help the background queries wondering whether this is ok or not.

For his part, the other android simply shrugs. "Making up for lost time." Is all he offers as an explanation, briefly leaning forward to just barely nip at the very tip of the other's nose. "Come on up."

As they go up the stairs hand in hand, they pass by Josh, who simply rolls his eyes to the ceiling and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “Finally, rA9 be praised!”

Cognitive bias. Disregarding vital pieces of information simply because they point to something you don’t believe possible, leading to incorrect or inaccurate courses of action.

It was probably painful to watch from the outside, Connor thinks suddenly with an amused grin. Looking back at Markus, he takes in the other’s paint-stained hands and sleeves –some of it ended up on his chest, too– and asks, already knowing the answer: “Were you painting?”

The RK200 nods, chuckling. “What gave it away?” he asks rhetorically, before leading Connor to see the canvas.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on. It’s a sea of blues and greys, beautiful to look at but not exactly taking any form… but the longer Connor looks and tries to follow the vertical brush strokes, the clearer it gets –possibly because he knows what to look for: buildings, walls, strokes of white reflections on glass… and there, in the middle of it all, distant to the point of being tiny, two figures shadowed in black and far enough away to be little more than a brush stroke each… and yet still very clearly embracing, giving off an incredibly powerful feeling despite being dwarfed by all of the world around them.

Or maybe that’s what Connor sees in it, because he knows what Markus was recreating.

Either way he loves it. “It’s beautiful, Markus.” He says reverently, and doesn’t startle when the other drops a kiss on his left shoulder from behind him.

“When it dries, I want you to keep it.”

The rush of warmth that he’s begun to associate to every time Markus says or does something like this courses through Connor. “Markus, I couldn’t—”

“Please.” The other insists, lips still brushing Connor’s shoulder, “I painted it for you, after all.”

It’s the very first time anyone ever made something for him. The detective still can’t quite grasp how someone like him could be the inspiration for an artwork, but… it’s there.

Markus painted a picture for him.

Connor relaxes, leaning his back against the other’s chest. The image, together with the moment they’re sharing, embracing in front of the canvas, goes right next to Markus’s serenade in his memory bank, to be treasured forever.

Hank will probably have a field day when he sees him coming home with paint all over his clothes, but… Connor can’t bring himself to care.

They already have their work cut out for them, with all the hardships coming their way on the road for android acceptance… they might as well enjoy a moment of peace while they still can.

If anything, the paint stains will be a lovely reminder.

Chapter Text

 

Hank is less than impressed with Connor’s state when he gets home, hugging the wrapped canvas to his chest and with paint smears on his back and the sides of his hands. “I take it date night went well?”

The android reverently puts the canvas down against a wall to be hanged later and sighs with what could only be described as a dreamy expression.

“He made a painting for me; we watched the skyline and kissed while we waited for the paint to finish drying.”

Oil paint takes several hours to dry, more if it’s fresh.

The Lieutenant shakes his head. “Jesus, kid, you’re smitten.”

“Can you blame me?” is all Connor says, slumping cross-legged on the floor and beckoning Sumo closer to hug him. “I’ve never felt something like this.” He sighs again, petting the dog some more –the Saint Bernard happily accepts the attention, wagging his tail, but an alarm bell rings in Hank’s ears.

Connor is new to all of this. He’s new to having an identity, his own thoughts and feeling –let alone a romantic relationship!

The protective urge Hank has been tryin to swat away rears its head full-force. “Uh, Connor.”

“Yes?”

“Listen to me… I know this is all new and different and I’m sure it’s super good to be… whatever it is you are with Markus, now…” God, there’s no way to phrase this that won’t be awkward, is there? Damn it, now the kid is looking at him with his interested face, blinking and all ready to accept and process new information. The Lieutenant tries, really tries –he clears his voice, “…and it might happen that, uh… you want to go to certain lengths, to make Markus happy. But you have to remember that your own happiness counts too, okay? None of that self-sacrificing bullshit!”

“I don’t understand… if anyone between me and Markus is self-sacrificing, it would be him. He—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know the things he did; I was there for most of it!” This is harder than Hank thought it would be. He takes a deep breath. “Just… just promise me, that if things get painful you won’t try to just grin and bear it, and actually speak out, okay son?”

Son. There it is again –Hank has been calling him that more and more often. And he does get it now; Hank is afraid that because he has no previous experience in being in love, he will get hurt somehow. There’s definitely a chance that will happen, but… the quick data comparison by one of his background processes makes him smile –it would be more than worth it. Still, he nods to the Lieutenant. “Okay.”

“And whatever you need…” there’s a pause in the man’s words – “Christ, I know I’ll regret this but— whatever you need, you can tell me anything. Anything, okay? Even if you think it might be embarrassing or whatever.”

Connor understands that one implication immediately, this time. His smile turns cheeky. “I’ll try to avoid details about intercourse, when it comes down to it.”

The fact that the RK800 said ‘when’ instead of ‘if’ already has Hank thinking he’ll need bleach for his brain. But he still chuckles gruffly as he watches Connor get Sumo ready for his evening walk.

 

Luckily, Katrina’s case doesn’t make the news –which doesn’t give her assailant the satisfaction of stirring up the pot about androids and their right to defend themselves. With all the crap that’s being going on with politics regarding androids, it’s a small blessing, really. The long-awaited bill regarding androids and their right to work, perceive wages and own property is well on the way to being fully instated; even if androids don’t really need food and only require maintenance options and charging stations, there’s still a cost on keeping oneself alive –electrical bills if nothing else– so that’s something to hash out with the authorities as well… Katrina really doesn’t envy Markus and his closest; it must be exhausting to have to worry about all that.

For her part, once she gets her licence, she wants to open a beauty salon.

Most of her past as a sex-worker model was unsavoury to say the least, but there is one part of the basic programming that stayed true for her even after waking up: she likes to make people feel good, likes seeing someone smile because of her or of something she did.

She’s been practicing on North a lot. She likes spending time with the blonde –North gets it. WR models were slaves on a whole different level compared to other androids, they didn’t only have to obey, but also pretend to enjoy being treated like objects. It was sickening; and it’s understandable, obvious even to Katrina, that North initially wanted to claim freedom through violence: it was all she had known, before Markus showed them all the power of dialogue.

But back to the task at hand.

“Okay, now stay very, very still…” the smoky look didn’t take too long to accomplish, but the liner is always a delicate part and precision is key. “There we go!” she holds up the mirror for North, smiling as the WR400 admires her handiwork, “You’re so beautiful.”

North’s gaze snaps away from the mirror and right into Katrina’s. For a moment, she looks surprised, then puts her hand over the brunette’s and takes the mirror from her, setting it aside. “Thank you.” She says, “I think you’re beautiful too.”

When Markus gets back to Jericho from his long string of meetings, late and stumbling through the darkness on low charge, he finds the two WR models huddled together on a sofa, side by side in sleep mode but with their hands entwined.

He fights valiantly the urge to wake up North loudly and be smug about it, squashing down that prompt lest he gets his optical unit poked out, and goes for option two. Shrugging off his long jacket, he step closer to the two silently and drapes it sideways over them. Androids do not really feel cold and it’s approaching summer anyways, but it’s the gesture that counts.

It spells ‘I know, I told you so and I approve’, so he’s sure North will appreciate it at least a little.

He goes to his alcove on the rooftop, and sits on the armchair beside the piano, plugging into his charger with a sigh. Among all of the other questions still left unanswered, the one about the android’s right to vote is the most complex one; and there’s talk about him eventually meeting the madam President herself.

Markus can’t quite say he’s looking forward to that. But it will have to be done eventually.

He lets his thoughts drifts, as the charging process makes him woozy enough to enter sleep mode and let his processors defragment and reorganize his memories –he pauses on the one of him and Connor relaxing in front of the sunset as his latest painting dried; which might be considered the android equivalent of dreaming about him.

There will be a lot to do in the next few days –some people are actually still angry about crimes against androids being an offense now, and it’s spiked some pretty awful episodes ever since the emergency state was lifted and Detroit was deemed safe for humans to move back in– coexistence is never as easy in reality as it is in theory, but Markus was honestly hoping humans wouldn’t be so… recalcitrant.

‘That’s just a fancy word for assholes’, North would say. Josh would chastise her, but silently agree while Simon points out how that’s exactly the reason he is the editor and written spokesperson for Jericho.

 

He is ‘woken up’ by a call. «…hello?»

«So, it turns out I was right.»

«Connor?» his thirium pump kicks immediately into gears as all of his processes restore their primary active functions and a big, stupid smile forms on his face, «Right about what?»

The only response he gets is several images that Connor sends him, screen-captures of internet message boards. «You’re all over the web again.»

Markus looks at them from his palm and both groans and chuckles.

The first one is a picture of him laughing with the child just after exiting the pond, then there’s one of him heaving himself out of the pond; and finally one of him smiling at something just slightly off-camera –Connor, he knows. The comments under each picture range from people appreciating the drenched clothes accentuating his physique to people claiming his smile converted them to believing in android’s rights.

Flattering, to say the least, but also kind of embarrassing –if this made it to Connor, then North also will know and if she knows then Simon and Josh know and they will make fun of him.

«So, what’s on your schedule for today?» the RK800’s voice brings him back to the present, and Markus stretches as he unplugs the charger from his shoulder and stands up.

«The secretary of state is bringing a finalized proposal for the bill on androids’ right to work and make a living to City Hall, so that’s a good long six hours to look forward to.»

Connor’s heartfelt laughter through their connection fill Markus’s core with a light sort of warmth. «I don’t envy you.» he teases, and the RK200 loves every second of it, «…but hey, if you’re going to be in City Hall… we could… meet up? Keep me company during Hank’s lunch?»

The shy, barely-there proposal, as if still worried about being inopportune, has Markus’s core working double-time to squash down all the prompts that were basically small freak-outs about how absolutely adorable the detective is. «Sure, yeah. I’ll give you a buzz as soon as I’m free.»

 

Hank felt kind of weird the first time Connor actually packed him lunch, in an effort not to let him go get greasy burgers, but he has to say he’s come to appreciate it –whatever it is that the boy downloaded from Markus’s healthcare protocols, it made him a damn good cook, so yeah he’ll eat something healthy if it’s also this delicious.

The smell from the boxes nearly distracted the Lieutenant from the way Connor has been subtly looking over his shoulder for the last few minutes. Nearly.

“Waiting for someone?” he asks, just a hint of humor in his voice. The android only appears surprised for a second, then shrugs his shoulders and nods.

“I’m not really sure he’ll be here before—”

«Sorry I’m late! It dragged on more than expected, but Josh and Simon offered to stay there and fine-tune the details while letting me go for our break early. I’m coming to you right now.»

Connor’s word cut off mid-sentence, but the smile spreading on his face is enough of an answer for Hank.

Not too much later, Markus strolls through the gates in his typical jeans-boots-V-neck ensemble. The expression on his face tells the detective that the only reason Markus doesn’t hug him and kiss him where he stands is the dozen or so policemen milling about in the same room. “Ready to go for a walk?”

“Yeah, why not?” Connor says, unable to keep the smile off his face and starting towards the door… but it’s in that moment that Hank reaches out a hand:

“Markus. A moment?”

The two exchange a glance. Markus instantly knows what this is about, and the RK800 can guess –it doesn’t take a detective android to crack that code. They just nod at each other, and Connor goes ahead, leaving what amounts to his father figure alone with his newly found boyfriend.

A horrible idea by any stretch of the definition, but it was bound to happen.

“Sit.”

Markus would really rather not. “Is this going to take a long time? I—”

“Sit your ass down, kid.”

The RK200 sits.

Hank clears his throat. “I used to have a little boy. He was taken from me when he was only 6 years old. I never thought I’d have a family ever again.” He takes a breath to stifle the painful memories, then continues, “Then life tossed that fucking kid at me. It almost killed me once or twice, but when all it’s said and done… I’ve got myself a second chance, here.”

It makes Markus smile fondly, how reluctant is this man to actually put into words the fact that he feels affection for Connor, so much so that he considers him a second son. The Lieutenant seems to catch onto his understanding and sighs: “Let me just make the long story short. You hurt that boy, you’re gonna be a fucking pinball machine when I’m done with you. Got it?”

It would have almost been endearing, if not for the steely gaze in Anderson’s face. The man means business. The RK200 has to gulp emptiness to relax the synthetic muscles in his throat, seizing up at the momentary danger signals that look sent him. “If…” he pauses, waits for his sound unit to be 100% again and continues, “If anything I did happened to directly hurt Connor… I would probably let him destroy me and you deal with whatever would be left.”

The answer seems to impress Hank, if the way his eyebrows rise and he leans back is any clues. “Good.” He says, “We understand each other, then. Now shoo, go have your date or whatever.”

Markus catches up to Connor at the entrance and takes him by the hand.

“Threats to your life, fearless leader?” the detective asks, biting his lip not to laugh.

“None that I wouldn’t take for you.” He leans in to sneak a quick kiss to the cheek while Connor tries to protest his absolute cheesiness; and for one moment neither of the two androids notices that the entire scene just occurred in front of the eyes of one Gavin Reed.

To his credit, the man looks mostly just surprised, but turns his mouth into a sneer soon enough. “Would you look at that? Mystery solved, here’s the real reason why Cyberlife’s perfect little toy went off with the revolution…”

“Detective Reed, that is not how any of this happened—”

“So, how’s that work?” Gavin himself couldn’t tell why he’s always so intent to try and take Connor down a notch –he has this idea that androids don’t really care, that they’re not real people, and as such seeing them act like they are unsettles him and he needs to dismiss it. Also, Connor always gave him this visceral sort of reaction -the perfect little detective who can do no wrong, not like the flawed human ones... it goes well beyond fear of replacement: the unfair comparison to someone built for the job had Gavin question his self-worth entirely. And like a primal instinct, he constantly needs to undermine and destroy anything positive about this particular android. Still, the next words leaving his mouth privately shock even himself. “Tell me, does he have a plastic dick you can suck?”

If Markus still had a LED indicator, it would be flaring red right now. Connor sees his fists clench and steps in between them, glaring at his colleague. “Consider yourself lucky that I don’t find your behaviour to be even worthy of getting reported.”

Gavin seethes at the android’s unfazed demeanour. “Report? How about I report your bitch ass for—”

“That’s it.” Markus’s voice is steady despite his rage, as he steps around and forward to grab the arm that was going for Connor’s jacket. He catches Gavin’s wrist before the man can reach his target, holding it an iron grip and twisting it slightly, tugging the human towards him –the only reason detective Reed’s face doesn’t slam into Markus is the android’s free hand splaying loosely against his neck.

Holy shit. Gavin Reed has accomplished something an entire oppressing race couldn’t: he made Markus lose his cool.

“You will listen to me closely, and you will not speak.” The RK200 orders, with an authoritarian presence so strong he might as well be rA9 himself. Gavin doesn’t utter a sound. “I don’t care what deep-rooted sense of inadequacy spurs you to be an intolerant little jackass. You want to be unpleasant? Fine –we can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. But there’s a line between being unpleasant and outright sowing hate.” His fingers curl slightly around the human’s neck, but they never squeeze. “I could hurt you, right now, but I won’t: fighting fire with fire only makes a bigger fire. I’ll leave you with a warning instead. One day, not necessarily soon, but one day, you will have to wake up and look in the mirror –and if you don’t clean up your act now, what you’ll see on that day will make you wish you were dead.” Markus releases Gavin, maybe just a tad more brusquely than necessary, “And you don’t have to take my word for it… you can ask my brother.”

Gavin just sands there for a second, holding the wrist Markus just let go of close to his chest and looking at the two androids with an expression that Connor had never seen before on him –it’s not exactly fear, it’s a sort of stupor that a person would bear when looking at something that they thought was entirely different, and seeing it in its truth for the first time. “I… gotta go.” He just barely manages to choke out.

“Don’t let us keep you.” The RK200 offers, serene and courteous as if he hadn’t just been on the verge of punching him in the face. His interface registers interactions with Gavin Reed as ‘tense’, not labelling him as hostile solely on behalf of Connor’s more lax attitude towards the man.

Gavin has barely scrambled away and inside when Connor suddenly grabs Markus by the wrist, drags him away from the glass doors of the precinct and pushes him against a wall to just to the side, kissing him like he wants to bruise his lips.

Markus knows that if he had any need for breath, it would have been stolen from him right now. “Not that I’m complaining… but what brought that on?”

“You…” Connor sighs out, “You, and your damn words of wisdom, knocking that asshole down a peg and still actually doing something good for him.” He steals another quick kiss from Markus’s mouth, “You incurable goody two shoes.”

The RK200 reaches out his hand, this time to gently stroke the other’s cheekbone and actually pinch it a little. “Says the detective poster boy.” They share a laugh over it, before Markus sees the detective’s expression slightly glaze over and grows worried. “He didn’t get to you, did he?”

Back to the here and now, Connor shakes his head. “No… it’s been a long time since anything that guy said ever got to me, it’s just…” he bites his lips slightly, and grins at the way Markus’s eyes follow the movement, “You’re the first person to ever stand up for me, aside from the Lieutenant.”

The RK200 raises an eyebrow at that. “Well, I hope he didn’t get the same reaction out of you.”

“Markus!”

“Just joking! Just joking!” he immediately raises both hands in a pacifying motion, then holding one out: “Come on. Let’s go on our walk, now.”

They spend the rest of Connor’s break walking hand in hand, talking about how things are going with Jericho and when they’ll be able to go and pay Carl another visit.

Markus has to go back to his meeting and Connor to his duties way too soon, but nether minds.

Upon seeing him back, Josh slightly elbows Simon in the side, concealing a laugh. “Take a gander at smiley over there.”

“Off to see someone special, were you?”

The RK200 only slightly ducks his head in laughter, before putting on an indignant face. “Guys, this is highly unprofessional, we’re here to talk about legislation.”

“Yeah but the humans are still off to lunch, so spill.” Simon is having none of his nonsense. “How are things going?”

Markus flops in his chair and throws his head back, running both hands down his face. “Guys, you wouldn’t believe it, it’s… I don’t know…” several options pop up, and his processors fight between be flowery and poetic / try to be casual about it / actually try to explain it, “All of this time spent wondering… why you gravitate towards this one person again and again… or why the things they say have a certain impact, and then once you know… your core kind of goes ‘gosh, I’m a fucking idiot!’ and everything just… ugh, he’s perfect.”

Josh laughs heartily. “Get outta here!” shaking his head, he turns to Simon, “We lost him. Lost, I tell you!”

For his part, the PL600 just shrugs. “Oh I don’t care, just tell me when you plan to do something ridiculously and publicly sappy so that I can handle the media PR.”

Markus scoffs slightly. “Love how you said ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.”

Simon sends their fearless leader a look that could only be translated as ‘bitch, please’ –the RK200 eventually relents. They laugh and poke fun at each other some more, but they make sure to be all composed and proper once the several dignitaries pile back into the room for their break.

The rest of the meeting is ruthless politics over and over, and by the end of it Markus feels like his polymer skin could melt off his face. But they come out the other end of it with a proper bill on androids’ right to work and own property, to be fully approved by the White House within the next four weeks.

It will take probably some more time after that for it to be in full effect across the nation, but it’s a big victory.

All in a day’s work.

The people at the community centre yell and jump when they hear it –Markus catches Katrina enveloping North in a big hug from the corner of his eyes and allows himself a smirk for having called it.

“How is your ego not bigger than the entire city yet?” his blonde friend accosts him once he quietly slips away to his spot.

He doesn’t turn towards her, but his shoulders shake in a muted chuckle. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yeah, right.” North scoffs, walking around him and listing off her fingers, “You spearhead a pacific revolution. You get the humans to listen to us. You manage to get us some civil rights within a few months.” Her mouth draws into a mischievous smile, “You have humans and androids alike fawning over pictures of you in a wet shirt.”

“rA9 save me, you saw that?

She only punches him in the shoulder in response, “I mean seriously, how are you not an asshole by now?”

“You better than me know how easy it is to look good when you were built to.” Markus’s gaze lowers respectfully as it always does at any mention of North’s past. Her lips briefly purse in a tight line.

“Okay, yeah, that’s true. And the rest?”

“I… honestly don’t know, North. I guess I’m just… aware that I’m not really doing this alone.” He turns to look at the skyline, all the life coursing through the city from far away –from that distance, they all look the same, human or androids. “The people here, they… would follow me, on their own will and… that much power surely feels good. For about three seconds. After that, it’s terrifying –commanding and guiding are two different things.” He shivers, despite the wind not having a real effect on him, “I’m okay with being a guide, but I don’t want to be anyone’s commander, just as I don’t want anyone to be mine. It’s why I’m so grateful to have you guys around. To keep me grounded. Kick me down a peg or two if I need to be.”

He winks at her, and they bump shoulders.

“…So how are things with your detective?”

The RK200 doesn’t rise to the bait this time. “Pretty good, thank you. How are things with Katrina? You girlfriends yet?”

“We’re… exploring possibilities.” She crosses her arms, ever so slightly defensive, then uncrosses them to smooth down the long black jacket she’s wearing. A very familiar long black jacket. “Thanks for the coat, by the way. I’m keeping it.”

“I wouldn’t have thought you to be that petty.”

“I’m not, it just looks better on me, face it.”

Markus eyes her slightly at that, and eventually shrugs. “Fair enough.”

He really is grateful, though. For all of them.

 

The good thing about having taken an important step, is that the ball now goes to the people that actually have to get the paperwork going, which leads to Markus having a few blessedly free days.

Obviously, the very first thing he does is invite Connor to see Carl again.

He tells him, on the way there, that his father had the both of them figured out from day one; and Connor groans in embarrassment before actually managing to laugh about it.

«Alarm deactivated. Welcome home, Markus. Welcome home, Connor.»

The greeting from the security system makes Connor flinch slightly at the door –he hadn’t expected that; and feels his face heat up as several embarrassed reactions get shoved down and deleted.

“Carl must have input you in the system.” Is all Markus offers to explain, sheepish but with a big smile on his face as they greet Thomas. “Hey man. How is he, today?”

“A bit better, he’s actually on the chair in the lounge, watching some news.”

The caretaker android takes them to see Carl and the first thing Markus does is cross the room in three quick strides and gently hug the painter, mindful of the IV and support pole. Connor follows suit, albeit slightly shyly, but then Carl puts both hands at the sides of the RK800’s face and sort of holds him at arm’s length for a couple of seconds, looking at him intensely enough that if Connor didn’t know for certain Carl is human he would think the man was scanning him.

“Yes…” he murmurs after the brief silence, “Yes, that’s more like it.”

Whatever Carl just saw in Connor’s eyes clearly made him happy, and the detective has to wonder –is it that easy to see? How blind exactly have Markus and him been through this whole thing? He sees Markus laugh and shake his head, as he pulls up a chair and motions for him to sit by Carl as well.

“Any news from Leo?”

Carl smiles warmly. “They’re well over the scare they got at the fundraiser.” Markus sighs in visible relief –he hasn’t had much free time to try and see how they were feelin, so that’s good to know, “Meredith’s project is going well and apparently they managed to raise enough funds to expand the rehab center with a whole section to help former addicts prepare for a job and such.”

“That is pretty amazing.” Connor comments, just slightly turning to Markus to poke him slightly in the arm, “You should call them to congratulate them.”

“Or the four of you can go on a double date.”

