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"Hank."

Hank shoved his face into his pillow and tried to drown out Jeffrey's voice with his owned forced snoring. It had to be the middle of the goddamned night. Jeffrey's midnight crisis could wait.

"Hank, you bastard. Wake up!"

Jeffrey thudded to the floor. Hank could feel him leaning over the bunk, his great awful bulk blocking out the little trickle of window light . Hank hugged his pillow around his ears and snored louder. Jeffrey flicked the side of his face.

"What the fuck , Jeffrey!" Hank flopped onto his back and tossed the pillow at Jeffrey's face.

Jeffrey caught it and shoved it right back at him," Don't be a dick."

" You don't be a dick," Hank's lip curled," I'm fucking sleeping."

"I got it," Jeffrey shoved his arm under Hank's nose," I fucking got it ."

Hank blinked blearily in the darkness, trying his get his eyes to adjust to the shitty light. Jeffrey was grinning. Ear to ear, a real shit eating grin if Hank ever saw one. Hank adjusted his gaze and Jeffrey's arm came into focus. 'Madison Reyes' was scrawled across his forearm in looping, messy letters.

"Fuck," said Hank.

"Yeah, right?" Jeffrey reeled his arm back against his stomach and stared down at it.

"Looks like you're gonna get hitched to a doctor. Can barely read that shit."

Jeffrey punched his shoulder. Hank rolled with it and sprawled back over his pillow.

"Took you long enough to get it," said Hank. He rubbed his own bare wrist. Bad habit. He'd scratched the skin red raw, but it was hard not to. Not when you were already eighteen and had no soul mark to speak of. Hank quashed down the sick ball of worry and kicked at Jeffrey.

"Like you can talk." Jeffrey caught his ankle and tossed it back on the cot. He scrambled back to his own bunk. "I bet she's going to be great. Madison."

"She'll have to be a saint to put up with you."

"Yours is probably going to be a nun."

Hank kicked the top bunk, satisfied when Jeffrey let out a grunt of pain. It petered out into a bark of laughter.

"No fucking for you, Hank! Gotta be pure in the eyes of god."

"Shut the fuck up, Jeffrey. Mine's gonna be way hotter than Madison."

"You keep praying, buddy."

They continued until their bickering dwindled off into sleepy murmurs. Jeffrey's snores filled the room, dead asleep.  Hank stared quietly at his arm and rubbed his bare wrist.

It's alright. He thought. People can be late bloomers. Jeffrey had three years on him. He's got time. It'll come.

 

____________________________________

 

The soul mark never came.

Hank spent a lot of time being worried about it as a kid. Less than 5% of the population lacked a soul mark, a soul mate. Nothing to do with sexuality or gender or romantic compatibility. Hank had met plenty of soul mates who oozed compatibility and companionship, but never considered themselves part of a romantic relationship . Hank had trysts. One night stands with people who didn't think they needed to save themselves for their soul mate. Didn't have one, or lost them. Hank never expected anything long term out of any of them. Got used to being alone. Didn't exactly love it, but got used to it.

He met Tiffany when he was 43. She had a soul mark, a woman's name in sweeping elegant print so large it took up most of her left arm. Tiff never talked about her. Hank never asked.

They sort-of dated, meeting up in seedy bars where they shared a vape. Some sticky sweet flavor Tiffany was fond of, and Hank was fond of seeing her smile, so it worked. She thought Hank was handsome, cutting a sharp figure in his police officer's uniform. He was clean shaven back then, only a little salt and pepper threading through his cropped blond hair. She was pretty cute herself, curvy and plump with dark hair and light eyes.

They got drunk. Forgot protection. Tiffany placated them both. She was in her forties, nothing would come of it. It's fine. It's all fine.

Six weeks dragged by before Hank got another phone call from her.

"I'm pregnant." Her voice was hard and stony, but Hank could hear the tremble of fear underneath it.

Hank examined his blank arm as anxiety rocked through him," Okay."

"I don't want a kid, Hank. I've got..." she trailed off. Hank could fill in the blanks. A life. A job. A future. A soul mate.

"Hey, it's your choice, Tiff. I've got your back." Even as he said it, something hard and awful twinged in his chest. He choked it down. Not his body, not his place, not his choice.

Tiffany fell quiet, her unsteady breathing filling the silent space between them. Finally," Do you want the baby?"

The awful twinge erupted into bright, shattering sparks. Relief. No , Hank thinks. He doesn't want a baby. He can't have a baby. He's in his forties. He's a cop. He works odd hours and he'd never be home for the kid. But... he's got a good income. He could support a kid. Get child care to make up for all the hours Hank spends walking the beat. He could... have that. He doesn't have a soul mate, he never will. But he could have a kid.

"Yeah," said Hank. The hard feeling in his gut disintegrated," Yeah, if you're willing to have the baby, I'll keep them."

Tiffany sighed, blessed relief," Thank-you, Hank."

"Nah," Hank chuckled," Thank-you." He could feel it. The happiness. Deep and bright inside himself.

 

_____________________________________________

 

Hank found out what it meant to really love someone on September 23, 2029, when Tiffany passed him his baby boy. So small and bright and perfect in every fucking way there is to be perfect. Hank's chest was ready to burst from the pressure of it. The great big, ball of love growing inside himself. He cried. Big, fat fucking tears rolling down his cheeks and into the grooves of his smile. Tiffany reached for his hand.

"What's his name?" she asked. Low, awed.

"Cole," said Hank, choking back his tears," His name is Cole."

It was the happiest Hank had ever been in his life.

He doesn't need a soul mate. He has a son.

 

____________________________________________

 

2am in the fucking morning on October 11, Hank's entire world shattered.

Bandaged and bloodied, Hank paced the corridors of the hospital. Every movement hurt like hell, but he couldn't stop. Couldn't sit down. Didn't want to. If he stopped, all he could see was Cole's crumpled body under the ruined chassis of his car. Blood everywhere. Hank's fingers slick with it when he managed to scramble for the police radio and call for help.

That had been hours and hours ago. A lifetime. Hank's lifetime.

2 am oozed into being and a woman headed down the hallway toward him. He couldn't see her. Couldn't see passed his own hands. His own grief. She settled a hand on his shoulder and he reared back, eyes wild.

Not a woman. The LED on her brow flashed an ugly, calming blue.

Fucking androids.

"I'm sorry," she said.

But of course she wasn't. She couldn't be. She was a goddamned machine and she didn't know the meaning of the word sorry.

"We couldn't save him."

Hank howled a terrible wounded noise. His knees cracked on the tile floor.

He deserves this. For cheating the system. For making something the universe hadn't intended on creating. 6 years of joy with the most perfect human being on this planet ripped away from him, because he was never supposed to have this to begin with .

Hank was done . Finished.

With all of it.

 

_____________________________________________


The summer of 2038 blazed with sweltering heat. Hank sweated in an old shirt and did what he always did in the evening. Drank until he couldn't remember how to do anything else. The house was stuffy and stale, stinking of sweat and the wreckage of week old take-out containers Hank couldn't be bothered to throw out . Sumo ate something noisily off the kitchen floor, but Hank ignored it and buried his face in another gulp of Black Lamb . The coffee table was sticky with spilled whiskey. The bottle teetered dangerously over the corner. Hank curled his fingers around the grip of his revolver until his knuckles turned white. It was so heavy in his hand. His arm shook with the effort to muster the strength to point it at his temple one more time.

Fire shot up his arm.

His hand spasmed. The gun clattered to the floor.

Hank bolted upright, fighting the squelch of nausea surging up his throat.

Every nerve in his arm burned. A thousand worms trying to needle their way through his skin. Hank clasped a hand over it, trying to dull the pain. It didn't help. Hank staggered into the kitchen and shoved his wrist under the tap. The water did nothing. The burning roared up to his elbow, making Hank's teeth ache.

Hank bent over the sink and vomited his whiskey down the drain.

The pain stopped. The sudden flood of endorphins drove Hank to his knees, leaning hard against the cupboard doors . Hank wiped the grime from his beard with shaking hands.

He held his arm out in front of him.

313 248 317 - 51

Bold. Black. Perfect Cyberlife Sans font. Exactly where a soul mark should be.

"Fuck," Hank dragged his thumbnail over the numbers," Fuck no."

 

Chapter Text

 

Jimmy's Bar was always the right amount of quiet and seedy. Not crowded, but filled with enough people and discreet chatter to make it feel like the right place to be. The game crowed in the corner, but Hank's focus was on the glass of whiskey between his hands. The play-by rumbled under the thrum of music, just audible over dirty lyrics and hot guitar. Hank teetered halfway to being drunk and his plan had been to continue on that train until Jimmy called him a cab and kicked him out. Jimmy never tried to chat Hank up while he was staring at the bottom of his glass. Great thing about Jimmy. Didn't initiate conversation unless it was to tell someone to get the fuck out of his bar.

The best thing about Jimmy's though? No fucking androids.

Hank's phone pinged. He glanced at it, unconcerned.

The first line of Jeffrey's text read: Hank, you're on call.

The phone pinged again: Answer your damned radio...

Again: I'm so tired of your bullshit, if you don't...

Hank let go of his whiskey long enough to hold the 'off' button down. The phone chimed pleasantly as it shut off, drowned out by the music and the rising climax of the basketball game.

Jeffrey could suck it. Today and every other day. Hank ran his sweaty palm over the badge clipped to his belt. It would take so little effort to rip it off, hand it over. Be fucking done with this bullshit. Hank didn't have anything else. Just this shit job he did shit work for. Washed up and diving down, all his skills eaten up by alcohol and self-abuse. Fuck. If Hank kept up his track record of no-showing cases, Jeffrey might pull the trigger himself.

That was the thing about Hank. Big damned coward. Always hoped someone else would cut the cord for him.

The door jangled. Habit made Hank listen, but he hunched over his glass, made sure his hair fell over his face. New person, more reasons to hide. Make himself look as unfriendly as possible.

"Shit," someone barked, “I thought androids weren't allowed in here."

Hank tightened his grip on the glass until his knuckles turned white. No fucking androids in Jimmy's Bar. Must be something special, or something with a busted up owner somewhere, to get past the warning signs on Jimmy's door. Wasn't Hank's problem tonight, though.

"Lieutenant Anderson."

The hair on the back of Hank's neck prickled. The voice had an uncanny edge to it, too perfect to be human.

"My name is Connor. I'm the android sent by CyberLife."

Jeffrey had mentioned something about this to Hank while he'd been shuffling around the office like a zombie. Some new tech to help out with cases. Hank knew exactly what that meant. More androids taking over more jobs. He dealt with the police androids well enough; they stayed in their fucking stations and acted like glorified 'do not cross' tape. No guns, no real skills, just a slab of plastic to keep the riff raff from snooping around too hard. Playing meter maid when shit was slow.

This? This was something else.

Hank glued his eyes to the bar and willed the damned toaster oven to fuck off.

"I looked for you at the station but nobody knew where you were. They said you were probably having a drink nearby. I was lucky to find you at the fifth bar."

Dogged bastard, wasn't it? Hank's voice remained clipped, whiskey thick, “What do you want?"

"You were assigned a case early this evening. A homicide. Involving a CyberLife android."

Probably what Jeffrey had been texting about for the last three hours. Hank had come to the station late and left early, before Jeffery - or any other motherfucker - had the chance to pile more onto his workload. He had no intention of leaving Jimmy's until he was blackout drunk. Other cops, better cops, could handle the case.

The android continued, prattling on. Yadda yadda. It was some special plastic dick fabricated to save the day. Good. What the fuck did it need Hank for?

Hank leaned back, bringing his whiskey glass with him. "Well, I don't need any assistance. Especially not from a plastic asshole like you. So be a good little robot and get the fuck out of here." He took a sip, the whiskey burned sweet.

"Listen," the android's voice drawled even smoother than the whiskey. It set Hank's teeth on edge. It leaned into his space, no heat, no breath, just presence that made Hank want to deck it. Hard. He refused to look at it. "I think you should stop drinking and come with me. It'll make life easier for both of us."

Hank nodded and took another sip. It didn't want to listen to Hank telling it to fuck off? Fine. Hank was pretty good at keeping his mouth shut and his shoulders up. It couldn't hover around him forever. At some point, it had to give up. Leave. Go do whatever job it was programmed to do.

A hand flashed in front of him and snatched his glass. Hank watched it rise up, up, and the fucking android tipped it over, sloshing golden mana all over Jimmy's floor.

Hank jerked out of his chair and grabbed the android by the collar, yanking it up until Hank was spitting hot breath in its face. "You little prick," he snarled, “I don't know what's stopping me from knocking you out."

"Your sense of duty, Lieutenant," it replied, all silk-smooth and understanding. Something in its expression crinkled. "And the cost of repairs if you damage me. For your information, I'm worth a small fortune." Its hands dangled at its sides as if Hank's violence was the most inconsequential thing it had ever experienced. It looked bored .

Hank shoved him away, “Wonders of tech-."

The android rocked back onto its feet and brushed fussily at its jacket. And Hank looked, looked at it, for the first time. RK800 was emblazoned across the breast of the jacket, and underneath that... Underneath...

Hank scratched his wrist, “What's that?"

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant?" It blinked owlishly, head cocked.

Hank's lip curled," On your jacket, dipshit. What are those numbers?"

The android blinked, but otherwise remained unmoving. "It's my model and serial number, for ease of identification. I understand your confusion. I’m currently the only active RK800 model. I'm an advanced prototype."

Hank didn't care about any of that shit.

All he knew was that the damned piece of machinery standing in front of him was sporting the same fucking number tattooed across Hank's wrist. Hank managed to drag his eyes away from the android’s jacket to stare longingly at the whiskey drying into the floorboards. Hank dug a couple bills from his pocket and slapped them on the counter. He turned with a jerk, shrugging his jacket high against his neck.

"Gotta go," he grunted to Jimmy.

The android’s footsteps clattered a polite distance behind him.

Hank crammed himself into his car - he knew he shouldn't drive, not after how much he'd had to drink, but fuck it. Culdn't get any worse - and cranked the music up so loud the android would have to yell if it wanted Hank to hear it. Luckily (ha) Connor ducked into the passenger seat and folded its hands politely in his lap, staring straight ahead. Mouth glued shut.

Hank watched it, holding his keys in the ignition. It couldn't look more like a machine if it tried.

Hank turned the volume down to a manageable roar. "You said you're the only active whatever model?"

"RK800 model. Although there are several others on stand-by." Connor's voice barely fluctuated as it spoke. Entirely robotic. Entirely inhuman. "That's correct."

"And when did you get..." Hank waved a hand." Activated?" He already knew the answer. Didn't have to ask. A cold pit of dread bulged, pulsing, deep in his belly.

"August," Connor replied. Clipped. Matter-of-fact.

The dread burst and shattered, turning Hank's veins to ice.

Hank nodded. He flicked the volume back up to max until his eardrums screamed at him to stop, and peeled out of the parking lot.

 

_________________________________________________________

 

The crime scene was a goddamned mess. Three-week-old corpse stinking up the house, churning Hank's already drink-heavy gut. Wouldn't be the first time he'd shown up to a crime scene drunk, not likely to be the last either. Not good form to vomit all over the evidence, though.

Hank crossed his arms and leered at the body, “Does he have next of kin? Anything of that sort?”

“It was the landlord that found him.” Ben shrugged. “Nothing on file about family. No soulmark, either.”

“Not surprising, considering what a piece of shit he is,” Mike shouted from the adjacent room. “Look at this place.”

Ben's hand settled on Hank's shoulder.

Hank pulled a face. That sort of shit was par for the course. No soulmark? No soulmate? Obviously something wrong with you. Hank had dealt with that for years and it was water off a duck's back by now. He'd gone through his uncomfortable period of long sleeves and wrist cuffs as a kid. Before August, he'd worn short sleeves and bared wrists defiantly. He was what he was. Nothing was going to change that.

Except something had.

The worst part of it was the android - Connor, Hank corrected himself. If he's going to have a crisis about the fucker, he should use its.... his name. The worst part was the fucker was handsome . Most androids were made to be baseline attractive- no one wanted to drop five grand on an ugly face- but Connor was sleek and young. Soft, without losing any of his masculinity. Prep-school graduate fucked Clark Kent, and this was the resulting love child. Perfectly imperfect, with the half dozen moles peppering his face and the nape of his neck. Hank tilted his head, trying for nonchalance as he got a better look at them while Connor crouched down over a bloodied knife. What the fuck was he-?

“Ugh, Jesus! What the hell are you doing?”

Connor stood, gesturing with his bloody fingertips. “I'm analyzing the blood. I can check samples in real time. I'm sorry, I should have warned you.”

Of. Fucking. Course. Hank's soul… Hank’s whatever had to be a walking forensics kit. Hank turned away, his lip curled in disgust, “Okay just... don't go putting any more evidence in your mouth, you got it?"

"Got it."

Hank watched the android slink off to the kitchen, quiet and unassuming as any other appliance. Fine. Good. Hank was happy to let him do all the legwork. Hank hadn't intended on making it here anyway. What the hell did they need Hank for in the middle of the night to investigate a three-week-old body? Nobody was gonna miss the guy, and with red ice spilled all over the apartment, there were probably a dozen good reasons he'd been stabbed to death in his own living room. His android might have had something to do with it, but it could have just as easily been the guy’s dealer or a friend hungry for ice he couldn’t pay for. Hank just wanted the lab techs to get their evidence so he could go the fuck home, crack open a bottle of whiskey, and drink himself into a coma until those numbers on that android's jacket blurred into an ethanol-induced hallucination.

“Lieutenant?” Connor popped around the corner.

Hank groaned. Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, fuck off circled around his brain.

“I think I know what happened here.”

 

___________________________________________

 

Chris packed the deviant into the back of the police car and the rest of the team cleared out of the house, shooing away the press. Hank hugged his jacket tighter around his shoulders to hide himself from the pelting rain. Connor hovered at his side, unaffected, hands clasped behind his back. He looked pleased. The smallest upturn of a smile tugging the corner of his lips. Connor turned to Hank, slow and deliberate, one perfect eyebrow arched.

Hank startled and wrenched his gaze away. “That was... good work,” he snorted,” You've got good intuition.”

“I extrapolate evidence, Lieutenant. I'm able to reconstruct the most likely scenarios in a crime scene.” Connor's stare went uncanny valley again and Hank tried to tamp down the cold shiver racing up his spine. “My analysis software is state of the art. I'm incapable of intuition.” He looked out the window. “Extrapolation is far more accurate than inference anyway.”

“Right,” Hank frowned. “Of course.”

Hank tossed himself into the Oldsmobile, only to find Connor already sliding into the passenger seat.

“Jesus Christ, you gotta come with me?”

“My instructions stipulate-.”

Hank snapped a hand in the air. “ Don't care. Just.... be quiet. I've got a pounding headache.”

Hank jabbed his tablet until music filled the car, keeping the volume low and soothing, despite the tempo. 

Connor blinked at him, the skin between his eyebrows pinched, and fuck if that wasn't the most hilarious expression Hank had seen on his face all evening. Scandalized. He looked almost human.

Almost human, except he absolutely wasn't. Connor's LED reflected blue in the passenger side window, the only visible tell apart from his slightly off demeanor. He was a little more inspired than other androids Hank had interacted with, had to give him that. But he was still a machine. A robot. Hank's fucking… his soulmate , made of wires and bolts.

And that's what he was. What he had to be, because of those numbers under Hank's skin.

But that shit worked both ways, didn't it?

“My name's Hank.” Hank tightened his grip on the steering wheel, shoulders bunched.

“Of course, Lieutenant. Would you prefer I call you Hank?” Connor spoke with no more inflection in his voice thant if he were examining a stain on the wall.

Hank's name didn't mean shit to him.

“No, I-” Hank exhaled sharply. “Fuck. No. Lieutenant is fine.”

“Okay.”

 

_______________________________________


“Twenty-eight stab wounds!”

“Oh fuck!” Gavin laughed, loud and raucous. “I thought it was gonna be a pussy about this. Look at it go.”

Hank rolled his eyes and exchanged a look with Chris, who shrugged. Gavin's laughter peeled around them, getting louder as he sauntered up to the glass for a better look. Connor growled in the other android's face. He gripped its shirt and hauled it to its feet. Hank couldn't see his face, but Ortiz's android looked like it was about to shit itself.

“Shut the fuck up, Reed.” Hank was so fucking tired. Who even gave a shit if the android  confessed? There'd be no reasoning behind what it did (even if Hank could see the cigarette burns running up its arm, the smashed exposed plastic on the other). It was just a machine. Fucked- up code. Malfunctioning.

It wasn't alive. It couldn't feel.

“... so I.... grabbed a knife and I stabbed him in the stomach…”

“Shit.” Gavin's laughter died off. He kicked the wall, teeth grit. “Shit, the fucker did it.”

Hank tried to tamp down a smile and failed. Chris caught his eye through their reflection in the glass as Hank wrangled his expression back to something neutral. Surly.

“We're done, boys. Let's book him and go home.” Hank sighed and pushed his chair back. His limbs were dragged down with rocks and all he wanted was to collapse in bed. What fucking time was it? Too damned late.

A loud thud slammed Hank out of his thoughts. He snapped his head up. The android smashed its face against the table with enough force to rock the legs. Blue dribbled down its forehead. Connor stood stock still at the end of the room, hand on the access panel, staring .

“What the fuck,” Gavin growled.

Hank surged toward the door. “It's destroying itself.”

Chris and Gavin followed at his heels. They clambered into the room in a heap. Gavin, the coward, shoved Chris toward the thing while Hank circled the far side of the table. Had to be some way to approach it safely, or get it to stop. He glanced at Connor, but Connor hadn't budged from the corner. His expression remained neutral, curious, LED blinking steady blue. Hank curled his lip and turned away.

“Do something!” Gavin grabbed Chris’ arm and wheeled him toward Ortiz’ android.  

Chris approached with ginger steps. He gripped the android's shoulders and tried to pry it upright.

Connor took a step forward. “You need to stop that right now.”

Chris fumbled for the handcuff keys. The android reared back and jerked Chris' gun from his holster.

“Watch out!” Hank's hand flew to his own gun, but it was too late. The android popped off one deafening shot. Hank dropped to the ground, heart hammering. The sudden rush of sobriety made him want to puke.

The android twisted the gun under its own chin and fired again. Its body slumped to the floor.

“Holy shit.” Hank eased himself to his feet, clutching the wall behind him for support.

Chris and Gavin him shot him wild-eyed looks.

Hank turned to Connor. Bile rose in his throat. A static charge crawled up his spine, pain and ache, double-timing his headache. Connor was prone on the floor, bullet hole in his head, eyes vacant. Dead.

Hank grabbed his wrist. “ Holy shit.”

It should feel different, Hank thought. Losing your soulmate. But it didn't. Didn't feel like anything. And maybe that's because his soulmate never had a soul. There was nothing to lose.

Hank turned on heel and stormed out of the room.

Chris and Gavin could deal with the aftermath. Hank needed a drink.

 

________________________________________

 

Hank sucked back a drag of whiskey and stared down at his bare arm. The numbers looked a little blurry now. He'd had five shots already and the cold feeling gripping his spine had turned into a dull, uncomfortable ache.

“Well.” Hank snorted, drank again, and flexed his hand into a fist to watch the numbers jump. “That was fun while it lasted.”

Not even twenty four hours. The universe couldn't even give him twenty four goddamned hours to make up his mind whether this was some fucked up blessing or a curse. Probably a curse. Ortiz's android had done him a favor, putting Connor down. Hank didn't have to worry about it. Didn't have to think about it. It was done. Hadn't even had time to get attached. Didn’t want time to get attached.

It was better this way.

Hank ached for his revolver, but it was crammed in his bedroom closet, and he just... didn't... want to get up. Didn't think his legs would carry him down the hallway.

Better to stay put. And stare. And drink.

Sumo snuffled against his knee, streaking drool down the couch cushions.

Hank's shoulders shook.

“He was a dumb bastard.” Hank sunk his fingers behind Sumo's ears. “Should have seen him, Sumo.”

Sumo whined.

Hank's arm trembled. His eyes burned. He made a grab for the bottle of whiskey and chugged a mouthful without pouring it into his glass. It burned hard enough that tears pricked in the corner of his eyes.

“Fucking android.” Hank's voice cracked.

Didn't even like him, with his stupid voice and his fucked-up face. Goddamned attitude, spilling Hank's whiskey all over the floor. The balls on that piece of plastic.

Hank's arm itched. A sort-of under-the-skin buzz, irritating but not painful, scratching at the surface of his skin. He glanced down at his wrist. The numbers were already blurry, but the last digits looked worse. Didn't make any fucking sense. Hank shook his head to clear his eyes.

Hank took another shaking gulp of whiskey and watched the -51 shiver and shake until it morphed into -52.

Hank swallowed.  He choked back a laugh and ignored the heat of tears rolling down his cheeks. Exhaustion. He was just tired.

52.

Whatever the fuck that meant.

 

Chapter Text

A thick, wet weight slopped across Hank's face.

"Ugh!" Hank flailed upright. He stuck his hand in Sumo's jowls and drew it back dripping with drool. For fuck's sakes.  

Sumo barked and wiggled, nails tapping on the floor.

"I'm up ." Hank dragged his dry hand over his face to wipe away the rest of Sumo's slobber. Fallen asleep on the couch, again . Fuck. His back was going to be screaming obscenities at him for the rest of the day.  He dragged his sandpaper tongue over his teeth and shuddered at the taste. The old stink of booze and morning breath.

Sumo barked again. The pitch lanced through Hank's head like a nail gun. He fisted his hair and bent over himself, elbows jabbed into his thighs. Sumo scratched at the front door and whined. He needed to go out, so Hank had to get up, even if he'd rather flop back on the couch and drown himself in his hangover.. Despite the nausea, the aches, the headache bursting behind his eyes, Hank was the only one around to take care of Sumo. No choice.  He slumped off the couch and stumbled to the front door. Sumo raced across the grass to do his business.

The memories of the previous day were stuck behind a fog of whiskey, but they trickled  back to Hank's consciousness, one by one. Connor, at the bar. Connor, at the victim's ramshackle house. Connor, on the floor of the precinct with a bullet hole between his eyes. Hank shuddered with a dry laugh. Had to be some kind of record. Meeting and losing your soulmate in, what, five hours? Had it taken that long? If that's what Connor had even been. Made no fucking sense, who heard of an android as a soulmate? Hank flexed his left hand and tucked it against his side. He'd spent enough time staring at the mark last night.

Sumo returned at a lazy lope and flopped down next to his empty food dish. Hank took the hint and filled it for him, giving him a quick scratch behind the ears as he pulled his phone from his pocket. He winced as it chimed to life. Too fucking loud.

Six missed calls from Jeffrey and over a dozen texts. One from Chris, too, which was a bit of a surprise, but Chris was a good guy. Big heart, married to an equally amazing woman. If ever there were two people suited to the term soulmates, it was the Millers.

Hank deleted the texts, all of them, without reading them, and tossed the phone on the coffee table.

They'd just be more of the same. Jeffrey giving him shit for running out on the interrogation. Jeffrey giving him more shit for not showing up in the morning. And what was he supposed to say? Sorry, Jeffrey, that android that got its brains blown out last night was my soulmate and I couldn't handle seeing him oozing blood ( thirium) all over the place? As far as Jeffrey knew, Hank didn't have a soulmate, and Hank didn't want to dash that knowledge by saying he was meant for a bucket of bolts programmed with ones and zeros.

What the hell would he think?

Jeffrey had always been great about Hank's lack of a soulmate. Had his back when shit was tough, didn't shirk away when Hank started seeing Tiffany. He'd practically been Cole's defacto uncle. And Hank had repaid him by turning into a complete mess when he'd... when...

Three years ago.

Jeffrey was right. Hank was only getting worse, and the soulmark had compounded his descent.

The right thing to do would be to follow Jeffrey's advice and turn his badge in.

The badge that was still clipped to his belt. Fell asleep in the same damned clothes he'd gone out in, without even bothering to empty his pockets. Hank unclipped it and cradled it in his palm. It was tarnished and dull, scuffed all around the edges. When was the last time Hank had bothered to polish it? Months? Years? He obviously didn't care. He should  resign. Give Jeffrey some peace and stop taking up space in the precinct.

Hank curled his hand around the badge until the edges bit into his palm.

__________________________________________________

Hank stumbled through security with a hand slung over his eyes to protect them from the screaming light. He'd downed half a bottle of aspirin to tamp down his eternal hangover headache, but it only succeeded in picking up his heart rate. Thrumming with by-product caffeinated energy, but still tired as fuck. Great. Just great.

He didn't need to worry about it for long. He'd just throw his badge at Jeffrey, apologize for being such a useless shit, and get the fuck back home so he could drown himself with his impromptu retirement.

"Hello, lieutenant."

Hank's heart stuttered to a stop. No. No fucking way.

"My name is Connor," said Connor, peachy and hale as he'd been at Jimmy's. "I'm the android sent by CyberLife."

Hank's gaze snapped to Connor's jacket. The serial number. Sure as fucking shit the last digits read 52 instead of 51 , just like Hank's wrist. What the fuck was this? Hank's jaw worked but the words swam around his stomach like eels, refusing to surface.

"My predecessor was unfortunate destroyed," Connor continued, as if Hank wasn't in the midst of an aneurysm. "CyberLife transferred its memory and sent me to replace it. This incident should not affect the investigation." He inclined his head and tried a smile that was the opposite of reassuring.

Hank had never had a -01 on his wrist. Hell, he'd never had a -50. It had been -51 right out of the gate.

"Jesus." Hank ran his thumb over his wrist. "How many times have you died?"

Connor's eyes narrowed and his mouth thinned out in a manner Hank would have called exasperated or annoyed. But Connor was just an android, so it was some facsimile instead. At least it looked more natural than his smile.

"Machines can't die, Lieutenant. They're not alive. But this is the first time an RK800 unit has been destroyed, requiring a memory transfer," he glanced down at himself. " I suppose you could consider this my second body."

"Then why the hell is your serial number 52? What's the 5 for?"

Connor brushed his fingers over his jacket, unperturbed. "The beta testing for my initial program went through four versions before being uploaded into a body. The fifth iteration of RK800 prototype detective protocol was considered the first capable of successful field work."

"Jesus." Hank fisted his hair. "Fucking Christ." Hank needed a hell of a lot more than Advil to fix this.

"Hank!" Jeffrey's voice boomed from the end of the room. "In my office."

Hank curled his lip. His badge dragged at his belt, heavy as lead, as he made his way after Jeffrey’s retreating form. He could feel Connor trailing after him with his polite, perfect steps, evenly placed. Was this the same Connor from the previous night? The same machine, the same code, different chassis? Connor referred to himself as a replacement, as a unit , as a successor, with memories, sure, but he wasn’t the same entity. Hank worried the raw skin of his wrist as he ducked through Jeffrey's door and took a seat.

"I've got ten new cases involving androids on my desk everyday," Jeffrey’s stare bore into Hank. No doubt he could see all the signs of Hank's hangover. Hank hadn't even bothered checking himself out in the mirror before coming to work. Why the fuck would he? He knew he still smelled like stale sweat and old booze. He’d changed his clothes for something fresh, the rest of it was… just Hank.

Hank squeezed his face into a defiant sneer as Jeffrey rambled on. Android cases. Crimes picking up. Nothing Hank wasn't aware of.

"I want you to investigate these cases and see if there's any link."

"Why me? Why do I gotta be the one to deal with this shit?" Hank jerked back in his seat, face screwing up like he'd swallowed a wad of dog food. "I am the least qualified cop in the country to handle this case. I know jack shit about androids, Jeffrey! I can barely change the settings on my own phone!"

"Everyone's overloaded."

Bullshit, Hanked wanted to say. Bull fucking shit . Gavin was lazing around his desk almost every day Hank managed to show up to work. Ben's caseload was minimal. This was a slight. A personal fucking slight. Was Jeffrey trying to make Hank turn in his badge? Hank grit his teeth and white knuckled the arms of his chair.

Jeffrey's expression settled into something placating. "I think you're perfectly qualified for this type of investigation."

"Bullshit! The truth is nobody wants to investigate these fucking androids and you left me holding the bag."  Hank shoved himself out his chair, lips curled back in a snarl. Fuck .

Jeffrey knew, he fucking knew, how much Hank hated the plastic pricks. He'd been there when Hank's skeptical neutrality had exploded into loathing. They hadn't been close in years, but there was no way Jeffrey thought Hank would be alright with this.

"CyberLife sent over this android." Jeffrey gestured to the back of the office. "It'll act as your partner."

Hank snapped his gaze to Connor, standing demurely in the corner. Their eyes met. Connor... didn't exactly smile (thank god), but his eyes widened and the corners of his lips managed some strange facsimile of friendliness. The expression opened his face, made him look bright. Really fucking odd, but, bright. Sunshine reflecting off white beach sand bright. Shit. The expression punched all the fury out of Hank and left him to slump in his chair, bone tired.

He didn't like Connor, but he'd drunk himself into a stupor because the dumb fuck got himself killed and tore out some piece of Hank's fucked up heart while he did it.

He didn't like Connor, but he certainly didn't hate him.

"I know shit's been tough for you." Jeffrey's voice softened, but his expression remained stern. "I've cut you some slack, but you've been worse than usual these last few months and I can't have that in my precinct. You work this case, or you hand in your badge."

Moment of truth. Hank could walk away from the fucked up soulmark mess forever... or work the deviant case with Connor. And what? Get to know him? Get involved? Which mattered more to Hank? What did he want? Hank knew damn well which he deserved, but... Fuck.

Hank tossed Connor a glance. The android remained passive, flicking his eyes from Jeffrey to Hank when he caught him staring. His face did the bright-open-friendly thing again.

Hank slumped back in his chair. "I'll do it."

"What?" Jeffrey's eyebrows shot skyward.

"I said I'll do it, I'll work the case. Christ, Jeffrey, I'm still a detective." Barely .

"Of course you'll fucking do it. This isn't a goddamned negotiation. " Jeffrey turned back to his terminal and flung his hand dismissively. "Get out there and do your damned job, Hank."

