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Glaring Red

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"Hello, brother dearest."

 

Brother.

 

Connor was stunned, speechless. He didn't know what to think or how to react. Elijah Kamski was here, in Gavin's apartment. They were family. Kamski was part of the past Gavin was so desperate to keep hidden.

 

All he could do was stare at the man from behind Gavin, who had suddenly become so pale, Connor was worried he might just faint.

 

"No greeting? You break my heart. And after I went through the trouble of finding you. Took me almost an hour. You've done quite a nice job at hiding, I must admit."

 

Kamski's voice was just like Connor remembered it. Slick, level, self-assured. Yet something about the sound of it, its edges and the slightly predatory tone, sent Connor's processors into overdrive. He remembered Gavin in the interrogation room, the same deceptive smoothness in the way he had spoken. And everything clicked.

 

This was what his mind had tried to tell him back then. The similarities his deeply buried memories had picked up on when his conscious thoughts hadn't.

 

He took in the details of Kamski's face, the line of his jaw, the curve of his lips. Sharper, somewhat aristocratic, but the resemblance was undeniably there.

 

Gavin's back brushed against Connor's chest, bringing his attention back to the present. Gavin was shaking, so badly he would have stumbled had Connor not been behind him, supporting him.

 

This was bad.

 

He wasn't well and this encounter was only making everything worse.

 

"I was about to say you haven't changed," Kamski said, a smile on his face like he didn't notice the effect he had on Gavin, "but I see you are enjoying the company of my creation after all."

 

His eyes found Connor's, studying him like he one might an interesting painting or another decorative object. Connor couldn't hold his gaze, lowering his head so he didn't have to look at Kamski anymore. There was something about him that made his skin crawl.

 

"I can't say I'm surprised, little brother. And what a magnificent creation he is, isn't he?"

 

Those words made Connor snap his head back up again, a dark curiosity spreading inside of him. Kamski's tone was strange, suggestive. He was alluding to something, but Connor didn't know what. Gavin seemed to know however.

 

Connor felt more than saw him flinch before he moved, bringing distance them while taking a step towards Kamski in an act of pure defiance.

 

"Leave him out of this."

 

It was the first thing Gavin had said since entering the apartment. The vibrations in his voice spoke of anger and fear, yet Gavin held his head high, his eyes meeting Kamski's directly, the muscles in his back tensing up in an effort to stop himself from shaking.

 

Kamski didn't look impressed. He simply laughed, directing his next words at Connor. He was deliberately ignoring Gavin, effortlessly maintaining the upper hand in the conversation.

 

"I see you are doing well, Connor. I want to say I didn't expect you to join the police force after gaining your freedom," he said calmly. "Then again, you still continued your mission during the revolution, even after developing empathy."

 

Kamski raised his hand to stroke his chin, pensive and calculating. Cold.

 

"I wonder how much of what is driving you is an actual desire for justice ... and how much is left over programming, urging you to solve puzzles and finish your mission. RK800, made to aid humans in investigations ..."

 

Connor froze, caught off guard. He felt the breath hitch in his artificial lungs, his system sending warning messages to his processors.

 

He thought about Gavin's request from a few days ago, about how he hadn't been able to stop himself.

 

Despite his deviancy, despite the emotions he had come to experience, he was still aware of what he was and what he was not. He wasn't a person. He was a machine, enacting protocols, confined by the limits of his programming.

 

He was -

 

"I said leave him alone."

 

Gavin's voice was steady now, low and threatening. Protective.

 

He was looking out for Connor, moving further in front of him, as if to shield him. All of it in spite of how badly he was doing, stress levels dangerously elevated, heart racing, pulse slightly arrhythmical, sweat pouring out of his skin.

 

Kamski had the audacity to laugh at Gavin's resolve, blue eyes as empty and vast as a clear winter sky.

 

"Look at you, little brother. It seems to me you have grown quite a bit. I was right to seek you out now."

 

"I don't give a fuck about what you think or why you are here or what you want," Gavin stated, breathing heavily. "I don't want any part in it. Get the fuck out of here."

 

Kamski sighed deeply, running a hand over his neck. He looked a lot like Gavin doing that, Connor thought, yet he was nothing like him, different in every way. He had none of the warmth Gavin had, despite his anger and his flaws and the raw pain underneath his hard, uninviting shell.

 

"You hurt my feelings, Gavin," Kamski said, not sounding hurt at all. "I came all this way to visit you and to give you some important information. Something that might be related to your case."

 

A part of Connor he couldn't silence was intrigued, wanting to know more, hanging onto every word out of the mouth of this manipulator. And he hated it. Still, he found himself staring at the man in front of him, drawn in by his carefully chosen words. He was half aware of Gavin doing the same, shoulders drawn back and stiff as a board.

 

"How do you know about that case?" Connor asked, unable to hold back any longer. "There hasn't been an official statement yet."

 

Kamski simply smiled his insincere smile.

 

"I have my sources. That's all I am going to say about this. But I assure you it is useful information."

 

Gavin glared at him, crossing his arms in an attempt to hide how unnerved he was.

 

"Where's the catch? You never give out anything without expecting something in return."

 

"No catch," Kamski said. "I just want to talk."

 

"Sounds like a pretty big catch to me, brother. I don't want to talk to you, not here. Not now. We can do it on my terms, another time. Just ... leave."

 

Connor looked over at Gavin, alarmed. His voice was strained, no strength left in him, despite the show of contempt he was trying to convey. Not to mention his blood pressure was falling dramatically. He had gotten even paler than before, chalk white and shivering. At this rate, he would really pass out, and soon.

 

Not knowing what else to to, Connor gently pulled Gavin away from Kamski, positioning himself between the two men.

 

"I'm sorry, Mr Kamski, but I think my partner has asked you to leave twice now. You are trespassing at this point and I will take action to remove you from the premises if necessary. If you have anything to contribute to this case, you can come talk to me at the station, tomorrow at noon."

