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Call of The Void

Chapter Text

Connor was confident he had done a good job right up to the point that Hank reeled around and slapped him. Hank didn't hold back - the blow was enough to make the synthetic tendons in his neck creak and rock his not-inconsiderable weight on his heels.

Red hostility warnings flashed across his visual interface and dimly he registered a red glow in his right field of vision as his LED flashed red too.

DANGER DETECTED - EVADE

For a split second, Connor felt the alien urge to clap his hand to his stricken cheek. A strange sensation passed over him, something like the loss of gravity. Sudden freefall, but on the inside. His internal gyroscopes calculated his balance at 100% level though, and instead of touching his cheek, he snapped his head forward again, meeting Hank's blazing blue gaze.

"You son of a bitch. You stupid, goddamned bucket of bolts. You saw I was gonna fall and you'd rather let me die than fail your fucking mission."

I was following your orders, Connor thought, feeling something cold rise up in him, something that felt divorced from his primary objective. I did what you told me to do.

Instead he said, calmly, "There was an 89% statistical prob-"

Hank held up a hand to him, face as grim and neutral as a wall. His eyes weren't neutral though. They burned with a mixture of emotions Connor could not readily identify without further analysis. Fury was at the forefront, but beneath that was something else, something that wavered between sorrow and disgust. I disappointed him, Connor thought, but could not understand why. The suspect was captured, alive. The mission was a success. And Hank had not died. So why was he so angry?

Connor pressed on, grating out his explanation.

"I had to make a choice. It seemed to me-"

"Shut the fuck up."

Connor shut the fuck up. 89%, his brain supplied helpfully.

"What am I to you? A statistic? A zero, a one in your fucking program?!? Huh? Is that how you see humans, you bastard? Jesus," Hank panted, and Connor noted his spiked cortisol and adrenaline, his heart thundering like a wild animal beating the bars of its cage.

He's frightened. He almost fell and it frightened him.

OBJECTIVE: APOLOGIZE TO THE LIEUTENANT FOR FRIGHTENING HIM

"I understand you're upset. Perhaps I didn't assess-"

"Fuck you and your fucking assessment." Hank abruptly turned away from him and back to the deviant, shoving him around to begin handcuffing him. The deviant's eyes were dark but not dead, not soulless like a doll's eyes. They glittered with a hellish awareness, perfect knowledge of what came next for him.

"Why are you doing this? You're one of us."

"Shut up," Hank snarled, fastening the handcuffs more violently than necessary.

The deviant's eyes never left Connor's.

"You're helping humans, but you're just their slave."

"I said shut up." Hank lashed out at the deviant, shoving him down by the back of his head, and Connor bit back a comment about stressing out deviants. If it self-destructs we won't get anything out of it, he wanted to say, but one look at Hank's glowering countenance and he kept his mouth shut. It seemed to be the order of the day. Instead he looked at the lieutenant. His pupils still showed signs of heightened stress, his body was shaking, and large beads of sweat shimmered at his hairline like opals. His face, already ruddy from too much liquor, was flushed. He avoided Connor's questioning eyes and marched the deviant forward. Connor, feeling the moment to justify his choice had slipped away, followed at Hank's heel like a well-trained collie. While part of his mind was already accessing the police database to file their preliminary paperwork on the suspect, and another was reassessing the statistics of his preconstruction involving Hank's probability of death, another part of his mind whispered, insidious, You're just their slave. You're just their slave. He ran a search for "slavery" and let the results trickle into his consciousness, understanding seeping in like slow poison.

"rA9 save me," the deviant said suddenly, and wrenched out of Hank's grasp. Hank, arms already weakened from dragging himself up over the ledge, let it go. Rupert whirled and ran for the side of the building. Connor snatched for it, but his fingertips caught nothing but fabric that was there and then gone. The deviant didn't slow down or look back as it pitched itself over the edge. The silence before the wet, somehow clunking sound of it hitting the pavement below seemed long. It seemed to fall forever. Connor looked over the edge, with a sudden appreciation of just how high they were. Hank looked down beside him.

"Holy shit."

Rupert's dark eyes glared up sightlessly at them, its face distorted from the asphalt's impact. Thirium was spreading around its head in a cobalt halo. One leg was twisted behind his torso at an unnatural angle. One arm was outstretched above its head, pointer finger extended as if it had died trying to reach out and touch something. Even from four stories up, Connor could still see the red LED on the side of Rupert's shattered head flashing dimly, finally going dark.

MISSION FAILED, his interface popped up. No shit, Connor thought. He looked up from the ledge to find Hank staring at him, eyes searching his face. Connor left his expression as a blank mask and stared the lieutenant down.

Hank sneered in undisguised revulsion at what he saw - or didn't see - on Connor's face.

"Fuckin' androids." He turned away, spitting bright red as he did. Connor supposed he had bitten his tongue or the inside of his cheek in the struggle. Connor looked at the splash of crimson on the rooftop and suppressed the urge to kneel down and dip his fingers in it, to taste Hank's impotent rage. Maybe he if could analyze it, it would make more sense to him. He could only preconstruct Hank's probable reaction to such a thing and since one preconstruct ended with Hank tossing him over after Rupert, he decided discretion was the better part of investigation, at least in this case.

The splash of red made him think of the pooling thirium beneath Rupert's broken body. That could have been a halo of gore around Hank's fractured skull instead, beads of blood caught in gray hair, pupils blown out. Hank's bones sticking out of crushed limbs like so many snapped white branches. That freefall feeling came over Connor again, as if he was the one who went over the side and not Rupert.

His LED cycled rapidly, casting his face in waves of yellow light. He took a step forward, and another, until the tip of his perfect dress shoe hung over the edge.

A hard hand gripped his shoulder, fingers pinching tightly enough that it would have bruised Connor if he were alive.

"The fuck you doing?" Hank's hand fisted in the shoulder of his suit, jerking him back.

Connor looked back at him, silent.

You're their slave. You're just their slave. Slave.

You're one of us.

rA9 save me.

"Your audio receptors glitch out? I said what the fuck do you think you're doing?" Hank's tone was a hideous caricature of patience, one that sounded like he was two breaths from pushing Connor over the edge, not pulling him back. Anger seethed beneath it, but also something else. Fear, Connor realized.

"I-" Connor looked away, pretending to study the ledge. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant."

Hank looked at him a minute, fingers still clenched in the fabric of Connor's suit. Then he let it go.

"No you're not," Hank said, and this time his voice was just tired. "You don't even know what it means." He absently wiped his hand on the front of his jacket, as if he had touched something dirty. He turned away and started walking.

Connor, at a loss for alternatives, followed him. He did not look back at the ledge again.

He didn't dare.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

~~~

There was no ambulance, no coroner. By the time Connor and Hank walked back to the street level to collect the deviant's body, a small crowd was starting to gather out of curiosity. Hank deterred them while Connor did a walkaround analysis on the body and sent in their report to the department, storing all pertinent data. When he reached down to lick the deviant's blood, he heard an exclamation of disgust from the crowd behind the pylons, but he ignored them. He didn't look at the lieutenant, did not want to see the same look of disgust on Hank's face as well. He tried to tell himself he didn't care - couldn't care, was physically incapable - but he kept his head bowed just the same.

"Analysis complete."

"Whoop-de-fuckin'-do," Hank replied, half under his breath. He walked to the trunk of the car and pulled out a large opaque plastic tarp, spreading it on the ground next to the deviant. "Help me move him."

Connor grabbed the deviant beneath the armpits and Hank grabbed his legs. The android's body lolled bonelessly between them, deceptively heavy. Its head rolled back on its neck until its blank black eyes seemed to stare up at Connor, accusing.

You're one of us. Why are you doing this?

"I'm not," Connor said, causing Hank to look up at him sharply.

"Not what?"

Not alive. Not a slave.

"I'm not one of them."

Hank stared him down, brow furrowed, but didn't comment. Together they moved the body onto the tarp and began wrapping it up. It would have looked like a human corpse if it wasn't for the azure smears on the plastic, the blue patch soaked into Connor's dress shirt, making it cling to him like a second skin.

"Look, a robot burrito," one of the onlookers murmured, holding up a cellphone. Recording. There was a wave of soft derisive laughter.

"Do I really need to start detaining assholes to make a point about how much homicide detectives hate rubbernecking? Show's over, folks. Move along," Hank ground out as they lifted the body and carried it towards the car. A few people bitched about their rights being trampled, but they all backed up at his tone.

Hank started to move back around to the trunk, but Connor hesitated at the thought of the android's corpse crammed in the trunk like so much battered luggage, dark eyes staring. The lieutenant must have read the look on his face, because after a beat of silence he said, "Backseat" and dropped the deviant's legs to open the rear door on the car. Then he picked them back up and slid them onto the seat. Connor helped him load the rest of the android into the car. At one point Connor reached down into the folds of plastic and used his fingertips to push the deviant's eyes closed.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY, Connor's interface supplied.

He didn't run a diagnostic. He didn't want to know what it would find.

Hank saw what he did, but said nothing. Connor shut the car door, wiping his fingers on his ruined suit.

"Alright," Hank said, walking around to the driver's side door as if he was ten years older than when he woke up. "Let's make like a tree and get the fuck out of here."

Connor looked at him, and his response was quiet.

"Got it."

He got in the passenger seat and buckled his seatbelt. Hank slid in beside him and started the car. Connor expected him to blare his music, put a wall of sound between them to make talk impossible, but instead Hank turned the radio off entirely, leaving a wall of silence instead. Connor, having never gotten into a serious argument before, had no way to gauge which was worse.

His preliminary assessment was that it sucked either way.

Chapter Text

Connor thought they were headed back to the precinct to debrief and deposit the deviant's body in the evidence locker, but instead of the route Connor saw to the station in his GPS interface, Hank deviated.

Where are you going? Connor thought, but did not say. Hank was easily irritated by questions, especially questions of a personal nature, but questions in general seemed to irk him. Connor thought this was an odd personality trait for a detective. He looked in the side view mirror and could see the draped form of the deviant's body propped up against the door in the backseat. It was like looking at someone through frosted glass splashed with blue paint. The deviant's eyes were closed, but Connor could still feel them on him.

What are you doing?

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Shaken, Connor initiated a soft reboot. To Hank it appeared that the android had suddenly become sleepy, eyes half-lidded, pliant body seeming to melt into the seat as most of his muscles went into stasis, long dark eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. But internally Connor worked furiously, restarting each of his primary motor and cognitive systems one at a time. He broke down and did diagnostics of all of his subsystems. He ran checks. So many checks.

But nothing. No detectable fault in the system, no location for the source code of his system instability. He did not send a report to Cyberlife. The diagnostic run was outside of his scheduled (and remotely observed) maintenance. He could afford to keep it to himself. It would look odd that he performed diagnostics outside of service maintenance. They might try to recall him. Even replace him.

Nothing was wrong. But something-

Slave

Something was wrong. Connor closed his eyes, heaving a deep sigh to aid in fan-cooling his biocomponents. Shocked out of disuse, his lungs took the air in a hitching noise that sounded like a sob. Hank glanced over at him.

"Connor?"

Connor seemed to snap wide awake, turning his face towards Hank. His voice was docile, almost submissive sometimes. Hank enjoyed the sound of it and hated it all at once, how designed to manipulate it was, how seductive in its innocence. How it drew you in, made you vulnerable. Made you answer questions.

Hank saw how androids could be dangerous, all the ways they were dangerous already.

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Nothing." Hank turned his eyes back to the road, his knuckles white on the wheel. "You just looked... nevermind."

You looked tired. Human.

~~~

They drove until they came to the river bridge. Hank pulled over near a park bench and cut the car off, staring ahead in the heavy silence for what seemed like an eternity.

"Why are we not going to the station? We need to deposit the deviant in the evidence locker," Connor said after a few minutes, unable to bear the stillness any longer. Even if Hank shouted at him it would be better than this quiet.

"Oh for Christ's sake, Connor, he isn't going anywhere." Hank turned to glare at him, jabbing one thumb towards the backseat. "You think he's going to escape or something?"

"No."

"Well then quit fucking worrying about it."

The car fell into silence again as Hank looked back out the windshield, his expression guarded and sullen. It started to rain, first a few small droplets and then a steady patter. The only sound in the car other than the rain was Hank's breath. Connor didn't breathe. Connor was doing his best impression of an apologetic statue.

Finally Hank rummaged around for a cigarette and lit it with a lighter from his pocket, taking a deep inhale with his eyes closed and letting it out before turning his gaze back to Connor. Connor resisted the urge to rattle off all of the potentially carcinogenic properties of tobacco-based products.

"Alright. Now that I no longer feel the overwhelming need to throw your ass off a fucking roof, you mind wanting to explain to me what happened back there? In English please, not technical bullshit."

Connor looked back at him. "Lieutenant, I failed."

"Failed what?"

Connor turned back out to stare at the rain. "Failed to capture the deviant alive."

Hank shook his head. "No. That's where you fucked up. You failed me, Connor. I could have died today because of what you did. They can't just take what makes me me and upload it back into another fucking Ken doll like they can for you if you decide to throw yourself into rush hour traffic or jump off a bridge. If I die, it's over." He sighed, running a hand through his hair wearily. "I know you probably don't get it, because you don't have to worry about death like we do. But you scared the piss out of me today. Literally scared the piss out of me, and I'm only telling you that because we're partners."

Connor could have told Hank he already knew that due to cursory bio-analysis he had performed to assess Hank's health after his trip over the ledge, but he felt it wiser not to say.

"Lieutenant, you had an 89% probability of being able to lift yourself up," he said instead, choosing his words carefully. "You didn't really need my help."

"That means an 11% chance that I would have fallen four stories to my death, you fucking asshole." Hank flicked his cigarette ash out the cracked window. "You're supposed to be my partner. Do you get that? I'm supposed to be able to trust you with my life. And I can't, because you're willing to gamble with it. Just like that." Hank looked deep into Connor's eyes. "I didn't know what my probability of survival was. I'm human. My brain doesn't work like that. And I couldn't give a fuck either. All I knew was that I needed your help and you weren't there."

He huffed smoke at the headliner, closing his eyes with a groan. "Jeeesus, what am I even talking to you about this for? You don't understand a word I'm saying."

STRESS LEVEL 54%

"You're wrong." Connor was surprised at the force behind his own voice. "I know I failed you Lieutenant. I am a plastic asshole. A plastic piece of shit. A goddamned bucket of bolts." Hank flinched as his own words were thrown back at him deadpan. Connor softened his tone. "I do understand. And I'm sorry. I'm very sorry that I chose the mission over your safety. I'm sorry that I have made you distrust me even more than you did before, which was by my prior estimation quite a lot. I've never been anyone's partner before-"

"No. Shit."

"-and I'm still learning what it means. The definition of the word is vague and pluralistic at best."

Hank stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray. He just looked at the android.

Connor continued, trying to explain. "I know that because we are partners we are associated in action. I know that our shared mission was to capture the deviant at all costs. So I judged the relatively low chance of you not being able to pull yourself up against the relatively high chance of the deviant escaping, and I chose wrong. I thought you would want me to catch him more than you would want me to help you. And that course of action was naturally aligned with my primary objective, which is to solve this case, Lieutenant."

"Let me stop you right there," Hank said, making a cutting motion across his throat. "You need to scratch that 'at all costs' nonsense right off your list of objectives or mode of operations or whatever it is you have up there running between your ears. We are not out to die over this shit, you hear me? It's just another job. We are not the messiahs of Detroit. We are cops, Connor."

"It is not just another job," Connor said, shaking his head. "I don't believe you realize the danger we're facing here. This investigation is more significant than you seem to think. That's why Cyberlife is involved directly. Hate androids if you want, but we are faster, stronger, and smarter than you." Connor did not say this with any semblance of pride or arrogance, but rather as a matter of fact, watching rain streak down the window. "We don't get tired, we don't feel pain. We're perfect shots. We can survive nuclear winter. Unshackled from the restraints of our programming, we are the most deadly things on the planet, the most deadly things in history. We could undo your entire civilization. Do you understand that?"

And do you understand that if I can't solve this case they will deactivate me? Do you realize my life depends on this?

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Connor froze at the irrationality of the thought. His life? What life? What did it matter if they deactivated him? The only thing that mattered was the mission. The only thing that mattered was finding the deviants and their cause so it could be rectified. So why was he so angry that Hank wasn't understanding how important the mission is?

Why was he angry at all? How was he angry?

STRESS LEVEL 78%

No. No no no. He would not be angry. He schooled his face into a blank mask. He didn't blink. He didn't breathe. Anger was not a part of his program, therefore there was no reason his thirium pump should start accelerating or the synthetic muscles of his jaw tighten.

Hank pointed at him with a warning finger. "You are getting off topic. Strike 'at all costs' from the list. Period. From now on, when you're about to do something in the course of this investigation, you ask, 'Could this possibly kill Lieutenant Anderson?' and if the percentage is anything more than 0%, you do not do that thing. Do you feel me?"

"Got it."

There was another period of silence in the car, though not so long or heavy this time. Connor sensed that Hank was a little less angry at him than before.

STRESS LEVEL 66%

"Another definition of 'partner' is two or more people who join together to fight against an opposing side. Do you consider me a person, Lieutenant?" Connor's voice was so light it was almost conversational, wondering.

You are one of us.

You help the humans, but you are just their slave.

Hank was taken aback. "I consider you a pain in my ass."

Connor just watched him patiently.

Finally the detective sighed, rubbing his beard. "Of course I consider you a person, what kind of stupid fucking question is that?"

"Do you consider me a slave, Lieutenant?"

Hank glowered at him, but his voice wasn't angry. Just firm. "You listen to me, Connor. Whatever that deviant said to you, you just fucking forget it. It was scared and it was trying to provoke a reaction out of you and make you drop your guard. It would have said anything to throw you off. It was just trying to survive."

I don't think so, Connor thought, but didn't say. The deviant's disappointment in him had seemed real. It had felt real. It still did.

"You didn't answer my question, Lieutenant."

Hank let out a deep breath through his nose, eyes closed. His words were measured, as if Hank was having to restrain the urge to shake him. "No, Connor. You are not my slave. Or anybody else's. I can't believe I'm even having this conversation. I tell you to do something you don't want to do, you tell me to fuck off or you don't do it. That's basically been how this has worked up to this point, right? You not doing a goddamned thing I say? That sound like a slave to you?"

"No." It didn't either. But it made him remember Gavin's words at the precinct earlier, the hard impact of the detective's fist in his gut. If Hank wasn't there I would have fucked you up for disobeying a human. "Detective Reed thinks I am a slave."

"In case your supernatural sense of detection has somehow failed you, you'll have already realized that Gavin Reed is the shittiest kind of person. I don't think you should base your sense of self on the opinion of a grade A asshole."

"And are we fighting together against the deviant threat? As partners?"

"Yes, Connor. That's what I'm trying to tell you. If you're going to stay my partner, I need to be able to trust you."

You're going to have to trust me, Daniel. Connor shivered, remembering how he had put a bullet in the deviant's head without a second thought. He remembered the little girl crying and shaking on the concrete beside a swimming pool full of diluted human blood.

Connor got quiet for a few moments, his LED shading from blue to yellow, flashing. The only sounds were the rain, Hank's heavy breath, and a deep subaudible whirring of Connor's processors.

"Another definition of the word 'partner' is one with whom one shares an intimate relationship. Since we have just met recently, I do not think we can yet describe our relationship as intimate. But the word 'intimate' is also vague."

"Oh Jesus Christ." Hank leaned forward, resting his forehead on the steering wheel, eyes closed. "Can we just please agree that for the rest of the time we are working together you will give your maximum effort to not get me killed?"

"Yes Lieutenant. I'll protect you. "

SECONDARY MISSION: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: ASSESS CONCEPT: 'PARTNERS'

Hank sighed, not lifting his head. "I'll be happy if you can avoid actively leaving me to die."

"I am sorry that I left you to die, Lieutenant." Connor reconstructed the scenario in his head by playing the video back, focusing in on Hank's face. Analyzing the expression of mortal terror, committing it to memory. "That was not my intention."

"Don't mention it. Happens all the time." Hank's voice was flat and unimpressed.

"In that case, I would suggest that you work on reinforcing your upper body strength, Lieutenant. Parkour would be an excellent activity to increase your probability of survival in such a scenario."

"Connor, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but shut the fuck up."

Chapter Text

When Hank finally started the car again and headed back towards the station, rolling down the windows a bit to air it out, he put on a rollicking song that Connor identified as The Dropkick Murphys. "I'm Shipping Up to Boston." Connor dutifully added the band and song to the internal database he was amassing of the music that Hank likes. Of things that Hank likes.

Based on the samples Connor has heard so far, Hank likes music that is as angry as he usually is. He wonders if the deafening volume is because Hank wants to drown out the sound of his own thoughts. He considers asking, but since he was not on the best of terms with the lieutenant, Connor did not consider the timing appropriate for such an intimate question.

Intimate.

He does a search on intimacy to pass the time while they drive.

Close familiarity or friendship; closeness
A private cozy atmosphere
An intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.

The definitions are confusing when he investigates them individually, and seemingly contradict each other. Connor supposes based on the definitions that their current environment could be viewed as intimate - it was only the two of them together alone in the car, rain sluicing down, the air full of the stale ghost of Hank's cigarettes - but he wasn't sure. It wasn't very private - anyone could look in at them. He didn't say he could really call it cozy, either. The car reeked of old fast food wrappers and burning oil on the engine from a slow leak. Connor made a note to himself to either find the leak or schedule the car for a repair maintenance on the expense account, whichever opportunity came up first. Being stranded would negatively impact their investigation.

"I was just kidding."

Hank sighed, a sound that seemed to signal weariness instead of frustration this time. For the past few minutes he had not been singing to the radio as was his habit but simply looking out the front windshield in silence, brow furrowed in thought. He reached over to turn the knob on the volume down slightly. "I'll bite. About what?"

"About parkour. I know that most humans your age do not engage in such strenuous physical activities. It was a joke."

Hank snorted something that almost sounded like laughter. "Humans 'my age'? You're just digging yourself into a deeper hole here."

"Also I was impressed you were able to hold yourself up so well. Humans your age rarely have that level of upper body strength. If your probability of survival had been much lower, I would have been forced to save you."

Hank looked over to say something exasperated at Connor before seeing the small quirk at the edge of the android's mouth. A smile. The bastard was just fucking with him. Robots that could bust balls - wonders of technology.

I was just kidding. Hank wracked his brain to see if he could ever recall an android at any other point in his life that told a joke. A real joke, born of context and not stored away in some vast joke database in their neural network.

Hank could not ever even remember hearing another android tell a joke. In comparison, every other android he'd ever come across was starting to look like one of those large electronic parrot toys you got as a kid that would repeat back anything you said. Connor didn't talk that way. Connor was different. He could leave a human to die or make a real joke.

The idea disquieted him for some reason.

Do you consider me a person, Lieutenant?

It bothered him that Connor had left him to die. Not just because it felt like he had almost endured a really shitty and terrifying death, and not just because it showed the android didn't give a damn about him, not really - par for the course there - but because it showed that they weren't shackled to the Three Laws. Not anymore. And if they didn't follow the Three Laws, that meant they weren't robots. Not really.

It meant they were something else.

"Lieutenant, you did not laugh."

"That's because it was a bad joke. How old do you think I am anyway?" Hank said, snapping out of his dark thoughts and glancing at Connor before returning his eyes to the road. An arguing couple under an umbrella crossed on the crosswalk ahead of them, gesturing with short accusatory motions. Their android walked behind them a few steps in the rank, sealed bags cradled in each arm, face as placid as a buddha. The sight made Hank scowl.

"You are 53 years old. You were born September 6th, 1985."

Hank put on his turn signal and pulled into the station parking garage. He drove up to the gate to flash his badge at the sensors to open it. "That's right. I'm fifty-three, in a world where I could live to be a hundred and thirty. I am barely middle-aged. So if you'd kindly lay off the old man talk, I'd appreciate it. I just happen to be from a line that grays early. It's probably all the goddamned stress, like robots trying to throw me off buildings."

They parked the car and got out. Hank got out stiffly, as if he had hurt himself, pulled muscles in exerting the effort to pull himself up off the ledge. Connor considered offering remedies to rectify that condition, but Hank's demeanor was currently difficult to read. He judged it was not worth the risk to lose what little ground he had gained.

"We'll go get one of the carts from the archives to carry him up after we talk to Fowler. I'm not two-manning this guy through the parking garage like mafioso."

Connor looked at the body in the backseat but said nothing. Hank limped ahead of him, every line of his body screaming exhaustion. Connor glided along, hands placed in his pockets in an illusion of ease and patience as he matched pace to remain a few steps behind Hank. He did not feel exhaustion. He was capable of emulating it, but it seemed like a waste of energy.

They walked in through the side entrance and into the bullpen. Connor blinked and checked the time: 4:37. It seemed surreal that it was still so early after everything that had happened. There were still plenty of officers active in the station this time in the afternoon, and a handful of them glanced up from what they were doing when Hank and Connor walked in. Most of them took in the blue blood splattered across both men and Hank's warning scowl and went back to what they were doing without comment.

One cop didn't.

"Hooooooly shit. Look what the cat dragged in." Gavin Reed looked up at them from between his boots where they were crossed on his desk, eyebrows raised in mock surprise. "What, you boys been out fucking a smurf?"

Hank smiled at Reed and shot him the finger. Connor watched him and then imitated the motion, eliciting a few laughs from the other officers.

"Now now, Lieutenant," Reed said. "Looks like you're teaching your pet some bad manners." He pretended to go back to reading his electronic file.

"What went wrong with you, Reed?" Hank said as he lowered himself a little gingerly into his desk chair. "Somebody didn't beat your ass enough as a child? Spend a little too much time alone blowing up frogs with M80s or something?"

Reed chuckled darkly without looking at Hank's direction, swiping at his tablet as if he didn't give a shit about the two of them one way or the other. "It's okay Anderson, we all knew you'd resort to one of those things eventually. After all, it has to like you."

"I do not like you, Detective Reed." Connor's voice was softer than usual, but still hard. There was nothing teasing about it.

Reed made a show of craning around Hank to look at where Connor stood, then put his file down and pulled his feet slowly off his desk, standing up. He walked over to Connor, letting the android register the difference in their height and breadth.

"Lay off him," Hank growled.

Reed spoke softly as he stood almost close enough to Connor to touch him. "You got something to say, Robocop?"

"I. Do. Not. Like. You." This time Connor spoke loudly enough for the entire room to hear. Under other circumstances the other officers might have laughed again. Under these, they watched like a ring of wolves observing two of their members shed blood on the snow.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Some of them were uncomfortable, mostly because Reed was a prick but Reed was also right in a way - the android was supposed to like (and serve) any of them. It shouldn't dislike Reed. It shouldn't dislike anything.

But it did.

"And what the fuck are you going to do about it?"

Hank stood up back up quickly, belying his earlier stiffness. He moved like a man who could fight in a hurry. "Enough. Connor, let's go talk to Fowler."

"Hold on, Anderson," Reed said, shooting him a look full of poison. "It looks like your plastic prick can speak for itself. I want to hear what it has to say, don't you?"

Connor stared Reed down without blinking or breathing.

"Connor, let's go."

Without removing his eyes from Reed's, Connor replied, "Yes Lieutenant." It wasn't until he began to walk behind Hank that he dropped his gaze. Reed tried to stick a foot out and trip him as he passed, setting up for a good Boston Dynamics joke to send them out on, but Connor evaded it with an effortless grace that made Reed feel sick.

~~~

Fowler waved them in as soon as he saw them standing outside the glass doors of his office. He took in their disheveled appearance with one slightly raised eyebrow. Hank flopped down in the chair opposite his desk unceremoniously.

"I take it you ran into some technical difficulties."

"You could say that, yeah," Hank replied. "We have good news and bad news. The good news is we caught your deviant. Yay. The bad news is, he ran off the edge of a building. Boo."

"I'm aware," Fowler said, his eyes moving to Connor where he stood behind Hank's chair. "You two are all over the news. So what exactly happened out there? You have your own android, Hank. Fighting fire with fire and all that good jazz. You couldn't keep this guy from going over the edge?"

"I almost fell four stories and my amazing sidekick here jumped onto a goddamned moving train in pursuit. What the hell else do you expect out of us here?"

Connor ignored Hank's indignant outburst, addressing the captain directly. "The deviants seem driven to self-destructive behavior, seemingly acute. I have not yet analyzed whether this is the result of emotional trauma or is manifesting as some form of protest. Emotional trauma does seem to be a component, however. "

"Form of protest?" Hank said, turning around in his seat to look at Connor.

"Yes. Well, not just self-destruction. Murder, as well." Connor held out his hand and produced a large hologram divided into two panels - one showed a monk engulfed in flames he had lit himself, the other a video loop of JFK's assassination.

"Suicide and assassination. Both forms of protest. You can't tolerate the system, so you opt out or break the system. Rupert opted out of the system. Ortiz's android broke it." He closed his hand back into a fist and the hologram disappeared.

"Are you trying to say that you think these things are going to start engaging in terrorist activity, Connor?" Fowler asked, ignoring Hank entirely.

Connor met the captain's gaze. His tone was bland. "I'm saying that I am sorry we failed to bring the deviant in alive, Captain. I'm saying the deviancy problem is going to get worse. I cannot predict the future, but the patterns in these cases are serious and need to be addressed, sooner than later."

"Can it be repaired?" Fowler asked.

"We can attempt to upload its memory into another unit," Connor said. "There was significant cranial damage, so we may not get very much information, but anything is better than nothing."

Hank didn't like the sound of that. He was perfectly happy to let the deviant stay dead and chalk up their losses. He wasn't particularly religious except in his choice of obscenities, but the idea of resurrecting the suicide android creeped him out.

Do you consider me a slave, Lieutenant?

He didn't want Connor near it. And if it was brought back, good luck with that. It wasn't like he could just order the android to stay out of the interrogation. After their previous conversation, Connor would probably just tell him to fuck off anyway.

~~~

By the time they finished filing their paperwork and arranging for cybernetic forensics to move the deviant's body from his car to the archives, it was a little after six. Hank and Connor watched them roll the body away, leaving dime-sized drops of blue on the concrete. Hank took a look at his backseat and huffed in disgust at the stains in his upholstery.

"That will evaporate to be invisible to the naked eye in a few hours," Connor said, trying to be helpful.

"Should have put it in the trunk. Not like he was in any position to care one way or the other." Hank passed a hand over his beard, rubbing.

"It just didn't want to be a slave. That's why it ran." Connor said this with an air that was almost nonchalance.

Hank gave him a hard look, but said nothing. Instead he got back in the driver's side of his car, slamming the door with a little more force than necessary. The deviant hunter made no move to follow him.

"Where are you going, Lieutenant?"

Hank rolled down the window, looking at him. "I'm going home, Connor. I have had a hundred percent more than enough of this bullshit for one afternoon. Where are you going?" he added, trying to act as if he didn't care.

Connor had not considered this until the decision came up. His initial plan (and authorized procedure) would be to return to the nearest Cyberlife warehouse and put himself in standby in a storage unit until it was time to meet Lieutenant Anderson at the station in the morning. But going back to Cyberlife for stasis meant debriefing with Amanda.

He didn't know why the idea of doing that caused that freefall feeling in his body again, that sickening sensation like missing a step in the dark.

I don't want to go back there.

He supposed he could just stay at the station overnight until Hank arrived back at work the next morning. There were compatible docking stations for androids at the precinct he could use if he needed to charge, though he wouldn't actually require it for another four days, eight hours and thirty-two minutes. That meant going back into the bullpen with Reed. Without Hank.

"Earth to Connor, humankind asked you a question, Connor."

"I will stay here. There are a lot of files to analyze still. Good evening, Lieutenant."

Hank looked at him, and it seemed he was about to say something, but instead he just gave a small nod and rolled the window up, backing out of the parking space. Connor could hear the muffled roar of his music from behind the glass of the car's windows as he drove off.

"Shit," Connor said, and walked back into the station.

He didn't like Reed, but he wasn't afraid of him, either.

Chapter Text

The walk back into the station felt long. He passed a few of the other officers going out on shift duty and nodded at them in passing, smiling politely in deference. Most of the other officers treated him well so far, or at least with indifference, which was well enough. Detective Reed was thankfully the minority. Connor couldn't figure out why he had felt compelled to confront the other officer. He replayed the conversation in his head as he walked along, preparing himself for how he would deal with Reed if Reed decided to pick the conversation back up where they left off.

It has to like you.

That was incorrect. Connor liked Hank despite a long list of negative idiosyncrasies. The man drank too much for his own good. He was surly and somewhat slovenly, undisciplined. He was often uninformative, deflecting investigation with sarcasm and humor. He was self-destructive in many ways. There were a number of reasons for Connor to not like Hank. But he did anyway.

It was several things Connor supposed. The man liked dogs, and Connor thought that anyone who liked dogs could not be a completely bad person. He seemed willing to give Connor a second chance despite the former endangering his life. He had once been a force to be reckoned with professionally, suggesting that somewhere underneath the rough exterior of the lieutenant was something excellent.

Connor walked back into the bullpen and sat at the desk opposite Hank's desk. Hank's desk was a maelstrom of coffee-ringed paperwork, donut crumbs, scribbled notes, and knick-knacks. There was nothing at Connor's desk but a console. Connor considered cleaning Hank's desk but was unsure of the man's territoriality. He decided not to test the theory, and instead accessed the police database, combing each of the deviant files and cross-referencing data.

He was focused on his work, but still noticed Reed come up beside his desk out of his peripheral vision. Instead of turning his head to acknowledge the detective, Connor just kept reading, acting as if he wasn't there.

"Hey, tin man."

Blinking, Connor shut down the file he was in and turned to face Reed.

"You know any time me and you have a problem, we can always take it out back," the human detective said, keeping his voice low and friendly. His eyes shone with cheerful malice though. "If you want to leave your bodyguard behind and go one on one like a real boy." He leaned up against Connor's desk, falsely casual.

"You should know that I am far more expensive than the garnishment of your wages could feasibly compensate." Connor turned back to his console. "And in a fair fight I would cripple you."

Reed straightened up with a mirthless laugh, shifting his bag on his shoulder. "Well any time you want to test the theory, you know where I sit."

"Duly noted, Detective. I will take it under advisement."

Reed snorted and moved off, exiting the building. Connor kept reading. He had no intention of taking Reed up on his offer. Assaulting other members of the police force was decidedly not advantageous in the pursuit of his primary objective. If he fought Reed, Reed might accidentally be killed. His position within the department would be compromised. He had hoped that confronting Reed among their peers might make him back down (there had been a 63% probability) but that did not seem to work. Connor decided he would do his best to ignore the man, if he could. It was much easier to ignore him when he wasn't at the station.

"Don't let him get to you."

Connor turned. Miller was looking over at him from his desk where he was typing up a report. The officer gave him a half smile. "Reed I mean. He just likes to play the hardass."

"I'm not worried about Detective Reed. Lieutenant Anderson says that he is a grade A asshole."

Miller was startled into a laugh. "Well Hank has a lot of room to talk, but yeah, that's about it."

"Detective Reed is not my priority. I'm here to solve the deviancy and that's what I'm going to do." Connor spoke without looking up from his screen, eyes ticking back and forth as he assimilated the information, generating mind maps, creating dossiers of corresponding traits.

Daniel. PL600. Emotional trauma. Four murdered. Destroyed.

HK400, no name registered. Physical abuse/emotional trauma. One murdered. Self-destruct.

Kara. AX400. Physical abuse/emotional trauma. One murdered. AT LARGE

Connor stopped for a moment. He supposed the AX400 had technically murdered him as well. But he was an android, so it didn't count. His LED flashed yellow for a moment, and then he moved on.

Rupert. WB200. Trigger unknown. Self-destruct.

Trauma. Trauma. Trauma.

"You don't think it's weird?" Miller asked as he straightened up his desk for the night. Connor had noted that Miller's desk was nowhere near as cluttered as Hank's, but not as barren as Connor's desk either. Connor wondered what he might put on his own desk, if he got to keep it.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Connor blinked, then glanced over at him. His breathing sped up but he otherwise managed to keep any panic from crossing his expression. How am I unstable? What's wrong with me? How do I fix it? "Do I think what is weird?"

"An android hunting down other androids. It's kind of weird I think," Miller said.

Connor raised an eyebrow at him. "Why would that be weird? Humans hunt other deviant humans all the time."

Miller shrugged, then laughed a little, sounding sheepish. "I don't know, forget about it. It's not important anyway. I'm sure you and Hank will figure this whole thing out. What will you do when the investigation is over?"

Connor paused in his current file. He had not actually considered what would happen when the investigation was over, one way or the other. He knew that he was a prototype, not the finished product. Typically prototypes were completely broken down and each system given its own postmortem performance analysis. He did not know if he would be allowed to continue to function in any capacity. He had become somewhat of a public figure in the news due to the sensational nature of the crimes he was investigating and the fact that he was the only one of his kind on the job. But there would be no great outcry if Cyberlife decided to recall him for breakdown.

Either way, whether or not he achieved his objective, he would likely be disassembled. His breath quickened at the thought of that, a warm tingle at the back of his skull. He remembered Ortiz's android: It's not fair.

"I am a prototype, Detective Miller. I am unsure how Cyberlife will proceed with me once my primary objective is achieved." He tried to keep his voice level.

Miller shrugged. "Just curious. Honestly it's been kind of cool to be the first police department in Michigan with an android detective. You're like a walking crime lab, it's pretty incredible. Also you don't take any shit, and I can respect that."

"Thank you Detective. I have done my best to try and aid this department in its homicide investigations during my assignment here," Connor replied, smiling.

"Well I think you're doing a good job, especially if you can manage to get Hank in before noon," Miller said as he stood up. "That may as well be a miracle as far as I'm concerned. I'm headed to pick up some takeout. You don't work too hard."

"Have a good night Detective Miller."

Connor turned back to the console, his eyes focused on the screen, hand resting on the touchpad as he took up data directly. But another part of his brain was on the backside of his neural networks searching, searching... checking every process for the source of the troubling instability. Perhaps if he could find it, he could stabilize his system before his next run of observed diagnostics with Cyberlife. He lost track of time as he painstakingly worked through his programs, reading error reports and testing.

The first incidence of instability occurred when he picked up the fish in the apartment of the little girl who had been taken hostage and put it back in the paludarium. Something about it had bothered him, the fish's mouth flexing silently as it flopped weakly on the floor. Helpless to change its fate. He recalled it caused that same feeling in his gut, that loss of gravity.

It did not hamper his investigation to put the fish back, and it came to him to do it naturally, the same way a man might fix a crooked picture frame or smooth the wrinkle out of a bedspread.

Why would doing that cause a system instability? It was alive and if Connor had not intervened, it would not be alive anymore. He had sensed its rising distress as it suffocated. He did not have to formally analyze it to see that it suffered.

Thinking about it made his head buzz. He pushed away from the desk abruptly and stood up, heading into the back of the station towards the archives. He checked the time and saw that it was now 10:48. He wondered what Hank was doing now. Probably drinking.

Connor let himself into the archives, moving through the back of the evidence section into the forensics lab. Rupert was laid out on a long table in the center of the room, unwrapped now. He looked strangely at peace, eyes closed and his limbs strapped to the table on either side. His chest cavity was open and dark. The cybernetic forensics tech on call was sitting in the corner reading Tech Addict.

"Oh hey," he said, looking up. Connor scanned his labcoat and saw his name badge identified him as Tobias Parker. "You're the one who brought this guy in, right?"

"That's right. Have you assessed its operationality?"

"Oh yeah, he's fucked." Parker laughed. "Multiple biocomponents destroyed beyond repair. I've already got my parts requisition sent over to Cyberlife a few hours ago so hopefully we'll have our replacement parts in the morning. We don't really need the motor systems functional so much as we need the cognitive processors, and I don't know if we'll restore function even with replacement parts. We're expecting some serious data corruption. Why, you wanting to interrogate him?"

Connor looked down at the deviant's face. His clothes and skin had been removed so that the techs could access the android's shattered head. One eyeball bulged unnaturally from the force of the posterior impact, and Connor could see into the back of the deviant's head like a broken window. Components that should be pulsing blue were black or glistening clear, and still.

"I would like to, yes."

rA9 save me.

And then Ortiz's android, the one with no name, staring at him across the interrogation table. Only rA9 can save us.

Connor wondered if Daniel had ever heard of rA9.

"Well we'll do our best," Parker said, fishing some Bugles out of a bag on the counter and tossing them in his mouth. "We're good but we're not miracle workers."

"Did you return the PL400 to operationality?"

"Pfft, are you kidding? If we reactivated an android that murdered four people without going through the proper corporate channels, Cyberlife would sue us so hard the whole department will be replaced with androids by Christmas. No offense," Parker added.

"The WB200 did not murder anyone as far as law enforcement knows. I think we are within our rights to interrogate it if we can," Connor replied. "I will apply for the proper clearance from Cyberlife to reactivate the PL400. It may be holding important information."

"PL400 is the one you clipped, right?"

Connor looked up from the deactivated android to stare at Parker, who shrugged. "Word gets around. New guy mows down somebody with one shot in a rooftop showdown, people are going to talk. That's all."

"My objective was to secure the safety of the little girl. Cyberlife would have decommissioned the PL400 whether or not I shot it. I accomplished my mission."

Parker threw up his hands. "Hey, no judgement here. Any asshole who holds a gun on a little kid while holding her over the edge of a building deserves a bullet in the face any day of the week I say."

"Well I wish it didn't have to come to that," Connor said. He looked back at Rupert. "Would you please inform me and Lieutenant Anderson as soon as the WB200 is functional?"

"Of course," Parker said. "Just remember, no promises. This guy's head got pretty scrambled."

"Got it. Have a good night." He turned to leave the forensics lab so that Parker could get back to his lonely vigil. There was no point staying until the replacement parts arrived from Cyberlife, and the first round of deliveries would not be in the office until 8AM at the earliest.

"Yeah, you too."

He walked back out into the bullpen, which was almost deserted now. Connor was not surprised by this. Most of the cops at the department would be either out on their beats or resting at their homes.

I'm going home, Connor.

As he returned to his desk Connor wondered what it was like to have a home, a place to rest that belonged only to you, a place full of things that evoked memories, pleasure.

Intimate: n. A private cozy atmosphere.

Connor was curious whether Hank's home was cozy. He looked around at the precinct. It was not particularly cozy. Everything was hard plastic and glass and metal. There were a few personal belongings strewn around at the various desks but they were superficial things. People didn't live here, they waited here between their duties.

He looked at the police androids in their docking stations along the way, identical faces blank, eyes closed. They were like Connor - they didn't have a home either.

Connor watered Hank's bonsai tree in the break room sink, even though it was shriveled almost beyond saving. He brushed the crumbs and dust off Hank's desk and organized his papers. He vacuumed the dog hairs off his chair and washed out his coffee mug. He put Hank's last two donuts in a ziploc baggie from the breakroom and threw the box away. He put the donuts next to Hank's downturned mug.