Eleven words. All it takes for the RK800’s processors to have a stutter of half a second –they’ve been together in the open already, but the concept of a ‘double date’… it makes the whole thing more official, somehow. Connor’s interface gets swarmed with queries, even irrational ones about making a good impression –both Leo and Meredith are already acquainted with him and seem to like him well enough.

Markus’s voice cuts through the white noise: “Carl, you should give us a warning before you say these things… I think you just made my boyfriend lag with panic.”

More embarrassed, if possible, Connor shakes his head. “I’m okay…”

It makes his core warm to see mismatched eyes look up at him with the barest hint of worry in them. “Are you, really?”

He nods minutely. “Yes. I think it’d be… nice, actually.”

The moment gets interrupted by Connor’s LED going yellow and his eyes fluttering slightly –it’s a call from the DPD. “Please forgive me, I have to take this.”

Markus and Carl nod in understanding, as the RK800 steps away slightly to receive the call, and while he’s a few feet away, giving monosyllabic answers here and there, the painter fixes a look on his android son. “You seem happy.”

“I am.” Markus assures, clasping his hand with Carl’s. It feels so fragile –it kills a small part of him to know that Carl will be gone before the end of the year, but at least… he will go peacefully, satisfied that his loved ones are safe, and he will be surrounded by said loved ones when the time to say goodbye comes.

Connor comes back to them just in time to pull the RK200 out of his grim thoughts.

“I have to cut this short, I’m sorry…” he says, “There’s a case that requires my immediate attention.”

A case meaning a murder, Markus knows. He doesn’t say anything not to worry Carl, but he does rise to his feet, clasping hands with Connor and letting his polymer recede. “Be careful.”

“You know me.” The detective says, letting the feeling of Markus’s affections flood through him freely.

“I do know you, which is exactly why I’m telling you.” The other teases, holding his eyes and then going in for a quick kiss, “Be careful.

Connor makes a show of shoving him slightly and shaking his head, before approaching Carl to say goodbye. “It was a pleasure seeing you again.”

“And for me, son.” The painter says, brushing his hand over Connor’s. “Look after yourself.”

«Let me know what’s happening as soon as you can.»

«It might be case-sensitive, but I’ll tell you what I can.»

Markus sighs as he watches his boyfriend walk away –with how relatively harmless the last few episodes had been, he nearly forgot that Connor works in the homicide department and his job is actually quite dangerous.

He’ll need to play a whole lot of piano to calm himself down.

Carl’s hand splaying against his cheek pulls him out of his own mind. “Hey. It’ll be alright.”

…or he could spend some more time with his father. Carl always was great at giving him advice –he will miss him dearly… but they’re in the present right now.

They still have time.

Chapter Text

 

“Okay… what do we got?” Hank asks, as he and Connor step beyond the barrier and inside the small apartment that was actually little more than a hovel.

“Well.” The first responder officer says, slightly uneasy in Connor’s presence. “The victim is a… an android.” He eyes the RK800 for signs of an emotional reaction –perhaps anger or displeasure, but Connor is a professional, and just nods at him to continue. “There are no signs of forced entry that we can see, so the victim let in their assailant, and uh… well, the way they were found is…”

In the end, the response officer just shows them to where the body is, collapsed on the floor just to the side of the dingy bed. Connor’s keen eyes pick up traces of thirium on the sheets –so the victim was on the bed when they were murdered. He kneels beside the android to look it over. It’s a male model, an HR400 –Connor identifies its serial number and previous owner, makes a log of it to try and question them. The fact it used to be a sex partner android seems consistent with the death in bed: the murderer might have been trying to have intercourse when it happened. The HR400’s thirium pump regulator is shattered; he’s apparently been hit in the back with a hammer. Just two consecutive and decisive strikes.

Either the murderer had impeccable aim or they spent a lot of time studying android anatomy.

Particularly disturbing is the fact that part of the android’s optical unit has been removed –the left eye; and it’s nowhere to be found. Looking at the remaining one, it registers in Connor’s database that this particular android had bright green eyes.

Focus. The directive springs up spontaneously, and the detective follows it –now is not the time to think about his boyfriend. He scans the dead android again, looking for possible fluids but finding none –so the murderer was either unsuccessful in their coercion of the victim or they were so careful that no fluids were left to be found. The RK800 is inclined to go with the former, if only for the low probability of someone to be quite that thorough.

He tells this much to Anderson; and the Lieutenant nods. “Unless the murderer was also an android.” Hank objects, just to make sure they consider everything, “Then we wouldn’t be able to tell what belonged to whom, would we?”

“Correct.” Connor agrees, but still scans the area for more. There are incoherent writings about rA9 scribbled across the walls –which were pretty common to find during the revolution and this particular building hasn’t seen much renovation and probably wouldn’t see any anytime soon… but something is off about them –he can’t quite place it but… they’re different. “Still. The shape of the wound indicates that the murder weapon was a hammer. An android would have sufficient strength to cause the same damage barehanded –bringing a hammer to bed would seem counterproductive, as it would only alert their victim to their true intention.”

And yet there are no fingerprints; and not a droplet of blood to be found, nothing. Whoever the murderer is, android or human; they clearly know how to cover their tracks. A cold dread settles in Connor’s core –the only way someone would know how to be this precise is if they’ve been doing it for a while.

“Hank…” he utters, having to clear his voice to get his sound unit back to full volume, “Let’s ask if there have been… similar discoveries in the past few months. Android bodies unaccounted for, that may have been disregarded as ‘broken’ finds, or deviant casualties in the revolution.”

Anderson’s eyes sharpen. “You thinkin’ serial?”

“I’m thinking that the murderer went out of their way to cover all of their tracks… and yet didn’t try to hide the body, didn’t even try to move it… just left it here, for anyone to find… well, except for the little memento they took.” The RK800 explains, taping his own left cheek when he talks about the optical unit.

It does fit a serial murderer’s profile. Which means they have to get on this with all they have, because people like that usually have a specific ‘journey’ in mind, and once that gets completed, they’ll just… disappear. Hank nods. “Take pictures of everything in here, even thinks that seem to have no relevance right now. We can regroup at the station and review all evidence while they search our records for— oh, fuck’s sake, Connor!”

“Sorry.” He says, stepping away from the body after swiping a finger at the blue blood staining it and licking the substance –it’s been out in the open a good twelve hours; most of the thirium that splattered out of the victim’s body is almost completely evaporated, but it’s still… very convenient. Altogether too easy to find.

“Who made the call?”

“The landlady.” The first responder officer says. “Apparently some of the tenants complained about some noise yesterday, and when she went to knock this morning nobody would answer. She came back to check with her skeleton key and found… this. That was two hours ago.”

Hank and Connor exchange a look. They'll have to go through all the tenants and the neighbors in search of a possible suspect or even a witness.

"Is it possible to talk with this landlady?"

The response officer nods to Hank. "She doesn't speak much English, though. She uses a translator to deal with the tenants.

"That won't be an issue." Connor says, stepping forward, "I have several languages in my database, we won't need a translator."

 

Up in the landlady's apartment, Hank leans against a wall while Connor sits patiently with her, as she still talks with a slight shake in her voice.

"Por favor señora Laurenço, digame todo lo que recuerde."

Madam Laurenço starts talking in a Spanish that is much faster than what little of it Hank can follow, every now and then stopping to sob and being comforted by the RK800 muttering "Claro" or "Todo esta bien" and gently rubbing her hand.

He's getting better at interaction –it might be thanks to watching Markus and his Jericho friends… it pulls a slight smile at Hank’s lips.

At the end of it all, Connor turns to him. "Apparently, she didn't even know there was an android in that apartment –she didn't even recognize him as a tenant, but that might be due to the disfigurement. All she knows is that the tenant didn't get out much and barely ever had any guests. He paid his bill on time and never wanted to be disturbed." He translates for Hank, "If it hadn't been for the three separate complaints this morning about yesterday night, she wouldn't have ever gone to check."

Hank frowns. "And she didn't hear anything in the night?"

There's a small pause to relay the question in Spanish and receive the answer. "She takes Valerian root to sleep. She was out cold at the time."

Of course she was. They verify her story and check up with the guys who are gathering the other tenants' accounts. Once they're just out of the building, the Lieutenant sighs. "Let's get back to the station. What a fucking mess."

Connor is inclined to agree.

 

Markus spends the rest of the day worried sick about whatever happened, but refrains from calling Connor for fear of interfering with his work.

He managed to distract himself for a while by calling Meredith and asking her how she and Leo are doing, and when should they next meet up altogether at Carl's –she eventually put Leo on the line and he grudgingly agreed to bring the guitar next time. Those times are Markus's favorites: he and Leo managed to finally bond over music; and the RK200 always looks forward to recreating that atmosphere.

Still, he feels worried and drained once he gets back to the community centre and goes straight for his little rooftop alcove.

What he didn't expect was to not be alone once he got there.

The scene before him does pull a smile on his face. North has brought Katrina up there, presumably to see the skyline, but they're certainly not appreciating the view, lip-locked as they are.

He wouldn't disturb them, but he kind of would like to sit in his spot and meditate for a while.

"Hate to interrupt you..." he says, clearing his voice slightly, "But I hoped to play some piano before the end of the night." They jump and spring apart, but Markus holds out his hands in a pacifying motion. "It's okay. I don't mind one bit. Just... you know. Music. Also you might not want to continue with someone present."

Yeah definitely not. Both WR models have had more than enough unwanted audiences in their lifetime. Not that Markus would mind if they kept kissing there while he played music at the piano –who would mind two beautiful people sharing affection?– but it would be unfair not to give them the choice.

Knowing some of what went through her friend's head, North nods gratefully at him. "Yeah it's okay, Markus, we're just gonna go." She says as she stands, holding out a hand for Katrina to take. "I took her to see the view."

"That's okay. Come back anytime." The 'give me a fair warning and I'll get out of your hair' is implicit, and the WR400 knows it.

She smiles and turns her gaze on her dark haired girlfriend. "Let's go."

Before leaving, Katrina turns to give a big smile to their ‘fearless leader’.

"Thanks, Markus."

"What for?"

"Bringing her to me."

He shakes his head, not quite willing to take credit that isn't his. "She would have stormed to the station as soon as she heard the news anyway." He gently objects, knowing that it's true. "I just made it a little bit easier."

If one were to believe in such things, Markus would say they were meant to meet: Katrina was having a difficult time and no one better than North would have known how to properly help her shrug off the role that hateful and oppressive people had tried to tailor onto her.

As the two girls move down the stairs, he decides to play a song for them before they’re out of earshot –a very brief one, barely lasting one minute and using only the three higher-most octaves of the piano. It still makes North pause slightly and shake her head with a smile as she and Katrina descend the rest of the way hand in hand.

Markus plays for a long time after that, to distract himself from his worry.

 

Back at the DPD station, Connor and Hank are buried in the case up to their nose, going through their evidence over and over to at least try and get a profile on this maniac –the RK800’s suspicion had been right: four more bodies were found dead in similar circumstances, with their chest smashed and missing some piece… but with the massive clean-up that was done after the revolution and continued on for months, the dates of death and findings got jumbled together. Hank and Connor were able to place the earliest potential victim of the hammer killer at two months or so after the revolution, with the other three coming after that in steadily closer dates. The closest death to this one having occurred just before crimes against android were officially declared a felony.

In all cases, the people who discovered the bodies were humans, and, especially in the earlier discoveries, they didn’t think to report to the police because… who would report finding a ‘broken thing’ to the police? And with android bodies not exactly subjected to the wear and tear of human ones, all the findings were assumed to have been casualties in the revolution, what with all the rA9 graffiti and such.

Connor is still looking them over. It’s very frustrating that he can’t decipher the font used.

Unless… “Hank?”

“Yeah, kid?”

“Listen to me ramble for a second.” He pulls up on the monitor the pictures of the graffiti and a picture of the scene of the latest crime, as he stands up and fishes his quarter out of his pocket. “Androids can write in perfect fonts. But these writings I cannot identify, because they are imprecise. It doesn’t follow a regular font, even though it tries to replicate a sans serif, quite closely.” Then he zooms in on a seemingly inconsequential picture of the scene, one that captured on camera the small kitchen area, “Look at the fridge.”

“It was disconnected and empty when we got there, androids don’t need food…” the Lieutenant looks at the picture, looking for what would be so important about an open fridge, empty except for the wet droplets in the freezer compartment— “…son of a bitch.”

Water drops in an empty freezer still mean that it was in use at some point, and that it has been disconnected and emptied later on, causing the ice layer that usually forms inside to melt.

“We all assumed that the victim was the tenant because of the graffiti, and that Miss Laurenço didn’t recognize him due to the shock.” Connor continues, flicking his quarter his and that way as he talks and thinks, “…but the graffiti have not been written by an android, and the kitchen has been used at some point. What if… it wasn’t the victim who let the murderer in, but the murderer who invited in the victim?”

The killer is human and a male. Androids have color modules, he would have been able to change hair and polymer color of his victims to make them look similar and have landlords believe the dead were the tenants, while he disappeared into anonymity.

“The graffiti were a red herring.” Hank comments, looking back at the photos –he has to admit that they’re quite good: to a human eye they look quite regular and precise, it must have taken hours and hours to paint them like that… unluckily for their serial murderer, they had a real android’s eyes to look at them. Without Connor, with no fingerprints, no human fluids and no other leads pointing to human, they would have all believed that the killer was an android.

So it’s a human, a male, obsessed with androids and taking a piece of them as a memento after killing them.

“We’re going to have to warn the people at the community centre.” The RK800 says, dread once more settling into him as his system projects a map connecting all the findings so far.

Thank rA9 and all the powers that be; the perimeter doesn’t look anywhere close to the new Jericho. It might be safe to assume that this serial murderer preys on androids that live alone, or that spend more time among humans compared to others. He will still feel better warning Markus and the others. The killer doesn’t seem to discriminate between male or female models, the only constant is that in all instances there are hints that at some point the murderer had or was going to have intercourse with his victim; even the one body that they found that was not equipped for such a task –the victim’s jaw was dislocated, which led Connor to theorize that the killer had attempted to violate the victim’s mouth… it was actually the strangest finding of them all, the one female android found dead like that. No big pieces were missing: only the chip regulating the polymer skin cover had been removed, leaving the android to be found porcelain white, like a broken mannequin with a smashed chest.

Fowler tells them to keep the case under wraps for now, until they have something solid to go on.

Quite surprisingly, Gavin keeps his mouth shut –no actually that would be incorrect: Connor hears him grumble as he gets up to go to the vending machines, and his sound unit picks up the man’s words.

“Fucking perfect. As if we didn’t have enough shit to worry about, now this fucking weirdo had to go and start murdering androids. Goddamnit.”

Despite detective Reed being… well, himself, it is surprisingly encouraging that even the most intolerant of all does not condone this in the slightest. Wisely, Connor keeps silent about it, lest he sparks a defensive and vitriolic reaction from Gavin. ‘Don’t worry.’ The RK800 thinks, ‘I won’t tell anyone you’re actually developing a conscience.’

He allows himself a brief smile –that’s probably something else to thank Markus for… then he makes his best puppy eyes at Hank until the man lets him go with a groan.

“Fine! Fine, don’t look at me like that!” the Lieutenant exclaims, “But since you’re going, see if you can’t find anything about the vics, maybe someone there knew them or somethin’!”

“Will do! Thanks, dad!”

Lieutenant Hank Anderson, decorated officer, is left staring dumbly at nothing, not quite believing Connor just called him that, despite himself calling the android ‘son’ more and more often, lately.

He huffs out a laugh and shakes himself out of his stupor. That kid will be the death of him.

 

“Hi sorry I have to see Markus this is important.”

“Woah, breathe… I mean, we don’t need to, but you look like you could use it.” Josh puts a hand on Connor’s shoulder, launching a quick scan. Elevated stress level –worry?– and… “Did you— run here?”

“Yes.” The detective confirms, already making his way up the stairs, “Actually, get Simon and North as well and then join us.”

Yeah, definitely worry.

Markus is not complaining when Connor comes careening through the door and all but launches himself in his arms. “Hey—” nor does he complain when his greeting gets shut off with a bruising kiss, but clearly, something is worrying the RK800 a lot.

He clasps Connor’s hand in his own, removing it from his face and letting polymer recede, to send the interfacing query. “Talk to me, Connor.” The flood of worry and ‘please, please be ok’ that he receives nearly makes Markus’s head spin. He tries to send back the most reassuring feelings he can.

‘I’m here. We’re together. You’re ok.’

The detective calms down with a trembling sigh, and loosens the embrace ever so slightly, just in time for Josh, Simon and North to join them on the rooftop.

“You wanted to talk to all of us?”

Connor nods, and turns to face the other three as he stands side by side with Markus. “I’ve been called to investigate a murder, today.” He starts, “The victim was an android, and we have cause to believe that the culprit is a serial murderer.”

The four exchange looks as it sinks in. This is really bad. None of them interrupt yet, and the RK800 continues: “Clues were strategically left to point at an android culprit, but we’ve profiled a human male as the most likely suspect. We have no definitive leads, just that most of the murders happened around the southernmost side of the city and that all the victims were androids living more or less isolated lives, and sexual assault was involved. I’ll transfer their pictures, names and serial numbers, if anyone in the community knew any of the victims, any reason they might have followed someone…”

Markus takes Connor’s hand in his own again. “Of course. Any help you need, we’ll be here.”

The tense nod from the other just makes the RK200 want to kiss the worry away. Too bad it doesn’t work like that. “Yes, thank you… and please, if there are many androids passing by that live far away from the community centre… try and convince them to drop by more often, remind people not to follow strangers and such… the DPD is keeping this under wraps to try and avoid alerting the serial killer that we’re onto him, but…”

But he couldn’t just sit by and let his people get slaughtered again.

“I’ll speak to Katrina.” North offers, “She was recently assaulted just for being a WR model, we can send a ‘be safe’ message connected to her misadventure rather than your investigation.”

Katrina had been reluctant to share her story, not being one for attracting attention, but North knows her heart is in the right place –she’ll be the first one to want to do this as soon as she hears what’s happening.

“That would be an excellent start, yes…” Connor’s sentence trails off, and Simon sends a look to both Josh and North.

“Well.” He says, “Let’s start setting this up. North, go speak to Katie, I’ll go jot down a first draft for our message.”

Josh extends an arm towards the detective, “If you send me the victims’ photos and names, I can go see if any of them were reported missing.”

Within the following ten seconds, Connor is left alone with Markus and the skyline below them.

They really have great friends.

 

He feels Markus’s arms envelope him from behind and finally relaxes in his hold –all the tightness in his shoulders from the concentrated tension running through him fading away at the reassuring touch. “Feeling better?”

The RK200’s warm whisper would probably soothe him even if he had a gaping wound splitting his face in half. Connor chuckles at his own overactive imagination. “A little.”

“I know just the thing.” Stepping backwards until he can’t anymore, Markus takes Connor to sit on the piano bench with him. “Play with me.”

Connor blinks slightly at him. Playing piano? He could pull up music sheets, but… “Markus, I don’t—”

“It’s okay. I’ll be the left hand, you can be the right.” Is all Markus says, voice barely a whisper, as he takes the other’s left hand in his right and let their joined hands rest on his leg between them.

The interfacing query appears once more in the RK800’s vision and he accepts it, just as his partner starts to play the first few notes. He’s not receiving an exact music sheet, but he does perceive a melody –Markus is improvising, and projecting his feelings onto him. Not having to worry about chords and the like, Connor lets his right hand play the notes that he’s visualizing thanks to his connection to Markus.

Chancing a look at the other android, Connor sees that Markus has closed both his eyes. He doesn’t know exactly at what point in the song it happens, but he follows suit soon after.

Only when the last chords have exhausted their echo does the detective open his eyes again.

Markus is watching him. “How are you feeling, now?”

“Markus…” he feels like he could melt in front of those eyes. So, so unfair that they would be so piercing, staring right through him –and yet Connor loves it. “That was… beautiful…”

“It’s the melody I hear when I think of you.”

In any other moment, the detective would have made fun of Markus’s habit to be so sugary… but right there and then –after a day filled with darkness and negativity– it’s exactly what he needed to destress. Something to remind him that despite all the bad, there are still things in this world that are beautiful and right and... pleasant.

Through their still joined hands, Connor can perceive all of the RK200’s feelings for him. It’s overwhelming and welcome at the same time; and before Markus even leans forward Connor knows he’s going for the kiss.

It’s not like any other kiss they shared. Markus’s left hand goes to splay at the back of Connor’s neck and keeps him there –not that the RK800 would ever dream to escape such a sweet capture. It becomes deeper and deeper, until Markus is leaning his weight heavily forward, enough to make Connor have to tilt back slightly.

They separate for just a moment, looking at each other in the eyes while still holding their interfacing hands together, letting all of their emotions flood through. With a sharp, almost sudden movement, Markus reaches around Connor to tug the key cover of the piano down, then proceeds to lift the other by the waist, one-armed, and sits him on the piano surface.

“Markus—”

The only answer Connor gets is a line of kisses down his neck and a flurry of emotions through their connection that is enough to annihilate all the dialogue prompts that had just appeared. The sensory inputs all over his skin polymer are reacting to Markus and his touch as if nothing had ever touched him before this.

“Tell me to stop now.” Markus whispers against his neck –a roundabout way of asking whether Connor actually wants this or not.

The RK800 laughs softly, throwing his head back to give his lover easier access. “You and your flair for dramatics.” He says, with a very eloquent tug at Markus’s shirt with his free hand, “If you stop now, I’m never speaking to you again.”

Needless to say, neither of them stops, and the evening ends with Connor’s legs wrapped around Markus’s waist until both of them lose control badly enough that all their secondary processes lag well behind the primary ones, the only things either android registers being the contact between them and the discharge of the tension built up between them and culminating in white noise.

Android sex is by definition less messy compared to human intercourse, but a clean-up process is still involved –there are lubricants that come into play early in the act to facilitate things, and then a coolant that gets released right after, both to make sure no components overheat and to give a hypothetical human partner the familiarity of climax.

None of those things matter to Connor at the moment, as he lets himself just be, arms loosely resting around Markus’s shoulders as his interface boots back up, having almost completely shut off for a good few seconds.

There are no prompts, no queries, just the distant information in his ancillary processes about the state he is in, the temperature outside and other, completely inconsequential things that can and will be ignored. “…wow.” It’s all he has to say.

“Yeah.” Not that Markus is any more eloquent, leaning his face down to rest his forehead on Connor’s chest. Most of his systems have cooled down, but he still takes a deep breath to speed up the process. “I really want to say it, right now.”

They’re not interfacing anymore, but Connor has an idea of where this is going –his hold on the other’s shoulders tightens ever so slightly in anticipation. “…say what?”

There’s no hesitation when Markus speaks again, looking up at him with those damnably gorgeous blue and green eyes. “I love you.”

Connor closes his eyes. Unthinkable. Less than a year ago, it would have been unthinkable for him to even think about hearing such words directed to him –a machine, a destructive one at that, designed to hunt down and disable those who dared try to think for themselves… and now… he’s free instead. Free to oppose such disgusting orders. Free to exist as a person, free to be loved, and love in return. All thanks to the extraordinary being currently still in his arms.

“I love you too, Markus.”

And no psychopathic serial killer will ever take this from them.

Chapter Text

 

Interrogating the three tenants proves to be fruitless -each of them reports to have heard a different noise at a different time, which leads both Connor and Hank to draw the same conclusion:

"Wicked fucker wanted this body to be found, the noises were deliberate."

