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From the Ashes

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A/N: I did a playthrough where I killed Connor at every opportunity, and when a writing challenge gave me Supernatural AU as the theme, something clicked in my head.  While Hank and Connor played no part in the android deviancy case in this story, my headcanon is Nines and Gavin filled the gap quite well.

[Written on and off between 7-15-18 to 7-30-18]


“From the Ashes”

Hank Anderson entered the staff lounge, casting a glance over the few people gathered inside the room. A man and woman in lab coats huddled close together at a table in the corner, their food forgotten in the excitement of a hushed conversation.

He took a seat, putting his brown lunch bag in front of him. So far, his new gig as a security guard at CyberLife was easy and low-stress. It was nothing like his last job with the Detroit Police, which had fallen apart after losing his son and going through a rough divorce. The irony of being hired by the same company he blamed for his misfortunes wasn’t lost on him.

Luckily, Hank was nowhere near their android production plant. Instead, he’d been stationed at CyberLife’s R & D department. Watching a bank of monitors full of scientists milling about in their respective jobs was soul-numbing at times, but Hank could think of worse ways to spend his time.

The nearby TV was stationed on some talk show, Hank tuning it out in no time as he tucked into his BLT sandwich.

“How is RA1096 coming along?”

“We’re still no closer to replicating its abilities, even after all this time.” The man abruptly glanced at Hank who quickly projected an air of indifference, a tactic that had served him well during stakeouts in the past. He hid a smirk as the man turned back to his female companion, resuming their conversation.

“That’s rough. What are you up to anyway?”

“523.”

A low whistle. “Impressive.”

The man sighed. “Thinking up new ways has been exhausting.”

“I can imagine,” the woman said, looking down at her watch. “I should be getting back.” She stood, her chair scraping the floor as she pushed it back. “Keep me updated, will you?”

“Of course.” The man stayed behind for another five minutes, taking a few bites from an open container of yogurt. When he did leave, the lounge plunged into silence but for the TV. Hank finished his sandwich, mulling over what had to be one of the strangest conversations he’d overheard.

It was obviously some kind of research project. That they’d failed 523 times was mystifying though. What was the name again? RA1096?

 

Back at home base, Hank settled in for another boring shift. His partner, Ben Williams, an overweight man in his 60s, watched the screens like a hawk on his side of the room. Hank didn’t know him very well and Ben didn’t seem interested in changing that. Given Hank felt the same way, that was just fine with him.

Hank’s curiosity gnawed at him as the shift progressed though and he asked, “Ever heard of RA1096?”

Ben’s gaze flicked to him for a moment. “Where’d you hear that?”

“Staff lounge.”

“It sounds like a project codename, likely down in one of the sublevels. Official policy frowns on those who discuss such things outside of the lab. Did you catch their names?”

That had been the least of Hank’s worries at the time. He shook his head, Ben sighing loudly in response. “Shame,” he said, turning back to his work. “You see them again, you let me know, okay?”

Hank had no intention of ratting people out for simply talking to each other, but nodded anyway. “Anderson?”

“Yeah?”

“Forget you heard anything. Stuff like that is above our pay grade. Don’t mention it to anyone else, especially not our superiors.”

“Right,” Hank replied, settling back into his seat, wondering how stupid Ben thought he was. Having had to sign a plethora of papers for the job, including an NDA, Hank had no intention of rocking the boat.


He had almost completely forgotten about the incident until a few weeks later. After being transferred to the night shift, Hank had barely adjusted to the new hours.

“Shit.” The heartfelt curse slipped out of Ben’s mouth and Hank looked at him, raising an eyebrow.

“What?”

“One of the cameras is down on sublevel 12,” Ben said, Hank noticing one of the screens had gone to static. His co-worker pressed a few buttons on the touchscreen panel, but no image came back online. “I bet it’s the damn wires again.” Ben went to stand, but Hank touched his shoulder, pushing him back down in his chair.

“I’ve got it.” Hank shrugged on a jacket, looking back at Ben for a moment, as well as the black screen, pinpointing its exact location. “12, right?” Ben nodded and Hank headed for the nearest elevator, glad for the chance to get out of the booth for a while. Sitting still for so long made him antsy despite the hourly rounds he had to make in the building.

The descent took around five minutes, Hank stepping out of the elevator once the doors opened before him. The only thing that told him he was on the right floor was a single sign posted at eye level, the rest of the floor’s layout the same as every other level. A stark functional design that was utterly professional…and boring. Hank didn’t know how the employees who worked there could stand it.

The camera was located outside of a science lab, aimed toward the hallway. As Hank examined it, he could see that some wires were loose, proving Ben right in his assessment. He turned to see if there was a maintenance closet around, needing a ladder to fix the problem when he heard a loud clattering sound come from behind him. Inside the research lab itself.

Technically Hank wasn’t allowed inside, but he had just cause. He bypassed the electronic lock, using his master set of keys, waiting a minute for his vision to adjust to the darkness before he explored the lab. The flashlight in his hand bounced around the room, the usual set of desks and scientific equipment about what Hank expected. Nothing of significant interest.

Walking towards the end of the room, Hank noticed another door. Surprised it wasn’t locked, he stepped through, most of the space taken up by a large plexiglass cell, a large grid of small holes drilled into it from the ceiling to the floor. A dim light was situated overhead, barely illuminating the inside of the space. The only splash of color within it was a red blanket on a cot. Something was lying on it, utterly still, huddled in on itself.

Hank stepped forward when he read the nameplate in the corner, straining his eyes, trying to make out more detail. He pressed a hand to the glass, casting his flashlight over the interior. A small analog clock rested on the cell floor, likely the source of the noise Hank had heard earlier. Though he had tried to stay silent, the lump on the cot shifted, spinning around to look at him.

The shock of seeing another human being staring back at Hank from the cell rendered him speechless. He swallowed as the man sat up, slowly standing and approaching the clear divider that separated them.

The first thing Hank noticed was soft brown eyes set in a square face, a smattering of light freckles running down a straight nose and smooth cheeks. Short cropped brown hair and light stubble framed his face and neck. His skin was pale as if the sun hadn’t touched it for years. He wore a white tank top and cotton drawstring pants, by all accounts appearing a perfectly normal human being.

What the hell was he doing locked away down here? Did CyberLife have other lab rats stashed elsewhere in the building?

The man said nothing for a while, examining Hank silently, then opened his mouth, his voice rough as if he hadn’t used it in a while. “Who are you?”

“I’m Hank,” he said, sticking his hand through one of the openings, holding it out, figuring his uniform said everything else for him. Looking as if he’d start crying for a moment, the man set his shoulders and clasped Hank’s hand firmly.

“I came down here to fix a camera, but…” Hank scratched the back of his head. “I never expected this. Who are you?” He glanced at the nameplate in the far corner. “It’s not R.A., is it?”

The man seemed surprised Hank bothered to ask, briefly squeezing his hand. “No, my name is Connor.”

“What’s R.A. then?”

Connor dropped Hank’s hand as he shook his head, either out of ignorance or reluctance to explain what it meant. He took a deep breath. “What’s today’s date?”

Hank wondered why it was important, but answered the question anyway. “It’s October 6th, 2038.” Connor sank down to his knees, looking stricken by the news. He muttered to himself quietly, Hank leaning closer to hear what he was saying.

“…-6 the last time. …lost so much…”

“Hey, Connor.” There was no response. “Connor!” He finally looked up, his expression so devastated Hank wished he could offer some reassurance. More than just a single hand. “What’s the big deal?”

Connor’s mouth lifted in a sad smile, proving it was anything but. “It’s nothing,” he said flatly.

“Why are you down here anyway?” Hank said, kneeling down so he could see eye to eye with Connor.

Connor just looked at him. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Anderson, what the hell is taking you so long?” They both jumped at the loud squawk from his radio on his belt. “Reconnect everything and let’s go.”

Hank muted it quickly, glancing at Connor. “You’re being held here against your will, right?” he asked quietly, wanting to make sure he understood the basics of the situation. The cell itself was a pretty big tip-off he was, but Hank had seen people do crazier things in his lifetime.

One of Connor’s hands clutched at a hole, fingertips bent over the edge of it, peering at Hank hopefully. “Yes.”

“Then I’ll be back,” Hank said, getting to his feet. He didn’t want Ben coming down after him anytime soon.

“Don’t make promises, please,” Connor said, a thread of anxiety in his voice. Like he’d heard one too many and couldn’t take any further disappointment. There was a well of pain within his eyes that Hank couldn’t fathom.

Hank scoffed as he examined Connor, his fragile physique and emotional trauma beyond obvious. As much as he wanted to, Hank couldn’t leave him down here. Human experimentation was beyond the pale and not something Hank’s scruples could stand. “I keep my word, Connor. Trust me on that if nothing else.”

Connor’s haunted gaze stayed with Hank long after he’d left the science lab.


The next night, Hank barged into the room at the back of the science lab, making Connor jump when he appeared in front of the cell. He dropped the thick book in his hands to the ground, a ghost of a smile playing around his mouth as his eyes went wide. “You’re back,” Connor said, slipping off the cot.

“Of course I am. I promised, didn’t I?” Hank replied, sitting down on the floor. He reached behind him, pulling out a small tablet computer from the small of his back, which he offered to Connor through one of the holes. “It’s an older model so it’s slow, but it might help alleviate some boredom.”

Connor reached up, short shirt sleeve riding up, revealing numerous needle marks in the bend of his arm. He saw Hank looking and gently grabbed the tablet, yanking his hand back down, seeming ill at ease. He avoided Hank’s quizzical expression by staring at the item in his hands.

“It’s a computer?” he asked, Hank raising an eyebrow questioningly. He seemed to easily recognize various bits of technology, but interacting with them was another story.

“Jeez, how long have you been down here anyway?” Connor stared at him, apparently still waiting for an answer to his question. “Yeah, it’s a computer. Power button’s the round one on the side.”

Connor pressed it, his eyes lighting up in interest. After a moment, he squinted at the screen, peering up at Hank. “Who’s Cole?”

Hank felt his face tense up, kicking himself for not reformatting the tablet when he had a chance. “No one important,” he replied impassively. “In any case, they don’t need a computer anymore.” He hoped Connor didn’t pick up on the slight tremble in his voice towards the end.

If he did notice, Connor ignored it, leaning over the tablet. Hank pointed out the browser and Connor opened a new window, the screen going straight to a search engine. “What do I type?”

“Anything you please. The wi-fi’s signal’s strong down here so you can watch cat videos all night if that’s your thing.” Connor’s thin fingers punched away on the digital keyboard, taking to the computer alarmingly well, glancing up at Hank when he stood up.

“I’ve got to continue my rounds,” Hank explained, noting that Connor looked like a lost puppy. He felt bad about having to leave him alone again. “I’ll be back to pick up the tablet before my shift ends. I don’t think you’re supposed to have anything extra in there.”

Connor nodded, his expression somber as Hank began walking away.

“Hank?” He glanced back over his shoulder. “Thank you,” Connor said, smiling widely at him. It was the first time he’d seen Connor remotely happy. It brought life back to his eyes, a look he carried well.

“You’re welcome,” Hank mumbled back, slightly embarrassed at having such a grateful look directed at him. He continued on his way, chiding himself for the color that spread across his cheeks. The way he couldn’t get the image of Connor’s heartfelt smile out of his head.

Hank shook his head. “What the hell am I doing?”


Over the next week with the tablet computer Hank had brought him, Connor rapidly consumed vast amounts of knowledge, becoming well versed in subjects Hank only had a passing understanding of. his mind was sharp, retaining everything he read. He even brushed up on popular culture, putting Hank’s own select expertise to shame.

“What’s your take on androids developing sentience?” Connor asked one night while watching the latest news report, which had brought the subject up.

The old feeling of anger and resentment rose up and Hank sighed. “To be honest, I’ve never met a machine I liked. They’re always so stiff and cold. Maybe if I actually met a deviant, I’d change my mind.” They’d have to leave one hell of an impression too, he thought.

“There’s an android they use for errands in the lab. John’s always very polite and friendly. He’s the only other person I talk to besides you. As hard as it would be to see John go, I think I would want him to have his freedom.” Connor slid the tablet back to Hank after checking the time, confirming Hank was about to leave. “So at least one of us would.”

“Connor.” Hank laid a hand on the tablet, cursing internally as he realized the situation couldn’t continue as it was. He met Connor’s gaze through the glass. “What would you say to leaving this place?”

Connor’s reply was instantaneous, no thought required. “I would like that very much, Hank.”


“It’s probably a little late to ask this, but you don't have any nasty diseases, do you?” Hank asked, sitting across from Connor, the glass separating them, eating a slice of cold pizza. He was on what he considered his lunch break at 2:30 in the morning, confident Ben wouldn’t come close to the lab during his single round of the building. As dedicated as he was in the main booth, his near hatred of exercise meant he did the least amount of walking as possible.