 

Connor half expected Kamski to protest. To his utter surprise, however, he just looked at Connor with a mildly puzzled expression that was gone as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by his usual cool, slightly smug demeanor.

 

He shrugged, walking past them with another glance at his brother who was half leaning against the door by now, his forehead pressed against Connor's back.

 

"You most of all should know I don't make trips to a police station. However, I would like to talk to you in private sometime."

 

His voice was so quiet, Connor was sure Gavin hadn't been able to pick up on it, not with how heavily he was breathing.

 

Turning away, Kamski took something from his pocket, a USB flash drive, oddly ancient technology in a world where direct data transfer was fast and incredibly easy, especially with androids involved.

He gave him another smile, less fake, but by no means less predatory than before, and put the device in Connor's hand. Reflexively, Connor took it, glancing at it with raised eyebrows, silently asking just what exactly Kamski was playing at.

 

He knew he shouldn't keep it, he shouldn't take anything from someone like him, it had to come with a downside, some strings attached.

 

For some reason, he didn't follow his own instincts. He remained still and silent, just watching Kamski as he left, holding onto the device against better judgment, going so far as to slip it into his pocket so Gavin wouldn't see.

 

The second Kamski was gone, Connor spun around, grabbing Gavin by the shoulders to hold him, just in time to prevent him from falling.

 

"Are you alright?"

 

No answer.

 

"Gavin, please talk to me."

 

"... Fuck."

 

Gavin wasn't even trying to keep it together anymore, his shaking had become uncontrollable, cold sweat making his shirt damp.

 

"Fuck."

 

Not knowing what else to do, Connor put Gavin's arm around his shoulders, steadying him by the waist.

 

"Do you want to lie down or would you rather sit on the couch?"

 

"Couch," Gavin said quietly. "And turn off that noise."

 

It took Connor a moment to realize he meant the music still playing in the background. It had turned from the uneasy, ambient tune into a soft piano piece, one Connor might have found soothing under different circumstances. Now it only made him squirm uncomfortably, the memory of Kamski's strange and dangerous smile still fresh in his mind.

 

He walked Gavin to the couch carefully, making sure he didn't put pressure on his ribs as he sat down, before shutting off the stereo.

 

Silence.

 

The sound of Gavin breathing. Softly whispered curses, barely audible.

 

He turned to face Gavin again to find him hunched over, hands clenched into fists, eyes shut tightly.

 

"Gavin -"

 

"Stop."

 

Connor was startled by the short, rough response. He didn't know how to behave. Should he say something? Do something? He wanted to comfort Gavin, but how?

 

"I -"

 

"Don't," Gavin said, exhausted, cold, refusing to look at him. "Just don't. Not now. I can't deal with this now."

 

Connor wasn't hurt to be shot down like that. He wasn't. He understood that Gavin wasn't ready, understood how overwhelming this ordeal must have been for him. He really, honestly wasn't hurt.

 

Then why was it suddenly harder to breathe?

 

"Gavin ..."

 

Why was his voice unsteady?

 

Gavin shook his head almost violently, refusing to answer as he buried his face in his hands. His shoulders were still trembling.

 

"Alright," Connor said. "I'll leave you alone."

 

With that, he walked out of the living room, gently closing the door behind himself. He let his back hit the wood with a quiet thump, leaning against it for support while trying and failing to breathe normally again. He wasn't hurt. He wasn't hurt.

 

Or was he?

 

By how harsh Gavin had been, how he had refused to even let Connor speak? He understood that, understood that his presence probably wasn't what Gavin needed right now.

 

Then why?

 

The walls were back, he realized then. After everything that happened, after their closeness at the hospital, the honesty in Gavin's apology, they were back to square one.

 

Connor didn't know what to do or how to fix this. He had the distressing realization that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't be able to fix it at all; not without Gavin willingly opening up to him as well. And he wasn't sure if he could live with this situation not getting better again, after he had seen a glimpse of how things could be instead.

 

He was so overwhelmed by his flood of emotions, he just wanted to scream in anger and frustration and pain.

 

Instead, he silently pulled out the flash drive Kamski had given him, the simple, silver device, smaller than his own thumb. If only Kamski hadn't come, he thought. No information was worth this.

 

He closed his hand around the device, tempted to crush the cursed thing. But he didn't. He couldn't. This was bigger than him, this case was so much bigger than any of them.

 

It had almost taken Gavin from him.

 

He had to prevent that from happening again, he had solve the case if it fucking killed him.

 

This brought on the second realization. No matter how much he despised Kamski for what he had done, for putting his own brother through hell, knowingly, by forcing his way into his life in this most vulnerable moment, Connor was desperate for any information he could get.

 

He would take the bait. Meet up with Kamski - even if it played right into his hands.

Chapter Text

Elijah was back.

 

Back in his life. After twenty fucking years.

 

Ten years spent hoping that maybe, just maybe, his brother cared about him after all, that the few gentle moments they had shared throughout their childhood and youth had meant something, anything. Even after the betrayal.

 

Five years trying to forget everything, bury his past and his so-called family. Trying not to think about it whenever an interview with the prestigious genius Elijah Kamski came on and he wasn’t quick enough or otherwise unable to switch the fucking channel.

Trying not to feel hurt whenever this stranger with his brother’s face told the interviewers that no, he didn’t have any living relatives.

 

Five more years finally pushing all those feeling and memories to the back of his mind, so far out he almost thought it might be enough.

 

It all came crashing back now, a cascade of raw emotions and living nightmares.

 

Gavin felt like he was drowning.

 

He barely registered Connor’s words, everything was muffled by the clamor of his own mind. He couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t bring himself to listen or talk or anything. He was afraid of what he might do or say.

 

He must have said something without realizing it, because Connor walked out soon after – looking hurt.

