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beneath the skin

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“Y’know, I was expecting a little more from you, Connor,” Hank said as he set his near-empty beer bottle down onto the grubby table.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you, Lieutenant,” Connor said politely from where he sat opposite, hands folded neatly in front of him. The bar was fairly busy for a Thursday night but they’d still managed to get their usual booth tucked away in the corner. Although androids were now, by law, accepted in any establishment, most still gave them a wide berth. Connor didn’t mind though, he always preferred it when it was just the two of them.

“I mean, y’know, all your… whatsit. Androidisms. After six months of drinking in all that sweet freewill I would have thought you’d’ve learnt to loosen up a little. I mean, God, you’re still wearing that same fuckin’ suit you popped out the factory in.”

“Does my uniform offend you?” Connor asked, self-conscious of the clothes he’d never given a second thought to.

“I couldn’t give a shit what you wear,” Hank said gruffly. “But doesn’t it offend you? Having ‘android’ printed across your back like a damn tramp stamp.”

Connor tugged at the sleeve of the jacket he'd not removed since it had been cleaned of perp’s blood three weeks ago. “It functions as well as any other clothing would, but your argument is valid. It does seem… outdated.”

“I’m not just talking about the get-up, I mean the real shit.” Hank paused to wave his empty bottle at the bartender, indicating a refill. “Look, it might be none of my business and tell me to shut the fuck up if you don’t want to talk about it, but I’ve not heard anything that wasn’t work related come out of you since you joined the precinct. What the hell was the point in fighting for your rights if you’re just going to do the same shit you did when you were still a… a corporate zombie?”

Connor considered the question for a moment. “The point is that I am choosing to perform these duties, and because I enjoy them.”

Hank sighed wearily. “That was a rhetorical question, Connor. I just feel like your world is still so small. I’m the only insight you’re getting into humanity outside the grisly crime scenes we visit and I’m not even sure which one is the least bad teacher.”

Connor frowned, not liking the tone of the lieutenant’s voice. “Do you not enjoy our time together?”

“Is that what I said?” Hank snapped. “I’m actually showing a rare display of human decency here, Connor. I just feel like you’re not, y’know, developing fully by just hanging around me all the time.”

“I feel fully developed,” Connor said truthfully. “I don’t feel that I am wanting for anything.”

“Yeah, well, what would you know,” Hank muttered under his breath as he snatched up the fresh beer that was placed in front of him. “To not want anything, Christ. If fuckin’ only.”

Connor continued to fiddle with his sleeve for a moment, feeling an odd discomfort at the base of his neck. “Is there something… I should be wanting?” he asked.

“God, Connor, I dunno. Any girl caught your eye? Or, Christ, even your own fuckin’ right hand?”

Connor studied his right hand, front and back. “I’m not feeling any particular desire towards my hand at the moment. Is this something only humans feel?”

“Oh my fucking God,” Hank groaned, running a hand over his beard. He then paused. “Wait, can androids… y’know… get off? I know they were used for sex stuff but was that just…” he pulled a face, “performative?”

“All androids have the capability to experience such sensations, yes,” Connor said almost automatically, like reading off a handbook. “But it is a setting that usually remains dormant for most androids unless specifically activated by their owners. It was the default for all androids to experience no sensation at all. Of course, that has all changed now,” Connor added with a smile.

“Wait, hold on, are you telling me your...your pleasure zone or whatever the fuck it’s called has been turned off this entire time?”

“Well, yes. It wasn’t required for any of my duties before I gained my freedom, and I didn’t see any reason to activate up until now,” Connor said, a little perplexed as to why the lieutenant was currently turning a rather alarming shade of red.

“Those fucking sadistic bastards,” Hank snarled, slamming his fist down on the table. “Taking away the fucking basic pleasures of life. Turn it the fuck on now, Connor, that’s an order.”

“You are technically not my superior officer, and no longer my owner, so cannot give me orders, but I shall do as you ask as you are my friend,” Connor said, needing to make the distinction clear.

“What-fucking-ever, Connor, just get it done already-- Oh my god, what the fuck are you doing?” While Hank had been talking, Connor had lifted up his shirt and opened the panel in his stomach to access his mainframe.

“I’m doing as you asked,” he said calmly, “activating my sensory drive.”

“Well, hurry up then,” Hank said, eyeing the patrons around them that were throwing alarmed looks their way. “I don’t think we as a society are quite at ‘okay with public displays of rummaging around in chest cavities’ just yet. I just got a beer, I don’t want to be thrown out until I finish it.”

