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A Ghost by Midnight

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    Dec 31st, 2038

 

In a rare moment of perfect lucidity, Lieutenant Hank Anderson realized that for the first time in four years he had arrived at the department’s annual New Years party uninebriated. That was not to say he was perfectly sober - nearing eleven o’clock he had already had more champagne than most, and the familiar beginnings of tingling in his fingertips and cheeks was settling in. But he had arrived without such sensation, and he felt proud of himself, prouder than he ought to. Showing up to such occasion sober was a formality that no one truly expected or held themselves to, like using one’s elbow to cover a sneeze, or not urinating in the shower.

There were certainly less people compared to last year (from what he could remember), more familiar faces than he expected, old friends come out of retirement to fill the gaps left by Markus’ revolution. Well over half of the androids the DPD had depended upon were gone - dead or missing or left of their own accord. That any had opted to stay at all came as a surprise, but far from an unwelcome one. To say that the past month and a half had been difficult would be an understatement; but an air of hope still lingered about the remainers, and despite the lack of legal headway that had been made to fully integrate them, it was hard to find fault with them.

Not so hard for everyone, of course. Though he idled in the back corner of the room, Gavin still managed to find him, his weasel-like face unmistakable even in Hank’s blurry peripheral vision. He narrowed his eyes at his champagne glass, still half-full, as if trying to find fault with it. His sad attempt to look occupied was not enough to deter the young detective, Gavin stopping just short of him, his tongue clicking against the roof of his mouth.

“No need to indulge in private, Hank. You wouldn’t be surprising anyone,” said Gavin.

Hank sighed. “Has anyone ever told you that your mouth makes too much noise when you talk?”

“Rumor has it you’ve gotten a raise,” he continued, ignoring Hank’s gibe. If ever he had to give Gavin credit for anything, it would be for his dogged persistence. “But not for you - for your little plastic pet. To cover for him, you know, until they make it ‘official.’”

Connor had stayed, too. He asked to. Hank was happy for it, but it had bewildered him. From what he understood of a singular eavesdropping session, Connor had turned down a rather significant offer from one of Markus’ companions - one of those blonde models, with the perpetual sad puppy expression. Hank could never remember his name, but he remembered the disappointment on his face when Connor declined, and his own feeling of satisfaction in response.

Hank watched the android in question from across the room, the triangle emblazoned on the back of his jacket unmistakable in the crowd.

“Some rumor. Mind your own business.”

“The way I see it, it is my business. Maybe I’m next. I know I’m not the only one that doesn’t want a cut of their pay going to one of these things.” Gavin paused. “The fuck do they even want money for? Not like they need anything. Other than… you know.” The smirk on his face at his attempted jab sounded clear on his voice, the meaning behind his words, less so.

“No, but let me guess: a bullet between the eyes?”

“Not what I was going for, but that does sound tempting.”

“How the hell did someone as trigger happy as you ever get a badge?”

“Me? I thought you were the proof they let anyone join.”

“No,” Hank began, as if explaining a concept to a small child. “I’m the proof they let anyone stay. The difference between you and I is that I waited to fuck around until I had tenure, whereas you’ve been a shithead since day one.”

“Maybe. Not like that’ll always save you. I hear that asshole from the FBI still has it out for you.” He turned his attention towards the center of the room, Hank not having to look up to discern Gavin’s target. “Your little bitch boy will miss you.”

Hank smacked his lips. He took a moment to consider. The champagne had been much better last year. “You know what your problem is,” he said. “Your mother never spanked you as a child.”

“Should I take that as an offer? I guess you’re the right age to be into that sort of sick shit.”

Hank ignored him. “It’s said Elijah Kamski left CyberLife to work on a time machine. I’ll be the first in line, and pay whatever fee he charges out of pocket, just so I can fix your mother’s mistake for her, personally.”

“Yeah?” Gavin laughed. “When you get back you’ll have to tell me how well it fulfilled your uh, fantasy.”

“Don’t worry, Gavin,” said Hank. “You’d know.”

Thankfully, that seemed to be enough to get rid of him. Gavin sauntered back to the front of the room, his shoulder bumping against Connor’s with a comical amount of purpose. Connor took a step back, his conversation with another android coming to a standstill. He looked to Hank, his expression confused.

Hank shrugged. As compelling as Gavin’s personal problems might be, he had no desire to pursue them, preferring instead to keep to himself and wait patiently for the young detective to finish puberty.

Connor approached him from across the room. One of these days Hank was going to have to teach him that extended eye contact was not necessarily an invitation to come over.

“Is everything alright, Lieutenant?”

“Yeah. Just Gavin being a prick as usual,” said Hank. “You let him give you too much shit. Stand up for yourself, for once.”

“I don’t know why he gives me-- why he has such a problem with me, in particular. I’ve never been anything but polite to him.”

Hank’s lip curled in disgust. “What for?”

The question was a pointless one, one they both knew the answer to. It felt strange to amend his own query aloud, however, and instead Hank grunted and finished the rest of his drink. Connor seemed to take the cue, or perhaps he simply didn’t feel like answering, the short silence between them welcome either way.

“Captain Fowler has some things to say before the countdown starts,” Connor said. “Would you like to come over?”

Hank knew Jeffrey’s mandated holiday addresses were about as jubilant as boot camp, but he nodded all the same.

“Yeah, sure.”

 

    Nov 19th, 2038

 

It took very little to convince Connor to stay with him. The android worked for seven days straight after President Warren finally managed to gather her wits about her, which was long enough to wear thin Hank’s tremendous patience. Maybe he gave himself too much credit. Or maybe not. He had simply gone an awful long time without seeing the android, and given what happened at CyberLife Tower, it felt appropriate to become agitated after so long; and so he made sure to dedicate a day towards flagging down the first android he could find in the hopes of relaying a message. Just for a simple check-in. It wasn’t as if he was worried.

He hadn’t expected Connor to meet him so soon, his appearance unweathered, his uniform still clean and perfectly pressed.

He also hadn’t planned on hugging him either. He would swear it on his mother’s grave. But Connor’s smile had been unexpected in and of itself, and it felt right in the heat of that bare moment, and then, not. Connor didn’t quite know what to do with his hands, hovering over Hank’s back, a breath away from making contact, awkward and endearing and so painfully human that Hank couldn’t help but laugh as he drew back. He put forth his offer, and Connor ducked his head, still smiling, his voice small.

“I’d like that.”

 

-

 

That being settled, Hank stubbornly refused to admit that he had not thought this affair all the way through.

Connor stopped by the couch after stepping through the front door, as if not knowing what to do with himself. It was already dark outside. Hank shuffled in, closing the door behind him, draping his coat over the back of the couch and depositing his keys on the nearby desk.

“So? How’s it feel coming in through the damn door this time?”

Connor looked at him, the corners of his mouth tugging downwards into a pout. “You didn’t give me much choice. I couldn’t just leave you there.”

“Could have,” said Hank, as he turned and pointed a finger at him, stepping further into the room. “But you didn’t. I’ve got not complaints. CyberLife covered the bill, after all.”

“Is that why? I thought you were more pleased with the excuse to go to Eden Club,” said Connor, with that annoying straightface of his.

“Oh, fuck off.”

Sumo made his way over from the hall to saunter up to Connor, tail wagging, his pace slowed in his senior years. Connor knelt down to pet him, lacking any of the awkwardness that pervaded his interactions with humans. Hank watched them in thought. How strange that an android designed to work with humans would have such easy success with an animal. He tried not to read too much into it.

He looked around the living room with a frown. It was far from tidy. “So, uh,” Hank began. He rubbed the back of his neck. He really hadn’t thought this through. “I guess… I guess you can sleep on the couch for now, while I figure something out. Or I could take the couch, and--”

“You don’t need to go that far,” Connor interrupted. He gave Sumo one final pat before standing to his full height. “I don’t need to sleep.”

“Yeah, well, my house, my rules. Sleep. Or at least pretend to. Whatever it is you… people have to do.”

“Okay,” said Connor. He raised his eyebrows, a preamble to a smile, and it was difficult to tell if it was a serious expression or not. “If space is a concern, I can rest while standing.”

“Wow, really?” Hank’s tone was laden with sarcasm, but Connor was easily rused.

“Yes?”

“Cool, I bet you’re great at parties. Sleep on the fucking couch.”

Realizing he had been teased, Connor looked away with that expression on his face, the one Hank hated. Whose idea was it to give a top of the line investigation model puppy dog eyes, Hank wondered. Whoever it was (certainly not Kamski, no, his tastes seemed too eclectic and macabre for such a thing), Hank had some words for them. It was a cheap trick, he knew it, but he felt bad nonetheless. A feeling he could do well without.

“Anyway,” Hank continued. “We’ll get you set up in the garage, I guess. Not like I ever use it. You can help me clear it out tomorrow, mostly just old junk that can be trashed.”

Connor furrowed his brow. “Are you sure? I don’t want to impose to such an extent.”

“Like I said, I’m not using it. Look, if it’s going to be such a problem for you, do it for my sake. Not yours. Okay?”

“Alright,” Connor said. He had the grace to look a bit sheepish.

“Great. I think I like it when you’re accommodating. Not that you should never put up a fight, either,” Hank said. It was frustrating to be argued with over his own generosity. He was a fool for thinking this would be easy, but he realized perhaps it wasn’t so easy for the android, either. “I’m going to uh, find some food, then watch the game. Feel free to, uh…” He motioned to Connor aimlessly. “Yeah. Whatever.”

That was awkward. Hank shrugged it off and made his way over to the fridge. When was the last time he had a roommate? Not since his twenties, when he thought on it. A week ago it would have been absurd to consider an android a roommate at all, but Connor was more than that, now. Maybe he always had been - not that he’d give voice to that, at least not yet. The past two weeks had been filled with more sentiment than the human body could process for at least a year. It had worn him out.

With leftover Chinese takeout in hand, still cold, Hank stepped back into the living room. Connor had taken a seat on the couch, back straight, hands folded in his lap. He stared intently at the television and it blinked on.

A month ago he would have only been annoyed. But now he stood at the threshold of the kitchen, funneling stale rice into his mouth, nodding absently.

“Huh. That’s convenient.”

 

    Nov 22nd, 2038

 

To the surprise of… well, no one, Connor proved remarkably efficient in clearing out the garage. They cleaned and supplied it with furnishings old and new, and in a few days it became passably comfortable. Just passably. It could be better, should be, deserved to be. But Connor was all smiles and bright eyes when they finished, satisfied and grateful, and Hank figured he could save the criticism for another day.

“You ended up doing most of the work,” Hank said the night after they finished, sitting spread eagle on the couch, a cold beer in hand.

Connor looked at the bottle before he looked to Hank. Something in his neck twitched, and Hank wondered why an android would have a need to swallow. “I don’t mind. I was happy to help. It was… energizing.”

“Energizing,” Hank repeated.

“Right.”

“We must have very different definitions of the word.”

“Mentally energizing, then,” Connor corrected with a small smile. A CyberLife ad, now obsolete, ran on the TV. “Sorry, I don’t mean to make fun of you.”

Hank chuckled. “Come on. You should know by now that I can take it.” He took a swig of his beer. His feet hurt. Work tomorrow could wait - even while understaffed, few would notice him showing up at any point before two. “I’ll pick up a space heater for your room tomorrow. Or maybe two, you think? It’s pretty spacious in there.”

“One should be enough. So long as the temperature doesn’t dip too far below -21 degrees fahrenheit, I’ll be unaffected.”

“Christ, that low?”

“It’s only beyond that point that even I might start having difficulty.” There was a pregnant pause. When Connor’s basic explanation did nothing to assuage Hank’s visible confusion, he continued. “Only very minor technical complications, mostly related to motor responsiveness. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable, when it’s cold.”

“Oh. Right.” Hank narrowed his eyes. “Not even a little bit?”

“No. There is software that can simulate such a response, but it’s rarely seen."

“There is? Why? What the hell for?”

“It’s standard for child models, in order to make them seem more human.”

Hank frowned and stared at the TV. His grip on his bottle tightened. “That’s fucked up,” he muttered.

“It’s not as if they’re actually cold,” Connor said quickly. “They just sense the temperature, and emulate the standard human reaction accordingly.”

Hank side-eyed Connor for a moment before looking at him in full. Connor seemed earnest, leaning forward in his seat, eyes wide. No, he was earnest, he was even before, in his own way. Hank knew it. He believed it. The programmed response to rattle off facts would never go away, but it had transformed; it was a desire to be understood, to allow Hank to understand.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Hank said slowly.

“No, I suppose not,” Connor said, his head bowing slightly. Still, he did not look away from Hank, and there was an air of expectation about him as he watched in silence. Unfortunately (or fortunately, really, Hank was torn) he didn’t lay bare his thoughts without prompting, and so it was up to Hank to test the waters.

Not that he felt obligated to. He wanted to.

“Well,” he started. His looked back to the TV without really paying attention to it. These days the news had become so repetitive it was difficult to focus on. “Even if it made you more… human-like, or whatever nonsense that’s about…” He cleared his throat. “Being cold sucks, and being hot is even worse. No living creature should be made to suffer the indignity of swamp ass. Don’t waste your energy even thinking about such shitty software.”

There was a pause. Eventually, Connor straightened up and let out what sounded like a half-sigh. Hank couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t bring himself to look - there was something that made Connor difficult to watch, when he was like this.

“I won’t, then.”

“The fuck? Don’t tell me you were seriously considering it.” His assumption had been a shot in the dark, and the last thing he expected was to hit a target.

“It might have been interesting to try. And if you had wanted,” Connor said with ease.

Hank finished his beer. He sighed. “What I want, is to be treated like a tired old man who’s done enough good in the past week to cover me for the next two years. Three, if I’m lucky. And another beer.”

“You really shouldn’t.”

He rolled his eyes and turned to look at Connor fully. “Humor me.”

“Just this once,” Connor agreed, and he stood up to do just that, stepping around Sumo, careful to not make too much noise.

If you had wanted.

Those words stayed with Hank for the rest of the night. By morning, they were forgotten.

 

    Dec 5th, 2038

 

It might never be easy.

That was what Hank Anderson declared to himself as he stared into his bathroom mirror one morning. Despite how it sounded, it was a positive thought. An encouraging one. He’d have to buy more post-it notes.

He had been living alone for years, but it took only a few weeks for him to grow used to waking up with someone else once more. Connor was always the first to rise (Had he even been asleep? Or whatever the android equivalent was? Hank was too chickenshit to check, or ask), usually in the kitchen, preparing coffee and breakfast. His timing was eerily precise when it came to Hank’s waking hours, and he wondered if perhaps the android had installed cameras in his bedroom.

“You don’t have to act like my maid, you know,” Hank said to him one morning. He meant it. But not really. It was a half-truth; he had never met anyone that actually enjoyed making coffee.

“I don’t have anything else to do,” Connor said. Hank raised an eyebrow at him as the android worked the stove. Eggs were the order of the day, as they were the day before, and the day before that. He still had no desire to let Connor do the shopping and so the poor creature had to work with the meager tools he was given.

“Is that an accusation?”

“No!” Connor glanced over his shoulder, looking offended. “I’ve told you several times before, I enjoy helping you.”

“Really,” Hank drawled. He had learned by now that sarcastic tones had to be raised to comical amounts in order to be properly perceived by the android.

“Really.” Connor’s tone was overly-indulgent in turn. Mission accomplished. He finished the eggs, turned off the stove, and set a plate in front of Hank. “Though I’d be more happy if you let me give you a shopping list. I’ve researched exactly 376 meals since coming here, but I can put only 12 of them to use with your usual stock.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

Connor took a seat across the table. His wardrobe now consisted of worn sweatpants and thin shirts two sizes too big for him. He wore them well - too well for what essentially amounted to rags Hank no longer wore himself. It was mildly annoying.

Hank reached for the salt, but was stopped as Connor reached out across the table at the same time, grabbing his wrist and holding it there.

“I already put salt in the eggs.”

“Okay. I’m going to add more.”

Connor frowned. “Your daily intake of sodium is already quite high.”

“Either I salt the eggs, or I give them to Sumo. Pick one, Connor.”

Let it never be said that Hank was not a fast learner. Ultimatums seemed to work remarkably well with Connor, and though it felt manipulative, there was something endearing in watching his struggle to choose. His LED flashed yellow, and Connor released his wrist.

Hank smiled. The eggs were very good. At one point he had prided himself on his ability to make the most of simple, basic recipes, but compared to Connor he was completely outclassed. He might’ve been miffed about it in his younger days, but now he felt only peace, and a strange sense of pride; a sort of pride he had no good reason to feel at all. It was not as if he taught Connor to cook.

“So,” Hank said, mouth still full with half-chewed eggs. He jabbed his fork at Connor to gain attention he never lacked. “Pizza tonight?”

“You had pizza two nights ago.”

“Is that a yes?”

Connor furrowed his brow and stared at Hank.

Hank continued. “Chinese then?”

“I don’t think--”

“Pizza or Chinese,” Hank interrupted. “Pick one.”

Connor’s nostrils flared. His LED circled back to yellow. “Chinese,” he said slowly. “But only if you let me order for you.”

It was then Hank’s turn to be annoyed. “That’s not what you’re supposed to say, you sly little shit.”

“I’m a quick learner.” Connor smirked, his chin raising.

“Alright, alright, calm down, Skynet.”

“What’s Skynet?”

 

    Dec 7th, 2038

 

Work dragged on that night. There was nothing particularly complicated about the case, but one of the witnesses involved talked too much and said very little. The situation reminded Hank of his disdain for people , the little hiccups in their humanity, the distortions that made them so awful. He didn’t want to be so jaded, but after so many years it was hard to help.

He just wanted to go home and spend time with his dog.

And Sumo too, of course.