 

Gavin hated himself.

 

He wanted to get over his bullshit emotions clouding his judgment, suffocating him. It should not ever be this hard to just get up and get moving. He never wanted to hurt Connor ever again, the thought alone made his skin crawl. He had to apologize, and then maybe they could –

 

He froze.

 

"And what a magnificent creation he is."

 

All of a sudden, those words were all he could think about, replaying in his head over and over again. Those exact same words.

 

Gavin knew what they meant. He had heard them before.

 

Christ, he knew and it was enough to paralyze him. He couldn't move, couldn't speak. Couldn't breathe.

 

He was reduced to his pounding heart and the words in his head and those memories of his youth, slowly getting replaced by memories of Connor. One by one.

 

Brown eyes always seeing, searching, violent and gentle at the same time.

 

His soft smile and his lopsided grin and the way his lips parted slightly when he was lost in thought.

 

The feeling of his cool, smooth hand in Gavin's own, calloused one.

 

He was sure his heart was getting ripped apart in the most agonizing, most beautiful way.

 

It was then that he realized he was falling for Connor.

 

Irreversibly and deeply falling for him. The way he had only ever fallen once before.

 

He wanted to cry and to scream and to hurt somethingsomeonehimself. Instead, he found himself laughing. Laughing at the irony of spending so much time and energy on hating androids all his life, hating Connor, just to have Connor rip down his defenses with his kind cruelty in no time at all.

And now, he was making the same mistake again.

 

He knew that, logically speaking, he didn't have anything to lose this time. He didn't have to hide who he was.

 

He hadn't had to hide it for twenty years, and he still had never acted upon his feelings, the words and the pain always echoing through his mind.

 

Worthless.

 

Depraved.

 

Sinful.

 

He was no longer laughing now, his body was shaking. He couldn't stop himself.

 

His restless hands left scratches on his arms, bruising where he tried to hold himself too tightly. They found his hair, clawing at his scalp.

 

He was falling for Connor.

 

He repeated the thought in his head over and over again. What was he doing? Why was he like this?

 

Did he have any right?

 

No.

 

This wasn't okay, this wasn't fair to Connor. He was a mess. He was broken.

 

And suddenly, he was crying, tears hot on his cold, sweaty face.

 

His memories and thoughts became jumbled together.

 

What a magnificent creation …

 

Disgraceful ….

 

Extraordinary …

 

What a beautiful - disgusting thing …

 

It is not even real.

 

Fully sentient.

 

A masterpiece.

 

Thanks to you.

 

What have I done?

 

You are worthless.

 

No son of mine -

 

Can't breathe.

 

God, no. Please …

 

"Stop. Please stop."

 

 

---

 

 

It was impossible to remain calm.

 

The longer Gavin stayed inside the living room, the more frustrated Connor became. It felt like they were drifting further apart with each passing second, but he couldn’t simply open the door and barge in. Could he?

 

The thought of overstepping boundaries again terrified him, the image of Gavin breaking down after being forced too far out of his shell still fresh and painful in his mind, pushing its way into his conscience with unrelenting force whenever he did as much as reach for the handle.

 

Connor sighed, letting his gaze drift through the empty, white hallway, coming to a rest on the broken, barely closed apartment door.

 

If he had to wait for Gavin to invite him back in, he would at least be productive and order a replacement. He processed the order through a New Jericho service line, one run by androids he had come to know during and after the Revolution – just to make sure it would be dealt with swiftly by people he could trust.

Instead of being declined because he was an android and therefore not a ‘real customer’.

 

For a fleeting, fragile moment, he was content. Being useful, even if it was only to fix his own mistakes, gave him something to hold onto. A purpose.

The urge to be of service in some way, no matter how small, was ingrained into his very core. The unchangeable, essential programming that allowed him to be alive.

 

Kamski's words echoed through his mind.

 

How much of him was real? How much of what he was feeling was true and how much was just him misunderstanding his drive to solve puzzles and serve humanity?

 

He thought about Gavin and there was this sensation in his chest again, this painful tightness. Strangely, he knew he wouldn't trade this feeling for anything.

What was this?

Why did he want to be close to him? Help him? Understand him?

Why did he long to be by his side so much, it hurt?

Was that also just programming? Was Gavin just a curious case study to him? Or something else entirely? He didn't know anymore.

 

He closed his eyes, overwhelmed by his thoughts, and just listened to the deafening silence around him. There wasn't even the sound of a clock ticking anywhere, only his own, slow breathing. He knew that Gavin was still here, right behind the door Connor was staring at.

 

But with the silence and the barrier between them, Connor might as well have been all alone.

And he hated it.

 

Sliding down the wall, he let out a deep, deep sigh and pulled his knees to his chest. He stopped mid motion when he realized he was copying what Gavin had been doing in his emotional turmoil. It felt like forever ago now.

 

How was he doing? Was it really alright to leave him alone with his thoughts?

Memories of their interactions played back in Connor's mind, all the times Gavin had referred to his issues in derogatory ways, invalidating his own feelings. Stupid. Pathetic. Garbage.

 

Maybe he should check in on him after all. See if he needed anything. Or if he was finally ready to talk to Connor again.

 

Connor got up from the floor, taking a tentative step towards the living room.

 

That was when he heard the sound. Broken, unrecognizable. Either laughter or crying or something else he couldn't pinpoint.

 

His eyes went wide.

 

And then it just ... stopped and the sudden quiet stillness in the air let a chill run down Connor's back.

 

"Stop. Please stop."

 

---

 

His own words sounded alien to him, broken, halfway between a whine and a sob.

 

He was fifteen again and scared to death, with his back against the wall, unable to escape.

 

"Please, no. Please, father ..."

 

Blood in his mouth. Nails dragging across his skin. The sound of bones breaking.

 

Hurried footsteps approaching.

 

"Gavin?"