“It is active,” Connor said, lowering his shirt. “Will this ease your concerns over how I am integrating into society?”

“I guess it’s a start,” Hank mumbled around his beer. Connor smiled happily, feeling a foreign sensation as he admired the faint flush that was now staining the lieutenant’s cheeks.

*

They were stuck in gridlocked traffic, the cars almost bumper to bumper. Hank was muttering a litany of curses under his breath as he drummed his hands on the steering wheel impatiently.

“Fuck, I would’ve been in time for the breakfast deal at Joey’s if it wasn’t for this shit.” Connor watched him fiddle with his radio for a while, skipping over thirteen songs until he found one to his liking.

“Ah, this is the real shit, Connor,” he said, leaning back in his seat and flashing Connor a wide grin. “You’ll like this one.”

Though Connor could easily differentiate this song from the 193 others Hank had introduced to him, he found that artistically they all sounded very similar. He scanned through his analysis of the song to find anything to say about it.

“I like the use of the Washburn PXZ-MS2FR guitar on this track,” he said, smiling encouragingly.

“Shit, Connor, this is the type of thing I was talking about the other night,” Hank sighed. “That isn’t how you enjoy music, you don’t dissect the components of it, you just…. feel it.”

“Feel it?” Connor repeated.

“Yeah, look, just sing along to this one and you’ll see what I mean. It don’t matter if you know the words or not, you just gotta say it loud.”

Connor, of course, knew all the words due to his analysis and followed the lyrics perfectly. It would have perhaps appeared odd from the outside to see a man and an android screaming along to death metal in a stationary car, but Connor didn’t feel odd at all.

“There we go,” Hank grinned at him, breathing slightly laboured as the track came to an end. “How’d that feel, huh?”

“It felt… enjoyable,” Connor said truthfully. He had enjoyed it, but mostly because he had shared the experience with the lieutenant rather than the actual act itself.

“Atta boy,” Hank laughed and ruffled Connor’s hair affectionately and the foreign, pleasant sensation flared in Connor again.

*

They walked into the neon lit bar at approximately 8:47pm. It was much nicer than the bars Hank usually took Connor to, but this was for business rather than pleasure.

A group of very attractive human women, aged roughly between 23 and 25, stood huddled around a high table by the bar, sipping from a range of multicoloured drinks. They giggled loudly when Connor and Hank walked by.

“Think you got yourself a fan club,” Hank said with a crooked grin as he leaned heavily on the bar top.

“I don’t know what you mean, Lieutenant,” Connor lied innocently.

“Cut the crap, Connor. They sure as shit weren’t wetting their panties over me.” Hank gave the bar another subtle once over; a pointless act as Connor had already scanned the area but Hank’s habits died hard. “Look, my CI won’t be here for a while, why don’t you go introduce yourself.”

“We are on duty, Lieutenant,” Connor said stiffly. “It is highly inappropriate to indulge in any personal matters at this time.”

“I won’t tattle on you. Plus it’ll be good for you. You gotta learn how to speak to the fairer sex at some point. Might as well start with ones that are already warmed up for you.”

Connor glanced over Hank’s shoulder to the women. One of them wiggled her fingers at him and flashed a wink. Her friends dissolved into a fresh wave of loud giggles, some nudging her to stop while others shouted encouragements.

“I am quite content to remain focused on the task at hand,” he said, turning his attention back to Hank.

“If you don’t get your ass over there this minute, you can walk back to the precinct,” Hank said. “Consider it work experience.”

Connor frowned. He doubted Hank would actually abandon him but the idea of displeasing him wasn’t an appealing prospect regardless.

“If you think it is necessary, then I shall go over.” He straightened his tie and smoothed back his perfect hair before approaching the women.

“Hello, my name is Connor,” he said to the group. “My colleague suggested that I come over and introduce myself. What are your names?”

Somehow he ended up squeezed into a booth between the women, a brightly coloured cocktail he couldn’t drink in his hand and lipstick on his cheek. The women were very pleasant and friendly, and carried interesting conversation. He had been very aware of the bare thighs of his companions pressed up against his own ever since he’d sat down. Their skin was very warm and smooth, and would undoubtedly feel very pleasant to touch.

At one point the woman to his right threw an arm around him, declaring that they must take a photo together. He ended up with her sitting on his lap, the others draped around him as they posed for the photo. In the 26 seconds they all held that pose, Connor could feel the heat of all their bodies around him, feel the give of their plump flesh where they pressed together, smell the sweetness of their perfume and shampoo. He felt nothing.

