The Markus, Carl, and Leo dynamic is one of my favorite things in the game and I felt like writing a bit about it. There’s so much angst to draw from (and even more when you find out Leo didn’t even meet his dad until he was sixteen and would have had issues about being unwanted even without Markus to add to the picture).
Overall, this should be pretty short with four chapters (knowing me, that will probably change). But we won’t know until we get there! In the meantime: Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it!
“Connor,” Markus replied through the internal network. He hadn’t heard from the detective since his partner had been injured on a case. Markus was glad his friend had found a free moment to catch up, or if he was calling to talk about his worries, Markus would welcome that, too. “It’s always good to hear from you. How are you faring?”
“I’m well, though I can’t say I’m bringing good news,” Connor replied. “Do you have a moment to talk?”
“Of course.” Markus sat up straighter, setting down Simon’s report from their latest apartment project. “Did something happen with Hank? I thought he was recovering well.”
“It’s nothing like that. Hank is fine, so there’s no reason to worry on his account. I’m calling concerning another matter,” Connor said. Markus paused, waiting for Connor to continue. The detective did not disappoint, though his next question caught Markus off guard: “Do you know a Leo Manfred?”
Markus closed his eyes and saw Leo walking through the snow toward the tombstone he had just left behind.
He’d passed without giving the human another thought.
The man had not been worth Markus’ time.
But, he also saw an angry, high man shoving him past his limits.
Markus saw Carl on the ground.
He remembered crying.
Markus had said “Dad” for the first time.
He remembered Leo pointing his finger and the echo of a shot before the world went dark.
“I do,” Markus said, throwing all of those memories to the back of his mind. He kept his voice even and his emotions hidden. He’d already shared his feelings on the matter with North. There was no need to burden all of his friends with old pains. Markus stared at Simon’s report and turned his attention back to Connor. “Why do you ask?”
“He’s in the ICU a few rooms down from Hank,” Connor said. “I’ve been a bit bored while Hank sleeps, so I’ve taken to wandering the hallways. I had noticed no one had been to visit the young man since he arrived, so I may have abused my systems and scanned him to find out who he was.”
Markus cracked a smile. For an officer of the law, Connor did so love to push his limits. No android could match him in curiosity. He only wished the circumstances could maintain that amusement.
“So why did you call me?”
Connor paused, long and noticeable for someone with an advanced processor. The detective answered after another hesitant moment. “His only listed emergency contact was Carl Manfred.”
“Yes,” Markus said, lingering on the past tense of Connor’s sentence. He covered his face and dug his fingers into the space under his eyes. “Again, why did you call me?”
“I was under the impression Mr. Manfred was your father,” Connor said. “As his family, I assumed you would like to be informed of Leo’s condition.”
Markus did not answer.
“I thought you might not have been called due to either your current status in Jericho or because you hadn’t had a chance to be added to his contact list.” Connor asked, voice soft and confused, “Was I wrong?”
“No,” Markus said. He closed his eyes and pressed his forefinger and thumb between them. He couldn’t blame the detective for what had been a fair assumption. Connor had no idea what Markus’ relationship with Leo had been like. “No, thank you for telling me, Connor. My relationship with Leo is rather strained, so I guess it’s taken a moment for what you told me to sink in.”
“That’s alright,” Connor said. “I feared I was overstepping my boundaries as it was, but it felt better to risk it, just in case.”
“I appreciate it,” Markus said. He placed his hands on the table for a moment to steady himself before he packed away his things. “Do you know why he’s in the ICU?”
“No, sorry. My scan gives me access to his identification and police record, not his health records.” Connor paused once more. “Though if it brings you any comfort, it does not look to be Red Ice related. He has none of the outward signs of use.”
Markus doubted Leo could afford it.
Carl’s will had stated Leo wouldn’t receive a cent of money until he’d proven that he had been clean for a year.
“I’m sorry, Markus, but it looks like I have to go,” Connor said, amusement slipping into his voice. “Hank realized I was having two conversations at once and he has politely asked I hang up.”