 

The voice. Connor's voice. A lifeline.

 

He wanted to reach out, but he couldn't see. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't move.

 

Did he even deserve to be helped?

 

"Gavin!"

 

He wanted to respond, wanted to do anything at all. His body didn't react, didn't obey. It was as if he had ceased to exist.

 

He was falling apart.

 

 

---

 

 

"Gavin!"

 

Connor didn't know what to do. He hadn't hesitated to storm into the room after hearing Gavin's desperate pleas.

 

All he could think of now, all he could see and hear and feel was Gavin's blind devastation, his terror that came from inside himself. It was worse than the last time, so much worse.

 

He shouldn't have left.

 

Gavin was crying, tears just spilling from his wide, distant eyes, those eyes that didn't seem to see Connor at all; and Connor was sure he his heart was breaking, crumbling into thousands upon thousands of shards.

 

Was he breathing? No, hyperventilating, like the first time. Air trapped in his lungs, chest tight, unable to figure out what to do on his own.

 

He must be terrified.

 

Was there anything at all he could do to anchor him?

 

He thought of the way Gavin had responded to his his touch the last time, leaning into it after the first moment of surprise, relaxing. So he did the only thing he could in wrapping his arms around Gavin, pulling the trembling, tense body against his chest.

 

Hot tears fell upon his shoulder, cold sweat seeping into the fabric of his shirt. He didn't care, all he cared about was being close to Gavin, making him feel safe.

 

"It's alright," he whispered. "I'm here."

 

That was all it took for Gavin to practically melt into Connor, going limp in his arms and finally, finally breathing, hands grasping the back of Connor's shirt.

 

They didn't move. They just held each other in silence, afraid to let go for endless, painful, comforting minutes.

 

"Connor?" Gavin finally asked, his voice ever so soft.

 

Connor felt like he was breaking at the sound, at the sensation of warm breath ghosting across the skin of his neck. Breaking all over, falling to pieces while at the same he was whole in a way he had never been before.

It left the sweetest ache in him, something he didn't understand and didn't want to question.

 

"Yes," he murmured, bringing his hand up to stroke the back of Gavin's head. His hair was soft, despite being wet from sweat.

It was different from how Connor had imagined it to feel. He didn't wonder why he had imagined doing this at all before. He simply allowed himself to experience this moment, the comfort he was giving.

"I'm here."

 

They stayed like this until Gavin's breathing slowed down, evening out. Once Connor realized he was asleep, he carefully let go of the man in his arms, settling in on the couch instead, with Gavin's head in his lap. Gavin didn't even stir.

 

Connor watched his face, the visible tension that didn't even leave when he was asleep, the raw redness around his eyes. It hurt to see Gavin this way, so shaken by his past and his self-destructive thoughts.

 

Then why was Connor smiling as he let out a sigh, with a hand coming to rest on Gavin's hair, the thumb caressing his temple?

Wasn't it a bad thing that he was glad to be here for this? Wasn't that a selfish thought?

He had no answer to that. He didn't understand his own emotions at all.

 

As he watched Gavin sleep, Connor felt the strange urge of closing his eyes and slipping into idle mode. He didn't dare doing it. Not when it was his responsibility to keep Gavin safe.

 

So he sat quietly, patiently. He was content like that, without knowing why.

 

Chapter Text

Minutes ticked by. Turning into half an hour. Turning into an hour. The morning glow behind the window faded into dull gray daylight. An early promise of rain.

 

Connor could feel Gavin moving against him in his sleep. He would likely wake up soon. Would he be confused? Disoriented after the episode he had just had? Maybe Connor should move away now, while he still could without risking a confrontation about crossing boundaries he hadn’t been aware of.

 

Why he didn’t do it, he wasn’t sure. Instead of getting up and away from Gavin, he stayed where he was, trailing his hand across Gavin’s cheek. Soft human skin and slight stubble, marks and impurities and tiny, faded scars. The beginnings of aging lines, left behind by smiles and frowns, a whole spectrum of emotions edged into Gavin’s uncharacteristically relaxed face.

 

Connor sighed, aware of the strange tightness in his chest, but unable to explain it.

Did he want to talk about what had happened? About their closeness? Their hurt and their comfort?

 

Yes. No. Maybe. Maybe that wasn’t exactly it.

 

He contemplated moving away after all when a sound rang in his ears. Someone was calling him – Josh, as the caller identification supplied.

 

Odd, but not unheard of. They were sort of casual friends, as North had explained to him, and while they usually only interacted in person when Connor was at New Jericho, it was always possible for him to call about official business.

 

“Hello Josh. What can I help you with?”

 

“Hey Connor. I was actually hoping to help you. You requested a replacement door from our maintenance, right? Simon and I will be there shortly.”

 

Connor raised an eyebrow, despite the fact that Josh wasn’t able to see him. Simon and Josh, out on errand duty during times like these?

 

“I did request a door. I wasn’t aware the inner circle of New Jericho would personally deliver one. Is there something else going on?”

 

He could hear Josh laughing in his head.

"Quick-thinking as always. Truth be told, Markus asked us to speak with you. About the recent events specifically."

 

Ah, yes, Connor had expected something like this to happen sooner or later. Markus had left him alone in the immediate aftermath the kidnapping, outside of wrapping up the search and some minor organizational details. Tactful, Hank had called it. To Connor it was just how Markus was - and he was grateful for it.

He smiled as he answered, letting his hand come to rest on Gavin's shoulder. "I see. That is fine, I am free for the next few days at least. We can talk today and also schedule a meeting with Markus."

 

"Thanks, Connor." Josh paused, briefly, before letting out an uneasy sigh, like he didn't want to bring up the topic at all. "Listen, I don't mean to pry, but this door ... Are we delivering it to the human's place?"

 

Connor frowned slightly, cocking his head to the side, even though Josh couldn't see him. "The human?"

