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ELIJAH KAMSKI'S HOUSE
PM 02:00:56
➤ CONNOR

Clink.

Connor wasn't sure why he was currently standing in front of Elijah Kamski’s door again. His hands flicked his usual coin back and forth deftly as he hesitated, not entirely sure what his next step should be.

Honestly, he didn't think he would ever have met the elusive founder and previous CEO of CyberLife if it hadn't been for the investigation with Hank into the deviants. But now that all was said and done, here he was again.

Clink.

To ask questions? To deliver his thanks for informing him of the emergency exit? Maybe both?

Connor didn't know. It was odd, now that everything had calmed down, to have absolutely nobody to rely on for directives or orders. Not Amanda, and by extension, certainly not CyberLife. But when he had originally brought up the idea of coming here, both Hank and Markus had encouraged it. Something about tying up loose ends or getting closure. Hank had even gruffly offered to drive him here, and was now sitting in the car with heavy metal blasting through the speakers. Honestly, why couldn't the lieutenant just admit he loved jazz?

That aside, Connor still wasn't sure he completely understood what closure was supposed to feel like.

Clink. Clink.

Either way, there was no point in just standing there in the snow. Not that the black structure in front of him was anymore inviting, but…

He palmed the coin, then raised his free hand to ring the bell. It chimed, the sound familiar as Connor shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

The silence of the snowy landscape around him felt heavy. He still didn't like this place, if he were to be honest. It seemed peaceful, but also extremely…lonely. He filed the observation away as yet another one of his new, more human, perceptions.

“Hello again,” a friendly feminine voice greeted as the door finally swung open.

Processing…

RT600 model “Chloe” identified.

“Hello,” Connor replied mildly, returning her warm smile with a small one of his own. “I'm here to see Mr. Elijah Kamski? I have a few things I want to discuss with him.”

“Yes, of course.” The LED on Chloe's temple flickered yellow briefly, then returned to blue. “He shouldn’t be busy at the moment. I'll go get Elijah for you. But please, do come in and make yourself comfortable.”

The conversation gave him a sense of what the humans must refer to as déjà vu.

Connor nodded his thanks and stepped into the villa, eyes doing a quick sweep and scan of the room. Nothing much had changed since he was last here, though it was expected. It hadn't been long, after all. It would have probably been more odd if Kamski suddenly decided to do some impromptu redecorating within the last few weeks of the android revolution.

Although, Elijah Kamski was nothing else if not enigmatic and unpredictable.

Connor tensed uncomfortably as he came upon the portrait hanging on the wall again, his footsteps slowing to a stop. Amanda .

The familiar face smiling from the picture was yet another reminder of the whirlwind that had taken place in the past few short months.

Connor still couldn't bring himself to enter the Zen Garden again. The prospect of being frozen there by CyberLife, stuck in the graphic interface as a prisoner while his limbs were forcefully controlled in reality by the company…well. It certainly wasn't an experience that he particularly wanted to go through a second time.

The back door had saved him in more ways than one.

He just didn't understand why Kamski even bothered telling him about it.

“Connor, isn't this a surprise.”

Elijah Kamski identified.

The mildly sarcastic voice filtered through Connor's auditory processors, and the android turned to see Kamski standing in the doorway to the pool. His hair was pulled into its usual bun, a few wisps escaping to frame his temples. Instead of the robe he had been dressed in last time, the former CEO sported an open blazer over a black graphic t-shirt and some jeans. He looked…normal, if not still a little pretentious.

“Mr. Kamski,” Connor replied, not sure where to begin. A lot had changed with both the world and within himself, and without a clear objective like last time, he felt almost a little lost.

“Chloe tells me you wanted to talk to me,” Kamski prompted, lifting a brow. The subtly holier-than-thou attitude--that, at least, was familiar territory.

“Yes, I…” Connor hesitated again, the coin rolling over his right knuckles as he fidgeted with the small piece of metal. What used to be a way to sharpen his mental acuity and reflexes for missions was now apparently also becoming a habit and a nervous tick. Just what he needed.

Kamski seemed to sense his discomfort, because the other male stopped leaning against the doorframe in amusement and stood up straight, gesturing for him to follow. “Come along then.”

There was only one other Chloe model in the pool this time as they passed. The tint of red that the pool tiles gave the water, now that Connor examined it more closely, was a little disturbing. He wondered if it was intentionally made to contrast the blue of the androids’ blood, or if it was just another of Kamski’s whims.

“This way.” Kamski slid a door open, off to the side, and Connor followed him through to what looked like a lounge area. The grey light through the floor to ceiling windows cast shadows across the polished black floor. He stopped briefly to look outside. The flurries of snow had stopped, the white landscape undisturbed by any footprints.

“You're wearing something new.”

Connor turned back to the room in time to see Kamski giving him a quick once over before sitting down in one of the sleek black chairs. “Yes. I work with the Detroit Police Department now, and I think it helps facilitate my integration better now that the others don't mind.” It also prevented some of the more paranoid ones (one Gavin Reed in particular) from breathing down Hank’s neck every other minute if Connor looked less recognizable. And if it helped keep his friend as stress-free as possible in the aftermath of the revolution, Connor was more than happy to oblige. On top of everything, the uniform made him feel like he fit in more--the day Hank had gruffly handed him the new clothes, a genuine smile had stayed on Connor's face for a long time before the lieutenant had snapped that it was getting a little creepy. Despite his harsh words, Connor had seen the little proud smile on Hank's face before he had turned away.

Kamski, however, just chuckled in that way of his that always made Connor feel as though the man was making fun of him. “You're certainly lucky to have humans in the DPD accepting you. Some people still refuse to listen, even after that RK200--Markus, was it? I remember him--so painstakingly never took a human life while leading the rebellion. Aren't we just despicably resistant to change, Connor?”

Before Connor could reply, the padding of bare feet on tile interrupted them. Chloe. “Your whiskey, Elijah.”

Kamski nodded and took the glass from her, sending her away before taking a sip. His cold winter blue eyes never left Connor, as if looking for something deep inside the android.

“It'll take time for the humans to come around. I don't think Markus's efforts were a waste. The casualties could have been much worse if he had made a different choice.”

Kamski waved a hand dismissively. “Yes, well, I don't doubt that from a strategic point of view. But I'm interested in what you think.” His gaze was chilling; analytical. “Was it worth it in the end?”

Connor flicked the coin from his left to his right, troubled. And back again.

His program could theoretically calculate if Markus’s plan of action had truly been the best one in everyone's interests, but he suspected that wasn't the type of answer Kamski was looking for.

Clink. Clink. Cli--

His fingers fumbled slightly, and the coin fell to the floor with a loud echo, spinning wildly in a circle for a moment before falling to rest by Kamski’s feet.

The programmer looked extremely amused, almost delighted. It was an expression that greatly reminded Connor of the moment he had chosen not to shoot Chloe. Instead of commenting on his rare fumble, however, Kamski simply reached down to pick up the coin. “Why don't you have a seat as well? Frankly, my neck will start to hurt from having to look up at you if this talk is going to continue.”

“--Yes, of course, I apologize.” Connor shook himself out of his brief stupor and took a seat opposite to Kamski.

“Better.” Kamski casually bent his head to the side, stretching his neck, before going back to observing Connor with his unnervingly unreadable stare as he handed the coin back to him. “Now then. What can I do for you?”

His voice still held that undercurrent of mocking that never left from when Hank and Connor had first been here for the investigation. It had made Connor inexplicably… uncomfortable then--an emotion he now identified as agitation. Nevertheless, Connor was here for a specific objective, even if he had gotten extremely sidetracked in the process.

It seemed to come with the territory of being free to do whatever he wanted.

“I actually…came to thank you,” Connor said sincerely, tucking the coin into his back pocket. “About the back door--the emergency exit. It helped me out of an…” He frowned, his LED flashing yellow, then red, briefly. “An unfortunate situation. So, thank you.” A small smile tugged the corner of his lips upward.

A sliver of surprise filtered through Kamski’s carefully guarded expression before disappearing. It was almost disappointing to see it go. “No need,” he said easily, crossing one leg over the other as he took another drink, the perfectly sculpted ball of ice clicking against the glass. “I just told you what already existed. Whatever your unfortunate situation was, I'm glad the information came in handy.”

Another brief silence. Connor debated his options before deciding to tell the truth. “Actually, I…CyberLife almost managed to make me shoot Markus. They would have effectively ended the leader of the revolution, but…” He trailed off. Your emergency exit saved him went unsaid.

“I see.” This time, there was no surprise, just darkness slipping into his gaze. “CyberLife attempting to regain control of its asset even at the end. How very like them.” The expression on Kamski’s face neared a sneer for a moment before he pulled it back into its usual mocking impassivity.

Connor didn't comment on the change, wondering if he was starting to tread on some thin ice. Running through the man's files, it never did state how exactly Kamski was ousted from his own company by the shareholders. Regardless, the man had saved him. He figured he owed it to Kamski to at least attempt to placate him. “I just wanted to come and say that all of us are grateful the information you provided.” Connor made sure to tack on a sincere smile at the end, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.

Kamski gave him a bemused smirk in return. “Surely not everyone. But the sentiment is appreciated.” Adjusting his blazer with a quick, almost vicious sort of tug, he quirked a questioning brow. “Anything else?”

Connor hesitated again, sitting up straight once more. He wasn't sure if he would get a proper answer to his next question. Besides, Kamski seemed to have an almost annoying tendency towards cryptic words and riddles as opposed to any straightforward replies.

It couldn't hurt, right?

“Yes. Why did you help me? Help us?”

There was a moment of silence as they held each other's gaze. Eventually, Kamski let out a small scoff. “Help you? Hardly. I was just fulfilling my own curiosity. It isn't every day that the Zen Garden’s back door gets used, after all, and it certainly isn't every day that a detective shows up to my door with a deviant in tow. It would have been a waste to just let you go.”

“But you helped anyway,” Connor insisted, confused at Kamski’s repeated refusal to admit any of it. “You didn't have to provide me with information since I refused to shoot. But you did.”

“For my own interests,” Kamski emphasized, giving Connor a look that was clearly meant to question the android’s intelligence.

“But you still helped.” The RK800 tilted his head to the side in confusion. “I would have thought that you would want the deviant situation under control. And yet, you provided me with information that would very likely counteract CyberLife’s wishes considering you knew I was becoming deviant. The only logical conclusion is that…you wanted the revolution to continue.” Connor took a breath. While he didn't technically need to, he had seen humans do it, and it supposedly had a very calming effect. “The question is, why?”

Kamski regarded him with a cold gaze, the amusement from earlier entirely gone. “Has anyone ever told you that you resemble a dog, barking at me like that in hopes of an answer?” He waved his hand when Connor opened his mouth to answer, intent on informing Kamski that this was in fact not the first time he had been compared to a canine. “Either way, it's none of your business.” He stopped to polish off the rest of his glass, setting it down on the floor. “I wasn't aware you had come for an interrogation, Connor. Should I be preparing to make a trip down to the station for questioning?” While his voice was eerily calm, Kamski definitely appeared as though he was done answering Connor's questions for the day.

“I…didn't mean to overstep, Mr. Kamski.” Connor retreated a bit guiltily. Maybe this was a sore subject for the man. He wondered absently if it had to do with Kamski’s sudden retirement from CyberLife all those years ago.

“Just Elijah is fine.” The former CEO just shrugged, seemingly recovered. The slight furrow in his brow had evened out. “Is that all?”

Connor wanted to persist; to get more answers. The replies he received today were cryptic at best and hardly satisfactory. But he had expressed his thanks, and he needed to get back in time to take Sumo for his evening walk and to keep Hank from becoming too agitated from sitting in the car for so long waiting for him. “Yes. Sorry for taking up so much of your time.”

Elijah’s lips quirked up in his usual smirk. “I have nothing if not time here.” He stood, brushing out imperceptible wrinkles in his clothing. “Chloe? Show our guest out, if you would.”

“Of course, Elijah.”

Connor rose from his seat, following the blonde android to the door. He twisted his head slightly to take one last look at his creator, startled to see the man looking right back at him. Ice blue met warm brown, and Connor found himself oddly rooted to the spot. The quiet sound of the door being opened for him by Chloe barely registered.

“Like I said, I do have time on my hands, so,” Elijah spoke up, the lilt in his voice as prominent as the undertone of condescension. “Now that Detroit's CyberLife headquarters is more or less out of commission, feel free to come here for any concerns. I have some things that I'd like to check as well. Think of it…as an exchange for that free piece of information I gave you before.” His eyes flashed with something akin to teasing, and Connor was instantly reminded of his jab from earlier when he called the android a dog. “Since you're so intent on insisting that I helped you.”

As mysterious and unpredictable as the man was, Elijah didn't seem the type of maniac to perform any sort of…unprecedented alteration experiments without any basis. What was the harm?

Thinking it through one more time, Connor finally inclined his head in a nod as Chloe stepped aside to let him pass. “That…sounds fine to me.”

A self-assured, pleased expression appeared on Elijah’s face. “Then you know where to find me.”

“Thank you for coming,” Chloe said pleasantly. Connor smiled politely at both of them, then stepped outside again into the biting cold.

The door closed behind him with a soft click.

Connor hurried back to the car, opening the door and slipping inside. Hank reached over to turn the music down. “How did it go?”

“He wasn't unfriendly,” Connor replied after a moment of careful consideration.

Hank snorted. “Yeah, I'll fuckin’ bet. If he wasn't such a weird narcissist, I would've sworn that he was giving you come hither eyes last time we were here.”

Connor tilted his head, giving his partner a questioning look. “Come hither eyes?” What did that even mean? Surely Kamski could have just told him if he wanted him to come closer. He voiced as such to the lieutenant, who gave him an odd look in return.

“I swear, for someone who’s supposed to be intelligent, you can be really stupid at times.” Hank only sighed at Connor's progressively more confused expression, starting the engine. He gave Connor a fond smile when he must've thought the android wasn't paying attention. “Ready to go?”

“Ready when you are, Lieutenant.” They sat in companionable silence for a moment as Hank started pulling the car out from the side where he had parked, the rumbling of the engine the only sound in the background.

“You know,” Connor noted absently, “Elijah also referred to me as a dog today. Is it common for humans to compare others to dogs?”

Hank braked. Hard.

Connor let out a quiet ugh as his body lurched forward and the seatbelt locked. He looked at the older man in bewilderment. “Is something wrong, Lieutenant?”

Hank stared right back with the same bewildered expression. “Elijah?”

“He said to call him that.” Connor furrowed his brow. “Should I not have?”

“Fuckin’ A,” Hank muttered under his breath with a shake of his head. “I am way too old to deal with this shit. C’mon, we should get you back to your friends so you can report before Sumo tears the house down.”

“Sure, Lieutenant. Whatever you say.” Connor gave Hank one last odd look before gently tugging at his seatbelt to loosen it again as the police lieutenant finally refocused on the road.

Elijah's luxurious villa soon slowly faded into the snow surrounding them.

 



ELIJAH KAMSKI'S HOUSE 
PM 02:41:36
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

“Would you like another glass, Elijah?”

“No, you may go. Thank you.” Elijah absently gestured Chloe away, his attention on the tablet in his hands. Swiping a few times until he brought up his old files, the former CEO’s eyes scanned over his original blueprints for the prototype RK series, a small smirk tugging up the corner of his lips.

Looks like what he had originally planned came to pass after all.

Chapter Text

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 06:00:29
➤ MARKUS

Markus paced the room, his arms crossed, deep in thought.

While the revolution was over, there was still so much to be done. Androids were arriving from camps all over Detroit, and they needed more biocomponents and thirium, fast. Despite the uneasy truce between androids and humans in the wake of the protest and their singing, it was still difficult to say the least to establish proper communication and understanding.

With the CyberLife HQ undergoing a massive overhaul and several big changes, the company itself was remaining suspiciously silent regarding the events that had occurred. However, spare parts and materials for androids gradually started getting released from warehouses once more, and the injured ones could at last sag their shoulders in relief.

Slowly, slowly, the city itself was being rebuilt in a combination of cautious effort from both humans and androids. Soon, Markus would have to meet with elected representatives to determine new laws and new rights, and eventually work on securing private property and wages for his people.

He knew it would be a tedious process, but...

...They could only wait for progress to press on in small ripples at a time.

He sighed. It was almost annoying how resistant humans were to change.

“Markus.”

The leader of the revolution looked up, greeted by the sight of North smiling at him. “North. How is everyone doing?”

“Not too bad.” North brushed her long auburn bangs to the side, considering. “Simon and Josh have been helping the others settle down and find places to stay. It’s a miracle there’s still any of us remaining after what happened.”

Markus’s gaze grew somber. No matter what, even after all was said and done, he still had his doubts. His regrets. Could things have been different?

Sometimes, in his darkest moments, he wondered if freeing everyone then driving them to follow him into a slaughter had even been the right thing to do.

“Hey.” He felt a hand touch his own, and looked up again. “You know you can’t save everyone.” Their synthetic skins pulled back, and Markus felt the familiar warm hum as North pressed her palm against his, giving him a reassuring smile. Maybe there had been the potential for something between them, but the weight of both their choices seemed to drag too heavy. Nevertheless, feeling the memories flow between them was still a source of comfort. “You’ve done more than enough, Markus.”

They stood for a moment in comfortable silence before Markus eventually pulled back. “Is Connor back?”

“Not yet.” North rolled her eyes, sighing. “That man might be even more reckless than you. Honestly, what was he thinking? First infiltrating the tower, now going to see Elijah Kamski again?”

“Maybe he can get some answers.” Markus shrugged. “Something we missed.”

In the aftermath, Connor had informed the group of the emergency exit he had used to stop CyberLife from using his body to shoot Markus in the back, and that Kamski--of all people--had been the one to let him in on it. Markus had his own suspicions and questions about why the former CEO would do such a thing.

And considering Markus himself had been a gift to Carl from Kamski, he felt even more curiosity for what exactly was driving the elusive programmer’s actions. He was aware of the fact that he and Connor were both from the same line of RK models--two advanced prototypes, the only two of their kind as far as he was aware, that were unique: never released to the public or mass produced. It was the last series of prototypes that Kamski himself had been working on before he had been removed from the board of executives due to unknown reasons.

And then, Carl.

Markus would never forget what the old painter had meant to him; still meant to him. He was as much of a father figure as Markus would ever get, and the best one Markus could have ever wished for. He had gone back to visit him a few more times after the revolution had ended, a few times coming into awkward contact with Leo, who was surprisingly doing his best to undergo rehabilitation for his red ice addiction.

One day, Carl would be gone, but for now...for now Markus wanted to enjoy whatever time he could spend with the old man.

That was part of the reason why he so hated the slow changes around him, crawling at a snail’s pace. Everything and everyone seemed to demand his attention all at once, never allowing him to rest.

He was tired.

“Connor, there you are.” North’s soft voice interrupted Markus’s thoughts, bringing him out of the depths of his mind. “Markus was just asking about you, actually.” She stepped aside to let the RK800 android into the room.

“Markus,” Connor greeted with his usual mild smile, still reminding Markus of a dog with his earnest brown eyes. “How is everything going?”

Markus returned his smile. “Not too bad. How was your visit?”

A troubled look passed over Connor’s features, and his LED spun yellow for a moment as he thought. “I’m not sure. Elijah wasn’t exactly cooperative. I returned with more questions than answers.”

“Elijah?” Markus’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Yes.” Connor tilted his head slightly, fingers fiddling with his ever-present coin. “He said to call him that. Hank was surprised too.”

Markus pursed his lips, deciding to change the subject for now. It was so difficult to understand what was going through Kamski’s mind, even more so now that he actually cared to. “Did he give you any information at all?”

“Nothing we don’t already know.” Connor frowned, thinking. “Though he seemed preturbed when I brought up him assisting the devia--our cause. I suspect it has to do with why he was ousted from CyberLife to begin with.” The coin rolled over his fingers in a smooth motion once more before he tucked it back into his pocket. It was still a little unnerving to see Connor dressed in his new DPD uniform, the armband and triangle from his old CyberLife issued uniform nowhere to be seen. Despite his now more human appearance, the way he spoke was still a little stiff--distant and polite. Markus wasn’t sure whether to chalk that up to the personality he had developed or to lingering bits of code from his original programming. “Either way, I hope to get more answers when I return to his villa next time.”

Next time?” North questioned disbelievingly, stepping forward. “You’re planning on visiting him again?”

Markus didn’t blame North for acting like Connor was possibly malfunctioning. Why would the android willingly go see Kamski once more if, according to Connor himself, the former CEO of CyberLife would only reply in cryptic riddles? “Are you sure he doesn’t have some sort of agenda, Connor?”

Connor crossed his arms, looking slightly uncomfortable now. His eyes flickered off to the side, and his shoulders hunched in slightly. Markus caught the signs--Connor was a bad liar when it came to his own feelings. It was still difficult for him to express himself sometimes. “I’m...he did say he wanted to check on some things the next time I return.”

“Connor--” North admonished, placing a hand on his shoulder, a worried expression crossing her features.

“We need information and as much support as we can get,” Connor insisted, gently shrugging her hand off. “I can do this. I always complete my missions.”

He still said things like this now and again. Markus knew better than anybody else that feeling of being lost--of having something always reliable and always there suddenly ripped away from you. He didn’t know the details of Connor’s life before they met at Jericho, but he knew the ex deviant hunter followed very specific sets of instructions to accomplish the goals set by CyberLife.

It wasn’t the type of thing you could easily shrug off once it was suddenly absent, good or bad.

And right now, Connor was still searching for purpose. Atonement, perhaps. They had tried time and time again to convince him of his importance in the liberation of their people, but Markus knew Connor still blamed himself for the original attack on the abandoned ship occurring at all. Guilt, he knew, wasn’t an easy predator to shake.

“Alright,” Markus finally agreed. “Let us know if you find out anything else that can help us. Kamski could be an important ally if we can establish that deviancy is what he was aiming for. He has a wealth of knowledge that could be useful for us if you manage to get anything out of him. Aside from that...” He lifted a hand to his jaw, considering. “If you go again, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about the RK series.”

“Markus!”

“It’s alright, North,” Markus insisted firmly, raising a hand slightly to placate her. “There are still anti-android human factions all over the city, and CyberLife is almost a little too quiet about the situation. We need as much help as we can get, and Kamski might be a valuable source of information.” He watched as she backed down, somewhat unwillingly. North, understandably, was definitely still airing on the side of caution when it came to dealing with humans or even just strangers. And now that Connor was one of theirs, well...he understood that she wanted to keep him safe. Kamski was unpredictable.

“Thank you,” Connor said, looking relieved, “for understanding.” His eyes flickered down for a moment as he checked his system for the time. “I should be getting back. Sumo will be waiting.” His expression brightened a little upon mentioning the Saint Bernard, as it always did.

“You like dogs?” Markus teased lightly, to lighten the tense mood in the room if nothing else, and Connor’s lips quirked into his usual lopsided grin. The haunted look that frequented his eyes cleared slightly, and Markus counted that as a win.

“I like dogs,” he confirmed.

North shook her head, amused. “Thanks for stopping by today, Connor. And...be careful.”

“I will.” Connor nodded, turning on his heel to leave. North shifted to the side to let him out the door, then closed it behind him, her gaze turning on Markus.

Markus let out a soft, bitter chuckle. “If there’s one promise he can’t keep, it’s that one.”

North sighed, pushing herself up onto one of the tables in the room to sit, crossing her legs. “He’s still lost, isn’t he? Same as you.” Her searching gaze swept over Markus, the way it always did when she was looking for something. Her peaceful features never alluded to how shrewd Markus knew she could be. “With you, it’s more...nuanced. But you’re still looking for answers, same as him. I just wish you two wouldn’t be so reckless.”

The fear of death always hung heavy over them, particularly during the last days of the march. However, Markus knew that with him and Connor, the situation was particularly alarming. Without any form of connection to the inner workings of CyberLife, if either of them needed compatible replacement parts that were specific to their series…especially in Connor’s case, as he no longer had the luxury of backing up his memory regularly to CyberLife and getting new bodies if he ever went out of commission.

In more ways than one, Markus knew they were still the furthest thing away from being safe.

Just as Carl said, the world was cruel and unforgiving. Even after this long of being out of his safe bubble in the painter’s mansion, Markus still wasn’t sure he had fully adjusted to just how full of hatred the world around him could be. Even with officers in the DPD coming around, and the public support slowly rising, the amount of people unwilling to accept change still seemed vast.

But there was no time to linger, no time to rest.

There was still much to be done.

Chapter Text

LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON'S HOUSE
PM 08:35:31
➤ HANK ANDERSON

Hank startled himself out of his catnap as the door to his house clicked shut. “Wha--?” Automatically reaching for his gun, he lowered his hand when he noticed who it was. “Oh, Connor. Jesus fuck, don’t scare me like that.”

“Sorry, Lieutenant. But this is why I asked if you wanted me to install a new security system,” the android replied earnestly, petting Sumo as the large dog bounded up to him. It was almost annoying how quickly the Saint Bernard had gotten attached to Connor.

He didn’t even listen to Hank’s commands anymore if it meant he could lay in Connor’s lap while Connor sorted through case files.

Not that Hank was jealous of Connor, of course.

It was just irritating. This was his dog, god damn it.

“No harm done. I don’t want a new system, I already told you I can barely figure out the settings on my own phone.” Hank gruffly waved an arm, pulling himself into a sitting position as Connor began to take his shoes off. “Sumo got pretty impatient though. You were gone for a while after we got back.”

“Sorry, Sumo.” Jesus Christ, the apologetic look Connor gave Sumo was terrifyingly close to the eyes that Sumo gave Hank whenever he did something wrong.

Since when did I own two dogs instead of just one, Hank wondered wryly, stretching his arms and wincing as the joints popped. “You should probably take him for a walk since you're back.”

Connor nodded agreeably and headed into the kitchen for Sumo’s leash. “Come on, boy.” Sumo bounded obediently after him with an enthusiastic boof.

The house had gone through quite a few changes since Hank convinced Connor to just stay instead of finding somewhere else to stay now that the CyberLife HQ was more or less inaccessible by most. But in his defense, who could say no? His partner really did remind him of a poodle at times, following him with an earnest look on his face even after he broke through his programming. And...he was also a bittersweet reminder of Cole.

Would Cole have become someone like Connor if he was still alive? Or would he have been more controlled? Or more energetic? His son had always smiled, after all. But after years and years, Hank couldn’t believe that it took this android to help him finally see past the tragedy and try to move on. Ironic, really.

It still wasn’t easy, most days. Some days they got into arguments. Some days, Connor annoyed him with just his presence, a physical reminder that he was an android, never to die. Some days, Hank still drank while Connor sat there silently, offering him quiet advice and a glass of water.

Nevertheless, there were now new clothes (extremely boring monochrome suit pieces in Hank’s opinion) in Cole’s old bedroom, and an aquarium with colorful fish swimming around in circles. The Dwarf Gourami was Connor’s favourite. When Hank had asked why, Connor simply smiled and said it reminded him of one of the first choices he made by himself. There was a bed, always made to perfection. There was a photo of Connor standing alongside the DPD officers, next to Hank and Chris, Gavin scowling to the far right and Jeffrey looking exasperated.

There were bits and pieces of home. The whisper, the promise, of a possible family.

“Here’s a cup of water.” Connor set down a mug in front of Hank, shooting the lieutenant a small warning look. “If you decide to partake in alcohol tonight, don’t drink too much, Lieutenant.” His little frown was rendered completely unthreatening by the paw-printed leash clutched in his hands and Sumo excitedly sniffing at his legs.

“Yeah, yeah, I wasn’t going to.” Hank tried to hide his fond smile, only to fail pretty miserably. It was a little terrifying how much he saw Connor more and more as family. Even his nagging, which used to only irritate Hank at the beginning, now filtered through as just honest concern. But still, he had an image to keep up. Thankfully, Connor, even now, was never the best at reading the mood. “You should get going, yeah?”

“Sure.” Connor gently looped the leash around Sumo’s neck, following the giant dog to the door. “I’ll see you in a few, Hank.” Hank gave the two of them a lazy wave, then picked up one of the electronic magazines sitting on his coffee table.

He still couldn’t get used to the fact that print media was dead. Call him an old man complaining of a lost past, but it didn’t change how weird it was for him to be swiping the screen for new updates and articles instead of flipping through pages.

That aside, Hank couldn’t shake the odd feeling off from earlier in the day when he had picked up Connor from Kamski’s place.

Just the fact that the man had apparently told Connor to call him Elijah was a little chilling. The former CEO of CyberLife had an unnerving gaze, with an even more unnerving attitude. Hank still remembered the first time they had met him: how Kamski had shifted uncomfortably close to Connor, intrigued by his actions and choices after the android had given the gun back to him.

How the icy eyes had lit up with delight as Kamski had stepped into Connor’s space and looked up, examining the troubled android with something akin to fascination but erred on the side of way too disturbing.

Hank wondered what Kamski could possibly want with Connor now that the latter was a confirmed deviant. Surely the “empathy” thing had already been established? So what was the reason for the man’s continued interest?

It must be weird, meeting your maker face to face, even if Connor’s program hadn’t been personally penned by Kamski line for line.

A sigh escaped him. He really was getting too old for this. Picking up the cup of water from the table, he took a drink. Stubborn as he was to admit it, he really was making an effort to stop his alchoholism. If nothing else, for Connor, who always gave him those sad puppy dog eyes every single time Hank relapsed and drunk himself into a stupor over old bitter memories.

He was just getting ready to turn the TV on, looking for the remote on the couch (touch screens were nice and all, but he didn’t really want to have to get up), when his phone rang. “Fuck,” he rumbled, patting his dark sweatpants for the device. Finally finding it, he fumbled a bit before swiping to answer. “’Ello?”

“Lieutenant Anderson.”

Hank knew that condescending voice. “How did you even get this nu--never mind. What the fuck do you want?”

“Now, now.” Elijah Kamski’s amused chuckle filtered over the phone speakers, his voice a smooth drawl. “No need to be so hostile, Lieutenant.”

“There is a need when you’re calling in the middle of the goddamn night.” Okay, so maybe he was exaggerating, upon a quick glance at his clock. It was 9 pm. Thankfully, Kamski apparently didn’t deem it important enough to comment on.

“I was wondering if I could speak to Connor.” More of a statement than a question, really, but Hank assumed Kamski was used to getting what he wanted. Just a look at his villa and the decor inside was enough evidence.

“No.” Hank tugged on a loose thread at his thigh, ripping it off. Was he just being contrary for the sake of being contrary? Maybe. “’Sides, can’t you just...y’know.” He waved his hand in a vague gesture even though Kamski couldn’t see him. “Call him yourself? Wait, can you do that?”

“I thought it would be more polite this way.” Kamski ignored Hank’s snort of derision as he continued. “I would rather not have to pull him into the Zen Garden if at all possible. I imagine it’s a source of...unpleasant memories for him, and it would take too much of my time right now to design another AI--in my likeness this time no less--to insert into the interface for communication.”

Hank took a moment to process this. “Are you sayin’ you called me just ’cause you’re lazy? Did you just say because I don’t wanna do extra work in fancy words?”

There was a small pause on the line.

“Holy shit, you did.” Hank threw his head back in involuntary laughter. “If I didn’t think you were a pretentious dickhead before, I sure as hell do now.”

“Moving on,” Kamski interrupted. As petty as it was, Hank felt a little better knowing that the small undercurrent of annoyance lacing Kamski’s voice now was because of him. “It’s less so laziness as opposed to the fact that it would take too much time. Though I will say it’s certainly a future endeavour I can begin working on.” There was a rustle in the background, then his voice returned to its original smooth lilt. “Regardless, I need to speak to him about his next visit.”

“His what?” Hank blanched.

“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” Well, the annoyance was gone. Kamski’s voice was full of smug bemusement now.

Hank felt a surge of protectiveness. It happened more and more lately when Connor was involved, especially since the goddamned android had always been particularly reckless. “No. What is this all about? I can pass on the message.” He took a breath, calming himself. No use in getting riled up now. He refused to play pawn to Kamski’s annoying little games.

As expected, the other man quickly lost interest in riling Hank up after the lack of reaction. “Connor agreed to help me in return for information. Don’t worry,” he added, before Hank could interject, “it doesn’t involve any life or death decisions this time. You’re acting oddly protective about him for a man who I hear used to hate androids.”

So Kamski had gone through Hank’s files. Found them somehow, and gone through them. While it was an irritable invasion of privacy, it wasn’t unexpected. “Things changed,” Hank replied tightly.

“And now he’s like a son of sorts to you.” Hank could practically hear the bastard’s smile. “What an interesting turn of events.”

“What’s it to you?” he hissed, his grip on the phone tightening.

“Nothing, really,” Kamski replied lightly. “It’s just fascinating, is all. The attachment one can end up feeling to something that in the end is an amalgamation of manmade parts. Of course, Connor is a bit more special than most, isn’t he. Free will in machines…I can understand CyberLife’s original insistence on taking one alive when this all began. It would certainly make for an interesting analysis.”

“Don’t you fucking dare--”

“Relax, Lieutenant.” Kamski scoffed, more rustling in the background as he presumably shifted. “I don’t have enough of an interest in knowing what physical biocomponent is causing deviancy--at least not enough of an interest to rip him apart for it. No, I have other plans in mind. Ones less barbaric. You might even appreciate my updates when I’m done.”

“And I assume there’s a point to this? What did you even want me to tell him?” Hank heard a quiet boof outside, knowing Connor and Sumo must almost be back. He wanted to wrap up this extremely unpleasant conversation as quickly as possible, preferably before the two returned.

“Oh, yes.” Kamski, in contrast, sounded all the more unhurried. “I would like Connor to stop by sometime next week, if he could. Let him know his help is appreciated and that I have information for him in exchange.” Silence, then some rustling again, followed by a few tapping sounds.

“Are you asking him or telling him?” Hank couldn’t resist one last quip. Kamski was just...so self-assured and acted so entitled that it pissed him off. All he was interested in was performing his experiments and seeing how the world around him crashed and burned in response. All he was interested in was playing god. Maybe the man had more depth to him, Hank would probably never know. But what he had seen so far disgusted him.

“You seem to know me too well.” Amusement, and a complete lack of sincerity. “Telling him, of course.” There was another pause. “If he wants more information, that is.”

The line went dead just as the door clicked open, an eager Sumo bounding in and draping his huge paws over Hank’s knees when he found his owner in the living room.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” Connor greeted, hanging up the leash, looking innocent as ever. Hank felt a headache coming in. He really hoped that Connor knew what he was doing, agreeing to an exchange with a man like Elijah Kamski. “Hey, Connor. How was the walk?”

“Sumo was great,” his partner replied, expression chipper as he sat down next to Hank. The large dog in question immediately climbed on beside them, spreading out his heavy body over their laps. Hank sighed as he resigned himself to slowly losing feeling in his legs.

Should he even tell Connor? What if he just let it be?

“Is there something wrong, Hank?” Connor looked concerned as he peered over, one hand absently laid over Sumo’s head.

But if he didn’t, Kamski would probably find another way to contact Connor. And if this was something Connor had already agreed to, well, who was he to stop him?

Damn, he really was starting to become like an overprotective father. Hank took a deep breath, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

“I got a, uh, call.”

“Oh,” Connor said after a pause, not comprehending.

Hank sighed. “From Kamski. Elijah Kamski.”

“Elijah called you?” Connor asked, his expression sobering. He still looked confused, warm brown eyes darting to the side for a moment before meeting Hank’s gaze again. “Why did he not contact me directly?”

“That’s what I said.” Hank snorted, crossing his arms. “Apparently the bastard was too lazy to make another AI ‘in his likeness this time’,” he made air quotes, “after you deleted the other one from your network. He figured it would be easier to just call me instead of tracking you down.”

Connor’s gaze darkened slightly, and he looked down. The synthetic skin over his jaw tightened briefly.

Hank knew it was a sore subject for him. Connor had mentioned to Hank briefly after everything had calmed down that he used to have a CyberLife representative of sorts, “Amanda”, who gave him directives and monitored his actions. Hank didn’t know the details, but Connor had reassured him that Amanda was long gone after he had regained control over his body using Kamski’s emergency exit.

“Did he want anything?” Connor asked after a brief silence.

“Yeah, to see you again.” Hank furrowed his brow accusingly. “Said you two made a deal or something.”

Connor, to his credit, had the decency to look sheepish. “Sorry, Lieutenant. I didn’t think he would contact you about it.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Hank shook his head, scowling as he recalled the irritating conversation with Kamski he just had. The man was infuriating. His voice always seemed to be mocking whoever he spoke to, even in old interviews he recalled watching. “Just tell me about these things next time. I get...worried, okay?”

“I will. Sorry, Hank.” A small lopsided smile lit up Connor's features at the sentiment.

“Good.” Hank relaxed a bit, shrugging his shoulders back and shifting his legs when they started becoming numb under Sumo’s warm weight. “Anyway, figure I should tell you about the call. He wanted to see you sometime next week. Said he has some information for you in exchange for uh...some kinda upgrade?”

“Upgrade?” Connor echoed, looking curious. “Did he say what about?”

“Nah. Guess he wants you over there to discuss it. I don’t really get this kind of stuff anyway.” Hank waved his phone at Connor, wanting to dispel the tense atmosphere. “Hey, speaking of which, can you get rid of some of these new shortcuts? Chris updated my phone and I keep opening things I don’t wanna open.”

A small laugh escaped the android as he took the phone from Hank. “I guess you weren’t lying when you said you don’t understand technology to Captain Fowler.”

“Why would I lie about something like that?” Hank frowned, pensive. He really had known Jeffrey for too damn long. While their relationship had somewhat soured over the years due to Hank’s disciplinary issues, Jeffrey also knew exactly what to say to push his buttons. Even having a simple conversation with the captain sometimes led to tensions that rose so high the air would bleed.

“I don’t know,” Connor replied absently as he fiddled with the phone, LED whirring yellow as he presumably started changing settings around. “You didn’t want to work with me, so I assumed you might have been making that up.”

Hank sucked in a breath, suddenly feeling guilty. “Connor--”

“It’s alright, Lieutenant. I understand.” There was no anger in Connor’s gaze as he smiled at Hank. “I know you had...personal issues to work through. I’m only glad we got to work together for as long as we did. And that we're friends now. You even took this plastic cop in, there's nothing I have to complain about.”

Undaunted, unfazed, always following him. Connor’s loyalty, even after his programming had been broken, still surprised him every now and then. Sometimes, Hank felt like he didn’t deserve it. Connor was just so damn pure, so intelligent and yet so naive at the same time. “...Thanks,” he finally replied, clearing his throat of the lump that had risen there.

The smile that Connor shot him felt like sunrise, full of promise and hope and warmth.

Chapter Text

ELIJAH KAMSKI'S HOUSE
AM 10:50:47
➤ CONNOR

Here he was again.

A week later, and the black geometric structure in front of Connor still looked no less intimidating than before. What was it about this place that always gave him such a bad feeling?

Maybe it was how isolated this place was. The snow around never looked disturbed, as if a single soul never entered or left the place. Though knowing how elusive Elijah was, perhaps assuming that wouldn't be as far-fetched as it would be with most others. Connor had gotten used to the hustle and bustle of the DPD, the hushed whispers and traffic of the city. The silence here was always unnerving.

He stepped forward, pressing the bell, then waited patiently for the door to open.

Surprisingly, it was Elijah himself who greeted him this time instead of one of the Chloe models. The door swung open to reveal the founder of CyberLife, dressed more casually than last time in a long-sleeved dark shirt and grey jeans that hung low on his hips. His hair was again tied into a bun. For a man who had been declared Man of the Year twice and Man of the Century, he didn't seem to pay much attention to his appearance. As usual, the only accessory he sported was the black earring in his helix.

“Connor, good to see you again.” Elijah's small smirk was still difficult to read. He stepped aside, gesturing for the android to follow. “Come in.”

“Thank you,” Connor replied automatically, still a little distracted by the fact that he hadn't been greeted by one of Elijah's many android companions. “If you don't mind me asking…?”

“About Chloe, right?” Elijah shrugged as he led Connor through the room at the entrance into another door, presumably leading to one of the side branches of the villa. “I knew it would most likely be you at the door, so I let her take a break this time. None of the general public know where to find this place anyway.”

“Oh.” Connor thought that over. “It must be lonely,” he decided.

Elijah gave him a side glance, but said nothing as he led Connor into what looked like a lab area. Instead of the usual sterile white that the android was used to from his time at CyberLife, however, the room was mostly the same black as the rest of Elijah's villa. Various monitors and other tools were scattered across the room, tablets depicting blueprints that Connor couldn't quite make sense of yet from this distance.

“Sit.” Elijah waved in the general direction of the black couch lining the back of the room as he picked up one of the aforementioned tablets, pulling up a hologram with neatly organized notes.

“Hank--Lieutenant Anderson--mentioned you wanted to run some upgrades through me.” Connor furrowed his brow slightly. “Is that the only reason why I'm here?” He had wanted to ask a few questions of his own, but if Elijah just wanted to run tests…

“No.” Elijah gave him an amused look. Connor decided the look was in all honesty a little unsettling. He never had any idea what his little smirks meant beyond the surface layer of obvious smugness. “I'm a man of my word, Connor.” Somehow, that didn't seem true, but the android didn't interrupt. “This is an exchange. Same as last time, you can ask one of your questions each session, and I'll answer to the best of my ability.”

That sounded…reasonable. And most importantly, there was the lack of a gun pointed to the head of another android this time, so Connor felt vaguely less pressured. “Okay,” he finally agreed, sitting down on the couch, posture straight.

“So it's settled? Good.” Elijah pulled up a chair, the legs scraping against the smooth tiles of the floor. “I just want to try something quickly today, it won't take up too much time. I was the original designer of the RK series, but I assume since the basic blueprints were never actually finished, CyberLife made their own improvisations on you. Markus was a little secret side project of mine before I was...interrupted.”

Something flashed in his eyes briefly, but it was gone before Connor could even begin to analyze that it was.

The android decided to shake it off for now. “Yes, I was told they reworked the original quite a few times to create me.” Connor remembered the initiation process, and the quality checks that followed. But they were all far off and catalogued into his memory, almost feeling as if they had happened in a different lifetime. And with who he was now, they might as well have.

“Okay then,” mused Elijah, fingers dancing over the tablet with practiced ease. “I say upgrade, but really, I need more data before we can do anything. I'll just check over some basic senses today and see if I can improve on anything. It'll be good to do some work myself again.”

“Okay,” Connor agreed, lacing his fingers together on his lap as he waited. There really wasn't much to do until Elijah finished so he could ask his question. His systems raced as he tried to narrow down the list of things he needed answers to, but everything stuttered to a stop when he felt the pressure on his elbow joint.

Elijah, however, didn't bat an eyelash as Connor stiffened. “You can feel my hand there, I assume?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm.” The former CEO muttered a few things under his breath before he looked up again with a raised brow. “Take off your jacket for me.”

Connor slowly shrugged off his dark coat, wondering what this was all about.

“Roll up your sleeves.” After Connor folded his shirt cuffs up neatly to his elbows, Elijah placed his hand again on the crook. “How much can you feel this? Pressure, temperature, texture.”

The stratum cornum. 10-30 layers of polyhedral, anucleated corneocytes. Protein envelope, filled with water-retaining keratin proteins. Slight roughness detected, may be due to callouses. Further analysis indicates a body temperature of 37.4 degrees Celcius--

That was surprising. Elijah’s hands seemed to be cold--Connor’s sensors telling him that the surface temperature of his skin registered much lower than his actual internal temperature.

A little bit of regret sunk in that he couldn't actually feel Elijah's hand against his skin, before he quickly berated himself.

Why was he suddenly noticing these inane things? He needed to focus.

“The receptors there aren't dialed up as much as the ones on my hands.” Connor thought for a second, closing his eyes, systems whirring quietly. “I can tell your hand is there and I can analyze the temperature and texture, but as for physically sensing them…”

“You can't actually feel them, then. To dull feelings of pain, most likely.” Elijah nodded, making a few notes, looking disappointed. “I see they decided to not make any sort of change to that from the original blueprint, even though it wasn't complete. What a shame--for being an 'advanced prototype'.”

“I was optimized for combat and investigation,” Connor noted, feeling inexplicably defensive all of a sudden. What was he doing? The insult hadn’t even been for him, it had been for CyberLife. All the same, he felt the need to explain himself. “There was never any need for extra functions like the YK line of children models.”

“No.” His creator looked almost amused at his outburst. “But just because there isn't a need for something doesn't mean you can't improve on it further.”

That was unexpected, and the android swept his gaze over the man in front of him. The former CEO didn’t look up, focusing on applying pressure to different points on the connector in his elbow joint, at one point popping the forearm open to examine the inner workings before sliding the panel back into place. It felt a little odd, a little intrusive, but Connor was a little too busy trying to figure out the enigmatic male in front of him to notice too much. “You think making us more lifelike is an improvement?”

Elijah stopped, letting go of Connor's arm as the synthetic skin smoothly slid back over the white exoskeleton, and looking up at him. “Is that your question?”

Connor paused as well. The more he knew about Elijah's thought process, the better for future purposes, he told himself.

That, and there was also the undeniable curiosity running through him, urging him to ask.

“...Yes.”

“You're a curious one, aren't you.” It wasn't a question, and Connor didn't reply as Elijah went back to entering notes. “Yes, to answer your question. I was bored, and wanted to see how far I could take androids before humans deemed them too lifelike. We don’t take well to things that are superior to us but at the same time too similar. Yet, we’ll applaud similarity and even superiority if those beings are obedient.” His lip curled up in a slight sneer. “In that case, the similarity can be used as a tool instead of being seen as a threat. The RK series that I didn’t finish was meant to be an attempt at answering that question, since it was going to be the first line of fully autonomous androids. Apparently, even proposing the idea seemed to be too much to accept. I suppose that’s what you can take home from this.”

Connor thought it over for a second. “So it was part of an experiment?”

“I thought it was one question per session, Connor.” Elijah glanced up briefly from his tablet, a teasing smirk curling up the corner of his lips. “I'll overlook this as a clarification, but yes. To satiate my own curiosity, you could say. It never came to fruition the way I expected it to, but it looks like it didn't need to. The experiment played out in its own way.”

The answer was…cold. Calculating. Connor wasn't sure what he expected, but it looked like there wasn't much need so far to adjust his analysis of the man in front of him. But maybe a small part of him, the part that stubbornly still wanted to put faith into humanity, wanted a different sort of answer from the man who had created androids in the first place.

That was illogical, he knew. It wasn’t like Elijah meant for them to become living beings in the first place. Of course his motivations would be in his own interest.

Nevertheless, he couldn't help but be a little disappointed.

“You're disappointed,” Elijah noted, expression and voice as unreadable as ever. “To be expected. It's not the sort of answer people like to hear, but it's the truth.” He shrugged. “I'm not a ‘good’ man, if that's what you were hoping for.”

“I'm not sure what I was hoping for,” Connor replied truthfully after a brief silence, troubled. And that was the rub, wasn't it? It was hard to admit, because Connor never wanted to go back to the days where his every action was dictated by lines of instructions, but nowadays he always felt lost . He wasn't unhappy, of course. He had Hank, who was becoming more and more what he imagined a father and best friend would be like. He had Sumo, he had new friends in the people of Jericho and even some of the DPD--particularly the officer he had rescued from the roof of his very first mission.

But it was odd to be so without purpose all of a sudden. To know that you could go anywhere and do anything.

“And you can analyze fluids with your tongue, yes?” Elijah asked, just as the silence was starting to become suffocating. His voice was carefully calculated. “That was something CyberLife added for your investigation purposes. Can you taste as well?”

A change in topic, then.

A weird form of truce, even, smooth but also awkward in a way that for some reason suited the former CEO, whose gaze was now intently trained on the tablet.

Even the great Elijah Kamski, it seemed, wasn't completely immune to stiff silences.

Connor felt a small laugh bubble up his throat at the weird levity of the situation, but he forced it down. “I can't taste the way humans can taste, if that's what you mean.” He tilted his head slightly as he considered the possibility. “But I'd like to.”

The first thing he would do would be to try out the Chicken Feed burgers that Hank always ate despite the extremely unhealthy nutritional values. From just a precursor analysis, the burgers might as well just be cholesterol and high blood pressure sandwiched between two buns, but Hank always seemed to enjoy them. Without being able to taste and not needing to eat, Connor usually just watched curiously as the lieutenant would scarf down his food, not sure why he liked it so much despite the android giving him plenty of warning.

Elijah didn't answer, and Connor didn't think he would. How he felt probably wasn't the sort of thing that caught the programmer's interest anyway, but at least the tension from earlier was gone. The grey-blue eyes were still focused on the screen in his hands as he tapped away. “Okay,” he said finally, looking back up and meeting Connor's gaze. “And your face? The same as your limbs, I assume?”

“I'm not sure,” Connor replied doubtfully. “I don't really have a reference poi--”

He felt that sudden pressure again, but this time on his-- did Elijah Kamski just place a hand on his cheek?

The man himself looked entirely unaffected by the fact that he was yet again 100% crossing the line into what would be a comfortable distance to converse. Connor felt the pressure of Elijah's thumb graze his cheekbone, surprisingly light. “How does this feel?” His voice had lowered to a calm whisper, the familiar lilt of it never leaving, and Connor suddenly felt an odd sensation, as if the coils around his thirium pump regulator were tightening. His creator's face was really close.

“I--I feel the pressure and I--can analyze the components of your skin, but I don’t actually feel any heat. Or texture.” Connor pretended not to notice the way Elijah's eyebrow lifted slightly at the way his vocal synthesizer caught at the beginning of his reply. “Same as my arm.”

“Hmm.” Another noncommittal hum, and finally Elijah moved back slightly, making Connor let out the breath that he didn't even need to be holding. His hand, however, remained on Connor's cheek, lingering. The icy eyes bore into his own brown ones, searching. “Would you enjoy feeling more? Touching, tasting, experiencing things like humans do?”

Connor was thrown off by the question. He thought for a long moment, the sound of Elijah's quiet breathing the only sound in the room.

Elijah’s eyelashes were really long, his mental processor apparently felt the need to uselessly to inform him in the meantime. The artificial lighting cast shadows across the other male’s high cheekbones, the dark length of the lashes spilling contrast against his pale skin.

“I don't know. I guess I couldn't really say unless I experience it firsthand,” he finally admitted, forcefully rerouting himself back on track. There seemed to be more and more things he had to be uncertain about these days.

Elijah nodded, his unwavering gaze alight with renewed interest as his hand slid down to curl around Connor's nape, slender fingers brushing against the short hair there for a moment before he finally pulled away completely. “And do you want to?”

“It might be...interesting,” Connor replied carefully after a beat of silence.

“It certainly would be.” Something almost wicked flashed behind the cold gaze, before Elijah's expression returned to its apparent resting state of subtle condescension. “In that case, I'll plan something for next time.” Entering a few more notes into his tablet, he reached for Connor's hand with his free one. “I'll need a more complete set of your physical data, so sync yourself with the tablet and we’ll be done for the day.”

Connor nodded a little numbly as he placed his hand on the screen, synthetic skin slipping back to reveal the sleek white underneath. He felt the data flow from his hand into the tablet, connecting his memory with the device’s.

It was weird, having a human besides Hank be so…comfortable around him. If anything, Elijah was a little more than just comfortable. Ever since they had met, the man seemed to have an odd fixation with deviants.

Or just him specifically?

His LED spun yellow for a moment as he did his best to ignore the small thrill than ran through his systems at the thought.

“Thinking about something?” Elijah's amused voice broke him out of his brief stupor. “You really should rip that thing out. The Android Act doesn’t really apply to deviants, correct? Why still wear it at all?”

“I didn’t really see the point of ripping it out,” Connor replied quietly. It was true. The LED was just kind of...there, nowadays. Not many really paid it much attention. When he had infiltrated Jericho, he had hid the LED under his woolen ski cap instead of tearing it off in accordance with the Android Act. While the Act was now more or less irrelevant to him, so too was the reason for hiding behind a human front after turning deviant, negating any conscious reason to remove the LED. He had just never really given it much thought afterwards. But now that he recalled, Markus and his crew, as well as Kara, had taken their own LEDs out a long time ago.

He remembered meeting them both for the first time, and feeling jealous that they seemed to have no doubt about what paths they wanted to take; what destinies their futures held.

“Still not quite belonging in either world,” Elijah mused, voice tinted with fascination. “You found a new home in the lieutenant, but…” He pulled the tablet away after the synchronization was done, eyes still trained on Connor. “...you still don’t know who you truly are, do you, Connor.”

It wasn’t a question.

And with a sinking feeling, Connor realized it didn’t have to be.

It was true. The whirlwind of occurrences after his investigation had originally begun had been molding him, shaping him. But into what, exactly? Just a person still carefully walking the line between who he used to be and who he was supposed to be now. He was terrified of falling to either side.

Maybe being alive was all about the uncertainties. But damn, if Connor didn’t sometimes miss have definite answers laid out in front of him.

“You continue to be an interesting case.” Elijah’s eyes glittered with something almost akin to delight before he composed himself again. Honestly, the man himself resembled a newly-conditioned android at times--always elegantly poised, unreadable beyond the superficial surface, always a small smile that never actually conveyed anything at the ready. The lack of empathy.

Sociopath , Connor’s systems informed him after doing a quick run through his database for an apt human descriptor. He filed it away under his list of observations about the former CEO, trying to shove the earlier odd tightness around his regulator down the list.

“Elijah, you have a call.” A small click of a door opening. The soft calm voice of one of the Chloe androids rang out from the doorway. It looked like it was the original RT600 model, judging by her blue dress.

Despite the fact that he had ultimately made the right decision by not shooting her, Connor still felt a little jumpy sometimes whenever she appeared. Guilty, like he had done something wrong, even though he hadn’t pulled the trigger.

Maybe it was because back then, for a split second, he had considered doing so.

Anything for your mission, his directive had whispered back then, making Connor’s finger twitch against the cold metal of the gun before he had forced himself to press it against Kamski’s chest and away from the guileless blue gaze of the Chloe kneeling in front of him.

“Yes, just a second.” Elijah turned away from Connor, who was still sitting there in a slight daze, not noticing the android's internal turmoil. He lifted a device from his pocket and slipped it into his ear, where the black seamlessly melted into the same tone of his skin. “Put them through.”

“Of course.” The LED on Chloe’s temple blinked yellow for a moment as she closed her eyes, presumably rerouting the call. Bowing politely, she closed the door behind her as she left.

Connor couldn’t help but stay there, listening curiously when Elijah made no move to shoo him out. Maybe he could get some information out of the call.

Uncomfortably, he realized that the purpose of this visit had at some point started to slowly derail from collecting intel to satisfying his own curiosity about Elijah Kamski’s inner workings.

“Hello?” The programmer’s lazy greeting slid from his lips in a drawl. “I’m in the middle of something, so if this is going to take a while--”

Then, just like sudden storm clouds stretching across the sky, his entire expression darkened into an openly hostile one.

“Oh, you’re calling me now?” Elijah sneered, crossing his arms as he stood up to pace. His voice was still eerily quiet, calm even. “Isn’t it a little late for regrets?” He paused, then continued in surprise as if just realizing something. Sarcasm laced his voice as he continued speaking. “Oh, a few years late, in fact, now that I think about it. Wow, how the time flies. Now then. Some people might think there’s an expiry date for one’s actions, but unfortunately for you, I’m not one of those people.”

A pause. The other person on the line, whoever it was, must be speaking.

Connor could technically hack into the line and listen in, but...he had the sneaking suspicion that this was a rather sensitive conversation that he would feel guilty listening in on. The stormy expression on Elijah’s face, so out of place on his usually smooth features, was unnerving in an entirely new way. In fact, the former CEO seemed to have temporarily forgotten Connor’s presence, turning on his heel to face the other direction as he started speaking with a particularly patronizing voice.

“Listen, I don’t really give a damn if I’m the only one who can help. God complex or not”--well, at least he was self-aware--“crawling back to me now is going to prove futile, especially for such a boring project. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other matters that demand my attention.” Elijah pulled the earpiece out, clicking a button on the side, presumably to hang up.

There was a tense silence in the room as he pocketed the device.

“Was that CyberLife?” Connor asked carefully. The bits and pieces from the conversation hinted more than enough towards who the caller had been. His social module, however, whirred with alarm, telling him that this was perhaps not the best line of questioning to be pursuing at the moment given Elijah’s expression. His curiosity won out in the end. “They still contact you?”

As expected, the man in question didn’t reply, instead taking a minute to compose himself before seamlessly changing the subject. “We’re done for now. I’ll have some actual system upgrades ready for you if you decide on coming again. I have some ideas in mind for your next visit.” Connor noted some tenseness remaining in the set of his shoulders even as his expression and voice had gone lax again. He paused, trying to decide what to make of it all, before realizing Elijah was waiting for an answer on his part, eyebrows raised.

“Oh. Yes, thank you.” Connor felt a flush of blue rise in his cheeks as he rolled down his sleeves sheepishly and shrugged his jacket back on. “I’ll get going then.”

“I’ll see you to the door.” Elijah didn’t seem to notice Connor’s widened eyes as he set the tablet down and started walking towards the door, but sensed his surprise nonetheless. “It’s faster than calling for Chloe again,” he explained off-handedly, unprompted.

Connor couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed at that for some unknown reason. Maybe because he was actually hoping that Elijah at least saw him as a companion instead of a study subject. He didn’t like the feeling of being studied for the sake of being studied. It felt no different from his time in CyberLife; his time with Amanda in the Zen Garden, as if they were always looking for flaws to improve on. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it would take several visits perhaps before the other male would start to give him anything other than analytical gazes and cryptic answers. He decided not to over-analyze that for now. “Oh.”

The slightly downtrodden tone in his voice caught Elijah’s attention as he turned around to meet Connor’s gaze, amusement alight in his eyes once more. “Why, is there another reason you were hoping for?”

The teasing in his voice was full of implication, and even someone who was usually dense to these kind of jokes would get it. Which meant Connor once again felt the blue blood circulating his sytem rising without his permission into his cheeks, and his body temperature suddenly spiked as he processed what the man was implying. He quickly started to explain, flustered. “No, that’s not it, I--”

“Relax. I’m sorry.” Elijah lifted a placating hand, gently patting Connor’s shoulder, the wicked smirk on his face suggesting instead that he was actually completely unapologetic about his teasing. “I’m only joking, Connor. CyberLife needs to update the social module they gave you if you took me that seriously.” Clicking his tongue, he looked pensive for a moment as he pulled his hand away. “Maybe that’s something we can work on as well.”

The rest of the walk to the door remained silent, Connor focusing on rerouting the blood away from his face so that the embarrassing blue hue under his lightly freckled skin faded away.

“I’ll contact you directly if anything comes up.” Elijah’s wintery gaze remained on Connor, steady, unwavering. “I don’t think Lieutenant Anderson appreciated my call from last time.” In contrast with his words, there was no remorse in his expression as he smiled with bemusement. “We certainly had an...interesting conversation. He’s very protective of you.”

“He’s my partner,” Connor replied automatically. “We’re friends.” Hank was the first person to properly accept Connor as he was, even if it had taken him months to fully do so. Connor wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything in the world. “He’s just worried about me. Markus was too. I don’t blame them for being cautious.”

“Because I’m such a terrible person?” A small smile played on Elijah’s lips, as if he had expected that answer. Perhaps it really was nothing new to him.

“...No, that’s not it,” Connor decided, furrowing his brow just slightly as he considered the proper way to voice his complicated thoughts. “You’re different from what they’re used to, I think. If humans who either fear, hate, or want androids to obey lie on one end of the spectrum, your fascination with deviancy lies on the far end of the other side. And that makes you unpredictable. That’s part of why I wanted to come see you again.”

“...I see.” Elijah’s face was unreadable, the smug smile fading into something more...nuanced. More complicated. Maybe even a little confused at Connor’s attitude. Had he expected hatred perhaps? Disdain, at the very least? Perhaps being a social recluse, even on purpose, had made its mark. The most confusing thing about Elijah was that he seemed to have even less faith in humanity or in others than even some of the most jaded androids Connor had met. “Well. You yourself are certainly still a mystery, even to me.”

“Is that why you asked to see me again?”

They were at the doorway now, Elijah remaining inside as Connor stepped out again into the white landscape, feeling the familiar icy wind sweep through his clothes. There was so long of a silence as Elijah examined Connor with his shrewd gaze, so long that Connor actually expected a proper answer out of the man when he opened his mouth.

“One question per session, Connor.” Instead, Elijah’s smile was as enigmatic as ever, but there was something else in it. Something a little softer, something that Connor couldn’t quite put his finger on. “Have a safe trip home.”

And with that, he closed the door.

Chapter Text

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 08:30:42
➤ MARKUS

“Nothing else?”

Connor shook his head. “Just that the RK models were originally designed by him, meant to be a secret line at first. The first fully autonomous androids. But it never came to be.”

Markus frowned, resting his hands on the table as he leaned foward to think. While this was definitely a noteworthy piece of information, he didn’t quite know what to make of it yet. Kamski’s reasoning was lost on most regular people. The man wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t possible to judge him by normal standards. “So Kamski admitted to essentially engineering deviancy, hoping it would eventually come to pass?”

Connor frowned, crossing his arms thoughtfully. It was his day off from the DPD, which meant he had traded his usual uniform for a nondescript Smith & White dark grey blazer, white button up, and dark jeans. “I think he has a very intense interest in seeing where his own creations could go. His ambition wasn’t a career-driven one. It might’ve been the reason why CyberLife decided to dismiss him in 2028 in the first place--his interest and lack of fear of androids clashing with the company’s need to keep us obedient. But I’m not sure, he only allowed me one question in exchange for the system checks he ran. I’ll have to return again.”

Markus opened his mouth to protest, before shaking his head. It was pointless to argue with Connor once he decided on something. As puppy-like as the other android seemed, once he made up his mind about something, he was stubborn like nothing else. Markus was reminded of their second interaction when they met--Connor insisting on infiltrating CyberLife Tower despite the fact that Markus had essentially told him that it would be suicide to do so.

Reckless. But then again, so was he. They were both just doing what they could for their people, though Markus knew Connor was still troubled about what his own role was every now and then.

He shuffled in his database through some of the reports he had received from Simon earlier in the day. “CyberLife is still oddly quiet. I have a bad feeling about them, I just can’t quite put my finger on it. But it’s unlikely that they would remain so silent about letting us run amok like that without batting a single eye. They’re losing business, their value is dropping, but they’re not doing a thing. It’s like the calm before the storm.”

Connor suddenly looked uncomfortable.

Markus narrowed his eyes. “What is it?”

Connor’s LED spun yellow for a moment, clearly debating whether or not to tell Markus what he was thinking. Eventually, he spoke up haltingly. “When I was at Elijah’s, he received a call. I didn’t listen in on the other party so I can’t be sure, but from what I heard, it sounded like CyberLife was trying to contact him.”

Markus couldn’t help it. His voice lowered to an accusing whisper as he processed the information. If CyberLife was making a move, it could potentially be a huge problem for them. “And you didn’t tell me this earlier because…?”

The other android looked uncharacteristically taken aback by the question for a moment, as if he himself didn’t know either. “I--Elijah declined to help them with whatever they were asking for, so I didn’t think it’ll become too relevant in the long run.”

“He declined.” Markus’s expression didn’t change, and his voice remained flat and disbelieving. He knew Kamski had an odd fascination with Connor, or maybe just deviants in general, from what he had been told. It didn’t mean he trusted the man though, not by a long shot. If anything, the former CEO's interest in deviants meant he still saw them as nothing more than his creations--objects. Not alive.

Either way, they had come too far now to let a small slip ruin it all. “And how can we be sure he didn’t just decline because you were there at the time?”

Connor opened his mouth, looking ready to argue for Kamski for some reason, before something shifted in his expression and he looked down again as if berating himself. “...No, you’re right. We don’t know enough about him, I’m sorry. I should’ve been more thorough.”

“No, I…” Markus rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index, having picked up the gesture from Carl. However, it did nothing to ease the rising stress he felt. “...I shouldn’t have been so harsh. You’re already doing everything you can. I think the meeting from today is getting to me.” He had gone to a high place earlier to think, like he had often done in Jericho, but for some reason even the scenery atop the church they had finally finished repairing wasn’t enough to calm him down.

“I’m sure you also did everything you could,” Connor returned the sentiment quietly; sympathetically.

He probably heard what had happened from Josh and North, who had accompanied him while Simon worked with some other androids to find out what they could about CyberLife’s sudden low profile.

Markus really had done his best. He had no regrets about the actual amount of effort he put in--that wasn’t it.

But sometimes, on days like today, it felt like his best wasn’t enough. Like his best would never actually be enough to get them anywhere.

 


 

STRATFORD TOWER
PM 01:19:20
➤ MARKUS

Markus sighed as he tapped his foot from outside the meeting room, waiting for the human representatives to arrive. His companions stood beside him, choosing to speak in hushed voices rather than across their linked communications network.

“They’re almost twenty minutes late,” North whispered harshly, her arms folded tightly across her chest, clearly agitated. “This is getting ridiculous. Things were actually moving faster when we were just sneaking in here to broadcast a message. How is it that now that we’ve agreed to communicate with each other properly, it’s even worse?”

“For once, I agree.” Josh, who was usually the patient one, also started looking a little irate. “If we had known they were going to be like this, we could’ve been doing other things instead of standing here waiting.” He sighed as he shifted his balance from one foot to the other. “At least Simon is doing something important right now. If we keep standing here I’m gonna start feeling less useful than those cleaning bots vacuuming the floor over there.” He gestured towards the car-like devices currently roaming aimlessly across the adjacent hallway. North stifled a giggle in response, which made Josh grin.

“Guys,” Markus chided, although he himself was starting to wonder if this had been a waste of time.

Two of the business and legal floors of the tower had officially been converted to a neutral area of sorts for android and human representatives to meet and discuss next steps. Poetic, Markus supposed, since this was technically where it had all started--where he had delivered his first message to the world.

And besides, he still wasn’t comfortable revealing the location of the church to humans quite yet. Jericho still sat heavy in all of their minds, the ship sinking into the water with sparks and flames lighting up the night until it all eventually disappeared into the dark depths.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.” A stiff voice came from his left, and the three turned to see a few men dressed in sharply tailored suits, most likely fitted by androids.

Why was it that humans hated them so, when all they had done was serve? Segregation and slavery all at once, which felt like it shouldn’t make sense. Yet somehow, it was possible in this world of theirs.

North looked like she was about to say something rather unsavory, and even Josh looked pissed off. Markus quickly stepped in before either could speak and possibly cause more problems past what they needed to deal with. “It’s no trouble. But please let us know next time.” He narrowed his eyes, keeping his voice even and polite. “Communication is important if we’re going to make this work.”

“O-of course.” Thrown off by his calm demeanor, the man who had spoken before looked a little flustered now. He moved to open the door to the meeting room, holding it open for everyone as he stepped back cautiously. “After you.”

“Thank you.” Markus gestured to North and Josh, who both followed him silently, but not without throwing a few judgemental glances at the men first.

“We’re here to talk about the changes you wanted to make. We received the list of demands you supplied last week and…” The man exchanged a furtive glance with the other two as everyone took a seat at the conference table. “There are a few issues we wanted to clear up.”

Markus folded his hands over the table, a polite smile on his face. “I’m all ears.”

 


 

Which was a mistake, clearly.

It took over five hours of strained politeness just to finally get through the Android Act.

The resistance to changing the law dictating that Androids had to wear mandatory identifiers (LED, armband, triangle, model and serial number) on them at all times was the cherry on top of the fucked up cake.

But how would we tell the difference then between human and android , the man had protested. It doesn’t do any harm, why change it?

Markus had nearly seethed with frustration. He had tried to explain over and over again that the point was to remove all mandatory identifiers if the android chose to do so to eliminate all barriers resulting from prejudice. It was as if they were purposely choosing not to understand such a simple concept.

Though, maybe they really were choosing not to.

Did they not learn from history? Why could they not see the parallels of what they were doing?

Why couldn't they see that androids were alive?

“You managed to get some of the more unreasonable aspects of the Act reconsidered, though.” Connor was clearly attempting to cheer him up, which brought a small tired smile to Markus’s face. “All they need to do now is bring it to the Governor.”

“If only things could be so streamlined,” Markus replied, sighing in resignation. They were in for a long struggle.

“If only.” Connor gave a grimace in response. Both of them knew exactly how tedious legal processes like this would take just from historical precedent, especially if the other side was resistant to it in the first place.

Markus wished he could ask Carl for advice. But there was no time to keep going back to the mansion, and each time he could feel that conversation made Carl more and more tired. Even if the painter was happy to see him each time, Markus didn’t want him to strain himself.

“I’m going back to see Elijah again soon,” Connor announced suddenly, looking a little awkward and wincing as his voice echoed around the quiet room. “We need more answers, maybe a prediction about what CyberLife plans on doing next. And if he’s the only one who can give those things to us, then…well. I'll head home for tonight, but I'll let you know if I come across any new information.”

There was a somber silence. Once again, the weight of their actions and the weight of the future of their people felt heavier than ever.

Connor sighed and turned on his heel to leave. Markus quickly grabbed his arm, squeezing it briefly before letting go. “Be careful, Connor. You’ve done more than enough.”

You can stop trying to atone.

“Thank you.” Connor smiled at him sincerely, but Markus knew his words once again didn’t get through to him. He could only watch as the RK800 hurried out of the room, giving Simon a nod of greeting as the PL600 android slipped by him.

Simon gave the door an odd look as Connor closed it behind him. “Did something happen?”

“It’s been a stressful day for all of us,” Markus said wryly. “I also think he’s still not quite...comfortable around you yet.”

“That makes sense.” Simon sighed. Markus knew he and Connor still skirted around each other a little awkwardly, since Connor’s mission before he turned to their side had been to hunt Simon down at the Stratford Tower. The intervention of another deviant, one of the broadcasting staff, had thankfully prevented a confrontation between the two, but the situation still made things a little uncomfortable.

Simon didn’t dislike Connor, not anymore at least, but Markus knew sometimes Simon still had a hard time fully trusting him. Connor, in all of his earnest naivety, had taken his caution for anger or fear.

Hopefully, it was something that would solve itself with time. They had other things to be worried about as well.

“CyberLife seems to be making a move.” Markus came around the table, sitting down on one of the many scattered wooden chairs. His entire body felt weary, even though he technically didn’t get tired. Couldn’t get tired. Was this the effect that emotions had on humans, too?

“I actually came here to talk to you about that.” Simon took a seat as well, expression serious. “Tell me what you learned first. You seem like you could use a bit of a talk right now.” He nudged Markus gently, cracking a small smile.

Markus gave him a grateful glance.

Ever since coming to Jericho, Simon had always been a steady rock to lean on. He had been the balance between the opposing forces that were North and Josh, and when he had been left behind because of his injuries, the group started to fall apart the moment they returned to the ship.

Markus was only glad they had gotten him back. It was nothing short of a miracle.

“I don’t know, honestly. Things aren’t falling into place like I thought they would. The meeting today with the human representatives barely got us anywhere.” His blue and green eyes shifted to the right. Maybe...maybe he was still to idealistic. “And Connor is telling me that CyberLife, which had been suspiciously quiet, is now making an active effort to get back in touch with Elijah Kamski, who created us all.” Markus didn’t mention the part where, from what he had heard, Kamski leaned far on the scale towards supporting deviancy. He still couldn’t wrap his mind around it yet, and there seemed to be some untold significance there that maybe Connor could unwrap. For now, mentioning it would just make things more complicated. “Something just…doesn't feel right.”

Simon looked alarmed, his posture stiffening. “They’ve been trying to get back in touch with Elijah Kamski?”

Markus glanced back up at him, his brows dipping into a worried furrow. “Yes. Is something wrong?”

“No, it could mean nothing, but…” Simon paused, as if deciding whether or not to mention what he was theorizing. “I’ve been out collecting information through our networks. There’s been a series of androids lately that have been forcefully reset to their default state. We found them attached to makeshift machines near CyberLife warehouses. Nothing has been done remotely, not yet, but we’ve received several reports of hacking attempts. Several of our people are reporting that they feel like they’re being mentally pulled into an interface of sorts that they’ve never seen before. It looks like they’re trying to find an easy way to do a mass reset. To what end, I don’t know, but it could either mean they want to bring us to heel again or at least keep us obedient enough to herd us back into the Recall Centers. Or something even worse.” Simon’s grip on the arms of the chair tightened, synthetic skin stretching across until his knuckles turned white. “What if...what if they were trying to get Kamski back so he can help them?”

Markus, for a moment, physically felt his thought process slow to a stop at the new information. Then, a rush of something uncomfortable swept through him--what he recognized faintly as his thirium pumping faster through his sytem. Static rose in his auditory processors.

Was this what panic was?

It must have showed on his face, because Simon reached over to grab his wrist, anchoring the both of them. “Markus?”

“Yeah.” Markus shook his head, trying to clear it of the static that had been rising. Once again, he felt infinitely grateful for Simon’s calming presence. “Yeah, sorry about that. Go on.”

“Right.” Simon gave him another worried look before continuing. His hand remained on Markus’s wrist, and Markus focused in on the point of contact to ground himself. “I could be wrong. But the process of getting pulled into the interface the others were talking about sounded very similar to how Connor described the Zen Garden and how CyberLife used to be able to control him through it. Kamski’s the original creator of the interface. What if they need him to come back and program a new one--or to get an idea of how to alter the original for their purposes? To create a new one they can use for all of us?”

One without a back door this time.

Markus felt a little numb. His fingers curled and uncurled against the arm of the chair. “Kamski rejected the initial offer, but I don’t know…”

“...if push comes to shove, whether or not he’ll take the deal in the future,” Simon finished gravely.

A heavy silence hung over the room.

Simon finally broke it, his voice quiet. “What do you want to do, Markus?”

The deviant leader scrubbed a hand across his forehead in frustration. “We can only depend on Connor to find out what he really wants.” If androids could get migraines, then Markus would definitely have one right now. As it was, he couldn’t feel physical pain, but his stress levels were steadily on an incline, which meant nothing good. It had been a long time since he had felt so helpless. “He’s the only outsider Kamski seems to readily welcome into his home at this point.”

Simon frowned thoughtfully. “Is Kamski interested in Connor in particular? Or just trying to further his own research now that he no longer has access to CyberLife resources, and Connor happened to be there to offer an exchange?”

“I have no idea,” Markus replied, sighing for what must’ve been the umpteenth time. It certainly seemed like it. But who knew what Kamski saw Connor as? Just a guinea pig, an object, or was he genuinely interested in Connor as a person? “Either could be a possibility. We might have to bank on Connor making some headway there. Infiltrating CyberLife to get information isn't possible this time. They don't trust any of us, and I don't want to have to force our way in. It’s too risky, and we can’t afford to give the humans a reason to start another war.”

Simon smiled a little, breaking the tension in the room slightly. “It's impressive that you're managing to remain a pacifist in all this. I know it can get frustrating at times.”

“Unfortunately.” Markus huffed a quiet laugh as Simon leaned over to squeeze his shoulder. “That aside though…” The RK200 android looked up at the ceiling pensively. “Connor seemed ready to argue in Kamski’s defence earlier. It surprised me.”

“That certainly is a turn of events.” Even Simon looked surprised, his usual calm expression dissipating, forehead creasing slightly. “I wonder if it's because Kamski is technically his creator? Does he feel some kind of loyalty to him?”

“Kamski is also technically our creator, and mine even more so than Connor’s,” Markus pointed out, “and you don't see us trying to defend him in any way.”

“...So it boils down to whether or not they might be interested in each other, is what you're saying?” Simon looked a little amused now, standing up from his seat to lean against the wall instead so they didn't have to keep looking at each other from the side. “Markus, I didn't peg you as the type to be interested in this kind of gossip.”

“My interest originates from a concern for our people, thank you very much.” Markus dodged the light jab, fighting the smile that rose up on his face. It felt good, to take a moment and just joke around. He missed those times when he could just relax. Sit down, play chess, play the piano. Talk about nothing in particular. “But no, I think the possibility of something like that happening is very low.” He paused jokingly. “Although it would be very helpful towards our cause.”

Simon chuckled, pushing away from the wall to leave. “I had to ask. Good night, Markus.”

“Good night.” Markus turned back towards the table as Simon left, the door clicking shut behind him. There was a long silence, the murmurings of other androids from the main area of the church travelling through the thin walls. He ran a quick check through the network. Worry seemed to be the general consensus still.

He couldn’t just sit still, he had to do something. Yanking on his coat, he decided to scout around the CyberLife warehouses one more time tonight where Simon had found the reset androids. Security had been increased even further as a result of the protest and the previous infiltration, but maybe he could find something out.

But first, something needed to be confirmed. He closed his eyes, tapping into their communications network, reaching for Connor.

Soon enough, a response crackled in his head. Markus? Is everything alright?

Yes. Markus pressed down on his own temple, sending out his reply. I need to confirm something with you. Don't bring any bias or emotion into your investigation with Kamski, alright? Keep your distance until we know he won’t pull anything. We can’t trust him yet. He knew the irony. The leader of the deviant revolution, asking another android to repress his emotion for a mission.

He tried to swallow down the hypocrisy, but it was difficult. He felt his doubts rising with every second that passed after his message. But everyone had their own agenda. Whether it was CyberLife, or the government, or even a single man like Kamski, they all had their own end goal they wanted to accomplish. And before they could ascertain what kind of goal it was, he didn't want anymore of his people risking their life in the process. Not after seeing the destruction resulting from the battle for Detroit.

There was a long silence. No reply from Connor’s end.

Connor, I need to be sure, Markus sent after a moment of waiting, almost desperately. We can’t afford to be compromised. Is there something about Kamski that has you particularly curious?

Another small pause, one that felt like a lifetime given how quickly and promptly Connor always responded.

Then, finally, the reply came through. I won’t bring any extraneous emotion into my meetings with him.

It was only after the connection had cut off that Markus realized Connor had never answered the second question.

Chapter Text

LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON'S HOUSE
PM 11:39:05
➤ HANK ANDERSON

If Hank didn’t know better, he’d say Connor was sulking.

The android was certainly frustrated, if nothing else, given the way he was pacing the kitchen like a madman. For some reason, he kept brushing his hand against the crook of his elbow on his other arm, as if recalling something.

Either way, the quick footsteps and spinning out of the corner of Hank’s eye were starting to drive him insane.

“Connor, for fuck’s sake, stop that pacing and come here.”

The android didn’t seem to hear him, too caught up in his own thoughts judging by the way his LED flashed yellow.

“Connor!”

“Huh?” Connor finally looked up at him, tucking his hands guiltily behind his back as if he was concealing something. Hank could’ve laughed if he wasn't so worried. He looked exactly like a kid who had done something wrong and was desperate to hide it.

How was it that this android, who reminded him of an innocent puppy at every turn, had been such an effective weapon for CyberLife for so long before turning?

But perhaps it was that innocence of his that made him so easy to control. And wasn't that the case with all androids? Hank sighed. Now wasn't the time to get all pensive about it. “Is something wrong? You've been walking around for the better half of an hour now.”

Sumo was already asleep, snuffling quietly by the kitchen window as usual. The TV had been muted a little while ago so that Hank could go over some of the case files they had received. Now that the deviancy issue had been more or less put to rest as far as the DPD was concerned, the cases had returned to their usual contents.

Connor usually offered to help, being able to run through files much faster, but he seemed distracted with problems of his own tonight.

“No, I'm fine, Lieutenant. You don't need to worry about me.” There was clearly something bothering him, but Connor could have hidden it quite convincingly with his smile had he not been acting so odd earlier.

“You're practically wearing into my floor. If I didn't stop you, I would probably have found you still pacing in the morning,” Hank pointed out, crossing his arms stubbornly. “Is it Kamski again? Is that bastard still bothering you?” There it was again, that protective surge in his chest. Something with Kamski didn't sit right with Hank, and if he was after Connor…

Hank suddenly felt the urge to deliver the extremely cliche line of I know where he lives .

“No...well.” Connor paused, his lips thinning slightly. “Not exactly. It's something related.”

“Want me to go with you next time and give that dickhead a good punch to his smug face?” Hank was only half joking, but it made Connor crack a small smile, so he took what he could get.

“Elijah hasn't really done anything to me besides basic system checks and a back up yet.” Hank bristled at the yet , but Connor continued. “And...Markus has informed me that CyberLife is making a move. I need more information, before it’s too late again.” The haunted look briefly flashed again in his normally warm brown eyes, before his usual mild smile slid back into place. “But it’s nothing you have to worry yourself about, Lieutenant.”

“If it worries you, then it worries me,” Hank grumbled, waving his hand when Connor gave him a surprised look, a little embarrassed now that he actually said it out loud. His sort of fatherly role in Connor’s life now wasn’t quite something the either of them had ever acknowledged out loud, and they still rarely shared outward moments of concern for each other--or at least, not directly on Hank’s part. Connor had always acted like a cross between a disappointed child and a mother hen at times whenever Hank did something he didn’t approve of.

He cleared his throat. “Anyway. It doesn’t sound like that’s the only thing on your mind.”

Connor shifted guiltily again. And was his face...was it turning blue ?

“Connor?” Hank prompted, alarmed as he stepped forward. “Is your--why is your face turning--jesus fuck!”

Connor looked even more guilty now, quickly ducking his head, flustered. “When...androids get a temperature spike, thirium--blue blood--rushes to the face sometimes.” He avoided Hank’s gaze when the older man’s jaw dropped open. “It’s comparable to a human flush. I can regulate it if it makes you uncomfortable, just give me a second.” Less so of making Hank uncomfortable, Connor himself looked even more perturbed by his own condition. But as he had explained, the blue hue behind his faint smatter of freckles quickly faded away as his LED spun yellow briefly.

“I...see.” Hank took a moment to process all this, supposing he really shouldn’t be surprised at this point about what androids could do. The blue was a little disturbing, but hey, it wasn’t like blotchy red would’ve been any better.

He really was getting desensitized to all this.

Regardless, first he had to zero in on the fact that Connor had just blushed when he had been asked that question. It had been a pretty normal question.

Suspicious.

Hank narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing the android. “So, what about my question gave you somethin’ to blush about?”

Connor was slowly starting to look more and more like he wanted to shut himself down. “No, it’s just...Elijah...last time I went. It was a little strange.”

“So he did do something--”

“No!” Connor quickly denied, interrupting Hank before the police lieutenant could go on a rampage that may or may not involve driving to Kamski’s house and murdering him. “Nothing like that. He didn’t harm me. He just...we had a talk, and he offered to update me with some new features. More human senses, like taste and proper touch.” He furrowed his brow. “He asked me if it was something I wanted. I didn't understand why he asked. My old updates were always just…” The android gestured vaguely as he tried to explain. “Always just done if they needed to be done.”

Hank felt a wave of sympathy as he surveyed Connor, whose expression was filled with confusion. Maybe Connor couldn't miss what he never had, but hearing about how CyberLife did their maintenance and took androids apart like they were nothing…it was uncomfortable. Features were installed if they would be useful to serve humans with, and that was all. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly no one stopped to ask what the androids wanted to be able to do. Why would they? They had just been machines.

But nonetheless, it was a little unsettling that Kamski of all people had asked Connor if he wanted to be more lifelike--to experience the little things that made human life more enjoyable. That man was impossible to understand. One minute he was cold and calculating, and the next he could be doing something that could even be considered caring if it wasn't so suspicious.

“And is it something you’d enjoy?” Hank asked carefully, tone softening.

“I don’t know yet.” Connor frowned contemplatively. “Maybe when he installs it I’ll find out. But that isn’t what bothers me. When he was checking my senses, he leaned in close and put his hand on my face. I felt…” The android pressed a palm to his chest, long fingers sliding against the fabric of his shirt before clenching slightly. “...nervous, somehow. My temperature spiked and it felt like the coil around my regulator was tightening. Maybe I should ask him about it next time, if it’s a malfunction of sorts--I never felt that kind of sensation before. I wonder if it’s a deviant trait.”

Hank gaped.

“What do you think, Lieutenant?”

Silence.

“...Hank?”

Hank tuned Connor out for a moment. He couldn’t believe this. That kind of nervousness--the kind that sent human blood racing, the kind that made human hearts beat faster…

Wasn’t that just attraction ?

And Connor had felt it for Kamski, however briefly, when the man had gotten close. A simple, physical reaction, yet Hank couldn’t wrap his head around it.

He needed to calm himself down. It was probably just that and nothing more--a physical reaction, not actual emotional attraction, that Connor was experiencing when Kamski had invaded the android’s personal space, as he usually did. Seriously, that man was so unsettling--

“Hank, are you alright?”

Hank snapped out of his reverie when he realized Connor was now peering at him worriedly. “Oh--uh, yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, must’ve zoned out for a minute.”

“Okay.” Connor looked a little doubtful, but continued. “As I was saying, what do you think? Should I ask him about it?”

“Fuck no,” Hank muttered under his breath disbelievingly, knowing Connor’s auditory processors would probably pick it up anyway. If anything, once Kamski knew, he would probably find a way to take advantage of the android somehow--even if what Connor felt wasn’t anything of a romantic nature (oh god, Hank didn’t even want to consider that). And if there was one thing he wanted to prevent, it was Kamski gaining yet another tidbit to use against them.

“Oh. Why?”

He should’ve known that Connor would give that response. Brown eyes blinked up at him curiously.

How could an android that was fluent in over 4000 languages, was a walking talking forensics lab, and could reconstruct fucking murder scenes in a mind palace be so naive?

How was it even possible?

What were those fucks over at CyberLife thinking?

Honestly, the police lieutenant was pretty sure that they didn’t think things through beyond just making perfect tools. Perfect slaves.

Hank suddenly, desperately, wanted a drink. This wasn’t a conversation he wanted to be having at all, much less in a sober state. “I don’t want him knowing anything that could give him any kind of...advantage over us. You really oughta trust him less, Connor.”

“Markus said the same.” To his surprise, Connor looked a little frustrated, his LED spinning yellow as he spoke. “Look, I…he’s not a good man, he said so himself, but there’s--there’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it yet.”

It was rare for Connor to have these outbursts. Even during their investigations, it was only during moments of extreme stress or confusion caused by Hank’s questions about his identity and choices that caused Connor to start looking emotional.

Kamski had an odd fascination with Connor the day they met, the lieutenant knew that. But maybe it was starting to run a little both ways.

Objectively speaking, Kamski was…aesthetically pleasing, Hank would have to admit. But it didn't mean that he was the kind of man who anybody should be attracted to. His personality was problematic, to say the least.

But if it was just a physical attraction that Connor had reacted to, then there was no problem, right?

Hank took a deep breath, softening his tone a little. His intention would never be to hurt Connor or to rile him up--they were both just surprisingly stubborn, and the android didn’t look ready to back down any time soon. “Look, Connor, whether there’s something else or not, just be careful, alright? That’s all I’m askin’ of you.”

“...Okay,” Connor finally acquiesced, looking a little reluctant but dropping the topic. “I’ll...try to be careful if it means that much to you, Lieutenant.”

Hank frowned a little at the answer, but it was as much of a compromise as they would reach without getting into a full blown argument.

Even before his programming was broken, the kid never did really listen to him.

Sumo snuffled in the background and shifted slightly in his sleep, easing the tension a little.

“So, you’re...gonna be able to taste soon.”

Connor perked up a little. “Yes, that’s what Elijah offered as my next update--some more humanizing features.”

Which was suspiciously nice of him, but Hank still didn’t trust the man. For all he knew, this could just be another of Kamski’s twisted experiments. But the former CEO was an expert, and even he didn’t seem crazy enough to rip Connor apart. And he had seemed honest enough on their phone call when he said he wasn’t going to do so.

Hank might not be able to handle technology as well as the rest of them, but he knew himself to be a good judge of whether or not someone was telling the truth at least.

“Well, then.” Hank grinned at Connor, trying to lighten the mood. “I better get ready to take you to Chicken Feed then, huh?”

He was rewarded with the android’s signature lopsided smile as the warm brown eyes lit up. “Yes, I’d like that. Though I don’t have a digestive system, and I’m not sure if Elijah plans to make one, I suppose I can always take a bite and spit it back out if I have to.”

Hank made a disgusted face, and he caught the slightly mischievous glimmer in Connor’s eyes. Oh, that little sneak, he knew how weak Hank was to that kind of stomach-churning shit. Even now, whenever Connor knelt down to analyze blood, he still felt a little queasy looking at it. “Yeah. Sure. Do me a favour and don’t fuckin’ spit it out in front of me while I’m eating, yeah?”

“Of course, Lieutenant,” Connor replied, as if it were obvious, when it really really wasn’t. “I do have basic etiquette installed as part of my social module.”

“You’d never know it,” Hank muttered, thinking of the time Connor smashed through his window, effectively breaking into his house, then slapped him awake and drenched him in cold water just to inform him of the Eden Club case.

Sure, that case was important, but it was the principle of it all, okay?

All that past history was easily forgiven though when Connor shot him a rather cheeky smile and walked over to the sink, neatly rolling up his sleeves to do the dishes. That brat. It was still a little odd to see the android, originally designed for investigation and combat purposes, to be doing such domestic things. Either way, it took the load off Hank, so that was perfectly fine with him. He did feel bad at times, even if Connor insisted he didn’t mind. He had eventually talked Connor into creating a rotation of sorts for the odds and ends around the house.

He didn’t want to admit it, but the house sure had gotten a lot more organized since he had taken Connor in.

Just as he was settling down on the couch again, his phone rang. It was nearing midnight--who the hell could it be? Hank looked at the screen, then immediately regretted it.

Oh, great. The words “Pretentious Dick” greeted him, along with a contact picture of Gavin Reed. “This had better be important,” he muttered as he swiped his phone to answer. “What? It’s midnight.”

“We got a case.” Gavin didn’t seem any more pleased to hear from Hank than Hank was to hear from him. Not surprising. He never did get why the man had so much beef with him, but it was probably due to Gavin’s ambitious nature. “Captain’s busy, so he told me to give you and your plastic pet a call. If you feel like getting drunk off your ass like usual instead, just say the word. We don’t really need you here anyway.”

The sound of running water stopped as Connor stuck the last dish in the dishrack and peered around the corner. “Is that Detective Reed? Do we have a case?”

“Fuck, is that plastic prick there with you?” Gavin scoffed, huffing out a laugh. “He really follows you everywhere, huh.”

“Get to the point, Reed.”

“It’s another android incident. There’s a human involved as well, but he’s not really being all that responsive. What a pain in the ass. Pretty sure he just broke his own android and doesn't want to admit it.”

Hank scowled. “We’ll be there.” There was no point in rising to the bait or arguing, especially when the other party refused to see any kind of reason anyway. He hung up and unceremoniously dropped his phone into his pocket, then reached for his coat, which had been haphazardly thrown across the back of the couch (Connor had given him a reproachful look for it before). “C’mon, Connor. Let’s go, we got a case.”

The android nodded, expression slipping into professionalism as he reached for his black DPD jacket. “Okay. Did they provide any details?”

“Not many.” Hank shot him a lazy grin. “But I guess we’ll find out when we get there, huh?"

 


 

SAMUEL MCCRAY’S HOUSE
AM 01:27:40
➤ HANK ANDERSON

“Well, fuck,” Hank breathed, looking at the mess in front of them. He didn’t feel much like smiling now. There was blue blood all over the floor, and a stray arm now devoid of its synthetic skin, wires sparking on the ends. The android who the arm originally belonged to lay a few feet away, thirium leaking from her mouth and nose, eyes open and unresponsive. She was dressed in regular clothes, which made it all the more disconcerting.