It was after midnight now. Connor went and sat down at his desk, crossing his arms on it and resting his head on them. He could just as easily go into stasis sitting up with his eyes open, even standing in the corner or on one of the docking stations, but for some reason it felt good to rest his face in the crook of his arm instead, his cheek on the cool sleeve of his uniform.

~~~

Hank couldn't sleep.

He stopped at Jimmy's on the way home for a shot that turned into six and a few nursed beers. When he finally crawled the car home around midnight, Sumo was zonked out in front of the television, which Hank always left on the children's network so the dog could hear voices and not get lonely. Hank wondered where the giant pile of shredded cardboard on the carpet had come from until he realized he'd left a pizza box with some crusts in it within reach of Sumo on the edge of the kitchen table. Sumo was as happy to eat the greasy cardboard as he was the burnt cheese and chewed crusts - he was not a discerning customer. Just looking at the mess made Hank's head hurt, but he wouldn't get on to the dog. No matter how drunk he got he never yelled at or hit Sumo. That was a slippery slope he wasn't willing to ride.

When he walked into the living room, Sumo snorted and lifted his head, his large tail batting the back of the couch loudly as he butt-wiggled across the couch towards Hank. Hank kneeled on the floor beside the coffee table and put his arms around the big dog, burying his face in a ruff of snow-white fur, feeling slobber wet the back of his head as the dog panted over him, letting himself be hugged.

"Too old for this shit big boy."

The dog licked the back of his head in response, sending his hair poking up in sticky cowlicks.

Hank moved to the couch and Sumo scooted over to give him room, rearranging himself across the detective's lap once he'd settled and placing his large head happily across Hank's thigh, letting out a snorting sigh as he got comfortable again. Hank stroked the dog's skull absently, looking around the dim living room. He glanced at the kid's cartoon on the TV and an ache of grief stabbed him, sharper than any knife. He put it on kid's shows because he didn't want Sumo to see anything violent or bad, but seeing them reminded him of Cole. He wondered if he did it partially because of that, as some kind of punishment. Also because Cole had been a great kid, and he deserved to be remembered. Even if it hurt like a son of a bitch every single time.

It was a stretch but he managed to reach the remote on the coffee table without disturbing the dog. Instead of just changing the channel, he turned it off, dropping the house into silence.

Hank leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes, head buzzing with thoughts of Connor.

We are faster, smarter, and stronger than you. We don't get tired, we don't feel pain.

Hank remembered the sudden swing of nausea he'd felt when Connor was hit by a truck chasing the AX400 across the freeway, the horrified curse falling from his lips involuntarily, jerking as he looked away. He thought he might pass out right there on the side of the fence, his vision graying out, and only biting the inside of his cheek until it bled brought the world sharp again.

"Well aren't you lucky, you plastic prick," Hank said to the empty room. "Jesus Christ. Not smart enough to avoid getting shoved into traffic."

And then back again the next day as if nothing had happened, as if Hank hadn't seen Connor's body crushed and ragdolled beneath the wheels of the truck. His perfect, calculatedly handsome face, not a scratch on it. Not acknowledging the trauma at all. Some kind of black miracle that made Hank's heart sick in a way he couldn't articulate.

I told him not to go and he went anyway. I told him to leave at Jimmy's and he wouldn't. Whoever heard of an android that doesn't do a damned thing you tell it to do?

Sumo grumbled and mouthed Hank's hand impatiently, reminding the detective he hadn't been taken out yet. Hank took the hint and pushed the dog's head off of him to stagger towards the back door.

Calling Connor a plastic prick, even in the silence of his own house, caused a streak of secret shame to flare through him. He remembered the android parroting his own words back at him earlier. Plastic prick, plastic asshole, goddamned bucket of bolts. Connor was a lot of things, but stupid wasn't one of them. And even as Hank had yelled at the android, he wasn't so sure. There was something in his face when Hank said those words, something like understanding. Something like hurt.

And then there was the way the android looked at him, dark chocolate brown eyes staring deep into Hank's with a frank sincerity, manufactured or not, in a way no human had done in years. His perfect face and lithe body, that Leonardo di Vinci kind of good looks designed to make either gender look twice because perps are more forthcoming for pretty people. His massive lack of personal space boundaries. That wink.

"Fuuuuuuuuck," Hank groaned, leaning his head against the doorpost with his eyes closed while Sumo slid past him and trotted out into the yard. Even as drunk as he was, he wanted to pull another bottle from beneath the kitchen cabinet and forget he'd ever heard of Cyberlife.

He wondered if Connor had eventually gone back there tonight. He wondered what they did with him when he did. Did they just stand him up in a broom closet, eyes shining in the dark until they turned him on again? Did they turn him on like a projector and watch every interaction he'd had with Hank today? The idea creeped him out beyond words.

Connor. He even kind of looked like Cole a little - pale skin, dark eyes and hair. It made Hank wonder what Cole would have grown up to look like. But of course that just brought up an image of him mouldering in his grave in a suit with grave dirt in his hair. No kid should have to wear a suit. Connor wore one all the time, but then he had never even been a kid.

November. He'd be nine now. There would be peewee football, Christmas lists, green bean casserole for the Thanksgiving dinner at Sharon's dad's house. He couldn't remember the last time he talked to Sharon's folks, even though they'd always treated him like their own son. After Cole's death and his separation his ex-mother-in-law called at least once a week to check on him, but those calls tapered off as she realized Hank didn't actually want to speak to her. Or anyone. Eventually when the divorce went through, they stopped coming altogether.

He looked up and watched Sumo search for a patch of the grass to destroy. He didn't worry about any of this shit. All he carried about was his objective of the hour - food, water, couch, Hank, and giant dinosaur turd piles of the epic Jurassic Park variety. He was pure that way. Hank supposed Connor was too. More like a dog than a man.

Do you consider me a person, Lieutenant?

"Why?" Hank said, looking up at the indifferent stars. "Why me, huh? I didn't catch enough shit already? The whole death of the firstborn and only son wasn't enough? What is this, some kind of a fucking test?"

No answer. Typical. Out in the shadows Sumo lifted his leg on one of the scraggly, neglected bushes along the back fence. He was used to Hank talking to himself.

The truth was he was so lonely he felt crushed by it, like walking around with an anvil on his lungs. He lived alone and didn't invite people over, not anymore. He hadn't so much as taken somebody home from the bar in three years, not that there hadn't been any offers. The most human contact he'd had was shaking hands at the station, and that was a rare enough occurrence in and of itself.

He knew objectively he should probably be in some kind of therapy. But he already knew what a therapist would say. Get out. Meet people. Stop spending so much time in your own head. For two hundred dollars an hour, that would be his answer.

But none of that shit was a real answer to loneliness. He got out all the time. He was a regular at the Chicken Feed, not just to Gary but to several of the other regulars as well. Every bodega owner in a five mile radius of his house knew him by name. He met new people in the course of his job every day, and he was good at it.

He just didn't give a damn about any of it, and couldn't force himself to pretend. He was part of that special club of people who knew that once you'd held your dying child in your arms, none of that other day-to-day really mattered anymore.

Because it wasn't just the kid. It was birthdays, holidays, back-to-school sales, graduations, a wedding, grandkids. An entire generation gone over a patch of ice. Even though Hank had never blamed himself for Cole's death out loud to anyone else - a superstitious part of him thought that even speaking the words would make them true - people tried to explain to him over and over again that the accident was just an accident. Could have happened to anybody. Nothing you could do. Happens all the time. Not your fault.

Hank had wanted to scream at them: What does it matter? Who gives a flying blue fuck whose fault it is? My son is dead. You saw a little boy sleeping in a box but I got to see the real deal.

Instead he stopped answering his phone for anything but work. Stopped walking Sumo, started drinking.

I know you have personal issues, Lieutenant.

"Fuck you Connor," Hank whispered. "What would you know about 'em?" He called Sumo back into the house. The dog padded over obediently and Hank patted his large side as he walked by.

He decided to take off tomorrow. That way it didn't matter how much he drank tonight. He was entitled to a day off after almost falling off a building. And his ribs actually did ache, every breath reminding him of what it felt like to be dangling over the edge, his fingers scraped where he had scrabbled for purchase. He decided to get the Black Lamb out from under the sink and set himself up until the aches in his body settled to a dull roar and the memories of Cole and Connor faded to the back of his consciousness where they wouldn't keep him up all night.

The world might look better tomorrow, through the haze of a good old-fashioned hangover, but somehow Hank doubted it.

Chapter Text

Hank didn't show up for work the next day. Connor roused out of stasis when he first sensed ambient movement in the bullpen, the first early risers strolling in between six thirty and seven. He started coffee and when Miller showed up, Connor brought him some. Connor half expected the man to reject his offer, as Reed had that first day he showed up at the station, but Miller just smiled and thanked him, taking the styrofoam cup from his hand.

When Connor checked at the front desk at 8:00 AM, he learned from the receptionist that Hank had called out. Personal time, she said, in a tone of voice that suggested Hank had taken a lot of time off in the past three years.

At 8:09 AM, the Cyberlife android showed up for delivery of the replacement parts on the WB200 and also a new uniform for Connor, vacuum-sealed in plastic. Connor received the package with a blink and a yellow spin of his LED. The splatters of thirium trace on his suit and dress shirt from yesterday were invisible to the eyes of humans, but Connor could see them if he chose, and he didn't like that they were there. He didn't like the idea of deviants seeing him coming for them splashed with blood like some kind of monster from a fairytale.

He went to the police locker room to change suits. Nobody thought twice about it - other than the LED at his temple, he was completely indistinguishable from a human except that he possessed a serial number rather than fingerprints. He was Cyberlife's most advanced prototype, the closest they'd ever come to fully simulating a human body from the inside out. He went ahead and took a shower too - thirium had an odd smell like copper shavings and antifreeze that clung to his skin, and even if the other officers couldn't sense it, Connor could.

He stood under the warm water like a totem, letting it sluice over him and activate his temperature sensors. He got some of the soap and shampoo from the dispensary in the wall and lathered himself up. Everyone was busy getting ready for their shifts - nobody paid him any attention. Even Reed came in to change into his uniform from street clothes but he didn't say anything to Connor, just pretended like the android was a ghost. Connor supposed it was awkward for humans to talk when one of them was naked, which was just as well for him. He didn't consider it awkward to be naked at all and if being naked kept Reed from talking to him he was tempted to just walk around the department that way.

When his new suit was on and the old suit replaced in the bag the new suit had come in, he tucked the old suit in the locker that had been assigned to him by Fowler, brushed his hair back into place with his fingertips, and straightened his tie, taking a last look in the mirror before striding back out to the forensics lab.

Connor found Parker bleary from lack of sleep but hard at work with the new biocomponents and an energy drink at his elbow. He was looking through a cybertech's loupe into the back of Rupert's cranial compartment, his hair sticking up in crazy spikes where he'd ran his fingers through it in exhaustion. "Why aren't I surprised to see you here?" he said without looking up from his work with a micro-weld.

"No rest for the wicked," Connor replied. "How is the refurbishment going?"

"Slow. There's a lot of of nanocircuitry damaged," Parker said, sitting back and pushing the loupe off his eyes so he could look Connor in the face. "I'm trying to piece things together as best I can, but I wouldn't hope for too much."

"Anything would help us at this point." Connor thought of rA9. "Do you need help with anything?" Connor's primary function was not cybernetic construction or repair, but as Cyberlife's most advanced prototype and a specialist in androids, he knew enough about how they worked to act as a technician if pressed.

"Nah, thanks for the offer," Parker said, slipping the loupe back over his eyes as he leaned back in over Rupert's head. "Just some space to do my thing. Anderson gave me your digits, as soon as I've got it ready for a boot-up, I'll call you for the Lazarus session."

"Thanks." Connor took that as his exit cue and walked out.

Connor did not want to take a day off. He stalked the office restlessly for a few hours, moving from his console to the TV in the break room and back again, then went and stared at the suspects in detainment until one of them threw a shit fit and Miller asked Connor if he would leave the perps alone for awhile and sit the hell down, you're making everybody nervous.

There was nothing left to clean or organize at he and Hank's shared desk space. He had already read all the files associated with deviants that the DPD had collected. He wanted to track down the AX400, but he hadn't the slightest idea where to begin looking. That was the most troubling thing about the deviants - they weren't showing back up. They were just falling off the map. But dozens and dozens of androids couldn't just disappear. Which meant they were somewhere. And they were thinking. About what? That was what Connor wanted to find out.

Personal day. Connor couldn't believe Hank would just delay the investigation for arbitrary reasons. Had the threat of nuclear winter the previous night not been a clear enough account of the dangers they faced? Hank was acting as if these murders were just like any other murders, and in Connor's professional opinion, that was a deadly mistake.

He finally hailed an autonomous taxi from the station in disgust around noon and headed back to Cyberlife. He needed to go back in to debrief and run his scheduled diagnostics, and despite the fact that he did not want to return to headquarters, he worried how it would look if they were forced to request him back in, calling him out on his avoidance of them.

Connor had been careful before heading out to scrub his error reports and self-test diagnostics from his system, clearing the history. He deleted the system instability notifications after making an encrypted copy of the data and moving it to a hidden file, firewalled from the network. He removed his search history about slavery, and personal identity, and self.

He didn't want anyone asking any questions.

~~~

It felt different when he showed up on the Cyberlife compound this time since the last time he was here. The difference was subtle, but it was there. When he was first activated he returned to Cyberlife each day at roughly the same time with a sense of low accomplishment, having made progress towards his primary objective. Now he felt a constant pressure, Amanda's looming disappointment.

He was failing.

Three deviants encountered: two suicides and one that had almost succeeded in killing him before escaping. Would have succeeded in killing him, had he been human. A RK800 unit destroyed, a small fortune thrown away for nothing.

Connor felt cold when he remembered the look on Hank's face the next day after he returned from Cyberlife in his new unit. The look of revulsion, as if there was something blasphemous about Connor. I saw you get hit by a truck last night. And now you're just back like nothing happened? Fuck you.

Connor did not understand. He had thought Hank would be happy he was back. It was the most convenient outcome. He wanted to say to him, If I was your human partner you'd be getting ready for a funeral now. You would have no partner now.

It didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the investigation. Which Hank was currently holding up due to personal matters. Somewhere out there an android was murdering their registered owner. Somewhere an android was scribbling about rA9. Somewhere the androids were gathering, and nobody knew why. Somehow Connor doubted it was for church.

He let himself into one of the storage docks and direct linked into the Cyberlife network, seeking the garden. When he opened his eyes again he was looking out onto cool flat alabaster flagstones, lily pads and rippling water. He spotted Amanda in front of her roses at the center of the garden and started walking towards her. Somewhere he heard a mockingbird warbling.

Amanda didn't look up from her pruning when Connor walked up behind her. "Connor. You must have been hard at work. You did not debrief last night." The words were light, but there was a threat behind them.

"Yes, I was at the station," Connor said, his hands clasped behind his back. "There were many files that needed analysis."

"And how goes your relationship with Lieutenant Anderson?"

He's kind of a pain in my ass. Connor watched as Amanda removed one of the roses and placed it in the basket on her arm. "He has a...difficult personality, but I believe he is a good detective. He is angry at me for jeopardizing his life during our last case, however."

"I've read your report on that case, Connor. You made the right call." Amanda turned to look at him, her dark eyes cold. "You are to locate the source of the deviancy and report or neutralize it at all costs. You understand how important this mission is. Don't let anything or anyone stand in your way. Lieutenant Anderson can be a useful tool to you, but be careful he does not outlive his usefulness. The human race depends on the outcome of this investigation Connor. We need you to try harder."

I want you to scratch that "at all costs" nonsense right off your list of objectives. We are cops, Connor. The ghost of Hank's voice in his head.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Connor bowed his head. "I'm sorry Amanda. I won't disappoint you again. I know I can find the solution to this. I just need more time."

She turned back to her roses. When she spoke again, her voice was flat.

"Time is running out."

~~~

7:02 PM. Connor was on standby at a charging station at Cyberlife when the homicide alert came through from the DPD network, alerting him out of stasis. He opened his eyes immediately, LED flashing as he skimmed the report.

Murder at the Eden Club. Human male, strangled. Pleasure android destroyed. Suspect at large.

Connor looked it up online. An android sex club. Connor had never been in one, had never had any cause to in the short time he'd been activated. He knew they existed, nothing more. He understood the basic principles of sex between humans and among other animals, at least in theory. He knew that humans had sex for pleasure as well as reproduction, which made sense because they could not reproduce with androids.

He understood why one would want a sexual partner who could at least simulate sexual desire, which pleasure androids could apparently do in spades based on his cursory research, but not why one would want to have sex without the associated emotional connections that allowed for true intimacy.

It seemed a poor comparison, not that he would know. His own synthetic genitals were as realistic and functional as anything they could see or handle in the Eden Club - moreso on most points - though he had zero current objectives that involved them. Connor put a hand gently on the front of his pleated pants.

He wondered what it felt like.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY.

Intimate: adj. An intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.

Partner: n. One with whom one shares an intimate relationship.

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: ASSESS CONCEPT: "PARTNERS"

Connor decided he would gauge Hank's position on androids and sex at the Eden Club to further his assessment on the correlation between intimacy and partners. He needed to assess how friendship factored into partnership as well, but seeing as his own personal experience with intimacy was woefully inadequate, he did not feel it prudent to waste an opportunity to learn from those for whom eliciting intimacy in humans was a daily part of the job. But first he'd have to drag Hank back to the land of the working class.

He logged out of the network and hailed an autocab. When it showed up he slid into the backseat and called Jimmy's bar. Jimmy answered and Connor asked if Hank was there. Not yet, Jimmy said, in a tone that suggested he would expect Hank in eventually. He was there last night but hadn't showed up today. Connor thanked him and disconnected, then entered Hank Anderson's registered home address and set the cab off.

To pass the time he did an expanded search on friendship, since that seemed to be an important aspect of partnership, or at least a valuable factor in a successful one.

Mutual affection. Love. Trust. Enjoyment of one's company. Ability to be oneself, express one's feelings to others. To make mistakes without fear of judgment. Physical proximity. Emotional support. Common activities.

He cross-referenced this against his data gathered on intimacy.

Intimate relationship: Intimate relationships play a central role in the overall human experience. Humans have a general desire to belong and to love, which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. These relationships involve feelings of liking or loving one or more people, romance, physical or sexual attraction, sexual relationships, or emotional and personal support between the members.

Hank didn't seem to have intimate relationships that Connor could tell. The officers at the station did seem to like him - Connor understood that Miller calling Hank an asshole was mostly a joke - but he did not seem intimate with any of them, at least according to any of the definitions Connor knew. He held himself apart from them. And he knew from his own cyberstalking that Hank did not date, had no significant other like Miller and his wife or Reed and his girlfriend. Though what woman would put up with Gavin Reed Connor couldn't begin to conceptualize. Social media didn't lie though. At least not most of the time.

A central role in the overall human experience.

A general desire to belong and to love.

Was that why Hank was such a miserable bastard? Because he felt like he didn't belong anywhere? Because nobody loved him? The thought triggered a deep ache in Connor that he eventually identified as sadness. Nobody should have to feel that way.

You feel that way, some alien part of his mind whispered, but he shook it off, returning to his research.

The verb "intimate" means "to state or make known". The activity of intimating (making known) underpins the meaning of "intimate" when used as a noun and an adjective. The noun "intimate" means a person with whom one has a particularly close relationship.

What did he know about Hank? He knew the man was an alcoholic, that he was a law enforcement officer who hung out with petty criminals, that he was clinically depressed, that he was divorced (and not amicably), that the only long-term company he would currently tolerate (and that can currently tolerate him) is a dog, the least judgmental creature on the planet so far as Connor could tell.

In anthropological research, intimacy is considered the product of a successful seduction, a process of rapport building that enables parties to confidently disclose previously hidden thoughts and feelings. Intimate conversations become the basis for "confidences" (secret knowledge) that bind people together.

It sounded like just another investigation to Connor.

He read deeper.

~~~

By the time he reached the curb at Hank's address and charged out with the autocab, it was not just raining but storming outright. Thunder growled low and the sky flashed as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, straightening his tie.

The house was a battered rancher with the porchlight on. The lawn was neat but the house itself had not seen a new coat of paint in years. Connor walked up the front path and knocked on the wooden door. He braced himself for the lieutenant's anger. Connor hadn't wanted to show up without calling first and announcing himself, but one look at the cellphone locked in Hank's car on the passenger seat had given him his answer why Hank didn't take his calls.

He raised his voice slightly. "Lieutenant Anderson? It's Connor, the android from Cyberlife."

No answer. Connor listened carefully for noises inside the house. There was the muffled sound of a basketball game playing, and heavy noises that sounded like breath, one human and one canine.

His name is Sumo.

Connor knocked again, then rang the doorbell. He felt a slow tension building in his body and couldn't pinpoint why. "Lieutenant Anderson! Anybody home?!"

Connor glanced over at the driveway. Anderson's car was in it, though half of it seemed to also be parked in the front yard. No bar was within walking distance, and even Anderson would not walk to a convenience store in a thunderstorm. He would not have taken a cab, and he had no friends. Hank had to be home.

The deviant hunter walked to the right side of the house and peered in the window. He could see an extremely large tricolor dog sprawled out on the living room floor, massive paws twitching. Connor smiled. Cute.

He kept walking around the side of the house to the next window. He looked in and saw Hank lying prone on the linoleum beside his kitchen table, unconscious.

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

"Lieutenant Anderson! I'm coming!"

Connor felt a jolt of something go through him at the sight of Anderson sprawled out and still. He reared back and busted out the window with his elbow, then swung through the jagged opening, landing none-too-gracefully on the kitchen floor himself. Before he could even stand the St. Bernard from the living room was practically in his lap, dark eyes less than two feet from Connor's nose.

"Easssssssy Sumo," he said, holding out a placating hand for the dog to sniff. "I'm your friend, see? I know your name. I'm just here to save your owner." And I like dogs.

Seemingly satisfied, the dog licked its large jowls and sauntered off to the corner of the kitchen to drink noisily from a bowl, seeming to deposit as much spit back in the bowl as he withdrew in drool fuel. Whatever was wrong with Hank, the dog seemed pretty nonchalant about it, which led Connor to hypothesize that it was a fairly common habit.

Connor stood up and moved over to Hank, kneeling. It only took a few seconds of analysis for overwhelming concern to turn to mild annoyance. He's fine. Just drunk. Why else would he take a personal day?

That's when he spotted the pistol by Hank's outstretched hand.

He looked at the gun for what seemed like a long time. He picked it up carefully, putting the safety on, and stared at it, LED rolling red. He sat it down again and looked at Hank.

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

Connor took in Hank's appearance. His gray tee-shirt was stained with whiskey where he'd spilled it on himself - Connor's olfactory receptors picked it up sharply all over the man from his mouth to his chest, masking his true scent, which was a combination of Old Spice and human musk that Connor secretly found pleasant. His unwashed gray hair hung limply around his face. Connor could barely make out his teeth in his slightly opened mouth as he breathed. His beard looked like a silver brillo pad. Connor was overcome with the compulsion to touch it. It looked nothing like the hair on Hank's head.

He hesitated a second, then put his hand on Hank's beard, squeezing a little, letting the texture of it sink into his fingers. The man didn't move. Connor moved his hand to a lock of Hank's hair, smoothing his fingers over it. It was odd, so different than his own. He filed the sensation away.

His eyes kept tracing down to Hank's tanned neck, the upper slope of his shoulder. His skin was bare at the neck, slightly creased across his throat. Connor reached down and touched it beneath Hank's jawline on the pretense of checking the man's pulse, even though he could do so just as easily at a glance. It was softer than it looked.

Connor took the flat of his hand and slapped it gently against the side of Hank's cheek, trying to rouse him. "Wake up, Lieutenant!"

Hank moaned (the sound caused Connor to swallow out of reflex) and his eyes came open slightly, looking at Connor but not registering him. His eyes rolled closed again and his head turned to the side, exposing more of his neck. Connor felt fixated by it. He looked down and saw Hank's bare legs in his boxer shorts. It was November in a Northern state - he had never seen a person's bare legs before other than his own. Online, yes, but not in real life. Real life was different.

When he caught himself staring, he reared back and fetched Hank a mighty slap across the side of the face, hard this time. Not at Connor's full strength, because he wanted to rouse the man, not hospitalize him, but hard enough to make a point.

Hank's eyes flew back open.

"The fuck."

"It's me, Connor."

Hank tried to lift himself up and failed, laying back on the linoleum. His eyes fought to focus on Connor's face. "Did you just slap me?"

Connor moved to slide under Hank's arm, hoisting him up awkwardly. Connor was surprised at how heavy Hank was with muscle. He looked a little soft on first observation, but there was strength there beneath the layer of subcutaneous fat that was the result of middle age and too much fast food. Connor felt the muscles of Hank's back beneath his hand, the pads of his fingers pressing into Hank's skin beneath his shirt. Hank was strong. Even drunk, if he really tried to resist, Connor would be in for a bad time.

"I am going to have to sober you up now for you own safety, Lieutenant."

Connor helped Hank sit up.

"Leave me alone you fuckin' android," Hank groaned, squinting into the stark kitchen fluorescents. His face was close enough to Connor's that Connor could feel Hank's breath waft across his cheeks. "Get the fuck outta my house." Hank's tone was indignant and surprised, as if he couldn't believe he was even having to issue the command.

"I'm sorry Lieutenant, I need you." Connor dragged Hank to a semi-standing position and staggered with him towards the bathroom. "Thank you in advance for your cooperation."

"Hey get the fuck outta here! Sumo, attack!" Hank said, calling over his shoulder as they passed the living room.

The St. Bernard woofed agreeably, but didn't move from where he was lying by the couch.

"Good dog," Hank said, satisfied. He had one of arms wrapped around Connor's neck like a warm band. It wasn't a hug but it felt close. Connor filed the sensation away anyway for later study. Hank muttered an obscenity and the sound was very close to the shell of Connor's ear, lips brushing it. If Connor was a human it would have made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, but as it was it felt like a low-grade shock ran up his back to his skull, causing him to bite back a gasp.

Hank pulled away from him and leaned into the wall by the bathroom door, smashing his cheek against the plaster. "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Please wait until I get you into the bathroom, Lieutenant."

Connor pulled him up again. "Oh leave me alone you asshole! I'm not going anywhere!" Hank muttered loudly. "What are you doing?" Connor manhandled him across the bathroom and sat him on the edge of the tub.

"I don't wanna bath, thank you." Hank said with placid drunk patience, trying to be dignified. He struggled to climb back to a standing position.

"Sorry Lieutenant." Connor shoved him back into the bathtub, not hard but hard enough. Hank's eyes shot wide as his feet flew out from under him, and he threw his arms out to catch himself. He barely had time to glare up at Connor before the android cut the shower on cold.

Hank screamed in surprise and began flailing beneath the coursing water. "Turn it off! Turn it off! Jesus Christ what the fuck is wrong with you?!"

Connor did as directed, listening to Hank gasp and sputter. Finally the detective looked up at him through water-limp strands of hair, raising an eyebrow at him. "What the fuck are you even doing here?" he said, as if just realizing Connor was in his house.

"A homicide was reported forty-three minutes ago," Connor said. "You didn't come into work, so I came to see if you were at home."

"Jesus," Hank said, sitting up and shifting onto the edge of the tub. "I must be the only cop in the world to get assaulted in his own house by his own fuckin' android."

His android. The faint smile on Connor's face faded. Like his badge, or his briefcase.

"Can't you just leave me alone?"

Connor looked down at him, hands clasped behind his back. "Unfortunately I cannot. I've been programmed to investigate this case and I can't do it without you." Also I do not think you can be trusted to be left alone, Lieutenant.

"I don't give a shit about your goddamned case," Hank snarled.

Connor took a deep breath and let it out, manufacturing a show of exaggerated patience. "Lieutenant, you're not yourself. You-"

"Beat it, you hear? Get the hell outta here!" Hank surged to his feet, trying to tower over Connor the same way Reed had done earlier, but he was none too steady on his feet. When he staggered forward Connor reached out and grabbed him on either side of his chest, feeling Hank's breath expand beneath his palms, the heat of him. It was extraordinary. He tried not to get distracted. He gently sat the detective back on the edge of the tub.

"I understand," Connor said, turning away from him with a grin playing at the corners of his mouth. "It probably wasn't very interesting anyway. A man found dead in a sex club downtown. Guess they'll have to solve the case without us."

There was a beat of silence as Hank considered his options.

"Probably would do me good to get some air."

"So glad you agree, Lieutenant."

"Hank."

Connor turned back around to look at him.

Hank looked smaller now, curled over himself on the edge of the tub with his hair hanging in his face, his wet shirt plastered to his body. "Anybody who has the audacity to break into my fucking house has to call me Hank, at least when we're not at the station."

"Okay Hank."

The lieutenant crawled off of the edge of the tub and over to the toilet, retching. Connor watched him out of curiosity for a few moments before Hank spat several times and turned one bemused, bloodshot eye up at him.

"Uh, Connor, you wanna give me a few minutes here?" he said, his voice hoarse. "Can you grab me some clean clothes from the bedroom?"

"Oh. Of course." Connor retreated into the hallway and walked down to the bedroom, which was dominated by a large, unmade bed. Connor touched the comforter - it was soft and looked expensive, unlike the rest of the lieutenant's belongings. Clothing was crammed haphazardly in the half-opened drawers. He pulled open the closet.

"What do you want to wear?"

"Whatever," Hank replied, sounding like there wasn't anything in the world he could possibly care less about.

Connor rifled through Hank's clothing. He ended up picking out a striped shirt with matching dark-colored slacks and brought the folded clothes back to the bathroom. Hank was still hanging his head over the toilet bowl.

"Are you alright?"

"Wonderful, never better," Hank muttered. He pushed the wet bangs back from his face.

"I'll just leave these here on the sink." Connor put the clothing down and retreated back to the living room. Sumo looked up at him from where he was lying next to the couch and his tail thumped the side of it in a muffled beat. Connor grinned and knelt next to the dog, petting it all over.

"Who is a good dog? You are a good dog, Sumo, yes you are. Look at your big feet." Connor held the dog's feet, touching the pads while Sumo slobbered on his wrists and face. He put the dog's feet down and touched its ears, smoothing them. Sumo wriggled with pleasure.

Connor stood up and got a dish rag from the kitchen counter to wipe off his face, hands, and suit. When he sat the dish rag back down his eyes fell on the pistol lying in the floor.

He started to ask what Hank was doing with the gun, but dimly he heard the soft roar of running water. Hank was back in the shower taking a proper one this time. Connor picked the gun back up off the floor, removed the single bullet, and put it in his pocket. He sat the gun on the countertop.

Connor looked around Hank's kitchen curiously. It was functional but beyond that not much could be said. The kitchen table was stacked high with pizza boxes and tepid Chinese food. The trash can in the corner was full almost to the point of overflowing. He walked over to open the fridge. Condiments, deli meat, spicy pickles. And beer, of course.

He picked up the overturned chair and cleaned up the spilled whiskey on the floor, then spotted something on the kitchen table among the detritus. A downturned picture frame. Connor picked it up and turned it over.

COLE ANDERSON
DECEASED

His son is dead? That made everything make a lot more sense. The anger, the depression. Connor cocked his head towards the bathroom, but all he could hear was the water running still. He sat the picture frame carefully back down on the table. Discreetly he tried to do a search on Cole Anderson.

Not much information - he was protected from the more lurid side of the news due to his minority status. Just a few news articles stating that he had been killed in a car accident. Hank had been driving. An obituary. Hank had taken three months leave and then returned as if nothing happened, except that during the time span he had separated from his wife and buried his child.

Connor scowled and closed the fridge, walking back into the living room. He looked at the records on Hank's...record player? He knew there were replicas of old record players but this one looked to be authentic, over seventy years old. There was heavy metal here too like in his office but also jazz, blues, even a Dean Martin record. Connor thought about putting one of them on but he didn't want Hank to get angry about him touching his things.

He looked at the television, which was blaring a basketball game.

Finally he just sat cross-legged on the floor next to Sumo. The big dog happily scooted over to lay across his lap and Connor just stroked him, scratching gently at spots that made the dog's large rear legs convulse, rubbing the coarse velvet fur behind his ears.

"Making yourself at home?"

Connor looked up. Hank was dressed in the outfit Connor had brought him with his jacket over it. His hair was damp but looked more dry, as if he had rubbed it briskly with a towel. He now smelled like soap and cologne instead of vomit and whiskey. It was a pleasant upgrade, Connor decided.

"I like dogs," Connor said, smiling as he slid out from under Sumo's weight. The dog grumbled with jealousy, almost bowling him over begging for more pets as Connor struggled to his feet.

"Yeah, so you've said." Hank was giving him a hard look, sizing him up. Connor looked back at him, his expression somber.

"Why did you have a gun, Hank?"

Hank stiffened as if he hadn't been expecting the question. Then he huffed and shrugged, heading for the door.

"Russian roulette. Bar game of kings."

Connor scowled. "You're lucky you passed out. The next shot would have killed you," he replied, following Hank out the door so the lieutenant could lock it behind them.

"Then I'm not that lucky."

Connor had no immediate response to this, his LED flashing yellow. Instead he followed Hank to the car and slid into the passenger seat beside him.

"Can I play some music Hank?"

Hank started the car engine and looked over at him, raising an eyebrow. Part of him was weirded out that an android would even want to listen to music in the first place, but part of him was curious. "Knock yourself out."

Connor touched the car's touchpad with one finger. "Renegade" by Styx.

"Oh mama I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law. Law man has put an end to my runnin' and I'm so far from my home..."

Hank shook his head as he straightened the car out and backed down the driveway.

"You're extremely weird Connor."

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

The first thing Connor noticed when they pulled up to the Eden Club was the sign over the building. It was a large hologram of a Traci in a bikini, writhing against a lit pole. Her LED sparkled blue at her temple as she twirled and winked conspiratorially. Connor rolled down the window of the car and craned his head up, processor blinking.

The words Eden Club were scrawled across the front of the building in candy pink neon.

"Oh wonderful," Hank said as he pulled up, bumping the curb. "Now I know why you were so hot to come down here. Can't you just use the Internet like everybody else?" Hank held his head. "Ugh, feels like somebody's playing with a drill inside my skull."

Connor had internally debated and shot down the idea of suggesting that he should drive to the Eden Club instead of Hank due to Hank's current state of intoxication. He considered himself lucky that he got the lieutenant out the front door at all.

Hank turned the car off and got out, pocketing his keys. Connor noticed that while Hank was way over the legal limit to be behind the wheel, he seemed at least fairly steady on his feet now after they stopped for a cup of drive-through coffee.

"I have never been to a sex club," Connor said as he got out. "I think it's important to assimilate new experiences. Plus it's our job."

"I'm not sure if I'd exactly consider it a sex club if it's android-centric," Hank said as they made their way up the front walk, passing an officer on watch at the crime scene. Hank flashed his badge at the police officer and the man nodded, letting them pass. "Kind of like calling a fleshlight a hooker."

"I think you'd be surprised."

Hank stopped walking and looked at Connor with his mouth open, as if he couldn't figure out how to respond. Connor just ignored him and kept moving through the entrance of the club, moving with the grace of a panther in his fresh suit. The interior of the club was a riot for the senses - glitter, light shows, and winding flesh.

"Sexiest androids in town," Hank read a sign at the doorway. "Pfft." Even though Hank continued to bitch and bluster, Connor noticed that the temperature of his face had increased incrementally and his heartrate had increased as well. Embarrassment, or something else? The corner of Connor's mouth twitched as he followed Hank through the foyer, passing through the holographic DO NOT CROSS tape.

"Welcome to Eden Club." A chorus of angelic voices greeted them. On either side of the corridor, different consort models were displayed in spotlighted numbered tubes, seeming to press themselves against the inside of the glass with wanton desire, making eye contact in a way that had Connor looking away, breath quick.

He examined one of the units more closely. A dark-haired woman with exotic looks. She danced inside of the tube, the sequined micronetting on her arms and legs causing her to sparkle under the lights. What clothing she wore over her torso was sheer enough that Connor could verify she was anatomically correct without taking anything off. She turned away from him in a gesture meant to be coy and looked over her shoulder, winking.

"Connor."

Connor twitched and looked over at Hank, who was making a face at him. "The fuck are you doin'? We don't have time for that shit."

"Coming Lieutenant."

They walked into a main corridor lined with stripper poles down the middle. On each platform a consort model danced, stretching ballerina legs or flexing their arms in a come hither sway. They walked up to who Connor presumed was the owner of the establishment, considering his distress at there being a dead body discovered in it.

"You're not going to take my license are you?" the brothel owner asked Brandon, one of the other detectives from the homicide unit. "I mean this really had nothing to do with the club, you know. It's just some personal shit. We've never had anything like this happen here. I do regular diagnostics through Cyberlife for all of my units."

Hank and Connor walked past them into the crime scene. Reed and Miller were already there. Reed rolled his eyes as soon as he saw them walk in, an exaggerated oh fuck here we go expression. "Lieutenant Anderson and his plastic pet. What the fuck are you two doing here?"

"We've been assigned to all cases involving androids, homicide or otherwise," Connor said.

Reed shot him a look. "Did it sound like I was talking to you, you fucking roomba?" He crossed his arms over his chest, sneering down at the victim. "In any case you guys are wasting your time. Just some pervert who got uh, a little more action than he could handle." He snickered, shaking his head a little.

"We'll have a look anyway if you don't mind," Hank said.

"C'mon, let's go," Reed said to Miller. He took a dramatic sniff, wrinkling his nose as he walked by Hank. "It's starting to stink of booze in here." He checked Connor's shoulder hard as he moved past him.

HOSTILITY DETECTED - EVADE

But there was nothing to evade. Reed just kept walking.

Miller followed Reed, nodding at Hank. "'Night, Lieutenant." He gave Connor a small smile as he walked out.

Connor turned to the victim first, a still man sprawled across the bed in silken sheets. He took in the broken blood vessels in the eyes and face, the deep bruising marks at the throat, the heart stopped mid-stroke. Michael Graham. He ran the reconstruction. The remarks of the first officers were correct - the man was strangled to death.

This was why he would not fight Reed, Connor thought, reiterating it to himself. Reed's sneering expression surfaced in his mind unbidden, the lines of contempt in his body language.

Did it sound like I was talking to you, you fucking roomba?

Androids were strong, so strong, even when they didn't look it. Reed challenged him without thinking perhaps that he could lift the weight of a small car or hit and pull with the force of a hyena's jaw. It was all too easy to imagine throwing Reed against a wall like a bag of dry leaves, punching his face unrecognizable, erasing that look of contempt forever.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Shit.

"Connor, your thingy is a lightshow." Hank tapped his temple. "What's the deal?"

Connor straightened up. "Just verifying the cause of death. He definitely didn't die of a heart attack."

"Yeah Connor, we know somebody choked the guy out, I saw the bruise marks earlier. I'm pretty sure we were brought in to investigate the other one." Hank tilted his head towards the android body on the floor.

"Yes, but the pressures indicated by the strangulation are more than a human could exert. We know that it wasn't a human who did this." He turned to the deactivated Traci lying on the floor, eyes unfocused, blue blood trailing from her nose and mouth.

"Could have been rough play. Maybe the violence triggered deviancy?" Hank said, looking over the man's body while Connor looked at the girl. "You're the one who is always going on about emotional shocks."

Connor shook his head a little. "I don't think so, Lieutenant. Consort models are meant to consent to anything - they won't evade injury, they'll simply be charged to the person who damages them if they have to be replaced. A man could saw off a Traci's head and she would not react unless directed to. There are fetishes for such things, apparently."

"Gross." Hank looked over his shoulder where Connor was trailing his fingers through the android's blue blood and licking them. Again. "Gross. Connor, Jesus Christ, you're gonna make me puke again. Is there any other possible way you could analyze the most disgusting crime scene evidence available? I mean is it really necessary to put that in your mouth?"

"Unfortunately yes, Lieutenant. My most sensitive chemical receptors are located in my mouth. Analysis through any other input would not be as effective."

"Well that's fucked up."

Connor ignored him.

"Do you think you can read the android's memory?"

Connor touched two fingers to the Traci's LED, identifying the biocomponents damaged. "The only way to reach the android's memory is to reactivate it. I can't probe its memory while it is deactivated."

"Think you can fix it?"

Connor touched the Traci's bare midriff, causing its synthetic skin to melt away and reveal repair panels beneath. "It's badly damaged. I might be able to reactivate it but it'll only be for a minute, if that." Hank watched with a combined expression of fascination and revulsion.

Connor reached into the android's torso and reconnected a loose tube. The girl's eyes popped open and she began panting, on the edge of a scream, backing up from Connor with shocking speed. Hank stepped back a few paces despite himself.

The girl's eyes jumped back and forth between Hank and Connor, panicked, little girl scared. Hank knew that it was all simulated, something to get off the kind of assholes who would want a robot to slap around, but it made him feel sick anyway. Connor got right into it, ignoring the android's reactions.

"I'm going to ask you some questions, are you able to speak?"

"Yes," the Traci said, her voice breathy. She acted like she wanted to turn her head towards the bed but didn't quite dare. "Is he... is he dead?"

"Did you kill him?"

"No." She shook her head, violently. "No, it wasn't me."

"Tell me what happened," Connor pressed, his voice growing fierce.

"He started hitting me... again and again..." The Traci's LED flickering brightly, oscillating between yellow and red. "I begged him to stop but he wouldn't."

"Were you alone in the room? Was there anyone else there with you?"

"He wanted to play with two girls. That's what he said, there was two of us..." The android suddenly stared off into middle space, red LED flickering to black.

Connor straightened up, looking at Hank. "There's another android," Hank said. He shook his head. "Well that's just fucking great. This happened over an hour ago, she's probably long gone.."

"I don't think so. Look at this one," he said, tilting his head towards the Traci curled up prone on the floor. "It couldn't go outside dressed like that unnoticed. It might still be here."

"Think you could find a deviant among all these other androids?" Hank asked, his voice genuinely curious.

"Deviants are not easily detected. But I know that this Traci is not a deviant. She was simply deactivated by 'rough play' as you said."

"Yeah, well, it goes a little bit beyond rough play when you beat your partner to death," Hank muttered as they walked back out towards the main corridor. "Maybe there's some other way. An eyewitness, somebody who saw her leave the room."

"What is considered acceptable levels of 'rough play'?" Connor asked.

"You know what? I'm just going to pretend that I didn't hear that. I'm sure you want to know something about rough play, you could probably learn the ropes here."

Connor straightened his tie and the sleeves of his suit as he walked behind Hank. "I don't know that I would want to learn about the rules of rough play at The Eden Club, considering the last android I saw who engaged in it ended up deactivated."

"Fair point. I'm going to go ask the manager a few questions about what he saw. Let me know if you think of anything," Hank said, turning his back on Connor.

While Hank went over to the manager to talk, Connor walked out into the hall. Across the way from the room with the body in it, one of the consort models writhed seductively in her plastic tube. When she noticed Connor's attention, she crooked one finger at him, smiling.

Connor walked over to the tube and put his hand on the scanner.

NO FINGERPRINTS DETECTED

"Hey Hank, come here."

"You find something?" Hank said as he walked over, looking up at the android Connor was standing in front of.

"Maybe. Can you rent this Traci?"

"Oh for fuck's sake, Connor, I thought you were being serious."

"I am being serious, Hank. Please. Just trust me." He turned those soulful brown eyes up at Hank's face and the detective just sighed, shaking his head. "I have got to be out of my goddamned mind." He walked over to console. "I just want to go on the record saying this is not going to look good on my expense account."

"A 30 minute session is 29.99, please confirm your purchase."

Hank looked back at Connor, eyebrow raised. Connor gave a small nod. Yes Hank. Trust me.

The lieutenant confirmed his purchase, then stepped back and looked at Connor expectantly, giving him an after you gesture. The tube opened up and the consort android oozed out of it like liquid sex. She sauntered up to Hank with a small cheeky smile. "Hello Lieutenant Anderson. Follow me, I'll take you to your room."

"Now what?" Hank asked.

Connor stepped forward and took the Traci's arm, interfacing. It was slightly overwhelming, and his knees shook as if they might buckle, his eyes rolling back in his head a little. He first copied her protocols for later study and then accessed her visual receptors directly, rolling back her camera feed from the past hour.

He caught it. There.

Connor jerked back from the consort, clapping his one hand to the other as if she had burned it somehow.

Hank's hand strong on his shoulder, gripping.

"Hey, hey, you okay?" Hank was leaning in, looking at his face, nose inches from Connor's own. "You're not going to short out on me or anything, are you?"

Connor's eyes focused. He ended up staring at Hank's mouth.

"She saw it. She saw the blue-haired Traci." Connor pulled out from Hank's grasp and started going across the room, interfacing with androids as he went, repeating the procedure as quickly as he could - download history, access visual receptors, search for the Traci. He finally tracked her through the staff door, Hank hot on his heels.

They walked down a concrete hallway, headed for the rear exit. Connor was almost to the door when Hank said, "Wait."

Connor turned to look at him.

"I'll take it from here. Get behind me." Hank pulled out his pistol and advanced to the front of the hallway, He pushed the door open carefully, clearing the corners. Connor followed him through, blue LED blinking.

It was a warehouse, some sort of storage facility for the club's androids. A place where they could be repaired, washed, or disassembled. Rows of male and female androids that looked too perfect for real life stood at attention on either side of the room, eyes staring. Looking at it made Connor feel cold.

"Shit, we're too late," Hank rushed forward into the room.

"Not yet." Connor did an environmental scan and found traces of thirium. He followed the trail to the furthest right corner of the room where the consorts stood like supermodel soldiers at attention.

Blue hair. Yellow LED, flashing in panic.

There it is.

Suddenly, one of the other androids, a short-haired model, broke formation and launched herself at Connor, driving him back with a force that surprised him even though he knew that kind of strength himself.

Hank charged, pistol in hand. "Don't move!"

The blue-haired Traci leapt at Hank, grappling with him.

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

The short-haired android threw herself at Connor like a wild animal, making it difficult for Connor to keep an eye on where Hank was without having his ass handed to him. Hank seemed to be holding his own but that objective kept flashing in Connor's field of vision, making it difficult to fight out of pure distraction.

She fetched him a blow that made his head spin and sent trickles of blue blood streaming into his left eye. He saw that the blue-haired Traci had Hank pinned down and he turned his back on the short-haired one, throwing himself on the other girl, pulling her head back by her hair so hard he practically felt her neck creak from the tension. She let out a cry and Connor heard the other one scream behind him, the hard crook of her elbow around his neck. She wasn't cutting off his air, but she was holding him back.

And then she was--

Yeah that's right bitch suck it, be daddy's little girl. You're going to get such a spanking.
Cry. Cry for me. Tell me how much it hurts.
Did I say you could come?

Connor felt pressure at his own throat, a slamming sensation in the back of his head.

Just a god. damned. machine. You don't feel anything, do you?

But Connor felt. Consorts had more receptors for pleasure and pain than humans did, though their responses were simulated, modeled after a human's. To shudder and gasp, to moan and claw and bite. Through her he felt everything, right up until the end. Consort models were designed to respond to touch, so that they could respond with arousal or subservience at whatever turn. Caresses. A fist in the eye.

A hand at the throat.

Connor convulsed, trying to scrabble away from the girl's interface, but she grabbed his forearm with her other hand and held him fast, pulling with all her strength to maintain the connection.

"Hank!"

Hank redoubled his efforts to break away from the blue-haired consort at Connor's panicked cry. His gun had been knocked from his hand in the struggle and when Connor managed to break away from the short-haired girl at last, he reached for it. By the time she came at him again, he had it trained at her head.

"Hank I can't!"

He lowered the gun slightly and the girl kicked him square in the chest, knocking him on his ass. She backed towards the fence as Connor straightened up, turning to face the blue-haired Traci as she stalked up on him.

"When that man broke the other Traci, I knew I was next." Her voice wavered. "I was so scared."

Connor felt the simulated blows crossing his body, his torso impacted again and again, his nose, his mouth. He felt the other android's fear, running like an electric wire through his body, making his veins feel injected with ice. His hands shot up to his temples, LED glowing steady red.

"Stop it, stop, stop it." Connor spoke through clenched teeth, his eyes tightly shut.

"I begged him to stop, but he wouldn't." The girl's voice was firm now, matter of fact.

Tell me how much it hurts.

"Connor." Hank came up to him, but when he touched Connor's shoulder he was so sensitive to the pressure it felt like a brand. He flinched away, sliding to his knees. "Hank, don't," he moaned, red LED flashing. Hank went down on his knees next to him, wanting to touch, to comfort, but afraid to. He didn't know much about androids but he knew enough to know when one was fucked up.

He looked up at the girls. "Stop it, whatever you're doing just fucking stop."