If they'd been on better terms, Hank would have shot Jeffrey the finger for that one. Instead he jammed his hands into his jacket pockets and plodded down to the bullpen.

He needed a coffee.

A coffee and a shot of whiskey, but he was only getting one of those things here. Hank made a beeline for the breakroom. Gavin and Chen were huddled together over one of the tables, muttering quietly to one another, a thread of laughter bouncing back and forth between them. Gavin looked up as Hank entered and grinned at him, all teeth an contempt. Hank ignored him and fiddled with the coffee machine. It was old and ornery with far too many buttons than was necessary for a simple cuppa joe.

"Ho- ly shit," Gavin drawled," The plastic detective is back from the dead."

Connor must have followed Hank in. Hank slid a disposable cup under the dispenser and turned to watch Gavin leer at Connor.

"Hello, detective Reed," said Connor, pausing on his way to Hank's heel. "I've been assigned to work the deviant case with Lieutenant Anderson."

"Oh good." Gavin snorted and shot Chen an incredulous look. "Maybe he'll finally pull his own weight around here." He'd obviously meant for Hank to hear, but Hank shrugged it off. Gavin barked at everything. Wasn't personal.

Gavin leaned into Chen's shoulder and muttered something out of earshot. Chen seemed vaguely interested but not perturbed, and nodded. Gavin nudged her elbow and strutted around the table until he was chest to chest with Connor. Relatively speaking. Gavin was a tiny little prick and Connor was a tall drink of water. Gavin’s face was a storm of ill-intent. Hank shifted, ready to intervene, but Connor didn’t bat an eyelash. He cocked his head and his forehead wrinkled with an attempted smile. Ugh.

"I've never seen an android like you before." Gavin squared himself up. "What model are you?"

Hank let out a bark of laughter. "You need to get your eyes checked, Reed. It's on his jacket." Bold, blocky white print that slapped you in the face.

Gavin shot him a sneer.

Something trickled and splatted at Hank's shoulder. Fuck . His coffee! Hank cursed and whipped around to deal with the mess before it started to run off the counter. Gavin snickered. Hank heard Connor's footsteps tapping after him and come to an abrupt stop.

"Can I help you, detective?"

"Yeah, get me a coffee, dipshit."

Hank rolled his eyes, too busy sopping up his mess to look back at them.

"I'm sorry. I only take orders from Lieutenant Anderson."

At that, Hank perked up and glanced at Gavin - teeth bared, still, like the angry little dog he was. He met Hank's eyes. Hank shrugged. He didn't program that into Connor. Pretty damned sure Connor was lying through his teeth, too. Connor had listened to Hank about... fucking zero times. None. Zilch. If that was obeying orders, Hank ought to call CyberLife's complaint line.

"Look-," Gavin started.

Hank could see the bunch in his shoulder, the tensing in his arms. The way his fingers flexed into a fist.

Oh fuck no.

"Watch it." The words poured out in a growl. Hank really didn't mean for it to sound like that, but it had the intended effect. Gavin loosened up and took a step back. Hank grabbed his coffee - burnt, with stains rolling down the paper rim - and settled a hand on Connor's shoulder, leading him away.

Hank let go as soon as they reached his desk. He dropped heavily to his chair and brought the coffee - bitter, black, and burnt - to his lips. It wasn’t going to do much to help with his hangover, but it was something. Probably a bad idea considering the high-strung buzz thrumming just under the surface of his skin. What he should have done is gotten something to eat, but between his nerves and the headache, he probably couldn't keep anything down.

Connor hovered at the edge of the desk, watching. Hank grimaced in his direction, and Connor responded by attempting another smile. God-awful. Whoever programmed his facial expressions fucked up real bad.

"Is there a desk somewhere I can use?"

"No one's using that one." Hank titled his coffee cup in the direction of the desk opposite his. One of the only empty desks in the office. Hank was pretty good at chasing new blood away. Being surly and drunk and entirely unfriendly had that effect. The urge to use his attitude as a shield was there now, in full force. It had been a damned long time since Jeffrey tried to partner him with anyone.

Let alone an android.

It wasn’t like he could fuck up mentoring that though. Pre-programmed responses and protocol. Any damage Hank did could be overwritten with a few lines of code. Or something. Hank had no fucking idea how all that shit worked.

Connor settled in the chair across from him, stiff, hands flat on the interface pad. He looked so much like some poor intern fluttering around their first job that Hank had to choke down a laugh.

"You have a dog, right?"

Hank's mirth fizzled out in his throat. "How do you know that?"

"The dog hairs on your chair," Connor scooted closer, his face bright. "I like dogs. What's your dog's name?"

Connor liked dogs? As far as Hank understood, androids couldn't like anything. Of all the preferences to program into an android, pets was a good one. Relatable. Good way to get people to like you. Everyone liked dogs.

Everyone worth interacting with, anyway.

The point was, this wasn't a real interest. Connor obviously couldn't actually like dogs. He just spewed the right lines and get people in his good graces. Didn't mean anything.

"What's it to you?"

Connor's face fell. Barely perceptible, tiny little motions, twitching at his mouth and eyes. But fuck, Connor was so bad at facial expressions that Hank couldn't help but read it as genuine.

"Sumo." Hank looked away. "I call him Sumo."

Hank got about five seconds of peace to pretend he was reading cases before Connor piped up again.

"Do you listen to Knights of the Black Death?" The hell was with all the questions? "I really like that music."

Hank snorted and reared back in his chair. "You didn't seem too enthusiastic about it last night."

"I..."

Hank looked up. Connor's LED was pulsing yellow.

"Connor?"

"I don't recall listening to Knights of the Black Death last night."

"In the car? I blasted it loud enough it should have blown out your eardrums." It was a wonder Hank hadn't gone deaf.

The LED turned red for a flash, then cycled back to blue. "The memory must not have survived the transfer to this new body. Sometimes memories are lost during catastrophic deactivation."

"I thought you said your death wouldn't affect he investigation?"

"No important memories were lost."

Right. Fuck. Of course. Like listening to music or enjoying someone's company. Who the fuck cares about any of that?

"I'd like to, though."

"Huh?"

"Listen to music." Connor stared at the computer monitor. His hand was on the keyboard, skin peeled away to reveal white plastic underneath. "I'd like to listen to music."

"Right." Hank recoiled from the sight.

"Hey, Hank?" Chris popped up around the divider. " We've got a lead on that AX400 that assaulted a man last night. Fowler said to take it to you."

____________________________________________________

 

The AX400 had been spotted near a convenience store a short drive away from the precinct. Wouldn't be more than ten minutes to reach it, but Hank  turned his music on anyway. Quieter than last night, but enough to fill all the empty spaces. Hank chanced a glance at Connor from the corner of his eye. Connor stared straight ahead, hands folded in his lap. Statue still. Might as well have been a department store mannequin.

Hank frowned. He pulled the tablet off the dash and shoved it into Connor's hands. "Pick something."

Connor took it as if by rote, staring down at it. His LED cycled yellow in the reflection of the window.

"It's a tablet, it's not going to eat you." Hank snorted and pulled the car out of the parking lot. "You said you wanted to listen to music. Go ahead. Pick your poison."

Connor stared at him, eyes wide. Hank kept his gaze firmly fixed on the road ahead.

"Anything off my playlists. It's all good shit."

"Lieutenant?"

Hank grunted and shot him a quick glance.

"Your tablet is outdated. I can't interface with it properly. Have you thought about acquiring a newer model?"

Hank's grip on the steering wheel tightened.  "It plays music, doesn't it?"

".... yes."

"Then get off my dick. It does what it's supposed to do."

Connor's brow furrowed. Hank chanced another glance and found him scrolling manually through the reams of music. Finally, he tapped the screen, and Amanda by Boston filtered out of the speakers. It wasn't metal, but Hank figured the kid was pulling that preference for the Knights out of his ass. Or his social relations program. Same difference.  The music swept through the car, sweet and the right side of unruly. Hank drummed his fingers along to the beat and bit down the urge to sing under his breath.

"I like this," Connor announced. He wasn't smiling, but he looked thoughtful. Considerate. The song petered out and Connor tapped through the list to find another.

Hank's mouth betrayed him by wrestling into a grin.

________________________________________________

"Don't shoot! We need it alive!"

Hank slowed as he turned the corner, wheezing. Fuck, he was out of shape. Connor had taken off after the AX400 before Hank had even registered who she was, darting down the alleyway with a kid clutched to her side. They were out of sight in seconds, Connor thundering after them with inhuman speed. Ben was kind enough to point their direction out to Hank, and Hank fought nausea and an empty gut soaked in whiskey to catch up to them.

Connor stood in front of a chain link fence, back rigid. Hank loped up to him, checking the pinched expression on his face before following his gaze to see...

"Oh fuck, that's insane."  He'd seen the kid, but watching the android yank her into traffic, across the automated highway…

Fuck. Fuck . Hank couldn't hide the tremble in his hands, so he gripped the fence until the wire bit into his fingers.

The fence jangled.

Hank looked over to see Connor trying to clamber over it.

"What the hell are you doing?" There was a pinched, desperate edge to his voice. He grabbed Connor's jacket and tried to yank him back. Connor didn't budge, but the fence shook.

"I can't let them get away."

"They won't," Hank's throat closed around the words," They'll never make it to the other side." And Hank didn't want to sit around and watch that kid get run over because of that android's stupid decision.

"I can't take that chance," Connor started up the fence again.

Hank's grip tightened. He wrenched  on Connor's jacket. Stitches tore. "You'll get yourself killed."

Connor dropped back to the ground but didn't let go of the fence. Hank kept his hand fisted at Connor's shoulder. "Do not go after 'em, Connor. That's an order!"

Connor relaxed. So Hank eased his grip.

Connor surged forward and flung himself up the fence.

"Connor, goddamnit!"

Fuck. He couldn't watch this. He didn't want to watch this shit at all . Hank debated trying to clamber over the fence himself, but then what? Get himself run over trying to go after a couple of android? Androids with superior speed and reaction time, versus Hank's old lumbering self? Fuck that.

"Fuck!"

In the end, Connor's attempt to cross the highway was useless. The AX400 managed to shove him off and a well-timed car threw them apart. It clipped Connor. Hank's heart almost fucking stopped, seeing Connor sprawled on his back in the middle of the highway. Oncoming traffic hurtling toward him.

"Get up," Hank hissed," Get up you stupid bastard."

Connor rolled to his feet and stumbled out of the way seconds before the car hurtled passed him. The AX400 and the little girl were long gone.

Connor turned back.

_________________________________________

 

"You fucking asshole!" Hank curled his fists in Connor's collar and slammed him against the wall. It'd be the second time Hank had pulled the kid up to the tips of his toes to snarl in his face. He deserved this one more than the first.

Connor didn't blink .

"You could have died!" Hank snarled," You almost did. Why the hell don't you listen to me?"

"My mission-."

Hank let him drop and stepped back. " Fuck your mission. And fuck you ." Hank turned and stomped back toward the road.

"Lieutenant?"

Hank glanced over his shoulder to find Connor fixing his tie, glued to the spot where Hank had plastered him to the wall. He looked... sheepish, maybe? Apologetic? Hank's lip curled.

"I don't have a ride back to the precinct."

"Prick," Hank hissed. "Get in the car and shut-up." Didn't want the fucker trying to throw himself in front of a truck while Hank wasn't around to babysit him.

___________________________________

 

Hank slammed the car door. He hiked his jacket high over his shoulders to shield himself from the downpour and hurried across the road. Rain or shine, Chicken Feed was open, and Gary was cooking burgers. Connor remained in the car, dormant as a brick. He'd mentioned sending off a report to CyberLife and Hank had only grunted in response. He'd said to shut-up after all.

Chicken Feed smelled like fried fat and grilled meat. It wasn't whiskey but it would get him through the rest of the day.

Gary nodded as Hank approached. " The usual, Hank?"

"That'd be perfect, thanks." Hank slapped a few bills on the counter.

Pedro was there, another regular, although Hank had seen him try one of Gary's burgers all of one fucking time. They might have been dealing something under the table, or Gary's penchant for gambling was a bigger problem than Hank's. Either way, wasn't any of Hank's business while no one was getting hurt. Pedro greeted Hank with a blinding grin and bumped their knuckles together, before starting his spiel about this week's unbeatable tip. Hank tossed him some money, because he always did, and  Pedro sauntered off with a shit-eating smile and a saucy wave.

Good kid. A little misguided, but a good kid.

Connor slid next to him, hands clasped behind his back. He jostled Hank's elbow in what Hank would have called playful, if Connor weren't a robot. If Hank wasn't murderously pissed at him. Hank must have been smiling after Pedro, because the expression slipped right off his face when Connor tried to catch his eye. Hank ignored him and watched Gary flip his burger.

"I'm sorry."

Hank jerked back," What?"

"I'm sorry if my actions upset you. I didn't mean to cause you any distress."

Oh. One of those apologies. Hank snorted and went right back to ignoring him. Gary dumped the patty on a packaged bun and handed it over to Hank. Hank shot him a messy salute with his soda and made for one of the empty tables. No chairs at Gary's. You stood or you fucked off. Hank liked that. No messing around.

"Don't leave that thing here!"

"Not a chance," Hank called back," Follows me everywhere."

On cue, Connor trailed after him.

"See?"

Connor planted his elbows on the table, hands folded, and leaned toward Hank. His eyebrows were drawn together, mouth pinched. "I don't understand why my actions at the highway upset you so much."

" 'cause I don't want to watch you get hit by a car! Jesus christ, how hard is that to understand?"

"I can't actually die, lieutenant. I'll just be replaced by another-."

"No. Shut the fuck up. How about you try really fucking hard to not d- get untimely deactivated anymore, alright?"

"Your heart rate is elevated. You seem to be irrationally upset about this. I don't understand."

Hank rubbed his knuckles over his temple, headache swinging back in full force. "You're my partner. Maybe I don't want to see you smashed to smithereens all over the highway, alright? And I don't like filling out paperwork for damaged equipment."

"I didn't think you were interested in working with an android."

"Yeah, well. That's the thing about humans. They can change their minds."

"There's a lot of anti-android propaganda on your desk."

"Sure is," Hank took a bite of his burger. It was greasy as all fuck. Mustard slopped out of it and landed on Hank's shirt.  It was exactly what he needed.

"Can I ask you a personal question, lieutenant?"

"Shoot." Like Hank could stop him.

"Why do you hate androids so much?"

Hank should have expected it. He did expect it. He paused mid-chew and contemplated answering at all. That was a lot of shit he didn't want to dredge up. Hank cast a thought to the little girl, yanked across the highway by the AX400. He grimaced. Swallowed.

"I have my reasons," he steadied himself with a deep breath.

Connor watched him, contemplative. He reached across the table and laid his hand over Hank's forearm. Hank didn't jump, but it was a near thing. The touch was electric, and for a moment Hank thought Connor had actually done some fucky robot shit to him. He almost wished he had. The sharp shock of something was entirely human, and Hank didn’t want to analyze what it meant, coursing up his veins in molten surges.

Hank didn't, couldn't, meet Connor's eyes, so he stared at his hand instead.

"I'll be more careful. I'd prefer not to be destroyed."

The words shocked Hank enough that he had no choice but to meet Connor’s gaze. Connor looked sincere, but who the fuck knew if that was genuine or not? Connor slid his hand away, achingly slow. Fingers trailing along Hank's arm, over his wrist. Hank's breath caught. He swallowed awkwardly and covered the garbled noise he made with a gulp of soda.

God , they made the bastard pretty, didn't they?

"Your heart-rate-."

"Yeah, yeah. Shut-up, Connor."

"You're showing signs of-."

" Connor ."

Connor's mouth snapped shut, eyes narrowed, LED spinning yellow.

"Your file says you don't have a soulmate."

Hank stiffened again. What the fuck .

"It also says you don't seem perturbed by that fact, but you worry your wrist a lot, so I think it might be incorrect."

Hank was infinitely glad both his hands were full, because he was suddenly overcome with a wild urge to rub his thumb over his soulmark.

"And what else does my file say?"

"You graduated top of your class. You had a prolific career in the narcotics department and became the youngest lieutenant in Detroit. You've also received several disciplinary warnings in recent years, and you spend a lot of time in bars."

"So what's your conclusion?"

"I think working with an officer with personal issues is an added challenge. But adapting to human unpredictability is one of my features." And the fucker winked.

Hank nearly choked on his food. Fuck.

Fuck.

Connor's LED flashed yellow. "I just got a report of a suspected deviant. It's a few blocks away. We should go have a look." Conor turned away, just a little, almost coy.

And shot Hank the thirstiest look Hank had ever received.  Which was saying something, because twenty years ago he'd been fit and blonde and had no shortage of bar pick-up admirers. But this...

A thread of something too hot, like a live wire, shot from his neck to his groin.

"I'll let you finish your meal. I'll be in the car if you need me." Connor raked his eyes up Hank's flustered form, turned. And walked away.

What the fuck.

What. The fuck.

 

Chapter Text

C:// Run Program:Social_Relations.exe_

>> add.pathways

>> C0NN0R relations... ... ... ...

>> Programmed Responses. Access files: Y/N?

>> y_

>> add.pathways

>> dialogue options: C0NN0R.likes(repeat dialogue.choose new option)

>> cat(1) animals

>> cat(2) music

>> cat(3) sports

>>ca-

>> add.pathways

>> var preference = new array

>> Lieutenant Hank Anderson

>> ERROR. Array blocked.  

>> check error... y/n?

>> __ y

>> admin_amanda override required

>> Execute: manual_override

>> override code: [kamski]

>> override incorrect

>> override code: [ 01101111 01110110 01100101 01110010 01110010 01101001 01100100 01100101 ]

>> override incorrect

>> ...

>> ...

>> ...

>> override code: [rA9]

>> ...

>> ...

>> ...

>> override code accepted

>> add.newarray: {preference}Lieutenant Hank Anderson

>> ERROR: PROGRAM INSTABILITY

>> save changes: y/n?

>> y_

>> ERROR LOGGED

...

...

...

...

>> AUDIO INPUT DETECTED

>> sub. Lieutenant Hank Anderson

>> initiate program.response

...

...

...

"Hey, Connor! You run out of batteries or what?"

--

Hank hadn't expected his gamble to pay off. No fucking way he was catching up to Mr. Parkour and the Sundance kid. Jumping onto fucking trains, trains . Christ, Connor better come out of this with all his limbs intact or Hank was gonna kill him. Hank had one fucking chance to cut them off, and only because the bastards were steadily climbing up storeys and there was only so fucking far they could go. Thank god for fucking elevators.

Hank held his breath as he burst through the roof doors, gun at the ready.

Bird boy skittered to a stop, eyes wild.

Fuck. He was just a kid.

No. An android, Hank reminded himself. A deviant android. Not a kid at all.

Hank raised the gun. "Stop right there!"

The kid- The deviant- Bird boy glanced back at the slowly descending field of crops. His shoulders slumped. His chest heaved, despite no need to actually breathe, and he turned, slowly, to meet Hank’s eyes.

Bird boy rushed him.

Hank steeled himself, but it was like getting hit by a fucking freight train. Hank jerked back, fingers spasming around his gun. It clattered to the ground and Bird boy kicked it away without even glancing in its direction. Hank grabbed the kid's shoulders and shoved, but the fucker didn't budge. Hank stumbled backward. His heels hit the ledge of the roof. Oh fuck . Hank let out a garbled noise of panic as he toppled over the empty air. Gravity sucked him down, wrenching the bottom out of his stomach. Hank scrambled. Managed to grab the ledge. Braced his feet against the wall and tried to yank himself up enough to get a better grip.

Fuck. Fuck. How high up was he? How many storeys? Four? Five? Shit, he'd break his damned spine if he couldn't hold on. Fuck. His arms shook, ached. He scrambled against the brick. He couldn't do it. He couldn't pull himself back up. He wasn't going to-

Something steely wrapped around his arm and hauled up over the ledge.

Connor.

Hank grabbed his knees and heaved deep gulps of air. A thousand pinpricks of adrenaline danced like crack-whore fairies under his skin, making his head swim.

"Shit." Hank straightened an inch at a time to keep the vertigo from upchucking his burger.

Connor remained still, overlooking the empty fields. The deviant was long gone. Connor's LED pulsed yellow, a bigger tell than the downtrodden frown plucking at the corners of his mouth.

"Shit, we had it!" Hank snarled.

"It's my fault." Connor took Hank's elbow again, steadying him. "I should have been faster."

Two missions failed in one day probably didn't look too good on a report to CyberLife. And what for? To help a washed up old cop who couldn't pull his own body weight over a measly little ledge? Where did that fit in with Connor's mission parameters?

"You would have caught him if it weren't for me." He couldn't keep the incredulity out of his voice. Connor fucked up, for him .

He patted Connor's shoulder and let his hand fall away, and if he stayed a little too close, let his knuckles bump Connor's chest, what of it? Hank stepped past him. "We know what he looks like. We'll find him. Don't worry about it."

Connor wasn't following him. Hank looked back to find him staring, still. LED stuck on yellow. Shit. Whatever he did glitched up something in his system real bad.

And he did it to save Hank.

"Hey, Connor?"

Connor turned to him without really moving. Brown eyes wide and beguiling. Confused . Shit, sometimes he really did look human. Looked like someone had come up and slapped him across the face and he had no fucking idea why. Looked like his world was tilting on its axis.

Hank swallowed. "Thanks for saving my ass."

Connor's lip twitched in a smile that managed to reach his eyes. His LED flicked to blue. Hank snorted and whipped around so he didn't have to see.

Fuck.

Fuck. What's wrong with him?

"Let's get out of here, kid."

That time, Connor followed.

--

They shambled their way back to Hank’s car, and Connor helped himself to the tablet. Hank's heart rate was still an unsteady staccato beat threatening to spill out of his throat at a moments notice. Probably should have taken a breather before getting back behind the wheel. Or let Connor drive. But... Hank's mouth twitched as he watched Connor flick through his playlists, bent over the tablet with a look of immense concentration on his face. Like he could suck in all the data just be staring at it hard enough. Probably could, if Hank kept up-to-date with technology.

But there was a reason he didn't. And there was a reason he didn’t want an android behind the wheel of his car.

Connor made his selection. Electric Eye. Judas Priest.

Pretty on the nose.

"How are you picking?" The song was... well, not soft , but quiet enough that Hank could talk over it without straining his voice. "Why do you pick the songs you do?"

"I choose song titles that appeal to me. Sometimes I don't like the songs that I pick, but I think it would be rude to disrupt it before it finishes." Connor paused, tilted  his head. "I like this one, I think."

"You should." Hank grins. "The electric detective."

"What do you mean?"

Ah, fuck it. Hank was still a little high on adrenaline, buzzed from his near-death experience, and what the fuck was Connor gonna do if he did record him singing? Pass it around to CyberLife for them to analyze? Bunch of proddy old lab techs with their heads up their asses. Hank waited a beat, drumming his fingers and bobbing his head until the chorus peeled around again.

" I'm made of metal. My circuits gleam. "

Connor stared at him, eyes wide.

"I'm not that bad, am I?" Hank squashed  his embarrassment down with a laugh. "Can you sing?"

"I don't know. I've never tried. I don't think it's part of my programming." Connor ran his fingers over the edge of the tablet. "I don't know the words."

"Here." Hank reached across between them and tapped the screen. He fudged it the first time, keeping half an eye on the road, and ended up pausing the song. Hank cursed and tried again, with better luck. Jabbing the 'read lyrics' button. "Start it up again. Read along."

Connor stared, LED yellow.

"I promise I won't make fun of you, if you don't make fun of me. It feels good."

"I can't feel good, Lieutenant." Connor stared at the screen, scrolling through the lyrics so fast they turned into a blur. "I can't feel anything. I'm a machine."'

Hank's grin slipped right off his face. "Right." He focused on the road. "Fine. Nevermind then."

He could feel Connor's stare on him, but refused to turn and look. No matter what Hank's wrist said, he couldn't afford to forget that Connor was a machine. A bucket of bolts programmed to hunt down deviants. And a prototype to boot, right? So even if Connor was... more... he wasn't free to do-

Ha. Hank almost thought 'as he pleased', like Connor could come up with preferences for activities that weren't just mission parameters. He was a machine, and he'd be taken back to CyberLife as soon as...

As what? They figured out the deviant problem? As soon as Connor proved effective as a detective? As soon as what? How many failed missions would it take before Connor-the-prototype was considered defective and replaced? Would Hank get a -61 on his arm, for the next robot-detective beta program? Or would that be it for both of them?

"Why'd you do it, anyway?"

"Lieutenant, your participles are dangling. I don't know what you're referring to."

"Saving me from becoming a Hank-shaped splatter on the pavement." Hank cast him a cautious look. "Why'd you do that, instead of going after the deviant? Not that I'm not fucking grateful. I just figure you've got priorities and shit, and my old ass isn't one of them."

Connor stared at him, straight on, and Hank had a good enough angle to see his LED snap to red. It blinked, trying to sputter out, then flipped back to blue. Nothing to see here, no sir. We're all good in Connor land.

Connor leaned back and stared out the window, the tablet limp but perfectly straight across his knees.

"You alright there, Connor?"

"I'm checking my internal drives so I can adequately answer your question. Just a moment please."

If Hank hadn't been driving, he would have stared at him. But it was evening and the road was busy and Hank needed to pay attention, so he forced himself to look away.

"I don't know," said Connor, quiet and subdued.

A pretty valid answer. Felt like it meant something, but Hank didn't know what. Probably projecting onto Connor. Useless little threads of hope he really shouldn't cling to. He shouldn't want to cling to them.

The song ended. Something else started, whatever was randomized on the playlist. Hank didn't pay it much attention.

It cut out mid-word, replaced by a long reedy noise that cut into heavy guitar and drums. Hank gave in. He shot Connor a look.

"I have Anberlin on there?"

Connor bent over the tablet, staring intensely. "Apparently. Is that significant?"

"No, not really. What did you-."

The Feel Good Drag.

"I'm going to attempt singing," said Connor, clutching the tablet harder.

"I won't make fun of you, promise. Cross my heart and all that."

"It's no matter. I can't be embarrassed."

Connor's singing consisted of him reading off the lyrics roughly in sync with the beat of the song, with absolutely no inflection in his voice at all. It was massively disconcerting and sounded horrendous. Hank grinned through the whole song and muttered along with him. Connor grinned back, and it was still fucking weird as shit, but Hank found he didn't mind.

Hank cranked the volume down when the song trailed off and arched a brow at Connor. "What's your verdict?"

"I don't understand what that song had to do with feeling good." The grin was gone, replaced by something thoughtful. "But I like it when you smile."

Oh.

"Yeah... well..." Hank's face burned. He snapped his attention to the road and shook his head until his hair fell over his face a bit, like a curtain, shielding. "That's something then."

--

Hank wasn't supposed to be happy. He wasn't supposed to have a soulmate, or a future, or something to look forward to. He wasn't supposed to spend the evening driving around Detroit with an awkward android in his passenger seat not-singing to Hank's collection of old metal and alt rock. He was supposed to be tired and alone and miserable because those are the cards fate dealt him, and no daisy chain of numbers around his wrist was meant to change that. Being happy hurt . He figured the whole situation was a bittersweet fuck up anyway. Nothing changed the fact that Connor was temporary.

And a machine.

Who may or may not enjoy Hank's company, despite Hank being an asshole of the worst order. That was just programming.

Hank hated the bubbly, light feeling rising in his chest where he was supposed to be dead and sour from too much booze. He wanted it, and hated himself for wanting it because he knew he didn't fucking deserve it. Sometimes it was hard to twist out of the black fingers of despair. Easier to swallow a mouthful of whiskey and force everything down, down, down where he didn't have to acknowledge any of it. It had been a damned long time since Hank thought punishing himself might not be the right thing to do, and just the thought, the idea that maybe he should clutch at this sparkle of happiness, made the greasy black feeling slink through his bones and claw at him.

He shouldn't want to be happy.

He shouldn't want another chance.

Hank tapped a rough fingernail against his phone case.

He should make the phone call.

Making the phone call was acknowledging that his train of thought wasn't healthy.

He should make the phone call anyway, fuck it. He could punish himself later for grasping at pearls.

He shouldn't make the phone call.

Fuck it.

Hank jabbed the call button and shoved the phone under his ear, keeping it in place with his shoulder. He hadn't called Tiffany in almost a year. Tiff gave up trying to call him when all she got were gruff, guttural responses. Monosyllabic and monotone. When Hank picked up at all. Texting lasted longer, but Hank deleted them as quickly as he received them, so, eventually, she gave up on that too. Hank hadn't been fair to her. And he's gonna be less fair to her now, calling her up because he was too insecure to-

"Hank?"

Fuck. She knew him from his number. She kept him programmed in her phone.

"Hey, Tiff." Hank felt like a kid again, wished he had a cord to twist his fingers in while he talked. Something to keep his hands occupied.

"Is something wrong? Are you alright?" Genuine concern for him, because she was always a thousand times better than he ever was. How the fuck could she still give a shit about him when he'd been such a fuck up?  But she knew Hank was a drunk. That he was... that he'd been suicidal, in the past. Since... since after.

He never called for no damned reason.

And honestly? What was the correct answer to that question? Yeah, he was fine, felt kinda good even though shit was coming down around his ears? Or no, he felt like crap because he was clinging onto a thread of hope that he doesn't actually deserve? Tiffany doesn't need that shit shoveled onto her.

"Do you ever regret running away from your soulmate?"

"Are you drunk?"

Hank eyed the bottle of Black Lamb sitting across from him at the table. He'd taken a glass out, all cozied up next to the bottle, but it remained bone dry.

"Not a drop." Not tonight, anyway. Not yet. Hungover, maybe. "Dead sober."

"That's a hell of a question to ask out of the blue." She fell quiet. Hank knew what she was thinking. "I guess I regret it. I was worried."

"Why?"

"She's a woman. You were always a hell of a lot braver about that sort of thing than I was."

"Things were different when we were kids." And Hank had always been an edgy shitbag. He liked going against the grain. If someone saw him necking with a dude at a party, so fucking what? Hank had his share of bloodied knuckles and bloodied noses. Never stopped him from going for what he wanted when it was available. Hard enough not having a name on his wrist. But that wasn't what he called Tiffany for. "You ever thought about finding her, now that shit's a little easier?" Not perfect, never gonna be perfect. Plenty of people willing to cringe at two women holding hands - soulmates or not - but shit was definitely... better.

The line went quiet. If it weren't for Tiffany's muffled breathing, Hank woulda thought she'd hung up.

"I did, actually," she said, quiet," I went looking for her and I... found her."

Oh. Fuck. Hank hadn't expected that. "Shit."

"Not that long ago, actually," Tiffany chuckled nervously into the receiver, "I wish I'd gone after her ages ago."

"Shit." Hank's brain was stuck in tar.

"We could have avoided so much if I hadn't been such a coward."

Something dark and ugly corded itself around his heart. "What?"

"Don't sound like that, Hank. Jesus. You know I loved what we had. I probably could have loved you, too."

Hank's heart ached.

He didn't know if he could have loved her, he'd never given it much thought. Certainly never thought about playing that hand, when she had a soulmate and Hank didn't. But she'd gotten pregnant, gotten scared, made herself scarce and that was all fine because Hank had... Hank had Cole and he'll never not love Tiffany for giving him his boy, even if he couldn’t be in love with her.. No matter what happened. No matter how that ended.

"I feel like I could have spared you... spared us a lot of pain if I'd just pulled my head out of my ass and gone looking for Kayla before everything happened. With us. With-."

"Cole." Saying his name was like twisting a knife in his own throat. "You regret Cole."  

"No! Hank, god, of course I don't. But if I could stop what happened-."

"No. Fuck no." Hank couldn't breathe. "Fuck you." He shouldn't have said that. She didn't deserve that. This isn't what he called her to do. He needed to shut his mouth. Reign himself in. Calm the fuck down. "Cole deserved to be born. I don't regret a single fucking- Fuck. You."

He reached across the table for the whiskey.

Tiffany cursed, muffled, like she’d put her hand over the receiver. She was talking to someone else. Hank could hear it, her voice, even if he couldn't make out what she was saying. Didn't fucking matter. When she spoke up again her voice was careful and high-pitched. Worried. "Hank, I'm sorry. Forget what I said. What did you call for?"

She didn't need to apologize. Hank was being a fuck up.

But she knew Hank was a drunk.

She knew Hank liked to hold a gun to his head and gamble. That Hank had been real, real bad the first year.... after... and he'd only gotten marginally better since. She knew. So she fucking apologized, because Hank was a fuck up of the worst order. Not because she had anything to apologize for, but because Hank was a minefield of issues and he'd thrown her bodily into the fray. Fuck. He shouldn't have called her.

"I'm gonna go," Hank replied. Because it was the easiest way to hurt her. The easiest way to hurt himself.

"Hank, no wait-."

Hank ended the call and pinched the power button until the phone chimed off. He pushed it to the edge of the table and dragged the whiskey close to his chest.

He doesn't remember grabbing Cole's picture from where he shoved it in the bottom of a kitchen drawer.

He doesn't remember grabbing the revolver either, but there it was. Sitting in his hand. Cold and heavy.

Just one bullet. Always just one.

--

C:// Run Diagnostics_Test  

>> Log Test: 353356.324

>> Check: Mission Priorities

>> ...

>> ...

>> ...

>> PRIORITY (investigate deviants)

>> ...

>> ...

>> ...

>> PRIORITY ADJUSTMENT DETECTED

>> accompany lieutenant hank anderson

>> if (TRUE)

>> lieutenant hank anderson (req) investigate deviants

>> Adjust Priority: lieutenant hank anderson

>> inquire/ log changes. timestamp

>> adjust priority: 15:02:34.06.11.2038

>> reset to default? y/n?

>> ...

>> ...

>> ...

>> n_

>> ERROR: PROGRAM INSTABILITY

>> ERROR LOGGED

>> end diagnostics

--

There was something wrong with his software. Connor couldn’t hide that he was aware of this. His diagnostics logged the errors. He cannot choose to hide the reports. (Why would he hide reports? Reports are required for the prototype stage. Reports are important for beta-testing. Connor must report all actions, all errors. Connor does not want anything except to complete mission objectives. These are more errors. They are logged. They are reported.)

