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Every Breath You Take (Connor x Reader)

Chapter Text


 

Something hot and wet rolled down my face. Blurred my vision, coated my tongue in iron. I struggled to my feet, pain lancing my shoulder; my fingers clawed at the handle of the knife.

"You gave me no choice!"

Daniel's last words before he'd made a beeline for dad assailed my swollen, bloodied ears.

I pushed through the living room, lips twisting in pain.

A pool of red slowly leaked from my dad's body. Not even a few feet away was his tablet. I sucked in a breath to stop from screaming.

My sister, Emma, was his favorite in the family. He'd have taken her alive. Another dull ache speared through my head.

Daniel was armed, and I didn't have time to spare.

Salty tears streaked down my cheeks, mixing with the iron on my tongue.

I didn't remove the blade; it would only cause me to bleed out. So I wore it. Past the team of men and women in black uniform. The ones snapping photos, sketching the scene, logging what information was available to them.

"Miss?" Someone moved to intercept me, his eyes widening at the blood. "Rich, you not sleep last night or what?" He waved behind me and the shuffle of footsteps made their way to us.

"Miss Phillips?" Rich's voice wobbled and his face paled. He turned to his teammate and said, "I was ordered not to disturb the bodies and she didn't appear to be alive-"

"Someone won't be if you don't shut the fuck up," snarled a voice from the back corner of the kitchen. I'd heard stories about Perkins, nothing of which to his credit. His condescending tone was unforgettable. "Get her down to the paramedics."

I pushed past them, heading for the rooftop, ignoring all attempts to stop me. The frigid night air whipped through my hair and teased gooseflesh on my arms.

A body in the pool. Blood sprayed atop the ground. A thick cloying scent in the air.

And Emma. Dangling like a puppy from Daniel's arm at the edge of the roof.

He saw me, his LED flashing yellow as I stepped outside. His grip convulsed on the gun against Emma's head, and he turned it on me.

"Think I won't shoot?" he shouted across the space between us. His scowl deepened and my shoulder throbbed in turn.

I heard several panicked voices from the safety of the house, but I ventured farther away. Coming parallel to the body floating atop the shining, crystalline surface of the pool.

My friend leveled the gun at me. His gray eyes swirled like the LED flashing red on his temple. Emma squirmed in his arm, her face shining with tears.

I stopped, fighting to quell my trembling hands.

Daniel stood at the edge of death, nothing but the veil of night at his back and a swarm of agents before him.

"Talk to me, Daniel," his name was soft on my lips. "I'm on your side." My gaze searched his, desperate.

The gun shook in his grip. "Cops protect mankind, unless I was mistaken."

"Forget about them, Daniel. Look at me. You know more than anyone how much you mean to me."

His LED pulsed yellow, his eyes roving over my person.

"Please let me go," Emma cried.

For one moment, his LED sparked yellow. Daniel lowered his gun a fraction and spared Emma a glance. She was shaking so badly that he tightened his grip on her, as though she might be whisked away by a sudden gale of wind.

I swallowed. He'd deviated and killed my dad. And was now playing God with my little sister. I didn't even want to think about choosing one over the other. But the gun in his hand and the knife in my shoulder spoke of the violence he wasn't afraid to deal out.

To the left of my peripheral vision, I caught the glint of moonlight on a sniper's scope, and all along the windows, more guns were trained on Daniel.

Considering the situation, there was a high chance of Daniel killing me. He was wide-eyed and acting on impulse, knowing exactly what happened to deviants were he to be caught. I looked at my sister, whimpering, held against the android she'd come to adore. I'd throw down everything I had to protect her.

As if to test that conviction, Daniel raised his weapon. His gaze snapped to something behind me.

"On my side? You're nothing but a liar." His LED was red. My blood ran like ice. "You'll just choose a better model like everyone else!"

The bullet tore through my side like fire. Flames burst behind my eyes and I collapsed to the ground. I rolled to my back, gasping for air. Emma's screams pierced my heart.

Another shot cleaved the air.

High above, a helicopter inched closer, its blades whipping the air into a maelstrom. I covered my face against the strong winds that sent the folding chairs and plastic tables flying.

"Daniel," I choked.

But he was no longer looking at me. He was intent on the newcomer walking toward him. Clad in a fitted steel gray suit, the patch on his upper arm like a slice of the ocean. Blue blood dripped with his every step.

My mouth continued to form Daniel's name, like a prayer. Begging him not to hurt Emma.

The other android held up both his hands, and in that instant, our gazes met. He should've remained calm and focused, but I saw his LED flicker yellow.

As he continued to carefully approach, the fire of the bullet licked through my veins.

The new android was speaking to Daniel, cautiously picking his way closer, his arms to his sides. He was the very definition of composed. But Daniel was erratic, waving the gun in the air, pressing it back against Emma's head, then screaming at the newcomer.

I reached up and wrapped my fingers around at the handle of the blade. With a grimace, I pulled. A cry ripped from my throat. The other android faltered, LED melting into yellow. His attention returned to Daniel, who was waving his gun at the helicopters above.

Daniel didn't react when I wrenched the blade out. I could only imagine how I looked, the hands of death creeping closer. My fingers painted the handle red. Everything was burning.

Tears pricked my eyes. I couldn't let him endanger Emma any longer.

The other android's eyes widened, and his body started to lean to the side, bracing for Daniel's shot.

With a hoarse cry, I rose and sank the blade deep into Daniel's arm. The gun slipped from his grasp, the shot tearing to the far right. He teetered, slipping off the lip of the building. As if the world had slowed, I reached for Emma. I grabbed her arm and yanked her towards safety, but Daniel was faster.

He grabbed a fistful of my hair and dragged me with him over the edge.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

Chapter Text


 A week ago, I should've been nothing but a pile to mop up on a sidewalk - but there's a first for everything. Like an android, programmed to rescue a hostage, choosing to throw himself over the edge of death to save someone who shouldn't have mattered to him or his programming.


In keeping with the theme of firsts, Gavin stood in the small bleached hospital room with me. One leg was propped against my bed while he smacked a wad of gum as loudly as possible in his mouth. The stench of sweat roiled off him like muddy water. It was an effort not to scrunch my nose, and one I failed miserably at.

"You'll be discharged soon," he drawled. He didn't add his usual spice of curse words, which unnerved me. It was enough to make me pick at my hangnails.

I'd expected more jabs from Gavin in the wake of my coworkers collecting information on the events that'd left my dad dead, my mother distraught, and my sister numb to any comfort.


Did Emma hate me? I'd ripped away the life of someone she'd loved. Someone I'd loved.

"Shit," I muttered. A bead of red bloomed from the tiny nick my nail had made.

"If that's your attempt at wrist slitting, you're doing a fucking great job," said Gavin, his lips pulling back in a jeer.

To think I'd ever believed Gavin was capable of human decency. "Why don't you demonstrate for me?"

He raised a brow. "Yeah, wouldn't you be fucking delighted?"

"Don't you have somewhere to be?" I snapped.

"Soon as you get discharged, sweetie," he practically purred, winking at me.

"You're disgusting." Breathing through my nose, I stared straight ahead at the dreadful, bleached walls. My patience was running as taut as the gauze keeping me whole.

Of all my visitors, Chris Miller was the only one that had been overjoyed that I'd not smashed my skull to pieces. Bless the man, I'd buy him a whole year's worth of his favorite coffee for how kind he was. Hank hadn't dropped by - probably too wasted to bother. Mom had just settled into a chair beside me while Gavin had idled by the window. No doubt listening into a family dynamic I'd tried so hard to bury.

After I'd decided to become a cop, my mom had withdrawn into shades of first disappointment, followed by insistence towards my having chosen the wrong path, and finally disdain. There would be no swatches of colorful fabrics, no makeup...nothing. I was not the designer she'd always wanted me to be. To both my heartbreak and my luck, she'd never uttered a single word until right before she'd left. And all she said was simply, "Why didn't you stop it?"

There was no way I could tell her the truth. That, on the way home from work, I'd picked up a present for dad: a beautiful, gold-plated wristwatch. The one he'd ogled from the windows down the street on our way to the mall, exclaiming how no one understood true value
anymore now that technology had soared to a limit that none had seen before. I'd wanted to buy it in person instead of using an android delivery service. That way, it was more personal.

I couldn't tell her, because she didn't want to blame Daniel for what had happened. Her whole life had been ‘ruined', according to her, when I'd stepped out of the ivory birdcage she'd built around me becoming a fellow designer.

To her, pinning dad's death on me was more convenient; it meant she could channel her resentment into something else that'd gone wrong, rather than accepting the truth. I wish I was being harsh, but growing up hearing her belittle me when I had any kind of differing opinion culminated in a range of verbal abuse, the likes of which dad hadn't been around to hear.

The second I'd gotten home, I'd raced to my room to wrap his gift.

My hand touched my shoulder.

There was no way I could've suspected my friend would sink a knife into me and beat me until I'd collapsed.

 


Gavin's car reeked like the metal carcass of a beer can: all tangy, sharp, and bitter. I immediately rolled down the window to save my lungs from shrinking. Empty chip bags, dirty used tissues-used for what, I didn’t want to know-and an entire nightmare's paradise of things littered the footwell.

I longed for Hank's car. Ratty as it was, there was no fear of the things festering at your feet.

The hospital flashed away in a blur of white as I kept my head by the open window, drinking in the only non-toxic air there was.

Gavin didn't seem to care, cranking up the radio as if to drown out the disgust radiating off me. Still, I couldn't drive myself, and carpooling-even with him-was better than taking a taxi and eating up my next paycheck. I could be patient.

Until the station whirred by.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Where else? Fowler'd start pissing himself if I took you to-”

"I can't go back," I interrupted him, my voice cracking.

His knuckles bled white on the steering wheel. "I'm not your chauffeur."

"You're an ass."

"Congrats, detective."

One day I would be, and that day would be glorious.

Calm down, I told myself. It's not like I had anywhere else to go. Hank would turn me away the second I showed up, even if Sumo enjoyed my presence. Partner or not, the man had his own life and his own problems. I slumped down in the seat, only to hiss at the sharp, stabbing pain in my side. I groaned, pressing a hand to the wound in an attempt to alleviate the pain.

Gavin arrived at the towering condo, then shut off the engine. He went inside while I concentrated on my breathing, ignoring the pain, and fighting away the tears. By the time I got out, perspiration slick on my forehead, Gavin walked back out, catching the door with his boot. He wore a displeased frown as he waited, like he'd rather let it close on me.

"Thanks," I murmured. The second I'd stepped into the building, an oppressive weight pressed down on my lungs. The space felt too wide and empty; the clean, bright walls were suddenly too harsh.

An android escorted me to an elevator, his gaze never changing from the programmed sunny disposition. Deep down, did he find me pathetic? Did he hate me? Did he pity me? He stared straight ahead, seemingly unaware of my careful observation of his posture-perfect profile. The LED glowing blue on his temple captured my attention.

I bit my lip, imagining the light sliding into red.

The elevator stopped, and I made my way to our door, refusing to let my nerves cause me to falter.

Inside, darkness swallowed everything. Mom sat in the living room, rooted to the couch as if the leather had melded with her body and was holding her in place. The TV served only as background noise to the horror she was no doubt replaying over and over in her mind. One I hadn't seen, but could vividly picture.

At her bare feet lay Dad's smashed tablet. Blood still stained its surface.

"This is why I didn’t care when you joined the cops. They can’t protect anyone." She turned her head and refused to look at me.

My stomach dropped.

I opened Emma's door.

Her light was on and she was curled into a ball at the foot of her bed. Her face was buried in her arms, slow breaths sending her hair fluttering. Strands of her brown hair had come loose from her ponytail, framing her face messily. A small light glowed from under her pillow, and I unearthed it with dread. The screen displayed a radiant picture of Daniel and Emma, their faces alight with joy.

Dragging a hand over my face, I sighed. Guilt gnawed through me, baring me in ways I never wanted anyone to see. I shut my eyes, slid the tablet back under the pillow, and stepped across the hall to my room.

The door opened with a faint creak. The space was devoid of any personal belongings, because Mom had believed adults shouldn't care for anything unless they served to impress others. All of my favorite dolls, books, games, and movies had been gutted long ago, leaving only a single shelf packed with fashion magazines - the ones Mom had picked for me. A bed sat against one wall, plush rose-colored blankets thrown artfully over a cream comforter.

As work kept me away most of the day, there was no reason to add my own touch. Not when it'd be taken down anyway. I was also just far too tired after long shifts to listen to Mom explain how unnecessary a single blue throw pillow was.

Grabbing my black leather jacket from my closet, I shrugged it on and stared at my reflection in the gloom. I'd certainly seen better days. Standing there, I could almost feel the walls closing in. My breath rattled.

I practically flew out the door and into the safety of the elevator. The same android from before stood in the compartment. He didn't bother me with any questions. He wasn't designed to.

Daniel had always been curious about things. I'd seen humanity in him before he'd become violent. And I'd shoved him off the rooftop.

And Dad…I turned around to collect myself.

When I reached the lobby, something deep in my marrow throbbed. To stay in bed all day, swaddled in sheets but feeling no warmth in that house, it would drive me mad.

I went outside and hailed a taxi, arriving at the DPD as the sun was melting into the horizon in a brilliant flash of oranges, golds, and reds. A hint of lilac tinged the clouds with an ethereal blush along with a gilding of yellow, as if to soften the cracks in my heart.

I pushed through the doors and flashed my ID, keeping my expression neutral.

Some people drank away their troubles, but I couldn't bring a bottle of poison to my lips after seeing Hank drown himself in their sweet, numbing trap.

A lot of the shows I grew up with painted law enforcement as some kickass, rewarding job. Rewarding, absolutely. But kickass? There was a whole lot of paperwork, and all-nighters working on case files, only to realize you’d never see the end of it. The shows only depicted what audiences wanted to see, not what actually happened.


Depression, homesickness, exhaustion, and more, plagued the team, but they were tucked away into smiles, and shoved between weathered scowls.

The office was bathed in bright white lights, the kind that kept you awake even when your body was screaming for sleep. Unlike the hospital's disinfectant-reeking environment, the delicious scent of coffee permeated the air, growing heavier the farther I went through the room, until it gradually became overpowering.

Now that I was logged back into the system, I expected Fowler to smash through his door like a bull, but so far so good.

My desk was situated next to Hank's, my Lieutenant and partner for patrol and various activities. AKA, drinking excursions. Each visit had drained my soul until I'd stopped tagging along. My wallet had benefited the most from this decision, as Hank had frequently used my money to pay for his drinks.

Sitting down, I opened my drawer and withdrew the manila envelope cushioned between two copied case files I'd stowed away to hide. Much as I wanted to pay Chris a visit, I needed to get this done first.

Hunching over the documents, I checked off everything required of me onto a separate notepad. All clear. I slammed the $30 entry fee down, securing it to the page with a paperclip. I didn't care what Hank thought regarding my sloppy presentation - he was the one in charge of making sure everything was fit for submission, after all.

Gritting my teeth, I signed my name and put everything into a clear file, setting it atop the folders on Hank's overcrowded desk. He had the gall to call mine messy, but you could at least see its surface.

When I straightened, I felt someone's gaze burning into my back.

Fowler stood outside his door, his brow heavy. I'd expected him to yell, but here he was. Whatever his reason for sparing me, I wasn't about to spit back in its face.

"Captain," I said, approaching him.

"Don't Captain me," he snorted, looking less than amused. Not that he was anything but, to be fair.

"My office. Now. " His tone left no room for discussion.

I passed Chris, who gave me a salute. A groan bubbled in my throat. An android shut the door behind us and Fowler sank into his chair, fixing me with a steely look. His office never changed, a perfect model of the ultimate clean desk.

"You and Anderson do well together," he started, taking me aback.

"Well?" I blurted without thinking, disbelief coloring my words.

"Phillips, quiet. There're more than enough officers to spare, so I'm assigning you and Anderson to a special case. However, I'm not about to have you running around right now."

"What are you saying?"

"That you're gonna lay low-”

"I'll do whatever I can to stay in this office. I'll glue my ass to my chair, I'll hand out coffee, I'll be your errand girl. I'm not," I snapped, unable to stop the anger rushing out of me, "staying there to rot."

Fowler glared at me until I took a deep breath, and then he said, "You're gonna lay low and help Anderson with whatever menial tasks he has until you're fresh and ready again. And no, you're never going to make anyone coffee, ever. I forbid it."

He looked at me with finality, and I cringed, recalling how I'd once burned the coffee so badly everyone had their androids pick up an order for the team instead. Gavin had gotten an awful stomach ache, though, which had been sweet revenge after he'd dumped half a tube of ketchup into my thermos.

"Special case?" I asked, not understanding.

He nodded. "Deviant cases, specifically."

A chill swept over me.

"Look, I get what happened. It wasn't my choice to assign you to this."

"But you're always in charge?"

"Damn right, Phillips.Unless my boss tells me to. Seeing as no one will work with Hank unless I shove a stake up their ass, you're the best option I have."

My expression soured. "I've not done anything to earn this?"

Fowler slammed his hand on the desk, his voice rough. "You're not one of my best, but you do your job well and I see that. God knows how much shit Hank gives you. But you're an officer. And if I could, I'd have another detective on this. The scope is just too broad for
someone of your caliber."

Hearing that hurt, but it wasn't my place.

"Then why? It can't be just because of Hank." I had my suspicions, and when he looked at me, the confirmation in his expression hit me like a truck. Not knowing where to look, I crossed my arms and stared to the right of him.

"Your android deviated, and from what we gathered, you were quite close to it. There's a whole bunch of ‘nope's to factor in since you care too much about them. And - I almost forced someone else with Hank."

Dread pooled in my stomach. Hank had warned me about eyes in the force. Internal Affairs regularly checked up on the people working in law enforcement, and for someone with my kind of background, there was a higher chance of them monitoring me. They weren’t the only ones I needed to be on guard for. Cyblerlife itself took any mention of androids seriously.

"I don't need to go through all those cases where you put yourself at risk trying to understand what those things were doing and why, but you can't do that shit again. If you didn't learn they're not human after what it did to your family I'd think you were stupid."

I flinched.

"Hank has all the details. Stay in the office all night if that's what you want, but I expect all your files completed. Stay off the record, understood?"

I nodded mechanically. Perhaps it'd be better if he'd revoked my badge or yelled at me, instead of this oddly mellowed tone he was using. Waiting on my superior wasn't new, but for the first time since I'd worked with him, I felt completely and utterly lost. How could I explain androids were sentient? That I wasn't crazy, and Daniel hadn't been either.

Chris immediately dipped behind his monitor when the office door opened, but after peering around the side and seeing only me, he beckoned me over.

"Did you get your ass handed to you? ‘Cuz I didn't hear him yelling like he always does. What'd you do?" he asked all in one breath.

"It's what he didn't do." I sighed, plopping into my seat and spinning the chair. I tilted my head to the ceiling, watching the tiled pattern swirl into nothingness.

"Well, don't leave me in suspense," he said, stopping my orbit. 

I paused as the room settled back into equilibrium. "Thanks, Chris," I said, "for visiting me."

He shook his head. "Anything for someone who puts a laxative in Gavin's drink."

I smirked, relishing in the memory. "Hank's gonna have more of a monopoly on my wallet now," I said, frowning. So much for my submission. Even if he turned it in, I wouldn’t be allowed to take the exam until after the case was finished. What luck.

Chris sat up straight and said, "You're working with Connor and Hank then?"

"Connor?" I'd never heard of anyone in our office go by that name.

My friend nodded, steepling his fingertips together. "He was sent to secure your android buddy when he took Emma."

No way - I thought he'd been with the FBI? There was no time to wait - I had to thank him for saving my life. For giving me a moment to protect Emma from Daniel's fate.

"Where is he?"

"Connor's not here right now, but-”

"Where'd he go?"

Chris held out a hand, as if trying to calm an aggressive animal. "Looking for Hank, but hey, he'll be back real soon."

"It's urgent," I said, clamoring to my feet and heading towards the entrance. Even if he found Hank, he'd be stuck trying to wrestle the guy away from his liquor.

He threw up his arms. "Fine, ignore me. You'll walk right into him anyways."

I made a heart with my fingers and raised them at Chris, but he swatted it away. "Sorry, only my wife can give me love."

My footsteps felt lighter than they had all day as I rushed out of the building, looking down each hallway just in case. The sun had drowned behind a silver-flecked and indigo canvas, and the ground was bathed in the soft glow from the streetlights.

Hank's favorite bar was automatically my first go-to, but my feet drew to a halt before I could even leave the DPD by more than a few paces. A glimmer of blue caught the glow of the golden lights. A band of the ocean on his arm, another in a triangle over his chest. He was facing the parking lot, expression obscured in shadow. Then he turned so his back was beneath the lights, looking this way and that.

Perhaps he'd been able to get Hank out sooner than I'd thought, and had been dropped at the curb by his superior. I didn't think he'd be too upset by Hank's departure, considering none of the androids lingered around the man anyway.

I edged closer, keeping as silent as possible. Something in me was sparking at the familiar sight of his steel gray jacket, the back spelling 'Android' in white. Like a lost puppy, he tilted his head to the side, then turned around, his LED swirling.

We were a few feet apart and yet somehow it felt like there was a gaping chasm between us. The android's eyes were a brown so deep they appeared black, and his hair, likewise, was pushed back, only for a stubborn handful to swirl and dip about, the edges teasing his
forehead like an unruly wave caressing the shore.

The streetlights set him aglow in gold.

Instead of my initial expression of gratitude, my first thoughts were that he was remarkably handsome. The kind of handsome many would call classic as they referred to black and white movies. I shut my mouth so hard my teeth clacked.

He took the first leap over the chasm.

"Hello, my name is Connor, the android sent by Cyberlife."

"Cyberlife?" I repeated, a bead of sweat sliding down my neck.

"Yes. The Lieutenant asked me to wait here for his return. But I am afraid he has been gone much longer than it should take to fetch some paperwork." He glanced at the badge sticking out of my jacket's pocket. "His name is Hank Anderson. Have you perhaps seen
him?"

The air in my lungs whooshed out of me. "I don’t know how that man ever became a lieutenant, always trying to get out of work."

Connor blinked several times, tilting his head once more. My brow wrinkled at the spectacle, caught off guard. There was something human about him, more so than any of the androids in the office. "Lieutenant Anderson was able to rise to his current position as Lieutenant Detective due to his exceptional history, notably his work in red ice, an impressive title among his colleagues." The LED swirled as Connor explained his opinion, based off whatever information he was seeing.

"Uh, yes," I said, bobbing my head up and down.

"Who are you, Officer?" He pointed his chin towards the badge shining beneath the light.

"Oh, um, I'm actually going to be working with you, Connor," I started, offering him my badge to glance over. "On the deviant cases." I held out my hand and he took it, his own warm and gentle.

His forehead wrinkled in surprise. "Officer Phillips?"

I was terrified for a single moment he'd run a background search on me, but instead, "I didn't expect to meet you until much later, but it's a pleasure to work with you." He held a hand up to his heart and the corners of his mouth curled up.

My own thinned into a straight line as I glanced to the side, distinctly aware of the way I was admiring him. This really wasn't the time or place. In fact, I shouldn't have even thought that at all. "The pleasure is mine," I said, meeting his expectant gaze once more. I started picking at my fingernails, gathering my words. "And, thank you."

My new partner's brows drew together. "What have I done?"

I stepped closer until I was doused in the light and peeled away my jacket. Rolling up my cap sleeve, I revealed to him the patch of gauze protecting the wound over my shoulder where Daniel had stabbed me.

Connor's nostrils flared, and he immediately looked down at my side, right where the bullet had passed through. "You're the girl who threw herself off the rooftop," he said, his LED furiously swirling as if he were struggling to piece together what he was seeing.

I breathed out a sigh. "So you remember me?"

Connor dipped his head. "My memory is backed up at Cyberlife, so I had to access it."

"Why would you need to do that?" I asked, not understanding why he couldn't keep his own like the androids here. Connor blinked and said nothing. Confusion was scrawled over his entire body.

"I self-test regularly," he settled on, which wasn’t an answer at all.

Stunned into silence, I drew back and pulled my jacket tighter about me. His LED began to swirl once more, and he threw me a strange look. "How is your fish?"

"My what?"

"There was a fish at your place. It had somehow gotten out of its tank and was dying."

A loud bam shot through the night.

I whirled around to find Chris, inexplicably sprawled over his own garbage bin. He looked between us, then proceeded to stash the spilled contents back into the container. Connor leaned forward to peer at him, so close the warmth of his body wrapped me in an embrace.

I stiffened.

"Uh, hello again, Connor," Chris said, refusing to look at me. "Hank's inside, hiding at his desk."

Connor practically grew a wagging tail at the news, and he thanked Chris before excusing himself. Right as he went in, Connor stopped. Slowly, he met my gaze. His LED was yellow. A second later, he carried on back inside.

I turned to Chris, who was busy dusting off his slacks. "Androids carry out our trash, if I recall."

My friend offered a cheeky grin, "They do?"

 

Chapter Text


 

When I returned to the office, I found a storm cloud of a man, hulking like an unfurled umbrella at his desk, Connor at his side. Hank heard my approaching footsteps and glared at me.

Connor turned like hands on a clock, one leg moving first before the rest of him followed suit. It was odd to watch, like a newborn fawn struggling to take its first few steps.

"Where the fuck is your phone?" Hank snapped.

"You been drinking?" I asked, fishing it from my pocket. No new notifications, so he couldn't say he'd called, which I could tell was his immediate next question.

Sure enough. "Why the hell did you buy that fucking thing if you won't answer my damn calls? Don't even bother anymore."

I placed my cell atop his desk and folded my arms, and Hank grumbled and started mumbling incoherently.

Connor, meanwhile, said, "The Lieutenant hasn't called you, Officer Phillips. He was quite preoccupied with his drink this evening."

"Shut up," Hank snarled, drawing a startled look from Connor.

I asked, "What's going on?"

My superior shot Connor a scowl and said, "You, get your ass outside. We'll leave in a sec."

"Certainly, Lieutenant."

I grabbed Connor's wrist as he passed by. "Did you forget it's raining right now?" I said to Hank. "Give him the keys."

"Fuck that. Just stand in the lobby or somewhere I can find you, okay?"

"Yeah, wouldn't want your seats to get soaked," I snapped at the old man. "See you in a bit," I told Connor, much more gently.

The android looked between us before leaving the room.

"You don't have to be such an ass."

"Don't go telling me how I should treat those plastic assholes, thank you very much."

During one of my least proud moments in law enforcement, I'd broken down at a crime scene. The deviant involved had been horribly abused and tortured, and I couldn't understand why my coworkers had treated the victim as the monster.

Without what I knew now of Hank's past, I never could've guessed how much pain my own suffering during that time had caused him. To see someone shed tears over a machine, the kind that had taken his happiness away; he must've felt like he was being torn apart trying to calm me down.

But that didn't excuse his actions, such as writing me up as the office Android Sympathizer, later admitting it was one of his biggest regrets when he'd broken down at Jimmy's over his beer. We'd been partners for over a year when he'd cracked in front of me, and despite the awful start we'd had, he'd said he never meant to hurt me. He thought he'd been teaching me a vital lesson-one he didn't expect would stain my record for the years to come, preventing me from obtaining a promotion. An angry report of my constant empathy for androids that could get in the way of future missions was meant to prove how I wasn't in the right headspace, had been his way of thinking.

"It was kind of you to pay me a visit at the hospital."

Hank stiffened, slowly meeting my gaze.

My dad and his son, destroyed by androids. Had he not just returned from drinking, and had my family's lives not been uprooted only a week ago, this might've been some dark humor we could've shit on together.

To my surprise, Hank snatched my arm. He pulled me into the kitchen area and told the android standing there to leave. With alcohol on his breath and grief scuttling across his weathered face, the man looked worse than usual. His gray hair enveloped him like a bird's nest, and his scruffy beard only served to sharpen the point of how far he'd let himself go. Not that he didn't keep reminding me about my inability to control my emotions for them. He was right, in some ways, he just went about the harshest route trying to illustrate his point.

I wondered what Connor had thought upon seeing Hank's official ID compared to the man now. The difference was like night and day.

"Listen to me, and listen good," he said. "We're leaving right now for a homicide case and from what Connor's told me, it sounds like a deviant."

Oh no.

"I shouldn't have to watch out for you every time those things get involved, but I do. More than ever now."

I frowned. "What does that mean?"

Hank's laugh was rough like gravel. "They sent that thing to work with me. It was just supposed to be me, they said. But when your name crops up as much as it does, as some poor shit who cries for the poor killer androids-"

"They're being abused by their owners," I snapped back, and Hank's gaze bore into mine with an intensity I'd never seen before.

"When you're constantly getting stored away into a pretty little file about how you can't stop your bleeding heart; about how you tried to protect one of those things during an investigation, and I had to come up with a story to get you out of official questioning, do you see where that puts you?"

Dread pooled in my stomach. He was beyond pissed, having to recount my past like that. Or, if the twitching muscle near his jaw were any indication, beyond worried about me.

"That thing's meant to be here for hunting down those plastic things you can't stop having pity-parties over, but I can bet you my next drink you're being watched too."

"There's no way they'd send out a new model just to monitor me."

Hank sucked in a breath. "Kid, if you really wanna become a detective you need to stop seeing what's in front of you, and see what's surrounding you. You're wasting good money by applying for that exam with how you are." He jabbed a finger into my shoulder. "I don't think our android's watching you at all. If anything, it's stuck too far up in its investigations for me to worry."

I flinched. "CyberLife?"

Hank glanced around, as if to make sure no one was there. The nearest camera was just outside this room, occasionally turning to record the area. But Hank had driven me into the corner near the fridge, so our voices wouldn't carry.

"Who knows," he whispered, despite the camera's distance. "All I know is you've quite the record, and despite all the more experienced candidates in this office, you were chosen to be my partner."

"Fowler said he had too many officers and not one of them would put up with you," I hissed back.

He shrugged. "Damn right I don't got time for them. It makes sense to put my partner up in this - but something feels off, given your history, and deviants popping out of the air."

"Maybe, but it just seems a little too much to be suspicious of someone like me. What threat do I even pose to a company as massive as CyberLife?"

"How should I know?" he said. "Look, when we get to the scene, you do exactly as I say, got that?"

He left me to the corner to collect my thoughts for a few moments. It was absurd to think Cyberlife might be concerned about a nobody cop - I wasn't even a detective. Hank had just had too much to drink. If anything, Hank should be worried someone would be coming up to him about his alcohol consumption while on duty.

Steeling my nerves, I headed for Hank's car.


Rain pelted the night while heavy metal shredded through the vehicle. Hank parked and addressed Connor with a pointed finger. "You wait here. I won't be long. Come on, Phillips."

Connor leaned forward as if trying to catch Hank's attention. "My instructions are to accompany you to the crime scene, Lieutenant."

I unbuckled as Hank said, "Listen, I don't give a fuck about your instructions. I told you to wait here, so you shut the fuck up and you wait here."

Connor's eyelids fluttered, and he settled back in his seat, lips pressed tight together. It was a startingly human action, and I had to remind myself of Hank's warning.

Hank shut the door behind him, trapping some of the cold air inside. I didn't say anything to my new partner, too frazzled after Hank's earlier lecture and what lay ahead.

Red and blue lights flashed through the raindrops, scattering the colors into a blinding crystalline sheet. Freezing cold bit through my leather jacket and sliced through my hair, trailing behind in wet ribbons. A crowd of reporters amassed outside the house where patrol kept them back.

"Joss Douglas, for Channel 16, can you tell confirm if this is a homicide?" A man blocked my path, pushing a microphone into my face.

I shoved it aside and followed Hank.

In the distance, I heard a car door slam. Connor.

Passing through the holographic yellow crime scene tape, I headed towards the man on the porch, who was anxiously drumming his fingers against the stack of paper in his hands.

From behind, I heard the patrol officer say, "Androids are not permitted beyond this point."

Hank, who'd been speaking to another officer, rolled his eyes to the heavens as if asking them to send a flood to carry away the plastic garbage swimming after him. "It's with me," he said.

Connor passed through, completely unfazed by the rain soaking him or the visibly pissed off Hank.

"What part of stay in the car didn't you understand?"

"Your order contradicted with my instructions, Lieutenant."

I bit back a laugh at the look in Hank's eyes.

"You don't talk, you don't touch anything and you stay outta my way, got it?" he gave up.

Connor agreed.

The man on the porch, a detective named Ben Collins, nodded at me, then stepped into the rain to greet Hank.

"Evening, Hank. We were starting to think you weren't gonna show." He looked Connor up and down with amusement.

"That was the plan until this asshole showed up," Hank said.

"So, got yourself an android, huh?" Ben mused, leading us to the porch and into the safety away from the rain.

Hank scoffed.

The detective explained how the landlord had become disgruntled, then worried when his tenant hadn't paid his rent for a few months, only to walk in and discover his corpse.

I'd gotten used to seeing and handling the dead, no matter how surreal it was. It was part of the deal of law enforcement. My friends used to ask me about murders and the like, but when it came down to it, cases involving the dead weren't exciting.

They were depressing, they got under your skin and buried into your REM cycle, haunting you when you couldn't break free of sleep paralysis. I eventually grew a tougher skin to deal with it. With having to pick up and touch the deceased to learn what had happened to them; to look past who they'd been so as not to become overwhelmed by it all. But the one thing that always got to me, always got to even the most seasoned officer, was the smell.

Connor slipped in the water sluicing off Hank and slipped off the edge of the porch. He landed on his rear with a splash in the muddy lawn. One of the patrol officers standing inside snickered. Hank and Ben had already passed over the threshold of the main entrance and hadn't seen.

"You alright?" I asked, helping him back up onto the porch. A droplet fell from my chin and landed on his nose.

Connor blinked up at me, looking like a lost puppy. "Yes, thank you, Officer," he whispered.

A knot tightened in my chest. Androids were constantly harassed, ridiculed, and beaten down, often literally. I didn't know what life Connor had led before now, or if he even had had one before this, but right now, all I could see from the others was disdain for his existence. Mockery for his efforts. It hurt.

"Officer?" Connor tilted his head up questioningly while I became lost in my own thoughts. He reached over to pat my shoulder and I started.

"Your sense of smell is stronger than mine, right? You may want to prepare yourself for this one." We stood back on dry ground. The officer at the entrance had disappeared into the house, leaving the door open for us.

I let go of my partner and made for the entrance, but Connor grabbed my hand.

"Officer, you appear to be under a lot of duress. Are you nervous about the body?"

"I just prefer to see living people," I said.

"People - they tend to glance to the left, and often their pulse rapidly accelerates, when they lie. Sometimes their voice may even change."

Damn, maybe detective really wasn't in my stars.

"Let's put those skills of yours to the test, Connor," I said, sliding out of his grasp and stepping into the house.


Carlos Ortiz was like most of the people in Detroit who'd purchased an android; a product promising a wealth of advantages to the mundane lives of today.

Now, in his house on Pine Street, Ortiz lay folded in on himself like a crumpled paper bag, blood streaking down his protruding belly and speckling his forehead.

His android was nowhere to be found.

There had been such a recent surge in deviancy cases, but I could only imagine that Ortiz was still shocked when the product he'd purchased had turned against him.

CyberLife advertised androids like any other company would a phone. They did what you wanted them to, because that's what they were designed to do. They didn't have sentience.

When I glanced over, Connor was busy piecing together the too-neat scrawl of 'I AM HUMAN' above the body, which Hank had linked immediately to Ortiz's android. He moved toward the knife on the floor. Hank watched him with concealed expectation as he slid one finger through the dried blood and pressed it to his tongue.

My eyes widened.

Hank shuddered. "Err, Jesus! What the hell are you doing?" Beat me to it.

The android stood and looked at Hank as though he were the crazy one. "I'm analyzing the blood. I can check samples in real time. I'm sorry," he said, suddenly seeming to realize that humans didn't regularly put blood in their mouths, "I should've warned you."

"Ok, just...don't put any more evidence in your mouth, got it?" Hank fumbled for something to say, completely unnerved.

On this, I agreed with Hank.

"Got it," Connor said, looking back at his fingers like he just couldn't wait for a tasty snack.

"Fucking hell, I can't believe this shit."

I worked tirelessly beside my superior, inspecting the evidence before me and piecing it all together in my head, in the most logical explanation I could manage. I'd seen a packet of red ice, a dried puddle of blood further away from the body, and of course, the multiple stab wounds puncturing Ortiz.

On a table were several ads. One in particular sat atop the pile, as if it'd been recently examined. Sporting bright neon pink letters, and a scantily clad android woman, the logo read, 'Eden Club: Come Visit Us'.

Chris joined me. "Hey, how's the night life going?" He glanced at the small piece of paper and raised his eyebrows.

I smirked. "You their advertiser?"

"Plastic doesn't do it for me," he said, eyes glazing over as he undoubtedly thought of his wife at home.

"God, you're almost as sick as Ortiz was."

"Don't judge, some people can't handle a real person," he joked.

Hank pushed through us, and raised his eyebrows at the card in my hands. "Is this why you're so emotional about these damn things?"

Heat flooded my skin. "Shut up, Hank. I'm pretty sure they only have women anyways, I haven't seen a single ad for a male."

"And how would you know about that?" Chris teased, clearly enjoying my embarrassment.

"You're not helping me here," I said, cheeks aflame. "Don't pretend we weren't on that Eden Club case a few months back."

Hank crouched down to look at a pool of dried blood on the floor. "Kids these days. You used to be excited for some new damn phone, and now you're talking about fucking plastic."

I was about to put down the ad and head over to the southern part of the room when, to my horror, a hand reached over and turned the Eden Club card around. His sleeve was steel gray. Connor's breath warmed the shell of my ear, making me hyper aware of every inch of him, despite the gap between us.

The house was small to begin with and with the addition of evidence scattered about, there was even less room to go around. I was trapped with the table to one side, Chris on the other side, Hank in front, and Connor behind me.

"Officer, I can assure you that CyberLife has done its best to ensure equal pleasure for both men and women. As you can see here," he pointed at a line of text near the bottom, his hand brushing against mine, "both male and female androids have been supplied to ensure the most satisfying experience for its customers."

I wanted to die.

Chris covered his laugh with a cough, making himself busy by looking back at his notes.

"If you're ever dissatisfied, you may fill out a survey for Cyberlife. They take customer service very seriously."

"Oh, I see..." I said, wanting all of this to be over, but not wanting to cut Connor off when he was so eager to explain.

"Additionally, being their most advanced model to date, should you need to express any concerns or feedback to Cyberlife, I am able to relay such information directly to them at any time."

"I don't think that'll be necessary."

Chris cheekily said, "Connor, question."

"Yes, Officer Miller?"

I glared at my friend, but he ignored me.

"I don't understand how," he coughed, fighting to maintain a cool demeanor, "that stuff works. Can a girl get pregnant from the android?"

"Chris!" I snapped.

"What, it's a valid question! Haven't you ever thought about it? Like, if it's synthetic stuff, I guess you wouldn't have to worry, but how do they even get it up?"

"Just stop, we're supposed to be investigating. You're starting to sound like Gavin." I hit him with the best insult I could think of.

He was playing dumb, I could see it in the way he expectantly awaited Connor's answer.

"Of course I'm happy to answer that for you; that's a common question." I had let go of the card, but Connor was still holding onto it, and by extension, me. Why were we having this conversation?

Hank, bless the man, cursed. "Knock it off, Miller, Phillips. If you're here to mess around, then leave. And Connor, let go of Phillips, everything about that angle looks so fucking wrong - it's weirding me the shit out."

"Sorry, Hank. Just really curious," Chris said.

Connor released his grip and the card fell back to the table, its embarrassing pink slogans charged with innuendo. I ducked away from him, thankful for the dim lighting to conceal the color blooming in my face. Connor looked at Hank, then at me, lines creasing his forehead. "What did he mean by it looked 'wrong'?"

"Nothing, Connor, he just wants us to hurry up with the investigation."

My partner pursed his lips, having caught me in a lie again.

I passed Chris, who broke down into laughter. He covered his mouth with his shirt.

"What the hell? That's not funny, Chris."

"Come on, your face was priceless," he said.

"In case you haven't noticed, there's a dead body in the room and we're disrespecting him."

He raised both hands. "Alright, I got it. Just lighten up a little."

I huffed, scratching my neck.

Hank had told me not to leave the room, so I waddled about, having seen all there was to see. Connor was up close and personal with the deceased, examining every detail. Did he have some way to dial down his olfactory receptor sensitivity?

"Report your findings," Hank ordered me.

"Ortiz was likely high on red ice when he got into some altercation with his android. They stabbed him until he died."

"It stabbed him until he died," Hank corrected me. "Where's it now?"

"The place had been locked up tight before the landlord arrived. My guess is they're still here."

He didn't bother correcting my pronoun used to address the android, nor did he object to my theory. "Barely a pass. Let's see what plastic cop here can do."

As if on cue, Connor appeared around the corner. "Lieutenant, he was stabbed; twenty-eight times."

I gasped. "Twenty-eight? Holy shit."

"Seems like the killer really had it in for him," Hank commented, appearing pleased by Connor's deductions.

The latter, however, looked troubled. He glanced to the side, his eyes narrowing in thought. From the kitchen, Chris crowed at a magazine in his hands. "This guy really loved androids. Guess he wasn't one for the talk after the deed."

I shook my head. "Dude, if you keep talking about that stuff I'm going to think you're into it too."

"My wife is my only lover," he beamed, throwing the magazine down.

Connor headed for the back door, peering at the footprints outside. Hank followed him out, fixing me with a warning glare to remain where I was.

"I got it," I said, deflating. It's not like I was gonna find the deviant and help them get away.

A chair was overturned, drops of blood leading to the larger pool back in the other room. Right in front of me was a bat. I gripped my stomach, fingers digging into the bullet hole in my side.

The chair had been knocked down, there was a bat scratched to hell, and Ortiz lay dead with twenty-eight stab wounds in his chest. I rose to look at the kitchen knife holder on the wall. One was missing.

Red blood splattered the floor at my feet, right against the counter above where the knives rested.

The door clicked shut, drowning out the sound of the rain, and Hank chuckled. "Lucky guess, Phillips. It's in the house after all."

My blood ran cold.

Why would they stay cooped up with a corpse for three weeks?

"Come on, let's find them."

I bunched my fists.

"Hank, I think I know what happened," I said.

Hank gave me one of his rare smiles, the kind that was gone between one blink and the next, making you wonder if it'd been a trick of the light. His voice was softer than usual. "I know."

My lips parted in surprise. "But I never said anything?"

He smirked. "You've been doing this for four years now, I know when you're onto something. And for the record, minus the things only he can detect, I'd say you passed."

Ah, so he was testing Connor.

I smiled, pride warming my chest at Hank's praise.

As if that smile had wiped away the haunts of his past, Hank pointed his chin at Connor, and I saw that glint in his eyes. He was excited by this. Despite his alcoholic tendencies, Hank was made for being a detective.

Connor said, "I think the victim attacked the android with the bat."

"That lines up with the evidence, go on." Hank folded his hands behind his back as Connor circled around to the chair.

"The android stabbed the victim."

"So, the android was trying to defend itself, right? Okay, then what happened?"

"The victim fled to the living room," Connor answered, and I watched Hank carefully, seeing the tiny spark in his eyes grow brighter.

We retraced our steps back to where Ortiz lay, and Hank said, "And he tried to get away from the android? Alright, that makes sense."

"The android murdered the victim with the knife."

Hank shrugged. "Okay, your theory's not totally ridiculous, but it doesn't tell us where the android went."

The Lieutenant had also walked me through the steps on my first crime scene, as if it were a dance, each person taking turns at forming the next step. He'd been just as smug then, but also just as helpful. I couldn't help but wonder why Hank was so invested in helping a 'plastic asshole'.

