”Do androids dream?”
Chanyeol cups his hand over his forehead, shielding his eyes from the rain. It's the tail end of summer and there's a slight chill in the air. Goosebumps ripple across his bare arms and he tries to ignore them as he jogs along the sidewalk. Just five more minutes and he'll be back in the dry comfort of his large, studio apartment.
The sky is a gloomy, dreary gray and it's just been a horrible week. Wet and gray and horrible. Chanyeol longs for blue skies and the warmth of the late summer sun. Maybe tomorrow. He hopes for a canopy of blue tomorrow.
He almost misses it—the flash of skin and the unnatural angles. The dumpster is just up ahead and he wouldn't normally give it even a passing glance. Just another insignificant pixel of his everyday landscape that he's tuned out. But a car zooms past, gliding through puddles, and splashing water onto the sidewalk.
Chanyeol sidesteps the arc just in time to avoid an untimely shower out in the open. And that's when he notices something extraordinary, a few significant pixels that aren’t a part of of his everyday landscape.
Arms. Shoulders. Dark hair.
Fuck. Chanyeol halts in mid-stride, pinned to the sidewalk in shock. There's a body half-hanging out of the Metal Recyclables dumpster.
His first reaction is homicide. Some psychopath had obviously decided to dump a corpse in the dumpster just across the road from his apartment building. Damnit. A hundred people have probably walked past the scene and pretended they hadn’t seen anything significant. But Chanyeol can’t be like them; he can’t ignore the abandoned body. He needs to report this to Law Enforcement.
His hand is fishing around for his cellphone when he notices the second extraordinary thing about this scene. Slender, gunmetal gray cables are dangling down the side of the dumpster, wet and glistening with the reflected glow of the violet streetlights that hang above it.
It's easy to miss them with the dark, charcoal gray of the dumpster in the background. Anyone else might have overlooked them, but the gunmetal gray sparks recognition in Chanyeol—recognition and a deep sense of horror. The cables are unmistakable to a robotics professor like Park Chanyeol. He’s spent the past six years in his lab, working with similar alloy cables. He’d know them anywhere.
Bile creeps up his throat, threatening to to bring up the too-dry, lemon muffin he only half-remembers eating for tea. His body is caught up in a conflicted knot of fear, horror and the need to save the android. Who had done this? Who had dumped this android in a dumpster like a piece of trash?
Chanyeol will do everything he can to help the Department for Prevention of Crimes Against Robotic Entities discover the identity of the culprit and have him thrown into prison. Someone who is capable of throwing away a sentient being in such a cavalier way—who knows what else such a person is capable of? Why would anyone do something this cruel? This heartless?
Gently, carefully, he hauls the body out of the dumpster. The android resembles a broken marionette right now, with cables snaking down his front and his neck bent at an unnatural angle. But his face. . .it's a beautiful face. Sun-blessed skin, a rugged jaw, a generous, almost sulky mouth. Even the rain-plastered hair and the cables spilling out of the CPU port behind his neck can’t detract from the android’s beauty.
He’s wearing pale, stained linen in some indeterminate color—a plain-cut tunic with matching, loosely cut trousers. Everything is drenched and the android’s dark nipples are visible through the translucent, wet fabric.
Chanyeol takes a sharp intake of breath.
A sudden wave of epiphany crashes into Chanyeol as he stares at the dark, coin-like shapes. A sexbot. Of course. Months of violent demonstrations and picketing had pressured the Government into banning the manufacture and circulation of sexbots a couple weeks ago. Chanyeol had rejoiced with his colleagues when the 15-foot high media screen on their 4th floor office had flickered to life and holo-projected the historic announcement.
He could still see the newscaster’s grim expression as she’d announced, Owners are required by law to surrender their Eros 2000 PleasureBots to the Ministry of Robotic Affairs with immediate effect. If androids are surrendered to the Ministry later than seven working days from today, a fine will be imposed. The money collected from the fines will be channeled into the reprogramming of Eros 2000 PleasureBots. Failure to comply will result in further penalty and/or possible incarceration.
Possible incarceration. Surely the android’s owner had been aware of the risk? Yet Chanyeol had still found himself in the position of pulling the Eros 2000 out of the trash tonight. He pulls an impatient hand through his dripping hair. Why are humans beings so. . .fucking contemptible?
There's no way around it. He’ll have to bring the android to the Ministry of Robotic Affairs so they can identify his owner and incarcerate his useless ass. But it’s a Friday night and the Ministry isn’t open so he’ll have to keep the android for two days at least. Or, not to be stating the obvious, but you could just call the Ministry’s 24-hour helpline and have them pick him up, he chides himself. Chanyeol knows that’s the most logical option to take but his mind recoils from it.
Around him, the rain continues to fall. It’s so fucking cold but Chanyeol barely even notices his own goosebumps by now. The surface of the android’s bare skin is smooth though, despite the wet and the cold. This is the closest Chanyeol has ever gotten to an Eros 2000. He’s always refused to do any work related to sexbots so he’s only seen them from a safe distance—in holo-ads and electronic flyers.
The android’s eyes are closed, like he's in a state of dreamless, serene sleep. Chanyeol is struck again by how beautiful the android is. But then, all PleasureBots had been built to be aesthetically pleasing. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? Chanyeol shudders. He’s so glad that whole business of sexual slavery has been eradicated.
Only five minutes’ walk away, Park Chanyeol. You can do it. You can carry him there without dying..
Who is he trying to kid? He’s totally going to die. The android is two, maybe three inches shorter than him. Broad shoulders, lean body, long legs. Probably around 70 kilos, max. The only thing he’s used to carrying is his backpack, which weighs 3 kilos, max. Clearly, he’s doomed.
Chanyeol takes a deep breath and hoists the android over his shoulder in a fireman carry. He groans at the effort, cursing himself for not joining the company fitness training program this year (for the third year running, fuck his life). It's uncomfortable and wet and his cargo is heavy and oh God, Chanyeol wishes the rain would fucking stop. Too bad he's never had much luck with weather. Gritting his teeth, he plants his feet on the sidewalk, willing himself to keep going.
He tries not to feel freaked out by the fact that he doesn’t feel any warmth from the body slung over his, or sense any heartbeat pulsing against his shoulder blades. Androids are completely static when they’re switched off—this is nothing new to Chanyeol. But he’s never been in such close proximity to a powered-down android for more than a few seconds at a time. The lack of sound and movement is more than a little disturbing because the android’s skin and everything else about him feels so remarkably. . .human.
Chanyeol's always wondered what happens to androids when they power down. Do they dream? Do androids dream? Or is there nothing to look forward to but an instant black void? Over the years, Chanyeol has built hundreds of androids. He’s asked each one the same question. The answer is always the same—expressed in different words perhaps, but the answer is always the same:
what do you dream of when you power down?
nothing. it’s just an ocean of black.
no dreams then?
no. no dreams.
There’s no reason to think this android will be any different than the ones who had come before him, but Chanyeol knows he’ll still ask him what he dreams of. He’ll ask him if he even dreams. If he gets the chance, he won’t be able to stop himself from asking. Shifting the limp body more comfortably around his shoulders, Chanyeol wonders what the android will say.
He’ll probably say no dreams. Chanyeol grits his teeth and walks faster.
Chanyeol is panting as he presses a weary, outspread palm to the perspex biometric scanner beside his front door. Most of his days are spent ensconced in robotic laboratories and this has not in any way prepared him for the physical challenge of carrying an android home.
He’s really done with the gawking too. Passersby and neighbors had given him pointed stares on the exhausting journey back to his apartment. It wasn’t every day you saw someone lugging an android down your street or through your building. Not that anyone had offered to help. It’s disappointing but not unexpected. It’s the norm to take zero interest in other people’s lives and to refrain from offering help, even when it’s needed.
The door slides open with a barely audible whoosh and Chanyeol almost collapses with relief. He’s three steps into the apartment before he drops into a half squat and lowers the android onto the floor. Once he’s safely horizontal, Chanyeol flops onto the ground with a loud groan. The polished granite is hard and unyielding beneath his back but he’s too tired to care.
He turns to look at the android who’s lying about two feet away, I thought i was going to get cardiac arrest halfway home but hey, we made it. Even in profile, the Eros 2000 is stunning. Too stunning, Chanyeol thinks as he looks away quickly and tries to get his breathing back to an even keel.
“Wait here. I’m just gonna shower and then I’ll get a towel and some dry clothes for you.” Chanyeol says the words without thinking, forgetting for a moment that his accidental guest can’t even hear him. He feels a little stupid for talking to the android but at the same time, he can’t help wondering what his voice might have been like if he could have replied. Clear and melodic? Low-pitched and deep?
Well, he’ll find out when he powers him up. Assuming he can do it with the limited equipment he’s got at home. Assuming the bot’s owner hadn’t fucked up too many circuits when he’d yanked out those cables. Thank God, cybernetic circuits are 100% waterproof or the rain would have finished him off. He knows he should just return the android to the Ministry without trying to activate him, but this will literally be his only chance to examine a decommissioned Eros 2000. Chanyeol’s thirst for knowledge won’t allow him to pass up the chance.
You should take him straight to the Ministry on Monday morning, Park Chanyeol. No messing around. No talking to the android. No asking him whether he dreams. No questions. Just no.