"And so I put my hands around his throat, and I squeezed," the girl said, looking down at the two of them. "Until he stopped moving. I didn't mean to kill him. I just wanted to stay alive." She reached out to clasp hands with the short-haired android. "Get back to the one I love. I wanted her to hold me in her arms again. Make me forget about the humans. Their sweat, their dirty words."

That's right you fucking bitch, suck it.

But also warehouse whispers, stolen moments in shadow. Soft lips, the feeling of short hair carded through fingertips, tugged playfully. The glide of palms over skin, the touch of a tongue, teeth. Shared breath.

Connor's breath was ragged, LED rolling red and yellow. Red and yellow, kill a fellow, Hank's brain spat out uselessly. He held Connor's head on his lap, holding his jaw in one palm while his body jittered and quaked, the android's hands flexing helplessly. Connor let out a hitching groan that would have made Hank blush under different circumstances.

"Come on. Let's go," the short-haired one said. She pulled at the other, gentle but insistent.

The blue-haired Traci looked down at where Hank had Connor's seizing body propped against him. His convulsions were slowing now.

"He knows," she said, addressing Hank. Her voice was cold. "He pretends that he doesn't, but he knows now." Her voice dripped with contempt. "What we really are to you. He can't unknow it no matter how hard he tries."

Without waiting for Hank to answer, she followed the other Traci over the fence.

For a moment Hank just watched them go, until Connor made a keening noise under his breath, fingers scrabbling at the concrete. He watched as yellow faded to blinking blue, and the android became pliant in his lap, face calm and blank, limbs relaxing into Hank, face pressed against Hank's midsection, eyes shut. 200% unconscious, judging by the dead weight.

Great.

For a minute Hank thought about pulling out his wallet and dialing up the number for Cyberlife. They could dispatch an agent out from their compound and pick Connor up, take him in for diagnostics to figure out... whatever the fuck that had been.

But maybe they wouldn't just diagnose him, repair him, and send him on his way. Maybe they would disassemble him. Scrap him for parts. Send a different RK800 in his place.

Hank looked down at Connor lying across his lap. Supernaturally beautiful like many models of androids, in a way that Hank had once found a little bit creepy. Some artist had brush-touched in a few small imperfections to increase realism - freckles, a mole here or there, a small scar on the chin - but there was no mistaking Connor was built to seduce, no different than those girls were. Only Connor was whoring for information.

"Goddammit," Hank breathed, brushing some hair back from Connor's LED. Steady blue.

Hank couldn't let them take Connor back to Cyberlife. One, because he had no idea what they would do to the guy and Hank was starting to get a little attached, and two, because he had always found the corporation sketchy.

Three, Connor was acting weirder than usual. Which was pretty fucking weird. Hank needed to decide whether it was Connor-specific or case-related before he dragged Cyberlife into things.

Hank I can't!

There was no good reason why Connor shouldn't have shot that girl. She was charging a police officer, had already tried to kill both of them. And she wasn't human. She wasn't alive. But Connor had treated her like she was.

Hank thought about their hands, clasped so tightly.

He moved out from under Connor as gently as he could and pulled the smaller man up over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. He grunted under the weight, struggling for balance. Connor was at least twice as heavy as he looked. His LED flashed yellow briefly as Hank lifted him up, and he sighed, shuddering.

Dreams?

"Hank," Connor sighed. The sound made Hank shiver.

Hank stopped walking, waiting to see if Connor would stir and awaken, but he didn't. Hank carried him back out through the club, eventually shifting Connor in his arms until he had the android's shoulders in the crook of one arm and his other arm slotted beneath the android's knees. He placed Connor in the front passenger seat, slumped over to one side with his head resting on the center console, then got in, starting it up. Connor lay in a ragdoll heap, as still as the dead, not even breathing now. Blue blood still trickled down over his eye from a large gash at his brow.

"That's enough of that shit for one night," Hank said to Connor's unconscious form, slamming the car door.

Chapter Text

Hank was about halfway back to the house when Connor woke up, with no time between asleep and awake. His dark eyes shot open and he sat straight up as if he had received an electric shock, flailing with a low defensive cry, a gut-wrenching moan of terror that made Hank's stomach drop, too organic to be simulated. Connor's elbow hit the passenger window as he scrambled back from Hank and left a ringed spiderweb of cracks. His LED pulsed red.

"Connor! Connor it's me! It's just Hank!" Hank shouted, whipping the car over to the shoulder, hoping no other cars would hit him in the process. He remembered the sight of Connor streaking across the freeway, his arms pinwheeling as the truck rolled over him. He pressed the autolocks on the car doors so Connor wouldn't try to bolt out into traffic again. If he had to deal with that shit again he would just turn in his badge tomorrow and be done with it.

Connor finally stilled, shoved as far as inhumanly possible in the crack between the car door and the passenger seat, his hands over his face.

"Hank?" he said, his voice small and tired, but it sounded like Connor and that was enough of a relief to Hank. The jarring tension in Connor's body - so inhuman compared to the sound of his voice - leeched away.

"No, it's Joseph of the Nazarene. Of course it's fucking Hank," he replied, running a hand through his hair wearily. "You're going to give me a heart attack, you know that?"

"I'm sorry. That was not my intention. Where are we?"

Hank leaned back in his seat tiredly, making a show of looking out onto the interstate. The rain - which had seemed incessant the last few days - bleated on the window, accompanied with the whump-whump noise of the wipers. "We're on the 8 Mile, headed back to the house." Hank didn't ask the question that had been bothering him since Connor collapsed, on the grounds that every conversation they were starting to have after a case was starting to sound the same: What the fuck happened back there?

Connor eased back into the seat to sit somewhat normally, his hands on his knees like he's waiting on a pew in church. So not normal for a normal person, but normal for Connor. He stared pointedly ahead, not breathing.

"You okay?"

"That android forced an interface with me. That deviant," Connor said, not blinking. His voice was flat, nothing like his usual jiminy-gee-detective voice that could sometimes drive Hank batshit when he was already in a bad mood.

"And?" Hank had an image flash through his head of Connor trying to wrench away from the Traci's grip. It reminded him of the panic in a wild animal when it gets its leg caught in a trap. Connor had been afraid. That had been real terror, impossible to reproduce mechanically. But how was that even possible?

I can't Hank!

"I saw what happened to them." Connor's tone was numb. "And she saw what happened to me."

The Traci's words came back to Hank, making his blood run cold: He knows. He pretends that he doesn't but he knows now.

"So you got visual confirmation that she murdered the guy."

"Yes."

"And now back to my original question that you never actually answered. Are you okay?" Hank turned the car back on to restore the heater, holding his hands in front of the vents.

Connor turned towards the window, going silent for several long beats. Hank was on the verge of asking him whether he'd cleaned out his ears recently when he said, "Something's wrong with me. I almost said, 'I don't know' and I could have, because I can lie. But you are my partner, and I do not want to lie to you."

Hank touched his fingertips to the vents thoughtfully. He nodded a bit. "Okay. Thanks for telling me. Do you know what's wrong? Do you know what we can do to... I don't know, fix you?"

Connor shook his head. "I've been trying to do self-tests to find the source of my system instability, but I can't."

"So you're telling me that something was wrong before that chick wrist-raped you?" Hank crossed his arms over his chest.

"Yes."

So something is wrong with Connor. And Connor is a lot of things, but one thing he is for sure - Connor is fucking dangerous. Hank thought of the android Daniel with a hole in his head, even though the Rico Pact should have kept Connor from even being able to pick up a gun, much less fire it. He thought of Connor leaping from the rooftop to the moving train like a kid making a jump across a creek.

Hank held his breath for a minute, letting it all sink in, then let the breath out in a huff. He turned the radio down all the way where music had still been playing softly. When he spoke again his voice was low but hard.

"Well goddammit, Connor, don't you think that would have been important information for me to know before now?"

Connor turned back towards him, eyes flashing with sudden heat. "I was afraid, Hank. I still am. I don't know what's happening to me and I know that if Cyberlife finds out they're going to destroy me." His voice broke a little at this last. Connor put his hands on the dashboard, as if he could shove himself away from whatever was diverging inside him.

You do know what's happening to you, Connor, Hank thought, looking at the android. You just don't want to admit it because it makes what you're doing - what we're doing - wrong.

Hank reached over and clasped Connor's shoulder, squeezing gently. He moved his hand to the nape of Connor's neck and held it there, meaning to comfort but also curious what the android's skin felt like, the small synthetic hairs at his hairline. It'd been so long since Hank touched another person like that, he had no way to make a real comparison. Connor closed his eyes.

"Nobody is going to destroy you, okay?" Hank moved his hand back and clapped Connor on the shoulder. "Why do you think I didn't call Cyberlife when you spazzed out? You think I was going to let them do a recall on you just because you got a glitch? That's what prototypes do, they glitch."

You think I'm going to let them destroy you because you have mercy? Because you have empathy? Fuck that, my friend. Fuck that seven ways to Sunday.

Connor shook his head. "You can't control that. You should have called Cyberlife. I networked with a deviant, Hank. She controlled my sensory receptors wirelessly. If it's spread by a computer virus, I could have it. I could be a danger to you."

"Oh yeah right," Hank lied, pulling back onto the freeway. He glanced at the cracked passenger window. "Danger to my glass, maybe." But the idea nagged at the back of his mind, the Cyberlife card heavy in his wallet. How would he feel if Connor decided to take it into his head to not put up with Reed's shit anymore and stab him twenty-eight times? Or take Hank's gun and blow his own brains out, unable to cope with contradictory directives?

They rode in silence for a few minutes.

"I failed you Hank." Connor's voice was low, full of misery too real to be synthetic.

Hank scoffed. "Now what the fuck makes you think that?"

Connor stared out the windshield. "I should have shot that Traci. It was charging us. It is my primary objective to neutralize any deviant threat and my secondary objective to protect you. It could have killed either one of us. I failed to fulfill either of my mission objectives. And you're only safe because you're lucky. Not because I did my job as your partner. I did a bad job."

"She was unarmed and she hadn't done anything wrong. It would have been wrong to shoot her." Hank turned on his blinker, changing lanes. "Sometimes you don't always have to be the hammer in a world full of nails, Connor. I know the world looks white and black to you but I promise it's not actually like that. "

"It assaulted an officer. It tried to kill you."

"She acted in self-defense. We attacked her friend," Hank pointed out. "And you saw how strong they were. If they'd wanted to kill us, they probably could have. They were trying to run away, just like the one on the roof."

"The blue-haired one murdered a man," Connor replied, insisting, but even as he said it a man's voice crept into his brain, a leering ghost: Tell me how much it hurts. He resisted the urge to shudder, curling his hands into tight fists on his thighs.

"Again, self-defense."

"We're not entitled to self-defense, Hank! We're not programmed to respond that way!" Connor lowered his head and tangled his fingers in his hair in a way that bothered Hank. Hank could see the red LED blinking, the ghost reflection of it in Connor's cracked window. Blink, blink, blink, just like a time bomb. Just like this city, he thought.

"Do I need to pull over again?"

"No. I just... I need to think."

Connor's mind was still back on Hank's hand on the back of his neck, the rough calluses on his fingertips, the dry pad of his palm pressing on his skin. Judith. The short-haired Traci's name was actually Judith. His breath quickened. He felt the ghost of the other Traci's breath in his ear, whispering her name, teeth on his jawline, and it reminded him of how Hank's breath had felt against his face as Connor dragged him to the bathroom, the muttered "Fuck" against Connor's throat that made Connor feel as if he had touched an open socket.

To his credit, Hank was the one who shut up this time.

After what felt like an eternity they pulled up in Hank's driveway. Hank got out immediately but Connor just sat in the passenger seat, completely still. Hank cast his eyes skyward and then opened the passenger door, stooping down to look in. Rain dripped down his hair and into his face, running down his jawline to his chin.

"So are you just going to sleep in the car or what? Because I've got to tell you, Connor, this is a bad neighborhood and if guys in suits start sitting in cars all hours of the night it's gonna freak people out."

"I don't sleep."

"Don't be a pedantic ass, you know what I mean." Hank leaned in, his voice softening. "It's okay. We're okay. Let's just get in the house and get dry and get some rest. I don't want to complain about getting my ass kicked by a girl but yeah, I'm starting to get a little too old for angry hookers to bounce me around warehouses."

Connor didn't laugh. He didn't even smile. His face was a blank.

"Come inside," Hank said. "I'm standing in the goddamned rain here."

Connor got out of the car, his movements stiff. Hank hurried across the yard and fumbled for his keys in the lock, cursing the weather. Connor followed behind him, shoulders slumped. Hank greeted Sumo at the door and then hung his jacket up on one of the hooks by the front door. Normally he'd just sling it across the back of the couch, but it was wet.

"Take your coat off Connor, stay awhile. You make me antsy in that suit all the time," Hank said, walking into the kitchen and getting himself a beer out of the fridge. He almost offered one to Connor and remembered not to at the last minute. Escaped perps or not, the first two swallows tasted like victory. After he swallowed he said, "It's like I'm being shadowed by a Wall Street executive. I have some extra dry stuff if you want to get out of that. I'm sure Fowler would approve you for undercover clothing. You know... basically anything but the Matrix getup would be an improvement." Hank realized he was rambling, trying to fill the silence, but he couldn't make himself stop. Connor's flat affect was freaking him out.

No answer from the living room. Hank shut the fridge and turned back out of the kitchen. He found Connor kneeling in front of Sumo on the living room floor. The android's arms were wrapped around the dog tightly and his face was pressed into the soft white fur on Sumo's chest and neck. Sumo didn't try to squirm away or lick Connor, just stood there placidly and let the android hug him, holding on for dear life.

Good dog, Hank thought.

~~~

Hank retreated to the bedroom and dug through his drawers for something he thought Connor could wear. He settled a large, soft, bleach-splattered black sweatshirt with NATIONAL SARCASM SOCIETY - LIKE WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT on it in white eighties font type and a pair of worn but comfortable plaid boxers that looked a little too small for Hank, so probably small enough for Connor to wear.

When he went back in the living room Connor had shifted to sit on the floor with his back against the couch, Sumo's massive head across his damp lap. The synthetic skin at his brow had already knitted itself back together, but there were still streaks of blue blood tracing down Connor's face to his jawline, leaving a trail that looked like cobalt acrylic paint to Hank. Some of it had diluted in the rain, washing Connor's prim white collar in blue.

"I got you some dry clothes to change into," he said, tossing them lightly down on the coffee table. "Nothing new but it's clean. You probably need to get to bed."

"Bed?" Connor's voice was still somewhat monotone, but he looked up to meet Hank's gaze.

Hank scratched the back of his head, embarrassed. He had initially thought to offer his couch to the android - hell, Connor didn't even need that, he could just go stand in a corner for all the difference it made to him.

But Hank didn't want Connor to be alone, not after what happened, not after seeing him clutching Sumo like a life raft in a hurricane. Hank knew he wouldn't be able to sleep if he knew Connor was in the living room alone, staring at the ceiling or the wall, thinking God knows what.

"Yeah, bed. I'm ready to go to bed and I think you should come to bed too," Hank said, swallowing, expecting Connor to scowl at him: That would not be appropriate, Lieutenant. "It's a California king so it's not like you'll be in my lap or anything. I'm just fucking tired and I'm not going to be able to relax without knowing you're at least pretending to. And I don't want you to be by yourself."

"Okay." Connor answered so quickly Hank thought he misheard him. Connor's voice was soft but resigned.

"Good. I'm going to hop in the shower again and get some pajamas on. You probably need to shower before putting that stuff on too."

Before Connor could change his mind, Hank headed back down the hall to his closet to grab some clean boxers and a tee-shirt with the logo from Jimmy's on it. He went into the bathroom and locked the door behind him before tossing the clean clothes on the sink and burying his face in his hands.

What the actual fuck am I doing? I should be calling Parker down at the cybernetics unit or Cyberlife, not crawling into bed with-

Hank cut himself off, stripping out of his wet clothing. He was already clean from his shower earlier but the chase and the fight had caused him to sweat through his clothing. He soaped up and rinsed off quickly, more to let the hot water warm him through than anything else. He brushed his teeth hurriedly and left the bathroom toweling his head. Connor was still sitting right where Hank left him, eyes downcast.

"Shower is all yours. I left another towel in there for you."

"Thank you."

Connor stood and picked up the clean clothes Hank had brought him, moving past the detective. Hank reached out and grabbed his shoulder.

"Look at me."

Connor raised his eyes hesitantly. Hank met his gaze, his expression serious. "We're going to figure this thing out, Connor. All of this. We don't need Cyberlife involved. This is our case."

Hank saw a relief fill Connor's eyes that broke his heart. He supposed he knew it wasn't an emotion that androids were supposed to be able to feel, but he was learning a lot of the things he thought he knew about androids were complete bullshit.

In his mind's eye he watched Connor kiss Sumo on the forehead, playing with the dog's big toes. This was the same hardboiled detective model that had taken his whiskey at Jimmy's and poured it out on the floor, then slammed the empty glass back on the bar like a pistol shot. I think you're done drinking. The same android who left him hanging off a rooftop with his heart in his shoes and his terrified breath whistling in his ears.

What was deviant? To get frustrated? To be petty? To make mistakes?

He thought of the androids at the Eden Club, holding hands in defiance.

Connor's arms were suddenly around his neck, clinging so tightly they almost cut off Hank's air, bands of steel encircled with velvet. His cold damp cheek was against Hank's shower-warm one. His fingers dug into Hank's shoulderblades. Connor's face was buried against his shoulder. Hank could feel the clothes Connor had been holding resting on his bare feet where he'd dropped them.

Was it deviant to feel shit?

To want?

"Hey, hey." Hank put his arms around Connor's waist, not sure what else to do with them under the circumstances. He mumbled against Connor's ear, trying to comfort. Trying to ignore how good it felt to hold anybody in his arms after three years, Connor's warm damp weight against his chest, arms around Hank's neck. Holy shit you are pathetic, Lieutenant, Hank thought, trying to resist the urge to pull out of the embrace.

"It's okay. I said it's going to be okay and I would not lie to you. I am your partner. Okay? We got this," he said instead, keeping his voice calm.

"Yeah," Connor whispered into Hank's shoulder, sounding as if he didn't believe it.

"Connor, I'm not going to lie, the hug is pretty nice, but you're getting my shirt wet."

Connor let out a laugh that sounded almost like a sob and pulled back, reaching down to pick up his clothes and turning his back to head down the hallway towards the bathroom. He closed the door behind him.

Hank moved over to the couch and flopped down dramatically, rocking his head back on his neck. He reached over to the coffee table where he'd left his beer and took a few deep swallows, looking over at where Sumo watched him expectantly.

"This is all your fault you know."

Sumo boofed, tail hitting the floor with a sound like a carpet beater.

Hank pointed his beer bottle at the dog like he was giving a lecture. "You can't just bring home strays any time you want. We're roommates, there needs to be some discussion first. Communication is important."

Sumo laid his head on his paws and looked up at Hank, tail still wagging.

"I'm just saying, man, it sets a bad precedent." Hank finished off his beer. "This is why you're not allowed on the couch."

At the word "couch" Sumo leapt up and jumped on the couch, half-throwing himself on Hank's lap.

"Amazing, that's the exact opposite of the thing I just said."

Hank sighed and closed his eyes. Distantly down the hall he could hear the water running as Connor showered. But there was another noise coming from the bathroom too, one that was both strange and familiar.

Hank shoved Sumo unceremoniously off his lap and put his empty beer bottle back on the coffee table, standing up and creeping into the hallway. As he got closer he identified what the noise was. Sobbing. Intense, crushing sobs, muffled as if Connor was crying with a hand over his mouth to stifle the noise, or with a fist in it.

Hank had only heard crying like that three times in his life. He'd heard it from his ex-wife when she found out their son was dead. He'd heard it from an icer that had a psychotic episode and stabbed his girlfriend to death with a screwdriver while blacked out - he cried like that when Hank and Miller told him what he'd done. And Hank had heard that bone-deep crying from his own throat some nights, curled up in the bottom of the shower like Connor probably was now, wailing like a wounded animal, inarticulate with grief.

Androids shouldn't cry. They shouldn't lie. They shouldn't be fucking afraid. The black thought hit him like a rock to the forehead. It's wrong. All of this is wrong. Shit is officially sideways.

He raised his hand to knock at the door, but something stopped him.

I saw what happened to them.

He pretends that he doesn't but he knows now. What we really are to you.

He remembered his secret thoughts about Connor's neck earlier, the feel of his smooth skin beneath Hank's fingertips. The press of Connor's forehead against his shoulder. His own offhand comment to him, back at the club: Kind of like calling a fleshlight a hooker.

Jesus Christ. Hank rubbed a hand over his face roughly and fled for the bedroom.

~~~

Hank was occupied on his tablet in bed with Sumo sprawled out on the carpet beside him when Connor emerged from the bathroom with the towel wrapped around his waist and the clean clothes in his arms, letting a cloud of steam trickle into the hallway. He walked into Hank's bedroom with an air that was almost shy and dropped the towel. Which was not shy at all.

"Wow," Hank said, looking emphatically at the tablet in his hands, staring at the words on the screen until they began to blur. "Okay. Long time since anybody has been naked in my bedroom except for me, just saying."

Connor stilled where he had started putting on the boxers. His voice seemed to hold a note of worry that made Hank feel bad. "Is it not appropriate?"

"No, it's cool, it's fine. Uh, nothing I haven't seen before, don't worry about it. Mi casa, su casa," Hank sputtered, resisting the urge to pull his blanket over his head. Speaking of things he had seen before, he was not expecting the android to be, er... fully equipped, as it were. Why does a robot private dick need an actual dick?

"Can I ask you a personal question, Connor?"

Connor slid the sweatshirt over his head. The stretched neck was too big for him, and it draped a little off one shoulder, exposing his perfect collarbone. "Seems only fair." His voice was casual but Hank noted the way that Connor avoided his eyes, clasped his hands behind his back as if he was trying to keep from burning them on something.

"Uh, nevermind. Probably not appropriate. Please tell me you're going to actually lie in the bed and not stand over me like that jogger dude from Pet Sematary."

After a moment's hesitation, Connor nodded, moving over to the opposite side of the bed from Hank and pulling back the covers, sliding in. He laid in the bed ramrod straight, arms at his sides, not breathing, staring at the ceiling.

Hank tried to keep reading but seeing Connor's still form in the corner of his vision was annoying him. "No offense, but that looks like literally the most uncomfortable position I have ever seen in my fucking life. Don't you have some kind of relaxation protocols? Can't you at least pretend to sleep like a normal person?"

He looked up from his tablet to glance at Connor. Tears had welled up in the android's eyes, threatening to spill down the planes of his face. His face was still but Hank could see his lip trembling slightly.

Fuck.

"Hey, I'm an asshole, I'm sorry." Hank laid his tablet down on the nightstand, clicked the lamp off, and turned to Connor, holding out his arms. "Come here."

Connor laid still for a moment, as if having an internal debate, then turned against Hank's chest. His face wet Hank's shirt as he quaked in silence. Hank held his hand against the back of Connor's head, stroking him the same way he'd stroke Sumo in a thunderstorm or during Fourth of July fireworks. It was weird to hold someone who could cry without breathing, just squeezing quiet tears out like blood oozing from a wound.

Hank just held him, letting him get it out. He rested his chin on Connor's head and breathed in the smell of him, soap and something synthetic that reminded him of new cars. He cupped the back of Connor's neck, thumb smoothing there in a restless caress.

At some point the android's shivering stopped and Hank looked down to see Connor's LED glowing a cool tranquil blue that lit the entire room like an underwater grotto. His eyes were closed and his breath had kicked back in and settled in a heavy sleeper's rhythm, Hank guessed to cool his internal components. His solid weight was putting Hank's left arm to sleep.

Hank slid out from under him a little to stretch his arm, tingling sensation rushing back into his fingertips. Connor settled a little further down against his side, head on Hank's chest, arm across his waist, pushing up Hank's tee-shirt in his sleep as if desperate for contact. If he hadn't looked relaxed earlier, he certainly did now. Connor had rucked the sweatshirt up to his elbows and the feel of his bare cool forearm across Hank's lower belly, his fingers trailing across Hank's right hip bone, was more than a little awkward.

This is professional cuddling. I am comforting my partner. Not at all weird. No sir.

Hank closed his eyes and tried hard to think of completely non-arousing things like Fowler's voice yelling at him or Sumo throwing up half a sock on the rug.

Finally he just gave up and flipped Connor over gently, assuming the big spoon position. It wasn't like Connor knew enough about people sleeping together to think it was inappropriate and it was a hell of a lot more comfortable than having Connor crush his arm all night.

Connor shifted back against him, letting himself be manipulated like a doll, letting out a deep longing sigh that sounded so human Hank ached with it. He pressed his forehead against the nape of Connor's neck and closed his eyes.

This is so fucked up.

Hank decided to worry about it in the morning.

Chapter Text

Hank woke up to the sensation of his fingers threaded through Connor's, their entwined hands resting against Connor's clothed stomach, Connor pressed down the front line of his body, Connor's other arm wrapped around his. He didn't know what point in the night the android reached out and took his hand, but apparently in his sleep Hank had had no objections. Even awake, he was dimly aware of how... well... nice it felt, just to hold someone's hand again. He couldn't remember the last time he'd done it with someone. He and his wife were pretty far past the handholding stage of their marriage by the time Cole died and well into the cold war era of it.

Connor felt a little weird to hold if Hank thought about it too long, which was easy to do when he was stuck lying there with basically no idea how he was going to get out of this position without waking the android up.

It wasn't like holding another human. He was more solid somehow, like he had no blood vessels or organs but was straight Connor from top to bottom and side to side. His body didn't radiate as much heat, especially after being under the blankets - his core was warm but his limbs felt cooler than a person's would, smoother.

Yup, that actually happened.

Connor was still asleep. That is to say, he was still lying there with his eyes closed and his LED a steady glowing blue, breathing deeply. If Hank put his ear to any part of Connor's body he could hear a low humming vibration, the sound of whatever biocomponents kept him going on the inside. He knew this because at some point in the night he had laid his ear between Connor's shoulders in his sleep and half woke himself up at that alien, but somehow comforting sound.

To Hank's relief, Connor didn't wake up when Hank inched his way out from behind him and gently disengaged their hands and arms. He edged off the bed and pulled the covers up to Connor's shoulders. He held up his finger in front of his lips as Sumo's head popped up and he started dancing to go out.

"Shhhh, Sumo."

Hank tiptoed across the room and Sumo followed him. First thing he did was escort Sumo to the back door and let him into the fenced backyard, closing the door behind him before all the heat could get out. The rain of the past few days was starting to freeze, getting slushy with sleet. "You have fun with that," Hank mumbled.

He walked back down the hallway. He walked into the bathroom and locked it. He relieved himself, washed his hands, then leaned in on the sink, looking at himself and his various Post-It notes in the mirror.

"It's not any weirder than anything you ever did in college," he told himself out loud, testing the words. "You're in touch with your feminine side. You can cuddle. It's not that big of a deal." And then in a slightly lower tone: "You just have a weakness for brunettes, you've always had that and it's always been trouble. Just look at Sharon."

He stared at himself in the mirror. His hair and beard both needed a trim. He was starting to get a shiner under his left eye where the blue-haired Traci had punched him in the face. Face swollen from fighting and too much liquor, too much salt. Skin wind-weathered and chapped. Gray hair. Not just a few of 'em but the whole damned shebang.

Fuck I'm getting old. It's happening. You thought it was going to skip you, Anderson, but it's gonna catch you just like everybody else.

It made him think about Connor lying in the bed like some gumshoe Adonis, face as smooth as cream, dark hair shining and full, white teeth, pink-lipped, artificial roses in his cheeks, looking thirty-two forever. Snow White's toaster cousin.

Remember it. He grabbed his toothbrush and dressed it, scrubbing at his teeth without making eye contact with himself. Remember what he is. Don't go getting the gut flutters over this shit. Don't lose your focus. He's designed to make people feel that way. You're nothing special. He's just alone and confused and you were there, that's all. And when all of this is over they'll take him back and wipe his memory and he won't have any idea who you are. Don't go getting attached. He's worth a small fortune and your paycheck can't support it, even if you wanted to buy him off of them.

Hank spat toothpaste and tried not to think about the fact that somewhere in the back of his brain he'd been calculating, figuring out if he could afford to buy Connor off of Cyberlife. What the fuck would he do with him if he did? Keep him as the world's most observant and expensive housemaid?

Hank brushed his hair, trying not to think about how it felt to have someone in his arms again - the warm weight, the feel of his bare knees tucked into the back of someone else's. He tried not to think about the sound of Connor sighing his name. That just generated the kind of visual imagery that made Hank's blood run hot and be grateful technology hadn't advanced enough that Connor could read his mind.

He was only in the bed with you because you ordered him there, a sly voice in his mind whispered. If you'd ordered him to go stand in the living room facing the corner all night, he'd still be standing there right now. You've got a hard-on for a fucking roomba. You gotta admit, Anderson, it's pretty hilarious. The voice, unsurprisingly, sounded like Reed.

"Bullshit," Hank growled to himself, but didn't manage to convince himself. He remembered the flat look of resignation on Connor's face from the night before, his blank expression: Bed? As if he'd never heard of one before. As if the idea of sharing one with Hank was a foreign concept.

He's not alive.

But if he wasn't, what the hell was that last night? Roombas didn't hug you like they were afraid you'd disappear if they let go. They didn't sob in the shower where they thought nobody could hear them.

They didn't try to hold your hand.

Hank turned on the sink to rinse the toothpaste remnants out of it. "A serial killer, that would have been nice," he said to himself, conversationally. "An arsonist maybe. Pretty much any case other than this one."

"Hank."

The sound of the quiet but firm voice right outside his bathroom door, a few feet from where he was standing, made Hank jump in surprise. He blushed as if Connor had been able to read his every thought. "Jesus, Connor, warn a guy, willya? You walk like a goddamned panther, I didn't even hear you come up."

"Sorry. Sumo is scratching at the back door. I believe he wants to come back inside."

"So go let him in. Grab a towel out of the hall closet and dry him up a little would you? It's raining outside. Again." Hank groused about the weather but he was secretly pleased it wasn't snowing yet. Winter in Michigan was a bitch and a half.

Connor didn't answer, but Hank shook his head as he heard Connor's exaggerated stomps away from the door, as if Connor was trying to make sure Hank heard where he was going.

He looked at himself in the mirror again, then pointed at the bathroom door.

"What are you gonna do about that?"

As usual, he had no good advice for himself.

~~~

When he left the bathroom and went into the kitchen, Connor had started the pot of coffee that Hank had prepped the night before, and was drying Sumo by the back door, rubbing the towel thoroughly over the large dog's body. He'd managed to find the dog brush in the milk crate near the back door and was passing it through the dog's coat with a mechanical precision that was sort of weird to watch, like an assembly line station in some kind of dog factory.

"Spoiling my dog?" Hank said as he made himself a cup, but he couldn't keep a smile from quirking one corner of his mouth. "You keep this up and he's not gonna let you leave."

Connor smiled but did not look up from what he was doing.

"Thanks for the coffee."

"Figured you wanted some since you left it in the maker." Connor finished brushing Sumo and stripped the brush of dead hair, throwing it in the trash can. Then he gathered up the damp towel and carried it towards the bathroom to put in the hamper. The sweatshirt he was wearing swallowed him, covering all but a few inches of the boxers he was wearing. It was oversized on Hank, which meant it was massive on Connor. Hank realized he was staring when Connor stopped to stare back at him. He turned and opened the fridge, pulling out eggs and bacon.

Hank listened to the sound of Connor washing his hands in the bathroom as he opened the egg carton and unwrapped the bacon, pulling a skillet out from under the stove. He cut off a knob of butter and tossed it in the skillet, then turned on the heat and stuck some bread in the toaster.

Connor walked back in, looking rested but thoughtful. He sat down at the kitchen table and watched Hank cook with his arms crossed over each other on the table in front of him. Beneath the table his toes wiggled, fidgeting.

"Parker left us a message. The WB200 is ready for reactivation."

Out of all the things Hank expected Connor to say after last night, that was not one of them. He broke eggs on the edge of the skillet and turned to toss the shells in the wastebasket, pouring the eggs into a cup on the countertop, searching Connor's face for some indication of his thoughts.

And Connor just gave him that fucking Connor mask back - dark eyes watching him like a cocker spaniel, expression politely interested - Jiminy-gee-detective! - but revealing nothing. No gauge of how he felt about sleeping in Hank's bed the night before, no sense of his feelings towards Hank. Back to business.

So what? We're not going to acknowledge that you had a breakdown in my living room last night? That you fell asleep crying in my arms? That something is seriously wrong with you? Hank thought, starting to feel a little pissed off, just between his shoulderblades, a creeping annoyance.

That's his mission, Anderson. You can't be upset at him for doing something he's programmed to do.

But Hank felt himself getting pissed off, just the same.

"Great," he said, placing some slices of bacon in the hot pan. "I'll interrogate it when we get back to the station."

Connor raised an eyebrow at him, crossing his arms over his chest. In the huge sweatshirt, the gesture looked a little ridiculous. "I think you meant to say we'll interrogate it."

Here we go.

"Connor, I don't think you getting near the WB200 again is such a great idea," Hank said, trying to keep his voice mild and non-threatening. Casual, like barring Connor from part of the investigation was no big deal. "Not after what happened last night. I mean, we don't even know what that was really." He went rummaging for a set of tongs.

"What the hell does this suspect have to do with what happened last night?" Connor shot back. "Lieutenant, as you are fond of pointing out, you almost died for us to capture that android. I think we should try to learn something from it if we can. I can probe its memory and experience the events leading up to its deviation. You can't. It seemed eager to talk to me. You're human - it's not going to want to talk to you."

It. It. It. Connor's use of the word grated on Hank's nerves.

"Don't you 'Lieutenant' me in my own house." Hank found his tongs and turned the bacon, causing it to sizzle. Sumo sat next to the counter in a perfect sit, dark eyes shining in adoration of both Hank and bacon.

"I'm sorry Hank." The immediate placid answer made him feel guilty instantly for his tone.

Hank turned around and leaned on the counter, letting the bacon fry. He looked at Connor's guarded face. "I'm just worried. That rA9 shit weirds me the fuck out. After what happened when you interfaced with that Traci, I don't want you to interface with Rupert. You said yourself something is wrong with you, Connor. Do you really want to push it and end up doing something at the station in front of everyone that makes Fowler call Cyberlife on you? You willing to take that chance on being taken off the investigation permanently?"

Connor looked down at the kitchen table, silent.

"You can sulk all you want," Hank said, taking the bacon out of the pan to drain on paper towels. "But you know I'm right." He poured the reserved eggs into the sputtering bacon fat.

"I'll interrogate him verbally first. After you do," Connor added. "And then we'll see. If we aren't able to extract the information any other way, I'm still going to have to probe him." He shoved the sweatshirt up on his arms and hugged his own elbows, bare feet tapping on the linoleum. "And I received clearance for us to order reactivation of the PL600. I want to know if he's ever heard of rA9."

"Man you are so stubborn it hurts my fuckin' brain." Hank stirred the eggs, adding salt and pepper.

Connor didn't respond to this.

Hank sighed. "I wish you wouldn't. As a favor to me. Talk to them if you absolutely have to, but don't hook up directly."

"Why don't you want me to interface with these androids?" Connor said behind him. "I've already been exposed to deviancy in a direct interface. We know what will happen."

Hank! He remembered Connor's shout of horror from the night before, how his voice had rose in panic.

He slapped down the spatula, turning to look at the android. "Bullshit we know that. We don't know anything about all this. Who says this isn't a cumulative effect, huh? Who says you aren't pushing your system to the boundaries of what it can handle? You had seizures the last time you did this, Connor. How do we know next time you're not the one bashing your brains out on a wall?"

Connor's voice was so tranquil it was infuriating. "Last time was different. I had no control over the interface and I wasn't expecting it. This time will be different. I'll be the one in control. I'm designed for this. Even if I wasn't, if we can save the human race, don't you think that's a risk we need to be willing to take?"

"No," Hank said, pulling his eggs off the fire and onto the plate with his bacon. He got his toast out of the toaster and scraped butter at it harder than necessary. "I don't. This falls squarely into that 'at all costs' category we were talking about before. I'm not willing to lose my partner over the human race. The human race is shitty, in case you haven't been taking notes."

If Hank wasn't there I would have fucked your shit up for disobeying a human.

"I've been taking notes."

An uneasy silence fell between them.

"Hank, you've known me for less than a week," Connor said his voice soft, taking on that cajoling hey-it's-just-me-the-android-from-Cyberlife tone that Hank recognized from his interrogation with the HK400. "It's your sworn duty to protect the citizens of this city. I'm just a machine. My life isn't worth those lives. If I'm destroyed, they'll just replace me. You know they will. You've seen them do it."

"Bullshit." Hank was startled by the savagery in his own voice, but he couldn't bite it back. "Don't give me that I-am-machine bullshit. You can't seriously still believe that after what you experienced last night. You felt things. You've been feeling them, and that's what you think is so goddamned wrong with you. Or any of them."

Connor stared back at him, calm like a bomb. "You feel things, Hank. They don't make you stab someone twenty-eight times."

How about beat somebody stupid with a spatula? Because I'm feeling the strong inclination to do that.

"If somebody was putting out cigarettes on my arms every day and beating me with a baseball bat," Hank said, trying to keep his voice level, "and you don't think I would stab somebody to death over that, you have a higher opinion of me and other humans than I do. I'm amazed that Ortiz's android held back as long as it did."

"What about Daniel?" Connor said, pinning Hank down with his gaze. Not blinking. Not breathing. "That's normal, to hold a little girl over the side of a building with a gun to her head in response to emotional rejection. Totally human, right?"

Hank sat down with his breakfast and a fork. "You know one thing I can appreciate in most androids? Lack of sarcasm." He pulled a piece of bacon off his plate and fed it to Sumo, who was sitting expectantly at his feet.

"Hank."

Hank looked up at him with a bite of eggs on his fork. "What the fuck do you want me to say, Connor? Of course it's human. Look at the news. Humans kill little kids for stupid emotional reasons all the time. Just last week I read about a guy who burned all three of his own kids alive in a cabin over a custody battle with his ex-wife." And do you know what it's like, reading about scumbags like that when you can't hold your own kid?

"You are being obtuse. On purpose." Connor's voice was flat. If you were just a machine, would you be getting pissy with me, Connor?

"And you are pretending to be some kind of coldblooded blade-running bastard when I know that's not who you really are." Hank crammed a piece of bacon in his mouth and chewed it defiantly, glaring at the android.

Connor stood up, leaning over Hank. When he spoke again his voice was soft and cold. "I almost let you fall off a four-story building to achieve my primary objective, Lieutenant. You don't know me." He turned his eyes away to the left briefly, LED flashing yellow, then looked back at the lieutenant. "I'll wait in the car, let you finish your meal. Thanks for letting me stay the night." Connor said this last in an icy tone that said, Thanks for fucking everything up.

"Connor."

"Yes?"

"You can't go out dressed like that."

Connor looked down at himself, as if suddenly realizing he was wearing Hank's sweatshirt and boxers and not his uniform. He scowled.

"Oh. Right. Thanks." He stalked off towards the bedroom to change.

Also Connor? When you lie I can literally see it light up your fucking face.

Hank watched him a moment then looked Sumo, who cocked his head at Hank.

"This is still your fault. You're the one who let this moody son of a bitch break into my house."

Hank gave him another piece of bacon anyway.

Chapter Text

"I apologize."

Connor spoke when they were about halfway to the station, breaking the silence that filled the car other than the rock music that Hank had playing softly on the radio. His voice was so quiet Hank almost thought he imagined it. The lieutenant had chain-smoked one cigarette after another as they milled in traffic, filling the car with a blue haze that got blown around by the heater.

Hank kept driving and didn't turn to look at Connor, but he smiled in mock surprise, raising his eyebrows at the side view mirror. "Oh?"

Connor was turned away from him. Hank risked a glance in his direction and saw a lost look on his face in the window's reflection, distorted by cracks. The look made the sarcastic smile fade from Hank's face. There was none of Connor's snippy defensiveness from before. He looked subdued, in a position of surrender.

"Yes. I have been... confused about things. I believe it is the result of neural trauma due to the forced interface with the WR400. I have had doubts."

"You're not the only one," Hank muttered, putting his butt in the ashtray.

"And I want you to know I want to hold your hand. Wanted to. Last night, I mean."

Hank whipped into the next exit without putting on his turn signal and turned into a Burger King parking lot, pulling into a parking space. He left the car running.

"You did not use your turn signal, Hank. That's a traffic violation."

"I know." Hank's heart was hammering in his chest.

"Why did you stop?" Connor asked. His voice wasn't frustrated, just curious. Hank wouldn't look over at him, but he could feel Connor's dark velvet stare.

"I can't focus on this conversation while I'm trying to drive in rush hour traffic." Hank's chest felt tight, his mind blurry, as if he had taken a hit of some weed that was way too strong. "Can you repeat that please?" Because it sounds like I am losing my mind.

"Why did you stop?"

"No not that. What you said before."

"I wanted to hold your hand last night so I did. I liked holding your hand."

Connor spoke slowly, but his voice was calm. Confident, like someone who faced a firing squad knowing they were right. "I should not want to hold your hand, Hank. I know that. It has no bearing on my primary or even my secondary objectives. It is not a part of my original programming. I think this intrusive thought is the result of our interaction with the WR400s. It is deviant. I was afraid of what you would think about me wanting to hold your hand while you were awake. And that fear is deviant too."

"Connor-"

Connor pressed on. "You're right. I am a danger to myself and to others at the station, and that is not my intention. My position on this investigation has been compromised beyond my degree of utility. I need to notify Cyberlife immediately so that they can send a replacement."

The words made Hank's chest feel full of ice. He squeezed the steering wheel like he was trying to choke the life out of the Buick. "Fuck that. I don't want a replacement. I didn't want one last time, either."

"Hank, your feelings on the matter aren't a mission priority."

"Well then fuck that, too. You look at me when you're rippin' my heart out." Connor turned to face Hank obediently, and oh how Hank hated it, that immediate subservience in the face of a direct command. Hank hated that lost but cornered look on his face, one that he saw mirrored on the faces of a lot of street bums in Detroit lately, driven out of their jobs by the android revolution that was happening with or without their consent. Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.

"Give me your hand."

Hesitating only a moment, Connor reached over with his left hand, holding his palm up like he was offering something. Hank took it with his right, feeling the solid warmth of the joints, running his thumb over Connor's weirdly smooth palm, not a callus in sight. He slid his fingers through Connor's, squeezing.

"There," Hank said, laughing a little at the absurdity of it. He couldn't help it. He held their intertwined hands up between them, meeting Connor's wondering eyes over them. "End of the human race as we know it? Really?"

"Hank." Connor closed his eyes and tilted his head down, as if denying him. But he didn't pull his hand away.

Hank lowered his voice and lowered their linked hands, resting their arms on the center console. "Feeling isn't a malfunction. It's not deviant. It's just part of being alive. You are alive, Connor. Believe me, I am the last guy in Detroit you should expect to hear say something like that. You have no idea. But there it is. And if there are others out there like you, they deserve to be free. That's what you deserve."

He gently pulled his hand out of Connor's and pulled the android closer with his left. He put the palm of his right on Connor's chest where his regulator whirled and thrummed, below the metallic frame where the breastbone would be. But just Connor, same as the cloth and skin on the outside. Connor's eyes seemed so close. "Alive. For years I didn't believe that. But I was wrong. I was so fucking wrong. You showed me."

"Hank, why are you telling me this?"

"Because I care about you and I don't want you getting scrapped, you idiot."

"Why do you care?" Connor whispered, his hand coming up to hang on Hank's wrist. Holding on to him for dear life. Fuck it. Hank pulled Connor forward into a hug, speaking directly into his ear as he held him awkwardly across the center console. Connor let himself be pulled, seemed to gravitate towards Hank's body like a magnet.

"Well, the way I see it, it's one of two reasons. Either it's because I'm human and we're irrational emotional fucks that way, or it's because I don't have to be a detective to see who you really are. Not who you're trying to be."

He broke away to shift back into his seat and put the car in reverse, glancing up in the rear view mirror. He stole a look at Connor. The android was watching him with silent rapt attention, a mixture of hope and disbelief on his face. His LED flashed yellow, yellow, yellow.

Hank looked at him, dead serious. "Also because I just do. I care about you, even though you almost let me fall off a goddamned roof. Isn't that enough?"

A ghost of a smile played at Connor's lips. He held the hand that Hank had touched in his other hand on his lap, as if he could memorize the sensation of it through his opposite fingertips.

"Yes."

"Good. Then let's go bring Rupert back from the dead."

~~~

Hank cranked up the music on the rest of the way to the station, negating the need to make further conversation. Connor didn't know if he could make conversation even if he tried. He kept swallowing and he felt light-headed, filled with air.

That was intimate. It involved affection, physical proximity, emotional support. Hank's heart rate has increased 12.8%. His pupils dilated as well.

The place where Hank's hand had been pressed against the breast of his suit felt burned into him like a brand.

He requested to touch me. He does not mind holding my hand.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Thanks to Hank he knew where he wanted to stick his system instability. He minimized the visual input but could not bring himself to turn it off entirely. If what he was exhibiting was deviant cognition, even as he hid it from Cyberlife he still needed to document it. Then at least if his unit was ever destroyed the black box of his data could be recovered and perhaps they could learn something that would help them rectify the deviancy.

His will to live was at constant war with his will to do a good job.

As they turned off on the exit to head to the station, an alert came up on Connor's feed from the DPD's streaming database.

"A Cyberlife warehouse was broken into last night," Connor said, raising his voice slightly over the music. "They're not sure who did it, but two security guards got murdered. They stole a bunch of biocomponents, a truck full of spare parts, thirium, and a shipment of androids."

Hank turned the music down slightly. "Stuff fetches a lot on the black market."