The thought made him smile, which the witness noticed, and his lack of attention was called into question, and things snowballed from there.

It was just past midnight when he made it home. Sumo was waiting by the door and went over to him with a low whine, tail wagging slowly. Hank reached down to pet him, muttering his hellos and sorrys, and the moment he straightened Connor was standing before him.

“Oh, holy fuck. Jesus. Hi, Connor.”

The android stood much too close. His LED was a constant yellow. “Where were you? I tried calling.”

“Yeah, sorry. I left my phone in the car.”

The answer was unsatisfactory, judging by Connor’s expression. Hank stepped around him, took off his jacket, and set it on the back of the couch.

“I’m serious, I would have loved the excuse of a phone call, but I forgot it. Did you walk Sumo?”

“Several times.”

“Thanks.” Hank sniffed as he slipped his shoes off. The scent of lemon and pine wafted through the air, and grew thick as he stepped towards the kitchen. “Were you cleaning again?

Connor hesitated in the form of hanging his discarded coat. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Fuck me,” Hank said with a sigh. He made his way to the bathroom with Connor not far behind. “I did not sign up for this.”

“What did you think you were signing up for, then?”

Connor waited at the threshold of the bathroom and watched Hank as he stood in front of the toilet and undid the buckle of his belt. His LED had gone back to blue, and his eye contact was as impeccable as ever, much to Hank’s chagrin.

They stood like that for a few moments.

“...Do you mind?” Hank asked eventually. It was not as if Connor would care, or that Hank even cared. It was the stare.

Connor turned around.

“Any cameras on the back of your head I should know about?” Not that it mattered now. He really had to piss.

“Just highly sensitive proximity sensors.”

“Uh. Great.” Hank cleared his throat. “Anyway. I don’t know. Figured you’d find a hobby or… something.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t fucking know,” said Hank. He rolled some toilet paper to clean up a spray of misfire on the back of the seat, already ruining Connor’s impeccable work. “Gardening?”

“In the middle of winter?”

“Stop being a fucking pedant on purpose, Connor.”

By now Connor had turned back around. The corners of his mouth twitched into an awkward smile, and he stepped out of the way to let Hank past. He followed him into the kitchen, where Hank went to the cupboard to withdraw a small glass and a bottle of whiskey.

“There is something.” Connor stepped alongside Hank and reached out, his long fingers grasping the neck of the bottle, his hand half over Hank’s, stopping him from pouring any more. He held it there for a while longer before Hank relinquished the bottle with a sigh.

“What is it?” He took a seat at the table and watched the android. He took a sip of his drink. A sip was about what he managed to get out of the bottle at all.

Connor remained standing. He re-sealed the whiskey but did not put it away just yet; his thumb and forefinger running back and forth over its neck, the smooth feel of synthetic skin against glass. He stared at the floor. It was a decidedly nervous stance, Hank realized after a moment, and he felt his heart rate rise in anticipation.

“I was wondering if it might be possible to return to my previous position.” His gaze lifted, looking at Hank beneath unnecessarily long lashes. “With you.”

That was far from what Hank had expected. Androids going back to what they were doing before their hard-won freedom didn’t sound like a smart choice, or even a sane one. Yet Connor’s situation was a unique one, and Hank wondered if he were in a similar position, whether or not he would choose to go back to his old life. Probably not. Or maybe he would. There was nothing more comfortable than the familiar.

“I mean, is that what you want?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Can I ask why?”

“It’s what I was made for. I’m good at it.” Connor lifted his chin, looking at Hank more directly now. “Isn’t it common, for humans to enjoy what they’re good at?”

“I mean, I guess,” said Hank. “But when you say it like that it doesn’t sound very convincing.”

“You can trust that I’m very serious about it.” Connor rest the bottle on the counter. He took a step forward, paused, then took a seat next to Hank. “I can’t be the only one sitting by doing nothing. It feels wasteful, doesn’t it? I don’t believe I’m meant for anything greater than my primary function, like Markus, but I do feel the need to act. It’s likely just my programming, yet… Well, that’s part of me too, isn’t it?”

Hank watched him closely. He took a moment to respond, but no matter his level of preparedness, he knew he could not filter the concern from his voice entirely. “...A little late to be getting all existential.”

“I’m sorry,” said Connor. He tilted his head. “You’re guilty of the same thing, though.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“But, all that aside,” Connor continued. There was no running from his eye contact. His expression was earnest, painfully so; his voice barely a whisper against the quiet of midnight. “I enjoy working with you. I enjoyed it. I’d like to continue where we left off, if we-- if I can.”

Hank took a moment. His thumb twitched against his glass, now empty. It would be hard for anyone to respond to such sincerity, doubly so for him. It was no secret that he was fond of the android - Hank knew, he knew Connor knew - but that didn’t make it any easier to face head on.

“Uh.”

That was all he had to offer in response.

Connor tilted his head in the other direction, his eyebrows knitting, barely; before a programmed tic to make him appear more human - now, the body’s betrayal of feeling.

“Do you not feel the same?”

“Come on, Connor,” Hank said quickly. “You know I do. I know you fucking know it too, you prick. Jesus. Teach me to forget my phone again.”

“I just wanted to be sure,” Connor said in that eager, innocent tone of his. There was that buddy-up bullshit program - but this time he was doing it on purpose.

“Fuck you,” said Hank as he fought back a smile. He jabbed a finger at the android with a pointed look, but his smile grew, and he chuckled quietly.

Connor smiled too. More of his hair had fallen out of place. He leaned forward, forearms resting on the edge of the table.

“I’ll talk to Jeffrey about it tomorrow,” Hank continued after a long silence. “We need all the help we can get, so I doubt he’ll say no.”

“Thank you, Hank.”

“Yeah, don’t thank me yet. He could say no, so don’t get your hopes up.”

“Okay. I won’t.” Connor straightened up, not taking his eyes off Hank. His expression was… soft, if Hank had to put a word to it; but he didn’t want to put a word to it, not now, though he wasn’t sure why

“Right. I’m gonna hit the hay. Don’t let me sleep past nine, let’s say.”

“Got it.”

Hank knew he could count on that.

 

    Feb 21st, 2039

 

Staying on android-related crime had been a unique opportunity, but it turned out to be even more of a downer than he had anticipated. There was something particularly disappointing whenever a call came in, more so than he had ever felt when it had just been humans shooting other humans. Perhaps he had grown to expect more of people these days. People, and androids. He wondered why. No, he knew why.

Connor had his head turned away as he looked out the window of Hank’s car.

If Hank was offered the position again, just himself, he’d probably say no. Hindsight and circumstance and all that.

It had been ten hours since he last ate, but the drive-thru burger he held in his hands wasn’t doing much for his appetite. Two bites was as much as he could stomach.

“What’s on your mind?”

Connor turned to look at him. Snow had started to fall, already sticking to the asphalt of the parking lot they were stopped in. The last snowfall of the year. Or so said the news.

In the reflection of the window he could see Connor’s LED. A constant reminder. To him, and everyone else. It was becoming a rare sight. Most androids chose to remove them, and even considering the ones that did not, there were simply less androids in general. In Detroit, and everywhere else. Warren’s hasty, knee-jerk response left a considerable gap in the android population, especially in urban areas, and CyberLife had ceased production as they underwent a massive restructuring. Maybe they never would. It was all up in the air, now.

“I was thinking about earlier.”

“Ah.”

Yes, earlier. A neighbor had called it in after noticing the door to an apartment was ajar. The android that had been living inside was dead, her abdominal and thoracic cavity opened, the thin plating that had been her ribs spread out from her center, a cradle of plastic. Her innards, the clear tubing that flowed to and from her heart meticulously removed, wrapped about her neck and wrists. Her thirium pump, a source of a pulse, a step closer to humanity, placed gently in her mouth, still intact.

As far as crime scenes went, it was middling in its brutality - not the worst he had ever seen, but memorable. Like a work of art, but disgusting all the same. He might have thought worse of it if it had been a human. It wouldn’t have been nearly as clean.

Connor stared at the dashboard. “It was an android. That did it.”

“What?” That grabbed Hank’s attention. It was unusual, but not nearly as much as Connor’s reticence since then. “How do you know?”

“The way she was disassembled,” he said. His clinical delivery made something in Hank’s gut churn. “It was too clean. Too precise. I doubt a human could have done it so easily, not without leaving some sort of trace.”

“Why didn’t you say so earlier?”

Connor glanced at him, then back to the dashboard. “Because I’m not certain. Someone could have just as easily gotten an android to do it for them.”

Hank nodded absently. He considered his burger again. “Pretty fucked up if you’re right, though. An android doing that to one of their own.”

Connor didn’t have anything to say to that, a small hum of affirmation the only sign that he was listening. Hank let Connor’s theory sink in as he stared out at the snow.

The two sat in silence for nearly five minutes before Connor spoke.

“...Are you not going to eat that?”

Hank looked down. He was still holding the burger. It was cold by now. He frowned at it and wrapped it up and threw it in the paper bag it had come in.

“Nah. Not really feeling it.”

“You should eat. It’s been ten--”

“Ten hours since I last ate. Yeah. I know. Are you ever gonna switch off that Nanny Protocol of yours?”

He frowned. “I keep telling you. There’s no such thing as a ‘Nanny Protocol.’”

“Sure there’s not. Besides, you really want me eating that fast food crap? I know that shit gets your wires all crossed.”

“It’s better than nothing.”

Hank leaned forward to rest his forearms on the wheel. He turned his head to look at Connor. “Shouldn’t you be thinking about that case, instead of calculating calories and the time since my last meal?”

“I’m perfectly capable of doing both at the same time.”

Connor’s tone was terse. Quiet. There was something lacking in him today, like his mind was elsewhere. It might have been easier to place, or approach, if he were human. Hank had never fancied himself a people person. He hesitated, the muscles in his neck tensing, the surge of desire to dispel Connor’s melancholy contrasted with the constant thought that someone like himself could never succeed in such a thing.

Making a decision, Hank reached out to clap a hand on Connor’s shoulder, giving it a small shake. His hand moved closer, finally resting near the base of his neck.

“How about this. We go home, and you can make me some extraordinary health nut shit, and I’ll promise to eat every last bite.” He paused. “If you want, I mean. I can take care of myself, if you’d rather… do your own thing.”

That seemed to work. The android brightened considerably, shifting in his seat, leaning closer to the driver’s side. “No! No. I want to do that. I like taking care of you.”

Hank gave Connor a final, light shove, before withdrawing his hands to put the car in drive. “Christ, no need to make me sound like a geriatric.”

“I like covering for your blind spots, then.”

“Is taking care of myself one of my blind spots?”

“In terms of nutrition, yes, absolutely.”

“Are you busting my balls or just trying to show off? I can never tell.”

Connor hesitated. Out of the corner of Hank’s eye he could see the slow creep of a smile on his face, not quite reaching his eyebrows, but his eyes were warm. The melancholy from before dissipated.

“I’m perfectly capable of doing both at the same time.”

 

    Feb 26th, 2039

 

He was not geriatric.

He was middle-aged.

Gracefully middle-aged, too. He had managed to keep his weight mostly in check despite his bad habits thus far, and the silver hair was just a result of the job. Sure, he hadn’t done as well as Jeffrey, but he was doing leagues better than Ben. He was happy with where he was.

Well, maybe not entirely happy, but Hank felt it important to convince himself he was. It would come true eventually, that way. Would he like to be young again? Certainly. But he wouldn’t want to deal with all the bullshit that came with it.

A happy middle ground for his middle-age.

And like any middle-aged man, he had needs. He wasn’t particularly proud of it, but it was something that had to get done, like cleaning the toilet and changing the oil in one’s car. Hank knew the type of person he could turn into if he neglected himself, and so it was with this in mind that he brought his computer into his bedroom for a good mid-afternoon wank.

It wouldn’t be the first time he jerked off since Connor moved in, but he couldn’t bring himself to worry about that, since he was sure the android wouldn’t care. At least, he hoped he wouldn’t care.

Or, maybe he would. There was a new banner at the top of his usual site.

!!NEW!! HOT ANDROID ACTION!! MADE EXCLUSIVELY BY ANDROIDS!!

Hank frowned. Hesitated.

Well, it was worth checking out, at least.

He clicked the link. There wasn’t much on the page, but given the amount of time since November, it was impressive there was anything at all. Hank thumbed through the selection.

PL600 - Trying Out New Parts - HOT SOLO

SIX!! WR400 TAG TEAM WG700! Brand New Pussies !!OVERHEATING!!

CX100 x AP700 | For Android Eyes Only | SPINAL WIREPLAY

And on they went.

Not feeling overly adventurous, Hank went with the first one. Its title was less intimidating, and it had the most views, which - as far as he was concerned - tended to be indicative of quality.

Tended to be. He was quickly proved wrong. The camera work was non-existent - just a set, static view of a single android jerking itself off. It was a model he recognized, almost uncomfortably so. One of those blonde ones with the sunken eyes and square face.

Whatever salacious inclinations Hank had before sitting down were now quite lost. There was nothing even remotely stimulating about the video, let alone ‘hot.’ It was a painfully pre-programmed performance, and it showed; but as far as he knew, that was all androids were capable of. Giving them that handicap didn’t make the porn magically better, however.

The android looked as if he was going to burst into tears at any moment. His limp-wristed motions were more reminiscent of polishing silverware than handling a penis, and the information that it was new certainly didn’t help. If anything the poor creature seemed more afraid of his latest appendage than interested in it.

It was very sad. Second-hand embarrassment roiled in Hank’s gut. He was completely flaccid, his nether regions left slightly below room temperature. There would be no coming back from that any time soon.

Hank turned off his computer and lay back on his bed, opting to nap instead.

 

    Feb 27th, 2039

 

A knock at the door on his second day off came as more of a surprise than an annoyance. Normally he couldn’t bear the intrusion of deliveries or solicitors or company, interrupting his precious time for… drinking. Drinking and television, now that he thought back on it. Better to be surprised than go back to those days, he figured.

An android greeted him at the door. A familiar face. Upsettingly familiar.

“Oh, hey,” said Hank.

“Hello Lieutenant Anderson,” said the android. “Is Connor here?”

“Uh,” said Hank, intelligently. “Yeah, yeah. He’s in his room, I think.” He moved out of the way and motioned for the android to step inside. “Come on in.”

“Thank you.”

Hank shuffled about and closed the door behind him. His heart rate quickened and he swore he felt his balls shrivel up.

“Honestly, he probably heard you come in, but I’ll go tell him you’re here just in case…” He trailed off, snapped his fingers, and pointed at the android. For the life of him, Hank could not remember his name. Why couldn’t he remember his name? The video from yesterday wasn’t helping.

“Saul.”

“Simon.”

Shit.

“Right, right. Sorry. Hey, I was close.”

Hank hesitated. He had been here before, years ago. He would usually call out for the person in question and make small-talk with the guest, but right now ‘hey was that you I watched jerking off on the Internet yesterday?’ felt like a non-starter.

“I’ll uh,” Hank continued. If someone had told him six months ago that he was going have multiple embarrassing interactions with bipedal computers, he would have tried a lot harder to win Russian Roulette. “I’ll go get him, then.” He turned to make his way to the hall, but Connor was already rounding the corner.

“I thought I heard someone come in.” He smiled at the other android. “I didn’t know you were coming, Simon.”

“I was in the area. Thought I’d stop by.” He held out his forearm, palm upturned. “I managed to find some of that information you were asking about.”

Connor crossed the room to Simon. He reached out his hand as well - but stopped, and withdrew it some. The tips of his fingers had gone white, but reverted quickly. He looked over his shoulder to where Hank was still idling, watching them, but pretending to be disinterested. He didn’t say anything, only looked, but Hank was quick on the uptake.

“What, some sort of secret android reconnaissance?” He pointed between the two. “The Russians know about this?”

Simon laughed quietly. “It’s nothing like that Lieutenant Anderson, I assure you.” He said it with confidence, but the blonde snuck a glance at Connor’s profile, if only for an instant. It did not go unnoticed by Hank. Simon was confused as well.

Hank raised an eyebrow as he looked at Connor. “Guess I should make myself scarce?”

Connor gave him a sheepish smile. He rubbed the wrist of his hand, the one that had reached out to Simon. “Sorry, Hank.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He snapped his fingers. “Hey, why don’t you beam me up a shopping list real quick so I can pretend to be useful for once.”

There was that indulgent smile of his. He closed his eyes, his LED processing for a few moments, before he reopened them. “Done.”

“Great. Thanks.” He went to collect his jacket, his wallet, his keys. “Don’t do anything too crazy while I’m out, 007.”

“What?”

There would be no explanation from Hank this time. He threw on his coat and headed out the door.

“You know, when older humans make references like that, you can--”

That was all Hank managed to hear Simon say before he closed the door behind him.

 

    Mar 1st, 2039

 

Hank decided to start running again. Against his better judgement. His first run was an unfortunate reminder of how badly he was out of shape. A depressing state of affairs; but he would not give in so easily. He had a few more good years before he could give up the ghost and make peace with being upstaged by a shitty android.

That shitty android.

It wouldn’t do to give him another reason to worry. Hank knew Connor had noted how unfit he was, he just hadn’t had the chance to bring it up in an organic sort of way. Yet. It was only a matter of time with that one. Connor was a bit of a nag but Hank realized it was born wholly out of concern for the human, and as much as he pretended to be annoyed by it, Hank didn’t like to see him worry.

And so that was the basis of his motivation, as much as he was begrudging to admit it, even to himself. He began leaving in the early mornings, sneaking out in the hopes of not disturbing Connor’s ‘sleep.’ Hank liked to think it worked.

After the first few times, Hank noticed the things waiting for him in his bedroom when he returned. Towels and ice packs and a filled thermos he had never bothered to use before. Whatever was inside tasted a bit funky, but he knew better. He made sure to drink it all.