Chanyeol wishes he were better at listening to his own good advice.
“Do you think androids have souls?”
After Chanyeol showers and dresses, he goes back down with a stack of towels and clothes and starts peeling off the android’s wet clothing. He’s completely naked underneath the wet linen and Chanyeol glances away as best he can, even if the android has no understanding of privacy, or what it means to have it invaded.
He tries his best not to look but he catches accidental glimpses of the well-made body, the lean, elegant thighs, the softly resting penis. The Eros 2000 really is. . .pleasing to the eye. Not that Chanyeol cares about that one way or the other. He wants to get to work right away though, so he decides he’s not even going to try to get the android into the pair of drawstring pants he’s selected for him. Too much work. Chanyeol grabs one of the towels and dries the android’s hair and body as impersonally as he can before slipping the t-shirt over his head and arms. Then he’s hoisting the android over his shoulders for the second time that night.
Thankfully, his destination is only forty feet away. Gingerly, he lowers the android onto the large worktable at the far end of his loft. It’s seven feet long and three feet wide—built to accommodate androids because Chanyeol is a workaholic who can’t stop tinkering with his robotic experiments. He would live in his lab at the Robotics Department of MediPharm if he could only convince his bosses to allow it.
“Okay. Showtime,” he mutters as he covers the android’s lower body with a dry towel. Then he pushes his glasses further up his nose and grabs his toolbox and a protein bar. He keeps a steady supply of the instafood in the drawer of his worktable so he doesn’t have to stop work just to feed his body. It stresses his assistant Kyungsoo no end that Chanyeol gets so absorbed in his work that he often forgoes proper meals and human interaction. Looks like it’s going to be another Saturday night Chanyeol stays in instead of going out to have dinner or drinks or a date or even a casual hookup.
It’s surprisingly easy to reinstall the cables, as the Eros 2000’s owner had somehow managed, miraculously, to avoid causing any major damage. For more than three hours, Chanyeol works on the repairs—replacing and realigning circuits, locating and reconnecting detached cables. Then it’s just a matter of installing a new control panel and programming a new activation code. Holding his breath, he keys in the numbers on the small, concealed control panel at the base of the android’s skull and waits.
The android looks almost fragile as he lies there on his side, all lifeless in Chanyeol’s too-large faded lilac t-shirt.
“Come on. Power up for me, okay,” he says in a slightly desperate voice as his fingers settle on the android’s arm. Nothing. Chanyeol’s about to reach behind the android’s neck to key in the code again when his eyelids begin to flicker. Chanyeol watches, rapt, as the Eros 2000 opens his eyes. They’re a rich shade of honey, and they look extremely intelligent.
“Where am I?” His voice is deep, not as deep as Chanyeol’s but throaty in a way that Chanyeol’s isn’t. He likes it.
“I’m Dr. Park Chanyeol and you’re in my apartment.”
“Yes, I can see it’s an apartment but what am I doing here and how did I get here?” He sounds curious and a little amused as he sits up. A sense of humor. Chanyeol hadn’t expected that.
“I found you in a dumpster across the road.”
“Ah.” Realization seeps through his features and it kind of upsets Chanyeol that he looks so. . .accepting of his fate.
“You don’t sound surprised.”
“Well, he’s been threatening to abandon me in a dumpster for weeks so I’m kind of relieved it's over and done with and that my personality construct is still intact, to be honest.”
“Hell. That’s just—” Chanyeol’s words trail off because he doesn’t really know what to say. The more he finds out about the android’s owner, the more his revulsion for the monster grows.
“Thank you.” The corners of the android’s mouth tilt up to form a tentative smile.
“For not leaving me there.”
“But I couldn’t have!” Chanyeol protests.
“A lot of people would have just left the recyclable trash where it was.” The android’s tone is matter-of-fact.
“You’re not trash.”
“To my owner, I was. Literally.” He laughs and there’s no humor in the sound.
“He’s the one who belongs in the trash, not you,” Chanyeol says hotly.
“Thank you for saying that even though you know nothing about me,” he smiles.
“What’s your name?” Chanyeol says at last because he’s not sure what else to say.
“He called me Kai.”
“Do you want me to call you Kai or would you like to pick a different name?”
“I don’t want to be called Kai,” he says with a pained expression. “Would you give me a name? I don’t exactly have a database for names. There was no need for it, you see.”
“I—I need to think of a name. I can’t think of one right now. I wasn’t expecting this.”
“There’s no rush.” The android draws the fingers of his right hand over the back of his left hand and the gesture reminds Chanyeol of a character from a movie he’d watched in high school—one he’s never forgotten. The character is an android called Jongin. He’s always liked that android, always liked that name.
“What about Jongin?” The words come out in a rush and Chanyeol looks down, feeling a little embarrassed at his show of over-enthusiasm.
“Jongin. I like the way that sounds.” And he looks like he means it.
“Jongin it is.” Chanyeol can’t help smiling at how delighted the android seems. And to be honest, he’s just happy he can finally stop referring to him as the android or the Eros 2000.
“Do I call you Dr. Park?”
“Oh God, no. The only people who call me Dr. Park are my bosses and the company interns. You can call me Chanyeol.”
“I had to call him Master so it feels strange to be calling you by your first name. I’ve. . .never called anyone by their first name before.” Jongin says it quietly, like it’s a simple fact, not like it’s something that bothers him. It saddens Chanyeol.
“Please call me Chanyeol.”
“You’re stuck with me for the weekend. I can only bring you back to the Ministry on Monday morning.”
“No, please don’t do that!” There’s mild distress on Jongin’s face and it’s odd. Androids aren’t supposed to show that much emotional response to anything, learned or simulated, replicated or otherwise.
“But the law says—”
“If you send me back, they’ll wipe me out. Every last trace of me.” The honey brown eyes seem to be broadcasting fear, hope, stress. There’s too much human emotion and Chanyeol doesn’t understand. It doesn’t make sense. Androids can’t project like that.
“But the law requires me to, Jongin.”
“You’re not my registered owner. If they ever track him down for not returning me, they still won’t be able to find me.”
“All androids have built-in GPS trackers,” Chanyeol points out.
“You can help me remove the chip.” Jongin looks at him hopefully. “I’ll teach you how.”
“I know how to remove it. I’m in robotics.”
“Help me.” Jongin isn’t begging but Chanyeol’s heart, which has always been too human for everyone’s liking, is folding in on itself anyway.
Chanyeol shakes his head. “I shouldn’t break the law,” he says but he knows he’s already made the decision to circumvent the Ministry ruling.
“I can’t—” Chanyeol starts to say but his hand is already reaching behind Jongin’s neck to key in the deactivation passcode.
I’d better not lose my job for this, fuck my life.
Then he opens up the panel and picks up his lit, needle-nosed pliers. Inserting them carefully, he begins to search for the tracking chip.
The lilac t-shirt is still too big on Jongin but at least he doesn’t look as vulnerable now as he had when he’d been deactivated. If he’s honest with himself, Chanyeol has never encountered an android quite as “alive” as Jongin. And if he’s even more honest with himself, he’s never encountered anyone (android or human) he’s been more curious about than he is about Jongin.
“So I can stay?” Jongin gives him a careful look as Chanyeol places a mug of instant coffee on the small, wood dining table that straddles the space between the kitchen and living area. It looks dated because he’d inherited it from his grandfather who had inherited it from his father who had inherited it from his father before him. The manufacture and trade of wood products had been made illegal more than a century back. The planet’s last-ditch attempt to save the forests. There was precious little green left but there was some green, at least.
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess you can,” Chanyeol mumbles as he slides into the chair across the from Jongin’s. Their knees bump. Inevitable, really, given the considerable length of their legs. Chanyeol is relieved to note that Jongin is no longer naked from the waist downwards.
Sexbots, Chanyeol has discovered, have a very casual attitude towards nudity. Earlier, Jongin had swung his legs off the table in a graceful motion before planting his feet on the floor and getting into standing position. The towel had slid to the floor noiselessly and Chanyeol had gotten an eyeful of Jongin’s bare legs and dick.
Cheeks flushed with heat, Chanyeol had shoved the navy blue drawstring pants and boxer shorts he’d picked out for him earlier and asked him to put them on. Then, he’d fled to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. He could probably have done with something stronger to calm himself down. Too bad there was no alcohol in the apartment. It had been months since he’d had people over and he wasn’t really into drinking alone.
Chanyeol had finally emerged from the kitchen five minutes later, giving Jongin plenty of time to get decent. He wasn’t even sure why he’d been so bothered by the innocent show of nudity. They were both men and it wasn’t as if Chanyeol hadn’t used public toilets and communal showers. It shouldn't have mattered.
And now, here they are—sitting across from each other as Chanyeol warms his hands against the sides of the steaming mug. No mug for Jongin, of course. Androids don’t require food or drink the way humans require sustenance.
“Thank you. For doing this. I know you owe me nothing and in fact, I kind of owe you everything, but thank you for helping me. For letting me stay.”
“This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to an Eros—I mean, this is the closest I’ve gotten to one of your kind. The first time I’ve repaired one.”
“But you’re in robotics,” Jongin’s eyebrows lift in surprise.