Connor shook his head. “No, I’m not here for that.” His voice was strained as he added, “Ask about anything else, just not that. I can’t talk about it.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Won’t,” Connor affirmed.

Hank nodded, thinking it was unfair that Connor held onto his secrets so tightly when Hank had been nothing but honest with him. He started in on his second slice. “Okay, I was just making sure I don't drop dead anytime soon. Sumo would hate that. I would’ve haunted the shit out of you if I did though.”

“I would have enjoyed that,” Connor said with a grin, then tilted his head in interest. “Sumo?”

“My dog. Big Saint Bernard.” Hank still remembered him as a puppy, needing help to get up on the furniture. Now the dog’s size practically rivaled everything in the house.

“I like dogs,” Connor replied.

“A man after my own heart,” Hank said half-jokingly, the intensity of Connor’s gaze on him making Hank nervous. He had the distinct feeling Connor was seeing beyond his physical appearance and though he was fully clothed, Hank felt naked before him.

Connor looked down at the floor for a moment before taking a deep breath. “Forgive me if I’m bringing up anything painful, but the owner of the tablet you’ve been letting me borrow is dead, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” Hank said, seeing no reason to lie about it. The familiar ache that seized him wasn’t new, nor was the sudden lump in his throat. He cleared it before speaking. “He was my son. It’s been three years now.”

Connor reached through one of the holes and touched Hank’s shoulder, looking so damned earnest it was practically unfair. He’d been holding onto his pain for so long, it felt good to talk about it. “Losing him nearly destroyed me. It still is in some ways. My old job and wife, they’re gone. I can’t get them back and if I’m honest, I don’t want to.”

“I’ve never had kids so I can’t imagine,” Connor said quietly, shifting his hand down to Hank’s which rested upon his knee. His fingers were warm, Hank overturning his hand so they pressed against his palm. It was Connor who moved his hand down until their fingers intertwined.

Just that small touch was enough to ease some of the grief Hank felt and hasten his heartbeat at the same time. He smiled. “Thanks for not offering empty platitudes, I’ve had more than enough of those.”

Connor squeezed Hank’s hand before letting go. “It’s the least I can do after everything you’ve done for me.”

“What about your family?” Hank asked, Connor sitting back, chuckling softly.

“Gone,” he said simply, gaze falling to the last piece of pizza on the paper plate next to Hank. “Can I have that?”

Aware Connor was changing the subject and unsubtly at that, Hank shrugged and handed it over, amused to see Connor handle the food lovingly before taking a delicate bite. His eyes closed and he groaned, chewing leisurely. “This is amazing.”

“It’s just pepperoni pizza,” Hank said, thinking the face Connor made while savoring food was downright sinful. It gave him ideas that made him uncomfortable. “Cold pizza at that.”

Connor finished the slice, licking his fingers afterward for want of a napkin. “You wouldn’t say that if you’d be eating what I have. Bland over bland.”

“I promise I’ll change that soon,” Hank said.

Connor nodded. “I believe you.” Looking into his eyes, Hank hoped he could deliver on his promise.


Hank tiredly unlocked his front door, then stepped through, a shape moving toward him from the dark confines of the house. Sumo propped himself up on Hank’s leg, barking excitedly at his owner’s return. Hank sat down the bag of groceries on the floor before kneeling down and hugging the dog around the neck. The familiar soothing scent and soft fur was a balm, serving to remind Hank he was home.

“Sorry to leave you on night watch duty this last month,” Hank said, rocking back on his heels. Sumo licked his cheek, apparently accepting his apology. “Still in your good books, huh?” The dog having extracted enough affection for the moment retreated, wandering towards the living room.

Hank hauled the bag of groceries onto the kitchen table, shortly putting everything away. He snatched a notepad and sat down, resting his chin on his hand, leaning over the table. After a few minutes, Sumo shoved his head into Hank’s lap, rolling his eyes up at him expectantly.

Chuckling, Hank obliged, petting him. Abruptly, Connor’s face flashed in his mind and Hank sighed, looking down at Sumo. “I must be insane. How the hell am I going to get him out of there?” The dog uttered a soft woof and Hank scratched the area between his ears. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

He got up to get a drink, pouring himself some whiskey. While not at his best after a long shift of work, Hank knew he could come up with something. He threw back the shot of liquor, feeling the burn all the way down to his stomach. As if triggered by the alcohol, something in the back of Hank’s brain sparked and he took a few minutes to think the idea through.

It was crazy, reckless, and probably would end up getting him killed, but every good deed was worth doing, right?

“Okay,” Hank told Sumo who was getting a drink of water from his dish. His gaze dropped to his phone on the table, reaching out to grab it. “I need to call in a few favors.” His personal life was in shambles so Hank would probably spend a while apologizing before he could ask anyone for help.

He sighed heavily. “Wish me luck.” Sumo sat next to him and panted silently in support as Hank started to dial.


Hank fidgeted as he watched Ben slowly down his cup of coffee, barely paying any attention to the security feeds before him. The sleeping pills were taking too damn long. Just when he thought he’d have to take matters into his own hands, Ben yawned.

A few more minutes passed and his head dipped once, then twice before Ben’s chin hit his chest, his eyes closed. Hank leaned over and snapped his fingers a few times, Ben showing no response. Grinning, Hank powered down the bank of monitors, cutting off the recording feed, then stole Ben’s security ID so if he unexpectedly woke up, he couldn’t reactivate them.

He was committing work suicide, but couldn’t stand to see Connor mistreated any longer. Luckily, with Ben down and out, Hank could move around freely, his only worry running into other employees. He was always good at bullshitting people though.

Carefully grabbing the duffel bag from underneath his seat, Hank left the booth, walking as casually as he could down the hallway toward the elevator. He was never as thankful to be on the night shift as he was now. During the day, it would’ve been impossible to get Connor out.

Striding toward the lab, Hank crossed his fingers before reaching the door. If they’d moved Connor somewhere else, his plan was shot. In the month Hank had known him, Connor had never given any indication he went anywhere but the lab next door.

Still, Hank’s relief was immense when he saw Connor sitting on his cot. Part one of the plan was at least going well. “Thank god,” he said, lying the duffel bag on the floor. Connor shot to his feet, going to the front of the cell, pressing his hands against it.

“Hank, what’s going on?”

“You’re getting the fuck out of here. Tonight.” Connor’s face lit up and he watched Hank move to left side of the cell.

His fingers shook as Hank took out a small black plastic circle from the duffel bag, then slowly pushed it onto the complex electronic lock. Hank looked up at the ceiling, brow knitting at the sight of the water sprinkler overhead. It was too high to sabotage so he'd have to hope the explosive packed enough punch to do the job before the water system activated.

“Get as far away as you can,” Hank advised, Connor scrabbling toward his cot, hauling it into the right corner of the cell. He hunched down behind it for cover and anxiously gave Hank a thumbs up.

God, he was nervous. Hank input the activation code and left the room, a solid five seconds passing before there was a small booming sound. “Connor, are you all right?” he called out, Hank’s eyes tearing up from the smoke that had filled the room.

Around the area where the lock used to be was a ten-inch ring of smothering plastic and metal. Hank barely touched it with his foot and the lock fell backward, crashing to the floor. Damn. His friend Reggie did solid work.

“I’m fine,” Connor called out in a rough voice. Hank easily pulled open the cell door, heading where he last saw Connor. He found him lying on his stomach, coughing madly into his hand.

The sprinklers finally kicked in, cold water raining down on them from above. Hank suppressed a shudder as he knelt down and helped Connor up. With the fire department likely notified and on their way, their window of escape had been cut in half.

“Come on,” Hank said, grabbing his duffel bag. “We have to really hurry now.”

“Why tonight?” Connor asked as Hank held open the door to the science lab.

“Androids are occupying Hart Plaza, vying for equal rights as we speak. CyberLife has other things on their mind than one human test subject.”

“But what about you? You have a whole life here.”

Though they’d left the active sprinklers behind, Hank could feel water dripping down his neck and back. “Correction: I had one. These days, Detroit only reminds me of memories I’d rather forget.” Hank handed the duffel bag to Connor. “Now change into those clothes already. We don’t want to linger any longer than necessary.”

When Connor stepped forward, ignoring the bag, and hugged Hank, he stopped, stunned at the display of affection. Connor pressed his face against Hank’s shoulder, his frame trembling slightly. Laying an arm around Connor’s back, Hank silently let him work through the emotional high. Connor had been tight-lipped on the details, but Hank knew he’d been through a lot.

“Thank you for this,” Connor said, his voice shaky and muffled, fingers tight on Hank’s back.

Hank chuckled. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” he replied. “Thank me then.” He gently pushed Connor’s shoulder, the man wiping at his eyes before he dug into the duffel bag, pulling out clothes.

“They might be a little big.” Hank couldn’t help but notice that Connor was painfully thin, his ribs showing with little muscle mass anywhere on his body. What the hell had they been doing to him? Aware he was being watched, Connor’s shoulders tightened and he smiled weakly as he stepped into a pair of jeans. A long-sleeved dark shirt and jacket completed the outfit.

“They’re just clothes, but they make me feel better anyway,” Connor commented softly, running his fingers down one of the leather sleeves of the jacket with a satisfied expression. He scanned the lab, his eyes narrowing. “Hank, do you have another explosive in that fun bag of yours?”

“I do actually,” he said hesitatingly. “I wasn’t sure if one would do the job or not.”

“Can you set it to go off in ten minutes?” Connor said, heading to a big industrial fridge. He opened it and took out a tray of blood samples, Hank assuming they were Connor’s own. He studied a nearby shelf of chemicals, seizing a bottle of something, Connor’s hand blocking the label.

Tipping it over, Connor slathered it over the entire tray of tubes. Bubbles and smoke rose from it in a matter of seconds. When Connor was satisfied the samples were sufficiently destroyed, he took the explosive from Hank and stuck it on the shelf of chemicals.

Hank was amused by Connor’s sudden vindictive streak. “I suppose adding arson to the list of crimes is nothing at this point.”

“Sorry, but while they’ll have digital records stored elsewhere, I can’t allow them to have any viable samples of my blood.” Connor paid no mind to Hank’s questioning look as he went toward the lab door, stopping to wait for Hank.

“Whatever makes you feel better,” he said, Hank checking his watch before peeking out into the hallway. He’d given Ben enough sleeping pills to last for hours but still felt the need to proceed with caution.

They swept out into the hallway, Hank bypassing the elevator at the end completely. Going back to the main floor and out the front door wasn’t an option. He set a fast pace as they navigated through the hallways.

Nearly to the emergency stairwell, Hank heard footsteps close by. He surveyed the hallway for a place to stash Connor. He remembered passing a utility closet not too long ago and they backtracked, Hank practically shoving Connor into the small room, turning to face the person who rounded the corner.

The telltale uniform identified him as an android and inwardly Hank’s anxiety twitched to life. He knew people, machines not so much. He scanned Hank, eyes moving from his wet hair and clothes to the duffel bag in Hank’s hand.

“John…” Connor's sotto voice made Hank glance at the closet door. It was still open a tad, the edge of Connor’s jacket sticking out. The bottom of Hank’s stomach dropped.

They were screwed. John would report it and CyberLife would persecute Hank to the fullest extent of the law while Connor would go back to being nothing but a goddamn guinea pig.

The android looked past Hank, examining the closet door closely. His LED pulsed wildly before blinking a solid red. Hank thought he saw one corner of John’s mouth lift as he stood there with his hands held behind his back, patience personified.

“Out on rounds? Better hurry up, Mr. Anderson,” John said, his voice steady. “The fire department will be here in exactly three minutes.” Hank stared in disbelief as John waved in the direction of the closet door before he continued down the hallway.

Connor peeked his head out, calling out to John while Hank tried to figure out what hell had just happened. “There’s an explosive in the lab, get out while you can.”

“I’ll be careful,” came the eerily calm response as John disappeared from view.

Hank rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll be a son of a bitch. He just saved our asses.”

“I told you he was a good guy.” Hank wondered how long John had been a deviant. Long enough to form some kind of attachment to Connor, which wasn’t a hard thing to do as Hank could personally attest to. Even machines were weak against him. A truly impressive talent that.

“I believe you,” Hank replied. Now, he finished in his head.

Connor suddenly grabbed his arm once they’d made to the stairwell, looking Hank in the eyes. “Promise me one thing, Hank. Don’t leave me behind, no matter what.”

Hank nodded. “I promise,” he said solemnly, glad to see some of Connor’s trepidation dissipate. If only it could strengthen his own belief they could get away safely. Every second they spent talking was one they could have spent moving. “Now come on.”

“Gladly.”