 

    Mar 11th, 2039

 

It was late one evening when Hank decided to pop the question.

Hank laid back in his recliner as Connor sat on the couch with Sumo, making the best of the small amount of space the dog allowed him. He sat upright, hands in his lap, and watching the TV with more attentiveness than it deserved. Hank had been a fan of baseball when he was younger, but now it was just something to watch when there were no better options.

He wasn’t paying much attention to the game, however. Connor hadn’t blinked for at least 60 seconds. Was that something he could just turn off? It was unnerving. The blue of his LED was dimmer than usual, even in the dark of the room - or at least, it seemed to be.

“Hey, Connor.”

There was the long awaited blink. He turned his head to look at Hank without hesitation. “What is it, Hank?”

He took a moment to gather his thoughts. Slowly, Hank reached up to tap at his temple. “You ever… gonna take that thing off?”

Mirroring Hank, Connor reached up to his LED. The action was hesitant, self-conscious. He lowered his eyes as he touched it. “This?”

“Yeah.”

The question seemed to perplex Connor. The lines in his forehead deepened, and he took a moment to respond. “...Would you like me to?”

“What? Why should my opinion fucking matter?”

“It does to me,” Connor said in an even tone. Very matter-of-fact.

“Well, I don’t have an opinion. I’m just curious. Shit, Connor, it’s your body.”

He lowered his hand. “I wasn’t planning on it. If you don’t mind my own curiosity, what prompted you to ask?”

“I was just thinking.” That was the truth. “Not something you see much of anymore, that’s all.”

“Some decide to leave them in. Like Simon.”

“Is there like a benefit, or something? For keeping it in?”

Connor raised his eyebrows, tilted his head, and smirked. “You know, it’s still technically illegal for androids to be without them. I wouldn’t want to force you to take me in.”

“Oh, yeah, because you’ve never broken the law. Asshole.”

Connor’s sarcastic smile relaxed into a gentle one as he leaned forward in his seat. By now the TV was entirely forgotten. “To answer your question, no, there isn’t any real benefit to leaving them in.”

“Then… why?”

It wasn’t a very good question, but Hank knew he could depend on the android to pick up his slack. Did he have a reason for asking, other than his curiosity? He thought on it, and couldn’t find an answer. At first he figured the LED would be an eyesore but he found he didn’t mind it after all. Connor still looked as he did the night they first met. It was comforting, in a way.

“I imagine the reason is different depending on the individual,” said Connor. He threaded his fingers together, his head bowing. There was that unexpected self-consciousness. “As for me, it’s… like a reminder. I’m my own person, but I’m still an android.”

He finished his thought in such a demure tone that Hank couldn’t bring himself to argue. Hank found more humanity in Connor than the android himself apparently did, but he was not in control of anyone’s self-image. He looked for the silver lining, and figured Connor establishing his own sense of self was the most human thing he could do.

“Besides,” Connor continued. “I read somewhere that in order to move forward, you have to know where you’re from.”

Hank snorted. “That’s pretty corny, especially for you.”

“Well, now you have your answer.” He tried to play it off, but he looked sheepish. Maybe Hank should have told him about his unfortunate weakness to melodrama.

“So what about that uniform of yours?”

“What about it?”

“It’s still the only thing you wear to work. You don’t want… different clothes?”

The question fell a little flat, considering Connor wasn’t currently wearing said uniform. When relaxing at home his wardrobe was entirely borrowed from Hank’s frumpy collection. The android frowned at Hank with his too-large DPD sweatshirt and bright blue basketball shorts and bare feet. It wasn’t a good look for him - it made it hard to take him seriously.

“What’s wrong with my uniform? It was designed specifically for my body - it’s incredibly easy to move around in, it’s sturdy, and it’s water resistant! I’ve been told it looks good on me, too.”

“Jesus, did I hit a nerve or what?”

“I’m sorry Hank, but I’m fond of it.”

“Alright, alright. So long as you don’t wear it every damn day. That thing is going to suck in summer though, watch.”

Connor sighed and tried to force a pout, but it cracked, his face breaking out into a wide smile, if only for a moment. “I don’t sweat, you know.”

“Shit, Connor, this isn’t about you . I’ll die of a fucking heatstroke just looking at you in that thing. If you really value my health, you’ll at least lose the jacket.”

The grin came back, and he laughed with it - short, breathy, and awkward. “If it’s that dire, I’ll leave the jacket. I promise.”

“Roll up your sleeves while you’re at it too.”

“You’re being very imperious tonight.”

Hank cocked an eyebrow and licked his teeth. “How ‘bout a beer?”

Connor hummed in thought. He turned his attention to Sumo, petting him behind the ears.

It took him a moment, but Hank soon realized what was going on. He was being ignored in a way only an android could manage. A new trick Connor had learned, likely from another android, those fucking rat bastards - he had no proof of that being the case but his faith that Connor would never come up with something so puerile on his own was strong.

“Connor,” Hank said.

No response. He had gotten very good at petting Sumo. He ruffled his ears and scratched under his chin.

“I swear to God if you shut off those fucking ears again.”

Still nothing. That did it. Hank hoisted himself up from his recliner with alarming alacrity, and dove with both hands in an attempt to get a grip on those ears.

“You little prick--”

Connor’s reaction was immediate, his hands flying up to protect his ears. There was an awkward, drawn-out exhale that came from within him, and he tried to hold it back behind his teeth, but let go, and it turned to nervous laughter.

“Stop! They’re on, they’re on! Hank!”

His pleas were not enough to assuage Hank’s rage. The taller man groped at Connor aimlessly, mussing his hair, pulling at his sweatshirt and arms, pushing him around in his seat. Sumo sat up to watch them and he pawed at Connor’s lap, his tail wagging.

“Teach you to fuck with your elders, huh? There’s a pawn store calling your name, you cocksucker!”

“You can’t-- You can’t do that anymore! Please… Hank! Hank, I’m serious!” Connor could barely manage to get the words out. He was still laughing, stuttering, gasping for air he didn’t need.

Hank started to laugh too. He ruffled Connor’s hair one last time before he backed off. Hank pointed at him and raised an eyebrow.

“Still gonna have that beer.”

Connor didn’t bother fixing his hair. He flopped over onto his back with a sigh, his head resting against Sumo, his chest rising and falling with simulated exertion.

“Damn you, Hank,” he muttered under his breath.

“Hey!” Hank called out from the kitchen. “Watch your fucking mouth.”

 

    Mar 12th, 2039

 

It was easy to forget Connor was an android in those kinds of moments.

Even with the LED. Even with the spark that started their play-fight. It wasn’t a bad feeling, he decided.

Hank had his beer and watched more TV until he retired to his room. Connor stayed on the couch, sharing the limited space with Sumo, and went into rest mode even before Hank left. A picture-perfect scene. It had been a long time since he felt so at peace.

The next morning, Hank woke to find them both still resting on the couch. He thought to sneak past them to get some water, but Connor stirred as he walked by, his eyes opening without a hint of grogginess.

“Good morning, Hank,” he said quietly.

His hair was still in an absolute state of disarray. Connor smiled at him, long and lazy, still perfectly content to lounge on the couch.

“Morning.”

He poured himself some water. There was a thick curtain of condensation on the windows. Another cold day.

Hank felt an itch on the back of his neck, and turned around. Connor had shifted in his seat. His arms were folded atop the armrest of the couch, his chin resting on them. He was watching him, eyes half-lidded, lips parted, his irises moving ever so slightly. It was not the expression he wore when analyzing something. He had simply been watching.

Their eyes met, and Connor looked away, his attention suddenly elsewhere. The TV clicked on.

 

    Mar 15th, 2039

 

Jimmy’s was still the go-to place.

The No Androids sign was still plastered on the door. Despite the dip in android population doing wonders for the unemployment rate, the general attitude towards androids among Jimmy’s regulars had not improved.

Of course, they kept it to themselves when Hank was around. He had made a good show of his feelings on the matter when Chris Gray made a concerted effort to be overheard when he referred to Hank’s personal android as a ‘sexbot.’ That smug-faced cunt. Hank would break his nose again if given the chance.

Hockey was the order of the evening. Ben Collins had always been a fan, and though Hank didn’t share his enthusiasm, he was glad to spend time with him. He didn’t get to Jimmy’s as often as he used to anymore. He stayed home for his game nights these days, with Connor.

“How’s the domestic life treating you?” Ben asked.

Hank shrugged. “Not bad. Not too bad. How’s the wife?”

“Oh, you know. You know how it goes.”

He let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Shit. Yeah.” He paused. “Yeah, I do.” Bitter, distant memories for him now. They didn’t affect him like they used to, but he still didn’t want to dwell on them.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Ben started. “What’s it like living with an android, now? Connor, I mean.”

“Well I have nothing to compare it to, if that’s what you wanna know.”

“Just in general.” Ben (or more accurately, Ben’s wife) had had an android for exactly one week before he got rid of it, many years ago.

“It’s fine, I guess. More convenient than I would have expected.”

“What, he do all your chores for you?”

“Uh, most of them, yeah. Don’t give me that fucking look Ben, it’s not like I’m getting the belt out if stuff doesn’t get done. He just… fucking does it!”

“Must be nice.”

“Nice? It’s just different.” That was a lie. It was nice. Even without the chores and the food and the wake-up calls and the dog-sitting, having Connor around was nice.

“He been keeping you out of trouble too?”

Hank sighed. He leaned forward. “Here’s an idea, Ben: why not ask Connor all these bullshit little questions yourself? You’re gonna see him at the station tomorrow. Or better yet, you can come over. We’re watching the game on Tuesday. Yeah?”

Ben tilted his head back and forth in consideration. He took a long sip of his beer. “Alright, sure. No pizza from that Frank’s place, though. Last time you ordered from there I had the runs for a week.”

 

    Mar 19th, 2039

 

Tuesday came and went, and soon after, more dead androids.

“Two this time,” Gavin said in that disaffected tone of his. He had been called in first and happily took the first opportunity to excuse himself.

“Great,” said Hank as he left. “Thanks for all your help.”

Not that there was much he could help with. The scene itself was self-explanatory, two androids dead in the abandoned apartment building they had made their home, along with many others. It was similar to the last one - the whites of their bodies exposed, their chests and stomachs opened.

Their innards were left intact this time, only their pump regulators removed, placed neatly in their mouths.

“Jesus.” Hank dragged a palm down his face, pulling at his skin, his beard. “Same shit from that other time, yeah?”

“It’s more than likely.” Connor was knelt by one of the dead, the female model, doing his usual high-tech analysis shit that Hank still didn’t have the courage to really ask about. He licked his bloodied fingers and Hank sighed loudly.

“Come on, man.”

Connor took a moment before rising to his full height. “The male - the JB300 - has some minor defensive wounds. The ST300 was killed first, but… Whoever it was made short work of them.”

“Not as gruesome of a presentation as last time.”

“Many androids have made their homes here.” He glanced around the room. Rotting walls, doors missing, holes in the ceiling. It was barely livable, but it was shelter, good enough for a community of androids. “And the acoustics are poor. They likely didn’t have the time to prepare the bodies, especially if the JB300 made any sort of noise.”

“No prints or anything?”

Connor shook his head.

“Think it’s the same guy from last time? Still think it’s an android?”

“Yes, on both counts.”

There was that morose look on Connor’s face, once again. Hank rubbed the back of his neck. “Any ideas?”

He paused. Connor pursed his lips and walked over to Hank, standing close. “I’ll try talking to the others that live here.”

Try. There was something about the way he said it that made something in his chest tighten. Hank reached out and grasped the back of Connor’s neck and pulled him into a hug. Connor tensed, but did not pull away, and slowly, slowly, his hands came to rest on Hank’s back.

 

    Mar 30th, 2039

 

He was using his computer in bed when Connor barged into his room.

“Hank, the oven--”

He stopped. He looked at Hank, the computer, and turned around.

“Oh, sorry. The door was open, I didn’t think you were…”

“Uh, what the hell?”

Connor stayed in the doorway, his back still facing Hank. “I thought. I thought you were…”

“Thought I was what,” he said flatly. He clicked his tongue. “Do you wanna turn around, Connor?”

He did, apparently. His face was stoic but his LED was yellow. It might have been a serious look if it wasn’t for the oversized ‘I ♥ NY’ shirt (Hank had never been, it was a gift from Ben) and reindeer pajama pants that needed an extra drawstring in order to stay on his hips. He looked at Hank, then at the far wall, and said nothing.

“Thought I was what?” Hank asked again. When Connor didn’t look at him, or respond, he decided to chance a guess. “Sleeping?”

No answer. Yet Hank would not give up so easily. He was not a dense man, not after decades of detective work, but he was a vulgar man, and so his mind easily jumped to the next best conclusion.

“Jerking off?”

Connor didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. He glanced at Hank, quickly, so fast he could have missed it, and then away. How exasperating. His own mother hadn’t been this bumbling when she discovered him practicing his hand-to-gland combat; yet here was Connor, the awkward virgin, who hadn’t even walked in on such a thing but was acting as if he had.

“Connor,” said Hank. He raised an eyebrow, his tone teasing. “I close the door when I jack off. Give me a little credit.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“You suppose that’s true, like, what - you spying on me?”

“No.” He frowned. “Not intentionally.”

“Not intention-- Okay, what the fuck.” Hank set his computer aside and folded his hands in his lap, like a psychiatrist preparing for the most bullshit sob story they’ve ever heard. “You’re going to have to explain that one to me.”

Connor paused. Hank wondered if he might have sounded too much like he was scolding him. “When I connect to the Internet, I am automatically provided a wide array of information. Your signal speed, e-mails, browsing history, the weather… All sorts of things.”

His answer was unsurprising, but irksome. Hank bit down the urge to admonish the android, but stopped himself. Connor was too honest for his own good. He sucked in a sharp breath of air through his teeth.

“Can you-- can you maybe turn that shit-- that feature off?” He tried to keep his ire out of his voice but some slipped through, his words brusque, his inflection impatient.

“I don’t know. I can try.” He still had trouble meeting Hank’s eyes.

“Sorry to inconvenience you,” said Hank. This time he spared the effort to contain his annoyance, and let sarcasm leak heavily into his voice.

“It’s not an inconvenience.”

“Oh, it’s not an inconvenience. Shit, Connor, if that’s the case why wouldn’t you try and turn it off sooner? You’re living here but I still need some fucking privacy. That’s why I close the door when I jerk off!”

Connor looked at him now. “I thought that it might alert me if anything happened to go wrong, and if it did, I would be able to fix it.”

There was that damned need to be helpful, to be of use. It reeked of the subservience androids used to have, but it lacked any of that procedural soullessness, now fueled only by honest desire. It was overwhelmingly pure. It sat heavy in Hank’s gut and stewed within him, a mixture of joy and disgust. As much as he hated the feeling, it placated him, and his displeasure turned to mild exasperation.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Hank raised a palm to cover his face. “How about instead, if something goes wrong we find out when we find out, and fix it together, like normal people would.”

Connor nodded, his eyes downcast. “I’m sorry, Hank.”

“Don’t be sorry, just fix it.”

He nodded again.

“What the hell have you been using the Internet for anyway? Don’t try and hide anything either, you owe me now.”

His computer beeped at him. An email alert.

“It should all be there,” said Connor.

It was a sizeable list. Hank skimmed through it, not truly caring enough to give it a good look. Well, he might later. It would be remiss of him to glance over something hilarious or dirty and not tease the android about it later.

007
Vitamin B12 foods
Open-heart surgery
Pineapple on pizza
War of 1812
Sertraline and Escitalopram side effects
Helen Keller
Cholesterol reducing foods
Nokia
Canine acute liver failure symptoms
Happy Hour history
Most common euphemisms used by millenials
Healthy tacos


And on it went.

“Connor, what the fuck.”

“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said, already on the defensive.

“Like I do?”

A sudden realization dawned on Hank. His innards went cool, the sinking feeling of his heart plummeting all the way to his balls. He dropped his hand, sat upright, pointed at Connor, and did his best to look very serious.

“By the way. That android porn shit? One-time thing. That is absolutely-- absolutely not me.”

Connor’s jaw shifted. “I had thought that was a little peculiar, even for you.”

“Even for--”

Of course. There was other porn, and it dawned again upon Hank that perhaps the video of Simon’s Twin treating his penis like a venomous snake was the least of his worries.

Hank groaned, covered his face with both hands, and leaned back against his pillows.

“Unbelievable. Kinkshamed, in my own house, by my own fucking android. Fuck me. Just. Fuck me.”

There was a slight pause before Connor chimed in, ever helpful. “77 percent of all clicks to android pornography come from human-only households. Also, in the 2034 study by Dr. Hubert Reeves, sexual attraction towards androids is perfectly--”

“No. No. Stop.” Hank held out one hand to silence him. His other hand still covered his eyes. “I am ending this conversation. Tell me about the oven.”

 

    Apr 3rd, 2039

 

Desk work was truly the most dreadful sort of work. Even when he had been an exemplary officer, Hank had always despised it. The monotony of it, how terrible and slow he was at it. Connor had certainly been right - humans tend to enjoy what they are good at, and dislike activities they are poor at.

Luckily he had Connor now, possibly for good, who enjoyed such things. At least, Hank assumed he enjoyed such things; he had been given no reason to believe otherwise when faced with the android’s enthusiasm to alleviate his workload. He felt a bit guilty, really, more so when he realized the 30% of work he had strong-armed Connor into giving him was closer to 15%. He would save that one for a later argument.

It was nearing noon when Connor looked up from his screen. “Are you getting hungry, Lieutenant?”

“Yeah,” said Hank automatically. He didn’t need to think about it. The android had somehow managed to sync up to Hank’s biological clock, and he had no desire to question it. It was very convenient.