 

"Yeah, this partner that we helped rescue. The address you gave us doesn't match Lieutenant Anderson's, and North made me promise I would ask, so ... But you don't have to tell me!"

 

"Oh. Why, yes, that's Gavin's address."

 

"So... you're at his place? To make sure he's safe until the door is installed?"

 

"Yes and no. I want to be able to guarantee his security during times I have to go into idle mode, but I'm staying for the rest of the week, not just for the installation of the door."

 

A pause again, followed by Josh clearing his throat. It seemed he had picked up the same habit Connor had when he was nervous. Just why he would be nervous, Connor had no idea.

 

"You're actually staying? The whole time?" What was going on with Josh? He sounded strangely flustered. Was there any significance to him staying with Gavin that he was missing? Surely, Josh or at least Simon would explain, right?

 

"Yes? Unless I have to go somewhere in the meantime, of course."

 

"Oh, okay. Good. Anyway, we'll be there in about seven minutes."

 

"See you soon."

 

The call dropped and Connor leaned back on the couch a bit, confused. Well. That had been odd.

 

He forgot all about the conversation the instant Gavin took a sharp breath and opened his eyes.

 

 

---

 

 

Coming out of a panic attack, the whirlwind of emotions coupled with the never ending downwards spiral of his own thoughts, was usually a sobering, lonely experience.

It reminded Gavin of how powerless he was. How broken. How cold and empty his surroundings were.

 

It had never felt warm before. Safe.

 

What was going on?

 

Gavin opened his eyes, only to be met with a wall of powder blue. He squinted, moving his head a little, only now realizing that he was lying on his side. Not only that, but he was lying on Connor's lap, facing him. The blue he was seeing was the color of Connor's dress shirt. As he stirred, he felt a soft, cool touch on his temple. Connor's hand, urging him to look up.

 

He did and found Connor's eyes on him, warm and gentle.

 

"Hey," Connor said and his voice was enough to make Gavin's heart skip a beat.

 

He wanted nothing more than to stay like this, to get lost in this gaze and the sensation of being so close. It was enough to make him fall for this person even deeper.

 

He couldn't take it. It was too much too fast.

Before he knew it, he was on his feet, wide-eyed. Clutching his ribs, which were screaming at him in agony from the sudden movement. He almost ran backwards into the coffee table, hitting the hard edge of the glass top with his knee. The sharp flash of pain erased even the last bit of calm he had felt upon waking up.

 

"Shit. Fuck."

 

Connor was standing as well in an instant, a look of surprise and worry on his face, tinged with a faint glimmer of fear.

 

"Gavin?"

 

How was it possible that his own name held enough weight, enough emotion to ask all the things Connor wanted to ask of him on its own?

 

Are you alright? Are you hurt? What just happened?

 

Did I do something wrong?

 

Gavin wanted to tell him he was fine. He wanted to reassure him more than anything. But he couldn't. If he did that, he didn't know how he would be able to keep his feelings bottled up.

 

So he just shook his head, letting out a breath he hadn't noticed he had been keeping in.

 

"What happened? Why were you holding me like that?"

 

He flinched inwardly at the tone he was using. It was so much like his old self. Harsh, accusatory. Gavin saw a flicker of guilt in Connor's expression and it hurt, it fucking hurt so much he wanted to punch himself in the face for causing it.

Still, wasn't this better than dragging Connor down with him? It probably was.

 

"I'm sorry," Connor said, lowering his eyes to look at his hands. "You were having a panic attack. You couldn't hear me or you couldn't respond."

 

He was fidgety, nervous. Gavin wanted to do something about it - but didn't. He kept his distance, taking another step backwards even.

 

"I tried calming you down with physical contact, which worked. When you fell asleep, I didn't feel comfortable leaving you on your own," Connor explained, finally looking up again. The intensity of his gaze took Gavin's breath away. He turned away, scowling.

 

"I overstepped boundaries again, didn't I."

 

It wasn't a question. He was blaming himself for Gavin's reaction. And in a way, he was at fault, wasn't he?

It was always around Connor that he broke down. Lowered his walls. Gave in to weakness. And it was -

 

Humiliating.

 

There was heat creeping onto Gavin's face, a heat that ran through his entire body, crawling beneath his skin. He didn't want this. But he didn't not want this either.

Gavin was at a loss. He didn't know how to deal with it. All his life, he had always used anger to vent. Anger, violence and hatred. It had worked well for him. Too well.

His hands were shaking, forming fists and clenching them so tightly, his knuckles were turning white.

 

Don't snap. Don't snap. Connor doesn't deserve any of this.

 

"Are you upset with my actions?"

 

Fuck.

 

"Yes."

 

What are you doing?

 

"I mean no. Shit. I don't know!"

 

Gavin sighed, running a hand across his face, lingering for a moment on his scar. His anger was dissipating as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by a near paralyzing feeling of exhaustion.

 

"It's complicated, okay?"

 

"Complicated how?"

 

Jesus fucking Christ, why did Connor have to be so sincere all the time? So eager to understand everything? Always prodding. Digging deeper. Clawing at any opening he could find.

Gavin didn't know what to do or say anymore.

 

"Shit, Connor. I can't answer that."

 

"Why not?"

 

Connor was getting closer now, eyes fixed on Gavin's face, taking in every detail, every change in expression, anything that might tell him what was going on. Gavin knew that, and he felt exposed, naked, stripped of his defenses.

 

For a second, all he wanted to do was to bail out - and fast. Just turn and run, as stupid as that was. Connor would simply follow him anyway, wouldn't he? Where would he even go? Go lock himself in the bathroom? Yeah, right. Really mature of him.

 

There was also this voice inside of him. This tiny little thing, fragile, yet persistent. A whisper in his ear, urging him to stop fighting, for god's sake. He couldn't do that. He knew himself well enough to be sure that if he did, he would be selfish. Selfish enough to pursue Connor and make him drown in this pool of tar that was inside of Gavin.