“I wouldn’t want to keep him waiting,” Markus said. “Give him my regards, would you?”
The internal line cut off and Markus sat back in his chair and looked over the empty desk he’d cleared.
Markus hated it, but he knew what Carl would have wanted him to do. He could check on Leo and make sure he wasn’t dying.
He got up from his chair and sent a message to the others to let them know he was going out, but did not mention where.
“North is going to kill me.”
Markus abused his position of power to convince a nurse to let him into the ICU.
While he’d help pave the way for android rights, there was little to be done for things of the past. No matter what his relationship with Carl had been, on paper and in legal matters, Markus had no claim to the man or his relations.
As far as far as the hospital was concerned, Leo and Markus might as well have been strangers.
“Thank you,” Markus said, nodding to the nurse that had led him to the ICU. Hank had been moved to a regular room earlier that morning, so Markus did not see Connor on his way. He felt grateful that Lieutenant Anderson was healing well, not only for the older man’s health, but because it meant Markus was alone with his thoughts. The temptation to call Connor for support was still there, but he had to do this alone. Markus spared the nurse one more smile before he asked to be alone. “I appreciate it.”
“Of course, sir,” the nurse said, eyes alight with admiration. “Let me know if you need anything.”
His fellow android left, leaving Markus in the doorway of Leo’s room. He counted to ten in his head before he dared to turn around and look. Markus took a step inside and gripped his hands into fists at his side.
The man looked small and frail in the bed, thin and stretched out with too many monitors attached and a breathing tube in his nose.
Leo looked like Carl.
“This was a mistake,” Markus whispered.
He took a seat in the guest chair anyway and waited for Leo to wake up.
And chapter two arrives! Leo gets to wake up and we get to see North. :D
Fun note: Josh is my fav of the Jericho group (aside from Markus). I was always upset he wasn’t a romance option for Markus, even if I am fond of North & Markus (I like Simon, too, but Josh).
Fun note is over and the fic is now! Thank you for reading! :D
Two broken ribs, a punctured lung, a shattered femur, multiple contusions, and spinal bruising guaranteed Leo Manfred would not be walking by his own power for at least two months.
Leo would be in rehab for possibly longer depending on the quality of care and his cooperation with his physical therapist.
Markus wished he hadn’t snuck a peek at the man’s medical chart out of boredom watching the man sleep.
He didn’t want to know the extent of the man’s injuries from what was supposedly a nasty fall down a flight of stairs.
He hated that he already had care plans developing in the back of his mind from programming that was as innate to him as playing the piano.
Markus had enjoyed being a care—
North pinged his internal network and Markus answered, grateful for the distraction.
“Hey, are you still out?” North asked. “It’s been a few hours and I thought we had a date tonight.”
“We did,” Markus said. He watched the steady line of Leo’s heart monitor and tapped his finger on the chair in the same pattern. “I’m sorry, North. Something personal came up and I had to go.”
“Something personal?” North asked, the disbelief edging into her tone through the call. “The only people you have personal concerns with are here at home. Why don’t you try that again and tell me what’s going on?”
Markus cracked a small smile. “I could be out seeing Connor. He doesn’t live with us and that would be a personal visit.”
“You would have told us if you went to see Connor,” North said without missing a beat. “Where are you, Markus? You’re not in trouble are you?”
A hint of worry laced her voice and Markus steeled himself as he answered.
“I’m at the hospital visiting a patient,” Markus said. North’s exaggerated pause demanded a name without words. “Leo Manfred is in the ICU and I came to see him.”
North’s anger seeped into the call, her emotions filling the connection. She growled, “The Leo Manfred that got you shot and killed your father?”
Markus drew his fingers into a fist.
He concentrated on Leo’s heart monitor.
He closed his eyes.
“Well?” North asked. “Is it the same one or not?”
“Leo did not kill our father, North,” Markus said. “That…that was an accident.”
“But it was still his fault.”
Leo had shown up to cause trouble and started a fight.
He’d been the one to pick on Markus and make Carl upset.
Markus closed his eyes.
