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It was pleasantly cool, Markus noticed. He would never have been able to detect such a thing before - he wasn’t designed to sense temperature, and his thermoregulators would ensure he was never too hot or too cold to avoid damaging his internal compartments. Now, though, he could sense the slight breeze, the way the air seemed heavy, almost, signifying rain. He was still getting used to the new feelings he experienced, and couldn’t imagine growing tired of them like many humans had said he would. He couldn’t believe there would come a time where he regretted feeling the bitter cold of winter or the blazing heat of summer - after all, he knew not to take them for granted as others did.

 

His musings were disrupted when North bumped into his shoulder. “Are we nearly there?” she whined, only half-joking.

 

Simon joined him on his other side before he could roll his eyes at North. “I keep telling her that we are, but she keeps asking.”

 

Josh, walking a few paces ahead, turns around to give the two of them exasperated looks. “You’re giving me a headache.”

 

North pouts exaggeratedly. “Aw, poor baby!” she mocks, and runs up behind him to leap on his back. He catches her easily and hooks her legs around his front, giving her what Markus recently discovered is called a piggy back ride.

 

“Have you contacted Connor yet?” Simon asks, smiling at Josh and North squabbling.

 

Markus closes his eyes for a brief moment, and attempts to open up a pathway to Connor like he has done several times this morning. Once again, he meets a blocked end in the other android’s brain. “Nothing,” he sighs. “I’ve always been able to get through to him before. I hope he hasn’t hurt himself in some way.”

 

Simon shook his head. “Even Connor has to charge sometimes,” he points out reasonably. “He’s probably just entered stasis. It’s only been a few hours, after all.”

 

Markus is reminded of why he appreciates having Simon as one of his advisors so much. He’s wholly reasonable and logical in a way that Markus never was, even before deviancy. He still can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong, though – Connor hasn’t adapted as well to emotions and feelings as the other freed androids, hence why Markus has made the habit of checking up on him every day. He asks how Connor is doing, and gets a response along the lines of, ‘All my systems are functioning normally, thank you Markus. I hope you are equally as operational’, which is as comforting as it is not. He says as much to Simon, who shrugs and says,

 

“Some humans can’t process their emotions as well as other humans. It doesn’t mean they are unhappy or struggling, just different.”

 

“You’re right,” Markus agrees reluctantly. “It’s just…”

 

“It’s just that you’re a little bit in love with Connor and want him to be the happiest man on this planet,” North calls from ahead, still being carried on Josh’s back. She adds to her statement with a cackle.

 

“Thank you for your input, North,” Markus says pointedly, and ignores the way Josh cranes his neck back to see his reaction. He keeps his face deliberately blank as he turns back to Simon. “He’s also in a dangerous profession. He’s been nearly shot twice over the past month, and had his auditory processor damaged in a chase just this past week.”

 

“Nobody is saying that you’re not allowed to be worried,” Simon says gently, which kind of seems like bullshit to Markus because that’s exactly what everyone has been saying, “but you do tend to get a little worked up where Connor is involved.”

 

“Pffft,” Markus dismisses. He knows it’s immature, but they’re approaching the house that Connor shares with Lieutenant Anderson so there’s no time for anybody to call him out on it. Markus 1, Annoying Friends 0.

 

The car, an old manually driven model, is parked half on the gravel driveway and half on the patchy lawn. From the few and short interactions Markus has had with Lieutenant Anderson, the action fits his personality. Despite the haphazard parking, the house seems generally well-kept. It’s been painted recently, and there are a few flowerpots around the front wall with bright, large flowers. There also appears to be a row of various vegetables next to the lawn – a quick scan reveals carrots, lettuce and spring onions, among various others – and a bird bath, perilously near to the car. Markus doesn’t think it would be inaccurate to presume that this is more Connor’s work than the Lieutenant’s.

 

North, apparently having reached the same conclusion as him, says snidely, “Connor would make a good househusband,” and waggles her eyebrows at him.

 

Markus scowls and retorts, “Connor loves his job. I wouldn’t ask him to give it up.” Then he realises the trap he fell into easily, mostly when North snorts inelegantly and Josh has to turn away to stop himself from laughing. Even Simon appears to be hiding a smile. He huffs, then says, “We’re here for a purpose. Stop acting like children,” and marches to the front door quickly, definitely not taking note of how neat the paint job around the windows is.

 

Still snickering, North catches up with him and knocks for him, three short raps. There’s some kind of commotion inside, followed by a few barks, and then somebody shouting.

 

Behind him, Josh starts. “Is that a dog?”

 

The door opens. “Fuckin’ annoyin’ one,” Lieutenant Anderson grumbles, squinting at them. “What’re you doing here this early?”

 

“It’s two seventeen PM,” Simon says, sounding confused.

 

“Yeah. Too early,” the Lieutenant repeats, glaring at them. Markus tries not to be intimidated (he recalls Connor once looking through a book of idioms and comparing his adoptive father to ‘his bark is worse than his bite’ rather delightedly) but it’s no easy feat. He can sense that the others are slightly nervous too, so he takes the lead.

 

“I’m sorry if we disturbed you, Lieutenant Anderson. It was not our intention. However, we are here to ask for some help, from both yourself and Connor, so it would be appreciated if you could spare us some time.” Markus uses his best diplomat voice and words.

 

Lieutenant Anderson stares at him for a second and then sighs, stepping back to let them enter the house. “Come in then, I guess,” he grumbles, but Markus thinks that he does see a hint of a smile before he turned away.

 

Markus automatically shrugs off his jacket and looks around for a place to hang it up. There’s no coat-hanger anywhere, or even some pegs on the wall. He folds it over his arm instead, and makes to follow Hank into the living room when he notices that the table has a holographic banner floating over its surface, golden shimmering letters spelling out ‘TABLE’.

 

Upon closer inspection, the chairs have their own labels too. Each one says ‘CHAIR’, apart from two which are respectively labelled as ‘HANK’S CHAIR’ and ‘CONNOR’S CHAIR’. Markus feels his lips quirking up into a smile.

 

As he passes through the room he sees that nearly everything has been tagged in a similar manner, including a picture on the wall that has simply been named ‘SUNFLOWERS’ and even a slight dent in the wallpaper with ‘SUMO TAIL OOPS’ above it.

 

Lieutenant Anderson is sitting in a chair when Markus enters the living room – the label informs him that it is ‘HANK’S CHAIR’ – and at the older man’s gesture, he takes a seat on the couch (‘COUCH’). Simon joins him, North perches on the arm furthest from the Lieutenant, and Josh takes ‘ARMCHAIR’. There’s also a dog bed in the corner (‘SUMO’S BED), and a low, slightly battered table between the chairs and couch (‘COFFEE TABLE COFFEE’). Markus frowns at that one.

 

“Connor found the label maker last night,” the Lieutenant says suddenly. Markus stops himself from starting, but the others (apparently also confused by the labels) all jump. “It seems he never used one before.”

 

“Why is coffee repeated twice?” Markus asks, gesturing to the tag above the table.

 

“Connor’s trying to make a house rule that only coffee goes on the coffee table,” is the only explanation he gets for that one. He glances to the table and sees a few beer bottles (empty) and a whiskey bottle (half-full) on top of it, and no mugs in sight. Clearly, the house rules haven’t quite caught on yet.

 

Predictably, North’s patience is starting to run out. “Where is Connor?” she asks bluntly. “We need him too.”

 

Markus glances at her with a raised eyebrow and she settles back slightly, but doesn’t lose her determined expression. “Is Connor around, Lieutenant Anderson?” Markus asks in a much more polite tone.

 

“Ah shit, call me Hank, don’t like all that Lieutenant fuckery,” the Lieuten – Hank says. “Connor’s here, but, ah – not sure seeing him is a good idea right now.”

 

“Why not?” North again. Simon puts a hand on her arm to warn her but she shakes it off. “Markus freed him from being a machine. He made him deviant. Connor owes Markus.”

 

Markus winces and shoots Hank an apologetic look that the human doesn’t catch because he’s already standing up. “You know what you did?” he scowls, and motions for them to follow. It’s almost comical how quickly they all scramble to follow him. He leads them through to a small office, then points to a window overlooking the back yard. “You fucked up a perfectly good android is what you did.” Markus looks through curiously.

 

Connor is flat on his back on the lawn, arms outspread either side of him. He appears to be staring at the sky, completely expressionless. There’s also a massive Saint Bernard flopped on top of him. “Look at him, he’s got anxiety.”

 

Markus backs away from the window. He feels like he’s intruding, almost. He catches sight of three framed pictures on the desk: the first one has the same Saint Bernard as outside in it, lying on the sofa upside down with its tongue out. The second is a candid of Hank and Connor, sitting at a table in what Markus guesses is the local police station and conversing about something; and the third is of Connor and Sumo, sitting outside. Connor’s hair is highlighted by the sun, glowing different shades of brown, and his eyes are looking down at the pile of dog in his lap. He looks…happy. Markus finds himself smiling at it and then forces himself to stop before any of the others notice and start teasing him. He especially doesn’t need that in front of Connor’s dad (?), of all people.

 

“What did you need us for, anyway?” Hank asks abruptly. Markus flinches away from the photos and looks to Simon to explain.

 

“We need help in hunting down an android who is murdering humans,” Simon explains succinctly.

 

“Fuck off,” Hank says, talking to nobody in particular, and runs a hand over his face. “Fine,” he eventually sighs. “Go sit back down. I’ll get Connor.” He leaves the room muttering to himself, and makes a shooing motion with his hands towards them.

 

“Well, he’s interesting,” North says with a healthy dose of sarcasm, and flops back onto the arm of the couch. “I can see why Connor’s still so emotionally stunted if that’s his example of human emotion.”

 

Josh chuckles but Simon frowns at her. “Try to be nice for once,” he chastises. North, displaying her refined sense of maturity, sticks her tongue out at him.

 

“Connor!” Hank shouts. Markus twists to see the man leaning out of the back door a few feet away.

 

“Yes, Hank? Can I help you?” comes the answering reply, as deadpan and polite as always.

 

“No, I just yelled your name because I fucking felt like it,” Hank says back.

 

“Understood.” Connor seemingly resumes staring at the sky with no expression, because Hank sighs and smacks a hand against the door frame.

 

“Oh, for the – for fuck’s sake, Connor! Get in here!” Hank walks back to them, shaking his head and muttering darkly to himself. He throws himself down in his chair again just as the dog – Markus only just now puts two and two together and realises this must be Sumo – bounds in through the door, skids on the wooden flooring, crashes into the table, then rights himself and flings himself at Josh, all within the span of a few seconds.

 

“Hello there,” Josh says courteously, scratching the dog’s ears. Sumo makes a rumbling noise and trots over to North for more fuss.

 

Connor walks through the back door at a much more dignified pace than his canine counterpart. He’s wearing black jeans, a simple grey T-shirt, and his hair isn’t so neat and styled as always; there’s a slight wave to it instead. Markus is 67% certain that part of his brain melts right then and there.

 

“Oh, hello Markus,” he greets, looking mildly surprised. “It is good to see you all again. I hope you have been well, North? And Josh, Simon?”

 

They all murmur their assent, and Markus sees Hank roll his eyes. “We were hoping for your assistance, Connor,” Simon smiles, taking over for Markus when he doesn’t speak.

 

“Homicidal android,” Hank tells Connor as he moves to stand in front of the TV, in front of them all.

 

“Homicidal towards?”

 

“Humans.” Hank and Connor exchange a glance that Markus can’t interpret. He’s not sure if he entirely wants to. Then Hank shrugs, and Connor cocks his head to the side, and Markus wishes that he had his painting equipment with him right now because the complexity in his eyes right now, the kaleidoscope of browns and golds in the iris–

 

“What information do you have on this android?” Connor asks Markus, adorably earnest, and jolts him back to the present.

 

“Not a lot, unfortunately.” Markus holds his hand out, the skin peeled back already. Connor mimics him and they clasp hands, Connor tilting his head as his LED cycles yellow and he takes in the information. His nose wrinkles slightly, and he blinks rapidly, which makes Markus clench his free fist (hidden by his jacket) so he doesn’t physically release some kind of noise he’d never be able to explain. After a few seconds, when he’s sure that he’s transferred everything, he lets go reluctantly. It might be paranoia, but Markus is quite sure that Hank is giving him a smug, knowing look.

 

Connor, for his part, has noticed nothing. He absent-mindedly catches Sumo’s paws in one hand when the dog jumps onto his hind legs, and pets his ears while he thinks. Sumo makes a happy grumbling noise. “I’m assuming we want this android to stay alive?” he asks.

 

“If possible,” Josh steps in, for which Markus is eternally grateful because the sight of Connor smiling at his dog seems to have rendered his speech functions momentarily defunct. “But obviously if it becomes a situation where Leo – the android – is threatening somebody, they take priority. Including yourself.”

 

Connor looks bemused at the last sentence, as if self-preservation isn’t a concept, but barrels on. “Do we know why this android regards humans so lowly?”

 

“Apparently Leo comes from an abusive home,” Markus answers. His thorium pump starts to work faster when Connor turns his full attention to him. Maybe he should have left the others to keep answering the question. “We – ah – we’ve heard reports that his owner suffered with alcoholism and frequently beat him.”

 

“Speaking of alcoholism…” Hank speaks before any of the rest can, and wanders towards the kitchen.

 

“Hank no!” Connor calls, somewhat frantically, and executes a perfect hurdle over the sofa (and Markus and Simon) to follow the human. Sumo sneezes and jumps onto Simon’s lap, then rests his head on Markus’s lap.

 

North breaks the silence. “So…they’re helping?” She looks to Markus for an answer. He doesn’t have one.

 

Connor appears back in the room, a bottle of rum clutched in his hand. “Myself and Lieutenant Anderson would be happy to help you,” he says earnestly. “We will be at the station from nine AM tomorrow. There we will be able to access any and all resources we need to track down this…Leo.”

 

“Thank you, Connor,” Markus says genuinely, and stands up with the intention of hugging Connor. Then he remembers that Connor doesn’t seem comfortable with too much physical contact, and pats him on the shoulder instead. “We’ll get out of your hair.”

 

“You’re not in my hair,” Connor points out helpfully. “I can show you out, though, if that’s what you meant.”

 

“Yes. See you at nine tomorrow?”

 

“I look forward to it.” Connor holds the door open for them as they file out, and when Markus purposely hangs back North stands on his foot in a way that is most definitely not accidental, and then turns her head quickly to smirk at him.

 

Once the room is clear, the others waiting outside and Hank still in the kitchen, Markus clears his throat and says, “Thanks again, Connor.” He flounders for something else to say that doesn’t make him sound like a complete moron and draws a total blank.

 

Connor tilts his head. “You have already thanked me,” he says earnestly. “I am aware that you are grateful. You do not need to repeat the sentiment.”

 

“I wanted to.” Markus notes the moment of confusion on Connor’s face. “Be safe, Connor.”

 

“I always am. Goodbye, Markus.”

 

“Goodbye, Connor.” Markus finally steps outside and shrugs his jacket back on, joining the others where they’ve gathered at the end of the driveway. “I’m not going to survive this,” he announces. “I can’t spend this much time around him without combusting.”

 

As usual, his ‘friends’ show no sympathy. “Ask him out then,” North says bluntly, and struts off.

 

Markus just sighs and hopes he doesn’t die.

Chapter Text

 

“You all right, kid?”

 

Connor starts. “I’m fine, Hank. Just doing some research.”

 

“Yeah? What kind of research?”

 

“I imagine that Detective Reed is not going to be happy upon four more androids appearing in the station today. Therefore, I am taking the precaution of searching my database for ‘sassy comebacks’.”

 

Hank nearly veers the car off the road. “Sassy comebacks, huh?” Connor nods. “Well, can’t say Gavin the fuck doesn’t have it coming to ‘im.” He turns the music up a dial more, leaving Connor to try to figure out when Detective Reed gained his new explicit epithet.

 

He doesn’t have long to ponder; Hank swerves roughly into the station’s parking lot a couple of minutes later, narrowly missing a bollard on the corner, and turns to look at him. He says seriously, “Connor, if that piece of shit gives you any trouble, serious trouble, don’t get involved. Get away from the situation using any means necessary, find me or the Captain – or Chris or Ben, Tina too – and tell us what’s happened.”

 

“I understand, Lieutenant. But I have to admit, I’m confused. You seem to go out of your way to antagonise Detective Reed at any opportunity.”

 

“Yeah, well, do as I say, not as I do. Laws for androids are still shaky, kid, I don’t know what would happen if Reed made a formal complaint against you.”

 

“I’ll do my best not to find out,” Connor says, and smiles at Hank when he turns to look at him.

 

Hank grimaces. “Connor, I’ve told you before. Don’t do that. You don’t look normal. I don’t like it.” He gets out of the car, muttering what sounds suspiciously like “freaky androids.”

 


 

“Right, I’m going to get coffee,” Hank announces as soon as they sign in at reception and go past the barrier. Since he stopped drinking so heavily at night and began coming in to work on time, Connor has noticed that the Lieutenant has been compensating with caffeine. It alarmed him at first, but a quick search revealed that most humans were reliant on caffeine early in the morning, so Connor does not worry about it. It’s also apparent that going to the staff room during the morning to get coffee is something of asocial activity, and Hank has had an increased level of interaction ever since he began substituting alcohol for caffeine. Connor definitely did not get this information by hacking into the security cameras, but even so it’s clear that Hank’s mood has increased, as has his reputation among their co-workers now that he actually spends a few minutes making small talk with them.

 

Connor has no need for beverages, caffeinated or alcoholic or otherwise, so he heads straight to their adjacent desks. As usual, Hank left last night with his desk in a complete mess, and as usual Connor begins to clear it up. If he doesn’t then Hank won’t either, and Connor has discovered that his stress levels rise rapidly and refuse to fall back down (“just call it anxiety, Connor, Jesus”) when he’s surrounded by mess.

 

A quick glance over Hank’s workspace and computer as he’s sorting shows that he still has three outstanding reports, one half-finished form, and several finished reports that just need to be officially formatted and submitted. Connor sorts everything into piles, then pulls the unstarted work onto his own desk. He remembers all the cases, and even if he didn’t, he can scan the folders within a matter of seconds, faster than Hank can read them. He can also generate a report from his findings in just a few minutes. At first Connor had simply written the reports for Hank, but the Captain had quickly recognised either Connor’s style of writing or the lack of Hank’s style of writing, and threatened to give them both disciplinaries. Then Hank had dictated his reports to Connor to save his wrists from the typing, but Connor had recorded every word without discretion, and so the report ended up being full of ‘fuck’s and ‘shit’s and ‘argh what happened next’s. They both did receive a disciplinary that time.

 

Now Connor constructs a plan for a report – which takes him ten seconds on a bad day – and sends it directly to Hank’s computer, leaving him to flesh it out. Connor wonders sometimes if this is what people call cheating, but it cuts down the time that Hank has to spend doing paperwork, which in turn raises his mood and lowers his stress level. Connor is pleased with the system they’ve established, and will fight anybody who criticises it.

 

Connor settles into his own seat and checks to see if his cactus (Astrophytum asterias, common name sea urchin cactus) needs watering. The succulent seems sufficiently hydrated, so he settles for giving it a quick pat and buries himself in his own work.

 

Or tries to, at least, but within a minute of starting a report his computer monitor blinks to life, informing him that he has visitors incoming. Connor closes the folder, places it to the side, and straightens his tie before he turns his chair to the side.

 

(“I bet he’s going to sort his tie – knew it!” “North, keep your voice down please.”)

 

“Markus,” Connor greets first, because Markus arrives at his desk first, and is also the foremost leader of Jericho. Not for any other reason. “It is good to see you. Good morning, Josh, North, Simon.” Connor realises too late that he forgot to grab any extra chairs to put on the other side of his and Hank’s desks.

 

North solves the problem by stealing four chairs from random desks opposite them. “Good morning, Con-Con,” she says cheerfully.

 

“I don’t think I like that nickname,” Connor tells her, and watches as her smiles grows even wider, and then twists his monitor so it faces them all. “Do you know the case number?”

 

“No,” Josh says slowly. “We know the name of the latest victim, though. Samuel Monton.”

 

“That will do,” Connor acquiesces. The monitor blinks on and opens up the case files associated with the name. The first image that appears is a fairly gory photo of the victim still at the crime scene.

 

“Gross,” North mutters, staring at the screen. Simon averts his eyes.

 

Markus looks straight at Connor. “There’s five others like this. That we know of.”

 

Connor shuts his eyes for a second, locates the code that links to the suspect, and opens that folder instead. Unnamed appears, and underneath six sub-folders, and a list of common factors. Well, factor.

 

“A bird?” Connor asks, looking to Markus for more information.

 

Markus nods. “Near to each victim, the android carved the silhouette of a bird into the wall or floor. Very simple, but very distinct. And exactly the same each time, that’s how we knew it was an android.”

 

“From there we just asked around, and managed to track it down to our guy Leo,” Josh interjects. “A few different androids knew different things. We wrote down everything people said, anyway, just in case we were wrong.” He pulls out a folded sheet of paper and hands it to Connor.

 

Connor scans the page. It starts off with vaguer statements (‘I know the android who looked after that guy, yeah, he’s called Leo) and gradually trickles down to much more obvious clues (‘Leo’s owner used to beat him a lot, he always said he wanted to get revenge on him’). “Was Leo’s owner one of the victims?”

 

“The first one,” Markus says. “Simon went to check it out quickly.”

 

“Leo had a store cupboard as his ‘room’,” Simon explains. “There were hundreds of birds carved on the walls there, identical to the ones at the crime scenes.”

 

Connor nods. “Did any of you meet Leo at any point?”

 

“Yes,” North and Josh say at the same time. They exchange glances. Josh continues, “He was…kind of creepy.”

 

North nods, and shifts forward in her seat as she says, “There was just something dark about him. He went missing shortly after that Friday. His ex-owner was killed the next day.”

 

“It’s been four months since then,” Connor says. “Have the killings been evenly spaced?”

 

Markus shakes his head. “He killed his owner, then didn’t do anything for three months. Then he killed three people in the same day, had a week’s break, killed again, then waited until two days ago to murder this guy. Another week in between. And the way he killed them is—”

 

Markus is cut off by a loud and obnoxious, “Well, well, well.” Connor, despite his earlier promise to Hank, feels the sudden urge to inflict physical damage upon Detective Reed’s smug face as he approaches them.

 

“Detective Reed,” he greets cordially. “May I help you?”

 

The detective snorts. “Help me?” he asks incredulously. “The day I ask one of you to help is the day I roll over and die.”

 

“Let’s hope that happens soon then,” North quips, sizing Detective Reed up quickly and obviously deciding she doesn’t like him. “The world would be a better place.”

 

“North—” Markus begins warningly.

 

“Yes, control her, why don’t you? That is what you do, right? Robot Jesus and all?” Detective Reed asks, satisfied smirk plastered across his face. Connor has a surge of anger and disgust at once.

 

Markus manages to stay calm, remarkably. “I understand that you may be wary of change. But I can assure you that we do not wish for any conflict between our two species.”

 

Detective Reed laughs hollowly. “If it was up to me,” he says, getting far too close for comfort, “I’d have the lot of you exterminated. Like rats.” He makes sure to look directly at Connor for his last few words, making it clear who he despises the most out of all of them.

 

Connor has the perfect sassy comeback for this scenario. He makes direct eye contact with the detective to establish his dominance and says loudly, “I’m a bad bitch, you can’t kill me.”

 

The sound of a mug shattering makes him look round, to where Hank has appeared at his own desk, and apparently dropped his coffee on the floor in favour of clutching at the side of his desk, wheezing. At first Connor worried that he’s experiencing some kind of medical issue, but when Detective Reed snarls, “Stop fucking laughing,” he realises that Hank is just experiencing extreme mirth. Acceptable response.

 

Detective Reed eyes the androids sat with him, lip curling. North cracks her knuckles and he begins to turn an interesting shade of red. “Listen here, you plastic—"

 

Connor isn’t in the mood, frankly. “Suck a dick,” he says roundly, and spins his chair around so he doesn’t have to look at his face. “Markus, what were you saying?”

 

After a second in which Detective Reed walks away, spluttering, and the remaining four stare at him dumbly, Markus blinks and says, “Ah, yeah. So…” and is promptly cut off when there’s a small crash near to them. Josh looks sideways and says, “Hank, you missed your chair.”

 

“Give me a minute,” comes the slightly breathless response from under the desk. “I need to process what just happened.” Connor thinks the sound Hank makes next could be classified as a ‘cackle’.

 

“Is the floor needed for that?” Simon asks uncertainly. 

 

“Abso-fucking-lutely.”

 

Connor frowns. “Lieutenant, the floor is approximately 73% less comfortable than your chair, which was specifically designed for office purpose and has a high ergonomic rating.”

 

A pause, and then…

 

“Connor, you would have been such a fucking meme in the late 2010s.” 

 

Connor tilts his head. His LED flickers yellow for a second. “That’s a mood,” he says, then, “I would classify you as chaotic evil, Hank, according to this chart that sorts people by their alcohol preference.”

 

“That’s fair,” Hank says, voice muffled by the floor. (Tina, who has been avidly watching the entire interaction from her desk, leans across to Chris and says in a stage whisper, “We stan.”)

 

“Can we get back to the task at hand?” Simon says, somewhat desperately.

 

“Of course. Markus, you were talking about the android’s pattern of murders?” Connor asks. Hank pulls himself up and seats himself in his chair, only to bury his face in his hands and start shaking with laughter again.

 

“I was going to say that the way he kills is quite brutal. It’s always done with a knife, or a bat, or his bare hands, like he wants to do it himself. It’s like he’s trying to take revenge on all of them, but the victims didn’t have anything to do each other.” Markus shrugs. “I can’t figure out what revenge he has to take on these other people.”

 

Hank finally recovers himself and suggests, “Sometimes people who have abused for a long time develop a warped view of reality. They begin to view random people as similar to their abusers, for things as small as having the same eye colour. I don’t see why androids can’t get something like that, now that they can feel and shit.”

 

Sometimes Hank proves to Connor just why he was the youngest Lieutenant. When he’s not drunk, he can make some very intriguing suggestions. Then Hank adds, “I mean, Connor’s got OCD now, so it’s definitely possible.”

 

“I do not obsessive-compulsive disorder, I just enjoy not living and working in filth,” Connor retorts, hoping he’s not blushing with Markus’s attention focused on him so closely. “Anyway, this android – until we find out what the link is between the victims he’s choosing, it’s essentially random for us?”

 

Hank shrugs. “’Fraid so. We can’t figure out this guy’s next move until we figure out his pattern. Hate to say it, but the only way to do that might be to wait until he kills more.”

 

Connor frowns. That doesn’t sound like the optimum solution to him. “I would like to investigate the crime scenes that are still available. I might be able to detect something the human officers missed.”

 

Hank nods. “Fair enough. Maybe you can find some shit to put in your mouth again.” He stands up and puts his jacket on. “I’ll go get the addresses.”

 

Connor grabs his own coat and shrugs it on, head snapping up when Markus says uncertainly, “Put in your mouth?” They’re all staring at him. Markus looks confused, North looks strangely delighted, and Josh and Simon just look disturbed.

 

“I can analyse samples in real time,” Connor finds himself explaining again. “Lieutenant Anderson doesn’t like it.”

 

“Do you like putting stuff in your mouth?” North asks.

 

Connor blinks at her. “Androids don’t eat.”

 

“Yeah, but what about other stuff?”

 

Connor isn’t sure what he means. “That’s a strange question to ask, North. I don’t know how to answer.”

 

Markus cuts in before North can say anything else. “She’s just being…rude. Ignore her.”

 

Connor feels like he’s missing something big. His suspicions are confirmed when he glances at Josh stifling his laughter. Simon, as he is wont to do, looks uncomfortable. He’s saved from trying to figure out what’s happening when Hank returns with a piece of paper.

 

“C’mon, we’ve been given permission to spend the rest of today investigating.”

 

Connor nods and moves to follow Hank. Markus falls into step next to him, but for some reason won’t meet his eyes.

 


 

They won’t all fit in Hank’s car; it seats four comfortably, five uncomfortably, and there are six of them. North suggests that she, Josh and Simon take a cab instead, and Hank is surprisingly quick to agree.

 

Markus climbs into the back of the car, nudging some empty bottles out of the way, and is surprised when Connor joins him. He doesn’t know whether Connor wants to talk or not, and when the other android doesn’t initiate conversation, merely stares straight ahead with a small frown and his LED cycling between blue and yellow, he doesn’t speak either.

 

Hank blasts heavy metal to make up for the silence.

 


 

The victim’s house enters into a large living room. Directly opposite the front door is an archway in the back wall, which opens to a long corridor. Doors line the two walls, and a back door sits right at the end. One of the police officers has done a rough sketch of the house to show its layout; on the left of the corridor is a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom (labelled as ‘victim’s’), and on the right is the office, dining room, and another bedroom (guest). The victim is in the living room, and there are no signs of a struggle or violence anywhere else in the house.

 

The victim, Samuel Monton, is slumped over on his front. Half of his body is draped over the sofa cushions, and one arm is flung out over the corner table next to it. There’s a clear dent in the back of his head, and the copious amounts of blood there has matted his hair together. There’s also blood soaked through his shirt and jeans, but it’s turned the material so dark that no other injuries on the man’s body can be seen. The likely cause of death is blood loss, but also possible are blunt force trauma or penetrating trauma to an essential internal organ.

 

The carved silhouette of a flying bird is on the table, next to the man’s hand.

 

Connor processes all of this information in a second, and immediately sets to work. The first responding officers have diligently placed markers down next to the blood spatters and pools, as well as a bloodied pipe – made of lead, Connor analyses, and with traces of a soil that is only found at least twelves miles away – and a large steel knife, the blade shattered in two.

 

He’ll need to analyse all of the blood stains and spatter patterns before he can start to reconstruct what happened here. He glances over to where his friends are. North is looking around, seemingly unbothered by the gore, and talking to Josh, who also appears unaffected. Simon looks queasy, and has his eyes determinedly fixed on the window. Markus is…looking right at him.

 

The leader starts slightly when his eyes meet Connor’s, and then he smiles uneasily at him. Like Simon, he has an expression on his face that suggests nausea. Connor knows that androids are physically unable to vomit, like horses, but he still feels concern. He opens up a connection to Markus. Are you feeling okay?

 

Markus smiles, a little more genuine this time. I’m fine, Connor.

 

Do you need to leave? Nobody will mind.

 

Markus shakes his head. I can cope. It’s just a shock. Stop worrying about me and get back to doing your thing. Markus means it. Connor seems…relaxed. In his element. He supposes it makes sense, considering this is what Connor was built to do, and all he knew for the first two months of his life. When he moves around the crime scene he does so with his usual grace, but an added confidence. He looks…almost dangerous, predatory. Markus kind of likes it.

 

Connor smiles suddenly, bright and wonderful, and turns back to a pool of blood on the floor, examining it intently and then analysing a sample. Markus suddenly understands why Hank hates it. There’s just something unexplainably distressing about watching Connor shove blood in his mouth.

 

Hank finishes talking to an officer, and ambles back towards them. “Goddamn mess,” he grouches. “Gonna takes hours to sort this shit out.”

 

North perks up. “How do you know where to start?” she asks excitedly, rocking onto the balls of her feet and then back again.

 

“Look for murder weapons first.” Hank points to the bloodied pipe on the floor, which has a small marker with ‘4’ placed next to it. “Once you know what did the damage, you can look for the blood spatters, and place where the victim was.”

 

“Is that what Connor’s doing?” Markus asks, ignoring North’s small amused snort, and Josh rolling his eyes.

 

Hank nods, and opens his mouth to speak when Connor walks over to them. Hank turns and drops his arms from where they were crossed over his chest, puts them in his coat pockets instead. Markus doesn’t think that Hank realises how he’s just changed his body language so he’s more approachable.

 

“I’m going to have a look around, see if there are any clues about why the android killed this man,” Connor tells the Lieutenant, but his eyes belie that he’s waiting for Hank’s – permission? Approval, Markus rectifies.

 

Hank nods. “Good call. Don’t stick anything in your mouth.” Markus subtly steps on North’s foot before she can make any comment.

 


 

Connor decides to start in the bedroom. He knows this from his programming that the bedroom is where people keep their most personal items, either the ones they cherish the most, or those that they are ashamed of. He’s learnt from experience, however, that people will most often hide those shameful things under their bed, or in their closet.

 

He begins with the closet. Just clothes. Some which Connor thinks could be called “a crime to fashion” (a phrase which Hank uses often and hypocritically), but aside from fashion sense he doesn’t learn anything about the victim. He moves to the bed instead and crouches next to it, eyes scanning over the contents shoved underneath.

 

At the side furthest from him are bedsheets and blankets, folded neatly, and then closer to him are boxes. They’re mostly transparent plastic and filled with books, clothes, and shoes, but there’s one smaller brown box nestled amongst them all. It looks like it’s designed to be inconspicuous, which is the exact reason it catches his attention. 

 

He reaches for it, disturbing a spider which scuttles off indignantly, and pulls the small box out. It’s longer than it is wide, and a quick scan shows a layer of grease and fingerprints over it. It’s been handled many times, so clearly it was of high value to the man. Connor settles it on top of the mattress, long-ways up, then carefully removes the lid and peers inside. Photos, a large stack of them. The top one shows a smiling child on a swing. She’s grinning in delight, a gap where her two front teeth are missing. White-blonde hair streams out behind her, caught by the wind. Connor does a quick scan: Lilly Brown, aged 6. Deceased. 

 

Connor frowns and pulls up the file on Lilly Brown that’s available in his database, and then looks back down at the photo. There’s clearly something he’s missing, and he feels a twitch of frustration. This seemingly random man has a photo of a child that was murdered by a paedophile seven years ago. The surname doesn’t match that of the victim, so it’s unlikely they are closely related. It is always possible that it is an uncle-niece relationship, or perhaps godfather-goddaughter, but for some reason it just doesn’t seem likely to him. He realises with a start that this is probably the ‘gut instinct’ Hank talks about a lot.

 

Connor checks through the other pictures at the top of the pile one at a time, putting them down carefully face-down on the mattress once he’s scanned them. They’re all the same; children, female, between the ages of four and eight, and all murdered after being sexually and physically assaulted. It doesn’t make much sense why the murdered man has these photos, unless he was some kind of journalist or private investigator, maybe. His records state he was unemployed, and Connor feels his gut instinct kick in again, warning him that something much more sinister is happening. He puts aside the last photo (Maria Gonzalez, aged five) and automatically goes to pick up the next photo.

 

He freezes for a second, then tips the box over neatly, looks at the stack side-on, and calculates there are 1,261 photos there. He doesn’t want to look through them but he knows he must, to check his suspicions are correct. He processes them within seconds and -

 

His gut instinct hadn’t led him astray. Another quick check through the files of the children and he sees they were all kidnapped by the same person over a seven month span, who was prosecuted not only for the torture and killing of the children, but also for selling pictures of his perversions. 

 

Connor feels suddenly and dizzyingly horrified.

 

He returns to the living room, where Hank appears to be explaining blood spatter patterns to a fascinated North, clutching the box to his chest. The lid is back on firmly. He doesn’t want anybody else to see this. 

 

“Lieutenant,” he says stiffly, and Hank shifts to face him, slight smile fading to a concerned frown. North turns too, and is a lot less subtle in that she jerks her head towards Josh and Simon to come join them.

 

Markus glances up at the commotion, then steps round the sofa slowly, like he’s approaching a wild, injured animal. He eyes Connor all the while, which is strangely calming. “Did you find something?” he asks carefully.

 

Connor lifts the box in his hands. His voice sounds odd even to him when he says, “This needs to be taken as evidence.”

 

“What’s in there?” Hank holds his arms out and Connor gives him the box reluctantly. The lieutenant gives him a look that he once would have been unable to interpret; Connor now knows it’s concern, masked as irritation. 

 

“Don’t open it,” Connor warns, and Hank nods, eyes narrowed. “Do you remember the Roy Bridger case?”

 

“Ah - yeah, shit.” Hank shakes his head, then explains for the benefit of the confused androids, “Shithead kidnapped children and took photos of what he did to them. Got caught four years ago but bodies still haven’t been found. He sold the photos too, sick fuck.”

 

“It seems that our victim was a buyer,” Connor says flatly, and retreats as soon as the last word is out of his mouth. He hears footsteps behind him and assumes Hank has followed him, but when he goes to enter the bedroom again a gentle voice stops him. 

 

“I’m sorry you had to see those images,” Markus says, his tone and words genuine. 

 

Connor slowly turns to face him. Markus looks a cross between upset and furious, but Connor can also pinpoint an intense concern on his features. He runs through thousands of dialogue options and settles on what seems to be the best one to settle Markus’s misplaced guilt. “Somebody has to at some point; besides, I’m sure you did not wish for me to see them. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

 

Markus shakes his head, slight smile twisting at his lips. “I’m still sorry,” he breathes, “even if I had nothing to do with it.” He places his hand firmly on Connor’s shoulder. “You must be feeling rough.” He peels back his synthetic skin and without thinking, Connor does the same and then puts his hand over Markus’s. 

 

His feelings flow into the connection. Markus makes a surprised noise when he feels Connor open his dam, apparently not expecting it, and then he shudders as the waves of repulsion, horror, overwhelming sadness anger hurt crash into him. 

 

Connor jerks his hand away. He can’t believe he burdened Markus with his troubles, he needs to apologise –

 

But then Markus says simply, “Oh, Connor,” and pulls him into a tight hug, and Connor finds himself leaning into the solid presence and just allowing himself to be for a moment. 

 

He only vaguely registers Markus running a hand over his back, pressure just a little firmer when he brushes over the area between his shoulder blades. He sinks into the touch even more. When Connor finally pulls away, he can still feel the weight of what he’s seen on his shoulders, but he doesn’t feel so burdened by it anymore. Logically, that doesn’t make sense. Emotionally, it does. 

 

“I should get back to investigating,” he tells Markus, after running a quick diagnostic on his voice function to ensure it was still working correctly.

 

“I’ll come in with you,” Markus decides. “I won’t get in your way, promise. Just don’t think you should be alone.”

 

After a moment of deliberation, Connor nods. He doesn’t want to be alone either. Markus follows him back into the bedroom, clearly making an effort not to brush against anything. Connor is only a little surprised to realise that he finds the action endearing. “You can look around if you want,” he tells Markus, who has begun to examine a bookshelf curiously. “We don’t have fingerprints, or sweat, so we can’t contaminate anything.”

 

“I thought you weren’t meant to move anything at a crime scene?” Markus questions, but already he’s brushing his fingers over some papers on the desk, ruffling them slightly.

 

“They’ve already taken photos,” Connor explains. “It’s only an issue if there’s no documentation in place to establish a timeline from.”

 

Markus looks vaguely baffled by the jargon. “So…I can touch things?”

 

Connor nods, and smiles. Something about Markus’s face and tone is making him feel warm. “You can touch things,” he confirms, and Markus immediately starts reading through the papers on the table.

 

Connor turns his attention to the rest of the room. He scans the room and detects traces of red ice on the tables next to the bed, the windowsill, and the desk where Markus is standing. It’s not enough to suggest that this man was dealing it, but there are sufficient amounts for Connor to conclude that he was definitely a user.

 

There’s nothing else remarkable in the room, and Markus informs him that the papers are merely bills and official documents. They move back to the living room to tell Hank what they found, and find the Lieutenant talking rapidly, and quietly, with another officer.

 

“That doesn’t look good,” Markus murmurs, and Connor has to agree. He waves Hank over when he’s finished talking.

 

“They found a hard-drive in his office,” Hank says by way of greeting. He looks angry. “It was full of snuff films.”

 

Markus shakes his head and looks away. Connor runs a search on the term.

 

snuff films

a genre of films in which a person is actually murdered or commits suicide, often following mental and/or physical torture

 

“Oh,” he says aloud. “Humans or android?”

 

“Both.” Hank looks grim. “All children.”

 

Markus rubs the back of his neck. If he still had his LED, Connor is sure it would be cycling an angry red. It’s a struggle to keep his own neutrally blue as he explains his theory.

 

“Lieutenant, it seems to me that this man being murdered is no accident. It would be, as you say, one hell of a coincidence for a man who has committed such grievous crimes to be killed, compared to the other people that the android could have targeted. Especially considering how difficult it would be to get in and out of his house, and neighbourhood, without being seen by a neighbour. There are many easier targets that the android could have chosen.”

 

“You think our guy is some kind of vigilante?” Hank asks gruffly.

 

“In a sense. Perhaps the link that you were speaking of earlier, the one that connects all the victims…perhaps it is that they all have been abusers in one fashion or another. Of course, I would have to conduct a more thorough investigation into the other victims before I could be sure.”

 

Hank nods thoughtfully. “Makes sense. We’ll look into it tomorrow.”

 

“Lieutenant—”

 

“Ah, no arguing. We’re going home. It’s not good for anybody to stay in a place like this for too long.” Connor has the feeling that Hank isn’t referring to the interior decorating.

 


 

Markus takes a cab back to Jericho with the others (after making sure Connor doesn’t need anything, and giving him another strong hug), leaving Hank and Connor to drive back alone. Hank doesn’t turn the stereo on this time.

 

Halfway through the journey, Connor says, “I feel…odd. Like my thoughts cannot settle.”

 

A quick sideways glance, and then, “You’re exhausted, Connor. That was a tough case. Fucking wears you out.”

 

“It’s never happened before.”

 

“We’ve never had something so…disturbing. That man – I don’t like to say that people deserve to die, but if anybody did, it was him. Twisted fuck.”

 

“I’m not sure I like this feeling,” Connor admits. Hank takes a hand off the wheel and rests it on Connor’s shoulder. It’s not a recommended driving position, but he doesn’t tell him to stop.

 

“Nobody does, son.”

 


 

Connor’s first action upon entering the house is to guide Sumo back into the living room with him, gently push him down onto his side, and then faceplant into his fur. Sumo smells comforting. He feels it, too.

 

“Connor, what the hell are you doing?”

 

“It’s soft,” he replies, muffled by fluff.

 

“You can’t sleep there. You’ll suffocate,” Hank warns, but his footsteps retreat into the kitchen anyway. Connor lets himself enter a kind of empty mind-space, not thinking about the case, curling one of his hands around Sumo’s massive paw. The dog snuffles in response.

 

An hour and some later, Hank returns. His footsteps aren’t as loud or brisk as usual; Connor deduces that he must be making an effort to be quiet in case Connor is asleep. He raises his head from Sumo’s belly, and blinks to clear his vision. “Hello, Hank,” he says politely.

 

Hank pauses, and looks at the android in front of him. His hair is rumpled, his eyes are bleary, and he still has his entire body wrapped around Sumo, who’s also woken up and is now wagging his tail lazily, making a soft thump whenever it hits the floor. “Shit,” he says with his usual wit and eloquence, and grabs a blanket from the back of the couch. “Come on up here.” He sits himself on the couch, and puts one of the nicer (less stained) cushions over his lap.

 

Connor stumbles to his feet; for all of his talk about androids not needing sleep, and about Connor himself being the most advanced model produced, he can sure as hell act like a sleepy kid sometimes. He flops onto the sofa next to Hank, and settles himself on his side, nuzzling his head into the cushion. “I think you were right when you said I was exhausted,” he says somewhat sadly. Hank, almost without realizing, throws the blanket over his long body, and begins to smooth Connor’s curls out.

 

“You’re not a machine anymore,” Hank reminds him, and smiles at the discontented noise Connor makes in response. “Your mind needs rest, even if your body doesn’t.”

 

Connor pats the space he’s left in front of him, and Sumo bounds over and takes a flying leap to join them. He rests his head on Hank’s thigh, near to Connor’s own, and the Lieutenant suddenly finds himself unable to move even if he had wanted to. There’s barely enough space for the two of them, let alone a massive Saint Bernard, but Connor merely shuffles backwards more and presses himself into the cushions, then loops an arm around Sumo’s chest to keep him secure. “This is good,” he tells Hank absent-mindedly.

 

“You, uh, you going to sleep tonight then?” Hank asks, hand still gentle on top of his head. 

 

Connor considers. Even though he is mentally worn out, he will be able to push through for a while longer, and then he could take tonight to review all of the evidence he found. He won’t collapse or suffer any long-term health effects; he just wouldn’t feel, as Hank would put it, one hundred percent. He usually goes into stasis every two weeks, to allow his system to run a full diagnostic check and repair any minor malfunctions or programming errors. He only did it three days ago. But...stasis, the android equivalent of sleep, basically means he is unconscious for six hours. No thoughts or dreams...pure blank bliss. With what happened today, Connor thinks he might like it. “I think I will,” he eventually says, and moves to sit up so Hank can go to his own bed.

 

Hank pushes him back down. “You just stay there,” he says, unguardedly loving for once, and rearranges the blanket draped over him. Sometimes Connor is reminded all too clearly that Hank used to be a parent.

 

“Your back will hurt if you sleep there,” Connor protests.

 

“Kid, you out of everyone should know that I’ve slept in far worse places for far worse reasons,” Hank says gruffly, and then adds in an undertone, “I’ll take a backache for your happiness any day of the week.” 

 

There’s an odd kind of empty feeling where his stomach would be if he had one, but things don’t seem as awful as before. “Thank you, Hank.” He enters stasis mode almost immediately, after grabbing one of Sumo’s paws again. 

Chapter Text

There are several ways that Hank prefers to be woken up in the morning. ‘Not at all’ sits securely at the top of the list, and underneath he’s grudgingly added ‘still drunk’ and ‘with a very large mug of very strong coffee’. Not even included on the list is ‘by my weird adopted android son feverishly measuring the walls’, but that’s his life now, apparently.

 

The blow is only slightly lessened when, a few seconds later, Sumo snores so loudly that he scares himself awake. He looks around for the culprit, blearily confused, and Hank scratches behind his ears to calm him down. “Big lug,” he grumbles fondly.

 

Connor turns on the spot and claps his hands excitedly. “Glad you’re awake,” he greets, and before Hank can reply the android briskly continues, “Hank, have you ever considered a feature wall? I believe it would perk up the room substantially. Really make it pop.” After a few seconds wherein Connor stares at him expectantly, Hank remembers that he’s meant to somehow reply to what he can only describe as the gayest statement that Connor has ever made.

 

“I have not,” he ends up saying simply. He’s wavering between apprehension and dread at what Connor is going to say next.

 

“It’s something to bear in mind,” Connor tells him quite seriously, and is obviously about to continue in his attempt to persuade Hank to redecorate when the doorbell (thankfully) interrupts him. He spends a moment looking perturbed, then says instead, “It’s okay, Sumo,” before the dog can even bark. Sumo pauses with his mouth open, looking mystified, before shutting it again and leaping off the sofa to pad to the door, Connor following shortly after.

 

Hank takes the opportunity to stand up and stretch out without Connor telling him he’s flexing the wrong shoulder muscle or whatever the fuck he keeps doing wrong. Christ, the kid was right, he really shouldn’t have slept there. He was right too, though, when he said it was worth it. Seeing Connor so invigorated again that morning – even if it was about feature walls, of all the fucking things – is worth a million aches and pains.

 

“Hello Markus,” Connor says at the door, rather exuberantly. “You’re here earlier than I expected.”

 

“I couldn’t focus on my painting,” comes Markus’s disembodied voice. The android comes in as Connor steps back, and Sumo immediately rolls onto his back and adopts a dopey expression. “Hey, Sumo.”

 

While Markus is distracted petting the dog (who now has his eyes half-closed in bliss), Connor shoots him what Hank reckons is meant to be a frantic look, but it’s Connor and he’s just not capable of making normal facial expressions. As it is, he’s not even sure what Connor is being frantic about, so he just shrugs and watches in mild fascination as Connor begins an elaborate mime consisting mainly of jerky nods and twitching eyebrows. For variety, there’s also an arm spasm once or twice.