 

"I'm pathetic, aren't I?"

 

Connor frowned at him, shaking his head ever so slightly.

 

"You're not."

 

God, why was he so quick to defend Gavin? Why did he care so much? How could he sound so firm and gentle at the same time?

 

"You're not pathetic. Why would you think that?"

 

"It's the truth," Gavin said, tearing his eyes away from Connor's. He was tired. So tired. Everything was a mess. He was a mess.

 

"Don't say that."

 

But it was true.

 

Connor was closing the distance between them, his hand brushing against Gavin's hands, moving upwards, trailing across his tensed muscles.

When had he crossed his arms like this? When had he backed up so much he was almost leaning against the far wall? He didn't remember.

He swallowed, hard, staring at the places where skin and artificial skin met. For a moment he allowed their closeness, the sensation of cool fingertips against his flesh.

He wanted to reach out, to just allow himself to feel Connor's body pressed against his. He - no.

 

He snapped out of it before he could do anything stupid, pushing Connor's hand away from him.

 

"Don't touch me."

 

"I'm sorry. I should have asked. I -"

 

"Don't. I can't deal with this now."

 

Gavin didn't want apologies. He didn't want to be so close. He didn't want for his defenses to crumble.

And most of all he didn't want to face that he was lying to himself.

 

"Gavin -"

 

He turned, not even acknowledging Connor's presence anymore. He half expected Connor to grab him and hold him back, to force him to talk. But Connor didn't. He allowed Gavin to leave without another word, without moving.

Gavin wasn't sure if this made matters better or worse.

 

---

 

 

He had messed up again.

 

Connor had to take a few deep breaths to keep his systems running smoothly, to prevent his thoughts from starting to spin.

 

Why did he always mess up around Gavin? Why did he always go too far? Why did he want so desperately to be close?

 

He couldn't understand himself anymore and it was terrifying. It was like becoming deviant all over again. He was lost without direction, without a safety net. No rulebook to follow, no maintenance manual that would explain these strange, formless emotions inside of him. Logic didn't take the priority in his decisions anymore, that was the scariest part, not when it came to Gavin.

Sometimes, he found himself acting before he had processed his thoughts - like just before, when he had reached out to comfort Gavin as soon as he had seen him like that. Backed into a corner, trembling.

For all he knew, he might as well be in the process of breaking down, of his faculties overloading themselves because he hadn't been built with handling free decisions and a plethora of emotions in mind.

Maybe -

 

There was a sound at the broken door, a slight tapping.

 

"Connor?"

 

Simon's voice. It took a moment for Connor to shake off his building anxiety and return to reality - and the more tangible matters at hand. He moved out of the living room and into the hallway.

 

"Yes, come in."

 

Simon slipped inside, followed by Josh, who expertly navigated a heavy, wooden door through the entrance without it catching on anything. Not that there was much in the way of things that could get knocked down in the first place.

 

Both smiled at him, at least until their expressions started to waver. They shared a glance before Simon stepped around Josh to get closer.

 

"Are you alright?"

 

"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?"

 

Simon just shook his head, putting his hand on Connor's shoulder.

 

"You're shaking."

 

It was only then that Connor noticed he was right. He was shaking, despite his core temperature being at a normal, even slightly elevated level. An emotional response then.

 

"You were fine just a few minutes ago," Josh said. "Unless you're a really good actor on the phone, which I doubt. Did something happen?"

 

Connor didn't know how to answer that. He didn't want to bring Gavin into this, but he also didn't want to lie and say nothing had happened. They would never believe him.

 

"Do you want to take a walk?" Simon asked when Connor's silence stretched out too long, exchanging another look with Josh, holding it this time. A private, silent conversation.

 

"No," Connor began to say, because he couldn't just leave without a reason, he had promised to take care of Gavin and that was what he intended to do, no matter how things were between them. Yet he also realized that he couldn't stay without his thoughts and feelings spiraling out of control. He didn't want to lose focus. He needed an objective to get his mind back on track, he needed something.

 

His memory flashed to item still in his pocket. The USB drive Kamski had given him. A task he could latch onto.

He didn't trust it. Not enough to plug it into his own system or a work computer. And he certainly didn't want to use it on Gavin's computer and accidentally play into Kamski's hands if the device was in fact unsafe.

But...

 

"Do you have a computer at New Jericho that can access external data without any risk of it entering the main system? It would have to be able to use old fashioned technology, a flash drive specifically."

 

Josh raised his eyebrows while Simon just stared at Connor in confusion.

 

"Yeah, we do. It's not plugged into any of our systems or servers, not even our secured online network," Josh explained. "I work with the unit to access anything that comes from a source that I don't trust 100%. We can't risk anything corrupting our systems - or our people - at this stage of negotiations or ever, for that matter."

 

Perfect.

 

"Lead me to it. I need to use it as soon as possible."

 

"But the door -"

 

"I've got this. My basic housekeeping skills are enough to reinstall a regular door and I've helped out with renovations at New Jericho more than once," Simon said, giving them both a reassuring smile and a strange, measuring look Connor couldn't read. Josh, however, let out a breath and nodded.

 

"Call if you need anything."

 

There was some weight behind the last word, again something Connor couldn't grasp. Or maybe he was just too unfocused right now, thrown off balance by his strange and unfamiliar emotions.

 

"I will. Now get out of here. I'll stay until you're back, don't worry."

 

"Thank you."

Connor gave him the attempt of a smile, the best he could manage before he turned around to leave.

 

"Don't mention it."

 

 

Chapter Text

Now what?

 

Gavin was leaning against the sink, hands gripping the porcelain with enough force to make his knuckles turn white.