He brought up the memory of the cemetery and focused on the look on Leo’s face when he’d walked by.
He paused the frame.
Leo hadn’t wanted their father to die, either.
“Carl was very old with a fragile heart, North,” Markus said. “If Leo is to blame for upsetting him, then I am equally to blame for not noticing his heart attack sooner.”
“What happened is not your fault, Markus,” North said. “You didn’t even fight back!”
“North,” Markus said. He tapped his finger again in time. “Even if you’re right and it is his fault, Carl would have never wanted us to blame Leo for his death. He wasn’t that sort of man.”
“Fine, I’ll give you that,” North said. She huffed over the line and he could almost see her shoving her hair behind her ear. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re visiting the asshole, though. You certainly don’t owe him anything.”
“I don’t,” Markus said. “But I know Carl would have wanted me to check on him, so I’m here.”
“You’ve been there a long time for a check.”
“He hasn’t woken up yet.”
“Well when he does, consider your check done and come home,” North said. “Don’t waste your time on a loser that hated you because you feel guilty about Carl.”
“You never pull your punches, do you?”
Markus relaxed and felt the grin stretch across his face. “I’ll call you on my way back, North, and I am sorry about our date.”
“You’ll make it up to me later,” she said. “I’ll see you soon.”
She cut the connection and Markus returned to watching Leo’s heart monitor. The steady pulse kept him company as he continued to wait.
Never one to cooperate, Leo woke after another hour and ten minutes of waiting. His soft whimpers of discomfort distracted Markus from the book he’d been reading and drew his attention to the bed.
The man’s eyes cracked open and he shifted as much as his bandages and wrappings would allow. His hand patted the bed and flopped about until it landed on his face. Leo’s fingers found the breathing tube and Markus got up to stop him before he could knock it out.
“Easy there,” Markus said. He took Leo’s hand and pulled it down toward his chest with one hand. Markus used his other to call the nurse to let them know Leo had woken. “You’re okay.”
The comforting words came naturally and brought memories of when Carl would wake disoriented in the middle of the night.
“What’re you doing here?” Leo said, either too tired or too groggy on pain medication to put any emotion into the question. His eyes were focused, though, and Markus counted that as a good sign. Leo turned away and looked himself over as best he was able lying down. His gaze lingered on the brace holding his back straight and the purpled bruising around his wrist. “Here to laugh?”
“No, Leo,” Markus said. He folded his hands on his lap and sat down in the chair. “I’m not here to laugh at you.”
The confused question remained unanswered as a nurse entered the room to check Leo’s vitals and ask him questions after he was fully cognizant.
Markus made sure to stay out of the way and leaned against the wall, listening to everything that she said about Leo’s condition, possible future treatments, and his inevitable rehabilitation.
With every word, Leo’s face twisted in the same frustrated expression Carl wore whenever he didn’t want his shots or wanted to skip his exercises.
If Leo was even a fraction of the same stubborn that their father was, he was going to give his physical therapist hell.
Markus knew in that moment what he wanted to do.
He knew what Carl would have wanted him to do.
(North really was going to kill him.)
Oh man, I ended up rewriting most of this chapter from my original notes (which is funny, because I wrote this chapter first and then went back to write the opening parts). It turned out much better though, so I hope you all enjoy it!
Thanks for reading!
“You’re back,” Leo said as Markus entered. After another day of observation in the ICU, the man had been placed in a regular recovery room. He looked better, but the bags under his eyes still lingered and the color had yet to come back to his skin. “I thought you left.”
“I did,” Markus said, he went to the guest chair and sat, placing the duffle bag he’d brought with him near his feet. “And now I’m back.”
Leo eyed him with warranted suspicion and shifted in the bed, though he wasn’t able to move far with the braces and bandages still wrapping him tight. “Why?”
“I wanted to talk.” Markus laced his fingers together and set his arms on his upper thighs as he leaned forward. He’d made up his mind about what he wanted to do, but he’d rather have the upcoming confrontation in the neutrality of a hospital than in his home. “I think we’re overdo for one.”