Once they hit the bottom floor, the basement, Hank breathed a little easier. It was used as storage most of the time, and quiet as a tomb. Both of them looked up upon hearing a resounding boom, then shrill alarms. Hank checked his watch, confirming it had been ten minutes.

“I have a feeling you put that thing on the shelf with the most volatile chemicals,” Hank said as they crossed the basement midway point.

“You would be right,” Connor confirmed.

“Sneaky bastard.”

Hank finally spied what he’d been looking for: the service elevator. One short ride to the parking garage and they were almost home free. He punched the call button and waited as Connor drew up on his side, looking tired. Hank clapped him on the back in silent support, using his ID tag to activate the elevator once Connor was aboard.

The doors peeled open a few minutes later and Hank’s heart hammered at the sight of the familiar security guard standing in front of them. CyberLife must have called in reinforcements on account of the fires. Dean Johnston was one of the few friendly guards he’d met, having actually tried to get Hank to go out drinking with him a few times.

“I saw the elevator log your tag so I thought I might catch you here. Where’s Ben? Who’s this?” Hank didn’t answer, only charged ahead, barreling into Dean, tackling him to the floor. He was younger than Hank by a good fifteen years, but Hank managed to get in a few punches thanks to the element of surprise.

Dean recovered fast, driving his fists into Hank’s stomach and chest, driving the wind out of him.

“Hank!” He wheezed on his hands and knees, sure Dean had busted a rib or two. When Hank managed to get a good breath in, he was just in time to see Connor hit Dean in the head with a metal trash can. The guard dropped to the floor, looking dazed, and Hank stood up, Connor’s worried expression all the motivation he needed to keep moving.

“I’m fine,” he said unsteadily, motioning to the automatic doors that led into the parking garage itself, his chest aching every time he inhaled. “Don’t stop.”

They’d just gotten to the first row of cars when Hank heard the sound of a gun cocking behind him. Without warning, he was pushed from behind, Connor crying out in pain. Something stung his side, and Hank winced, recognizing a bullet graze when he felt it. Dean must have let loose with a few shots.

Though Hank had been hoping he wouldn’t have to use it, he drew his revolver and held his breath as he spun around, firing twice. His aim wasn’t to kill but to distract Dean long enough for them to get away. One bullet struck the garage wall and the other hit Dean in the lower right leg.

Dean dropped his weapon, going to clutch his leg. Hank resisted the impulse to turn around as he began running, Connor pulling up beside him, keeping pace as well as he could. His brow was pinched, sweat glistening on his forehead. “Are you okay?”

“Great,” Connor grunted, out of breath as they descended to the next level of the garage. Grateful he’d spent the last few months gradually getting back into shape, Hank pointed out his vintage car in the far corner, digging out the keys from his pocket. So far, they hadn’t been pursued, but Hank knew it was only a matter of time.

After unlocking the doors, throwing the duffel bag in the back, and taking a seat, Hank waited for Connor to get in, then started the car. He peeled out of the parking garage as fast he safely could, loud heavy metal music blaring out of the car speakers. Connor turned it down and switched it to a news report.

“Though the androids have not hurt any of the armed forces, tensions are mounting and there is sure to be some confrontation eventually. With the city curfew in effect and thousands of citizens in potential danger, we will remain on the scene to report anything new.”

Hank turned it off while Connor rubbed his arms, starting to shiver as he eyed Hank in concern. “What about the curfew?”

“Not a problem,” he replied, staying off the main roads as much as he could, constantly checking the rearview mirror for any signs they were being followed. “An old coworker of mine is in charge of one of the squads. She warned me in advance when she heard about the protest. Even gave me an alternate route out of the city and what to say if we did get stopped at a roadblock.

“Give it another minute and you can turn the heat on,” Hank finished, noticing that Connor was huddling in on himself, holding an arm over his stomach. He gave Hank a shaky nod and Hank turned his focus back to the road, not believing their luck when they entered the outskirts of Detroit, the city lights behind them, a tense thirty minutes later.


Spotting a long dirt road ahead, Hank turned onto it, driving until he stopped behind what looked to be an abandoned farmhouse. He turned to Connor who was slumped in the passenger seat. “We’re safe, Connor.”

He didn’t move even after Hank shook his shoulder. Looking closer after turning on the overhead light, Hank realized there was a large bloody spot on Connor’s left side and the car seat underneath him was covered in red. Though he knew it was futile, Hank checked for a pulse, finding none.

Cursing a blue streak, Hank laid his head against the steering wheel. All that work come to nothing. Connor had tasted freedom for all of an hour after years of captivity. It wasn’t fair.

Hank punched the steering wheel a few times, no doubt bruising his knuckles when a bright light went off inside the car. It was hot, such an intense burn that he feared it would set the interior ablaze. Sweat ran down Hank’s face and he felt like his skin and eyes were baking underneath an unforgiving sun. Everything hurt and Hank wondered if he would go blind from the strange illumination, even with his eyes shut.

He wasn’t sure how long it lasted until it was gradually dimmed. When it had finally receded, Hank had to wait for spots to leave his vision to properly see, glimpsing huge circles every time he blinked. Something touched him and Hank recoiled, his head striking the car window before blackness swallowed everything.

“Hank?” He stirred as he opened his eyes, sure he was dreaming. Hank was slouched against the driver’s side door, Connor kneeling before him, gripping his shoulders, jostling Hank roughly. Color and vitality had returned to Connor’s face and body, making him look years younger. “Are you alright, Hank?”

“This is a nice dream,” he said, reaching out and laying a hand on Connor’s cheek. It was soft and warm, startlingly real underneath his fingers.

Connor smiled at him, putting a hand over Hank’s. “I can assure you that you’re wide awake,” he said softly, then retreated to his seat, having taken off and put his jacket over the large bloodstain. “You may want to take it easy, you’ve had a shock.”

Hank forgot about his swiftly developing headache, shaking off his fatigue, stunned to see Connor alive and well again. “What the fuck is going on?” Hank asked, wincing at the sound of his own voice. It felt off for some reason. Maybe Hank had finally cracked after all this time. He was sure Connor had been dead as a doornail a moment ago.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you earlier,” Connor started, taking in Hank’s silence before sighing lightly. “You may find this hard to believe,” Connor continued, Hank snorting in disbelief. After the night he’d had, he’d believe anything. “But I’m what’s commonly known as a phoenix.”

He gazed at Connor for a beat before saying, “As in the Greek mythological figure that rises from its own ashes once killed?” Connor inclined his head, seeming pleased and a little mystified at Hank’s knowledge on the subject. “What? I know I don’t look like a big reader, but I had to minor in something at college…aren’t you supposed to be a bird though?”

“A giant flaming bird sticks out in a crowd and that’s the last thing I want,” Connor said, his eyes glowing an eerie gold for a moment, then shifting back to their normal brown. “Especially now that I’ve escaped that place.”

“Is that what you really look like?” inquired Hank, his curiosity chasing away any irritation he felt about Connor concealing such a huge secret.

“It’s one of my forms, yes. I rarely stay in it since it takes a lot of energy to maintain.”

“So you’re definitely older than you look.” Suddenly, Connor’s shocked reaction upon learning the date when they first met made more sense. If he had no way of keeping track, there was no telling how long he’d been CyberLife’s prisoner.

“Yes,” Connor said mysteriously before adding, “But I can age normally so long as I don’t regenerate.”

“So the research taking place…” Hank had a good guess, but he wanted to hear the truth straight from Connor himself.

“They were killing me over and over, trying to find out my secret.” Hank’s stomach turned in distaste, more than ever convinced he’d done the right thing getting Connor out. There was surprisingly little anger in Connor’s voice, but maybe he’d learned simply accepting his fate was easier than fighting it.

Hank was impressed Connor had held out so long though. Under similar conditions, he probably would have broken after a few deaths. “If I had revealed myself, it would have been problematic since there’s far more than just my kind in the world.”

“Just the tip of the iceberg, huh?” Hank sat back in his seat, not the least bit shocked to find out that humanity wasn’t alone. Even before androids had come along and muddied the waters, he’d seen strange shit working in the police force. Unsolved murders and wounds that defied conventional explanation.

“You have no idea.” The way Connor said the words were odd, along with the intense way he was studying Hank. He wondered if he was bleeding from the head or something. Hank pressed a hand to it, feeling the faintest trickle of wetness near his forehead. He looked up at the rearview mirror and froze, the world stuttering to a halt at the image he saw reflected there.

Instead of a middle-aged man with silvery hair and a well-worn face that had seen its share of joy and pain, there was a brown-haired young man staring back at him, his skin smooth and spotless, in the full blush of youth. He pinched his cheek and it hurt. When Hank opened his mouth, his reflection did as well and he turned to Connor in bewilderment. “What the…”

Connor smiled at him, all patience and understanding as he pointed towards Hank’s side. He looked down, seeing that part of his coat was torn. Hank shrugged it off his shoulder, the small red wound reminiscent of Connor’s, only more minor. “Back in the garage, when I got shot, the bullet must have gone right through me and grazed you. With just enough of my blood on it to make a difference.”

“Did you know this could happen?” Hank asked, feeling the smallest edge of hysteria brush against his awareness, quickly pushing it back down before it gained a hold. The current situation was so far beyond his understanding, he had no idea how he felt about it. It was one thing for Connor, but Hank as well?

“Not at all, but it’s a very pleasant surprise, don’t you think?” Hank focused on the rearview mirror again, at a face he hadn’t seen in 30 years. “You’ve been taken back to the prime of your life, Hank. How’s it feel?”

As far as significant life changes went, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to him. The raw energy coursing through his body was plentiful and far different from the tired apathetic attitude he’d carried on his shoulders for the last three years. It’d been an accident, but Connor had inadvertently given him a fresh start.

“Pretty goddamn good,” Hank admitted both to himself and the man next to him, flashing Connor a grin. “It’ll certainly throw CyberLife off our scent.” He had a lot of other questions to ask, but they’d get to that in due time. Hank had an excess of that now.

“It will at that. Do you have any other business in Detroit before we leave?”

Hank nodded, restarting the car. “The most important kind.”


Unlocking the front door of his house, Hank stepped inside, a shadow rising from the corner. It stopped just before reaching Hank, head lowering as a growl rumbled out of the large canine’s mouth. 

“Wait, Sumo,” Hank said hurriedly, thrusting out his hand under the dog’s nose, hoping enough of his original scent remained on his clothes. “I know I’ve changed some, but I’m still your owner.”

Sumo sniffed, his head slowly rising until he licked Hank’s fingers. Smiling, Hank leaned forward, hugging Sumo around the shoulders. “Good boy.”

“Can I come in now, Hank?”

“Yeah, it’s fine.” Connor slipped into the house, his eyes alighting at the sight of Sumo. He knelt down on the floor, making clicking noises with his tongue. Sumo left Hank and went to Connor, staring at him for a moment before deciding Connor was okay with him by shoving his head under Connor’s hand. The latter chuckled, ruffling the fur along Sumo’s neck.

“I love animals,” Connor said, scratching along a floppy ear, grinning widely. He laughed as Sumo licked his cheek in wide strokes while Hank looked on, pleased to hear Connor’s laughter. It was a nice sound and proof that what he’d been through hadn’t permanently damaged him. “I haven’t seen one since 1996.”

“They clearly love you back,” Hank said, chuckling until the full implication of Connor’s words hit him. 1996? He’d only been 11 years old then. Hank did the mental math, his fists tightening at his side as a surge of outrage filled him. CyberLife had held Connor prisoner for 42 years. How the hell could he act so goddamn blasé about that fact?

Connor’s smile faltered as he took in Hank’s abrupt silence. “Is something wrong?”

No. Hank took a series of deep breaths, pushing his rage back down with effort. He had the wrong target, it wasn’t Connor’s fault. It was CyberLife’s. “No, everything’s fine,” he said reassuringly, grateful when Sumo took the focus off Hank by pushing Connor to the ground, licking his forehead, catching the edge of Connor’s hair, making it stick up in places.

Hank left Connor to rescue himself from Sumo’s clutches and started packing up pet supplies. His own belongings, the most important ones at least, were already packed away in a few suitcases inside his car’s trunk.

With a contact in the State Department who was willing to provide fake IDs and papers for both of them, Hank only had to send all the pertinent information once they were safely away from the city. Cost a small fortune, but he never expected starting over to be easy. Hank passed by his reflection in the bedroom, pausing briefly, still not used to the change, and knew that from now on, things would only get harder for them.

Having to explain why Hank was asking for an ID featuring his younger self was not a conversation he was looking forward to having. The world had changed a great deal since Connor had been out in it and hiding in the shadows might not be an option anymore. They might have to fight back and Hank, for one, was hoping he could get a few good licks in CyberLife’s general direction.