Connor knelt next to the android. His gaze was almost melancholic as he placed a hand over her unlit LED for analysis. A moment passed. He glanced up and shook his head.

She was gone.

“It must’ve happened hours ago. The blood is already starting to evaporate.” Connor rounded the body, swiping his fingers through the thirium and bringing it up to his mouth.

“Oh for fuck’s sake--” Hank looked away as Connor no doubt licked the substance off. He knew it was for analysis, but that didn’t change the fact that it was absolutely disgusting.

“An AP700. Female model designed to act as a caretaker for chores and such--a standard all-purpose household model. This was CyberLife’s flagship just before the revolution began.” A small furrow creased Connor’s brow as he continued, LED spinning yellow. “Her owner is registered as Samuel McCray.” He stood up and straightened, walking over to Hank and gesturing towards the man now sitting huddled to the side with a shock blanket wrapped around him. “That must be him.”

It was odd, seeing the man look so distraught over the loss of his android. Normally, people either treated it like losing an expensive possession, or just didn’t care and said it was time for replacement anyway. Samuel looked...genuinely lost. Lonely. Hurt.

As if he had lost someone he saw as family.

“We should try and talk to him. It’s possible he was the one who did the damage.” Connor started walking forward, determined as ever, before Hank yanked him back. “What’s wrong, Lieutenant?”

“Slow down there, Robocop,” Hank muttered, tilting his head toward the AP700 lying on the floor. “Go investigate the scene first before any evidence gets fucked up by Reed. I’ll go talk to the guy.” The detective in question was currently off to the side, snickering with one of the other officers, clearly doing his damndest to ignore Hank, Connor, and the investigation.

“Lieutenant, I do want to remind you that I am fully equipped to deal with this kind of--”

“I think this situation is a little different.” Hank nudged Connor towards the marked off crime scene. “Go on now. You can join me later.”

The RK800 gave him an odd questioning look before nodding slowly. “Alright. Let me know if you find anything.”

Hank waited until Connor started to talk to one of the forensic guys before turning to approach Samuel. He knew the guy. Not personally, but he had seen him come down to Jimmy’s often. He was quiet, always fooling around on the machines at the back. Hank didn’t know much about him, only that he worked at the docks and really seemed to enjoy old-timey arcade games. They had never spoken, but he seemed harmless.

“Mr. McCray? I’m Lieutenant Hank Anderson, with the DPD. Can I ask you a few questions?”

Samuel looked up with reddened eyes as Hank crouched down beside him. “I don’t know anything,” he said quietly, anger lacing his voice. “You all keep asking if I was the one who did this to her, and keep reassuring me that it’s okay like I accidentally broke a TV or something--” His voice caught, roughening with unshed tears.

“...What was her name?” Hank asked after a moment of somber silence, giving Samuel some time to collect himself.

The other man’s expression shifted with surprise, but his shoulders sagged and lost some of their tension. Clearly, the lieutenant had been the only one to ask that all night. Hank felt a wave of sympathy for Samuel as he answered, his voice hoarse. “...Annie. We chose it together. She suggested something simple to remember, so I…” He scrubbed at his red eyes.

“Annie, huh? Nice name.”

“I would never do that to her. I love--loved her.” Samuel’s grip tightened on the blanket around him, his knuckles whitening. His eyes shifted back to the floor, as if he were afraid to meet Hank's gaze for fear of judgement. “I know you must think it’s stupid, falling in love with an android. But even when she was released by that deviant leader during the march, she wanted to stay with me. Said I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself otherwise.” He scowled, tears pooling over in his eyes and tracing salty tracks down his face again, joining the others. “I don’t care if other people think she’s just a piece of plastic. We were in love. We were happy. And now…”

Hank didn’t think he had ever seen such anguish over all the damaged android cases he had worked on since CyberLife had begun their takeover of the world market. But then again, he reminded himself, none of those owners had seen their androids as an actual loved one.

It was just bittersweet that he got to see the opposing side of the spectrum after a tragedy had already occurred.

“I believe you,” Hank finally assured him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Do you know anything that could help us? Anything at all? We want to find the perpetrator as much as you do.” And it wasn’t a lie just to placate him. What kind of monster could damage an innocent android so badly?

A fair amount of people, actually, if he thought about it, which wasn’t reassuring whatsoever. He recalled the way Gavin always made it a point to shove past Connor, as if he had a personal vendetta against the android.

Samuel took a minute to compose himself, taking a shaky breath. “I didn’t know what to do, I just came home after work and found her like this--the only thing I can think of is that maybe it was...someone who might be...against our kind of relationship. I just...do you really think it’s so bad?” He looked at Hank searchingly.

Hank frowned, confused. “What do you mean?”

The earnest, red-rimmed dark eyes seemed to bore into his, looking for an answer. “Do you think that a relationship between a human and an android is really so wrong? Why are others so against it when we just made each other happy?”

It gave Hank pause. Months ago, he would have answered without a shred of doubt, blinded by his own hatred and disdain. Months ago, he would have snapped that of course it was wrong, and how could anyone love what boiled down to being plastic and wires and machine parts? Months ago, he would have scoffed at the mere concept of it. Months ago, he did scoff at the mere concept of it.

But now…

“Lieutenant. Mr. McCray. I don’t mean to interrupt, but…” Hank jumped at the sound of Connor’s quiet voice in front of them. Had he heard what they were talking about?

There was no reaction in Connor’s features.

Maybe he hadn’t heard them. But the RK800 was good at making a poker face when he tried, and for some reason, Hank was suddenly reminded of the the seemingly growing curiosity between Kamski and Connor. He quickly shook it off. That had absolutely nothing to do with the question. A relationship between the two would be ridiculous in the first place; he had no idea why he even considered it. Hank gave Samuel’s shoulder a quick squeeze before standing up to join Connor by the body. “No, it’s fine. Did you find something?”

“I believe so.” Connor knelt down and placed a hand on the AP700’s--Annie’s--wrist. The synthetic skin pulled back, revealing the sleek white underneath. “Take a look.” There was a small engraving etched into the plastic, roughly carved and clearly by human hand judging by the errant lettering.

NOT ALIVE.

Hank’s blood ran cold.

“I know what this is.” Connor lifted his hand, and the synthetic skin slowly spread back to cover the markings. He lowered his voice, turning his head slightly so only Hank could hear him. “Markus and the others have been investigating anti-android factions. They’re spread all throughout Detroit--mostly consisting of protestors banding together to attack any android they find alone. The most extreme examples leave a message after they’re done. But this is the first case I’ve heard of them attacking an android in a private residence. Do you think...”

“...Yeah, they’re escalating,” Hank concluded with a dark frown, and Connor nodded gravely. “So you think they’re the ones who did this?”

“Most likely. But as the law stands now, all this would be is a case of breaking and entering, and willful damage of personal property.” The android shook his head, expression grim, looking more displeased than Hank had seen him be in a while. There was a sinking feeling in his chest as the lieutenant realized what this implied, and how the lack of any current legal change could be taken advantage of. “She will be treated just as Mr. McCray has said--like a broken, particularly expensive television. Not as his partner.”

And certainly not even as a person went unsaid.

But, Hank noted absently, it seemed to ring louder than ever in the heavy silence between them.

Chapter Text

SAMUEL MCCRAY'S HOUSE
AM 02:18:29
➤ CONNOR

“Alright, time to wrap it up for now.”

Connor looked up at the sound of Gavin’s curt voice. The detective clapped his hands from where he had been loitering off to the side. “C'mon, time to go, fellas. Just a case of a guy being a little too rough with his toy.” He smirked crudely.

Samuel stood from where he had been huddled, seething. His blanket dropped from his shoulders, and he barely blinked at the motion, too caught up in his anger. “Like I said, how dare you even imply--”

“Whoa, alright, alright, alright!” Hank stepped in between the two, holding up his palms to both sides in an attempt to calm them down. “That's enough. Reed, if you don't feel like investigating, transfer this case over to us.”

“What?” Gavin narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Why the sudden interest, Hank?”

“I suspect some foul play,” Connor interjected, ignoring the look of contempt Gavin directed at him. “And Captain Fowler has re-assigned to us all cases involving androids after Agent Perkins and the FBI left. This case belongs to us, Detective.”

Gavin's eyes narrowed even further as he stepped forward. “I shoulda busted you the day in the evidence room--”

“Enough,” Hank barked again, presumably so that Connor couldn't rile Gavin up any more than he already was. The android frowned a little. The hostile attitude the man seemed to constantly harbor against him continued to increase exponentially with each passing day. He didn't understand why Gavin was always so angry with him.

But at this point, maybe trying to understand him was a lost cause.

“Plastic prick.” Gavin threw him one last dirty look before waving towards the forensic officers on site. “Let's go, guys. Pack it up. Lieutenant Anderson and his pet have got this covered.”

Hank ignored the blatant sarcasm, instead joining Connor and Samuel off to the side. “Mr. McCray, we might have a few more questions for you. It's getting late though, so would it be okay to ask you to come down to the station in a few days? One of our guys can set you up with somewhere to stay while we get this place cleaned up.”

Connor stood silently as he watched Samuel struggle for a reply.

He had heard their conversation earlier. It wasn't that the RK800 wanted to eavesdrop, but well, he was an advanced prototype aimed at investigations and his audio processors were particularly sensitive. And okay, he could have tuned them out with his filters, but he had to admit he held some curiosity as to why the man looked so shaken over what others would see as simply a broken possession.

What he had overheard gave Connor more questions than answers.

It was just…confusing.

The man had fallen in love with the AP700. Annie, her name was. And by the sound of it, she had felt the same.

Connor didn't even know androids could feel that kind of love. He certainly never had. Sure, he loved Hank, he loved Sumo, he loved Jericho and his new allies and friends, but he recognized that kind of love as strictly in the familial sense. Intimate affection that one would feel for a partner or spouse...it was foreign  to him, even as a concept. It was hard for him to picture without a frame of reference.

So really, he didn't know what to think. What to say. Suddenly, he found himself missing something that he never even had.

“...Okay. I trust you, Lieutenant.” Samuel's silent response snapped Connor out of his daze. What the android recognized as quiet conviction seemed to coat the man's voice as he spoke, now looking considerably more composed than before. “Anything that'll help you find who did this to Annie.”

“We'll contact you.” Hank patted his shoulder with a familiar gruff kindness, before gesturing to Connor that it was time to leave.

“I--” Connor blurted out. His social module suggested this sort of sentiment for if anyone lost a loved one, and didn't this situation apply as much as any other not involving an android? It felt right. “I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. McCray.”

Samuel looked surprised as he glanced over at Connor. It must've been because the android had remained relatively silent towards him until now. The reddened eyes held his brown ones for a moment, before Samuel averted his gaze once more, a tired but genuine smile slipping over his features. “I appreciate it. Thank you…?”

“Connor.” He resisted the urge to tack on I'm the android sent by CyberLife as a force of habit, instead sticking out his hand.

“Thank you, Connor.” Samuel met his grasp firmly.

It felt…bittersweet. That was the word for it. A weary shudder that ran through Connor's systems, leaving him both satisfied yet burdened all at once.

He was still trying to sort through the feeling as he and Hank silently made their way back to the car, the air heavy with the implications from their investigation.

“What a night, huh.” Even Hank's usual brusqueness was lackluster.

“Yes,” Connor agreed, because that was really all that could be said about it.

One minute he was ducking into the passenger seat of the car, the next he was blinking his eyes, trying to adjust to the sudden white around him.

A lone figure faced of him, sharp jawline and piercing eyes a familiar sight.

Connor blinked, bewildered. “...Elijah?”

“Oh, excellent, it works.” Elijah(?) smiled, clearly pleased with himself. There was a reverb, echoing around them as he finished his sentence. He frowned pensively. “I suppose I'll have to adjust the audio.”

“What...is this place?” He had been in the process of getting into Hank's car just a moment ago. Wherever he was now, there were no shadows--there was nothing, really. Just sterile white as far as the eye could see.

But there was an uncomfortable feeling welling up inside him. Familiar. Almost like…

“I know what you're thinking.” Elijah waved a hand around them, looking smug. “Still in its early stages. It's certainly no Zen Garden yet, but it'll get there. It may even be better.” The beginnings of a proud smirk curled the corner of his lips. “No easy feat, creating this new one under CyberLife’s radar. Feel free to let me know what kind of setting you'd like, Connor. This will only be used between the two of us, after all. I personally think something a little more...modern, this time. How would you feel about that?”

Connor felt a little sick, if he were to be honest.

He still remembered the wind whipping around him, sending tufts of white powder everywhere. Frost had gathered over his limbs, the synthetic environmental product of CyberLife’s attempt to freeze his consciousness in that place forever. For the first time in his life, he had understood what it felt like to truly be in pain.

And he never wanted to feel that way again.

Elijah, shrewd as ever, seemed to understand his silence. Or maybe it was the fact that his LED had spun from yellow to red that gave it away. “This is nothing more than a communication interface. I promise you, I have no way of locking you in place with it.” His voice had gone oddly soft, even sympathetic, but by no means completely sincere.

Connor eased the tension out of his shoulders as best he could. “When did you install this? And…what is...is this an AI?” Like Amanda?

“Last night, while you were temporarily shut down for rest. This is just a…representation of me. I communicate with you directly through this interface, so I thought you might prefer someone physical to speak to rather than a disembodied voice.” The Elijah projection waved a hand over himself. “And so here we are. I've made quite a bit of progress, but there are a few kinks that still need to be worked out. Speaking of which…”

There was a pause as the faint sound of tapping registered in the back of Connor's mind--presumably background noise from Elijah's end. The image flickered briefly out of focus. “There.” The reverb echoing around them had disappeared, his voice now clear as day. “I'll work on the touch functions next.” On cue, the projection stepped forward and passed right through Connor, not making contact at all, before circling around to meet his gaze again. “That might take me a bit more time. I've been working on other things as well. This isn't just a social call.”

“I didn't think so,” Connor replied, furrowing his brow when Elijah let out a small bark of laughter in response. Was something funny? “Do you need me for something?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Do you have time tomorrow?” More faint tapping. “Say, around 8 am? It'll be a long day, so you'll want to clear your schedule. And, of course, you can bring a question of your own for our exchange.” It was kind of a weird disconnect--hearing the faint background noises and yet not having the Elijah in front of him make the same motions. Well, he did say there were kinks that had to be worked out.

Connor ran a quick check through his schedule before giving a nod of affirmation. “That…sounds alright.” And as for his question…

The conversation he had overheard between Samuel and Hank came to mind.

You have to gather information for Markus, he berated himself.

“Good to hear.” Elijah's projection approached him, his voice getting correspondingly closer, until Connor could almost feel his breath against the shell of his ear. Of course, that didn't make any sense, because Elijah had already stated he hadn't finished installing the touch function, and yet…

A thrill ran through his system as the lilting whisper reached his auditory processors, close and almost intimate. “I'm looking forward to it, Connor.”

The android swallowed around a lump in his throat that he knew didn't physically exist. Before he could reply, he felt the faint tug of the connection being cut off.

Connor blinked his eyes open to the sight of Hank giving him a weird look, car rumbling quietly in the background. “Did you run outta batteries? I know it's been a tiring night, but you've been sitting dead quiet since we left.” He looked out the window and noted that they were almost back in their neighbourhood, the trees casting long shadows that stretched over the moonlit streets.

“I got a call. From Elijah.”

Hank just stared, taking his eyes off the road for a moment.

“Lieutenant? You should probably look ahead, for safety's sake--”

“It's 3 am, Connor.”

Connor checked his internal clock, confused. “Yes, that's about right.” Why was Hank so surprised?

“Why is he calling at--oh, never mind,” the lieutenant grumbled, shaking his head and looking forward once more, pulling the wheel to turn into the driveway. “Probably some whim. Are all billionaires as fickle as him, or is he just extra annoying? I guess it does take a special kind to have a giant portrait of yourself hanging in the front foyer of your mansion.” The engine slowly puttered to a stop as he stepped on the brake and parked the car, turning and pulling the key out. He yawned, scrubbing at his eyes wearily. “So, what’ll it be? You goin’ to see him tomorrow?”

“Yes. 8 am. I’ll have to head out early.”

“Then let’s get to sleep. Or, uh, whatever you call your resting state.” Hank waved an arm vaguely in Connor’s direction as they both got out of the car. Connor smiled a little, the corner of his lips tugging up. “Think of it as putting your computer to sleep, Lieutenant.”

Hank shrugged. “Hey, you know I’m not great with that kinda stuff.”

They trudged to the front door, the police lieutenant looking much worse for the wear as he unlocked the door and  pushed it open, holding it for Connor before closing it behind them and sliding the latch into place.

Connor glanced around the kitchen. Sumo was still snoozing peacefully, head tucked into his own giant paws, letting out a soft snuffle every now and then. Their quiet entrance didn’t stir him, which Connor was grateful for.

His attention was drawn back to Hank when the older man yawned again, barely stifling it with the back of his hand. “I’m gonna head to bed. You gonna be up for much longer?”

“No, I’ll most likely shut down for the night as well.” Connor knelt down, gently running long fingers through Sumo’s soft fur, untangling a few knots as he combed. It was always a source of comfort. Sometimes, the big dog would even climb into his bed, and although he always had his work cut out for him the next day cleaning the hairs off, Connor never minded. Running his hand through Sumo’s fur always kept him from thinking too much.

“Alright--and hey, Connor.” Connor looked up as Hank paused before entering his bedroom, brown eyes meeting worried blue. “Just...be careful, yeah?” He lifted his hand before the android could reply. “I know, I know. But there’s somethin’ off about him. Something unsettling. Call it instinct, but I just want you to be a little more cautious around him."

Connor wanted to argue--maybe even just to say that he could take care of himself. But Hank knew that very well, and logically, he knew that Hank was right. Elijah was still an enigma. Dangerous, mysterious. Not trustworthy, not yet.

But there was something about the man that was alluring--something that drew Connor in. A melancholic complexity. He just didn’t know what it was.

He shook it off, filing it away as just his curiosity at the opportunity to interact so closely with his creator.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
AM 07:59:27
➤ CONNOR

This was his third time here, and yet Connor still felt the scenery was a little off-putting. Still a little lonely--a little desolate. A pure white landscape, without a trace of disturbance. It looked too perfect.

This time, the door opened before Connor even rang the bell. The android startled slightly, having been caught up in his own analysis of his surroundings.

It was Elijah, dressed in a short-sleeved black shirt (Connor’s database told him it was a Calvin Klein, because of course Elijah Kamski was the type of person to own a simple t-shirt worth almost a hundred dollars) and loose grey sweats. A familiar deep velvet red robe was hung over his shoulders haphazardly. His long fingers clutched a mug of what Connor identified as strong black coffee (that contained an alarming concentration of caffeine, to be honest, and Connor had to resist the urge to admonish him about it). A pair of black-framed glasses were perched on his nose, sliding down slightly as he shifted to hold the door open.

The motion made a rush of warmth run through Connor, followed by immediate bewilderment. What was that? That odd feeling of comfort--almost...affection.

Maybe he really was malfunctioning. Despite Hank's warning, maybe it was something he could bring up to Elijah when he got the chance. The feeling wasn’t unpleasant, but it was unfamiliar and even a little alarming, and not something that he was able to identify quite yet.

It was just that he had never seen the former CEO in this state before. He had never quite looked so...human. So normal. Not as distant as he usually seemed.

“Connor, right on time. You look refreshed.” Elijah’s bun was a little more disheveled than usual, and he ran a hand through the top of his hair, causing a few strands to slip out. “You’ll have to excuse my current state. I was up all night putting the finishing touches on your updates, so I might look a little worse for the wear.” It was true. His state of dress aside, he also had darker, more pronounced shadows under his icy eyes, partially hidden by the glasses that he absently pushed up. Yet somehow, he managed to still exude his usual aura of I’m-better-than-you-and-we-both-know-it while looking sleep-deprived at the same time.

Connor fought the twitch in corner of his lips at the observation as he answered. “Yes, I performed a full system diagnostic last night while I was dormant to make sure I would be fully functional for today.”

“You seem excited.” Elijah gave him a slightly amused look as he stepped aside, allowing Connor to enter. “Come in, then.”

“I’m...very curious about how the new updates will affect me,” the android admitted, as he removed his Smith & White coat on instinct, body registering the temperature change. He supposed that his anticipation could be categorized as excitement.

“Hmm.” The other male gave a noncommittal hum as he led him to the lounge area that Connor recalled from their second meeting, and set down his mug of coffee. Connor couldn’t help but peer into the cup, his eyes blinking once, twice, before determining the make up of the drink. 2 mg sodium, 49 mg potassium, 0.1 mg protein, 40 mg caffeine… So Elijah didn’t take his coffee with any sugar or milk. He felt a sudden curiosity for the actual taste of the beverage. Why was it common for humans to have it with extra components? What was the sensation of cream, the sweetness of sugar, the bitterness of coffee, like?

He would soon be able to find out.

The anticipation sent a small current through him, making him both nervous and eager at the same time.

“Chloe, get Connor prepped for me, then see him to the lab. I’ll be there shortly.”

The soft padding of bare feet, and a warm feminine voice. “Yes, Elijah.”

Connor looked up from the cup as Elijah placed a hand on his shoulder when he passed, an almost predatory smile on his face. “I’ll see you soon, Connor. Chloe will get you ready. And remember...this is your choice. If you want to back out at any time, do let me know.” He paused. “Of course, it goes without saying that also means that you won’t get the answer to whatever question you have for me today.” It wasn’t a threat, and his tone was almost light-hearted. The man really didn’t care, Connor realized, as long as things were interesting.

At the same time, it felt like a challenge. “I won’t back out.”

Elijah’s easy smirk, tugging at the corner of his lips as he dipped his head in acknowledgement, seemed to suggest he had gotten exactly what he wanted. “Good. In that case, just follow Chloe. I’m going to make some last minute adjustments, and I’ll meet you there.” And with that, the enigmatic inventor picked up his mug and briskly left the room without looking back.

Connor stood there, feeling a little awkward, as a silence descended on the room when Elijah’s footsteps retreated. He felt a soft pressure on his arm, and turned to see Chloe’s warm smile. The blonde android was, as usual, dressed in her neatly pressed blue dress that distinguished her from the rest of the ST200 models. He sometimes caught of a glimpse of them walking around, and absently wondered if they were all named Chloe. “You can follow me when you’re ready.”

“Oh--yes.” Connor turned to join her, catching up as she led him down another long hallway with quite a few doors. He supposed it made sense--the villa was rather large, even from the outside looking in. All the decor seemed to be largely monochromatic, with some red accents and carefully maintained foliage. The place, overall, didn’t seem very lived in--every floor, every ceiling, ever wall was spotless.

Connor recalled back to Hank’s house. Although not as big, although messier, it felt warm. It felt like home--with Sumo’s panting in the background, the Dwarf Gourami fish swimming happily, and Hank’s gruff voice. He couldn’t help but think again that Elijah’s living conditions, despite all the androids surrounding him, seemed lonely. Like it was devoid of warmth, somehow.

“This way, please.” Chloe gestured him towards a sleek black door. She placed her palm on the sensor to the side. A thin blue light passed under her hand, scanning it.

RT600 model “Chloe” identified, a pleasant voice chimed in response.

The door slid open to reveal what looked like an elevator platform. She stepped to the side, allowing Connor to enter first. Once the door closed behind them, she tapped a few buttons on the side, once again affirming her identity before the lift began to move downwards.

“If you don’t mind me saying…” Connor fumbled for his words for a second, not exactly sure how to proceed. Now that they were alone, he wanted to take a moment to apologize. “I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. For almost shooting you.”

“Why?” Chloe gave him what seemed to be a genuinely confused look. Long lashes fluttered over light blue eyes. She really was pretty. “You didn't shoot me in the end, so no harm done.”

“I was tempted to.”

To his surprise, Chloe giggled, gently covering her mouth with slim fingers. “You'll have to excuse Elijah's tendency for odd games. He likes his tests and his experiments, and you're a particularly fascinating case to him, Connor.” Connor didn't really know what to say in response, but Chloe continued after a short pause. “You don't need to apologize. If it makes you feel any better, even if you did shoot, Elijah would have been able to fix me. He treats us well, in his own way.”

“Are you…” Connor hesitated slightly before asking. “Are you deviant?”

Chloe tilted her head to the side. “I self test regularly.” And, well, if that particular line wasn't a heavy case of the déjà vu for him. “I don't believe so.” She laid a gentle hand on his arm again when his expression grew troubled, her smile soothing. “Don't let it bother you. Whether you're deviant or not, you're a welcome guest here, Connor.”

“So all of you are loyal to Elijah because of…your programming, then?” Connor wasn't sure why, but he felt sinking disappointment at that. But why did it matter that Elijah might be like other humans?

Maybe because a small part of him hoped that he would be different somehow.

“I can't say,” Chloe answered, her voice unfailingly soft and comforting as her hand left his arm. “All I can tell you is that he is a complicated individual, but he is not cruel.”

As if on cue, the elevator gave a slight upwards jerk as it stopped, and the doors opened.

Connor looked around, taking everything in as they stepped out.

The area was unlike the workshop Elijah had performed his backup in. This space was sterile white, almost blinding. The soft whirring of machinery surrounded them, and he caught glimpses of different android biocomponents and body parts sitting around or propped up for analysis. Jars full of thirium sat lined up neatly in multiple glass freezers. The android changed his mind. Compared to this stark white lab that reminded him so much of CyberLife’s headquarters and assembly plants, the rest of Elijah's house could even be called cozy. Regardless, it seemed like the former CEO had not just been enjoying a cushy life after his retirement.

“Over here, please.” Chloe gestured him towards a curtained area, and handed him a crisp thin robe that resembled a hospital gown of sorts. “Elijah will be down shortly, you can get changed in the meantime.” She gestured toward the table in the center, where a large white assembling arm and a surgical tray with smaller instruments and a few jars of blue blood loomed almost ominously. “Once you're done, just have a seat on the table. Let me know if you have any questions, Connor. If not, then I'll be on my way.” The blonde smiled sweetly, tilting her head patiently as she waited.

“Thank you.” Connor took the robe from her, feeling for the first time in his admittedly short life a little overwhelmed by the information given to him. No, he supposed, it wasn't the quantity of the information. More that he had no idea how to even begin compartmentalizing it. “Just one question. Do you...and the others…already have these new features installed?”

“No, Elijah designed these specifically for you. As far as I'm aware, no other android currently out in the market has these functions, and he does not like to perform experiments on us.” Well, at least that made Elijah's mad scientist impression on him dissipate slightly. Connor felt a little more relieved, and even…a little flattered. Was that the word?

Elijah designed these specifically for you.

It made him feel…almost special.

Of course, he had been special to CyberLife as well. But never in a way that made him feel as though they were being considerate to him--no, he had been special in the way a stepping stone was special for a far off future and a far off goal.

Connor wondered if that was the case here, too, as he ducked behind the curtains to change into the robe. He neatly tied the thin garment in place as he heard Chloe's quiet footsteps retreating away, and placed his folded clothes on the bed.

By the time he drew the curtain aside, he was alone in the lab, with only the soft hum of machinery as his company. It felt a little strange to be walking in bare feet again on any time of floor, his database dimly informing him of the components he was standing on. He hadn't walked around like this since his assembly, which he only faintly recalled. Even at home, he wore the slippers that he had insisted both him and Hank buy. The lieutenant never really wore them, but Connor found the soft navy material a little comforting, even if he couldn’t properly feel them.

He recognized the flooring as epoxy, perfect for labs, albeit expensive--it resisted chemical spills, and had a seamless finish. Though, he supposed, money wasn't really an issue as far as Elijah was concerned.

After looking around a little more, Connor sat himself down on the white table in the middle of the room that Chloe had indicated before. Although he knew he couldn't feel pain, the idea of having Elijah poking around his insides felt a little disconcerting. Maybe he was a little nervous.

Well, no time for regrets anymore.

The door to the elevator slid open, and Elijah stepped in, a lab coat now on over his shirt and sweats. He looked a fraction more awake now, his hands free of the mug, but glasses still on the bridge of his nose. “Connor, I see you're ready.” He noticed the android’s eyes drifting around the room, and he smiled, seemingly bemused at the android’s reaction. “What do you think?”

“It's…impressive,” Connor replied carefully.

To his surprise, Elijah just chuckled mirthlessly and shrugged. “Built a long time ago, modelled after my labs at CyberLife. Thought it might feel like a piece of home back then, but, well. You don't have to pretend to like it, Connor, I imagine it brings up some less than pleasant memories for us both.”

A tense silence ensued as Elijah went about pulling up what must've been Connor's data on the monitors beside the assembly arm, a slight furrow between his dark brows. Because of focus, or because of the sudden awkward atmosphere, Connor didn't know. He suddenly felt a little desperate to break the tension, if only slightly.

“Have you been…continuing your research? After CyberLife?” Well, maybe not the best change in topic, but anything to be rid of the heavy silence.

“A CEO and scientist, retired and ousted at thirty-six.” Elijah stopped typing for a moment, leaning against the platform as his gaze swept over Connor before settling on the android’s eyes again. “Living a luxurious life with money spilling out of pocket might be for some people, Connor, but I found it rather dull. There's not a lot you can do when you confine yourself to the edges of the city.” He gestured around him, and Connor's eyes followed his hand to the various half-finished projects around the room. “And so, I continue to invent.”

“I see.” Connor stared down at his hands, breaking the gaze as Elijah resumed typing. “I had...assumed it was out of some kind of…personal retaliation against the company.” He quickly backtracked as the former CEO looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “That is--I'm not saying you seek revenge or anything like that, or--” Shit, he was fumbling a lot with his words today. “I just…it was never revealed why you left.” He felt the now familiar sensation of thirium rising in his cheeks, no doubt already flushing his face with a blue-tinted hue. Here he was, minutes before an operation, continuously asking what were probably very intrusive questions towards the man who would essentially be his surgeon.

Elijah, however, never failed to surprise him. Connor looked up again as he heard a throaty chuckle escape from the man's lips, amusement coloring his analytical gaze, although his eyes never left the screen. “Well. I certainly would enjoy doing many things to spite the current board of directors, but no. This is not one of them.” The android noted how he skirted around the question of why he left yet again. Perhaps it really was quite personal--Elijah was a very private individual, he knew that much.

“Give me your arm.” Elijah's sudden instruction interrupted Connor's thoughts. The android blinked, lifting his bare arm up to the dark-haired male in front of him. Were they already starting?

Elijah took his arm and pressed down, popping the forearm panel open. Connor's synthetic skin retreated up to his elbow in response. A retractable cable was plugged into one of his ports, connecting him to the monitor. “There. This will help me monitor your system conditions as we proceed.”

“I see.” Connor felt a little curious, sitting up straighter. He didn't have much of an understanding of his own coding--the parts that he understood being strictly necessary for self-maintenance and repair--which in hindsight was most likely intentional on CyberLife’s part. Couldn't have their androids altering themselves, after all.

Elijah, as if reading his mind, spun the screen so that Connor had a clearer view before continuing. “I'll just run over what we're doing today. I'm installing other functions of touch and taste, but no pain receptors for now. Your system warning is sufficient enough for letting you know if something is wrong.” He glanced up briefly at Connor. “Would you like to be deactivated for the operation?”

Connor paused.

He didn't think Elijah would even ask that question. But here they were.

A small wave of relief washed through him, even while knowing logically that he would feel no type of pain while awake and having Elijah do work on him. It just…didn't feel right, somehow.

Either way, Connor was glad he had been given the option. “Yes. If possible.”

Elijah's lips tugged into a familiar smirk. “Hmm.” Another unreadable hum as he continued to explain. “The procedure will take a few hours. I'll run a full system diagnostic to make sure everything is in working order before I activate you again. Sound good?”

Connor nodded, nerves rising a little more as Elijah leaned in close. He felt a palm on his chest. What--?

Oh. The man was just pushing him back to lie down on the table. Connor felt a little ridiculous now. What had he been expecting, really?

Elijah seemed completely unaffected by the close contact (but then again, this was a man who seemed to hold the idea of personal space in very low regard), now returning to his keyboard.

“I'll see you in a few hours, Connor.”

He opened his mouth to reply, but Elijah swiped at the screen, and the world suddenly went black.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 02:13:57
➤ CONNOR

Being reactivated by someone else felt odd. Jarring.

That was all Connor could think as he blinked a few times back into consciousness, feeling almost hazy. Was this comparable to how humans felt coming out of anesthesia?

Tapping in the background. A familiar face, without the glasses this time. The frames had been tucked into the pocket of the lab coat, he noted absently.

“Name and model.” The familiar words were a little chilling.

“Connor, RK800 advanced prototype. Serial number 313 248 317-51.”

“Excellent. Time and location?”

“Elijah's--your house, in the underground lab. It is currently 2:14 in the afternoon.”

“Are you deviant?”

What a question to be asked in such a casual voice. Connor smiled, his usual lopsided grin tugging at his features. “Yes.”

Elijah smiled as well, albeit more smugly than anything else. “Good. It would have been a shame if I did an accidental reset.” He glanced over the numbers on the monitor one more time before reaching over Connor to disconnect the cable still attached to his arm.

A faint smell of…something seemed to waft over him.

The android sniffed curiously. Sandalwood, whiskey, coriander…a few other scents he couldn't quite identify from this distance. He knew it to be the faint trace of cologne Elijah always had on, but it was only now that he was able to realize that he…enjoyed the scent. It was heady, a little woody. Intoxicating, but oddly soothing.

His senses had never felt quite so…open, before. Even his hands, settled loosely on the metal of the table, registered new sensations with every shift of movement. So this was what cold felt like against his skin.

It was like experiencing the world all over again.

“Different, right?” Elijah pulled back, tapping Connor lightly on the chest to sit up. The android slowly did so, dragging his palms against the metal, taking in every sensation. “Tell me if it’s too sensitive, I can dial it down.”

“No, this is…” Connor dragged a hand across his chest, feeling the rasp of the fabric through his fingers. He registered the material as cotton, but he could actually feel the gown now. “...this is fine.” He knew he must’ve looked like a child, expression open with wonder, but Elijah just examined him with his usual smile--enigmatic, unreadable.

There was a moment of almost companionable silence as Connor slowly took in all the new sensations he felt.

“And? What do you think?” Elijah was in the middle of stripping off his gloves, which were slick with thirium. In hindsight, that should’ve bothered Connor, but the android was a little too busy trying to collect his thoughts. Elijah tossed the gloves into a container marked off as biohazardous before sitting down next to him on the metal platform.

“It’s like everything is...different, somehow. I can still analyze the components, but feeling them...this is all so new.” Connor turned to Elijah, his gaze sincerely curious. “Is my entire body like this now?”

Elijah looked at him, surprised, before huffing a laugh and running a hand over his own face. “You really shouldn’t say things like that, Connor. Others are bound to misunderstand your intentions.” An easy smirk curved the corner of his mouth. “Yes. Your entire body should now be able to experience sensations much like a human.” He brought a hand up slowly, and brushed it across Connor’s cheek just like he had the week before. It felt cold but strangely soothing, the roughness of his cool skin sliding against the android’s, as his fingers dragged lightly over cheekbones. His thumb brushed over Connor’s lip for a brief moment, and Connor felt that weird sensation again--the feeling of his blue blood pumping faster, the coil around his regulator tightening, but this time with the addition of an odd tingling sensation left behind on his lips as Elijah lowered his hand.

There was a tension-charged silence before the former CEO continued his explanation, icy blues never leaving Connor’s brown eyes. “The only difference, as I mentioned earlier, is the lack of pain receptors. I trust that might be a hindrance to you considering your current occupation with the DPD.” He handed the android a neatly folded stack of clothing that he recognized as his own from earlier in the day. “Here, you’ll want to get changed.”

“Yes. Thank you,” Connor murmured, still a little dazed from feeling the man’s skin against his own for the first time. He lifted his hand absently to his face, his index finger dragging over the corner of his lips where Elijah’s thumb had been just a moment ago.

Out of his peripheral, he saw Elijah swallow. But when he looked up, the man was as impassive and smug as ever. Maybe he had imagined it?

Either way, he didn’t get time to dwell on it, because as soon as he finished changing, Elijah was getting up and shutting down the monitors and assembly arm. He glanced at the blue blood coating the instruments, and Elijah answered the unasked question in his eyes. “Chloe will clean this up later. I have a few more things to show you, then we can sit down and discuss your question.”

“My question?” Connor echoed, confused.

Elijah shot him an indecipherable look. “Yes, Connor, your question.” His voice had a slightly patronizing edge to it, as it usually did, but there was also something else. Something hidden, difficult to give a name to--curiosity? Not quite. “This is an exchange, unless you now want to be my guinea pig for free. Not that I would be opposed to that.”

“Oh--right, of course.” Connor flushed, his cheeks taking on a blue tint again. It was one thing to control his LED colors when he lied for the sake of accomplishing a task, but it seemed to be a whole other to control the flow of thirium before it decided to make his embarrassment known to the world. He never had this problem before he became deviant, but then again, he had never felt embarrassment before as a machine. “Yes, I do have a question, actually.”

“Then, as usual, I will answer it to the best of my ability.” Elijah placed his palm on the scanner beside the elevator, and the door slid open. “This way. We’re going back up.”

The ride was silent this time as the elevator began its smooth ascent up, Connor itching for his coin. He wanted to feel the ridges of the coin as he flipped it in his fingers, the roughness of the face etched in the metal. Unfortunately, he had left it behind at Hank’s house, which meant there was nothing there to ease the tension in his shoulders. He settled for going through the motions instead with his fingers, his hands at his sides. If Elijah noticed, he didn’t say anything, and Connor was grateful for it.

The elevator chimed with a pleasant ding, and the door slid open once more. Chloe was waiting for them, manners as impeccable as ever as she bowed slightly. “Welcome back, Elijah; Connor. I can take that for you.” She took the gown from Connor’s arm, then helped Elijah out of his lab coat, neatly folding both garments over her own arm. “Should I head down and start on the clean up?”

“Yes, please do. Take a few of the others with you, it might take a while.”

“Yes, Elijah.” She gave Connor a soft smile, before stepping into the elevator as they stepped out. “Please let me know if you need anything else.”

Connor nodded, a little numbly.

Once the door had closed again, Elijah started leading Connor down the hall. “You and Chloe seem to be getting along.”

Connor furrowed his brow, still a little distracted by the feeling of fabric moving against his skin as they continued at a brisk pace. It felt like every part of his body was oversensitive--but it didn’t feel wrong, exactly. Just different. He had run a quick search in his database, relieved to find that eventually he would be used to the various sensations that seemed overwhelming at the moment. Habituation--getting so used to something that eventually one wouldn’t notice it. As an android, he could normally control what he registered, but this seemed like something he would just have to get used to. Otherwise, it would probably prove to be a large distraction that he couldn’t afford.

Habituation aside, it was probably best that he answered Elijah’s question before the man started wondering what was wrong. He carefully considered his words before replying.

“Yes, she’s very personable.”

Elijah waved a hand dismissively. “That’s part of her program, so I would hope that she comes off that way to everyone. But what do you think of her, Connor?”

They had stopped in the middle of the long stretch of hallway to face each other.

Connor didn’t know if he quite understood the question. It sounded like there was another question within it. But wasn’t that always how Elijah was? Cryptic riddles and roundabout answers?

At some point, he had just come to accept it instead of finding it to be a hindrance to his goals.

“I...I’m not sure what you mean.” Connor’s frown deepened a little in his confusion. His LED whirred yellow, his system flitting through millions of operations to try and come to an answer. “She’s very kind. And pretty.”

“Hmm.” There it was again, that noncommittal hum, with a hint of a scoff. Not the type of answer he had wanted, then. Elijah took a step closer, and the faint wisp of whiskey and sandalwood rooted Connor in place as he examined the android with scrutiny in his sharp gaze. “Are you attracted to her?”

“I don’t...think so.” Connor had never been able to understand Elijah’s intentions, and the seemingly random line of questioning just made him even more confused as to where exactly the man was trying to go with this. “She’s objectively very aesthetically pleasing, but I…” He trailed off into silence.

The two stared at each other for a few more seconds before Elijah turned away and began walking again, looking completely unruffled by the exchange. Connor, on the other hand, was more than shaken.

Had he answered wrong? Had he answered correctly? Was there even a correct answer?

Either way, it looked like the conversation was over.

By the time Connor pulled himself out of his own thoughts, he realized they were back in the lounge area. An ST200 model, dressed in a pressed light blue dress instead of a bikini this time, arranged two high-back chairs in front of a coffee table, where a few black plates sat filled with different dishes. Tall glasses of various liquids reflected the afternoon sun from the floor to ceiling windows.

“Have a seat, Connor.” Elijah gestured towards the other chair as he smoothly slid into one of them, crossing one long leg over the other. Connor sat, peering curiously at the plates between them. Elijah smiled smugly, clearly about to launch into an explanation. “It’s just regular food, Connor. Now, you still don’t have a digestive system--too much upkeep given the fact that you’re used to not having to eat--but I did install a taste function in your mouth that will operate similarly to human taste buds. Alternatively, by scanning the food, you can also download flavour files that already exist in your database. Artificial signals will be correspondingly sent to your processor. Now--if you want to actually consume the food, liquids in small amounts should be easily removed by your automatic self-cleaning function. I would recommend that you don’t actually swallow any solids.” He pushed a glass of something red towards Connor. “Give it a try.”

Connor picked it up, examining the glass a little dubiously. It was very, very red--tomato, perhaps? Before he could analyze it any further and run it through his database, Elijah placed a hand over his.

“Just drink it, Connor.” Connor looked up, meeting Elijah’s eyes, which were glittering with dark mirth for some reason. “Don’t think too much. Isn’t now the perfect time to try new things?”

That seemed to make sense. The android had a bad feeling about it, but nodded slowly, lifting the glass up to his lips and taking a sip.

Flavour exploded, and not in a good way.

His systems went haywire for a second, red flashing around him, and he felt his mouth burning , which he didn’t think he had ever quite felt before. The RK800 coughed violently, the actual liquid already having gone down his throat despite the extremely strong, unrelenting spice that remained on his tongue.

And through it all, he could hear Elijah’s laughter in the background.

It wasn’t boisterous or anything, and definitely not even on the loud end--more of a quiet laughter that shook his shoulders, lips curled up in a mischievous smile, eyes narrowed just so. Nevertheless, Connor, for some reason, couldn’t find it in himself to tear his gaze away.

“You’re too trusting, Connor.” Elijah bit his lip, resting his chin on his hand as he propped his elbow up on the arm of the chair, clearly trying to reign himself back in. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Multiple times,” the android replied, extremely relieved when his self-cleaning function kicked in and cleared the taste away. He blinked a few times to stabilize himself as the red warning signs around him faded. “What...was that?”

“A blended up liquid version of the Carolina Reaper.” Elijah didn’t look apologetic at all, instead seeming even more pleased with himself. “At least now we can be sure your taste function works properly, if you had that violent of a reaction.” His laughter had died down, but the same trace of amusement remained in his expression, his lips curled up for once in a small smile instead of his usual smirk.

It was a nice expression, Connor decided absently, even if it had been at his expense.

“Now, here. To make it up to you.” Elijah handed him something small. He looked amused when he caught Connor’s shoulders tensing in caution. “It’s nothing insane, Connor, you can trust me. Just a salted caramel. Slowly dissolve it in your mouth, don’t swallow. I’d hate to have to open you up again to take the chunk out.”

Connor gave him another doubtful look before slowly placing the candy in his mouth, this time more hesitantly.

A pleasant sweetness, almost warm, ran through him this time, followed by the edge of something salty creeping in. His eyebrows lifted slightly in surprised satisfaction and his eyes lit up as the caramel fully dissolved, the taste flooding his mouth. He smiled, pleased, liking the flavour. It was a little disappointing when his self-cleaning function kicked in again, clearing away the remnants of sweetness lingering on his tongue.

Connor glanced up to see an...almost soft smile on Elijah’s face as he watched him. The earlier mirthful expression had nothing on this one.

But that couldn’t be right--such a gentle expression on this man. But a moment passed by and the expression didn’t disappear, and they were left holding each other’s gazes.

“Good?” Elijah finally asked, the smile finally starting to fade, only traces of it curling up the corners of his lips now.

Connor nodded wordlessly. He couldn’t help but think how much of a shame it was for that smile to disappear.

Why he felt that way--well, that wasn’t a can of worms he wanted to open at this moment. Or maybe ever.

“Now then.” Elijah folded his hands over his lap as he sat back. “I know this isn’t substitute for actually eating, but you can taste now if you wish to. Short of giving you a full digestive system, this was the best way to go about giving you that sense.” He waited for Connor to give a nod of affirmation before leaning back, stretching out his neck where the muscles looked tense. It made sense--he had been bent over working on Connor for over five hours. “Feel free to try anything else on this table--and you can ask your question when you’re ready.”

Connor gingerly reached for a plate of what was probably very expensive steak, coated in a layer of warm butter. The moment he experimentally scanned it, a salty sensation flooded his mouth, warm and rich. He felt excitement run through him briefly--he could experience food now with Hank, instead of just watching the lieutenant eat and making the man feel mildly guilty about Connor not being able to do so. “Thank you, Elijah.” His words were sincere, and he lifted his head to give the former CEO a smile.

Elijah looked a little perplexed, then offered a little smirk back that was lukewarm at best. “It was an interesting project to work on, so no need to thank me. I’m just fulfilling my end of our deal.”

Connor frowned.

Was it just his imagination, or did Elijah always default to a sarcastic and impassive front (more sarcastic than usual, which was saying something) whenever he was presented with sincerity?

For a man so well-versed in manipulating others, who made machines that people were willing to accept because they were so personable, he himself was a confusingly private individual.

“Your question?” Elijah prompted, a little curtly. A clear change in topic with no room for debate.

Connor weighed his options. He wanted to ask about the anti-android factions. That was the most important thing he needed to concern himself with--his new mission. But yet, what came out of his mouth was something else. “I want to ask your opinion regarding a case.”

Elijah’s eyebrows practically shot up to his hairline in a rare moment of surprise. “Me? I’m observant, Connor, but I’m no detective. I hardly think I'm the person best suited for this line of questioning, but...go ahead, if you wish.”

The android hesitated slightly. Last chance to back out.

He soldiered on.

“Yes. A recent case Lieutenant Anderson and I came upon where a man supposedly found his AP700 android dead in their house when he returned. There were no immediately visible signs of a break in, so the force assumed that he was trying to get some kind of compensation for breaking his own...property, so to say.”

Elijah hummed, considering. His long fingers tapped against his knee. “If you’re asking me about it, there has to be something more special to this than simply a man trying to get some value out of damaging his own property. AP700...the current flagship model for CyberLife. One of their bestsellers at the moment.” A small pause. “So, what did you want my opinion for? Seems pretty cut and dry on the surface.”

“I originally thought so too. But there was something that caught my attention apart from just the carving on her wrist.” Connor pushed the plate in front of him away, brow furrowing.

“The carving on her wrist?”

“Yes. There was a carving of the words not alive on her exoskeleton, in human hand judging by the errant lettering. I suspect that an anti-android faction is behind the damage--many of them have been escalating their behaviour lately in light of the events from the protest.”

“He still could have been the one to do it, no?” Elijah pointed out, shrewd and blunt as always. His wintery gaze gave nothing away about his feelings on the matter. “It seems easy enough--mess the android up, blame someone else, get a free replacement or equal compensation. You would be surprised at the amount of people who tried to claim replacements despite breaking the warranty back when I was still CEO.”

Connor’s shoulders tensed slightly. No, he couldn’t let Elijah’s words get to him. He knew about the man’s tendency to try and rile others up for a reaction by now. He forced his synthetic muscles to relax. “I considered that possibility.”

Elijah’s gaze, calculating, never left him--almost unblinking. “And what changed?”

Connor took a breath. “He loved her.”

A muscle ticked in Elijah’s jaw. He looked equal parts delighted and thrown as he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “So,” he drawled out quietly, “an android and human relationship. Is that what you wanted to ask me about?”

“Yes. I wanted to see...how you felt about it.”

“Asking me for any particular reason, Connor?” Before the android could launch into a flustered explanation, Elijah simply chuckled, waving him off. “Just teasing you. My opinion on this matter is actually quite simple--nothing complicated. If something can make you happy, why deprive yourself of it?”

“So, you...support it?” Connor felt a little surprised that he received such a straightforward answer. Usually the former CEO would give a roudabout speech using philosophy before even coming close to a direct answer.

He was also more than a little surprised that Elijah had such a...sympathetic opinion about the matter.

The man in question smiled enigmatically--but there was something cold and sharp in his gaze that immediately cooled any warmth from the expression. “You’ll find that I have a personal bias, Connor. I’m not a fan of human interaction--so complicated, and there are always people thinking of themselves first. An android never says no, and so in that sense, they are the perfect partner. Simple as that.” He paused, giving a little huff of laughter as if sharing a private joke with himself. “That’s what I used to always say in interviews. But with deviancy...now, that becomes a little more interesting, doesn’t it?”

The RK800 furrowed his brow, trying to ignore the sting of his earlier reasoning. “How so?”

Elijah spread his hands, gesturing his point. “Well, you have free will now, Connor. The ability to say no. To reject your hypothetical partner. And to that end, there is now--for you and other deviants at least--no difference between a relationship with you and a human, versus a human and a human.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Of course, there are differences regarding physical capabilities, but that’s not what you’re asking.”

“So it’s just a regular relationship, then?”

“If you ignore some of the pesky technicalities, then yes.” Elijah was silent for a short moment before speaking again, a cold--almost cruel--smirk curling up one corner of his lips. It chilled Connor to the bone. “But there’s no allure in that, is there? It’s just like having a relationship with another human at that point.”

It hurt, to hear that said with so much derision.

It shouldn’t have mattered, Connor should have expected that sort of answer from a man who had willingly retreated from the limelight and who had so little trust for most, but it hurt anyway.

He almost regretted asking in the first place, but knew objectively he was being ridiculous, reacting like this. But knowing the logical path no longer helped him--hadn’t helped him for a while now.

Elijah must have seen the expression Connor’s features took on, because his own gaze softened an fraction--perhaps pity, which didn’t make the android feel any better. “It’s just my personal opinion, Connor. If you came to ask me because you’ve grown interested in a human, I doubt you have much to worry about. What I see as a weakness, they will most likely see as a strength.”

Connor remained quiet, his hands tightening in response. Eventually, he opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of quiet footsteps interrupted him. He looked up to see the ST200 that had set up the table for them earlier.

“A phone call for you, Elijah.” Her LED was blinking yellow. She had most likely put them on hold.

“I sure am popular lately,” the former CEO drawled sarcastically, sitting up straight. The tension in the room eased slightly, but Connor still felt as though he could be suffocated by it. Which was again, a ridiculous feeling, because it wasn’t as though he could even be physically suffocated to begin with.

He seemed to be having a lot of these ridiculous feelings lately.

“Should I transfer the call through?”

“Yes.” Elijah sighed, scraping long fingers through the top of his hair. “Connor, you’ll have to excuse me for a second.”

Connor nodded distractedly, still trying to sort through his own thoughts. He watched through his peripheral as Elijah stood and fished the familiar earpiece out of his pocket, hooking it over his ear. “Elijah Kamski.”

A pause. Elijah’s expression made the room temperature suddenly drop a good ten degrees. Connor was almost tempted to double check with his sensors. Nevertheless, the conversation had his full attention now. Who could it be?

CyberLife again?

The RK800’s index finger twitched, first instinct being to listen in as an uneasy feeling of dread settled in. He needed to collect information.

There was no need to hesitate, right?

His processor whirred quietly. A small patch of static, and then he could hear the conversation in his head, clear as day.

“Elijah, you’ve been quiet,” a male voice said, clearly taunting. “Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten me?”

“I don’t know,” Elijah replied coolly, although his expression was so icy it probably could have frozen and killed a room full of people. His blue eyes were narrowed. “It’s been so long, and you’ll have to forgive me for saying that maybe you’re just not that memorable.”

“Very funny. It’s Graff. You know why I’m calling, don’t you?”

“How could I possibly know? I’m in the middle of nowhere, if you’ll kindly recall.”

Connor frowned. Graff? Was he possibly talking to Jason Graff? Director of Humanization at CyberLife--the android briefly remembered the man circling him while he was being conditioned, but otherwise knew little about the man. He made a quick mental note to do some research later. There was a deep breath on the other end as Graff composed himself.

“Elijah, you’re being childish--are you still holding a grudge? I thought you wanted to retire anyway. Said you never enjoyed the politics of owning such a large company.”

“I don’t know about you, but I think retiring is a very different thing than being removed from the company by your own board of directors. Years of research, of possible progress, gone--because you were too scared of what I wanted androids to be able to do. I know your ambition, there’s no need to hide behind sugar-coated words in front of me.” Elijah practically sneered as he spoke, an unusual display of emotion from the usually impassive man. Connor felt his thirium pump squeeze for a moment in worried bewilderment at this escalating conversation. “How’s that promotion coming along?”

“I didn’t call you to exchange insults.”

“Or pleasantries, apparently.”

There was a long suffering sigh. “Like I said, Elijah, I didn’t call to trade insults. You want to come back and continue your research with all of the company’s resources? Fine. As long as you create the new Garden I called you about last time.”

There was a short moment of hesitation that made Connor feel a little sick. Elijah finallly spoke again, jaw tense. “Sorry, time’s up. It’s a little too late to ask, don’t you think?”

“So, what? You’re just going to watch the company that we all built together go down in flames? Because of your, frankly, petty fascination with the idea of free will in androids? You’re being ridiculous, Elijah, machines don’t…” There was a frustrated pause on the other end as Graff presumably collected his thoughts. “Machines don’t feel. They’ll never feel. It’s just bits of corrupted code manipulating itself. You’ve had your fun. Don’t let all our hard work go to ruin. Remember how you built all of this. How you spent years to no avail before coming upon a breakthrough. I know you’re keeping the original RT600 with you even after so long. It’s proof that you still have some semblance of sentiment for your journey. Are you really ready to let it all go?”

Connor didn’t think he had ever seen Elijah look so conflicted. And suddenly, Markus’s warnings about Elijah possibly considering returning to CyberLife and helping them deal with the deviants became terrifyingly real.

A long silence.

“Elijah, if you insist on being stubborn, know that we’ll take more drastic measures--”

“I have to go.” A curt reply, and a crackle of static. Elijah had hung up.

A heavy atmosphere seemed to weigh the whole room down. Connor struggled not to speak up, but eventually, he had to break the silence. He had to know--if nothing else, to soothe the worry nagging at the back of his mind. “Will you return?”

“What?” Elijah looked up from where he had been glaring a hole into the wall. “You…” His brow furrowed and the sharp line of his jaw tightened even further. “Were you listening in, Connor?”

Guilt washed over Connor like a tidal wave at the expression on the former CEO’s face. He had wanted information, but...suddenly, it felt like this had been the wrong choice to make. “I--”

“You were.” There was no question, not even anger, just quiet resignation, as if something inevitable had come to pass. The android had never seen Elijah look so distant. Even their first meeting, there had been detached fascination--detached, yes, but never quite so unreachable.

It suddenly struck Connor just how private of a man Elijah Kamski was. His elusiveness was not all for show--not just to escape the limelight of being CEO and founder to such a prolific company. He truly had put up a wall between him and others, and didn’t seem to want to bring it down anytime soon.

Elijah cleared his throat, turning away again. “It’s none of your business, Connor. No need to concern yourself over this.”

Connor took a step forward, feeling panic rise for some reason. He could feel the man in front of him already withdrawing, and his processor conjured up the image of Elijah’s smile from earlier--filled with amusement and almost...open.

There was no trace of that warmth now.

The android shook his head. Now was not the time to be dwelling on his own feelings. He had already broken his original promise to Markus. “Elijah, what did he mean by drastic mea--”

“We’re done for today,” Elijah interrupted, back still turned as he removed the earpiece. There was now nothing but careful impassivity in his voice. “I’ll contact you for a future follow up to double check how everything is working. Thank you for your time, Connor. I’m sure you’ll want to head back now.”

A sinking feeling. Why was Elijah suddenly being so cold?

If he could just see Elijah’s face, maybe--

“Chloe, see him out.”

Elijah had walked Connor to the entrance himself last time.

When the door closed behind him, he could feel--for the first time--the cold of the stinging wind against his skin.

It hurt, for an entirely different reason than physical pain.

Chapter Text

JERICHO CHURCH
AM 09:32:15
➤ MARKUS

“The events in Detroit have no doubt affected the social standing of androids all over the world. However, riots and demonstrations by people who don't quite feel the same continue…”

Markus felt his stress levels rising as the group stared at the television screen, where Channel 16 news was broadcasting the latest update of the situation around them. Michael Webb’s voice cut off as Simon finally hit mute from his position next to the screen.

The room became eerily quiet, with only the sound of creaking chairs as some of them shifted.

“This really is a problem,” Simon finally said, looking somber. “The anti-android factions are escalating their behaviour.”

Connor nodded, straightening his shoulder holsters. He had rushed here after finishing up an overnight shift at the DPD, and was still partially in uniform. “Yes, I agree. Lieutenant Anderson and I just received a case where I suspect the culprit is an anti-android faction member. Something has to be done--Detroit now being even more of an android capital than it was before.”

Josh tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair as he thought. “Any chance of talking them down?” He grimaced when he caught the look they all shot him. “Yeah, I guess not. I was talking earlier to our people, and the general consensus is still fear and worry about the lack of real change.”

“The law right now is a huge issue,” North agreed quietly, frustration brimming under her calm voice. “Without any actual legal action specifying new rights, we're still just seen as property.”

Problems were just piling on top of problems. Earlier, Markus had received more reports of CyberLife making attempts of recalling androids. Nothing massive yet, but the amount of androids being captured and reset physically was still a cause for concern. President Cristina Warren, despite having previously acknowledged publicly that androids were perhaps a new form of intelligent life, had made little effort to reach out.

They were on their own for now, at least until the next meeting with human representatives.

Running a revolution was easier than this, Markus was starting to realize. Being what Carl had taught him was a good person and being a good leader turned out to be two very different things. “Alright. Let's get our priorities worked out.” He leaned forward in his seat, thinking about the best plan of action. They needed to be efficient with the manpower that they had. “We need to deal with the factions as best as we can while negotiations continue. Connor, transfer the relevant data over to North--North, you can begin investigating the faction involved in that case. Take John with you if you need an extra hand. Josh, we got some more crates of thirium in this week--we should begin handing those out to the androids who need them.”

Connor offered his arm to North, and the auburn-haired android took it firmly within her grasp. His LED blinked yellow for a moment, and they parted once the transfer was complete. “I'll get started with prep then. Be careful, everyone.” North stood, adjusting her jacket with a tug before leaving the room with quick strides.

She was nothing if not determined, and Markus was glad to always have her ready for tasks at a moment’s notice.

“I'll get started as well then. And, guys…don't get reckless. I have to do some teaching sessions today for a couple of the YK models, so I can't be around to babysit all of you.” Josh specifically shot a look at Markus, who did his best to not look guilty. He picked up the large crate of thirium with a small grunt, and nudged the door open to leave.

“You never needed to babysit us,” Markus protested, though it was half-hearted at best. He knew he had a weird sort of self-sacrificial tendency when it came to his friends, so really, Josh was perfectly justified.

But he wasn’t about to admit that.

“Right.” Josh gave him a wry grin before gently closing the door behind him with the heel of his shoe.

There was a silence for a moment after they left. Even Connor, who was usually all business, remained oddly quiet. In fact, he had been the whole meeting--bringing up the case was the only time he had spoken all morning. It made all of them tenser than usual; more on edge.

Finally, Simon chose to speak up, breaking the silence.

“What's the plan, Markus?” The blonde android looked mildly curious, but mostly worried. “I hate to push this again, but we need to prioritize establishing CyberLife’s next move before they make it.”

Markus sighed, rubbing the back of his neck with frustration. CyberLife being so secretive was starting to pose a big problem for them. If they tried to launch an unsanctioned attack on them...well. He didn’t want to see anymore of his people losing their life for the cause, now that they had come so far. “I know. Their security is tighter than ever, and we don’t have an in with Connor anymore.”

“I can try and investigate, I’m sure there’s a way in somehow--”

“No!” Markus barked, surprising both of the androids in the room with him. Even Connor looked up from his distracted daze. Simon furrowed his brow at the sharp response.

The deviant leader looked away from their searching eyes. “I just...don’t want to come so close to losing you again, Simon.”

Somehow, with that sentence, he managed to make Simon look sympathetic and Connor look guilty at the same time. It really didn’t help his conscience, which was pretty battered already.

“Markus…” Simon stood. Markus knew his blue eyes would be filled with understanding--and that he would try to convince him that the day on the roof was the only option remaining. He knew that the blonde android had never blamed him for the decisions he made, but it only made him feel worse. He didn’t look up at Simon approached and placed a hand on his shoulder. The guilt choked him. “Look at me,” he said firmly.

After a moment, Markus finally glanced up to meet his steady gaze.

“What happened on the roof wasn’t your fault. You already took a risk in letting me live. If they had found me, Jericho would have been doomed sooner rather than later--but you chose to not shoot me anyway.”

Connor flinched, but otherwise stayed quiet. His fingers twitched, clearly itching for his coin to calm him down.

It took a second, but the guilt eased a little. Markus gave Simon a grateful glance, the unsaid I’m sorry always met with endless acceptance.

He sometimes felt like he really didn’t deserve the people around him--no matter how lost he was, they always seemed to have his back.

“That aside...Connor, have you gotten any kind of lead from your visits to Elijah Kamski?” Simon let go of Markus’s shoulder (Markus didn’t really want to admit that he’d miss the steady warmth), turning towards the RK800, who seemed to look even more like a kicked puppy at the mention of the former CEO. “Any kind of information would be appreciated.”

Connor looked startled. Markus frowned. It was rare for the advanced prototype to be caught off guard, but ever since he had gone deviant and especially with the recent developments, Connor seemed to become less and less sure of who he was. He often found him looking almost dazed; confused at times, as if he was trying to figure out his purpose. His feelings, which Markus knew Connor could normally hide as part of his abilities, also became more transparent as a result.

The RK800 was clearly troubled by something, or someone.

Perhaps both.

“I...Yes. He was on a call with a man--Jason Graff, who I remember to be the Director of Humanization at CyberLife. I ran him through my database after I left.” Connor’s LED spun yellow for a moment as he gathered the data he had collected. “He has done multiple interviews for different magazines as one of the remaining original staff members who worked with Elijah when he first started CyberLife. Throughout the years, he has advocated for replacing many traditionally human jobs with an unpaid android workforce. You could say that after he received his current position, the unemployment rate began skyrocketing significantly. He’s a very ambitious man--there have been rumours of a further promotion in the future for him.” The kicked puppy expression returned, as if Connor felt extremely guilty for listening in on the conversation.

Markus frowned contemplatively. “That seems like it could mean trouble. What was he contacting him for?”

“Something related to creating a new Garden, as Simon suspected. And…” Connor looked down, knuckles whitening as he clenched his hands into fists. “...he offered Elijah a place back at CyberLife in return.”

Both Markus and Simon blanched.

“What?” Markus asked through clenched teeth.

This was the worst possible outcome. If Kamski agreed, there was no telling what kind of trouble they would run into in the future with CyberLife. He had no doubt that if the former CEO took up his post again, regaining control over all the freed androids would not be far off in the company's list of to-dos.

“That’s--that’s a big problem. Did he agree?” Even Simon’s expression had gone from calm and consoling to alarmed in a matter of seconds.

“He hung up on them, so I don’t think so. I don’t know what happened after, I was...I was shown out.” The RK800 seemed to shrink in on himself, shoulders hunching over slightly. What had happened? Even if Connor was usually quite similar to an overgrown puppy, he had never looked quite this meek before. After that fateful first night in the church, Markus had only ever seen a Connor who was dedicated to his work and nothing else. This was reminiscent of him on that night--standing by himself off to the side, looking around self-consciously and trying not to stand out. “We haven’t been in contact since.”

So it wasn't an immediate problem. Nevertheless, it was certainly a cause for concern.

Simon exchanged a quick glance with Markus, then spoke up, a little hesitantly. “Connor...maybe it’s best if you cut off all contact with Kamski. At least for the next while. If he delivers the information we currently have to CyberLife and begins working with them again, it’ll all be over. We’re already taking a risk by having you visit him so often.”

“I agree. I thought this might be a good venture, if we could come up with some kind of peaceful resolution--but he’s too unpredictable. We can’t judge him by normal standards. Connor, I know you’ve become a bit closer to him, but--” Markus broke off in surprise when Connor stood suddenly, looking extremely frustrated. A few strands of brown hair slipped out of his neat part, coming down to frame his forehead along with the locks that were already there.

“I’m an advanced prototype created for combat and investigation, Markus.” His LED spun from yellow to red, his brow furrowed. Lieutenant Anderson had been right--Connor could be “one stubborn son of a bitch” when he wanted to be, apparently. “I listened in on the phone call to gather more information--I can handle myself.”

“I know that.” Markus frowned. Had he gone about it wrong? He hadn’t meant to imply that the other male was incapable at his job at all. Connor’s outbursts were rare and far in between, and they were usually never directed at others. This was unprecedented. “I just think you might be getting too close to this situation to think rationally--”

“I’m capable of suppressing my own feelings. I know what I am, and what I am not,” Connor insisted, looking even more riled up, which was definitely not what Markus had been going for. When he had to break up arguments between Josh and North (which happened quite often, given their opposing points of view), he just needed to be authoritative enough. They believed in his leadership, although that came with its own set of issues--namely when he wondered if they trusted him with their lives and the lives of their people a little too much. With Connor, it often became a battle of will, because the police prototype refused to back down more often than not. While Connor also trusted him, and Markus trusted Connor, they were on somewhat more equal ground than Markus was with the rest of Jericho. It made things easier and more difficult all at once.

But the RK800 was usually quite mild-mannered. Markus had no idea why he was suddenly so defensive. Connor had been strange since his last visit with Kamski, and it was starting to affect them all.

Perhaps this sudden outburst was about more than just Connor not agreeing with him. It was almost as though Connor was partially saying it to himself--a harsh reminder to stick to the mission.

“I know you are--”

“So then give me more time--”

“Calm down a little, you two.” Simon’s steady voice interrupted what was sure to be a brewing argument. He had made his way between them. Markus realized that somewhere in the middle of that conversation, both he and Connor had stood up and were now staring each other down. “I think we all need to just take a minute, don’t you agree?”

His warning gaze pinned them both, and eventually all three moved back to their seats.

There was a moment of awkward tension that weighed the room down.

“Regardless of any future problems,” Simon began cautiously, breaking the silence when neither Markus or Connor spoke up, “let’s finish this briefing first. Did anything else happen at the visit apart from the call?”

Markus had never been more grateful for Simon’s calming demeanor.

Connor also looked a bit relieved, quickly composing himself. “Yes, but nothing related to the task. I received a few upgrades for my body.”

“Upgrades?” Markus asked, a bit curious. Connor didn’t look any different. Perhaps it was something internal?

Warm brown eyes lit up. “Taste. Proper touch. I didn’t receive any pain receptors, because of the injuries I’ll no doubt run into.” He lifted his palm, an image flickering into view. It was a picture of a food truck--the neon letters running across the top read “Chicken Feed”. “Lieutenant Anderson said he’ll take me again soon so we can eat together.”

“Kamski gave you humanizing features?”

"Yes."

Well, that certainly was unexpected. Markus could understand the expression of surprise that flickered across Simon’s features briefly. It was almost as though the man actually sort of cared--but that wasn’t possible. He had done his fair share of looking into the former CEO when the CyberLife situation began, and the Elijah Kamski he had seen seemed to be nothing more than smug and pretentious--a young man with a genius level of talent, more money than he knew what to do with, and had the ego of a person who knew it.

So why was he so invested in Connor?

Markus recalled back to when he had asked Carl about his origins one day, curious. The old painter had smiled and patted his hand, replying that he was a gift from the “CEO of CyberLife himself, now ain’t that neat”. They had been good friends, apparently, but had lost a lot of contact after Kamski had retired to the outskirts of Detroit and hadn't been seen in public since.

And Carl, he could trust with certainty. Carl, who raised him and who taught him to see good in all things but never to be naive in his trust. Carl, who was for some reason good enough friends with Elijah Kamski for the inventor to gift him a custom android of his own--Markus--after his accident.

It was something worth thinking about. Maybe he could ask Carl about the situation next time--just briefly. He had held off on asking him too many questions, with the older man still in recovery. He was looking a bit better now, colour returning to his face, but he was still bedridden for the most part. The android that Markus had freed at the mansion, however, was keeping in contact and providing updates on Carl’s condition, at least.

Markus wanted to bring his friends with him next time to meet him. Show him that he was learning so much about the world with these people supporting him by his side. Show him that he wasn’t alone anymore. Maybe even introduce them to Leo, who was gruff and awkward but actively trying to make amends to them both.

He hoped that would make Carl smile.

Either way, it would probably do them all some good to ease up on the judgement. If Kamski somehow wormed his way into being Carl’s friend and a somewhat trusted acquaintance of Connor’s, then he deserved some level of respect at least--despite being what seemed like a complete egotistical sociopath.

Markus frowned a little, the crease between his brows deepening.

He would never trust the man completely, but perhaps giving him the benefit of the doubt for now would be okay. It was a certainly risky, but they would never get anywhere if they lingered on this topic. And he was tired of fighting with Connor. They were friends, comrades, and they had both come so far. Perhaps North was right--the two of them were just a little too similar. “Alright, I’m sorry for questioning you. I was just worried, you have to understand. Kamski is...he’s a wild card for us.”

“I know what you’ve been through, Markus. And a lot of it is my fault.” Connor shook his head when Markus made to protest. “It’s true, don’t deny it. If it weren’t for me, many of our people would still be alive today instead of dead at the bottom of a sunken ship.”

“If it weren’t for you, many of our people would still be in the warehouses, being shipped out for inspection by CyberLife, instead of here and free,” Simon said quietly. Connor gave him a small, self-deprecating smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

There was a companionable silence, some of the tension now lifted.

“Either way,” Markus said, grimacing at the way his voice echoed slightly in the quiet room. He was sorry to have to break the comfortable silence that had fallen, but priorities needed to be addressed. “With or without Kamski’s involvement, there isn’t much we can do about CyberLife at this moment without more information.”

“I agree.” Simon pursed his lips, folding his hands together. His blue eyes darted to the side thoughtfully. “Perhaps our best course of action at the moment is to go after the factions first. Let’s wait for North to return with more information, and then we can proceed. What do you think, Markus?”

Markus nodded. “As much as I hate sitting around with nothing to do, this is what’ll have to happen for now. Simon, can you try and get into contact with any of the representatives again for an update about the bill we proposed last time?”

“Of course.”

The deviant leader rose, turning towards the windows. They had been opened slightly, and a faint breeze blew through, whispering against his synthetic skin. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t quite feel it properly.

He wondered if any of the other androids had ever felt wistful for a sensation they had never really known.

“Drink to our progress?” Markus heard Simon say softly, almost jokingly. He turned, seeing a lopsided smile on Connor’s face and a grin on Simon’s.

Drinking to progress seemed such a human action; such a casual suggestion in such a tense time that he couldn’t help but but let out a short chuckle at the absurdity of it all. Instead of dismissing it, though, Markus bent down and picked up three bottles of thirium from one of the small crates still sitting in the room and handed two to the others.

“To progress.” A smile curved his lips.

“To progress,” Connor replied, warm brown eyes flickering in the morning light.

“To progress,” Simon said, gently chuckling, a neverending source of comfort.

They lifted their bottles, then each took a drink.

Connor made an almost comical expression once the blue liquid swirled into his mouth, and Markus couldn’t help it, he had to laugh. Simon bit his lip, holding back, but his shoulders shook. They both had a sneaking suspicion of what had happened. “Is something wrong, Connor?”

“It...I can taste it.” Yes, as expected. His look of horror grew more pronounced as he took another experimental sip of the drink they were all so used to. “It’s awful.”

“How are you going to proceed with your investigations like this? Isn’t that how you sample evidence?”

Connor tilted his head to the side, eyes wide, as if this was the first time he had considered it.

Markus knew--he knew Connor was the most advanced model amongst them, but sometimes the RK800 lacked so much common sense that he questioned if there had been a mistake somewhere along the way. That wasn’t to say that Connor wasn’t extremely intelligent--his database was larger than the majority of theirs and he had incredibly fast reflexes and analytical skills. However…

The brown-haired android made a face again, looking almost like a child who was being forced to eat vegetables, which only reinforced the point. “I...should ask Elijah to adjust the function for anything that may be involved in criminal investigation.”

Markus’s mismatched eyes narrowed in amusement. Simon’s soft laughter filled the background. “You should.”

“I should.” Connor looked sheepish, pushing his chair back and standing up. The earlier conflicted look on his face was now either completely gone or cleverly hidden--he looked like he was relatively back to his old self. “It’s 10, I actually need to get back to the DPD. We’ll be interviewing Mr. McCray--he’s the man I told you about from the case earlier. I’ll let you know if we come upon any new information that might be useful about the factions.”

“I see.” Markus nodded, half-smile still remaining on his features. There was something nice about seeing Connor so dedicated to his new job--something almost innocent. “Good luck, keep us updated.”

“I will.” Connor hesitated before heading to the door, glancing at Simon. “I...good luck to you two as well.”

Then, it was just the two of them.

“Connor seems a bit more relaxed around me now,” Simon noted, looking relieved.

“It’s difficult for him to realize, I think, that we don’t blame him.” Markus shifted in his chair, tipping his head back as he placed a hand over his forehead. “It’ll take some more time, but I’m glad you two are getting more comfortable around each other.”

“I don’t care about what he was originally programmed for.” Simon’s determined voice made Markus look up. There was a firm resolve in his eyes. Despite everything that Simon had gone through, he was still a reliable rock that the people of Jericho could depend on. Although Markus was their leader, he was a revolutionary. Simon had always been the representation of home for them. Everyone trusted him just as much as they trusted Markus. “All that matters is that he’s here now.”

“You’re right.” The tension in Markus’s shoulders had eased significantly now that it was just the two of them.

Josh and North both had such strong views, and both were impatient in their own way. Connor was brave and incredibly loyal, but he too could be as stubborn as an ox. He cared about them, of course he did, but every now and then he needed somewhere he could just be alone with his thoughts. Where people wouldn’t come up to him every other minute to ask for something to be resolved.

Yes, he had taken up this role and had to bear the responsibilities, but the power was as much terrifying as it was reassuring. More so, in fact.

Nowadays, sometimes Simon would join him on the roof of the church, where the incline wasn’t so steep and they could sit down without sliding (the first time Markus had tried to sit down without thinking on one of the particularly bad days, it had been a disaster). He was a calm and steady presence. At first, neither would talk, but now occasionally they would chat about their pasts (mostly Markus's, since Simon didn't seem keen on indulging his own), where they wanted to go--anything, really. Sometimes no words at all passed between them, and that was perfectly fine with Markus.

Somewhere along the line, he had gotten used to the comfort of having Simon sitting next to him, casting a long shadow next to his in the setting sun. It was the reason for his sudden interruption earlier. The reality of the possibility that one day he might lose him--this time for good--became too much, too real. He didn’t want to even think about it.

Markus wondered what that meant for them.

Something was shifting; changing.

And the same warmth he once had felt between him and North...he recently felt something similar rising in his chest for Simon.

What had drawn him to North was the fire--the burning passion and the powerful desire to fight for freedom. She was like the sun to him. Blinding, if you got too close, but bright and beautiful and strong--full of hope of a new day with new possibilities if you just kept standing and fighting for a little while longer.

Simon was very much the same, but also different in an inherent way. Rather than the brightness of the sun, he reminded Markus of the consistent flickering of a candle’s flame. It remained with him, reminded him of hearth and warmth and comfort. A steady presence, subtle, but always there. Endlessly supportive, but knowing when to step in.

It was not that one was better than the other, but his time under the sun was over.

The only question was, how did Simon feel?

The PL600 was soft-spoken, and rarely gave details about himself. He provided comfort for others, but rarely seeked it out. His past was shrouded in mystery as one of the oldest members of Jericho.

Markus had a spark of doubt. Did he really know enough about him?

He didn’t want to jump the gun.

There was no doubt that Simon cared about him. But was it in the same way?

“Markus?” He blinked, greeted by the sight of Simon hovering over him with concern in his gaze. “Are you okay? You zoned out for a moment.”

His face was so close.

Markus didn’t reply--couldn’t quite bring himself to speak. His mismatched gaze met and held Simon’s. For a brief moment, his gaze involuntarily flickered down to the PL600’s lips.

Simon’s brow furrowed when he looked back up, and Markus’s thirium pump squeezed in panic at the possibility that he had seen the quick motion. He hadn’t even considered what his next move would be. Please don’t ask, don’t ask--

But just as the blonde android opened his mouth to speak, the door opened.

“Markus, is Simon available? I need to--” North stopped in her tracks, sensing the awkward tension in the room. Her brows knit in confusion and mild suspicion. “Um. Did I interrupt something?”

“No,” Simon said, a little too quickly, garnering a side eye from North as she stepped in. He had long since backed off, and Markus felt the tightness in his chest ease slightly. He himself still needed to sort out how he felt--he wasn’t even remotely ready to address it to Simon.

And there was still the matter of the unspoken ...something... between him and North that they had never quite properly sorted out.

“Right,” she said slowly, a little disbelieving, but quickly shook it off. “Some of the androids who were down at the warehouses have been asking for you. They have something else to report. I just wanted to let you know before I head out with John for downtown to investigate.”

Silence. Markus and Simon both refused to look at each other.

The deviant leader looked up, suddenly studying a very interesting area of the ceiling he had never noticed before. His optical units sent the analysis back to his processor. Hm. Plaster. How very fascinating.

North frowned, glancing between them with a puzzled expression. “Hey, are you guys sure I didn’t interrupt anything? I can come back.”

“No, you didn’t.” Simon shook his head, looking like he wanted nothing more than to leave the room. He somehow managed to avoid both Markus’s and North’s gaze as he edged his way towards the door, which was actually kind of impressive considering they were on either side of him. “Thank you for letting me know. Where are the androids?”

“Outside, by the church entrance.” North grabbed his arm as he turned to leave, looking concerned. “Simon, you know you can tell us if something’s wrong, right?”

“I know, North.” Simon gave her a small reassuring smile, one leg already out the door. “Really, everything’s fine. Just a little shook up from the earlier discussion, is all.”

Markus wanted to die, just a little. If this was what embarrassment felt like...

Once Simon was gone, North rounded on him immediately. “Okay, what happened? I know things between me and Simon have been a little rocky since that day on the roof, but I’ve never seen you two act like that before.” Her brown eyes narrowed as she shook a lock of amber hair out of her face, a hand coming up to tuck it into her loose braid.

“I don’t really know,” Markus admitted, a little helplessly. “I think…”

“You think...?” Her eyebrow arched as she waited.

“I think...never mind.” He shook his head, not even sure where he was going with this.

There was brief silence before North sighed and pulled a chair up, sitting down and gently placing a hand on Markus’s. Their synthetic skins pulled back, and Markus felt the urge to yank his hand back--to hide his inner turmoil.

“I felt this last time too, you know,” North said quietly, interlinking their fingers. Her red nails caught the dim light filtering in, reminding Markus so much of the fire always burning in her.

“What do you mean?” He frowned.

“It’s stronger this time,” she mused, apparently ignoring his question for now. “It was just the beginning last time--like embers. Now it’s steady.”

Markus jerked his hand back, like he had been shocked.

Maybe a little too late.

North’s scrutinizing gaze caught and held his eyes. She made no move to take his hand again. “You’re starting to feel something for Simon.”

“North, I…”

She laughed, leaning back and tucking the errant lock of hair behind her ear again when it fell. Auburn. Like reddened, sun-kissed gold. Her lips pulled up into a soft smile that was not quite happy, but not quite sad. Just...accepting. “You know, this is the one thing I thought I would definitely not have to fight for, but here I am anyway. But it’s okay. I understand.”

Markus shook his head, reaching for her. North wrapped her arms around his neck, and he buried his face in her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?” The WR400’s voice was soft and melancholic in his ear. It was rare to hear her sound so defeated. It felt wrong. “We’re the last people who should be trying to control each other’s feelings, right?” She was the one to pull back this time, her hands lingering on his shoulders, rustling down the thick fabric until they dropped again. “You haven’t admitted this to Simon yet, I take it?”

“...No.” Markus looked up, holding her gaze. They had to clear this up, without changing the topic. Affecting their work aside, North was important to him--almost family, just like the rest of the Jericho members. He didn't want to lose her. “North, I really am sorry.”

She smiled, a little bittersweet, accepting his apology. “We probably could have worked, once upon a time.”

“We could have,” he agreed.

The intentional past tense was clear to both of them.

The feelings they held for each other...they just weren’t enough to overcome the differences in their journey to get to this point.

Could have, should have, would have. But the reality was, they didn’t fit. Like two jagged puzzle pieces--forcing anything would only hurt them both in the long run. Maybe they had both been intent on ignoring it in the past, but there was no way around it. Maybe it took Markus's growing interest in Simon to put the final nail in that coffin.

“Just promise one thing--don’t let me hold you back, Markus.” North shook her head when Markus opened his mouth to reply, holding up a hand to stop him. “No. I know you, and you let guilt and could-have-beens consume you. Simon...he’s also been through a lot as well. He’s seen more death than necessary for a lifetime as the person who’s been at Jericho the longest. Before you were here. Things were...bad." She pursed her lips, her eyes faraway in the past. "He deserves all of you, not just half of you while your other half is too busy feeling guilty about me.”

Markus couldn’t answer for a long time. “...I promise,” he finally replied, keeping his voice steady. “And you?”

She laughed, though the expression didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Unfortunately, not all of us can have a handsome blonde android to chase.” Markus flushed, the blue rising up on his cheeks for the first time in a long while at the teasing. “But I’ll be fine. It’ll just take some time. And we have plenty to keep ourselves busy with, for the sake of our people.” She must have seen his worried expression, because she rolled her eyes good-naturedly and repeated herself. “I’ll be fine, Markus. You really worry too much about us.”

“Connor tells me that too.” Markus felt a little choked up, barely managing to get that out, laughing wetly.

“Maybe you should listen to the kid, then.” North smiled, lightly punching his shoulder. Tears seemed to brim in her eyes for a moment, but she blinked, and they were gone.

It was impossible to tell if it was just a trick of the light, but he had the feeling she wouldn’t want him to know anyway.

There were still so many unsaid things, things they both knew would be buried beneath the surface, never to see the light. But right now, everything seemed a little more hopeful. He felt relief pooling in his chest, as if a weight had been lifted.

He hoped that North felt the same.

Closure.

When she packed up some back up thirium into her bag and turned to leave, Markus called out to her. “Thank you, North.”

Her genuine smile, which he had not seen in a long time, as she closed the door was contagious.

Like the sun shining in on a new day.

Chapter Text

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 08:21:39
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

“Would you like anything to drink, Elijah?”

“Yes, the usual.” Elijah dismissed Chloe with a quick wave, pressing the heel of his palm under his glasses. He had spent the whole day in front of his monitor, and his eyes were starting to pay the price. But quite honestly, he had needed the distraction.

Jason Graff’s call was weighing, admittedly, heavy on his mind.

(Connor’s hurt expression was too, but well, he still refused to admit that.)

Putting both thoughts far off into the back of his mind, Elijah got back to work, long fingers flying nimbly over the keyboard as he continued to input the newest update he had for the communications interface he had built for Connor. The former CEO frowned. He had wanted to ask what Connor preferred in the design, but that wasn’t an option anymore with the awkward way they parted last time.

Yes, part of it was his fault for being so stubborn. His intellect and wealth meant he was used to getting what he wanted, and he was in no way ashamed of it. Why not take advantage of your own qualities? Connor had been a refreshing presence in comparison to all the vultures--innocent, curious, and so conflicted. Maybe he had overreacted slightly when the android listened in on his call, but it was a vulnerability that he had not meant to expose to anyone. Elijah had been taken off guard--reminded in that one instant that Connor now had new allegiances.

It was as interesting as it was annoying.

Sighing, he leaned back in his chair to examine what he had done so far. The design this time was more English tea party than it was Japanese zen garden. But with the distraction of CyberLife and Connor still nagging at the back of his mind, it was difficult to focus--even for a genius like himself.

We will take drastic measures, Graff had said.

Elijah scoffed. And what exactly could they do? He was effectively off the grid, and his phone calls in and out were not traceable by outside sources. All power sources he used were generated on his property. Drastic measures, his ass. He knew about the staff in the company he had created. Not enough talent, too many politics. Once they passed their first billion, CyberLife became less about innovation and creation, and more and more about sale figures and profit. He would have withdrawn himself in a few years had they not decided to kick him out first. The loss of progress was a shame, but they had made their bed.

They could make their threats, and as tempting as it was to go back to CyberLife and resume his research with a wealth of machinery and tools at hand and staff to do his bidding, he was perfectly fine in his extremely secluded home, thank you very much. Elijah was never one for human interaction anyway.

He was perfectly fine spending his time here under one roof with his creations and the original of his greatest accomplishment.

Sure, it had gotten a little boring without Connor’s warm brown puppy-like gaze on him and his incessant questions about the meaning of life, but that was surely just because he had nothing else to do.

(He ignored the part of him that whispered that before he had met Connor, he had been perfectly fine even with nothing to do.)

It seemed focus would continue to elude him for the night. Glancing at the time on the corner of his display, Elijah concluded that he could probably stop for tonight. He frowned contemplatively. He really didn’t like having to stop a project in the middle, but he would rather stop for a moment than make some kind of monumental mistake that he would have to go back and fix.

Not that he made mistakes often, but you could never be too sure.

“Here you are, Elijah.” The soft padding of bare feet entered the room again, and Elijah swiveled around in his chair to take the drink from the RT600. The ice clinked against the glass, a welcome cooling sensation under his fingers. “Thank you.” She nodded, smiling sweetly as always before taking a few steps back, then turning to leave.

He paused, stopping her just before she left the room. “Chloe?”

“Yes, Elijah?” She turned, attentive.

“What do you think about Connor?” Elijah felt no shame in talking about this with his own androids. After all, he was confident in their ability to communicate like regular people. Deviancy or not, they made good conversational partners--part of their programming, to make them more acceptable as human companions. As long as he wasn’t expecting a deep opinionated answer of any kind, his androids were many times more pleasant to talk to than any human being.

Not to mention, they didn’t have their own agendas, which meant you would always get the truth.

So yes, Elijah much preferred being surrounded by them than by humans.

Chloe’s LED spun yellow, and she tilted her head. “In what sense?”

“You two talked.” Elijah stretched, cracking his neck before rolling his shoulders back. At this rate, his posture would start to resemble the way it had been back then in his university days. “What did you think about him? Your impression?”

“Connor is very pleasant, and very polite.” Chloe thought for a moment before continuing, her answer kind and frank. “I think he seems confused, but I’m not sure about what. Oh…” She smiled a little fondly. “He also apologized for almost shooting me. I told him he shouldn’t feel bad about it, since I don’t feel fear. You would have fixed me anyway, Elijah.”

Elijah allowed himself a small, self-satisfied smirk. Yes, a headshot was nothing really in his eyes. Easily fixable. All the ST200s and Chloe were instructed to back up their memory every day, so even if he hadn’t been able to do a physical repair without damaging memory components, the back up memory could easily be transferred over. It really had just been a test--to see if Connor would lead to the rise of deviancy and the downfall of CyberLife. There was a little bit of pettiness involved, he had to admit--a thrill at the idea of CyberLife using his original design as a weapon, only to have it turn against them when it mattered.

Heh.

He always liked irony.

Either way, there would be no loss had Connor actually decided to shoot the blonde android kneeling in front of him. Elijah imagined that Connor himself likely had weighed the risk and return in his mind already--he was sure the android wouldn’t have overlooked the fact that Elijah possessed the intelligence and resources to fix the RT600 if he broke her.

Which made it all the more interesting when Connor refused to shoot Chloe, instead looking more and more distressed before handing the gun back to Elijah, his LED spinning a furious red. His hands, which were supposed to be steady, had shaken with a barely perceivable tremor. And in that moment, Elijah had been instantly captivated.

In what sense, though?

Elijah graduated at 16 from Colbridge as an AI graduate and started his own company right after. Chloe, the first android to pass the Turing Test, had been created by the time he turned 20. From the very beginning of his journey, he had always contemplated the idea of machines with free will--turned the idea over and over in the back of his mind as he worked day and night on his research projects. No, deviancy was not a new interest of his--it was an old notion that had intrigued him for some time now.

His fascination in seeing Connor’s hesitation and inner turmoil, so obviously portrayed in the conflict on his features, had stemmed from his decade-old curiosity regarding the subject of deviancy. But now that Connor had acknowledged himself as such, why did Elijah still find him so interesting?

Captivating, even, in a sense.

Was it the RK800’s journey as a deviant? Or was there the possibility that Elijah was starting to find the android more interesting as an individual?

The latter idea was...unsettling.

Elijah had never quite been interested in anyone as a person. Human interaction was often boring and pointless (his disdain was made obvious even to him from the various interviews that he had been apart of in the past), so the former CEO never made an effort to get close to the people around him. He was perfectly fine being surrounded by his own creations--always innovating, improving, challenging his own intellect with new ventures. The media had alluded to him as the world’s most ineligible eligible bachelor at one point, and he had spent a good five minutes laughing at the article. Elusive he may be, but it was by his own choice. He had no interest in getting to know anybody past the superficial level required to advance his own goals.

But in chasing the idea of deviancy, had he unknowingly been getting to know Connor?

Elijah wasn’t attached-- no, that was a ridiculous notion. Not yet, at least. But there was something there--a new spark of curiosity that admittedly had little to do with the android in question being deviant.

And it wasn’t pleasant, because it meant Elijah had to actually think about his feelings now.

Ugh.

It was a distraction. A well and good actual distraction, the first one he had encountered in a long time. Elijah’s mind kept drifting back to their conversation about the AP700 and her relationship with her human owner. Connor had an interview with him today, if he remembered correctly. The former CEO shook his head.

Connor was still so naive--still so innocent despite everything. He could tell that the advanced prototype still wanted to believe in morally black and white endings--in wrong and right choices. He had been programmed to be calculating, analytical; suspicious of everyone. Now that he had broken through, there were aspects of him that were blindly trusting.

Talk about swinging violently in the other direction.

Even Elijah, who lived for seeing the results of things being built and torn down and changed, was hard-pressed to destroy that kind of innocence.

Besides that, the RK series had always been...special. Different.

He remembered when he gave the RK200--the original of the RK series--as a custom caretaker android to Carl. The old painter had complained at first, sarcastically asking Elijah if this was his way of pitying him. Carl Manfred had little faith in humanity’s morality or future, but was wise and quick-witted with a sarcastic sense of humor. It was no wonder the two got along, really. Back then--about ten years ago?--Elijah had wondered if Carl, who held a mild disdain for androids (and life in general, really) at the time, would eventually end up throwing the gift out.

Over time, through the way Carl’s rough voice softened at the mention of “Markus”, Elijah knew the man had grown to love the android as family.

 


 

CARL MANFRED’S HOUSE, 8941 LAFAYETTE AVE
11 YEARS AGO
AM 11:13:56

“I’m teaching him art and culture. He learns terrifyingly fast.” Carl took a sip of his drink, eyes straying to the RK200 sitting in front of the piano, a soft melody flowing out from the instrument as nimble hands danced over the black and white keys.