“I don’t see why,” Leo said, looking away. “It all seems pretty done to me. Dad’s dead so you hardly need to play nice to impress him. You’re a big fancy leader now so you’re doing fine on your own and we have nothing to do with each other. What could you possibly need to talk about?”
“Carl wanted us to get along, and I—”
“You didn’t give two shits about me until you found out I was in the hospital,” Leo shot back with the same furious bite he brought to every conversation. The man glared, though his pallor took away from it. “Try again.”
Markus dropped his hands on the chair armrests and steadied himself.
He would not fight with Leo.
“You were fine until you were in the hospital,” Markus said. He paused and changed the topic. Maybe if he got Leo started with a less heavy conversation they could transition into what Markus wanted to ask more easily. “What happened anyway? Your chart said you fell down the stairs, but your femur is shattered. That takes a lot of force and you only fell down one flight.”
“That might have been broken with a bat before I was shoved over the ledge.” Leo laughed and dropped his head hard against the pillow. His voice was bitter and held that shaky whine Markus had come to know. “Dealers don’t like it when you don’t pay them what you owe. What can I say?”
Leo owed someone money.
“Why is it always about money with you, Leo?” Markus asked before he could stop himself. “I can’t think of a single time you came to visit Carl where you didn’t ask him for money even before you got into Red Ice.”
“Of course I came to him for money. For sixteen years he was nothing more than some stranger that signed checks every month!” Leo shouted. He jerked forward as far as he could, slamming his shaking hand on the bedrail. His voice came out in a rasp, still sore from his punctured lungs. “Why shouldn’t I keep asking? He made it clear that’s all he wanted to be in my life.”
“That’s not true, Leo,” Markus said. “He love—”
“Don’t you finish that sentence,” Leo snapped. “He didn’t love me. He didn’t want me—he was stuck with me. That was never more clear than when I saw him with you and how he acted around someone he actually considered a son.”
“You are wrong,” Markus said again, leaning forward. He grabbed the same railing, his hand next to Leo’s. “He loved you, Leo. He desperately wanted to be more than a paycheck in your life.”
“Easy words for someone who worshiped the man,” Leo said. “As far as you were concerned, he could do no wrong. I can’t blame you, though. You were clearly the favorite.”
“No, that’s not it,” Markus said. The anger grew in his own chest and he almost wished there was another red wall to tear down. “And I wasn’t the favorite, though I wished I was.”
Leo snapped his mouth shut.
Markus couldn’t stop the words.
They spilled out, vile and full of well hidden truths.
“It didn’t matter how perfect I was or how much better I was than you, it didn’t matter,” Markus said. He leaned closer until they were nearly nose to nose. “You insulted him every time you came to visit. You only asked for money. You were throwing your life away using Red Ice but Carl still loved you anyway, because every time I turned around it was ‘Has Leo called, Markus?’ or ‘I wonder what Leo’s doing, Markus.’
“It could have been just Carl and I being happy together without you, but it was never going to happen,” Markus let go of the bar and fell back into his seat. He bit his lip and dropped his shoulders, but he refused to let go of Leo’s gaze. “I wanted to replace you, but I couldn’t. I was his son, but that didn’t change the fact that you were, too.”
Leo shook his head. His voice trembled, “You’re lying.”
“I’m not, Leo,” Markus said. “He loved you, too.”
“No,” Leo said again, shaking his head harder. His heart rate sped up on the monitor, the beeps moving faster. “You have to be lying. He didn’t care.”
Leo’s voice cracked and he curled in as far as his body would allow. He hissed in pain with the movement and his eyes watered. “If that’s true…if that’s true, then I.”
The man burst into tears, raw and wrecked with every heave of his labored breaths. The guilt and shame covered his entire body, paling him further and making his eyes red.
Markus knew what Carl would have done.
For once, it was the same thing Markus would have done, too.
“He knows you’re sorry, Leo,” Markus said. He wrapped his arms around the sobbing man and hugged him. “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it right.”
The man shook his head but didn’t fight the embrace. He clung and whined as his body fought him, still aching from injuries of his own failings.