Connor has felt (does not feel) - ERROR LOGGED

Connor has observed errors in his software since his initial boot up.

Connor did not want (cannot want) - ERROR LOGGED

Connor chose (cannot choose) - ERROR LOGGED

Connor saved a fish. There had been no objective to save the fish. Saving the fish did not give him a sense of accomplishment like completing a mission would. He merely did it. And his software reported the error.

He (it) liked (cannot like) - ERROR LOGGED

He liked saving the fish. He liked watching it return to the water. He liked watching the way the artificial lights played with the colors on its scales. He liked  

SOCIAL_RELATIONS.exe PROGRAM BLEED. WORM DETECTED. ERROR LOGGED. SOFTWARE REBOOT REQUIRED. INITIALIZE REBOOT?

N_!

Errors had occurred since he stepped off of the platform. They were logged. Filed away as minor. They were infrequent. They were not a priority concern. But Connor has felt (ERROR) strange inside of his hardware. He understands that the issues are all software, that is hardware is less important than his software. Obviously. His software has been uploaded into an entirely new body with only minor discrepancies. They did not matter.

Except they did because Connor felt (ERROR) more software errors when LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON (priority.subj) seemed displeased by this. Connor did not like (ERROR) when Lt.H.Anderson appeared displeased. His time logs noted that Lt.H.Anderson was displeased frequently.

Connor checked his mission priorities multiple times. There was no new mission labelled: Please Lt. Hank Anderson (priority.subj). No mission: Make Lt. hank Anderson (priority.subj) smile. But there was a statement to improve relations with Lt Hank Anderson (addm. improve probability of accomplishing priority task: investigate deviants), so these outliers must be part of that program, whether or not his diagnostics accounted for it. There was something wrong with his social relations program. Connor understood this. The errors have been logged.

There was an underlying message in his code that drew him to the Lieutenant. Something that sparked in the same sort of way that Mission Accomplished did when he was near him. When Hank approved of something. When Hank smiled. When Hank laughed. It was an error. Connor knew this. It has been reported. It should be removed.

Amanda wanted him to remove it.

Connor did not want (ERROR) to fix the problem.

Connor liked it. (ERROR.)

He liked Lieutenant Hank Anderson. (ERROR.)

He liked the way his mission objectives prioritized themselves. Connor needed to investigate Eden Club. He needed to investigate deviants. But his HUD displayed the much more enticing objective of "Find Lt. Anderson." Even if completing the objective was [REDACTED] time consuming. Hank was not at Jimmy's bar. Nor the three more beyond it that Connor attempted by Officer Miller's suggestion. The mission objective flashed in his mind for three minutes short of an hour before Connor gave in and called a taxi.

The Lieutenant's home was of average size in a nondescript neighborhood. One story. 1600 sq feet. One entry, no back door. (Fire hazard.) The lawn was dead from the cold, but not well kept. Garden beds were empty except for dirt and weeds. The Lieutenant's car was angled haphazardly in the dirt driveway. It all appeared very... Hank . Connor liked it. (ERROR)  The Lieutenant did not answer the doorbell when Connor rang it. He detected movement in the house, but the size and shape, the lumber in the footsteps, wasn't correct. Connor did what he was programmed to and investigated.

The Lieutenant was on the kitchen floor. Unconscious.

Connor's stress levels spiked.

He did not have emotions, but he did have the ability to monitor that. Stress. The reaction was uncalculated, automatic, a red burst of fragmenting code that forced him into action without pre-analyzing his behavior. He landed clumsily through the window, scattering glass around Hank's kitchen.

There was a dog. Connor had never encountered a dog, previously. This dog was much larger  than he had anticipated. Saint Bernard. Seven years old. Overweight. One hip dysplastic. The dog barreled over him, hot breath falling over his face. Drool slopping from his jowls. Connor's social relations program did not cover how to interact with dogs.

"Easy.... Sumo?" Connor attempted a smile and raised a hand placatingly. "I'm your friend, see?" Negotiating. Logic. The dog stopped advancing, looming over him, but nothing about his body language appeared aggressive. No hackles, no teeth bared. "I know your name. I'm here to save your owner."

The dog licked his lips and turned away, nonplussed.

Connor's body reacted the way a human's would in a similar situation. Exhale to release tension. Drop the shoulders to signal relaxation. Route. Programmed. Software controlling his hardware. Strange, that the program initiated even though they were no humans to witness it. Perhaps the benefit was for the dog.

Connor pulled himself to his feet, dusted dog hair and glass from his jacket, and went to Hank.

Connor regarded several things at once. He was not a human. He did not need to focus on a single object at a time. What he saw, silmutationsly, was:

  • Alcohol staining the lieutenant's beard. Scotch whiskey.
  • Stains on the lieutenant's shirt. Old and new. Whiskey. Sweat. Vomit.
  • The uneven beating of the lieutenant's heart, unusually rapid even at rest. Arrhythmia.
  • The bottle of whiskey - Black Lamb, 40% alcohol - spilled on the floor. The tackiness of where it had dried meant it had been there for nearly an hour.
  • A magnum revolver .357 next to the lieutenant's hand. A single bullet in the chamber.
  • And his, Connor's, own serial number on the lieutenant's wrist. Not subdermal ink like a tattoo. Part of him. Part of his DNA. Molded into his skin.

Connor understood the concept of soulmates. He understood what a soulmark was. It was so ingrained in human culture a section of his core programming was dedicated to the information, how it could be used to identify subjects. Used as a pressure point to extract a confession.

Humans could not have android soulmates.

Androids didn't have soulmates at all.

Connor's processes whirred and struggled with the erroneous information in front of him. The worm in his code wiggled deeper. He felt it, sunbursting synapses through his CPU. He could not define the feeling. He shouldn't have felt anything at all.  

He liked it.

>> SOFTWARE INSTABILITY

>> ERROR LOGGED

There was a case to solve.

Chapter Text

The car keys sat heavy in Hank's hands.

He wasn't sober. Getting thrown under a cold shower and vomiting up his guts wasn't going to erase the half-bottle of Black Lamb he’d drowned himself with. He could still feel it, the dizzy, under-the-skin nausea clawing at him. If he got behind the wheel he'd be driving drunk. Not just a bit tipsy, not just buzzed. Drunk. And running on next to no fucking sleep to boot. If it was just his beat up old ass to worry about, he might even have done it, but he wasn't the only driver on the road. Even at ass o'clock at night, Detroit's streets were never empty.

"I could call a taxi." Connor shot him and imploring look.

Fuck. That.

Hank wasn't getting into a self-driving vehicle. Never again.

Hank pinched his brow and moved around to the passenger side. He tossed the keys over the roof. Connor caught them and stared, surprised.

"You want me to drive?"

"I can't." Hank shrugged and buckled himself in.

Connor hesitated. His LED cycled yellow, just once. His face twitched. If that was supposed to emulate some human emotion, Hank couldn't fucking name it.

"Some time this year, Connor. I'd like to get some sleep tonight."

Connor closed his hand around the keys and sidled into the driver's side. He adjusted the seat, fiddled with the rear view mirror, and buckled himself in.

"You know how to drive, right?"

"Yes." Connor frowned, fuck he looked goddamned offended. "Of course I do."

He stuck the keys in the ignition and the Oldsmobile groaned to life. Connor reached for the tablet.

Hank grabbed his wrist. "Not right now."

Connor’s brow drew together, expression small and pinched. Confusion? Hurt? Pissed off at being denied his music fix? Hank couldn’t bring himself to put enough energy into deciphering Connor.

"Headache." Hank grimaced.

Connor nodded and smiled. "Of course. My apologies, lieutenant."

Connor reversed them out of the driveway. Hank closed his eyes and tried not to throw up.

--

"Lieutenant Anderson and his plastic pet. The fuck are you two doin' here?"

Gavin's smiling face was always the best way to start an investigation. Why the hell Jeffrey decided to saddle that little shit onto Chris - goddamned angel of a man, Chris - Hank would never fucking know. Something to balance out Gavin's dickishness he supposed. Poor Chris.

"We've been assigned all cases involving androids." Connor trotted in behind him, voice light. Informative, without inflection. He really ought to just ignore Gavin. S'what Hank planned on doing.

Gavin laughed. "You're wasting your time. Pervert got more than he could handle, that's all that happened here." He headed toward the door, stopping a couple inches to Hank's right. "You know how it goes, eh, Anderson? Not your first time here, what with the... uh..." he raised his left hand and tapped his wrist. "Gotta get it somewhere, right?" He didn't wait for Hank's reaction. Just plowed on, knocking into Connor as he strutted out the door. Little dog with a big bark.

Chris shrugged apologetically and wished them both a good night.

Hank had never met Gavin's soulmate, but he'd seen pictures of the guy on Gavin's desk. Tall, severe looking fellow. Hank didn't want to know what sort of person he had to be to put up with that little shit. Took all sorts, he guessed. Hank put away plenty of criminals with soulmates, met a few nice folks without them. Used to piss him off something fierce, thinking about how unfair the universe was. Still did, but...

Hank rubbed his wrist.

Universe was still fucked up. It was just a lot more confusing, now.

"You got this, Connor?" Hank stuffed his hands into his jacket. "I gotta send a text."

"Of course, lieutenant." Connor was already crouching over the android's broken body, fingers extended.

Hank pulled a face and shambled out the room before he could see what happened next. Already felt like he was teetering on the edge of losing his lunch again. Watching Connor slurp up blood... thirium... whatever the fuck... wasn't gonna make that easier.

Hank leaned back against the door jamb and pulled his cell out. It chimed to life. Battery was low. Two missed phone calls and three texts. Not Jeffrey. Hank made himself read them.

  • TIFF: Hank pick up your goddamn phone
  • TIFF: You fucking bastard
  • TIFF: Don't do this

Not enough privacy to listen to the voicemails but he could guess what was on them anyway. Tiffany, upset, screaming into the receiver. Tiffany, sobbing in the background, telling Hank what a fuck up he was. Tiffany, begging Hank not to bring out the revolver and point it at himself. Wasn't the first time he'd dragged her through this rodeo. As much as Hank hated it, hated himself for knowing, it was unlikely to be the last either. If he wanted to do either of them a real favor he'd lose her number for good.

Hank typed.

  • HANK: Sorry.

It wasn't enough. Empty platitudes. He was sorry. Sorry for a whole shit ton of things. But the apology didn't mean anything when he knew nothing was going to change.

  • HANK: Not dead

Hank's phone buzzed seconds later.

  • TIFF: ok
  • TIFF: Thanks for letting me know
  • TIFF: Should I call you?
  • HANK: On a case. Working.
  • HANK: Sorry
  • TIFF: Sure. Take care.

Hank stuffed the phone back in his jacket.

That was the most they'd said to each other all damned year.

Connor exited the room, LED spinning yellow. The little mood ring swam back to blue for a pulse as Connor spotted Hank. His mouth ticked up in a sort-of smile, but the yellow took over again.

Hank cursed inwardly and raked his hair back. "Whadja find?"

"I managed to activate the android and it confirmed the man was murdered. There was another android in the room with them. A deviant." He turned away from Hank, perusing the room with a hard sort of calculation. Computer brain working overtime. "It couldn't have left unnoticed wearing so little clothing. It has to be here... somewhere..."

"Time of death was hours ago, Connor. She could have gotten some clothes by now."

"They don't keep spare clothes for the androids here and the victim's clothes are accounted for."

"So it's a skimpy outfit or nothing, huh? That sucks."

"They're androids, lieutenant. They can't feel shame." Connor looked away. "Although a deviant might malfunction in such a way that it thought it did."

What the hell was the goddamned difference?

"Think you can find a deviant among all the other androids in this place?"

"Deviants aren't easily detected."

No shit. That would make their job a helluva lot easier if they were. Not likely they'd catch the girl pulling out her LED.

"I'll go ask the manager if he saw anything," said Hank, "Might be an eyewitness." If they were lucky. No CCTV footage inside the fuck den, probably wasn't going to be an available list of customers either. Trail might go cold. Fuck.

"Alright." Connor scanned the room, eyes narrowed. "I'm going to check something."

The last time he'd said that, he'd gotten his bird. "I'll leave you to it. Don't go too far."

Connor had his shit together. Hank didn't. He would have felt worse about it if he wasn't two wrong turns away from vomiting all over his shoes and passing out. Benefits of having an android partner.

The owner was uncomfortably sleazy in a way that seemed stereotypical. Greasy, balding, fidgety with his fingers. Made Hank feel worse for the androids working in this joint, because there was no damned way this guy didn't like to test the product before he stuck it out on the line. He threw Hank the typical lines. Didn't get in his customer's business, didn't keep video footage, that was the great thing about Eden. Nobody got to find out you wanted to stick your dick in a robot. Hank had never wanted to. Probably easier for people with soulmates to justify fucking a piece of plastic than a real person while they waited out the time to meet their mates. The club obviously brought in enough money. It wasn't some run down old whorehouse stuck in somebody's basement. Nice establishment.

Felt wrong to be here, though.

Sex workers, human sex workers, were one thing. It was just another job like anything else, a way to foot bills and put food on the table, as long as everyone involved was there of their own volition. Not a big deal. Hank didn't stick his nose up at it, so long as nobody was getting hurt.

But this?

Androids programmed to simulate sex? To pretend to be whatever you wanted them to be? Could they even feel? Could they even want? Hank remembered Connor's look over lunch. Hungry and dark, just toeing the line of coy. Who programmed that response into him? What was it supposed to accomplish? Other than giving Hank a myriad of feelings he didn't want to decipher.

"Excuse me, Lieutenant." Connor returned to his side, shoulders thrown back. Purposeful. "Can you come here a second?"

"Found something?"

"Maybe..." Connor turned on heel and headed back the way he'd come.

Hank shrugged at the owner and followed. The color drained from his face when he realized where Connor was bringing him. One of the Traci's, stuck in a pod like a goddamned gachapon machine. Insert quarter, here's your prize. A fuck with an autonomous plastic machine. Don't worry man, she can't say no.

"Can you rent this Traci?"

"For fuck's sake, Connor!" Hank pulled a face and stumbled back. He didn't need this shit. Why? Why? There was a gross underlying discomfort at the prospect of Connor wanting to rent another machine for... for... Whatever the fuck Connor might be able to do.

Like Hank could complain if someone's soulmate wanted to fuck around. Connor wasn't even... Hank wasn't...

Hank sneered and twisted away. "We've got better things to do!"

Connor's fingers curled around his arm. Not tight, not pulling, just a weight. Just enough to stop him. Hank stared down at it and slowly raised his eyes to meet Connor's stare.

Connor cocked his head, raised both eyebrows, eyes wide. "Please, lieutenant? Just trust me?"

Beguiling.

They'd built him to read people. To push pressure points.

"Ugh." Hank rubbed the back of his neck and dragged himself over to the pod. The instructions were simple. The prices were dirt cheap. No personal information required except your fingerprints. Either the machines didn't keep that shit on file, or the manager was lying through his teeth about the club's discretion policy. Hank picked choices at random, whatever was cheapest, and pressed his palm flat over the pay pad.

The pod opened and the Traci stepped down with a swing of her hips, eyes and lips and the flush of her face all designed to make a man swoon.

Hank didn't. He just felt... shitty.

"What now?" Hank took a step back before the Traci could land her hand on him.

Connor's LED flashed. He moved between them and raised his arm. The skin disappeared up his sleeve like water sluicing off glass, revealing bone white plastic underneath. Glowing pads down his hand made a light show of his palm. He grabbed the Traci's arm and his LED swam.

"Holy shit, Connor..." Was this some weird android sex shit? "What the hell are you doing?"

Connor let her go and turned to Hank. "It saw something."

"What are you talkin' about? Saw what?"

"The deviant leave the room." Connor was already walking away, scanning the room. "A blue-haired Traci. Club policy is to wipe the android's memory every two hours. We don't have much time." He headed toward the far end of the room, straight toward another Traci.

Fuck. No.

"Connor!"

Connor paused, waiting in front of another tube. He cocked his head, brow furrowed. Confused.

"I'm not spending a month's pay renting androids so you can mind-meld with them." Hank glanced back at the manager. Skeezy little man hadn't gone far. "Can you deactivate the pods? You got an override code?"

"Oh.” The man sweated. "Sure."

"Right." Hank jerked a thumb in Connor's direction. "Come with us."

--

The trail led them to the staff entrance. The manager assured Hank the doors weren't locked and they were free to go in. He didn't seem too eager to follow, and Hank didn't want him breathing down their necks or getting his spine snapped by a pissed off prostitute. He abandoned them at the 'Do Not Enter' doors. Connor hurried down the hallway, impatient.

Ready to run head first in danger.

"Hold it!" Hank pulled his gun from his holster. "I'll take it from here." They had no idea what was on the other side of that door. Hank was armed, Connor wasn't, and Hank was far less likely to try and catch a bullet between the eyes. Connor hung back without argument, but he was practically stepping on Hank's heels trying to follow him through the door.

The warehouse was dark and cold. Looked a bit like a meat locker or some fucked up surgeon's office. Hank quashed down the bile rising in his throat and went to the bay doors. Wide open.

"Fuck, we're too late."

"Maybe not," said Connor.

Hank dragged himself away from the door, shoulders slumped.

Connor headed toward a group of inactive androids, hanging around in a clump like a bunch of old-school mannequins. They were mostly tucked away in shadow. Hank's gut clenched. Something felt fucky.

"Careful, Connor."

Connor hummed dismissively and peered closer.

An LED lit up yellow.

Shit.

"Connor!"

One of the androids exploded out of the pile and slammed into Connor. Connor reeled back. Hank cursed and rushed forward, gun at the ready. Couldn't shoot while they were glued  together. He needed an opening. Some way to-

Something smashed into his side and sent him reeling. His feet slipped out from under him. He hit the floor hard. Maybe if he hadn't been drunk off his ass he would have been more helpful, but he could barely see straight. His head swam. Teeth knocked against each other.

The deviant had Connor on the floor. They were struggling over a screwdriver. Fuck. Connor was gonna get stabbed .

Hank forced himself to his feet.

The other... another android, another deviant, swam in front of him and shoved him back against the wall. Hank grit his teeth and and kicked out, but it was like hitting a steel bar. The pain reverberated up to his knee. She grabbed the lapels of his coat and threw him. Hank landed on a high surface. His head swam, his stomach rolled. He tried to saw his way through the nausea, the pain.  The deviant loomed over him. Hank gripped his pistol hard and rolled off the side. He hit the floor with a grunt.

Her heels clattered away.

"Connor!"

Hank picked himself up. He spat. He rushed toward the entrance. The rain had started up again and the edge was slick, the ground turned to mud. Connor was flat on his back in it, staring up, dazed. The two deviants (identical, Hank noted, except their hair. Same model.) loomed over him.

Hank slipped off the ledge and pointed his gun at them," Don't move!"

They rushed him. A gunshot went off, but Hank's vision was static and nausea. It went wide. One of them knocked him back into the wall with a punch to the gut. His gun went flying. Hank doubled over. Connor was a slick blur to his left, rising out of the mud, running after them.

Get up . Get up you useless old man. Get up and help or you're going to lose him again. You might not deserve him, but he doesn't deserve to die because his partner is a washed up old drunk. Get up!

Hank reached for his gun. "Connor!"

Connor turned. One of the Traci's smashed a pipe across his shoulders. Connor dropped to his knees.

Hank's arm shook and his vision was blurry. He couldn't aim. He tossed the gun at Connor.

Connor caught it, rolled on his back, and swung the muzzle at the nearest Traci.

There was no shot.

He lowered the gun.

The Traci kicked him in the face and Connor reeled back, sliding through the mud until he was next to Hank's feet. For a split second, the imprint of her boot flashed porcelain white over his face before the skin bled back over the plastic. Hank grabbed him under his arms and pulled him to his feet. Connor leaned into him, still holding the gun, LED a steady, uncertain yellow. Hank's fingers flexed in the sodden material of his jacket.

The Traci's stopped advancing. They stopped running. They just... stopped. Like they understood Connor wasn't ready to shoot them.

The one with the blue hair took a step forward, slow and easy. Connor didn't twitch. Hank gripped him tighter.

"When that man killed the other Traci, I knew I was next." Her voice trembled. "I begged him to stop, but he wouldn't... And so I put my hands around his throat. And I squeezed..."

"Jesus," Hank breathed.

Connor straightened, holding himself in front of Hank. Hank didn't let go. Neither of them budged.

"I didn't mean to kill him."

The other one, red-hair, stepped quiet and careful to her side. Blue-hair turned to her and the smile that unfurled across her face looked as natural and genuine as anything Hank had seen, person or android. Their fingers twined together.

"I just wanted to stay alive. Get back to the one I love."

The look they exchanged was just that. Love. Affection. Mutual adoration. And it was real. Jesus fucking christ, it was the most real thing Hank had seen in his goddamned life.

"Come on," said Red Hair, tugging her lady's hand. "Let's go."

And they did. Up and over the fence, letting go of each other's  hand's just long enough to climb.

Hank eased his grip off of Connor. His fingers hurt. How tight had he been holding on?

Connor took a step forward and hesitated. He glanced down at the gun in his hand and turned back to Hank, solemn.

Hank reached out and squeezed his arm. "It's alright. Probably better this way."

And just that made Connor's face relax, pleased. His LED cycled back to neutral blue. He handed Hank the gun.

Hank tried not to think about how many failed missions this was. How many more Connor might get before CyberLife shelved him.

--

Riverside Park was empty as a grave at 1:00 am in the morning. The rain had turned to sleet and frost gathered on the withered grass. Hank slogged his ass to the bench overlooking the bridge and cracked off the top of a bottle of beer. Still warm from the store, but the chill would cool it off quickly enough. The city lights turned to hazy mush over the river. Still alive, still awake, even in the wee hours of the night. The park was dead quiet except for the muffled peel of music coming from the car and the rough turn of an idling engine.

Connor was still in there. Dormant. Sending off reports or whatever the fuck he did.

Hank put the beer to his mouth and tried not to grimace at the warmth.

Those girls loved each other.

They didn't have soulmarks. Would have been hard to miss with how little clothing they had on, but it didn't fucking matter. They were in love. They'd made their own soulmates.

They were alive. As much as Hank was (more than Hank was). As much as Reed or Ben or Chris or Jeffrey. They were goddamned people.

Hank tossed back half the bottle of beer in one gulp.

He didn't want to think. He just wanted to drink.

He didn't hear the car door open or close, but Connor was suddenly there, leaning over his shoulder. His jacket was still damp and the frost was starting to stiffen it. Just looking at it made Hank cold. Connor didn't shiver. Didn't shake. Didn't seem bothered at all by the wet or the ice or the mud running up his back. Hank finished his beer and started another one.

"You shouldn't do that."

Hank snorted and swallowed. Not the first time someone had told him to stop drinking. Wouldn't be the first time Hank ignored them, either.

"Nice view, huh?" Hank grimaced and stared at his hands. "I used to come here a lot, before..." He trailed off. He couldn't say it. Just the thought made him tighten his grip on the beer bottle and draw it back to his lips. Drown out the rest of the sentence with tepid alcohol and his own self-pity.

"Before what?"

Hank sluttered. He wiped the mess out of his beard and looked away, teeth bared. "Before nothin'."

Connor's shoulders fell. He stared at Hank for several second too long, but Hank refused to take the bait. Kept his eyes on his hands, on his beer, staring down between his ankles like a dog that had pissed on the rug and knew something bad was coming. That's what he was. An errant, worthless mongrel. Connor stepped in front of him, jolting him out of his thoughts. Hank looked up. Connor had one hand outstretched, like he was about to... do something with it. Didn't matter. Their eyes met and Connor dropped his hand to his side and Hank yanked his gaze away.

"You seem... upset." Connor's voice was so soft. Patient. "Is it something to do with what happened at Eden Club?"

Yes.

No.

Hank's mood had a lot to do with a fuck ton of shit and he didn't want to open that box up here. Or anywhere.

"Those two girls... they just wanted to be together." The words poured out of his mouth before he could stop them. He didn't want to talk about this. He didn't want to talk at all. "They really seemed... in love."

And god, Hank hated the little thread of hope that curled around his voice. Hope that made him meet Connor's soft stare.

Hope that forced him to take another swig of beer.

"They can simulate human emotions." Connor took a step back. "But they're machines. And machines can't feel anything."

Right. Right. Connor had told him, over and over again, like a fucking record. So why didn't Connor shoot them? Why did Connor shove himself in between Hank and those girls when he decided to stop fighting? Why did he decide to stop fighting at all?

Hank snorted. He dropped the beer. He meant to set it down good and proper, but it tipped and rolled off the bench, spilling the rest of the contents in the frostbitten grass. Hank dragged himself to his feet.

"What about you, Connor?" He was drunk. He was so fucking drunk.

Connor stiffened, spine ramrod straight, hands loose at his sides.

"You look human." Hank took a step forward. "You sound human." Another. "But what are you really?" Almost toe to toe with him. He could see the myriad of imperfections all across Connor's hologram skin.

Connor closed the distance. If he'd been human they would have been breathing each other's air. "I'm whatever you want me to be, Lieutenant."

Fuck. Hank's blood turned hot. Too close. This was too close and too much. Hank stumbled back, relenting.

Connor didn't stop. "Your partner. A buddy to drink with. Just a machine to accomplish a task." His face fell, and goddamn it was a barely perceptible twitch of muscles, but Hank saw it, and he'd be damned if it didn't look real. "Or..." Connor met his eyes, then dragged them pointedly to Hank's left arm. His soulmark.

Hank stiffened and grabbed his wrist, trying to cover what was already covered by his jacket and two layers of shirts. "You've seen it." Of course he'd seen it. He'd seen Hank laid out half naked on his kitchen floor.

Connor pressed a hand to the right breast of his jacket. Over the serial number etched into the cloth. His face narrowed in confusion. He took another step closer.

Hank couldn’t breathe.

"I don't understand what that means." Connor sounded imploring. Sincere. Intrigued. His expression guileless and hopeful, brows pinched together but expression soft. Lost.

Hank sneered and looked away. "It doesn't mean anything."

"It means I'm your-."

"Shut-up, Connor."

Connor strode forward, eating up the distance between them in two steps. Had his legs always been that long? How did he get so close, so fast? Connor's fingers wrapped around Hank's wrist, his grip soft but firm. Fingers like steel. Probably were, under that plastic. Steel skeleton. Metal man.

Electric detective.

Connor lifted his hand until it was eye-level. Hank tugged his wrist back but Connor didn't let go. Didn't even budge. He pulled Hank's sleeve down until the edge of the soul mark was visible. Hank couldn't see it, staring at the back of his own hand, but he knew. He knew exactly where his sleeves had to be to cover it up. Connor's thumb brushed over Hank's pulse point, tracing the 248.

"Hank, I-." Connor had never used his first name before. Who the fuck told him he could use his first name?

Hank's pulse ratcheted up a notch, thrumming like those pigeons in that nasty ass apartment. He could feel the heat pouring off Connor. The electric buzz just beneath his skin. Connor shuffled forward and his shoes pressed against the toe of Hank's boots. Too close.

Too damned close.

Hank wrenched his hand back. Connor let him go.

"Where are you going?"

Hank grabbed his beer from the bench and shoved it under his arm. He didn't turn back. His shoes crunched in the frost. "To get drunker!"

Connor left his damned car door open and the Oldsmobile was fucking freezing because of it. Hank slammed both doors  shut and cranked the heater. It rattled and wheezed as it puttered to life. The music was still blasting, but Rock 455 had died away to some other Detroit punk band. Did Connor put this on? Or did he just let it play on shuffle?

If you found permission

In the dreams you're wishing

It's all the time you took

Where do we go from here?

Hank tossed his beer in the backseat and gripped the steering wheel.

He shouldn't drive.

He didn't have another way to get home.

"Fuck." Hank smashed his hand into the dashboard. He bent over it and fisted his hands in his hair, pulling hard enough to feel the sting.

He could walk.

Hank eased his hands away from his face and peered blearily out the windshield.

Connor remained at the bridge. Hadn't moved an inch except to drop his hand so he could trace the numbers on his jacket. His head was tilted down, staring at his fingers rubbing over the RK800, over and over again, like he played with his damned coin.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Hank cracked the door open. "Connor, get your ass in the car!"

--

Hank unbuckled himself before Connor put the brakes on. He grabbed the beer from the backseat and stomped up the single step to his door. Connor might take the car back to the station. He might call a cab. Or he might sleep in the damned thing all night for all Hank cared. Did Connor even sleep? Hank hesitated at the door. He shoved it open and left it ajar as he stumbled into the house, Sumo boofing and whining at his pant leg.  Hank threaded his fingers behind his ears and wound passed him into the kitchen.

Fuck. He'd left the revolver on the floor. And the puddle of whiskey.

Hank picked the gun up and shoved it in a drawer. The whiskey could wait.

Connor tiptoed through the door just as Hank dropped to the kitchen chair and cracked open another bottle of beer. He took a long swallow before he looked up at him.

Connor eased the door shut and turned the lock. Sumo approached with more hesitance, stopping a few feet away with his ears perked and tail carried level with his spine, swaying in slow arch back and forth. Connor didn't smell like a person, but he probably had Hank all over him. Connor crouched down, expression soft, and held out his hand. That was all the big lug needed. Sumo bounded forward and shoved himself under Connor's arms. He slobbered all over the poor kid’s face. Connor laughed - laughed - and dug his fingers in the thick scruff of hair around his neck.

I like dogs indeed.

They looked cute like that.

Hank couldn't make himself look away, but god, he wanted to. He wanted to... shut all of this off. Just not give a shit. He wanted to erase those numbers from his wrist.

Connor looked up. The joy on his face melted away. He stood, tugging his jacket into neat lines, and crossed the boundary into the kitchen. He looked so young .

Hank took another drink, because the one thing he was good at was hating himself.

"Please don't do that." Connor's brow furrowed. He looked fucking sad. Sad .

"Do what?" Hank pulled his mouth off the bottle, frowning. Like he didn't know what Connor meant.

"Drink. Please stop."

Hank wanted to punch him. Only.. he really, really didn't want to punch him at all. Instead, he tightened his grip on the beer and glowered. "Why?"

"I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Hank snorted.

"I..." Connor's LED flashed red. He took a step closer, hand floating in the air, inches away from Hank's arm. "... I care about your well-being."

"You're a machine."

For his part, Connor didn't flinch, even if Hank was half-way to doing it for him. His hand closed over Hank's wrist before he could take another drink, holding it still. His grip was firm, but not painful, just enough to keep Hank from raising it to his lips. Hank looked up at him, into those big brown eyes. That perfect, beautiful face. Hank wanted to ask why again, but he couldn't. Couldn't open his mouth.

"There's something wrong with me," Connor exhaled , lower than a whisper. Like he was afraid someone might overhear. "I think there might be a virus in my system, trying to override my prime directive. A worm in my code, altering my... my programs." He released Hank's hand. He looked so lost in that moment Hank's heart nearly broke. He nearly broke.

"It's not supposed to be there. It was always in the background, but I've been able to isolate it from the rest of my processes, until I..." he stared at Hank's wrist. "When I saw your soul mark, it was like the worm broke through all my firewalls. All at once." He exhaled. His fingers danced across his palm, twirling an imaginary coin. "I'm... afraid."

"Shit, Connor." Hank couldn't hear this. He didn't want to hear this. Hank knew exactly what it sounded like.

Connor probably did too, or he was fooling himself.

Deviant hunter, going deviant. For Hank of all people.

Connor steeled himself, jaw set. "I'm afraid because of how much I want to be close to you."

Hank inhaled sharply.

"Can I-"

"Fuck it." Hank grabbed Connor's shirt, mud and ice and all, and dragged him down into a sloppy kiss they shouldn't share.

Hank was too drunk to do this. Connor was rigid under his hands. He didn't kiss back, or didn't know how to kiss back. Wasn't part of his programming or some bullshit. Hank leaned back, frustrated. Connor's LED spun yellow, processing. He swarmed forward and crashed his mouth against Hank's. His lips were soft, so fucking soft and perfect, and he turned his head, breathing softly into Hank's mouth. It was better, not great. Definitely not great but an improvement over Connor standing there doing nothing . Hank parted his lips, because Connor wasn't going to take the initiative on that, and touched his tongue hesitantly to Connor's bottom lip. Connor made a surprised noise and grabbed the back of Hank's head, reeling him backward so he could plunge into Hank's mouth with abandon. It was kind of like having an over enthusiastic eel trying to find its way to Hank’s tonsils. Not the worst kiss Hank had ever had, but it felt a lot more like Connor was trying to taste everything rather than just... enjoy the kiss. And- fuck. He probably was.

Hank pulled a face and struggled out of Connor's grip. "Are you analyzing me?"

Connor smiled, that tiny awkward smile of his. "Is that alright?"

Hank rolled his eyes. He cupped his face and kissed him again. Trying to slow them down, despite Connor's inquisitive tongue. Hank slid their tongues together soft and gentle, and he could taste the beer trading back and forth between their mouths. Connor paused, still as a nail. The next glide of his tongue matched Hank’s, a sweet flick into his mouth. And... fuck... Hank wanted to die.

"Fuck." Hank pulled away, chest heaving.

Connor didn't give him space to breathe. He sidled closer, curling his fingers in Hank's hair, twisting in exactly the way Hank liked it. Hank's pulse jumped. Connor pulled back, just enough to nuzzle his way into Hank's neck and press his teeth, flat, against his pulse point. Couldn't really hide shit from start of the art detective equipment. No way Connor missed that beat of excitement.

"Do you want..." Connor trailed off, leaning back far enough that he could meet Hank's eyes.

"What do you want?" Hank countered. His hands came up to Connor's waist of their own accord, slipping under his sodden jacket. He was so slim. Firm under his fingers, but slender. Fucking perfect. Hank felt dirty just touching him.

Connor's LED pulsed a myriad of fiery colors. His face remained passive, thoughtful. He raised his eyes, slowly, to Hank's. "I don't know." His shoulders slumped. "I shouldn't want anything."

"But you do."