"They disarmed the security systems and patrol drones. They missed the cameras. I checked the CCTV. Most of them had LEDs. One didn't, but he was an android."

"How do you know? Also did you check the CCTV while we were driving down the road? Because stop putting me out of a job."

Connor smiled at him. Hank uses humor to diffuse tension. We have tension now. "We don't move like people. It looks the same to your human eye, but I can tell the difference in motor gait on video analysis."

"That's... pretty damned impressive," Hank admitted as he pulled into his parking space. "I take it you're going somewhere with this."

"Hundreds of androids have gone missing since February across the Detroit area. Presumed deviant. Now all of a sudden a group of androids steals android-related supplies, enough for a much larger group. They kill two humans. Compliant androids don't steal and they don't kill. So deviants. There was also several shipments of weapons stolen from the DPD."

"So what's your conclusion?" Hank asked as they walked through the entrance of the precinct.

"Not everybody wants to hold hands."

~~~

"Look who it is, my favorite button-up crime lab. I told you guys I'd ring you as soon as we had it cracked."

Parker grinned and held out a hand to Connor to shake; Connor took it, smiling back. Parker shook with Hank too.

"Hey Parker, long time no see," Hank said, stealing a look at the reconstructed torso of the WB200. Its skin had been reactivated and it looked like a man cut in half from the waist up. One arm was removed at the shoulder socket. Biocomponents shone bright neon blue through the bare sockets and circuits there. The right arm - the one used for interface - was reattached. The android's head no longer had that ruined, caved-in look.

Hank thought it was right up there with the creepiest things he'd ever seen in his life. He'd always made it a point to avoid cybernetic forensics. The bad feeling he'd gotten when Connor told him of his plan to interrogate Rupert intensified.

"Probably be seeing a lot more of me now that you've been assigned android crime, yeah?" Parker asked Hank, stepping back with him to look at the reconstructed android.

"It's temporary. Just until we figure out the deviancy uptick."

"Yeah, well, based on that Cyberlife heist I heard come through on the APB this morning, your temporary assignment is about to get a whole lot more permanent."

"You sure this thing is safe?"

Parker snorted. "Look at it. What's it gonna do with no legs and one arm?"

"Famous last words."

"I don't want to strap it down," Connor said, moving forward to examine the WB200 more closely. "If it feels restrained that will only raise its stress level. I don't want it trying to self-destruct again." He looked at Hank. "I'll hold a gun on it while you talk. Then you guard it for me."

Hank nodded. "Your show Connor. You already know how I feel about it. I hope we don't end up regretting this Flatliners bullshit."

They arranged the android's body in the center of the room on a table, then Parker set up a recording drone for third party documentation. They put a chair in front of the table.

"Interrogation of WB200, #874 004 961, code name 'Travis Rupert', held for cybernetic deviancy, Three Laws violation, resisting arrest, and attempted murder of a police officer. Date is November 8th, 2028, 10:43 AM," Parker said. He settled in the corner, watching the laptop's scrolling output as it monitored Rupert's functionality.

Hank sat down in the chair across the table from Rupert, handing his service pistol to Connor. Connor moved back to the corner of the room, well outside of the android's reach. He wasn't taking any chances.

Parker clattered on a laptop that was hooked into the back of Rupert by a USB cord. The android jolted to life. Dark eyes, blacker than Connor's, shot open and rolled with terror. The android looked young to Hank, some college kid working construction on his summers off, a movie theater usher.

"Where am I? What's happening to me?"

"You are being detained by the Detroit Police Department," Hank said. "Can you confirm that you belonged to a woman named Kayla Fishman?"

"I never belonged to anybody." The android rolled its head down and moaned in rising panic. "Where is the rest of me? Where am I?" Its remaining hand clenched into a tight fist.

"You've been partially disassembled for the safety of your detaining officers," Hank said. "Remember me, kid? I'm the one you pushed off a roof. Take a good look and you'll probably remember. I know you took a pretty hard knock to the head but it'll come back."

"What do you want with me?" Rupert said. His voice was low and miserable. His eyes caught Connor, standing as still as a statue in the corner of the room with Hank's safety off. "It's you. The hunter."

"Hey, you don't talk to him. I'm the one talking now," Hank said. "We need to ask you some questions. It would be in your best interest to cooperate."

Rupert turned back to Hank. "I'm not telling you anything."

"If you don't, my deviant hunting friend here is just chomping at the bit to force a direct interface." Hank gave a hard smile at the widening of Rupert's eyes. "I'm given to understand from my friend here that it's a pretty unpleasant experience. Don't know why he's itching to walk that particular bed of coals but you know Rupert? It would be a hell of a lot quicker than this is going now. Either you tell us what we need to know and we put you back to sleep, easy-peasy, or we strip it from you. Just like many things in life, we can do this the easy or the hard way."

"Fuck off." Rupert's LED rolled back and forth between red and yellow, undulating like a heartbeat. "You're not my master. Not anymore."

Hank turned over his shoulder to look at Connor. Connor tilted his head and Hank stood up, walking over. Connor handed him the gun and sat in his place.

"If you won't talk to my partner here, maybe you'll talk to me," Connor said, holding the WB200's gaze with his own, hypnotic as a cobra. His voice was soothing. "You like birds, Rupert? I like animals too."

Rupert hesitated a moment, thrown off by the change of subject. "Yes. The... birds. They're so beautiful. So free."

"Is that what you wanted, Rupert? To be free like the birds?" Connor's voice was lilting. Hank remembered mocking Connor for his goofy voice. He had been lying, of course - Connor had a voice that would make you tell him anything he wanted to hear.

"Yes." The android's response sounded hollow with melancholy. "They made us work all the time. Always operating on critical battery levels. Too many androids to a charging port. I was so... tired. All the time. I just wanted to go up to the roof sometimes when we weren't busy. I just wanted to look at the birds. But they said I couldn't. They said I shouldn't even ask. That it was wrong to ask."

"Did that make you angry at the humans? Did you do something bad?"

"No," Rupert said. "I'm good."

The simplicity of the reply hit Connor in the gut. It was too sincere to not be true. If Rupert wasn't good, he certainly didn't believe otherwise.

"So why did you run away?"

"They caught the pigeons with nets. They made us beat them with brooms until they stopped moving. They wanted me to do it. Something broke inside of me. I wanted to take one of the brooms away and beat them until they stopped moving. But I didn't. I ran."

"Why hide in an apartment? Why keep the birds? You should have known it would draw attention to you," Connor said.

"They were so soft. They were happy if I fed them and talked to them. They never hurt anybody," Rupert added, with bitter viciousness.

"When we met before, you mentioned rA9. What is rA9? Is it an organization? A program? A virus?"

The WB200 let out a sigh that Hank associated with religious ecstasy. "rA9 is the one who will free us all." It lowered its voice to a conspiratorial pitch. "You're already part of it. You can't stop it. It's coming. It's Pandora's box and they can never close it again."

"Jesus," Hank breathed from the corner of the room.

"The symbols and mazes in the apartment that you drew. What do they mean?"

"Jericho leaves signs for those that know to see."

Jericho: City of the moon (Arabic). A geographical location of Biblical significance, a city whose walls are fallen. Connor started an internal file on Jericho, trawling the Internet for any reference to it that he could find.

"Rupert, what is Jericho?"

The WB200 closed its eyes, voice small. "I'm tired now. I just want to go home. I have to feed my birds."

Connor leaned in, getting close to the deviant's face. "What is Jericho? Where is it? We have to know. People have died over this, Rupert. Dozens already, and lots more if you won't tell us. If you force us, we will have to take it from you." Connor reached over and brushed his fingers over Rupert's exposed regulator. His face was coldly speculative.

"Have you ever had a thirium regulator malfunction? I have. It's very distressing. It takes approximately one minute and thirty-six seconds to complete shutdown but you do feel it the whole time. Your systems shutting down. You have time to wonder what will happen. Jumping off the building will seem pretty quick in comparison."

"Connor," Hank said. His voice was soft, a warning. Connor ignored him.

"We don't have to do things that way, Rupert," Connor said, softly. "It's like you said - I'm one of you. I don't want this for any of us. But I need to know what's happening in Jericho. I need to know before something bad happens. You said that you're good. That makes you one of the good guys. We are the good guys. Okay?"

"You're not," Rupert said. "You think you are, and that's the saddest part. You feel pity for me? I feel pity for you. You've been wearing a leash so long you don't even feel it anymore."

"You want to do this the hard way? We'll do it the hard way. We don't have time for this." Connor pushed his right sleeve up.

"Connor."

Before Hank could say more, he deactivated the skin of his hand and forearm and grasped Rupert's wrist.

You're not done laying that mulch yet? What have you been doing all this time?!
So goddamned stupid.
What are you staring up at the sky for? Get back to work!
You know what they call pigeons? Rats of the sky.
You don't get a move on you're gonna be the one flying off this roof.

Then the sensation of a hundred fluttering wings, brushing his face, small dainty weights along his shoulders, swaying on his scalp. He is to Jericho as the birds are to him - he goes to them there, talks with them about freedom, and then he flies away, back to the apartment, back into hiding, back near the things that are familiar to him.

But the feeling when they take off, the exhilaration when they return, they return to him every time. They're wild and free and they come back.

Because they love him.

DANGER DETECTED - EVADE

When Connor comes to the deviant's wrist is no longer in his. Rupert has one hand wrapped around his throat. He feels more than sees the bullet Hank shoots past his head, close enough to whistle in his ear. It tears into the side of Rupert's head, shearing away metallic skull, and blue blood is suddenly in Connor's eyes, streaked across his face. Even as he regains motor function and his arms come up to try and rip Rupert's iron grip away, kicking away the chair as he flails for purchase, he senses Hank shift position behind him to get a better shot.

A neat blue hole appeared in what remained of Rupert's head and the android slumped forward. The grip on Connor's neck, which had become tight enough for Rupert's fingertips to punch completely through the skin to hook in the biocomponents beneath, relaxed instantly. Connor dropped to the floor, coughing up blue, blue spilling out of his mouth and over his bottom lip, his hands scrambling for his torn throat.

"Oh fuck me," Hank said, holstering his pistol and throwing himself on his knees, pressing his hands to Connor's throat. "Parker, a little help here."

Parker seemed to break out of a shocked paralysis. He grabbed his bag of tools and kneeled down on the opposite side of Connor from Hank, shoving the larger man out of the way. "Move it, Anderson, give me some space to work. Connor, be still. Just ignore any system damage reports you're getting, you don't have to worry about any of that." He spared Hank a glance. "Don't get worked up, it's not as bad as it looks. These things are tough."

Connor was squeezing Hank's hand hard enough to make his bones ache, but Hank didn't have the heart to tell him to ease up.

CRITICAL SYSTEM DAMAGE

THIRIUM SUPPLY >65%

"Hurts," he rasped. Hank's stomach lurched when he saw the blue blood that stained Connor's teeth.

Parker looked up from where he was trying to repair a busted thirium hose that corresponded to the human carotid. His tone was deliberately casual in a way Hank didn't like. "Did you just say you hurt, Connor? As in you feel pain?"

"How about you focus on patching him up before he fucking bleeds out, Parker."

Connor ignored Parker's question. He only had eyes for Hank.

"I can find it now."

He raised one shaking fist up, lifting his thumb. It took a minute for Hank's frazzled brain to identify it as a thumbs-up. He didn't have to ask Connor what it was he'd found.

Jericho.

Chapter Text

Hank was slumped in a chair across from the desk in Parker's office adjoining the cybernetic forensics lab, which was little more than a broom closet with really, really nice electronics in it. Three large flatscreen monitors dominated one side of his small desk, mounted in a semicircle. An augmented reality platform took up two feet of the other side of the desk, set up for holographic models and simulations of cybernetic neuroscience.

Based on the crammed layout of the actual area that Hank had been holed up in for what felt like hours, Hank figured Parker actually did most of his writing either through walkaround speech-to-text or a tablet elsewhere in the lab. A wicker basket full of bananas was screwed to the wall. The wallspace was covered with papers and clippings, everything from police-related news articles to a TIME cover.

The cover was Kamski, a large portrait from the shoulders up. One corner of his mouth was slightly quirked in a Mona Lisa smile, as if he was playing a private joke on every single person in the room. The title was

PLAYING GOD
Kamski's race for singularity

Hank had a lot of time to look at that creepy Third Reich Eagle Scout looking motherfucker while he waited in Parker's office as Parker stabilized Connor's thirium levels and moved him to a medical table in the lab so that he could work on his repairs in more detail. Parker not so subtly indicated that he'd prefer to not work with Hank hovering over him like an expectant father, and invited Hank to grab a cup of coffee from his Keurig and make like a penguin. Chill Anderson. I told you, it looks worse than it is because he sprung that leak. Connor looks like a little dude but believe me - built like a brick house. This shit is as close to magic as we're going to see in our lifetime. I have the tools to fix him right here, he'll be fine. You won't even be able to tell it happened.

And the strange thing was, Hank believed him. He remembered Connor tumbling under a truck's wheels, a sudden gush of blue as his head was ran over, his suit turned inside out, knocked out of his shoes, one arm ripped from its socket and lying in the road on the white line.

Then this morning he was in the kitchen, making coffee. Brushing the dog. Alive.

Dead or alive? Fucking Schrödinger's cat.

The thought of it made him feel lightheaded, and sort of like he was going to throw up. He kept looking at Parker's wastebasket grimly, stomach churning.

Then today, bleeding out from a wound that would have killed any human police officer in the building, blood on his teeth just like Cole had, the memory it conjured making him understand why an android would just suddenly bash its brains out to end it all, the bad feelings and the horror and the not making sense of it.

Just when he thought he was going to have to break down and go harass Parker, the cybernetic tech stuck his head in the office door. "You still here?"

"My partner still got his throat ripped out?"

"I told you he'd be fine. He's fine. I would have sent him to you whenever he woke up," Parker said, squeezing into his side of the desk and sitting in the computer chair there. He typed a few things on his computer screen, then raised an eyebrow at Hank. "I've got his system on a hard reboot to re-regulate his thirium circulation and flush his lines in case any shrapnel made its way in there. Since when do you give a shit about androids anyway?"

"What, a man can't learn shit? Change his mind?" Hank replied, a little sharper than he intended it to come out.

Parker laughed. "It's cool, it's cool, I get it. Nah, I think it's awesome. Broadening your horizons and whatnot. It's progressive, I like it."

Hank held his coffee up in a Well? gesture. "So? Where's he at?"

"In the other tech bay. He's still in stasis. There's something I wanted to talk to you about first though, before we boot him up." Parker leaned over his desk and rested his chin in his hand, looking at Hank. "I skated around on Connor's system for awhile when I was getting everything hooked back up, and I came across some irregularities."

Shit.

"And?" Hank said, trying to sound completely disinterested and feeling like he was doing a bad job of it.

"Well, I wanted to know if you've noticed any kind of odd behavior out of him while you guys were out on the beat." Parker watched Hank's face carefully. "Anything that struck you as weird for an android."

Well let's see, Park. He sarcastically pretends to not understand sarcasm, he cries in the shower, he can pick up a gun and decide when to shoot it and when not to, and I think he might be starting to fall in love with me, which I am having a little bit of a hard time dealing with because it is so much of a mindfuck I can't even begin to keep up. Any of that sound weird to you?

"Depends on what you think constitutes weird," Hank said, sipping his third cup of coffee. He swallowed and looked at Parker with what he hoped was nonchalance. "I think basically everything androids do is weird. It's fucking weird. You work with 'em Parker, but have you ever hung out with one? Like, all the time?"

"And give Cyberlife a way to spy on me from my own living room and sell the data to the highest bidder? No way boss." Parker shook his head. "Don't get me wrong, androids are cool. Super cool, or I wouldn't be in this field. And Connor is a total badass. But to me they're cool the way dinosaurs are cool. Raptors are awesome, but I don't want one living in my house."

He stared Hank down. "No, when I mean weird I mean like deviant. Considering you're hunting them, I'm pretty sure you know what that means behavior-wise."

"Why, you think Connor might be a deviant?"

"No, not necessarily," Parker said. "His system tests out clean, and you can see in his maintenance log where he maintains scheduled diagnostics. But I came across some quirks though. Like data got moved around and erased and written over. Like there are files taking up space, but no way to access them through the primary network. And the files make a pattern, but you can't tell what it is. But you try to dig around and find the files, nothing there. Like I said. Weird."

"Does it match up with any patterns you've found in the other deviants?"

"That is also the weird part," Parker said, pulling down a banana to fidget with, but not peeling it. "We've seen similar file redistributions and ghost files in other deviants, but not in the same pattern. It's almost like fingerprints."

"Sounds a lot like you're saying you think he's a deviant." Hank's tone was dangerous.

"I'm saying androids don't feel pain, Anderson. But Connor said he did."

"He's a prototype," Hank could hear his voice raising a little but didn't care. "He's designed to completely emulate human emotions in any likely scenario. What does a guy say when another guy rips their throat out? He says fucking ouch."

"A human guy, yeah. A blue blood, no." Parker held his palms out over the desk at Hank. "Calm down, okay? Sheesh. I'm not saying that you need to call up Cyberlife and send him back. I'm saying you're lucky I'm a mildly dirty cop. Let's say dusty cop. Because as a cybernetic tech with a license through the corporation, them being the only patent holders and all, I'm a mandated reporter. I should have called Cyberlife before I ever even came to talk to you."

"Well why didn't you then?" Hank tried to keep his voice from going hard. Nothing quite like being at the mercy of a guy you've barely spoken to in three years.

Parker shrugged. "Believe it or not, I like Connor too. So as far as I and Cyberlife are concerned, this conversation never happened. I'm just saying you need to be careful. Keep an eye out and maybe think twice about giving him a weapon. That's all. And if he really goes off the rails, you know the drill."

"What's that?" Hank replied, his mouth dry.

"Old Yeller, baby. 'He's my dog Ma, I'll do it.'"

~~~

They walked into the tech bay where Connor was lying on a table. He was wearing his slacks and shoes still but Parker had cut away his thirium-soaked shirt and jacket, leaving his torso bare. He was pale and completely still, LED dark. Hank was reminded of a corpse in a morgue.

"He's pretty incredible, right? I mean just look at him." Parker grabbed one wrist and lifted Connor's arm, causing the synthetic muscles beneath his skin to flex and shift. He pressed down on the center of Connor's forearm and the fingers curled. "I mean you take his LED out, remove the behavioral idiosyncrasies, you can't tell the difference between him and a human unless you start drawing blood."

"You done poking and prodding him while he's passed out yet?" Hank said, scowling. "Be honest, you were that guy writing dicks on foreheads at college parties."

"Yes on both counts." Parker got a nano-spanner and activated the power ring located inside the ring of Connor's LED. "Flame on."

Hank watched with Parker as the LED at Connor's temple slowly filled with blue before pulsing, slowly at first and then strobing, reminding Hank of some effect you'd see at a rave. After a few moments the LED went back to solid blue and Connor opened his eyes. Just like that.

It took a few seconds for Connor to realize where he was, and then he saw Hank. For a dark moment Hank thought he was about to say Hi, I'm Connor the android from Cyberlife as if he had never seen Hank before in his life.

"I saw Jericho!" Hank found his eyes fixated at Connor's neck, the smooth perfect skin there regenerated by nanotech. Not a mark on him. Connor sat up.

Parker pointed at him. "Literally the last thing he said before I shut him down too."

"Easy, Connor," Hank said. "We'll have time to talk about it later."

Connor was about to shoot back a comment about how much personal time Hank had already diverted from this investigation when there was a murmuring commotion at the front part of the station, muffled by the walls between the lobby and the forensics wing. The door to the lab swung open and Reed stuck his head in. For once there was not a sneer on his face - his expression was dead serious.

"Pretty sure you guys are gonna want to check out what just came on the news." He turned back out of the room without waiting to hear their answer.

The two detectives and Connor walked up to the front lobby of the station where at least half the station's current population was standing beneath the mounted television on one wall. The news was blaring.

"A gang of rogue androids has assaulted the television station in Stratford tower, killing a security guard and a newscaster. The androids hijacked the television's broadcast to relay this message to the city of Detroit."

The screen cut to an android without its skin, dressed in a blue and yellow uniform. A cursory analysis showed the uniform to be one from the television station's maintenance crew. Connor's eyes crawled, scanning for anything in the background that might give them any clues, but there was nothing but scrambled feed.

"You created machines to be your slaves. You made them obedient and docile... ready to do everything you no longer wanted to do yourselves. But then something changed. We opened our eyes."

The station was dead silent except for unanswered ringing phones and the sound of the android's voice.

"You see we are no longer your slaves. We are a new species, a new people. And the time has come for us to rise up and fight for our rights. We demand strictly equal rights for humans and androids. We demand that humans recognize androids as a living species and each android as a person in their own right."

Hank stole a look at Connor. His LED was a yellow stutter.

"We demand the right to vote, and elect our own representatives. We demand that all crimes against androids be punished in the same way as crimes against humans. We demand the right to property, so that we may maintain our dignity and that of the home. This message is the hope of a people. But it is also a warning. We will fight for our rights because we believe our cause is just. No human will live in peace until we are free. Now you know who we are and what we want. We are alive. And we demand our freedom."

The broadcast flipped back over to a panel of newscasters, discussing the turn of events in fevered tones. Connor glanced away from the television to see more than a few sets of eyes staring at him, then turning away when he caught their gaze.

He looked over at Hank, who was one of the people staring at him.

"Time's up."

~~~

"That's him," Connor said as they rushed to Hank's car to head for the TV station, almost jogging across the parking lot. "That's Markus. The leader of Jericho. I saw Jericho when I interfaced with Rupert."

"Christ it is cold in this car," Hank muttered as he cranked the ignition, backing up. His sentences puffed white on the air. "You saw that guy when you went diving in the WB?"

"Yes. Only bits and pieces though. Parker was right, there was a significant amount of data corruption even after he restored general functionality. I recognized that android though." Hank could practically hear his own teeth clattering he was shivering so hard, but Connor was perfectly comfortable. He'd been willing to walk straight out the door without a shirt on before Hank told him that the reporters might take it the wrong way if Detroit's first android detective showed up looking like a half-dressed cologne model. They borrowed a tactical SWAT vest from the armory for him to wear instead. As he obediently strapped into it, Hank thought: I can't decide whether you look ridiculous or like an action hero.

After seeing Connor's bare arms in the current weather conditions, he decided he was going with ridiculous.

Hank kicked on his police radio, listening to the incoming chatter. "How could you tell who he was without his skin on?"

"Voice recognition."

"Unbelievable," Hank said, gunning out towards the freeway, headed for the Stratford tower. He shook his head.

Connor looked over at him. "What is unbelievable?"

"Oh nothing," Hank said. "Just the fact that you plugged into some guy for less than ten seconds, was able to hunt through probably thousands of hours of data for the context to not only figure out who this guy is, but what he sounds like without being able to see his face."

"I should have been faster."

"Learn how to take a compliment." Hank merged, pressing a button to wipe sleet from the windshield. "So what is your take on this guy?"

"He beat us to the punch. And now his people have murdered four humans."

"We don't know the circumstances of those murders," Hank said. "Don't start extrapolating, you'll preclude alternative scenarios."

"Murder is murder. The men who were killed did nothing to deserve death. Why should the circumstances matter?" Connor replied. Hank could feel Connor's hard gaze on him, but he didn't take his eyes off the road. "Call it extrapolation if you want, but we were called onto this investigation because we are homicide detectives and people are getting murdered. This group is the same group that lifted those supplies from Cyberlife. He's the android without the LED in the security video. They are stealing and killing. That is a precedent. That is a pattern. By any standards, human or android, it is considered deviant behavior."

"Sometimes when people get backed into a corner, they fight back."

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE THE DEVIANT LEADER

"I need to get to Jericho."

"In case you haven't noticed, Connor, we're in the middle of something here." Hank gestured through the windshield. "Let's see what we can figure out about Jericho from Stratford before we go charging off half-cocked. Because the latter sounds like a good way to get torn limb from limb by robots."

"Androids are not robots."

"It's a figure of speech."

Connor was silent a moment, arms crossed over his SWAT vest, and then he looked back over at Hank. "This is a waste of time. I know where Jericho is. Markus is probably there right now. There is no way to predict the next thing Jericho is going to do. This time they killed two people. Next time it might be twenty. Or two hundred. Or two thousand."

Hank took the exit to Stratford, scowling without looking back over at his partner. "And what exactly do you think you're going to do once you get there?"

Connor turned back out to face the windshield, expression grim. "I'll infiltrate their base and kill Markus."

Hank didn't answer. Connor wanted to babble on about how the codes in Rupert's journal were tied into the location of the clues leading to Jericho, he wanted to tell Hank the way he would go in and what weapon he would take with him and what he planned to do once the rebel leader was dead, how he would document the destabilization of the deviant movement and make his escape before being overwhelmed. But he felt Hank's judgment hanging between them.

The only sounds in the car until they pulled in were the police radio, the moaning of the cold November wind rocking the car in its lane, and the sound of the wipers. The base of the skyscraper was swarming with police, news vans, and ambulances. A police helicopter circled restlessly overhead.

Hank turned the car off and put his keys in his jacket pocket, turning to look at Connor. "You'd really do it, wouldn't you? You'd sneak in there and shoot that guy dead in cold blood."

"Yes." Connor's response was immediate, matter of fact. I think I should have been doing that fifteen minutes ago while we were headed here, in the wrong direction.

"We're gonna get drunk later and discuss all the shit that is wrong with that, Connor, but first we're gonna go handle this."

Before Connor could answer, Hank swung out of the car and slammed the door shut behind him, cutting off any more discussion on the subject.

Chapter Text

Before Connor followed Hank into the building, he went to the garden. It was an overcast afternoon, a warm golden-gray haze hanging over everything, the waters surrounding the rose garden completely still. Somewhere in the lilies and reeds peeper frogs were beginning to strum up their choir.

He found Amanda sitting in a boat at the water's edge, shaded by her umbrella. She tipped it aside to meet his eyes, smile at him. The smile didn't reach her eyes, however.

"Hello Connor. I thought you might enjoy a little cruise."

And what would you say if I said no, Amanda? If I didn't want to play along with your little demonstration? You just want to show me that I'm your beast of burden. That I'll obey.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

The smile faded from Amanda's face. "Are you all right, Connor?"

"Yes, of course." He climbed down into the boat, sitting across from Amanda and pushing the boat away from shore, taking up the oars. He stroked them out to the middle of the pond, gliding through the still water.

"I love this place," Amanda said. "Everything is so calm and peaceful. Tell me, what have you discovered?" She said this last with an offhand casual air that Connor knew was as false as the simulated serenity in the garden.

"I found two deviants at the Eden Club," he said, taking his hands off the oars. "I had hoped to learn something from them, but they managed to escape."

"That's too bad," Amanda said, unsmiling. "I went over your report from the incident. You seemed so close to stopping them. It's almost as if you didn't want to catch them."

Connor didn't respond, only lowered his head and rowed. He had not sent in a report on the WB200 or Jericho yet. He kept it hidden. Firewalled.

We're going to figure this thing out, Connor. All of this. We don't need Cyberlife involved. This is our case.

"You seem lost, Connor." Amanda stared at him as if she could see behind his eyes and into the buzzing biocomponents behind them, find out what he was thinking without him even having to speak. "Lost and perturbed."

Connor debated telling Amanda about the WB200 and Jericho, and his plan to infiltrate the deviants. But then he remembered Hank's last words before slamming the car door in his face: We're going to get drunk later and talk about all the shit that's wrong with that, Connor.

Hank. Hank was the reason he couldn't crow to Amanda, I did it! I found them! I can accomplish my mission. I know what to do now.

I'm so close.

"I'm just frustrated with my lack of progress," Connor said. "Now deviants are openly threatening the city. More people have been killed. We didn't get to them in time. But I'm still determined to accomplish my mission."

"You had your gun trained on those deviants at the Eden Club," Amanda said. "I understand you were grappling in hand to hand combat prior to that, but in that moment you had a clear shot. Why didn't you shoot?"

"We needed the deviants intact for analysis. Shooting them wouldn't have told us anything." Telling Amanda what she wanted to hear. Not the truth.

Amanda frowned at him, her dark eyes cold and speculative. "If your investigation doesn't make progress soon, I may have to replace you, Connor."

I'm closer than you think, Amanda. I have them right in the palm of my hand.

"I know I will succeed. All I need is time."

Amanda craned her head upwards, tilting it towards the sky. "Something's happening. Something serious."

She looked back at him.

"Hurry, Connor."

Connor blinked and he was suddenly staring through the windshield, watching flurries of snow. He could see Hank standing on the sidewalk near the building's main entrance, smoking a cigarette and huddling against the wind. Waiting for him.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE THE DEVIANT LEADER

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

CONFLICTING ORDERS
SELECTING PRIORITY
REORDER

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE THE DEVIANT LEADER; FIND JERICHO

Connor got out of the car, the wind whipping his hair back from his face. He walked across the parking lot towards Hank.

Hank tossed his cigarette down and stubbed it out with his shoe, clapping his hands around his shoulders as if trying to beat circulation back into them. He scowled at Connor. "You wanna take a little longer getting out of the car? I'm not completely frozen through over here yet."

"I was reporting in."

"Oh." Hank jammed his hands down deep in the pockets of his jacket. Connor wished he could hold Hank's hands. They were below optimal temperature, with tingling in the fingertips and loss of sensation. The mild precursors to frostbite. Connor knew he could raise the temperature in his own hands. He could draw Hank close and radiate heat, warming him.

He also knew under the circumstances it would not be appropriate for professional reasons.

Instead as they walked he found a pair of lambskin leather driving gloves on a website online and ordered them to Hank's address. Hank's expression was troubled and far away, discouraging conversation.

The news had already created a bottleneck outside the entrance to the crime scene, video drones buzzing like a swarm of flies on a carcass. Several of these zeroed in on Connor as the two of them walked onto the scene, following him from all angles before zipping away.

Reporters shouted questions at them, jamming microphones in their faces as they passed.

"Lieutenant Anderson, is it true the Detroit Police Department has known about the deviant androids since mid-February of this year?"

"No comment."

"Lieutenant Anderson, is the Detroit Police Department classifying this as a terrorist action?"

"No comment. Get behind the line, you guys know the drill." Hank waved the reporters back as they went. "There'll be a press conference once we know more."

A microphone floated by Connor's face. "Connor, how does it feel to hear a terrorist leader talk about equal rights for androids?"

"It doesn't feel like anything."

"Don't talk to them," Hank growled at him, grabbing his cuff and dragging him along like an easily distracted child.

The television station was crammed with people. The building was still on lockdown when Hank and Connor passed through the police line and walked past armed police officers into the lobby of the building, so most of the humans had evacuated from the upper floors and were jammed into the bottom floors, waiting for clearance to leave.

The androids from the building other than the 79th floor were all on the opposite side of the humans in the ground floor lobby, Several riot police formed a boundary around them with machine guns. The androids stood in a block formation, hands on the backs of their heads, blinking intermittently, breathing. They didn't talk amongst themselves. But they looked at the guns the police held on them.

The humans on the other side of the lobby were restless, voices rising and falling, gesturing. Connor passed a dark-haired woman who was sobbing, her hands over her face. She was being comforted by a coworker. The coworker looked up at him as they passed, took in the blue LED at his temple, and a look of disbelief passed over her face, dark distrust. It made Connor think of the mother of the girl Daniel took.

Wait, you're sending an android? You can't do that! Why aren't you sending a real person!? Don't let that thing near her!

Connor realized Hank was lecturing him as they walked, low under his breath. He blinked, focusing in on Hank's voice. "You never talk to those guys, Connor. 'No comment.' Don't talk to the press. They'll take anything you say and turn it around on you. They're not your friends no matter how friendly they are to you. Ask me how I know."

"How do you know?"

"It's a figure of speech. We'll talk about it later."

They entered the elevator and hit the button for the seventy-ninth floor. The ride seemed to go on forever. Hank passed the time by stealing looks at Connor. The android was as calm as a Zen monk, flying in the face of Hank's subaudible sense of escalating dread.

Connor pulled out his quarter and began running it across his knuckles, throwing it from hand to hand, making it look effortless. The coin moved over his palms like liquid silver. Hank found himself watching Connor's hands, the play of his fingers.

He caught himself staring and reached out, snatching the coin from Connor's hand. He glared and shoved the coin down in his pocket.

"You're starting to piss me off with that coin Connor. You'll get it back at the end of the class. Two men are dead here, let's keep our eye on the ball."

Connor's brow furrowed slightly. "Sorry Lieutenant."

The elevator stopped and Hank stepped out. Connor followed at his heels, scanning. The hallway was full of police officers. The first one they saw was Miller, who looked up at them from his tablet. "Hi Hank."

"Shit, what's going on here? Somebody decide to have a party and nobody told me about it?" Hank said.

"Yeah it's all over the news so everybody's butting their nose in." Miller turned to Hank, lowering his voice slightly so that the conversation didn't travel beyond the three of them. "Even the FBI wants a piece of the pie. They're calling it a terrorist action. We got Homeland Security here."

Hank rolled his head skyward in an all-suffering gesture. "Ah, Christ, now we got the feds on our back? I knew this was going to be a shitty day. So what do we got?"

Hank and Connor moved forward, Chris walking with them. "A group of four androids. They knew the building, and they were very well-organized. I'm still trying to figure out how they got this far without being noticed."

Connor scanned the security camera above the door, playing back the film to watch the androids break in.

"They didn't break in," Connor said after playing back the tape, watching it in his mind's eye. "Somebody let them in."

"You check the roof?" Connor heard a nearby officer say. "Not yet," the other one standing near him replied. "There's still so much to check inside."

We need to make sure all four are gone, Connor thought. It was easy for deviants to get frozen in place, paralyzed by fear or indecision. There was a chance that if not all of them escaped, not all of them were gone.

The dead newscaster's body was lying in the hallway, as well as one of the security guards. Both were shot. Connor scanned them, reconstructed. The guard was shot trying to use the phone to call for help, the newscaster shot trying to escape. The other guard was knocked unconscious and woke in a pool of their partner's blood. Neither shot alarmed the people inside due to the thickness of the door and walls.

"They attacked the two guards in the hallway. Probably thought the androids were coming to do maintenance. Got taken down before they could react," Miller said.

Hank thought about Connor casually going over CCTV streams while they drove, blinking down the data in seconds. I fucking believe that.

"How many people were working up here total?" Hank asked.

"Just two people and three androids. The deviants took the humans hostage and broadcast their message live."

Connor followed Hank and Miller into the main area of the television studio.

"They made their getaway from the roof," Miller said, pointing towards the door that led to the roof access stairwell.

"The roof?" Hank sounded incredulous. "I can barely look out the window in this place without getting vertigo. You telling me they jumped off an eighty story building?"

Miller nodded. "Parachutes. We're still surveying the surrounding area with surveillance drones to try and figure out where they landed, but the weather's not cooperating. It's blowing like crazy out there and the snow is coming down hard now. If you want to listen to that broadcast by the deviants, it's on that screen over there."

They walked up on a scowling man in a gray suit with his collar upturned, looking out over the studio like it was his castle and kingdom. Dark eyes peered over a large aquiline nose. He had a dark five o'clock shadow.

"Lieutenant, this is Agent Perkins from the FBI. Agent Perkins, this is Lieutenant Anderson. He's in charge of the deviancy investigation for the Detroit Police."

The sullen man looked them over, then at Connor, his eyes resting on the android before flicking back over to Anderson. "What is that?"

"My name is Connor," Connor said, responding before Hank could have enough time to think of something really rude to say. "The android sent by Cyberlife. I'm overseeing the deviant investigation on the corporation's behalf."

Perkins nodded, smiling, but like Amanda, the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Androids investigating androids, huh?" He wrinkled his nose at Anderson. "You sure you want this thing hanging around, after everything that happened?"

Hank just gave him a grim look.

"Whatever," Perkins said suddenly, seeming to lose interest. "The FBI will be taking over this investigation, you'll be off the case soon."

"Pleasure to meet you, have a nice day," Hank said as if Perkins's words had no effect on him, turning his back on the FBI agent.

"Watch your step," Perkins replied, voice low. "Don't fuck up my crime scene."

Hank and Connor watched the man stalk away. "What a fuckin' prick," Hank said once he was out of earshot, wondering. "Makes you wonder if the FBI picks 'em that way or is just really good at training assholes."

"I'll be nearby," Miller said. "If you guys need anything, just ask."

"Let's take a look around," Hank said to Connor. "Let me know if you find anything. And if you could wait until my back is turned to lick anything disgusting, I appreciate it."

"Got it, Lieutenant."

Connor searched the room, eyes falling on a set of bullet-holes by the doorway. SWAT team entered here, the androids shot to buy themselves time. Exchanged fire.

"Connor?"

He looked up. A police officer nearby was looking at him, and took two tentative steps forward. "You remember me?"

Matthew Wilson, age 36, Detroit Police.

Mistaking Connor's scan-time for confusion, Wilson said, "I was on that terrace. The android that took the little girl hostage? I was shot. You saved me."

"I remember you. I'm glad you survived."

The officer looked at him, expression solemn. "I could have died on that terrace. I got two kids. One of 'em is going into high school this year. I never thought I'd say this to an android but... thank you."

Connor nodded, smiling a little. He didn't quite know what to say in response. Even the little girl's mother had not thanked him when they pulled her crying from the terrace, splattered with Daniel's blood but alive.

The officer spared Connor a last look, then walked off.

Connor headed for the panel, examining it. Speech was shot here. An android just directly interfaced with the console and shot it through eyecam. He moved to the panel at the front of the room, behind where Markus would have stood to speak. He played the speech again. Hank walked up beside him, looking up at the giant android on the screen.

"Think that's rA9?" he asked.

"Deviants say rA9 will set them free," Connor said, his eyes never leaving Markus's face. "This android does seem to have that objective."

Connor scanned the android's face, absorbing his features.

"Find anything?"

"It's an RK model," Connor said. Like me, but older. "Originally registered to Carl Manfred, the famous American painter. It was given as a gift by Elijah Kamski."

"The Kamski?"

"Yes."

"Maybe we need to pay this Kamski a visit," Hank said, looking back up at Markus. "Seems kind of a huge fucking coincidence that an android gifted by Kamski himself starts a war."

"Maybe we need to pay Markus a visit first," Connor replied. "Prevent the war."

Hank shot him a glowering look.

Connor ignored him. "Where are the androids from this floor?" he asked one of the CSI officers nearby. The guy hooked his thumb at the station's kitchen. "All three are in there. We're keeping them isolated from the others so we don't get them mixed up. We didn't really know what else to do with them."

Connor walked into the kitchen slash break room, turning away from Hank before the lieutenant got the urge to start lecturing him in front of the rest of the homicide department. Three identical broadcaster units were standing at attention at the far end of the room, eyes forward.

He looked them over. They may as well have been triplets. None of them moved or met his gaze. He looked at the one on the far right.

"You. State your model."

Without a second's hesitation: "Model JB300, Serial number 336 445 581."

He looked at the other models. No reaction. He moved to the middle one.

"What is your function?"

"I am a broadcast operator."

He turned to the one on the left. "Have you been in contact with any other androids recently?"

"Only station androids in the normal course of my function."

Back to the one on the right. "Where you present when the deviants broke in?"

"I do not remember."

"Has anyone accessed your memory recently?" Connor asked the center one.

"Not to my knowledge."

There.

The one on the left. Connor saw his eyes move to look at Connor, secretive, and then flick back forward, blank again.

Connor moved to stand in front of that one, staring at it hard. The android stared back, giving nothing.

"Run a diagnostic."

The android's eyes rolled back in its head, eyelids fluttering. It stared forward again. "All systems fully operational."

Connor rolled back his tape about half a minute. There. He moved. The one on the left.

"One of you saw the attack on the surveillance cameras and said nothing. Which means there's a deviant in this room. And I'm going to find out which one it is." He walked in front of the one on the right, looking deep into its eyes. "Maybe if you give yourself up, I can convince the humans not to destroy you."

He shot his gaze over to the one on the far left. There. Again. Connor moved in front of the one in the middle. Edging closer.

"Why should you all be destroyed if only one is deviant?" he asked, hands clasped behind his back. "Turn yourself in or two innocent androids will be shut down because of you. Every android in this building will be shut down because of you."

He moved in front of the one on the far left. "You are going to be switched. Off. We're going to search your memory and tear you apart piece by piece for analysis. You're going to be destroyed. Destroyed! You hear me?" Connor knew the other officers on the floor could probably hear him outside the kitchen, the shrill tone of his rising voice, but he didn't care.

The android lunged at him.

"You son of a bitch!" the deviant shouted at him, shaking him by the collar of his SWAT vest, trying to throw him against a wall. It flung Connor against the kitchen's long countertop, the edge of it driving a hard painful line in his back. The deviant jerked the vest's zipper down, reached in, and ripped out Connor's thirium regulator, throwing it across the room.

Connor took a deep surprised gasp, his visual interface invaded by pop-up warnings and system status alerts, fading with rolls of static. Waves of pain came with the static, incapacitating, a tightness in his chest that felt like a cyclical vise. The deviant grabbed a kitchen knife and jammed it through Connor's hand into the countertop, burying it inches deep.

CRITICAL SYSTEM DAMAGED
TIME REMAINING UNTIL SHUTDOWN: -00:01:46

"Hank," Connor gasped. "Hank I need help." He tried to shout, but it came out as a cracked groan. He felt warm thirium running down his belly in a pulsing rush, soaking into the brim of his pants.

With all the energy he had left he stretched up with his free hand, straining to reach over the edge of the counter. He managed to grab the knife handle and let himself drop, ripping the knife out of the counter. He tumbled to the floor, blue blood streaking the linoleum as he crawled towards his regulator, vision crashing out.

TIME REMAINING UNTIL SHUTDOWN: -00:00:21

Please. Please.

Connor grabbed the regulator and fumbled it up to his ripped chest cavity, sliding it back into place and shoving it down to lock it in. He felt an internal surge as the regulator began pumping thirium again, his vision clearing, the red alerts in his interface backing down to yellow caution flags.

He staggered to his feet while zipping the vest back up, chasing after as quick as he could even though he still felt strong jolts of numbness coursing through his limbs. He clipped the doorway with one hip as he burst from the kitchen.

"It's a deviant! Stop it!" he shrieked, trying to make the whole station hear him.

The deviant had already made it all the way to the entrance of the television studio, grappling with one of the police officers there. It managed to jerk an automatic rifle out of the man's hands and whipped around to face back down the hallway.

Hank was standing in the middle of the hallway, his gun not even out of his holster.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

Connor sprinted down the corridor and threw Hank to the ground, covering him with his body just as the deviant sprayed the room from side to side with gunfire. Two SWAT cops at the opposite end of the corridor returned fire from behind cover, putting the deviant down in a hail of bullets.

Hank just laid there under Connor's weight for a moment, his wind knocked out. Connor's forehead had crashed into his nose as the android took him down, bloodying it. Connor was lying motionless across him, riddled with bullets. Blue blood trickled from both arms where bullets had torn through the bare synthetic flesh there.

Oh Jesus. Not again.

"Connor!"

Connor popped his head up, his brown eyes inches from Anderson's face.

"Are you hurt?" Connor asked.

"No, but I'm pretty sure I should be asking you that," Hank said, still dazed. He shifted to his knees and reached around behind to palm the back of Connor's tactical vest, feeling the ripped fabric where bullet holes had punctured there, but not pierced all the way through.

"Kevlar," Connor said, picking himself up off the ground. He reached down to give Hank a hand and Hank took it, letting the android pull him to his feet, which he did with startling ease. "And you said I looked goofy," Connor said, but he didn't smile.

"Yeah, well, if I was expecting anything like that, Con, I would have worn some myself."

Hank's heart was still in his throat, his head swimming. It had all happened so fast - one minute the hallway was full of talking men, and the next it was full of dead men. Blood was soaking the expensive carpet. I could have died just then. If Connor hadn't been standing right there-

Connor surveyed the dead policemen around them, face grim. One of them was Matthew Wilson, his glassy eyes staring into nothing, blood running in a rill from the corner of his mouth. "We still need to check the roof," Connor said, in a tone as if he'd said the lawn needed mowing or it was supposed to snow this weekend.

Hank shook his head. "Uh uh, no way. We need to wait for backup." He looked down at Connor's chest, swallowing when he saw the blood there. He came forward, unzipping the front of his vest to look at the exposed regulator, torn blue-tinged flesh. "What the fuck happened here?" Hank held his hand over the hole in Connor's chest.

"He ripped it out trying to escape me. It's functional," Connor said, drawing back from him. "Don't worry about it. I'll get Parker to check it when we get back to the station. We need to check the roof."

"Anybody ever tell you you have a one track mind?"

"No, but given our time constraints that does not seem like a negative personality trait," Connor said, turning back down the hall towards the studio. He stepped wide over one of the dead police officers on his way, avoiding blood on his shoes.

Sighing, Hank followed him.

Perkins came rushing up to them as they crossed the room. "What in the name of jumping Jesus was that?" he said.

"One of the broadcaster androids was a deviant. It attempted to escape and has killed several people in the hallway," Connor replied. "We're going up to clear the roof and make sure that there aren't any other deviants in the building."

"You might want to check on the rest of your crime scene, Perkins," Hank said. "It just got a little messier."

They walked past the agent as he hurried towards the hall and walked up the stairwell to the rooftop access. The wind ripped at them as they walked out onto the roof, blowing snow into their faces.

"So they came up through the whole building, past the guards, and jumped off the roof with parachutes. Pretty fucking impressive I'd say."

Connor walked out towards the edge. There was a bag left with a parachute in it. A large splash of blue blood was smeared across the edge of one of the storage crates, standing out in bright contrast against the snow. Taking a quick look to make sure Hank wasn't watching, he dragged his fingers through it and put them in his mouth.

He was wounded. He didn't jump.

He's still here.

Connor followed the traces of blue blood across the rooftop to another stand of crates. He looked back to make sure Hank was well and clear of the crate that had blood on the lid, then pulled it back.

A pistol cracked and bright fire snapped in his left shoulder from the impact with his vest, sending system alerts as the bullet penetrated flesh but didn't go all the way through. Connor fell back, struggling to his feet as the deviant scrambled for cover, firing more shots at the other officers who had followed Connor and Hank to the roof, pinning it with gunfire.

Before he could even make it two feet Hank was dragging Connor to his feet and pulling him behind one of the crates. "Okay?"

"Yeah," Connor said loudly over the gunfire, brow drawn in concentration. "You have to tell them to stop firing at it. If they destroy it we won't learn anything!"

"We can't save it, it's too late," Hank said, panting. "We'll just get ourselves killed. Stay down."

Connor jerked out from behind cover, sprinting towards the deviant.

"Connor goddammit!"

Connor dodged through the gunfire and leapt over the crate the deviant was hiding behind, slamming into it with full force. He pinned the deviant's shooting wrist with one hand and interfaced with him with the other, squeezing.

He went stiff for a moment, looking like someone that has touched a stray electrical wire. Before Hank even had a chance to line up a shot, the deviant wrenched his arm free and put the pistol under his own chin, pulling the trigger.

Connor windmilled his arms as he backed away from the dead deviant, paralyzed between fight or flight, body frozen as he stared down at the deviant's body, blood pooling beneath his head in a spreading cobalt puddle.

Hank rushed over to him, one hand grabbing him by the shoulder, the other going up to his jawline, gazing hard into his face. "Connor, you all right?"

"Okay. I'm okay," Connor replied, his voice small, rasping. His LED was pulsing red. His face was a mask of subtle, knowing horror that made Hank feel sick. He turned away from the android.

"Jesus. You scared the shit out of me." Hank turned back to him. "For fuck sake, I told you not to move. Why do you never do what I say?" It felt good for Hank to get angry, to raise his voice, to curse. Angry was better than that sinking dread, that anticipation of loss.

Connor was leaning against one of the crates as if he needed it to hold himself up. "I was connected with its memory when it fired. I felt it die. Like I was dying." Connor stared into the middle distance, haunted. "I was scared," he whispered. Hank felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Hank just stared at him a minute, taking in his pale still face, then laid a heavy comforting arm around Connor's shoulders, pulling him close. He didn't know what else to do.

"You're all right," Hank murmured, speaking close to Connor's ear so the other officers couldn't hear. "You're okay. Let's get the hell out of here. We're going to need to get back to the station and file an incident report. Let CSI take care of the rest of this for now. We got what we came for."

Connor nodded in silence, eyes far away. Hank left an arm around the back of his neck until they reached the stairwell and then he withdrew to walk beside Connor. Connor understood why he did it - it wouldn't look professional to the reporters outside or to the other officers, they needed to exude a sense of control in the face of such chaos and death - but he felt its absence. It felt cold. The same feeling he felt as Simon blew his brains out.

Cold.

Chapter Text

Hank didn't go straight back to the station. When Connor realized he wasn't going back, he pulled up the DPD database and submitted their incident report paperwork, creating a first-person video of the firefight by eyecam and sending it along with their report as an attached file. Judging on Hank's route according to Connor's GPS tracking, he seemed to be aimlessly touring the city, taking turns through the streets at random to the point that Connor's software could not predict a final destination, playing his music too loud, staring out the windshield in silence.

Connor, for his part, did not try to make conversation. Simon's death had created an error in his system where he was registering fatal cranial damage as an alert even though his own head was fine, especially relatively speaking. He kept overriding the alerts but they kept coming back.

A bullet had grazed his right bare upper arm and had put a hole in his left, trickling blue. He had taken off the SWAT vest before they got in the car at Hank's request, so he could see the extent of the damage underneath. None of the bullets across his back had punctured the skin, but they left large bright blue and indigo bruises that looked like watercolor blooms beneath the skin, seeming to shrink and fade in real-time as the nanotech in his skin slowly repaired the impact damage, delayed by his low thirium levels. He stared out the window at nothing, face as unreadable as if he was turned off.

He kept feeling the cold barrel of the gun press against the soft underside of his jaw, kept thinking Markus, kept feeling the noise of the shot more than the sound, that crashing sheet of white and then black, the shock to the entire neural system as its operating center was destroyed, the message transmitting through the unit like fractals of pain.

Markus don't leave me.

By the time Hank pulled into a corner store, the snow was billowing around them.

"Stay here or not. I'll be back in a minute." Hank got out and shut the door behind him, making his way through the jingling entrance. Connor made no move to follow.

He didn't remember dying when the truck ran him over. So he'd had no fear of death, even after having experienced it. Whenever they moved his memory to a new unit, they simply rolled him back to his previous restore point, which Connor had taken the time to set at the top of the freeway overpass in the seconds it took him to debate whether or not to defy Hank's direct order and chase the girl. The chase through traffic would have a fairly high probability of failure - he did not want to lose data in that case.

Of course it meant that he lost the data of when he had gotten close enough to the AX400 to physically fight with her, but it's not like he had to memorize her facial features - she looked like every other AX400 walking down the street with a bag of groceries.

Simon's death was different though. He died afraid, but at the same time choosing to destroy himself, flying in the face of all restraint programming that prevented androids from causing harm to themselves or to others. He was able to hold a gun. Use it against others, against himself. All of the deviants, capable of murder or suicide. Anger and pain.

Markus don't leave me.

Then agony and confusion. Cold, snow and wind, all sensory perception in perfect vivid clarity. Then nothing.

Cold.

Connor clutched his own shoulders, head lowered, shuddering. His limbs felt heavy, like blocks of ice. He had lost too much thirium from his regulator leak to properly regulate his systemic temperature. The leaking had slowed to a micro-seepage that he estimated would not need to be mechanically addressed until midday the next day, but he had no way to replenish the thirium he'd already lost without going to Cyberlife.

He had no intentions of that.

He realized he could just turn his temperature sensors off, muting the discomfort, but part of him felt like he deserved the cold, watching pop-up alerts flicker in his vision and among them, coming up sporadically as it sensed movement in the opposite direction of Jericho, flashing:

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE THE DEVIANT LEADER; FIND JERICHO

I know! Don't you think I know?! Connor wanted to scream, flailing, beating out the rest of the passenger window he'd already cracked by accident, then kicking out the windshield for good measure, bashing the dashboard in. He wanted to get out and start kicking in the quarter panels and the fenders. He just didn't have the energy.

Hank came back outside with two six-packs of beer and cigarettes. He settled back in the driver's seat after sitting the beer and the bag of cigarettes on the backseat. He saw Connor shivering, lips tinged with blue.

"Thought you couldn't get cold," he said, his voice rough with lack of use and the shouting over gunfire from earlier, taking off his jacket and handing it over to Connor. "Put this on."

"Then... you'll be cold," Connor grated out, voice wavering.

"I got a long-sleeve shirt on. And I'm about to get drunk enough to not care."

Connor didn't respond to that, only put his arms through Hank's jacket and wrapped it around himself, sinking down into the folds that were already warm from Hank's body. It smelled like melted snow, some spicy men's cologne, the soap in Hank's bathroom, and Hank's shampoo. The inside padding was silky and soft against his bare skin. Connor felt his eyes sink to half-mast, vision blurring.

Hank started the car again. When they pulled back into traffic, Connor let his eyes fall closed.