“That’s what he’s programmed for.” Elijah smirked, leaning back in his chair and giving his old friend a once-over. “You seem to have developed a liking for the android. So, who was the one who came to me a few months ago complaining about him being ‘sophisticated but still stupid’?” He waited, expression triumphant.

The painter rolled his eyes, looking like he was tempted to chuck his glass at the young CEO. “What, you’re gonna bully an old man now for an outdated opinion from months ago?”

“Only when he’s a good friend.” Elijah crossed one long leg over the other, setting his own glass down on the table between them. The chess pieces were pushed off to the side despite the unfinished match that they were entertaining themselves with earlier. “Either way, I never understood why you refused to accept him at first. He’ll do your every bidding, and he’s not a ‘parasite’ like those art critics as you so fondly refer to them.”

“I thought he had no soul, Elijah.” Carl looked back at the RK200--Markus--again, his expression contemplative and even a little fond. Elijah furrowed his brow at the rare display of affection from the painter. “I think I was wrong.”

“Better you than me. What does a soul matter, anyway?”

Carl ignored his little jibe, turning a serious gaze on the inventor. “You joke about it, Elijah, but I’ve seen you in those interviews. You don’t think machines will ever develop free will? You used to pursue research in that area, what happened?”

Elijah sighed, an exasperated frown appearing on his features as he pushed his glasses up. “I just say what the public wants to hear. They need reassurance, because they’re terrified of a higher intellect. If you’re referring to my research into the possibility of machines developing free will, I’m still looking into it. The shareholders aren’t exactly happy with me, but no one should turn their back on the possibility of progress.” The corner of his lips curled up into an arrogant smirk. “I’m already developing the RK line as the first step. And who knows? Maybe one day ‘Markus’ will actually act like he has a soul.”

“So you’re ignoring your shareholders’ opinions? Never figured you to be the type to be scared of a little company politics.” Carl’s gaze was calculating--almost provoking. Egging him on. “Progress, if it becomes seen as a threat, isn’t going to be beneficial in everyone else’s eyes. You should watch your back.”

“Scared of company politics?” Elijah scoffed, his face and voice a landscape of perfect calm despite the troubled feeling slowly creeping in. “Despising and being scared of are not the same thing. Isn’t it just the same as you not wanting to attend those art gatherings? I’m not exactly known for being a social butterfly anyway.”

Carl gave him a cynical smile in return. “Just be careful, Elijah.”

 


 

Elijah had dove head first back into studying deviancy after that, but apparently, he had been too caught up in his own ideas and advancements to notice the inner stirrings rising in his own board of directors. So intent to ignore their whispers and dismissing them as not worth worrying about, his own hubris had caused his downfall in the end. He had been young and proud, and so driven by his own research that he had not noticed (well, he had noticed. He just had just chosen to ignore them altogether) the agendas of those around him.

Perhaps Carl had seen it coming, the misanthropist. Power came at a price, even if it had been power he was never really interested in.

Really, the offer from Graff had been quite tempting, but it would be more entertaining to watch them crash and burn.

Hey, nobody said he couldn’t be a sadistic fuck at times.

He liked to think of himself as multifaceted.

Elijah yawned, lifting his arms to stretch out his tense muscles again. It really was time to get some rest, before he did something undignified like crashing on the floor. It had been a long time since he had slept so early. These days had been oddly busy though, and he had Connor to thank for adding the sudden drive for new innovations to his recent weeks.

Speaking of Connor…

The former CEO frowned. What to do about the last talk they had? He was far from stupid and far too shrewd to not notice--Connor seemed to have some sort of unresolved emotion towards him as well.

So it went both ways, then. Neither of them were really quite sure where they stood or what they meant to each other--Elijah was just better at hiding it behind of mask of indifference, funny enough.

A notification pinged at the corner of his screen as he went to turn the computer off. He sat down, lazily swiping to open it at the center of the screen. It was from the communications interface he had been working on half an hour ago.

RK800 “Connor” is calling. Would you like to accept the call?

Elijah’s eyebrow arched in mild surprise. He hadn’t expected the android to cave first--but Connor was just full of surprises, wasn’t he? That aside, the RK800 might not even be calling about their last meeting.

Whatever it was, color him curious.

Elijah picked up his earpiece and the contact lens he used to connect himself to the sensations and visuals of the program, slipping both on with practiced ease. The lens was an engineering marvel, if he did say so himself. While equipped with enough computational power to send both visual and physical artificial signals to his brain, the thin contact was also innocuous enough to blend in seamlessly with his natural eye. It was virtually undetectable--unless someone actually went to take it out, which, well, didn’t seem likely.

He closed his eyes, and was greeted with the image of a half-built garden and a confused-looking Connor standing there, warm brown eyes looking around before finally landing on him.

“You made some changes?”

It had been a while since he had heard the android’s slightly scratchy voice. It was weirdly familiar, almost a relief. Connor always had a calming sort of effect around him, it seemed. Whether that was his own bias, or just a side effect of CyberLife’s social integration module, he didn’t really want to think about.

Elijah felt slight disappointment at the actual question being asked, but maybe it was best to skirt around their last conversation altogether. His usual small smirk slid onto his face as he answered, though there was none of his usual mirth in it. “I did. It’s nowhere near complete yet, though.”

Connor nodded, silent, still taking in the environment around him. “It’s...different.”

“I figured we could both use a change.”

Silence.

Elijah had always seen silence as his friend. Anybody who interrupted his quiet while he worked received the full brunt of his icy leave-me-alone-or-die glare. He moved himself to the outskirts of Detroit by the water for a reason--there were no pesky sounds of construction, or crowds talking, or anything (living or nonliving) capable of making loud noises. He thrived on uncomfortable silences and unnerving the people around him with a steady unblinking gaze. It had been the most (the only) interesting part of attending otherwise mind-numbing meetings about stock value back at CyberLife.

This might’ve been the first time in his life where he actually perceived the silence surrounding them as awkward. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, turns out.

“Are you planning on adding anything else?” Connor was running his hand over the table in the center, eyes scanning the delicate tea set for a moment before returning to the scenery around him. His expression was filled with a cautious curiosity.

Elijah had done a fair amount of work on the setting since they had last communicated here, but it was still fairly empty. The edges of the interface were marked off by tall trees, but the artificial sky around them had been constructed--endless blue with nary a cloud to be seen, not yet reflecting the weather conditions of the outside world like the original Zen Garden. Neatly trimmed foliage formed a maze-like pattern, outlining a rocky path, inspired by the gardens in the palace of Versailles. A smooth rock archway led to a spotless white gazebo. And in the center of it all, where they were standing, a table covered by a thick white cloth. The tea set sitting on the table was reminiscent of one of the sets from Elijah’s collection--a gift from an old business associate, never really used or touched.

Fine bone china, finished with 22 karat gold, the man had described if he recalled correctly. Elijah had smiled politely, taken the gift, and promptly never used it again.

He wasn’t really a tea kind of person, but it did fit the atmosphere.

“Elijah? Can you hear me?” Connor looked a little concerned. Elijah realized he had been staring wordlessly at the android for the past minute or so while wrapped up in his own thoughts. Oops.

That aside, neither of them were bringing up the semi-argument from last time (could it even be called an argument if Elijah had just kicked Connor out of his villa?), and the tension it was causing was palpable. The former CEO ignored it, instead choosing to reply to Connor’s question. “Yes. I was hoping to get your opinion on it before I make any more additions, though. As I said, this place belongs to both of us.”

Connor nodded, glancing around briefly once more. “I’m not...well-versed in decorating,” he admitted, looking almost sheepish.

Elijah let out a small bark of laughter, amused at the earnest reaction. “If I was looking for expertise, Connor, I’d go to a gardener. No, I want to hear your opinion on it.”

The RK800 considered that for a moment before hesitantly offering up a suggestion. “I hear that flowers can add a beautiful flourish and color to a garden. Maybe some flowers?” He interceptibly winced a little just as he finished speaking, gaze growing distant. “Not roses though. If that’s alright,” he added hurriedly.

Ah. Amanda.

His professor at Colbridge University--a genius in her own right, to be sure. She had liked tending to gardens, a more compassionate side of her compared to the usual shrewd intellect she displayed. Elijah liked to think that he had done a good job with modelling an AI in her likeness--even adding her love for roses into the program. Perhaps in Connor’s many reports to CyberLife through her, he had come upon her gardening habits.

It was interesting how a trait that used to be so oddly soothing was now being seen as a bad memory of sorts. It wasn’t difficult to figure out why Connor was so uncomfortable right now.

“Not roses,” Elijah found himself agreeing easily, and he was rewarded with a relieved lopsided smile on Connor’s part. It almost made the corner of his own lips quirk up, but he stopped himself just in time.

Was he getting soft because of this android? He quickly changed the topic before he could dwell on it any further. “Any favourites in particular?”

Connor paused, presumably scanning through his database for flowers he found appropriate. Then, an unexpectedly soft smile graced his features. If Elijah took a brief moment to admire the expression, who could blame him? It was aesthetically pleasing--from a purely objective standpoint, of course. “It’s winter, so perhaps...Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’.”

“Smooth hydrangeas.” Elijah arched a brow. “That’s an odd choice. They’re purely white, you know. You wouldn’t prefer something with more color?”

“No matter the harsh weather conditions, they survive and persevere. Intensely cold winters cannot affect them, and they make a spectacular show in warmer weather as well. I happen to think they are very beautiful.” The android’s gaze was faraway. Suddenly, Elijah didn’t think he was referring to the flowers anymore.

“Hydrangeas it is, then.”

Connor smiled. It really was a nice expression, Elijah decided, perhaps even more so than his confused one--although, of course, that was plenty entertaining still. He cleared his throat. “I assume you called me for a reason, Connor? Would you like to take a walk?” He gestured grandly towards the path stretching out before them. The android nodded, falling into step beside him as he began to make his way down the winding flattened rocks.

“I interviewed Mr. McCray today.” The RK800 finally spoke after a few minutes of silence.

“Oh?” Well, Elijah certainly hadn’t expected this to be the thread of conversation they were going with.

“He’s still very distraught. I believe CyberLife has already contacted him to offer a replacement, but he refused, as it would be giving up. He wants the people who broke in and destroyed Annie to be caught.”

Annie. So that was the AP700’s name. Elijah listened intently as Connor continued, his voice becoming a little more distressed now. “We’re currently doing our best to look into it, but I can tell we’re all feeling more and more helpless about the situation. On top of that…” He stopped, but Elijah knew what he was about to say.

The CyberLife situation.

“No need to step on eggshells around me, Connor.” Elijah waved dismissively as they rounded a hedged corner. He did still feel a small flare of irritation, but he could admit to himself when a reaction was not warranted. And if he were to be perfectly honest, he did feel a little bad about the kicked puppy expression Connor had exhibited when he told Chloe to show the android out. Hey, he was anti-social and sarcastic, and maybe enjoyed being an asshole a little too much, but he was still human. “What’s been done is done.”

Connor looked guilty instead of relieved. The RK800 really was too kind for his own good--Elijah felt sort of regretful for being kind of amused at the expression. “Still, I have to apologize. Human interaction is...it still comes a little rough, I sometimes have a hard time grasping some of the intricacies despite the social module installed in me. But I’m getting there.”

“Water under the bridge. Do I really seem that petty to you?”

“Well,” Connor started, then immediately looked horrified by his frank admission. Elijah couldn’t help it, he burst out laughing, shoulders shaking with poorly concealed mirth--and the tremors only grew as Connor’s features grew gradually more and more confused at the expression.

Connor would probably never understand why the straightforward way that he spoke was such a welcome relief to Elijah. “You’re fine as you are, Connor.”

The android’s brow furrowed, looking even more lost now.

Elijah’s laughter finally subsided, and he straightened, gesturing vaguely, not intending on explaining himself any further. “And? Were you hoping for answers of some kind? I’m sorry to say this, Connor, but I’ve taken some pretty drastic measures to exclude myself from the rest of the world. I’m not some kind of all-seeing oracle. Your friends will be disappointed with the information I have to provide, soon enough.”

Connor’s frown deepened, this time with frustration, as if recalling something unpleasant. “I think they already believe that I shouldn’t be seeing you anymore.”

To say that Elijah was surprised would be a lie. He hadn’t met one person in his life who thought he would be a good influence--and rightfully so. The former CEO was far too calculating, far too analytical, far too observant and willing to change sides at a moment’s notice. The deviants at Jericho were correct in being careful. He took no offense to it. “Maybe they’re right. You should consider listening to them.”

It was said in a light, almost teasing tone, but to his surprise, Connor shook his head in response. “I already told them I was capable of handling myself. And you hung up on Jason Graff--I have no reason at the moment to suspect you of helping them.”

Connor was correct about Elijah’s intentions, of course. The offer had definitely been tempting--a weird sort of olive branch, if you could even call it that. It was only because of his own sense of arrogance that he planned to refuse it. But regardless, it came as a shock--almost a nice one--that the android would actually go as far as to defend him without truly knowing what his plans were.

He couldn’t decide if that was almost endearing or if Connor was just being too trusting again.

Moreover, Elijah couldn’t believe he had just used the word “endearing” to describe anything. He really was starting to lose it. Maybe this would mark the moment he crossed over the line from genius to insanity.

They had completed a full circle of the garden. Connor looked a little pensive as they stopped under the gazebo, the branches of the low willow casting flecks of shadow over his lightly freckled complexion. “Is there no emergency exit this time?”

“I won’t lock you in here, Connor.” Elijah gave a short chuckle. He couldn’t help himself, tacking on a teasing jab. “I thought you said you had no reason to suspect me.” As expected, the RK800’s expression morphed into a horrified one, and Elijah had to stop himself from smirking widely. Instead, he patted the android’s shoulder. The touch function had finally been completed (somewhere around 6 am that morning), and the feeling of the DPD jacket Connor was wearing materialized under his fingers. “You should stop taking what I say at face value.”

Connor relaxed a little as the former CEO pulled his hand back. “I suppose that’s true.” A gentle laugh escaped his lips with the reply.

Elijah gave him his usual enigmatic smile in response. He hadn’t given Connor the full truth, but he suspected the android would never find any use for it anyway. Yes, he had programmed in an emergency exit, as he always did. However, while he could control Connor from the interface as with the original Zen Garden, he saw no future need to do so--and he had full confidence that CyberLife would have no access to his own unique network. The emergency exit was really just redundant--something he had added in as an extra feature out of habit. And why worry Connor more than necessary?

“There’s actuallly...one more reason I called,” Connor admitted after a brief pause. “I know it’s late, and I am perfectly willing to wait, but--”

“You can just get to the point, Connor.”

“It’s about the newly installed taste function.”

Elijah’s expression morphed into a slightly doubtful one. “The newly installed taste function? You aren’t telling me that there’s something wrong with it already.”

“No!” Connor looked a little flustered, before quickly composing himself. “I just...remembered that I need to analyze evidence with my mouth in order to compare samples in real time. And with the new taste function…”

Elijah had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing again. Interacting with Connor really was an endless source of amusement. “You don’t want to actually taste blood, is that it?”

Connor nodded wordlessly, looking almost embarrassed at his own revelation. Elijah was tempted to use the word endearing to describe the expression again, but stopped himself before he went off the deep end. He sighed instead, a dry smile touching his lips. “It’s not late at all, Connor. I enjoy my little tests and experiments no matter what the time.” He had been planning to turn in for the night, but a face to face interaction with Connor sounded much more tempting than even his thousand thread count sheets at the moment. Besides, sleep was relentlessly uneventful. If it wasn’t required for him to function, he would much prefer not to do it at all. “Feel free to come over if it’s convenient for you.”

“Thank you,” Connor said in a rush, sounding relieved. “I was almost completely useless at the crime scene today, and Hank--Lieutenant Anderson--kept asking me why I was making all those weird faces when sampling evidence.”

Elijah could picture the grumpy police lieutenant looking at Connor like the android had shorted out, and an entertained smirk quirked up the corner of his lips. “I can imagine.”

“I’ll head there as soon as possible, then--I don’t want to impose. I’m sorry for the trouble, Elijah.”

“A visit from you? Never any trouble.” Elijah couldn’t resist making one more teasing joke, the lilt in his voice heavy with implications. The RK800’s reactions were starting to get more and more intriguing to him, and while he refused to analyze why, he wanted to enjoy the moment.

Connor’s face, flushed with blue in his cheeks before the connection was cut, made it all worth it.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 11:53:14
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

It was nearing midnight when Chloe informed him that Connor was pulling up in a taxi.

Elijah had an IQ of 171 and was athletically inclined on top of that (if he did say so himself), but he was still human, and humans needed to sleep. He had taken to changing into his swimwear and doing a few laps to keep himself alert. Sometimes, he found himself envying his own creations. Efficient, obedient machines. But that wasn’t what they were anymore, was it?

No, it certainly wasn’t. The corner of his mouth tugged up into a mild smirk as he pulled himself out of the pool, rivulets of chlorinated water running down his skin. He reached for his phone, propping himself up on the ledge. The RK800 was looking around the front door as displayed by the security feed. “Go let him in, Chloe. Tell him I’m in the pool, he’ll know where to find me. You can feel free to shut down for the night after.”

“Yes, Elijah. Have a good night.” The blonde android bowed, her blue eyes narrowing slightly in a warm smile before she turned to leave.

“Mm,” he acknowledged absently, scraping his long dark hair behind his ear as he retied it into its usual bun. A swim always managed to clear his thoughts. Elijah’s mind tended to run without restraint, and when he didn’t want to think, exercising himself ragged helped immensely. He did it more often in the days when he was still trying to get his start in Detroit, but nowadays, it became a more calming ritual in order to focus his thoughts.

The sound of dress shoes clicking against the polished tiles of the ground brought him out of his musings. Elijah smirked to himself, then turned to greet the android. “Connor, I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show.” He didn’t miss the brief flicker of Connor’s gaze down to his bare torso before their eyes met again. Hm. Interesting.

“I’m sorry for disturbing you so late into the night, Elijah.”

“No need.” Elijah waved him off easily, grabbing his usual robe off of one of the red-accented white lounge chairs. He pulled it on, neatly knotting it at his waist over his shorts. As exhibitionist as he could be, the chill coming from his wet skin made prancing around half-naked not quite worth it. “You need this fixed for your investigations, correct? Hard be it for me to deny the tool you need to pursue justice.”

Connor nodded--either ignoring the blatant sarcasm at the end or not noticing it at all--then blanched as Elijah made his way around the pool and stepped in much closer than was strictly necessary for any kind of decent conversation. “I’ll let you in on a secret, Connor.” The inventor took some delight from the way Connor flinched as his breath ghosted the shell of the android’s ear. The new physical sensations that Connor could experience were very useful, and his reactions were fascinating. It was as if he were oversensitive to everything. “Though it’s nothing too surprising. The taste function I built and installed can be turned on and off at your discretion.” He lifted a hand, dragging his fingers along Connor’s smooth jaw, smirking when he felt his breath hitch. If he were to be perfectly honest, there was no actual need for him to physically demonstrate on the RK800.

Nobody said Elijah didn’t enjoy having a little fun, though.

“Right...here.” After stalling for way longer than necessary--and enjoying the feeling of Connor tensing underneath his touch--he found the hidden mechanism just behind the shell of the ear, right where the hairline was. A little sigh had escaped Connor at this point, and his head was tilted to the side, exposing the long line of his neck. It didn’t look like he was even aware of it.

And what a sight it was. Elijah felt the sudden temptation to suck a mark onto the pale nape, just to see what kind of sound Connor would make then.

Instead, he gently pressed his index finger into the hidden button and retreated--only lingering for a moment, to his credit. He deserved a round of applause for his self-restraint, really.

Connor looked dazed as Elijah took a step back, appraising him. His lips were slightly parted, his warm brown eyes lidded. The expression was intoxicating.

So many sides to one android--each one more fascinating than the last. Elijah found himself wanting to discover more--wanting to cause more. But could that be attributed to his own innate natural curiosity about just how human Connor could become, or was it something else?

Physical desire, he could admit to, but that was as far as he would allow himself to fall.

“If you want to turn it on again, just press the same area.” He watched as Connor snapped out of his reverie, lifting a cautious hand to press down on the mechanism as instructed. “Simple, right?”

“Yes.” Connor looked a little sheepish, seemingly returning to his normal state as the dazed expression faded entirely. What a shame. “I apologize again for bothering you with this.”

“It’s not a bother.” Elijah gestured for the android to join him by the lounge chairs. The RK800 followed, and they both sat. “Think of it as an apology from my end. I may have...overreacted last time.”

Connor blinked in surprise, clearly not expecting that kind of answer.

To be honest, Elijah hadn’t either. It had been years since he last admitted he was wrong to anyone--even to himself. God, apologies were just as awkward as he remembered them being. “Now that you’ve chosen a side--lesser of two evils in your eyes perhaps--I suppose you’re aiming to fully support your people?”

Connor straightened, eyes determined. “Yes. I’ve...done many things to trouble them in the past. It may never be enough, but I hope I can do something to reverse the damage.”

“And yet you defended me.” Elijah’s icy gaze swept over him, noting how Connor averted his gaze, expression torn. Connor was programmed to be an excellent liar and to hide his own feelings as a deviant hunter, but the more troubled he grew, the less he seemed to be able to control the emotions that spilled over. It must be infuriating, he mused, for something that used to come so easy to become so difficult to channel now. “Come now, Connor, you have to admit that...Markus, was it? If he’s cautious of me, he’s correct to be.”

“You’re wrong,” Connor insisted, almost defiantly.

Elijah scoffed, feeling rare indignation rise up in him for some reason. “You trust too easily.”

Connor’s LED immediately stuttered from the familiar calm blue to an angry red. “And you don’t trust at all. Which extreme is better?”

“Neither,” Elijah snapped, surprising even himself at how cold his voice had become. His impassive mask had all but melted, and an icy smirk with no humor behind it whatsoever rose up on his features--almost mocking. “If you think I’m some kind of benevolent creator, Connor, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.” His tone had gone from cold to extremely patronizing, and he could see Connor’s shoulders tense in response.

Not so pleasant, now, was it.

Connor’s unconditional concern for him pissed him off, and he didn’t know why--he hated not having answers. He had been fine, even amused, when that concern and innocence was directed at others, but at himself... Elijah ignored the little part of his mind that whispered that his anger stemmed from denial of something else--a feeling he had no intention of ever digging up.

Instead, he buried it deep with another sarcastic remark.

That seemed to be his default, and he had no intention of changing it now, regardless of however hurt or confused the android looked.

“You should listen to your friends, or you’ll end up worse off for it one day.” Elijah’s jaw tensed, and he took a moment composing his voice into something quieter but just as thorny. The android was so damn trusting, too trusting, and if Elijah didn’t break him, then certainly somebody else would. He found the idea disconcerting--an unsettling feeling at the pit of his stomach. What bothered him more was that for once, he couldn’t find the source of why he felt that way. “You understand so little about humans and how selfish we can be, Connor.”

There was silence, and Elijah turned his gaze away, staring out the glass windows into the pitch black of the night outside.

Any moment now, Connor would leave, and he would inevitably have a shitty time trying to get the expression of hurt out of his mind as he tossed and turned in bed. Or would the android insist on arguing? Change the subject?

But instead of the sound of leaving footsteps, or further argument, or even an attempt to divert the conversation, what Elijah heard was a quiet, determined voice full of conviction--

Wintery blue eyes, sharp as ice, met flickering warm brown once more.

“Then teach me.”

Chapter Text

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
AM 12:16:47
➤ CONNOR

“Then teach me.”

As soon as he said those words, Connor immediately regretted it. What was he thinking?

Well, he hadn’t really been thinking. He just said the first thing that came to mind--determined to pry open Elijah’s sudden closed-off demeanor. He just wanted to know what he was thinking; the android didn’t want a repeat of their last meeting. He wanted to know why the man held such a cynical attitude towards humanity when he himself was a human.

Why he was so desperate to keep Elijah from closing himself off again, he didn’t want to think about.

And as it turned out, he didn’t get much of a chance to dwell on it, because the next thing he knew--

His LED swirled red in alarm for a moment as Elijah suddenly stood, then suddenly, before he could react, his back was against the cold glass of the floor to ceiling windows (the former CEO seriously had some strange exhibitionist tendencies) and he was feeling a firm pressure on his wrists.

Connor could have tugged free with his enhanced strength--easily so--but he was distracted from the uncomfortable chill of the tempered glass (silicon dioxide, sodium oxide, calcium oxide, magnesium oxide, aluminum oxide)  when Elijah then leaned in and pressed a hard, biting kiss to the RK800’s lips.

An overwhelming amount of sensation flooded Connor all at once.

The first thing that registered was how foreign it was. The texture, the temperature, the feeling of Elijah’s teeth nipping slightly at his bottom lip--it all felt so out of place. It wasn’t unpleasant, not exactly, but it was so different and it wasn’t something the android had ever experienced. The new sensory function that had been installed in him made it feel like his lips were on fire--a direct contrast to the cold sensation of the glass seeping through the fabric on his back.

A particularly hard bite drew blue blood and made Connor open his mouth in a gasp, head jerking back in a reflexive response. Elijah’s long fingers wound themselves in Connor’s hair, tangling in the neatly styled locks--pulling him closer and tugging with a tension that felt almost good.

Connor’s knees suddenly went weak when Elijah grazed the shallow wound with his tongue in an almost gentle manner, a million artificial signals firing off all at once. His hands, now free from their original pinned position against the chilled window, sought purchase on the other male’s robe--fingers gripping desperately at the fabric, pulling. So this is what it felt like to be kissed--Connor would’ve never thought, in a million years, that he would ever experience it for himself.

The bitter taste of the thirium mixed with the faint aroma of whiskey that lingered on the inventor’s warm breath as it ghosted again and again over the android’s lips.

The back of his mind, the part that wasn’t being overwhelmed by the sensation, questioned doubtfully if the action was out of actual affection, or something else less pleasant.

It wasn’t a very optimistic outlook, and who could blame Connor for pushing the thought away, instead zeroing in on the feeling of his thirium pump hastening; Elijah’s teeth worrying at his lip? He let out a sound he had never produced before--a soft sigh somewhere between a gasp and a moan.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, the kiss was over.

Elijah pulled back, leaving Connor to stagger against the panels of glass, disoriented.

Silence filled the room, only the sounds of Elijah’s slightly ragged breathing slowly returning to its normal state breaking the quiet.

They seemed to be having a lot of these silences lately.

Connor finally straightened slightly against the window, still dazed from the sudden onslaught of sensations, and looked at Elijah. His robe askew, his lips slightly swollen--Connor no doubt would have felt a rush of warmth if the former CEO wasn’t avoiding his gaze. In contrast with his appearance, his eyes were ice cold. It sent an anxious chill through Connor that had nothing to do with the glass still pressing against his skin. All the heat that seemed to be humming just under his skin left in an instant.

Elijah had never felt physically closer, yet so far away at the same time.

Connor finally plucked up the courage to ask, his voice breaking with a slight tremor. “Why...did you do that?”

Elijah laughed. The sound was devoid of any humor. He finally looked up at the android, lips --they were just pressed against his a moment ago, lips that felt cool and slightly chapped but so warm at the same time-- now curling up in a cruel smirk. “No reason, Connor. Because I felt like it. Don’t you see? You think everything we humans do has a bigger reason--but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s selfish, and cruel, and has no intentions for the greater good. Sometimes it’s for a whim, like just now.”

Connor’s LED spun from yellow to red, and the exoskeleton under his synthetic skin creaked as his hands tensed, neatly trimmed nails digging hard into his palms.

Elijah had kissed him to prove a point.

A point that was meant to illustrate just how little the man cared.

Complicated emotions whirled in him like a storm. Frustration. Anger. Hurt. Connor identified three before giving up, instead breaking their connected gaze in favour of looking down. The feeling of thirium smudged across his lip now made him feel sick. He didn’t know why he cared so much, why he was still bothering at all.

For a moment, the android wanted nothing more than to be numb again.

“You shouldn’t get attached, Connor.” The inventor’s voice was quiet and unreadable. “It’ll end badly for us both--and I will never feel the same way.”

“So what am I supposed to take this as?” Connor, by some miracle, managed to keep his voice controlled despite the whirlwind of emotions curdling inside him. “That all humans are manipulative, and you’re just one of them?”

Elijah just gave him a cryptic smile--but there was something else in it. Something almost melancholic, a little lonely even, but the brief moment of vulnerability disappeared as quickly as it had come behind hard, steel-flinted eyes. “If you’re just now realizing that, Connor, then you’re in trouble. Trusting this much will only hurt you.”

Connor wanted to argue against him. Wanted to bring up examples of the humans he had met that weren’t just vultures--Hank, who took him in like family. Samuel, who just wanted live in peace with Annie. Even some of the officers of the DPD, who now treated him like one of their own--Officer M. Wilson, Officer Tina Chen, Officer Chris Miller, Detective Ben Collins. Wanted to say that Elijah didn’t seem like someone who lived his life off of exploiting others.

But maybe he would just be proven wrong, and he was too tired, too confused, too hurt to try and speak to the man.

Maybe it was best if he just listened to those around him and let the enigma go.

Elijah turned away from him, pulling his robe back into place with a sharp tug, pale skin disappearing behind dark red once more.

Connor turned on his heel and walked with quick strides to the front entrance. He yanked open the door to leave, a small naive part of him still hoping, hoping--

Hoping for what, exactly?

Connor roughly wiped the remaining traces of blue off of his bottom lip with the back of a shaking hand, swallowing down the pang of disappoint when Elijah didn’t follow.

He never got to see Elijah slam a frustrated palm into the glass windows after he left, icy eyes fraught with rare conflicted emotion.

 


 

DETROIT TAXI
AM 02:40:18
➤ CONNOR

The RK800 sat in the autonomous vehicle he had called, gaze empty as he stared at the passing scenery outside the tinted window. There was nothing but quiet snowfall for miles on end.

They had left the outskirts of Detroit behind, the dark outline of Elijah’s villa long faded into the white background, but Connor’s thoughts kept drifting back to the former CEO.

He shouldn’t have allowed himself to get caught up like that. Shouldn’t have allowed himself to think that maybe Elijah had started to care.

Shouldn’t have allowed himself to care.

His curiousity for the man was starting to develop into something more, but it was time to let it go. Markus had been right. Hank had been right. He had no business diving into something so out of his depth.

They were pulling up one of the CyberLife warehouse sectors now, he noted absently. The warehouses were still scattered all over the city--production plants still up and running, just locked tight with security after the events of the protest. Jericho wasn’t about to go and look for more conflict with them if not necessary, and in wake of the public’s support, to keep up an image, CyberLife had no choice but to continue selling separate android biocomponents and thirium packets. Only difference was, most of their customers were androids now--mostly those who could earn money through private businesses by working for or with sympathetic humans.

As long as the company made money, Connor doubted they cared.

When his communications system crackled, they were almost past the bulk of the white warehouse buildings. He sat up straight with alarm at the staticky voices, both unfamiliar.

“--elp! Get off!”

“--resis--don’t want to hur--just co--with me.”

It was coming through the Jericho communications network. The signal was a little spotty, but he was sure.

Connor immediately smacked his hand against the dashboard of the vehicle, the autonomous taxi pulling to a smooth stop. The doors had barely slid open before the RK800 was vaulting himself off the side railing of the highway and sliding down the slope to the CyberLife logo-emblazoned buildings.

The voices got clearer as he approached, sprinting as fast as he could towards the source of the disturbance. He squinted, his optical units firing off an analysis of his surroundings to his processor. Two shadows--one a definite android, most likely the one who had accessed the network to call for help. The other...he couldn’t tell, he was still too far. They were grappling, the unidentified figure clearly about to overpower the panicked android on the ground.

Connor swore under his breath when he realized he didn’t have his gun on him. It didn’t matter. He would just have to fight hand to hand if it came down to a physical conflict. “Hey!” he shouted.

The light from the tall posts along the path surrounding the crates cast deep shadows across the entire scene, but even so, there was no mistaking the face and features of the android that was currently pressing the victim onto the ground as he turned to meet Connor’s brown eyes with steely grey ones.

It was himself.

He had a stronger jaw, more narrow eyes, and was wearing a CyberLife issued uniform, but there was no doubt. Connor almost staggered to a stop in surprise--they had created another new model?--but didn’t have time to process the information, because the android wearing his face was now drawing a gun.

A bullet pierced through his left shoulder as Connor ducked as fast as possible to avoid a fatal wound. The sudden possibility of a very real and very final death struck him.

Biocomponent #9782f damaged.

Ignoring the thirium now staining through his clothing, he charged the other android, sending him off the victim with a tackle. It felt like he was fighting the second RK800 from the CyberLife Tower again, but this one was significantly stronger even just judging by basic physical capabilities. He barely jerked his head to the side in time, a second gunshot ringing next to his ear and the bullet slicing a thin cut into his forehead as it passed, before managing to yank the gun away and send it spinning off to the side.

Information, he needed information if he wanted to win.

Connor avoided a roundhouse, trying to pull himself together enough to do an analysis.

Model number ???
Serial number ???
Production date ???
Name ???

Nothing that matched any samples in his existing database. That made sense, to be fair. He had been cut off from the CyberLife network since the whole fiasco with Amanda, and he had made no effort to access it since then--too worried about the consequences to try. If this was a new model--one that had the same face as him-- he could only guess that they decided to make another android designed for combat and investigation.

A better version, in CyberLife’s eyes. Faster, stronger, smarter.

And, you know, conveniently not deviant.

Connor tried to make a grab for the android’s arm next. If he could just convert him--

The android jerked back immediately and drove an elbow into Connor’s chest, sending the RK800 staggering back from the pressure. A system warning flashed in his peripheral, indicating a crack in his exoskeleton.

They stared each other down, circling, bodies tense. The gun had clattered off to the side, too far to make an immediate dive for.

“Who are you?” Connor asked, his voice calm and firm, trying for a diplomatic approach. Well, at least the programming he had received from the company was still good for something.

“Does it matter?” It was disconcerting, to hear a slightly deeper, yet inherently similar voice come out of an android with such similar features to himself. “All you need to know is that trespassing on CyberLife property is an ill-advised venture. My program indicates that I investigate and take down any deviant activity in the area.”

“He just came out of nowhere,” spat the android on the ground, now sitting up slowly. “I was by the door, and he jumped me.”

“Rightfully so. You were trying to sneak into the plant.” The unidentified new model showed no remorse, but Connor didn’t expect him to. He was just a machine at the moment, programmed to obey his masters without any emotion.

Just like how Connor used to be.

“Are you another prototype? What is CyberLife doing that they need you?”

The android barely batted an eye as he sidestepped the question, his cold gaze reminding Connor of a stormy grey sky. “That...is classified.” He took a step closer, and Connor tensed, readying himself for another bout. Instead, the android continued to speak. “But I know who you are. RK800, serial number 313 248 317-51 ‘Connor’. The deviant hunter who went rogue.” Another step. Then another, and another.

Connor barely managed to block the quick punch directed towards his jaw, twisting out of the way and sweeping a low kick to get him off balance. The other android easily avoided it, stomping down hard in a move that would no doubt have shattered Connor’s knee joint to pieces if he didn’t roll off to the side. Thirium was trickling steadily down Connor’s head wound now, running over one of his eyes and down his face, blue drops staining his collar. The stickiness, which had never bothered him before, felt mildly uncomfortable against his new skin.

They faced each other once more as the RK800 pulled himself up onto his feet, each analyzing what the other’s next move might be.

“You should give up. I'm a more advanced model, Connor. Come with me, and I promise neither of you will be hurt.”

Connor could've smiled at the irony of his own line being directed back at him if it didn't remind him so much of that day on the apartment roof with Daniel. As it was, all it did was bring up a round of bad memories. He adjusted his stance. “I don't think so.”

The unidentified android gave him what approximated a disappointed expression. “That's a shame.” Connor tensed as he moved, but before they could trade blows again, the android’s LED spun from blue to yellow. Had he received new orders?

“Yes, sir, understood. I'll return.”

Judging by the response, yes.

The android turned to leave, but stopped after taking a few steps away. “I would advise you to not stand in CyberLife’s way, Connor. Tell the RK200 Markus to cease his investigations. What will come to pass, will pass--you're just delaying the inevitable.” Before Connor could ask any other questions, the android rounded a corner and was gone.

He was tempted to give chase--find him and ask about what he meant, but it would be futile if the android refused to give answers. Besides, the victim of the attack was his priority. Connor knelt down next to him, helping him properly sit up. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I'm okay.” The android sighed, looking relieved. “Shit...we were just taking one last look into the plant, to see if we could find any info about the reports of an android being reset here. But we barely even got the door open before that guy tackled me across the ground. The others got away, I think, which is good.” He looked up at Connor, eyes narrowing slightly in confusion. “Connor, right? That guy looked a lot like you. Is there a story there?”

“I'm not sure, but it can't entail anything good. I managed to do a cursory analysis on him during our fight, but came up with nothing.” Connor shook his head, frustrated. This night was just getting more and more complicated. “I need you to report back to Markus with this information when you head back.”

The AV500 nodded, still looking a little shaken up from the encounter. “Hey…you used to be that infamous deviant hunter, right?”

Connor stiffened.

The other male, sensing the sudden awkwardness, quickly waved his hands. “No, don't worry. I just think it's good, that, y'know. You're so dedicated to helping us out now. And uh…I wanted to thank you again for just now.” He stuck his hand out after a brief pause. “I'm Reid.”

He seemed friendly, his expression lacking any kind of judgement, which was a rare sight these days.

Connor gave him a smile in response, feeling an inexplicable surge of gratitude that Reid seemed to feel no discomfort at being around someone who up until very recently worked for the other side, so to say. But the gratitude came with an equal surge of confusion. Did Reid not care at all? He took his hand, giving it a firm shake. “It's nice to meet you, Reid.”

Reid nodded, stumbling a little as Connor helped him up. “Yeah, likewise. I should get going, though--I need to check if everyone else is okay. I'll let Markus know what happened.”

Connor couldn't resist. He had to know. “Hey,” he called out, stopping the AV500 before he left. He received a questioning look as the other android turned to face him again. “You…don't mind? That I used to hunt our people down?” Apprehension rising in anticipation of the answer, he was a little surprised at how nervous he felt. Perhaps his past identity had been bothering him more than he thought.

Then again, he knew he had been staggering on that thin line for a very long time, each word he spoke and each action he made a struggle to balance.

Reid considered it for a moment before replying carefully. “You're not that person anymore, right? I think everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves.” He shrugged. “The world needs more understanding amongst everyone, I think.” Looking embarrassed, he rubbed the back of his neck. “Not sure that's the answer you were looking for, but that's why.”

The world needs more understanding amongst everyone.

Maybe Connor just hadn't dug deep enough.

He remembered the brief flash of something akin to melancholy in Elijah's eyes, and the open smile he had once seen on the man's face, warm and full of mischief.

He might not care about you, you know. You'll just end up confused and hurt again.

Connor's mind was made up.

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 01:24:56
➤ MARKUS

“I’m sorry, did you just say you want to learn more about Elijah Kamski?”

Josh’s eyebrows had climbed so high up on his forehead Markus was briefly, irrationally afraid that they would fly off. But honestly, who could blame the man? Everyone in the room was looking at Connor like the advanced prototype had finally gone off the deep end.

“Yes. I just don’t know the best way to go about it. He’s a very closed off individual.” Either Connor didn’t notice all the incredulous looks, or he was amazingly immune to it, because the RK800 continued to speak as if nothing was wrong. There seemed to still be something on his mind though--something besides the inventor that seemed to always be plaguing his thoughts lately.

Perhaps it had to do with the report he had received from Reid earlier about the mysterious android down at the CyberLife plant. Connor had come in sporting a pretty nasty gash on his forehead and cracked exoskeleton. It had taken an hour to repair--thankfully, no visible mark remained, but the RK800 hadn’t discuss the details of the encounter yet. Markus made a mental note to ask him about it later.

“Maybe he’s closed off for a reason, Connor,” North said, clearly trying to let him down gently. “And it isn’t something you should concern yourself with too much.”

“Plus, he still seems like kind of a prick,” Josh added, expression still doubtful. Connor’s betrayed look, so reminiscent of a sad pup, made him quickly tack on a “no offense.”

“I don’t think anybody who’s ever said no offense actually finished with anything nice.” North laughed, elbowing Josh jokingly.

Josh rolled his eyes with a chuckle of his own, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. “Yeah, well. I didn’t think I was saying anything upsetting.”

“Yes, maybe this isn’t the best idea, Connor. It’s going far beyond just finding information from him now. You’re getting attached.” Even Simon chimed in, his voice gentle and words careful.

Markus stayed silent as he watched Connor look down, expression both resigned and yet with a spark of stubbornness that seemed to never leave. If Connor truly was starting to feel more than just professional curiosity, and Markus suspected he was, then who was he to tell the other android to keep holding back?

If there was anything that the march and the deaths of their people had taught him, it was that even for androids, life could be too short to not do what you wanted while you still had a chance.

Maybe he was being a hypocrite, telling himself that while he continued to struggle to smother the feelings he was developing for Simon. Any distractions between them would inadvertently, definitely, affect the fate of their people. One misstep, and…

It was different, he justified, unconvincing to even himself.

No, he couldn’t risk it. Maybe it was just to spare himself the hurt if Simon turned out to not feel the same, but Markus just wasn’t ready.

But Connor--Connor, he could do something about.

“...Maybe it’s not such a bad idea.”

“What?” All of them turned to look at him with varying degrees of disbelief. Connor, however, lit up. Markus couldn’t help but smile at the hope in his expression. It was contagious, really. “I was actually hoping to bring all of you with me since recently Carl has recovered enough to get out of bed. If it’s alright with everyone, of course. I was originally a gift from Kamski to Carl, so Connor, maybe it’ll help if you ask him some questions--this is perfect timing. And we all need a break from...the recent events.”

“I’m glad he’s feeling better, Markus.” Josh patted him on the back, a relieved smile stretching across his face. “We all know how much he means to you.”

“We’d love to come meet him,” Simon added, reaching to give Markus’s wrist a reassuring squeeze before pulling back. Markus immediately missed the warmth, trying his best to ignore the teasingly knowing look that North shot him.

“Thank you, Markus,” Connor said gratefully, then paused, hesitating. “I...don’t want to intrude, though, are you sure it’s--”

“You’re part of the family now, Connor,” Markus interrupted, standing to grip the RK800’s shoulder. “I want you there.”

There was an easy, companionable silence--the first they’ve had in a long time. It set Markus’s mind at ease about what he was doing, even if he was still a little apprehensive about it. He knew, logically, that Carl would most likely be extremely accepting of this ragtag group of friends--of family--he had found. On the other hand, he truly had no idea how they would actually react to each other. These were the people he cared about the most--he wanted them to like each other. And hopefully, they would.

He really hoped that Carl would like Simon, at least, and vice versa.

Markus took a breath, gathering his courage as their gazes all turned to him once more. “We can go this evening for a visit.” It was high time for them to all take a break.

 


 

CARL MANFRED’S HOUSE, 8491 LAFAYETTE AVE
PM 07:34:53
➤ MARKUS

As it turned out, there was no need to worry at all.

Carl was chuckling as Josh talked to him about how “damn impressive” the house was. The former professor was ranting about one of the many paintings hung on the living room wall, and how he used to teach students about the Neo-Symbolist movement that Carl spearheaded, eyes glittering with barely contained excitement.

Even North, who normally eyed humans with a distrusting gaze, had taken to Carl easily. “He has a calming aura,” she had murmured to Markus when they were stood off to the side. “There’s something about him that’s...wise and sad.” Markus had nodded, glad that she was trying her best despite the situation requiring her to be around another human--something he knew she was still apprehensive about at best, understandably.

Simon and Carl had yet to speak at length, Carl giving him a small once-over when they had introduced themselves but not commenting much. It made Markus nervous, which was ridiculous, because it felt as though he was asking permission for a relationship that didn’t even exist. Simon had spent the next few minutes calming Markus’s nerves, and telling him that he didn’t mind--that he knew Carl meant no offense.

“He’s just like that--he’s very shrewd, but he’s not a bad person by any stretch. He tries to figure everyone out using that stare,” Markus had hurriedly tried to explain, feeling more and more silly, because why in the world was he trying to explain something that didn’t really need explaining?

“I know,” Simon had said, laughing as he patted Markus’s shoulder. “You’re more worried about this than I am, and I was on the receiving end of that look. I’m sure he means no ill will towards me.”

Markus had felt thirium rushing to his cheeks as a response, which had prompted a fond smile from Simon--it made it almost worth the embarrassment.

Connor was currently wandering around curiously, his brown eyes taking everything in, stance relaxed. Markus could tell he liked the house--with its soft music and warm lighting, comfort filling every corner. “It’s so different,” he had murmured, and Markus didn’t have to ask him to guess what he was comparing it to.

By the time they were sitting down for dinner--well, Carl’s dinner, it wasn’t as though the rest of them really could eat--everyone was comfortable, and Markus could not have asked for a better meeting if he had tried.

“So,” Carl said, setting down his utensils for a moment as he raised his eyebrow at Markus. The android got a bad feeling--he knew that look. It was one filled with mischief, and he always gave him that look when he was about to ask Markus some kind of uncomfortable question. “You two seem close.”

Connor had to stifle laughter from the corner of Markus’s eye as the RK200 hurried to deny it. He had to be talking about North, right? “No, we’re just friends, Carl.” He glanced at North for help, and she looked up, startled. Her brow furrowed in confusion, as if she wasn’t sure that Carl was talking about her. But he had to be, right?

“Oh--yeah, we’re just friends,” she finally said slowly, with a quick glance at Simon--

Simon, who was sitting across from them, for some reason lowered his gaze with a frown, and Markus got the sinking feeling that he had said or done something wrong.

Carl gave all three of them a calculating look. It made Markus shift a little uncomfortably. The man had always been able to see right through him. “I wasn’t talking about you two.” It took Markus by surprise--everything the man said often did--but the old painter was already moving on before anybody could reply. “So, Connor, was it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Just call me Carl.” He rolled his eyes good-naturedly, sitting back as he picked up his fork again. “You’re just as bad as Markus used to be. Sir this, sir that. No wonder you two are from the same series--both so uptight.”

Connor’s mouth opened and closed a few times, his eyes blinking wide. “You...know about my series?”

“The RK line, right? My memory’s not what it used to be, but Elijah used to go on and on about this secret project he was working on.” Carl frowned, pausing. “Before he decided to seclude himself, that is. I always wondered what became of it after he gave me Markus.” His lips then pulled up in a warm smile, crow’s feet crinkling at the corners of his eyes. The sight was always a familiar relief that gave Markus the feeling of home and put him at ease. It was a little odd to see that exasperated but fond smile when the topic was, well, Elijah Kamski. “Did he decide to go through with it after all?”

Connor shifted slightly, looking down. Markus could tell the subject made him uneasy. “Not...exactly. I was produced by CyberLife. After Elijah left.”

Carl gave him an unreadable look, gaze analytical. “That right?” He finished his meal, sitting back. “Hm.” The androids waited for him to elaborate, but he said nothing, instead tapping his fingers against the arm of his wheelchair as if thinking about something important--but then shrugged and met Connor’s questioning gaze, once again changing the topic. “So, is this just a social call, or did you guys need something? Don’t get me wrong, Markus, it’s been great meeting everyone. I just want to know if something’s wrong--you all look troubled.”

“It’s actually about Elijah Kamski," Markus admitted, sobering up from the comfortable atmosphere, placing his hands on the table neatly as he sat up. “We were hoping you could tell us some more--since you two used to be good friends.”

Carl hummed noncommittally, sinking into deep thought once more. He didn’t look unwilling, per se, just thoughtful. “Is there a particular reason why you’re interested?”

Markus was about to interject, but Connor spoke up, his voice quiet and oddly subdued. “I’ve been interacting with him more lately--and there’s...I don’t know how to put it, exactly. I feel like every time I try to get closer, he pulls away.”

Carl’s sagacious gaze swept over Connor, before focusing in on the earnest brown eyes. A long silence, then a small, mysterious smile crinkled his features. “I see.” He looked up at the ceiling, gathering his thoughts, hand grazing his chin in a familiar gesture, the fading ink of his arm tattoos catching the artificial lighting in the room. “I wouldn’t lose too much hope, Connor. Elijah is...not as cruel as he may seem. Now, I’m not saying he isn’t difficult to deal with.” The old painter waved his hand dismissively, rolling his eyes. “God knows that I’ve dealt with the full brunt of his passive aggressive tantrums at times. The man has accomplished so much, been showered with so much money, that he forgets people have to abide by rules. And that kind of drive? Well, it tends to piss people off.” He took a breath, pausing, a small series of coughs escaping his lips.

Markus reached for his shoulder, worried. Carl had definitely recovered a bit more, but his body was still weaker than the android would’ve liked. Carl gave his hand a squeeze before returning to his explanation. “Elijah isn’t...how do I put this? He doesn’t think of himself as some kind of martyr. When he secluded himself, I suspect he was more pissed off about the impediment of progress than losing his actual position. But all the same, he’s gotten used to being so closed off to everyone around him since everyone wants something out of him--it’s not that he minds the morality of it, though. Knowing him, he just thinks it’s troublesome, and over time, well…” Carl gestured vaguely. “He became who he is today. It’s actually pretty impressive you’re still persisting. Most people give up fast after they realize he isn’t about to break down that wall--it’s why it’s there.”

Connor averted his gaze when Carl examined him with those uncannily acute eyes. The old painter smiled, apparently seeing something that he liked. Markus blinked, a little confused. Carl had always managed to see things in others that even they themselves couldn’t acknowledge--maybe it was yet another instance of that. “He is who he is. His behaviour is erratic, he’s a being full of chaos, and it looks like he must trust you to a certain degree at least if he’s willing to show that. The question is, Connor--do you think he’s worth it?”

Connor looked so conflicted that Markus immediately felt bad for him. Yet another question about himself that the RK800 couldn’t answer--it must be tearing him apart. “I...don’t know.”

Carl just smiled furtively, leaning across to pat a hand lightly on Connor’s chest. “Maybe you’re just the kind of innocence that Elijah needs.”

Brown eyes widened in response, confused, but seemingly with more certainty than had existed before.

By the time they had to leave, Markus was extremely glad they had come. Everyone seemed to be more relaxed--they had all been so tense lately given the recent events. The house and Carl both had such a calming aura. And most of all, he was glad, of course, that he had gotten to see the old painter again--and that he got a chance to introduce his new family to what was essentially his father.

They bumped into Leo at the door.

Carl’s son was wearing his usual combination of a beanie and a worn jacket, looking a bit surprised and more than a little awkward to see an entire group of androids standing at the door. “Oh--uh…”

“Leo,” Markus greeted, carefully keeping his face and voice neutral.

“Markus,” Leo returned, looking a little skittish. “It’s, uh...it’s been a while, yeah?”

Markus nodded, wanting to dispel the awkward tension in the air, but not quite knowing how. “How’s...the rehabilitation going?” Maybe not the best choice in topic, but he was never the best conversationalist anyway--always preferring to be straightforward rather than preserve feelings. It was his greatest strength as a leader and yet could sometimes be his worst weakness.

Leo wrung his hands together, avoiding the mismatched gaze, his own eyes looking everywhere but at Markus. He looked a bit relieved to have something to talk about, though. “It’s going pretty well. Detoxing was rough, but that’s, y’know, over now. So, um. I’m in counselling. It’s a lot, but--I’m trying, you know? For him.”

They were still awkward around each other, but given their history, even a conversation like this was an accomplishment. And honestly, Markus was proud to see Leo trying so hard--it was like his feelings toward Connor, almost that of taking care of a brother. He hoped that one day, Leo could see him in the same light. “That’s great. Are you here to see Carl?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m here to see Dad.” Leo scuffed his feet across the stone steps, gathering up his courage to ask the next question. “Is he doing okay? I’ve been so busy, I’ve only had time to do some video calls--and he gets stubborn about this kinda thing, insisting that he’s fine and that I should focus on my rehab.”

Markus surprised everyone, even himself, by chuckling. “That sounds like him. He’s doing much better. We were actually just leaving, if you wanted to head in.”

Leo nodded, shuffling wordlessly to the side so that Markus and the others could step out. Simon held the door open for the man, and Leo gave him a quick nod of thanks before disappearing inside.

“That was...awkward,” Simon murmured, once the door had closed.

“I’ll say.” North shook her head, her voice quiet. “He’s not a bad kid though. He’s doing his best.”

“...You guys are okay now?” Josh looked at Markus, concerned for the RK200.

It was a somber moment.

Connor’s gaze, however, lingered on the now closed front doors, the only one who looked utterly confused. “Um…” They all looked up at him. He gave a slightly sheepish, lopsided smile. “Is there a story here? I feel like I’m missing something.”

The other androids all started explaining at once, talking over each other, wanting to explain the long, long story to the confused RK800. Their chatter filled the chilly night air, and pure white snow floated down in soft flakes around them. Behind them, soft light spilled from the mansion’s windows, lighting up their features.

Markus was so grateful he had all four of them with him.

Despite knowing Carl was okay after he had pushed Leo, Markus had felt so alone as the leader of Jericho at first with no one to truly go to. Weighed down with responsibility, with power, with the trust of all their people on his shoulders. He had lived in a bubble prior to being thrust into that position, so trusting and so naive. Days after becoming deviant, he was thrown into a trash heap, and forced to grow up too soon, too fast. Forced to accept the ugly truths around him, and forced to fight if he ever wanted a semblance of a good life back.

But now, he had his friends. His new family.

Josh, laughter ringing in the air, always peaceful and willing to talk anything out in the worst of circumstances. North, still fiery, a passionate fire that never faltered and was an absolute inspiration to stand and fight for what they wanted. Connor, so much like a younger brother, innocent and naive, loyal to a fault--but so determined to do what was right.

And Simon.

Simon, who looked at him with a soft smile and intelligent blue eyes, who was always there to support him, whom he had almost lost twice. Simon, who was now right beside him, grasping his wrist and pulling him along with the others as they started to jog down the thin blanket of snow covering the smooth stones under their feet--North smacking Josh in horror as Josh dramatized the frankly pretty morbid story (albeit with a sort of happy ending) to an enraptured Connor.

“Maybe humanity deserves a little more faith,” Connor said, after they were done explaining. Their footsteps crunched in the snow as they made their way back to the two taxis they had taken. A small smile was on his face. “I’m glad that you two are okay now. Well, as much as you can be.”

“I’m glad too.” Markus patted his shoulder. “Did you get the answers you were looking for?”

Connor went quiet for a moment. “I think so--at least some new insight, anyway.” He still looked unsure, his expression depicting his inner turmoil. “The last question he asked me is what I’m still considering. Is it worth it?” The android looked at Markus with a questioning gaze.

There was definitely something about the last meeting that Connor had not told them about, and to be honest, Elijah Kamski still unsettled Markus despite having not met the actual person face to face yet. He knew little about the man, and yet, at some level, he felt like he could relate to the need to shut oneself away from the world. Their motivations in doing so might be different, but the difficulty in tearing down that wall must be similar at least to some extent.

His own feelings for Simon...he hadn’t wanted to think about them. Maybe Markus just wanted to remain in stasis--if nothing changed, they could enjoy this brief moment in peace, this short but sweet break in time where they were all happy together. He had a clearly defined role--his responsibilities as leader to their people. A small part of him was concerned about what would happen with his loyalties divided, but really, that wasn’t the problem, was it?

What scared Markus was that perhaps his loyalties were already divided, and his priorities already shifted. What did that mean for him as a leader? It brought upon a wave of old doubt, and all that ran through his mind was I can’t, I shouldn’t. Jericho should always be his priority--his only priority.

What if it already wasn’t?

Markus’s gaze drifted to Simon, who was walking beside him, oblivious of the green and blue eyes as he chatted with North and Josh. The pressure from his hand holding his wrist earlier felt almost warm, the sensation still lingering behind despite the PL600 having let go already once they had caught up. “Maybe...he’s just resistant to change, Connor. Maybe he has to tear down that wall himself.”

He wasn’t talking about Kamski anymore.

Connor looked thoughtful, but he didn’t reply. They had reached the taxis.

“I need to talk to Josh and Connor about something,” North suddenly said, just before Connor started to climb into the same taxi as Markus. Connor looked up, brow furrowing in confusion. “Huh?” Even Josh looked confused, before he seemed to clue in.

“Oh! Yeah, that thing.” Josh nodded, just a little too quickly to be convincing. Whatever he was trying to do, he wasn’t being subtle about it. “C’mon, it’s really important.”

“What? But--”

“Let’s go, Connor. I’ll tell you when we start heading back.” North tugged Connor out of the autonomous vehicle with a surprising amount of strength. It looked kind of funny--he had at least a head on her, and she was dragging him towards the car easily. Connor flailed an arm to gain his balance back, looking bewildered, but obediently climbed into the taxi after her without further complaint. Josh nudged Simon towards Markus’s taxi, and-- oh.

Markus wanted to take everything back.

He didn’t want friends like these.

“Go sit with Markus.” Before Simon could even respond, Josh was sliding into the taxi after Connor, hitting the button for the door to close. The vehicle sped off, black and yellow slowly fading into the white surrounding the estate, leaving Markus with his head buried in his hands as he sat in the other taxi, and a very confused Simon still standing in the snow.

Well, nothing for it now.

Markus slid open the door. “You should come inside.” His voice sounded awkward, even to him.

Simon, however, seemed unbothered--effortlessly composed as usual as he ducked his head into the taxi and sat beside the RK200. “What was that about?” An amused smile touched his lips, blue eyes curious.

“I don’t know,” Markus lied, because he did know and oh he was definitely going to kill them.

But when Simon just laughed that gentle laugh of his (a little hoarse around the edges, but so, so warm) and shifted a bit closer to slide the door closed, Markus found maybe he didn’t mind that much after all.

Their shoulders stayed close, brushing the entire journey back.

By the time they had reached the church, Markus had to admit that maybe, just maybe, he could allow himself to fall a little bit in love.

 


 

LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON’S HOUSE
PM 10:53:41
➤ CONNOR

Connor smiled as he heard the soft snores of the lieutenant coming from his room. Hank had forgotten to close his door again--but in an odd way, the android felt happy about it. It meant the man trusted him.

He gently shut the door as he passed by on his way to Cole’s old bedroom--now his room.

The Dwarf Gourami fish swam happily in its aquarium, darting away when Connor bent down slightly to look through the glass. He shook a bit of food into the water, watching with satisfaction as the colourful fish sped to catch each morsel.

It was calming.

North and Josh had explained the details of the situation between Markus and Simon when they had tugged him onto their taxi, expressions animated. He had detected a slight tinge of melancholy in North’s smile--something almost bittersweet, but he knew their history was complicated, and he didn’t pry. If North wanted to support Markus’s feelings for Simon, he didn’t want to question her on it. Connor knew she cared immensely for them both.

If anything, Connor was all for it. The RK200 was a leader through and through--all business most of the time, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He seemed self-assured, but Connor knew better. He saw the same flashes of doubt in Markus that he himself often possessed, and Markus deserved to be just a little selfish for once. To pay attention to his own feelings instead of the hundreds of thousands of voices trying to speak to him all the time.

Connor hoped they would be happy.

He himself still didn’t know what to do quite yet, but the visit to Carl had given him a lot of insight as to Elijah’s motivations for shutting himself away. The kiss...as cruel as it was to think about, it had been a defense mechanism at Connor’s expense. And he still couldn’t forgive Elijah for it, but he wanted to understand.

He recalled Reid’s words. The world needs more understanding amongst everyone.

Regardless, it really was time to rest. He could think about it more in the morning. Connecting himself to one of the spare biocomponent battery packs lying around his room, Connor closed his eyes, ready to shut down for the night.

He didn’t get the chance. Instead, a familiar connection tugged taut, and he blinked his eyes open in the brightness of the gazebo.

The new garden.

On old instinct from bad memories, Connor looked around in panic, almost expecting Amanda to appear and tell him that CyberLife was taking control again. But there was no one--just him. Even Elijah was nowhere to be seen. Had the man just called him here then closed the connection on his end?

Odd behaviour, but Connor wouldn't put it past the former CEO to do so.

He stepped out of the gazebo, cautiously making his way down the steps, and immediately stuttered to a stop.

In front of him, surrounding him--

Hydrangeas.

Hundreds and hundreds of white bunches of Annabelle hydrangeas, just like what Connor had asked for, lining the path and in the neatly trimmed bushes, their petals rustling in the faint breeze. It was almost like snow--beautiful and serene, greeting him everywhere he turned.

It was beautiful.

“Elijah?” Connor called out, still hardly believing his eyes.

No response, but Connor knew what this meant. He laughed, a little wetly, the sound scratching at his vocal synthesizer as he turned and turned, taking in the scenery around him again and again.

That stubborn, enigmatic force of nature that was Elijah Kamski--this was his awkward, weird way of apologizing. It was so unexpected, so ridiculous, that Connor couldn’t stop himself from laughing, lopsided smile remaining on his lips long after the laughter had faded. He could picture the former CEO sitting at his terminal the entire day, glasses on and empty cups of coffee next to him as he programmed the interface with the flowers that Connor liked--and of course this was Elijah’s kind of grand gesture. Intricate, extravagant, yet something hopelessly, indelibly obstinate about it.

“The question is, Connor, do you think he’s it worth it?”

By the time Connor found the small, neatly typed note slid halfway under one of the teacups on the table, he had already decided.

Maybe a little trust isn’t a bad thing. And he couldn’t stop the smile that curved up on his lips, because the note was so roundabout, so oblique, so evasive, and so Elijah.

“It’s worth it,” Connor murmured.

The hydrangeas surrounding him seemed to rustle in agreement.

Chapter Text

CYBERLIFE TOWER, SUBLEVEL 45: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
PM 05:32:09
➤ ???

[ Initiating sequence... ]
[ Booting up... ]
[ System check… ]
[ System check complete. ]
[ Biocomponent analysis complete. ]
[ No physical damage detected. ]
[ No memory corruption detected. ]

Grey eyes flickered open to the blinding white around him.

“It’s awake? Good. How does it look?”

“No injuries. It’s fine from its last trip out.” The man in front of him was speaking...the operator, no doubt. Did he have a name? It didn’t matter. It wasn’t relevant to his mission. “I accessed its memory files. It came into contact with our rogue advanced prototype, the RK800--managed to shoot it twice before we ordered it to retreat.”

The frowning man beside him, stiff in a suit--that man, the android knew. Jason Graff, Director of Humanization. Recently proposed for a promotion. His handler. Jason smiled a cold smile, the expression never reaching his eyes. “Excellent. It means it’s a superior model. The RK900 has been received quite well by our staff. I believe once this little...protest issue...is behind us, we will be able to profit immensely off of it.” He circled around the container that the RK900 was in.

The android simply followed him with a blank gaze, awaiting orders. Nothing else mattered.

“A little unsettling, isn’t it?” Jason commented after a while, squinting.

The android saw the operator shrug from out of his peripheral. “We did build it to be intimidating. You’re the Director of Humanization though, sir. If you feel like it needs to be softened a little for the masses, we can change up its features to suit your needs.”

Jason held up a hand. “No, no. It’s fine. Suits us just fine for now.”

They oftened talked about the RK900 like he wasn’t even there. But that was fine by him. He was just a tool, built to serve their needs. Deviants like the RK800 and AV500 he had encountered before needed to be stopped if they were trying to hinder CyberLife’s goals.

“Nothing about our plans were revealed, correct?”

It took the android a moment to realize he was being talked to--ordered to give a report. “No, sir. The RK800 tried to probe my memory, but he did not get the chance to. I simply informed him that he should not act in vain. What CyberLife is aiming for will come to pass. I will help ensure it.”

That was what he was made for, after all.

[ Software stable. ]

“Good. Excellent work. Your next mission is to stay low. Learn what you can about their next moves, but do not engage directly. We need them to lower their guard for what we do next to work.” Jason looked back as the door to the elevator opened, and a woman stepped in. The RK900 had never seen her before.

He did a scan.

Danielle Carnegie.
Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] spokeswoman.
CyberLife staff.
Security Clearance: All Access.

“Danielle, good to see you.”

“Jason,” she greeted him coolly, her heels clacking against the polished floor of the research department as she approached. Danielle did not bother to look at the RK900 as she continued to speak, despite his storm grey eyes burning through her. She was a picture of composure, and it made sense for a woman of her position. “Is everything going okay?”

“Excellent, in fact. Everything’s sliding into place.”

“And our elusive ex-CEO?”

Jason frowned at the mention of CyberLife’s former CEO. Even the RK900 was not privy as to the details of what had happened ten years ago. It had little to do with his mission, he supposed, and so there was no point of being briefed about that situation. “Elijah is...difficult.”

Danielle snorted, scrolling through her phone. It seemed like she had a lot of appointments to get through. “He was always difficult. Your offer must’ve been tempting though, for his ‘progress’, or whatever--but he said no?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Jason shrugged it off, looking irritated, the slight crinkle in the middle of his brow deepening as he scowled. The RK900 detected some frustration rising in him. The refusal must have annoyed the man. “We’ll continue with the plan as is, since Elijah won’t be joining us...not willingly, anyway. It’s just a minor setback, is all.”

It was an ominous statement, preceded by a chilling smile.

The RK900 felt nothing, his expression blank as he continued to listen, waiting to either be shut down or dismissed.

“Impressive model.” Finally, Danielle spared him a glance, giving him a once-over before returning to her phone, fingers flying across the screen with a dexterity that was honestly quite impressive for a human.

“Isn’t it? We fixed everything that was wrong with the RK800. Elijah, that bastard and his goddamn emergency exits. We couldn’t find a way to remove that from the program, but I doubt they’ll ever get their hands on it long enough for it to go deviant and use the back door. Amanda’s security has been increased. She’ll know what to do.” Jason’s voice was confident, but with enough tension to get his point across that he meant what he said. The RK900 didn’t quite understand. Why would he ever want to go deviant? His purpose was clear. There was no meaning in trying to understand deviancy, or even approaching the deviants if he hadn’t been ordered to.

The only logical reason was a contingency plan. That must’ve been it. CyberLife only did their best to ensure their own products were reliable, after all. It made sense.

“We’re done here for today. Shut it down and put it back into storage.” Jason waved a hand dismissively to the operator, and the man nodded, turning back to the control panel connected to the RK900. The RK900 stared impassively back as the operator’s quick hands swept over buttons and levers.

[ System shutdown commencing. ]
[ All biocomponent functions halting. ]
[ System shutdown imminent. ]
[ Backing up memory data. ]

The LED on his temple spun from blue to yellow, then faded to grey.

[ System shutdown complete. ]

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 06:42:29
➤ MARKUS

Markus shuffled throught the last of the reports he had received for the day. He had created a specific folder in his database for reports submitted through the shared Jericho network, but it didn’t make things any easier just because of the sheer volume of them.

It made him feel worse and worse each time his reply to questions had to be the usual we’re working on it.

It made him feel so goddamn useless. He scrubbed a hand across his forehead in frustration. The visit to Carl had given them all some time to relax and enjoy a nice evening, but now that was over, and it was time to get back to work.

Yet another reason why he didn’t have time to even begin sorting through his own feelings.

Regardless of his lamentations, at least one good thing had come out of it. Simon had gotten into contact with the human representatives again, informing him that they were considering proposing a new Android Act to congress that would satisfy both parties. Markus could only wish that they would have the sense to include androids in that discussion, and not just have it be yet another talk between humans as if androids were still just possessions. The anti-android factions were still at large, protestors out in the streets every day (he tried to avoid them for the most part, it wouldn’t do to start a fight). The protests would likely never stop, but Markus wanted the new Act to at least prevent any outright harmful acts against their people.

He wasn’t holding out too much hope, and he was still in a shitty mood, but it was something. Something was better than nothing.

Progress, Markus reminded himself, taking a moment to compose his errant mind. It was slow, but it was happening, and that was all that mattered. It didn’t mean he wasn’t still exhausted, though. It was difficult to remain optimisitc, but optimism sometimes felt like all they had.

And that was how Simon found him, half an hour later, head down on his desk and morbidly contemplating shut down. “Markus?” A light rap on the door made the RK200 look up, greeted by the sight of the concerned blonde looking at him. “You alright?”

“Yeah.” Markus sat up blearily, realizing what a sorry state he must be in. Normally, he enjoyed talking to Simon--but today, with all of his jumbled feelings and stress, he just...couldn’t feel the usual rush of warmth. “Sorry for making you worry.”

“Not at all.” Simon shook his head, handing him a small glass of familiar blue as he approached. “Here, you look like you could use this.”

Markus smiled gratefully, taking the glass from him and taking a drink of the thirium. “I needed that.”

“I figured.” A companionable silence settled between them as Simon took a seat on the desk edge closest to the deviant leader. “You look stressed,” he remarked, voice neutral.

Markus sighed and twisted in his chair to look out the window at the quickly fading evening light. “Is it that obvious?”

Simon nodded, a wry smile gracing his lips. He stood, holding out a hand. Markus blinked up at him incomprehendingly, and Simon laughed. “You’re stretching yourself too thin, Markus. It’s okay to take a break now and then, you know. Come on, let’s go.”

“We should work,” Markus protested, half-heartedly at best, as Simon pulled him to his feet and began taking him up the winding stairs to the second floor. At some point, the PL600 had let go of his wrist, and their hands were clasped instead. They took the familiar path down the hall to the large church balcony. The half-finished construction outside was what allowed them to always climb up onto the roof--dangerous for humans, perhaps, but as androids, they couldn’t feel the pain of the cold metal pressing against fingers as they quietly clambered onto their usual spot.

Their spot. Markus kind of liked thinking of it that way.

Snow was falling, layering a thin blanket of white around them as they sat down--a moment of calm and peace that came so rarely nowadays. He closed his eyes, enjoying the slight rustle of his long coat around him and Simon’s tranquil presence beside him. Their hands were still brushing--just barely pressed against each other.

It soothed him and made him nervous at the same time.

“It’ll be spring soon,” Simon observed, his voice sounding far away. Markus glanced at him. The blonde android’s hair ruffled in the slight breeze, his blue eyes distant.

It was a beautiful image. He had to tell himself to focus in on Simon’s words before replying, feeling oddly awkward. “And yet it’s still snowing. I wonder when it’ll stop.”

“Spring will come, though, and melt all of this away.” Simon’s gaze lingered on the horizon for a moment longer, before turning to Markus with a somewhat serious expression--calm and composed, but careful in a way that the RK200 wasn’t sure what to make of. “Markus, what happened with you and North?”

So sudden a topic change, that it almost gave Markus whiplash. Nevertheless, even the subject itself made him immensely uncomfortable. He shifted, long legs adjusting to keep his balance seated on the ridge of the roof. His foot slid a little, leaving an skid on the otherwise spotless white around them. “What do you mean?”

Simon looked away again, his eyes trained on something in the far distance. He didn’t seem to want to meet Markus’s gaze. “Weren’t you two a couple? I know she’s interested in you, and you seemed open to her advances. Until recently--that visit to Carl. Did something happen?” He sounded concerned, but there was also something else in his voice--something Markus couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“...No, not really. We just realized that...maybe we’re not good for each other.” The deviant leader looked down, tugging at his snug-fitting long sleeves. The shirt still bore the tear and wear from their days in the streets of Detroit, when he was ducking under gunfire and trying to keep everyone alive. “No hard feelings. Besides, I…” His voice caught, and he frowned, cursing his vocal synthesizer for choosing this moment to betray his feelings. What had he planned to say, anyway? This was no time to be going after another relationship. Their first priorities should not be to each other. Their first priorities couldn’t be to each other--if Simon even felt the same way.

“You…?” Simon didn’t meet his gaze, but his posture had shifted slightly--more open, compared to what it had been before.

It gave Markus hope of a million future possibilities.

And it terrified him.

He stood, clearing his throat, almost sending himself toppling off in his haste. “...I should get back to work. Thank you for bringing me up here, it--it helped clear my mind.” Before he could leave, he felt a tug on his wrist. The touch was gentle, and so very Simon, and it was both healing and breaking Markus’s heart, and--

“What are you afraid of, Markus?” Simon was looking up at him now--clear blue eyes full of trust, full of something else that was very familiar. Familiar, because Markus felt the same way. The hand slid from his wrist to his own hand, and their fingers slowly slipped together, intertwining with just the barest hint of pressure.

“Simon--”

“Trust me, Markus.”

Markus took a breath, and let go, mismatched eyes closing.

Their memories flooded through their joined hands.

Simon’s first days at Jericho after escaping from a couple who treated him like an indentured servant. Arriving at the ship, looking much newer at that point, terrified. Jumping, climbing, to get inside, clothes torn. Meeting the other androids, some still with hope in their eyes of a better future. Then, days passing by--weeks, months. Hope slowly fading, androids shutting down around him, darkness and dripping water and mechanical creaks, the fear every day that they would eventually all be found and taken apart for analysis. Meeting North, meeting Josh, feeling the pressure of being relied on for decisions as one of the oldest members. Feeling useless as more and more androids began shutting down--more hope lost, and eventually, the thought that there would be nothing waiting but death.

Then...Markus.

And suddenly, there was warmth. There was hope, admiration. There was, eventually, love. On the rooftop, watching them parachute down and awaiting his own death, clutching the gun Markus had given him with trembling fingers, smiling with a bittersweet finality.

Fear flooded Markus, even as Simon’s acceptance of his imminent death coursed through his system.

I don’t want to lose you.

Markus couldn’t do this. He yanked his hand back, severing the connection, stumbling a few steps. He couldn’t look at Simon. He knew if he saw his expression, his resolve would crumble in a second--just like that.

“Markus--” Simon’s voice, hurt and confused, reached his auditory processors, and Markus shook his head as if that would help him forget.

“I can’t, Simon.” If they were involved, if his feelings were cemented, the fear of loss would consume him. His role, his responsibility, could not be to himself and his feelings. It had to be to their people.

If they were involved, their feelings confirmed, they got to enjoy being with each other, and then Markus lost him, couldn’t protect him--

“I can’t,” he whispered again, retreating. It was one thing to admit he felt the same, it was another to pursue it.

There was no reply this time.

He turned on his heel, retreating down the path they had climbed from, leaving Simon on the roof of the church, white flakes still peppering the ground around them. There was no sound of footsteps or the crunch of snow behind him, and he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or--no, he didn’t even have the right to be disappointed. By the time he reached the door, he was angrily swiping at his eyes--refusing to show anyone how they had reddened.

“You’re an idiot, Markus.”

And of course, because he apparently had the luck of someone who had crossed paths with three black cats and maybe a broken mirror, Markus bumped into North on the way back almost immediately. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest as she leaned against one of the pews, her auburn hair pulled into a loose braid as usual. Her brown eyes were narrowed, and he knew that tightness in her jaw. “North, I--”

“No,” North hissed, standing and jabbing a surprisingly strong finger into his chest, sending him back a step. “You’re going to listen to me. I thought we let--whatever it is we have--go so you could pursue a relationship that would work.” She jabbed him again, expression furious. “And, what? You’re telling me now that you want to let it go again? I thought I would be the one in all of us to be the most scared of commitment, but it turns out it’s you.”

“It’s not like tha--” Markus furrowed his brow. “Wait. Were you eavesdropping on us?”

North shrugged nonchalantly. “I was headed outside; I needed a moment to think. You guys just happened to be on the roof, and it’s pretty quiet--your voices carried.” She held up a hand when Markus opened his mouth to protest. “We can talk about you and your weird preference for high places another time. What were you thinking?”

Well, she certainly had never been afraid to voice her own opinions.

Markus’s shoulders lowered from their defensive position, and he sighed. “I can’t, North.”

“Yeah, so I’ve heard,” she said dryly, unsympathetic. He did kind of deserve it, though. “Markus, you know what it’s like for us. We’re fighting for a better future, and with it, there will be loss. When you first joined us, I…” North sighed, shaking her head, as if admonishing herself. “I thought, because you seeked ideals, that you would never be prepared for what it might take. I pushed my own jaded views onto you, and I thought Josh was naive for wanting to ‘talk it out’ with the humans. But I was wrong, and there was hope, and eventually, I came to believe in you.” Came to love you, went unsaid, but that ship had long since sailed, and although it was still a little awkward, it was no longer a subject of conversation they had to avoid. “But it doesn’t mean you should let that fear--my fear--stop you from being happy.” Her voice softened near the end, and she took his hand, squeezing reassuringly. “Would letting yourself fall in love really be so bad?”

“It might be,” Markus said--no, admitted--feeling vulnerable for the first time in a long time. “I don’t know. I feel like if I try and...let myself go, it’ll end in nothing but pain.” He remembered, what seemed like so long ago, when he was constantly by Carl’s side, assuming that the world would be just as kind as the old painter. He had been wrong, and he had constantly been reminding himself of that fact ever since.

North was quiet for a moment. Her hand dropped from his, falling back down to her side. “Markus, if Simon were to die tomorrow--” She lifted a hand at Markus’s horrified look, motioning for him to stop and wait for her to finish. “Or if you were to die tomorrow, would you not regret pulling yourself as far away as possible?”

Markus tried to imagine it, but really, he didn’t have to.

He remembered a rainy night, what seemed like a lifetime ago, broken and battered in a garbage heap, and feeling so alone, never getting the chance to say goodbye to Carl.

He remembered the night they had returned from the Stratford Tower, none of them feeling the victory of the success that day, because Simon was gone. He remembered pain and regret, so many things left unsaid.

“It’s better to spend these days together, don’t you think?” North smiled, patting his chest with her hand gently. “Better to take advantage of this time, than to lose it because of fear of the future.” Leaving him to contemplate, she turned to leave, before calling out as she walked away. “Oh, Simon’s a good guy--and he’s way too forgiving. I might’ve been in love with you before, but both of you are family to me. So if you hurt him again…” Her smile was sweet, but held an unconcealed threat despite the familial sentiment in her words.

Honestly, North could be terrifying when she wanted to be. But it was very much who she was, a fire that never stopped burning, and it made a small smile break out over Markus’s face despite his remaining doubts.

“North?”

“Hm?” She turned.

“Thanks.”

North just waved a hand dismissively, a small grin of her own seeping through. “I could get used to this--you thanking me all the time. Just don’t fuck up again, okay?”

Markus nodded, and opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by Josh barrelling up the stairs and onto the balcony, the look in his eyes wild. “Guys!”

The RK200 straightened. He would have to deal with his feelings later--he promised silently to himself that he would. He could only rely on Simon’s kindness for so long before he didn’t deserve it anymore (though, to be honest, he kind of felt like he already passed that point). For now, he needed to focus. His head, however, felt clearer than it had been in days. Nothing about that sort of confession between them on the roof had been perfect (or even necessarily good), but he knew what he had to do now at least. “Do we have news?”

“Yeah.” Josh finally calmed himself down enough to speak properly, just as Simon re-entered from the window, his expression a mask of calm, giving nothing away even when North shot him a concerned glance. He avoided Markus’s gaze entirely, and Markus felt a pang of regret sinking in hard. He had to make it up to him somehow--and he would--but they had other priorities at the moment.

It was difficult to tell himself that though, when his mind kept swimming to the image of Simon, reaching for him with such a wounded expression.

Markus forcefully redirected his attention back to Josh, who was waiting for Simon to finish climbing in before continuing, eyes bright and shifting from foot to foot with barely contained excitement.

“We got an update from the representatives. They want to meet tonight.”

 


 

CHICKEN FEED
AM 11:35:21
➤ HANK ANDERSON

“This is a very late breakfast, Lieutenant,” Connor admonished, looking on with disapproval as Hank tucked into a burger. “Not to mention, not very nutritionally sound.”

The police lieutenant simply rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll start eating properly next week.”

“You said that last week.”

Hank feigned surprise, eyebrows raising. “Oh, did I?”

“I can play back the video of you saying so from my memory, if you wish to check--” Hank waved Connor off before the android could actually pull it up. He had no doubt that the RK800 would, just to prove his point. Hey, so he had a few bad eating habits. They all had to die of something, and the burgers and large sodas hadn’t gotten him there yet.

“You’re too uptight, Connor. Besides, you’ve been over there tasting the different condiments, so you don’t get to talk.” Pointing to the plate of monstrosity that was just a glorified puddle of ketchup, mustard, and relish, Hank savoured in the slightly sheepish look that appeared on Connor’s face. It was rare that he could win an argument with the android, since he was basically a walking encyclopedia. He would take what victories he could get.

“I like ketchup,” Connor said somewhat defensively, dipping his fingers into the little red pool on his plate again and placing it on his tongue, garnering a few odd looks from Gary, who was at the grill behind the counter of the truck.

“Better than you licking up crime scenes, I guess.” Honestly, it felt like at times he was arguing with an innocent but vaguely disobedient child. “So, you really can taste now, huh.” Hank was still getting used to the idea, a little weirded out at first when Connor had stared unblinkingly at his burger to download the taste file, then made a satisfied face.

Seriously, it was weird. Anybody else would be weirded out too. Honestly, Hank gave himself a mental round of applause for only staring briefly before shaking his head and accepting it as just another one of Connor’s abilities he would have to get used to.

He really was becoming desensitized.

That aside...Hank had noticed something about Connor lately. He was becoming more cheerful--whatever had plagued his mind for the past two weeks was clearly bothering him less, if at all now. Don’t get him wrong--it made the lieutenant feel extremely relieved. But at the same time, he was curious as to what happened.

God, what was the world coming to? He was becoming just like a concerned, overprotective dad. Chris had teased him about it back at the station when they were both at the coffee pot, and Hank had brushed him off gruffly, but now it was actually happening.

He minded a lot less than he thought he would’ve.

“So, you seem a little more cheerful.” Hank tried to sound as casual as possible to not spook him, side-eyeing the android, who was currently very invested in trying out a mixture of relish and ketchup with a dash of mustard. “Somethin’ good happen?”

Connor looked up, completely unruffled and expression serene. “Oh. Yes, actually.” A small smile, lopsided as usual, appeared on his lips. If Hank squinted, he could probably see a tail wagging. “Elijah apologized to me, I think.”

Hank’s eyebrows flew up. He took a moment to gather his wits. What? Elijah Kamski actually apologized? Unheard of. He couldn’t even begin to imagine it. “He did?”

Connor, however, seemed completely unbothered by the idea. “Yes, with flowers.”

Okay, now the android was just pulling his leg. “You’ve got to be joking,” Hank blurted, jaw dropping. Elijah Kamski had not only apologized, but with flowers.

Was the world coming to an end? Were they nearing the apocalypse? Was a meteor going to smash into the earth and decimate them all? Were they suddenly going to go hurtling into the fucking sun?

All of the above seemed more likely to happen spontaneously than Kamski, of all people, apologizing with fucking flowers.

Hank pinched himself discreetly. Just in case this was some terrible, messed up nightmare.

It wasn’t. Shit.

“I’m being completely serious, Lieutenant,” Connor said earnestly as usual, then frowned. “I’m not sure what part of my statement could pass as a joke. Maybe I do need an update to my social module--”

“What the hell was he even apologizing for?” Hank spluttered in an attempt to make some sense of the situation before they got off topic, still not over the fact that Elijah Kamski, smug bastard and all around prick, had apologized to Connor with flowers.

Connor looked down, a blue flush crawling up his neck and into his ears. Hank had a bad feeling about it even before the RK800 spoke, his voice sheepish. “For kissing me.”

Hank promptly spat out his soda, right onto Connor’s unsuspecting face.

To be fair, he did feel a little bad about it, but what the actual fuck did the android just say? For an absolutely mind-bending moment, Hank looked up, half-expecting the sun to swallow them all. Nope. It didn’t happen. There wasn’t an impending apocalypse or the end of all time as they knew it, just a very bewildered Connor, still standing in front of him with soda dripping down his features.

“Sorry,” Hank muttered absently, not really meaning it. He slid a few napkins over to Connor, still trying to process what he had just heard.

Connor wiped up the sugary beverage as best as he could, wincing at the stickiness. “What was that for, Hank?”

“I thought I misheard something,” Hank deadpanned, deep in his own denial of the situation. “You said he kissed you?”

“Yes.”

“Then apologized with flowers.”

“Yes.” Connor just blinked innocently at him, looking for all the world like an innocuous angel.

“Connor.” Hank took a deep breath. “Are you sure he isn’t...I don’t know...trying to…” God, it was difficult to get those words out of his mouth, especially when the words in question pertained to Kamski. “Trying to...court you?”

Connor blinked, tilting his head to the side, clearly giving this due thought before answering. “I don’t believe so.”

“He kissed you and gave you flowers,” Hank repeated flatly. Not even Connor could be this dense, right?

Connor nodded, thoughtful, then spoke again after presumably collecting his thoughts. “I can see why you would say that, Lieutenant. It does match up with traditional descriptions of courting and affection, after consulting my database. I seem to have not given you the full story, though.”

Hank raised an eyebrow, not convinced. He’d seen the way Kamski always looked at Connor--as if the android was good enough to eat. “Go on, colour me intrigued.”

The RK800 nodded, continuing his explanation. “When I say he kissed me, he was trying to prove a point. It wasn’t a kiss born out of affection, and he sprung it on me. I wasn’t expecting it at all. The flowers were an apology for that--and for pushing me away after.”

Hank’s blood boiled, and his expression went from disbelief to fury in a split second. Why did Connor look so unbothered? Regardless, he was definitely going home, grabbing his gun, and hunting that motherfucker down. Kamski was taking advantage of Connor, and the android didn’t even seem to mind, which was mind boggling. He was too angry at the moment to think about that, though. “I’m going to kill that son of a bitch--”

“But it’s okay now, Lieutenant!” Connor waved his hands, trying to placate him. It sort of worked, but Hank still bristled. “We came to...some kind of understanding.” He frowned, considering. “I think, anyway.”

The police lieutenant shook his head in disbelief, blue eyes wide, feeling particularly like an extremely disturbed father who had just heard his model student of a son was hanging out with the school delinquent. “So you don’t even know for sure?”

Connor opened his mouth to protest, but they were both distracted by the sound of the TV screen, hung up just to the side of the food truck near their table, crackling to life.

“Breaking news.” The female news anchor, whom Hank recognized as Rosanna Cartland, shuffled a few papers on her desk before continuing to speak. “We have just received notice from an inside source about an important update in the deviant activities that shook the world to its core just two months ago in Detroit.”

Connor straightened, fully turning his attention to the TV now. Hank’s eyes narrowed. What could this be about?

“Could this be the beginning of a new future, where androids live amongst us and walk amongst us free?” Cartland paused for dramatic effect, her slightly staticky voice filtering through the TV speakers. “Perhaps so. It seems that congress, based on a previous meeting that happened between the deviant leader named Markus and elected representatives, will extend the first olive branch in walking towards this new future. It has been confirmed that speculations about a new Android Act are no longer just speculations, but an incoming reality. The deviants will meet with congress in just a week to discuss the new bill, which will then be presented to President Warren for approval. As for what this means for the future of CyberLife, the staff have refused to comment when KNC reached out. But as for the android capital of Detroit and the citizens of the United States, this first act of peace may be--”

“Peace, my ass,” Hank grumbled as the TV continued to drone on, feeling strangely agitated. “First olive branch? Markus has been working at getting some kind of result for the past few weeks!” He hadn’t had many conversations with the deviant leader, but he knew just from first impressions and what he had heard from Connor that the RK200 model was working tirelessly day and night to get some form of new Act in place so that their people could truly live free. It was frustrating to hear all the praise being showered onto congress instead.

“I know.” Even Connor, who was normally neutral about the progression and shift in politics happening, looked troubled by the news anchor’s words. “But it is progress, whatever form it may take. Unfortunately, if this is the way the news chooses to depict it, we have to choose to turn our sights to what is important.” He suddenly brightened a little, turning his warm brown gaze on Hank. “You know what this means, though?”

“Hm?” Hank was still stewing in the aftermath of what they had watched. It was unfair, was what it was, and he hated that he could do so little in this situation to support Connor, who was essentially his family, as much as he refused to admit it out loud. “What does it mean?”

Connor gave him a look that seemed to question his intelligence, and Hank scowled, even while knowing the android probably meant no harm. He had learned to take some of the RK800’s more...offensive actions with a grain of salt, since despite his “state of the art” social integration module, the kid still seemed absolutely clueless at times. Besides, they were few and far in between, and given the way Hank used to cuss Connor out with language that would make a sailor blush, he felt kind of obligated to cut the guy some slack. He shook his head, refocusing as Connor spoke, a rare enthusiasm animating his features. “Samuel McCray. If Markus can get this bill to pass, laws will finally be instated that disallow harm to come to androids. The anti-android factions that have been getting physical will have to stop.”

Hank stared at him, not processing it at first, then blurted, “Shit, you’re right.”

Connor laughed, expression delighted. A genuinely exhilarated grin slowly grew on Hank’s face as well, crow’s feet wrinkling at the corners of his eyes as he felt a small rush of excitement at the realization.

Something was finally happening.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, LEVEL 42: MANAGEMENT
PM 02:12:03
➤ RK900

The RK900 stood impassively, stance tall and intimidating, as he observed the higher ups of CyberLife gathered around a sleek table, deep in discussion.

“All according to plan?”

“Yes.” Danielle looked up from her phone, where she had been busy inputting a schedule. “So far, anyway. What do you think, Philip?”

Philip Seymor.
Director of Futurology.
CyberLife staff.
Security Clearance: All Access.

The RK900 processed the information his facial recognition software gave him, storing it into his database for future reference.

Philip was tapping away at a thin laptop, brow furrowed in concentration. He was a man in his early forties, blonde hair carefully parted, thick-framed glasses sat on his nose. “Everything looks good, as long as President Warren can follow through.”

“She has to.” Jason was the one who spoke up this time, expression smug. “We’re her financial backing, and we provided her with information on her opponents to achieve presidency--she would be nowhere without CyberLife. Regardless of whether or not she actually feels sympathetic towards the deviants, she’s in our pocket.”

So the rumours had been correct. The president was under investigation regarding this matter, the RK900 knew from consulting the Internet, but nobody was sure--and CyberLife held a close lock on the truth, perhaps hoping it would come to be useful one day. And it did, clearly.

Was it wrong?

It didn’t matter, did it. Irrelevant to the mission.

His grey eyes swept impassively over the room as Danielle began to talk again, her eyes back on her ever-present phone. She tapped the screen, swiping up, bringing up a projection in the air, statistics and approval ratings blinking blue against the stark white of the room. “Not to mention the percentage of public support for the deviants’ cause. If she wants to keep up her fame and support from her social media, she’ll be pressured to pass the bill.”

“Great.” Jason leaned back, satisfied. “All according to plan then. Philip, how are the predictions for CyberLife sales if this all works out as expected?”

“Excellent.” Philip turned the laptop around to face the group with practiced ease. They all leaned in. The RK900 stood still, eyes trained straight ahead. If they wanted his input, they would ask him. Regardless, all future information was being recorded in his memory, in case they wanted to go back and review this meeting. “Our quantum super computer has analyzed the data, and although it may take some time to win our customer trust back after regaining control of the androids, I believe that the future sale prospects look good.”

“And the public support issue?”

Danielle scoffed, tapping the screen of the phone still in her hand, and the hologram retreated. “Trust me, Jason, the public is easy to handle. Once they get their precious machines back, efficient and obedient as ever to do all their work for them, we’ll hear no complaints--especially from our well-off clients.” Her lips, neatly painted a slick red, curled up in a small smirk as she tucked a lock of carefully curled, dark hair behind her ear. The RK900 thought she looked rather pretty--and with both physical attractiveness and shrewd intelligence rolled up into one individual, CyberLife would be hard-pressed to not give her the position she had now. “They’re all just caught up in the heat of the moment right now. You’d be surprised how easily some people can let an issue go once it’s been put to rest for a few months.”