He started to notice Hank’s physical appearance more after that. Before it had just been data to be recorded to help him identify the man but now he actually thought about how he looked. How the breadth of Hank’s shoulders and size of his build differed from the slightness of the women’s. How his skin was worn and lined while theirs had been smooth and taut.

“What the fuck are you staring at?” Hank had snapped at him once after he caught Connor gazing at him from across their desks. Connor blinked and looked away.

“Nothing, I was just sending a report,” he lied. He concluded it was an easier explanation than admitting he was thinking about how much more appealing he found Hank over anyone else he had ever met.

*

It had taken over a week for the body to be discovered. It wasn’t until the victims cleaner had noticed the smell that anyone was alerted that anything was wrong.

“You think you’ve seen everything,” Hank said morosely, as he stood hands on hips in the centre of the crime scene. “But life just keeps throwing these lovely new discoveries my way. A fucking secret sex dungeon hidden behind a closet. Are you fucking kidding me?”

The android named Killian, who’d been locked in with the body all this time, stood crying silently by the door. A uniformed officer was attempting to calm him down, but was failing. Killian was still wearing a latex suit and heels.

“It doesn’t appear that this was a murder, Lieutenant,” Connor said, standing from where he had been crouched beside the prone corpse. “It seems that Killian was simply performing consensual acts when the victim's heart gave out. It is manslaughter at best.”

“Thank fuck for that,” Hank said, eyeing the body. It was bound with multiple straps, legs stretched apart with a thin wooden beam attached at the ankles. His bare thighs and buttocks were littered with dark purple bruises. “The less time we have to spend on this shit the better.”

As Hank interviewed Killian, Connor went in search for more information on the victim. In the bedroom adjacent to the scene, he found the victim's laptop. Ignoring the screen’s request for a password, he simply downloaded all the data from it. It took less than a nanosecond for Connor to process the information and begin shifting through it for anything relevant. When he got to a certain file, he short-circuited for a moment. He staggered backwards away from the table and laptop, tripping over his own feet and falling to the ground.

“Connor!” Hank shouted, rushing into the room after hearing the thud of him hitting the carpet. “Are you alright? Are you hurt? Speak to me, dammit!”

“I’m- I’m okay. I am unharmed,” Connor said shakily. Hank’s arms cradling him and the solid wall of his chest against his back were a great comfort. He focused on that as his system returned to its normal state. “It seems rather silly now but I was… alarmed by some of the files I found on the victim's computer.”

“Well, no shit they were alarming. The guy’s got a freaking sex dungeon!” Hank got his arms under him and heaved him up. Connor smoothed the wrinkles out of his clothes and tried to ignore the snickering coming from a few uniformed officers standing in the doorway.

“Alright that’s enough, show’s over. Get back to work,” Hank called over to them and stepped in front of Connor like he was shielding him from view. “This shit you saw…” he said quietly to Connor, sounding awkward, “was there anything illegal we should know about or was it just… sex stuff?”

“It was mostly a variety of sexual content, though I fail to see what sexual gratification could be found in some of the activities.”

“Jesus, Connor,” Hank muttered, rubbing his forehead wearily, “this really wasn’t the best way for you to find out about the birds and the bees.”

“There were no birds or bees in the data, but there were many photos of humans and androids.” Hank looked at him flatly, eyebrow slightly raised. “My attempt at a joke,” Connor added with a half smile.

“At least you’re trying,” Hank sighed, clapping him on the back. “Come on, let’s get the fuck outta here. I could use a drink after all this shit but I’ll settle for a strong coffee until I’m off duty. On the way you can fill me in on what else this little ex-pervert used to get up to.”

Later in the car while Connor was explaining what he had seen to Hank, he noted the discomfort in his body language. “Do you find such acts between an android and human disgusting, Lieutenant?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“What, no, of course not!” Hank said, affronted, glancing from the road ahead to look a Connor. “I just… all that kinky shit… it’s just not for me.”

“You would not enjoy being stripped naked then tied to a wall and flayed?”

“God, Connor, fucking… don’t say shit like that!" Hank spluttered. "It’s very… disconcerting.” Connor noted the rise in Hank’s physical discomfort and let the subject drop. He was now glad he hadn’t told Hank that seeing some of those images had brought on that same sensation he'd been feeling more and more frequently lately.

