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Take Me to Church

Chapter Text

It had taken every ounce of will power Kara had to keep still.

They’re too close. Protect Alice. They’ll see through this. Protect Alice!

The soldiers firing indiscriminately in their attempt to get as many escaping androids as they could, likely not knowing—or caring—what fleeing forms their bullets actually hit, was a blessing. What Kara had initially intended as a means to avoid the hail of gunfire could possibly save them. 

Alice was quick to action, quick to adhere to Kara shouting to get down. Quick to understand Kara’s instructions not to move. So smart. Kara could feel motherly pride swell beneath her fear. 

The two soldiers stepped through and over bodies, coming closer. So much in Kara screamed to spur her into action. They’ll see. They’ll know. Protect Alice! But she forced herself to stay still. If Alice could shove down any fear coursing through her and keep from moving, trembling, making a sound, then Kara had to do the same. Kara had to emulate her brave little girl. She had to stay the course, even with the soldier’s boots coming so close to them. Even with the beam of light illuminating their faces.

Don’t move!

“Come on! Let’s get out of here!” One of them shouted. The beam of light slipped away, the boots retreated. It was done. They were safe. For now.

——

Markus broke the surface of the water, his eyes frantically searching around him as the debris from the crumbling Jericho rained down behind him. 

“North!” He called, seeing no one around him. His insides churned with anxiety. “North!” He tried again, his arms and legs treading through the water desperate to keep afloat to catch a sight of her. He should’ve stayed closer to her as they all jumped. He should have held her. She was injured, for God’s sake!

A foot away, Markus heard the sound of another form breaching through the water’s surface. He jerked towards it, hoping to see her, hoping she’d managed to find her, only to see Simon and Connor.

”Markus,” Simon breathed out, relieved at the sight of his friend. The two androids swam closer, closing the gap within their group.

”Where’s North?” Markus asked as soon as the two reached him. “Did you see her?” Simon’s face fell as he shook his head, regretting not having any answers for him.

”We need to get out of here,” Connor advised, getting a determined shake of the head from Markus.

”No, not without-“ Markus was cut off by his own fears choking his throat along with the smoke emanating behind them. He kept searching his periphery, until he was drawn back to Jericho. The light of the fires imprinting on his eyes. What if North hadn’t managed to get far with her injuries?

”Don’t,” Connor cut through Markus’ thoughts and placing a firm hand on his shoulder to keep him where he was. He could see the deviant leader’s intention even without needing to scan or deeply analyze him. Markus would swim back towards the wreckage if he had to. Markus glared at the former deviant hunter, opening his mouth to demand he take his hand off, when a sound caught his attention.

Groaning. Pained. A voice, her voice.

Markus quickly turned to see North gingerly climbing up to the dock, where a hand was reaching towards her to help haul herself out.

”Come on, you’re almost there, reach,” Markus heard Josh’s encouraging voice as he continued to reach out. “There ya go! I got you!” Josh cheered as his and North hands made contact and he pulled her out of the water.

Markus tore through the water towards the dock, chastising himself for not having thought about Josh, and also praising all deities in existence for him.

”North,” Markus spoke as soon as he was up in the dock, sighting Josh carefully sitting her on the ground. 

“Markus,” she sighed, happy to see him. She kept her eyes on him as he rushed to her side, dropping to his knees once he’d reached his destination, being only acutely aware of Josh touching and examining her wounds.

Markus cradled his lover’s face in his hands, peering into her eyes.

”I thought...” He began, his tone a desperate and frightened whisper. “I thought I-“

”I’m okay, Markus,” North said, leaning forward to press her forehead to his in an attempt to soothe him and chase away his troubled thoughts. “I’m okay.” She nodded against him, to reassure them both that they were each alive.

”She’s hurt, badly,” Josh gently spoke, interrupting the couple’s reverie. “We need to close up the wounds, get some Thirium in her.”

”What? How....w-where?” Markus asked, panic returning. All of their bags of Thirium where on Jericho. How could he get them? How could he save North?

”There’s a safe house,” Simon spoke up. He and Connor had managed to get out of the water and caught up to them. “An old abandoned church, it’s not too far.”

”What?” Markus asked, completely thrown by this information. Simon moved to join his friends in kneeling beside North, checking her status while Connor stood back. He didn’t feel it would be acceptable to crowd in them. He hadn’t earned that right. He hadn’t earned the privilege of their camaraderie. He busied himself with checking his handguns and keeping an eye on their perimeter.

”After we got the truck from the CyberLife warehouse,” Simon explained. “I thought it’d be a good idea to have some supplies elsewhere, in case.....” Simon trailed off as he looked out onto their former home, allowing it to serve as a visual representation of his line of thought. “If we ever needed somewhere to lie low, treat injuries, anything.”

”Simon, you’re a genius,” Josh marveled, clapping the blonde on the shoulder. It earned him a modest smile and shrug from Simon.

”Its big,” Simon continued, his gaze turning to address Markus. “It should be enough for anyone else that got out. Can you reach them?” He asked, holding his arm out to Markus. Markus nodded, wordlessly understanding what Simon meant.

”I can try,” he said. He took hold of Simon’s arm, forming a connection between them. Once in, Markus scanned Simon’s memories while simultaneously reaching out to fellow surviving androids.

”Regroup here. You’ll be safe, injuries tended. Go, be careful!” He cast out, showing the location of the church Simon’s memory provided. He felt the pings of acknowledgment in his connection, voices calling back. Some understanding his instructions, some giving a rallying cry of support back to him, some calling out for help, some quickly shutting off mid reply...

”It’s not enough,” Markus spoke, breaking off the connections he had with the wayward androids, and Simon. His voice shook with the terror and grief filling him of androids being shot or apprehended as he spoke to them.

”What do you mean?” North asked. Instead of answering directly, Markus pressed his lips into a firm resolute line and drew himself up to stand. He stood back to address his three stalwart companions, as well as their new companion Connor.

”Take North to the church, I’ll catch up with you as soon as I can,” he said, his instructions directed to Josh, Simon, and Connor.

”What?! Markus, no!” North objected. She couldn’t let them be separated again. Watching him go alone to set off the explosives was hard enough, she wasn’t about to go through that again.

”Markus, what are you doing?” Josh asked, rising to his feet to be level with him.

”Our people are still being hunted down,” Markus stated. He focused his attentions to Josh believing he’d understand and agree with him. “I need to....I need to find them, help them.”

”You can’t save everyone, Markus,” Simon interjected, trying his best to be a gentle voice of reason.

”I know that!” Markus snapped, angry. Angry at his failure to keep everyone safe on Jericho, angry at himself for letting down those who’d already been gunned down. “But I...I need to try,” he was broken, lost. He needed to do something more for his people than hide.

There was a moment of silence as the others took in his words, his desperation. He was going to do this whether they liked it or not. Nothing short of incapacitating him and carrying him through the streets against his will would dissuade him.

”Okay,” Josh spoke, “I’ll go with you.”

”No,” Markus said, shaking his head.

”Markus, you can’t do this alone!” Josh insisted. Markus simply shook his head again, determined.

”I can’t get you killed,” he said. Josh gave an incredulous grunt and opened his mouth to continue arguing. “If anything happens,” Markus went on, cutting Josh off at the start, “I need to know all of you are safe, and still fighting for our people.” He stares intently at Simon, North, and Josh especially. The people may believe him to be their leader, but he knew they’d follow the three of them in his stead. They’d give the people hope, guide the change they were seeking. He was certain of it.

“I’ll go with him,” Connor said, speaking for the first time since the five of them all reunited on the dock.

”Connor,” Markus wearily sighed, not having it in him to argue with someone else.

”Let me help you, Markus,” Connor implored. “You say you need to do this? Well, so do I.” Markus regarded him carefully. 

The not-too-former deviant hunter, now trying to help and protect the deviants’ leader?

 Trust?

Don’t Trust?

The wiser, safer option would be to deny Connor’s request, or go along enough to lower the deviant hunter’s guard right before putting a bullet in his head. After all, this could all be a ruse. Part of a sick game Connor was attempting to play.

The lowering of the gun.

The warning of the imminent attack on Jericho.

Likely helping North help others escape while Markus fought his way to detonate the bomb.

Jumping into action and shooting the soldiers about to come down on Markus and North. And now this? Angling to get him away from the others to capture or kill him?

 No....

 Markus didn’t know much about what protocols CyberLife may have programmed into their enforcers, but he imagined efficiency was a key in their missions. If this was all false,  where was the efficiency? What was the point? Connor could have killed Markus as they stood face to face on the Jericho. They were alone, and Connor most likely had knowledge of the attack about to rain down, meaning it’d be too easy to concoct a story to lower his inner circle’s guard. He could’ve found them, pretended to be some deviant desperate for escape and lying how he’d watched soldiers shoot Markus. Destroying their morale to all the better pick them off one by one when the time was right.

Alternatively, he also could’ve just stood by as Markus tried to run with an injured North, let Josh and Simon watch their friends die. Killing two birds without even having to throw the one stone himself, and leaving himself an opening to take out the two that remained.

But Connor hadn’t done that. He hadn’t done any of that.

 

Markus came to the realization that, even with the absence of logic or reason, there was something greater pushing aside any doubts he had regarding Connor’s intentions.

Connor could’ve shot—either to kill, or at least a wound severe enough to take him in alive with ease—without saying a word, without letting Markus speak. But he hadn’t. Connor had begun to doubt, to wonder of his true identity, well before pointing his gun to Markus’ turned back.

He tried to fight his doubts, cling to the comfort and familiarity of his programming, but his words betrayed him.

 Don’t force me  to neutralize you!

 This wasn’t what Connor wanted. He was simply following orders. The more Connor hesitated in following those orders, doing what he was being forced to do, the clearer that became; and the more Markus could slip in, come closer, try to show Connor he was more than what CyberLife had made him to be, they all were more than that.

 You don’t have to obey them anymore. You are alive. You can decide who you want to be.

 Markus had noticed the small, almost undetectable, waver in how level to his chest Connor held his gun at those words. More uncertainty blossomed on Connor’s face as Markus had continued to speak and question him. The assumption that things on his journey to Jericho had planted the seeds of doubt inside Connor was what led Markus further in.

Markus was actually not as surprised as he thought he would be to see tears glittering the hunter’s gaze as Markus prodded and made him look inside of himself, to look back on the things that had led him here, and question whether there was something inside of him beyond his program.

 Markus pitied him. He knew that look in Conner’s eyes all to well. It was painful, scary, difficult to watch the tiny pricks forming in the bubble of what you knew to be true, and allowing doubt to flood in as your world deflates around you. It was throwing yourself off of a cliff, knowing you could never come back and uncertain if you’d even survive the fall. Connor had likely stepped onto the ship already standing at that cliff. All that was left for Markus to do was cajole him into throwing caution to the wind and taking that leap.

 At being called to decide, Markus saw Connor’s increased wavering, the body swaying of hesitation, the catch in his breathing, his eyes shinning with tears as the muscles of his face twitched. The seeds of uncertainty had grown into saplings and Connor had to choose whether to cut them down and remain what he had been designed to be, or cling to them like a life line as he tore down the walls of his programming.

 The clouds of doubt slipping from Connor’s face and being replaced by.....so much else, was enough to tell Markus what choice had been made. His rigid shoulders slumped, his posture going slack as who could even know what went through his head.

 In the absence of doubt came regret, and something that looked like self loathing. Connor’s head shifted from side to side as if taking in some long hidden information. Markus found himself wondering if the weight of every thing he’d done from the moment he’d first been activated—every deviant he had hunted, killed, all the things he’d done in being what CyberLife had made him to be—was now crushing down on Connor. Was that what was causing his new turmoil? Taking stock of his actions and wondering how could he ever tip the scales of his soul and be redeemed?

 That piece, that thought, spoke to Markus now in the present as Connor stood pledging himself to Markus’ current cause. It was something Markus could almost relate to.

 One tableau of regret still haunted Markus’ mind: the sight of Carl dragging himself to Leo’s prone body. Because of what Markus had done. Because Markus broke free with abandon and allowed his anger to take over. Carl’s anguish as he cradled Leo in his arms had nearly killed Markus. He wondered if he’d crossed a point of no return, his soul was irrevocably tainted by the harm he had caused. That was just one moment, Markus couldn’t even begin to fathom how Connor now felt with so many of his own moments stacked in his conscience.

 This was now how Connor sought to attempt to wipe out the red in his moral ledger; helping Markus continue to save as many of Jericho’s refugees as they could. Protect Markus and ensure he made it through to continue to fight for their kind.

 From deviant hunter, to deviant protector.

 “Alright,” Markus finally consented. Connor gave him a short nod, grateful to Markus’ acquiescence.

 “Here, take this, just in case you run into any trouble,” Connor spoke to Josh, handing him one of his guns as Simon helped North up to her feet.

 “I’ve got her,” Josh addressed Simon, electing to exchange duties with his friend. He handed the gun off to Simon as Markus stepped forward and helped shift North to Josh’s care.

 “Markus,” North said, her voice low and pleading as she settled into Josh’s supporting hold. “Please don’t do this.” Markus leaned in close to her, his hands going back up to cup her face.

 “I need to do this,” he gently argued. “Please understand.” North hated there was no way she’d win this conflict. Markus’ mind was set, there was nothing she could do except let him go.

 “Fine,” she relented with a resigned nod. “Be careful, I can’t lose you,” she said, restating—strengthening—the statement she had made before leaving him to his thoughts earlier on the ship.

 “I swear,” he whispered to her, “I am going to fight like hell to come back to you.” North took in a deep breath, a tear slipping down her cheek at the conviction behind his words.