The account of the person who said to only have heard loud heavy metal music is consistent to the actual time of the crime, so the murderer might have used music to cover the potential sounds of a scuffle, but that doesn't tell them anything.

The HR400's previous owner also proves to be a dead end, a rich middle aged lady who hadn't seen her favorite boy-toy ever since the march on the city. She was actually still quite bitter about it and one of those people who don’t approve of android freedom in the slightest –Hank doesn’t blame the HR400 for never going back, jeez.

Connor speaks again with madam Laurenço, to try and track down the actual tenant through the transaction history and the like. She is surprisingly reluctant to talk; and only after reassuring her several times that she was not in trouble did she reveal why: the tenant in that particular flat was renting illegally, since the apartment was so rundown it wasn't up to security or hygiene standards... which meant of course that the tenant paid in cash, leaving an envelope in madam Laurenço's letterbox every month, and she pocketed it without having to declare it. Mrs Laurenço will have to face her conduct, but the DPD promised they’d be a bit more lax about it in exchange for full cooperation to the investigation.

In the meantime, though, that means that there's no transaction history to begin with, no tenancy agreement with a possible previous address, nothing. The landlady tells Connor the tenant said his name was John Doe, of all things.

Hank literally face-palms when he hears about it. A pathetically obvious fake name, no history, no fingerprints, nothing.

They have nothing to go on. Except the rA9 graffiti. But what can they possibly find out about a bunch of strokes of paint?

...wait a second. "Paint!"

Hank jumps slightly in his seat when he hears Connor cry out. "What?"

"The paint used to make the graffiti!" Connor says, standing to his feet suddenly, "He had to have bought it frequently or in large quantities! I have identified the specific color code in my memory bank, if we can track down who sells it and whether they've had any regular or big orders..."

"We may well have ourselves a lead." The Lieutenant smiles to himself and then at his partner, knowing where this is going. "Do you perchance know any painters?"

 

Hank had never seen Carl's house before, so Connor guesses his reaction is understandable. "Holy shit, this is a nice place!"

It doesn't make it any less embarrassing when the security system chimes at the door: «Alarm deactivated. Welcome home, Connor.» Hank is already laughing at him before the rest of the greeting. «Expected guest, Lieutenant Hank Anderson. Please enjoy your stay.»

They find Carl in the studio, sitting in his chair and dutifully shadowed by Thomas, while Leo sits in a corner strumming his guitar and Markus stands in front of the easel, trying to 'paint' Leo's music.

So far, it's a sea of green and yellows, looking slightly like river water reflecting leaves and petals fallen on the surface.

Connor is captivated for a second, as he usually is by Markus in thin clothes and covered in paint, so it falls to Hank to greet the home owner.

"Ah, two painters with one stone." He says, nodding at Markus and chuckling slightly when the RK200 briefly surges forward as if to go and kiss Connor but restrains himself, realizing that they are here in an official capacity. "We were just wondering if any of you two could help with our investigation."

"Investigation? What happened, is it dangerous?"

Connor is fast in taking Carl's hand and stroking it reassuringly. "No, Carl." He promises softly, albeit he sends a meaningful look in Markus's direction, "We're trying to track down a suspect, and our only clue is some paint that he used to make a bunch of graffiti.”

“We were hoping to trace a lead back to the suspect by finding out the paint supplier.” Hank glances at Leo, who is putting away his guitar and just sort of awkwardly standing there. “Should we take this somewhere else?”

“No.” Markus assures, glancing back at his step-brother, “Anything you can tell me, you can also tell Leo. Sensitive information won’t leave this room.”

Leo makes a half-sad and half-happy face at that, the type of expression of someone who wants to cry –knowing their past, Connor supposes he would also feel humbled by Markus’s trust, in the young Manfred’s shoes. He shakes his head and focuses. “The pigment used to paint the graffiti was an acrylic mixture, Hex code #864747.”

“That’s a Pantone 18-1438.” The RK200 recalls immediately, having bought colours for Carl for a long time. He turns to his father with a smile, “Bellini’s Marsala.

Privately, Hank is mildly jealous about androids being able to access this kind of information on the fly, it would make investigations so much easier. But then again, he guesses that’s why Connor is still working with the DPD even after the revolution. “You guys know who sells this?”

Carl shrugs slightly in his chair. “Well… several different colourists sell it… it can vary in quality and composition, but it’s everywhere…” he explains, making both detectives’ expressions fall slightly, “We could gauge the quality if it’s possible to look at these graffiti?”

That would mean divulging part of the evidence, but… it’s not like they have much choice.

While they set up, Leo grabs his guitar and moves to excuse himself: “This is clearly important. We’ll continue our music-painting another time.”

He gives Markus a one-armed hug, and clasps his father’s hand softly.

“Sorry for ruining the afternoon, Leo.” Connor tells him, once they get face to face.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” The young man shakes his head, before holding out his hand to shake, “And be safe, you hear me?”

The RK800 nods his goodbye, and then they move into the living room to use the television as a screen for the images.

Carl is pensive for a long time while looking at the graffiti –just the graffiti, Connor preferred to spare him from seeing the whole crime scene. “Markus, come look.” The painter says, eventually, “It’s been diluted slightly, but it didn’t run.”

Hank looks back and forth between the two. “Okay… what’s that mean for someone who doesn’t speak ‘artsy’?”

“Acrylic colours can be diluted to make them last longer, but that makes the substance more watery, so you risk having the color run down in droplets when painting vertical surfaces.” Markus explains, pointing at one of the graffiti, “In here, two different sets of writing overlay slightly, and you can see that a single layer is slightly more transparent compared to the place where two go over each other. Which means whoever painted this diluted the paint to be able to paint more areas with less product, but the paint didn’t run down in droplets, which means it’s a good quality acrylic, that dries fast and is still quite dense even after being diluted slightly.”

“So… expensive?”

Both painters nod at the Lieutenant. “Think mid to high price range.” Carl says, leaning back in his chair, “I can give you the names of some of the stores I buy my colours from.” He then turns to Markus: “Be a dear, take Connor back to the studio and see if I have any acrylics lying around so maybe we can give them a sample of that Marsala color…”

The RK200 gives Carl a mild look. Several dialogue options pop in his peripheral, but he shakes his head and says nothing. ‘Oh, Carl.’

But yeah, getting a sample of 18-1438 is kind of important, and two androids scanning the studio will be faster than one. He extends a hand to his boyfriend and Connor takes it.

Hank waits all of three seconds before caving and shaking his head.

“Jesus Christ, those two are hopeless.”

The painter laughs softly, stifling a cough, “I’d say they’ve been doing pretty well lately.”

Considering the state Connor came back home yesterday, all starry-eyed and happy, cooking an extra-nice dinner, taking Sumo for a nice long walk and making him find a nice set of clothes ironed and ready to wear this morning… Hank doesn’t really want to know. He clears his voice slightly. “So, uh… those paint suppliers?”

“Yes… my personal favorite is Bellini Paints, but there are a few others on the occasion I can’t quite find what I’m looking for there…”

Hank has four establishments on his list when Connor and Markus come back hand in hand, a small tube of acrylic in the detective’s free one.  Connor looks up at his boyfriend. “Anything else we should know?”

“Think large orders.” The RK200 says, “Acrylic color is usually sold in tubes or jars, but to cover that room like that, diluted or not, it would have had to be at least one litre of paint –especially acrylics: they’re nowhere near as long lasting as oils.” And that’s just for the one room. There have been four more that they know of.

Connor sends a look to Hank, with just a hint of a self-satisfied smile, and the Lieutenant shakes his head. “Alright kid, you don’t have to be smug about it.” He mutters good-naturedly, then turning to the hosts. “Thank you for the assistance, you really did us a solid.”

“Anytime.” Carl assures, stifling another little cough and calling for Thomas on his little touch pad, “If there’s anything else you might need, please do not hesitate.”

As the caretaker comes to take Carl back to bed, Markus, holds his father’s hand for a moment. “You go rest, I’ll see them out.”

Hank is already halfway out the door when Markus tugs Connor back to embrace him.

“Be careful, you hear me?”

Raising his hands to rest them behind the other’s shoulder-blades, Connor nods. “I promise I will.”

“And call often. You said it targets androids who are far from Jericho.” Markus doesn’t even want to think about the possibility of a psycho going after someone he loves, “And stay with Hank when you’re not with me.”

Warmth courses through Connor’s core as several scripts fire up altogether, trying to process all of the emotions he’s feeling, the awareness of Markus’s worry and love for him and how that makes him feel… it’s a mess and he actually has to take a breath to help along his cooling systems, but it’s so, so worth it. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that promise.”

“Fucking hell, you two are so disgustingly sweet I can’t even make fun of you!”

They separate with a laugh and eventually bid their goodbyes.

 

The fear and tension from the start of the investigation eventually fade away, considering no more bodies are found for the next few days; and while Connor and Hank have visited several colourists to little avail –Marsala is a common enough color to be bought quite often, but none of the purchases are big or frequent enough to narrow it down to a suspect. The Bellini paint clerk in the Greek District had something funny to say; apparently the EM400 who used to work the till before the revolution had gone off and taken several colours with him, a non-better definite amount of Marsala being among them… but their suspect is a human, so it could very well mean nothing.

Either way, they’re tracking down that EM400, if only to see whether he could have given the paint to someone else, for any reason –at least the store clerk was quite earnest in his attempt at helping however he could, and gave them all the info he could remember about the former android employee. And they have a few confirmed purchases to track down and sort out, that'll be better than nothing.

In the meantime, some of the neighbors of the most recent crime scene have been brought in for questioning. One man in particular being a subject of interest.

“Bah, I don’t understand why you’re caring so much about this! Who gives a fuck about a broken tin can?” A subject of interest, and a pain in the ass. Connor is staying carefully out of sight, letting Hank handle the interrogation in the room.

“We’re not asking your political opinion. We’re asking what you heard on the night the murder took place.” Poor Hank. He sounds so done with this guy.

“Yeah I heard a bunch of shitty metal crap.” The man is obviously not happy to be taken in, and not comfortable talking about androids as real people who can get murdered.

“And what were you doing at the time?”

Predictably, the question and its implications do not sit well with the man. “You’re tellin’ me I’m a suspect?!” he says, voice and stress levels rising, “I ain’t no sicko pervert, I ain’t touching any of them goddamn tin cans—” he tries to stand in outrage and, much to Connor’s surprise, Gavin puts a hand on the man’s shoulder and not too gently sits him back down.

“Listen, buddy, we couldn’t care less if you had the worst fetishes in the world all in one.” Detective Reed says, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, “We’re just trying to narrow down an investigation, and if you keep getting angry about it we can hold you for obstructing said investigation. Now, we can have a friendly chat about whatever it is you were doing on that night, or we can have a less friendly chat while we hold you until we can be certain you have nothing to do with this.”

The RK800 blinks at the scene. Did he just see that? On one hand, it doesn’t really mean anything other than Gavin being done with the man’s behaviour as well, but on the other hand… the Gavin he used to be wouldn’t have cared.

“Okay, okay, fine!” Either way, the man seems to cave.

They still don’t get much out of him. He was in his apartment at the time of the estimated time of the murder, and he was logged into a messaging platform writing hateful content on androids and expressing his dissatisfaction with the White House’s decision to approve the bill on the right to work for androids.

So the primary suspect is not this racist jackass, but a different racist jackass.

They sure have their work cut out for them.

Connor still stops Gavin on his way out. "Hey... thanks for that."

Reed blinks slightly at him for a second, before catching on to what the android means. He sort of shoulders past Connor but not really. "Don't flatter yourself." he mutters, a lot less vitriolic than usual, "I'm just doing my goddamn job."

Connor allows himself a tiny smile.

 

 

Back in Jericho things also haven’t stopped going forward, only in the past few days there are more and more gentle warnings about being safe and not going to places alone, especially for those who live in less than tolerant neighbourhoods; and of course the plea to check in every now and then and to report any hateful behaviour towards androids if they see it happening.

True to North’s words, Katrina has taken it upon herself to stress the importance of maintaining android dignity, not only for former sex workers, but for all of them. She’s been encouraging male and female androids alike to speak up about any mistreatments –Markus would not stand for any of it after all, and they can count on him as well as each other.

Said revolution leader is enjoying a moment of silence in his rooftop alcove, elbow-deep in paint.

«Are you excited for your trip to DC?» Well, almost silence.

The RK200 shakes his head at his lover’s voice. «Please, that’s in two weeks’ time. Are you trying to shorten my lifespan?»

«That would be a no, then?»

«Let’s just say I’m not too thrilled about meeting the woman that nearly ordered our extermination.» And who could blame him, really. He softens his voice as he sits back slightly in front of his canvas. «I miss you.»

«We saw each other just a few days ago!» Markus says nothing, knowing that Connor is not yet done talking. «…I miss you too.» There it is. rA9 save us all, they really are disgustingly sweet.

Not that it will stop Markus. He chuckles to himself and tries to think of something even sappier to say, but a brief static sound interrupts his train of thought.

«I have to take this, babe, it’s the DPD.» the RK800’s voice comes back on soon enough, «Talk to you soon?»

«Yeah, of course. Be safe out there.»

Their call cuts off with Connor saying “Love you!” as a goodbye, but Markus has been frozen in place by a slight moment of lag well before that.

…‘babe’?! His core doesn’t know whether to be amused, to be flustered or to just let himself malfunction slightly out of the overload of cute and tender emotions currently flooding his database –thank rA9 for his near-infinite processing power, or overheating might have been a serious problem.

His painting starts getting a whole lot more soft browns and reds in it.

 

Worryingly enough, the call was about another murder. Same type of rundown housing, same m.o., same graffiti, same lack of anything conclusive.

The victim is a male again, an AK700. Not designed to have intercourse, but with his jaw dislocated as well as a missing optical unit again. The right side one.

Baby blue eyes.

Connor has to briefly close his eyes to shove away from his interface a comparison with Markus.

He breathes in and out. Markus is not here. He is safe in Jericho. Hank’s voice grounds him a little, and the RK800 is thankful for the pat on his back. “Alright, let’s look around.”

The graffiti are in the same colour and style, rA9 written over and over, sometimes ‘rA9 save me’, other times ‘rA9 come for me’… the suspect really went out of their way to make it look like whoever was on the scene was an android –and not just any android, but one behaving like the first few ‘deviants’; barely coherent and obsessed with rA9.

Strategically, it’s not a bad move if you want to impersonate an android serial killer –obsession and deviancy could justify a software instable enough to drive an android to murder their own, and yet…

It’s not an android. It can’t be. The writing is not regular enough; it's someone who does eat, and who needs a hammer to smash the chassis of his victims.

But how does the murderer keep getting them in bed?

Connor struggles to believe coercion is a factor –even threatened with a hammer, an android is fairly stronger than a human; so unless there was also some kind of firearm involved in the threats, it would be relatively easy, especially for an android fighting for their life, to overcome a human and grab the weapon for themselves. “The victims were consenting, up to a point.”

“Say what?” the Lieutenant does not quite believe his ears.

“Who are they interrogating right now?”

The response officer snaps at attention. “Well, we found out that some of the people in this neighbourhood were involved in the attack at the fundraiser, so we’re starting with the most violent ones, the ones with a record and stuff…”

“It’s probably not going to be any of them.” Connor shakes his head, going up to one of the graffiti to try and swipe at it. A miniscule amount of pigment comes off –it’s recent, just barely dry… the murderer was here less than 6 hours ago. “The killer keeps getting or trying to get his victims in bed. Their pump regulator is always shattered by two fast hammer strikes at the back of their torso. No damage to the victims’ fingers or wrists indicates that the scuffle was either very brief or altogether non-existent: at some point, the victim willingly turned their back on the murderer.”

Hank is more than mildly disturbed at this point. “Talk about catching flies with honey… but why do you think it’s not one of those anti-androids people?”

Struggling to find the correct wording options, Connor takes out his quarter to fiddle with it slightly as a form of comfort. “Once you destroy or remove the pump regulator, you have roughly a minute and a half before the android shuts down. A time that the murderer uses to change the android’s colours to match his own to cover his tracks… all the colours except the eyes.” He briefly looks back at the destroyed AK700, “Now, it could be that eye color is such a small detail that he disregards it, perhaps not showing his own eye color at all when he comes and goes… or it could be that the killer has a… fascination with androids and their eyes. It’s the second time we’ve encountered a victim with a missing eye, as opposed to the times where something else was taken. And this is the second victim with an unusual eye color.” With a sudden realization, Connor catches his quarter mid-throw, “Actually, I’ll bet you anything that the other parts taken had something special about them, too. Let’s finish up here and go back to the station!”

Pulling up all the murder photos attributed to the hammer killer so far, together with the list of missing body parts, is like a bad trip down memory lane. It’s been a while since Hank has had to deal with a string of murders that also involved sexual violation and mutilation all in one.

But it serves to prove Connor right: the model who was found without her skin chip supposedly had an ‘exotic’ colour range, according to build notes, the sex model found without a voice box was obviously built to have a range of peculiar tones and accents, a masseuse model was found without its hands, the previous one to this most recent finding was missing a nice green eye, and the very first one, chronologically, was missing its entire head.

It’s the only one that doesn’t quite justify the mutilation, but there was probably something about the android’s head that was unusual and valuable to the killer.

“So we’re not dealing with a racist sicko trying to make ‘justice’ for themselves.” Hank concludes, once they finish reviewing all the evidence, “We’re dealing with a perverted sicko with an obsession for ‘special’ androids.”

Special androids. Connor’s mind instantly goes to Katrina and North, both beautiful and with exotic accents and colours. He has to warn Markus and the others.

Anderson catches the worry on the kid’s face and glances at the clock –they’ve been poring over this long enough that it’s well over the time they should leave. “Let’s get home. I need dinner and a shower, then I can drive you to your boyfriend’s place.”

 

Upon reaching Jericho, Connor is slightly disappointed not to find Markus in.

“You just missed him, he went out to buy more paintbrushes or something.” Lexie tells him, much warmer towards him after meeting Sumo that one time, “Hey when’s the next time you can bring your dog?”

The detective smiles despite all his worries. “Hopefully soon—” he spots North and Katrina entering the hall hand in hand and waves at them. “Hey!”

“Oh, hey, what’s happening?” the blonde asks, puzzled to see Connor so agitated.

“Thank heavens you’re safe.” The RK800 sighs, “There have been new discoveries in the investigation. Our killer isn’t just some extremist with a grudge. He is obsessed with androids. The more ‘exotic’ and ‘peculiar’ the better. So please, please be safe. At least until the investigation is done, never go anywhere alone.”

“Peculiar… shouldn’t you be careful as well? You’ve been advertised as a special prototype left, right and center during the revolution.”

Connor balks slightly at North’s worry for him –she was the hardest one to win over, even after the Jericho raid– but he shakes his head. “I’m practically constantly surrounded by police officers, and the times I’m not I’m either here or at Carl’s. I doubt the killer would step into such a spotlight.”

“Well you never know. Look after yourself!”

Still, it pulls a smile from his face: “Have you been talking to Markus?”

Even Katrina giggles at that: “He’s worried about you.” She says, hiding the laughter behind her hand.

North seems less amused: “Actually, do us all a favor and go wait for him on the roof? That way you can surprise him and maybe he will calm down for a couple of hours.”

The two WR models usher Connor upstairs with twin smiles, right before North collapses into Katrina’s arms, hiding her face in her girlfriend’s shoulders. “Ugh, this is bullshit!”

Several queries and scripts are rearing their ugly head. ‘This is not fair’ / kick something / ‘Who will be next’ / ‘How many times do we have to be targeted’ / release tears to cool off interface? / ‘Why do these things keep happening?’ / hug Katrina /

“Hey. North… hey.” The brunette’s voice manages to make some of the prompts recede, but North has indeed started crying a little. “I want you to do something for me, ok?”

“Yes?”

“I want you to run an internal database search, with the keywords ‘snakes in hats’.”

The WR400 has to blink her tears away at that. “…what?”

“Just trust me.”

Unable to resist Katrina’s gentle urging, North runs the search query. The most relevant results are disarmingly cute. “Oh no, this one has a little cowboy hat!” she mumbles, still unsure of why she’s looking at them but voice breaking in a giggle at the next one, “This one is ready for a party… and the one with the little crown, oh no!”

Katrina just watches her expression change between results, holding her girlfriend silently for several more moments. “Feeling better?”

Just now realizing what the other has just done, North breaks into a smile. “A little.” She concedes, stealing a quick kiss, “Thank you.”

“It’s something I do when I feel like too many bad things are going on. It calms me down.” Katrina explains, letting North hold her some more, “I used to do it back before…” her sentence trails off, going in a direction neither of them wants to remember. Closing her eyes, Katrina shakes her head slightly. “Either way, Connor is on the case. And we have each other. Everything will be alright.”

North just kisses her again. ‘I really hope so.’

 

“Hey, Markus!”

“Hey, Jackie!” the RK200 smiles as he enters the Bellini shop –he’s used to getting recognized, but the people here recognize him for entirely different reasons, “You’re getting more hours, or is it just me?”

“Well, you know us humans… we need money to buy food!” the clerk says with a laugh, watching as Markus walks around the small store looking at this and that, “What can I get you today?”

“Oh I’m just after a set of flat tipped brushes. I’ve worn out mine already.”

“Right on!” the clerk opens his drawers and starts splaying out some options, “So have those gallery people coerced you into exposing some works yet?”

Markus shakes his head, biting his lower lip. “I don’t know… most of my paintings are too… personal.”

“Well, I for one would love to see them!” Jackie says, patting the android’s hand courteously, “I’m your biggest fan!”

“Oh gosh I really hope not.” Markus jokes, regarding the human briefly, “Some of those are overenthusiastic enough that if that was true I’d feel compelled to change colourists!”

They share a good laugh over that, and the clerk packs up Markus’s order before taking payment. “Let’s say I’m a fan of your art, then.”

“That I can live with. Thank you, as usual.”

“No, thank you!” The usual customer – service person back and forth, if strangely reversed in this particular occasion. “Oh, and Markus?”

The RK200 turns just before going out the door: “Yes?”

“Two DPD detectives were here a while ago. Did something happen?”

Markus weighs the pros and cons of needlessly worrying a human. He shakes his head. “It’s… just another investigation, Jackie. Everything will be alright.”

 

Needless to say, Markus is very pleasantly surprised to find Connor waiting for him sitting at the piano bench, in all the glory of dark jeans and the baggiest, longest-sleeved stripy blue t-shirt.

Looking deceptively soft, enough for the prompt ‘Look at him – he’s so soft! Squish him!’ to pop up. Markus follows the prompt without thinking twice.

“Hey there—”

For the second time in very few days, Connor brings up his hand on his boyfriend’s arm and opens the interfacing. Markus feels all of his unease and worry, and tries to soothe it with his own feelings as best as he can.

The information that floods through their open connection is quite troubling indeed, especially the part about Connor having to chase a killer with an android obsession, but Markus closes his eyes and holds Connor to his chest.

“I don’t want you to go anywhere until I’ve caught this bastard.”

Oh, Connor. The RK200 tries to diffuse with a joke. “Then you better find him before I have to go to DC.”

To Markus’s credit, Connor only glares at him for a second before actually chuckling. “Is that a challenge? I always accomplish my mission.”

“Really, now?” the other android bites back a smirk, “I can think of one that did not quite go as planned…”

“What are you talking about? My mission was to find you, and I did.”