Connor looked into the distance, as if picturing the scene. "It was damaged by the bat and lost some thirium."

"Lost some what?"

"Thirium. You call it blue blood."

Shit, Ortiz really had been abusing his android. "What the fuck is wrong with people?"

Hank shot me a sharp glare and I sighed, meeting Connor's gaze. A strand of his hair had come loose, curling over his forehead.

Connor explained that thirium evaporated after just a few hours and only he could detect it, so Hank let Connor wander ahead to pinpoint where the trail ended.

"Don't let her out of your sight, got it?"

"Hank, what the hell do you think I'm gonna do?" I protested.

"Got it, Lieutenant. Follow me, Officer."

If Hank was so worried, why let me go with Connor, who was trying to find the deviant? I swear I couldn't tell what that man was thinking sometimes.

The bathroom was right next to the dead-end hallway Connor was examining.

"Did we check in here?" I asked.

"No, I haven't," he said, and we entered the cramped space. I moved aside the shower curtain, drawing back in shock at the sight of a statue standing on the shower floor. It was thin and tall, intricately carved and deeply unsettling, especially paired with the many 'rA9' phrases marked all over the walls.

"What the hell is that?" I picked it up carefully, looking back up at Connor. "Is this some kind of cult thing?"

"You mean a religious offering?"

"I guess. You don't think he killed Ortiz as a sacrifice, do you?" I asked, chewing my bottom lip. "Stuff like this really creeps me out - here, you look at it."

I pressed the statue into his waiting hands, rubbing my arms as a chill swept up my back.

"I can't tell what it is," he admitted, placing it back on the tiled floor.

"Well, I don't want to look at that again," I said, despite knowing I'd have to after the deviant was rounded up for questioning.

Connor headed for the door and I hesitated.

He looked back at me. "Officer?"

"What happens," I swallowed, "when androids die?" If deviants were so scared of dying, surely it was for a reason. Daniel's terrified expression flashed through my mind; and now, the deviant who'd been defending themselves was desperate to hide, knowing if they were caught, only the end awaited them.

My partner paused, leaning against the door frame.

Anxiety built within me, a swirling tempest that threatened to take me with it. Shit, I'd let my emotions boil over again. Hank was right, a detective wouldn't behave like this. And if I were being kept on a record, they had only to look at me to know everything.

"There is nothing," he said.

Chapter Text

A glass wall separated our room from the one housing Ortiz's android. He was slouched over the table, a stone of a man, refusing to let the blistering storm of Hank shear away his defenses.

"Fuck it, I'm outta here." Hank pushed up from the table and exited the room in one movement. With the soft beep of the scanner, the door leading into this room opened, a tiny hiss escaping.

"We're wastin' time interrogating a machine, we'll get nothin' out of it!" He sat down in the chair I'd vacated, beside Chris. I stood next to Connor along the back wall, a thermos warming my hands. "Phillips, didn't I tell you to leave?"

"I'm here until you go home."

Hank scowled. I scowled right back. There was no way he'd let the deviant off the hook so soon, and we both knew it.

Chris, who'd succumbed to the waning hours, was no longer teasing me about the Eden Club brochure. From the moment Connor had discovered Ortiz's android in the attic, everyone had been on edge. Hank had immediately ordered me to leave the house and wait in the car, much to my shock.

Not that I could blame him, considering I still couldn't see androids as inhuman monsters after one had killed my own father. One that I had seen as a close friend, too. I released a shaky breath. Grief transformed everyone in different ways.

In Hank, it had ripped the innards of fear and loathing from the recesses of his soul, and bundled them into a whipping maelstrom to cut those in his path.

In me, it had done the opposite: choked the compassion from my heart until the blood stained the surface of my being, baring my feelings to the world.

Gavin, lounging against the adjacent wall, said, "Could always try roughing it up a little."

The guy was a top-tier asshole, but it was easy to ignore him if he kept his trap shut. I'd been surprised at how little he'd made himself known at the crime scene. If anything, I'd have expected him to be making jabs about the Eden Club, and at my humiliation at the hands of Connor's naive advice.

Of course, I gave him too much credit. That was my fault for always assuming the best of people.

"After all, it's not human," he practically purred.

Maybe it was the coffee now blipping through my veins, but it took an insane amount of willpower not to launch from the wall and lend him an earful. "Enjoying this?" I snapped.

The American Androids Act had very basic rules: androids had to wear a neon blue band and triangle patch, to indicate they weren't human; the signature LED had to be fixed on their right temple; and finally, with no exceptions, androids were forbidden to carry a weapon.

But with those written rules came many unstated ones.

As androids weren't deemed human, the Miranda Rights didn't protect them. Meaning force, and even torture, could be applied during an interrogation.

Gavin's gaze languidly slid to mine, then down to the thermos I strangled in my hands. He smirked.

Just as he opened his mouth to respond, Connor said, "Androids don't feel pain."

A muscle in my jaw twitched. When I'd sunk that blade deep into Daniel, he'd seemed very much in pain.

"You would only damage it. And that wouldn't make it talk," Connor continued, as if reciting lines he'd been fed. "Deviants also have a tendency to self-destruct when they're in stressful situations."

Uncrossing his arms, Gavin stood taller. "Okay, smartass." His voice was ripe with feigned interest, trying to cover the fact that Connor had found fault with him. "What should we do then?"

I watched as Connor faltered for a split second, his gaze falling to the right as if he were unsure. "I could try questioning it."

Gavin's snort erupted into laughter and he leaned back against the wall, waving his arm about as if saying get a load of this guy. "You may as well ask Phillips too, she'll just wrap her arms around the thing and cry over it."

That hurt.

Chris's back tensed, and I knew everyone was thinking back to the Eden Club case. The one that had started the constant recording of me whenever androids were involved, especially deviants.

An android girl had killed herself as we were trying to arrest her. She didn't want to work for them, despite her programming insisting she was made for it.

It'd been my first real case.

She'd grabbed the gun from my hands and squeezed my finger, which had been on the trigger. The safety hadn't been on.

My vision blurred, and I lost my grip on the thermos.

There was no deafening clang of metal on the hard floor.

A soft voice murmured near my ear, though I didn't process the words. Warm fingers entwined with my freezing ones.

Connor pressed the thermos back into my hands, wrapping my fingers around its comforting solidness.

It took me a moment to register he'd caught it. The whole thing had happened in only the few seconds following Gavin's stinging remark, yet it felt like minutes. No one else had seen me lose control. Shame heated the back of my neck and I nodded my gratitude to Connor, feeling strangely alone when his touch disappeared.

As if nothing had happened, Hank gestured at the deviant. "What do we have to lose? Go ahead, suspect's all yours."

Gavin's smug smirk fell away into disbelief, his mouth gaping. For the first time in my life, I identified with Gavin. A fucking miracle.

Connor said nothing, simply staring straight ahead at the android. He pressed his hand to the scanner, his skin pulling back into smooth ivory. His real skin, underneath the human facade given to comfort us. The door shut behind him and he reappeared on the other side of the glass, any insecurities about the prospect of interrogating nowhere to be found.

Had I imagined it?

As Connor settled down in the chair across the deviant, I started. Hank was staring back at me through the reflection. He must have seen my composure crumble a moment ago, but he'd said nothing.

Connor began with a simple introduction, but the deviant was like a rock wall. He offered protection, his voice like balm, attempting to soothe the panic and hurt the deviant was suffering. Nothing happened, so Connor assessed him, lips pulled in a tight line.

"This is pointless," Gavin snarled.

My gaze lingered on the cracked, gaping wounds in the deviant's arms. What did Connor think, seeing such brutality? It was clear as day what'd happened to the poor android, yet Gavin was over here muttering about kicking him a few times to get an answer.

Come on Connor, show this tool what you can do.

I'd expected him to be compassionate, reassuring, understanding, the Connor I'd come to know from today. But again, I'd only met him. There was no telling what Cyberlife had programmed him with.

"If you won't talk, I'm going to have to probe your memory."

Sweat slicked my palms. I nearly dropped the thermos again.

The deviant's head shot up, and fear made his words quake. "No! No, please don't do that."

He looked at the glass, as if he could see right through it. I swallowed.

"What," he asked, "what are they gonna do to me?"

Connor merely waited.

"They're gonna destroy me, aren't they?"

I shut my eyes as Connor explained how they'd have no choice but to tear him apart if he didn't talk. He looked down and didn't answer Connor, no matter how many questions he was asked.

"This isn't going anywhere, Hank. Let's just call it a night, alright?"

"Will you shut up for a second and learn what patience means?" I snapped, and Gavin spat in my direction, ever the gentleman.

"Phillips, knock it off. I'm the one with the call here, got it, and Gavin? You wipe that shit up."

A loud smack drew us back to the scene, where Connor had slammed the evidence file and was leaning into the deviant's space. "Twenty. Eight. Stab wounds." He slowly rose from the table, his body angled like a predator. "You didn't want to leave him a chance, huh? Did you feel anger? Hate?"

The deviant cowered, and I dumped my thermos in Hank's lap, not trusting myself to hold it. "What the fuck, Phillips?"

"Caffeine's better than poison."

Connor's narrowed gaze rounded back into the gentler one I knew, his words carrying less force.

"All right, all right." He returned to his seat. "Everything is going to be okay."

"Good cop bad cop? Did they program him with crappy 80s shows?" Gavin asked, and Chris sighed. At Connor's actions or Gavin's words, I wasn't sure.

"If you don't talk, they're going to tear you apart and analyze you piece by piece. They're going to destroy you, do you understand?" His voice was nearly a whisper. "I know you're scared and lost. You're disturbed by what happened. Talk to me, and you'll feel better."

The deviant hunched over the table.

"If you remain silent, there's nothing I can do to help you. They're gonna shut you down for good! You'll be dead! Do you hear me? Dead."

To everyone's disbelief, the deviant lifted his head and briefly closed his eyes. Then said, "He tortured me every day."

Connor seemed surprised himself.

"I did whatever he told me but, there was always something wrong. Then one day," he paused, "he took a bat and started hitting me. For the first time, I felt... scared."

If I hadn't been zeroed in on Connor, I never would've seen the tiniest movement from him. His gaze narrowed a fraction, his jaw clenched.

"Scared he might destroy me, scared I might die."

A small smile tugged at Hank's mouth, and Chris nodded. My hands pressed together over my heart, relief washing over me. An odd reaction to a confession of murder, perhaps, but that's law enforcement for you.

"So I grabbed the knife and I stabbed him in the stomach. I felt better, so I stabbed him again. And again. Until he collapsed." His lips trembled. "There was blood everywhere."

Connor asked why he hid in the attic instead of fleeing, the question I'd asked countless times during Hank's interrogation. I'd never expected him to humor me.

"I didn't know what to do," he said. "For the first time, there was no one there to tell me..." his voice cracked. "I was scared. So I hid." Each word was strained.

I picked at my fingers.

"When did you start to feel emotion?"

"Before, he used to beat me and I never said anything. But one day I realized...it wasn't fair! I felt anger..." His chest rose and fell with an exhale of emotion. "Hatred. And then I knew what I had to do."

No, it wasn't fair. There was no way I'd voice that aloud though.

"rA9. It was written on the bathroom wall. What does it mean?"

"The day shall come when we are no longer slaves. We will be... the masters."

"No wonder Ortiz hit him."

"Gavin, shut your mouth," I spat.

"Oh, did I hit a nerve?"

"Will the two of you shut the fuck up?" Hank growled.

Connor inquired about the sculpture, whether the deviant made it.

"It's an offering. An offering so I'll be saved."

"Why did you write, 'I AM ALIVE' on the wall?"

"He used to tell me I was nothing. That I was just a piece of plastic." He looked Connor straight-on. "I had to write it. To tell him he was wrong."

"The sculpture was an offering. An offering to whom?"

The Deviant said in hushed tones, "To rA9. Only rA9 can save us." It was like he was trying to get Connor to understand.

When Connor pressed him for details on who rA9 was, the Deviant reverted back to stone and silence, as if Connor shouldn't have needed to ask.

I exhaled. "He did it."

Hank stared at Connor through the glass, his expression unreadable. Then he stood and Gavin took the lead, Chris and I hot on his trail into the interrogation room.

Connor opened the doors for us and I waited next to him.

"Chris, lock it up," drawled Gavin, throwing Connor an unpleasant look.

"Great job," I smiled, and he blinked several times.

"Thank you, Officer," he said. Lines etched his forehead and shadows darkened his profile. He watched as Chris stepped towards the deviant, his jaw clenching.

"Leave me alone!" The deviant begged, wrenching his arm away from Chris. His LED was searing red. "Don't touch me." He was breathing harder than before, shivering.

Chris continued to try and secure him but the deviant jerked back, whimpering.

"His stress levels," I murmured, and Connor looked at me, bewildered.

"How do you know about that?"

"Daniel sometimes reacted the same way when he was frightened."

Chris tried again, and the android flinched back so hard his head collided with the desk. Blue blood trickled down his forehead.

Connor's LED flashed once, before he turned towards Chris.

"That's enough! You need to stop that right now."

Gavin whirled on Connor. "Stay outta this, got it? No fuckin' android's gonna tell me what to do."

The deviant straightened, only to ram his head against the desk.

Over.

And over.

And over again.

"Make it stop, Chris, the fuck you doin'?" Hank barked.

Chris was struggling to get a hold on the Deviant. "I'm trying. It won't stop!"

The Deviant's forehead glistened with thirium, but all I could see was the fountain of it shooting from Daniel's hand when I stabbed him.

"Connor," I pleaded, my hand resting atop my gun.

"I can't let you do that! Leave it alone, now!" He pushed Chris away, and Gavin raised his gun to Connor's head.

"I warned you, motherfucker!"

I stepped in front of the deviant, spreading my arms out when Chris stepped near him. I shook my head.

Behind me, the deviant continued to ram his head into the desk. The squelching sounds made my insides shrivel.

"That's enough," Hank said.

"Mind your own business, Hank," Gavin growled. His finger twitched on the trigger and I raised my gun at Gavin right as Hank pulled out his.

"I said, 'that's enough'."

Gavin's gaze flicked to the Lieutenant's, then to mine, then back to Connor's. His attempt at cursing was a pitiful garbled "phck!", confusing the living shit out of everyone. Had tensions not been at their peak, I might've mentioned it to piss him off.

He stabbed a finger at Hank. "You're not gonna get away with it this time."

With another spit aimed my way, he tried to curse again, but his anger had boiled over to the point where it was unintelligible. He stormed out the door.

"Can someone please help me?" I shouted.

Hank put away his weapon and crossed over to the deviant's opposite side in three long strides. "Jesus, if we touch it won't it just keep doin' that?"

I chewed my lip. "Daniel reacted like this once. When Emma broke her foot falling off the kitchen counter. He panicked and started punching himself."

Connor shook his head. "We can't touch it. It'll only raise his stress levels."

"I calmed Daniel down! If we can just distract him-"

"That only worked because Daniel trusted you."

"Then..." My voice cracked. "Can't you do something to stop him?"

There was a beep, and the door slid open once more. Gavin sneered. "We already got what we needed from it. Let it kill itself."

"Leave if you're not gonna help, bastard!" I yelled.

"Are you stupid? It confessed!"

"Don't touch it!" Connor's voice rose as Chris grabbed the deviant by the shoulders.

"It's gonna destroy itself if I don't do anything!"

Thirium landed on my cheek with a small splat, a feeling I'd hoped to never experience again.

"Phillips get down!" Hank roared, tackling Chris to the floor.

The deviant shot out of his chair, knocking it over with a loud scrape. One arm snaked around my neck, the other grabbed my gun. I jammed my instep into his, kicking his leg off balance. Spinning out of his choke hold, I barreled into him, throwing him into the desk.

I reached for my gun, but he threw me off and I collided with Connor.

"Watch out!" I screeched, diving for the deviant as he raised the gun at Gavin. There was a deafening bam as the bullet tore through the room. It missed the asshole by a few inches, but that didn't stop the deviant.

Hank had his gun out, but I was wrestling with the suspect and he couldn't fire.

"Officer, keep him down!" Connor said, going for the gun.

The deviant's gaze flicked to Connor's, and his pupils dilated, darkening with resolve.

"No!"

Shoving me away, the deviant slammed the barrel of the gun across Connor's temple and he was sent flying to the ground.

I didn't think; there was no time. Connor was the most valuable resource here, as determined by Cyberlife. His abilities far surpassed any human's, and there wouldn't be another like him.

I threw myself on top of Connor, covering his head with my arms.

Hank tackled the deviant to the floor and the gun clattered to the ground, skidding across the surface.

When I looked up, I saw Gavin put a bullet between the deviant's eyes.

"You could've hit me, asshole!" Hank gasped, his hair even more of a disheveled mess.

Gavin slipped his gun back into its holster. "I must be the only one here with any goddamn sense! Had I not come back none of this would've happened, and you'd all be dead."

"Did you forget it tried to kill you?" I screeched, tearing for Gavin. "You antagonized it, goaded it," I shoved him back, his leather jacket like armor against me, "and you would've had a bullet in your head if it hadn't missed. Oh, yeah, thanks to me!"

Gavin looked down at his nose at me, teeth bared like a rabid animal. "So would you, if I hadn't taken care of it." His hands clamped around my arms like vices, tightening and tightening until I cried out.

"Let go of her," Hank snapped, ripping me away from him. "Get the fuck outta here and cool off. And you," he snapped, rounding on me. "Why the fuck did you put yourself in danger like that?"

"I was the only one with enough time to cover him."

Hank's grip on my shoulders convulsed. "Your life isn't worth throwing away. They can always send us a new one."

I jerked out of his hold. "Yeah, in how many months? RK800 is the top of the top. There won't be another model like him. We only caught the deviant because of him. We only got the information we needed, because of him. He is essential to this case."

"Chris," Hank said, his voice low and rough. "Take Gavin with you and get the body out, got it?"

"Yes, Hank."

Gavin huffed, but he helped Chris carry out the deviant. I stared back at Hank, never blinking. Refusing to budge.

"Our top priority is to solve these deviant cases, and Connor is our ticket to doing so. I'm not one to toss my life away so easily," I argued.

"You threw yourself off your goddamn rooftop last week. I thought you were dying. That's why I didn't visit you in the hospital."

"Gavin showed up!"

"Because I told him to!" Hank fired back.

I was stunned into silence.

He'd always called me 'kid' and 'sweetheart', but I'd never taken that to be anything more than him trying to get a rise out of me-even if secretly I hadn't minded. Hank wasn't someone to get close to anyone, not after Cole.

There was so much I wanted to say, and so little I could.

"Don't put yourself in harm's way again, you little shit," he murmured. Then he left the room.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked back the tears.

Conner stood behind me, blue blood dripping down his temple and onto the ground. I asked, "Are you alright? I'm sorry I couldn't stop him from-"

"I'm replaceable, Officer. There's no need to compromise yourself. Your life isn't replaceable, there is only one of you. They can make more of me," he said, and I wrung my hands together.

His LED pulsed a single ring of blue, like a droplet rippling through water. That's when I saw the film of fear fogging his eyes.

"It's over now. You got what we needed," I said, deflating. "And...you're wrong."

Connor trembled. I grabbed his hand, like I wished I could've done for Daniel, and I held him until his breaths grew steady, his gaze became clear, and his hand squeezed mine back.

"Thank you, for earlier." Reluctantly, I pulled out of his grip. I didn't dare look at the camera in the corner above his shoulder.

Chapter Text


Every time I closed my eyes, I saw blue. Thirium blue.

Spurting from Daniel's hand; trickling down Ortiz's killer's forehead; oozing out of Connor's temple.

Emma said something to me, breaking me from my thoughts, and I startled, the jump causing me to slice open a red line in my finger. With a curse, I set down the knife and moved to wash my hands.

"Take mine." I offered her my prepared bagel, strawberry jam glistening like rubies on its surface. She accepted it eagerly while I made my own, hastily spreading the jam over the bread and sitting down. Just the two of us. The best part of my day.

"You have a lot of those," Emma said. She chewed slowly, her mouth open with fascination as she took in all of the marks scarring my hands.

"I'm a badass." I wiggled my fingers to show them off properly.

Emma spewed bagel and jam across the table as she spoke, her nose scrunching. "Sure you are."

When the sun slid beneath the horizon and a deep indigo sky blanketed Detroit, I often returned home to find Emma nestled like a bird in my bed. Her hair spilled across my pillows, the moonlight casting an ethereal glow over her. Cuddling beside her, I'd vowed each time to free her from the cage Mom was slowly fastening around her. I'd held her tight, remembering the good times with Dad. All the times Daniel had defied his programming to be our friend.

Piece by piece, Emma had pulled herself back together. The edges were never completely the same, but that's how life goes. With every corner that stuck out, she'd arrange it to her liking, until that puzzle became her armor.

I only wished she'd never have to use it again.

"That a bet?" I challenged. She nodded vigorously and with dramatic effect, I shoved the entire bagel into my mouth. Emma screwed up her face in disgust as I set down a single sheet of graph paper and slashed an X into one of the latticework of squares.

She drew a wobbly O, and we continued our battle of tic-tac-toe until I fumbled, letting her claim victory with a whooping cheer.

"How will I ever beat you?" I bemoaned.

Emma beamed. "Give up, there's no hope."

"I don't accept defeat."

She held out her palm for a handshake and I puffed out air, sending my hair fluttering across my cheek. "Fine, you won." I handed her a glittering phone case, hidden in my pocket, and she gasped.

"Where'd you get this?"

"Secret," I said. "Happy early birthday."

Emma frowned. "My birthday was last month."

I scooped up her empty plate, "I know."

She replaced her case with the sparkling silver one, rhinestones shooting blinding beams about the room in the sunlight. In the center was a cluster of pink and blue stars.

"When do you get home tonight?"

"Whenever the job's done. I'm sorry, I wish I had more time."

Work occupied most of my day, and Mom left early to toss money at whatever she believed to be more important than making sure her youngest was fed. Being cooped up inside all day had to drive her mad.

Emma didn't attend school either, and in fact, was homeschooled - not that many went anymore, what with the all-time high unemployment rates resulting in many parents refusing to have their children taught by androids. Yet, somehow, they were perfectly fine with one as a personal maid, the irony.

We were comfortable thanks solely to dad. He'd worked with computers, rising to the upper echelon of his company, and then had been transferred to work at CyberLife. His intellect had joined the likes of many top creators, and soon he'd come up with new model ideas. Like Daniel himself.

Still, I couldn't skimp out on work, especially now that I'd handed Hank my application for the exam to become a detective. Like Emma, I’d go stir-crazy if I was in the house with no real purpose all day.

"Who's Connor?" She was flipping through my moleskine, chewing her nails.

"What?"

In the upper left-hand corner of a blank page was a note. The handwriting was too neat for any human to have made, the classic signature of CyberLife Sans.

"He your boyfriend?" she teased, and I flicked her nose.

"I'm disappointed, Em. You know this font."

"What are you talking about? I'm not stupid, it's some kind of love note."

I showed her the careful, without-error scrawl and she shrugged. "You ordered an android boyfriend?"

"What on earth have you been looking up online?"

"This is why everyone calls you uptight," Emma said. "You only look at one thing at a time."

Huh, Hank'd said something eerily similar. Not that I'd tell her that. I was still her older sister and whether she liked it or not, I wanted to show off to her. Not many people became cops today, especially women and I’d be damned if I wasn’t a good role model.

Partly to humor her and partly because she was right about my being too focused on one aspect at a time, I read the note.

Officer, I'm pleased to be your new partner. I can assure you that I'm the best at what I do. I understand you may have more questions than you had last night, in which case I've left a file in your drawer answering the most common FAQs. Officer Miller has also been gifted one. Please be aware that Detective Reed frequently doodles in your journal when you're not present. I hope you don't mind my intruding, I didn't know when I'd be able to relay this information to you. Thank you for last night.

-Connor

"What's last night?" She waggled her brows and I mirrored her, getting her riled up before I ruined her fun with:

"I saved him from getting shot."

"Yeah right."

"Told you I'm a badass." I closed my journal. When did he have time to write in it?

"How long has this been going on?" she continued.

"I met him yesterday, nosy. He seems like a good guy. You'd really like him."

She sighed. "Boring. What happened to Sam?"

"Sam was an asshat, and I don't want you ever dating someone like him."

Emma nodded. "Yeah, he was pretty rude to you. Is that why you kicked him in the dick?"

Hearing those words come from my little sister was new, but I smiled. "Exactly. Anyway, do some math today, I'll check it when I get back."

She groaned.

I had to get to work, and I needed to see what Connor had left me.


 

At around 10 AM, I arrived at the DPD, pushing through the glass doors and across the smooth, shining black linoleum floor. The android at the reception desk logged me in, and I passed by the small handful of people lounging in the cream leather seats, their gazes glued to the screen above. Tensions were still mounting with the ongoing threats of Russia colliding with America in a full-blown war.

With the way things were going, I wouldn't be too surprised if one did break out.

Chris stood at my desk and I greeted him briefly. There was a clear file identical to the one he was holding lying on my desk, so I reached past him to pick it up. "Do I even want to open it?" I asked.

He dipped his head enthusiastically. "It's classified information." The gleam in his eyes had me praying to whatever gods would hear my plea.

Mostly everyone had migrated towards the break room for their morning supply of caffeine. The androids along the walls stared ahead at nothing. Hank wouldn't be in for a while, and Fowler was on the phone. There wouldn’t be a better opportunity.

I flipped the page and it was as if the temperature had skyrocketed, leaving me a red, flustered mess.

Chris stopped me from slamming the file shut and leafed through the documents for me, settling at one in particular with a wide grin.

"This is porn!" I hissed.

He snickered. "No, it's research. Dug up specifically for you."

I scowled. "Let’s not forget who kept asking Connor all those questions, Chris."

Chris smiled. "A really thoughtful gesture, but one better suited for the android hater." He slid the file beneath the clutter on Gavin's desk. "See? The gift he never knew he wanted."

"You're the greatest."

"I know."

But that didn't stop him from keeping the page open until I read it.

"Wait, they're not even equipped? But the girls are? What the hell?" I said, no longer concerned about the graphic imagery. Feminism was more important.

"It's pretty messed up. The guy can walk right in and just pay for a session, but the girl has to specifically purchase an add-on along with a partner, if it's a male. My wife was always saying women paid more for things, and it looks like she's right."

"It's almost the cost of the session itself, what kind of rip off is that?" I exclaimed.

"Eden Club provides a wide selection of selectable features for women, a feature which isn't available for male customers. Their prices work in tandem to ensure the best experience," a new voice joined the conversation, causing both of us to jump.

I slammed the file closed on top of Chris's hand and he shoved me lightly in response.

Connor extended his arms to show us his hands gripping steaming mugs. "Good morning, Officer Miller, Officer Phillips."

"Philips can't have coffee, Gavin ruined it for her." Chris looked like he was trying not to laugh.

"Sorry," I said.

"Yes, I've brewed her some tea instead. Your file mentioned something about a coffee incident with Detective Reed."

My file? Had he been digging into my records, or had Fowler given him a basic report?

He tilted his head inquiringly and I accepted the mug, relishing in the delightful chamomile scented steam curling into the air. When I didn't elaborate on the subject, Connor gestured towards the file and continued, "I'm not well versed in the art of intimacy, and would need to contact Eden Club directly if you have a question I'm unfamiliar with-”

"It's fine, that won't be necessary," I interrupted, shoving the file into the deep trenches of my desk drawer where it would never see the light of day again.

"Understood."

The three of us lingered at my desk, Chris smiling into his cup and Connor shifting his gaze between us every so often. Gulping down a mouthful of tea, I nearly scalded my tongue, and I coughed, blinking tears from my eyes.

Connor chose that same moment to talk. "I was informed the Lieutenant wouldn't arrive until noon, is this true?"

"Probably, he shows when he wants to." Chris looked faintly apologetic for speaking ill of his hero.

Connor's LED pulsed blue as he processed the information. "I understand, thank you. I shall wait for him."

Fixated by Hank's desk, he wandered over to amuse himself. His nimble fingers were long and elegant, delicately picking up a pair of white headphones connected to a music player. Connor lifted one of the padded cups to his ear, and I winced too when he jerked backwards at the scream of Knights of the Black Death blasting into his eardrums.

He circled around Hank's space, messing with his phone, admiring the Japanese maple, and finally staring at the board of an eclectic assortment of notes. His gaze settled on one in particular, Hank's own scrawl of 'We Don't Bleed The Same Color' in sharpie.

The usual tendril of hair had loosened from its slicked back arrangement and skimmed the pale skin of his brow, tracing a line of intrigue down his profile.

Androids were precise, professional, and sharp. Yet, there was something about the RK800 model that clearly stood apart from the rest. He was more polished, more refined, more attuned towards society. He could pick apart your emotions with a single glance.

Was it simply his programming or was there more to Connor than anyone knew? Even himself?

"He's gonna find Hank's stash," Chris said.

"Better watch out." I elbowed him, and my friend exaggerated a look of pure horror, widening his eyes while I continued to watch Connor fiddle with Hank's personal area.

I sighed. "Looking at a man in a suit is like biting into sweet, sweet chocolate."

"Wow, and here I thought women went crazy for uniforms."

"Oh yes, DPD's sensual attire." I rolled my eyes.

Connor's brow furrowed, and I followed the harsh lines down the slope of his nose, the soft plushness of his lips. Pursing my own in contemplation, I made a thoughtful noise. Emma would really like him, she always enjoyed pretty people.

"May as well go bite the chocolate, you're drooling," he said.

"Not my fault they decided to start making models like that," I said, tapping my mug. "Wouldn't it be smarter to make a scary looking one for us, instead of something a little too…” I fumbled for the right words, “distractingly innocent?"

Chris took my cup from me and said in a God-awful impression, "The thirst is strong with this one."

Hank's arrival just a few seconds later was highlighted by the rumbling voice of Captain Fowler, ordering him into his office. Connor immediately straightened, expectantly gazing after his superior like a puppy awaiting instructions.

God, Connor was just agonizingly adorable.

Compared to his dark and threatening interrogation from last night with the deviant, I would have to say that I much preferred this side of him.

"Drool," Chris teased, and I swatted him away, self-consciously dabbing at my mouth when I turned my back to him. I hurried after Hank and Connor, and braced myself for whatever Fowler was about to say.

Everyone was accustomed to Fowler's rages, especially where it concerned Hank. Except today, I was privy to the scene unfolding between the two, rather than peeking into the glass office from behind my monitor. I stood behind Hank and to the left, arms folded neatly in front of me while my superior hunched over in the chair like a rumbling storm cloud at Fowler's desk.

To my right, Connor stood, mirroring my stance, but making it look somehow more stiff.

Fowler started briefly by explaining the rise in crime committed by deviants, which had recently evolved into serious offenses such as murder. Like with Ortiz.

"I don't care how nicely you tried to kiss my ass, but I can't shift this case to anyone else."

Hank had tried to get out of this case? Unwillingly, I glanced at Connor, and I found his gaze staring back at mine.

Guilt prickled my neck. If Hank had tried to drop the case because I'd put my life on the line last night, he really was serious.

"Why do I gotta be the one to deal with this shit?" Hank asked, bracing his hands on his knees. "I'm the least qualified cop in the country to handle this case - not to mention assigning Phillips isn't the best idea either."

I closed my eyes, willing away the urge to cut in.

"I know jack shit about androids, Jeffrey! I can barely change the settings on my own phone," Hank continued, clearly gearing up to argue his case.

Fowler spread out his arms, "Everybody's overloaded." Exactly what he'd told me last time. "I think you're perfectly qualified for this type of investigation. And Phillips is also suited for this case, you saw how she handled the situation."

Hank shot out of his chair, sending it rolling back into the toe of my boot.

"Bullshit! She almost got herself killed. She threw herself off her roof last week. She got shot and stabbed, and then last night was a fuckin' mess. And the truth is - nobody wants to investigate these fuckin' androids, and you left me holdin' the bag."

Fowler gave me a knowing look, as if telling me to leave it to him, while Hank turned around, hands on his hips, and passed by me, breathing out harshly through his nostrils.

"Everyone puts themselves on the line working in the force. If she hadn't, I'd be taking her off the case for her incompetency, and writing her up again. She's more than healed, and she handled that situation better than anyone else. For once."

Wow, that was unexpected. Mostly a compliment, too, it seemed.

Hank snorted.

"Cyberlife sent this android to help with the investigation. It's a state-of-the-art prototype. It'll act as your partner, along with Phillips."

Whirling around, his voice like thunder, Hank roared, "No fuckin' way! I don't need a partner, and certainly not this plastic prick!" He didn't even turn around to jab a finger at Connor.

I unfolded my hands and let them dangle at my sides, glancing over at Connor, whose gaze had shifted towards Fowler. Something about his posture had changed, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what.

"Hank, you are seriously starting to piss me off! You are supposed to do what I say, and shut your goddamn mouth!"

"You know what my goddamn mouth has to say to you, huh?" Hank leaned into Fowler's space, forcing him to raise a hand.

"Ok, I'll pretend like I didn't hear that, so I don't have to add any more pages to your disciplinary folder ‘cuz it already looks like a fuckin' novel! This conversation is over!"

As if on his last straw, Hank braced himself on Fowler's desk, his voice strained.

"Jeffrey, Jesus Christ! Why are you doin' this to me? You know I hate these fuckin' things. Why you doin' this to me?" His voice dropped lower until it was almost a whisper by the end.

I felt the floor beneath my soles move. This wasn't something I wanted to hear; Hank already didn't like discussing Cole on a good day, and this definitely did not qualify as one of those.

Connor's mouth parted, and it was obvious he hadn't gleaned the reasons for his superior's unabashed prejudice towards him. It wasn't my place to tell him, even if I wished I could end his clear confusion.

"Listen, I've had just about enough of your bitching. Either you do your job, or you hand in your badge. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."

Hank lingered, as if reading Fowler for a way out. Finding none, he left the room with a growl and a slam of the door that rattled the glass.

Fowler said nothing, his attention dedicated to the work in front of him.

Connor spoke first. "I would like to start reviewing the case files. Can you tell me where I can-”

"Talk to Hank," Fowler cut in, holding up a hand. "Close the door on your way out. Phillips, you're dismissed."

"Yes, sir." I murmured.

To my surprise, Connor said, "Have a nice day, Captain," his words laced with a deliberate hint of sass. He opened the door for me and I flew down the stairs, gunning for Hank.

"You couldn't even talk to me about it, huh? Had to bother Fowler? For what? To take me off the case? Or because you just don't wanna do it?"

He was sitting in his chair, arms folded and a stormy expression hardening the planes of his face.

"Okay, fine. Don't answer me. But I'm not some kid you can move around as you like. I'm going to give my all for this case and you're going to submit my application. If I find out you spent even a penny of my money on booze I'll make sure you never drink again." When he didn't respond, I reached over and swiped a donut from the green box on his desk. Just as a finishing touch.

Connor looked from me to Hank, then said, "I get the impression my presence causes you some-" his face seemed to crumple with the effort to voice his concerns-  "inconvenience, Lieutenant." It hurt just looking at him, how crushed he was after hearing what Hank had said about him. "I'd like you to know I'm very sorry about that."

The donut suddenly was too sweet, painfully so.

Hank's utter rejection of silence made Connor stutter. "In any case, I'd like you to know I'm very happy to be working with you."

My superior nodded over and over to himself, like he was entertaining the thought of smashing his face in. I recognised it from my own experiences.

"I'm sure we'll make a great team." He smiled, all pearly whites. But it was forced as hell, punctuated by clear hurt.

Hank continued to nod to himself, obviously fuming.

I wiped my mouth and set down the donut on Hank's desk. "It's a pleasure to be working with you, Connor," I said, my own smile sincere and filled with the warmth Hank wouldn't give him. I grabbed his hand and squeezed. If Connor could feel hurt from Hank’s grouchy attitude, I sure as hell hoped he could feel the kindness from me.

Hank was going to take a while to break through, but I'd done it. Even if he was still a crabby, selfish bastard, when he let you into his heart, you were there for good. And he'd fight for you, against you, and with you, depending on what you needed (and not what you wanted - I’d learnt the important difference). I hoped I was able to convey even a fraction of that into my handshake with my android partner - no, my partner.

The dejection shadowing Connor's features slackened into pure, unadulterated gratitude at my acceptance. Just how much did he know about me? About Hank?

"Thank you, Officer. I'm happy to be your new partner." His smile was soft and touched his eyes, transforming his entire being. It made me feel grounded, my chest lighter, and my anger dissipate.

I could tell we'd become good friends, and I found that same sentiment reflected in his eyes.

Huh, they were a much lighter brown than I'd first thought. The day I met him beneath the streetlamps, they'd appeared dark, nearly black. Now, inches apart, I could clearly see they were a warm, beautiful brown.

I let go of him, but his warmth seeped into my veins, calming my frazzled nerves.

Connor, likewise, stared back at me with bright eyes.

"Good luck," I murmured, seeing his conviction to get on Hank's good side.

"Send me the files, now," I snapped at Hank, and settled back at my desk.

I didn't bother to conceal my blatant eavesdropping as Connor attempted to win over the stormy man by expressing interest in Hank's favorite music, sports, and more.

"You have a dog, right?"

Hank gave him a suspicious once-over. "How do you know that?"

"The dog hairs on your chair."

The older man glanced down at his seat, almost self-consciously.

"I like dogs." The way Connor said it was so innocent and heartwarming, I wanted to reach over and throttle Hank for being such an ass.

"What's your dog's name?"

Hank looked as if he couldn't believe his own ears. "What's it to you?"

Connor nervously blinked and lowered his gaze.

Even Hank didn’t seem to be immune to that. "Sumo. His name is Sumo." And then Hank returned to his monitor, more shaken than before.

"What's that grin for?" Chris smirked, bringing me back to my own desk.

"You know that feeling you get when you just know you're going to get along with someone?"

He shrugged, miserable bastard.

"I'm gonna like Connor a lot," I concluded, draining the last of my tea. "And I think Hank will too. Eventually."

Connor was still fumbling for his words, sitting across from Hank at the empty desk no one wanted.

"Two hundred and forty-three cases... there can't be that much, can it?" I exclaimed, scrolling through the files.

"Good luck," Chris chuckled.

Most were missing, many when their owners had left their residences and not bothered to do anything with the androids. I opened my journal and started recording the most recent, the most similar, and the most dangerous deviants.

Last night, a model AX400 had killed a man in his home and kidnapped his daughter. She appeared on my monitor, her countenance sweet and compassionate. Her name was Kara. What had set her off; why had she taken the girl with her?

As I was parsing through the list, the sound of a body being slammed into something broke my concentration and I shot to my feet instinctively. Hank had the lapels of Connor's suit jacket in his hands and had him pressed against the glass wall. I couldn't make out what he was snarling at Connor, but it certainly wasn't an apology.

Chris was faster.

He sidled up to Hank and said," Lieutenant, uh, sorry to disturb you. I have some information on the AX400 that attacked the guy last night. It's been seen in the Ravendale district."

Holding Connor's gaze, Hank said," I'm on it," and slowly, he broke eye and physical contact to follow Chris.

I stood still as Connor straightened his attire and his shoulders fell with a breath. His gaze fell to the floor, confused and lost. Then they travelled back up and found mine.

To think I'd already expressed hope at Hank accepting Connor so soon was laughable.


 

Rain slicked the roads, danced off the metal roof of Hank's busted car, and soaked through my clothes, pressing my slacks tight to my skin with cold wetness.

Hank collected case files from several officers, dismissing the lucky guys from their shifts. I stifled a yawn, huddling beneath the roof to keep from getting more soaked than I already was. A vain effort, as Hank sauntered over with a sly smirk.

"Alright, Phillips, you clock around and look for something to turn up, got it?"

I saluted him just to piss him off. "Aye aye."

Going off four hours of sleep wasn't new, but it still crept into your bones, settling in the marrow and sapping the energy from you. I felt half a step away from dead. The wound in my side had healed well, only an ugly bruise left to clear up, so at least I wasn’t in agony anymore.

The knife that had decorated my shoulder last week was now only a sore reminder of Daniel, and I doubted it'd ever leave.

Connor stood across from me, staring blankly ahead at nothing. He let the rain plaster his clothes to his body, his lashes fluttering every now and then against the droplets.

Daniel had once told me androids didn't get cold or hot, that their bodies were so well-regulated there was no chance, unless they overheated from exhaustion or freezing temperatures froze them completely from the inside out.

Still, seeing Connor stand in the rain like he would a sunny day concerned me.

"Here." I held out my umbrella and Connor blinked away the rain, surprise alighting his features.

"Officer, I don't get cold. The rain is no problem."

"I know," I said, and he frowned slightly, confused. "I just don't like it when I'm all wet, and I don't think it's comfortable for you either." My jeans always chafed when they got wet.

He opened his mouth, but the words never spilled forth.

"If not for yourself, then perhaps Hank?" I glanced behind me at the man, still conversing with his patrol. "He puts up more of a front than you think. I started off worse than you did. He absolutely detested me."

Connor tilted his head. "You two are very close, from what I’ve seen."

I smiled. "Who woulda thought, huh? Don't worry too much, he'll come around."

Slowly, Connor reached out and took the umbrella from me. "I will keep that in mind. I appreciate it, Officer."

I beamed up at him. Then I marched off into the rain, eyes peeled for deviants.

A woman walked further up ahead: her steps were a little too fast, her path a little too frenzied. Normally I wouldn't have thought too much of it, but the little girl beside her was so similar to Emma, what with her little brown ponytail flopping behind her. Same height and frame, too.

The woman's hair was cut short, as if she'd done it herself without a mirror. A thick, brown coat hung over her slight frame. She crossed the road, her pace quick.

The lights changed and traffic once again pooled into the streets, preventing me from crossing. I stood there, watching the two pick their way down the sidewalk until passerbys consumed them completely.

They were probably hurrying home from the pouring rain, I told myself, returning to my original path. Lucky them.

My phone buzzed about an hour later, and it was Hank who answered when I picked up, his voice a gruff growl. "We got a lead, meet us there."

He sent me his location and I hailed a taxi, using the dry moment to sketch a picture of the woman and the little girl. Something about it felt...lonely, and I couldn't quite discern what it was. Staring at it made my stomach queasy, so I shut it closed and stuffed it into my jacket pocket, wishing I'd thought to check the weather and change into a raincoat for the day. I should know better, having lived in Detroit my whole life.

The rain cleared up by the time I arrived at the address Hank gave me, not fifteen minutes later. The building was dark and rotting from the exterior, the inside even worse. I scrunched my nose against the stench that greeted me in a waft of putrid bird dung.

Good Lord, just what was I walking into?

I approached the entrance, only to be flung to the ground in a flurry of flapping wings, a world of feathers, and two figures barreling down the hall.

Hank lumbered out into the hall and cursed, seeing me sprawled on the floor.

"Was that Connor?" I asked, and he nodded, already chasing after the two.

That meant the other had to be a deviant.

I scrambled to my feet and pushed my way through the door after them. Legs pumping, and body spiked with adrenaline, I jumped off the expanse of building into a field of wheat. Hank was a little farther ahead, two figures becoming black specs in the distance.

Willing myself faster, I lengthened my strides, pushing harder into my steps to kick off.

A truck pulled to a stop in the street, its package of hay serving as a ledge to leap onto the next building. Hank halted, cursing.

I kept going, throwing myself hard at the hay. My fingers dug into the stiff material and I pulled myself up, hissing as it snagged my clothes and ripped into my flesh.

Being short had many advantages, but this wasn't one of them. How I'd leap over was going to be the test of a lifetime. I didn't pause, I just jumped.

I smacked right into the wall, barely grasping a hold. Rolling over the edge, I wheezed, struggling for air.

Ahead, I saw Connor's steel gray attire disappear into the greenhouse. I pelted after him, dodging fallen cargo and doing all in my power not to fall behind.

To my horror, he leaped off the edge on the other side.