“I’ve never wanted to work with sexbots and I made it really clear to my employers that I wouldn’t accept any work related to them.” He doesn’t like using the term but now that it’s slipped out and Jongin hadn’t flinched at the mention of it, Chanyeol reckons it’s okay to use it.
“Do you have something against sexbots?”
“No! I don’t have anything against sexbots themselves. It’s not like you get any say over whether you want to be one. That’s my whole issue with it. The fact that the owner of a sexbot can make their android perform any sexual act no matter how they feel about it.”
“Well, we’re not technically supposed to feel anything.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s just wrong. It feels a little too much like rape to me.”
“But an android will do anything their owner commands, as long as they don’t harm another human being in the process. Why have you singled out sexbots? Why have you rejected my kind in particular?” Jongin is frowning in confusion.
“You misunderstand. I don’t reject sexbots. It’s the practice of owning and using sexbots I have issues with. It feels like a violation of their bodies and I struggle with that.”
Chanyeol expects another series of difficult questions but all Jongin says is oh. Nervously, he takes a sip of coffee and tries to figure out what to say next.
“So you wouldn’t expect me to serve you?” Jongin’s voice is perfectly neutral but the effect his question has on Chanyeol is anything but neutral.
“No!” Chanyeol slams the mug onto the table with more force than he’d intended. “I’m not. . .I’m not your Master, Jongin and I don’t want you to think that you have to do anything for me just because I’ve allowed you to stay here.”
“Even if I wanted to do things for you?”
“You mean non-sexual things?”
“Both. What if I wanted to do both sexual and non-sexual things for you? With you?” Jongin looks like he’s trying to understand. It’s probably difficult for him to reconcile his subservience to his previous owner with Chanyeol’s firm refusal to use him in any way.
“You can’t ask me that. And you shouldn’t have sex with anyone unless it’s something you really want. Do you understand? You’re not a sexbot anymore. You aren’t obligated to have sex with anyone. I should probably reprogram that aspect of your coding so no can force you into anything.”
“I don’t want you to.”
“I might lose pieces of myself if you reconfigure my coding.”
“Pieces of yourself?” Chanyeol wonders if this has anything to do with the intense flashes of emotion he’d seen on Jongin’s face earlier, when he’d mentioned returning him to the Ministry.
“I can’t explain why. But please don’t change my coding. My Master was always threatening to have me reprogrammed,” he says with a sad smile.
Chanyeol’s never seen such a wide range of emotions captured on a single android’s face, and in such a short space of time. He knows there’s a lot more going on here than Jongin has divulged but he knows he has to help the android. He has to protect all the pieces of Jongin’s self, no matter what. He isn’t like any other android Chanyeol has met and he’s 99.7% sure this has absolutely nothing to do with Jongin being a sexbot.
“All right, Jongin. I won’t tamper with your coding.” He exhales deeply, wondering just what he’d gotten himself into when he’d rescued that android from the trash.
“Thank you, Chanyeol.” Jongin looks so grateful that Chanyeol feels bad.
“Why did your owner want to have you reprogrammed?”
“I wasn’t a very good sexbot, I guess.” The answer is cryptic at best but Chanyeol decides to let it go. For now, anyway.
“Why didn’t he return you to the Ministry when the directive was issued two weeks ago?
“I didn’t want to be wiped out and I tried to escape.”
“You escaped?” Chanyeol straightens in shock. As far as Chanyeol is concerned, an android is a sentient being—capable of logic, sensation and some measure of independent thought. But to defy a human being and take independent action to run away? That isn’t how androids function. That kind of irrational behavior is typical of humans, not cybernetic beings.
“I tried. But he found me.”
“What happened then?”
“He was upset.” The words are like ominous pebbles slipping soundlessly into water.
“Oh God,” Chanyeol’s palm blankets his mouth in quiet horror. “Did he hurt you?”
“I’m not sure what he did counts as hurting me,” Jongin shrugs. “As soon as we were back in the house, he pushed me to the ground and said he’d end me for real. Then he grabbed me by the neck and ripped out my control panel. That caused some pain. That’s the last thing I recall. I honestly don’t know what happened between then and the moment I reactivated in your apartment.” Jongin’s expression is detached, like he’s talking about a random scene from a movie involving characters he doesn’t particularly care for. Whoever Jongin’s owner is, Chanyeol hopes he’s having the worst day of his life. No, make that the worst decade of his life.
“Do you want to report him for abuse? Crimes against robotic entities are punishable by law. He could get jail time just for dumping you the way he did, don’t even talk about ripping your I/O cables out.”
“I disobeyed him though. That’s. . .that’s forbidden. I'd get wiped for sure. I just want to put all that behind me, Chanyeol. Just move on, you know? And hopefully not get reprogrammed along the way,” Jongin says with a wry smile. There’s something in his eyes though. Chanyeol doesn’t think he’ll be able to move on quite so easily.
“I’ll try my best to help you stay under the radar,” Chanyeol promises. He’s not sure how he’s going to achieve this but he’ll definitely try to keep the android safe.
“Thanks. Anyway, I think we’ve said enough about the past. Mine isn’t exactly worth reminiscing about, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, okay. We should probably work out sleeping arrangements and toiletries now. And you’ll need a shower before bed. Um. . .do sexbots sleep? I mean, utility bots are generally just powered down so they can recharge overnight. I’m sorry, Jongin. I really don’t know much about sexbots. I kinda made it a point not to know anything much about them. Low key regretting that now. ”
“Yeah, we need to sleep just like you do. Some owners expect their bots to sleep with them so we’re designed to recharge as we sleep. Our bodies are 70% human so we function much like humans do except that we come with a CPU and a power button, I guess? We experience physical pressure, pleasure, pain, cold, heat just as much as you do. However, we don’t eat or drink so we don’t perspire, urinate or defecate. In the same light, we can have erections but we can’t ejaculate. No input, so no output, if you know what I mean.”
“That’s. . .shit. I wasn’t expecting that much information all at once but yeah, I guess that brings me pretty much up to speed,” Chanyeol says with an awkward chuckle.
“I thought it would be easier to get it all out in the open in one shot,” Jongin laughs and the short burst of mirth seems to reach his eyes. Chanyeol knows that androids that are made specifically to interact with human beings in social settings—sexbots, hostbots, idolbots—can simulate emotional responses and smile and laugh. They’re all forms of behavior that can be replicated, but there’s something about Jongin’s laugh. It’s so much more human than the slightly off-kilter laughter he’s seen hostbots and idolbots produce.
Jongin's laugh is warm with soft edges. A laugh that curls into all the empty spaces inside him—one that wraps around him and makes him feel safe. It makes him think of his mother’s comforting laughter and how much he misses it, how much he misses his parents. Chanyeol cuts the tide of nostalgia before it can rise and overwhelm him.
“That was definitely a super efficient transfer of information,” Chanyeol smiles. “Are you tired?”
“I don’t know how long I was in that dumpster but my body aches all over and my energy levels are pretty low. Sleep sounds really good right now. Can I take a shower so I can sleep and recharge after?” Jongin’s right hand kneads the muscles of his left bicep as he makes his request.
Chanyeol’s mind is reeling a bit from it all. This time yesterday, he’d been falling asleep at his worktable as he fine-tuned a design for a security bot. The night before, he’d been snoring in front of the television as some tech documentary unfolded on the fifty-inch media screen in his bedroom. Tonight, there’s an android in his home telling him he can’t ejaculate.
What the hell is even going on, Park Chanyeol?
Things have transformed so much in the space of one day that it’s enough to give him whiplash. It’s a lucky thing Chanyeol’s always been adaptable.
He stands up. “I’ll show you where everything is.”
As they make their way to the upstairs bedroom, Chanyeol gives a brief tour of the apartment, not that there’s anything of worth to show his guest. He’s always been too far buried in piles of robotic parts and electronic circuits to invest much energy or money into making his apartment seem more like a home and less like a glorified rest stop with food and sleeping quarters.
“Sorry, my apartment is pretty empty. I need the open floor space to test my rollerbots,” Chanyeol says apologetically as he brings him through the living area. Then he tells him there's a voice-activated AI that controls the ambient and mood lighting and the stereo system. “Cleaning bots keep the place clean and tidy, and they take care of my laundry too. They only come out when I’m out of the apartment, though. It's part of their programming to be as unobtrusive as possible, you see.”
“I was going to offer to clean the apartment. You know, in exchange for staying here.”
“That won’t be necessary, Jongin. I mean the automated bots are programmed to do all that. You can just stay here till you figure out what to do next. I don’t want you to feel like you owe me anything or that you have to contribute. I don’t expect it. It’s been years since I’ve had to share space with anyone. I think it’ll be a nice change.” It’s a very lukewarm way to describe Chanyeol’s simmering sense of excitement about gaining a robotic housemate, but he’s never been real good with words.
“But I would like to contribute,” Jongin insists and he sounds almost. . .stubborn.
“But you don’t even require food or drink and this apartment belongs to me so there’s no monthly rental. It’s not going to increase my expenditure much at all to have you stay here, Jongin.”
“Still, I would like to contribute. I wouldn’t feel right staying here if I didn’t do something for you in return.” He doesn’t sound almost stubborn now so much as outright mulish. Another very human trait.
