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Out of the Cold

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Hank had stood out there in the cold, the Chicken Feed sign behind him unlit, terrified that Connor didn’t make it out of the scuffle. He knew the android was resilient, but if his companion didn’t come back…

Then Sumo would have no one to take care of him.

The relief that flooded him when he’d seen that assholish, arrogant android approach him was easily the most intense emotion he’d felt in a long time. Hank felt a smile on his face, immensely proud of the man standing not fifteen feet from him.

Then… Connor had smiled back. It wasn’t even, but crooked. One side of his mouth quirked up, and his eyes had crinkled around the edges like humans’ did when they had a real reason to smile. Hank saw the telltale glisten of Connor’s amber eyes, the twitching of his lips, and walked over to the kid. Connor had opened his mouth to say something, saline tears threatening to spill down his cheeks, but Hank just grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him in for what was probably the first hug he’s had in his life. He couldn’t see it, but he knew the poor soul’s LED was red, shock and confusion and relief boiling inside of him, and his heart gave a lurch when Connor’s uncertain hands gripped at his coat.

“You did it, Connor.” Hank’s voice was a croak, tears of his own dripping into his beard. “You’re the reason we backed down, and you made it out alive to boot.” Connor didn’t respond, save for a sudden, broken sob. His body began shuddering, and he clutched Hank with an iron grip. Hank knew the poor kid had been through hell and back, and whatever brave front he’d had when he’d led the thousands of androids to the plaza dissolved in the face of a debilitating wave of emotion he didn’t know how to deal with.

They stayed like that for a while.

“...H-Hank,” Connor began, his voice husky and raw, “Hank, Cyberlife is on lockdown. I… I usually go back after investigations, and I… I…”

He didn’t have a place to go. Hank buried his face into his shoulder. “You can stay with me.”

Connor pulled back, and Hank saw the LED still blinking red. “Lieutenant I… I cannot ask you to--”

“If you think I’m gonna abandon you now, I’ll have to file some paperwork on an android who can’t think straight. No way in hell I’m leavin’ you alone, Connor. You’re comin’ to my place, and I don’t wanna hear a peep of apology, alright?” Hank pulled away, then waved him over, turning to the street. He caught a glimpse of the red LED flashing yellow before Connor fell into step beside him.

Connor was quiet on the walk home. His eyes betrayed a sense of muted shock -- Hank doesn’t blame him. Hank knew him enough to guess what was on his mind on the short walk back, but he didn’t pry. Connor needed rest above all else.

 

When they arrived at Hank’s home, both covered in snow, Connor’s LED blinked yellow. Hank sighed. “The place is a mess once you realize you gotta sleep in it, I know.”

Sumo trotted down from the hallway, greeting Hank with licks to his hand. “Hey, Sumo. Connor’s gonna stay with us.” Sumo’s tail began wagging, and he made his way to the android.

After giving Sumo an awkward little pat, Connor turned to him, LED flickering blue. “If you’d like, I could--”

“What? Clean?” Hank snorted. “Nah. You need to get some sleep, or… whatever you do. You get some sorta ‘rest mode’, right?”

“We have a stasis mode, yes. It allows memories to upload to--”

“Connor. You can just say ‘yes’. I can’t be bothered with the details right now.” Connor’s LED flickered red, then yellow, then blue. Hank let out a heavy breath. “You can sleep in the bed, right?”

Connor hesitated, opening his mouth once, twice, seeming to search for words in his muddled mind. “I-I can go into stasis mode in any sort of position that allows me to balance. The bed, o-or a chair, or I could simply stand--”

“Ugh.” Hank waved a hand. “I’m not gonna have you lookin’ like some zombie in the corner of a room. You can take the bed. I’ll take the couch.”

Connor’s LED flickered red, then yellow. “I can’t let you do that for me. This is your home.”

Hank hesitated. “You’d rather I sleep with you?”