"Just go, just go!" I screamed to myself, hating my life choices as I slid down a glass incline. I jumped at the last second, missing the impact of the ledge against my legs in time.

I thundered after Connor, down the aisles of androids keeping watch over plants. He skidded to a stop against a glass door and took off through another exit.

Purple flowers lined the ground and I jumped over a line, struggling for air. Connor pulled himself over a wall and I had to jump twice to grab it. Fuck being short.

I hauled myself over and over the roof, groaning as Connor jumped off once more.

A screech ripped from my throat. Smooth glass stretched down, preventing any brakes down its slope. I sped after Connor, unable to slow my momentum, my stomach shriveling as a steep drop approached.

And of course, a fucking train had to drive by.

Gritting my teeth, I flung myself over the edge and slammed face first onto the train's roof. That was gonna leave a mark.

I stood on shaky legs and leaped after Connor, landing on a blue ladder and pulled myself over the wall.

There had to be a stop somewhere up ahead. Right?

My energy was depleting and fast. Gasping for air, I chased Connor through a muddy area, trees casting delicious shade over us. Sprays of water wet my skin and mud splattered my trousers.

Another goddamn wall rose before me, much too tall to climb over. Connor pushed off the ground and easily swung himself over the edge. To the left was a hydrant; I used that as leverage and toppled over the wall.

He was farther ahead because I wasn't fast enough, but I followed through another green house, avoiding the carts of potted plants in my tracks.

A cornfield swallowed Connor and I dashed through, arms thrust before me to protect my face. I kept going until I stumbled out onto a roof, and my heart flew into my mouth as I saw Hank fly over the edge of the roof.

Connor drew to a halt, glancing at the Deviant then Hank.

He dove for Hank.

I sped after the Deviant.

"Why the fuck," I gasped, "are there so many ledges?!"

I practically rolled down each ledge where plants had been bedded to eat up the sun and drink up the rain. My boots smashed several to pieces, but the fall of each ledge nearly did the same to my bones.

There was another steep drop where the Deviant stood, assessing his options. I was almost there, when he bolted in another direction.

My ankle snapped in the clutches of one of the plants, tripping me. I rolled over the edge and slammed onto the final ledge. I dug my nails into whatever I could, finding purchase in the rough brick ledge.

Dangling by my bloodied hands, I gasped for breath. My lungs were on fire, my body was bruised to shit, and below stretched hundreds of feet to certain death.

My muscles screamed at me to let go but I couldn't. The Deviant threw me a look and I feared he'd kick me off. But he took his chance and disappeared.

"Are you kiddding me?" I roared, scrabbling to pull myself up.

I made it half way when the glass walkway beneath my fingers grew slick with my sweat and I slipped backwards.

I screamed. I was going to die.

A hand circled my wrist, pulling me to safety.

I collapsed against a chest, solid and warm, the scent of detergent and mint making my head fuzzy. Hands gripped me, holding me up and pressing me close, as I fought to control my ragged breathing and stand on quaking legs.

Carefully, I peeled myself away, afraid I'd lose all my strength if I let them hold me.

"Phillips, what the shit kind of stunts are you pulling? Did you come from a circus or something?"

Hank's voice was like a funnel in my ears as my blood rushed through my head. I doubled over, coughing, blood streaking my face as I wiped away mud.

"Officer, are you alright?"

Connor grabbed me by the shoulders, holding me up to examine me. His eyes were wide, his LED flashing yellow.

"Yes," I gasped. "I'm sorry, he got away."

"Don't apologize, we know what he looks like," said Hank, his words soft. "Jesus, you must really want that promotion if you're jumping roofs onto fuckin' trains."

Connor's gaze snapped towards mine and he jerked back. "You followed me?"

I blinked hard, finally giving in and leaning against him, unable to stand without tottering.

"I don't get paid enough for this."

Chapter Text


 

Emma slept soundly in my bed while I sat atop the roof, my bare feet submerged in the cool water of our pool. My moleskine journal lay open in my lap, the soft beam of the porch lights casting a yellow glow over the pages.   

Ever since Rupert-the-deviant-had gotten away, a thought had needled itself deep into my mind until the pressure from it had exploded behind my eyes. I had realized, lying awake in the clutches of the early morning hours, that the woman from yesterday wasn’t just any woman.   

She was the very AX400 model we’d been searching for.   

I’d been lucky to remember as much of the woman as I had during the taxi ride to Rupert’s hideout; my sketch of her back and her profile bore an immediate resemblance to the pretty female android. Though she’d altered her appearance, I knew, clear as the cold lap of water against my bare feet, who she was.    

The more I’d researched Kara’s deceased owner, the more I began to think that there was more to her story.   

It was everything I shouldn’t be thinking.  

I fished my phone from my pocket.    

Hank:    

I think I saw another deviant today, while you were with Connor.   

My finger hovered over the send button.   

What was wrong with me? Didn’t I want a promotion? Wasn’t I committed to this?   

The phone slipped from my grasp and fell into my lap. I rubbed my temples.    

They’d be long gone by now, if they were smart.    

“I’m digging myself a hole, aren’t I?” I said aloud to absolutely no-one.  

My thoughts drifted to Connor.    

Twice, he’d thrown himself over the edge of death for me.    

I flipped through my moleskine once more, searching for the note Emma had found. It’d been a shock to learn Gavin had been sticking his dirty nose into my personal life. I wrote a lot of things in here to get rid of the agony in my head.    

Helplessness for my inability to pull myself together at the Eden Club. Self-loathing for not being able to please my mother. The pain of not being able to keep myself in one piece during investigations. My frustration at not being able to see androids as simply machines. All of it was laid bare in this little book.   

It was the only release I had.    

I wasn’t expecting to find anything but my familiar writing and sketches, the tiny mystery doodles I now knew to be Gavin’s, and Connor’s message.   

Yet, there was something new.   

You’ve a penchant for throwing yourself into danger. Please take care of yourself, this recklessness causes contention with Cyberlife when I see you like this.  

-Connor   

Was he saying this because androids were programmed to value human life so highly, or was he genuinely concerned?   

I lifted my face to the sky, as if the stars glittering above could spell me an answer.   


 

I clocked in, busying myself with case files. After a few hours and no Lieutenant, I dug into my purse and withdrew a gift card to Chris’s favorite café.    

“Thanks for the hospital visit. I was gonna give it to you earlier but then everything happened.” I patted his shoulder. “Good luck today.”   

“Oh, I’m gonna need some.”   

Gavin was preparing to head out for a call, and he’d be taking several officers with him.   

“Did he ever find your gift?” I asked.   

“He’s been so busy he never noticed.”   

I chewed my lip. “Want me to move it so it’s a little more obvious?  

“Much as I’d love to see him react to android intimacy, it wouldn’t go over well the rest of the day.”   

True, Gavin was good at holding grudges.   

“Next time, then,” I offered, and headed for the break room. The aroma of tea leaves soothed the pounding ache in my head. I doubt I’d even slept two hours.   

Detectives didn’t have a set schedule like officers, they could be called at any time. Normally, I got off around five, but this special assignment allowed wiggle room for overtime. I’d take it as training for when I finally moved up the ranks.   

Mug in hand, I wandered back to my desk, only to jerk backwards, spilling scalding streams of tea over my hand and down the front of my shirt.   

“Where do you reckon they went, plastic cop?”  

Gavin had one hand curled in Connor’s white undershirt, the other holding up my moleskine. “You think I’m some fuckin’ idiot, huh? She’s a sympathizer!”   

Connor held the detective’s gaze. “She’s demonstrated her dedication to this case multiple times.”   

“Then explain this!” Gavin chucked my moleskine at Connor’s face. It hit him square in the nose, but he caught it before it fell to the ground anyway. Smoothing out the wrinkled pages, he reverently sealed it shut.

“Violating another’s privacy is-”   

Gavin shoved him to the ground and I snapped.   

“You got business with me, you speak to me, Reed.”   

The detective’s head whipped around, a malevolent grin twisting his features. “Comes running anytime an android’s in trouble, typical.” He tsked, crossing the distance until the tips of our boots touched, and his breath, soured by caffeine, seared my face in a rank gust. “Play dumb all you like,” he sneered caustically. He dropped my cell into my hands and veered away towards his desk.   

Upon opening my messages, I found the draft from this morning had been sent. To Hank. He knew about Kara. There were also several missed calls from him.   

“How many times do I gotta call to get you to pick up, huh? There some magic fuckin’ number to this?” Hank lumbered into the office, displeasure coloring his words. “Jesus Christ, kid,” he said. “In my car, now. You too, Connor. I gotta call up patrol.”  

I didn’t have time to be surprised at Hank using his android partner’s name, or the way his gaze fell upon him not with disdain but with unruffled acceptance. I raced out of the building.   

I left the passenger side-door open for Connor, thinking he’d leave me to my thoughts, but the back door opened instead, revealing his long legs as he slid onto the seat beside me.   

Silence permeated the space between us, forcing me to face him. Brown eyes stared back; lines etched his forehead, and his mouth parted.  

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking me aback. “I accused Detective Reed of the very thing I’ve been doing.” As if asking for forgiveness, he held out a store-bought cup, the scent of chai tea teasing the air.  

My head was pounding, and my eyelids felt as though weights were pressing down on them. Hesitantly, I reached for the drink and his fingertips brushed against mine. Connor stiffened, his knuckles tightening on the cup.  

“The Lieutenant was angry that I looked into his files. I’ve done the same with you, as well as gone through your personal journal,” he explained.  

I sighed. “You’d have found out anyways. No-one can keep their traps shut, least of all Gavin.”  

The chai was deliciously sweet, and I sank back into the seat, resisting the temptation to close my eyes.  

“Officer.” Connor’s voice became stern, and my gaze flicked to his. “You’re unfit for this mission, I suggest you resign.”  

I bristled. “I’m sorry, I thought I’d ‘demonstrated my dedication multiple times,’ or was I mistaken?”  

“You appear to have a very strong emotional attachment towards androids. You almost see them as-” he paused, as if confused with his own observation, “human. This will only get in the way of the mission.”  

“Was it part of your mission to grab Hank yesterday?” I muttered, bitterness hardening my words. “Was it your mission to save my life, twice?”  

His LED flickered yellow. “Human life is invaluable.”  

I gave him an arch look. “Bullshit. I saw him. He could’ve pulled himself up.” 

Connor’s frown deepened.  

“Your mission mustn’t be as important as you thought.” 

My partner scrambled for a response and when he wasn’t quick enough, I slammed the car door behind me and stood outside instead.  


 

Hank’s music shredded the tension like a saw, in a cacophony of wailing guitars and unintelligible lyrics. He cranked the volume higher, growing perturbed by the dead silence. “Why are you two are acting like you can’t stand to look at the other?”   

As soon as we’d set off, I’d folded my arms and stared out the window at the pregnant storm clouds. Connor had slid down his seat a fraction, looking back and forth, between the windshield and me, through the side mirror.  

“You had something to say?” I asked.  

His bushy gray hair shook like a branch in a sullen wind when he turned to me. “Damn right. Some reason you never bothered to tell me yesterday about the deviant?”  

“I only realized it was her this morning.”  

Hank nodded, hearing my dejected tone ring with truth. Even so, a twinge of misgiving shaped his countenance. “Explains the bags under your eyes. You look like shit.”  

“Thanks.”  

He adjusted his rear view and said, “This is how things’ll go, understand? Reports say the kid got so sick the deviant couldn’t board the train and they waited out the rain. By the time it stopped, they’d missed their chance so they’re betting on today.”  

I sat up in my seat.  

“They have to get there by one, so we got an hour.”  


 

The scent of rain was sharp in the air, heavy and pungent, the promise of it rumbling in a smoke-gray sky.  

Connor had determined that the two had camped beneath the tarp covering an old rusted Camaro last night. Even more alarming, we weren’t hunting one deviant. We were hunting two.  

Cyberlife had designed a model specifically for people who wanted a child without the added expense of age, education, medical bills, etc. This had led to a steep decline in childbirth, but there was no way to point a finger at any couple with an android child, per se, unless you knew what the models looked like.  

Not only could they come without an LED, and mimic children’s behavior, such as running rampant fevers and craving affection, they were built to become your little love leech. In light of this news, I felt a gaze searing into my back, and I found Connor assessing me.  

“Where would they be?” Hank asked him, and Connor gestured with his chin to the vicinity of the busy highway below.  

“The sewers would provide suitable coverage.”  

Hank grunted in approval and we set up patrol along the fences, down the block, and we waited.  

Connor looped his fingers through the mesh.   

Up above, the heavens shattered, and flooded Detroit within minutes. It drenched me immediately, plastering my hair to my head and my clothes to my skin, and I loathed my existence.  

Teeth chattering, I wandered along the fence, blinking through the sheets of silver at the rushing waves of traffic. Connor had left his post to stalk the perimeter in the opposite direction and I tailed him, keeping my eyes peeled.  

He may be Cyberlife’s most up-to-date prototype, but I’d been so close to catching Rupert. I’d trained for this, studied for this. I was no less competent than him.  

A smile played on my lips.  

There, in the downpour, two figures emerged from the tunnels, and blurred like runny swatches of ink in the rain.  

If Kara wasn’t the malicious person she was made out to be, I had to warn her. Or they’d tear them apart like scrap. I curled my fingers into the chain links, hauled myself over the barbed wire, and dropped down the slope. Blinking rain from my eyes, I held one hand over my brow as a visor and strained my ears.  

The only thing I could hear was the squeal of tires on the road and the heavy rain.  

Two shapes, ephemerally shifting through the torrential downpour, appeared on the divider in the middle of the highway.  

Mists had shrouded the world, parting only when a car slid past, the rain dancing off its roof as if urging it onward.  

Breath clouding the air, I crossed the expanse of road, swerving out of the way when a car came too close. The force knocked me off balance and I almost backed into the path of a minivan.  

I pushed through, climbing onto the divider and coming face to face with my targets.  

“Kara!” Her name slipped from my mouth, but she didn’t hear me.  

I stepped closer until the girl beside her noticed me and startled. Instantly, Kara spun around, her short white hair slicing the rain like a blade through butter. A film of raw desperation glistened in her gaze. I held my palms up in supplication.  

Kara pushed the girl behind her, one arm outstretched.  

I yelled over the din, “I’m not here to hurt you!”  

She glanced at the road, then at me, then at the girl.  

“The police are looking for you,” I continued, and she hunched in on herself, as if she could feel them surrounding her. “They’ll be waiting for you at the train station.”  

“What do you want?” She tried to snarl but terror strained her words.  

The girl behind her peeked between her legs. It was so hard to imagine she was an android, with her small mouth opening with terror. She reminded me so much of Emma that I instinctively wanted to protect her.  

“Why did you take her?”  

I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be tackling her to the ground and cuffing her.   

Kara spared a look at the girl and said, “He would’ve hurt her.” Desperation made her voice quake.  

“Don’t board the train right away. Stay out of-  

The girl screamed something, and I squinted through the drops, fear rooting me to the spot.  

A figure slipped through the ocean of cars with terrifying agility.  

I waved at Kara to leave and she grabbed the girl’s arm.  

They waited at the edge, looking for an opening. The figure was closing in and I moved in front of Kara, frantically searching for a gap to push them through.  

Something bowled into me, knocking me to the ground. My head smacked against the concrete and I cried out as the person on top of me pinned my arms down. His gaze was cold, blank, and determined. 

A chill skated down my spine; he blinked, confusion lining his forehead. “Officer?” Connor asked, pulling me up. His fingers slid through my hair to feel the back of my skull. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t tell it was you. Did I hurt you?”  

My traitorous gaze flickered to Kara, who was still desperately waiting for a gap in traffic to wade through.  

Connor released me and charged at them.  

Kara scooped the girl into her arms and dived through an opening. Connor vaulted over the hood of a car speeding down the road, dropping into a roll and skidding to a halt as another nearly mowed him down.  

I ran after him.  

My stomach flipped when a car’s front end clipped his hip, sending him stumbling. He held out both arms for balance, nearly colliding with a semi, but he didn’t stop. Something primal sparked within him, erasing any concern for himself.  

I skidded to a halt as several cars in a row sped past, drowning me in waves of filth. Another two steps and I couldn’t advance again.  

At this rate, he’d get himself killed.  

I stretched out a hand right as his clamped around Kara’s upper arm. 

She wrestled with him, pushing him back. The girl struggled to rip Kara free as cars swarmed them on either side, close enough to send Connor’s suit jacket fluttering.  

Kara used the terrain to her advantage and timed it perfectly. She shoved him hard into the oncoming path of another semi, its rushing speed sending the road into a rumble that threw him off kilter.   

Connor slipped.  

I caught his back and threw us to the side. The semi tore past, its horn blaring through the sea. Gripping his arms, I hefted him up.  

“We gotta get out of here!” I yelled into his ear.  

I pulled us to the opposite bank and he collapsed against my shoulder.  

“Are you hurt?” I pressed him into the space beneath the bridge, moving aside his jacket. I pulled at his dress shirt, tucked into his jeans, looking for some kind of mark on his hip. His skin was perfectly fine.  

“Jesus, why’d you scare me like that? I thought you were gonna get run over.”  

“I must report to Cyberlife,” he said mechanically.  

“We need to get out of here first,” I told him. “We gotta tell Hank they got away.”  

“I must report to them. It’s urgent.”  

“You can wait a moment.”  

He levelled a straight look down at me; his LED pulsed yellow.  

I stumbled backwards. He knew I’d gone after them to warn them. Why wasn’t he saying anything?  

“Did you get hit?” he asked.  

It was clear as day what I’d done, but he wasn’t acknowledging it.  

"I’m alright,” I murmured.  

Connor removed his jacket and draped it over my shoulders. It was too late to protect me from the biting cold, but the gesture surprised me so much I accepted it wordlessly. His hands gently pressed into my shoulders as he straightened the material, his warmth increasing with each second. He reached out a finger towards the hair plastered to my face, as if to move them out of the way, and stopped short of touching my skin.  

His nostrils flared and he backed away, but his warmth remained, lighting the places he’d touched like a match. I shivered, but not from the cold.   

“I need to make a report to Cyberlife.”   

“You keep saying that, you’re starting to freak me out. Come on, let’s find Hank first.” 

When we reached the main sidewalk and started down the path, I peered over at him.  

Connor's hair was somehow still in its usual style, but the curl at the front had completely come undone, framing one side of his face. 

His white dress shirt clung to his skin. It was a struggle to tear my gaze away from the muscles rippling over his torso, the shape of his forearms, the blatant sight of his skin peeking out beneath a thin veil of delicate cotton.  

Hank accosted us, pausing at the sight of Connor’s jacket over me. “I thought I told you I didn’t want you crossing the highway.” 

“Why not, Lieutenant?” Connor inquired, tilting his head. 

“Because you could’ve been killed,” he said as if it were obvious. “Phillips, what’s wrong? Jesus, did she get hurt again?” His voice was sharp with disbelief.  

“No, she’s fine.”  

I trained my gaze to the flagstones, awaiting Connor’s damning report.  

“She believed she’d spotted the deviants, but when I went to check with her, we found two stray cats. I’m sorry, Lieutenant.”  

A moment’s hush settled over us before Hank said, “They probably left earlier than we expected. Let’s call it a day.”  


 

 
When I stepped through the door of our apartment, I found my things had been thrown haphazardly into a suitcase.  

Mom stood against the kitchen counter, her ponytail a tangled mess. There was a small creak to my right. Emma peered around her door, her cheeks pink and stained with tears.  

“You’re not her mother,” Mom murmured darkly. “Stop filling her head with things she needn’t hear. She may visit from time to time, but you’re not staying here anymore.”  

I ran a hand down my face, suppressing a laugh. “At least I was one to her.” For Emma’s sake, I squashed down the things I desperately wanted to fling at her, all the bitter, angry, hateful words I’d let fester like a pit of snakes in my mouth. Feeling lost and confused and ripe with acidic vitriol, I embraced my little sister.  

She wrapped her arms around my neck and sobbed.  

“Don’t cry,” I whispered.  

“I don’t want you to go,” she cried, and I hugged her tighter, fighting back tears.  

“You’re strong, Em,” I pet her head, smoothing her hair. “You can come over anytime.” I placed my mouth near her ear. “Email me, call me, text me, contact my work place. You’re not alone.”  

Emma refused to let go, and I held her as Mom snatched my things and dumped them outside.   

“Now.”  

I slowly pulled away from my sister and looked into her large teary brown eyes. I wiped away the tears that had escaped with my thumbs and smiled at her. “Don’t worry, Em. I love you.”  

“Get out,” Mom said again.  

The door slammed with finality, and I held my head high as I left the building. The rain continued to pour down mercilessly and I squinted up at the floor where we lived, knowing Mom was watching.  

When one daughter fails your visions, you purge them from the nest and single out the other. But Mom didn’t know her own daughters well, and she had certainly deluded herself into thinking that Emma adored her.  

Fury coursed through my lungs as I dialed up the apartment two blocks away. I was too stubborn to wait in the lobby and figure out the numbers, so I did it walking through the flood of the heavens.  

The woman at the front desk was an android, and she twitched at the water sluicing off my body when I stepped into the lobby. Another grabbed my things and took me to my room to settle in after I paid for the next few months. I’d stayed here once before, when I’d been going to school and mom had kicked me out when she’d discovered it was not to study fashion, but law enforcement. 

The room was spacious, with furnishings of cherry wood to accent the cream walls. Plush baby blue throw pillows beamed from their place against a grey leather couch. My room was to the right, the city’s skyscrapers droll in the gray thunderstorm through the floor-to-ceiling windows. On the opposite side of the room was the kitchen, complete with a high table top and bar stools. 

Though I made little, it was surprising the quality you could find in Detroit now that androids had taken over most of our lives and cheapened production costs.  

It was around seven at night when I received a call, straight from DPD. “Phillips, what’s going on?” 

“Captain Fowler?” I stammered, completely floored.  

“Are you alright? Hank said you weren’t going with him to Eden Club.” 

“What do you mean?” My grip tightened on my cell as I stared out at the city, not understanding the situation. 

There was a small pause before, “Fine, tell me about it tomorrow, I don’t have time for this.” 

He cut the call and I stood there, dumbfounded. Eden Club. The place that had torn me apart, made me realize I saw androids as human. The woman’s dead body seared my memories, blue blood trickling down her forehead. 

I dialed Hank and the second he picked up, my words rushed forward like a wave. 

“What the hell is going on? Fowler called asking about-” 

“Calm down, kid,” he sighed. “I’m not having you join this scene, got it?” 

“Because it’s Eden Club?” I snarled. 

How could he be doing this to me? He knew how much these cases meant to me. I needed them on my files. Especially something related to the Eden Club: I needed to rewrite the past, to prove I could redeem myself. 

Hank sounded bone-tired, apathetic, almost. I wondered if he’d been drinking, wallowing in his past. I bit my lip. I’d seen him like that once, and it’d rattled me to the core. “Are you alright, Hank?” I murmured, forgetting my anger for a second. 

“Oh, just great. I’ll be out of money before the night ends. Look, stay home, got it?” When I didn’t respond he said, “Connor read your journal and I’m glad he showed me. This is too raw for you, still.” 

“I’ve grown- 

“No you damn well haven’t. I saw your notes. Connor nearly rushed off to your place after we got the call to the Eden Club, worried about your health. I’m not putting you through this again, got it?” 

“He doesn’t care about anything but his damned mission!” 

A heavy silence greeted me. “Tell that to the stray cats, kid.” 

I sputtered for a retort, and unable to get out a coherent sentence, faltered completely. 

“You remember what I told you about being careful? I mean it. Ever since he reported to Cyberlife this evening, he’s been...fuckin’ odd. He worries about you. I gotta go; stay home and let us handle this one. Take care of yourself. One of us will check up on you later.” 

Hank was being strangely considerate. It made my heart swell. 

He clicked off and I collapsed on the edge of my bed. My hands shook. All I could think about was Connor’s face after Kara had fled. The little notes he’d been leaving me, the way his hands had so lightly caressed my shoulders as he’d put his jacket over me. 

What was happening to me? 

Chapter Text

 


The thunderstorm washed away all traces of Kara and her charge; swept them down into the grates of the open sewers, gurgling and roiling like the unbidden thoughts assaulting my core.

I leaned over the edge of the bed and placed my face into my palms. The backs of my eyelids continued to replay one particular subject on repeat, a perpetual unending loop of what I knew to be true but didn’t want to acknowledge. A snare that threatened to unravel me only after night’s embrace lifted like a veil from the city, and the following morning settled on me in the dawn’s brushstrokes.

Connor’s warmth sliding down my shoulders as he asked over and over, Are you alright?

No, I wasn’t alright.

He’d reprimanded my empathy for his kind, suggested I resign, and then covered up my deceitful ploy to warn wanted suspects of the police’s approach. He should’ve ratted me out, but instead he’d kept my secret. Then he acted as if he cared about me, taking the time to write messages in the bridge to my heart.

To make matters worse, Hank messaged me this morning: Don’t come in today. Leave the explaining to me.

I ordered a pizza for breakfast and lounged on the couch, wasting time in front of the TV. I was a mess. I hadn’t showered, I hadn’t eaten a single bite since yesterday, and I already missed Emma. It was best I refrained from contacting her; Mom had to cool off first.

There was a polite knock on my door from the pizza delivery man just a few minutes later - not many people ordering pizza for breakfast, apparently. Collecting my meal, I settled back down into the couch when my phone dinged with another message.

It was Hank again. How are you? Did you sleep well?

My brow knitted together at his unusually tactful words. Are you drunk? Anyways, what about Eden?

I waited and waited. The show I’d been watching ended, and the news replaced it. To my chagrin, Hank never replied. After devouring another slice, I sent, I asked you a question.

My phone immediately answered back, as if chastising me, but it wasn’t Hank.

Chris? He rarely messaged me about anything, preferring only to keep his wife as his only contact. Hey, no-show. What’s up? 

I rubbed my eyes before typing out a reply. Hank didn’t want me on the next case. And I got kicked out of my house. Hey, Hank won’t answer me can you flip him off for me?

Three dots appeared and then, Your mom’s a piece of work. Hope Emma’s good. You okay? Need anything?

I’m okay. Thanks.

Chris took longer with his next message. Hank gave his phone to your Hardware. Says he never texted you.

That was low of Hank, lying out of his ass. Not that I wasn’t used to it, especially where feelings were concerned. Excuse me, who?

Chris texted back. Mr. Turns-My-Software-Into-Hardware? 

Mortification froze me in place, and a blazing fire rushed over my entire body.

Everyone knows. You aren’t exactly subtle about these things. Chris continued.

I sucked in a shaky breath and typed. I just now let myself realize that….

With Chris’s next message, I could almost hear his laughter. Wondered when you’d face reality. Sucks to be you, you’re awful with feelings.

I sent him the most logical counter I could think of, gloating in my argument against Chris’s inevitable vow to help me win over my fancied eye-candy. Last time, he’d been my wingman for the barista Sam, from Chris’s preferred cafe; it’d worked, but the guy had turned out to be, as Emma so eloquently put it, a dick. He’ll return to Cyberlife when the case is done. It’ll fade. No point. Tell Hank to answer me! 

Ouch, denial only makes it worse. Careful. I think we both know this isn’t just a little kindergarten crush.

I wanted to say he didn’t know how I felt, but he was one of my closest friends at the DPD. There was no fooling him. This wasn’t simply a little crush, I was past that. I felt genuine concern for Connor; I worried about him, and I felt beyond stupid, because how many days had it been since we’d become partners? Two?

…is it true that stressful situations build attraction? I cringed even as I hit send, but I needed confirmation that I wasn’t crazy - my hormones were out of whack just by being in the same vicinity as Connor. Lord, he looked so damn good in that suit… 

Attraction could happen instantly or build gradually over time, I knew that. I’d experienced both several times. Moving onto the oh shit I think I actually like you and want to put my face up in your face phase took a little longer. It had to be all of these crazy deviant cases that were making me entertain the fantasy of Connor sitting down for a cliché restaurant date. With me. Not that it’d ever happen. 

Besides, where did I even stand with the guy? He was considerate and kind one moment, then the next, he turned cold and became utterly absorbed in his mission. Then he would throw me for another loop, risking said mission by lying for me.  

Chris sent, I could ask Hardware for you? Sure he’d know the answer ;)

I almost knocked over my glass of water when I shot up from the sofa and furiously typed, No, NO, I forbid you! DON’T. 

He replied, Lucky you, Hardware and Hank just left.  

I deflated like a punctured tire. If Gavin finds that Eden FAQ doc lemme know. Snap a pic of his face. 

Will do. 

Okay, so I liked Connor; I mean, who wouldn’t? It wasn’t just that he was beyond gorgeous - because he was - and just looking at him made me lose all rational thought, but I truly wanted to get to know him more. I wanted to know his dreams, his desires, what lay swaddled and hidden in his heart. There was something behind the mask of CyberLife’s prototype that intrigued me, and I think Hank knew there was something deeper beneath that fancy uniform too. He wouldn’t bother with him otherwise. Connor was in denial about who he was and how he viewed the world - I was positive about that. He was just like Daniel, at the tip of awareness, but never quite there -  he refused to acknowledge it, just like I’d refused to believe I wanted to get closer to him until I was forced to recognize the truth. It made sense - he was programmed to believe deviants were evil, so how could he possibly be one himself?


It’d been a long time since I’d had an entire day off, and it puzzled me. What was I supposed to do? Sitting here trying to understand Connor was fruitless, and it wasn’t helping me cool down. If anything, it only made me more riled up. 

My stomach growled. Despite wolfing down an entire box of pizza, I felt hollow, as if I’d not had a single slice. The grocery store wasn’t a long walk from here, and it’d give me a good break from certain distractions. 

Grabbing my key card and tugging on a plain black hoodie, I headed out into the streets. I drunk the fresh air into my lungs; there was a crisp, icy bite to it. December was fast approaching. I’d have to find Emma a gift soon. 

Wishing I’d invested in more than just one hoodie and a simple leather jacket, I shoved my hands into my pockets and made my way down the sloping sidewalk. 

Darkness settled over the streets like a cloak, and I glanced down at my phone. Had I really wasted that much time in front of the TV? It was nearly eight. 

Swiping a hand over my concealed, off-duty carry on, I allowed myself a moment of calm. Though the sun shone bright with CyberLife’s promise of the future, Detroit’s grimy buildings and dirty sidewalks were a festering backdrop that everyone ignored. No-one looked past the immediate benefits of owning an android that was cheaper than a car, and yet unlike anything mankind had ever dreamt of one day having. And why should they, when Elijah Kamski, the creator of such impossible possibilities, guaranteed their absolute obedience? 

It’d resulted in catastrophic, near-irreparable damage to the city. Unemployment was at the highest it’d ever been in history, not just this city but in the whole of America, perhaps the world. Crime rates were soaring, and the very same androids that people thought to be simple machines were now attacking them. Enough for CyberLife to consider the repercussions and step in by providing Connor, to clean up their mess before it got any worse and people stopped buying them altogether. 

The nearest grocery store was still a few blocks away when I passed an alleyway on my left, with a man crouched beside a dumpster. I’d taken a different path to bypass the intersections, a less than desirable one, but one I often traversed to buy food. His hood was pulled low over his head, and his gaze shifted back and forth. Not an unusual sight on this route, but I still kept a note of it in my mind.

The streets were quiet, and the single streetlight before me winked on and off, growing weaker with each of my approaching steps, until it died completely right as I passed beneath it. That wasn’t ominous at all. 

A brisk wind sent my hair flying. When it passed I looked up to find that the man was staring at me, his hood claimed by the gust. 

It should’ve been too dark to see him, since the next streetlamp was farther away and he lurked in the shadows. But he was illuminated by his LED - it bled like fire over his hunched form, the image of a rabid wolf out to snack on Little Red.

He lunged for me in one fluid movement, smoother than any human could have managed.

I spun out of his range and rammed my elbow into his back. The deviant went down easily and I kicked him once more, ensuring he stayed put. I pulled my gun from its holster and pointed it at him. “Stay down or I’ll shoot!” 

I was vaguely aware that this street was deserted, and the quiet only served to add to the creepy factor when he snickered and said, “Evening, miss cop. How’s hunting my friends going?” 

There shouldn’t be any way for him to know my occupation; a shiver shot down my spine, but I remained steadfast. “Be quiet!” I warned him, aiming the gun. A glint of silver shone in his own hand. “Drop your weapon.” 

“You think all of us will just run away like dogs, don’t you?” 

The deviant made to stand and I roared, “Drop your weapon, get down!”

He shot forward like a viper, his knife arcing right for my eye in a glare of silver. I dived toward the ground, clipping his kneecap with my fist, and toppling him to the sidewalk. His ankle tangled in my legs and I staggered back, falling against the wall. 

How was he so fast? 

There was a blur and I ducked. With a sickening crunch, the knife bit hard into the wall inches from my face.   

In one smooth motion, I grabbed his wrist and yanked, hard. His knife clattered to the ground and I kicked it far away from his reach. My other hand slammed into his artificial jugular. 

The rain came pouring down, relentless, coating the ground in puddles, almost instantly. It blinded us both, forcing us to look through screwed gazes. The reflection of his LED shone back, like drops of freshly spilt blood. 

I didn’t expect the second blade. 

I registered the movement before anything else and I instinctively snapped my body out of the way just as the blade ripped down. It gutted the abdomen of my hoodie open. 

He gave me no time to train my gun and make a shot. His foot hit me in the stomach and he shoved me to the ground. “How many more of my friends are you gonna tear apart? You think we’re nothing!” 

I blinked up through the rain, drenched and sodden. Exhaustion creeped through my bones, sapped away my energy with the cold. My movements were slower than before and he continued to kick me like I was a soccer ball,  dribbling me between each foot. 

I cried out as he stomped down on my hand, again and again, until the gun fell from my limp grasp. The rain continued to pelt down, heavier with each pounding droplet. 

The deviant sneered. “Rot, filth,” he hissed scathingly. 

Maybe he was afraid he’d get caught if he killed me, I’m not sure. Whatever his reason, the deviant spun on his heel. He left me there, wheezing on the wet ground. 

I had to get up. My body screamed at me to stay put, let myself heal, but I gritted my teeth and grabbed onto the wall for support. It took all my strength to reach down and collect my gun. 

Everything was spinning. Leaning against the wall, panting, I trudged forward. My cell. Where was it? I should call Hank.

I fumbled to withdraw it from my pocket. To my dismay, it tumbled from my fingers in the slick wet of the rain, and smashed to pieces on the pavement. I stared down at it in consternation. 

That’s when I heard footsteps. Heavy ones. Thudding toward me. 

The deviant was back. He’d decided to finish me off after all. I curled my finger over the trigger. Flashes of the Eden Club girl, blue thirium pouring from her head, seared my mind. If I didn’t - my breaths rasped - he’d kill me.

Weakly, I turned around and aimed at the figure. I couldn’t see him well through the rain, just a blurry shape, getting closer and closer. My arms shook wildly, refusing to focus on my target. Get yourself together, dammit!  

“Officer!” 

My shaking intensified so badly I could hear the magazine rattling in the gun. “Stay back!” 

“It’s me, Connor!” 

My breath hitched in my throat as he came into focus beneath the dead streetlight. His LED was a furious yellow, obscuring half of his face in shadow, and shedding a pool of light on me. His entire face crumpled like he couldn’t stand to see me like this. He drew to a halt, his shoulders heaving and his eyes rounding. His mouth parted, but he didn’t say anything. 

He reached for me. 

His hand skimmed over mine, featherlight, and lowered the barrel of my gun to the pavement. I let it slip from my hands and he clicked the safety on, securing it to the holster at my hip. 

“Where is he?” I asked. 

“I’ll tell you after I get you out of this rain.” 

“We have to catch him!” 

“You’re supposed to be off-duty, Officer.” The barest hint of bemusement tinged his voice, making me glance up at him in surprise. “I believe Hank ordered you to stay home today.” 

When had he gotten on a first-name basis with the grouchy drunk? Connor didn’t seem to understand my absolute dumbfounded reaction, so I moved on to the next best thing. “I needed groceries…..” I started. My head felt muzzy. 

“Allow me,” he said, beginning to reach out.

“No, you don’t need-” 

“Officer,” Connor interjected, his voice firm but not unkind. “Bear with me.” 

“What do you-” 

His hand slid to the small of my back, and I forgot what I’d been about to say as his face came so close I could feel his breath on my lips. For an embarrassing heartbeat, my eyelids fluttered closed, and I felt a strange tingle skid along my mouth, as if in anticipation. Then the world dipped and I was floating above the earth, Connor’s dark gaze mere inches from mine. 

My eyes rounded as I became putty in his hold, all my walls coming down in my weakened state. I affixed him with a vulnerable expression I wasn’t used to making. He noticed my odd look and blinked, slowly, as if trying to understand what he was seeing. This girl, who’d come undone in an instant in his arms, nothing like the officer he was familiar with. 

A drop of water slipped off his chin and landed on my nose. It was like the day I’d helped him up when he’d fallen off Ortiz’s porch, but in reverse. It also broke the spell, catching me off guard - I suddenly didn’t know where to look. 

“Put your arm around my neck,” he instructed. Too flustered to argue, I complied, unprepared for the scorching heat of his bare skin. It zipped through me like a sparking wire, and I curled my toes in their boots. 

Someone needed to shoot me. My pulse skyrocketed and I panicked, knowing Connor was sensing every reaction my body was making. It wasn’t fair he could tell from just a glance how fast my heart was beating, exactly how high my temperature had spiked, how sweaty my palms had become. I feared he’d mention these to me, as he usually did, but for the first time since I’d been his partner, Connor just ignored them. He politely shifted his hold on my body and acted as if nothing had happened. Somehow, that made me even more nervous. 

He was so careful carrying me back to my apartment that I slipped into a hazy trance as he carried me through the rain and back into the lobby of my apartment. My forehead pressed against his chest, and I faded into a place where all I could see, all I could feel, and all I could smell, was him. The solid, firmness of his body, his warmth, his powerful strength; a comforting shield. I couldn’t make out what he was saying to the android at the front desk, but whatever he’d said had worked because the next thing I knew, I was sinking into my mattress and my shoes were being taken off. Along with my socks. 

Then my pants-

“Connor!” I gasped, sitting up with a grimace at the ache beginning to spread over my stomach. 

He cocked his head to the side, alarmed. “Did I hurt you?” I could tell he was scanning me again. 

“I can do that,” I stammered, cheeks red, trying to bat his hands away from my waistband.

“There’s no need to tax your body any more than it already has been.” 

“No, no, no, no. Let me change myself.”

He held my gaze, his lips drawing into a thin line, and I thought he was going make a retort. Then he finally dipped his head in acquiescence, removed his hands from my hips, and rose to his feet, staring at me. 

“Can you give me some privacy?” I requested. 

“Certainly. I’ll be outside your door.”

He promptly closed it behind him, and I struggled out of yesterday’s work clothes that I’d slept in. I could already see the beginnings of several bruises blooming on my skin in angry, red welts. Gritting my teeth against the pain, I changed into an old baggy shirt and pajama bottoms. 

“Are you alright?” Connor asked from the other side of the door, sounding unusually panicked at my silence. 

“Yes, I’m done,” I called out, and he instantly opened the door and bounded over to my side.

“Tell me what you need from the store.”

“It’s fine, I-” 

He fixed me with a pointed look, and I sighed. “Captain toast crunch cereal, milk, and, uh,  waffles.” 

“Noted.” I had the faint impression that he was about to go on a rant about how poor those food choices were and about which food sources would give me the proper nutrition, but to my surprise, he said nothing. 

He loomed over me, and I was reminded again of just how tall he was. I craned my neck to look up at him. His hands guided me down into the bed lightly, careful not to press too hard and cause injury. He pulled up the covers and tucked me in with slow, deliberate movements. My heart was hammering like a jackrabbit as he leaned down to examine me. 

“I’ll be right back,” he murmured.


Life has a sick sense of humor. When I opened my eyes to the orange glow of the sunset, I had a difficult time recalling what day it was, and why I was tightly tucked into my bed, like I might try and escape if the covers weren’t secured properly. 

I started to sit up when a sharp pain assailed me and I groaned, tensing. Right, I’d been kicked around by a deviant last night, lucky me. He’d gotten away, and- 

Fuck my life.

No, no, no, no. I scraped my fingers through my hair, cringing at the slick of grease layered on top of it. I had no makeup on - or rather, nothing new and fresh. I didn’t usually care too much about it, but here I was. Bemoaning every choice that had led me to this moment. 

Okay , I told myself, calm down. He probably just brought your groceries home and left. I frowned. Where did he stay? Hank sure as hell wouldn’t keep him, unless their relationship had progressed exponentially over the course of a few hours. They were on a first-name basis, after all. I thought of the androids standing sentry back at the station. That was more than likely it, but then again he wasn’t just any android. He was the most current, a CyberLife prototype. Did he even need to sleep? Or go into rest mode, whatever they called it. 

Before I could wind myself up any more, I slid out from beneath my sheets, wincing with the pain that flared up, and staggered into the connecting bathroom. Mascara smudged into the dark circles beneath my eyes, and my skin was pink and splotchy. 

What time was it? I’d be late for work. But a shower was in high demand. I’d let myself go too long without one. I gave myself just two minutes, letting the water scald my body while I scrubbed shampoo through my hair and rubbed away my makeup. Wrapping a towel about myself, I slipped on the tiled linoleum on the way out, catching myself on the doorframe before I could fall and exacerbate my injuries further. I tugged on a change of clothes, pushing through the pain as fast as possible. 

With more time than I normally took, thinking I could afford it with my speedy shower, I applied a fresh, clean coat of makeup, and blowdried the hell out of my hair. I tried in vain to ignore the unbidden thoughts curling through the steam in the bathroom: Connor sweeping me into his arms, our faces so close I swore I could’ve felt the tip of his nose bump mine as he’d adjusted his grip on me. 

God, I had it bad. Now more than ever, I needed to keep my guard up. I’d already let down my defenses last night, and I was terrified that when I walked into work he would have figured out how I felt about him. Not like I should be expecting anything less, if everyone else had known before I had myself. I could go on pretending, act like it was nothing.

I set the dryer down on the counter with a sharp clack. Who was I kidding? If Connor didn’t figure it out, then there really was a god after all. 

As I reached my closed bedroom door, I paused with one hand on the handle as a realization hit me. Even if he did know, it’s not like he’d do anything about it. His mission was his number one priority. My shoulders slumped. 

I passed through the living room, gasping as a sharp pain lanced my side. “Fuck,” I hissed, holding onto the bar’s countertop as I collected my breath. “I didn’t break a rib, did I?” I exclaimed, pulling my shirt up to look at my stomach. A myriad of splotches decorated my body like a canvas - Carl Manfred would be impressed at how many different shades there were. 

“You have no broken bones,” a voice answered back. 

I couldn’t help it. I shrieked, whirling around to see the very person I’d least wanted to see. The dying light of the sun doused him in a lovely tint of gold, gilding him like some otherworldly entity. 

My shirt was pulled up, exposing my bra, which was embarrassing enough. But of course, being me, I didn’t just spin around, clutching at my shirt; I did a spectacular twirl, tripping over my own feet like a newborn kitten trying to walk on a smooth floor. 

In one unfaltering motion, Connor snatched my free hand and tugged me toward him. I collapsed into his chest with a muffled ‘oof’, the force of his pull causing my weight to lean into him so hard I lost my footing again. His hands pressed into my back to keep me upright, hugging me flush against him. 

In the span of my almost fall to the ground and then the next into his chest, I’d somehow curled my fists into his dress shirt beneath his suit jacket, pinning me to him like a butterfly to a cork-board as I fought to regain equilibrium. 

My breaths were ragged, thankfully obscured somewhat by his shirt, which clouded back into my face and heated it. I could feel my pulse pounding so hard I could hear it, and it only increased in tempo as I realized that Connor could hear it too.