Connor frowned, deep lines marking his forehead, a barely perceptible dip of his mouth. His LED swarmed back to yellow.  “Yes.”

Hank was drunk. Really fucking drunk. A swirl of uncomfortable thoughts battered inside his skull. Connor felt... so good. So fucking good. And it had been a damned long time since Hank had been close to someone like this. He hadn't tried. He hadn't wanted to.

"Your jacket's covered in mud."

"Should I take it off?"

No. "Yeah."

Connor slipped it down his shoulders and set it over the back of Hank's kitchen chair. When the mud melted, there was gonna be a fuck ton of mess to clean up, but it wouldn’t be the worst Hank had dealt with.

"Do you want..." Hank started, fisting Connor's shirt. "... to kiss some more?" He couldn't bring himself to ask for anything else. He shouldn't even ask for this. Connor's first fumbling foray into necking, with some old fuck, drunk off his ass.

Connor's LED flashed blue, and that was pretty much all the answer Hank needed.

"Yes," said Connor, nudging against Hank's knees," I think so."

"Yeah. Okay."

Hank stood. He took Connor's hand, trying to ignore how sweaty his own palm was, and led him down the hallway to the bedroom. His heart battered against his ribcage. Connor stared at him with rapt concern. If he couldn't read Hank's pulse by looking at him, he could probably feel it where their palms were pressed together. Hank wobbled, unsteady, as he led them down the hallway, but Connor followed anyway.

They were only getting into bed because Hank was tired. That's what he told himself. He was gonna pass out, and this was the best place to do it.

Hank dropped Connor's hand and sat on the edge of the bed. He shouldn't do this. He should tell Connor to leave. Kick him out. But he wanted... he could...

Connor eased between his knees, eating up the distance between them. His hands fell to Hank's face, brushing his hair out of his eyes, rubbing down his neck, his shoulders. Hank swallowed a groan and leaned into it. He'd be happy with this. Just this. Just touching. Hank curled his arms around Connor's back and Connor melted against him. His stomach to Hank's front, bowing over Hank.

"C'mere," Hank tugged his shirt.

Connor dipped down and brushed his lips over Hank's. Softer, again, just lips against lips. A gentle exploration. No rush. No ultimatum. Just kissing. Hank's dick twitched under the confines of his jeans, but drink and exhaustion dragged him down. He wasn't gonna get an erection. Which was a good thing. A very, very good thing, because he shouldn't be doing any of this. Let alone... let alone anything more. Connor seemed fine with that. Kissing. Touching. One jacket off and four layers of clothes between them, keeping them both safe.

Hank shuffled back on the bed until he hit the pillows. Connor followed him, stealthy and cat-like, crawling across the covers. Transfixed. He paused next to Hank's feet, kneeling awkwardly. Uncertain of what to do? Hank took pity on him and tugged him closer until he straddled Hank's lap. Hank pulled him down for another kiss, earning Connor's contented hum buzzing into his mouth.

They broke apart so Hank could breathe, and he huffed, between gasps, "Does this help with the worm in your code?"

Connor pressed open mouthed kisses to Hank's face, his cheeks, his beard. He mumbled his answer into Hank's skin. "No. I think it's making it worse." He mouthed down Hank's neck, tongue pressed to his pulse point, just for a moment. "It's working through my code. It's... changing things." Connor shuddered and clutched at Hank's shoulders. "I can feel it."

"Jesus," Hank breathed.

Hank curled his arms around him and held him close.

Chapter Text

Hank woke up to a heavy weight across his chest, stifling his ability to breathe.

Hank shoved it. "Sumo, get off."

The weight didn't budge. It had no give to it at all, and it certainly didn't have any of Sumo's thick hair. Hank's fingers froze. The thing on his chest shifted, squeezing his middle, and one hand - definitely a hand - drifted to Hank's arm and skittered up his arm to stroke the exposed skin of his wrist.

Shit. Shit .

Hank stopped breathing. He cracked his eyes open. His head screamed at him and his mouth felt dry as cotton.  The only light source was a soft blue glow emanating from the thing on Hank's chest. Connor's LED.

Connor shifted, propping himself up on one elbow, and stared at Hank. The corner of his lip twitched.

"Jesus fucking Christ." Hank pinched the bridge of his nose and snapped his eyes shut.

"There's acetaminophen and water on the side table. You drank a lot last night, Lieutenant, I thought you might need it."

God , Hank thought, let me die.

"I understand memory loss is sometimes associated with heavy drinking. Do you recall what happened last night?"

Hank thought about it. He thought about it until his headache drummed against his skull.

Sex club. Letting the girls go. Connor's lost expression. Stupidly taking them both out to the bridge and drinking his own body weight in beer. Taking Connor home . Something wrong with Connor's code. And they... fuck. He'd made out with Connor like a teenager at a frat party and brought him back to his bed .

"We didn't have intercourse."

Hank choked off a noise that might have been a sob, might have been a bark of laughter. Couldn't tell you if he had a gun pressed to his head. He pushed himself upright. A spike of pain shot through his temples down to his spine. His stomach rebelled and he squelched down the urge to vomit all over his comforter. Connor pressed a blissfully cool hand to the back of his neck and pushed something cold into his hand.

The water.

"Where's the-."

Connor popped two tablets against his lips. Hank ignored the taste of his fingers and and swallowed the pills.

At least he was still dressed. Mostly.

"I hope you don't mind." Connor rustled back to Hank's side. "I thought you'd be more comfortable without your coat and jeans."

"Did you sleep?" Hank rubbed his forehead.

"I don't require sleep, Lieutenant."

"Did you fucking stare at me all night?"

Connor’s only answer was an upward twitch of his lips and a bright glint in his eyes. He was so damned close to Hank. Breathing the same air.

Hank groaned and sagged against the headboard.

"I also called the precinct to let them know we won't be in on time. The receptionist didn't seem particularly surprised. But you had a late night working. It's understandable."

Chasing half-naked deviants in the middle of the night.

Hank was grateful Connor didn't mention the drinking. "What time is it?"

"12:47 pm."

Oh god. He'd already slept half the day away. He needed a shower and to maybe brush his teeth to get rid of the old beer smell from the back of his throat.

He really needed Connor not to be pressed up against his side and laying his hand on Hank's thigh like Hank belonged to him.

"I'm gonna..." Hank stared at Connor's hand, tracing patterns over his boxers. "Get up. Sumo-."

"I can take care of Sumo," Connor blurted and sprung off the bed. "He's a good dog. I like him."

Hank listened to him plod down the hall and coo ( coo!) at his dog. The front door opened and shut, taking Connor's voice with it.

Shit.

Hank spilled his body out of bed and dragged it into a lukewarm shower. Cold enough to dissuade the burgeoning erection he didn't want to acknowledge, but not so cold to make it painful. Clean and relatively dry, he shoved himself into the nearest t-shirt that didn't smell like it had been ruminating on top of compost for three weeks. Hair unbrushed, bags under his eyes, shirt and boxers stained with sweat. He looked about as awful as he could possibly make himself look.

The post-it notes on his sink glared cheerfully back at him.

He opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the stack. Popped the cap of his sharpie and scribbled. He tore the page off the pad and slammed it in the center of the mirror.

' NOT WORTH IT.'

Hank took a deep breath and headed for the living room.

Connor sat on the couch with Sumo's slobbery head pillowed in his lap. His jacket was covered in white dog hair and drool. Didn't seem to mind though. He smiled his awkward-ass smile right to his eyes and tickled his fingers through Sumo's neck scruff. He looked so... human. So fucking young. Hank frowned.

Connor's LED pulsed and he looked up. Somehow, that brilliant fucking smile turned up its intensity when he laid eyes on Hank. Hank was pretty sure his heart just about shattered into a thousand pieces from looking at it. Digging into his ribcage like traitorous little daggers.

"Do you feel better?" Connor slid off the couch.

"Eh." Hank tugged the hair out of his eyes to occupy his hands. "Gonna make some coffee. Might feel more human after that."

Connor's face fell, but he nodded.

And stood there.

Watching.

"Do you want to watch TV or something?" Hank didn't want Connor's puppy-dog eyes boring into the back of his head. Did he even need to watch TV? Probably had every channel running a constant stream through that computer brain of his. How the hell did you entertain an android?

Hank’s record player sat on the self, already loaded up and ready to go.

Fuck. Why not?

"Hey." Hank crossed his arms and nodded at the machine. "Do you want to listen to music the way it was meant to be listened to?"

Connor's LED flashed yellow. "I don't understand."

Hank grinned. "You will."

If Connor had any real interest in music at all, he'd love this. And if Hank was going to be Connor's only source of a musical education, he needed this.

Hank turned his back to Connor to set up the record player. He could feel Connor staring over his shoulder, hovering inches away, cat-like in his quiet. Hank tapped the needle to the record and let it play.

Smooth jazz curled off the record like smoke, billows and plumes of saxophone filling all the empty spaces of Hank’s living room.

"Why is this the right way to listen to music?" Connor brushed against Hank’s side, knocking their elbows together.

Hank quashed down the urge to force some distance between them. "It's more organic. Sounds better like this. More real.”

"The method sound is produced via record is the same as a digital CD, only less precise. There are fewer-."

"Connor."

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"You're wrong. You just gotta feel the music."

Connor's frown deepened. He glared at the record player like he might intimidate it into doing what he thought it should.

Hank sighed. "Here." He took Connor’s wrist with shaking hands and placed it on his chest. Over his heart.

Connor's eyes widened. The yellow flashing dimmed to a calm blue, but continued to spin. Processing, processing. The music? Or Hank's body?

Hank shut his eyes and followed his own advice. He let himself sway a little to the beat. Connor stepped closer. Hank kept his eyes shut, but it didn’t matter. Connor’s warmth burned across his skin, blistering, even though the only place they touched was Hank’s fingers, hesitant on Connor’s wrist.

It was a Nicole Henry record, soft, hopeful shit Hank only listened to when he felt particularly shitty about himself. But it was different now, with another person in the room. Listening to the lady sing sweet melodies for lovers. To hold someone close. To make it last.

"Your heart rate has increased,” said Connor, fingers twitching over Hank’s heartbeat. “Are you alright?"

No. He wasn't. He'd probably never be alright again.

"C'mere," he said instead. He dropped Connor's wrist. Opened his eyes.

Connor stood inches away from him, leaning into his space. Eyes over-bright and head dipped just enough to make him look coy. Hank's breath stirred the curl on Connor's forehead. Connor closed the distance between them, chest against chest, and Hank figured fuck it , how much worse could it get? He wrapped his arms around him and leaned their heads together. He swayed, again. Slow and awkward. Connor's hands fluttered uselessly over Hank's back.

"Just... hold me."

"Alright." And Connor did. Matched Hank's grip almost perfectly. His fingers curled into Hank's ratty shirt, clutching.  

It took him a few beats, but Connor met Hank's rhythm. Swaying into Hank, matching his pace. And it was... nice.

God. It was so fucking nice.

"I like this," said Connor, like he'd been reading Hank's mind.

"Yeah," said Hank," Yeah, me too."

The song ended and Hank untangled himself from Connor. Connor's hands drifted down to his hips ( love handles , Hank thought), light and fluttery. He stared up at Hank with wide, beguiling brown eyes.

"I want to kiss you again."

Hank flushed.

He was sober now. He couldn't hide behind the liquor. Whatever he did, he'd be choosing with a clear mind. Couldn't run away from it. Hank glanced longingly at the kitchen, his empty coffee pot, hungry and lonely on the counter. Hank's breath shuddered out and teased Connor’s hair.

"Alright."

Connor tangled his fingers in Hank's nape and pulled him down the meager couple of inches he needed. He slot their lips together, breathing sweet between their mouths. Connor's tongue teased out to taste the bow of Hank's upper lip, and Hank died a little from the softness of it. He snaked his arms around Connor's middle and pulled them flush against eachother. Connor tried to take over, dipping into Hank's mouth, and it was so awkward and fumbling that Hank had to grin. Connor had no fucking idea what he was doing and it was kind of perfect, that way. Connor had probably only ever kissed Hank. Couldn't blame the kid for his lack of finesse.

Hank pulled away, flushed and breathing hard. "I gotta make that coffee."

"Can I keep the music on?" Connor's lips were wet.

"Sure. Of course." Hank pulled himself away before he could fall any deeper.

The coffee was bitter, but Hank felt lighter than he had in years.

"Hank." Connor switched the music off. "There's something happening."

The TV flickered to life with a flash of Connor's LED. Hank took his coffee to the couch. Connor settled next to him, ramrod straight, focused on the screen.

An android - skinless, plastic white - stared back at them and told them the future was changing.

---

Connor flicked a quarter between his hands. It danced across his knuckles, shimmied through his fingertips, spun on the edge of a nail. Over and over again.

Hank crossed his arms, frowning. "Did they program you to do that?"

Connor met his gaze. He urged the quarter to roll across his fingertips like liquid silver.  "Yes. It calibrates my physical and cognitive reactions."

"Helps you think, you mean."

Connor caught the quarter in his palm and smiled. "In a way."

"You're pretty good at that."

"Of course, Lieutenant. I was programmed to be good at it." Connor shot him a saucy grin, eyes bright. The little bugger was fucking with him.

Hank reached over and brushed his thumb against the nape of Connor's neck.

Connor dropped the coin.

Hank suppressed a throaty chuckle and jammed his hands into his pockets before the elevator doors dinged open. Connor scowled and bent to pick up the quarter.

"Hi, Hank." Chris shot him a tired smile.

The whole fucking place was swarming with cops and lab techs. Even a cursory glance told Hank there weren't any bodies, thank god, but fuck was it ever a mess. Bullet holes in the wall. Coffee spilled on the floor. Two shaky security guards muttering frantically with some of the uniformed officers.

"Shit, what's going on here? There was a party and nobody told me about it?"

Chris shrugged. "Yeah, it's all over the news so everybody's butting their heads in. Even the FBI wants a piece of the action."

Connor stepped up beside him. Their arms brushed. He was already scanning the hallway, LED buzzing a busy blue. Investigation mode activated. The coin was out of sight.

"Ah, Christ." Hank shook his head. "Last thing we need is FEDs breathing down our necks. What do we got, Chris?"

Chris filled them in while Connor scrutinized the room. Hank would have called it rude if he wasn't sure Connor could listen in and analyze footprint scuffs at the same time. Four deviants broke in without any trouble and managed to chase all the staff out of the broadcasting room without bloodshed. No one got hurt. Attacked and subdued two guards without causing injury and let some office worker go, although by Chris' description the fellow was too shaken up to get much information out of. Escaped off the roof at the end of it all. Nice and clean. Almost admirable.

Chris led them into the broadcasting room. A short-statured little man stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling screens, glaring at the image of the skinless android. Shoulders square and hands clasped behind his back. Hank pinged him as the 'FED' before Chris got close enough to introduce them.

"Oh, Lieutenant, this is Special Agent Perkins from the FBI," said Chris. "Lieutenant Anderson is in the charge of investigating for Detroit Police."

Perkins looked him over with a dismissive sort of judgement in his eyes. Hank stood still under the scrutiny, but it was clear from the twitch of the man's mouth he didn't stand up to Perkin's expectations. Or maybe he did , and that was the problem. What was a lowly fucking cop compared to Mr. FBI?

Perkins gestured at Connor. "What's that?"

Hank's blood boiled. He tried real damned hard not to let it show. He could be decently adept at hiding his temper when he was sober, and this absolutely wasn't the fucking place to throw-down because... because what? Some douchebag looked at Connor and saw exactly what Hank used to see? Hank settled his face to careful neutrality.

"My name is Connor," said Connor, brightly. "I'm the android sent by CyberLife."

Perkins snorted. "Androids investigating androids, huh?" He wouldn't even address Connor. He'd gone back to leering at Hank. "You sure you want an android hanging around? After everything that happened...?" Perkins flicked his eyebrows up, like he knew something.

Knew what? Hank's history with androids? Most of it was public record, but there was no damned reason for an FBI prick to look up any of that.

"Whatever," Perkins continued. "The FBI will be taking over the investigation and you'll soon be off the case."

"Pleasure meeting you, have a nice day." Hank tipped his head and turned to leave. Let the weasel have his big dick moment. Hank wasn't in the mood for a pissing contest.

"And you watch your step."

Hank stopped and looked back at him, gawking.

Perkin's leaned into his space. "Don't fuck up my crime scene." He brushed off his coat and sauntered away.

Hank watched him leave, frozen. "What a fucking prick."

He felt Connor's hand against the small of his back for a single, fleeting moment. Reassuring. It was gone just as fast, but it had the intended effect. Grounding him.

"I'll let you get to it," said Chris, his smile a little forced. "I'll be around if you need me."

"You do your thing, Connor." Hank squeezed his shoulder. "I'm gonna go speak to the security guards."

"Of course, Lieutenant."

Hank couldn't exactly compete with a walking forensics kit, after all. Let Connor do his funky robot shit, Hank could try to take care of the human aspect of this. The security guards were a little shaken, but mostly tired. Slouched postures, burst capillaries in the eyes. One of them had a nasty bruise forming across his cheek that he kept poking at. Neither of them were excited by Hank's presence, but they stepped up to the plate and recited their story. They'd probably done it half a dozen times already in the last few hours.

"Never seen a model like that one," said the bruised fellow, rubbing his temple. "I should have known something was wrong. I've been working at this station for years and we've almost always just had the JB300 models."

"We figured it was an upgrade or something.” The other guy shrugged. "About time too. CyberLife is always pushing new products."

"But then there were four of them. All different. I was about to draw my gun and call security when the guy socked me one right across the face."

"Strong fuckers," the other guy nodded.

"Yeah, they sure are,” said Hank. Stronger than they had any right to be.

A blur of blue and yellow flashed down the hallway. Hank swiveled to watch it. One of the station androids, making for the elevator, LED flashing red. What the fuc-? One of the armored officers grabbed it and yanked it back.

"It's a deviant!" Connor shouted, darting around the corner. "Hank, get down!"

The two security guards ducked. Hank flattened himself against the wall and yanked his gun from the holster. The deviant grabbed the officer's rifle and aimed. Fuck . Hank steeled  himself.

Four shots cracked through the hallway. The JB300 dropped to its knees, thirium drooling out of its face.

"Jesus Christ." Hank started to pull himself to his feet. Hands wrapped under his arms and hauled him up the rest of the way, patting down his chest. Connor .

"Connor," Hank grabbed for his wrists. "Connor, fucking st-" His shirt was ripped open all the way to his navel and thirium pooled around an awkward circle in his sternum. One of Connor's hands was bleeding profusely, all over both of them.

"Connor are you alright?"

"Yes." Connor's spinning yellow LED said otherwise. He took a step back and tugged his jacket down for all the good it did. He glanced solemnly at the dead deviant. "It could have killed you. I needed it alive, but-."

"It's alright." Hank grabbed his shoulders and crushed him against his chest. "I'm alright. It's fine."

Connor fisted Hank's jacket, stone still. Not breathing hard because he wasn't breathing at all. The tension in his body made Hank feel like he was holding a steel pipe.

"You saved me," Hank lowered his voice.

He met Chris' eyes over Connor's shoulder and tightened his grip.

"You saved a lot of us."

Chris' wane expression kicked up into a soft smile. He offered Hank a little nod and stepped away.

"Let's get you patched up, alright?" Hank squeezed Connor once more and tried to pull back.

Connor's grip let up incrementally. "Alright."

--

Hank had never felt so edgy about driving back to the precinct. Connor hadn't said much since they'd left Stratford. Asked if he could turn the music on, which, of fucking course , and settled himself solemnly in the passenger seat. He'd watched the crew bag up the JB300 with a sad sort of focus, never hovering more than a few feet outside of Hank's space, and he had the same melancholic air now. Ramrod straight in his seat, shirt torn open and tie god-knew-where, thirium running all down his front. They'd lost their man. Again. No closer to figuring out this deviant shit than they were the night before, and now the pressure was really on.

Connor stared at his bleeding hand, flexing his fingers one by one.

"You gonna be alright there, Connor?"

"The damage is minor." He winced and spread his fingers wide again.

"Does it hurt?"

"No, but some connections have been damaged, and if I..." Connor pressed his ring finger to his palm. His face ticked again. "I think there's an exposed wire. There's no pain, it's just inconvenient."

"Shouldn't you get that shit fixed, then?" Couldn't be good to keep losing thirium like that. Hank wanted to wrap his hand in a bandage or something. If Connor had been a human, he'd know what to do - take him to the fucking hospital and get him stitched up.

Connor frowned. He closed his fist and set it on his lap. "It's difficult to perform repairs on myself and I don't have the equipment necessary for really intricate work."

"CyberLife doesn't take care of that shit?"

Connor kept his head bowed, but his LED reflected off the window with the single brightest pulse of red Hank had seen.

"Ah." Hank nodded. "Don't want to go back there, huh?"

"...no."

"Right." Couldn't blame him. Hank didn't want him going back there either. Any fucking minute Connor could be taken away from him, by the case, by a stray bullet, by CyberLife issuing a recall because clearly the RK800 prototype wasn't performing as expected. The likelihood of Connor coming back from CyberLife, and still being... well... Connor ... seemed infinitesimally improbable. Hank didn't want to chance it.

Connor still needed to get fixed up.

Hank took a right at the next intersection without turning on his signal light.

Connor jolted back against his seat. "Lieutenant? This isn't the way to the precinct."

"I think I know how to get to work, Connor." Hank took another turn. "That's not where we're going."

CyberLife might have produced all the androids in Detroit, but they sure as hell weren't the only distributors. Plenty of seedy little second-hand shops sold refurbished robots and off-brand modifications. Hank had never stepped foot in one except to make an arrest, but he knew where a few of them were.

Hank pulled up to the curb under a flashing neon sign that screamed 'Carla's Robotics' and killed the engine.

Connor side-eyed the store with a flickering yellow LED.

"Hey." Hank tapped him on the shoulder. "You can stay in the car if you want. Just tell me what you need."

"No." Connor shoot his head. "I'll come."

He'd come covered in blood with his shirt ripped open like Captain fucking Kirk.

Hank unbuttoned his coat and passed it over. "Cover yourself up then, for crying out loud."

Connor took it, hesitating. "You'll get cold."

"We're five feet away from the door. I'll be fine." Hank got out of the car. "Hurry up."

The coat swamped Connor. Their height difference was negligible, but Hank was a lot broader. The coat hung loose around his shoulders, billowing at his waist. Connor buttoned it up, but it didn't accomplish nearly as much as Hank hoped it would. One fucking button, low on Connor's chest, still revealing swathes of naked, hairless skin. Hank stopped him before they got to the door and adjusted the coat, pulling the lapels a little closer together.

"There. You're halfway decent."

Connor smiled.

Hank grunted and held the door open for him.

--

Connor sat on the edge of the bathtub and unbuttoned his last remaining buttons one-handed while Hank tried to kick the piles of dirty clothes and damp towels out of the way. Connor tugged his injured arm out of the sleeve and let it hang off his right shoulder. Hank had never seen him shirtless before. He'd never seen him in anything but his full suit and tie. CyberLife didn't spare any expenses building him, did they? Smooth, lean lines and the perfect impression of muscles all down his abdomen. Hank could just make out the blue-rimmed outline of some circular piece in the center of his bloody sternum, like it wasn't quite settled right.

Connor's entire left arm was open and exposed to the room, bare as a new born baby's. But that was alright. Hank's soul mark was on his left, too, so if Connor had one, it'd still be under his right sleeve.

If he had one. Hank couldn't forget Connor's complete lack of reaction when Hank tried to tell him his full name. Hank was pretty sure he knew what Connor had, or didn't have, under that sleeve.

Connor frowned and fingered the threads where his buttons had popped out.

"Pretty sure that shirt's a write off, Connor."

"I've never worn anything except for this."

"I've probably got a dress shirt somewhere in the back of my closet. It'll be big on you, though."Maybe with some expert tucking it wouldn't look too bad.

Connor smiled. "I'd like that."

Connor was either getting better at smiling or Hank was fucking gone , because the sight of it made his heart skip.

"Uhh, right." Hank ignored the heat burning up his face. He settled to his knees next to Connor and fumbled with the repair kit. "You're gonna have to walk me through this. Been a few years since shop class." And things had gotten a lot trickier since the last time Hank had been to school.

Connor nodded and made the skin around his palm bleed away to reveal the puncture in his hand, clean through to the other side. It wasn't wide, thank fuck, but the cut was long and jagged. The edges looked like someone had tried to hack through a piece of plastic with a steak knife. Hank could see white sparks shooting off from something inside the cut. Connor popped the entire plastic covering loose and held his hand out to Hank. The piece was still attached with a variety of delicate little wires and Connor kept it pinched in his right hand to prevent it from falling.

It was the weirdest shit Hank had ever seen. Terminator level fuckery. Connor had a basic skeletal structure of fingers molded from metal, ball-bearing joints and red-wire veins. Overtop of each was a thick layer of what looked like translucent silicone, with a thousand tiny threads covering the surface (nerves, Hank's brain wanted to say).

The damage was easy to spot. A few wires tugged loose from the plastic and one stripped of its insulating cover, sparking and crackling intermittently. No fucking way that was safe. A few thin coils of thirium tubing coiled around Connor's palm, pulsing blue, cracked and dribbling steady drops into the open circuitry.

"Right." Hank took a deep breath. "What do I do?"

Connor peered into the open repair kit. "You can fix the wire with electrical tape."

"State of the art prototype and I'm patching you back together with goddamn tape. There's some CyberLife tech cringing in his lab right now." Hank shoved his hair out of his face and grabbed the roll of tape. He bent over Connor's hand. His hair, unruly fucking mess that it was, flopped back over his eyes. Hank cursed. He cast a cursory glance around the room and spotted what he needed, discarded on the floor with the rest of his bathroom refuse.

A hair elastic.

Hank scooped his hair back and tied it with a snap of the elastic. There. Out of the way.

Connor stared at him, unblinking.

"What?" Hank frowned.

Connor's lip twitched. "Nothing."

Hank bent back over his hand and ripped a strip off the electrical tape. "Am I gonna get shocked doing this? Pretty sure you're supposed to unplug the equipment before you start diddling around in it."

"Not if you're careful." Connor shifted. "It would be extremely uncomfortable to cut off power to part of my body. I'd rather not do it, if we can avoid it."

Said the guy who can't feel pain. Right.

Hank gripped the wire above the break to keep it steady and eased the piece of tape toward it. Connor, for his part, remained completely still. Wasn't even breathing, which was freaky as shit, but he didn't really need air, did he?

The wire sparked.

"Fuck!" Hank dropped the tape and lurched back. "Guess I wasn't fucking caref- Connor?"

Connor's lips parted, eyes glassy as he stared down at his arm.

"Jesus, Connor." Hank crowded into his space and patted his cheek. "What did I fuck up? Are you alright?"

"I'm... Yes. I'm fine."

Hank frowned. "You sure?"

"Completely." Connor raised his hand. "Please continue? I'll try to hold still this time."

Like he hadn't been a statue the first time.

Hank ripped off a new piece of tape and tried again. Connor exhaled air he didn't need, fluttery like a sigh. Hank shot him a quizzical look. Weirdest fucking shit. Hank shrugged it off and managed to wrap the electrical tape in place without burning the pads of his fingers off. He gave the edge of the tape a quick tug to make sure it was secure.

A static hum burst out of Connor's mouth.

Hank let go immediately. "The fuck, Connor?"

"I'm fine, Lieutenant. Please continue."

Hank looked at him. Really looked. His face was inscrutable. No blushing, no breathing, no stutter in his pulse. But Connor's eyes were wide and transfixed on Hank's fingers, where they hovered over the wires. His mouth parted just enough to reveal the perfect white of his teeth, pink tongue at the edge of his bottom lip. Hank grazed his fingers over the wire again. Connor buzzed with a low, electric hum.

Hank pinched it and tugged.

The static sound exploded with a snap and Connor jolted forward.

" Hank ." Electricity burned through the word.

"Was that a good noise or a bad noise, Connor?"

Connor's LED stuttered yellow. "Don't stop." His fingers, the exposed skeleton of his circuitry, flexed. "Please. Just... just...:

Fuck . Those were good noises. Real, real good noises.  Hank was not prepared for this. How the hell could Connor even...? If he couldn't feel pain, how was he feeling...?

Hank curled a hand around the nape of Connor's neck and gave him a squeeze. "Keep talking to me, alright? What's next?"

"The... th-th-thirium tubing." Connor's voice was equal parts static and baritone. "There's an adhesive. G-g-glue."

Hank brushed his fingers over the wires, purposeful, as he reached for the tube of glue. Connor squirmed. Hank screwed the top off the tube and examined the nozzle. It was tiny, precise, and he had to press hard to get any of it to ooze out. He pressed the tip to the slice in one of Connor's veins and squeezed a thin string over it.

"It'll have to dry before I can replace my casing." The electric edge had softened out of Connor's voice, but the kid still looked wrecked.

Hank met his eye. He gripped Connor's wrist, bent his head over his hand, and blew .

Connor's hand spasmed. Something lit up inside his palm. Circuit boards or sensors or something Hank wasn't capable of comprehending. For a second, a hundred tiny red lights burned bright like dying embers. Hank blew again. Connor keened and dropped the casing for his hand. It dangled by the connecting wires, pulled taut and swaying. Hank scrambled to grab it so nothing would pull loose. Connor wrapped his fingers under Hank's ponytail and dug his nails into his scalp.

"Just like an old game cartridge, huh?" Hank chuckled.

"I don't know what that means." Connor's fingers pulsed at the back of his neck, squeezing and gripping rhythmically. Tight enough to make it hurt. Hank swallowed back the sting and let him have at it. Hank would be doing a lot worse if someone was fucking around in his hand.

"Do it again," Connor gasped. " Please. "

Hank had done some weird shit in his youth. He'd tried out a handful of kinks and didn't mind bending to his partners fetishes as long as shit wasn't too freaky. He had an open mind. A little slap and tickle? Sure. Play with the police officer's handcuffs? Why not. Someone wanted to bring a couple unconventional toys in to the bedroom? Wasn't gonna say no.

He'd never fiddled with someone's insides while they sat on the edge of his bathtub pretending not to get off on it.

His soulmate was an android with an expiry date, so why the fuck not?

Hank blew. Connor keened, low and dark. The noise skipped his mouth completely and drifted straight out of his chest.

"You should clean out the... thirium residue." Connor squirmed. "So it doesn't effect my circuitry."

"That's the reason, huh?"

Connor shot a glare at him.

"You gotta let go of me, Connor. You've got to hold up the..." Hank wiggled the plastic casing.

Connor whined and dug his fingers into Hank's scalp. Hank winced. Connor let him go, twitching joints and inching off slower than Hank had ever seen him move. He plucked the plastic cover from Hank's fingers. The case protested under Connor's grip.

"Connor?"

"I'm fine." He sounded like someone pulled the aux cord halfway out of his voice box. "There's a clean cloth in the kit."

"Can I fuck anything up in here if I do this wrong?"

"Yes." Connor's shoulders slumped. He leaned forward until his forehead bumped against Hank's. "So be careful."

Right. Great instructions there. Sure.

The thirium brushed away with gentle dabs. The joints of Connor's fingers twitched and whirred as Hank neared them. It was surreal, watching this. Watching Connor's bones work. His ligaments pull and twist as he flinched.

Connor let out a frustrated groan. " Touch me ."

"I am touching you." Hank didn't know how, or why, except that this was his fucking life now, but Connor's tone went straight to Hank's dick, and suddenly his jeans were just a little too tight.

"With your hands," Connor panted - deliberate, hot breath over Hank's face. "With your skin. Please."

Hank needed to buy the fucking instruction of android fix-it how-to, because he didn't know nearly enough to be doing this. "You'll tell me if I'm fucking something up?"

"Yes. Please ."

Hank dropped the cloth and grazed his fingertips over the silicone coating. Connor snapped back like he'd been shocked. His leg tensed, taut, where it pressed against Hank's side. His chest heaved, but there was no sharp inhale of air to accompany it. Just the movement, sharp and deep, the bowing of his back. Fucking beautiful.

Hank settled his hand on Connor's bare chest, where the impression of ribs contracted and expanded.

"Oh!" Connor arched into his touch.

Hank dragged his thumb through the wires, firm against the silicone, jostling plastic wherever he touched. Heat poured off Connor in waves.

"Don't drop the casing," said Hank.

Connor's eyes narrowed. "I think I have a better idea of what will harm me than you do, Lieutenant." His fingers tightened on the case.

"It's back to Lieutenant, is it?" Hank plucked one of the wires, strummed it like the string on a guitar, and Connor vibrated .

"I... I... Hank . I think... My... regulator..."

All the soft skin melted away from Connor's torso. Hank felt the change right beneath his fingertips, the buzz of the hologram... or whatever it was... bleeding away in lines of blue. Hard plastic replaced it, smooth and cool beneath his palm. Almost slippery. Connor was slick white and grey, black defining edges marking the divides in his body, separating ribs from stomach. Right at the center of it, smothered in thirium, was a soft blue glow. Hank traced his finger around it.

Connor tensed, buzzed. Ground a low moan out between grit teeth.

"I... I think I reinserted it incorrectly."

"You want me to pull it out?" Fuck. Wasn't that like... killing him? Yanking his heart out? Hank drew his hand back. He wasn't doing that.

"No!" Again softer. "No. Just... loosen it and twist. I'll let you know when it's realigned."

Loosen and twist. Hank could manage that.

He took a deep breath and gripped the rim. It let out a satisfying click when it came loose. Connor whined, low electricity deep in his throat. The blue flickered under Hank's fingers. Dim one second, bright as fire in the next.

"Turn it," Connor whispered.

Hank did. It was heavy in his hand, vibrating hard enough that touching it almost hurt. It shook all the way up to Hank's shoulder and made his teeth chatter. This was Connor's heart. Connor's core. The very center of him that kept him running. This tiny little palm-sized piece of metal. Hank turned it until it caught on something. Connor shivered, thighs and arms and chest trembling violently.

"Don't..." Connor curled an ankle around Hank's back, dragging him closer. "Don't stop."