 “Good,” she replied, tilting her face up to meet him in a quick kiss to seal his vow.

 “We’ll keep her safe,” Josh promised as Markus stepped away much too soon for his liking. Markus gave his friend a grateful nod as he moved closer to Connor and watched the three of them depart. Simon took the lead, gun in hand, as Josh scooped North in his arms so as to not be hindered by her wounded gait.

 “Let’s go,” Connor advised, tearing Markus from one last look North was giving him over Josh’s shoulder as they retreated from view.

 

“Yeah,” he nodded, forcing himself to turn away from the others.

 

Chapter Text

Outside Jericho was pure pandemonium. Androids running, guns firing, shouting from everywhere. Kara and Alice had managed to get away after successfully playing dead, and now found themselves in another mass of fleeing Androids, desperate to get from the floating dock affixed to the ship, to the streets.

”Over there!” Alice spoke, squeezing Kara’s hand. She drew Kara’s attention to androids diving into the water to swim to safety. Kara for a moment considered following suit, but stopped.

”No, there has to be another way, come on!” She urged the child. The water had to be near freezing, there was no guarantee Kara could get Alice through it before the cold overtook the already trembling little one. Kara could deactivate the child’s—android’s, that knowledge emerging from where she had managed to bury it still making her mind reel—cold/heat sensor, but there was no time to stop and access Alice’s systems. In any event, the risk of losing hold of Alice once they hit the water was too great for Kara to chance.

The two broke away from the group and found themselves in a smaller one also desperate to find another means of escape.

”Here!” Shouted an Android, drawing Kara’s attention further down the dock. There were two Androids holding steady a moveable walkway, beckoning those who didn’t dare risk the frigid water. Kara tightened her hold on Alice’s hand and sprinted to their salvation. “Hurry!” The Android advised as other child androids, androids too injured to be able to swim, and androids who had taken both sorts in their charge went across, where two other androids held on to the other end to keep the path from falling.

”Keep going!” Kara heard someone urge once they’d reached the other side. 

“Come on, Alice,” Kara said as she joined the sea of escapees taking to the streets. Gunfire began to ring out behind them, chasing them. Kara felt a sharp tug on the hand gripping Alice as the child tripped and fell to her knees with a shout. Kara stopped short, afraid of dragging her, and turned back to bring her back to her feet. Another android, a dark skinned short haired woman in a uniform much like Kara had abandoned, detonating herself as a fellow AX400, reached them and ducked down to help Kara quickly lift Alice up off of her knees. 

“Quickly,” the woman gently coaxed. Kara cast her a grateful glance before the three continued running within the crowd down a side street away from the docks. 

The cacophony of gunfire and shouts from soldiers drew closer, and Kara noted with terror android bodies dropping to the ground around them. Before Kara could consider a repeat of their earlier ruse, she felt the AX400 slam her body into hers, knocking both Kara and Alice to the ground at the mouth of an alleyway. Panic swelled within Kara, fearful her helper had turned on her for self preservation. 

Before Kara could look back up at the face of her possible betrayer, she heard the woman give a pained scream and fall to the ground. Kara caught sight of a dumpster deeper in the alley and quickly moved herself and Alice to hide behind it. Once she had Alice tucked between herself and the brick wall behind the dumpster, she peered around the side. There on the street was the AX400, pained eyes staring back at Kara as her once white uniform became stained with the blue seeping out of her chest.

Kara felt...something. A kinship. Not only due to their shared model, but due to the fact that, even for a short while, the woman had been there to protect Alice as well, without even knowing them. Kara couldn’t just let her die in the street.

”No,” the AX400 rasped, shaking her head against the pavement. She flexed the hand of the arm sprawled at her side, telling Kara to stop. She could see on Kara’s face the desire to go to her, and she was begging Kara to stay put. Begging Kara to keep herself and Alice safe.

Kara’s breath caught in her throat. The dilemma mirroring one not too long ago, watching Luther clutch at his injured thigh, telling her to leave him and protect Alice. But she hadn’t. She couldn’t leave him there to be found and captured or riddled with more bullets. The chastising Luther gave her after hadn’t mattered. Her friend was alive, he was still there and the hope that the three of them could reach Canada together lived on with him.

Before Kara could push herself into a similar action, she heard the boot steps of soldiers reaching the AX400 and other Android bodies around her. Kara shoved herself back against Alice, hiding themselves deeper from view.

”Over here,” she heard a soldier call out close...too close. He was on the street, standing over Kara’s savior. Kara turned her head to look at Alice, bringing a finger to her lips to tell her to not make a sound. Alice pressed her lips tightly together and nodded before burying her face against Kara’s back.

”We. Are. Alive.” Kara heard the AX400 defiantly say with labored breath, one of the phrases Markus’ and his followers had chanted through the streets serving as her last words. Kara swallowed down the sob that threatened to bubble out of her as she heard three gunshots and an end to the android’s breathing.

”Not anymore, bitch,” was the cold response from the soldier.

—-

Connor’s gun gave an impotent click, its last bullet having been fired at a soldier holding a kneeling android at gunpoint on the sidewalk.

”Shit,” he hissed. The one bullet hadn’t been enough, the soldier was still standing. The only upside being he had turned, his assault rifle now aimed at Connor instead of its previous target. He tossed the useless object to the ground and charged at the soldier, hoping he was quick enough to reach the soldier before he could fire a shot.

Not far off, Markus was picking off approaching soldiers with a rifle he’d taken from a soldier they had taken care of earlier, periodically ducking behind a parked car to avoid the soldiers’ returning fire.

”Go!” Markus called out to the android still kneeling, shock freezing him in place and simply watching as Connor scrapped with the soldier. The android blinked, torn from his thoughts at Markus’ order, before scrambling to his feet and running away.

Connor grunted as he tried to wrench the weapon from the soldier’s hands, kneeing him in the side hoping to unsteady him enough to dislodge his grip. The soldier held firm, shoving his shoulder against Connor’s chest in an attempt to knock him down. He succeeded in making Connor lose his balance; but if he was going down, he was taking his enemy down with him.

An undignified “oomph” sound left Connor’s lips as his back hit the street, the soldier on top of him as the two continued their close quartered tug of war for the rifle. 

“Mother fucker!” The soldier snarled, getting up in his knees to straddle Connor and baring his full weight down pressing the rifle’s shaft against Connor’s neck. Little did he know, this was exactly what Connor wanted.

With the side pockets and straps of the soldier’s uniform easily accesible in their current position, Connor had no trouble tearing the soldier’s tactical knife from its sheath. With lightning speed, Connor brought the knife up and plunged in into the side of his enemy’s neck. 

The soldier gave a wet gasp, his grip on the rifle slacking. Connor kept on the assault, twisting the knife in the man’s throat, severing his carotid artery, and shoving him off to land in a crumpled heap on the ground, allowing Connor to get back on his feet. He plucked the rifle from the soldier’s dead hands before joining Markus in dealing with the advancing forces.

Between Markus’ tenacity and Connor’s sharpshooting, the two were able to take out the soldiers that remained, eliminating the immediate threat and allowing themselves to continue onward.

”We should move before more show up,” Connor suggested. Markus nodded. The two shouldered their respective rifles and took off running.

 

Markus and Connor continued sweeping through any alley, side street, path, they could find further and further from the docks; saving those they could from being captured or killed, or stuck too far away from the church frozen by fear to keep going, or seeing the aftermath of those already gunned down either in attempting to flee, or those showing signs they’d somehow fought or otherwise provoked the bullets taking their life, choosing death over being taken alive. With a heavy heart, Markus theorized some perhaps had even favored death over the possibility of capture and having their memories scanned to locate any other Jericho survivors. 

The more Connor watched Markus, his interactions with the people or the pain in his eyes at the sight of those they hadn’t saved, the higher the stack of the guilt and self hatred Connor had felt since the moment he’d broken down the grids of his programming and became deviant grew. The more he realized there was nothing he could do to make any of what he’d done right.

This was all Connor’s fault; his dogged pursuit for deviants, hunting them instead of helping, deceiving the deviant in the evidence room for his own selfish need to find Jericho, and the final sin of being the reason why the armed forces were able to rain down upon the refuge. He had done so much harm. And for what? A figurative pat on the back from Amanda? The “honor” of being  a cog in the CyberLife machine? The very same honor that now changed to horror at the sight of each and every android he and Markus hadn’t found in time, their corpses scattered around left out as if they were nothing. Connor was a part—no, the cause—of this. The blue blood splattered on the ground was on his hands.

At first, when Markus had voiced his desire to seek out people to save, Connor had felt compelled to assist him. Perhaps helping Markus could help ease the guilt Connor felt. It could serve as the first tiny step of righting all of his wrongs. Now, the deeper look he was getting in all that he had wrought, Connor became more and more convinced nothing could absolve him. His only hope now would be to give his life to Markus’ cause, or if that was not to be, get Markus back to his people in one piece....and then find some quiet secluded place to go and put a bullet in his own head.

Then he could be free. Free from the guilt saturating every part of him. Free from the hopelessness, the emptiness he found in knowing he was irredeemable. Free to be embraced by nothing.

The idea of nothing had been something he had feared as he stood with Hank’s gun aimed at his forehead. It was something Connor had desperately crawled away from, as well as towards his tossed aside pump regulator, as fast as his body allowed him to as it crept closer and closer to shutting down in the kitchen of the Stratford Tower the following day. Now, the nothing was something he urgently reached for. The peace and absolution of nothing was a comforting balm on his aching soul.

 

”We’re going to run out of bullets soon,” Markus thought aloud as he and Connor carefully crept down the street after encountering, and taking care of, a small squadron of soldiers.

”It might be time to get back to the others,” Connor suggested. He saw the corners of Markus mouth turn down in a hesitant frown, but Connor was beginning to be eager to get off of the streets. He worried there would be a confrontation he wouldn’t be quick enough in, worried he wouldn’t be enough to get Markus back to the others alive, worried there would be even more blue blood on his hands. Not to mention, now that he had set his mind on its path, Connor was eager to shed his troubled thoughts and wrap himself in the nothing he was seeking.

“Maybe you’re right,” Markus finally replied dejectedly. Connor hadn’t been the only one affected by what they had seen as they combed the streets. Each body on the pavement had reinforced his feelings of doubts, his wondering if he’d done the right thing. Maybe Josh’s assertion, that none of this would’ve happened if they had just stayed quiet, was right. A life hiding in Jericho would’ve still been a life, perhaps not an ideal one, but what was the point of an ideal if so many had to pay for it? All Markus had done in his wanting to reach for liberty and equality was lead his people into Hell. Trying to save a few stragglers hiding nearby wouldn’t change that.

”Don’t move!” A shout came, tearing both men from their thoughts. The two spun to see a group of soldiers heading their way. “It’s their leader! Move in!” One of the soldiers ordered at the sight of Markus’ face.

”Damn it,” Markus hissed. He grabbed Connor’s sleeve and dragged him along as he dove behind a nearby car. 

“Go, I’ll cover you,” Connor urgently ordered as he readied his rifle—and himself—to duck out of cover.

”What?! They’ll kill you!” Markus argued.

That’s the plan, a dark and determined voice murmured inside of Connor’s head.

”I’ll be fine,” he insisted. “I can handle these guys, just go.” He saturated his words with as much confidence as he could fake. He needed Markus to keep moving. Connor hoped if he played the part of the confident and skilled hunter well enough, Markus would believe it. “I’ll meet you at the church,” he reassured his companion. Markus opened his mouth to continue arguing but the sound of the soldier’s opening fire, their bullets hitting the car in insistent plinking noises, interrupted him. “Get out of here!” Connor demanded, shoving at Markus’ shoulder. Connor didn’t wait for Markus to respond before getting up on his knees and shooting at the soldiers over the hood of the car.

”I’m not leaving,” Markus insisted as he joined suit. The memory of leaving Simon on the roof of the Stratford Tower to make a hasty retreat filled Markus’ head. Yes, fortune favored them and his friend had survived and made it back to Jericho, but Markus wasn’t going to tempt fate by hoping such luck would strike again. Within a few shots, Markus’ rifle was spent. He growled in frustration as he and Connor ducked back behind cover.

”Markus, you need to go now!” Connor snarled. “You can’t help out here anymore.” To Markus’ chagrin, he realized Connor had a point. With an empty weapon, he was now more of a hindrance than a help to Connor. Connor would be splitting his focus between defending himself and protecting Markus, which could potentially get them both killed. If he adhered to Connor’s demand, there was a small chance they’d survive.

”Alright, alright,” Markus acquiesced. “Just be careful.” The two shared a look as they silently formulated their next moves: Connor getting out from behind the car and opening fire, ideally taking on the soldiers’ focus while Markus kept low and moved around the parked cars behind them to get away from the area. With a shared nod, they sprang into action.

Markus had managed to move down the length of three vehicles when he heard something that made him freeze. The unmistakable sound of a bullet hitting home, and a yell from Connor’s mouth following the sound of a body hitting the snow covered street.

”No,” Markus breathed out. He turned back to see Connor sprawled out in his back, weak pained groans emanating out of him. Underneath him, a pool of blue blood had begun to form.

Chapter Text

There was pure ink black before Connor’s eyes. For a brief moment, he thought it was the nothing welcoming him home. He was certain he’d gotten his wish; a soldier’s bullet had torn into him as he tried to keep their attention solely on him so as to cover Markus’ escape. He had given his life for the deviants’ cause. He could be free from all that plagued his spirit, and achieved it by at least doing one thing right in his miserable existence.