There was someone staring back at him from the mirror that didn’t look, didn’t feel like himself. Puffy, red eyes and a pale, rugged face, stained with drying tears. The stubble on his chin and cheeks was unpleasant, like dirt or a lingering shadow.

He sighed and the stranger in the mirror sighed with him, drained, exhausted.

 

He had fucked up. Royally, undeniably fucked up. Connor would leave him now and Gavin should have been relieved, because that way, he wouldn’t get dragged into this mess any further.

However, he wasn’t relieved. Not in the slightest; he was terrified of opening the door and finding his apartment empty again. It would be his fault, he knew that. It gave him all the more reason to hate who he was, what he was.

A fucking coward.

 

He groaned, running his hands through his hair to find it wet with sweat. A shower. He needed a shower. A cold one, even though his muscles and bones ached for warmth. So a cold shower was exactly what he went for, stripping out of his clothes and dropping them in a pile on the floor. He could see his reflection out of the corner of his eye, bruised and beaten and full of scars, but he refused to turn and look.

He just shook his head before stepping into the tub and closing the curtain.

 

Not giving a fuck about the bandages he was supposed to keep dry, Gavin let the water flow, stepping underneath the stream without hesitation. The cold hit him like a brick wall, making the muscles in his back tense up further. Gavin couldn't breathe. His heart felt like it was going to stop, but he didn't care.

 

The moment passed and his body, while not quite relaxing, gave in to the cold and numbness, driving any semblance of thought from his head. He just stood there, not moving, not speaking, not thinking. Until he was shaking so badly his legs almost buckled beneath him and his head was pounding with pain.

 

He had overdone it again. Somehow, he found he didn't have it in him to care. He just turned off the water when the cold became unbearable, grabbed a towel on autopilot and climbed out of the shower as best as he could. His hands were too white, his lips probably tinged with the faintest hint of blue. Like there was Thirium in his veins instead of blood.

 

For some reason, that thought made him laugh, short and almost bitter, but not quite.

 

He didn't stay to look in the mirror and confirm his suspicions. He just slipped his clothes back on again and left the bathroom, stopping dead in his tracks when he came almost face to face with a stranger.

 

His heart stuttered to a halt for a brief moment before starting to hammer in his chest with terror.

 

Blue eyes were fixed on his face, an LED was spinning from blue to yellow.

 

"I'm sorry, did I frighten you?"

 

The android's voice was calm, apologetic. He didn't look like much of a threat, but Gavin wasn't one to let looks deceive him. He had learned that lesson very early in life.

 

"Who the fuck are you? Where's Connor?"

 

The android leveled Gavin with a look that could only be described as measuring, so close to being cold that Gavin took a step back on instinct, raising his hands just a bit.

There was a glimmer in the android's eyes at that as he spoke up.

 

"Connor went with Josh to take a look at something." Who the fuck was Josh? And take a look at what? "I'm here to install your new door on Connor's behalf." Gavin glanced over to the entrance where this android had fitted in a new, solid looking door.

 

"Looks like you're done already," Gavin couldn't help but say, still on edge around this maybe-stranger. Had he seen this guy before? Gavin wasn't sure. The model was common enough, but something about him struck Gavin as familiar. He just couldn't place him.

 

What made the uncanny feeling complete was how the android had tried to analyze him earlier with nothing but a look. It had been both similar and completely different to when Connor did it.

Fuck, this guy probably couldn't measure his temperature and heart rate and shit anyway if he tried. He wasn't an advanced model and not built for crime solving, that much Gavin knew. Then why had he felt so exposed and judged?

 

"Oh, I am. I just promised Connor to stay until his return."

 

So Connor would be back. Why the thought eased some of Gavin's nerves, he didn't know. He should have hated being around Connor, being tempted and pushed to his own extremes all the time. Why he didn't was anyone's guess.

The android seemed to notice Gavin's change in posture. The way his shoulder dropped and his hands returned to his sides. He looked almost pleased by this, but the smile he wore on his lips wasn't entirely real.

 

"I'm Simon by the way," he said, extending his hand towards Gavin.

 

A month ago, Gavin would have refused to take it. Now, he reached for it with just the slightest bit of hesitation and found himself surprised at the fact that Simon's hands were slightly warmer than his.

Yeah, he really had overdone the shower thing.

If Simon noticed, he didn't say anything.

 

"Gavin Reed."

 

"I know. The missing detective," Simon said with a nod, letting go of Gavin's hand. "We were involved in the investigation and rescue."

 

We? Oh.

 

"You're New Jericho?"

 

"Yes."

 

Gavin found himself rubbing the back of his head nervously. He had been filled in a little bit about New Jericho's involvement, but he didn't know any details yet.

"Thanks, I suppose. For stepping in."

 

"We did it for Markus. And Connor. He's one of us."

Simon was smiling as he said this, his tone neutral, friendly even, but his words left no doubt that they hadn't gotten involved for any human's sake.

Gavin couldn't blame them, but the feeling of discomfort he felt around this android grew exponentially with each passing minute, amplified by the fact that they were still awkwardly standing in the hallway.

 

"Do you, uh, want to sit down? In the living room I mean?"

 

"No, thanks. I'm good where I am."

 

"Okay then."

This was unexpected. Gavin was at a loss as to how to get out of this odd situation without being an ass. He was trying, okay?

He wouldn't get a chance to get out of this, as it turned out.

 

"Enough with the pleasantries."

 

"Huh?"

What?

 

"I stayed behind to fix your door. That is not a lie. But I also stayed to talk to you."

 

Gavin raised his eyebrows in confusion.

 

"About what?"

 

"About Connor."

 

Fuck.

 

"Or rather, what you did to him."

 

Wait, what?

"What do you mean, what I did to him?"

 

Simon let out a sigh, shaking his head slightly.

"I've known Connor since the end of the Revolution. I've seen him in emotionally dire situations, faced with all kinds of adversity."