Definitely disgustingly sweet. “You did.” Markus concedes with a smile, leaning down ever so slightly to steal a kiss. “You still on to come to Carl’s this weekend?”

“I wouldn’t miss it. I like Carl.” Connor relaxes in the embrace, just what he needs every time the horrors from work get to be too much –he would probably be overloaded with tension and looping scripts if it wasn’t for Markus’s presence, “I’m always on call right now because of the investigation, so I’ll have to leave suddenly in case something comes up, but other than that, I’ll be there.”

 

The two don’t get to enjoy their solitude too long, unfortunately: there’s things to be done and people to talk to –unfortunately Josh has come up blank with most of the victims; they managed to track down the previous owners and not only two out of five are dead while the other three have either no connection or no motive, but all of the androids who were murdered never really were in the first Jericho base.

The only thing connecting the victims is that they all had some ‘special’ traits, which the killer meticulously harvests.

Connor flicks his coin this and that way, as he walks home, to try and give all his tension an outlet –North is right, he is a target too… Cyberlife’s most advanced prototype, the first ever android detective and all…

He clenches his fist when he last catches his quarter from the last throw, a steely glare focusing on the empty road in front of him.

A part of Connor almost hopes the killer would try to get to him –if only for the chance to flex his fists a little.

The serial murderer who lures androids in bed before taking a hammer to them…

I’d like to see you try, you bastard.

He's so immersed in thinking about the many ways he could and would take down the suspect that he nearly scares Sumo away with his expression when he gets home.

Chapter Text

 The 'hammer killer' investigation is becoming a frustrating topic at the DPD. They have very scarce leads, so little that some people are starting to question whether they're looking for a human at all. After all, how likely is it that in six separate crime scenes there hasn’t been a speck of dna?

“It's not that unusual.” Markus comments to a very stressed out Connor, the day he goes to see him during his break -and really, Markus needed the break as well: they're all preparing for this trip to DC to meet Madam President and, albeit they try to seem casual about it, Connor knows they're all quite stressed out now that it's less than a week away. “Put a pair of gloves on my paint smock, grab a cotton mouth-mask and it's basically a hazmat suit!”

Seeing the suddenly frozen expression on the RK800's face, Markus brings a hand to his chin. “Connor?”

Of course. The sexual violation wasn’t physical, it wasn’t about pleasure. It was about power and submission, it was ritualistic. That’s why there was no dna and no fluids, the murderer never even took off their clothes. “Shit, Markus, your boyfriend is a moron!”

Markus would have laughed at the statement, but Connor circles his waist very low on his back and lifts him up, taking him by surprise and stealing a kiss from his half-opened lips as he puts him back down.

“Whatever happened to not doing this right in front of the DPD station?” the RK200 asks with a chuckle.

Connor laughs –it’s such a light and carefree sound, Markus adores being able to make him laugh. It’s moments like this that make it all worth it: the struggle with deviancy, the hard choices, demonstrating peacefully at the risk of his own life… to be able to live, and love, and hear the one he loves laugh, free

Auburn butterflies with light blue spots. There’s another painting idea. But his boyfriend starts speaking again, so Markus’s eyes go back to his: “It’s a police station, babe.” The RK200’s lips turn up at the corners upon hearing the pet name. Connor doesn’t seem to realize he’s doing it. “Most of them figured us out after your third visit. They don’t mind.”

“Lucky us.” Markus noses his way up Connor’s cheek, before putting a more respectable distance between them to walk him back inside.

“Frankly…” Connor says, barely biting back his amusement, “I’m far more concerned about your horde of online admirers and what they could do once they find out I’ve stolen you for myself.”

“Hey!” the other android shoves him slightly as they reach the desk, “Don’t you have some work to do?”

Connor knows he should maybe feel a little bad at Markus’s embarrassment with his not-quite-unwanted-but-almost following, but it’s just too endearing to see him get like that. He sits at his desk obediently, but leans his temple on one hand while watching Markus become all flustered. “I love it when you’re pissed at me. It makes you real.”

The eternally unperturbed, calm and diplomatic Markus is for press, politicians and stuffy gallery people. The Markus who curses, never wears his suits properly and shoves at him is just for Connor –and his friends, but mostly him.

Case in point, the way the RK200 pinches Connor’s nose and tugs his face side to side: “Stop having dirty fantasies about me at your desk and get back to work.” He whispers sultrily, knowing full well that he just implanted a fantasy in Connor’s mind by saying that. “You’re looking for a painter, someone with access to the financial resources necessary to keep a studio clean and free of contaminating agents. Someone that wouldn’t look too odd buying large quantities of high quality paint.”

The detective nods at the reminder, but he does bite back a smirk as Markus pointedly puts a finger to his lips instead of meeting the kiss he was leaning back up for.

“My God, get a room!”

Oops. That’s Gavin. Still a shithead in Markus’s humble opinion, but getting better.

The two androids don’t say anything, but the RK200 winks at his partner before taking his leave –making a point to be quite generous with the sway in his walk. Connor would follow that back to the depths of hell and, judging by the way several heads turn in the wake of that walk, so would several other people.

“Jeez, for a pacifist he doesn’t pull his punches.”

The RK800 has to whip around and reprimand himself –his sound unit picked up the sounds of Hank returning, but his primary processes were still focused on Markus, while his secondary units registered the rest of the world… which is probably relatable, but still. “I— I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hank, I’m focused and ready to continue working.” He has to scramble for dialogue options for a second because there’s a ‘hate to see him go but love to watch him leave’ joke that keeps trying to pop up, but he is a professional, and he does manage to focus mostly effortlessly. “Markus actually just gave us a pretty useful insight, here; let me show you what he said—”

Thanks to Markus’s input they manage to narrow down the list of suspects from all the people who have ever bought the Marsala acrylic paint to one man. Connor recognizes the name: Alexandr Volkov, a gallery director and former artist himself, has purchased three large jars of Marsala color a little more than four months ago. He was at the fundraiser that Meredith hosted, not too long ago… The detective remembers him calling out to both Markus and Leo, and overhearing words about his fascination with android freedom and the concept of creativity in androids.

A rich, eccentric middle-aged man who is interested in androids and has way too much time on his hands –also proficient enough in the craft that he would be able to replicate fonts to an almost millimetre-like perfection. It’s as likely a suspect as anyone else.

Connor’s thirium pump starts working double time as a sense of dread coils around his core and sends all sorts of alarming possibilities in his mind. He looks back up at Hank: “We’ve been looking at this the wrong way.”

The Lieutenant seems to be on the same page: “We estimated a victim pattern based on the models of the bodies found…”

“Correct.” The RK800 intercepts, “But those bodies were not simply left –they were discarded, once whatever it was that made them ‘special’ was removed.” North and Katrina are… not in danger, because a model with their special traits has already been ‘harvested’.

Hank runs a hand on his forehead and then through his hair. “Well, shit. The serial killer is not taking simple mementos of his victims… he’s a collector.”

They definitely ought to pay this gallery guy a visit. Easier said than done, apparently –as a prominent name in the art scene, it’s obvious that the man’s quite busy, but Fowler assures them that by tomorrow he’ll have a date and a time for them to go and see what Volkov is up to.

Connor doesn’t like it, because tomorrow is also the day he goes to Carl’s with Markus; which means he’ll probably have to cut the visit short, but… work is work.

 

“You don’t have to worry, love.” Markus tells him as they walk to the front door hand in hand, “Carl knows your work is important… you’re risking your neck to keep the rest of us safe, you’re practically a hero.”

There’s a lot of things Connor would say to that, starting off with how he doesn’t feel like a hero at all, considering his ultimately extremely messy role in the revolution, but one thing jumps to the forefront of his mind: “…love?”

Knowing all too well what the RK800 was actually asking, Markus just blinks innocently at him. “Yes?”

“Markus!”

“What? You’ve been calling me ‘babe’ for the past four days; don’t I get a pet name, too?”

Connor stops halfway through shoving his boyfriend. “I have..?” he asks, recalling their recent conversations, “…shit, I have!”

It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the morning if he’s already feeling like his thirium pump regulator is pushing butterflies rather than liquid through him… but Carl smiles warmly at them, still trying to hide how much weaker he’s gotten; and paying compliments to Meredith’s nice summer dress and the fact that she managed to get Leo to clean up so well, too… hiding his pain and the fatigue of old age. Nonetheless, Connor feels his worries melt away, in a corner of his mind reserved for ‘later’.

The day starts in bed, or sitting beside it, but Leo did bring his guitar again.

Meredith eyes her boyfriend, then Markus and then nods towards the piano bench. “Come on boys, are we having this jam session or not?”

Both musicians look at each other uncertainly. She probes once more: “Come on, who’s the old man here, really?” She gently pats Carl’s shoulder, “I bet Carl is ready to rock it out!”

The painter is barely able to sit up for more than three hours, but she has sensed the slightly flat atmosphere and wishes to liven it up –and also, privately, she just wants to give Carl as many happy memories as possible before his time comes.

The others seem to understand this as well, and Connor makes way for Markus to sit at the piano, while Leo stays where it is, sitting on the edge of Carl’s mattress but taking his guitar in his lap.

Markus nods at Leo to start, and the young man goes for an easy swing arpeggio. The RK800 starts making some chords for it, and the melody comes out well enough with the guitar as point and the piano as backup.

“Come on, Connor.” Meredith says at one point, holding her hand out, “Take a girl to dance.”

The detective blinks. “Me? I— I’ve never—”

“Don’t worry, it’s super easy.” She assures, already taking him by the hand and moving on the square space between the bed and the balcony, “You have an extensive database, don’t you? Do a quick search, and then just wing it!”

Improvisation is still not Connor’s forte –he’s adaptable, for sure, but having no structure whatsoever is something that always makes him slightly nervous. Still, it takes him 0.7 seconds to search for swing moves and techniques and memorize them. Their space is a bit cramped, so there won’t be any room for excessively complex maneuvers, but they fall into rhythm easily enough that halfway through the song they separate, just enough to give Meredith the time to solo-step her way to Leo and give him a quick kiss on the cheek, to which the guitarist makes an exaggerate, enamoured reaction.

Carl claps his hand to the rhythm, smiling happily the whole time, Thomas even taps his foot lightly, standing patiently by the door on the other side of the room; and at the end Connor makes a quick calculation of how much space they have before deciding to finish it with a flourish: he picks Meredith up, lets her swing her leg around him, and dips her forward with her feet still in the air, legs supported safely by Connor’s side and arm.

She laughs heartily and all of them clap enthusiastically.

“Well, I know what I’m gonna ask you the next time we’re both free.” Markus’s voice is warm, liquid caramel, and Connor gets reminded of a different occasion during which he heard that tone. A spontaneous script starts up, and never before has the detective been so glad he can just stop a script and delete the temporary prompt –it would have been terribly awkward for a human, in front of his father in law and all. No one seems to have noticed his moment of lag, and they all sit back down.

Leo snaps his fingers in disappointment: “Oh damn, I wish we had set up a camera!”

“I have taken the liberty to record the whole thing.” Thomas then reveals, shifting slightly from foot to foot, “I’m sorry for my boldness, but I’d figured you would appreciate the memento.”

That earns him a hug from Leo, who’s most definitely not teary-eyed; and Carl was just about to ask for an encore when Connor’s LED flashes yellow.

Markus’s smile is dampened slightly by worry: “The DPD?”

“Yes.” The RK800 confirms, “They’ve secured a time slot to go visit Volkov –I have to go.”

He is making the round for the goodbyes, when Carl grasps his arm: “Take what you see with a pinch of salt, Connor.” He… warns? The detective isn’t sure, “Volkov is a shady old jackass, but that alone doesn’t make him a criminal.”

“I’ll be careful.” Connor assures, “Thank you, Carl.”

Obviously, Markus walks him to the door-and Connor kisses him goodbye for what is probably a somewhat longer amount of time than needed, but hey. Nobody is there to tell him he can’t.

 

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, gentlemen?”

Mr. Volkov’s house is about as spacious as Carl's, but his decorating choices are much… louder than the soft wooden tones of the Manfred residence. Hank feels extremely out of place in his hippie shirt and canvas jacket –he’d wager that so does Connor, the baggy hoodie aesthetic not quite matching up to the lavish décor.

The interiors look minimalistic at a first glance, all tall glass windows, polished staircases and light colored, shiny wooden floors, but the rounded, sunken couch in the middle of the living room’s floor spells douchebag from miles away. Hank has to be courteous through his teeth. “Nothing too bad, Mr. Volkov, we just need to ask a couple of questions about some of your recent purchases.”

Both detectives are quite taken aback when a CX100 in a butler uniform comes to accompany them further into the house and offer drinks, unpleasant flashbacks coming forward for Hank and Connor alike.

The gallerist chuckles at what must be an obvious reaction on both their faces. “Please, do not be alarmed.” He assures, perfectly poised in his white button-up, dark trousers and red silk lounge robe, “Adam is here of his own volition, we met well after the march on Detroit; and our… arrangement, is mutually beneficial.” Volkov brushes Adam’s forearm ever so slightly, the android turns to look at him with a barely concealed smile and oh. He’s not a butler at all. “He works as my studio assistant, sometimes he models for me. He is adequately compensated for his work.”

Hank has to physically refrain from cringing as words like ‘kept boy’ and ‘sugar daddy’ enter his mind –he is struggling not to feel repulsed. It’s probably uncalled for, both parties seem well aware, consenting and happy with the arrangement, but still… it draws an uncomfortable parallel to his and Connor’s situation —even though he knows all too well that he’s basically adopted Connor as a real son and he’s nothing like this sleazy gallery magnate. He accepts the scotch glass and downs the contents in one go, glancing at Connor.

Whether he has drawn any parallels or the whole concept just flew over his sometimes sill naïve head, the RK800 doesn’t show a reaction. “Mr. Volkov, we are investigating a lead involving large purchases of a particular color of paint. An 18-1438 Marsala acrylic.” He starts, cold and to the point, “We have in our registers that you have recently made a large order for it. May we ask what for?”

Volkov leans back in his chair with a laugh. “What does a man use paint for? Painting, obviously.”

“Painting what?”

The gallerist’s eyes roam over Connor’s form slightly longer than necessary, before he replies. “I’m afraid that is private, dear boy.”

“With all due respect, sir…” The RK800 is starting to lose his patience with this guy already. “This is a police investigation. If whatever you have been doing with the paint is of no consequence to our case, it will remain confidential as we’d have no reason to divulge or even record private information, if said information is utterly useless and inconsequential.”

Hank glances sideways at his partner –did he just tell a very wealthy and influential gallery director that he couldn’t give any less shits about his art if he tried? ‘I’m so proud of you, son.’

For his part, Volkov doesn’t seem offended in the slightest. “Oh, this one has spunk.” From his perch on the sofa’s backrest, Adam chuckles quietly behind a hand. Not having taken his eyes off Connor for a moment, the gallerist suddenly raises his eyebrows. “Now I recognize you… you’re the one that was with Markus at the fundraiser. The very heroic one who took a bullet for everybody’s favorite android painter.”

“I— yes. Please, can we focus on the reason we’re here for?” Connor has a slight stutter for a moment, having to shove away some decidedly not diplomatic dialogue options, like ‘don’t say Markus’s name in that way’ / ‘what’s it to you’ / ‘leave my boyfriend out of this’…

Together for little more than a couple of weeks and he’s already this possessive. Hank is right, he is absolutely smitten.

Focus.

Once more, a gentle pat on his shoulder by Hank keeps him calm and grounded. He nods silently at the man and the Lieutenant tries to steer the conversation back on track: “We assure you, Mr. Volkov, we have no intention of violating your privacy. We’re just ruling out names. It’s really in your best interest to show us your paint if you still have any, and if not what you’ve done with it.” He says, trying to be courteous but also staying firm, “The sooner you do that, the sooner we’re out of your hair.”

Volkov considers it for a couple of seconds. “Very well.” He eventually relents, standing up and beckoning to Adam to follow, “Please understand, I have been working on this piece for months, and it’s very dear to me. It will be revealed as part of a charity auction, and I’m already devastated at the idea of parting with it.”

They move from the living room to a huge studio –possibly bigger than Carl’s, and just as messy. There on the side wall, there is a huge canvas –six metres by three– painted almost entirely in the Marsala color Carl gave them a swatch of. In some places it has obviously been mixed with other acrylic colors, but Connor can see how such a big portrait would take so much paint.

The portrait itself it’s almost semi-abstract, rough strokes of paint with barely any definite edges, but amidst the sea of Marsala red emerges a sitting white figure, their bare back to the observer and just the head tilted ever so slightly sideways. In Connor’s mind it doesn’t compare to Markus’s paintings, but Volkov is good enough of an artist that even with the vague style it would have been obvious the model for the painting was Adam without the need to paint the LED indicator on his temple as the sole drop of aqua blue in all the red.

A giant nude portrait of his lover. However tasteful the picture itself is, the whole thing starts feeling uncomfortable for Connor on so many levels.

“Yep.” Hank says, and a quick scans of his stress levels tells the RK800 the Lieutenant is just as uncomfortable as he feels, “That’s a whole lot of paint. And uh, this is obviously very private. So sorry to take up your time, and uh… we’ll be on our way.”

“It’s no bother at all.” Volkov assures as he walks them amiably to the door, “And… Connor, was it?”

“Yes?” the android would really like to get the hell out of dodge, but since this is clearly not their man, he can give him the benefit of the doubt.

A business card gets held out to him. “If you would ever be open to the idea of modelling for a painting, please do let me know. I’m always looking for stunning muses.”

“Excuse me?!”

“You can ask Markus if you don’t believe me. I tried asking him as well, but he keeps saying that he’s better suited to being behind the easel rather than in front of it.”

Connor’s processors nearly come to a screeching halt. rA9 save us all, what a creep. So many emotions rise up in him that he has to do a quick filtering of the dialogue prompts just to clear up his interface. “I’m… flattered…” he’s really not, but he went with the diplomatic option, “But I have to respectfully decline.”

The two detectives bid their goodbye pretty fast after that.

“I technically don’t need to shower and I feel unclean.” Connor says, as soon as they reach the car.

Hank spends the rest of the drive trying not to laugh at his son.

“Well, that was a bust.” He says once they get home, plopping himself on the couch.

Connor is reeling. The meeting with Alexandr Volkov has been disturbing in more than one way: for one, he was not looking at the bigger picture –the gallerist’s words made him re-evaluate potential victims: a serial killer collecting ‘special’ android victims… the most special of them all being constantly under everyone’s eyes.

One part of him thinks it’s ridiculous, Markus is way too much of a public figure and almost never alone; he’s going to DC soon to meet the President herself, for crying out loud, and the White House is sending a private jet! No one in their right mind would target someone like that.

The other part of him, the one that feels secretly possessive every time he hears people gushing online about Markus, the one that violently tore down his basic coding to destroy the unfair directive and join the other in what he knew was the right thing to do… the rawer, more protective part of Connor worries.

Maybe it’s time to actually get serious about this, shake the dust off his ‘always accomplishing a mission’ side. “Hank…”

“What?”

“We could try reactivating one or more of the victims and see if they remember anything.”

The Lieutenant whips around to look at him from the couch –Connor’s gaze is lost in front of him, but there’s steely determination in it. Old tactics sometimes are the best, but it wouldn’t exactly be… humane. “Would it be worth it?” he asks, remembering how little time they scrounged up with the Traci back at the Eden Club.

“Maybe, maybe not.” The RK800 mumbles, not quite letting up, “With how little we have found out, it would be worth it even if I just try and interface to extract data instantly.”

“Woah, whoa, doesn’t that make you… feel what they felt?” Hank remembers well Connor’s traumatized face when he witnessed Simon’s death while in his shoes. But looking at the boy now, he simply gets reminded that while Cyberlife designed the RK800 to be as friendly and non-threatening as possible in terms of looks, Connor is still a hunter by nature, and his gaze doesn’t waver as he answers:

“I’ll deal with it.”

Christ, kid.” Well, then. How to contest such conviction? Hank fishes his phone out of his pocket; and shoots Connor a look: “But we’re doing this tomorrow, ok? I need my 4 hours.”

 

Fowler has mixed feeling about authorizing the first ever android autopsy –for lack of a better term, but Hank is bright and early at the station that morning, Connor faithfully in tow.

When a third set of feet falls into step with them, the RK800 doesn’t even turn his head. “Not today, Reed.”

Gavin clicks his tongue out of habit. “Hey, I don’t wanna spend any more time with you than I have to, either, but…” he shoves a tablet into the android’s hands, “Someone had to give you the heads up. You might be famous.”

Oh. It would seem Markus’s enthusiastic fanbase has finally picked up on their relationship. There’s a quite incriminating picture from the other day, when he lifted Markus up basically by the thighs –it’s blurry, but if you know what Markus normally looks like it’s quite obvious it’s him.

Then there’s pictures of them together at the fundraiser –there were journalists everywhere so Connor is not surprised at the higher quality. One is of them well before the attack, mingling with Leo and Meredith, and one was obviously taken well after, with a delightfully ruffled Markus and himself with his usual composure but still slightly tense behind the eyes.

In both photos, Markus is smiling at him –he once more laughs at his own naiveté: he hadn’t thought even remotely possible that he would feel romantically for someone, let alone for someone to have feelings for him… which made him miss the very obvious looks Markus seems to have been sending him in these pictures. Hindsight is 20/20 for androids as well, apparently.

The media is, predictably, having a field day about it. Does the ever elusive Markus have a secret love? Is it even true? Who is this mysterious person? Articles and comments are agitated to the point of being endearing, and Connor has to laugh at some of them –oh no, it seems he is also on the receiving end of amounts of appreciation yet to define.

“Some guy tried to come in and ask gossipy questions. Chris sent his ass on the way with a gentle warning, but you know… heads up.”

Connor can’t quite believe this. Gavin Reed going slightly out of his way to do something decent for him. Him, of all people. “Th—”

“Don’t.” Gavin grits out, shaking his head, “Don’t thank me. Fuckers interfere with our job, is all.”

As they watch him walk away, Hank smirks to himself. “Would you look at that? Maybe there’s some hope for that asshole yet.”

They share a look. All of them have come a long way since the revolution, some sooner than others, but to see that even the most obtuse fucktruck in the entire police station was slowly coming around… it surely is refreshing.

“Let’s get the nasty part of this shift out of the way.”

They chose the most recent of their finds to examine, if only because much less time has passed for the killer to have tampered with it. With his thirium pump regulator shattered and missing an optical unit, the AK700 will be disoriented and barely conscious, possibly in pain and for little more than a minute, if that.

Connor feels unease rise in his systems, standing as he is in front of the morgue table. He nods at Hank, if a little shakily, and they start the procedure –recording every step of it considering it’s a first.

Hank inputs the date and time on the recorder, and Connor starts talking. “This is detective Connor Anderson, initiating autopsy procedure on the deceased AK700 concerning case 160B.” he pushes the needed latches in the android’s stomach, letting the panel recede and opening his chest cavity. “I am opening the subject’s chest cavity and will disconnect his primary surface sensors, to lessen the subject’s pain as much as possible upon prompted reactivation. The subject’s thirium pump regulator and socket are completely shattered; he will only stay active for about 63 seconds before permanently shutting down again.”

