"That's how my first attempt went," concluded Connor. "I was surprised Hank volunteered to help me."
Nines nodded and said : "An interesting story."
The RK900 had rolled up the sleeves of his black turtleneck on the other android's advice so as to avoid dirtying them, while the latter had neatly draped his vest and tie across the back of the living room's couch. Connor had brought him to the Lieutenant Anderson's house for the first time, although the man hadn't been delighted to know why Nines was there with him.
"One's bad enough, two of you's gonna be a disaster. I don't even want to imagine what that cake'll look like and I sure as heck ain't sticking around to see it," he'd grumbled in his beard before leaving the house.
The kitchen table was littered with the necessary ingredients and Connor was standing next to him with his hands behind his back, watching him follow the recipe with a benevolent air.
"We'll see how well yours goes. Will you live up to your title of superior model, RK900?"
Nines raised a brow and looked at him with a touch of smug confidence. "I don't believe I need to answer that."
"Don't be too sure of yourself," casually answered the other android as he stepped in front of him with his back turned to the table. "I thought I'd done a perfect job before the lieutenant tasted it."
"I'm not going to confuse the sugar with salt."
"You would have, if you'd been in my place," insisted Connor.
"As an RK900, I'm confident in my ability to distinguish two very different molecules," asserted Nines. "And I see what you're trying to do, Connor, distracting me won't work."
The other android stopped trying to swap the jar of sugar with the jar of salt behind his back and lifted both hands in surrender. "You caught me."
"I did, so stop trying to mess up my cake. You're supposed to be teaching me!"
"All right, I'll stop. But you should add some more butter," suggested the RK800, and he dumped a slab in the mixing bowl before the other android could stop him.
"But the recipe says-"
"I know what the recipe says, don't worry." Connor looked at him with a hint of pride in his brown eyes. "I've learned from the Lieutenant that humans like cakes better when there is a bit more butter to the mix. Apparently, it's a trick to making it tastier."
"I see. I didn't know that." Nines resumed whisking the batter at high speed while simultaneously ensuring that he did not to spill a single drop of the brown mixture.
"I think I've been getting better at this," Connor remarked lightly as he wrapped the butter back in its packaging.
The RK900 looked at the older model and found him to look happier than he had in a while. Connor didn't tell him anything about it, but Nines knew that he had trouble with his emotions. It showed in the RK800's daily interactions with humans and other androids : no matter how hard he tried to keep the tension from both his voice and body, or how good he was at keeping his LED blue, Nines could tell he wasn't at ease. He was the RK800's upgrade, after all : they were nearly the same model and neither could fool the other.
"Would this be considered a hobby of yours, then?" asked Nines.
Connor glanced at him, and then tilted his head as his gaze dropped to the pink mixing bowl. "Perhaps. I don't do it often, but I think I enjoy baking a cake when I do."
"I can't imagine Lieutenant Anderson doing this with you," suddenly said the RK900. The thought of the grizzled cop making anything to eat in this kitchen seemed highly improbable, let alone baking a cake. It was too ludicrous to believe and the RK900 almost felt disrespectful for even attempting to visualize the scene in Connor's earlier story.
Connor finally smiled. "I can't blame you for not believing it, but I was telling the truth."
Nines continued mixing, but he didn't take his eyes off the RK800. He didn't understand why Connor's smile was such a rare phenomenon. He himself had no issue grinning, smirking, or laughing, and neither did any of the other androids he knew. Granted, they weren't many, as he spent most of his time with Connor ; but even North smiled more often, despite her predominantly angry personality. Nines had tried to reach out to the RK800 many times to see if something was wrong, but Connor didn't like interfacing and Nines didn't want to force him. So instead, he just made sure to be there for the other android until the day his presence would be needed.
Connor started to collect the ingredients sitting on the table to tidy up the place. Nines stopped mixing and dragged a finger along the edge of the bowl before licking it to check if the proportions of the mixture were right. As his sensors identified the chocolate, another thought crossed his mind.
"Have you ever been curious to know what taste is like?"
Connor put the butter back in the lieutenant's refrigerator and closed the door. "Yes. I've heard some androids are trying to develop a software patch that could allow us to gain more senses."
"Are they trying to recreate smell, too?"
"I'm not sure." When he turned around to face him, his smile was gone. Nines cursed himself for changing the subject, but it was too late now. Backtracking wouldn't make Connor's smile come back.
"Is something troubling you?" he asked instead.
Connor looked surprised by his question. "I'm not... troubled, as such. I'm just doubtful that we could use it."
Of course. "Because of our forensics lab."
"Exactly." Connor moved to put away the flour. "I am certainly curious about it, but I don't believe I'll have it installed. It would be too tempting to taste every human food I come across, and I don't want to damage my equipment by doing that. At the very least, I'd like to experience smell, if that's possible."