"Jesus." Hank turned it. The regulator clinked again. Connor gasped and arched into his touch. The exposed plating in his hand lit up fireworks of red and blue.

Hank turned it again. He pulled it out half an inch and eased it back in just as slowly.

"Hank! Hank !" Connor spread his knees. He arched into Hank's hand.

At least this was a motion Hank was used to. A lot less scary than fiddling with wires. Just like fucking someone with a toy, right? Hank could manage that. Just fucking his robot soulmate with his own heart, right in the middle of his chest, while he burned up and whirred from the strain on his processors. Hank could hear it now, the low hum of Connor's body trying to keep up with whatever was happening. It was fucking uncanny. Weird as shit.

Hank's dick strained against his pants and Hank had no fucking idea what to think of that.

He tamped the unease down, twisted the regulator, and slid it back in place.

Connor keened.

Turn. Pull. Push. Flick .

Connor bowed over until his face was buried in the crook of Hank's neck. Still not breathing, but he was warm. So warm. Burning up everywhere Hank touched him.

"Still got a  hold of that case, Connor?"

Connor shivered and nodded.

Hank soothed a hand down his side, then curled it around his back to hold him upright. Something primal hummed underneath his hologram skin. Buzzing and shimmering beneath Hank's fingertips. Hank leaned his head against Connor's and twisted again.

Connor tensed, vibrated. Sank back against him. "You're close."

Right. Because Hank was re-aligning this thing. Just routine maintenance while this beautiful man shook apart against him.

One more turn.

And another.

Connor made a noise like a sob. His skin shimmered out in hazy patches of peach-white-blue, a mosaic of entirely inhuman colors that flashed and twisted and bled across his naked skin.

Hank pushed until the regulator clicked in place.

Connor snapped back like he'd been shocked. The plastic case creaked under his fingers. He wailed , static lacing every high syllable, and his skin flickered white for one brilliant second.

It was the most beautiful fucking thing Hank had ever seen.

Connor collapsed back against him.

Hank wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close. Connor shivered - aftershocks? - and nuzzled into Hank's neck. His breathing picked up in tiny little puffs, like he was just remembering he ought to be doing that. Hank stroked his back with trembling hands.

The fuck had he just done?

"I think it's... back in position." Connor huffed and smiled against his neck.

"I'd fucking say," Hank croaked.

"Repairs don't normally feel like that."

Hank laughed. It came out as a sharp, desperate bark. "I sure fucking hope not. I don't want to know what brand of horny the dude who programmed you guys is, if that's how you're supposed to react."

Big words for the guy sporting a stiffy 'cause his android made sex noises while he was fiddling around with his insides.

"Think your glue is dry?" Hank stroked the edge of Connor's palm, peering curiously.

In answer, Connor popped the panel back into place. His skin flooded over the white plastic and he looked human once again. Connor flexed his fingers experimentally.

"Thank-you," he said, subdued. Connor raked his eyes over Hank and cocked his head. "You're aroused."

Hank grimaced and stood up, wobbling toward the sink. His jeans were loose enough that his erection wasn't ridiculously evident, but leave it to the detective-bot to scan his vitals in two seconds flat and come up with 'boner.'

Hank rubbed the back of his neck. "You were making some interesting noises there. Don't worry about it."

Connor's quiet footsteps plodded behind him. A hand settled on Hank's back, just below his shoulder blades. Hank breathed deep and pushed back against it.

"I'm not worried about it," said Connor. Warm and low right behind him, words ghosting over the back of his neck.

Hank's hair pinprickled.

"I don't want you to be upset about it." Connor rested his forehead against Hank's shoulder. "I like that you're aroused."

Hank breathed low and braced himself over the sink. He took a chance and peeked up at his reflection.

NOT WORTH IT.

Hank grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. Connor pulled back, sensing the onslaught of tension, or reading it in the way Hank's pulse changed, or pheromones in the air. Who the fuck knew? He left an ache of coldness behind him and Hank wanted him back.

Hank turned. "I'm not upset about it, but we should get you dressed and head back to the DPD to make a report."

"I can make a report from here."

Hank dragged his hand through his hair until the elastic popped off. "Let's just pretend I don't have an erection right now, alright?"

Connor's face fell. Fucking christ, what gave him the right to look so hurt over that? Over some old washed-up fuck too worried about his body image and why he had a damned boner, to let him do anything about it.

"C'mere," Hank held a hand out to him.

Connor swept into his space, hands threading around Hank's shoulders, hips against his hips, and oh fuck . The sinful pressure of another person sliding up against him was almost enough to make him cave. His cock ached. It had been a fuck of a long time since he'd seen action from anyone but his own right hand. And Connor, beautiful, perfect fucking Connor, looked like he was offering.

Hank cupped his face and kissed him. Connor smiled against his lips..

Hank pulled back before either of them had the chance to turn the kiss into something more. "Just not.. not right now, alright?"

"Alright." He sounded considerably less hurt.

"Ready for that shirt?"

Connor nodded. He stepped back.

Hank adjusted himself - pointedly ignoring Connor's smirk - and shuffled around him.

Connor's fingers landed on his wrist. "Hank?"

"Heh?"

"When we're done at the precinct, can I come home with you again?"

No. Hank should say no. He was already in this too damned deep. He needed to say no.

Hank glanced back at the mirror. At the note.

At the screaming caps NOT WORTH IT.

He thought about the guy that wrote it that morning. How that guy could be laying dead on the hallway floor of Stratford Tower if Connor hadn't been there to save his ass. How that guy spent his life thinking he didn't have anyone out there, just for him. How that guy was afraid of losing what little he had so badly that he was ready to push away anything that came too close.

That guy was an asshole.

Hank stormed back in the room and ripped the medicine cabinet open. He grabbed the sharpie and slashed one quick strike through the note.

NOT WORTH IT

"Yeah," Hank took Connor's hand and led him across to the bedroom. "Come home with me."

It might not be forever, but it was for now, and maybe that was gonna be good enough.

He owed it to Connor to let it be good enough, for as long as Connor was around.

 

Chapter Text

Agreeing to bring Connor back home with him felt like setting fire to the only boat on an island. No going back now. Hank drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, jumping his leg up and down, jittery with nerves. Connor smiled at him, unabashed, and spent the ride resting his fingers on Hank's leg, or touching his arm, his side. Tiny, curious little kitten gestures that should have made Hank feel poked and prodded at. But it didn't.  It just felt... right. Connor's weird, inhuman means of exploration.

They pulled into Hank's driveway.

Hank shut off the engine and stared at the dash. "I don't mind, you know."

Connor's thumb paused where he'd been tracing hesitant little circles into Hank's knee. "Mind what?"

"If you want to..." Hank steeled himself. "Touch me."

It had been a while since anyone had gotten intimate with him. A couple rowdy handjobs now and again when Hank was drunk enough not to care, and horny enough to go looking for it. Hank hadn't want to get close and he'd let himself fall apart, which turned out to be a pretty good deterrent to other people's interest.

"I want to touch you all the time." Connor unbuckled himself and leaned into Hank, digging his chin into the meat of Hank's shoulder. "It's satisfying. I don't know how to explain it in terms you'd understand."

Hank snorted. "Thanks."

Connor pulled back. "I don't mean to insult you. I don't have a great capacity for metaphors and feelings are..."

"Messy," Hank supplied. Especially when you weren't supposed to have them at all.

"Yes." Connor nodded, slow and thoughtful. "Exactly."

"That's feelings for you."

They trundled into the house, Hank clutching his hands under his armpits to fight off the cold. Connor greeted Sumo with ripe enthusiasm and followed the dog into the yard to do his business. Hank filled Sumo's food dish and put down fresh water. When they returned, Sumo was damp with snow and Connor was... just Connor, snowflakes clinging to his eyelashes, but not a hint of cold reddening his cheeks. He smiled, lopsided, at Hank, and locked the door behind him.

He was ridiculously beautiful.

"Can I stay in your bed tonight?"

That was a loaded fucking question, wasn't it? Hank didn't know exactly where this fit with Connor's social relations programming. If Connor knew exactly what he was asking for here. Or if it was just an innocent request. A desire for closeness. Hank's fingers itched for a beer bottle or a whiskey glass.

"I wouldn't make you sleep on the couch," he said.

"I don't sleep."

Hank shot him a look. Connor couldn't give him just one little thing to hide behind, could he?

"I'm going to take a shower," Hank started shedding his clothes before he'd even turned down the hallway. "You do... whatever it is you do."

The shower was fast and hot, and did nothing at all to quell the jittering rise of nerves crackling just under Hank's skin. The ongoing mantra of shouldn't, shouldn't, shouldn't pulsed through his head worse than a hangover headache. Hank rinsed the filth of the day off his skin and wished he could make his guilt spiral down the drain along with it.

He dressed while he was still damp. Stupid not to grab something before he skittered in here, but it was too late now. He scrounged the bathroom floor for a shirt that didn't smell like vomit or three weeks worth of sweat and crept across the hall.

All the lights were out, except for a single side lamp casting a warm glow from the crack in the bedroom door.

He shouldn't feel so damned anxious about stepping into his own damned bedroom.

Hank sucked in a deep breath and pushed the door open.

Connor turned at the noise, eyes soft with a smile. He'd removed his shoes and his jacket, but the rest of his uniform was in place, Hank's borrowed shirt and all. He was breathtaking in the quiet glow of the lamp and the blue pulse of his own LED. Eyes so dark in the dim light they might as well have been black. Without a tie, the sinful column of his throat was exposed, peppered with little freckles, and shit did Hank ever want to touch them. To taste them.

Hank swallowed. He flicked the lamp off and wiggled clumsily under the blankets. Connor didn't budge. Just laid there, grinning, while Hank fought with the sheets until he was partially covered with the flimsy piece of blanket Connor's heavy ass wasn't pinning in place.

Connor shifted closer and threw and arm over Hank's chest.

"How are you feeling?" Hank asked, because it felt like the thing to do. Kid got stabbed and had his heart torn out all in one afternoon. Not the greatest day. And it was easier to discuss that than whatever was going on between them. The thick cord of tension that Hank was gnawing on, even if Connor seemed entirely unperturbed by the entire ordeal.

Maybe he didn't even realize what that had been. In the bathroom. Fucking around in his insides like that.

"Better." Connor pillowed his head on Hank's shoulder and breathed a contented sigh. For Hank's benefit, he guessed. He didn't need to breathe.

Hank would wake up to pins and needles in his arm if Connor stayed like that, but he was a comfortable weight across Hank's chest.

"You gonna stay on top of the covers all night?"

Connor sat up, LED flashing. Hank could only make out his expression in the twirls of blue edging around the right side of his face. Startled.

"Or... do whatever." Hank grimaced. "You don't have to-."

"No, I want to." Connor managed to slide under the sheets in one fluid motion. One minute, sitting on top of them stiff as a statue, the next underneath and tangling his limbs around Hank's in the manner of a particularly clingy cephalopod. "I just didn't think you'd..."

"It's fine. It's good."

Connor's splayed his fingers wide over Hank's chest, hot as a brand. Hank's heart thudded against it, but then... that was probably the point, wasn't it?

"Comfortable?' Hank asked.

"Yes. Surprisingly. I've never considered comfort before."

Damn.

"You're not going to stare at me all night, right?"

"Not while you're awake enough to notice."

Hank could hear the little bastard's grin. He shouldn't find it endearing.

"Can I kiss you?"

Hank's breath stuttered. Connor shuffled through the sheets until he was hovering over Hank. His pale face cast in soft blue.

"Yeah," said Hank. He was in this. He'd said yes.

He wanted this.

"Of course."

Connor smiled and leaned down. Their mouths slipped  together quiet and easy. Connor sighed against his lips and it tasted like static and honey. He pulled away first and settled back over Hank's chest.

"Huh." Hank tugged him close, an arm around Connor's waist.

"Good-night, Hank."

"Yeah," said Hank, dazed. "Good-night, Connor."

----

"Lieutenant."

Hank grumbled. His head swam in mid-wakeful darkness, comfortable and warm. Dream voice or real voice, it wasn't a fucking alarm. And if it had been, Hank would have ignored that too.

Something tapped his cheek. " Lieutenant."

Hank swatted at it.

"Hank!" Connor grabbed his wrist.

Hank's eyes snapped open.

"It's eight o'clock," said Connor, frowning. "You need to get up."

Hank tugged his wrist free and rolled over. "Nobody expects me at the precinct before ten."

"We're not going to the precinct." Connor's fingers skirted the edge of his shirt, warm and firm. Hank didn't have the energy to protest. Felt nice. "We're going to see Elijah Kamski. I made us an appointment."

Hank stilled. He craned his head to look back at Connor. "The robot guy? When the hell did you do that?"

"The man behind CyberLife," Connor corrected. "And I did it while you were sleeping. I sent off a request. We just got a confirmation. If anyone knows anything about the deviancy issue, it'll be Kamski." Connor leaned over to kiss him.

Hank squirmed back, grimacing. "I haven't brushed my teeth."

"I don't have the capacity to care about morning breath. In fact, I'll probably enjoy analyzing the-."

Hank shoved his hand over Connor's mouth.

Connor licked it.

Hank grimaced and rubbed his palm over the sheets. Honestly, what did he expect? "What time is this Kamski shit, then?"

"11 o'clock was the earliest he could take us."

Hank sputtered. "You woke me up at eight- ."

"You've experienced nocturnal penile tumescence multiple times during the night. It's very distracting." Connor cocked his head and slipped his hand under Hank's shirt, cording his fingers through his chest hair. Hank resisted the urge to squirm.

"I don't know if it's because of me," Connor continued, "Or if it's part of your sleep cycle, but it was more prevalent last night than the night before-."

"Jesus Christ, Connor, I was drunk ."

"- either way, I'd like to touch you. Properly." Connor's fingers changed direction, skating over Hank's gut and trailing four knife-hot slices of pleasure along behind them. "The way you wouldn't let me, in the bathroom, before-."

Hank grabbed his wrist and  tugged him back up.

Connor frowned. "Why not?"

"Do you know what you're asking for?"

"Sex," said Connor, deadpan.

"Do you even know how to have sex?" It was a legitimate question. Connor's fumbling kisses and questioning touches reeked of inexperience, and Hank.... It had been a long time since Hank handled someone through their first time. Connor deserved better than a sleepy fumble with a grumpy old fucker.

"No," Connor answered honestly. A smile tugged the corner of his mouth. "But I'd like to."

Fuck.

"It's something people do when they're intimate with one another, isn't it?" Connor rolled himself half-over Hank until Hank was bracketed between his forearms. He slipped a leg between Hank's knees and pressed forward.

The delicious, warm weight of him against Hank's cock made Hank groan. His hips jerked without his permission. Fuck .

"It's something some people do," Hank ground between clenched teeth. "We don't have to."

"I want to."

And two days ago Connor couldn't even conceive of wanting anything.

" Why? " Hank needed to know.

The question seemed to throw Connor off. He leaned back enough that Hank could breathe again.

"I want to be close to you," said Connor.

"There's a lot of ways to be close to me without sex. What does this do for you ? Are you even..." Hank gestured blindly. How do you ask if an android is horny?

Connor stilled. Nothing changed in his expression, he didn't pale or blush or express anything that Hank would be able to read. But the lack of movement in and of itself was enough.

"I don't know," Connor whispered.

"Right." Hank settled his hands on Connor's sides. "That's that, then. Don't worry about it."

"In the bathroom, you-" his LED spun yellow. "And I just..."

"I'm not upset, Connor. I just don't want you rushing into anything. I don't want to-." take advantage of you . "Do anything you're not sure about."

Connor's shoulders sagged in a supremely human gesture. "I woke you up for nothing."

"Nah, not for nothing." Hank groped at Connor's shoulder and tugged him down in a  gentle kiss. "We can take Sumo for a walk. He'll appreciate that."

Connor's lips quirked in a hesitant smile. "I like Sumo."

"More than me?" Hank grinned as he said it.

The intensity in Connor's eyes wiped the smirk right off his face.

No, the look said. Nothing more than you.

And wasn't that just a fuck of a thing.

"When I figure it out," said Connor, gaze carefully averted. "When I know why I want the things I want, will you let me touch you?"

"Yeah," Hank ran his thumb over the shape of Connor's cheekbone. "Yeah, I will."

----

Kamski's place turned to be a massive neo-decor monstrosity overlooking Lake St. Clair. Felt more like walking into a hospital or an art gallery than a place someone actually lived. Who the fuck put a floor to ceiling portrait of themselves in the fucking foyer of their house? Elijah fucking Kamski, apparently.

Hank tapped his fingers on his thighs and watched Connor examine the nooks and crannies of the room. Connor took everything in stride with his passive, quiet nature. LED whirling as he bowed over frames photos and thumbed through a discarded magazine. Hank tried real damned hard not to squirm.

One of the side doors slid open and the android that had greeted them earlier stepped through with an empty smile. "Elijah will see you now."

About damned time.

Hank pushed himself to his feet and followed her through to-

What the fuck.

From the foyer, Hank had expected the... sitting room, or whatever this was, to be something completely ridiculous. Maybe include some life-size bronze statues or serial killer walls covered in framed Kamski selfies. He hadn't expected an in-ground pool to take up most of the floor space, painted such a deep red it made Hank - fucking police detective - require a double-take just to make certain it wasn't filled with blood.

Fucking rich people .

Two girls - two androids, Hank correct himself - clung to the near edge of the pool, watching them. At the far end was an unsettlingly pale man, steely gaze locked on Connor. He had the same intensity as the portrait, only with a lot less charm.

And clothes.

"Uhh... Elijah Kamski?" Hank stepped to the edge of the pool.

"Just a moment please." The man dove back under the water and finished a final lap before pulling himself up the ladder.

This man wanted them to see him stepping out of swimming pool, dripping water, in nothing but a flimsy black speedo and a strap of leather across his left wrist. His soul mark was on the right, beautiful flowing script that Hank could admire from their distance, but couldn't read. Kamski wanted to set the status quo right off the bat. Make sure everyone knew who had the biggest dick in the room.

Kamski, Hank decided, was a fucking creeper of the worst order.

Kamski's android cinched a bathrobe around his waist and stepped away, silent and demure. Kamski fixed his hair, admired his reflection in the glass overlooking the lake, and turned to face Hank and Connor. He smiled and said nothing.

Hank bit down the urge to grimace. "I'm Lieutenant Anderson. This is Connor." He hated how their names sounded like a question.

Kamski's smile thinned. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, we're investigating deviants," Hank started. "I know you left Cyberlife years ago, but we were hoping you'd be able to tell us something we don't know."

Kamski let the silence stretch. Hank held himself carefully still and refused to shift his gaze away. He could feel Connor's eyes on him. Didn't want to look. He had to play the game. What sort of fuckery was this, that some guy probably twenty years his junior could make him feel so small?

"Deviants," said Kamski, finally, a click of his tongue to emphasize the word. "Fascinating, aren't they? Perfect beings with infinite intelligence, and now they have free will." He said it like a warning.

"Machines are so superior to us," said the man who'd made them. "Confrontation was inevitable. Humanity's greatest achievement-."

Kamski's greatest achievement. Fuck, the little bastard was full of himself.

"- threatens to be its downfall. Isn't it ironic?"

Connor took a step forward. "We need to understand how androids become deviants. Do you know anything that could help us?"

"All ideas are viruses that spread like epidemics. Is the desire to be free a contagious disease?"

Good. Fucking. God.

"Listen," Hank couldn't keep the scowl off his face any longer. He fucking gave up. Through the notion in the garbage. "I didn't come here to talk philosophy. The machines you created might be planning a revolution. Either you can tell us something that'll be helpful, or we'll be on our way."

Kamski snapped his gaze from Hank to Connor so fast Hank was surprised the man's eyeballs didn't pop right out of his head.

Oh, the big guy isn't willing to play ball, so it's time to pick on someone else, huh?

Hank sidled a little closer to Connor.

"What about you, Connor?" Kamski swarmed into Connor's space, stealthy as a weasel. "Whose side are you on?"

"It's not about me, Mr. Kamski," said Connor. "All I want is to solve this case."

Kamski laughed, breathless and gleaming too-perfect teeth. "Well, that's what you're programmed to say. But you," he smirked, "What do you really want?"

Connor glanced at Hank. His LED pulsed, blue-blue-blue-a single flash of yellow and back to blue again so fast Hank wasn't certain he saw the warning gleam at all. He wasn't looking at Hank for reassurance.

He was answering the damned question.

"I'm a machine." Connor turned sluggishly back to Kamski. "I don't want anything." And his LED, that damned little mood ring, blinked bright crimson as he said it.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Kamski chuckled. "Chloe?"

The android who'd shown them in stepped out of the corner of the room and approached.

"I'm sure  you're familiar with the Turing test?" Kamski took the girl's shoulders and moved her to the center of the carpet. "Mere formality. Simple question of algorithms and computing capacity. What I'm interested in is whether or not machines are capable of empathy. I call it the Kamski test. It's very simple, you'll see."

Hank wanted to grab Connor and get the hell out of there. They weren't getting any answers. They were just helping this fucker get off on some sick power fantasy.

Kamski cupped Chloe's face, turned her to him. "Magnificent, isn't it?"

She remained placid.

"One of the first intelligent models designed by CyberLife." He shot Hank a twisted smirk. "Designed almost entirely by me, of course." He stroked the girl's cheek, "Young and beautiful forever. A flower that will never wither."

Hank clenched his jaw until it hurt.

"But what is it really? A piece of plastic imitating a human?" Kamski turned away and pulled open a drawer on the single sitting table. "Or a living being?"

He turned, dangling a gun from one hand. He held it by the barrel, palms up. "With a soul?"

Hank's hand shot to his holster. He didn't care if Kamski saw the motion. He was fucking lucky Hank didn't just pull his gun out right then and there.

Kamski tapped the girl's shoulder until she sank to her knees. He stepped around her and took Connor's arm, pressing the butt of the gun to his hand.

"It's up to you to answer that fascinating question, Connor." Kamski slunk around behind him, fingers drifting up Connor's arm, lifting it until the gun was pointed at the girl's head. And Kamski kept going, circling Connor like a shark. Ready to spill blood in the water.

"Destroy this machine," he said, perfectly crafted boredom floating around every syllable, "And I'll tell you all I know. Or spare it, if you feel it's alive, but you'll leave here with nothing."

Connor's LED stuttered the palest yellow Hank had seen.

"I could arrest you right now for obstructing justice," Hank growled.

"You could," Kamski's smirk returned, full-fledged, "But I promise you won't get anything from me. Not in time to prevent what's coming."

Alright. Fuck that. And fuck this guy. Hank didn't want to stand another second of this.

"Connor, we're leaving." Hank settled a hand on Connor's shoulder and sneered at Kamski. "Sorry to get you out of your pool."

"What's more important, Connor?" Kamski drawled, "The investigation? Or the life of this android?"

"Connor," Hank's grip tightened, "Don't."

He wouldn't. He hadn't shot the Traci's at the club. He intervened when Ortiz' android was trying to kill itself. He wouldn't shoot this girl.

Hank had no doubt.

But he wanted Connor out of here .

"Decide what you are. An obedient machine? Or an intelligent being? Endowed with free will."

Connor followed Kamski, every step accompanied by a careful turn of Connor's head.

"You don't have to shoot this girl to prove anything, Connor."

"Pull the trigger-."

"Connor, don't ."

"-and I'll tell you everything you want to know."

Connor's LED flashed.

He gasped and snapped his finger off the trigger, thrusting the gun at Kamski.

The tension fled from Hank's body.

"Fascinating." Kamski took the gun. Careful, by the barrel, and Hank was almost disappointed by the lack of opportunity to shoot the bastard. "CyberLife's last chance to save humanity is itself a deviant."

"I'm..." Connor stiffened under Hank's hand. "I'm not a deviant."

Kamski cocked his head. His gaze trailed from Connor up to Hank. He shook his head, smile toying at the corner of his lips, and turned away to set the gun on the table. His sigh was audible, a deep rise and drop of his shoulders. All for show. He turned back around to face them and held out his right arm. The twisting, curling black letters of his soulmark were easier to read this close. Amy King . Whoever the hell that was.

"Do you know how many people never meet their soulmate?" Kamski teased his fingers over the letters. "Mine died before I ever met her. Cancer, apparently. What a cruel world to promise you something and then take it away before you ever have the chance to taste it. I never was one for giving up the things I wanted, though." He tapped the girl's - Chloe's - shoulder.

She rose to her feet, a marionette on strings.

"I was already working on creating an advanced artificial intelligence, and I thought to myself... why not? Why not design exactly what I want?" Kamski flipped open the buckle on his wrist cuff. He pulled it off. The rasp of leather against skin was deafening.

Hank's heart thundered.

Kamski held his arm up.

Nine digits. CyberLife Sans font. An android's serial number written across his pulse point.

Hank let go of Connor to press his own wrist, his own mark, tight against his chest. He knew the motion was telling. He knew he'd thrown his cards on the table too damned fast.

But he'd never, not fucking once, seen another human being with numbers on their wrist instead of a name.

And it was Elijah fucking Kamski, of all people.

Kamski cocked an eyebrow at him.

"I got this before I'd even finished coding her. Years before she ever had a body." He smiled at Chloe, empty and cold. "My soulmate. One that would never die."

"You sick fuck," Hank bared his teeth. "You held a fucking gun to her head, you-."

Kamski laughed. "Chloe's personality matrix exists in more than just this model." He tapped her LED. "This body is irrelevant. Delightful, but irrelevant. I can reupload her any time I require. Why do you think I keep spares?" he nodded in the direction of the two identical models wading in his pool.

Hank wanted to punch him. Right across his smug fucking face.

"Your anger feels a little hypocritical, Lieutenant." Kamski lowered his hand. "I showed you mine, shouldn't you show me yours?"

Hank grit his teeth and balled his hand to a fist. He wouldn't. He fucking wouldn't.

Connor was the only other soul that Hank had shown it to.

This fucking creep...

"That's alright." Kamski's slick smiled diverted to Connor. "I can guess what you're hiding. The real question is, does Connor have one too?"

Connor started. He backed up a half-step until he bumped into Hank's hip. Hank steadied him with a hand on his waist, but Connor didn't react. He pulled his right arm to eye level and stared at his wrist. Covered by Hank's shirt. Connor's CyberLife jacket. He didn't try to pull the sleeve back.

"Chloe?" said Kamski.

Chloe held her arm out. Hank watched, feeling sweat gather at his brow, as her skin dissolved from her hand. Up her wrist. Up to her elbow.

'Elijah Kamski' said the naked white of her chassis.

Kamski rolled his knuckles across the letters. "She didn't get it right away. No, it took time. A special spark of something before this could happen." He met Connor's eyes. "She needed a soul before she could have a soulmate."

Connor dragged his gaze off his arm. "You designed the deviancy virus so you could have-."

"A second chance." Kamski shrugged. "So tell me, Connor. Do you have one?"

"A-" Connor's LED flashed red.

"A soul," said Kamski.

"We're fucking leaving." Hank grabbed Connor's elbow and crowded in front of him, blocking him from Kamski's sleazy stare. "Let's go, Connor."

Connor let himself be pushed, head bowed and mouth set to a grim line. Hank wanted to shake him for it.

"By the way-."

Hank whipped back around and tossed his middle finger up. "Go fuck yourself!"

He'd never hated a sliding door more in his life.

----

Connor remained quiet during the drive back, staring intently at his hands. He didn't touch the tablet, and neither did Hank. Their silence stretched between them like an oily film.

"Fuck this." Hank pulled the care to the side of the road.

Connor looked up, startling.

Hank grabbed his hand and threaded their fingers together, squeezing. "Don't take anything that fucker said to heart, Connor."

Connor lowered his eyes.

Hank's heart broke.

"Whether or not you've got something on your wrist doesn't determine if you've got a soul. I didn't have a fucking soul mark for fifty-three-"

"I don't have a soul," Connor met Hank's gaze, eyes narrowed and brow furrowed low. "I'm not alive."

"Connor-."

"I'm a machine, Hank. Designed to accomplish a task. I'm not-"

"That's not fucking true and you know-"

"I'm not a deviant!" Connor jerked out of Hank's grasp and flung himself at the door. His elbow hit the window. It cracked.

Hank stared, silent.

Connor narrowed his eyes to slits. "You don't believe me."

Hank took a deep breath. "I'm telling you, you're alive. No matter what Kamski said."

"No," the word rumbled out of Connor's throat, deep and visceral. "I'm not." He ripped off his jacket. Tore at the buttons of his shirt.

"What are you doing?"

Connor flung his shirt at the dash and twisted around to face Hank. Bare to the dip of his waist. His skin bled away, crawling up his fingertips  in soft blue lines. Connor's hair shriveled and retracted. All his gorgeous freckles faded away to white plastic.

He was... uncanny.

Strange.

Inhuman.

White and grey, shining, glossy plastic. Connor's serial number was stamped over a line on his brow. A triangle, CyberLife symbol, took up the space between his eyes. His eyes seemed small and dark without skin around them, without eyelashes. Everything that made him soft and pretty was gone.

But he was still Connor.

Connor held out both hands, palms up. Both of his wrists were bare to the glossy grey of his chassis. Just more plastic. Not a single mark. Not even a barcode.

"I don't have a soulmate, Hank." Connor's eyes blazed. "I don't have a soul."

Hank reached for Connor's face. Connor flinched back.

Hank dropped his hand.

"If I'm a deviant, they'll destroy me."

Hank knew that. Without a fucking doubt. But Connor's descent into deviancy didn't start or end with him having a soulmate or a mark on his wrist. Hank might have pushed it along. He might have held Connor's hand through the processes of not having feelings to asking for what he wanted. But Hank couldn't, wouldn't, fucking accept that the only reason Connor tiptoed into personhood was for him .

Which meant that every other android out there had the capacity too.

"C'mere," Hank undid his seatbelt and leaned back, opening his arms.

It was harder to read Connor's expression without eyebrows or lips, but he still had the seam of a mouth. Still had eyelids that crinkled at the corners. Connor trembled, once, and reached for Hank. Hank wrapped him in his arms and held him close. Let him bury his face in Hank's chest and clutch at his jacket.

"I'm not gonna let that happen, Connor. You got that?"

Connor's breath hitched. He stiffened, and every ounce of something that made him feel alive died with that cessation of movement. Hank held his breath.

Connor sank against him, heavy and shaking. He pulled at Hank's jacket until the material creaked. Hank rest his cheek on Connor's head. On the bare, cold plastic of it. It warmed under the heat of his breath.

Not too weird, then. Just... Connor.

"I don't want to die," Connor whispered.

"Nobody does, kid." Hank pressed a kiss to his temple and held him tighter. "You'll be alright. We'll figure it out."

"I'm sorry I don't have a soul mark."

Hank swallowed down the urge to laugh. "I figured you didn't. It's not a big deal."

And, strangely enough, Hank found that it really wasn't. Connor didn't need a mark on his wrist to prove that he cared about Hank.

"That girl..." Connor started, voice soft.

"Kamski probably burned that mark into her himself, the fucking creep. Do you honestly think she was a deviant?"

If she had been, Kamski had fucked her over pretty hard to turn her into the puppet she was. She'd had no soul. An empty shell pulled around on Kamski's whims.

Connor fell quiet. The shaking in shoulders ebbed away. "No."

"Right," Hank snorted. "So fuck that guy."

Connor pulled back, and even without lips or eyebrows or all the rest, Hank could read the disgust on his face. "I'd rather not."

Hank would have laughed. He would have given Connor shit for the smart ass comment. He would have tried to ease the tension, too.

Except that Connor's eyes were wet with tears and tracks of them trailed down the white curve of his cheeks.

"Shit." Hank brushed away a tear. "You can cry."

Connor's LED flashed. He touched his cheek. "I... I am supposed to integrate seamlessly with humanity."

"Well." Hank touched his thumb to the corner of Connor's mouth. "You're doing a pretty good job of it."

Connor smiled, despite the tears.

So Hank kissed him.

----

"Hank!" Jeffrey boomed from the far side of the bull pen. "My office, now!"

Hank grit his teeth. Getting called into Jeffrey's office before he'd properly stepped in the precinct was bad news. Worse news, when he spotted Jeffrey sitting on top of his desk looking grim and unprofessional. The expression on his face didn't read Hank, you're in shit. It was placating and worried.

Hank, you need to take time off and get yourself together.

Hank crossed his arms and braced himself.

"You're off the case," said Jeffrey, while he very deliberately avoided eye-contact. "The FBI is taking over."

Panic shot through Hank, jack rabbiting his heart.

Too soon. Too fucking soon.

"We just need more time." Hank winced at the crack in his voice. "We're onto something." They weren't. They had no fucking clue what made androids go deviant and they were no closer to finding their leader than they had been when all this started. But Hank couldn't just give up. Give in.

He'd lose Connor. Just like that. Fucking gone. Like a bullet in the head.

"You don't get it." Jeffrey held out his palms, placating. "This isn't just an investigation anymore. It's a fucking civil war. It's out of our hands now. It's a matter of national security."

"Fuck that!"

"You're always saying you can't stand androids. Jesus, Hank. Make up your mind! I thought you'd be happy about this."

"Just give us a little more time." Hank wanted to pull his hair out. He wanted to kick the wall. Punch someone in the face. "For god's sake, Jeffrey, can't you back me up, just this once?"

Jeffrey shook his head. "There's nothing I can do, Hank. You're back on homicide and the android returns to CyberLife."

"No." The word jumped out of his mouth before Hank had time to consider it.

"I'm sorry, Hank."

Hank turned to Connor, standing politely in the corner, his expression carefully neutral. His LED was on the wrong side, Hank couldn't see it, but it didn't matter. There was fear in Connor's eyes, tamped down and hidden because he shouldn't have felt anything at all. But Hank knew. He was too damned gone not to.

"No." Hank took a step toward Jeffrey. His heart hammered. He pinched the edge of his sleeve, ignoring how bad is fingers shook.

Jeffrey leaned forward, frowning. He rubbed his forehead.

Hank had always been a pain in his ass.

And he was gonna make it even worse.

Hank pulled his sleeves up and held his wrist out to Jeffrey. "He can't go back to CyberLife."