Time was limited, but Hank stripped off his uniform, unable to stand wearing it any longer. He expected to see some kind of scar on his side where the bullet had grazed him, but Hank’s skin was unmarred. It took him a few minutes to notice that every scar he’d acquired in his lifetime was gone too, including the one from the car accident three years ago.

Everything hit Hank at once and he sat down on the end of his bed, rubbing his forehead as he fought the hefty emotional influx. A lot had happened in the last 24 hours with many more changes on the way.

“I’m sorry,” Connor said, Hank’s hand falling to his lap as he looked at the doorway where Connor was leaning against the doorframe. “I was so excited to get out, I didn’t stop to consider how it would affect you.”

Hank sniffed, casually running a few fingers across his cheek as he stood up. “It’s okay. It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into.” He quickly pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, self-conscious about lounging around half-naked, physically or emotionally, in front of the other man. “Well, mostly. The phoenix thing came out of left field.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” he corrected quickly, not wanting to offend. “It suits you really, but I don’t know about me.” He was the middle of putting on a flannel shirt, only one sleeve on when Connor placed a hand on Hank’s shoulder.

“If anyone deserves such a gift, it’s you, Hank. I’ve seen hundreds of people look at me as if I was nothing. A mere medical mystery to be solved.” A glint of gold shone in Connor’s eyes as they met Hank’s. “You saw a person and took the time to get to know me.”

Connor took a step closer to him. “That meant everything to me. Is it any wonder that I grew to care for you?” Hank’s breath caught in his throat when Connor pushed forward, brushing his lips against Hank’s. He kept his eyes open and the vulnerability and open affection Hank saw there shut down any misgivings he had about the turn of events. Besides, it wasn't like he hadn't thought about it.

Connor leaned back a bit, seeming nervous about the lack of response until Hank started to laugh underneath his breath. “I would say that age would be an issue, but you’re way older than I am,” Hank said with a smirk before he tugged Connor closer, initiating the kiss this time.

He’d meant to keep it light, but Connor was more aggressive than Hank anticipated as he opened his mouth wider, touching Hank’s tongue with his own, arms tight around Hank’s neck. Connor tasted like a bonfire, all smoke and hot spice, the inside of his mouth warm, soft, and extremely responsive.

Rejuvenated nerves sparked to life throughout his body, Hank moaning at the intense sensation, a shudder running down his spine. He was grateful his ribs were healed, otherwise he wouldn’t be having any fun at all. Heat pooled in the pit of Hank’s stomach, Connor’s eyes burning a solid gold.

Unable to stand it anymore, Hank lifted Connor off his feet, carrying him to the bed. He broke off from Connor’s mouth regretfully as he laid him down on his back. The sight of Connor’s flushed face, the sound of his unsteady breathing, and the feel of his body beneath Hank’s, which was not unhappy to be there, made things worse when Hank’s common sense decided to kick in.

“As much as I want to continue this, we really don’t have time.”

“Shit, you’re right.” It was the first time he’d heard Connor curse and Hank would have said something about it if Connor hadn’t skimmed one of Hank’s eyebrows with his thumb. “I never saw it from the other side before,” he said breathily as Hank stared at him. “Your eyes reacted just like mine,” Connor explained.

Hank glanced back at his closet mirror, the gold eyes were eerie in the darkness of the room. It brought home the fact that in the addition of everything else, Hank had left his humanity behind as well. “Well, that’s…new.”

Connor sat up, pressing a soft kiss to Hank’s cheek, causing him to groan in exasperation, holding Connor back. “Don’t start that again or we’ll never get out of here.”

“Sorry,” Connor said, not looking the least bit apologetic. Hank realized he would have his hands full dealing with him, but it was a challenge he relished. It would certainly keep things interesting at the very least. Not to mention entertaining.

Five minutes later, Hank closed the driver’s side door, putting his hands on the wheel as he turned to Connor. Sumo was lying on the backseat, unmoved by everything, probably happy they were going for a car ride.

“Okay, Connor, where would you like to go?”

Connor grinned at him, his good mood infectious as Hank responded in kind. “Anywhere but here.”

“Agreed,” Hank said, starting the car. Sooner or later they’d have to dump it for something less recognizable, but for right now, Hank would take it as far as he could. He backed out of the driveway, pressed the gas pedal, and they were off, disappearing into the night.

Chapter Text

A/N: I cannot stop writing this story. So many pages to post eventually. Past bits first, then onto the present continuation. ^^

Fair warning, this chapter is long at 13K words. Sorry, not sorry?


Chapter 2: This Fire Inside Me

Side A: Connor

March 24th, 1986

Halfway through his lunch, Brian idly looked around the diner, the seats only half-full. A family of four were at the table next to him, three generations sitting down for a meal. It was a nice sight, but something bothered him as his gaze landed on the oldest man's face.

It took Brian a minute to place it, then he turned away, feeling eyes bore into his back. He raised a hand in the air, trying to signal the waiter so he could get the check. The faster Brian got out of the dinner, the better.

"Grandpa, what's wrong?" The kid's high voice was near, much closer than Brian thought. He glanced to his left, startled by the elderly man standing at the end of his table. "Grandpa?"

"David?" Aaron Wilson. A blast from the past, another lifetime ago. Brian heaved a mental sigh, meeting Aaron's eyes steadily. Despite having been through it countless times, he would never get used to seeing his friends and loved ones bow underneath the relentless passage of time.

It was why he always resettled elsewhere upon starting a new life. Still, events such as this happened once in a blue moon, proving life could be a bitch when it wanted to be.

"That was my father," Brian said smoothly, hoping that would be the end of it. "I've been told I resemble him a great deal."

"Sound like him too," Aaron contested, leaning closer to Brian, scrutinizing him. "Eerily so."

A younger man with similar facial features came up beside him, touching Aaron's shoulder. "Dad, let's not bother the nice man."

"But, Jason, it's David." He hated having to undermine his old friend's presumption because he was right. Once upon a time, they'd gone through hell together, and now Brian had to pretend he had no idea who Aaron was. The deception ate at him. He hated lying and if Brian could have gotten away with the truth, he would've, but that wasn't the way life worked for him.

"C'mon, Dad." Aaron let himself be led away from Brian's table, still looking upset but powerless to do anything about the situation without drawing further unwanted attention. The waiter finally brought him the check, Brian putting down enough cash to cover it and the tip.

He shot one last look in Aaron's direction, seated next to his son and grandchild, the man's eyes still watching him. A sad smile gathered itself on Brian's face, then he pushed through the door, leaving the remnant of his past behind.


April 2nd, 1986

"You are David Delano."

The unexpected voice made Brian turn from the shelf of potato chips, taking in the young man who'd led his father away from him in the diner a week ago. Had it been Jason?

He was standing next to Brian, staring at him intently as if he'd seen a ghost. "As I explained a few days ago, he was my father. I really don't appreciate being harassed like this."

Jason slowly took an item from his back pocket. When he held it out to display it, Brian's stomach dropped.

A photo. It was at least 20 years old and showed a small group of people sitting on a porch with drinks in their hands. Despite being a touch grainy from wear and tear, Brian's face was clearly visible.

He cursed internally, wondering how the photo had been taken without his knowledge. As a rule, Brian avoided cameras of all kinds if he could help it, keeping away from big historical events as well. There was no need to tempt fate.

"I really thought Dad had lost it until he dug this out of his closet," Jason said. "But after examining it and seeing you in person again, there's no mistake. I have no idea how it's possible though."

It was the worst possible situation for Brian. "Just because I bear a strong resemblance to my father doesn't mean we're the same person. That's crazy." If he could just talk his way out of it.

"Dad's the most honest person I know. Why the hell would he lie about this?" Jason took a step forward. "Your face went pale when I pulled this out. That's not the reaction of an innocent man."

"I've been under the weather lately," Brian said quietly, his grip tightening on the handle of the cart. "Look, I don't know how much more of this I can take. I've explained again and again.

"My name is Brian Bailey. Do you want to see my driver's license? Birth certificate? Social security card?" He'd raised his voice, attracting the attention of the other shoppers around them.

Jason stepped back, self-conscious of the sudden public scrutiny. He tucked the photo back into his pocket, beginning to turn on his heel. "This isn't over," he promised.

Brian didn't doubt it. Aaron had passed on his stubborn streak to his son, which made everything worse. Finally left alone, Brian slouched over the cart, his hands trembling slightly.

"Are you okay?"

He waved off the kind woman's question, flashing her a smile. "Yeah, thanks."

Nothing was fine. He had a feeling Jason wouldn't let the issue go, and the thought of encountering him again in town wasn't pleasant.

There was nothing for it. Brian had to start over.

 

As calmly as he could manage it, not wanting to draw attention to himself, Brian returned to his apartment. No one followed him there as far as he could tell.

Once the front door shut behind him, he walked into the kitchen and knelt in the middle of the floor.

He grabbed the rug lying before him and threw it to the side. Once the baseboard had been revealed, he dug a finger into a loose slat of the floor and lifted it and its brother up, revealing a hidden compartment.

The metal box was cold as Brian pulled it out, shortly placing it on the kitchen table. Inside was everything he would need to secure a new life. Money, papers, etc.

He took the box into his bedroom and packed it and the absolute bare minimum into a large suitcase. Like Brian was just going away for a few days.

There were lots of things he'd miss, his job as an English teacher and friends first and foremost. Second was the woman he'd just started dating. Resentment stirred inside him and Brian dismissed it quickly. It was wasted energy that could easily be spent on worthier endeavors.

He took one last look at his apartment, then left, locking the door behind him.

 

For a long time, Brian simply drove. Distance the sole aim, putting several states between him and California.

At a rest stop, he got out a road map and located the closest national park. It turned out to be Shenandoah National Park, a stone's throw from Washington D.C. with over 300 miles of wilderness. He smiled.

It was the perfect place to bury someone.

 

When he came back to himself, he breathed a sigh of relief. With the weight of the accumulated years cast off, he could do anything. Be anyone.

The main benefit of regeneration.

Given he hadn't used the name in a while and it had always been one of his favorites, the decision was an easy one.

Brian Bailey was dead.

Long live Connor Campbell.


October 5th, 1996

Connor spun the key ring around his finger, his other hand holding a cup of coffee as he walked down the sidewalk. He whistled merrily, thinking ahead to the new shipment that had come through the loading dock and how long it would take to unpack it all.

He raised his keys to the front door of the shop, pausing when he noticed that the lock was broken, part of the glass door cracked. Having only gone out for a coffee run and leaving his college part-timer Tina behind to take care of some things in the back after closing up, Connor's cause for concern rode high.

Pushing through the door as quietly as possible, he placed his coffee and set of keys behind the counter. He lifted the receiver of the phone next to the register up to his ear, expecting to hear a dial tone, finding only silence. Connor knelt down, following the phone cord to the jack in the wall. It was still connected but severed at the very end.

Frowning, Connor returned the receiver to the phone cradle. Even if the option of calling the cops had existed, it was too risky for do so. Though the paper trail behind his current identity was solid and wouldn't raise suspicions, Connor still preferred avoiding any type of authoritative body.

It had been easier before technology had improved by leaps and bounds. Now even touching things presented a risk. Connor started towards the back of the bookstore, slinking through the aisles, using them as cover. When he got close to the employees only entrance, a pair of voices were audible.

"Open the safe." They must have been in the back office.

"I told you already, only the owner knows the combination." The sharp intake of breath on Tina's part conjured terrible images in Connor's mind, wondering what kind of weapon the owner of the deep male voice was holding.

"Well, where is he?"

"He should be back any moment." Connor looked around for something he could use as a weapon, frustrated when the only option nearby was an umbrella that had been set up to dry earlier that morning. He picked it up, holding it with the pointed tip out.

There was no more delaying, not when Tina was in danger. Trying for a casual tone as he entered the back section of the store, Connor called out, "Tina? It started raining again."

"Oh, god, Connor." The relief on Tina's face was immense as he walked into his office. The large man with a bandana over the lower half of his face turned to him, the knife in his hand looking huge and threatening. "Just give him what he wants." There was a red mark on Tina's cheek that hadn't been there before Connor had left.

"Did he hit you?" Tina's lower lip trembled as the man approached Connor, her small nod escaping his notice. Anger started up in Connor and his grip on the umbrella tightened.

"Listen, pal, open the safe and nobody needs to get hurt." But somebody already had and though she'd only been working at the store for a few months, Connor was fond of her. She didn't loaf around during shifts and was always eager to help out whenever a customer had an inquiry. He couldn't have asked for a better employee.

Connor carefully moved closer to the man, trying for an optimal angle. "Okay, just relax." He was almost to the safe, his heart in his throat as his pulse hammered wildly. Only a tiny bit more…

"Don't try anything funn-"

Before he could remind himself how bad an idea it was, Connor lurched to the side, rushing the man, the tip of the umbrella puncturing his left arm. He pushed with all his strength, which given was a touch above a normal human's, got the impromptu weapon into the robber relatively far. Unfortunately, he was right-handed and Connor was aware of a sharp burning pain in his chest as the robber struck back, his knife flashing in the overhead light.