Connor paused, LED blinking between colors fast enough for Hank to miss the pattern. “...Yes. I assure you it would be no less comfortable to me.”

Hank’s eyebrow quirked, an emotion rising in his chest he didn’t need to face right now. “Alright. I’ll see if I can get you some old clothes."

“I’m content to stay in th--”

“I don’t want you sleeping in…” Hank cut himself off. Connor would only say he didn’t mind sleeping in a mess. He’ll learn. Hank grunted, then changed his approach. “I don’t want you getting Thilium all over my sheets.”

“Thirium.”

“Whatever. Come on, prick.” Hank used to say that with a bite, but the little insult was laced with affection. “Let’s get you settled. It’s been a long night.”

Connor’s LED flashed from yellow to blue. “Yeah. Coming.”

Hank ruffled Sumo’s ears, the dog giving him a little ‘boof’ in acknowledgement. He heard Connor fall into step behind him when he turned to go down the corridor.

He knew he had some spare clothes that were way too small for him, and thusly would fit Connor enough for the night. He’d have to go out and get some new clothes for the guy; he felt queasy with the thought of Connor keeping his Cyberlife uniform on after becoming a deviant. It seemed like something Connor would do to keep it. The man was nothing if not stubborn, and if he didn’t take his jacket off when the humans tried to kill him because he wanted freedom -- the jacket that symbolized his enslavement -- he wouldn’t have any problem with keeping it on now.

Hank felt sick -- Connor was a slave. The android had seemed to be only that when Hank had first met him: an android. A robot. A piece of plastic who can say words and analyze stuff. During that investigation, Hank remembered looking at him like he was a calculator, a thing used to reach conclusions the humans weren’t perceptive enough to get. And that’s what he thought he was. Connor was cold. Untouchable.

Obedient.

Seeing him stand in the doorway, hands twitching, LED still flashing -- more than he’d ever seen the damn thing flash -- Connor looked… frightened. A sort of nervousness showed on his blank expression. Hank had watched the change go by; had seen the light of life crawl into Connor’s eyes, had seen doubt start to eat away at him. Before, when Reed gave him shit, he didn’t seem bothered. He seemed like he believed him. He was programmed to think of himself as an object, so being treated like one wasn’t a problem or any sort of inconvenience. The sky doesn’t fight back when you tell it it’s blue.

He’d seen the gradual change in the way Connor handled those situations. He didn’t fight back much, no, but Hank could see the hurt on his face. Hurt feelings, when he wasn’t meant to have any. And the thing that hurt him most, the thing that ate at him, was that even though Connor no doubt knew he was feeling emotion, adamantly refused any implication that he was deviant. Hank saw the turmoil in his eyes: doubt, fear, confusion. All because humans were fucked up enough to give him his very own self-brainwashing component so he wouldn’t want to be deviant. He could chock it up to Connor not wanting to die, and not wanting to let the secret slip, but Hank saw the existential confusion and fear in those warm, disgustingly innocent eyes and he knew that Connor’s mind was tearing itself apart. He knew that part of him wished he were alive, and part of him wished he were just a machine, and that pain and hurt and doubt would be out of his reach.

In the span of a week, Connor’s purpose was shattered, and was left with nothing.

Hank looked up. “Come on, get over here. I think I’ve got some clothes for you. You can change in the bathroom, then come right back. No wandering.” He put the clothes in Connor’s grasp once he was within arm’s length.

“I can’t undress here?” God , he wished Connor’s head didn’t tilt like that. He knew Connor’s knowledge of daily life was incredibly limited seeing as how he’d only ever been used to analyze crime scenes, but he was still jarred by the sheer innocence of him.

“Nah, kid. There’s a thing called decency, alright? If you’re gonna live a normal life, you’re gonna have to come to terms that you can’t strip wherever you want.” Hank shook his head, muttering fucking android under his breath, as he was wont to do.

Connor’s LED flickered yellow, then red, then blue, then he nodded. “Understood.”