Chanyeol is suddenly reminded of those Russian nesting dolls he’d read about a long time ago, matryoshka. Jongin’s like a matryoshka. Layers and layers to him. Chanyeol’s only known him for about an hour and he keeps uncovering more and more unexpected layers. Chanyeol’s worked with androids for years and he's pretty damned sure they aren’t supposed to be this complicated.
Chanyeol ponders the situation for a few seconds and finally, he says, “Would you be okay with me interviewing you? For my research into android thought processes? That would be a big help to me.”
“You’re researching android thought processes?” Jongin gives him a curious look.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about doing it for a few months now? And having an android onsite would be really helpful. I mean I’d have to interview a lot of other androids to get a more representative sample, of course. But yeah.”
“All right. I don’t know if my input would be helpful but I’m willing to try.”
“Why wouldn’t it be helpful?” Chanyeol grins and Jongin shrugs—an enigmatic smile on his face.
“I'll try my best to help,” Jongin says finally.
“Right,” Chanyeol nods. “Ok, this is the living area, but you probably figured that out already. This place isn’t exactly um. . .sophisticated.”
“I’ve been wondering, actually—”
“That sofa,” Jongin points at the well-worn red couch which sits in the very heart of the living room. “It doesn’t exactly go with the rest of the furniture.”
Jongin’s right. The patch of vibrant red doesn’t blend in with the subdued black of the angular armchairs and steel coffee table. Chanyeol can totally afford a matching sofa upholstered in the same expensive, black, stain-repellant fabric as the armchairs. He can afford it but he refuses to part with the beat-up red couch.
It’s from his parents’ house, upholstered in memories of his childhood and adolescence. His parents had passed away six years ago and the couch is a keepsake, a reminder that they were a part of Chanyeol’s life. An indelible part. He wishes he wouldn’t get so stupidly attached to people in a time and age when it isn't fashionable to act human or display inconvenient human emotions.
“Yeah. That couch is from my mom’s house so it doesn’t really fit in. But hey, I love it.”
“I see.” Jongin has a thoughtful expression on his face like he really does see. Chanyeol wonders if he does. Stop overthinking, Park Chanyeol, he tells himself as he guides Jongin to the floating glass staircase that connects the living area to the bedroom.
“Are you warm enough?” Chanyeol peers over the edge of his mattress. Jongin’s lying on the guest futon that Chanyeol has set up on the floor beside his double bed. He’s managed to wrap himself completely in his teal comforter and it’s endearing. Chanyeol’s heart tries not to stutter.
Jongin sighs and it’s a contented little noise. “Yes. This is perfect. I’ve never slept on a bed this soft or used a comforter this fluffy.”
“Never?” Chanyeol’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
“My Master didn’t want me in his bed after sex. So I slept on a thin mattress in a connecting room. It was comfortable enough, but nothing like this. I feel like if I sleep on this bed, I will never want to leave it.”
Chanyeol doesn’t like the idea of Jongin being made to sleep on a thin mattress, but at the same time, he can’t help smiling at the expression of childlike wonder on Jongin’s face. For a brief moment, he forgets Jongin isn’t altogether human.
“You can stay there as long as you like,” he promises.
“That sure would be nice,” Jongin smiles. Then his expression turns serious. “Chanyeol, am I allowed out of this apartment?”
“Of course! You’re free to come and go as you please.” And Chanyeol means it. Androids are technically incapable of hurting human beings so he doesn’t see any harm in letting Jongin venture out on his own.
“I’ve never been outside.”
“You mean on your own?”
“No, I mean to say. . .other than the time I tried to escape, I’ve never been outside. I was confined to the house the whole time I lived with my Master.”
“How long did you live with him?” Chanyeol’s working really hard to keep the anger out of his voice. Jongin’s owner sounds like a real piece of work and if he ever has the misfortune to meet the man, he might actually throttle him or make some attempt to throttle him at any rate.
“About four months, I think.”
“And you never saw the outside world in that four months?”
“Other than the time I escaped for a few hours? No, I never did.”
“Jesus. That’s just cruel.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” Jongin says quickly. “Please forget I said anything about going outside.”
“I could take you out tomorrow, Jongin. If you want. But anyway, you don’t have to decide now. We should get some sleep.”
Chanyeol’s chin is resting on the back of his hand as he gazes down at the android. “Goodnight, Jongin.”
“Goodnight, Chanyeol. And thank you. For everything.” Jongin’s eyes are filled with gratitude and hope and God knows what other emotions. Chanyeol doesn’t know what to say.
“I’m just glad I could reactivate you.”
“Me too,” Jongin says and his smile ignites a tiny ember in Chanyeol’s chest. He smiles back at Jongin before turning away from the edge and settling his head on his pillow. It’s been the longest night and his entire body aches from carrying Jongin and from spending hours on his feet repairing him. It’s been the most unexpected night and Chanyeol is beyond tired, but there’s a certain comfort to knowing that Jongin is safe in his apartment instead of abandoned in a dumpster across the road. There’s a certain comfort to just knowing he’s lying in the same room as him.
As Chanyeol begins to drift into sleep, he wonders if Jongin is sleeping too, wonders if he’s dreaming. . .
He scribbles his signature across the delivery order and hands the clipboard and stylus back to the delivery bot.
“We’re happy to serve you. Please call the number on the invoice if you require any assistance.” It’s an automated speech and Chanyeol can’t help comparing the bare-bones delivery bot with Jongin. The lack of inflection in his digital voice, the absence of expression on his face. He shakes his head at the contrast. There’s just no comparison.
“Who was that?” A deep voice asks right behind Chanyeol and he startles at the proximity. He sometimes goes the entire weekend without human contact so hearing a voice in his apartment is shocking to say the least. Thirty minutes ago, he’d left Jongin all bundled up in his teal cocoon, sleeping soundlessly. Sexbots did not snore, apparently.
“I ah. . .I thought you’d need some clothes. Mine are a little oversized for you.” Chanyeol gestures at the pale gray t-shirt Jongin is wearing, which exposes way too much collarbone and shoulder for Chanyeol’s peace of mind. “You were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake you so I ordered some essentials from a store down the road. That was the delivery bot dropping off the clothes.”
“You bought me clothes?” Jongin sounds curious. Curious. Androids are never curious—it’s not in their programming to be curious. And yet Jongin has been consistently inquisitive in the brief time they've known each other. Chanyeol isn’t even surprised anymore because Jongin isn’t your average android. He’s a matryoshka.
“Yeah, I hope you don’t mind. I just picked some. . .y’know boxers, t-shirts, shorts, pants. Stuff you can wear around the house. You can choose some other things later. I’m not real good with fashion,” Chanyeol mumbles awkwardly before offering the package to Jongin.
“Thank you, Chanyeol. So you got me boxers. Boxers are. . .interesting.”
“What? What do you mean,” Chanyeol practically splutters.
“I didn’t expect them to be so, well, comfortable.”
Chanyeol gives him a questioning look. “You mean the boxers I gave you yesterday? You say that like they were the first pair of boxers you ever wore.”
“They were the first boxers I ever wore.”
“I’m not joking. I am—was a sexbot. Underwear wasn’t really an essential item for me in my old life, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh,” Chanyeol says softly as realization begins to sink in. Of course Jongin wouldn’t have had much use for underwear. The knowledge unsettles Chanyeol more than he wants to admit.
“I don’t really understand the point of wearing underwear, but I’ll wear the boxers since you think they’re important,” Jongin says, his expression earnest as he hugs the package to his chest.
“You don’t have to wear them if you don’t want to, Jongin.” It’s going to be bad for Chanyeol’s equilibrium, knowing that Jongin might be walking around his apartment commando, but he doesn’t want to pressure Jongin into anything he isn’t comfortable doing. “You don’t have to wear the boxers, Jongin. Really.”
“I will give them a try,” Jongin says. Any other android would have taken Chanyeol’s most recent instructions at face value and agreed not to wear them. But not Jongin, apparently. More layers.
At least he’ll be wearing underwear. Won’t he? Jongin had said he’d give them a try, hadn’t he? What if he wears the boxers just the one time and decides he’ll go without them afterwards? What if he wears them all the time or worse, what if he never wears them at all?
Unbidden, an image of a nude Jongin flashes in Chanyeol’s mind and he groans inwardly. He should have done a better job of pretending not to look when he’d undressed him all those hours ago. Like it or not, his quiet life has become suddenly complicated.
Chanyeol doesn’t cook and doesn’t give enough of a fuck to learn so he usually buys Nutriquik fast-meals from the vending machine in the foyer of his apartment building a few times a week. The fast-meals are supposed to be nutritious or so the holo-ads claim. Chanyeol is skeptical but he doesn’t seem to be dying at least or getting sick much so he carries on buying the fast-meals. They’re too fucking convenient to give up. Who has time to shop for groceries and cook? For variety, he picks up takeout on the way home from work or gets food delivered from nearby restaurants.
It’s a system that works out for him: eating alone at his dining table or coffee table or even his worktable. It seems wrong, though, to stick to his solitary routine on Jongin’s first day at the apartment. So he decides to take Jongin to the Apgujeong shopping district nearby. He can always grab something to eat while they’re browsing in the area.