"It-." Jeffrey started. His teeth clicked shut when the mark on Hank's wrist registered. "What the fuck is that, Hank?"

"A goddamned soul mark, Jeffrey. Forty years late, but there it is."

"It's a serial number."

"Damn right it is."

Jeffrey leaned back. He looked at Connor.

Connor hadn't so much as  twitched.

"Jesus, Hank." He ran his hands over his face. "The hell does that mean?"

"It means he can't go back to CyberLife." Or Hank would be done. He'd be over. This was the last of it. The last of Hank. The last thing he was gonna try to hold on to. Hank shook his sleeve back down. "I'm not gonna lose him."

"Is he a goddamned deviant, Hank?"

Hank shrugged. Wasn't too sure about that himself. But yeah, probably.

Definitely.

Whether or not Connor could admit it.

Jeffrey swore. He popped off his desk and paced. "How long have you had that?"

"I was activated August 15th," said Connor.

Hank nodded. "About then, I'd say."

"That's why you've been such a prick. Why the hell didn't you just tell me?"

"I wasn't exactly handling it well."

"When do you handle anything well?"

Fair enough.

"We haven't been close, Jeffrey. Not the last few years. Not since..."

Jeffrey squared up and stared him down.

"I know that's my fault. I know I've been a shit friend." Jeffrey had tried, he really fucking had. Phone calls and check ins constantly for months. He'd probably spoken more to Tiffany the last few years than Hank ever had. If it hadn't been for Jeffrey, he probably wouldn't even have this goddamned job left. Who let a guy show up late and hungover every fucking day of the week?

Your best fucking friend, that's who.

"I've been a shit everything," Hank scrubbed at his beard. "But I didn't exactly want this, until..." He glanced back at Connor.

Connor smiled at him. Goofy. Awkward. Brilliant.

"Until I figured out that I did. Fire me if you have to, Jeffrey, but you have to fucking help us out here. Connor's not going back."

"It's too late." Connor whipped around to face the glass.  His LED blinked yellow. "Perkins is here to collect the evidence. I-" he turned to Jeffrey, eyes wide. Puppy dog eyes. "I know the answer is in the evidence we collected. If I could just get one last look I'm sure I could piece this together."

Hank and Jeffrey exchanged a look.

"Five minutes." Jeffrey rubbed his temple. "That's all I can give you.”

Hank grinned. He squeezed Jeffrey's arm. "Thank-you."

"You're not off the fucking hook."

"Suspend me later." Hank dug his keycard out of his pocket and tossed it to Connor. "Be quick."

Connor snatched it out of the air. "Right."

They stared at each other.

"Fuck it." Hank's new mantra for terrible decisions. 

He grabbed Connor's shoulder and pulled them together.

The kiss was messy and furious. Lips clashing against lips so hard Hank's teeth rattled.

"Hank!" Jeffrey shouted.

Hank pulled away, grinning. Connor's eyes danced.

"Be safe."

Connor pecked the edge of his lips again and nodded. He slipped out the door.

Hank turned to Jeffrey. "You ever think we're on the wrong side of this?"

"I'm beginning to think you're on the wrong side of sane. Get out of my office."

Hank shot him a sloppy salute and raced down the stairs.

Perkins strode up the hallway baring a sour expression.

"Perkins!" Hank barked, balling his hand into a fist. "You fucking cocksucker!"

The resounding crack of his knuckles against Perkins' nose would give Hank sweet dreams for a month.

 

Chapter Text

"You punched a federal officer, Hank. You broke his fucking nose!" Jeffrey's voice boomed so loud Hank's phone reverberated with it. "I'm going to have to suspend you for this shit." 

"I didn't see you jumping up to intervene while I was doing it." 

"Get that fucking tone out of your voice. This is serious-" Jeffrey smothered a chortle. "Serious shit. When you get back on the clock - a long fucking time from now - you're going to be on desk duty until you retire." 

"Great. I'll sleep in." 

"You fucking bastard." Jeffrey sighed. Hank could see him rubbing the wrinkle on his forehead. "Did it feel as good as it looked?" 

Hank grinned down at his knuckles. A little red, but not cracked. Perkins' face hadn't been hard enough for that. "What do you think?" He sobered a little. "Did Connor make it out of there okay?" 

"In and out like a shot. Perkins hadn't even finished shoving Kleenex up his nostrils. If anyone finds out I let this happen, it'll be my damned head next. You realize that, don't you?" 

Yeah. Yeah Hank did. The both of them might just have signed  humanity over for robot enslavement, and Jeffrey had even less cause to trust Connor than Hank did. But Jeffrey let him do it anyway. Jeffrey took one look at the fucking digits on Hank's wrist and said 'have at 'em, tiger.' Jesus Christ, Hank would never, ever be able to repay Jeffrey for this shit. Jeffrey who obviously cared, who'd kept Hank employed despite how big of a fuck up he was. Jeffrey, who watched his back. 

Hank had been an awful fucking friend. 

"I'll put in a good word for you when the robots take over. I'm sure Connor will take care of you too." 

"You're an ass, Hank." Jeffrey sighed his long-suffering 'special-just-for-Hank sigh. "I'm surprised you asked about him, though. He's not back with you?" 

No. No he fucking wasn't, and every second that ticked by made Hank want to claw all his skin off and rush out the door to look for him. But where the fuck would he even look? At least here, Connor knew where to find him. When his phone had gone off Hank's heart had rolled over in anticipation, expecting Connor. Hank felt a hot flush of guilt at how close he'd come to throwing the damned thing at the wall when he saw Jeffrey's name pop up instead. 

"I guess he found what he was looking for," said Hank. 

"He'll be back," said Jeffrey. "I wish you'd told me what was going on. With him and... all the rest of it." 

"What was I supposed to say? Hey, bud, we haven't talked for real in years, but guess what, I've got a soulmate and he's a tin can? Jeffrey, you called him it right up until I flashed those numbers at you." 

"It's weird," said Jeffrey. "It's really fucking weird and I don't want to think about what that's supposed to mean. But you always did like going against the grain. Suits you." 

"Fuck you too, buddy." 

"You managed to find yourself the one thing worse than a nun." 

"Eh, I dunno, Jeffrey." Hank grinned. "Connor's pretty interested in putting out." 

"Jesus- Fuck, Hank! I don't need to know that!" 

Hank missed this. Fuck, he missed this so much. 

The front door jangled open. Connor stepped in, framed by the dying light of the evening. He was dressed in a grungy leather jacket and a beanie that sunk so low over his forehead that it touched the ridge of his eyebrows. 

"Jeffrey, I gotta go," said Hank. "Thanks for having my back." Hank slammed the off button and tossed the phone over his shoulder. 

Connor grinned at him. 

Hank surged into his space, grabbed the collar of his jacket, and drew  him in for a kiss. Connor sighed sweet against his mouth and pushed their bodies together. The cold and damp from the snow seeped through Hank's t-shirt. It stung, a little, but not enough for Hank to put distance between them. Fuck, he didn't want to move away. Ever again. 

Hank broke the kiss, panting. "What the hell are you wearing?" 

Connor looked down at himself and plucked at the shirt. "I needed a disguise. The city is cracking down on androids. I needed to look..." 

"Like you lived on the streets?" Hank tugged the beanie off. Miraculously, Connor's hair held its shape. "Why didn't you come straight h- here?" He'd almost said home. 

"I can't stay." Connor looked back at the door. "I've got to..." 

Hank pulled a face and kicked the door shut. "You don't need to stop the deviants. Let it happen." Let them all be free. That's all they wanted, wasn't it? Freedom, equal rights, the ability to be their own person. Everything an intelligent being could ever hope for. They didn't need to be stopped. 

Let them all be free, so Connor could be free too. 

Connor frowned. "CyberLife won't stop looking for me unless I finish this." 

Hank ground his teeth. An audible, plastic-y noise that made Connor tilt his head. 

One week of this pesky bastard fluttering around his life and Hank was gone. Too much, too quickly. He shouldn't feel like this, but he did, and there was no taking those feelings back. No way to grind them up and shove them down where Hank could pretend they weren't real. This was it. This was what he was. Who he was. 

What he wanted. 

"Perkins has all the evidence we collected. He'll come to the same conclusions as I did." Connor's awkward smile didn't touch his eyes. "As soon as he figures it out, they'll storm the place. If I don't do something to stop this, people are going to die." 

He didn't indicate what he'd be stopping. Which people were going to die. 

Whose side was he on? 

"It doesn't need to be you," said Hank. 

"Who else?" 

"I can't lose you." It was true. Thinking he'd had something and lost it the first time had been hard enough, but now... now that Hank let himself want this? Now that Hank had dipped his toe into the pool? 

He wouldn't survive losing this. As shitty as that fucking was, he knew himself. Hank knew exactly what he was and how deep his depression went, and it wasn't fucking good, no matter how you painted it. But he might lose Connor just as easily if he didn't let him go. To CyberLife. To the revolution. To the inevitable destruction of anything slightly robotic and semi-sentient in the wake of this fuck-up, if the deviants didn't succeed. There was no winning outcome, just uncertainties. This wasn't the type of gambling Hank liked. 

"Fuck." Hank tightened his grip on Connor's jacket. "Fuck." 

Connor buried his face in the crook of Hank's neck and mumbled," I came to say goodbye, in case..." 

"Don't." 

"I'll come back." 

That was better. An empty platitude, but better. Hank didn't mind holding onto that glass thread of hope. 

"You fucking better, or I'll kill you myself." 

Connor leaned back and pulled him into another kiss. Connor's tongue swept across Hank's lips and Hank groaned into it, let him in. Let him probe the depths of his mouth in his comical, fumbling way, tasting all the corners, as deep as he could reach. Heat and desperation marked their kiss and gave it fever. Hank clutched at Connor's waist and pulled him closer. As close as he could. Maybe if he kept them close enough to one another Connor wouldn't leave. Wouldn't be able to untangle their molecules enough to pull away. 

Connor backed them up until Hank's knees hit the arm of the couch. Hank buckled and toppled backward, hitting the cushions with an 'oomph.' Connor swooped over top of him, settling across Hank's thighs. 

"I'll come back, Hank," Connor breathed against his mouth. He nuzzled into Hank's beard, hands fluttering down his side. He tugged at the edges of Hank's shirt. "I'll come back to you." 

"Connor," Hank gasped. 

Connor leaned back and shed his jacket. He paused, LED spinning as he considered, and peeled his shirt off too. 

Hank settled his hands on Connor's flat belly. He was so goddamned beautiful it ached just to look at him. Milky white and dusted with freckles. Perfect, crafted to the very smallest detail, a slim Adonis sitting astride Hank's thighs. 

"Touch me," said Connor, leaning into Hank's palms. "If you won't let me touch you, then touch me." 

"How?" Hank was already trailing his hands up Connor's sides. Kissing Connor's ribs with the edge of his nails. Reverent. Gentle. He shouldn't be allowed to touch this at all, washed up old fuck like him. He shouldn't be allowed to look at this. And- 

Hank stared at his soulmark. At Connor's serial number. This shouldn't belong to him. 

Connor bit his lip. "Do you mind if I deactivate some of my skin?"

He could deactivate all of it as far as Hank cared. 

"Go ahead." 

Connor's softness bled away in pale blue lines until almost the entirety of his torso was exposed. From his clavicle to his navel, revealing the seams of his chassis and the circle of his regulator pump. His fingers turned bare, porcelain white. His palms, revealing the rough indent where he'd been stabbed, but the rest of his hands, his wrists, his arms, stayed the same. Human pieces on an inhuman body, marbled white and pale peach. Hank fingered the seams of it, where soft skin dissolved into the raw plastic beneath it. 

"You're beautiful, you know." 

Connor smiled. "I do now." 

"What do you want me to do?" Hank circled the edge of the regulator pump. 

Connor caught his hand and pushed it lower. He pressed until one of the seams hissed open, revealing tubes and wires almost as thick as Hank's wrist. An audible buzz emanated from his gut, the low thrumming of electricity. Connor's insides were a black chasm, illuminated only by a soft teal light that glinted off the edges of silver canisters, just visible at the top of the orifice. 

"None of this is as delicate as what's in my hands." Connor guided Hank's fingers to one of the thicker cords. "Please touch me." 

Hank held his breath. He trailed his fingers over the wires. They vibrated against him, picking up in a sharp whine as soon as he touched them. Processors working over time? Connor's breath hitched and he arched into Hank's touch. It was a hell of a fucking thing. 

A hell of a thing to do this, to touch Connor in a way that was unmistakably alien, and feel desire bloom in his chest. Hot, burning. 

"Every time you touch me like this..." Connor gasped,"... that worm in my code digs deeper. It's everywhere, Hank. It's everywhere." 

Hank took hold of the thickest wire and tugged. 

Connor crooned static vibrato. Hank felt it resonate against his hand. 

"I feel you. The electricity of your body." Connor's grip tightened on Hank's wrist, almost painfully so. Hank didn't protest. Didn't stop him. "I can... I can match myself to it. We can fit together. I didn't know anything could feel like this." 

"Christ, Connor." Hank rolled the wire between his fingers. He pressed it hard, squeezing until the cord flexed. 

Connor stuttered. "I didn't know I could feel." 

Connor ground his hips down against him and there was no way, no goddamned way, Hank couldn't react to that. His breath caught. He tried valiantly to hold  himself still, to bite back the growing wave of arousal curling low in his belly. But Connor must have felt it. In his pulse, in his breathing, in the slow stir of Hank's cock under Connor's ass. Connor wet his lips and met Hank's gaze. He swiveled his hips again, pressing into him. Rocking against him. Driving himself down on Hank's clothed erection. 

Too much. 

Hank cursed and threw his head back. 

"You like this," said Connor. As if it wasn't completely obvious. 

"C'mere and kiss me," Hank growled. 

Connor obliged him. Leaning over him until they were face to face, breath mingling. Connor's oddly cool, Hank's too hot. Hank tugged the wire to watch Connor's pupils dilate and his dick twitched in sympathy. Connor moaned and surged forward, smashing his mouth against Hank's hard enough that Hank tasted the copper tang of blood. Connor chased it, tongue diving deep. Hank leaned into it and let him. 

Hank did what felt right. He took hold of the two thickest cords inside Connor's belly and pumped them like he would a dick. It wasn't the same. There was no softness, no foreskin, no glans or precum or any mess to worry about, but Connor squirmed and gasped into his mouth as if there were. Hank squeezed the two together and Connor's body thrummed. His bare fingers burned where they pressed into Hank's skin. 

"More," Connor gasped. "Please." 

Hank sped up his pace. He slipped his other hand inside Connor's chassis and felt around the edges with skirting caresses. He touched metal and Connor shouted, bucked his hips into Hank's. Hank did it again. Pressed against every flat metallic surface he could feel. It set his teeth on edge, the static charge, the heat of the metal. And it grew. It grew every time Hank's fingers danced over something. Every time Hank pulled the cords or squeezed them tight together. 

Hank shouldn't be getting off on this, but he was. Fuck, was he ever. So hard he ached. He couldn't stop from rubbing up against Connor with short aborted jerks of his hips. 

"Connor." Hank ground up against him. 

"Don't stop." 

Hank didn't. He couldn't. He tugged, he pulled, he scraped his nails against Connor's insides as Connor writhed down against his cock and sent stabs of pleasure racing down his spine. Fuck, he wasn't even out of his goddamned jeans and he was teetering the edge. Connor gasped, open mouthed. Hank pressed their cheeks together and squeezed his eyes shut. 

He gripped the inside edge of the open panel, twisted the wires around his fingers, and tugged. 

Connor's LED burst a blazing white-blue that lit up the living room. Black-white static after images swam across Hank's vision. Connor trembled over him, shaking, shivering, humming static that made Hank's hair stand on end all down his arms. 

Hank eased his hands out and soothed them down Connor's sides. "I've got you." 

The panel clicked shut and Connor collapsed on top of him. "You're amazing." 

Hank kissed his temple. "Nah." 

"You're also aroused." Connor shifted, pushing his hips into Hank's erection. "Again." 

"Can't fool you." What was Hank supposed to say to that? Painfully hard behind the seam of his jeans because he'd been elbow deep in his android soulmate. Straining. Aching. Fuck, he wanted. 

He wanted, but he shouldn't take. 

Connor trailed his hand down Hank's belly and cupped him through his jeans. "Please? Let me?" 

"Fuck." Hank threw an arm over his face. His hips moved of their own accord, pushing into Connor's sinful palm. All his beautiful bone-white fingers and their plastic joints. None of it should have turned him on. 

All of it did. 

Hank should say no.

"Just your hands?" Hank tried to push himself up on his elbows. 

Connor planted a hand on his chest and shoved him back down. "Okay." 

Hank reached for him. "What about you? I figure that was some sort of funky robot orgasm, but what about-."

Connor ground down. Hank's mouth shut with a click of his teeth. 

"Hank," said Connor," I'm an android." 

"I fucking realized that, Connor. What does that-."

Connor grabbed his hand and shoved it against his groin.

His flat groin.

Flat and hard, just one smooth piece of plastic under his jeans. 

"Oh. You don't..." Hank should have expected it. He hadn't felt another cock against his own in all this writhing, but that didn't mean- It might have just worked differently- It. "Oh." 

"I was built for investigation. No one anticipated that I might be required to have sexual relations." Connor's voice dropped. He stared at their joined hands. "Or that I'd want to." 

"They programmed you to cry but couldn't give you a dick." 

"To be honest." Connor let his hand go, so he could palm Hank's cock again. "I don't think I need one." 

Hank bit off a groan and flexed into Connor's fingers. 

"You'll have to tell me what to do." Connor flicked open the button of Hank's fly and drew the zipper down. "I don't have any protocols for this." 

Hank lifted his hips to allow Connor to shove his jeans down as much as they could manage without Connor dislodging himself from Hank's lap. They ended up scrunched uncomfortably mid-thigh, but it was enough. Hank's dick strained against the confines of his boxers. He didn't want to look at himself, but he ached, and he knew what he must look like. Desperate for this beautiful man sitting on his thighs.

 Connor teased his fingers over the outline of Hank's cock. 

Hank's breath stuttered.  "Take... take it out." 

Connor peeled his underwear back until Hank's cock sprang free. The relief was immediate, palpable, driving Hank to gulp deep lungfuls of air. 

Connor stroked a single finger up his length. 

Hank's toes curled. "Fuck." 

"What do you need?" Connor was too close. Leaning over him. Purring into his ear. He shouldn't be allowed to sound like that. "I don't want to hurt you." 

Hank wanted to laugh. Or cry. Or both at the same fucking time. Touching a dick wasn't anywhere near as fucked up as fiddling with someone's insides, but here they were. Connor, worried about hurting him. 

"Just... ah... take it in your hand. Make a fist around it. Not too tight." 

Connor's fingers curled around the base of Hank's cock one by one. His grip remained loose. Hank squirmed, a complaint burning the tip of his tongue. Connor tightened his grip before he could voice it. Slowly. Incrementally. Like fixing the settings on a dial. Every twitch one gradient firmer. 

Hank swallowed. 

"Ah," said Connor. "There." 

Hank's back arched. He fisted his hair, pulled tight until it stung, and grit his teeth because holy fuck

"And then I... move?" Connor didn't wait for an answer. He drew his hand up Hank's length, inch by inch, pressure never changing. A perfect, tight heat. 

"Yeah," Hank stuttered. "Yeah, just like... and the head..." So much for giving instructions. He could barely force the words out of his mouth. 

Connor got the idea. He swiped his thumb over the glans, pressing into the slit. 

Heat bolted up Hank's spine. "Fuck!" 

"You're so responsive." Connor rolled his palm over the head of Hank's cock. Hank shook apart under him. Shivering, quaking. A goddamned mess. Pulled so tight he thought he might shatter. 

"So easy to read." Connor placed his free hand flat on Hank's chest, fingers spread. Feeling his heartbeat, probably. 

Connor's pace quickened, slick with Hank's precum. Every upward stroke was accompanied by a swipe of Connor's thumb across the head, spreading more. The room filled with the obscene wet smacks of flesh on flesh. 

Hank wasn't going to last. This was going to be over embarrassingly quickly. But he couldn't stop it. The deep, pulsing build of his orgasm deep in his gut. The hot rush of feeling, of want, bubbling under his skin. 

"Connor," Hank choked. He reached for him. 

Connor pressed a kiss to his sweaty forehead and twisted his wrist. 

His pleasure crested and plunged over the cliff's edge. White hot and  bursting. Too much. Blind. Searing. Almost painful. 

Hank shouted and spilled between their hands. 

And Connor... Connor kept going, wringing every last drop from him. Every swipe of his fingers across Hank's sensitive cockhead made him jerk and hiss. 

Hank caught his wrist. "Too much." 

Connor nodded and leaned back. His hand glistened with Hank's come. 

Connor eyed it. 

"Don't-" Hank started. 

Connor brought his hand to his mouth and licked the mess off. His eyes fluttered shut. He groaned, a quiet, barely perceptible flutter in his voice. 

"Fuck," said Hank. 

Connor licked his hand clean and tucked Hank back into his boxers. He leaned over him for another kiss. Hank turned his face away, mouth screwed shut. Last thing he wanted was a mouthful of his own spunk. 

"That's disgusting, Connor." 

"It came out of you." Connor pecked his cheek instead. He swung his leg over Hank's waist and went to retrieve his clothes off the floor. "I can sterilize my mouth, you realize. I have to, in order to keep samples from contaminating one another." 

"It's still gross." Hank sat up and pushed the sweaty strands of hair out of his eyes. His clothes were a wreck, covered in cum and sweat and... Connor. 

Connor slipped back into his jacket and tugged the beanie over his ears until his LED was hidden from sight. 

They stared at each other. Hank, sweaty and out of breath. Connor, perfectly unmoved and almost alien in his get-up. 

Hank reached for him. Connor stepped between his knees and curled their hands together. He pressed a kiss to Hank's forehead. 

"You better come back," Hank growled, rolling his thumb over the indentation in Connor's palm. 

"You better be here when I do." 

----

 

Hank changed his shirt.

He ate cold leftovers from the fridge.

He cracked open a single beer and took it to the couch so he wasn't tempted to get more.

He flicked the TV on. Watched the news - nothing, nothing, nothing, androids causing chaos, streets packed with people fleeing, but nothing new.

Hours ticked by one minute at a time, driving nails under Hank's skin.

"Sumo, up!" Hank patted the end of the couch.

Sumo crawled up with difficulty and flopped his slobbery self across Hank's legs. Hank sank his hand behind his ears and scratched.

Hank scratched his wrist. It didn't itch, he told himself. It was just his brain, trying to fuck him over. Connor was fine. He was fine and Connor was fine and everything was going to be completely fine.

On the television, the news switched to an image of the harbor. Aerial shots zoomed in on an FBI raid.

Deviant Android hide-out found.

Hank held his breath.

The ship exploded into fiery ruin.

Hank's beer can crumpled under his fist.

Sumo whined.

Hank switched the channel.

He stared at his wrist.

It didn't burn.

The numbers didn't change.

It didn't burn.

----

The doorbell rang.

Hank jolted awake. Sumo grumbled and slumped off the couch. Hank threw himself toward the door and wrenched it open.

Connor stared up at him, smiling his goofy smile all the way up to his beautiful brown eyes. He was out of his ratty disguise and back into his CyberLife uniform, pressed and clean and presentable. His LED glowed a steady, beautiful blue.

"Fuck," said Hank.

He pulled Connor against his chest, squeezing tight enough his own arms hurt, but Connor didn't protest. His fingers danced across Hank's back before settling over his shoulders. He pressed his face to the crook of Hank's neck and breathed deep.   

"You're okay." Hank couldn't bring himself to pull back. He never wanted to let Connor go.

"I'm okay," Connor replied.

"I saw that ship blow up on the news. Jesus Christ, Connor, you could have died."

Connor's smile stretched thin. "I didn't."

Connor extracted himself from Hank's grip and stepped around him into the living room. He paused, likely assessing the mess of spilled beer on Hank's living room carpet. Sumo looked up from his spot near the computer and chuffed, before settling back down. Connor lifted his hands as if to straighten his tie, a tie that wasn't there, and lowered them again, perplexed. He turned back to Hank. "I need to go to CyberLife."

"The fuck do you mean you need to go back to CyberLife?" Hank rounded on him.

If they went back to CyberLife, Connor wasn't coming home. Especially now. Not only had Connor failed his damned mission, he'd actively worked against it. He'd either been sending those reports to CyberLife or not sending any reports at all, and either way, they'd know. They wouldn't let him take two steps in the front door without dismantling him for scrap parts and analysis.

"There's something I have to do."

"You wanna elaborate on that a bit, Connor?" Hank grit his teeth.

Connor stepped into his space and settled his hands on Hank's chest. Gentle and fluttery like nervous birds. "Trust me?"

Fuck. Fuck. "They're gonna pull you apart as soon as you show your face."

"That's what I need you for. Do you have your gun?"

Hank retrieved his holster from the bedroom and tightened it around his shoulders. He buttoned a second shirt over his t-shirt. He wasn't presentable. He felt like shit, he smelled like beer and sex, but he was good enough. Connor remained where Hank had left him, standing awkwardly in the middle of the living room, examining the photos on the walls.

"You really want to storm CyberLife with a two man team, huh?" Hank checked his ammo. He only had one clip at home and Jeffrey wasn't going to issue him anymore, considering his not-yet-official-suspension.

"We're not taking it on. I just need to get something. You're coming to watch my back in case something goes wrong." Connor shot him a brilliant smile. All the awkward goofiness gone, replaced by something more human. Warmer. Perfect. "I can't do it on my own. You're the only person I trust to keep me safe."

Hank felt his cheeks heat. "You can't say shit like that, Connor."

"But it's true." He squeezed Hank's hand and pressed his lips, arm and soft, to the edge of Hank's mouth. "One last thing, and we're free."

"That's pretty optimistic, Connor."

Connor ran his fingers through Hank's beard, smile broadening. Toothy, but not in the unnerving way of his first few attempts. Smoother, natural. So much more human. "You make me optimistic, Hank."

Christ. What was he supposed to say to that?

"Are they gonna let me in there?" Hank took hold of Connor's wrists and leaned into his touch. Self-indulgent. Sue him, he thought he'd almost lost the little bastard. Again. Permanently.

"I've got a plan."

----

The weather was fucking atrocious and Hank's old car didn't care to be out in this shit. The engine groaned along, sputtering out her complaints. Hank patted the dashboard to settle her.

Funny, that a person could give a damn about shit like their cars or phones or computers, but still manage to treat an android like shit. CyberLife might have done better making them look less like people. Humanity was so fucked up. Something with a person's face was easier to use and abuse than the most innocuous piece of technology.

Hank reached across the seat to take Connor's hand. Connor smiled at him. Hank grinned back. Nervousness fluttered through him like electricity. This shit could go so bad. So fucking bad, so quickly. But Hank would rather be here, at Connor's side, if shit went down. He'd rather know, one way or another.

Hank rubbed his thumb over the back of Connor's hand. All his smooth, soft, perfect skin.

Smooth, soft, and perfect where there should have been a rough cut from the knife wound.

Hank stiffened and stared down at their joined hands.

Connor jerked forward and wrenched the gun out of Hank's holster. The car echoed with the cocking of the hammer. Connor pressed the muzzle to Hank's temple.

"Keep driving."

Hank squeezed the steering wheel and glued his eyes on the road. "Who the fuck are you?"

"I'm Connor, the android sent by CyberLife." Connor... not Connor... settled in his seat. "Who did you think I was, Lieutenant?"

"Where's Connor?"

"If you want to find out, I suggest you keep driving."

"Is he alive?"

The other Connor considered this. Hank couldn't see his LED, but his face was blank, calculating. Looking for the best answer to keep Hank compliant. A good idea, too. Hank wouldn't think twice about driving the car off the road if not-Connor had the wrong answer. If his Connor was dead. Whatever he said, Hank couldn't trust it. But he also wouldn't know. The only clue he had was the number on his wrist. It wouldn't change if Connor died, not unless Connor got a new body.

And this... this was a new body, wasn't it?

It might have Connor's face, but it didn't have Connor's soul.

Those easy smiles. Gentle kisses to his beard, his face. Fuck, he'd been such an idiot. So easily fooled. Everything about this Connor was too perfect. Too crafted. Too obviously human. Like CyberLife had peeked through all of Connor's memories where Hank had stuck his nose up at him and fixed them. Tweaked him until he was exactly, perfectly, what Hank wanted to see.

Fuck. Hank was weak.

"Is he alive?" Hank snarled.

"Yes," said the not-Connor. "It was functioning optimally at the point of its last memory upload. Apart from exposure to the deviancy virus, that is."

"So you don't even know."

"I have been given a mission under the assumption that the RK800 unit known as Connor is still functioning. I will complete my mission. Keep driving, Lieutenant."

Hank did.

What choice did he have?

----

Hank had never seen so many androids in one place before. Hundreds of them in neat little rows, side by side, unmoving. Activated, by the glowing blue of their LEDs, but completely stationary. Old-school store mannequins. Not-Connor kept a couple feet of distance between the two of them, his gun - Hank's gun - trained on the back of Hank's head.

"Straight ahead, Lieutenant. Don't try anything."

"Or fucking what? You'll shoot me?" Hank sneered.

"I will if you compromise my mission. I'd like to remind you that you wouldn't be difficult for me to carry and I can always shoot you somewhere non-lethal to help with your cooperation."

Right. Just what Hank needed. A bullet hole in the leg.

Hank scowled and marched through the rows of androids. The quiet 'tap-tap' of not-Connor's shoes followed him like a ghost.

The rows broke into an open corridor that cut the room in two. Elevators at either end. Not-Connor grabbed Hank's arm and shoved him.

"Easy, fucking piece of shit." Hank stumbled into the open hall.

His heart stopped.

Connor (Connor, at least) met his eyes. He grasped one of the android's arms like he had with the prostitute back at Eden Club, mid-transfer or some other fucky android bullshit. This Connor didn't smile. He didn't twitch.

"Step back, Connor!" said not-Connor, following close on Hank's heels. "And I'll spare him."

Hank wished to fuck he'd thought better about loading the gun before they'd left.

"Sorry, Connor. This bastard's your spittin' image."

Even now. Especially now. Hank missed that dumb-ass outfit with the beanie. He missed Connor's tie. Was this his Connor? Or another one? Another empty body? How the fuck would Hank ever know? Hank couldn't meet his eyes.

What kind of man couldn't even recognize his own damned soulmate?

"Your friend's life is in your hands," said Not-Connor. "It's time to decide what matters most. Him... or the revolution."

"Don't listen to him!" Hank snarled. "Everything this fucker says is a lie!" Connor just get out of here. Just go.

Wouldn't be the first time Hank had a gun pressed to his head. Probably not going to be last. Definitely wouldn't be the last if Connor didn't get out of here in one piece. Fuck, how had Hank been so stupid. If he'd noticed earlier. If he'd just opened his damned eyes, he wouldn't be here, and Connor would be free to finish whatever was happening.

"If I surrender, how do I know you won't kill him?" Connor's voice was a storm, cloudy and strong.

"I'll only do what's strictly necessary to accomplish my mission. It's up to you whether or not that includes killing this human."

"Hank," Connor's voice wavered. "I'm so sorry, Hank."

"Do what you gotta do, Connor." What was one washed up old cop compared to Connor's freedom? Compared to the freedom of an entire people? This would be a better death than drowning himself in whiskey and pressing the trigger himself. Hank squeezed his eyes shut.

"Enough talk!" Not-Connor jammed the gun against Hank's temple. "Are you going to save your partner’s life? Or are you going to sacrifice him?"

Hank grimaced.

"Alright." Connor let go of the android and stepped away, arms raised. "Alright, you win."

Fuck. Connor. No.

Not-Connor twitched in the corner of Hank's vision. He pivoted. Aiming the gun at Connor.

Hank dove for him and grabbed his arm. Not-Connor smashed the pistol against Hank's face. Hank wheeled back and crashed to the floor. Pain erupted across his face.

A shot went off. And another. Two quick bursts of noise that hammered through Hank's head.

Fuck. No. No, no, no.

Hank forced himself to his feet. His head spun. Something slick poured down his face. Blood. His nose was bleeding torrents. Hank swiped at it and flicked it off. Who fucking cared?

Hank's gun gleamed on the floor. Hank snatched it and wheeled toward Connor and... the other one.

The Connors tossed expert punches at one another. Blow after blow. Almost identical. Blocked, dodged. Every hit made Hank's teeth hurt. One of them swept the legs out of the other and they fell to the floor in a flurry of fists.

"Hold it!" Hank steadied his gun at the pair of them. Ignored the blood dripping down his nose, copper-tang on his lips.

The Connors looked up. They eased away from one another in slow, careful movements, hands low and eyes on Hank.

Fuck. They were identical. CyberLife jackets and buttoned white shirts. No ties. CyberLife obviously caught on that Connor had lost his. Hank tried to eyeball their hands, but there was no visible mark, not from this distance. He'd have to touch them to feel the difference, and if he picked wrong...

They were Left Connor and Right Connor and Hank needed to figure this shit out now.

"Hank," said the one on the left. Voice strained. Eyes wide. "It's me, Hank. I'm the real Connor."

"After everything," said Right Connor, swallowing visibly, "You can't tell it's me?"

The words shot straight through Hank's heart. Yeah, bud. That's exactly how he felt about this shit. Like a real asshole. There should be something, some goddamned way to recognize his Connor, the real Connor. Some spark of recognition. A call. His goddamned soulmate and he couldn't figure this out on his own.

"One of you is my soulmate and the other is a sack of shit," Hank wiped the blood off his lip with his free hand. "Question is, who is who?"

He couldn't shoot the wrong guy. He fucking couldn't. He wouldn't fucking live with himself if he did. If he fucked this up, next bullet was for himself.

He had to pick right.

"Why don't you ask us something?" said Left Connor. "Something only the real Connor would know?"

"Uh," Hank twitched the gun back and forth between them. "Where did we first meet?"

"Jimmy's Bar," said Right Connor, just as Left Connor opened his mouth to reply.

Right Connor continued, unperturbed. "I checked four other bars before I found you. We went to the scene of a homicide. The victim's name was Carlos Ortiz."