Tina screamed before the man cursed, heading for the office door. "Screw this." He pushed Tina aside, the girl too startled to react, falling against the door as he fled. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment, then Tina's chin flopped down on her chest.

The strength in his legs gave out, Connor dropping to the floor. He unclenched his grip around the umbrella, letting it drop to the floor. He heard the front door slam shut loudly, the robber probably left thinking the whole thing was a wash, not wanting to stick around in case all the noise attracted other people.

Breathing was hard, Connor thinking a lung had been nicked by the blade, copper a bright taste on his tongue. He swallowed back the blood, more worried about his unconscious employee than himself. Warmth blossomed in his chest as regeneration kicked in, Connor thankful it made fast work of his injury.

When he could finally take a breath without effort, Connor slowly stood up. He looked down at his bloody shirt, a macabre reminder of the experience. Making checking on Tina a priority, Connor was relieved to find that she just had a small bump on the back of her head.

He'd been reckless, gambling with just not his life, but Tina's. At his age, Connor was old enough to know better. Still, the situation had pissed him off. There had been no reason for the robber to take his frustrations out on Tina.

Certain she was all right, he left her lying in the office, going to the bathroom where he shut and locked the door. Connor shucked the bloodstained long-sleeved shirt, going for the spare he kept in the cabinet that was similar in color and style.

Connor used the old shirt to blot a small area on his chest, then made a small cut with scissors in it. He looked up at his reflection after washing his face, forcing a smile. "Time to lie again."

He sighed. Why did the robber have to choose his bookstore out of all the businesses on Main Street? It was terrible luck. Before he left the room, he stood on the toilet and pushed up a ceiling tile, stashing his bloody shirt on top of it. Connor washed his hands, then returned to Tina's side.

He gently shook her shoulder, Tina stirring after a moment, opening her eyes. She sat up, awareness making her eyes go wide as she took in the blood on Connor's shirt. "The robber…he's-"

"Gone," Connor said, silently checking Tina out for signs of a concussion. If needed, he'd drive her to the hospital. Still, she didn't seem disoriented, her coordination was intact, and so far she hadn't looked remotely nauseated.

Tina clutched at his shirt sleeve, brow knitted in worry. "I saw him stab you. I was so afraid he'd killed you." Connor pulled her hand down, smiling gently at her.

"It looked worse than it was. I think I threw his aim off when I got him with the umbrella." As flimsy as the story was, Tina appeared to accept it, relieved Connor was okay. He helped her stand up, wondering how to proceed without sounding incredibly sketchy. "Tina, I need you to do me a favor."

She stopped feeling the back of her head, turning to regard Connor questioningly. "Since neither of us is seriously hurt, I would prefer not to notify the police about this."

"What?" Disbelief gradually crept into her expression.

"It's not like he did much damage," he added, going into the small kitchen area to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer. "It'll also be bad for business if customers are scared off by this." He wrapped the pack in a few paper towels, then handed it to Tina who silently took it. "Do you understand?"

"No," she replied quickly, studying Connor as if searching for an ulterior motive. "What about the broken front door?"

"It can be repaired. Tell you what," Connor said, placing a hand on Tina's elbow as they walked to the front of the store. "Take the rest of the week off while I get things back in order. How's that sound?"

"All right, I guess I'll see you next Monday then."

Connor stopped her before she crossed over the shop threshold, leaning a hand against the side of the open door. "Tina, I can trust you to keep this secret?"

Tina nodded after a long moment, still skeptical about the whole situation.

Connor beamed at her. "Thank you."

As she walked out the front door, heading for the parking lot, Connor frowned. He watched her drive off, fearing he might have mishandled the situation.

If he heard any approaching sirens in the next hour, Connor would know Tina had called them anyway. He felt sick at the thought of being helpless to stop events if they turned against his favor.

Connor tied a cord around the front door handles on his way out, the best he could do. Tomorrow, he had to call the phone company and a repairman. With any luck, everything would go back to normal.


"Hey, Connor, I need your help." Looking up from his seat at the register at Tina's voice, he put down the book he'd been reading during downtime. She gestured to the back of the store. "There are still a few boxes we've yet to unload and doing it together would be faster."

"Of course." Though he'd feared Tina might have gone to the police against his wishes after the robbery, she'd showed up after the impromptu vacation, acting entirely normal. "Gary, watch the front." His other part-time employee nodded, walking towards the front desk as Connor headed to the back storage area.

One of the boxes was heavy enough that Connor could see why Tina struggled with it. Once they got it on the table, he held down the top of the box as she ran a box cutter down the middle. She turned the device sideways to cut the tape on the sides, moving faster when she hit the last area.

Without warning, the blade in her hand slipped, plunging into the side of Connor's hand. He jerked backward, automatically pressing his other hand against the wound. "Oh, god, are you all right?" Tina hovered next to him, looking distressed. "How bad is it? Let me see."

"It's fine," Connor insisted, the blood leaking from between his fingers doing nothing to improve the situation. He had to get away from Tina as soon as possible so she wouldn't see him heal. "I need to wash this. That box cutter has seen better days."

Tina moved to block his way when he started for the bathroom. "Are you sure I can't do anything?" She touched his arm lightly, eyes trained on his hands. "Call an ambulance maybe?"

Connor smiled at her reassuringly, holding back a groan when a muscle spasmed inside his hand, inner workings being put right again. That the process took a few minutes to kick in said much about how deep the wound had been. "No need. Really."

She pulled at his arm. "Please let me help you. It's my fault after all." His fingers began to slip from the blood, and Connor pushed past Tina forcefully, almost slamming the bathroom door in her face.

What the hell had gotten into her? Connor shook his head, turning on the light to get a closer look at his hand. Though it was mostly healed, there was still a deep gash running alongside a few fingers.

Experimentally, Connor flexed and fisted his hand. The fingers appeared to work fine. He wondered if he would have lost use of it had he not been of the supernatural variety.

It wasn't like Tina to be so clumsy. Connor dismissed it as simple human error. To avoid suspicion, he bandaged the area where he'd been cut, now completely healed, coming out of the bathroom a few minutes later.

While he couldn't do anything about the lack of scars on his body, Connor planned to play up the injury for a few weeks, something that had become second nature to him after years of practice.

"Everything okay?" Tina asked, fidgeting with a pen and clipboard, updating their inventory. Connor nodded, giving her a stiff wave with his previously injured hand. She sighed in relief. "I thought for sure you'd have to get stitches."

"It was more superficial than it seemed." Her eyes narrowed, but Tina didn't comment further, peering at Connor as he cleaned up the blood he'd spilled on the way to the bathroom. Once he was done, he helped her unload the box of books onto a metal trolley that would later get distributed around the shop.

He went back to his spot near the register, only vaguely noticing Tina collect the trash around the various bins around the shop, shortly disappearing outside to deposit them into the dumpster out back. Connor hadn't asked her to, but it was nice to see Tina take the initiative.


Days later, Tina picked up the phone, her face freezing for a moment as she listened to the voice of the other end. "Uncle Vic, this isn't a good time. I'm at work." Her eyes flitted up to Connor, flashing him a nervous look. "Yes, right, I'll call you back later."

"Family in town?" Connor asked. Though he preferred employees took personal calls on their own time, if there was a good reason he had nothing against it.

Tina shook her head. "Dad's been having some health problems and I'm keeping my uncle in the loop. I told him to call me at home though."

"He's probably just concerned. I know I would be if it were my brother."

"…Do you have any?" Tina sounded anxious asking, Connor hiding a smile. "Family, I mean. You've never mentioned them."

"Nothing to say really."

"Oh." Tina's face fell, fingers tapping the book resting on the counter. "Sorry, I didn't know."

Connor shrugged, long used to avoiding the subject. To say it was complicated would be an understatement. "No worries." He was slightly confused by Tina's reaction to the subject. Perhaps she was afraid of offending him.

"Do you at least have anyone special?" The question had been mumbled, as if Tina hated herself for asking, but couldn't help it.

Connor frowned a bit, tilting his head. "No. Why the sudden interest in my love life?"

Tina fidgeted some more. "I-I'm just curious. You're a really nice guy so I wondered…"

Connor's intuition piqued, making him ill at ease with the whole conversation. On the surface, it was innocent enough, but there had to be a reason beyond mere curiosity. "The store takes up a lot of my time, and dating is…it's hard to find someone with similar interests."

Not to mention being a resident of the supernatural world threw all sorts of kinks into the affair. Total honesty sometimes wasn't the best course when it came to matters of the heart.

He'd settled in Nashua five years ago, growing comfortable enough that barring any unpleasant surprises, Connor would spend the rest of this lifetime here. Business was good, Connor managing to build a pleasant life for himself.

As far as Tina knew, Connor was a 30-year old loner in the community. Maybe she questioned why he kept a healthy distance between himself and other people.

Or she...Oh. Tina had a crush on him. That explained her excessive worry whenever Connor got injured, as well as her embarrassment about asking about his life outside the store.

It was flattering but wouldn't go anywhere anytime soon. Age might not have held much importance to Connor compared to other people, yet he wasn't so desperate as to hit on his own employee. He had too much respect for her.

He fumbled for words, trying to address the issue without being obvious about it. "If you're trying to set me up with someone, Tina, I'd rath-"

"Oh, no," Tina replied swiftly, hurriedly waving a hand in dismissal. "I'd never do that."

The front door opened, a middle-aged woman stepping into the store. Tina turned to greet her with a smile, seeming to welcome the distraction. "How can I help you?"

"Do you have Servant of the Bones?"

"We do, yes." As they walked over to the rack displaying bestsellers, Connor shook his head. Hopefully, Tina had gotten the message and they could continue working together without incident.


When the doorbell rang at ten o' clock at night, Connor was concerned. Late night news was rarely good. As he put a hand on the front doorknob, his intuition flared up, telling him it was a bad idea.

Heeding it, Connor stepped back, instead looking outside on his stoop using the door's peephole. The black mask that stared back at him was startling, Connor's heart lurching in his chest. He jerked back from the door, heading further into the house, going for any available weapon.

The kitchen was closest, Connor going for a few knives. He swept into the rear of the house, kneeling down, placing his back against the wall. He leaned his head out to keep an eye out as something slammed into the front door, causing a large crack that ran down the bottom of it. A second impact broke it entirely, three men decked out in black clothes entering his house.

The one in front of the group signaled the other two to move to his right and left while he moved straight ahead, taking the front. Each of them held a gun in their arms, a light looking affair with a long hollow barrel.

Tranquilizer guns? Confused, Connor pressed back into the library, furiously thinking about what to do next. The odds were stacked against him at three to one. He wasn't without basic self-defense knowledge but doubted he could take on so many at once.

That left him with using his familiarity of the house against them, separating and taking them out one by one. After that, as much as it pained him to do so, Connor would have to cut and run, starting over elsewhere. It was too perilous otherwise.

He glanced down at the small remote control in his front flannel pocket, smirking when he remembered he'd muted the TV upon getting up to check the front door. It was a perfect distraction.

Connor readjusted, going to his knees, focusing on the man in the middle of the trio approaching his kitchen. He hit the unmute button on the remote control, frowning when nothing happened. Was he too far away?

He shifted his arm up, lining up the remote so it was nearly level with the TV. This time, a burst of canned audience laughter erupted from the family room, the man turning in alarm, giving Connor the perfect opportunity.

He renewed his grip on the knife handle and threw it as hard as he could, the hilt end of the blade striking the man on the back of the head. He grunted in pain, his knees going unsteady, but didn't go down for the count.

Biting his lower lip in concentration, Connor threw his other knife, getting lucky as the sharp end sunk into the man's shoulder. His grip on the strange gun loosened as he held it against his hip, the man's other hand trying to grab the knife hilt while he groaned in pain.

"Smith, what happened?" One of his companions asked, returning from their search of the basement.

"He's goddamn here and fucking with us. Help me get this out, Brown." Connor sat back on his heels, filing away the names, though they were rather common surnames. Probably why they didn't mind saying them aloud.

Wait. Where had the last man gone? Connor had lost track of him.

He'd gone to the left, which meant the man had hit upon his bedroom and bathroom. Any moment now, he would be coming up in the hallway that led to the library Connor was currently occupying.

Beyond books, he didn't see any weapons in sight. That meant he would have to rely on the element of surprise. Connor put himself flat against the wall, wishing he'd been able to reach the back door located next to his bathroom. That way, he could have slipped through the backyard and been long gone by now.

The two men in the kitchen were busy retrieving the knife from Smith's shoulder, Connor going still he sensed someone approaching. Crossing his fingers mentally, he tossed the remote into the middle of the library, watching the third man pause, then start to kneel next to it to see what it was.