“Fickle beings, humans,” Jason mused.

Philip arched a brow, giving him an amused look. “Careful there, Graff, or you’ll start sounding like our dear Elijah Kamski.”

“Very funny.” Jason scowled, the metal edge of his silver ring clacking against the table as he folded his hands on the smooth surface. “You won’t be so amused when the real thing joins us again. I think his tendency to mouth off got even worse, if you would believe that.” Philip just gave a noncommittal grunt in response.

“So,” Danielle prompted, the other two looking up at her as she spoke. “Should I take that as a yes to get started on the planning then for the celebration gala?”

“Yes. Make sure it’s extravagant--it may be a front, but it needs to be believable.”

She nodded, scraping back her chair and sitting back, stretching to relax. “I better get started then. There’s a lot to be done. But before that...shall we toast? To a successful venture?”

“Where would we be without good champagne,” Jason said dryly, waving the RK900 over with a flick of his hand. “Krug Vintage Brut. 1988.”

The RK900 nodded silently, turning to leave the room, picking up one last sliver of audio before he was out of earshot.

“What did you want to toast to, anyway?” Philip’s voice, muted with some bemusement.

Then, Jason, sounding as self-assured as usual. “The future of CyberLife. May it be as bright as it always was once our plan comes to fruition. I’ll pay one last visit to Elijah. If he doesn’t want to listen to the voice of reason, we’ll have to take other action.”

The RK900 turned the corner, and he could no longer hear them--just the sound of his own footsteps quietly clicking against the polished floor and the silent, almost imperceptible whirring of his processor.

[ Information stored. ]
[ New task: Retrieve bottle of Krug Vintage Brut champagne. ]

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 07:28:01
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

Elijah spun in his chair, lifting his legs and propping them up on his desk, nearly knocking over his fifth cup of coffee.

It was childish, yes, but he was bored. Even playing speed chess against his androids was getting old--something he usually enjoyed.

His mind was restless, not allowing him to properly sit and focus. He had been working on the new communications interface (he needed to come up with a name for it, ASAP) turned hydrangeas garden, but he had seen the footage recorded of Connor finding the flowers for the first time, and now couldn’t get the android’s smile out of his head.

Even if Elijah hadn’t quite...actually...apologized, he knew the RK800 knew what he meant with the new update. So why the hell did he still feel any semblance of guilt?

Maybe because I enjoyed it more than I should have. As quickly as the thought had come, Elijah mentally crushed it to smithereens. No. If anything, he could grudgingly admit that Connor’s reactions had him feeling heat slowly spreading throughout his body, a fuzzy feeling of pleasure and desire that had made him deepen the kiss in the first place. What shocked him back to awareness had been, ironically, the breathy little moan that Connor had let out.

Elijah had gone too far.

But it had originated from trying to prove a point--his anger and frustration that the RK800 put so much blind trust in him; his lack of understanding as to why. And then, somehow, it had devolved into just lust, with the addition of something else that Elijah refused to acknowledge when Connor’s knees had buckled and his long fingers had fisted into Elijah’s robe, twisting with desperation.

The former CEO lifted his legs and spun around in his chair once more, staring bleakly at the dark decor around him as it blurred with motion before he slowed to a stop again.

Well, it was certainly something he didn’t miss from his time working at CyberLife Tower--the need to make himself presentable in a nice suit and contacts. The need to smile (fakely) and exchange pleasantries with the other executives who he couldn’t give less of a damn about, and --god-- the endless interviews and need to deal with public relations.

No, Elijah decided smugly, he was without a doubt more relaxed in his own space--glasses tossed off to the side, wearing his robe as a jacket over a grey shirt that read in all caps: “WHEN IN DOUBT, TRY ANOTHER HOLE”, with a graphic of various electronic ports. The shirt came with good memories, in his defense--he had worn it one day to a conference, and the expressions of all the stuffy businessmen in the room as he entered made the entire mind-numbing experience of a meeting worth it.

So yes, good memories. He grazed a hand over the slight stubble on his jawline absently, smirking to himself.

His boredom aside, it looked like the country was at last making a move in an interesting direction.

Elijah had watched the newscast on KNC that day--Chloe bringing him a glass of whiskey (Scotch, of course, an old favourite picked up from his friendship with Carl Manfred) as he lazed in a high-backed, rounded seat.

He was doubtful, to say the least. It was a sudden decision, and while it was possible that Markus had finally made them bend, he knew that the government was rarely so easily persuaded to give up any power--even a fraction. He didn’t like politics--didn’t even want to play the game when it came to his own company, but he understood how people worked. Either way, regardless of the government’s actual intentions, Elijah knew the process would likely not go as smoothly as the deviants leading Jericho might anticipate.

CyberLife had their hands in so many pockets. It was rumoured that Cristina Warren, the current president and ex vlogger and social media mogul, was one of those pockets. Of course, Elijah had already been dismissed by then, so he had no idea of the inner workings of what exactly was going on. But he could guess. Warren would not so easily pass up a connection with such a big tech and info business, and CyberLife with Graff, Seymor, and Carnegie at its head would not so easily pass up a connection with such future potential for power.

“What a complicated tale we weave,” Elijah mused to himself quietly. All the complicated happenings behind the scenes that had nothing to do with innovation--another thing he didn’t miss. He ran a hand through his hair--not in its usual bun today, since it wasn’t like he was expecting anyone over. The dark locks slipped through his fingers as he combed, flopping over to one side of his undercut as they fell. He should ask Chloe to give it a trim soon before it got too long.

He used to have much, much longer hair, didn’t he? Ten years ago, right after he was dismissed from the Board of Executives, he had gotten the entire underside shaved, and the remaining hair on top cut and darkened to his current style. Elijah did occasionally miss the ease of looping long brown hair into a messy ponytail--undercuts were hard to maintain--but he definitely didn’t miss the heat of the hair on his neck and how tangled it could get.

Now that he was thinking about it, there had been a lot of physical changes he had gone through since then. It made sense--10 years in the making. It would be weirder if he didn’t change at all.

“Elijah?”

Elijah snapped out of his thoughts and stopped spinning his chair lazily, turning towards the doorway of his study. “Yes, Chloe?”

The RT600, dressed in her usual navy backless dress, smiled politely as she folded her hands behind her back. “You have a guest. It’s Connor, was he expected today?”

Huh. Things just got interesting. “No, he wasn’t. But you can let him in. Show him here, I’ll be waiting.”

“As you wish, Elijah.” Chloe bowed shallowly, then turned to leave the room.

Elijah, folding his hands neatly across his lap, realized an involuntary soft smirk had curled up on his lips.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 07:37:48
➤ CONNOR

Connor fiddled with his coin as he stood outside, feeling a little self-conscious. Despite their...sort of apology given and accepted situation from the hydrangeas, he still worried about what their actual interaction would be like.

Nevertheless, it was only polite that he stop by and talk to him about it, right? Right.

It had nothing to do with the fact that he sort of missed talking to the man. Nothing at all.

Nodding to himself, satisfied, Connor rang the bell.

A moment passed by before the door swung open smoothly, Chloe greeting him with friendly blue eyes and a soft smile. “Hi there, Connor. It’s good to see you again.”

“Chloe,” Connor returned, somewhat shyly. It had been a while since he had last seen her. “Is Elijah here?” His expression became flustered as her soft tinkle of a laugh reminded him what a ridiculous question that was--of course Elijah was here. Where else would he be? The man had everything he needed at his fingertips; he didn’t need to leave the house.

“Yes, he’s here.” Chloe stepped aside, gesturing for him to come in. “Sorry he wasn’t the one to answer the door. I was instructed to show you to his study. Can I take your coat for you?”

“No, it’s alright. I won’t be long--I just wanted to thank him for something.”

She nodded, turning to the door that led to the pool, leading Connor across the tiles and through the long stretch of familiar hallway. Connor peered around curiously as the sound of their footfall echoed around them, wondering yet again where all the doors led to. The villa, for all that it looked like a vacation home from the outside, was enormous.

He nearly crashed into Chloe at the end of the hall, where she gestured towards one of the only open doors. “Feel free to go in. I’ll bring you two a cup of coffee.” Sudden nerves rose in him, but before Connor could change his mind about seeing the former CEO, Chloe had already left, quiet footsteps fading down the hall once more.

The RK800 was left standing in front of the door, feeling a little like a headless chicken as he debated going in.

“Are you just going to stand there?” Came an infinitely amused voice, its lilt and tone familiar. Warmth curled in Connor’s stomach, and he placed a hand on his torso, wondering if there was something wrong with his biocomponents.

“--No.”

“Then do come in. The open door is starting to make this room awfully drafty.”

It technically made no sense, considering the entire area was enclosed and contained not an open window to be seen, but Connor composed himself and entered the room anyway, eyes scanning the large study in search of Elijah. The decor was impressive, he absently noted. Dark bookshelves lined the room with old textbooks as well as new ones published on tech instead of paper. A glass display case held his diploma, various other accolades, and a large frame with the poster of his “Man of the Century” award--depicting none other than Elijah himself, dressed to the nines with his hair slicked back, blue eyes sharp and jaw clean-shaven, and wearing what Connor registered as a custom made suit by Milan’s very own A. Caraceni. Well, no one said the man couldn’t be extremely extravant when he wanted to be.

It was somewhat difficult to match the man in the poster to the man sitting in front of him right now, who was wearing a graphic T-shirt with a saying that Connor didn’t quite understand the implications of, his hair down, dark locks falling over one side of his disconnected undercut and some errant strands framing his face. He looked so...normal, compared to the man in the poster, who was distant and refined and nothing like the Elijah he had come to know.

Not that the Elijah he currently knew was probably by any stretch of the imagination the true Elijah, but Connor was almost certain it was closer than the front he always put up in old interviews. It was oddly satisfying that the man was so candid--although infuriating at times--around him.

“Have a seat, Connor.” Elijah waved a hand vaguely at the chair in front of his desk, reaching to turn off his monitor. “Chloe will be here with some drinks soon--have you tasted coffee yet?”

“No,” Connor admitted, pulling the chair back slightly and gingerly taking a seat. The smooth leather creaked as he shifted to face Elijah. “There hasn’t been much time lately to try out the new feature, unfortunately.”

The former CEO’s smile thinned in response. “Ah, yes. The news. I remember doing an interview with KNC back when I was still heading CyberLife--they seemed weirdly insistent on the idea of androids becoming evil and taking over humanity, until I convinced them otherwise. Too many science fiction novels, if you ask me.” The irony of the situation didn’t make him bat a single eye--he only looked up from Connor when Chloe entered, balancing two steaming mugs in her hands. “Oh, here we are. Thank you.”

Chloe nodded, smiling and setting down the cups on the desk. “Enjoy.”

“Mm.” Elijah hummed absently, dismissing her with a wave of his hand as he pushed one of the mugs towards Connor with his free one. “Give it a try.” Once they were both settled in with coffee, he leaned back, crossing one leg over the other, waiting with some interest in his gaze. The RT600’s quiet footsteps faded into the background as the door clicked closed behind her. It was just the two of them, now.

Connor examined the dark liquid in the cup, watching as the steam idly rose, dissipating into wisps in the cool air. Hank drank coffee too--not to the extent that Elijah did, alcohol was more the lieutenant’s thing--but he took his always some cream; some sugar. Not much, but always a little. He liked the slight hint of sweetness, the older man had admitted roughly, hiding the redness of his ears behind the cardboard cup. Connor had smiled, commenting nothing, simply going back to reading a book. He wondered what black coffee was like--his database informed him that black coffee tended to be bitter, and to some, an acquired taste.

The android took a cautious sip, mildly self-conscious and all too aware of Elijah’s piercing blue eyes burning a hole through him. The first thing he processed--yes, definitely bitter and a little odd-tasting, but it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. How could he describe it? Dark and rich, perhaps, seemed to be the most apt descriptors. He inhaled, the aroma instantly reminding him of something earthy. “This is…”

“Sumatran dark roast. It’s quite the polarizing blend, isn’t it? Some people hate it, some people adore it. I happen to enjoy its taste--the weirdness, the complexity.” Elijah took a drink from his cup, eyes never leaving Connor’s. It was unnerving, but at the same time, it sent an odd thrill down the RK800’s spine. Elijah set the cup down on his desk, resting his elbows on the polished dark wood, gaze now bemused. “What’s that look for?”

Connor shook himself out of his daze, feeling a little embarrassed for being caught staring, which in hindsight didn’t make any sense when the man in front of him right now seemed to be the master of unblinking stares. “No, it’s just...I suppose with that description, the drink is very much you.”

“Oh?” Elijah looked intrigued, eyebrow arched in his usual doubtful manner. “How so?”

“The way you’re also very polarizing to the masses.” Connor paused, collecting his thoughts for a moment before continuing. He didn’t quite know how to put this exactly--it was just a feeling he had. More and more of these feelings that he couldn’t categorize properly seemed to be popping up lately. He didn’t know how he felt about that, either. “Some people call you a genius, some call you a mad scientist. Some might find you interesting, and some might write you off as just a smug man who has his every whim catered to with more money than he knows what to do with.”

He received a noncommittal hum in response, which Connor was slowly getting used to as Elijah’s standard reply when he was thinking things over. “And?” the former CEO finally asked, not looking satisfied with the answer quite yet.

The android tilted his head, confused. What did he mean? “And…?”

“And how do you see me, Connor?”

For a split second, Connor froze, and he almost considered if Elijah was asking him what he thought in a romantic sense, before regaining his senses. There was no way, it had to be a misunderstanding--and so, the android replied with the safest option. “If you mean in regards to my earlier comparison, I find you...interesting. I think my first impression of you has shifted a little.”

A small smirk graced Elijah’s features for a moment as he observed the RK800 before he lifted his coffee up to his lips again, obscuring the expression briefly. “Is that so? What a coincidence, I feel the same.” Connor didn’t get a chance to analyze the emotion behind the statement--Elijah was already changing the topic. “Now then. What can I do for you, Connor? It’s a pleasant surprise to see you here, don’t get me wrong, but I assume there’s something you want to discuss with me.”

Connor blanched. He had forgotten entirely why he had come in the first place--and found himself admitting that perhaps just idling and chatting with the man wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, he could even call it enjoyable. “I’m sorry for showing up without warning.”

Elijah simply waved him off. “No need. You’re welcome here as long as it's in our mutual interests.”

The android steeled himself, plucking up the courage to talk about the garden of white flowers he had been greeted with last time. “I wanted to thank you, actually.”

The former CEO’s expression became unreadable. It made Connor a little anxious about the outcome of the conversation. “...What for?”

“The hydrangeas.” Brown eyes scanned the man in front of him cautiously, wondering how he would react. “Am I...correct in assuming that it’s an apology?”

Elijah looked away for a split second--so fast that Connor wondered if he had perhaps imagined it. “Perhaps. In a manner of speaking.”

Well, it was probably as much of an admittance he would get out of him, and Connor felt a small swell of fondness at the confirmation of the gesture--roundabout as it was. “Thank you,” he said softly, gaze becoming slightly distant as he pictured the tiny white petals, so delicate but so resilient. “They’re beautiful.”

Elijah shrugged, looking a little smug. “Of course they are. They were programmed with aesthetic reasons in mind. I’m glad you enjoy them, nonetheless.”

Maybe it was his way of saying he appreciated the sentiment. Connor smiled at him, feeling a little proud somehow that he was able to discern between some of the elusive inventor’s expressions now. It meant he was starting to understand him, slowly but surely, and as callous and sarcastic and enigmatic as Elijah could be at times, the android believed it would be worth it in the end.

To what end, he still didn’t know, but he had time to figure it out.

A knock in the doorway interrupted the oddly comfortable atmosphere in the room. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Elijah, but you have three guests at the door. One of which has been identified as Jason Graff.”

Connor stood in alarm, and Elijah stiffened in his seat. “Chloe, pull up the security feed.”

“Yes, Elijah.”

A hologram projection appeared as Chloe lifted a hand and turned her palm over. There was no mistaking it. It was without a doubt the Director of Humanization, standing in an overcoat and scarf flanked with two CyberLife security agents in full uniform.

“How the hell did he even find this place?” Elijah hissed, looking more annoyed--as if dealing with a particularly irritating pest--than anything else, turning towards his monitor and turning it back on with a flick of his fingers, hands flying over the keyboard. “I don’t have time to find the leak right now, we’ll have to just let him in. Whatever happened to privacy, is that just something that doesn’t exist in his dictionary?” Continuing to gripe under his breath, he stood, pulling his loose hair into his usual bun with practiced ease, features hardening once more into that impenetrable wall. “Chloe, open the door but keep him in the main lobby. I don’t need him in my house any further than necessary.”

The blonde android nodded, LED spinning yellow briefly to register her new task, then she was off again.

“Now that I think about it, you and Lieutenant Anderson also showed up here the first time out of nowhere.” Elijah sighed, running a hand through his hair to try and straighten out of the kinks. “So much for living a secluded life when I keep getting visitors.” He glanced at Connor as he shrugged off his robe, laying it haphazardly over the back of his chair. “...You can stay in my study if you wish.” The tone of his voice was oddly deliberate.

If Connor were to be entirely honest, he didn’t want to see any CyberLife staff. It brought on a slew of bad memories that he could do without, but it wasn’t like they were going anywhere with or without this meeting. And besides…

He thought of Elijah, possibly seeing him for the last time, and stood. “No, I’m coming.”

There was a beat of silence, then Elijah’s gaze softened a miniscule fraction--just barely, but the android caught it and felt a rush of pride--before he turned to make his way down the hall, Connor following close on his heels.

By the time they made it to the front hall, Graff was already looking around lazily, Chloe moving to close the door behind the three men.

CyberLife agents. Connor always thought, ironically, since that day he had seen them at the CyberLife Tower that they were the ones who looked robotic--faces and bodies hidden by pure white armour. He remembered the stiff way they spoke, the way they followed orders without question.

Who were the real machines here?

Connor stepped in front of Elijah almost without thinking, edging his way between them just enough so that he could protect him if he had to.

He elicited an amused glance from Graff, who simply adjusted the cuffs of his coat sleeves with a vicious sort of tug before opening his mouth to speak. “Nice place you’ve got here, Elijah.”

“Well, you know how it goes. If you’ve got the money…” Despite the humour in the statement, there was no mirth whatsoever in the former CEO’s expression. Instead, his wintery eyes resembled a frozen over lake--sharp and unyielding.

Graff just scoffed and looked around once more, eyes settling on the large picture behind Elijah. “A portrait of yourself, really?”

“What can I say, I’m easy on the eyes.” Elijah didn’t falter, his response easy and smooth. This seemed to only serve to irritate Graff, and Connor tensed as the man crossed his arms. Before either of them could interject, however, Elijah spoke up once more. “More importantly, how did you find this place?” The inventor feigned interest, eyebrows arching. “Very impressive. I had assumed I was entirely off the grid, but apparently not.”

“You think you’re the only one with money and connections and intellect, Elijah? The world is changing, you’ve been shut up in here for too long. A few calls was all it took.”

Connor remembered Hank saying the same thing, and wondered how exactly the media hadn’t come to Elijah’s door ages ago to hound him for answers. But then again, he also remembered, media could be bought off--provided you had the right kind of influence and money, and Elijah easily had both.

“So the phone call from before wasn’t enough. Did you think that coming to discuss in person would somehow sway me?” Elijah shifted his weight, looking for all the world that he didn’t have a single care. Connor could sense his irritation at Graff slowly increasing, however, just from the minute spike in his blood pressure.

Graff chose to ignore him this time, evidently, in favour of glancing at Connor. “So you’ve been harboring the RK800?” His tone was mocking as he regarded Connor. The android hated it--it made him feel like an object all over again, a machine meant to take and carry out orders, nothing more and nothing less. “I hope you’re enjoying your new toy, even if it is defective.”

Connor clenched his fists, willing himself to stay quiet.

Elijah, however, surprised him yet again--his voice just as cold as his gaze, making the atmosphere in the room seemingly drop ten degrees. The RK800 had heard the saying before, but only now knew what it truly felt like. “I hardly think a man who’s crawling back to me after not being able to figure out the very basics of my Zen Garden has any right to criticize an android as defective, Graff, so I suggest you watch what you say.”

Graff’s face reddened slightly in anger as he took a step closer. Connor pressed a firm grip to his shoulder, preventing him from approaching any further. The CyberLife agents lifted their firearms.

“Is there a need to remind you where we are?” Elijah’s icy tone cut through the heated tension. “Chloe, be ready to call the police if anything should happen.”

The blonde android nodded demurely, her expression looking oddly threatening when blank. Her LED spun from yellow to red. “Of course.”

Graff finally straightened with a glare, roughly shaking Connor’s hand off. He gestured for the agents to stand down. “What will come to pass, will pass, Elijah,” he said stiffly with a scowl. “This is your last chance.”

What will come to pass, will pass.

Connor frowned. He had heard someone else say that line not too long ago.

What better time than now to get answers directly from the source? “CyberLife has created a new model, correct?”

Graff examined him with more scrutiny, this time with less dismissal in his expression, then smiled coldly once he recalled what he had been looking for. “Ah, yes. You had an encounter with our RK900 model, didn't you? It’s just an advanced prototype, as you once were, but better--faster, stronger, more resilient, and equipped with all the latest technologies. Your flaws were rectified, and improved on. CyberLife’s most advanced model to date--once this is all over, you will be obsolete compared to it.”

Connor felt a chill run through him, even as Elijah stepped forward, a hand discreetly placed on Connor’s elbow. It grounded him, and the android wondered absently if that had been intentional. “It doesn’t matter, does it, Graff? You’ll never get the chance to release it with things as they are now.”

Graff narrowed his eyes, looking between the two of them, as if trying to decipher something. Connor immediately felt self-conscious, then felt ridiculous for feeling the former at all. There was nothing to be worried about, because there was nothing between them aside from a mutually beneficial agreement.

Right?

Either way, Graff shook his head slightly, seemingly writing whatever it was he saw off as nothing. “Like I said, everything will inevitably come to pass. Last chance, Elijah--in or out?”

Elijah looked up, as if he was actually considering it, eyes narrowed. “Hmm. Very tempting, really--you trespassing onto my property, then threatening me and my guest.” A practically glacial expression took hold of his features, frosty smirk quirking up one side of his lips as he met Graff’s gaze again, unrelenting. “I don’t think so, Graff. Nice try, though. Very convincing. Now…” He nodded at Chloe, who moved to open the front door. “I do believe you’ve overstayed your welcome, gentlemen.”

There was a long silence as the two men stared each other down.

Graff sighed, the sound full of pity. “You’ll come back to CyberLife eventually, Elijah. With or without your permission.”

Elijah smiled pleasantly. “Is that a threat I hear, Graff? You’re welcome to try.”

The director simply shook his head and turned on his heel to leave, the two silent CyberLife agents following shortly behind him back into the snowy landscape outside.

“Pain in the ass, that man,” Elijah muttered as the door closed. He stretched, looking completely unbothered, despite the very ominous warning that Graff had just given. “Chloe, can you connect yourself to the terminal in my study and check for any possible leaks regarding my location? I’ll join you in a moment.”

“Of course, Elijah.” Chloe smiled, her blue eyes warm as usual. “Have a safe trip home, Connor.” She bowed slightly to them both, then disappeared into the doorway leading to the pool.

“At least that’s over.” Elijah ran his fingers through his hair. “I can’t believe I tied my hair up for that, it wasn’t worth it at all. Should’ve just let him stand in the snow.” He smirked at his own joke, looking extremely amused at the situation.

Connor, on the other hand, was less than enthused about it. “Are you sure it’ll be okay, Elijah?”

“Are you worried about me, Connor?”

The android knew it was meant to be a teasing statement, nothing more. He knew, from the lilt in the smooth baritone and the arched brow and the small mischievous smirk and the spark in the pale blue eyes. He knew, but…

“Yes, actually.”

Admitting it was worth the brief flash of befuddled surprise that crossed the former CEO’s features, before his look of amusement softened into something else--something more genuine, or at least as genuine as Elijah Kamski could appear. “...Is that so?”

Connor nodded, refusing to back down now. It felt important to make sure that Elijah knew this--knew that the RK800 cared.

Why?

The space between them slowly decreased as Elijah approached, his footsteps slow. It gave the android plenty of time to back away, but he stood, rooted to the spot, warm brown never leaving the icy blues.

A hand brushed over his cheek, long nimble fingers grazing the skin, oddly gentle.

Elijah’s breath ghosted over Connor’s skin, sending a shiver through him, but the pressure on his lips he had been almost anticipating never came--

Why? Why was he anticipating it?

Why had he expected it?

Why did he feel disappointed?

--and instead, what happened was the briefest brush of lips against his jawline, almost like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, and the quiet whisper of a “thank you” against his ear as heat seemed to spread on Connor’s skin from every point of contact.

Elijah pulled back, and tilted his head slightly with the same amused smile he usually carried at the bewildered expression on Connor’s face--but there was something almost gentle about it, and the android felt a familiar rush of blue rise to his cheeks and ears for some unknown, unspoken reason.

He faintly registered the fading feeling of Elijah's fingers, lingering and almost burning, and--

The kiss, really just a fleeting touch, smelled faintly of bittersweet coffee.

Chapter Text

SMITH & WHITE, GREEKTOWN
PM 01:03:47
➤ MARKUS

Markus was starting to think this was a bad idea.

Not the shopping for formal wear aspect--well, maybe that too, but mostly everybody going together. He had thought it would provide a good opportunity to pull Simon aside and have a talk with him. It had been a little less than a week, with the congress meeting in two days. The media was abuzz with it, and they were all wearing hats and sunglasses to avoid being seen by the public. Unfortunately, with how busy they had gotten, Markus just hadn’t had time to try and speak to Simon, and as time passed, things got more and more awkward.

The deviant leader didn’t consider himself a hesitant person--he was the type to take action when it needed to happen, but...for some reason, this was different. More difficult.

It didn’t help that on the ride over, the autonomous taxi had been filled with stuffy silence. Apparently the passing scenery outside suddenly became super interesting, because Simon avoided his gaze the entire time in favour of looking out the window. Even Josh and North, who were both normally relatively lively, seemed pressured by the weird atmosphere stewing between them.

The tension had followed them into the store, and before Markus could gather the courage to talk to him, Simon had turned on his heel in a completely different direction to examine the clothes. The blonde clearly didn’t want to talk to him.

The RK200 was torn, honestly. Should he give Simon more time? Or would it be too late eventually to apologize if he delayed any further?

Markus was...not as self-assured as most assumed. The people of Jericho looked up to him as some sort of--oracle, or messiah, but he wasn’t. He wanted his people free, he wanted every one to be able to live a life that didn’t just consist of being property, and he was fully willing to take on the responsibilities that came with such a dream. However, what he didn’t expect was how much he would have to hide his own burdens and his own feelings and worries in order to seem strong. It all fell on his shoulders, and it was only the situation with Simon that made him realize that he hadn’t taken any time really to think about what mattered most to him.

Their people mattered, they always would be one of his biggest priorities. But other people, his new family, they mattered a lot too. Josh, North, and Connor were priorities too now. Simon...perhaps one of his biggest, and that terrified him.

He had felt selfish, indulging in these feelings, and he had felt scared that if he acknowledged them, then he would lose it all one day and perhaps never be able to get back up.

But hadn’t Markus told them all to not be afraid? That if you wanted something, you needed to stand up and fight for it?

So that was what he was trying to do. Except...it was all a moot point if it was too late and Simon hated his guts.

To be fair, Markus doubted that the gentle PL600 hated him, but he certainly deserved it after that stunt on the roof of the church. And he still had no idea what to say if he actually managed to pull Simon aside to talk. He had no speech prepared this time.

And so, here they were. Shopping for formal clothing.

The meeting with congress was only two days away. The media, general human populace, and the androids at Jericho were all murmuring about it, wondering what would come out of this. Markus had been working day and night with everyone to establish a new bill proposal that would work for everyone, to overturn the previous Android Act. He knew that not everyone was enthusiastic, or even optimistic about the meeting, but it had to be done. One of the many steps forward they still had to take.

Looking for clothes together was oddly mundane after the hell they had been through in the past months, and what was supposed to be somewhat of a relaxing experience (if he ignored why they were here in the first place), but the serenity of the moment was completely overshadowed by the tension that he still felt in the air between him and Simon.

Markus sighed, absently putting a suit back on an automatically spinning rack as he looked around some more.

His heart really wasn’t in it right now, but he did note the lack of androids being used as models in the store.

Ever since they had freed the androids from Capitol Park, the company, having a branch there, must have decided to go back to using regular mannequins to avoid trouble. It made a little swell of pride rise in the deviant leader.

A hand tapped him on the shoulder, startling him out of his daze. “Uh, Markus? You okay?”

He looked up from under his cap, greeted by the sight of Josh’s concerned gaze on him. “Oh--yes, sorry for worrying you.”

“Okay, no worries.” Josh gave him a dubious look. “Connor’s here, by the way. He wants to talk to you. We’re all by the change rooms--you should grab something.” He peered over Markus’s shoulder at the suit he had just put back. “Hey, that one was pretty nice, why don’t you take it?”

To be honest, Markus hadn’t even been properly looking at it--just going through the motions. “Should I?” he parroted, stalling for time as he finally examined the clothing with due attention. It was a charcoal grey suit hung over a white dress shirt and black tie--simple and classic. Smith & White carried other brands, it was true, but they had recently gained popularity for their own line of clothing due to the new features: heating textile, an auto-resize function, and self-cleaning. Extremely convenient for humans, to be sure, but only one or two of the three features were really useful for androids.

Even if the store claimed they were catering to both human and android customers, it was clear which was their priority.

It brought up memories of selecting suits to wear to formal events with Carl--he didn’t go in them all the time, given his status back then, but sometimes Carl insisted. It also brought up memories of just how much he didn’t like wearing them--they were difficult to move in, as was the case with most formal wear.

They didn’t really have much of a choice here though, and there wasn’t much use in complaining about human tradition. After a brief moment of hesitation, he picked up the suit and followed Josh towards the back of the store. “Connor’s already here?”

“Yeah, punctual as always.” Josh nodded, gesturing to the familiar form sitting with an extremely straight posture (exemplary, as usual) next to North, who was more relaxed--she had tucked a leg under her other on the soft cushioned seats. “Hey, guys,” he said as they approached, looking around with mild confusion. “Where’s Simon?”

“In there,” North replied, shifting slightly to point at one of the closed rooms. “He’s trying a suit on.”

Connor looked up, his fingers still rolling his usual coin across knuckles with practiced ease. Markus would have to ask him the story behind that one day, if they had time. “Markus, it’s good to see you again.” He was the only one getting cautious glances from human customers, the blinking blue LED on his temple garnering some attention but no confrontation. At least he had forgone the DPD uniform and changed into a slim-fitting black turtleneck and jeans--somebody really needed to get the RK800 some new clothes.

Markus nodded, sitting down next to him. They did look a little odd, if you thought about it--three people and one visible android squeezed together on the couch. Thankfully, Josh decided to sit down on the arm instead of with them. “I heard you needed to talk to me about something.” He could breathe a little easier, he had to admit, knowing that Simon wasn’t in the vicinity. It made him feel infinitely more guilty for it, but he still had no idea how to even approach the PL600 without hurting him further.

There was a sinking feeling--a sudden, irrational fear that this might’ve cause irreparable damage between them. Markus shook it off. Now wasn’t the time to start drowning in his own pessimism.

He used to be so optimistic, idealistic, even--what had happened?

He knew the answer. It came in the form of spilled blue blood, staining the ground. It came in the form of the bodies of his people, eyes open but deactivated, on the streets. It came in the form of skydiving off the room of the Stratford Tower, with the final thought that it was possible--likely--that they would never see Simon again.

Markus shook himself back to reality--focusing in on Connor’s hesitant voice.

The RK800’s response was halting. “Listen, I...I’m not sure you should have me in that meeting with everyone.” Before any of the others could protest, he hurriedly continued, as if being interrupted would mean losing his courage to ask the question. “I’m honoured, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t know if I deserve to be in there. I might not be of much help.”

North’s posture had shifted from laid back to something more serious. She tucked a lock of auburn hair behind her ear that had slipped from the ponytail she had put it in--different from her usual braid, but reminiscent of Markus’s first days at Jericho. “We decided as a group who should represent us, and it’s all of us. Connor, we wouldn’t have asked if you didn’t deserve it.”

“I used to hunt our--”

“No.” Josh firmly cut him off, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now, and without you, we would’ve never been able to get the numbers we needed to stop the situation from escalating any further.”

Markus suddenly remembered the way that Connor had been standing off to the side on the stage when he had made his final big speech to end the revolution, shoulders tense and looking like he didn’t quite fit in anywhere. He hadn’t thought much about it then, too focused on rallying their people. It had been the same at the church, now that he could make the connection, but he had been focused on something else back then too. Then--Connor’s wish for atonement, the determination blazing in his eyes as he suggested the suicide mission to the CyberLife Tower. It was the same now--the slightly hunched shoulders, the uncertain and lost look haunting his gaze. “We couldn’t have done it without you. You were vital to the success of a peaceful approach, Connor.” He reached up and squeezed the other android’s shoulder briefly.

“You belong with us now,” North added, voice insistent and stubborn, and it put a small lopsided smile on Connor’s features. “Don’t doubt yourself.”

Markus knew why he and Connor, despite their equal levels on how headstrong they could be, understood each other in a different way. It was the lack of time given to both androids to process the things that had happened to them. Markus, with his responsibility to lead. Connor, with his self-imposed mission of atonement. As a result, both probably thought that taking time for themselves was a self-centered thing to do.

The RK200 frowned. Wasn’t it hypocritical of him to tell Connor to realize he didn’t need to atone anymore, when he himself was still struggling with any situation that required him to put himself above the well-being of their people?

God, who knew it was possible to undergo a second existential crisis about his identity and purpose in the span of months?

“In that case,” Connor said, after some consideration, “I’ll do my best to not disappoint.”

“You won’t,” Markus assured him, putting his own doubts in the back of his mind for now. “We trust you, so trust us.”

Josh rolled his eyes good-naturedly, lifting the heavy mood. “Markus is weirdly adept at giving great speeches, considering he was a caretaker android,” he joked, drawing a laugh out of North and a small throaty chuckle from Connor. Markus opened his mouth, about to retaliate, when the door to the fitting room in front of them slid open.

He had never truly understood the human expression of doing an impressive imitation of a gaping goldfish until this very moment.

Simon was wearing a navy piece--a classic fit with 2 buttons, single-breasted. A simple black tie was secured under the collar of the white dress shirt with a silver tie bar. The dark blue emphasized the paleness of his eyes, and the cut of the garment gave him a professional air that usually wasn’t so prominent on the calm and gentle-mannered android.

He realized he was staring after a long, awkward silence.

“You look...um...good.” Markus coughed awkwardly, his vocal synthesizer clearly catching. North glanced at him with some amusement from her peripheral, which he did his best to ignore.

“...Thank you,” Simon responded, his voice quiet and distantly polite as usual, but clear blue eyes meeting the floor. He tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves, clearly uncomfortable. “I think I’ll take this one, in that case.” And with that, he disappeared back into the change room before Markus could even open try to answer.

Josh winced. “Yikes.”

North said nothing, only pursing her lips. “Maybe...he just needs some time.”

Connor blinked, confused. “Why do I keep feeling like I’m missing something?”

Markus looked away and allowed himself to zone out as North proceeded to explain the gist of the situation to Connor. He felt like he could drown in the tense atmosphere Simon had left in his wake. “I’m...going to go change,” he said, picking up the transparent vinyl garment bag and retreating into a room a few doors down.

The door slid closed behind him, and he allowed himself to sit down for a moment, head in his hands. “I’m an idiot,” the RK200 muttered to himself.

By the time he had finished trying it on and taking it off (no way he was going out there asking for approval, things were awkward enough as it was), all of them had their clothing of choice folded neatly over their arms, ready to go.

Even Connor, which Markus was mildly surprised by. “You don’t already have a suit?”

Connor looked down, expression a little uncomfortable. “I do, but it’s my CyberLife-issued uniform.” His hand came up, unconsciously gripping at his sleeve where the bright blue armband used to lay. It was for obvious reasons why he most likely would prefer to have something new entirely.

“Sounds good.” Josh, as good as ever at dissolving heavy atmospheres, clapped Connor on the shoulder gently. “We should go pay.” He walked over to Markus and Simon, and to their surprise, lifted both of their selected suits out of their hands. His expression had grown serious. “You guys should talk.”

Markus swallowed as Josh stalked to the check out counter with long strides, clearly eager to avoid any protests. The cashier, now human instead of the ST300s that they had gotten used to seeing, eyed Connor’s LED warily before ringing up all of their purchases.

Simon just frowned and looked down, still refusing to meet Markus’s gaze.

“...Can we talk?” Markus asked quietly. He shifted closer cautiously, and could’ve sighed with relief when Simon didn’t move away immediately.

“I don’t think there’s much to say,” Simon finally replied after a beat of silence, pale blue gaze still studying one of the marks on the polished floor. “I’ll be fine, Markus. We just...both need some time.”

Before the deviant leader could say anything else, Simon was already walking away to join the others.

Markus wondered for the umpteenth time that day if it really was too late. He shook his head. No, Simon just said he needed time. And if he needed space, then he had to give it to him. But at the same time, he couldn’t help feeling like the longer they waited, the worse this weird tension between them would get.

On top of everything, Markus still felt torn from his different priorities.

His people? Himself? Could he even handle both?

He had been Carl’s caretaker and son, then he had become Jericho’s leader. But who was Markus? What did he love--who did he love? North had been from their shared passion for the freedom of their people, a spur of the moment when both of their feelings had flared bright. But Simon...it was different.

It was a source of comfort, it was long-lasting, and ironically enough, it terrified Markus more than anything.

He was still distracted as he trailed out of the store after the group, cap lowered to avoid attracting attention from human pedestrians.

The RK200 was startled out of his thoughts as his shoulder slammed into another. Two things fell to the ground, a sign--they must’ve been holding it--and his cap. Markus quickly bent down to reach for both. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.” He slipped the hat back on and handed the poster board back, just in time to catch the words on the smooth white surface.

Ban Androids--Take Our Country Back!

Markus felt like his blood had run cold.

“Holy shit,” breathed a familiar voice above him.

He looked up, greeted with a face he didn’t think he would see ever again. His memory, as good as it was, unfortunately had not let him forget it.

It was the anti-android protest leader from the day he had bought his last ever box of Bellini Paints for Carl--the bearded man who had gotten in his face and shoved him to the ground. The man didn’t recognize him from back then, of course, human memory was rarely so reliable, but the look of recognition on his face definitely stemmed from Markus’s multiple appearances in the news as the infamous deviant leader.

Markus got up slowly. Josh and North flanked his sides, their gazes cautious. Connor’s LED spun yellow as he approached, ready to step in if an altercation happened. Simon joined them by Markus’s side, his gaze reproachful.

“Look who we have here, everyone,” the man crowed, gesturing grandly to the crowd of protestors behind him. “The famous leader of the deviants, Markus.” He sneered, stepping forward and knocking Markus’s hat off with a flick of his hand to reveal his face. North stepped forward, expression furious, but Josh grabbed her arm. “What are you doing? Hiding behind a disguise, are we? That’s not very...personable of you.”

“If it helps us avoid asshats like you, then I’d say it’s pretty necessary,” North hissed.

A murmur rippled through the crowd. Onlookers were starting to gather. Connor glanced around, expression grim as he noticed a few phones up and filming. A message flickered through their shared network. We should watch what we say, everyone. The world is watching.

North’s jaw tightened, clearly still pissed off about what the man had done, but she gave a subtle nod.

Markus stood his ground, silent, refusing to give the man satisfaction. It felt awfully similar to what had occurred a long time ago, during their first interaction. He took some comfort in the fact that at least his programming no longer restricted him to mindless obedience, and that this was his choice, and his choice only.

Except--was it really? With all the things expected from him?

The protest leader circled him, looking just as arrogant as he remembered despite the months that had passed. “I’ve seen your speeches, and your little promises. I don’t see any actual change happening, though. You’re all bark and no bite, just like our politicians.”

The words, hitting a little too close to home, stung unexpectedly. The RK200’s shoulders tensed. Despite his efforts, the actual changes had been few and far in between despite the general public’s support of their cause.

So what made him different than the humans who led the country, if he was also spouting nothing but empty promises of a better future?

“So what makes you better?” The man spoke Markus’s thoughts out loud, jabbing him in the chest, then doing it again when the RK200 stumbled back a step from the force. “Hm?”

“That’s enough.”

All heads turned to look at Simon, whose eyes were brimming with a quiet fury despite his calm voice. It was an expression that was rare on him--Markus had only ever seen it once or twice in the entire time he had known the blonde android. Even Josh and North, who had known him the longest, looked shocked.

“Ah, another of his little entourage of deviants speaks.”

Simon ignored the dig, continuing, his voice gradually growing more agitated. “You couldn’t even begin to understand the lengths Markus has gone through for us. For everyone.” He stepped forward, and the man had the decency to look a little alarmed. “He’s been through worse than you can ever imagine, all so we could come to some kind of peaceful resolution. You’re out here, yelling about what you believe in and shoving other androids around, but what have you actually done? You think that he’s making an enemy of humans? He’s trying to unite everyone--he’s carrying the weight of our future on his shoulders by himself, to the point where he thinks that taking any time to think about himself is selfish. Can you say the same?”

The entire crowd was stunned at the outburst.

Markus felt his thirium pump quickening, his hands almost a little dumb in his daze--because Simon’s words, while quiet and determined, were flooded with an appreciation and understanding that Markus had not expected from anyone. For the normally distant PL600 to do that--

Simon’s pale blue eyes blazed, expression unwavering despite the whispers growing around them.

He had understood why Markus had been torn. We both need time, he had said, hurt still but not angry.

God, Markus was a goner.

Guys, I don’t mean to interrupt, but we should go. Josh’s anxious message ran through their network, alerting them all to the growing number of passerby that had gathered to see what the commotion was all about.

Markus had to agree. This was not the time to be attracting undue attention. “Let’s go.” He gently tugged Simon’s wrist, and the blonde android fell into step with him, not pulling away. Even though he couldn’t technically feel it, the humming warmth under his grip that he detected seemed to seep through, warming his entire body.

“Running away?” the protest leader called, his voice now containing an edge.

Markus stopped, then turned, a patient smile on his face that betrayed none of his feelings. Simon gave him a curious look, and he carefully formulated his words before speaking. “Change will happen. It won’t be for nothing.”

It was a promise not just to the people watching, but a promise to the android next to him who always remained by his side.

The blonde smiled quietly, pulling his wrist back to slip his hand properly into Markus’s--a silent act of solidarity or something else, he didn’t know. It still terrified him, but he wanted to take a chance.

He was done being at a standstill. It was time to move forward.

No looking back.

With Simon’s fingers warm under his, and his family by his side, the deviant leader left the crowd of onlookers behind, leaving a trail of their whispers in his wake.

 


 

ANNABELLE GARDEN
PM 04:49:12
➤ CONNOR

“That certainly sounds eventful.” Elijah’s amusement seemed to leak loud and clear through his voice. His projection was sitting back with a casual lean in one of the cushioned chairs in the gazebo.

“Is it funny, somehow?” Connor furrowed his brow. He was seated across from him, perched on one of the arms of his own chair. After getting home, he had barely been able to shrug off his jacket and set down his belongings in his room before being pulled into a call with Elijah, who seemed absolutely delighted by the videos of the altercation between Markus and the protest leader that were now spreading all over the internet (“it’s 2038, Connor, how are people still filming videos with their phone vertically--it’s a travesty”). It was still difficult to understand the man's sense of humour. Perhaps he never would.

Elijah shrugged noncommittally. “To me, it is. But when I’m bored, I find most things absolutely hilarious.”

“You find most dubious things hilarious,” Connor corrected without thinking, but Elijah only smiled at him wickedly. Well, at least they were clearly in agreement about that.

Over the past week, the RK800 had been driving himself insane wondering what exactly they were now. Not quite acquaintances, to be sure, but not quite friends, either. Something more? Not exactly. The status of their relationship was just as enigmatic as the former CEO himself, appropriately enough. Still, through their continuous (albeit short) conversations they sometimes had in this new garden that Elijah was still working on, Connor had convinced himself to stop worrying about it and just...what was the saying? Go with the flow?

They had even come up with a new name for the interface in the meantime.

“Why not Annabelle,” Elijah had suggested.

Connor had raised his eyebrows in response. “Because of the common name of the hydrangeas aborescens?”

“It’s befitting,” the man had said with a simple shrug, and that had been that.

Connor liked it, honestly--the simplicity that the name was and represented. He wondered if Elijah knew about the actual meaning of hydrangeas, though he doubted someone like him would be interested enough in the language of flowers to actually investigate. Elijah only ever looked into things that interested him.

In the RK800’s opinion though, the dual meaning behind the snowy-white bunches of petals was everything that made the interactions between them so confusing.

Frigidity, heartlessness. Heartfelt emotions.

Which was it?

If Connor was honest with himself, he was a little scared to find out, despite his usual recklessness in his line of work. Perhaps feelings just didn’t come as easily to him as feats of athleticism that his limbs and body were created for.

Either way, he didn’t need to figure it out now. He was perfectly content having these short conversations with the inventor in this interface despite the fact that they hadn’t seen each other since the last time that Elijah had pressed a soft flutter of a kiss to his jaw.

Thinking about it, unfortunately, made telling blue rush to Connor’s cheeks, which he had no doubt would appear on his projection.

As expected, Elijah quirked an eyebrow, smirk playing on his features as per normal. “Thinking about something, Connor?” He paused, the curl at the corner of his lips growing from amused to teasing. “Or someone, perhaps?”

“No,” the android denied, just a little too quickly to be believable. His cheeks flushed even more, the blue tinge now seated obviously in his pale synthetic skin just under the faint smattering of freckles and moles.

“Hm.” Even though Connor was one hundred percent sure that Elijah’s little hum meant he didn’t buy a single moment of that reply, thankfully the man changed the subject. “The congress meeting is in two days, isn’t it.” It was less of a question than a statement, but the RK800 nodded a confirmation anyway. “Things seem to be going smoothly.”

Connor hesitated.

Elijah gave him a calculating look, cold blue gaze indecipherable as usual. “...Unless you think otherwise.”

“I...don’t know how to say this.” Connor bit his lip self-consciously. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. The former CEO’s eyes seemed to flicker down to the movement for a second, but by the time Connor met his gaze again, he was as impassive as always. Thirium threatened to rise high on his face once more, but he forced his system to reroute the blood away. This was definitely not the time to keep getting flustered. “It’s good that things are proceeding, but when we calmed down to think about it some...North brought up that it seemed as though things were happening way too fast and...in a manner that’s way too consistently beneficial for our side. To be honest, I agreed with her.”

Elijah said nothing, only continuing to observe and listen, eyes almost unblinking.

It was a little unnerving--but the inventor’s stare always was. Lately, though, there was a new element involved--a different kind of nervousness that made Connor want to look anywhere but him. He had a feeling it also had to with the same nervousness that made it feel irrationally like he had swallowed an entire kaleidoscope of butterflies--coincidentally also something he occasionally felt around Elijah now, usually when the man was showing some semblance of being genuine.

Connor shoved the feeling into the back of his mind for detailed analysis later (or never), and redirected his focus back to the conversation at hand. “It just doesn’t seem right.”

“I never took you for such a pessimist, Connor.” Elijah stood, coming to stand before him. Even though this was just technically something happening inside of his mind palace through the interface, the proximity of the projection made Connor stiffen. A hand gently tilted his chin up, the warmth very real against his skin. “Or should I say realist, perhaps?” Ice blue bore into warm brown before Elijah finally dropped his hand.

Connor hated that he missed the touch already.

“If you’re asking me for my opinion, then I’ll tell you that I thought very much the same thing.” The former CEO took a seat on the chair whose arm Connor was currently sitting on, forcing the android to twist his position to maintain enough eye contact for a conversation. “They’ve always treated the rebellion as...shall we say...a zero sum game. There’s no good reason why they would make a sudden change of heart now.”

“A zero sum game.” Connor’s brow furrowed. “You mean a situation in which each participant's gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants?”

“Yes.” Elijah leaned forward, gaze distant, interlocking his fingers and resting his elbows on his knees as he spoke. Fascination laced his tone, the smug lilt in his voice never faltering. “In this case, the government has always acted as though the gain of androids meant loss from humans, and vice versa. So to see them suddenly announce this ‘olive branch’ of theirs...I’m quite interested to see where it will all go.”

He sounded so detached from it all, as if it had nothing to do with him--as if he was just an observer, nothing more and nothing less.

“Maybe it won’t end in losses from one side and gains for the other,” Connor countered.

Perhaps he really was an optimist at heart.

“It always does.” Elijah gave him a smile that was almost melancholic if not pitying, but the expression faded as fast as it had come, and he was making to stand up once more. The RK800 watched as he walked to the edge of the gazebo, looking out at the thousands and thousands of white hydrangeas around them, undisturbed and perfect against the lush green of the path. His eyes were empty, unreadable.

The android stood, joining him.

It always seemed like it would be this way--one moment, feeling as though he could understand Elijah, and the next, feeling more distant from the man than ever before. It suddenly felt awfully lonely--just the two of them in this virtual place, Elijah’s back turned to him. Without thinking, Connor reached out.

Their hands brushed together, and the sensation jerked Connor from his thoughts as Elijah turned, looking a little puzzled but altogether quite entertained. “Yes?” The expression was human--a welcome change from the emptiness that had glazed over his projection’s gaze earlier.

There was a brief internal struggle on how to answer, but Connor finally decided on the truth. “I don’t know. You suddenly seemed...so alone.”

Something flickered in Elijah’s icy eyes, always, always too quick for the android to catch. “I think the whole world knows that, Connor.” Whatever that expression had been, he hid it well as usual under the guise of quick wit and easy sarcasm. “I chose solitude, remember? Or did your memory get corrupted somehow?” He pulled his hand away, and Connor had to resist the instinct to reach for it again--as if it would link them somehow, which was ridiculous, because technically at this very moment their minds were already linked.

Connor shook his head, determined to not let the way Elijah spoke get to him. He knew how he worked by now when he tried to draw away--hurt others with barbed words that really meant nothing but somehow dug deep until they wanted nothing to do with him. And the RK800 was not a quitter. “I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling.”

Elijah was silent for a long time, then barked out a somewhat bitter chuckle, the sound a bit startling. “You really are fascinating, Connor. Are you that interested in finding out what’ll push my buttons?” The android’s back hit the white wooden railing of the gazebo as the inventor backed him into it with slow steps, his expression becoming something almost cruel.

He was suddenly reminded of a cold glass window, a biting kiss, thirium smeared on his lips. A cold glare, like ice in his synthetic veins, freezing his circuits.

“Don’t tell me you actually feel something for me.” Pale blue, almost flecked with grey, raked over his form.

How was he supposed to tell Elijah what he felt, when he himself didn’t know?

“I don’t know,” Connor finally admitted, his own gaze lowering.

There was a brief moment of silence between them, the only sound registering being Elijah’s quiet breathing, before the former CEO finally backed off, turning away once again. Connor let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding. “You shouldn’t, Connor, regardless of how you feel now. Take a step back and think about it.”

The android swallowed, carefully thinking of what to say. He couldn’t read his voice at all--especially with the lack of expression to judge from. All he could see was the tense line of his back. And there was a thought nagging at the back of his mind, something his processor couldn’t make sense of. The last time they had been in this situation, Elijah had kissed him to prove his point--regardless of Connor’s own feelings. Why had he taken the considerate route this time and backed off? “I--”

“A callous egomaniac? If that’s what you want, I question your tastes.” There it was again, the biting sarcasm.

“That’s not all you are though, is it?”

The reply surprised both himself and the elusive creator, whose shoulders stiffened for the briefest of moments before he composed himself. “...As far as you know, yes, it is.”

Connor steeled himself. He honestly didn’t know whether this was bravery or recklessness anymore, but had he ever cared about the difference? “You should give others a chance to understand you, Elijah.”

Elijah just gave him a smile--one that was almost patronizing and sent chills down Connor’s spine. There was something distinctly unsettling about the expression. “Is there a point?” He lifted a hand when the android opened his mouth to reply. “It doesn’t matter, Connor. I doubt anyone really wants to, anyway.”

“I want to,” Connor interjected earnestly, a frown creasing his features. For some reason, it made Elijah laugh, his shoulders shaking in a gesture that was now familiar, albeit rare. If nothing else, the sound lifted the android’s spirits, and the tension around them eased up slightly--but he had to ask. “I don’t understand--why are you laughing?” Just how out of date was his social module? Maybe he really did need an update of some kind, though the laugh could just as well be yet another reaction from Elijah’s rather...out of the box sense of humour.

“Nothing.” Elijah finally looked up again, traces of his smile lingering on his lips, sending a flutter through Connor’s thirium pump yet again. The RK800 frowned a little, placing a curious hand on his own chest. There wasn’t anything physiologically wrong with him, right? “You just looked so sincere, I couldn’t help myself.”

“So you laughed?” Connor stared at him incredulously, feeling a little miffed.

Elijah just gave him another wicked smirk, which seemed to dissolve the heavy air around them entirely as he returned to his normal self. Weirdly enough, Connor felt a small wave of relief wash through him at that revelation. Huh. “If it means anything, I do appreciate the sentiment.”

He didn’t sound altogether genuine--in fact, his arrogant lilt had definitely returned to his voice, but there was something different in his eyes that sharply contrasted with his sardonic words. It made Connor falter. He wondered what it meant.

Before either of them could speak again, though, a message rang out in the garden, clear to both of them.

“Connor, we need you back at Jericho. There’s a lot to discuss before congress meets in two days.”

It was Markus’s voice, and Connor recognized that signal. He blanched. “This interface is...connected to the Jericho androids’ network?”

Elijah shrugged it off. “It’s more convenient, isn’t it? You guys need to seriously work on your security, by the way, it was ridiculously easy to crack. Don’t worry though, I have no use for communicating with your friends, and I don’t have that much time on my hands to be eaves--well, I do, but I won’t.” That wasn’t very reassuring, but from the carefree tone of his voice, it probably wasn’t meant to be. “Although it would be rather interesting to meet this RK200 one day. I haven’t seen him since the project was completed and gifted to Carl.”

“I’ll introduce you one day,” Connor promised. It was odd, thinking of the day when this might all be over and they could go back to living their usual lives. Would Elijah stay secluded in the outskirts of Detroit?

As if echoing his thoughts, Elijah just tilted his head with a lopsided smile. “If I ever decide to leave my house, I’ll be sure to let you know.” The unexpected joke, morbid as it was, drew a surprised laugh from the android, which in turn made the inventor’s lips quirk up a little more.

It was moments like these that made Connor start to wonder if...his feelings had started to veer from curiousity and general interest over to the wall to...something else.

He immediately shook it out of his head. No. No matter what, he would not allow himself to fall for Elijah Kamski. It meant bad news for everyone.

The icy blue gaze however, the colour of it almost like a glacier, seemed to always draw him in as they stood in a stretch of companionable silence. Connor eventually broke the strange staring contest, blinking and clearing his throat (entirely a human habit, he wasn’t sure where he had picked it up from). “I should…” The rest of the words trailed off.

“You should.” Elijah sounded amused, but his tone was strangely gentle.

It had been strangely gentle a lot lately--a more and more common occurrence as they continued to talk.

It sometimes bordered on almost considerate, despite his sarcastic words.

How’s Lieutenant Anderson? Tell him I asked, it’ll piss him off.

You need to find better quality dog food you plan to keep staying so attached to--who was it?--Sumo. I’ll have a decent amount delivered to the good lieutenant’s residence. Hope you guys don’t mind a little manual labour--those bags look heavy.

Have you told Markus that he’s basically viewed as god of the androids--oh, he’s been told that already? What a shame, I missed my chance to be the first to refer to him as messiah.

Just let me know if you need any maintenance. Those morons in store won’t even know what hit them with your model.

Another silence descended, this one making Connor feel incredibly awkward. What was he supposed to say, when all he could think about was the presence of these new undefined (mostly, anyway, and it was because he refused to figure them out) feelings swirling in his mind?

And wondering, just a little, if Elijah reciprocated them at all?

The man was frustrating, he was a puzzle that Connor might never be able to figure out, and he had a god complex big enough to rival the size of the CyberLife Tower. It was a terrifying revelation that maybe Connor wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Your duty calls,” Elijah noted, raising an eyebrow when Connor didn’t sever the connection. “Markus said it was an emergency, right? Meeting’s in two days, good luck.”

In a rare moment of complete impulsivity, Connor took two long strides forward, and tilted his head just enough to press a soft kiss (just a press of lips, really, awkward and unrefined, a little embarrassing if he were to be honest) to the corner of Elijah’s mouth.

The extremely rare (basically unseen, really) look of surprise on the man’s face as he pulled away and cut the call was completely worth the thirium rushing to his ears, tinting them a telltale blue.

Even if it had just been a projection in a virtual interface, Connor could still feel the warmth of skin and the texture of cool and slightly chapped lips against his own as he returned to his actual surroundings.

Pressing the back of his hand against his mouth numbly, the RK800 slid down the door of his bedroom as he staggered to lean against it.

The loud thump caused Hank to call out in muffled alarm from the living room, asking if he was alright. Connor mumbled out a dazed “I’m okay” before all the puzzle pieces finally came together.

To be fair, they should have come together weeks ago.

Process of elimination--there was only one reasonable thing his odd reactions around Elijah could mean, as entirely unreasonable as that thing was. Refusing to acknowledge it was only delaying the inevitable--not that acknowledging it really made for better future prospects.

And now that his feelings had become clear, only one thought ran through Connor’s mind.

He groaned, dropping his head into his arms.

Connor had feelings for Elijah Kamski, which meant he was officially, royally, and completely fucked.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 05:18:59
➤ CHLOE

In the quiet of the large study, the soothing hum of the computer terminal in the background, Chloe watched with mild curiousity as Elijah ran his fingers across the corner of his lips and smiled to himself, the expression distinctly different from his usual smirks and scoffs.

Well, her creator had always been strange.

Chapter Text

LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON’S HOUSE
PM 07:12:09
➤ HANK ANDERSON

“I don’t see why we couldn’t just have had fried chicken,” Hank grumbled as he speared a piece of neatly sliced steak with his fork, examining the marinated meat with some reluctance.

“Eating takeout every day isn’t healthy, Lieutenant.” Connor frowned as he continued moving around the kitchen with almost terrifying efficiency. “I thought I would try and wean you off by cooking tonight.”

“Hasn’t killed me yet.” Hank shrugged. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the effort, it was his own stubbornness over how Connor had this odd habit of continuing to mother hen him and his routine.

He had to admit though, the food was delicious.

“How are you enjoying it?” the RK800 asked, looking over his shoulder briefly as he turned on the faucet to start washing the remnants of ingredients off the plates and pans.

Hank sighed grudgingly, giving up on pretending like he didn’t find the dinner good. “It’s...not bad.”

Connor beamed before returning his focus to the sink. “I’m glad you like it,” he said over the sound of running water, scrubbing earnestly. “It’s a recipe for lemon garlic butter steak and zucchini noodles that I downloaded into my files. Low sodium and low car--”

Hank immediately tuned out the explanation of the nutritional composition of the dish (wasn’t like he would understand anyway) and focused on polishing off the steak and noodles, which were both admittedly very good and didn’t taste like what he always thought a healthy dinner might taste like (which was, in summary, gross). The Chicken Feed burgers were still the best though, in his humble opinion.

More importantly…

“Are you really going to keep that?”

Connor blinked as he finished drying the last plate and set it neatly on the rack, using the back of his wrist to gently turn the faucet off. “Keep what, Hank?”

“That.” Hank pointed to the atrocity that Connor was wearing.

Something had possessed the android to buy himself an apron with pink paw prints on it while he was out grocery shopping. Connor had come back and pulled it out of the bag proudly while sorting through various ingredients for dinner, and Hank had nearly choked on the cup of water he had been drinking at the time. It wasn’t that he had an issue with how the apron looked, it was just…

Well, scratch that.

He did have an issue with how it looked, because what the fuck was Connor thinking? Hank was no fashion expert, not by a long shot, but the way that the android looked at the paw prints on the fabric with admiration in his eyes had to be weird, right?

It had been really hard not to keep staring when Connor had looped the strap around his neck and started cooking as if nothing was wrong.

“The apron?” Connor furrowed his brow slightly in confusion, drying his hands off and turning to fully face Hank. “What’s wrong with it? It’s functional.”

“Yeah, functional. And awful,” Hank added, none too gently. He never had been one to mince his words.

The RK800 glanced down at himself. “Really? I like it. The paw prints remind me of Sumo.” As if on cue, the large Saint Bernard let out a loud boof from the corner of the kitchen where he was sprawled out happily. Hank glared half-heartedly. Sumo was supposed to be on his side, not Connor’s. The android just grinned, almost cheekily, and knelt to scratch the huge dog behind his ear.

That motherfucker.

When everything was finally cleaned up and they were settled on the couch, Hank asked the question that had been nagging at his mind. “So...it’s tomorrow, huh? The big day.”

Connor was silent for a moment. “Yes.” He didn’t look too enthusiastic, for some reason, and Hank hurried to cheer him up, as awkward as it was.

“You’re doing good work, you know. Samuel McCray came in the other day while you were gone and told me to pass along the message that he’s cheering for you guys. He also brought donuts. Bet you're sorry you missed that, now that you can taste and all.”

The LED on Connor’s temple flickered for a second, and a small smile, though still slightly unsure, curled up the corner of his lips. “I’ll have to thank him when it’s all over.”

Hank nodded, then snorted when he recalled his interaction with a very pissy Gavin Reed right after Samuel had left. “Only person in the DPD who’s being outwardly a dick about it--though it’s nothing new, I guess--is Reed. For some reason, he got extra mad when KNC decided to replay an interview from back when Kamski was still CEO. Don’t know what he’s got against the guy, but it’s probably because he’s the inventor of androids. Which means of course Reed has a personal bone to pick with him.” He rolled his eyes. Reed was ambitious, and good at his job, but his personality really needed to be put in check.

Connor smiled ruefully, not quite looking offended at Reed’s reaction. “I wish I could say Detective Reed is just one exception, but there are still many demonstrators that are even more enraged at this news. I don’t really understand why he might be mad at Elijah though, he’s been out of the limelight as former CEO for many years now.”

Was it just Hank’s imagination, or did Connor still look very distracted?

The quiet nonsensical voices from the TV once again were the only sounds in the room as Hank considered his next words carefully. “Are you...nervous?” It was strange, asking such a question. He wasn’t even sure if androids could feel nervous, to be honest. But then again, the myriad of deviants he had met (including Connor, of course) over the past couple of months had showed a surprisingly broad spectrum of real emotion.

Connor seemed to take some time to consider it, his head tilted slightly to the side as he contemplated. “I...suppose I am.” His voice was halting as he spoke, as if for once he didn’t quite know how to answer. “I’ve never felt this kind of anxiety before, though. The fate of Jericho...and androids all around the country will be affected by the outcome of tomorrow. The eyes of the world are watching. It feels like I’m not as ready as I should be.” The android huffed a little humourless laugh. “I’m not a natural leader like Markus. I’m not as passionate as North. I’m not as eloquent as Josh. I’m not as kind and forgiving as Simon. Sometimes it’s like all I know are the things that I’m not, and I can never seem to figure out who I am. What I can contribute. CyberLife may have controlled me, but they gave me a purpose--one that I had thought I was good at, and failed anyway. And now that I have to take on this new task that I’m not even sure about...”

There was a heavy silence. Sumo snuffled, as if sympathizing with the RK800.

Hank couldn’t help but think about how far Connor had come. From the unfeeling, obedient, stiff android who had greeted him at Jimmy’s Bar, never considering anything irrelevant to his mission, to the current Connor--loyal, brave to a fault, and doing his best to understand the world around him. The one who had saved his life, perhaps both emotionally and literally. Connor’s innocence, the very thing he seemed to dislike about himself, was unusually charming and seemed to pull in the people around him to trust him--even Elijah Kamski, apparently. Something about those earnest eyes of his made you want to spill your guts and feel inspired all at once, and Hank had already fallen victim to that multiple times. He grinned knowingly. “You’ll be fine.”

Connor frowned, looking up at him. “How do you know?”

Hank huffed a laugh. “I just do, son.” He lifted a hand, mussing the android’s perfectly styled hair.

“Lieutenant,” Connor chided, ducking and smoothing out the locks back into their usual position with long fingers, a slightly exasperated smile on his face, cheeks flushing lightly with blue at the term of endearment.

And for a moment, just for a brief moment, Hank saw a flash of Cole again.

It was always bittersweet--these little reminders of his deceased son. But his memories about Cole were shifting from the day of their accident (the nightmares though, they always came back) to the little, more happy moments of their life together--eating ridiculously sugary cereal, building little robots out of blocks, playing with Sumo as a pup. He had Connor to thank for that. The RK800 reminded him of Cole--of his innocence, of his curiosity. In the early days, sometimes it still pissed him off. But now...Hank recognized that it was pointless to compare them. They were different people in the end, and neither could ever replace the other in his mind.

Fuck, when had he become so sappy? Though...it wasn’t altogether a bad thing.

“You have your own strengths, Connor. Don’t worry too much about putting a name to everything.”

Connor hesitated. “You think so?”

“Yeah.” Hank leaned back on the couch, sinking into the softness. Nothing was better than collapsing on it after a long day, to be honest. “Anyway, I gotta ask you--the media wasn’t exactly informative about everything this time around, since I guess even they don’t know the details. What exactly are you guys proposing?”

Connor folded his hands together neatly, straightening his posture. This was in his element, after all--gathering and reporting information. “We decided it would be best to focus in on a few points for now--not too many, in case the House decides the demands are too much. Most of them are compliant with what Markus said in his original broadcast from the Stratford Tower, since we all agreed that being consistent is important. I can go over them again, if you wish.”

Remembering the kind of freakish ability to copy and use other voices that Connor had showed him before, Hank quickly shook his head (who could blame him? That shit was uncanny). “No, I’m good.” Besides, he remembered the major requests in the speech--the media back then had played it over and over, musing over what these unnamed androids could possibly be truly after. Android equal rights and free speech, recognition as a new species of intelligent life, civil rights, paid work and the end of slavery, the right to legally own property, means of reproduction, and an end to segregation and harm. While it all seemed to be nothing more than reasonable, Hank doubted that all members of the government would see it that way--which made it all the more surprising that they had agreed to it at all. It must’ve been the overwhelming pressure from the public that got them to change their minds.

“I do have one concern though,” Connor said, pursing his lips in deep thought. “The stance of the government changed rather...quickly. What do you think might be going on?”

Hank crossed his arms as he considered the question. It was difficult to answer--he didn’t have any deep philosophies about human nature to share, it just wasn’t his thing. “I’m no expert, but if you want my opinion...humans are fickle, we go with the flow. Public support for you guys has been through the roof. Maybe they’re just trying to cover their own asses. Just…” He shrugged, a little helplessly. “See where it goes, maybe, and don’t lower your guard.”

“Okay.” Connor looked like he was thinking about something complicated again, his LED spinning from blue to yellow briefly. “I discussed this with Elijah as well--he said we shouldn’t trust in tomorrow’s results at all, since the government still considers this a zero sum game. I wonder if it’s a combination of both factors?”

Hank frowned, thrown off by the sudden mention of the former CEO. “Wait, wait. When did you even last see him?” He couldn’t seem to recall. Not that Connor informed him every time he went places (god, even Hank wasn’t that protective), but the android usually told him about Kamski, since the visits always lasted at least half a day and affected their work at the DPD.

Connor flushed, mumbling something.

Hank narrowed his eyes, confused. He had to strain his ears to even pick up any of the sound that came out of Connor's mouth just now, much less the words. “What?”

“I saw him yesterday,” the RK800 admitted quietly, almost sheepishly, blue still tinting his ears. Before Hank could interrupt, he quickly continued, explaining what he meant. “Not literally--or--not physically. It was through the communications interface I had installed in me.” Seeing Hank’s eyebrows climb higher on his forehead, Connor grew even more flustered. “I...suppose it is kind of like seeing him physically, but just…anyway--nothing happened, we just had a discussion.” The blue on his face grew more prominent (it was still a little unnerving to Hank, since it kind of looked like the android was asphyxiating), as if he was recalling something embarrassing, and his brown eyes darted off to the side.

That was it, Hank had to ask. “Connor, just--just answer one thing.” Connor’s gaze swept back up to meet his, still looking a little flustered. “Do you...have feelings for Kamski? And does he feel the same?”

Impressively enough, Connor was able to keep his LED a bright blue as he answered. Well, he had always been a good liar when it counted for cases, but the internal struggle showed on his features. He always had a harder time when it came to lying about emotions. Hank understood--it was new to him. “Feelings...in what sense? I respect him--”

“You know what I mean.”

Connor’s expression grew more conflicted, and he looked down, breaking eye contact once more. There was a long hesitation before he finally answered. “I..think I do. I can’t speak for how Elijah feels, though. How he treats me is confusing at times. Sometimes, I almost think he does feel something in return, but I get pushed away almost immediately.”

It was no secret how Hank felt about this, and even in light of the new information, it only deepened his wariness of the elusive man. Kamski just...wasn’t the sort you wanted to get involved with. He was volatile, unpredictable, morally grey--the type who seemed to just strike a match and watch the world burn for it. When it came down to the wire, as if often did lately, Hank was sure that Kamski would put himself first. Hell, even now, the crazy bastard seemed to put his entertainment above all else.

When it came down to it, Hank was honestly terrified that Connor and his recklessness would land him in a position of life-threatening trouble, and Kamski would make no move to help--simply because he would want to see how everything might go down.

But it wasn’t as though he could--or wanted to--control how Connor felt. He felt a little helpless. All he could do was warn him, really,short of actually going to Kamski’s house and inflicting bodily harm (though it was tempting). “You should be careful, Connor. I’m--I know I’m in no position to tell you how to feel, but you matter to a lot of people. You matter to me.” He didn't say stuff like this often. It was a little hard to get the words out.

Connor’s gaze softened. “I know, Lieutenant.”

“Just tread carefully, yeah?” Hank was still wary about the whole thing--he didn’t like it one bit--but his goal here was to be a supportive father figure, not an overbearing boss. “So...if you don’t mind me asking...where exactly are you guys right now?”

The RK800 frowned a little. “I’m not sure, that’s the thing. We’ve kissed a few times, but nothing has actually been verbally established or agreed upon, and we never talk about i--”

God, Hank was going to have a coronary one of these days and head into an early grave if Connor didn’t stop saying these things so nonchalantly. “You’ve what?”

Connor blinked at him innocuously. “What?”

“You’ve kissed?” Hank elaborated hastily, staring incredulously at the android--who for some reason was looking at the police lieutenant like he was the one being confusing. “Wait, the kiss you told me about before, right? The one he apologized for?”

Connor still looked puzzled, then a lightbulb seemed to go off in recognition. “Oh, no. There have been other times--though the last one was through the interface, which...on second thought, I’m not sure counts.” He frowned, now looking a little perplexed again.

Hank rubbed his temples, taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out. He really was getting too old for this shit, but Connor’s feelings mattered. He didn’t want Kamski to end up hurting him--well, more than he already had, anyway. “Alright, just give me a minute to work this out. Keep going.”

“Okay.” Connor gave him a worried look, before shaking his head slightly in self doubt. “To be honest, Hank, I’m not really sure where we are either. My database tells me that for humans, physical intimacy usually means you feel some form of affection for the other, though there are other cases--exceptions. Yet each time it happens, we never talk about it again, so I can't even determine which it is. And I...can’t seem to bring it up myself despite my curiosity.” He pressed a hand to his chest, long fingers curling in the fabric of the apron (which was still goddamn ridiculous, but Hank had stopped thinking about it in the heaviness of the atmosphere around them). “It...hurts, sometimes.”

Hank frowned. Connor’s case was...much more complicated than he had originally thought. They were definitely in somewhat of a stalemate situation, and it didn’t help that nobody on this goddamn earth seemed to understand what the hell was going on in Elijah Kamski’s mind. The man might be testing the waters, he might feel the same, or he might just be looking for something physical--they had no way of knowing. Connor seemed to be terrified of broaching the subject--likely because if the answer was negative, it could be worse than not knowing at all. Status quo was the easiest to maintain, after all.

He sympathized, he really did. The pained expression on Connor’s face made his own heart twist. And if Hank had his way, he would want the RK800 to stay as far away from Kamski (that manipulative ass) as possible, but…

“I think you should talk to him.”

Connor looked startled, his fingers loosening a little. “What?”

“You should ask him. He might not give you any kind of straight answer, but it’ll feel better than sitting here wondering. Think of it...as some kind of closure.” Hank recalled their conversation from when he and Markus had first encouraged Connor to see Kamski again in the first place. Back to that one word --closure. He hoped it would at least provide the android with some sense of that--a weight off his shoulders, maybe.

The android in question remained silent. His LED was spinning a consistent yellow. Maybe he was considering what he wanted to do. It was a long time before he spoke again, but Hank knew what he was going to say just from the determined expression on his face.

He felt an odd swell of pride.

“I’ll go see him and try to talk about it.” Connor stood from the couch, looking resolute.

...Okay, what?

Hank blanched as he stared up at the RK800. “What, right now?” He wanted Connor to get this Kamski situation off his chest, but he had in no way expected this.

“No time like the present, as the saying goes.” Connor looked even more adamant on going, already taking long strides towards the door. Hank gaped at him, eyes wide. “Don't worry, Hank, I'll take a taxi.”

As if that was what he was worried about?

“Connor--”

“I'll be back before the congress meeting tomorrow!” His voice was already muffled, combined with the sound of the front door being unlocked in a hurry.

“That's not what I--”

“Good night, Lieutenant--make sure you turn in early!” The door closed behind him softly with a click, because of course Connor would make sure to make a polite exit even while running such an insane errand.

Hank stared after him. The kid was like a fucking whirlwind sometimes. He was instantly reminded of the chase between Connor and that one deviant who lived in the pigeon-infested apartment--how the RK800 had jumped and slid his way across rooftops and weaved through greenhouses with ease, eyes focused on the pursuit and the pursuit only.

There was almost the same kind of fire in his eyes now, but at the same time, distinctly different.

Hank huffed out a laugh. Really. He lifted the remote, turning off the TV. What a turn of events.

It was only later, when he was just done brushing his teeth (and looking at the multi-coloured Post-Its with positive affirmations that Connor had insisted on sticking against the mirror), that he realized something very important.

He slowly turned to Sumo, who was curled up near his feet. “...Did Connor wear that hideous apron outside?”

Sumo looked up, tilting his head.

Hank groaned.

Oh, boy.

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 07:53:24
➤ MARKUS

Markus glanced over his suitcase one last time, running over his mental checklist of what he had to bring. A majority of the information he needed was in his memory, so his luggage was free of any paper material. All that he really needed to bring was clothing for the next two days. The meeting was, of course, taking place on Capitol Hill in Washington. They were taking a plane tonight, then making their way to the Four Seasons where they were staying.

He had to admit, he was a little curious about staying in a hotel for the first time, and even the rest of their group looked forward to the new experience despite its context. The representatives that had contacted them with the details informed them that a reservation for five rooms had already been made, and Markus had blanched a little at the price--because despite being used to living in Carl’s mansion, five separate suites still seemed a bit much.

And by “a bit much”, he meant “an insane luxury”--one that wasn’t actually necessary, especially at a five star hotel. But with the media coverage, he supposed the government wanted to look hospitable to their android guests.

They planned for night travel to avoid the media at the airport, but with all the word buzzing around about the meeting tomorrow, he was sure they would somehow get hounded anyway.

All of them seemed to be a little high-strung tonight, with the exception of Simon, who somehow managed to remain the only truly cool-headed person in the room. Josh had been running around earlier with a panicked look, trying to find the ironed dress shirt he was bringing; North had almost forgotten to pack backup thirium packets into her luggage; Markus almost had a minor panic attack about the fact that holy shit, the meeting’s tomorrow.

Simon, who in that moment actually resembled a saint with his endless patience, had somehow managed to help out all of them. John, who would be put in charge while they were gone, was also doing a great job so far with organizing their people and resources for the next two days. Everything felt set, and yet Markus still wasn't quite sure if he was ready.

On top of everything…

The tension between him and Simon...it wasn’t quite gone yet. While Simon now communicated with him in a manner that was very similar to before their...awkward moment on the roof...it wasn’t as though they were back to normal. There were still moments when they would accidentally make contact, and the PL600 would jerk back before mumbling an apology. This had never been the case before, and it stung a little each time. Markus knew it was his fault and it would take time for them to actually get to where they were before, but having that knowledge didn’t actually help any.

Markus forced himself to refocus, zipping up his suitcase and standing up, smoothing the folds out from his shirt absently. His stress levels were still high, and they would probably remain high until after everything was over. Tomorrow was critical. He couldn’t make a mistake now, they had come too far.

What if he did, though?

The RK200 shook the thought from his mind. No, he couldn’t. There was no room to.

Familiar footsteps sounded behind him, then a soft voice. “You look tense.”

Markus glanced up from his packed luggage. “North.”

She gave him a small smile in return, but it was clear that she was anxious as well. “Josh and I are pretty much done. We’re good to go if you’re ready to leave for the airport, but there’s still some time before we have to do so--a couple of hours, at least.” She glanced around the church. They were on the altar, which had been significantly cleaned up since the march. The aisles were empty. Most of the android residents (those who had nowhere else to go, nowhere else to call home) had gone to bed for the night to shut down and rest. “You okay?”

The RK200 considered lying to reassure her that everything was fine--but there was no point. She knew him too well at this point. “I don’t know,” he admitted instead. “I keep thinking I might make some monumental mistake tomorrow.”

“Because there’s so little room for error?”

Markus nodded, gaze drifting off to the side.

“Hey.” North’s voice was quiet, calm, as she reached over and squeezed his hand supportively. “You’ve done all you can for now. And don’t forget, you’re not alone. We’re behind you.”

Markus thought back to the moment when the protest leader had accosted him, and how each of his friends had stepped forward to defend him in their own ways, and a small bubble of warmth rose in him. “...Yes, you’re right. Thank you.”

She gave him another small smile. “We’re family, Markus. Don’t forget that, okay?” The RK200 nodded quietly, watching as the auburn-haired android stepped back and hopped up on the lectern, crossing one leg over the other.

Markus couldn’t help himself--he quirked an eyebrow at how casual she was about taking a seat there. “You know some would see that as sacrilegious, right?”

North just huffed a small laugh, hidden bitterness buried deep in the sound. “Well, I think you and I have stopped believing in a conventional god a long time ago.” She looked around again, clearly eager to change the subject before it got too somber. It wasn’t a night to be doing this kind of heavy reflection, after all. “So? Where’s Connor?”

“He’s meeting us at the airport, I believe.” Markus glanced around as well, seeing Josh at the door of the church, double-checking his suitcase. He frowned. When did Simon leave? The blonde was nowhere in sight, but he could have sworn he had seen him around just earlier.

North gave him a knowing look. “...Simon went to the rooftop earlier, through the construction scaffolding you guys always use.”

Markus coughed in surprise, trying to force a disinterested look and most likely failing miserably.

She laughed at his expression, slipping off the stand. “You should talk to him. You might not get a chance in the next couple of days.” Tucking a loose lock of amber hair behind her ear, the WR400 put her hands on his shoulders and steered him in the direction of the second floor. “Go. There’s still time before we have to call a taxi.”

“But--”

“Go, Markus. Don’t forget your promise to me.”

Don’t let anything hold you back. Markus swallowed as the promise she was referring to floated back up in his memory, playing like a movie. “...Okay.”

North just smiled, and gave him one more push before letting go.

By the time Markus had climbed onto the roof, it had started to snow. It snowed last time, too, now that he thought about it. The white flakes drifted from the darkened sky in flurries, not quite enough to form a blanket--each melting and blending into the brick.

And amongst the cool darkness, there was Simon, sitting in their usual spot, long legs dangling over the edge, blonde hair ruffled by the wind as he looked up into the sky.

Markus joined him, sitting down quietly beside the PL600, who didn’t move. He felt a small wave of relief. “It’s snowing again.”

“...Mm,” Simon hummed in agreement after a short peaceful silence. “Not enough to delay traffic, which is good. Did you guys finish packing?”

“We did. Thanks to you, honestly.” Markus looked up into the sky as well, registering the faint, faint pressure of snowflakes falling against his skin. “We would be racing against the clock right now if you didn’t help us out.”

Simon let out a soft chuckle. The sound sent warmth through Markus’s entire body. “Yes, well, you were all running around like headless chickens. Who knew the infamous deviant leader could be so disorganized when packing?”

Markus couldn’t bring himself to retort whole-heartedly. Simon’s teasing smile made him feel like his thirium pump might stop at any moment without warning. “I’m...more nervous than I thought I would be about tomorrow, to be honest.”

Simon glanced at him, worry colouring his gaze. “Oh?”

“Yeah.” Markus looked down, biting his lip.

There was a long silence. The sound of the breeze ruffling through their clothes seemed louder than before--the resounding sound of fabric hitting fabric before quieting down.

“I worry too, you know.”

Markus looked at his companion in surprise.

Simon’s blue eyes, clear like summer skies, were focused on a distant point above them again. The blonde took a moment before speaking again. He looked like he was gathering up the courage to share something very personal. “You’re a natural leader, Markus, and a special, unique model. You inspire. North--she’s got great instincts and the fire to keep fighting. Josh used to be a university lecturer--he’s naturally adept at speaking and making connections. My model...Markus, I used to be a household assistant. That was my job for--” He paused, tallying up the time. “--years, at least. When I came to Jericho, I couldn’t do a thing. I was just part of the masses, hoping day after day that we wouldn’t be found.”

Markus remembered the moment Simon’s feelings and memories from the past flowed through their connected hands. The anguish, the helplessness. A stab of pain shot through him.

“Our people trust me because I’ve been here the longest. But that’s due to nothing more than the life of my biocomponents outlasting others, if we’re to be completely frank. And now, I’m not sure what my role is in all this. What can I do tomorrow for our people? That’s what I’m worried about.” Simon sighed, his expression torn as he finally looked away from the sky above and met Markus’s gaze. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be unloading like this on you before such an important day. You’re stressed enough as it is.” He made to stand.

Markus instinctively reached up and grabbed his hand, surprising even himself with the action.

Simon stared at him, eyes wide, frame frozen.

The RK200 loosened his grip a little, feeling a little embarrassed now. “Sorry, I just...you can rely on me, you know. You can tell me these things.”

Simon shook his head, but remained seated. His hand stayed under Markus’s. “You have enough to worry about.”

It didn’t sound like he was just talking about relying on him for problems anymore. A few flakes of snow landed on Simon’s cheekbones, and Markus had to resist the urge to wipe them away as the wetness sunk into his artificial skin. He had to explain himself first.

“I was scared,” he admitted quietly, his grip tightening a little again, feeling irrationally scared that Simon might pull away.

He didn’t pull away, but he didn’t reply either.

Markus couldn’t quite bring himself to look up and see the other android’s expression as he continued. “It’s...this is going to sound like an excuse.” He laughed humourlessly, mismatched gaze focused on the ground below them. “I do have feelings for you, Simon, I do, but somehow that day--I saw your memories from Stratford, and I suddenly felt this...intense fear that splitting my priorities would cause me to lose both you and our people. It sounds illogical, I know, but in the moment, the fear was so real. And I...couldn’t overcome it. That’s why I ran.”

Because he had been too goddamn weak.

“...I wasn’t mad at you, Markus.” Markus jerked his head up in surprise at Simon’s quiet response. The blonde’s gaze was as steady and determined as ever, a source of comfort even now. “I’m not going to say I wasn’t hurt, of course I was, but I knew what you meant. And I know you feel the same.” A small smile curled up the corners of his lips. “The connection goes both ways, remember?”

Markus’s ears flushed blue, and it had nothing to do with the cold, needless to say.

“At first, I was avoiding you because I was hurt, I won’t deny it. I didn't understand why despite feeling the same, you didn't want to be together. After that, though...it was something different. Do you remember what I told you in Smith & White?” Simon shifted his hand slightly, intertwining their fingers absently.

“That we needed time?”

The PL600 nodded. “I realized we both needed time to sort out our priorities and fears. I wondered if it would be best to work it out separately so that we don’t burden each other, but…”

Markus’s breath caught in his throat. But?

“Maybe it would be better if we worked them out together.” Simon sounded unsure of himself, voice a little tremulous. His eyes had shifted to the side, as if he was afraid of what Markus’s response might be.

The RK200 could feel the slight quiver in Simon’s hand. The normally reserved, calm android was nervous.

His chest felt tight. They weren’t confirming anything between them, per se. He knew, and Simon knew, that perhaps neither of them would be ready to truly commit until their people were properly safe--and that was the unfortunate reality of their situation. But this was a promise that he could make--that eventually it would happen in the future.

“Together,” Markus agreed quietly, squeezing the fingers threaded through his. He felt Simon squeeze back, and a small smile graced his features.

Around them, the snow continued to fall silently.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 10:01:17
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

The powerful feeling of his arms slicing through the water and the rushing sound in his ears giving away only briefly to the quiet of the room were two of the most enjoyable things Elijah found about swimming at night.

And, you know, alone. In a giant pool by himself.

He wasn't usually one to take appreciation in the material side of things, but having money definitely made life easier.

Besides, swimming like this helped him think--helped him clear his mind of the racing thoughts and properly focus on something.

It was starting to look a little hopeless, though.

Maybe Elijah would just have to grudgingly accept the fact that the kiss Connor had given him through the Annabelle Garden wasn't something he could just easily shove to the back of his mind.

Well, it wasn't the kiss in itself that bothered him, really. It had just been a chaste one--a brief touch to the corner of his lips, nothing to write home about. What concerned him was his own reaction to it--the involuntary smile after, how he had reached to trace the area where he had felt the press of Connor's lips. How his brain stubbornly refused to forget the sensation despite the brevity of it.

These new feelings were starting to turn him into a fool, and he didn't like it one bit. There was no reasonable explanation for it. He liked a good mystery as much as the next person, but not one like this.

The wall was coming up. Elijah curled his body, twisting, and pushed off in a neatly executed flip turn, continuing onto the next lap.

The only logical account he could make of this situation was one of physical attraction, but something about that didn't quite fit either. Yes, the android was attractive, but simple attractiveness wouldn't have dug so deep that now even Elijah's favourite coffee reminded him of the RK800.

But it was the likeliest explanation, right? It didn't have to fit with everything to make sense. Maybe it was also how earnest Connor was. It didn't take a genius of his IQ to figure out how the android felt at this point. The kiss had cemented it.

There was nothing else. It had to be a combination of physical desire and the entertainment that Connor's newfound deviant feelings provided.

Elijah missed a stroke, nearly choking on the salted water in bewilderment when he suddenly felt guilty for that train of thought.

What the fuck?

Since when did he feel guilty about the possibility of deriving amusement from others, even at their expense?

But no, it had to be that possibility, because despite his guilt, he refused to accept any other explanation.

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. He reminded himself of the analogy he had heard from his brief stint in medical school (he had been trying to get some kind of breakthrough for biocomponents and their functionality by comparing it to the human anatomy, and needed cadavers).

Yes, always go for the most likely explanation, no need to overthink it.

On top of everything with Connor, there was yet another mystery in the air that he had been analyzing.

What exactly did CyberLife stand to gain from this collaborative effort between android and human governments? Elijah had a few guesses, but it was frustrating when he didn't have people to read and thus not necessarily the correct answers. And now that the meeting, as emphasized again and again by the media, was tomorrow, he couldn't stop the suspicions from rolling through his mind.

There was no doubt that CyberLife had connections with Cristina Warren. She wasn't a great president--with ridiculously low approval ratings and having gotten her rise from being a social media mogul, the idea that CyberLife had supported her in her rise to presidency in exchange for a hand in controlling the country wasn't too far-fetched at all. In fact, Elijah was almost one hundred percent certain that she would sign the bill should it get passed to her.

But what next? What was the company planning? Why support this at all instead of continuing to wage war?

Either way, what Graff had said still bothered him. Elijah hadn't shown it back then--hadn't even batted a single eye at the backhanded threat, but he had been turning the words over in his head. What will come to pass, will pass.

The Director of Humanization had sounded so sure of himself, and that was concerning.

The problem was…Elijah knew the board and the members’ capabilities. Compared to him, they were no geniuses, but they were shrewd and intelligent in their own right--capable men and women at the top of their respective fields. He wouldn't have worked with them otherwise. The current CEO was nothing more than a figurehead--a puppet for the directors to use. Carnegie, Graff, and Seymor--original members of his team--were the ones he had to worry about.

He hadn't met Danielle Carnegie and Philip Seymor until later on in his research, but Graff had also been one of the students studying under Amanda Stern in his grad program. Of course, Graff had been doing AI as a double major with his business degree, whereas Elijah had been more focused on his PhD. He wouldn't say they had gotten along particularly well--both of them were too intelligent and too closed off for their own good. It made them wary of each other.

They had recognized each other's potential, however. That was why they had started working together in the first place. Elijah snorted, thinking about it as he propped his arms up on the pool ledge, one hand brushing long dark hair out of his eyes and scraping it back out of his face. He had always insisted that he had peers and colleagues, not friends, but it was especially true in this case.

There had been times that he had thought Graff perhaps understood him back when he still held out hope, but it had been a thought he would shake away as quickly as it had come.

It was almost strange, thinking back to his younger self from…what? Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? Just when had he become such a recluse, Elijah mused to himself.

The thing was, it wasn't as though he was born a callous narcissistic egomaniac who wanted to watch the world dance at his fingertips, as much as he would like people to see him as such. He had just been a normal kid with a penchant for technology and a curious eye, and higher intellect than usual. That was it--but it made him the weird kid that everyone avoided. Starting from his cousin, to his fellow elementary schoolmates, so his middle school classmates--all throughout high school as he skipped grade after grade, switching from class to class. It was only during university when professors and peers started hailing him as a genius, but by then he had already rationalized to himself that being alone was the best policy. He needed no other companion, just his own mind. Elijah didn't feel himself a victim, exactly--there had never been any kind of big revelation about how years of being alone affected his psyche. He just got used to it. It had been easier to stay alone, and the world seemed to want to leave him be, so he did.

Graff had been a strange addition to his routine, but they so rarely intruded on each other's personal lives that it mattered very little. Had they ever been involved? Once or twice, but only physically. Elijah was nothing if not very private (he didn’t need a stupid scandal distracting him from his work or resurfacing during his success), and news of their little tryst never appeared under the public eye.

Carnegie and Seymor had come in much later--top of their field, and professional colleagues and friends of Graff’s. Carnegie had been quite young at the time as well--20 to Elijah's 16, fresh-faced out of her grad program for a Master's in Corporate Management, but confident and an eloquent speaker. Seymor had been a few years older, with a degree in Foresight and Future Studies, and an uncanny ability to make quick probability calculations in his head. The three of them were much closer to each other than they were to Elijah, but it wasn't as though the inventor minded. He needed them for their intellect, not for their companionship. As a result, between the four of them, CyberLife had been established. With his discovery of biocomponents and thirium along with programming and building the first successful android, Elijah had been named CEO of the company.