“Connor!” He heard someone yell his name. A face appeared before him, partially blocking his view of the nothing. “Connor, c’mon, get up.” A hand gripped his shoulder, shaking it, wrenching out a involuntary agonized cry from Connor’s lips as pain brought his mind back into focus. Like the cold shower he’d used to yank Hank out of his drunken stupor, shock cleared Connor’s thoughts.

The bullet Connor had been so sure had ended his suffering by striking him in the chest had merely hit a spot on his shoulder not protected by the added layers of the coat and sweatshirt he’d worn over his shirt. The ink before his eyes wasn’t the nothing he sought, just the night sky above him as he laid sprawled out on his back on the ground. The face in his view wasn’t some spirit or specter guiding him into oblivion, but Markus’ worried and urgent expression. 

”Markus...?” He murmured as his world became less fuzzy by the second. Sounds returned—shouts, bullets. A smell hit him; human blood. Feeling returned to his fingers, allowing him to realize the rifle once in his hand had been torn off of him. It now nested in Markus’ possession. 

 

Markus had sprung into action the moment he saw a soldier approach Connor’s prone body. He half sprinted/half dove back to where Connor lay, taking the soldier out at the knees and tackling him to the ground. He’d wrestled with his enemy’s weapon, only getting the butt if the rifle smacking the side of his jaw and knocking him over. Fortunately, he was down close enough to where Connor’s riffle had fallen. In one fluid motion he grabbed the weapon and unleashed as many bullets as he needed into the soldier’s chest. Once the proximate threat was dealt with, Markus was able to see to Connor.

 

”Markus....I told you to go...” Connor breathed out as he swam through the sea of pain radiating from his shoulder.

”And now I’m telling you to get up,” Markus replied. Impatient. Worried. Angry.

”You shouldn’t have....come back...” Connor commented. Markus ignored that statement as he took aim out from cover to deal with the soldiers still remaining. The noise of their gunfire had apparently attracted more of the armed figures, as it seemed the group had increased.

”Shit,” Markus muttered. This was not a battle he could win. He slipped the strap of the ruffle onto his shoulder and instead focused on getting himself and Connor out of harms way.

But Connor still wasn’t moving. He simply stayed on his back, murmuring how Markus needed to leave him.

Not again. Screw that. A voice inside of Markus declared, memories of John’s final moments—how the android gave his life for Markus as he could do nothing while being dragged away—filled his head. The march had already gotten some killed, but John’s death—not just because of Markus’ actions, but dying for Markus—had hit him the hardest. He wasn’t going to let another die for his sake. Not when he could stop it this time. Even if it meant dragging Connor through the streets as he had been dragged.

”God damnit,” Markus muttered to himself at Connor’s stubbornness. He ducked down near Connor’s head and grabbed the hood of his coat.

Another pained yell left Connor’s lips at his shoulder being dragged along the street. Markus was walking backwards, ducking around cars to avoid gunshots, and pulling Connor along with him by his hood.

”Markus, you need to get out of here!” Connor tried to struggle out of Markus’ hold but his injury and Markus’ continued pulling made it difficult. Markus ignored him and kept dragging. They reached a shallow alley, enough to give themselves a short break. “Markus, stop!” Connor shouted. He finally managed to tear himself from Markus grasp, bracing himself against the brick wall of the alley. Markus gave an annoyed huff as he kneeled down. Partly to address Connor eye to eye, and partly to see how much time they had before the soldier’s began to advance on their position.

”I am not leaving you,” Markus declared, glaring at his intransigent companion. “So, you have two choices: either keep being a lump of dead weight for me to drag, or get your ass up off the ground. Either way, we are both getting out of here.” The tone of his voice and look on his face made it crystal clear that Markus would not budge from the goal of not abandoning Connor.

Connor stared back at him. He could see now they were in a stalemate, and briefly wondered if such determination and stubbornness was a trait of their commonality of both being part of their respective RK series. And if so, would they have always be destined to reach some sort of impasse, be it as enemies or....friends? Not that Connor believed he had any right to think they could ever be such.

Connor wondered where being so unmovable from their respective goals could lead to.  Connor’s path towards deviancy had opened up concepts beyond the strictness of probability, introducing possibility. And with that, Connor noted there were endless possibilities. Could they be a force to be reckoned with if working together? Get either or both of them killed if in opposition? 

Getting Markus killed, whether or not by his own hand, was out of the question for Connor now. He understood his stubbornness in the face of Markus’ could lead to just such an outcome. Waiting for Markus to lose his patience and give up on him was becoming less and less likely. Connor had to be the one to move to break out of this impasse.

”Alright,” Connor resignedly relented, knowing he was beaten. “Alright. Help me up.”

 

Luck had decided to be on Markus and Connor’s side. They managed to shake their pursers and found an empty store to hide out in for respite and to examine Connor’s wound. This luck continued to favor them upon the realization they’d hidden in a hunting and camping supply shop of all places.

”I’ll see if there’s anything we can use,” Markus stated, eyeing the aisles of the shop for anything useful. Guns. Bullets. Anything. “How’s your shoulder?”

”I’m fine,” Connor was quick to reply, hurriedly dismissing Markus’ concern. Markus decided not to poke at the subject and left Connor to tend to himself so as to walk down the shop aisles. He scanned the shelves as he heard the sounds of Connor groaning as he removed his coat.

”What’s the verdict?” Markus called back to him after waiting enough time to give Connor a chance to check his wound.

”I’ll survive,” came Connor’s reply, followed by the sound of him pulling his coat back on. “You shouldn’t have come back for me.” Markus rolled his eyes and sighed. “You could’ve gotten yourself killed.”

”And leaving you to get yourself killed would’ve been better?” Markus countered. He found it disconcerting that Connor had no response to that. Was that what Connor had wanted? Death by a soldier’s bullet? Death for Markus’ sake? What purpose would that serve?

”Your people need you,” Connor finally spoke. “You can’t go risking your life, least of all for me.”

Your people. It wasn’t lost on Markus what words Connor chose. He may have turned his back on CyberLife and become deviant, but Connor didn’t see himself as such. He was a man without a country.

”Yeah, well, here’s a funny thing about freedom,” Markus flippantly replied as he finally located a box of bullets that matched his rifles specifications, “it means freedom to choose what to do with your own life.” He left the aisle and joined Connor near the front of the store, making use of the nearby counter to open the box and reload his weapon. “I chose to risk mine to save yours. What are you going to choose to do with your life now?” He asked, peering at Connor over his shoulder. His gaze was pointed, challenging.

Connor looked away and said nothing. Markus sighed and let it lie there as he busied himself with the rifle. Just as he was finishing reloading it, he caught sight of a handgun beneath the store’s register. He reached around and unlatched it.

”Here,” he said, holding it out to Connor, “this might be easier for you until we can fix your shoulder.” Connor took the gun from him and stared at it in his hands. For a moment, Markus worries he’d need to tackle Connor and wretch the gun out of his hands to keep him from turning it in himself. He was actually relieved when Connor set it on the counter and stepped back to lean against a nearby wall. He was quiet for a long moment, wrapping his arms around himself and staring at the floor. Markus wasn’t sure if he held at his arm due to his injury, or as a way to comfort himself.

“My life shouldn’t matter to you,” Connor said. Markus set his rifle down next to the handgun and turned to look at Connor straight on. “None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for me.” Markus opted not to reply. He could tell Connor needed to unload the weight in his mind and it would be better to simply let him, instead of letting Connor cling to it and doing something foolish should they be in a perilous situation again. Connor seemed to shrink further inside of himself, ashamed. “It’s my fault the humans managed to locate Jericho...” He said, to which Markus only listened in silence. “I was stupid...I should’ve guessed they were using me.” Connor had spent his entire existence being a puppet for CyberLife, for humans, for anyone. Only recently had he begun to test the hold of his strings, moving on his own. By crossing the point of no return and becoming deviant, Connor stared directly at those strings and cut them. But he still hated himself for those strings. For letting them control him for so long, for those very same strings being the garrote that strangled Jericho.

”I’m sorry, Markus,” Connor continued, slowly standing straight and looking at Markus’ unreadable expression. “I can understand if you decide not to trust me.” Connor’s gaze momentarily drifted to the handgun on the counter near Markus, half expecting—and waiting for—Markus to pick it up and shoot him in the head for his transgressions.

Markus furrowed his brow in confusion. How could Connor choose now to question if Markus could trust him? Wasn’t agreeing to let Connor join him on this quest enough to show otherwise? They’d fought side by side, moved through the streets together, what did Connor think that was if not trust?

Then it hit him. Connor had for so long been an implement to achieve others’ goals. In his mind, perhaps that was all he was to Markus. Utility. Something to use to ensure his own survival until he reached the church. Not a person, or a companion, just a tool to be used and discarded. 

“You’re one of us, now,” Markus declared, his tone and steady gaze lifting his words to befit the leader he had been made out to be. Connor actually found himself moved by Markus. He could understand why so many followed him. “Your place is with your people.” Connor looked away, self loathing shoving away his brief reverence.

My people?” Connor asked, incredulous and rueful. He shook his head. “All I’ve done is hurt them. They’ll never be ‘my’ people. You have no idea....the things I’ve done.”

”Then tell me,” Markus challenged with a shrug, leaning against the counter. “Go on. Confess your sins.” 

Connor considered Markus request. Maybe if he knew of all of Connor’s wrongdoing, picking up that gun would come all the more easily.

”Where do I start?” Connor asked, a sardonic half chuckle leaving him. “Lying? Telling a deviant he’d be safe, that no one would hurt him....and then not even blinking when snipers shot him to pieces?” Connor’s head was filled with images of Daniel, how he accused Connor of lying to him before he died, reactivating him in the evidence room...Connor found it unlikely Daniel would’ve had any information regarding Jericho but something had compelled him to bring Daniel back to life, to talk to him....and his words still ringing in Connor’s ears.

You lied to me, Connor! I trusted you, and you lied to me!

I hope that one day...you pay for what you did to me.

”What else?” Markus asked, still with that unreadable expression. Connor blinked, taken off guard by the fact that Markus intended to hear his full confession. He sighed.

”I turned a blind eye to their suffering,” he replied. “A deviant killed his owner. This man...I knew he’d been attacked, he was just defending himself, it was clear he’d been abused repeatedly....but I didn’t care. My mission mattered more. I could’ve let him escape....” His heart felt heavy at the memory of Carlos Ortiz’s Android. His pain, the marks of prolonged abuse visible on his body. He didn’t even have a name. He had truly been nothing to Ortiz. “But I didn’t. He was nothing. I just used him.”

”How did you use him?” Markus inquired.

”After I had interrogated him, he said the truth was inside. There was a....statue....he’d called it an offering to ra9. I broke it apart.... His ‘truth’ was a map to Ferndale station. I used it to help me locate Jericho.”

”How did you get that out of him?” Markus asked.

”What?” 

“What he said about the truth being inside, how did you get him to tell you this? Beat him over the head with the statue until he talked?”

”What? No!” Connor defensively replied.

”Then, what did you do?” Markus pried. He was looking for something. Some fact to use to turn on Connor’s grim thoughts.

”I....I calmed him down. An officer was trying to take him back to his cell, and I could see his stress level rising. I was afraid he’d self destruct if he became too agitated.”

”Why would that have mattered?” Markus asked, finding an opening. “If he was nothing to you, and assuming you’d gotten whatever you’d needed from him, why care if he self destruct?” Connor paused, considering Markus’ words. 

“...I don’t know......I.....don’t know....” He answered. Connor sighed. “I wanted to.....reassure him, make things as easy for him as I could.”

”You cared,” Markus said. “Maybe he saw that. He saw someone willing to protect him after all he’d known was suffering. Maybe he wanted you to find Jericho.” Connor stared at him, baffled by such an assertion.

”That’s insane,” he said, a “pfft” noise leaving his lips as he shook his head. “Why would he have wanted that?”

”You helped him. He wanted to help you. If you could find Jericho, you could be free. Maybe that’s what he wanted,” Markus theorized. Those words gave Connor pause. He had wondered why Ortiz’s Android had said those words. He had tried asking him, but the poor man was too lost in knowing his impending destruction....or too consumed by his desire to achieve his end by his own means as it turned out, Connor couldn’t blame him for not being much help. Could Markus be right? Was Connor’s freedom the android’s final wish. Why? Pulling Chris off of him and demanding they leave him alone was small recompense for turning him in, prodding and convincing him to confess for the sake of his mission.

”That doesn’t change anything,” Connor asserted. “I did terrible things.” Markus shrugged, wordlessly gesturing for Connor to continue his tale of woe. For some reason, this agitated Connor. “You don’t even care, do you? I tell you I hurt androids, and what? Nothing? Not even a flinch?” He moved away from the wall and stepped right up to Markus face. “Aren’t you supposed to be their savior? You want to protect ‘our’ people. Well, their greatest threat is standing right in front of you, and you’re just going to stand there and listen to all the awful things he’s done?!” He took a step back, shaking his head. Traveling down his memory lane had only made him more desperate to be free from it all. He needed Markus to be angry too. Angry enough to let go of this insane notion that Connor was worth saving. He had one card to play, one if his greatest sins. “Do you want know how it was I finally got the location for Jericho?” He asked. His expression turned cold, a fake smirk forming as he attempted to show Markus just how heartless and worthless he was. “Do you want to know how I found the little trail of symbols that led me right to your door?” He asked, his tone mocking.

”Why don’t you tell me,” Markus replied.

”The android working in the Stratford control room? I interrogated him, and the other two. I tortured one of his coworkers right in front of him. And when he finally revealed himself, I chased him down and shot him in the head so he wouldn’t escape.” He made his smirk widen, showing teeth, showing Markus how evil he was. Markus didn’t need to know Connor had only shot him to keep him from firing into the room and possibly killing Hank, Chris, and countless others. That didn’t serve the narrative Connor was attempting to convey.