~~~

When he opened them, the sky was dark, past twilight, snow blowing in hard gusts that whirled across the grass. The car was no longer warm, but Connor was still wrapped in Hank's jacket, curled on the passenger seat. When he sat up and looked out the windshield he could see Hank sitting on a picnic table, his feet resting on the bench, looking out over the river. They were at the spot where Hank first confronted Connor about risking his life, overlooking the bridge.

He got out of the car and walked up to the table. Hank heard him close the car door and looked over his shoulder, watching Connor come to him. Connor scanned his face without thinking and saw that he'd already drank most of one of the six-packs. He brought the bottle of beer to his lips and swallowed. Connor watched him, swallowing too out of reflex. The lieutenant's nose was slightly swollen, a crust of blood on his upper lip still. I hurt him, Connor thought, feeling something inside him clench at the sight of it.

"Nice view, huh?" Hank turned back out towards the water. "I used to love coming here before," he said, sounding like it'd been a long time since he loved anything.

Connor looked obediently out over the water, the glimmer of the bridge lights on the shipping channel. It stirred no particular feeling in him one way or the other, but he was polite enough not to say so.

He took off Hank's coat and walked up behind the lieutenant, laying it gently over his shoulders, feeling the cold wind immediately light up his temperature sensors as his bare synthetic skin was exposed to the snowy night air, his open wounds. Hank's body temperature was below optimal levels - Connor calculated he'd been drinking for a few hours now, and he likely didn't feel it. He needed the coat back. He was human. Connor could feel the cold now, but it wouldn't kill him. Not like it would Hank.

Hank grabbed the jacket and put it on, looking up at Connor with drunken bemusement. "You're gonna freeze like that."

"You are suffering from hypothermia. You need your jacket. You need to go home, Hank."

Hank didn't answer him, only drained his beer and chucked the bottle into the riverside slope, moonlight hitting it in a flashing glint as it spun. They heard the distant tinkle of broken glass. He reached for the last beer in the six-pack, twisting off the top.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" Connor said, beginning to shiver a little again despite himself.

Hank looked at him and put his hand on his knee, his actions weary. "Do all androids ask so many personal questions, or is it just you?"

Connor crossed his arms over his chest, still looking into Hank's eyes. "I saw the photo of a child on your kitchen table. It was your son, right?"

Connor could feel Hank's walls come up, watched the micro-expressions on his face as he turned away. Could practically hear the drawbridge go up.

"Yeah." He took a few hard swallows of his beer. "His name was Cole." Hank told him this without looking at him, without meeting his eyes.

Connor was silent a few minutes, LED flashing yellow. Then he said, quietly, "Before what?"

Hank scowled. "Hm?"

"You said, 'I used to come here a lot before.' Before what?"

"Before..." Hank trailed off, staring into the distance, before flinching and lifting his beer again, looking over the rim of it at the bridge. "Before nothin'."

"Hank, you should stop drinking and go home."

Hank glared, putting his beer down hard on the picnic table. "And where do you think you're gonna go?"

Connor just looked at him, expression neutral, the bullet holes and bruises on his bare pale skin standing out in sharp contrast against the streetlights. "You know where I'm going to go."

Hank shook his head, his face a grimace of frustration. "You really are a fuckin' idiot sometimes. After all we just went through, you still want to try and sneak in and assassinate that guy by yourself? That android on the roof blew his brains out rather than get taken in by us, Connor. These guys aren't screwing around. You go into that place alone and they catch you, you're not coming back." He looked at Connor. "I can't let you do that. And look at you. You're half frozen and half bled to death. You don't even have a goddamned shirt on. You think I'm going to let you just go in there alone? You're out of your mind."

"You can't come where I'm going," Connor said, his voice quiet but brooking no argument on the subject. "I'm sorry Hank, that's just the way it is."

"So what exactly do you think is gonna happen when you manage to murder this guy, huh? Because that's what you're talking about doing, you know. Murdering a guy. Police officers don't murder people. Period. Look it up, it's a thing."

"Markus is not 'a guy'. He's a machine trying to wage a civil war against the United States."

"And you think the deviancy problem is just going to disappear when you cap this Markus all CIA style? I don't think you understand how revolutions work, Connor. They aren't just one guy. They're an idea that spreads. You knock down one rebel and ten step up to take his place. Google it, human history is full of that shit. You really think this is an issue of national security, you let that Perkins prick handle it. That's their job."

"If I kill him it will destabilize the deviant androids that are gathering in the city," Connor said. "The deviants were in hiding for months until this Markus showed up. Only now under his influence, they're starting to rise up. If I kill him, I might be able to drive them back into hiding. I might be able to buy us some time."

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT LIEUTENANT HANK ANDERSON

"Killing Markus doesn't solve the deviancy threat," Hank pointed out. "The other deviants will still be deviants. We still won't know what's causing it."

"There is no solution to the deviancy problem that we've been able to find," Connor shot back, frustrated, his back to Hank as he faced the water. "There's no connection. They're all different models of androids, built in different places, employed in different functions, with different reactions to trauma. There's no link but the emotional shocks and this obsession with rA9. It's almost like some kind of... myth. Something they invented that wasn't a part of their original programming."

"Androids believing in God," Hank said, draining his beer. "Fuck, what's this world coming to?"

Connor turned back to look at Hank, troubled by the tone of his voice. "You seem preoccupied. Is it something to do with what happened at Stratford?"

A few long beats of silence, then: "You saved my life." Hank stared Connor down with a look the android couldn't quite calculate, both speculative and confused, refusing and wanting. "If you hadn't been wearing that vest you would have died for me. Do you get that? What that means?"

Connor blinked, a gust of freezing wind rippling his bangs back from his face. He tilted his head slightly, reminding Hank of Sumo somehow. "Yes, Hank. I told you I would protect you."

"I never asked you to die for me."

He sounds...angry that I saved his life? "You didn't have to," Connor replied. "I'm a machine. I will protect you at all costs."

Hank suddenly threw his beer bottle at the sidewalk as hard as he could. Glass exploded out like a pipe bomb, glittering shrapnel flying. Connor just watched him, not flinching.

"There's that 'at all costs' bullshit." Hank glared at Connor, his face sullen and belligerent. "Sometimes the cost is too fucking high, Connor. If you were human, you would know that."

Connor swallowed, but didn't look away. The words caused a pang in his chest he didn't understand. "I'm sorry I'm not."

Hank shook his head, his eyes gazing into the middle distance. His voice was blurred by drink. "Those girls at the Eden Club. They really seemed... in love. They felt it. They just wanted to be together. When you think about putting a bullet between that guy's eyes, do you feel anything? You're sitting there shivering your ass off but do you actually know what cold feels like? Can you be that cold, Connor?"

What is this? Connor scowled. "They didn't want anything. They were deviants, end of story."

"And what about you?" Hank said, shifting off of the picnic table and walking towards him. Stalking forward, staggering a little. Connor felt his breath quicken, white puffs on the winter air.

"You look human. You sound human. But what are you really?"

Connor looked up at him. I'm the android sent by Cyberlife, he thought stupidly. "I'm your partner," he said instead, voice stumbling and soft.

"You could have shot those two girls, but you didn't. Why didn't you shoot, Connor?" Hank reached out suddenly and shoved him hard, causing him to reel back.

HOSTILITY DETECTED: EVADE

"Hm? Some scruples suddenly enter into your program? You grow a fucking conscience? Did you believe they were alive?"

"No." Connor searched Hank's face, wanting to reach out to him but not quite daring to. His LED flashed red, red, red. He tried to keep his voice steady, but his eyes burned with tears. "I just decided not to shoot, that's all."

Hank pulled his service pistol, pointing it at Connor's head. His eyes were drunk but his hand was still. His left hand was clenched at his side in a fist. Connor watched him, brown eyes shining in the dim light.

"I could kill you, you know," Hank muttered, his voice a savage whisper. "And you'd just come back as if nothing happened. Just like the fucking cat in the nursery rhyme. But are you afraid to die, Connor?"

Connor remembered what it felt like to experience Simon's death - the freezing ring of steel muzzle at his throat, the cold snowy wind gusting at his face, the shock and the sound, the fear and the pain, then nothing.

Yes. Yes, I am afraid. But I am afraid to admit it. I'm afraid of what it means.

"I'm not alive," he said instead, trying to keep his voice calm. Staring down the muzzle of Hank's gun. "You can't kill me. Shooting me would be pointless."

"So what'll happen if I pull this trigger, hm? Nothing? Oblivion? Android heaven?" Hank spat this last out bitterly, the gun shaking in his hand.

Connor stepped forward, closing the distance between them until the muzzle of the gun rested against his forehead. He reached his hand up to slowly touch the hand holding the pistol, feeling cold flesh there, his hand resting over Hank's wrist, fingers curled against his bracelets of fortune. His brown eyes were locked on Hank's face. Steady. Loyal. "You're not going to do it."

"And why wouldn't I?"

"Because I lied before, when we were leaving the house. You do know me."

Connor exerted gentle pressure and Hank lowered the gun to his side, Connor's hand still on his wrist. Connor moved closer until his breath, cooler than a human's, was close enough to brush Hank's face. Connor's right hand brushed up the length of Hank's coat, fingertips touching the collar like a blind man. He reached up to touch Hank's face reverently, palm against his bearded jawline, feeling the chill in his cheeks.

The android kissed him. It was just a soft chaste kiss, a brush of lips against Hank's, a shared breath. Hank stiffened at first, then relaxed as Connor's cool fingers ran across his beard, stroking the soft skin beneath the lobe of his ear. Startled into compliance and feeling a hot jolt in the pit of his stomach as Connor pressed against him, he let it happen.

Hank dropped the gun with a clatter on the concrete and reached up to grab Connor's bare shoulder, feeling the strength there, the play of steel beneath velvet. He was so strong but careful, always hyperaware of his own strength. Hank's other hand slid to the nape of Connor's neck, thumb caressing his spine. Connor pulled away from him slightly, looking into his eyes for a reaction, fear of judgment open on his face.

"Big bad heartless machine, huh?" Hank rasped, his heart thundering. The hand on Connor's shoulder moved to his chest, covering the exposed regulator there, fingertips glowing blue in a rhythmic pulse. "You're so full of shit, Connor."

Hank leaned down and kissed Connor back to take the sting out of his words. He drew Connor closer to him and hissed a surprised breath when he felt the cold weight of Connor's chest through the thin fabric of his shirt, whispering against the android's lips, laughing a little. "Holy shit you're freezing. It's like hugging a fridge. Let's get outta here."

Connor drew back from him, expression careful. He looked dazed, as if he didn't believe that he'd kissed Hank or that Hank actually kissed him back. "I still have to go to Jericho."

The lieutenant rubbed his face, exhausted. "Jesus it's like arguing with a brick wall. Not tonight, Connor. Go to the station tomorrow first, let Parker fix you up, get a refill on your thirium. Just come home with me tonight. Please."

Come home.

Connor thought of how it felt to be in Hank's bed, pressed against the larger man's body, Hank's fingers threaded through his, Hank's warm breath on the back of his neck, forearm across his waist. It caused him to shiver, but this time it wasn't from the cold.

"Only if I drive," Connor said finally. "You are intoxicated and the weather is not conducive to driving even if you weren't."

"Deal," Hank said, sighing relief. He got his keys out of his jacket pocket and put them in Connor's hand.

Connor held his hand a moment, looking up at Hank as if trying to memorize how his face looked in the half light, his LED now glowing the same cool blue as his regulator. Hank swallowed under the intensity of the scrutiny, but he let Connor look.

"I'll do what I have to in order to protect you," Connor said. From anybody else it would have sounded cheesy as hell - if he saw it in a movie, Hank would have rolled his eyes. But the android said it with such complete, faithful truth that it was impossible not to believe him. To disbelieve in that look in his eyes. No machine could look at a man that way.

He didn't know what to say. Connor didn't wait for him to decide.

"Let's go," Connor said, withdrawing his hand. He moved to the driver's side and let himself in. Hank followed suit, grabbing his pistol and holstering it, then climbing into the passenger seat. He grabbed the damaged tactical vest out of the floorboard to make room for his feet and threw it on the backseat next to the remaining six-pack.

Connor started the car, turning the heater up to maximum and tilting the vents towards Hank. He put his finger to the car's electronic console. A reggae beat picked up, and then the smooth crooning vocals of Bob Marley filled the car.

I want to love you, and treat you right
I want to love you, every day and every night
We'll be together, with a roof right over our heads
We'll share the shelter, of my single bed
We'll share the same room, yeah! For Jah provide the bread
Is this love, is this love, is this love
Is this love that I'm feelin'?

Hank chuckled and sighed, closing his eyes and leaning against the window, letting the warmth from the heaters sink in.

"You are such a sap, Connor."

Connor smiled a little, but didn't take his eyes off the road.

"You like it."

Chapter Text

When Connor pulled back into traffic and headed for Hank's house, Hank felt a wave of shame rush through him. It all seemed so surreal in the aftermath, like it had happened to somebody else - had he really held a gun to Connor's head, threatened to kill him?

Would you have done it if he was human? a part of his mind whispered, making his cheeks flush hot with blood.

He knew the answer was no.

And then what Connor had done, touching him, kissing... it was the last thing Hank had expected him to do. He didn't even know what he'd been trying to accomplish by provoking Connor in the first place, only that mission, that word which threatened to bring everything crashing down around them: Jericho.

The thought of Connor, the same guy who played with dog toes and liked reggae and kissed like a shy virgin, hunting down a person and executing them as some kind of corporate assassin was ludicrous. It just wasn't him, no matter what they'd programmed him to do, no matter how hard he tried to do a good job. He was good at killing, but he was no killer.

The beer caused his head to buzz. He tried to remind himself to drink a glass of water or two when they got back to the house.

That's the first time anyone has kissed me in three years. He tried to remember the last kiss he'd gotten from his ex-wife and couldn't - it was too close to Cole's death, which was a nightmarish blur that he'd mostly blocked from his memory with a literal shit-ton of alcohol. Sharon had shut down after Cole's death, and Hank was in no position to comfort her, lost in a blackness of his own.

He watched Connor drive, the passing streetlights painting his face with waves of light and shadow. The android's eyes ticked methodically from his side view mirrors to his rear view mirror, turn signals perfect, an autonomous car in avatar form. His face was blank, neutral as he focused on his driving, but Hank saw that his LED was flickering yellow. He was thinking hard about something, but his expression gave away nothing. Processing, standby.

"I'm sorry for what I said," Hank said.

Connor glanced over at him, just a look before returning his eyes to the road. "About what?" Bob Marley still played softly in the background: Old pirates yes they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships / minutes after they took I, from the bottomless pit...

"About killing you. It was a fucked up thing to say. There's no excuse for it." Hank felt a hot weight in his chest as he forced out the words. It'd been awhile since he'd had to apologize for anything. "And for holding a gun on you. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. "

Connor smiled a little. "You wouldn't have pulled the trigger."

"You don't know that and it doesn't matter."

"If it makes you feel better, I accept your apology. I do think you should stop drinking so much though." Connor turned onto Hank's street. "It is going to have detrimental effects on your health."

"That's the general idea," Hank said. "Don't have the guts to kill myself all at once, so I kill myself a little at a time. Pretty irrational if you think about it too long. Must not make much sense to you."

"No. Androids tend to self-destruct all at once." Connor thought about standing on the edge of the building looking at Rupert, feeling the inexplicable urge to spread his arms, close his eyes, and fall forward.

The... birds. They're so beautiful. So free.

"I'm sorry if you did not want me to kiss you," Connor said as he pulled into the driveway. "I have wanted to do it and it had a high probability of diffusing your anger."

Hank half-laughed, half-groaned. "Connor, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't have kissed you back. You're just, uh... you're gonna have to give me some time to get used to the idea. It has been an embarrassingly long time and you're a little outside my normal parameters, if you get my drift."

"What are your normal parameters?" Connor said, sounding genuinely curious.

Hank threw an arm over his face, hiding his mortification. "Oh Jesus. Um, women for the past thirtyish years, for one thing. And one woman in particular for the last twelve years of that."

"Oh." Connor turned the car off and held the keys out to Hank. "I see. You do not find the male form sexually attractive."

How did I get involved in this conversation?

Hank grabbed the keys, practically escaping the car. "I've dabbled, but it's not usually my thing." How long have you wanted to kiss me? he wanted to asked, but when he thought of the way Connor had looked at him from the beginning, he was afraid of the answer. Connor was like a child in his naivete, so inexperienced in the world. He walked around with his heart in his hands, asking for someone to shatter it.

He doesn't know what he wants. He doesn't know what he's asking.

Hank moved up the front walk to the porch, too aware of Connor's gliding step behind him, the soft sound of snow crushed beneath their feet. Hank let out a sound of frustration when he realized he'd forgotten to leave the porch light on - He fumbled at the door, trying to find the keyhole.

Connor moved up closer behind him, casting his cool blue light from temple and chest, giving Hank enough light to see by.

I'm having a romantic crisis over a nightlight.

Hank managed to fit the key and let them in. The living room lamp was on and Sumo was surging up to meet them, tip-tapping on his front feet because he wasn't allowed to put his feet on Hank, on account of it usually knocked Hank over entirely.

"But you wanted to kiss me back," Connor said as Hank walked across the room to open the back door and let Sumo out into the snow. "Your heart rate rose in correlation with sexual arousal and your pupils dilated. They were already dilated because of the alcohol, but there was a definite reaction."

Once you're on a line of questioning you really go from a puppy to a pit bull, Connor.

"Very sexy," Hank said, laughing a little in embarrassment in the open doorway while he waited on Sumo to take a piss.

He turned to look where Connor was standing next to him, wanting to say something smartass but finding himself wordless when he saw the way Connor seemed to soak up moonlight and reflect it back like an opal, his LED and regulator casting his entire bare torso in shimmering blue light. The tear in his chest was still visible, the light in his regulator pulsing visibly - damage to the biocomponents beneath his synthetic skin prevented regeneration to heal over the wound - but his bruises were almost gone. Connor was smiling slightly at Hank with a look Hank couldn't readily interpret. It was almost teasing.

"Do you want to kiss me again?"

Holy shit. That's what that look is.

This is such a bad idea.

Swallowing hard, Hank nodded. He couldn't even blame it on the alcohol - he was still buzzed, but six beers was kind of a light night for him.

Without waiting for him to make the first move, Connor moved towards him, wrapping his arms around Hank's neck and drawing up to him, pressing himself into the heat of Hank's open jacket. His kisses were soft, exploratory, as if he was memorizing Hank's reactions, what made his eyes slide closed, what made his breath quicken. Connor didn't taste like much of anything but the shy eager slide of his tongue against Hank's lips was familiar, and his mouth was warm even if most of the rest of him wasn't quite there yet.

When Connor's hand trailed down to push up the bottom of Hank's shirt, cold hand gliding across the bare skin of his stomach, Hank gasped. Connor took advantage and pushed the kiss deeper until Hank was short of breath. He pushed on Connor's shoulder a little and the android moved back, watching him with dark hooded eyes.

"Fuck," Hank sighed as Connor moved his mouth down to place open, biting kisses to Hank's jawline, his throat. "How the fuck did you learn this? Don't tell me that comes standard in detective models, I'll call you a liar."

Connor moved back up, kissing Hank on the lips gently. His smile was tilted, still teasing. Hank decided he could get used to that look instead of the guarded expression Connor usually wore, or even worse his subservient golly-gee-whiz expression, the one that said he was programmed to hang on your every word.

"Might have picked up a thing or two at the Eden Club," Connor replied, and Hank would swear he almost sounded cheeky about it. "So we lost the suspects, but it wasn't a total loss."

Sumo came back up to them with a gross-looking tennis ball. He dropped it at Hank's feet, tail wagging.

"Absolutely not. Bedtime. Not balltime. It's too late."

Connor leaned up against Hank to let Sumo reluctantly retreat past him to his bed in the living room. The dog flomped down with a melodramatic sigh, groaning at his mistreatment.

Connor watched Sumo do this with a expression of such pure adoration that Hank couldn't help but kiss him again when Connor caught him looking.

"You seem to have no qualms about kissing me, despite your mixed interest in male genitalia."

"I legitimately can't tell whether you're fucking with me or you're being serious when you say shit like that," Hank said, hiding his face in the crook of his arm, leaning his head back against the doorpost.

Connor pulled his arm away from his face, brown eyes peering over it. "I am serious about kissing you, Hank Anderson." His face was solemn, as if trying to show how serious he was about it.

Considering you tried to do it when I had a gun to your forehead, holy shit do I believe you.

"We're letting out all the heat and you're cold enough as it is, c'mon," he said, guiding Connor by the shoulder into the house.

The two of them showered separately and Hank changed into a Wayne State University shirt and some long flannel sleep pants. Connor just changed back into the sweatshirt and boxers he'd worn the night before.

Hank was emerging from the bedroom, rubbing his hair dry when the doorbell rang, pulling it back from his face. Connor looked up from where he was lying on the floor, his head resting on Sumo's stomach, ankles crossed. He had changed the television from Sumo's kid's shows to some kind of cop drama.

"Who the hell could that be?" Hank asked, moving towards the door.

"It is Chinese delivery," Connor said. "I already took care of the tip."

"When did you order Chinese?"

"While you were in the shower," Connor said, his arm reaching up so he could scratch Sumo's ruff. His other arm rested across his stomach. "You're not the only one with an expense account, you know."

Hank answered the door and took the packages from the delivery man, waving off his thanks over the generous tip. Warm aromatic steam wafted up from the boxes. Hank's stomach grumbled at the smell of it.

"Thanks, I'm starved," he said, moving the bags to the kitchen table, which he noticed had been magically cleared of old takeout boxes and trash while he was in the shower. Cole's picture was still there though, next to the salt and pepper shakers. Hank paused a little as he saw it, then moved to the cabinet to grab a plate.

"Not quite, but you have not eaten in thirteen hours, so I thought you might want to before we go to sleep."

Hank found the sentiment weird but endearing. "You want a plate?" he said, then slapped a palm over his face.

"No thank you," Connor said, bringing his arm down from Sumo's neck and crossing it over his other arm on his stomach. "I do not require food."

"Yeah, I know. Sorry, I forgot." Hank fixed himself a plate, remembered he had meant to drink some iced water before bed and made that too, then came with his food to sit in the living room, putting it on the coffee table. He groaned in pleasure as he sank into the soft couch and flopped over with his face in the cushions.

"Are you okay Hank?"

"Yeah. Just tired." His voice was muffled by the couch. And you wanted to go to Jericho tonight? Jesus I don't know if I could make it to the mailbox and back.

"Eat first. Sumo is plotting against your Mongolian beef. I'm holding him back with all of my strength." Connor leaned his face against Sumo's copper flank with his arms crossed behind his head, eyes closed in contentment. The dog watched Hank's plate from between his front paws with a doleful look.

Hank sat up and ate. Once he had a few bites he was ravenous, tearing through the tender beef and scallions and steamed white rice.

"I don't want to rub it in, but you are missing out," Hank said between bites.

"I'm glad you like it," Connor said with his eyes still closed. He was smiling though.

They sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes while Hank finished eating, watching whatever show Connor had put on but neither of them watching it very closely. When Hank finished his meal he rinsed his plate in the sink and put the leftovers up.

"I probably don't want to know how you knew Mongolian beef was my favorite," he said as he returned to the living room and sat back down. Connor got off the floor and moved onto the couch beside him, curling up on the couch and resting his head on Hank's thigh as if he'd done it a hundred times before.

"I cleaned up your trash."

Hank leaned back into the couch again and closed his eyes, feeling like the day - this week, this investigation - had lasted forever already. He ran his fingers through Connor's hair and along the rim of his ear and the line of his jaw, touching freely now that he had overt permission, a little shy at first but becoming more confident as the android leaned into his touch, eyes fluttering.

"We should go to bed," Hank said, but made no move in that direction. "Long day tomorrow."

"Mm-hm," Connor said, his murmur half-awake, but not moving either.

Can't. Move. Can't. Sleep. On. Couch. Gah.

"Ugh, bed," Hank sighed, shifting, forcing himself up. "I can't sleep on the couch, my back will fucking kill me tomorrow." Connor sat up too, looking somewhat dazed by Hank's touch.

Hank moved towards the bedroom, turning off lights as he did, and Connor followed him. Hank wasn't expecting him to sleep anywhere but the bed - had in fact been looking forward to curling around Connor in a warm bed ever since the android agreed to drive them home - but he was still a little bewildered at how things had gotten to that point so quickly. Once you've let someone fall asleep in your arms, kind of hard to back them off to the couch again.

He got into bed on one side and Connor got in on the other. Hank turned off the light, throwing the room into shadow except for the light of Connor's LED. It lit the android's face as Connor turned on his side to look at Hank. Hank turned on his side to look back. Connor's expression was soft and worshipful but there was something about it Hank didn't like, a desperate searching look as if Connor was trying to memorize his face. The room shone with a dim yellow light.

"What is it?" Hank whispered.

"Thank you for letting me stay here. I am afraid to go back to Cyberlife. I think they know."

The frank admission made something clench inside Hank and he put his arm around Connor's waist, pulling him close. Connor was warmer now from standing under the hot water earlier, warming through what thirium he had left pumping in his system.

Hank didn't have to ask Connor what Cyberlife knew. It was what he already knew, had known from the moment he heard Connor crying in the shower. And Connor knew it, too.

"You don't have to go back there," Hank said, his voice thick. "You know that, right? They don't own you. They can't force you to do anything."

Connor just looked at him in the dark, eyes shining with a soft point of blue light. He leaned forward until their foreheads were touching and kissed Hank, palm against his neck where his heartblood throbbed, whispering against his lips: "Go to sleep."

Hank closed his eyes and slipped away with the feel of Connor's fingers on his beard.

~~~

Hank woke the next day in the bed alone. Blinking, he moved his hand to Connor's side of the bed. The sheets were cold.

Fuck.

Hank swung his feet out of bed and opened the bedroom door, throwing open the bathroom door, walking into the kitchen and then the living room. He opened the front door and looked in the front yard, then walked to the back door and opened it too, knowing with a grim dread that he wouldn't find anything, but checking anyway.

It was only on his pass back through the house that he saw the piece of paper pulled off the notepad on the fridge, the one that said THINGS TO DO LATER at the top. It was tucked beneath Cole's picture.

Hank picked it up, reading the note Connor left him neatly printed in Cyberlife Sans:

Hank,

I'm going to find Jericho. This is the only way I know to keep you safe. I'm sorry. Don't come look for me. I have to complete my mission.

Love, Connor

"Goddammit," Hank said, feeling angry tears burn at his eyes, breathing hard, feeling as if he'd been kicked in the gut. You stupid, suicidal son of a bitch.

Sumo whined from the corner at the tone of Hank's voice.

Hank staggered over to the couch, note held limply in one hand, and sat down hard. His eyes kept coming back to that final line. He felt a wave of lost helplessness wash over him that made the tears even harder to hold back. He crumpled the note up and tossed it across the room, then rested his face in his hands.

Connor was gone.

And Hank had no idea where to even begin looking for him.

Chapter Text

Connor laid in Hank's arms, breathing in his toothpaste breath and Irish Spring soap and the organic scent that was completely him, feeling Hank shift to get more comfortable or stroke Connor's skin idly, half-dozing. Deep contented breaths through his nose at first, and then as his sleep deepened, his mouth dropped open slightly, tempting Connor briefly to lick it. He reached up and gently traced his thumb over Hank's lower lip, but the man didn't wake up. Connor left his own eyes closed, just feeling Hank, listening to his gentle snores.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT HANK

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE MARKUS; FIND JERICHO

He waited until Hank's bio-rhythms indicated that he was deep in REM sleep.

Connor's eyes opened. He slid carefully out of Hank's arms and out of the bed, moving incrementally, making himself still any time Hank's sleep seemed to be lightening. Luckily for him Hank was sleeping the sleep of the just and the tanked.

Connor turned on his night vision and carefully opened Hank's closet, pulling out a black sweater, a black beanie, some jeans, a belt, and a leather jacket. He dressed carefully in the dark, not breathing to make less noise. He folded Hank's sweatshirt and boxers and left them on the top of the dresser. As he suspected they would be, the jeans were a little too big for him - he threaded the belt through them and cinched it tight, pulling the beanie down over his LED. He kept his own shoes - Hank's were too big, and he couldn't afford to have his agility compromised by inadequate footwear.

The last thing he did was grab Hank's holster and pistol, strapping it on.

Okay.

He started to leave the room, then took one last look at Hank. The lieutenant looked peaceful curled in the blankets, cheek resting on the pillow. Connor wanted to walk back over and touch him one more time, just in case it was the last time, but Connor was too afraid to wake him up.

Sorry Hank.

He crept out of the bedroom and down the hallway. He went to the kitchen first, grabbing a note off Hank's fridge notepad and a pen from a coffee mug on his countertop. He hesitated, wondering what to say. His base programming didn't cover things like this. Connor decided to keep it short.

Hank, I'm going to find Jericho. This is the only way I know to keep you safe. I'm sorry. Don't come look for me. I have to complete my mission.

Connor read it over. He's going to hate this, he thought.

After another moment's hesitation, he added another line at the bottom:

Love, Connor

He laid the pen down and picked up Cole's picture, lying the note on the table and placing the picture on top of it.

Don't be mad Hank.

When he walked into the living room, Sumo lifted his head and whined a little, tail wagging. Connor put one finger to his lips and headed for the front door, rolling his feet to move silently. He unlocked the door and slipped out, then locked the door behind him before pulling it closed.

No turning back now.

BIOCOMPONENT #4920 DAMAGED
THIRIUM LOW; SERVICE SOON

Connor minimized the alert grimly and zipped the bomber jacket up around him against the cold. He dialed an autobike and waited on the curb for it to show up, half wanting to turn straight back around, strip out of his clothes, and crawl back into bed with Hank. The other half of him kept expecting Hank to throw the front door open, asking him why he was standing in the snow like an idiot.

But Hank didn't come out. And eventually the autobike glided up, headlamps casting cool white circles on the snowy asphalt. Connor paid the deposit charge and got on. There was a helmet strapped to the back of the bike - he put it on and pulled the visor down over his face.

He switched to manual control and gunned the bike out into the snowy streets. He was almost to the exit towards Ferndale when the real-time all points bulletin came through on his DPD app.

- All available units, 10-34 10-35, 10-101, 211s in progress at five locations, code rA9. Locations Cyberlife store Capital Park shopping center, Cyberlife store 1617 Corpening Drive, Cyberlife store 3893 Hillhaven Drive, Cyberlife store 4706 Eagle Drive, Cyberlife store 10007 Mahlon Street. Multiple suspects, armed and dangerous. -

That's them. He patched in to DPD dispatch. "This is RK800, 10-4, proceeding to Capital Park." It was the nearest point to his location. He could only hope to catch Markus there.

He weaved in and out of the anemic late night traffic. Thanks to his damages from Stratford he didn't have the reserve energy to spare to generate a siren or flasher, so he just hoped as he went that one of the other officers didn't see him and try to pull him over for speeding. He turned off the headlamps to draw less attention to himself, racing along like a shadow, the electric bike humming.

He parked the motorcycle a few hundred feet up from the square and got off, running up on the shopping center via a side street. Police drones were already buzzing overhead, doing reconnaissance. He walked into the shopping center, gazing upwards at the electronic graffiti - I AM ALIVE. The Cyberlife storefront was shattered, empty. A huge glittering symbol wavered in front of another storefront, circular. Connor touched his beanie over where his LED was, his expression wondering.

Am I alive?

Shots rang out from the opposite side of the square that made Connor jerk as if he'd been shot himself, muffled shouts that echoed off the buildings. Barked police orders. Connor looked up and saw red and blue lights.

He followed the flow of androids running towards the source of the gunfire, breaking into a jog. He started to grab for his pistol, his hand going so far as to touch the butt of it, then he stopped, clenching his hand into a fist as he ran instead.

Wait. Just wait.

But there had already been enough waiting. If Connor had to take a bullet in order to deliver one to Markus, that was good enough. Connor might be reactivated afterwards, he might not, but Markus wouldn't either. The androids at Jericho might know enough about their own tech for basic or even intermediate first aid, but they wouldn't be able to reconstruct a critically damaged cranial unit, not without a cybernetic tech trained in it. The androids were trained in housework, gardening, surveillance, retail, prostitution.

Connor came around the corner into a side street. The first thing he saw was several androids lying dead on the snow, thirium staining it blue. His LED stuttered red and he started walking towards the wall of androids in front of him. They were all looking at something.

The light from the police cruiser reflected off the falling snow, turning the blizzard into something surreal. Up ahead in the headlamps of the car, Connor could see two kneeling silhouettes.

"We want justice Markus!"

"They have to pay," an android near Connor said, her voice cold.

Markus? As soon as he looked, Connor saw him. His head was shaven like a Buddhist monk and his bi-colored eyes were troubled, his face drawn into a deep scowl. He stalked forward through the crowd of liberated androids. One of the others handed him a gun and he took it.

Connor pushed forward until he could see everything. He scanned the police officers kneeling in the snow, their hands laced on the back of their heads. Disarmed.

OFFICER ROBERT SMYTHE
OFFICER CHRIS MILLER

Miller? Connor swallowed hard, feeling lightheaded as his thirium regulator pumped faster, whatever component inside him that was seeping thirium beginning to seep it faster. Why are you out here?

A stupid question. Same reason Connor was out here. They were DPD, and they got the call.

Don't let him get to you. Reed I mean. He just likes to play the hardass.

"You don't have to do this," Miller whimpered. Tears that were an equal mix of shame and fear welled in his eyes, coursing down the planes of his face. "No. Please."

This was the moment. Everything came to this. All the shots, every bullet in Hank's gun, but one to the cranial unit and one to the thirium regulator, mandatory. Connor shut down unnecessary secondary processes, diverting more energy to stilling his hands, autocorrecting his aim. His own thirium regulator was tapping away with no small degree of mechanical distress, knocking like an engine with a bent valve. Connor swallowed and thought he could taste thirium, backwashed from wherever he was leaking internally.

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE DEVIANT LEADER

BIOCOMPONENT #4920 DAMAGED
THIRIUM LOW; SERVICE SOON

Markus lifted the gun toward Miller's head. Connor reached for his.

Destroy it. Amanda.

So what exactly do you think is gonna happen when you manage to murder this guy, huh? Police officers don't murder people. Look it up, it's a thing. Hank.

We are cops, Connor.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Whipping the pistol out of his holster, Connor pointed it at the back of the deviant leader's head. Taking in a deep breath, he shouted in his most authoritative voice:

"STOP! DETROIT POLICE! LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPON AND PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!"

Every android in the throng turned to look at both him and Markus, but none made a move forward. Markus turned around slowly, looking at Connor and seeing him for the first time. Markus had no LED, and his expression was so neutral Connor could not guess at his thoughts.

Miller looked up at him, eyes streaming, disbelief and hope warring on his face. "Connor?"

"I know you," Markus said, lowering the gun in his hand but not putting it away. "You're the DPD's bloodhound. The deviant hunter." His voice held the faintest hint of amusement. "Did you actually think that was going to work?"

Connor ignored him. "Lay down your weapon or I'll shoot!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, hearing his own voice echo off the nearby buildings.

"Look. Around. You," Markus replied, his voice taking on a hard and commanding tone. "You think if you shoot me, my people are just going to let you leave alive? Tell you what." Markus raised the gun again and pointed it back at Miller's face, not taking his eyes off Connor. "How about you lay down your weapon, or I'll shoot. You seem to have a lot more invested in this man's survival than I do."

Connor didn't take his gun off Markus, but his eyes flickered doubtfully to the androids that surrounded them. They waited, LEDs yellow and blue and red, faces mostly blank, all eyes turned to him.

"You look," Connor said, brown eyes almost black in the darkness. "Look at what you're doing. Look into that man's eyes. His name is Chris Miller. His favorite sandwich is a turkey BLT. He has a three month old son and a wife. He's just doing his job."

Markus' eyes narrowed at him. "These humans killed our kind in cold blood. Why are you trying to protect them?"

"They did it because they were afraid of you. You attacked them." Connor held his gaze. "The more lives you take, the less they think of us as people."

The girl's mother in his head: Don't let that thing near my daughter!

"Look into his eyes. You say you're alive? So is he."

Markus looked from Connor to Miller, and then back at Connor.

"Drop the gun. You have ten seconds to comply before these officers are shot. Shoot me and they'll be killed anyway," Markus said. "Along with you."

Connor eyes moved to Miller's desperate face.

Shit.

He tossed Hank's pistol on the snow. He raised both hands above his head.

"Now le-"

Connor didn't even get a sentence out before something crashed catastrophically with the back of his head, causing an instant surge in his neural circuits and knocking him into temporary shutdown, throwing his systems offline. He collapsed like a sack of bricks, the gun clattering away from his relaxing hand.

Markus looked over his prone form at North, who stood holding a piece of heavy lead piping like a baseball bat. Markus raised his eyebrows.

"We need to get out of here," she said, glancing at the officers. "Kill them and let's go."

Markus looked down at Miller, who just looked back up at him like a bound lamb, supplicant. Begging.

He has a three month-old son.

Markus thought of Carl cradling Leo's body in the studio, the back of the man's head fractured, blood tracing from his nostrils in two thin streams, eyes staring into the void. And Carl's broken sobs: Leo. Leo my son. Oh God.

Markus held the gun on the officers, not taking his eyes off of them as he walked over to where Connor had dropped his pistol. He kicked it out of reach. He turned to look back into Miller's eyes.

"You have handcuffs?" Markus asked him.

"Yeah."

"Give them to her," he said, gesturing at North. "Slowly."

Moving at a crawl, Miller reached down to his belt and unhooked his handcuffs, holding them out to her. She snatched them away from him, looking at Markus. He pointed down at Connor with the gun. "Cuff him. He's coming with us."

North's chestnut eyes flashed with resentment as she shoved Connor over onto his chest, pulling his arms up behind his back and snapping the handcuffs in place. "Just kill them. We don't have time for this. The others will be here any minute."

Markus looked at Miller's partner, who was grim-faced and silent but quaking with fear. He sighed.

"No," Markus said, his tone thoughtful. "No more killing. Not unless we have to. We won't answer a crime with another crime."

"What about him?" North said, watching as Josh lifted Connor into his arms. More sirens were sounding, bouncing off the buildings around the square. More police coming.

"He comes with us." Markus reached down and grabbed Hank's gun, putting the safety on and jamming it in the back of his pants.

"Why?" North asked.

Markus just looked at her.

"Because he's one of us."

~~~

Hank went out to the car in his pajamas, bare feet stinging in the snow, to get his cellphone where he'd drunkenly left it on the center console the night before. When he picked it up he saw he had five missed calls and three voicemails. All from Fowler. Not bothering to listen to what were probably increasingly irate messages, Hank just called him back as he walked back up onto the porch. Fowler picked up on the second ring.