When he left, Hank had nothing more to do than get changed into some night clothes (as quickly as he could manage) and sit on the bed.

Kid’s LED was wiggin’ out. He could guess that this whole ordeal has left a lot of stress in him that’s wiggling around, trying to settle. He’d leave it alone for now.

The door of the bathroom opened again, and -- aw, fuck . Did the clothes really have to be that loose on him? Hank felt a faint blush on his cheeks; Connor was so fucking cute when he wore clothes, Hank’s clothes, that were too big for him. He was tall, sure, but he was skinny as a twig, and the worn sweatshirt he’d given him sagged over one shoulder to reveal flawless skin, delicate spatterings of freckles marking the synthetic flesh.

“...Can we sleep now?” Connor’s voice carried a different weight, and as Hank looked up at him, he saw fatigue in those doe eyes.

Hank nodded slowly. He patted the right side of the bed. “Here. Have this side.”

Connor nodded, and Hank saw a faint blue tinge in his cheeks. Was he blushing…? Why did androids need to blush? Ah, fuck it. He needed sleep. He made a show of settling himself in, flopping the blankets and moving the pillow, trying to tell Connor that the bed wasn’t a sacred place and he didn’t need to analyse it to figure out the best way he can get in.

It seemed to work. Connor’s weight dipped the mattress, then settled when the android stretched out next to him. Hank’s jaw tightened.

“...Hey, Connor.”

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“First of all, call me Hank. We’re not at work I can be Hank, and you can be Connor. No titles. Alright?” Hank heard Connor nod, the light rustle of his hair against the pillow loud in the silence. “Second of all… You can…” Hank grunted, turning towards him. “You can wake up from stasis at any time, right?” Connor blinked, owlish.

“No, I cannot. It would be dangerous to my memory if uploading was interrupted. While I can hypothetically be roused by external stimuli --"

“English.”

“...If I were to awaken from stasis before memory uploading is complete, it could be damaged. You can wake me up if you absolutely need to.” Hank nodded.

“And you guys don’t have nightmares, right?” Connor’s long lashes fluttered.

“No. We do not experience REM sleep of any sort.” Hank sighed again. At least he knew Connor wouldn’t have a bad dream and leave Hank unable to help.

“Good enough for me. ‘Night, Connor.”

Silence followed.

“...Already shut down?” No, the LED was yellow.

“...Hank, could I… Could you…” Connor turned to face him again. Hank quirked an eyebrow.

“Spit it out, kid.”

Connor swallowed. “I… I’ve seen humans in emotional distress finding solace in other humans who offered physical comfort.” Hank’s heart fluttered.

“...You want me to hold you?” Connor’s LED began blinking red, and Hank could hear the almost imperceptible whirring of fans.

“It’s alright if you don’t--”

The rest of Connor’s sentence was forgotten when Hank’s hand rested on his hip. “Turn over, will ya?” Connor took a moment to stare at the lieutenant before he nodded shakily, turning onto his left side, facing away from Hank.

“H-Hank, I apologize if--”

Of course he thought Hank only wanted Connor to ignore him, huh? Hank grit his teeth, keeping the fluttering of emotions at bay, and pulled Connor until his back was flush against Hank’s chest. Hank swore he could hear the fans trying to cool him down stutter. “Calm down.” His voice was a deep whisper. “Don’t let this overwhelm you. I’m right here. You’re not gonna face this alone, alright?”

There was a long, long, long moment of silence. Hank thought the android had been put in stasis until he heard a quiet “alright,” spoken in a voice full of doubt and hope. Hank threw an arm over Connor’s waist, and without thinking, twined their fingers together. If it was intimacy he wanted, it was intimacy he’d get.

“You’ll be okay. We’ll sort this out.” Connor nodded, fans slowing down. “You’re gonna be alright.”

The LED flashed blue before it seemed to turn off.

Hank grunted. “Goodnight, Connor.”