 

"What does -"

 

"What I am trying to say," Simon continued, not allowing Gavin a chance to speak up, "is that I know when he's distressed. And just now? When Josh and I came over? That was distress, plain and simple."

 

Shit. Fuck.

It was his doing. His fault. Gavin knew that. He was an idiot. There had to be a way to distance himself from Connor without hurting him, and here he was, incapable of doing anything other than snapping at him or breaking down into a crying mess.

Fuck.

 

"I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Something could have come up, unrelated to you, after all. As unlikely as that would be. But you look as guilty as they come."

Simon was crossing his arms now, expression stern. There was an air of authority around him, like he was used to being in charge in some way.

"Spill it. What did you do?"

 

Gavin could have denied everything. Refused to speak. Thrown Simon out. Or just simply walked into his room, or any room, and locked the door. He was very tempted to do either of those things. A few days ago, before the kidnapping, before almost dying, he would have.

Now, he just let out a bitter laugh, burying his face in his hands, his fingers pulling at the still wet strands of his hair for a moment before he let his arms drop to his sides.

 

"This is ridiculous," he said, not knowing if he meant being interrogated by an android he had just met or the uncharted territory he was throwing himself into.

 

Simon didn't say anything. Perhaps he knew how hard it was for Gavin to speak. Some of the coldness left his eyes, replaced by something not unlike sympathy. Yet there was no doubt in Gavin's mind that he would remain tough until he had the answers he was looking for.

 

"I snapped at him. More than once now," Gavin disclosed after a moment to gather his thoughts. "I feel like I tricked him into believing I could be better. A better person. I'm not sure I can."

 

There wasn't a response. No question asking him to clarify. He did anyway, getting sucked into this vortex in his mind.

 

"It's my fault. But it's his fault, too. Connor. He keeps pushing me. Digging deeper, asking questions he shouldn't know the answer to. I feel like around him, I don't have any defenses left."

 

Gavin was getting agitated now, crossing and uncrossing his arms, taking steps backwards and then forwards again, moving without getting anywhere.

 

"Are you afraid of Connor?"

Simon's voice was so soft, Gavin almost thought he had misheard him.

 

"What?"

 

"Are you afraid of Connor?"

 

Nope, he had heard it just fine the first time.

 

"I -"

 

"Because you should be."

 

Huh?

 

"What do you mean? Connor is -"

Kind. Curious. Sassy. Smart. ̶Be̶̶a̶̶u̶̶t̶̶i̶̶f̶̶u̶̶l̶.

Yes. All of that. But somehow, Gavin understood what Simon meant. Connor was all of those things. But he was also cunning, fierce, strong, intimidating. Terrifying.

 

Out of his periphery, Gavin could see Simon give a short nod, like he was aware of his thought process.

 

"Yes, Connor is one of the sweetest friends one could ask for," he said. "And one of the fiercest opponents. Fearsome. I should know."

 

Gavin found himself drawn to Simon's bright eyes and the plethora of unreadable emotions hidden inside them. There was a lump in his throat all of a sudden and his voice was hoarse as he spoke.

"How do you know that?"

 

A smile spread on Simon's lips now. A tight, humorless grin.

"Because he killed me."

 

What.

 

He let the words linger between them for effect. Gavin hated more than anything that it worked. His heart was pounding in his chest and his legs felt weak and unstable beneath him as the silence stretched out unbearably.

 

"Or rather, he cornered me, threatening to pry all my feelings, thoughts and emotions from me to find Jericho. The only way out I had was to put a bullet through my head. And even that wasn't enough to stop him."

 

He smiled again, despite the terrible things he was saying, and everything clicked.

The android from the rooftop. The body hung from the wall in the evidence locker, weakly moving as Gavin crept up on Connor. A past that felt so far away, it might have been another lifetime.

 

"Are you afraid?"

 

"I don't know."

It was the truth. Gavin was out of his depth. He didn't know what to think or feel or do.

There was one thing he did know, however.

 

"I trust Connor."

 

Simon cocked his head to the side, curious.

 

"I do, too."

 

"But he killed you. In a way."

 

"He also freed my people. Helped Markus win the fight for our freedom. He brought me back, personally making sure I could be restored with as little damage to my core memories as possible."

 

That was something Gavin hadn't even known about. He had heard of the deviant in the locker being removed for treatment, yes, but he hadn't bothered to look into it any further. Back then, androids had still been unfeeling machines to him.

 

"He went on a suicide mission to infiltrate Cyberlife Tower, a mission he decided on himself to atone for his actions as a deviant hunter, and he made it back out."

 

The news report. Gavin remembered the live feed as clear as day. Connor leading thousands of androids out of the tower. He'd seen it in the hospital - the one he had been brought to after Connor had knocked him out cold in self-defense.

He'd never known how dangerous of a mission it had been or that Connor had decided to go on his own. Then again, he'd never asked, or cared, before.

 

"You see now that Connor isn't weak in the slightest."

 

"I never thought that."

 

"You say that, and yet you try and keep him away from who you really are."

Simon's words cut like knives, despite how calm he was. Simply because there was a truth to what he said Gavin couldn't deny.

"If it's not Connor you want to protect, because we've established that he can handle quite a lot, I think you're scared of something else."

 

"What would that be?"

 

Simon just laughed quietly. "Hell if I know. I can't read minds. You'll have to do your own soul searching."

 

"My what?"

 

"Figure out what you want and why."

 

That sure sounded a lot easier than it fucking was.

 

"Anyway, would you like some tea? You look like you could need some warming up."

 

"Uh..."

 

"You have tea, right?"

 

"Yeah, but -"

 

"Excellent. Go sit in the living room, I'll be right back."

 

And with that, Simon walked right past Gavin and into the kitchen, leaving him stunned and dumbfounded.

 

What the fuck just happened?

 

Were all androids this crazy or just the ones he was associated with?