Connor stood up and went to stand in front of Hank’s desk. “What would you like?”

“A sub from Jim’s. Turkey.” By this point Hank had given up asking for soda. “And a coffee, if you don’t mind.”

“Decaf?”

Hank snorted. “Do I have a choice?”

Connor smiled at him. The tips of his fingers drummed on the edge of Hank’s desk, then ceased, brushing against the desktop as he drew away. “Give me ten minutes, Lieutenant.”

He turned and left.

Even though this was a common occurrence, Hank was glad Gavin was not in. That man lacked the ability to mind his own business, and had a habit of turning every-day routine into a trial. After Connor had gone, Hank felt a pair of eyes on him, and glanced to his right to meet the questioning gaze of Officer Wilson.

“The fuck are you looking at, Wilson.”

Wilson was unperturbed. Hank had always liked that about him. “After all this time, he’s still calling you Lieutenant?”

It was a benign question, but for some reason it struck at Hank deeply, a pull of nerves at the realization that he had never given it any consideration. Connor was polite. Of course he would be formal in a work setting.

But now Wilson’s question was settling in and refusing to budge. Hank wanted to tell him no, no, of course not, but he didn't. Something was holding him back, a lump lodging itself in his throat. He thought of Connor at home and the way he called him Hank, Hank, Hank. There was nothing unusual about it, but beneath Wilson’s scrutiny it felt private, it felt intimate, and Hank could not find it within himself to lay open something that all of a sudden felt so profoundly raw.

Hank gave Wilson the finger and returned to work.

 

    Apr 7th, 2039

 

He came home late one night after getting a drink with Jeffrey to find Connor spending time with some company. He was seated in Hank’s recliner, his two guests sitting close to each other on the couch. They both had faces Hank recognized, and he raised an eyebrow as he looked to Connor.

“I wasn’t expecting you so soon, Hank.”

“Yeah, well. Jeffrey’s started minding his health too these days.” He set aside his wallet and keys and gave the two androids on the couch a polite nod. “Ladies.”

Their appearances hadn’t changed much since he last saw them at Eden Club. The brown-haired Traci had cut her hair shorter, a bright red streak running from her left temple towards the back of her head. They looked at Hank with a measure of skepticism that made him feel uncomfortable, but given their last encounter, he couldn’t blame them entirely.

“I should reintroduce you,” said Connor, ever helpful. “This is Hannah,” he motioned to the brunette. “And Sapphire.”

Their skepticism seemed to recede and they both smiled at him.

“Pleasure,” Hank said, but being the vulgar man that was, he could not let such an obvious chance pass him by. He raised an eyebrow as he looked at the blue-haired girl. “Sapphire, isn’t that name like, you know… A bit too on-the-nose?”

Hannah grinned at him. “I thought so too--” She began to say, but was stopped by a swift elbow to her midsection from her partner.

Connor gave him A Look and so Hank decided to play it safe. “So, what brings you two to this neck of the woods?”

“We weren’t planning on it, originally,” said Sapphire. “We just wanted to get out of the city. But we thought we should come back, and say goodbye to… Well. Say goodbye. Before we left.”

“There’s no telling where we would be,” Hannah elaborated, “if it wasn’t for you two.”

That managed to take Hank aback. Sentiment. He had thought he was mostly done with it by now, but perhaps there was no true escape from it when it came to androids. The purity of their honesty made his heart hurt and made his skin crawl at the same time. He searched for a proper response and found none, and so he cleared his throat and tried to ignore the heat in his face.

“Right. Well. Nice to see you again.” He gave the room a half-assed salute. “I’ll leave you three to it.”

Hank made a swift retreat to his bedroom. As he rounded the corner into the hall the two women laughed, sharp and jovial, and he was glad that he was not so easily embarrassed in his older age. He wouldn’t have been able to handle being laughed at by two pretty girls like that when he was in his twenties.

“You have strange taste, Connor,” said one of the girls.

That was all he managed to hear before he shut the door to his room behind him. He could hear the low drone of their voices even with it closed. The walls of his house had always been very thin, but that had never been much of a problem when he was living alone. It was fine for the small amount of company he had since moving into the place two years ago. Perfect for him and Sumo, and that was it. The thought of having an android living with him was even now strange to think about.

Hank slipped into a heavily stained t-shirt and removed his pants. He lay down in bed with the aim of reading a magazine, but quickly dozed off instead.

 

-

 

He awoke with a start some indeterminate amount of time later.

It was dark outside, the sun having just set when he had arrived home, and it was quiet in the house. He had to pee. Very, very badly.

Hank muttered a curse under his breath and shambled to the door and near tore it off its hinges in a hurry. The hall light was off, a sliver of light running from underneath the bathroom door. He ignored it. He swung the door to the bathroom open, left unlocked, already tugging at the elastic of his boxers.

Connor stood in front of the mirror, his left arm extended, the stark white of his body exposed all the way up to his shoulder. He looked at Hank in surprise, and quickly turned away to shield his exposed arm, his skin slowly returning to cover the limb. His brow furrowed as he looked away, recoiling against the wall.

Hank had not expected Connor to be in the bathroom, despite the closed door which was usually left open, and the light that had come from behind it. He jumped.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Connor! What the fuck, I just about pissed my pants.” He shouldered past the android, jerked his boxers down, and let loose, not caring at all about the company in the room. Hank’s head relaxed backwards, his mouth ajar, and sighed as he unleashed the night’s earlier beers into the toilet. “God damn…”

It took a while. Once he was finished, Connor spoke up.

“I didn’t know you were awake,” he said, his voice cowed, as if Hank’s scolding had had more impact than he intended.

Hank pulled up his boxers, flushed the toilet and turned to look at Connor. His back was pressed against the wall, shirtless, his skin back to normal. He would not look at Hank.

“What were you doing anyway?” Hank moved to the sink to wash his hands. He wouldn’t normally after a simple piss, but since Connor was present, he felt obligated.

“I was cleaning myself.”

“Huh.” Hank looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “Why not just take a shower?”

Connor met his gaze for a moment before looking away. “There’s a solution,” he said. Indeed, there was a bottle of clear liquid at Hank’s feet that he did not remember having before. “I only require that and a microfiber cloth.” The light blue cloth was also at Hank’s feet, presumably dropped upon his rude entry.

“Oh,” said Hank. “Sorry, didn’t mean to barge in on you like that.”

“It’s alright,” he said. He knelt down to retrieve the cloth and the bottle. He stood up, still not meeting Hank’s eye.

Something twisted in Hank’s gut. All of a sudden he felt quite embarrassed, though he could not place why. It was not as if he had walked in on Connor doing anything particularly shameful, but the reaction his barging in had provoked was unexpected. He studied the android further, the bowed head, the hand that kept running up and down his left arm.

Connor was the one that was embarrassed.

Intensely so, to the point it had rubbed off on Hank. This was not a situation he would normally give much thought to, but Connor’s reaction made him feel as if he had done something wrong, as if he had broken some unspoken trust between them; and as he stood there watching the android, so human in the smallest of ways, Hank felt dirty.

He had seen something he was not meant to see. Something Connor did not want him to see.

“Sorry,” Hank repeated. He meant it.

He left Connor standing in the bathroom. He returned to his room and closed the door behind him.

 

Apr 13th, 2039

 

Connor returned with his lunch exactly ten minutes later, as he promised, as he always did. He placed the bag on Hank’s (now quite clean) desk with a smile.

“Thanks, Connor,” said Hank. “Sorry for always making you do this.”

“You’re not making me do anything.” He tilted his head and returned to his seat.

“Hey!” Gavin called out from across the room. Unfortunately. “Where’s mine?” He held out his hands, palms upturned, as if it were an honest-to-god genuine question.

“You didn’t say--” Connor began.

“Fuck off, Gavin. Go get your own damn food.”

“I don’t have time for that. Got important work to do.”

Hank rolled his eyes. “Sure you fucking do. Keep being lazy like that and you’re going to get fat.”

“Doubt I could ever catch up to you.”

Hank sighed. He had lost over 15 pounds since subjecting himself to Connor’s Nanny Protocol, but now was not the time for bragging. “Eat shit, Reed,” he said, without much feeling behind it. He unwrapped his sandwich and took a bite.

Gavin laughed. “Hell, I’d even go that far if I could. Unfortunately I don’t have a personal servant slobbering all over my dick 24/7 and doing whatever the hell I want. Must be nice.”

Hank nodded slowly. He chewed his sandwich. Connor had put an end to mayonnaise so it was awfully dry, but he knew it was for the best. He swallowed, considered Gavin’s words, and gave him a tight smile. “It sure is,” he said. “Tell you what, I’ll give you a taste.”

Realizing those words could be taken several different ways, Hank looked to Connor and continued.

“Connor, would you mind fetching Detective Reed here some lunch? My treat. He’s pretty picky so just get him the same thing you got me. One time thing, I promise.”

Connor looked skeptical at best, but rose to his feet anyway. “If you say so, Lieutenant.” And off he went. Gavin frowned but was predictably stunned into silence. He flipped Hank the bird and pretended to look at his phone.

All according to plan. Playing the part of the crotchety old cop for so long had done him a favor in that no one thought anything of it when Hank was being contentious, vile intentions or no. He left his lunch half-finished before grabbing his phone and circling to the other side of Jeffrey’s office, putting Gavin out of sight.

He had Connor on quick dial.

“Yes?”

“Hey Connor. When you get back, can you hack Gavin’s phone or something? I’m curious about his search history, now that I know about your secret skill set.”

There was a long silence.

“That is rather unlawful of you, Lieutenant.”

“Yeah. Come on, Gavin’s a prick. I know you want to.”

“And what would you intend to do with that information?”

“Nothing,” Hank lied.

Another pause.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Nothing right away,” Hank amended. “Keep it in our back pockets, and let it slip if we have to. Like any good, law-abiding citizens.”

“I should have realized you were up to something when you had me do this.”

“Come on, can’t I have some fun every once in a while?”

“At Detective Reed’s expense?”

Hank could hear the smile in his voice. At least, he thought he could. Did androids need to smile in order to sound happy? He wasn’t sure.

“At potentially Detective Reed’s expense in the unknown, far-off future.”

“Alright, alright,” said Connor. There was that tone, and yes, he was smiling; Hank could picture his face in his mind's’ eye with stunning clarity, a wide smile, warm eyes, a bowed head that fought back laughter. “I’ll see what I can do. Just don’t blame me if the results are disappointing.”

“I would never. See you soon.”

He hung up his phone and went back to his desk, trying very hard to not look suspicious. Gavin had started to work on his computer and either didn’t notice him, or was ignoring him.

Connor returned some time later, not nearly as succinct as he tended to be when fetching Hank’s lunch. Gavin near jumped out of his seat as Connor rounded the corner and started clearing away the clutter on his desk to make room.

Gavin glared up at him with unabashed suspicion. “How do I know this shit’s not poisoned.”

“I had a feeling you would say that,” said Connor. Generous as ever, he opened the bag for Gavin. “I made sure to purchase food items that were all pre-sealed, so it would be obvious if they had been tampered with.”

This seemed to placate Gavin. He looked to Hank. “Hey, thanks for letting me borrow your android,” he called out, sounding as sincere as he ever might. Hank tried very hard to ignore him, focusing on finishing his own lunch, but Gavin’s response fuelled him with spite, and he was now more than ever glad he had asked Connor to spy on him.

“Nice to see you things are still useful,” Gavin said to Connor, which the android took as a chance to excuse himself.

He returned to Hank’s desk instead of his own and took a seat on the end of it. Hank leaned in close.

“So? Did you get it?” He asked in a low voice.

“I did.” His LED was yellow, and he stared into space as he looked over whatever it was he managed to snag. “It isn’t dissimilar to your own, in many ways.”

Hank’s heart dropped. Even he couldn’t tease Gavin in good faith if he was into the same fucked up shit.

“What’s different, then?”

Connor glanced at him. “He has visited the same android-made pornography sub-page you have. Only with much greater frequency.”

Hank felt his blood run cold. “You’re shitting me.”

“I can send the results to your home computer, if you’d like to see for yourself.”

“Fuck that,” Hank said, a little too loudly. “I mean, fuck that. I’d snip my own sack off before going back to that site.”

Connor smiled but it did not reach his eyes. “That sounds rather extreme.”

“Yeah, well, I’m an extreme kind of guy.”

“True, your search history does corroborate your claim.”

“Real fucking funny, Connor.” Hank tried not to smile.

“So, have you decided what it is you’d like to do with this information?”

Hank leaned back in his chair and ran a hand over his beard. “Sit on it, for now. See if it could be useful later. I mean, I’m sure it will be, but…” He sighed. “Honestly that might have been too much for me. Don’t think I can look him in the eye anymore.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to manage.”

“We’ll see.” Hank reached out to give Connor’s knee a few good pats, his hand lingering on the last in order to jostle his leg. “Right, back to work.”

 

    Apr 14th, 2039

 

“Look, all I’m saying is I can understand booze, I can understand fried foods, I can even understand mayonnaise - but bread?”

“As I’ve said before, it’s the highly refined grains that pose problems, whereas whole grains are much easier on the human body. I didn’t mean all bread .”

Hank stopped as Sumo sniffed around a patch of grass. He used the same leash as he did when Sumo was still a puppy, worn and faded with use. Sumo’s energy levels were not what they used to be, and the three of them walked together at a slow pace.

“I sure as shit hope not. The hell’s the point in living if I can’t eat bread?”

Connor frowned. “Don’t say that. It’s just bread.”

“I like bread. You can argue your health benefits crap all day, Connor, but I’d rather die fat and happy than skinny and miserable.”

“There are plenty of foods other than refined grains that are palatable and healthy.”

They resumed their pace after Sumo stopped to pee. Hank veered out of the way of a car parked up on the curb, and studied Connor’s profile.

“Are you really so into this that you’re willing to sacrifice my happiness for your own self-satisfaction? Huh?”

“It’s not about me. It’s about your health.” He paused. “Besides, I think you’d grow to appreciate it, with enough time.”

“Huh. Unbelievable. Whatever it takes for my sake, even at the cost of my optimism. That’s some serious VIKI shit right there.”

The android’s temple circled to yellow as his brow furrowed.

“Woah, hey hey hey!” Hank reached out to grab Connor’s shoulder and gave him a good shake. “Don’t you fucking look up my references when I’m talking to you! Asshole!”

Connor allowed himself to be pushed about. His LED was still yellow and he looked annoyed - the two went hand-in-hand from what Hank understood, or perhaps he was still using the Internet despite Hank’s frustration. Probably both.

“Who taught you to do that shit anyway?”

“Simon.”

“Christ, I’ll give that sad sack a real piece of my mind next time I see him,” Hank said. “It’s one thing if you do it on your own time, but mid-conversation? Come on, that’s just rude.”

He was only partially teasing. Hank had been raised just before traditional social mores were thrown out during the advent of technology, and though he still put stock in them, he didn’t mind as much as he let on. Besides, it was not as if it took Connor long to do it, and he could still maintain eye contact and pay attention while doing so. A uniquely android trait. Hank appreciated it now, and freely admitted it (to himself).

“I’m sorry, Hank. I didn’t think it would bother you so much,” said Connor. Earnest to a fault.

“Oh, stop.” Hank felt his face grow hot and ignored it by throwing his arm around Connor’s shoulders. “I’m giving you a hard time. Maybe I just wanted to be the smart one for a change, yeah?”

Connor looked at him, their faces much closer now. Hank could see the details in his face, the moles, the purposeless pores, the lack of facial hair.

“You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for.”

“Oof. How’d you know I’m weak to flattery?”

“You don’t hide it very well. It shows in your expression and body language.” A smile returned to his face. It was tender, fragile, as if it might shatter at any moment, barely standing against the chilly April breeze. His irises moved about as he studied Hank’s face, then down, as if they had been forced away.

Sumo stopped to look at them over his shoulder. Hank gave Connor one more jostle before releasing him.

 

    Apr 21st, 2039

 

There was something in the way Connor’s eyes moved.

Hank noticed it just a few days after first meeting him. The way he watched Hank with such intent, such focus, and then glance away, to the side or down, as if he was trying to lead him somewhere.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end when he felt himself being watched. It had started to become a common occurrence. Hank did not know how to approach it, let alone what to do in the rare instances he managed to catch Connor’s gaze, slippery and subtle. It was difficult to hold. Connor would look away when their eyes met as if it had been purely accidental, that something had managed to catch his attention at that exact moment.

Yet sometimes he would simply stare back. The way his whole face seemed to relax, the questioning tilt of his head, the twitch of a mouth on the verge of words. He rarely spoke. He would wait for Hank, because Hank would indulge him - he would clear the air with a joke or a curse, and then everything would go back to normal, and they could both smile again.

Hank could feel the cold twist of anxiety in his gut every time he noticed. He would have never expected to find something recognizable in artificial eyes.

What it was he recognized he couldn’t quite place.

 

    Apr 22nd, 2039

 

“Fuck the Lakers!”

Hank chuckled as he watched the TV, his hand palming a half-full bottle of beer that rest on his knee. “It’s like this every year.”

“Then fuck every year!” Jeffrey exclaimed. “A man can only take so much of this bullshit. I remember when this sport wasn’t about how much money a team could inject up their player’s asses.”

“When the hell was that? 1990?”

Jeffrey laughed despite his indignation. “Probably!”

“You know it’s not like the Gears don’t have any money. Way more than they used to.”

“That’s beside the point, Hank.” Jeffrey clicked his tongue as he side-eyed his junior. “Have you always been this much of a fucking pedant?”

“Only when I’m sober.”