It put him in perfect alignment with the bookshelf that held his heaviest books, thick volumes of classic literature and a set of encyclopedias. Connor sprung into action, coming out from his hiding spot while the man's back was still turned. With little effort, he tipped the bookshelf over, the tomes slipping from its shelves, knocking the armed man to the floor.

His grip on the gun loosened as the frame of the hefty bookshelf itself joined the fray, finishing the job. Knowing the man would only be dazed, and that the noise of it all would bring his companions running, Connor kicked him in the face, knocking the man unconscious before grabbing the tranq gun he'd wielded.

One down and two to go.

Connor started for the hallway, halfway down it when he heard, "Wilson?" Looked like they'd finally recovered the knife from his friend's shoulder.

He ducked low, hugging the wall, the bathroom in sight now. He could make it, he was less than five feet from his freedom. Some sixth sense took hold of Connor and he moved to the left, something whizzing past his shoulder.

Without hesitating, Connor spun around, the man named Smith who he had stabbed in the shoulder in his sights. He squeezed the trigger, satisfaction blooming within him when it hit Smith square in the side of the neck.

Smith seemed mildly annoyed as he pulled out the dart, his partner lining up his own shot.

Not knowing how to reload the weapon in his hands, Connor threw it aside and scrambled for the bathroom, figuring he could go out the window if needed. He'd almost gotten through the door when something stung the left side of his chest.

Connor looked down, seeing a long tube with colored bits on the end. He yanked it out, venom in his eyes as they met those of the man called Brown who'd managed to finally get him.

"Nighty-night." It was said mockingly as if he was sure that was the end of the matter.

Oh, no, he wasn't going quietly.

Even if he fled, Connor had no idea how far he could get before the drugs took effect. It was better to fight back while he still had a chance. Maybe he could get lucky.

Seeing an opening as Smith staggered against Brown's side, slowly crumbling to the floor as he went unconscious, Connor charged back down the hallway, driving his fist straight into Brown's nose, breaking it. He followed it up with another punch, striking the man firmly on the left cheek.

Brown rocked back on his feet, one hand rising to clutch at his profusely bleeding nose. Connor's vision began to go blurry and he pressed his attack while he could, slamming a knee into the Brown's midsection.

Connor stumbled back almost the same time as Brown fell forward, rapidly losing strength in his legs and arms. The color bleached out of everything, a long dark tunnel fast approaching him.

He'd been so close. One more blow would have ended it.

Connor's breathing rising in panic, he stared as Brown caught himself at the last moment with a hand on his knee.

"Mild-mannered bookseller, my ass."

The world died all around him.


October 15th, 1996

The blindfold was tight across his eyes as well as the binding on his mouth. They hadn't bothered tying his hands and feet together. Whatever drug they'd pumped into him left Connor's head swimming, his limbs heavy with no strength left in them. No one had spoken since they'd exited his home and thrown him into a vehicle.

Connor kept trying to get his thoughts together, but couldn't maintain a hold on them beyond a fog of confusion why this was happening to him. They could have been driving for minutes or hours, it was difficult to tell.

When they did stop, Connor felt hands grab him, maneuvering him into what felt like a wheelchair.

"You're late." It was a baritone voice, slightly peeved from the sound of it.

"Traffic was a bitch."

"You look like hell."

A low snort. "He put up a hell of a fight."

"Hmm. You're sure this is him?"

"Yes."

"Forgive me if I need to see proof before I believe you."

The pair pushing him fell silent until a variety of voices surrounded him, the wheelchair stopping. Someone touched his arm, pulling it straight up at a painful angle. They pushed down his shirt sleeve. Connor stilled as cold metal brushed against his skin, his stomach twisting into knots.

"Are you recording?"

"Yes."

Connor jumped when a sharp burning sensation ran down the length of his forearm, realizing he'd been cut by a blade. With what he presumed was a room full of witnesses, he couldn't heal like normal.

Gritting his teeth, Connor suppressed what was a natural part of himself, wanting to scream as his whole body fought against it. His nerves were in absolute agony at every excruciating inch of skin that slowly pulled itself together, fusing shut.

Tears ran into his blindfold as Connor shook in his seat.

"Did you see that?" Someone asked incredulously. The hand holding his arm flipped it this way and that as if searching for the secret trick.

"Do it again," the baritone voice commanded.

"I can play the footage back."

"No, I want to make sure it's not a fluke."

The knife bit into his arm again, deeper than before. Connor squirmed, sure he'd be shouting if his mouth were free. It took slightly longer this time, likely due to the deep tissue damage, yet the wound still knit together.

"Amazing."

"How the hell did you find him?" Somebody else asked.

The baritone voice chuckled. "My niece worked for him, believe it or not. Even got me a blood sample so I could be sure he wasn't human."

A wave of disappointment and equal parts disbelief sweeping through Connor. Uncle Vic Tina had said…her odd behavior during the last few weeks suddenly made sense. It had been no accident she drove a box cutter into his hand.

He wondered if there was a part of Tina that felt guilty at ratting him out, whether it would keep her up at night knowing she'd put him in this situation.

And here Connor had thought she'd had a crush on him. He'd been so wrong.

"Can you imagine working alongside this?"

The adrenaline rush from the experience was beginning to wear off, blackness slowly eating at Connor's vision. He embraced it with a sense of relief, his head falling back against the top of the wheelchair.


"It's incredible. We've cut, stabbed, ripped, and eviscerated, and The Asset keeps healing. It makes me wonder…"

Through exhaustive experimentation, they'd found Connor's system took care of mortal wounds first, usually within a few minutes. More minor injuries sometimes took a bit longer.

They hadn't done enough to completely activate the regeneration process, which Connor wanted to keep completely under wraps. If they eventually got bored, maybe they'd exterminate him and dispose of Connor's body, leaving him to simply heal up and make good his escape.


After a few days, they removed the blindfold and gag but increased the dosage of whatever drug they were giving him, leaving Connor barely conscious of his surroundings. He knew he was in a barred cell, a small bathroom in the corner, yet little else.

He looked up with effort when a man and woman in white lab coats entered his cell, picking him up under the arms. They traveled through a few nondescript rooms before placing Connor on plastic sheeting.

The damn camera, the familiar witness that always observed him in experiments, was sitting on a tripod at the front of the room, running as usual. "If you're wrong, sir, they'l-"

"I'm not. Now hand me the gun." It was the same baritone voice as before, belonging to a tall lanky red-haired man.

They were upping their game. Connor struggled to sit up, his hand slipping briefly on the plastic, raking his eyes up to meet the gaze of what he assumed was the man in charge.

What had Tina said that day in the shop on the phone? Vic. It had to be short for Victor.

There was no sympathy to be found in his dark green eyes. He turned to look at the blonde woman at Victor's side instead. She, at least, looked nervous about the proceedings.

Connor cleared his throat, voice coming out raspy. "You don't have to do this."

"I really do."

He saw Victor's finger squeeze the trigger, then nothing at all.

 

The main problem with living forever was that no matter what happened, be it a paper cut to a broken bone, one healed. There was little choice in the matter, and it was accepted merely as the price of existence. Connor had avoided confrontation most of his life, simply to stay underneath society's radar. Attention was dangerous to his kind after all.

He had never caught a bullet with his head before.

Its entry was violent, scoring across the left hemisphere, ripping brain cells to shreds, neurons blindly misfiring, precious connections lost.

Connor lay prone, utterly paralyzed, the link between his mind and body abruptly severed. He forgot why it was happening, struggling to maintain his identity.

The floor was cold, the plastic sheet little relief as he laid there, the bullet's passage finally stopped, more than halfway through his head. The knowledge that the brain itself felt no pain wasn't the least bit comforting. Nor was the information that it had been a low-caliber bullet that hit him, the gun's barrel short, limiting the amount of damage it could do to him.

The small piece of metal lodged there uncomfortably, looming larger than it really was. If Connor could have squirmed, he would have. As it was, he couldn't remember where he was, his eyes beginning to itch uncomfortably from lack of blinking.

Faces of a man and woman appeared over him, the man holding a gun at his side, forehead narrowed in what looked like anger. Sound was muted at first before gradually snapping back.

"Oh, god," the woman moaned, her hand locked over her mouth. She gagged, turning away for a bit, coming back a second later looking paler than before. "You killed him."

"Nonsense, Watson." There was a tiny bit of doubt in man's voice, even as he appeared confident about the situation. "Give it time."

The bullet shifted lightly as brain matter began to regenerate around it, neural pathways rebuilding themselves, cell by single cell. It suddenly stalled, unable to complete the process. His body did the next best thing, beginning to push the foreign object back the way it had come, tissue quickly reforming behind it.

Shifting on his feet, the man brought a foot forward to jostle Connor's body. "Come on, you bastard. Don't you dare disappoint me."

He drew nearer to him, squinting. His eyes went wide, Watson gasping softly while the bullet ejected from Connor's forehead, the leftover heat from the projectile burning his face, metal edges scratching his forehead before it fell to the floor.

"This is so wrong," Watson said as the man called Victor slowly smiled in triumph.

"I fucking knew it. It can come back to life."

Connor's eyes flittered multiple times, acutely aware that by regenerating, all the drugs they'd given him had been purged from his system. He stayed on the ground, the blood on his head and neck growing cold.

He caught a glimpse of confusion on Watson's face as she hovered over him, emitting a soft gasp. "Is he…younger?"

Connor's blood ran cold. He had little control over that aspect of the resetting process, and it was only one step in the logic process to assume that if he healed from any wound, Connor could recover from the aging process as well. It was the one piece of knowledge he had hoped to keep to himself.

No more apparently.

"He is. Mr. Morgan, do you know what this means?"

"Think about the ramifications, Watson. If we could learn how to duplicate the process in another subject, the mone-"

Feigning weakness while Victor knelt over Connor for a closer look, he moved swiftly, punching him straight in the throat. He got to his feet, stopping to kick Victor in the stomach as well.

The woman, Watson, stared at him, frozen in indecision. Connor left her standing there and ran, going through a multitude of doors, coming to a series of hallways. He was underground somewhere, that much was clear. He hadn't seen one ray of sunlight yet.

Voices behind him spurred him into action and Connor slipped into the nearest doorway that wasn't locked, taking care to shut the door slowly behind him. He held his breath as he listened to the sound of footsteps nearing his location, then faded into the distance.

Looking around the spacious office, Connor went straight for the computer monitor and woke the machine from sleep mode. He moved the mouse cursor to the right-hand corner and stared at the data that popped open on the screen.

Three months had passed. Connor had thought it was merely days. Clicking around the computer folders, he found out the man in charge of him was named Victor Morgan. There were various file names on the desktop that gave him pause, and he clicked on the first one named RA1096.

The information he found there was too much to take. Every single thing they'd ever done to him was listed in stark clinical terms, some of which Connor didn't even remember. He suspected he'd blocked it out to preserve his sanity.

Connor scrolled back up, skimming until he found the information he was looking for.

"CyberLife Industries, huh?" He'd been taken from New Hampshire but his current location was Detroit, Michigan. Over 500 miles from home.

Closing out the folder, Connor clicked the next one, a file by the name of MA795. From what he could discern, the subject was also supernatural, though the type was difficult to pinpoint. The list of experiments was short, ending with a note that the subject had been terminated due to inconclusive results.

"Bastards are blindly shooting in the dark," Connor said to himself, wishing there was such an easy out for him. His only recourse to escape was suicide, which had never held any appeal throughout his long life. It also would have the unpleasant side effect of exposing his true nature.

No, that wasn't an option. Not yet anyway.

Connor reached for the telephone on the left side of the desk, fingers poised over the keypad. There was no guarantee the police were beyond CyberLife's influence, but he'd take his chances. If someone at least knew he was here…

"Find him now!"

"Shit." Connor put the receiver back in the cradle, looking around the office for a hiding place. The only option was under the desk and he tucked himself there, breathing quietly as the door opened. "Of course you can use live ammo, it's not like you can kill it.

"Goddamn idiots," Victor snarled roughly, walking towards the front of the desk. He slammed a hand on top of it, momentarily shaking the desk. Things went silent until a click of the lighter sounded, Victor apparently having a smoke.

"Sir," someone said, the door opening gently. "Security might have caught him on the surveillance system."

"Show me." Their footsteps faded away, and Connor swatted the leftover smoke from the air as he stood, fast realizing that even though no one had eyes on him now, they would in a matter of minutes.

Connor had to move.

He slipped out the door and went down the hallway, turning around the corner, the security cameras positioned high up in the corners of each walkway watching his every move. It was like a maze, Connor quickly getting turned around.

He spied a large door with a metal handle and raced to it, looking through the thin window to see it led to a large stairwell that connected to different floors. Pulling hard on it, Connor grunted in frustration that it was locked, considering for a moment using fire to melt the damn lock.