Markus let Leo cry and rubbed his back until the man calmed, steady and solid, though he shed a few tears of his own that he was sure Leo didn’t notice.
“Are you alright now?” Markus asked, wiping off his cheek. He let Leo back up and did a quick once over to see if he’d disturbed any of his bandages. “We didn’t aggravate your injuries, did we?”
“Why are you such a saint?” Leo asked, voice still raw. “It makes no sense why you’re being so nice to me.”
“Because it’s what Carl would have wanted,” Markus said. “If he’d known you were in the hospital, he’d want to make sure you had the best care possible and that’s me.”
“What sort of a line is that?” Leo snorted and winced as his chest moved. He rubbed his bandaged ribs with his thumb and leaned back again. “You’re talking like you’re going to be my rehab therapist or something.”
Markus laced his hands back together and nodded. “Yes, that was the plan.”
Leo stared at him.
“I’ve already cleared out a room for you to stay in, and while I haven’t told the others I’m planning to bring you home yet, I’m sure once you’re in the door they won’t be able to kick you back out again,” Markus said. He hoped that plan would work. Simon and Josh would take one look at Leo’s pathetic state and their inner need to help would kick in. North would be a tougher nut to crack, but maybe if Markus made sure she never saw Leo, he could hide the man from her. “I’ve talked my way out of worse in either case if they put up a fuss.”
Leo coughed out a disbelieving, “What?”
“I’m the most advanced caretaker android ever built,” Markus said. He felt a puff of pride as he tilted his head. “I know more about medical care and rehabilitation than any nurse or therapist in this hospital. There is literally no one more qualified to take care of you than I am.”
“But you don’t like me.”
“I don’t need to like you to take care of you.”
“But you’re like an android leader now or something. I saw you on the news,” Leo said. He scrunched his nose and pointed at the television. “Doesn’t that whole deviancy thing mean you don’t have to do what you were programmed to do? You can do what you want?”
“There is a very big difference between being forced to do something and choosing to do something,” Markus said. He stood and grabbed the duffle bag off the floor. He walked to the small set of drawers with Leo’s things and began to pack up. “And there’s nothing wrong with making use of my programmed skills if I want to. Connor went back to being a detective, so why can’t I be a caretaker?”
Leo pointed at the television again. “Because you’re like the ruler of the androids right now.”
“I can do both,” Markus said, zipping up the packed bag. He set it on the end of the bed and found the small monitor with Leo’s stats. Markus removed the skin from his hand and interfaced with the computer, downloading all of Leo’s relevant files and health information with the code he’d been given from his doctor. “I’m taking you home, Leo.”
“No,” Leo said. He shook his head and held his hands up. “Our talk a second ago was one thing, but this is too much.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer,” Markus said. He filed Leo’s vitals away and activated his monitoring software for the first time in ages as he looked at the young man in the bed. Leo’s heartbeat and temperature popped up in the side of his vision and he felt a sense of familiar purpose wash over him. “I’m very persuasive—I led a peaceful protest that revolutionized all of android kind, remember?”
“But you’d have to do all that embarrassing stuff the nurses were talking about,” Leo said, his face flushing. “Like assisting with…you know.”
Markus put both hands on the end of the bed and tilted his head. “Leo, I gave our dad sponge baths and helped him relieve himself. You think I can’t handle you?”
The man flushed so red he had to have felt it because Leo covered his face with his pillow.
“But look at it this way, Leo,” Markus said, keeping his voice as chipper as possible so the man knew how fully he was enjoying his embarrassment. “If you let me be your caretaker, I can have you discharged from the hospital today. Otherwise, you’ll have to sit here another week until you’re cleared and then spend who knows how long waiting for a spot to open up in a rehab facility.”
Leo pulled the pillow up from his face and looked Markus right in the eye.
He said exactly what Markus knew he would: “Deal.”
Markus stopped at the call of his name. He held the handles of Leo’s wheelchair and peered into the room. Connor smiled brightly at him from a guest chair on the other side of Lieutenant Anderson and waved.