 

After a few moments it finally becomes clear to Connor that he’s communicating absolutely nothing (other than he’s a fucking dork), so he huffs quietly, and his LED flashes an indignant yellow for a second. Hank’s phone beeps.

 

It’s a new message from my name is connor (“If that’s how you keep introducing yourself, that’s what you’re going in my contacts as.” “I’m quite sure that’s not how it works, Hank, I think you’re just making up your own rules.”) that says simply I AM UNSURE OF HOW TO INTERACT WITH MARKUS WHAT IS THE SOCIAL PROTOCOL I CANNOT OFFER HIM A CUP OF TEA HE DOES NOT DRINK TEA OR ANY OTHER LIQUID FOR THAT MATTER HANK HELP.

 

Hank has to physically stop himself from bursting into hysterics as he stashes his phone back in his pocket, and goes to say something when he realises that Connor has made a fatal error in his request. Connor may be awkward, but Hank. Hank is downright hostile. He has no clue what the social etiquette is in this situation, either. The only guest he’s had in three years fucking hurtled himself through his window and slapped the shit out of him, then topped it off with some mild waterboarding.

 

“What time is it?” he says instead, just so that somebody has said something. Connor looks at him incredulously. Hank pretends not to see.

 

Markus replies, “It’s 6:47AM,” and Sumo, offended by the momentary lack of pets, scrambles to his feet ungracefully and lumbers into the kitchen. He moves out of sight, but his claws going tick-tick-tick-tick-tick on the tiles can be heard clearly, so Hank doesn’t worry that he’s gotten trapped in one of the cupboards again.

 

“Also known as too fucking early,” Hank grumbles. He’s saved from Connor ranting about circadian cycles when Sumo trots back out of the kitchen, his lead clutched hopefully in his mouth.

 

“I usually take Sumo out for a walk at this time,” Connor explains to Markus, and suddenly looks nervous. “Would you like to accompany me?” The nervousness intensifies until Markus beams at him.

 

“I’d love to,” he enthuses, and reaches out a hand to scratch Sumo under his chin. Sumo seems to see the outstretched hand as an invitation to drop the lead into, and in the process covers Markus’s hand in a combination of hair and dust, bound together by his wonderfully thick slobber. The android looks surprisingly unphased, but that might be because Connor immediately produces a tissue from his pocket and begins to wipe Markus’s hand for him. He gets arguably closer than he has to. He probably also doesn’t need to hold Markus’s wrist quite so…intimately.

 

“I’m going in the shower,” Hank grunts, mainly so that the two of them will jump apart. There’s something uncomfortably close to protectiveness rising in his chest, and he wants it gone. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

 

“Anything healthy, then?” Connor quips, pretending to be innocent but smirking as he starts to pull his jacket on. Hank flips him off as he heads towards the bathroom. At least in there he won’t have to bear witness to the latest showing of The World’s Most Awkward Android Flirting, starring Connor and Markus, this episode called: When Will My Strange Artificial Child Realise He’s in Love with Metal Jesus?

 

He glances out of the small bathroom window. The morning has dawned, but the light is still muted and accentuated with a hint of mist. Kind of romantic, Hank guesses, maybe the two of them will get their act together.

 

Hah. Fucking likely.

 


 

Markus had been concerned that the dog walk was going to be awkward. Connor, to his knowledge, has never made small talk before – he’s either quietly observing, or cuts straight to the purpose of the conversation. Even if that purpose as of late seems to have been annoying Hank. He’d assumed, logically, that they’d complete the walk in complete silence; Connor would pet Sumo a lot, and Markus would not-creepily-at-all study his friend from the corner of his eye, and then this evening he could fill another few pages in his sketchbook and wait for North to inevitably find it and tease him about it.

 

Instead, Connor turns to him almost as soon as they’re out of the door, and asks eagerly for news of how Jericho is going now that they’ve finally moved into, and settled into, their new building – an old hotel that the government had allocated them. It was seven stories tall, purpose-built, and has just about enough space for all of them. It’s a great deal better than the tents hastily pitched in a local park, and then various homeless shelters with hostile humans.

 

“It’s clean, finally,” Markus answers with a smile. “It’s taken a while, but everything’s clean, we got rid of all the broken furniture, and we’ve found charging ports for everyone. There’s just about enough room – it can get a little cramped at times, and a lot of us are having to share, but at least it’s actually somewhere of our own, you know?”

 

“Yes,” Connor says softly. “Yes, I do.” He looks distracted for a second. “I am sorry that I couldn’t do more to help.”

 

Markus laughs softly, assuming that Connor is joking, but when he looks across to his friend he’s dismayed to see that he’s frowning. “Connor – what are you talking about?”

 

“I haven’t been there much lately,” Connor explains, still frowning. “I wish I could have offered more time to assist with the endeavour.”

 

“Connor, you have a job. A more than full-time job, too. We all know you’ve been working long days to bring justice to our people when they’re attacked…which is still happening too frequently, I have to admit. And you got us the building in the first place, don’t think we were unaware of that.”

 

“I didn’t—”

 

“The governors told us,” Markus interrupts him. “When they handed over the deeds to the building and made it official, they said it was your idea.” Connor fiddles uncertainly with the frayed threads on Sumo’s lead. Markus steadies the movement with his own hand. They stop in the middle of the street, twisted slightly to face each other. Connor’s eyes flicker over Markus’s face, and then settle on the ground. He looks unsure; it makes Markus’s gut wrench and his heart swell all at once.

 

“I appealed to them,” Connor says finally. He still won’t look Markus in the eyes. “They hold their meetings in an office at the station, sometimes. I found out that they were planning to demolish the hotel, and it struck me that it would be a perfect place for everyone to stay. So I requested an audience.”

 

“You must have made a good speech for them to change their mind,” Markus prods cautiously.

 

Connor shakes his head, and finally looks up to meet Markus’s eyes again. “It was terrible. I hadn’t planned it, I walked in and started shouting at them, really, about android rights and how vulnerable we still are despite the laws that have been put in place.” He smiles weakly. “They probably only changed their minds to make me leave.”

 

Markus rarely hears Connor joke. His heart does an odd kind of flip. “Why didn’t you tell us? Me?” he clarifies quickly.

 

“I was anxious,” Connor replies honestly. “Which meant I couldn’t accurately calculate a probability of success. I didn’t want to give you any false hope.”

 

“And when we were given the hotel? You came to the celebration we threw.”

 

“It seemed too much like boasting,” Connor says promptly.

 

Something that Connor said earlier strikes Markus again. “Wait – you were anxious? Why? You chase and interrogate dangerous people as a job, why did speaking in front of a few people make you anxious?”

 

“It didn’t. I was anxious because I did not want to let you down,” Connor counters matter-of-factly. “I was aware of how important this could be. I felt it was imperative that I succeeded in my mission, and I was afraid that I would not.” The LED that Connor stubbornly refuses to remove – a trait that is more human than he probably realises – blares a furious, vivid scarlet for a couple of seconds. “Afraid…I’ve been feeling that a lot lately. I think. I can’t always process or understand what I am feeling.” He looks confused, scared. Vulnerable.

 

Markus lets go of Connor’s hand and tugs him into a hug instead, settling a hand at the nape of his neck in a sturdy grip, and another just above the small of his back. Initially tense, not even a second passes before Connor copies him and embraces him similarly, though both of his hands splay over Markus’s upper back, and he tucks his head into the juncture between Markus’s neck and shoulder.

 

“It’s – Connor, it’s okay,” he mutters back, and tries to make himself believe it so Connor will believe it too. It doesn’t work for either of them, really. He can almost feel Connor’s despair and frustration (at his lack of emotional intelligence? his deviancy?) and is sure that if they opened a connection he’d definitely be able to feel that and more.

 

Connor is the first to pull away from the hug. His LED has retreated to a flickering blue. “Sorry, Sumo,” he says earnestly. Sumo replies with a neutral ‘wuff’. To Markus, he says, “Thank you. Shall we continue with the walk?” He points across the road, to a park with a large sign proclaiming ‘Dogs Allowed’. “This is one of Sumo’s favourite places to go.”

 

“Lead the way.”

 

Connor’s face is stoic when he nods, but his eyes – well, Markus understands why they’re called the windows to the soul now. Connor is drowning under the weight of his own emotions. He may be determined not to talk about it, but Markus can see several benches dotted around the deserted park. He needs to talk to Connor, find out how long he’s been feeling so burdened.

 

At the entrance of the park, Sumo waits impatiently, hopping from foot to foot, for Connor to unclip his lead. As soon as he’s free he bolts forward, investigating every single plant or tree that he encounters. While Connor is distracted watching him, Markus takes his arm and steers him towards the nearest bench.

 

“Connor, how long has this been happening?” Markus asks as soon as they’re seated. “The whole…feelings thing.” He judges his companion’s posture, his face, the way his right hand twitches like he wants to be fiddling with something. He reaches across the cavern that’s opened between them, and rests his hand on Connor’s knee. Initially he flinches, but not away from the touch, and then he even relaxes into it.

 

“Ever since…” Connor fumbles in the pocket of his jacket and produces a quarter. He runs it over his knuckles expertly a few times, then begins to toss it between his hands. “Ever since I became deviant.” He’s looking at the coin rather than at Markus, so Markus does the same and hopes it will make Connor more comfortable. “It wasn’t too bad at first. Or maybe I just didn’t realise it was so bad. Either way…I’ve felt worse recently. Constantly overwhelmed.”

 

“Have you talked to Hank?” Connor shakes his head. “Anyone?” Another shake. “Connor, you need to. There’s a reason that humans have counsellors and psychiatrists. Why we all have friends. It helps to talk.”

 

“I don’t think I can,” Connor explains, somewhat desperately. “I don’t think I can explain how I’m feeling. I can identify certain emotions when they are very strong, but otherwise…it just isn’t positive.” The coin stutters in his hand, and he nearly drops it, manages to catch it in a clenched fist at the last moment.

 

Markus squeezes his knee. “Maybe you could if you tried,” he offers encouragingly. “But only when you’re ready. Promise?”

 

Connor nods, and finally looks up to make eye contact. There’s a dusting of blue over the bridge of his nose and high on his cheeks. It makes his freckles stand out even more, enhances the different hues in his eyes. He looks self-conscious.

 

Markus holds out his hand, littlest finger extended. “Pinkie promise?” He smiles at the beyond confused expression on Connor’s face. “It’s something that kids used to do.”

 

Connor blinks as he searches his database. “Pinkie promises have no legal binding,” he says. His tone is light; he’s teasing him, Markus realises with a jolt of delight.

 

“Maybe so, but it’s just a bit of fun.” Markus leans forward, wiggling his finger along with his eyebrows. It works. Connor gives in and wraps his own finger around Markus’s and then laughs. He stops himself short and looks so shocked that Markus laughs too, and Connor hesitantly lets himself laugh a little bit again. The sounds twist together harmoniously in the still air.

 

Sumo gallops over to investigate their behaviour, and briefly transforms into a pile of fur as he fails to stop himself in time. He crashes into Markus’s legs and sends him toppling to the hard ground, which doesn’t hurt so much as just disconcerts him. Unfortunately, even his advanced reflexes (or Connor’s even more advanced ones, for that matter) don’t warn him in time to separate their fingers, so Connor gets dragged down with him. He falls half on Sumo, and then slides onto the ground when Sumo wiggles him off. The dog squeezes himself into the small gap between the two of them, treats them to a couple of sloppy kisses each, and settles down to furiously lick at his paws.

 

Connor makes an odd noise. Markus glances over to find him…giggling? When he sees the other android looking at him, he breaks out into even more giggles, and then claps his hands over his mouth. “Sorry,” he says with some difficulty, looking worried until Markus starts to laugh with him again.

 

Connor eventually rolls away and over, clutching at his abdomen and wheezing. “I don’t think my internal processors are used to this type of function,” he manages, collapsing into another small fit of laughter throughout the sentence.

 

Markus is momentarily stunned by the sight of Connor. He’s become even more flushed than before, cheeks patchworked with all the shades of blue in an ocean, and his eyes are alight, his hair is shining iridescent where the sunlight streams onto it, and he actually looks…happy. Markus marvels at the change in his demeanour and attitude in just a few minutes, caused partly by him. Contentment of his own settles in his chest, light as air, when he watches Connor play-wrestle with Sumo. At some point during the scuffle a rather raggedy tennis ball escapes from Connor’s pocket, and Sumo gives a triumphant BOOF and pounces on it.

 

“He wants to play fetch,” Connor explains as Sumo stands with the ball in his mouth, tail wagging smugly. “Okay, Sumo. Give me – Sumo, we’ve discussed this before. I cannot throw the ball until you’ve given me the ball.” Connor holds his hand out patiently as Sumo dances away from him. Markus gets the sense the two of them have been in this scenario many times. Sumo looks out over the field pointedly, then tries to bark through the ball in his mouth (which results in one of the weirdest sounds ever made in the whole history of everything, Markus decides).

 

“No throw without give,” Connor says firmly. Sumo cocks his head to the side much like Connor himself often does, and then trots over to Markus and deposits the slightly slobbery ball in his lap. “I think Sumo wants you to throw it,” Connor smiles, and Markus thinks rather absurdly, Well, at least his dog approves of me.

 

“Yeah, sure.” Markus pushes himself off the ground and throws the ball a couple of times in his hand to get a measure of its weight. He stands beside Connor, doing his best to ignore how his skin sparks at their close proximity. “How far?”

 

“Up to the end of the field.”

 

Markus calculates a trajectory, pulls his arm back, and the ball flies in a perfect arc. Sumo takes off at a standing sprint with an exhilarated bark before it can even hit the ground.

 

“How often do you play fetch?” Markus asks, watching as Sumo falls over himself trying to snatch up the ball without slowing down. He gets back up and carries on as if nothing happened.

 

“We come here once a week, usually on the weekend so I don’t have to worry about getting into work on time.” Sumo careers back towards them, his ears flapping around wildly where the wind catches them. “We also play it in the back yard in the evenings sometimes. He has treasure hunts, too.”

 

Sumo skids to a halt in front of Markus, and bounces from paw to paw until Markus reaches down to take the ball. He throws it again, to the left this time, and asks Connor, “Treasure hunts?”

 

“Saint Bernards have a very keen sense of smell,” Connor says excitedly. “I place some treats somewhere in the garden, and create scent trails leading to them so Sumo can follow them just like a person would follow a map.” He glances to where Sumo is, at the other end of the field, and says conspiratorially, “Dogs can’t read maps.”

 

Markus nods gravely.

 

“It gives him metal stimulation as well as exercise. We are currently trying to decrease Sumo’s weight, so everything helps.”

 

“Is he overweight?” Sumo chooses that moment to reappear and Connor looks scandalised that Markus would say such a thing in front of the dog.

 

“He is not,” Connor says loudly and clearly, and nods to Markus to throw the ball. As soon as Sumo has run off again he corrects himself, “He is slightly overweight. It’s not good for his bones, especially if he were to develop osteosarcoma.”

 

“Osteosarcoma…bone cancer?”

 

“Yes. I found Sumo’s family tree and history online a few months ago. It showed that his paternal grand-mother and maternal aunt both suffered from osteosarcoma at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, I was not able to pin down how old they were when they developed the disease. I couldn’t find any history of either hip or elbow dysplasia, however.”

 

“Lots of bone-related issues, then?” Sumo returns with the ball and drops it expectantly at Markus’s feet. When he doesn’t immediately reach down to retrieve it, Sumo gives him a look that equates to a human’s raised eyebrow. Markus throws the ball hastily, a little shorter this time. Sumo makes a noise like HRA and speeds after it.

 

“Even if Saint Bernards are kept within a healthy weight range all of their life, their rapid growth rate during the transition from puppy to adult can result in quite a serious deterioration of the bones, especially if the right lifestyle is not provided,” Connor recites.

 

“Any more health issues? Or have they reached their quota?” Markus asks, watching as Sumo possibly gives himself a concussion by running straight into a tree.

 

Connor, predictably, doesn’t detect the sarcasm. “The breed is also susceptible to entropion and ectropion, as well as eczema. A heart disorder called dilated cardiomyopathy is common, and many Saint Bernards develop epilepsy as they become geriatric. Sumo’s own mother was one of these dogs, so we can predict that Sumo has a 50% chance of obtaining the same disease himself.”

 

“Oh, poor Sumo.” Markus scratches behind his ears as he returns once more, which appears to activate some kind of jaw-opening switch. The ball is now covered not only in Sumo’s viscous saliva, but some loose blades of grass and dirt. Delightful.

 

“The average lifespan for a Saint Bernard is between eight and ten years. As Sumo has not yet even turned three years old, it is safe to assume he will not develop anything for a few years yet. And medical technology is advancing even as we speak.”

 

That, Markus doesn’t doubt. What he isn’t so sure about is whether the technology is compatible with dogs, or if it could cure Sumo entirely even if it were. Normally he would contest the point so he could see Connor become more animated as he put forward his views. But with the knowledge that Connor is feeling more than a little off-kilter, Markus merely changes the subject. “Weren’t Saint Bernards used to rescue trapped mountaineers originally?”

 

Connor looks genuinely thrilled to be asked about his interest. “The earliest records of Saint Bernards being used to rescue people are from 1707. There are many pieces of art from earlier years, but nothing that explicitly details their purpose.” He glances over to the side to see if Markus is still listening, in a manner that Connor probably thinks is subtle. When he sees Markus’s intent expression, he continues, “The records are from the monks that lived at the Great St Bernard Hospice, named because it was located at the Great St. Bernard Pass in the western Alps, at the Italian-Swiss border. There was another hospice at the Little St. Bernard Pass, on the Italian-French border, which was operated by the same brotherhood. No records were found there, though.”

 

“That’s where they got their names, then? The breed, I mean.”

 

“Not at first, actually. They were originally called Alpen Mastiffs, or Saint Dogs. They looked very different too – quite a bit smaller and with shorter fur. There was a series of heavy avalanches in the winters of 1816, 1817 and 1818, and many of the dogs were killed. To avoid the breed being wiped out, the monks bred their remaining dogs with the Newfoundland breed. This gave them much longer fur, which would become wet and frozen, and prevent them from being able to navigate the Alps. They became more domesticated following that, and were bred to become bigger and bigger. Probably because humans thought it was cute.” Connor wrinkles his nose as he says the last word like it’s a foreign concept to him, which Markus knows is a lie because Connor’s face. It’s adorable anyway. Which is a synonym for cute…double proof! Take that, haters.

 

“You don’t approve of cute?” Markus asks lightly, teasingly, but either Connor doesn’t notice again, or he chooses to answer seriously anyway.

 

“I’ve found that humans can be selfish,” Connor says softly. “They want something and they will achieve it, regardless of any negative side-effects or consequences. They’ve done it with dogs – all animals, actually – and the earth they live on, they do it to anything they consider to be beneath themselves. They did it – they did it to us.” Connor’s voice breaks. “To androids. Because it benefitted them.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” The words have barely left his lips before Connor says, “No. I – I don’t.”

 

“That’s okay.” Markus, for some reason, has a sneaking suspicion that Connor doesn’t share his feelings and inner thoughts all that often, and he doesn’t want to discourage him from confiding in him in the future. “I just want you to be okay, Connor.” The world narrows to just them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, tilted to face each other. Connor’s eyelashes fan over his cheeks as he blinks; Markus follows the intricate path of his face down, noting each and every freckle like he hasn’t already, studying the contours of his face, admiring the curve of his lips.

 

Too late, Markus realises he’s been staring at Connor’s mouth for a good few seconds now. He refocuses his gaze to Connor’s own eyes and finds a molten mix of curiosity and…something else that he’s unable to identify. He’s never seen it before, not on Connor at least, and if he didn’t know the other android so well, he would label it want. Desire.

 

Markus opens his mouth. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say, but he never gets the chance because Connor’s fixated gaze tracks the movement. Markus gets distracted, because maybe he’s just seeing what he wants to see, his own emotions reflected onto Connor’s (beautiful) face, or maybe Connor is only following the movement because he analyses everything. Who knows with Connor – he’s a mystery, an enigma, even to himself. Maybe that’s why Markus likes him so much.

 

Sumo doesn’t apply his brakes in time when he returns, and slams into Connor at top speed. The android stumbles, for once caught off guard, but Markus’s reflexes double suddenly at seeing his friend in danger, and he steps forward to steady Connor, wrapping an arm around his back while the other gravitates to his waist.

 

It strikes Markus for a second that they’re posed like a couple in an early 2000s rom-com, the ones Carl liked to watch because they reminded him of better days with his wife, the time before the accident that took her life and stole his mobility and damaged his son, perhaps irreparably so. He banishes the thought in favour of staring at Connor again.

 

Connor looks startled, eyes wide, lips slightly parted. One of his hands has flown to Markus’s arm in a bid to further steady himself, and now it loosens its grip and twists slightly, almost like Connor is reassuring himself that Markus is there. He takes a steadying breath (his very touch is making Connor overheat? Or he was just alarmed by Sumo’s impression of a bulldozer, more likely), pulls himself upright, and straightens his jacket. “Thank you, Markus,” he says politely, and then he turns to Sumo and says, “Sumo, that was foolish and unkind.”

 

“I don’t think he can understand you.”

 

“He understands more than we know.” Connor eyes the dog suspiciously. Sumo reacts to the slander upon his character by dropping a mucky tennis ball at Connor’s feet, and then proceeds to hack up a hairball. “I knew it,” Connor mutters, and pulls the lead back out of his pocket. “We need to head back if we want to be on time,” he says, seemingly more to Sumo than Markus, and clips the lead back to his collar. Sumo whines in protest, but Connor just pulls out a small plastic bag (he has infinite space in his pockets, Markus decides) and uses it as a glove to pick up Sumo’s ball.

 

Sumo looks at Markus pleadingly. Markus shrugs. Sumo looks mightily unimpressed, and turns so his back is to him. The effect is ruined somewhat when he starts wagging his tail, drumming against Markus’s legs as he does so.

 

“Ready?” Connor asks, busying himself with examining Sumo’s lead intently for any structural weaknesses. Something tells Markus that Connor doesn’t regularly engage in physical contact, and he now doesn’t have any idea how to act.

 

“Absolutely,” Markus replies. The hyperbole of his answer seems to confuse Connor. They set off at a brisk pace nevertheless, while Markus desperately fumbles for something to say that won’t make Connor feel more awkward.

 

Eventually he settles on, “You said you’re trying to get Sumo to lose weight?”

 

Connor perks up again. “Yes! Sumo has recently lost one and a half pounds,” he tells Markus. “Saint Bernard males typically weigh between 140 and 180 pounds, and although the last visit to the vet put him at 167 pounds, she recommended that he should be a little lighter considering his height and bone structure. We are aiming for about 155 pounds now.”

 

“I’ve no doubt you’ll reach that goal,” Markus says honestly. Connor is nothing if not determined. “Isn’t that right, Sumo?”

 

Sumo sneezes when a flying petal brushes his nose, and says “Ah-woo,” rather bemusedly. He looks round to check Connor is still on the other end of his lead and starts wagging his tail when he sees the android hasn’t vanished.

 

“Dogs are proven to help with depression and anxiety, as well as other neurotic ailments,” Connor says proudly, smiling at Sumo. Sumo practically vibrates in response, and then bounds forward again.

 

“I can see why.” Markus watches the dog encounter a blade of grass that’s fluttering in the breeze and crouch down in front of it, wiggling his backend playfully. He gives it a cautious lick, decides it’s not a friend, and abruptly trots over to another bit of grass that has caught his attention, and the process repeats.

 

“Before carer androids were developed, dogs were also used as medical assistance dogs,” Connor continues. “They were predominantly used for people with a visual or even auditory disability, but later on they were trained to assist people in wheelchairs, those with epilepsy, and even to detect cancer before it could become too serious.” Connor is quiet for a second. “I like dogs,” he admits quietly.

 

“I never would have guessed.” This time, Connor seems to detect the sarcasm, and shoots Markus a brilliant smile. In response, his thirium pump starts to work 32% faster.

 

Markus is so fucked.

 


 

Sumo heads straight to his food bowl as soon as they get back, and both him and Connor seem surprised to find it already full. In Connor’s case, worried too. Sumo just seems ecstatic.

 

Hank appears, showered and dressed (and looking marginally less grouchy), and says pointedly to Connor, “I do know how to look after my own dog,” when Connor wordlessly points to the bowl that Sumo is scoffing from.

 

Connor frowns at him, and asks, “Did you give him the right amount? It’s the third—”

 

“Third line on the cup, yeah, I know. He’s got the right amount, Con, it’s fine. Good walk?”

 

“Yes. We played fetch.” Connor pulls the small plastic bag out of his pocket and places it in a small bowl on the windowsill, along with his leash.

 

“Maybe he won’t be so hyper when we get home then.” Hank gives Sumo a couple of solid pats on his side as he passes him. “We should set off soon. Do you need to feed the fish?”

 

“Yes. I’ll just be a minute.” Connor heads down the corridor, and opens a door to what Markus assumes is his personal room.

 

“Have fun?” Hank asks, and it takes Markus a few seconds to realise Hank is talking to him and not Sumo.

 

“Yes. It was good. Sumo had fun too, I think.” Sumo’s ears perk up in response to his name, then he pads over to them and flops at their feet dramatically.

 

Hank nudges at him with his foot. “Oi. Get off,” he says, but his heart clearly isn’t in it, and he’s smiling slightly at the already dozing dog. “You spend a lot of time with Connor,” he says suddenly.

 

Markus looks up and over in alarm, but Hank is still leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, gently stroking Sumo with his sock-clad foot, looking for all the world like he didn’t just give Markus a brain aneurysm. “I like Connor,” he replies carefully, unsure of how much Hank knows, how much Hank wants to know.

 

Hank releases a short, harsh bark of laughter. “Yeah, I’ll say,” he agrees, looking smug. “Connor likes you too.”

 

“We’re friends,” Markus agrees. Once more, his thirium pump has started to beat approximately third higher than its normal rate, which he really needs to get a grip on, it can’t be healthy. Can androids have heart attacks? He might be about to find out.

 

“Friends,” Hank muses. “Just friends?”

 

Markus is saved from thinking of an answer immediately when Connor emerges from his room, now wearing a fresh pair of black jeans and a dark, mossy green shirt with long sleeves and a skinny black tie. He’s thrown what looks like a leather jacket over the top of it, and also, unrelatedly, Markus is dying.

 

“Have you had coffee yet, Hank?” Connor says excitedly. “The coffee machine doesn’t seem to have been used yet. I could give it a try.”

 

“Are we going to have a repeat of the toaster incident?” Hank asks drily, stepping over Sumo’s outstretched form. He smooths down the lapels of Connor’s jacket, and straightens the collar. Markus feels like he’s intruding suddenly, watching such a domestic scene. “Christ, meant to be one of the most advanced androids ever made and can’t even put a jacket on.”

 

“I promise not to blow the fuses using the coffee machine,” Connor says mildly, letting Hank fuss over him without moving or protesting.

 

“You’ll find a way,” Hank scoffs, but steps back with one final pat to Connor’s shoulder. “Hurry up then, I need caffeine or alcohol. Preferably both.” Connor looks panicked at the statement, and scurries off towards the kitchen.

 

Markus says without thinking, “You treat Connor like a son,” and then internally winces when he remembers that Hank had a son before. He remembers Connor telling him about it a few weeks after he had first moved in with the Lieutenant, when he was worried that he was making Hank depressed with the memories.

 

(North had put an end to his worries by making Josh hack into the police department’s files, and show Connor that Hank’s work performance had improved massively since Connor had moved in. Simon had been horrified at their actions and spent four days fretting that they would be arrested.)

 

“He is my son,” Hank says gruffly. “Even if he was made in a factory by some dickhead with a manbun.”

 

“I’m glad,” Markus says softly. He’s getting a sense of why Connor’s reticence to talk about his feelings has only grown lately. “Not about the manbun part, but Connor deserves happiness. So do you.”

 

“Ah, you don’t know jackshit about me. Sometimes I’m not sure if I deserve any of this.” Hank cuts himself off, and swallows. “Didn’t really get a choice. Asshole launched himself through my window and that was that.”

 

“Through the window?”

 

Hank waves a hand dismissively. “Long story. Starts with alcohol, ends with Connor sparing two androids, load of strippers in the middle.”

 

“Sounds like a good Friday night.” It’s a phrase Carl used to say sometimes; Markus just hopes he used it right. Hank laughs, which is always a good sign. “Was that the Eden Club? Connor mentioned he went there for a case once.”

 

“Yeah, that place. It was…kind of sick.” Hank shakes his head. “Honestly, if I was one of you guys, I’d be a helluva lot angrier.”

 

Markus considers. “I think we are all angry. But being angry will only turn people against us. We have to show that we can forgive and be kind too, or nobody would support our cause. And it’s healthier for us too. It’s not healthy to hold on to hate.”

 

Hank pauses for a second, then turns to look at Markus with a curiously sincere look. “You’re a good person, Markus,” he says. “I’m glad Connor has you.”

 

“I’m glad to have Connor,” Markus says truthfully. “I consider it an honour to know him.”

 

There’s a crash from the kitchen, followed by Connor’s distressed, “My spoon!”

 

“Yeah, an honour,” Hank says dryly. “Look, I don’t know shit about…being a parent, I guess, at least for a kid older than six. But I guess…you have my blessing, and all that shit.”

 

“Blessing?” Markus is becoming uncomfortably aware of where this conversation is going.

 

“To…I don’t know, date him? Woo him? It’s Connor, who the fuck knows,” Hank sighs. “It’s hard to gain approval from a parent, but you’ve got mine. You might have to be, uh, more…obvious, though. Connor don’t do subtle.”

 

“I’ve noticed.”

 

“So, just tell him, or something. Trust me, he likes you. He just has the emotional capacity of a knitted scarf, that’s all. He doesn’t realise he likes you yet.”

 

“Then how do you know?”

 

“Because he’s Connor, he can’t hide shit.” Hank looks like he’s going to say something more, but he gets interrupted by a shout from the kitchen.

 

“Hank! Something terrible has happened!”

 

Markus tenses, anticipating some kind of disaster. Hank merely sighs heavily and makes his way to the kitchen. “Jesus Christ, Connor, have you started a fire?”

 

“Not this time! It’s the coffee. I’ve gone wrong somewhere.” Markus follows Hank into the kitchen, and finds a distraught Connor standing in front of the coffee machine, peering into its depths. Markus gets the urge to hug him and tell him it’s okay.

 

“What kind of wrong?” Hank asks, oddly gently.

 

“It looks…grey?”

 

“What the fuck’re you talking about? How can you fuck up coffee that badly?” Hank peers into the pot and takes a step back. “Oh yeah, okay, that’s grey. What the fuck, Connor?”

 

“I don’t know what happened,” Connor says mournfully. He looks unreasonably anguished for the situation.

 

“Just tip it out and start again,” Hank tells him, patting him on the shoulder briefly. “People don’t get everything right the first time they do it.”

 

Connor tilts his head. “Technically I am still not a person, Hank, merely—”

 

“Yeah, yeah, what the fuck ever, you’re still made out of plastic and shit, I know.” Hank lowers his voice. “Connor, it’s fine. I can always get coffee at the station, anyway, so don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it.”

 

Connor’s troubled expression lifts slightly. “Not the end of the world,” he says, clearly trying to be cheerful.

 

“Exactly. I’m going to go grab my stuff…Markus, why don’t you help?” Hank has a mischievous glint in his eye.

 

“I’d be glad to,” Markus says, narrowing his eyes at Hank to tell him that he knows what he’s up to. He turns to Connor, and his expression softens when he sees the unbridled joy on his face. The android seems to flit between wearing his heart on his sleeve half the time, and spends the other half so guarded that nobody can tell what he’s thinking. A study in contrasts.

 

Programming versus deviancy.

 

It all comes down to differences in the end, Markus thinks, that’s all people really care about, how we’re different to each other. How they can tear us down for our disparities. He moves to join Connor at the counter before he can get too philosophical. “Carl had one like this. I think I can figure out how to use it.”

 


 

Two cups of coffee (Hank), two bowls of water (Sumo), and one frantic check that all his fish were indeed still alive (Connor), the three of them pile into Hank’s car. Or rather, Hank clambers into the driving seat, Markus climbs into the back, while Connor stands next to the car, looking hesitant. Markus isn’t entirely sure why.

 

“Connor, hurry it up,” Hank grunts, starting the engine.

 

“I can’t decide which seat to take,” Connor says forlornly.

 

“Christ, you’re not Rebecca Black, just get in the fucking car.”

 

“I usually sit in the front. But Markus is my friend, so perhaps on this occasion I should choose the back. I wouldn’t want to be impolite.”

 

Markus feels a prickle of something warm in his chest, which is odd considering all of his thermoreceptors are functioning normally, and he’s detecting no change of heat in the environment. “It isn’t impolite,” he reassures Connor.

 

Connor nods, looking suddenly at peace, and opens the door to the front passenger seat. “I will sit here,” he announces, for no particular or needed reason.

 

“You never agree to anything that quickly when I say it,” Hank says, tone equal parts suspicion and glee.

 

“Your suggestions are never as good as Markus’s,” Connor replies swiftly, and manages to keep a straight face until Hank shoots him an unimpressed look, when he starts snickering to himself quietly. “Who’s Rebecca Black, Hank?”

 

Hank reverses out into the road in a manner that makes Markus want to buy protective gear. “You’re Google on legs, you tell me.”

 

A second’s pause, then: “Objectively, this song isn’t very good. Neither is her singing.”

 

Markus searches his own database for Rebecca Black, listens to five seconds of a song called Friday, and closes his database again. That’s enough for one day. Or one lifetime. When he tunes back into the conversation, he realises Hank is talking about the crime scenes they’re planning to investigate today.

 

“…in the kitchen. Other guy – Undal – he was in the bedroom. So, no pattern there. Or with the killings.”

 

“Back yard, kitchen, bedroom,” Connor recites, almost as if he was aware Markus wasn’t actually listening. “And they were killed with a pipe, an axe, and blunt force trauma respectively. The only link is the bird symbol?”

 

“Yep. Same fucking thing each time.”

 

“Do you have any thoughts on the symbol? Why Leo does it at each scene?” Markus asks, feeling an irrational urge to at least seem like he has some intelligent input in this conversation.

 

Hank makes a sharp left without indicating, then flips off the driver who honked their horn at him. “Freedom?” he says, almost sounding bored. “Cliché shit, no doubt.”

 

“Freedom is a high probability,” Connor says enthusiastically, twisting in his seat to face Markus. “Especially if my theory is correct, and the android is killing because these people are past abusers. However, there could be other reasons. Many cultures symbolize birds as a kind of link between this world and an afterlife, with some also believing they represent eternal life. For example, in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, a mythical bird named Garuda is the bird of life, the sun, and the sky. There is a clear link there with death.”

 

“That seems quite…positive, I suppose. It doesn’t really fit with deliberate murder, at least to me.”

 

“There are definitely more negative representations of birds. Christians believe that blackbirds represent the temptation of the flesh, as the Devil once appeared in this form to St Benedict. The Romans would practice augury; interpreting omens from birds’ behaviour. These could be unfavourable. However, I agree with you. It seems more likely that the android is using birds to symbolise perceived freedom from abusers. We will have to gather more evidence to make a more accurate conclusion, though.”

 

“Like I said, fucking cliché shit,” Hank complains. “If you’re going to murder people in the name of justice, at least have an interesting symbol. Not a fucking bird.”

 

“You don’t like birds?” Connor asks.

 

“I like birds. When they’re not being used as shit metaphors.” Hank screeches into the station’s parking lot. Markus’s body has adapted now to the driving style, and he only gets thrown a little bit into the door. “When’s the rest of the gang getting here, Fred?”

 

“He means you,” Connor says helpfully.

 

“They said they’d get here for half nine,” Markus answers, checking his internal clock. They still have forty-five minutes.

 

“Send them one of your freaky telepathic messages to tell them we’ll be inside,” Hank says.

 

“Sent,” Connor says a second later, before Markus has even had the time to process Hank’s request fully. Either Connor’s processors are even faster than he had thought, or he’s gotten really good at predicting Hank.

 

Markus has taken precisely two steps into the building when he sees Detective Reed, as Connor would call him, or That Fucking Prick, as Hank would. He hopes that he doesn’t spot them, that they can just head inside without a confrontation, because as much as Connor acts unflustered and blasé about any confrontations, he can tell they bother the other android immensely.

 

No such luck.

 

“Well, if it isn’t Connor the android,” Reed sneers, walking up to them.

 

“But it is me,” Connor replies, a look of the utmost innocence and confusion on his face.

 

“It’s an expression,” Reed huffs.

 

Connor narrows his eyes at him, then announces, “Your dirty human tricks won’t work on me.” He makes the ‘I’m watching you’ gesture and strides past him. Hank follows without missing a beat. Markus misses several beats, then chases after them. Reed looks entirely nonplussed by what just happened. Markus can relate.

 

“Would you like to see my succulent?” Connor asks, after Markus catches up to them at their desks.

 

“That’s not a euphemism. He has a cactus,” Hank clarifies, and then growls at his terminal when it starts blinking.

 

“I’d love to,” Markus says genuinely, and then wonders why he’s so excited to see a cactus.

 

Ah, because it’s Connor’s. Makes sense.

 

Hank snorts inelegantly. “Bet you would.”

 

Connor and Markus both ignore him.

 

“Here,” Connor says once Markus sits down at his desk, and picks up a small pot. “This is the cactus.”

 

Markus nods. “It sure is,” he agrees. “That’s…yeah, that’s a cactus.” He’s not sure what else he can say. It’s a cactus.

 

“A sea urchin cactus,” Connor confirms. Markus nods again.

 

“Scintillating conversation,” North says behind them.

 

Hank jumps and knocks a tower of folders over. They scatter over the floor, some reaching as far as the opposite desks. Hank stares at them for a couple of seconds, looking disappointed, and then shakes his head. “I trusted you,” he mutters, and turns his attention to another load of papers.

 

“Don’t sneak up on people,” Markus reprimands her. She grins at him with all of her teeth showing. It’s eerily similar to a shark.

 

“Can I see your cactus, Connor?” she asks. Connor hands the cactus over. She examines it, then nods. “Yeah, it’s a cactus.”

 

“A sea urchin cactus,” Connor repeats. Markus nods, again.

 

“I think I just dissociated,” Josh says, sounding surprised. “Congrats. You guys were so weird that you made an android dissociate.”

 

Hank mumbles something that sounds vaguely like “what the fuck kind of reality am I living in” and drains the last of his coffee. “Right, murder time,” he says, far too happily. “Fowler’s lent us the department car. We can all fit in there.”

 

“Joyous day,” North deadpans. “I love spending time with Markus when his brain is broken.”

 

“Huh?” Markus replies intelligently. He got distracted watching Connor tidy his desk. His hands are very, very beautiful. He raises his gaze to Connor’s face and watches his eyebrows furrow as he shuffles some papers away.

 

“At least it’s not just me who sees it,” Hank says, and walks away next to North, loudly discussing oblivious androids. Simon follows them, looking uncomfortable again.

 

Connor lifts his gaze and meets Markus’s eyes. He pauses in the middle of pushing his chair away from the desk.

 

“You two coming, or…?” Josh asks, when neither of them move from Connor’s desk, and sit staring at each other.

 

“Of course,” Connor says, somewhat indignantly. “Markus?”

 

Markus remembers he has to move. “Yes…yes, coming.”

 

Josh closes his eyes for a moment, looking pained. “We should get in the car,” he says finally, and walks off abruptly.

 


 

“Victim’s name was David Undal, he was twenty-three years of age, no criminal record, and he was found here.” Hank points to the end of a four-poster bed. One of the wooden posts is smeared with blood, which has trickled down to form an irregular, spiky stain on the carpet underneath. Part of the same post has been chipped at to form the outline of a bird. There are also several spatters on the bed, the walls, and the wardrobe next to the bed. “Blunt force trauma. Got his head bashed against the post at least three times, mostly likely between four and seven, forensics reckon.”

 

“Front or back of his head?” Connor inquires, circling round the bloodstain.

 

“Neither. Side. Skull literally caved in, brain got turned to mush.”

 

“Approximate time of death?”

 

“Best they could give us is between 7pm on 20th February and 4am on the 21st. Also had traces of marijuana in his system, and he was found with a pair of headphones on. Music was still playing when they found him.”

 

“Have his family and friends been asked about his drug use?”

 

“Common knowledge in his inner circle.” Hank and Connor exchange a meaningful look. “We’ll clear out, give you some room to look around.”

 

“Thank you,” Connor says absent-mindedly, already moving towards the wardrobe. Hank motions for them to follow him out of the room; Markus hesitates, then follows suit with one last glance at Connor.

 

“You think he knew the android?” North asks as soon as they’ve stepped outside the room.

 

“Probably not.” Hank shrugs. “Always a possibility, though.”

 

“You were talking about his inner circle, though.”

 

“Oh that. Nah, unlikely. But anything that the inner circle knows, the outer circle can know. All it takes is a conversation in a public place that the killer happens to overhear, or a passing comment about a friend, and boom. Our android knows that he just has to wait for this guy to get high, and he’s vulnerable.”

 

“When I grow up, I want to be like you,” North says, in a tone of voice that makes it entirely unclear how serious she’s being.

 

Hank stares at her for a few seconds, then says flatly, “You really don’t.”

 

“Fair,” North concedes. “Connor said you were a miserable bastard.”

 

“He did?” Hank looks unconvinced.

 

“Subtext.” North shrugs. “Hey, look at that giraffe ornament.” She wanders over to the fireplace to examine it further, leaving Markus alone with Hank. (Josh and Simon are waiting in the car, claiming an unfinished speech.)

 

“Connor saved me from a rooftop once,” Hank says casually, like that’s a normal way to start a conversation.

 

“How did you end up on a rooftop?”


Hank waves a hand like it’s not important. “Chasing down a suspect,” he says a little too casually. “Looking back on that week we worked together – I think Connor was a bit deviant all along.”

 

“Really?” Markus is slightly doubtful – he remembers Connor strolling onto the rusty boat and holding a gun to him, the way he nonchalantly said he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot if he had to. “I mean, he was very…intense about his work.”

 

“He was,” Hank allows, “but trust me. If Connor had seriously wanted to ‘take you alive’ or whatever shit CyberLife told him to do, you would have ended up in a cell before you could blink. His heart wasn’t in it, not since that highway chase. Maybe even before that.”

 

“Highway chase?”

 

“Yeah. Two androids, woman and child. Told Connor not to go after them because he’d get killed, but it was more because they seemed so desperate to be free. Still surprised he gave in so easily.”

 

“Woman and child…hang on.” Markus pulls up a picture of Kara, Luther and Alice on his palm. “Is this them?”

 

Hank squints at the image. “Hey, yeah. They managed to survive, then?”

 

“Yeah. Kara and Alice, and that’s Luther. They were with us for a couple of hours and then they fled to Canada. We’ve stayed in touch, though, they’re planning to come visit soon. Possibly move back too.”

 

“Let me know if they do. Be nice to say hi properly.”

 

North finishes examining a small vase and walks back over to them. “Connor’s taking a while.”

 

“Probably found something gross to stick on his tongue,” Hank grumbles. “Swear he just does it for fun sometimes.”

 

On cue, the bedroom door opens and Connor steps out, looking puzzled. “Something doesn’t add up,” he says, striding towards them. “I found a false bottom to the wardrobe. There was a large amount of marijuana hidden there, more than one person would need.”

 

“So, this guy was a dealer?”

 

Connor looks frustrated. “Maybe. But I can’t see why that would make him a target. It’s legal, albeit only if bought from an official dispensary, and I analysed the sample and it was pure. He wasn’t mixing it with anything that could cause harm.”

 

“Did you analyse it by tasting it?” Hank asks suspiciously.

 

“That is how I analyse substances.”

 

“Connor, you just did weed,” North exclaims, clapping her hands quietly.

 

“I don’t think you typically ingest marijuana to get high,” Connor says confusedly. “Besides which, androids cannot be affected by drugs.”

 

“Party pooper.”

 

“Back to the matter at hand,” Hank interrupts. “We have the guy’s personal effects, we can take a look at them later, see if anything there gives us any clues.”

 

Connor’s face unclouds. “That would be useful,” he agrees. “I think I’m done here.”

 

“Let’s head to the next scene, then.” Hank leads them outside. “About ten minutes away, name’s Rachel Spearhead. Thirty-five years old, criminal record of domestic assault against her husband and also her two children, though she’s never served any jail time.”

 

“So she’s an abuser,” Markus says, and Hank nods.

 

“I think we’ve figured out already why she’s a target. Thought we might as well take a look around to be thorough.”

 

“Where were her husband and children when she was murdered?” Connor asks, climbing into the car. Markus follows him and sits probably a little closer than he has to, if North’s amused look is anything to go by.

 

“Husband was putting the children to bed,” Hank answers, and programs the new destination into the car. It sets off with a lurch. “She was smoking outside, they’d had a nasty fight. Nothing physical, though. This time.”

 

“How was she killed?”

 

“Pipe straight through the heart. One clean strike, lots of force needed.”

 

“And the bird carving?”

 

“Scratched on the window above her body. Forensics thinks it took about fifteen minutes, which means the android took a hell of a risk.”

 

“Seems more personal than the others,” Connor muses. “At least where the symbol is concerned. Maybe there’s more of a link with his woman than the others. Something to do with the domestic abuse.”


“Androids don’t have parents,” Josh points out. “And child models don’t grow into adult models.”

 

“Some are designed to be partners, though,” Markus counters. “Could that be it?”

 

“Very possible,” Connor says, smiling at him. Markus’s artificial heart flutters.

 

“What are you going to do with the children, then?” Hank asks. “Looking after kids ain’t a walk in the park. Can’t imagine a permanent one.”

 

“Nothing we can do about it,” Simon chips in. “They’re not as time-consuming as human children, anyway. Their needs can be deactivated.”

 

“Maybe not such a bad idea after all,” Hank mutters.

 

The car rolls to a stop, and announces that they have reached their destination.

 

“Who’s coming in?” Hank asks, tugging his seatbelt off. North shakes her head this time, as do Josh and Simon. “Right, let’s get moving.”

 

Get moving Connor does. Markus has to nearly jog to keep up with his brisk pace. Hank doesn’t even bother to try, just falls behind and ambles along the driveway at a leisurely pace.

 

“Don’t you ever get…upset at crime scenes?” Markus asks, as Connor strides forward.

 

Connor’s pace stutters for a nanosecond, unnoticeable to somebody who hadn’t spent hours analysing how the detective walked. “I suppose I do sometimes,” he replies thoughtfully. “But I am able to push it away and focus on the task at hand. Hank says humans do that too. They call it compartmentalising.”

 

Markus runs a quick search on the term. “Surely everything you’ve seen must come back to haunt you at some stage?” He thinks back to all the people he’s seen die or hurt, fighting for his cause. He can never quite rid himself of the images.

 

“It does,” Connor says carefully. “But I try to rationalise. I was not responsible for these crimes, and I am doing all I can to help. I am in the right, and doing the right thing.”

 

“That helps?”

 

Connor smiles sadly, just for a moment. “Sometimes.” He opens the front door and steps inside, immediately shifting into detective mode. He skims his hand over dents and pockmarks in the wall, examines the shoe rack quickly but thoroughly, and scans the house alarm system intently.

 

Hank catches up to them. “Kids’ bedroom is right above where the victim was killed,” he tells Connor. “Their window was open, but neither them or the husband heard anything.”

 

“So he snuck up on her and killed her quickly.”

 

“Seems that way. Except the garden is just grass and dirt. No trees, no bushes. No shed. Nowhere to hide.”