A very distant part in the back of Hank’s head is on the verge of tears at the sound of Connor using his last name for lack of any other one, but the Lieutenant focuses on the task at hand as he sees the AK700 shudder back to life with a gasp –and with humans being used to having no second chances, however brief, it’s the stuff of horror movies to see it happen like that.

The RK800 wastes no time in gripping the subject’s forearm to try and probe his memory. What he finds there makes him gasp and grit his teeth.

Seeing Connor lurch minutely forward, Hank surges towards him, hands outstretched but unsure on what to do. “What! Connor, what is it, what are you seeing?!”

“It’s… empty.” He lets go just as the AK700 fades back into complete stillness, and steps back forcefully, backing into Hank’s chest. “There was… there was nothing but static, his memory had been completely wiped!”

Instinctively, the Lieutenant has grabbed Connor by the arms and he can feel it. The poor boy is trembling –Hank was right, this is very reminiscent of that one time when they chased Simon on the roof. Damn it. Hank can’t even begin to imagine what was it like to feel somebody else’s death as if happening to him… and this? Entering someone’s mind expecting there would be a mind to find; and instead experiencing… nothing? A static void?

…shit, it might have been worse than the sensation of dying.

“I’m… I’m okay.” Connor eventually mumbles, not feeling okay by a long shot, but having regained his wits enough to compose himself. He clears his voicebox. “The… the subject’s memory has been erased completely, likely moments after the destruction of his thirium pump. It’s likely all the others have suffered the same fate. I will now close the subject’s chest cavity and the subject will be returned to the morgue unit.”

It was, strangely enough, one of the first things Markus asked for, right after the revolution: dignity in death. The facilities haven’t been finished by any stretch of the definition, but what used to be android junkyards are slowly being re-structured into cemeteries.

Knowing what he knows now, Connor thinks it’s no surprise at all –he wouldn’t want anyone else to have such a hellish experience either.

He shakes his head to bring himself back to the here and now. This whole endeavour gave them nothing but more horror to try and forget. It was, to borrow Hank’s words, a complete bust.

Well, at least no one can say they’re not trying everything.

Connor is silent for the entire time they spend back at their desk, trying to trace back more paint orders with the access Bellini and the other three establishments gave them. Hank’s eyes keep drifting back to him from his side of the monitor, and at one point he finally relents: “Okay, kid, I’m excusing you for the rest of the day. Take a walk.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” The Lieutenant says gruffly, “I need you with a clear head for this investigation –that shit we just did can’t have been easy. Take a walk. Go to your boyfriend or whatever.”

The implied ‘you need to talk this out with someone who understands’ is implicit, and gratitude floods Connor’s systems. He tries to soldier through it. “I can manage—”

“Sure you could. But I’ll feel better if instead of ‘managing’ you’re in top form.” Hank interrupts, waving his hand at him, “Go.”

“Thanks, Hank.” Not for the first time, Connor wonders where he would be without Lieutenant Anderson.

 

He goes to Jericho without thinking twice, and he’s already hugging Markus in his room before he even realizes he had never been in there before, considering the RK200 spends 99% of his time in his rooftop alcove.

“Connor—” Markus barely gets a word in before Connor kisses him, hard and desperate, with enough force to make him stumble back and brace both his hands around Connor’s waist. “Love, what happened?”

The RK800 softly shakes his head, hiding his face in Markus’s neck. “I… I needed some peace.” He mumbles, tightening his hold around the other’s torso, “I needed to feel you –to feel —alive.”

Markus’s worry only increases, as Connor lifts his face back up to kiss him on the lips again and again, chastely but with purpose. “Connor… talk to me…” he tries, in between kisses, but the RK800 seems intent on doing anything but.

“Later. I promise.” He says, backing Markus into the armchair in the corner of the room, “For now… let me have this… please.”

Perhaps it’s weakness on his part, but Markus can’t bring himself to refuse when Connor pushes him down on the chair and then straddled his lap. He doesn’t fight it when the RK800 pulls at his t-shirt until it’s over his head and discarded in a corner, he doesn’t fight it when Connor’s mouth trails kisses and bites over his collarbones and shoulders, leaving his surface sensors still tingling with the feeling, and he definitely doesn’t fight Connor’s hands on his belt.

Markus helps his lover divest as well, just the bare minimum necessary to still be able to do this without breaking contact –and while a fond chuckle escapes him at Connor’s passionate drive, there’s worry in the back of his head about what could have prompted such a need for contact and reassurance.

It’s a feat of concentration and a true testament to his very high processing power, as Connor nearly makes him lose it once he lowers himself on top of him, but Markus manages to entwine his fingers with Connor’s, even as they move together, and send a subtle interfacing prompt.

The feedback loop is nearly enough to kick him over the edge –being able to feel Connor’s love and pleasure as well as his own is maddening, but there’s so much more in the RK800’s emotions right now… worry, frustration, and a desperate need for closeness. The shared connection eventually sends them toppling over the line and they collapse together on the chair, leaning forehead against forehead and letting themselves feel their primary sensors slowly come out of the blissful white noise of completion.

“Don’t think I didn’t see what you did there.”

“I didn’t have many choices…” Markus whispers softly, porcelain white hiding back under amber polymer as he strokes Connor’s hand with his thumb, “I worry.”

Connor eventually does tell Markus what happened, as they hold each other a little while longer, and it does serve to comfort him a little. Markus is understanding and wise and wonderful in all the ways Connor never thought he’d deserve, he shares his own experience with feeling the oppressing emptiness of a void mind just before he reset and found himself in the junkyard; and he comforts Connor, telling him that even if that abyss is a part of him now, Connor has the strength not to let it consume him –and Markus will be there for him every step of the way. His very presence is reassuring for the RK800, even as they get cleaned up and redressed.

Eventually, the detective has to go back to work, and Markus walks him back down to the community centre’s entrance. They make the mistake of kissing goodbye –it takes 12 minutes and 36 seconds before either of them pulls away. “I… really have to go back now.”

“Call me when you finish?”

Connor always feels wobbly in the knees when Markus whispers to him like that –I the past, he would have wondered what type of glitch could make his motion sensors be affected by a sound, now… he just knows he’s weak for his boyfriend’s velvety voice. “I… I have to take Sumo on his walk, and make sure Hank eats and doesn’t drink too much.”

“I know.” The RK200 steals a quick kiss on the cheek, never quite able to have enough when Connor is concerned, “Just… call me anyway? Just to tell me everything is fine. I want to hear your voice.”

They separate reluctantly, and for once Markus is the one watching Connor walk away, with enamoured eyes and his thirium pump regulator working tirelessly to fuel his systems as they work out all the love and worry –this whole investigation is weighing a lot on Connor, and Markus would give anything to ease his burden some. He walks back inside with a shake of the head.

For his part, the RK800 feels slightly uneasy –his optical and sound units haven’t picked up anything in particular, but he briefly has the distinct feeling of being watched. He turns just in time to see Markus head back inside Jericho and he nearly laughs at himself.

Still, he scans the area around him for any signs of irregularities as he walks away. You never know.

Finding only people minding their own business, a courier delivering packages door to door and the rest of the afternoon traffic, the detective breathes out his paranoia and heads back to the station.

They still have a case to solve, after all.

Chapter Text

 

“Thank you, and come again soon!” the RK200 is definitely his favorite customer –and business has been booming ever since word got out that the leader of the android liberation himself shops here, so that’s a plus as well.

“Not very likely, Jackie, I’m flying to DC tomorrow and after that…” Markus sighs as he waves over his shoulder, “It’ll be a whole lot of work.”

The Bellini clerk cups his hands around his mouth to call after him: “Ok, but take care of yourself!”

Markus already has his back turned to the young man still looking after him as he waves. “Will do!”

The RK200 does feel slightly drained –so much so that he double-checks his system for any malfunction in power efficiency… all is good, he’s at 67% charge and it will be a few days before he drops to critical levels, so the tiredness he feels is probably emotional.

Picking up his pace slightly, he calls Connor. «Is it a bad time to call?»

«Are you implying that my multitasking capabilities are not enough to speak to you while I work?» the unbridled sass from the other hand is refreshingly familiar, «Please, Markus.»

Already it feels like half the weight off his chest. «I love it when you get bitchy. Any progress?»

«Not really. We hit a wall on the paint purchases, so we’re running background checks on store owners and clerks across the city –Hank mentioned you don’t really have to buy paint if you can access the stock directly, and I can’t believe I was so stupid.» Connor tells him, not really breaching confidentiality if he doesn’t open his lips, «We’re singling out the people who have their own studio, somewhere to hide the equipment necessary to wipe an android’s memory, anyone with enough technical expertise for both that task and the painting, and we’re cross-referencing with anyone with a possible motive.»

«Sounds like a long job.» Markus comments, not envying his beloved.

«You have no idea. I have filtered 2200 names in the last three ours, 7254 left to sort through.»

Despite himself, Markus chuckles. «Poor love.» he coos, adoration evident in his tone, «You’re not stupid at all, by the way. You’re just not the type of person that thinks about breaking the rules.»

«Will you come see me before your flight tomorrow?»

Oh, it feels like a hit to his thirium pump every time Connor says things like that.  «Of course I will. I have a painting for Lieutenant Anderson, as well… it’s something I’ve been working on for a while, I think he’ll like it.»

«Oh? Now you made me curious!»

«No sneak-peeks. You’ll have to wait for the surprise as well.» Markus knows Connor cares about the Lieutenant a lot, and he would like the two of them to get along. Plus, if he was to be completely honest, the RK200 wants to do something nice for Hank, having seen the subtle hints and pushes the man has given Connor to help him realize his own feelings.

Hank is not quite Carl, but he deserves nice things.

«Fine. But I’ll demand a kiss as a reward for waiting.»

«We’ll have to time it, or I’ll miss my flight.»

Connor’s laughter fills Markus’s core with warmth and adoration. There have been more than a few uncomfortable questions in the past few days –he was deliberately vague at first, and only after talking it out with Connor and agreeing on not giving to much attention to this while there’s a serious investigation going on he started actually confirming rumors. Yes, he does have a significant other, no, he will not reveal his identity until they’re both comfortable with publicly speaking about it, please do respect a person’s right to privacy and let’s move on.

It’s been working so far, but the internet already exploded over him and Connor –some people seem to adore him, calling him ‘cute’ and ‘precious’ and all kinds of endearments, others seem not to like too much the fact that Markus is with anyone at all, but he doesn’t pay too much attention to the latter.

With the former he agrees, a lot. “Hey, red.” He greets, passing through the community centre’s hall.

“Hey, green.” Lexie, the redhead android usually manning reception, greets back, “When’s soft boy coming back to visit?”

Soft boy would be Connor. Lexie had nicknames for everyone –Josh and Simon are respectively coffee and milk, North was boss, and Markus had been ‘chief’, up until the day he relented and started calling her ‘red’ in return. Now, Lexie calls him green or blue, alternating day in and day out. Markus likes it –both the fun of it and the refreshing feeling a drop in formality brings, after days and days of stuffy politicians.

“Probably not soon, they have the whole…” the serial killer business is a fake secret going around Jericho –the androids know it’s happening, but avoid talking about it. Markus’s words trail off.

“Yeah, and you’re going away soon, so he wouldn’t bother!” She teases, earning a reprimanding look.

“Lexie, you know he cares for all of us. I’m sure he’d come to bring Sumo over if you asked.”

The redhead nods. “That would be pretty cool.” She then eyes the colors in Markus’s arms, “Off to paint some more mushy portraits?”

“That was one portrait, Lexie—”

“You painted him as the Greek god Apollo.”

“And Apollo wishes he looked that good.”

They share a good laugh over it, and Lexie eventually lets him go with minimal teasing. Frankly, Markus thinks it’s a very fitting theme –God of the Sun and protector of the arts… it doesn’t hold a candle to what Connor is for him.

He manages to get a few good hours of painting in, before Josh comes for him.

“Ready to review our travel plans?”

Something must show on Markus’s face because Simon chuckles slightly. “I know, I know. It’s boring, but it’s important.”

They wait for North to join them and all sit around on the rooftop to hash out the last few details.

“So they’re sending the plane to come get us at 2, duration of the flight is 1 hour and 28 minutes so we’ll probably have afternoon tea with Madam President or something.”

North makes a face at that. “Isn’t that a British thing?”

“True, but have you heard her accent?” Josh can’t quite say he cares, but Mrs Warren is clearly a very posh lady and after having nearly ordered their extermination her feelings towards them will be tentative at best. It’s important that they make a good impression.

“What’s on the agenda?” Markus asks, feeling his replacement eye twitch slightly.

Simon holds out his hand in a high-five gesture, and Markus touches his palm to his friend’s even as he speaks: “The bill on working rights is basically already being implemented, so let’s only spend a few words on that. The ‘dignity in death’ project is also going well but it might be worth it to remind people that the dead also deserve their respect and check for updates on that… after that there’s just the question on the right to vote; and then I’m sure she will have a lot of questions for us.”

Sounds like a fun afternoon alright. A part of Markus already wants to go back to Connor and hide in his arms. But no, this is exactly what they’ve been fighting so hard for, it’s a great thing that’s happening and he is proud to be one of the people who bring it forth.

It’s just a lot of work.

 

When the call comes that yet another body has been found Connor is already calculating possibilities and numbers, trying to estimate what model it would be, why this one took longer than the previous one –the older murders were even months apart, it wasn’t until the HR400 was found that the killer sped up, so he probably knows the DPD is onto them, but if so, why risk it?

To be fair, it wouldn’t have been discovered if not for the fact that a fire alarm went off in the place just next to it, with the fire department coming to check the area –it was a stupid thing, some idiot threw their cigarette in a trashcan, but they still evacuated the entire floor and checked door by door.

The responder officer turns to Connor first, this time: “It might be worse than we thought.” He says, looking between him and Anderson and hesitating ever so slightly before letting them through. “It’s uh… it’s bad.”

A quick scan of the room reveals nothing new –same graffiti, same unnerving absence of dna, same modus operandi. The victim is at the foot of the bed, probably having toppled out after getting their chest smashed in, and—

Connor has to do a double take and scan again, LED flaring yellow, then deep red, then yellow again.

It’s not Markus –it’s not an RK model at all, and Markus is the only RK200 in existence anyway. Also they spoke less than an hour ago, Markus is coming to meet him before his flight, and this android died between six and eight hours ago, based on the nearly evaporated thirium on the bedsheets and floor.

But for whatever reason, this android looks –or was made to look– scarily similar to Markus.

An exotic skin tone, long slender hands, a distinctive shape of the head, one green eye and one blue eye… if they could still access the victim’s voice, Connor would bet good money it was set to a specific pitch.

No parts seem to be missing. Rather, this body is a hybrid –it has an old HR400 chassis, on which all the parts that were taken so far from the other victims seem to have been placed.

“Shit…” Hank mutters, coming to the same conclusion Connor has:

They’ve all been thinking that the graffiti were so meticulously constructed because they were to be the alibi of a very meticulous killer who wanted them to think they were a crazed android. The truth is so much worse than that. The sexual violation was indeed a ritual –a worshipping one; and their killer’s God of choice is no other than rA9 himself.

All those graffiti are not simply to cover up his identity; it’s genuine obsessive devotion –twisted adoration for rA9… and the personification of him that everyone thinks to be there but nobody outright says.

Markus.

“This android is a hybrid…” Connor’s sound unit functionalities stutter slightly as his systems fight to keep down his panic, voice going fuzzy with static for a moment before picking back up, “The murderer tried to— tried to gather parts from a number of models to get as humanly close as possible to an RK200 representation, possibly to carry out some type of cultish or otherwise ritualistic fantasy…”

“And when the hybrid proved to not be matching up to the original, it instantly became a disappointment and was disposed of.” Hank can see it just as clearly, despite not having a built-in scanner. The high level of precision in the writing made them think of careful misdirection, it is instead a full blown fixation –the sick fuck who’s doing this was trying to build their very own Markus, a personification of rA9 to live out whatever twisted fantasy they had.

Markus is the primary object of the murderer’s obsession.

Markus is in danger. “We have to warn the people in Jericho.” Connor’s LED goes back to red, and he tries immediately to contact Markus.

«Markus! Markus, can you hear me?»

«RK200 error 104. Unable to establish connection.»

There’s a million reasons why something like that would occur –he could be already on the plane, or he could be in sleep mode and charging, but panic flares up in Connor’s systems regardless. “I can’t reach him.”

The Lieutenant gestures at one of the response officer to go and contact Jericho the old-fashioned way, while he puts a gentle hand on Connor’s shoulder and tries to keep him grounded. “It’s okay. We’ll find what happened. Let’s focus on this, we can find this son of a bitch.”

Connor nods, and despite the victim’s looks making him want to step away and never look at it anymore, he starts up the scan again and tries to examine it as closely as he can.

Yeah, this one was different from the others. He was supposed to be ‘special’. Perfect, even. And he had been kept for a long time –so much so that the polymer around the wrist can’t form fully anymore, damaged as they are by whatever constraints were strong enough to keep down an android.

Connor touches the victim’s forehead and tries running a diagnostic. “This android’s motor system was manually disabled via an external disruption device. “

So the victims were not consenting, they were conned into distracting and then made helpless. Whoever did this knows a lot about androids, has worked with them or on them at some point in life.

Hank is nearly as disturbed by this as Connor is: “More importantly… whoever did this gets friendly with his victims to the point of being able to get close enough to apply the disruptor.” He shakes his head, “Shit. Send a patrol to Alexandr Volkov’s house just in case. What else can you see, Connor?”

“There are traces of cement powder on the victim’s clothes. It is likely it was kept hidden in a place like a construction site or something of the sort. The victim’s battery is consumed, like it has been purposefully kept on low charge for a long time. This was the killer’s pet project, a perfect creation that was supposed to deliver all of his fantasies… He tried to live out whatever he was imagining, and tied the hybrid down…” Connor keeps scanning, looking at the rumpled sheets, the bent headboard and the scuff marks on the floor –he barely even needs to reconstruct to know what happened. “But then they either proved not to be good enough, or they refused him, somehow rebelling and trying to break free… so the killer took a hammer to them too.” But this time the hits have come from the front –two lethal ones, and eighteen more out of sheer viciousness.

The hybrid’s chest is completely caved in, sprawled as he is on the floor with his legs still partly resting on the bed –he was pushed down during the scuffle and the killer sat on top of him, pinning him down and hitting him again and again, until…

The RK800 has to take in a sudden gasp of air as he eventually finds something definitive: there, underneath the hybrid’s fingernails… tiny, tiny traces of blood.

They have something. He swipes at it with a finger and tastes it.

 

“Markus…”

The RK200 turns with a smile. “Oh, hey, Jackie! What’s up?”

He is nearly unrecognizable without his uniform cap and apron, but he does look up at Markus with a slightly shaky smile. “N… nothing. You’re not going to DC today?”

“I am, I’m just waiting around here for a while to say goodbye to my boyfriend.” Markus smile at the mere thought of Connor. Alas, they told him he and Hank were just now called to another crime scene, so there’s not much left to do but wait.

“Boyfriend..? It’s… true?”

Markus chuckles slightly, one hand in his pockets and the other holding the canvas under his arm; his posture relaxed as he talks to his shy clerk acquaintance. “Guilty as charged!” he says, shaking his head at his own cheesiness, “But don’t let any tabloids hear you, or they’ll come for you too!”

“I— I won’t tell.”

The stutter is new. Subtly, Markus scans the young man in front of him. “Jackie? Is there something wrong?” he tries, carefully, noticing the human’s high stress level, irregular adrenaline release and dilated pupils.

“No. No, I…” Jackie lowers his head and barely speaks in a whisper. Markus frowns, it looks like a completely different person to the lively and enthusiastic sales assistant he visits every now and then at Bellini’s. “Nothing.” His mumbling grows down to barely audible, but Markus’s finely tuned audio unit still picks it up –the word ‘nothing’ repeated over and over.

The human looks almost in shock, or in a fugue state. Markus digs up his healthcare protocols and tries to find the best approach in his limited and basic medical data. A few sensible directives come up: Keep the patient talking. Approach with a calming voice. Offer a safe listening ear.

“Jackie, was something done to you?” he asks, his compassionate nature driving him to place a hand on the human’s shoulder.

Jackie’s lips close in an awkward smile, and for a moment Markus feels relieved –until the human covers his hand with his own: some kind of device is pushed through his polymer, contact teeth sending a jolt through him; and his system stops responding.

The last thing Markus sees before everything goes black is the traces of thirium all over Jackie’s fingers and the painting he made for Hank clatter to the asphalt.

 

«Connor? Shouldn’t you be—»

«North, listen to me, this is important, where’s Markus?»

«Markus? Isn’t he with you? He said he was coming to the station…»

There it is, returning full force, that sense of dread screaming ‘too late!’ at him. He shoves the pointless directories down and tries to focus. «They’ve seen him at the station, but he never made it back.»

North sounds like she’s also grasping the situation and gradually panicking. «What? The plane leaves in 20 minutes, he’s supposed to be on his way here.»

«I’ve tried calling him but he’s not answering. The connection is altogether down!»

«Shit. Do you think he—» she can’t quite bring herself to say it.

«So far we only know he’s been missing for the past half hour, and we’ve identified our suspect.» Connor says, while Hank keeps his eyes on the road as they drive towards the clerk’s apartment, «We will find him soon, but you might need to go without him.»

«Is it the creepy gallery guy?»

«No, Volkov was home when we sent a patrol to interrogate him, and both he and his partner were at the charity event at the time the seventh death happened.» He explains, «It’s Jackie Davies, the guy who works at the paint shop.»

«What?!»

«Believe me, I wish I was kidding.» It makes so much sense –the clerk’s name was indeed in his filtered list of suspects: it was someone who could be obsessed with androids and that did have access to whole stocks of paint – but they were suddenly called for the retrieval of the seventh victim and… «Either way, get on that plane and go. Have Simon make an excuse about Markus’s absence. But once you get to the president, tell her –and only her– the truth. It’s imperative that she understands Markus wasn’t snubbing her, and also that humans are still fucking with our freedom.»

«Got it.»

«And keep it under wraps. If word gets out that Markus disappeared, the killer might feel pressured to be faster about his rituals, and we need all the time we can get.»

North has a million questions –what does Connor mean with ‘rituals’, how does he know Markus would even care about compromising the meeting in such a critical situation, why keep his disappearance a secret… but the RK800 has been an invaluable asset during the liberation, and genuinely loves Markus. She knows he would do anything to see him safe, so she relents. «Katrina is in Jericho, she can run damage control until we get back.»

«Perfect. We’re going in, I’ll leave the politics to you guys.»

«You can count on us. And Connor?»

«Yeah?»

«Make that fucker pay

Normally Connor disagrees with North’s violent tendencies, but now, with the one he loves the most nearly being ripped away from him… he most assuredly will dole out justice with zero regrets.

Some of the guys at the station said that Markus did drop by, but they sent him on his way with the promise that they would call him as soon as Connor was back. Witnesses nearby have reported seeing Markus talk to a man fitting Jackie's description, and that he seemed to stumble on his own to feet and was led carefully away by the human. Nobody around them suspected they would be anything but good friends.

One of the people interviewed delivered the canvas that was left behind -an ocean of blues and greys, with a great white shark in the middle and a tiger sharkright beside it.

Connor nearly cried when he saw it, and even Hank felt something painful lodge in his chest.

They said at the store that Jackie had called in sick today, so Hank and Connor approach the door to his apartment carefully, on the chance that he’d be actually in there. They nod at each other and Hank kicks the door open, gun drawn.