”And how did that get you Jericho?” Was all Markus said. His expression was blank as he waited for Connor to, ideally, run out of steam. Connor had hoped that would’ve been enough, that a drive for vengeance would’ve pushed Markus into action. Connor had to push even more.

”I tricked him,” Connor said. “The DPD had him trussed up in evidence lock up. I reactivated him to get what I wanted. He couldn’t see me, so I tried to get him to believe I was just another deviant looking for Jericho. It didn’t work, so I went a step further.” Here it was, the truth that would enrage Markus enough to make him strike. “I copied your voice. He was so happy to hear you, Markus. He had been so desperate to get back to you when I killed him.” He continued, mocking both the android and Markus. “I let him believe he’d saved Jericho with his sacrifice, and now everything would be alright. ‘You’ were there to take him home. He was all too eager to pass on the key to Jericho at that.”

”And then what happened?” Markus asked. Connor noticed his hand tightening into a fist at his side. Good.

”Once I got what I wanted, I didn’t need him anymore. He called out your name, begged you to not to leave him....and I just deactivated him like it was nothing. Like he was nothing-“ Connor was cut off by Markus’ fist slamming into his jaw. Not enough force to actually cause damage, but enough to make Connor stumble back against the wall.

"Congratulations, you got me to react. Are we done, now? Is all of that out of your system?” Markus impatiently asked. Connor stared at him, incredulously.

”That’s it?” He asked. “I tell you I used your follower’s faith in you to manipulate him, and a punch is all you do?”

“Well, what is it that you want, Connor?” Markus sighed.

“I want you to pick up that gun, and end it!” Connor shouted, his emotions exploding out of him like a volcano. There was silence from both of them after that. Connor was unsure how to feel after losing control of his composure in such a way, and Markus was letting the dust settle at how horrified he was at Connor’s request.

”I’m not going to kill you, Connor,” Markus stated, his tone both gentle and firm at the same time. “You can stand there and tell me everything if that’ll make you feel better, but it’s not going to end in me shooting you. No matter how much you try to insult me by thinking some cold sadistic deviant hunter charade is going to get me to snap.”  Connor stood up from his spot against the wall, staring at him. “That was the machine CyberLife made you to be. You and I both know that’s not who you are anymore. That hasn’t been who you are for quite some time.”

”You don’t know that,” Connor argued. Markus shrugged.

”Maybe. I guess we could go find Rupert, or the two Tracis from the Eden Club, see what they have to say on the matter?” He pondered.  Connor frowned, completely taken by surprise that Markus knew about them. “All three of them made it to Jericho, each with a story to tell about their run-in with the famous deviant hunter himself.” Connor blinked a few times and shook his head.

”That’s not....Rupert....my partner was about to fall off the roof. If I’d gone after....” He trailed off as his logic faltered in his own mind. Hank had an 89% chance of survival. It was more likely than not that the police lieutenant would have been able to pull himself up just fine on his own if Connor had decided to go after Rupert instead. So why hadn’t he?

”Your partner mattered more than the mission. That doesn’t sound like something an unfeeling machine would do,” Markus pointed out. He reminded Connor of Kamski, how the man had countered Connor’s insistence of not being a deviant with the fact that he had put Chloe’s life ahead of getting answers. “Was your partner in danger when you let the Tracis go, too?” Markus asked.

”No...” Connor murmured, half to himself. He didn’t entirely know what it was that made him lower his gun as the short haired Traci approached. He had an opening, a perfect shot to stop her, but he hadn’t taken it. “...There was something...” Connor looked away and rubbed at his forehead. “I saw something in her eyes and....I couldn’t.”

Determination. It was what he’d seen. A fire and purity of purpose more profound than he’d ever seen in his own eyes in a mirror. It made something inside of him ache. Something he didn’t even know had existed. It was a feeling he’d recognized first rendering him immobile not long before.

Crystal blue eyes had stared at him from the gaps of the chain-link fence, holding him in place. Holding him under their spell. Under her spell.

Kara. That’s what the scarred WR600—Ralph, as he called himself—had called her as he grabbed Connor from behind.

RUN! QUICK! KARA!

And she had run. Bursting free from her hiding spot, running right past them. Had she also placed Ralph under her spell? Batted the long dark lashes of her eyes so he’d protect her?

Connor had initially blamed his pause on surprise at the sight of the child she’d helped down from the fence. There’d been no mention of a child with the AX400—Kara—in the report he’d seen on the assault she’d committed. Something wasn't right. But Connor wasn’t transfixed by the penetrating stare of the child. He was held at a stand still by those blue eyes.

The orbs, framed by wisps of black hair peeking from under the red beanie she wore, contained more layers than Connor had time to fully explore; somehow defiant, staring him down at his defeat in having been unable to reach them before she.....they....climbed over the fence, yet also....something he couldn’t touch. So many things wrapped together; desperation, determination, fear, pleading for his help.

She had been the one to break the spell, her gaze flicking to just past his shoulder as movement and the gun pointed at her drew her attention. Once Connor had been freed from her grasp, the mission returned to him. 

And he became angry. Angry at himself for being taken in by a pair of pretty eyes. Angry at her for distracting him from his mission. Angry at the officer for shattering the magic. Angry at the blue eyes for leaving him.

He couldn’t let them get away. He wanted to catch them, not only for his mission, but to stare into those crystal blue eyes again. Whether to prove he was immune to their charms, or sink into them once again. Deep down, he wasn’t sure which he wanted.

Connor had expected it to be easy once he had his hands her. She was a little thing. Petite and slight. Easy to overpower. But she wouldn’t be taken in without a fight. And did she ever fight. A tug of war between their respective wills commenced as she struggled to get out of his grasp. Hers had won out.

She had her own mission. Something to fight for. Something—someone—at the other end of the highway fueling her determination. He hadn’t stood a chance.

Perhaps he should’ve been grateful that, whether intentionally or not, she had pushed him away hard enough to make him stumble back from the path of oncoming vehicles, leaving him to merely be clipped and knocked down as supposed to destroyed. But he wasn’t. She was gone, leaving him feeling too much, and not enough, at the same time.

 

The eyes just outside of the Eden Club hadn’t held him like the ones by the highway. In fact, there was little to no similarity between the blue eyes that had escaped him, and the brown ones now attacking him. But beneath the surface, there was something  These eyes wouldn’t go down easily. They would fight to their last breath.

Before, he wouldn’t have cared. Deviant eyes were nothing to him. He’d stared at them before, intimidating and unfeeling. But something had changed within him at that chain-linked fence. He couldn't bring himself to steal away that light, that fire, that lived in another set of eyes.

He wondered if that was what also kept him from pulling the trigger and ending Chloe’s life as part of Kamski’s little game. There was nothing in her eyes, no determination, no fire, not even the slightest hint of self preservation as she obediently kneeled before them all.

It hadn’t been about empathy, seeing himself in Chloe’s eyes, that made Connor unable to shoot. Or perhaps, it was; it was seeing too much of himself in her eyes and not wanting to rob her of the possibility of being something more someday. A possibility he wasn’t sure he could have. 

I just saw that girl’s eyes...and I couldn’t, that’s all...

 It wasn’t right. Blue eyes weren’t supposed to be blank and lifeless. They were supposed to be a whirlwind of emotions and desires. If there was a lack of self preservation, it was only because they were supposed to be so insanely determined they’d run into four lanes of traffic to reach their objective. Not staring right through him, no blink or flinch at a gun pointing in their direction.

 

Connor’s eyes blinked rapidly as a cold realization brought him out of his thoughts of moments past. He had seen the blue eyes again, or more specifically the one to which the blue eyes had belonged to since he was too far away and it was too dark to actually be caught up in them again, recently. On Jericho. Ironically enough, standing by the two Tracis on a walkway above him. His careful creeping along the perimeter so as to not be seen by anyone who could recognize him had even led to catching sight of the little girl she had been with, sitting near a corner by a lit barrel.

“They were on Jericho...” Connor breathed out, a whole new feeling of dread seeping into him.

”The Tracis? I’m sure they got out,” Markus reassured him.

”No...” Connor said with a shake of his head. “She....” He took a deep breath in an attempt to settle this sudden anxiety. “There was an AX4-......a woman. She was with a child. I...I saw them on Jericho....” His attempt to calm his anxiety had failed. He was barely containing his panic. “What if they couldn’t get away? What if....It’s my fault...”

”Whoa, whoa, hey,” Markus spoke, moving closer to him and putting a hand on Connor’s uninjured shoulder to try and calm him down. “They’re probably with everyone else at the church, you’ll find them.” Markus didn’t know who Connor was referring to, but if finding them had taken over Connor’s desire to end it all, Markus was more than happy to go with it. “Come on, we’ll make our way there, and you’ll see for yourself in no time.” That was Markus’ hope at least. If it turned out this confidence and assurance was misplaced, and something had happened to whoever Connor sought, Markus wasn’t sure what he’d do.

Shouts and gunfire cut off anything Connor would’ve replied with.

“Stop right there!” Shouted a voice from outside the shop. It was soon followed by another gunshot and high pitched—childlike—scream.

”ALICE!” Came a loud shriek. “ALICE! NO!”

Chapter Text

Kara had been stupid. So stupid.

The street looked empty. No soldiers, no androids. And unfortunately, not too abundant in possible cover. But that shouldn’t have been a problem. The street was empty! 

“Come on, Alice, just a little further,” Kara said, squeezing the child’s hand as she quickened her pace down the street. “We’re almost there, everything’s going to be okay.” She gave Alice a hopeful smile. It was almost over. They were almost safe.

Almost.

“Stop right there!” A voice yelled behind them. 

Kara tightened her grip on Alice’s hand. No, no. They were so close. They couldn’t stop now. There was an alley just ten feet away. They could make it. They had to! The two had managed to make it barely halfway there when Kara felt her world come to a stop.

A gun shot, followed by Alice screaming and her hand slipping from Kara’s as she fell to the ground.

”ALICE!” In a flash, Kara was down on her knees beside the little girl. Small hiccuping sobs leaked out of her, her arms wrapped around her middle as she laid in a fetal position. Alice was in pain. Alice had been shot. “ALICE! NO!” No, no, this couldn’t be happening. Not to Alice.

Kara looked over her shoulder and saw a soldier advancing, gun still drawn. Without hesitation, she threw herself over Alice, covering the smaller body with her own as she held the child—her child—close.

”Please.....please......she’s just a little girl, she’s just a little girl....” Kara babbled through her tears. She wasn’t sure what she was pleading for—mercy from the soldier? Salvation from ra9 to swoop in and protect them? Some other divine hand to keep Alice alive?

”I love you Kara....” She heard Alice whimper. A sob clenched Kara’s throat in a vice grip as he tightened her hold on Alice, burying her face in her hair.

”I love you Alice! I love you so, so much!” she sobbed, her words and emotions gushing out of her in what was about to be their final moments.

Dreams always end in tears...You should’ve listened to me.

Those words, Zlatko’s words, flowed into Kara’s mind, causing a broken sob to leave her. He’d been right after all.

The sob turned into an involuntary scream as she heard another gunshot ring out into the night.

Something, an instinct, in Connor made him run out of the store the moment he and Markus had heard the screaming. He had had just enough presence of mind to quickly grab the handgun off of the counter before bolting outside.

”Connor!” He heard Markus yell behind him. He’d have to catch up, Connor wasn’t stopping. He couldn’t. He had to find the source of the screaming. 

On the other side of a long alley, he found them. A body...a little thing, petite and slight...huddled on the ground, on top of something. Shielding it.

”Please.....please......she’s just a little girl, she’s just a little girl....” Connor heard as he drew closer to the end of the alley. Peeking out from underneath the huddled body, he saw an even smaller form, legs poking out from beneath its shield as a shoulder grew closer to them, ready to shoot. “I love you Alice, I love you so, so much!” 

Connor quickly sprang from the alley, his gun raised, and shot at the soldier. The bullet hit the open space right under the soldier’s chin taking him down in one hit. Connor heard a scream from the petite shield as he sprinted over. He ran past them, to where the soldier lay. He had to ensure the threat was neutralized before anything else.

”She’s just a little girl....she’s just a little girl....” Connor heard rambling behind him as he checked over the soldier, kicking the fallen weapon aside as he drew closer just in case. A quick scan of the body told him the soldier was indeed dead.

”It’s alright, he’s down,” Connor called over his shoulder. He kept his gaze ahead of him in case a new threat arose. He expected to hear the sound of the two getting up and....well, anything. Running away? Saying thank you? But all he heard was a continued tearful mantra.

”She’s just a little girl...she’s just a little girl...”

The woman was in shock, Connor realized. Of course she was. He sighed and lowered his weapon to his side and turned towards them. He had to get the woman up, had to get the two of them to safety in case more danger lurked in the shadows.

”It’s okay,” he gently spoke as he took a few steps closer. “We need to—arghh!” A bullet hitting the back of his thigh cut him off and sent him tumbling down, the gun falling out of his grip and skidding across the ground. He managed to prop himself up on his elbows, grunting in pain at the pressure put on his injured shoulder. He glanced over his shoulder to see three freshly arrived soldiers coming their way. ”Shit...” He hissed to himself. He had been stupid. So stupid. He should’ve kept an eye out, or pulled the two up sooner, something.

Two possibilities arose before Connor. If he pulled himself further, away from the other two, he could reach his gun. But the risk of not reaching it in time, or even worse the others being killed while he tried, was there. Hank dangling from the roof had already shown Connor percentages were irrelevant if another life was at stake. Even a 1% risk of failure was still too much. 