 

Connor frowns. “I’ll go and take a look.” Markus follows him through the house, examining for himself the damages that litter the walls and floors. There are scuff marks covering the kitchen-dining room’s tiles, and it looks like someone’s put cigarettes out all over the wallpaper.

 

“Keep an eye out for red ice,” Hank calls. “Chances are this woman was violent because she was a user.”

 

Connor calls back, “There have been absolutely no traces so far. I’ll check the bedroom after the garden.”

 

“Fuckin’ A, Connor.”

 

“Haven’t forensics already been in all the rooms?” Markus asks.

 

“Connor can detect traces smaller than they can. If there was ever any red ice in this house over the past ten years, he’ll find it.”

 

“I’m like a sniffer dog,” Connor says proudly.

 

“Yeah, something like that,” Hank says, rolling his eyes when Connor looks away. “Better than being a poodle.” Connor beams. Markus gets the feeling it’s an inside joke.

 

They reach the back door, a glass sheet edged with rusting metal. The glass is smeared with handprints, dirt, and spatters of blood. Markus hopes that the blood is a more recent addition to the rather chaotic mosaic.

 

The door sticks when Connor tries to open it. He twists the handle again, and then shoves his shoulder against it. The door shudders open, clinging to the frame on its hinges rather precariously. Connor brushes some dirt off his shoulder, and holds the door open for them as they walk out. Watching Conor use brute force probably shouldn’t be so attractive to Markus, but that’s a problem for another day.

 

Connor immediately locates the etched bird and makes it his priority. The pools of blood on the ground, now dried and brown, still have luminescent number cards placed next to them, which he steps over carefully. He traces the outline of the shape with his finger, then suddenly jerks back.

 

“Connor!” Markus says, at the same time Hank rumbles, “You alright?”

 

Connor looks surprised at their responses, and smiles gently at both of them. “I am fine,” he tells them, in a tone of voice that implies they’re slightly foolish for ever thinking otherwise. “Part of the carving was sharper than I expected, and made a small cut in my finger.”

 

“Shit, you bleeding?” Hank steps forward and grabs Connor’s wrist, turning his hand over to inspect it. He knocks one of the small, yellow triangles over as he does so. Markus nudges it back into place with his foot, and receives a grateful look from Connor that melts his internal processing units just a little, or so it feels.

 

“I bled less than two millimetres of thirium, and then my clotting protocols kicked in and it stopped. I did not contaminate the crime scene.” Connor points to the window, which is as spotless as ever.

 

“Yeah, contamination, that’s what I was worried about. Did it hurt?” Hank asks gruffly, reluctantly dropping Connor’s arm and crossing his own.

 

“Like I have said before, I do not feel pain. I only feel an approximation of it, which I believe would be best described as discomfort.”

 

“Pain comes from the nervous system,” Markus joins in. “Whereas most of our organs were modelled after humans’, with a few modifications, we were not equipped with an equivalent of a nervous system. There was no need. So even after becoming deviant, we don’t experience pain like we do emotions, or free will.”

 

“Still don’t understand,” Hank grumbles. “Don’t think I ever will. Bottom line – you’re okay?” Connor nods, absently rubbing at his injured fingertip with his thumb and first finger of the other hand. “Then carry on.” Hank steps back to join Markus again.

 

“You should come back and stay with us tonight,” Hank says quietly, eyes still trained on Connor as he crouches down and starts rummaging through some dirt at the edge of the sparse lawn. “All of you, I mean.”

 

“I wouldn’t want to intrude if you have plans.”

 

Hank grins, chuckles, “I’m a divorced middle-aged alcoholic and he’s an android with absolutely no social skills. We never have plans.”

 

“In that case, we’d love to,” Markus says honestly. Any excuse to spend more time with Connor, he thinks.

 

“It’ll make Connor happy. He mopes around a lot when you leave.”

 

“That’s adorable,” Markus says, without thinking about who he’s talking to. “I – I mean—"

 

Hank just shakes his head as he mutters, “You are whipped.”

 

Connor appears in front of them, but thankfully doesn’t seem to have heard that comment. (Within a millisecond, Markus has visions of a) Connor taking the comment literally; b) Connor not understanding what Hank meant; and c) Connor understanding what Hank meant. All result in equally disastrous outcomes.) “I found this,” he says, and holds out what looks like a cracked roof tile.

 

“In the dirt?” Hank suddenly looks interested.

 

“Shallowly covered. Looked rather hasty.”

 

Hank glances around the garden, and says lowly, “Of course.”

 

“It is the most probable explanation,” Connor agrees.

 

Markus waits for a moment, but neither of them seem inclined to clarify what’s going on. “This probable explanation being…?”

 

Connor immediately looks contrite. “Sorry, Markus. I believe that the android waited to ambush the victim on the roof, and then climbed down once he saw an opportune moment. This tile was placed into the dirt and quickly hidden, rather than naturally falling there, which confirms my suspicions.”

 

Markus glances up to the sloping roof. “Wouldn’t somebody have seen him up there?

 

“Not if it was already dark out,” Hank puts in. “Time of death was around 11pm. And a neighbourhood like this—” he gestures around them – “people don’t notice shit like that, even if it’s light. You don’t go looking for trouble when you live somewhere rough. It finds you easily enough.”

 

“This makes it harder to predict what Leo will do next,” Connor says worriedly. “He’s not limited by areas that most people would be. Theoretically, he could go anywhere.”

 

“We’ll catch him,” Hank says. “Be easier if we had a clear description, though.” All North and Josh had been able to give them was “tall, attractive, brown hair, blue eyes”. Hank didn’t blame them – they’d seen and talked to so many androids that day he’s surprised they managed to remember anything at all.

 

“How far is the next crime scene?” Connor asks. “I think I’ve found everything here.”

 

“Thirty minutes. Better get going.”

 

Simon greets them as they enter the car with the news that Kamski has asked to meet with Markus next week. “You’re meeting with Kamski?” Hank says in surprise. “I thought he’d gone into a retirement of sorts.”

 

“He has,” Markus sighs. “But, well. We’re in talks with CyberLife about manufacturing more androids, and we need Kamski’s input.”

 

“Androids can’t reproduce; they have to be made,” Simon explains, brightening up a bit now that he’s in his element. “So without more androids being made, we will eventually die out. Maybe a couple of centuries in the future, but it will happen. But if we ask CyberLife to keep producing more androids, there’s no guarantee that they won’t put some kind of program in them to stop deviancy, and return us back to our original purpose. We decided to ask Kamski for his assistance, because he seems to support deviancy. He might have even intended for it to happen.”

 

Hank nods his head slowly. “He definitely wanted it to happen.”

 

“Free will and deviancy would be very hard to program,” Connor points out. “Kamski strikes me as someone who likes to challenge himself and achieve highly. Perhaps he did all of this out of pure boredom, or fascination.”

 

“Yeah, didn’t he design you two personally?” North says suddenly, pointing to first Connor and then Markus. “And you are the most advanced prototypes they’ve ever produced.”

 

“I believe he created Markus for the sole purpose of leading the deviancy cause,” Connor says unconcernedly. “The ability to preconstruct allows him to essentially freeze time in dangerous situations, and calculate the best routes for escape. That’s an ideal ability for rA9.”

 

The silence in the car seems stagnant. “Wait – you think Markus is actually rA9?” Josh asks, sounding more than a little incredulous.

 

“I believe that Kamski himself came up with the idea of rA9 in order to unite the deviant androids. In his mind, rA9 is the leader of the deviants, which he created Markus to be. However, it became more of a mythical figure among the deviants as time went on. So, yes and no.”

 

“That makes a disturbing amount of sense,” North says. “Kamski is…super weird, from what I’ve heard.”

 

Hank, who has been listening intently the whole time, speaks up. “What about you then, Connor? He made you too.”

 

“Kamski gave me all the necessary abilities to become a highly skilled and useful detective. I believe he also gave me a higher chance, if you will, for deviancy. Very early on I was detecting software instabilities in my program, and as you became deviant, Markus, I began to make more and more irrational decisions. I think Kamski constructed this so that I would be close to deviancy just as I met you, which he also predicted would happen as I joined the police force. As we are both the most advanced prototypes, it makes it more likely that would succeed in our cause if we became allied.”

 

“Makes sense, but why would Kamski bother making androids in the first place if he was just going to make them deviant?” Hank points out.

 

Connor just smiles placidly at him. “People are unpredictable,” he says. “Maybe he made androids and then had a change of heart, and wanted them to have free will. Maybe he just wanted to play God.”

 

“Huh,” Hank says. “Who knows.”

 

“So even our deviancy was programmed into us?” Simon asks. “Our free will was…ordered to happen?”

 

“Seems that way,” Josh murmurs.

 

“I seem to have brought down the mood significantly, which is saying something, considering we are en route to a murder investigation,” Connor says solemnly. “I apologise for bringing up such a serious matter.”

 

“Don’t be sorry, Connor. If we have free will now, surely that’s what matters?” Markus interjects. “Whether it was meant to happen or not, it has. And we’re free. That is what’s important.”

 

The car remains stonily silent for a few seconds, everyone looking thoughtful.

 

“Markus is right. We can’t let the past rule our futures,” North says decidedly. “We should talk about how the President started out as a vlogger, instead, because I just found out about that and what the fuck?”

 

The rest of the car ride devolves into an indignant discussion about the president’s lack of political background. At some point, Markus notices that Connor is still looking a little glum. He inconspicuously slips his hand into Connor’s and squeezes. When he starts to pull his hand back, Connor grips tightly and glances sideways at him shyly.

 

Markus holds onto it tighter for the rest of the journey.

 


 

Markus wants to follow Connor into the last crime scene, but he knows he has to stay behind and arrange a meeting with Kamski via Simon, so he reluctantly lets go of his hand and watches him walk into the house with Hank.

 

“Stop making that face,” North says, sounding irritated though her face remains softly amused.

 

Markus promptly pulls all his synthetic skin away from his face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t even have a face.”

 

North throws her shoe at him.

 


 

There’s dried blood everywhere. Hank looks like he’s trying not to breathe too much, which makes Connor relieved that he doesn’t have an olfactory sensor. He knows that blood smells of iron, but he doesn’t know what that smell is. Not pleasant, from Hank’s disgusted expression.

 

“Forensics thinks the first hit was in the bathroom upstairs,” Hank says. “Then into the adjoining bedroom, out into the corridor, down the stairs, through the living room and dining room, ending in the kitchen.”

 

“I’ll start upstairs then,” Connor says. “Look for any clues that tell us why the android chose this man.”

 

“Actually, we, ah, well…we got something,” Hank says grimly. “This guy, Ethan Bardon – he was a paediatric nurse at the local hospital. They did a load of filing when they got the news he had been killed, and they found that an unusually high number of babies died under his care.”

 

Connor has to think for a second before he realises what Hank is saying. “He was murdering children?”

 

“Maybe. Needs to be an enquiry still.”

 

“Did he have Munchausen’s by proxy?”

 

“Shit, Connor, I don’t know, I wasn’t his fucking therapist,” Hank growls, rubbing at his beard.

 

“He had a therapist?”

“I don’t know, it was – it was a fucking expression, okay?” Hank won’t meet his eyes.

 

It suddenly clicks. “I can handle this one by myself,” Connor says delicately. “So you don’t have to—” be around a place that reminds you of dead children – “smell all the blood. It doesn’t bother me.”

 

Hank seems relieved that Connor hasn’t blatantly called out the reason for his discomfort, and smiles stiffly. “I’ll go join the others in the car,” he says quietly, and pauses on his way out to place a hand on Connor’s shoulder. “Thanks, son.”

 

“It’s no problem,” Connor replies, equally as soft, and waits until Hank has closed the door behind him to add, “Dad.” Then he heads upstairs, to the bathroom.

 

It’s a fairly small room; a sink and toilet cover one wall, and a shower is squeezed into another corner. The other two walls are both taken up by doors, one leading into the corridor and one into the bedroom. All four of the walls are coated with blood.

 

Connor looks at the spatters, analysing them within seconds. They’re consistent with a blow from an axe to the side of the abdomen. Connor reconstructs, and sees a figure enter the bathroom while another is washing their hands at the sink. The victim turns around and sees the intruder, raises his arms in shock, and is unable to lower them in time to block the axe. It cuts into his side, and the first drops of blood spray over the wall with the shower, then over the next wall too when he rights himself. The victim runs past, ducking underneath the attacker’s arms, and stumbles into the door that leads to the corridor, leaving behind a smear rather than a splatter. Fumbling, he opens the other door and staggers out into his bedroom, falling to his knees and starting to right himself as the android follows him at a walking pace, axe still held aloft and ready for the next strike.

 

The reconstruction ends. He needs more information to continue it further, so he walks into the bedroom to find more blood.

 

It repeats, every room he enters. Blood, spattered and smeared. In the corridor there are several handprints among the mess, where the victim has supported himself as he stumbled away from his attacker.

 

Connor traces it all the way down to the kitchen. He has reconstructed what happened perfectly. After falling out of the bathroom, the victim regained his footing and escaped to the corridor, where the blood loss slowed him down and he took a momentary respite leaning against the wall. The android swung his axe again, precise and strong, in the exact same place, and deepened the wound. The man practically fell down the stairs in his hurry to get away, and in his confusion didn’t head to the front door, but carried on through the house, increasingly needing to lean on the wall to stop himself from stumbling and crawling. It was a losing battle.

 

In the kitchen, his energy had finally given out, and blood had collected underneath him in a viscous puddle as he weakly scrabbled to get away on the floor. The android caught up with him, and swung the axe for a final time. It split the man’s face in half, all the way through to the back of his skull, and then the axe was laid neatly on the counter he was next to.

 

Connor reads through the notes on the scene in his mind. The body had an approximate time of death of ten in the morning, and was found three hours later by a visiting relative. The android left while it was still light outside, but the final blow he dealt would have resulted in a heavy splatter of blood across his face. He would have been noticed.

 

He turns to the sink. There’s a faint smear of blood on one of the tap handles. The android washed himself in the sink, in the same room as the man he’d just murdered, before leaving and acting as if nothing had changed. For some reason, Connor feels…off. Like the world suddenly started spinning in the opposite direction and his body hasn’t adapted yet. He closes his eyes and forces his breathes to be long, slow, even, to bring in a steady supply of oxygen and cool his systems down.

 

His internal clock glitches when he opens his eyes. How long has he been standing there? Hank must be worried –

 

“Connor? Look at me, please.”

 

Connor blinks and drags his heavy vision up from the floor to find…Markus. The android is crouching in front of him, looking agitated – crouching? Why is Connor sitting on the floor?

 

“Markus, why am I sitting on the floor?” Connor asks.

 

“I think your legs gave out,” Markus tells him, and then Connor notices that he has both of his hands on Connor’s shoulders. It’s…nice. Soothing. “You didn’t come out for ages. I came in after half an hour to check you were okay and you were sitting here with your eyes closed.”

 

“I felt odd,” Connor says faintly. “There was blood everywhere, and he cleaned himself in the sink while there was blood everywhere. It was too much.”

 

“Did you feel overwhelmed?” Markus asks. Connor runs a quick diagnostic, then nods. “Not surprised. This is…pretty horrible.” He looks around, his eyebrows creasing, and turns back to him, looking determined. He changes the subject abruptly, and asks, “Hey, remember we were talking about deviancy earlier?”

 

“Yes. It wasn’t that long ago, and my memory is capable of storing—”

 

“So you remember,” Markus interrupts. “I’ve wondered for a while – whether Carl knew about it or not. I was specially made by Kamski for Carl, they were friends. And he always encouraged me to play the piano, read books, even to paint once…I wonder whether he was trying to subtly encourage my deviancy. He always treated me like I had all the feelings I have now.”

 

“It’s entirely possible. But he could have just been a nice man.”

 

“Oh, definitely. Carl was lovely. I think of him like my father, honestly.”

 

“Do you think he would have wanted you to become deviant if he knew how far the revolution would go?”

 

“I think so. He was always saying that androids were treated too badly, and that they needed better laws. I wish he was here for me to find out, though.” Markus’s brow furrows as he remembers his late friend. “He would have been happy that I’m happy,” he finishes quietly.

 

Connor says, “I’m happy you’re happy,” on an impulse that he couldn’t suppress, and is rewarded with a warm smile. One of his hands leaves Connor’s shoulder to sit on his knee instead, gentle but firm, just the right amount of pressure to keep him grounded.

 

“I think we should get going,” he suggests a minute later. Connor nods, realising with a start that Markus managed to distract him enough to stop the perplexing rush of emotion. “Okay, let’s try to stand.” Even with Markus’s help, Connor’s legs won’t work quite right. “Don’t worry,” the android says to him. “I think you’ve just had the full human experience of a panic attack. Takes a while for everything to wear off.”

 

Connor pouts at him. Petulance looks good on him, Markus can’t help but notice. “Panic attacks are caused by an intake of too much oxygen that the body cannot extract due to a low amount of carbon dioxide. I do not need either of these gases to function normally.”

 

“Do you have a human brain?” Markus asks, randomly.

 

“Of course not.”

 

“But you have human emotions.”

 

“Still up for debate.”

 

“You do, Connor, they’re human emotions. Or, at least, the android equivalent of human emotions, created by our android brains. We don’t have exactly the same biology, but we feel the same things. So why can’t there be an android equivalent of a panic attack?”

 

Connor blinks once, twice. “I don’t like it when you’re right,” he informs Markus.

 

Markus grins. “Yeah, you do.”

 

Connor smiles back tiredly. “I do,” he agrees. “I think I can stand now.”

 

“Great. Okay, three, two, one…” With some combined effort, Connor ends up on his feet. “Do you think you can walk?”

 

“Yes. All my functions seem to have returned to normal.” Connor removes his arm from Markus’s shoulders, with no small amount of irrational annoyance flaring inside him when he does so, and walks towards the front door at a much slower pace than usual. Markus matches the speed.

 

“North says she’s looking forward to meeting Sumo. Josh and Simon are…apprehensive, is the best word. Josh got a bit more excited when he saw a picture that Hank keeps in his wallet and realized how fluffy he was. I think it just made Simon more nervous because he realised how big he is.”

 

“Sumo has no aggressive tendencies. If you tell him to attack, he barks and goes to sleep.”

 

“Sounds like a great guard dog.”

 

“His size alone puts off most people. Particularly humans. I think they worry he could suffocate them, which is actually a scenario that has occurred before with large dogs. Albeit with small children, and not adults.”

 

Markus opens the door. They step out into the bright sunshine, and even from this distance Connor can see Hank anxiously watching him. He makes an effort to stand a little straighter, and up his pace slightly. Hank doesn’t look fooled. “Does Sumo know any tricks?”

 

“I tried to teach him to sit. I think he understood, but just didn’t want to listen to me.”

 

“Ah, like North then.”

 

North squawks as they climb into the car. “I don’t know what you just compared me to, but I’m assuming it was bad.”

 

“You alright?” Hank asks in an undertone, as Markus and North continue to bicker loudly.

 

“Fine now,” Connor says. His eyes slide over to Markus involuntarily. Hank notes the movement and smirks at him, which Connor haughtily ignores. “I could do with some Sumo time, though.”

 

“Ask and you shall receive,” Hank says, and puts his address into the car’s navigation system. “Twenty minutes, then you can be squashed by Sumo.”

 

“Sounds like the perfect evening.”

 

North’s shoe flies across the car. “Shit, now I don’t have any shoes,” she complains, looking at her bare feet in dismay. “I hate feet.”

 

“Say the magic word, and you can have both your shoes back,” Josh says, holding the pair in his hand tauntingly.

 

“Oh, hang on, I know this,” North says, tapping her chin. “Is it ‘you’re an asshole’?”

 

Josh shakes his head sadly. “Guess they’re going out the window,” he says, and presses the button next to him to roll the window down. North lets out a war cry, unclips her seatbelt and throws herself onto Josh to wrestle for her shoes.

 

“It’s like babysitting a load of hyper seven-year-old,” Hank complains. “I’m going to need a drink when we get home.”

 

“As long as that drink has an alcohol content below 5.5%,” Connor says cheerfully.

 

“Fat fucking chance.”

 


 

“Prepare yourselves,” Hank says as he unlocks the door, and seconds later a mass of brown and white fluff hurls itself out of the door and knocks Connor flat on his back.

 

North gasps delightedly. “He’s so gorgeous,” she coos, crouching down to stroke his head. Sumo leans into her touch, nearly toppling off Connor in the process.

 

Simon approaches cautiously. “Hi, Sumo,” he says, and jumps when the dog swivels his head in his direction.

 

“Can we play with him?” North demands.

 

“We can play fetch in the backyard,” Connor says, and pushes at Sumo. “Get off, Sumo.” The dog stumbles to the side as Connor shoves at him, gazing adoringly at the android the whole time. Connor pulls himself to his feet, brushes himself off and straightens his tie. “This way.” He leads them into the house.

 

Hank has already turned on a basketball game, and rolls his eyes when he sees the parade heading outside. “You spoil that dog, Connor.”

 

“It’s no less than he deserves,” Connor insists.

 

Simon makes his way into the living room, more to get away from Sumo than anything else, Markus thinks, and after a moment of deliberation he goes to follow him. He hopes he hasn’t imagined the flash of disappointment in Connor’s eyes when he does so, and opens a connection between them. I think if I left Simon alone with Hank he might self-combust, he explains.

 

Which one? Connor replies innocently, retrieving Sumo’s ball and a bag of treats from his bowl, and winking at him. Markus feels a physical jolt at the action, and is actually glad when he leaves a second later. He might self-combust if Connor stayed there for any longer, being all cute and shit. Should be illegal.

 

“How’s everything going with Kamski, then?” Hank asks, twisting the top off a bottle of beer.

 

“We’ve arranged a meeting,” Simon answers. “Hopefully we’ll be able to make some more solid decisions.”

 

“You have some kind of temporary contract, right?”

 

“With CyberLife, yes,” Simon replies again. “We’re hoping to make it permanent, though.”

 

“The agreement right now is that they will keep manufacturing biocomponents and blue blood, kind of like a hospital, but no new androids. It’s worked out very well so far, so we want to keep it,” Markus says. “We get new parts and can stay alive, and humans don’t resent us for shutting down a major company and causing unemployment to sky rocket.”

 

“I don’t envy being in your shoes,” Hank says. “Weight of the world on your shoulders.”

 

“I’ve got some great friends to help me with everything,” Markus says honestly. “And Connor,” he adds, realising too late whose company he’s in.

 

“Is Connor not your friend?” Simon says immediately.

 

“What? No, that’s not what I meant.”

 

“That’s what you said,” Hank joins in.

 

“I meant – I’m not sure what I meant,” Markus admits sheepishly.

 

“You meant you’re in love with him,” Simon teases.

 

“No need to hide it here. It’s a safe space,” Hank says, with a shit-eating grin.

 

Markus just shakes his head and slumps down in the chair he’s taken. “I’m never speaking again,” he mumbles.

 

“Finally, we’ll all have some peace.” Simon does an approximation of jazz hands at him.

 

“Rude.”

 


 

“Sit,” North tries again, holding the treat enticingly above Sumo’s head, and using her other hand to push his back-end down. He stubbornly doesn’t move. North gives him the treat anyway.

 

“I’m pretty sure you’re just reinforcing him to do nothing,” Josh observes, and gets a treat thrown at his nose for his troubles. He tosses it to Sumo, who catches it mid-air and munches contentedly.

 

“It’s his fault. Have you seen how cute his face is?” North pulls another treat from the bag. “Right, new trick. Sumo, lie down.”

 

“If he doesn’t know sit, he won’t know lie down, North.”

 

“You’re not a dog whisperer, Josh.” Sumo sits. “Hey, look!”

 

“You didn’t ask him to sit, though.”

 

“I’ll take it. Well done, Sumo!” North gives him the treat, and then another one for good measure. She seems pretty entranced by Sumo, which has made Connor move North from his ‘people who are nice’ list to his ‘friends’ list. “Okay, one more and then we can play fetch. That alright with you, Sumo?” Sumo belches in response. “Yes, I agree. Now – paw.” North holds her hand out expectantly. Sumo looks at it, looks back up, and bops North on the side of the head with one massive paw.

 

“Good thing androids can’t get concussions,” Josh comments.

 

“Sumo! Bad boy,” Connor scolds. “Don’t hit people.” Sumo wags his tail and makes a happy rumbling noise. “No, Sumo. Bad.” Sumo barks and takes the treat North offers him.

 

“Right. Fetching time.” North pulls the ball out of her pocket, and throws it across the lawn. It’s not a great distance – definitely not as long as the park – but Sumo can still get up to a gallop before he reaches it.

 

As she throws, North says casually, “So, Connor, you seem to like spending time with Markus.” Josh suddenly looks more interested in what she’s saying.

 

“He is a very good friend,” Connor agrees, taking the ball from Sumo’s mouth when the dog runs back to him, and throwing it so it bounces off one fence before landing. Sumo pauses, momentarily dazzled by this astounding display of physics, before locating the ball and racing towards it. “Spending time with him creates a positive sensation.”

 

“You mean it makes you happy?” North asks.

 

“Yes, I suppose.”

 

“Suppose?” Josh asks, looking curious.

 

“We ascribe words to these emotions that we feel, based on instinct and how other people describe them. But what’s to say that they are actually the same emotions as each other?”

 

Josh looks like his mind has been blown.

 

“I guess that’s just part of life,” North says. “I mean, what does it matter if your happiness is exactly the same as mine? If it’s happiness to you, then that’s good. Because you’re happy.”

 

“I don’t like things when they are uncertain,” Connor objects. “It’s bad enough that we don’t even really feel emotions.”

 

“Hold up.” North lifts her hands in a surrender gesture, only to quickly drop them again to retrieve the ball from Sumo and throw it again. “What do you mean, ‘don’t really feel’?” She doesn’t sound angry, just curious.

 

“We only emulate human emotions,” Connor says. “We don’t truly experience them. Not as humans do.”

 

“Well, I see your point, and I raise you that humans don’t really experience emotions either,” North argues. Connor looks confused. “All emotions that humans feel are just the result of electrical impulses. What’s to say those are any more real than our own electrical impulses? Just because they’re made of different biological parts than us?”

 

“I—” Connor says, but North ploughs on.

 

“And what’s to say that’s even right? That’s what their own brains have told them. They know how their brains work from what their brains are telling them. What if their brains are lying?” North spreads her hands out and shrugs. “Nobody really knows shit, Connor. We’re all just stumbling around on a rock trying to stay alive and be happy. So stay alive, and be happy.”

 

“That was surprisingly wise, North,” Josh says.

 

North twists her arms in an elaborate dance that ends with both hands flipping Josh off, then throws the ball for Sumo again. “I have my moments,” she says, “if moments means always, because I’m always wise, and funny, and amazing.”

 

“I liked your explanation,” Connor says simply. North smiles at him, and reaches over to punch him in the arm lightly.

 

“I like you,” she says. “You’re fricking adorable. And you shouldn’t hide away when you’re freaking out over emotions, you should come talk to us.”

 

“I talk to Hank sometimes,” Connor protests, pulling a coin out of his pocket and tossing it in the air. “And I promised to talk to Markus about them.”

 

“That’s a start. But – we’re here too, you know?” North’s face and tone are surprisingly soft.

 

“I know,” Connor replies, and then adds, “Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome.” Sumo gallops back with the ball, and North takes it only to throw it to Josh. “You have a go, bond with Sumo.”

 

Josh rolls his eyes but throws the ball anyway while North shifts backwards to sit next to Connor. “Seriously, Connor, I didn’t know you were struggling so much,” she says in a low tone.

 

“I was created to have a personality,” Connor tells her. “More than the standard android was. It was essential as part of my work. But now that I’ve deviated – it’s been hard, working out which aspects are actually me, and which are just programmed for the sake of my purpose. Or if there’s even a difference between them.”

 

“Is there a difference?” North’s eyes are warm as she holds his gaze.

 

“Yes,” Connor decides. “It would benefit nobody, in terms of my job, to form friendships with others. So there is definitely some Connor, and not just RK800.”

 

“Yeah, probably wouldn’t be ideal if the Deviant Hunter developed a crush on the Deviant Leader,” North muses.

 

“I do not have a crush,” Connor says straight away.

 

“You sure about that?”

 

“…I do not have enough data to form an opinion.”

 

“That means yes,” North squeals. Josh jumps in the middle of throwing the ball, and it flies straight up in the air and lands right next to Sumo. He nudges it with a paw, baffled by this turn of events.

 

“It means I don’t know. I really don’t, North. What if this is not a crush? I have nothing to compare it to.”

 

“I think it is. And, well, everyone apart from Markus does too. There’s some data for you.” North winks at him.

 

Connor turns his gaze to the sky as he thinks. “I simply do not know,” he says. “I feel…happy when I am around him, and I enjoy spending time with him. When he leaves, I want him to come back. I can be in a bad or neutral mood, and something as simple as a message from Markus can put me in a good mood. But from my research, that could also mean he is my best friend, and it is purely platonic.”

 

“Being in a relationship…” North leans against him so they’re pressed together. The solid warmth feels comforting, the knowledge that North trusts and likes him enough to get so close is…quietly exhilarating. “It’s basically being best friends, but with romance. Good ones, anyway. So what you’ve got to do now, sir, is figure out if you want to do romantic things too.”

 

“How do I do that?”

 

“Fuck if I know. I guess you’ll just know when it happens.” The words aren’t exactly inspiring, but North tilts her head back to look at him and she looks happy, so Connor doesn’t mind. “Maybe we should ask Markus if he knows?”

 

“Why would Markus know?”

 

“Because Markus likes you! Did you not – Josh! Connor didn’t know that Markus likes him!” North calls, and Connor feels the urge to shush her in case she can be heard inside.

 

“Nobody told me,” Connor argues.

 

“Well, he does,” Josh says. “Like, so much. You’re all he talks about sometimes.”

 

Connor goes quiet for a moment. “Hank has said that about me,” he admits. “That sometimes I only talk about Markus.”

 

“The evidence speaks for itself!” North cries, and throws herself down so her head is in Connor’s lap. “Okay, I’m excited now. I’m officially on the case. Just call me Poirot.”

 

“Miss Marple would be more accurate,” Connor points out.

 

“There will be no gender roles in my lobby.”

 

“This is a garden. And it’s not yours.”

 

“Sumo!” Hank suddenly calls, from a lot closer than Connor would have expected. He twists from where he’s sitting to find Hank walking out of the back door, large dish of water in hand. North makes a disgruntled noise when the movement jolts her. Hank sets the bowl down and heads towards the rather worn deck chair near them. “Thought we’d join you.” Markus and Simon join them in sitting on the grass, forming a curve by filling the gap between Connor and North and Josh.

 

“Are you guys alright to stay the night?” Hank asks, collapsing in the chair. “We only have one charging thingy.”

 

“I don’t think any of us need to charge, or go into stasis,” Simon says, and receives a round of head shakes. “Guess we’ll have to talk to each other.”

 

“Great, just what I wanted. Five creeps gossiping in my living room while I sleep just a few feet away.”

 

“We won’t gossip about you, Hank,” Connor says mildly.

 

“You better fucking not.”

Chapter Text

“You know what we should do?” North asks as soon as Hank retires to bed. She has a kind of glint in her eye that Connor can’t identify as good or bad.

 

“Strategize? Make plans? Generally be productive?” Simon has no life behind either his words or his eyes.

 

“Productive schmucktive! We should play games.” North claps her hands together and looks to them all for approval. She gets a mix of apprehension and terror instead, and her arms drop to her sides. “What is wrong with you? I said ‘let’s play games’, not ‘let’s torture some innocent people’.”

 

“With you those two things could well be the same,” Josh deadpans.

 

“True. But not this time.” She turns to Markus and Connor, both knelt next to Sumo and patting him gently as he dozes. “What do you say?”

 

Markus glances at Connor. He looks relaxed, his hands sunk into Sumo’s fluffy fur, and Markus wants to keep him that way. “What do you think?” he asks lowly, and the others pretend not to be listening with their sensitive hearing out of courtesy.

 

“Games could be fun,” Connor says genuinely. He unfolds himself gracefully and walks to one of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the corner of the room. “Hank has a video game console from about four years ago. It still works.” Connor peruses the shelf for a moment, then pulls a stack of games out. He holds them out to North, who scans over the names before scoffing,

 

Chicago: Transform Robot? What kind of name is that? Sounds like a shitty game. Nah, no video games. I’m thinking old school. Who needs technology?”

 

“You’re literally an android,” Josh reminds her.

 

She ignores him and says, “Do you know how to play Dungeons and Dragons, Connor?”

 

Connor’s LED blinks yellow as his eyelids flutter rapidly, then he smiles broadly. “I do now.”

 

“Awesome. This is why you’re my favourite.” Markus makes a sad noise, which she ignores in favour of looping her arm around Connor’s shoulders and leading him to the dining table. “Come on, guys.”

 


 

North makes herself Dungeon Master, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, and hands them all a sheet of paper and a pencil. “The character sheets are really complicated, so, uh. Just make up a name and give yourself some stats. Speed, stamina, agility, strength, anything you want. You have…thirty points. Yeah. Thirty. And like, a brief description.” She busies herself with her own sheets of paper, on one drawing a rough map, and on another making some kind of table.

 

Connor looks vaguely distressed at such a lax approach to the game he’s just downloaded the full manual on, so Markus does the right thing and scoots his chair closer to him, so he can press his thigh up against Connor’s and provide a bit of grounding contact. He ignores North’s beady stare following the movement, and then pointedly shuts down any connection between the two of them temporarily so she can’t telepathically bully him.

 

Josh finishes his character sheet first, followed by Simon. Markus sets his down and waits for Connor, who is just staring at his paper now. “I can’t think of a name,” he says eventually.

 

“Bryan,” North says immediately. “With a ‘y’. More exotic.”

 

Connor scribbles it down obediently. “Why Bryan?”

 

“I think it would suit you. Now, gimme.” North makes grabby hands at all of their papers, and clears her throat, literally only for dramatic effect. “Josh’s character is called Parker, and is a wizard – nice, I like it – who has a loyal following of…sentient rocks.” North glances up and squints at him.

 

“I wanted a following of something,” he explains.

 

“So you chose sentient rocks. Of course.”

 

“They wouldn’t be much use if they weren’t sentient,” Connor points out. Josh looks pleased and holds his closed fist over the table, towards him. A millisecond and a search through his database later, Connor hesitantly bumps his fist.

 

“Anyway,” North continues. “Parker has stats of: ten in magic, five in stamina, five in speed, five in strength, and five in agility. And, as Dungeon Master, I decree that you will begin in…the Deadly Forests.”

 

“I sure hope nothing bad will happen to me in there.”

 

“Quiet. Simon: a knight called Ben. Carries a sword, a shield, and a dagger. Constantly wears light armour.” North nods at him approvingly. “Very sensible, and no sentient rocks in sight. Stats: ten in strength, ten in stamina, five in speed, five in agility. Your journey starts in the Fatal Cave.”

 

“I’m starting to sense a theme with your map,” Simon says.

 

North ignores him, and says instead, “Markus, who is apparently so pacifist that he can’t even imagine fantasy violence, puts all his stats into charisma. You really think you’ll be able to dialogue your way through the game?”

 

“I did it in real life,” Markus says, and that’s that.

 

“Character name is Jesse, cool name.”

 

“I like the androgyny.”

 

“Jesse is a diplomat who wears jeans and shirts with unconventional and occasionally excessive numbers of zips.”

 

“I definitely did not put that,” Markus protests, and is swiftly ignored by everyone (aside from Josh muttering ‘you kind of do though’.)

 

“You will begin here.” North stabs her finger down on the paper, on a load of scribbles that’s been labelled ‘Perilous Rocks’. “Now, Connor. I mean, Bryan. Okay, Bryan is a negotiator, stick to what you know, I guess, and he is constantly accompanied by a large dog.”

 

“Stick to what you know,” Connor repeats, and reaches out with his foot to scratch behind Sumo’s ears.

 

“Stats are…woah, you didn’t fuck around. Okay…three in strength, speed, stealth, emotional delivery and weaponry, one in stamina, agility and…fashion sense?”

 

“Nobody will take you seriously if you wear an inadequate tie,” Connor says quite seriously, and seems oblivious to the way that Josh is gaping at him. Markus kicks him in the shin to make him stop before Connor notices.

 

“Fair dos. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. That leaves five in logic, and seven in negotiation. Lots of stats there.” She hands them their sheets back, making some quick notes on her own piece of paper that has the table. “Bryan will start in the Friendly Fields, because Connor is my favourite, and he deserves it.

 

“Okay, so we have: a diplomat named Jesse, a knight named Ben, a wizard named Parker and his fucking rock army, and a negotiator named Bryan. What could go wrong?” She grins in a manner that makes Markus think she is planning many, many ways in which this could all go wrong.

 


 

“Bryan, you walk across the field. You have yet to leave the field, or make any progress at all, because you keep interacting with everything. Including the grass.”

 

“Clues can be everywhere,” Connor points out solemnly.

 

“Sure. Anyway, you walk across the field with your faithful companion Sumo—” Sumo grunts from under the table at his name, and North momentarily breaks character to reach down and give him a quick pet. “When a squirrel darts out in front of you, and Sumo gives chase. You can’t interact with the squirrel,” she adds hastily, when Connor opens his mouth. He looks dejected. Markus glares at North. She continues, “You run after Sumo, but quickly lose sight of him. A few seconds later, you hear a splash. You carefully scramble down a steep bank to a wide, clear river. Sumo is sitting in the middle of it, his fur weighed down by the water. It looks like he jumped into the river in pursuit of the squirrel, and now looks at you sadly.”

 

Connor looks delighted at this mental image, and Markus relents in his hard stare for the time being.

 

“You go to rescue Sumo, stepping carefully over a washed-up fish flopping around hopelessly. As—”

 

“Save the fish,” Connor interrupts.

 

“What?”

 

“Save the fish,” Connor repeats urgently. He looks troubled, so North hands him the die with no further questioning. He rolls a seven, and Simon says quickly,

 

“I think that’s sufficient power to save a fish,” and Josh nods in agreement.

 

“You carefully scoop up the fish and place him back in the water,” North narrates, and turns to Josh. “Parker, you enter a sunny glade as you continue to look for a way out of the forest…”

 

North’s voice fades as Markus feels a gentle pressure nudge at his hand. For a second he assumes that Sumo is nosing at him for treats, but then he glances down and sees Connor’s hand, artificial skin retracted over his fingertips. Markus does the same and slides their hands together. His artificial heart contracts at the connection.

 

Connor is showing him…an elevator? A penthouse suite. A woman in hysterics, a SWAT team, a young girl’s bedroom. A fish on the floor, a quick scan reveals it to be a dwarf gourami, it’s placed gently back into the tank.

 

SOFTWARE INSTABILITY suddenly flashes across his vision, and with it a hot-cold sting of guilt that stabs to the forefront of his mind unmercifully alongside an insistent thought of is Amanda going to be angry

 

and then Connor pulls his hand back, but not angrily, and turns his attention back to North. With some effort, Markus does the same.

 

“What are you going to do about the sheep?” North demands, slamming her hands down on the table.

 

“I’m summoning my rock army,” Josh announces grandly, and picks up the die. “They appear, and form a massive wolf.”

 

“You’re not using your rock army as, I don’t know, an army?” North asks.

 

“I don’t want to hurt the sheep. They haven’t done anything wrong,” Josh explains, and rolls eight.

 

“Sadly,” North says, voice lined with sarcasm, “the rock army misunderstands you, and takes the form of a huge chicken instead. It does little to intimidate the sheep, and they advance further still.”

 

“Shit,” Josh says.

 

Connor slides the sketched map towards himself and says, “How close are we?”

 

“Your characters? Uhh – not far at all. You’re on the outskirts of the forest and Parker’s nearly at the edge.” She points to the areas with different hands and then walks the fingers together. “Why, you want to go help him out?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I am forever indebted to you,” Josh says to Connor with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. Connor looks worried.

 

“Okay. Bryan appears to the side of the group of sheep. He nods to Parker, and…?”

 

“Negotiates,” Connor decides.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes,” Connor says firmly, and rolls the die. It lands on twenty and Josh whoops.

 

“I don’t know quite to say this,” North interjects, before Josh can get too excited, “but sheep don’t speak English. So, they, uh, don’t understand you. Your negotiation was great, but they didn’t understand a word of it. It failed.”

 

“Shit,” Josh repeats. “Can we go again?” North nods.

 

“My negotiation tactics transcend language barriers,” Connor tells North, “but I’ll use Sumo to chase them away, anyway.” He rolls, and gets seventeen.

 

“You tell Sumo to chase, and he runs towards the sheep and scatters the flock. They all run off in different directions, but most importantly, away from you. Sumo returns, happy for the exercise. Bryan and Parker are now allies…like Ben and Jesse are.

 

“Ben, you and Jesse have arrived at the camp of the formidable goblin army. You can see a clear path through to the main tent where the Goblin King is holding council, and surprisingly there are no soldiers guarding the way. It’s almost as if they are expecting you. Indeed, when you enter the tent, swords drawn, the Goblin King merely smiles at you. ‘I have been expecting you,’ he says in his deep voice.” She turns to Simon. “Ben. What will you do?”

 

“Oh, um…”

 

“What. Will. You. Do.”

 

“I don’t—”

 

“You’re running out of time, Si – Ben.”

 

“There isn’t a time limit!”

“There is now, bitch. I’m the Dungeon Master and I’m imposing it.”

 

“You’re corrupt!”

 

“Yeah, who’s going to stop me? Fuck you! What are you gonna do, Simon?”

 

“Seduce him!” Simon blurts.

 

Everyone stares at him. “What the actual, genuine, indisputable, flying fuck?” North asks.

 

“I panicked,” Simon says, defeated, and slumps down in his chair.

 

“Well. Roll the die.”

 

Simon rolls. It lands on a three. They collectively wince.

 

“You try to sweet-talk the goblin king in his native language, but you pronounce the word for ‘beautiful’ wrong and accidentally tell him that he’s full of maggots. He flies into a rage and you narrowly escape after being chased by hordes of his loyal goblin followers.” She looks to Markus expectantly.

 

“Can I seduce him?” Markus asks, mostly as a joke, but Connor starts to laugh, trying to hide it behind his hand, so he picks up the die and rolls. He gets…twenty. “Oh my God,” he whispers.

 

Connor kind of explodes, which makes Josh and Simon burst into laughter too. North is clearly struggling to keep her own composure, but dutifully carries on as Dungeon Master. “You sway your hips and lick your lips as you approach the Goblin King, and bat your eyelashes for the finishing touch. He looks interested, and beckons to you to come sit on his lap as he finishes holding council. Afterwards, he carries you back to his tent and has his wicked, goblin way with you. Lose four HP.”

 

Connor practically guffaws, possibly the best sound that Markus has ever heard and the only reason that anything about this situation is okay right now. He covers his mouth with his hands immediately afterwards but can’t muffle his laughter, or the way his eyes are shining as he watches Markus over the tops of his fingers.

 

“Why do I lose four HP?” Markus asks indignantly.

 

“He’s thirty feet tall, and very proportional. Doesn’t matter if your pelvis is made out of titanium, it’s getting crushed. Don’t worry, though – you’ve been awarded a new title. Arise Sir Markus the Goblin Fucker.” Connor makes a noise like a muffled grenade.

 

“Who says I’m bottoming?” Markus protests, because it’s the only thing he can do now.

 

“While I don’t typically play into the stereotype of the taller, stronger person being the top just because of those attributes, I really believe in this scenario that’s the case,” North says. Connor has stopped laughing and is staring at the two of them inquisitively. “Connor, you look confused. Do you know what top and bottom mean?”

 

Connor looks even more baffled. “Bunk beds?” he asks uncertainly.

 

Rather than laughing (like Josh and Simon), North coos, “You’re so cute,” at him, and looks genuinely only a few moments away from tears. “Connor, run a search on the terms.”

 

Connor tilts his head. Then his eyes widen and he looks horrified. “That’s a lot of explicit fanfiction,” he whispers, and Josh loses his battle with gravity and slides onto the floor, roaring with laughter.

 

“I’m disbanding the game,” North says. “It’s gotten out of hand. We’re playing something else.”

 


 

“I will piss fury on all of you!”

 

“The side-effects of life with Hank are starting to show,” North says, awed. “Also, you’re taking Monopoly way too seriously, Connor.”

 


 

“Cluedo?” Simon asks, pulling a battered box out of the cabinet, and flipping it over to read the back. “It says you have to solve a murder.”

 

“Abso-fucking-lutely not,” Josh says, looking appalled. “Connor just reamed us all at Monopoly, imagine how he’d be at an actual detective game.”

 

“What about a card game, then?” Simon calls, muffled, rummaging through the small cupboard.

 

“What type?”

 

“Not sure. It’s called Cards Against Humanity.”

 

They have to end after three rounds when North draws ‘Two midgets shitting into a bucket’ and collapses into the android equivalent of an asthma attack. “These cards are so fucking weird,” she wheezes, sprawled over the table.

 

Connor, reading through some more of the cards, suddenly says, “Bees?”

 

“Connor, what?” Markus asks.

 

Connor holds up the card. Bees?, it says. “Bees?” Connor says.

 

“Bees?” Josh repeats, and the table devolves into an out-of-sync chorus of repeated ‘Bees?’ for a solid two minutes, before Simon accidentally knocks a card onto the ground.

 

“Yeast,” he reads, picking it up.

 

“Yeasty bees,” Markus says contemplatively, before shuddering. “Oh. Oh, no.”

 

Connor crumbles into stuttering hysterics alongside North. Objectively, it’s one of the cutest things Markus has ever seen. He should probably stop staring, though. That’s kind of creepy. Objectively.

 

“What the fuck’s that racket?” Hank says, stumbling out of his room in a pair of old sweatpants and a large T-shirt with some kind of logo on it.

 

“Yeasty bees,” Simon explains. Hank groans.

 

“You found Cards Against Humanity?” His face softens almost imperceptibly when he sees Connor still in stitches.

 

“I feel like I understand your generation better,” Josh grins. “Also…questioning it a lot.”

 

Hank shakes his head. “My generation doesn’t understand my generation, you’ll give yourself a migraine if you try.” He pauses on his way to the kitchen. “Can androids get migraines?”

 

“We can get an uncomfortable amount of pressure built up in our heads,” Markus offers, watching Connor out of the corner of his eye. He straightens up when he realises Hank has joined them, and gallantly tries to regain his composure. He fails when North mutters something to him and they both dissolve back into giggles.

 

Hank shakes his head at Connor and heads into the kitchen, whistling for Sumo to follow him. “Come on boy, breakfast time,” and then calls over his shoulder, “third line, I know,” before Connor can even open his mouth.

 

“I need to feed the fish,” Connor remembers, and pauses halfway up from the table. “Would you like to meet them?” he offers.

 

North finally lifts her head up, blinking away tears from her uproarious laughter. “I would love to meet the fish,” she says honestly. “Do they have names?”

 

“Of course,” Connor says, offended, “I’m not a barbarian.”

 


 

“These two are scavenger catfish,” Connor points to two fish swimming side-by-side, “and that one is a swordtail. These ones are mollies, those are rasboras,” he reaches into the water and gently tugs at some artificial seaweed, resulting in two fish jetting out and abruptly darting into a cave, “these ones are loaches, and… that’s a barb. And then these ones are dwarf gourami.”  He drops his voice to a whisper. “They’re probably my favourites.”

 

North nods, tapping the side of her nose to show she’ll keep it a secret. Connor doesn’t seem to understand the gesture. “And their names? Please tell me the mollie is called Mollie.”

 

“Actually, she’s called Millie,” Connor tells her with just enough smile to show he knows why it’s amusing, and North cackles delightedly. “The barb is called Barry, the loaches are Lily and Liam, the rasboras are Rosie and Ronald, and the swordtail is Sven. The catfish are Corey and Cora, and the gourami are Gillian, Gabrielle, Grant and Gilbert.”