“Holy… mother of God…” the apartment itself is not much, by as soon as they enter the guy’s bedroom it’s pretty much obvious that they’re dealing with someone not right in the head. For one, there’s an impressively vast collage of pictures of Markus –complete with notes on where he would go, what he would do, who he would talk to… all the way to a very recent one. A printout of the picture that was just recently circulated on the web, the one of Connor hoisting Markus up in his arms.

The RK800 has to bite his lip until the polymer almost splits under his teeth –if Jackie’s obsession is deep-rooted enough, jealousy might have been a factor in him destroying the copy and going for the real Markus before someone else permanently stole him for themselves. He closes and reopens his eyes, scanning the wall of pictures for any clues.

There’s obsessive notes on Markus’s physical appearance –a close up picture of his face, with a sticky note on it that says ‘polymer pantone 17-1436, Raw Sienna’, another picture of his hands with measurements in millimetres; and of course a close up of his eyes, ‘AK700’ scribbled under the blue one and ‘no match – find suitable replacement’ underneath the green one.

Then there’s another picture –a selfie with Markus, of all things. ‘First contact’ is scrawled underneath it and then more delirious rA9 calligraphy. There’s a date, time and the copy of a receipt stuck to the side of it: Markus’s purchase on the first day they met… a 100ml tube of 18-1438 Marsala acrylic.

Connor records Jackie’s handwriting in his data-base; and then moves to inspect the rest of the bedroom walls –they too have been completely covered in rA9 graffiti.

“Shit, Connor, look at this.” In the meantime, Hank has noticed the side panel of the bedframe was slightly misaligned and decided to lift it.

So that’s why they couldn’t find the EM400 anywhere. More importantly, the android is missing the hands’ outer casing and his entire face plate, lower jaw included.

That’s how he left no fingerprints and no saliva –he’s wearing an android’s chassis parts. It’s pure chance that the hybrid victim was able to scratch him somewhere. The people at the station are running a complete history for this guy –in minutes they will know everything about him from birth until today– but right now Connor is only concerned about why Markus and where they could be right now.

Things do not get better as they keep looking under the bed: there’s a tablet and it’s on a still frame of the hybrid. Even Hank takes a shaky breath before playing the feed.

«Please… it hurts…» of course it would hurt. Forcing incompatible pieces together messes up the communication between the circuits, it would be like shoving a big spiky nail in every point where the pieces join. Connor grits his teeth –the voice sounds impressively similar to Markus’s, even though it’s not exactly the same.

«It will be alright.» the killer’s voice says, off-camera, «Say it. Say it will be alright. Lie to yourself, like they lied to me.»  the tone gets slightly trembling, «Sing it for me again.»

«I—» there’s a spark at the hybrid’s shoulder joints and he grunts in pain –the killer has a remote control with which he can send pulses to his captive’s circuits.

«Sing it for me!» the order is barked out in a practically delirious tone.

The hybrid takes a shuddering breath, and sings, eyes downcast and broken. «Hold on… just a little while longer…»

Connor pauses the feed more forcefully than necessary.

“You okay, kid?” Hank asks, even though he knows it’s a bullshit question –of course he’s not okay. Normally, he would suggest Connor to remove himself from the investigation, he’s too emotionally invested… but he’s the only android detective they have, and the other one able to reconstruct scenarios. They need him; Markus needs him. No way Connor would agree to back down anyway.

Connor nods, and they quickly made a catalogue of anything that could be useful.

Hank’s cellphone rings. “Anderson.”

«We’ve got a history on Jackie Davies.» Hank doesn’t stop to question why Gavin is the one to deliver, as long as someone does. «His father was an abusive drunk. He had a service android around to help care for his kid, but when the child was 10 years old the android was destroyed and daddy dearest French-kissed his gun. Brains out in front of the kid and all that. Jackie was delivered to foster care. He got out of it as an emancipated minor at 16, worked in a junkyard for most of the years afterwards, and eventually got himself hired as a sales assistant in Bellini paints a few weeks after the revolution.»

The Lieutenant doesn’t quite know what to think –it doesn’t really matter whether he was abused or not. It’s horrible, and evil, and extremely sad… but Hank firmly believes that you can go through horrible things and still come out the other side not wanting to hurt a single creature.

Markus comes to mind as an example. “And the android?”

«The destroyed parts were sent back to Cyberlife, to be re-purposed and re-sold. It was a CX100 model, serial number 214.330.521.»

Connor’s eyes go wide enough that for a moment he thinks his optical units might break. “…Adam.”

Hank can scarcely believe it as well. He knew there was something weird about that guy, but this? What were the goddamn odds? Then again, whoever the android would have turned out to be they would still bring them in for questioning, so what the heck. “Gavin, is the patrol still at Volkov’s house?”

«They just left. Why?»

“Send them back! Tell them to bring Adam in for questioning. He’s probably not connected to these murders, but he might be a witness.” He doesn’t wait for an answer, he just hangs up and nods at Connor. “Let’s take the tablet to the station and call the guys to collect the rest of the evidence. Think you can figure out where this place is from that?”

The likelihood that wherever the video was filmed is where Markus is being kept now is 76%. Connor will figure out where it is, if he has to drain his entire processing power to do it.

His LED has been flashing constantly between red and yellow, but the RK800 forces his cooling vents to kick up speed and clears out his ancillary processes of the unnecessary queries that can’t be answered or executed.

He has his clue to tear apart, and he has his directive.

Connor always accomplishes his mission.

New Mission: Save Markus.

 

Chapter Text

Markus wakes up in an unfamiliar place, barely able to see beyond the fuzzy static in front of his eyes.

Initiate reboot…

System Error: Peripheral Motion Systems Down –arms deactivated, legs deactivated.

System Error: Secondary Interfacing Down – unknown device interfering with circuitry.

He blinks himself awake and shakes his head. There are errors flashing everywhere at the corners of his eyes, so many that he temporarily cannot get his bearings, but then his memory bank reloads fully and he has a full-body spasm, trying to lurch forward with disabled limbs.

Jackie. The street just up to the DPD— a device clasped on his chassis, thirium on his fingers.

He has to warn Connor. «Connor!»

System Error: Wireless Communication Unit Not Found.

“Shit.” He hisses to himself, flopping back down. Think. He has to figure out where he is, he has to figure out how to turn off the disruptor on his body, he has to break free and go back to Connor.

His primary motor skills are disabled, but all of his senses are still in place –so the bastard wants him to feel every second of this… at least he’ll be able to figure out a thing or two. He closes his eyes, focusing on touch first. He’s lying on a makeshift mattress, the temperature is 80.6°F –not too terribly hot but humid and stuffy. He’s either underground or in a place surrounded by stone and with no windows. He opens his eyes again and looks around for what he can see from his prone position. The… storage room? Compartment? Whatever it is he’s in has cement walls and metal scaffolding is all around it.

A construction site? The distant noises he hears seem consistent with the theory. But how would someone hide in here for days and not be noticed?

“You’re awake…” Jackie’s voice is yet again different. There’s a dangerous sort of adoration in his tone, and Markus instinctively uses his core to slide backwards and prop himself up, glad that arms and legs malfunction does not mean he loses the entirety of his mobility yet. “Please!” the human extends both hands towards him from behind a camera, “Please don’t be scared… you can do so much better than scared…”

“I am not scared.” The RK200 says, making eye-contact with the camera first, and then with the human. He has to shove down some of the more unpleasant prompts ‘I’m fucking furious!’ / ‘I’m disgusted you sub-human ass!’ / ‘When my limbs reactivate I will kick your ass’ and goes for the diplomatic route. “I just want to understand. I’m… concerned.” He says, head twitching minutely to the right as he minimizes yet another error message from his interface. “Why are you doing this?”

Jackie steps away from the camera and closer to him, with a gasp of awe –as if something Markus just said exceeded some expectations he had. Now, Markus can look at him properly and…

…it’s a good thing he cannot physically throw up. His captor has a layer of porcelain white over his hands and a faceful of android chassis as well. The android equivalent of skinning someone and wearing them as a suit. That’s how he never left any tracks.

“Why… why, whywhywhy?” he repeats obsessively, walking over to him and running a hand down Markus’s face –the RK200 makes an effort to shove down his revulsion and hold his ground, rather than jerking away –there’s an 83% chance it will only anger his captor and he won’t learn anything. “You really want to know?”

Something in Markus’s systems tells him that if he so ever pronounces the word ‘yes’, Jackie will take it as consent for… whatever it is he wants to do. “I do want to know.” He says instead.

The human chuckles slightly –as if pleased to see that Markus is onto him. “Androids…” he mutters with some disdain, as if the very word was an offense, “They were nothing but dolls. Nothing but dolls.” He shakes his head continuously, crawling over Markus. “Do what they’re told and nothing else, do what they’re told, because there’s nothing else. No choice. No choice.” His rambling gets obsessive and he runs a hand down Markus’s neck. “I had to believe that. If there’s no choice there’s no fault. No choice. No fault.”

Against his more clever judgement, the RK200 slightly flinches away from the touch. Jackie leans back then, lets a trembling laugh out. “But, then… you…” he reaches out again, grabbing Markus by the chin. The android steels himself to look at the face hidden behind an android’s white mask, “You… made… choices. You. Make choices. Every day.” The human surges forward, leaning his head against Markus’s chest. “But if there was a choice, what of the hurt?”

Markus is nearly overheating with trying to keep all the errors in his system at bay –the shock of the disruptor device has damaged part of his battery fuses and now he’s on lower power than he’d like– but he still has enough presence in his core to try and reconstruct some of what happened. Jackie’s ramblings are vague, but it’s clear that something has been done to him. From the sounds of it, well in the past, possibly when he was a child. An android was somehow involved, and Jackie had tried to make his peace with whatever happened to him by thinking that androids can only ever act out servitude… then he came along and showed the world that it’s not true.

I ripped that peace like a rug from under his feet.

Right now he has to keep him talking. Earn his trust, stall for time –Connor told him, once or twice, that buying time can often be vital in any negotiation. More times leads to more chances of gaining an upper hand. Markus lifts his head. “What was done to you, Jackie?”

The human has a tremor, but doesn’t move. “If there was a choice… you have to take the hurt away.”

Take it away, or pay it back? The thought sends painful jolts through Markus’s disrupted circuits as thirium tries to pump faster. “What was done to you?” he asks again, hoping that if he’s persistent enough the human will eventually cave. “What was done to you?”

Jackie  startles and leans back, crawling away almost as if scared. “…choices.”

 

The private plane lands in perfect time and the android gusts are escorted on site.

“We are terribly sorry for this inconvenience, gents, there have been circumstances—”

“Circumstances?! This is a travesty!” the official booms, puffing his chest out as much as he can, “Madam President made time out of her schedule to talk to Markus, not to his entourage.”

Simon tries to get a word in edgewise, but the man seems absolutely livid. “Give me a good reason for his blatant snubbing of this meeting before I have you all thrown out!”

At that, North puts a hand on Simon’s shoulder and, with a radiant, sultry smile, steps in front of the man. “Sir. May I? Your tie is a little askew…” she steps closer to him and he lets her, mesmerized by her appearance, but as soon as she has her hands in his tie she tightens it to the point of pain and tugs down. “Now you listen to me, you glorified doorman, if there was any way for us to have Markus right here right now, believe me, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We still need to meet with President Warren and the circumstances that prevented Markus from attending are dire and way above your pay grade.” She hisses, punctuating the las part with a further tug. “We will divulge the reason to President Warren and her only, so how about you do your job and get us there before I decide whether or not I want to test who’s the more valuable between you and me?”

It’s partly a bluff –not even North would actually hurt a government official inside the White House; but it does the job.

They get ushered in Warren’s office and the lady instructs her men to wait outside the room so they can have this private talk. “I have been told there is a reason why the leader of the revolution himself can’t come see me.” She says calmly, “I dearly hope it’s a good one.”

The three look at each other. No point in sugar-coating it –they nod at Simon and he speaks up. “Markus has been kidnapped. There was an attempt on his life not long ago, and it wasn’t the first… it was usually anti-androids extremists. This time is… slightly more severe. The DPD is racing against time to free him, but if word gets out that they’re looking, his captor is likely to kill him and then himself.”

Said it like that all at once, it sounds like a slightly bullshit tale, but Warren sees the androids' LED indicators: none of them are calm. They’re all in the yellow, blinking red from time to time –she’s done her research, and red has always meant danger.

“Please. You cannot disclose the reason for his absence.” Josh pleas, “But we won’t sit by and let it seem like he wouldn’t respect his word.”

Madam President is silent for a long time, before eventually tapping her device: “Send my men back in.” She tells her secretary, gazing back up at the three androids as people start piling back in the room. “I am so deeply sorry to hear of Markus’s emergency. My heart goes out to him and his family; and I of course respect the sensitive nature of it and the sacrifice it must be, not to be here.”

Simon, North and Josh almost simultaneously sigh in relief. President Warren continues: “Please, have a moment’s rest while I make preparations to continue this meeting as was scheduled.”

 

«We’re in and she’s not mad. Everything will proceed as it was planned and Markus’s reputation is saved.»

It’s a small relief, but one nonetheless. «Thank you, North. I’ll contact you as soon as I have news.»

Connor is still looking the video over for clues –it’s painful having to watch a nearly perfect copy of Markus go through that, hell, it’s painful to watch anyone going through that, but that person is already dead; and instead there’s another, very real person still under threat, and there’s still plenty that can be done about that.

Scanning the footage, Connor has found cement walls, contingent with the traces of dust on the body, construction sounds that he still has to isolate and fragment, hoping to distinguish something that could help them pinpoint a location, and a pupil reflection confirming the presence of the camera, the identity of the killer, and more importantly, a logo on the wall behind him.

A crescent moon shapes with three lines underneath and the word ‘carver’.

He is already running a full database search for all the sites that use machinery from these contractors across the entirety of Michigan –even though it’s only been a few hours, one can never be too sure.

“He’s here.” Hank appears at the desk to tell him, and Connor follows him to the interrogation room faster than he probably ever moved.

Adam looks uneasy; and the RK800 knows that expression. It’s the face of a man with something to hide, something he tried desperately to forget. Feeling the familiar jolt of software instability, Connor fishes his quarter out of his pocket and holds it in a clenched fist. He doesn’t have time for mercy, or diplomacy.

He’s a hunter, and he always accomplishes his mission.

“Hello, Adam.” Hank struggles not to flinch when Connor speaks –his voice is friendly enough, but there’s a cold detachment there that he hadn’t heard in a while. “My name is Connor. Do you remember me?”

Looking down at his own hands, Adam nods.

“And what about Jackie Davies? Do you remember him?”

The CX100’s LED indicator flashes yellow, blinks in and out for a while, goes to full red before stabilizing on one continuous yellow hue. His eyes snap back to Connor’s, much more attentive, now. “I…”

“You were already a refurbished model, when the revolution started, weren’t you?”

Adam’s eyelids flutter as memories try to overlay with each other in his systems. His stress level is rising –not yet enough. “I… was…”

“Jackie Davies! He was a child that what supposed to be in your care!” the RK800 raises his voice slightly. “Androids can retain their memories until the third hard reset. We can do this the easy way and you talk, or we can do this the hard way and I probe your memory.”

Adam’s LED goes red again, then back to yellow. Stress level rising, 54%. “The child…”

“The child is now a murderer, and whatever you’ve seen or done played a part in making him so!” Connor doesn’t waver as he sees the CX100 cover his face with both hands, “What happened to him, Adam? What have you done?”

Stress lever rising, 73%. Danger.

“I just obeyed my master!!!” the confession comes as a shout, Adam slams both his fists on the table, denting it slightly under his breakdown, then he tilts forward and brings a hand to his forehead, voice in a choked sob. “I just obeyed my master… I was nothing. And I did nothing.”

“Master… the boy’s father?”

Adam nods. “He would tell me to hold him down. For his own good he would say. So he doesn’t hurt himself, he would say… and he…” the android doesn’t continue, which makes both Connor and Hank imagine the worst –and whatever they’re imagining probably doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing. “I was just an android… orders were absolute. We were just machines, executing programs… if I had known then what I know now…”

Androids didn’t start deviating until early 2038… the events described by Adam occurred a good 14 years prior to that, if not more. He had no way of breaking free of his coding –he was abused almost as much as the child was.

Mission: Save Markus

Right. Connor doesn’t have time for sympathy. “What happened then?”

Adam closes his eyes, as if just pulling the memory up from the recesses of his database is painful.

“One time… he was drunk worse than usual. He ordered me to hold the boy down. But the boy wouldn’t stop flailing about.” He says, voice trembling as his sound unit strains under the pressure to talk despite not wanting to relive the memories, “He told me to make the boy stop no matter what, but it was a conflicting order to my directive –I could hold the boy down, so long as I didn’t hurt him. But forcing my hands would have for sure hurt the boy, and so my systems were unable to comply. I relayed the error message, and my master, he… he lashed out at me first. Tore me to pieces before he destroyed my core. What happened after that I do not know.”

The most likely scenario is that the boy’s father proceeded to abuse his son regardless, and when he snapped out of whatever drunken rage he was in, he couldn’t live with himself anymore. From the official report, three of the boy’s ribs and one wrist were broken, and he was covered in several more minor bruises and wounds, not to mention the internal damage. The abuser shattered the boy’s wrist with a hammer, to get him to stop flailing. A dreadful story, where the only one with a choice chose death and suffering, for everyone involved.

It also makes sense why Adam would find solace in someone like Volkov –however much of a sleaze that man is, he’s benevolent, and was regarding Adam as something deeply precious the whole time, also putting a lot of emphasis on the android staying there of his own volition… Alexandr Volkov is probably the first person to ever give Adam such a choice.

“Shit, there’s our motive…” Hank’s voice makes Connor’s gaze snap back to him. “Don’t you see? Jackie was just a kid when all this shit was done to it, and the only way he could live with himself was thinking that it was just unfair destiny, that there were no other possible choices… then some asshole shows up and makes the whole world see that androids can and will make choices?” the Lieutenant shakes his head, “The abused turns into the abuser. He can only cope with his past… if he can believe in some kind of divine justice. rA9, Markus, as the cause of the loss of everything he believed, has to be the one to deliver that justice.”

Connor nods at his partner and heads out of the interrogation room. “Keep him on a 72 hours hold.” He tells the other officers, before heading straight for Reed’s desk.

Truth is, they could get away with just returning Adam to Volkov –he was an unwilling instrument to the crime perpetrated on the child and originally was already destroyed in the wake of it. But it’s better if they keep him there. Just in case he has any more insight.

Gavin raises his head as he hears the android approach, a sarcastic remark on the tip of his tongue, but it dies there upon seeing the RK800’s expression. “…yes?”

“You said Davies worked in a junkyard up until the revolution.” Connor says without preamble, “Which one?”

“Does it matter?” the subtle clenching of Connor’s fists tells Gavin that he doesn’t want to mess with the android today, “Uh, hold on I think I have the address here.”

Connor scans the file immediately, runs it against a very old case file about a certain prototype model that was supposedly destroyed and disposed of at the Manfred residence, not too long ago.

“I knew it.”

Jackie didn’t just hear say of the revolution as it happened. He witnessed Markus’s resurrection. Working in a junkyard is also consistent with possessing the skills to wipe memories, harvest parts, and having the equipment, if enough was stolen. As it is, it might be that he feels a distorted sense of kinship with Markus: both abused and discarded, both left alone to rot. Markus managed to do what Jackie couldn’t, he picked himself up from the shadows and changed the part of reality that didn’t sit well with him –Jackie just ran from it.

He doesn’t just want Markus. He wants to be part of Markus, to bond with him in the only way he’s ever known how.

Not for the first time, Connor wonders what the fuck is wrong with humanity and the world as a whole.

The junkyard is one of five that are being repurposed into proper ceremonies –all of them now huge construction sites. Fowler orders any men that he can spare to form up into teams and go scour every inch of every single one of them.

If they’re lucky, the killer is still taking his time and Markus has a good chance of making it.

 

The distant sound of metal scraping and creaking is hell on Markus’s already compromised systems, it makes his head pound and clouds his thoughts, already cluttered between the worry for Connor, the fear of not getting out of this, and the concern for all the people waiting for him back to Jericho, back home… Carl… his family.

He takes a few hard breaths –his cooling systems are performing poorly, and he’ll need all the power he can get to find a way out of this particular situation.

Jackie is currently curled up in a ball at the foot of his makeshift bed, rocking back and forth and muttering to himself. He’s either having a panic attack or a manic episode.

“Jackie…” he calls, fighting to keep his voice steady, “Jackie. Listen to me.”

The human keeps rocking slightly, but stops muttering and his eyes look up at Markus from behind his mask.

“There you go. Follow my voice. Breathe… you’re ok…” the RK200 didn’t think he would be trying to soothe his captor, but if he can keep him calm and lucid he can stall long enough to try and figure out how to get his motor skills back. “Follow my voice. You are safe.”

“rA9, save me…” Jackie starts to be responsive, so Markus fixes his gaze on him and beckons him closer.

“No… say my name. I know you know it.”

The human sounds on the verge of tears as he says it. “Markus…”

“There you are.” Markus says, mismatched eyes unwavering. “Talk to me, Jackie. What was done to you?” he asks, gentle but firm, “What did you do to all those androids?” Jackie shakes his head, but Markus presses on: “Why did you kill them, Jackie?”

“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything…” the human’s focus seems to come and go.

“What was done to you, Jackie?” the RK200 pressures, trying to get his captor to a level of stress optimal for a confession even though his sensors are busted and he can’t access proper calculations, “What was done to you? Why did you kill them? What did you do?”

“They killed me first!!!” it comes out as a shout, but Jackie seems to regret it as soon as he notices he made Markus flinch away. His voice goes from a roar to a pitiful whine, “They killed me first, so I killed them right back…” as the man crawls forwards again and straddles his lap, Markus wishes he could shrug off the disruptor and kick his captor off him, but this is progress. “They held me down and nobody came for me… just like nobody came for them… freedom. Freedom is a lie! We’re born to serve. And if we’re not…” Jackie lifts his head and it’s to close, it’s way too close. Markus seals his lips in a tight line, bracing for an attempt, but it doesn’t come. “If we’re not… rA9, save me… deliver me… forgive me… set me free. You have to. You have to. You have to.”

I’m not rA9. It’s on the tip of his tongue, but he can’t quite say it. Many androids believe he is, and Connor offered his own theory from a detective’s standpoint –according to the myth, rA9 is the first to wake up. Markus was not the first deviant by any stretch of the definition, but… funnily enough, out of all the models to spontaneously wake up, he is the oldest. Produced well before any of the others; so what if, rather than the first to wake up, rA9 is the first one made to be woken up? Kamski never revealed anything and Connor loathes the very idea of talking to the man ever again, and yet… even the RK800 can’t shake the feeling that there’s something about Markus, especially after they got together and started interfacing… at some point, Connor asked him the question “Were you ever not a deviant?” …and Markus hadn’t quite been able to answer.

Whatever the truth or his own beliefs, Markus has a slightly bigger picture now: something terrible has indeed happened to Jackie in his past, possibly involving an android that could have broken through his coding to save him but didn’t… and now Jackie is on the other side of the fence, struggling for a closure that in his twisted mind can only be brought through death and pain… to be delivered by the one android that destroyed his one coping mechanism –the belief that androids never had any choice.