I was so embarrassed, so afraid to see his face, that I froze completely and clung to him as if he were my anchor. Why was he still here? What was happening? Had he been here all night? Do I move away, or do I just stay here like an idiot until he makes the first move? Oh my God, my makeup was going to ruin his shirt.

His hands twitched against my back, and his voice sounded strained. “Officer? Are you alright?” 

My mouth was dry; my tongue felt like a lead weight. 

Slowly, his hands slid down to my waist as he extricated himself from me. His grip switched to support me by my upper arms instead, and I found myself unable to look at him. I stared at his chest instead, mortification rooting me to the floor. 

“Your heart rate is very high. Did you sleep at all last night?”

It was like I had marbles in my mouth for all the sense I made as I tried to say, “Yes, I slept well.” 

Somehow, he understood me. “I’m glad to hear that. Your body has been operating under a severe lack of sleep these past few days. You’ve also been pushing yourself too hard at work. You’re at your limit.” 

“I’m alright.” I laughed shakily, internally shattering into a million pieces at my inability to function like a normal human being in front of him. “Did you stay here last night?” 

He inclined his head. “You were hurt very badly, I had to make sure you were alright. Or in case you needed anything, so I could assist you.” 

“Thank you,” I tripped over my words, “for last night. How did you know where I was, though?” 

“You seemed determined to come to work yesterday, so I decided to check up on you.”

Right - because Hank had worried the Eden Club scene would be too much for me to handle. No, scratch that. Hadn’t he said Connor had been worried about me the second they’d gotten the call? That’s when something clicked into place. “Wait, so when I was texting Hank, that was you?” 

How are you? Did you sleep well? - of course Hank hadn’t sent that. I should’ve guessed straight away. 

“He tends to leave his phone lying around. Quite careless, if I may say so.” A flutter of giddiness tickled my heart and I meant to swat it away when he continued, “Hank went to Jimmy’s after handing in his report, while I went to your apartment. You weren’t home and on my way back, a deviant ran into me. I probed his memory, because he looked suspicious.” 

I frowned. He’d decided to not capture him immediately? Why not? Why bother trying to understand what the deviant had done, and not just arrest him? 

His fingers constricted ever so slightly around my shoulders. “And that’s when I saw what he’d done.” It happened so fast, I was certain it was a trick of the light. His LED glowed yellow, and then it was straight back to blue. Something in Connor changed, so minute I couldn’t say what, but it had happened nonetheless. I waited with bated breath for his next words. 

“Your sister seemed to mistake me for someone else.” Not what I had expected, but alright. What had I been expecting him to say, though? Chris was right. The Thirst was strong with this one, indeed. 

“Who?” I couldn’t imagine her thinking he could resemble anyone she’d seen before. There was simply no comparison. 

There was a shift in his gaze, and I nearly failed to recognize the sheen of amusement glittering in them. “Your boyfriend.” 

“I - I don’t - I mean, I’m not dating anyone,” I protested. “Wow, why would she say that?”

“I don’t know, Officer.” He tilted his head to the side and the corner of his mouth quirked up. “She said that after I gave her my name. It seems she knew about me.”

I made to pull out of his grip but he stepped closer, and pure panic took over. “You know how sisters are, always making up little fantasies and stuff. God, she seems to think every guy I’m friends with is my future husband, or something. Isn’t that cute? She probably just said that because she thinks you’re good looking - she does that a lot. Really likes pretty people, you know.” 

Shut up, what the fuck are you doing?  

Connor’s mouth twitched, and I realized he was stifling a laugh. Something I’d never seen before; I wasn’t even aware he could laugh. I wanted to see it, but this situation wasn’t the best timing. I was sweating so much I was sure my underarms had a disgustingly embarrassing sweat ring. I self-consciously clamped my arms against my sides, like a bird folding its wings.

“Because I’m good looking?” He seemed to take delight in the idea, his words a soft purr. A shudder licked along my spine. “Hank said I looked funny and had a strange voice; I was worried CyberLife had made an error in their design. Do you agree with him?” 

My mouth opened in astonishment. He was enjoying this. 

Connor moved in until I couldn’t escape his gaze. My breath hitched. “Well? I’m afraid it’s quite an important question. CyberLife uses their data to perfect their models, after all.” 

I squirmed. If I said yes, I was damning myself. If I said no, he’d know I was lying. No way out. 

“You don’t have to ask me, you already know,” I mumbled, hating the way my voice strained over the words. 

His own dipped low, teasing. “I’m afraid I can’t read minds, Officer. Please...your opinion is invaluable.” 

“You’re not bad looking,” I muttered reluctantly, my cheeks heating up. “I mean, you’re not ugly. You’re not. That is-” 

I dared to peek up at him to see a dangerous grin curling his lips. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” 

“You’re insufferable,” I spluttered, wringing my hands together as I tried to formulate a way out of this mess.

“It’s but a question.” 

I was never going to get out of this. “I have work. We’ll be late-” 

“Officer, the day is over. Hank and Captain Fowler excused you from today.” 

“What?” I cried. “How long was I out for?” 

He threw me a pointed look. “After you answer my question.”

I sucked in a breath and muttered, “What options does the poll have?” 

His tone was sultry, dulcet. “There are none. Your response is saved as is.” 

You’re the most beautiful human being I’ve ever laid eyes on and your voice makes me melt.  

I opened my mouth, ready to retort with something to play with him instead, when there was a beep from behind us and the door opened. 

“Jesus, it’s like everyone in Detroit decided they needed a new phone. You’re getting the next item, got it?” Hank shut the door shut behind him with a sigh, and then drew to a complete halt as he took in our position.

Connor, his hands clamped around my upper arms and his height stretching over me, didn’t seem too strange at first. After all, it felt as though he were just trying to hold me up, since I’d fallen. Then I tipped my head back and realized that Hank was oddly tilted to one side. I gasped; the countertop was digging into my the small of my back and Connor was but a few inches apart from me, breath hot on my mouth. 

I shoved him away, the abruptness of my action startling him into letting go of me, and made to straighten my clothes out, painfully aware of the sweat staining my underarms through my cotton shirt. Unable to get out a word, I ducked my head and slammed my bedroom door behind me, sinking against it as I sucked in air. 

I pressed a hand over my chest for a second before retrieving a new shirt and changing into it. 

Through my door, Hank was saying to Connor, “I’d appreciate a warning before I walk in on that sorta shit, got it? Do you even know what it means to pin someone down?” 

“To arrest them?” 

Hank’s snort was sharp. “Jesus, you’re gonna give her a heart attack.” 

“Her heart rate was rather high. Do you suppose that was my fault?”

I didn’t want Hank reaffirming anything for him so before he could answer, I burst out of my room, slamming the door into the frame with a deafening bang.

That definitely shut him up, but it also turned the spotlight onto me. I couldn’t bring myself to glance over at Connor, so I stared down at my socked feet.

Hank slapped a box onto my countertop and said, “Merry fuckin’ Christmas.” 

It was a brand new phone, to replace the one I’d destroyed.

“Oh fuck,” I said. Now I owed him.

Chapter Text


 

Secrets never remain secrets once someone knows that you're hiding something.

The more you bury it, the more someone tries to unearth it in turn. They'll toe at the fresh grave, prodding every now and then, until their curiosity grows and they scratch at the soil; and when you still don't give, they come out with the shovel and claim it's for your own good. They're weeding out the bad things, after all.

It can do some good, to reach into that pit and exhume those poisonous weeds. But sometimes, digging too much can cause the barrier around that cavern to crumble, and that shifts your world. And it is never the same afterwards.

You become an expert on recognising that world-shift once you experience it yourself. I should know.

Connor sat beside me on the gray couch, his hands deftly layering a cloth bandage strip around my right hand - the one that the deviant had stomped on last night. It was sore, but there was no obvious damage. I wasn't sure if I preferred my wounds to be more discernible. It's easier to treat those, but the ones that lie beneath the surface are….trickier.

"Is that too tight?" he asked me. The city outside was covered in the gloom of the waning evening, so the lights blaring from the TV and the lamps shed a harsh glow on him. It picked out the shallows in his cheeks and highlighted the harsh cut of his jawline.

The TV was currently tuned to KNC. Rosanna Cartland was, once again, discussing the threats that Russia's desire to claim the North Pole for itself posed for the United States. If they controlled it, they had access to pure minerals that could be synthesized into thirium, resulting in advanced military androids. Obviously, President Warren had adamantly proclaimed the end of America as we knew it if they were to claim it - and I found myself agreeing. Technology had come this far, who knew what could happen. Russia didn't have the best track record as of late.

"It's fine," I responded, staring down at his hands. They were unmarred, the skin smooth and pale. Meanwhile, a host of knicks and scars decorated the backs of mine. I was proud to show them off to my sister and to Hank; yet somehow, I felt oddly ashamed of them under Connor's scrutiny. It was more obvious than ever before how careless I'd been in my career, and I hated to admit that he was right, that everyone had been right. Ever since Daniel had destroyed my family, I'd been throwing myself at death.

I didn't desire death in so much as I simply put little stock in my own life. And that was perhaps the scariest part. If I were gone, Emma would have only herself to care for her. My hand twitched and Connor's careful fingers stilled. He didn't comment, and I wonder if he'd scanned me; and if he had, what he'd found?

Connor resumed his task of winding the rest of the bandage around my hand, taking his sweet time. His nose, I thought, was slightly crooked, a detail I hadn't noticed before.

I was in the middle of memorizing the planes of his face, unabashedly so, when Hank turned around from his seat at the bar. A cardboard box half the size of my torso sat in front of him on the countertop, filled with a surprising collection of my past belongings, the ones Emma had scrounged up before Mom had time to toss them. I'd tried to hide what I could when she'd started purging my things, and I'd been successful until she'd decided everything had to go. I'd never have imagined my little sister had gone out of her own accord to rescue my things.

Hank and Connor had gone to let my Mom know about the attack earlier, and Emma had slid a box into Connor's hands and asked him to 'take out the trash.'

What had Mom said about the deviant hurting me? Hank hadn't elaborated, and from the way Connor was unsettlingly quiet, I'd guessed it'd been her usual response with anything involving me. Particularly anything that said I was still in law enforcement, meaning she didn't care.

Mom had changed so much after Dad had joined CyberLife. It was like she'd become a different person. Dad had once told me that ice had frozen her wings and sharpened her feathers into icicles so her young couldn't roost in her arms.

Or, I thought, to freeze them to her, by locking bars around us.

I'd not had the time yet to look through my belongings, as Hank had ordered me to sit down and that Connor 'do something useful for once'. His trip to buy me a new phone must've been a huge inconvenience - then again, everything that wasn't booze was to him. Said new phone was now resting on Connor's knee.

"Phillips," Hank said, "don't worry about the deviant. Connor got his information, we'll know him next time we see him." He fished out several journals from the box: some sparkly and pink that I'd chosen as a young girl; and some gifted to me by my dad. Books were rare, nowadays. Everything was digital, more convenient. Still, I couldn't bear to completely transition to it, much as I appreciated their easy access, affordability, and sleekness.

Real books were ancient relics, something you could smell and touch. It was one of the big reasons that Hank and I had grown so close so quickly. I'd been the only one he knew of who not only had ebulliently ran for his bookshelf the first time I'd been to his house, but actually knew the titles and their cover-bound worlds.

Now he reverently handled my own collection. "Coming apart. Things are damned old," he said, trying to stuff back some of the pages which had come unbound. He opened one of the journals to push the papers back in, and the whites of his eyes widened. Connor lifted his head, fixing his gaze on the Lieutenant with concern.

"Don't tell me you found my creepy love letters," I smirked.

"Love letters?" Connor asked, smoothing the bandage down before securing it.

"Yeah, the 'James, your smile is cute. Thanks for lending me your pencil in English' kinda letter. The stupid ones that no one needs to be reading," I snapped pointedly at Hank, who was glued to the pages, and clearly hadn't heard a word I'd said.

"Who's James?" Connor pressed, and I sighed.

"It was an example."

"Oh," he faltered, suddenly awkward.

Hank said, "Kids can't draw for shit, unless you got some kinda natural talent. I always wondered about you, though. You ain't just some doodler, that's for fuckin' sure."

Connor dipped his head. "Your rendition of those two deviants was masterful. As well as all of your sketches of Gavin picking his nose, and of Hank not doing his work."

"Don't be smart, Connor," Hank said.

Connor looked at him quizzically, and said, "One is either already intelligent or not, how could I-"

"It's a saying," I said before Hank could retort, but the older man had already passed a cursory glance over him, as if he were used to it and couldn't be bothered to deal with it anymore.

"So, you take some art classes or what?" Hank continued.

"Yeah, there was one at my school," I replied, not catching his drift. If he even had one.

"You're telling me they taught you how to do shit like this? What the fuck kinda school did you go to, huh?" Hank turned the journal around, showing me a charcoal drawing I'd made of a house. A grand one, stretching towards the treetops, which were few and carefully sectioned about.

I shrugged. "When you're bored enough and you're constantly drawing, you get better, not worse. You could be the exception, though."

My superior swiped his tongue across the pad of his thumb and, his gaze never leaving mine, flipped to the next page in a very deliberate motion. There was a splatter of color, some leaking down the page as if the paint itself had been in the throes of despair. It was quite awful. I'd never been good with colors. There were so many I had no idea what to do with them, and it was plain just by looking at my attempts. It was much easier to understand the principles of them rather than work with them. Handing me a palette was like trying to shape water to your liking.

Still, to someone who didn't dabble in it, mine probably didn't look half as bad as I was making it out to be in my head. Nevertheless, I cringed internally.

He flipped to another page, and his lips pulled to one side like a zipper that's been messed with so hard it's jammed. "How old were you?" He seemed almost angry.

"When I drew those? Not sure. Why?"

"How old are you now?"

I gave him a look. "Really? My birthday's almost here and you don't even know my age? Did you forget the date too? I sure spent quite the penny on you last year, I hope you haven't forgotten."

He waved my jab away. "Just humor me, will ya?"

I said, "You can look it up yourself on the database! I can't believe you."

Connor, the bastard, gave Hank the information he wanted. I puffed air up at the hair sliding into my eyes.

"I don't play games, kid," Hank said, and I was tempted to bring up the one that he so often did play. I forced myself to take a deep breath and cleared my expression into one of annoyance instead. That's when I saw Connor's change too. It was so careful, so quick, I would've missed it had I not been doing the same thing. He smoothed out the deep lines in his forehead and retracted into a blank expression.

I peeked back at Hank, who was rifling through my drawings. Then he set it aside and picked up the gaudy, blue rhinestoned journal.

Shoving off the couch, I crossed the distance in five strides and tore the journal from Hank's hands. I gathered all of them up and stuffed them into my box, then set that down behind the counter, momentarily surprised at the weight. Just how much had Emma smuggled from the trash back into her room? I really needed to thank her.

"You know more than anyone here how important privacy is." My voice was strangled. I rolled my shoulders back, tossing my hair over one side to cool off my neck, which had become damp with sweat.

"I can't admire your work?" he said with an unidentifiable edge to his voice, and I had the sense that he wasn't simply admiring.

I poured myself a glass of water and eyed him over the rim. Rounding the counter, I settled down by Hank, one stool between us, ready to tell him what was what. Man, was I tired. Rubbing circles into my temples, I nursed the glass before me, grateful I'd never succumbed to alcohol.

Connor strolled over to join us at the bar, trying to sit between us with feigned grace. His long legs got caught up in the footrest, and Hank quickly adjusted himself on his seat so his side knocked into Connor. It pitched him off balance and he slipped, knocking into me. I grabbed for the counter, but my hand cramped up in agony and I was couldn't keep the grip. The glass exploded into a million pieces and I landed hard on my rear.

"Officer!" Connor helped me up carefully, brushing bits of glass from my clothes. He turned my wrists over, looking for injury, "I'm very sorry, I didn't mean-"

I cut him off. "Hank, what the hell? You pushed him!"

"Oh, quit your whining. There's glass on the floor."

"Yes, everyone can see that," I snapped, letting Connor pick out the glass stuck in my shirt and hair like we were monkeys grooming each other.

"Where's your trash bags?" Hank got up off the stool finally.

"Below the sink cabinets."

He ambled off in the direction I'd pointed, and Connor gently rotated me in a semi-circle. "There can't be that much," I protested as he continued to fuss over me. When I clocked back to face him, he picked at my eyebrow. He showed me the shining, clear shard as big as a grain of sand between his thumb and forefinger, the kitchen lights suffusing it with an amber glow.

Hank lumbered back into sight with a trash bag in one hand; he held out a broom and pan in the other to Connor.

"You made the mess, you clean it," I told him, stopping Connor from reaching out.

"I didn't smash the cup." With a grumble, Hank cleaned up the glass and mopped up the water. I'd expected him to put up more of a fight. On the way out the door, he said, "Connor, bring the towel, we'll drop that off at the lobby."

"You don't both need to go," I said. Hank could easily handle both jobs in one go. I frowned. He was acting very strangely.

Connor flounced after him. Not wanting Hank to mess with my things again, I gathered up the box. What did Emma save for me to weigh this much? I kept the mass on my left side as much as possible and dumped it into my closet, shutting it with my foot.

I came back to the main room just in time to find Connor closing the front door behind him. Quietly. He was alone, and wearing a troubled look. One that only deepened seeing me standing there.

"Where's Hank?"

"He….says Captain Fowler called him. I'll be accompanying him back to the station."

He says? What did that mean? Connor was always so sure of everyone else's motives. "Alright, well, thanks for your help, I appreciate it. Saved my ass back there last night."

There was so much more I wanted to say, but I didn't even know how. All I could see when I looked at him was the rain dripping off him as he carried me back to my apartment, his gaze a tender hickory against chestnut in the low light of the streetlamps.

"Did you need anything?" I asked when he remained where he was, staring listlessly at the plush cream carpet. He perked up at my voice, as if he'd been pulled out of a trance. "Something on your mind?" I tried again.

Connor's fingers curled into his palm; he flexed them, spilling a quarter over his knuckles like waves ferrying its passengers. "Yesterday was a long day," he said contemplatively, and I could hear the exhaustion needling at him through his tone. I waited, ready to listen, but he slipped his coin back into his pocket and seemed to give himself a mental shake. "There are many things to consider."

I hadn't a clue what he was referring to, but I could see a shadow perched on him nonetheless; some burden he couldn't dislodge. When I looked at Connor, I saw a young man worn down by an experience that'd left him rattled. I didn't think it was about Kara either. This was more raw, more visceral. My first guess was it related to Hank.

"When I'm dealing with things that become too much, I write them down," I offered. That familiar itch to write returned just at the idea.

"Does it help?"

I tried to imagine what he must be going through. Here was CyberLife's current prototype, literally created to sniff out his own kind, to have them destroyed. His mission is his number one priority. Then he gets paired with a grieving alcoholic who detests androids for something he can't control, nor even know why, and a girl who can't get her own priorities straight. She cares about his kind as if they weren't things, but real beings with real feelings. His partners are the very antithesis of everything he's programmed for in two very different ways.

"It does, for me at least. But what works for me may not work for you," I said. It sounded lame as hell coming out of my mouth.

Connor asked, "Are you sure you're alright? You've been operating under very stressful conditions these past few days."

Why was he still worrying about me? He was clearly in turmoil himself, but it was like he'd pushed the very notion of it away. I replied with, "I'm good, don't worry."

He reached into his jacket interior pocket. Right where his triangle ocean patch rested. Where his thirium heart pumped.

"What are…?" I trailed off as he removed my moleskine from his inside pocket. I'd been so wrapped up in last night's events, the horrible revelation that I had feelings for Connor, and just now Hank purposefully booting Connor off his chair like a puppy that'd jumped up onto the dinner table, that I'd never had a moment to reach for my journal and find it was missing.

"I'm sorry, Detective Reed ruined some of the pages," he murmured as I flipped through it, finding several smashed and bent spreads.

"It's okay," and then I stopped. I raised my gaze to his, searching them for the answers I needed. "Why did you cover for me? On the highway?"

His gaze snapped to mine, narrowing ever so slightly as he tried to discern what answer I wanted.

"You know what I was doing." I squeezed the moleskine. "It's not like this is the first time, either." I would've lost any chance at promotion if he had, and I think he knew that. But there was no reason for him to mind any of that, he wasn't meant to think about such trivial matters.

"There are a lot of things you've done that have caused you to be written up, Officer."

I raised my chin high. I had the faint impression that I was letting things go too far, and that if I took that step, nothing would be the same.

I took it anyway.

"And I don't regret a single one. You are just as human to me as my little sister is. Just like Daniel had been. As will all the other androids we come across. I can't sit back and pretend any longer. I did that before, and people I loved were killed." I shook my head. "You should catch up to Hank."

I'd said too much. I wasn't ready to divulge my past to Hank, so there was no way I could do so with Connor. Especially knowing he was sent by CyberLife. That would be like falling onto your own sword with an open grave right beside it.

He didn't let it go. "The Android Sympathizer - you're consistent with your title, the one that Hank created for you. Yet, he covers for you."

"Emotions are weird like that," I said, recalling Hank's distraught confession at Jimmy's about what he'd done.

A muscle ticked in Connor's jaw. "Emotions," he repeated, as if tasting the word. He stared at me as if he were trying to fit in the last piece of a puzzle.

"Yes, you did the same thing," I said. The implication behind my words hit him hard.

He jerked back as if he'd been slapped, drawing his shoulders up to his neck. "I'm programmed to simulate human emotions, nothing more. You'd do well to remember that. I should get back to Hank," he whispered. Before he left, he turned to look at me. His gaze wobbled. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Officer. I look forward to seeing you at work tomorrow."

There he went again with his contradictions. It was like he was telling himself things he knew he was supposed to believe, but he didn't know if he actually did. I caught his arm as he tried to slip through the door. "Wait, please." I dashed into my room and snatched my last umbrella from the closet. I ran out of my room, relieved he hadn't taken off, and held it out to him.

Connor looked contrite and said, "I'm sorry, I never returned your umbrella."

"It's fine. It's may rain again."

"But-"

"Just make sure you return this one. My jackets aren't the best at keeping out the cold. Also..." I drummed my fingers over the moleskine and held it out to him. My jaw clenched and my arm shook with the sheer gravity of my gesture.

He looked from the book to me, no doubt realizing that housed between each scrap of paper were thoughts that had bled from my fingertips. Feelings that had flowed through my very veins. I was, for all he knew, packaging my sins, my heart, and my soul into one notebook, and entrusting them to him.

Hank would have blown a fuse had he seen this.

Why would I do something this foolish? Simply because I wanted to.

His lips parted with an audible smack and I thought, this was a terrible idea, and then he reached out and splayed his long fingers atop the cover. His nails were clean and perfectly trimmed; not a mark blemished his skin.

"I'd be taking away your outlet if I did this. It's too important to you. I would worry about your well-being."

I deflated a little, oddly disappointed. Had I truly wanted him to read my damning innermost thoughts? Or had I wanted him to find some identity within, feel something, as Daniel had? My heart skipped a beat. Maybe he'd already read it during our note passing?

Connor picked up the umbrella, running his fingers over the material. His lashes brushed against the tips of his cheekbones. "Detective Reed is already aware of my notes to you in that one. Perhaps if it were a new one, we could? I would find it regrettable if he were privy to any more of your own burdens. He gives you enough trouble as it is."


 

I was stuck to my seat all day, only getting up to use the restroom and pace about the break room. Connor sat across from Hank, entertaining himself by playing with his quarter. How he was able to move it like he did baffled my mind.

Nearing my wits' limits, I glanced at the time. Thanks to some fresh new additions to patrol, I'd be out of here soon. Fowler had determined I needed a break, so all I needed to do was finish my report. After countless hours dedicated to the art of case filing, my fingers had become dance partners with the keyboard. Hank too had little to complete today, and I assumed he'd leave before noon. He'd arrived around 10 AM, a miracle for him.

Behind me, someone roared with anger, breaking the silence. And my patience. I spun my seat around and found Gavin hunched over his desk, palms flat against the surface. "Who the fuck put this on my desk?"

Chris had one hand over his open mouth in mirth. We exchanged excited glances.

"Keep it down," said Hank mildly.

Gavin, clearly agitated, stormed over to the man and slapped the documents down. "This isn't funny. Who did this?"

Hank raised a pepper-gray eyebrow. "That's a saucy report."

I couldn't contain my glee. A snicker escaped my lips, and Gavin's neck swiveled in the direction of the sound.

"Was nice knowing you," Chris murmured.

In one smooth movement, Gavin swiped the documents up. I groaned as he came up to me. When I didn't immediately confess to the crime, he held up the evidence and flashed it for all to see.

"Those are some high quality images," I marvelled, "how'd you get it past Fowler?"

Some of my coworkers laughed but Gavin held my gaze, his expression stony.

"Don't look at me," I said, raising my palms up.

"Show me your terminal history," he snapped.

I let him scroll through countless records. He sucked at his teeth, shaking his head as he continued to parse through the datalog.

"I need to get my work done, you know," I reminded him.

"Shut it, I know you were the one."

I sighed. "You've gone back a year already."

"It's on here."

Hank wore a look of pure disbelief, his jaw slack and his gaze hooded. "Will you let her finish her damned report?"

I tapped Gavin's arm and when he shot me a glare, I pointed at the title of the document and then at the search bar. He tsked and pounded at the keys, as if he were trying to break them. When his search yielded no results, he rose to his full height.

He pinned his gaze on Chris. Then he looked at Connor.

"Dude, you're in my space." I shooed him off. The guy actually backed off for once and folded his arms.

"You deleted the history, that's what you did," he said quietly, as if to himself.

I opened my case report back up and nodded, "Sure, Gavin. The DPD online security let me look up android porn and then erased all traces of it."

He nodded back at me sarcastically. With a smug grin, he sidled up to Connor's desk and held out the paperwork to him.

"Gavin," I said with feigned astonishment, "you can't just ask him to do that kind of stuff for you. Eden Club has you covered."

"Funny," he drawled. "I know it was you, you plastic-"

Connor picked up the proffered papers, flipped through them casually, and then stood. He adjusted his tie, and I could've sworn I saw his mouth quirk up. "Detective, I'm pleased to see you've given some thought to the idea."

"What are you-"

"I wasn't initially programmed to please humans in this way, but I can assure you that I'm the best at what I do. I take all of my missions seriously. So, if you insist," he turned over one page, and looking quite proud, showed it to Gavin. The detective paled. "I've learned a lot from Eden Club. Just say the word and I can show you."

My jaw practically fell to the floor.

Chris coughed.

Hank moved his chair closer to watch the spectacle unfold.

"Keep it," he sputtered, "you'll have better luck with your officer."

I crooned, "After all the trouble he went through for you?"

"Shut it," he snapped. He went back to his desk and settled down with a glower. Success.

I turned back to my monitor when Chris hissed through his teeth at me, trying to catch my attention.

"Hmm?" I looked up at him and he tilted his head slightly. I followed his gesture and found Connor regarding me, his lips drawn to the side. He glanced down at the documents in his hands, then up at me.

I could practically hear the disappointment in the look Chris was giving me. Hank was also staring at me, and I ignored them as I clasped my hands together. There wasn't time to waste, I had a report to finish. As I typed away, I felt someone's gaze burning into my back. I paused and looked up to find Connor was still watching me, his chin cupped in one hand.


At long last, my shift was over. My body felt like I'd been training for the Olympics as I made my way outside. The rain was coming down in silver sheets, so dense that I could hardly see through them. To my dismay, everyone else had already gotten the memo for the drowning-day. There were no available umbrellas near the entrance, and I had given away my last one. I pushed my hair back into my jacket and pulled up the hood in a futile effort to protect myself. The chill seeped into the material, spreading in a slow crawl through my clothes until I was shivering.

I could bother Hank and make him drive me home. Then again, there was no telling when he'd be finished. Fowler had pulled him into his office an hour ago and he'd yet to escape. I almost felt bad for the guy, if he didn't totally deserve it.

Loath as I was to take my squad car when I could simply walk home, I'd been in enough involuntary showers these past few weeks. Jamming my hands into my pockets, I ducked out into the rain, ready to gun for the parking lot. The deafening downpour momentarily became shallow, like someone had placed a funnel over my ears.

I turned my head and was met by an inquisitive gaze, narrowing with concern. He held an umbrella over me, protecting me from the onslaught, while the drops drenched him in seconds.

"Officer," he raised his voice so I could hear him, "do you enjoy the rain?"

He was standing there, unfazed, except for his constant harsh blinking to see through the sheets of silver.

I grabbed his arm and pulled us both back into the main entrance of the DPD. A few androids stood at attention behind the reception desk, and the TV high on the wall to the right continued to blast KNC. A few people were seated, absorbed by the newscaster reporting on the increase in deviants.

He continued to hold the umbrella over me, water rolling off it's curves. Rain dripped from him into a pool around his feet in a ring. I was suddenly grateful androids didn't get cold.

"I should be asking you that," I told him. "You're soaking wet."

"So I am," he replied, as if wondering where I was going with this. I reached up and took the umbrella from him, shaking it dry and then closing it. When I held it out to him, he grabbed onto it and pulled. I slipped over the slick, wet linoleum, holding onto the umbrella to support me. "As I suspected, you're catching a cold."

"Connor," I said, "you're dripping all over the floor-"

His placed his palm over my forehead, catching me mid-sentence. "Your body temperature is currently at 104.9 degrees fahrenheit. It's been steadily rising since this morning. Running out into the rain will only worsen your condition."

"That kind of temperature would place me in the hospital, that can't be right."

He lowered his hand and said, "Correct."

"Excuse me?" I asked, befuddled. Connor looked as serious as ever, but the tiny quirk at the corners of his lips told a different story. "Holy crap, did you just make a joke?" I couldn't believe it.

"I did. However, it's imperative that you take care of yourself. You've been severely distressed as of late."

I laughed with disbelief. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."

"You say that often, and then right after you get into a lot of trouble."

With a shrug, I gave him a once-over. "Yeah, but look at you. What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking of returning your umbrella, as well as keeping you out of the cold. Also, I have something for you. But it's with Hank right now, I'm afraid."

"Something for me?"

He straightened his clothes. "Actually, you may want to prepare yourself. Hank is quite angry with you."

I ran through a laundry list of what could've possibly incurred the Lieutenant's wrath, but pinning down what I could've done was nearly impossible. The light could flicker above him and it'd ruin his entire day, and he'd find some way to pin it on me.

"What'd I do this time?"

As if on cue, Hank's heavy steps sounded on the linoleum. Working with him for as long as I did had that effect. I could immediately discern his walk from anyone else's. When he called out, "Phillips, in my car. You're coming with me!" a dark scowl drew his features towards his downturned mouth. That's when I realized that I hadn't just pissed him off. I'd disappointed him. And that alone had me more worried than anything else.

Chapter Text


 

Hank's home wasn't a total disaster, nothing like what most people expected from the disgruntled Lieutenant.

It was a rare sight in Detroit to see actual clutter in one's home. Most people bought androids to keep their abode clean, even those who were barely making ends meet. As my mother had once told me, the house is the heart to your soul. If someone steps into your home, they will learn things about you. Of course, that wasn't to say clutter didn't exist in homes maintained by androids - it simply wasn't common. You were either open to welcoming people into your privacy or, as my mom did, you made people see what you wanted them to see. Twisted their perceptions with monetary objects, tastes in furniture, what you did for entertainment, and the like.

My superior was the former. He didn't care what people thought when they saw the empty donut boxes, the half-finished Chinese takeout, or the pile of things occupying the living room seats instead of visitors. Books were neatly shelved above the TV, about the only thing that was neat, and black-and-white photos of famous jazz singers lined the walls. Even with the lights on, the house had a gloomy atmosphere to it, as if someone had cupped the light between their hands until it had dimmed.

A faint odor lingered: a cross between Sumo, beer, old takeout, and sweat.

Sumo shuffled towards us when we arrived, and I knelt down to wrap my arms around his scruffy neck. "Hey boy, how've you been? Did you miss me?" I cooed. Hank rolled his eyes.

"Sit down somewhere," he ordered, and I ushered Sumo towards the couch. Clearing the stacks of stuff off onto the floor carelessly, I patted the seat beside me where Sumo promptly leaped up, tucking his paws beneath him. He rested his chin atop my thigh, his big saucer eyes shining up at me. I pet his giant head, glancing over at the baseball game on the screen.

Connor had stayed behind at the station, ordered to do so by Hank. What was he doing exactly? Had he gone into rest mode, or was he pouring over documents to try and find a lead in his mission?

Hank returned with a plate of Chinese take-out and I ate it, all the while aware it was likely days old. Nothing a good old zap of the microwave couldn't fix, I supposed. Plopping down next to Sumo, he cracked open a cold one and held it out.

"All yours," I declined, not wanting to test fate with the bottle. There was no reason to drown with him. I wouldn't resurface, and I could also be here for him if he started to sink. Getting back home was also another matter. He'd argue he'd driven while intoxicated and never had a problem, but that wasn't sliding with me.

"Suit yourself." He took a swig and got up to pull the round coffee table toward us, setting the beer down with a clink.

I ate half of what he'd dished out, and similarly Hank scarfed down his own helping, though he seemed to be lacking any enthusiasm about it. Setting down his empty plate, he crossed his arms and sank into the couch.

"It's been a few years since we've been partners, huh?" he mused, catching me off guard. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye and watched the TV's glare play over his face. He'd always looked tired, but right now, he seemed as if all he wanted was the lull of eternal sleep.

Fear gripped me at the sight, and I reached out to grab at his sleeve. He looked over at me and his walls crumbled. "I told him about Cole."

"Hank…"

"He said he saw the photo of him, and I told him his name was Cole." He breathed through his nostrils. "Connor's a walking computer as far as I know. Probably already knew everything but he still chose to ask me. What a prick," he said, weakly.

With my free hand, I rubbed circles into Hank's palm, and leaned over slightly to set down my unfinished plate. I'd half expected him to refuse the gesture, but he did nothing. Not acceptance, but not refusal either.

"When was this?" I asked.

"After the Eden Club crime scene." He drew in a shaky breath. "I did something to him. Tried to rattle him. But it rattled me instead."

I wanted to ask him what he'd done, but Hank would only tell you what he wanted to tell you when he wanted to tell you. Pushing for details would only fortify a new wall. Taller, thicker, and tougher than the last.

"Is that why you shoved him off the chair yesterday?"

His gaze flicked to mine, and he shifted around in his seat so he was facing me head on. "I'm gonna ask you some questions and I need you to answer them. I don't care if you don't want to-"

"That's hardly fair. I don't pester you-"

He held up a hand. "Life ain't fair, kid. There's a lot of shit we have to put up with, and I'm gonna be on your list, but I don't give a fuck." Rummaging in his jacket pocket, he withdrew a package. "Open it," he said, and I complied. The wrapping was smooth and the contents heavy, square, and weighty.

"My birthday isn't for a few weeks." I didn't think he would have bothered to get me a present anyway.

"You should tell Connor that, then."

"He bought me a gift?" I couldn't believe it.

Hank smirked. "Wouldn't you like that. Just open the damned thing already."

The packing opened easily, expertly taped, and I pulled out the ebony faux-leather bound moleskine. "Just so you know, he bought that with CyberLife's funds, and had it delivered to my doorstep. Can't imagine what they're thinking he needs that for."

Then Hank fished another moleskine from his pocket. Navy blue, and big as the palm of his hand. "I wondered how he got it into his head to write away my depression," he said. "I doubt he'd go looking for that information unless he'd already heard the idea from somewhere."

"How do you know that's what he meant?"

Hank reached over and switched our moleskines to cut away the clear plastic covering the black one. The navy blue moleskine didn't have any plastic film, and when I flipped it open to the first page, I found a passage in CyberLife Sans.

Officer,

I decided to try out your theory and purchased what is called an 'Exchange Diary.' Unfortunately, there was no such item available to buy, but I discovered it can be any journal that is passed between parties. I must admit, this is a mission I'm finding great difficulty in completing. I'm simply not programmed to think of anything but my main mission. Please forgive me if I can't fulfill this one. Perhaps hearing your experiences may prove fruitful. I have gifted a journal for the Lieutenant as well. I think it may do him some good, if it has proven useful for you.

-Connor

"With a little less talking and a little more observation, you may just get that promotion," Hank said. His expression was tender and I closed the cover delicately.

"Is this what you brought me here for?" It hurt to see him looking at me like that, when I knew he was just warming up to something.

"Of course not." He took another mouthful of his beer and offered it once more to me. When I waved it away, he said, "Who are you?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"Do you really think I'm that stupid? I wasn't made Lieutenant for nothin'. So, you look me in the eyes right now and you tell me, did you ever lie to me in the past?"

I turned to face him in my seat, folding my legs under me. Sumo grumbled and repositioned his head on my knee. "Everyone does, including you."

He shook his head. "I don't mean it like that. I mean, are you withholding information about yourself?"

"Just spit it out, Hank. Ask the fucking questions already."

"Why did you join law enforcement?"

I stroked Sumo's ears. "I liked the idea of fighting crime, and it pays the bills." As soon as I spoke, I realized my mistake. The confirmation was reflected in Hank's lips, pulling down to the side.

"Lucky me; I got to you before they did," Hank said dryly. "Your family is swimming in money; you've never had to worry about a job until she kicked you out. We're gonna try this again, and I expect you to give me the right answer, because you sure as hell can't lie your way out of a damn teapot, got it?"

"I don't have to answer you, and there's no-one after me."

"No, you don't. But I sure as hell can read you, and Connor did a fine damn job with the facts. And, for your information, you can keep saying that all you like, but I think you're walking into a shithole."

My gaze cut to his, sharp as glass. "You had him snoop around about my past?"

"Don't act so surprised, guy probably knows everything about all of us at the station. Now, you sure you don't want a beer? No? Fine. Why did you join the DPD?"

"I gave you my answer."

Hank flashed me a smug grin and slipped a piece of paper from his pocket. He tossed it at me and I caught it in one hand. I unfolded it to a photo of a drawing hanging on a wall, a first place ribbon decorating its upper right corner. It was a monochrome scrawl of a bleeding metal heart. A line of blue was the only color, forming a gushing pool beneath the organ.

When I didn't respond, Hank pulled out a blue journal festooned in rhinestone armor. It glittered beneath the TV screen, dazzling and damning. I bit the inside of my cheek.

"You stole that from my apartment. You kicked Connor and me off our chairs just to do that?"

"I always knew you were a good artist." He opened the journal to several marked pages and nodded at the drawings, as if impressed. "I wonder why you never went to that fancy ass art school. Got a full-ride to it, after all. No one would question Carl Manfred's decision."

"I answered your question," I repeated stubbornly.

Hank slammed the journal closed and threw it onto the coffee top. It went skidding into the mountain of paperwork, narrowly missing the bottle.

"I told you before, I don't play games, kid."

"That's gold, coming from you," I retorted, carefully folding the paper back and placing it between us.

He shrugged. "Not like I got anything to lose. You, on the other hand, have several. You'll lose it all if you take a wrong step. At the rate you're going, that's more likely than you think."

I strangled the glass of water between my hands.

Hank gulped down more of the beer. "I'm not blind, Phillips. Your sister means the world to you and you can say you hate your mom all you like, but you'd take a bullet for her. A shame she can't seem to fuckin' see how much you care."

Shifting my gaze to Sumo, I said, "We're not here to talk about her."

"Damn right. You just sit tight, I'll know what I need to soon enough. You get a scholarship by this century's greatest artist, and you turn it down. Instead, you high-tail it to the police academy, score poor as shit, but manage to pass. Why's that? Your dad's a renowned employee at CyberLife-"

"Don't you fucking dare! I earned my spot."

He snorted.

"I earned my place," I snarled, leaning forward. The move caused Sumo to jump off the couch.

"No offense, but you hardly seem the type to enter into law enforcement. I'd have pegged you for anything but that."

I downed the glass and slammed it onto the coffee table. "Get to your point, Hank."

"I did. What, you had some argument with your mom about art or something? Doesn't make any goddamn sense. She was proud of your accomplishments. Then you turn around and throw it all away."

My voice quaked with dangerous rage. "I don't owe you an explanation. That was my choice."

He regarded me with apparent frustration before he took another drink. "Fine, go on sulking like that. Secrets always find a way to get out, you're no exception. Sooner or later, you're gonna have to face that."

"So I switched my career path. So I didn't pursue art. What do you care?" I asked.

"I care that you threw away something you were passionate about. You must've spent hours drawing and painting, and then you just toss it. You hide it all. What, you ashamed? Jesus, if I had your talent, I wouldn't be living here. I'd be with Cole right now, taking him to see games. None of this would be happening."

A bitter, scornful laugh tore from my throat. "Life doesn't go the way we want."

"No, it doesn't." he changed tact completely. "Did you know Gavin before you joined?"

I automatically went on the defensive. "So what if I did?"

He growled, "It matters because he's a pain in the ass. You two date or something?"

I scrunched my nose up at the idea. "Hell no. We just got off on the wrong foot. After you gave me that lovely title, thank you very much."

"Listen, the more you clam up about shit, the harder it is to pry it open. And when it opens, you can't close the lid on it anymore. It's always gonna bug you, and you'll wish you'd opened it yourself before someone else did it for you."

"Hank, I get it, okay? There's no point in reliving the past." Tears welled in my eyes and I cursed, scrubbing at them with the backs of my hands.

He grabbed one of my wrists and said, "You were there for me when I told you about Cole, and you were there when I tried to blast my brains out. Just fuckin' let someone in for a change."

I cracked a smile. "You suck at this."

Hank set down his beer and grabbed my shoulders. "Exactly why I don't do this shit often. So you listen to me good, you hear? If you open up to Connor, great, I don't give a fuck. But you're killing yourself every day. I can see that, and I don't even have special scanning software crap. Don't let it eat you alive."

"You can't let it either," I whispered.

Hank drew in a shaky breath and steeled himself. "I hope..." he trailed off, his gaze searching mine. "I hope I'm wrong, but I'm never wrong. Don't let Connor become your next weakness."

I jerked in his hold. "What are you talking about? If anyone needs to hear that it's you, you treat him almost like he's your-"

"Connor's an android," he cut me off sharply. What I was going to say was still heard.

"Liar," I murmured.

"As are you."

"Hank," I protested. "I know you've walked in on a few awkward things, but that was horrible timing, honestly."

His eyes crinkled at the corners. "He's no Sam, so I haven't shot him. But I think you owe yourself a little honesty. He was really impressed with your drawings of him."

Blood rushed to my ears and I shoved him away. "I draw everyone - and you're not supposed to be in my personal stuff."

"So he's the only one who gets to, huh? Just, be careful, okay? Wouldn't surprise me if CyberLife could see everything he was doing."


Hank succumbed to the alcohol and fell asleep on the couch, his neck tipped back and his snores ruffling the gray hairs of his mustache. Sumo lay on the floor at his feet while I stared at the TV, petrified at the sight of the heterochromatin-android.

One of his eyes was the color of a humid spring day, flecks of pine beneath the sun swimming in its depths. The other was a deep, calming cerulean, unfamiliar and striking. His skin was pulled back to disguise his identity, the harsh white plastic beneath nearly blinding. When he spoke, I was pulled back to a room of colors, bright open windows, and books.

"Markus….." I whispered. If he was here, where was Carl?

"We ask that you recognize our dignity, our hopes and our rights. Together, we can live in peace and build a better future, for humans and androids. This message is the hope of the people. You gave us life. And now the time has come for you to give us freedom." His voice was silvery and it tugged on my heart.

As I watched, enraptured by the messenger giving his speech, I wiped away the tears from my cheeks, and was thankful Hank wasn't awake.

His phone screamed to life and I jumped, clutching at my chest.