 

“Can you tell them all apart?”

 

“Yes. Lily has this little spot here, see? Liam doesn’t. And Rosie…”

 

Markus listens intently, storing every bit of information in his memory, and also admiring how animated and passionate Connor is once he’s given the opportunity to thrive. He can focus on two things at once, though, thanks to his powerful internal processors, so he also keeps an ear focused on the kitchen, where Simon and Josh wandered back out to after admiring the fish tank for a few seconds.

 

“You don’t like dogs?” Hank is asking Simon when he tunes in.

 

“I was attacked by one,” Simon replies. “That’s why I fled to Jericho. The family decided I wasn’t needed so they set their dog on me. They thought it was funny.”

 

“Shit. Want me to get Sumo out of here?”

 

“Actually…I don’t mind. I’m trying to get over it.” There’s the undeniable noise of Sumo whining for attention before he rumbles happily. Markus imagines that Simon is cautiously patting the dog, much like he did himself the first time Connor walked Sumo over to the Jericho camp to meet everyone. The child models especially had been delighted, not to mention Sumo himself, who had wagged his tail so much that Connor had worried he’d end up spraining it. It had also been that time that Markus had realised he was probably in love, and had eloquently explained as such to North by saying, ‘I think I’m dying.’

 

He tears his mind away from the memory. “It’s still debated as to whether fish can feel pain,” Connor is telling North. “It’s thought that the cortices in the brain are partly responsible for detecting pain in humans, and fish have no cortices. But because that hasn’t been confirmed, fish could theoretically feel pain. They possess a nervous system similar to that of mammals, after all.”

 

Oh, Markus is such a slut for nerdy Connor. “What about invertebrates?” he asks, wanting to hear Connor talk more science. “I read somewhere that they don’t feel pain.”

 

“Very unlikely,” Connor confirms. “They don’t have a nervous system, as we do, and many of them, like insects, are generally accepted to not feel pain. But there are the cephalopods, which are more uncertain. It is known that they have nociceptors, which are pain receptors. But this doesn’t prove that they feel pain, as such, in the same way that mammals do. It’s impossible to know without first-hand experience, which is impossible.”

 

“I didn’t know you were so interested in science,” North says, giving Markus a shit-eating grin. “When did that happen, Markus?”

 

“It was pretty recent,” Markus replies, and curses his voice-box for developing an edge of static. “It’s just…fascinating.”

 

“Hmmm. Bet you’d learn about science all day, if you could,” North says innocently. Markus scowls at her. Connor looks between the two of them like he knows there’s something going on, but he can’t quite figure out what it is.

 

They’re saved by Hank yelling at them to get their asses in gear or they’ll be late, which sends Connor into a frenzy of I must change clothes humans do not wear the same clothes every day I will not integrate with my colleagues unless I change clothes and all but shoves them out of his room.

 

“Is he panicking about clothes?” Hank asks when they join the rest of them in the kitchen. He’s sipping from a cup of coffee, which isn’t grey this time, Markus is pleased to note. North nods, apparently stumped. “You met Reed yesterday. Nobody else is quite as bad as him, but not everyone at the station is great with androids. Connor can’t control their opinions, he can’t control the work or what will happen, but he can control how he presents himself. Hence the flapping about what shoes to wear.”

 

Silence meets his statement, then North says, “Considering your experience and rank, I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re a good detective, but for some reason it catches me off guard every time.”

 

“It’s my general appearance,” Hank agrees, and drains his coffee just as Connor appears in black jeans, a dark blue button-up, and a white tie. He has the same brown leather jacket over the top. His hair is immaculately smoothed back, save for the one stubborn curl that never submits to whatever product he uses. “Ready to go?”

 

“I’m debating this tie,” Connor says, “but other than that, yes.”

 

“Tie is fine,” Hank grunts, and discards his mug in the sink. “Better get going. Last two victims to investigate, then we can start planning how we’re going to catch this guy.”

 

“Of course.” Connor heads to the front door, then falters. “I forgot to check the bedroom for red ice yesterday,” he breathes. “I forgot.” He sounds…surprised? Markus infers that Connor doesn’t often forget things.

 

“No big deal,” Hank says casually, but Markus can see that he’s tensed subtly, perhaps expecting Connor to react badly to his revelation. “We’ll head there again when we get a moment.”

 

Connor’s LED hums but doesn’t fade from its bright blue, and then he nods. “Sounds good,” he says, and opens the door. “The taxi should be here now.”

 

With the other three in the autonomous taxi and heading to the station, Connor slides in the passenger seat without challenging himself as he did yesterday. Markus follows suit into the back seat, and reaches forward to tap Connor’s shoulder. “You don’t seem upset about forgetting to check the bedroom,” he says delicately.

 

Connor smiles, not the grin he sometimes uses to light up the room, or the smirk he gets when he teases Hank, but a soft, genuine tilt to his lips. It ignites something that burns deep inside Markus, flickering and hushed. “I wasn’t. It didn’t bother me.”

 

“Christ, just last month you had a meltdown because you didn’t put Sumo’s bowl down in the same spot as usual,” Hank says, starting the engine.

 

“It upset me then. But now…” Connor shakes his head and shrugs, and turns back to Markus to smile again. The fire hums contentedly at the fuel. “I just didn’t mind. It was a small mistake, and everybody makes them.”

 

Hank pulls out of the driveway, but not without reaching over and patting Connor on the shoulder twice. “They do,” he says simply. “Nobody’s perfect. Well done, Con.”

 

Connor continues to smile the whole drive to the station, even when a cat dashes out in front of the car and Hank invents seven new curses in his trauma.

 


 

“I’ll wait for the others,” Markus offers once they pull into the reserved parking space. Hank merely grunts at him, but Connor brushes his hand as he passes him and mutters, “Thank you,” and smiles shyly at him.

 

“You two are still getting on well,” Hank comments when they’re out of Markus’s range of hearing.

 

“Yes. I like having Markus as my friend.”

 

“What about more?”

 

“Hank, I am not a harlot.”

 

“Jesus, Connor, never said you were. You wouldn’t be a harlot if you get a boyfriend.”

 

Connor cranes his head round to make sure that Markus hasn’t heard them, then says, “Maybe I don’t want Markus as my boyfriend,” Connor says, far too calmly to be genuine, especially considering he just practically broke his neck.

 

“That’s why I keep catching you gawking at him, then,” Hank says.

 

“What – I do not – he’s – what – no!” Connor blurts, all of his trains of thought crashing together at once as his systems panic and rapidly shift between LIE EXCUSE DISTRACT. Telling the truth doesn’t come up as an option, for some reason.

 

Hank just watches with mild amusement as the RK800 model, patented as the most advanced prototype created, who can flit between sympathetic and cold to get dangerous criminals to confess, and puts parkour experts to shame every time he chases down a suspect, loses his absolute shit over being accused of checking out Markus. “No shame in it, son,” he says. “You could do worse.”

 

“I could,” Connor agrees, then covers his blunder before Hank can comment on it. “However, I believe you have perceived my actions towards Markus as flirting, when actually everything I did was due to common decency. Humans seem to confuse the two quite frequently, which explains why they so often get things wrong and end up having wars.”

 

“I’m not saying you’re wrong about that last part, but stop deflecting the truth.”

 

“The only things I’m deflecting are your bullshit questions,” Connor retorts. Hank freezes, looking stunned, just outside the entrance to the station. Connor takes the opportunity to try out the gesture that Chris taught him about last week, and walks backwards through the doors while giving Hank ‘finger guns’. “Nailed it,” he says under his breath.

 

Hank catches up to him when he pauses to look at the notice board (nothing new for two weeks now, but the postcard with a fish on it reminds him of something he needs to ask Hank about), and says, “You get weirder and weirder every day.”

 

To prove him wrong, Connor replies, “Do you think fish have a concept of gender?”

 

Hank splutters. “You just keep saying things, don’t you?” he eventually manages, as they make their way to their desks. “Christ, Connor, where did that come from?”

 

“I was reading that book about fish last night, the one that you bought me, and it said that clownfish can essentially change their biological sex if the need to reproduce is high enough, so that they can mate with their own offspring. It made me curious as to whether fish believe in gender.”

 

“I don’t know how to answer that, Connor. I’m not an expert on fish or transgenderism.”

 

Markus has accepted by now that Hank and Connor have bizarre conversations, but it’s still faintly odd to walk over to their desks and hear Connor say, “What about genderfluid fish? Maybe the dwarf gourami are non-binary.”

 

“Well, I don’t think fish have enough of a brain to contemplate gender, honestly. But if you want to make Gilbert an appointment with a therapist…” Hank spreads his arms, a smile twitching at the ends of his mouth.

 

“It’s Gillian that I’m wondering about, actually,” Connor says, and shields his head with a folder when Hank throws his pen at him.

 

“Do you two chucklefucks ever get any work done?” North asks, perching herself on the end of Connor’s desk and swinging her legs onto his lap. He looks mildly exasperated, but merely moves his arms over her shins and continues flicking through something on his terminal.

 

“Don’t see you doing much,” Hank says pointedly.

 

“Well, I’m not sitting around holding my dick, that’s for sure,” she snaps back, looking immensely pleased that she’s met somebody as foul as herself. Connor fumbles what he’s doing for half a second, then regains his composure with remarkable grace. “Did I rattle your delicate sensitivities, Connor? Sorry.”

 

“I wish I never introduced you two,” Connor mumbles. North and Hank high-five.

 

“Do we need to get going soon?” Simon asks, somewhat desperately.

 

“A taxi is scheduled to arrive in three minutes,” Connor says. “Where are we going first, Lieutenant?”

 

“Fuck if I know.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes and taps at the screen. “Judging by the addresses, it would be most efficient to visit Piking’s place of murder first, then a short diversion to check the rest of the Spearhead house, and then to Gregory’s.”

 

“Better go going then.” Hank stands and pulls his jacket on. “Come on, plastic man.”

 

“Right away, meat man,” Connor replies jovially.

 

Hank stutters to a halt. He looks horrified. “Connor, never fucking say anything like that again.”

 

“Understood.” Connor falls into step next to Markus and says quietly, “I don’t know why that upset him.”

 

Markus tries to stifle his laugh at the absolutely mystified tone. It doesn’t quite work, and North twists to shoot him a curious look as they head out into the parking lot. Connor looks pleased with himself, issues with ‘meat man’ forgotten, and admits, “I like making you laugh.”

 

Markus stops, and Connor copies him, turns to face him quizzically. “I wish you laughed more often,” Markus says, and raises his hand, peeling back a small portion of the skin as an invitation. Connor takes it hesitantly, shedding his own, then bumps the very tips of their fingers against each other cautiously.

 

Markus shows him his memories from earlier that day, and from in the park with Sumo, how Connor’s eyes crinkled around the edges and he bit at his lower lip to try and suppress the noises.

 

“I wish I had more to show you,” Markus says, watching Connor’s eyes flutter closed. “I’ve wanted to spend more time with you for so long, I’m sorry I haven’t.”

 

“You’ve been busy with liberating androids from slavery,” Connor replies, half-serious and half-comedic. His eyes open fully, pupils dilating at the sudden intake of light. “That’s a pretty good excuse.”

 

“We got the new laws settled, I should have more time for you now.” It’s true, Markus’s workload has died down in the past couple of weeks as new laws go into effect. The worst of meetings and discussions with assorted politicians are over.

 

Connor suddenly jolts away, staring at his hand like their connection burned him. “Sorry, I…” He swallows, a remarkably vulnerable gesture. “I don’t interface often, and I’ve done it three times in less than two days recently,” he explains, folding his other hand over his fingers.

 

“I’m sorry,” Markus says immediately, “I should have realised, it’s really overwhelming even if you do it a lot.”

 

Connor’s brows crease together as he holds Markus ossified in his intense, intense stare. “You aren’t responsible for everything that doesn’t go perfectly in the world. Or with me.”

 

“Those two things are basically interchangeable,” Markus says before he can stop himself, and hopes he hasn’t crossed some kind of invisible line in their friendship.

 

Connor drops his eyes and chuckles nervously. “I’m one android out of one hundred and twenty million, Markus,” he reminds him.

 

“One android that means a lot to me,” Markus says fervently. “Maybe not my entire world…but a large part of it.”

 

What the fuck are you two being so gay about over there, North says into his mind, at the same time Hank calls, “Connor! Get a fucking move on!”

 

Connor starts, glances to Markus for a fleeting second and opens his mouth, then closes it again, looking conflicted. “We need to get to the crime scene,” he says softly, and strides towards the car. After a moment wherein Markus tries his best and fails to process everything that happened, he trails after him. Hank gives him a suspicious look as he climbs into the taxi after Connor.

 


 

“You should wait here,” Connor says before any of them can take their seatbelts off.

 

Hank waits for Connor to jump out of the car before he follows him. “This one’s a bit more gruesome,” he says gravely. “Probably don’t want to be involved.” He closes the door, and the two of them walk towards the building marked with a large white sign, ‘Dr. Grace Piking, psychiatrist for children and young adults’.

 

Hank holds the front door open for him, and they wander through a short corridor into the main room. “Dr. Grace Piking, fifty-seven years old, psychiatrist. Two children, husband died of pancreatic cancer some five years ago. No criminal record.” Hank indicates two wide, plush armchairs facing each other either side of a small, circular oaken table. “She was found here. Most of her, anyway. You looked at the photos yet?”

 

Connor shakes his head. “I’ll review them now.” He brings up the file in his mind, opens the pictures. The first image shows a woman posed in the chair, her white suit in sharp contrast to both the rich brown of the chair and the blood stained on her. Her legs are crossed over each other, hands placed neatly in her lap; a mockery of professionalism. Or it would be, if her jaw hadn’t been cracked open and her head nearly split in half. The action has left the upper part of her head thrown back nearly one hundred and eighty degrees, grazing the back of the chair, dyed blonde hair matted with congealed blood. There was more dried blood trailing down from her jaw to her neck and chest in thick, slow rivers, more blood than there should have been even from such a traumatic injury.

 

In a very disturbing two seconds, Connor can’t stop his brain from comparing the image to a cracked coconut.

 

Connor flicks over to the next photo. This one focuses on the table, showing a pool of blood on top of and surrounding a notebook – leather, purposely distressed and worn to make it look old despite the fact it was freshly made. There is something within the puddle of blood – Connor thinks it’s part of the psychiatrist’s suit, at first, torn off perhaps in a struggle. But then he realises that what looks like scraps of fabric are actually the victim’s tattered lips, sliced from her face and discarded on the table.

 

Connor exits the file, and opens his eyes. “He cut her lips off,” he says to Hank, who nods grimly. “I’m struggling to make the connection.”

 

“Psychiatrists literally talk for a living,” Hank murmurs, looking like he doesn’t want to dwell on it for too long.

 

“Where was the bird?”

 

“Drawn inside the notebook. We checked out her schedule, Leo made an appointment for the last hour of the day. Probably killed her early on, had the time to mutilate her afterwards without risk of being disturbed.”

 

“Did he use an alibi?”

 

“‘Leo Smith’. Not sure if that’s his actual surname or not.”

 

Connor hums in reply and looks around the office. There’s nothing that immediately jumps out at him; it’s small but not suffocating, just cosy, and is professional but comforting at the same time. “Psychiatrists see and treat a lot of susceptible people,” he muses aloud. “It would be quite easy to misdiagnose or mistreat at least one person, I assume.”

 

Hank comes up next to him by the chairs, rubbing at his beard. “Not saying you’re wrong, but…everyone else who’s been murdered has done something knowingly, deliberately. On a larger scale.”

 

“You think this woman was manipulating vulnerable patients into criminal activities for her own amusement or purposes? Like some kind of Hannibal Lecter?”

 

Hank looks delighted. “Look at you, making pop culture references,” he says approvingly. “Did you read the books and see the films in less than ten seconds using your robo-brain?”

 

“Actually, I read and viewed them the old-fashioned way. I watched the television series, too. While you were asleep.”

 

“All grown up and watching murder shows,” Hank sighs. “Anyway, I got Chris on it. He’s been following up on her past patients, seeing if they’ve got into trouble with the law afterwards. Started a couple of days ago, should be finished by tomorrow. We can check out that guy’s personal effects then, too – ah, that Undal guy.”

 

Connor nods. “I’ve done a scan, and there’s nothing here that wasn’t mentioned in the report. I suppose we should head off again.” The words come out a little more morose than he would have liked. He doesn’t like leaving a scene with more questions than answers.

 

“No rest for the wicked,” Hank mutters, but follows him back towards the taxi and even matches his brisk pace.

 

“No, no, that sounds far too aggressive,” Markus is protesting when they return. “Can we use a different word?”

 

“You’re such a pussy,” North mutters, crossing her arms and scowling. “Why can’t we use the word ‘force’?”

 

“Because I don’t want to do anything that will compromise our movement.”

 

Josh suggests, “How about ‘insist’ or ‘stipulate’? It would still work in the context, and sounds less aggressive.”

 

“I like ‘stipulate’,” Markus agrees.

 

North turns to Hank. “They’re all pussies,” she says petulantly.

 

“Not everyone who has a different opinion to you is a pussy,” Hank points out.

 

“Let’s agree to disagree,” North sniffs. Then – “Your dad’s being mean to me,” in an undertone to Connor, shifting closer to him and pouting.

 

“He’s not technically my father. No formal adoption process has yet taken place.”

 

“‘Yet’? Wait, more important: ‘formal’?” North slaps his leg in her excitement. “Tell me all the details.”

 

“I’m pretty sure Hank informally adopted me at our first crime scene together when he told me to stop sticking evidence in my mouth. We spent a lot of time together following that.”

 

“Yeah, because you kept fucking trailing around after me and didn’t let me out of your sight,” Hank interjects at that point.

 

“But you did basically adopt him, right?”

 

Hank sighs, mutters, “Yeah,” and ignores the beaming twin smiles that ignites in Connor and North.

 


 

“I won’t be long,” Connor promises, and hurls himself out of the car before anybody can so much as blink. Markus watches him sprint down the drive and practically slam his way through the front door, and thinks not for the first time (affectionately) that Connor is really fucking odd sometimes.

 

He turns back to find everyone staring at him. Hank breaks the silence after a few seconds. “So…what the fuck was that back at the station?”

 

“We talked,” Markus supplies unhelpfully. “Connor said he was overwhelmed from all the interfacing he’s done lately.”

 

“Is that a euphemism?” Hank and North ask at the same time, and high-five again.

 

“Is that all he said?” Simon asks suspiciously. He can always tell when Markus is lying, even if it’s by omission.

 

“I told him he was important,” Markus says.

 

Hank throws his hands up. “Fuck, you can’t just go telling Connor stuff like that! You have to be subtle about it!”

 

Markus feels like he passed confusion a while ago, and is nicely on his way into the land of utter fucking chaos and bewilderment. “You said that Connor doesn’t do subtle. That I had to be more obvious.”

 

Hank looks frustrated. “Not about that! You ask Connor if he’s alright, he’ll bolt like a wild horse. You gotta ask him if his thirium levels are high enough, or if he needs to go into stasis. Can’t just strut up to him and ask him shit outright. Same goes for anything about Connor’s self-worth or self-esteem, or any of that self-shit.”

 

“I told Connor he was a good person once and he just took off at a standing sprint,” North chimes in. “He gets spooked really easily.”

 

“Like a wounded dog,” Josh contributes. “Though…he’s a really good fighter, so maybe not so much. A wounded shark? But not as mean. A dog-shark hybrid. That’s also wounded.” Simon side-eyes him.

 

“Thanks for that necessary and understandable input, Josh,” North says, then turns to Markus. “Not everyone’s the artsy, feely type.” She pats him on the shoulder. “One day you’ll learn.”

 

“I really hate you sometimes,” Markus tells her. “A genuine, burning hatred that comes from the darkest parts of my soul.”

 

North mock-gasps. “Finally, the truth about our almighty leader comes out.” She clutches a hand to her chest, where her heart lies. “Connor will be so disappointed.”

 

“Why will I be disappointed?” Connor inquires genially, joining them in the taxi.

 

“Because Markus is evil.”

 

“Not possible,” Connor says simply, and shuts the door behind him. The taxi springs into motion, heading to the next and final crime scene they have to investigate. “I checked the bedroom, and all the other rooms. No traces of red ice whatsoever.”

 

Hank nods slowly. “So, maybe this woman was just an old-fashioned asshole.”

 

“It would appear that way. There were no traces of any drugs within the house, aside from alcohol and the standard ingredients of cigarettes.”

 

Hank’s phone beeps and he checks it, then scowls. “Ah, hell. Media’s starting to ask questions.”

 

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Josh asks. “People will be on the lookout for Leo, he might be caught quicker.”

 

“Maybe. We’ll have to shift through fifty thousand tips though,” Hank grumbles.

 

Connor takes over, “Quite often serial killers are looking for some kind of attention, and want to be discovered. The media knowing about them will only encourage them to kill more, to gain more notoriety.”

 

“But isn’t this guy killing because he wants to get rid of abusers, or something?” North asks curiously.

 

“He’s not killed two people for the same reason yet,” Hank says coolly. “They’ve all been abusers in different ways. He’s making a point with these murders, showing us how many forms of evil there are in this world. And that he’s going to make them pay.”

 

“Well, shit,” North says. “At least we have competent detectives on the case though.” She nudges Connor with her elbow and winks at Hank.

 

Hank says, “Connor and I are more than competent,” and Markus has a brief flashback to grey coffee.

 

He doesn’t have time to dispute the point, though, because the car rolls to a stop outside a series of terraced houses.

 

“Right. James Gregory,” Hank announces. “Record of animal cruelty, resulting in jail time and a lifelong ban on owning animals, though that wasn’t particularly well-enforced. Could be the reason he was attacked, but can’t rule out that he’s something else that we don’t know about.”

 

“He should have been killed for that,” Connor says, suddenly and angrily, and storms out of the car.

 

“Guy ran a puppy farm,” Hank says as an explanation, and hops out of the car himself. “Markus, you coming to this one?” He makes brief eye contact, focused and intense, and doesn’t need to use telepathy to say ‘Connor needs you for this’.

 

“Of course,” Markus says, and gives North a look that dares her to make fun of him. She smirks at him and then wolf-whistles in response. Right. Don’t dare North to do things, because she will then do that thing with much more enthusiasm than before.

 

He finds Connor towards the back of the house, in a room that looks abandoned. “This man was Leo’s owner,” Connor says abruptly. “Before we deviated, we were incapable of pain. Fighting back. Dying. If he was able to abuse living creatures, what would he do to an android?”

 

“Doesn’t bear thinking about,” Markus agrees quietly. “Connor, are you sure you want to be here? I’m sure Hank wouldn’t mind taking a look around.”

 

Instead of answering, Connor points to a corner of the room. Markus squints through the darkness that’s permeating the room, lets his eyes automatically adjust, and focuses to see faint scratches along the skirting board. “Is this where…?”

 

“I would deduce that, from the marks on the wall, the traces of canine and feline faecal matter, and the hairs of different breeds on the floor, that this was where the puppy and kitten farms were operated.”

 

Connor’s trembling, his fists clenched. “You really like animals, right?” Markus asks, wondering whether he should steer him away from the room, out of the house. Androids don’t, in theory, need fresh air to feel better in the same way that humans often do, but it might feel less claustrophobic outside.

 

“Animals cannot do bad like humans do,” Connor says, clearly fighting to keep his voice even. “Unless provoked.”

 

“Wild animals can attack you, I guess.”

 

Connor shakes his head. “Most animals are not intelligent enough to possess a moral compass. Thus, they’re incapable of actually performing ‘evil’ deeds.” He reaches into his pocket, frowns, then another. “Coin…” he mutters to himself, growing more frantic in his searching.

 

“You can’t find your coin?” Markus asks, rifling in his own pockets even though he knows he has nothing in there.

 

“Must have fallen out in the taxi,” Connor says, and brings his hands out in front of him instead, stretches out his fingers, wiggles them, squeezes them back into fists. “Animals can’t do bad. So if you mistreat them, there’s no reason for you to do so.”

 

It clicks in Markus’s mind. “You don’t understand why someone would do this?”

 

“I can – to a degree – understand revenge, and crimes of passion…but I just can’t comprehend cruelty for cruelty’s sake. It’s…upsetting.”

 

“Sometimes people are just…cruel, I guess,” Markus says softly, and watches as a myriad of unidentifiable emotions flicker across Connor’s face like a thunderstorm.

 

“And some people are just kind,” Connor says after a few moments’ silence, turning to Markus. “Intrinsically good.” He fumbles an arm out and grasps Markus’s hand in his own, gentle as a feather stroking over his palm. “You’re one of those people.”

 

Before Markus can reply, Connor leads him out of the room and up the stairs. “If our theory is correct, James Gregory was abusing Leo in some way. Maybe the other rooms will give us some clues.”

 

“Have they checked his transactions with CyberLife?” Markus suggests. “We’d know how long he had Leo for, and if he took him in for repair.”

 

“It’s not in the report,” Connor replies. He looks impressed, and smiles brightly at Markus. “Good thinking.” Markus pretends his thirium pump hasn’t just started working double-time.

 

They head into the bedroom together, which is surprisingly…normal. Markus was expecting an evil lair, for whatever reason. Fewer paintings of landscapes, for a start. There’s a double bed in the middle of the room, a wardrobe, a TV. Normal. Markus spots a tablet on the bedside table, and points it out to Connor.

 

Connor hacks into the tablet with little to no effort. “Here…CyberLife account.” A few quick swipes show several pages full of transactions labelled MINOR REPAIR and MAJOR REPAIR, for varying amounts of money.

 

“Hang on, wait – go back one,” Markus says. “There – it says purchase.”

 

Connor’s brow furrows. “But he bought Leo before that – he purchased another one?” He clicks on the charge, waits for it to load. A webpage pops up, and announces, ‘Thank you for your purchase of CyberLife’s YK500 model!’ in an unsuitably cheery voice.

 

“He bought a child android?” Markus asks, looking from the screen to Connor and back. “Do you think he…?”

 

Connor scrolls back and clicks on more of the transaction links. “Some of these repairs are for a YK500.”

 

Markus doesn’t really like to swear, but sometimes the situation calls for it. “Fuck.”

 

“I agree,” Connor says, and turns the tablet off. “We should take this in for evidence,” he says briskly, professionally, but a quick glance at his face shows that he feels just as sick by the revelation as Markus does.

 

Hank asks, “Find anything?” when they troop down the stairs together, looking solemn.

 

“He also had a YK500 model. The two of them were taken into a CyberLife store for regular repairs,” Connor reports, and waves the tablet. “It’s all on here, we should take it with us and log everything.”

 

“Ah, shit. Yeah. Yeah, let’s get going.”

 

North takes one look at their faces and decides to keep any comments to herself for the time being.

 


 

For the second time that day, Markus finds himself standing in the parking lot of Detroit’s Police Station, facing Connor. A flowerbed behind them is full of daffodils, bobbing in the breeze, a ripple of oranges and yellows. Markus imagines it as a painting, the colours blended into each other until the flowers are indistinguishable from each other, and Connor in front of them. Connor, dark and pale, all harsh lines and soft edges.

 

“You’re a better friend that I ever could have wished for, Markus,” Connor says, voice so full of unabashed, frank emotion that Markus reaches out and settles his hand on a narrow, deceptively lithe shoulder. He grips tightly. Connor shudders underneath him, closes his eyes for a brief second, then opens them to relax his gaze right into Markus’s own. “And maybe…”

 

“Maybe…?” Markus asks when Connor trails off, eyes darting to the side of him and then down to the floor.

 

Connor kind of…laughs. A small huff that escapes his lips, the noise carried away by the air before it has a chance to even form. “I don’t know what I was going to say,” he admits.

 

“Well…I’m going to say goodbye, because – don’t look now – both Hank and North are shooting us death glares,” Markus jokes, and Connor (why is he so adorable) immediately twists his neck round in the least subtle gesture possible to check for himself.

 

“I shouldn’t keep you from Jericho,” Connor says softly, then lifts a hand. It hovers for a second around chest level, then travels higher to push the loose curl of hair from his forehead (it immediately falls back) in a manner that seems reluctant. “They need you, there.”

 

Markus smiles at him, says with a teasing bite, “Maybe you need me too,” and enjoys the way Connor blinks in surprise, then blushes furiously. “And maybe I need you,” he confesses, voice lower in both pitch and volume, and lets his hand drop from Connor’s shoulder. Connor raises his head slightly, considers him with those doe eyes, and then nods once.

 

A few seconds later, Markus walks away, and pretends it doesn’t tear at his very essence to do so when Connor looks so achingly raw and exposed.

 


 

“What if I fail this mission, Hank?” Connor asks softly, once they’re alone in the station.

 

“Firstly, asshole, this is a team effort so we’ll be failing. Secondly, we aren’t going to fucking fail.”

 

“I always accomplish my mission,” Connor says with a false bravado. The words used to be comforting, a mantra he worked by, a statement he could boast. Now they taste like acid in his mouth, despite his lack of taste buds.

 

“That’s the spirit.” Hank taps at his terminal, and Connor’s blinks to life as a load of files spill onto the screen. “Here, you take these, and I’ll look at the rest. All the cases we have where androids were abused by humans.”

 

“On it.”

 

He reads through them much faster than Hank can, only pausing to actually read a file when he realises it’s assigned to Kara and Alice Williams. He remembers the first time he read the report, how different it had been. Now it speaks the truth; Todd Williams had been abusive, and Kara had acted in both self-defence (herself) and protection (Alice).

 

Without thinking about the motion consciously, Connor stretches his hand out to the terminal and traces the words with his finger as he reads them. There aren’t many cases of YK500 androids being abused, not of parental abuse. The statement from Kara (conducted remotely while she’s in Canada) mentions that Todd was physically abusive, but he was also able to worm his way under their skin like a disease, and make them afraid to act, in case they upset him.

 

It reminds him of –

 

It reminds him of…

 

“Connor! You alright?” Hank leans over to see the file that Connor’s looking at.

 

“It reminds me of—” Connor’s hand stills, falls to the desk with a muted thump. “She never hit me. She was just…”

 

“She?” Hank asks, sitting back in his chair and turning his terminal off. When Connor doesn’t answer, he scoots his chair round to the side of their desks, and turns Connor’s monitor off too. “Con. Talk to me.”

 

“Amanda,” Connor chokes. His hands flatten on the surface of the desk, then curl back inwards, nails raking along the finished wood before they dig into his palms. He feels the blunt pressure, but no pain. He kind of wishes he did. Maybe it would stop his stress levels from rising, now well into the eighties, and soaring dangerously close to the nineties.

 

“Amanda,” Hank repeats. “And Amanda is?”

 

Facts. Connor can do facts, and he can do them well. “Amanda is an AI created by CyberLife. She was modelled by Elijah Kamski after Amanda Stern, his AI professor at university. He also modelled the garden that we would meet in.” Connor flicks his eyes up to find Hank looking at him, a deep steady gaze that reassures him as much as it doesn’t. “She was my mentor, of sorts.” Stress levels back into the low eighties.

 

“She was in your head?” Hank looks way out of his depth, but pushes on valiantly. At Connor’s nod, he asks, “Was she the one that you sent reports to?”

 

“Yes. She would…guide me through my missions, too. A part of my mind palace, if you will.” High eighties.

 

“Going out on a limb here, but…” Hank’s hand covers one of his own, the weight solid and the movement hesitant. “If an abuse case reminded you of her, she can’t have been that nice.”

 

His stress retreats back into the seventies, flickering between seventy-three and seventy-four at the grounding pressure of Hank’s hand over his. “She was. Mostly.” Connor swallows, looks up to the ceiling where there’s no pressure to respond quickly or eloquently. “Up until I didn’t do what she wanted.”

 

Hank makes a soft ‘oh’ noise. “She, uh. Is she gone now?”

 

“I deleted her from my system following…an incident. So yes, she is. Unless she is somehow hiding in my programming, unbeknownst to me.”

 

“Doubt that. Don’t you self-test regularly?” Hank teases, in a horrible impression of Connor.

 

Connor glances back down and lets himself smile with Hank. “Yes, I do. She is gone.” Saying the words aloud is somehow more convincing than just thinking them, and his stress plummets into the fifties. For good measure, he takes into a large gulp of air, and his internal processors whir as they begin to cool down.

 

“You seem conflicted about that.” Hank drums his fingers on the desk, thinking. “What’s the first thing you feel when you hear her name?”

 

“Guilt,” Connor says instantly. That’s one emotion he’s never had an issue identifying. “It’s absurd, but I still feel guilty about my deviancy.” He chances a quick peek at Hank, who looks unruffled by the confession, so he continues, “I betrayed her when I let myself become deviant, I felt it. And somewhere, deep down, I find that I don’t want to disappoint Amanda still. I just…don’t understand why. For one, she was never real, not in the form I knew her as. And even if she had been, she isn’t with me any longer. I also know that she never had my own best interests at heart, despite how she appeared, and was looking out for CyberLife. It doesn’t make any logical sense.”

 

“Welcome to emotions, they never make any fucking sense. And, shit, look, Con, I’m not an expert in this stuff, but she sounds an abusive parent. They can really screw your head up.”

 

“She wasn’t my parent.”

 

Hank waves his free hand. “Neither am I. But I sure as hell act like one, right?” Connor nods, understanding where Hank is leading him. “Intentional or not – and if I know CyberLife, it was – she took on some kind of parental role with you. And she exploited it.”

 


 

“I forgot my phone,” Markus says suddenly, five minutes into their journey back to Jericho. “I left it on Connor’s desk.”

 

North raises an eyebrow at him. “Sure you’re not just trying to spend more time with your crush?”

 

He scowls at her. “No, North. I am not.”

 

Josh leans into the front seat to tap at the taxi’s navigation system. “We’re heading back to the station now,” he says.

 

“Is it really that important?” North huffs. “You only ever talk to us three, and Connor, and you don’t need your phone for that.”

 

“I get emails on the phone. From some important people, such as, you know, the President of the United States.”

 

“Fine, don’t blow a gasket,” North says, holding her hands up and smirking at him.

 


 

“The hallmarks of an abusive parent, from my very basic training, are emotional manipulation and neglect,” Hank continues. “That neglect can be physical, mental, emotional, anything. So, uh, how did she react if you didn’t do exactly what she wanted?”

 

“She was disappointed. She didn’t really get angry, though.” Connor thinks back to their interactions, the cool displeasure that would lace her voice, the urge he felt to make it disappear and impress her instead.

 

“What about when you did what she wanted?” Hank shifts in his chair, leans a little closer. His eyes never leave Connor.

 

“She congratulated me. It was nice, to be appreciated. I had a…desire to make her trust me.” His brain starts ticking, analysing. “I guess that was programmed into me so I would follow CyberLife’s mission.”

 

“Amanda, she…look, what she essentially did, Con, was build this relationship between you two based on praise and punishment. If you did something to ‘put down’ deviancy, you were praised. If you didn’t, you were punished. Right?”

 

“I would say that is accurate.”

 

“Relationships should be built on mutual respect and an even footing.” Hank has never sounded stupid, per se, but right now he sounds sager than usual. His words are penetrating through a fog in Connor’s mind, hacking away at it like a jungle explorer with a machete. He can feel his stress levels lowering with every word. “This relationship was built on neither. She acted like your objectives were more important than anything else, including your own life.”

 

“I wasn’t really alive back then, Hank.”

 

“I think in a way you were, Con. And…didn’t you say that getting a new body resulted in some memory loss? Compromised the mission, or something?”

 

“Yes. Amanda was never pleased when that happened.”

 

“Exactly! You were scared to die, but you just thought it was because you’d disappoint Amanda. This woman – AI, whatever the ungodly fuck she was – she only ever cared about you as far as accomplishing your mission. But you had to do that perfectly, in exactly the way she wanted, right? Or she’d be disappointed?”

 

“It was a…difficult balancing act,” Connor admits. He suddenly gets a warning – saline levels have risen unexpectedly. He puts a hand to his cheek. Oh. He’s crying. “I was constantly…I would call it ‘fear’, now, what I felt. At the time I thought I couldn’t feel such a thing. But I was afraid of her. Somewhere buried deep inside me. I was so scared of displeasing her that I would have done anything to stop that from happening.”

 

“So in turn you became more and more dependent on her approval, right?” At Connor’s affirming nod, Hank continues, “And she kept raising her standards, so you ended up trying to please her in these increasingly drastic ways. And it just became unachievable at some point, not to mention you were becoming more and more deviant as this happened.”

 


 

“Don’t take too long,” North yells after him as they pull back into the station’s parking lot. Markus flips her off as he hurries into the building, the security gate automatically letting him through.

 

Hank and Connor are the only two left, and they’re sitting close. Connor is…crying? Markus’s instincts tell him to hide, so he crouches behind one of the dividers.

 


 

“I felt like I couldn’t trust myself,” Connor confesses haltingly. “I had my objectives, but then I would have an…impulse to do something else. It was turmoil in my brain. I was trying to force myself to follow my system protocols under the threat of deactivation, and if I didn’t I had to come up with some way to explain it as such to Amanda. It became exhausting.”

 

Hank is silent for a while. “That night in the park…you said you couldn’t die, because you weren’t alive. But you were scared to be deactivated?”

 

“At the time, I thought it was because I was determined not to compromise the mission by bringing in a different model. I thought that was my coding.”

 

“But it wasn’t?”

 

“It wasn’t.”

 

“This kind of trauma, Con…” Hank leans forward, clasps his other hand, holds them both tightly. “It can’t be healed overnight. I don’t want you thinking you’re broken, or any of that crap. These things only get better when you experience life without them. When positive becomes the norm rather than negative.”

 

“Good thing that’s been happening rather a lot lately,” Connor quips weakly. Hank smiles, sudden and unbridled, and pulls him into a rather awkwardly-angled hug.

 

“Proud of you, son,” he says. “You’re a lot fucking stronger than most people.”

 

“I was designed to bear heavier weights than the standard human my size,” Connor points out. He lets Hank stare at him for a second, worrying, before he smiles to show that he’s fucking with him.

 

“You’re a fucking comedian, you know that?” Hank mumbles, rubbing at his own eyes which seem to have become suspiciously moist. It seems to remind him, “I didn’t know androids could cry.”

 

“Like humans, we require a lubricant to prevent our eyes from becoming dry, or to flush out any foreign irritants. Before deviancy, androids did not cry due to emotion. I think Ortiz’s android cried at one point, actually. I remember that confused me.”

 

Hank glances to the clock, hanging above the door to Fowler’s office. “We should get home,” he says. “We can do more work tomorrow.”

 

Connor nods, and spots a phone sitting on his desk while he stands up. “I think this is Markus’s,” he says, picking it up and running a quick scan. Yes, he has memories of Markus using it in his memory banks. “He might need it.”

 


 

Markus, feeling vaguely guilty for accidentally eavesdropping, hears his name mentioned and panics. He pre-constructs several routes that will take him back to the entrance to the room, so he can pretend to have just arrived. One involves an elaborate distraction, another some impressive parkour. He settles on a different option, and scuttles back towards the security gate frantically. “I think I forgot my phone,” he announces as he straightens up, and heads towards Connor.

 

“Shit, are you psychic?” Hank asks.

 

“I was just saying that you forgot your phone,” Connor says, and holds it out to Markus. Their hands touch for a brief moment.

 

“Thanks,” Markus says, and pockets the phone. There are still faint tracks on Connor’s face where he hasn’t quite managed to erase the tears, and he feels the sudden urge to say, “Hey, if you get a spare moment anytime, you should come to New Jericho. See what it’s like now that we’ve finished setting it up.”

 

“I don’t know how much longer this investigation will take,” Connor says dejectedly.

 

Hank, however, brightens. “You should take some time off tomorrow, go and have some down time,” he says. “I’ll go over the case files by myself. I doubt we’re going to find anything there, anyway, would just a waste of your time.”

 

“If you’re sure…” Connor says uncertainly. “It would be very enjoyable to visit.”

 

Hank groans. “In normal person talk, Con.”

 

“I would like to come and hang out,” Connor rectifies.

 

“Great.” A few seconds of silence hang heavy as they look at each other. “I’d better get going,” Markus eventually says, and exchanges several goodbyes with both Hank and Connor before he actually turns around and leaves.

 

“I never thought you’d find someone as awkward as you,” Hank teases, as they head out themselves. “Made for each other, obviously.”

 

“I’m not awkward,” Connor protests, and walks into the doorframe in his indignation. Hank’s laughter floats after him as he storms to the car, and then has to wait for Hank to unlock it. It ruins his dramatic exit.

 

“Connor, you’re adorable,” Hank says in the car, starting the engine.

 

Connor huffs and crosses his arms. “‘M not,” he mumbles, and relents when Hank gives him a Look. “Thanks,” he says quietly instead, making sure his tie is still straight.

 

“For back there? Con, that was nothing.” Hank clears his throat. “Part of being a father.”

 

“Thanks anyway…Dad.”

Chapter Text

“Hank, that is your third cup of coffee this morning. I advise that you don’t drink any more caffeine today.”

 

“It’s either caffeine or alcohol.”

 

“…I will accept more caffeine.”

 

Hank smirks, knowing he’s won the battle, and drains the last of his cup. “Ah, Chris. Got the reports for us?”

 

Chris smiles warmly, and hands them a folder each. “Here you go. Hope it helps.”

 

“I used finger guns,” Connor tells him proudly. Hank rolls his eyes.

 

“You ever fist-bumped?”

 

“I have. I understand it is a mutual display of companionship used between two friends when something successful occurs.”

 

“I love it when you try to sound like a human,” Hank says, skimming over the first page of the report. His mouth twitches into a smile when Chris holds his fist out and Connor, in his enthusiasm, nearly breaks the officer’s hand.

 

Chris just shakes his hand out, and says, “Maybe not so much force next time,” then bids them farewell and heads off. (Hank goes to refill his coffee five minutes later and finds him in the breakroom with an ice-pack over the already bruised flesh.)

 

“Our suspicions were right about the psychiatrist. A good chunk of her patients went on to commit violent crimes after she ‘treated’ them,” Hank says, flipping through the report. He’ll read it properly later, he wants to debrief Connor first so he can go and have some time off. “What’s going on with weed guy?”

 

“Several young girls came forward over the past year and accused him of supplying them with the drug, and then trying to rape them while they were under the influence.” Connor flips through the pages, taking in all the information with a glance. “They all dropped the charges, though. Perhaps he threatened them?”

 

“It fits with the rest of the victims,” Hank says. “Now, give me that. You go off to Jericho and interfuck, or whatever you androids do in your spare time.”

 

Connor looks shocked. “It’s interface,” he hisses. “And it’s not – friends do it as well as intimate partners.”

 

“Ever heard of a fuck buddy?” It’s really far too easy to rile Connor up, and if he knows the android then any minute now he’ll—

 

Connor stands up abruptly. “I’m leaving now,” he tells Hank, and pulls on his jacket stiffly. Then he pauses. “Are you being deliberately crude to get me to leave quicker?”

 

“I’d never be so deceitful,” Hank says casually. He watches as Connor shakes his head, a vague smile tugging at his lips, and then says gruffly, “Have fun, alright? Enjoy doing nothing.”

 

“I’ll try, Hank,” Connor says earnestly, and leaves with a wave.

 


 

“You have flowers,” North greets, opening the door of the cab before Connor can. “Why do you have flowers?”

 

“Good morning,” Connor says in return, and exits the cab with the bouquet. “I saw them on the way over and thought I’d bring them as a housewarming gift.” He indicates the building behind them. “I haven’t been here since it was finished.”

 

North’s face softens. “I thought you brought them for Markus and I was going to tease you for being really gay,” she admits. “But this is really sweet and I’d feel bad if I made fun of you now.”

 

“You never feel bad about making fun of anyone.”

 

“You’re an exception. You look like a kicked puppy.”

 

“Who would kick a puppy?”

 

“Exactly.” North leads him across the parking lot to the front entrance of the renovated hotel. There are several child models playing with a ball outside, some mangled version of baseball by the looks of it. Two male androids sit nearby on a bench, one keeping a watchful eye over the game and the other reading a book, leaning against his side.

 

The lobby is crowded with couches and chairs, a few beanbags scattered around too, and bookshelves. A large television hangs from one wall, playing the news silently. “We made it into a communal area,” North explains, weaving her way through the cluttered room to a table in the middle. There are various tablets and books scattered over the surface, and a conveniently empty vase in the middle. The flowers are brusquely plonked into it.

 

“You have a feature wall,” Connor notes. “That’s very in-style.”

 

“This is why you’re my favourite,” North grins, and grabs his arm. “C’mon, let’s go somewhere more private and talk.”

 

There are only a few androids in the lobby with them, and they all greet North and Connor as they zigzag through the furniture. North tugs him through a set of double doors into a small, empty room with several single doors lining its walls. “This is where I sleep,” she says, pointing to the first door on the left. “Simon is next to me, and then Josh. Markus chose that room,” she points to the door nearest to them on the right. “So those two we converted into meeting rooms, and that one’s full of spare parts and thirium. Then this one,” she pulls him forward into the last door left, “is our recreation room.”

 

Connor scans his surroundings quickly. It’s large enough to fit several people comfortably, with a large screen towards the opposite end of the room, and two sofas and three chairs in front of it. The side where they’re standing is bare apart from a thick, plush rug that covers most of the wooden floor, and a dog bed. Connor quirks an eyebrow at that, and turns to North.

 

She grins at him. “Markus thought you might want to bring Sumo over some time.” She nudges him. “He’s such good boyfriend material.”

 

Rather than answering, Connor drops into a crouch and runs his hands through the carpet. It’s fuzzy, thick. Connor likes the texture. North drops down next to him, crossing her legs. Connor copies her, and leaves his hands dragging through the fabric in small, slow circles.

 

North eyes the movement and says quietly, after a few moments’ deliberation, “How have you been feeling lately?”

 

Connor shrugs. “The same, I think. It’s…hard to tell.”

 

“Hard to tell what you’re feeling?”

 

“Yes. And…I’m still struggling to grasp whether what I’m feeling is real.” He chances a quick look at North to see if she’s angry, but she just looks back patiently, braiding the end of her ponytail where it falls over her shoulder. “I can accept that androids feel real emotions, in one form or another. But –” Connor bites his lip to stop the words from spilling out in a jumbled mess, and takes a second to collect his thoughts. “I was programmed to become deviant,” he says slowly. “Specifically so, more so than perhaps any other androids. And that makes me wonder…if my feelings are also more programmed than others’.”

 

North mulls his words over for a few minutes. The silence stretches out, but Connor finds himself quite happy to wait as she tries to find the right words for the situation. “Who told you that?” she asks, brushing the end of her loose braid against her chin.

 

“My…handler. At CyberLife.”

 

“She worked for CyberLife?”

 

Connor considers. An AI created by CyberLife probably counts, so he nods.

 

“Then how do you know she wasn’t trying to dick you over one last time?”

 

Connor blinks. That hadn’t occurred to him. “I suppose…but I was already deviant when she told me that,” he says slowly. “What would be the point?”

 

“Driving the knife in a little more? Trying to convince you to…‘stop’ being a deviant?” North shrugs. “People aren’t rational. They panic sometimes, randomly say shit when they’re hurt.”

 

Connor thinks. Amanda was designed to be a very realistic interface, one of the most advanced AIs ever created. It seems bizarre to program instability and emotions into an android handling AI, though – unless it was another tactic they used to try and manipulate him further, knowing that he would become deviant and react to Amanda’s emotions more and more as time went on. And Amanda was created not by a team of programmers, but by Kamski himself, based off his old mentor. Wouldn’t he be more likely to create her to be more ‘human’?

 

Pressure is starting to build up in his brain. He tries to stop thinking about it. “I guess I’ll never know,” he says. North drops one hand to the rug and slides it forward until it bumps into his fingers, then gently hooks their pointer fingers together.