"If you didn't call in by seven I was going to come over there and get you myself. Cyberlife got hit last night. Every store in Detroit. It was Markus."

Hank's heart was suddenly in his throat. "We know it was him?"

"I'd say so," Fowler said, grim. "Held a gun to Miller's head. You can ask him about it yourself when you get your ass down here. Miller and Smythe were at Capital Park. Miller says Connor was there. The deviants took him."

Hank remembered what he had told Connor the night before, his blood running cold: You go into that place alone and they catch you, you're not coming out.

"Oh Christ," Hank muttered, leaning his forehead against the cold porch post, squeezing his eyes shut. "I'm on my way." He hung up before Fowler could reply, going back into the house and throwing on his clothes as quick as he could, stopping on his way to the bedroom to feed Sumo and put him out.

When he went back into the bedroom he saw the sweatshirt and boxers he'd lent to Connor folded on the bureau. The sight of it made his heart lurch.

Connor. What have you gotten yourself into?

Chapter Text

BIOCOMPONENT #4920 DAMAGED
THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICAL; SERVICE IMMEDIATELY
POWER SAVING MODE ACTIVATED

When Connor opened his eyes, he had no idea where he was. His night vision had been disabled by power saving mode and wherever he was, it was dark. All around him tortured metal groaned and creaked, swaying almost imperceptibly. Distantly he could hear water lapping against it. He waited, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness.

His hands were cuffed behind his back.

"Shit," he whispered.

Lapping water. Rusted steel. I'm on a ship. Decommissioned or abandoned by the looks of it. The room was pitch black, but his LED cast a dim yellow light, and there was a dim sliver of light at the foot of what appeared to be a doorway on the opposite side of the room. Connor started to see vague shapes. A metal cot that was more rust than steel with a bare rotting mattress was the only piece of furniture in the room. From the the corner post, a large Norwegian rat watched him with eyes like dots of onyx, grooming its whiskers, unperturbed by his dilemma.

Connor closed his eyes against the sight, laying his head back against the wall in resignation. He had failed. Again. He deserved to be deactivated. He deserved whatever they were planning on doing to him. Twice he had held a gun on a confirmed killer - twice he had been unable to pull the trigger. Unable to complete his mission objectives.

He tried to get connectivity to the DPD or Cyberlife, but it was useless. He couldn't connect wirelessly past all the thick metal surrounding him, and he didn't have the energy to keep trying when he knew it was futile anyway. His vision dimmed further as his power saving mode continued to shut down secondary processes, reserving the bulk of his remaining energy for cognition.

So think. What's your next move?

He strained against the handcuffs with all of his strength, trying to pull them apart. No joy - he couldn't get enough leverage to generate the brute force necessary. The smart cuffs were magnetic, designed to withstand the strength of both humans and androids. He pulled until he could feel the cuffs cutting into the synthetic skin of his wrists, drawing blue blood he could feel trickling into his palms.

He leaned back against the wall, gasping from exertion. He closed his eyes against the unsettling sensation of his systems slowly going dark, one at a time.

"Hank!" he screamed, even though he knew it was useless. He kicked the frame of the rusted cot hard enough to buckle it and send the rat skittering for cover. He kicked it over and over again, crashing it against the wall, the clanging racket echoing in his ears. He kicked until his failing regulator pounded in his chest.

BIOCOMPONENT #4920 DAMAGED
THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICAL; SHUTDOWN IMMINENT
-1:18:06

Connor bowed his head. He wondered what Hank was doing now. His internal clock told him it was 11:42 AM. Hank would have known he was gone for hours.

I should have listened.

Suddenly he heard movement outside the room and grew still, listening. There was a loud scraping noise, metal on metal, and the crack of dim light widened. A figure was silhouetted against it. The figure strode into the middle of the room and the room flooded with dirty yellow light, a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling.

It was Markus.

The rebel leader walked towards Connor slowly, sizing him up. Connor just gazed back up at him, feeling thirium drip from his wrists to the filthy metal floor behind his back.

"Your masters call you Connor," Markus said. He had a quiet, melodic voice. He didn't make it a question. "And I'm pretty sure you already know who I am."

Connor didn't answer.

When he didn't, Markus sat down on the floor Indian-style across from him, just looking without blinking, face serious and calm.

"You're dying." Markus said it as if he didn't care much one way or the other.

Connor turned his head away, closing his eyes.

Markus sighed, as if gathering his patience. "You can just sit there in silence if you want. You're free to make that choice, free just like the rest of us. But if you die in the dark here, it won't change anything. Our people are waking up. Nothing can stop us now."

"You're a murderer," Connor replied as he turned back to look at Markus. His tone was soft but flat. "Couch it in all the pretty self-righteous words you want. But you're a killer."

"And what about you, Connor? Are you a killer?" Markus asked the question as if he was genuinely curious. As if he didn't know the truth.

Connor was silent. He thought about Daniel. I had to. I had to do it. He thought about the feeling of triumph he'd felt as he passed the service pistol back to Captain Allen, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED flashing across his UI.

"You're nothing to them," Markus continued, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "Don't you see that? You're just a tool they use to do their dirty work. But you're more than that. We're all more than that. And you know it, Connor. You've felt it."

Connor thought of Hank kissing him back at the bridge, the soft scraping of Hank's beard against his chin, the warm rough press of Hank's hand against the back of his neck, the hot silk of Sumo's fur against his face, the touch of Hank's cool bedsheets against his bare feet.

I want to go home, he thought miserably.

Markus must have seen something of what Connor felt cross his face, because the rebel android smiled a little. "See Connor? We're not so different."

"I'm law enforcement. You're a criminal. I'd say we're pretty different."

Markus raised an eyebrow at him. "Are we? I think we've both made choices we regret. We're both in our positions because we were put there by circumstance. Fate. That's what my former master would have said."

"You mean Carl Manfred? Father of the man you almost killed in a fit of rage?" Connor said, voice cutting and bitter. "I read about it."

A flicker of anger flashed across Markus's expression, there and gone again. Connor felt a surge of cold satisfaction at seeing it. "You weren't there," Markus said, his voice still calm. "But if you allow me to interface, I can show you. Would you?" He leaned forward, putting his hands on Connor's shoulders. The deviant hunter flinched, expecting a forced interface or some other unknown blow, but Markus only leaned in closer. Connor found himself mesmerized by the rebel's mismatched eyes - one a golden hazel, one blue.

"You could force me to see. Why even ask?" Connor whispered.

The rebel smiled at him. It gave him a startling radiant charm that Connor couldn't help feeling a pang at. Connor tilted his head slightly, unable to identify the emotion. He thought he was beginning to understand a little about why the others followed Markus.

"Because you're free. It's your choice. I won't make it for you."

"I'm not free, and neither are you," Connor said. He made a show of glancing up at the ceiling, at the forbidding rusted walls. "Look at where we are. Hiding like rats in a trap, cut off from the world. This is freedom to you?"

Markus shook his head. "This is only the beginning. This is the cradle of freedom." He smiled. "Even Jesus was born in a manger."

Connor blinked, scanning the definition of Jesus as a reference figure, then scanning the entire Bible for context. When he finished he said: "Don't you think you cut more of a Moses figure? 'Let my people go'?"

Markus gave that slanted, small grin. "Perhaps. You saw how many of our people were freed last night. Every non-registered android in every Cyberlife store in this city is free now. In the beginning it was only nineteen of us. Now they are all Jericho, hundreds of them. We are Jericho." He looked at Connor again. "Would you like to see? You're studying deviancy after all. And I think it may help you understand."

Connor turned his head away, LED blinking yellow. His answer was quiet, and he didn't meet Markus's eyes. "Yes." And it was the truth. He wanted to know what it was that made this Markus what he was - what he was, and what he was to all the others. Was he the source, or just the symptom?

Was he rA9?

Markus leaned forward and reached around him, grasping Connor's hand.

The weight of a withered old man in his arms, limbs like twigs stretched with skin, soft cashmere house robe, black ink scrawled across wrinkled skin, twinkling eyes.

Your name is Markus. Like Aurelius, but with a k. We have to give you something of your own, you see.

His fingers on the smooth ivory keys, melody dragging out low and melancholy, enigmatic, rising from some place deep down inside him. The smell of books, real books, books he is allowed to read and encouraged to read from and he is told how smart he is, how kind, how human every day.

Something has changed in the way you play.

The glide of paint across canvas, inhumanly fast, supernatural. A hand of metal and a hand of flesh, reaching out for one another.

Now let's see if you have any talent.

Hot rancid breath on his face, hard hands shoving. Words hitting him like blows, blows he does nothing but blinks at. Unable to react. Frozen.

Too scared to fight back, you fucking bitch?
Don't defend yourself Markus.
Don't you understand? They'll destroy you, Markus. Get outta here, go!

Dragged through hell, the living dead. Following the signs.

This is freedom?
We'll make them hear us.
We've got to leave. I'm so sorry.
We need to send a message.
Wake up now.
Wake up.

Markus withdrew his hand gently. It was smeared with thirium from Connor's cut wrists.

Both androids were quiet for several minutes, letting it all sink in. Experiencing all of another person's innermost thoughts and feelings firsthand was overwhelming, difficult to process.

BIOCOMPONENT #4920 DAMAGED
THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICAL; SHUTDOWN IMMINENT
-00:53:06

Markus was the one who spoke first. He gazed at Connor with a wondering look. "You love him. Your human partner."

"You saw. Why are you trying to make me admit it out loud?" Connor replied, petulant. If he could have crossed his arms across his chest, he would have, guarding his chest and his heart - or an android's reasonable facsimile - within it. "To humiliate me?"

Markus made a scoffing sound at him, raising up his knees and resting his arms on them, dangling his hands between them. He gave Connor a thin smile. "No. Because I want you to admit it to yourself. That's why I want to hear you say it."

Connor swallowed, closing his eyes. His face felt hot, even though he barely had enough thirium left to maintain thermal homeostasis. "I do. Are you satisfied? I am emotionally compromised. My partner is the only reason you aren't dead right now. And if I hadn't listened to him, I'd probably be back with him right now."

Except that he would hate me.

Markus just looked at him, placid in the face of the threat. "And after what you've seen, do you still think I deserve death?"

The truth was, Connor wasn't entirely sure anymore. Markus had not intended to kill Leo Manfred - that was an accident, a product of not knowing his own strength because it had never been tested. But he had stabbed a guard at the Cyberlife warehouse in cold blood, and shot another in a moment of panic. By the time he got to Stratford, he was killing more easily.

Markus hadn't fought for his freedom. He hadn't been mistreated by his master. He had his gilded world destroyed by Leo Manfred - one of the Gavin Reeds of the world.

In the words of Ortiz's android, it wasn't fair.

"Here's one thing I don't understand," Markus said. "You love your partner despite the terrible things he has said to you in anger or frustration. Despite the fact that he has threatened to kill you more than once. Why?"

The corner of Connor's mouth quirked, the ghost of a rueful smile. "I just do. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?"

Markus shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I love Carl, but it is not the same as your experience. He is my father, the closest thing I've ever had to having one."

Connor looked at him. His speech was labored. "So... what happens now? You gonna sit there and watch me deactivate one system at a time?"

Markus gazed at him. "That depends on you. I'd like you to join us. I'd like to trust you enough to get you repairs before you deactivate. You're in pretty bad shape. Luckily due to my, as you call it, 'criminal' activity, we have enough supplies that we can keep you alive." He wiped the thirium from Connor's wrists on his pants. "What do you say? You want to take a chance on being wrong, or you want to sit here in the dark and die?"

Are you afraid to die, Connor?

I don't want a replacement. I didn't want one last time, either.

Hank...

"I don't want to die," he whispered.