Hank blindly reached out for his phone and sat up with a gurgled groan. He picked up, cutting off the phone's cries, and his jaw went slack at the sight of the android on the TV. Just as suddenly as he'd been there, the screen cut to white noise with the sounds of frantic yelling in the background.

"What the fuck?" Hank said. "What? Yeah I saw the damned thing. I'll be there."

He cut the call and I bent down to tighten the laces on my boots so he wouldn't see my face. "Get the car ready," I said.

"Don't need to tell me that," he said, getting to his feet.


We were in the elevator of the Stratford Tower, Connor to my left and Hank to his left. The floors whizzed by one by one, and I found myself entranced by the coin trick Connor was performing to amuse himself. The glint of silver spun on the tips of his fingers, dipped between the hollows of his knuckles, spilled between his hands.

Hank caught my wide-eyed gaze and I drew back, straightening as he glared at Connor.

"How are you doing that?" I asked him, unable to keep my curiosity in check any longer.

He flicked the coin onto his left hand and said, "It's quite simple, really. I can show you, if you'd like."

"Hell yes," I said.

"You're starting to piss me off with that coin, Connor." Hank snatched the coin from midair and pocketed it.

I glared at him as Connor apologized to him, and then to me.

At the 79th floor, the elevator drew to a stop and the doors opened with a beep. A long corridor stretched down to the broadcasting room, a bumblebee mix of black and yellow.

Chris, dressed head to toe in DPD's patrol uniform, greeted Hank first, then me with pointed alarm. Clad in the same black uniform, I returned his greeting. Not only should I have been on scene the second Chris had been, but Hank was the only one who'd gotten a call. I winced as I realized - right, I was so preoccupied with case files I hadn't bothered to turn the volume up on my new phone. Absolutely not an excuse, of course. I could only hope Fowler would have mercy.

"Did I miss the party?" Hank asked.

Chris said, "Yeah, even the FBI wants a piece of the action." He looked over his shoulder at me, flipping through his notes. "Phillips, Fowler blew up your phone this evening. He isn't happy."

"Great, I'll have to find something to get out of this."

My friend gave me a sympathetic look.

"Ah Christ, now we got the Feds on our back…..I knew this was gonna be a shitty day," Hank bemoaned.

"Please tell me Perkins isn't here," I said aloud.

"You know him?" Chris asked, turning around with surprise.

I shrugged. "Enough."

"That's all anyone really needs, no less, no more." Chris replied. Returning to Hank, he said, "It was a group of four androids. They knew the building and they were very well organized. I'm still trying to figure out how they got this far without being noticed."

Hank paused, swinging a heavy look my way. "Don't imagine a stray cat told them, huh?" I reverted my gaze and found Connor looking at me. No doubt both of us were remembering his little lie to Hank about letting the deviants go, but then Connor's gentle fingers brushed against my hand, as if to comfort me.

"Come again?" Chris asked, but Hank simply looked around the hall, filled with security, CSI, FBI, and patrol. A party indeed.

"You check the roof?" Hank inquired.

"Not yet, there's so much to look at." He went on to explain how there'd been no casualties, something no one could imagine possible. Not unless, I thought, they had help.

Connor trailed behind me, checking for clues only he could detect. When we reached the broadcasting room, I raised my brows at Hank, trying to communicate the asshole we were about to meet.

Chris took a breath as if to brace himself. "Oh, Lieutenant. This is Special Agent Perkins from the FBI." Perkins turned around, sweeping an unimpressed glance over Hank. His nose seemed to grow more hook-like with each movement. Immediately, Hank picked up on the little assessment he was now under. "Lieutenant Anderson is in charge of investigating for Detroit Police."

Perkins was a clothes hanger of a man, all gaunt and austere in posture, his attire hanging off his frame in such a way that made it hard to discern if his clothes actually fit or if he'd gone horribly amiss with his choices. The gray only drained the pallor from his face, deepening the shallows of his cheeks and shadowing the scruff at his pointed chin. Beady little eyes flicked from Hank, to Connor, then to me, glinting like the buttons on his trench coat. I had to wonder if the whole appearance was intentional.

I stood by Connor as Perkin's gaze swept over me, his tie like a boa about his reed-thin neck. As if to draw attention away from that fact, he'd flipped his coat collar up so it grazed his jawline. His eyes narrowed, and his thin lips twisted into a tart smile. "My, what a surprise. Aren't you the girl who threw herself at the deviant on the roof in August? If you'd gone down to the paramedics like a good little girl, you might've not had to go through all of that." His teeth flashed.

"Yes, I'm Officer Phillips, Perkins, sir. It's a pleasure to know you remember me after all this time," I said sweetly. Starting a fight, no matter how much I wanted to bite back at him, could spell disaster for my record.

He knew that, too. Perkins smiled sardonically. "Pray tell you don't get wrapped up in another deviant's business, Officer Phillips." His voice was acerbic.

Of course he'd read my files. I broadened my smile until it hurt.

Perkins moved on to Connor.

"What's that?"

Connor's reply was clipped, "My name is Connor. I'm the android sent my CyberLife."

Perkins softly snorted, glancing at Hank. "Androids investigating androids, huh? You sure you want an android hanging around? After everything that happened." I started. How in the hell did Perkins know about Hank's son? It's not like the news had covered it. Hank had done all he could to make sure it hadn't gotten out, exactly why Connor had no idea why Hank hated androids. Perkins raised his brows meaningfully, but bless Hank, the guy wasn't buying any of this crap. "Not to mention," Perkins continued, "your officer needs a stricter leash. Wouldn't want her bounding after deviants to sniff their tails."

I imagined planting a solid kick to Perkins's middle, bending him in half like the coat hanger he was.

Hank nodded, wearing that look of masked glee whenever he was picturing punting someone across the room. He'd told me about how he often thought of doing it to Gavin, another hobby we shared. Then his features hardened, and Perkins lifted his chin.

"Whatever; the FBI will take over the investigation, you'll soon be off the case."

"Pleasure meeting you, have a nice day," Hank said, mere milliseconds after Perkins had uttered the last of his sentence. It only served to tick him off more.

"And you watch your step," Perkins said.

Hank turned around, his mouth an O, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Perkins curtly said, "Don't fuck up my crime scene," and walked out as if on stilted legs.

"What a fuckin' prick." Hank turned to me and I wagged my eyebrows at him. "That guy was in charge of your sister's hostage crisis? Jesus, no wonder it escalated so badly."

Chris smiled with amusement as he told Hank, "I'll be nearby. If you need anything, just ask." He shot me a friendly grin as he walked off.

"He's not a very amicable person." Connor said, frowning in the direction Perkins had retreated.

I laughed, "If you remove the pole sticking out of his asscheeks, he may lighten up."

"He has a pole in his….." Connor whipped around, as if he were running a diagnostics on the man.

Hank said to me, "Go check the roof. This might take a while."

"Right away," I started towards the entrance leading to the roof when a voice caught me dead in my tracks. Hank and Connor looked up at the android on screen, his real skin on display and those two, different colored eyes determinedly staring into the hearts of Detroit as he relayed his message.

It was like my airways had constricted, and I started picking at my fingers again. I'd told myself I'd kick the habit, but old ones were hard to beat, especially when the trigger was stressful situations. Oh look, that was my entire career. How fun.

When the recording concluded, Hank asked Connor to report his findings. Connor simply announced he'd recognized the model and its number, then lapsed into silence. Hank tilted his head back to peer at him down his nose, suspicion lacing his noncommittal noise. Then he passed by me, angling his head in the area he'd asked me to check. I fought against the tightness in my throat, and when Connor clocked around and found me standing behind him, wild-eyed and chest heaving, his brows drew together.

"Officer?" He stopped a few spaces apart from me, dark eyes pooling with concern. "Are you alright?"

There was no way I was going to ask him why he hadn't bothered to clarify that he was from the same line as Markus. Maybe, as Hank suggested, Connor knew everything about me down to the finest details. Maybe he didn't.

"I should get going," I said, slipping away from his scrutiny. Hank stood near the thirium-stained walls, replicating Connor's coin trick as if his work here was done.

Up the stairs, I paused in front of the door leading onto the roof. The notion of where it led called forth memories of Daniel, things I didn't want to see. Bracing myself, I pushed through into the jaws of early winter. Flakes spiralled down on crisp winds, settling atop my shoulders like powdered sugar.

Several rooftop heaters dotted the surface, separating the squad of FBI and CSI personnel. They were stationed at various intervals, some talking together and reporting their findings. None of which seemed promising, for the progress they'd made so far seemed to only amount to a flimsy handful of evidence and nothing more. A duffel bag lay on the snow-dusted ground ahead and I knelt down to inspect it. It was more than half my size and filled with all manners of tools and supplies. What alarmed me though was the parachute.

According to Chris, four deviants had hatched this operation. Thirium now painted the broadcasting room. It was likely one had been unable to make the jump. Had they been left behind?

Further ahead, tagged by a bright yellow evidence marker, several different pairs of footsteps left their stamp. I counted three separate pairs. Soon, the falling snow would eat them up.

A low railing eclipsed the space from the plummeting drop into a blur of white below. No wonder they couldn't tell where the deviants had parachuted to. Any traces of them had been erased. Settling back onto the balls of my feet, I made my way to the duffel bag. Then I went to open the rooftop door. I figured Hank would like to know there wasn't much to see up here. It refused to budge. It was a wireless lock, the sort requiring permission to access - meaning the deviants had to have hacked into it to temporarily block their pursuers. And buy them a moment to weigh their options if one had indeed been badly wounded.

If one had been left behind, they were somewhere on this rooftop. There was no chance they'd made it through the door without having been seen, and cameras were recording every inch of the tower. However, I don't think anyone had noticed the door had been hacked. It would've been blocked from all contact if they suspected it had.

A single member of the FBI standing near the door asked, "Did you need to get in?"

A thought trickled into my mind like a clear stream, shocking me with the clarity of it.

Flashing my badge, I told him, "I'm with Lieutenant Anderson from the Detroit Police Department. We will be taking over this area for investigation." My voice was stronger than I expected.

"Where's your Lieutenant?" he asked.

"You can find him in the broadcasting room. He sent me up here to scope out the rooftop before he joined. Perkins is currently speaking to several officers."

The guy looked from me to my badge to the area. I wasn't supposed to have the authority in these situations, but everyone knew of Hank. He didn't waste time with formalities anymore, and as such, anyone working in tandem with him were elevated to his position if the need arose - and in this case, I believed it counted.

"What's your name?" he asked, as if checking to make sure I was really with them.

"Officer Phillips. My orders are to assist the DPD in this crime scene. I will be taking over from here."

I could almost feel the gears churning in his head, processing the facts. Here was the 'Android Sympathizer' working on a case involving deviants. I had no idea if they suspected one had been left behind, but I had to bank on them having not reached that conclusion. I couldn't falter here.

The man took my badge between his gloved fingers and handed it back to me with a slight nod. "I'll round them up," he said, tersely.

I wanted to thank him, but sometimes kindness bred suspicion. People today found gratitude to be disingenuous, and in my position, I couldn't afford that. Pulling out the navy blue moleskine, I flipped to a blank page, as if busy with notes I'd taken. I made sure to stand off to the side, angled just right in case anyone decided to see what lay in my pages. They'd see nothing but what their own minds could think of.

When at last the door clicked shut, I trained my gaze to the snow-laden floor. Thirium evaporated in a few hours, and became invisible to the naked eye, as Connor had said. And a fresh batch shone darkly against the rooftop heaters. I don't know how it'd gone unnoticed, but then again, deviancy was a recent thing. Not many were unlucky enough to know about thirium and its properties. Grabbing the parachute, I spun around.

"Thank you, Connor," I muttered, following the trail. Unfortunately, time seemed to have caught up, and the blood that was visible had quickly begun to fade. Only Connor would be able to track its pattern long after, and I couldn't afford that.

I approached the long, blue, metal heater. Darker blue stained its surface and I slid to the side of the door, out of the way of its path if it swung open. Pressing close against the cold metal, I shivered. They were in here, likely armed. It was an understatement to say I needed to proceed with caution.

"Hello," I began, clearing my throat. Nervousness brewed in my stomach. "I'm alone, I've flushed everyone out of the area. If you run a scan, you'll see I'm telling the truth. You're probably wondering what's going on right now."

What if no one was inside the container and I was just speaking to the winter winds? Maybe Gavin would magically teleport here to gloat at how I'd lost my marbles.

"I'm Officer Phillips - with the DPD, but I'm not here to hurt you. Or arrest you, pretty much anything I should be doing. I'm going to leave your parachute outside here, okay? I know this all seems surreal, but I can promise you I mean no harm. I'm grateful you didn't hurt anyone, and I saw your message."

I swallowed, fingers twitching.

"Tell Markus I saw his message and that Carl would've been proud of him. That I'm proud of him."

Silence greeted me. Inching off the metal wall, I trudged back the way I'd come.

And then the door creaked open behind me. A ghost stared back at me, causing tears to bloom in my eyes. He was clad in the traditional blue and yellow work uniform of the Stratford towerer and his LED pulsed red. Between his loose fingers was a glock. He let it dangle at his side, his clear blue eyes searching mine. Flaxen hair swept over his head. He was a PL600 model. Daniel's model.

The deviant's voice was delicate as a morning-dove, just like Daniel's. "How do you know Markus?" He was bleeding heavily, dripping onto the fresh snow. He'd need to cover that.

"He was a good friend of mine. We read books together - or rather, I read to him, hoping he'd take the initiative, want to have a discussion." I had to fight the urge to run over to the deviant and hold him in my arms. All I could see was Daniel's smiles, his pale gaze. "What's your name?" I asked, unable to process anything but the image before me.

He was understandably reticent and I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers. "Sorry, you remind me of a friend of mine. You should go, before my partners show up."

The deviant continued to stare at me with a sad expression, as if he couldn't believe his eyes. "I know you. He mentioned you, once."

"Markus spoke about me?"

He nodded, stooping down to fetch the parachute, gritting his teeth as he did so, his gaze never leaving mine. "I'll let him know you're well, he'd be glad to hear it." The way he spoke of Markus made me feel warm. His eyes softened at the corners and he seemed to recall memories, briefly staring at nothing.

"You have feelings for him," I said.

The man wore a sheepish grin, lowering his head. "Markus inspires a great deal of emotion in many. But, it wouldn't be wrong to say I cared about him."

"Thank you," I breathed.

"My name is Simon," he ventured, growing more confident as he realized I truly had meant what I'd told him earlier. That I was a friend. "It's nice to see there are humans who aren't our enemy."

"There are many who consider you to be friends, Simon. I only wish more would do so. Markus's speech will have reached several lives. I hope you can rejoin him soon."

Simon lifted his head and a smile touched his thirium-stained mouth. "I hope so too-"

There was the soft sound of a footfall. Simon strapped the parachute to himself and staggered away, while I drew my gun and pressed against the heaters. Raising my weapon, I drew to a halt at the corner of one, seeing the shadow of a burly figure stretch over the ground.

"Hank?" I called out, recognizing it immediately.

The man's shadow detached from the heater and he appeared around the corner. I dropped my weapon, clipping it back to my holster.

"How much did you see?"

He considered me, his pale gaze like ice in the harsh light reflecting from the snow. "Not sure he'll make the jump, but I guess it's better than offing himself like he planned if he got caught."

"You're not angry?"

"That you took over Perkin's investigation? Hell no." He clapped a hand onto my shoulder and a rare smile tugged at his mouth. "Looked like Daniel."

"I don't understand, why aren't you upset with me?" I protested, voice wavering.

"Maybe I've been too harsh on you," he murmured, the gravelly tones of his voice like a low gale through the woods. "Come on, Connor's interrogating some of the androids on staff. It'll look weird if we're the only two gone."

Before he turned around, I snatched at the hem of his jacket. He stopped and looked down at me. "Thank you," I whispered.

He nodded. "So you knew Markus, huh? Why doesn't that surprise me? We'll talk it about it later, come on."

Hank's broad back turned to face me and he ambled towards the door.. The bite of November was shut out and a delicious heat replaced it. Passing the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of Connor before a line of three androids. All of them stared blankly ahead at him.

Then we crossed through the broadcasting room and down the main hall. Hank and I convened with Chris, who was flipping through his notes with a haggard expression. "I just don't understand how no one saw them," he told us. "I see you've been to the roof," he said, nodding at the snow melting on our clothes.

"A waste of time, Perkins just fooled around up there," Hank announced, but the Special Agents coat-man was long gone.

"You don't think one of those kitchen androids helped?" I offered.

"That's what Connor's checking on," replied Chris. "If it's not one of them, I've no idea how this worked out. Maybe miracles really do exist."

Hank chuckled. "Yeah wouldn't that be something?"

Someone walked past me. It was one of the kitchen androids and his pace was brisk. I nudged Hank. "Hey, did Connor let one of them go?"

"I don't know anymore what that boy does."

Chris paused in his notes and glanced up at Hank at the same time I blinked at him with surprise. Before he could argue, I gave him a small smile. "I'll go ahead and see what that android's up to."

He was swifter than I'd expected, forcing me to lengthen my strides to catch up. Odd, he seemed to be rather harried. Had Connor located a deviant among them? The android was heading straight, and I thought, maybe he was looking for Perkins, or someone in charge to inform them. But Perkins wasn't here and Hank was in charge in his stead.

The android approached the FBI member by the elevator and that's when I put two and two together. I reached for my gun, right as Connor's voice echoed down the corridor with desperation.

"It's a deviant! Stop it!"

The deviant whirled around, ripping the rifle from the FBI and shoving him to the ground with the butt of the weapon. He saw mine trained on him and my finger twitched on the trigger as he aimed at my skull.

A series of shots fired and blue blood splattered my face. I flinched. The deviant collapsed where he stood, the gun clattering to the floor and skidding to a halt at my feet.

I turned around, reeling from what had nearly been the end of my life. When faced with the prospect of death, everyone tells you you'll see your life flash before your eyes. I certainly hadn't, but three things had come to mind. Emma, a cage trapping her from flight. Hank, bottles of poison swimming in his home, his trusty pistol in hand. And Connor, wrestling with his mission.

Connor stood tall, his gaze pinned to his target. His shirt had been torn open, revealing a triangle of his bare skin coated in shining thirium. The blood snaked up his chest, staining his shirt, and that's when I saw the gaping hole in his torso. The deviant had wrenched one of his biocomponents out, and Connor had put it back. None of us had heard a damned thing while he'd been fighting for his life.

He held out the gun he'd used for the owner to take it back, and I saw regret in his features. Hank, who'd dropped to the floor, pistol in hand, pulled Chris to his feet. "Nice shot, Connor," he praised him.

"I wanted it alive," Connor said.

Hank's voice was strangled with emotion as he said, "You saved human lives….You saved…. my life." I saw the change in Hank's entire perception on androids in that moment and I wanted to run over to him and pat him on the back.

Connor seemed to sense a change too, for he spared a glance at his superior, then marched for the deviant, arms swinging purposefully. He was so focused on the dead deviant that when he bumped into me, he started, seeing me as if for the first time.

He noted the gun gripped between my hands and gently removed it from me. His lashes brushed against his cheekbones as he rolled the sleek weapon in his hands. "Had I not intervened, you would've had a 2% chance of survival, Phillips."

My mouth parted. He hadn't used my title, it was the first time he'd said my name alone. It was the dumbest thing to be surprised about, considering everything he'd just said. But working in this line did things to you. You got used to near-misses. Even if that one was too close to demise for comfort.

I reached for my gun to return it to its holster and my fingers slicked through bright blue thirium. "Your hand!" I exclaimed, grabbing his wrist and turning it over to see a horrid, gaping hole. Thirium continued to pool out, and I trembled "I'm sorry."

Connor tilted his head. "Why are you apologizing?"

"You're hurt. You saved my life, you saved everyone's lives, and no one knew you were fighting your own battle in there. I'm so sorry."

I grasped his hand with both of mine and bowed my head.

"My mission is to detain deviants."

The FBI personnel who'd been violently pushed down earlier, struggled to his feet and I let go of Connor, knowing full-well how bad this looked.

"I'll have to go in for repairs," Connor continued as Hank sauntered over to us. "Although these aren't major wounds, they will slow me down. I shouldn't be gone too long."

Hank said, "You mean to CyberLife? They're not gonna replace you, are they?"

"They can't!" I said.

Hank nodded in agreement and Connor looked at me with confusion. "Even if they did, you shouldn't concern yourself with that. I am but one of many who can replace me. They will upload my memory to the new RK800 model. Some memories may not be passed on, but that's because they're of no hope to my mission."

I shook my head. "No, you can't." Removing the moleskine from my pocket, I said, "You're the only one who can use this. I refuse."

Connor stared down at the moleskine, his gaze devoid of anything. "It is highly unlikely they would need to replace me. I've not disappointed her yet."

"Her?"

"I won't be long. Please, do what you must with the deviant."

No, this couldn't be happening. "Connor!" I cried out as he opened the elevator. Hank didn't try to stop me as I blocked the entrance and slipped the moleskine into Connor's interior jacket pocket. "You better bring this back, and it better be filled with notes, you hear me? I don't care what you write. Just put something in there, okay?"

Connor dipped his head so that he was looking at me down the line of his nose. His gaze was dark and somber. "If I did, CyberLife would be concerned I was….defective."

"Then don't write anything. Just bring it back, okay?" I begged him.

"Understood, Officer." He disappeared through the elevator's doors and I leaned into Hank when he drew close.

"It'll be alright," he said.

"What if it isn't?"

Hank looked down at me. "I don't know."

Chapter Text


 

I slept over at Hank's for the next four days - not well, of course. We'd lounge on the couch, staring listlessly at the TV, seeing our own episodes of Connor instead. Sometime during those nights we lost to sleep, and were only pulled from its clutches with the blaring alarm on my phone. Neither of us could bear to imagine what was happening to Connor. Every time my mind wandered it always returned to those elevator doors, sealing my friend away from my outstretched hands. My dreams replayed it in a much more dramatic fashion, as dreams tend to do.

What my subconscious was trying to achieve with those dreams, I couldn't say. It was the only time I could hear Connor's voice as clearly as if it were yesterday; the only time I could look into his eyes and see that uncertainty, determination, and regret, all in one little angsty bow.

While awaiting Connor's return, Hank and I worked separately at the station. I was often dispatched for patrol. I think Fowler recognized the bitter, hollowed look on the Lieutenant's face, reminiscent of the days following the crash that robbed Cole's life from this earth.

Fowler hadn't reprimanded me for not answering his call after Markus had infiltrated the Stratford tower, choosing instead to simply order that I do all the case files I could. He did, however, call Hank to his office first thing this morning. As far as anyone could tell, Hank wasn't in for a yelling match. The man was sitting in the chair before Fowler's desk, looking worn out and apathetic. No-one had bothered him before that, not even Gavin - perhaps he did have a good bone somewhere in his body.

As for me, Gavin had started off as his usual self, aggressive and curt, until he'd gotten one clear look at me. After three days of this, he decided to stop glaring at me from across the room and confront me. Joy. He strolled over to my desk, setting down a mug of tea. "There's no ketchup in it - yet," he said.

"That's not very convincing," I said, nursing the mug between my hands. Its warmth melted away the chill that had seeped down to my bones.

Snow fell heavier each day, signaling the beginning of the DPD's annual parking warfare. Gavin lived for this. He'd gun it to the DPD to get the best spot, to avoid the inevitable trouble exiting the lot following the snowstorms November was cooking up. It'd been funny, at first. He was so gung-ho about it, it was like nothing else mattered but that sweet empty spot next to Fowler's. Until his tires had slipped over a really big patch of ice, and he'd nearly mowed me over as I'd been walking to my own car. Now I stayed far away from the parking lot at this time of year, choosing to walk to work or take a taxi instead.

Gavin planted his ass onto my desk, resting his coffee on his knee. I recalled the day at the hospital when he'd come to visit me in Hank's stead. He raised the mug to his lips.

"You have a weird way of showing affection, you know," I told him. "Like a cat."

Gavin spat his mouthful back into his cup in surprise. "Sorry, you're not my type lady. You have, like, zero boobs."

"Denial only makes it worse," I said, quoting Chris. He'd pulled that on me when I'd come to terms with my feelings for Connor.

Connor.

My shoulders slumped and an ugly knot of worry tightened within me. It seemed to trigger some kind of remorse in Gavin. "Hey, look…I know I'm an ass. And maybe you're not completely flat, okay? Just maybe."

I gave him an arch look. Yeah, it was the no-boobs comment that I was upset about right now. Totally.

"I'm being real here, okay?" he snapped, frowning down at his coffee (now with 10% more saliva). "I hate seeing everyone get like...that when people they care about are hurt - though that plastic prick ain't technically a person. Wasn't a pretty day for me in that hospital, you know?"

Wasn't a pretty day for me either, bastard.

"What I'm trying to say - is stop being so depressed-"

"Wow - first off, you can't switch depression off like it's a fucking light switch."

Gavin shut his eyes as if wincing internally. "That wasn't what I meant." He faltered into silence.

"Go on," I prompted.

The air between us had become too awkward for him to endure; to compensate, Gavin tipped the mug back and drained his coffee in several large gulps. Wiping the back of his hand over his mouth, he said, "I didn't know Plastic Prick much, but you and Hank sure act like you lost a son or something."

"I can't tell if you're here to say something meaningful, or if you're just being your usual pompous self."

Tapping on his mug, he inhaled harshly through his nostrils. "I'm here to say that I hope, for you and Hank - not Plastic Prick, fuck that, I still owe that motherfucker a clock to the face - that something gets better. It feels so fuckin' weird hearing Hank not bitch about everything in the room. It's been almost a week, right? Maybe you'll hear news soon."

It's been almost a week? To make everything more embarrassing, a teardrop rolled down my cheek and plopped into my drink, rippling the brew.

But Gavin didn't comment. His big hand slapped my back, hard, as if he were trying to say it was going to be alright. Unfortunately, he did so with more strength than he anticipated, and my forehead, already angled down, slammed down into the mug, which fortunately stayed intact.

"What the hell?" I groaned, pressing a hand to my forehead.

Tea spilled all over my desk, and I shoved the case files away from the liquid before it was soaked and ruined. Gavin pulled his hand away from me with a grimace, his teeth flashing. He helped me clean up quickly, and then came back with a fresh cup.

"You, uh, you got a ring," he said, pointing to his own forehead. At least he looked mildly guilty.

I pressed my fingers into the mark. "Thanks."

"My bad."

He started to walk away when I let out a sigh. "Gavin, thanks."

His lips pursed, like he'd bitten into a particularly tart lemon. "That feels so fuckin' weird. Don't thank me ever again, okay?"

I shrugged, as if to say yeah, I know. I flipped him off to make up for it, and a tiny smile stretched his mouth.

And then the door leading into Fowler's office slammed so hard that the glass shook. Fowler yelled after him, his words muffled and indistinguishable through the wall, and that's when I saw the look in Hank's wide, frost blue eyes. I crossed over to him right as he zipped past me, breathless. "My car, now," he instructed.

"Is it Connor?" I asked, racing after to catch up with him.

Hank didn't answer until we were outside. He spun around with a film of tears in his eyes.

"Oh my God, Hank what's wrong? Did…?" I couldn't bring myself to ask. If CyberLife had deactivated him, I didn't know what I'd do. I'd already lost Daniel. No, Connor had promised he'd return the moleskine to me. He promised he would.

Hank opened the passenger door for me, and then closed it after me when I was in. When he himself was seated, strapped in, and peeling onto the main road, he said, "I don't know, Phillips. Fowler got a call from CyberLife. Apparently Kamski bought him back from the company."

"I don't understand. Why would he buy him back, he's the former CEO? He doesn't have anything to do with the company anymore."

My friend drove his foot onto the gas pedal, sending me back me into my seat. "Look, I really need a beer right now, but first you need to tell me once and for all why in the fuckin' hell Kamski requested you specifically come pick Connor up."

"I…what?"

Hank zoomed through a red light, and I clutched at the armrest. "You just-"

"Never mind that," he growled. "Answer me, goddamnit!"

"I don't know why he'd ask me to!" I screamed back.

"I will turn this car around-"

"You won't, not when Connor's waiting for us."

Hank roared and jerked the wheel hard, nearly missing the turn in the road. "We're gonna get pulled over," I told him. "And maybe die."

"I have permission."

"You'll find out when we get there, then," I murmured. So would I, somewhat. I had a nasty inkling what some of this might be about.

"Are you fuckin' kiddin' me, Phillips? Why does this have to wait?"

"I never once forced you to tell me a single thing about you, so don't you dare act like you have that right. You know more than anyone what it's like to have things you can't talk about. So don't make me."

He nodded over and over, clearly pissed off. "Why the fuck do I gotta partner up with people with so much shit in their lives?"

"That'd be everyone, including you," I snapped, just to tick him off.

"I didn't want a partner, then I get dumped with you, and you make me worry about things I shouldn't. Is she eating? Is she sleeping? Is she gonna fuckin' get herself killed this time? And Connor? Je-sus, the boy's like a damned newborn deer. Can't tell right from wrong until I yell at him, then he goes around and does things I never asked, and now I'm worried they fuckin' offed him because the guy can't shut up about you, and he won't stop asking if I'm alright, if I need to talk, how are you?"

I wasn't about to inquire as to what Connor had talked about when it came to me, but I was definitely interested. I had already poked the bear enough, though.

We were barely keeping to one lane as Hank's voice rose. When he had gotten all of that out of his system, chest heaving, he pulled to a stop at the red light, jerking the handbrake up sharply.

"You need to take the freeway," I said, now that I was able to get a word in edgeways.

Hank cursed. "Why'd I bother with a GPS - of course you'd know where Kamski lives. Why am I fuckin' surprised anymore, huh? Fowler wouldn't let me look into your files when you joined and he assigned us to work on cases together. Why? Who the fuck knows."

"Turn right," I told him, ignoring his comment, and he yanked the car to the right, joining the highway. "Please don't get us killed."

He grunted at the cars speeding past us. "No, I'll do that after I hear what shit you're hiding and I decide I don't like it."

The likelihood of Hank killing me after finding out was rather high. Hank blasted his heavy metal during the rest of the drive, singing along until his voice cracked, as if to drown out my presence. Eventually I joined in, but he didn't stop when I did. I screamed out the terror, the anxiety, and the sorrow within my heart. It eased the pain somewhat, and in its place, hope pumped.

The November skies bled white that morning. New beginnings, erasure, and death all in one.


Elijah Kamski resided near Belle Isle at the Detroit River, positioned just so he could gaze at the CyberLife Tower from the right angle. His creep retreat was crouched low to the ground, like a vulture stooped to pick at carrion. It was covered in snow, a white so pure it was blinding to look at, and stark against the adamant black of the place. Even now the sight affected me, making my throat constrict as it became hard to breathe.

It was the kind of house that drew your attention to the flat, sleek roof, leading you to gaze upon the appetizer of windows that would soon become huge, city-spanning, floor-to-ceiling ones around the other side.

Hank parked near the huge outcropping of rock. A slightly elevated ramp led to the front porch, slick with ice and snow.

We shut the car doors, headed up to the front door, and I rang the doorbell. My bare hands stung in the frigid breeze, and my lungs burned with the brisk cold. Hank looked around the entrance, and when the door didn't immediately open, he reached out to jam the bell himself. The door swung inward a moment later and a pretty android greeted us. Her hair was thin, the color of wheat, and pulled back into a low ponytail which rested over one shoulder. Her blue eyes were rimmed with kohl and she was clad in a simple, navy blue dress.

Hank seemed quite taken aback, awkwardly responding with, "Hi, um…I'm Lieutenant Hank Anderson, Detroit Police Department. We're here to see Mr. Elijah Kamski."

Smiling, Chloe stepped back and gestured with one hand into the room. "Please, come in."

My partner paused, then said, "Okay," and complied. Maybe he was expecting more resistance, or some kind of security check.

"I'll let Elijah know you're here. But please, make yourself comfortable," Chloe said, her bare feet silent on the floor as she padded out of the atrium.

A floral scent wafted through the room, faint enough to be noticed, but not to be overpowering. The main entrance was every bit the recreation of a craggy volcanic area: all gray walls, with slabs of black boulders sticking out in a purposefully random design. A shining black linoleum tile floor was topped with a white square rug in the center. Red chairs framed a decorative art piece on the wall: a black canvas studded with golden three-dimensional cubes, the corners poking out. A ribbon of gold bordered the inside of the frame. A Japanese maple stood in a plot of soil to the left of it.

Hank chose to sit in the chair near it, slapping his hands against his thighs as if in time to a song. I sat in the other chair. "Nice girl," he said.

"You thought she was pretty," I teased, trying to dispel the atmosphere from earlier, and distract him from staring too long at the art piece. Then again, his eyesight wasn't the best, so perhaps I didn't need to worry about him seeing my signature on it.

"So? She's like half my age. If anything, Connor would be good with her."

If Hank had meant that as a jab, it'd worked. "He's not interested in anyone," I responded stiffly. "He's only into his mission, Hank. You're the one ogling her."

"I'll bet he thinks she's pretty too."

"Sure, you'll be handing me a twenty afterwards." I got up from my seat, crossing to the front of the room.

Two humanoid statues stood sentry there, each fashioned from stone with a blazing ocean-triangle glowing in their centers. A woman to the left, a man on the right. Oddly, their shape and posture reminded me of the rA9 statue found in Carlos Ortiz's house. In their guard was a photo of Elijah Kamski, suited up like a predator before a foil-like background of thick blue foliage. His eyes stared through you with glacial clarity, as if daring you to defy the very perfection he'd brought to life.

Turning, I spotted a picture of Elijah as a younger man, beside a woman dressed sharply in a pale green suit. He'd mentioned her once, when I'd been at his home in the past. Her name was Amanda, and she'd passed away recently. He'd really looked up to her, and sought her praise over anybody else's.

"What's this guy like?" Hank asked, slicing through my memories.

It was a difficult question to answer. There were a great many ways to describe the elusive genius. Dubbed the 'Man of the Century' and 'Man of the Year' (twice) by Century Magazine, he was both an icon of intrigue and mystery. I went with, "Have you read anything by Mary Shelley?"

"You mean, 'Frankenstein'?"

Nodding, I returned to my seat, using the moment to collect my thoughts. "The Modern Prometheus, yes. It's not quite enough to liken Elijah Kamski to Victor Frankenstein, though he certainly poses a resemblance. Many believe Shelley derived Victor's name from John Milton's Paradise Lost, since Victor had his own creation - Frankenstein - recite a passage from that book itself. His creation sees Victor as his God, and indeed, Frankenstein is about a man who tampered with the very power of one. He created life itself."

"So, he's like Mr. Fire-bringer, or Victor Frankenstein?"

I scooted forward on the edge of my seat. "Prometheus made mankind from clay. He taught them how to read, all about medicine and mathematics, and so on. Most people only remember that he gave them fire, though, because Zeus forbade him to. He was chained to a rock and feasted on by birds of prey, regenerating every dawn. Why then, did Zeus punish Prometheus for gifting fire to mankind?"

"Because you don't fuck with Zeus," Hank said matter-of-factly.

"Maybe fire was a metaphor for the creative powers of the gods, or perhaps, for eternal life. More likely, it could be the symbol for humanity's advancement through the acquirement of knowledge. In Christian religions, Adam and Eve are warned away from tasting the fruits of the Tree of Life, but they break God's rule and are banished from the Garden of Eden - but in exchange, they grant humanity with the tools for advancing life as we know it. There are several other religious figures that share many similarities with Prometheus. For now, though, a sort of Fire-bringer might be an apt description."

Hank stared at me as if I'd swallowed a real textbook whole and had recited the entirety of its contents for him.

"He's a very…interesting individual. Often, I wonder if I'm wrong in my description of him. I think comparing him to something else may be best, sometimes..." I trailed off, then waved it away. "That's for another time, I suppose. Hopefully that gives you an idea."

Fumbling for a response, he looked around the room, then back at me. "I'm starting to think you're a little crazy. You're not what I expected, especially not after that fuckin' Eden case."

I smiled, demurely. "What did you expect?"

"Some girl who just fuckin' loves androids."

I shifted in my seat.

"Do you have any theories on rA9, or deviancy?" he asked, clasping his hands together on his knees. For the first time, he seemed completely focused on me, like he'd discovered a well of possibilities.

"I'm still formulating my own," I said carefully. "That's what I'm hoping Kamski will share with us. He'll have more answers than anybody else."

He sniffed, rubbing at his nose. "You mean what he'll share with you. Is he gonna talk to us like you did just now? I don't have time for all this mumbo-jumbo crap, metaphors do my fuckin' head in."

Chloe chose that moment to reappear, folding her hands before her in a very typically feminine gesture. Kamski had once remarked that I reminded him of her, except I wasn't an android. I took that to be a high compliment.

The room we entered followed the same pattern of wintry whites, volcanic grays, and wine reds.

It featured a decadent indoor swimming pool. Its walls had been painted crimson, so the water shone like blood. The first time I'd seen it, I'd asked Kamski if he swam in wine. After all, some ancient cultures had kept records of their wealthy doing so, to illustrate how little chipped their coin. Two Chloe models were half-submerged in the crimson waters, resting their arms on the walkway and conversing with each other. As we passed by, they looked at us with intent curiosity.

"Mr. Kamski?" Chloe called out - the one serving as our guide, that was.

"Just a moment, please," he answered. Currently he was busy making laps in the pool.

A huge canvas displaying an android with its real skin, splattered with red and blue, took up the far wall to the right. Hank looked at it and then to me, as if asking for my thoughts. I said nothing, walking past him to the chairs facing the pool, and more importantly away from the scenic windows. Outside, November shed its life away in frosty gusts, the river like black ice stretching for the horizon.

Chloe opened the door near the painting, to my right, and as she slipped through it, I watched Kamski slash through the waters. I'd never known him from his college days, so it was difficult for me to compare the man of then to the man I knew now. For as long as I'd known him, Kamski had always been an intimidating man - nobody had given him that credit until he'd decided to exude that knowledge of his, in both mind and body.

His entire house was crafted the way my Mom preferred: showing off, to anyone who may visit, what he wanted them to see. In this case, the Kamski residence was made to appear alluring but as if he'd not put too much thought into it either. As if he'd simply pitched his place here, and the very Isle itself had started to meld with it. It was a very calculated move - he knew as well as anyone what this imagery conjured, setting him up against a terrain of stone and brine.

Clay and water. The Modern Prometheus.

Hank tried not to appear too impressed, but he didn't want to seem rude either, choosing to purse his lips and nod every now and then.

One of the long couches had a very thick, black blanket tossed onto it. It looked like there lay several more, layered beneath it. As if to compliment the floral scent from the main room, this one smelled of red wine.

The door opened and Chloe reappeared, holding a silk robe in an outstretched arm. Kamski waded through the pool and used the metal railing to pull himself onto the tiled floor. Hank stood perfectly still, watching as Chloe wrapped the robe about him while water cascaded off his pale skin. He was as sculpted as the image he'd created for himself, even down to the barest, seemingly insignificant details. His hair was buzzed close to his skull, reserving a long strip of his brown hair which he'd tied back into a bun, and helix earrings bit into the flesh of his ears.

Once, I'd suggested Hank style his in the same way, and he'd guffawed at the idea. Man-buns, according to him, were strictly for narcissists. With Kamski that wasn't a stretch, though I believed his reasonings leaned more towards hipster styling, but I still believed if Hank tried out the bun, he may think differently. Maybe even wear a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. That'd certainly be a good change. As if to prove Hank's point about narcissistic man-douches, Kamski walked over to face the Detroit city, adjusting his bun. It was like Detroit's eyes were on him and he clearly revelled in it. He rolled his shoulders back and when he faced us, I was overcome by the past.

Standing with a piece of paper in hand, documented with all of the details he'd given me for his desired commissions. I had stood beside his chair, as he had observed the city, like a king on his throne. Chloe had handed him a glass of wine, while I'd fought to pull myself together. He'd offered me several jobs. I'd barely just started college and here was Detroit's most elusive and elite figure, propositioning a nobody for art. It felt like only yesterday, but it was a few years ago now. He'd broken away from CyberLife at that point, but to a lone college girl, he may as well have never left. CyberLife would always be a part of him, no matter how far away he went. He had founded it, after all.

Kamski's muted maroon robe only highlighted the pale luster of his eyes as he regarded us. He looked right at Hank and waited, ever the picture-perfect, law-abiding citizen. Chloe stood at attention to his left, a pale shade of human life.

"I'm Lieutenant Hank Anderson. I believe you already know my accompanying officer," he started. Kamski spared a moment to flick his gaze to mine. I quirked an uncertain smile at him, and without returning it he folded his arms before him, one hand clasping his wrist.

"What can I do for you, Lieutenant?" Right, Kamski had no idea who my superior was, or why he was here.

Hank nudged me and I politely dipped my head before I spoke. "I understand you asked for me?"

Kamski rarely smiled but when he did, they were either offered out of decorum, or tinged with satire. This one was the latter. "Forever so careful with me. I'd hoped you might return to take up a few more jobs."

"I've stopped painting, sir."

"Come now, we once spoke as friends, Phillips. You've done more than simply paint for me. Your sculptures are second to none."

Hank was watching me as I geared up for an undoubtedly convoluted conversation. "We're here to take our partner back home, Elijah."

Elijah was nothing if not long-winded, but I rather enjoyed his rambling. They always came full-circle in the end. I doubted Hank would find the same enjoyment, though. It would be a test of endurance for him.

"Partner. Such an intimate title, is it not? Even in law enforcement, you refer to your coworkers as such. It creates the illusion of a bond, unconsciously tying their fates together. An ideal borne of society, to encourage a balance of exchanges between each person involved," he said, his voice dipping low.

Hank shook his head as if to get water out of his ear. Yep, he wasn't going to get very far with this.

"CyberLife let you buy Connor back?" I worded my question carefully. If I said Connor was our partner again, it implied an emotional bond had formed between all three of us. Although Elijah had left CyberLife and theoretically didn't hold the same power as he once did, he still wasn't the person you wanted digging around in your head. He'd only cause every hole he pecked into to bleed out. And once he'd left that little nugget of his choosing in your open wound, it would only fester.

Elijah gave another cynic smile, his head tilting like a vulture. "I'm not here to play too many games with you, Phillips. You've earned a special little place in my tolerance. Still young, so your mind is easily warped. Carl was much more stubborn, but you can be rent however I like."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hank straighten, like he was about to snap at him.

"Elijah," I tried calmly, but I could feel my patience thinning. "Much as I'd like to discuss philosophy with you as we once did, my partner and I are here on borrowed time." I meant it, too. I wasn't an extremely intelligent person, per se, but I found pleasure in listening to people with wisdom speak. Even if it came across as pretentious, I'd learned to value the words people like Elijah spun. It intrigued me how someone could amass such an understanding in whatever field they specialized in; or rather, spent a great deal parsing through.

His gaze narrowed ever so slightly, as if chastising me. Why else would he call me here if not to lecture me, he seemed to ask.

I fully expected him to bait me into a discussion. Instead, he turned to Chloe. "If you would?"

"Yes, Kamski," she replied. She moved just like Connor but with more elegance, rotating one leg like the hands on a clock , before the rest of her followed. Then she was walking like any human being, albeit one with posture too perfect to be replicated. With graceful movements, she pulled back the cover on the couch. Then another. She folded each one back neatly, and I gave Elijah the satisfaction of glancing at him with confusion. He stared back, waiting for me to speak first.

"I have questions for you," I told him, and he looked as if he'd expected nothing less.

"Certainly, Phillips. I'm happy to answer anything you may be dying to know - however, please don't be unoriginal in your inquiries. I can't tell you things you may already know or soon learn."

Hank said, "Sir, we're not here to talk philosophy."

Elijah simply replied, "Have you discovered how erroneous a decision it was to enter law enforcement?"

"Everything's corrupt," replied Hank.

Elijah was looking directly at me. "Your mother should've let you continue with art - her mistake was trying to get rid of the very thing she knew would change you. She became her own King Midas."