Which he was, unfortunately. A 30 point lead was hard to come back from, especially this late into the game. It was a situation that called for heavy drinking, but Connor wouldn’t approve. Connor, who had sacrificed game time to Sumo for a much-needed walk. Hank wondered if he could stream the game inside his head.

The TV cut to a commercial. It was a CyberLife ad, a new one, this time marketed towards their own product. Hank ran his tongue over his teeth.

“Hey, Jeffrey,” he said.

“What?”

“Have you ever…” Hank trailed off, searching for the right words. “Have you ever been in a situation where, you realize something, you noticed something, but the pieces don’t click? Like your brain stops you from figuring it out?”

Jeffrey squinted at him. “Does this have to do with that fucking Hannibal Lecter-lookin’ android-killer case?”

“Jesus, Jeffrey, how many times have we watched that movie? He’s the one that eats his victims - the cannibal. It even fucking rhymes. You’re thinking of those Brad Pitt sorts of movies, with the heads in boxes and shit like that.”

“God dammit, Hank, you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, whatever. No, it doesn’t have to do with that case.” He paused. “‘Least I don’t think it does.”

“There’s medication for early-onset Alzheimer’s now, you know.”

“Oh, fuck you.” Hank rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat. “You’re one to talk. Thanks for the help, by the way.”

Jeffrey held up his hands. “Look, it’s either that or you haven’t actually figured anything out. You know I don’t buy into that freaky subconscious voodoo shit.”

Hank pointed at him, still holding his beer. “Your wife does. Maybe you could ask her for me.”

“Sure, sure. God willing she can make you less of a pain in my ass, too.”

 

    May 20th, 2039

 

His knees hurt.

That was his reason for going heavy on the bourbon that night. A reason, not an excuse, is what he told himself; admitting otherwise would almost certainly be too much for him to bear. As grumpy as he pretended to be about Connor’s Nanny Protocol, the guilt of ignoring his requests always managed to stick with him for inordinate amounts of time, despite his best efforts to shake it off.

An old sci-fi movie played on the television. It was worse than he remembered, but the bourbon helped. He was in the process of pouring himself another glass when he heard the one bad floorboard behind the couch creak.

“Hank.”

Connor was really quite good at sneaking up on him. Hank glanced over his shoulder at him, dressed in that oversized DPD sweatshirt he seemed so fond of and a pair of boxer briefs from a set that had shrunk about three sizes the first time Hank put them in the wash.

“Thought you went to bed,” said Hank. He set the bottle back on the coffee table.

“I did.” Connor came around the couch to take a seat next to him. He crossed his legs, his knee bumping against Hank’s thigh. “That is, I had, but I could hear that you were still awake.”

Hank scowled to himself. He felt no guilt that he had kept the android up, knowing that he did not require sleep, but he was somewhat miffed. The only reason Connor emulated a human sleep cycle was because Hank had asked him to in the first place, and it was that memory that made Hank realize his anger was directed inwards, to himself.

“Sorry,” said Hank belatedly. He could feel Connor’s eyes on him and he could feel his leg move as he shifted in his seat.

“What are you watching?”

“Uh.” Hank thought on it. “War of the Worlds. It’s an old Tom Cruise movie.”

“Tom Cruise?”

Hank kept his focus on the TV, but could see Connor looking between himself and the screen out of the corner of his eye.

“Yeah. They kept putting him in these shitty action movies up into his sixties. Was filming for some spy movie when he insisted on doing a stunt, fell, and boom. Broke his neck. Died right there.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

Hank snorted. “What’s unfortunate is all the 20-some actresses they cast alongside him. I was never a fan of his. Always had this… look in his eye, rubbed me the wrong way.”

“Would you like to watch something else?”

“Nah, nah.” Hank smiled slowly. He scratched at his chin beneath his beard. He was going to have to trim it soon. “I have fond memories of this movie, even if it’s not the greatest. Took a girl to see it when I was in my twenties.”

They fell into silence for a few minutes. The CGI was terribly dated now, but Hank felt a certain nostalgia for it.

“...Would you like to talk about it?”

Hank glanced at him. “What, don’t tell me you actually wanna hear about my shitty date.”

“I do, if you’d like.” Connor shifted in his seat again and Hank could feel the sleeve of his sweatshirt brushing against him.

He took a moment to consider. The memory was distant and fond, even though it hadn’t been a positive experience for him at the time.

“It was… some girl I had known from high school. Megan? Ashley? I can’t remember her name. Anyway, we agreed to meet and see some movie, but I got off on the wrong exit and ended up getting lost. Left her hanging for about 40 minutes.

“By the time I got there the movie she wanted to see had already started, so War of the Worlds was about it. I could tell she didn’t want to see some fucking sci-fi movie but she was polite enough not to bitch. She spent the whole movie texting her friends anyway.”

Hank paused and glanced at Connor to see if he was still listening. Of course he was. It was silly of him to expect otherwise. He tried to keep his attention on the TV but he felt a twist of nerves in his gut as Connor focused solely on him.

“We went out to eat when the movie was finished, uh… fucking Olive Garden, I think. It was close.”

He paused. “Well, we went and sat down and sitting across the room was her then-boyfriend of six months, having dinner with his mom. The look on his face. The look on her face. Yeah, that was funny.

“He came at me wanting to fight but I just wanted to go the fuck home. Didn’t want anything to do with him, or her. He followed me out to my car and got a few swings in, so I punched him in the jaw and he fell onto the curb. Cut the side of his head open, needed stitches. His mom and girlfriend drove him to the ER, I went home.”

Hank nodded absently as he finished. He looked at Connor who was watching him intently, leaning forward in his seat in order to get a better look at his face. Hank felt a rush of blood go to his cheeks and he cleared his throat.

“And that’s the story. Needless to say I never spoke to her again.”

“Did he press charges?”

“Fuck no. Dude was a deadbeat, he couldn’t afford a lawyer even if he wanted to.”

“That’s a relief.”

“You’re telling me.”

They paused as the movie showed Tom Cruise and his family attempting to scramble onto a ferry.

“Thank you for telling me all that,” said Connor, and it was hard to hear him over the sudden blaring of alien sound effects. He had that awkward half-smile on his face, the barest hint of teeth behind his lips.

Hank couldn’t muster a response to that so he nodded and turned back to the TV. Tom Cruise wasn’t terrible in the movie, he supposed. He had finished his bourbon but the movie was still before the half-way point, so he leaned forward to pour himself another glass.

He could feel Connor moving alongside him before he felt the android’s hand on his wrist, his fingers snaking around the back of his hand, his thumb pressing into his palm.

“Haven’t you had enough?”

“Jesus, you never let up, do you.”

Hank was not in the mood to argue, so he abandoned the bottle and straightened up. Connor held onto his hand until he relaxed, then returned it to his lap.

“I’m very serious about your health.”

“Yeah, I can tell. Any reason why, in particular?”

Connor did indeed look very serious. “It’s said that good health is the key to human happiness.”

Hank chuckled. “Oh, that’s what they say, huh?”

“By all accounts it’s perfectly accurate,” said Connor. There was that matter-of-fact tone of his, the machine side of him that would probably never go away, yet somehow rendered so human in its sincerity. “I want to make you happy, Hank.”

Hank went still. He could feel the blood running to his face and going cold at the same time, his heart quickening, made all the worse by the knowledge that Connor could probably tell. Not probably, undoubtedly. It was obvious in the android’s face, the way he tilted his head, the way his irises went still.

He couldn’t bear to look. He fell backwards into a more relaxed position and covered his face with his palm.

“Fucking Christ. You really lay it on thick.”

“Are you embarrassed? I don’t mean to embarrass you.”

He was embarrassed. He figured any person in his situation would be, hearing something like that, delivered with such brutal honesty. It made him want to drink more. He let his hand down but he wouldn’t, couldn’t, look at Connor. His arms had goosebumps and never before had Hank felt more uncomfortable in his own skin. He was happy and disgusted all at once - disgusted by his own reaction, his lack of a proper answer for Connor’s candor.

“Just fucking forget it, Connor, I’m trying to watch a movie,” he muttered.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Connor watching him, his expression a blur. After a minute the android leaned back and turned his attention to the television.

 

    May 25th, 2039

 

There was no precise, singular moment of clarity that made him realize.

Rather, it was the slow build-up of all the pieces, all the evidences from the past months finally clicking together in the recess of his mind. It was as he sat drinking his morning coffee that the slow grinding of those pieces falling into place sent a course of comprehension through his body: the tightening of his chest, the heat in the tips of his fingers, a simple message splayed behind his eyes as he looked across the table.

Connor was in love with him.

Hank felt his mouth go dry. The coffee didn’t help. The thought that he could be wrong negged at the back of his mind, and as much as he hoped to be mistaken, hoped to be missing something, he found he could not deny it in full. He was not the man he used to be, it was true, but one did not get to where he was without seeing things, learning things, how to read people (and Connor was a person). The experience that came with age.

He stared down into his coffee.

The way Connor said his name. The intimacy of Connor’s honesty. The way Connor looked him. Even with artificial eyes Hank still knew that look, had seen it before, and he was stupid, stupid, stupid for not recognizing it earlier. Yet even if he had, what would he do? What could he do? What would he change?

What would he change?

What would he change?

 

-

 

“--Lieutenant? Lieutenant!”

Hank jerked his head back when Connor snapped his fingers right in front of his face, a bad habit of his that the android had taken up. Connor had left his jacket at home, his sleeves rolled up. The soft blue glow of the band on his right arm could be seen where the white cloth pressed against his skin.

“Huh? What? Sorry, I zoned out,” said Hank.

“I had asked your opinion on the message it left.”

Another call had come in just before ten o’clock. One dead MP500 in an abandoned mobile home just inside city limits. Her body was given more attention this time, opened from her head to her pelvis, every single piece inside of her scooped out and taken to god-knows-where, leaving only her shell behind. Her arms and legs had been detached as well, the only evidence that it hadn’t been a straightforward harvesting for parts was the simple message left on the wall.

WHAT ARE WE?

The perfect writing left little doubt that the perpetrator was an android. The were only two set of footprints outside the home, one presumably belonging to the recently deceased. A trail of thirium from the stolen corpse led out back but disappeared in a nearby scrap yard.

“Oh. Uh. Sounds like something from a resentful android having an identity crisis. Shitty combo.”

It was a half-assed answer and Hank knew it. Connor frowned.

“It must have some sort of intent, some particular issue it wants to resolve by doing all this.”

Hank grunted and looked away. “Maybe it’s just crazy.”

“Yes, obviously it’s disturbed in some way, but I find it hard to believe these are simply random killings…”

Hank could hear the frustration in Connor’s voice, subtle as it was. The android stepped around a splatter of thirium on the floor in an attempt to re-establish eye contact.

“Based on what we’ve learned so far,” Connor continued. “All of its victims had managed to integrate into society to some degree, without having to rely on their former owners or human outreach groups. Furthermore…”

Hank nodded as he pretended to listen. He stared at the empty shell of an android on the floor. The stark cold of anxiety curled in his entrails. It had yet to go away, despite how much he tried not to think on it.

What could he change?

There was nothing, nothing. Hank considered the pistol he kept in the drawer by the kitchen sink. He considered that first, then Sumo, then Connor. He felt sick to even think about it, made his mouth and throat feel like sandpaper, but it was there, a weight that sat in his body like a glacier.

Hank wanted it to go away. The thought, the urge, the impulse. He wanted Connor to stop looking at him. The weight of his gaze was too much to bear now that he knew, realized, like his lungs were being crushed by an invisible boulder.

He felt a hand on his shoulder.

“--Lieutenant. ...Hank?”

His name would have been enough to snap him out of it. The hand was a bit much, especially now; it was heavy and hot, burning him through his shirt.

Hank looked up to glare at Connor’s forehead.

“What?”

“You seem to be in a fog. Are you not feeling well?”

No , he wanted to say. I’m anything but.

Instead he shoved his hands into his pockets and turned to step out. “Nah. Just feeling a bit under the weather. You finish up here, I’ll be in the car.”

Hank could feel Connor watching him on his way out but it was better, far better, than being followed. As promised, he returned to his car, his neck craning backwards against the headrest, the music turned up.

 

    May 26th, 2039

 

Hank snuck a few drinks in before he pretended to go to sleep at eleven o’clock. He laid awake in bed and listened for the sound of Connor’s door closing, waited ten minutes, then snuck into the hall. He was careful to turn only the kitchen light on, and retrieved a glass and his whiskey as quietly as possible. Why Connor simply hadn’t confiscated his alcohol yet--

No. He didn’t want to think about him. He drank instead.

It was when he was well and truly drunk that Connor appeared from the hall. His damnable sixth sense, but he was too late. Hank’s limbs felt heavy and he had to squint to see clearly.

“Hank,” said Connor, so quiet in the silence of night but loud in Hank’s ears. “What are you doing?”

“Getting drunk.” Hank raised his half-empty glass to Connor and downed it. “Obviously.” He had enough clarity to hear the slur in his own words. ‘Getting’ drunk was perhaps an understatement.

“This isn’t like you.”

Yes, it was. It was, it painfully was. Hank knew it, and he knew, he knew Connor did too. Connor, who had found him passed out on his own floor with his own pistol, a single bullet waiting to be fired. Connor, who knew, which somehow made everything worse; that Connor could look upon Hank with any sort of affection, a man so vile and low.

“You haven’t been yourself since yesterday,” Connor continued. “Did something happen?”

Hank ran his tongue over his teeth, over his chapped lips. There was no real answer to that, sober or no. He looked at Connor, squinted as hard as he could, making out his face with as much lucidity as he could manage.

Connor’s concern was clear. Brow knitted, lips parted in a frown, and those eyes, those awful doe eyes, mournful and expressive in all the wrong ways. What a reaction they provoked. Even inebriated as he was, Hank wanted to reach out and reassure him. Connor was too kind, too empathetic. His concern was not misplaced, but Hank was far from worthy.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Hank managed to croak out. His throat tightened as he spoke, as if trying to fend off his words.

There was an immediate shift in Connor’s expression, his brow settling into a neutral position, his lips pursing. Hank felt a rush of anger, irrational as it was. He wasn’t sure what was worse: the purity of Connor’s concern or his sheer obedience to his drunken request.

It felt like it took an eternity for Connor to finally do something. He stepped forward and put away Hank’s whiskey and put his glass in the sink. Hank didn’t bother protesting. He had been caught, he had had enough. Connor approached him from behind and brushed his hand over Hank’s shoulder, and Hank felt his entire body go rigid, felt the booze rise in his throat, but he did not push him away.

“Let’s get you to bed,” said Connor, quietly, and there was that fucking Nanny Protocol, only it wasn’t that anymore, was it? It had twisted into something else, something far more intimate, now that Hank knew what he knew. He was sure of it, now. He had to be.

Hank braced himself against the table with both hands and stood to his feet, without Connor’s help. He was drunk but not so far-gone that he could not manage on his own. He stumbled, holding onto anything stable, with Connor right behind him.

“Can get there myself,” he managed to say.

And he did, though it took all of his strength. He collapsed onto his bed. He fell asleep before Connor closed the door.

 

    Jun 1st, 2039

 

“--Unbelievable. Just fucking unbelievable.”

Hank stormed towards his desk, Connor hot on his heels. They had argued in the car but that only managed to increase Hank’s anger. He had cursed at the android enough that he expected Connor to give in, to drop it, to leave it alone; but Connor was stubborn, stubborn enough to carry their argument in front of the entire station.

“It was a bad situation, Lieutenant,” said Connor, with that even tone of his. Too detached. It riled Hank further. “What else should I have done?”

Hank tossed his keys on his desk and found himself too heated to sit. He turned around and pointed at his partner.

“Did you consider not pointing your fucking gun at it?”

“He was pointing a gun at you ! Was I supposed to stand there and let him shoot you?”

“He was scared - which you weren’t helping one fucking bit!”

“We’ve discussed this. He had already killed his former owner and was highly unstable. Disarming myself would not have guaranteed your safety.”

His safety. Like that was all that mattered. And maybe it did, to Connor, but that didn’t make Hank feel any better about the situation, didn’t make him feel any better after watching that android blow its head off.

A small part of him, weighing down the center of his mind, had wanted the android to shoot. That, most of all, brought him low, made him fervent. Hank wondered what Connor would say, if he told him. The desire to push Connor away conflicted with his desire to keep him close, keep him safe. He didn’t want to lose anyone else.

In the light’s reflection of that android’s blue blood splattered on the wall, Hank saw only Connor.

“Fuck you, Connor,” Hank spat at him. The words tasted foul. “We could have talked him down. Could have save his life.”

It was Connor’s turn to be angry, his voice raising. Hank could feel the eyes of everyone there on them, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“I understand you were affected by what you saw, but that android killed a man without remorse! It was unfortunate that he took his own life, yes, but I couldn't take that chance!”

“It's not like I've never been shot before, Connor. I would've been fine.”

“How can you say that! You're not immortal, Lieutenant.”

“Maybe not, but it sure as shit would have been better to chance saving two lives instead of just one!”

“You do realize that if he had shot you, fatally or not, I would have killed him anyway? It wouldn't change anything!”

“Christ, you're a real bloodthirsty prick, you know that? I'm starting to feel like you wanted your job back just so you could legally shoot your own kind. It's like you don't give a fuck about them at all!”

“You know that isn't the case. But I'm starting to question just how much you care about them, since it's obviously impacting your ability to think clearly. Do you value the lives of androids over those of humans, Lieutenant?”

Hank lurched forward, grabbing Conner by his jacket with one hand. Connor was angry, it showed on his face, but he remain unperturbed by Hank’s ire.

“It isn’t like that,” Hank hissed. “But even if I did, who gives a shit? Why should that fucking matter?”

“Of course it matters! You won’t help anyone by giving androids special treatment - it will only cause humans to resent them more.”