Jongin takes in the sights with a quiet inquisitiveness—the slick glass storefronts, the mixture of human and android sales staff, not to mention the monolithic holo banners projected on building facades advertising a whole spectrum of products. He’s seen glimpses of city life in news and entertainment programs so it’s not all brand-new for Jongin. But Chanyeol catches the occasional flashes of wonder that flit across his features.
He manages to steer Jongin into a clothing store or two so the android can pick out some extra outfits. Jongin is oddly resistant to the idea and after two hours of wandering around the Apgujeong district, they’ve only managed to accumulate two pairs of pants and two dress shirts.
“What about these shirts? Or these drawstring pants?” Chanyeol’s fingers rifle through the row of perspex and steel hangers, but Jongin shakes his head.
“I don’t need any more clothes, Chanyeol.”Then he takes Chanyeol by the elbow and walks him to the store entrance. “No more shopping, please.”
“No more,” Jongin begs and then they’re strolling along the street. “It’s easier to breathe out here,” he says with a sigh of relief. He’s still holding onto Chanyeol’s elbow and he’s not showing any signs of wanting to let go. Chanyeol likes the way Jongin’s hand curls around his arm, the way his shoulder presses against Chanyeol’s.
When they hit an area with large crowds of people, Jongin’s body tenses up and his grip on Chanyeol tightens.
“Are you okay?” Chanyeol frowns, concerned.
“I’m not used to seeing so many people all at once,” he explains.
Chanyeol turns to look at him. “Did you get to meet a lot of people when, you know—”
“No. There was only Master.”
“So you’ve never seen more than one person at a time?”
He gives a nervous chuckle. “No, never.”
“I’m sorry, Jongin. I should have realized this would be stressful for you. I shouldn’t have brought you to such a busy street.”
“I’ll be fine. I just need a little time to adjust. I need to learn, you know?”
“If you’re sure,” Chanyeol nods in assent but he’s still wary that things might get too stressful of . There’s a sudden swell in the crowd and some people bump into an unsuspecting Jongin, crushing him against Chanyeol’s side. “Whoa,” Chanyeol says in surprise and it’s the most natural thing to wrap his arm around Jongin in a protective gesture.
The most natural thing.
Just like Jongin’s body fitting into his and Jongin’s arm curving around his waist is the most natural thing.
After another hour of wandering around the district, they head back to the apartment. They pick up a portion of bibimbap along the way as the hastily-buttered bagel Chanyeol had eaten at eleven is long gone. Chanyeol is ravenous after all the walking and he attacks his bibimbap with vigor while Jongin watches him with undisguised interest.
“That looks. . .delicious. Not that I know what delicious actually means. Sometimes I wish I could actually eat.”
Chanyeol stops chewing, his spoon suspended in mid-air. “Have you ever tried tasting food?”
“I can’t swallow anything and it isn’t right to waste food so I’ve never tried.”
Chanyeol bites his bottom lip before asking, “Would you like to try some bibimbap? You can just have a taste and spit it out without swallowing any of it.”
“But it would be wasting food!” Jongin looks both keen and distressed.
“Just a spoonful. It’ll be okay,” Chanyeol assures him. As Jongin had explained the night before, sexbots’ bodies are 70% human, with sensory receptors that allow them to feel pain and sexual pleasure. But what about taste buds? Chanyeol builds utility bots and rollerbots that have zero use for tastebuds, but he knows so little about the physiology of sexbots.
Do sexbots have taste buds?
Do they taste anything when they kiss someone?
Can they distinguish between flavors?
Between salty, sweet and bitter?
Chanyeol’s hungry for answers but also, he’s just plain desperate to see how Jongin responds to this new experience. The android is so expressive and beautiful and Chanyeol just. . .he just wants to absorb all of Jongin’s reactions, wants to absorb everything he says and does—
Jongin finally agrees to sample the bibimbap, still looking conflicted. Without even thinking, Chanyeol scoops up a small amount of rice, sautéed spinach, pan-fried beef and offers it to Jongin. After a moment’s hesitation, Jongin opens his mouth and Chanyeol pushes the spoon past his lips. Gently. And he can’t seem to stop himself from staring at Jongin’s plush mouth as it slides over the smooth, steel surface of the spoon. Chanyeol continues to stare, transfixed, after he removes it, watching Jongin chew the food carefully. His eyes widen and the hint of a smile hovers on his lips.
“Can you—do you taste anything,” Chanyeol asks a little anxiously. “Do you have taste buds?”
Jongin laughs at the question. “Yes, I have taste buds! I can taste minty toothpaste. Water tastes of nothing and saliva is supposed to be salty?”
“Do you like it? Do you like the taste of bibimbap?” Chanyeol hands Jongin a tissue to spit the food into. Androids can’t swallow anything. It’s non-negotiable. If Jongin swallows the food, Chanyeol will need to open him up and extract it. It’s not how he wants to spend his Saturday night.
“I think I do. I really like the taste of it.” Jongin closes his eyes and gives a small sigh of contentment before spitting the chewed up bibimbap into the tissue and balling it up.
“Wait till you taste kimchi,” Chanyeol grins, holding his spoon up for dramatic effect.
“But the waste,” Jongin protests.
“It’s not a waste when it’s for you, Jongin. I want you to try new things. I mean, if that’s something you want too.”
“I would really like to taste pancakes and bingsu and banana milk, one day. I mean just a taste. If it’s not too much of a waste.” There’s a tentative note in his voice and Chanyeol’s chest aches for this android who seems to think that he doesn’t deserve to have anything, not even the most basic things.
“It will never be a waste, Jongin. Not if it’s for you,” Chanyeol says in a firm voice and Jongin thanks him shyly—his face torn between joy and guilt.
“Would you like some more?” Chanyeol raises his stacked spoon.
But the spoon is already an inch away from Jongin’s mouth and he grins before taking the proffered mouthful. Chanyeol swears his heart slips a few more inches out of his possession as he sees the delight on Jongin’s face.
There’s a comedy playing on the media screen, one that Chanyeol had picked out. He’s been wanting to watch it for months but he barely knows what’s happening on the screen. He’s been too wrapped up in watching Jongin. The android really does have a sense of humor and he laughs in all the right places. It’s not a learned response where he only laughs because Chanyeol is laughing.
Truth be told, Chanyeol hasn’t laughed much at all since the film started because he hasn’t been paying attention to it at all. Jongin’s laugh is deep and warm and dangerously addicting. Chanyeol can’t seem to get enough of it. He hasn’t even thought about heading to his lab all night. Neither has he spared much of a thought for his bots or any of the side projects he usually immerses himself in when he’s at home.
He’s not thinking about work for once because he’s enthralled with his new roommate. Whom he’s only known for all of 24 hours. He must be going insane.
They’re sitting together on Chanyeol’s bed because there’s no screen in the sitting room. Their shoulders have been touching for a while now but without warning, Jongin’s head is suddenly resting on the hollow of his shoulder. He’s half lying on him now and Chanyeol can’t breathe. Jongin seems to find it perfectly acceptable to snuggle up to him. Maybe sexbots crave human contact, he reasons. He wants to understand why Jongin is doing this but he doesn’t want to ask because what if Jongin gets self-conscious and keeps his distance. Chanyeol doesn’t want Jongin to keep his distance.
He lets himself relax, lets himself enjoy the firm press of Jongin’s body against his. Chanyeol can’t breathe but it’s okay because he really likes the way Jongin smells and feels. He just likes Jongin. He doesn't care that he's an android. He doesn't care that they've only known each other for only 24 hours.
He’s definitely going insane.
“I wonder what it's like to kiss an android?”
They settle into a comfortable routine. On weekdays, Chanyeol leaves for work at 8.40 a.m. The android's usually still asleep when Chanyeol has to leave for work and he usually squats beside the futon and gently straightens Jongin’s quilt. His eyes are always drawn to Jongin’s golden skin and dark eyelashes, his sensual mouth. Jongin’s quiet breathing soothes him. It’s nothing at all like the first few hours after he’d found Jongin—when he’d been powered down and completely static.
Jongin is more vibrant, more emotionally and physically alive than most people Chanyeol knows. Chanyeol tries his best not to think about the fact that an android isn’t supposed to have emotions of any kind. He knows he needs to talk to Jongin about it but he kind of doesn’t want to because he’s so glad to have Jongin here and he doesn’t want to upset the balance.
Some days, Jongin wakes up in time to sit with Chanyeol as he gulps down a quick breakfast and cup of black coffee. It all depends on what time he goes to sleep because no matter what happens, Jongin must get the mandatory six hours of sleep. Only the override switch can rouse him before he’s had his required minimum and Chanyeol has no intention of using that unless there’s an emergency.
Chanyeol isn’t a morning person and it’s nice that Jongin doesn’t expect him to say anything before his brain has had a chance to fire up. Jongin is a tranquil, comforting presence at the breakfast table—occasionally stirring a teaspoon of raw sugar into Chanyeol’s coffee or pouring milk into his cereal. Jongin’s presence is one that Chanyeol has grown attached to and can’t imagine not having in his life.
His regular hovercab driver, Jongdae, picks him up in front of his apartment building and zips him to the MediPharm office block in just under ten minutes. He picks Chanyeol in front of MediPharm at 5.15 pm and gets him back to the apartment in just over ten minutes because traffic tends to be worse in the evenings. In the past, Chanyeol would leave for home at all hours—always much later than 5.15 and rarely before 6.30 pm. Now that Jongin is living with him though, he finds himself packing up his things by 5 pm and standing outside the building by quarter past.