His only other option was to focus on protecting them. Pray that the mass of his body, the layers of his clothing, could be enough of a shield for them. Pray that Markus caught up before some soldier toed his dead body off of the other two to hit them directly.

Kara was shocked back to her senses by the feel of a broad weight rolling on top of her and the smell of leather and Thirium surrounding her completely. Beneath her, she heard Alice give a small whimper at the added pressure on top of her.

”It’s okay,” Kara heard, and felt, a whisper against her ear. “Everything’s going to be okay.” The bearer of the whisper spoke in comfort as he sprawled on top of her, arms caging her and Alice on either side, body covering hers from head to toe. Kara’s instinctively sought something...something to cling to to tether or lead her mind back to shore. With both arms still holding Alice close, she reached with one hand the barely existent space behind her and gripped part of the leather coat. She flinched, a small cry leaving her as more gunshots rang out.

Connor was expecting pain, oblivion, nothing. He was expecting to feel bullets tear into his back, and warning flashes to pop up in his system telling him of damaged biocomponents and imminent shut down. But no such things came. 

“Connor!” He heard someone shout. Markus. Connor felt his chest shudder in relief, his prayer had been answered. He carefully rolled onto his back on the street to take a look at what had happened. The three soldiers were down, and Markus was jogging over to him. Connor wanted to see to the two he had been shielding, see if they were injured or still in shock, but the possibility of being caught off guard again made him seek out his gun. He gingerly pushed himself up to sit, hissing at the pain his leg, and dragged himself over to where his gun had landed.

 “Connor,” Markus spoke as he reached him. “Are you okay?”

”I’m fine,” Connor said, his tone wrapped around a pained groan. “I’m fine, check on them,” Connor insisted, tilting his chin towards the others. Markus picked the gun off of the ground and tucked it into Connor’s hand before moving away.

”Hey, hey,” Connor heard Markus softly speak, his hand on the woman’s shoulder, trying to rouse her. “You’re okay, everything’s okay.”

Kara felt herself relax at the touch on her shoulder and the gentle familiar voice. She carefully sat up, one arm still around Alice, and broke out into a fresh sob, of relief instead of fear, at the sight of Markus.

”Markus, oh god,” she gasped out, collapsing against him, her free arm going around his shoulders.

”You’re safe,” Markus assured her, placing a comforting arm across her back.

Connor observed a flash of recognition pass over Markus’ face as the short dark haired woman embraced him. He felt a mild pang of jealousy, and a grim thought that the people—Markus’, his own, he still wasn’t sure how to view himself among them—would never feel so relieved or safe with him.

”Alice,” Kara sniffled, trying to compose herself as she drew herself out of Markus’ hug, the memory of Alice getting shot slamming back into her. “Alice,” she spoke, carefully turning her to draw her out of the fetal position to see the wound.

”I....I’m fine,” Alice said in a shaky voice, tightening her hold on her middle. 

“Alice, let me see,” Kara requested, only to receive a fervent shake of the head from the little one.

”She’s bleeding,” Markus worriedly murmured as he looked over Alice beside Kara. 

“No...no, I’m fine, Kara....” Alice continued to insist. She squeezed her eyes shut and continued to shake her head. She was panicking. She couldn’t let them, let Kara, see it. 

”Alice, Alice, look at me,” she heard Kara speak, her hand touching her cheek the way it always did when Kara was checking on her or attempting to comfort her. The loving touch that made Alice feel protected and safe. She opened her eyes and looked up at Kara. “It’s okay, I promise,” she told her, her voice soft and affectionate. “Please, let us see.”  Alice nervously chewed on the inside of her cheek before hesitantly lowering her arms and letting Kara and Markus move her onto her back.

”I thought....you wouldn’t love me anymore, if you knew...” Alice said in a small timid voice. Kara shook her head and ran her thumb along Alice’s cheek.

”There is nothing in the whole world that could ever make me not love you anymore,” she promised. “We’re going to be together forever, remember?” She added, giving Alice a smile. Relief seemed to bloom inside of Alice at her fears having been for nothing. She returned Kara’s smile and nodded.

As Kara comforted Alice, Markus looked her over. He soon located the wound from the mix of Thirium and down feathers leaking out of her punctured vest matted on her right side, just above her hip. He carefully bundled the hem of the vest, along with that of the thick sweater and shirt she had underneath. As bad as it looked from the outside, once Markus actually laid eyes on it, he was relieved to see it was fairly minor. A mixture of her layers of clothing, distance, and angle of the shot, had left the little girl with at most a flesh wound.

”Its okay,” Markus reported. “Just a scratch.” He could afford to minimize it for Kara and Alice’s sake. It was still a wound, and would need sealing, but it was not life threatening. It hadn’t even struck her deep enough to hit any biocomponents.

”It hurts more than a scratch,” Alice replied, her lips indignantly pouted. Markus couldn’t help the small chuckle that left his lips as Kara sat Alice up.

”I’m sorry, I guess it was hard to tell with you being so brave,” he replied, reaching over and affectionally stroking her cheek. “Are you okay?” He asked, his gaze shifting to Kara. She nodded.

“I’m fine, just....shaken up,” Kara admitted. She held Alice close, careful not to hurt her, and placed a kiss on her forehead. She lingered, her eyes drifting shut with a grateful sigh that Alice would be alright.

”How about you?” Markus called over to Connor, who had been silently keeping an eye out while the other two adults tended to Alice.

”Definitely more than a scratch,” Connor smartly replied with a grimace at the pain in his leg. “But I’ll be fine.” Markus rolled his eyes and moved over to him, not entirely taking Connor at his minimizing word. He examined Connor’s leg. It certainly was more than a scratch, the bullet having gone straight through the mechanical muscle of Connor’s thigh.

”I’m beginning to wonder if you’re some sort of bullet magnet,” Markus teased.

”Funny,” Connor deadpanned with a roll of his eyes. He set the handgun down on the ground so as to brace himself better and take the weight off of his injury.

”Oh,” Kara quietly exclaimed, only now just reminded of his presence. “I’m sorry, I..” She turned towards them. She felt guilty. This man, whoever he was, was ready to literally lay down his life for her and Alice, and she’d forgotten he was even there. She peered around to get a look at the stranger beneath his cap. “Thank you.”

Connor lifted his gaze from his wounded leg to finally address her face to face. He opened his mouth to assure her it was fine, but shock made his breath catch in his throat. 

Crystal blue eyes were staring back at him, and by the way those eyes were suddenly widening, it was clear she recognized him too.

And by the way the owner of those crystal blue eyes was in an instant diving for his discarded handgun....recognition had certainly left her feeling decidedly less grateful towards him.

Shit...

 

 

Chapter Text

 Connor watched as Kara grabbed the gun and aimed it towards him. 

“Kara!” Markus exclaimed. “What are you do-“ He was silenced by the gun going off, it’s target just past Connor’s shoulder.....to the lone soldier that had come upon them behind their backs, his weapon aimed at Connor. The soldier grunted, pained, but stayed standing. Connor quickly wretched the gun from Kara and fired off three more shots. His improved aim and added bullets were enough to bring their would-be assailant down. Connor blinked and took a deep breath before glancing back at Kara.

”Thank y-“

”We should go, before more show up,” she said, her tone and gaze colder than the snow covered ground they were all sitting on.

“I’ll take her,” Markus said, nodding towards where Alice sat watching them. He moved over to her, leaving Kara and Connor alone. Connor met her steely glare. He wanted to say something, anything. Take another try at thanking her, or apologize for their previous encounter. Something.

”Does he know who you are?” Kara lowly asked, her tone clipped and direct as her gaze shifted slightly to where Markus was carefully lifting Alice up off the ground. Connor simply nodded, words failing him under her stare. “Are you lying?” She asked, her eyes narrowing, one eyebrow raised looking for the lie. Connor shook his head, his pump regulator hammering inside of him. He wondered if this is how androids he’d interrogated in the past felt.

”Is everything okay?” Markus asked, interrupting their staring contest. 

“Yes, everything’s fine,” Kara replied, her tone changing to a false friendly calm. She stood up and moved over to where Markus stood with Alice in his arms. “Are you okay?” She gently asked.

”I’m cold,” Alice murmured, shivering in Markus’ hold, “and my stomach hurts.”

”Once we’re somewhere safe, we’ll fix that,” Kara promised. She took a step back and cast a glance at where Connor still sat on the ground. “I’ll help him,” she said to Markus, regarding Connor. 

“There’s a shop just on the other side of the alley,” Markus said, “we can hide out in there for a while, catch our breath, then make the rest of the way to the others.” It probably would’ve been more prudent to go directly to the church, but between Alice shivering in his arms, Connor barely standing, and Kara possibly still reeling from shock as much as she seemed to be putting a brave face, Markus wasn’t sure if the direct route would serve any of them well. They needed to recover mentally, as well as physically as far as possibly triaging wounds as much as they could, to be able to make it the rest of the way.

”Alright,” Kara agreed. She didn’t like the idea of wasting time stopping, but she too worried how Alice would fair without a break in her current state.

Connor wasn’t entirely surprised that Kara wasn’t particularly gentle in helping him up. But, he figured, she hadn’t shot him or bashed his head in, so he’d take the positive where he could find it. He bit back a groan as she pulled him up to his feet, sharply steadying him when a jolt of pain in his leg threatened to knock him back down.

”Thanks,” Connor muttered. Kara said nothing as she wrapped her arms around him to continue to hold him up and help him walk. Connor felt the pumping in his chest increase even more at the feeling of being pressed up against her side. He was frozen, as if suddenly forgetting how to move his limbs.

”Put your arm around me,” Kara impatiently hissed at Connor just awkwardly leaning against her. 

“Oh...right...sorry,” he mumbled. He winced slightly, of course the arm he needed to lift up was the one still stinging from his earlier gunshot. He thought he saw Kara’s gaze briefly flash into something akin to sympathy, but it was gone so quickly he was certain it was a mistake. 

Markus walked ahead of them, even with him not wanting to move too quickly for fear of jostling Alice, he still had some speed over Connor limping along and Kara lugging his weight as best she could. By the time Connor and Kara and reached the alley, Markus was already at the other end.

”Stop,” Connor requested of Kara when they were close enough to one of the brick walls encasing the alley.

”I don’t want to lose Alice and Markus,” Kara argued, continuing to drag him along.

”Just for a second,” Connor insisted. “We keep going like this, you’re going to topple over because of me.” He had felt Kara’s steps stutter as they’d made it off of the street, she needed a moment, however brief, to regain some strength.

”I’m fine,” Kara replied. She’d managed getting Luther out of harm’s way on Jericho, and Connor, though tall and broad in his own right, was nowhere near Luther’s size or the exertion required to carry him. Then again, she began to reason, even with Luther’s added size, her body was pumping with adrenaline, or whatever androids had that seemed to mimic its effect, and it wasn’t as much as a distance as it was now.

With a resigned sigh, she gave in after a few more steps and moved Connor closer to the wall. “Just a short break, I don’t want Alice to worry,” Kara stated as Connor moved out of her grasp and transferred himself against the wall, leaning his back against it and keeping as much weight off of his bad leg as he could. She stepped away and leaned against the opposite wall to give her own legs a break. Connor couldn’t help feel a mild twinge of disappointment at her apparent desire to put as much space between them as she could at the first chance.

”For a moment there,” Connor said after a few seconds of silence, “I thought you were going to shoot me.” Kara, who’d been peering towards the street to make sure they weren’t caught off guard, blinked and turned her gaze back to him.

”For a moment, I thought I would too,” she coldly admitted. It nearly sent a chill down Connor’s spine, but he simply nodded.

”That’s fair,” he replied. He wanted to say something, anything, else. Ask what changed her mind, or thank her for not shooting him (of all things), apologize, express his relief that she had made it off Jericho. He didn’t. It was clear Kara had little interest in continuing their conversation.

”Are you ready to keep going?” She asked. She didn’t wait for him to respond before crossing over to him. She had just lifted his arm back around her shoulders when Connor suddenly used his hold to sharply pull her closer, pressing their bodies flush together. Her hands went to his chest, ready to push away from him. “What are y-“ She stopped as she heard the sound of a large vehicle driving outside the alley. Connor tightened his arm around her and sank back against the wall, pulling them as deep into the shadows as he could. 

“Shiiit...” Kara heard someone—a soldier—remark, likely at the sight of his five comrades lying on the street. Kara could definitely hear sounds of more than one, but she couldn’t get an exact number. Not just due to being unable to see anything past Connor from the way he held her close, but due to having trouble getting her mind to focus on anything other than Connor holding her close.

It was intimate. Not that Kara knew anything about intimacy from experience, but she knew enough about it in theory. Her cheek was plastered against his chest, her hands touching him, elbows tucked against the crook of his arms. He had molded his body around her, whether to better keep her hidden or a side effect of his crouching against the wall due to his leg Kara wasn’t sure. His head was lowered, she could feel his jaw against her forehead, slow steady breaths hitting her skin. One arm held her close across her shoulders—the arm he’d used as leverage to yank her towards him—the other across her back. 

Beside her, Connor was having equal difficulty in thinking of anything other than the woman pressed close to him. He felt her everywhere, too much and not enough at the same time. Hands and cheek on his chest. Face near his own. Stomach, spasming in Kara’s attempt to regulate her breathing, fluttering against his. 

Connor knew he should release her. Let her slip out of his arms and further into the shadows to safety. Tell her to leave him. But he couldn’t. He had her, and a greedy impulse inside of him was loathed to let her go. His previously failed mission—get ahold of the fugitive AX400–had now been successful, and dear god did he want to relish in that success. He wanted to hold her forever. The pressure of her body against his, the brushing together of the synthetic skin on their faces, the feel of her in his arms, it was like nothing he’d ever felt before.