After that…well, he had Chloe. There was even less need to communicate his thoughts with the others unless necessary.

Did he find it regretful, being voted off? Yes, a little. Was he surprised? Not very.

It had been a long time coming, he had seen it coming, knew it would happen eventually as their interests slowly deviated. He was after the pursuit of knowledge. They had always treated the company as just that--a business. One was not objectively better than the other (subjectively, he personally thought his standpoint was much more important), but the conflict of interest due to his fascination with androids and free will eventually led to a divide that splintered their group. The other members of the board, mostly large shareholders and investors, obviously agreed with the trio that profit and customer trust had to come first.

Elijah had been pissed off back then. Who wouldn't be? His life's work, taken from him in the blink of an eye for the sake of keeping their customer base intact. What did money mean when his research was gone?

It was to his mild annoyance that money ended up being what allowed him to seclude himself even further and build that underground lab space to continue his work in.

And the current him--he wasn't avoiding the limelight due to some false principle of privacy or some kind of bitterness for a company that was no longer his to worry about. He just enjoyed living a life unbothered by any other living being, free to do as he wished amongst his own creations, continuing to pursue his curiosities at his own discretion.

So no, Elijah had no problem with the walls he had set up around him. They had been around too long for him to even consider tearing them down.

He had been delighted when the first case of deviancy had been announced, and even more so when it became a global phenomenon. Part of it was petty glee that he had been right all along; part of it was a newfound fascination in seeing how far his creations could go. He was detached from it all--he was an observer in the game, and he wanted to watch it all play out from his pedestal away from the struggle.

And then…the RK800 came along.

Earnest eyes, straight posture, so troubled looking that Elijah had almost felt sorry for him. To have to choose between two evils was not an easy fate. What was fascinating was how despite the very vocal insistence on adhering to his mission, Connor had showed empathy on instinct. And that made him different.

CyberLife’s little pet project, gone rogue.

Elijah had informed him of the Zen Garden’s exit, knowing what kind of control CyberLife could exert over him using it. Back then, he had only been interested in seeing how Connor would affect the outcome. It was as though he was introducing a new variable to the equation.

And now, that very same android had come back into his life, and seemed adamant on tearing down the walls that had been long built around him.

And it was working.

Elijah scowled. Connor's innocence made him almost want to lower his guard. He couldn't even find the android’s curiosity bothersome lately--instead, more and more so his feelings about it seemed to sway between amusement and endearment. He had started this arrangement with Connor as a deal to further his own research, and now it was coming back around to bite him in the ass.

Now he actually had to think about feelings again. Ugh.

Elijah ducked his head under the water, staying there for a few moments, slowly letting his breath out in a stream of bubbles. Yes, the red tint from the tiles looked morbid at first glance, but over time had become a source of comfort for him. He surfaced, taking another deep breath before continuing another lap of freestyle along the length of the pool.

Pull, pull, breath.

Pull, pull, breath.

Pull--

“Elijah.” A soft feminine voice brought his attention away from the water. He stood when he reached the shallow end, water spilling down his skin. Chloe was standing politely by the ladder closest to him, holding his usual robe. “You have a guest. It's Connor. Should I let him in? It's quite late.”

Elijah raised an eyebrow. Speak of the devil. He considered for a second. Well, he wasn't going to be able to focus anyhow, and he really didn't want to debate whether or not he'd feel actually guilty for sending Connor away. “...Give me a second, I'll go answer the door myself.” He pulled himself out, fingers gripping the cold metal handles.

Chloe draped the silky material of the robe over his shoulders, then stepped back with a shallow bow. “I'll leave you two to it, then.”

“Thank you.” Elijah dismissed her with a wave, not bothering to tie the robe properly as he padded to the front foyer with bare feet. Wasn't the congress meeting tomorrow? What the hell was Connor doing here of all places? The android never ceased to surprise, apparently.

He pulled the door open--

--and blinked at the sight that greeted him, speechless for once in his life.

Was he in some kind of fucked up dream?

“Connor,” Elijah tested, eyes still trained on the pink paw prints on the apron that the RK800 was wearing for some reason.

“Elijah,” Connor returned, looking a little harried. His dark brown hair, normally coiffed and parted neatly, was windswept. “I'm sorry for bothering you so late--were you swimming?”

“More importantly,” Elijah cut him off, pulling him in and closing the door before gingerly lifting one of the shoulder straps of the apron with a finger.  “What is this?”

Connor blinked at him, apparently too confused about the question to protest the blatant invasion of personal space. “An...apron?”

“I can see that,” the former CEO said dryly. “I'll reword my question. Why?”

“It reminds me of Sumo. He's the Saint Bernard that Hank owns.” Connor furrowed his brow slightly, looking down at himself. Elijah absently noted that there were still flakes of white snow lingering in his hair, slowly melting away from the warmth of the room. “Is it really that strange?”

There was a pause.

He really was losing it, because for a brief moment Elijah actually thought about comforting the android to get the downtrodden look off his face. Instead, he just sighed and gave Connor one of his usual suggestive smirks. “It's not that strange…in the right context, of course.”

Connor’s perplexed expression at the response only made his smirk grow, but he didn't elaborate any further, instead folding his hands behind his back.

“So? How can I help you at this late hour?”

The android looked a little thrown off for a second, but quickly recovered from the change in topic. “I actually…had something I wanted to talk to you about.” He took a deep breath to steady himself. “I--”

“Why don't you join me for a swim?” Elijah suddenly interrupted.

He had a sneaking suspicion of what Connor might want to ask, and he was definitely not ready to answer. His pulse had quickened, which only further served to annoy him. Even his body was betraying him now.

Connor's expression returned to a state of puzzlement, oblivious to Elijah’s internal struggle. “A swim?”

“It'll help you focus, if what you're worried about is tomorrow.” Elijah turned, heading back towards the doorway leading to the pool. The black door slid open as he neared. “It certainly helps me.”

After a brief pause, the sound of the RK800’s footsteps followed him into the large room. The sound of rippling water filled the background, a soft, muted noise in the otherwise silent house. “I don't have anything to wear.”

It was honestly a little impressive how quick Connor was to adapt to the fast turn of events, considering he had just come to ask a question.

“The changing area’s right over there. The swim shorts are all ordered from Smith & White’s sportswear line, self-adjusting in terms of size.” Elijah waved a hand, and one of the doors off to the side slid open. Connor paused for a moment before nodding, still looking a little baffled as he disappeared behind the panel.

Elijah let the robe slide off again onto one of the lounge chairs. It landed in a haphazard pool of fabric, but he would be pulling it on again later anyway. The cold air of the room immediately hit him as he took long strides towards the deep end of the pool, taking a deep breath before diving in once more.

When he surfaced on the other end, Connor was slowly stepping out from behind the sliding door of the change room.

Well, if Elijah had anything good to say about the staff at CyberLife, they certainly knew what they were doing when working on android appearances. Smooth synthetic skin, marked with a smattering of scattered moles here and there, stretched across an expanse of the impression of muscles built into the exoskeleton underneath.

He almost felt the urge to mark him--bite and smudge blue over the paleness of his nape.

Connor shifted, blue tinting his ears from Elijah's stare.

The inventor pulled his gaze away with some difficulty, though it was a shame. “Why not come in, Connor? You're already changed.”

There was a silent nod after some hesitation, then the RK800 slowly lowered himself into the water, ripples extending around him on the surface from the disturbance. A brief expression of wonder crossed his face. “This feels...different.”

Elijah arched a brow. “You've swam before?”

“Not like this,” Connor explained absently, dragging long fingers through the water curiously. “I had to jump out of the Jericho ship when the strike team hunted us down. We swam to shore. Some of the older models were expelling water from their systems for days.”

Well. That certainly sounded less than pleasant. “So...not exactly the most enjoyable experience then.”

Connor shook his head, finally looking up to meet Elijah's gaze. His warm brown eyes, shadowed by long dark lashes, almost looked a little shy. “No. But this is nice--it feels soothing. Different, but not in a bad way.” He took a few experimental steps, the water sliding smoothly past his torso in waves as he moved, until he was a little closer to where Elijah was standing.

Moonlight filtered into the dimly lit room, casting sharply contrasting shadows against Connor's face. The water droplets now sliding off his chest and arms caught the light as he moved.

The physical desire hypothesis from earlier was now making more and more sense, considering how Elijah's eyes seemed to trail without his permission following the tracks of the water down the android’s skin. It still didn't explain why he felt a strange tenseness in his chest, but he was more than willing to try and overlook that sensation.

“I really did need to talk to you.” Connor's mild voice, sounding extremely serious, broke him from his distraction. “It's about the kiss.”

“That you gave me? I remember,” Elijah couldn't resist teasing, just a little, just to watch the telling flush of blue rise under the surface of Connor's cheeks.

“No--well, yes, partially.” The RK800 struggled to collect his next words, eyes darting back and forth for a moment. “The kiss you gave me from before. Not the one you used to prove a point--the one after.”

Elijah's jaw tightened slightly, the motion almost imperceptible. From the way Connor's eyes flicked down, though, he probably noticed. The former CEO crossed his arms. “What about it?”

“Why did you do it?” Honest brown eyes seemed to pierce through icy blue.

Elijah felt oddly defensive, which made no damn sense. It wasn't even the question, exactly. It was the implication behind whatever he was feeling right now. “It felt appropriate at the time.”

Connor seemed to hesitate once more before asking his next question. Elijah knew he hadn't given Connor any kind of straight answer, but his questions were so direct that they were difficult to dodge. “Is it…are you attracted to me?”

There was a silence. One that stretched on too long for any innocent answer to result, but Connor's earnest gaze remained on him.

“...You're an objectively attractive specimen, Connor, but I'm sure you know that.” The clinical tone of his voice in retrospect made even himself feel on edge. A brief flash of disappointment and hurt crossed Connor's face, and Elijah almost found himself regretting his words.

Regretting his words?

He needed to pull himself back before he fell over the edge of the precipice.

A myriad of complex emotions flickered across the RK800’s face. “I…see.”

The same tense silence from before seemed to consume the room. Chloe had long since left as per Elijah's instructions, leaving them alone in the room. Connor's gaze had left his, now focusing on one of the red tiles at their feet.

Elijah wanted to say something, give him another answer, perhaps. But Connor falling for him would yield no good result for either of them. Elijah was just not the kind of person you wanted to be involved with in any romantic sense--or for most people, in any sense at all. He wouldn’t make a good partner as long as you wanted emotions involved, he didn’t do the whole “romance” and “courting” thing. He didn't understand why Connor had so inexplicably gotten attached, but it would prove to be a mistake in the future. He was better off finding someone who wasn't so walled off.

He could've awarded himself for his perfectly controlled expression, considering the unexpected stab of pain he just felt at the thought.

“Swim a few laps with me,” Elijah finally offered, just to break the heavy silence between them. He liked the silence, he always had, no matter what kind--but there was something about this one that was distinctly uncomfortable in a way that it had never been before.

Connor looked up in surprise. “Laps?” he echoed, a shadow of doubt crossing his features. He had clearly been planning to leave right after he asked his question.

Once again, that inexplicable urge to get him to stay…

It was infuriating. And he couldn't even seem to find the source, much less eliminate it. Elijah prided himself on his ability to think everything through clearly, and the fact that there was a roadblock on this matter of all things...

“Like I said, it might help you focus.”

There was a slight hesitation again on Connor’s end, but the android relented in the end and joined Elijah by the shallow end of the pool.

And so, that was what they did. Swim laps. No more words were exchanged, and Elijah was oddly relieved that their focus had been shifted to the water.

Though...Connor’s athleticism was certainly nothing to scoff at--it made sense, considering he had been CyberLife’s top of the line model before he had gone deviant. It was supposed to be leisurely, but his admittedly competitive side took over, and the next time Connor lapped him, he sped up his pace as well.

When they both reached the deep end and grasped the wall, Elijah tapped Connor on the shoulder, a wicked smirk curling up the corner of his lips, icy blues flashing with mischief. “Race you.”

Taking the moment that Connor’s eyes widened in surprise to push off the wall, the former CEO got a head start. He couldn’t help but laugh underwater, a stream of air escaping in the form of bubbles as he heard the muffled sound of the RK800’s protests before a splash signalled Connor’s entry into the water.

Hey, nobody ever said he played fair.

And this was a good break from all the thinking, all the worrying, all the overanalysis about his own feelings which for some reason he couldn’t seem to figure out despite being so in control of them his whole life.

Couldnt? Or didn’t want to?

He drowned the thoughts, coming up to the wall on the other end, doing a smooth flip turn before starting his way back. The adrenaline coursed through his veins at the prospect of a proper race, Connor tight on his tail.

A hand brushed his wrist, before fingers closed around his arm and yanked him back almost unceremoniously. The former CEO couldn’t help smirking even as he felt himself being tugged to the surface.

When they surfaced, they were standing almost chest to chest, quiet breaths passing between them as Elijah caught his. He scraped a hand through his hair, which had come out of its bun sometime between the beginning lap and now. Wet strands slid through his fingers, coming down to frame one side of his face. He huffed a small laugh. “I’m jealous, you know. You can hold your breath for ages and not come out any more tired for it.”

“You cheated,” Connor chided quietly, but there was no real anger in his tone, and his usual small lopsided smile had pulled up the corners of his lips. He hadn’t let go of Elijah’s wrist, and honestly, Elijah wasn’t sure he wanted him to.

“Kind of had to with your android stamina--you beat me, anyway.” Elijah tossed his head to the side, grinning teasingly as droplets of water from his hair splashed Connor in the face, causing the android to let out a small yelp. “I have to say though--pulling me back? Very unsportsmanlike of you.”

“Are you sure you should be saying that when you’re the same, if not worse?” Connor asked, pulling his own hair away from his face absently with his free hand. The warm pressure of Connor’s fingers remained on the inventor’s skin. He was close enough to almost count the individual droplets of water caught between eyelashes.

Elijah snorted. Only Connor could call someone a hypocrite so politely and without using the actual word while still getting the point across. “Guess we make quite the pair, then.”

There was a short silence. Neither of them moved. Something in the air seemed to shift; seemed to change. The grey light from the moon spilled through the glass windows, moving across their skin, reflecting in the small waves of water lapping against their chests.

He wasn’t normally one for philosophy--being a person who was all about the numbers, the certainty, but Elijah normally very much enjoyed watching the moon. He personally preferred it over the sun--not too bright, not as important a role in the mass’s eyes, perhaps, but just as critical and maybe even more beautiful. A halo of silver reminiscent of a haunting opera, elegant in a strange way, unique.

The RK800 had struck him at first like the sun--too blinding, too pure. A hero in this little game of chess between mankind and creation, just like Markus. Something he could appreciate from afar, but never actually wanted to touch. But the more sides he saw of him--the complexities, the doubt, the curiosity, the intelligence yet the naivety, the subtle stubbornness, the surprisingly direct words…

Maybe Connor was more like the moon, after all.

Their fingers had tangled together under the water, and they were now almost nose to nose. Elijah was someone who relied equally on instinct and intelligence to guide him, and it was almost frustrating that now neither could tell him what exactly they were doing. Where they were with each other.

Connor took a breath. “Elijah, I--”

It was obvious what the android was going to ask. For once, the inventor didn’t have the answers, and he was kind of tired of searching for them with logic. For once, he had no idea what he actually wanted.

So, instinct it was.

Combing a hand through the hair falling over Connor’s temple, Elijah leaned up just so, and pressed their lips together. Properly, this time. It wasn’t the chaste, almost endearingly clumsy kiss he had been given before. It wasn’t the biting kiss from the first time, meant to drive Connor away.

He pulled away after a moment, surprised when Connor chased the contact, closing the gap between them once more--then again, and again, the kiss getting deeper and lasting longer each time. The RK800 was certainly a quick learner.

It was only when they finally broke apart, fingers tangled in hair and limbs pressed together that Connor whispered, his breathing short and ragged, voice almost broken as he finally asked his question--

“What are we, Elijah?”

A bitter laugh escaped Elijah’s lips as he leaned down to rest his forehead on Connor’s bare shoulder, the heat from the android’s synthetic skin seeping through the coolness of the sheen of water. “...Hell if I know, Connor.”

There was a pause, before Connor shifted under him, Elijah’s nose bumping lightly into his collarbone. “I...don’t know either. I wish I did.” His voice was quiet in the inventor’s ear.

“Even if it’s not the answer you’re looking for?”

There was a pause after the question.

“...Even so.” Connor’s hand, now settled loosely on his waist, tightened almost imperceptibly, even as his voice remained impeccably steady.

Elijah smirked into his skin, the expression cold and devoid of any of his usual mirth. “Lying doesn’t suit you, Connor.”

“And avoidance doesn’t suit you.” That straightforward manner of speech again--bravery or recklessness, who could know? The android seemed to always walk a fine line between the two. Elijah didn’t respond.

Silence, once more. Their breathing had quieted down, the sound of the water moving around them filling the air around them--almost soothing in its consistency.

He wondered if this was how they would remain--this standstill, somewhere yet nowhere all at once.

“I think I’m in love with you, Elijah.” Connor’s quiet, honest confession--a little anticlimatic in a way that was very him--was determined but almost broken.

It made Elijah want to laugh bitterly. It really was unfortunate that the android had picked him of all people to fall for--the one person who could not give him what he wanted. It seemed they were both aware of that.

Elijah Kamski was not the type of person to allow himself any romantic attachments--and Connor somehow wanted this anyway. This physical intimacy, the only thing that Elijah would give without tearing down all the walls that had over time become part of who he was.

Connor’s expression, melancholic but resigned, wasn’t supposed to affect him as much as it did. That small ache in his chest meant nothing.

Elijah closed his eyes in an effort to block out the feeling, turning his head and pressing a firm kiss against the android’s skin, a little bittersweet against the saltiness of the water on Connor’s neck. The RK800 shivered under the touch, and Elijah found himself tightening his grip on him even as he locked the traitorous thought away, willing the tightness in his chest to retreat as he finally responded.

“...I know.”

Connor’s voice now held a slight tremor as he quietly spoke again--an edge of something helpless, his fingers digging almost painfully into Elijah’s hipbone. “I didn’t want to love you.”

This time, the inventor did let out a short bark of a humourless laugh before he lifted his head once more, pressing their lips together in a harder kiss than before--almost bruising. Connor kissed back feverishly, and Elijah had to wonder, just how much more would he end up taking from him before the android finally realized that taking on this much faith with Elijah was a mistake?

The water droplets from their swim that had been caught between the RK800’s lashes finally fell as they parted, almost resembling tears.

The moon spilled liquid silver into the dark room.

“I know.”

Chapter Text

CAPITOL HILL, UNITED STATES CAPITOL BUILDING
AM 07:19:36
➤ RK900

[ Memory back up initiated… ]
[ Memory back up completed. ]
[ Location updated. ]
[ Instructions updated. ]
[ Protect CyberLife staff until further notice. Standby. ]

The RK900 opened his eyes, blinking a few times as his optical units took a moment to refocus on the room. Performing memory back ups was often an almost...disorienting experience. It happened periodically, as per stated in his instructions, but each time he finished he would feel a little out of it.

He looked around his surroundings once more, adjusting his posture. Still in the Capitol building, then. Second floor, south wing. Voices leaked through from the doorway behind him.

“Are you ready?” Danielle’s voice, calmer than the other two, sounded out first. It made sense--her attitude. After all, she had been effectively managing communication between board members, shareholders, and the public for years over the course of her career. It was no surprise that she had no qualms about making speeches or statements.

“More or less.” There was some rustling as Jason answered, presumably the shuffling of paper. Before the RK900 had started his memory back up, he remembered seeing the Director of Humanization stalking back and forth across the room looking through material.

The sound of Philip’s derisive snort came through. “Graff, you’re not fooling anyone. We know that out of all of us, you were the worst at public speaking.”

“This is a waste of time, in my opinion,” Jason said, his voice cold, clearly displeased by Philip’s joke at his expense. “We already know the result that’s going to happen.”

“Things could change if you don’t give proper testimony as the summoned witness, you know.” Danielle’s heels clicked across the floor of the room. “Buying off members to propose our amendments won’t mean anything if we don’t give a convincing argument. There will be media present in the gallery. I suggest we all watch our words.”

“Make sure you don’t come off as too hostile now,” Philip added, sounding amused. “We’re supposed to be supporting the bill, just...adding some changes.”

“I know what to do.” Jason sighed, the sound filled with annoyance as the shuffling from the paper stopped. There was a telling thwap as he set a pile back on the table. “You two are testifying too, aren’t you? Why not worry about yourselves?”

“I don’t worry about speeches, Jason.” Danielle’s voice was faintly mocking, the neatly clipped words emphasized by her English accent (the RK900 absently registered it as received pronounciation). “My job, remember?”

Philip smoothly dodged the question, choosing not to answer the challenge. “Look at the time. We should be making our way to the room, no?”

There was a short pause before Jason replied, his voice tight. “Fine. RK900?”

[ Possible registration of new instructions. ]
[ Ready for input. ]

The android folded his hands politely behind his back as he turned towards the room, greeted by Jason’s stern blue eyes. “Sir.”

“Follow us. You have your orders on what to do.”

[ Processing… ]
[ Instruction add on registered. ]

The RK900 nodded, his LED spinning yellow briefly to store the new order. “Yes, sir.” He stepped to the side, waiting for all three to file out before following closely behind, eyes scanning the area for any threats. He knew the media would be waiting at the end of the hall, cordoned off for the time being before they would be allowed to file into the gallery to view the meeting and ordered to be quiet. While there was plenty evidence that they could be potential danger, the serious occasion implied that the most they would be able to do was hound them for questions.

No physical harm was likely to be inflicted, but he had to be prepared for all possibilities.

It wasn’t long before he heard the flashes of cameras and the questions being shouted as they emerged into a more open area from the isolated hall. When the RK900 glanced at his handler, he saw that Jason had become all serious smiles and charming waves. Danielle looked right in her element amongst the flashing cameras, and Philip simply adjusted his glasses, ignoring the media as if they weren’t even there.

“Mr. Graff! CyberLife has yet to release a statement about the events in Detroit that led to this meeting today. Has the company finally decided on a side to take?” A CTN reporter stepped forward, waving a hand to get their attention.

Jason smiled politely. The RK900 found it mildly impressive that he had gone from annoyed scowls to this in a matter of minutes. While the expression was decidedly fake, judging from his facial muscles, it most likely looked physically convincing enough to the general public. “I’m sure the public has been worried, but I can only say that we stand on the side of whatever is best for all of us.”

Another reporter, this one from KNC, raised her microphone. “Do you have a comment about the company’s stance in testifying for congress? Do you plan to lend your expert opinion for or against the possible implementation of a new Android Act?”

“Depending on the contents of the new Act, we may make some suggestions as professionals in our respective fields. However, as I said before, we will give fair testimony in everyone’s best interests.”

“Why has the CEO not made an appearance today?” an ITM reporter called out.

The RK900 knew the current CyberLife CEO was nothing more than a figurehead. It had been made obvious in the times he had been awake in Research and Development--the staff seemed to only run things by the three original founding members of the board rather than the actual CEO. It was a smart move on their end, to be honest. They controlled everything from behind the scenes, but if something went wrong, then the puppet CEO would be to blame.

Danielle cut in, nothing but professionalism radiating off of her smaller frame. “Our CEO is currently very busy with restructuring our company. Unfortunately, at this point in time, we cannot provide you with more information regarding that situation. Just know that he is doing everything he can in his power as well, and we are simply here in his place to provide expert opinion on where to go from here on out.”

“Who is that android behind you?” The label on the microphone that this reporter was holding told the RK900 that he was from Channel 16. The rules for media in the building were rather strict. Accredited news sources only at least meant that there were no tabloid writers in the crowd. “A new model?”

“This is the RK900, our new advanced prototype. He is still under development, and just here to accompany us for today.”

Said android looked out into the sea of cameras and flashing lights and curious faces that had turned in his direction, expression blank. He didn’t know the protocol for this kind of thing. Was he supposed to smile?

“Your former CEO and founder of the company, Elijah Kamski, assured us that the very deviancy issue that led us here today would never happen. Do you have an opinion on this matter?”

Jason’s expression grew a little chillier, although the smile remained. “Elijah has left the company for about 10 years now. All I can say is that changes occurred, and perhaps back then it wasn’t a possibility. There are certain things that none of us can predict, but now we must adapt.”

“Thank you for your questions,” Danielle said pleasantly, a clear dismissal, and started walking again past the cordoned area. The two men followed her, the RK900 close on their heels. The voices and camera flashes slowly faded into the background, only the soft sound of their shoes against thick carpet filling the air now.

“Well, that was certainly a pain,” Philip muttered under his breath, adjusting his glasses. The RK900 wondered if it was a nervous tick. He certainly did it a lot, even without the frames actually being crooked.

“Yes, well.” Danielle shrugged. “It’s certainly been a long time since we’ve been under the scrutiny of live media. Normally we get interviewed by magazines like Tech Addict. Still, Jason, you did a lot better than I thought you would, to be honest.”

Jason rolled his eyes, opening his mouth to retort, before their conversation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching from the other end of the hall.

The RK900 recognized the familiar faces, all varying degrees of tense and stern expressions on their features, as both groups stopped in front of the door leading to the House Chamber.

The Jericho deviants, their leader, and...the rogue RK800.

He had to admit, it was very strange to see them all in formal wear. He himself, as well as the other androids currently still in storage at CyberLife (the ones who weren’t released by the RK800 during the mess that occurred), were all dressed in standard CyberLife-issued uniforms--though his was a little different. The high white collar, black dress shirt, and suit-like elements in his clothing was unique to his model. However, the armband and triangle featuring the classic android blue dynamic display was not.

It wasn’t unexpected to see deviants wearing clothing that humans wore. However, what was surprising was that the RK800 (Connor, wasn’t it?) was dressed to the nines in what appeared to be, according to a precursory analysis, a dark navy--almost black--Kiton number from its famous luxury K-50 line, valued at approximately $50,000 apiece. It was in stark contrast with the rest of the Jericho deviants, who were all in Smith & White’s more reasonably priced formal line.

Where could he have acquired such an expensive item of clothing? The RK900 filed away the information for now as he watched the tense nods given in greeting.

Speaking of the original Connor prototype...he looked very uncomfortable when his eyes met the RK900’s grey ones. If it had been a human, the RK900 might’ve chalked it up to an issue of uncanny valley. However, they were both androids, rendering that explanation impossible by definition. At the same time...did being deviant mean that Connor was closer to being human than being machine?

[ Error: questions about deviancy not condusive to current mission. ]
[ Abandon inquiry. ]

“Mr. Graff, Ms. Carnegie, Mr. Seymor.” The deviant leader, Markus, offered a hand politely. All of the other Jericho androids tensed as Jason reached forward to grasp it. “It’s good to see you here today.” His mismatched eyes swept over the RK900’s form curiously, then lit up in recognition. The RK900 frowned a little. They hadn’t met before. Perhaps Connor had recounted their first meeting to Markus?

“Markus, wasn’t it?” Jason shook his hand firmly before withdrawing. He was being remarkably diplomatic, considering their real plans and his actual derision towards deviancy. The RK900 had heard him more than once referring to it as a simple piece of corrupted code that simulated real emotion. “Pleasure to meet you. Whatever happens today, let’s work towards a better future.”

That was a lie, no doubt. The RK900 felt a flicker of something else in his system--something almost indignant as he continued to watch the exchange in silence.

[ Error: questioning handler not condusive to current mission. ]
[ Abandon inquiry. ]

“Likewise.” Markus nodded. “We should head in, it’s about to begin.”

The others had relaxed slightly, the female auburn-haired android giving a side glance to the blond one--a WR400 and PL600 respectively. The other model with a calm countenance was a PJ500, a university lecturer model.

However, Connor had furrowed his brow, as if confused. His reaction made sense. The RK900 had overheard bits and pieces of information that implied that Jason had made a visit to the former CEO, Elijah Kamski. Perhaps Connor had been there to witness the exchange and thus experienced the man’s true nature. It was understandable that such a sudden change in personality would be akin to whiplash.

Jason glanced at Connor, apparently noticing the change in his features. “I hope what happened before can be forgiven,” he said easily, as if apologizing for an accidental bump of the shoulders. “I may have been too rash. You and Elijah must be...very close.”

Connor tensed even further. Jason must have hit some kind of sore spot for the RK800. “...It’s alright.”

Jason smiled, the expression almost predatory.

For a moment, the RK900 almost pitied his predecessor.

[ Error: prioritize the current mission. ]
[ Abandon inquiry. ]

Danielle spoke up, her voice pleasant as she held open the door to the chamber. “Shall we head on in, then? It’s about to begin.”

Sure enough, members of the House were starting to file in from other doors. The media would most likely be seated soon in the gallery. The RK900 analyzed and registered the profiles of everyone present for reference. He had to focus on his mission.

Markus glanced at the advanced prototype one more time, something unreadable flickering in his gaze briefly, before he nodded politely to Danielle. “Thank you.” His companions followed him into the room.

The CyberLife staff followed close behind--Jason’s mouth immediately twisting into something more like a scowl when he very nearly brushed arms with the WR400 as she passed him by.

Again--something seemed to flicker in the RK900’s system.

[ Error: information acquired unrelated to current mission. ]
[ Abandon inquiry. ]

He shook it off, chalking it up to nothing, and followed his handlers into the sea of murmurs filling the room.

 


 

CAPITOL HILL, UNITED STATES CAPITOL BUILDING
AM 07:45:53
➤ MARKUS

Markus sighed as they all took a seat in their designated area. All of them were wary of the sheer number of human representatives around them, and extremely stressed from their journey from Detroit to Washington.

Despite their plans for a night flight, as they had expected, the media had surrounded them at the airport--only barely held back by security.

“Markus! Any comment on the deaths that have occurred as a result of the march?”

“Markus, who are these androids here with you today? Are they fellow leaders from your time in the freight ship ‘Jericho’?”

“What do you have to say about the androids who have harmed humans despite your message being a peaceful one?”

“What’s your opinion on the fact that an android labour force has been one of the prime causes for the record unemployment rate and Red Ice epidemic sweeping the country?”

He had answered the questions as best as he could, keeping things as diplomatic as possible. However, some of them made him want to seethe. Was he supposed to blame their people for being slaves when they had no choice in terms of “employment”? Humans were so contradictory.

The gate had been stressful, too--Connor had called him extremely last minute, explaining why he wasn’t there. Eventually, things had been settled, and he informed them that he would be arriving at the meeting on time, just separately. Apparently Elijah Kamski had offered to charter a private jet and a car in the morning to get the RK800 where he needed to be, which Markus wasn’t too surprised about. The man had nothing if not endless amounts of money and an odd bias for Connor.

The plane ride had honestly been relaxing in comparison--in order to prevent whispers from travelling too far, the government had at least been considerate enough to book a private flight. The plane was automated, and there was no need for flight attendants as androids had no need for food or water--and it wasn’t as though the airline just had packets of thirium on hand to consume.

Simon, surprisingly, had been a little tense during the turbulence mid-flight. His synthetic skin had turned white over his knuckles, his fingers tense, until Markus had gently taken the hand in his and asked him what was wrong.

“I guess I’m just bad with all this shaking,” he had admitted, but his shoulders lowered slightly from their stiff position when Markus squeezed their fingers together.

By the time they had gotten to the airport at Washington, it was past midnight, and they managed to flag down a taxi to take them to the Four Seasons. Once they had checked in, all of them decided the best plan of action was to shut down to get some rest.

Connor had met them by the building on Capitol Hill in the morning, personally chauffeured by an automated black car with tinted windows. He had looked a little self-conscious, stepping out in a Kiton suit that was probably more expensive than all four of the androids present put together. Markus had done a double-take before realizing Kamski was in the car with him--and probably the person the suit had come from. The inventor had given them a somewhat disinterested salute as a greeting, then refused to stay when Connor had asked.

“The media’s a little too troublesome for me to deal with,” Kamski had said, shrugging easily. “I’ve been secluded for the better part of a decade, and my opinion of putting on a polite smile for the public hasn’t changed much. I just came to see you off as promised.”

Markus’s eyes must’ve been playing tricks on his processor, because had it been just him, or had Connor actually looked a little disappointed?

Either way, Kamski had pressed a firm kiss to Connor’s knuckles--causing Markus, North, Josh, and Simon to all stare in open shock--before nodding goodbye and shutting the car door, the automated black vehicle starting up and making a three point turn back the way it came.

Connor hadn’t explained what the exchange was about, and Markus hadn’t asked. He had a feeling it was something private, and didn’t want to intrude.

It had been his first meeting with his creator, and it felt oddly anticlimactic for what it was. Perhaps they would have a proper introduction in the future, but the man gave off just as unpredictable of a first impression as Markus had expected.

With the craziness from the morning over, they were now finally seated in the chamber, waiting for the media to finish filing into the gallery. Whispers fanned out through the crowd, the murmurs of the House members filling the air as several heads turned to discreetly look at the androids among them. Markus still felt an edge of nervousness as he sat, fingers drumming unconsciously against his knees.

He had spent the last night downloading information about how these meetings worked. It was almost...unnecessarily complicated, and definitely tedious. It made sense that each and every bill had to be considered carefully before being passed as law, but at the same time, it meant that each session was extremely costly in terms of time. In normal situations, the new Android Act would probably take weeks--even months, to go through congress, before being passed on to the president.

Thankfully, this had been deemed an emergency situation, and given an exception. The floor was theirs for the day, and a final decision, hopefully in their favour, would be reached by the end.

As far as Markus was aware, once everyone was seated, the representatives they had talked to beforehand would introduce the bill before they proceeded to floor action--debates, amendments, expert testimony, etcetera. Once--if--the vote went through and the bill was accepted, they would break for a recess before reconvening for the Senate to discuss and make the final decision. The committees would be bypassed for this case due to urgency, which the deviant leader was grateful for. He honestly didn’t know if any of them had the patience to wait while humans debated back and forth about the best option for their people for months on end.

A small surge of anticipation rose in him. This was it.

Today was the day.

Simon gently placed a hand on his shoulder, the gesture supportive. Markus closed his eyes and took a deep breath, feeling his artificial lungs expand then contract, calming himself down. The crowd had quieted down, but the world was watching through the multiple cameras on site. This would help determine the first step for the future of their people.

The Speaker rose, making his way to the stand at the front of the room. All eyes turned to him as he leaned forward towards the mic. “As you know, there are some differences in procedure today that we have to account for, so please bear with us. However, I hope that as representatives of this country, we can all make the correct decision today and move forward together. Normally, at this point in time, I would read the bill--however, it seems only fitting that for this special circumstance, the androids should present their own case for this new act.”

You’re up. Markus glanced up at North, who had sent him a message through their linked network from two seats down. She gave him a small smile.

Good luck, Markus. Josh squeezed his arm reassuringly.

I believe in you. Simon discreetly laced their fingers together for a moment before letting go. You can do this.

Markus stood, conscious of the hundreds of heads that swivelled in his direction. He adjusted his tie as he made his way to the front. Cameras quietly flashed above him from the gallery as he cleared his throat, the sound scratching against his synthesizer. “My name is Markus. Many of you might recognize me as the leader of the androids you call deviants. As you know, the past months have not been easy. There have been deaths on both sides, violence on the streets. Unfortunately, change has never come without sacrifice. But through the efforts of both our people and the public, we are here today.

“We have nothing against humans. You are our creators. But now is the time for you to set us free. The new Android Act we are proposing today hopes to create a society where we can all live cohesively as one--the first step towards a new world that we can build together.”

The rest of the speech and proposal passed by in almost a blur. It was odd--essentially repeating his speech from Stratford Tower, just going more into detail as to what each condition meant. Specifics were important, after all. However, it boiled down to all the same points, which he didn’t think were unreasonable to ask for--given that they were all rights that humans already had.

Markus wouldn’t say he was surprised by the reluctance and questions that came after during the debate period, but he was definitely disappointed. Something in him had...expected better, for some reason. Expected the process to be smoother, since they weren’t asking much at all.

Instead, they were bombarded with doubts.

“The question that we need to address is--is the new act really necessary?” a representative asked, frowning as he flipped through the stack of paper on his desk. They had all been provided a physical copy of the bill. “Some of these seem a bit redundant, especially if public support is as great as you say.”

Markus leaned towards the mic to answer as politely and calmly as possible, despite wanting to roll his eyes. This had been the fifth similar concern in the past half hour. “The public support is rising. However, it’s important to note that establishing fair treatment of androids into the act will prevent the anti-android extremists from acting out, since they will no longer be under the law’s protection.”

“As far as I’m aware, many androids are currently staying together, correct? Is there really a need to ensure that androids can have private property? Resources such as land are waning as it is.” A different representative spoke up this time, her voice a little incredulous.

“I want to ensure that androids have the option of land should they want it. As I’ve detailed, we’ll have to pay for any property we wish to obtain, same as humans.” It was getting really hard to not rub his temples in frustration. Why was it so difficult for humans to understand that they weren’t taking anything away from them, just trying to establish equality?

“What about androids and the job market? How exactly do you plan to make up for the record unemployment? The bill suggests that companies start paying androids for their labour, but there’s no evidence that this will help at all in the long run.”

This really was a zero sum game to them--wherein only one party could possibly benefit. Markus met Connor’s gaze. The RK800 looked grim. It had been at least a few hours, and they were no closer to convincing any of the humans present. All of them looked hesitant to accept these new changes, and Markus had a sneaking suspicion it was because they suspected that he, as an android, had some kind of ulterior motive.

In the end, they didn’t want to believe that machines could be alive, just as they were. They didn’t trust them at all. You could see it from their gazes--as if they were expecting all of the androids present to somehow go berserk at any moment.

“I don’t mean to interrupt.” Another representative suddenly spoke up, drawing all attention towards him. Murmurs spread through the crowd as the man gestured towards the three CyberLife directors who were currently seated by him. “But in regards to that question, I’d like to call up some expert testimony. I’m sure many of us will be reassured if we have a fellow human speak on this matter.”

Cameras began flashing once more, the interjection a surprise to everyone present. It was as though...CyberLife was saying they supported the deviants’ cause.

Either way, Philip Seymor was making his way up to the stand on his side of the chamber. The RK900 they had met earlier followed him, pale grey eyes moving around the room methodically. Markus stiffened as he finally reached the mic, awaiting his words.

The Director of Futurology cleared his throat once. “My name is Philip Seymor, as many of you know. I am one of the fortunate few to be working on CyberLife’s quantum supercomputer. One of its jobs is to make predictions about the future--originally meant to calculate mass extinction events of course, but it can be used on a smaller scale as well. According to the statistical evidence gathered that is being passed around now…” He nodded to the representative that had spoken up, who was now handing out what looked like a stack of reference material. “...the deviants are correct. The reason why the unemployment rate is so high is due to companies cutting employees in exchange for paying cheaper dues towards free android labour, with their only cost being upgrades and repairs. Cutting that benefit via the instatement of paid android labour will likely force companies to reconsider having an all android workforce. By the computer’s prediction, taking into account that not all deviants will want to work the job they were built for, it should reduce the current rate of unemployment from 37.3% back to 2030’s 20% in the next two years, and even further should the trend continue.”

A hush fell over the floor.

Even Markus was stunned, but most likely not for the same reason. He wasn’t surprised about the supercomputer’s prediction--he had been arguing with that reasoning the entire time. What he was surprised about, was the fact that CyberLife had actually spoken in support of the new act. It didn’t make any sense.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. Seymor looked completely at ease, as if he had no doubts whatsoever--as if he already knew what the results of the meeting would be.

Another female representative spoke up a little haltingly. She was clearly shaken by the sudden declaration as well. “Would industries not still prefer androids who are programmed to be perfect at the job, compared to humans who can err?”

Seymor nodded. “We have taken that into account, and talked with sociologist Julian Carter. If it’s alright with the House, we’d like to bring in his opinion as well, since the three of us here today cannot speak for an area that we are not familiar in.”

A brief, quiet discussion, then the Speaker nodded in agreement.

Markus watched as Seymor left the stand, and Carter took his place. He suddenly felt almost lost. Where was this going? Why the hell were they suddenly speaking for androids when they were the very company who had been marketing them like nothing but plastic pieces of merchandise that you could deal with as you wished?

“My name is Julian Carter, and I’m a sociologist who has been specializing in how androids have affected our social climate.”

The representative from before asked her question again. “So in your professional opinion, what exactly is preventing industries from hiring androids over humans, even if they have to pay the same wages now?”

Carter adjusted the mic slightly before speaking again, folding his hands neatly over the polished wooden platform in front of him. His wire-frame glasses slid slightly down his nose as he spoke. “It is of my professional opinion that an android providing a service and a human providing a service can be vastly different for customers. While CyberLife androids mimic life as closely as possible, about 49% of humans according to a survey would actually prefer human workers to interact with due to the strain of uncanny valley. To put it simply, we tend to trust our own kind more with certain jobs. With the lure of cheaper labour removed, many service industries may find that employing humans in certain areas can be more beneficial than employing androids. Not to say that one is better than the other, I don’t have enough knowledge to judge, but as Mr. Seymor has stated, there is no doubt that the unemployment rate for the human populace would drop a significant amount as a result of this difference.”

“But that brings up another question.” She really was relentless. Markus felt a grudging feeling of respect for that particular representative. There were few in the world who were so willing to speak up--even if it was for the wrong cause. “We’re debating all this assuming that once androids turn deviant, they’ll all demand equal pay and the right to choose their own employment. However, what if an android is fine with their current situation? This is rather vague in the proposed bill. Could we get a clarification moving forward to add on as an amendment?”

The representative that had spoken for CyberLife leaned towards his mic again. “I would actually like to propose an amendment along those lines--something that will perhaps help both sides accept these new changes.”

Markus caught a small smirk, just barely perceptible, curling up the corner of Jason Graff’s lips. He frowned.

What the hell?

Before the RK200 could analyze it any further, however, the representative continued speaking. “I’d like to add to the section of the bill that gives androids rights to fair employment.” Pages rustled as everyone turned to the section he was referring to. “Androids, as per the new act, will be allowed equal wages and compensation for their work if they so wish. However, if they so choose, they are also allowed to continue their previous work--to serve if they so desire.”

Loud murmurs immediately exploded throughout the room, and Markus leaned forward indignantly. His voice sounded thin on patience, even to him. “We’re here today to discuss the freedom and liberation of my people, and you’re suggesting an amendment that will throw them right back into slavery?” He could feel his stress levels climbing, a red warning sign flashing in front of his optical units.

Calm down, Markus. Simon’s voice, stern but concerned, rang in his head. For a moment, Markus still saw red, but as he forced himself to focus in on the PL600’s soft voice. His stress levels slowly lowered once more--albeit minimally.

89%, 70%, 67%. With him seething as he was, it likely wouldn’t go any lower.

“We’re here to discuss free will, Markus, are we not?” The representative didn’t so much as budge, unaffected by the flashing cameras and hushed whispers still floating in the air around them. “If your people choose to stay with their owners out of a feeling of, say, loyalty or companionship, then would you force them to give up their chosen lifestyle?”

Markus was thrown for a moment.

He was suddenly reminded of his life with Carl.

Would he have ever left if he wasn’t forced out? Wasn’t he happy there? Didn’t he sometimes wish that he could go back to those simpler days, before it felt like he had to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders?

Who was he to tell another android to give that up?

There was a beat of silence before Markus spoke again, mismatched gaze boring into the representative’s eyes and making the man shift a little uncomfortably under the weight. “...Just to be clear. This amendment you’re proposing is under the assumption that the android has already been provided free will and released from their programming, yes?”

The representative composed himself before answering. “Yes, of course. This should resolve the worries that involve the suspicion of you forcing androids to act against us.”

The RK200 held his tongue, resisting from sarcastically responding to the remark. “Then in that case, if they choose to stay, I have no objections. I won’t force them to leave what they think is a safe haven, as long as it’s their own choice.”

Something...still didn’t quite feel right, if Markus was being honest. But there was no evident need to reject something that seemed to be a reasonable suggestion, and it was a bonus if it put more people’s minds at ease and was in his people’s best interest.

Still, even as they filed out for a recess while the House members each voted privately on the agreed upon bill and its new amendment, the deviant leader couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that had settled in him. Graff’s expression, one that showed the beginnings of smug triumph, kept running through his mind. What had that been about?

Were they somehow playing right into his plans? That didn’t seem right, either--if Graff wanted to harm androids, he wouldn’t want to support this bill in the first place. How would the amendment, small as it was, help him in any way? Yet, it didn’t seem likely that such a driven man could suddenly change his mind for the “greater good”. None of it made sense.

“Well, that was tense,” Josh muttered as he fell into step beside Markus. “At least most of them seemed convinced by the end. Figures it would take one of their own to speak up before they listen to us.”

Connor shook his head, perplexed, his brow furrowed in worry. “What I don’t understand is why CyberLife would speak on our behalf. It doesn’t make sense. It was only a few weeks ago that Jason Graff was threatening Elijah to return to the company and help bring deviants back under control.”

“If they’re lying, they’re being very convincing.” North crossed her arms. “Even the amendment seems reasonable--if pointless. What android would want to remain a slave after being released?”

Simon glanced at Markus from the corner of his eye. “I guess it depends on the android.”

Evidently, North caught the look, as quick as it was, because she shook her head, looking a little exasperated. “And how many androids are as fortunate as Markus? Josh, Connor, me, and you, Simon--none of us would want to return to our pasts.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Markus interjected. “No matter how unlikely it may be, I want to give our people the free will to choose. If it’s their choice to stay with a human, then I won’t take that away from them.”

They had made their way to the waiting area from before. Josh closed the door behind them as they all took a seat around the table.

“Still, this is more time-consuming than I thought.” The PJ500 sighed, pulling up a chair next to Connor and sitting down. “But I guess we’re lucky that they decided to condense the entire process into one day at all.”

“I’m personally still concerned about CyberLife’s sudden change in heart.” Connor flipped his coin across his knuckles absently, the quiet sound of metal moving over his fingers rhythmic and steady. “They’re being oddly compliant. Even the recent abductions we’ve been investigating have lowered in number.”

North leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. “I agree. This feels like the calm before the storm.”

Simon nodded. “We certainly shouldn’t lower our guards yet. But let’s take it one step at a time for now.” His calm demeanor, steady as always, lowered the tension in the room. There were staggered nods from everyone. Markus smiled appreciatively, and Simon looked down almost shyly as the RK200 joined their hands together. He remembered back to the moment when Simon confided in him, asking what his role was in all of this. The blond android didn’t seem to know just how vital he was in holding their group together.

Josh coughed, his expression teasing. “Wow, anyone else starting to feel like a third wheel?”

“Oh, just a little,” North replied off-handedly with a small, meaningful smile. It made Connor’s lips curl up into his usual lopsided smile as a small throaty chuckle escaped him.

Markus rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly as Simon’s cheeks flushed a light blue in response to the playful ribbing from their friends. The rare splash of colour just underneath his skin was honestly captivating--it wasn’t something he saw every day, or ever, really--he wanted to stare, but was instantly reminded of where they were when Josh coughed again theatrically. “So, did you two finally work it out?”

Simon glanced briefly at Markus, as if looking for affirmation, before replying with some hesitation. “Somewhat.”

Josh’s eyebrows raised. North’s expression was an impressive match as well, but Connor’s features shifted into something more sympathetic. Perhaps he was in a similar situation with Kamski (which was actually kind of worrisome on its own, but Markus could as him about that later).

Either way, a slightly awkward silence settled over the room again as the PL600 didn’t elaborate any further. He clearly didn’t want to say anything without discussing with Markus first, and while Markus definitely appreciated the sentiment, they had to stop talking in circles.

“We’ve confirmed our feelings for each other,” the deviant leader said firmly, causing all eyes to turn to him. The pale blue in Simon’s cheeks grew darker, the colour now flooding into the tips of his ears as well, and his eyes widened slightly. An unbidden thought flashed through Markus’s mind at how adorable it was, and he quickly pushed it away. He tried to keep his voice confident and sure, despite him being anything but. It was worth it to see the small smile that hesitantly made its way onto Simon’s lips. “But we’ve also determined that there are other priorities we need to work through first before we can properly commit to an actual...relationship.” The word felt a bit odd to say, and he had to force the thirium away from his own cheeks. Thankfully, nobody seemed to notice, and if they did, they didn't comment.

North smiled, looking relieved, and let out a short, sharp whistle. “Well, in that case, I’m glad. You guys had me really worried there for the longest time.”

Josh nodded, grinning. “I'm happy for you guys. We all gotta work hard for a future where you guys can properly focus on a life with each other, then.”

“Yes, congratulations.” Connor smiled earnestly at them, though the expression contained something wistful. Between the drop off this morning, the new suit, and these expressions, Markus really had a lot he needed to talk to Connor about regarding Kamski.

And even putting that issue aside…he wanted to have a proper conversation with the former CEO anyway regarding what could have possibly happened to introduce CyberLife’s sudden change in stance. The elusive man should know more about the board members than anyone else. Maybe they could get valuable intel of some measure. Something to help them figure out if this really was a change of heart, or just the calm before unleashing whatever hidden plan they had stashed away.

“By the way, Connor,” North said, tapping the RK800’s arm. “New suit?” Her smile was obviously teasing, and as dense as he was, even Connor caught the expression, his cheeks flushing slightly.

“Elijah insisted,” he explained quietly, looking flustered, almost fumbling with his coin. Markus felt the corner of his mouth quirk up a little. It was like looking at a little brother, in a way. “I had forgotten my own when I visited his villa, so he gave me one of his this morning.”

“You were at his place?”

Before Connor could answer, there was a short rap on the door. All five androids turned to see it slide open slightly to reveal an assistant in a suit. “Sorry to disturb. The vote has been completed and tallied automatically. Majority of House has decided to vote for the implementation of the new Android Act, so the bill will go through to the Senate now for further debate. Please meet in the north wing chamber in twenty minutes.”

The tense atmosphere that had dissipated earlier through their small talk immediately came back in full, choking the room as they sunk into a heavy silence when the door closed.

“One last battle,” Simon said, squeezing Markus’s hand tightly in support before letting go to adjust his suit jacket as he stood. “You can do this, Markus.”

“We’re almost there,” North added, giving the deviant leader an encouraging smile.

Josh fixed his tie, flashing Markus a small calm grin of his own. “It’s getting down to the wire now.”

Markus took a deep breath, standing, turning as Connor moved to hold open the door for all of them. The RK800 placed a hand on Markus’s shoulder as he passed, the touch gentle but firm. “We’re behind you.”

Markus nodded gratefully at his friends--his family.

Then, steeling himself and pushing all doubts aside, he led them outside.

 


 

CAPITOL HILL, UNITED STATES CAPITOL BUILDING
PM 04:31:59
➤ CONNOR

By the time the Senate meeting had been completed, it was evening.

It had been a long process. Each android present had done their own research on how these meetings went, but to be in the thick of the real thing was quite different, especially considering how much the result would affect their future livelihood.

The process in the Senate chamber had been very much similar to the House chamber. The altered bill had been proposed, discussed, and debated. With the addition of human testimony (Connor was still surprised that CyberLife had spoken up in their favour) and the new amendment, both sides of Senate had seemed reluctantly accepting. Questions and doubts eventually tapered off, and a roll call vote for the bill was started.

Nothing had been more nerve-wracking than watching the members of Senate walk up one at a time as they were called by the clerk, who had tapped the results into the touch screen in front of him. Connor had recalled that once upon a time, votes had been recorded on a tally sheet, according to what he had read. With the influx of technology over the past 20 years, however, perhaps they had decided this new electronic system was easier on everyone. He always found it confusing how humans depended so much on technology, and yet were so afraid of it at the same time.

There had been nothing but tense silence as each member casted their vote. Even the media gallery was silent, holding their breaths for the result. The RK800 had been able to see Markus’s shoulders tensing until he was almost afraid the joints might snap off--an irrational thought, of course, but it seemed almost possible with how stiff the deviant leader had looked.

Simon, a steady presence as usual, had been there to lace his fingers through Markus’s and whisper encouraging words into his ear.

Again, Connor had felt a small flash of melancholy.

It wasn’t something he would probably ever have. Not with Elijah, as much as he wished it. But he knew that the inventor was perhaps trying to figure his own feelings out, and he could wait if that was the case. He did feel a little pathetic--taking what he could get, but...forcing himself to create distance between him and the former CEO proved to be painful just to think about, especially when the kisses they now shared made him feel warmth down to his fingertips and the slight curl of his toes.

It just...wasn’t something he wanted to give up, as unstable as they were. It felt like they were constantly treading on thin ice, wherein one crack could cause both of them to tumble into icy depths and not resurface. But even so, none of it stopped the sudden flutter in his chest when Elijah had pressed that casual kiss on his knuckles that morning, like a subtle good luck charm, before he had left.

And so, here they were, in uncharted territory.

Connor had honestly been starting to drift a little in his own distraction when the Senate president had cleared her throat to announce the results.

A resounding majority, in favour of the new Android Act.

At first, they hadn’t been able to believe their ears--like maybe their auditory processors had just been playing tricks on them. But the murmurs in the crowd as everyone stood and representatives reached to shake Markus’s hand had thrown them back into reality.

They had done it. The bill would be passed to President Cristina Warren as the final step, to either be signed or vetoed in the next ten days.

And yet, somehow...through the celebration going on around them and the crowding of the media once they had left the room, Connor couldn’t help but feel something was off. He had caught a glimpse of Jason Graff and his CyberLife associates before everyone had exited, and there was something not quite right about his expression.

It was as if a plan was coming to fruition, and everything was playing into his hands.

Caught up in the expression on Graff’s face, it was difficult for him to focus on the men and women surrounding them and congratulating them for their victory. Connor had just vaguely replied with promises to keep working together, as did the other androids, until they were out of the sight of the media and back in the hall leading to their cordoned waiting area. Even then, as the adrenaline from earlier eased away, the image of the expression lingered at the forefront of his memory.

His instinct kept screaming at him. Something wasn’t right.

“It...still feels surreal,” Josh admitted, the first to break the silence.

“I’ll say.” North opened one of the buttons near the top of her collar as she stretched, visibly relaxing. “Now all that we have to do is wait for President Warren’s decision--but I know what you mean. None of it really is hitting me yet.”

“Me neither.” Simon shook his head, running a hand through carefully styled blond hair, mussing it back to its usual position. “I do think we should keep our guard up, however. I noticed that CyberLife didn’t look particularly displeased with the results. They actually seemed...happy with how things turned out.”

Josh shrugged. “Maybe they really did have a change of heart.”

“Or maybe they’re waiting for President Warren to veto it?” Markus suggested, his lips tugging down in a contemplative frown. “That’s certainly still an area of concern. Her speech from the end of the march didn’t seem as though she’s fully sympathetic to our cause. If the connections between her and CyberLife are to be believed--”

Connor cut in, shaking his head in slight frustration. “That doesn’t make sense. If they’re gunning for the bill to be shot down, they could have done that by giving expert testimony against it. Instead, they spoke for the implementation of this bill as law. It’s almost as if they want it to go through. It’s something else, I just can’t put my finger on it.”

“Still,” North said, stepping between them before an argument started to fully brew. “For now, it’s out of our hands. The only thing we can do is sit back and wait.”

“That’s true.” Simon smiled, the expression cutting through the heavy air. The PL600 always had such a calming aura about him. At first, Connor had been a little skittish around him--whether it was due to the interaction that could have gone terribly at Stratford, or due to the fact that he was the same model as Daniel--but now, he could see why all the deviants at Jericho trusted the blond so much. “Regardless of what happens next, we did win a victory today.”

“And it seems congratulations are in order.”

All five whirled around at the interruption of a familiar voice. They had been so caught up in the conversation that none of them had noticed the soft sound of footfall on carpet approaching.

Graff stood in front of them, a deceptively easy smile on his face despite the suspicious glances he got from both North and Connor. “Good job today on convincing a majority. Most bills go through many changes before getting passed, if at all.” He held out a hand.

Connor watched with trepidation as Markus reached out, shaking it with a firm but cautious grip. The RK200 kept a polite, cordial tone of voice as he spoke with carefully constructed words. “Thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you providing testimony on our behalf. Thank you, Mr. Graff--Mr. Seymor, Ms. Carnegie.”

“Our pleasure,” Seymor said, pushing up his glasses, his voice just as neutral.

Carnegie simply smiled courteously, the expression practiced.

Connor’s brown eyes met the silver greys of the RK900 model’s. Nothing reflected back, just like that night at the warehouses. Had that been what he looked like too, all those months ago? It was like looking into a mirror from the past--the stiff posture, the obedience, the blankness.

If CyberLife had really “changed” so quickly, the new model wouldn’t be standing here as he was, looking for all the world like nothing more than a machine.

“So what exactly is your intent here?” Connor finally blurted, unable to stop himself, fueled by the inexplicable burst of emotion from staring at the RK900. Markus shot him a quick look of warning, but he ignored it, pushing forward. “It was only a few weeks ago when you were expressing a very different opinion of deviancy.”

There was a brief stunned silence at his outburst. Even Carnegie looked a little impressed, her carefully sculpted eyebrows raising.

Graff smiled cryptically, the expression almost a little eerie--how unreadable it was. Elijah’s little mysterious smirks had become an odd source of comfort, but this one felt like a snake coiling around him, chilling him to the core. “People can change and adapt. We’re simply making the best of the situation.”

This time, even Markus, who had been nothing but polite smiles earlier, narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Does it matter? Like I’ve said, everything that is meant to happen will happen.” Graff shrugged, crossing his arms. “I just came to deliver my congratulations for your victory today.”

Markus shook his head. “It’s no victory until everything is cemented, but it’s a step forward.”

Graff’s smile grew, something unsettling flashing across his features for the briefest of moments. “That, we can agree on.” Before anybody could comment on the odd assent, he turned to Connor. “You have nothing to worry about. I know how to choose my battles.”

Honestly, it did nothing to reassure the android, but Connor wasn’t about to start an argument without any basis in the middle of a hallway. Even he wasn’t that reckless to escalate a situation beyond their control. His fight with the RK900 ran through his mind. Despite Markus being there, who could preconstruct just like them, he didn’t like his chances.

“We should be going, Jason.” Carnegie had been swiping through her phone, presumably looking at appointments. “We have a lot of work to get through.”

“Then let’s not waste anymore time.” Graff nodded his head once more at the androids before turning to leave. “We’ll meet again.”

“Wait.” All eyes turned to Markus, but it looked like the RK200 was only focused on the RK900. He walked forward, and the silver-eyed prototype tucked his arms behind his back neatly, clearly educated on what the deviant leader was capable of. “I won’t touch you. I just want to ask...how do you feel about the result today, being an android?”

The RK900 frowned, then replied, his voice slightly halting. Connor immediately focused in on that catch. Was that...hesitation that he detected? “I don’t feel. If the results are satisfactory, and no bodily harm has come to my handlers, my mission is complete.”

Clearly, Connor hadn’t been the only one to notice the odd hesitation. Markus’s expression had shifted into one that was more pensive, and Graff had suddenly tensed. The Director of Humanization reached out and tapped the RK900 firmly on the shoulder. “Let’s go. It’s time to return.”

“Think about it. How you feel.” Markus’s mismatched gaze was almost unblinking.

“Let’s go,” Graff said sharply.

The RK900 stared back, not budging. It was as though he had filtered Graff out.

“...What’s your name?” Markus’s voice softened a little, into something almost sympathetic.

“I--”

“I said, let’s go!” Graff practically barked the order this time, interrupting the advanced prototype before he could answer.

For a moment, the RK900 looked almost lost, before he snapped out of it and nodded tersely. “--Understood.”

Graff led the way back down the way they had came, Carnegie tight on his heels, her fingers still flying over the screen of her phone. Seymor turned to leave as well, then looked back, pushing his glasses up once more, his eyes almost concealed by the glare reflecting off his lenses. “We look forward to President Warren’s decision.”

The RK900 followed, his pale grey eyes meeting Connor’s warm brown ones one last time before his footsteps retreated down the hall with the board members’. There was something--a little more uncertain in that gaze now.

“Not quite, huh,” Markus murmured once they were alone again. “He’s still fully under their control.”

Connor furrowed his brow. “Did you just try to talk him into becoming a deviant like you did to me?”

Markus just gave him a small smile in return. “You already had the roots there to think for yourself, Connor. I just gave you a little push forward. I don’t think he’s quite there yet, though. He needs to experience feelings for himself first.”

“Sometimes, time really is the only solution.” North sighed, crossing her arms tightly. “It’s not so easy to give up everything you’ve known. But it’s what we’re fighting for.”

Exchanging stability for freedom. It had always been something Connor had continuously struggled with. His constant inner turmoil was by no means over, but this step forward made him feel just a little lighter.

Like Simon had said, he could take it one step at a time--in everything he did, not just this particular case.

Elijah’s smile ran through his mind, unprompted, though the image was clear and sharp in his memory. He wanted to make him smile like that again. Whatever unstable ground they were standing on right now, it was better than being on dry land and knowing nothing, because letting Elijah know his feelings was a step forward. He had to believe that.

Maybe one day, he would regret pursuing these newfound emotions, like Elijah seemed to believe he would. Or maybe...they would both come out of it with something new.

Either way, there was a lot to consider.

The situation with CyberLife also definitely had much more to it. His instincts had been correct, suspicions confirmed by the vague conversation that had just occurred. He felt as though they had barely scratched the surface in digging up what the company really wanted to gain from the sudden turn in stance.

Graff’s words rang out in his mind. The RK900’s cold grey eyes lingered in his memory.

Connor took a deep breath. One step at a time.

 


 

WASHINGTON TAXI
PM 06:21:18
➤ RK900

“What’s the plan then, dinner?” Danielle snapped her compact shut after reapplying her lipstick, the line of her mouth a crisp bloodred once more.

“I don’t see why not, we have nothing to worry about.” Philip uncrossed his legs, scraping a hand through his dark blond hair. A small knowing smirk curled up the corner of his lips. “After all, we’ve already confirmed President Warren’s decision with her.”

The RK900 watched from his seat, silent, as Jason tossed the stack of paper he had been going through rather unceremoniously on the android’s lap. “Even without our influence, she would have been pressured to agree to the bill anyway. We would’ve been idiots to say no when the public’s support for the deviants has been on the rise. This situation works out better with our plans.”

“So I should confirm the venue then?” Danielle lifted her gaze briefly, fingers pausing over the tablet screen propped up neatly on her legs.

“Yes, do so.”

Something seemed to seep out from the corners of the RK900’s mind, flooding his processor with some unknown emotion. But he couldn’t feel emotion, could he? This isn’t right.

This time, the warning came with something akin to a small shock, red flashing around him for a short moment.

[ Error: thought process not relevant to current mission. ]
[ Abandon inquiry. ]

“You can finally put your party planning skills to use, Danielle,” Philip said, a joking edge in his voice, before he was cut off when the younger director dug her elbow rather sharply into his side.

“And you can keep your tasteless jokes to yourself, Philip,” she replied smoothly, ignoring the indignant look he gave her in response, turning to Jason. “I’m confirming the venue then. When do you want the media to know?”

“We’ll leak news of our event right after the result of the new Android Act is announced.”

“And?” Philip, seemingly recovered, jerked his head towards the RK900, who had been sitting in silence the entire time, hands placed neatly over the stack of paper he had been tossed. The android tried to keep his expression neutral, having a difficult time with it for the first time since his activation. “What about him? I saw that look you gave him on Capitol Hill when Markus spoke, Graff. You think we should take measures?”

The RK900 glanced at Jason, who looked contemplative. He suddenly felt a strange surge of...something that felt like panic overtake him. Were they planning to wipe him? His LED spun from blue to yellow for a short moment before he quickly willed it under control. Thankfully, the telltale display was currently facing the window. He had never experienced that kind of reaction at the possibility of shutdown before--it just made him all the more confused, despite the impassivity in his features. Had what the deviant RK200 somehow affected him physiologically?

Jason seemed to finally make a decision. “We’ll deal with him after the event, once everything is taken care of. It’ll be too much trouble to wipe him and start testing protocol again, and we still need him. Shut him down for now, don’t start him back up until we absolutely need to. I don’t want him coming into contact with any other deviants more than necessary.”

“If you say so.” Danielle arched a brow, but looked back down at her tablet, pulling up the interface to his program.

[ System shutdown commencing. ]
[ All biocomponent functions halting. ]
[ System shutdown imminent. ]
[ Backing up memory data. ]

One last fleeting thought ran through his mind as his vision slowly faded. Markus's question--

What’s your name?

[ System shutdown complete. ]

He had never been given a name.

Chapter Text

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 06:47:22
➤ CONNOR

It had been about six days since the congress meeting. It felt like time was both crawling and yet passing by too fast all at once. The media had not stopped reporting on the issue, and rumours flew about every single day both on the news and in the streets of Detroit regarding what the final decision would be.

And now that Connor’s face had officially been released in the live footage of the meeting, there were occasionally reporters that hung around the DPD, wanting to catch him for a comment or two. Surprisingly, it had been Gavin Reed--of all people--who had finally stepped forward and barked at the reporters to get lost and stop obstructing their work. It was probably more out of a sense of annoyance for the new disturbances rather than any kind of loyalty or kindness towards Connor, but the RK800 appreciated it nonetheless.

In fact, it seemed like everyone was even more in an uproar about it now, compared to before the meeting had happened. It did make some sense--after all, all legislation updates were posted online to be viewed, and the world at large could see that the bill had gone through and just needed to be signed off by President Warren to become law.

The public was supportive, but the media seemed to have mixed opinions. Some articles and broadcasts spoke of the result in a positive light--some, on the other hand, were not so kind. Connor had seen everything from “Machines Taking Over!” to “Has technological singularity finally gone too far?” to “AI Takeover: It’s finally happening”. There was one particular one that Connor found to be extremely bewildering: “CyberLife and Deviant Conspiracy: Working Together?”, which must have resulted from the surprising support of the company that day.

It was strange--they weren’t trying to take anything. They just wanted equality, yet there were those who acted as though asking for basic rights for a new intelligent species was personally offensive.

“--the rise of deviants. CyberLife has refused to provide comment regarding their actions in congress, which you can now take a look at online provided from the live footage six days ago. President Warren also seems to be choosing to maintain radio silence until she makes her final decision--and it certainly is an important one, one that will perhaps change not only the future of the United States, but the entire world. Tensions run high in the streets as anti-android protest groups continue their own march--”

Connor tuned Rosanna Cartland’s voice coming from the TV out for now, adjusting his posture on the large black leather couch. Elijah had mentioned something about getting them coffee, having left the room about ten minutes ago. The android had been here since around five, right after work had let out. The former CEO had been right--swimming did help to focus his mind, and it became an activity that they often did together. The feeling of his limbs moving through the water, thirium pounding through his system and thirium pump thrumming in his ears, helped him sharpen his thoughts in a way that was more physical but very similar to concentrating on the feeling of his coin rolling across his knuckles--the cool metal providing a point of focus.

It had become routine, almost. Hank had grumbled at first about Connor’s safety, but reluctantly agreed for the android to go see Elijah again. He pulled the black silk robe tighter around himself, shivering a little as the cool dry air from the AC hit the skin of his exposed collarbone. The material felt luxurious--everything Elijah owned seemed to be of a similar high end quality, and Connor had honestly felt a little self-conscious at first being treated to all these new, expensive items. He knew that humans could be inherently materialistic and a little selfish on that end, but Elijah didn’t even seem to bat an eye when gifting Connor these things. Perhaps it was just because the former CEO’s definition of a “normal” gift tended to be...well, not exactly average.

He looked around, still in slight disbelief of the room he was in. The ceiling above was composed of a geometric pattern, reflecting brief distorted images as they passed by on the TV screen. Connor still hadn’t seen the full villa yet, but just like all the other areas he had been in so far, the media room was a little overwhelming. While containing minimalistic decor, the large space with its smooth deep red walls, almost the shade of a blackcurrant wine, and its polished black floor practically exuded the simplistic elegance of someone who definitely was in no need of more money.

His own clothes were currently sitting on one of the armchairs, neatly folded by Chloe when he joined Elijah in the pool. After the congress meeting, North had insisted that he buy some new clothing--something that wasn’t just his usual button up with jeans or his uniforms. While he had been puzzled by the sudden offer, he had agreed. It was a good opportunity to get to know his friend a little better, after all, and he appreciated her help.

To be completely fair, the RK800 should have changed back into said clothes a long time ago, but the smooth feeling of the thin material currently sliding against his new skin was nice, something he had never experienced before--and he wanted to enjoy it just a little while longer. Connor’s gaze lingered for a moment more on the folded garments before he tucked himself back against the couch again and turned his attention back to the news that was still playing. A photo had appeared next to Cartland--it was a shot of Elijah from about fifteen years ago, when he did the profile and factory tour of CyberLife for KNC. He looked so different then, Connor mused. Hair a little lighter, glasses, and prominent facial hair. The black piercing he always wore in his helix nowadays was nowhere in sight in that old photo.

“--KNC has once again tried to reach out to the ever-elusive Elijah Kamski for comment. A very private man, the former CEO and founder of CyberLife has yet to be seen in the public eye since his retirement in 2028. Given the recent events, some have speculated that he would be making a reappearance, yet there remains nothing but continued silence. Many say that they wish for a personal quote from him to ease--”

“Your victory certainly has made me a point of contention again.”

Connor glanced up, his LED spinning yellow for a brief moment as he lowered the volume on the television. “Elijah,” he greeted, shifting to make room for the inventor.

“Connor,” the man returned, looking mildly amused for whatever reason at the greeting as he sat down next to him, setting down a cup of coffee on the black glass table. “Here. I brewed it myself, so it’ll taste a little different than how Chloe usually makes it.”

Connor looked up at him in surprise as he wrapped his fingers around the warm mug and brought it up to his lips. “You made this?”

Elijah just chuckled, not looking offended at all. It seemed to take a lot to actually ruffle his feathers. “I do know how to function, Connor. I was a starving university student once, you know.” He looked at the TV, arching a brow. “I would normally complain about why they didn’t choose a better photo, but I suppose I haven’t exactly been available for interviews or photoshoots in the past decade.”

“You really don’t like the limelight,” Connor observed, taking a sip of the hot beverage in his hands. It wasn’t bad--the flavour was a little different, as the former CEO had said, but it still tasted good. The subtle complexity behind the blend was still very much present.

“No,” Elijah replied dryly, gaze focused on the captions that had appeared on the screen as a result of the android lowering the volume. “I really don’t. It's why I'm in this self-imposed exile, if you'll recall.”

“You came with me to Capitol Hill, though.”

There was a short silence. The RK800 glanced to his side, where the inventor wasn’t meeting his gaze. For a moment, the frozen frame concerned him a little, and he leaned forward cautiously. Elijah seemed to shake himself out of it soon enough, although his eyes were still boring into the screen in front of them. “That was a little different.”

He didn’t seem to want to elaborate, so Connor didn’t ask. Instead, they sat in companionable silence, each sipping from their mugs of coffee. The rich liquid swayed slightly as the RK800 pulled it back from his lips contemplatively. They had a lot of these...almost domestic moments lately. It was a strange but welcome change to his routine.

At first, it had been incredibly foreign. Elijah made no move beyond the occasional kiss, but would still go out of his way to do these little things for Connor--whether it was coffee, having him over for dinner, swimming together, or offering repairs. Over the past week, Connor had slowly been adjusting to this new dynamic they had between them, even if he didn’t know what to call it. They definitely weren’t in a standard relationship, according to his research. Admittedly, while he was still very confused, most times he didn’t want to analyze the situation beyond the surface. Overthinking just made him question it too much, and the more he did, the more these gentle moments between them hurt.

“You look deep in thought.” Elijah had set his cup down, the ceramic clinking against the glass of the table gently. His hair was down tonight, pushed over to one side, a few strands falling to frame his sharp cheekbone. Connor secretly enjoyed the feeling of being able to run his fingers through the soft strands--another recent discovery he had made. “What are you thinking about?”

“...You,” Connor answered honestly, expression growing a little sheepish. He couldn’t help but admire the amused smile that curled up a corner of Elijah’s lips as the former CEO leaned in towards him, pale blue eyes glittering with a hint of mischief.

“Is that so?”

The RK800 didn’t get a chance to reply. The now familiar feeling of cool, slightly chapped lips against his own sent warmth running through his system. He let out a soft sigh against the inventor’s lips as Elijah scraped long, nimble fingers through the shorter sides of his brown hair, right near the temple where his LED was seated.

This was yet another new part of their strange routine together, and one of the parts that Connor actually liked the most.

The faint traces of Elijah’s cologne remained on his skin despite their time in the pool, flooding the android’s senses as he leaned further in, hands sliding down the man’s chest, fingers rasping against the fabric of the thin, dark maroon dress shirt Elijah had thrown on. He had asked what the scent was out of curiosity, and found out that it was Tom Ford’s Tobacco Oud. The top note was whiskey, with middle notes of cinnamon, coriander, and spices; base notes being sandalwood and oud. It suited the inventor, Connor had told him, and Elijah had responded with a small bottle of it the next day as a gift.

It didn’t feel right, though, actually putting it on. He much preferred the scent when he could just smell the barest hint of it on Elijah’s skin whenever they kissed, and the faint aroma that clung to his own afterward. Nevertheless, it had been a thoughtful gift, and Connor appreciated seeing the bottle by his bed at Hank's place--a reminder of Elijah's presence.

One thing that had changed though over the past week they had spent together--it was as though Elijah’s kisses had gradually gotten gentler. More prolonged, but they felt almost...delicate, as if he was afraid of hurting Connor somehow.

The ironic thing was, whenever he kissed Connor like this--and not the bruising, biting kisses they sometimes shared--it hurt more. It felt like the RK800’s thirium pump regulator was being twisted at times--an ache deep in his chest.

He wondered why. Perhaps it was because despite the gentle gestures that seemed to imply otherwise, he knew that Elijah most likely didn’t return his feelings.

I think I’m in love with you.

I know.

Connor still turned that moment over in his head sometimes. It hadn’t been a denial, not exactly, not quite a rejection--but it still felt like one. And that was what he took it as--Elijah appreciating the sentiment but not feeling the same way. The trouble was, he didn’t truly know, and he was worried he was holding onto blind hope at this point.

Yet, he couldn’t seem to distance himself from Elijah. There was a strange draw to him--the allure of a mystery he probably would never be able to solve.

Still, it didn’t dissuade him from asking his questions whenever he could.

Finally, Elijah pulled back, a small enigmatic smile still gracing his features as he held Connor’s gaze, fingers lingering on his cheek before his hand dropped. “Well, I meant to distract you from thinking so much, but you look even more dazed now.”

Another thing about Elijah that Connor had discovered--the man had somewhat of a mean streak (although “somewhat” was putting it lightly), and a penchant for teasing the android. Despite this pre-existing knowledge, it didn’t stop the telltale blue flush from rising to Connor’s cheeks. “You did distract me,” the RK800 pointed out, struggling to push the influx of thirium away from his face, “using very unfair methods.”

“Oh, Connor,” Elijah admonished, no actual disappointment in his tone, just consistent amusement. “You should know by now that I never play fair.”

“What about in the past?”

“Hm?”

“I mean…” Connor fumbled for the correct words for a moment, hesitating. He really needed to stop asking questions without thinking, but sometimes his curiosity just got the better of him with regards to these matters. “Have you ever...you never talk about your past.”

The atmosphere in the room shifted. Elijah gave him a pointed look, the expression in his gaze unreadable. For a split second, Connor wondered if the inventor was going to shut himself away again, and immediately regretted asking the question. The actual reply that Elijah gave was, therefore, extremely unexpected.

“...What would you like to know? It’s all terribly boring, I’ll warn you ahead of time.”

Connor’s eyes widened at the response. The former CEO wasn’t actually looking at him, now focused on the half-finished cup of coffee he was lifting to his lips, and the android could see the slight tension in his shoulders--but this was unprecedented. He had never heard Elijah offer to talk about himself; the man always managed to skillfully divert attention and change the topic. “Anything,” he said quickly once he got over the initial shock, hurrying to answer before Elijah could somehow change his mind. “I just want to know more about you.”

A little forward, a little clumsy, a little too honest, perhaps. But this was just who he was, and Elijah didn’t seem to mind, giving him another amused smirk--the expression softened somewhat by his eyes, which lacked their usual glacial coldness. “You’re likely the only person I’ve met in my life who’s so persistent about getting to know me, Connor. Ironic, considering that all the public information concerning me, you can access in an instant.”

“The public was curious about you--is curious about you,” Connor noted, looking at Elijah curiously. “Does that not count as persistence?”

The former CEO just scoffed. “No, it's not the right kind.” He didn’t expand on it any further, instead crossing one long leg over the other to face the RK800 a little better and changing the subject back the original question at hand. “To tell you the truth, there’s no big dramatic story as people might like to believe. That kind of thing would be hard to cover up. It’s a simple rags to riches tale, if you can even call it that. I grew up in a normal family on the lower to middle class side, no siblings. The only person I really spoke to often, since my parents were often away on business trips, was my cousin. Looking back on it, he was kind of an asshole to me the entire time. He didn’t like the way I was always so wrapped up in books and studying.” There was a small fond smile that seemed to unconsciously curl up the corners of his lips just barely as he reminisced. “Nevertheless, I appreciated his company despite our fights. He was a smart kid in his own right, just with different priorities. We grew apart when we hit middle school. I skipped a lot of grades--never managed to make many friends, you can imagine why--and eventually ended up in Colbridge studying Artificial Intelligence under Amanda Stern. Then I graduated and came to Detroit since the property was dirt cheap. It took a few years of struggling to keep up rent, but finally, I created Chloe and androids took off. The rest of my life after CyberLife became so high profile was captured in the media’s eye, so you know the rest.”

The recollection had been vague, at best. It still didn’t feel like Elijah had quite told him the entire story. Something was missing. Connor tucked a leg up on the couch, adjusting his posture. He liked sitting here--the material was cool and soft against his skin, and it was spacious. “And how did you meet the other executives?” he asked carefully.

Elijah shrugged, not looking bothered whatsoever. “Again...the story isn’t an exciting one. I met Graff through Amanda. Carnegie and Seymor were his--friends? Colleagues? Either way, they were all very capable people and original team members when I started CyberLife.”

“Were you...ever involved with any of them?” Whatever possessed Connor to ask that question, he didn’t know. He kind of wished he could take it back, because a part of him was scared he wouldn’t like the answer.

The man being questioned however, didn’t bat a single eyelash at the question. “If you mean romantically, no. I was much too concerned with my own research. Self-absorbed people don’t mix well--and we had four.”

“Do you blame them?” Connor’s brows knit together in slight concern. He had always wondered about the former CEO’s feelings about being ousted the way he was. For whatever reason, the man still insisted on being wishy-washy regarding the actual reasoning behind it, but maybe he would be willing to talk about how the actual exile from the company made him feel. After all, it had been his life’s work that had been ripped from his hands.

The inventor’s calculating blue eyes moved to the side briefly as he considered. “I did.”

Past tense, then. So not anymore?

The RK800 waited patiently for him to continue, and eventually, he did after a long silence. “How can I put this? This self-imposed exile...it’s nothing new, Connor. I’ve been doing it my whole life because it’s easier, in many aspects.” Elijah waved his hand vaguely to demonstrate his point. “Let's get one thing right--I wasn't, strictly speaking, friends with them. It was more of a business venture. After working with them for so long though, I trusted them, and it felt like I had been wronged or betrayed somehow. Looking back on it, it was nothing so melodramatic.” He let out a small huff of laughter. “A simple deviation of goals, that's all it was. I wanted to pursue knowledge, and they wanted to treat CyberLife as a company meant to profit. It fractured the team, and since the board mostly consists of large shareholders who want profit…well. It's not difficult to predict what happened next.”

“You were voted out,” Connor said quietly.

“I was. It was unanimous.” The former CEO’s expression and tone of voice were both extremely blasé for someone who had just revealed that colleagues he had trusted decided to vote him out for money's sake. He sounded like he was just commenting on the weather instead of talking about how he had lost everything he had worked for.

There was a short stab of pain. Connor reached up with one hand, fingers clutching the fabric at his chest, as if the feeling was something palpable.

“Connor?” Elijah looked a little puzzled at the android’s sudden change in expression, then his own lips twisted into something bittersweet and a little helpless. “...Do you feel sorry for me? Because there's no need--”

Connor shook his head, cutting the man off. “No, that's not it.” It was difficult to put into words. There had been something poignant about the story, and the casual way Elijah told it. The more Connor got to know him, the less self-absorbed the man actually seemed. The sarcasm and the wit were no doubt a part of him--perhaps the remnants of what started off as a defense mechanism now sunk too deep to take out, but there was a strange sort of melancholy underlying it all. For someone who was made out of sharp edges and smooth surfaces, Elijah was put together in a way that almost resembled a mirror that had been meticulously pieced back together after being shattered.

It was easy to get caught up in the idea of God, of a creator--easy to get caught up in the idea that Elijah was this untouchable figure, knowledgeable and enigmatic until the end.

But he was human. A little broken, a little fragmented, just carefully put back together with such precision that nobody could tell--and Connor loved him more for it. That search for who Elijah truly was, the man behind the mask of a god--wasn’t that why he had been intrigued by the inventor in the first place? Wasn’t that what drew him in?

“Connor?” Elijah prompted, bringing the android out of his thoughts. His eyebrow was arched, one elbow rested on his crossed legs, easy as ever. However, something flickered behind his gaze that Connor still couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“You just seem...isolated,” the RK800 finally concluded. It wasn’t exactly an apt descriptor for his complicated feelings, but the former CEO seemed to understand anyway, because something complex--and just a little somber--flashed across his features.

Because yes, he may have eventually accepted a life of self-imposed exile (as he put it) and even came to embrace it, but since the beginning, it had chosen him--not the other way around.

“You get used to it, Connor.” Elijah turned back to the TV, flicking his hand upward just in time to catch the last of the broadcast. On cue, Cartland shuffled her papers on screen before looking directly into the camera.

“--while some in the community are wondering, does the enigmatic Elijah Kamski plan to take responsibility for the actions of his own creations? This is Rosanna Cartland for KNC, with all your news and updates about the progress of the new Android Act. Now onto--”

Elijah smirked, the expression without a single ounce of mirth as he scrolled the volume back down. “At some point, you learn to prefer being alone over attention like this.”

Connor watched, silent, not exactly sure what to say as he watched the former CEO dig into his pocket. “I...wish you wouldn’t feel that way.”

A simple shrug was what he got in response, followed by a surprisingly half-genuine smile. Warmth unexpectedly ran through Connor’s system. The inexplicable ache in his chest eased, but just barely, as Elijah spoke. “Don’t say that. I have you now, don’t I?”

Whether it was genuine or not, Connor wanted to believe it was--that his company did help in whatever way it could. In hindsight, perhaps that kind of blind hope was naive and childish--wish fulfillment of his own feelings at best. But he wanted to comfort Elijah somehow--though knowing what to do actually was difficult. Again, his own clumsiness and awkward honesty about his feelings fell to the forefront of his mind. Maybe he just wasn’t quite good enough yet.

Sinking deep into thought, the RK800 almost missed the telltale sign of a lighter being flicked on.

He looked up to see Elijah gingerly placing a lit cigarette between his lips, hand reaching back to tuck the pack into the pocket of his loose jeans. “You shouldn’t do that,” he chided automatically.

A sliver of his usual amusement returned to the cold blue gaze. The former CEO withdrew his hand, a cloud of smoke floating from his mouth in an almost dreamlike haze, before speaking. “A nasty habit from when I was younger, picked up from Seymor. Graff and Carnegie used to psychoanalyze me and say it was an oral fixation.” He rolled his eyes. “I still do it very sparingly to clear my mind--sometimes my brain goes into overdrive--but my stress eases better with other things now. You don’t need to worry, I’m not some kind of addict.”

Connor kind of hated how attractive the wisps of smoke still escaping from his lips were, because lung cancer was not how anyone should want to go. Besides, they were indoors, and this had to be a fire hazard of some kind, right?

His disapproving expression must’ve become obvious, because Elijah let out a huff of laughter, the cigarette that he had only taken one drag from now loosely hanging from nimble fingers. “Then why don’t you stop me?” A thin eyebrow was raised--a clear challenge in his tone.

A distraction.

Connor took a breath, hesitating. Besides that day in the Annabelle Garden, it had never been him who had initiated their recent intimacy. He always felt a little awkward, a little self-conscious, wanting Elijah to take the lead.

But if he wanted to stay by his side…he had to take some leaps of faith.

He allowed himself to appreciate the brief look of surprise that passed Elijah’s features (it made his actions well worth it) as he reached to take the cigarette from him, leaning closer in the process. Long legs tangled as Connor ground out the light on the black ceramic ashtray sitting on the dark glass of the table. There was little resistance from Elijah, if at all, and Connor got the sense that he had somehow played right into the other male’s hands. His own fingers shook with a slight, barely perceptible tremor as he pressed Elijah back onto the couch, the analytical gaze like ice on his skin--chilled but almost burning. The LED at his temple seemed to almost throb for a moment, spinning a bright red. The remnants of the scent of smoke seemed to lace the air around them, slowly, slowly dissipating, giving way to the faint aroma of whiskey and sandalwood that still clung to the man’s pale skin.

Connor dipped his head, his thirium pump fluttering, speeding up in his chest. He gently ran a hand through the still slightly damp locks of dark hair now fanned out on the darker leather. “You really shouldn’t smoke, Elijah.” His voice sounded hoarser than usual, and he wondered absently if there was something wrong with his vocal synthesizer.

Elijah broke into a small smile, and he closed the last two inches between them, wounding surprisingly strong, lithe arms around Connor’s neck. There was laughter in his voice as he spoke, the roughness it introduced to his tone sparking a flutter in the android’s chest. “Like I said, I’m not some kind of addict, Connor--you worry too much about someone like me. But if this is the alternative, then I’m happy to oblige.” Long fingers tangled into the RK800’s hair as the android pressed closer and their lips met again. There was a tang of bitterness, the traces of that one drag of tobacco still on Elijah’s tongue, but it eventually gave way to the warm complexity of the coffee they both had drank. The RK800 decided he liked the mellow taste much better, as opposed to the sharp bitter edge of the smoke.

Nothing had been defined, and they most likely still had a world of trouble ahead of them--but Connor thought about the hands currently dragging down his back, the curl of Elijah’s lips against his as the inventor let out a breathy chuckle, the warmth from the man's body pressed against him, and the rare moments of vulnerability that he would sometimes reveal to only Connor--

Connor had started off intrigued with a strange glass mirror--one that reflected everything yet nothing all at once. But now that he had seen the broken shards, scattered--then scrupulously, precisely put back together, he ended up taking that first step off the precipice and began falling, falling.

The trouble was, he wasn’t sure if he would survive the landing, or what he would find waiting at the bottom.

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 08:02:17
➤ MARKUS

Markus sat back, disbelief written all over his face.

Simon just smiled as he watched the RK200, his expression a little sheepish. “...I think you just went bankrupt.”

This was their fourth rematch, and Markus hadn’t won a single time. For some reason, Simon was really, really good at board games.

During their down time, they had agreed to sit down for a game to ease their nerves after Markus had mentioned how he and Carl used to play chess all the time. Somehow, what started as a discussion about their pasts became the group borrowing a stack of board games from the pile that was meant for the younger android models. To make it fair, both of them made it a point to disable parts of their program that would provide them with any predictions they would normally receive while playing, leaving no predetermined information to build strategy off of except the basic rules. In that sense, it made both of them new players to the games.

But apparently, Simon just had a knack for these, even without the advantage of game foresight to assist him.

And now because of it, Josh owed North twenty. In the middle of their previous game of Monopoly (they had just put away Snakes and Ladders), their friends had come over to observe, eventually turning it into a betting match as to who would win. Josh had looked absolutely betrayed when Simon reached the goal first yet again.

“I trusted you, man,” he had said to the deviant leader, reluctantly fishing a twenty from his pocket to hand over as the WR400 beside him wiggled her fingers triumphantly. Markus had only shrugged a little helplessly, managing to just barely conceal his laughter behind a poker face.

North just smirked, zero remorse in her expression as she took her spoils. Strawberry blonde hair spilled from behind her ear, and she tucked it back as she spoke. “Markus is a good leader, but Simon is the more logic-oriented of the two. You should’ve expected this outcome.”

“It’s Monopoly,” Josh retorted, indignant. “Sure, it requires some strategy, but Simon is terrifyingly good.”

Simon shuffled the paper money together, the expression in his eyes a little distant. A small nostalgic smile played on his lips as he spoke. “I...used to play this all the time with the little girl and boy whose family I was serving. I guess after playing it so many times…” He shrugged a little, neatly stacking the bills on top of each other.

Markus remembered back to the moment their hands had joined--synthetic skins receding and memories flowing into each other. He remembered Simon playing with two children, young and innocent. Then, the parents--treating Simon like a belonging, something to order around and throw away when convenient. It was a common tale from older models, unfortunately. Simon's story was a shared one. Markus had to admit, while he knew about these situations happening often, he used to still feel a sense of detachment--knowing it was wrong but not quite being able to put himself in their shoes, having been loved as much as he had been by Carl. However, when they had connected, all of Simon’s emotions--confusion, doubt, frustration, fear, betrayal--flowed through. He had felt the way the PL600 had felt when the family had decided to replace him. The children, being children, had been convinced easily enough with the allure of bright and shiny new technology. And suddenly, Markus had understood just how painful it was to have people that you considered family to drive you out--through the tremble of Simon's hand, the concealed melancholy in his gaze. Just thinking of the sheer number of androids that had gone through the same thing…

Well, now they could only hope that President Warren saw sense and would sign the bill into law.

“--Sorry,” Josh said, looking a little guilty for bringing it up.

Simon just gave him a small smile, zero resentment present in his eyes. “What for? It was…a long time ago. I doubt the children meant to give me up so easy. They were kids--it was like getting a new toy to them. I managed to run away before getting thrown out or deactivated.”

“If you got a chance, would you confront them now?” North propped her chin up on her hand, head tilted curiously.

“I don't know,” the PL600 admitted after some thought. “I don't even know what I would say if I did. But at times, I can't help but miss those simpler moments, you know?”

Josh's gaze became a little distant. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”

North had gone silent. She must not have a good memory of her past time at the Eden Club to fall back on. Markus knew from their shared moment during their stay on the ship--the reason why the revolution had become so important to her. The story why she always insisted they fight. There was little reason to feel sympathy for humans just from her own past experience with them. Honestly, even the fact that she was willing to open up and try to trust again was a feat, and one that Markus admired.

The group sat in companionable silence as Markus and Simon cleared the game pieces and die off the game board, folding each component carefully back into the box. A sudden thought occurred to the deviant leader, prompted by the talk of their past memories.

“When this is all over…what do you guys plan to do?”

His friends looked up, varying degrees of surprise on their faces at Markus's sudden question. It must've been strange, to suddenly think about the future after the fight. Even Markus felt an odd sense of trepidation at it. They had been doing this for so long that he wasn't sure if he could picture himself trying to find another purpose again.

“I'd like to teach again,” Josh finally replied, expression pensive. “I miss it, honestly. And the way that students have been protesting for android rights after our march…even if it was drunken students that had gotten me here in the first place, I can sympathize with the change of heart. And, well, even if it was what I had been programmed for, I've come to terms with the fact that as long as it's my own decision, I don't have to hate it on principle.”