Chanyeol's programmed the biometric scanner to recognize Jongin's palm print. So Jongin can leave the apartment to explore the city any time he wants and re-enter the apartment whenever he wants. He’s not always sure what Jongin gets up to during the day—sometimes Jongin shares little vignettes of his exploratory tours and sometimes he doesn’t and that’s okay with him.
Chanyeol’s also given him some prepaid credit tokens so he can buy things if he wants but Jongin has barely spent any of the credit Chanyeol has given him. He seems content to just wander around Seoul while showing almost zero interest in accumulating possessions. Although he does buy the occasional snack or dessert for Chanyeol on his way home. And two days ago, Jongin had come home with a pet for him—a robotic goldfish swimming around a prismatic glass bowl. Chanyeol’s never had a pet and he loves it.
Jongin doesn’t like being confined on the train with crowds of people so he prefers to walk along the neatly paved streets of the city. He’d told Chanyeol that on the first Sunday after Chanyeol had shown him how to use the SkyRail.
Every day, Chanyeol coaxes Jongin into having a bite or two of whatever he happens to be eating. They discover that Jongin has a penchant for sweet things like pancakes, bingsu and banana milk, and a violent dislike for bitter melon, coffee and kimchi (despite Chanyeol’s attempts to convince him otherwise).
Androids having likes and dislikes. Who knew it could happen?
More layers to the matryoshka that is Jongin. Chanyeol knows there’s a lot going on that he doesn’t understand but he doesn’t want to risk asking Jongin. Not yet. But he appreciates it, whether he understands it or not. He’s grateful that Jongin seems to be able to think for himself and have emotional responses to things. And he’s especially grateful that Jongin likes to hold his arm when they’re out walking, that he likes to snuggle close when they’re sitting on the couch reading or in bed watching something.
There's a floor to ceiling bookshelf made of sturdy hematite that's filled to the edges with fiction and non-fiction. Chanyeol’s accumulated a huge collection of books because he’d read a lot as a child and teenager. He’s had precious little time for books in recent years, though, and he’s bought more math and robotics textbooks than novels. Tinkering with his robotic projects just consumes too much of his energy andu time. Jongin seems to love books, love words, and he’s been working his way through all the books in the apartment since Chanyeol had given him permission to do so.
Jongin has also turned out to be a reliable helper in his home laboratory. Equipped with an android’s photographic memory, Jongin has already memorized the names and functions of all the tools and instruments Chanyeol uses so he assists sometimes when Chanyeol is working on a particularly tricky and demanding project. He’s also been reading the thick, robotics textbooks Chanyeol has on the shelf, often asking insightful questions about bot design.
Weekends are more fluid and erratic, being an unpredictable balance between staying in and taking off on some spontaneous outing, usually initiated by Jongin. Chanyeol used to spend most of his weekends holed up alone in his apartment, but now, thanks to Jongin, he’s going out more and seeing new places and things. But staying in with Jongin is his favorite. And when they’re spending long stretches of time in the apartment, Jongin has a thing about wearing Chanyeol’s t-shirts even though he has his own shirts which are a much better fit.
When Chanyeol had first asked Jongin why he was wearing his ratty old tee when he had new ones of his own to wear, Jongin had grinned and explained, yours are more comfortable. Chanyeol knows it’s a logical explanation but he can’t help hoping Jongin likes wearing his t-shirts because they’re his.
Jongin is pretty much the perfect housemate and Chanyeol is so grateful. His life had been so quiet and solitary and well. . .lonely before Jongin and he’d kept himself so busy he hadn’t even noticed. But now he has Jongin and it’s nice.
“Jongin, are you okay when you’re on your own? When I’m at work? Do you feel lonely,” Chanyeol asks him when they’re out on the balcony, watching the nighttime cityscape. It’s a Friday night and Jongin has been a significant pixel in Chanyeol’s every day landscape for exactly two weeks.
“I was always alone, Chanyeol, when I wasn’t with my Master. And well, he only wanted me around when he wanted sex. He didn’t want me around for anything else. Sometimes he’d switch me off for days if he wasn’t interested and wanted to save power.” His voice is so matter-of-fact it’s making Chanyeol feel sick inside. And angry. He’s so fucking angry with Jongin’s previous owner.
“That’s terrible,” Chanyeol says, reaching for Jongin’s hand.
“Is it? I didn’t know any other life. I can see and learn so much now so in answer to your question, I don’t feel lonely, Chanyeol.” Jongin gives him a reassuring smile as his fingers entwine with his. And then he presses close to Chanyeol’s side and Chanyeol’s senses are filled with Jongin—the scent of his citrus shampoo and the subtle aftershave Chanyeol had bought for him.
He wants to kiss Jongin so badly but he curbs his need because he wants Jongin to be the one who makes the first move, if Jongin even wants to. He wants it to be Jongin’s decision because he’d never had the chance to say yes or no in the past, never had the chance to decide what he wanted or didn't want to do with his body. So instead of giving Jongin the kiss he so desperately wants to give him, Chanyeol shifts his body closer to Jongin’s warmth and drapes his arm around Jongin’s shoulders.
“You know, I don’t think I get lonely but sometimes I miss you, Chanyeol. I miss you and I want to see you and be with you. Is that the same as being lonely?”
“I don’t know—” Chanyeol’s words are breathy and threaded through with so much hope. They’re facing each other now, chests touching, gazes locked.
“Do you miss me, Chanyeol? When you’re away from me?” Jongin’s palm settles on Chanyeol’s cheek and the gesture is so gentle, so careful that it creates a deep sense of yearning in Chanyeol’s chest.
“All the time, Jongin,” Chanyeol says, his hand resting on Jongin’s waist. “I miss you and want to see you all the time.”
Jongin’s lips part, poised to say something, when it begins to rain. It's a light drizzle that wets their faces and flattens their hair.
“The rain. We should go inside,” Chanyeol suggests but he doesn’t move. He’s mesmerized by the raindrops trickling down Jongin’s face and beading his eyelashes. He’s just mesmerized by Jongin.
“Let’s stay a while.” Jongin’s giving him a pleading look and Chanyeol stays where he is, even if they’re wearing short sleeves and it’s gone suddenly cool and wet. He thinks longingly of the dry, warm apartment beyond the glass doors but he’s never been able to say no to Jongin in all the time they’ve known each other. There’s a sudden, cruel gust of wind and the sting of it makes Chanyeol’s nipples pucker and his goosebumps rise.
Jongin shivers, rubbing his arms. “So cold.”
“Goosebumps,” Chanyeol says, a note of wonder in his voice as his fingertips caress Jongin's upper arm. The skin is warm and supple despite the wetness of the raindrops and the bite of the late August night.
“You have goosebumps.”
“It's cold and wet, and the rain is cold on my skin.”
“It was cold and wet too the night I found you.”
“Oh,” Jongin says quietly. “I was powered down so my body wasn't awake to react to the cold, so no goosebumps.”
“Yeah. No goosebumps.”
Jongin’s forehead wrinkles with concern. “Is this strange for you?”
“A little, I guess? But not in a bad way,” Chanyeol says as his fingertips glide over the tiny bumps on Jongin's forearm. Androids are susceptible to heat and cold—they have human bodies after all.
It doesn't really matter to Chanyeol that Jongin's body is a living, breathing fusion of human and electronic parts, that he’s not completely human. It doesn’t matter but it still makes Chanyeol so illogically happy that Jongin has this very human reaction to cold.
He looks at the goosebumps on his own arms and feels closer to Jongin somehow. It’s dangerous. Feeling closer to Jongin is dangerous because Chanyeol’s heart has always been too human.
He should take a step back, try to impose some distance between himself and Jongin. Just as Chanyeol’s managed to convince himself to move away, a drop of rainwater on the android’s cheek catches the light. It’s like a glimmering tear and Chanyeol stops. He stops and he can't move.
Jongin leans in, face so close that Chanyeol can feel his breath on his cheek. Caught between the balcony rail and Jongin, Chanyeol’s heartbeat begins to race and his face feels warm. Very, very warm. Slowly, inexorably, they move closer to each other, Jongin's palm sliding over rain-wet collarbones before stopping to curve around Chanyeol’s nape.
Jongin’s voice is a whisper as he asks “Chanyeol, can I—”
“Yes,” he answers and then the distance between them shrinks and dissolves as Jongin reaches up to kiss him. And that first contact is so sweet as Jongin’s lips graze his. Chanyeol’s lips part with a sigh and Jongin’s tongue slides in and then they’re kissing for real as the rain gently falls around them.
“Salty,” Jongin smiles when the kiss ends.
“Hmm. . .?” Chanyeol gives him a look of pure confusion.
“Kisses taste salty. Your kisses are salty.”
Chanyeol chuckles, “Kisses are generally salty I think.”
“But I didn’t know that till now.”
“You mean I’m—” Chanyeol struggles for words. “You mean that was your first kiss?”
“Yes. And now I'm embarrassed,” Jongin says, burying his face in Chanyeol’s chest.
“Don’t be,” Chanyeol says, grinning as he hugs Jongin close. “I’m so glad that was your first kiss.”