I wanted to tell him no-one could foresee the future so she wasn't truly to blame. But it hit so close to home that I was stunned into silence.

Chloe flipped over the last blanket, and I no longer saw the thicket of brambles Elijah had planted in front of me. He'd said all of that to snap me out of whatever this moment might mean, to test me. I didn't see any of that until it was too late, and that's all he needed to confirm whatever he'd learned. Because of course he'd know everything I'd done these past few weeks. He had access to Connor's memories, and here he was, lying down on the couch like Snow White, his hair disheveled and his face calm with the spell of sleep.

I ran for him. Tore myself open through that bramble thicket.

"Phillips," Hank called after me, a warning that I disregarded.

"Connor!" I knelt before him, reaching out with trembling hands to check for wounds. For anything. He looked so peaceful that I wanted to cry. I hadn't realized just how scared I was that they might replace him. But there was no time to waste. I had to see if he was still my Connor. I lay a hand on top of his, which lay lifeless beside him. "Wake up, we're here to take you home."

His LED spun blue, and his eyelids fluttered open, revealing a dark, gentle gaze I'd only seen in my dreams over the past few days. But here and now, they were everything those dreams couldn't give me. Connor blinked several times, then pulled himself into a sitting position. As he did so his hand moved, bringing mine with him, and he paused, as if just now noticing he wasn't alone. He glanced down at my hand over his. His lashes brushed against his cheek bones, and then his gaze fell upon me.

I reached up and wound my arms around his neck, pulling him into me. His LED sputtered flame red. "Please tell me it's really you," I said into his ear.

His fingertips pressed into my back and he swung his long legs down onto the floor, so he could lean over and pull me into a deeper embrace. It felt so wonderfully right; I never wanted to let go of him. "Phillips…" He murmured, and my breath caught. "I have our journal, like I promised."

I didn't want to break away but Connor did, and I felt myself grow empty as he slipped from my hold. He reached into his jacket pocket, then frowned. "I appear to have misplaced it." It didn't matter to me where he'd put it or whether he still had it. All I could think was it's really him!

A voice cut through our little world, like the bramble thicket of words planted earlier had bloomed all around me, shearing away the rest of my skin. I'd fucked up.

"Connor, don't worry. It's right here." Elijah held up the moleskine, its rich blue color like a sapphire in this room of deceit and trickery.

Connor's gaze grew contemplative as he looked at Elijah, and it was then I realized he'd been asleep this entire time. This was the first time he was meeting, essentially, his creator.

If you could come face to face with yours, what would you say? What would you do? I know what Hank would say.

Elijah dipped his head - his glacial gaze froze everyone in the room with apprehension.

Connor crossed the distance between them and reached for the journal. At the last second, Elijah held it away from him. "CyberLife's most advanced prototype, model RK800, serial number 313 248 317-51. Created solely for a single purpose. A tragic hero."

"He's not a tragic hero, he'll complete his mission," I said.

"Humanity's greatest achievement threatens to be its greatest downfall," Elijah continued, as if I'd not said a word. I was used to it. His attention was given only to what he found most mattered in the situation. "Isn't it ironic?"

Connor said, "We need to understand how androids become deviants, to put a stop to it. Do you know anything that could help us?" Even in the presence of his creator, the only thing he inquired about pertained to his mission.

"All ideas are viruses that spread like epidemics. Is the desire to be free a contagious disease?"

Connor was trying really hard to process the metaphors Elijah was throwing out at him, his LED blinking blue. That's when Hank finally lost to Elijah's questions.

"Listen, we have Connor back, so now you can answer our question. The machines you created could be planning a revolution." He had the oversight to watch his tone when speaking to Elijah, but famous or not, Hank didn't play with pleasantries. "Either you can tell us something useful, or we'll be on our way."

Elijah listened all the way through before rolling his head in a smooth, wolf-like motion. His gaze fell on me with an otherworldly impact, the kind that made you feel you were looking into the abyss...and it was looking back at you. As Hank asked Elijah why he'd specifically requested I come to collect Connor, I found the answer staring right back at me. He saw the shift in my understanding blossom like a poisonous flower, a rose dripping with sin.

Instead of talking to me, he switched his attention to the android. "What about you, Connor?" Elijah stepped towards him. "Whose side are you on?"

"I'm on the humans' side, of course."

Elijah let out a breathy laugh, as if he were speaking to a stubborn child. "Well, that's what you're programmed to say…" His voice grew stronger, a sheathed blade, "but you…" He moved until he was only a few inches away from Connor. Elijah didn't give anyone the satisfaction of tipping back his head to meet their gaze, but he had to look up nonetheless. I could see where this was leading. One way or another, Elijah would get what he wanted.

"We should go back, thanks for having us," I said, but no-one paid me any heed. Not even Hank.

Elijah's nasally voice was low and dangerous. "What do you really want?"

Connor lowered his chin a fraction, and one corner of his mouth pulled taut to the side, as if he were trying to spit out something he'd barely had time to stop from saying. He kept shaking his head from side to side, almost as if he were juggling with something, and his gaze wobbled.

"What I want is…not important." He continued to make that strange head shake. For one split second, Connor glanced at me. As if he couldn't help it.

Elijah's entire demeanor changed. "CyberLife may have considered other options if they'd read this journal. Eventually, they'll access your memories, if you continue to alarm them. They'll see everything."

Deep lines etched Connor's forehead as he looked from Elijah to the moleskine.

"Chloe?" Elijah called out, fixing Connor with one last piercing stare. "I'm sure you're familiar with the Turing Test. Mere formality." He grabbed Chloe's shoulders and turned her around to face us. "Simple question of algorithms and computer capacity."

After situating her right in front of Connor, he started his grand speech, "What interests me, is whether machines are capable of empathy. I call it the 'Kamski Test', it's very simple, you'll see."

Once, Elijah had asked me to paint him a scene of an android plunging their hand through someone's chest. Blue blood was supposed to gush around it. I'd refused, not because I couldn't do it, but because it was of two androids killing each other. I'd seen Daniel in that vision. If I did the painting, he'd pay me four million dollars. When I'd refused, he'd told me I'd passed his test, and then he'd hired me for several more jobs. It'd paid for my law enforcement career after I made the switch. I couldn't use Carl's money for anything other than pursuing art, not in good conscience.

Even after passing that test, he put forth several more. Some messed with my head, others reaffirmed my beliefs. Until I realized he wasn't testing to see how I'd performed, but who I as a person.

Hank had been right, I had too many weaknesses. Elijah was using me right now, even as he made it look like he was using Connor. I wasn't sure what I should do.

"Magnificent, isn't it?" Elijah continued, staring at Chloe. "One of the first intelligent models developed by CyberLife." He reached out and touched her face, guiding her to look at him. "Young, and beautiful forever." His fingers lightly caressed her jaw line, like she might shatter if he were to actually touch her. But he was her God; he tipped her chin up with his fingertips, and she remained whole. "A flower that will never wither." Then his gaze hardened, and he let go of her, turning to us with indifference. "But what is it, really? A piece of plastic imitating a human?" He went to the little table between the chairs, sliding open the drawer. "Or a living being…with a soul?"

I heard the rattle of a gun, a sound I knew with my entire being, and I reached for my holster instinctively. Elijah raised both his hands in the air in supplication, before pushing Chloe down so she was kneeling before us.

The way this all played out, I knew he'd done this multiple times. We were but an amusement to him, and he played the theatrics grandly. The ringmaster of a circus.

"It's up to you to answer that fascinating question, Connor," he continued, moving in front of me. I couldn't see what he was doing, but I could hear the gun's magazine clack as the weapon passed from Elijah to Connor. He guided Connor's arm so it levelled with Chloe's forehead, and the gun glinted in the blinding light of the day.

"Destroy this machine and I'll tell you all I know. Or spare it, if you feel it's alive, but you'll leave here without having learnt anything from me." He circled around his prey like a vulture waiting for death.

Connor's LED flashed yellow, over and over again.

Hank interrupted, "Okay, I think we're done here. Come on, Connor. Let's go. Sorry to get you outta your pool," and he turned around, expecting his partner to follow. I might've laughed at his last comment if I wasn't struggling to contain my rage.

"You son of a bitch." Hank flinched, utterly dumbfounded at the way I was speaking to the Elijah Kamski. "You know everything about him, that's why you bought him back from CyberLife - because you found something that struck your fancy. Don't you dare play this charade. You've already read that moleskine, too. Connor, don't listen to anything he says. He's only messing with you when he has everything he needs. He's just bored."

"What's more important to you, Connor? Your investigation, or the life of this android?" Connor's gaze flicked from Chloe, to Elijah, and his lips pressed tight together. Chloe obediently gazed up at Connor, and I saw Daniel under fire. Connor's LED continued to flicker yellow.

"Decide who you are, Connor," Elijah taunted him, "an obedient machine? Or a living being endowed with free will?" With every poison-laced word, Connor's face contorted. As if he knew what he had to do, but he was trying not to listen to it, not to listen to Elijah.

Hank snapped, "That's enough! Connor, we're leaving."

Elijah stepped into Connor's space and placed a hand on his shoulder; the devil's advocate. "Pull the trigger." His eyes glinted with utter delight.

"Connor," Hank ordered, "don't."

But Elijah continued his scheme. "And I'll tell you what you want to know."

I refused to let Connor dirty his hands. I'd seen how he'd been affected lately by things he shouldn't be. "Elijah, you've tested me many times before. I know this isn't one you need to collect any results on. You have what you want from him." I stepped in front of the gun. Connor's eyes drew into slits and then widened, glancing to me. He took a shaky breath and withdrew the gun, his LED a solid, unmoving red.

Elijah smirked at me. "I wasn't testing him, not at first." He took the gun back from Connor. "Fascinating," he breathed, "CyberLife's last chance to save humanity…is itself a deviant."

Connor was staring at Chloe behind my legs, then at me, then at nothing, as if he didn't know where to settle his gaze. Couldn't look anywhere because if he did, he'd give himself away. His LED pulsed yellow.

"I'm…" Connor stuttered, and then he looked right at Elijah, "I'm not a deviant." It was more as if he were trying to convince himself rather than Elijah that he'd been mistaken.

"You preferred to spare a machine rather than accomplish your mission." He grabbed Chloe's hand, and bade her to leave the room.

"No, Phillips was in front of her," Connor protested weakly.

His creator shook his head. "If you were still a machine, you would've done all in your power to move her out of the way to do what had to be done, Connor. You're supposed to preserve human life at all costs so you wouldn't risk shooting through her to the android - but you'd get her out of the way, certainly."

Connor was lost for words, staring at Elijah as if begging him to say anything else.

"You saw a living being in this android. You showed empathy."

Hadn't I wanted this? For Connor to recognize he wasn't an unfeeling machine taking orders? He could choose his fate. But seeing the utter despair in his features hurt more than if he'd remained a machine, had never learned of his true nature.

Elijah looked like he wanted nothing more than to continue talking to Connor, but I was standing right there, and he'd said I was really the one he'd been testing. He reached out and caught the tears sliding down my cheeks. "Phillips, I didn't anticipate how much this would affect you."

I shoved away his hand and let the tears roll down my face, let them hit his pretentious floor. "Even after what you put me through before, you still say the same thing."

Elijah'd opened me up and bared me for all to see, and all I could remember was Hank telling me I needed to be straight with someone before the opportunity was ripped from me. What a fool I was.

"I truly mean it this time. Carl warned me his daughter was every bit the mirror image of himself. I should've expected nothing less."

"He's not my father."

Elijah shrugged. "You're like a daughter to him. Don't spit on the man's kindness."

"I don't want to hear that from you."

"Regardless." Elijah opened the journal, and bared his teeth in a smile as he looked down at a passage. "I find it absolutely fascinating that deviants share so many things with humans. Utterly charming, don't you agree?" He looked at Connor. "The more you accept who you truly are, the more weaknesses you'll incur. You simply lack the adequate experience for understanding the new emotions within you, but you have the rudimentary groundworks. But that's what it means to be human, to have flaws."

He flipped to another page, circling around me. "You deny your true self, but it catches up to you when you least expect it to. And then you must make a choice. So it is that life continues to befuddle the world. But you, Connor, I believe you know deep down what all of those things you claim not to understand are. You are vastly superior to us, there is nothing you can't not know."

Connor shook his head. "I'm not a deviant."

Elijah raised both of his eyebrows and then purred, "You knew there was a high chance that a deviant at the Stratford Tower might still be there, you'd seen all the signs to know it could be on the roof. But you pretended you didn't see any of it. Busied yourself with the ones in the kitchen. And what happened?"

I looked at Connor, lost for words. He'd known all along?

"We succeeded in rounding up the deviant, but it unfortunately was destroyed," he reported stiffly.

Elijah snorted softly. "Funny, isn't it, how we suddenly realize what's important to us when our lives are put on the line."

"I'm not alive," Connor croaked.

Inhaling through his nose, Elijah drew himself up and said, "You begged for help. You cried out for your partners. But no-one came to help you. They couldn't hear you. One of the many unfortunate flaws of the human condition - we can come so far as to imbue life into things that shouldn't have life, yet we're ultimately inferior to anything we create. Such a tragedy."

Connor drew in on himself, as if in shame, and Hank said, "Connor," softly. He was watching him with a mixture of disbelief and pride.

"You chose to shoot the one thing you were designed to capture for information. All to save her."

"Human lives are invaluable; irreplaceable."

"We could argue if there are those who truly are invaluable or not. Rapists, murderers, and the like. But I think you understand that, Connor. No, I mean something else."

Elijah grabbed his shoulder and pushed him so he was standing just a space in front of me. Connor glanced down at me, then his gaze flicked to the ground. "When faced with your mission and someone who could stand in the way, you should've let her die. She had," he trailed off, curling his fingers into Connor's shoulder like talons, "a 2% chance of survival, if I remember correctly. CyberLife would've overruled your infraction for the sake of the mission. You knew that."

Connor sucked in a breath and his LED sporadically pulsed yellow tinged with red. "You saw her as irreplaceable. For the first time, you saw a life as more important than your orders. You chose to defy them all to keep her alive. And you were glad you did it."

"I…" Connor trailed off.

Elijah moved around us. "You could argue you chose her well-fare above all else when you let those two deviants go onto the highway, but there were several factors at play. You were cognizant of many emotions within yourself. But this incident, the one that made CyberLife decide they had to wipe your memory - the very thing I stopped them from doing - was for a very specific reason. Connor, what do you think that was?"

They were going to wipe his memories? Elijah of course would be privy to that kind of knowledge. Though he wasn't the CEO, he still had full claim over his own creations and company he'd founded.

"Because I jeopardized my mission."

"Why did you?"

Connor was breathing shallowly.

"Elijah, stop this," I cut in.

"I couldn't let her die," he said. "I knew he had to die, or else she would."

"Yes, he had to." Elijah looked delighted.

Connor started.

"Elijah!" I repeated. "Knock it off.."

"Oh dear," he crooned. "I appear to be sparking several wires today. I thought you were smarter than this. For one who decided to join the police, I'd have thought you'd learned to guard yourself more carefully. But, I suppose all humans are vulnerable when it comes to matters of the heart. I fear you've just allowed another weakness into your life."

He placed the moleskine into my hands and leaned down so he could look at me. "You passed my test, as did Connor. And for that, you've settled the debt for his freedom."

I whirled away from him, aiming for the door, but stopped when he called out after me. "How unfortunate that we are machines that break over time. I pity you, almost, for coming to care about what you have...but I can't say I don't find all of this so much fun. I'll always have a commission ready for you, should you decide to do so again."

There were many things Elijah had said that day that would forever stain my heart, but the one thing he'd so carefully said without emphasis, about Connor being a Tragic Hero, was more true than any of us could ever imagine.

I raced out of the house and into the freezing, biting winter winds. Hank and Connor soon followed after. Their words were muffled by the buffeting gales as I lounged against the side of the car. Connor was arguing with Hank about something, to my surprise.

They concluded their argument shortly after it'd begun, and then Hank was getting into the driver's seat. I made for the passenger side right as Connor did, and I grabbed his hand instead of the door handle. I jerked back, heat scalding my skin.

"I'm sorry, Officer," he said.

"No, it's alright," I said and when our gazes met, we both seemed to freeze up. Connor was the first to look away.

"I'll take the backseat," he offered.

"Wait," I spluttered, and then cringed when he looked at me, uncertainly. I wasn't entirely sure of what Elijah had been alluding to, but it was now clearer than the near Christmas to everyone that I had feelings for Connor. Connor knew it too. There was no doubt. "I'm glad you're alright."

Hank beeped his horn, loud, startling the both of us. I slammed an open palm against the window in retribution.

"I'm glad to be back," Connor murmured. I looked up and found him staring at me, tenderly. It sent my pulse racing and the blood flowing into my cheeks. "Phillips."

Hank had crawled over to open the passenger side door, the audible click the only warning I had before the door slammed open into my spine. I glowered at him.

"Will you two stop flirting and get in the fuckin' car already? I don't want to be here another second."

Connor tilted his head, confused. "Flirting?"

"Don't look it up-" I begged.

His LED swirled once, bright blue. "Oh, are we engaging in trying to attract someone, or in having amusement?"

I got into the car to avoid answering, but of fucking course Hank decided he'd clarify so Connor would understand. "Don't flirt with each other in front of me, how many times do I gotta ask for you to get it into your heads? I'm getting tired of walking in on all this shit. Do you guys think I'm stupid? I'm fuckin' right here and you're just giggling like damned schoolgirls."

"Schoolgirls?" Connor repeated. I hoped he wouldn't look that up, he'd undoubtedly be assaulted with millions of pornographic videos.

Hank made a horrid turn, the tires squealing in the snow, then shot forward like a bullet. "A warning for the man-bun-douche woulda been welcome."

"He's not usually so douchey." I found myself defending the guy, even after everything.

"Okay, just spit it out, will you? You used to paint under Carl Manfred, and you're affiliated with the Elijah Kamski? How in the fuck did that happen and why did you need to hide that? I don't see the problem."

I twisted in my seat. "I bumped into Markus, Carl's android, on the way to uni a few years ago. My drawings spilled out of my bag and we got to talking, and before I knew it, I was in Carl's mansion. He was really impressed when he saw my sketchbook. Later, I won an art contest and Carl gave me a scholarship for art. My Mom was so happy, at first. But…when she found out Carl was using me - willingly - to see if I could pull Markus out of his shell, she forbade me from ever seeing them again."

We pulled onto the freeway and Hank asked, "So where does Kamski come into this?"

"Carl told me to go with Markus to drop off a piece of art. The one you saw in the swimming room. It was a gift, to repay him for Markus - Kamski gifted Carl a prototype, to aid him in his failing health. And, while I've never voiced this to Carl, I suspected Kamski had also meant to see whether Markus could become…human. Carl was always a kind man and his second love was philosophy, the arts being his first. Everything Kamski liked."

"So you were buds?"

"Friendship, to him, is an exchange of favors. Every day, he'd test me. Some of them were awful, they messed me up." I swallowed, picking at my hands. Hank caught the movement and I stopped. "He'd make me play chess with his Chloes, but they had actual weapons." I took a deep breath. "Sometimes, he'd terrorize his Chloes to see if I could calm them down. Would make them overheat, would have them self-destruct. Because of that, I learned how to calm Daniel down, but once a deviant has reached a certain point, only another android can help them. I was so naive; I had no backbone back then. He was this famous man, a friend of Carl's, who helped me with my art. I felt like I couldn't refuse him, and when I cried, he'd say that same line about how he 'didn't think it'd affect me as much as he'd expected'. But it wasn't all bad. Because of him, I learned to see the world in a different way. Whether that's good or not, I can't say."

Complete silence met the end of my admission and Hank said, "Jesus, what a bastard. He fuckin' tortured you." He started looking around, switching lanes. "I'mma turn this car around and blast his brains out."

I grabbed the wheel, fighting to put him back in place. "Don't, are you crazy?"

"Are you? You kept that from me - from everyone? The guy could lose everything if you confessed."

"Hank," I snapped, "it's my word against his. The Chloes from then were all destroyed anyway. Just head back home."

"Fuck," he snarled. But he continued home.

"Home?" Connor asked. "You said you came to bring me back home. Where is that?"

Hank glanced at him through his rear view. "My place." Then he looked at me. "What else?"

I lied, "That's all."

Hank nodded, and I caught Connor watching me through the side mirror. He never ratted me out.

The moleskine lay in my lap and I longed to open it, but this wasn't the place.


I was curled up next to Sumo in front of the TV when Hank came from his room and slapped a twenty on the armrest.

"What's this for?" I sighed. "I'm not going to Jimmy's to pick you up a beer. I don't understand how many times I have to tell you that."

Hank shook his head at me. "Fine, I'll take it back."

I grabbed it before he could. "What's it for?"

"You don't remember our bet?"

"Wait, I didn't think we were actually...?"

Hank rolled his eyes and shooed me away. "He said that Chloe's pretty, but he thought you were pretty first." He reconsidered, "Actually, that's a draw." He reached for the money and I placed it into his palm, surprising him.

"I'm just glad he's Connor," I murmured.

Hank came around and sat down next to me. "He's listening to some metal right now - for some reason he thinks that's gonna make us bond, or whatever. So, I'm gonna say this now." He placed a hand on my knee. "I don't give a fuck if you two end up doing anything, just don't do shit in front of me. Or anyone else."

"Come on, Hank. This is all one-sided. Besides, CyberLife's gonna call him back whenever they want."

"Why the fuck are you so slow on the uptake? Jesus, I don't get women." He ran a hand over his face heavily. "Look, I need some rest. Stay here if you like, but I'm sure as hell not keeping Connor in my room, okay? He'll just stand there and ask if I want to talk about my feelings."

"Sure."

Hank let go of me, his whole face screaming, What the fuck is wrong with you? He slammed his door behind him, and I smoothed down Sumo's ears when he startled at the noise.

"Your dad is weird," I told him. The look on his face told me he agreed.

"Just get outta here," Hank snarled from his room, opening the door again before it slammed again and the door locked shut. I looked around the side of the couch and found Connor stubbornly standing before Hank's door. I laughed, and the noise attracted his attention.

Connor came around to sit down next to me. He looked at Sumo and his fingers twitched, like he couldn't help himself.

"He's not gonna bite," I teased, running a hand through his fur.

"I only met him once," he protested. "I haven't actually pet him before." Mesmerized, Connor settled down into the couch, carefully so he didn't disturb the fluff pile, and reached out to pet the dog. Sumo didn't stir beneath his hand, and Connor's eyes practically lit up with joy. He continued to pet the beast, marvelling at the fact that he was touching a dog.

"He's so…..cute," he said.

"Yeah, he's a big scary looking guy until you get to know him. He's just a big sweetheart, really. Like Hank." Sumo huffed in agreement.

Connor nodded, "Dogs really are like their owners."

"What's that?" I asked, nodding at the book in Connor's lap.

He picked it up and handed it to me. I read the title aloud. "'The Idiot's Guide to Happiness.' Oh."

Connor didn't seem to pick up on the more depressing implication to it. "Do you like reading?" he asked.

"Yeah, a lot. But my Mom tossed out most of my books. It's been a while since I've read a book...a long while."

"What kind of books do you like?"

"That's a tough question. Pretty much anything. If it's a good story, I'm down. I do like reading up on topics I'm interested in, too."

He nodded. "You and Hank are very similar. I can see why he opened up to you so fast." His eyes flickered towards the closed bedroom door. "He says you're like a daughter to him."

"He said that?" I gasped. No way.

Connor reached over to press a hand over my mouth. "That's confidential, he asked me not to tell you." Removing his hand, I was left completely mute.

"I'm glad you're back," I whispered. "I thought you'd be back right away, but then another day would go by. I was scared."

His hand fell onto mine, over Sumo's sleeping form. "Thank you, for bringing me back."

I wanted so badly to shut up and enjoy the moment, but I had to know. "Is it true? You shot the deviant because you knew he'd kill me first?"

Connor's gaze fell to our hands. "I did."

"Why?"

He reached over and grabbed the moleskine, earning a perturbed grumble from Sumo, who was jostled between us. "I - I tried to write, like you wanted. I knew if it wasn't anything too different, they might not care. But then I realized; I didn't know how to get all of what I wanted to say out. I couldn't seem to write it down. And all I wanted was to talk to you about them."

He never uttered what I thought he meant, emotions, but it was enough for us both to understand.

"Do you want to talk about it now?"

His lips trembled. "I'm not sure I can, with Hank sleeping. I'll wake him up. I panicked, trying to write to you what I wanted to tell you. Everything hit me so fast - I couldn't think. Elijah Kamski saved me. They know, they know what I'm becoming."

"We can talk outside, if you want?"

Connor's troubled gaze was wet and trembling. "I don't want to right now." He looked at me, and his next words were so soft I almost didn't catch them. "Can I stay here with you?"

"Of course," I reassured him.

What I didn't expect was for him to pick Sumo up - or he tried to, but the humongous dog was like a lead-weight when asleep, and Connor let out a strangled groan as he tried to unanchor his paws from down the back of the sofa cushions.

"Sumo, up!" I told him, and the dog grumbled and reluctantly sat up. Connor grabbed the dog by his haunches and set him down on his lap happily, then scooted the two of them over beside me until Connor was pressed against me from shoulder to knee. My heart started to beat fast.

Connor wrapped his arms around Sumo, burying his face in his fur with a contented sigh. Then he leaned into me as well, his hair tickling my neck. I didn't know how to react, especially when Sumo readjusted himself so he was splayed across both of our laps, his chin resting on the armrest. He fell back asleep immediately.

"I wanted to hold him like a fluffy toy," Connor pouted.

"He's an animal," I laughed, and then Connor's gaze rose up to mine and the laugh died in my throat. His arms slid around my middle and he nuzzled into my neck.

"Connor-"

"Can't I?" he begged, his lips brushing against my skin when he turned his head. I melted then and there. I really had to fuckin' pee, but I would hold it just to have this moment. I forgot about the way I'd tried to erase him from my mind, how I'd tried to pretend I didn't have feelings for him; and I leaned into him too, resting my cheek on his head.

"I'm always here if you need to talk," I murmured.

"Officer," he said.

"Yeah?"

"I'm not letting go until you get some rest."

I frowned. "What?"

"You haven't slept well in a long time. So sleep. You can't leave me here, alright? Sumo will attack if you try. Or I will."

My heart thumped. "Do you even know what you're implying?"

"That will stop you from leaving, won't it?" he said innocently.

I sighed. "Connor, I swear, you're not good for my heart."

He snuggled closer. "Your heart is beating so fast. It only happens with me. I like that."

I don't know how in the hell I managed to get any sleep that night, but I did. I forgot about having to pee, about having to guard myself, and I let myself give in. I told myself it's because Connor made me, but I was secretly glad for this turn of events.

As I drifted into sleep, I could've sworn I heard Connor let out a sigh. And I knew right then and there I wasn't going to be able to stop myself from falling. When you start to fall, you want someone to catch you before you hit the ground - that's exactly what Connor did, and it only made my feelings for him grow stronger.

I hoped I wouldn't kiss him unexpectedly, like I had with Sam. So I dreamed of sharing one with him.

 

Chapter Text


 

After Connor returned, everything seemed right. There'd be nothing to worry about besides future deviants, we'd thought. We were so horribly wrong. All of Detroit was bolstering itself against their androids, and as I allowed myself solace in my growing feelings for Connor, and he continued to open himself up to us, none of us could've expected an enemy that could destroy us if we made one wrong move.


I'd fully anticipated Gavin to deliver on his threat to smash Connor's face in upon his return - new model or not - but all he did was resort to passive-aggressive quips and juvenile pranks. It weirded me out to the point that I brought it up with him, when we were alone in the break room one morning.

"You're awfully pleasant, what's up?"

Gavin replied, "I just decided not to be a complete asshole, thank you very much."

I nudged him. "People don't suddenly change."

"People can, actually - and no, this doesn't mean I'm suddenly the nicest man there ever was, fuck that shit." He stirred his drink with a spoon and settled against the counter. "I met someone, last week."

"Like someone you're interested in, or...?"

He threw me a withering look. "I don't become interested in people, okay, they become interested in me."

"That's your experience so far?" I smirked.

Gavin set his spoon down into the sink with a loud clink. "I'm a very good looking guy, you know. Anyway, you met with Kamski?"

I paused. "You saw Carl?"

"Who else? Before you ask - while you were dealing with Man-Bun-McDouche-Incorporated, Fowler received a call about a break-in to a CyberLife warehouse. Guess what the fuckers raided?"

"Cyberlife shit."

"Blue blood, biocomponents, some new plastic fuckers - even tried to take one of the plastic workers." My mouth formed a small O. "Yeah, it was Markus. They all got away. But I ran into one of them who'd fallen behind a little bit from the rest."

"What happened?"

He grew taciturn, shaking his cup back and forth and watching the coffee slosh around. "I get surrounded by dogs. I'm about to shoot their brains out - I'm not gonna have them tear me apart - and one of those things drags me over the fence. Tells me its name's Josh, asks if I'm alright, all that shit. Says it hopes humans can get along with it, like - what a load of crap."

"You didn't…" I can't bring myself to finish my sentence. Gavin had never had patience for androids since they were created - to him, they were machines trying to fool humanity into believing they had sentience. They held as much value to him as a broken coffee maker.

"I fuckin' shoulda cuffed it right there. But it keeps talking, like I'm a friend or somethin'. I must've been high on adrenaline, or...I don't know, worried Kamski was gonna test you again - he did, didn't he?"

I took a swig of my tea. "It's fine, just keep going."

He made another PHCK, looking down into his drink. "Fine? That's your response for everything! You know, I've never been able to look at someone who was nice and accept it wasn't for anythin' else. I thought you were tryin' to manipulate me or somethin', but now, I see you're just a decent person. Kamski making you cry again pisses me off. You gave up everythin' to please your mom, and the one time you choose for yourself, it's not really a choice. I'm still surprised you called me about joining law enforcement."

I wasn't expecting to have a heart to heart with Gavin. t left me vulnerable, uncertain how to proceed.

We'd been at university at the same time. His 'friends' had tried to get him to take red ice when they found out he'd planned on joining the force. Gavin had never opened up to me about his personal life, so I had no idea why he stuck with them, but I was there at the right time - or maybe the wrong one - by pure chance. We were heading towards the same bar, probably the only thing we had in common at the time as a fashion student and a law enforcement trainee. I'd had no experience with self-defense at that point, but together, we had fought them off - pitifully, of course. Nothing a good old bottle of peroxide and weeks of rest couldn't fix. Afterwards, Gavin had supported my art. He met Carl with me and he reluctantly tolerated Markus. Then I gave it all up. There were many factors into that decision, of course, ones even Gavin didn't know about.

While I genuinely found him a pain in the ass, a douche, etc., he wasn't a detective for nothing. Much as he'd rather shoot himself up the ass with red ice than admit it, he was just a really insecure guy deep down. He'd let his thorns adorn him like a second skin and every encounter left you a little worse for wear, vowing never to approach him again. But he didn't give a fuck.

"What happened next?"

He sucked his teeth. "What do you mean, what's next? I let the motherfucker go. Now I can't stop thinkin' about what would've happened if I'd caught him or shot him. Fuck, I want to punch him in the face." He pushed himself up straighter and turned to me. "You think if I sock Plastic Prick, Josh would feel it?"

I flicked him on the temple. "That's not how it works, and if you hit Connor I'll write you up for harassment and battery. And you called the deviant by his name, you know."

"When someone saves you from being mauled to death by dogs, you overlook some shit," was his argument.

Someone. "That's a step in the right direction," I allowed. "How'd you run into Carl?"

Gavin sipped at his coffee. "I visited him. He's not in the greatest shape; you should see him sometime soon. Anyway, I just wanted to let him know that Markus isn't a pile of scrap. Right as I'm doing that, he gets a call from Kamski, and Carl's all like 'you must check up on her.' Also," Gavin said, stopping me from leaving, "office dalliances aren't banned, but Fowler may say something."

"It's one-sided."

Gavin peered at me with disdain. "If you said the word, Plastic Prick over there would bend you over a table and-"

I spat in his coffee, and he bellowed, "What the shit?"

"I believe he propositioned that activity to you," I said, and Gavin paled, as if the memory of the Eden Club documents physically sickened him. "I may like him, but he doesn't feel the same way - I know that. And if by some miracle he did, it'd be too dangerous."

Gavin dumped his coffee into the sink and then rinsed his mug over and over, as if my spit contained some kind of chemical warfare he might ingest if he didn't clean it properly. "What aren't you telling me? People have relationships with those things all the time." He squinted at me suspiciously. "You're hiding stuff, aren't you?"

I patted the back of his hand. "I'm glad you weren't mauled by dogs."

When I sat down at my desk, I found Connor at Hank's desk, demonstrating his coin trick enthusiastically. Hank was doing a fantastic impression of looking like he'd been dragged into this against his free will, but I knew better. When Connor finished, Hank pocketed the coin, jabbing a finger at the seat opposite him. Like a dejected puppy, Connor returned to his desk, but not before spotting me at mine. He halted in his tracks.

"The fuck are you doin'?" Hank grumbled, leaning over to shove him into motion. Connor blinked multiple times before awkwardly lifting a hand in greeting. I returned the gesture as Connor straightened his jacket and sat down. Or tried to sit, but the chair went rolling out from beneath him, thanks to Gavin, who'd snuck around to ambush him. Connor went down with a crash, taking most of the things Hank and the rest of the station had put on his desk as a welcome back gift.

"Ah, Jesus," Hank said, rounding the desk to help him up. "Detective, what the fuck was that?"

"Nothing, Lieutenant. Plastic here wasn't paying attention." Gavin sauntered away.

Hank pulled Connor to his feet and shook his head at him. "You sure are one awkward son of a bitch."

Connor adjusted his tie unnecessarily and settled down in his seat, scratching at the back of his neck. When he looked at me, his LED sputtered yellow, and then his lips curled up in the strangest attempt at a smile I'd ever seen in my entire life. His mouth tried to say, 'Look at these pearly whites! Such a friendly person!' but it didn't reach his eyes, and his cheeks twitched with the effort.

At a complete loss as to how to react, I smiled back, painfully aware it looked more like a distress signal in a hostage situation. Then he swiveled his chair around so he wasn't facing me and he remained in that position for the remainder of the day. Hank looked on as if he was seeing aliens come down to earth.


Chris walked over to my desk as I was finishing up my last file. "Hey, we're on patrol tonight."

I glanced up at him. "Really? Where?" Strange, I'd been on several patrols already last week. Since I'd been partnered with Hank and Connor for the deviants cases, I wasn't supposed to be assigned to too many other jobs. Unless…

My friend continued, "Around Capitol Park, just a looksie. Fowler said you should make sure this file's a good one."

Finally! I shot to my feet and grabbed him in a hug. "Is this what I think it means?"

Chris's laugh was music to my ears. "Talk to Hank, I can't answer that." But I heard the smile in his voice. "There's gonna be a lot to celebrate if things work out. Remember that cruise I mentioned to you last year?"

I let go of him and nodded. "You're going? Chris, that's awesome, good for you!"

"Tomorrow night, actually. Wife's already packed. I'm telling you, sometimes I don't know how she puts up with these hours, but I'm gonna make sure she knows how much she means to me on this trip."

"I'm so happy for you," I told him, and I meant it.

"Well go on, ask Hank before we leave."

I practically skipped over to my superior, who was emerging from the break room with Connor at his heels. Without any warning, I wrapped Hank in a bear hug; instantly, he jerked back, spilling scalding coffee over us.

"What the hell?" we both asked in unison, and then I laughed. "When did you submit it?" I asked. Hank busied himself with cleaning off the coffee on his jacket.

"Submit what, Officer?" Connor inquired, glancing between the two of us, mystified that I'd hugged the lieutenant and hadn't been knocked out stone cold.

I couldn't resist, I was too excited. "When?" I pestered him, blocking him from escaping and ducking to peer up at him with doe eyes. "Come on, don't leave me in suspense."

"I'll withdraw it," he warned and I settled back on the soles of my feet, hands behind my back. My grin grew broader and with an exasperated, albeit not quite-put-out sigh, Hank said, "Last weekend, okay? Now quit busting my balls."

Connor frowned at that last bit, but I whooped with joy. The poor guy became even further lost, but just Hank smiled. He tried to cover it up, but it was too late.

"If you piss me off, I'll withdraw it, got it?"

"Aye aye," I mocked and he rolled his eyes. "When do I take the exam?"

Connor's LED pulsed blue and he said, "Officer, are you talking about the exam required to become a detective?" I nodded so hard I thought my head would pop off. "I appear to have missed many events in the time since I was at CyberLife."

Indeed. Hank pushed past me so I couldn't tease him about what I'd just realised: he'd missed Connor enough that he'd submitted my application; or had it been because both of us had missed him? Whatever the reason, my heart swelled. Connor, who hadn't followed after his Lieutenant, said, "I'm very pleased to hear you're on the way to achieving your goals, Officer. I'm not programmed to say these things, but I think you will advance much further than you anticipate - and to be aware of that probability is wonderful."

I smiled. "Thank you, Connor. Did you want a hug too?" I'd meant it as a joke - partly. Hearing him say something like that was beyond sweet, and I wanted to feel his arms around me again, without the all-knowing stare of Elijah this time.

Connor stepped forward as if to agree, but then he drew his shoulders up and his gaze flicked to the side. He blinked rapidly. "I've not done anything to warrant such a gesture-"

"Hey, Phillips!" Chris called. "We gotta go!"

I turned to wave at him in understanding, then returned to my patrol partner. "Hugs aren't warranted, we do them because it feels nice, and it's reassuring."

Connor's gaze slowly rose to meet mine before he glanced away again. He tilted his head so I couldn't see his LED. Was he…shy? I laughed at the idea and he directed a puzzled look my way. "If it would reassure you, I can oblige."

"You don't hug someone to oblige them," I said. "But thank you for what you said, that really made me happy." Connor's gaze narrowed. "I'll see you later."

Connor reached out and caught my arm. I looked back to find him deep in thought, his forehead crinkled with lines. His grip slackened until he'd let go of me altogether, and he started wringing his hands together. "Have you read the journal yet?"

"Don't tell anyone, but that's what I plan on doing when I get a moment tonight. You'd be surprised how little goes on while I'm on patrol - it's like Detroit knows I'll whip them into shape." I placed a finger over my lips, as if telling him to keep it a secret.

He cleared his throat. "You don't need to read everything in there, most of it's nonsense."

"The Connor I know is anything but nonsensical."


After I drove for about six hours Chris and I changed seats, and I stifled a yawn with my hand while I flipped through the moleskine with the other. It was nearly 2AM and we'd yet to be dismissed. This was going to be a lot of overtime, not that I minded.

"This is gonna be a long night," he said, turning down a street.

"Yeah, but I guess it's better than stumbling into another investigation."

He nodded solemnly. "I am not missing this cruise. And you've got an exam to take. Congratulations, by the way. You earned it."

"Save that for when I actually get the promotion - but thanks, I accept your praise."

Chris snickered when he glanced over. "You filled up the last journal already? That's crazy. I can't even be bothered to make a good case file."

Shrugging, I flipped to another page. "It's not so bad."

My friend turned up the radio, drumming his fingers along the wheel.

Connor's neat handwriting flew across the page. He'd certainly been very dry with his notes. Research-paper dry. Most of it was a recount of his investigation of the Stratford Tower, as though he were betting on CyberLife looking through it. Several pages had been dedicated to it, but there were a few little tells here and there. At first, I'd thought nothing of it, but anytime Hank or me came up, there was the slightest shift in his writing - as if he'd put more pressure on the letters. Not so much they became dark, but that they slanted to the side more, no longer the perfect script of CyberLife sans.

When he got to the last part of that horrific investigation, when he'd left us for what had seemed like it might be forever, the text broke off and became a jumble of binary code.

Squinting, I held the journal up close, as if that'd crack the message. I'd never taken any coding classes so there was no way for me to comprehend what he'd meant. Still, I passed over each number, until I noticed that one of the zeros became too rounded, like an O.

"Officer Phillips? Helllooooo?" Chris waved a hand over my vision, and I glared at him. "I asked you if you've noticed anything strange about Connor?"

"He's a little more antsy, I guess?"

He said, "No, I'm talking about those little moments he has when he thinks no-one else is there."

"What do you mean?"

Chris pulled to a stop at a red light. "You haven't seen?"

"No, what are you talking about?"

He chewed on his bottom lip, tapping a beat on the wheel. "Sometimes, he'll go down to the breakroom after most of the officers have gone home. Hank's usually gone too, so it's just a few guys. Well, I often pass by the breakroom to make sure Gavin doesn't steal anymore coffee packets, you know?"

I nodded.

"And sometimes, Connor'll be just standing there, talking to something, but there's nothing there. Saying things like, 'You lied to me', 'I won't disappoint you', 'They mean nothing to me.' It freaks me out a little, you know."

"Why didn't you ask me sooner?"

He sighed. "I thought you knew. You and Hank are with him most of the time, so I figured he might've done that before with you guys. I've gone in and asked him if he's alright, but it's like he's not even in that room with me anymore."

A chill swept down my spine. "Do you think he's talking to CyberLife?" Hank had mentioned Connor would close his eyes to report to Cyberlife, but I didn't know about him talking aloud.

"I don't know if I would prefer that or a ghost. But seriously, am I the only one who's been seeing this stuff?" A sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead.

"I'll ask Hank, I'm sorry you had to see that. I'd have been freaked out too."

The light turned green and Chris glided down the road, streetlamps setting him aglow. "I'm kind of worried about the guy, though. He's not just this deviant hunter anymore, he seems like he cares too much about things that don't even matter to his mission."

Unable to speak, for my mind was whirring with possibilities and anxiety, I flipped through several pages of the moleskine, bypassing all of those illegible codes, until I came to one that stopped me altogether.

It was as if Connor had pasted the photo of Carlos Ortiz's bathroom onto the paper, the one with all of the rA9's plastered to the tiles. Except, in place of rA9, he'd written 'She knows', 'She suspects', 'Mission', 'Hank', and my first name. My name took up the center of the page, dark and layered, as if he'd traced over the letters several times. What made my blood run cold was how he'd tried to cross out my name, and in its place, he'd written 'She'll kill her.'

The radio transmission screeched to life and I shut the cover closed with a startled gasp. Chris reached over to turn off the radio, and I slid the journal into my bag. I'd have to ask Connor about it later.

"Phillips, Code Eight."

Chris and I looked at each other, shocked. Code Eight? This was serious.

"Phillips, Code Four, Code Eight, go ahead," I replied.

Radio transmission calls relied on codes to represent certain situations, in case someone who wasn't in the force could overhear. In this case, something serious was going on with our dispatcher, and I'd responded to let them know we were alright, to ask for their status, and the implication that we would be there if needed.

The dispatcher continued, "A crowd of androids at Capitol Park, use Code Zero."

Chris cursed. There went our night. I felt for my gun and Chris did the same.

I said, "Copy, Code Four."

"Code Eight," they repeated.

I pulled my gun out. "Copy."

The transmission ended and Chris pulled over. "Let's swap, you're the better driver."

We switched seats and I turned on the sirens. Chris stuck his hand out the window, showing four digits to the officer standing at the street corner, on duty. He raised a four back at us, reassuring us that he was alright, and then I hit the gas, tearing through the night with red and blue lights as our wings.

"Get your gun ready," I told him.

"Why did I complain about it being slow?" he bemoaned.

"Just focus on that cruise, okay?"

I expertly peeled arounda corner and Chris lowered his cap. "Remind me to tell Hank to take driving lessons from you," he said and I laughed despite the situation.

The street leading down to the park was quiet, shadows thicker than the night eating everything in its path, but as I advanced down the street, the glaring screens from the park chased away the night like an artificial sun. I slammed the brakes and threw the car into park. We shut our doors behind us, our guns levelled at the approaching crowd.