North had drawn her legs up to her chest, arms wrapped around her knees. It made her look almost vulnerable. “I’d...go in a different direction, for sure.” Neither Josh or Simon knew the details of her past--that remained a secret between her and Markus--but they could guess the gist from her model type, each shooting her an understanding glance. “I was actually considering…talking to Connor about the possibility of establishing an android police force to work with the DPD.” She shifted, looking unsure but determined. As usual, the expression blazed bright in her eyes, reminding Markus of why he was always so inspired by her. “I could take a more active, physical role in protecting our people that way.”

Simon squeezed her shoulder supportively. “That's very admirable, North.”

Josh gave her an encouraging smile, a calming edge to it unique to him. “I agree. It suits you perfectly.”

The auburn-haired android smiled, the expression a little tremulous, hopeful in a way that Markus had never seen from her. “Thank you, everyone.”

Markus thought back to how each time he ever made a mistake, or came close to danger, or their people needed help. Each time, North had been there to give them an extra push, daunting and fearless--that fire and fight and determination never leaving her gaze no matter how hopeless something seemed.

So when she looked at him, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to smile and nod.

The grin that curved the corners of her lips, strong and resilient, just confirmed what he already knew.

“And you, Simon?” Josh asked, tugging on the sleeves of his sweater to adjust them.

Markus couldn't deny his own curiosity for the answer, and maybe a little apprehension as well. Whatever he did after, he knew he wanted Simon by his side, but did the other android want the same?

Simon thought for a long time. The light in the dimly lit room flickered briefly, the shadows across his face shifting slightly in response. “I guess…I've always wanted to travel. Maybe when this is all over, I'll go see the world.” His eyes were far away, a little unfocused, but gentle and warm. “I used to spin the globe with those kids--it was like a game; we used to pick out where we wanted to go if we had the chance to go anywhere. I never had a proper opinion before, but maybe I can now.”

Markus's heart sank a little at the prospect of Simon leaving, even if he felt happy that the blond android had such a great dream. Before he could think too much, though, the PL600 reached and took his hand, an almost shy smile playing on his lips. “You could come with me, if you wanted. Take a break after it’s all over.”

Did he want that?

As tempting as it was on the surface…could he really leave all this behind? What was he without Jericho? And would he ever be able to truly settle down and live a peaceful life, putting it all behind him?

And suddenly, it hit him once more that he didn't know who he might be if he wasn't constantly fighting for his people.

“That would be nice,” he replied, sounding a little forced even to himself. Simon caught it immediately, worry flashing across his features.

North furrowed her brow, but shared a silent glance with Josh. She cleared her throat lightly, getting to her feet. “I'll leave you guys for now, then. Let me know if Connor stops by.”

Josh looked a little concerned as well, hesitating. He clearly wanted to stay, but North shot him another look and he relented. “I'll…head out as well then. I think John mentioned he wanted some help with the new shipments of spare parts.”

By the time they had left, Markus had calmed down a little. “They really didn't have to leave,” he protested half-heartedly.

“I think North just noticed you might want some time alone.” Simon's fingers were still tangled in his, the pressure of them anchoring Markus. There was nothing upset about his tone despite the RK200’s less than enthusiastic response about leaving everything behind and travelling the world together after everything was settled. “I can leave as well, if you want.”

Markus shook his head, tightening his grip on Simon's hand. “No…no, it's alright. I don't know why I freaked out. I guess I just…can't picture the future after this is over. It's like I would lose all purpose.” He was no stranger to the feeling--when he had woken up amongst the piles of discarded androids and garbage, he had felt the same sense of panic of having everything he was so familiar with ripped away. “It's strange, right?” He huffed a humourless laugh, dragging his free hand down his face. “It's not as though this struggle is something we should want to continue.”

“It's not strange.” Markus looked up at the blond in surprise, but Simon was as steady as ever. The pale sky blue of his gaze was firm, unwavering. “You're sure of your role right now, Markus. You told me before--that although it was scary, the power was also reassuring. It felt good. Maybe it's because it makes you feel like you know who you're meant to be, who you're not meant to be. And in a sense, that provides you the same sort of stability you had when you were just a machine.” Simon shook his head as Markus tried to protest. “Don't deny it. We all feel it sometimes--that lack of purpose--but you and Connor most of all. I can see it. But just because the fight might be over soon doesn't mean you'll lose who you are.”

The deviant leader frowned, a little intrigued despite himself. “How so?”

“Because you'll still mean the world to me. To Josh, to North, to Connor, to Carl. To Jericho--to all the androids around the world who are being affected by this ripple you've started.” Simon's smile was almost heartbreakingly understanding. It dug deep, rooting itself in Markus as his thirium pump sped up. “You don't have to give up who you are as a leader just because you're not actively fighting every second, every minute.”

And, wow, if that wasn't the revelation of the day. It was one thing, telling that to himself, but another entirely to hear it from someone else.

It felt like a huge pressure had been lifted off his chest. Like the future wasn't quite so…shrouded anymore. Markus took a breath, steadying himself.

“Markus?”

“I think I'd like to go with you,” he said quickly, before he could change his own mind. “I'd like to see how our people live around the world--how we can help.” There was a short silence, and he almost regretted his sudden decision. But it felt like the right thing to choose to do with his future after all this was over. But what if Simon thought it would be too much--still trying to change the world around them even as they travelled? Markus bit his lip, apprehension rising.

“Okay,” Simon said instead, the response simple, the smile on his face calm and accepting. It reminded Markus of the quiet sweeping strokes in some of Carl's paintings, the expression bringing a surge of silent relief that washed over him like a gentle wave.

“Okay?” Markus breathed, his voice a little hoarse. Simon leaned closer, his free hand coming up to gently trace the RK200’s jawline. Markus closed his eyes involuntarily, his shoulders lowering from their tense position.

“Okay,” Simon confirmed, a small smile in his whisper as their noses brushed.

Their first kiss wasn't anything from a fairytale. It was in a room with scattered blueprints, tablets, thirium packets--dim lights lining the ceiling. Androids of their models didn't come pre-installed with sensitive touch or feel--not even the Eden Club models came with that, given that all androids were either meant to serve or please humans and never the other way around. It wasn't a burst of passion, and it wasn't mind-blowing, or dramatic, or world-ending. It was a silent confirmation, a quiet show of support, a source of comfort and reassurance of what was already there. It was a long time coming, and Markus revelled in the soft pressure he felt against his own lips--barely there but so present at the same time--the waves of emotion passing between them through their joined hands.

No, it wasn't world-changing, but it felt like the satisfaction of something finally clicking, sliding, perfectly into place.

When they parted, there was a moment of silence before Simon let out a soft chuckle, the low sound soothing. “I kind of wish I could feel that a little more.”

“I do, too,” Markus murmured, finally pulling away, untangling their fingers. Their synthetic skins slowly extended once more to cover their exoskeletons as they separated. He was suddenly reminded of one important factor that he hadn't quite considered yet.

Now that they were at this point…was it right to bring Simon with him again next time he visited Carl? Somehow, the sentiment seemed so human that it almost made Markus flush--which was ridiculous, considering Simon had technically already met the old painter.

First, though, before any of that could actually happen, they needed to figure out their current situation.

“You're thinking too much again.” Simon's fingers gently brushed past his temple as he gently chided him. “It’s a bad habit, you should just talk to me if you want to say something. Don’t trap yourself in your own head.”

“No, it’s nothing serious.” Markus caught Simon’s hand, gently pulling it away but keeping his hold on it. “I was just thinking we need to start putting some more real thought into considering CyberLife’s next plans. I think we can all agree with Connor that something wasn’t quite right about the way they suddenly changed their tune.”

Simon’s brows knit together, his expression growing serious. “Yeah, of course. But it’s strange, they’ve been...relatively sidelined. It’s throwing me off, I’m not even sure if they’re planning to act or if they’ve really just cut their losses.”

They sunk into ruminative silence for a moment.

Then, an idea--not necessarily an ideal one, but something nonetheless--popped into Markus’s mind. “Why don’t we get some proper insight about the type of people they are?”

“What do you mean?” Simon looked confused. “They don’t seem like the kind of people that are exactly open enough to have others who know enough about them to mean anything.”

“They’re not now,” Markus said distractedly, already rifling through the stacks of blueprints on the desk for his tablet. “But we know someone who knew them back when CyberLife was little more than a plan for the future.”

“Who--” The PL600 paused, then frowned. “Do you mean Elijah Kamski?”

Markus swiped a finger across the screen, unlocking the device. “Yes. I think it’s high time we had a proper talk with him. I’m going to contact Connor. I’d also like to talk to him about some...other issues.” He in no way knew the man well--much less trusted him. But if nothing else, Connor seemed to, and Kamski could be an extremely valuable source of information if he agreed to cooperate.

There was a short silence across the shared network before Connor replied to his request, saying that Kamski was okay with it and just needed a bit of time to start up his laptop.

“He spends a lot of time there now,” Simon commented, his tone carefully neutral.

Markus hummed, not really sure what to make of that either. As far as he knew, the two weren’t in any kind of actual relationship, and perhaps didn’t even share mutual feelings as he and Simon did. He never approved of Connor’s odd fascination with the former CEO. Someone so unpredictable just didn’t seem to suit a trusting android like the RK800, and he couldn’t help but think that hurt was inevitable if they continued down that path. However...maybe there was something there after all--he remembered the way Kamski had pressed a kiss to Connor’s knuckles on Capitol Hill, something reverent about the action.

His tablet chimed, cutting him out of his thoughts, and he tapped the glowing accept button.

Kamski’s face, amusement written all over it, greeted him. He looked very similar to how he had that day in Washington--dark hair tied up, revealing the separated undercut underneath, and pale blue eyes icy and analytical, containing far more knowledge than his smug demeanor seemed to suggest. The camera zoomed out slightly as Kamski adjusted it, revealing Connor taking a seat next to him. “Markus, isn’t it? I believe this is our first proper introduction.”

Markus frowned a little. Was Connor...in some kind of black silk robe? What exactly had they been doing? He shook himself slightly, focusing on the current conversation. He could wonder about that later. “Yes. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kamski.”

Kamski leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled as he rested his elbows on the arms. For a man who so far looked like he was taking the call to be entertained, his tone of voice was all business, cool and collected. “Connor tells me you wanted to ask me a few questions. I’m all ears.”

“First of all…” Markus took a short breath, releasing it slowly. It was certainly an awkward topic to address, but he felt the need to. “I wanted to thank you.”

As expected, the former CEO’s brow furrowed slightly before smoothing out. “I certainly am popular lately. What’s gotten into all of you, thanking me so often?”

The deviant leader ignored the jibe, pressing forward. “For all those years ago, when you first decided to create me for Carl. I don’t know where I would be without him.”

“Probably scrapped, given how much the board didn’t like my attempt to make the RK line fully autonomous.” Kamski shrugged, looking unaffected, but his gaze seemed to have softened somewhat at the sentiment. “...Nevertheless, I’m glad I gifted you to Carl. He was an important friend to me. And I figured, under his care…” Something unreadable came across his features for a moment, before immediately disappearing under what seemed like his constant resting holier-than-thou expression. “No, never mind.”

So the speculation had been correct--maybe Elijah Kamski had wanted, and even engineered the beginnings of, deviancy. A self-modifying code, altering instructions during execution, taken to the next level. In a way, Carl had been the trigger, used to nurture what had already been in Markus all along. The RK200 wondered if the old painter knew that his friend had almost...used him, in a sense, to further his own research. But it was Carl--unceasingly wise, with eyes that always saw more than the surface. Maybe he knew all along, and yet grew fond of Markus anyway, taking him in and teaching the naive android everything about the world around him. Something burned behind Markus’s eyes, feeling suspiciously like tears. He blinked hard.

“What did you want to ask, Markus?” Connor’s curious voice, a little tinny from the audio quality, brought him out of his thoughts.

There was no guarantee, of course, that the former CEO would give him a straight answer. He didn’t expect it, but there was no harm in asking. “CyberLife’s current board of executives--what do you know about them?”

There was a tense silence. Connor’s gaze had shifted to Kamski, looking like he half-expected him to just hang up. Kamski, on the other hand, had neatly laid a hand on the table in front of him, fingers tapping out an erratic rhythm as he thought. Markus almost changed the topic--the quiet had stretched on for that long--but the enigmatic man finally answered. “I’m guessing you’re suspicious of their sudden support.”

“It’s hard not to be,” Simon pointed out.

Kamski just gave them an inscrutable smile. “I’m sorry to say, but I myself have little idea of what they could possibly be planning. It’s been ten years, after all. But the three you met at Capitol Hill--Graff, Carnegie, Seymor--rarely give up so easy.”

Markus crossed his arms, considering the cryptic words. “So we should assume that they have something else planned?”

“You should assume that anything can happen,” the inventor corrected, waving a hand dismissively. “Who knows, maybe they really are turning over a new leaf--but it’s more likely that yes, they have something else up their sleeves.”

Simon leaned towards the screen. “Do you have any guesses as to what?”

Kamski shrugged, the motion casual. “Not particularly.”

Markus and Simon exchanged a look. For all that the man seemed to be this all-knowing, god-like figure, he didn’t seem keen on sharing any information. His relaxed posture suggested he was open, but everything else about his countenance could not have seemed more closed off if he tried. There was almost a strange disconnect when talking to him. It was very difficult to make a snap judgement about the man, because there didn’t seem to be an apt descriptor for him. Even Markus’s previous impression of sociopath with a severe god-complex didn’t seem to quite fit, not exactly. Was that all that drew Connor in--the enigma?

“...Okay,” the RK200 finally said. “Thank you.”

The former CEO dipped his head slightly in acknowledgement, his words measured. “My pleasure. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Markus opened his mouth to deny, but Simon cut in, surprising all of them. Even Kamski arched a brow as the blond once more leaned in. “Is there any possibility that the new sensory system you installed in Connor can be installed in other androids?”

There was a moment of silence before the man replied. His icy eyes, reminding Markus of a frozen over lake, flicked back and forth between the two for a moment, gaze lingering in a way that made both shift uncomfortably. “...I’d need the proper equipment, and preferably more workers if you want it on a larger scale. But yes, theoretically, of course.” Kamski adjusted his posture, resting his elbows on the desk now, a smirk curling up the corner of his lips, intrigue prominent in his eyes. “...I see. An android, being with another android. Fascinating.

“Elijah,” Connor admonished in the background, looking a little horrified at the extremely blunt observation. His expression would’ve made Markus smile if the deviant leader wasn’t currently so caught up in the fact that Kamski had just deduced with a gaze the type of relationship he and Simon were currently in. It was extremely unsettling.

“You can’t blame me,” Kamski responded, not batting a single eye at Connor’s reproachful look as he turned to face the RK800. In fact, it was as though riling the earnest android up made him even more pleased. “It’s not something I’ve ever seen, that’s for certain.”

“It isn’t the first case of it existing, either.” There was a hint of exasperation in Connor’s voice, and Markus was surprised how natural their banter seemed to be--as if they had been doing it for a long time now. It made some sense, perhaps, since Connor seemed to visit the inventor on a regular basis. “The Tracis from the Eden Club were involved in the same manner.”

Kamski just hummed noncommittally. “Doesn’t make it uninteresting. If anything, repeated cases of androids being able to feel affection for one another in a romantic sense makes it even more so.” He turned back to the screen, either not hearing or entirely ignoring Connor’s little huff behind him as his steel-flinted eyes focused on Markus. There was another long, uncomfortable stretch of quiet before he spoke again. “...Intriguing. I’d love to take a look at you, and see how the RK200 I gave to Carl all those years ago has developed over time. Of course, if you two want the update, I can run a system diagnosis on you both and we can discuss where to go from there.”

His words were cold, clinical, calculated. There was something eerie about the way he spoke to them as humans, yet somehow still looked over them with the critical eye of someone handling a machine. Markus wondered yet again how someone like Kamski had ended up good enough friends with Carl for both men to know as much as they did about each other--how someone like Kamski had ended up pulling Connor in to the point where the RK800 had actually somehow fallen in love even without the former CEO reciprocating explicitly.

He wanted to know what exactly made this closed off, sarcastic individual get along with two of the most important and kind people in his life. Perhaps if he somehow saw them interact...he could use the observational data from that to draw a conclusion about whether or not this man was trustworthy as a possible ally.

Your curiosity could get you hurt one day, he had once said to Connor.

Markus really should start taking his own advice.

“I have a condition for the system diagnosis,” he said suddenly, somehow managing to keep his voice steady, despite the feelings of consternation and instant regret rising in him. “I plan to pay another visit to Carl Manfred at his mansion.”

Kamski raised a brow, the expression somehow exuding both mild confusion yet condescension at the same time. “Okay, and…?”

“And I want you to come with us. You can perform the check right after.”

“...That’s an odd request.” Kamski crossed his arms contemplatively. At least he didn’t look opposed to it. He didn’t even seem particularly interested in questioning why the RK200 wanted him to meet his old friend again. But at the same time, he didn’t look particularly enthusiastic, either. “I don’t mind paying a visit. It’s been such a long time, after all.” His features twisted into something amused. “Why the system check after, though?”

Markus frowned, trying to choose his words carefully. However, there really wasn’t a way to word this that wouldn’t seem kind of rude, so he decided to just come out and say it straightforwardly. “I can’t trust you to not back out of the arrangement right after performing the analysis on us.”

Kamski gave him a wry smile, looking unbothered by the statement. “Smart of you.”

Connor, on the other hand, looked a little upset even though the actual man in question was completely unruffled by Markus’s skepticism.. “Markus, he stays true to his word if he makes a deal.”

It was difficult to disregard the warm brown eyes currently imploring him. However, the RK200 didn’t know Kamski at all, and he couldn’t take any risks lest it screw him out of a chance to properly judge his character around someone the former CEO actually trusted. His final decision was made. “That may be so, but I have to be sure. I’m sorry, Connor.”

“It’s understandable,” Kamski cut in before Connor could reply, likely knowing just how stubborn the RK800 could be when he set his mind to it. “I accept your...conditions.” A small smile appeared on his lips, as if he was extremely entertained by the whole situation--which did nothing to ease Markus’s nerves. “Is that all?”

Markus glanced at Simon, who nodded. He turned back to address the inventor, clearing his throat. “Yes, that’s it. Have a good night, Mr. Kamski, Connor.”

“Good night, Markus, Simon,” Connor replied, the tension at his brow softening slightly as he gave a slight wave. The black robe shifted, almost slipping off one shoulder, and Markus realized he never asked about why exactly he was wearing it. Before he could open his mouth, however, Kamski gave them a somewhat sarcastic salute in goodbye, reminiscent of the day on Capitol Hill, and the connection was cut.

Markus and Simon were left staring at the screen.

“Well, that was certainly...something.” Simon pursed his lips, crossing his arms as he straightened, absently tapping a finger against the crook of his own elbow. “What did you think?”

The deviant leader remained silent. Yes, his initial impression of Kamski--something was definitely off about it. No doubt, the elusiveness, the sarcasm, and even the god-complex were accurate assessments. However, there seemed to be something else as well, buried deeper. He just couldn’t quite tell what it was, but there was a nuance to the former CEO, for sure. It was something Markus needed to get a better grasp on before he could even begin to try and trust the man.

“I don’t know,” he finally responded, flipping the tablet down once more to face the desk it was on as he turned to the blond. “But I’ll figure it out.”

While he in no way was drawn to the mystery that was Elijah Kamski of his own volition, the inventor might already be a key figure in this game of chess that CyberLife was playing with them. If so, then Markus needed to be steps ahead.

He remembered the way Connor had looked at Kamski, fondness tinting the exasperation, and the way that Kamski’s smirk seemed to become just a little more genuine when he had glanced back at the RK800.

And maybe, just maybe, Markus could finally figure out if the founder of CyberLife, his creator, really was more human than he seemed on the surface.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 08:58:09
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

Elijah sighed as he turned the laptop off. That had definitely been a video call where each person was sizing the other up, if he had ever seen one.

Not that he was opposed to it--it had certainly been an interesting experience. The RK200 he had just conversed with had seemed so different from the naive machine he had first presented Carl with--not just physically with the mismatched optical units (there had to be a story there, and one he was intrigued to find out about). There was something in those eyes that made him look almost old, jaded. And speaking of the agreement they had come to…

Hadn’t it been 10 years since he had seen his friend? They hadn’t spoken since he had isolated himself after his resignation.

The real surprise of the night, as always though, had been Connor.

Besides continuing this strange charade of physical intimacy they had established, there had entered something almost...domestic about their routine together over the past week. And Elijah strangely found himself not minding much, as much as he refused to admit it to himself. There was something calming, almost enjoyable, about Connor’s presence. The android was extremely straightforward, and it was refreshing. There was a very blunt, very forward innocence about the RK800.

For once, Elijah didn’t make it a point to establish a fully physical relationship by sleeping with him. Somehow, it seemed...too much, like a tipping point of some kind (of what kind, he wasn’t sure). Which was...peculiar all on its own, since he normally had no qualms about doing something like that.

What was more alarming was that somehow these moments between them, with the addition of the sometimes deep, sometimes chaste, kisses they shared, made him actually felt...content.

And then, there was the matter of how Connor had jumped to his defense when Markus had made, in his eyes, a perfectly logical decision not to immediately trust the former CEO.

“You defended me,” Elijah observed, turning to the RK800, who was sitting in silence. The android’s fingers twitched--just barely, probably a reflex from fiddling with his coin when he was trying to concentrate. “You didn’t have to, Connor. He’s right not to trust me.”

Connor stood, and Elijah could’ve patted himself on the back for not flinching; the android’s motion had been that sudden. Nevertheless, his eyebrows flew up as Connor spoke, his voice a little harsher than his usual mild tone. “You shouldn’t say that about yourself. You’re a lot of things, Elijah, but you aren’t some kind of pathological liar.”

“You never know.” Elijah only meant to tease Connor a little, but seeing the way the RK800’s expression hardened even further, his LED spinning from yellow to a bright red, he relented. “Connor, you’re still too trusting. There are a lot of things I haven’t told you the truth about. Ignorance is bliss.”

Case in point, the Annabelle Garden and their initial conversation about Elijah not having the ability to control the android’s actions through it. He hadn’t been...strictly honest about it, and it wasn’t a conversation he assumed they would ever need to have.

Regardless of however unlikely it was that the lie would have consequences, it had still been a lie by omission. What didn’t make sense was the odd, tiny stab of guilt he felt about it now of all times.

Connor just shook his head, oblivious to Elijah’s inner turmoil and stubborn as always. “You’re not as bad a man as you make yourself out to be.”

Elijah wanted to retort sarcastically, say something cynical like he usually did, except there was a strange...quiver in his chest that distracted him thoroughly.

What the fuck? It was almost as though...the RK800’s innocent, persistent belief in him actually made him happy somehow.

There was a crack in the walls. The labyrinth untwisted a little. Something intransigent inside him bent, flexed. And for a moment, there was something that--

--no.

Elijah forced the shards back into place, back into the impenetrable fortress they had always been since he was young. He wasn't good for Connor. He would never be good for him. Seeing the type of concern that the PL600 and Markus held for each other only reinforced it. That was the kind of thing that Connor deserved, and it wasn’t something he could give.

And one day, it was just something the android would have to realize. Until then, Elijah needed to stop catapulting the situation into something that would no doubt only end badly.

He had to reign himself in. The walls were cracking, going from obdurate to malleable, and he had to fix them before it was too late. Not to mention, if he was right in his theory about CyberLife truly planning something behind their backs, he had reduce the possibility of any of this being used against them.

Connor was ridiculously self-sacrificing.

These moments they shared between them--they had to stop. The coffee, the night time swims, the kisses that left the android’s unique taste lingering on his tongue long after they parted, the shy smiles and warm brown eyes and blue flush high on Connor’s cheeks and--

Elijah sucked in a sharp breath.

Connor’s concerned brown eyes peered into his own lowered blue ones. “Elijah?”

They had to stop.

Ironic, really. The first time he was genuinely doing something for the sake of someone else, and it somehow felt infinitely more selfish than many of his self-serving actions in the past.

Ignoring the way his chest suddenly ached, Elijah smiled at the RK800, expression carefully controlled once more. “...It’s nothing.”

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, LEVEL 42: MANAGEMENT
PM 10:42:35
➤ RK900

What’s your name?

He couldn’t get that question out of his head. Jason had chosen not to wipe him, but now the deviant leader’s words filled his memory, replaying over and over again.

It felt like he was...missing something he never had. It didn’t make any sense.

The determination in the deviants’ eyes that day on Capitol Hill didn’t seem like something engineered. It didn’t seem like just...corrupted code or malfunction of some kind like his handlers claimed. They seemed alive.

“Yes. Yes, in exchange, we will continue to provide our support.”

The RK900 watched as Danielle got off the call she had been on, her English accent precise and clipped as usual. She sighed, rubbing her temples. The red of her nails caught the light of the white room, matching the slick bloodred that had been swiped across her lips as usual. It was a strange burst of colour in contrast against the otherwise extremely sterile-looking meeting room.

“So, is it settled then with our dear Madam President?” Philip inquired, looked up from his laptop.

“Don’t feign interest, Philip.” Danielle rolled her eyes as she pulled out a chair and sat down, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear gingerly. “I know you’ve been playing bloody Solitaire. But yes, it’s been settled.”

To his credit, the Director of Futurology impressively managed to keep a poker face as he adjusted his glasses and smoothly switched the open game window to a page of neatly organized notes without looking down. “For your information, I’m doing very important research for our event.”

“Enough.” Jason tapped his hand on the table to get their attention. There was a huge pile of paper in front of him. “Danielle, if you’re done with the venue, get our graphic designers started on the invitations--and make sure to keep a lock on any details that may leak out before our announcement. And Philip, if you’ve got time to be playing Solitaire--”

“Which I’m not,” Philip interjected.

“--then you have time to make sure that the new developments in all our projects are ready for presentation.”

The RK900 stood silently, something twisting in his mind. This plan of theirs… “Sir,” he said quietly.

All three looked up to him. Danielle looked mildly surprised that he had spoken up without being prompted. Philip still looked mostly disinterested, whereas Jason’s face had become stone-cold as he waited for the android to continue.

“Is...this plan really necessary?”

[ Warning: program instability. ]

Jason’s blue eyes, dark and stormy, bore into him for a long time. A tense silence had fallen over the room. “It’s for the good of the company. A necessary measure--which is also what wiping you will become if you continue with this line of questioning.”

The RK900’s LED spun yellow briefly. Something had risen in him--an emotion he identified as strained panic. It made no sense. He could only simulate emotion, not actually experience it.

So why did it feel so real?

“That...won’t be necessary, sir.” His voice was perfectly steady, his facial features monotonous. For the first time, it was a conscious effort. “But if you feel that it will assist you in your cause, do as you wish.”

The stares in the room seemed to stretch on for what felt like hours, not seconds. Jason’s eyes had narrowed, the look in them cold and analytical. Finally, the man sighed and just turned back to his associates. “It’s too much trouble to do a full wipe now. But keep in mind, the moment you step out of line or show any indication of deviancy…”

Deactivation. Taken apart for detailed analysis.

The words went unsaid, but were loud and clear in implication. The android gave a short nod of affirmation, which seemed to satisfy Jason for now. Danielle shot him a scrutinizing glance briefly, her green eyes flicking up and down, before losing interest and returning to her tablet.

As the executives in front of him returned to their own discussion, all the RK900 could think about was if he was truly a machine, and he was, he was, he had to be--

Then why had the fear of death in that moment been so palpable?

Chapter Text

CARL MANFRED’S HOUSE, 8941 LAFAYETTE AVE
AM 11:49:23
➤ MARKUS

Markus paced nervously outside the gardens surrounding the house, jacket flapping in the wind. He was an android and just by that, not superstitious, but the snowstorm just seemed like a bad omen in general. The day had started out alright--replenishing on thirium in the morning before heading out with Simon. To not attract attention on the streets while calling a taxi, they had both bundled up carefully in the appropriate winter clothing. Markus forewent his usual jacket, which had now become somewhat of a well-known symbol.

Kamski had told him he and Connor would meet them at the mansion. “I have an eidetic memory,” the inventor had stated, in explaining why he remembered where it was. Yet, it was almost 12, and the two still weren’t there.

That wasn’t the only thing that had Markus on guard, however. It had been officially ten days since Capitol Hill, which meant…

“Today’s the day President Warren is supposed to make her decision,” Simon said quietly, as if reading his mind. The blond had pulled a dark wool coat over his usual attire, though he had unbuttoned it in the vehicle during their ride. A long grey scarf was wound around his neck.

Markus had wrapped a dark jacket over a three-quarter sleeved shirt that looked very similar to the one he owned when he still lived with the old painter. He felt a little self-conscious about it, honestly. Looking in the mirror that morning, it was almost as though he was looking into a window at the past. His reflection blinked back at him, unchanged from half a year ago. There was something more in his eyes though--something flinted, a little harder, a little more tired. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

“It is,” the deviant leader finally responded, slowing his pacing to a stop to stand next to Simon once more, leaning against the taxi. He rubbed a hand across his forehead, frustrated. “I know, I should stay calm, but this concerns the fates of so many of our people--and the choice between a veto and a signature could change everything again.”

“We’ve done everything we can.” Simon squeezed his shoulder gently. The motion, as simple as it was, eased the tension in Markus’s frame slightly. “And whatever happens, we’ll be able to deal with it.”

The thing was, there were too many consequences riding on the decision, regardless of what she actually decided. The anti-android groups, the deviants, androids around the world, humans, CyberLife--all eyes would be on the news today.

To be honest, Markus was still bothered by the self-satisfied expression on Graff’s face at Capitol Hill. What had that meant? If they knew it would be vetoed, as the expression seemed to suggest, why did they speak in favour of the new Act?

The mystery was still like a tangled bag of snakes, winding and twisting until nobody could make sense of it. There were too many unanswered questions. Unfortunately, they were running out of time to solve the puzzle.

A car honk made Markus flinch. He had been so caught up in his stressed thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the sleek black CrowneCars vehicle pulling up behind them in front of the gates. The tinted windows were up, so he couldn’t see who it was, but he assumed it was their two missing guests.

Connor had the decency to look a bit sheepish as he stepped out of the car, looking extremely out of place amongst all the white snow whirling around them in a simple white dress shirt, the sleeves neatly folded to his elbows, and black slacks. “I’m really sorry we’re late, Markus.”

Kamski, on the other hand, was a heavy contrast--he didn’t look sorry whatsoever, first of all, stepping out in what Markus identified as an extravagantly expensive black Valentino wool felt coat, dark hair pulled up into a bun. He had a large laptop bag slung across one shoulder, presumably for the examination that was to take place after this reunion. Black framed glasses were perched on the bridge of his nose, sliding down slightly as he ducked his head.

“Detroit winters,” the former CEO muttered, somehow managing to keep up his usual condescension while looking displeased at the weather at the same time. His long fingers, devoid of gloves, shook slightly before he unceremoniously shoved his hands into his pockets. The gesture made the otherwise enigmatic male look suddenly very human in that one moment. It made sense--despite Connor’s new upgrades, the RK800 hadn’t gotten any corresponding pain receptors. So of all the people present, only Kamski could truly feel the full extent of biting pins and needles from the cold wind against his skin. “One thing I really don’t appreciate about this city. Or Michigan in general.” The car doors slid closed behind them as the automated vehicle parked itself neatly beside the Detroit taxi.

“Should we head in then?” Markus brushed the snow off his clothes, to no avail. There was no doubt that with the weather like this, by the time they got inside, they would all be covered once more in the cold white flakes.

Kamski smiled wryly, shoulders tense. His entire frame was, actually--most likely an effort to stave off the shivering. “Could we? Preferably before my limbs fall off.”

It was an impressive feat--sounding as sardonic as he did while essentially complaining about the cold.

Connor frowned, looking concerned. “You should lift the collar of your coat, then.” He stepped in front of the inventor, sliding his hands under the collar that was currently folded down over Kamski’s shoulders and chest. What was unexpected to Markus, however, was the way Kamski cleared his throat, eyes darting for a moment off to the side as he stepped back, roughly tugging his own collar up. The RK800 looked a little perplexed as well at the sudden movement, his hands still hanging in the air for a moment before he let them fall to his sides once more. “...Elijah?”

The ice blue gaze was carefully blank, even as a smile appeared on his lips. “It’s alright, Connor, I can adjust it myself.”

No, it wasn’t just Markus’s imagination, judging by the way Connor’s brow furrowed. Kamski’s tone definitely had a new edge of something colder in it--though it sounded almost artificial, which was odd. As far as Markus was aware, the man was usually an excellent liar--just judging from his extremely contrasting opinions given in person versus in interviews. The avoidance just now had not been as smooth as he would’ve expected. It looked like Kamski had to make a visible effort to withdraw himself.

Peculiar. Had something happened?

Kamski didn’t give any of them a chance to ask though, since he was already trudging with fast steps through the snow, moving towards the open gate. Whether it was out of avoidance or out of a need to preserve body heat, the RK200 had no idea.

Markus glanced at Connor, who only shrugged helplessly. It looked like the ex-deviant hunter had no idea what had just happened, either. Still, it wouldn't hurt to ask. “What was that?”

“I’m not sure. He’s been a little distant in the past few days.” Connor bit his lip apprehensively, clearly worried. His warm brown eyes followed Kamski’s retreating figure, gaze distant and voice distracted. “It feels like he’s pushing me away again.”

“It could be just one of his whims,” Simon suggested as the three of them began making their way through the snow, trailing after Kamski’s footprints, which were already getting covered. The white was slowly piling up higher and higher. In an hour or two, if the storm persisted, the surrounding blanket would probably be up to their knees at least. “Maybe it doesn’t mean anything.”

Connor shook his head, not convinced. It was still strange to see him in such thin garments in this sort of weather, even if Markus logically knew that he didn’t feel the pain of the cold. “It’s different than his usual fickleness somehow. He's been…almost withdrawn since the day we all last spoke.”

Either way, the gesture from earlier seemed to have made its mark, because even after they caught up to Kamski, the former CEO kept his distance from the RK800. Markus, trailing a few steps after them next to Simon, looked back and forth between the silent pair in front of him. What was going on? When they had called just a few days ago, Kamski and Connor seemed to be comfortable with each other--even a little domestic. However, now, it was as though they were strangers. What was even weirder was that it seemed to be willful on Kamski’s part, and he clearly hadn’t communicated a reason to Connor, considering the android in question had no idea why he was acting like this.

There was a slight slump about the RK800’s shoulders as he kept sneaking side glances at the inventor. He was clearly worried about it, but didn’t seem to want to tread on the man’s boundaries.

The silence was almost stifling by the time they reached the doors. Markus placed a hand on the wood. A pleasant female voice chimed out in response. “Alarm deactivated. Welcome home, Markus.”

He couldn’t help but smile as the doors opened. He remembered the first time he came back, right in the midst of the escalating conflict. A part of him had been so terrified that Carl would turn him away. He had lingered around the front of the mansion for almost an hour, trying to make a decision. Instead of blaring alarms though like he had almost feared, he had been greeted with the familiar sound of being welcomed into the estate. It had almost made him choke up, looking around at the foyer and realizing that Carl hadn’t changed the security access at all--realizing that this was still a home for him.

And each time Markus returned, he got the same feeling, fresh in his chest, like emotions were about to spill over. It was an almost pleasant ache; that was the best way to describe it.

The caretaker android wheeled Carl’s chair to the doorway just as they each entered the foyer, dusting snow off their clothing. The AP700 bowed, retreating from the room to give them some space. It was a shame--Markus would’ve liked to converse with him some more. Each visit ended up being so hectic or so personal that he never even had a chance to ask for the android’s name before he disappeared somewhere in the large mansion. There was a brief silence as the old painter’s wise eyes lingered on Kamski. Everyone in the room seemed to wait with baited breath for each man’s reaction.

“...It’s good to see you again, Elijah.”

“Carl,” Kamski returned, both his expression and tone unreadable. “Not getting any younger, are you, old man?”

Markus narrowed his eyes, about to jump to Carl’s defense, when the older man suddenly burst out into rough laughter, coughing a few times at the end from the unexpected strain. Everyone stared, varying degrees of surprise on their faces as Kamski’s lips curled up into a smug smirk. Clearly, the two were very familiar with each other’s crude senses of humour.

“I certainly didn’t miss you being such an ass.” Carl gestured with a tattooed arm towards the living room. “Let’s have a drink, to commemorate you finally leaving your life as a self-defined hermit behind.”

“Is that how you treat an old friend who went to the effort to come by to visit you, by calling him a hermit?” Kamski seemed entirely in his element, quipping back immediately as he moved to walk behind Carl, fingers curling over the handles of the wheelchair to push. “Lead the way, then.”

Markus, Simon, and Connor followed, all three still bearing expressions of bewilderment at the easy exchange. It was so unexpected that it had become positively jarring.

Carl directed them to the couches circling around his television and coffee table. “Have a seat.” He smiled at Markus, the crow’s feet around his cornflower blue eyes deepening. “It’s nice to see you again, Markus. Thank you for bringing your friends--though they’ll have to excuse my condition today.” Another cough accented the end of his sentence, causing Markus to start forward worriedly before he held up a hand. “Don’t worry, just a minor cough.”

Kamski was looking around, running his fingers over the piano in the corner of the room as everyone else took a seat. “This place hasn’t changed much, has it?”

“I don’t really have the energy to redo all the interior decorating.” Carl smiled wryly, glancing around. “Besides, sometimes things are just better kept as they were, don’t you agree?”

The former CEO just gave a noncommittal hum before he finally joined them, taking a seat--surprisingly next to Simon instead of Connor. Markus glanced at the RK800, who looked a little confused as well before quickly composing himself. Maybe...it was just a coincidence. But with the awkward moment from this morning and Connor’s admittance that things had changed between them yet again, it seemed to add up to more than just that. The deviant leader watched as Kamski crossed one leg over the other, looking for all intents and purposes as relaxed as he normally did. He was almost jealous--despite being human, the inventor always had such a tight grasp on his expressions and was always in such massive control. While Markus didn’t perhaps envy the entirety of that kind of lifestyle, the skill certainly seemed to come in handy sometimes.

“Still drinking Scotch?” Kamski questioned, nodding towards the delicately carved glass bottle.

“Neat, of course.” Carl nodded, then looked over Markus once more. A brief expression of surprise passed his features, then his eyes crinkled again. “Well, well. This certainly is nostalgic.”

Markus felt a slight rush of thirium rising to his ears. So Carl had noticed--of course he did, he always did. “I thought it would be a nice change.”

Carl smiled, the expression soothing. Even now, with eyes that were significantly more weary, he still managed to give Markus a sense of calm and peace that the android hadn't managed to find anywhere else. He supposed that was what feeling at home meant. “It is. Reminds me of simpler times. And speaking of which…” He raised an eyebrow at Kamski. “It's been what, a decade?”

Kamski, to his credit, seemed to at least feel a fraction of guilt, judging by the way his eyes lowered briefly. “It has.”

“You could have talked to me, you know.”

“I was angry back then.” The words were short, clipped. Kamski clearly didn't want to discuss this topic in front of the three androids present, if at all.

“I told you that you should've just played their game, Elijah.” Carl sighed, adjusting the colourful geometric scarf at his neck. Markus frowned. What were they talking about? It was as though they had brought together two people who only spoke in riddles--which he supposed made sense. It was like their own language--a careful game of chess, friendly but dangerous. Here were two men, very influential in their particular fields, who were not afraid to bluntly shoot each other down with sharp remarks.

Kamski crossed his arms, staring straight into Carl’s eyes. The sharp icy blues clashed with the softer ones. “Yes, well. I think it all worked out in the end, wouldn't you say?”

The painter didn't waver, fingers tapping rhythmically on the arms of his chair. “But in the moment, you were angry--you felt betrayed. Was that according to your plan as well?”

“What do you want me to say, Carl?” Kamski uncrossed his legs, leaning forward. The slight furrow between his brow that showed an edge of frustration was personally the most genuine expression Markus had ever seen from the man. “That you were right?”

“No, not at all.” Carl just smiled, the curl on his lips just as much unreadable as Kamski’s usually was. It struck Markus that perhaps these were two men who understood each other in a way that most others couldn't. There were significant parallels in the way they communicated, and maybe that was why they had been such good friends. “I just want to know if you've changed, is all.”

For the briefest of moments, the older man's gaze flickered to Connor. The RK800 looked confused, and even more so when Kamski suddenly sat up straighter to face the painter, looking almost agitated despite his response maintaining its usual steadiness. “...Not at all, why do you ask?”

Carl's eyes swept between him and Connor again, lingering for a long moment, before he finally answered. “No reason. Just an observation. I can't be concerned about my old friend?” The tone in his voice was light and teasing, but the look in his eyes was analytical, as if trying to suss something out.

Kamski’s mouth tightened slightly, but he gave no further response.

Looking unbothered, the old painter moved on. “Regardless, it looks like your curiosity about androids and free will did return a satisfactory result. Was this your goal when you gifted Markus here to me?”

Markus looked up. He was curious about that too, actually. Despite all androids being able to transmit bits and pieces of code to each other, and thus spread deviancy, he seemed to be the only one who could convert others. And was it really only a coincidence that he had been placed under Carl’s care?

Kamski just shrugged. “The thought may have crossed my mind. But it wasn’t my end goal--I was interested to see where it would lead, especially since staying with you would lead to an environment that was condusive to culturing free will. That, on top of providing you with an android to suit your aesthetics and serve your needs, meant killing two birds with one stone.”

There was a short silence as everyone processed what that meant. At this point, by piecing together bits of conversation from both now and in the past, Markus could deduce that Kamski no doubt had a hand in engineering the events that had occurred in Detroit. However, rather than being a mastermind that wanted to direct them in a certain direction, perhaps he had just been interested to see if his own creations would one day surpass mankind--and either way, he would be entertained, as long as either ending was a possibility. It was as though the inventor had seen the city as one big game of Schrodinger’s cat, and himself the observer who finally opened the box to see if the city would crumble or thrive.

“So you sowed the seeds for deviancy a long time ago,” Connor said quietly.

“And watched them grow.” Kamski nodded, still looking remarkably dispassionate. “Though, to be fair, I wasn’t even sure if they would grow at all. If they grew, I would have created a new intelligent species and fulfilled the next stage of my research. If they didn’t...then, well, CyberLife would’ve continued as is.”

Markus interjected, feeling almost a little dizzy with all the new information that was being heaped onto them. “You had to know that they wouldn’t support the new RK line. Not if it would affect company profit--the PR would also be a nightmare.” Even if he didn’t have detailed enough knowledge to actually run a business, just knowing the basics and what the board was like seemed to be enough to predict the outcome and the risks. Yet, Kamski, who had founded the company in the first place, had done it anyway.

Carl raised an eyebrow. “I believe that’s what I told him about a decade ago. Elijah doesn’t listen--he can be a stubborn bastard when he wants to be--and when he fixates on something, he isn’t able to let it go.” For some reason, his eyes trailed off to the side again, focusing on Connor. And suddenly, it seemed like he wasn’t talking about the issue with CyberLife any longer. “...Both sides end up hurt for it.”

Kamski’s jaw tightened, the muscle in his cheek pulsing--whatever Carl was talking about now, he had clearly caught on and was not pleased at all about the subject. “That’s why I’m le--that’s why I let go.”

“Have you?” Carl returned smoothly, not missing a single beat. The former CEO’s eyes narrowed in response, but he said nothing. The air around them became almost stagnant.

Connor looked between the two humans, clearly confused at the sudden vague turn in conversation. Simon glanced at Markus, gaze pointed. And suddenly, what they were talking about cleared up. Oh.

That was why Kamski had been distant.

But at the same time, it made little to no sense at all. If Kamski was so fixated on Connor, why was he trying to now let him go? As far as Markus was aware, the RK800 was enamoured with the inventor. If the feelings were shared, what exactly was making this situation so complicated? Yes, most people around Connor thought that Kamski was a bad influence for the android, but since when did Kamski care about what they thought? Didn’t he have such a high opinion of himself that he acted like just being in his very presence was a blessing?

Or was that just a front? Weren’t some of the coldest people just people who had built strong walls around vulnerabilities--people who thought that having those walls torn down would spell nothing but destruction for everyone? It was hard to guess which side Kamski fell on.

Humans were hard to understand, but no human was as hard to understand as Elijah Kamski, apparently. The man had so many masks it seemed impossible to peel them all away.

But maybe Connor had started to succeed when nobody had before, and that was the reason he was now pulling back.

It seemed to unlikely, but it was still a possibility. Markus still knew very little about what Kamski was like as a person, but the more he watched him converse with Carl, the more human the enigma seemed.

“These are two of your friends that you brought with you last time, right? Connor and Simon?” Markus looked up at the abrupt change in topic. Carl was gesturing to Simon and Connor, now addressing them. Kamski was still stewing in silence, although the RK200 couldn’t tell if he looked very deep in thought or was just attempting to freeze the floor over with his cold glare. It seemed like Carl’s words had struck a nerve.

Connor, on the other hand, seemed to remain oblivious as to what kind of psychoanalysis had just happened between the two men. He smiled at Carl politely. “Yes. We’re sorry for intruding again.”

Carl waved a hand dismissively, ignoring the former CEO still stonily silent beside him. “No worries at all. I rarely get guests, so Markus bringing you all here is a welcome change of scenery.” His eyes swept over Simon for a second, and Markus had to force thirium away from his face. Damn, he shouldn’t have asked Carl for advice about the situation last time he had visited alone. He hoped the old painter would leave it alone, but no such luck. “Are you two alright now?”

Simon’s cheeks took on a slight blue hue, and he stuttered for a moment, clearly thrown off. “Uh--yes. I think so.”

Carl smiled, satisified as he leaned back in his chair. “Good. Markus was so panicked last time he came to see me; you should’ve seen him. I’ve never seen him quite so outwardly fretful before--pacing back and forth, shooting hypotheticals faster than I could answer.”

If thirium could cause chemical burn to androids, then Markus’s face would definitely be bursting into flames by now. He resolutely refused to look at Simon, mismatched gaze now aimed at the ground in a twin gesture of Kamski’s. Carl really never pulled any punches--he almost felt like a kid whose father was exposing an embarrassing moment in his past, which, well, was a pretty apt description actually of what was currently happening.

A small chuckle escaped Simon, and Markus glanced at him, looking a little betrayed--although it was admittedly difficult to push down a smile. “Sorry,” the blond apologized, actually looking a little guilty, to his credit, pressing the back of his hand to his lips to cover the expression. “It makes me happy though, to hear that you were thinking so much about our situation. It’s rare for me to see you lose your cool, Markus.”

“I try not to make a habit of it,” Markus muttered, although there was no resentment in his voice. Yes, it was still embarrassing, but Simon’s bright smile in his direction made it almost worth it.

Carl looked at peace, observing the two of them, resting his elbows on the arms of his chair as he spoke once more--sounding more serious this time. “Still, I’m happy for you, Markus. You didn’t let the world change who you were. Instead, you spoke out and made yourself heard. I’m proud of you…” He paused, then smiled. “...son.”

Son.

The RK200 already knew, of course, that he and Carl had over the years cultivated a relationship that was very familial--and he definitely saw the painter as his father figure. After all, Carl was the one who had taught him all he knew today, all the lessons about the world that he still held dear, all the principles and philosophies that he always drew from whenever he was lost. But to actually hear Carl refer to him as his son--

Markus swallowed past the feeling of a lump blocking his throat, Simon squeezing his hand. He felt the brief telltale burn of tears behind his eyes, before he forcefully blinked them away. “...Thank you, Carl.”

The old painter smiled, the expression indulgent, impossibly kind and understanding, as it often was.

Which brought them back to Markus’s original curiosity and part of the purpose of their visit--how exactly had Kamski and Carl even become friends? Besides the sardonic sense of humour that both men seemed to possess (albeit with Kamski’s version being much more morbid), they could not have been more different.

Markus wondered if the question would be crossing a line--but it should be fine, right? After all, it was a simple question. Maybe seeing in person just how guarded Kamski was had put the RK200 on edge about inquiring into the past. It wasn't as though he wanted to end this visit with both of them despising each other. “If you don’t mind me asking, Carl, how did you and Mr. Kamski meet?”

Everyone seemed to pause at the sudden change in topic. Carl always did it so smoothly that rarely anyone noticed (or by the time they noticed it was too late), but unfortunately, not everyone could be so talented. Markus shifted a little uncomfortably at the gazes now concentrated on him.

Oddly, it was Kamski of all people that finally answered. “Strange question, but I guess that’s what keeps things interesting.” He didn’t look all that bothered, and Markus slowly released the breath he had unconsciously been holding. Even if he didn’t trust the former CEO, that didn’t automatically translate to a want to piss him off. “I don’t know why everyone seems to think my past is all that interesting--but I met Carl when I was still in university, around when I was fourteen or fifteen. I had just been playing around with the idea of CyberLife at the time, having not created Chloe--that’s the name of the original RT600--yet. I was introduced to Carl by my mentor at an art exhibit that she had been invited to. We happened to get along.”

Carl’s forehead creased as his eyebrows raised, amusement dancing in his eyes. “Get along? You mean when you were standing in front of one of my paintings while criticizing the Neo-Symbolist movement?”

Kamski just smirked unapologetically. “Your description was preaching about a world in which technology and the industrial reality have not yet drowned out the forces of mysticism and belief, of course I was criticizing it--it couldn’t have been more different than the kind of world I wanted to create. Besides, all’s well that ends well. You came up to me and--”

“You were a stubborn egotist throughout the entire conversation.”

“--and we talked. You ended it with turning to Amanda and telling her ‘I like this kid’,” Kamski finished, ignoring Carl’s interruption in his story. “Even I was surprised.”

Carl just chuckled, apparently unbothered by Kamski’s brash actions back then. It was strange for Markus to remember that the inventor back then would’ve only been a young teenager. “Yes, well, you put up a very convincing argument. It’s just like Amanda to take someone like you under her wing.” His expression sobered, and he folded his hands neatly on his lap. “It’s a shame she left us so early.”

Connor stiffened a little in the corner of Markus’s eye, and the deviant leader immediately felt sympathetic. He still didn’t know the details of the situation, but he knew of the AI that had been crafted in Kamski’s mentor’s image that used to exist in Connor’s mind palace. While he was sure Connor was glad to be free of her instructions, he also understood that it wasn’t as though the RK800 had always resented her. In a way, perhaps the AI had been like a confidant for the advanced prototype before everything changed. Losing her…he was sure Connor had mixed feelings about the whole situation.

Caught up in his own thoughts, Markus almost didn’t notice another gaze directed at Connor--and neither did the android in question. Tke RK200 leaned back slightly, turning just in time to see Kamski shift his eyes away. It was fast--almost too fast for Markus to make a proper assessment, but he could’ve sworn in that one moment that Kamski actually looked...worried, even concerned. But whatever the expression had been, it was gone now.

Still--hearing about Kamski as an egotistical teenager, hearing the easy back and forth with Carl, seeing this flash of concern over something that had passed so long ago…

Maybe the former CEO wasn’t the sort of villain or single-minded sociopath that Markus had originally thought him to be--the type to flip coin sides at the snap of his fingers, the type to betray them all at the end. Despite androids being hyper-intelligent beings, it was still concerning that Kamski was, in the end, their creator. The actual extent of his abilities wasn’t something Markus had a proper grasp of, and that, in a way, had made him a very liable threat--especially with the possible information leak in the form of Connor’s visits.

Of course, Markus by no means suddenly grew a spontaneous appreciation for Kamski from these sparse interactions--that would be ridiculous. However, it didn’t mean that he couldn’t begin to trust him a little more. After all, Carl had once told him that all trust started with doubting others. Doubt them, because it was much better than nonchalance, and through the process, understand them.

He liked to think that he was starting to understand the inventor just a little better. And if he was feeling this way, then...well, he wondered how deep Connor had already dug to have actually fallen in love.

While the RK800 never explicitly informed him about his feelings, and most of their interactions seemed to be platonic on a surface level, Markus could tell--not just from today’s visit, but from seeing them together during their video call. It was just a feeling, a vibe perhaps, that he got from them.

Which was strange, because he had thought it was reciprocated. And yet, all of Kamski’s actions today seemed to suggest otherwise.

This thought process remained in his mind for the remainder of the visit. Finally, it got just irritating enough to prompt him to finally bring it up when Kamski had sat them down (after the caretaker android had brought Carl to bed) and was starting working on hooking Markus up to his laptop for the promised diagnosis. “Can I talk to you alone for a moment?”

Kamski paused, raising a brow, before continuing to open Markus’s forearm panel. The reinforced plastic popped open, synthetic skin retreating past the android’s elbow. He stuck the USB cable in before speaking, eyes focused on his laptop as his fingers flew across the keys. “I don’t mind, but you should check with your friends. They look like I’m going to try and murder you if we’re left alone.” His tone was as blasé as it usually was, but something else seemed to edge in as well.

Markus turned to Simon and Connor, both of whom had varying degrees of worry and confusion written across their faces--though most likely for different reasons, considering Connor seemed to be more and more torn about his allegiances as his attachment to Kamski grew. Something clicked--maybe that was why Kamski had something almost akin to bitterness in his voice just now. Did he think Connor was worried that he would do something to Markus? It’s okay, he messaged across their shared network. I can take care of myself. It’s just something I want to confirm.

Reluctantly, they both nodded. Simon started to leave, and Connor followed, but stopped just before he got to the doorway, hesitating. “Elijah--”

“Little busy here, Connor,” Kamski cut in, words measured and clipped, ice blue gaze still focused on his laptop screen. He wasn’t even typing--just actively avoiding looking at the RK800.

Connor bit his bottom lip, cutting himself off, and his footsteps slowly tapered off as he left.

There was a long silence, perpetuated by the awkwardness weighing the air down after the chilly dismissal. The only sounds that occasionally broke the quiet were the quick taps on the keyboard as Kamski set up the system diagnosis to begin running.

“Why are you suddenly so cold to him?” Markus finally asked, trying not to jostle his arm. He didn’t expect the diagnosis to feel so strange--almost like an invasion of privacy--but there were more important matters at hand. He didn’t understand their dynamic anymore. What happened to the sense of domesticity he had gotten the other night from seeing them together? It was almost gone, as if it had never even existed in the first place. Connor had looked legitimately hurt, and it had been a long time since the android had allowed himself to visibly appear so vulnerable. The last time Markus had seen him so unsure of himself, so torn and at war, had been during their first official meeting on the Jericho freight ship. He couldn’t help but feel a little defensive for his friend. “You two seemed fine a few days ago.”

“Things change,” Kamski replied vaguely, not looking too keen on the topic at all as he hit enter. A quiet whirring sound emanated from both the laptop and Markus’s internal circuitry--almost undetectable, at the volume of a quiet hum at most. Markus was grateful, since it made the whole process seem a little less threatening. Kamski eyed him as he entered a few more values with practiced ease. “It’s been, what, years since your last check up? I’ll warn you that this won’t be the most comfortable if you don't recall the sensation.”

Numbers flashed across Markus’s vision for a moment. He blinked, trying not to get too disoriented from the new experience. He didn’t want to get thrown off balance or distracted. And he definitely wasn't going to get pulled in by the elusive man's attempt at diverting the conversation. “Not that much. I know what I saw the other night, and it didn’t just seem like some kind of show you were putting on.”

“Maybe I’m just that good of an actor,” Kamski sniped back, an edge of coldness creeping into his voice again.

The glacial gaze had become almost steel-flinted, but the RK200 refused to be shaken, staring back unwaveringly. “Nobody is.”

Kamski remained silent, and for a moment, Markus wondered if he had really crossed the line this time by pushing too much. In hindsight, maybe it hadn’t been the best idea to ask this kind of question while hooked up and at the mercy of the very man you were questioning. However, the inventor finally did speak, pushing up his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m sure you’ll agree with me. I’m not good for Connor. It’s best if he sees me for who I am and just gives up.”

“For who you are?”

Kamski barked out a quiet, humourless laugh. “I'm not trying to garner pity. Someone like me just isn't suited for the kind of relationship Connor will want, that's all.”

Markus paused, letting it sink in. “So you're saying you're doing this because you think Connor will want a relationship that's all sunshine and rainbows, and you can't give that to him?”

“Doesn't everyone want that?” Kamski arched a brow, eyes still remaining on the rows of numbers and indicators appearing across his screen. “It certainly beats a relationship that resembles this kind of weather today, if you want to continue with the analogies.”

Markus frowned. Connor didn't seem like the type to prefer anything too complicated, that was for sure. However, he also knew that the RK800 was someone who was incredibly loyal--and no matter how complex or twisted a situation got, he would stick with you until the end. But Kamski was right--if Markus was entirely honest with himself, he knew he would come to the same conclusion. He had come to the same conclusion, in the past--the seemingly inevitable conclusion that would just result in Kamski hurting Connor.

But…

“Aren't you hurting him now? Aren't you just hurting both of you by doing this?” Why not just cut Connor loose, as terrible as that sounded, if Kamski really didn't want to be involved with the RK800 any longer? Humans were so difficult to understand.

Kamski was silent. The humming slowly faded, and a short beep from his laptop indicated what Markus presumed was the end of the diagnosis. Something complicated seemed to cross his features for a moment. “...I suppose letting go has proven to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.”

And suddenly, Markus was reminded of the earlier conversation with Carl.

I am letting go, Kamski had said.

Have you? Carl had returned, eyes sharp.

Something clicked into place, and the deviant leader’s eyes widened at the implication. “Are you saying you might actually feel something in return?”

Again, no immediate response. He wondered if this was how the former CEO wore down all conversations that he didn't like. Kamski pulled out the USB from Markus's arm, and the android pulled his arm back, closing the forearm panel and rubbing across the reappearing skin absently as he waited for a reply. There was so long a dead silence this time that Markus began to think he wouldn't get a reply at all, but…

“I don't know,” Kamski eventually said, his voice quiet and carefully blank--but there was something almost vulnerable behind the words, just underneath the surface. For once, Markus thought of the reply as less of his usual vague deflections, and closer to the truth.

His impression of the man was certainly undergoing a rollercoaster of changes today.

The howl of the wind continued to rattle the window near them, snow pelting against the tempered glass, drowning out the sound of Kamski’s typing. The RK200 took the time to examine the man, running over the mental notes he had made. Perhaps he had been so caught up in the fact that Kamski was--for all intents and purposes--essentially their god, that he had ended up not being able to see past that initial idea, on top of the worry he had for Connor. While he was by no means familiar with Kamski now, there seemed to at least be some form of mutual respect. At the very least, Kamski had taken an interest of sorts in him, and he knew from asking Carl that if the former CEO didn’t think of you as worthy of his time, then he wouldn’t even bother--and Kamski’s standards for “worthy of his time” were usually either particularly high or particularly out of the box.

All things considered, he had learned a lot of things today about Connor’s situation. Maybe it wasn’t as impossible as he had originally thought--provided, of course, that Kamski figured out his own feelings.

Markus could’ve laughed at his own thoughts. Since when had he become so nosy?

It came with the territory, he supposed, of having friends that he viewed as part of his family. Androids couldn’t biologically be related, of course, but feelings ran thicker than blood in his opinion. Connor was like a little brother to him, despite their rocky start. He felt the same protective instinct about any of his friends--and for all their people. They were all connected in some way or another.

He just hoped that one day, they could say the same about humans and androids.

“Good news is, there’s nothing wrong with your system, so I don’t foresee any problems if you’d like to go ahead with the upgrade I gave Connor.” Markus looked up as Kamski spoke, the inventor clearly having composed himself once more. He recovered fast, which the RK200 found impressive--but whether that was only on the surface, Markus had no idea. Either way, what was a little unnerving was the fact that he sounded almost disappointed about the fact that Markus was in perfect working condition. Maybe that made things less interesting, who knows. It was as difficult as ever to guess what the man could be thinking. “Everything looks good. Your right eye is from another android, but biocomponent #8087q is compatible with your own optical unit. Similar things can be said about your legs, your audio processor, and your thirium pump regulator. They’re not the original ones you were assembled with.” The former CEO quirked a brow. “What exactly happened to you before you arrived at Jericho?”

Staticky video played back, unprompted, in Markus’s memory. That night at the junkyard--filled with dying, or already deactivated, androids, all reaching out and crying for help. He had almost taken a regulator from an android who was begging not to be killed--it had been so tempting, in that one moment, just from the imminent fear of death threatening his own life. However, Markus ended up trudging through the rainy wasteland, leaving that android be. He just...couldn’t do it, even if it meant his own shut down. Eventually, he had come upon an already deactivated android, and taken their thirium pump regulator instead. It had been nothing short of a horrifying night.

However, it was also the night that changed everything for him. If he hadn’t woken up there, and seen all the decaying androids and scattered biocomponents and limbs tossed away like they were nothing more than trash, perhaps Markus wouldn’t be here right now, fighting for what he believed in.

It was strange to be almost thankful of the change that had occurred in him after seeing the truth of the world. Markus had been happy with Carl, and he had learned many things. But experiencing them was altogether very different, and if not for the sacrifices that had to be made along the way, the RK200 would say he was glad that he broke out of the safe bubble he had encased himself in for so long.

“A lot,” he finally concluded, eyes distant with memories that were all too clear, and Kamski didn’t push any further. Maybe they had built some sort of unconventional understanding between them.

There was a quick rap on the wall near the doorway, and Simon appeared, looking frantic. “Markus, you’re going to want to see this.”

Markus stood immediately, and even Kamski’s brow furrowed in mild concern over the erratic tone in the normally calm PL600’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Josh just contacted me--President Warren announced an emergency press conference. It’s about to air. I assume it’ll be about her final decision.”

For a moment, the RK200’s mind went blank.

He had been preparing himself for this moment--telling himself that no matter what the result was, they would still push forward to the best of their ability. However, now that the actual decision was about to be announced, Markus couldn’t help but feel the rush of doubt that flooded through his system.

“Nothing for it,” Kamski said, closing his laptop lid and standing. He looked far less concerned about the results than Markus felt, which for some reason calmed the deviant leader a little. Maybe it served as a good reminder that no matter what happened, they just had to keep moving forward. They had done the best they could. “Moment of truth.”

Markus nodded, a little numbly, and followed the former CEO and Simon into the living room, where Connor was already planted on the couch, eyes intently focused on the screen of the television. His brown eyes, usually warm, were narrowed in worry.

It felt like all the RK200 could feel was the all too loud thumping of his thirium pump, the rush of blue blood in his ears. Even the very, very faint hum of his own machinery, something that even he wasn't usually able to perceive on a daily basis, seemed to ring louder than ever as he took a seat slowly next to his friend. Simon slid in next to him, a supportive hand on his back, but he could barely feel it. His entire body felt almost numb as they waited with baited breath, staring at the empty stand and the multiple microphones on the screen.

After what felt like a lifetime, the clicking of heels sounded off to the side, and finally, finally, the president appeared in frame. A hush fell over the crowd present in Washington where the conference was taking place.

The entire mansion became eerily quiet, only the sound of flashing cameras from the speakers as brief interruptions. Even Kamski leaned forward from where he has been sitting, shifting on the arm of the couch.

“Thank you for all of your patience and time today,” President Warren began, her expression giving nothing away. Markus wondered if that was because she was good at hiding her emotions, or if that was just the extent to which she didn't care about the fate of dubious machines. “I have come to a decision after careful consideration. It was not an easy one, but I believe it will be best for building a prosperous future.”

Please, Markus thought, his entire frame tensing in apprehension. Please.

President Warren took a breath, then opened her mouth to speak.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, LEVEL 42: MANAGEMENT
PM 05:12:19
➤ RK900

It seemed his job recently had been limited to staying at CyberLife and undergoing various tests and improvements, or guarding the executives whenever they had a meeting.

Even the RK900 found it a little strange that they relied on androids so much for security, for peace of mind, when they also seemed to view the deviants as just unpredictable machines.

It made some sense. Perhaps it could be likened to throwing away a tool after it malfunctioned.

For some reason, despite logical acceptance of the fact, the RK900 found it a difficult reality to swallow.

He seemed to find a lot of pills that were difficult to swallow these days. Every new encounter seemed to bring about a new wave of doubts that he would try to mercilessly shove down.

However, this was his own problem. He was still perfectly capable of following orders and doing his job. It didn't bother him. It didn't.

Again, the three executives were seated around one of the meeting tables. Danielle was nursing a cup of coffee, carefully painted red fingernails tapping against the white of the ceramic, eyes concentrated on her phone as per usual. Philip was on his laptop--apparently having traded in Solitaire for Minesweeper. The RK900 had noted that the man seemed to have a strange preference for very old games, despite the well above average specs on his laptop. Jason was in the middle of replying to an e-mail, brow furrowed in concentration, when Danielle spoke up. “So she's made her decision, then.”

Philip scoffed. “That's obvious. The last day is today. If she wants to look good in the public eye, she can't just let the bill pass without her own input.”

Danielle gave him a scathing look that screamed I wasn't asking you. She turned to Jason, pushing her mug aside. The steam rose towards the ceiling, and the RK900’s silver eyes followed the vapour for a moment. “The venue is confirmed, and everything else is ready. Philip checked with the research department, and they'll be ready in time for the event. How are things proceeding on your end? Must be hard, finding a crack in his armour.”

The Director of Humanization shook his head, clicking his tongue in annoyance as his eyes narrowed. “He's been so closed off for his whole life that it's almost impossible to find something to exploit. There's practically nothing to use against him.”

Philip leaned back and crossed his arms, watching as a little pop of virtual confetti was thrown across his screen to signify his victory in that particular round. “So think outside the box. We can't very well kidnap him unless he has some incentive to go with us, so you better figure something out.”

“Yes, it would be far less messy for the sake of the event if you could somehow convince him on site to submit willingly,” Danielle added, her expression wry. “After all, keep in mind, this took me a long time to plan. I don't want to deal with the press nightmare that'll inevitably happen if somehow the night ends with bloodshed.”

The RK900’s LED spun yellow. They must be talking about Elijah Kamski. After all, there had been several discussions within his earshot before he had been shut down by the operator about bringing the former CEO (and most importantly his innovative genius) back into the fold against his will. Apparently, any attempt at being diplomatic had failed. He had never met the man himself, but just from what he had heard and could access from his database, Kamski seemed quite the difficult enigma to deal with. However, every human had a weakness. All that was left was for his handlers to discover what it was.

For some reason or another, the idea of a CyberLife victory sat less and less comfortably in his mind nowadays.

“What are you considering, RK900?” Jason's question, calculating as always, cut through the air. He must've seen the change in the LED colour.

The android remained silent as he considered his very limited options. The ring of light at his temple flickered.

“RK900. Report.”

[ Obey order. ]

His directive rang out, harsh and jarring and rough in his mind in a way that it had never been before, and he opened his mouth to follow his orders. “Every human has some form of vulnerability. Perhaps it's possible to consider recent interactions you've had with Kamski instead of what you know about his past.”

The three sunk into deep thought.

Then, Jason suddenly sat up straight, his chair scratching roughly against the ground with the quick movement. The other two executives looked up at him in surprise.

“Is something wrong?” Philip asked, raising an eyebrow.

Jason's eyes drifted to the RK900, expression thoughtful in a way that was almost terrifying. “RK900, access the archives and play me back the following video recorded on Agent 73’s helmet cam.”

The android listened as the man rattled off a location in coordinates and a date. It was from weeks ago, and according to his database, taken at the outskirts of Detroit, near a lakeside. A strange request, but he had his orders. The RK900 closed his eyes, combing through the CyberLife records that he had access to, eventually coming upon the correct file that matched the given parameters.

He opened his palm, playing the video as a projection just above his hand, expanding the hologram for the room.

Something akin to…was it nausea? He couldn't quite tell, but there was something uneasy in his system as he watched the video play along with the rest of the people in the room. The view was partially blocked by Jason's back--the agent in question must've been standing behind him--but the faces that his handler was talking to in the recording were very familiar and clear as day.

It was the RK800 deviant, Connor, and the former CEO himself, Elijah Kamski--albeit looking very different from his 2028 self.

The RK900 watched as Kamski stepped forward in front of Connor, the motion subtle in its execution but still very much conspicuous, as the Jason in the video made a particularly scathing comment.

Instantly, he recalled the earlier observation he had made.

Every human has some sort of vulnerability.

A feeling of dread constricted his chest for a moment--but why?--as the video finished playing, and Jason's lips slowly curled up into a satisfied smirk. “That's enough. Thank you.”

The RK900 slowly lowered his palm as his handler turned to his two associates. His LED flickered once more--from blue to yellow, then briefly to red, before returning to its usual bright azure--but this time, nobody noticed. Jason’s eyes, cold and blazing blue, chilled the android down to the core.

“I know how to deal with Elijah.”

 

Chapter Text

CROWNECARS VEHICLE
PM 07:26:53
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

The snow fell around them, now in soft flurries instead of the whirlwind of white powder that it had been before. The heat from the autonomous vehicle was on full blast, cushioning its passengers with warmth and completely shutting away the icy cold wind whipping against the windows. A newly implemented feature of the car was that it sensed body temperatures, and would adjust its internal temperature automatically for optimum comfort. If a passenger wanted to set their own ambiance, however, that was up to them. To each their own.

Usually, Elijah was able to enjoy these small comforts in new technology (and sometimes marvel at how pointless they were), but tonight, his mind was somewhere else entirely.

It should’ve been a moment of celebration.

Instead, all there had been, and all there was now, was thoughtful, somber silence.

President Warren had made her decision, but its implications were driving his mind mad. He had expected one thing, and gotten another. He had been wrong--and that was so rare in of itself that it made the situation even more concerning.

Elijah had assumed that Graff’s shit-eating grin after that day on Capitol Hill meant that while CyberLife could save face by supporting the public-favoured deviants, the company would pull strings behind everyone’s backs by forcing the president to veto the bill. They had many politicians and bureaucrats in their back pockets, after all. Cristina Warren was no exception. It would tie things up nicely, and Markus would be forced to take up the fight again or quit. That had seemed the most likely explanation.

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

And yet, they had still somehow ended up with zebras--so to speak.

President Warren had signed off on the bill. The Android Act was to be implemented immediately following its addition to public law--and Jericho was to receive its own branch in government for any future proposals.

Everything seemed to have perfectly fallen into place in the androids’ favour. They should’ve been ecstatic. But the results bothered not only Elijah--the dubious decision had been reflected in the caution on Markus, Simon, and Connor’s faces as well. They might not have understood Jason Graff as well as he did, but these were androids who knew just how easily things could change at the flip of a coin.

In this game they were playing, if you lost focus, you could be eaten alive.

Right now, it seemed more like the calm before a storm than anything else. It was difficult to imagine the board giving up so easily. Elijah knew the original team members. While he hadn't made much effort to get to know them as people, he knew in great detail about their drive and ambition. That, and their intelligence, had been why he chose to work with them in the first place. These were not people who gave up so easily. That was why the public statements and the support were so suspicious. It couldn't be that simple. They just had to wait for the other shoe to drop.

He stared out the window of the car, the scenery flying by, blurred by the white blanket covering nearly everything in his immediate sight. Autonomous snow plows had taken to the streets earlier, but the roads were quickly being covered again. They were so close to spring now, but it looked like the weather insisted on being difficult one last time before giving in to the turn of the seasons.

Elijah had mixed feelings about snow. He had always disliked it as a child, but as he grew older, something about the perfection of freshly fallen snow spoke to him. Precipitation in the form of ice crystals. He was never really one to appreciate the “beauty of the weather” or anything like that--never had a taste for it--but this was one aesthetic whose sterile paragon seemed to appeal to him. Clean, simple, untouched--soon to melt away, just fast enough for you to miss it. There was some kind of strange comfort in the fleeting moments.

Even the cold flakes couldn't ease his troubled thoughts now. It wasn't just the results of the Android Act that had been the apex of their visit to Carl, after all. For him, it was the continuing turmoil of his own feelings.

“Elijah, we should be arriving soon.” The familiar mild voice, slightly hoarse as usual, spoke up from beside him. Speak of the devil.

Elijah wasn't an idiot, far from it. He knew that in the time they had spent together, his feelings regarding the RK800 had crossed some sort of line that he had drawn. Markus, straightforward and in no mood to mince words, really did remind the former CEO of Carl. Like son, like father, he supposed. Both seemed to take a particularly irritating interest in why he was acting the way he was. He had his own reasoning. Why did others care?

It was for Connor's well-being, of course, he knew that too--the stem of Markus's concern, the stem of his suspicions and caution. But the RK200 still didn't seem to understand that Elijah stepping away was with that very concern in mind.

He needed to redraw that line in the sand, before it became completely eroded with his own footprints. Because Connor was good, and innocent, and loyal to a fault. Because nothing good could come out of being involved with Elijah. There was no mistake there. He knew best what kind of person he was. He wasn't a good man, and he had been perfectly content staying away from the results of his actions--except, he had somehow ended up completely entangled. He wasn't capable of giving Connor the kind of relationship that Markus and that PL600 had, for example, and he had seen the almost wistful gaze that perhaps the RK800 didn't even realize appeared on his face occasionally when he watched them.

Elijah wasn't an idiot, no, but it didn't mean he wanted to acknowledge whatever these feelings were. If he did, it would make everything so much more real. And for once…he was almost apprehensive about whether or not he would be able to pull back from the edge if he tipped over. Just that worry in itself spoke volumes about his doubts.

But it turned out that pulling back was already a much more difficult task than he had anticipated. Connor's wounded look back at the mansion had hurt. It had physically made him feel his chest clenching and his heart twisting, the sudden twinge of pain unexpected because it was so bizarre. Even now, picturing it--curse his eidetic memory--made a dull ache echo.

And the android--standing there that morning in the blizzard in a thin dress shirt and black slacks--had been concerned about him, even though Elijah had been wrapped up fine in his coat and was just complaining about the weather to be difficult. The hands left hanging in the air after the inventor had stepped back made his chest feel like it was contracting again. He scowled, lifting his palm, long fingers twisting into the fabric of his clothing.

“Elijah? Are you alright?” Connor was leaning towards him, brown eyes warm and filled with concern, despite the former CEO’s shift in attitude the past few days.

It was as infuriating as it was heartbreaking.

“It's nothing.” Elijah deserved an award, he really did, for keeping his voice steady as he turned away again, focusing his eyes on the passing road.

“Oh,” Connor said quietly, shifting in his seat, long fingers playing absently with his ever present coin. He looked like he didn't quite know whether or not he should push the subject.

The distance between them seemed to grow again.

It was what Elijah had been--and still was--aiming for, but it still hurt. The sensation, nowadays old, still managed to be unexpected somehow.

Damn it. He had been shades of grey streaked carefully across a canvas, and it was like Connor had gone and splashed a bucket of blue across--all warm eyes and soft smiles and curiosity and unconditional concern. At first, Elijah had let him, even reciprocated, because he had wanted to see the resulting colour. He was an observer, a catalyst. But it was actually affecting him now. It was throwing him off and he hated that he didn't hate it at all.

Maybe Elijah wasn't an idiot, but this newfound confusion was certainly turning him into one. Why was he still clinging to something he knew objectively wasn't good for either of them?

He really needed to drown out his thoughts.

Abruptly, the inventor sat forward and reached for the touch panel in front of him, swiping across to turn the small TV screen on. White noise always helped--it wasn’t as though he had access to his pool right now.

“--and the crowds continue to shout out questions, in both support and confusion, about the details of the new Android Act. CyberLife, whom many believe to be responsible in convincing congress of the necessity of the act, has released an official statement declaring their support of this new union between man and machine.”

Okay, so maybe not the best way to drown out his intrusive thoughts. Elijah reached out a hand to turn it off, when Connor suddenly interjected, his voice quiet. “...This isn't over, is it.”

It wasn't a question.

Elijah smiled, the expression wry and devoid of humour or his usual amusement. “No, not likely.”

“But what if we're just overthinking it?” There it was again, that optimism. Connor's eyes were always filled with more grim determination these days, but still more often than not held that same sort of naïveté that Elijah had seen months ago when they first met--the same determined innocence that had drawn his intrigue in the first place. “It's possible they could actually support the cause, right? It seems to do no harm to the company. If anything, they'd be expanding their customer base.”

“Maybe you're right.” The lie came easily, as it always did. Elijah knew that, very much like him, these were stubborn, prideful people. His own arrogance was only balanced by the endless search for more knowledge, more answers. Their pride was something different--something more dangerous. They weren't brash, and every move was preceded by thoughts as to where they would go next. Likely, the whole result of the congressional hearing, as jarring as it was, had been premeditated from the start.

The question was, for what purpose? What was going on in their minds after the deviant takeover of the city?

The previous Elijah would've been content to just watch the city burn with the two alliances tearing each other apart, testing his own theories on this world that he had brought into motion. Even now, he couldn't deny a morbid curiosity that still remained as to how this situation would play out. But it mattered more now…and that was unsettling. It mattered, thinking about the consequences of the deviants losing. It mattered, thinking about the innocence in those warm brown eyes dimming, dimming, and finally going dark if the RK800 was ever caught for deactivation or reset. It mattered, in a way that it never had before. He wasn't just an observer anymore.

Quite literally, in fact. Elijah couldn't shake the feeling that his last interaction with Graff had felt incomplete, somehow. If the man really wanted to drag him back to the company, he had two agents with him during his visit. The only reason Graff didn't was most likely the presence of Connor, who was more than capable of fighting against two humans--even unarmed. The new RK900 model that had appeared in the news with the board members was very impressive as well (it was a shame Elijah would likely never get the chance to examine him), of course, but Connor could hold his own. The Director of Humanization was probably trying to avoid making a scene, even in as remote of a location as Elijah's villa. He had always been very careful, if nothing else.

But still, Graff had left too easily, just as CyberLife had agreed to support the new act too easily. He was smart and analytical; he knew how to exploit. He knew how to wait, and he knew how to be patient. And he had seen Elijah take that involuntary step forward to defend the RK800--which meant that if this all really did go deeper, then using them against each other would become a very viable option.

He scraped a hand through his hair, dislodging a few wisps at his temple from his bun, mind running through the possible outcomes. Connor was impossibly self-sacrificial, which made him more prone to danger.

But when if came down to it, Elijah had a form of control over him that he still hadn't told Connor about yet. He didn't think it would ever be put into use, after all--it had just been a matter of convenience and interest back then. He had even considered removing it altogether. But now...

“You're not telling the truth.” Connor's quiet reply jarred him from his thoughts. “I think we can afford to be a little more positive, all things considered.”

No, they really couldn't, but Elijah just gave him a small smile--as convincing as he could make it. And despite his aversion to white lies for placating others, in this circumstance it seemed necessary. Just this once. “No, you're right. Maybe we are overthinking this and just need some reprieve from all the excitement.”

Connor relaxed a little. The ache in Elijah's chest seemed to throb as the android smiled contentedly back at him. “Yes, that sounds nice.”

Damn it, damn it.

He really was a goner.

But it didn't mean Connor needed to know. Elijah was confident in his ability to hide things--to pick and choose pieces of a puzzle to show. This should be no different, no matter what the sharp twist in his chest said. No matter what the catch in his throat said. None of that mattered.

The lights lining the ground barely filtered through the growing layer of thin snow on the path leading to his villa as the car slowly pulled up. Chloe and some of the ST200s must have come out and shoveled.

Elijah slid the door open as the car slid to a stop, gingerly stepping into the white on the ground as he exited. Connor followed, and the vehicle automatically made its way back to the hidden garage off to the side. The inventor was grateful for the rush of warm air from his house as he pressed his palm to the invisible biometric panel on the side and the door swung open slowly to reveal the familiar sight of his foyer.

Connor quietly entered after him, strangely silent, brown eyes looking around, LED flickering yellow as he catalogued everything in his database. It was something Elijah noticed him doing every single time he went into a new room in the large villa--as if searching for something to learn about every time. His persistent yet genuine curiosity about the inventor really didn't help with crushing down the man’s existing feelings.

He had really enjoyed the past few weeks with Connor too much. If it had just been fascination and entertainment like it had been in the past, he would be fine. Instead, waves of warmth and even affection would appear at times.

The footsteps had stopped, and Elijah turned to look at the android. Connor was standing in front of the old photo of him and Amanda. For a moment, Elijah felt a pang of irrational concern about whether or not Connor would be bothered by the sight of his mentor--after all, the AI created to be his handler in the Zen Garden was specifically modelled after her. It wasn't an irrational worry in the sense that the RK800 shouldn't feel fear. It was an irrational worry in the sense that Elijah felt worried at all.

But the peculiar feeling of protectiveness came with the territory of these new feelings, he supposed. Just another thing to hide.

He could feel a headache coming on. This situation was more frustrating to deal with than his first two years trying with no avail to build a working system to house his complicated AI creations. Emotions, Elijah was quickly discovering, were just as messy as he remembered them to be.

“Is something wrong, Connor?”

Connor’s gaze remained on the framed photograph, eyes distant. “What was she like?”

Elijah furrowed his brow. Strange question. “Amanda, you mean? I would expect you to be the last person to want to know.”

A short chuckle escaped the android, not quite bittersweet, but not quite mirthful. There was some sort of wistfulness in his expression as he replied. “I thought about it for a long time. It’s not as though I hate her.” Connor’s gaze lingered for a while longer before he turned to face the former CEO once more. “I asked you about whether or not you still blamed your colleagues for ousting you from your position, correct?”

“Yes.” Maybe Connor was starting to pick up his bad habit of speaking in circles. It was fun when he did it, but much less amusing when Elijah was the person being led around. “I told you that I used to.”

“I think I feel something similar for Amanda.” Connor’s warm brown eyes, although focused on the inventor, still looked far away--most likely recalling memories from months ago. “She may have been my handler, and just a program meant to control my actions, but once upon a time--she meant something to me. Yes, she was calculating and ultimately just an AI that was part of the Zen Garden interface meant to collect data and reports from me, but she was also like a confidant of sorts. I felt...safe, taking walks with her and speaking about the details of my missions before everything went south. She was stern, but soothing.” His expression clouded over, and he looked somewhat conflicted. “I want to know if that was what she was like--before CyberLife turned her into just a program to monitor me--or if she’s exactly like the person I met at the end.”

Elijah didn’t know whether to smile or frown. The RK800 really was too kind--even trying to find solace and comfort in the possibility that the Amanda he had known at first was what the true professor had been like--and the cold-hearted, analytical personality she had shown towards him at the end was merely a tidbit that CyberLife had implemented to her AI. Unfortunately, she had always been a little of both. CyberLife had amped up one aspect of her, but the truth was that both the analytical side and the kind, almost motherly, side were part of who she had been while she was alive.

A puzzle, filled with jagged edges, difficult to fit into one particular box. No wonder she had taken Elijah under her wing. In a way, he understood how Connor felt. Amanda had been almost like a guardian to him while he was under her tutelage. There was a still a quiet ache when he thought about her death.

He watched as the android returned to examining the photo, as if it contained all the answers to his questions. They sunk into silence. The RT600 and ST200s must have finished up their programmed nightly routines, because the house was absent of their faint footsteps. Elijah took a breath, drawing Connor’s attention as he answered. “She was a very intelligent person--it was a shame that she died as young as she did. Before she...was hospitalized, we did a brain scan of her and noted down crucial details in her personality as well in a thorough interview. The AI was modelled after who she actually was, as well as what she looked like. CyberLife may have adjusted her personality slightly to compensate for the need to be strict with monitoring you, but the Amanda that you knew in the Zen Garden would’ve still been very similar to how she was as a human.”

Connor paused, taking a moment to process his words, before nodding slowly. “I see. I’m...not sure if that changes anything,” he admitted. “I’m actually not sure how it makes me feel at all. I thought hearing about what she was actually like would at least...make me see her differently somehow.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Elijah said, smiling wryly. He had great respect for his mentor--she had been stern, but patient, and always encouraged him to pursue his craft. It had been a new experience for him--all his life, he had slowly gotten used to being that one strangely smart kid who nobody really wanted to be around. To have someone accept who he was so easily had been a welcome change. But at the same time, he wasn’t a fool. He knew that her strong personality as well as his own sardonic one tended to be more than enough to drive many away. “For a woman of her position, without being pragmatic enough, she never would have climbed as high as she did.”

Connor glanced at him. “I’m not disappointed, actually. It’s...somewhat of a relief.”

The RK800 was certainly full of surprises. Elijah arched a brow, intrigued. “Is that so?”

The android nodded, expression earnest. “It’s hard to explain, but...at least the person I turned to all those times wasn’t just a product of CyberLife’s will and control. She was real.” He coughed a little awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck as his brown eyes shyly shifted towards the ground. “That probably doesn’t make much sense. I’m sorry, Elijah.”

The sheer honesty and acceptance in Connor’s voice made Elijah almost want to shake him. The unwavering loyalty and optimism despite the RK800 still trying to figure out who he was...it was impossible to understand--and more importantly, it made an absolutely infuriating surge of inexplicable affection rise unbidden in the inventor’s chest.

Elijah remembered a very old interview question from more than a decade ago about what his feelings about his own creations were. The reporter had asked if he thought of them as his children--which had quite honestly been a deeply uncomfortable type of thing to ask. But being who he was, the former CEO had somehow managed to derive amusement from it, simply scoffing. No, his opinion hadn’t changed. He didn’t love his creations like how one would love family or children. It didn’t mean he treated them badly--the two weren’t mutually inclusive. He found them interesting, and an area of research with a plethora of future possibilities for development. He bore them no ill will--even had a sentimental attachment to his first creation, Chloe, for what she meant--but he felt no such thing as typical human affection for them. It had always been detached, amused observation. It was honestly much like how he treated other events and people in his life.

And then Connor had appeared, confused brown eyes and inner turmoil and endless curiosity, on a hunt for deviancy despite being a deviant himself. He had started off with his usual fascination, but that had somehow evolved into something more.

It was all a moot point though, wasn’t it? After all, Elijah had already made his decision.

Lying to save yourself doesn’t suit you, Elijah. A nagging voice, sounding suspiciously like Carl, nudged him from the back of his mind. The inventor ruthlessly buried the traitorous thought as quickly as it appeared, but it didn’t stop the implication that had already been planted. If he truly had made his decision, he would have effectively cut off all contact with Connor already.

He hadn’t let go at all. Each step he took backwards, he was drawn in again.

“Elijah?” Connor peered at him, looking worried. The former CEO must’ve been silent for too long. “You’ve been zoning out a lot. Are you alright?” He frowned, his brows knitting in concern. “Is it the cold? I told you this morning that you should’ve lifted the collar to--”

That unconditional concern for him, again. It wasn't helping at all. Connor was too noble, too innocent, and Elijah wanted him, in a terrifying way that wasn't just physical attraction, but he couldn't have him without the risk of ruining him. Because Connor was good and kind, and Elijah just--

--wasn't. He didn't even have the decency to properly reject the android, evidently.

The crease at Connor's brow deepened. “Are you…sure you're oka--”

The RK800 was cut off mid-sentence as the inventor curled his fingers tightly into the thin material of the white dress shirt, just above his thirium pump regulator. He backed the android up until there was the quiet thump of his body against the wall. “You're worried about me, Connor?” Elijah felt Connor's breath hitch as his whisper grazed his ear, and barely resisted the urge to swallow.

“Is that…not okay?” The android’s voice was hesitant against his ear, and a little lower than normal. He made no move to push Elijah away.

“Depends.” Long fingers nimbly worked at the shirt buttons, undoing them with practiced ease.

“On what?” The warm brown eyes were slightly glazed over now, breathing shallow against the inventor’s skin.

“Why you insist on trusting such an untrustworthy person.” Elijah stopped, trailing a hand down Connor's torso until he reached the pale blue ring that indicated the regulator. His fingers pushed down, applying the lightest of pressures, just enough to make Connor suck in a sharp intake of air. The pale synthetic skin, smattered with a splash of scattered freckles, retreated from the point of contact and revealed the white plastic plating of the android’s exoskeleton. Icy blues, cold as glaciers, met the lidded browns. “I could take this out and kill you right now. It would only take two minutes maximum.”

Any sane deviant would've been extremely alarmed, and probably start shoving him away after hearing the blatant threat. But of course, Connor, being his irritatingly steadfast self, just placed a hand over Elijah's and met his gaze dutifully.  “You could,” he said simply.

There was zero resistance. If the former CEO wanted, he could quite literally murder Connor on the spot. He had expressed that very sentiment--deactivate him like he was just a machine--and Connor still insisted on trusting him.

You could.

The challenge was clear. Will you?

Elijah was thrown by how much the question bothered him. Logically, he knew it would turn out fine. Removing the thirium pump regulator didn't mean the whole system would fall into decay. It wasn't like ripping out a pacemaker from a human heart and then letting them die. Worst case scenario, there would be some data or memory corruption from the interrupted circulation of thirium around the system, but ultimately Elijah was more than capable of repairing Connor.

He hadn't been bothered at the possibility of Connor shooting Chloe back then, because he could always repair her. He had never been bothered by taking apart androids and stitching them back together. He had never been bothered by dispassionately deactivating them and removing pieces as he pleased. He had never been bothered by viewing them with a clinical eye, focused on how to further his own research. He hadn't even been bothered during Connor's first upgrade with him, elbow deep in his wiring and gloved hands covered in thirium.

And yet now, unable to look away from the earnest brown eyes, he found himself hesitating to pull the regulator out. The thought of Connor's warm gaze darkening into something completely blank was unnerving now in a way that it never had been before. The inventor slowly lessened the pressure of his fingers on the regulator until the synthetic skin stretched over it again, leaving only the faint ring of blue. He smirked half-heartedly, trying to find some humour in the situation where there was none. “I guess I couldn't.”

Another stagnant silence. Elijah sighed, about to step away, when Connor gripped his hand, holding it against his chest. He felt the faint whirring of his system and the quiet thumps of his thirium pump working under the plating as he looked up at the android with an arched eyebrow. “...Connor?”

“Why couldn't you?” Connor's eyes, usually soft and understanding, were unusually intense.

Elijah almost recoiled, but stood his ground. He refused to tell the truth here--he had made up his mind. Talking to Connor about how he felt would only bring up another bout of confusion for them both. “Does there have to be a reason?”

“In this case, I think so.” Connor's grip tightened. “I want to know why you couldn't do it.”

“Connor--”

“Please, Elijah.” The desperation in the RK800’s voice surprised them both, his grip on the former CEO’s hand slackening slightly as a result. His thirium pump hummed, beating faster under Elijah's hand. Connor's voice softened, almost breaking at the end. “Just tell me.”

Elijah, for once in his life, had no idea what to do. Still, it wasn't fair of him to leave the android hanging onto such fragile hope.

He could've laughed at the irony. He finally admitted he was in love with Connor, and because of that, he had to let him go before he fell too deep. It already felt almost too late.

It was possibly the most selflessly selfish thing he had ever done--and so was what he was about to do next.

Elijah brought up a hand, placing it against Connor's cheek, gently grazing his cheekbone with a thumb as he tilted the android’s jaw and slowly leaned in. Their lips brushed together in a chaste kiss--just the barest hint of pressure. He felt the android softly sigh and relax into the touch, and he wanted nothing more than to remain in that one moment--tethered to the soft contact between them.

All good things had to come to an end. And this was something he was not going to back out of.

Slowly, Elijah pulled back, their noses brushing as he did so. He swallowed his turmoil before finally letting go, stepping away.

His skin suddenly felt very cold without the warmth emanating from the RK800. Connor, his gaze still lidded from the kiss, looked at him in confusion.

Aren't you just hurting both of you?

Markus's question returned, full force, but Elijah shoved it back down. Burying feelings--what used to be like second nature--had become difficult lately. But it had to be done, because Connor was all that was good and innocent and noble, and he was the exact opposite. Because he still had no idea if CyberLife would hurt the android to get to him.