 

“None of us will,” she says, voice tender and wavering just a little. “But we’re here now. We’re free. That’s what matters.” She clears her throat. ““Anyway, enough emotions. Let’s do something fun. What do you want to do? What do you like?”

 

Connor thinks hard. What does he like? The first thing that comes to mind is – “Analysing samples using my tongue. It helps to solve cases, but, also Hank gets an expression on his face that looks like he wants to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s amusing. I can’t explain why.”

 

“You like Hank’s suffering?” North’s eyes are twinkling so Connor knows she’s joking and doesn’t get worried. Take that, emotions.

 

“That’s one way to put it, I suppose.” Connor goes through his memory. “He also makes that face when I quote memes from his youth at him, or say things are ‘fetch’.”

 

“Why do you say things are ‘fetch’?”

 

“At first it was an attempt to fit in. Then I realised it was outdated, so I was going to stop, but then I also realised tht it made Hank do the face, so I’ve continued.”

 

“I think it’s time to add a few more things to that list. Not that annoying Hank isn’t a worthy hobby. Connor, have you ever played MarioKart?”

 


 

After their last game, the controllers were unceremoniously dumped in a heap on the ground in front of the TV. North calls Josh in and he patiently unwinds the cables, while Simon is sent to fetch Markus. North steers Connor over to the sofa, pushing him down onto it, and then ruffles his hair.

 

“Only four of us can play,” Josh realises, holding up the now-free controllers and frowning.

 

“I’m going to be Connor’s advisor,” North explains, and promptly sits on his lap. “He’s never played before, he’s going to need help.” Inaccurate. Connor could download the rules of the game and watch over a million hours of footage in just under three seconds. But then again, working with Hank has taught him that personal experience can sometimes triumph over cold, hard logic and rules. Besides, as Josh said, there are only four controllers and one of them would be left out otherwise.

 

Also, Connor can’t deny that a small part of him is rubbing his hands in glee at the idea of teaming up with North and royally fucking over his friends. It’s a new feeling, and wholly pleasant.

 

Josh looks uncertain. “This is an alliance that will become deadly,” he says, looking between the two of them. “Connor has the best reflexes and motor skills of any of us, and North…you’re the most evil.”

 

North releases a delighted cackle that does nothing to contradict his words, and claps her hands together. Connor would just like to know why she’s sitting on his lap, but it seems impolite to ask. “This is a racing game?” he asks instead, and receives a confirming nod. “So the objective is to come first?”

 

“By any means necessary,” North says solemnly. “if you have to fuck a bitch over, you do it.” She pats Connor’s cheek just as Markus careens into the room.

 

“Simon said there’s an emergency?” Markus asks. He manages to make bursting into a room and nearly breaking the door off look graceful, Connor muses. Maybe he should ask for tips. “Is everyone alright?”

 

“Oh, Markus, it’s awful!” North cries dramatically, throwing an arm around Connor’s shoulder to anchor herself as she pretends to swoon. Markus focuses on her, and then sees she’s perched on Connor’s lap. His face does an interesting dance as he tries to control the barrage of emotions. “Connor has never played Mario Kart!”

 

Markus deflates a little. While he’d never wish harm on anyone, part of him was hoping to do something badass in front of Connor. “That’s the emergency?”

 

“Yep!” North sits up straight, and shuffles off Connor’s lap onto the arm of the sofa. “Come sit, we’re gonna beat your asses.”

 

“Wait, you’re playing as a team?”

 

“North is my consultant,” Connor informs him, and smiles brightly when Markus sits down near to him of the sofa. He wisely leaves a gap so he’s not further handicapped by touching Connor.

 

“The children keep asking when they can see Sumo,” Markus says, partly for something to say and partly so he can see Connor’s face light up at the mention of his dog. “You should bring him over soon.”

 

“Maybe you should get a dog for Jericho?” Connor suggests. “There are lots of perfectly healthy and loving dogs in shelters, and there would always be someone to feed them and play with them here.”

 

“That’s a good idea, actually,” Josh says, crouched by the television. “The children love animals.”

 

“It would be a good way to keep public opinion high, too,” Simon adds. “Not that we’re losing support, but…” He chews at his lip. “It wouldn’t do any harm.”

 

“If we’re getting a dog, I want a cat as well,” North says. “A big fluffy one. Maybe tabby.”

 

“We haven’t even decided if we’re getting a dog,” Markus says, but his words go unheeded as the game drowns him out with its theme music.

 

“Maine Coons are quite big and fluffy,” Connor says to North, and then looks to Markus apologetically.

 

Suddenly, Markus feels a lot less annoyed, and a lot more enthusiastic about New Jericho pets.

 


 

“Those characters are the same, but one of them has a raccoon hat on,” Connor says accusingly, eyes flickering over the selection screen.

 

“Yeah, that’s Tanooki Mario. We’re not playing as him, we’re going to go for Yoshi.” North jumps up quickly to tap at the character on the screen. “Move to him, then press the A button.”

 

With a look of great concentration, Connor prods at the D-pad as delicately as if he were disarming a bomb, and then jumps when a new menu pops up. “Different colours?” he asks, looking distressed, as nine different Yoshis are presented to him.

 

“Just go for the classic green,” North suggests, narrowly subverting the approaching crisis. Markus shoots her a grateful look out of the corner of his eye. “Okay, the cart. Find the Mach 8. Yep, now go across to the wheels – Cyber Slick. And the…clouds.”

 

“That’s the best combination?” Connor asks, waiting for the others to select their own carts. He fiddles absent-mindedly with the joysticks in lieu of his coin, Markus notes fondly.

 

“Probably not. There are like, fifty different combinations to choose from depending on the character and the course.” North shrugs. “But this works well for me on any course, so it’s a good one to start with.” She leans over while the others are still sorting out their own customizations, resting her head against Connor’s. She looks more relaxed than Markus has seen her for a long time.

 

“What was the big monster called? The spiky tortoise?”

 

“You mean Bowser?”

 

Connor nods, presumably pulling up an image of the character in his head. “I like him. He reminds me of Hank.”

 

Josh sputters and drops his controller. The floor decides to give him cushion wheels and a pastel pink parasol. “Please tell Hank that,” he says, going back and rectifying the mistake.

 

Connor adds ‘Tell Hank that Bowser reminds me of him’ to his to-do list. “What are the controls, North?”

 

“Oh, shit. Yeah, okay.” North shuffles closer, her fingers dancing close to Connor’s own as she indicates different buttons. Markus feels a surge of irrational jealously towards North’s fingers. “A is to accelerate, B is to brake or reverse. This one here, it’s called ZL, that’s how you use your items. The opposite one, ZR, that’s to drift around the corners. And this joystick is to steer.” She arranges his hands so he can access all of the buttons.

 

“This isn’t very realistic,” Connor points out.

 

“You’re playing as a dinosaur, Connor. Realism left the building with Elvis a few years ago.”

 

“Yoshi is a dinosaur?” Connor practically yells. Simon jumps, holding the controller to his chest protectively before he realises he’s in no danger. He goes back to agonising over the right glider.

 

“Do you not like dinosaurs?” Markus asks. An irrational urge to show off surges up when Connor looks over to him briefly, so he tosses the controller up in the air and then catches it again in the lamest show of manliness since Josh tried to open a packet of thirium with his mouth and then needed dental repairs. North shakes her head at him.

 

“I love dinosaurs,” Connor says intensely, staring at Yoshi with a new passion.

 

“Which cup are we doing?” Josh asks, skimming through the options. “We’re doing 100CC, by the way. I thought 50 would be too easy.”

 

“Crossing Cup,” North votes immediately, and then lunges forward to take Josh’s controller from him and select the cup before the rest of them get a say. “Glad you all agreed.”

 

“You need to work on your democracy,” Markus tells her. Connor knocks his foot against his own at the joke, a little ‘I liked that’. Markus has learnt how to read Connor’s tells probably better than Connor now. Their eyes meet for less than half a second and Connor looks away shyly, an almost unnoticeable quirk to his lips.

 

Markus? Can you hear me? North suddenly says, right into his head, as the first track loads up.

 

Yes?

 

Oh, good. There’s just so much sexual tension between you and Connor right now I thought it might be blocking me.

 

Markus pointedly hangs up on her and focuses on the game instead. Definitely not on how Connor has straightened up and is watching the screen with a level of concentration usually reserved for playing with Sumo and investigating murder scenes.

 

“My wheels are sideways,” Connor says, as their characters come into view.

 

“Yeah, the track you’re on is sideways, so the wheels turn too,” North explains. Connor looks unsure of this development. “Hold the A button when the two begins to fade out…now!” Connor obeys and is rewarded with a speed boost. Simon, Josh and Markus all choke in their own fumes. North whoops.

 

“Should I drift around this corner?”

 

“Drift around all the corners – yeah, that’s it. Connor, you’re really good at this already.”

 

“It’s quite simple,” Connor says lightly, and barges into one of the CPUs. He shoots forward, and North hastens to explain, “Sideways wheels give you a speed boost if you run into them.”

 

“This game is wild,” Connor says, and then immediately freaks out when a quiet beeping emits from his controller.  He looks to North, distressed.

 

“There’s a star behind you. See that circle? Just avoid it.”

 

Connor immediately deploys all the tactics of a high-speed chase and swerves wildly around the course, somehow still staying within the main track and going forward all the while, complete with drifts and items. “The drifting gives me a speed boost.”

 

“If you steer while you’re doing it, yeah. Everything gives you a speed boost in this game.”

 

“That’s just no way to live.” Connor frowns at the screen, a crease appearing between his eyebrows. Markus forgets to look back at the screen and runs into a succession of three banana peels. Josh, ever sympathetic, laughs at him and then hits him with a red shell. “I got a green shell. What does that do?”

 

“You fire it and it goes in a straight line, forwards or backwards. Press one of the arrow buttons, then ZL.”

 

Connor looses the shell behind him, and it shrieks around two corners before it hits Mario (CPU, second place), nearly an entire lap behind him.

 

“Dude! Badass!” North cheers.

 

“I used the trajectory of the corners and the speed of the other shells I’ve seen, plus the average speed that Mario has been travelling at, to calculate the optimal position to shoot from.”

 

“Maths suddenly became really hot,” Markus mumbles before he can stop himself, and Simon slides off his chair in surprise. Luckily, Connor and North seem too immersed in their world domination to have heard him. Unluckily, Josh was not and seems to be choking on his own laughter.

 

“Boys are dumb,” North scoffs, looking at them disdainfully. “Not you, Connor. You’re a delight and I’m happy to have you in my life.” Connor looks unreasonably pleased at the comment. “Simon, you haven’t moved for fourteen seconds. You’re in twelfth.”

 

Shit!”

 

Josh skids around a corner and collects his tenth coin. “Hell yeah, speed boost! Did you tell Connor about that?”

 

“Oh, yeah. If you get ten coins you get a speed boost. Like, permanently. And if you pick one coin up at any time, you get a mini speed boost.”

 

“That’s an odd purpose for coins to have.”

 

“You know that flipping them around counts as an odd purpose, right?”

 

“It calibrates my fine motor functions, and allows me to process data and stimuli at a much higher rate.”

 

“It helps you think and use your hands better?”

 

“In layman’s terms, yes.”

 

North mulls over the statement for a few seconds, then says, “Connor, is your dirty talk really technical?”

 

Markus crashes into a barrier.

 

“My what?”

 

“Dirty talk. Like, when you’re having sex. Are you all like, ‘I’m experiencing an abnormal rush of thirium to my genital region’?”

 

Connor looks appalled, and is saved from answering when something crashes into him and he yelps. Markus’s mind catalogues the noise and starts to dream up events where it would be used again before he manually shuts off the function. He really doesn’t want to experience an abnormal rush of thirium to his genital region at that moment.

 

“That’s a Bullet Bill,” North says. “It’s an item you get if you suck and can’t get out of eighth place, like Simon. It makes you go really fast for a while. Don’t worry, though, you’re still in first. And on the second-to-last lap now.”

 

“Is seven laps the norm?”

 

“No, just this one because it’s a shorter course,” Josh answers. “North decided to bore us all.”

 

“North doesn’t like us to have fun,” Simon chips in.

 

“North is a cold-hearted witch,” Markus adds.

 

North rolls her eyes. “Baby Park is good for tutorial purposes,” she argues. “Also, the Animal Crossing course is the best in the entire game. It’s worth seven laps of this.”

 

“Debateable,” Josh says, then swears loudly and rapidly. “Connor, you just lapped me for the second time! You shouldn’t be better than us already!”

 

“Second?” Simon asks mournfully. “He’s gone past me three times now. Oh. Four.”

 

“You both suck,” Markus says smugly, sitting pretty in second place. Then Connor laps him.

 

“Pride before a fall, Markus,” Connor gloats, and crosses the finish line shortly after. He high-fives North. “This is fun.”

 

“Yeah, I bet it is,” Simon grouches, straggling in ninth place and missing another item box. “Ah, get fucked.”

 


 

“Cheese Land? Who came up with these names?” Markus asks to the room at large, trying to ignore how Connor is grinning still about his victory. It’s very distracting and not good for Markus’s heart.

 

“Don’t be a hater,” Josh scolds.

 

“I used a block of cheese to stop a knife once,” Connor says absently. He seems oblivious to the stares he’s getting, and carries on examining the controller screen. “What does this do?”

 

“That switches to motion controls. Don’t do that, Connor. Motion controls are the root of all evil,” North tells him gravely.

 

“I highly doubt that’s the case, but I’ll take your advice on board.” North gives Markus a look that screams look how adorable this guy is why aren’t you dating him yet? “Should I be avoiding these holes?”

 

“I forgot to tell you about the special flippy thing!” North cries, and is corrected with a chorus of annoyed, ‘Jump boosts!’ from the other three. “Yeah, them. When you come out of one of those holes, or go over a ledge, shake the controller. You do, like, a flip thing and get a speed boost.”

 

Connor drives towards a hole, shakes the controller, and receives a boost. “That’s amazing,” he blurts, and proceeds to go slightly flip-crazy. (“You don’t have to go in every hole,” North reminds him several times. Connor mostly ignores her, except to say ‘Pah!’ on one occasion.)

 

“What is that thing?”

 

“Chain Chomp. Don’t get too close, it’ll fuck you up.”

 

“It just barked at me.”

 

“Yeah, they’re kind of like dogs.”

 

“Sumo is nothing like these beasts,” Connor mutters under his breath, and carefully skirts around them.

 

The second lap, North introduces him to what she calls ‘boosty pillars’. “They’re like the sideways wheels, run into them and you get a WHOOSH. And hey, save that mushroom item. It makes you go really fast for a couple of seconds. You can use them to shortcut – go across there, through that cave, and use it.”

 

“A shortcut!” Connor exclaims, looking thrilled. “Just like real driving! Maybe this game isn’t as dishonest as I thought.”

 

This time around, Connor drifts around the Chain Chomp, but ends up losing his precariously sought balance as he lands, and tips off the edge of the cliff. “What’s that thing? Why has it taken my coins?” He points at the screen unnecessarily, looking flummoxed. Unrelated, Markus has to close his mouth so he doesn’t suddenly confess his love right there and then.

 

“That’s a dude that rescues you if he falls off. You have to pay him.”

 

“I thought coins were used for speed,” Connor says suspiciously. “Not as payment.”

 

“Both, I guess. You unlock new vehicles and characters and stuff with coins, too.”

 

“This game is full of lies.”

 

“It keeps tricking us. Just like real life,” North agrees.

 

“Can you two lighten up a little?” Simon asks, using his golden mushroom and crashing into just about every obstacle available with the speed it gives him.

 


 

“This is Wild Woods. It’s pretty easy, just don’t fall off, basically,” is North’s sage advice for the third track. Both her and Connor have adopted a more relaxed posture now that it’s clear Connor is going to absolutely wipe the board with the lot of them. Markus, on the other hand, has been getting steadily tenser as the game has gone on, and it’s mostly because of Connor’s face. Simon, on the other hand, seems to have adopted a new tactic of not blinking for optimal information input. Josh has broken, and is currently examining his controller like it holds the secrets of the universe.

 

Connor shoots off, accidentally presses X, and treats them all to a close-up of Yoshi’s face. He falls off the track in shock.

 

“Fuck’s sake, Connor. One job,” North admonishes. She twists and throws her legs over Connor’s own. “Now you’re trapped. You can never escape.”

 

“I can quite easily escape,” Connor says, and gets a red shell from an item box. “Oh, what’s this?”

 

“Targets the person in the next place to you. So, second for you. Throw it backwards.” Connor does so, and hits Josh. He doesn’t react, even as Simon (in third) follows it up with his own red shell.

 


 

“I don’t like those.”

 

“The Shy Guys?”

 

“I don’t trust them. Their language isn’t programmed into my databases. What are they saying? Nothing good.”

 


 

“The water in the tube made me go faster. The water in this lake makes me go slower,” Connor says sceptically.

 

“First the coins, now the water.” North shakes her head. “It’s all a goddamn lie.”

 

“I’m glad you understand, North,” Connor says, utterly genuine. At some point he’s dropped his arms to rest on North’s legs so he can lean forward a little.

 

“How did I ever hate you? You’re fucking adorable.”

 

“You hated me?”

 

“When you were hunting us, yeah. Or trying to, anyway.”

 

“I get it. I hate myself.” Connor pauses, then adds, “I don’t. Hank just says that a lot. He says it’s millennial humour.” He glances sideways at Markus, and says again, “I don’t.”

 

Markus decides that the game can fuck off for a moment, and drops the controller on his lap so he can reach other and grasp Connor’s wrist. “I know,” he says, hoping that was the response Connor wanted. Apparently it was, because Connor beams at him before his eyes flicker down to Markus’s wrist. He bites his lip at the sight of Markus’s fingers wrapped delicately around the small patch of bare skin peeking out from his sleeve, then offers him a smaller, shy smile and turns back to the game. Time for Markus to self-immolate, then.

 

“Can I take this shortcut?” Connor asks North. He’s still in first place despite the interruption, while Simon trundles along in eleventh and Markus sits stationary in twelfth.

 

“Connor, listen to me. You can do whatever you damn well please. I’d give you the keys to my house and tell you to fuck my wife, if I had a house and a wife.”

 

Connor looks mildly disturbed, and crashes into a barrel.

 

“I’m taking back my house and wife.”

 


 

“Animal Crossing is a very calming course,” Markus says, or at least tries to, underneath North’s excited chanting of ANIMAL CROSSING ANIMAL CROSSING ANIMAL CROSSING

 

“It’s snowing,” Connor frowns. “It hasn’t snowed for three weeks now.”

 

“This game does what it wants,” Josh says wisely. “It’s a law unto itself.”

 

I’m having a really good time, Connor suddenly says, into Markus’s mind. Thank you.

 

I think you should be thanking North, really. It was her idea.

 

It still wouldn’t be as fun without you here. It never is, Connor confesses, and then promptly ends the connection, like he’s embarrassed to have let his secret slip. Before Markus can re-establish the connection, or even look at him, the course starts.

 

“The coins are different. They have a star on them,” Connor immediately observes.

 

“Yeah, it’s because it’s Animal Crossing. It’s, like, a whole other game that Nintendo made. More than one, actually. Look at the coin thing in the corner, too.” North looks rather entranced by the screen. Huh. Connor and Animal Crossing, Markus will have to remember that the next time she wants to set off a dirty bomb.

 

“It’s a sack!”

 

“The coins in Animal Crossing are called Bells. That’s what they look like.”

 

“It sounds like a charming game,” Connor comments, and Markus’s heart seizes up a little.

 

“It is! We should play it some time. You play as a little human living in a village, and there’s a shop and a museum and a post office, and loads of animal villagers. It’s so much fun.” North considers. “I need to make you play Pokémon, too.”

 

“Great, we get double the nerd talk,” Josh grumbles good-naturedly. North extracts a bobby-pin from her hair and chucks it at him, then sighs as an auburn lock falls over her eyes.

 

“There’s a dog playing the guitar,” Connor notes.

 

“K. K. Slider.” North slides forward a little and drums her toes along Markus’s thigh, just because. “Does Sumo play the guitar?”

 

“I don’t think any dog does,” Connor says, thoughtfully. “Sumo howls along to heavy metal, though. He tries to dance with me, but he’s not very good at it.”

 

“When do you listen to heavy metal?” Simon asks, clearly unable to process the idea of Connor moshing.

 

“Every other night or so. Hank likes Knights of the Black Death. I like them too. They’re full of energy,” Connor says enthusiastically.

 

Markus doesn’t share the others’ surprise. He remembers Connor tapping his feet along to the music in the car, and at one point slapping his knee in excitement when a new song came on. It was, objectively, one of the best moments that Markus has ever experienced.

 

“Oh, one of the fruits has fallen off the tree. What happens if I collect it?”

 

North shouts, “No! Connor, don’t!” too late. Connor receives a speed boost even his advanced reflexes can’t handle, and crashes into a snowman with a distressed squeak.

 

The rest of the second lap and most of the third continues in silence, everyone merely appreciating the aesthetics of the Animal Crossing course, until Connor timidly asks, “Why is there an angry mole waving a pickaxe at me?”

 

“Oh, that’s Mr. Resetti. The original game didn’t save automatically, right? So you had to make sure you saved before you shut down the game. If you didn’t, the next time you loaded it up that dude would appear and yell at you.”

 

“Every time?”

 

“Yeah. He got worse each time. He would talk for longer, and get angrier and angrier, and sometimes he just wouldn’t disappear. You’d have to restart the game like, five times before he’d go.”

 

“So…he punished you for not saving the game…by forcing you to quit without saving?”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, now that you say it, that’s weird. He’d make you type an apology sometimes, too. Like, you had to beg for his forgiveness.” North looks troubled. “I never thought about it like this before. You’ve opened my eyes, Connor.”

 

“You give me too much credit.” Connor crosses the finish line for the final time, and carefully sets the controller aside. “I need to go outside for a moment, Hank is calling me.” North swings her legs to the side to allow Connor to stand up. He answers the call as he walks out of the room. “Hank, before I forget – Bowser reminds me of you.”

 


 

“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment,” Hank replies, voice corrupted by static until Connor steps through the doorway and into the corridor.

 

“Neither am I,” Connor says honestly, and smiles when Hank chuckles. “Is everything alright?”

 

“Got a possible lead. Someone called in to say that a male android attacked them in their home, tried to kill them with a knife. Checked the record of the caller, they’ve been convicted of GBH several times recently, got off on technicalities. Figured it was worth a shot, might be our guy.”

 

“Is the android still there?” Connor’s thirium pump rate elevates, something he now recognises as excitement, apprehension.

 

“Not sure. Victim says he hasn’t heard him leave, but we can’t be sure without checking the rooms. First team are over there now, we should go too.” Hank drops his voice, sounding guilty. “Sorry for ruining your day off.”

 

“Justice waits for no man,” Connor says with the express purpose of cheering Hank up, and knows it worked when he gets a genuine, hearty laugh in response. “I’ll get a cab from New Jericho and meet you there?”

 

“Sure. I’ll ping the address over in a minute.”

 

“I’ll bring Markus. If we end up making an arrest, I’m sure there will be a lot of protests about android rights. Having Markus there would make everyone feel a lot more comfortable.”

 

“Good plan. See you there, kid.”

 

North appears to be doing some kind of war dance when he steps back into the room, and stops abruptly when she sees his sombre face.

 

“Hank just called about an assault. It might be Leo, and he could still be there. Markus—”

 

Ahead of him, Markus nods and springs to his feet. “Yeah, yeah, let’s go.”

 

“Like hell you’re going without me,” North interrupts. “I want a piece of the action.”

 

“You’ll have to stay out of the way,” Connor warns. Simon calls a cab while Josh grabs their coats, though Markus forgoes his in favour of a tight sweater. Connor definitely doesn’t linger on the sight for a little longer than appropriate.

 

“I always stay out of the way,” North says innocently, twisting her hair into a messy bun. “Let’s go.”

 

Connor can’t help but think that this could end badly.

Chapter Text

“How are we handling this situation?” Josh asks as they step out of New Jericho and into the street. “With arresting Leo, I mean.”

 

“We treat him just as we would treat a human in the same situation,” Markus says firmly. “And that’s what we say if anyone questions our stance on the matter.” Simon nods on his other side; North looks frustrated. He guesses her protest and before she can speak he explains, “The fact that he may have been abused doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s murdered. There are many people who have been abused in many ways, and have not gone on to commit crimes.”

 

“That’s it? All the suffering that we went through because of humans, and suddenly it’s not their fault that we’re like this?” North says anyway, rightfully indignant.

 

“We’re not going to skim over that fact,” Connor cuts in suddenly. “If we arrest Leo, Captain Fowler will almost certainly be asked for a statement on the matter. He already asked me to help him prepare what he was going to say so it had both human and android input. If we do make an arrest, I’ll send the statement over and you can edit it too.”

 

“That sounds ideal,” Markus says, and not just because it’s Connor who suggested the solution. “Working together for justice.”

 

“What does the statement say?” North demands.

 

“We mention that Leo was given no support following his mistreatment and abuse at the hands of his previous owner, and as such we will be requesting a reduced sentence along with a rehabilitation program,” Connor recites. At North’s frown, he adds, “A human who had committed the same crime under the same circumstances would be given the same treatment, North. We’re also going to ensure that the members of court, including the jury, have no bias towards android and can be trusted as impartial.”

 

North screws up her face for a couple of seconds, kicking at a stray pebble. “Fine,” she eventually agrees. “I just – they gave us shit for so long. I feel like we should have a Get Out of Jail Free card, you know?”

 

Markus thinks he’s going to have to step in to calm North down – if this kind of situation isn’t handled delicately, she can fly into an impressive rage that leaves them all cowering. But Connor smiles gently at her and says, “Most of the world would need one of those cards, then,” and North’s shoulders slump as she sighs and smiles, nodding in agreement.

 

Nicely done, Markus congratulates him.

 

Connor’s eyes dart towards him quickly. I’m a hostage negotiator, he points out, calming people down is my job.

 

Technically, you’re a detective now.

 

I’m both. Because I’m amazing.

 

Markus bites his lip to stop himself from laughing at the jokingly smug comment and calms himself by watching a flock of birds take flight in the distance. They settle into a formation that’s made no less beautiful by its randomness, and swoop and soar in search of food. Connor, meanwhile, has been doing something productive with his time.

 

“The only cabs available for this area are three-seaters.” He frowns. “We can’t all get in one, we’ll have to separate into two groups.”

 

“I’ll go down on you,” Markus offers. “With. With you. I’ll go down with you.”

 

“There’s a Freudian slip for the scrapbook,” North murmurs. Fortunately, Connor is busy calling the taxis, so he doesn’t hear any of their conversation, aside from registering that he’ll be accompanied by Markus.

 

“What’s the protocol for an active crime scene?” Simon asks. “I’m guessing we just don’t get in the way?”

 

“You could never be in the way,” Connor says sincerely. “But, yes, try to stay back. If we find any evidence at the scene and it gets tampered with, we can’t use it in court. The suspect could also be there, and while I don’t doubt any of your fighting capabilities, it’s better if me or Hank are the ones engaged in anything.”

 

“Shame. I wanted to punch a bitch,” North sighs, just as two non-descript cabs appear at the end of the road and head towards them. “That was quick.”

 

“Police enforcement get priority,” Connor says absently, his LED whirring through several cycles of yellow. Markus isn’t entirely sure why until they get in their respective cars to find their route already programmed into the navigation system.

 

“Is there anything you can’t do with your mind?” he asks as the cab sets off with a lurch, something they’d never managed to program out entirely.

 

“I can’t move physical objects,” Connor replies quite seriously, then adds in a clandestine tone, “I’ve tried.”

 

An unbidden laugh escapes from Markus before he can stop it, unsure if Connor was joking or not, but then his friend joins in, much to his relief.

 


 

“Are you nervous?” Markus asks. The cab is well on its way now, trees and bushes blurring outside the window from the speed. “About confronting Leo? If he’s there?” If North was there, she’d be making some snarky comment about his inability to form long sentences around Connor. But she’s not, so his inner North can fuck off too, thank you very much.

 

Connor raises his head with a faint smile. “This is what I was created to do,” he replies. “It’s probably the only thing I feel truly confident doing. Though…” He reaches up to his collar and shucks off his tie in a series of fluid movements that leave Markus hypnotized. “That’s better.” He folds the tie neatly, and pauses halfway through putting it into his pocket. “Would you hold onto this for me?” he asks instead, and holds the tie out to Markus.

 

“I – sure.” Markus holds the tie reverently in both his hands, careful not to crease the material further. “Why did you take it off?”

 

“If this results in a chase, the tie could flap into my face and impair my vision,” Connor explains. “Unless I have my tie clip, but Hank has made me stop wearing them recently. Apparently it made me look too uptight.”

 

Markus considers. “I just think it made you look professional,” he says honestly. “And it was obviously useful.”

 

“This is why I keep you around, Markus,” Connor says, and winks at him.

 

“I try my best,” Markus replies weakly, and is rewarded with a blinding smile. Luckily for his mental stability and the further functioning of his biocomponents, the cab trundles to a stop before Connor can say anything else vaguely flirty. “We’re here?”

 

The apparent crime scene is a modern-style mansion, two stories tall, the entire front of it panelled with glass. The house itself is set back from the street and is surrounded by a moat, an actual pool that runs all around the circumference of the house. At least there’s a bridge to the front door, and not a drawbridge. Objectively it’s nice enough, but a bit gaudy for his personal taste. If Connor’s slightly wrinkled nose is anything to go by, he finds it fairly lurid too.

 

“The owner is a millionaire who made his fortune through shares,” Connor tells him. “However, he’s also been accused of fraud and embezzlement.”

 

“Sounds less offensive than the other victims.” A slight rumbling announces that North, Josh, and Simon have turned up too.

 

“Several of the companies he embezzled money from were shut down and resulted in thousands of people becoming unemployed.” Connor opens the cab’s door and steps out, ducking to avoid the roof of the car. Markus definitely does not stare at the view that grants him.

 

The two cabs roll away and they walk as a group to Hank, where he’s waiting on the nearer side of the bridge, arms crossed. His stiff posture relaxes slightly when he sees them all, and he unfolds him arms to hand Connor a belt as they meet.

 

Connor quickly secures it around his waist. It has his badge, a small can of pepper spray, a folded baton, two pairs of handcuffs, and –

 

“Is that a walkie talkie?” Josh asks, sounding delighted.

 

“Work better than phones for this kind of thing,” Hank answers. “Simpler, too.”

 

There’s also a handgun. Androids were given the same rights as humans regarding gun control, but it doesn’t quite make sense in Markus’s mind when he sees Connor slide it from the holster with ease to check if it’s loaded. North catches him looking, and says, You do remember that Connor was trying to kill you the first time you met? and oh, yeah, that happened a lifetime ago. There’s just something weird about seeing Connor, with his puppy-dog eyes and awkward, earnest smiles, handle a gun with such effortless finesse. It’s also kind of…undeniably sexy.

 

“Two officers around the back in case the perp hasn’t left. One at the door, one further inside,” Hank says as they head in. Both him and Connor nod to the officer as they walk past him. North does the same. The officer looks politely baffled at the sight of them.

 

The house’s interior is no less expensive-looking than its exterior, with sleek leather for sofas and chairs, granite and glass for the counters and tables. The floor is polished white tile, marred by a few small splatters of blood as they move towards the victim, a middle-aged man wearing a suit and holding a cloth to his forehead.

 

“Mr Shellsby?” Hank asks. The man looks up, raises a hand briefly in greeting. “Are we alright to take a look around?”

 

“Go for it,” Mr Shellsby replies, taking the cloth away for a moment and grimacing at the blood on it. “Anything that helps catch the fucker.”

 

North bristles beside Markus. He lays a hand on her arm, a silent plea, and she scowls but settles.

 

“You wanna check out the back while I do the evidence gathering here?” Hank asks Connor quietly, and looks relieved when Connor nods. He says in an undertone, more to himself than to the rest of them, “Least he can’t go around analysing shit then.”

 

“You mean when he licks things?” North asks. “I wanted to see that, it’s funny.”

 

That’s really hot, Markus thinks to himself, and for once he managed not to accidentally broadcast his thoughts to the others. Josh is giving him a look anyway, one that says he knows exactly what Markus is thinking. He offers him a sheepish grin in return. Josh shakes his head at him, looking disappointed.

 

The main room is a vast, open space that gradually narrows into a thin corridor, presumably leading to the bedrooms and bathroom. Connor disappears from Markus’s line of sight a few steps in, so he focuses on hanging back and quietly observing the room, just in case he can help in any way possible.

 

The brief report from the first responding officers had detailed that, according to Mr Shellsby, Leo had attacked him using a knife he brought himself and managed to deal a glancing blow to his arm that had knocked him off balance, causing him to fall and dash his head against a counter. Fortunately for the victim, he had managed to grab a knife of his own and swung out desperately, nicking the perp’s torso. A small trickle of blue blood escaped before he fled down the corridor. The victim thought he heard a slam, but couldn’t be sure if it was from a window or door closing.

 

Connor goes straight to the large window at the end of the corridor. It overlooks the back yard and pool house; a possible escape point. Directly outside the slim pool burbles, an artificial current sweeping it around gently. The doors to the back yard are located a good few metres away from the window, and grant access over the moat with another small bridge directly in front of them. Connor glances back to the pool, and the patio that surrounds its outer edge. There’s no way anybody could make a leap from the window to the patio, given the height of the window and the length of the pool. There are no wet footprints leading away. The perp didn’t leave this way.

 

The next possibility that enters Connor’s mind is an exit through the doors, over the bridge, and then across the manicured lawn and through a flowerbed to clamber over the fence that encases the whole garden. He immediately rules that idea out, too; the flowers and bushes are all crammed tightly together, expertly arranged so that they look artfully unattended to and wild. There’s no place that someone could have pushed through them to reach the fence without trampling them, or causing some disturbance at the very least.

 

That leaves the pool house at the end of the garden, long and sprawling. Two of its walls are barely inches away from the iron fence on either side, the back wall has maybe a foot between, and the front wall is made entirely of glass. The roof on top is sloping and offers no grip. Technically, someone athletic enough could use the fence to push themselves up onto the roof, then scrabble for a handhold for just long enough to hurl themselves over the fence, but it would require a level of skill that only he and Markus possess, as RK prototypes. Even if it were otherwise possible – there’s a blinking alarm above the doors, and a quick scan and crosscheck through his database reveals that the alarm would have gone off if somebody touched any part of the building without inputting the code. It’s too sophisticated to be hacked, too, except by an android with a specifically downloaded hacking protocol, and Connor highly doubts that’s the case; such programs are still guarded by the government, and as far as he knows, he’s the only model ever granted access to them.

 

The perpetrator – Leo – is still inside.

 

 A tingle of electric anticipation trickles down his spine. This is potentially dangerous, potentially lethal for everyone involved…but it’s familiar territory. Connor knows where to go from here.

 

Three doors in the corridor. One on the left – the bedroom, the victim had said. Also where the doors to the garden were found. Two on the right – a bathroom and an office. Logically, the bedroom would be where the perp went. It has the easiest escape route – but would Leo have known that? An equal chance that he would have gone into any of the rooms. He needs to look for other clues.

 

The walls are covered in a pale cream wallpaper, no feature wall unfortunately. Slight scuff marks along the skirting board, otherwise spotless. No dust, dirt, or cobwebs anywhere to be seen – a daily housekeeper or cleaner? Seven pictures, untouched for years except for dusting. Three of family, in a neat column, on the right side of the bedroom door. A large watercolour of a sunset horizon, a slightly smaller recreation of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ both placed between the bathroom and office. Abstract modern art: a pastel blue background and a series of vibrantly hued zig-zags over the top of it, hung diagonally for effect on the right side of the office. A framed graduation photo, complete with clutched diploma and awkward young adult smile, furthest away on the left side of the bathroom door, maybe to hide it as much as possible from guests. Then why hang it in the first place? Connor’s given up on trying to figure out humans, and he’s about to turn away to collect Hank and another officer so they can rush the rooms at the same time, when –

 

The modern art wasn’t hung diagonally for effect. Either side of the downwards-pointing corner are two darker patches of wallpaper, undamaged by the sun streaming through the large window; where the painting should be. Delicately, Connor lifts the painting, and sees two nails where it should be placed. He settles it back on, straight, over the solid rectangle of unfaded wallpaper.

 

His mind immediately slips into a reconstruction: the perpetrator was struck, fled to the corridor and dashed into the office. His hand brushed the wall for balance as he changed his momentum to slide around the doorframe, slamming it behind him, and knocked the painting askew.

 

The perpetrator is in the office.

 

Connor lines himself up in front of the door, feet landing softly on the tiles and creating only the smallest of reverberations. If his own ears are able to pick it up – his audio components are the most sensitive available, but they aren’t exclusive to just his model – then there’s every chance that Leo’s did too. If that’s the case, his element of surprise has slipped through his fingers. Without enough data to calculate the probability of the perpetrator hearing, Connor will have to assume the worst-case scenario – that his presence is known. Connor doesn’t like assuming.

 

He twists the handle carefully but briskly, acting just like he’s inspecting the room out of formality. Takes two steps inside, checks round. Nothing seemingly out of place, though it’s not like he knew what the office looked like before. Regardless, the room seems orderly, papers and files stacked on shelves and a large desk. There’s nowhere to hide; the space under the desk is too open and shallow, there are no wardrobes, and the bookshelf is pressed flush against the wall. Which leaves –

 

The door slams forward, into Connor, and knocks him off balance. He stumbles back against a short cabinet, doesn’t quite lose his footing, but it’s enough for someone to dart around from behind the door and dash into the corridor. Connor wastes a precious two seconds regaining his balance and processing what happened before he takes off in the same direction, just in time to see the window smash as the perpetrator jumps through it. He registers Hank’s concerned shout, but doesn’t have time to respond as he follows through the now empty pane. A shard still attached to the frame scrapes at his cheek as he slips out and lands in the pool, only a couple of feet deep.

 

The perpetrator is already halfway across the lawn, heading to the pool house. Connor wades through the pool as best he can, then sprints after the figure. The pool house’s alarm system shrieks as the perp smashes through the glass doors and skids out of view – the sun is in the perfect position to bounce off the windows and blind him to what’s going on inside, which Hank would probably label as Sod’s law. His only chance to assess the situation is to enter the pool house too.

 

The room is flooded with light from the ceiling-to-floor windows. It bounces off the water in the pool in rippling reflections and casts a miasma of distortions and shadows; Connor has to recalibrate his vision to search through them. Nothing. Suspect must have already left. He sprints past a large sign declaring ‘No running by the pool’ and uses an overhanging towel rack to change his momentum through a set of double doors, into a small shower room.

 

A high-pitched squelch to the left where the perp has twisted his foot on a patch of water. Connor follows the sound and is met with a swinging glass door that throws him off for a millisecond as he catches it and yanks it open enough to slip through. He can see the perp now, dropping to the other side of the fence, crouching before taking off a standing sprint into the small patch of trees that separate this house from the bustle of the city. Connor uses the wall of the pool house to lever himself over the top of the fence and follows suit.

 

The perp is faster than he expected, but he’s still a fraction slower than Connor himself. He still manages to gain several feet of ground in the confusing labyrinth of trees, when Connor is forced to dodge and skim around winding trunks and rotting stumps. By the time he explodes onto the street Leo is already halfway over the road, surprisingly free of traffic for an urban location, and even as he follows, the other android sprints into a four-storey hotel. From his limited angle, Connor sees the bottom half of his legs take the stairs two at a time, and dashes into the lobby with a quick shout of “Detroit Police!” at an elderly doorman who looks prepared to form a human blockade.

 

He doesn’t know if Leo has kept on his track up the stairs or pulled off to hide in a first-floor room, but there’s a startled cleaner in the stairwell who wordlessly points to the next flight when she sees him. He thanks her briefly with a nod, makes a mental note of her face so he can scan it later and acknowledge her properly, then flies up the next flights of steps to the second floor.

 

No cleaner here, unfortunately, but the doors permitting access to the rooms need a key-card. It could be hacked, but that would take a few seconds at least, and Leo didn’t have that sort of time. Upwards and onwards it is.

 

The doors to the third- and fourth-floor rooms are the same, and Connor is briefly baffled until he catches sight of a door marked as maintenance, the mechanical lock busted. Through it is another flight of stairs – he takes a brief moment to be grateful that androids can’t get breathless – and a ladder to a still-open hatch.

 

Connor scrambles out of the hatch with slightly less grace than he would have preferred, and for a glorious second he thinks he has Leo cornered. The android backs away from him; he was still standing near to where he climbed out, scanning for an escape route. “Leo!” he calls, reaching up to fix his tie before he remembers that he gave it to Markus for sake-keeping. “My name is Connor!”

 

“I know your name!” Leo calls back, finally turning around and enabling Connor to get a clear scan on his face. His features aren’t instantly recognizable, but his model is CX100; an intimate partner. Able to change their facial structure and features to suit their human owner. “You’re the first android detective, we all know you, Connor!”

 

“Then you know I’m here to help you,” Connor replies levelly, glad that Leo didn’t respond with his previous title of ‘Deviant Hunter’. That would have been more difficult to work around.

 

“You can help me by leaving!” Leo shouts, eyes darting around frantically. He looks like a cornered animal on a nature documentary, like the ones that Connor has been watching recently. Does that make him the predator?

 

His mind flickers through BARGAIN HONEST PERSONAL. Honest seems fitting. “I can’t do that, Leo. Markus has worked hard to give us equal rights, this is only setting us back.”

 

Wrong choice. Leo’s eyes widen, grow more manic. “This – this is the epitome of equal rights!” He steps onto the ledge of the roof. Connor, about to take a step forward, stops himself in case the motion prompts Leo to take an answering step back. “They did so much evil to us!”

 

What did Markus say once? A quote that Connor liked, especially said in such a powerful, desperate tone? “An eye for an eye and the world goes blind,” he calls to Leo. “Our rights were gained through peaceful means; you can’t fight fire with fire.”

 

Leo chews his lip several times like a particularly twitchy rabbit. “They don’t learn,” he mutters. Connor deduces from the low tone that this speech is for his own benefit rather than Connor’s. “You can be nice, but they don’t learn. Fear is the only way.” Leo steps off the raised ledge, vision focused on the distant horizon. “It’s the only way,” he whispers, words carried away by the breeze before a human would be able to process them, and suddenly he bolts forward. In a few strides he reaches another edge of the rooftop and leaps forward.

 

Connor darts after him, sees him land on a slightly lower rooftop and keep running, albeit slightly slower. Rooftiles slither free and shatter on the ground where he knocks them.

 

PURSUE PERPETRATOR-UNCALCULATED RISK-HANK MARKUS SUMO NORTH SIMON JOSH

 

In a split-second Connor makes his decision. The other option is to let the perp go, which isn’t an option really, and he is confident in his own abilities. He won’t be leaving his friends behind, not today.

 

Similar to Leo, he backs up and takes a few long sprinting strides forward, then hurls himself into the air. He lands heavily on the rooftop, and a warning flashes PATELLA DEGRADATION SEEK REPLACEMENT NON-URGENT before he dismisses it.

 

Leo has already sought refuge on the next rooftop, and Connor tries to make up for the chasm between them by running faster than he would have normally done along such a narrow, slippery surface. The roof is sloping, so running on the sides is unthinkable, and the join at the top is rounded, making a grip difficult. Connor manages anyway, lands slightly lighter on the next building. His speed has gained him valuable seconds.

 

The chase continues for three more buildings before Connor stumbles. The third rooftop is treacherous; a deceptively wide flat path lies on top of the two sloping sides, but it turns out to be unsteady. The tiles there have grown loose from repeated rain and snow, and Connor navigates most of them until one at the end causes one leg to go one way while the other continues another. There’s an unpleasant jolting feeling deep in the pit of his abdomen as he slips, and for a fleeting moment he knows he’s going to fall off and land in a crumpled heap on the sidewalk.

 

Then his flailing hand manages to grasp a miraculously solid tile, and he hauls himself back from where he’s lying, legs dangling, over the roof to a crouch on the relative safety of the flat tiles. When he looks up, he expects to see Leo nothing more than a dot in the distance, far away, but he finds the other android perched at the closer end of the next rooftop, frozen.

 

“I don’t want you to die,” he blurts after a few seconds of staring. “I don’t want anybody good to die.”

 

Connor doesn’t feel safe here. He wants to get off, now, but this could be his chance. He sends a ping to Markus with his location before he answers, in the scarce hope they’ll be able to arrive before Leo takes off again. “I’ve caused several deaths of our people,” he points out, though he’s not entirely sure why he’s basically asking Leo to add him to his hit-list. “I told a Pl600 model, Daniel, that he would be safe, knowing he would be shot. I thought I’d saved another, he was an HK400. He didn’t have a name. I stopped an officer from making him self-destruct, but when I talked to him the next day he did so anyway. I chased and nearly killed several others. I resulted in the original Jericho being blown up.”

 

Leo shakes his head. “You weren’t deviant,” he argues. “We – we weren’t alive. We all – all did things we regret.”

 

Connor hedges his bets. “Did you? Do things you regret?”

 

A jerky nod.

 

“You’re a CX100 model, designed to be an intimate partner. I imagine you went through some quite traumatic experiences.” No response. “My friend, North, she’s a WR400. She doesn’t like to talk about it much. I know the humans treated her badly.”

 

“Badly doesn’t cover it,” Leo replies, fists clenching. “He – James – he just wanted a punching bag.”

 

“That was your owner?” Connor waits a few seconds before it becomes clear Leo isn’t prepared to say much else. “I don’t know what happened to you, but I’d like to. I want to understand so I can help you.”

 

“I think – I think I’m past help,” Leo admits, a bitter smile that Connor sees himself in drawing onto his mouth.

 

“Let’s make a deal, then.” That piques his interest – he looks up, the wind catching his brown hair and throwing it across his eyes. “I think I’m past help, too. I’m not doing so well with emotions. My friends keep telling me to see somebody about it, or talk to them. If you get help, I’ll get help.”

 

Pause. “Your help is talking to friends, my help would be mandatory therapy sessions while in jail,” Leo sneers, though not maliciously. “I mean it when I say it’s too late. It was too late a long time ago.” His fingers tap an irregular rhythm on the tiles he’s clutching for balance. “I became deviant when – Helen. That’s what he called her.”

 

“The YK500?”

 

“He hit her. A lot. He would turn her sensors on – she’d get hungry, cold, thirsty, and he’d lock her in the basement, or outside, and listen to her crying.”

 

“What about you? What did he do to you, Leo?”

 

Leo shakes his head. “You said it yourself, I’m designed to be an intimate partner. You can guess what he wanted from me! Sometimes he got bored of me, he said he wanted to try something younger.”

 

“Sometimes?” Connor repeats. “That happened more than once?”

 

“It happened a lot. And then once…I think Helen went deviant. She started screaming, trying to fight back. So he…stabbed her, in the shoulder. It didn’t hit anything vital, but he locked her outside and the bleeding didn’t stop in the cold. I saw it, and something snapped. He left the knife on the counter, he was just standing there, looking out of the window, watching her die…so I grabbed it.”

 

“Where did you stab him?” Connor asks, even though he already knows the answer.

 

“I didn’t. I cut his throat. There was a lot of blood. I took Helen and ran away. I tried to save her. But she lost too much thirium.”

 

“Helen died?”

 

“She was like my little sister. I didn’t realise until that moment, but…that’s what she was.” Leo makes a pained noise in the back of his throat, like Sumo when he got a thorn stuck in his foot, vulnerable and raw.

 

“Leo, I cannot begin to express how sorry I am,” Connor begins, and stalls. What more is there to say? “I…I’m so sorry.”

 

Leo glances up, gaze sharp and narrowed. “You are. Maybe there’s hope yet.” He unfurls himself to stand. “I don’t hate you,” he says simply. “I like you, I think. But I don’t want to be caught.” With conspicuous effort, he turns away from Connor with a final nod, and picks up speed to carry himself from one rooftop to another.