Sudden pain erupted on his back and shoulders. Sinking to the floor, Connor looked back to see a set of armed guards, gun barrels pointed at him.

"Let's not make this more difficult than it has to be, RA1096."

Blood bubbled up in his mouth, slipping down his chin. They'd hit a lung, maybe both of them. Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, his vision blurry at the edges.

Connor rasped out two words with his final breath. "Fuck you."

 

He woke up back in his cell, barely able to take a breath before a needle pierced his neck. The familiar lethargic feeling took hold within seconds, Connor slowly becoming aware of someone sitting next to him.

A hand tucked the used needle away into their shirt pocket. The owner of it started to get up, Victor's voice calling out.

"Stay in the cell, Philips. I need you to do something else. You see that hammer on the floor?"

"Yeah?"

There was no emotion in Victor's next command. "Use it to break its legs."

"Sir?" Philips hesitated, his hand traveling half the distance to the hammer before he paused.

"I told you to fucking break them."

Connor watched Philips struggle to reconcile his superior's reasoning, glad he couldn't feel much of anything because of the drugs in his system. "What purpose would that serve? They'll just heal again."

"It's about teaching it a lesson," Victor said coldly, his tone brooking no refusal. "So keep breaking them until I tell you to stop."

Philips' hand fully gripped the hammer, going on his knees over Connor. It was clear in his body language he didn't want to do it. "I'm so sorry," he whispered under his breath before finally turning his head away as Philips brought the tool down on the back of Connor's knee.

Over the next hour, healing the injuries over and over again, Connor screamed until he lost his voice, then soundlessly until Victor finally raised his hand and stopped the torture, his inner sadist apparently satisfied.

"Thank you, Philips, you may go now."

The man scrambled to leave, Connor's cheek plastered to the floor, blood running from his fingertips down into his palms from clenching his fists together so hard.

His breath was ragged, dreading the moment he had to move. Hate burned in every fiber of Connor's being for the man standing across from him, smiling brightly at him before he walked out of the room.

He swore one day Victor would pay, and dearly at that.


The meal the next day was an overcooked beef patty lacking seasoning, mealy mashed potatoes, and diced carrots. Upon starting into the unappetizing food, Connor undid the paper ring holding his napkin and plastic silverware in place.

He rolled them out, placing the ring on the side of the metal tray. Halfway through the lackluster meal, Connor noticed a smudge of black on the ring's inner paper.

Palming it in his hand, Connor stood and walked to the far left corner where the small bathroom sat, the only bit of privacy they afforded him. The shower and toilet were close together, hardly enough room to walk through them.

Sitting on the closed toilet lid, Connor examined the paper ring thoroughly. There were exactly three lines on it, written sloppily as if the owner hadn't had time to be neat about it.

What they're doing is wrong.

I'm going to save you.

-W.

Despite his first thought that it was a horrible trick, Connor's hands began to shake as tears filled his eyes, the full impact of the message hitting him. Someone knew he was here. They actually had scruples. They had to be in the lab to alter and deliver his meal, meaning one of the people involved in the project was on his side.

It was more than Connor could have expected. Once he had collected himself, he flushed the message and went back to the main part of the cell, wishing he could see through the wall, at the small throng of people working in the lab next door.

One of them was his salvation.


"Connor?"

The sound of his own name was strange. Everything in the lab called him RA or just The Asset in what Connor assumed was a further effort to dehumanize him, thereby making their jobs of tearing him apart daily looking for answers easier.

He looked up from the book he'd been reading, taking in the woman named Katherine Watson who served as Victor's personal assistant. She was standing before the cell, looking worriedly towards the door leading to the lab every few seconds.

"That is your name, right?" Her voice was pitched low in a whisper. Suspicious, Connor stared at her, questioning what she wanted from him.

Frustration crossed Katherine's features. "Listen, I know you have no reason to trust me," she started. "But what they're doing is wrong."

Connor dropped the book before crossing the room. The way Katherine had worded her statement was familiar. He realized she had been the one to send him the message.

Seeming encouraged by his move, Katherine leaned forward a bit, looking utterly sincere. "I'd like to help. My position affords you the best chance of escape, don't you think?"

"…If this is a joke, I'm not laughing." He wanted to believe her so fiercely, but knowing what a bastard Victor was, suspected her motives in offering assistance. Connor had to be sure. False hope was worse than no prospects at all.

Katherine redoubled her efforts. "I'm serious, Connor. I know everything about this project. If anyone could be of use to you, I would."

"Okay," he replied. "Say I chose to trust you. How would you help me get out? I know they're watching me on the cameras."

"The surveillance system only records proceedings outside the lab. You're too sensitive a project to let your existence become known to the general public. I know every blind spot here. We simply have to leave at the best opportune time of day and no one would be the wiser as to where you'd gone."

"Victor would know what you'd done," Connor said, starting to believe Katherine's sincerity despite his initial skepticism. If she was acting, she was doing a damn fine job of it.

"Not necessarily. Yes, the lab retains a small staff, but there are other people here who also think this is wrong. It crosses professional lines on many levels. If I can convince them to help too, we can pull the wool over Mr. Morgan's eyes. So to speak."

Connor mulled it over for a few minutes. "Don't do it if you're not sure. I don't want other people to suffer because of me."

Katherine smiled. "You're a good man, Connor, but you need to get out of here. No one deserves to be treated like this." She paused for a moment. "Do you trust me?"

What felt like a grin lifted the corners of his mouth. "I'll have to, won't I?"


Over the next few weeks, Katherine visited him during periods where Connor assumed Victor was otherwise occupied. Any day he didn't see the man was a good day as far as he was concerned.

During one planning session, Katherine brought in blueprints of the massive building, laying it out on the ground before the clear divider. Leaning as close to it as he could, Connor watched with interest as she pointed out security checkpoints, entrances, and exits. There were multiple sublevels, each dedicated to a different branch of science.

They currently resided on sublevel 12, which seemed to be the pharmaceutical floor. Connor chuckled at the irony of being trapped in a place that was supposed to develop new medicines to help heal people.

"Hey." Connor looked up at Katherine who watched him warily. "You okay?"

The answer varied depending on how bad a day he'd had. Connor avoided replying altogether by pressing a finger against a security booth located on the main floor of the building. "What's their schedule like?"

"CyberLife is very serious about protecting its secrets. Security cameras are everywhere but inside the labs to protect proprietary secrets. Multiple guards are stationed here during the day, less so during the night. They patrol every hour on the hour.

"However," Katherine said with a grin. "There's a five-minute lapse in security when the day shift switches over to the night shift. If we can trigger a blackout during that period of time, we can get you out during the ensuing chaos before anyone knows what's happened."

"How would you do that?"

"Set an explosive charge or purposely overload the power grid. I'm still looking into our options there."

"It's straight forward and simple," Connor admitted, not sure if a plan relying on the element of surprise and a lot of luck would turn out well. But he and Katherine had gone over what seemed like hundreds of less promising plans. At least in this one the risk to other people was minimal.

He ignored the niggling doubt in his heart and nodded. "Okay, let's try it."


Connor stared at the clock, willing it to be wrong. Katherine had said midnight and a whole half hour had gone by since then. At the sound of the lab door opening, he pressed close to the cell door, all his hopes for securing freedom dying when he saw Victor enter the room.

The self-satisfied smile he wore said it all. Even though Katherine had promised she would take great care in affecting Connor's escape, she must have given something away by accident.

"I expect I'm the last person you want to see right now, but I felt I had to come and make my point."

Victor came to stand directly across from Connor. "You are far too valuable to simply let slip from our grasp. Put simply, everything you are is ours. Who you were before is meaningless. From now on, every single person who works on this project will be carefully vetted to make sure they can maintain objectivity. Incidents like this must never happen again."

"…And Katherine?" he asked hesitatingly, dreading the answer.

Victor sneered. "Worried about her, are you?" Connor fisted his hand, never wanting to strike someone as badly in his life. "After I confronted Watson and learned of her, let's call them misguided, plans, I strongly suggested she take advantage of a position opening up elsewhere in the country. Doing otherwise would have resulted in things I can't mention in polite company."

Connor took a step back, appalled at the monster who masqueraded as a man in front of him. He'd practically admitted to threatening to kill someone because they'd dared to rebel against him. While glad Katherine had managed to get away unscathed, Connor only wished he'd been able to go with her.

"Perhaps now you finally understand your place." Not wanting to even acknowledge the stupidity of the statement, Connor turned away, returning to his cot.

Throughout his whole spiel, Victor had never once referred to him by name. It was as if he only saw the potential profit in Connor rather than a real person. Being objectified like that spoke volumes about Victor's twisted personality and morals.

With him at the helm of the project, Connor was never getting out. He closed his eyes as he took a seat, swallowing down the bitter pill of truth.

If time would fix the matter, that was fine. Connor had plenty of it to spare.


Mere days after Victor had confronted Connor about Katherine, most of the staff were replaced. People he'd grown to despise for their part in his captivity, simply never seen again. Presumably paid off or threatened by ruin if they broke their contracts. Victor being true to his word of finding new impartial staff.

It took a while for Connor to realize the new policy instituted amongst them. Any discussion of a time of reference was banned. Birthdays, holidays, anything that would lead him to pinpoint a specific date.

Even the books they gave him were always classics from some long-forgotten era. Shakespeare, Verne, Dickens. With nothing else to distract him, Connor devoured them, savoring every written line. It didn't matter if he'd read it before, not when it helped to pass the time.

He fell asleep one night and woke up to find his cell completely transformed, the thick metal bars replaced with a clear plastic divider that spanned from the ceiling to the floor, pocked with a pattern of holes. Connor bitterly assumed they were for easier access to him.

They must have drugged his food to do it, there was no way Connor would have slept through its installation otherwise. From that day onward, he ate and drank the absolute bare minimum to get by, resolving to never be caught unawares again.

Connor eventually stopped talking altogether, lost in a void of perpetual restlessness and the powerlessness that resulted from the utter inability to do anything to change his situation. He was waiting for one thing and one thing only.

For Victor to admit defeat. It was only inevitable that he would break first, his lifespan significantly shorter than Connor's. No matter how long it took, Connor would be there to witness it with a smile on his face.


Time passed. How much, Connor couldn't say. He hadn't seen Victor since the night he'd come to flaunt his position and power, so when the man walked in with streaks of gray in his hair and new deep-set wrinkles in the lines of his face, Connor was surprised.

He started towards the clear divider, Victor stopping before the cell, his hands laced behind his back. "So the reports were right. You haven't aged a single day. Still as fresh-faced as ever with no scars whatsoever to show what you've been through."

Maybe if they actually let him live past a week, they'd see Connor could age given half the chance.

"Still not talking, huh? That's probably for the best," Victor said. "I wouldn't like what you have to say anyway."

He sighed. "You know, when I first heard about you, I was excited. This will make or break my career, I thought. But no matter how much we poke and prod, or rather stab and cut you, you give us absolutely nothing. That wall of silence is nigh unbreakable. I'm starting to think you'll forever be our guest.

"Still, one of these days, we're going to find out what makes you tick. I very much look forward to that moment." Connor pondered what he'd done to inspire such strong hatred. Was it merely because he was different than Victor? If so, that was rather sad and pathetic.

"Of course, it could very well be I won't live to see it while you go on and on. Kind of unfair, don't you think?"

Victor took a seat on a chair someone had left in the room, almost eye to eye with Connor. "There's a theory I've been kicking around in my head for a while now.

"Traditional scientific methods seem to be going nowhere. Perhaps technology isn't there yet. But I've been wondering what would happen if we turned to the occult. If I brought a so-called witch or psychic in here, what would they make of you?"

Connor let none of his uneasiness show, Victor soon losing his easygoing smile at his lack of response. Truth be told, even such a person did meet him, he doubted they would be able to out him so speedily. Phoenixes were rare and some in the supernatural community probably doubted they existed.

"The only reason I haven't done it yet is it's difficult to get the required clearance and approval from above. No average joe can just walk in from the street."

How well Connor knew that fact, and how like Victor to grind the knowledge home for the perverse pleasure of it.

"You're likely curious about the reason for my visit. I have a protégé who'll be taking over some of the project's responsibilities. He's young but eager. I expect he'll fill my shoes and then some. He might even show you new tricks you never even dreamt of."

The parting shot landed weakly, Victor leaving the room afterward, seeming unsatisfied in Connor's passiveness.

Whether he knew it or not, the news the man had left rekindled something inside Connor that he thought had died: hope. New management meant potential mistakes, holes in the lab's security, and Connor would seize on them as soon as he saw any open up.


The new addition to the lab perplexed Connor at first. The dark-skinned man named John was fast to do the staff's bidding, never stopping to rest except when told to. A strange lit circle was imprinted on the side of his forehead, which spun around endlessly.