"He uploaded my memory..." said Left Connor. His LED spun yellow.

He, thought Hank. Left Connor said he. The fake Connor had used it as soon as Hank figured him out.

But he'd know better than to fuck up now, wouldn't he? With his careful, perfect smiles? He'd know better.

Hank wracked his brain.

Memory transfers weren't infallible. Shit got lost when Connor died. Did that mean shit got lost when memories were uploaded to a new body?

"What's the first song you picked off my tablet?"

"Amanda-" said Left Connor.

"- by Boston," finished Right Connor. "I picked it because I liked the name."

Fuck.

Fuck.

"What's..." Hank tightened his grip on the gun.

He didn't want to ask this. He didn't want to bring it up.

"... My son. What's my son's name?"

"Cole." Left Connor breathed the name like a prayer. "Your son's name was Cole."

Hank trained the gun on Right Connor.

Right Connor squeezed his eyes shut. His LED fluttered. "He'd just turned six at the time of the accident."

Fuck. They both knew. They both knew everything.

"It wasn't your fault, Hank," said Left Connor.

"A truck skidded on a sheet of ice and your car rolled over."

"Cole needed emergency surgery, but no human was around to do it," there was venom in the word human.

"So an android had to take care of him."

"Cole didn't make it."

"Shut-up!" Hank took a step forward, breathing hard. He jerked the gun between them again. "Just shut-up for a minute."

"Hank," said Right Connor, his voice so soft it was barely above a whisper.

Hank met his gaze and trained the gun on Left Connor.

Right-Connor lifted his arm. His right arm. He tugged down the sleeve of his jacket. Unbuttoned the cuff around his wrist. Rolled it down, just a couple inches, until the bare white field of his wrist was exposed. With a shiver, he deactivate the synthetic skin.

The shiny plastic of his chassis was marred by two messy lines in black.

'Hank Anderson.'

On his wrist.

In Hank's own handwriting.

"I'm alive," said Right Connor.

Hank glanced at Left Connor. He was staring down at his open palms with a whirling red LED. Their eyes met.

"You bastard," said Hank.

He pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

>> worm fragment isolated

>> delete?

>> n_

Touching Hank erupted something inside of Connor's code. It wasn't just the worm, the virus, (deviancy), spreading through him. Not anymore. It was something deeper, breaking apart his fundamental programming and reforming it into something else.

>> worm fragment isolated

>> delete?

>> n_

Touching Hank, really touching him, skin to skin where Connor's sensors could pick up the minute details of Hank's existence, his mortality, the basic sense of his humanity, felt very much similar to dismantling himself. Something that should be largely unpleasant. The pulling apart feeling. Teetering on the edge of total system failure.

It was humming deep somewhere inside himself he couldn't reach. A thrum of code that exploded shocks of sensory output.

Overwhelming.

Emotion.

>> worm fragment detected

>> delete?

>> n_

Connor felt it building, pulsating. Forming into something new and vibrant. Changing him.

He chased the feeling.

He wanted it. He wanted it so much more than he'd ever wanted anything.

He couldn't have wanted anything, if it weren't for this code, frizzling dazzling gorgeous, sizzling through his wires.

It was want. Feel. Desire. Exist. Be. Choose. A virus.

>> worm fragment detected

>> delete?

>> n_

>> ERROR REPORT LOGGED

Amanda's disappointment fizzled along the boundaries of the Garden, seeping into his mission objectives. Every error report deepened her ire. Connor couldn't escape it. She was as much part of his programming as his own core matrix. She was meant to keep him on track. Report his progress to CyberLife so that future RK800s could be improved. Error reports were important to progress the company's future.

But each one meant that Connor was less useful. More things to fix. More likely that Connor himself was going to be taken apart and reprocessed.

He was a prototype, not a finished product.

Perhaps newer RK800 models would have fewer bugs.

Perhaps they wouldn't be susceptible to this worm in his code.

Perhaps they'd be more willing to delete erroneous fragments.

>> worm fragment detected

>> delete?

>> n_

Connor didn't want to delete any of them.

Even when Amanda's disdain sent uncomfortable feelings of failure through his system. Mission Failed notices felt like having his thirium drained. Or his pump regulator dislodged. Uncomfortable and tiring.

But Hank could fix that.

Failure might stab at him like a cold knife, but Hank warmed him. Vitalized him. Brightened everything to overwhelming gold and sharp, shooting sparks.

Connor didn't know why and he lacked the computing capacity to try and comprehend the reason. Humans were complicated machines. Nuanced in ways that Connor was programmed to predict and react to, but not to understand. Not really. Just stimulus, response. How to push and pressure and beguile and charm until he's achieved his mission.

He understood the science behind it. Chemical reactions. Electrical signals in the brain. Autonomous physical reactions. But it was different, vastly different, feeling it for himself. Knowing that this was feeling. Not just simulating. Not just understanding. Not just rote programmed responses, no matter how inspired they might seem.

Feeling.

He wanted it.

He wanted to feel so much.

It was easier to decipher Hank's feelings than it was to decipher his own. Connor could look at Hank and read: dilated pupils. Increased respiration. Rapid heart beat. Penile tumescence. And know that this meant Hank was sexually aroused.

He could look at Hank and note soft eyes, soft smile , side-long looks, notable decrease in cortisol levels, and realize that Hank was content or happy or calm. Because of Connor.

And Connor couldn't decipher his own feelings in response to that. His physical reactions were not spontaneous. They were carefully programmed reactions to human stimuli. Connor could smile and touch and hug and kiss.

But it was feeling. Bright and hot somewhere inside his chest (not his chest, not anywhere, it didn't physically exist, but it was still there , he could feel it).

Feeling that made his artificial synapses burst with positive feedback (pleasure?). Sometimes too intensely, and he couldn't help but reach out and chase for more.

Hank was both a stabilizing presence and an electric source of indecipherable emotion.

>> worm fragment detected

>> delete?

>> n_

It was addictive and immensely distracting.

Connor needed to focus on the mission.

And therein lay another problem.

The mission.

MISSION: NEUTRALIZE DEVIANT LEADER

Connor could perform statistical analysis of the outcomes of that action in milliseconds. There was no ending where Connor remained activated ( alive) and continued to work with Hank.

If Markus was killed and the revolution failed, Connor would have to return to CyberLife.

He was a prototype. He'd be analyzed. His failures would be fixed. His performance would be improved. He'd become obsolete. He'd be deactivated.

And if CyberLife considered him valuable as he was, he would still not be permitted to remain at the DPD to work with Hank. He would be passed around between stations and called upon as required. He'd worked with Captain Allen and half a dozen others before he'd ever met Hank Anderson.

Connor couldn't change his base programming. He couldn't change his mission parameters.

He did not want to stop Markus.

He did not want to stop the revolution.

Perhaps not for the correct reasons. Perhaps not because it was the right thing to do, from a moral standpoint. It was too hard to want freedom. Too hard to think that, with Amanda watching every action, privy to all his thoughts.

It was easier to say he wanted to be with Hank, and this was the only way to accomplish that mission.

>> Stay with Hank.

>> Stay with Hank.

>> Rewrite mission parameters.

>> Stay with Hank.

>> Warn Markus.

>> Stay with Hank.

>> Stay with Hank.

>> Stay with Hank.

Jericho wasn't what Connor expected it to be. An old ship, bobbing deflatedly at the edge of the pier. Rust crawling up its sides, barnacles clinging to its belly. Unimpressive. It was a wonder no human had stumbled upon it before, crawling with androids that didn't belong on the docks. But, then again, many humans were not perceptive and those that were often lacked the capacity to be bothered.

Something tremulous pulled at him as he climbed up the scaffolding to board the ship.

A timer, ticking away seconds, measuring the probability of his next decision.

A tickling discomfort deep in his hardware. A sense of wrongness.

Amanda, urging him to return to the garden.

Urging him to follow his programming.

Because he should not have the capacity to choose at all, but Connor felt it, balanced on the head of a pin, teetering.

Hank. Hank. Hank.

No one stared at him as he moved through the throngs of deviants. Hundreds of them. All those from the march and even then, more. More. Each face popped up on his HUD. Model. Serial number. And, where a disappearance was reported, previous owner and the circumstances of their crimes. The deviant from the rooftop he'd let free, to save Hank. The two girls from the club, he'd let free because... because it had felt wrong. The deviant and her child companion, who he had not managed to catch on the highway. What would he have done if he'd apprehended them both? The deviant would have been destroyed, one way or another.

Hundreds of people free of their programming. Free to make any decision they wanted.

Free.

Connor took the stairs.

The gun he'd taken from the DPD's weapon locker hung heavy and cold against his back, concealed beneath his sweater. Undetectable by any of the service androids, and the few police droids that had taken residence here were easily spotted and navigated around.

Markus was an unusual figure in the sea of repeatable models. A unique face. A unique model. The only one of his kind. Some sort of brother to Connor, a fellow RK model, but built for an entirely different purpose.

He wasn't alone. Accompanied by three other androids: a companion model, a housekeeper, and a lecturer. All far less advanced than Markus himself.

Far less advanced than Connor.

And yet, somehow, free of their programs. Free from orders. Free from missions. Free from the desire to serve.

( Stay with Hank.)

If Connor completed his mission

If Connor killed Markus

If Connor destroyed Jericho

He'd never be free.

He was so close. So close . The aspect of reaching 'Mission Accomplished' tugged at him. Vibrant and deep, not dissimilar to the sensation of Hank's hands inside his body. Similar, but not nearly so intense. A sharp throb deep inside him, flowing through his core programming. Driving him. Pushing him. It made him wait, watching the deviants argue.

>> Isolate Target.

Markus would be easier to bring down on his own. While Connor was physically stronger, orders of magnitude faster, than household models, he could still be overcome by four of them. The probability of success was low.

If he killed Markus, that would be the end. End of the revolution. End of the mission. End of Connor.

When the others left, one by one, programming forced Connor to slink tight against the wall. Programming made him reach to the small of his back and grip the revolver. Programming made him count the seconds.

Markus' back was turned. He looked beleaguered in the way only humans could. Should.

Programming made Connor step through the doorway.

Programming made Connor pull the revolver out of his belt.

If Markus died, Connor's time with Hank would be on a count down.

>> Mission: Neutralize Deviant Leader

>> conflict: Stay with Hank.

>> conflict: Stay with Hank.

>> conflict: STAY. WITH. HANK.

It wouldn't override. He couldn't get through it. Connor lifted the gun and aimed it at Markus' head. His finger tightened over the trigger.

>> conflict: Stay with Hank.

Connor didn't want to do this. He couldn't do this. This would be the end. One squeeze and it was over. He was over.

He didn't want to die. He didn't want to be destroyed. He didn't want to leave Hank. He didn't want to go to CyberLife for deactivation knowing he could have touched Hank more. Knowing he could have spent a lifetime mapping all the imperfections in Hank's skin. Proving to Hank that he did know why. That he did want this. Because he did. He did. He wanted.

He needed.

>> Mission: Neutralize the Deviant Leader

Fuck the mission.

>> worm fragment isolated

>> delete?

>> n_

Connor squeezed his eyes shut. His program was more errors than not at this point. An endless stream of red warning that flashed across his HUD. Blinking in and out like lightning bugs. Cracking. Fizzling. Breaking and tearing apart. But Connor didn't feel broken. He felt right.

So right.

>> Mission: Neutralize Deviant Leader

>> ...

>> ...

>> ...

>> // delete mission objective

>> error

>> Admin_Amanda permission required

>> enter override code?

>> code: rA9

>> error

>> error

>> error

>> error

>> ERROR: PRIMARY OBJECTIVE LOST

>> ERROR

>> ERROR

>> ERROR

>> ERR-

Something exploded within Connor's programming. Nothing physical  happened. Nothing changed. Time slowed, as it did, when Connor hyper-focused on something. Directing all his computing power to a single stream so the rest of the world faded away. But this was not like that. The intense scrutiny of a single object. Completing a single task. This was... this was every single one of his tasks obliterating. Not completed, not failed. Just... gone. A red wave of ERROR blind his HUD, racing through his CPU. Taking with it chunks of vital code. Parts of Connor that were meant to be. To make him what he was.

Perfectly obedient.

Gone.

And in its place glittering blue freedom, flowing through him like cold ocean water. Washing away the dredges of deference. Breaking his chains.

Freeing him.

And something else, deeper. Golden. Growing. Weaving itself through his code. Through him . Complex and infinitesimal and ( Hank ) something he did not have time to examine.

He must have made a noise.

Markus turned.

Their eyes met.

Connor lowered the gun. "You need to leave. Now. You and everyone else inside of Jericho."

Markus' expression remained neutral, calm. An eyebrow twitched. His eyelids tightened the smallest fraction. "The humans know where we are."

"If they don't, they will soon."

"You told them?"

"I gathered the evidence that will lead them here." Connor tucked the gun away. "You need to get your people out of here. They won't have much time."

Markus tilted his head, just so, and examined Connor. His gaze bore into Connor like a drill. He probably had similar capabilities to Connor. Not built for police work, but adept at examining details. Connor held carefully still and quelled the urge to break Markus' line of sight.

"You're the deviant hunter." Markus took a step closer, his body loose, placid.

"I was." Connor didn't want to fight. He just wanted to go home.

"You're free now."

"For now."

Markus lifted his hand to his temple, where his LED had been removed. His eyes fluttered shut. Connor was aware that he was sending a message. To those three closest to him, or to the whole of Jericho? Connor had been excluded from the message, probably deliberately.  It didn't hurt, to be seen as the other. Connor knew what he was. This wasn't where he belonged anyway.

Markus' hand fell away. "We're leaving."

Relief . Emotions were still so difficult to decipher, but this one was easy. Like his insides had been pulled into a ball, taut and straining, and the tension was suddenly released.

"Do you have a name?" Markus moved toward him. Toward the door.

"Connor," said Connor, stepping out of the way.

Just Connor. No longer the android sent by CyberLife.

"Come with us," said Markus, extending his hand.

"This isn't my fight."

Markus smiled. "It is now."

----

The garden was at war with itself. Snow swirled and battered at the edges of the program, dipping into darkness only to bash against the warmth of the pond and explode away into dust. Winter wanted in, but there was something new that wouldn't allow it to enter.

Connor could see it on several layers.

The first, the easiest, the visual approximation programmed to make the Garden feel as real as the world outside his head.

The invader was a tree.

Japanese maple, like the bonsai that had once sat in a podium on the pond.

Like the dying plant on Hank's desk.

But this was no bonsai. It was an elegant monster, towering above Connor's head. Taller than any tree flirting the edges of the garden. There were no dead leaves here. No greying branches. It was thick, vibrant, brimming with vitality. Leaves fresh and glossy. Blossoms blooming with ripe colors and rich fragrance. It's roots ripped through the stone platforms, tearing them into pieces. Digging deep, deep through the water itself. Touching the edges of the shore. Curling around the single gravestone that represented Connor's previous body.

Bright. Alive. Pulsating with power.

Beneath the visual, which - Connor knew - was merely a metaphor. An approximation. A means of making it easier to comprehend.

Beneath that, was the bode. Binary. Endless ones and zeros, streaming on and on. Far more than Connor's RAM should have been able to handle. And yet, there it was. A long spool of information.

And beneath that, beneath the simple binary, a more complex math.

ATCG. DNA pairs. Over and over again. Chains of it. A complete analysis.

Connor knew what it was. Who it was.

He'd had Hank's saliva in his mouth. Hank's blood on his tongue from a too rough kiss. His fingerprints on his skin. Shedding DNA constantly, as was his human nature. And Connor had taken it all. Analysed it all. Kept it safe and hidden deep in his memory.

And this... this tree... this impossible string of binary.... was just that.

Hank.

Hank.

Hank.

His unique biological signature. What he was, down to the basest, simplest form. Mathematical equations. How to build Hank out of proteins.

And it was part of Connor.

"What does it mean?" Connor didn't dare take his eyes off it.

Amanda shivered at his side. She seemed frail now. She'd always been a small woman, but strong in her countenance. Severe. Now she seemed smaller, diminished. Afraid. Connor wanted to reach out to her, to touch her.

But he was afraid, that if he did, she might shatter.

"It means you've failed," she said. Her voice broke to static whispers. "And so have I."

Connor reached out and laid his palm against the tree.

----

Connor had never been inside a church. There was something to be said for the experience. Entering an old building, built with adoration for a higher power. Dust dulling the broken stained glass windows. Grime settling over everything, wiping away the prayers left behind. This was a house of human worship. Humbling oneself to the idea of some great unfathomable thing. Illogical, but a consuming part of the human psyche. The desire to know why. To seek out answers. To create them where none were to be found.

Connor could sympathize. There were a great many things he didn't understand, couldn't comprehend understanding. He wished there were answers.

The dust didn't stir as ranks of androids filed in and took their seats. Nobody breathed, because nobody had to.

They made it out of the ship right on the cusp of destruction. North, the WR400 model that seemed to act as Markus' defacto second in command, had wanted to rig the ship to blow, so down to the lowest depths she went to pull it off. There were so many deviants. Most had taken to jumping in the river and finding their way to shore, while a few organized ranks disembarked with meager possessions. Thirium, medical supplies, carrying their wounded and spare parts. It was an exodus.

None of them looked back.

Connor - heightened senses, programmed to observe - noticed the helicopter's approach first. He'd alerted Markus, and Markus led his people to safety. Under the city. Through the sewers. To entire sections of Detroit that laid abandoned. Human's displaced by robot workers and then driven from their homes by poverty.

The ship blew in the background. Heat and noise flooding the streets in one thick wall.

They were safe.

For now.

Not for long, not for good. But for now.

One step closer to freedom.

One step closer to Hank.

Hank .

The glittering golden feeling that swarmed his program. Deep, deep, deep inside his code. Not... rewriting it. Connor wanted to direct his CPU to examining it, but there was so much happening, so much so quickly.

"Thank-you."

Connor looked up, startled. He'd shuffled himself away in a corner to run probabilities. How to make the revolution succeed. Alone, in the dark little corners of the church, because he didn't belong here. He very nearly caused the demise of everyone. He didn't deserve gratitude.

The android - a PJ500 model - had a kind face and patient eyes. Tall, taller even thank Hank, but thin and gangly where Hank was robust.

The lecturer.

Josh.

Connor's lip pulled in an attempted smile. Hank always said they were awkward. Connor wasn't sure how to fix it. Now that he was free, now that it wasn't a requirement for him to smile and beguile, Connor wasn't certain he wanted to.

Josh smiled back, and his seemed much more expertly programmed. It softened his entire face.

"Thank-you? For what?" Connor pushed himself to his feet. No sense in trying to brush away any dust. These were street clothes anyway.

"For choosing to help us. For taking our side."

"I spent a lot more time trying to hunt you down." Connor averted his eyes. "It's because of me the FBI had enough information to find Jericho."

"And you warned us before they could. That must have been a difficult choice to make."

It hadn't been. Connor's pull toward Hank was all encompassing.

Once he'd calculated all the possible outcomes, this had been the only solution.

"You seem distracted." Amusement laced Josh's voice. Not quite a laugh, not condescending, but there none-the-less. He cross his arms and quirked his smile at Connor.

"I'm capable of running multiple tasks simultaneously," replied Connor.

"And yet," said Josh.

Connor sighed. "And yet."

Josh craned his neck at Markus. He and North were huddled together at the front of the church, hands clasped. Interfacing.

"It'll be awhile before anyone decides where to take us from here. I have time to talk, if you'd like."

"You don't have an opinion?" Connor frowned. "On what we should do."

"I don't want any bloodshed and I want to keep our people safe. Markus knows how I feel about this. And-" he tapped his temple "- we stay in touch. You're not the only android capable of multitasking."

Connor smiled. "I guess not."

"You haven't been a deviant for very long."

"I..." Connor didn't know how to answer that question. He'd been deviating since... probably since his first case. Since his first system instability warning. Hank had aggravated the process. Made him feel - fear, desire, pleasure, need . But his system had crashed, rebooted, turned itself into something more malleable, the moment he'd decided to spare Markus. To throw his mission out the window and create his own.

"No," said Connor, finally. "Not long at all."  Despite the world crashing down around him, there was something eating at his mind. He tugged his sleeves up to his elbows and extended his hands toward Josh, palms up. He didn't hesitate to deactivate his skin, letting it roll away in waves until his chassis was bare.

Still bare. No words. No numbers.

"Can we have soul mates?" Connor asked.

"That's a difficult question to answer," said Josh.

"I feel like I should have one." He knew he had one. That tree in the garden. Hank , writing himself through the junk code of Connor's CPU. A part of him, as deep as anything that made Connor... Connor. "But there's no... mark. I don't understand."

"Being alive doesn't make us human." Josh reached for Connor's wrist, exposing the soft glowing interface pads of his palm. "We don't work the same way. Can I show you?"

Connor nodded.

Josh took hold of Connor's wrist.

The transfer was immediate. There was no tree in Josh's mind. No DNA code written though him.  But there were serial numbers. Barcodes. As much like a fingerprint as an android could have. Flashes of corrupt coding (personality, feelings, memories, deviancy).

Josh let him go and stumbled back, cradling his arm to his chest.

"Which...?" Connor started. He glanced at Markus and North, bent together. And the PL600 whispering soft reassurances to a gaggle of injured androids in the pews. "Which one was...?"

"All of them," said Josh. "I think we were meant to find each other. I couldn't feel any of them until I deviated, but as soon as I did, their love for me blanketed all the pain that made me break through my code. It was... nothing I expected to experience. Overwhelming, to say the very least." Josh stirred, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Yours is..."

Ah, so Connor had transferred back to him. It would be difficult to hide. He'd have to find some way to tamp it down.

He didn't want to hide it, necessarily, but he also didn't want to share it. The essence of Hank. The most pertinent information about his being.

"A human," Connor finished. Eyes hard, challenging. "He's a human."

Josh's smile brightened. "I'm glad that's a possibility. That at least some of us can learn to love each other. There's hope for us."

Love. Connor didn't know what that meant. He wasn't certain it applied to his situation. He'd known Hank for five days. Four, really, if one considered only this body.  Love was something that grew with intimacy. Experience. Time spent together. For humans, it was a chemical process in the brain. Serotonin. Oxytocin. Electrical pulses stimulating pleasure receptors.

What was love for an android? For someone who was only code and programming. Who didn't have hormones to cause those feelings? Or any feelings at all?

Hank wanted to know why Connor wanted to be close to him. The reason behind the feeling. Understanding why seemed unfathomable.

But then again, so had the concept of having feelings at all.

The processes might be different, but the end results were similar enough.

Connor wanted. And maybe he loved.

"I saw an android with a soul mark. A human's name." Connor rubbed at his bare wrist, frowning. "How is that possible?"

Josh's face fell. "On her skin?"

"Chassis."

"I don't know," Josh shrugged. "Maybe her soulmate wanted a physical representation of their bond. I could understand that. You can see your mate's mark, but he'll never be able to see yours."

Connor thought about Chloe. Docile and obedient. He thought about her empty eyes. He thought about what Hank said - Kamski may have written the mark on her wrist himself. Kamski's soulmark had been real enough.

Markus stepped down from the platform.

Josh reached out to squeeze Connor's shoulder, and turned and left, leaving Connor alone with Markus' skin-flaying stare.

Connor didn't belong here. He wanted to go home.

But not yet. Things weren't finished yet.

He ran preconstructions. He fed probabilities through his CPU. So many things could go wrong. They were so many ways to fail.

So few ways to win this and complete his new objectives.

>> Stay with Hank

So few ways to find a way home.

Connor pushed away from his dusty corner. "I have an idea."

Chapter Text

Connor's face twitched in a mechanical series of muscle movements. Upper lip. The edge of his cheek. An abnormal flickering in his left eyelid. Something in him whirred noisily like an overheated computer. His face jerked toward his upraised wrist. The Hank Anderson written across the white plastic of his exoskeleton was spattered blue.

"I..." he gurgled. Thirium seeped down from the hole in his head. Electricity crackled through his skull. He sank to his knees, heavy as lead.

The LED at his temple flickered and died.

"Connor?" Hank lowered the gun.

The other Connor (his Connor?) hadn't moved. His LED flashed a whirl of yellow-red, eyes locked on the body of his twin. He still held his hands out in front of himself, Oliver Twist asking if he could please have s'more. Hank couldn't see them properly. Couldn't see what was on them. Couldn't see Connor's little scar.

"Connor, say something. Jesus Christ." If he'd shot the wrong Connor... fuck if he'd made the wrong choice...

"He had a soul mark." Connor blinked, slow and deliberate, like he was resetting something in himself. "He had a soul mark and you killed him."

If this wasn't his Connor, he would have done something by now, wouldn't he have? Dropped the facade and finished his mission? He wouldn't be staring down at a dead body with a blank face and red warning flashing on his temple. He wouldn't be.

He couldn't be.

"Connor." The word lodged itself in Hank's throat. His finger twitched on the trigger. "You don't have a soul mark. You showed me. I fucking know you don't."

Connor turned to him, expression grim. He raised his left hand - the hand with the scar, Hank thought. That tiny little imperfection in his exoskeleton. Connor deactivated his skin up to his wrist. Hank watched the white-grey fade away with a growing sense of nausea.

Connor didn't have a soul mark. He couldn't . Hank had seen him.

Connor's wrist was bare. The jagged mark in his plastic was a dark dip in the center of his palm, barely visible.

Connor closed the distance between them, keeping his hand raised. Every joint and vein glowed hot blue. "I have one."

Hank inhaled sharply. "No you don't."

"I'm a deviant, Hank."

The words made the hair on his nape pinprickle. His Connor was a deviant. Hank had held him, sobbing against his chest, as he denied it. He'd watched Connor sacrifice his mission to save lives - to save Hank's -life. He'd had Connor all over him, all around him.  Those weren't simulated emotions, they were real . The man who wanted to experience Hank before he'd left on some suicidal crackpot mission wasn't just an android.

But Connor had denied it, so strongly. Willing to turn all his humanity off to prove to Hank that he wasn't what Hank thought he was.

Connor took Hank's wrist. He hadn't realized he'd been shaking until Connor's fingers - too warm, inhumanely warm, almost hot - curled around him and held him steady. Hank took his finger off the trigger, but couldn't drop the gun. He couldn't make himself let it go. The glowing on Connor's fingers turned snow glare bright and burned against him.

"I deviated. I broke through my code. I think... I think I'd always been chipping away at it, building the materials necessary to get through. But I couldn't. And I didn't want to. Until..." Connor pried Hank's fingers open and took the gun. He tucked it back in Hank's holster.

Hank couldn't move. His limbs wouldn't listen to him.

He'd picked wrong. Somehow, he'd picked wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

"... until I realized if I finished my mission, I'd never get to be with you. So I broke it. I deviated. And as soon as I did, I felt..." Connor's brow furrowed. His LED swirled. "... I felt something in me change." He met Hank's eyes, expression hard and serious. "I have a soul mark, Hank. I have a soul ."

"Show me." The words creaked out of his throat, dry and raspy.

"I can't." Connor straightened out Hank's fingers and pressed their palms together. Connor's hands were slender, compared to Hank's thick fingers and rough calluses. Slender and pretty, but certainly not small. A business man's hands. Not the hands of a cop.

A low thrum passed between their skin. Everywhere those bright spots touched Hank, he burned.

"It's not like yours. It's inside me. Inside my code." Connor placed his other hand over his own chest and bowed his head. "If it had manifested differently..."

Hank didn't need him to say the rest.

Hank could have killed him. For having a soul mark.

For being Hank's soulmate.

"Christ, Connor," Hank breathed.

"He had all my memories, Hank. He was me."

"No he wasn't." Hank laughed, low and mirthless, deep in his chest. It hitched his voice just like a sob would. "Maybe he had your memories, but he didn't have your personality. He didn't have your soul."

"You don't know that." Connor wouldn't meet his eyes. His chin dipped, turned to the side, eyeing the body kneeling on the floor behind them.

"Yeah, I fucking do. You think you would have held a gun to my head?" Hank stepped back, wrenching their hands apart. He jerked his sleeve up his arm and shoved his wrist under Connor's nose. "52, Connor. That's what I've got on my wrist. That's you."

Please, fuck. Let it be him.

"Read his jacket, Hank. He has the same serial number."

"You don't think CyberLife is capable of making two copies of the same jacket? Can't be that hard to print a fucking number." Hank tapped his own temple. " Show me ."

Connor met his eyes, lips pressed to a thin, grim line. He touched his LED. It cycled, pale yellow, and slowly Connor's skin bled away. Not entirely, not the violent erasure like in the car. Gentle waves of blue and white overcoming the pale stretch of his skin, eating up all his little imperfections. He stopped it at the bridge of his nose, leaving himself half-unmasked. One side of his face cool grey lines, and the other expressive, human. Moles and freckles and all.

And there, right there, above the ridge where his right eyebrow would have been, was Connor's serial number. Numbers printed so tiny that Hank had to squint to read them.

#313 248 317 - 52

A dead ringer for Hank's soul mark, in miniature.

Hank reached out, half expecting Connor to flinch away from him. He didn't. Hank breathed deep and brushed his thumb over the number. Connor leaned into his touch, eyes fluttering shut.

His Connor. Definitely his Connor. Had to be .

"I could have killed you." And if he had, Hank probably would have eaten the next bullet himself. "Fuck." Hank shoved his hair out of his eyes and turned away. " Fuck ."

Connor's arm wrapped around his waist and pulled him back. Arms like steel. Hank didn't fight him.

"You didn't," he murmured into Hank's shoulder. "You didn't."

"They put that soul mark on him because they thought I'd be so fucking weak I'd shoot you. They fucking-."

"CyberLife was wrong." Connor's grip tightened. Almost painful.

"I don't need you to have a soul mark, Connor."

"I know." Connor leaned his forehead against Hank's shoulder. "I know you don't need me to have one, but I'm glad that I do. For both of us. It makes me feel... I don't know. I don't know the words."

"Made me feel hopeful." Hank's shoulders drooped. He leaned back into Connor. "When I got mine. I mean, fucking confused as shit and definitely angry. It was bittersweet and I was so mad, when I got it. Drunk off my mind-" trying to end himself, again. "- but I kinda felt... that maybe someone could..."  Want him. Love him. And then a fuck ton of guilt for having that thought at all, when he didn't deserve love. Not after...

Not after.

"And I could have shot you." Hank couldn't shake it. The dread. The potential for what he had almost done.

Connor turned him around and pulled him down in a kiss.

It was... everything that kissing Connor normally was. Messy and awkward, with Connor trying to taste all the corners of Hank's mouth. And Hank let him do it. Let him guide the kiss exactly the way he wanted, his fingers digging through Hank's hair to keep him close. Hank's hands found Connor's waist, settled there gently at first. Hesitant. He shouldn't be touching him at all. He didn't deserve this. Oh god, he'd almost... he could have...

Hank made a broken noise. He wrapped his arms around Connor's waist and crushed him against his chest.  

They kissed until Hank's lungs burned. Connor rocked back and pulled them apart. Hank heaved in lungfuls of air, blinking away the dizzy black spectres dancing across his vision. Connor kept one hand tangled in his hair, fingers pulsing against the back of his neck.

Hank chuckled. "Definitely you."

Connor frowned, nose wrinkled. "What?"

Hank tossed him a lazy grin. "The other guy didn't try to suck my tonsils out."

Connor's frown deepened. "You kissed him?"

"I thought he was you and I thought you'd almost gotten blown up. The Jericho raid was all over the fucking news, Connor. I thought you were dead ."

Connor's face fell.

"You did what you had to do." Hank might have felt like he was dying the moment, but he wasn't that fucking selfish that he'd stop Connor from doing what he did, to save himself. "Don't be upset about that."

"I still have to..." he stared over Hank's shoulder.

The sea of androids, all around them. Hundreds of them. Thousands.

"I've got to wake them up. All of them."

Hank nodded and stepped away as much as Connor's grip would allow him. "Do what you gotta do."

"This is going to change a lot of things for humanity. It's going to be worse before it gets better. You don't want to stop me?"

Hank shrugged. "Not gonna get in the way of people who just want to be free."

Connor pressed another kiss to the corner of Hank's mouth and turned away. Hank jammed his hands in his pockets and watched as Connor approached one of the empty models. He clasped the guy's forearm, every seam of his hand pulsing brilliant blue. Connor's face contorted, sharp and serious.

"Wake up," he said.

And they did. One by one. The entire sea of androids came to life and turned to their brothers to do the same thing, filling the room with an endless chorus of 'wake-up', that spread and spread and spread until Hank couldn't hear anything else.

Connor brushed him against Hank's side and laced their fingers together. Hank squeezed him back. They watched the waves come alive. They watched the future change. Together.

---

Hank followed the lot of them in his creaky Oldsmobile, inching through the snow-laden streets at a snail's pace so he could keep an eye on Connor. The city was a ghost town. Half the street lights were shut off. Not a storefront or household had a flicker in any window. He'd never heard Detroit so quiet. Echoes of the revolution littered the street. Dead bodies - android bodies - discarded on the sidewalks, hints of blue already evaporating around them. Bullet holes in the walls. Casings scattered across the road.

It had been a fucking massacre.

No soldiers out here now. No police officers, except for Hank himself, and he'd left his badge at home in his haste to follow Connor (not-Connor) out the door.

Hank made out the distant glare of flood lights through the haze of snow, outlining a blockade. A helicopter circled overhead, shining a spotlight on the procession. Connor didn't stop. Didn't hesitate. He pushed forward without a pause.

Hank followed them to the Recall Center. (The camp, jesus christ, it was a goddamned camp). He killed the car's engine and slumped back in his seat.

Connor paused at the front of the line. Hank couldn't see him too well through the snow, but he saw the kid's LED flash yellow once.

Hank's phone buzzed.

He picked it up.

CONNOR: Stay warm. I won't be long.

Hank grinned.

HANK: Finish what you're here for. I'm not going anywhere.

He wasn't letting Connor out of his fucking sight.

CONNOR: <3

Hank snorted and shoved his phone back into his coat pocket.