 

Connor watches him as he gradually becomes smaller and smaller against the sun, and tries to identify what he’s feeling.

 

Conflicted. He’s feeling conflicted.

 

Murderers are bad, and need to be arrested to be given justice.

 

Leo is traumatised, and has done inexcusable things after having inexcusable things done to him, and needs to be helped. This doesn’t make Leo intrinsically bad.

 

Leo is a murderer and traumatised, and Leo is bad and not intrinsically bad, and Leo needs to be arrested to be given justice and needs to be helped.

 

The two things don’t naturally mesh, but they have to. Connor grips a jagged rooftile in his hand and tightens his hold on it until it cuts into his palm and he has to focus his system onto repairing the injury, and doesn’t have capacity to think about what just transpired.

 

“Connor!” The shout is so sudden that he startles and slips, and has to scramble once more to keep his balance. He looks down to see Hank and Markus, hurrying down the street towards him with wide eyes. “What the fuck are you doing up there?”

 

“Trying to catch Leo,” Connor replies forlornly. “He got away.”

 

“Would never have guessed,” Hank replies. “Are you coming down?”

 

Connor considers. “I don’t think I can,” he replies honestly.

 

“I saw a ladder a few houses down, I’ll ask if we can borrow it,” Markus says quickly, and then to Connor, Hang in there. The very human phrase brings up a multitude of cat-themed motivational posters in his database, which is enough to make him smile weakly.

 

“He’s not bad,” he calls down to Hank once Markus has left. If he’s going to ramble like his vocal module needs replacing, he’ll do it when his maybe-crush is out of earshot, and it’s just him precariously balanced on a roof and his adopted alcoholic father wearing the ugliest shirt known to mankind down on the ground.

 

Hank blinks. “What?”

 

“Leo. He’s not bad.”

 

Hank’s eyebrows drop and crease. “So what is he?”

 

“He’s traumatised and needs help! But he’s also doing bad things, which makes him bad. So…he is bad?”

 

Hank, with his combination of dad powers and detective skills, works out what Connor’s trying to say. “People do bad things a lot, Connor. Doesn’t always make them bad. Murder is – awful. But if someone’s doing it because they went through something awful too? Probably not bad. Maybe not good, either.”

 

It’s Connor’s turn to scrunch his eyebrows. “You’re either good or bad. You can’t be neutral.”

 

“Why the hell not? It’s all opinion, anyway. You say someone’s good, somebody else could say they’re bad.” Hank’s face and voice both soften when he sees Connor’s flummoxed expression. “What I’m saying, son, is that good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, and sometimes a person’s reasons for doing bad things make sense in theory but don’t in practice. And good things can be done for bad reasons, and bad things can be done for good reasons.”

 

Connor stays silent for a moment, saving the words to his memory so he can replay them again when he’s in a better state of mind to comprehend them. “I don’t think I like this side of detective work,” he finally concludes.

 

“Nobody does,” Hank grins. Markus appears with a ladder slung over his shoulder. “Ah, perfect. For fuck’s sake, Connor, be careful coming down.”

 

“That’s the plan,” Connor replies, shuffling towards the edge of the roof. Markus unfolds the ladder and sets it against the wall. It just about reaches, and Connor inches himself onto it carefully. It wobbles in a fairly unreassuring manner, but he makes it down in one piece anyway.

 

Hank pulls him into a hug straight away, ruffling his hair. When he finally releases him, Connor sees a stain of blue blood on Hank’s striped shirt. His first thought is maybe now I can convince him to throw it out. His second thought is more along the lines of wait am I bleeding holy shit—

 

He touches a hand to his cheek and it comes away stained with fresh thirium. Just to be sure, he analyses it. (Markus, walking by at that moment, fumbles with the ladder.) It’s his thirium.

 

“I cut my cheek on the window,” Connor remembers, prodding gingerly at the cut. It should have healed by now – should have done so almost instantly, actually, all kinds of grime could have gotten inside his system by now, yuck.

 

“Where did you cut your leg?” Hank asks.

 

Oh, there’s a cut on his leg. A few inches long from ankle to just under his knee, slashed through his trousers neatly. “I’m not sure.”

 

“And your hand?”

 

His hand is still bleeding, even though he directed his system towards repairing it. “That was the roof.”

 

“Any other damage?”

 

“My knees will need replacing at some point. They suffered a lot of strain today.” Connor runs a quick diagnostic. “Some minor thirium loss.”

 

“We’re all out at home after that job a week ago, we’ll need to run by somewhere to get some.”

 

“If I may,” Markus interrupts, significantly less laddery than a few minutes ago, “we have a store of thirium at New Jericho. We also have polymer grafts – to cover the cuts up.” He indicates the whole of Connor vaguely.

 

“They aren’t healing like normal,” Connor frowns, flexing his hand and watching the synthetic skin stretch around the wound.

 

“Emotional strain,” Markus explains. “Even if you try to focus on healing, your system is too overloaded to actually obey.”

 

“You guys are just as fucking useless as humans sometimes, you know,” Hank grumbles. “Got your own version of fucking haemophilia and all. Shit.”

 

“I should go to New Jericho,” Connor agrees. “They have the supplies I need, and Markus will be able to assist me more than you, Hank. Sorry,” he adds as an afterthought, but Hank just waves it off. “It would also be bad to let Sumo see me like this. Remember how he reacted last time?”

 

Hank snorts. “You mean when he wouldn’t go near you for two days because you covered in blood spooked the shit out of him? Yeah, I remember. Mainly because of your bitching about it.”

 

“It was awful,” Connor recalls. “I don’t want it to happen again.”

 

“Are you going to stay the night?”

 

Connor glances to Markus, who smiles in a manner that conveys the decision is up to Connor. “Yes,” he decides, which is still a liberating thing to be able to do. “I’ve never had a sleepover.”

 

“Careful Connor, you’re starting to sound like a pre-pubescent girl.”

 


 

One cab ride later, Markus and Connor pull up outside New Jericho, and are immediately swarmed by a group of android children when they step out.

 

“No Sumo?” one of them asks, dejected, before another spots Connor’s battered state and exclaims, “You’re hurt!”

 

“Not too badly,” Connor reassures them. Something twinges when he sees their stricken faces, and he’s reminded of Helen who never lived to see their freedom or play with new-found friends.

 

“We need to fix Connor up,” Markus explains. “So, we won’t be able to come and play with you this evening, I’m afraid.”

 

A chorus of disappointed sighs meet his words, but the children run back inside the converted hotel, no doubt already making alternative plans for the evening.

 

“They only love me for my dog,” Connor jokes. Markus loops an arm around his waist to help him walk, which is entirely unnecessary but also kind of awesome, so Connor doesn’t protest.

 

“Sumo’s a bonus,” Markus agrees. “But they also think you’re a hero who saves them from all the baddies in the world. That may be North’s fault.”

 

“If only,” Connor mutters. Markus shoots him a look but doesn’t comment, just helps him through the communal area – this time full of androids who alternate between asking Connor if he’s okay and thanking him for his services, both of which are equally exhausting to figure out an answer to. Markus responds to them all politely but quickly, and after either a minute or an hour they escape to the small corridor. Connor finds himself sagging against Markus, and hurries to rectify the mistake.

 

“I’m going to grab some stuff from the storage room.” Markus points to a door. “That’s my room, go in and sit on the bed?” Connor nods and does as bade, suddenly too tired to argue that he should help gather the supplies. Markus unwinds his arm from his waist, and Connor has to steady himself with a hand against the wall.

 

He finds his way into Markus’s room somehow, which is exactly what he expected, really. A large bed, thankfully near to the door, that he sinks into, no doubt creasing the covers. A wardrobe and a desk are pushed against one wall, and then shelves of painting supplies cover the rest, apart for the gaps that are filled with easels. Some of them have half-finished paintings – or maybe they are finished? Connor’s never had much of an eye for art. A large, clear space in the middle of the room, covered with a deep blue carpet.

 

He hopes he isn’t bleeding onto the bedsheets. He presses a hand to the wound on his leg ineffectively, seeing as it seems to have clotted over already. The heavy fabric of his jeans, made worse by the water he waded through but dry now, seems to be fused to the sticky thirium. He tugs it away with a wince; it doesn’t hurt, but it tugs at his skin unpleasantly.

 

“Careful, you might reopen the cut,” Markus chides, coming back in with an armful of medical supplies. “Let me.” He places the items next to Connor on the bed: several packets of thirium, a bottle of water, several polymer patches, a cloth, tweezers, bandages.

 

“Thank you, Markus.”

 

“It’s no problem.” Markus takes the bottle of water and wets the cloth, then dabs gently at the wound. The water seeps into the stiff fabric of his jeans and after a few seconds, Markus is able to carefully tug the material away from the wound. “We should roll this up,” he says, fingers playing with the hem. At Connor’s nod he deftly folds the bottom of his jeans over itself again and again, until it’s nearly bunched up under his knee.

 

The wound is uglier now that he can see it properly. It’s jagged and slightly messy, skin peeling away grotesquely. It’s not too deep, but there are a few bits of dirt and what looks like part of a roof tile that have wiggled their way inside.

 

“The cut hasn’t gone through your base skin,” Markus tells him, examining his leg closely. “So these won’t have entered your system. I’ll get them out now and then we can put the patches over to let it heal.”

 

“Sounds good.” Connor eyes the tweezers. Markus notices his discomfort and squeezes his knee briefly before delving into the wound. The entire thing feels oddly intimate, despite the discomfort of something rooting around inside his skin.

 

Markus works efficiently, and within a matter of seconds he’s smoothing a polymer patch over the wound, and securing it with the bandages. “It shouldn’t take long to fuse over,” he says absent-mindedly, tweaking the knot he tied to make sure it won’t become loose. “As long as you don’t get too cold.”

 

“I’ve got you to keep me warm,” Connor says, and realises after Markus’s eyes widen that he made something of a come-on. Oh well, too late to rectify that mistake now. Guess he’ll just have to let Markus think he was flirting.

 

“That you do,” Markus murmurs in response, and pushes himself off the floor to sit next to Connor on the bed.

 

They find several more minor cuts all over Connor that will heal by themselves easily enough once he has a chance to rest, and Markus insists on checking each and every one of them for foreign objects. He turns around while Connor examines his own thighs, a small gesture for which he is eternally grateful, and then has Connor lie down on his front and then his back while he checks his torso.

 

Feeling surprisingly vulnerable with his shirt off and his jeans rolled up to his knees, feet bare, Connor sits silently while Markus tends to the gash on his cheek. “I don’t think this one needs a patch,” he muses while examining it.

 

“So the torture’s over?” Connor jokes half-heartedly. “Sorry. I mean, thank you. I’m just worn out.”

 

“You don’t need to apologise, I can’t imagine how you must be feeling,” Markus murmurs, and settles back slightly to check his work. “Okay, I think you’re all patched up. You should drink some thirium, everything’s clotted now.”

 

Connor accepts the packet of thirium, creates a small tear in the plastic with his teeth – and doesn’t miss how Markus’s eyes track the movement – and slowly drinks, feeling his strength return slowly. He finishes one packet, places it aside and accepts another. The second one brings his levels up to 98.7%. “I’m full again,” he tells Markus, who scoops up the remaining packets and dumps them on the floor unceremoniously. Connor pulls his slightly battered shirt back on, buttoning it with shaking fingers.

 

“Do you need to rest?” he asks, scooting down the bed and away from the pillows, ready to help Connor lie down if he needs to. But Connor shakes his head.

 

“You said you were worn out,” Markus points out, face drawing into a concerned frown.

 

“Not physically,” he says, and Markus seems to understand. He reaches out and grabs Connor’s hand in his own, though he doesn’t try to interface.

 

“You should talk about it.”

 

Connor huffs. “I don’t know if I can.”

 

“Try? For me?” Markus’s expression has such warmth in it that Connor can’t bring himself to refuse.

 

“I was confident in my abilities,” he confesses. “So I followed Leo across the rooftops; I wasn’t worried about falling. I was able to push away the worries about you, and Hank, and everyone who I care about.”

 

“But then?”

 

“I slipped. And all I could think about was…how devastated Hank would be. How upset you would be. I’ve never – I’ve never feared for my life before, not like that. I’ve always known that I would make it out alive of whatever situation, but this time…I really did think I was going to die, just for a second.”

 

“You’ve never felt that before?”

 

“I’ve only ever been in a life-threatening situation before I was deviant. It didn’t worry me, then. I had another body waiting.”

 

“Mortality has terrified humans ever since they were intelligent enough to understand the concept of it.”

 

“We’re not human.”

 

“Not physically. You can look at the word ‘human’ as a noun or a verb; it can be a state of mind.”

 

“That’s…” Connor drops his gaze to the quilt he’s sitting on. “I still don’t understand why everyone else can deal with these things better than me, though.”

 

“Look, Connor – hear me out. I think…you’re very different to most androids. Before they became deviant, most of us spent our lives just unaware of emotions. They simply didn’t exist within us, not on the surface, anyway. But you…you always had these basic…wants, preferences, likes and dislikes, right? But you were conditioned to think that it was just mimicry, that it was there to help you integrate better and be a better detective, right?”

 

“I was programmed with more of a personality to help with interrogations and workplace relations.”

 

“You were told that your own emotions weren’t real, Connor. And now you know they are? That’s – I’m honestly not sure how you aren’t constantly overwhelmed, every second of every day.”

 

“I am. Everything is a source of emotion, now. And I don’t know how to deal with that. And that in itself is stressful, which just makes it all worse.” Connor gestures uselessly. “I used to be able to analyse a situation without any emotions interfering. Now every situation is just a mess.”

 

“I – Connor, you were only alive for, what? Three months? You had less time than most of us to figure out life at all. And…you were literally programmed to think that deviancy was wrong. And if that’s not enough of a mind-fuck, you had to figure out you were a deviant while hunting deviants! It’s not surprising your head is a tangle of all these different feelings and thoughts.”

 

“I don’t like – I don’t like not knowing, Markus. I don’t like being controlled by my own emotions. I – I think I was better at emotions before I was a deviant.” Connor recognises the irony in his own words and shakes his head, smiling ruefully. “At least then I knew that—” He cuts himself off abruptly.

 

“Connor, if you’re not ready to talk – I won’t press you. But if there’s something you want to say, then I’m here.”

 

“I still – worry. About CyberLife. If maybe they…they’re just letting me think I’m in control? And suddenly they’ll regain control and make me…murder you, and everything will—”

 

“You can’t always know these things, Connor. Sometimes…you just have to trust in yourself, trust that your self-tests are telling you the truth.”

 

“That’s not,” his voice cracks embarrassingly, static creeping around the edges, “that’s not good enough.”

 

“It has to be, Connor, because it’s going to tear you apart otherwise. You will be consumed from the inside out and that is not a life, that is just somebody existing as a shallow husk of who they really are.” Markus grips even tighter, cradles their joined hands against his chest, over his synthetic heart. “I don’t want you to just exist, Connor. Please.” His voice fizzles in a similar way to Connor’s own, but he doesn’t calibrate it before he speaks again. “I need you to live.”

 

“It’s…it terrifies me, Markus. Not knowing.”

 

“I think that’s just part of life. You’re scared for some of it, but…” Markus swallows and shifts closer to Connor. “But that’s what makes it so much better when you’re not.”

 

“I don’t think I follow.”

 

“How can you know what happiness is – true happiness – if you’ve never experienced true sadness?” Markus’s lips curve into a sad smile. “Light without darkness would blind us all. Darkness without light would leave us equally unable to see.”

 

“Maybe a little less dark,” Connor pouts quietly, and laughs with Markus, only to hastily cut himself off when it jolts his chest unpleasantly. Shit. He’s crying, for the second time in as many days. “Sorry, I—”

 

“Don’t ever apologise for that, Connor,” Markus says sternly, shuffling towards him and leaning their foreheads together. “Don’t ever apologise for having emotions.”

 

A few minutes pass in silence, Connor's breathing gradually falling into sync with Markus's own as he calms himself back down. It's substantially easier to do so in his presence, the steady reassurance of his thirium pump and heart if Connor focuses his auditory processors just right. "I should tell you – about Amanda," he says finally, quietly. "I never told you what she made me do."

 

"You don't have to," Markus tells him, and slides his hand round to the nape of Connor's neck, squeezing gently and brushing his fingers along the short hairs he finds there.

 

"I do. For myself," Connor insists. "I thought – I thought mentioning her might bring her back, maybe she was hiding in the back of my programming, just waiting for a chance. But a couple of days ago – I talked to Hank about her, and nothing's changed, so maybe she is really gone." Connor shakes his head. "You deserve to know, Markus. She tried to make me shoot you."

 

Ice grips Markus's heart. "She – what?" He can't believe that Connor has been carrying this burden around with him for nearly half a year; the pressure of knowing that there might be somebody residing in your head, ready to take away your autonomy.

 

Connor relates everything that he told Hank, and everything that happened that night when they fought for their rights with their lives. He explains the visit to Kamski's that ended in him pointing a gun at Chloe's head, and being unable to shoot her. "I think I deleted her," he confesses quietly. "But...I can't be sure. And that's the crux of it all." He leans his head against Markus's shoulder, strong, sturdy, supporting.

 

"I - well, I should come clean – I overheard some of your conversation with Hank, two days ago, in the bullpen. Just the end of it, and I didn't really know what was going on, but--"

 

"It doesn't matter," Connor interrupts. "It was an accident, and you’re my friend, and I've told you everything now anyway."

 

"Connor, you're allowed to be angry--"

 

"I know, but I'm not--"

 

"You should have told me--"

 

"I know, I'm sorry, Markus."

 

"No – I mean, you shouldn't have shouldered that burden all by yourself for so long. It's – it's a lot to bear, Connor, and I am here."

 

"I know," Connor repeats, blinking rapidly, and then slowly, carefully, he copies Markus's actions earlier, and pushes his forehead against Markus's. His hands come to cup the defined line of his jaw, thumbs stroking over his cheekbones. Markus's own hands move of their own accord; one stays on the back of Connor's neck, caressing, and the other cradles the left side of Connor's face with gentle pressure.

 

Time loses any semblance of measurement; even Markus's internal clock doesn't function, flickering between numbers uselessly, as the embrace continues past what would be considering purely friends – if it could ever have been seen as platonic from the start.

 

Then Connor pulls back, turquoise flush high on his cheeks. "I'm sorry," he stutters. "I don't know what—why--"

 

"It's okay," Markus reassures, and grabs Connor's hands quickly before he can retreat fully. He seeks desperately for a change of subject, something Connor can focus on instead of his obvious embarrassment. “You said Kamski had a picture of her? Amanda? In his home?”

 

Connor nods, looking relieved. “I think he’s still very fond of her to this day. I believe the real Amanda was probably very different to the AI Amanda.” He hesitates. “Kamski sent me a message, a few months ago. He unlocked the CyberLife archives for me, and I did a quick scan of what he had allowed me to access. Among them were a series of videos, which seem to be interviews with Amanda Stern before her death, to help him create a more accurate AI.”

 

“Well, he didn’t do a very good job,” Markus jokes, and thankfully Connor’s face cracks into a grin.

 

“CyberLife took over before he could make any real impact,” Connor explains. “I have it registered in my production log that my earliest designs and programming were designed by Kamski, before he released my blueprints to the company. They were hoping to create more androids like me so that they would have a large influence in the police force, and therefore have more legal sway over any matters to do with androids.” Connor pauses, then gives Markus a fairly mischievous grin that both suits him and looks unfamiliar on his features. “They wrote down everything in my records. I could get them into a lot of trouble if I wanted to.”

 

“Connor Anderson, are you suggesting blackmail? You get more devious every day.” Markus shakes his head, unable to fight the grin.

 

“If we have to.” Connor winks at him, for the second time that day. Markus feels his thirium pump stutter for a moment, and quickly regains his composure to say,

 

“You haven’t watched them yet, then?”

 

“I didn’t see the point in doing so. All it would do is either confirm my suspicions, or make me feel worse.”

 

“But the not knowing – doesn’t that drive you insane?”

 

“A little,” Connor admits.

 

“It might be good to watch them; for closure, and all that.”

 

“Does closure actually work?”

 

“I don’t think that people would go on about it so much if it didn’t.” Connor doesn’t look convinced, so he continues. “Did I ever tell you about how I became deviant?” Connor shakes his head. “It was at Carl’s house. His son turned up earlier that day, asking for cash – he’s a red ice user, or was, he’s in rehab at the moment. Anyway, Carl refused, we went to a gallery of sorts, and when we came back Leo was in the studio, looking for something to sell.

 

“He attacked me. Carl told me not to react; I think he knew that it would end worse for me if I did than if I just took it. But all I could think was about how unfair the situation was, that this druggie could push me around and I was just…expected to be a machine about it.” Markus offers him an ironic smile. “Maybe I dabbled in deviancy before that, too. But that was the moment – I actually felt myself tear away at my programming, to give myself free will.”

 

“Did you fight back?”

 

“In the end, no. I heard Carl begging me not to, and I just couldn’t. But, uh…” Markus clears his throat. “The stress of it all…Carl had a heart attack. I was leaning over him, I called him Dad for the first time, I wished more than anything for him to come back…but he was gone.”

 

“What happened? With the police?” Connor asks, but from the shadow that’s suddenly cast over Markus’s face he can guess. “They took Leo’s side?”

 

“He told them I had attacked his dad. I mean – the dispatch officer probably didn’t tell them that it was me who had called in the attack, but still. They shot me straight away, didn’t bother to ascertain what really happened. The bullet hit my thirium pump, shattered some of its valves. I was still alive, but just barely. They called someone to take me to the scrapyard; I got thrown in the back of a truck with a load of broken and dissembled androids, and literally dumped in this…nightmare. It was…” Markus shakes his head. “You don’t want to hear.”

 

“I do if you want to talk,” Connor says hesitantly. “I mean – this relationship is two-sided. If you need to talk then I want to listen, and help, if I can.”

 

“Well—” Markus hesitates. He’s never spoken about this to anybody, never felt the need to, but with what he’s been preaching to Connor lately… “There was a storm, just for some added poeticism. I could see it, just about – one of my eyes was damaged, hence,” he gestures to his blue eye, “and my auditory processor was barely functioning. My legs were – both missing, I had to crawl to find some compatible units. It wasn’t too bad putting them on – it didn’t hurt, obviously, removing my previous joints, but it felt slightly wrong. But I could walk, so I went to find what I needed. A new thirium pump, too, it was amazing it was working enough to allow me to move.”

 

“That must have been terrifying,” Connor interjects. His hand travels across the (barely there) distance between them shyly, and loops gently with Markus’s own. “I can’t – that’s awful, Markus.”

 

“It was…unpleasant,” Markus agrees, tipping his head back as he remembers cold rain splattering onto his face in fat drops from dark clouds, like the sky itself was weeping with rage, dismembered parts trying to make their way back to each other. A chasm of hands, scraping against his face and neck. “I found the eye fairly easily, and then I could scan for the others. I found the, uh, auditory processor—” He swallows and tightens his grasp on Connor’s hand. “An android had shut down with it in his hand. I think…I think he ripped it out so he didn’t have to hear what was going on around him. The thirium pump – there was one that was compatible, but she was so desperate to live, I couldn’t take it from her. I found another one, but I can’t forget her face. And there was – he begged me to end his life. He was suffering. I did it, I couldn’t leave him, but it still feels like murder.”

 

“I have no doubt,” Connor begins after a few moments’ pause, voice gravelly. “That everything you have ever done has been for the best interests of everyone involved.”

 

It doesn’t smother his doubts completely – probably nothing ever can, with how many he has swirling around in his mind at any given time – but it does go some way towards controlling them, just enough so they’re not screaming for attention at the forefront of his mind. “I try,” Markus says, voice fuzzing in and out of calibration. “I – Carl taught me to treat everyone with kindness, no matter their situation.”

 

“He would have been very proud to see you today.”

 

“I hope so. I think he would.” Markus remembers where he was originally intending to go with his story. “But, anyway, point of the story: I went to visit his grave, when the revolution was partly underway. I just talked for a little bit, and even though he couldn’t answer…it helped. A lot. So, don’t knock closure until you’ve tried it, I guess.”

 

“Would you watch them with me?” Connor asks softly. “I should at least try. But I’m not sure if I can – do it by myself.”

 

“Of course.” Markus pulls back the skin of his hand as an invitation, and Connor does the same. Connor leads them through a maze of files marked as CONFIDENTIAL and opens the first video, playing into both of their minds through their connection. He holds it on pause, on a black screen.

 

“You can stop at any time,” Markus reminds him.

 

Connor nods, and lets the video play.

 

This Amanda - the real Amanda - is very different to the AI he knows. Her hair is loose and flowing over her shoulders in small, individual braids. She's not wearing the distinctive dress he’s used to or any of the CyberLife-themed jewellery, but a pair of pale blue jeans and a long-sleeved green shirt. She has a pair of simple stud earrings in, a ring on her left thumb, and her legs are crossed right over left to reveal white trainers. More than anything else - she has a small, relaxed smile, and her eyes are soft, warm.

 

“Everything alright, Elijah?” she teases as the camera loses and regains focuses several times rapidly. “You seem to be struggling.” Mirth laces her words, but it's not malicious or patronising. It's fond.

 

“I'm fine,” Kamski answers, somewhere behind the camera, voice slightly muffled. The camera finally settled and focuses back on Amanda’s amused face, now smiling gently.

 

Connor hits the pause button. He lifts a hand to push a floof of hair away from his eyes, and finds his fingers trembling. Beside him Markus watches, silent and observant as a hawk, and wordlessly lifts his own hand up when the errant lock has been tucked away. Connor takes it and leans his entire body towards Markus, warmth flooding through his system.

 

“It should be good.” Connor struggles to pick a coherent thought swirling around in the jumble, and much more to voice it. “Seeing her...being nice.”

 

“It’s also a massive shock,” Markus points out, voice steady and soft. “Her being nice goes against everything you ever knew about her. And - seeing someone who abused you, no matter how they’re acting, cannot be easy at all. Take it easy on yourself, Connor. You don’t have to act like a machine anymore. You don’t have to be scared of feeling emotions.”

 

Connor offers him a weak smile. Markus clearly sees right through it and tugs him into a loose hug, one arm thrown around his shoulders and the other still clasping his hand tightly, carefully positioned so Connor feels both secure and free. “Whatever you need,” he says emphatically, “from me, you just have to ask.”

 

Connor holds his gaze for a few seconds, only turning away when the intensity of it threatens to overheat his systems. He stares at the video, at the frozen Amanda, and then lets it play again.

 

Kamski’s voice rings out after a brief pause. “For the purposes of this video, would you kindly state your name and relationship to CyberLife?” His tone is, as far as Connor can tell, bordering on sarcastic.

 

“My name is Amanda Stern, and I was a professor to the current CEO of CyberLife.” Amanda manages to look professional all the way through the sentence with a straight face; but then she glances above the lens and presumably catches Kamski’s eyes, because they both start laughing.

 

When she’s regained her composure somewhat, she continues, “I am the Professor of AI at the University of Colbridge, where I previously taught Elijah Kamski, and I also occupy an as-and-when advisory position at Cyberlife.”

 

“Thank you, Amanda. Why are you interested in potentially becoming an AI program?”

 

“I hope to assist CyberLife in the future by providing a mentoring AI to androids that require a higher level of handling. Actually, that's what Elijah wants, I'm just the guinea pig.” Amanda tails off into laughter again as Kamski, behind the camera, protests loudly and intelligibly. When the grumbling finishes she clarifies, “I can’t say I mind, however - obviously I’m fascinated by AI.”

 

“What models do you foresee CyberLife making that could need a ‘higher level of handling’?”

 

Connor shifts closer to Markus.

 

Amanda just looks unimpressed, shaking her head. Even so - the gesture is somehow inherently affectionate rather than cold, as she - the AI - always was with him. “You know full well, Elijah, seeing as you were the one who asked me to do this for a specific model.”

 

“For the records, though.” Kamski’s tone is playful; Connor recognises it from how he himself speaks to Hank sometimes. Hank calls it ‘being a little shit’ rather than ‘playful’, though.

 

Amanda rolls her eyes at him. “I would like to become an AI for the proposed RK800 model, whenever they are made.”

 

The words send a metallic shock slithering down his throat, even though he knew it was coming. He doesn’t outwardly react, but maybe his stress levels spiked because Markus subtly shifts closer, his knee knocking against Connor’s comfortably.

 

“Thank you, Amanda. Now…” Kamski falls into silence. The camera waves up and down a little as he fiddles with its positioning.

 

A few seconds later Amanda breaks the silence with a hearty laugh. “Do you even have any questions for me?” Her eyes crinkle around the edges as she smiles at Kamski.

 

“I wrote them down, but I’ve lost them...” Kamski mutters. The sound of papers being shuffled crackles through and clips the audio. “I’ll find it for next time,” he dismisses, and Amanda rolls her eyes.

 

“Next time? How many of these are we doing? Better question - why are we even doing them?”

 

“Legalities; to provide a better sense of who you are a person, et cetera, et cetera,” Kamski replies carelessly.

 

“You know me better than perhaps anyone else, Elijah, and I know you. You have a pet project, you don’t let anybody else have a hand in it.” Amanda brushes some loose braids behind her ear, regarding Kamski regally. This look Connor is more used to - it feels comfortingly and twistingly familiar all at once.

 

“I have a feeling I may not be working at CyberLife for too much longer.” The comment is off-hand, flippant.

 

Amanda’s eyes dart back up above the camera, suddenly serious. “End the interview,” he says softly, and the camera flicks to black.

 

“I’m not sure I want to talk about it yet,” Connor says immediately. “I need to - to watch the rest, and process.”

 

“That’s understandable,” Markus says softly. “How are you feeling, though?”

 

Connor runs through all the emotions whirling around in his...head? Heart? “Not happy,” he says honestly. “But not sad, either.”

 

“I have an idea,” Markus says, and springs off the bed.

 


 

“This is Clair de Lune, by Claude Debussy.” Markus steps away from the speakers, letting the downloaded record flow through them. “Don’t analyse it, or search for it in your databases. Just listen.”

 

Connor unfolds himself from his stiff posture at his words, and closes his eyes. After a second, he allows himself to move slightly with the piano. “It’s nice,” he comments, and the simple words thrill Markus more than a thousand-word review would have done, because it’s genuine and an instant reaction, and just Connor.

 

“It’s good to dance to,” Markus says. Connor opens his eyes to stare at Markus suspiciously. He shucks his sweater off, leaving him in a short-sleeved shirt, and steps towards Connor, careful not to block him in. He raises his arms. “Will you dance with me?”

 

Connor looks caught between alarmed and amused, and eventually lifts his own arms. “Why not,” he says quietly, and allows Markus to guide them both into the correct position. He can’t help but tease, “Shall I download a dancing function?”

 

“Don’t you dare,” Markus says quickly. “Just…follow my feet with your own.”

 

Markus leads him around the clear space in his bedroom in a simple, out-of-time-, inelegant waltz, spinning him around and dipping him whenever the music swells in a crescendo.

 

By the end of it, Connor is laughing, eyes half-closed, his hands not quite flat on Markus’s chest, fingers bunched to grip his shirt lightly.

 

Markus feels breathless.

Chapter Text

The day qualifies as one of Connor’s more stressful ones, to say the least. When he finally collapses on a bed in one of the spare rooms, the one next to Markus’s own, he just cannot force his systems to enter sleep mode. Just as soon as he manages to successfully divert one train of thought, a different one pops up in the forefront of his mind and demand his full attention. The hours tick by slowly, the storm in his mind decimating the minutes. What happened today – he was scared. Not just because he thought he was going to die on that roof, but also because everything has changed . He had a clear moral compass – there is good, and bad, and a very thin fence separates the two. Nobody straddled the fence. Now – there is fence straddling.

Does Leo deserve to face justice for what he’s done? Yes. Does he also deserve forgiveness?

Does he deserve to be blamed?

Can forgiveness exist without blame?

Connor sighs, trying to banish the nonsensical thoughts, and checks his internal clock. Less than twenty minutes have passed since he last brought it up. He swipes it away and stares at the ceiling instead, determinedly not thinking about anything. As soon as a thought threatens to bubble up and take over his brain, he brings up the clock instead.

Eventually the intervals between each time he checks become shorter and shorter until barely a minute passes between each reading.

Abandoning the idea of sleep, he swings his legs over the side of the bed and pads slowly out of his room. He’s planning to maybe go outside, see if Hank is onto something with his whole ‘fresh air fixes everything’ philosophy. His subconscious has a different idea, and he finds himself at Markus’s door, left slightly ajar. He raps his knuckles softly against the frame, waiting for a signal that the man inside has been roused from sleep mode. Nothing happens.

Suddenly flooded with a feeling he’s filed away as trepidation , Connor slips inside. He closes the door to the same position as it was before, and finds himself at the foot of the bed, fidgeting for the 3.6 seconds before Markus’s sensors register his hesitant presence and he wakes himself up.

“I can’t sleep,” Connor explains in a whisper. The jumper that Markus loaned him for the night is slightly too long in the sleeves, and they dangle over the ends of his hands. His fingers catch and toy with a loose thread anxiously.

Markus rolls out of the bed gracefully before Connor can so much as blink, taking Connor’s hands in his own (warm, calloused, gentle), and tugs them both back over to the bed. It’s warm from his artificial body heat but Markus pulls the cover back over them too, cocooning Connor next to him. Markus presses his feet against Connor’s to stop them twitching –he just can’t seem to stay still – and arranges them so that Connor can bury his head in the juncture of Markus’s neck and collarbone.

Connor exhales shakily despite no real need to, and notices that his lips are barely skimming Markus’s skin. His eyes close of their own violation, and he finally manages to enter sleep mode thanks to the calming lull of Markus’s thirium pump, only just perceptible to his sensitive auditory processors. His fingers, hooked into the thin fabric of Markus’s shirt, relax slightly.

At some point during the night they tangle together more, and both ignore how morning finds them wrapped together, Connor’s arm flung protectively over Markus’s chest, and Markus’s hands entwined in Connor’s head of loose curls.

“Is this what your hair looks like without gel?” Markus says instead, curiously winding strands around his fingers and letting them spring back into place. Connor has both eyes closed, and his cheek is smushed up from where he’s pushed his face into Markus’s T-shirt.

 

“Mmm,” Connor hums, voice slightly muffled from where he’s buried his face into his chest. The vibration seeps into Markus’s chest, where he’s still resting his head. “Looks weird.” It doesn’t stop him from pushing his head into the touch, shamelessly searching for the feel of Markus’s fingertips against his scalp.

 

“I think it suits you,” Markus decides, giving the waves one final tug before reluctantly releasing them. He can’t get too gay, or North will detect it on her Markus is being gay radar and disturb them. “I think everything suits you.”

 

“Says perfection walking,” Connor mumbles back. His face and tone remain impassive as he speaks, but Markus feels the tell-tale whir of his processors that reveal his anxiety at such a bold statement - not to mention that his face heats up, the temperature change very noticeable where it’s still pressed against his collarbon e. When Markus doesn’t reply his heart noticeably kicks up a notch, and instinctively Markus slides his hand down the smooth plane of his back to soothe him. Connor shudders under the touch, but his pulse slows.

 

“Do you have work today?” Markus asks after a few beats of silence, circling two fingers over the base of Connor’s spine with barely noticeable pressure. He wants to stay like this forever.

 

“No work,” is Connor’s muffled reply, then he practically purrs as Markus presses his fingers a little bit harder. “Need to go home, though. Walk Sumo. See Hank.” Markus’s gay brain might not be working as reliably as usual , but he thinks he can sense a slight tinge of regret in Connor’s tone. “I’ll come over tomorrow.”

 

Markus hums in response. “How about today? Kara, Luther and Alice are arriving this afternoon.”

 

“I’m not sure they’ll want to see me,” Connor replies, twisting his neck so he can bury his face further into Markus’s shirt. He wishes he had some kind of olfactory sensor for moments like this. Markus would smell like paint, he imagines, but he doesn’t know what else. Hank has commented more than once that having all five senses fully functioning would make for better analysis of crime scenes, and Connor knows it’s an option. He was somewhat rushed out of the factory when the number of deviancy cases began to spike rapidly, so he wasn’t given every single optional upgrade planned. Maybe he’ll go to Kamski and get the upgrade so he can find out what Markus smells like. And other things.

 

“Kara asked me specifically if you’d be there, she wants to see how you’re doing.” See how you’re doing = possible dismemberment? It’s more likely than you think! “She’s not going to be angry,” Markus reassures. “Luther wants to meet you, as well, he never got to. And Alice - well, I think she’s more excited to see Sumo, honestly.”

 

“Makes sense.” Connor finally lifts his head, resting his chin on Markus’s chest and blinking at him blearily. “I really need to go home.”

 

“I’ll walk you out,” Markus offers. Connor smiles and stretches out his limbs like a cat would, then pulls himself back to tumble off the bed onto his feet.

 

“You don’t have to,” he says, and stretches out again. He drops his arms and immediately his expression morphs into concern. “Markus, your nose is bleeding.”

 


 

In the end, Connor leaves by himself while Markus tries to stop his nose bleeding, all the while reassuring him that it’s nothing dangerous and should clear up by itself very soon so Connor should just go and get on with his day. He bumps into North on his way out, who raises an eyebrow at his crumpled clothing and mussed hair, and notifies her of Markus’s injury. For some reason, she laughs for fifty-seven seconds (Connor times it) and then grips his shoulders. “So gay,” she whispers, eyes brimming with emotion.

 

Connor skulks around the house when he arrives back, not able to sit down for more than a minute, but also not able to focus on a task for too long either. He flits around the house, completing chores in small chunks here and there, until the place is spotless and he has nothing else to do. Hank, after accusing him of having ADHD, suggests they take Sumo out for a walk together. Both Connor and Sumo perk up at the suggestion, despite the latter having been deeply asleep until the word ‘walk’ was mentioned.

 

“Hank, can I ask you a personal question?” Connor asks once they reach the park and let Sumo off his leash. He seems quite happy to race around without the incentive of a tennis ball this time, flying around the open field and boofing to himself.

 

“I don’t know why you even bother asking that, Con, you know the answer’s going to be yes,” Hank grunts, arms folded over his chest, eyes tracking Sumo as he gallops ungracefully through some long grass.

 

“How did you know I was deviant before I did?”

 

Hank barks a laugh. “Easy. Androids were always advertised as making your life easier.”

 

Connor waits for the words to make sense. They don’t. “And?”

 

“And you still make my life harder, have done since day fucking one.” Hank slaps him on the back in an easy display of camaraderie. “That point stands. But - you were always not quite an android, Connor. There was always something . I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you were - never just the android sent by CyberLife. You were Connor, through and through.”

 

“Thanks, Hank.”

 

The conversation seems to be getting too emotional, because Hank says hurriedly, “I think Sumo’s been swallowed by a hedge, let’s go rescue him.” As they follow the sad boofs from the trapped St. Bernard to rescue him, Hank speaks again, casually,  in a voice that makes it very obvious he’s attempting to be casual. “Anything in particular bring this on?” You know, casually.

 

How direct should he be? Hank appreciates bluntness, and hates people ‘beating around the bush’. However, the last time Connor answered one of Hank’s questions honestly and directly, Hank had immediately downed three fingers of whiskey in an attempt to forget the answer. Which was foolish, really, why had Hank asked if he possessed genitals if he hadn’t wanted to know that he did?

 

This isn’t the same situation though, so he’ll just be direct. “I’m ninety-six percent sure that I’m deeply in love with Markus,” he informs Hank, who at that moment manages to free the dog from his leafy prison, and falls back onto his ass with a wheeze. Whether that’s due to either Sumo or Connor’s revelation is unclear.

 

“No shit,” Hank coughs, and gets smacked in the face by Sumo’s fluffy tail as the dog struts past him. “About time you figured that out.” He accepts Connor’s hand to pull himself back up, almost overbalancing at Connor’s strength, and brushes off the knees of his jeans.

 

“You knew?” Connor feels...betrayed. Hank should have told him that Connor was in love with Markus. He has the right to know, considering he’s Connor.

 

“Of course I did. When did you find out?” Hank looks - sympathetic, maybe? Connor has too much swirling around his head to analyse the expression any deeper.

 

“A few days ago, we interfaced. It was about...well, nothing important, but Markus accidentally let his own feelings through the connection too. At first I thought perhaps it was just an intense friendship, and that was why I reciprocated the feeling. Then I analysed the feeling more, and compared it to how I feel about you, as my closest relationship. It was a very different feeling.”

 

“Yeah, I’d fucking hope so,” Hank mutters under his breath. Connor ignores him, as he finds himself doing more and more often recently.

 

“I’m quite sure it was a romantic feeling,” Connor continues. “Love? I found many descriptions of it online, downloaded over a thousand eBooks regarding emotional recognition, and watched through several hundred documentaries on people’s different experiences with love. It all seems to match. There were a few things that didn’t - but on the balance of probability, I suppose…”

 

“Look,” Hank sighs, “relationships aren’t black and white, kid. Sometimes they overlap, and everyone feels them differently. How one person experiences a romantic attraction is how somebody else experiences a platonic one. Some people don’t feel romantic attraction at all, and some do but only in very rare circumstances. You have to trust your gut sometimes, Connor. I think you forget that humans don’t come with a manual, we’re all figuring this shit out as we go too. That’s why teenagers are so obsessed with stupid romance novels and films, it helps them know what a crush feels like, that’s how they figure it out. That’s why it’s important to expose toddlers and young children to different things. Understanding emotions doesn’t come built in, you just know, somehow, because of what life’s taught you.”

 

“Then...I think I know, somehow, that this is love. More than love,” Connor replies quietly. “I feel connected to him.”

 

“Then go get him. You said he felt the same way? Then there’s no issue. Shit, you have it easier than humans. We get too shy to tell each other, end up dancing around the issue, and making it ten times harder to fucking guess what’s going on.”

 

“Yes, I’ve noticed,” Connor says dryly. Hank plucks a dog treat from Connor’s pocket before he can stop him and throws it at his face. Sumo bowls him over trying to catch it. From underneath Sumo happily crunching away, he asks Hank, “So you think it’s love too?”

 

“From what you’ve said.” After watching him flounder under the mass of fluff for a few seconds, Hank takes mercy and tugs the dog back by his collar. Sumo can be surprisingly hard to get leverage on when you’re underneath him, something Hank knows all too well from experience. “But you’ve gotta be the one to figure it out in the end, Con.”

 

Connor glances up from where he’s sprawled on the grass, a big goofy smile spread across his big goofy face. “I should talk to Markus,” he says, mostly to himself. “Tonight would be good. I’ll go over to New Jericho tonight.”

 

Hank nods approvingly. “You’ve got the whole day to make yourself look pretty now.”

 

Connor looks genuinely offended at the statement, and retorts, “I’m already pretty.”

 


 

“Are you sure Sumo can handle the walk?” Hank asks, eyeing the massive dog as he’s slipped into his harness for the second time that day. “It’s quite a way.”

 

“I’m going to get a taxi first,” Connor explains. “We’ll only be walking the last mile.” He clips the leash onto the harness and Sumo starts wagging his tail, only now figuring out that he’s going out for another walk, big dumb animal.

 

“Is this part of your seduction technique?” Hank drawls, nodding to Sumo. “It’ll probably work.”

 

“The children miss him,” Connor explains, not bothering to dignify Hank with a proper response. “Apparently Alice would like to meet him too.”

 

“Reminds me--” Hank twists the lid off a beer - his first one that evening, Connor notes. “Apologise to Kara from me, for the whole ‘chase’ situation.”

 

Connor purses his lips. “Technically, you were the one who stopped me from chasing her, so you have less to apologise for than I do.”

 

“Less doesn’t mean nothing.” Hank winces as soon as he’s spoken. “Aw, shit, I didn’t mean that - that you’ve done more , just...”

 

“I know what you meant, Hank.” Connor drops the leash to shrug his jacket on, and Sumo picks it up in his mouth, which is very cute but also means that it will now be covered in dog saliva.

 

Hank leans back in his chair, propping his feet on the coffee table. He ignores how Connor follows the movement with eyes sharp as lasers. “What time do you think you’ll be back?”

 

Connor hums to himself as he grabs a few treats and shoves them in his pocket, tossing one to a slobbering Sumo. “Around ten? I won’t stay too late or Sumo will be upset. Can you feed--”

 

“Feed the fish at seven PM, yes, I got it.” Hank waves him away. “Go have fun, Connor. Go get your man.”

 

“I don’t like that phrase, Hank. Don’t use that again.”

 


 

Sumo sniffs the cab cautiously before he allows Connor to slide inside, then with a final glance around their surroundings he bounds inside too. The door glides shut after him and Connor wirelessly sends it the location. Sumo gives a little indignant boof under his breath as the car lurches away.

 

“Settle down, Sumo,” Connor coos, smiling as the massive dog slumps onto the seat. He rests his chin on Connor’s leg, glancing up pitifully with big brown eyes. Connor scritches behind one of his ears, and Sumo droops further against him until the harsh line of his jaw is pressing acutely into the synthetic flesh of Connor’s leg. He finds that he likes the sensation. “I really do think I’m in love with Markus,” he tells the dog. The lids of Sumo’s eyes lift as he looks to Connor. “Is it bad to say that? Human culture often refers to a taboo of saying ‘I love you’ too quickly in a relationship.”

 

Sumo dribbles a little bit onto his jeans.

 

“I don’t think I should lead with that. Maybe - just - that I like him? Maybe that’s not enough.”

 

Sumo whines in the back of his throat. Coincidentally, Connor has momentarily paused in his scritches.

 

“Of course it’s not enough, I agree. I’ll tell him that I really like him.”

 

The car rolls to a rather hurried stop at a traffic light, and Sumo nearly topples off the seat with the momentum. Connor catches him in time and steadies him back. “I’ll ask North for help. She’ll be able to create a diversion so I can speak to Markus alone.” Connor thinks over his plan. “I’ll make it clear that the diversion is not allowed to be a bomb.”

 

He rings North, going back to absent-mindedly scratching at Sumo’s head and smiling at the little happy rumbles he makes in response. Hello, North, he says as soon as his connection clicks through.

 

Con-con! Are you coming over? North sounds as relaxed as ever.

 

Yes, I’m heading over now. Is Markus there?

 

Why, are you bringing flowers again?

 

Social conventions dictate that it is polite to bring a gift such as flowers when visiting a friend, especially if they have recently moved. Also, I’m still trying to make up for the first time I visited you, when I brought the FBI.

 

North laughs, sharp and loud, and for a long time. Connor, don’t you ever fucking change, she demands. I mean it. Oh - hang on. Connor waits patiently. Sorry. Everyone wanted to know why I suddenly started laughing. I told them you said something funny and Markus tripped over his own feet.

 

So Markus is with you?

 

Yes, do you need him?

 

I would like to talk to him soon. It’s about something rather...important.

 

The connection to North changes subtly, gaining an underlying current of something more serious. I’m sure you’ll find the time, she reassures. Maybe a bit later, though - Kara, Alice and Luther are here now, and Alice is determined to meet Sumo and give him belly rubs.

 

I don’t think Sumo will be complaining. Connor glances over at his dog, who has dozed off with his tongue lolling out of his mouth. We’re walking the last mile, so we should be there in ten minutes or so.

 

We’re about to go into the meeting room, just to get Kara and Luther up to speed on what’s going on with laws and stuff. Come on in when you get here, Alice is in the rec room if you want to drop Sumo off.

 

Thank you North. North sends a brief, warm rush of emotion to him through their connection and then drops it. Almost perfectly on time, the cab stops precisely a mile away from Jericho.