It was only when one of the women, their nametag marked Miller, began complaining about how much machines creeped her out that things fell into place for Connor.

He was shocked artificial intelligence had advanced so far. If they simply dressed John in different clothes, no one would have been able to differentiate between the android and a human being. It was amazing, but at the same time worrying. It made Connor wonder how long he'd been locked away.


During a normal routine afternoon, the staff out to lunch, the android John stood against the opposite wall of the cell, Connor trying his hardest to ignore him. It was difficult to tell, but he thought John looked slightly perplexed as he studied him.

"What are you?" The question came without preamble, out of nowhere.

At first, Connor didn't understand John was talking to him. Everyone looked past him as a person, seeing him as a thing, focused solely on running their experiments.

He was slow to open his mouth, trying to speak for the first time in years, the only exception the groans of pain the staff managed to wrangle from his body in the name of science.

No sound came out and Connor tried again, clearing his throat a few times.

"I'm sorry?" His voice was a weak mangled thing, hardly above a whisper.

"You're not human," John said confidently. "I don't understand why others can't see it."

The android went up several levels in Connor's estimation. Still, it wasn't something he'd cop to if he could help it. "Why do you think I'm inhuman?"

John's LED flickered to yellow. "Your body temperature, when they aren't monitoring it, always goes up to 113 degrees, which would kill any normal human. Whenever you heal from injury or death, an ultraviolet light seeps out of your body. If they brought in, say, bees or certain species of bird, your other nature would be pegged within seconds. You're never afraid of fire, no matter how they use it against you. Do I have to go on?"

"No, you don't." A grin pulled at Connor's lips, amused at the development. It was the first interesting thing that had happened in a long time. "What do you think I am then, John?"

"Provided I'm able to pull from the fictional realms, tenuous as they are, I'd say that you are either a kitsune, ifrit, or phoenix."

All of them were fire spirits, proving John wasn't merely a machine designed to run errands. There was a fierce intelligence in him that had driven him to research the subject until his inquisitive nature had been satisfied. Curious behavior for a glorified robot.

Connor leaned forward, finding John had far more depth than he'd ever thought possible. "I won't insult your intelligence by lying. You're correct on all counts, though I was unaware you could see in the ultraviolet spectrum. I'll remember to watch for that in the future."

John's brow knitted. "If you're so powerful, why aren't you trying to escape? Why are you letting them do this to you?"

"Because it's not just about me," Connor said, wondering if John could truly understand the altruistic act. Still, he needed to know one thing. "Can I trust you to keep my secret?"

John's expression went tense, and he looked down to the floor, glancing towards the lab a moment later. As the staff trooped back in, Connor peered at the android until he saw John nod slightly.

Once upon a time, he had asked the same of his employee Tina with far less information on her part and been let down entirely. Maybe putting his faith in a machine would yield a better result.


With someone to talk to who didn't want to use him for nefarious purposes, Connor made it his mission in life to befriend John. Android or not, he'd proven himself to be enough of an individual that Connor had no trouble seeing him as another person.

There was only one problem.

As a machine, John followed orders without complaint, which included keeping Connor out of the loop regarding the passage of time. He tried anyway most days, out of habit than anything else.

"John, what's the date?" Connor asked, running his fingers down the spine of a thick horror anthology, the raised lettering that spelled out the title rough against his fingers.

"I can't tell you that."

He rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't want to know."

"Why?" John asked, perplexed, as always, by Connor's persistence in the matter. "The knowledge would do you no good in your present situation."

"That's not the point and you know it," replied Connor, starting to think John was being obtuse on purpose. It wouldn't be the first time he'd played ignorant.

"Make me a sound argument and maybe I'll change my mind."

Connor threw the book down on the floor, frustrated by the lack of progress. "You know, John. You're getting real uppity of late. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were becoming more human."

"I'll take that as a compliment," John replied with a smile, completely misconstruing Connor's words, ignoring the implied insult in them. Likely deliberately.

"Fine," Connor admitted reluctantly, turning to face the wall. He was suddenly tired. "You win today."

John made a soft inquisitive sound. "I wasn't aware we were fighting."

Connor groaned into his pillow in exasperation.


They'd locked the door leading out into the lab. Drawing on previous experience, Connor knew the staff was having something inside the lab serviced. He closed his eyes, focusing on the voices outside the room, talking in hushed tones.

"I'm beginning to think this floor is cursed," a woman said. "If it's not the security cameras, it's the lock, fridge, computers, or the damn coffeemaker. I've lost count of how many people have come down to fix stuff. It has to be a record somewhere."

A man replied, "You'd think the android would be of some help in that regard, but strangely no."

Silence before the woman spoke again, sounding bemused. "Androids are weird."

"Why?"

"Because John, when he's not actively assisting us, is always out in the hallway. I swear I saw him fiddling with the security camera the other day. When I asked him about it, John said he was merely he was correcting a misplaced wire."

The man blew out a breath. "Well, see, there you go. Mystery solved. He was trying to be helpful like always."

The woman seemed doubtful as she said, "But it felt like there was more he wasn't saying."

"Androids can't lie. They're just machines."

"I'm not so sure…"

"You are so paranoid."

Puzzled by the conversation, Connor laid back down on his cot, opening his eyes to stare up at the ceiling. While he could do nothing but wait things out for a chance to escape, the tedious nature of his life had begun to wear on him. Connor was patient to a fault, but even he had his limits.

Something had to change soon.


The red digits on the clock flipped slowly, Connor watching it from the corner of his eye as he laid on the bed. He was convinced they left it in the cell on purpose so he could see time tick down before restarting, unable to do anything about it. It didn't even have a radio, more's the pity.

A spike of anger seized him and Connor kicked it, the radio banging loudly, sliding to the middle of the floor. Good riddance, he thought, bringing the blanket up from the bottom of the cot, spreading it out underneath him. Connor brought his legs up to his chest and closed his eyes, preparing himself for a long night of struggling to sleep, dreading what the next day would bring.

The sound of approaching footsteps made him jump and Connor stayed where he was, wondering what was going on. Had one of the staff members forgotten something? Light danced over the wall above Connor and he turned, almost as stunned to see the security guard as he was to see Connor.

The ID tag hanging from his chest pocket said Anderson, disbelief in the bright blue eyes that raked down Connor, taking stock. The black uniform did little to flatter him, but there was some definite muscle mass pushing through his upper legs and chest. Despite the rough looking facial hair adorning his chin and semi-long silver hair, there was a vulnerability and a devil may care attitude he exuded that intrigued Connor.

"Who are you?" he asked roughly, his throat sore from the treatment he'd been through hours earlier.

"I'm Hank," the guard said, doing something completely unexpected. He stuck his hand through one of the holes and held it out in invitation.

Connor couldn't remember the last time someone had offered to touch him without wanting something in return. Blood, pain, and death. Those were the laws that governed his world.

The show of kindness and politeness was such a simple thing that Connor was unprepared for the swell of gratitude in him. The acknowledgment that he was a person.

He swallowed down the majority of it with effort, clasping Hank's hand, his fingers tightening around it, relishing the feel of skin against his.

"I came down here to fix a camera, but…" Hank scratched the back of his head with his free hand. "I never expected this. Who are you?" His eyes flicked to the nameplate on the outside of the cell, confusion showing in them. "It's not R.A., is it?"

Repulsed, Connor quickly shook his head, the horrid codename raking him wrong. Stunned yet grateful Hank was even interested, Connor squeezed his hand. "No, my name is Connor."

The sound of his name felt good like he'd reclaimed his identity. When had he last heard it? Connor only had a bare estimate of how much time had passed, which was marred by long periods of sedation and resurrections. His only clues were the various forms of technology that minimally changed size, from big to small.

"What's R.A. then?" Hank asked innocently, Connor finally letting go of his hand with regret as he shook his head. That didn't matter, there were more important questions like…

"What's today's date?" He'd never worn John down.

Looking mystified, Hank nevertheless answered him. "It's October 6th, 2038."

Little wonder John hadn't wanted to tell him. The truth hit him like a physical blow as Connor sank to the floor, trying and failing to wrap his mind around the date.

So much time lost. Almost half a lifetime. People he'd called friends before he was taken were old enough to for their kids to have kids. Connor wondered how many of them would even remember him.

He could feel his mouth moving, but couldn't stop it. His body was on autopilot. Connor hoped he wasn't saying anything he shouldn't.

"Connor!" He had a feeling that wasn't the first time Hank had said his name. Connor looked up, Hank's expression pinched in worry, exhibiting more empathy than he'd ever gotten from the team working in the lab in years. "What's the big deal?"

A complete stranger felt bad for him. Connor smiled, rather amused by the irony. "It's nothing."


November 11th, 2038

His insides had gone cold, the heat blowing from the car vents doing little to warm Connor up. As soon as he'd seen the guard point his gun in Hank's direction, instinct had kicked in and he'd taken the hit, knowing as he did that the sharp stab of pain meant something major had been hit.

He couldn't say anything to Hank. Not knowing what he was, Hank would insist on taking Connor to a hospital, and he couldn't risk the exposure. The only option left to him was to endure it, revive, and…hope Hank didn't think Connor a freak.

He'd been careful to keep his secrets close to his chest despite wanting to match Hank's honesty with his own. Now he had to put the bond they'd built between them to the test. After everything Hank had done for him, Connor owed him the truth if nothing else.

Connor's lower half mercifully went numb and the arm he'd pressed over his stomach slowly slid down, his strength giving out. His heart, which had helped pumped so much blood out of his body into Hank's car seat, began to slow.

It was coming.

Idly, Connor wondered what vital organs had been hit and decided it didn't matter. In a matter of moments, everything would be reset.

In the lab, Connor had restricted his regeneration to the surface only, healing without extending his aura outward to make it a painless process. He reveled the thought of simply going to sleep and waking up. It had been so long, he almost couldn't remember what it felt like.

Connor raised his head, taking in Hank's profile as the car passed under a street light. His brow was knitted in concentration, biting his lower lip, utterly focused on the task in front of him.

His trust in Hank had been tremendously rewarded. Connor only hoped it extended both ways.

Please don't hate me, he thought, eyelids growing heavy, unable to keep them open any longer. Connor let out one final breath, then slipped away into nothingness.

 

Fire, primal and fierce, sparked within his core, spreading quickly, consuming all it touched. It stretched beyond the confines of Connor's body, and for one instant he could spread his wings wide, breaking free of his earthly bonds. He looked down upon his human shape, thinking it was such a pity he had to occupy it to avoid detection. A flesh prison forced on him by societal expectations, so easily prone to breakage and emotional turmoil.

When the pull became too much for him to resist, Connor sank back down into his human form, filling each and every recess once again. He took a deep breath as he opened his eyes, savoring the feel of a younger stronger body. A tiny lick of fire balanced itself on one of Connor's fingertips as if biding him farewell before extinguishing itself.

He steeled his nerves and turned to look at Hank, only to get the surprise of his very long life when he saw Hank's skin shining with a familiar light and heat just as his had been seconds ago, the rigors of time shifting backward in a rush until stopping at an age not dissimilar from Connor's own.

Hank was completely unaware of what was happening, hunched over the steering wheel, his eyes squeezed shut. He was starting to blink madly to clear his vision when Connor stretched out a hand, touching his shoulder, unable to believe what had happened.

Understandably, Hank didn't react well, banging his head against the car window, knocking himself out.

Worried and feeling a tad guilty about his part in the proceedings, Connor slid over to the driver's side, leaning over Hank. He'd been an attractive man before, but youth clearly favored him, enhancing a strong jawline and sharp cheekbones. Connor ran a hand over Hank's forehead, a small bump visible on the side of it.

If he'd sustained any internal bleeding, his new nature would have healed it, leaving the superficial damage for later. Glancing down at Hank's waist, Connor pulled aside his jacket.

He thought he'd taken the full brunt of the bullet, but he'd obviously been wrong on that count. At the time, Connor had wanted to protect Hank. Perhaps some small token of that desire had taken effect, reshaping the rules of reality itself.

That or Hank had been born under a goddamned lucky star. Either way, Connor couldn't find any drawback in the situation. He wondered how well Hank would take the news when he woke up.

Gently gripping Hank's arm, Connor shook him, heartened when he stirred, slowly opening his eyes. Even they were more vibrant in color, catching Connor off-guard for a moment. "Hank?

"Hank, are you alright?"

He focused on Connor, features creased in apparent confusion before he relaxed. Hank reached out, putting a hand on Connor's cheek. "This is a nice dream."

Connor smiled, placing a hand over Hank's, pleased to see his instincts hadn't led him wrong. There was something between them after all. But a dream? No, for once, reality had outdone itself in matching extraordinary expectations.

"I can assure you that you're wide awake."

And there was nowhere else Connor wanted to be but at Hank's side.