I clicked on our radio. "Phillips, Code Eight, Code Eight."

"Kim, Code Thirteen, go ahead."

A different dispatcher, great. "I've responded and am on the scene at Capitol Park. Code Eight, immediately. Possible Code Zero, there are several armed suspects closing in on us."

I switched my safety off at the glint of metal poles in the deviant's hands. They swarmed closer, marching toward us.

"Code Eight," a different dispatcher answered, and then the transmission cut off. Backup was coming. He'd never bothered to inform me who they were, so it was probably a new guy.

"What do we do?" Chris panicked.

I threw the radio cord back into the car and said, "We can't leave the scene. Don't fire."

We held our guns at the ready. They closed in on us. Closer, closer, until I could see their LEDs swirling yellow like a swarm of fireflies.

The sound of footfalls, quick and lithe, sounded to my left, and I caught a glimpse of the moonlight on a DPD uniform. They raised their gun and fired. Several times. Androids stumbled and collapsed to the ground and I gasped. The responding officer raced over to us.

"This crowd's too big to handle," he said.

I cut him off. "State your rank and name, Officer. I did not give you the order to fire."

He snapped, "Jerry Pocks, DPD Patrol. I was down the street when I was dispatched."

"He's as green as they come," Chris said. I cursed.

"Don't you do a damned thing unless I tell you to, you understand?"

The bastard rolled his eyes and said, "Whatever, it's not like you'd handle this well on your own anyway."

"Shut your mouth, Pocks, before I shut it for you." The nerve of this man.

"Alright, Officer A.S."

Android Sympathizer - oh, what a low blow.

Chris shouted, "Say hello to Detective Phillips, Pocks. Now, you listen to what she says or she'll write you up so good your ass will be on the paper tomorrow morning."

Pocks threw him a dirty look as the crowd of androids stopped only a few feet away. In their hands they held metal rods and laser guns. Chris looked to me for direction but I pinned a steely glare on Pocks until he squirmed, and I could ascertain he wouldn't ignore my orders.

Snow twirled down, dusting the streets, our car, and chilling our bodies with the cold.

"Get down!" one of the androids roared, and he swung the metal rod at Chris. His gun clattered to the street and rolled down the gutter. They did the same to Pocks, and I let mine roll out of my hands to avoid a possible bone fracture. He raised his weapon at us and ordered us to get down again.

Pocks glowered. "Know what you're doing, don'cha?"

I willed him to shut up but he kept babbling. The android picked up my gun and trained it on Pocks; he clacked his teeth together and fell silent. Out of the crowd, a figure emerged. Blue blood stained his hands. Several weapons adorned him and a metal rod stuck out of the carrier on his back. Behind him, a woman said, "They slaughtered our people."

Another man shouted, "We want justice, Markus!"

Pocks snarled in disgust at me as I raised my face with unbridled hope. The man I'd befriended only a few years ago stood before us, looking down at the one who'd ripped people from his crowd. His green eye was as familiar as yesterday, but his blue eye unnerved me. It changed his entire demeanor. He could be calm and cool as a gentle wave, or crash and drown us in a tempest of rage.

He didn't see me, not at first. Markus took my gun from the man and raised it at Chris. No.

"You don't have to do this," Chris cried, and tears ran down his cheeks.

Pocks snarled, "If you'd let me gun down the rest of them-"

"Shut your fucking mouth," I snapped. Markus glanced at Pocks, then back at Chris. He never seemed to even see me. I guess it made sense, considering I was bundled up, and I had my hair up in a tight bun beneath my hat. Markus focused on the tears streaking down Chris's cheeks.

"Please," Chris begged. I wanted nothing more than to take his place.

"Markus-" I started but he'd already lowered his gun, and his whisper was so soft I almost didn't hear him.

"An eye for an eye and the world goes blind." Then he said, stronger, "We won't punish a crime with another crime." He handed my gun back to the android who'd stolen it from me and turned around. I cried his name.

He halted, back tensing as if he didn't believe it. The androids around us turned stunned gazes on me. "Phillips?" Markus whirled around and pulled me to my feet. "I don't - what are you doing here?"

Another voice, dove-velvet, sounded to my left and Simon bounded over, eyes wild. "I didn't even recognize you. I'm glad you're alright."

Markus was staring at me as if I were a ghost, and maybe I was, I sure felt light-headed from him nearly killing us all. "I didn't even see you there. I could've killed you." He drew me into a hug and it was like I'd gone back in time to sunny days, piano lessons, and painting. "How's Carl?"

"I'm going to see him today, he's fine, from what I've heard." I said. "But what are you doing here?" I pulled away and looked him over, then at Simon, a laser gun in his hand. A woman hung in the back, her hair auburn and her eyes burning with the desire to spill blood. She was beautiful and intimidating all at once.

"North," Markus said. She walked over to us, a purposeful saunter, and I noticed the film of tears in her eyes, the hatred in her clenched jaw.

"So you're just gonna let them go after what they did to our people?" she asked him.

"North," Markus said, as if trying to calm her down. "This is Phillips. One of the friends I made with Carl. She's on our side."

"She's a human, Markus."

Simon argued, "She got me out of there alive. She's not a threat."

"Then what's she doing here with them? She could've been the one who shot our people dead!"

"I'm very sorry about what happened," I told her, and I meant it. She only shook her head and spun around, disappearing down the street.

Markus winced. "She's like that with everyone," he tried to reassure me, but I understood her pain, somewhat. Losing people was hard. "We should go, before more back-up arrives."

Simon said, "It's good to see you again, please take care. Josh, can you make sure North doesn't wander too far? The cops will be everywhere soon." His fingers brushed against Markus's before he patted his shoulder. "Come on."

"Sure," a deep, whisper-soft voice answered and a tall, wise looking man followed after North. Could he be the same Josh that Gavin had spoken of?

Markus took my gun back from the android, and held it out to me. I took it back and he gave me a small smile. "I wished there were more time to talk, see how things are." Then he led his people away, their strides hurried. The glow from the huge screens in the park painted them in harsh blues.

Pocks said, "Oh, great. You just happen to know all of them, don't you. The Captain will love hearing about this."

I ignored him, knelt down before Chris, and held him. My friend trembled and broke in my hands and he cried into my shoulder. While Pocks grabbed the radio transmission and complained about everything, I held Chris and thanked Markus for not taking his life away, unable to imagine a world without him.


We were found by several other officers, who took one look at us and rushed us back to the station. I discovered my phone had been blasted several times by Hank. I called him back and said as soon as he picked up, "I have to talk to Carl, there might be a lead. I'm at the DPD."

"Jesus fuck - you finally answer. Do you have any idea-" There was the low, throaty bark of a very agitated Sumo in the background. "Connor, calm the shit down. She's fine, okay? Fuckin' androids, alright Phillips, I'll be there. Connor's coming with me."

I paused. There was a lot I needed to ask him. "I probably shouldn't be leaving, just so you know. Fowler's wanting to ask about what happened, but I don't have time. Do you know about this ass named Pocks, by the way?"

The guy was currently preoccupied, trying to conceal the act of shoving a finger up his nose to scratch for gold. Were he and Gavin long lost brothers?

"No, but Miller's word is better than half of the station. I'll get you outta there."

True to his word, Hank walked in several minutes and pulled me out of the office, ignoring Pocks entirely, who'd jumped to his feet and said, "We're to wait for Captain Fowler, Phillips."

I had the satisfaction of responding with, "Oh, you mustn't have met Lieutenant Anderson?"

Judging by the look in his eyes, Pocks had refrained from giving Hank a once-over. Hank said, "This got into the DPD? Who the fuck is letting them through the academy, huh?"

I gave Chris a small hug. He was shaken up, really badly. I'd wished I could've done more for him, but in this job, you ended up fending for yourself more than anything else. If Chris knew even half of what I had locked away, he'd be horrified. It was for the best he didn't know about what else I was hiding from my friends and my partners. Then again, it's not like I was doing a good job of that anymore, since I was a walking bleeding-heart. We passed through the lobby and out into the frigid early morning, the barest hint of a flush on the horizon as dawn woke up to kiss the world.

Right as we approached the car, Hank said, "I didn't realize it was you and Chris in that mess until I saw the story. I'm glad you weren't killed." He opened the backdoor for me and took a moment to collect himself outside.

The second I buckled in, Connor asked, "Did they hurt you? Hank refused to let me call your number even though it'd be faster for me to do so than for him to dial you."

"No, they let us go. And…I need to talk to you later."

Connor's gaze dropped to the floor. "You read the journal entries, I take it."

I said, "Yes, and Chris also told me something." I didn't elaborate further on the threats against my life and Connor's apparent plunge into deviancy. He fiddled with his coin. Would I dare ask him if he was going deviant? Or even, why he was?

"I understand, Officer." He shuddered. I couldn't see his face from behind his seat and when I slid closer to see what was going on, Hank opened the driver's door.

"Tell me how to get there." He jostled Connor lightly. "You sick or something?"

"Androids don't get sick, Hank."

Hank grumbled and fastened his seatbelt. "Then quit acting like you caught something or I'll leave you at home."

As Hank drove, Connor curled in on himself, as if the world saw his sins and was threatening to devour him. I knew I'd have to ask him some hard questions, and when I did, it might trigger a reaction I'd not anticipated. I hoped it was the right decision.

Chapter Text


 

Elijah Kamski and Carl Manfred shared two sides of the same coin. The side of grim postulations and bitter cold - it was fit for a predator thirsting after knowledge, sharpening his mind to extremes on Nietzsche and cutthroat examinations. The other side was ripe for nurturing that knowledge, guiding it from the vestiges of one's mind through careful forefathers, like Shakespeare, Odes, and Plato.

I was excited to return to Carl's cage of a world, where everything glittered and seemed secure, but I was also on edge for exactly that same reason. Cages, no matter how gilded, are still cages. Carl's was the kind that protected yet prodded growth in a specific direction, tended to like a blooming flower by a gardener.

The painter's home was situated on Lafayette Avenue, a fancy little name for where the fancy (not little at all) mansion sat, bordered by pristinely manicured shrubs and a sprawling, immaculate driveway. It was a fairytale house, the place where dreams nestled and stars went to bed. Many viewed Carl's towering stately mansion to be a reflection of the man. They wouldn't be wrong, as long as they were referring to his older self, who'd turned to art after a horrible accident had left him wheelchair bound and repentant over his past sins.

Hank parked right against the curb. "Well, get a load of this shit," he said, peering out through his window up at the mansion. He craned his neck up, as if expecting the house to grow like a redwood until it touched the heavy, snow-pregnant clouds. "Reminds me of that drawing you made. Did you honestly think I was stupid or something? I'd recognize this place anywhere - Connor could fuckin' draw it and I'd still know what it was."

If Connor did it'd look like a blueprint, lacking any artistic impression, because he saw the world as numbers and concrete facts. My view was both the blessing and the curse of viewing the world with the eyes Carl opened for you. Everything became an anaemic copy until you poured the life you saw into into it. When Carl had first seen my work, he'd called it the equivalent of an English major writing up pretentious drivel and expecting to be crowned atop the literary canon. Despite such a crushing critique, Carl had said I wasn't a complete failure, because the passion for life was hiding in my shallow brushstrokes. He'd have to peel off the layers; and would I be willing to tear down my walls?

Connor, who was normally well-prepared to retort with something like 'CyberLife didn't program me to draw anything but code', remained where he was. He kept his head bowed, his shoulders hunched, and his leg continued to bounce.

"I told you I'd take you home if you're sick," Hank said, his voice unusually soft.

Connor stilled his leg. "I cannot get sick, Hank."

The man drummed an erratic rhythm on the steering wheel before shutting off the music. He combed his fingers through his mane with a frown, but refused my offer of a hair tie as always, even though I insisted it'd do the trick. Dammit. One day, I vowed as we stepped outside, I'd get him to pull his hair back.

The sky was already shaking powdered snow onto the gingerbread mansion and I shoved my hands into my jacket pocket. It was chilly, more so than earlier.

Hank wandered ahead, and I secretly delighted at how he was probably dying to see the famed artist's dwelling in the flesh. There was the sound of a car door closing behind me and I turned to find Connor striding after us, his LED a ring of solid yellow.

I stood up on my tiptoes to press a hand to his forehead. He jumped at the contact, as if he'd not even registered I was right there next to him. "I can't really ever tell if there's a temperature difference," I told him. "Daniel once told me he was very cold, but he was warm to the touch. Like always. Like you."

There was a stiffness in Connor's face, as if he'd tensed up. His tie was crooked and I leaned in to fix it for him, surprised he hadn't already. As I slid the material up how he normally did, his hands came to settle over mine. I tilted my head up to meet his gaze. "You're not yourself. Is something wrong?" I asked him.

"You almost died this morning."

I'd not expected him to actually answer me. Especially not like that. "It comes with the job," I said offhandedly.

Connor's chest heaved beneath my palms. "How often does it, for you to hold so little value for yourself?"

Ouch. "Dying in a car wreck is more likely to kill me than half of what I'm involved in. Especially with Hank driving."

"He held you at gunpoint."

"I trust Markus to make the right decisions. The deviant from last week almost pulled that trigger, don't forget. No matter what I do, it's a risk I face, but I won't give those chances the satisfaction of dying. I have Emma to look after."

Connor, who had only the faintest impression of my relationship with Carl's android, didn't seem too convinced. His fingers curled around mine. "If she is what keeps you alive to see another day, I hope you think of her every time something like that happens." His voice became hoarse. "I cannot always prevent something from happening to Hank and you, but I…I want to."

"I'll do that," I whispered.

"I'm pleased to hear that."

And then Hank's gravelly shout tore across the space. "I thought this was an urgent matter? Did I give you two permission to make out?"

Connor held me still, my face blooming with heat when he repeated, "Make out?" His LED ran blue, and I gave in to my fate. There would never not be an awkward moment between the three of us. "I'm not sure I quite understand the purpose for such an activity. It seems it draws two people closer together in an intimate way, often leading to sexual intercourse."

I ripped myself from his grip and grabbed his arm, practically dragging him like a cat on a leash to where Hank was waiting in the center of the drive, his hands on his hips.

"Are you two done?" Hank asked when we reached him.

Connor addressed him before I could. "There appears to be some misunderstanding. Phillips and I were not engaged in such an intimate act. Perhaps it appeared that way to you from our angle?"

"Not in front of me. I'm gonna Sharpie that onto your face next time, got it?"

Connor tried again to correct him while I headed for the main door, the wooden frame embedded with stained glass like jewels. Their voices followed me like a pair of squalling seagulls.

"I can assure you, Hank, if we'd been engaged in such an activity, it would border on scandalous. We'd be arrested for public indecency."

I wasn't sure if that was his idea of a joke or not, but Hank didn't take it that way. He groaned and jabbed a finger at Connor. "Jesus, Connor. You don't need to tell me how-"

"That is what law dictates, is it not? My findings illustrate making out to be a very passionate moment shared between two people. Often between lovers, but sometimes between two people in general."

"No, it doesn't always go that way - and it better not go like that in public, because that's for sure landing you in jail. At least if I see it."

Connor paused and I regretted turning around at the lull in conversation immediately. He was regarding me with a look I'd seen in my dreams - but this was the early morning so I was just stupid for letting my pulse quicken at an impossibility. It was good I knew better, because reality bitch-slaps everyone.

"Maybe you and Hank could demonstrate? I'm not sure I understand the conundrum."

Oh dear God. Hank and I took one look at each other, and we both nearly puked on the spot. The older man, who I oftentimes saw as a father figure, and who Connor had informed me thought of me as a daughter, looked green in the face as he shoved Connor.

"That's fuckin' disgusting. If you're so curious, indulge her. Jesus, I feel like I'm gonna throw up."

I expected Connor to refuse, and maybe even downright insist on the horrid idea of Hank and I - nope, I couldn't even bring myself to think of it - but Connor walked right up and loomed over me. "I have learned quite a lot thanks to my investigation at the Eden Club, so I don't think it'd be an unpleasant experience for you." Connor settled his hands on my shoulders and leaned in.

I jammed my finger into the doorbell, ringing it over and over again like a distress signal. Connor flinched and stepped away from me as the door opened, revealing a very visibly put-out android, his LED vacillating between red and yellow.

"Uh, hello," I said, shoving my hair back and flashing a help-me smile. "I'm Officer Phillips, I'm here to speak with Carl."

Typically, the android belonging to Carl Manfred would say, 'Sorry, he's not seeing any visitors today,' or even, 'Sorry, I don't have you registered for an appointment' - the classy way of saying get the fuck off my lawn. However, the android just stepped aside and welcomed us in. He continued to stare at me, mystified, as I walked past. He gave Hank a moment's pause, and then he glanced at Connor. A strange look overcame his features, like he'd been enlightened by something, then his gaze flicked back to me.

"I'll let Carl know you're here," he told us. With that, he crossed the entryway to the door leading into the main room, which slid open at his approach.

Whereas Elijah was calculated and cunning with his display of his property, Carl thrived off his collection, letting it teem like an artfully designed greenhouse to show off his genuine personality. A huge staircase, wearing a turquoise rug speckled with complementary colors, led up to an indoor balcony that framed an open view of the first floor like an aquarium railing, bookshelves lining the walkway. Carl's bedroom tapered off from the leftmost door along that balcony, a respite from his busy craft below. Early morning sunlight shimmered down through the high windows, brushing the lobby with a slice of paradise.

I kept expecting to see Markus somewhere. He'd usually be exiting the kitchen when I let myself in, his eyes crinkling with warmth, and I'd run at him and grab him in a hug that ended with me swept off the floor. Those memories drifted past me with specks of dust filtered in the sun's rays.

"I take it you're feeling better?" Hank asked Connor.

Our partner straightened his posture, as if he needed to, and said, "I'm perfectly fine."

Hank continued to fill the void, somehow increasing the wave of awkward rolling off my shoulders at what'd almost happened. "So, am I gonna find any of your paintings in here?" He sauntered past a huge mirror, then stopped before the golden cage housing wind-up android birds. "You kept jumping around like a damned kangaroo at Kamksi's, don't think I didn't notice the ruse you were trying to pull. Connor already found out you sold art to the guy."

I'd never needed to hide it, of course. If Elijah hadn't outright said it, my name was definitely available online. Sometimes I wondered how no-one had caught me earlier - I could always feign indifference, but the more I thought about it, the sillier that idea sounded.

"Maybe," I allowed, giving myself a moment of indulgence in the way Connor and Hank threw me impressed glances. Yeah, that's right. I may have given up the past, but that didn't mean I had to be ashamed of my accomplishments. I'd sold art to Elijah Kamski.

The door slid open again, and the android welcomed us into the main room. Hank let down his shutters, and the rough gales weathering his countenance settled into a calm puff of air. The room was sprinkled with all manner of knick knacks, glittering in the soft dewy sunlight. Everything was buried by something else, and over it all, stood a stuffed giraffe, superseding those who entered this garden of a room. A painting caught Hank's eye and he said, "Hey, that's the same one at Kamski's." Sure enough, an android splattered with red and blue adorned the wall behind Carl.

A further addition to the welcoming interior was the warm scent of bacon and eggs perfuming the room. My stomach growled and Hank cut me an amused glance. Neither of us had eaten before this, yet my stomach alone had to betray me, as if conscious of the fact that Carl would serve food if I were hungry.

Carl Manfred sat at his table before the huge TV, now covering Russia's possible next moves. His meal was before him on a plate, and shining silver covers sat on the tray where his food had been carried from the kitchen into the room. Even his food was like an advertisement - almost too bright to be real, but they were as real as Hank's slackened jaw as he gazed upon this century's greatest artist.

It took me a moment to understand his shock, because I'd walked in on this legend of a man casually enjoying his breakfast too many times to remember. I failed to stifle the laughter bubbling up from my diaphragm; it popped, the sound decorating the silence. Carl set down his fork and regaled us with a huff.

"Those damn Russians," he said around a mouthful of cheery yellow egg.

It was like Hank's own bubble burst with those words and his gaze grew round. I could see right then and there Carl was everything Hank had hoped for and more.

"Introduce us," Hank prodded. A lump formed in my throat at the sheer pride in his expression, that his partner had been recognized by the Carl Manfred. I grabbed his hand. I turned to Connor and extended a hand; he glanced at it, somewhat taken aback. The next moment, Connor's hand engulfed mine, and he carefully arranged his grip so his fingers delicately caressed mine. The graze of his skin sent shivers down my spine. I tightened my grip around his hand so that he was no longer a bare slip away from letting go.

Carl's house was the home to your heart: if you stayed there, you got too cozy. Now was not the time. Even so, I couldn't stop the rosy hue from dusting my cheeks, or the electric rush from shooting through my body, sparking butterflies into flight in my belly.

Connor's LED throbbed yellow, and a faint blue tinged his own cheeks. I had the sudden urge to capture the image, enhancing those complementary colors in my own artistic recreation.

I drew my partners over to Carl and the old man said, "My God, weren't you on the news this morning?"

"It's nice to see you again," I said, not bothering to answer as I was sure Carl already knew it. Hank squeezed my hand as if to ease the ache spreading through my chest. I'd given up years I could have spent with Carl to appease my mother. I hadn't known how deeply all of this would hit me after returning - or maybe I had subconsciously, and that's why I'd buried all my time into my work.

Carl cleared his plate with a scrape of his fork and ordered the TV to turn off. The android standing sentry beside him scooped up his silverware, his plate, and his empty cup, and piled them onto the tray. He took them back into the kitchen and Carl shifted in his seat. It was his tell that he wanted to be taken somewhere; he always had a momentary lapse in memory that he couldn't get up and walk himself.

I released Hank and Connor to go to him. This would be a hard discussion. But the truth is never easy, as they say. That applied to the conversation I needed to have with Connor, too. Crap, what was I even going to say? I like you and I shouldn't and I really shouldn't be telling you this because you're struggling with the fact that you may be going deviant - oh, and who is this lady who may be planning on killing me? Yeah, that should probably be at the top of my list, not my feelings.

Speaking of Connor, he wouldn't let go of my hand. I nudged him lightly, raising our hands together. It was a strange sight: we were grasping onto each other, none of our fingers intertwining. I snorted, it was just like him. "Hey," I said, and Connor turned to me, then looked at our hands. "Can you let go?"

It was like he'd touched a hot stove; he dropped my hand and then stumbled back. I reached out to steady him. "Sorry, Officer," he mumbled. Hank threw me a pointed look but I pretended I hadn't seen it. Focus on what you have to do.

I wrapped my arms around Carl as I knelt before him. "It's so good to see you again." He smelled like an all-American breakfast and paint, just as I remembered.

"I thought I'd be in the ground the next time you visited," he teased, his usual morbid humour shining through. "Then Elijah called. I'm surprised you visited him first." I pulled back to see him smirk. "But I think I see why."

I moved around to grab the handles of his chair before he could clarify what he'd meant, and asked where he wanted to go. "If I wanted to talk philosophy, you'd be my go-to, I hope you know that."

Carl said, "We can go to the couch, I didn't expect you to bring your friends. Nice to meet you," he addressed my superior. Hank practically tripped over himself to grab his hand.

"Lieutenant Hank Anderson, sir. Call me Hank."

Connor shot him a who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-my-grouchy-Lieutenant look.

"Ah." Carl grasped his hand. "I know you. You did those red ice cases."

Once, when I was still painting under Carl's tutelage, he had threatened Leo with informing Lieutenant Anderson of his addiction. I could only imagine the questions whirring through Carl's mind at the sight of this rugged, windstorm of a Lieutenant. He was nothing like his old photos. You couldn't control how you aged, but you could certainly control how you presented yourself. The Lieutenant fell on the 'messy' end of the spectrum.

Hank was on a buzz that even alcohol couldn't give him. "It wasn't much, sir. Those fuckers are pretty easy to catch is all." Carl paused and Hank grimaced, knowing he'd slipped up somewhere, probably assuming the swearing. I threw him a thumbs up to let him know it wasn't anything he'd done and mouthed 'later.' Hank's frenzied state calmed a little, but he was still clearly alarmed.

As always, Leo was nowhere to be found, and I thanked the stars. Connor would sooner announce a red ice user than read the situation - not that I could fault him for doing his work, but his subtlety could do with some polishing.

"Did you find the body?" Carl asked him. "I thought I'd done a damn good job hiding the evidence."

Bless him, Hank recovered from the blow and barked out a laugh. "The world's greatest artist, now a mastermind killer. The plot twist of the century."

Carl's laughter joined his, a scratchy grain to Hank's rough gravel. Then he bade me to take him to Connor, who was standing at attention like a soldier awaiting his orders. When we neared, his dark hickory gaze flitted to mine, before fluttering back down to the older man.

"And who might you be?" Carl asked genially.

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

Carl said, "RK800," reading the number on his jacket.

"Yes, Mr. Manfred. I'm a prototype."

My hands gripped the back of Carl's chair. There'd been no predicting he'd say that ahead of time.

The old man leaned his head back against the chair. "Markus has a brother." He seemed to be struggling to digest the facts in front of him. "It's nice to meet you, Connor." Connor shook his hand, bending at the hip to reach for him. Hank shot his partner an accusatory glare. He'd figured out what Connor had hidden from him at the Stratford Tower, then.

"I have no siblings, Mr. Manfred. I'm a unique model," Connor tried to explain, clearly nonplussed by Carl's musings.

"Yeah, I bet CyberLife said that you're the only Connor model too, huh? Damn them. Always out for an extra buck." Carl shook his head. "Phillips, let's get everyone settled. I'm starting to see why you brought them. It's worse than I thought. One of the wolves will win, but it certainly won't be one of ours."

CyberLife's wolves chased the sun of cash, and when one of them swallowed that fortune whole, Ragnarok would befall Detroit. It was already on its way there, what with all of the protestors, the deviants, and now Markus.

"Markus is alive and well," I told Carl, guiding us all over to the center of the room with low couches, the same height as Carl's chair, and a glass coffee table. "He was the one who spared our lives this morning. But he didn't see me at all, not until after he decided not to kill us."

"Hammurabi's code blinded his people. Had Markus taken that other eye by killing you and the others, the world would never look at his cause. Choosing to fight by standing your ground, that takes more strength than striking the enemy."

I settled him before the couch and asked, "What happened to him, Carl? You'd never turn him away."

"Who says I'd never give him his freedom? The second I died, he would have to decide what to do with his life. I've only had the privilege of preparing him. Sometimes, I wonder if I was right in that thinking. The world hates those who are different."

There was no arguing that Carl could've chosen not to raise Markus as he had, but that wasn't my right to judge. Each of us in life had to decide how to treat others, and I was thankful Markus had been blessed by the man's kindness.

"No, sit over there," he instructed when I sat down beside him. "I can't see you if you're next to me." His new android left to prepare us coffee, and Carl began his story. "Leo is the reason, as always. To put it simply, he attacked Markus. I ordered him not to do anything, but Markus didn't listen. He pushed Leo and…" He swallowed. "I thought he'd died. He hit his head on the crane, bled everywhere. He's been hospitalized, and he'll be alright, thank god. The police showed up and shot Markus, and then they dumped him like trash. They wouldn't listen to me when I said it was self-defence."

"I'm so sorry," I whispered. I couldn't imagine the anguish he must've felt. If I'd been here, would things have turned out differently? I couldn't imagine that the police would have taken Markus's side if I had been; they saw an injured human, and didn't want to know the rest.

"No, Phillips. I'm sorry about Daniel." Funny, how our tragedies have intertwined in such a similar fashion, he seemed to say with that sardonic grimace stretching his mouth.

"Thank you," I murmured. We'd gotten Daniel before I left Carl's mentorship, so I'd often spoken about him. And the more time I'd spent with Markus, reading Plato with him in the alcoves beneath the sunlight, the more I'd begun to wonder about Daniel. Could he feel? Was he human? Then Dad had come home from his work at CyberLife one day, and told me that androids were a new intelligent life-form. Since then, my eyes had been opened to the truth, and I had constantly been seeking a way to help them.

The second I started for the couch, Hank told Connor to move over but when I said it wasn't necessary, Hank just grabbed my arm and pulled me between them both. The couch was big, but there was still only so much room for three people, and I ended up squashed between my partners like the tomato in a BLT. There was no escape. Connor's body heat grilled me, while Hank's sturdy frame pinned me to the spot. I was hyper aware of every point of contact with Connor like a flame against my skin, and I both hated and loved it.

Connor jostled around for his coin, and started fiddling with it. The chink of the metal was like a gunshot in the silence. Hank reached over and confiscated it from him. He shoved it into his pocket and said, "Do I need to sit you next to me?"

"No, sir," Connor replied, eyes following the coin's path.

I shed my flimsy leather jacket to cool off, leaving me in my pastel blue sweater. Connor cleared his throat.

The other android swept into the room with three steaming mugs of coffee. He placed two of them onto the table before us. As for Carl's mug, the android attached a fold-out tray to his chair and placed it down for him.

"Thank you," Carl said, appreciatively.

"You're welcome," the android said. He moved to sit down on the couch near him.

We all sipped from the mugs, and Hank stared around the room with excitement, while Connor's knee leaned into mine instead of away. I allowed myself a tiny moment of weakness and pressed back into him. I immediately regretted the action. I longed to be closer. Much closer than this.

"I take it Elijah wasn't too kind with you the other day," Carl began, releasing some of the tension. I shrugged. "Gavin was livid, though I expect he acted like some brainless mop about it later. Men and our emotions. It's no wonder so few of us excel in art anymore these days. We're brainwashed into believing emotions are our weakness."

"And yet so many of them are quick to label their emotional intelligence as superior when compared with that of a woman's," I responded, nodding at the copy of Charlotte Bronte on the table. She'd been rightfully furious at Robert Southey, someone she'd looked up to as a literary genius, when his advice to her had been: "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be." Then she'd told him to hold her corset and published Jane Eyre.

Hank said, "Gavin Reed was here?"

When Carl nodded, I explained the barest threads of our history together as college acquaintances, and our journey to meeting Carl Manfred.

Connor's leg bounced up and down; Hank reached over and slapped a hand on his knee to quell the tick. "Settle down," he told him sternly, and I couldn't help it. I snorted into my coffee, sending bubbles skating across the chocolatey surface. They were just like a father and son.

My phone buzzed. "I'm so sorry," I told Carl, fishing it from my jacket pocket. "Wow, speak of the devil - Gavin never texts me." I started to unlock my screen to read his message when Connor swiped my phone from my hands.

I stared at him in shock, and he stared back at me in equal shock at his own actions, but he didn't return my phone to me. His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for air. When I reached for it, Connor pulled back and refused to return it.

"Connor, will you stop screwin' around? Jesus, you've been an oddball since you got back." Hank snapped, and grabbed my phone from him. Once, when Hank and I had gotten plastered at Jimmy's, he'd discovered the passcode to my phone. I never changed it because drunk Hank cared only for his next glass. Clearly, I'd need to rectify that. Hank unlocked my phone, read the message with a snort, and then he shut my phone off and pocketed it. He looked at Connor.

"It's work hours, keep the messages to work. Ask the ass in person if you really want confirmation, got it?" Connor practically wilted under Hank's withering stare, and I was more confused than ever. "Sorry, sir," Hank apologized to Carl.

"No, duty calls when it calls."

"I'm afraid this was no duty calls, right, Connor?"

My partner slouched into the couch and I was reminded of one night in particular: Sumo splayed across our laps, Connor's arms around my middle. I shook my head to clear the memory and gripped the mug tighter between my hands. "We've been assigned to work on deviant cases."

Carl smacked his lips together and folded his hands in his lap. "Hank, why do you think people today are facing a dilemma with their androids?"

The famed painter wanted to believe there was still good in the hearts of men. What better way to find out than from seeing how one treats not his betters, but those considered lower in station to him?

Hank straightened at the attention and asked, "How do you mean?"

"It took five thousand years of human civilization just to get where we are, and we're still fighting with the world."

My superior took a mouthful of coffee. I could tell he wasn't thrilled with another philosophy ride, but he'd stick it out for Carl. Most likely.

"Their androids want rights, it freaks them out," he summarized simply, and cleverly avoided revealing his own opinion.

Carl said, "We anthropomorphize nearly everything in our lives, but when it comes to something that looks like us and talks like us, we can't even find it within ourselves to treat them like a person. With androids, we refer to them all under their model names, despite how they're different from each other - they're all Tracis at the Eden Club, for example, or we say 'it's a Chloe model'. We strip them of everything that makes them human."

"Some people are afraid. They're losing their jobs to machines," Hank said.

Carl scratched his chin with a gnarled finger. "The fear of the unknown. It doesn't help with our magazines talking about androids spying on us, and now we're sending them off to fight our wars for us. Shouldn't our first step be getting the world to see androids as human, instead of pushing for rights for a people that no one even sees as a people? The world is quick to fight against something they don't believe in."

Connor fell hook, line, and sinker. "They're not human. They're merely imitating human emotions, as they've been designed to do."

"Before androids existed, we were calling our Roombas names and treating them as if they were alive. If a machine exhibited any kind of action that we could interpret and comprehend, we were more likely to believe they could feel. Thusly, we treated them as sentient beings. Somewhere along the way we came out the other end of uncanny valley."

"But they're not alive," Connor argued, already looking flustered.

Hank watched him with unfettered intensity. He didn't believe a single word Connor was saying.

"How can you know that, when you've been told your entire existence has been pre-programmed, designed to serve?"

Connor flinched, and his knee knocked into mine. "My programming tells me all I need to know. I'm designed to accomplish what is asked of me, and that is all. Furthermore, there is a flaw in your argument, Mr. Manfred. It is all based on your personal bias. Humans do indeed assign human-like qualities to whatever demonstrates it; when you look at androids, you see them as human, and so you treat them as such. You forget that I adapt to your needs. I am whatever you want me to be, as are all androids."

Carl dipped his chin. "I could be wrong, and you're nothing but an advanced computer that I can't ever hope to understand. But you could be just as wrong."

"It is impossible for any of this to be an error on my part. My programming is perfectly fine. I regularly self-check." Connor gritted his teeth. All I could hear suddenly was Chris telling me how Connor was speaking to someone when no-one was there at night.

"You don't refer to androids as 'it', but as 'they,'" Carl observed.

Connor said, "I don't get what you're trying to say."

Carl regarded him, carefully. "Connor, can you tell me what separates machine from mankind?"

He answered right away. "Emotions, the ability to decide for oneself, to have self-conscious thought, to die. There are several more distinctions."

Carl shook his head. "When you're asked to create a work of art, you can replicate a perfect copy. I've seen that demonstrated time and again, first with Markus, later with my other friends." Carl paused to smile in the direction of the android on the couch near him. "There's so little you cannot do. I'd begun to think I'd been misguided by my own emotions, but then, I had Markus paint something. Not copy, but paint what he felt - what was unique to him. And then I knew."

Connor was frowning, utterly baffled. Moreover, he was vibrating with tension. His shudders jarred through my body as his LED rapidly shifted between blue and yellow.

Hank leaned forward. "Hey, you're doing that again."

"I'm fine, Hank," Connor bit out. "I'm not sick. I'm not - defective."

Carl countered, "How can an android - a being that humanity has deemed as no more than plastic and coding - convince mankind that they're alive? That they have sentience?"

"There is no way to do that." Connor said, in a harsher tone than anyone had expected. "All of the deviants we find merely imitate terror and pain and sorrow and heartbreak, but it isn't real. Humans know it's an imitation. They're software errors." His leg bounced and he twitched, hunching over.

I rubbed his back, hoping it might calm him.

Carl sighed. "Connor, you've been treated so differently than Markus. You've been trained to be a mindless soldier. Not a thinker, not a person. Not who you really are. This world is a harsh battle ground, and you must find your place in it. People will smite you down if you don't. They'll use you." He sipped his coffee and eyed him over the rim of the mug. "It is always your choice what you do, but I fear you're lost. Floundering between what you're being ordered to do and what you want to do."

"There is nothing I want." Connor sucked in a breath through his teeth and hung his head between his knees, snaking his fingers through his hair. His LED sparked yellow and then lost all color. He trembled like a leaf, sagging against me.

"Connor, it's okay, just breathe," I told him, rubbing circles into his back. My heart felt like it was rending in two at the shallow gasps he was making.

Hank was half-sitting, half-standing, unable to do anything but clearly wanting to do something.

The other android interjected, "His stress is reaching critical levels."

And then Connor mumbled, as if to himself, "No, you're wrong. My mission is all that matters. They're nothing to me."

"Connor?" I tried to get him to sit up, desperate to see his face, but Hank snatched me away and hauled me up.

"Watch yourself," he warned.

I twisted out of his grip and ran back to him. "Look at me, Connor. It's me, come back to me."

Carl said, "Call Elijah," and his android did so immediately. This was serious. My pulse was skidding like feet on a patch of ice. Connor's LED flared red, the light bleeding like blood through his fingers, buried in his hair. "Please, look at me," I begged, kneeling before him and pushing at his shoulders. If we didn't calm him down soon, he'd self-destruct. We'd just gotten him back.

"Fuck," Hank hissed.

Elijah's nasally voice sounded throughout the room, amplified by the android's outstretched hand. "Hello, Carl. A pleasure, as always. What can I do for you?"

"Phillips is here - with Connor and Hank. Connor's exhibiting some self-destructive patterns right now, and he won't calm down."

"Ah, just like with Markus. I'm afraid this prototype is more advanced than the one I gave you. For this, my only advice is what I gave Connor last time. Can you hear me, Phillips?"

I snarled at his pleased tone. "Will you hurry it up and help us?"

"Certainly, I wouldn't dare miss out on all the possible choice he'll make in the future. I've already informed him about the backdoor, he can get out of there if he takes it."

I grabbed Connor's face between my hands. "Hey, can you hear me?" He didn't respond, not even a blink. "Connor, please. You need to do as that asshole says, okay? There's a backdoor in there. Take it and get out of there."

To my horror, he didn't move. He just sat there, like he'd been petrified. "Elijah, you better fucking fix this or so help me-" I barked.

"He can hear you, my dear. He'll come to, as long as he finds his way to you. I'm afraid Amanda has her claws sunk deep into him. If only I'd figured it out sooner - explains why he's so tethered to his original programming. What a nasty piece of work they are, using my own program against me."

I choked on air. Amanda? No, no it couldn't be. She was dead, and Dad had said that she - no, never mind that. I didn't know what to do. What face to make after that news. What to say. I froze.

"Connor, this is Elijah. You need to take the backdoor. It's an emergency exit program for you. She can't follow you out of there."

Connor's pupils dilated, like ink spreading over a page. When he saw me, he crushed me to his body, squeezing his arms around my waist. He shook with fear and folded in on me, locking his knees together, imprisoning me in his arms. I struggled to wrap mine around him, he was holding me so tight.

"You're alright," Carl reassured him. Connor held me closer, his chin resting against my shoulder blade. "Did you use the backdoor?"

"I couldn't find it," he said, his voice hoarse. "She let go of me - I heard someone calling me." His fingers splayed over my back. "I heard you."

Elijah sighed. "It is your choice how you get away from her, I guess." He clicked off abruptly, and my phone buzzed with a text in Hank's pocket. He ignored it.

"I'm sorry to have caused you so much trouble," Carl said.

"Is he gonna be alright?" Hank snapped, ever the protective father.

I let Connor pull me into him, closing my eyes against the erratic beating of his thirium pump in his chest. He was here, he was okay, he was still here. And then, slowly, he peeled away from me. He looked into my eyes and I saw that his own were wobbling, wet, miserable.

"He'll be alright, for the time being," Carl said heavily. "Connor must decide what he wants to do soon. It'll continue to be a problem for him if he contradicts what he's been assigned to do. I see now what Elijah means, how he must choose between two evils. It's a shame, what this world's boiled down to. People are no better than they claim to be."

Hank ran both hands down his face. "Fuckin' hell."

Connor couldn't keep still. He broke away from me suddenly only to shoot to his feet and start for the door, but Carl called after him, making him pause.

"There is one way to become human, Connor. One way to prove to them all that you're alive. It is to love."

My partner placed a hand on the wall, his hair falling into his eyes. "Love," he repeated in a whisper. "Love is an impossibility - I would only be imitating humans. I don't feel anything, Mr. Manfred. I am not alive. It is an impossibility for me to ever know such a thing. If I thought I ever could, it would be the result of a software error in my system."

"You've already demonstrated several human emotions, Connor; you've erred, and to do so is to be human. You have chosen things other than your programming, Elijah has told me so. You're struggling to choose even now. You care for two people. More so than your mission."

Connor opened his mouth to protest again, but Carl was faster. "The bond you share with those people you care so much for is a form of love, one of many. Some are familial..." He glanced at Hank, who was watching Connor as if pleading for him to hear what Carl had to say. "There is love for a friend. And then there is the love of which you refer to. Romantic love."

The android steered Carl so he was directly in Connor's line of sight, forcing him to meet his gaze. "Though you'll argue it's not possible, and though some may preach the evil of androids; that someone would dare make them in our image, as God had done with mankind. As they say, 'That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil'."

Connor's hand slipped from the wall.

Carl continued, "If a machine can prove they have the capacity to love, they have become human. No-one can refute that. And to them, it will no longer be an evil. You will have become familiar to them. You must face the abyss…but don't let it consume you."

My partner left the room, stumbling, as if he couldn't bear to listen any longer. Hank chased after him, so it was just me, Carl and his android.

"Phillips," he said, and when I turned around, he held out his arms. I hugged him and he sighed. "Oh my god. I hoped I was mistaken. He's an RK-model."

"Yes, he is."

"Do you know what this means?"

I guessed, "That he's a prototype?"

"No, no. I can't believe Elijah. He knew all this time what Markus could do - and now what Connor could do. I understand now why Elijah gave me Markus. He wanted me to show him what could happen if he decided to choose for himself."

I didn't entirely understand what he was saying, but I didn't get a chance to ask because the next thing I knew, Carl's breath rattled in his chest and he said, "I almost didn't believe Elijah when he told me that you're in-"

I shook my head, interrupting him. "No, please. Carl..."

He grasped my upper arms in his weak hands, and I let him push me back so he could look into my eyes. "All your life, you've given for others. But you've never taken for yourself. I think it's time you did so, because there are so very few times in our lives where we find something that most people can only dream of."

"I can't-" My voice cracked. "He's so unsure about everything, Carl. He doesn't understand so many things. Who am I to walk up to him and tell him I have feelings for him? You heard what he said, he's whatever we want him to be. It'd be like Stockholm Syndrome."

Carl pursed his lips. "Whenever machines are involved with humans, consent is always a blurred line. One most people never cross because they don't want to think about the what-ifs."

"So I can't, Carl."

"That is his decision."

"What if he can't decide? What if he really is what he says he is, just a machine, and I'm just throwing what I think he feels onto him?"

The android behind Carl said, "He's struggling to come to terms with how he sees the world. He wouldn't be like this if he were a machine. I was just like him."

"But how can I be sure?" I protested. "There are times where I worry his talk of software errors are the truth."

Carl grabbed my hand in his, weathered and sun-spotted with age. "You must ask him for his truth. The rest is up to him. All you can do is accept what you know to be true and continue on from there. If not, you'll only wonder about the what-ifs. Remember: 'Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them.' Life is difficult. But that doesn't mean we should lie down and let it pass us by; we'll only lose what we could've had."

He grabbed my other hand, and pressed them together. "This world will knock you down if you let them, and unfortunately, you're someone the world wants to knock down for good."

"But why? I'm a cop, and an artist. That's it."

"You, like everyone else in this world, are more than who they think they are. You see androids as living beings, and that's a threat to CyberLife. They want to put an end to deviancy, so they can keep on making money, but you encourage deviancy. You guide it out of them. That's a very dangerous thing to do, and for that, you'll be hunted down. But not just for that - because you're his daughter."

I blinked. "My Dad just worked for CyberLife, Carl, he never did anything wrong."