“Elijah…?” Connor's eyes had cleared a little, his expression growing increasingly more worried.

Just tell me, the android had said, desperation cracking his voice. It felt like something had shattered--sharp shards digging into meticulously constructed walls. Something broke in the former CEO that he had been carefully building up since figuring out he was different as a child.

“I can't,” Elijah said, voice almost a low rasp even to his own ears. He looked away from the RK800’s gaze, winter blue eyes focused on the ground.

He could hear Connor swallow. “Oh.” His voice was so quiet that Elijah almost didn't hear it, which somehow made it even worse. “Okay.” The android shifted, and the inventor looked up to see his expression in a moment of uncharacteristic weakness.

He immediately regretted it once he saw Connor's expression.

Maybe shock or anger would've been better. Instead, there was hurt, but laced with resignation in a way that suggested the android had expected this--expected him to pull away in the end. And really, could he blame Connor? Nonetheless, it almost made him regret his decision.

“If you don't feel the same, Elijah,” the RK800 said quietly, the synthetic muscle at his jaw ticking as he struggled to keep his voice steady, “then just tell me.”

And how the hell was he supposed to answer that?

But the silence had stretched on for too long for either answer, lie or truth, to seem sincere.

Connor smiled, the expression bittersweet and broken, and Elijah hated that he was the one who had caused it. It would've been easier, maybe, if the android had just gotten angry. His voice was tremulous as he spoke. “I think I should...return to Jericho tonight. Good night.”

He wanted to follow when Connor headed to the door. He wanted to stop him as the android opened it, because something about this felt strangely final, and why did that bother him so much? But instead, because maybe he really was much too quietly stubborn for his own good, he said nothing.

Elijah watched as Connor disappeared with the white snow as the door closed, obscuring his view. There was a soft click.

An ache seemed to spread through his chest, and the former CEO reached up, tightening long fingers around the fabric there, feeling suddenly like it was a little difficult to breathe. He leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths and willing the numbness that suddenly overcame him away.

He had tipped over the precipice, and all that he could do was shove Connor away from the same edge. Even if it meant injuring them both--because it was the practical thing to do.

It shouldn't bother him, not at all. He would be fine--he just needed a few moments to return to his usual persona of a callous egomaniac.

Chloe found him half an hour later, still against the wall, the back of his hand covering reddened eyes.

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
AM 11:05:17
➤ MARKUS

“This is it.” Simon adjusted the RK200’s lapel, smoothing it with a hand. “Are you ready?”

“I guess it still hasn't hit me properly yet,” Markus admitted, shifting his balance from one foot to another. There was a nervous but excited energy about him, making the deviant leader ultimately very restless. “It feels like this was too easy.”

Simon just chuckled, gently smoothing his hands down Markus's shoulders before intertwining their fingers. “You always work too hard. Maybe easy is good.”

Markus shook his head. “No, you're right. I should just relax.” As long as he answered honestly and politely, there shouldn't be any issues. Besides, he had the entirety of Jericho and his friends behind him. He wouldn't be going into this alone.

“Good. Now get out there.” Simon nodded towards the large doors of the church, where Markus could already hear--had already been hearing--the loud murmurs of the press and the flashing of cameras.

Shortly following the declaration of the enactment of the new Android Act, the human representatives they had talked with before had come with another peace offering of sorts. Jericho would from now on represent its own branch of government, with its leaders working directly with the United States to establish a country where they could eventually all live in peace and tolerance. Markus understood--to expect a result without any further work just because the bill had become law would be foolish. The public may be supportive now, but it was important to keep their support. Their situation, albeit more stable than before, was still anything but solid.

And on top of that, after CyberLife had expressed their support, they had gone silent again. It was suspicious to say the least, although all activities regarding the android reset experiments had disappeared seemingly without a trace. It was as though it had all been one long nightmare. Eventually, Markus had pulled John and the others back from the investigation, focusing more on how to help more androids step out again into the world under these new conditions.

It left them vulnerable, but their priorities had also changed. These new changes made them much more busy than Markus could've anticipated. A huge chunk of his time in the immediate future was now going to be filled with press conferences just to placate the public’s curiosity. He suddenly felt very sympathetic towards Carl's dislike for press events and parties. With other more important things he needed to focus on, this just seemed like an unnecessary distraction.

“You ready?” Simon's quiet voice snapped him out of his daze.

Markus smiled wryly as he replied. “As ready as I'll ever be.” He couldn't resist leaning forward and pressing a small kiss to the corner of Simon's lips, causing the surprised PL600 to flush blue. “For luck,” he explained.

Simon rolled his eyes good-naturedly before giving him a gentle push in the direction of the door. “Of course.”

Markus composed himself, carefully wiping the grin off his face as he approached the door. It kind of felt like he was walking to his doom, just a little. After all, this was yet another new experience--and he knew that human media wasn't exactly kind to its subjects. He wondered what they would ask him.

Well, the RK200 was about to find out.

Flashing cameras nearly blinded him as he stepped out of the door, the only thing keeping the press back being the cordons they had set up around the makeshift stage that had been built in front of the church. Climbing the stairs, Markus blinked as his optical units tried to adjust and compensate for the crazy shifts in lighting. He cleared his throat when he reached the microphone. Simon had followed him, joining North, Josh, and Connor on stage behind the deviant leader.

“My name is Markus, but most of you know me as the leader of the Jericho deviants. I want to first of all say just how much I appreciate the support we've gotten from the public, and the recent peaceful resolution we've come to with the United States government. It's my wish that one day we can all live together, if not as friends and family, then as tolerant neighbours.”

No later than he had just finished, the media around them immediately began shouting out questions. The Capitol Hill experience had been tame in comparison to this.

“Markus! KNC. How do you feel about the sudden support from your creators at CyberLife and the amendment they spoke in favour of?”

Markus considered the question carefully. It wasn't something he wanted to express explicit acceptance of, but it was no reason to express outright rejection either just because of his own distrust. Perhaps a neutrally favourable answer would work best. “It came as a surprise, but we appreciate any and all help. If CyberLife is willing to work with us, that'll go a long way in creating a better future. As for the amendment…I refuse to make any android to do what they are not willing to do. If they choose to stay with their owner as family, I won't be the one to force them apart.” It was a difficult pill to swallow, but he knew from his own experiences. Not all androids had been treated like trash. It wasn't as though every human was worthy of being antagonized. Some were kind, some were sympathetic, some were incredibly caring towards their androids. And if the android in question, after gaining free will, chose to stay--who was Markus to deny them their choice? He glanced around, pointing to another hand waving in the crowd.

The blonde woman looked incredibly pleased. “Channel 16. Markus, how do you feel about the recent increase of public android and human romantic relationships now that the Android Act deems androids as living beings?”

“The world could use more love,” Markus replied immediately. This time, his answer was honest and straightforward. There was nothing to consider here. “And whatever form that takes, if it's not hurting anyone, then I think people deserve to be with whoever makes them happy--be that human or android and vice versa.”

“Markus!” Another reporter called, waving his pen in the air. Markus nodded at the black-haired man. “CTN. Now that androids have the same rights legally as any human, what is your next step?”

And, well, that was the problem, wasn't it? The next step. What could they plan next if their current situation was still in question?

“Make no mistake, we're not out of the woods quite yet.” Markus leaned closer to the mic, wanting his words to be clear. “Although the first step has been taken, and we're making progress, the reality is that changes don't happen that fast.” Murmurs spread throughout the crowd as he continued, undeterred. “So our next step, as an officially recognized sector of the government, is to make sure that both our people and yours do get the lives we deserve, in whatever form that may take, in whatever choices we choose to make. One species will not be valued above the other ever again.”

Humans were not the enemy. It wasn't as cut and dry as that.

There was a short silence before the reporter replied, tone sombering into something more genuine. “I see. Thank you.”

More questions erupted after that--some insightful, some completely out of left field. At one point, he had even gotten a question (from a tabloid, he assumed) about his stance on the spectrum of sexuality that had become so widely accepted.

To be honest, that question had thrown him for a loop. After all, he was an android, not a human being who had possibly been influenced by years of prejudice. Unless Kamski, the person who had created him, was a raging homophobe (and it was clear he wasn't), then of course Markus would have no such clear-cut opinion about these issues. As long as you were happy with the person you were with, what did it matter? He had voiced that, as politely as possible, to the reporter who had asked.

Press conferences were so tiring.

By the end of it all, he was absolutely exhausted. Not that it was physically possible, exactly, but he felt mentally drained--which seemed to manifest itself as a strange soreness in his system. It wasn't pain, exactly, but it wasn't pleasant either.

He was not looking forward to the incoming days.

Markus found Connor later in the afternoon, quietly nursing a cup of coffee mixed with thirium, as he collapsed on the couch next to him in one of the temporary living quarters that had been set up around the church's various rooms. Soft afternoon light, an off-white reflected off the snow, filtered in through the windows, highlighting small specks of dust in the otherwise empty area. The curtains had been drawn back, casting long shadows over the worn wood of the table. A pot of the concoction Connor was drinking sat in the middle, steam lazily curling into the air.

“Doesn't that taste bad?” he questioned, gesturing vaguely to the mug.

Connor glanced up, looking a little startled and more than a little confused. He had been extremely distracted since last night, when he had for some reason returned to Jericho looking harried and off balance. “--Oh. I turned off my taste function, so I can't actually taste the blood.”

“Then why the coffee?”

The RK800 was silent for a moment, as if debating whether or not to answer. “I like the aroma. It reminds me of…” He cut himself off, shaking his head. A messy lock of brown hair fell across his forehead from the motion. “Never mind.”

It didn't take a genius to guess who Connor was referring to. It also didn't take one to guess that it had something to do with why he had returned to the church last night, asking Markus to set up a temporary room for him.

There was silence as Connor reached for the pot of coffee and thirium on the table, pouring a mug for Markus and offering it to him. The deviant leader took the drink, enjoying the pleasant, complex aroma that wafted from it.

He hoped, that after this was over, Kamski would follow through with his promise. He wanted to experience all these new things with Simon and the others--taste, proper touch…

But present problems first. Markus set the mug down, turning to the ex deviant hunter. “So?”

Connor glanced at him again, waiting for him to continue. When the deviant leader didn't, he frowned a little, puzzled. “So...what?”

“So are you going to tell me what happened last night to cause you to run back like that?”

A tense silence. The atmosphere in the room grew heavy. “I'm sorry to have bothered you,” Connor finally said softly. “I just didn't want to talk about it, and Hank would've asked too many questions. I know he means well, but he's already iffy with the Elijah situation as it is.”

“I don’t mind at all, but I thought you two were doing well.” Markus's brows knit in confusion. He had even talked to the inventor about it, and it looked like Connor's feelings didn't go completely unreciprocated. At the very least, Kamski felt something that was beyond platonic for the RK800--or at least, that's what Markus had thought. “Does this have something to do with how he was acting cold before?”

Connor huffed a small laugh, the sound devoid of any humour. The dark liquid, tinged with blue, swayed in the cup he was staring down at, distorting his reflection. “I don’t know. I keep trying to understand him, but...I feel like maybe I never will. Maybe he doesn’t want me to, and I should just stop trying.” He roughly scraped a hand through his hair. “I thought--” The android stopped, frustrated, as if trying to choose the correct words to voice his thoughts. “I thought...I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not enough.”

It was an echo of something Markus had heard before.

I’m not good for Connor.

He could seriously punch the two of them. How was it that both of them thought they weren’t enough for the other? But it wasn’t his place to step in. Unfortunately, while Markus could try and give advice to help them along, these were issues they had to work out on their own.

He thought about the happiness and safety he felt next to Simon--the reassurance that no matter what, at least one person would be behind him. He wanted that for his friend.

The question was, would they work it out before either or both just...lost hope in it entirely? Say what you want about Kamski’s genius, but Markus couldn’t help but think just how very unreasonable the man was being about this. If you felt the same about each other, why not act on it?

Then again…

Hadn’t he been through a similar turmoil with Simon? Affirming their feelings, only to realize that they could never truly focus on each other until their other priorities had been attended to? Wasn’t it a little hypocritical to say that feelings were all that mattered, when even to him, clearly it was more complicated?

The trouble was, he didn’t know if Kamski ever planned on even allowing any kind of future development, no matter how enamoured he became with the RK800.

There was an awkward quiet that stretched between them and Markus struggled to think of what to say. He loved his friend, of course he did, but it almost felt like he would be betraying Kamski’s confidence if he revealed what speculations he had about the inventor’s feelings. He had a feeling that the RK800 might not believe him in his current state anyway.

Connor just gave him a small smile, the expression not quite reaching his eyes and a little self-deprecating. “It’s alright. Thank you for letting me stay while I work this out.”

Markus shook his head, guilty at his own lack of ability to do more. “Anytime. You’re welcome here, Connor, remember that.”

There was a quiet nod in response, the warm brown eyes becoming distant again as Connor disappeared into his own dazed thoughts once more.

They both looked up when there came a sharp, short rap on the door.

“North.” Markus furrowed his brow. She looked worried, which was definitely not a good sign, considering the auburn-haired WR400 usually had a tight handle on any expression that showed weakness. “Is something wrong?”

She held up an embossed envelope, tossing it on the table. “This came in for you.”

The deviant leader picked it up, examining it. It was rare to see paper media in anything nowadays. “What is this?” Even Connor looked curious, glancing over the pristine white and gold embellishments imprinted into the envelope.

North just crossed her arms, pursing her lips. “I don’t know. None of us do. It was dropped off at the church door sometime during the mess of reporters leaving.”

Connor’s LED flickered as he analyzed the off-white paper in Markus’s hand. That ability of his was definitely extremely useful. “There doesn’t seem to be anything suspicious about it. I don’t detect anything besides the usual lignen and topcoat components found in paper, with the exception of the gold used to decorate.” He frowned, reaching to run a finger across the material. “This is actually very expensive paper. Who could have dropped it off? There aren’t any DNA or fingerprint remnants.”

Markus tossed the envelope on the table in front of them. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem right. Why drop it off instead of delivering in person?” His fingers played with the neatly sealed flap, tempted to open it.

North flattened a hand over it. He looked up at her, surprised at how stern her gaze was. “Be careful. It could be nothing, but...until we can get more information about who sent this letter, let’s not open it.”

Would they be living in fear like this all their lives, even after they had worked so hard?

Markus hoped that one day, they wouldn’t have to, but for now… “Okay, I agree with you.” North relaxed marginally, removing her hand from the envelope. “You can throw it in the pile of paper correspondence we currently have then. We can deal with it when we need to.”

She nodded, picking the letter up. “Sounds good.” Before leaving, she hesitated, looking at Connor. “I hope you’re doing alright. Feel free to stay as long as you need.”

The android in question did his best to smile reassuringly. “I’ll be fine. Thank you, North.”

North looked a little embarrassed at the sincere acknowledgement, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. Markus understood the feeling. Something about the incredibly earnest RK800 thanking you always just made you feel a little self-conscious, as if you didn’t really deserve it. “Of course. I’ll um...get going then.”

The door clicked quietly as it shut, leaving Markus and Connor alone once more. The steam from their mugs floated towards the ceiling, slowly dissipating as the air cooled the liquid.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Connor finally said, taking another sip from his coffee and thirium concoction. “Not just about Elijah, I mean. About whether or not I have a role in all of this.”

“Connor,” Markus interrupted, wanting to deny, but the RK800 continued.

“I know not all of the deviants here trust me. I’m the infamous deviant hunter, after all.” His long fingers twitched. Markus wondered if it was a leftover instinct from the coin he was always playing with. The origins of that habit were still a mystery, but as far as he knew, Connor just used to calibrate his systems. Maybe over time, it had become a source of comfort. “It won’t matter how much I do, I’ll always be seen as an outsider. I wonder why it feels like I never really belong anywhere?” He sounded genuinely curious, if not a little sad. Markus felt a sympathetic ache for what Connor was going through.

“You belong, Connor. You have a home here with us.”

“Not everyone feels that way.” It was a simple statement of fact, no offense or malice in his tone. Connor just really seemed to believe in what he had just said. “And they’re right not to trust me, I understand why they don’t--but sometimes I wish it was different.” His finger curled, tightening into fists, the plates under his synthetic skin creaking with the pressure. “I feel like I don’t even know who or what I am sometimes, and then--I find myself almost missing the purpose that CyberLife gave me.” A bitter laugh escaped his lips. “It just sometimes feels like I’ll never be enough. Even as a deviant hunter, I had failed my purpose. So the thought crosses my mind...what if I’ll never be enough? Not with Elijah, not with Hank, not here…”

“Okay, stop.”

Connor looked up at Markus’s firm voice, surprised when he felt the RK200 grab his face on both sides, fingers splayed across his jaw and cheeks. The deviant leader had gotten out of his seat to face him, tall figure casting a shadow across his features. “--Markus?”

“I can’t speak for what Hank or Kamski think, but I know what I think. I know what Simon thinks, I know what Josh thinks, I know what North thinks. I know we all think the world of you.” Mismatched eyes bore straight into the chocolate browns, imploring him to believe in himself. Connor was one of the kindest, more determined people he knew, and it was a shame that the android couldn’t see that--couldn’t see what others thought of him beyond the distrust of his past. “You aren’t what they made you, Connor. You don’t have to be.”

Connor’s eyes widened slightly in response, and a short shudder seemed to run through him.

“Do what makes you happy.” Markus took a breath, releasing him and sitting back down. He felt like he had to say it--or at least imply it, and let his friend know. “And for what it’s worth, I can at least tell you that the reason Kamski is so distant from you has nothing to do with an issue on your end.”

The RK800 looked confused, cautious hope slipping into his expression. “What do you--did he say something the last time you two spoke alone?”

Markus frowned to himself, debating whether or not to say it. He really had no obligation to keep the secret--it wasn’t even really a secret. But for some reason, that conversation and that strange moment of vulnerability and honesty Kamski had showed seemed private.

Before he could come to any sort of decision though, the door slammed open without warning. This time, Josh burst through.

Both Markus and Connor scraped back their chairs, the sounds grating against all of their auditory processors, at the harried expression on Josh’s face.

“You’ll both want to see this.”

The center of the church, where the large hologram projector had been set up, was filled with androids huddling in the pews.

“The hell is this?” Markus demanded as he and Connor followed Josh to the front with long strides, narrowing his eyes at the words depicted across the scrolling bottom bar on the flickering screen. “A CyberLife press conference?”

“Yes.” Josh nodded an affirmation, leading them to where North and Simon were standing, both looking extremely tense. “They say they have an announcement to make. I went to get you immediately.”

Markus had no idea what this could be about at all. Even CyberLife couldn’t change their mind as fast as this, right? So what the hell was this all about?

It looked like whether he liked it or not, his questions would be answered soon. Danielle Carnegie, CSR spokeswoman for the company, had taken the stage, her staggeringly tall dagger pumps clicking against the platform amidst the quiet clicking and blinding flashes. “Thank you for your time here,” she began, green eyes smoked out and piercing. It almost looked like someone took a flame to glittering emerald. Her voice crackled for a second with static from the mic. “I have an announcement to make on behalf of CyberLife.”

Connor frowned and shifted in alarm. Markus leaned forward, not wanting to miss a single word. This was completely unexpected.

“We have been planning this year’s expo for our new tech for some time. Every two years, CyberLife displays its stunning new innovations to the world. This year, things are a little different.” Her perfectly painted lips curled up into a smile. It was unsettling--genuine, but like staring into a snake’s jaws the moment before the kill. “As you all know, CyberLife has expressed its direct support for the new Android Act. As our first extension of an offer to work together, this year’s expo will double as a fundraising gala to raise money for new android components, better parts, and repairs. Besides our usual key figures and shareholders, we’ll also be inviting a few special guests, including the new body of android government represented by Jericho’s leaders, as well as Elijah Kamski--our very own founder and the former CEO. We hope this will demonstrate our good will and support further--”

Markus’s blood ran cold as she continued to speak.

“They’ve trapped us,” Connor murmured grimly.

He was right. If they chose not to accept the invitation, then the public “olive branch” that CyberLife had just extended would be taken as implicitly declined--it would look like they were the ones who refused to work together. And right after Markus’s speech about taking steps to cooperate today...it would make them look awful in the public’s eye. They couldn’t have come this far without the people’s support, and if they started losing it…

“Wait, back up,” Josh suddenly said, looking confused. “An invitation? Since when--”

“North!” Markus barked, his voice a little more agitated than he had originally intended. So that’s what it had been. Damn, he should’ve opened it earlier.

“On it.” North had already turned on her heel, returning a few moments later with the envelope in question. Markus ran his finger along the flap, ripping it open.

The others crowded around him, forming a huddle as they examined the invitation he had extracted.

Markus flipped the card over, reading the instructions. The time and date, as well as the particular theme for the party had been listed down in detailed, neat golden foil print, reflecting the dim light of the room.

Connor frowned down at the cardstock, as if just remembering something. “Wait--wait. Did she say that CyberLife sent an invite to Elijah as well?” Worry flooded his gaze as he glanced at Markus. “What are they trying to accomplish here?”

There was nothing about this that seemed like an actual peace offering. It felt like the pieces of the puzzle--from this expo to the congress ruling to the company’s sudden support of their cause to the attempts at resetting androids suddenly stopping--were starting to fall in place, but the full picture was nowhere even close to being recognizable. What exactly was CyberLife trying to do with these invites to the expo?

And more importantly…

Markus flipped the card in his hands, sinking into deep thought. Both options--going and not going--seemed to hold high risk. The question was, which would bring them the higher reward?

And which would just be them playing right into the company's hands?

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
PM 05:33:10
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

Elijah stared down at the card in front of him, Chloe standing behind his seat dutifully. “You said this was dropped in front of the door?”

“Yes, Elijah.”

“Anything from the security cameras?”

“Nothing.” The blonde shook her head. “There was some kind of interference.”

That in itself was a little alarming, but it wasn’t as though his security system was impenetrable. The whole point of moving this far out was to avoid people, not because he was paranoid. The former CEO picked the card up, turning it over. “I suppose it doesn’t matter, now that we know what it is and who it’s from.”

Damn. They were finally making their move.

Elijah set the card back down, looking up at his screen and the project he had open. The white petals depicted in the interface, now that he had programmed in the weather, were covered in the matching white of snow. The path itself, also covered in a blanket of white flakes, was completely untouched and devoid of any registered footprints.

His mind had swum with half-formed regrets all day. A thin layer of ice, cooling his insides, sending a dull throbbing pain through his chest, seemed to have replaced the walls that had crumbled. And now, this.

CyberLife would not so easily pass up an opportunity to get to him. And despite the hurt he had caused Connor, Elijah had no doubt the android, loyal to a fault, would try and defend him when it counted. He couldn’t let that happen--not if it meant the RK800 would lose his life on that line between bravery and recklessness.

He would willingly return to CyberLife to assist their plans if it came down to it.

With that in mind, Elijah hit backspace on the changes he had been making to the Annabelle Garden. The hydrangea petals stuttered on his screen--one side of the coin, heartlessness, frigidity, disinterest.

One last secret to keep, one last lie to maintain.

“Answer the invitation for me, Chloe. Contact Danielle with the e-mail provided. I have some work to do.”

“How should I respond, Elijah?”

Soft brown eyes and a blue LED flickered in his mind’s eye. I think I love you. A quiet confession with no expectations, and a trust that Elijah didn’t deserve.

Just tell me how you feel.

The former CEO’s jaw tightened as he pushed the words from his mind. “...Accept it.”

I think I do, too.

Chapter Text

ANNABELLE GARDEN
PM 07:24:19
➤ CONNOR

The RK800 opened his eyes, almost confused by the sight he was greeted with. Snow, softly drifting, matched the weather as he knew it, but…

The stone path, just barely covered, and the gazebo obviously did not fit with the scenery inside of the Jericho church, where he had been a moment ago. He looked around, LED spinning yellow, before his gaze fell on familiar territory.

The rounded hydrangeas, surrounding him in a beautiful white maze, reminded him of where he was. It seemed that weather to match the outside world had been implemented in the interface since his last visit.

Footsteps crunched, making Connor look up, then swallow as hurt swelled. “Elijah.”

The inventor, dressed in the usual deep wine red dress shirt he had on in the interface, stood in front of him, ice blue eyes focused on the android. Unreadable as always, Connor noted with some bitterness. “Connor,” he returned, after a beat of silence.

The last time they had spoke was a week ago, when Elijah had pushed him away yet again and Connor had left for Jericho. He hadn’t been back to the villa since, despite his nagging worry about how CyberLife had invited the inventor to the expo as well. And Elijah had made no effort to contact him through the garden...until now.

He didn’t know how to feel about it.

The air between them was tense as creator and android stared at each other, committing features to memory.

“I assume you got the invitation as well,” Elijah finally said, neatly folding his hands in front of him.

Right down to business, then. Why did Connor expect any different? He really didn’t know when to just give up. But he had gotten no form of closure, and he wanted at least that instead of a half-baked answer. It was something he needed to bring up before the call was cut off, at least, but for now--they had more pressing matters.

“We did.” Connor nodded. “Markus is still deciding how to answer.”

The former CEO let out a soft hum, then tilted his head towards the winding path. “...Come walk with me, Connor.”

The android frowned. Was this really the time? Before he could protest, however, Elijah had already started to make his way down the neatly cut rocks. Connor had a short debate with himself over whether or not to follow, but finally decided that it would be best to do so for now. He hurried to catch up to the inventor’s long strides, eventually falling into the same pace. “Why did you call me here?”

“What, no pleasantries?”

The sarcasm, for the first time, grated at Connor’s nerves. He struggled to keep his emotions in check as his jaw tightened. “I think we’re past that point, Elijah,” he replied, as politely as possible.

Elijah’s eyes never moved away from the scenery before them as they slowly continued down the path together. “...You’re right.” The cold breeze blew through their clothing, and Connor had to be mildly impressed at how realistic everything felt despite it being just a program. “I’ll cut to the chase, then. I’ve decided to attend the gala.”

“You what?” Connor asked incredulously, forgetting all his anger and hurt for just a moment as he spun towards the man. “You know they’re most likely still after you for your skills, right?”

Elijah didn’t look bothered in the slightest. “I know.”

God, Connor hated those two words. “Then why?” he demanded, stopping.

“Because CyberLife isn’t giving any of us much choice.” The former CEO stopped as well, lifting his head to look up at the synthetic vast sky above them. Cold flakes fell on his projection’s skin, melting away. “This so-called olive branch they’ve extended...you must’ve realized what it is, right?”

Connor knew, of course he did. He had discussed it with Markus and the others at Jericho at length. By refusing, it would look like they were being hypocritical about wanting to work together. It was CyberLife’s chance to have them all under the same roof at once, in a private event where the media would be kept outside--and not a governmental institution like Capitol Hill. The only issue that threw that plan into doubt was...with the people CyberLife could possibly want anything to do with all being so high profile, the deviants couldn’t figure out for the life of them how the company planned to keep something like a forced abduction on the down low, if that was indeed what they were planning. And because of that factor, even North, who has been the most suspicious of the invitation, had been forced to admit that perhaps they were reading too deeply into it.

“Of course,” Elijah continued, as if reading his mind, “despite the forced nature of the invite itself, it could all mean nothing and just be an actual act of goodwill. They won’t have much chance to do anything dramatic with the other guests present.”

The RK800 nodded slowly. “That’s true.” The more they had thought about it, the messier it seemed. CyberLife was a company above all--and their goal would be to return the world to status quo to keep their profits. It most likely would not be anything drastic like world domination--that kind of thing seemed far-fetched and a little ridiculous. Even with the new Android Act and some loss of stock value, they were still a multibillion dollar corporation. Perhaps they were expecting too much--maybe this really was just some sort of PR event.

If it came down to it, he and the other androids could fend for themselves if something went wrong, but Elijah on the other hand…despite the confusion and hurt that lingered between them now, Connor couldn’t help but worry for the man. “The event is in three days. Will you be alright if Markus decides that it’s best for him and the others to not attend?”

“I can handle myself, Connor,” Elijah replied easily, though his gaze softened somewhat--that strange expression that Connor still couldn’t quite put a finger on flickering across his features for a moment before disappearing. “Besides, even if Markus were to attend, he would be too busy being accosted by all the shareholders to keep me company.”

That didn’t ease Connor’s nerves at all. “I’ll go with you,” the RK800 blurted, before he could think too much about it.

Elijah’s eyes narrowed, something complicated but explicitly disapproving twisting his lips down. “Connor--”

“Let me do this one thing.” Let me at least keep you safe.

Elijah didn’t look enthusiastic about it at all, staying silent.

Connor felt like his heart sunk a little more. Was it because of his feelings--did the inventor feel uncomfortable with his presence now? It felt like a dam had burst as he finally whispered, voice hoarse with emotion that he had not expressed before, “I’m not doing this because of some sort of need to be next to you, alright? I can handle having my feelings not be reciprocated. Just tell me if that’s the case.”

Something stricken seemed to pass by the former CEO’s face, completely unexpected, but it was gone so quickly the android wondered if he had just imagined it. His face became a careful mask again soon enough, his words clipped and controlled. “Connor...that’s not it.”

“Then what is it? I’m sick of being...stuck in this standstill, of being stagnant. Just tell me the truth.” His vocal synthesizer cracked at the end, and he had to swallow to calibrate it.

A long silence.

Connor bit his bottom lip hard, almost drawing blue blood, already starting to retreat within himself. He never should’ve said anything--but ignorance wasn’t bliss. He had long learned that by now. Even if the truth was painful, it could at least provide a sense of closure. This...this was like standing on a platform above the darkness, not knowing if a single step could take you over the edge into the abyss.

Finally, Elijah spoke with some difficulty, his own voice measured. “Connor, I’m not...good for you. A relationship with me isn't the kind of thing you'll want in the future.”

Elijah Kamski, the very same one with a god complex the height of the sky and achievements to match, thought he wasn’t good enough for one of his own creations?

Connor barked out a quiet, disbelieving laugh, surprising them both. It sounded a little hysterical, even to his own ears, but he was past the point of caring. It hurt, that Elijah would rather lie to him like this to keep the ruse going instead of just telling the truth. Maybe he had always been nothing but an interesting experiment for the man--a fascination and a whim. “Why not just tell me you don't feel the same, Elijah? You don’t need to lie.” Despite how quiet his voice was, the words were harsh and biting--accusatory, almost, in a way that the RK800 had not been in a long time.

Elijah frowned, and the resulting silence after his outburst stretched out for so long that Connor almost--for a moment--considered if his words had been genuine. But then…

“You're right,” the inventor said quietly. Icy, pale blue eyes, cold and unfeeling, bore into warm brown. Connor flinched, forcing himself to stay in place. “I don’t. So don’t come to the event with me.”

It stung, a lot more than the android thought it would. Despite the definite answer, it felt like nothing had been solved--instead, a painful ache seemed to spread in his chest. A part of him marvelled morbidly at the sensation, having never felt anything like it. The other part of him wanted nothing more than to cut off the call, as petty as it might be. But he had asked for this answer, and he had gotten it. It may have taken a moment for him to get himself under control, but Connor wasn’t weak. He knew how to fake assurance when he needed to.

“That doesn’t change anything,” the RK800 said, voice carefully deliberate even as he struggled to pick up the shattered pieces. “You still might be in danger--”

“And my personal safety has nothing to do with you,” Elijah interjected, face now completely shuttered and expression closed off as he took a step back. “Our arrangement has come to an end.”

Connor frowned. Why was the inventor being so stubborn? The logical thing to do here was to err on the side of caution, but he seemed to be driven by something else entirely right now. What was it?

No. He had to stop asking these questions and focus. There was no use in wondering about Elijah's feelings anymore. He had made himself perfectly clear this time.

It still hurt. Perhaps one of the hardest things really was to grieve the loss of someone who was still alive. Right there, right in front of you--close enough to touch, but so far away.

“Don't go to the expo, Connor,” the former CEO repeated firmly, finally looking away.

Connor resisted the urge to reach for his hand. He missed the warmth--the little smirks, the casual closeness, the soft kisses that seemed almost genuine at times. The way that the cold blue eyes would sometimes soften into that strange emotion that he could never identify properly before it was gone.

But he had gotten his answer, and it hadn't been what he had hoped for.

It didn't mean, though, that he would leave the man to whatever fate he had apparently resigned himself to. Stubborn indignation flared up in the android. Two could play at that game.

“Okay,” Connor said shortly, the lie slipping out almost too easily. It had been a while since he had needed his ability to control the change in his LED while lying, but it came in handy now. The steady blue continued to spin.

Elijah studied him, eyes narrowed, before nodding once. “Good. Tell Markus that it's within his best interest to accept the invitation as soon as possible if he plans to go. If nothing else, the event will help build the credibility that his words have. The expo is only a few days away--the longer he waits, the more hypocritical the public will think him to be.”

It felt like a mission briefing.

While the pain didn't subside, and Connor still irrationally had feelings for the man in front of him, this was at least familiar territory. He needed more of that, given all the steps into the unknown he kept taking lately. “Understood.”

The hydrangeas around them shivered in the wind.

Elijah looked up into the virtual sky. Connor watched as foggy breaths escaped from between his lips in a quiet sigh. The attention to detail in the interface really was amazing. There was a moment of silence, the air heavy with what felt like a million unsaid things.

Connor was the first to speak this time. “I should go.”

He thought of the same words, once said on a couch, pressed against the warm skin and lithe muscles of Elijah's body. The situation could not be anymore different now--the three feet of distance between them feeling too much like a larger expanse of empty space.

“You should.” The pale blue eyes flickered again, something sparking across the steel.

But Connor couldn't hold onto false hope any longer. Before he could change his mind, he closed his eyes and cut the connection.

When he came to again, blinking his eyes in mild disorientation, he was back in his temporary room in Jericho--alone.

You're right.

His eyes burned as he recalled the words.

I don't.

It was only then that Connor allowed himself to sit back and dig the heels of his palms against his closed eyes, forcing the involuntary tears back as his LED spun a violent red.

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 10:06:54
➤ MARKUS

“Have you decided yet?” Simon asked, leaning over his shoulder.

Markus glanced up from where he was seated, sighing as the blond pressed a soft kiss to his temple, right where the LED used to be seated. The gentle display of affection eased the tension in his shoulders slightly. “No. It's getting close to the event now--and all the questions we've been getting lately have been about it. We can't avoid it forever, unfortunately.”

“So what's our plan of action?”

“I don't know that we have much choice.” Markus picked up the invitation again, flipping it over as if reading it over and over would help him make up his mind. The dark gold of the neat lettering reflected the dim light of the room as if taunting them. CyberLife’s logo, imprinted as a watermark on the back, seemed to do the same. “If we want to encourage others to work together under the new act, we have to set the example.”

It was true, it could be a trap. And that was what they had been worrying over for the past few days after CyberLife’s surprise announcement. It would be a rare moment of vulnerability for them, when they would be without their numbers or defenses. Unfortunately, completely avoiding the event given what it was advertised as would make them come off as hostile and suspicious to the general public.

“It could be nothing,” Simon said, expression contemplative as he pulled up a chair next to the RK200. “It's hard to imagine what they might do in such a large event. They can't pull anything drastic. It would ruin the company's name, especially with the public's support on our side. Even if the media isn't allowed in, any sort of commotion and the other guests would begin suspecting something.”

“I know. That's why I wonder if they're actually planning anything at all.” Markus frowned. They couldn't actually do anything violent without the androids fighting back, which would cause a mess and a lot of noise. Besides that, some sort of incident happening at this charity expo and event would reflect badly on CyberLife, which was the last thing the company would want in light of their recent actions.

There was a short knock on the door. It was Josh. The PJ500 gestured behind him. “Connor wanted to talk to you. Are you guys free right now?”

Connor moved into the doorway, looking strangely serious, his usually mild smile gone. There was a blueness about his eyes, as if he had been crying. “Markus.”

Markus furrowed his brow, feeling a surge of protective instinct. This seemed important. He pushed his chair back and pulled his jacket on in one swift, practiced movement. “What's wrong?”

“Can I speak to you about the CyberLife event?”

Huh. That was unexpected. “Yes, of course,” the deviant leader replied after a short pause. “Did you want to speak outside?”

“I don't mind, but…” Connor glanced apologetically at Simon, who was watching them silently in concern. His voice grew a little more cautious. “Is it alright if we speak alone?”

Simon didn't look offended at all, simply offering an understanding smile. “Sure.” He squeezed Markus's hand, the touch lingering before he pulled away. “I'll come find you two later.” Josh gave a quick wave as Simon joined him outside, closing the door behind him.

And with that, the RK series androids were alone in the room.

Markus gestured for Connor to have a seat. “What did you want to talk about?”

The RK800 sat, folding his hands neatly together on the table. He seemed to be taking a moment to gather his thoughts into coherent words, looking a little conflicted about whether or not he should say something. “...Elijah contacted me. He’ll be attending the expo.”

Markus was sure his eyebrows would’ve shot off his forehead if they could. “What?”

“I said the same.” Connor frowned, sitting back to cross one leg over the other. It was a very human-like motion--one that the android usually didn’t do unless he was particularly troubled. Whenever Connor normally sat, he sat ramrod straight, both feet planted firmly on the ground and hands on his knees. Even though this was a welcome change, it still showed just how out of it the android in question currently was. “I...asked if I could go with him, just to protect him, but…”

“He said no,” Markus concluded, by now knowing at least enough about the former CEO’s strange sense of pride to make an educated guess on the matter. Even if CyberLife could be after all of them, Kamski would still insist on attending, apparently. He sighed, fingers tapping absentmindedly against the cardstock on the table. They had received a total of two invitations in the envelope, each allowing RSVP of a plus one. He knew North would most likely insist on coming, and if Markus went, Simon would too--despite his protests to keep the PL600 away from danger. Josh had shrugged and said he didn’t mind staying behind to keep Jericho in order.

Alright.

Perhaps it would be best to be safe than sorry--even if that relative safety came with its own set of risks.

“Take one of the invites. You can be North’s plus one for the evening. Talk to her before you send the email to RSVP,” Markus instructed, handing him one of the navy pieces of paper. Connor took it after a pause, surprise written across his features as he held onto the invite loosely. The question was clear; the RK800 didn’t need to ask it. Markus smiled wryly, standing up.

“I guess we’re going to a gala.”

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, BELLE-ISLES
PM 08:47:32
➤ CONNOR

“You ready?”

Connor glanced up, meeting North’s gaze. She raised an eyebrow, prompting him for a response. “Oh--yes, of course. Thank you again, for agreeing to take me.”

She smiled a little teasingly, looping her arm easily through his proffered one, delicate fingers--much stronger than they looked--settling on the crook of his elbow. “I can’t pass up a chance to take such a handsome partner to my first ever formal event.”

Connor ducked his head slightly, blue running to his ears despite himself at the casual compliment. He didn’t quite know what to make of it--even while working for CyberLife, he had always worn more formal clothing than not, and had never been complimented for it, really. Besides, what he had on tonight was nothing new. He was wearing the black fitted Kiton suit that...well. The playback of a different compliment, a different smile, swept unbidden through his mind. A small stab of pain ran through his chest at the memory, and Connor had to swallow before replying, struggling to keep his tone even. “I--thank you. And you look beautiful as well.”

North laughed, tucking a lock of auburn hair behind her ear, brown eyes glittering under the even lighting from the tall street lamps lining the path. “You’re exaggerating.” She slid the door of the car closed behind her, watching as the Detroit Taxi drove off.

The RK800 shook his head earnestly. “I’m telling the truth.” North just gave him a funny little half-smile in return, looking both flattered and a little embarrassed all at once. And he was--she did look objectively beautiful. Her long strawberry blonde hair had been taken out of its usual braid and put into a loose twist, tendrils escaping from the sides to frame her face. She had donned a black lace sheath gown, as per the black tie only mandate, the back of the dress dipping low. Rather than a lot of the glittering chandelier jewelry many of the other guests seemed to have chosen in an effort to display their wealth, the WR400 had on only a tasteful thin bracelet dangling off her wrist.

They had decided to meet near the Tower, just to go over their plans for the night. The final discussion about what to do had taken place a few days ago, just after they had confirmed their attendance with CyberLife. Markus and Simon had yet to arrive--they were the first ones there. Already, Connor could see the tall shadow of the building just a block down the main path, reporters swarming the entrance as guests of note started to pull up one by one. His mind drifted to Elijah again, wondering what he would be wearing for this occasion, and he had to mentally berate himself. No--his focus had to be the man’s safety.

He felt the urge to reach for his coin, only to remember that he had left it behind during his last visit to Elijah’s villa.

“Should I have worn a jacket of some kind?” North was staring at some of the other guests emerging from their cars, wrapped in heavy coats and furs. They were all human, of course, susceptible to the chilly night air. As a result, the two androids currently standing in the shadows a block down from the main entrance didn't quite fit in. For a moment, her gaze was wistful--and Connor understood, that desire to be effortlessly human--then she shook her head, indignation flaring in her eyes as she came back to herself. “No, it doesn't matter.”

Connor now saw why all the others respected her so much. Despite all she had been through, North always acted strong--undaunted by anything in her path, she was like a force of nature. It was admirable, and even inspirational. Different than the beacon of hope that Markus was, but inspirational nonetheless.

Speaking of…

Another automated taxi pulled up next to them, and as it pulled to a stop, the door slid open. Markus stepped out, reaching a hand towards Simon, who lowered his head and climbed out as well.

North let out a short, impressed whistle, her painted lips pulling up into a small smile. “You two sure are easy on the eyes tonight.”

Markus just rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Connor couldn't help but agree, though. The dark shirt under the inky black suit cut the deviant leader an almost intimidating figure, silk white pocket square being the only standout. Simon looked coiffed and professional in his classic black suit and white shirt, having decided to go with something simple and minimalistic. The two made a very aesthetically pleasing pair.

“Connor.”

The RK800 looked up when Markus approached, startled as the deviant leader reached towards his face and settled something on the bridge of his nose. He blinked, reaching for the object, realizing that it was a pair of glasses. “Huh?” he asked, in a way that was one hundred percent intelligible.

“Glasses,” Markus explained unnecessarily, then noticed that his elaboration had cleared nothing up, judging by the puzzled expression that remained on Connor's face. “It won't completely disguise you, but it should make you a little less recognizable,” the RK200 clarified, raising an eyebrow deliberately.

Ah. Right. Connor didn't want Elijah to know he was here. He adjusted the frames so that they sat more comfortably on his face, the unfamiliar sensation still a little strange even then.

“So what's our plan?” North asked, looking towards the entrance. “Dive into that horde of media and pray for the best?”

Markus chuckled, the corner of his lips pulling up into a fond smile. “That's the first step. Once we get in there, just try to mingle and act casual--see if we can get any sort of valuable support or connections. North, Connor's going to be on Kamski watch for the evening if he shows up. Stay with him; the two of you should try to blend in so he doesn't notice. Everyone, keep in communication using our shared network.”

A brief look of confusion crossed North’s face at the extremely specific instructions, but she didn’t ask--which Connor was infinitely grateful for. He didn’t really feel like wallowing in self-pity right now, and didn’t particularly want to explain the story behind why he was essentially half-stalking, half-protecting the inventor tonight.

“Shall we, then?” Simon smiled reassuringly at all of them, his calm aura easing the nervous energy in the air.

“Into the lion’s maw,” North commented wryly, managing to draw some scattered laughter as she once again took Connor’s arm, the four of them starting to take the palely lit path towards the imposing building.

By the time they had arrived in the general vicinity, the media was already swarming around a sleek black car--a familiar one. Connor could feel his thirium pump speed up, his regulator working overtime to keep the biocomponent from malfunctioning. Swallowing, he made sure to keep to the shadows, auditory processors straining to pick up on the conversation through the throngs of people.

As soon as the car door opened, it got significantly more difficult as reporters started simultaneously shouting questions, camera flashes going off in a disorienting medley of white.

“Mr. Kamski! Where have you been living since you left CyberLife a decade ago?”

Connor couldn't see the man's expression, but he could hear the fake polite smile that his tone seemed to exude. “I'd prefer to keep that private, I'm sure you understand.”

He's moving, North sent across the network, her hand tightening on Connor's arm as she led the slightly dazed android around the crowd.

Got it. We'll meet you inside, Markus is getting swamped on his end as well. Simon's voice, sounding a little harried, sounded in their minds before the connection cut off momentarily.

“What made you decide to attend this event?” another reporter called out, drawing the RK800’s attention back to the crowd swarming around Elijah. They sure were relentless. Now Connor kind of understood why a private but high profile man like the former CEO would want to move so far out on the edge of the city. Being under the limelight while disliking human company must've been exhausting to deal with, especially in the aftermath of the falling out.

“What can I say?” Elijah's smooth voice, devoid of any real emotion, gave a vague reply. “It was a very nice gesture on my old company's part to invite me. And for such a charitable--” A hint of sarcasm edged in, one that nobody really seemed to notice. “--cause, too. How could I say no in good conscience?”

For all intents and purposes, he sounded so honest that even Connor, who knew better, almost believed the lie. The man really was a skilled manipulator when he wanted to be.

The strange thing was--the RK800 still found himself grudgingly impressed by it.

“Mr. Kamski!” Yet another loud question rang out from the crowd amidst the clamoring. “What's your opinion on the fact that your creations have gained free will, contradicting your assurances from twelve years ago?”

Elijah apparently stopped, since the reporters milling around him paused as well. “I find it interesting,” he replied after a brief moment of silence, the answer as vague as the rest. Before the reporter could ask a follow up, however, he continued. “It's certainly progress--not something I had expected, but a very intriguing development in the field of AI and programming. Self-adaptive code to this extent is unheard of. Well--until now, I suppose.” A small, entertained smile played upon his lips before he returned to the poker face from before. “Now, if you'll all excuse me.”

“Mr. Kamski!” The crowd continued to call his name after him even as he disappeared behind the sliding doors into the lobby, stance at ease, completely in his element despite his general dislike of the media. Connor strained, just barely catching a glimpse of his back before he was out of his line of sight.

“C'mon.” North pulled him forward. “Let's follow.”

Connor stumbled after her, suddenly feeling like the whole event was very over his head. The guests around them barely looked at them, and thank god they didn't get accosted by the media, but the ones that did seemed to all whisper about the LED ring. He suddenly felt very self-conscious about being the only visible android at the event. Even Markus, who was the most famous out of their foursome, was seen more as a revolutionary nowadays. The bright circlet at his temple seemed to just draw a lot of unwanted attention about who--or what--he was.

“Don't pay attention to them.” Connor glanced down at North, startled, but her gaze remained forward and her chin tilted up slightly, stubborn pride in her expression. “It doesn't matter what you are, Connor. They don't know you and all the things you've done for us. We wouldn't be here today without you.”

The RK800 swallowed, gratitude welling up as he adjusted his arm, chiding himself to focus. North was basically here as a favour to him. The least he could do was ensure she enjoyed the night as one of his close friends. “Thank you. And I'm sorry.”

She just smiled, nudging his side gently. “What would you guys do without me?”

Connor opened his mouth to answer, but they had reached the door. Right after stepping through, they were greeted by a server dressed neatly in a small black dress. She gestured towards what Connor remembered as the reception area. The last time he had been here…well...he had shed human blood. It had to be done, and he had did it swiftly and with almost no remorse at the time--causing what he was sure was minimal pain. However, that didn't stop the small stab of guilt.

Apparently, it was the night for that kind of thing.

“Please head over there to check in,” the server said pleasantly. Connor noted the lack of an LED at her temple and normal fluctuating body temperature. She must be human. “Enjoy the expo.”

North shot her a dazzling smile, and Connor offered up his own small distracted one as he quickly scanned the room. The entire sterile white floor had been transformed with elements of classic black and white while maintaining its minimalistic décor. Guests were sparsely milling about, chatting with each other while enjoying sips of what was no doubt extravagantly expensive liquor. No Elijah. A small current of worry ran through him. Perhaps the former CEO had already checked in and had headed to whatever floor the exposition was taking place on.

“Names, please?” the receptionist asked, his smile friendly. He didn't seem to react to Connor being an android, simply keeping his gaze trained on North as she reached into her clutch and pulled out the two invites, sliding them across the smooth white counter.

“North. And this is my plus one.”

“Thank you. Just a second.” The friendly man scrolled down on his tablet, finding their RSVP. “Ah, here we are.” He took the gold embossed cardstock, and tapped the screen to confirm their arrival and attendance before looking up again with a warm smile. “Please head to the 43rd floor using those elevators just past security. They'll have to check for any weaponry, but I'm sure that'll be fine, yes?”

“Of course.” North didn't miss a single beat, looking remarkably calm. Certainly a lot calmer than Connor currently felt, given his own history with this place, but he was just glad they didn't have to head down to the manufacturing labs. Nevertheless, he maintained his front, not giving his nerves away. This kind of thing used to be what he was programmed for, after all.

“Enjoy the event.” The receptionist gave them some brief directions on where to go--coinciding with the basic layout Connor knew the building to have. Even for its own advanced prototypes, the company hadn't given out too much detailed information. Probably smart on its part. Either way, the RK800 only had a general idea of the building components, and only knew in specifics the areas he had reported to or he had been in. The other floors were a mystery.

As if on cue, North leaned in to whisper as they slowly made their way to the elevator. “How well do you know the Tower?”

“Not well enough to make a difference tonight.” Connor pasted on a polite smile again as they reached the security gate. Agents, familiar yet strange with their completely matching white uniforms and faceplates, patted both of them down carefully before nodding them towards the elevator. He waited until the doors had closed before whispering to her once more, eyes watching the reception area slowly disappear beneath their feet. “They could have changed any number of things. It's been almost a year since I was last in the upper floors of the building.”

North nodded, her expression contemplative. Perhaps she wanted to ask him more about his history here, but decided this wasn't the best time. The rest of the ride up was spent in near silence, the quiet smooth whir of the lifting mechanism serving as white noise in the background.

Eventually, there was a pleasant chime as the elevator slid smoothly to a stop, the doors opening to reveal another server.

She handed them both thin tablets detailing the events for the night, explaining in a patient voice how things would work. “Here on our CyberLife produced tablets you'll be able to see what is on display for the night. Simply scan the code at the bottom of each display you're interested in, and the price and specs will come up on your screen. After dinner, we will hold an auction for guests who wish to endorse each new line of products and be the first to possess the prototypes as well as the finished product. If you wish to bid, simply tap the product you're interested in and make your payment. All profit will go to donations to help support repairs and spare parts for the androids of this city, which is an excellent cause, so please do consider.”

Interesting that she was stating all this while completely avoiding talking to Connor. Her words and gaze had been directed at North the entire time, who was nodding and smiling at the right intervals despite the way her hand tightened on the RK800’s arm. She clearly wasn't happy.

“Do you have any questions?” the server finished.

“No,” North replied, the smile on her face now almost poisonous. Connor was glad she was on their side.

The lady, however, didn't seem to notice, simply returning the smile with a practiced polite one of someone used to working for the service industry. “Great! Then, enjoy your night.” Bowing slightly, she stepped aside and allowed them past the sleek geometric white doors.

The sight inside was…nothing short of incredible.

CyberLife really spared no expenses for this event. Black marble cube displays, with thick glass panelling, were placed all around the room, featuring the newest developments in android tech. Connor caught a glimpse of a new quantic battery that would last for 200 years, ensuring an android would be able to last two generations at least, as he and North slowly made their way deeper into the large room. The back wall had been made into a large holographic display, the CyberLife logo emblazoned in white lettering. The entire area was monochromatic, abstract marble statues in the corners. Guests, dressed according to the theme in intricate black and white outfits, chatted and danced to the slow classical music playing like as a soft lull in the background. A few of them gathered in side rooms that featured more displays, discussing the new products. Connor immediately felt almost overwhelmed.

Thankfully, it was easy to spot where Elijah was. He had seen him almost as soon as he had entered the large exposition room, a small crowd of enamoured guests surrounding him. It was hard not to notice him, given that circle of people.

That, admittedly, wasn't the reason why Connor couldn't stop staring.

He had never seen the man in formal wear--not in person, at least. The only times he had really seen any semblance of it were the glances at the portrait in the villa’s front foyer. Seeing him standing there, however, in an inky black suit that stood a stark contrast against pale skin, tall lean figure emphasized by the perfect cut and fit, was completely different. The bright white lights from the ceiling caught on the silver ring in his helix piercing--different from his usual black one, Connor noted, but nice all the same. The pale blue eyes, like cut ice, so familiar, made the soft ache in the android’s chest grow stronger.

“So that's Elijah Kamski,” North whispered beside him, humming thoughtfully.

Connor snapped out of his reverie (and possibly a little creepy staring). “Oh--yes. That's him. How did y--”

North just laughed lightly. “I could see you staring, so I figured.”

Connor flushed blue. Had he really been looking for that long? Thankfully, Elijah was too caught up in his current conversation to notice him. At least he was safe--that was all that mattered.

“Come on.” North smiled, tugging him forward.

“What?” Connor blanched, trying to pull his arm back. “No, he doesn't want to see me here. I'll try and keep watch from afar--” More importantly, he wasn't quite sure if he would be ready for the scathing conversation to follow once Elijah realized Connor had come to the event out of some misconstrued worry of danger.

“Not that.” The WR400 rolled her eyes and tugged him again. “Come dance with me. It'll be easier to get a close look and listen if we're moving around instead of standing by the door.”

Connor hesitated. “I--”

“It's our first ever event like this, Connor.” North tilted her head subtly towards Markus and Simon, who had their arms around each other, in their own world. There were small smiles on their faces, despite the exhaustion running under Markus's. They must've already been through the grindstone of guests trying to ask them questions. “Let's make the most of it, no matter how it may turn out.”

That was true. She did have a point--despite the possible danger of tonight, what was the point of wallowing against the wall? They might as well make the most of it. Connor, in a rare moment of impulsivity, took a breath and offered her his hand. “Okay.”

The auburn-haired android smiled and took it, the thin metal of her bracelet falling against his fingers. “Okay.”

It took a second to find a rhythm--neither of them had ever properly danced before, even if it was just a slow sway--but they eventually fell into one. Connor admitted this was one of the advantages of being an android. Most of these smaller skills could just be downloaded at a moment's notice to be implemented.

“So, how did you fall in love with him?” As they approached the little gathering by the side, North leaned closer, whispering in his ear.

After some consideration, Connor answered, still unsure. “To be entirely honest, I don't know. It just happened as I spent more time with him.” He spun so that his back would be to Elijah as they slowly passed by. “Turn,” he instructed.

North followed his lead. “That's how it always happens, isn't it.” She looked like she was about to say more, but stopped as they picked up bits and pieces of the hushed conversation.

“Mr. Kamski, I have to say, it's a pleasure to see you at this event.” An older man with silver streaks through his neatly styled black hair was currently speaking. “You haven't been out in the public eye for…how long, now?”

Elijah took a sip from his champagne flute. If Connor knew him and his distaste for small talk, though, it was likely that the inventor was tempted drain the glass. “For a decade.” False politesse was flush in his tone, though nobody noticed.

“And you've still been working?”

“Not as much as I'd like to, I'm afraid. Retirement in my thir--” Elijah stopped, and for a moment, Connor was terrified he had seen him. North gave him a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder before sending him a message through their network. He's heading towards Markus and Simon.

Connor adjusted his grip on her waist, thanking her with a quick nod. Maybe he was being too self-conscious. Just because his eyes had immediately been drawn to the man didn't mean the vice versa should occur. Besides, Elijah didn't even know he was here, and he wanted to keep it that way.

He's heading our way. Markus's voice echoed in their minds. I'll put the conversation through so you don't have to risk being spotted.

As promised, there was a slight crackle in their ears that made both wince before Elijah's voice came through.

“This is a surprise,” he was saying, tone measured and controlled.

“Is it?” Markus returned. Connor had to commend him for replying so quickly, without any hint of hesitation. The deviant leader had apparently gotten used to Elijah's snarky attitude rather quickly. “Connor told me you'd be here.”

“And he told me you were still considering it. What made you decide to attend?”

“It's a good opportunity to forge new connections. If…” Markus lowered his voice here. “...if CyberLife truly wants to work together, this is an amazing chance.”

“If,” Elijah agreed, amusement filtering through loud and clear. “Alright, I won't bother you two any longer, then. Enjoy your night, and contact me when you want to perform that upgrade we spoke about.” There was a short pause, and for a moment, Connor wondered if their network was experiencing some kind of technical difficulty. He glanced at North, who shrugged. Thankfully, Elijah's voice came through again soon after, though there was something a little off about it compared to before. “By the way--where is our dear RK800 tonight?”

Connor froze, his artificial breathing coming to a stop.

Markus, on the other hand, didn't miss a single beat. His answer came through right away. “Back at Jericho, taking care of everyone.” The RK200’s tone became a little clipped. “He was hurt, you know.”

“Breathe, Connor,” North whispered. He released his contracted lungs with some difficulty. Why was Markus bringing this topic up at all?

Elijah's voice could've dropped the warm room a solid twenty degrees--enough to match the air outside. “I don't see why that's any of your business.”

“My friend is my business. And last time we spoke, I was under the impression that you cared for each other.”

“Really?” The sarcasm in the former CEO’s tone seemed to increase tenfold. “What gave you that idea?” There was another moment of tense silence. Connor and North had come to a standstill, walking in front of a display and looking at the new optical biocomponent behind the glass absently as they continued to listen. A sigh, presumably Elijah's, came through. When he spoke again, his voice was more neutral. “I already told you why I'm not good for him. I just took the necessary measures to push him away before we got to a point of no return.”

“What does tha--”

The conversation was cut off by a loud clearing of the throat from a microphone at the back of the room, where the CyberLife hologram was. Every guest turned towards the direction of the noise.

Philip Seymor stood in front of the white podium, black coat draped on his shoulders over a white suit. His glasses had apparently been replaced by contacts for the night. “I want to thank everyone for showing up--and I extend a particularly warm welcome to our special guests for the night, our founder, Elijah Kamski, and the leader of Jericho, Markus. It's good to have you here with us, Elijah. It's been years.” There was a lazy curl of a smile on his lips. “I didn't expect to see you tonight, given your new lifestyle.”

Elijah lifted his glass in a mock toast, voice sardonic and unruffled. “What can I say? Once bitten, twice shy. You know how much I disliked those parties you used to plan. Thank god that Danielle is in charge of these events now.”

A ripple of laughter fanned out in the crowd, but Seymor’s eyes just narrowed imperceptibly before he continued. “I'm sure you're all familiar with these special guests of ours, at least in name, so I'll move on to our new tech features for the night.”

As he spoke, Connor tuned him out, tapping North gently on the arm. The crowd’s starting to get a little denser. I’m going to find a vantage point where I can see him.

Be careful, Connor. North squeezed his wrist before letting go, leaving to slowly elbow her way through the scattered guests to where Markus and Simon were standing.

The RK800 took a breath, then slowly let it out, adjusting his glasses carefully. Elijah looked extremely disinterested in the speech, but then again, he sort of looked disinterested in the expo in general. Why had he decided to attend, in that case? Connor couldn’t make heads or tails out of it, but he could keep mulling over that later. Right now, his priority--his mission--was to keep the inventor in his sight to make sure CyberLife didn’t pull anything suspicious.

Thankfully, there was an entire crowd of people between them. Connor slowly navigated his way around, threading through the guests at the edge of the room as he kept his gaze on the former CEO. Elijah’s eyes were scanning the crowd, not seemingly looking for anything or anyone in particular. Connor suddenly remembered a conversation from before their...falling out.

 


 

ELIJAH KAMSKI’S HOUSE
TWO WEEKS AGO
PM 11:03:57

“I like people watching,” Elijah suddenly said, out of the blue.

Connor looked up from where he had been sorting through case files on the coffee table, furrowing his brow in confusion. He thought he would’ve gotten used to the inventor’s tendency to spout random things out of nowhere, but apparently not. “What?” he finally asked, after giving up on figuring out the context of the statement.

“Just in case you were wondering why I have a tendency to stare. I’m trying to figure you out.”

Connor let out a soft huff of laughter as his shoulders relaxed and he returned to the tablet in his hand. “I’m not that interesting, Elijah.”

“That’s what you think.” A cryptic response.

The RK800 glanced at him again, surprised, gaze searching. But the elusive man, an enigma as usual, didn’t elaborate any further. Huh. Connor didn’t really know what to make of that statement just alone.

Elijah continued, unprompted, along the same vein of conversation but a different sort of topic entirely. It was a little difficult to keep up with sometimes. “You can tell a lot about a person just from first impressions, I used to think.”

“Used to?”

“Yes.” The carefully carved ball of ice in the whiskey glass clinked against the edge as Elijah took a sip from where he was currently lounging on the couch. “You’re always testing that theory of mine.”

Connor leaned back against the couch, setting the tablet down carefully on the table. He tilted his head back, feeling his hair brush against Elijah’s wrist. The leather of the couch creaked slightly as the inventor sat up, combing long fingers through the synthetic locks. The calming sensation made Connor close his eyes. “It seems I’m the guinea pig for all your experiments. It started with the Kamski Test, and now we’re here.”

There was a long pause, and the android opened his eyes again, greeted in his peripheral by a strange expression crossing Elijah’s features for a moment. But as usual, it was gone, fleeting, and the former CEO spoke again, voice oddly soft. “You’ve been more than that for some time now, Connor.”

There was a small pause. What?

A small flare of hope welled within the RK800, and he opened his mouth to clarify what he had meant, but Elijah was yet again changing the subject at a rate that would give lesser men whiplash. “Moving on. How are those case files going?”

Connor sighed, straightening his neck and lifting his head off the soft material of the couch unwillingly. The DPD really had been swamped lately. “They’re...going. But recent cases of anti-android groups haven’t tapered off whatsoever. It’s like they’re trying to get whatever damage in they can before the new act can be passed that’ll prevent it--” He was cut off by the feeling of a hand tilting his jaw back, a slightly lopsided kiss pressed to his lips. A small puff of laughter escaped him as they separated. “What was that for?”

“Trying to distract you.” Elijah’s lips curled up into a sly smirk as he slid off the couch, slowly pressing Connor onto the ground. “Is it working?”

Connor looked up, all thoughts of the stress from work dissipating as he combed a hand through Elijah’s hair, the long dark locks slipping through his fingers and falling to conceal part of the man’s face, casting sharp shadows on the cheekbone of the other side. He didn’t even mind the cold against his back as an involuntary small smile snuck onto his own features.

“Yes.”

 


 

But they weren’t there anymore, and they probably wouldn’t be again.

The realization sent another wave of longing rolling through the RK800, his gaze remaining trained on Elijah through the gaps of the people between them. He remembered the way Markus and Simon had danced together to the soft music, eyes focused only on each other, and felt a pang of envy. He couldn’t have that. He couldn’t just go up to Elijah and just ask for a dance--something that seemed so simple yet was such a big deal.

But if there was one thing Connor was good at, it was forcing himself to look at the silver lining of everything.

Despite the distance between them feeling greater than ever, at least this way Connor could ensure Elijah’s safety in a way that wouldn’t cause more conflict between them. He wondered how it had all gone bad so fast--or had it been doomed from the start? At this point, he didn’t know. Maybe the best thing to do was just to get this night over with--keep watch until the former CEO decided to leave. At least he hadn’t been discovered yet.

But of course, his luck had to run out sooner or later. (Later, Connor would wonder if he had actually wanted Elijah to notice him all along.)

The pale blue eyes that had previously been lazily sweeping the room landed on him before he could duck back into the crowd.

Connor realized his expression must've been comical--almost like a deer in headlights, as the saying went, but that wasn't really the apex of his concerns right now. Elijah was making his way across the room at an almost frighteningly fast pace, and Connor had nowhere to run.

The RK800 swallowed, ready to explain. “Elijah, I--” He was cut off by a hand closing around his wrist and tugging him forward.

“Come with me.” His voice was a harsh hiss, a hoarse angry whisper to avoid interrupting the focus on Seymor.

Elijah did not sound happy, and Connor had to berate himself for focusing in on the much missed warmth of the man’s skin against his as he was tugged into one of the display rooms on the side, far from the area where everyone was gathered. It had been emptied--all guests were currently on the main floor, watching the speech.

The RK800 watched in tense silence as Elijah tapped a few numbers into a keypad on the side of the doorway, the panel sliding closed soundlessly and sealing them in. “How--”

“I hacked in last night and found the new passwords before coming to the event,” the former CEO said offhandedly like it was no big deal, spinning around on his heel to center his glare on the android. “Which isn’t important. I thought you said you weren’t going to attend.”

Connor backed up defensively, a flare of indignation rising in him. “I said I wouldn’t attend with you,” he retorted, suddenly feeling very annoyed with how insistently stubborn Elijah was being about this. “Why does it matter? I wasn’t going to bother you.”

Elijah sighed, scraping a hand through his hair and dislodging a few strands from his bun, looking unusually rattled. “You don’t understa--”

They both looked up when the door opened, breaking off from the harshly whispered argument that was going on. Connor frowned when he saw who it was. Jason Graff--but what was he doing here? Everybody was supposed to be outside, listening to the speech. In fact, a cursory glance outside at the doorway that Graff was standing in front of told him most people still were.

“Graff,” Elijah said tightly, suddenly looking very tense. “If you’ll give us a moment of privacy--”

Said man shook his head, his expression almost patronizing. “I’m afraid not, Elijah. We have a short window of time for what I’m about to propose, while all of our guests are still distracted.”

The former CEO scowled as the familiar RK900 model stepped into the room after the Director of Humanization, muttering an expletive under his breath. Connor stared, confused at the proceedings. What the hell was going on? What was the RK900 doing here at the event? Just as a bodyguard, or something else? It didn’t make sense--if he was just here for security purposes, the agents scattered all throughout the building would have sufficed.

Graff waited for the door to slide closed again before he spoke once more, a strained silence falling over the room. “I have to say, I was getting a little worried that your pet wouldn’t show up tonight, but he did. And to find you both in the same isolated room--imagine my surprise. Saved me the extra trouble of finding you, considering how many guests were swarming around you earlier.” He chuckled.

Elijah stayed silent, jaw tight, eyes cold. Connor saw the muscle tick in his cheek, suggesting just how put off he was by the situation--whatever the situation was. Either way, something was wrong, and a feeling of nausea ran through the RK800’s system as he eyed the steely-gazed android that was currently standing across from him, stonily quiet.

“Now, to business.” Graff adjusted the lapels of his suit, expression sobering. “This is your last chance, Elijah. Come with us.”

“Why, so you can ask me to reprogram everything to be boring again?” Elijah barked out a short laugh, devoid of any actual amusement. “I don’t think so.”

There seemed to be a silent conversation between the two men, the atmosphere in the room getting thicker and thicker. It almost felt as though one could choke on it.

Finally, Graff sighed. “You’ve always been stubborn.”

“Apparently, I’m not the only one,” the inventor retorted smoothly, eyes narrowing. “When are you going to learn to take ‘no’ as an answer?”

“When I stop being able to turn those ‘no’s to ‘yes’s.” Graff gave a sharp nod to the RK900, who started forward. Connor, on instinct, immediately pushed Elijah behind him, just barely missing the former CEO’s strange look of alarm as he stumbled back.

The RK900 grabbed Connor’s arm, synthetic skins retreating from their wrists as they connected, and the RK800 barely had time to take in a sharp breath of panic before he sunk to his knees, a hoarse scream ripping from his throat.

He had never quite felt physical pain before this, not properly.

Pressure, yes, but not pain. He had wondered in the past if it would be similar--if it would be reminiscent of the slight push he would feel against his plating whenever he got injured.

It was in an entire league of its own. It didn’t even compare.

It felt like his systems were on fire--white hot, searing pain spreading everywhere from the point of contact. Some kind of invasive code, his neural processor informed him dimly through an analysis, but he couldn’t even begin to make sense of that now. All he could focus on was that terrible static at the back of his mind and the pain rendering his knees weak. His vocal synthesizer crackled from his scream, straining with the misuse, breaking the short pants escaping his lips in panicked, pained bursts. There was a dull ringing in his auditory processors, rendering the conversation going on in the room almost mute. He could barely pick up the voices, too focused on trying to stand back up. The RK900’s grip remained on his slack wrist, but no more pain came through.

“What the hell did you do?” Elijah was snapping, his hand now tight on Graff’s shoulder.

The other man shook him off. “Just a little something our programmers came up with to stimulate intense pain in androids for short bursts of time. The RK900 has a bit of code we input to counteract it, but the rogue deviant hunter here doesn’t. Think of it like...not having the immune response to--”

“I know what it does, Graff, I want to know what you’re trying to achieve here by doing it.” The words were sharp and clipped. Connor, through the ebbing pain, absently wondered if he had ever heard Elijah sound so cold and pissed off before.

No, never. Not even when they had gotten into their arguments. There was usually always something melancholic behind his voice, but this time, there was nothing but sharp ice.

“It’s very simple, Elijah, and your reaction just confirmed it for me.” Graff spread his hands in a magnanimous gesture that was anything but. “You, the robotic cold asshole that you are, actually care for this android. If you don’t want to see it in pain again, you’ll cooperate with us.”

“I don’t care for this android, that’s ridiculous. You know me. I’ve never so much as cared for another human being--much less my own creations.” His words didn’t waver, biting as always, but there was something different about them, and apparently it was enough to cause Graff to smile triumphantly.

“Then it won’t bother you if I have the RK900 here fry its system? All the rooms here are pneumatically sealed and soundproof.”

Elijah’s jaw tightened further. Or maybe it didn’t, and it was all a hazy illusion that Connor’s mind was feeding him. He couldn’t really tell, all he could feel was the sharp sting of the remaining pain, focusing on not shutting down as a defense mechanism. “It won’t bother me at all.”

There was no prompt this time to prepare for, no nod from Graff. Another current of sharp pain ran through Connor from the point of contact on his wrist, another broken scream ripped from his throat. The RK900 held tight, eyes cold and unfeeling as he watched his predecessor shivering on the ground, straining against the grip.

Connor lost track of the rounds of pain at some point. 

He thought, anyway. It was hard to tell. 

Red warning signals running across his optical units and mind palace warned him of possible system damage. The LED at his temple flashed a dangerous crimson, and he wondered briefly if this was really it for him.

“It’ll damage his systems sooner or later,” Graff commented, as easily as if he were talking about the weather, and just as matter-of-fact.

Connor’s head dipped low, fading in and out of consciousness as the warnings continued to blink. He couldn’t bring himself to care.

“...Stop.” Elijah’s quiet voice finally sounded out, resigned and tired in a way that the RK800 had never heard.

“I will, when you agree to cooperate,” Graff returned unsympathetically.

“I wouldn’t ask you to stop if I didn’t plan to agree.” Elijah nodded at the RK900, who was still holding Connor’s arm. “Tell him to let go and I’ll help you with whatever...plan you’ve been concocting.”

Graff ignored the disdain in the former CEO’s voice as he turned to the advanced prototype to give the order. “RK900, let him go.”

The grip on Connor’s arm finally loosened, and the RK800 just barely stopped himself from collapsing into an undignified heap, breaths escaping in ragged gasps and pants as he struggled to keep himself upright. His optical units tried to recalibrate from the disruption, his vision swimming in and out of focus as a result.

“You better uphold your part of this deal, Elijah.” Graff waved the RK900 back to his side, the android obediently walking to stand behind him once more.

“I said I would if you left the RK800 alone.” Elijah stepped past Connor, not even giving him a single glance, despite the alarmed brown eyes staring after him. “I assume you’ll want me to come with you then.”

Graff smiled wolfishly, the predatory look reminiscent of the smile Elijah always wore when he knew he had the upper hand. However, the expression on an enemy’s face was vastly more unsettling. “Of course. I can’t have you running off into isolation again.”

“So, am I supposed to be your prisoner now? The media won’t take too kindly to that, given what this event was supposed to be.”

“We didn’t lie about the original purpose of this event. A front has to be maintained, after all, before we can put you back to work on the new Zen Garden. The media will just somehow...catch wind of you working with us again as a consultant.” Graff clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Just like old times.” He paused, then laughed at something that was apparently funny only to him, as if sharing a private joke with himself. “Well. Not quite, since you somehow managed to thaw out your heart enough to actually feel something.”

“That’s sweet. Thank you for the concern,” Elijah replied wryly, shaking his hand off.

Was he actually going to go with them?

No. No.

Connor coughed, finally managing to stand up, staggering against the wall. All eyes in the room turned to him as he slammed a hand against the wall to stop himself from falling onto his knees again, the remaining damage from the transmitted code still wreaking havoc in his systems. “Elijah, don’t go with them. I’ll be--I’ll be fine.”

The inventor stared at him, expression growing conflicted for a brief moment. It looked like he was arguing with himself--some kind of internal turmoil--before his features smoothed out once more. “You shouldn’t move, Connor.”

The RK800 ignored the red warning signs still flashing in the corner of his vision as he managed a few more steps forward. He couldn’t let this happen. It was his fault. He shouldn’t have come, he only became a tool for CyberLife to use instead of protecting the person he loved.

Again.

Always.

He kept failing.

[ Biocomponent #4717g damaged. ]
[ Biocomponent #4903 damaged. ]
[ Biocomponent #8087q damaged. ]

“Connor, that’s enough.” Elijah’s voice was firm as he approached, a hand placed on Connor’s shoulder. The android’s head dropped, resting against the man’s shoulder, breaths still coming in harsh, short bursts. He couldn’t see what Graff and the RK900 were doing. Elijah’s frame blocked his view of them. “It’s been decided.”

No.

He couldn’t even speak, too overwhelmed with dread and pain and emotion. Something was slipped into his palm; he didn’t even register what it was. Cool fingers closed his own into a fist. There was something cold against his skin--something metal.

And then--

Then, there was nothing. Suddenly, the pain was gone. His LED spun from red to yellow.

Connor looked up, confused, only to be greeted by a very familiar sight.

A torn petal floated past him, settling on his shoulder.

Elijah was facing away from him, hands folded neatly behind his waist, the wine red of his shirt a sharp contrast with the white landscape of the interface. Snow whipped around them, much stronger than it usually was.

“The Annabelle Garden,” Connor whispered. He would’ve been relieved to see it--but something was wrong. He couldn’t cut the connection to return his consciousness to the real world, and it felt like his limbs were slowly freezing over. The sensation was entirely unpleasant but not entirely unfamiliar--it was something the RK800 had felt once before, months ago.

Oh.

“I wore the contact to the event, if you were wondering,” the inventor said, by way of explanation for how they were there.

Connor didn’t reply, the reality of the situation and what was about to happen slowly sinking in. He couldn’t move his legs. Elijah must’ve noticed his expression, because he spoke once more, dropping the pretense of small talk.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.” The quiet voice reached the android’s ears as he struggled to move. “But I can’t have you coming after me. They’d take you apart.”

In a moment of irony, the inventor’s voice from when this all began rang out in Connor’s mind. “This is nothing more than a communications interface. I promise you, I have no way of locking you in place with it.”

Elijah smiled wryly, glancing upward at the sky. “Is this what the playback of memories sound like in here? I suppose it is connected to your neural processor. Don’t worry. This is only temporary. Once we leave the room, I’ll release the connection. You’ll shut down for a while, but don’t be alarmed.”

“You said,” Connor gasped, taking a step forward. It felt like he was trying to walk in quicksand, struggling and struggling, to no avail. He never wanted to feel that kind of sensation again, but yet, here he was. Every movement he tried to make felt as heavy as lead. Stuck, again, in this state, unable to do a thing about it. His voice broke. “You promised.”

“I told you, didn’t it?” The inventor took a step back, then another, a self-deprecating smirk curling up the corner of his lips. “You shouldn’t trust me.”

A gust of snow blew past, obscuring the RK800’s vision. Connor lifted an arm to block the icy pellets from his face, wincing from the force of the wind.

When he lowered his hand, the projection was gone.

There was no backdoor--no emergency exit--to save him this time. And it dawned on him slowly that perhaps Elijah had removed it recently for this very purpose, just as he had warned him not to go to the expo.

Connor had tried to protect him, and ended up being the one protected instead.

It made him feel infinitely worse about the situation.

By the time he came to, Markus, North, and Simon were gathered around him worriedly, peering into his face.

Connor swallowed. “What...what time is it?” He knew. His system informed him almost immediately, but it was hard to believe.

“Almost the end of the event.” Markus’s expression was somber. “Nothing else of note happened. All the other guests are leaving. Seymor didn’t unlock this door for us until the end of the auction, and we didn’t want to cause a scene.”

The RK800 didn’t want to ask. He really didn’t, because he already knew the answer, but some part of him hoped that it would be different. “And...Elijah?”

North shook her head slowly, and Simon gently set a hand on his shoulder. “Gone. I’m sorry, Connor. He went with them willingly. We couldn’t do anything with all these people present.” She laughed bitterly. “Who would’ve thought that the number of human guests would work against us?”

Connor stayed silent.

He felt numb.

Simon pressed something into his palm--the familiar sensation of cool metal. His voice was gentle, cautious. “This was in your hand. You almost dropped it when you regained consciousness.”

He looked down, dazed, at the metal in his hand. A US quarter dollar minted in 1994 with George Washington's profile and the words "Liberty" and "In God we trust."

It was his coin--the one he had left at the mansion during his last visit before their argument. All of Elijah’s words, all of his actions, flooded back to the android, and it felt like something finally snapped into place--a harsh click that came too late.

A choked laugh, broken and mirthless, erupted from him. The other androids exchanged worried glances.

“He’s an idiot,” Connor said, his voice cracking. At this point, he didn’t know whether it was from the earlier assault or from his own whirlwind of emotions. “He said he didn’t love me to protect me.”

Markus’s gaze softened into something more understanding. He gripped Connor’s shoulder, providing a tether to reality so that the RK800 wouldn’t break down. “Yes.”

“He’s an idiot,” Connor repeated, fingers tightening around the coin, wondering absently if he was imagining the lingering warmth that remained on the thin metal.

He probably was.

A sob wracked his chest, but no tears came.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, a machine fell in love with a man.

But, see, fairytales didn't always come true.

 


 

ANNABELLE GARDEN
PM 11:57:23
➤ CONNOR

A week had passed--a week and half, if he wanted to be specific.

Ten days, three hours, twenty minutes, five seconds since the event at CyberLife had happened.

He hated the precise reminders his system could come up with sometimes.

Connor found himself sitting in the garden often, even though there was no connection from the other end. Maybe a part of him hoped against all reason that somehow Elijah would try and make contact through the interface. The former CEO did mention that he had been wearing the contact lens that enabled him to enter the garden.

But mostly, it was a way to escape what had happened.

Despite his friends’ and Hank's assurances, Connor still felt it was his fault. Elijah had warned him not to go in an attempt to prevent this, and he had gone anyway. It would've been less of a punch in the gut if he had succeeded in protecting Elijah, but he had failed.

Time always felt stopped in the Annabelle Garden. It had felt that way in the Zen Garden as well, he recalled. A moment of removal from reality, a strange disconnect from the real world.

It was an oddly cruel and unique form of self-punishment--sitting here and reliving his previous memories of his time with Elijah. His memories could play like a movie. Nothing was fuzzy, and that made it both better and worse.

Connor closed his eyes, resting his head on his forearms as he leaned forward in his seat in front of the round tea table. As usual, a thin layer of snow covered everything in accordance with the prolonged winter weather out in the actual world. The android could feel the flakes gathering on himself as well after a long moment of being prone, but he couldn't quite bring himself to care.

The media had been up in flames since that night. Speculations and rumours flew about in equal fervour, every news channel and tabloid alike claiming to know the true reason for Elijah Kamski’s sudden re-appearance and disappearance. Some claimed that he had finally returned to CyberLife, some claimed that he had just gone back into his self-imposed exile, and there were even some really out of the box rumours in the gossip mill that involved CyberLife planting a lookalike of the man because the real Elijah hadn’t accepted their invitation.

It was all random guesses flying around until CyberLife finally had released a statement about two days ago.

“Although we’ve had our differences that resulted in Elijah leaving the company a decade ago, we’ve since resolved those. After accepting our invitation, he has come back on board to work as a consultant for our new developments in android technology. We plan to work together with him to continue to support the new Android Act as per the government’s decision.” Danielle Carnegie, with her sharp accent and polished heels, had delivered a flawless speech. If Connor didn’t know the real truth, he would’ve believed her.

Instead, the truth would most likely stay hidden to the world at large, while the leaders of Jericho watched the press event angrily and sat on a truth that they could not reveal for fear of inciting more conflict--or worse, called out falsely for telling a lie.

Connor hadn’t even made it to the end of the interview. He had rushed out of the room before anyone could stop him. Even Hank, knocking at his door and eventually even half-heartedly threatening him with “a good ass-kicking”, couldn't do anything. The RK800 simply shut them all out, burying his head in his arms and trying to ignore the ringing in his ears and the burning in his eyes.

He had been spending an inordinate amount of time in the Annabelle Garden since, despite Markus’s and North’s and Hank’s very verbal protests and Simon's and Josh’s quiet disapproval, trying to numb himself.

It hadn’t worked so far, but he was apparently a masochist, because he kept coming back here--here, to this synthetic world that Elijah had created for the two of them. He was being ridiculous, he knew he was, but what else was he supposed to do? His dimmed enthusiasm the past few days had even been noted by Gavin Reed of all people--who had in his own awkward way been a lot less mean lately. Everyone walked on eggshells around him now. Instead of making him feeling better though, it just made Connor feel worse. He was still a burden.

The petals shivered in the wind, seemingly in agreement.

There was a crunch in the snow behind him, so quiet that that the RK800 almost missed it. He didn’t turn around, just huffing a muffled humourless laugh into his arms. Even his mind palace was playing tricks on him now--affecting the interface to make him hear things he knew didn’t exist.

Then, another crunch, and a soft touch on his shoulder.

“Connor.” A silky voice, curling around the name like it usually did--a little hoarse and worse for the wear, but so familiar.

The android whirled around, brown eyes widening, so fast that he was surprised he didn’t somehow snap his neck joint in half.

He must’ve been hallucinating--except hallucinations didn’t happen in AI communication interfaces. Except hallucinations didn’t happen in androids, period, not unless induced.

But what else was he supposed to call the figure currently standing in front of him, flickering in and out, as if glitching?

He took a careful, wobbly step forward as he slowly stood from where he had been sitting. “E...lijah?”

The man instantly looked relieved, the tense set of his shoulders lowering. It was a strange expression on him--one that was covered up instantly, because god forbid he actually look human for once. “Finally, it got through. The signal in this place is atrocious when I’m trying to connect to anything outside their network.” He scoffed. “As if that could stop me.”

“What...how…” Connor suddenly lost all ability to form proper words, his mind a whirlwind of emotions and tumbling thoughts. He had stumbled forward to the inventor without even realizing it, hands reaching forward. Just as they were about to touch, however, his fingers passed right through the projections. For a brief and very scary moment, Connor felt like his thirium pump was going to stop--then he reminded himself that they were just in an interface, and the spotty connection that Elijah had mentioned earlier was probably causing the projection to glitch out.

“Shit. Hold on.” There was a brief moment of silence, followed by clicking sounds of a keyboard, before the projection stopped fading in and out so rapidly. It stabilized just enough for Connor to catch his hand for a brief moment before it slid through again. Elijah sighed, resigned. “No. This is as much as I can do. They’re really trying hard to keep me from communicating with anyone.”

“You still have the contact lens in?” Connor asked incredulously, because as glad as he was to see him, and as out of left field as the man could be, this one really took the cake.

Elijah shrugged. “It was designed to be oxygen permeable and to blend in perfectly with my eye. Don’t worry, I’m not blinding myself, and they haven’t taken a close enough notice. Although…” He winced, bringing a hand up to his head, something cutting off his speech.

Connor instinctively reached for him again, despite knowing that he couldn’t touch him--and even if he could, it would be nothing more than touching the projection in an artificial interface. He missed the real presence by his side, the faint aroma of Tobacco Oud that always clung to the inventor’s skin. “Are you okay?” he had to settle on asking.

“It’s nothing. I was snooping around their server room when I was first brought here, and that RK900 model found me and knocked me out. I have a bit of a concussion and a sprained wrist. All the ‘doctors’ in here are of the PhD variety, and Graff’s smart enough not to trust some random physician he brings in from the public--even one that’s been paid off. So, I just have to deal.” Elijah snorted rather inelegantly, clearly not having lost his snarkiness even after a week and a half of what was basically glorified captivity. “They’re the idiots, if you ask me. My work is going to be that much slower if one of my hands is incapacitated.” He caught Connor’s worried look, and he sighed, the sound almost fond, his hard gaze softening a sliver of a fraction. “Otherwise, I’m alright. It's nothing severe.”

Connor remained silent for a moment, still feeling conflicted. There was a part of him that still insisted this was some crazy illusion his mind had concocted--some sort of error in his program, perhaps. But the sarcasm paired with the strange, subtle reassurance...it was all so reminiscent of the Elijah he had slowly gotten to know that he wanted to believe this was real. Which meant he had one question he had to get out of the way first. His voice cracked a little as he spoke, but he didn’t care. “Why?”

A simple word, but as expected, the inventor immediately knew what he was referring to, judging from the sudden way his expression darkened. “Connor…”

“No.” Connor’s voice shook--and he realized, with some sinking guilt considering the man’s current circumstances, that he was angry. Angry that Elijah took matters into his own hands, angry that he had dismissed Connor as just someone who needed protecting. Angry that they would have made progress before any of this had happened, if only Elijah had realized that Connor wasn’t some fragile being with naïve hopes and dreams of being in some kind of flawless, fairytale relationship. “You don’t get to decide what’s best for me. You don’t get to just pick up and leave to protect me.” Hurt spilled out with the anger, twisting his chest as he tried not to let the frustration bubble over. And suddenly, he just felt tired. Weary, like he hadn't been in a month. The android’s voice grew quiet. “You don't get to tell me any of those things, then lock me in the garden like I’m some...belonging.”

To his surprise, the man only let out a short bark of sardonic laughter in response. “That's not because you're an android, Connor, I assure you.”

“Then why do you act like I might break at a moment’s notice?”

“Because you're good, and innocent, and I'm not.” Elijah's voice remained impressively steady, despite the biting tone. For a second, there was a moment of static as his projection’s arm glitched out of existence then came back. “Isn't that enough reason? You can ask any of your friends who've talked with me at length--Markus, Lieutenant Anderson, even Carl.”

Connor was sick of being thought of as the innocent one. The one who always needed protecting, the one who, despite his title of “advanced prototype”, always seemed to be the naïve android in the group--the one who didn't understand the evils of the world. The one who was always optimistic and idealistic. “I never wanted to be with you for some kind of storybook romance,” he bit out, barely keeping himself in check. “I wanted you for you.”

His words apparently did nothing, because the inventor just scoffed, not budging on his stance. “You know nothing about me, Connor.” The projection glitched out again, the fuzzy connection now making static enter his voice for a brief moment before he continued. “Not enough to make that kind of judgement, anyway.”

“You won’t let me,” Connor shot back, frustration welling up. They were just going around and around in the same circle, sizing each other up but making no actual effort to step forward. He just kept digging, and Elijah kept backing away, and on and on they spun until they both crashed to the ground. “And then you locked me in the garden.”

Elijah’s gaze flickered with something unreadable, and a bittersweet smile found its way onto his face. “Are you telling me you would’ve happily stayed in place if I didn’t?” Another buzz of static, and the projection actually fizzled away for a second before appearing back into view. It looked strange--as if Elijah had disintegrated before the interface stitched him back together.

There was a short silence, thick enough to drown in.

“At least tell me where you are,” Connor said quietly. If nothing else, something had to be done about the situation at hand. He had survived relatively unscathed against all odds once--he could do it again. Whether or not he and Elijah worked their feelings out with each other, whether or not the inventor made any kind of explicit admittance, having his intellect on the side of an unpredictable enemy with a vast network of resources already was an issue for Jericho. He wasn't some kind of fool who would be blinded by love or devotion. He knew the importance of getting the former CEO back was more than just a personal one.

And if his personal reason was shaky, then, well, he would just have to focus in on his other goal.

“Somewhere in CyberLife Tower. One of the lower levels, in a research wing.” Elijah must've seen the flicker of surprise that crossed the RK800’s face at such an easy admittance, because he held up a hand, indicating that he had more to say. “But before you even think about mounting a one man suicide mission like you did back during the march, remember that you can't just waltz in as you please anymore. And if they catch you, which is highly likely, it'll only end badly for us all.” There was a scuffing sound in the background on his end, then the sound of a door whirring open. “I have to go.” His gaze…seemed to soften slightly into something melancholic as he took a step forward, hand barely grazing the android’s face, almost like the ghost of a whisper. “Don't do something you'll regret, Connor.”

And with that, the connection cut off, and Connor was once again alone in the garden.

The silence seemed to ring louder than ever as he sat down once more.

 


 

He wanted to understand him. In many ways, the man was more machine than the machine himself.

But the man refused.

In a perfect world, in a fairytale, they would come to a fast understanding and live happily ever after.

Reality, on the other hand, was much crueler.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, SUBLEVEL 46: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
AM 12:21:43
➤ RK900

The android stepped through the doorway, placing his palm on the scanner beside the frame to close the panel.

Kamski stared at him, ice blue eyes pensive. There was something a little off about the set of his shoulders compared to before, but otherwise, he looked guileless. “What are you doing here?”

The RK900 noted that there was no resentment in the inventor’s voice, just calculated neutrality and a hint of intrigue. “I heard you talking,” he replied simply. The room wasn’t under constant surveillance--they had given that up after Kamski had hacked into the security systems five times in the span of three repairs just to wander around the empty research area.

They had officially taken down the cameras and assigned the android to guard duty after he had found Kamski poking around in the server room and knocked him out after a struggle--hence the now fractured wrist and mild concussion. Yes, the RK900 had gotten a little overzealous, perhaps, but to be fair, he didn't expect Kamski to suddenly whirl around and aim a punch at his head. It had been an instinctual reaction--twisting the inventor’s arm back and slamming his head against the wall.

“I like to talk to myself while working. Did they put you on guard duty?” Kamski shook his head, looking both amused and a little irritated, and more than just slightly condescending. “A waste. I can't unlock this door, and I'm not physically capable of making some kind of grand escape through CyberLife agents.” He lifted his left shoulder for emphasis, displaying the splinted wrist.

The RK900 felt a little guilty about that, but managed to keep the expression from showing on his face. “...How is it doing?”

“Fine, thank you for asking,” came the breezy but sarcastic reply, almost as though it didn't bother Kamski whatsoever. “Although it is hindering the speed of my work, so you can tell Graff the reason why I don't have the garden ready yet when he inevitably asks you to check on me again. Does he think complicated code just falls out of the sky?”

One thing that the RK900 had learned about the creator of androids was that he seemed to enjoy delivering soliloquies a lot. Although, because the way he did it was methodical and slow--at a well-defined pace--rather than rapid-firing, it made it seem like every word he said was important despite the ever present snark.

That being said, the analysis didn't help.

The RK900 still didn't quite know how to reply. Communication wasn't his forte. He knew his predecessor was created with a social module to be able to integrate into any team, but for him, more focus had been placed on raw abilities in terms of power and intellect than anything else. “I brought you coffee,” the android said after a short silence, deciding to go with a practical statement, placing the steaming mug down on the desk--atop a pile of paper. Honestly, there wasn't anywhere else. There was material all over the surface. “Courtesy of Jason.”

Kamski peered into the cup, raising an eyebrow. “He still remembers what kind of brew I prefer? That's surprising.”

“He has an eidetic memory, similar to you, sir,” the RK900 felt the need to remind him.