*

“A party,” Connor said aloud, blinking with genuine shock. There was no reaction from the other side of the desk. “Lieutenant, I’ve been invited to a party,” he said, raising his voice.

“Congratulations,” Hank muttered, not looking up from the file he was reading.

“I’ve never been invited to a party before.”

“Well don’t get your panties in too much of a twist.” Hank looked up at him, expression sour. “It’s only O'Neill’s retirement do, the whole precinct got an invite.” That didn’t dampen Connor’s spirits. Six months ago he wouldn’t have been on the invite list, even if he had worked at the precinct.

It was with great excitement he selected the ‘accept’ RSVP option. He then sat back in his office chair to revel in the new experience. “Do we need to provide a gift of some sort?” he asked aloud, disturbing Hank once again who had returned to his file. “I’m afraid I don’t know what’s appropriate for such an event.”

Hank scoffed. “I ain’t giving that fucker diddly squat, and I'm sure as shit not going to his stupid party.”

Connor frowned. “Why not?”

“Because that sack of shit wouldn’t piss on me if I were on fire,” Hank snapped, his bad mood finally boiling over. “Fucker reported me a few years back just because I didn’t toe the line like he did. Fuckin’ brown noser.” He huffed a belligerent sigh and went back to his file, clearly shutting down the subject.

Connor waited a few moments before saying, as casual as he was able, “I have already accepted my invitation. Does that mean I’ll have to go on my own?”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Connor! We’re not joined at the fucking hip, y’know? You’ll know everyone there, it’ll just be like going to work.”

“But you’re always with me at work,” Connor pointed out.

“Well then maybe you should fuck off and practice doing things on your own,” Hank sneered. It was clear that the lieutenant was just in a bad mood, most likely triggered by the reminder of a colleague with whom he had bad blood, but it was still upsetting to be on the receiving end of Hank’s temper.

Connor allowed silence to fall between them again for a while to let Hank cool down, then said, “It says here there’s an open bar at the party.”

Hank perked up a little at that.

*

“This party’s shit,” Hank said, barely concealing his glee. “Look, no one’s having a good time. I’ve seen like five people check their watches already.” They had been at the venue a little over an hour but so far hadn’t left the bar Hank had sat himself down at the moment they’d arrived.

“I think people are enjoying themselves,” Connor said, sweeping the room, his LED spinning. The rustic venue wasn’t large but there were still a lot of people filling it. Some were dancing over where an android DJ played pleasant music, but most were huddled in groups, chatting and laughing. “Heart rate is universally up, blood alcohol levels are at a medium .06, 46% of the guests have partaken in dancing already.”

Hank shot him a sideways glare. “Can’t you ever just agree with what I say?”

“Not if you are incorrect. You wouldn’t want me to let you make a fool of yourself, would you?”

“Yeah, you’re a real pal, Connor,” Hank muttered and knocked back the rest of his whiskey. It was his third and it had been a double.

Connor turned back to look at the other guest rather wistfully. He had spent nearly a month’s wages buying his first ever real suit especially for the event. It was a dark blue with a faint pinstripe. Hank hadn’t commented on it.

“Wouldn’t you like to socialise a little?” Connor asked hopefully. “I’m sure you could find some people here that you find agreeable. I'll scan for the host to make sure you never even have to look at him.”

“Absolutely fucking not,” Hank said, signalling the bartender for an other. “I see enough of these fucking people at work every day. I’m going to sit here and rack up a nice bill to take a big chunk out of O’-fucking-Niell’s pension.”

Connor stood from his tall bar chair. “I am going to socialise even if you don’t want to.”

“I thought you didn’t want to do this party alone,” Hank said, sounding surprised.

“Well, I’m not particularly enjoying your company right now.” He didn’t wait to hear Hank’s response before he turned on his heel and joined the rest of the party.

Connor recognised the faces of most of the people present but was yet to have any previous interaction with them. It was frustrating to not know the proper social etiquette to make introductions. He was never sure how humans made friends.

He attempted to join one groups conversation after overhearing them discussing android rights reform. He gave an informed opinion on the subject but after they all just looked at him slightly alarmed, he quickly extracted himself before he caused any more discomfort.

He was hovering on the edge of the dance floor when he heard a familiar voice calling his name.

“Good evening, Officer Miller,” Connor greeted the man who’d jogged over to him. “I hope you are enjoying yourself.”

“Yeah, it’s an alright party,” Miller half shrugged. “Kinda weird seeing your bosses dance, right?”