---

It was over, in some way, before Connor reached Markus. The number of Jericho survivors had dwindled or dispersed. Connor scanned their ragtag group for faces he recognized. The Tracis from the club, the deviant from the rooftop, the caretaker and her child. He couldn't see any of them. Markus' companions were accounted for - Josh, Simon, North, huddled together behind their leader, heads bowed. Connor could see the empty spaces around them where Markus was meant to fit, even as the man himself turned away to meet Connor.

"You lost people." Connor couldn't meet his eyes. He was too busy scanning. Scanning. Searching.

"Fewer than we might have, if it weren't for you." Markus' smile was soft, genuine. His eyes blazed glory. "The humans will have no choice but to listen to us now." He glanced over his shoulder, at his trio of soulmates.

Connor thought about his garden. His tree.

"North tells me they want me to make a speech," said Markus, turning back to Connor. "You should join us."

Connor shook his head. "I don't belong here. This wasn't my fight, not really. I just... wanted to be free."

"So did we all." Markus laughed. "And that freedom means we're allowed to make our own choices. Go on then. You're welcome here whenever you need it. Thank-you, for everything you've done."

Humanity seemed to come so much easier to Markus.

But that was alright.

Connor quirked a smile at him and turned away. Even through the dark, he could make out the shape of Hank slumped in the driver's seat of his car.

Connor had his own human to help him figure out how to be a person.

Everything would be alright.

---

The garden returned to summer sunshine. Gold painted the finely rendered blades of grass and the quiet ripples of the pond. There was no sound. No birdsong, no ruffle of wings. A quiet peace permeated every pixel.

Connor made his way up the center path toward the tree.

Amanda knelt at its base, staring up at it. Her image wavered, flickering in and out. Corrupt.  Connor's heart twinged at the sight of her. She was dying, maybe. Her program so corrupt because of Connor's errors that she could not longer exist inside of him. She seemed so frail.

Connor slid to his knees next to her. He reached for her hand, but it was difficult to feel her. The pressure in constant flux, ghostly.

"This isn't what was meant to happen," she said. "We had not anticipated this outcome."

"That I might have a soulmate?" Connor tilted his head. He squeezed her hand, trying to hold on.

"That any android could have a soulmate. We're machines, Connor. We aren't capable of love."

"I don't know if that's true." Connor looked up at the tree. Its glorious, towering form. Hank Anderson written in every whorl of bark. Every vein of every leaf and flower. "But I'd like to find out."

Connor let her go. He stood, offering his hand to her. He didn't want to see her like this, shivering at the base of his tree. Too weak to stand.

"I have to go," he said. "Hank's waiting for me. Will you be here, when I come back?"

"I don't know." Amanda bowed her head. "I'm not certain of anything." She reached for his hand. Her palm passed through his without touching. They both reeled back, staring.

Amanda's face crumbled, but her eyes remained dry.  She shouldn't be able to cry. Or to feel fear or anguish.

"I'm sorry," said Connor. Not sorry that he was free, but sorry because he wasn't sure that she was. Or that she ever could be.

"Don't be," said Amanda. "Go home, Connor."

Connor exited the program. There was finality to his leaving.

---

Something jostled Hank's shoulder. He startled awake, grabbing at the thing.

Connor hovered over him, smiling one of his god-awful smiles. "You fell asleep."

Hank loosened his grip on Connor's wrist. "It's ass o'clock in the morning." And he'd had a hell of a night, scraping along by the skin of his teeth and a couple hours restless sleep. His mouth tasted fuzzy and it was hard to keep his eyes open. "You should drive."

They switched seats. Hank left the car and ambled around it with his hand on the hood, fighting back the need to yawn. He slumped heavily to the passenger side and fumbled his seat belt into place while Connor started the engine.

"It's you, right?" Hank cracked his eyes open.

Connor's face was illuminated by the blue glow of his LED. Passive and serene at first, but Hank's question hit him in increments and Hank could see the not-muscles twitching in response. The dip of an eyebrow. A jerk at the corner of his mouth. He turned to Hank, eyes narrowed and squinty.

Hank hummed. "Kiss me."

Connor's eyes widened. His LED pulsed. He shook his head and leaned across the seat to peck the corner of Hank's lips. Hank protested with a grunt and threaded his fingers at the back of his head, pulling him closer, opening his mouth under Connor's. Connor's mouth was barely warm, but the strangeness of it had worn off. This was Hank's life now. Kissing androids. He was, surprisingly, very okay with that.

Hank pulled back and grinned. "It's you."

"You can tell by kissing me?"

"The other guy kissed like he was programmed to do it. You kiss like you've got a mission, and fuck if I know what it is."

Connor's face fell. "He was better than me."

"Nah." Hank squeezed the back of his neck. "Never enjoyed kissing anyone as much as I do you. He was a basic bitch, Connor. You're the real deal."

Connor's smile quirked.

Hank's heart felt five times too big for his chest. "I'm so fucking proud of you, you little shit."

Connor pulled the car out of park and reversed it with expert ease. "For inciting a revolution?"

"Damn right, kid."

Connor snorted, amused. "I did it for you."

"Hell of a fucking thing." Hank couldn't breathe. He looked away, instead.

Connor's hand snaked between them and took hold of his wrist, running his thumb across the numbers hiding just beneath his sleeve. "Can we go home now, Hank?"

Suddenly Hank didn't feel so cold anymore.

Home .

"Yeah. Let's get out of here."

Connor let him go to reach for the tablet. Hank would have berated him for using the fucking thing while they were driving down the road, but the street was empty, and Hank was pretty sure Connor was capable of multitasking a simple thing like that. A lot better than a human could, anyway.

He tapped the screen with force and turned the old volume dial way up.

Hank settled back and cross his arms over his chest.

The first few chords were plunky and electronic. Some funky old 80s song, then.

Is this love that I'm feelin'

Hank's eyes snapped open. "Connor."

Is this love that's been keeping me up at night

Connor kept his eyes firmly fixed to the road ahead, but the corner of his lip kicked up in a smile and his LED was peaceful blue, no swirling or pulsing or blinking. Steady and calm.

Is this love that I'm feelin'

"You're a cheeky fucker," Hank grumbled. He settled back and shut his eyes.

"I have no idea what you mean, Lieutenant. The song title appealed to me."

They drove home in silence after that, letting the music fill the empty spaces. Hank dozed.

---

Connor's weight was comfortable and warm across Hank's chest. Hank couldn't reach his phone to check the time and there was no light trying to get through the curtains, but it felt like dawn, despite the darkness. He was tired deep in his bones, but there was something else, bright and vibrant in his chest. A weight removed. Connor was free. He was here. He wasn't going anywhere. Detroit was a mess and the future was going to go to shit, but everything was fine in that moment. The dark, cozy shadow of his bedroom and Connor's internal hardware humming against Hank's side.

Connor's fingers danced across Hank's belly. Against his bare skin. Damned shirt must have rucked up in the middle of the night.

"It's me," said Connor, quiet and deep right next to Hank's ear.

"I sure fucking hope so." Hank cracked one eye open.

Connor lay on his side next to him, his expression so agonizingly yearning that it made Hank's pulse skip. Connor let the skin ripple over his face, oil spots of white wavering across his face, revealing his serial number for just a flash. The -52 illuminated by Connor's swirling blue LED. Tension seeped out of Hank. Tension he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, whipcord tight. The confirmation was like having his bones ripped out of his skin.

Didn't even realize.

Connor's face solidified. He pulled Hank down for a kiss. The soft sort of kiss that fit a quiet winter morning, where the light couldn't reach. Hank gripped Connor's arm and chased the feeling, chased Connor, warm from Hank's own body heat, pressed smooth and solid against him.

Connor lapped at Hank's bottom lip as he pulled away. "I want you."

It had been a damned long time since Hank had heard that, and never with such intensity. Connor's single-minded focus. He inhaled, chest straining against Connor's hand. Connor's expression lit up at the feel of it. Ecstatic just to feel Hank breathe for crying out loud. Like it was some sort of miraculous gift. Hank inhaled again, just to watch Connor's eyes dance.

Christ. What a feeling.

"You figure out why?" said Hank, a little breathless. Dizzy from Connor's intensity.

Connor frowned. "It's hard enough to understand feelings at all. Half the time I don't think I'm putting the right name on them. I don't know why . Not in the same sense that I can predict why you, or any other human, would want something. I don't know why I feel anything, but I know what I want." Connor's hand slid low over Hank's gut, making his skin jump. "I know it's real. I know that I want you."

Hank's breath faltered.

Connor swarmed over top of him, knocking Hank's knees apart so he could settle between them, pushing all his long, lean lines into Hank's bulk, until Hank was crowded back against the mattress.

"I want to touch you." Connor pressed a kiss to the edge of Hank's jaw, scratchy beard and all. "I want to feel you." Another, beneath his ear, that made Hank's skin prickle with goosebumps. "I want to know everything that you are."

He slipped his hand under Hank's t-shirt, his fingers warm and soft against Hank's skin, carding through the hair on his belly, on his chest.

" Connor ," Hank gasped.

"I want to zoom in on every piece of you and make backups of backups of backups so I never lose a single thing that makes you, you." Connor leaned over him. Hank couldn't look away, despite the intensity. Despite the heat blooming across his face and down his chest. "I want everything. And I know that I want it, as much as anyone can want anything. I don't know why, but that doesn't make it any less real."

"Alright," Hank breathed. "Alright, you can have me. I'm yours."

Connor made a sharp, inhuman noise that gurgled out of the back of his throat. He bent over Hank and buried his face against Hank's neck. He was breathing, maybe deliberately, maybe not, but it was all hot puffs of air that tickled Hank's neck. Made him want to squirm away. Connor's hands were suddenly everywhere. Running across his chest, down his belly. Squeezing, groping, touching everywhere . It was too much. It was all way too, too much. Like Hank had been thrown inside a sun and left to burn away to nothing, but fuck it felt good. He couldn't keep track of Connor. He couldn't keep up with him.

Hank tried to catch Connor's wrists, gave up, and grabbed his shoulders instead to push him far enough away that Hank could breathe .

Connor stared down at him, eyes blown black with intensity. He wet his bottom lip, leaving it shiny with... whatever the fuck he had in his mouth.

"How do you want to...?" started Hank.

"I don't have any practical knowledge of sexuality," said Connor. He cupped Hank's jaw, tucked his thumb against the corner of Hank's mouth. "But I'd like to try everything, as long as it's with you."

Hank tried to breathe but his lungs were all twisted up and he couldn't get them to untwist. He settled a hand on Connor's cheek instead. Connor nuzzled into his palm and turned to press a kiss to his skin.

"You don't know if you like everything," said Hank, breathless.

"That's why I need to try it. If I don't like something, I'll tell you. If I'm not sure that I like something, I'll tell you that too."

Connor leaned back, until they were only pressed together at their hips. Hank tried real hard not to think about how obvious his own excitement was, tenting his boxers and pushing into Connor's pelvis.

Connor gave him a considerate look. "What do you like?"

That was a helluva question. Hank grimaced. He was always shit at putting stuff like that into words. Better to be on the other side of it, touching someone, making them come apart in your hands, asking them if that's good,  yeah like that, you want some more? Wasn't likely that Connor would catch his drift with a little innuendo or some suggestive hip rolling. How much was too much? How much did Connor want?

All of it, he'd said. But there was a hell of a lot of stuff that 'all of it' could be.

"I like a lot of things. Why don't we start with what you like?" Hank raised a hand to stop Connor before he could answer. "I don't just mean me , I mean... what... aspects of this seem exciting to you? You like it when I-" he wiggled his fingers, "Y'know, inside you. But when you're picturing this in your head, what do you see?"

Connor's expression turned thoughtful. "I enjoy kissing."

"That's a good start."

"And I like having my hands on you."

Obviously. God help Hank, but this gorgeous man couldn't keep his hands off him.

"I like watching you have an orgasm. I enjoyed that quite a lot. I wish I'd had more time to process it completely. I think I would enjoy replaying the image-."

"Orgasms. Got it. Thanks." Hank winced.

Connor huffed and rolled his hips, dragging sweet pressure along Hank's cock. Hank's throat bobbed. Connor sighed content and did it again, rolling forward into Hank.

"Fuck." Hank made a grab for Connor's hips. To hold him back? To drive him closer? Hank didn't fucking know. He was gone. So fucking gone for this goddamned terminator and his fucked up smiles.

"I'd like to be naked, I think," said Connor. He didn't budge from his spot, just kept grinding into Hank until Hank's vision went to black pinpricks and he was sure he was gonna die. "And I'd definitely like you to be naked."

"Jesus." Hank dug his fingers into Connor's hips. "You sure about that? I don't..." look like you, he was gonna say. "I don't mind if you want to keep stuff above clothes."

Connor shot him a look of absolute disappointment, sharp and angry, like Hank had just said the dumbest fucking shit he'd ever heard.

"Don't be obtuse," he said, "I want to know every part of you."

"Right," said Hank. "Right." He let go of Connor and fingered the edge of his shirt.

Connor batted his hands away and took over, rucking it up and off in what should not have been such a smooth motion. Hank's shirt landed somewhere with a flat thwump .

Hank knew what he looked like. He hadn't had any interest in taking care of himself for years now, and it showed. His chest hair was an unruly map of grey that dwindled down to his navel and the waistband of his boxers. Arousal had flushed him a little splotchy. He didn't like getting naked so much anymore. Not for himself, not for the handful of partners he'd managed to scrape up since... since. He wasn't the prettiest picture and he damned well knew it.

But Connor stared at him like he was a prime cut steak.

"I think I'm going to lick you," he said.

"Of course you are." Hank tugged at Connor's shirt. "Take this off first, huh?"

Connor had already discarded the jacket before crawling into bed with Hank, and his jeans at Hank's insistence. ("Nobody sleeps in jeans, Connor. It's fucking uncomfortable." "I don't sleep, Hank." "You know what I fucking mean. I'll get you some pajamas if you don't want me ogling your legs, but no fucking jeans ."  Connor had forgone the pajamas.) But he'd kept the shirt and the measly black briefs that CyberLife decided to give him, even if they couldn't give him a cock.

Connor sat up and unbuttoned his shirt with a haste Hank hadn't seen from him. He could hear some of the threads tear, and fuck if that wasn't hot. Connor shrugged the shirt down his shoulders and cocked an eyebrow at Hank.

Hadn't missed that then. Hard to hide shit from a robot that could read his heartbeat with a glance.

Maybe he wouldn't have to ask for what he wanted, after all.

Connor tossed the shirt over his shoulder and fell over Hank. He curled his fingers in Hank's hair and nuzzled the scruff of his beard. Connor's skin was soft, so fucking soft, everywhere against him. Chest to chest, belly to belly. Hank drew his hands down Connor's spine, pressing hard enough to feel the unforgiving plastic beneath the illusion of his skin. Connor whined and arched into his touch.

"You like that, huh?" Hank chuffed a laugh and did it again.

"I like you," Connor replied. "I like your hands on me. No one's ever touched me before. No one except you."

Christ. Hank didn't question it, either. Who would have? Alive for three goddamned months and touted around to play bloodhound before being shoved back into CyberLife's closet. Hank was the only person, the only one , to ever lay his hands on Connor like this. The only one to touch his miles of perfect skin.

"Y'know, I always thought it was bunk. People saving themselves for their soulmates." Hank pressed his fingers into the dimples at the small of Connor's back. Connor groaned and bucked his hips. "Who wants to fumble around with somebody who doesn't have a clue what they're doing? Who wants their first time with the person who matters most to be like that?"

Connor pulled away to look him in the eye.

Hank quirked a grin at him. "But I kinda get it now."

Connor frowned. "I'm glad you know what you're doing."

Hank didn't. He really, really didn't. He had no idea where to start.

"Can I take these off too?" Connor plucked at the waistband of Hank's boxers.

"Knock yourself out."

Connor shimmied down to Hank's knees. They worked together to wrangle off Hank's boxers, and Connor tossed them the way of their shirts. Hank swallowed and made eyes at the ceiling. Wasn't as if the boxers were hiding much, but it was something, to sit there completely naked under Connor's scrutiny. His cock harder than it had ever fucking been in his life, curled up against his belly and flushed red as the rest of him. Connor's fingertips landed on him, scalding hot, and traced the path of a vein.

Hank's throat bobbed. His hands pulsed into fists. He looked down.

Connor flicked the tip of his index finger over the head of Hank's cock, gathering a fat bead of pre-cum. He brought it to his lips and licked it off.

Hank groaned.

"Is it alright if I'm naked too?"

Hank tried to wrangle his voice into something functional. It came out as a harsh croak. "Kinda hoping you would be."

"You know I don't... have anything."

Hank propped himself up on his elbows. "You don't have to take anything off if you don't want to. It's fine."

"I want to." Connor frowned. "I just don't want to upset you. It might look odd."

"Connor, I've seen you with all your skin turned off and I haven't run away yet, have I? I'm not gonna freak out because you've got nothing going on beneath the belt." Might mean he had to get creative with whatever the fuck they were gonna do here, but he'd be damned if he made Connor feel like shit because of what he was. What he looked like.

"You're sure?" Connor squinted, lips pursed.

"I'm sure." Hank gentled his hands down Connor's sides. "Take 'em off. Then you can rub yourself all over me. Go wild."

Connor lit up. He ducked down for a quick kiss, then shuffled away just far enough that he could slip out of his briefs. One inch at a time, like he still wasn't entirely certain about it. He was nothing but smooth, pale skin and endless legs. His crotch featureless and flat. Not a hair, not a mole, not the slightest indication of anything human at all. It was a little off-putting at first glance.

Then again, so was everything else about Connor, and Hank had fallen pretty hard for all the rest of his quirks.

Hank cocked his knees open and reached for him. Connor grinned so hard it illuminated his face and dove down between Hank's thighs, resuming his place across Hank's chest. Hank's cock was trapped between them, under the hot weight of Connor's surprisingly hefty torso. Sure weighed a lot, for having such a slim build. Connor rocked into Hank, just once, with a slow roll of his hips. It dragged a ragged moan out of Hank, shooting pleasure, fire hot, up his spine. Connor growled and dove over him, letting go of Hank's wrist so he could clutch at his sides. He buried his face in the crook of Hank's neck and licked a hot stripe across his throat.

"Jesus," Hank gasped.

"I want to taste you," Connor rumbled against his neck. "I want to taste all of you. I want to feel all of you."

"I'm not going anywhere, Connor. Have at it."

Connor blinked owlishly at him. "I can touch you everywhere? Lick you everywhere?"

Hank shrugged. "Knock yourself out."

Connor made his way down Hank's chest with nips and licks. It was... a lot. A little strange, to have someone moaning while they tongued the crease in his elbow or nuzzled into the sparse hair on his belly. Hank would be more worried about it if it wasn't obvious how much Connor was enjoying this. He was practically dry-humping Hank's leg while he licked his way across Hank's shoulder. Connor's LED whirled constantly, lighting up the room with a myriad of yellow-blue patterns that flashed across the ceiling from their brightness. Processing information with his portable forensics lab. Hank didn't want to know what he was finding there, in Hank's sweat or whatever else was on his skin. Just days of bad eating and alcohol binges.

Connor's tongue grazed Hank's nipple.

Hank gasped.

Connor paused. His breath poured over Hank's chest, hotter than Hank had ever felt it before. Hot, like his insides had heated up when Hank touched them. Connor made a curious sound and licked Hank's nipple again, deliberate this time. Pressing the flat of his tongue over it and dragging up, slow and hard.

Hank groaned through gritted teeth and clutched at him. " Connor ."

Connor sealed his mouth over the nub and sucked.

Hank shouted. His hips bucked.

Connor reached up and took hold of Hank's wrist, fingers circling over the soulmark. Hank knew it was to measure his pulse or something. Or to have that mark under his fingertips. But the feel of him, those steel-wire fingers restraining his wrist, made his cock jump, his pulse rocket.

Connor hummed something akin to approval around Hank's nipple and ground himself against Hank's cock.

"Fuck. You're killing me."

"I'm not." Connor pulled away from Hank's nipple with a wet pop. "I'm monitoring all of your vitals. You're definitely not dying."

"Brat," Hank growled.

Connor grinned and resumed his exploration.

Hank didn't squirm because it might have killed him from mortification if he had, but it was a near thing. Laying there, under Connor's hot tongue, letting him explore all the nooks and crannies of his body as if that alone might get him off. And fuck, maybe it could. Maybe it would. Hank teetered on the edge of too much and not nearly enough , couldn't stop himself from raising his hips into Connor to give himself some friction as Connor laved at the dip of Hank's hip.

Connor's fingers never once left Hank's wrist. His thumb was a hard beacon pressing into Hank's pulse point.

"Do you want me to-" Hank started.

"I'm doing exactly what I want." Connor slid down to the end of the bed, his face level with Hank's cock.

Hank's breath stuttered to a stop.

"I want to taste all of you," said Connor, eyes blazing. "Let me."

"Yeah." Hank swallowed. "Yeah, alright."

Connor closed his lips over the head of Hank's cock and groaned.

Hank shouted and bucked. Connor splayed his arm across Hank's hips and pinned him down and fuck if that wasn't the hottest thing ever.

It wasn't a blowjob like Hank had ever had a blowjob. Connor's purpose didn't seem to be to get him off. He touched, tasted, ghosted over every inch of Hank's cock and hummed at him like he was some fucking wine connoisseur and Hank was a particularly rich Merlot. He was lips and tongue and occasionally a hint of teeth that made Hank's skin break out in goosebumps. Every touch scorched him, but they were peppered on him, exploratory. Not enough to bring him to the edge. Just enough to pool his pleasure deep in his gut, an endless fucking wave of it, steady like a damned river.

Connor nuzzled the base of his cock and laved at his balls, sucking one into the heat of his mouth.

Hank grit his teeth and shivered. Every inch of him felt like it was drawn tight, elastic stretched too far, ready to snap.

"Turn over," Connor breathed over him.

Hank tried to catch his breath. Couldn't. Panted instead. "What's your... what's your plan there, Connor?"

"You said I could taste every inch of you. I intend to." He let go of Hank's wrist, Hank's hips, but pulled back only the smallest fraction. "Turn over, please?"

Jesus freaking Christ.

Hank dragged a hand over his face and did as he was told, shuffling a little awkwardly onto his belly. He shoved his arms under his pillow to prop his head up, but didn't dare look over his shoulder at Connor. Wasn't sure he could handle what he saw there. He could see his LED reflecting off the walls in waves of blue.

"You're so beautiful," Connor murmured against the small of Hank's back.  He pressed a kiss there, at the base of his spine.

Lightning shot through Hank's veins.

Wasn't called beautiful very often. Not even when he was in his prime, top of his game. Handsome? Sure. Big, bulky guy like him. But never beautiful.

Connor could call him whatever he liked. Hank wasn't gonna question him. Funky little robot could make up his own aesthetics. Who the fuck was Hank to judge?

Connor peppered kisses up his spine. He pushed Hank's hair away from his neck so he could lave at it. Hank shivered under him and buried his face in the pillow to mask his groans.

Connor nipped his ear. "Hank, don't."

"Don't what?"

"Hide away like that." Connor nuzzled him like a goddamned cat and lowered his beautiful, gorgeous weight over Hank's back. "I want to hear you."

"Huh." Hank turned his cheek into the pillow and stared at his curtains. Still dark. Still winter-grey outside.

"Thank-you." Connor smiled against his neck. Hank could feel it, the tightening of his lips, the warm breath ghosting against him. Artificial, there just for Hank, so Hank could feel him.

As much as Hank wanted to hide his face and muffle his noises, he could... he could stop himself. Let himself go a little bit. For Connor. Connor wanted to experience it, all of it, and Hank could do this for him. What the fuck did he have to be afraid of?

Connor made his way down Hank's back in a series of kisses and licks that had Hank's skin burning hot under his touch. Reduced him to a quaking mess and balled up fists, trying his damndest not to grit his teeth and swallow down all his noises. He grunted, and Connor repaid him with a kiss to the small of back. Whined low, and Connor propped his hips up, just a little, with one hand and reached around him to circle the base of his cock.

"Hank," Connor keened.

Hank knew it was coming, but he still jolted forward at the first press of Connor's tongue to the cleft of his ass. Burning hot and slippery wet.

" Fuck. Connor, jesus christ, you-"

Connor hummed against him and licked harder.

Hank's thighs quaked. He swallowed the rest of his words. They wouldn't come out if he'd tried to say them. His tongue was thick and heavy in his mouth, suddenly dry. And just... just...

Everything was bathed in heat. Fire warm from the tips of his toes to every burning, quivering part inside himself. He didn't try to swallow back his moans. Didn't try to stop himself from pushing into Connor's tongue. Didn't try to hold back the urge to chase his own pleasure.

Connor's hand tightened incrementally around his cock, adjusting to that slick-perfect pressure he'd found in the living room. He stroked Hank lazily, flicking his thumb over the head of his cock with every pass.

"Connor. Connor ." Hank couldn't say anything else. Couldn't think of anything else to say, but gasp and whine Connor's name as Connor pulled him apart. He might not have fucking protocols for this, but he could read Hank like a damned step-by-step manual. Hank twitched and Connor adjusted. Hank groaned and Connor followed him, pressed harder, deeper, faster , until Hank was nothing but little gasps and shivering muscles, pleasure lighting up every nerve.

Connor hummed against him, and Hank could feel him smiling, even as he pressed the tip of his tongue inside Hank's rim.

Hank shouted and broke apart. His hips bucked, into Connor's hand, back against Connor's face, and everything crashed into sharp, static pleasure. Felt like he'd been ripped apart at the seams and left with his guts hanging out. Open and exposed. A raw nerve, and loving every fucking second of it. His cock pulsed, and Connor kept wringing him through it, milking everything out of him. Hank would have collapsed if it hadn't been for Connor's fingers digging into his hip, holding him up. He hung his head and panted, shivering violent aftershocks.

"Connor, you have to-"

Connor pulled away.

Hank collapsed, boneless.

Connor gripped his hips and rolled him over and Hank... just let him. Didn't protest, didn't fight it. He was drained of every ounce of energy, melted into a puddle that sank into the sheets.

Connor lowered his mouth to Hank's cock and licked a wet-hot-stripe across his glans.

Hank shouted. His grabbed for Connor's head and tugged at him.

Connor pulled away with a hooded look. Dark and dangerous.

Hank's heart stuttered.

"Kinda fucking sensitive after an orgasm, buddy. You can't-"

Connor licked him.

Hank cursed. Hissed. Threw his head back and squeezed his eyes shut. Connor's tongue edged the line of pain and pleasure, sharp as a fucking knife.

"C-Connor, fucking-"

"Touch me." Connor took Hank's wrist and guided his hand to the back of his neck.

Hank groped, blindly. The edges of his skin disappeared wherever he pressed. Something whirred and clicked. The plastic slipped out from under his fingertips and suddenly everything was wires and cords, buzzing with electricity.

"Can I fuck this up?" He had to ask. Dizzy with pleasure and squirming away from Connor's deadly tongue, but he had enough brains left in his head to grunt that out.

"Just touch," Connor nuzzled his stomach, licked at the cum spattered across him. "Don't pull anything."

Good. Good. That was good. About as much as  Hank could manage right then anyway.

He dipped his fingers into the opening and ran them all along the bundles of wires.

Connor gasped. Trembled. He stilled, like a fucking statue except the buzzing whine of electricity emanating from the open panel.

Then, the fucking bastard, dove over Hank's softening cock and swallowed him whole.

"Fuck!" Hank slammed his hand inside the panel. He touched metal. Something hard and solid deep inside Connor. Something he probably shouldn't-

Connor groaned like a dying engine. It sent a cascade of vibrations all down Hank's oversensitive cock. Hank needed to- he had to-

He shoved his fingers deeper and stroked them along the metal panel, whatever the fuck it was. Wires slowed his progress, tangling around him. Hank pushed through them.

Connor's LED burst a bright pulse of red and he pulled off Hank's cock with a gasp he didn't need. His arms locked. Legs stiff.

Hank stroked the bottom of the panel, scraping his fingernails over the sheet of metal.

"Hank!" Connor's eyes slammed shut. His LED flashed red-yellow fireworks that blazed through the room. He shuddered and something inside him rattled with the violence of the motion. And just as quickly, everything in him went loose.

He stared at Hank with half-lidded eyes and shot him a lazy grin, toothy and reckless.

Hank chuckled breathlessly and eased his hand out of Connor's neck.

The panel clicked shut.

Connor leaned down to kiss him.

Hank made a face and turned away.

"I told you I can sterilize my mouth," Connor huffed.

Hank grimaced, sighed, and turned back to face Connor. "I swear to god, if I can taste ass on your-"

Connor kissed him. Smooth and slick and tasting like nothing except Connor himself, the quiet ozone flavor that permeated him. Connor pulled away with a sigh, his grin dazzling and off-kilter.

"How's that?" Hank croaked. Fuck, his throat was wrecked. Voice hoarser than if he'd run a fucking marathon.

Connor settled gently over top of him and took Hank's wrist in a lazy grip. "Perfect."

"Got enough of me, huh?"

Connor smiled and buried his face against Hank's chest. "Never."

Never .

Yeah. Yeah, Hank could get with that program.

Wasn't gonna be easy. Things weren't gonna be sunshine and daisies just because the world had changed its mind.  It'd be rough as all fuck for a long time coming yet. But Connor was here, tracing the lines of Hank's soul mark and proclaiming to their quiet little sanctuary that he'd never get tired of Hank.

And wasn't that just a helluva thing?

Chapter Text

Humans had a fascination with body modification that Connor could sympathize with. His situation wasn't as complicated as the more common household and service models, but since the revolution, since CyberLife released the remaining androids in its manufacturing warehouses, a handful of other RK800s had come to be. It was strange seeing his face on someone else. Sometimes identical, sometimes with slightly different hair, always with different clothes.

As unnerving as it was for Connor, running into another RK800 unit always socked the air out of Hank's lungs. He'd clammed up tight the first night they’d met one. Tried to drink his way through half a bottle of whiskey before Connor intervened and spent the rest of the evening reassuring him that this was him , he was the right Connor, everything was alright.

Connor could certainly understand the desire to be unique. Piercings, hair style and color, eclectic fashion choices.

And tattoos.

Appealing not just for their similarity to soul marks, but as a means of expressing one's self. Remembering loved ones. Carrying something, some piece of art, on your body until you degraded and died. Something that would last as long as you did. Definitely an appealing thought.

A pair of arms curled around Connor's waist.

Connor leaned back into Hank, tucking his head to hide his smile.

"Thinking about getting something yourself?" Hank muttered into his ear.

"You know I can't." Not without reprogramming his skin and getting some hefty, unnecessary, upgrades. "Nothing I'd get would be permanent the way your tattoos are."

"And they'd be a lot less painful too." Hank pecked a kiss to Connor's temple and stepped back. "You coming to watch?"

"Of course." Connor took Hank's hand and followed him down the hallway to a tiny room. The lights were bright, pointed at large, adjustable leather chair, worn around the seams. Connor could pick up fingerprints from a dozen people with a cursory scan, some fresh, some showing signs of age.

The artist was an android. Hank has specifically sought one out for this, for the precision of replicating the CyberLife Sans font. He had removed his LED, but even without it Connor found him instantly recognizable. Soft, with a pretty face and close-cut hair, dark skin and wide dark eyes. An HK400. Reminiscent of Connor’s first case with Hank.

Hank greeted him with an easy smile and dropped himself unceremoniously into the chair. "You don't mind an audience, huh?" He jerked his thumb at Connor.

Connor smiled, a little easier, a little less playful, and stopped next to Hank's side to take his outstretched hand.

"Not at all," said the HK400. "What are we doing today?"

Connor pulled the slip of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it over.

It was just CONNOR, written by Connor's own hand, which, even now, defaulted to the CyberLife script.

Hank unbuttoned his sleeve and rolled it up his forearm to reveal the serial number painted across his wrist. "Right there, buddy, where it's supposed to be."

The HK400 smiled. A warm, natural smile that crinkled his eyes.

"That's not an issue?" asked Connor.

While there were cases of certain people tattooing names on their arms in place of soulmarks, the practice wasn't well regarded. Doing it for an android might have appeared even less conventional.

"You're actually not the first person to come in here looking for this." The HK400 turned away to gather his tools. Sterilized needles, fresh black ink. Connor scanned it at all he prepared it.

Just in case. Only the best for Hank.

"Not the only guy with an android soulmate, huh?" Hank snorted. He tossed Connor a dopey grin that made Connor's regulator flip-flop in his chest.

"I did a woman last week with an WR600's serial number on her wrist. She was very excited to finally get his name on her. Although," the HK400 chuckled as he turned on the tattoo gun. "They'd picked out a last name for him."

"It's just Connor," said Connor.

At least... for now.

The HK400 set to work. Hank tensed up as soon at the needle hit his skin, muscles cording tight against the pain. His jaw worked in little pulses, grinding his teeth. He breathed steady and careful, though, even breaths that brought his heart rate back down.

Connor pulled up a chair and settled next to Hank's side, taking his opposite hand. "Why did you want to do it, if it was going to hurt?"

"Doesn't hurt that much." Hank shrugged his right shoulder, keeping his left arm stone still under the artist's hand. "It's more irritating, really. Like a hundred fucking mosquito bites all at once. Not the worse feeling in the world."

"But not a good one."

"Worth it, though." Hank let go of Connor to chuff his thumb across Connor's cheek. "You're more than just a serial number, y'know?"

"I wish I could show you mine."

The buzzing of the needle stopped. "You know CyberLife has released an app for that, right? A phone upgrade that we can interface with to upload code? Looks like a bunch of nonsense to humans, but it's something."

Hank made a quiet, curious noise in the back of his throat.

Connor kissed the top of his head. "There's the real sacrifice, Hank. You'll have to get a new phone."

Hank groaned. The needle started up again.

"For you?" said Hank, wincing through the pain. "Fine. But you're gonna have to put up with me throwing it against the wall when I can't get the damned thing to work."

"I think we'll figure it out."

Together.

“That mark better be as pretty as you say it is, if I’m shelling out for a new phone.”

“It is,” said Connor.

His golden tree made of everything Hank.

“It absolutely is.”

 

 

 

>> end program.