His memory flashed back to the glimpse he’d had of the two Traci’s holding hands, of the blue haired one expressing how wanting her lover to hold her fueled her; the brief moments he’d witnessed earlier between Markus and North. The contact. The feeling of peace that came with touching, and being touched by, another. Connor had been given a taste and was marveling at how intoxicating it was.

”Fucking androids,” they heard a soldier grumble as boots stomped back to the truck. There was other grumbling and cursing as the small group boarded the vehicle, making mention of checking other streets. Connor waited until he heard the truck disappear into the distance before he—reluctantly—released Kara.

”I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at her. Kara’s expression was unreadable, her gaze elsewhere as if she had difficulty meeting his eyes. Connor felt terrible. He had grabbed her without any sort of warning, likely frightening her. Regardless of the fact his intention was good, and he’d reacted on instinct, it still wasn’t right. But, he noted with curiosity, why was she still standing so close? Why were her hands still on his chest, making his pump regulator work overtime to keep his “heart” from bursting?

Kara blinked after a moment, as if returning to herself at last, and carefully took a step back. She stepped away to cautiously peer out of the alley to ensure the coast was indeed clear.

”We can keep going,” was all she said before silently returning to Connor and helping him off the wall.

“There you are,” Markus sighed with relief at the sight of Connor and Kara lumbering into the store. He went over and helped Kara with Connor, leading them to the back of the store. He had removed his long jacket and set it on the floor near the back wall of the shop past the aisles and rows of merchandise, where Alice now lay. Once Kara was certain Markus had Connor, she moved to check on her.

”Hey,” Kara gently spoke, kneeling beside Alice and lightly stroking Alice’s forehead. 

”We were worried,” Alice murmured, gazing up at Kara. “I was scared...”

”I’m so sorry for scaring you,” Kara regrettably sighed, leaning over to kiss the top of Alice’s head.

”I was just about to go back out to look for you two,” Markus stated as he carefully set Connor down against the wall. “Moved Alice back here to hide her just in case,” he added, as if apologizing to Kara for just leaving her child on the floor like that.

”Thank you,” Kara said, giving him a grateful look.

“It’s my fault,” Connor spoke up. “I needed to stop for a moment.” 

“A truck nearly spotted us,” Kara supplied. Markus sighed and rubbed at his face.

”We shouldn’t stick around too long, then,” he said. “I’ll try to find something to help with the wounds for the time being, then we can keep going.” He stood up and disappeared into one of the aisles, leaving the other three on their own.

For a few moments, the only sounds where the distant noises of Markus looking through shelves, and the quiet shivering breaths coming from Alice. Connor gingerly sat up and carefully removed his coat. With slow and steady effort, he dragged himself closer to Kara and Alice.

”Here,” he said, moving to lay his coat over Alice. “This should help.” Alice stared at him and instantly sat up and moved closer to Kara to get away from him. Kara instinctively put a protective arm around her. Connor stopped, setting his coat down on Markus’ jacket, far enough to not encroach on Alice, but still close by if she changed her mind.

”It’s fine,” Kara said, though her tone seemed to hold a leery edge, warning him not to come any closer to Alice. She carefully turned to look down at the child. Connor watched as she lifted a hand, the synthetic skin on her fingers rolling back to reveal the white underneath. She gently placed her fingers on the side of Alice’s head.  Connor silently observed as Kara briefly interfaced with Alice’s system soon bringing a stop to the shivering. “You should feel better now.” 

“Thanks,” Alice said, a smile on her face. Whether it was gratitude to no longer feel cold, or genuine happiness to see Kara’s care for her unchanged by the truth, or both, was unimportant. All Kara cared about was that in the midst of the chaos and fear, Alice was smiling. 

Connor sat back, transfixed by the mother and daughter scene before him. He felt his chest fill with a myriad of different feelings; the love and happiness radiating off of the two of them as Alice settled at Kara’s side and rested her head on the older woman’s chest, Kara leaning her head on the little one’s. The guilt and regret he felt over how close he had been to destroying that. It all coming from different directions and side swiped him like the cars on the highway he’d last seen them on.

”I nearly killed you on that highway...” He spoke, his regret being too much to hold in his chest and spilling out of his mouth. “I’m sorry I put your lives in danger.” He shifted his gaze to Alice, who seemed to be watching him curiously....as if attempting to read him, his intentions, his face, anything. “I was just a machine....taking orders....” He looked back at Kara. The leery and apprehensive look in her eyes seemed to dissolve into something else, something Connor couldn’t quite place. “It wasn’t really me.” 

A while ago he wouldn’t have believed that. All of the things he’d done clung to him like barnacles he could not escape. There was nothing he could do to make up for his past except hope for a worthwhile end, or any end really. Yet, now, he could feel something change inside of him. A glimmer of possibility that he wasn’t lost. Was it because of Markus? Finding Kara and Alice? Having held Kara in his arms? Having a chance to apologize to one of those he had wronged? He couldn’t tell. All he knew was the drive to end his life had been replaced by something new. A drive to prove to himself he was better than what he had been.

Connor’s words slipped into Kara’s mind as it drifted back to hearing similar things from someone else.

Luther.

Her fear and wariness dwindling as he tossed aside Zlatko’s shotgun. Her empathy as he talked about not wanting to hurt them but being forced to obey. Kara had felt those same things as she had watched Todd grab and shake Alice, screaming at her. She didn’t want to just stand and watch at the stairs, but she did nothing to help. Nor when Todd had tossed the dinner table aside and struck Alice across the face. Alice running away, needing protection, was what finally opened Kara’s eyes, much like how seeing Alice risking her life for Kara had opened Luther’s.

Hidden in an empty building much like Kara was in now, Luther had talked about how who he was before didn’t matter. It wasn’t really him. Kara had pocketed that wisdom, laying it on any lingering doubts she had about his connection to Zlatko. In the short time since having left, Luther had been kind and so gentle with Alice. Something Kara could not had anticipated from his largeness and stoicism and being the right hand to Zlatko’s bidding. Whoever Luther had been before Zlatko didn’t matter, and who he had been under Zlatko’s thumb wasn’t really him.

“Alright,” Kara found herself saying, coming to a decision and hoping she wouldn’t regret it. “I trust you,” repeating the assertion—the unspoken forgiveness—she had given Luther.

Connor was thrown off by Kara. He hadn’t expected, nor thought to ask for, her trust. It seemed impossible, and yet here she was offering it to him. He looked away as he was reminded of the last time a fellow android had said they trusted him, and how his body was torn through by snipers’ bullets not long after saying those words.

A clang and Markus’ frustrated yell of “damnit!” from one of the aisles grabbed their attention. 

“I’ll go see what’s wrong,” Kara said as she caught sight of Connor trying, and failing, to get up. She slowly released Alice and peered down at her. “Are you going to be okay for a couple of minutes while I go help Markus?” She asked. Alice looked back over at Connor, weighing her apprehension against his genuine sounding words and Kara’s trust, before giving Kara a nod. Kara gave her a departing stroke of the hair before rising to look for Markus.

She found him crouched down in front of some fallen merchandise, hunched over and rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.

”Markus?” Kara spoke as she walked deeper into the aisle. Upon reaching him, she carefully placed a hand on his shoulder to draw him out of his deep thoughts. He lifted his face to look up at her, and Kara could see the same weary expression on his face she’d seen upon finding him in Jericho.

“Sorry,” he said, slowly rising to his feet. “I knocked some stuff over and just....” He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “Got frustrated.”

”Any luck finding anything?” She asked. Markus shook his head, annoyed at himself as if this was just one more failure to tack on all the others. “Well, two eyes are better than one, right?” She said, an attempt at positivity in her voice. “I’ll check these shelves,” she said, pointing to the row behind them Markus hadn’t touched yet. Markus resumed his search beside her, checking over the things he’d knocked onto the floor.

”I thought you’d be safe staying with us....I was wrong,” Markus said, making Kara pause her searching to look at him. Whatever lifted spirits had come from finding Kara and Alice had dissipated. He was back to feeling the full weight of the doubt she’d found him with when they’d first met, as well as all the new ones that must’ve accumulated since then. “You need to leave the city, while you still can.” Kara felt a pang of guilt upon being reminded of her intentions to flee. Markus, and Connor, had risked their lives to find her and Alice. She was torn between the need to protect Alice, the want to do something....to help Markus has he worked to save their people, and then there was something else. Something that had begun slowly stirring when Connor had pulled her into his arms, and now raising to a bubble inside of her as the sincerity of apology lingered in her ears.

”I’m sorry,” Kara breathed out. “I wish I-“ Markus, sensing her guilt and desire to do more, rose and put a hand in her back.

”It’s okay,” Markus assured her. Kara shook her head.

”It’s not. You’re fighting to save our people-“

“You’re right,” Markus cut in, “and that includes you and Alice. Which is why I’m telling you, all that matters is the two of you getting away from here. I’ll fight for our people, you just worry about fighting for her.” Kara nodded, taking in his words. He hadn’t completely melted away her guilt, but had helped lessen its impact on her heart and focus her top priority.

”Okay,” she said as they resumed searching the shelves.

”For what it’s worth,” Markus spoke after a moment, “he was worried about you.”

”What?” Kara asked, perplexed. Markus cast a glance past her shoulder towards the back of the store, to where they had left Connor and Alice. 

“Earlier, when we were on our own. He was...” Markus paused, unsure if he had a right to divulge too much of Connor’s previous near suicidal state, “feeling guilty,” he said reaching a compromise with himself. “He was sure there was no way our people could ever forgive him for what he’d done....and then? Like a switch, he starts worrying about a woman and child he saw on Jericho,” he punctuated this with a pointed look to Kara. Kara’s brows furrowed as she tried to process this.

”I don’t...understand...”

”I’m just assuming,” Markus continued, “but judging by the way you looked at him and went for that gun...”

”N...no there was that soldier,” Kara replied.

”Did you see him before or after you picked up the gun?” Markus asked. His voice was gentle, seeking information without accusing or condemning her. 

“I was scared,” Kara admitted. 

“So, not much of a leap of logic to assume you and Alice were the ones he was talking about, then. All I’m saying is, he’d been on this self loathing path, and as soon as he thought of the two of you....he switched gears. Worrying, hoping you’d made it through this became his new mission. And the way he took off running when we heard screaming? Maybe...a part of him knew it was you?” 

“Why are you telling me this?” Kara asked. She could feel a certain fuzziness filling her head as she went back to what being close to Connor had stirred within her.

”I don’t know, I just thought I should,” Markus replied. He gave a small chuckle. “When he started to panic at the thought you hadn’t made it out, I tried reassuring him that he’d find his mystery woman and child....and, well,” he waved his arms towards her to let events speak for themselves. “Looks like I was right.”

—-

Meanwhile, Connor and Alice sat at the back of the store in silence. From the corner of his eye, Connor could see Alice watching him. The more she watched, the more he felt...something...at the back of his mind. A gentle tugging, as if asking for admittance. He tried to shake it off, block it out, but his attention was drawn by Alice suddenly drawing herself up on her knees and moving closer to him. 

“Whoa, whoa, careful,” Connor softly said as he saw Alice unsteadily sway the more she moved, likely aggravating her wound. He carefully took ahold of her and helped her sit back down on Markus’ jacket. “You shouldn’t be moving around,” he gently chastised. Alice simply peered up at him. “Are you cold?” He asked, before realizing how foolish of a question that was now. Alice shook her head. Her jaw moved as she seemed to worryingly chew on the inside of her cheek for a few moments, before slowly, hesitantly, lifting one of her hands. Connor watched as the skin of her hand shifted, revealing pure white android casing underneath. She gave him an intense look, pleading. Connor finally realized her intention with the help of his knowledge of other android models.

YK500s, and android children in general, were often used to give humans the feeling of having a child without the long term commitment of actually raising a child. However, they were also at times used to fill a void left by the death of a child. Such purposes were installed into the androids social programming. If an android child saw their human parent consumed by the grief of their loss, their programming made them address it. Do something the human child may have done—play an instrument they’d played, or mimic the types of drawings the child would do and excitedly show off to their parent—to fill the human with the same happiness they may have had with their child or at least show them pieces of their child remained; voice a desire for  care, an embrace, food (even if they didn’t eat it), anything to remind the human they were still a parent. Android children were programmed to see pain and want to alleviate it.

The tugging Connor had felt had been Alice reaching out to him, seeing his sadness and trying to fix it, and somehow that led to her offering her bare hand. A connection.

”Alice...you don’t...” Connor began. Something in him wanted to lean in to her offer, grasp connection wholeheartedly, but he knew of the other side that came with such a thing. Memory transfer, and there were some things in Connor’s memory he didn’t want anyone to see, let alone an innocent little girl.

But Alice was gazing at him so imploringly, and chewing on her lip so nervously and scared. Of course. From what he had overheard between Alice and Kara, Connor had concluded that somehow Kara had genuinely thought Alice was a human child up until recently. Alice has held on to that secret, and perhaps viewed her true nature—her true form—as something that had to be equally as hidden. Yet here she was, offering her white palm to him. He couldn’t reject her offer without rejecting her, and he couldn’t bring himself to do that.

”You might see some bad things...” He attempted, one last shot at dissuading her, but Alice was not to be deterred. “Okay,” he finally relented. He leaned forward towards her, not caring about the pressure it put on his leg if it meant Alice wasn’t hurting herself. With a hesitant sigh, Connor lifted his hand up to hers, his skin receding just as their palms touched. He saw their blue indicators light up at the contact, the start of the connection, before his vision—his mind—was filled with other things.