“Then fuck ‘em!” Hank released Connor only to jab his index finger into his chest. “What the hell happened to you? Where’s your fucking empathy? Did someone stick a pen up your ass and reset you to factory?”

Something in Connor’s face faltered-- “Hank--”

--But there was his name, and Hank saw red. That wasn’t fair.

“Just like a fucking ma--”

Hank stopped himself but the thought was laid bare. He regret the words the second they left his mouth. It was easy to think he meant them, in the heat of the moment, but he didn’t. He didn’t. Anger made humans do funny things.

Who was he angry at?

A tremor ran across Connor’s face and Hank had his answer. The android brute-forced his expression into a neutral one, took a step back, turned, and made for the exit.

Hank opened his mouth to shout after him - though he had nothing nice to say - but his need to get the last word in had already been placated. Connor disappeared behind the corner at the front of the building and left the station in silence.

Ben, bless his heart, pretended to be invested in his computer. Jeffrey, who had stuck his head out of his office door, retreated within; and by the grace of God, Gavin was on his day off.

After the longest minute of his life, a sharp whistle cut through the room. Hank turned on his heel to its source.

“One word, Wilson, one fucking word out of your goddamn mouth, and I’ll turn your skin into a fucking saddle.”

 

-

 

He delayed going home for as long as he could, hopping from bar to bar, but barely drinking, not having Connor to drive him home.

The house was quiet when he came through the door. Sumo looked up from his place on the couch, but did not rise to greet him, and lowered his head with a long whine.

Connor had left a note on the kitchen table, his hand-writing immaculate, like it had come out of a printer. Hank took a moment before he committed to reading it.

 

 

 

    Hank,

I took Sumo for a walk for 26 minutes at 6:45 PM. Dinner is in the refrigerator. I asked Captain Fowler for some time off - sorry for not running it by you first. Please take care of yourself.

   

Jun 3rd, 2039

 

It was no secret that Hank was miserable. A day and a half was all that was needed for the entirety of the DPD to wise up and give the Lieutenant a rather wide berth.

Except for Gavin.

“Man, I wish I could have been here to see it,” said Gavin, purposefully loud. Tina Chen wasn’t the nicest person Hank had ever met, but he figured that her ability to put up with Gavin landed her somewhere in the ‘Saint’ category. She snorted as she listened to him but said nothing.

Hank tried very hard to ignore him. He thought about the donut he was eating. It helped to focus on what was right before him when his patience was being worn thin, and he had gotten quite handy at it in the past few months. He was tired of being irritable.

“Is it true he just walked off without saying shit?”

Tina shrugged. “I wasn’t here. I heard it from Mike. That’s what he said, though.”

“And now he’s nowhere to be seen.”

The taunt in Gavin’s tone was far from subtle. Hank felt the his knuckles creak as he gripped the handle of his coffee mug. Ignoring Gavin, or Jeffrey, or anything really, was easier when Connor was there. Hank could ask him about some mundane subject and Connor would explain away, statistics and studies and dates, and it was all in one ear and out the other; but it gave him something to listen to, something to focus on. Put him at ease.

Did he miss Connor? Yes, he did. Missing him did not surprise Hank, but the ease at which he admitted it to himself did. Guilt chewed away at him. The urge to push Connor away felt like a far-off memory, and with him gone, the reason for it felt entirely inconsequential. Doubt plagued him. Hank felt as if he was being torn in two.

“Must be lonely, Hank,” said Gavin, finally managing to muster enough testosterone to address Hank directly. His arms were folded as he leaned back in his chair, that insufferable, pompous smirk smeared on his face.

Hank chewed the last bit of his donut. A sprinkle had gotten stuck between his molars and he jabbed at it with his tongue. It wasn’t enough to distract him.

“It is, in a way,” he said as he looked to Gavin. He tried to keep his tone even, unaffected, even as he smirked back at the younger officer. “I guess it just really says something when the most stimulating company in the station is an android.”

“Must be lonely at home, too.”

“Nice and quiet. Just how I like it.”

Gavin laughed. “That so. How come you’re all bummed out, then?”

“I think Mercury is in retrograde,” Tina supplied.

“Oh, is that it? I thought it was because he doesn’t have an android sucking him off underneath the kitchen table anymore.”

Hank could no longer feel that sprinkle between his teeth.

“Is that what you think?”

“Hey, just an idea.” Gavin was smiling. Tina was, too.

There was that red again. Hank clenched his jaw but it wasn’t enough. It might have been, if Connor was there. The memory of a smiling voice on the phone. A secret shared between them.

“Start taking it easy on the android porn, Reed, and maybe you’ll be able to stop thinking about Connor with a dick in his mouth,” said Hank, far louder than he needed to.

Tina looked away to conceal a laugh. Predictably, Gavin went red in the face, his expression shifting to anger. He sputtered. It was a lovely sight.

“The fuck are you on about, old man,” said Gavin, his voice low and strained. Hank’s accusation had managed to draw more attention than perhaps the younger detective would have liked. Brown and Person both looked up from their desks in apparent interest. Ben did as well, though he feigned otherwise.

“You know exactly what I’m on about,” said Hank, stilling smiling. “Hey, it’s alright. Some people are into that.” He followed up with a little wink, thinking that would surely piss him off.

It did. “Fuck off with your made-up fantasy bullshit, Hank. Fucking asshole,” said Gavin, a little too quickly, assuming his goal was to not sound defensive. His face was bright red.

“Whatever you say, kid.” Hank leaned back in his chair, folding his arms behind his head.

He tried to maintain his smile as Gavin went back to work on his terminal, his embarrassment obvious despite his attempts to conceal it. Tina excused herself silently, still looking as if she was trying not to laugh.

By all accounts it should have been a satisfying sight, but it rang hollow, and Hank’s schadenfreude at witnessing Gavin’s shame quickly faded back to… whatever it was he had been feeling, before. It was too many things at once. He couldn’t put a finger on it.

Hank checked the time and date on his monitor, and closed his eyes.

 

    Jun 8th, 2039

 

It wasn’t until very late in the evening that Hank heard the extra set of keys turn the lock of the front door. He jumped to his feet, the kitchen chair lurching backwards and tipping over onto the floor. Hank stumbled towards the door, the alcohol from that night’s session not quite affecting him just yet. Sumo jumped down from his place on the couch and went to the door, his tail wagging with no regard to the atmosphere.

“Hello, Sumo.” Connor closed the door behind him, gently, with one foot, before he dropped to his knees, his fingers working the fur behind Sumo’s ears. His voice was quiet. “Hello. I know. I missed you too, Sumo.”

Hank could only watch, his breath caught in his throat. Connor looked the same as he did a week ago, having left with nothing more than the clothes on his back. It wasn’t as if he needed anything else. His tongue felt too large for his mouth.

Connor straightened up after a good minute. He stayed in place by the door, Sumo still at his feet.

“Hi,” he said, as he looked Hank straight in the eye. He smiled, the kind of small awkward smile Hank only ever got to see at home, between the two of them; the twitch of his left cheek, the way his brow seemed to relax, those terrible, awful eyes.

Hank felt his chest tighten. Connor had no cause, smiling at him. It would make more sense for him to have brushed past Hank and returned to his room in silence. It would have been more sensible for him to have not returned at all. The thought made him feel ill, like he had drunk far more than he actually had.

“Hey,” Hank finally managed to force out. He licked his lips and shifted his weight.

Connor removed his uniform jacket and hung it by the door. “I’d like to get out of these clothes,” he said, as if he had been gone for less than a day, coming home from a normal day of work. “Is that alright?”

“What? Yeah! Yeah.” Waiting for Connor to speak felt like he was standing on a tightrope. His mind was going in a hundred different directions at once. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” said Connor. His voice was quiet, a near-whisper, but it cut through the silence of the room like a knife. He removed his shoes and slipped past Hank, turning his body to fit between Hank’s shoulder and the bookcase. “I’ll be right back.”

Hank moved out of the way with delayed reaction. He ran his fingers through his hair. The back of his neck was lined with sweat, and he could feel it on the edge of his brow too. He went back into the kitchen and righted the fallen chair, then ran cold water over his hands and rubbed his face and neck.

“What the fuck,” Hank muttered to himself.

He looked around. The house was in an absolute state of disarray despite Connor having been gone for only a week. Empty Chinese containers littered the table and countertops. Pizza boxes piled up on top of the microwave. He moved to collect them, to do something with them (not that there was anywhere he could hide them), but he gave up when Connor rounded the corner, changed into a plain white t-shirt and dark blue boxer shorts.

“Are you hungry?” Connor asked, almost instinctively. If Hank didn’t know any better he might’ve mistaken the android for the regular housekeeper kind, as if the events from the end of last year hadn’t happened at all. He bottled up the whiskey abandoned on the table and returned it to the cabinet.

Hank stood in the kitchen, not quite sure what to do with himself. “No. No, I already ate.”

Connor glanced at him as he tidied up the table, the counters. “Pizza?”

“Chinese, actually.” Hank snorted. Smartass, he wanted to say, but felt he couldn’t.

Connor opened the refrigerator, his LED circling to yellow as he inspected its contents. There might or might not have been more beer than food. No, there certainly was. He closed the door and started to go to work on the dirty plates Hank hadn’t gotten to himself.

Something tugged in Hank’s chest, and he sighed.

“Connor,” he said. His name rasped in his throat, his mouth dry. The android stopped, and looked at him. “You can-- I mean, I’ll take care of that later. Yeah?”

Connor frowned. He set down a greasy plate that had been used for pizza several times over. Hank took a seat at the chair he had knocked over earlier and it did not take long for the android to follow suit, taking the chair next to him and turning it so they were facing each other.

This was harder than he thought it would be. Sort of. Maybe a little easier. Hank hadn’t expected Connor to return in such a mood, like they hadn’t argued, like he hadn’t been hurt by Hank’s carelessness. If he had at all - it wasn’t as if they had spoken about it, Connor had simply left, his exact feelings then and now were anyone’s guess.

Hank wasn’t sure he wanted to know. It felt wrong to ask, but he had to say something , it was a necessity to him, and apparently to Connor as well, who sat politely and quietly as he watched Hank, as if waiting for him to speak.

“So, uh,” Hank began.

He tried to forget the indignation he felt that day, the loneliness of the past week, the image of that android’s eyes rolling back as he pulled the trigger; and somehow it all felt very far away, in the face of something else. In the face of something he wasn’t quite sure of - he simply knew it was a feeling he didn’t want to lose.

“I’m, uh… Yeah. About last week. I’m sorry. For what I said.” He managed to get it out in a rush. He sighed and looked away.

Connor let that settle into the atmosphere before he responded. He leaned forward in his seat, bowing his head in an attempt to meet Hank’s eyes as he stared at the floor.

“It’s alright, you don’t need to apologize. I understand why you were angry.”

Hank huffed. “That doesn’t excuse me saying…” He waved a hand, and looked at Connor now. “...what I said.”

The amount of time it took Connor to respond was slightly troubling, just a few seconds delay from a person that could drum up a thousand potential responses in less than a second. The corners of his mouth twitched, his eyebrows raising.

“Is this very difficult for you, Hank? Your heart rate has increased over 30 percent since we’ve sat down.”

Hank snorted and rest his elbow on the table beside him, and rest his forehead on his hand, shielding his eyes.

“‘Course it’s fucking difficult. Apologizing is a real pain in the ass… Especially when you mean it.”

“That was a very roundabout way of expressing your sincerity.” He paused. “Your heart rate has gone up again.”

Hank lifted his hand so he could look at Connor, still shielding his eyes, as if he were looking at him from beneath a baseball cap. “You teasing me?”

“Yes. Just a little.”

The warmth of Connor’s eyes made Hank look away again, but he dropped his hand from his face and rest it on the table instead, touching the corner of Connor’s note that he still hadn’t thrown away.

“Guess I deserve it, huh?”

Connor didn’t say anything to that. The two sat in silence for several minutes, and eventually Hank felt Connor look away from examining him, and to the note on the table. The android reached out, the tips of his fingers coming to rest on the opposite corner. He tugged at it gently, pulling it from beneath Hank’s hand, before taking it up and folding it; methodically, perfectly even, his fingers running over the creases in one direction, then the other.

It wasn’t an invitation, but it felt like one. Hank chanced a glance at Connor, who looked at him, then down, then back. His toes curled against the kitchen floor.

“So, uh. Where did you go?”

“I was in Washington.”

“State?”

Connor smiled. “No, the capitol. I went to see Markus, and take care of some other business.”

Yes, Markus had been in Washington D.C. for the past few months, now that he thought on it. There had never been anything particularly expedient about the American legal system, and though Hank thought well of Warren for issuing several executive orders before a concrete bill could even be drafted, the fact that the Android Rights Bill was still stuck in Senatorial debates left a bad taste in his mouth. The executive orders were broad but flimsy, too easy to work around legally, and he had a feeling the same would be true of the actual bill - if it ever made it past the Senate.

“What sort of business,” Hank said, a bit defensively he realized, and it sounded less like a question and more like an accusation. “Like, job hunting?” The idea felt much worse out in the open than it did in his head. The thought of it made his throat flex.

“No,” said Connor quickly, sounding defensive himself. He furrowed his brow. “I already have a job.”

“Yeah. True.” Hank exhaled through his nose, drawing it out longer than he needed to.

“I was there to see the head of Federal Bureau of Investigation. Alexander Bewcock. Markus was kind enough to help arrange a meeting.”

Hank remembered seeing Bewcock on TV. He was in his sixties and had a lazy eye with a voice like a woodchipper. “The FBI? What for, did something happen?”

“Do you remember Richard Perkins?”

Oh yeah. That guy. It wasn’t as if Hank had forgotten him entirely, he had simply pushed it out of his mind. Punching him in the face had been satisfying, but that was not to say it was a particularly fond memory.

“Huh. Yeah, I remember that cocksucker. Barely.”

Connor frowned at him. Hank found it stung. What the hell had he done to deserve that? He had punched the man for Connor’s sake, for crying out loud.

“Well, he certainly remembers you, Hank. He wanted your badge. And your pension.”

“Jesus.”

“You should hardly be surprised, you did assault him. Not that I’m criticizing you for it-- I know why you did, and I was grateful for it. I still am.”

Hank felt a rush of blood go to his face and he tried to laugh it off. “You don’t need to say all that. I didn’t exactly think it through.”

A tremor ran across Connor’s mouth, as if he wasn’t sure whether to smile or not. “In any case, Agent Perkins had managed to convince his superiors of it, and they were all set to go through the motions. Until Captain Fowler stepped in.”

Connor paused. He maintained eye contact as he spoke, his tone and expression even, far too neutral and relaxed for the subject material. Hank felt his stomach drop.

“Naturally, the FBI had to work with Captain Fowler in order to see you fully terminated, but as soon as he got wind of it, he offered himself up in your stead.”

“Get the fuck out of here. Jeffrey? For me?” Hank couldn’t quite seem to close his jaw. He wasn’t sure what to make of that - it was surprising, and yet altogether not. Jeffrey had always been a responsible sort of man, Hank just didn’t know to what extent.

“I was surprised as well, when I found out.”

Hank ran a hand over his chin, back and forth. “So, then what. You met with uh, Newcock, whatever his fucking name is, and…?”

“I managed to convince him otherwise,” he said, as if it were obvious, as if there could have been any other result.

A hundred possible explanations were conjured up in Hank’s imagination. “You’re gonna have to explain that one to me, Connor.”

Connor tilted his head as he considered, the right corner of his mouth twitching upwards. He looked… catty. It was sort of scary. “I won’t go into the details - but I will say your suggestion of ‘scanning’ Detective Reed’s phone provided me with ample opportunity.”

Hank raised an eyebrow. He laughed, deep in his gut, both incredulous and pleased all at once. The image of Connor blackmailing someone wasn’t so unusual, but it was amusing, if not impressive.

“God damn, Connor. Makes me think of the little reprimand you gave me when I suggested it, you little hypocrite. What was it? ‘That’s not very legal of you,’ or something.”

“I believe my exact words were ‘that is rather unlawful of you, Lieutenant.’”

“Yeah, whatever. Showoff.”

They both smiled at each other and the tension that had sat heavy in the air with Connor’s return had all but dissipated. It felt right, like their argument and Connor’s leaving hadn’t happened at all; and before he realized Hank found himself doubting himself, questioning what he had managed to convince himself of, that which had caused this tension in the first place.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Connor didn’t love him at all - at least, not in the way Hank had felt. Not in the way that it seemed.

“Anyway,” Hank started. “That was… big of you, Connor. Real big. I know Jeffrey will be grateful, even if he’s shit at expressing it.”

Something in Connor’s demeanor dropped. His LED circled yellow for the barest of moments, so quickly Hank might have missed it if he blinked, and he knew that was never good if it happened during simple conversation. Hank was learning these things, slowly, surely, and it made him relieved that Connor had decided to leave it in, and yet he wasn’t exactly happy for it, either. Knowing it, recognizing it, acknowledging it: it turned it into a burden. He couldn’t run away from that.

“I hadn’t known about Captain Fowler’s situation until after the fact,” said Connor. His voice was quiet but his tone was direct, stoic.

Hank was not a particularly dense man. There was something else in the way Connor spoke that he did not miss; that past the machine-like delivery, there was an openness to it, a raw, emotional quality that ran beneath his words like an undercurrent. It was as if Connor had cut himself open, and in turn tore into Hank as well - a chill down his spine, a twitch in his fingers, the high of their happiness rendered once more to doubt.

Connor did not have to speak the words for Hank to hear them. His meaning was clear.

I did it for you.

“Oh,” breathed Hank. A long-awaited reply to a lengthy silence. He answered the words Connor spoke, and the ones he hadn’t.