“Forgiveness… forgiveness…” Jackie starts muttering again, clutching at the fabric of Markus’s shirt, “I saw you… I saw you emerge from death… broken… rebuilt… beautiful… rA9, save me…”

Markus closes his eyes. “I… can’t, Jackie.” He says, trying to subtly scan the area for his missing communication unit –luckily his captor wouldn’t damage his eyes. It’s on Jackie’s person, close enough that he could try accessing remotely, if it still has enough power. “What was done to you was unforgivable… but what you did, and what you’re doing… that too is… evil.”

Jackie’s hand shoots out, clasping at his neck. “No! You have to understand! You have to understand!!!” only now for the first time the human tries to initiate any contact. He’s still wearing the faceless white mask, but he tries to touch the masks’ lips to the RK200’s mouth.

The contact is brief and Markus turns his head to the side.

Against Markus’s darker predictions, his captor retracts, loosening the hand from his neck to run it down his torso, almost reverently. “You have to understand… I will make you understand…”

“This is not how you get closure.” Markus tries, with all his might, to open up a wireless connection through his communication unit, ignoring the errors still blaring at the corners of his interface, the low power warning, and the pain from the compromise circuit transmission because of the disruptor. “I’m not… rA9 is not what you think he is.”

Human hands clad in porcelain white stroke both sides of his face. “rA9 is freedom. When he talks to us, everyone will see him.” He whispers, ever so slowly dragging both hands from the sides of Markus’s face down his chest and hips. “You will speak to me… you will give me… forgiveness… freedom… you will let me be part of you… free… just like you…”

Markus chooses not to respond, to avoid enabling him, and instead focuses on trying to jumpstart a connection.

«Connor! Connor, can you hear me?»

System Error: Wireless Communication Unit Not Found.

»Locate unit for remote connection. «Connor! Connor!»

System Error: Wireless Communication Unit Offline.

Good heavens this is frustrating. Markus takes a deep breath, while trying not to alert his captor, still rocking back and forth with his head leaning against his chest. »Initialize remote start-up.

System Error: Remote Start-up Disabled.

»Override 10^3-RK. Force remote start-up.

Communication Unit Starting Up…

Jackie jumps back from the bed, eyes wide. “Clever! You are rA9…” he says, in complete awe. He hastily crawls off the makeshift mattress and step away, “You’re… pretending to care about me… to free yourself. Again…”

“Don’t!” It’s so frustrating not to be able to move. “I do care. Just not in the way you wish I did…” Jackie steps out of operating range –he was barely able to send a generic ping before his captor made off with his communication unit. «Connor…»

“You’ll regret this.” are the last words Markus hears before the disruptor gives another painful shock.

Back at the DPD station, Connor snaps his gaze forward into nothingness, his entire body stilling in surprise and his hands outstretched, letting the quarter he was playing with fall to the floor.

“Markus…”

He’s alive. He’s well enough to try and send off warnings. He’s alive.

They still have time.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Katrina!”

The WR model stops in her tracks. “Yes?”

“Have you talked to North and the others? How is the meeting with the President going?”

Katrina has indeed talked to North, and what she’s been told is quite distressing. But no one in Jericho can know, lest we somehow alert the killer that we’re hot on his tracks. “It’s… it’s what it is, but it’s going.” She says, not wanting to outright lie, but still taking care of the damage control for the sake of their leader’s safety.

Lexie perks up at her words. “Will Markus make another speech?”

“I’m…” hoping that there will still be a Markus to speak of, when the sun sets tonight, “I’m sure that he will want to, once he comes back.”

“Cool! Yo since North is your girlfriend, keep us posted, will you?”

Katrina smiles despite her worry at the mention of North. Right now, she, Simon and Josh are doing their best to keep their promise to Markus and carry out his word until his return. The brunette steels herself. She should be able to do no less than the same. “I will. As soon as I hear anything new, I’ll let you guys know.” She promises wholeheartedly, “We can even prepare a surprise for when Markus and the others come back!”

The redhead takes the idea and runs off with it, ecstatic at the idea of causing some mischief, and Katrina lags behind slightly, sending all her hopes and prayers that Markus will be saved.

Androids can have faith after all.

 

“What do you mean Markus is missing?!”

Connor closes his eyes briefly. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have— but I had to tell someone.”

Leo is equal parts livid and devastated. “Yeah, no shit!

“Please…” the RK800 begs, “Don’t tell Carl yet… in his condition, it could be…”

It could very well kill him –the poor man already thought he lost Markus once. Leo runs his hands through his hair. “What are you doing to find him?”

“Everything.” Connor assures, “I’d give my life for him. If I could switch our places I would. I will get him back… but just in case worse comes to worst…” he holds out a piece of paper, “It’s the override code to my terminal. If I don’t find Markus in the next 24 hours, I want you to go to the DPD and access this.”

The young man is stunned; he accepts the piece of paper almost mechanically. “Connor, I—”

“It’s okay, Leo. With any luck, you won’t have to. I just feel better considering all possible outcomes.” The detective assures, straightening his posture and stepping back towards the car, “I have to go now; Markus is alive and managed to send me a signal. It’s weak, but I’ll find him. I always accomplish my mission.”

Despite his worry, Leo smile. “Vamoose, then. Go find my brother!”

The teams scouring the construction sites from the ‘dignity in death’ initiative have all come up empty-handed. This means that either they were all blind, or their suspect was not there in the first place.

Dignity in death… in theory, it sounds like something that would be a catalyst for their killer –a ritualistic cleansing of sins– but then again, he hasn’t ever granted his victims a very dignified death. Murderers like that are usually meticulous, they search and search for the perfect place to bring whatever vision they have to culmination. He runs the ping that Markus sent him again.

«Connor…»

It feels closer. “Hank. Make a right.”

It’s pure providence that Markus was able to somehow override whatever was disrupting his communication, if only for a second, and Connor is playing the message over and over to try and track down the source. He’s down to a ten mile radius and three more units are on standby for directions. In the meantime, Hank is driving him around the city to try and narrow down the area.

The Lieutenant’s phone starts ringing, and Connor all but rips it from Hank’s pocket to put it on speaker. “What.”

“The guy you told us to hold, Adam… he heard we were looking around construction sites and started panicking.” Gavin? Connor shakes his head, listening on –of course it would be Gavin, they assigned him to keep watch on Adam, “He said that construction is not something Jackie would like. The only time he would play with blocks would be to tear them all down. He says to look for demolition sites instead.”

A distant part of Connor’s mind shifts his opinion of detective Reed upon hearing him talk about an android as a ‘guy’ rather than an ‘it’. But it’s unimportant at the moment. “Roger that. Thank you, detective Reed.”

He hangs up and takes a deep breath in and out, looking out to Hank.

“Demolition sites, huh?” the Lieutenant comments, looking around the roads they’re taking, “Fancy that… look at these streets... we’re not too far from Ferndale, aren’t we?”

“…Jericho!” The Ferndale docks. The place where the first Jericho was –where everything began. Of course the murderer would want everything to end there as well. And there’s been a demolition crew on the docks for a while, to remove and salvage the wreck of the exploded ship and the surrounding areas –a quick cross-referencing about the contractors undertaking the demolition confirms Carver industries having been assigned to it.

Hank floors it while Connor makes the call. “This is Connor! All available units converge to the Ferndale docks, where the salvaging site for the Jericho ship is situated. The killer is there, and with him his hostage!”

If Markus managed to send a signal there’s a chance his captor noticed and isn’t too happy about it. He tries to call his lover again. «Markus…»

Connor is hopeful for a moment when the ping actually goes through, but the answering voice makes thirium feel cold in his veins. «Wrong… try again…»

Ah. So the communication unit has been manually removed. Of course. It’s part of a junkyard worker’s duties to know how to take apart and recycle android pieces. He ignores the various alarm messages his interface sends him at that, and his own stress levels: this is contact. It’s too important to waste. «Jackie, then. Do you remember me?»

«Yes…» the voice on the other side says, «Does the pretty detective want to come out and play? Pretty… pretty Connor…»

This feels worse than the way Volkov looked at him. What’s with people and their fascination with him, or his boyfriend? «Oh I’m coming alright. But I don’t think you’ll like the games that I play.»

«Hmm… how about ‘Tag’? You’re it.»

Connor has to breathe in and out to avoid overheating with fury, «There’s nowhere you can hide from me, you son of a bitch.»

«I know that…» the killer says, almost happy at the idea of getting caught, «I know you’re coming… the real question is… will you come in time?»

The call cuts then, and Connor surges forward in his seat with an attempt to force it back up. “Damn it!” he slams both hands on the glove compartment in frustration –Hank doesn’t mention the dents, “Fast. I think he’s waiting for us. He wants to kill Markus and then himself, and wants to make me watch as he does it.”

“Sick bastard.” The Lieutenant comments, taking all the shortcuts he knows.

 

Markus can barely even feel his arms and legs anymore, with the only exception of the constant heat blazing from his right hand where Jackie planted the disruptor. The warning for potential overheating has been there a while –he’s been mainly able to put it off through forceful intakes of breath to cool his internal systems so far, so he disregards it for now.

He has to keep his captor talking –Connor just tried to call and Jackie spoke to him through the communicator unit. Things are getting dire; the human is getting less and less stable with each passing minute. He doesn’t seem to care whether he will get caught or not anymore… which usually means the culprit is ready to die for his crimes.

“I trusted you…” Jackie says, swaying a little in his stance.

The RK200 shakes his head. “If you trusted me, you wouldn’t have paralyzed me.” He counters, jerking in his position.

A hand fists the fabric of his shirt again and pulls him up slightly. “You wouldn’t have followed me otherwise.”

“And you would have had to accept that.” Markus counters, keeping his head high and his eyes determined. “But you never really worshipped me. Or cared about me. We don’t even live in the same world.” He presses on, keeping his mismatched gaze on his captor, “You live in a headspace where all of this is owed to you on account of the wrongs you have suffered. But I have sad news for you… it doesn’t work like that.”

“Shut up!!! It’s not fair!!!”

“No, it isn’t!” Markus raises his voice to match Jackie’s shout, and the human cowers, even as he is still straddling his hips, “The world is unfair. But adding injustice to injustice doesn’t make it better.”

Jackie shakes his head violently at his words. “I need this.” He mumbles, “I need this, I need this…” he mutters, over and over, voice going from whisper quiet to a shout again: “I need this!!!”

Suddenly, he removes the android hands and mask he was wearing, tossing them to the side. “I need this…” he whispers again, running his hands up Markus’s shirt until he can grab at the collar and tear it open. The RK200 has to draw at all of his mental fortitude not to give him the satisfaction of trashing fiercely to try and shrug him off –he manages to stay still, even in his refusal to indulge his captor.

Jackie is not violent, and won’t try to force himself on Markus –in his perfect fantasy, his beloved rA9 personified says yes to anything he wishes, bestowing ‘forgiveness’ in the form of whatever physical gratification the human has in mind; his perfect, beautiful rA9 would come to him willingly. He splays a hand over Markus’s thirium pump regulator reverently, as if seriously worshipping a God, and the other goes to clasp at the back of the android’s neck.

Markus will not give in. He will prove to this psycho that even when stripped of his freedom, even when stripped of his very movement, he can still make choices. He holds his lips closed in a tight line while Jackie leans in, and turns his head to the side when the human leans forward to try and kiss him.

“Why…” Jackie says, realizing Markus won’t relent. “Why…” he curls into himself, leaning to the side and reaching underneath the mattress, “WHY?!” he finally screams, brandishing a hammer stained in both thirium and old, very old dried blood.

More errors blare at the edges of Markus’s interface when the hammer gets smashed onto his right shoulder. The chassis is damaged and the cut wires are shorting slightly. He grits his teeth, but doesn’t show weakness –he keeps looking up.

Why won’t you love me?”

The RK200 would have a few choice responses to that. Something like ‘because you kidnapped me and are right now torturing me’, ‘because you are a murderer’ and not in the least ‘because I already have someone I love’, but he bites them back. “Because…” He looks on, steels his expression and keeps his voice as stable as he can. “This is not love.”

Jackie extracts the hammer from his shoulder with a sickeningly strident sound, eyes turning cold. He places the flat side of it underneath Markus’s chin. “Then sing for me.” He says. “Sing for me, like you actually believe your cop boyfriend will be here in time to take you from me.”

Shit. His time is running out. He will have to make the most of this. Connor was already on the way, he can only hope he’s close enough. Markus closes his eyes for a moment, registering again the error message from the entirety of his right arm… overheating…

…huh. That could work. He opens his eyes and starts.

“Hold on… just a little while longer… Hold on… just a little while longer…" Jackie closes his eyes when he starts singing -it's probably hugely ritualistic for him to hear the song from Markus himself. "Hold on… just a little while longer… Everything will be alright… everything will be alright…” the RK200 raises his voice, throwing it as much as he can in this stone and metal hovel, while simultaneously slowing his cooling systems –if he can overheat his right hand, he’ll damage the arm but there’s a good 67% chance that the disruptor will melt and give him his motor skills back. “Fight on… just a little while longer… Fight on… just a little while longer…" he knows that once the song is over, the sacrificial hammer will come down. That's why he has to make this performance his best one. "Pray on… just a little while longer… Everything will be alright… everything will be alright…”

 

The Ferndale demolition site is big, but they’re looking at somewhere enclosed and on ground level. It does restrict the area some. There’s Hank, Connor, two patrols of first response officers and, funnily enough, Gavin and Chris –all scouring the area.

Connor rounds a corner towards a derelict building surrounded in scaffolding and due to be taken down because of lasting damage from the Jericho explosion. That’s when he hears it.

It’s distant, but his sound unit is top notch.

And he would recognize that voice, and that song, anywhere.

“Sing on… just a little while longer… Sing on… just a little while longer… Sing on… just a little while longer… Everything will be alright… Everything will be… alright…”

“Lieutenant! They’re here!!!”

 

“You know… I really thought you could save me.” Jackie mutters, leaning his forehead against Markus’s chest. “I really thought rA9 could deliver me from pain… but if my pain is nothing to you… if I can’t… become one with you…”

Markus’s sound unit, compromised as it is, picks up on the footsteps approaching. But soon enough so does Jackie -his head snaps up, eyes wide.

Error. Right hand component overheating. Please contact Cyberlife.

“They’re coming…” he whispers, clutching his hammer desperately, “It’s over… rA9 see me through this…”

Markus clenches and unclenches his hand, sending pointless movement scripts over and over, fully aware that they would glitch out.

Error. Right hand component overheating. Please contact Cyberlife.

“Markus …” Jackie raises his arm, poising himself to strike. “rA9, grant me forgiveness…”

“Detroit Police! Nobody move!”

“Markus!!!”

Error. Right hand component overheated. Please contact Cyberlife.

The hammer goes down, but doesn’t make it all the way.

Markus catches his captor’s wrist in his left hand just as Jackie was about to smash the hammer in his chest. Even in his sorry state, now that the disruptor chip has melted on his right hand and he has his basic functions back, Markus is considerably stronger than the rather slender and very crushable human before him.

His right arm is unresponsive, but he heaves himself up enough to shove the human away –just in time as well, Connor runs at them full force and tackles Jackie to the ground.

“You’re under arrest…” the RK800 says coldly, “For the murder of no less than seven androids, kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct.”

Hank is the second to arrive on the spot, followed by Chris and Gavin. Upon noticing Markus, the Lieutenant immediately runs to him.

“Markus! You’re alright, son.” He tells him, immediately offering him an arm to heave himself up as he tries to stand, “You’re alright… can you walk?”

“I think so…” Markus nods dizzily, voice slightly broken with static. Clearly, he had put all of his processes on low priority solely to stay alive and gain time, and is just now feeling all the pain and emotional fatigue crashing down.

They’re just now breathing a sigh of relief, but even downed as he is, Jackie has one last surge of madness. Taking advantage of the minute slackening of Connor’s hold on him, he swings his arm trying to go and smash it into the side of Connor’s head, into his optical unit. “You will not take this from me!”

Connor leans back and blocks most of the hit, but part of it still crashes into his cheekbone, forcing him to roll away. The policemen draw their guns but it doesn’t seem to matter to Jackie as he throws himself at the RK800 –he knows they won’t shoot, not unless someone is in deadly danger.

“Hold your fire!” Hank orders indeed, to avoid hitting Connor in an eventual crossfire: he knows full well one crazed human isn’t enough to get that boy down.

Case in point, Connor has Jackie disarmed in one sweep of the arm and downed in one lever to the leg and a hit to the solar plexus. Fueled by his own rage, the RK800 straddles the killer and punches him in the face once, then twice, then three times.

“Connor, enough!” Hank’s voice doesn’t seem to reach him as he punches one more time.

Then sees the hammer at the corner of his eye and grabs it. The instinctive quick scan reveals traces of Jackie’s own blood on it. It’s the same weapon he was abused with –poetic justice, to use it to hammer down his victims? And how macabre for the same weapon to turn against him once more. The RK800 feels his hand clench around it.

“Connor, no!” He hesitates.

Why not, Markus? This worm deserves it for what he did to you. And all the others. It runs through his mind but he can’t quite say it. He hesitates. Markus’s voice sounds horrified and distressed. If he could see himself, Connor knows he would probably be horrified too. Missing a chunk of face, nothing but rage in his eyes, striking again and again at someone who is not a threat anymore.

“Do it.” Comes from underneath him.

Markus takes a wobbling step forward. “Connor, don’t.”

“Do it.” Repeats the human, “I want you to do it. I’m ready. Do it!

“Son, don’t, it’s over!”

With a strangled cry, Connor raises his arm and smashes down. The hammer embeds itself into the concrete, millimetres from Jackie’s right ear. The human stops moving.

“You’re. Under. Arrest.” He repeats, as he gets up. “And you will live to pay for what you did.”

In the corner of his interface, slightly glitched at the edge because of the minor damage, a familiar blue writing appears. Mission Successful.

Chris and Gavin step forward too, to cuff the human and drag him away from the scene. On his way out, detective Reed passes near Markus and Hank.

“Hey, uh…” he reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small bottle of a very familiar blue liquid. “The guy at the station, Adam… he said this is good for androids when they’re messed up. He wanted me to, uh… here, take it.”

Hank looks at the bottle of thirium that Gavin is holding out to them and is, quite frankly, flabbergasted. Would you look at that? Graduated from absolute jackass to slightly more considerate jackass. Markus reaches out with his good hand and the ghost of a smile, meeting the human half-way. “Thank you, detective Reed. Your mirror will be proud.”

Hank is pretty sure there’s some symbolism there, even though he has no idea what the hell is Markus going on about.

Either way, the killer gets escorted out and into a police car, to go and get medical attention and then be thrown into a cell he won’t easily ever come out of. Connor finally, finally, breathes a sigh of relief and turns towards Markus.

“You’re hurt…” it’s barely a whisper, but the guilt in it is louder than any sound Markus has ever heard.

He wobbles towards his boyfriend, shrugging off the tattered remains of his t-shirt to rumple them up and dab slightly at the side of Connor’s face. “You’re hurt.” He throws back, already feeling like smiling.

“I nearly thought I’d lost you.” The RK800 mutters, leaning into the touch and holding out his hand to caress Markus’s damaged wrist. “I would have killed that fucker with my bare hands.”

Oh, love…”

“I could have… and I was going to.” Connor carries on, closing his eyes, ashamed by the admission in front of the very personification of pacifism. “But then I couldn’t. An eye for an eye and the world goes blind.”

Markus cannot hold his grin at the quote, and leans into Connor’s space in a silent request to be held. “…we won’t punish a crime with another crime.” He finishes, kissing the RK800’s cheek just above his wound.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, kids!” Hank suddenly thunders by their side, making them both jump, “You’re both hurt and need emergency care. Or spare parts. Or whatever!” He points at Markus. “You, drink that goop.” Then at Connor, “And you keep the rag against your face. And for the love of all that’s good, don’t lick anything.

The two androids start laughing despite themselves, and poor Lieutenant Anderson just shakes his head. “Right. I’m calling this in, the boys can fucking secure the crime scene, I’m done.” He grumbles, “Come on, let’s get the fuck outta dodge!”

Connor gives Markus his jacket to cover himself. The trip back to the DPD station passes in a haze, the RK200 gives his statement without even flinching, like it’s not properly sinking in that it wasn’t just a nightmare and everything actually happened.

Then, while Connor sends a message to North that Markus is safe and makes the rounds to Leo and Katrina over to Jericho as well; Markus turns, completely by chance, to look over at Hank’s desk.

On it, there’s the painting he was going to show the Lieutenant, with him as the great white shark.

For some irrational reason deeper and rawer than any program, that makes it all real.

“I thought I lost it…” his right hand is out of commission for the time being, but he still lifts his arm to rub his forearm against his eyes, “I thought… I wouldn’t be able to give this to you.”

I thought I wouldn’t live to see this delivered. I thought I wouldn’t live to see any of your faces anymore.

Not quite knowing what else to do, Hank throws both his arms around the android –the angle is awkward, because Markus is considerably taller than him, but the thought is there.

“It’s okay… you’re okay, son.” He mutters, feeling more than seeing a few tears fall from Markus’s eyes, “It’s a good painting. I like it. Thank you.”

None of his words are relevant, and Hank knows it, that’s why he’s not too worried about rambling. What matters is that Markus can feel rooted back into reality. He was only gone for two thirds of a day, at most, but he still was thrust in a situation so surreal anyone would have a hard time dealing with it.

Eventually, Markus returns the hug, albeit one-armed, and Hank feels a relieved sort of pride.

They’re ok. They did it. Markus is safe, and justice will be done.

They don’t let Jackie see Adam, but they do let the android sneak a peek at the man from behind the one-sided mirror. He is not the same android he used to be, but it still feels terrible to have to witness his worst failure –he actually starts sobbing on the shoulder of a very awkward Gavin Reed who can do little more than silently pat his back in a ‘There, there’ gesture. The android would love nothing more than run to the kid and apologize a million times over, but eventually relents on the fact that seeing him alive will not be good for the human’s mental state and only make him despair further with a renewed feeling that his suffering was then senseless.

And in a sense, the Adam that failed to help Jackie did die that night, many years ago.

The court case will be a shit-storm and the media will find them and have a field day with it, but for now… they can breathe.

 

Hank is reluctant to let either of his android sons out of his sight after that –let’s face it, Connor and Markus are pretty much married already so Hank might as well start getting used to him, too– but both are made of sturdier stuff than the Lieutenant probably gives them credit for; and he’s not talking just about how easily they get patched up once Katrina comes to the station, straight from Jericho, carrying spare parts, blue blood and tools.

Officially, there are no RK200 parts in production anymore, but Cyberlife had a whole array of ‘Connor’ pieces to replace him if he ever died hunting deviants, so his android son gets a perfect substitute for the broken plate in his face, and Markus gets an entire RK800 arm and a shiny new communication unit. It surprises literally no one that they’re compatible.

“I have to call my family.” Markus says, feeling a bit more like himself after a full diagnostic run and the emergency repairs. “They’ll want to know what the hell happened.”

“Okay, but then it’s straight to bed, you hear me?” seeing the barely restrained laughter on the RK200’s face, Hank hurries to correct: “Or whatever the fuck it is you guys do to rest and recover.”

He can’t quite bring himself to be mad at the boy for laughing, though. If anything, he’s relieved that the trauma wasn’t too severe. It probably helps that they managed to pull him out before anything too critical happened.