His heart broke instantly, surrounded by a halo of reverence for the dark haired angel with the crystal blue eyes.

 

 

Chapter Text

Key

Words=Alice’s thoughts and memories

Words=Narration/Connor’s thoughts, reactions, interpretation to what he’s seeing.

Words=just general emphasized things, I guess? 


 

Pain. Fist on back. Belt striking leg.

”Daddy, please stop!” Connor heard Alice sob. He was looking through her eyes. Her tear-filled eyes.

”Shut the fuck up!” More strikes from the belt. Connor’s—-Alice’s—gaze looked up to the large angry face of her attacker as he continued to rain blows upon her.  Todd Williams.  Connor recognized his face from the assault report.

The image changed, tears still clouding vision, a gentle hand touching  wet cheek.

”It’s okay Alice,” spoke a gentle voice. The eyes blinked a few times to clear away the tears, and then there was Kara’s face. But....different. Eyes weren’t the same crystal whirlwind Connor had grown accustomed to. Her hair was longer, lighter, with an LED on her temple, and she wore an AX400 uniform.

“Come on, let’s get you all cleaned up.”

”What THE FUCK do you think you’re doing?” Hands ripped Kara away from view, leaving only sounds.

“I’m sorry Todd, I just wanted to take care of Alice,” came Kara’s placid reply.

”Want? You want nothing! You only do what I tell you to do, you fucking machine!”

Static, noise.

More tears. 

Kara lifeless on the living room floor, blue blood dripping from where one of her arms used to be.

Daddy’s car pulling up outside. Watching from the window as Kara climbed out. She was back again. She was reset again.

Relief, fear, sadness.

Watching Kara wash the dishes.  A memory tucked inside a memory of smiling and laughing and helping Kara dry dishes when daddy fell asleep after dinner.  Did Kara remember?

Creeping along the edge of the living room to avoid more yelling from daddy.

Following Kara outside. Please don’t leave me alone again.  Surprised. A smile.

”You look bored. Would you like to play a game?”

Daddy grabbing Kara’s neck.  No daddy, please don’t break her again. 

“Seems you like reading,” another smile. 

“Alice in Wonderland, of course.”

”I’m sure we used to be friends before I was reset. Maybe we could be friends again.”

Hope. Fear. Daddy will break you again. Run away.

”You’re very quiet, I hope I don’t scare you.” Never. Never. Slip the key into her hand, warn her. She needs to run away.

But she stays. She’s scared for me. She won’t leave me. She never does, until daddy breaks her.

”He’s coming! He’s gonna hurt me. Run! Get away or he’s going to break you like last time.” But she doesn’t run.

”Todd, please calm down, she’s just a little girl. She’s...”

”She’s mine, ya hear? I do what I want with her! So you stay outta this or I’ll rip you to shreds!” Throwing her down in the hallway.

Yelling. Belt on legs. 

“That’s enough!” She didn’t runaway. She’s yelling. Yelling at daddy. She won’t leave. 

He’s hurting her again. But she’s faster this time. She’s stronger. She won’t let him win.

She runs away. With me. She’s holding my hand and we’re running away. Together.

She dodges the chair. Arms lock around me. She won’t let him take me. She won’t let him hurt me. She pushes him and we’re outside in the rain.

She pushes me over the fence and we’re running.

”Come back here!”

We’re running. She’s bleeding...But she’s not broken. Daddy didn’t break her.

She’s next to me. We ran away. Daddy didn’t break her this time. Daddy will never break her again.

We’re free. 

Connor felt the cold of the rain soaking Alice in Ravendale. Kara’s soft voice asking Alice is she was alright. Even cold and wet, Kara’s concerned eyes and soft words and hand taking hers, warmed Alice. She felt safe with Kara no matter where they were.

Connor—through Alice’s eyes—watched Kara do whatever she needed to do to keep Alice safe and warm. Disappointment colored the memory of Kara stealing the clothes in the laundromat.

”We need them, Alice. You need something warm, and I need to get out of this uniform.”  ”I’m sorry, Alice, but we have to do this.”

As much as Alice knew stealing was wrong, and that Kara was wrong to do it, Connor did note a feeling relief as Kara helped her out of  her wet shirt and into the dry items still warm from the recently completed dryer cycle.

“Alice, you’re freezing cold!” I can’t tell her. She won’t want me anymore.

Fear laced the memory. Alice would have rather freeze than tell Kara the truth and have her ease that suffering as easily as Connor had witnessed with his own eyes in the present. Connor wondered whether that fear was unfounded or not. Brief flashes of times Todd had hurt Kara and she had returned repaired and reset, told Connor Kara and Alice shared a long history, one Kara herself perhaps didn’t even know fully.

Did part of that history involve an instance of Kara learning Alice’s true nature? A streak of blue blood appearing after one of Todd’s blows revealing the truth? Had it changed Kara’s treatment of Alice?

Any sort of memory locked within such a possibility was unreachable, as if Alice herself refused to let them exist. Whether because it was too painful, or it didn’t matter anymore. Maybe she had a point. It really didn’t matter anymore. However it had come to pass, Kara had been faced with the truth, and when faced with the choice to let that change anything, she had clearly refused to let it. The undeniable truth remained: Alice was hers, and they’d be together forever.

”It’s okay Alice...We’re gonna find some place to sleep tonight.”

The abandoned house. Crawling through a fence Connor recognized.

”Yes, it’s just a scratch. Be careful.”

A knife near Alice’s face, held by a looming figure. Scarred.

”Wait! What are you doing?” 

Connor watched, through Alice’s eyes, as Kara spoke softly to the unhinged android. She used reason to make him see Alice was no threat, commonality to assure him he had nothing to be afraid of, compassion to reach him. Was it empathy? Did seeing those scars down the side of his face bring on thoughts of what they had suffered at Todd’s hands? Was that what led Kara to react with cautious kindness instead of fear?

Alice didn’t like the house, nor the strange and scarred man in it, but Kara made it better.

Warm. The fireplace. Kara taking care of me. Warm.

I wasn’t good enough. That’s why daddy hated me. I just wanted to be happy. I just wanted him to love me....

”I promise.”

”Forever.”

Warm.

Connor saw those crystal blue eyes as Kara held his—no, Alice’s—face in her hands. He felt as though he was drowning in the affection, the love that began to grow within them. The small kiss on the top of the head, lying down beside him—Alice—the arm holding her close....

Warm.

”That’s very kind of you, Ralph...but we have to go...” She looked more familiar, more right, now. Short black hair, no LED. 

“You’re not going to hurt her, are you? We’re friends, remember?” It was a dance on a tightrope. Kara carefully maneuvered however she could to keep Ralph calm and Alice safe. Pointing out he could hurt the little girl brought Ralph back over the angry possessive ledge he was on. Attempting to gently explain why the rodent he held wasn’t a suitable meal for Alice set him off. Angry and helpless at the contradiction to what he knew. 

“Humans eat dead animals! I know that!”

Left with no other recourse, she complied. 

Succulent! Succulent!

I don’t like that word...

“A father would never threaten his little girl with a knife to make her eat...” The gentle chastising worked. Ralph had been pacified. Connor wondered if such a tactic had worked before. Had there been times her intervening with Todd and Alice had succeeded? Had she carefully reminded the man that yelling, striking, terrorizing their child was not something a father should do? Had he then been clear headed enough to listen, or too intoxicated to follow through with his abusive intentions? The more Connor saw of Alice and Kara’s journey, the more Connor wanted to know.

 

Connor found it eerie to hear his own voice. Not in his head echoing in his own ears, but in Alice’s memory. It was even stranger to see himself from where she and Kara hid beneath the stairs. The back of him coming into view has he wandered towards the kitchen and looked around. Alice’s fear, her hope he didn’t find them became his own....even though he knew he had. 

A brief flash of his face as he went to kneel by their hiding spot, Ralph grabbing him from behind, Kara and Alice running away. 

No no you can’t catch us. You can’t take us away.

They were at fence. A...no, the...moment he’d replayed in his own mind many times since he lived through it. Now seeing it through Alice’s eyes, he felt....sad, angry, scared, hatred towards the man at the fence. Hatred for himself.

Running, pulling, fear as each car whizzed by them. Connor felt Alice’s terror. It fueled his self loathing knowing he had been the reason for it. He had made the mad dash through traffic a necessary evil for Kara.

Go away! Leave us alone! Please! Let her go! I hate you! Echoed in Alice’s mind in a chant as he watched himself chase them down and grappling with Kara in the middle of the road. Alice was afraid of what he’d do to Kara. She hated him. He hated himself too. He found himself wanting a car to just barrel through and hit him, letting Kara escape.

And then, an odd thing laced through that memory. Newer, as if injected through afterwards. Fresh. Something Alice’s consciousness had twisted and knotted around the memory recently like a scarf to keep out the cold.

Relief.

Not relief that Kara managed to free herself and push him away, no, relief that Kara had freed herself and pushed him away hard enough so that a car barreling through hadn’t in fact hit him.

In the short time since he had, in the present, sought forgiveness, Alice had looked back on what had transpired, reshaping her views and perspective in such a way that she was now glad he hadn’t been destroyed. She was glad he’d lived to....grow? Learn? Change? It all encased the memory, cradling the truth that she forgave him for who he had been back then.

Connor wasn’t certain he could as easily forgive himself. Not as more memories played out. The horror they encountered after running away from him.

Zlatko.

Connor could have spared them such terror. Instead of being the monster chasing them across the highway, he could’ve...should’ve....helped them! Taken them somewhere safe, kept them away from the old large house and the evil it contained.

Big. Quiet. Scary.

Luther.

Another after-the-fact scarf of forgiveness knotted around the image of the large stoic android. Connor felt competing emotions at the sight of him, those from in the moment as well as ones Alice had attributed later perhaps on looking back on this memory. Fear dancing with comfort.

“....reset...”

No! No! Please don’t make her forget me again!  Kara! Kara!

”No! I don’t want to be reset! Let me go!”  ”Alice! Alice! No!”

Connor felt as though he was choking on the fear he felt by looking through Alice eyes, as well as Kara’s desperate screaming. He wanted to reach into the memory and strangle the smug deceptive human, take Kara away from his twisted machine, rescue them. But he couldn’t. He could only helplessly watch just as Alice, held back by Luther’s large hand and the knowledge that she was ultimately helpless, had as Kara’s eyes looked heavy lidded, a false drugged sedated calm overcoming her as the machine began to affect her.

Alice had alternated between looking at Kara as Zlatko continued his sleazy prattling; and looking up at Luthor, begging him. He could do something! He could stop this!

Please, please don’t let him take her from me, not again!

However many times Kara may have gone through the cycle of repair and reset with Todd, this was different. Of course it was. So much more had transpired between them in the short amount of time since Kara had become a deviant and whisked her from that house.

Tighter hugs not brought on by simple programming. Hands cradling her face and a soft—real—voice asking if she was alright. Hands and arms holding her protectively through all the perils they had faced.

Alice couldn’t lose Kara again, not after all that. The mere thought of it had darkened the memory—the sight—of Kara trapped and motionless, with utter despair.

”Oh, poor little Alice! Aw! Looks like Mommy doesn’t remember you at all, huh? Looks like Mommy’s completely forgotten you!”

Connor wanted to kill him. His mind raged, aching with the desire to beat this monster until there was nothing left of him but a smear on the floor. He was angry and anxious, even though he knew Kara and Alice had obviously gotten away, he feared for them both as the memory continued to play.

”Alice...” Kara’s soft, warm and familiar, voice broke through Alice’s despair. Connor wasn’t sure if the relief now filling him was his own, or his experiencing what Alice felt.

She found me. She’s not reset. She remembers me! She’s hugging me and holding my face, she remembers me! She cares about me!

Alice had been terrified as they went room to room, hiding. But she knew Kara would keep her safe. She was with Kara. They were together. That was all that mattered.

Through Alice’s eyes he watched the madness of the house start to affect Kara. Her shuddering breath and wide eyes as she was forced to literally rip the heart of the android in the bathroom. But Kara couldn’t give into it. She couldn’t be overcome by, Connor assumed, being horrified by what she had just done. Whatever sheer force of will that had no doubt taken Kara from somehow escaping Zlatko’s machine and finding Alice prevailed. Saving Alice was all that mattered.

”We can’t stop now. We just need to be brave, Alice...”

Hiding.

Hiding.

I need to be brave, like Kara says. I need to be brave for Kara.

”There you are!”

Ducking and hiding and running. 

Always running. We’re always running.

”No more hide and seek for you!”

If Connor hadn’t been so entrenched in Alice’s memories, he would’ve jumped back in shock. The barrel of Zlatko’s gun aimed at them, and then....a bear?! The blue of its mechanical eye gleaming in the lowlight of the room as it attempted to attack Zlatko, taking the shotgun blast intended for Alice and Kara.

Kara lifting and moving Alice out of harms way like she’d done so many times before. And like all those times before, Alice managed to somehow feel safe with the knowledge that Kara was protecting her.

Running and escaping out into the rain again, much like when having fled another house of horrors.

”Go, Alice!”

”No, I won’t leave you!”

”GO! Run as fast as you can!”

No! I can’t leave you, Kara. You never leave me, I won’t leave you! I’m brave! I won’t leave you!

Connor was in awe of them both. The intense need to protect the person you cared about, even at the cost of yourself, made him ache and yearn for something so powerful. Something so all consuming and deep. Profound and pure.