“Hello, Connor,” Markus said. He pushed Leo a few steps inside to get out of the hallway and nodded. “Lieutenant.”
“Hey, kid,” Anderson said. “How are you doing?”
“Good and I’m glad to see you’re recovering,” Markus offered. Leo pulled his beanie down over his hair and fidgeted. His heart rated went up. “Are you well?”
“Yeah, a bullet isn’t going to keep me down for long,” Anderson said. Markus saw the outline of the bandages under his hospital gown from where he’d been shot under the ribs. “Who’s that with you? He looks familiar.”
“That’s Markus’ brother, Leo Manfred,” Connor said before Markus could speak up. “He looks familiar because you arrested him six months ago for Red Ice possession.”
Leo pulled his hat down further and said nothing.
“Huh,” Anderson said. He snorted and looked at Markus again. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”
Markus’ hadn’t known he had one either until earlier in the day.
“Many don’t,” Markus said, reaching down to pat Leo—his brother. His brother. Markus felt a warm smile fall on his face as he squeezed Leo on the shoulder. “But I’m sure that’ll change soon since he’s moving in with me.”
“A Red Ice user living with a bunch of androids?” Anderson choked out a laugh. Leo froze under Markus’ hand and tugged his hat down further. Anderson scratched the back of his head. “You sure that’s a good idea?”
“Hank,” Connor said, swatting at the man’s arm. “Don’t be rude.”
“What? He’s the leader of the androids,” Anderson said, throwing his arm to point at Markus. “You don’t think his brother being a Red Ice user won’t be the biggest scandal of the year? The press is going to eat it up.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Markus said. He pulled his hand back to take the grips of Leo’s wheelchair once more. Leo’s heart rate continued to rise and Markus wasn’t sure he wanted to hear more of what Anderson had to say on the matter. “It was good seeing you two, but I really do need to get Leo home before the painkillers wear off.”
“Of course,” Connor said. He waved and sent an internal communication that said, “I’m sorry about, Hank. Call me once you two are settled.”
“It’s alright and I will,” Markus said over the line. Out loud, he said, “I’ll see you later.”
He wheeled Leo out of the room, pushing him steadily down the hallway with even steps so he wouldn’t jostle the man’s healing wounds.
“The cop’s right, you know,” Leo said, his voice soft. “All the shit that’s between us will come out sooner or later and the press will use me against you.”
Markus kept walking toward the hospital exit. “I know.”
“And you still want to do this?”
“I’ve been up against worse,” Markus said. Carl had told him to be the man he wanted to be and Markus had no intention of letting him down. “Besides, we have something much worse to contend with before that ever becomes a problem.”
Leo tilted his head back and pushed up the beanie so he could look at Markus. “Like what?”
The last chapter has arrived! I swore this would be short and I’m holding myself to that. XD
This is probably going to turn into a small series though, because I have visions of Leo on crutches running around Jericho and they won’t leave me alone. Ha ha ha. So look forward to that in the future. :P *goes ahead and pops this into a series because I’m committed to more Manfred Brothers interactions*
Until then, enjoy the final chapter and thank you for reading!
Simon was thrilled for the additional company.
Leo became a captive audience as he was stuck in bed while his leg and spine recovered. Markus made time for his brother, of course, but he was still a busy man and couldn’t be there as much as he’d like. The others in Jericho were more than happy to make up for it, amused and happy to get to know someone from Markus’ life before the world was forced to change.
“You being here has been good for him,” Simon said. Markus stood near the doorway, happy to eavesdrop on his friend as he sat next to Leo’s recovery bed. Simon had yet to notice him and was happy to keep talking as he worked on some knitting. “Markus doesn’t like us to worry, but you can tell when his new responsibilities are stressing him out.”
“Yeah?” Leo said, voice soft. “I wouldn’t have guessed. He’s always so…put together.”
“He is,” Simon agreed, nodding to reinforce it. “But it’s also very clear that his stress lowers significantly whenever he’s finished changing your bandages or checking on you. You give him something to focus on that’s challenging, but the weight of the world isn’t on his shoulders over it.”