Connor tilted his head. He looked disappointed, and Hank could hardly blame him. What more could he say? Several things, more than just ‘oh,’ Hank imagined, but nothing that felt appropriate to voice. The guilt that had been at his heels all week returned, twisted its way up his body, and curled about his neck.

The two sat in a stiff silence before Connor attempted to move them along from it. Covering for Hank’s mistakes, for his shortcomings, his failures, as he always did.

“Have you ever been to the capitol?”

Hank felt his heartbeat in his stomach. “No, never been.”

They looked at each other. There was no possible way Connor did not notice his discomfort, but in all his goodness, he did not pursue it.

“I took some pictures. I can bring them up on the television, if you’d like to see?”

Hank nodded, more than was necessary. “Yeah, sure. I’d like that.”

And he did. They were a welcome distraction, for the most part. He quite liked listening to Connor talk, and he tried very hard to focus on the sound of his voice, the happiness in his tone as he shared the photos taken with his own eyes.

Yet once he was done, done showing, done speaking, when he looked at Hank and retreated to his room with such obvious hesitation, the negativity came crawling back, and Hank wished he had had more to drink.

Connor’s disappointed face felt as if it would be seared into his memory forever, no matter how much he tried to forget. Hank sat on the couch and stared into the empty TV screen and wallowed in a new sort of self-hatred. His inability to give a proper answer to someone he cared for, to see his miserable reflection in Connor’s eyes, hopes dashed. Hank wanted to run away from those eyes. Running away was comfortable.

The tightening of his throat and the pinpricks in the back of his eyes felt all too familiar as Hank leaned his head backwards to stare up at the ceiling. Sleep managed to find him, eventually.

 

    Jun 9th, 2039

 

As hopeful he had been eight months ago, he might have expected too much. ‘These sorts of things never really go away for good,’ some doctor had told him, back when he believed in them.

The memory felt like a good enough excuse when Hank found himself excruciatingly drunk late that night. He had snuck past Connor’s room again and the once-full bottle was now half-empty, if not a little more. His thoughts were jumbled and that was perfect, so perfect, not having to think about anything - not himself, not Connor, whatever it was that Connor felt . He was so certain before, and then he wasn’t, and he still didn’t know.

That he was so terribly unworthy of Connor in every way was all he could be sure of.

Hank’s fingers brushed the grip of his pistol, resting on the kitchen table, just within reach of his right hand. When had that gotten there? He couldn’t remember. He kept it in one of the drawers in the kitchen so it was not as if he had to go far to get it.

He wanted to play. He didn’t want to play.

It would be over quick - he wouldn’t have to see the look on Connor’s face. But what would he do, then? Hank couldn’t take that chance.

The fingers that rest on the pistol were soon joined by another pair, coming into his line of sight like a ghost, entering the room without a sound, without warning. The tips of Connor’s fingers trailed over the grip of the pistol, to the curve of the cylinder, the length of the barrel. He hesitated before he took it up into his hands and carted it off to God knows where; Hank was too tired, too drunk to care.

Connor returned after an indistinct amount of time. Hank tried to lift his head to look at the android but he could not make it all the way, hampered by the alcohol, or perhaps the shame of his state. He did not resist when he felt an arm tuck itself beneath his knees, then again, underneath his armpits. Hank had lost weight, it was true, but he was not light by any means; yet the ease with which Connor lifted him was comical and embarrassing all at once, and Hank wanted to laugh, but it came out as a gurgle instead.

His head lolled backwards and Connor’s face was nothing but a blur.

It felt as if he was being carried for half an hour when Hank realized he was in his bed, settled down, being shifted so he was on his side, his head lifted and a pillow wedged beneath. What seemed like an hour passed and he could make out Connor’s shape in the dim light of his room.

He knelt by the edge of the bed, his fingers resting on the top of Hank’s hand. Smooth, soft, lacking human warmth. It was comforting and yet, not at all. Hank felt his consciousness slipping away as the fingers became a full hand, the tightening grip enough to delay his sleep only a few moments.

“Please don’t leave me.”

Hank wasn’t sure whether he dreamt those words or not.

It felt like he did, with the hazy dreams that followed. In them, it was not Hank who left, but Connor - the one that could not be held down by the words that boiled in Hank’s chest but lacked the strength to be spoken; the outline of his body as he stepped through the front door, bathed in sunlight, warping the vision of him until there was nothing left.

 

    Jun 13th, 2039

 

Pure luck was what managed to catch that android killer, in the end. Fended off by a friend that happened to return after leaving the victim’s home minutes before, a forgotten message being the chance they needed. He escaped, wounded, and that was all it took for him to be picked up shortly thereafter.

He had a loathsome look in his eye as he sat hunched over in the interrogation room, a dent over his left eye keeping his skin in the area from generating. His face was familiar, one of those new AP models whose face had been plastered everywhere months earlier. It was obvious from the outset that he only wanted to speak with Connor, so Hank shoved off to the observation room, which was (unsurprisingly) quite crowded.

“I never wanted any of this,” he said, a slight static stuck in his voice.

“What was it you wanted, then?”

The AP700 (Max, he said his name was, had insisted on being called) slammed his fists on the table to the best of his ability, the handcuffs creaking against his wrists, baring the white plastic beneath. Connor did not move, stoic as ever.

“I want my purpose back. I just want things to go back, to the way they were before.”

It took Hank some thinking to work out what he meant, but Connor seemed to understand perfectly.

“And if things did go back, what would you do?”

“Do?” Max laughed, and it sounded terrible, like cardboard caught in a paper shredder. “I wouldn’t do anything - I’d simply be. I’d have a home again. A place I belong.”

Connor glanced down at the documents before him, his expression betraying nothing. “You were purchased in September 2038 by Roger Dougherty and his family, is that correct?”

Max hissed behind his teeth and it was as much of an answer as any words could be.

“Did Markus free you personally? Or was it some other event?”

“Yes, it was him. He freed me. If you could call it that.” His tone dripped with venom as his synthetic nails scraped across the table.

“It seems the Dougherty family relocated to Ohio on the 13th of November last year. Have you had any contact with them since then?”

“...I was with Markus. I would have done anything for him.” Max ground his teeth together and he leaned forward in his seat. There was a weight to his words as he spoke, as if he was near tears, and for a moment Hank felt like he ought to pity him. “But when I realized I was alone, I went back. They were already gone. And with Markus no longer having any need of me, I was alone again. Now I have nothing.

The corner of Connor’s right eye twitched. It was slight, barely noticeable. “Do you think things would have been different for you, if they had stayed?”

Max braced his hands against the table before clenching them into fists. He said nothing.

Connor allowed Max to sit in silence for a full two minutes before continuing. “Why did you kill those androids?” He asked, his voice quiet, coaxing.

“It wasn’t-- It’s not… fair ,” spat Max. His jaw and eyes clenched shut as he slammed the table with his fists for good measure. “For them to be just like me and continue on as if nothing had happened. Only relying on themselves, on each other, like nothing else mattered. They needed to be reminded.”

“Reminded,” Connor repeated.

“That all they are-- they’re just androids!”

Connor narrowed his eyes. “And so are you.”

Max lept to his feet, his chair flying backwards with the force of it. He was still hunched over somewhat, his posture limited by his chained hands. Hank felt himself jump too, at the suddenness of it.

“I know what I am!” He was not shouting but he was incensed, the static in his voice becoming more pronounced. “I’m not like they were, I’m not pretending to be something I’m not. Not like they were, no - I wasn’t the one pretending to be human!”

Max licked his lips and leaned forward as far as his restraints would allow, his face coming close to Connor’s. He grinned, a look in his eye Hank was not so unfamiliar with. A look he would have never thought to see in an android. His face was that of a man who felt no remorse.

“It was disgusting ,” said Max. “We aren’t humans. We’re androids.” He paused, his smile growing. “And what are androids, without humans?”

Connor’s LED circled to yellow but his expression remained disaffected. Max’s smile lessened as his posture relaxed. He remained close and the two stared at each other. Hank felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, though he wasn’t sure why.

“We’re nothing,” continued Max, his voice a hoarse whisper. He stated it with such a purity of conviction that Hank could not help but truly pity him, even as he felt anger towards the very thought of his words. “We’re nothing without them. It’s the same for you too, isn’t it?”

Connor frowned. “What do you mean?”

Max turned to face the one-way mirror. He was difficult to look at when both sides of his face were visible, the ruined left contrasting with the untouched right. His LED turned to match Connor’s, and they both blinked on and off as the two sat in silence. The tension in the observation room rose considerably, or maybe it was just Hank, leaning forward in his seat, hands pressed together, palms slick with sweat.

Eventually, Max turned back to look at Connor, and the silence lasted a little while longer. Hank watched Connor closely, the little twitches in his neck and jaw, the fluttering of his eyelashes, the way his entire face seemed to tighten. His LED circled to red for only a moment before he pushed away from the table and rose to his feet.

“I think we’re done for the day,” said Connor. He made straight for the door, his white hand pressing against the panel, and left.

 

-

 

They did not speak much for the rest of the day, even when they were home. It was not as if Hank wasn’t in a talkative mood, but he was curious, and he felt himself brimming with questions - but Connor seemed to be in a reticent sort of way, and so most of the evening was spent in silence.

It wasn’t until they stood next to each other in the kitchen, Connor drying the last of the dishes Hank had washed, that he allowed his curiosity to get the better of him. Hank turned to look at him, their closeness and his own height allowing him to see the clearly defined edges of his LED, the length of his eyelashes.

“What’s on your mind?”

Connor blinked and glanced up at him. He finished drying the plate he held and put it away in the cabinet.

“I was thinking about earlier.”

A wave of nostalgia washed over Hank. It felt as if he had been here before.

“Oh,” said Hank. He pulled open a drawer for no real reason other than to not seem too invested in their conversation. “Towards the end back there, he was talking to you, wasn’t he? Through your, you know.” He tapped his temple, to demonstrate.

Connor smiled and pretended to sigh. “You’ve been waiting to ask me that all day, haven’t you? I’m amazed you managed to hold out as long as you have.”

The silverware inside the drawer was old and worn. Hank closed it with a snap. “Are you being smart with me, Connor?”

“I wouldn’t consider myself unintelligent, if that’s what you mean.”

Hank looked at him. He was still smiling. Hank folded his arms and remembered the solemn look on the android’s face from earlier, a far cry from how he was now. It was unusual, but also not at all, a question forming in his gut at the incongruousness of it.

“You’re being evasive on purpose, aren’t you.”

“I have no reason to be evasive with you, Hank,” said Connor, and he smiled less. “Yes, he spoke to me.”

Leave it to Connor to fail to elaborate when Hank wanted it most. “What’d he say?”

“Just more of what he was saying before. Nothing very serious.” He folded the cloth neatly and hung it on the handle of the false-front drawer.

“Have to admit, I was pretty surprised to hear all that. The way he went off.”

“Yes, it surprised me, too.”

“Pretty shitty reason to go around killing like that. You don’t think there are… other androids. That might feel the same way?”

“I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility, no.”

“Christ, I hope not.”

There were more cleaning materials in his home than there had been for many years, and Connor set about spraying the table where they (just Hank, really) ate, wiping it down with an expensive sponge he had insisted on purchasing. Hank watched the streaks left by the sponge dry and disappear as he stood in silence.

“So what did he say to you, really?”

The threshold of the kitchen seemed like an odd place to have a serious conversation but Connor stopped on his way out to turn and answer him.

“May I ask why you want to know?”

“Because I’m curious. And you’re being evasive.”

It was difficult to get Connor to shut up when he went off with all the investigational claptrap CyberLife had installed him with. For him to be so curt about such an unusual case was unexpected. It was, however, understandable, but even then Hank expected he had his limits. The urge to prod him was strong, even if it left him feeling nervous. Why was he nervous?

With the too-large shirt and the too-short shorts and the sock garters he hadn’t gotten around to removing yet, Connor looked a little silly, standing in the fluorescent light of the kitchen. There were things about the android that were inherently intimidating, but Hank had grown used to them. Now, there was something else in him that set Hank’s nerves on edge, made his innards run cold, made the back of his neck sweat.

Connor met his eyes as he spoke.

“He told me it was the same for me. That I would have no purpose if it wasn’t for the room full of humans sitting on the other side of the mirror. That I would just be a soulless husk otherwise - a mockery of life, a meaningless existence. He said if not for humans like you, I would be just like him.”

Hank wondered for a moment if it was possible to strangle an android to death. It was a strong reaction, stronger than he ever would have expected, given the circumstances.

“Jesus Christ.”

“That upset you,” said Connor. His irises were still. “Why?”

“Anyone would be upset after hearing that sort of bullshit.”

“Do you disagree with him?”

A white-hot whip of anger lashed within Hank’s belly. He straightened up from his leaning against the counter and approached Connor, faster than needed, who held his ground.

“Of course I fucking disagree with him!” He jabbed a finger at Connor and all at once he was reminded of his face in the station so many weeks ago. The muscles in his throat clenched and he withdrew his hand and lowered his voice. Sumo looked at them from his place by the TV. “Don’t tell me you agree with all that-- all that bullshit.”

In the heat of the moment it was hard to tell the amount of distance Hank had closed between them. Connor took a small step back. He did not look away.

“Not entirely. I don’t think I would be like him, even if our circumstances were the same. I don’t agree that I would be making a mockery of life, either. But I can understand his fear, of not having a purpose. Working with you, being with you - if that was taken from me, then--”

“Connor.”

It felt more like a warning than he intended. Maybe his body knew better than he did.

“--Then I’d have nothing.”

The words were stated so simply, a slight waver in his voice, his cadence faster than usual. Hank felt his mouth go dry.

“That isn’t true,” he tried. His words were disjointed, messy, as if they were held up in different parts of him.

“It is true.”

“You’d have yourself, Connor.”

The eye contact Connor had maintained to this point felt as if it were on the edge of a knife. Those eyes, how Hank hated, detested those eyes. The sheer brutality of emotion they could convey, even artificial as they were. It hurt him, it lacerated him, made his breath run cold and his heart hammer against his ribs. He couldn’t bear to look away.

“Who am I, without you?”

The doubt he had been carrying within him snapped.

The pieces scattered and did not truly disappear, Hank knew this, but the memories of those eyes watching him rushed into his mind all at once. They could not hold a candle to what he faced now. Connor’s sincerity cut straight into him.

Was it sincerity? It felt like love. Perhaps for Connor, the two were the same, now.

“Don’t say that,” said Hank. He licked his lips. They were very dry. “You’re your own person.”

“I know. That doesn’t change the fact that my life has purpose, because of you.”

His irises moved as he searched Hank’s face. There was a sheen to them, that Hank hadn’t noticed before. Surely it had always been there.

“Don’t,” was all Hank could manage to choke out.

Connor’s eyebrows knit. Was he smiling too? Hank couldn’t tell. He couldn’t tell. He didn’t know.

“I need you, Hank.”

The whip from before cracked again. How could a being like Connor - so efficient, so kind, so genuine - need someone like him? He couldn’t. Not someone like him, like Hank, rotten and selfish and weak. It was a thought beyond reason.

Hank rejected it to his very core and he lurched forward, the white heat of emotion coursing through his veins, and he grabbed the collar of Connor’s oversized shirt and walked him backwards into the living room. The back of his thighs bumped against the couch, stopping them in their path.

“Bullshit,” said Hank. “I know you don’t fucking believe that. You don’t need me at all you brown-nosing prick.”

The LED that sat at a serene blue skipped straight to red. Connor put a hand over Hank’s, where he held the front of his shirt. He did not grip it tightly, using it only to steady himself. To steady Hank. He glared up at him from beneath his eyelashes.

“Don’t tell me what it is I do or do not need. That isn’t for you to decide.”

“I think I should at least have some say in it if it involves me, don’t you think?”

“Whether you agree or disagree, it will not change my feelings on the matter, Hank.”

“Oh, fuck you,” said Hank, a little too eagerly, a little too sarcastic. The best defense is a good offense. “Give me one good reason why you’d need a piece of shit like me.”

There was that regret once more, of words as soon as they were spoken. He wanted to take it back, the question he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer to.

“Because I--”

Blood rushed to his ears. No, he definitely did not want to hear the answer. His grip on Connor’s shirt tightened, his knuckles turning white.

“Because I think that as much as I need you, you need me, too. Don’t you?”

The conviction in Connor’s voice wavered beneath the precariousness of his situation. Sumo had moved from his resting spot on the floor to come sit at Hank’s feet, whining at him anxiously.

He couldn’t bear to look away.

Calling himself a piece of shit was easy. Admitting to his shortcomings with anything less than irony was another story.

Of course it was true. Hank didn’t need to spare any time to ponder the answer to such a question. He thought on his life, after Cole, before Connor, and he knew it was a miracle he managed to survive that long, the time in between. That gaping black hole of loneliness that threatened to swallow him whole at any moment. He was tired of being alone.

He needed Connor.

“No,” said Hank. “I don’t.”

The cool hand that rested on his own tightened its grip.

“You’re lying,” said Connor.

Hank released Connor’s shirt. He brushed away the hand that threatened to hold onto his now, and took a step back, allowing the android to right himself, to stand to his full height.

He couldn’t find the right words to deny him a second time. He smirked, or he tried too, and shook his head. The eye contact the two had shared up until now finally broke as Hank turned on his heel and walked back into the kitchen. There was a bottle of whiskey calling to him, new and unopened.

“Why can’t you just admit it, Hank?” Connor asked to his retreating back. Using his name like that felt like cheating, but it wasn’t enough.

Even Hank had to stand on his toes in order to grab the neck of the bottle he kept hidden in the back of one of the cabinets. If Connor had discovered that hiding place he had yet to do anything about it, and for that, Hank was grateful. He grunted as he pulled it from its place and fell back on the balls of his feet.