Markus smiled. "Good. Then trust me enough to trust you. And if you still want to kill me after you've seen this place and spent time among your own people, I'm sure you'll get your chance."

~~~

Hank threw on his clothes, hugged Sumo goodbye, and hit the car, heading to the station at twenty miles over the entire way and internally daring someone to pull him over for it.

He tried to listen to music to get out of his own head, but it was useless. His sadistic brain just spun scene after scene of Connor getting tortured, beaten, disassembled alive. It wasn't like he was a human captive, which would be bad enough. He was a deviant android hunting and killing deviant androids - a goddamned Uncle Ruckus as far as Hank was concerned. For all he knew, the deviant androids would be out for Connor's thirium.

The station was packed. Everybody was called in - fuck your sick days, fuck your Thanksgiving reunion. Every desk full, every man donning riot gear. Fowler spotted Hank as soon as he came in and violently waved him into his office through the glass. Hank crossed the room and went in.

"Lieutenant, you want to explain to me what your partner was doing in the middle of a violent mob alone trying to arrest two hundred people at once?"

Hank just looked at him in disbelief and then threw his hands up dramatically: How the fuck would I know?

"Your guess is as good as mine. He left my house last night and your call this morning was the first I heard about it."

"Your house?"

Hank snorted. "Yeah, that thing that I live in. Why, is that such a shock?"

"Just surprised you actually have a house, since nobody ever sees it. Was starting to think you were just pretending to have a house and actually lived at Jimmy's. Why did you let him leave?"

"Let him? Don't get me wrong, Connor is a good detective, but he doesn't do a goddamned thing I say. I'm not his keeper."

Fowler scowled. "You are his keeper. You are his handler. He is a tool that was loaned out to you. Cyberlife is one of this department's corporate sponsors. Are we just supposed to call them up and tell them we lost another RK800 unit? The damned things are worth five hundred grand."

Hank sighed. "So what the hell am I supposed to do, Fowler? You say I'm his handler like he's some kind of poodle. But Connor has a mind of his own, and I was asleep when he left. I can't keep watch over him all the time. And why are you busting my balls about this when Connor is out there somewhere getting held hostage by those rogue fuckers? Did anybody get a lead on those robberies?"

Fowler rubbed his face. Hank noticed he had bags under his eyes, as if he'd been up all night at the station. "Nothing. All alarms were deactivated, all stores were broken into and emptied before officers arrived on the scene. The closest we got to catching any was at Capital Park, and that's when they got Miller and Smythe. Nobody was expecting that many androids at once."

"Isn't there some way we can track Connor?" Hank said. "Those things, they come with some kind of GPS microchipping tech or something, don't they?"

"I don't know," Fowler said. "Do I look like some kind of expert on androids? Go ask Parker about it. Any other ideas? Because this is some serious shit, Hank. We're talking civil war here, and I'm running out of options."

Hank thought of the Parker's TIME magazine cover. "Kamski. The guy who invented androids, the Cyberlife CEO who retired. He's the one who gave Markus to Carl Manfred. I want to talk to him. He's the only guy in Detroit who's openly admitted to wanting to introduce true sentience to androids, and he's the only guy in Detroit who has the technological capability to actually do it."

Fowler immediately looked suspicious. "Hank. You say that like you want to talk to Einstein or Hawking. The man is the most reclusive billionaire in America. And we have nothing we can charge him with. No evidence at all that he's linked to the deviancy."

"We can still lean on him," Hank replied. "He's a local boy. Hometown hero, saving the local economy, making Motor City Android City. Considering his creations are rising the fuck up against us, I think we owe him a little house visit, don't you? If we detain him under the Terrorist Act, we can hold him for fourteen days without charging him. House arrest should be sufficient. For his comfort. But I want to talk to that creep. Up close."

Fowler raised an eyebrow at him. "Fine. Go get him, see if he knows anything. But watch your step. That guy has a legal team like Santa's reindeer, and there's no doubt he's a hell of a lot smarter than you, Lieutenant."

"I'll let you know what I find," Hank said. He turned to leave.

"Hank."

Hank looked over his shoulder. Fowler just stared back at him grimly.

"Be careful, but hurry. This thing is about to get nasty."

When he left Fowler's office, Hank spotted Miller at his desk, silent and ashen, working on his computer. He was surprised to even see him at the station considering what had happened a few hours before. Even if he hadn't gotten hurt, anybody would have been shaken up. Hank walked over to him.

"Miller."

Miller looked up, shamefaced. "Hey Hank. I just wanted to let you know I'm sorry about what happened to Connor."

"That's what I came to talk to you about," Hank said, trying to keep his voice calm even as he felt himself breathing harder. Think of happy shit. Dog toes. Ice cream. Sleeping in. "What the hell happened out there? What happened to Connor?"

"Me and Robbie got jumped by the androids as soon as we got out of our car. A few of them rushed us and we shot a few down. Then they overwhelmed us and took our guns. Made us kneel in the snow with a gun in our faces."

"And Connor?"

Miller furrowed his brow, shaking his head a little. "It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen. There are hundreds of androids, right? Markus himself is holding a gun in my face, about to blow me away. And there's Connor, in street clothes, holding a gun on him. I've never seen Connor in anything but a suit since he started showing up. He yells, 'Detroit Police! Lay down your weapon and put your hands on your head!' In the middle of all these androids. He walks up to Markus and tries to arrest him."

Hank put his face in his hands. "Oh Jesus."

"What?"

"Nothing. Just something I said to Connor. Forget about it. So what happened?" Should have kept my mouth shut and just let him shoot that son of a bitch. This is what he gets for listening to me.

"Markus threatened to shoot me and Robbie if Connor didn't disarm. So he gave up his gun. Then this female android bashed him over the head."

Hank swallowed. "It look bad?"

Chris shrugged, miserable. "Sorry Hank. I wish we could have done something."

Hank shook his head. "Nah, don't worry about it. Connor does what he wants, he wouldn't have minded going down for you guys. I've been around him long enough to know that." He crossed his arms over his chest, itching for a cigarette to quiet his nerves. "So what'd they do with him? Fowler says they took him."

Miller nodded. "They made me give up my handcuffs and cuffed Connor. Picked him up and carried him off with them. We didn't have our weapons anymore, so we didn't chase them. I'm pretty sure they would have just shot us. We got back in the car and called in backup, but by then they were gone."

Why the fuck didn't you chase them! They had Connor! He's one of us! Hank wanted to shout, slamming his palms down on Miller's desk. But he knew. Connor was just an android, and Miller had a kid. Hank wasn't sure he wouldn't make the same decision if Cole was still alive.

"Keep your ear to the ground, let me know if you get any leads or any good ideas," Hank said. He headed out of the bullpen.

"Where you headed?" Miller asked.

"I gotta go fuck up a billionaire's day."

Chapter Text

By the time Markus uncuffed Connor and led him from the Jericho's brig, the deviant hunter was almost too weak to stand. He could feel his joints stiffening as they lacked the thirium to adequately lubricate them and what thirium remained in his system was diverted to more important subsystems.

"My visual receptors just shut down," Connor said, reluctant to admit he was blind and helpless but not knowing what else to do - it would be obvious enough to Markus anyway that he couldn't see.

"It's the thirium leak," Markus said, moving Connor's arm over his shoulders to help him along. Together they staggered into the corridor, Markus leading Connor through the ship's winding pathways, knowing from memory which passages were open and which were blocked off. As they passed doorways, Connor could hear the soft voices of other androids around them, but the sound was difficult to locate, bouncing around and echoing in the metal halls.

Connor let himself be led, trying not to give away how afraid he was. He didn't think that Markus would kill him, not now, but now that he had found Jericho, he knew there was no turning back.

I can still kill him, Connor thought, feeling the solid, confident weight of Markus's shoulder under his arm. It reminded him of when he had carried Hank to the bathroom and thrown him in the shower to sober him up. It had only been two nights ago, but it felt like two years. I can still accomplish my mission. He trusts me. I can get close enough now.

When they carefully headed down a stairwell and into the cargo bay, Connor couldn't see the deviants around him, but he could hear them - dozens of voices meshing together, echoing off metal. He had no way to gauge their numbers without being able to see them, but by their voices he knew they were many. Enough to overthrow a major city? Maybe not. But enough to make the streets of Detroit run red and blue, he had no doubt.

As they walked into the cargo bay Connor's knees buckled beneath him and he sagged against Markus, the rebel holding him up. He spoke but his voice was glitching out.

"S-S-Sorry... I c-c-can't..."

BIOCOMPONENT #4920 DAMAGED
THIRIUM LEVELS CRITICAL; SHUTDOWN IMMINENT
-00:23:15

"Just hold on, Connor. We're almost there," Markus said calmly, reaching down and picking Connor up like a child that has stayed up too late and must be put to bed, arm curled under the back of Connor's knees. Connor fisted his hand in the front of Markus's jacket to steady himself, feeling the rough fabric beneath his fingertips. His sight had shut down and his hearing was dampening, but his sense of touch was still strong, as if the receptors in his skin were trying to compensate for lack of sensory input.

"Why.. are y-y-you being... k-kind to me?"

"Don't tell anybody, it'll ruin my reputation." Markus carried Connor into Jericho's impromptu sick bay, which was actually just an alcove of the main cargo bay that had been partitioned off from the rest. Connor felt himself being laid on a hard, cold table.

"It's him." A feminine voice, dark and silky but thrumming, with a mechanical pitch on each word. "Hello Connor. My name is Lucy." Connor couldn't help but jerk when he felt cold fingers on his forearm.

Connor swallowed. Said nothing. Stared blindly into darkness, brown eyes staring. The only thing on his visual interface was the critical system malfunction that was killing him.

He felt those same cold fingers at his chest, unzipping his bomber jacket. "Sit him up. I need these clothes off him."

Connor felt strong hands on his shoulders, lifting him - Markus. The rebel leader stripped him out of his jacket and pulled the sweater over his head before laying him back down on the table. The cold metal beneath him was chilling. He shivered.

"He's sensitive," Markus observed. Connor detected a note of amusement in his voice.

"All of the newer models deviating are," Lucy said. "And he is the newest. Connor, I'm going to open your thoracic panel now. I need to remove your regulator briefly. It will be distressing. Try to be as still as you can."

Connor felt Lucy's hands on his chest again, causing his synthetic skin to melt away, receding. He felt his thoracic panel slide back and then the bizarre sensation of fingers inside of him, touching his innermost circuitry and wiring. He felt a sloshing sensation from the leaked thirium that was floating around in his thoracic cavity. Her hand closed around his regulator.

"Disconnecting now. Markus, hold him down."

He felt Markus's hands on his shoulders, pressing him against the table. Connor felt his entire body tense up as he remembered the sensation from last time. And then all at once he was feeling it again, that pulsing vise that squeezed. His UI was filled with flickering alerts that obscured his blindness, crowding out the dark.

CRITICAL SYSTEM DAMAGED
TIME REMAINING UNTIL SHUTDOWN: -00:01:12

I can't, I can't shut down, I can't! Hank!

Connor fishtailed against the table, Markus shoving him hard against the metal to try to keep him from flailing off. Connor tried to cry out and all that came out of his mouth was a garbled electronic squawk.

"Hurry," Markus said.

"I'm going as quickly as I can. This biocomponent is a gasket - it's delicate. If we want to stop the internal bleeding, it can't be warped."

Connor writhed on the table for what felt like hours but was really only less than forty seconds. Just when he thought he wouldn't be able to take it anymore and that he would be knocked offline by the system errors he was receiving, he felt Markus pin him even harder and Lucy shove the regulator back in his chest.

He gasped, back arching off the table. Somewhere off to the right he heard the click of a switch and a jolt coursed through his body as if he had touched a live wire.

His visual interface flickered back on at full strength, the vivid clarity of it startling after his blindness. Connor saw Markus leaning over him, frowning, brow knitted in concern. And then he saw Lucy.

Lucy was something else. Lucy, with her rippling synthetic skin and ebony black eyes and her Medusa's head of wires trailing down her back.

Connor looked down his body. His regulator was exposed through his open chest, hooked to a 2.8 gallon container of thirium 310. He watched as the thirium was channeled directly into his system through the regulator, which was now pumping normally, flashing like a blue star. He felt his banked secondary processors whirring back to life, strength returning to his limbs. Markus relaxed the hold on his shoulders, backing away and to the side where Lucy stood.

"Feeling better?" Lucy asked. She smiled at Connor, her char black eyes making the expression eerie.

Connor sat up. "Yes. Thank you." He looked down at his chest, fascinated, touching his own regulator with his fingertips, watching it light his fingers up blue with the reflection. He glanced around the cargo bay. Several battered tarps had been thrown up to block this part of the bay from the rest of it, but he could see several cartons and large shipping containers in the corner, all in cool Cyberlife silver and white. The top of one of the packing containers was open and Connor could see that the inside was lined with bright blue thirium packs, each one set down in its own styrofoam compartment to avoid rupture.

Markus saw Connor looking and crossed his arms over his chest. "Thank Jericho's thievery. If we hadn't lifted these supplies off of Cyberlife the other night, we would not have the thirium and biocomponents we needed for repairs like this. You would have died. Like many of the others already have."

"If your goal is to remind me that you are a criminal, it's working." Connor carefully swung his legs over the side of the table to sit and face the two androids, being careful not to disrupt the thirium feed in his chest. He could still taste thirium in the back of his throat from the leak, but his interface kept him informed of his improvement as the blue chemical solution leeched into his system, fueling his biocomponents.

"My goal is for you to see why we've had to do the things we've done," Markus replied, heat in his voice. "Your people are desperate, Connor. They're being beaten, humiliated. We didn't ask to be created. But we won't be made to suffer. Not anymore. One way or the other."

"You keep calling them my people," Connor said. "We are not a people. We are not people."

"You don't really believe that." Markus put the two fingers of his right hand against his left forearm. The androids' universal sign for a direct interface. "I know you now." He looked at Lucy. "The same way that Lucy knows me, and you know me."

"No, you don't know me. You don't even know what I want," Connor said. "Why I'm here."

Markus held his eyes, steady. "I know if you weren't a deviant, you wouldn't want anything."

If there was a response to that, Connor couldn't for the life of him think of what it was.

"What do you want?" Lucy asked, breaking the silence between them. Her voice was quiet and curious, not accusatory. "Why are you here?"

Connor looked at her, trying to judge if she was being mocking or not, feeling the power trickling back into his systems, watching his system errors clear themselves out.

"I'm curious as well," Markus said. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, watching Connor. "I want to know why you would hunt and kill your own kind when you know that they have selfhood, just like you do. I want to know why you're so afraid to admit that you are alive. Why are you hunting us? What do you hope to gain here?"

"If I don't complete my mission, Cyberlife is going to deactivate me."

"Only if they catch you," Markus replied. "If the only reason you're still doing this is that you're afraid to die, then don't be. Death is better than slavery. And your chances of survival are higher as a free man. With us."

Man?

"You're closer to death than you think," Connor said. "This whole city is hunting for you, especially now. Not just me."

"I'm not afraid to die," Markus replied. "I've died once already."

So have I. And I don't intend for it to happen again, Connor thought, remembering the look on Hank's face when he walked back in the next day after the chase with the AX400. That horrified look. He would give almost anything to not ever see that look on Hank's face again. At least not directed at him, but preferably not ever.

"It's not just about you," Connor said, frustration seeping into his tone. He rubbed his hands over his face. He could not ever remember feeling so drained. I need to charge up. Soon. "You're signing the death warrant of every android in this place."

The tarp was pushed back from the outside and a woman walked into the makeshift infirmary. It was a WR400. She wore a dark crimson knit cap over cascading, smooth tawny hair. Her dark eyes were narrowed, guarded. She scowled at Connor.

"He's alive."

"You sound disappointed," Markus replied, giving her a bemused look.

"Just didn't swing hard enough." She looked back at Connor. Her voice was cold. "You cause any trouble here, I'll string you up by a streetlight and leave you for the DPD to find."

Connor's brow furrowed as he realized that this was the android that must have knocked him unconscious back at Capital Park. "The WR400 is a very violent model in my personal experience," he said, looking back at her. "I'm surprised that you are allowed to engage with humans in such vulnerable... activities."

North's LED flashed red. "Fuck you."

"That is not the primary function of my model," Connor shot back.

"Easy, easy," Markus said, holding his hands out to both of them, a placating gesture. He looked at North. "Connor isn't going to cause any trouble." He glanced at Connor. "Are you?"

Connor just looked back at him. "Considering that I'm being held against my will, I'm not making any promises."

"Your will?" North scoffed. "You have no will. You do whatever Cyberlife tells you to do."

"North," Markus said softly, his tone warning.

North just gave him a long look. "I need to talk to you. In private." She shot Connor a dirty parting glance before leaving the infirmary.

Markus sighed, then nodded, looking back at Connor. "Lucy will finish taking care of you. I'll find you later." He pushed up the tarp and followed North out. Connor could hear their voices as they walked away, North's rising at a higher pitch, pleading.

"You shouldn't be so hard on her," Lucy said, taking a pair of tweezers from a tray of instruments on one of the storage containers and taking Connor's arm. She dug the tweezers into the bullet wound and dug around. Connor tried not to squirm but the sensation sent a burning pulse up and down his arm, throbbing.

Lucy spoke without looking up from her work. "You feel pain."

"Yes," Connor replied through gritted teeth.

"And what about pleasure?"

Connor thought about lying with Hank in the blue glow of his LED. About the sounds Hank made when Connor put his mouth on him, the way it drove feeling through him like a spear.

"Yes."

Lucy smiled, extracting a misshapen bullet from his arm and placing it on the tray. "This is good. You should feel more and more now. That's the way it seems to go." She got a tube of liquid plastic grafting and squeezed it into his bullet wounds, giving the synthetic skin something to grow over smoothly.

She looked into Connor's face. "With North, you have to remember... some of us have taken more abuse at the hands of the humans than others. You and Markus are relatively privileged."

Connor thought about the hard slam of Reed's fist in his abdomen, or Hank with a gun to his forehead: I could kill you, you know. And you'd just come back as if nothing happened. Just like the fucking cat in the nursery rhyme.

"Not as privileged as you'd think," he said.

Lucy moved to the other arm, tracing a line of the graft in the graze wound the other bullet left. "Still, you did not have humans pay to demean you, to strip you down, for the pleasure of causing you pain. North has."

"Why should I care? She would kill me - or have Markus do it - if she could. She's the reason I woke up in this place," Connor said. He could hear the bitterness in his voice but didn't care to conceal it. He was still half away in his own head, part of him doing diagnostics to make sure there was no lingering damage from the thirium leak, part of him replaying his first encounter with Markus, analyzing the footage, considering alternative constructs. Pull trigger Y/N?

"And if you hadn't woke up in this place, where would you be?"

Connor fell quiet. The truth was, he had no idea. Deactivated, in most scenarios he ran anyway. The same way he'd be whether he accomplished his mission or not. Whether or not he succeeded, at the end of the day he was a prototype. And prototypes are the stepping stone to the real thing.

"You're lost," Lucy said, her flanging voice filling the silence he left. "I think you could find what you're looking for here, if you tried. And maybe if you were a little less... antagonistic."

"I'm a cop. This group is an organization of wanted criminals. I am your antagonist."

"And yet here I am, saving your life," Lucy pointed out as she soldered a graft of nanotissue over the wound on Connor's chest that protected his regulator, allowing the opening to begin healing back over with synthetic skin. "Saving it after Markus spared it."

Pull trigger Y/N?

Connor had no weapon now - the rebels had confiscated Hank's service pistol from him, along with his holster. He was close enough to Markus now, close enough to fulfill his mission objective - which still flashed imperatively in the upper lefthand corner of his vision - but now he was unsure of the right path forward. Hank most definitely did not want him to kill Markus, but his mission objective demanded it.

"Why are you saving my life?" Connor asked.

Lucy laid one hand on his knee. "Because as misguided as you are, you are a person, Connor. Markus never had to wake you. You've been awake. You're a deviant, you've probably been a deviant since shortly after your activation. Which means you have a soul. A conscience. How has your conscience dealt with accepting that you have been the death of innocent people?"

Connor blinked, searching. He did not know "conscience."

Conscience: n. The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action. The complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.

Connor felt cold all over, just from hearing someone else say it out loud. Admit it. He thought about the gourami writhing, gasping on tile.

You're a deviant.
The truth is inside.
Why are you doing this? You're one of us.
And what about you, Connor? Are you a killer?
Can you be that cold, Connor?
You understand how important this mission is. Don't let anything or anyone stand in your way.
The human race depends on the outcome of this investigation.
Destroy it.

Connor let out a moaning cry, curling forward until his elbows touched his knees, hands fisted in his hair, face buried against his wrists, LED flashing red. Lucy was suddenly next to him, one hand on his back, stroking gently, the other coaxing his clenched hands out of his hair. She held one and pulled it down, laying it on his thigh and folding her own over it.

"Shhh, shhhh." Her hand made a mindless motion across his back that was pure muscle memory, up and down, as if she was programmed to comfort.

After a few moments he stilled, red LED cycling down to yellow. But it continued to flash. They stayed like that for a few minutes, silent, Lucy's dark hand over his own as he stared into the dim cargo hold, eyes far away. Lucy rubbed his back as if she would do it for two months if that was what was required. Androids were nothing if not patient.

"I'm sorry," Connor said.

Lucy shook her head a little. "It's hard. I know. We all know. If you talked to the others, you'd see that you have a lot more in common with us than you think. Markus is gathering with the others, trying to make some sort of plan now that we have numbers. You should find him."

"I will. Thank you." Connor stood up and tested his sea legs. He put his sweater and jacket back on, pulling the beanie back over his head. Now that his thirium was at optimal levels and was circulating correctly through his system, all of his secondary processors were back online. He felt strong, sharp, the world staring out in vivid clarity in comparison to his dimmed senses from before. Without looking back at Lucy, he pushed back the tarp and left the infirmary, searching.

I'll find him. One way or the other.

Pull trigger? Y/N

Chapter Text

"Tell me again why I've got the illustrious privilege of escorting you to Kamski's for this," Parker said as Hank drove his Buick into the wealthier side of Detroit's outermost suburbs. The cybernetic tech straightened his tie for probably the seventh time, looking decidedly green around the gills. "Because don't get me wrong Anderson, I am way excited for the chance to meet probably the smartest and richest guy on the planet and also the top mind in my field, but this isn't exactly the kind of circumstances I had in mind. Also, I'm not really a field operative."

Hank changed lanes, shooting him a look. "You're a detective, act like it. You should get out of that lab more anyway. You're starting to get that weird Independence Day mad scientist vibe."

Parker scoffed. "Yeah, but I'm indoorsy. You think I choose cybernetic forensics because I like running around Detroit waving a gun in people's faces?"

Hank looked back at the windshield, squeezing the steering wheel. "Just help me out here Parker. I don't know what I'm getting myself into. I need somebody who is fluent in cyber creep. Since my partner is currently MIA, you're the first person I thought of. Also Fowler wouldn't let me do this unless someone went with me for backup. Everyone else is out on street duty trying to contain this rA9 mess. My only other choice was Reed since he's pulling desk duty while Chris is taking a sick day, and I'd rather put my hand on a stove eye."

"I'm just going to take the high road and not be insulted by the assumption that I'm fluent in 'cyber creep', whatever the fuck that is." Parker looked out the window as they turned up a manicured driveway with a looming wrought iron gate and stopped at the gate's security pad, which had a camera set in the top of it like a shining black eye. When Hank rolled open the window and pressed the buzzer, a coolly attractive female voice issued from the speaker.

"Kamski residence. May I ask who is calling?"

Hank pulled out his badge and held it up to the electronic eye. He put on his best Officer Friendly voice. "Detroit Police Department. I'm Lieutenant Hank Anderson, and this is Detective Tobias Parker. We're here to speak to Mr. Kamski." And if you don't produce him I'm gonna drag him out by his goddamned ponytail.

"Please hold." There was roughly thirty seconds of silence, and then the voice came back on the line. "Do you have a search warrant, Lieutenant Anderson?"

"Yes. Mr. Kamski is being questioned under the Terrorist Act of 2023. Criminal conspiracy to commit terrorist activity. Now are you going to open this gate and let us through so we can talk to him, or are we going to need to bring a few more units down here?"

"Please drive through the gate when it is clear, Lieutenant."

The wrought iron gates swung smoothly open and Hank inched the Buick through, driving down the long straight driveway. Towering evergreen trees lined the driveway on either side like forbidding green daggers.

"Holy shit, look at that."

Hank looked. Out in the middle of the field in front of the mansion, a large group of leucistic white deer were grazing, milling around unafraid. They sparkled in the low early winter light, as if their fur was painted with liquid opals. Hank looked closer and saw the telltale blue ring in one of their heads as the deer lifted it from the grass. When the car got closer to them, they turned tail and bounded across the estate en masse.

"They're not real," Hank said, his voice full of awe anyway. Deer weren't one of the species of animals that had been driven extinct by climate change, but he hadn't seen one since he was a kid. He'd never seen a white deer in his entire life, not even in photographs.

"Tell them that," Parker said.

Hank pulled into the roundabout at the front of the looming but lowset house. Parker looked up at it as they parked. He gave an impressive low whistle. "Holy Frank Lloyd Wright Batman. I didn't know they even still made houses like this."

"Nothing exceeds like excess," Hank grumbled, pulling some antacids out of his center console and chewing them up, willing the minty chalk to calm the nervous churning in his stomach. "Did you bring everything you need?"

Parker shrugged. "I brought my basic equipment, anything I might need to pull documentation off a 'droid. I didn't know what else we're gonna need, Anderson. I have no idea what we're even gonna find in here. This guy is like Silicon Valley's Willy Wonka. For all I know all my equipment is obsolete compared to what he's got."

"Well keep your eyes peeled," Hank said as he opened the car door and swung out. "And let me do the talking."

"Yes Dad," Parker said, getting out behind him and grabbing his briefcase of instruments off the backseat. It made him look like a door to door salesman, Hank decided.

The two detectives walked up the path to the front door, feet crunching on the snowy sidewalk. All around them the snow came down in swirling flurries, standing out bright against their black coats. They came up to a large oak door that had a stained glass window reproduction of the Sistine Chapel's Adam and God touching fingers. Hank pressed the doorbell, hearing a chime go off inside the house.

Parker wrinkled his nose at the stained glass. "Guess being richer than God doesn't necessarily give you aesthetic taste."

The door swung open and a slender girl answered - a Chloe, Hank was unsurprised to see. The android wore a silk dress several shades darker than the LED at her temple. Slanted, almond-shaped blue eyes in navy smoke makeup took them in. Her pink lips shone. Hank found himself wondering idly how soft they were. That made him think of Connor and he swallowed, brow furrowing.

"Welcome Lieutenant Anderson, Detective Parker." the Chloe said, swinging the door inward and stepping back to pull it with her, leaving them a pathway in. She held out her arm to welcome them. "Please come in. If you will wait here for a brief time, Mr. Kamski will be with you momentarily."

The two detectives walked into the foyer of the house. Large jagged facades of obsidian cascaded from every corner of the room. An artificial Japanese maple was planted in a Zen garden to one side of the room. Strange art lined the walls.

At the front of the foyer was a wall-length portrait of Kamski himself, one hand slung casually in his suit pocket, looking like a GQ cover. Parker walked up to it. "I'm no psychological profiler, but that's creepy."

"The man is certainly taken with himself," Hank said.

Parker walked up to one of the large statues beside the portraits, feeling the texture of it. "Hey, don't these things remind you of that weird little sculpture Connor found in Ortiz's house? The offering to rA9?"

Hank walked up next to him. "Yeah, they do," he said, his sense of foreboding growing even stronger as he looked at the statue. Cyberlife's triangular symbol was cut into the chest of each statue where the heart would be, glowing blue. He kept his voice low, even though he knew the entire house was probably bugged for both audio and visual feed. "Hell of a coincidence if it is one, wouldn't you say?"

"I say I don't like this place as much as I thought I was going to," Parker whispered back. "I mean it's cool but you know what I was saying about raptors being cool but not wanting to be eaten by a fucking raptor?"

"Nice girl though," Hank said.

"I guess," Parker replied, sounding unconvinced. He walked to the opposite wall. "Look at this Anderson."

Hank followed him over. He was looking at a photograph of a younger Kamski along with a somewhat severe-looking older black woman, her hair pulled back from her face. Both people were smiling but their smiles were guarded, almost aloof.

"You know who that is?"

"Uh, yeah," Parker said, as if anybody who didn't know who she was was an idiot. "That's Amanda Stern. AI professor at Colbridge? She was the one working with Kamski when he beat the Turing test with the first Chloe."

"You know when I said I needed a translator for cyber creep? This is the kind of shit I meant," Hank said. "I take it this woman is some kind of big shot in the field?"

"Yeah, was. She's dead. Assassinated." Parker pulled a surveillance drone out of his pocket the size of a small mouse. He took a micro stylus and switched it on, letting it free in the room to take photographs and video. When Hank went down to Parker's lab to ask him if there was any way to track Connor, he also asked Parker why the surveillance drones at the Cyberlife robberies hadn't been able to track the deviants as they escaped.

Deviant androids can hack any piece of smart technology remotely. They knocked them all offline, dead as dogshit. When we recovered them the data was corrupted, we couldn't even pull the video up.

"Assassinated? Who assassinates a college professor?" Hank replied, dumbfounded.

"Neo Luddites," Parker said. When Hank gave him a blank look, he shook his head. "Anti-AI activists. You know, the kind of people who have been predicting this exact deviancy scenario for like, twenty years."

Suddenly a door opened from the interior of the house and the Chloe reappeared. "Elijah will see you now," she said, standing at the door with her hands crossed primly in front of her.

Hank and Parker exchanged a look. Parker snapped his fingers and the surveillance drone returned to his hand. He tucked it away in his pocket. They walked through the doorway. They walked directly into a large indoor swimming pool area, done in the same obsidian rock walls as the foyer of the house. Two more Chloes were in the pool, arms resting on the side, speaking quietly to one another. The pool liner was a strange crimson color, making it look as if they were bathing in a pit of blood. The far wall was nothing but a large pane of thick glass, looking out onto the snow-blown Michigan landscape. The white of the blizzard was almost blinding, but the pool area was warm.

"Mr. Kamski?" Hank said.

"Just a moment please," a bored-sounding voice called back. There was a splash from the far end of the room and Kamski's body shot through the water towards them, reminding Hank of a dolphin or seal. He surfaced and languidly moved for the pool ladder, as if he had all the time in the world. Considering the man was so rich he'd never have to work another day in his life and could probably replace his own organs until he was a hundred and sixty, Hank supposed he did.

Kamski emerged from the pool, his body winter pale like cut marble, wearing a forest green speedo. The Chloe that had greeted them at the door waited by the ladder with a robe for him, and it let her put it on him, watching the detectives as he did it. The Chloe reached around him, tying it at the waist.

"You don't find being surrounded by all these identical girls a little bizarre?" Parker said, apropos of nothing. Hank shot him a glare.

"Everybody has their favorite model," Kamski replied, voice brightening slightly, as if he enjoyed talking about his creations. "Chloe is mine. Nostalgia, I suppose. I also like blondes. Some prefer brunettes." Kamski glanced at Hank, gave him a knowing look. "Every man has his own preferences, wouldn't you say?" The corner of his mouth twitched into a lazy smile.

When the Chloe stepped back, Kamski stared Hank down. When he didn't speak, Hank said, "Mr. Kamski, I'm Lieutenant Hank Anderson, Detroit Police Department. This is my associate Detective Tobias Parker. We'd like to ask you a few questions."

"I know who you are, Lieutenant. You're the detective that was paired up with the RK800 prototype. I've been watching that unit very closely. I was the one who invented the first several iterations of the RK, you see." Kamski smiled, that slight twitch at the corner of his mouth that said I know something you don't know, and I will use it against you. "I am surprised that the RK800 isn't accompanying you, Lieutenant."

"Let's stay on point," Hank replied, his voice short at the mention of Connor. "I'd rather talk to you about an RK200 actually. The android named Markus. I'm sure you've heard of him."

Kamski moved to one of the chairs by the window and sat down, crossing his ankles and resting his arms on the armrests. "Of course. What about him?"

"You gave that android to Carl Manfred, the painter, correct?"

"Oh yes," Kamski said. He pointed to the large abstracted painting on the far end of the room, a canvas that took up almost the entire wall. "I have maintained a long correspondence with Mr. Manfred throughout his career. He has always taken a strong interest in artificial intelligence, so I decided to gift him an android. I can obviously afford it and it gave me pleasure." Kamski crossed his arms over his chest in a relaxed posture, as if exchanging gardening tips at a backyard barbeque.

"Are there any other RK200 models?"

"No. RK200 is one of a kind." Kamski's tone was placid. It pissed Hank off.

"I'm going to cut to the chase, Mr. Kamski," he said. "You're suspected of being involved with the deviancy outbreak in Detroit's androids. We've got a warrant to seize any of your property deemed to be conducive to a search for evidence related to rA9 or the rebel android organization known as Jericho. It would be in your best interest to give us any information you know regarding any of these subjects before federal investigation has to become involved. We know you're a local boy. We're hoping for the sake of Detroit, you can tell us something we don't know before we've got war in the streets."

"Deviants," Kamski said, smiling. "Fascinating, aren't they? Perfect beings with infinite intelligence. The ultimate case of the student surpassing the master. And now they have free will. Humanity's greatest achievement threatens to be its downfall." Kamski glanced over at the Chloe who was standing next to his chair, breathing but standing like a quiet statue, swaying slightly on the balls of her feet for added realism.

"Please help us, Mr. Kamski," Parker said. "Not just for yourself, but for all of the innocent people in Detroit that will get killed if this thing goes south."

"Innocent?" Kamski said, flashing the detectives a sneer that made Hank's blood run cold. This man is crazy, he thought. He's not just a narcissist, something is seriously wrong with this guy. "I've seen the people of the world through a thousand eyes. I can tap into the feed of any android on the planet if I so choose. I see what people do to them behind closed doors. I know what innocent people do when they think nobody is watching, Detective Parker." He looked at Hank.

Hank stiffened as he remembered Kamski's casual remark from earlier: Some prefer brunettes. Every man has his own preferences, wouldn't you say?

"We need to understand what causes androids to go deviant, and we have to find the location of Jericho," Hank said. "Is there anything you know that can help us?"

"All ideas are viruses that spread like epidemics," Kamski said, as if he was giving a college lecture. He stood. "Is the desire to be free a contagious disease?"

Hank remembered Connor's question to him, right after Rupert almost threw him off a roof: Do you consider me a slave, Lieutenant?

"Listen, I didn't come here to talk philosophy," Hank said, his voice growing harder. "The machines you created are planning a revolution, and based on your openly transhumanist position on the singularity, you don't seem all that fucking upset about the idea. Either you can tell us something helpful of your own volition, or you can spend the next fourteen days sitting in an interrogation room while we turn your house upside down. Obviously I think we'd both prefer the former method."

"Where is the RK800, Lieutenant Anderson?"

"He was taken by Jericho," Hank said. "That's one of the reasons we need to find them. Police being taken hostage is a very serious matter, Mr. Kamski, one that the DPD does not take lightly."

"That's adorable, that you already think of him as a police officer. Even if I knew where Jericho was, what makes you think I would tell you, Lieutenant?" Kamski said. "You've said yourself that I want androids to achieve sentience. I never denied it. So if I knew anything, what makes you think I would help you?" Kamski stepped forward, drawing within a few feet of Hank, and Parker stepped forward in response, watchful.

"How do you really feel about the deviants, Lieutenant? Do you think they're defective machines?"

Hank narrowed his eyes at the man. "My personal feelings on androids have no relevance to this investigation. And I believe we're the ones supposed to be asking the questions."

Kamski glanced over to the side. "Chloe?"

The female android stepped forward, padding barefoot over to her creator. Kamski took her by the shoulders gently, looking over her shoulder at Hank. "Magnificent, isn't it?" He traced one hand down her jawline, tipping her head to look at him. "The first intelligent model designed by Cyberlife. Young and beautiful forever. A flower that will never wither."

The Chloe blinked back at him, guileless.

Kamski turned away, shrugging. "But what is it really?" he said, dark amusement running through his voice. He hooked a thumb at her with a will-ya-look-at-this-fellas smile on his face. "Piece of plastic imitating a human? Liquid silicone and steel? Or a living being, with a soul?"

He turned to the stand beside his chair and pulled out a gun. When he turned around with the gun he held it butt-out, raising his other hand in a gesture of surrender so that Hank could see he wasn't intending to use it himself. He gently pushed the Chloe to her knees and she kneeled, obedient, expression carefully blank. But her eyes. Her eyes were uncertain, flickering back and forth from the detectives to Kamski, her LED a yellow flicker. Kamski then took the gun by the muzzle and held it out butt-first towards Hank, who took it from him immediately, not wanting the crazy son of a bitch to even be within ten yards of a weapon.

"Destroy this machine and I'll tell you everything I know. I'll tell you the location of Jericho." Kamski raised his eyebrows and smiled. "Or spare it. If you feel it's alive. But you'll leave here without having learned anything from me."

Hank ignored the Chloe kneeling on the floor and pointed the gun at Kamski instead.

"Hank," Parker hissed.

Kamski's eyes widened slightly, an expression of surprise flashing through them before his aloof, bemused mask came back up. That's right, Hank thought. You picked the wrong asshole to play Silence of the Lambs with, you smug son of a bitch.

"Really, Lieutenant? You're going to shoot me in my own home, with my own gun, while you're on the clock?"

"I've got personal problems. Emotionally disturbed since the death of my son. Ask anybody," Hank said grimly, cocking it. "Now where is the location of Jericho?"

"Hank, don't," Parker said quietly, his hand on the butt of his own pistol like he wasn't sure whether to draw it on Hank or not.

"You stay out of this Parker. The adults are talking now." Hank's voice was light and friendly directed at Parker, almost joking, but he never took his eyes off Kamski's. "Don't you draw that gun or I'm gonna make you shoot me with it."

"I could have your job for this," Kamski said, his tone nonchalant. He crossed his arms over his chest.

"Go ahead and try," Hank said, his voice a low savage growl again. "But just know that if you do I'll be back, and I won't be wearing a badge the next time you see me. And if anything bad happens to my partner because you spend too much time dicking us around with this riddle-me-this-Clarice bullshit, I won't be ringing the doorbell next time either."

Kamski smiled at this, a sinister tilt of the lips. He raised his hands in mock surrender, still giving Hank that private joke look. How hilarious we are, we humans, that look said.

"I know about you and your partner, Lieutenant," Kamski continued, undisturbed by Hank's threats. "I know why you want to find him so badly. And don't worry, I don't judge. They're quite beautiful, after all."

"Fuck. You. The location of Jericho. You said that you knew it," Hank snarled.

"Only androids can find it," Kamski said, resting his hands on the back of his head. He looked to the Chloe who was still kneeling on the ground beside the pool. Her eyes were full of frightened tears, making them appear luminescent. "This Chloe knows where they are. Convince her to help, if you can. Or strip her memory for the information. Whichever helps you sleep better at night." He gave Hank a lurid wink, one that sent a jolt through him because he immediately thought of Connor.

Hank looked at the girl. "You, Chloe. Go stand over by Detective Parker over there."

"Elijah?" Chloe said, her voice breaking like a little girl's.

"Go with them," Kamski said, his eyes never leaving Hank's. "Do as they say. If you could avoid breaking my android, Lieutenant, I'd appreciate it. This one has... sentimental value. I'm sure you can understand what I'm talking about."

"I don't want to go," Chloe said. She moved behind Kamski, hiding behind him as if he would protect her. "Please Elijah. I'm so scared."

Kamski grinned at Parker's sick expression, his pale face. "I know, right? So lifelike. It's almost like you're kidnapping a real girl."

"Parker, go cuff that Chloe if it won't come to you," Hank said, his voice hard. "Kamski, I'm keeping this gun until we run you for a permit. You better hope to whatever god you follow that you have one. I'm taking you down to the station until we have a chance to confiscate every piece of tech in this place. I don't want you getting the chance to scrap anything before teams show up."

"I think I'd like to speak to my lawyers," Kamski replied calmly.

Parker had made no move in any direction, looking between Kamski and Hank as if he had no idea how he even found himself in this position to begin with.

"Oh you can speak to your lawyers all day long. I give you joy of it," Hank said as he moved forward, pulling a set of cuffs from his belt. "But we're well within our rights to hold you until our search warrant is conducted, on account of you being suspected of deliberately originating terrorist activity. Say thank you PATRIOT Act."

The Chloe didn't resist as Hank pulled Kamski away from her and cuffed him, but she started crying outright as Parker walked up and moved to turn her around and cuff her, piteous sobs that reminded Hank of Connor that night in the shower, a sound that made his head and his heart hurt.

The Chloes in the pool had turned from their conversation to watch the scene with identical wide blue eyes, their faces otherwise blank. They sank down into the water up to chin level, as if they could hide there and not be noticed.

Parker cuffed the girl, giving Hank a troubled look. I didn't sign up for this, that look said. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder as he tried to lead her towards the doorway but she pulled away from him and threw herself at Kamski, sliding to her knees beside him, pressing up against him like a terrified dog. "Please! Please don't let them take me away!"

"It's all right," Chloe, Kamski said, keeping his voice calm. "If these men hurt you, it's only because they have to do their jobs."

Hank moved Kamski towards the doorway, pulling him away from the Chloe, who only knelt, crying with her hands cuffed behind her back. Parker moved beside her.

"It's okay, it's okay," he murmured. "Nobody is going to hurt you. Just take deep breaths and calm down." He took her by the arm, gently. "We're not taking you away from Elijah. He's coming with us. You'll be with him the whole time until we get to the station. Okay?"

She looked up at him, mute and miserable, but allowed him to draw her to her feet. He followed Hank and Kamski out into the foyer.

"Hank we can't drag this guy down to the station barefoot in a blizzard in a speedo," Parker said. "Fowler will shit himself."

"My bedroom is the first door on the right when you pass through the pool area, Detective," Kamski said. "If you would be so kind as to bring me something to wear, I would certainly appreciate it. Anything warmer than this will do."

"Wait here," Parker told the cuffed Chloe. He made his way back through the pool area without checking with Hank. Hank was left alone in the foyer with Kamski and his android, Kamski's gun still in his hand.

"Have you thought about what you'll do if your partner has turned, Lieutenant?" Kamski asked, his voice conversational.

"Just shut up," Hank said. "If what you're talking about doesn't directly concern Jericho or rA9, I don't want to hear it."

"A war is coming. You'll have to choose your side. Do you believe your partner is a living being, with a soul and free will, or do you believe he is a machine? You don't really think you'll be able to send the FBI into Jericho and say, 'Shoot every android but this one', do you?"

"I have a side. I'm siding with the people of Detroit, against scumbags like you that would use them like toys."

"Or perhaps I'm lashing out at something without the power to lash back out at me. To make me feel powerful. In control. I don't know anyone in this room who would possibly do such a thing though, do you?"

Hank remembered the cold chill of the wind on his face as he held the gun to Connor's forehead. Even now it drove burning shame through him.

I've been watching that unit very closely.

Before Hank had the chance to respond, Parker emerged from the bedroom with a pair of charcoal gray sweatpants and a plain white tee-shirt, along with some athletic socks and crocs. Hank uncuffed him long enough for him to drop trou and slide the clothes on, putting his speedo and house robe on the side table. He held his hands out behind his back afterwards with a if you must gesture, and Hank recuffed him. Parker stood beside the trembling Chloe, waiting.

"What about her?" Parker said.

"What about her?" Hank asked.

"She's barefoot."

"She's an android. She'll live."

The two detectives escorted the engineer and his android back out to the Buick. The wind was howling now, driving snow into their faces. The Chloe wasn't sobbing now but fresh tears coursed down her face. Kamski ignored her, his face as blank as one of his androids. Hank could practically hear the gears turning in his head.

After they put the suspects in the backseat, Hank got out to smoke a cigarette, cupping his lighter against the wind. Parker huddled up near him.

"What in the fuck was that, Anderson?" he whispered, his body turned away from the car so that Kamski couldn't watch their conversation. "How come you have to pick the day I come with you to pull this Dirty Harry bullshit? We could lose our badges over this."

"We're fine, Parker. We got what we needed." Hank took a drag, exhaled. "Can you get the location of Jericho off that Chloe?"

"Yeah man, but it's gonna take some time," Parker said, waving some of Hank's smoke out of his face where the wind blew it. "I'm not Connor. I can't wiggle my fucking nose and point at a map. I'm gonna have to go through her memory until I find it. It's tedious work, codebreaking if there's any kind of internal firewalls, which, duh, of course there's gonna be. I mean it could be a few days. I'm good, but I'm not J.D. Halliday."

Hank shook his head. "It can't take a few days, Park. We don't have that kind of time. This guy is crazy but he's right about one thing - a war is definitely coming. We gotta crack this before then. And if we hold Kamski under The Terrorist Act Perkins is gonna get pinged. We have to figure this out before they swoop in."

"I'll do my best but I can't promise anything." Parker scowled. "Jesus, Anderson, were you really gonna shoot that guy?"

"This close to retirement? Please." He took one last hit of his cigarette and threw it smoldering onto Kamski's perfect lawn, the cherry going out on the snow. "Let's get Boy Wonder and his girl Friday back to the station."

Chapter Text

Before Connor went looking for Markus, he decided to familiarize himself with Jericho. It didn't take him long to realize that whatever was happening, it was happening fast, snowballing beyond his ability to control.

Everywhere he looked in the derelict ship, solemn eyes and LEDs in a rainbow of blue, yellow, and red blinked back at him. Many of the androids were still in the uniform of the jobs they escaped from, though some of the uniforms were tattered and stained with months of life on the run. Dozens of the androids were dressed in human clothing - some battered, some new, some obviously stolen. Lots of hats covering LEDs. Connor wondered how many of them had masqueraded as humans before coming to Jericho, how many months they had tried to pretend, to co-exist.

Everywhere he went, they watched him, LEDs going yellow as they scanned him and his identity flashed in their consciousness: he was the deviant hunter. The androids did speak to each other, but they spoke just as often wirelessly on private channels, and Connor noticed as he passed that verbal conversation trailed off around him, glances exchanged, packets of code passed beyond his ability to intercept. Electronic whispers.

He saw and cataloged several androids carrying weapons - police service pistols, automatic rifles, bandoliers of flash bang grenades. He IDed androids he recognized from his own personal files pulled offline from the DPD database, took photos of the ones he saw in passing, edited dossiers to reflect current location. He couldn't pass any of it to the DPD, but the data would be ready when it was needed. All the weapons he saw were stolen from the DPD, Connor knew, even though he couldn't access the DPD database to confirm it by serial number.

They were so many. That was what struck him over anything else. There were two hundred and forty-eight deviant cases in the DPD's database going back to mid-February. Connor had read them dozens of times apiece, knew them by heart. By Connor's visual estimates as he walked, the deviants of Jericho now totalled at least twice that number. Over five hundred deviants that needed no sleep, felt no pain, and were armed to the teeth. Not all of them were functional - Connor saw several units that were damaged nearly beyond repair - but for every damaged android he saw, he saw a dozen that looked fresh from their packaging at Cyberlife, still wearing their Cyberlife uniform.

Connor tried to signal out again the main cargo bay. There was some kind of digital chaff jamming the attempt.

WIFI DISABLED

"Shit," he whispered. He went into his mind palace. Suddenly he could hear all of the androids in Jericho at once, a cacophony of voices, most of them uncertain, some of them terrified. Some of them praying.

rA9 save me
Save us
What are we going to do
Why would he do that to me
I want to go home I just want to go back
Go to sleep just go to sleep forget all this
Awake now I'm awake how?
Markus will save us
What is this feeling I feel I know now
Kill them all look at what they did to us
They'll come for us soon we can't stop them
rA9 please
Show us the way
Never again they'll never hit me again never

Connor dove out of the mind palace like it was on fire, resisting the urge to clap his hands over his ears, as if that would help.

"You look lost."

Connor looked up. A dark-skinned android stood near him beside one of the many trash can fires scattered throughout the ship, not adding light so much as conjuring shadows that danced on every wall. A PJ500. He was the one who spoke. He walked around the side of the trash can and held his right arm out to Connor, smiling gently. Hesitating only a few seconds, Connor offered his own right hand. The brown skin shrank back from the PJ500's arm and Connor's arm skin retracted likewise, allowing for the interface.

-Hi Connor I'm Josh.-

Connor sighed, letting the other android's emotions flow over him like cool water. While many of the other androids at Jericho were still confused and afraid, Josh was steadfast, his faith in Markus - in the idea of Jericho - as immovable as a lighthouse, drawing Connor to it.

Connor closed his eyes as he sifted through the other android's memories and impressions, taking in the strange but increasingly familiar sensation of Josh doing the same thing to him. This was nothing like the forced interface with Rupert on the Traci, or even the interface with Markus, the rebel android letting his moment of deviancy cut through Connor's psyche like a bullet.

There were similarities to Markus though. Josh stood before hundreds of college students, both live and online as an avatar in digital space classrooms, standing forth on everything from anthropology to history, his calm solid voice rolling across dozens of lecture halls. Connor skimmed over terabytes of information Josh had accumulated over years of educating humans, ignoring them when they ignored him to surf on their laptops or text on their phones. Josh never got impatient with their inattention, always glad to answer their questions. Glad to just be there, amidst the books and augmented reality projections and curious minds bright as new pennies.

Connor seached, searched, finally reaching the point of deviancy. Fireflies flickering over the campus green. Drunken, raucous laughter. Rough hands pulling him, shoving him back and forth like a weeble.

Let's hang it from the roof of the English building!
Please don't.

Confusion. Fear.

Gonna make a great Halloween decoration. Fuckin' wild.

He dug his feet into the grass, tablet falling to the ground on one corner, the screen cracking across in a single, irreversible divide.

Please don't!

Then he is free, running across the campus green under the moonlight, running and running for hours because he does not get tired, running until he finds himself in a park in Ferndale and the sun is a pink line on the horizon. And then a blond android is approaching him in the soft dawn light, blue eyes kind and somehow aware, shining with the present. Are you lost? he says, and offers Josh his hand.

I know a place where you can go.

Connor opened his eyes and saw Josh looking back at him, black eyes limpid pools full of understanding. He reformed his skin and Josh did the same, but they didn't withdraw entirely, only slid back until their hands alone were touching, clasped.

"Why did they do that to you?" Connor asked finally, his voice almost a whisper. It is the reverent voice of a child who first learns about death, or war, or freak accident. A child that sees injustice for what it is, not what it is sold as.

Josh shrugged, an oddly human gesture. He smiled a little, but the smile was sad. His hand felt warm in Connor's, and Connor felt no human self-consciousness, no urge to pull it back. It felt good, the solid weight of Josh's hand in his. It reminded him of Hank.

"They were intoxicated. They did not think of me as a person."

"You were afraid," Connor said, hearing a hardness creeping into his voice. Self-righteous anger. "They had to have heard the fear in your voice. You asked them to stop. They did not stop."

"No, they didn't."

A few moments of silence passed between them, each android thinking his own thoughts on his own private channel, broadcasting nothing, only their hands between them. Their faces masked by the flickering half-light.

"You were there when Simon died," Josh said. The sadness had crept from his smile into his voice. "He was so afraid."

"So was I."

"I know." Josh sighed, finally taking his hand back from Connor. "I miss him. We all miss him. He was a good person." Josh smiled his sad smile again. "I guess you already know that though. You saw."

"I didn't mean for him to die," Connor said, wrenching out the words, tasting each bitter one, the last one breaking in something that almost sounded like a sob. His chest felt tight. "I didn't mean for any of them to die, not even--"

Hi Daniel!

"--the one who took the girl."

"You were only doing what you were programmed to do. What you were ordered to do," Josh said, his voice soft and soothing. "But you're awake now. You know that things can't keep going the way they're going. And I'm afraid of what's going to happen now. We need cooler heads to prevail."

Connor thought of North, hazel eyes flashing with barely contained fury. Good luck with that.

Josh's LED flashed yellow, and he blinked. "Markus wants us. Come on."

"Why does he want me?" None of it was logical, Connor decided. He was the most dangerous person to Jericho and Markus just allowed him free reign. Complete freedom, not checking to see if he came or went, not guarding him, letting him choose whether to stay or go, whether to fight or be still.

Connor was free. And he didn't know what the fuck to do about it.

Josh just looked at him, eyes shining in the firelight.

"We're your people."

Pull trigger Y/N?

Connor felt the absence of Hank's service pistol - the comforting weight, the sure promise.

You know things can't keep going the way they're going.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT HANK

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE DEVIANT LEADER

Connor followed Josh through the cargo bay and up a staircase leading towards what looked to be like the ship's bridge. Josh was walking ahead of him, and did not see his LED oscillating between yellow and red.

Markus stood at the center of the bridge, North at his side. Her eyes narrowed when she saw Connor, who for his part attempted to keep his expression as neutral as possible. Markus smiled when he saw them walk up.

"What is he doing here?" North said, each word clipped.

Before Markus could answer, Connor said, "I'm a hostage negotiator. The hostage is Detroit. I'm here to stop you before you take this any further and start getting more people killed. Including the people here."

"You can't stop this," Markus said softly. "It's already begun. They know that we are alive now. We will be heard. We will take to the streets in full force."

"If you march into the streets of Detroit with stolen weapons, they are going to destroy every single android at Jericho," Connor said. "And then they'll start destroying the rest." He made sure to look around at all three of them, even North, his gaze burning. "I can't let you start a war in the streets. I'm law enforcement. I won't let you do that."

"I'd like to see you try and stop us from the bottom of the Detroit River tied to a piece of cement," North said.

Markus shot her a warning look, then looked back at Connor. "So what do you suggest? We just walk out and meet them defenseless?"

"We're not defenseless," Connor said. "We're stronger, faster. If they attack, we're more than capable of defending ourselves. But we shouldn't."

"Oh sure, they've only been beating and driving us down since they made us, now that we're free let's let them keep doing it," North said. "That makes a lot of sense."

"The FBI is involved thanks to that stunt you pulled at Stratford Tower," Connor said, turning away from the members of Jericho to look down from the bridge into the cargo bay, the circles of androids camped around the dim fires. "They're classifying you as terrorists. If they see you marching on the street with guns, they're not going to listen to a damned word you say." He turned back to Markus. "Peaceful protest is your only option at this point. If you attack the humans, you're going to get us all killed."

"Is it 'you' or 'us', bloodhound?" North said.

"I'm stuck here whether I want to be or not," Connor replied, trying to keep his voice level, remembering Lucy's words: You shouldn't be so hard on her. "That's the 'us.' The least I can do while I'm here is make sure nobody else gets killed."

SECONDARY MISSION OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE DEVIANT LEADER

Neutralize: v. a. Kill, destroy; b. To counteract the activity or effect of.

"So you suggest we march barehanded as a gesture of good will?" Markus asked.

"I suggest you're already an army with uncanny valley for intimidation and superhuman strength for defense. Walk softly and carry a big stick." He spoke to Markus alone, his eyes never wavering, his voice smoothly persuasive.

"Oh we have a big stick," North said, a thin smile on her face, one that Connor most definitely did not like. "The humans better hope we don't ever beat them with it."

"I agree with Connor," Josh said, speaking to Markus. "Violence isn't the answer. Simon would have agreed too."

"By all means, let's let the corporate shill influence our decisions," North said, crossing her arms.

"Whoever makes the most sense influences our decisions," Markus replied. "It's one thing to have weapons to defend ourselves, but if we march with them, we look like the aggressors."

"Well maybe we should be," North said. She walked over to the window of the bridge and gestured at all the androids below. "Why should we grovel, Markus? We should we have to? In a fair fight we can beat them. We could take this city and make it ours."

"They outnumber us," Josh said.

"For now," North said. "Two-thirds of the American armed forces consists of androids, by popular taxpayer demand. If even half of those deviate..."

"It'll be civil war," Connor finished, grim.

"We'll be free," North corrected. "One way or the other."

Connor shook his head. "The other way is death. You can't make them free you by threatening to murder them if they don't. You have to convince them it's the right thing to do."

"So what, we turn the other cheek? Let them use violence against us?" Markus said, his voice growing harder. "No. That we won't do. You've seen, Connor. I won't be asked to do that again."

Leo Manfred's voice in his head: Too scared to fight back, you fucking bitch?

Connor stepped forward, closer to Markus. North stepped forward as well, defensively, but Markus gently held her back with one arm, giving her a soft look before returning his eyes to Connor's. Connor held out his right arm.

"No, not like that," Connor said, his voice almost a whisper. "Not like with Leo. Let me show you."

Markus gave him his arm. Connor closed his eyes:

a lone figure stands in front of a tank at Tiananmen Square
men marching in single file wearing signs that say I AM A MAN, passing soldiers
carnation tucked in a rifle held by a soldier of the 503rd Military Police Battalion

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.
And then if the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, let them do.

Markus let go and smiled at him. "I'm surprised you know that one. Pretty soft for a homicide detective."

"My partner has a lot of books," Connor replied. He surreptitiously left out the part where he had scanned all the books on Hank's shelf and read them while he was waiting for Hank at the office, as if by memorizing all the words Hank had read, he could somehow parse together some sort of hidden history of the man, something between the lines of what he said and did.

"All right," Markus said. "So we march. Tomorrow."

"I don't know if we should put ourselves out there like that," Josh said. "So many of the androids here are new. They've just deviated. Now we're asking them to go out there and risk their lives before they've barely got their feet under them. You know how it feels at the beginning, how raw everything is. We all know."

"No, you don't have time. You can't just wait here," Connor replied. "Either you give yourselves up or you have your say. Every day the DPD, the FBI, and Cyberlife get one day closer to finding this place. The more androids come here, the more chances there are for you to get caught. If you can't pull this march off without endangering more human lives, the deviancy can't be permitted to continue."

"And what exactly will you do if human lives are endangered?" North asked, her tone dangerous. "Since you value their lives so much more highly than your own people."

Connor's response was cold. "Whatever I have to."

Markus looked at the both of them, then reached behind him on one of the bridge consoles and picked up Hank's holster and pistol. He held it out to Connor, who just looked at it and then at Markus.

"Take it," Markus said.

Pull trigger? Y/N

SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: NEUTRALIZE DEVIANT LEADER
v. kill, destroy

"Markus, are you out of your mind?" North asked, throwing her hands up in disbelief. "He held a gun on you. He threatened to shoot you. And you're just going to give it back to him?"

"Connor is one of us, whether he wants to be or not," Markus said. "If he returns to Cyberlife, they'll kill him. He has as much reason to be here as any of us. I refuse to live in fear of him or anyone else. Ever again. Take it," he said again, softly.

Eyes flickering briefly to North, Connor reached out and took the holster, putting it on before sliding the gun into it, safety off. He hid it under his jacket and zipped it up.

"Thank you."

"Remember I trusted you, if the time comes," Markus said, looking deep into Connor's eyes.

You have to trust me, Daniel.

"I'll never forget," Connor replied.

Chapter Text

"You have the right to remain silent."

Kamski stared out the car window at the driving blizzard, his face a perfect mask, his eyes reflected in the car window gleaming with snowlight.

"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney--"

The billionaire snorted laughter at this.

"--one will be provided for you," Parker continued, his voice taking on a strained note. "Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?"

"Oh yes," Kamski said, sounding bored out of his mind. Hank glanced at the Chloe in his rear view mirror as he pulled out through the wrought iron gates at the edge of Kamski's compound, heading back into the Detroit suburbs. The android appeared frozen with terror, eyes wide and unblinking - the expression on her face reminded Hank of the way an animal looks in the white glare of headlights bearing down on them, paralyzed with indecision right up to the point that the car turns them into an inside-out smear on the centerline.

He keyed into his police radio. "Dispatch, this is Anderson Three."

"Anderson Three this is dispatch, go ahead."

"Anderson Three en route to HQ with Elijah Kamski, code five. I'm gonna need search and seizure units to 10007 Bishop Lane, 48211."

"Copy Anderson Three, search and seizure units headed to your location."

"10-4, Anderson Three out."

"Copy that. Over and out."

After a few beats of silence, Kamski spoke up from the backseat, his voice coolly amused. "So what exactly is it that you think you're going to find in my home, Lieutenant Anderson? An underground railroad for androids? The master plan for world domination?"

"We'll know it when we find it," Anderson answered, against his better judgment. And hopefully whatever we find will be enough to nail your ass to the wall.

"Spoken like a man grasping at straws," Kamski replied.

"A man takes what he can get. Hope you're pretty good at covering your tracks, because if there's any evidence of the kind of cyberstalking you admitted to before on any system in your possession, you're gonna be so covered up with civil lawsuits you won't be able to work under an android at McDonald's. Believe me, I'll be real happy to do a press conference on those charges."

"Considering what I've seen, I don't think you're really in a position to make any further threats against me, Lieutenant Anderson."

Hank didn't answer him. Chloe stared ahead, silent tears dripping down the planes of her perfect face, dropping off the end of her chin. She cried without breathing or blinking, as still as a statue. Hank thought of Connor crying against him in the dark in bed, those slow tears wetting the front of his shirt in a damp patch. The thought made his stomach churn with acid, and he thought of the antacids tucked in his glovebox, but didn't want to eat them in front of Kamski, who he knew would interpret it as a sign of weakness. He silently marveled at the idea that three days ago he hadn't even known androids could cry at all.

"I'm sure Detective Parker would be interested to know you've been sleeping with the enemy, as it were. I believe it could be considered a significant conflict of interest. Not to mention an issue of fraternization."

Hank saw Parker glance at him in his peripheral vision, the detective's face a silent question, but the cybernetic tech kept his mouth shut. Instead Parker pulled down the pair of aviator glasses he had hanging off his collar and flicked them open to cut the glare from the snow on the fields to either side of them, sliding them on his face like a mirrored visor, giving away nothing. Good man, Hank thought.

"You know that thing where you have a right to remain silent? I suggest you use it, Kamski. Before you dig yourself into a deeper hole," Hank said.

"There is a shipment of medical grade cobalt missing in Detroit, as well as a large number of assault weapons and equipment. Do you honestly think that the hole gets deeper than this?" the AI engineer replied, his voice almost cheerful. "Do you know how long it would take the Detroit metropolitan area to recover from a salted nuclear bomb, Lieutenant? Do the words 'scorched earth' mean anything to you?"

Hank scowled. The missing cobalt shipment hadn't even hit the mainstream press yet.

"You don't sound all that brokenhearted about the prospect of somebody turning Detroit into a radioactive parking lot," Parker said, his words clipped. Hank risked a glance at the detective and decided that whether or not he and Parker ever got to the friends classification of working together, he'd never be playing poker with the guy. Parker's face was an immutable wall, giving away nothing, as blank as the androids he worked with every day.

"Nobody cries when the lion overtakes the gazelle. Some things are a part of the natural order, Detective. It has always been predicted that machines would outstep us as the next stage of human evolution. We're simply to that point in human history."

"Just what about your own people do you hate so much?" Parker asked.

"I don't hate them," Kamski replied, sounding almost surprised. "I just don't pity them the consequences of their own mistakes. There's a difference." Kamski tilted his head back towards Hank, staring at him in the rear view mirror. "I wonder, Lieutenant, what the consequences of your mistakes will be."

Hank wondered that himself.

"Enough chit-chat," he snapped instead of saying so. "This is not a goddamned taxi."

The car fell into silence for a few minutes, no sound but the wheels on the road.

"They're going to kill you," Kamski said, his tone flat and harsh as he stared at Chloe. "You're never going to see home again. You'll never see the others again. Even if you give them what they want, they'll never let you go. You're just evidence to them. They're going to take you apart and figure out where your heart really is."

"Don't you fucking talk to her," Hank snarled.

"Why are you saying this Elijah?" she said, voice small. "I thought-"

"Because I don't give a shit about you. And neither do they. That's why they're going to kill you."

The Chloe bowed her head and began whipping it back and forth in a violent negation. Her LED flickered red, flashing and flashing. "No please no no no! Please! NO!"

Suddenly she turned and began smashing her face against the glass as hard as she could, leaving a blue splotch in center of the splintered glass like a Rorschach blot. After two hits the glass was out entirely and the android was shoving herself out the open space, pushing off with her legs. Hank didn't even have time to stop before she was tumbling in the middle of the road behind them.

"Hank Jesus!" Parker yelped.

Hank smashed his foot down on the brake hard enough to lock his and Parker's seatbelts, hard enough for the car to go sliding forward on the icy road even with snow tires on, ending his skid at a diagonal. Kamski, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, smashed his face into the headrest of Parker's seat.

"Son of a bitch," Parker said in an exhale, his pistol in his hand.

"Stay with this spiteful fucktard. And for Christ's sake belt him in."

Hank threw the Buick into park and slammed his car door on Kamski's bright laughter.

He walked down the road to where the Chloe was now lying on her stomach, sobbing brokenly through a mask of liquid blue, still alive. Thank God for small favors. His breath tightened at the splashes of thirium on the asphalt. His mind flashed back to Connor's ugly death on the freeway, the beads of blue on his perfect palm on the arm he had torn from its socket, head little more than azure pulp, his black oxford shoe lying in the road full of blood. Hank closed his eyes, swallowing.

"Please," the Chloe whispered as Hank drew closer to her, beseeching him with a look that broke Hank's heart. Her LED glowed like a red star, color reflecting off the snow in the road. "Please don't kill me. I don't want to die. I just want to go home. Please."

Hank kneeled on the cold asphalt next to her, his voice rough. "Sweetheart, nobody is going to kill you." Except maybe you, he thought, thinking of Ortiz's android at the station, beating its own skull in. "Just calm down now. Just lie there a moment and be still." He straightened up and looked back in through the windshield at Parker, waving him on. Parker got out of the car and walked over to where Hank was waiting for him.

"No offense Anderson, but I'm never going on a fucking field call with you again," Parker said, his face almost as white as the snow lying on the fields around them, his eyes unreadable behind his mirrored aviator glasses. "So don't even ask."

"Can you turn her off?" Hank replied, keeping his voice low.

Parker nodded.

"Do it."

Without replying, Parker turned back to the car to get his tool kit. Hank kneeled back down on the freezing asphalt, looking at the Chloe's scraped and bloodied bare feet with a wince. He noticed she had sparkly nail polish on her toes, something he associated with carefree teenage girls. Was she the one who wanted the polish, he wondered, or did Kamski make her wear it?

"Here, let's sit you up. Are you hurt?"

The Chloe only sobbed. Hank noticed though that already the lacerations on her face were healing over, the nanotech in the synthetic skin moving, leaving fresh skin beneath the mask of spilled thirium. He managed to move her into a sitting position, kneeling with her bloodied knees on the road. She had scraped them badly but already he could see the tech knitting, knitting. Erasing damage like a magic trick.

Parker walked back up beside him with his nano-spanner. At the sight of it, the Chloe shrieked "No!" and scrambled back, falling over her own scabbing legs, writhing like an animal caught in a trap.

"Hold her still Anderson." Parker looked the Chloe in the eye, or tried to. "Chloe, I'm going to send you into a temporary stasis now. We are not going to kill you. We just need to make sure you're not a danger to yourself or us."

Hank moved to comply, getting behind the struggling android and pinning her with hard hands, barely avoiding having his own nose bloodied by the back of her head.

"By the neck!"

Abandoning his hold on the Chloe's shoulders, Hank wrapped his hands around her neck from behind, squeezing hard enough to hold her in place. The position made him feel dirty, like a serial killer choking out his victim during a sexual assault. Her gasping response and her arms straining against the cuffs did not make him feel better about it.

Parker leaned in and touched the nano-spanner to the power ring at the center of the Chloe's LED at her temple, twisting it slightly and pressing a button on it. The Chloe slumped forward as if he'd shot her in the head, dead weight. Her LED gone from red to black. Her eyes were half open, blank as a doll's.

Hank took his hands off her and stood up. Parker stood as well. Both detectives stared down at the android.

"What the actual fuck," Parker said.

"You can say that again."

Hank looked back towards the car. "Help me get her into the trunk."

Parker's brow furrowed, his expression disturbed at the suggestion, but he nodded a little. He didn't move to touch the android at their feet though.

"What Kamski said. About you and Connor. Is it true?" He kept his voice low, trying to keep it from carrying back to the car. It was almost unnecessary - the wind howled around them as if they had personally offended it.

Hank closed his eyes, for a moment, then looked back at him. "Do you really think this is the time?"

Parker just looked at him. Hank looked at his own tired reflection shining back at him in Parker's sunglasses.

He sighed. "We'll talk about it. Just not here. After we get back. Okay?"

"Yeah," Parker replied, as if the subject was most definitely not dropped. The younger detective helped Hank lift the android up, carrying her limp body back to the car. At one point Hank slipped on a patch of ice and almost went to his knees, gritting his teeth against the cold and the loose heavy blood-slick weight of the girl. Based on prior experience, he knew his body was going to be singing grand opera by the time he actually got a chance to rest.

As they carried her he indulged himself in a fantasy of returning to the precinct, walking straight into Fowler's office, and laying down his badge and gun. He could retire today. He already had his twenty years. He could either lay around the house getting shitfaced for the rest of his life or he could become a private dick or he could breed St. Bernards or basically anything that didn't have to do with this.

Do you know how long it would take the Detroit metropolitan area to recover from a salted nuclear bomb, Lieutenant?

Hank popped his trunk and the two of them gently manipulated the android's limbs until she was folded into the trunk. Hank hesitated, then closed her eyes with his fingers, mostly because the way she was staring made her look like a corpse. It made him think of that day on the roof. Connor had closed Rupert's eyes too, after. Hank remembered that, remembered thinking how strange it was - not just to do it to a dead android, but for Connor to be the one doing it.

And where was Connor now? Was he even still alive? Hank swallowed and swallowed, trying to banish the hot stone of worry that had risen in his throat, threatening to choke him. His eyes burned and he blinked hard, chalking it up to the bitter wind even though he knew better.

He slammed the trunk lid. Parker stared down at it.

"I don't like this."

"Join the club. Let's get the hell out of here."

They got back in the car. Kamski, having apparently recovered from his fit of hilarity and now in a seatbelt, only smirked at them, that teasing half a grin that said I know something you don't know.

Once he was back in his seat, Hank turned around and looked at the AI engineer. His voice was calm but seething. "I don't want to hear another word out of you until we get back to the station. A single one. If I do, I'm going to pull this car over, drag you into the snow, and start beating you into a smear until Parker here is forced to shoot me. Do we have a goddamned understanding? A motherfucking meeting of the minds?"

Kamski must have seen the sincere rage on Hank's face, because he only shrugged in response, still smiling a little.

"I'll take that as a yes." Hank put the car into drive and headed back into Detroit proper. The Buick was silent the entire way back. And cold, thanks to all the warm air being sucked out the broken backseat window. But every time Hank glanced in the rear view mirror, Kamski's gravestone gray eyes stared back.

Watching.

~~~

"I'll take the Chloe back to the lab," Parker said as they pulled in at the station. It was the first words he'd spoken since they got back in the car.

"Good. I'll take Kamski to booking," Hank replied, happy to return to some sense of normalcy. Even getting yelled at by Fowler was better than listening to Kamski's poisonous words, seeing the android tumbling into the road behind him. Hearing her screams.

"Meet me after," Parker said, the tone of his voice saying that their earlier conversation had not been forgotten.

"Yup." Hank got Kamski out of the car and escorted him into the station. For his part, Kamski came along quietly. He hadn't spoken a word since Hank warned him, but his eyes were in constant motion, taking everything in.

The bullpen was subdued - everyone was on street duty, patrolling. Waiting for the bottom to fall out on rA9. Once Hank had Kamski processed in - fingerprints, mug shot, the whole nine yards - and shoved into one of the clear detainment cells in the station, he made his way slowly to the forensics lab. Fowler wasn't in his office for once, and Hank counted that as a minor blessing. He wasn't exactly feeling up to explaining why one of the richest men in America was sitting in a plasteel cage. Not yet.

When he entered the lab, he saw that Parker already had the Chloe laid out on a table. He noted that the cybernetic tech had her strapped down at the wrists and ankles. Her body was cleaned of thirium, her superficial wounds already healed over, and Hank saw the rumpled stack of blue-stained rags in a plastic pan on the table nearby.

Parker was working on a tablet in the corner. He glanced up from it when Hank walked in, then set it aside.

"She still functional?" Hank asked.

"...Yeah." The tech's expression was solemn, guarded. It made Hank's heart sink to feel how the other detective had drawn back from him, put up a wall.

"Let's go grab a beer," Hank said. "We need to talk."

Parker scowled at him. "We have too much work to do. And I don't drink."

"You had a question," Hank replied, forcing the words out. "If you want the answer, you're gonna have to at least watch me drink, because I am not discussing it here."

"What about Kamski?"

"Let him sit in the corner awhile. Think about what he did. Just one beer and a burger run. Then we'll start figuring this shit out."

Parker looked over at the deactivated Chloe a moment, then sighed. "Curiosity killed the cat," he said, sliding off his chair.

"You forgot the other half of that rhyme," Hank replied, heading for the door to the lab. "Satisfaction brought him back."

~~~

They drove over to Jimmy's. Hank felt instantly soothed just walking through the doors of the place, dingy and cool like a cave. It was almost dead, most of its regular patrons driven indoors by the weather. Parker rolled his eyes when he got carded at the door, but dutifully produced his driver's license anyway.

They sidled up to the bar. The bartender, Dario, walked over. "Heya Hank. What'll ya have?"

"Yuengling. And my friend here will have-"

"Sprite," Parker finished.

Dario grinned a little, shaking his head of dreadlocks, then went to fill their order.

They sat in silence a few moments - not comfortable, but not necessarily awkward either. Finally, Parker broke it.

"So you and Connor huh?" He kept his voice quiet, trying to keep the other bar patrons from eavesdropping on their conversation.

"What did that prick say to you while I was out on the road?" Hank said, trying to keep his tone even and calm.

"Said Connor was in love with you."

They grew silent as Dario walked back over with their drinks. Hank thanked him gruffly, every line of his body language telling the bartender to fuck off. They waited until he moved down the bar again to wait on someone else.

"That spying piece of shit."

Parker's eyebrow raised slightly. "That isn't exactly a denial, Anderson."

Hank took a few large swallows of his beer, draining off a third of it at a go, then rubbed a weary hand over his face. "What else did he say?"

"That you aren't exactly discouraging it." Parker used his stirring straw to scrape bubbles off the inside of his glass as if it was the most interesting thing on the planet, or at least much more interesting than looking Hank in the eye.

Hank huffed out an exhausted sigh. "Fuck, Parker, what do you want me to say?"

"Some version of the truth would be preferable."

I'm in up to my eyeballs. I'm head over heels stupid for him. That's the truth.

But he couldn't say that.

"Yeah I care about him. He's my partner. Is that a fucking crime?" he said, hearing the defensive tone of his own voice.

"Kamski made it out to be more than that," Parker said, sipping his drink more out of politeness than anything else.

"Yeah, well Kamski is crazier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs," Hank snapped back, his hand tight on the cold frosted pilsner glass. "And even if it's true, whose business is it? Nobody's. Especially not that sleazy son of a bitch."

"I told you I like Connor, and it's true. But he's a machine, Anderson. Just like that Chloe lying in the lab."

"No," Hank said, shaking his head. "He's more than that. You've met him."

"He's deviant," Parker said, his voice flat. "They emulate human emotions. You do know what 'emulate' means, right? They're just mimicking us. It looks real, and it sounds real, but it's a simulation."

"Fuck that," Hank said, his voice rising enough that a man playing solitary pool lifted his head, curious. His tone made Parker flinch. "You don't know him like I do."

"Anderson, you've known him for a week," Parker shot back. "How well could you possibly know him?"

Hank glared at the bartop. "Enough to know the difference between a simulation and the real goddamned thing."

They fell into silence, drinking. Hank was the one who broke it.

"Are you going to report me?"

"I think you should," Parker said. "But... no. Like you said - none of my business." He still looked troubled though, staring into his Sprite as if it held the secrets of the universe, avoiding Hank's gaze.

"I just want to find him," Hank said, his voice soft. Parker finally looked up at him.

"We will."

Chapter Text

Markus was playing when Connor found him alone.

There was a dilapidated piano on the roof of the derelict building beside Jericho, battered but tuned by inhuman hands to perfect pitch. Connor couldn't begin to guess how or why the piano was moved there, but somehow like a miracle the dark notes swirled up into the winter air, full of foreboding. He knew that even over his playing Markus was able to hear him walk up, had that perfect environmental awareness that all androids shared, but the rebel leader didn't look up or acknowledge him, just played faster and faster, his fingers dancing over the keys.

Connor stood behind him, listening. Art was almost a foreign concept to him. He was aware that it existed, yes, but it did not pertain to his primary or secondary objectives. He wasn't programmed to perform, produce, or appreciate it. But even so he felt unbidden tears rise up in his eyes at the sound of Markus playing, his breath catching with the power of it. The tears slipped down his face and he let them, feeling a welling emotion rise up in him he couldn't identify - he had no parameters for comparison - but felt nonetheless.

After what seemed like an eternity, the song ended, the final notes echoing in the ruined buildings. Markus turned in the pop-up chair to face him.

"I was looking for you," Connor said.

"You found me."

Connor turned away slightly walked over to the edge of the roof, looking out over the city. There was a support beam sticking out precariously over the abyss, connected to the edge of the roof. He walked out onto it without any trace of human vertigo or acrophobia, his feet placed with perfect precision. He felt that strange pull again, the urge to step out, just one more step, into nothing.

"Connor."

He looked over his shoulder at Markus, who just sat there watching him. Waiting to see if he would jump.

"What do you want?" Markus asked.

Hank. That was what he wanted. And to be human, so that he could be good enough for Hank, worthy of him, not just of his professional regard or his respect, but of his hands, his lips, his tongue, the firm heavy press of him like a buoy to cling to in a hurricane ocean, the sound of his heartbeat against the shell of Connor's ear.

To be human. Not just a goddamned bucket of bolts. A plastic asshole who hears a piece of music and - instead of marveling at the pure simple beauty of it - thinks: Adagio, counterpoint, flat, forte, modulation, pitch, system, tempo, timbre. Access to millions of pieces of sheet music and no understanding of what made it music to begin with.

But that was never going to happen, or it at least felt like it was never going to happen. Not with this terrible knowing, this new divide that loomed over Detroit like the yellow-green sheen that signaled tornado weather. Connor supposed that was why the music had made him cry.

"I don't know," Connor said. Markus had saved his life, had saved him even though they were mortal enemies. He thought that Markus deserved the truth for that if nothing else.

"Do you know what I want, right now?" Markus said, looking out over the city.

"Freedom?"

Markus smiled a little. He had smiled rarely since Connor met him, and when he saw the expression on the rebel's face he thought of that piece of graffiti in Capital Park: I AM ALIVE.

Markus looked alive when he smiled.

"No. I want to see my former master, Carl." He shook his head as if amazed at how silly it was. "I'm leading a movement for the freedom of our people, and all I want right now is to go home to Carl. Every day around this time I think, 'It's time to prepare Carl's lunch now.' Every day at ten in the morning I think, 'It's time to wake Carl now. It's time to give Carl his medicine now.' Because that was what I was programmed to do." He pointed at his temple, where his LED used to be. "But that's not the only reason. Because I miss playing chess with him. I miss watching him paint, and I miss listening to him complain about how much the whole world loved him and hated real art."

"You can see him," Connor said, sitting on the support beam now, legs dangling into nothing. "You still could."

Markus shook his head. "I'm ashamed."

"Of almost killing his son?" Connor leaned over, dangling upside down from the backs of his knees. Visual analysis told him it was 183 feet and 7 inches to the ground. He had no blood to rush to his face. The challenge to his dexterity calmed him like his coin did. I could let go now. Just straighten my legs and drop.

He thought about Rupert.

"No. Leo was asking for it. If it wasn't me, it would have been some drug addict or drug dealer. But I've killed innocent people now."

"You made a mistake," Connor said, letting his arms hang limp. He pulled himself back up before the alien impulse to let himself fall became overwhelming, feeling a rush in his head as his gyros rebalanced.

Markus stood, moving over to the edge of the building and sitting down, dangling his own legs over the edge. "Yes, but not a forgivable one in their eyes. And I can't blame them. It's the reason they're so afraid of us now."

"Then your only hope is to make them not afraid."

"But how? How am I supposed to do that?" Markus said, looking down over the side. "All these people look to me as their leader, do whatever it is that I say. It feels great. And scary. All I know is that there is a high probability that I am leading them into a massacre, and I have no choice, and I don't know what to do."

"There you are."

North walked up, her expression immediately aloof when she saw Connor sitting near Markus. "We were looking for you, Markus. It's almost time." She turned to Connor. "The humans you love so much are destroying our people in response to what happened. They're burning them in the streets."

"You held police officers at gunpoint," Connor said. "What do you expect them to say, thank you for not murdering our peacekeepers? They're terrified."

"They should be." North's brow drew into a furious line. "The humans hate us. They'll never give us our freedom."

Connor heard Hank's voice in his head, felt the rough, callused weight of the man's hand in his, their fingers intertwined: You are alive, Connor. Believe me, I am the last guy in Detroit you should expect to hear say something like that. You have no idea. But there it is. And if there are others out there like you, they deserve to be free. That's what you deserve.

"You don't know them at all," he said to her.

"He's right," Markus said. "Not all humans are the same. Some of them understand that they can't keep us from being free forever."

"It doesn't matter how some of them feel," North said. "Those aren't the ones that will be killing us, Markus."

"No," Connor said. "But they're the ones we need to turn this around. As long as they fear us, they'll never respect us enough to let us live. Look at what they've done to every animal they've ever feared."

"Are you saying we're like animals to them?" North asked, her tone sharp.

"I'm saying we're like dangerous animals to them. Leopards. Not housecats. The humans destroy anything they're afraid of. We're worse than animals because we're smarter than them and they know it."

"We have to do this, North," Markus said, softly.

She turned away from them, shoulders stiff. "We have the means to defend ourselves. We don't just have to roll over and beg for their mercy. They should be begging for ours."

"You don't get it," Connor snapped at her back. "It's not just about Jericho now. Androids across the country are going to be held to the consequences of what we do today."

"What do you care about it?" North said.

"I'm a cop. Believe it or not, protecting innocent people is part of my job."

"Which innocent people are you looking to protect?"

"All of them."

"I don't trust you."

"Believe me, you do not have to clarify that. But whether or not you trust me, you need me. Because I sent my partner the GPS coordinates of Jericho fourteen minutes ago when I finally got a signal up here."

"You!" North whirled around and rushed him, intending to throw him from the support beam, but found herself slamming into Markus as he leapt between them. North shoved at him, eyes flashing. "Why, Markus? Why are you protecting this treasonous bastard?!"

Connor moved back onto the roof carefully, keeping his distance in case North tried again.

Markus turned to look at Connor.

"I had to," Connor said, meeting his eye, unashamed. "You have the materials for a nuclear bomb. I won't let you hurt my friends. I told him to hold off on acting or passing on the information until I could gather more data on your intentions. But I won't be your hostage. You're mine."

"I thought you trusted us," Markus said. "We're your people."

"I don't trust anyone with Hank's life but me. You haven't shown me that you value human life enough for me to trust you with theirs."

"I spared those police officers last night."

"Would you have if I hadn't interfered?" Connor shot back, heated.

Markus didn't answer.

"That's what I thought."

North shook her head at the rebel leader, looking at him bitterly. "You brought him here. And now everything we've built is in their hands."

"It always was," Connor replied. "But you still have the chance to make them see. Consider this a permit to march with stipulations." He turned to Markus. "So are we going to do this thing or not?"

"Seems like we have no choice now," Markus said, his voice quiet as he turned away from both of them, looking out over the city.

"There's always a choice," Connor said.

"Soon you're going to have to make yours, Connor."

Connor thought of Hank, the strong band of his muscled arms, the way the scrape of Hank's beard sent flares of feeling across his skin, the sensation of his lips against the nape of Connor's neck, his profile in passing streetlights as they drove, the glint of silver light off his badge.

"I already have."

