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vermillion, ultramarine

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“Okay, what about this one?”

“Mm,” Markus hums, and considers. The pepper is sun-warmed, like the previous ones, and also like the previous ones it had been cooled minutely by a rinse in the sink. It’s crunchy, ripe, and the seeds feel strange on his tongue. It is utterly tasteless. Markus spits the pepper into a napkin, tosses it to join the others in the trash. He says, “No, still nothing, sorry.”

Connor doesn’t look disappointed - he only grins a little, the slightest tug at the corner of his mouth, and goes back to cutting the peppers methodically. He’s got a few different types on the cutting board - bell peppers, chilis, a few strange red shriveled things that Markus can’t name off the top of his head. He’d just tried one of the cayenne varieties - Connor had grown all of them, pulled them from the soil of the garden they built together.

“I figured not,” Connor says, slicing a yellow bell pepper cleanly down the middle, pulling it apart to inspect the seeds. He looks at Markus sideways, smiling a little more fully, “Thank you for indulging me.”

Markus hums again, leaning against the counter and watching Connor work. Summer’s a good look on him - the top few buttons of his shirt undone, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. A little bit of dirt from their garden under his nails, in the crease of his palm. He looks calm - relaxed.

He continues, “That last one - Hank said it was ‘spicy’,” he shrugs a shoulder, “And Chen called Hank ‘a little bitch’ about it.”

Markus smiles. He asks, “What’s it like for you?”

Connor pauses, sets the halves of the pepper down on the counter. He turns more fully to Markus, and he says, very matter-of-factly, “I find the differing capsaicin levels chemically fascinating,” a moment passes, Markus tilts his head, and Connor holds his hand out across the space between the two of them, interface-white. He says, “Let me show you?”

Markus takes his hand and the recent data floods to him - fresh and new. The chemical structure of samples unspinning themselves in precise clarity. It’s vibrant, and it is unlike anything Markus has parsed before. Connor ends the interface, draws back to his cutting board, and Markus is left blinking, turning the new data over and over.

“Oh,” Markus says, wondering why he’d never bothered to press Connor for this before - he supposes it never occurred to him. As for himself, even though he’s a prototype as well, he’s only equipped to parse temperature and texture like any other household model - the chemical analysis is something that is wholly unique to Connor and the forensic lab installed in his mouth. Somehow, Markus doubts CyberLife ever intended for their best and brightest prototype to use their tech to deconstruct the chemical composition of peppers on a sunny summer afternoon.

Another thought occurs to him.

Oh,” Markus says again.

“Hm?” Connor hums in query. Markus waves him off.

“Nothing,” he says, then pauses, and starts again, “I had an idea.”

Connor turns lazily, primarily engrossed in the seed structure of one of the smaller peppers. “Oh?”

Markus stands. “Yeah,” he says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be right back.”

Connor says, “Markus...? ” but at that point Markus is already gone - and he’s right, it doesn’t take him long at all to find what he was looking for in the other rooms of their apartment. He comes back, holding it behind his back. Connor looks at him, curious.

Markus says, “I’d like to try something. Do you trust me?”

Connor blinks at him, and says, “Of course.”

He smiles, soft and radiant, and of course he does. Markus ducks his head, feeling his processors overheat - he sometimes thinks going to combust from the force of his affection, one of these days —

“Close your eyes, then,” he says when he’s able to look up again, his voice unsteady. “Please.”

And Connor does, without question, sitting on a barstool and turning to face Markus expectantly, eyes closed, head titled just slightly. God. Markus feels breath he doesn’t need stop up in his lungs. Processors skipping for a split-second. He comes closer, pulls what he brought from out behind his back and sets it on the counter. Connor’s head twitches toward the sound, but he doesn’t open his eyes. He’s still smiling, utterly trusting.

Markus dips his thumb into the paint he’s brought out from the studio, and then, very carefully, he reaches forward with his free hand to cradle Connor’s jaw, the skin there and the tips of his own fingers bleeding bone-white with the interface that opens nigh-instantly.

Markus, Connor says through the interface, warmth surging along the line, and curiosity too, what are you doing?

Markus says, Don’t peek.

And then he takes his other hand, settles it along the curve of Connor’s neck. His thumb, with the paint, comes to rest at the bow of Connor’s mouth, and very gently he presses it in.

Connor’s eyes snap open, his mouth turning to a round ‘O’ of surprise. Markus’ thumb rests on his tongue, and he can feel the chemical feedback of the analysis snapping through the interface, firecracker bright.

Oh, Connor says through their interface, eyes wide and dark and unblinking, his mouth a little preoccupied, Markus—

Markus can’t help it - a grin breaks his face, and he laughs. He taps Connor viciously on the cheek with his free fingers, says, “Close your eyes, goddamnit, you cheat —" his voice breaks, and Connor, his analysis feedback loop mellowing, grins around Markus’ thumb. He closes his eyes again.

“Can you tell me what color this is?” Markus asks, when his voice has steadied. The analysis hums at the base of their interface - the chemical compounds of the paint unmaking themselves, laying themselves bare: the pigment, the binder, the solvent. The compounded whole of these things flashing in their shared vision.

Connor thinks, vermillion, and he thinks, ultramarine. Markus had been using this color to paint the sky at sunset in June.

Markus removes his thumb from Connor’s mouth, trying hard not to think too much about the drag of Connor’s bottom teeth over the pad of the digit, getting caught instead on the streak of color that he pulls over his lip and down his chin. Connor’s lips remain just slightly parted, even after Markus’ thumb is gone from his mouth, the paint still there, his eyelashes dark above his cheekbones.

He looks unfairly pretty, Markus thinks, and pushes the thought through the interface. Connor grins, lazy. Eyes still closed. The violet still on his lips.

So Markus leans in and kisses him.

And they go from there.