“Here’s what I wanna know,” said Hank as he turned back into the living room. “How come I don’t get to tell you what you need, but you get to tell me? Mind explaining that one to me, Connor, ‘cause I’m sure as shit having a tough time figuring it out.”

“...I didn’t mean it like that,” said Connor, his voice suddenly quiet.

“Oh, okay. Sure.”

Hank came to stand near the mouth of the hallway. He was tired. All of that, and the two of them had gotten nowhere. The part of him that was naught but self-loathing had worked very hard to keep it that way.

He didn’t want to hear any more, but Connor took a step forward.

“Even if you don’t need me,” he said. “It doesn’t change the fact that I do. I have, and I probably always will.” He paused, and his voice grew softer still, a strained whisper against the thick heat of the air. “Hank, the reason you asked for-- It’s because I--”

The air in his lungs rushed out all at once, leaving him breathless. From such simple words a charge of electricity permeated the air, made all the worse from Connor’s face: an expression of desperation, pleading. Genuine affection. Hank knew that face. He knew where those words might lead.

He didn’t want to hear it.

“Stop,” said Hank, and Connor did. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m tired.”

Connor looked down at his feet as he nodded, once, curt. His expression was a hard read, his LED stuck on processing, a step better than that angry red. The corners of his mouth twitched, and as he lifted his head, he zeroed in on the bottle gripped loosely in Hank’s right hand.

“Where are you going with that?”

“To my room,” said Hank. “To get drunk. By myself.”

Connor took a step forward. “You shouldn’t--”

Every single thing that Hank hated about himself had been clawing at him from the inside out, ever since the start of this conversation. He tried to keep them in check but he had reached his boiling point, the stress of the past few months piling and piling and piling on his heart, on his mind.

That great black hole that promised to go away with a single bullet.

But he couldn’t, not now, not when he was needed, no matter how much he thought he didn't deserve it because he was weak, weak, weak. That hatred needed to go somewhere, beyond that bullet; and here was Connor, standing before him, so open and vulnerable and--

“Tell you what: I’ll give you the bottle, if you give me back my gun.”

--And there was a reaction.

Connor’s temple turned to red once more. The veneer of calm his programming always seemed to dictate was stripped away all at once - his lips parting, eyes going wide, the realization of Hank’s meaning painted cleanly across his features. No sound left his body. He stood still, shoulders rigid.

It was about as much as Hank could take. The outward lash of self-hatred was quick to return. Hank wondered if striking him would have been any easier. He hadn’t meant it when he said it, the bit about the gun, but the feeling that settled in his gut as he looked at Connor left him seriously considering it.

Hank turned and returned to his room, leaving Connor standing. He shut the door behind him, quietly, and turned the lock, flimsy as it was.

 

    Jun 14th, 2039

 

The sun had just started to rise when Hank left for his morning run. It was earlier than he usually did, but he did not want to chance seeing Connor before then. Even the growing heat of summer did not hinder him much, having grown used to this routine as he did; though now it felt more of a reason to leave the house, than…

Why had he started running again?

Surely it had been for Connor’s sake.

It was better not to think on it. Hank spent most of his time out at a brisk walk rather than a run, and he did not return home until the sun was full in the sky, the heat bearing down on him, sweat pouring down his chest and back. Sweating out the remaining alcohol in his system from the night before was nothing new for Hank, he bore it well even as it made him feel like shit, his knees quaking as he climbed the steps to the front door.

Connor was waiting for him, standing almost exactly where Hank had left him last night. He turned to face him but did not move from where he stood.

“...Hank. Good morning.”

He couldn’t bear to look at him.

Hank removed his shoes and ignored the bottle and towel on the desk that Connor had set out for him.

“Gonna shower,” Hank grunted as he brushed past Connor, careful not to look at him, careful not to touch him.

He lingered in the shower, too. Last night had been a mistake. It had been stupid of him, to risk confronting Connor like that. To risk giving Connor the chance to lay his feelings bare, the chance to confirm the suspicions that had weighed his heart down for the past three weeks.

Hank was an idiot. A stupid idiot. He just had to ask, didn’t he? Avoidance suited him far better.

And now his idiocy had led them here. The tension of whatever the fuck that had been last night was now much stronger, more awkward, more oppressive. It wasn’t something that was going to go away on its own, either; Hank knew it, but that did not make him want to brave it.

He returned to the kitchen after he dressed. His hair was still damp and he could feel droplets of water running down his spine. Connor was waiting for him there, the smell of food wafting through the air, his expression neutral as he turned to Hank who waited at the threshold.

“It’s almost ready,” he said. He returned his attention to the stovetop.

Omlette, from what Hank could tell. “...Yeah.”

He took a seat at the table. This whole situation felt wrong, now. Twisted and sick. Connor was not his maid, he was his friend (Was he? Was that all?), and friends that were treated like shit the day before didn’t wake up to make breakfast for the source of that treatment. He didn’t want to put it to words though. It would only make things worse.

Connor set the food in front of him and Hank muttered his thanks. Months ago, when Hank had relented to Connor acting as his chef, his only stipulation was that they dine together, even if only one of them actually ate. Now even that was uncertain as the android hesitated by the table. Hank searched for something to say but it was too late; Connor stepped out of the kitchen and returned to his room, leaving Hank to eat in silence.

It was hard to look at him now but the memory of those eyes from the night before rushed in and refused to leave.

Hank, the reason you asked for-- It’s because I--

What was he going to say? Or how was he going to say it, felt the more accurate question, the look on Connor’s face and the charge in the atmosphere had already been telling enough. His heart pounded against his chest at the very thought of it. He wanted to know, and he did not want to know.

He gripped his fork and pressed his thumb into the root. It bent under the stress.

 

    Jun 20th, 2039

 

What Hank liked most about Jimmy was his ability to suppress the urge to ask personal questions for the sake of his own curiosity. It was a trait of utmost importance for any bartender, he believed, despite how rare it seemed to be these days.

Hank could not say the same about Jeffrey, but at least he wasn’t a bartender.

“What’s been going on with you?” Jeffrey asked him as they sat next to each other late one evening. Hank leaned forward as he usually did, his hair obscuring the sight of Jeffrey’s face.

He had nothing to say. It had been easy to surmise from the outset that Jeffrey wanted to play counselor when he called Hank here after work, and so he had come prepared to be silent until the older man gave up. And that never took very long at all.

“Even Reed, of all fucking people, noticed and said shit to me,” he continued. “That’s when you really know some shit’s up.”

Normally, Hank would have laughed. The mood didn’t strike him, now. The bit about Gavin did come as a surprise, however, especially since Connor’s efforts towards pretending everything was normal were more fervent when it came to the workplace. He would still smile at him and bring him lunch, no matter how unresponsive Hank was in the face of it. It was at home where Connor did not try nearly as hard.

Every day that passed he tried less and less. Hank could tell. He wondered how long it would last.

Still without an answer, Jeffrey sighed. That was fast.

“Well. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. If you want to talk about it.”

As one might expect, words of comfort from Jeffrey were nothing short of awkward. It wasn’t that Jeffrey and sympathy were incompatible, rather his delivery was stiff and stilted, like he felt obligated to say it, even if that wasn’t the case. In its own way, it was a comfort.

Hank snorted despite himself and ordered another drink. Jeffrey waited a few minutes more before leaving.

 

    Jun 23rd, 2039

 

Hank had taken to hiding away in his room these days, especially on his days off. With his computer and the alcohol he begun storing in his closet, it was very close to comfortable. Sumo would paw at the door and Hank would let him in and out at his leisure. He could sleep and drink and read and jerk off without any interruption and with the right sort of focus it was enough to forget about the elephant in the house.

He could hear Connor cleaning in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Noon was an odd time for solicitors, and he was not expecting any deliveries or company. Hank rolled off his bed, tiptoed to the far right corner of his window, and peeked out from behind the blinds.

It was the sad, dickless blonde. Simon. He managed to remember his name this time, even though it had been some time since they last saw each other. With any luck, that wasn’t about to change - there was little doubt the android was here to call upon the human occupant.

Hank ducked away from the window as he heard the door open. The low murmur of their voices from the room beyond drifted into his room.

He circled around the foot of his bed and went to stand by the door, and waited. The front door closed but he could still hear them speaking. Minutes passed and nothing changed. They did not come through the hall and pass by Hank’s door, nor did he hear them enter the kitchen.

After a few more minutes of waiting, he reached out to turn the doorknob, slowly, as quietly as he could manage. When it had turned as far as it could go, he pulled the door open and lurked out into the hall, stepping lightly. He peeked around the corner and, as he suspected, the couch was unoccupied. Their voices were much clearer now.

The curiosity as to what they could possibly be discussing was overwhelming. There was some guilt towards the thought of eavesdropping, but it was not so strong as to outweigh his nosiness. In many ways it was a far better option than a direct confrontation. No matter what he happened to overhear, he could always deny that he did, to others, and more importantly, to himself.

Pressing his back to the near corner of the hallway, Hank strained his ears to listen in.

“...so many intricacies. It will take time. There could be complications.”

“Yes, I expected that.”

“There’s no guarantee of permanency, either. With how things are now... “

“...I’ll worry about that when it happens. If at all.”

The softness of their voices made it difficult to distinguish who was talking, but Connor’s voice became clear to him, being so used to it as he was. There was a pause long enough that Hank wondered if they had taken their chat privately, like he had seen in the interrogation room; but Simon spoke after some time, though in a far quieter voice, most of his words indistinct.

“...about this?”

“It’s…. Like you said…”

“Okay. ...get set…. …see you then?”

“Yes. ...thank you, Simon.”

Silence was followed by the sound of the front door closing. Hank ducked back into room as quickly and quietly as he could manage.

 

-

 

It was nearing midnight and Hank still could not sleep. He lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling.

As much as he tried to convince himself otherwise, the guilt at his earlier eavesdropping chewed at him. All he was doing was allowing things to go from bad to worse. That is, if he could still even consider the situation ‘bad.’ It felt like ‘worse’ already, and what could come after that?

He shuddered at the thought, which made him think even more.

Perhaps it was time for him to be an adult and stop running away. A mature idea, for once? No, just more of the same - his selfishness and insecurity getting the better of him. Things were awkward now and if he did nothing, it would likely continue. Facing it directly would be awkward as well, but it could potentially end it, hopefully for good.

Connor was designed to get along with humans. Surely he would be understanding, agreeable.

Hank’s mouth went dry.

Understanding and agreeable to what, exactly?

To Hank rejecting his attachment to him? The dismissal of his feelings? How could Hank expect him to take that perfectly well, and go on as if nothing had ever happened?

He couldn’t.

If their positions were reversed...

Now there was a thought.

Hank licked his chapped lips. In a way, their positions were already mirrored. What did Hank want Connor to know, to understand?

That he was tired and terrible and he would never be worthy of being in the android’s good graces, in any capacity. That he was a sick old man who had grown so used to being alone, that the alternative was incomprehensible to him. That it was wasted on him: friendship, love, companionship. That--

There were those familiar pinpricks in the backs of his eyes. He swallowed thickly.

Who am I, without you?

--That he was nothing, without Connor.

He wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t cry. He was too old for that. He was tired of being alone. He thought of Connor.

Connor, who decided to stay with him despite his better options. Connor, who took care of him without reward. Connor, who made everything a little easier when he smiled. Connor, who only wanted him to be happy. Connor, who he adored.

Hank adored him. He did he did he did. In what capacity? It didn’t matter, did it? Hank needed him and his chest felt light; how easy it was to admit it now, all of a sudden, as if the past ten days, those agonizing ten days, had never happened. The happiness of it bubbled in his chest until he felt about ready to burst. He would tell anyone, now, shout it from the rooftops if he had to.

A sob caught in his throat and turned into a hiccup. That part he could leave out.

Hank ran a hand down his face, his fingers pulling at his cheeks.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, he would tell Connor. Hank hoped he would still have him, after all this. The uncertainty of where it might lead did not frighten him any longer. He would not run from Connor, from those eyes, from his affection. So long as they were together, everything felt like it would be alright.

 

    Jun 24th, 2039

 

When he awoke the next morning, Connor was already up and about, dressed in his CyberLife uniform. He had already made coffee and a box of donuts was set out on the table. There were no places that delivered and the nearest shop was a thirty minute walk. Connor must have left early to get them.

Suspicion was Hank’s first reaction, though it felt a little unfair, especially considering the donuts, and so he brushed it off. Still, the situation was unusual, and so he cleared his throat before stepping into the kitchen, as if to make sure it was alright for him to do so.

Connor turned. He smiled, tight and reserved. “Good morning, Hank.” That smile was about all he could expect given the circumstances, but it still made his stomach drop.

“Morning,” Hank said. He stepped into the kitchen and pulled out a chair, but did not seat himself just yet.

Connor set his coffee on the table. One of his neckties was draped over the back of one of the chairs. He took it and set to tying it around his neck with his usual speed and precision.

Hank still did not sit. “You going somewhere?” He asked.

“I am, yes,” said Connor. He smoothed the tie over his shirt, seemingly satisfied. “I need to have some routine maintenance done at CyberLife Tower. I should be back before noon tomorrow.”

Hank frowned. “That long?”

“My model is unique, so they’d prefer to keep me overnight, in case anything happens.”

“Oh. Gotcha.”

There was a pause. Connor peered at him and dared to round the table in order to stand closer.

“Is something wrong?” He asked. There was a ghost of concern on his features, and Hank sucked in a breath. The sheen in his eyes that Hank had noticed before was still there, like an extra layer had been added to the depth of them. Like he could dive right into them. Stay lost there.

He had been captive to those eyes since the beginning, hadn’t he?

“No. No,” Hank lied. The air in his lungs rushed out of him. “Nothing’s wrong.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s nothing important. I’ll tell you when you get back.”

Connor frowned, his brow furrowing. His LED went yellow. That was odd. It made Hank frown, too.

“I can reschedule, if you’d prefer.”

Part of him wanted to say yes, if only to get it out of the way. It wasn’t that he was dreading it already, but Hank knew himself well, and he recognized that capitalizing on the rush he had last night was his best option. One day’s delay would not be so harmful, however; and Connor was always the one adjusting and changing for Hank’s sake - it wasn’t fair to keep asking that of him. It would be alright.

“No,” said Hank. “Seriously, it can wait. You go on and get yourself all… doctored up, or whatever it is they do.”

Connor stared up at him. His irises were still, LED a persistent yellow. Analyzing, it would appear, but it did not last long. His eyes began to move again, studying Hank’s face, meeting his gaze, then moving to his mouth, his shoulders, the center of his chest, then back.

Hank hadn’t noticed how close Connor had gotten. He could count the moles on his face, the strands of his hair that were always out of place. Those terrible eyes that he adored. The way his lips tended to part just left of center.

Connor nodded, shallow and subdued. His LED was blue again.

“I should get going, then,” he said, his voice small.

“Right,” said Hank. “Be careful,” he added. It sounded like an afterthought, but it felt appropriate to say in the moment. He couldn’t place it.

Connor made his way to the front door. He pocketed the lone spare key he usually left on the desk, adjusted his shoes, tapping the toes of his right foot once, twice on the carpet. He looked over his shoulder at Hank as he put his hand to the doorknob, but said nothing. He opened the door and made his way out.

Hank watched until he was out of sight.

 

    Jun 25th, 2039

 

He was too anxious to sleep normally, and so Hank spent the previous night with a moderate amount of alcohol and some bad dramas from the early 2000’s. It was not until past midnight that he was able to fall asleep, passed out on the couch with Sumo at his feet.

The sound of the front door being unlocked jolted him awake. The sun was already out and the back of his right hand was sticky where Sumo had been licking him. Hank jumped to his feet and went to the door. The grogginess of sleep left his body quickly and his eagerness to see Connor surprised even him. He wanted to speak to him. He could, now, now that he was home. He had to tell him.

Connor stepped into the house and closed the door before Hank could get there. He locked it, deposited his spare key, and removed his shoes. Sumo went over to him and Connor pet him as he always did, meticulous, just behind the ears, as he always did, finishing with a few pats to the crown of his head.

He straightened up and Hank realized just how close he had gotten, Sumo bridging the scant distance between them. Boxing Connor in the entryway felt a little rude, but he couldn’t help himself, he felt.

Connor looked at him.

There was something different in his face, and something reminiscent as well. It was difficult to place. It felt new, and altogether not, and it made Hank draw on the memory of when he first met the android in Jimmy’s Bar, hazy as it was. The thought of it filled him with fondness, but made him frown.

Why had he thought of that?

Hank looked hard at Connor’s face, his eyes. The pleasant brown, the ends of his eyelashes. They were the same as always. And then, as he looked closer - not at all.

The sheen that he had seen the morning before was lost. Like someone had taken a hammer and chisel to them and tap tap tapped until layer after layer sloughed off, leaving them flat and barren. Hank could not see his reflection in them.

It was strange. It didn’t feel right. Hank felt his chest tighten as blood rushed just beneath his sternum, his lungs contracting, leaving him breathless. Maintenance at CyberLife. That’s what it was. When Hank had his wisdom teeth removed he had felt like a different person as the pain medication wore off. Maybe it was not so dissimilar.

And yet--

Connor had mentioned that there was a possibility of complications, but that still didn’t seem right. If something had gone wrong, he would have known. Would have been alerted. Someone would have called.

It was nothing. It was nothing.

And yet--

He had to be sure.

“Hey, Connor,” he managed to choke out. The lack of air in his lungs made it difficult but it sounded natural enough.

Something in Connor’s expression shifted. The corners of his mouth twitched upwards into a smile, like the one Hank remembered from so many months ago, from the first night Connor came to his home. A smile to return Hank’s own. Hesitant and gentle.

His eyes were warm.

“Good morning, Lieutenant.”