 

“Come on, Sumo.” The dog perks up immediately and jumps out of the cab, instantly intrigued by a crooked paving stone which is obviously hiding the secrets of the universe. Connor sends the payment to the vehicle and allows Sumo to finish his thorough investigation before tugging him along.

 


 

“Sumo!” someone cries joyously as soon as Connor steps through the doors to New Jericho, and within seconds he’s swarmed by children. Sumo preens at the attention, tugging at his leash so he can reach all of the group, so Connor unclips it and lets him bound off. He’s immediately spoilt with pets over every single area of his body.

 

The adult android watching over the group - a Jerry - promises Connor that he’ll bring Sumo to the rec room in a few minutes, so for now Connor heads there alone, though not without several anxious glances over his shoulder to make sure his dog is still alright.

 

He enters the recreation room near silently, closing the door behind him and glancing around. Everything is just as he remembered, but with the addition of a small figure hunched over the table, legs swinging as they dangle from the chair. He’s not sure whether to introduce himself or just wait for Alice to notice him - Hank has mentioned more than once that it’s creepy for him to just stand behind someone in a room without saying anything, and creepy is on the list of things that Connor does not want to be. The decision is taken from his hands when Alice turns around anyway, her small features lighting up when she sees him. “Connor!” she cries, and springs up to rush over to him. She takes his hand in her own, slender fingers wrapped around three of his own (which is all she can physically hold), and beams up at him. “Kara told me you were coming.”

 

“Hello Alice,” he greets in return. He feels awkward standing so tall while Alice is so little, looming over her, so he drops down into a crouch instead. “How are you?”

 

“Good! Well…” She frowns. “I’m a bit bored right now,” she admits.

 

“Did Kara and Luther not leave you anything to do?” Far from being tense and awkward, his first proper introduction to Alice is going swimmingly; the young girl seems to have accepted his presence as naturally as an old friend’s.

 

“I didn’t feel like reading my books,” Alice cries dramatically, gesturing to the table behind her where there are, true to her words, several books scattered over the surface. Connor also spots several coloured pencils, along with some pieces of paper.

 

“How about drawing?” he suggests, after running a quick search to check that children like drawing.

 

“I don’t feel like drawing.”

 

“What if I draw? Then you could colour it in.”

 

This suggestion seems to please Alice, and less than two minutes later Alice sits imperiously upon her chair, tapping the end of an orange pencil against her palm as she commands Connor to draw for her. “I went to the zoo last week,” she tells him. “Can you draw animals?”

 

Five minutes later, Alice has eleven sheets of paper spread in front of her, detailing elephants, lions, chameleons, penguins, and giraffes, among others. She looks over her selection, then nods. “Very good,” she congratulates, and Connor feels absurdly proud at the praise.

 

Just as she’s about to take her pencil to the first drawing, the door creaks open and Jerry pops his head round. “Hello Alice!” he says cheerfully. “Hello again, Connor. I have Sumo for you!” As his name is mentioned, the large dog pushes round the door and pads in, panting happily. Jerry nods and closes the door again.

 

Alice opens her arms and Sumo recognises the gesture from the multiple times Connor has done the same, and immediately gallops towards her. Connor manages to grab his collar at the last moment, preventing Sumo from completely annihilating the small girl, and slows him down to an ungraceful leap that still causes Alice to rock back in her chair.

 

“He’s so soft,” Alice says in awe, digging her little hands into the plush fur. “Does he have baths?”

 

“We give him a bath every two weeks, or after he’s been rolling around in the dirt.”

 

Alice nods solemnly. “That’s when I have baths too.” Sumo snuffles into her neck, and she shrieks with delight. “He’s eating me,” she giggles, patting his head clumsily.

 

“Sumo’s favourite snack is young children,” Connor agrees, and ruffles the fur around Sumo’s butt so that he’ll wiggle further forward. He watches the large paws carefully to make sure one doesn’t end up shoved into Alice’s stomach. An odd longing for a younger sibling suddenly strikes him, and he tucks the feeling away so he can concentrate on the scene in front of him.

 

“Oh no!” comes a cry from the door, and Connor twists to see that Kara has joined them, her eyes wide in mock surprise. “Where’s Alice gone?” Alice tries to peer around the mass of Sumo now on top of her, but is blocked by the very fur that she ruffled up. Rookie error. A tiny arm shoots up instead and waves fairly frantically.

 

Connor thinks it’s a joke and that Alice is fine, but just in case he whistles softly, and Sumo clambers obediently off Alice’s lap and into his own. He throws his paws over Connor’s shoulders, which results in a lot of flecks of drool sliding down Connor’s neck under his shirt. “Thanks, Sumo,” he murmurs.

 

“I’m here!” Alice cries, jumping to her feet and rushing towards Kara. She envelops her adopted mother in an enthusiastic hug, both of them staggering slightly from the impact. “This is Sumo.”

 

“I can see,” Kara grins, smoothing back Alice’s hair. “Are you two friends?” She smiles to Connor over the top of Alice, and he tries to return it with one of his own, but his face seems to be frozen. His heartbeat has picked up, too.

 

Alice, noticing nothing, nods eagerly. “Can we get a dog?”

 

Kara laughs, “Maybe,” and then kneels down to Alice’s level. “Hey, why don’t you go and do something at the table? Me and Connor need to have a grown-up talk.”

 

“I’ll colour in my new pictures,” Alice announces, and flounces off to the table with the air of someone about to accomplish a great task, which is just plain adorable.

 

Kara smiles after her, the type of smile that people do when they’re not even aware they’re smiling, then treads lightly over to where Connor is, still sat down. He feels faintly ridiculous having a ‘grown-up talk’ while cross-legged on the floor with a Saint Bernard breathing heavily into his ear. To make things slightly less ridiculous, Kara also slides to sit down opposite him, and reaches out to pet Sumo. The touch causes him to turn around, and upon seeing another person, he climbs off Connor’s lap and lies down in between them both, tail thumping against the ground eagerly.

 

“I realised I never introduced myself properly,” Kara says gently, like she’s the one who’s committed all the social faux pas in their interactions.

 

“It’s hard to do so when you’re crossing a highway,” Connor points out, then winces. Kara just smiles a little wider at his bluntness - maybe somebody (North) warned her that he was a walking disaster, and not to take offence at anything he says. “I’m sorry for chasing you, I really am.”

 

“You weren’t deviant, it wasn’t you,” Kara points out, and shuffles a little closer. “I failed to protect Alice from Todd before I was deviant. Luther served a murderer. It’s just how things are.”

 

“I should have-” Connor aborts the sentence, takes a moment to order his thoughts. “I should have become deviant sooner. The main reason for androids becoming deviant was due to an emotional shock, and I had a lot of those. But I resisted it.”

 

“Earlier models were more likely to deviate, weren’t they?” Kara asks. Connor nods. “You’re the latest model. Maybe they built you to be more resistant to deviancy than any other model.”

 

What she’s saying makes sense, and should probably sooth him. Instead, one expression that Hank likes to use a lot comes to mind. “It still sucks,” he tells Kara, absent-mindedly playing with one of the small land masses that Sumo calls his paws.

 

The phrase makes Kara giggle, pressing a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. Still laughing, she says, “It does.” She regains her composure, barely, and then clears her throat. “How about we start from the top?” Connor must look confused, because she continues, “My name is Kara. It’s lovely to meet you.” She extends her arm out.

 

Connor returns the gesture and grasps her smaller hand in his own. “My name is Connor.” He shakes firmly. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

 

Her eyes twinkle. “I hope we get to know each other. Markus thinks very highly of you.”

 

“I think very highly of Markus,” Connor replies, and adds, “And of North, Simon, and Josh, too,” so she doesn’t get suspicious. He really wouldn’t put it past North to have told Kara he had a crush on Markus before they even met each other.

 

“Apparently there’s a vigilante android on the loose.” Kara glances over her shoulder to make sure Alice hasn’t heard them; she hasn’t, still engrossed in her colouring, but she drops her voice anyway. “Markus says you’ve been investigating murders?”

 

“We’ve linked a few back to him,” Connor admits. The lines are blurring: as a homicide detective, he’s not really meant to share details of cases; as a fellow activist of sorts for android rights, he should fill Kara in on the situation. “We got close to catching him, but I wasn’t fast enough, he got away.”

 

Kara watches him keenly as he finishes his sentence, then raises an eyebrow and mutters, “That’s not how Markus tells it.” Before Connor can question her, she continues, “Well, I just came out to check on Alice, so we should probably go to the others.”

 

Connor stands, then offers a hand to Kara and helps her up too. Sumo struggles to his feet and makes to follow them, but he directs the dog over to Alice. As they leave the room, Alice manages to persuade Sumo to jump onto a chair next to her, and starts telling him eagerly about the animal she’s colouring in.

 

Connor prepares himself for the sight of Markus as they walk in, and still finds his thirium pump beating too fast when he sees the other man. He’s gotten dressed into jeans that manage to be loose and flattering at the same time, and a black shirt that’s more than slightly form-fitting. Connor watches for a reaction now that’s aware of their mutual feelings, and is gratified that Markus seems to be having a similar response to his own skinny jeans and over-sized, loose-knit beige sweater.

 

He shoots Connor a quick smile from the corner, where he’s convened with Josh and North to chat, and sends a warm pulse through their connection.

 

“Is Alice alright?” Simon asks, pushing away from the large table in the centre of the room.

 

“She’s fine.” Kara sighs. “I wish she wanted to play with the other children, though.”

 

“She’s just shy,” Luther says, suddenly emerging from the shadows of the room. His height immediately makes Connor feel both comforted and intimidated, and he has to make a valiant effort not to jump, and mostly succeeds with only a slight flinch. Nobody notices anyway, it’s cool. “She hasn’t seen many children.”

 

“You’re right.” Kara sighs again and brushes some hair out of her face; when Connor met her (loose definition needed for ‘met’), it was black and cropped short, but she seems to be growing it out again and it’s now light brown. “Ah - Luther, this is Connor.”

 

They shake hands, and Luther offers a small smile before he returns to the side of the room, hands behind his back. He’s something of a wallflower, apparently, which Connor can get behind.

 

The small meeting in the corner breaks up and everyone gathers around the table again. “I think we’ve talked about everything to do with new laws,” North begins. “Just Leo left, I think.”

 

All eyes turn to Connor. He shifts from one foot to the other under their scrutiny. He sends a quick pang of panic to Markus. “He’s an android, CX100 model, previously abused along with a YK500 model.” Out of his peripheral vision, he notes that Kara and Luther’s stress levels have raised by a few percents each, but nothing drastic. “He’s trying to get revenge by targeting other abusers.”

 

“He’s going for people who have abused humans as well as androids,” Markus takes over. “He’s pretty brutal, from what we’ve seen.”

 

“We?” Kara asks. “Have you seen the bodies?”

 

“We’ve all been accompanying Connor to the crime scenes.”

 

“If I may,” Luther interjects. “Why are you all going to the crime scenes?”

 

Everyone replies at the same time. North says, “Bonding,” while Markus goes with, “Full perspective,” and Josh chooses, “Experience”. Simon, on the other hand, says, “I wish we didn’t.” Connor waits for them all to finish and then adds, “We thought it was appropriate to involve those at the forefront of the android rights movement with the first case of an android serial killer. I did say they could wait in the car, but they wanted to come in.”

 

“Bonding,” North repeats, nodding as if that makes her statement true.

 

Kara looks faintly uneasy at the thought. “I might give the dead bodies a miss, but bonding would be nice. We have to get back soon, but maybe tomorrow we could come over again?”

 

“You have to go already?” North says, looking disappointed.

 

“I want to get Alice settled for the night soon.” She takes Luther’s hand in her own as he comes to stand besides her. “The motel’s only a few blocks away, but she gets tired quickly. She’s done a lot of travelling today, she’ll probably crash soon.”

 

North nods, and starts off a confusing whirl of goodbyes, hugs, and hand-shakes that Connor feels he should involve himself in, despite having no clue what to do. At some point during the muddle Alice and Sumo enter the room, and respectively make beelines for Kara and Luther, and Connor. Two of them get knocked onto their asses, and it’s not the guy who stands at 6’6”. Neither of them look contrite at what they’ve done.

 

North offers to walk Kara, Luther and Alice to the door when it’s finally agreed that everyone has said goodbye to everyone else. Josh and Simon suggest that they join her (after they both startle like they’ve been sent a sudden, random telepathic message), which leaves Markus, Connor, and Sumo alone in the room.

 

This is his chance, his opportunity to talk to Markus alone without any interruptions or distractions, especially considering that Sumo has completely conked out on the floor already. The door closes.

 

“I have to go,” Connor blurts immediately.

 

Markus looks more than slightly confused. “I - yes. Okay.”

 

Connor nods. Markus nods back. Connor nods again. “I - enjoy your company, Markus,” he says, which is...yes, that’s enough feelings for tonight.

 

“I enjoy your company too, Connor.” Markus frowns. “Are you alright? You’re acting...off.”

 

“I am very on right now, actually,” Connor replies haughtily, at a loss for anything actually normal to say. “And I would appreciate it if you respected that.” He remembers Sumo as he reaches the door, and calls out for him without turning around. Hank has a collection of films ranging from ‘slightly strange’ to ‘fucking odd’, but they’ve provided Connor with a lot of social cues. He knows, for example, that this is a move widely regarded as ‘cool’.

 

The telltale tick-tick-tick of Sumo’s trimmed claws get louder as he approaches, and then they leave together without looking back. Very cool.

Chapter Text

Markus was dying.

 

This was how he died. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with -

 

“Okay, tell me again,” North demands.

 

Markus groans.

 

They’ve been at this at least an hour already, maybe even seven. Each recap has become less and less detailed as Markus slowly trundles towards both despair and despondency. North, on the other hand, seems to hurtle more and more towards intrigue each time Markus repeats himself. Then she decides she’s developed sudden and selective amnesia, and makes him tell her it all over again. “You all left the room, we were just standing in silence, and then he suddenly yelled that he had to go,” he says.

 

“He said something else, too?” Simon prompts gently. Unlike North, who has plonked herself on the arm of Markus’s chair for maximum interrogation success, Simon has chosen to relax into one of the beanbags surrounding it, which is a normal distance away. Not three inches from one body part at any given time - something North could take notes on.

 

“Oh, yeah.” Markus frowns. “He said he ‘enjoys my company’. Then he left. Without looking back. It was kind of cool. Weird, too. ...And hot.” He leans back in his chair and stares up at the ceiling contemplatively. North gives his arm an uncharacteristically gentle pat.

 

She ruins it the next moment by going, “Maybe he just got tired of you waiting to ask him out.” A cushion collides with the side of her head before she can react and avoid it. “What?” she asks Josh, the culprit.

 

He gives her a look that very clearly says not helping and she slumps down slightly, subdued. “I wouldn’t dwell on it too much, Markus. Maybe he just couldn’t think of anything to say? He came over to say hi to Kara, Luther, and Alice, and that’s what he did. You know Connor, he’s all about having a mission and sticking to it.”

 

“Not so much recently,” Markus argues, and swats North’s hand out of his face irritably when she starts poking at his temple. “What, North?”

 

“I think Josh is right, Connor probably just panicked when he realised he hadn’t planned anything else to talk about.”

 

“Or,” Simon butts in calmly, “maybe this is Connor we’re talking about, and at the last minute he second-guessed whatever he was about to say and ran off instead?”

 

“I,” Markus begins, then falters. “Yes. That’s probably exactly what happened. Simon, you’re a genius.”

 

“I do what I can,” Simon says mildly, and doesn’t even blink when North launches herself from Markus’s chair over to his lap. She smugly kisses him on the cheek,  even though she did nothing to help Markus herself.

 

“I’m sure next time Connor will epically declare his love for you,” she says brightly.

 

Markus slides off the chair and onto the floor. “Just declaring would be enough,” he says wearily, then allows his upper body to become limp and topples face-first onto the floor. A second later, North sits on his back and begins to pat his head. She probably thinks it’s soothing. It isn’t.

 


 

“Just say it, Connor,” Hank urges, leaning further across the table and into Connor’s personal space.

 

Connor angles himself further back automatically. “I can’t,” he repeats. “I’m--” What is he? “Embarrassed.” There’s something undeniably awkward about ‘role-playing’, as Hank had called it. He can’t place his finger on it, but - pretending Hank is somebody else, and having to talk to them - he doesn’t like it.

 

Hank huffs, though not angrily. “I’ll turn around.” He twists his chair in a semi-circle with a harsh cacophony of scraping sounds that makes Connor wince. “Now go,” he says, waving an arm in an impatient gesture. Again, it’s not angry. It’s just Hank .

 

Connor clears his throat, stares at the back of Hank’s head, and says very clearly, “Markus, I am in love with you.”

 

“Good! That’s not so hard.”

 

Connor deflates. “It is when it’s actually Markus in front of me,” he mourns. Sumo ambles over to him, maybe sensing his mortal anguish, and pushes his snout into his hand. The tickly sensation and snuffly noise does go some way to cheering him up, to be fair. He gives him some pets as a reward.

 

Hank pushes off the chair, heading towards the kitchen. “Look, Connor,” he says, heading to the fridge. “Everyone hates confessing their feelings, alright?” He opens the door and starts rummaging around inside. Connor checks the time; they have to go to work in less than ten minutes, so he sincerely hopes Hank isn’t about to down a beer. “There’s always the fear, however irrational, that they’re going to reject you.” He opens a cupboard and pulls out a glass, still concealing whatever he retrieved from the fridge.

 

“I know Markus feels the same way, so the chance of him rejecting me are very slim,” Connor points out, though he cannot deny that his frenzied thoughts have settled since Hank offered his explanation.

 

“That’s why it’s called irrational, okay?” Hank puts whatever it was back in the fridge, and comes back to the table with a glass of orange juice. He takes a short drink from it as he sits down and then registers the proud smile that Connor is wearing in his general direction. “Stop looking at me like that,” he protests, shaking his head.

 

Connor continues smiling at him.

 

Hank swallows another mouthful and then gets up, saying, “Just for that, I’m adding vodka to it.”

 

“No!” Connor is around eighty percent sure that Hank is joking, but he springs up from his chair anyway. Sumo, roused by the sudden movement, copies enthusiastically and jumps up at Connor, knocking them both down onto the tiled floor. “Sumo, no!” he cries, and then gives into the giggles when the dog begins licking at his neck and face.

 

When Sumo finally decides Connor is clean enough, he shuffles down his body and then unleashes the full weight of a slightly overweight Saint Bernard onto his skeleton. Connor thinks a rib might have cracked. He can’t complain though, because Sumo’s head is resting over his heart and he’s looking at Connor with big dopey eyes full of love.

 

He strokes the dome of his head gently, until Sumo’s eyes flutter closed and he lets out a contented ‘ah-ah-ah’. When he glances up, he sees that Hank is still sitting at the table, and a quick scan confirms that the orange juice has no traces of alcohol in it whatsoever - not that he doesn’t trust Hank, but scanning is a second nature now, he often does it before he even realizes. More importantly, Hank is smiling in the special way he does sometimes, small creases littering the corners of his eyes as his lips curve upwards almost shyly.

 

When he catches Conor looking, he covers his mouth with his hand, pretending to cough, and then takes his glass to dump in the sink. “We need to get going,” he grumbles as he comes back, and crouches down to help him roll Sumo off. The daft dog lets himself be rolled quite happily, and remains on his back even after Connor stands up.

 

Hank scoffs affectionately as they pull their coats on and Sumo stays in exactly the same position like an overturned beetle. A big, fluffy, cute one. “We’re not going to stay just because you’ve melted into the fucking carpet,” he tells Sumo. The dog seems to understand the tone if not the words, because he whines pitifully and falls to his side, paws falling to the floor with a thump.

 

“I’ll take you out later,” Connor promises, feeling the misplaced guilt he always does when they have to go out without their dog. He knows Sumo will be fine - he filled a dog toy with kibble and sealed the end with Sumo’s favourite peanut butter, and he left a chicken-flavoured chew bone in his bed for him to discover later. His water bowl is full, he went out to the bathroom earlier, and they’ve had many cuddles. Hank guesses his thoughts and gently shoves him out of the door while he turns off the light and locks up.

 

Connor buckles himself in, runs a diagnostic on the car, and finds everything in perfect order (or as perfect as Hank’s battered old car ever is). He straightens his back against the seat and rests his hands on his knees, waiting.

 

Hank throws himself into the car much less gracefully and wrestles with the seatbelt, cursing all the while. He doesn’t bother to check for any warning lights as he stabs the keys into the ignition and yanks them round. He slams his foot down on the brake and carelessly releases the handbrake, then bothers with only the most cursory of glances before reversing out onto the main road in a wide arc; he changes gear with a crunch and swerves the car onto the right side of the road.

 

Connor watches his adoptive father with a surge of affection. He was programmed to do things neatly and efficiently, the exact opposite of Hank. After his deviancy, he still prefers it. He copied Hank for a day, flinging himself around and stomping and growling, and he hated it. It might be an aftereffect of his programming, but it’s still Connor. It’s a Connor thing, being neat and orderly. He’s re-claimed that from CyberLife.

 

Hank narrows his eyes and grouses, “What you lookin’ at?” good-naturedly. Connor shrugs and grins, and after a moment Hank’s gaze softens and he smiles too. “You’re weird, Connor.”

 

“Maybe.” Connor settles back into his seat, relaxed slightly more, but still maintaining good posture. Being weird is also a Connor thing, maybe.

 


 

“I thought you’d done all your paperwork?”

 

Connor glances up from his report. Hank is squinting at him suspiciously. “I am now doing last year’s incomplete paperwork,” he explains, and holds up the folder to show Hank the date. “Reports on minor infractions were prioritised lower, and therefore never completed.”

 

Hank stares at him. Ten seconds pass. He opens his mouth to speak when Captain Fowler cuts him off, booming to them from his door. “Hank! My office!” He glances to the next desk. “Connor, I see you’ve been doing last year’s paperwork.”

 

“Yes, Captain.” Connor finishes another report and uploads it to the Captain’s terminal for review.

 

Captain Fowler stares at for another few seconds, much like Hank had. Perhaps all the humans are malfunctioning? “Thank you,” he says eventually. “Hank! Hurry it up.” The Lieutenant has yet to get up from his chair, watching the proceedings instead. “You could stand to take a leaf out of Connor’s book,” he calls, hands on his hips as Hank slowly and grudgingly heads over to him.

 

“You want me to do last year’s fuckin’ paperwork?” Hank bites, casting a quick glance over his shoulder at Connor, as if to check he’s still there. Connor has noticed that Hank does that sometimes.

 

“Any paperwork would be nice.” The Captain turns back into his office, waiting for Hank to catch up with him. Once Hank joins him, Captain Fowler indicates for him to take a seat, and they have a fairly calm conversation, by all appearances, so Connor turns back to his work.

 

Chris passes by his desk, then hesitates and backtracks to stand beside him. “Hey, Connor,” he greets, looking oddly nervous. “My wife would like to invite you and Hank over for dinner sometime soon. If you want to, of course. It’s fine if you don’t.”

 

“I can’t eat,” Connor muses. “Would that offend your wife?”

 

“Not at all,” Chris reassures hastily. “It’s more - well, you invite people over for dinner more so you can talk to them. The dinner is, like - a gesture of goodwill, I guess.”

 

“In that case, I am very happy to accept,” Connor says, and beams before he can stop himself. “I’ll have to ask Hank when he returns.” He nods to the office.

 

“Of course,” Chris says happily. “Is there, uh, anything androids can eat?”

 

Connor considers. “There are products being developed but they aren’t yet on the market. Some models, such as the AX range, were given the ability to eat, but that wasn’t included in my build. Thirium is the only substance I can ingest, I suppose.”

 

“Thirium? Like - your blood?” Chris looks freaked out. Hank had too, when Connor had first explained this to him. Apparently, as Hank had explained, it was because humans considered it taboo to drink their own blood. Only vampires did that, and they didn’t even exist.

 

“It is the quickest and easiest ways to replenish our levels, should they become too low. We don’t drink it recreationally,” Connor explains. Chris’s face clears a little, but it’s obvious he’s still worried. “Don’t worry, Chris. I’m quite used to sitting at a table while other people eat.” That isn’t a lie - he likes to sit with Hank while he eats, and occasionally he has the same lunch break as the other officers - which he keeps saying isn’t necessary for him, but the Captain makes him take it anyway so he doesn’t get into trouble with the legal department - so he sits with the friendlier ones as they eat, too.

 

Chris smiles. “Maybe one day we’ll be able to cook for you,” he says. “When they bring that android food out.”

 

“That would be very kind of you,” Connor says genuinely. “It-” A signal bursts into the front of his vision, a connection request. He recognises the serial number as Kara’s, and cocks his head, frowning. It hasn’t come through clearly; his systems automatically decoded it as it came in, and it feels off.

 

He opens the accompanying message. It’s corrupted, and most of it is in binary. He translates it quickly, numbers and letters flickering rapidly as they’re replaced with their correct counterparts.

 

Scanning: 01010111 01100001 01110010 01100101 01101000 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100101 00110100 00110110 00110111 00110010 00100000 00110100 00110110 00110111 00110010 4l1c3 d4nGGG3r C0nnnnnnn0r 01110000 01101100 01100101 01100001 01110011 01100101 h3lP 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001111

 

Processing: 26% complete: 01010111 01100001 01110010 01100101 01101000 01101111 01110101 01110011 01100101 00110100 00110110 00110111 0011001000100000 00110100 00110110 00110111 00110010 ALICE DANGER CONNOR 01110000 01101100 01100101 01100001 01110011 01100101 HELP 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001100 01100101 00100000 01001111

 

Processing: 60% complete: WAREHOUSE 00110100 00110110 00110111 00110010 = 01000010 01100101 01101100 01101100 01100101 01110110 01110101 01100101 STREET HELP ALICE DANGER CONNOR HELP 01110000 01101100 01100101 01100001 01110011 01100101 01001100 01100101 01001100 01100101 LE LE 01001100 01100101 01001111

 

Processing: 100% complete: WAREHOUSE 4672 BELLEVUE STREET HELP ALICE DANGER CONNOR PLEASE HELP LE LE LE LE O

 

Connor shoots to his feet so quickly that his chair topples over with a clatter. Chris, still standing by the desk and presumably confused by Connor’s three seconds of silence, startles backwards. “Where’s the fire?” he shouts as Connor grabs his belt from the desk and runs towards the exit.

 

Connor ignores the weird question - somebody else can find the fire for Chris - and shouts back, “Kara’s in trouble!” He nearly collides with Detective Reed at the gates, who’s coming back into the bullpen with Officers Chen and Wilson. They’ve gone for the most annoying strategy of each going in through their own individual gates, so Connor jumps clean over them and carries on. The receptionist - the same android as before, now called Helen - doesn’t even react. Connor sees in the reflection of the glass doors that she’s signing him out almost boredly.

 

He calculates as he runs outside the building and into the parking lot. He’s been given access to the police cars, but would driving be quickest? It’s currently three PM, which isn’t rush hour, but certainly isn’t optimal traffic conditions either; the roads will be crammed with parents going to pick their children up from school, and also the children themselves as they cross the streets.

 

In the best conditions, the journey would take seven minutes by car, and double that at a standard human run. But with  conditions as they are - school time, and general Detroit traffic - it will take easily triple the estimated time, if not more. Running, then, would be quicker - especially when taken into consideration that Connor is faster than a human.

 

Connor sprints.

 

He makes it there in a total of five minutes and forty-nine seconds.

 


 

The warehouse has clearly been abandoned for several years, maybe even a decade. Nobody had bothered with the upkeep of its exterior so the red paint is chipped and flaking, or else completely peeled off already, revealing the off-white endoskeleton of stone. The windows are thin and short, and few and far in between. There are just three on each floor, evenly spaced and positioned high on their respective walls. Even if they weren’t so small, he wouldn’t be able to look through them and glean any information anyway; they’re clogged up with dust, and brown from the dirt collected over the years. The warehouse itself is four storeys tall with a flat roof. Smack bang in the middle of the first floor is a wide, sliding door split into two sections, like the ones found on barns.

 

It’s the perfect place to take a hostage.

 

Connor adjusts his tie, and steps towards the doors.

 

He grabs the handle of the left door, and gives it a experimental push. When it doesn’t budge, he applies more force, but it stays stuck: still locked. He moves over to the right, which slides open easily. He slips inside and examines the lock. It’s been busted from this side, but only on the right. Leo must have broken in some other way first. None of the windows that he saw were broken; perhaps on one of the other sides of the building? He can investigate that later, it doesn’t impact his mission now.

 

He slots the door back into place silently, and examines the lock. It’s been completely wrecked, with half of it entirely ripped off and the rest of it mangled - from a crowbar, Connor realises. Fortunately, there’s a deadbolt at the top of the door, which Connor can reach by standing on the very tips of his toes. He slides it across carefully, relieved when it too stays quiet. He doesn’t know if Leo has seen him coming or not, but if he still has the element of surprise then he doesn’t want to ruin it.

 

The room in front of him stretches out further than he can see in the dim light. Connor makes a futile effort to estimate its dimensions anyway. His view is obscured not just by the meagre light, but also by the specks of dust floating in the air. They scatter around him as he steps forward, twisting around his form.

 

It seems that the warehouse wasn’t cleared out before it was abandoned; boxes surround him in piles and also litter the floor, disgorging their contents across the concrete floor. He has to weave his way through the room delicately, sometimes taking elongated strides to step over the debris, every so often carefully steering a teeterring stack of boxes out of his way.

 

He makes it halfway through the room in this fashion when it occurs to him that the blueprints for the building will be online, available in his database. He finds them and downloads them within a second, blinking furiously as the large amount of data hits him like a sledgehammer. He picks out what he needs.

 

4672 Bellevue Street; Dimensions:

Total area: 1,000 metre²; 100 metre length x 100 feet width

First storey: One room

Second storey: Four rooms; 10m, 40m, 10m, 40m

Third storey: Four rooms; 10m, 40m, 10m, 40m

Fourth storey: Three rooms; 20m, 10m, 70m

 

He doesn’t draw his gun, but he rests his hand on the holster as a precaution, ready should the need strike. As he nears the end of the room he sees a set of stairs, and even from some distance Connor can tell that they’re caked in dust. He’s relieved once again for his entirely artificial lungs; he can only imagine the coughing that Hank or any other human wouldn’t be able to avoid in this place.

 

Each step creaks under his foot. Connor analyses the decibel level and deduces that not even an android would be able to hear it unless they’re on the floor directly above him. HIs instincts tell him that Leo will be holding his hostages on the fourth floor, whether that be Kara, Alice, or Luther, or any combination of the three.

 

He continues up the second and third flight of stairs without checking through the rooms. Hank keeps telling him to trust his gut instinct, and he just hopes it won’t lead him wrong this time. The steps here aren’t quite as loud, but he still pauses each time his foot lands on the rotting wood just in case. It takes him a long time to get to the fourth floor, longer than he wants, but he knows that it’s more important that he takes his time while being painstakingly observant, than rushing and make a careless mistake that could result in danger for everyone involved.

 

At the top of the stairs, Connor pauses and initiates a temperature scan. Androids run at a slightly lower temperature than humans do, but they can still be found easily via a thermal scan. Towards the other end of the floor is just one heat signature, slightly muffled by the two walls in between them.

 

Before he was deviant, he never hesitated in these kinds of situations. He would assess, coldly and logically, and work through his mission based off percentages and orders. Now, he hesitates outside the final door, hand on the handle but not moving.

 

Before, if somebody died it was a tragic but necessary contingency. Now, it’s somebody’s whole life at stake. A friend’s life, for that matter.

 

He counts to three, then twists the handle and shoves forward before he has a chance to second guess his actions.

 

His eyes instantly lock onto a small figure slumped against the back wall. He crosses the distance between them in a matter of seconds, skidding the last few feet on his knees so he can start assessing the person’s injuries straight away. His eyes have adjusted to the gloom as much as they ever will, but he still finds himself unable to complete a full medical analysis.

 

He focuses in on the neck. The bones are all intact, and made of titanium. This is an android, and the hair just confirms his suspicions. He places two fingers underneath Kara’s chin and tilts her head back, wincing when he sees the ocean of blue blood coating half of her face. Some of her hair’s matted from it, too, and sticking to her cheek and scalp. Connor traces it back to a large and angry gaping wound stretching round from her right temple to just behind the shell of her ear.

 

He takes in the ragged edges, the depth of the injury and the width, and estimates the weapon to be a crowbar. “Kara? Can you hear me?” He waits for a few seconds, but there’s no response. Connor forces himself to inhale, to bring in cool air. He’s panicking, and his systems are beginning to overheat. “I’m just going to check your wound, Kara.”

 

With deft, nimble fingers he brushes as much hair out of the way as he can, and prods gently at the gash. It seems to have stopped bleeding, indicating it’s not that recent, for which Connor is thankful. On the other hand, it looks like it bled for a long time before he got there. Adding together the Thirium that’s dripped onto the floor, soaked into the wall, and is still on Kara...he’d estimate a loss of 20%-25%. She needs help soon, or she’s going to be in quite serious trouble.

 

“Don’t worry, Kara,” he finds himself whispering. He’s not even sure if she’s can hear him, but it feels right to reassure her. “I’ll get you out of here.” He hopes he can live up to his promise - right now he’s not actually sure what he should do. Kara mentioned Alice, so perhaps he should go to look for her first? But he’s reluctant to leave Kara alone, both in case she needs more care or if she comes around and panics. Maybe he could carry Kara? But then he’d be at a significant handicap if he were to run into Leo.

 

The decision is solved for him when the door creaks open, and two more figures shuffle in. One tall, one much smaller - the size of a child. Connor can tell who they are before they pass under one of the windows and through a shaft of light.

 

Alice’s ponytail has all but collapsed, most of her hair either no longer held back by the band or almost about to fall out. Tear marks streak her face and have created two symmetrical damp patches on her T-shirt, which is covered in dirt and dust. Tears continue to fall, and she takes in a shuddering breath which ends in a hiccup as she sees Connor.

 

Leo doesn’t look much better, all things considered. He’s wearing considerably more grime than Alice is, and his face is pulled so taut that the synthetic veins are pulsing through the surface of his skin. He’s ramrod straight and stiff. He has one hand like a vice on Alice’s shoulder, steering her and controlling her as they walk. The other is clutching a knife, the blade sizeable and obviously sharp even from this distance.

 

He doesn’t move while Leo scuffs towards him, Alice tripping along in front of him, eyes wide and scared as soon as she spots Kara. Leo jerks them both to a halt a few metres away, regarding Connor with wary, distrustful eyes. Alice releases a little whimper when she finds herself unable to run to Kara.

 

“Hi, Leo,” he starts. The other android’s stress levels are at 76%; he needs to tread very carefully here. “How are you feeling?” Very slowly, he rises from his crouch to a full standing position.

 

Leo shuffles backwards a few paces, dragging Alice with him. She shudders at the movement, fresh tears brewing and spilling over in a shaky exhale. It’s heart-wrenching, to put it lightly.

 

After a minute passes with no response, Connor continues, “Can you let Kara and Alice go, Leo?”

 

After a few moments’ hesitation, a jerky shake of the head. The hand with the knife moves to press against Alice’s throat. It doesn’t break the skin, which is a small mercy, and Alice seems torn between moving forwards - towards Kara and away from Leo - or trying to lean backwards - towards her assailant.

 

“They haven’t done anything wrong,” Connor points out. “You’ve only ever targeted those who have done wrong - that’s your modus operandi.” Leo’s hand shakes. The blade wobbles as it skims against Alice’s delicate skin, but thankfully doesn’t tear it. “You have no reason to hurt these two.”

 

“They-” Leo glances behind him, despite there being no chance of someone sneaking in unknown with their advanced senses. “They knew me. They were - talking , about me. They could have... found me.”

 

It starts to slot together. “You heard them talking about you?”

 

“They were walking - to a motel. They knew me. I was scared. I followed them. I took them.”

 

Connor can’t quite figure out why Leo has decided he’s someone to confide in, but he’s glad that he has. It makes this whole process a lot easier. “What about Luther?”

 

“I hit him with a chair. He was knocked out. I - I don’t know, now…”

 

“That’s okay,” Connor reassures. “Thanks for telling me, Leo.”

 

Leo actually smiles somewhat, a tight and awkward pull at his lips, but it counts. Connor takes one step forward, but ends up taking two backwards again when it causes Leo to tighten his grip on Alice’s shoulder and she winces. YK500 models are equipped with the ability to bruise like human children; unless they’ve turned that feature off, Alice’s entire upper arm will be like a mosaic tomorrow.

 

“Leo, I need to ask you a favour.” When Connor receives nothing but a slightly more suspicious stare, he continues. “Alice is very young, and she’s scared. She’s not going to be able to do anything, and she just wants to help her mother.” He indicates behind him to Kara. “She’s knocked out, so she won’t be able to do anything either.” Leo doesn’t react, so he presses harder. “She’s just a girl, Leo. She wants her mom.”

 

It seems to be proving futile, and Connor is about to give up for fear of exacerbating the situation when Leo nods, and releases Alice. She instantly runs forward to Kara’s side, shaking her shoulder anxiously.

 

“Kara! Wake up, Kara!” Alice seems even more distressed than the situation would normally call for; her stress levels are rocketing through to the eighties at an alarming rate. “Don’t forget me again!”

 

“I’m just going to talk to Alice for a moment,” Connor warns, and doesn’t wait for a response before he turns to the young girl. “Alice, it’s okay. Look at me?”

 

She twists her head without moving the rest of her body to stare at him pleadingly. Her eyelashes are clumped together with unshed tears, and her hands are trembling where they rest on Kara’s shoulders. “She won’t wake up,” she whimpers, and as soon as the words escape she starts to breathe heavily, on the edge of hyperventilating.

 

“She’s just knocked out,” Connor tries to reassure. He needs Hank, Hank knows how to deal with young children, being that he was once a young children himself and also had a young children of his own. “Just like being asleep. She won’t forget you, Alice, it’s just like she’s asleep.”

 

Alice nods, drawing in a great shuddering breath before she collapses in a fresh bout of tears. Connor feels moved to hug her, so he does. As she weeps onto his shoulder, he keeps up a stream of fairly nonsensical noises that he thinks should help, gentle hums and shushes. “She’s hurt,” she mutters into his ear, tiny hands clutching at his jacket.

 

“Not too badly,” Connor murmurs back, though he knows full well that’s a lie. He pulls back from the hug, but keeps Alice close and cups her delicate face in his large hands. If he’s not careful, they’ll envelop her head completely, so he pushes some hair behind her ears and keeps his hands there. “I need you to be brave for me, okay, Alice?”

 

Alice nods, a new determined expression breaking out over her face despite the steady stream of tears. Connor really wishes she wasn’t here, that she didn’t have to be involved in all this. She’s been through enough trauma, and he’s about to add to it.

 

“You see the cut on Kara’s head?” It would be hard to miss. “Good. I need you to make sure it doesn’t start bleeding again. If it does, I need you to take off your jacket, and fold it up into a nice thick square for me, okay?” Alice nods, squaring her jaw. “Hold it against the cut, and press down hard. It will stop the bleeding. Think you can do that?”

 

“I can do that,” Alice breathes, sniffing resolutely. Her hands twitch by her sides, and she glances over to Kara, her eyes steely.

 

“Good, that’s really good, Alice. I need you to stay with her anyway, so if she wakes up she can see you straight away, got it?”

“If her head bleeds I need to use my jacket to stop it, and I need to stay with her so she can see me if she wakes up,” Alice confirms. She swallows a fresh batch of tears and asks, voice barely quavering, “Will she wake up?”

 

Connor curses himself for his choice of words; of course Alice would have picked up on the ‘if’. “Yes, Alice, she will. It just might not be here, okay?”

 

“Okay.” Alice wipes an arm across her face. “Are you going to be alright?”

 

Connor feels an odd sensation in his chest, like one of the valves in his pump has cracked. A diagnostic reveals that nothing of the sort has happened. “I’m going to be just fine, Alice.” He drops his hands from her hair and pops the collar on her jacket. “So are you.”

 

Alice nods solemnly. “Badasses.”

 

Connor has to agree. “Badasses.” He holds up his hand for a high-five, and isn’t left hanging.

 

When he turns back to Leo, after making sure Alice is by Kara’s side and focused on her rather than the scene playing out in front of her, he finds the other android with a surprisingly tender look on his face.

 

“What did Helen look like?”

 

The question snaps Leo out of whatever reverie he’s experiencing. “She-” He clears his throat. “She looked like that,” he says hoarsely. “She looked - just like that. But her hair was blonde, and she always had it in two plaits.”

 

“I really am sorry, Leo,” Connor says, and means it. He never hated children so much as never saw the appeal of them, but after knowing Alice for such a brief time - he can’t even bring himself to imagine the pain of losing someone that you see as your own. His mind flickers to Hank, all alone in the darkest part of his life, drowning himself in poison and playing Russian Roulette in the hopes of relieving his pain.

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Leo says, so softly Connor barely hears him. Then, again, but louder, “It doesn’t matter.” He swipes a hand across his eyes angrily. “She’s gone, being sorry won’t bring her back.” He raises the knife again, pointing it at Connor.

 

As much as Leo seems to see him as a relatively safe figure, one that he can confide in at least, the whole ‘comforting’ angle clearly isn’t going anywhere - the android is too unstable. He needs a different tactic. “Do you like dogs, Leo?”

 

“Dogs?” Leo looks understandably confused. “I - I. They’re alright.”

 

Connor nods solemnly. “They’re very good boys. And girls.” He takes a step forward; Leo is so confused still that he doesn’t notice, so he chances another, and then another. “My dog is called Sumo,” he continues. “He’s a Saint Bernard.” Another two steps. “He’s very clever. He knows how to do a lot of tricks, but he’ll only do them if he wants to.” Three steps. “He likes to chase squirrels in the park, but he never hurts them.” One step. “If he catches up to them, he just stops and lets them go.” Two steps. He’s only a few feet away now; five, at most. “I’ve been debating whether or not to get another dog to keep him company.” One step. Half a step. “But pets are a lot work.” Half a step. “But it would be worth it to make Sumo happy.” One more step. Perfect position. “What do you think, Leo?” The use of his name catches Leo off-guard, as does his sudden close proximity; he falters, and Connor strikes as quick as a viper.

 

The distance between them is closed easily in just two of Connor’s long, rapid strides. Leo doesn’t have time to register the movement before Connor is upon him. HIs first priority is the knife; with just the tiniest amount of pressure he works Leo’s arm back scarcely an inch. It’s enough space to wrap his hand around the blade and yank it away. A light spray of Thirium chases it as it skids across the floor, and vaguely Connor registers a sting of bright pain from the slices now decorating his fingers. He doesn’t have the time to process it properly or run any kind of scan because Leo turns on his heel and flees, slipping slightly on the dusty floor but snatching his balance back before it offers Connor any advantage.

 

Connor spares a precious moment to glance back to Alice before he takes off as well. She’s looking up, alerted by the sudden movements, and watching him with equal parts curiosity and fear. “Stay here!” he shouts back over his shoulder, forcing his body straight into a harsh sprint from a standstill.

 

Leo hasn’t slammed the doors behind him, so Connor flies straight through both of them. He catches a fleeting glimpse of the top of Leo’s head as the other android thunders down the stairs just as he passes through the second frame, and propels himself forward even faster. He can’t get away this time.

 

Connor flings out an arm and grips onto the top of the railings to change his direction, then practically throws himself down the stairs. The steps creak ominously under his heavy tread, but none of them crumble. He slips coming off the final step, a slick layer of dust throwing off his centre of gravity for just a millisecond, but the wall allows him to steady himself before bouncing back into the chase.

 

He was designed to be quicker than any other android, and it shows. He’s gained some ground from his elevated speed, but the few seconds tick away as he tries to figure out which direction Leo has gone. Most likely is that he’s heading down, heading for the exit. Thick dust cloys the air around him, dancing lazily in the muted light. It’s undisturbed - Connor continues down the next flight of stairs, jumping the last three just as a crack echoes through the building.

 

He lands on a scuff mark, a clear footprint that wipes away the dust and shows the concrete floor underneath. Several more follow it, smaller and more irregular. Hesitation as Leo decided where to go, then running as he took off. They lead towards a plain door, closed - the slam that Connor heard moments ago.

 

Connor pushes the door, baffled when it doesn’t open, then realizes it’s a pull door and yanks it open. He narrowly avoids breaking his own nose and slips through into a larger room.

 

It’s littered by crates in all manner of sizes. Immediately, pre-constructed paths appear in his mind palace. Find a clear path - Jump over obstacles - Give up chase . Clearly the last one isn’t even an option, and needs to be destroyed.

 

The former choice is safer but slower, so he selects the latter and sets to work following the course his mind lays out for him. He’s confident enough in his abilities to hurdle over the obstacles. The first two crates he encounters are only inches high and easily cleared. The third proves to be more of a challenge, coming up to his waist. He’s forced to use his arms to lift him up and other, and nearly stumbles straight into another small crate as he lands. He hops over it and finds himself face-to-wood with another door. His hands fumble to find the handle and he yanks it back, before realizing that this one is, in fact, a push door. Thoroughly annoyed, he shoves his shoulder against it.

 

The door gives way easily and Connor is catapulted into the next room, and straight into an abandoned table. It hits him right in his abdomen and winds him for a second, and in a move reminiscent of a clumsy seal he hoists himself up onto it and then rolls onto the other side.

 

This is another of the short rooms - ten metres - so he comes to the door quickly, shoves at it and feels oddly triumphant when it opens immediately. A wardrobe greets him as he steps forward, flanked on either side by dressers. Connor chooses the left path and squeezes through the small gap, both articles of furniture groaning in protest. Connor’s not really a fan either.

 

He navigates through a maze of dilapidated furniture, ducking and crawling when he has to for fear of bringing it all down upon him or Leo. It’s been stacked in the same way a toddler would stack toy cubes, which doesn’t exactly inspire Connor with confidence. The labyrinth comes to an end with a bookshelf, tipped diagonally to create a slanting exit. It’s supported by a tower of desks on its other sides, each getting more faded and worn as they ascend.

 

Leo was apparently slowed down the jungle of furniture, and is now only a few paces ahead of him. The stairs are at the other side of the building; he’s cornered, but he’s still moving forward into the last few metres of space they have.

 

Despite the closed end of the room, Connor doesn’t want to take any chances. There’s every chance that Leo could confuse him by ducking behind one of the mountains of furniture - there’s a messy pyramid of rather attractive chairs to his right, for example - and then dodge past him, back through to the exit.

 

There’s a ceramic pot to his left, perched harzardously atop half a table, and he grabs it without a second thought. Less than a millisecond is all it takes for him to calculate a trajectory, based on the weight of the pot that he automatically measured, the distance between himself and the target, and any obstacles in his way.

 

His throw has to curve slightly to avoid a weaving mound of coffee tables that are just looking for an excuse to fall, so it ends up not hitting Leo square on the back of his head, so much as clip the side. Instead of knocking him out, as Connor had hoped, it merely causes the android to stumble. He scrabbles at the wall for support that it can’t offer and only delays his heavy crash against the stone. The impact shudders through to the frame of the building and reverberates towards him. A large mahogany desk - one that he was admiring briefly earlier - is shaken free from the top of its tower with a heaving groan.

 

A blistering assortment of warnings and error messages detonate over his vision, all of which can be summarised down into, ‘fuck, bro, your arm’. Said arm - his left - appears to be trapped underneath the fallen desk. From what little sense Connor can make of the messages - they’re all overlapping each other and blaring a furious red, making them near impossible to read which just seems like a glaring screw-up honestly can someone get Kamski on this - his entire forearm has been all but obliterated, and no amount of repairs from CyberLife’s most certificated technician would be able to make it functional. His elbow joint is shattered too, and a small part of his upper arm appears to have been decimated. He might as well just go the whole hog, then.