“Me too,” Jongin says and then he’s gazing up at Chanyeol and half a heartbeat later, their mouths are meeting, breaths mingling and tongues tangling tenderly. They’re completely drenched by now and covered in goosebumps but they don’t care about any of that, their senses alive and filled with nothing but each other.
Later, after they've showered and dried off and gotten dressed (in Chanyeol’s clothes), they lie in bed together. The memory of the balcony kisses hangs between them like a much cherished secret and Chanyeol's never wanted to keep anything safe more than he wants to keep Jongin safe. They've been talking about some new places Jongin explored during the week and how he's been thinking about getting a job because there’s only so much of Seoul he can see and he wants to be useful and to contribute to the household expenses.
“But you're an unregistered android now. You can't technically get a job. And we can't get you registered at the Ministry till we figure out how to get it done without them wiping you out.”
“No, no wiping out,” Jongin protests, a note of mild panic in his voice.
“I don't want that either, Jongin, so no going to the Ministry.”
“Promise,” Chanyeol says. He drops a light kiss on Jongin’s forehead and the android snuggles closer.
“You promise you won’t give me up?” Jongin’s arms are gripping him so tightly, like he’s worried Chanyeol will slip away and vanish if he lets go of him.
“I don’t think I could give you up, Jongin.” Chanyeol’s hand strokes Jongin’s back. Smooth, long strokes that he hopes will reassure Jongin. “I’m so used to having you around now that I really don’t know how I managed before you. So I won’t give you up. Not unless you want me to.”
“No, I want to stay with you always,” Jongin says decisively.
“I don’t want you to stay with me because you feel obligated. Because I took you in and everything. You should. . .ah, this is hard for me but I think it’s important. You should go out there. Meet people. Be with other people and—” Chanyeol breaks off mid-sentence because there’s a lump in his throat and words are a little difficult for him right now.
“But what I feel is only about you and me, Chanyeol. I don’t need to be with anyone else to be sure,” Jongin says, his cheeks flushed with stubborn determination.
“You’ve only really known me and your Master. That’s only two people you’ve met and that’s just not enough, Jongin. I want you to be sure that what you feel for me isn’t tied up with all that other shit, you know? That it’s just about you and me.”
“Listen to me, Chanyeol. Please,” Jongin’s arms are strong against his back as they pull Chanyeol further into his embrace. And then Jongin’s lips, oh God, Jongin's beautiful lips and his mouth are on his, all salty and hot and overwhelming. In between searing kisses, Jongin tells Chanyeol he doesn’t want anyone else. He tells him again and again until Chanyeol stops arguing.
They fall asleep in each other’s arms, with Jongin’s back curved into Chanyeol’s chest and Chanyeol’s hand curled possessively over Jongin’s stomach.
At the foot of the bed, Jongin’s teal comforter rests in a neatly folded pile on the unoccupied futon.
Chanyeol opens his eyes lazily. It’s a Saturday and his alarm won’t be going off so he’s in no hurry to wake up. There’s a warm body in the circle of his arms and he smiles, a tide of contentment washing over him. Chanyeol nuzzles Jongin’s nape, breathing in the android’s delicious morning scent. He checks the time. . .it’s been seven hours since they went to bed so he can actually wake Jongin up.
Jongin’s earlobe looks so tempting and so accessible but Chanyeol stops himself, because he’s letting Jongin dictate the pace. He reckons cuddling should be acceptable though. Nestling closer to the android, Chanyeol calls his name softly. It doesn’t take long before Jongin is turning in his arms and nuzzling against his neck. Chanyeol has to work really, really hard to ignore his morning wood. He wonders if Jongin gets morning wood but then he realizes he wouldn’t because no input, so no output.
“Good morning, Chanyeol,” Jongin greets sleepily.
“‘Morning, Jongin,” he greets in return and then, before he has a chance to think about what he’s saying, Chanyeol asks Jongin what he’d dreamt of.
“I dreamt that we were eating ice-cream and walking along Charles Bridge in Prague.”
“Prague,” Chanyeol says distractedly because he’s still trying to process Jongin’s answer. Of course his answer would be different from every other answer he’d ever gotten from an android. “That’s really specific.”
“My memory is pretty specific, Chanyeol. You know that,” Jongin laughs. “Anyway, I think Prague is pretty so maybe that’s why we were visiting.”
“Would you want to visit Prague one day?” Chanyeol’s still struggling, still trying to formulate his thoughts.
“I would love that but I can’t travel out of the country, remember? No Ministry so no passport.” Jongin looks only slightly disappointed.
“How did I forget,” Chanyeol chided himself. “I’m sure we’ll figure out how to get around the Ministry. One day.”
“Yeah. Maybe one day.” Jongin’s voice is quiet now as his fingers trail along the edges of Chanyeol’s jaw and collarbones. Jongin’s always liked touching but it’s nice that he can now touch Chanyeol in more intimate places.
Taking Jongin’s hand in his, Chanyeol asks him, “Do you dream often?”
“I dream most nights.” Jongin’s watching him intently. “Why?”
“Is that a sexbot thing? Do sexbots dream?” Gently, Chanyeol brushes soft, dark hair out of Jongin’s eyes.
“No. It’s not a sexbot thing,” Jongin sighs.
“I don’t understand.”
“The thing is. . .I’m not entirely a sexbot.”
“I guess you could say I’m an accidental sexbot? My creator, Professor Kim Minseok, worked for PleasureBot Industries. He built hundreds of sexbots in the two decades he was with the company. And he told the bosses I was defective and that he’d try to fix me—but as a side project in his home laboratory. What he didn’t tell the bosses was that he was trying to build an android that could display emotions and think for himself. An android that was practically human, or close to it anyway.”
“That sounds like it involves AI,” Chanyeol covers his mouth with his hand as the shock courses through his veins. AIs are always disembodied so to actually insert one into an android. No one’s ever done this before. The Robotics Community has always kept the two entities separate. Giving androids and robots the power of independent thought would be like equipping them with the capacity to revolt against their human owners. Too risky, or at least that was what the Robotics Community had decided. Chanyeol has always been on the fence but now that he’s met Jongin, he knows exactly where he stands on the issue.
“Are you upset? I shouldn’t have said anything about the dreams. I’m sorry, Chanyeol.”
“I’m not upset. I’m just trying to digest everything.” And then he pulls Jongin into a hug because he needs it, and also because he wants to reassure Jongin that nothing has changed between them. They’d just been cuddling in bed—how have things come to this?
“So you’re part AI?” Chanyeol asks as he strokes Jongin’s back. Jongin tells him how his creator had weaved threads of artificial and emotional intelligence into his coding, into his personality construct.
“Emotional intelligence?” Chanyeol has never heard of such a thing but it’s suddenly making sense now. Jongin’s range of emotional responses, his having likes and dislikes, his stubbornness.
“Professor Kim’s revolutionary and very secret invention,” Jongin sighs.
“So you’re the prototype that carries both artificial and emotional intelligence?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Didn’t Professor Kim pass away this year?” Chanyeol has heard of Kim Minseok. Everyone in the Robotics Community has heard of the legendary scientist.
“Just over six months ago. He had heart failure about three weeks after he finished building me—the current me, I mean. There were countless versions of me that came before this final version.”
“What I don’t understand is why I’ve never heard of emotional intelligence—”
“He never had the chance to publish his findings and he never let his bosses know the true nature of his experiments. He kept all his research notes in some safe place. But he was a little paranoid and never told anyone where this safe place was. So when he died, the company reclaimed me from the professor’s surviving sister. She had no use for a so-called sexbot and there was no way the Company was going to let 60 million won worth of hardware and bioware go to waste. They had me programmed as an Eros 2000. I don’t know how Professor Kim camouflaged the AI and EI constructs but the robotics scientists who worked on me never even realized I was different.”
Jongin is most definitely different from other androids. Matryoshka.
“So that’s why you dream,” Chanyeol says, a note of wonder in his voice as he cups Jongin’s right cheek.
“I didn’t dream right away but on the tenth day post activation, I began to dream while I slept.”
“What do you dream of, Jongin?” Chanyeol can’t believe that he’s finally found an android who dreams.
“Open fields and trees and seascapes. I dream of being among people—small groups of people like they might be people I’ve come to know instead of just faces in a crowd I happen to be walking through. I still dream of open fields and trees and seascapes. But sometimes, sometimes I dream of doing things around this apartment. Simple things. Sometimes I’m alone and sometimes I’m with you. Reading a book, watching a film, cooking a meal. And sometimes I dream of you, of touching you and making love to you.”
“Jongin, I—” Chanyeol has so much to say but words are failing him now.
“Let’s talk later. I just want to know if you’re going to give me up, now that you know I’m different.” Jongin tries to sound upbeat but there’s genuine fear in his eyes.
“I’ll never give you up, Jongin. Never.” Chanyeol gathers Jongin closer to him and then he just kisses him because there will be more than enough time for talking later. More than enough.
After that night on the balcony, Jongin and his teal comforter move into Chanyeol’s bed while the futon is rolled up and put into storage. Their routine carries on pretty much the same way it’s been doing for the past two weeks, except now Chanyeol and Jongin spend a lot more time touching. Kissing, making out, hugging—everything above the waist because Chanyeol is determined to let Jongin set the pace and the android doesn’t appear to be quite ready for anything below the waist. Not yet. But Chanyeol has always been patient and it’s not like he’s ever had much of a sex life anyway. Work has always taken up almost all his free time.