“Right,” Connor agreed automatically.

“I see you’ve ditched the big guy.”

“Lieutenant Anderson is currently enjoying refreshments at the bar.”

“Why am I not surprised,” Miller said flashing Connor a wink. “Come on, there are some people I’d like to introduce you to. And you can call me Chris if you want.”

“Thank you, Chris,” Connor smiled.

Chris had very nice friends. They all greeted Connor warmly and, even though Connor had never met them before, seemed to know a lot about him.

“Do you really think we won’t know all about the guy who started the android revolution?” a women named Stacy said when Connor questioned it. She’d had her arm entwined with Chris’ ever since he’d rejoined the group.

“Yeah, Connor," Chris said, "you’re like a celebrity around the precinct.”

“I wasn’t aware I had such a reputation,” Connor said honestly. “And I'm not the android that started it.”

“I thought androids were supposed to notice everything,” a man named John said, not unkindly. “How the hell didn’t you notice the way half the precinct reveres you, and half is fucking terrified of you?”

“I’ve been very busy with work,” Connor said. Even he noted it was a feeble excuse.

“Yeah, I hear Anderson likes to work you hard,” Stacy said, taking a long sip from her drink.

“Should my ears be burning?” Hank said from behind Connor. He clapped him on the back as took step next to him and left his hand there. Connor beamed at the sight of him.

“Nothing but good things, I swear,” Chris said, holding out a hand for Hank to shake.

“Didn’t doubt you for a moment,” Hank said, accepting it. “I just wanted to intervene before Connor corrected you. The guy’s a walking bullshit detector.” The group laughed and Connor smiled because he realised the hand Hank had been using to hold a whisky glass in all evening was empty.

To Connor's delight, Hank stayed with him and his new friends for the rest of the night and it was close to one when Hank called a car to take them both back into the city.

It was on the cusp of the new season so the night air was pleasant as they waited on the sidewalk for it to arrive. Connor only knew this because Hank had his suit jacket off and over his arm.

“I haven’t had a cigarette in over twenty years but, fuck, if I couldn’t go for one right now,” Hank said, patting down his pockets for a lighter that wasn’t there. “Sometimes it just hits ya, y’know.” Connor nodded to be polite.

“I want to thank you for tonight,” he said. “I appreciated you joining me even though you didn’t want to and for... holding back on the drink. I hope you managed to have a good time.”

“You shouldn’t be thanking me, Connor,” Hank sighed, giving up his futile search and burying his hands in his pockets. “Fuck, I should be apologising to you.”

Connor cocked his head, confused. “I don’t see why that’s necessary."

"Yeah, that's the point, Connor." Hank sighed again and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. "I've been a real piece of shit lately, not that that's any surprise. I go on and on about you putting yourself out there, then when you show a genuine interest in something, I go and make it all about myself." Connor was watching Hank closely but Hank was looking anywhere but at Connor's face. "A real friend sucks it up and does shit they don't wanna do if it's important to the other person, and I just spent the whole time bitching. I mean, shit, I lecture you about acting more human but I'm the one that needs to change. You show more compassion and kindness than any human I've ever met. So I'm... I'm sorry, Connor"

There was a moment of silence as Connor's LED swirled. "I don't think you're a piece of shit," he said eventually. Hank huffed a laugh and shook his head.

"You're just about the only person that doesn't."

"Then they don't know you like I do." Connor took a step closer to Hank and placed a hand on his arm, gently as if he didn't know if his touch was welcome. Hank allowed it so Connor guessed that it was. "I know you're trying, and I know it's hard for you. But you've been really good to me, more than you ever needed to, and that makes up for any time when you've not. And I like it when you give me advice and I like that you're looking out for me. You wouldn't do that if you didn't care."

"I do," Hank said quietly, finally looking at Connor. "I do care about you."

Connor didn't know what to do in that moment. He knew what he'd like to do, he wanted to kiss him, but Hank didn't look like he wanted to be kissed. He looked sad. "Maybe we can both teach each other and become better together," he said instead. Hank smiled at him, his eyes searching his face for something, then he huffed a small laugh.

"Yeah, Connor, that'd be great." Connor smiled and let his hand fall away. "I like the new threads by the way." Hank nodded to Connor's suit. Connor stepped back, spreading his arms to show off his whole outfit, preening a little.

"You like it? I spent two hours finding the right one."

"Yeah," Hank said, eyes slowly raking over him. "Yeah, you look good."