“I can get that,” Leo said. He shifted and smacked his head against a pillow. “Doesn’t mean I won’t be happy with all this is over. I’m sick of being stuck in bed.”
Simon laughed, full and bright. “I can tell. Now put your head back up, I want to see if this is the right size.”
Markus walked in as Simon shoved the hat-in-progress over Leo’s head.
Josh was ecstatic to have someone to cook for.
“Okay, try this one,” Josh said, setting a small plate of cookies on Leo’s chest. Markus grinned from the other side of the bed as he read over a few reports that had come in on the old Cyberlife factory parts production. Josh sat near the edge of his seat, watching in earnest as Leo nibbled on the edge of the cookie. “Better or worse?”
“Do you want an honest answer?” Leo said, scrunching his nose. “Or is that answer enough.”
“Honest,” Josh said. He put on what he called his “lecture face” and used his teaching voice. “I can’t make it better if I don’t know what I did wrong.”
Leo snorted and shoved the rest of the cookie in his mouth. He chewed and spoke after the swallow. “It’s too dry. It sticks to your mouth in weird ways and ends up being chalky.”
“And the taste?”
“It’s okay,” Leo said. He reached for the cup of water on the stand and grunted a soft “Thanks” when Markus picked it up to hand it to him. Leo went for another cookie, dunking it in the water before he bit into it. “Better than last time anyway.”
“Progress,” Josh said. He laughed and clapped his hands together. “Thank you for being my taste tester. There aren’t many humans around here to help.”
“It’s better than eating his health diet,” Leo said, nodding his head toward Markus. “So happy to help.”
“I am thankful, you know,” Josh said, crossing his arms as he watched Leo eat. “I’ve noticed how food brings humans together and I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. Learning to cook for myself feels more genuine than just downloading a copy of Simon’s cooking profiles.”
“Sure,” Leo said. He put the rest of the cookies on the table and leaned back against his pillow. Markus turned a page in his report, feeling a smile grow as Leo kept the conversation going on his own. “The cookies for anything special or is that just what you started with?”
“Simon is helping a few of the child models find human chidden playmates to further their socialization, so I wanted to have cookies as a special treat,” Josh said. He rubbed the back of his neck and grinned. “Though I think Simon’s batch are going to be more impressive than mine.”
“Nah, yours are gonna be homemade,” Leo said. “That’s always better than something a hundred percent by the book.”
Josh and Leo fell into a small conversation about cooking as Leo shared about his mother and Markus felt warm.
A week ago, Leo had barely said a peep to anyone—Markus included—and now he was making friends.
Markus couldn’t be happier.
“He’s a spindly little weasel, isn’t he?” North said, clicking her tongue as she watched Leo sleep from the doorway. “No wonder you didn’t fight back. If you had, you’d probably have taken his head off.”
She was surprisingly fine about the entire thing.
“You know, I was worried you’d be angry about me bringing him home,” Markus said, wrapping his arms around her waist. He rested his head on her shoulder and hummed as they rocked back and forth. “I believe you told me not to waste my time on him.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” North said. She tilted her head to the side and nipped his cheek with a grin. “I’m furious. I’d love nothing more than to walk in there and kick the brat out of his bed and break another bone.”
“But I also know you,” she said, turning in his grip so they were facing each other. North put her arms around Markus’ shoulder and shot him a smirk. “You always do what you want, no matter what anyone says. I’m saving myself the trouble of a fight I’m going to lose anyway.”
“I don’t know,” Markus said, kissing her nose. “You beat me every once in a while.”
“Not when it matters,” North said. She hugged him back and squeezed. “I really hate him, but I’m glad you got a little part of Carl back into your life. I know how much you missed him.”
Markus held her tighter and looked over her shoulder at the sleeping man. “How do you always know the perfect thing to say?”
“Because no one knows you better than I do.” North reached down and took his hand, removing the skin so they could share in each other. They held hands and Markus felt the warmth rush through him. “Now, I do believe you owe me a date.”