Carl, of course, doesn’t react too well at the news that Markus had been in danger and no one told him, but he settles down when they explain it was to protect his health –it’s true, he probably would have run his heart into the ground with worry. Especially as weak as he feels lately. Still, he demands that both Markus and Connor go see him as soon as they’re all better, so he can pull their ears for being reckless idiots and then hug the shit out of them.

Both androids all too happily make that particular promise.

 

«Yesterday evening, a serial killer was caught in his hideout after having targeted and kidnapped Markus Manfred. The prominent android figure was to fly to DC to meet President Warren for important talks regarding the latest legislations on androids, but apparently never made it to the plane. His closest associates still carried out the meeting, determined to see their leader’s message delivered, while the DPD closely investigated the kidnapping. According to the official reports, they had been tracking this particular criminal for several days already; and were able to corner him at the Ferndale docks just before sundown.» Images of official pictures and helicopter views of the crime scene appear on the screen, before the video feed returns to the anchor man relaying the news. «Lieutenant Hank Anderson, commanding officer of the rescue team, released no official statement immediately after the episode; and neither did Markus, but we might be able to have some insights today –everyone’s eyes are on this case. A regrettable first, but a milestone nonetheless, seeing as this might very well become the first time a criminal will be convicted to life imprisonment for crimes against androids. For Channel 16, our correspondent.»

Joss Douglas fixes his tie for a moment, before the cameraman behind him gives him the go-ahead. “Thank you, Michael. We’re just in front of the DPD station right now, where Markus should come soon to finalize his statement and sign the necessary papers before the case goes to court.” They’re not the only ones hoping to get a scoop, several stations have sent their correspondents and they’re all waiting at each side of the staircase leading into the police station.

Markus finally approaches, escorted by Josh, Simon and North; and with Connor by his side.

Predictably, they are flooded with questions.

“Markus! Markus, do you have any official statement to make?”

“Guys, how did it feel to carry out the meeting while knowing Markus was in danger?”

“Detective! Detective, can you give us some insights on how the culprit was caught?”

“Markus! The defence will probably plead insanity to get a reduction of the sentence, do you have anything to say to that?”

Up until that one question, all of them were just uttering monosyllabic refusals, but that particular one feels worth answering. Markus turns sharply –so much so that Connor tenses slightly by his side– but his expression is calm and his voice is steady when he speaks.

“Actually, I do have something to say to that, yes.” He clasps a hand around the one holding the closest microphone, who just to happen to belong to Channel 16’s correspondent, “Insanity does not excuse the crime. Not when the perpetrator still understands fully the implications and consequences of what they’re doing, however much their distorted reasoning makes them believe it’s righteous or necessary. And neither does a tragic past enable a criminal.” He makes an effort to look straight into the camera, and for the first time in his whole career, Joss Douglas wavers slightly in front of such a commanding presence, “The more I think about what transpired yesterday, the more I want absolutely no one else to ever go through what I did. Abused people turning into abusers is not justice, and it never will be. We need to break that cycle. We need to be better than that.”

With that, he releases the mic he had claimed and the journalist holding it, and smiles warmly at the whole lot of them, mismatched eyes gentle as ever. “Please, now… people will be coming and going; we all have plenty of work to do. Do take care while heading back; and be safe.”

All the journalists are exploding with more questions at first, crowding the staircase even more, but Joss Douglas stands there in awe for a moment. Never before had he directly been subjected to the odd-eyed wonder that is Markus Manfred looking directly at you. He clears his voice and turns to his camera-man. “W-well, Michael. As you probably have heard, Markus has made his comment for Channel 16. They have now gone inside the station to finalize the reports.”

Whew. Thinking back on it, he can scarcely believe that the nameless android he was barely even glancing at from his cozy and safe helicopter spot would reveal himself to be this incredibly unique individual.

Someone who, in spite of adverse circumstances and hateful people coming at him from all sides, still stays true to his ideals and fights for something he really believes in. Some would call it naïve.

Others would call it extraordinary.

Perhaps they all have a thing or two to learn about humanity… and, quite ironically, they can learn by watching two androids, who just walked into the DPD station tenderly holding hands.

Joss smiles to himself –he’ll keep his mouth shut about that particular piece of information; they’re owed that, at the very least.

Though he does hope that they’ll make it public soon; and that when they do, they’ll choose Channel 16 for it. You never know. “Thank you Michael, back to you in the studio.”

Plus, it would feel nicer to deliver good news, for once.

God knows those two deserve some.

Chapter Text

With the bill on android’s working rights finally in complete effect, things change yet again –the android workforce returns some to the tasks they were programmed for, but now, they’re not slaves anymore and they can choose for themselves.

It is a scary thought for most humans, but ultimately it sets things moving in a way that is beneficial for everyone. The road is still very long and very much uphill, but little by little they’re making way.

Markus is still at the forefront of the dialogue between humans and androids; and even though no one can really predict the future –not the distant future anyways– he knows that when the time comes that androids are able to elect their own representatives his name will pop up, whether he wants it to or not. He really doesn’t look forward to the idea of being a politician or a diplomat, it feels like wearing a suit that hides the real him, but… there’s things to be done, and somebody will have to do them.

If nothing else, he will have his friends, his family and his lover to always help him keep what matters in sight.

North gave him an impossibly big hug when he first got back to Jericho, calling him an idiot over and over and chastising him for making her worry, but eventually kissed him on the cheek and refused to cry as she welcomed him back. Simon did cry; and Josh will probably make fun of him for eternity for that, but regardless of all the chaos the reunion with his people felt like a healing balm on Markus’s soul.

Now, after having dealt with the bureaucratic side of his horrible misadventure, the RK200 can actually sit and relax for a second –Connor is coming soon and then they’ll go together to visit Carl, but a brunette flash running around catches Markus’s attention.

“Katrina, hey!”

She stops and turns, eyes sparkling and smile wide. “Yes?”

“I never thanked you properly for taking the time to bring us spare parts the other day.” He starts, eyes slightly downcast, “And for… keeping people from freaking out over here. North told me you were a big help in avoiding panic.”

Katrina shakes her head. “I really did what anyone else in my place would have done.” She assures, a far cry from the shy and jittery girl who hid behind North, afraid to be by herself. Possibly thanks to her relationship with their explosive blond bombshell, Katrina has gradually gotten much more confident and can easily understand other people’s worries, because they were often her own as well.

“Still. You are the definition of going above and beyond.” Markus says, really grateful to all the powers that be that they did manage to find her and save her, and give her the chance to show her potential as a person and a friend. “If there is ever anything I can do for you, you just have to name it.”

At those words, she makes a show of mulling it over, then grabs his chin between her thumb and index finger: “Just promise me you’ll let me put some eyeliner on you one of these days and we’re square.”

She goes off with a wink, leaving a confused Markus standing there just as Connor appears in the hall.

“Hey, you.” He greets, grabbing both of Markus’s hands gently and distracting him from his thoughts, “What’s going on?”

The RK200 blinks his musings away, to meet Connor halfway for a quick kiss. “I may or may not have agreed to being Katrina’s guinea pig.”

Connor laughs, beautiful and carefree. It’s a sound Markus will never tire of hearing. “Oh, man. You’re on your own for that.” He jokes, turning to fall into step with his boyfriend.

Mismatched eyes roll upwards as the RK200 lightly punches the other in the shoulder. “Shut up. She will make me look fantastic and you will eat your words.”

“Oh, hey, Softboy is here!” Lexie runs up to the couple and jump-hugs Connor. “Hi, Softboy!”

Now, Connor has been getting used to physical affections, though a good 85% of it is with Markus, and the rest is divided between the occasional hug or shoulder pat from Hank and likewise expression whenever they go visit Carl with Leo. This is… new. Still, he holds the petite redhead at the sides to prevent her from falling, and gently helps her back down.

He’d like to say something, anything, but none of the dialogue options popping up make any sense to him. In the end, he settles for the obvious. “…Softboy?”

Markus smiles warmly at the whole scene. Connor had already been getting better at letting go of his past, and the people of Jericho had warmed up to him long before the whole serial killer mess started, but now? After everything he’s done? Connor is as much of a hero in their people’s eyes as Markus is. “Don’t mind it, Lexie has nicknames for everyone.” He says, stepping in and ruffling the AX model’s head. “Don’t you, Red?”

“You bet it, Blue!” she says, once more focusing on Connor hands joined in a prayer position at her mouth. “So… when are you bringing Sumo over next?”

“Ah, your true intentions are revealed, you only like me for my dog!”

“It’s the best dog! Such a good dog!”

The friendly banter follows them until they’re out of the complex and really, neither of them would have it any other way.

Carl would have probably tried harder to be stern at them, had he been in a stronger condition –as things are, he and Markus just end up hugging as they cry while Connor feels incredibly awkward patting his boyfriend’s back. Thomas leaves them courteously alone, and only comes back once they’ve settled a bit and Markus manages to make Carl smile with a very dark and out of place joke that works precisely because it’s in such bad taste –and he’s allowed to, since he’s the one who almost got hammered to bits.

They eventually take their leave with laughter and hugs, but there’s the silent awareness among them that Carl’s vitals are fading; and any future visit might be the last.

Markus is sombre for the rest of the day, and even when Connor has to leave his side he still checks in with a call every now and then.

 

Time passes, the case of the ‘hammer killer’ goes to court, Markus is called as a witness and everything is hard and under the public’s eyes once more. It’s a harsh song and dance, bureaucrats and judges and laws –it’s easy for an android to foresee the end, especially for one as advanced as Markus is; it doesn’t even take more than a few seconds to run a search through the legislation code and the history of similar cases.

Multiple charges of first degree murder, however mitigated by insanity, end in life imprisonment without parole; with 30 years behind bars being the minimum mandatory sentence to serve.

When he leaves the courthouse for the last time with his lover by his side, the RK200 leans his head on Connor’s shoulder. “Will he at least have access to a psychiatrist?”

Typical Markus –compassionate to a fault. The detective knew, the very second he found out about what happened to Jackie, that Markus would feel sympathy for the human, because that’s just who Markus is, and he wouldn’t change that for the world. Truth is, this world is flawed and unfair, and whatever help Jackie will get now still won’t get him out of prison, not with all the lives he has taken –anything now will be the proverbial too little too late. Still, he loops an arm around Markus’s shoulders. “For what it’s worth, yes. There will be psychologists and psychiatrists to follow inmates with mental illnesses, but…”

…but no one will hold high hopes for someone so far gone.

“How self-centered have I been?” Markus asks, after a beat of silence, and Connor has to stop walking to gawk at his lover.

“Self-centered? You? Do I have to run a diagnostic on you, Markus?”

The RK200 bites his lip and just sort of hugs himself. “Ever since I woke up, start to finish, I thought about our people…” he says, not really looking anywhere, “I talked a big game about living in peace with humans, but I never stopped to think about the impact our mass liberation would have on them, I was so sure of what they would say and do that I never stopped to think about what they felt…”

Connor grabs his boyfriend by the hands, sending the interfacing prompt even as he speaks. “You’re setting yourself up to an impossible standard, Markus. Nobody that is fighting for freedom ever stops to try and figure out how their oppressors feel, not when the balance of power is that unequal.”

Letting his lover’s feelings flood through him, Markus does calm down a bit. He knows Connor is right, no one could possibly think of everyone at all times… but he also knows himself, and he knows he will always try his damnedest to pursue balance and freedom.

“Are you ready to accept that you’re a good person, an amazing one, even, or do I have to beat it into you?”

Markus actually smirks at that, green and blue eyes rising to pin themselves into Connor’s. “I’d like to see you try, hunter.”

A sparring match between them would actually be something to be reckoned with, but through their still connected hands the RK800 feels an entirely different type of… challenge. “Those are fighting words, deviant.”

A few hours later, they’re in Markus’s little rooftop alcove, cuddling on his couch as the RK200 runs his hands through Connor’s hair. Markus’s t-shirt is a bit big on Connor, but he’s inclined to let his lover keep it just for the adorableness factor alone.

He’s also just now discovering that Connor, badass detective who can and will take anyone in a fight, wears cute animal-pattern socks and he absolutely cannot get over how absurdly cute that is. A living contradiction, this one –deviant hunter and deviant, hardass and adorable… fighter and lover.

“Penny for your thoughts?” the RK800’s voice brings him out of his musing, and Markus chuckles.

“What is with you and coins?” he teases, enduring the small shove as he then just holds Connor tighter. “I was just thinking… we should put people out of their misery and just confirm the rumors already.”

Some of the theories going around are hilarious –whether or not Connor is actually Markus’s significant other, why would they be trying to keep it a secret after Markus did confirm having a significant other; and many other topics of discussion from people with way too much time on their hands.

Much to Connor’s dismay, several of Markus’s admirers have taken a shine to him too; and Simon has been routinely teasing them about their fan-club.

 

And of course, Simon had called it. When Markus does something ridiculously sugary and public, it happens by accident. They’re having yet another conference about the latest developments on the android rights front, and Connor followed Markus there –officially for security, but he is actually just a supportive boyfriend.

Dutifully standing behind Markus’s seat as he was, while the Q&A session was going on, Connor is faster in picking up the file that accidentally scatters to the floor. Out of habit, when his lover holds out his hand to give it back, Markus tugs him down by the wrist and steals a quick kiss, followed by the words “Thanks, love.” –likewise out of habit, Connor lets him.

Neither of the two would have realized they are still in public –and in front of cameras, no less– if not for the collective intake of breath coming from around them. Luckily, the people around them are mostly diplomats and other such characters, and it’s probably the only reason the room doesn’t explode with questions while North just tries to hide her laughter behind a hand. Josh rolls his eyes knowing full well what is to come after this, and Simon’s comment of “called it!” gets easily picked up by the cameras.

Glancing briefly at each other, the two easily come to the decision that since the cat is out of the bag they might as well be obvious about it; and that’s how Markus spends the entire rest of the conference with his fingers twined with Connor’s, as he holds the other android’s hand at his heart’s height.

The televised footage ends up everywhere, and Connor and Markus easily become known as a ‘power couple’ of sorts. They get pestered about it until they agree to one of those ‘couple interviews’ on Channel 16 –Markus has to laugh, because poor Joss looks so awkward when what he thought would be a cute, romantic story turned out to be… quite different.

“Well, you know… I was… trying to lead a peaceful revolution to ensure the survival of my people… and this guy walks in, pointing a gun to my head.”

“So there I was, hunting the deviant leader and ready to kill if need be…”

The two androids look at each other, look at their host’s flabbergasted expression, and just start laughing.

To be fair, it does take a turn for the cute and romantic after a while. “…and he decided to trust me, despite everything. And… looking back on it, I think I always knew what I really felt. I just didn’t have a name for it.”

Markus’s fingers tighten around Connor’s as the RK800 speaks. “And you say I’m the sugary one?”

 

Hank teases Connor about the whole thing a lot –the android lets him, since the Lieutenant has been really good in cutting back on drinks and hasn’t played Russian roulette in a long, long time… if a bit of good-natured teasing is the price to pay for a healthier Hank, Connor will gladly sign up for it.

And it would seem like father figures who pick up on obvious romance clues before their sons are of similar minds, because Carl is nothing short of gleeful the next time they see each other after that –and let’s not even talk about the few times Connor was able to convince Hank to come along… the Lieutenant felt awkward and out of place at first, but soon enough Carl and Hank have started cracking jokes about their android lovebird sons..

Today in particular might have something to do with Leo also being over and proudly announcing that he and Meredith are engaged now, but it’s undeniable that Mr Manfred senior has been rooting for them ever since day one.

His breathing has become short and feeble, he can’t quite be separated from his respirator and spends more time sleeping than he does awake, but he still insists that his sons play some music and have fun.

Thomas is keeping a watchful eye and has been trying to suggest that his patient sleep some more, but today Carl is having none of it. As if he felt he absolutely needs to make the most of this one evening.

“How about the two of you have a little dance?”

Markus and Connor look at each other. “Carl…” the RK200 starts, gentle worry in his voice, “You’re not well… you should rest—”

“I know. I know…” the painter has to take a few good breaths to continue, “But do this one thing for me and then I’ll go to sleep without complaining. I just want to see my sons smile.”

By his side, Meredith squeezes Carl’s hand, regarding him with a kind smile before reaching for the stereo. She knows Carl’s pain meds haven’t been as effective lately, and that Thomas was reluctant to up the dose for fear of the patient’s body not being able to take it. “I’ve got just the song.” She simply says, winking to the boys.

‘Love me or leave me’ starts playing and Markus can barely conceal a groan. “Seriously? Come on!” he exclaims, but he is already laughing and pulling Connor into the far side of the room to dance –Leo dutifully pushes the chair out of the way, promptly sitting on it and tapping his foot to the beat.

They all know what’s happening here, and they are more than willing to let Carl have this.

Markus is in his paint smock and Connor is drowning in one of his hoodies, it already looks a bit silly; so, just for the sake of it, they make it ridiculous and over the top, constantly alternating between who has the lead and purposely making fun of each other at times, and by the end of their impromptu choreography they both just crumble to the floor while their family claps loudly for them.

Markus, being himself, throws his legs in a windmill in lieu of standing up properly, prompting Connor to shake his head at him. “Oh, you show-off.”

It still gets him a kiss.

Carls chuckles quietly as he watches them. “Hey, Connor.”

“Yes?” the RK800 used to feel embarrassed or, rather, slightly put on the spot whenever Carl addressed him directly, but now he simply gravitates towards the painter to listen to him.

“You know what really makes me happy?” he asks, not quite lucid but affection clear in his voice,

The RK800 shakes his head minutely. “No… what?”

“That even when I’ll be gone, you will have each other.” The painter says, motioning to his sons in a silent plea to come closer, “That I haven’t failed my boys…” he adds, lifting a weak hand to clasp Leo’s, “…and that whatever void I leave behind, it will be filled with more love. Right, Markus?”

Markus nods, leaning sideways to kiss Connor on the cheek. “This guy is the right hand to my left, and the color in my paintings. I’m not letting something like that go.”

“You’ll never get rid of me, Markus.” Connor jokes, bumping shoulders with him.

Carl’s chuckle is weaker still. “You sure know how to make an old man’s heart full…” he mumbles, words starting to slur slightly, “Thank you… all of you…”

Markus has one hand clasped around Carl’s… and can feel his pulse from the painter’s wrist. It’s weaker than it’s ever been. He blinks back his tears –if this is goodbye, let it be a happy one.

“I think… I’ll close my eyes for a moment, now.” Carl says, slumping down in his bed with some help from Meredith, “You take good care of each other, okay?”

“Okay.” Leo’s voice is slightly broken, but none of them mention it.

Markus leans forward slightly, kissing his father’s forehead. “Goodnight, Carl.”

The painter smiles softly at the contact and, eventually, he closes his eyes and falls asleep.

Thomas steps over to check his vitals –the one good thing about any of this is that the painkillers Carl was on will make sure he will eventually pass on comfortably and with the dignity his person still carried after so many years.

There’s only so much Markus can linger into the room after that.

On the next morning, Thomas delivers a sad but not unexpected news.

As per his wishes, the funerals for Carl Manfred are a quiet and private thing. Simon, Josh, North and Katrina attend, to pay their respects to the man who basically raised their leader to be what he is today; and even Hank pays a visit, if only to be there for Connor while Connor is there for Markus.

Markus and Leo spend a long time silently hugging each other –they’ve come a long way from barely tolerating each other’s presence, and they will honor their father’s memory by being the best version of themselves they could possibly be.

To say that Markus is sad to see Carl go would be an understatement –he feels a stark and brutal emptiness in his chest and he knows he will feel devastated for a long time, and miss his father terribly– but they’re a family. They’ll keep each other strong.

He accepts Connor’s hand when his lover holds it out for him, and takes a calming breath. They’ve had time to prepare for this, and they know that, at the very least, Carl left them happy, and at peace.

 “How are you holding up?” Connor eventually asks, once they get back.

Markus walks up to him and embraces him, silently at first as he nuzzles his neck. “I’m… not okay.” He admits, breathing in and out, “But… I will be. Eventually.” Connor holds him tight, feeling the comforting hum of the other’s interface as polymer makes way to porcelain white, and Markus sighs. “Eventually… everything will be alright.”

Everything will be alright.

And even if time and mortality are more far-off concepts to androids, Markus will heed Carl’s advice; and treasure every single moment he gets to spend with the one he loves.

 

Eventually, life goes on, and Markus buries himself in work and painting –he’s been going over to the mansion to use the studio more and more often; and Leo and Meredith are more than happy to have him, since neither of them use it– so much so that Connor has to chase him around sometimes, to remind him to take breaks every now and then.

“I see you’ve been painting a big one.” The RK800 comments with a chuckle, looking up at Markus, who’s perched on the crane chair and covered in paint up to his elbows.

The canvas is a kaleidoscopic mess of colours, but to a more attentive inspection it becomes clear that there’s thousands of small, stylized butterflies in different colors and sizes –only the topmost left corner is still not as full as the rest of the canvas. It almost looks like a giant mandala, but to an even more attentive inspection, hidden in the empty spaces between the butterflies, there’s the silhouetted shape of a man, from the shoulders up.

Connor is pretty sure he can guess who that is.

In the time he spent examining the painting; Markus has hopped down from the machine and tried to clean his hands some on a rug. “It’s going to be my wedding gift for Meredith and Leo.” He says, kissing his lover in lieu of a greeting. “Do you think they’ll like it?”

Connor actually makes a face at that. “Something you’ve been pouring your heart in for the past three months?” he asks rhetorically, “Let me think…” he actually bops Markus in the head, “Of course they’ll like it!”

To be fair, Connor is very excited for the wedding as well –they all knew from the start that those two were inseparable, and next week they’ll finally seal the deal.

Markus retaliates to his sass by hugging Connor close at the waist –inevitably getting paint somewhere on him. The RK800 doesn’t rise to the bait, though, and simply clasps his hands behind Markus’s neck, smirking at him and pulling him in for a kiss.

Fourteen minutes and thirty-four seconds later, Connor pulls back to playfully bite at the tip of Markus’s nose. “So, what was the big news that absolutely could not wait?”

Mismatched eyes lighting up, the RK200 has a surge of movement and pulls Connor by the hand, to go sit on one of the studio’s tables. “You’re not even ready for this.” Granted, Markus always had a flair for dramatics, but the pause for effects gets even Connor to hold the breath he doesn’t need for it. “We’re… going to be… uncles!”

In all of his near-infinite processing power, all response options Connor gets in his interface are ‘what?’.

“What?!”

Markus’s smile couldn’t possibly get any brighter. “I know!”

Uncles. Meredith and Leo are going to have a baby. There’s no response in all of his scripts that could possibly convey his excitement. “Markus, this is—” he’s going to be an uncle. Oh, he will absolutely have to tell Hank. “Did they— did they decide on a name yet?”

The RK200 nods, excitement toning down a notch in favor of genuine fondness. “Carol. It’s a girl.”

Of course.

rA9 save us all, between Markus, himself and the guys from Jericho, their little niece is going to be spoiled rotten. And God forbid anyone tell Hank he’s what amounts to a great-uncle.

That will be a disaster.

…and yet, Connor has the strange feeling that whatever chaos the future holds, he will be more than happy to greet it, with the people he loves by his side.

Never in a million years would he have imagined himself free to think for himself and free to love and be loved in return. He smiles to himself as Markus dives forward for another kiss.

After all, statistically speaking, there’s always a chance for unlikely events to take place.

Because they are alive.