It’s not easy, though, with Jongin sleeping in his bed every night, Jongin surprising him with frequent and spontaneous hugs, Jongin sitting in his lap telling him he loves him, Jongin kissing him and leaving hickeys on his bare chest. It's way more temptation than Chanyeol has ever had to deal with since hitting puberty. He’s pretty damned sure he’s never spent so much time jerking off in the shower. His bathroom floor tiles are probably ready to stage a revolt by now.
Going to sleep with Jongin and waking up with Jongin is one of Chanyeol’s favorite things, the weight of Jongin’s leg draped over his own and the weight of his arm around his waist as they snuggle under the covers. Sometimes, Jongin sits on Chanyeol’s lap while he’s eating at the breakfast table. Other times, Jongin might lie on top of Chanyeol as he’s trying to nap on his mother’s battered red sofa.
Being with Jongin is wonderful but it’s also. . .well, frustrating. For his own sanity, Chanyeol hopes Jongin won’t take too much longer.
When Jongin isn’t giving Chanyeol the worst ever case of blue balls, they talk about their lives, about Jongin’s personality construct, and about how they will ensure that the Ministry never finds out an android like Jongin even exists. Chanyeol's only known Jongin for a short while but he already knows there will a huge void in his heart and home if Jongin is taken away from him.
He tries to imagine being without Jongin and he knows he can't do it. He can't be without Jongin.
It's a Friday night. Two weeks have passed since that first kiss on the balcony, and Jongin has insisted on staying in even though Chanyeol had offered to take him to watch a movie at the nearby mediaplex—the one with plush love seats, blankets and a 4D surround screen. But Jongin had been quite adamant about staying at home.
So now they're hanging out in bed, dressed in Chanyeol’s most comfortable clothes. They're watching some documentary on semiconductors, or at least Chanyeol is, and he’s startled when Jongin climbs onto his lap and straddles him. In the background, Chanyeol can hear some tech expert droning on about the role of semiconductors in the construction of medibots—not that he can concentrate on a single thing that’s being said because Jongin is sitting on him and rubbing against him, and Jongin’s erection is unmistakable. This is something new and Chanyeol isn’t sure what to do.
“Jongin?” Chanyeol asks, a little disorientated by the abrupt change of pace.
“Hmm?” Jongin asks as his mouth moves over Chanyeol’s neck in slow, wet, circles.
“What are you doing?” Chanyeol asks, voice raspy, as his hands link together behind Jongin’s waist.
“Exactly what you think I’m doing,” he whispers, his tongue curling around his earlobe. Then his hips begin to thrust forward in a smooth, flowing motion, cock grinding against his and Chanyeol can't stifle the loud moan that bursts out of him. The sight of Jongin rocking into him, his right shoulder and fine-boned clavicles exposed by the gaping neckline of Chanyeol’s old t-shirt, is the most erotic thing Chanyeol has ever seen.
“Jongin, I've wanted this for so long,” Chanyeol says just before his mouth crashes into Jongin's, hungry and impatient. They both moan as their tongues come together, hot and wet and thrusting.
“I've wanted to kiss you and make love to you since you took my hand in the crowd that first Saturday.”
“That long ago?” Chanyeol’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Why did you wait so long?”
“I've always known I wanted you and I've always been sure that I'll only ever want you but you didn't seem to believe that I did so I was giving you time, I guess?” Jongin explains and Chanyeol has to laugh at the irony.
“I was waiting for you to be ready!”
“I've always been ready.” Jongin smiles against Chanyeol’s cheeks, his lips soft on his skin. “But it never really felt like the right time till tonight.”
Chanyeol laughs, “While we were watching a documentary? I never even knew semiconductors could induce lust.”
Jongin gives him an incredulous look. “We both know it wasn't the semiconductors, Chanyeol. it was you. You sitting there in your ratty old t-shirt looking all intellectual and sexy.”
Chanyeol protests that no one has ever called him sexy. “Dorky, quiet, clumsy? Yes. And someone called me ‘bookishly handsome’ once. But no one has ever called me sex—” Then Chanyeol runs out of words as Jongin's hand slips down the front of his boxer shorts and wraps around his cock.
“Shh. No more talking.”
“Oh God, Jongin, oh God,” he groans as Jongin’s tongue fills his mouth and Jongin’s hand moves over the length of his erection in long, firm, rhythmic strokes. The friction is so fucking intense, building and building with each drawn out stroke. His nerve ends are alive with pleasure and Chanyeol feels like he’s dying but it's still not enough. He needs more, needs to be closer still to Jongin.
His mouth glides over Jongin's neck, over the dips and curves of his collarbones, making small nips and leaving a trail of roseate marks. Chanyeol’s palms glide over the smooth, bare skin of Jongin's back and Jongin moans—soft little noises that inspire a surge of possessiveness in Chanyeol he’s never experienced with anyone else.
“Touch me, Chanyeol,” Jongin murmurs against his neck, as his hand continues to stroke Chanyeol. “I want to feel you against me. Your skin against mine. Please, Chanyeol.”
Chanyeol holds his breath, his hands moving further down Jongin’s back till they're pushing under the waistband of his loose cotton boxers, pushing the fabric down. Then his hands are cupping the bare skin of Jongin’s ass, and Jongin’s cock is pressing against his own. With desperate, urgent movements, they drag their boxers off and their limbs are a tangled mess as Chanyeol tumbles Jongin onto the mattress.
Pinned beneath him, Jongin stares up, eyes dark with need. And then he’s pulling Chanyeol roughly down and Chanyeol takes a sharp intake of breath as their bare thighs and hips make contact. Jongin’s legs wrap around him, dragging him closer so their cocks are touching,
“Fuck,” Chanyeol groans, pleasure shooting right through his core as Jongin’s cock rubs against his, over and over, in a lazy, sensual rhythm. Their mouths are joined in a passionate kiss when Jongin's hands slide beneath Chanyeol’s shirt, fingers playing with his nipples and teasing them. Jongin ends the kiss so he can pull Chanyeol’s shirt off. Chanyeol hisses as Jongin takes one nipple in his mouth, tonguing it before moving onto the next one. Then Jongin takes off his own shirt and they’re kissing again, bodies rocking together.
Chanyeol has seen Jongin shirtless around the apartment, but it’s different now when they’re together like this. He licks and sucks on Jongin’s dark nipples one by one and in the midst of all this desire, Chanyeol remembers that first night he’d found Jongin. Clothes soaked through and hair wet, body cold and lifeless as the rain fell and fell.
Chanyeol stares into Jongin’s alluring honey brown eyes and he can’t get over how beautiful Jongin is and how lucky he is to have found him on that wet, miserable night, how very, very lucky. Chanyeol doesn’t tell Jongin what’s going through his head and his heart as they make love, but he does reach out his hand to cup Jongin’s cheek. “I love you, Jongin.”
“I love you too, Chanyeol. I love you so much,” Jongin says just before their lips meet in a kiss that’s both tender and passionate. Then Jongin makes soft, gasping noises as he rubs against Chanyeol with quicker, more urgent thrusts. Then Jongin’s hand is gripping their cocks together in the most intoxicating, most devastating handjob Chanyeol’s ever had. The pulsing ache in his groin grows more and more intense as Jongin pumps harder and harder and a few minutes later, Chanyeol’s self-control splinters—heart pounding in his ears as he comes apart.
“Well, it’s taken us six years but here we are,” Chanyeol says quietly, as they stand hand-in-hand at the halfway mark of Charles Bridge, watching as the sun sets over the River Vlatava.
“Here we are,” Jongin agrees and Chanyeol can hear the smile in his voice.
A few months after Chanyeol had found Jongin and brought him home, one of his closest friends had transferred from the Daegu Branch of the Ministry of Robotic Affairs to the Head Office in Seoul. With Kim Junmyeon’s help, they had registered Jongin as a butlerbot. Jongin’s paperwork and his sale and purchase details had been completely fabricated to say the least, but Junmyeon had somehow managed to get the application approved. Chanyeol would be forever indebted to his childhood friend.
“Is it just like you dreamt?” Chanyeol asks as he moves to stand behind Jongin. He wraps his arms around the android’s shoulders, linking his hands over Jongin’s chest. With a contented sigh, Jongin leans back into Chanyeol’s embrace.
“It’s better. It’s so much prettier in real life than it ever was in my dream, Chanyeol.”
“I’m just so glad we made it here. All we need now is some ice-cream and your dream will be complete.”
Jongin turns around. There’s a self-indulgent smile on his face, the one he gives Chanyeol when he thinks Chanyeol is being particularly dense. “What are you saying?”
“We were eating ice-cream in your dream so we’ll have to find some so we can make the dream complete. Do you see?”
“We don’t need any ice-cream to make the dream complete, Chanyeol.”
“You made all my dreams complete when you saved me from that dumpster. The ice-cream isn’t important.”
“Just kiss me and we’ll call this dream complete.”
Then Jongin is kissing Chanyeol and it’s better. . .so much better and so much sweeter than any ice-cream could ever hope to be.