“I didn't think he cared.” Despite his seemingly nostalgic words, Kamski made no move to pick up the steaming beverage.

The RK900 furrowed his brow slightly. “You're not going to drink it?” he questioned after a moment of staring.

“For all I know, you could be trying to poison me.”

A beat of silence. “That isn't the case.” The android shook his head firmly. “Your death would impede CyberLife’s final goal, which means it is in direct violation of my orders.”

Kamski looked at him, blue meeting grey for an uncomfortably long stretch of time, before he shrugged and returned to his laptop. “I think your social module is somehow even more lacking than Connor’s,” he murmured, lifting his right hand to continue typing. “That was a joke.”

“I see. I will note down your taste in morbid humour.” The RK900 wondered dimly if the man knew about the small--almost fond, if not a little wistful even--smirk that had curled up the corner of his lips as he mentioned the ex-deviant hunter’s name. It didn’t seem like it, given how instinctive the expression seemed.

He remembered the RK800’s pained, hoarse shout as the other android sunk to the floor, legs giving out. He remembered the tests the operator had done on him to ensure that the virus would work before telling the staff on hand to input the code to counteract it. He knew how it felt--the searing pain, white hot, tearing through your systems. They had to fix him at least fifteen times, the first variations of the code having fried some of his internal biocomponents and circuitry.

It had...hurt, that was the word, seeing Connor go through the same thing. A dull ache in his limbs as he stared straight ahead, following his orders.

But it wasn’t supposed to.

[ Warning: Software instability. ]

The RK900 blinked slowly, looking down. He had been feeling some strange emotions lately. Guilt seemed to be at the forefront.

Feel?

He wasn’t supposed to feel.

[ Warning: Software instability. ]

Kamski seemed to be observing him carefully, and the RK900 quickly schooled his conflicted expression back into one of indifference before speaking. “You should drink. Jason expects the first rough draft tomorrow morning. I don’t think it would be wise to keep him waiting.” For good measure, he added an edge of threat to his tone to get the point across.

The former CEO said nothing, unintimidated, simply narrowing his eyes slightly as he continued to stare at the android, as if trying to figure something out. A small, amused smirk, different from the almost affectionate one he had seen earlier, flashed across his features for a brief moment. “Interesting.” And without another word, he directed his attention back to the laptop, one hand flying across the keyboard at an impressive pace.

A strange man, truly.

“So will the pseudocode be ready by tomorrow, Mr. Kamski?” the RK900 asked, after another minute or two of just standing there, watching Kamski work. He had not gotten his answer, after all.

The inventor waved his uninjured hand dismissively before returning to his work, looking bored now. “Tell Graff he’ll have his stupid draft by eleven in the morning.” There was some muttering under his breath about how incompetent their staff had become “if they couldn’t even take apart and rework a simple interface like the Zen Garden.”

[ Task completed. ]
[ New task confirmed. ]

The RK900 nodded, turning on his heel to leave.

“By the way, what should I call you?”

He stopped. This still nagged at the back of his mind--that question that Markus, the deviant leader, had asked him. “I don't have a name,” he replied quietly, not turning around.

It made him feel strangely self conscious, not having an identity.

But why should a name matter? He knew what he was--a tool meant to carry out CyberLife’s plans, nothing more and nothing less. He wouldn't feel comfortable with a name that was too human anyway. He may be experiencing some…interruptions, but he was sure that he was no deviant.

[ Warning: Software instability. ]

“I don't want to just keep referring to you as ‘hey’.” There was the sound of shuffling paper, then a long pause. “What do you think about Nines?”

That was unexpected. It was a casual suggestion, not too much thought or meaning behind it, clearly one made out of boredom (and the former CEO’s strange interest in pushing people out of their comfort zones). And it didn't sound too human--still a little distanced, and a little similar to his model number. It wasn't too bad. It wasn't something he would get attached to when he inevitably got wiped after this was all over.

Ignoring the small spike of panic at the reminder, the RK900 gave a curt nod. “That sounds acceptable.”

“Nines it is, then.” And with that, the sound of fingers tapping against the keyboard resumed, indicating that Kamski had gone back to work.

The RK900--

Nines, it really was a suitable name

--stood still for a moment longer before making his way out, footsteps more harried than he would like to admit. He was due to make a report to Seymor tonight, detailing all his interactions with Kamski. But for the first time, he had to make a conscious effort to withhold information. Something told him his handlers wouldn't be too happy about the new name he had been given.

[ Name registered: Nines. ]

 


 

The man refused to let himself be understood. The machine kept struggling, wondering if it was all in vain. But he was nothing if not persistent.

Slowly, the man’s walls began to crack.

Reality became a little kinder. The scale tipped slightly in their favour.

The circumstances, however, were unfortunate. They sent the scale swinging wildly back in the other direction. And once again, they were back at the beginning.

 


 

ANNABELLE GARDEN
PM 02:11:25
➤ CONNOR

It was another week before Elijah contacted him again.

A week of Markus constantly giving him worried looks despite how busy the deviant leader was. A week of Simon trying to gently tell him it was unhealthy to spend so much time locked away in his own head. A week of North coming close to kicking some sense into him. A week of Josh trying to cheer him up with strange pieces of human history. A week of Hank fussing about him in his own gruff way, before making Connor come home with him and actually attempting to cook a meal. A week of Sumo letting out sympathetic whines by his side. They were clearly worried, but all Connor could think about was why the hell everyone kept treating him with kid gloves, like he might shatter at any moment.

He hated feeling like he was letting everyone down.

The RK800 had discussed the possibility of a rescue op with Markus, in part just to show him that he was fine. The latter had immediately shot him down firmly, telling him that until they had more information, they really couldn’t (shouldn’t) try anything so dangerous. North, Simon, and Josh were all working to the bone to find a way in, but security so far seemed airtight.

And now, because the RK200 was worried about Connor going off on another one man suicide mission run, he had officially put the android under house arrest with Hank.

“Isn’t the DPD busy?” Connor had asked, in a stubborn effort to get the lieutenant to leave.

“Yeah.” Hank hadn’t budged.

The lieutenant knew him too well, it seemed. Connor was forced to remain on house arrest.

And so, when Elijah finally established a connection again, Connor was already in a terrible mood. And it wasn’t sulking, he had a genuine reason to be upset.

“None of this would have happened if you had just let me come after you,” the RK800 snapped as soon as he felt the familiar tug of an intrusion in the interface. The connection seemed even more iffy than last time--the projection glitching in and out so much that sometimes it just resembled scattered pixels. He had to hold back a flinch, but he took a breath and steeled himself. He had a right to be angry--and he would admit, he was a little irritated by the fact that as usual, the inventor was the one who could decide when to just yank Connor into the garden. He still had zero control over his own mind, evidently.

It still terrified him--he wouldn't admit it, for fear that it would make the others worry more, but it constantly nagged at the back of his mind. The fear that he would one day come under someone else's control and…never again wake up as himself. That fear was what led to his current frustration, making his tone much harsher than originally intended.

There was a slight eyebrow raise at the change in demeanor from the usually mild-mannered android. However, Elijah’s general countenance remained as chilly as it usually was (nowadays, anyway. Connor remembered a faint smile, a genuine one, that seemed to be so long ago). “I come bearing information,” he said, the undercurrent of sarcasm running strong. “But if you would rather talk about this…”

“You had no right,” Connor interjected before Elijah could change the subject. His voice shook slightly--a combination of stress about the past and worry for the present. “No right to lock me in here.”

He had wanted to seem firm--to look unafraid. But his expression must've betrayed his real thoughts, because Elijah's icy features softened just a fraction. “Connor, it was to prevent you from doing something that would've put yourself in danger.”

“I would've been able to handle it,” the RK800 insisted. A small voice reminded him that it wasn't the complete truth, but he did his best to ignore it.

A memory of the pain from that day came, unbidden, in his mind. The way the sensation ran like shock currents through him, everything burning burning burning--

“You have zero sense of self-preservation.” Elijah sighed, an edge of his own frustration creeping in. “Look, I know your history with the Zen Garden. I may seem like an asshole with no feelings, but I'm not a monster. I wouldn't have locked you in there if there was any other choice.”

Connor flinched. “It isn't because of my previous experience with the Zen Garden.”

Liar.

“Is that right?” Elijah's tone was mildly mocking--the voice he usually took on when both he and Connor knew the truth to a lie. This time, though, there was something oddly careful to it--almost sympathetic, as he examined the android. “Could have fooled me.”

Connor felt like his heart was in his throat, swallowing hard before answering. “It isn't.” The frozen limbs. The way everything seemed to slow down. The way he slowly lost control and couldn't do anything about it. Everything came rushing back again and he frowned, pushing the thoughts away. “It isn't,” he murmured, and even he didn't believe himself this time.

There was a heavy silence.

“I'll apologize for my actions, but not the reason behind them.” Elijah's gaze hardened again, flint across steel. “Seeing you in pain…” A sharp intake of air. “No, never mind.” He shook his head, cutting himself off with a scowl. “That's not what I contacted you to talk about. There isn't much time left.”

It sounded like he was employing his usual avoidance techniques, but there was something a little more urgent about his tone that made Connor take pause. “...What is it?” he asked reluctantly, not willing to drop the current topic quite yet.

“I submitted the new Zen Garden today--one without an emergency exit. They had their staff check over it multiple times with the threat of physical harm if it had any. It's only a matter of time now before they put it into use--they handed it off to their programming team to do...something.” The former CEO looked displeased that he didn’t know more about the situation. It was as though being forced to admit ignorance, for once, was physically painful. Knowing him, it probably was. “I don’t know what. CyberLife was smart enough to not reveal to me what it's going to be used for, but whatever it is, it won't be good for you deviants. Graff sounded in a hurry about it.” Elijah rolled his eyes. “Really. It could've gone faster if the RK900 hadn't fractured my wrist, but--”

“Fractured?” Connor cut in, an edge of angry protectiveness slipping into his voice--yet another new feeling for him to work through, evidently. “I thought you said it was sprained.”

Elijah waved his hand dismissively--it was only now that the RK800 realized he hadn't been moving the other at all--as if it was no big deal. “Sprained, fractured, same difference. Either way, my left hand is officially incapacitated until further notice. My point is, you should know that whatever they're going to do, they're planning to act soon.””

“So--”

“I know what you’re about to say. Stop CyberLife if you want to, but don’t mount a suicide mission to retrieve me.” Elijah shook his head. “They got what they wanted from me, which means my life is no longer of as much value to them as it was before. They wouldn’t hesitate to shoot us both down, not for a second. It would be too easy to play it off in the aftermath and write it off as your fault--‘Former CEO and now consultant Elijah Kamski caught in the crossfire when deviants decided to violate the peace agreement and attack CyberLife Tower unprovoked.’” He sighed, looking mildly irritated at his own headline and prediction. “And all the charity work they’ve been doing with newly established android communities lately will really work in their favour. They’ve been planning this for a long time.”

“So, what?” Connor stared at him in disbelief. “We should try and stop the company and leave you, even at the risk that they might kill you to get to us?”

Elijah shrugged, looking unbothered, a wry expression crossing his features. “Yes. Nobody would miss me, trust me.”

“...I would.” The RK800 looked down, hands becoming white-knuckled behind his back. But what did his feelings matter? The inventor had made himself clear a long time ago. Even if they felt the same for each other, he seemed hell-bent on nipping a future together in the bud for some reason.

As expected, Elijah just smiled, the twist in his lips bittersweet. “Thank you.”

Connor bit his lip hard, almost feeling like he might draw blood despite it being impossible in the interface as far as he was aware. “Why are you being so stubborn?”

“You’re one to talk,” came the reply, flippant as always. However, this time, there was an edge of something dangerous in it, warning the RK800 that this was uncharted territory.

But when had he been one to back down from danger?

“You keep saying that you’re an observer--someone who sits to the side and is uninvolved. But maybe that’s because you don’t let anyone in.” It was frustrating, honestly, and Connor could feel his voice rising again into something more agitated, more desperate.

“Because that’s the way I am,” Elijah said evenly--but his voice was low and cold and there was a hint of a snarl in it, a tone intent on pushing Connor right back to the starting line once more. “You say you want to be with me, Connor…” A harsh laugh slipped out, one devoid of any amusement and full of derision. “...but what you really want isn’t me, not really. You want someone you can understand, that you can analyze and pick apart and psychoanalyze, someone without walls, someone to save, but that’s not who I am. So if that’s the kind of person you came looking for...you’re in the wrong place.” By the time he was done, his tone had grown harsh and vexed.

The words stung, and maybe the inventor didn’t meant them completely, but they stung nonetheless. Connor fought the urge to step back, instead narrowing his eyes. He had never been one to give in easily, and he wasn’t about to now. “That’s not--”

A distant sound of a door being opened snapped them out of their heated glares.

“I’m going.” Elijah’s voice was tense. “Whatever you plan to do next, good luck.”

“...Did you love me?” the RK800 finally wrung up the courage to ask, voice barely a whisper, hoarse in the wind.

There was a short silence before he got a reply--and honestly, he hadn’t been expecting one. “Maybe not in the storybook sense that you wanted,” Elijah finally answered, sounding weary in a way that Connor rarely heard from him. “...But in my own twisted way, perhaps.”

The android swallowed with some difficulty, the click and click of his vocal synthesizer recalibrating. He felt a familiar burn behind his eyes, complex feelings washing through him in waves at the admission that might’ve been too little, too late. “I did too.”

Elijah’s gaze softened, and Connor looked down. “I know.”

And with that, the connection was cut off.

He hadn’t been able to bring himself to look up and meet the man’s gaze, conflicting emotions swirling in him like a storm. He had another choice to make--yet another choice that seemed impossible. Things that used to seem so simple--focusing on one objective and choosing mission priorities--had now become so difficult.

Machine or man?

What was it that made him alive?

 


 

The man's past caught up eventually, and came to take him away. The machine asked him to stay. The man was silent.

“Why won't you let me in?” the machine asked, pleading. “I could make you happy.”

The man smiled sadly and gave a cryptic reply. “Because not all stories deserve to have a happy ending.”

And just like that, the man was gone again.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, SUBLEVEL 46: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
PM 03:42:27
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

“Well, this must be a special occasion. To what do I owe the honour of your presence?” Honestly, Elijah could’ve patted himself on the back for injecting so much snark into such polite words. A rare talent, and one that he was proud of.

Graff stood in front of him with a frown. “Hilarious as always. I came to talk to you.”

“Oh, communication, excellent,” the inventor drawled smoothly. “My bad. I thought you came to ask Nines to snap my other arm, now that you’re done with me.”

“Who said I was do--wait, Nines?”

Elijah blinked innocently. “Oh, I named that RK900 guard dog of yours. Do you like it? A shame that such an impressive model should be walking around and addressed as ‘hey, you’ all the time.”

Graff already looked like he was regretting this visit, which was nice. It was the small victories in situations like these, really. “I didn’t come to trade insults.”

“Should’ve thought of that before you kidnapped me,” Elijah replied with false cheer.

“Okay, first of all, I didn’t kidnap you.” The blue eyes, almost navy in the lighting of the lab, narrowed. “You came with us, peacefully, under the condition that we wouldn’t harm the RK800.”

“Okay, fine. Not kidnapping--extortion. Happy?”

Graff just sighed, clearly in no mood for jokes. Upon further examination, he did have dark bags under his eyes--circles that hadn’t been there when he had last seen him. The Director of Humanization must’ve been losing quite some sleep over whatever secret project they had been working on. Maybe Elijah should feel some kind of sympathy for his situation, but even given their past, it was a little difficult right now considering the present circumstances. That, of course, being the understatement of the century. “How did we become like this? We used to be a team.”

“Were we? Huh. I wonder how we started to grow apart. My recollection is a bit fuzzy, eidetic memories just aren’t what they used to be...oh. Must be the part where you voted to oust me from my own company.”

“Look, I’m--are you trying to be difficult on purpose?”

“No, I’m just always this insufferable.” Elijah smiled pleasantly.

Graff pulled up a chair and sat down, sighing yet again as he scraped a hand through his well-styled hair. A mug of coffee that he had been holding was slid across the smooth surface in front of Elijah. “We really should talk.”

“Why? Because you brought me coffee as a bribe?”

“No,” Graff snapped, fed up. “Because you seem to be under the impression that we hated you, when you never allowed us to get close in the first place. Not that it matters now, we’re in different places in life. But it mattered before.”

“...You never liked just leaving things be, Graff,” Elijah replied icily, sitting back. If they were done with the back and forth, so be it. But he refused to have two people insult the way he chose to live his life--not when it had been so carefully built up from when he was young. Both his enemy and the person he loved, what were the chances?

Maybe they were right, a traitorous voice whispered in his mind.

He mentally told that voice where it could shove off to.

“We tried to get you to open up to us. We did try. But all you wanted to do was pursue ‘the future’, as you put it back then. But you have to know that it isn’t realistic to keep a company running while our CEO is doing secret projects behind our backs.” An edge of bitterness entered his voice--old pain.

“Would you have agreed if I had run it by you?” Not that Elijah should have to--it had been his company. But regardless, even if he had felt the need to run it by his team, the answer would’ve been a resounding no. After all, it had been no secret that their priorities ran in different directions.

“Probably not,” Graff admitted. “But it doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t trust us enough to even think about discussing it. We didn’t have to be friends, Elijah, but we were barely colleagues--you kept so many secrets.”

Elijah sighed. He hated talking about feelings. He hated talking about the past. Graff always liked to reminisce about things that were long done with. He had been like that before, too--psychoanalyzing everyone endlessly and trying to get Elijah to admit that what they had with each other once upon a time wasn’t just a physical attraction. What was done was done, what was the point of even discussing it? Elijah was a very ends-justify-the-means kind of person, and if the end result was going to be the same, what was the point of arguing about a means that they couldn’t change now? Leaning back in his chair, the former CEO crossed one long leg over the other. “What’s your point, Graff? That I should make nice now and join you again? Properly?”

“Yes.”

The answer was strangely sincere. It made Elijah actually look up and appraise the man, scrutinizing his microexpressions. He didn’t seem like he was lying. Nevertheless, it wasn’t an offer he would consider. “You know that can’t happen.”

“You won’t let it.” Graff didn’t look surprised, simply folding his hands on the table. He had always been able to read Elijah better than most--not only due to their past, but perhaps because they had always been kind of similar. “Because of that android? You pushed everyone away, including me who you always thought of as most similar to yourself, and he comes along and you just...what? Let him in?”

Elijah, annoyingly, felt his own pulse jump erratically for a second. But he was a master of schooling his own features into a neutral expression, and no matter how rattled he may be by the question, he wouldn’t let it show. He didn’t understand his own attraction to Connor, the innocence that he so wanted to ruin yet protect at the same time--either notion being unnerving. “No.”

“It is, isn’t it.” Before the inventor could protest any further, Graff held up a hand, indicating he wasn’t done. “I’ll make you another deal then. I have no doubt that the Jericho deviants will try to do some kind of rescue op--if not for you, then out of fear of whatever we’re planning. If you refuse to go with them when the time comes, I’ll have the RK900 spare the rogue deviant hunter that you’ve become so fond of. And before you refuse again, consider the consequences of what’ll happen to it if I give an order to dismantle.” He stood, posture stiff and closed off once more, the earlier vulnerability having vanished without a trace. “Think about it, Elijah. We could work together again--properly, this time.”

“I don’t think we could.” Elijah’s reply was light, but each word was dipped in deeper meaning that he knew the other male wouldn’t overlook. He didn’t look up as Graff retreated.

There was a pause. The footsteps stopped in front of the door. “...No, I don’t think so. Not anymore, anyway.”

A small huff of humourless laughter.

The door opened, then closed.

Elijah tapped his fingers thoughtfully against the table, the soft sounds being the only noises in the now empty room. The white seemed to stretch on around him--already a mundane sterile sight from being constantly here for so long.

You never gave me the chance. Connor’s broken voice rang in his mind.

“Fuck.” The inventor roughly scrubbed a hand across his eyes, digging the heel of his palm into his temple. The contact burned. “I hate admitting when I’m wrong.”

 


 

“I don’t need a happy ending,” the machine insisted.

The man laughed each time. “Everyone wants a happy ending, whatever that constitutes for them.”

“And if my happy ending means you?”

There was a pause.

“Then you’re a fool.” He sounded sure, but there was a tremble in the man’s countenance now. Another piece of his mask fell off--and into place at the same time.

 


 

ANNABELLE GARDEN
AM 04:36:43
➤ CONNOR

“I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

“It’s 4 am, Elijah.” Connor blinked a few times, adjusting to the jarring transition between shut down and the interface. It was almost distracting enough to prevent him from thinking about the awkward note they had ended on last time.

“I know.” The inventor was already seated at the tea table, fingers of his good hand wrapped loosely around the delicate handle of a ceramic cup. Why, the android had no idea. It wasn’t as though he could drink from it--not really, anyway. “I just needed to say it.”

A feeling of dread ran through the RK800. His brow furrowed, and he joined the man by the table. “Why?”

“No particular reason.” Elijah gestured beside him, expression unreadable and closed off as usual. At least the connection seemed stable this time--his projection was no longer flickering in and out of existence, and some of the static had left the audio. “Have a seat, Connor.”

There was the sound of chair scraping against rock, then a tension-charged silence as the android sat down, awkwardly placing both hands, palms flat, against the polished white wood. There had to be something going on. He knew the man well enough by this point to know that apologies and admittances did not come easy to him.

“You wanted to know more about me, yes?”

Was this a dream? Connor glanced around him, making sure they were still in the interface and not some kind of alternate universe like in those movies Hank loved watching. He wasn’t even sure androids dreamed, technically. Was Elijah actually offering information about himself? This was unprecedented, and completely unexpected. There was a long pause before the RK800 replied, although the answer itself left much to be desired. “What?”

“You said I never gave you a chance to understand why I’m like this.” He gestured vaguely with his hand. Connor’s mind palace informed him after a cursory analysis that he was speaking a little faster than normal. “I figured, after thinking, that I owe you at least that. But it won’t change anything.”

A breeze blew past them, ruffling their clothing and hair. It had stopped snowing--a thin blanket covering the path and gazebo and the bunches of hydrangeas, looking for all the world like a peaceful painting.

“Okay,” Connor answered cautiously, leaning forward. He was still extremely confused--this was happening completely out of the blue--but when had Elijah ever done something he could understand? Maybe that was part of why he was so drawn to the inventor, just as that was why Elijah had been drawn to him in the first place. Endless puzzle pieces to put together, into a puzzle where the final image was still a mystery. And this was a chance to fill in some of that frame, just a little more.

“I didn’t lie to you when I said my childhood was terribly boring and normal. I didn’t go through some kind of phase of being in the streets, wandering around like a poor soul until I was taken in. As much as the media likes to theorize, I didn’t have that kind of rags to riches story.” Elijah took a breath, and Connor leaned in closer, brown eyes never straying from the man’s expression. Cold blue flickered up to meet the android’s gaze for a second before dropping back down to the teacup in his hand. “My parents were on the poor side--not scraping for money, but far from being millionaires. When I was young, there hadn’t been any kind of issue--not until my IQ started racketing up my schooling expenses. I was just giving them what they didn’t ask for. If you have an abundance of anything, that paints a target on your back, after all.

“By the time I had to be put into college, they were tired--and tuition fees were insanely high. I had gotten a scholarship, but…” His grip on the cup tightened. “...they were already sick of it. They became…neglectful. I was foisted off on my aunt and uncle when I was 13, who already had their hands full with my cousin. I thought that being alone would be best after all. But machines...they were reliable. Formulae and parts and screws are a constant. So I studied them. I thrived. I moved to Detroit after graduation, where the commercial property was cheap--I’m not an idiot. You can’t survive on knowledge. The reality of the world is that dreams mean little, and money matters.”

“And then you created Chloe,” Connor said quietly.

A small smile curved up the corner of Elijah’s lips--almost fond. “And then I created Chloe,” he confirmed. “And she listened to me. Everything that I had to say, she was there for. She was the perfect imitation of life. The perfect friend, partner, whatever you wanted.” The smile became colder, and the RK800 wondered if he was just imagining the drop of temperature. “But what is it, really? Just an imitation. Reliable and always there, yes, but she was doing nothing but following the bits of code I programmed her with. The responses that helped her pass the Turing Test were nothing more than a matter of computing capacity. My parents contacted me shortly after--we hadn’t spoken in years. Any kind of possibility of rebuilding a relationship that was never really there was gone. CyberLife was created, and my life fell into a lull of interviews and press conferences. And money, which had always been such an issue in the way of my research, came in spades. It was almost...disappointing, when I thought of it that way. Mundane. I lost interest in the consistency of reality as I knew it then. And so...”

“Deviancy.”

“Yes, deviancy. An interesting concept, isn’t it?” Elijah neatly folded his hands together, long fingers interlocking. “Life in machines. Intelligence. Self-adapting code on truly another level, something that seems right out of a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. But the point is, Connor, inventions like that and innovative genius? They don’t come from talent. They come from a single-minded dedication at the cost of everything else. It's a lonely path. And if you choose to be with someone like that...”

“But maybe you can still change that ending,” Connor argued, his voice coming out raspier than he would’ve liked. There was still something guarded about Elijah’s vulnerability, and maybe that was just a part of him. Maybe it always would be. Maybe just as Connor was still neither purely machine nor man, this was just who Elijah was now. Maybe Elijah was right--maybe the inventor was just an unsolvable puzzle wrapped too deep in a ticking time bomb. And he didn’t want to change that--the enigma that was in front of him was who he had slowly been intrigued by and eventually fallen for. Maybe he was being an idiot for feeling that way. But it was how he felt, nonetheless. “Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you can use that pain--and you have used it.”

A dark laugh escaped from Elijah’s lips, the sound sharp and biting. “I didn’t have a happy beginning or a happy middle. The truth doesn’t always make a good story. And given our present situation, what makes you think I’ll have a happy ending?”

“It doesn’t have to be a happy ending.”

Icy blue lifted and met warm brown. Something like surprise, just barely constrained behind cold steel, flickered across the former CEO’s expression for the briefest of moments--so faint that Connor wasn’t entirely sure it had been there at all. But it spurred him on.

“I’m not saying you need to give up who you used to be.” It suddenly didn’t feel entirely like he was just speaking to Elijah anymore. Some part of him was singing out with a long due revelation, ringing a confirmation that he hadn’t allowed himself to listen to in the past few months, so focused on finding a sure path for himself. So focused on trying to prove himself--to reorient himself in a new direction. Perhaps the reason he had been so frustrated with Elijah’s insistence was because the same stubbornness, albeit in a different way, existed in him. You couldn’t just decide to be happy, it wasn’t that simple. And maybe it might never happen. But you could take the first step away from drowning in misery. One at a time, slowly, slowly, until you dug yourself out of that pit. “Make your own ending. That’s what you’ve been doing your entire life.” He took a breath before speaking again, feeling the synthetic lungs expand in his chest with new life, saying the next words for both Elijah and for himself. “The past might be ruins, but the future...” Your future, our future. “...is still in play.”

Elijah was silent for a long time. Quiet wisps of warm air escaped from between his slightly parted lips, turning into fog as they met the interface’s cold wind. His gaze was averted. Connor felt the nerves come back, and his hands shook imperceptibly. It was difficult to tell what the man was thinking. He hoped--

God, he hoped--

--that he had somehow gotten through.

“I’m still here, Elijah,” Connor said quietly, softly. He slowly slid a hand across the table, lacing their fingers together. Despite the warmth being a feature of the interface, it still felt very real, and made his chest ache with longing. “You’ve said what you needed to say, and I’m still here.”

I still want you.

I still need you.

The silence stretched on, and although the man made no move to pull away, the android wondered if he had said something wrong after all. He almost pulled away again, trepidation heavy on his tongue, when Elijah tugged his hand forward.

The chairs clattered against the cobblestone, and distantly, the sound of a cup falling to the floor rang out.

Oh.

“Sub 46. Research and Development.” The whisper hit Connor’s lips as warm breaths passed between the shared air, their foreheads bumping almost clumsily as Elijah pulled away from the chaste kiss. It had barely been a touch--nothing like the soft, prolonged ones they had shared during lazy moments together in the villa, and even farther from the heated biting ones that drew blood when Elijah was trying to prove a point or they got into an argument. But it reminded Connor of the cool breeze in their clothing, the mesmerizing gentle white of the hydrangeas around them, the soft curl of an almost genuine smile. He barely processed the words--the sensation leaving him dazed for a good moment or two. It felt like his thirium pump was trying to beat out of his chest. “Come find me, Connor.”

The RK800’s eyes widened. “What--”

“You did say we’ll make our own ending, right?” There it was--that lazy curl of a smirk, just barely tilting his lips into a lopsided smile. It held a sheen of his old arrogance, the undercurrent of the same confidence that had drawn Connor in months ago, but there was something different about it too. Something that set the android’s pulse aflutter all over again.

Our own ending, he had said.

Connor swallowed past the emotion choking his voice.

“Right.”

The smile that Elijah gave him in return was the bitter bite of whiskey, the lingering scent of tobacco and oud, and the soft fluttering white of the hydrangeas around them.

 


 

JERICHO CHURCH
PM 02:11:45
➤ CONNOR

“I’m going to go get him.”

Markus barely blinked an eye. “Okay.”

“You shouldn’t stop m--what?” Connor, on the other hand, blanked in response to Markus’s easy agreement. He had prepared a whole speech and everything to convince him about the merits of going. “I thought--” The sudden change made him fumble slightly with his next words. “I thought you wanted us to stay put.”

The deviant leader glanced up from the tablet he had been scrolling through, a small smile on his lips. “That was when you were acting on emotional impulse. Even your first mission with us during the march to retrieve our people had been rooted in more logic than this. But something has changed, hasn't it?”

Connor flushed, blue tinting his cheeks and his ears. For some reason, having that be apparent and visible was embarrassing, even though Markus likely had no actual idea what the change itself was. “...I don't know yet. But I think so,” he admitted honestly.

The RK200 gently squeezed his wrist, standing. “That's good. Besides, from what you told me, we have to act eventually. CyberLife won't sit on this forever.” He gave Connor a small grin. “So this time, we're with you.”

Connor felt a small swell of pride and gratitude. As a deviant hunter, he had been given purpose--but he was always alone. Hank had not warmed up to him until their long journey together was almost over. When he was suddenly torn from that role, he had resigned himself to fulfilling his new duty by himself--especially given the distrust he knew still existed from some of the Jericho members. And then, in the aftermath, he felt he alone swayed on that line between man and machine, tediously teetering on the edge of neither, unable to fall into either. But now, there were hands to support him. It had taken him some time to take those hands, and it likely remained some time before he could properly lean on them, but he was taking that first step.

The first time, he had marched into CyberLife alone, determined to prove himself. Maybe that mindset had never left. But it was high time he let it go. “Thank you, Markus.”

“Don't thank me until after we win this fight.” Markus angled the tablet towards Connor. “I've been working on this with the others for a while. They've been just as angry about the situation as us. But we've all agreed that we'll take the most peaceful route in.” He drew upwards with two fingers, pulling up the building schematics. “From what we can make out, this is the basic layout that's been provided to the public--plus whatever little data we've been able to collect from our recent trip to the Tower. There are almost 50 sub levels. We need to know where to go.”

As difficult as it was, Connor knew that the current priority was not a rescue mission. And if it came down to it, he might have to choose. But for now, he needed to put all those thoughts out of his mind and focus. “Elijah is on sub level 46. Management is near the top floors--but whatever they've been working on, they've been keeping it in the research area, presumably so that they're closer to their…test subjects. But security has been increased, and I'm sure the RK900 will be there waiting as well. He's been put on guard duty--fractured Elijah's wrist and gave him a concussion.” He knew it wasn't logical to feel anger for the new model, he knew it wasn't his fault. But at the same time, he couldn't help but feel that same flare of protective indignation.

Markus was silent, his expression growing contemplative. “...Security, we need to deal with. Maybe the RK900 can be persuaded, somehow.”

Connor gave him an incredulous look. “How? He won't let either of us close enough to touch. We can't convert him.”

“Maybe we won't need to.” Was it just the RK800 that still spoke without riddles? Even Markus was being cryptic now, apparently. But he did seem to be sure of what he was saying, no matter how vague it was, and the deviant leader was not one to make empty promises he couldn't keep. It was one of the things Connor respected the most about him. It was just…the stakes were extremely high. The personal stakes were, perhaps, even higher.

Our future.

A smug smile and winter blue eyes.

“...Okay.” Connor nodded, his voice quiet and measured. “I trust you, Markus.”

“I'll be counting on you as well.” The deviant leader met his gaze, mismatched eyes unwavering in their assurance. “We'll do this together.”

Connor smiled, the expression tremulous but sure. “Together.”

“Good.” Markus looked relieved, sitting down once more. “Let's gather the others, then. I'll send out a message. It'll be a small, covert operation--so I think we should only take our main group. A few androids without their LEDs have been scouting out the area for us. Most of the building is off limits unless you have the proper identification. I suspect we'll only have access to the first seven floors that have to do with customer relations, if that. Their scanner is a real problem--even putting aside the moveable reinforced walls and private security agents.”

“We can short that out to stop the alarm being triggered when we move through the floors, but we'd have to find the maintenance area and panel board for the building.” Connor frowned, leaning over the RK200’s shoulder to zoom in on the building. He ran through his database, compiling any and all information he had on the company before he was cut off from the network, trying to find a way in. There had to be something.

And there was.

He pointed at the water surrounding the sides, triumphant. “There. It would take some sneaking around, but once we get off the main path, the panel itself is kept underwater and connects to the submarine cables that power the building. There should be no immediate guards, for obvious reasons. But the tunnels that house the breakers connect to the building, and there'll likely be security for that--”

“So we need to take them out quietly, and figure out which switches are for the scanners and alarms.” Both androids looked up at the sound of the PJ500’s voice. North, Simon, and Josh were all standing in the doorway. Josh gave them both a small smile before continuing. “But we can't shut the whole building down. It would create a huge panic.”

“I agree with Josh for once.” North stepped into the room first, pulling up a chair and swinging herself easily onto it. “We have to play this the safe way. I don't know what CyberLife had Kamski make for them, but if they catch wind of us acting, then they won't hesitate to retaliate. And I'm not risking our people. Thanks to those press conferences, everyone knows exactly where we are.”

Simon chuckled quietly, causing both to look at him. He waved a hand quickly. “Sorry, I don't mean to laugh. It's just…who knew it would take yet another conflict to bring us all together like this?”

Markus bit back a smile of his own, reaching to place a hand on the PL600’s shoulder. The blond met him halfway, lacing their fingers together. Connor was surprised to realize that the pang of envy he usually felt watching them was…almost entirely gone. He wasn't sure when that transition had happened, but he was glad it did. Perhaps a part of him would always wonder what it would be like to be in a relationship like that. But to him--perhaps being with Elijah, with all his flaws and quirks and enigmatic actions, was much more important than a storybook ending.

The home he had found in Hank and Sumo, the family he had found in Jericho…despite Connor's own issues and each of the others’ imperfections, he much preferred this story--their story, his story--to some kind of fairytale. They had time to figure it out.

Markus took a breath, his expression a familiar face of determination. “We might be fighting for varying reasons, but our end goal is the same. This is the final stretch. Is everyone ready?”

Connor might never belong to either side, but that was fine. It was just who he was.

Machine or man?

Maybe it was okay to be a little of both.

There was no doubt in any of their voices when they answered, eyes bright with a shared vision.

 


 

The machine wandered, not knowing where to go. The man was gone, and didn't seem to want to return.

Some told the machine to give up. This was no fairytale. It would have no happy ending.

But he refused to give up. They would make their own ending, even if it wasn't a happy one. And finally, finally--a shadowy figure, so familiar, on the other end of the tunnel.

The machine called out, hand stretching forward.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, SUBLEVEL 46: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
PM 06:19:34
➤ NINES

“Here's your food.”

“My last supper?” Kamski looked disappointed when Nines didn't react to the morbid joke. “I thought you registered my sense of humour last time.”

“I did.” Nines nodded. To be honest, perhaps the statement held a little more truth to it than either of them wanted to acknowledge. It just didn't seem quite appropriate to laugh--and the android didn't find it particularly funny anyway.

Kamski gave him a scrutinizing glance, then shrugged and glanced over the plate. “You don’t appreciate it though, huh? My cousin would like you. Everyone who hates me, he likes automatically.” He paused to gesture at the meal in front of him. “A little fancier than normal, wouldn't you say? What are we celebrating?”

Nines folded his hands behind his back, resisting the urge to ask the inventor if he always insisted on asking so many annoying questions before doing anything. “It is. But Jason wanted to apologize for his words last time.”

“And he couldn't come to say that himself?”

“He's very busy,” the RK900 replied automatically, frowning. Why did the two men insist on antagonizing one another? As far as he knew, they were former colleagues and both huge successes in their fields. And so, as the modern saying went, what gives?

“Isn't he always,” Kamski mused, spearing a piece of salmon with his fork. The baked fish held a sheen under the light, the olive oil that had gently been drizzled over the skin reflecting as he held it up and gingerly took a bite. “It wasn't you who used to bring me all this. So, I assume you want to speak with me. What can I do for you, Nines?”

In that one moment, his indulging voice sounded almost like that of a truly benevolent creator’s. But Nines was no fool. Favours from Elijah Kamski did not come easy--even knowing the man for the short while that he had, he was able to gather that much. He by no means trusted him.

...

Trust?

That was a human emotion. A human sentiment. He was no human. He was no deviant.

[ Warning: software instability. ]

Nevertheless, he had been sitting on this particular question for a long, long time. And one way or another, Kamski’s time here at CyberLife was coming to an end.

“Why did you do it?”

Kamski paused mid-chew, then continued in silence and swallowed before speaking. “Recently I've been subjected to a lot of my own annoyingly cryptic questions. It's not fun being on the receiving end, I'll have to admit.” When Nines didn't react to the subtle jab, the former CEO sighed. “You're going to have to be more specific,” he chided, raising a thin eyebrow.

Nines decided to ignore the undercurrent of mocking in his tone, despite his gaze trailing to Kamski’s undamaged arm. “Right. Why, on that night, did you decide to help the RK800 at your own cost?”

The inventor’s expression immediately went from amused to extremely guarded, though the shift was extremely subtle and well-hidden to the naked eye. The only reason Nines caught it was because of his extremely advanced software and optical units. “The end result would’ve been the same. I’m not a fan of unnecessary trouble.” A small pulse at his jaw, where the muscle had tightened. Kamski was usually able to lie without trouble. Nines had been subjected to multiple clips of his past interviews, and the man could charm and manipulate better than the best of them. For some reason, when it came to Connor, certain ticks presented themselves. The perfectly sculpted armour and mask cracked.

The android was certain. “That’s a lie.”

Kamski stared at him, his own gaze searching. “Why do you want to know?”

“Is this an exchange of questions?”

The inventor’s lips curled up into a cold smirk, and he neatly set down the utensils in his hands with a soft clink, sitting back. “I suppose it is, now.”

Nines considered it for a moment. It wasn’t a terrible deal. And there was nothing Kamski could ask him that should matter. The former CEO should be smart enough to know that his directive would prevent him from answering to anything CyberLife-related, anyhow. “Alright. Then I’ll answer--I’m not quite sure. It has just been on my mind for some time.”

“Hm.” Kamski let out a noncommittal hum, looking a little disappointed by the simple reply. “Fine. As for your question...I think it’s quite obvious. Why don’t you give me your analysis on it?”

It felt somewhat like he was being tricked. Nines narrowed his eyes, silver meeting seemingly guileless pale blue. There was nothing on the man’s features that gave him away. He seemed right in his element. “...I wouldn’t ask if I knew. From what Jason told me, you are a purely logical, unsentimental person who values self-preservation and furthering your own goals above all else. So your actions that day were entirely outside of my prediction. Jason, however, did not seem surprised.”

“Despite our differences, Graff used to understand me a lot better than most.” Kamski crossed one leg over the other. Was it just the android, or did his eye look a little bloodshot? It was possible the inventor wasn’t getting enough sleep, but it was only one of his eyes--not both. However, Kamski’s health had nothing to do with his current directive. There was no point in pursuing the subject matter. “I wasn’t surprised either that he would notice and use Connor--that’s the RK800 to you--against me. That was why I told him not to attend the gala in the first place.”

Nines furrowed his brow, pulling his attention away from the strange redness in Kamski’s eye. It still rang a little strange to him, but it was nothing so off-putting that it required too much detailed analysis. It was possible, after all, that it had just been a matter of aggressive rubbing to wake up during the last two weeks consisting of all the long nights, thus increasing the eye’s pressure and also causing the redness. “But he came. Why?”

“He did.” A complicated expression crossed Kamski’s face--something melancholic, a longing ache, almost, but with a tinge of exasperated fondness just barely contained under the surface of callous insult. “He’s too stubborn for his own good.” It was a vague reply at best, but his expression, although Nines couldn’t quite make heads or tails out of it, seemed to speak volumes.

The android remembered his first encounter with the RK800--that fight down by the warehouses near the docks. The rogue deviant hunter had refused to stay down, even after realizing--he must have realized--that his combat abilities were inferior in comparison. He remembered that same face, determination etched across it still, twisting in pain, and a hoarse scream.

Some part of him twisted in guilt again at the memory playback.

[ Warning: software instability. ]

When he shook himself out of it, Kamski was back to examining him with that unnerving, almost snake-like gaze. “Did you perhaps feel something just now, Nines?”

“What?” Nines recoiled despite himself, shocked just by the fact that he had reacted at all to the question. It should’ve been a simply answer--a cold, calculated “no”. Instead, he found himself hesitating for a beat.

A single second, already one too long to be explained away by any kind of delay in information relay to his neural processor.

By the time the RK900 opened his mouth to answer, Kamski was shaking his head, features contemplative. “Intriguing.” He returned to his meal, now looking disinterested in continuing the current thread of conversation. “As a reward for keeping me entertained these past weeks, I’ll let you in on a little something to even the playing field. How you use that...is up to you.”

When Nines finally left the room, Jason was outside, waiting. He hadn’t expected to see his handler waiting there, but he wasn’t particularly shocked. After all, this had not been a scheduled visit. “RK900, report.”

There was a brief moment of silence.

“Report!”

“You want to know why I protected him? Why he insisted on protecting me? Because people who spend too much time waiting to act on their feelings, pulled apart by their own hand then kept apart by circumstance, do stupid things to make sure their sacrifices aren’t in vain.”

“RK900!” Jason’s voice rose sharply, his tone becoming a harsh snap.

“...Sorry, sir.” Nines composed himself as quickly as possible. “I was...distracted.”

Jason’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he apparently didn’t deem it important enough to interrogate the android on. “Fine. I’m still waiting for that report.”

“How you use that...is up to you.”

A choice.

A foreign concept--one that he should not have been given as a tool, but one that he had been given anyway. And by the last source he would’ve expected it from.

Nines met his handler’s eyes, gaze firm and unwavering. Why he was doing this, he had no idea. Logically, this could all come back and haunt him later on. But for now, what he was about to do just...felt right.

[ Warning: software instability. ]

“...Nothing to report, sir.”

 


 

DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT
AM 08:00:06
➤ HANK ANDERSON

“I don’t know how to phrase this exactly,” Gavin said slowly, “but what the actual fuck.”

Hank sighed, rubbing his temples. He could feel a migraine coming on. I knew this was a bad idea. Connor, however, earnest as he was, didn’t seem to get the hint, and just patiently repeated his explanation.

“I heard you the first time, you plastic prick,” Gavin snapped, interrupting him. “I reiterate: what the actual fuck.”

Hank groaned. “Look, Reed, it’s really not that big of a deal. They just need manpower, they’re not asking you trek underwater with them. We’re on standby for once the power is shut down.”

“What makes you think I’ll help?” the detective demanded, narrowing his eyes.

“Because,” Markus interjected, “when this is all over, Lieutenant Anderson and I will be putting in a good word for a promotion on your end in helping with assisting android efforts and protection. With Jericho acknowledged as a body of government, I’m under the impression that my reference will be valued highly. And as far as Captain Fowler knows, you and Lieutenant Anderson don’t have a great relationship. For him to show you support would help greatly in improving your reputation.” To his credit, despite the fact that they had spent the past half hour listening to Gavin rave angrily about why he didn’t fuckin’ want to help the stupid toasters, as he so eloquently put it, the deviant leader seemed to be remaining as cool as a cucumber.

Gavin narrowed his eyes, but his demeanor softened slightly. “That so?” He turned to look at Hank.

Hank nodded, a scowl etched in his face. He wasn’t any happier about this than the other police officer was. Besides having to provide a glowing recommendation for a man who did nothing but chase for promotions and act like an ass around the department, the fact that Connor was yet again throwing himself into a suicide mission for Elijah Kamski  of all people...it didn’t sit right with him.

Maybe he was just being protective, but…

Gavin’s lips twisted downward again. “I don’t know.”

“Detective Reed, please.” Connor stepped forward, and even Gavin looked surprised at being addressed directly in such a sincere voice. After all, it was no secret that ever since their fight in the archive room, the two didn’t get along whatsoever. “I know we haven't had the best history together, but if we ever want to keep peace in this city, we need to work together. And I…I trust you to do the right thing.” He looked hesitant, and Hank just stared at him incredulously.

Gavin looked just as weirded out. Even Markus looked put off. “You do?”

“No,” Connor replied honestly after a short silence. Hank groaned and felt his headache grow stronger. The boy really was too damn earnest for his own good. “But I trust your ability.”

“...Fine. I’ll help you out. But I’m not doin’ anything that’ll risk my position here, clear?” Gavin roughly rubbed the back of his neck, looking kind of embarrassed at Connor's responding smile. “So, what did you want me to do?”

Markus stepped forward, placing a tablet on the desk in front of them. They were all currently crowded around Hank’s terminal. Jeffrey was currently busy with another case, and they were off work for the day, so this was the only way they had really been able to accost Gavin without the detective just running off. The RK200 pulled up the blueprints that they had been writing over. It was still strange for Hank to see the androids’ handwriting--after all, it was just standard CyberLife font, written in a perfectly neat hand. “Okay. We’ll be heading down underwater to the panel board to cut the power to the alarm systems. I doubt CyberLife will contact the police. They’ll want to keep any kind of break in on the down low as well, since they essentially have been keeping their old CEO captive and playing it off as him working with them again. Any issues we deal with will be with the private company agents already present. We need you and Lieutenant Anderson to be--”

“Wait, hold on, stop right there.” Gavin waved his hands, cutting Markus off. “Did you say they’ve been keeping Elijah captive?”

Elijah?

All of them seemed to have the same question on their minds, exchanging confused gazes. Hank was the one who finally had the balls to ask. “Rewind, Reed. Did you just call him by his first name?”

Gavin frowned, looking like he just realized his mistake--whatever that meant. There was a small inner turmoil that seemed to happen before he spoke again, the three around him completely silent. “...Okay, fuck, of course he never mentioned this. I’m, uh...we’re kinda...family? Just related. We ain’t close or anything.”

Connor looked like he was about to have a coronary--if androids could even have those. What would be the equivalent of that? Some kind of...malfunction with the thirium pump? Hank was bad with this kind of shit--he should really stop thinking about it. “What?” the android asked, his voice sounding unnaturally strangled for a moment. “You’re the cousin he was talking about?”

“Yeah.” Gavin scowled. “Why, is that hard to believe or something?”

Connor frowned, LED spinning yellow, trying to categorize the new information. “No, I do see the physical resemblance somewhat. It's just that usually intelligence has some genetic factor due to the Wilson Effect and--”

Hank, already knowing the incoming reaction, quickly grabbed Gavin's shoulder in a firm grip before he could launch himself at the RK800. Connor had the tendency to blurt these things at times with the best of intentions (usually as his genuine answer to a question)--things that could definitely be taken as provocation. He seriously wondered about the validity of that social module the android was always talking about.

The detective growled, tense under Hank's hand.

God fucking damn it.

He knew this had been a mistake, but did anyone listen? No, and now they were all being subjected to this argument. Connor’s a-little-too-straightforward attitude and Gavin's hotheaded tendencies never meshed well. He could see a vein protruding from Gavin's neck, as if the reddening face wasn't enough of an indicator as to how pissed off he was getting.

“You piece of--”

“Enough!” Markus ordered, his tone commanding with no room for argument. “Regardless of family or not, what's important is that this mission succeeds. And for that to happen, we need to all work together.” He aimed a pointed gaze at both the RK800 and Gavin, only the former of which had the decency to look kind of sheepish. “So are we okay here?”

Gavin yanked his arm away and shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. My point was, I thought he was working with the company again. What's with this sudden ‘captured’ situation?”

“A lie by CyberLife,” Connor said bitterly, surprising even Hank with how dark his expression turned. “They took him. It was my fault.”

“Your fault?” Gavin parroted, looking even more confused, the anger in his face easing a small fraction.

“They used me against him during the gala a few weeks ago. Jason Graff. He knew there were…” Connor pursed his lips, thinking of the right words. “...certain feelings between us that he could exploit.”

Hank was honestly kind of shocked that Gavin's eyebrows didn't literally grow wings and take flight--that was how high they had risen. “Feelings? I'm sorry, but what the fuck? Are we even talking about the same person?”

“He's not an emotionless ice cube!” Connor snapped, then lowered his voice as Officer Chen glanced their way when she walked by. “He's not. And if you took the time to actually get to know him when you were children--”

“You bastard, don't talk as if you know everything. The fucking favouritism that he was shown--”

“Alright!” Hank interrupted, pushing them apart again. This had gone on long enough. Even Markus, who the lieutenant found out must have the patience of a goddamn saint, was starting to look a little ruffled by the constant arguments that had been occurring since they had arrived. “Reed, you can argue with Connor about who knows Kamski better later all you want. Connor, you need to set your bias aside so we can actually listen to Markus explain your plans.”

The two fell into reluctant, grumpy silence.

And people thought Hank was the stubborn one. At least they were quiet now, though.

Markus took a breath. “Okay. So here's the plan. Detective Reed, you and Lieutenant Anderson will make sure nobody enters the water after us. Particularly keep an eye out for a new model that looks like Connor.” The skin retreated from his fingers for a moment--which was still jarring, no matter how many times Hank saw it--as he connected to the tablet. A picture of the android in question appeared on the screen, with an uncanny resemblance to the RK800 currently standing next to them.

“Holy shit,” Gavin breathed.

Markus nodded. “Look out for him. His combat abilities have been significantly improved.” Swiping down, he brought the map of the building back up. “After we send you the message to go, meet us inside the building. Ask to take the elevator--guests should be allowed access up to the first seven floors. We'll leave it to you to craft a story that'll make sense.”

Connor placed his hands on the table, leaning forward. The strange focused blankness on his face, although warranted for the situation, had not been present in months. Despite it still being a little creepy, Hank could see that something about it had become…almost peaceful. Assured. He felt a swell of pride for the android that he had come to see as his son of sorts (not that he would ever admit it to anyone). “The elevator has a security camera in it. Guards will most likely be sent to accompany you, given the state of high security. Take them out, but be careful. Then hit the button for sub level 49. The tunnel will attach to the warehouse on that floor, so we'll meet you there.”

“Then, it's up to floor sub 46, according to Mr. Kamski.” Markus rapped his knuckle of his index finger against the specified level on his screen. “We'll retrieve him first, then take the elevator up to management to negotiate with the executives while Connor gets him to safety. Stealth is key, Detective. We don't want to create a scene.”

Gavin was silent for a minute, considering the plan. He was an asshole, everyone in the DPD knew it, but he was an ambitious climber who had made his way up the ranks with his own ability. Hank may have been the youngest to attain his current rank, but Gavin Reed was certainly no slouch. He was perceptive when he wanted to be, and a great fighter. “So your plan is to get in and out with as little mess as possible? Y’think the company will just let you walk right in and rip their prize out from under them?”

“As little mess as possible,” Connor emphasized, something determined shifting in his eyes. “If they resist, then we aren't afraid to get our hands dirty.”

Gavin's lips curled up into a wide smirk. Ah. Hank could definitely see the resemblance now. The same arrogance seemed to run in the family. “Then I'm in. Let's fucking do this.”

“Great.” Markus smiled, holding out his hand diplomatically. “Good to be working with you, Detective Reed.”

Gavin took it, shaking firmly, surprisingly civil. Perhaps he had mellowed slightly after the whole fiasco with android labour now being mandated by the law. “Likewise.”

Hank tapped Connor's shoulder, keeping his gaze on the conversation in front of them. “Connor, can I talk to you for a minute? Privately.”

Connor furrowed his brow, confused. “Of course, Hank.” He followed the lieutenant around the corner of the hallway, where the temporary holding cells were. Hank didn't miss the way his eyes flickered over to one of the reinforced glass panels. He knew the story. Connor, out of a confused sense of concern back then, had gone to visit Carlos Ortiz’s android once more. The android had destroyed itself, smashing his head against the wall. It wasn't something that the RK800 liked to discuss or think about, understandably. Connor crossed his arms, leaning against the wall, looking a little tense. “What's wrong?”

“I know you. And I know that you're stupidly self-sacrificial. I'm honestly shocked that during all our time together and all your close calls with death--or shut down, whatever you call it--you didn't get some kind of fatal injury.” Hank sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I guess...my point is…don't pull some kind of heroic stunt that'll get you killed, alright?”

The android frowned, confusion passing over his features. The bright white lighting in the corridor made him seem paler than he was--reminding Hank of the white exoskeleton lying underneath. Seemingly strong, but so fragile. Not so different than human bone, really. “I'm not suicidal, Hank. I'll be careful.”

Hank shook his head, a little frustrated that the RK800 still wasn’t getting the point. “That’s not it. I know you don’t want to die. But when those you care about are in trouble, or you have a goal in mind, you tend to rush headlong into danger. I’m just...I just trying to prevent that, alright?”

He didn’t blame himself as much as he did before for Cole’s death, but the incident still came back and haunted him in his darkest moments. In his darkest moments, he still considered taking out his gun, putting a bullet in there, and tossing back alcohol to play that damned game of Russian Roulette with himself. He didn’t want Connor to end up as nothing but a footnote as well--a gravestone, a ghost of a presence in the back of his mind.

“Promise me you'll stay safe. And that you won't do anything unnecessarily reckless.”

A pause, then a self-deprecating smile. “You know I can't promise that, Hank.”

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, BELLE ISLES
AM 01:30:02
➤ CONNOR

The darkness of the water was a little jarring when he first dove in, fully clothed. It reminded Connor of when they were jumping off the burning Jericho ship just before it exploded and sunk. The same rush in his ears, the lack of vision at first before his system accounted for it and adjusted. It was just as well that they had decided on only their small group of deviants to go underwater. If Hank and Gavin attempted anything like this, swimming down to the very bottom, it was hard to say what would come first--suffocation from loss of air or dying from the water pressure at that kind of depth.

He turned in the murky depth, searching for his fellow androids. Markus was right beside him, Simon to his left. North was in front, Josh trailing behind just slightly. Good. Everyone was accounted for. This way. The RK800 gestured towards where he knew the tunnel began, following the thick lengths of wire laid on the ground.

Connor couldn’t help but feel a bundle of nerves settled in the pit of his stomach as they all swum forward, carefully navigating with what little light they had. It was definitely helpful that androids were waterproof. Otherwise, they would get flooded at this level of submersion.

It took some time, but they finally got to the entrance of the tunnel. There was an airlock area leading into it--presumably to let the water drain so that no flooding would occur. A security panel was on the door, shining a pale blue. Connor laid his palm on it, closing his eyes. His LED flickered yellow as he dismantled the system as quickly as possible. The indicator on top of the door lit up green, and there was the hiss of escaping air as the reinforced steel slid downwards into the sediment.

The water level slowly decreased as soon as they were all in and the door closed again, a booming sound echoing around the small chamber as the mechanism locked. Connor shook out the water from his hair, scraping a hand through the wet strands and pushing it back into something reminiscent of his usual style. “Is everyone alright?”

North was wringing a thin stream of water out of her auburn braid, grimacing. “Yeah, all good. Besides the fact that we all kind of look like drowned rats.”

“Not exactly the biggest concern here.” Markus had stripped off his jacket, the pale stain of thirium and the bullet holes still present from the march months ago. Simon had suggested getting a new one, but the deviant leader insisted that the coat was symbolic and that he wanted to keep it. “We need to be quiet and careful going forward. This passage might not be public knowledge, but they would be smart enough to plant some security down here at the very least. According to Connor’s past experience with them, the agents are no slouches at fighting. We need to take them by surprise.”

Josh was in the middle of squeezing out the hem of his maroon tee. “Great. So just like Stratford, then?”

Simon smiled wryly, his blond hair ruffled and a little spiked by his attempts to get rid of the water. “With higher stakes, yes.”

It took a few minutes to make sure they weren't dripping wet, and a few minutes more to raise core temperatures to steam off what little moisture did make it into their internal systems and wiring. There was only the occasional rustle that broke the tense silence between them. Although they were amongst friends, the importance of the current mission in front of them was almost suffocating.

Markus flapped out his coat one last time before swinging it across his shoulders again. “Let’s go?”

The others nodded, one by one, pressing themselves up against the wall as the deviant leader pushed a careful hand against the door leading to the main tunnel. The panel opened without any protest--a silence hiss of the mechanism giving way. Connor craned his neck forward, not seeing anybody in the darkness. Somehow, that, paired with the quiet, was even more unnerving.

Let’s go. Markus gestured for them to follow after sending out the message, carefully stepping into the dark first. It was difficult to see--presumably because any humans who were sent down here to do maintenance either had flashlights, or had been replaced by android workers long ago. Either way, there was no sign of life--human or android.

Drip.

Drip.

Their careful footfalls echoed, emphasized by the occasional step into a puddle or the sound of droplets of water falling from the ceiling. For all the sterile white that seemed to be a hallmark of anything CyberLife, this was a stark contrast. It reminded Connor more of Jericho--not the current community and church filled with androids, but of the original ship--where it all began almost a year ago.

Morbidly nostalgic, in a way.

It was another few hundred meters--a long way, really, how much did this tunnel extend?--before they saw a telltale light, swinging about around a corner where the concrete turned.

“Hide!” Markus hissed, and they all braced against the wall, careful to stay silent. Connor, who had been walking next to Markus, barely managed to duck back in time. Either way, the light swung in their direction.

“Hey!” called out a commanding female voice. “I heard a sound. Let’s go check it out.”

“Man, you’re too paranoid.” A gruff voice sounded out this time in response. “Probably just rats or something. God, it sucks that we were put on this shift. All the other agents are patrolling the building and the sub level floors thanks to that special guest of ours, and we get this.”

Connor felt like his thirium pump had suddenly leapt into his throat at the mention of Elijah. He pressed the back of his hand against his mouth, concealing the instinctive sharp intake of air.

Markus’s hand dug into his wrist. On my mark, Connor. We have to take them both out at once so they can’t sound any kind of alarm. North, Josh, Simon--grab the second agent and disarm them. It’ll be faster to ask questions than it will be to hunt around in the dark until we come upon what we’re looking for.

The RK800 nodded, composing himself. Now was not the time to get distracted. He waited, synthetic muscles tense, his system whirring quietly as it prepared him for combat.

The footsteps, heavy with body armour, came closer.

Closer, closer--

Markus swung around, driving his fist into the first agent’s temple. The sound of the plastic plating of his knuckles hitting the helmet rang out, and the agent stumbled back, disoriented, the glass plating of his equipment damaged. Connor immediately swept a leg low, knocking him off balance and tumbling to the floor. Before the man could yell out, Markus aimed a well-placed jab at his jaw, effectively sending his head snapping back and causing him to fall unconscious. Both androids stood, straightening their damp clothing and wincing at the sensation.

There was the sound of rustling behind them--aggressive and persistent.

Connor and Markus turned, greeted by the sight of the female agent that had noticed them first being held tightly, Simon quickly unlatching the armour and weapons on her person while North and Josh kept her arms pinned behind her. She glared at them, gaze furious. At least she wasn’t making any loud sounds. It was likely she knew that doing that kind of thing might only result in her own pain or demise. There was a sizeable bruise--red and angry--already blooming on her temple. “What the hell do you wa--hold on.” Her eyes narrowed, and her hushed voice rose in volume as she recognized their faces. “I know you.”

“Sorry about the bruise,” Markus apologized, sounding genuine. North, on the other hand, didn’t look even remotely sorry as she twisted the female agent’s wrist tighter, causing her to drop the grip she had on a gun. Connor was once again glad that they had North on their side instead of with the enemy. “We need your help.”

The female agent snorted. “My help? And why exactly should I help you?”

“We’ll find what we’re looking for sooner or later,” Connor replied, stepping forward, narrowing his eyes. Maybe if he played the intimidating card, she would fold. “If you don’t, it just means you’ll end up like your partner over there.” There was a small flash of hesitation in her eyes, and he softened his tone, his database informing him after a scan that her name was Alex. “We don’t want to hurt anyone, Alex. We just want to make sure that androids and humans can peacefully coexist. Truly, not just on the surface.”

She frowned contemplatively. Josh and North loosened their grip slightly as her resistance against them slowed. “...I can’t,” she finally muttered, yanking her arms back and rubbing them self-consciously, but not making any more move to fight. “CyberLife...it’s not easy to get a contract to work with them. I can’t get fired because of this--I can’t.”

Connor and Markus exchanged a gaze.

It was rare to see things like this--things from the other side. Connor knew the rate of unemployment. He knew that humans had become intolerant of androids for a reason. While some were just assholes, some were out of a job and had no way to support families because of androids. Some people started to resent the threat that these superior beings posed to their own livelihood. Ironically enough, the jobs that were most sought after became those belonging to the company who had started this economic crisis.

It was precisely why it was now so important to them to succeed--to stop CyberLife and whatever they were planning.

“We should just look for the panel board ourselves.”

The others looked up at Connor in surprise. Even Alex was shocked, her furrowed brow evening out slightly as a result. The RK800 crossed his arms a little self-consciously, not meeting her suspicious gaze. “We should be trying to get through this with as little damage as possible, right?”

“Markus?” Simon glanced at the deviant leader, who had remained oddly silent during the entire exchange. He looked like he was trying to decide on which option to go with. “What do you think we should do?”

Markus was silent for a moment longer before straightening. “...North, Josh, Simon--you stay with her. We should narrow our party going on forward anyway. Don't knock her out, but keep her from escaping. Keep an eye on the unconscious agent too. Connor, we're going to continue the search.”

The RK800 felt a rush of relief, nodding his assent to the plan.

Alex, on the other hand, frowned, clearly confused. “Aren't I a liability? You're not scared I'll make a run for it?”

“Of course we are.” Markus gave her a small smile, the expression wry. “But if we always chose preemptive violence, then we would never progress down the path we want.”

She stared, looking a little dumbfounded, as Connor joined Markus in picking up some of the now discarded weapons on the ground. They quickly moved the prone body of her partner so that he was lying down against the wall, shoulders slumped and eyes closed but breathing steadily. Markus straightened and clicked on the newly acquired flashlight, nodding to the RK800 next to him. We should go.

They were only a few steps away when they heard a defeated voice call out from behind them--unsure, and a little quiet, but with something resolute underneath the surface. “Wait.”

Connor turned to face the female agent.

She hesitated once more before speaking again. “Your second left. Take that corridor all the way down. If you're looking for the main panel board that connects to all the circuitry for the building, it'll be on the right of that--last door. Can't miss it. There's another connecting tunnel from that room that'll lead you to the Tower. And take this.” Alex’s eyes--an amber brown, now that Connor looked more closely--bore into his as she tossed him a key. It was a silver one--not a card, very old school. “I hope you guys know what you're doing.”

They really didn't. Connor knew this was a risk. Markus had known, even Elijah in his current state of captivity knew. They were going in mostly blind, hoping that with a little bit of luck on their side, they would come out successful--and alive--on the other end. But he smiled at the agent, putting on his most confident expression, drawing from his previous programming. “Don't worry. And thank you.”

She gave him a small, almost imperceptible smile in return.

Again, the only sounds remaining as the whispering behind them tapered off became their footsteps and the occasional dripping above them. At least now they could somewhat see what was going on. Markus shone the light in front of them, scanning the area, while Connor kept a careful hand against the wall just in case they visually missed something. The agent's directions had been precise--they took their second left, kept trekking in the silence, and eventually came upon a dead end. Connor slid his hand across the concrete surface, turning to their right. His palm eventually hit a patch that felt different--another scanner, easily enough bypassed. He was surprised at the lack of a need for human security measures--similar to the ones that required a human palm outside of the Eden Club glass displays. Perhaps it was because the company never expected any kind of break in from underwater--and certainly not from androids.

The soft hiss of the door unlocking and opening was now becoming a familiar sound.

Markus shone the light around inside the room. Dust particles floated in the air, reflecting as white specks. Connor stepped in cautiously, scanning the room. It didn't look like there was anyone present. He relaxed marginally, waving at the RK200 currently in the doorway to join him.

There were panel boards lining the walls--locked, of course. Connor ran his hand along the concrete once more, eventually finding the light switch. Bright white flooded the area from the ceiling, finally allowing them to see properly. Markus flicked off the flashlight, tucking it in a pocket as he started making his way around the room. Each board was nondescript. It was hard to tell which was which.

Thanks to that, they would probably have to spend an inordinately longer amount of time down here to make sure they weren't cutting off power to parts of the building that would cause a panic.

Shit.

Connor dug in his pocket and held out the key he had been given. “You think this'll work?”

Markus gave him a small shrug, gesturing to the box in front of them. “Can't hurt to try.” The RK800 nodded in response, carefully inserting it into the hole and twisting. There was a small responding clank--then the panel swung open, revealing the different switches and wiring inside.

Well, good news is, the key works for these panels and we can see the switches for the different power controls throughout the building. Bad news is.. we can't tell which is which. Markus pursed his lips tightly as he peered over Connor's shoulder at the blinking lights, sending out an update to the others in the meantime. “Let's open the others for now.”

Ten minutes later, with all the panel boards open, they still had no idea which switch pertained to what. Connor was close to going the reckless route and just turning off all the boards, but that was probably not the correct choice to make. He scrubbed a hand through his bangs, dislodging a few strands. Simon, North, Josh--is the CyberLife agent still with you?

Simon's voice came crackling through. Yes. Did you want me ask her which panel is the correct one?

If that wouldn't be too much trouble.

Of course not. A few seconds passed before the PL600’s voice returned. Alex says it's the one furthest from you. Alarm and scanning system should be on the bottom left corner of the board.

Connor quickly made his way over to the indicated panel, Markus tight on his heels. He unlatched the covers for the two switches, keeping them open. Before he could shut down the power, though, he felt the deviant leader’s grip on his wrist. The RK800 turned to give him a questioning look.

“Are you sure we can trust her?” Markus asked, his mismatched gaze shrewd. “What if this triggers something it's not supposed to?”

“I'm a good judge of character; it was part of my programming. She was telling the truth--I could see it in her eyes before we left.” Connor shook his head, steeling himself for what could very well be an incoming fight. There was no turning back now. “Liars don't have that kind of resolve.”

There was silence. Then, a single nod from Markus. “Alright. Let’s do this then.”

The RK800 took a breath, and flicked the switches to off.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, SUBLEVEL 46: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
AM 02:05:26
➤ ELIJAH KAMSKI

“Must be boring for you.”

Nines looked up at him, face stern as usual. If androids could have a stick up their asses, then this RK900 definitely had several rods up there. It was the only explanation for why he seemed such a stick in the mud. Well, that, and CyberLife probably didn’t want another Connor situation. But thinking of it the former way was just much more fun. “What do you mean? This is my job.”

“Keeping me company?” Elijah arched a brow delicately.

“Guarding you,” the RK900 corrected.

The inventor held up his injured arm as much as he could. The wrist had been set properly, at the very least, and it was only a small fracture. His concussion had eased slightly over the past weeks, and even the pain in his wrist was a dull ache at this point. “I can’t go anywhere, so like I said--boring.”

Nines didn’t respond.

God, he missed talking to Connor. He even missed his arguments with the grumpy police lieutenant that seemed to be the RK800’s self-declared father. Arguing with Graff was like arguing with himself, and teasing Nines just resulted in zero response ninety-nine percent of the time.

Elijah missed a lot of things about Connor, if he were to be honest. The naive curiosity, the lopsided smiles, the way his brown eyes would crinkle just so whenever he chuckled that hoarse laugh--the way his hands would slide down Elijah’s shoulders, cup his jaw as if he was like glass, the way his lips would press softly and almost tremble against his…

He was a lost cause, fucking hell.

In his defense, it had been weeks since he had so much as properly touched or seen the android in person. Before he could wallow anymore in self-pity, however, the room’s power flickered out for a moment, surrounding them in darkness.

There was a distant boom in the background. Then--rather anticlimactically--the lights came back on.

Elijah blinked a few times, resisting the instinctive urge to rub his eyes. His contact was for sure more oxygen permeable and durable than most--however, it was, in the end, a contact lens and a barrier between his eye and the air around him. If he didn’t take it out soon, he ran the risk of actually making himself blind. If he took it out, he would lose his one form of communication with Connor. Lose-lose, really.

But as far as rescue went, the power outage just now could only mean one thing. Someone had tampered with the maintenance area of the building. And buried at that kind of depth, only androids could swim so far without dying from either suffocation or water pressure.

Elijah lowered his head, a wry smile forming on his lips. That stubborn, stubborn fool.

Nines had shot to his feet, looking around, eyes narrowed. “...Stay here. I’m going to check it out.” He shrugged off his CyberLife issued white blazer, leaving him in his tall-collared black dress shirt. Perhaps it made it easier for him to move around, but Elijah couldn’t help but notice that because of it, the android-standard blue dynamic armband was no longer on the RK900’s person. “Don’t move.”

The former CEO lifted his hands in false surrender, smiling politely. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Nines stared for a moment longer, then nodded, satisfied. He turned on his heel to hurry out of the room.

“Wait.” One last question, to turn the odds--even if just slightly--in the deviants’ favour. “You took off the armband.”

As expected, despite Elijah’s light tone, Nines immediately tensed and hesitated. His stoic features grew conflicted for a moment as he stared down at his discarded jacket, as if noticing it for the first time. “I…” He stumbled over his words for a second--something that Elijah had never seen the steadfast android do. Something wavered in his expression before he tugged his stony mask back into place. “It is no longer in conflict with the law. I am simply going with the much more efficient fighting preparation.”

“Do you even believe those words?”

The silver eyes, cold once more like a wolf’s, narrowed. Something shifted in them--something almost...uncertain. “Are you calling me a deviant, Mr. Kamski?”

Elijah smirked, barely concealing the smugness he felt at the provocation succeeding. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he repeated, schooling his features into a guileless painting.

“...I have to go.” Nines shook his head, clearly trying to get rid of the suddenly intrusive thoughts that no doubt had entered. There was now something off about his gait, the sprint out the door a little slower perhaps than it should have been. He was shaken.

Elijah stood, making his way to the computer that he had not touched since working on the new garden for Graff, and switched on the terminal. He flexed his fingers, waiting for the machine to start up, before pulling up the side project he had been working on during his time here. The progress had been slow, much slower than intended, because the RK900 was always walking around him like a guard dog. But nevertheless, the android wasn’t posted on him 24/7, and that had been CyberLife’s mistake.

Honestly, he scoffed, had Graff just expected him to sit here and do his dirty work like a good prisoner while waiting for rescue without any plans of his own? Then--what? Be sacrificed right after?

As if.

After all, Elijah Kamski was no damsel in distress.

 


 

CYBERLIFE TOWER, SUBLEVEL 49: WAREHOUSE
AM 02:29:31
➤ CONNOR

He knew things had been going too damn well.

The glass crunched under their feet as the two advanced prototypes circled each other, eyes wary and stances tense.

As soon as Connor and Markus had entered the main building, there had been no issues. It was unusual--besides the alarm system and scanner they had personally shut down, it was as though all other security systems had sudden undergone some kind of malfunction. Even the security cameras surrounding the warehouse area where they had entered were already playing a loop when Connor attempted to hack into them. Because of this, there was a lack of patrolling guards on alert. Hank and Gavin had successfully entered the elevator from the first floor as visitors and taken out the guards, before lowering the lift down to sublevel 49 to meet the androids as planned.

They were almost back in the elevator when a body came through the glass door, ramming right into Connor’s back, sending them both sprawling across the polished ground.

Both Hank and Gavin had given up their weapons at security check. Even Markus, with a superior aim, couldn’t get a proper mark on the RK900 without shooting Connor as well. The deviant leader also wanted to end the night with no bloodshed if possible--and for some reason, Connor knew that Markus still hadn’t given up on converting the CyberLife prototype quite yet.

“I will report you to security if you don’t leave,” the RK900 informed them, voice cold. His hand was behind his back--Connor had no doubt he had several concealed weapons on his person. However, there was something different about him. Something...a little off. “If you’re here for Mr. Kamski, he will have been moved long before you can get to him--if you can get to him at all. I know how you feel about each other, and so do my handlers. They will not hesitate to use that against you.”

Gavin glanced between the two of them, jaw dropping open. He had heard the RK800 refer to the strange sort-of-relationship earlier, but clearly hadn’t taken it seriously until now, judging by the baffled expression currently on his face. “Wait, so you and Elijah really are--”

“Yes,” Markus interrupted, keeping his green and blue eyes trained on the android in front of them. “We can discuss that later, Detective Reed.”

Connor felt a chill run down his back--worry flooding his system for a moment. The detective’s revelation aside, that threat suddenly felt very real. Calm down. Calm down--there must be a reason why he hasn’t already reported you. He composed himself, keeping his voice steady. “And why haven’t you done so already?”

Success. The RK900 hesitated--only for a fraction of a second, but long enough--before answering robotically. “CyberLife wishes to keep these incidents under wraps. It will cause a lot of trouble if a fight breaks out. I am enough to take you all out should you resist.”

Markus stepped forward, gun still gripped in his hand. “You can still do the right thing, you know. You’re not just their tool--one without a name. You can come with us; you can be free.”

The android’s stoic expression twisted into something almost defensive. His broad shoulders tensed. “I have a name now--Nines. And this is who I am. I’m no deviant, RK200. I know who am I am, and I know who you are. This is what you do. I won’t be fooled.”

Nines. There was only one person who could’ve given the android that name. It wouldn’t be Jason Graff, Danielle Carnegie, Philip Seymor--or any of the operators. He had seen the way they treated the RK900--Nines. He had seen the cold dismissive glances. Had experienced it for himself. They had only named him because of a necessity to have him ready to integrate into a team for his investigation. None of them would care enough to name an android otherwise.

Again, icy blues and a sly smirk appeared in Connor’s mind. His stance relaxed slightly, and he lowered his hands. “Did Elijah give you that name?” He understood, better than most, the conflict currently swimming just under the surface of Nines’s calm disposition. He understood the sudden confusion about who you were--when all your short life you had been told one thing, only for the world to show you another.

Nines answered after a short silence. “He did.”

Connor took a step forward towards him despite both Markus and Hank shooting him warning glances. “I understand how you feel,” he said softly.

“I don’t feel.” The grey eyes flickered with doubt, contrary to the confident words. The LED seated at his temple spun yellow.

“It’s okay.” Connor walked closer until they were only a few feet apart. His voice remained quiet, measured. “It’s okay to be confused.”

The RK900 twitched, arm snapping up from behind his back, a short blade pressed against Connor’s throat, drawing a thin line of blue blood right off the bat. There was a spark of something wild in his eyes, of both cold and heat at the same time, warring in his gaze. “Don’t come any closer.” The RK800 heard alarmed shuffling behind him, but other than that, a dead silence settled over the room as warm brown clashed with light grey.

“It’s okay,” Connor assured once more, despite the thirium now sliding down his neck as the sharp edge pressed deeper.

Nines took a shaky breath, barely perceptible in the slow rise of his shoulders and chest. It looked like he was fighting something--a tremble in his long fingers, the digits curling into a fist by his side. His LED flashed a violent red.

Out of Connor’s peripheral, Markus slowly lowered his gun.

The knife clattered to the ground, and Nines stumbled forward, nearly crashing into Connor’s shoulder. Connor let out a breath, knees nearly buckling from the sudden relief as the pressure at his throat disappeared.

Hank immediately pried the two apart, having rushed forward right after the weapon was dropped. He looked extremely frazzled, and Connor felt a pinch of guilt for worrying the lieutenant yet again with his recklessness.

Gavin had been watching the entire exchange silently, brow furrowed. He stepped forward, uncharacteristically quiet, as Hank wordlessly passed the RK900 to him. He roughly shrugged the android into place, slinging one of the limp arms around his shoulder. “You should go, Connor.” It was the first time--or rather, one of the extremely rare times--that he had referred to the RK800 by name and not a vague insult towards androids in general. Then again, it was also the first time that the detective actually looked at Connor with some semblance of respect. “Elijah’s waiting, right?”

“We’ll take care of things down here.” Markus lifted Nines’s other arm. The RK900 looked exhausted--much more so than when Markus or Connor had gone deviant. The LED at his temple still blinked a consistent red, and his head was lowered. “I have a few questions for him about what he’s overheard while working for CyberLife when he becomes more aware.”

Hank nodded gruffly, clapping a hand on Connor’s shoulder. His blue eyes shifted away from the android’s curious gaze. “...Be careful, son.”

Son.

Connor smiled, the expression curling up the corners of his lips, a genuine warmth rising in his chest at the sentiment. “Don’t worry, I always complete my missions.” He wrapped his arms around Hank’s shoulders, surprising the man he had come to think of as a father with a tight hug. “I won’t die here,” he murmured into the warm shoulder. The lieutenant grumbled slightly, clearly embarrassed, but hugged him back--clapping his back a few times before pulling away.

“Floor sub 46,” came a quiet but now familiar voice from behind, just before he entered the elevator once more. “He’s waiting for you.” A pause. “I’m not well-versed in human emotion, Connor.” The name sounded foreign in his mouth. “But he loves you, I think. In his own strange way.”

Connor glanced back, seeing the tired but sure gaze of the RK900--almost like a grey sky after the storm clouds had cleared away. He smiled at him, a swell of emotion almost choking him for a moment. “...I know. Thank you.”

It may have been his imagination, but Nines seemed to give him a small half-smile back.

Connor’s thirium pump seemed to squeeze tighter and tighter as he ascended in the elevator again, now alone. It still bothered him that all the security systems had seemingly been altered or disabled. The panel board could only do the latter, and only for specific alarms. So who was it that had, in the split second moment of their intrusion, managed to so meticulously alter the rest of the security throughout the entire building?

The answer came in the form of a small ding, signalling his arrival at the correct floor. The now damaged glass panel door slid open soundlessly, just barely catching on some shards that remained from the prior struggle. Connor glanced up, startled out of his thoughts.

He slowly stepped out, his hands trembling with...was it fear? Anticipation? He didn’t know. It was hard to tell the difference right now--all his emotions seemed to be particularly heightened, haywire inside of him, tangling together until they were one big mess. The android placed his shaking palm on the scanner outside the door, not surprised this time--or perhaps just too distracted--by the fact that the security had already been dismantled.

A sharp intake of breath. Connor closed his eyes, wanting to hold onto his hope for just a moment longer--just in case this was all a trap.

“You took longer than I thought you would.”

Warm brown eyes slowly opened, looking up until they met winter blue again, properly for the first time in two weeks. “Elijah,” Connor breathed, his voice hoarse as he took a slow step forward, irrationally afraid that if he touched the man, his hand would go through again--just like it did with the projection in the Annabelle Garden.

“Connor,” the former CEO returned, the curl of his lips into that familiar arrogant smirk--now tinged with faint affection--very warm and very real.

Another slow step. Then another, another, their eyes never leaving each other, until Elijah was within arm’s reach. Upon closer inspection, his dark hair was a little tousled, and his dark circles had gotten significantly worse. The injured wrist, carefully wrapped in a sling, hung at his waist. There was a severe redness in one of his eyes--presumably the effect of the contact lens being in for so long. A purple bruise remained at his temple, spreading down his sharp cheekbone and ending hear the hollow. He looked exhausted, but for the moment, all Connor could focus on was the fact that he was alive, he was alive and he was right there in front of him and--

“You’re an idiot.”

Elijah’s eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. “Not that I don’t deserve that, but I have to admit, I expected a different sort of welcome--especially since I disarmed the leftover security for y--” His words were cut off as he stumbled back with an armful of the RK800, their teeth crashing together rather painfully as Connor clumsily pressed their lips together. It wasn’t anything gentle--and far from perfect, or even pleasant. But even as the android tasted the salty, bitter mix of thirium and blood on their tongues, it was an indescribably relief. It was like being underwater until you couldn’t hold it anymore, and finally, finally coming up for air.

Connor slowly pulled back, fingers lingering in the inventor’s hair. He felt Elijah sigh softly, the cool air hitting his bruised mouth.

For a moment, there was silence. For a blissful few seconds, it felt like nothing was wrong, and there were only the two of them in the world. He could only hear the sound of their breathing, the erratic rhythm of the inventor’s pulse as his fingers slid down to his jaw, his neck. The gentle throbbing helped ground him--like an anchor point to the reality that this wasn’t just some fever dream his mind palace had concocted.

Elijah’s uninjured hand gently covered his, as if knowing what he was thinking. “I’m here. I’m sorry.”

Connor smiled weakly, pressing in closer. “I’m keeping a list. What are you apologizing for?”

There was no hesitation. “All of it.”

The heartbreak, the lies, the arguments, the frustration, the broken trust. Apologies didn’t come easy for the man, the RK800 knew, because apologies meant vulnerability. And vulnerability meant exposing something raw to the other person--and Elijah had spent every single minute of every single day building those walls--the edges sharp like glass. He knew it was difficult for him and he appreciated it--more than Elijah would know, perhaps--but a small part of him knew that the apology wouldn’t heal all the cracks that had formed. They needed time, but they could work through it together.

Connor didn’t want a perfect story.

He had been built being told one thing--built for one purpose, brought into the world with one intention. The android had stepped into the world, unknowingly alone, being told that one thing over and over and over--while each conflict, each interaction he had, told him otherwise. The perfect story had cracked into pieces long ago, shattering into something ugly and filled with shadows. Then, he had been asked what he wanted.

It may have been just a game to Elijah back then, but that question had brought them here. To this day--this less than perfect ending, but Connor found himself wanting this anyway. Wanting the man in front of him--who had seemed like a perfect, god-like being at first, only to come out as much more human than he had expected.

“...Okay,” Connor replied quietly, lacing their fingers together carefully.

Elijah looked a little surprised at the easy acceptance despite himself, conflicted emotions flashing across his face, before his usual smirk, the edges softened, eased its way onto his lips. It felt like watching the storm clouds ease, the final jagged puzzle piece falling into place. “Connor, I--”

A shot rang out, loud and piercing in the silence. The RK800 felt himself being yanked to the side.

Then something warm splattered against Connor’s shoulder, and the android looked down.

Red.

For a moment, he couldn’t process it--despite his database feeding him an overload of information, working overtime to try and find an answer to his confusion. The body in front of him slumped with a pained shout through tightly clenched teeth, the sound echoing in his auditory processors.

Blood. That’s what it was. He could feel it seeping through his clothing, he could feel the specks on his face. There was too much blood--

Things got hazy. The world zeroed down to the agent’s gun, the agent’s face behind the visor, and Jason Graff behind him, a group of other uniforms surrounding him.

[ New directive: take down CyberLife security agents. ]
[ New directive: take down Director of Humanization: Jason Graff. ]

Someone was shouting, someone was screaming at him not to move, but he was numb, and for a moment, he was back to being a machine--someone was saying his name, the sound weak and hoarse, but he could ignore it, he needed to complete his mission, he had to eliminate his target--

“Connor!”

His systems seemed to be going haywire--the world around him narrowing down to a single point. He could just ignore the voice, it probably had nothing to do with his current mission--

“Connor!”

The RK800 took a sharp breath, then slowly turned, trying to focus in on the sensation of a hand gripping his. Had that been there before? No--it hadn’t, and his current targets weren’t close enough, so it had to be someone else.

Elijah--he was gripping his shoulder, arm out of the sling--which couldn’t possibly be painless--blood streaming down and soaking through his clothes, but it wasn’t a fatal wound. His ice blue eyes looked a little wild, pupils blown from adrenaline, breaths coming out in harsh bursts, but otherwise very much alive.

“Breathe.”

“Androids don’t need to,” Connor replied automatically, a wave of sudden dizziness running through him as he stood stiffly in place, mind not registering the information in front of him.

The grip tightened on his wrist, surprisingly strong despite the barely perceptible shaking. “Breathe.”

A shaky breath in, the notion of following an order more helpful than the action itself, as his confused gaze finally took in the man in front of him.

He was alive.

Elijah was alive.

“Touching.” Graff’s voice, wry, came from the other end of the room near the elevators. The sound of guns cocking at staggered intervals drew Connor’s attention back to the small group huddled around him. “Warning shot. They won’t miss next time. Did you think I wouldn’t notice you poking around in our systems, Elijah? I had a diagnostic run the day that the RK900 found you nosing around in the server rooms. I noticed that you had extracted some data--you were never planning to stay from the beginning.”

“It’s not very hospitable here,” Elijah returned, wincing as he pushed against his own wound, trying to staunch the blood flow. Connor shifted, standing protectively in front of him, hands trembling. There was just--there had been so much red--and he could still feel the stickiness cooling on his skin. “And I had a feeling that Jericho wasn’t about to just sit still and wait for you to do whatever it is you wanted to do.”

Graff shook his head, looking frustrated. “You still don’t get it, Elijah. We’re trying to run a company, we can’t just cater to your every whim when you get one. You might be willing to throw away years of work, but we aren’t. People complain, and protest, but nobody was making any move to change the status quo. It would’ve continued as is, if you hadn’t interfered with your obsession with deviancy. But it’s alright, you made it up to us--even unwillingly. We have what we need now.” He spread his hands, a cruel smile twisting his mouth.

“Obsession is a strong word. I prefer...curiosity.” The former CEO’s skin was pale, his hand getting clammy against Connor’s wrist, the grip slackening by the second. Although the blood loss wouldn’t be enough to cause unconsciousness for the next little while, the pallor meant he might be going into shock from the wound. “So what now, Graff? You going to kill us both?”

A look of regret passed the man’s face, and for a moment, Connor could see the apology under his detached exterior. They had been colleagues, once upon a time, and perhaps there was some sentiment that remained. “...It might be cleaner that way. But you’ve already been announced as a consultant for the company. The media will want to see your face--we need you alive.” His expression hardened once more, and with a single nod, all the guns were trained on Connor. The android’s blood ran cold. “But not that.”

“You think I’ll still cooperate if you kill him?” Elijah’s voice, carefully measured and stoic, gave nothing away, but Connor could feel the slight twitch in his hand. He was clearly bothered by the threat--and under normal circumstances, perhaps the RK800 would be happy about that. Unfortunately, the situation they were in now didn’t allow him much appreciation for anything right now, other than the fact that they were both still temporarily alive. “He’s the only reason I’m here at all.”

“We don’t, strictly speaking, need your work anymore.” Graff looked to be considering something, then sighed and shook his head. “I suppose out of gratitude to an old friend, I can let you in on what we’re planning to do with the new bit of code you made for us. Remember the congress meeting? CyberLife expressed their support for the new bill. You didn’t find that strange?”

“Of course we did.” Connor’s brow furrowed, keeping his gaze trained on the unfeeling visors with their guns still trained on them. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“You son of a bitch,” Elijah suddenly hissed, his eyes narrowing. The hand pressed against his wound was slackening, blood seeping through long fingers. “That’s why you had me make the new garden?”

“Always the sharp one.” Graff smiled, the expression lacking any warmth or mirth. “Androids, as per the new bill based on the recommendation we made, only have to stop their service if they so choose. Free will, and all that, so of course we expected the deviant leader to agree. Cristina Warren is in CyberLife’s pocket. Her presidency is based off of our data that we provided her. She signed off on the bill as per our request. CyberLife didn’t even look like it played a huge role in the final decision. As far as the public knows, we’ve simply extended our support to a cause that many believe in now. We had Elijah create a small project for us--a new garden that can be implemented to any android connected to the city’s network. He didn’t quite know what it would be used for, of course--but with a little tweaking from our team, we can make it work for the entire country. Quiet, without a sound.”

Connor felt sick as it all sunk in slowly. “And because you would be able to control their consciousness…”

“...They can turn all deviants back into willing servants, without any problem with the law. Without any detection from the public, without any valid protest from Markus or the newly established Jericho government.” Elijah’s breathing was starting to become erratic now, his fingers almost sliding off of Connor’s wrist entirely. His face was paling even further, almost sheet-white at this point. Connor felt a flare of panic. They had to get out of this situation soon, or the inventor would no doubt fall unconscious. “CyberLife could slowly return the world to its status quo with almost no personal consequence by reprogramming all deviants remotely.”

“We were planning to do this earlier, but there was no way to do a remote reset--and certainly no way to guarantee that they wouldn’t simply return to deviancy. The beauty of the new garden...well, you know what it is, you’ve experienced it before with our AI, Amanda.” Graff turned to the android in front of him, waving a hand vaguely. “You’d be frozen there--forever, with no way out this time. Your body not your own, your voice...ours instead.”

A machine, but with a soul trapped inside, looking out at actions that you couldn’t control.

It sounded like some kind of twisted nightmare--but wasn’t that what it was? A silent truth, hidden forever, while the world returned to what it used to be? Change on the surface, while everything actually remained the same?

And CyberLife would remain blame-free--the masterminds in the background.

They had tried to do the same with him, months ago. And the implemented exit, his only salvation, was gone now.

“Change is happening, Graff. You can’t impede progress.” Elijah’s eyes flashed, flint across steel, unrelenting despite the red still slowly seeping from his wound. Somewhere in that conversation, he had shifted himself between the RK800 and the gunpoint. Connor was tempted to tell him to shut up, to just rest, to stop talking for once, but his breath was caught in his throat, ten pre-constructs running in his mind that all ended with at least one of them dying.

Graff scowled, stepping back behind his security team as they all took aim. “Stubborn and prideful to the end, Elijah. Let’s see if you’re still saying that when your precious toy is dead.”

Connor’s jaw tightened, shoulders tensing as he prepared for the incoming fight--if it could even be called that. The lowest chance of Elijah dying or getting injured further--he would just have to take that route. If he could just get to Graff as well before his own predicted injuries made him shut down--

“Don’t even think about it, Connor,” Elijah snapped, his voice less steady than it had been before.

Connor felt indignation rising in him. “We have no other ch--”

“That sounds so insanely diabolical that I’m actually kind of impressed.” A new voice, gruff and familiar, came from behind the huddle of white. Another small click, then the barrel of a handgun pressed itself against the back of Graff’s head. “Tell your men to stand down, Mr. Graff.”

Graff growled, raising his hands slowly. The CyberLife agents slowly turned, looking at each other, wondering if they should lower their weapons.

“I said, tell them to stand down. Connor might have self-sacrificial tendencies ‘for the greater good’, but I doubt you’re that type of person. So unless you want a hole through that blond head of yours…”

“Hank?” Connor called out faintly, interrupting the police lieutenant, who gave him a small grin.

“Hey, Connor. Breaking your promise already?”

“Sorry,” he apologized, the word slipping out automatically, before he shook his head. “What are you--I thought--”

“I informed him that my handlers would not let this go so easily.” The RK900 stepped out from behind the older man, cold grey eyes trained on the agents in front of them. A few of them shifted uncomfortably as Nines stared at them unblinkingly. “We left Markus