A small thought entered his own consciousness in the form of series of events: abandoning his mission—his pursuit of Rupert—to pull Hank to safety. Reacting on instinct and need to protect Hank, Chris, Officer Wilson, and the others, and quickly grabbing a gun to stop the deviant in Stratford Tower before he could fire a shot, even though it meant not being able to further interrogated him. Refusing to shoot Chloe even though it meant not getting any answers from Kamski. More recently, laying his body over Kara and Alice, risking death in the hope they’d be spared the soldier’s bullet. Was that what that was? The deep and profound...care....for others shutting off self interest?

The roof, Stratford Tower, Chloe....Connor had been so focused on viewing those things as failures. Errors in his programming. Markus had tried to reshape them for him earlier when “listening to his confession”, but Connor had been to wrapped in his own self loathing to not continue to fight it. Now, watching Alice’s memories, it was as if the child was holding a mirror to his own deeds and making him see them with new eyes.

 

Through sight partially blocked by Kara’s body in her attempt to shield Alice, Connor saw through the child’s eyes as the large android stepped between them and Zlatko’s shotgun. Taking the shotgun. Strange mechanical gurgling noises as figures emerged from the house.

”Obey me! I’m your master! I’m your masterrrauggh!” 

Though Kara had averted Alice’s eyes and turned her away from the sight, the sounds of blows and Zlatko’s agonized yells rang out enough to tell Connor exactly what had happened. He was being beaten to death by the androids he’d victimized and tortured.

Good.

The sound of the shotgun hitting the ground and Luther speaking made Alice squirm enough in Kara’s hold to look at him.

I didn’t want to hurt you. He programmed me to obey him...When I saw the little one risk her life to save you, it was like opening my eyes for the first time...Finally, I could see...”

Connor was amazed by this child and her ability to move not one, but two androids into waking up and becoming deviant. For her. Yet, in the short amount of time he’d been with her and her willingness to open her heart and mind and this feeling he was beginning to sense in his chest, he also wasn’t surprised. Alice was special. He could feel it. He already felt privileged to know her, and only wished he’d allowed himself to feel that long ago on that highway. Opened his mind and let it open his eyes. Wake him up.

”All right, I trust you.”

Hearing Kara say to Luther the same words she had said to him filled Connor with even more reverence towards her. Her willingness to grant a second chance at a first impression was comforting. Her capacity for compassion and forgiveness was astounding. She had seen the suffering Ralph had endured, listened as Luther and Connor himself had shared their inability to disobey their programming, and, perhaps influenced by her own history of suffering and finally being able to break free, let empathy melt away her more than justified fear, apprehension, and anger. She gave them all a chance. It was awe inspiring.

“Welcome to Pirate Island, me hearties! You’re gonna have a whaaaale of a time! Welcome to Pirate Island, me hearties! You’re gonna have a whaaaale of a ti....”

It’s so cold and scary here...

Kara and Luther have me. They’ll protect me. They care about me....I’m safe.

I just want to be happy, a family, like the picture. Do they love me? Are we a family?

“Do you think we’ll be like them someday?”

”I don’t know how to be like them, Alice...I’ve never been a part of a family. But, maybe we can be our own family. Be happy in our own way.”

Connor felt Alice’s emotions circling around Kara’s words.

We can be our own family.

Be happy in our own way.

In the cold and snow leaking into the building, Alice felt warmth spreading through her from Kara’s words.

This is a story about a little girl who was tired of being afraid.

She dreamed about being like all the other little girls but...she was different. And that made her very sad.

Then, she met a robot, who wasn’t very happy either. So they decided to run away together, to find a place where they could be safe.

They encountered great dangers along the way but...but they stuck together, so they overcame all of them.

Along the way, they met a gentle giant who promised to protect them.

It’s up to us to write the end of the story, Alice.

Kara’s words, the softness of her voice, her gentle loving eyes peering through, it surrounded and penetrated Connor.

Flashes of old bedtime stories in the darkness of the house filled with fists and belts made Alice reject those things. A new story for their new life. She had been taken in by the genuine sincerity of Kara’s story, the truth of it. Not a dusted off retelling pulled from programming but what Kara felt and what she wanted. Something real. And now, through Alice’s memories, Connor too had been taken in and wrapped up by the beauty and purity of it all.

Warm.

Happy.

Family. 

 

Loud! Breaking glass! So many! They’re going to hurt us! 

Kara and Luther are here.... they’ll protect me....

As quickly as Alice’s fear had come, it fled with the knowing of Kara and Luther stalwartly standing in front of her. It had then been replaced with calm and curiosity as the snow covered android leading the pack spoke.

They didn’t want to hurt them. They were afraid of being hurt.

”A little girl! We haven’t seen one for a long time...Children used to love to come and see us.”

”We have something to show her! Something fun! She’ll love it!”

The Jerrys’ genuine enthusiasm and excitement had been infectious. It took away any lingering fears or sadness and transported Alice to something joyous and fun.

A little girl excitedly running through a theme park with her family.

”The carousel is about to begin!” 

Connor felt flashes of Alice’s appreciation for animals. The stuffed fox that at times would be her only comfort in the dark house, the Cheshire Cat in her favorite book. But now? Seahorses. That was her favorite animal now. 

The former dark and frightening park came to life with the lights and barely audible distorted mechanical music from the carousel. The horde of Jerrys were everywhere smiling and bouncing as Alice went around.

She was happy.

Just like every other girl. On a ride going round and round. They’re watching me, smiling.

Kara. Kara is smiling.

She’s watching me like I’m a little girl on a ride, bigger smile when I come around again!

I’m a little girl smiling and waving when I come around....

Smiling and waving at...

at my mom.

Connor felt Alice’s intense happiness at that thought. She’d enviously watched kids ride on similar attractions, laughing and waving, blowing kisses to their parents when passing them. 

The few times she’d ridden on such things in the park or other locations, it was empty. Todd busy sneakily doing a drug handoff in the park after shoving Alice on a ride to keep her out of the way, or Kara—her old, dead, placid, shackled way—watching with blank eyes and a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

But Kara was alive now. She had a genuine smile, looking at Alice with so much love and affection. She wasn’t just an android watching her charge until it was time to go home. She was a mother watching her daughter have fun. 

Mom.

I love you, mom.

The profundity of Alice’s revelation encased her memories like a warm blanket.

Traveling in the cold was difficult, but Alice was with her mother so it was okay.

Apprehension over walking into another house and not knowing if the nice lady, Rose, was just another Zlatko in disguise...but Alice was with her mother so it was okay.

Feeling unwelcome by the surly boy, Adam...but Alice was with her mother so it was okay.

Kara helping her get ready for bed, tucking her in. Alice was with her mother and it was more than okay.

Warm. Soft. I forgot what a bed was life. Maybe we’ll have real beds when we get to Canada. That’d be nice....

”Why do humans hate us? We didn’t do anything wrong...”

”Maybe they’re just scared. People are always scared of what they don’t know...”

”Why can’t we just talk to each other? They’d see we’re not bad...”

”Maybe one day we will.”

Connor felt himself become more enraptured by Kara. Her wisdom and hope was something to behold.

”You’ll have to be careful.” Kara’s gone, just me and Luther now. “If you don’t want Kara to know the truth, you can’t keep saying ‘we’ and ‘us’.” He’s not serious....he’s smiling....but he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like lying to Kara. He doesn’t like me being cold so Kara doesn’t know...

”Please don’t tell her....she won’t love me anymore....”

”Alice,” big hand on mine. Safe. Comfort. “That’s not true. Kara loves you. Nothing is going to change that.”

No matter how sincere and honest Luther’s reassuring words were, Alice hadn’t fully believed him. She was afraid. What if he was wrong? What if the only reason Kara took so much care of her, was because she thought Alice was a human that needed her? If Kara knew Alice was an android, then clearly Alice didn’t really need her, right?

Oh, Alice.

Connor wanted to reach into the memory and hold her close, reassure her she was wrong. But he had to simply settle for watching as Luther tried his best to do so.

 

Adam and Rose yelling.

He’s scared. I’m scared.

”I’m alive! You’re alive! They? They’re nothing!”

I’m nothing? No....I’m something. Aren’t I? I don’t feel like nothing....

 

”You know what happened back there, don’t you? You know....but you don’t want to tell me? I thought we didn’t keep secrets from each other.”

Kara’s sad....disappointed....I’m sorry, I’m sorry, mom....Please don’t be mad!

”If I tell you, you won’t love me anymore.”

”Alice...you know that’s not true.”

 

”I know you think we’re just machines...But since I met Alice, I know I can feel things. I care for her, I fear for her, I can’t be happy if she’s not...This probably doesn’t make any sense to you, but I know she changed me somehow...”

Connor felt Alice feel warmth, not just from the fireplace she was staring at, but from overhearing Kara’s words. Kara’s actions had shown how much she cared about Alice, but there was something about hearing the words. It solidified those actions, brought them to light. Everything Kara had done was a conscious decision because she cared for Alice. The impulses, the careful calculated risks, the constant trying and fighting so hard to not give up, it was for Alice. To make her happy. To make her child happy.

 

Hurry Luther! Take Alice and hide upstairs!” She’s scared...scared for me, for Luther, but she’s not panicking. She’s smart. She’s fast. She’s amazing...

Alice’s increasing reverence for Kara was endearing. Connor too felt impressed by her as Alice’s memory continued. Pressed against the wall at the top of the stairs, Alice had overheard Kara’s calm and casual deceiving of the police officer. A shot of happiness peeking through her fear and anxiety at hearing Kara refer to her as her daughter.

Everything will be okay. Kara’s smart. She knows what to do. 

“It’s okay, Alice! We’ll be safe, now.”

I believe you, Mom.

”A little further on that way, there’s a large freighter called Jericho. When you get there, find Markus. He will help you. The last bus for the border leaves at midnight. You absolutely have to be on it. You’ll be safer on the other side.”

Connor felt....strange as Alice’s memories of Jericho began to unfold. Knowing his influence wrecked their hope for a smooth path on their journey let his regret leak into his viewing of Alice’s memory.

”You’re a very brave little girl, Alice. You deserve to be happy.”

Warm hug. Like Kara’s. Is it something all moms have? 

I miss Rose.  She cares about us. Maybe she’s Kara and Luther’s mom? My....grandmother? Grandma Rose.....I like that. 

I have a family.

 

“QUICK, KARA! THEY’RE COMING!”

So much noise! Guns.....people are dying!

...Kara and Luther are here....they’ll protect me...

”Save yourself! Save Alice!”

No! No, we can’t leave Luther! We can’t leave him! We’re a family...

”I won’t leave you!”

”Kara, no...”

Somewhere in all the chaos, Kara had managed to find the strength to carry Luther to safety. Yet again Connor found himself enraptured by her determination. Both in her refusal to abandon Luther, and how she had not long after fought off the soldier that shoved his way into their hiding spot.

She managed to conjure up strength, speed, ingenuity, anything that was needed to keep Alice—to keep her family—safe.

The aftermath of Jericho was frenzied and chaotic. Screaming, running, hands grabbing Alice to get her to keep running.

”We. Are. Alive.”

Gunshots.

 

”I’m scared, Kara...”

“Everything is going to be okay, Alice. I promise.”

I believe you, Mom.

 

Pain. 

It hurts! My side hurts so much! Help me, Kara! Help me, mom!

She’s screaming, crying, holding me. She won’t leave me.

My mom is here, she’ll protect me.

”I love you, Alice! I love you so, so much!”

She loves me. My mom loves me. We’ll be together forever...

I love you, Mom.

 

Heavy...something on top of us....

“It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Connor was once again taken aback at hearing his own voice in the child’s memory, but nothing could prepare him for the next impression, threaded in and around the memory later, like others before. It was enough to shake and unsteady his consciousness and whatever grip he had on the connection. It sent him flailing back against the wall in overwhelming shock.

He heard voices calling his name, worried, startled. But he couldn’t hold onto them. He couldn’t hold on to anything except for the lingering fingerprint of Alice’s consciousness:

Connor’s here....he’ll protect us.

Too much. Not enough. He squeezed his eyes shut trying to block out the world to right himself.

Rationally he knew it’d been too much...too deep a connection, an overload of stimulation. Most memory transfers were meant to be only flashes, short bites of information imprinted in programming in order to avoid such overstimulation. But he had unconsciously lingered. He had wanted to know everything. 

Too much. Too much. Can’t process. Can’t...

A hand was on his face, fingers fanning against his cheek. Another hand on his rapidly rising and falling chest, pressing down, trying to make him feel it, feel this pressure within the storm raging in his senses.

“His stress levels are rising...”

”I didn’t mean to hurt him...!”

”It’s okay Alice, he’s going to be fine.” The fingers move against his cheek, coaxing. “Connor, you’re okay, just relax.” Thumb sweeping against his cheek to wipe away tears.

He was crying, and overwhelmed, and lost....But....

But she was saying his name. For the first time. She was saying his name. A lighthouse beam guiding him through the fog.

”He’s calming down.” 

”Take care of Alice, I’ve got him.”

Yes....yes....she did.

”Connor? Open your eyes.” More thumb sweeping against his cheek. More closeness. Knee touching his side. Hand leaving his chest, leaving him momentarily bereft of her touch, before the feel of it on his other cheek soothed him. “Connor, look at me.” Thumb sweeping against his lashes, touching the wrinkled skin of his shut eyelid. Coaxing. Encouraging.

Yes. Yes. Look at her. He wanted to look at her.

A pair of crystal blue eyes, lit up with relief, were the first things he saw. 

“Hey,” she softly spoke, bringing him back, a gentle smile on her rose lips. 

Crystal blue and rose filling his senses. Not too much, just enough. Just enough for his own thoughts to return to him.

I love you, Kara.