Nines watched him put away the jars of sugar and salt in the cupboard above the sink. The quality to Connor's voice was wistful when he spoke, although it remained hidden beneath a fake layer of nonchalance. Anyone other than Nines would have undoubtfully missed it.
"Connor," he said.
The RK800 turned around and looked at him curiously. "Yes?"
"Do you regret not being another model?"
As soon as he let those words out, Connor's expression darkened imperceptibly and he looked away. The question had visibly perturbed him. His LED was circling a bright yellow and it didn't return to its original blue color.
"No," he simply said.
Nines put the bowl down on the table and stepped closer to him. "Then what is it?"
The RK800 looked at him and they faced each other in silence like mirror images, unmoving. Then the ping of a coin rang out and Connor moved away from him, his hands fluidly moving in the air as he started calibrating.
Nines swiftly stepped around him and caught the coin in mid-air. "Please, tell me. I can tell there's something going on with you."
"Give it back." Connor wasn't angry, nor his voice particularly demanding. Rather, he sounded tired. The RK900 immediately complied, but his action had given him the reaction he wanted. Connor didn't try to avoid the question again.
"I don't know what it is, Nines. I don't know if regret is what I'm feeling, or if it's something else entirely. I'd like to understand it but I don't." His brown eyes had hardened, and Nines recognized frustration in his voice. "All I know is that I don't like it."
"I'm sorry, Connor. I didn't mean to-"
"I know, Nines. I know. Please just don't ask me that kind of thing again, and let's leave it at that." The RK800 went back to the table and gestured at the bowl. "Go ahead, pour it in the cooking tray."
Nines did exactly that, then put the whole in the oven and watched Connor turn it on and pick the settings. Once everything was set, they went to the living room and the RK800 went to the corner to play with Sumo. Nines followed him and remained standing at his side as he watched the android pet the dog. Connor's face had completely cleared of his earlier expression, his LED had already reverted to a calm blue, and his eyes were warm as he ran his hands through the dog's fur. But he was not smiling.
Nines spoke after a moment of hesitation. "Connor."
He tried to find the right words. "... You know that I'm here for you, don't you?"
The RK800's hands stilled and he looked up at his friend with an inquisitive face. "Of course I know that. What are you asking?"
Nines knelt down next to him and his blue eyes leveled with Connor's. "What I meant to say was that I'm here for you, if one day you do understand."
Connor stared at him without a word. A quarter of his LED flickered yellow, but it was gone as soon as it came.
"I want to listen to what you have to say, when you want to say it," insisted Nines. "That's why I need you to see that I'm here. I'll stay by your side until that day. Is that alright?"
There was a moment of silence during which they exchanged gazes unwaveringly, cool blue meeting warm brown, and all that could be heard was the dog's expectant panting. Then Connor nodded once, slightly, before turning back to Sumo. Nines felt a smile tug at his lips and he sat back to let the older model play with the dog in peace.
Connor's answer hadn't been the most enthusiastic, but it would suffice. Nines was glad that he had at least managed to make his feelings understood. He suspected that Connor refused to share his struggle with emotions with the people of Jericho, and even with Lieutenant Anderson himself, which made Nines all the more cautious not to leave the RK800 to his own devices. He also knew the conversation they'd just had would not be the first of its kind : Connor would only try to close himself off again like he already had so many times before, but Nines was fine with that. He was willing to have this conversation again and again as long as it meant that the RK800 wasn't left to cope with his deviancy by himself, the way he'd been forced to during the few months that had followed his activation. Nines thoughtfully watched the older model's back, and just like every other time, the thought of what the other had gone through during the revolution made him feel an emotion which he could only describe as sadness. He would make sure Connor wouldn't have to be alone ever again.
When Nines' internal clock indicated that thirty minutes had gone by, he went to take the cake out of the oven and put it on the table. It looked similar to the pictures on the net, but there was no human around to test it and Connor assured him that the lieutenant likely wouldn't have wanted to be their guinea pig anyway, after what had happened the last time he'd tasted an android's first attempt at baking.
"Besides, the RK900 wouldn't need to do a test run," said Connor with a sly quirk of the lips. "Isn't that right?"
"Of course, given the fact no one would deliberately try sabotage its project," Nines shot back.
"That sounds like an excuse to me. Are you making excuses, Nines?"
"No, it's as you said. I don't need anyone to test my cake, precisely because I made it."
"Well then, let's hope its quality is on par with your self-assurance," Connor said teasingly as he handed the other android some foil to wrap around the cake.
Nines bid Connor and Sumo farewell a few minutes later and went to his colleague's apartment with the wrapped cake under his arm. Gavin said it tasted like shit. Nines quickly understood that was a lie when he caught the detective in the kitchen that same night munching on a piece of cake, at 2:13 AM, in the dark, with his cat.