“That I do,” Markus said. He pressed their foreheads together and whispered, “I love you.”
She answered through their joined hands.
“So, Markus,” Leo said as Markus drew the blankets up to his waist after changing the sheets. The man kept his head down, his hair pressed against his head under Simon’s latest knit hat. “I uh, wanted to say something.”
“I’m listening,” Markus offered. He shook out the top blanket and folded it over his arm. Leo’s temperature was running warm, so he likely didn’t want the other blanket. “What is it?”
“I wanted to say thanks,” Leo said. His voice was soft and he shrugged. “For uh, taking care of dad when I was being an asshole and um, for taking care of me, too. I know I definitely didn’t deserve it.”
“Maybe, but I’m glad I took the chance,” Markus admitted. “I think I rather like having a brother.”
“Me, too.” Leo snorted and tugged the hat off to hold it in his hands. He wrung the fabric and squeezed the soft yarn. “And I am sorry, about—well, everything.”
Markus reached over and put his hand over Leo’s arm and squeezed, careful of the bruise near his wrist. “I forgive you, Leo.”
“Great,” Leo said, exhaling a little too hard. He laughed and shoved the hat back on and shook his shoulders. “I’m glad that’s out of the way.”
“Sure.” Leo bit his lip. “This is awkward now, isn’t it?”
Markus pinched his fingers together. “Only a little.”
Leo burst into laughter and Markus followed him. He recorded the moment under the first of many sibling moments he was sure to visit again and again.
“Hello, Connor,” Markus said over the internal line, he sat in his office with a stack of paperwork. Leo sat across the room, lightly bobbing his head to a song through a set of headphones as he read a book recommended by Josh. The man was happy to have healed enough to use a wheelchair to get out of bed, though he wasn’t allowed to go far without an escort. Markus continued their internal chat and asked, “How are you doing?”
“Wonderful,” Connor said. He sounded chipper and the excitement bled through the line. “Hank was finally discharged from the hospital and is sleeping on the couch. Sumo has been very happy to see him.”
“And I’m sure you’ve missed Sumo, too.”
“Very much,” Connor said. He could almost hear the heartbreak as he said, “I hated having him stay at a kennel while Hank was in the hospital.”
“I’m glad that both the Lieutenant and his dog are safe at home.” Markus flipped over a page and pulled over the next document. “I’m happy for you, too. I know you were worried.”
“Yes, but everything worked out,” Connor said. He paused and asked, “Speaking, how are you and your brother faring? Is everything still working out for you, too?”
“I like to think so,” Markus said, looking up at his brother. The man continued to read and flipped the page on the tablet. “Everyone is happy to have him here.”
“Well, maybe not North,” Markus said, laughing. Leo looked up at the noise and Markus pointed at his head to indicate he was on an internal call. The man rolled his eyes and went back to his book, mouthing “Androids” under his breath. Markus went back to his paperwork, still smiling. “I’m glad he’s here.”
“Then I’m happy for you, too.” Connor said. “I’m glad I called when I saw him.”
“I’m glad you did, too.”
They said their goodbyes and Markus packed up his things. Leo saw him and put away his own things and asked, “All done?”
“Yup,” Markus said. He patted Leo on the back before nodding toward the chair. Leo gave him the okay and Markus grabbed the back to push the chair out of the office. “How about we go see Simon today? Or would you rather see Josh?”
“Simon,” Leo said. He shivered in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “That guy is making a sweater and Josh is trying out bread pudding. I’d rather face the sweater fittings.”
“Simon it is.”
Markus sent an internal message to North inviting her to join him and Leo. She’d get a kick out of watching the poor man be Simon’s model.
And what sort of sibling would he be if he didn’t tease his brother alongside his girlfriend?
“I’m glad you’re here, Leo,” Markus said out of the blue. He reached down and held the man’s shoulder. “You’re not so bad of a brother.”
“Neither are you,” Leo said. He put his hand over Markus’ and squeezed. “I’m glad you’re my brother.”
Markus felt proud and knew Carl would be, too.