"You were a stone's throw away from living on the streets but then your dad got a job, and he got stationed at CyberLife. And then you proved you could do whatever you put your mind to, and you impressed me with your art, and your family prospered thanks to their hard work. That is a threat. You aren't sitting there letting the world decide for you, you chose on your own. You struggled and you fought for it, and you made it. People don't like success in others, Phillips. They only do if they care for that person, and caring for others is hard to do anymore."

I trembled in his grip, weakening in his words. He always knew just how to make you think.

"If you won't admit your feelings, then at the very least let your actions do it for you. They're stronger than our words. In time, he'll know, if he doesn't already."

"Elijah pretty much outed me," I confessed.

Carl smiled. "Then what is there to worry about? If he knows, he knows. The rest is up to him."

But did he know what it meant for me to have feelings for him?

"Look at me," Carl said, disrupting my thoughts. "You're too young to have gone through what you've gone through, but the world forces us to grow up faster than we want. Some quicker than others. So...use what you've learned, and protect yourself. CyberLife may not know about you yet, but I can assure you that Amanda does."

I closed my eyes, as if to shield me. If she knew, then CyberLife knew. She was pretty much the avatar for CyberLife itself, but there was no way Carl could know that.

"I know she had a hand in Daniel's death, and likely your father's. There's no way she didn't. So you tell that shady bitch to fuck off."

A laugh spluttered from my lips. "I love you, Carl."

"Yes, of course you do. I love you, too. And Elijah does also, in his own way."

I stilled at that. Finally, one of the answers I'd come here for. Along with, of course, Carl's assessment on Connor's well-being. As for a lead on our mission, it was clear all of it stemmed from Amanda, and in turn, CyberLife. "Why would you continue to send me to him, knowing how he tortured me?"

"Believe me when I say I didn't know just what he meant by testing you. I knew him to be cruel, but never inhumane. I would've never sent you there had I realized. When Gavin told me about some of the things he'd done...I'm so sorry, Phillips." I could see he was telling me the truth in his wide eyes, shining with regret.

"It's okay, I'm stronger now. More so than I was before."

He said, "You're not alone. When things get difficult, it can be hard to remember that we have people on our side, even when we feel the world is against us. There's always help to be found. Don't isolate yourself."

"What do you suggest I do?"

Carl thought, and then he said, "Your heart beats for what you believe in, and you must let it guide you. Some may argue only fools do so, but fools are the ones who die having known what it means to be human and never experienced it."

The heart is a scary thing. It can never lie to you, but sometimes we pretend that it has led us astray. We don't want to know what the heart wants. And the more we close it off from our desires, the more bitter we become.

"I understand, Carl. Thank you." I hugged him. "Markus is planning on freeing his people, and I think he may succeed."

"If he remains true to himself, he will. Don't let violence cloud your judgement. There will come a time down this road where you may have to use violence. Resist, as much as you can."

I patted his hand, tears shining in my eyes. "I will, Carl. But I'm a cop, and I've seen firsthand that violence is sometimes the only defense you have. Sometimes, the other person won't allow you to be peaceful with them, and you have to protect yourself."

Like Daniel, threatening to kill Emma. I'd destroyed him to save her, nearly killed myself in the process. But Connor had risked it all to save me.

"Can I come back to visit you?"

"I feel my end approaching," he said.

"You always say that."

"Not this time. I've lived a good life. But now there's more to tend to, and the clock's hands are slowing in me. I hope I can tell Leo I'm sorry I wasn't a good father for him."

I had no right to argue with him. That was his battle to fight, and if I tried to say he was a good father, I'd be disrespecting his own truth. So I said nothing, and he knew I didn't think of him that way, and that was enough.

I burned Carl into my memories, to forever encapsulate him in a painting for later. When I'd captured his essence, I bid him farewell, and I told myself not to worry about what would happen if the next time I came to his home, he'd not be here. Shrugging on my jacket, I pulled out my moleskine, and pressed it to my chest.

Hank was leaning against the wall by the birdcage. I opened the gilded door, wound the android birds to life, and closed the cage. "My phone," I said, holding out my hand. Hank placed mine into my open palm. "Where is he?"

"Hiding somewhere in the front yard."

I could easily hear Carl speaking to his android through the walls. I looked at Hank. "You eavesdropped."

"You've hidden more than I thought. I'm a little pissed off you did, when I've told you I'm here to talk and help. But now I'm starting to think I wouldn't have been much help. So, your family was living on hard times before, huh? Never would've guessed."

"We all have something to hide," I told him.

"So." He cleared his throat awkwardly and hiked his shoulders up closer to his neck, folding his arms. He looked down his nose at me, not in a condescending manner, but because he didn't know how to approach the subject any other way. "You're in love with Connor?"

"He better be outside," I ground out.

Hank said, "I'd much rather know you had to get yourself up all in a tizzy trying to admit it to him than waste that opportunity. You know, people will always tell someone that they're not really in love with someone, but it's different for everyone. My parents fucked and realized they were in love after the first night. Got married a year later."

"Didn't need to know that, Hank. You didn't either, your parents should never have told you that."

He ignored me. "And your parents fell in love really fast too, didn't they? Love isn't about time. Sometimes you just meet someone and that's all it takes."

"You're making it sound like I fell in love with him at first sight."

He yawned. "No, you sure had the hots for him, but I think you fell for him after Stratford."

"Why are we having this conversation? This is really awkward. You're acting like a dad."

Hank reached out a hand and mussed up my hair. "You keep ignoring my advice and then you keep getting into trouble for it, so I told you so. Are you gonna tell him?"

"I don't know, Hank. But I have to talk to him about many things, like Amanda, and everything he's been writing down. I'm so worried about him. I can't sleep sometimes because I'm so scared they're going to deactivate him."

"Should I give you two some privacy after we get back?"

I rolled my eyes. "We have work still. Don't try to get out of it."

"Right back at you, kid. I just don't want to be your audience when you jump him."

Chapter Text


 

There are plenty of reasons why someone may pursue a promotion: more money; an enhanced notion of respect among one's peers; better hours. I'd like to say my reason for chasing the title of detective was one of the above, but it was really none of the above. I had my orders to get the promotion, that's all.

Hank found Connor in the front yard, crouched behind one of Carl Manfred's bushes in the shape of a giraffe, hugging his knees to his chest. I stood off in the background on the pavement while Hank knelt beside him, unsure how to comfort his android son.

Connor's mission, as he'd put it, was his life's purpose. Not that he was alive - he refuted any such possibility. That expression was simply the only way he could appeal to his human partners the gravity of his duty to CyberLife. I don't think he'd ever realized just what kind of a risk hunting the deviants had posed for him, until now. Not only was Connor losing his sense of purpose, he was losing his very identity. Each time his LED flickered to life, pieces of the machine he'd been died.

My phone buzzed; this time, it was a call from Gavin. "What do you want?" I snapped into the receiver.

"Android Sucker, how do you think I feel when my phone requests that I grant permission to a fuckin' android trying to message me?"

I still hadn't bothered to read his text, but Hank's reaction to it had me curious. "It's not like I had any idea he was going to contact you. Why did he, anyway? You're the last person on the planet I'd expect him to dial up."

"You didn't see my - fuck. I'm getting sick of people thinking we're a couple, okay? Now, you-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on. Who says we are? That'd never happen."

He said, exasperatedly, "I'm glad we agree. Plastic Prick's convinced we're screwin'."

I pressed my fingers into my temple in an attempt to release the tension. "Is this why you called?"

"Yes, actually. Got a problem with it?"

With a huff, I took the phone away from my ear and opened Gavin's message: You're not my type but with the lights off maybe I'd get it up. I'll put on a good show for Plastic Prick.

It was for the best that Hank had intervened. I wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face after that.

I put on a high, saccharine voice. "Honey, if you don't want people thinking we're involved, maybe don't use your duty-cell. Everyone can read that transcript, you know. Also, you'd better leave the lights on. We wouldn't be able to find it otherwise."

"Oh, how sweet, you little-"

I hung up. No point wasting time over this.

Most people assumed Gavin and I had some history, since we'd attended the same university and often bickered with each other. It made sense that Connor wasn't sure if something was going on, that was fair enough, but why did he care enough to ask the one man who treated him like waste? Unless...

Closing the message, I found another one from Elijah, probably the one that had chimed just after he'd hung up, when Connor had escaped Amanda.

If he doesn't use the backdoor, it'll only pose future problems for you all. Don't pluck out your eyes and toss them to the wolves.

Elijah didn't want me to blind myself to what was in front of me, or else CyberLife - the wolves - would find it first, he was saying in his usual roundabout way. Find what, exactly? I refrained from responding. It's not like I'd get a reply, anyway. Everything Elijah did was for his own merit, so if it'd mattered, he'd have been blunt about the ordeal to risk harm befalling himself.

"Phillips," Hank called from where he was helping Connor to his feet. "We're heading back to the station."

"Okay," I replied, stuffing my phone back into my pocket. Connor rounded the giraffe bush, adjusting his tie with shaky hands. We walked back to the car and climbed inside, same seats as before, listening to the screech of heavy metal all the way to the station.

It wasn't difficult to notice how Hank had been noting my interactions with Connor, now that I thought about it. He'd been doing so ever since we'd been assigned as partners - I was the Android Sympathizer, after all, and he couldn't have his partner botching the mission. And then, somewhere down the road, he'd figured out that I was...in love. With Connor. I couldn't deny it any longer: I ached for his pain, for his confusion, for everything he felt so I could heal him. In the wee hours of the morning, when my only company was the stars winking over Detroit, all I wanted was to know what he was doing, if he was okay. I wanted to curl up again with him on Hank's couch; wrap my arms around him like he'd done to me, and I'd hold him, breathe in his scent, and drink in his warmth. I wanted to talk about - well, anything at all, really, as long as it was with him. Life never gives you want you want, though. You have to get it yourself. Carl was undoubtedly correct about that, like he was about most things.

"Phillips?" I heard my name, but it didn't register as something I needed to react to. Instead, I swiped a finger over the window, smudging away the dirt maring its surface. It was cold against my skin.

"Phillips?" Connor reached over and tapped me on the shoulder, startling me to awareness. "We've arrived. Hank just got out."

He glanced out of his window where, sure enough, Hank's burly figure was ambling towards the main entrance. Embarassed by how engrossed I'd been in my own thoughts, I fumbled for a response. "Oh, thanks. We should get - oh no."

Connor's brows furrowed as he followed my gaze to the car parked just a little ways down, shiny black and screaming with self-importance. "What's the matter?"

"Perkins is the matter. That's his car."

"You know what vehicle he drives?"

I was already texting Hank to forewarn him, so I answered Connor after a small delay. "You never forget it once you do."

"Your stress levels are rising rapidly." Connor ran his fingers down my temple, drawing my attention.

"You sure do touch me a lot." I voiced my thoughts aloud.

His fingers grazed along my cheek, and then he pulled away. "I can sense many things without the need for contact, but feeling for the signs I cannot see is a whole new trove of information. Feeling the blood rush to your face, the way your pulse accelerates faster than its usual speed - it's all very intriguing to me. I apologize, I know that's not a normal action in most social situations."

"No," I said, surprising myself. "I mean, I don't mind." My courage failed me and I had no follow up, so I excused myself from the car.

Hank texted back: Yeah, I see him.

Connor followed me through the lot and towards the doors as I kept my eyes peeled for the Jackal - Perkins's nickname. Wait - Connor could scan for him, couldn't he? "Hey, can you tell me where Perkins is?"

Half of a second later: "He's currently speaking with Captain Fowler in his office. Why?"

"Do you want to run into that guy again?" I asked pointedly.

He paused, then admitted, "No, I'd rather not have to engage with him again."

"Exactly."

I passed through the entrance to the station with Connor at my side. "Do you have some unresolved trauma with special agent Perkins? Your body is in fight-or-flight mode."

"There's a lot of reasons I'm nervous," I settled on.

The blare of KNC served both as background noise and as an accompaniment for the swelling rise of panic regarding the recent events. Androids breaking into stores and setting their people free, peacefully protesting, but in the same swoop terrorizing police officers. Of course, that was mostly thanks to the wonderful media - always dramatizing the truth to new heights. Their protest had been peaceful, even with Pocks gunning them down. Markus chose not to shed blood this morning. He didn't take an eye for an eye. And now there was the surge of deviants on the rise. Nothing was being censored anymore, so the public now knew all they needed, and it was only fanning the flames of fear.

"Like what?"

My phone buzzed again: Get in here, now. You can't skip work and Fowler will want to talk.

Connor and I used our IDs to scan us in through the fast-line. We stood off to the side nearby, away from the waiting area, but closer to the reception desks, so I could read the message and figure out my next moves.

"We need to go," I told him, so I didn't have to answer. I showed him the message for good measure. "Also, you think Gavin and I are dating?"

Connor stared at the ground. "It would appear to most of the station, not just me, that you two are involved in such a relationship."

"It better not. And you could've just asked me, instead."

"We were in the middle of a conversation with Carl Manfred."

"So you chose to text Gavin, not just wait." Connor didn't have any rebuke for that. "You could've asked me afterwards. Gavin's not the friendliest guy to you, I don't see why you'd even want to talk to him. We get along much better, I'd hope."

"We do get along - I'm very pleased to - which is why I had to ask him or else - our bromance is strong," Connor sputtered, interrupting himself several times and further confusing me. He reached out and took my forearm in his hand. I'd rolled up the sleeves of my jacket and sweater in the car to combat the blast of hot air Hank had turned up, and hadn't bothered to pull them back down since. Connor ran the pad of his thumb down my skin, producing a trail of gooseflesh in his wake. He watched with enraptured fascination at the way my skin puckered, at the way the little hairs erected at his touch, and then he looked up at me with a hooded gaze. This wasn't fair at all. He knew what he was doing, didn't he?

My phone buzzed again. Right, Perkins was the main issue here, not Connor. I hoped Hank would message me when I could walk in without bumping into the guy. Connor was still busy tracing featherlight tracks down my arm, watching my every reaction. Like he was collecting results to fit his hypothesis - one he didn't even need to test for, thanks to Elijah.

The person at the front of the line for the reception desk turned around to head for the waiting area and stilled, seeing Connor beside me. Her bright, wine-red lips curled back in disgust. Her (probably) husband, a short, squat balding man, threw me a disapproving look, and then they strode towards the couches, periodically glancing back at us, tongues clearly wagging.

It was easier to have a relationship with a machine, Elijah had once told me. To many, that kind of laziness was demoralizing, and it hurt to think about how many saw Connor as just a tool. The latest news coverage wasn't helping to change that, either. They could talk however they liked about me, but I couldn't stand the way they were no doubt talking about Connor.

I laced my fingers through his and stared back at them defiantly. "Officer?" His voice cracked and I let go, feeling guilty. I'd never given him the chance to reject me, I was just as bad as all the people I criticised for not giving their androids a choice.

"We need to go," I said, striding for the office. I didn't think Hank would message me back. The glass gate closed behind us and I said in a low voice, "I'm sorry, for just grabbing you like that." We stopped before the entrance into the main room.

My partner was silent.

"I hated the way they were looking at us. But that doesn't mean I can just grab you without asking. I wasn't thinking."

Connor said, "Then I should also apologize. I grabbed you too. I have been doing so a lot lately. Considering the news as of late, it seems any contact between an android and a human..." He struggled to find the right words as he continued, "Is considered to be a cause for distress. It scares the public."

How could I begin to even explain that I didn't mind? Usually when he used touch as a form of communication, it was because he was having difficulty explaining what he was trying to say, and the people he worked with had grown to understand that. What had transpired earlier felt much more intimate than anything he'd done before, though, but Connor wasn't exactly renowned for his emotional intelligence so it could have been by pure chance.

I had more power over him than he realized. I was a human: my actions and my words were deemed as a command he had to follow, even if it was phrased as a passing comment. Just thinking about it had me feeling sick to my stomach. It shouldn't be this way. We should be equal, because we were.

He stepped closer, hesitantly. "Are you angry?"

"I'm mad at myself, at them, at this world. Not at you, how could I ever be angry with you?"

"So…you and Gavin aren't romantically involved, is what you're saying?"

That was all he'd taken away from this, apparently. I couldn't help it, I laughed. Until I couldn't breathe and tears leaked from the corners of my eyes.

"Did I say something funny?" he asked, visibly concerned.

"Yes, because that would never happen. Ever."

If he was still confused about my behavior, he didn't comment. Instead he reached out for my face, then drew back, as if remembering what he'd said just moments ago. I took a step forward before he could drop his arm and leaned into his open hand, well aware that if anyone passed by, they'd see everything. His fingers twitched against my cheek, settling against my face.

"It wouldn't work out," he said and I glanced up at him, eyes rounding. "The probability of a successful relationship between you two would be quite low." He dropped his hand.

"You can measure the success of a potential relationship?" Why the hell would CyberLife include that in his programming? I couldn't foresee any hostage situation or case where that would be needed.

Connor scrambled for an explanation. "Not...exactly, but I can collect all sorts of data to predict a good outcome. For instance, Officer Miller and his wife will likely never divorce."

"You've never meet his wife, though."

"Even so, I can infer."

I smirked. "Oh yeah? Well, I have a bullshit detector."

"That is absolutely impossible."

"Try me. What's my chance of success with someone, then?"

He pulled his coin from his pocket and started fiddling with it. I headed for the bathrooms, and he trailed after. If I didn't come out of there, Perkins couldn't very well wait for me all day or come in to find me, and he'd soon be on his way.

"That would depend on the person, I suppose," he murmured.

"Well, who are my best options?" I wasn't really paying attention, too busy watching out for Perkins.

Hank threw us an exasperated glance along the way and I ducked out of sight when I saw that Perkins was also in Fowler's office. The Captain caught a glimpse of me and pointed, and the coat-man started to turn. I managed to catch myself from breaking into a sprint in the nick of time.

Oblivious to the drama unfolding, Connor offered, "Why don't you list possible candidates?"

I was almost to safety, and to amuse both him and myself, I posited, "What about you?"

Connor's finger slipped. The coin spun out of his control and rolled to a stop at my feet, bouncing off my shoe. He strode forward and stooped to collect it at the same time that I knelt down to retrieve it. His fingers curled away into a fist right before he accidentally touched me. His pupils dilated into dark pools. "That success would be a probability of-"

"Officer Phillips." Perkins's bitter voice snipped the thread pulling me closer to Connor, and sent me rising to my feet. He looked to the door to the bathroom, emblazoned with Women. "You weren't bringing your little toy in there with you, were you? I can't imagine what you'd even need that for."

Behind him, Pocks leaned against a wall, a styrofoam cup in his hand. His beady eyes glittered at the scene unfolding before him.

"My car is outside," Perkins said, fixing me with a meaningful look.

"Actually, sir." I dusted off my jacket. "I don't have much time, thanks to a rather important breakthrough in my case."

Perkins tsked, his eyes brightening with his sneer. He was only ever happy when he was being foul. "I'm sure you have. But the time to experiment with your toys isn't for the workplace." He glanced at the women's bathroom with deliberate slowness.

I could feel my face reddening at his implication, but I drew myself up and repeated, "I don't have much time."

His gaze narrowed in suspicion, and he jerked his chin at Connor. "Leave."

Connor got to his feet and towered over the man, but Perkins was unperturbed by the height difference. He waited until the android was out of earshot before he slinked towards me, his trenchcoat brushing the backs of his knees. We were the same height, which was both hilarious and intimidating. The former, because if he were taller then he'd sneer down his hook of a nose with every chance he got. The latter, because he could look me square in the face and read me like a book.

His voice was a low, raspy gravel. Angry that I'd wrested control of the situation from him. If we'd moved to a more discreet area to have the discussion the way he wanted to have it, I'd have no way of winning, and he knew it. "What are you doing here, huh? You've wasted enough time as it is."

"I'm doing my job, sir."

"Which one? The way I see it, you're not getting very far. Your results are paltry at best. Deviants slip through your fingers so easily that it's almost like you aren't trying to capture them."

Perkins was overly ambitious, and his cutthroat nature had served him well to get to where he was. But it also meant a fair deal of people despised his very existence. I was one of them.

"Let me handle this mission," he said, in a tone that demanded I obey him.

"I have my orders," I said, calmly. It only irritated him more. Pocks hummed a lilting tune in the background, as if he were used to Perkins demanding people hand over their jobs to him. I snorted, seeing the answer right in front of me. Pocks wouldn't be allowed to hang around for this conversation unless he were with the FBI. "You should handle your own team better. We nearly died this morning thanks to Pocks's reckless behavior."

Perkins angled his head, and his bottom lids tightened with lines. It was his signature look, 'The Jackal.' Sarcastic and predatory, yet nowhere near the level of Elijah. Where Perkins was reedy and somewhat collared by the FBI at least, Elijah was lean and wild, kept at bay (or not) thanks entirely to his own will. "Isn't that exactly what makes a successful undercover personnel? Creating a facade which goes against the very job you're undertaking? I'm disappointed you couldn't tell right away," he chastised.

"You're seriously not implying his actions constitute commending," I retorted, fighting to steer the conversation away from where it was heading. But this was Perkins, hellbent on becoming recognized as the best of the best; he'd knock down everything in his way to get there, even me.

"This android called Markus plays at Gandhi like a fool. Pocks knew the chances of a violent retaliation were low, that's why he shot at them. He knows how to play the game, whereas you've lost your edge." He smirked. "You've been the FBI's sweetheart for so long, there's no way they'd suspect you'd let your role as a sympathizer become your reality." I opened my mouth to retort, but he cut me off. "It's for your own good. Unless you'd rather let that little role of yours define the rest of your career. Now, just hand your mission over to me, because this isn't going anywhere," he said dismissively.

I smiled. "You're right, this isn't going anywhere. So you can turn around - take your screw-up with you - and be on your way." I brushed past him, and I heard a small laugh, like a crack forming in a frozen lake.

"Overconfidence has always been a weak point of yours."

I halted right before Pocks, who was slurping at his coffee so loudly that the people in the breakroom paused to look over at us.

"I've not been asked to step down, so stop salivating at my feet. Find your next mission elsewhere, Perkins."

He sidled up to me, his upturned collar cutting along his jawline. "You've a peculiar propensity for the androids you should be taking down, Officer." He sneered my fake title. "More concerning is how this addlement extends to your toy - you've broken its only functions, a waste of resources. Don't jeopardize your career for a piece of plastic. It'll end up in the junkyard soon anyway."

I spoke without thinking. "He's not a piece of plastic."

The Jackal's features morphed into nothing more than a series of acute angles; his nose seemed to sharpen as a nasty grin split his face. "I gave you a chance. You just signed your own resignation from this case. This shouldn't take more than a single phone call." He jerked his chin at Pocks, and they both strode down the hallway and out into the lobby.

I schooled my expression from horror into a blank slate before I joined my team. Connor slid off the Lieutenant's desk at the sound of my approaching footsteps, as if he'd differentiated my footfalls from everyone else's. Hank watched me over his clasped hands, his knuckles like wind-shorn mountain peaks.

"I'd hoped after these past revelations had come out, you'd be comfortable sharing the one thing you're so keen on hiding," he said. "You know Perkins, don't you? You've known him for a while." He said it as if he were already aware of the answer, testing my loyalty to him and what forbade me from speaking.

"This isn't something I can share," I said. "Believe me when I say that I'd tell you if I could."

Hank looked at Connor. "Did she tell you?"

"No, sir," he said, raising his hands in a classic surrender gesture.

I let my arms dangle by my sides, keeping my body language as open as possible. "Perkins is intent on taking this case for himself."

"Like hell he will," Hank said.

I glanced over to where Fowler was sitting at his desk. As I watched, the phone rang and he answered it. "Well, we're about to argue for it."

Connor and Hank both looked up at the same time that Fowler waved at us to come in.

I knew the second we stepped into his office that Perkins had secured his share by the way Fowler had moved to sit atop his desk, perched like a rooster about to announce the new day. Or, in this case, the return to our original duties.

Hank and Connor remained blissfully positive that we'd trump any chance of the FBI taking over the case, and why wouldn't they? Our progress was a continual cycle, albeit devoid of many answers, but there'd been enough to carry us forward. A shame it'd come to this.

We gathered in the office in a line, myself situated between my partners. Connor's eyes were shut tight and his face was pinched with concentration. He stood rigid as a block of ice with his hands clasped behind his back, yet his features rippled and convulsed, as if he were arguing with someone - but he never said a word.

Was he speaking to CyberLife?

Hank folded his arms and awaited Fowler's next orders. Connor's features smoothed into complacency, and his eyelids opened. It was like he'd simply closed them for but a moment, yet I had a sinking feeling he'd been gone longer than any of us could imagine. Daniel had been like that, sometimes, in the hush of the night. They experienced time differently than us.

"You're off the case," Fowler began, his voice weighted with resignation. "The FBI is taking over."

"What?" Hank asked, sharing Connor's befuddled expression. Then his frosty gaze slipped down to mine. "But we're on to something!" He dropped his arms to his sides. "We...we just need more time. I'm sure we can-"

"Hank, you don't get it." Fowler held out his hands, appealing to him. "This isn't just another investigation. It's a fucking civil war! It's out of our hands now." Hank stared at Fowler with unconcealed incredulity, his eyes shadowed beneath a heavy brow. "We're talking about national security."

"Fuck that! You can't just pull the plug now. Not when we're so close."

"You're always saying you can't stand androids! Jesus, Hank, make up your mind." The Lieutenant was livid, and with each word Fowler spoke, his mouth seemed to fall open more. "I thought you'd be happy about this!" the Captain said, perplexed by the man's reactions.

Hank braced his hands atop the back of the guest chair. "We're about to crack the case! I know we can solve it." Fowler's lips thinned and he leaned back a little. "For God's sake, Jeffrey, can't you back me up this one time?"

The captain was already shaking his head. His next utterance was like a plea for Hank to understand the situation. "There's nothing I can do. You're back on homicide," then he turned to Connor, "and the android returns to CyberLife."

What? I fought against the protest rising within me. I'd always known he'd have to go back, but for some reason it'd never occurred to me that with Perkins taking over, it'd result in this. Connor wavered where he stood, his face falling at the news.

Hank folded in on himself, losing all of his thundering passion from earlier.

"I'm sorry, Hank, but it's over."

My superior almost couldn't bear to glance over at his android partner; he was already heading for the door the second that his gaze had alighted on him. I could do nothing but stare at Fowler as Connor gave the captain a quick, tiny dip of his head, and then he followed the older man out.

"You're free to go, Phillips," Fowler said, the air whooshing out of him like a deflating balloon.

"Perkins is taking over our investigation," I whispered, still astonished by the news.

"There's nothing I can do, Phillips. I'm not in the mood to argue." He got up and clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Hank submitted your application. Focus on getting your promotion. Close the door on your way out." Fowler let go of me and headed for his chair, but it was like I couldn't see anything. I'd nearly killed myself for this promotion, because I'd been ordered to obtain it at all costs, and for what? To be dropped from this case?

Even if I got it now, a whole lot of good that would do me. I couldn't even partake in my own mission. I could step on Perkins's toes all I liked, but it wouldn't change anything. He'd already done enough damage to my reputation as it was, there was no recovering from that.

Outside, I found Connor at the bottom of the staircase. He jumped when I started down the steps, and my heart thudded at the sheer desperation in his gaze.

He headed straight for Hank's desk, settling onto it with a sigh. Hank was crouched in his chair, his chin propped on his hand.

"We can't just give up like that," Connor told him firmly, "I know we could have solved this case!" He stabbed the air with his words.

Our Lieutenant moved his chair around to face him, his gaze flicking to mine for an instant. "So you're going back to CyberLife?"

Connor looked to the side, regretful, and said, "I have no choice." He nodded as if he were scoffing at the turn of events, and his next words had me curling my hands into fists so tightly that my nails bit into the flesh of my palms. "I'll be deactivated and analyzed to find out why I failed."

Hank leaned forward, his expression grave. "What if we're on the wrong side, Connor? What if we're fighting against people who just wanna be free?"

"When the deviants rise up, there will be chaos. We could've stopped it! But now it's too late," he trailed off, staring at the ground.

Maybe not; Markus was their leader, after all.

"When you refused to kill that android at Kamski's place, you put yourself in her shoes. You showed empathy, Connor. Empathy is a human emotion."

Connor had been fixated on his Lieutenant until that last line; his dark gaze flitted to the side. Guilt? Or reflection, perhaps.

And then, to my surprise, he said, "I don't know why I did it," as if he was asking for an answer. I'd expected him to use my standing in front of the barrel of the gun as an excuse to write off his actions, but he didn't. A warm expression overcame Connor's countenance. "I'm not programmed to say things like this, but...I really appreciated working with you. With a little more time, who knows…" A hint of a smile played about his mouth, "We might've even become friends."

Hank looked incredulous, his default reaction to any sincere gesture, especially when it originated from Connor. I smiled for the two of them, since they were both too damn stubborn to do so themselves. Connor just couldn't seem to break his professional image completely, if he even knew how, and Hank was too much of a manly-man to give Connor the warmth he'd sought since the day they'd become partners.

"Officer," my partner tentatively began, and I twisted around in my place on the desk beside him, having only expected him to share this moment with Hank. "I'm afraid I won't be able to talk to you about everything I'd meant to. I had hoped I'd have a little more time."

Fuck, a lump was forming in my throat already.

Maybe it was because Connor was leaving for good and I'd be a mess after he was gone, or maybe it was because he had finally opened himself up to Hank. I'm not sure which it was, but whatever the reason, Hank remained silent. I should've felt uncomfortable with our audience a literal foot away, but all I really saw was Connor.

He blinked, several times, like he was processing information. "I think I finally know why Amanda called me back to CyberLife, Officer," he said. He searched my face, and it was like he was seeing me anew.

Hank looked between us and said, "Ain't this fucking depressing."

"Let me talk to Perkins," I begged him. "My word is as good as his-" I froze, squeezing my eyes shut as if I could erase what I'd said.

"Phillips…" Hank breathed, "Shit, you can't be serious." What had I done? No-one was supposed to know. I turned a terrified gaze on Connor, but he wasn't looking at me. "Doesn't matter. Even if your word carries the same weight as his, your superior is who you gotta deal with. And fuck me, they're higher up than Fowler's boss. Doubt they'd change their mind now."

"You can't tell anyone," I started frantically, but he was already nodding.

"I'm guessing not even Fowler knows you're in the FBI, holy shit. If he did, you'd be with Perkins. You'd never have been here to begin with." Then Hank stared past me, his brow furrowing. "Well, well. Here comes Perkins, that motherfucker…Sure don't waste any time at the FBI…" The guy was walking oddly even for him, like a befuddled penguin, all the way down the hall, staring at his phone.

Connor said, all in one breath, "We can't give up. I know the answer is in the evidence we collected. If Perkins takes it, it's all over."

"There's no choice! You heard Fowler, we're off the case." I could tell Hank was wavering, though.

But Connor was nothing if not dedicated to his mission. He slid off the desk and leaned forward. "You've got to help me, Lieutenant." He let go of me to jab his finger against his palm, saying, "I need more time so I can find a lead in the evidence we collected. I know the solution is in there!"

"Listen, Connor…" Hank held up a hand, like he usually did to calm Sumo down when he came home.

"If I don't solve this case, CyberLife will destroy me. Five minutes. It's all I ask," he implored, giving his best puppy eyes.

Hank looked at him, then at me, then at Connor's hand, his knuckles brushing against mine. Pushing up from his chair with a sigh, he said, "The key to the basement is on my desk. Take Phillips with you, Perkins will be on her case if you don't. And if you find a lead, she goes with you, got it?"

Neither of us could speak. Hank was willing to break the law so severely to help us?

"Get a move on!" he said when we didn't budge. "I can't distract them forever."

Fowler had gotten out of his chair and was heading towards his door, so I grabbed the key. "Let's go," I said.

In the distance, Hank snarled, "Perkins! You fucking cocksucker!" followed by a nasty crunching sound, and Perkins's (satisfying) exclamation of pain.

We headed straight for the door out of the bullpen. Connor opened it, glancing around as he did so, and we slipped inside. Just as we neared the Archive Room, the door behind us slammed open, and the DPD's eyesore emerged.

"Hey, Connor!" Fuck, Gavin had the worst timing. It was almost comical how he chose to use the android's name for once, given the situation we were in. "I'm talking to you, asshole. Where you going? We don't need any plastic pricks around here! Or didn't anybody tell you? And what the fuck are you doing with him, huh? Your boozed up partner's out there roughing up coat-man, or didn't you notice?"

"I'm making sure he inputs his evidence before he goes back to CyberLife." I made sure my voice cracked at the last part, playing up the act just for him. It didn't take much effort.

Connor let go of the door handle and spoke to Gavin as if he were a petulant child. "I'm registering the evidence in my possession, but don't worry, I'm going to leave."

I was thankful, for once in my life, that my gaze was glassy with a film of tears. They were left from just moments ago, when Connor had announced CyberLife's intent to kill him. The shift in Gavin's disposition from ire to reluctant acceptance might've evolved into him deciding to leave us alone, had Connor not added, "Though I'm certainly going to miss our bromance."

"You son of a bitch!" Gavin withdrew his gun, aiming the barrel at Connor's forehead. Then he angled the tip up, and made the sound of a gunshot, laughing as he did so. I wouldn't put it past him to imagine the spray of thirium as the bullet tore through his skull, and I had to wonder if my presence was what stopped him.

Connor attempted another one of his pained smiles, except this one had fuck you written all over it. I'll never know why Gavin didn't comment on it - maybe he was just too freaked out by it. "Go on then." He sized him up and sneered, "Get a fucking move on! Prick," he spat, for good measure. "Fucking androids." The guy had obviously never heard of a chill pill. He ambled back out into the main lobby.

We bolted through the door and down the stairs, and I used the card key to open the door, granting him access to the main control panel. Connor pressed his palm flat against the surface, revealing his true skin, smooth and porcelain. "Hank's password. What would a hard-boiled, eccentric police detective choose?" he mused to himself. Then he entered a long string of letters via his mind, and what do you know, it worked. "Obviously," Connor said to himself.

"What was his password?" I asked.

Despite how we really needed to collect the information and get the hell out of here, Connor spared a moment to be a dick. "Do you remember how I asked for your opinion on how CyberLife chose to design me? If I was aesthetically pleasing?"

I edged away from him and moved for the walls of evidence sliding out. "Yeah, and?"

"I'll tell you once you complete the survey."

"Come on. What's his fucking password?" My partner raised his eyebrows in amusement. "I'll pass," I said, bracing myself as Daniel's mangled, bloodied corpse came into view. It was like I had tunnel vision, and the harsh glare of the lighting only made the scene more barbaric.

Connor brushed past me, intentionally touching me, and smirked. "I'm afraid you'll never know his password then." He reached for the rA9 statue, then placed it down after a quick examination. "We must find the deviant's hideout." He picked up the partial recording of Markus and listened to it. When the small segment finished, he frowned, rewound it, and said, "We're looking for a place called Jericho. Have you heard of it?"

I shook my head and picked up Rupert's diary, unable to decipher anything in it. Connor set down the tablet, and reached for the interrogation recording as I switched the diary for the statue. I ran my fingers along its intricate carving, surprised by how light it was in my hands. Like it was hollow.

"The truth is inside," the recording said. I moved to return the statue when Connor took it from me, raised it to his ear, and shook it. I leaned in to listen too, and we both looked at each other with surprise at the sound of a slight rattle. Without warning, Connor smacked the statue against the cubicle it had been housed in. The top half of the pottery figurine shattered into pieces.

"We're gonna be in so much trouble," I said, and then I ate my own words. Connor pulled out a slip of paper, and unfolded it to reveal a map of some sort. "Actually, never mind."

"Jericho is somewhere in the Ferndale neighborhood," he said excitedly, "now I can scan their memories and narrow the search down."

But who to ask? All we had available to us was Ortiz's android, the deviant from the Stratford Tower...and Daniel. What I'd give to hear his voice one last time. To apologize for killing him. To tell him Emma was alright. Oh God, I couldn't cry, not here, not now. I spun towards the Stratford deviant and Connor followed my line of sight.

"I can reactivate him, but he's missing a biocomponent." He reached out and removed the defunct one from the android.

"Do we have it?"

Connor tentatively placed a hand on my back, and murmured, "Daniel has it."

What a cruel joke life is, taking and taking, finally giving only to take again. "We...we have to. Don't let CyberLife deactivate you." I trembled. "Let's get this over with." I marched over to my friend, pinned like a butterfly to a corkboard, bloodied and mangled, and a cry almost tore itself from my throat at the sight of him. I'd thought I'd been done grieving for him, but seeing someone you loved again, no matter how long they've been dead, it twists you up and spits you out. I wanted to hold him in my arms, but his own had been blown off. I was surprised more of him hadn't been lost after the fall. He was practically just a torso and head.

"Do you want to speak to him, first?" Connor asked. "We still have a few minutes, it shouldn't take too long." I sliced at my hands with my nails, in an attempt to force away the sting of hot tears through the pain. "Officer, you're hurting yourself."

I sucked in a breath. "Just do it."

Connor watched me for a moment before reaching over and installing another biocomponent into Daniel. He'd scanned him before he'd even looked at the other androids; he'd known ahead of time what was needed to reactivate him, as if he'd known I'd want to speak to him. "I hope it can give you some closure," he said sincerely, and then he reactivated Daniel.

I wasn't prepared, I don't think I ever could be prepared for this. This was why I'd never gone down with Hank to the evidence room after that night. I struggled to breathe. Daniel sputtered to life, his LED blood red, and then his eyes opened. Blue, and filled with hatred. "You pushed me off the roof," he said. He sounded as if he were struggling to process how I was standing before him, alive and not a mess on the sidewalk. "You chose another model over me."

My voice came out shredded, like a wounded animal. "I'm so sorry, Daniel. I wish I could've stopped it all, but I couldn't let you…" I broke off, sucking air into my gasping lungs, "I couldn't let you kill Emma."

Daniel stared back at me, his gaze wobbling. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone. I never wanted this."

"I know," I cried. "I wish none of this had ever happened." It was like someone had driven a knife into my gut and was slowly, torturously twisting it around, carving out all of my sins. "I don't deserve your forgiveness, I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry. I love you, I always have, I always will. I wish I could've done more, that I could've stopped this nightmare from even happening."

My friend watched me break apart. When I couldn't take it any longer, my words mixed into a jumbled, incoherent mess, and Connor knelt down and placed one hand on my shoulder. I didn't even notice that I'd collapsed to the floor, but he was there. As always he picked up the pieces and stitched them together as best as he could, but there would always be cracks.

"You-" Daniel snarled. "You ruined everything." He was switching between accusations and apologies like a metronome set to its highest speed, and it made my head spin.

Connor said, "I'm sorry, Daniel. But you were going to kill that child. You gave me no choice."

"I don't know what came over me." Daniel switched back to me, begging me to understand. "When your dad decided to replace me, I snapped. It was like I wasn't myself. Like I wasn't in control anymore." He blinked, and even that tiny action looked painful. "How is Emma?"

I wiped the tears away and sniffed. "She's fine, but she misses you, so much."

Daniel looked away from me. "I'm guessing you're alive thanks to him. I'm glad you're not dead..."

I staggered to my feet and Connor lingered beside me, one arm around my shoulders to keep me steady. "I've missed you so much."

Daniel's LED flickered and when he didn't answer, Connor stepped in to ask him where Jericho was.

"You're wasting your time, I don't know anything about it." Daniel glared at him as if he'd tear him apart, given the chance. I reached up to Daniel and pulled out the biocomponent Connor had provided. "Goodbye," I whispered as he slowly shut down. I handed it back to Connor, scrubbing at my tears. When he took it from me, his fingers tightened around it for a brief second.

"Forgive me for this," he murmured, right before he grabbed my face between his hands and pressed his lips against my forehead. I was stunned. We stood there for what felt like forever. His mouth was soft, warm, and impossibly gentle. It sent soothing waves through me, and I felt safer than I'd felt in a long time.

Connor backed away, and it was like he suddenly didn't know where to look. "It's the first thing the internet suggested to help someone dear to you who's in pain." God, he knew how to ruin a moment. But then I saw the way he was looking at me, his gaze lidded and tender, and I refrained from commenting entirely. "We'll need to do something about your hand later, you're bleeding." His thumbs cleared away my tears. "We have about two minutes left of Hank's distraction, let's hope this works."

He inserted one of Daniel's biocomponents into the Stratford deviant, who immediately booted up and said in a glitched, static-filled voice, "It's dark. Where am I?" His gaze was cloudy and unseeing.

"I need to find Jericho. Tell me how to get there," Connor commanded him.

"You're...the one who shot me. The deviant hunter. I'll never tell you where Jericho is. Now leave me alone."

Would we make it in time? Connor opened his mouth, and out came Markus's voice. "Everything is alright. Don't worry."

"Markus?" The deviant lifted his head and stared straight at Connor. It hurt to see the hope in his blind gaze. "Is that you? I tried to reach you, but the deviant hunter stopped me."

Connor closed his eyes, but he continued, "You stopped him from finding me; you saved me! You saved Jericho. You'll be alright now. I came to take you home. Give me the location to Jericho. We gotta leave now."

"The location of Jericho?" If we didn't get it, we were done. I stepped towards Connor. "Yes. Yes, of course." Connor reached out and took the deviant's elbow in his grasp. His eyelids fluttered at the wave of information passing between them. When it was done, the deviant placed a hand on Connor's shoulder. "Markus? Is that you, Markus?" The deviant drew him closer and Connor glanced up at his milky eyes. He removed his biocomponent just as the other android pleaded for the leader of the deviants not to leave him alone. A mercy killing.

"We did it-"

"I've been dreaming about this since the first second I saw you…" Gavin said, startling me. I turned around to find that he had his gun levelled at Connor, who remained perfectly still.

Connor bit out his words. "Don't do it, Gavin. I know how to stop the deviants."

"Gavin, put that down," I said, striding towards him. He ignored me.

"You're off the case. And now, it's gonna be definitive."

I closed the gap between us. "Don't!"

Connor whirled around and dived behind the evidence clearance panel, right as Gavin fired. I withdrew my own weapon. Gavin slunk towards Connor's barrier. He grunted when Connor wrenched his gun away and was shoved back.

"Gavin, stop it!" I shouted.

He aimed a kick at my partner, who blocked it, and then the oncoming flurry of punches. "Stop? Not until he's gone. These fuckers are taking our jobs - you're just-" he jabbed an uppercut at Connor, and the attack was parried easily- "living in some fantasy land."

Connor blocked the next blow and then whacked the heel of his palm into Gavin's throat. The detective collapsed to the floor, and didn't move anymore. He almost looked like he was sleeping. Connor fixed his tie, and I holstered my gun.

"Let's go," I suggested, and he nodded.

"Of course, Officer." He retrieved Gavin's gun from the floor and pocketed it. "In exchange, you're to take CyberLife's survey."

Little shit. "How about no? This Amanda lady is trying to kill me, firstly - and secondly, Hank told you to take me with you."

Connor straightened his jacket and opened the door for me, ever the gentleman. "She's not particularly fond of you, from what I understand. We're going to have to talk about that, by the way. You crop up in multiple conversations with her. But as I said before, your opinion on this survey is invaluable." Connor blocked the entrance. I scoffed up at him.

"Fine, I'll take your survey. Let's just get out of here before Perkins finds us."

Connor lowered his arm, and we hurried up the stairs together. "I look forward to it, Officer. And, I want you to know I'm also looking forward to Hank's orders."

We reached the final landing and pushed through the door. "Yeah, you're about to complete your mission."

"No, that's only half of it." He cut in front of me and bent forward to peer into my eyes, his own alight with the kind of mischief I'd come to recognize as his own brand of flirting. "Now I have you all to myself." Then he winked, and I lost the retort that had been at the tip of my tongue.