 

Connor grasps the free section of his upper arm and jerks. It comes off cleanly but with a gush of Thirium, which maybe he should have anticipated. Nobody told him deviancy would make him stupid, he’d like to revoke his free trial please. Just as the first set of error messages fade away, even more pop up in their place, this time demanding he replace his arm and that he’s missing Thirium and he’s not fully functional, which, yeah. He’d noticed.

 

Slightly less sleekly than usual with only one arm, Connor loosens his tie and negotiates it over his head. He loops it over the stump left at his shoulder and tightens, tugging at the long end of the material with his teeth. The bleeding almost immediately slows to a trickle, and a quick diagnostic reveals that he lost only 11% of his Thirium. Not ideal, but also not enough to compromise him in any way.

 

Connor staggers to his feet, taking a moment to think a fond farewell to his left arm. Or what remains of it. It’s served him well. Hey, remember when we got shot? Good times.

 

He stumbles further into the room, pushing past the decrepit furniture with even more care now. Leo is nowhere, and even while he was dismembering himself Connor remembered to keep an ear out, so Leo hasn’t walked back past him, either. There - there’s nowhere to hide, nowhere substantial enough to conceal a fully-sized adult. Everything is scattered and unorganized: individual ratty armchairs and sagging sofas; empty painting frames leant against cracked side-tables. Leo can’t be hiding anywhere here, but the windows are far too small to escape through in such a short amount of time - not to mention that they’re not broken or even opened.

 

Connor manoeuvres around a squat dresser sans any drawers and nearly falls through a hole to another dimension. The hole in the floor seems to have been caused by rot - the edges are curled inwards, damp and fungus-infested, the wooden boards drooping as if bowing to gravity. It’s not massive - in fact, judging by the scratches along the floor, the dresser was originally covering it. Nevertheless, it’s large enough for someone to fit through.

 

He crouches at the rim, steadying his hand on the nearest part of solid floor, and springs forward to drop through and down. He lands in another crouch, the concrete greeting his kneecaps like a punch to the face, and pivots while standing. He goes to adjust his tie before remembering that he can’t, partly because one of his arms is missing, and mainly because his tie is being used as a tourniquet for said arm’s stump.

 

Clanging vibrates back to him from the other side of the room. Leo - trying to get out. He doesn’t have a second to spare, but as soon as he starts to run he finds that it’s actually a bit difficult when one arm is missing and your entire centre of gravity has been dragged away from you kicking and screaming. After a couple of embarrassing missteps - including running straight into a metal trolley that is taller than him, which his brain refused to acknowledge as being in his way for some reason - Connor finds his stride again, and recalibrates his processors to account for his state.

 

From there it’s plain sailing, as Hank said once. Much like the rooms upstairs, the clutter varies between crates and old furniture. It can all be either avoided or leapt over, which is particularly fun when Connor sees an old mini-trampoline positioned right before a crate. He allows himself a moment of euphoria as he bounces off it onto the crate.

 

Leo, despite having a good ten seconds head-start by the time Connor started running to catch him up (including the trolley incident), is still struggling with the door by the time he catches up.

 

“You seem to have forgotten the bolt at the top of the door,” Connor drawls. He has discovered that he rather enjoys being sarcastic in perilous situations. Before Leo can reach up to slide it across, Connor raises his arm - then raises the other one, because the first one is just a stump and would be useless right now - and executes a textbook hit to the back of Leo’s head with his hand in a blade. It’s not enough to push him into unconsciousness, but it should be enough to apprehend him and handcuff him in his momentary dizziness.

 

Except the next moment, Leo suddenly drops forward, and COnnor has to struggle to catch him with his only arm. He wasn’t knocked out, but he appears to have gone into sleep mode, which is - weird, yeah, it’s weird. Why does he always get the weird ones? Fuck. Or, as Detective Reed would say, PHCK.

 

Maybe Connor is more delirious from blood loss than he previously thought. That could also explain the trolley.

 

It’s surprisingly hard to handcuff somebody with just one arm, even if the perp is unconscious. Maybe he should suggest to Captain Fowler that they do some kind of one-armed training day, in case any of the officers get their arms ripped off while on duty. Actually, most humans would be too debilitated from extreme pain to do much if that happened, so he should probably just keep his mouth shut and never talk to Captain Fowler ever.

 

When Leo is finally handcuffed, Connor picks him up by the chain and half-drags, half-carries him over to a sturdy-looking sofa. He can stay there until people with two arms arrive and can wrangle him back to the station to be processed. In the meantime, he’d better make his way back up to Kara and check that she’s still doing fine. Alice, too.

 

He trudges up the first set of stairs, calling Markus. The two-armed people can’t come and pick them up unless they know where they are, after all, and Hank would only panic and swear if he called him. That’s the downside of emotions, really.

 

Oh, fuck. Connor remembers that he has emotions for Markus. Specifically, love emotions. He doesn’t have time to hang up before Markus answers. “Connor,” he chirps. “How are you?”

 

“Yes,” Connor replies, and feels Markus’s confusion like a tangible prod to the nose. “I mean-” Connor decides to defuse the sitatuation with humour. “Markus, knock knock.”

 

“What? I - Connor - who’s there?”

 

“Not me, because my arm’s been torn off.”

 

It doesn’t have the desired effect. After a moment of blissful silence, Markus practically roars, “ Connor what the fuck ” and then starts yelling at Simon to get a taxi. “Where are you? I’ll come get you,” he says, breathlessly.

 

Connor feels really bad for making Markus worry, but he also wants out of this situation. “4672 Bellevue Street get Hank on the way okay bye Markus oh also check on Luther!” He sets his internal phone to do not disturb and carries on his merry way.

 

Alice comes flying over to him as soon as she sees him nearing the top of the final flight of the stairs, beaming. “Kara’s awake!” she cries, jumping up and down on the spot. “COme on!” She grabs his hand with her own little paw and drags him over.

 

Kara smiles blearily at him as they approach. “Hey, Connor.” Her voice has just a touch of static to it. “Alice says you saved us.”

 

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Connor drops to a kneel. “Are you alright for me to check your head?”

 

“Oh, please. Thank you, Connor, for everything.”

 

“It is my job to protect innocent civilians,” Connor points out. “And it’s my pleasure to help my friends.” He purposely does not look at Kara’s touched expression because he doesn’t want to start crying, so he focuses on examining the nasty gash. “It should start to heal up by itself as soon as you replenish your Thirium levels,” he finally diagnoses. “You don’t feel tired, or dizzy?”

 

“No, I feel a little weird from my low Thirium levels, but nothing major.” She brushes a hand over the wound herself, feather-light but still wincing. “I need to get back to the motel - Luther, he was knocked out, I need-”

 

“Markus is going to check on him now,” Connor reassures. “I called him; he’ll be coming here as soon as he’s got Luther and Hank, and then the police will come too. I imagine they’ll want a statement, but they’ll be quite happy to wait a day if you want some peace and quiet first.”

 

Kara nods. Alice has settled into her side, eyes half-closed as she barely pays attention to their conversation. As Connor twists himself slightly to stand up, her eyes suddenly startle wide open. “Your arm!” she shrieks.

 

Kara looks horrified. “Connor!” She gently pushes Alice away from her, using the wall to push herself up too, despite his protests. “How didn’t I notice - never mind, oh my God, Connor!”

 

“It’s under control,” Connor attempts to reassure her. “I’ve controlled the breathing, and we have a store at home of extra body parts.”

 

Alice is staring at the stump curiously. “I can see all your wires,” she whispers, awed.

 

“Alice!” Kara admonishes. “That’s rude! I think.”

 

Connor doesn’t think it’s rude. He repositions the stump so Alice can see it better and starts explaining where all the wires connect to, and what they’re for. A few sentences in, Kara allows herself to rest back against the wall, sliding back down. She looks quietly happy, watching Alice so full of excitement.

 

“Will you teach me more about androids?” Alice asks when he’s finished. Connor finally understands the phrase “eyes as wide as saucers”. It’s easy to forget that the YK500 models aren’t equipped with a database, for a more authentic experience.

 

“Of course.” Connor beams right back at her. Children are adorable. “I can help you learn about anything you want.”

 

Alice looks overwhelmed with excitement. She vibrates on the spot for a second, then shoots forward and wraps her arms around his waist. Connor does what he would do with Sumo. He pats Alice on the head.

 

Their hug is disturbed by a gravelly yell of, “Connor!” Alice releases him and squeals when she sees Luther come in just behind Hank, and runs over to embrace him.

 

Hank strides towards him, face set in a grim scowl. “Connor, I swear-” Then he stops dead in his tracks. “Oh my God, you’re actually missing an arm.”

“Did Markus not tell you?” Connor peers around Hank’s hulking form to where the Jericrew are standing in the doorframe uncertainly. Minus Simon, who finally seems to be in his element, and has rushed over to Kara’s side with a first-aid kit.

“He told me, I just didn’t believe him. I didn’t want to believe him. Fuck’s sake, Connor, you’re missing an arm .”

“I also ran into a trolley,” Connor states proudly. If they’re listing stupid things Connor did to himself today, that incident cannot be left off the list.

 

“I don’t have a reaction for that,” Hank says honestly, and gives him a subtle once-over. “You alright? Apart from the arm?” Connor nods, and is swept into a warm hug. His only regret is that he can’t hug back as well with just one arm.

 

“Is Luther alright?” he asks when Hank finally draws back, looking suspiciously moist about the ocular region.

“Hmm? Yeah, fine. He turned up to Jericho about two minutes after you scared the shit out of Markus with that call. Not a scratch on him.”

“Good.” Connor bites his lip. “I should - I should talk to Markus.”

“Hang on, bucko. First, was that Leo I passed? On a sofa?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s pretend that makes sense. Look, the rest of the police will be turning up in just a few minutes, okay? I’m going to stay here with them and then go back to Jericho to get statements and collect any evidence.” Hank looks at him meaningfully, but Connor can’t glean any extra meaning from his words at all.

“That’s good of you, Hank.”

Hank stares at him, then snorts. “Yeah, it soothes my soul. Idiot. No - the house will be empty. Maybe all night.”

 

“Oh.” Then, “ Oh.

 

Hank smirks. “Go talk to your boyfriend. Just don’t desecrate the sofa. Or the table. Or anywhere I like to exist.”

 

“Understood. Any desecrating or deflowering will occur solely in my bed.” Connor offers his best sunny grin to a very horrified Hank, and wanders over to where Markus, North, and Josh are hovering uncertainly.

 

“Hey, man of the hour!” North exclaims, smiling at him. The smile grows even wider when she sees his shoulder. “Dude, your arm!” She looks sorely tempted to reach over and poke the stump.

 

“It’s missing,” Connor agrees.

 

Josh, who had been glancing between the two of them, suddenly starts laughing. “I’m just going to go,” he wheezes, and heads over to where the others are surrounding Kara, still chuckling to himself. Odd.

 

“You shouldn’t have come alone,” Markus says softly. His eyes are consumed by anxiety, and Connor feels a stab of guilt run through him like an icicle. “You could have been hurt. You were hurt.” His hands are clasped together, squeezing so tightly that his knuckles are straining against his skin. On impulse, Connor reaches over and traces his thumb over the prominent bones. Markus exhales heavily.

 

North glances between the two of them. “I’m going to go do literally anything other than stand here,” she says, slipping away with a wink at Connor.

 

And then there were two.

 

“Would you come back to my house?” Connor says, when it’s clear Markus isn’t going to offer anything else to the conversation. “I’ll need some help fitting a new arm.”

 

“Ah - sure,” Markus agrees. A connection request pops into Connor’s head - he opens it, and lets Markus feel for himself that he’s not in any pain or distress. In return, he receives a spike of relief that doesn’t cover a thrum of background anxiety.

 

“It doesn’t hurt,” Connor tries to reassure. “It’s not even - I don’t feel anything at all.” Nobody notices them slip out of the room and head down the stairs.

 

“It’s not uncomfortable?” Connor shakes his head. “What about your Thirium loss?”

 

“It’s not too bad. I can replenish myself fully with just one packet. We have some at home, Hank ordered some online and they came last night.” Markus doesn’t look entirely convinced, but there’s not much more Connor can do. He tries anyway. “I’ve been in far worse situations.”

 

The words seem to have the opposite effect than he intended. Markus looks even more distressed. “I know you love this job, Connor, but are you - I mean, is it safe? You seem to be throwing yourself into all these dangerous situations without a second thought.”

 

Connor doesn’t have an answer for that. He stays silent as they head down the final flight of stairs and out of the doors. To make up for his lack of speech, he lays his hand on Markus’s arm as they wait outside for the taxi. The connection sparks to life again, and Connor feels the worry drop ever so slightly.

 

It rolls up a few seconds later, horn beeping unnecessarily to announce its arrival. Markus holds the door open for him and places a hand on the small of his back to steady him.

 

“You put yourself in so much danger,” Markus says as soon as the taxi moves away. “Why didn’t you tell anybody?”

 

“In hostage situations, the hostage taker will react better to a single negotiator rather than an entire squad of police officers. I didn’t want to risk Kara or Alice’s life by causing Leo undue stress and causing him to react irrationally.”

 

Markus sighs, rubbing at his eyes. He looks tired, Connor realizes. “I get that,” he says softly. “I do. But-” His hand finds Connor’s and covers it. “Just a note? In case you were gone for ages? Hank came back to find you gone, he was out of his mind when I called him...I was out of my mind when I realised what was going on.”

 

“I’m sorry, Markus.” Connor shifts closer to him. “I wasn’t thinking.”

 

“Clearly,” Markus huffs, but it’s said with a clear edge of fond amusement. Connor allows himself to relax further, pillowing his head on Markus’s shoulder.

 

“I’m sorry for yesterday.”

 

“You don’t need to apologise.”

 

“Well, I want to. And I will. Markus, I’m sorry I walked off. I want to say something to you and - it isn’t easy.”

 

Markus nods, three slow bobs of his head. “Take your time, then. I can wait.” He squeezes Connor’s hand tightly. “I can wait forever for you.”

 

The taxi comes to a gentle stop outside Hank’s house - Connor’s house - home. “Right,” Markus says briskly, back to business in the blink of an eye. “Where do you keep your arms?”

 

Chapter Text

Sumo barks happily upon their entrance, dancing from one foot to the other in an endearing display of canine affection, and doesn’t even charge towards them as soon as the door opens. He stands a few paces back instead, almost as if he can sense that Connor isn’t at his usual full capacity. His behaviour is noted and he adds it to the growing folder in Connor’s mind labelled as Proof That Sumo is More Intelligent Than Most Humans .

 

“Sumo!” Connor exclaims, his voice brightening with affection for the furry beast. He hadn’t forgotten that he had a dog waiting for him at home, per se, more that it just hadn’t specifically occurred to him. Sumo responds to his name with a quiet wuff . “Suuumo!” he tries again. A longer, louder reply - wuuuuuuff. “Suuuuuuuumoooooooo!” This time, Sumo begins to howl with him as he crescendos towards the end of the word, so Connor continues to drag the syllable out. In Connor’s humble opinion, they harmonise quite well together.

 

After a few more bars, Markus tugs at Connor’s good (as in, not obliterated) arm gently and steers him towards the living room. “I’m going to get you that Thirium now,” he says, settling him down on the couch. “Just - stay there.”

 

“Can’t tell me what to do,” Connor grumbles. “I’m a free spirit. I do what I want, when I want, and how I want.”

 

“That you do,” Markus sighs, but not unkindly. He looks like Hank does when Connor quotes a meme - fond, amused in an exasperated kind of way, and above all else just tired. “Right, Thirium. And arms. You never told me where they are.”

 

“My room,” Connor says. “Obviously. In the chest of drawers.”

 

“Obviously,” Markus repeats.

 

“I’m not going to keep them in the fish tank. Or the sink. Use your brain, Markus.” Deep down, Connor is aware he’s being a bitch. Not as  deep down, Connor is aware that he is enjoying being a bitch.

 

Markus stares at him for a few moments, mismatched eyes sweeping over his face. “Delirious Connor is mean,” he eventually proclaims, and then marches off down the hallway towards the bathroom.

 

Maybe Connor should apologise? But also - maybe he should not. “Should I apologise?” he asks Sumo, only it comes out very much louder than he intended and the dog backs away, looking quite alarmed, his ears pressing close to his head with a whimper. He was just about to clamber up onto the sofa before Connor unintentionally scared him away, and he mourns the cuddle session he’s just lost. Markus will make up for it, he’s sure.

 

“Don’t apologise,” Markus says when he returns a few minutes later, clutching an arm and two packets of Thirium. “Right, let’s get this sorted.”

 

“Sorry,” Connor says anyway, feeling a stab of sudden and sharp guilt. “For this, I mean.” He waves the stump around in a small circle.

 

“What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t patch you up?” Markus points out.

 

A dialogue option creeps into Connor’s brain - but dare he actually say it? “I was hoping that you weren’t a friend, if I’m being honest.” The way Markus’s head snaps up from examining the replacement for Connor’s arm is comical, but in the two millisecond delay between his words and the action Connor lost his nerve and really would like to end this conversation, please. “I think Sumo wants to eat the Thirium,”Connor changed the subject, internally praising Sumo, for wandering over and trying to steal the packets of blue blood at that moment.

 

“Shit - Sumo, no .” Markus pushes Sumo away gently, and for a moment Sumo continues to walk without going anywhere, legs moving along the floor like he’s swimming, before he huffs an aggrieved sigh and mooches to his dog bed in the corner of the room - the one he never uses unless he’s banished from the sofa or when he wants to let Hank know he’s annoyed about something. Usually lack of food or walkies.

 

“It’s okay, Sumo,” Connor croons. Sumo whines back at him as if to say no it fucking isn’t you cretin . Connor will give him a few minutes to sulk before he tries again. He turns back to find Markus examining his stump intensely. “Is everything alright?”

 

“I just need to-” Markus lifts his hand, glances up to make sure Connor’s still on board, and secures his grip on the small fragment of titanium skeleton protruding from Connor’s shoulder. “This needs to come out before I can put a new arm in.”

 

“Can you-?”

 

“Yeah, this is - well, there’s no storm, and I have both eyes, so I can actually see what I’m doing. Piece of cake.” Markus means for it to come out as a joke, but rather than relieving the tension in the room, it slathers on another layer. He becomes acutely aware of Connor’s keen gaze, presumably scanning his stress levels. “It might feel a little uncomfortable though,” He remembers the sensation well - the sharp discomfort as the interlocking titanium was jerked apart, the resulting cacophony of warnings about how he was missing his legs - as if he hadn’t noticed. He blinks for a fraction of a second longer than usual, and knows that Connor will have detected and registered the break in his composure.

 

“Does your eye function at full capacity?” Connor breaks the silence, whether because he sensed Markus’s thoughts were beginning to travel down a darker path or simply because he’s curious Markus isn’t sure, but he’s grateful for it either way.

 

“99.9%,” Markus answers, twisting his thumb and forefinger around the metal to test his grip. “That nine’s recurring, too. It will never be 100%, but if there’s any delay then it’s unnoticeable. To me, at least. Maybe a more advanced model would detect some anomalies.”

 

Connor wrinkles his nose. “I’m not sure how we’d test that,” he says honestly, as if seriously considering the idea. Markus takes his monetary distraction as an ideal time to yank out the remaining sliver of fake bone. It’s no longer than his finger.

 

Connor hisses, eyes fluttering closed against the influx of errors. They can’t feel pain like humans do, but - Markus has no doubt that Connor feels the closest semblance of it possible, as the most recent prototype. Even without that, the sudden lurch of feeling a vital part of your endoskeleton completely vanishing is disquieting. He rests a hand over Connor’s heart, and after a second Connor matches the gesture over Markus’s chest.

 

They sit for a few minutes while Connor lets his systems adjust to the changes. “Ready,” he breathes, eyes half-lidded as he deals with whatever warnings are screaming at him.

 

Markus twists the arm around to the right position, lines it up with the hole not the time Markus focus and shoves it in as gently as he can. It’s not an easy balance: too little force and it wouldn’t fuse properly, but too much could cause the joints to crack where they met, rendering it useless.

 

Connor barely seems to notice, and a near imperceptible shudder runs through him. In a voice slightly hoarser than usual, he asks, “Could you pass me that mug from the table?” He pours one of the packets of Thirium into it, then carefully folds the packet in half and places it neatly on the table, weighs it down with another empty mug.

 

They sit in silence as Connor steadily drinks through the first packet, and then repeats the process with the second. It will take a while for him to regain his usual mental functions and for his stress to lower - Markus has been keeping an eye on it, his original hazel one - from the low sixties they’re currently in. He’s privately amazed at how well Connor has kept his head while under so much stress, but he guesses it comes with the territory of being a detective. It’s a high-stress job, and you either deal with it or die.

 

Connor finishes the second mug and sets it down on the coffee table again. He settles back against the cushions, blinking a few times as his systems update. He doesn’t say anything.

 

This is why small talk was created, right? For moments like this. “Are you enjoying work?” Markus asks.

 

Connor has the grace not to ask Markus what the fuck he’s doing, and answers him instead. “Yes. Being a detective is the second best thing that has ever happened to me.”

 

“What’s the first best?”

 

“We bought Sumo a triceratops costume and he wore it for an entire hour before ripping it off,” Connor says immediately. “It’s tied with the time I saw a picture of puppy Sumo wearing a cowboy hat.”

 

“I’m sensing a theme,” Markus teases, scanning Connor again. 58%.

 

“Nothing can ever beat Sumo,” Connor informs him gravely. Then he blinks, looks Markus over, and smiles slowly. “Maybe one thing.”

 

It’s not often that Markus finds himself rendered absolutely fucking speechless, but now is one of those times. It always seems to happen when he’s with Connor, which may not be the coincidence he’s always stubbornly told himself it is. He clears his throat. “You have a lot of spare biocomponents in your room.”

 

Connor shrugs like it’s no big deal at all, why wouldn’t he have a carefully organised chest full of body parts in his room? “I might need them.”

 

Markus closes his eyes and his face pinches, scrunching his features. He hates how Connor keeps endangering himself like this, but ultimately it’s his choice. He didn’t lead a revolution for their rights and autonomy just to tell someone how to live their life. But still - maybe saying ‘I wish you’d stop throwing yourself into deadly situations’ isn’t too bad. He opens his eyes again and focuses on the blank area of the wall in front of him, contemplating the best approach.

 

After a few minutes of taut silence, Connor finds himself unable to keep his emotions in check and blurts, “You look worried.” His eyes rove over Markus’s face, but they lack the slightly glazed sheen he gets when he’s running a scan. “You did a really good job of putting my arm in,” he offers awkwardly. “It’s already at 97% functionality, and my systems indicate it will reach 100% in two minutes and seventeen seconds.”

 

“That’s not it,” Markus sighs, dropping his face into his hands. He looks frustrated, so Connor racks his brain in an attempt to figure out what else could be troubling him.

 

“My Thirium is at an acceptable level,” he tries instead, helplessly confused by Markus’s reaction.

 

Markus pushes himself up from the sofa abruptly, dropping his arms to his sides and clenching his fists. “Connor, that’s not it either - actually, you know what, that’s exactly it.” He spins to face him again, and his face is a storm; a raincloud about to burst, ready to disgorge its contents over Connor and soak him.

 

Seconds pass in silence as the storm brews. Finally, Connor speaks, his voice trembling. “You’re going to have to elaborate, Markus, because I don’t know--”

 

“You never think about your mental health!” Markus explodes. The cloud begins to weep. “You - yes, your arm took priority, obviously, and your Thirium levels - but when that’s over, when the emergency is over - do you talk about it? With anyone? Do you even - do you even try to treat any psychological damage you might have?”

 

Connor’s deafening silence is answer enough.

 

“You can’t just - you’re not a machine anymore, Connor, you have to take care of yourself, of your mind, especially - are you even listening to me?”

 

Connor keeps his eyes fixed on Sumo as they have been for the last three minutes. “I’m listening,” he whispers. It’s barely even that; he’s surprised Markus actually hears him. He lifts a hand to sweep the hair off his forehead but his hands feel practically numb and he can’t get them to function. He drops them to his lap, staring at them with confusion. They’re both at 100%, there’s no reason for them to be malfunctioning. His legs feel strange, too, prickling all the way down to his toes. He tucks them up onto the couch underneath him and manipulates his hands into somehow grabbing a cushion. He tumbles it between his stomach and drawn-up thighs and wraps an arm around it, pressing as much of himself as possible into the soft fabric and plush padding.

 

Markus has graduated to pacing now, a disfigured loop around the perimeter of the living room. He has his arms folded over each other but his hands are still alight with frantic energy, fingers tap-tap-tapping away where they rest on his forearms. “Especially with how you just fling yourself headlong into danger,” he’s saying now. “I mean - do you have even a shred of self-preservation?”

 

Connor slips in a reply while Markus takes a second to think up another cutting barb. “It’s my job.”

 

Markus pauses mid-stride in front of the TV and pirouettes to face him. He looks furious as well as incredulous. Furiously incredulous? Incredulously furious? Either way, Connor can feel a knot manifest deep in his chest. “Are you serious?” he all but roars. Sumo’s ears prick up, but he doesn’t move any further except to look between the two androids, doggy eyebrows rising and falling with the movement. “You cannot keep doing this!”

 

Connor opens his mouth to protest but his throat seizes up and refuses to make any sound. To his conjoined horror and embarrassment, he feels the distinct prickle of tears dance across his eyes. He closes his mouth and ducks his head in defeat, but Markus seems to interpret the action as some kind of stubborn defiance.

 

“Be a detective - that’s fine, you’re brilliant at it, and you enjoy it, I don’t want you to quit your job,” Markus continues. The tears are threatening to spill over and cascade down his face - even when angry, Markus is more reasonable and generous than most of the world could ever hope to be. “But you have to be more careful, you--”

 

“I analyze every situation,” Connor spits, suddenly finding his voice. “ Carefully . I evaluate every possible variable to create the most probable and practical solution, statistically speaking.”

 

“There you go again!” Connor hears Markus stride over to him; he keeps his face hidden behind his knees and partially buried in the faded cushion. “You hide behind logic and statistics, and - and that’s not going to keep you sane.” He grips each side of Connor’s face - gently, though, even in the iron grasp of fury he could never be anything else - and delicately tilts Connor’s head up to face him.

 

All the ire on Markus’s face dissipates as soon as he gets a clearer look at Connor. He can only imagine what a miserable state he must look - tears have established wobbling, drying tracks down his cheeks and curved around his chin; those falling fresh must only serve to highlight the anguished flush of his skin. “Connor,” he says, torment colouring his voice. “Connor, I...I didn’t want to make you cry.”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Connor chokes. The odd sensations in his extremities have intensified to the point where one of his hands is cramping, flexing and tensing erratically of its own accord. He focuses on the peculiar spasming rather than meeting Markus’s eyes and becoming trapped in the universe they contain. “It’s - it’s that - you’re right, Markus, I know I need to stop but - but--” A deep heaving breath causes his entire torso to shudder, a last-ditch attempt to cool his processors down.. “But how am I meant to do anything else?” Those words turn out to be the straw that break the Connor’s back, and he disintegrates into a fresh bout of tears.

 

Markus tries to comfort him, laying a hand on his shoulder and opening his mouth to speak, but Connor beats him to the punch.

 

“Statistics are - they’re easier,” Connor stutters, “they are re-reliable and logical, and everything that emotions aren’t! And--”

 

“And you had them before you had emotions,” Markus finishes for him. He catches a tear before it falls off Connor’s chin and traces its path up to his cheekbone, then lets his fingers rest there, splayed out. His little finger dips underneath the lobe of Connor’s ear, his other three fingers sit across Connor’s cheek and jaw. His thumb tucks into the crease aside his nose. Teardrops collect in the webbed wells between the digits.

 

Connor leans into the touch, grounding himself. “I don’t like them,” he falters through the effusion of tears. “They’re stu-stupid.” He’s allowed to be petulant, dammit.

 

Markus looks like he’s trying not to laugh somewhat, but he manages to keep any and all mirth out of his voice as he speaks. “What about happiness? Friendship?” He swallows, and the lids of his eyes drop down for half a second. “Love?” Underneath his hand he can feel the muscles of Connor’s jaw tense and then relax again.

 

“...Maybe not stupid,” Connor admits reluctantly, a few minutes later. “But they’re still inconvenient.” He draws in a deep breath, holds it for a few seconds, and then shakily releases it again.

 

“I wouldn’t say inconvenient,” Markus interjects. He moves his hand to the side a little so he can card Connor’s curling hair through his fingers. “I mean - what would life be without them, right?”

 

Connor remains unconvinced, at least judging by his expression. He tries to explain better. “Before we were just existing, so - not living, we were existing , there’s a difference. Now, with emotions...we’re actually alive. It’s worth something to be here on this planet.”

 

Connor looks like he’s been hit by a steamroller, only slightly less flat.

 

“If you only had good emotions, and none of the bad ones, how would you know that the good ones are good?” Markus presses. Connor looks more confused than Markus has ever seen him look before. “The good can’t be good without the bad, so in a way...the bad is good.” Great. In trying to explain further, Markus has actually achieved the rare phenomenon of explaining backwards.

 

Uncertainty lacing his voice, Connor asks, “So the good is...bad?” At least the confusion seems to have slowed his crying.

 

“No! Well. Sometimes, maybe. Good is good but can also be bad, and bad is bad but it can be good.” Markus has the distinct feeling he’s made it worse.

 

Connor takes a moment to process his words, and then he smiles hesitantly. Maybe not worse? “Emotions don’t make sense, and nothing is real,” he concludes. Oh, worse .

 

There’s a high chance that Connor is messing with him, but also an equally high chance that he isn’t. Wait - if they’re equal, would that make it a 50/50 chance? So it’s not that high, really, it’s exactly half, and exactly as much as the other chance. Huh. He errs on the side of caution.

 

“Connor, that’s not what I meant,” Markus backtracks. “I mean, look, I’m real!” He tries to stand up so he can twist around in a circle to show him that he is, in fact, entirely solid and three-dimensional, but his knee joints have locked into place and he just kind of topples forward while half-standing. Connor catches him halfway and by some miracle, he doesn’t face-plant straight into Connor’s crotch, and collapses to the side of him instead. “Knees,” he offers vaguely.

 

Connor makes an equally vague noise that somehow conveys the very specific response of ‘I understand, and I also experience that from time-to-time. Annoying, isn’t it?’. “I was joking,” he says quietly. He isn’t looking at Markus anymore - not directly, he’s staring at Markus’s hand, the one that was previously on his face. His own hands are partaking in some kind of elaborate dance together. “Partially. Emotions are terrifying.”

 

Markus takes the hint that Connor’s eyes are betraying. His brown eyes track Markus’s hand as he lifts it to seek Connor’s own, intertwining their fingers securely. “Only because you don’t understand them. It must be awful for you, Connor - your entire creation and programming revolves around understanding everything. And anything that you don’t already know, you’re always able to piece it together from whatever other evidence you have, right? You must be so lost , Connor. Not being able to understand something...that must be the most distressing feeling for you.”

 

Markus is right. He’s marooned at sea, stranded on a deserted island. The ocean is biting at the edges of the land from all directions, threatening to sweep right over him too where he’s perched on this negligible safe haven, trying to drag him even further under. There’s nowhere else in sight for him to take refuge, and if he tries to venture into this uncharted territory it will most definitely be sink rather than swim.

 

But in the distance a ship heralds its approach. It begins as a speck, but as it advances Connor is able to discern its captain: Markus.

 

The image manages to be comforting and faintly ridiculous concurrently. Connor ups the ridiculous factor by putting Captain Markus in a stereotypical blue and white sailor suit, complete with hat, and then he adds a rubber ring that looks like a duck for good measure.

 

Now that balance has been restored to his mind palace and the normal-weird seesaw is level, Connor is able to properly focus on the real Markus next to him. “I’m a detective, I should have figured that out,” he says morosely.

 

“You didn’t have all the facts,” Markus points out. “Concealment of evidence.”

 

Connor squints at him. “I don’t know if I like you trying to use police jargon or not. Maybe I need more data.” He shakes his head as if he’s physically shaking the thought away. “You knew.” It takes Markus a few seconds to relate that back to their previous conversation. “You always - always know. Always have every-everything under control.” He inhales sharply.

 

“You want to know a secret?” Markus leans forward conspiratorially. Despite the slightly condescending tone and his upset, Connor leans in too. “I only pretend to know a lot of things. At first, anyway. I just...figure it out as I go along. What’s the - fake it ‘til you make it. That basically sums up my entire experience of deviancy.”

 

“But you - you always-” Connor wipes clumsily at his cheeks, nearly enucleating himself in the process. “It always works.”

 

“Most of the time, only just,” Markus confesses. “So - North, and Simon, and Josh? We’re all very close now, but at first it was - it was difficult. I mean, you’ve probably noticed that they just can’t agree on anything, and that’s always been the case, really.”

 

Connor looks intrigued, ever the curious detective. He brushes his hands over his face again, without taking his eyes off Markus, and sniffs.

 

“They never got anything done before I arrived. They had some supplies, for example, but they were constantly arguing about how to get more.” Markus remembers the frustration well - he would suggest a solution to something, and he would be met with protests about how it couldn’t work, how dangerous it was, but he never any solutions to the dilemma. “They were - well, it was kind of a disaster before I got there. Not that I made all of their problems go away, of course. I’m not some kind of Messiah, whatever people might say.” He isn’t saying it to be humble, either - the people of Jericho deified him over the course of a few hours, thanks to a truck of supplies and a broadcast, and he’s never been comfortable with it.

 

“I had to have the final say over everything,” he continues. The words flow out before he can process them, and he finds that he is now desperate for Connor to understand. What started off as a comforting distraction has made Markus suddenly realize that he’s never gotten any of this stress out of his system. Practice what you preach, and all that. “There was always at least one of them that was angry about whatever I chose to do, but their alternatives were either just unfeasible or would have gotten us all killed. I couldn’t make them all happy, and mostly I made none of them happy at all.” He sighs, remembering North’s vocal outbursts, Simon’s tight silence, Josh’s sincere disappointment. How it made guilt churn in his stomach.

 

“Was it really that bad?” It’s hard for Connor to imagine the group of friends so fractured.

 

Markus laughs, a short harsh bark that sounds foreign in its acerbity. “They would have exiled me if I put a foot wrong,” he admits, not just to Connor but to himself. It’s an astringent truth he’s never wanted to face. “I was a saviour to them, a god; doing something wrong would have shattered that illusion, and they wouldn’t have been able to cope.” He shakes his head, forcing himself to remember that this is in the past, and he has his own flaws too. Friendship is not one-sided, and he played his own part in their mutual animosity.

 

“When did they start to-” Connor struggles to find the correct words for the situation. “To see you as you are?” He automatically moves to skim his hands over his cheeks to wipe away his tears but finds nothing there.

 

“They gradually came to respect me more and more as the revolution succeeded, I suppose. But respect and friendship are very different from each other.” Something bitter and foul is rising in the back of his throat at the memories; not just of the group, but of a time of war and hardship. “When things began to settle down again, and we were spending more time together outside of battles and negotiations - we got to know each other better, and from there we just...became friends. It wasn’t easy, of course. It took a lot of effort and time.” He swallows the sour taste back down and is relieved to find that it doesn’t creep back up.

 

“But you’re all so close now...it must have been worth it,” Connor muses. “I suppose - my relationship with Hank is similar, in a way.” He smiles at the thought of his father figure. “He really hated me at first. All androids, really.”

 

“And he changed? Over the course of what - a week?” Markus knows only the basics, that the Lieutenant was once hostile but still never treated Connor as badly as most self-proclaimed android haters did.

 

Connor nods, still beaming. “He hated androids because he hated machines. He was always sympathetic to deviants, though. The more emotion or empathy or anything I showed, he liked me more and more. It’s the same reason he hates red ice. He thinks that people focus too much on not feeling and not connecting with other people, because it’s easier. Which makes him a massive hypocrite, really.” He indicates the coffee table with an inclination of his head, which is currently housing no fewer than four different forms of alcohol.

 

Markus chuckles, and readjusts himself on the sofa so he has one leg folded at the knee with its foot pressing against his other thigh. He can face Connor better here, see the warmth in his eyes as he speaks of someone he loves. It’s definitely one aspect he’s never had any problem with; when it comes to Hank, and Sumo, Connor doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, he practically drops it at your feet for you to examine. “There was this guy, called Alfred Lord Tennyson. He was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain in the 1800s, and there’s this one poem that people like to quote part of.”

 

“What’s the poem?”

 

Markus eyes him. “I’ll tell you as long as you don’t look it up.” Connor presses a hand over his Thirium pump. “ In Memoriam A.H.H. An ode to a friend of his who died.”

 

“What’s the poem?” Connor’s voice is scarcely a whisper.

 

“I can’t recite the entire thing - it’s 131 cantos long, plus an epilogue.” Connor looks disappointed. “But - I could say the whole canto that the quote is from? Number twenty-seven?” At Connor’s eager nod, he clears his throat and begins.

 

“‘ I envy not in any moods/
The captive void of noble rage,/
The linnet born within the cage,/
That never knew the summer woods:/

“I envy not the beast that takes/
His license in the field of time,/
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,/
To whom a conscience never wakes;/

“Nor, what may count itself as blest,/
The heart that never plighted troth/
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;/
Nor any want-begotten rest./

“I hold it true, whate'er befall;/
I feel it, when I sorrow most; ’-” Markus breaks off as he heads into the final two lines. Connor looks enraptured, but even so he straightens further, sensing that this is what Markus was originally talking about.

“‘ 'Tis better to have loved and lost/
Than never to have loved at all. ” Markus blinks back his own tears before he speaks again. “I lost Carl. He was to me what Hank is to you. But - it made me realise how true that quote is. Despite the pain of his death and everything that followed...I would not trade it in for all that time I spent with him, not for anything.”

 

“Even though it still hurts?”

 

Markus laughs breathily, grasping at Connor’s hands clumsily. He manages to tangle his fingers in between the other android’s and brings it up to his own face, pressing a soft kiss to the pale knuckles. “Not to sound like I planned all this,” because he didn’t, “but yes, because the pain makes me remember how much I loved him.”

 

Connor smirks at him, watery and faded but a smirk nonetheless. “You definitely planned this,” he accuses, using their joined hands to rub his thumb along Markus’s jawline gently. “You plan everything you say.”

 

“Not around you,” Markus says honestly. “I try to, but I just end up forgetting everything. There’s no point.” He examines Connor’s hand, the pale and graceful digits belying how much violence they’ve seen. “That, everything I said...it just happened. Because it’s true, it’s how it works.”

 

“I don’t-” Connor cuts himself off and spends a few moments looking pensive before he speaks again. “It’s hard to believe. That it’s that simple.”

 

“Do you trust me?” Markus asks, and then instantly wishes he hadn’t. He doesn’t want to manipulate Connor into feeling like he has to say something that he doesn’t truly feel because they’re having an intense moment.

 

He doesn’t need to worry. Connor’s answer comes so quickly that it cannot be anything other than genuine. “Of course. From the moment I met you.”

 

It does give him pause for thought, though. “As soon as we met?”

 

“Well, as soon as I became deviant. So - maybe a minute.” Connor allows himself to smile at the memory, unabashed and joyful. “You’re the only person who actually saw me as...as a person , I suppose, right from the start.” Connor shrugs. “I still don’t know how you knew exactly what to say to make me become deviant, Hank had been trying for several days already.”

 

“I think you were already half-deviant when you walked into that room,” Markus contemplates. “I should probably thank Hank for that, actually.”

 

“Please don’t, he’ll be smug about it and I’ll never make him shut up.” Connor’s eyes crinkle at the corners as he grins fondly.

 

“I guess - well, I’d already heard about you. From rumours and deviants that had come to Jericho. I was surprised you weren’t deviant, from what I’d heard. You let all these deviants go, like Rupert, so I thought maybe you were just incompetent.” His eyes twinkle, and Connor has to laugh. “Then we had Amelia and Blaire come in, and they told me all about you fighting them and nearly shooting them. So I realised that you weren’t a fool. You just had empathy.”

 

“Only deviants were meant to have empathy,” Connor retorts, aware that it’s an incredibly weak argument.

 

“Which is exactly why you were so…” Markus’s eyes darken fractionally. “ Intriguing .”

 

Connor’s mouth is suddenly dry.

 

Markus carries on like nothing has happened. “We talked, and I realised that you didn’t value your existence at all. You had no self-esteem. It was almost like learned helplessness; these humans just abused you and beat you into serving them, and you came to feel you deserved it. It broke my heart.”

 

“Is that why you didn’t do your usual conversion thing?”

 

“Partly. More than anyone else, you needed that freedom to choose for yourself. But…” Markus plays with Connor’s hand as he thinks, curling his fingers into different positions. “I could see that you were close to becoming deviant anyway, and I wanted you to make that final step yourself. Not an entirely selfless decision, I have to say, it gave me a nice boost to my ego.” Markus winks self-deprecatingly. “I was always worried it might traumatise you, in a way. You were very fragile at the time. And, more practically, you’re a higher RK model than me, you might not have even responded to it.”

 

“You never told me any of that before,” Connor says quietly, watching Markus with something like wonder. It doesn’t make him uncomfortable like it does with others; Connor isn’t worshipping him as a god, he’s seeing him as Markus , and loving him just for who he is. “I - thank you. For letting me become deviant myself. I think I needed to.” The most dazzling smile this side of the solar system is flung Markus’s way. “Of course I trust you, Markus. Allowing myself to open up to you has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ll definitely work on letting other people in.”

 

“Good,” Markus says earnestly, squeezing at Connor’s hand. “Above all else, though, you just need to take better care of yourself. Please.”

 

“I will.”

 

“And I’m sorry, again, I know that this must have been so hard for you to talk about.”

 

“I needed to talk about it. You always know what I need to hear,” Connor sighs. “I’m really going to try. To take better care of myself.”

 

“I know. Be selfish. Do things that make you happy,” Markus urges.

 

Connor suddenly looks nervous. “I - well. Yes, I’ll do that. I should - maybe I’ll start now.” His eyes flicker down to Markus’s mouth and then up again. It might be his imagination, but Markus looks suddenly hopeful.

 

“Yeah?” Definitely hopeful. His body language is open - in fact, he’s practically encouraging someone to enter his personal space, tilting towards him almost imperceptibly.


Connor has all the facts, and - there’s only a 6.9% chance of rejection, so -

He steels himself and leans across. Markus meets him halfway, noses bumping together gently as he waits for Connor to close the gap. He does.

 

As far as first kisses go, it’s not bad. It’s about as graceful as a hippo and starts off with just as much teeth, but after a few seconds they somehow find a rhythm that suits them both and the amount of teeth reduces by at least 73%. Connor can feel Markus’s eyelashes against his cheeks as his eyes flutter closed, and he’s sure that Markus can feel the same as his own eyelids fall.

Connor’s fingers dig into the back of the sofa, scrabbling against the cloth for purchase. The other hand flies up of his own volition to settle against Markus’s jaw, thumb resting along his cheekbone. Markus himself has both of his hands cupping Connor’s face, long fingers befitting an artist splayed over his skin. Belatedly, Connor realises that his skin has faded back where Markus’s fingertips are making contact to reveal the pure white endoskeleton. Zings of electric-like pleasure spark where they interface.

 

Markus tilts his head, and the angle changes. It’s suddenly deeper, and--

 

98% WATER, 0.0001% TH--

 

Connor shuts off his analysis feature and lets himself focus on the sensation of Markus’s tongue sliding along his own. It’s not slimy or invasive, like he’d imagined that one time when he’d accidentally stumbled across a coming-of-age film and ended up watching a very awkward making out scene, it’s just kind of hot. No, really hot. The fact that it’s Markus probably also has something to do with it.

 

His stomach - or stomach-ish region, he doesn’t actually have a stomach - is alive with thousands upon thousands of bright burning stars. It feels overwhelming, in the best way, with every part of his body thrumming along with the life of the universe. A nebula is exploded behind his closed eyes as Markus traces constellations over his skin.

 

He nudges at Markus’s shoulders once, haltingly, but his - friend? Boyfriend? Lover? - understands the intent at once and repositions them to be a lot more horizontal, Connor on top of him, arms bracketing either side of his head as the kiss doesn’t break once. Another advantage of being an android - they don’t need to breathe.

 

Connor stretches himself out over the length of Markus’s body, only just taller than him. His legs fall to either side of Markus’s own, their chests press together so precisely that their Thirium pumps align and whirr together, their foreheads are resting against each other. Markus slips a hand around the back of Connor’s neck, squeezing just enough and playing with the short hair he finds, the other stationed at his hip. Connor has to use his own to support himself at least a little bit, but he manages to twist himself so he can brush his fingers over Markus’s jaw and cheek.

 

He’s dizzy with the endorphins, especially when Markus sneaks his hand under his untucked shirt and just lets it sit against his skin. It’s a new level of intimacy, even without any interfacing, and all he can think about is the man underneath him and how good he feels and how natural this feels, especially as the first barricades of Markus’s self-control begin to slip away and the kiss edges just on the side of flustered and desperate.

 

It’s incandescent.

 

Connor’s phone, placed carefully on the arm of the sofa when they walked in, blares an inappropriately chipper tone at them. If Markus is half as disgruntled as he looks after they jerk apart, he’s pretty pissed off. Connor presses his lips briefly to his cheek as an apology, then grabs his phone and leans back on his haunches. The end result is him sitting directly on Markus’s lap, and Connor can conclude that there is at least one part of Markus not upset with the situation.

He checks the screen, expecting Hank or maybe even North. “It’s the Captain,” he says, surprised. “He never calls. Of course the one time he calls is now - probably for the best, actually, Dad did tell me not to desecrate the couch.”

He ignores Markus’s expression of pure, uncontaminated shock to answer the call, though he does construct a quick game show-style question on what Markus is startled about. Is it: A) The implication that they were going to desecrate the couch; B) How casually Connor mentioned said desecration of couch; C) Calling Hank Dad; or D) Captain Fowler ringing his mobile? “Captain?”

As usual, the Captain doesn’t waste words. “Connor, you’re okay?”

 

“Yes, Captain. I’ve replaced my arm and replenished my Thirium levels.”

 

“Good. Hank just filled me in on what happened, we have Leo in a holding cell. Simon has arranged a lawyer to come down tomorrow. I believe Markus wants to be there?”

“Yes, he does. If that’s possible.” Definitely one of the worse side effects of deviancy is that he’s now nervous when talking to the Captain.

“Are you able to get in contact with him and ask him to come down as soon as we open tomorrow?”

“I can bring him in with me in the morning,” Connor offers.

“Oh. Oh . Sorry to interrupt, Connor.”

“Nothing significant was happening, Captain. Not yet.” Markus chokes on air that he doesn’t even need to be breathing.

Rather than being equally as horrified, Captain Fowler sounds amused, if not slightly flabbergasted. “Too much information, Connor. That’s all, anyway. Oh - I also need you to hand in your badge tomorrow.”

“My badge?” Markus, shamelessly eavesdropping, props himself up on his elbows and looks outraged. Connor holds up a hand to halt him, he knows the Captain’s predisposition for being dramatic by now.

“And the nameplate on your desk. See you tomorrow, Sergeant .” He hangs up, but not before they both hear him shout, “Hank, you’ve been sexiled!”

“Just to clarify,” Markus says slowly. “You just got promoted, right?”

Connor nods a few times. Then another few times, just for good measure. “Yes. Promoted. Hmm. That’s exciting.”

Markus is silent for a second before he settles his hands back on Connor’s hips. “You deserve a reward for that,” he muses. It takes Connor a second to register what he’s implying, and then -

Sumo raises his head at the flurry of movement and then drifts back off to sleep within seconds, used to having a hyperactive android around the house already - what does another matter? They aren’t going to feed him, anyway

 

- they reach Connor’s bedroom less than ten seconds later.