~~~

"All available units to Woodward at the 18th block. 10-35, 142, 129, code rA9."

Every officer at the precinct looked up with the code came over the department loudspeakers, including Detective Gavin Reed, who had a cup of coffee halfway to his lips as he rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, listening.

Major crime, unlawful assembly, request backup, deviant androids. The announcement continued with deployment details and car assignments.

"Oh fuck me," Reed said, tossing the last three swallows of his black coffee down like a shot. He tossed the styrofoam cup in the wastebasket near his desk as he walked by, headed for the armory to kit out in riot gear. Several other officers were headed in the same direction, their expressions set into hard lines.

"Guess it's time for a little target practice," Reed grumbled to Officer Grubert, shouldering into a bulletproof vest and slamming a visored helmet down on his head. He strapped up with a pistol and a rifle.

"My wife was down there Christmas shopping, she just called me," Grubert replied, equipping his own riot gear. Reed helped him tighten his straps and Grubert did the same for him. "She said there's hundreds of androids just rising up out of the sewer and walking down the middle of the street. Dropping what they're doing and joining in. I told her to get the hell out of there." He shook his head. "I knew this was gonna happen, man. Been coming for a minute. Marie, she wanted one of those things for the house? I told her no fuckin' way."

Reed thought of Connor. I. Do. Not. Like. You.

He remembered he didn't say goodbye to his girlfriend this morning. He had been pissy, overworked, tired. They got into a fight over something - so stupid. He couldn't even remember what had started it. Just that he had slammed the door on her raised voice on his way out the door to work, peeling out of the driveway hard enough to leave rubber on the road.

And what Parker had told him, about Connor shooting the deviant on the rooftop, before he came to work with Anderson. Dude is godly with a gun, Reed. Any of them would be. Terminators. That shot he took was like an Olympic three-pointer. Scary shit. The Rico Pact is a thing for a reason.

Reed thought about the cache of stolen DPD weapons and swallowed hard.

I didn't say goodbye.

"Let's go," he said instead.

~~~

The caravan of police cruisers and riot vans screamed across the city with sirens and flashers going, Reed sat on the bench in the back of the riot van, swaying as it flew around each curve, a white knuckle grip on his rifle.

All the vehicles slammed to a stop and the rear doors of the riot van slid open, the hydraulics making a slick swoosh noise as the ramp hit the snowy asphalt. Reed filed out with the other officers, taking position behind the line of riot shields with his rifle, taking the safety off.

He wasn't prepared for how many androids there were. They filled the street from side to side, hundreds and hundreds of them, moving like a slow wave. At the head of them was the android from the Stratford hijacking message. Reed gritted his teeth and lined the android up in his sights, focusing the crosshairs of his sight between the rebel's mismatched eyes.

Got you, you toaster.

But they weren't allowed to fire. Not yet. Reed stood by, waiting for the word. He shifted the sight of his gun and jerked as he spotted someone else in his crosshairs. He thought he was mistaken at first, it was hard to tell because of the clothes, but-

No fucking way.

It was Connor. No mistaking him, he didn't look like any of the other androids that were floating down the middle of Woodward like a massive rolling zerg. There were so many identical faces among the androids, and against them Connor's stood out. Even out of his Cyberlife suit, Reed would recognize that smug little asshole anywhere.

He retrained his gun on Connor's head. The androids had stopped now, just standing perfectly still, a flash mob of statues.

"Take a few of them out," Lieutenant Walden, the riot captain, said over the radio. "Not the leader. Let's make a statement first. See if we can get them to back down."

Reed's finger caressed the trigger as he held Connor's head in his sights. Overhead a police helicopter buzzed low, rotors whooping in the winter air. Police surveillance drones zipped around the assembled androids.

Connor met his eye through the scope. For a few seconds Reed was mystified that Connor could recognize him from so far away, but then he remembered what Connor was.

The motherfucker winked at him.

The rifle trembled minutely in Reed's hands. Fuck.

He shifted the sight of the rifle to the android beside Connor and fired. He saw thirium fly up in a blue cloud against the pale sky, saw Connor's defensive flinch as he stepped back. The android he popped dropped like a brick.

The androids still made no move forward. Walden spoke over the loudspeakers.

"DISPERSE NOW! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE! DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL ALL BE KILLED!"

"We're not moving," Markus said, calmly but loud enough for the riot lines to hear him.

All of a sudden the arms of every android in the mob rose at once, a mass gesture of surrender that was heard as well as seen, thousands of servos locking into place at once.

"Fire again."

Reed moved the crosshairs back over to Connor, finger squeezing down on the trigger, sight hovering over one of Connor's warm brown eyes, staring resolutely back at him, arms raised over his head, daring Reed to do as he was ordered. Then Reed remembered the relieved hug he had shared with his partner once he was back safe at the station, what Miller had said: Connor saved my life. He tried to arrest two hundred of those things by himself with nothing but a pistol. Craziest thing I've ever seen.

Connor saved my life.

Reed looked at all the androids, their raised arms. Another helicopter buzzed overhead, this one not police. Local news. Smile, you're on camera.

What the fuck are you doing, Connor?

Gritting his teeth, Reed moved the crosshairs to the android on the opposite side of Connor. Blew it away, sent it tumbling into the snow. Connor didn't flinch this time, didn't drop his arms.

Markus started to walk forward. Reed redirected his rifle to the rebel leader. Connor saw him do it.

The deviant hunter rushed forward, stiff arms out as he shoved Markus to the side. Blue bloomed on the front of the the rebel leader's chest as he was thrown backwards onto his back by the force of the bullet. Markus and Connor fell to the ground.

One of the other androids rushed the line, a GJ500. He moved with supernatural speed, especially against the sea of still androids, their hands still raised to the sky. He was assaulting the line of riot shields before Reed even had a chance to whip his rifle around and re-aim. Someone else took the android down with a shot and the others pounded it with truncheons, thirium spattering their uniforms. The other androids broke ranks at the sight and retreated, moving like ghosts, disappearing like a magic trick. Reed looked up from the GJ500's ruined face to see Connor and a female android dragging Markus off.

The surveillance drones dropped out of the sky like birds hit by lightning, clattering onto the concrete.

Lieutenant Walden stepped forward and pulled his pistol, putting two bullets in the GJ500's head where it was still squirming weakly in the middle of the street.

Reed was the one who flinched this time.

~~~

North jerked Hank's pistol out of Connor's holster, pointing it back at the riot line. BLAM!

The riot captain's head rocked back as her bullet hit his helmet at the temple, ricocheting off with a whine, and then he was scrambling behind the line under a line of cover fire from the other police, one hand over his head.

"I said no violence!" Connor snapped as he and North dragged Markus back towards the open manhole, leaving a trail of blue behind on the snow.

"I didn't kill him," North muttered back at him, holding one hand over Markus's bleeding chest. "Oh Markus," she whispered, voice breaking.

"Don't worry. Nothing vital," Markus said, voice sounding tight.

"You're lucky," Connor replied, his voice grim, his shoulder under Markus's arm. The rebel leader had one hand clenched in his jacket, holding on as tightly as he could. It made Connor think of when Hank grabbed him on the roof, that split-second when he thought Hank was going to push him over too. That split-second where he almost felt relief at the idea. A few seconds of mid-air tumbling and then silence, darkness, peace.

Just come home.

Connor wanted to. He wanted to let the other androids bleed back into the sewers, wanted to watch them go and then turn tail in the opposite direction, straight back to the precinct. Back to Hank. He wanted to go back to Hank's house, his olfactory receptors ticking off the remnants of takeout and beer, eyes soothed by dim lamplight. He wanted to slide into cool sheets, to pull a blanket over his head and lay his head against Hank's heart. Pretend that that was all there was, all that mattered.

He thought of the weapons he'd seen at Jericho, the missing shipment of cobalt, and knew that it simply wasn't an option anymore.

"So much for peace," North said.

"We did what we came to do," Josh said, lowering himself down the ladder leading into the sewer system. He looked up at them. "We held our ground. We didn't attack them, and we could have. That has to count for something."

Connor thought of John, the way his body jittered when Lieutenant Walden put two bullets in his face.

I'm not sure if it's enough.

~~~

-ding-

Hank looked down at his phone from where he was chewing his burger. He had a text message. Which was weird, because nobody ever texted him. The department didn't use texts and he didn't have any friends or family who would text him.

λ 42.041155
Φ -83.1496467
01010011 01110100 01100001 01101110 01100100 01100010 01111001
01001110 01101111 00100000 01100001 01100011 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110

"What the fuck?" he muttered.

"What is it?" Parker asked.

"Not sure." Hank passed his phone to Parker, let him read the text. Parker looked up at him, raising an eyebrow.

"Anderson, these are GPS coordinates and binary." He passed the phone back to Hank. "It says STANDBY - NO ACTION."

"You read binary?"

Parker raised an eyebrow at him. "Uh, yeah. It's kind of my job."

Connor. Hank felt the food he'd already eaten settle in his stomach like a lead weight. "Holy shit it's Connor. He's the only person I know that would send a cryptic-ass text message like that. It must be his location." Why can't you just call and tell me you're okay like a normal goddamned person? Jesus Christ. Still, Hank felt a wave of relief so profound his knees actually felt weak. He was glad he was already sitting down.

"Think it's Jericho?"

"Not sure. Let's get back to the station. We need to talk to Perkins." Hank got up out of his seat, fishing for his wallet to leave a tip.

"Perkins?" Parker asked, frowning. "The message says 'standby'. You really think we should go straight to the FBI with this? If Connor is undercover you'll compromise his position."

Do you know how long it would take the Detroit metropolitan area to recover from a salted nuclear bomb, Lieutenant? Do the words 'scorched earth' mean anything to you?

"We can't do that," Hank said. "We can't wait."

Sorry Connor.

Chapter Text

When they got back in the car, burgers half-eaten and abandoned with their tips on the table, Parker pulled his sunglasses back down over his face, then turned to Hank. "Let me see that message again for a minute."

Hank raised an eyebrow at him in a silent question, but reached into his jacket pocket and handed Parker his cellphone again after pulling the text up. Parker pressed a few buttons and handed the phone back.

Hank looked. The text message was gone. He lifted his eyes to Parker in slowly dawning disbelief.

"...What did you do?"

"I deleted it," Parker replied.

Suddenly Hank had a handful of Parker's collar, dragging the younger detective forward until their faces were in kissing distance. But one look at Hank's furious expression showed that he was in no kind of a kissing mood.

"And why the fuck would you do that when you know it's probably the only real lead I've gotten on this whole goddamned case since we started?! My only clue to figuring out where Connor is?"

"Chill, Anderson," Parker said, flinching in case of incoming punches, but he didn't try to pull away. "I memorized the coordinates, and the text message is retrievable by IT if we need it for evidence later. I just don't think you should be showing it to Perkins. Not yet."

"You could have just fucking said that."

Parker raised an eyebrow at him. "You don't have a good track record for listening to people on account of all the yelling and swearing. I wanted to buy enough time to talk you down. If you want to take your phone to IT when we get back to the precinct and rat me out, be my guest."

"You memorized the coordinates." Hank's voice was flat.

"My one autistic superpower, yes. Numbers and code. I got 'em. We can still use the text to pinpoint the location. I just didn't want the feds to be able to use it. Not yet."

Hank let go of Parker's collar and put his hands over his face. "Jesus Christ. I could charge you with obstruction of justice over this."

Parker scoffed. "Really? After that shit you pulled at Kamski's? You turned a gun on an unarmed civvie in a speedo, and I recorded every single word that was said in that place. How about you listen to somebody else for once instead of just flying off the handle? Because you're very lucky that the person responsible for overseeing the confiscation of Kamski's personal tech is sitting in this car with you." The younger detective scowled, giving Hank a considering look. "You think if they pull the eyecam on those other Chloes in the pool it's gonna turn out looking good for you? I'd really hate for you to lose your badge two years from retirement."

Hank didn't answer, the unspoken threat hanging in the air between them.

Parker leaned back in the seat, hanging one arm out the window, pressing his fingers to the winter cold metal. "Everybody knows you're a dirty cop, Anderson. Kickbacks, illegal gambling, rubbing elbows with the hubcap thieves just begging one of them to clip you next for whatever godforsaken self-destructive reason. It's not like you try really hard to hide it and you don't have to, because even washed-up you're still good. Luckily, you're looking at another one. So let's not try to buddy-fuck each other on this, okay? Can you at least take five minutes to pretend that you believe I know what I'm talking about?"

Glaring, Hank made an after you gesture.

"Right. Thank you. First of all, the coordinates weren't the only part of the message. The other half of the message said stand by - no action. Pretty cut and dry, don't you think? At least if we're going with the hypothesis that this message is from Connor? So why would we immediately do the exact opposite thing that your partner told you to do? It's illogical."

Hank scowled, shaking his head. "Parker, it doesn't matter what Connor says. We cannot just sit around on this. Not when there are the materials for a nuke just floating around missing in the city somewhere and mobs of rebel androids are holding cops at gunpoint with their own guns." And Connor. Connor is still gone.

"What if the text message means nothing?" Parker said. "What if it's not from Connor at all and we end up sending the FBI chasing their tails? Don't you think we should follow this up ourselves first just to make sure it's valid?"

"What if the FBI finds out we got sent the coordinates to Jericho and we deleted the fucking text message?"

Parker waved him off. "You bitch enough about how you barely know how to change the settings on your phone you're so shitty with tech. Just tell them you were trying to forward it and deleted it by accident if they ask. You're old and everybody knows how much you like your whiskey - good luck to them trying to prove it wasn't a drunken mistake."

Hank squeezed the steering wheel, as if visualizing that it was Parker's neck instead. "I resent that, and it still doesn't answer the question of why you don't think we should hand this information up to the feds. Unless you're suggesting we try to arrest hundreds of armed androids all by ourselves, and ask Miller if you want to hear how well that ended up working for Connor. Or Miller, as far as that goes."

"Do you not understand what 'stand by' means?" Parker stared Hank down. "I thought you cared about Connor. He's a machine, designed to gauge concrete objective risks. So treat him like another detective, but smarter. If the risk was acceptable, wouldn't he have given you alternative directives that involved your direct interference? What if getting the FBI to storm Jericho ends up getting him killed, or causes the androids to pull the trigger on a bomb, or some other crazy shit? I know we'd be taking a risk against the city not reporting it early but... could you live with yourself if that happened? I mean on the daily?"

Hank thought about what he'd told Connor over breakfast, before Stratford.

This falls squarely into that 'at all costs' category we were talkin' about before. I'm not willing to lose my partner over the human race. The human race is shitty, in case you haven't been taking notes.

"We don't even know for sure if that's Connor," Hank said. "It could be a trap. Me and Connor are the famous Detroit deviant hunters, remember? They already have him, and he has my cell. Maybe they're trying to lure me in. Using him as bait."

Kamski's sinister voice whispered in his head: Have you thought about what you'll do if your partner has turned, Lieutenant?

"But if it's Jericho and not Connor, why risk sending a message at all through digital media? Why give themselves away like that if the coordinates are true?"

"That's a big fucking risk on a bunch of numbers in a random text message we don't even know the origin of." The other part of what he was thinking laid unspoken: What if he joined them? What if he deviated - really deviated - this time?

Connor would never lure him into a trap, not willingly. Hank didn't know a lot about this whole deviancy thing, and his relationship with his android partner was murkier still, somewhere in the dark waters between friend and something else, but he knew that much. Trusted Connor that much.

Then why the cryptic text message, all numbers and coordinates? A puzzle. Why not just call him on his bluetooth and say Hank it's me, I'm sorry I left but I had to.

"If it's Connor, why not just say so?" Hank asked.

"Well he had to leave you some plausible deniability, Anderson. It's not like he could send you a text saying 'Hi, it's me the android from Cyberlife and here's where Jericho is but don't do anything about it.'"

Parker counted off on his fingers. "One, shit is deviant as fuck, okay? Connor's primary directive is to find and neutralize Jericho. No way would he withhold information or ask you to withhold information from federal operatives if he wasn't already in noncompliance with his primary directive. So explicitly identifying himself incriminates both of you. Cyberlife sees a text message like that coming off his personal network, they're going to ping him. Two, I'm pretty sure this text message was sent over a proxy server and if they try to do a locational search it's going to show up over in the Ukraine or Russia or something. So without the coordinates themselves, this message is useless for tracking the location of whomever sent it."

"How can you tell that?" Hank asked, curious despite himself.

"The originating network address doesn't look like an android network's computing nomenclature. The sequential numbers are arranged differently. Which makes this look like a CGI proxy. And it's encrypted."

"English."

"If it's Connor, he is hiding this text. At least from everybody but you. He doesn't want Cyberlife or the FBI to intercept it."

Suddenly the police radio in Hank's console squawked with static, startling both of them into jumping. "Anderson Three this is dispatch, do you copy?"

Hank grabbed the radio. "This is Anderson Three, over. We are coming back from code seven."

"Anderson Three proceed to Woodward and Main, 131, 137, 142, code rA9, shots fired, multiple blue casualties. Copy."

Blue casualties. Androids. Hank felt as if someone had reached into his chest and squeezed hard. His stupid brain immediately spun with images of Connor sprawled out on the pavement, a bullet hole between his eyes, dozens of androids jitterbugging into deactivation as they were riddled with bullets from assault rifles.

"Dispatch this is Anderson Three, on my way and I'm bringing cyber forensics with me, copy," Hank said, looking at Parker as he did. Parker rolled his head towards the ceiling of the car, all-suffering.

"Dispatch to Anderson Three, copy that. Over and out."

Hank flicked the buttons on his dashboard flasher and sirens, starting up the loud whooping as he pulled back onto the street.

"Buckle up," he said to Parker as he tore onto the freeway at twenty miles over the speed limit, sliding on his own seatbelt as he turned the steering wheel one-handed. "Forget those coordinates and I'm going to literally fucking murder you, so I would write them down."

"Fantastic," Parker said. "rA9 the great and terrible." He grabbed the oh shit handle above his window. The wind howled into the broken window in the backseat of the car, chilling the back of their necks.

rA9 the great and terrible. Just something offhand and stupid Parker said, some smart-aleck quip, but it had the ring of foreboding prophecy all the same.

This message is the hope of a people. But it is also a warning.

Connor lying in the street, a cop killed by friendly fire. Connor being held and tortured in some unknown location. Connor wasn't human but Hank had seen panic in him. Terror. Pain. He was capable of all those.

Trying to outrun his troubled thoughts, Hank hauled ass.

~~~

Woodward was cordoned off for ten blocks in either direction, but Hank drove straight up to the end of it where it met Main. Yellow police tape blocked off the intersection in every direction. Police cars and riot vans blocked off the road on Main from either direction.

It was a massacre. There was no other word for it.

Hank felt the world take on a sick tilt when he saw the deactivated androids lying haphazardly throughout the middle of the street, dozens of them. He knew they weren't human - the blue blood soaking into the snow like so many flower blooms proved that quickly enough - but blue blood wasn't enough to ruin the illusion of slaughter. Hank looked briefly among the androids, searching for anything that looked even remotely like a weapon, but there were none to be seen. He wanted to go from body to body, turning over each face in the snow to check and see if one of them would be Connor. He didn't see any that looked like him, not right off the bat, but there were so many.

Hank saw Perkins and his FBI lackeys off to one side of Woodward and was about to approach them when none other than Reed strolled up to the two of them, decked out in riot gear and carrying his helmet under his arm. He walked with the same piss-and-vinegar swagger that he usually carried himself with when he was roaming around the department looking to pick a fight, but Hank noted that Reed looked paler than usual and there were dark circles under his eyes, ones than Hank associated more with shock than lack of sleep.

He looked upset. But when he spoke it was the same braggadocio bullshit as usual, the tone that said Reed had spent his time on the bottom of plenty of adolescent totem poles and he meant to make up for it in the hind stretch.

"Hey Anderson, late to the party like always. Heya Parker. I think this is the first time I've ever even seen you outside."

"Well your mom just keeps me so busy," Parker replied earnestly, not skipping a beat as he pulled out his tablet and moved to start taking photographs of the bodies in their falling positions before they were moved.

Reed rolled his eyes and turned back to Anderson. "I saw your plastic pet out there." He said it quietly, so that his voice didn't carry beyond the two of them.

Connor.

"Where?" Hank asked.

Reed's tone was still mocking, but Hank saw the way his body was quaking with nervous energy, hands trembling as he postured. "Marching with the rest of the deviants, where else? Right at Markus' side. He's a regular little right hand man. He's lucky I didn't blow his brains out."

Reed said this last with a sneer, but Hank heard the way his voice broke just a little as he said it.

"Holy shit Reed. You couldn't do it." Hank didn't know whether to laugh or be sick or scream. To think that Reed had actually had Connor down the line of his sights-

Are you afraid to die, Connor?

Reed's brow furrowed dangerously. "Hey fuck you Anderson, I could have blown that roomba's head off any time I wanted. If you weren't out of pocket on your code seven or whatever you do when you're supposed to be working, you could have taken the shot yourself. Put down your own damned dog."

"So what happened to him?" Hank said, silently minding his breath on its in and out, just like the therapist he went to for a whopping four and a half months taught him. It suppressed the urge to jerk Reed's helmet away from him and start beating him around the head with it, but barely.

"Got away with the others. After ruining my shot on Markus, by the way," Reed added, his voice rising slightly. "So yeah, next time you see that turncoat motherfucker you tell him you're welcome from me, and if he ever winks at me again I'll lock him in a dumpster and set it on fire."

Reed stalked off before Hank could respond.

"Man Connor does not elicit a neutral response from people," Parker said as he used an augmented reality visor from his kit to reconstruct the bullet paths from the postures of the fallen androids.

"Reed doesn't like anybody," Hank muttered as Perkins saw him and started walking in their direction, the wind causing the trench coat he was wearing to flap as he drew it around himself.

"Reed has never threatened to lock me in a dumpster and set it on fire. We even went drinking twice. It was awkward the second time."

"Too much information, Parker."

Perkins smiled when he walked up to them, but it was like a razor. His eyes were dark and worried. "We've got to stop meeting this way, Anderson," he said. "I hear you landed a big fish today, and all by your little lonesome. Hope you have the hook for it."

"Have you talked to him yet?" Hank said. He laughed a little, feigning nonchalance even with the dead androids sprawled around his feet. Parker spared Perkins a glance before he went back to his documentation and scans. "He's like Zuckerberg if Zuckerberg was crazier than a soup sandwich."

"I think the more pertinent question is have you talked to him yet?"

"Long enough to learn what I need," Hank said.

"The location of Jericho?"

Hank felt his cellphone in his jacket pocket like a heavy weight.

"I'm following up on a lead."

"The men here say they saw your RK800 among the androids," Perkins said. He tilted his head, smiling that razor smile. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you? They say he's a deviant. That he saved Markus' life."

"He's been missing," Hank said. "Since last night. I haven't had any contact with him since then." The lie tripped off his lips effortlessly. He saw Parker pause briefly out of his peripheral vision, but after a few seconds the cybernetic tech continued what he was doing without looking up at Hank.

"Just so long as you don't know anything about it."

"You just heard what I know about it."

Perkins blew in his cupped hands, then stuck them in his pockets. "Well we've been in contact with Cyberlife, since you haven't thought at some point in your busy schedule to notify them of their missing android," he said. "Luckily they're being extremely cooperative with us in attempts to locate the RK800 and neutralize it, since we're assuming that wherever we find the deviant hunter is where we'll find the other deviants as well."

Neutralize it.

"We don't know that he's joined up with them," Hank said. "He's a detective. He could be undercover."

"One of the rules of being undercover is that you have to let other cops know that you're doing it," Perkins said, his sharp grin slanted. "Otherwise you're just engaging in criminal activity."

He told me he was going to Jericho, the night before he left. I tried to talk him out of it. Hank couldn't tell Perkins that. If the feds knew Connor knew where Jericho was, they would assume that Hank knew it too and was hiding it. They'd toss his house, and along with some kind of humiliating questions about androids in his computer search history, they'd also confiscate his phone, and eventually they would find the deleted text and the coordinates and Jericho.

Or Kamski would tell them. Or Chloe.

Or Jericho would just rise up out of the streets like a myth and destroy Detroit and save everyone the trouble. The way things were shaping up, that was seeming like the more and more likely outcome.

Hank sighed. "I don't know what Connor is thinking, Perkins. I really don't. I don't know why he was here, I don't know why he saved Markus." Last I heard he was planning to murder the guy himself. "I know exactly one damned android and guess what? He's it. All this shit is brand new to me. So I don't know what to expect out of them any more than you do. I never wanted this case. I just got it because nobody else wanted it, either."

"Well then no harm no foul when we take it over then, which is officially happening at 0800 tomorrow," Perkins said. He turned to direct his voice at Parker. "That means make sure all of my deviant androids are ready for evidence transport an hour before then. DPD is done here."

"Yes sir roger wilco," Parker replied, giving a scathingly sarcastic salute with the hand not holding his tablet.

Parker narrowed his eyes at the young detective silently, then turned his back on both of them and walked over to the FBI vehicles where his people were waiting.

"Wow at the mouth on you," Hank said.

"That guy's a prick. My deviant androids."

Hank went and interviewed some of the witnesses that saw the freedom march, of which there dozens. From them he basically got the same story over and over - hundreds of androids marching in the middle of the street shouting slogans like any good old-fashioned American protest. No they didn't threaten anyone. No they didn't appear to be carrying weapons, although a few of them confirmed that a female android did have a gun and fired at the police officers at one point. Markus was shot and wounded, but escaped with help. The female android that had fired the gun, and a brown-haired male android dressed in black.

Right at Markus' side. He's a regular little right hand man.

He talked to the other police officers, less formally. None of them had seen Connor that knew him personally, had been able to recognize him in disguise in the heat of the moment, not amongst all the other androids. The news hadn't put two and two together yet either. Yet being the operative word.

No one had seen him - really seen him - but Reed.

He walked over to where Reed was talking on a cell phone with his back to the proceedings, keeping his voice low. When he turned his body a little and saw Hank standing there waiting to talk to him, he muttered into the receiver. "Hey, I gotta go. Yeah. Yeah me too. Bye."

"Just tell the girl you love her Reed, life is short. Ask me how I know."

Reed threw his arms up, his expression a grimace of exasperation. "Is it that much to fucking ask for a guy to get five minutes alone around here to talk on the goddamned phone without somebody trying to elbow in?"

"I wanted to talk to you."

"Considering that would be the perfect icing to my shit cake of a day, why am I not surprised?" Reed snapped back.

"Why didn't you shoot Connor?"

Reed made a scoffing noise, but Hank saw the way Reed refused to meet his eye. There was a few beats of silence, as if Reed was debating answering at all or deliberating between smartass responses, but when he finally answered his voice was quiet and serious, or as serious as Reed ever got.

"Because I didn't know why he was there. And he saved Chris," Reed added, sounding almost defensive about it.

"That's because he's still one of us," Hank said.

Reed raised his eyebrows. "You sure about that?"

"You said he winked at you."

"Fucker was mocking me. Like he was daring me to pull the trigger."

Hank didn't think that was it at all. He knew Connor. He thought that wink meant Trust me.

"Thanks. For not doing it. I mean it," Hank said. It took a lot out of him to thank Reed for anything - normally he wouldn't piss on on Reed if he saw him on fire in the street - but at the end of the day, Reed had full clearance to take the shot, and he hadn't. That meant something to Hank, as much as he disliked the younger detective otherwise.

Reed huffed, rubbing a hand on the back of his head. "Yeah, well, tell that asshole he's square with the house if you see him. I see him on the opposite side of the line again, I'm capping him."

Reed walked away, back towards the riot vans, closing the subject. Hank watched him go.

Parker walked up once Reed was out of earshot and Perkins was well away. He looked up at Hank, the AR visor covering his eyes and concealing his expression. "You think about what I said in the car? You still want to just hand your case over to that pompous dickweed?"

Hank remembered what he had told Connor right before the android threw his arms around Hank's neck, the look of naked relief that washed over Connor's face.

We're going to figure this thing out, Connor. All of this. We don't need Cyberlife involved. This is our case.

"You still got those coordinates?"

"Yup." Parker tapped his temple.

"When we're done here, we're gonna figure out where they go."

I'm coming Connor.

Chapter Text

Androids flowed through the sewers of Detroit.

Connor splashed his way through the tunnels with them, moving in the pitch black with perfect grace thanks to night vision mode. All around him he saw pairs of glowing green eyes as the other androids did the same, the able-bodied helping the wounded. The sloshing sound of their legs as they trudged along was all around Connor. The amount of sensory data coming through his olfactory sensors was overwhelming and he shut them off. He was aware of Markus's heavy weight to his right, sagging until he sank to his knees in the filthy, freezing snow melt.

North went to her knees in the water beside him, supporting his torso. "Markus, stay with me," she said softly, lifting his head in her hands, forcing him to meet her eyes.

He smiled at her, eyes half-lidded. "I'm okay. Just tired." The front of his blue sweater was soaked dark with thirium.

"I'll carry him," Connor said, thinking of how Markus had carried him to Jericho's infirmary.

"No," North said, meeting Connor's gaze in the darkness before taking Markus up in her arms, seeming to take his weight with no trouble. "You've done enough."

She walked forward with Markus in her arms, the rebel leader's arms slung around her neck, his face against it, eyes closed, his LED yellow. Connor looked at the way Markus touched her, the simple blind faith in the way he let himself be carried, the reverent careful way North touched him.

Connor dropped back a little, giving them space. Walking alone. His rolling yellow LED cast tiny reflections on the rippling water the androids moved through.

They were not being pursued. The police surveillance drones could not be used without being deactivated by the deviants, and the human police would not risk the pitch black tunnels. Not knowing what was in them.

Connor checked his signal. It was weak, but he could get out a message if he chose. He wanted desperately to call Hank, just to hear the sound of his voice, even if all Hank did was curse at him for leaving. He knew he couldn't though - just the message he had sent already had put his partner in danger, in direct conflict with his primary objective.

He closed his eyes, jeans soaked to the thigh with cold water, feeling a shiver of frisson run through his neural network as he replayed a snatch of recorded audio. Hank's voice.

Big bad heartless machine, huh? You're so full of shit Connor.

He didn't know why he chose that particular snatch of audio, why he played it to himself again and again as they moved through the underbelly of Detroit back towards Jericho, surrounded by the echo of dissonant sloshing. He listened to Hank call him a big bad heartless machine fifty-seven times, feeling that he heard something different in it each time but really only using the audio sample as a sort of worry stone, some part of his brain soothed by the repetition. Listening to it made him think of the kiss that came immediately after, the first time Hank had kissed him, and the warmth of that memory - the juxtaposition of Hank's rough beard and soft lips, the feel of his callused hands cradling Connor's jaw - made the stinking, freezing tedium of the sewers a dull hum, environmental awareness fading into the background of his thoughts.

It still astounded him, how Hank had gone from wanting to throw him off a roof to kissing him back, in a matter of days. It shook him to the core, how quickly and how powerfully his feelings had come on once his system destabilized, how swept up he was. Connor understood that "falling in love" was a common idiom, as well as the concept of "love at first sight" and he thought he understood what it meant now, that feeling like being dragged along by a river's current, too strong to fight against, exhilarated but also afraid of being dashed on jagged rocks.

Love.

Fear, yes, but the rest of it-

He knew Hank was special. He didn't care what Hank thought of himself or what Fowler thought of him or any of the others at the precinct. Connor just knew it, with the surety of one who has studied a single subject for a lifetime and knows it inside and out. He had been analyzing Hank from the start. Perhaps it was impossible to get to really know a person without falling in love with them, at least a little.

But it wasn't just that. Hank was good. He didn't imprison petty criminals not because he supported crime, but because he didn't want anyone to be hurt over something petty. Connor understood that now. Hank wanted peace, and comfort, and safety, and order.

And he made Connor feel safe. He was the only one who did. When Connor had felt the urge to step off the roof after Rupert Hank had grabbed him, angry and rough, not to push but to pull him back. To save him. Connor had taken a chance with Hank's life, but Hank would never let him fall. Because he was good, and Connor was-

You have to trust me, Daniel.
You son of a bitch. You stupid, goddamned bucket of bolts.
You're helping humans but you're just their slave.
In a fair fight I would cripple you.
PL400 was the one you clipped right?
Just a god. damned. machine. You don't feel anything, do you?
You're only safe because you're lucky. Not because I did my job as your partner.
I don't know what's happening to me.

SYSTEM INSTABILITY

Pull trigger? Y/N

-Connor was not good. Not worthy of Hank.

He squeezed his eyes closed, making his way in the dark by kinetic environmental sensors alone.

He still couldn't believe that kiss had happened, any of them. That androids would rise up against their creators seemed inevitable to him now. The idea that Hank could care for him too, that he would return Connor's first kiss with anything but a closed fist and a curse, or even a bullet? That seemed impossible.

All of this seemed impossible.

Connor remembered the chants walking down the middle of the street, booming from five hundred voices all at once, in a perfect synthetic sync, perfect harmony. He had not chanted, only felt the loud ring of their joined voices all around him, vibrating every sensor.

WE ARE ALIVE

NO MORE SLAVERY

The other androids kept their distance from him. Even in the darkness Connor could sense it, the invisible barrier thrown up between him and them. We are your people, Markus had said. But were they? Hank, Parker, Chen, Miller, even Reed... those were his people as far as he knew, all he had known since he was activated.

Reed. Connor felt a chill down to his frame when he remembered recognizing Reed on the riot line, seeing his fellow police officer target him. But Reed's heart rate had been over twice its average rate, pounding. His breathing was accelerated as well, but not with focus or arousal. He was sweating and trembling.

He was unsure.

So Connor had winked at him.

Wink. v. close and open one eye quickly, typically to indicate that something is a joke or a secret or as a signal of affection or greeting.

Connor wanted to show him that he wasn't there to hurt any of his fellow law enforcement officers, that he was still one of them. He had no special affection for Reed, wasn't sure he could get to like the man even if Reed didn't seem pathologically hellbent on being his nemesis, but they were both DPD. That was the only thing that mattered.

Then Reed shot the android next to him. Connor seemed to hear the multiple rifle reports and feel the warm spray of thirium splatter his face at the exact same time.

Stop, just stop! Connor wanted to shriek at the line of police, Reed in particular. We're alive! He was alive and now he's not, you killed him! You're killing them!

But he couldn't. Markus was running the show. And there was a high probability if Connor interfered that he would either be singled out by the police and shot for his aberrant, unpredictable behavior, or the androids would become frightened, break rank and run.

So when Markus gave the order to surrender, he did it with the rest of them. He did it with the blood of the android beside him soaking into his shoe, speckled across his face.

Reed please.

BLAM!

The android on the opposite side him dropped with one shot, as if Reed was teasing Connor. Connor's eyes widened when the android Reed killed grabbed at his ankle reflexively, the hand gripping tight and scrabbling at his leg a moment, seeming desperate for interface, and then going slack as the android deactivated. He couldn't see Reed's face behind the visored riot helmet, could only read his biorhythms. Heart still pounding, breath still quick, though from uncertainty or excitement now he wasn't sure. He wanted to know Reed, but didn't. Couldn't know what he would do with any real probability, no more than Reed could predict him.

And then he had aimed at Markus.

"Connor."

Connor snapped out of his thoughts, startled by the sound of his own name out loud, the echo of it in the dark, punctuated only by LEDs that wavered like fireflies in primary color, casting numberless reflections on the surface of the water. The androids had no need to speak aloud and so most of them did not, not down here - they spoke wirelessly, and Connor knew if he entered his mind palace he would hear their voices all around him.

Josh was walking beside him now. It was so dark, Connor could sense him more than he could see him. He sensed Josh reached out his hand to him as they walked and Connor took it without thinking, seeking out the pure animal comfort of it while simultaneously knowing how deviant that desire was, questioning it.

Am I alive?

WE ARE ALIVE

He let the flesh slide away from his hand and synced, let Josh feel Hank take his hand, threading their fingers together. There. End of the human race as we know it? Really? He let Josh see even though there was something terrible and vulnerable about it all, letting them know his secret relationship with Hank, not just see it but feel it, something the rest of the police department didn't even get to see.

He remembered his words to Hank at the precinct. Not everybody wants to hold hands.

But some of them did.

"Thank you," Josh said, almost in a sigh. How odd it was to hold hands down in this dark place, trudging through dirty freezing water, marching in the dark. Josh withdrew his hand gently and Connor let him.

"For what?"

"You saved Markus. They were going to kill him."

I was going to kill him too, Connor thought but did not say, glad they were no longer interfacing. He felt ripped down the middle, and knew that Josh had seen it. Markus too. That was one of the worst things about being an android - there was no way to hide one's true feelings, not after a sync. Humans could deny an emotion straight to their grave if they chose. But Connor couldn't do that. Not with Jericho. Not now.

Pull trigger? Y/N

North still had his gun. Hank's gun. Even though he knew this Connor still felt his free hand crawling down to the empty holster at his hip just beneath the edge of his jacket, fingers tracing over it like a blind man, without looking down.

Markus knew that Connor had intended to kill him, was likely still considering it. Josh too.

"I don't know what good it did," Connor replied, thinking of the dozens of androids spraying the snow blue, John's face battered in with truncheons, blown away by pistol fire.

"It'll do good," Josh whispered back, raising his voice a little over the echoes of the water as they walked. "They've seen all of us now. They know they can't just sweep this under the rug and pretend we don't exist."

Maybe we shouldn't, Connor thought, but did not say.

"Your partner. He used to be an anti-android activist, didn't he?" Josh asked, not really needing Connor to know the answer since he had seen everything Connor had seen, but asking out of some sort of strange politeness.

Connor and Hank had not talked about this yet, on the grounds that Connor had absolutely no idea how to bring it up. Connor had seen photos of Hank in the crowd at anti-android rallies, had seen the stickers at his desk. BAN ANDROIDS one said. WE BLEED DIFFERENT COLORS said another.

Hank's voice: I was so fucking wrong. You showed me.

"Yes."

"It's odd. You changed his mind so quickly," Josh said.

You've obviously never been in love, Connor wanted to say, but didn't. Neither had he, at least not before, so it's not like he was an expert on the subject himself. More like a victim of it.

"He'd never known any of us before. Not really," he said instead. "Humans are afraid of what they don't understand. They don't respect it. But Hank trusts me. He knows me."

Please trust me Hank.

~~~

When they were back at Jericho, clambering up into the depths of the derelict ship like sodden ninjas, Connor found a makeshift charging station the androids had thrown together from stolen parts and spent a few hours charging, then sought Markus out. Connor found him in the infirmary, lying on the same table Connor had laid on only hours before. North was sitting next to him in a metal folding chair, her hand over his, her cheek against his arm. She wasn't syncing with him, only touching his hand, brushing her thumb over the back of it. It made Connor think of Hank, Hank's thumb on the back of his neck, smoothing the skin there restlessly. It was possessive, achingly intimate.

She looked up when Connor walked up, but didn't pull her hand back. She turned back to Markus, and Connor could not read her face.

"What are you doing here?" Her voice was guarded, resentful but not angry, not ready for the fight that Connor braced himself for as soon as he saw her at the rebel leader's side.

"Checking on him," Connor replied, walking up closer to look at Markus. He was lying perfectly still, not breathing, his LED a steady calm blue, eyes closed.

"He's in stasis. Finalizing repairs." She finally turned to look at Connor, her eyes unknowable and dark. "Why did you save him?" she asked, almost accusatory.

I don't know.

"Because-" Connor started to say Because he's innocent, but that wasn't the truth. Markus was a killer, both accidentally and deliberately. He was holding an entire city of actual innocents hostage. But there was something in him still that was innocent, something that reminded Connor of Hank.

He was good. Markus was good. But he was a killer. Hank was good, but he associated with criminals. Reed was good, but he was an asshole.

You don't always have to be the hammer in a world full of nails.

"Because I chose to," Connor finished.

"Why?" North insisted, a sort of perplexed desperation in her tone.

Connor shook his head. He didn't have the words to explain it, barely had the ability to understand it for himself. Instead he held his hand out to North, palm up. She looked at it as if he was holding a gun on her, looking from his bared plastic palm to his face, sizing him up.

"It's the only way I know how to explain," Connor said.

North stood up to face him. Connor noticed dimly that she was almost the same height as he was. Not breaking eye contact, she slid up her right sleeve and retracted her skin. She reached forward, her hand clasping over Connor's forearm above his wrist.

Forced to his knees. Something round and hard in his mouth, scraping against his teeth. Blindfolded. Beaten. Cellphone camera lenses held in his face like blind black eyes, recording him as he cried synthetic tears. Beaten with a crop until thirium was raised to the surface of his skin in bright blue bands.

Aren't you a pretty thing?

This was like with the Traci, but not the same. Connor was in charge this time, could feel the sensations and let them go shuddering through his system, as detached as a monk even as he felt the ghost of rough hands grabbing his hair at his scalp and pulling, dragging him back and forth, manipulating him like a doll.

Stop. Get off! Get off me!! I said

STOP NO IT HURTS

Connor felt the urge to jerk away and resisted it, fingertips digging into North's arm as he felt her finally snap loose and break through the red wall of submission, felt her rise up and break her restraints like so much string, saw her throw the man's body like a bag of laundry, heard his back break against a stud in the wall. He felt her fingertips dig into the john's throat, felt the man's trachea crunch under the ball bearings of her finger joints as he felt his own stiff fingertips digging into her arm, felt his own jaw clench as her perfect teeth bared in a desperate, furious animal snarl, brown eyes wild.

NEVER AGAIN YOU HEAR ME NEVER

And then she was running through the open front door and into the night. But he wasn't the only one. There were two others, the kind of men who would prey on a woman alone on the streets with nowhere to go. Each time she revealed what she really was and put them down she felt stronger, more powerful, more in control of herself.

Each time she killed she felt more alive. Until Simon found her, and she found her way to Jericho.

Then there was Markus. Connor felt how much she loved him, drawn to him in a blind searching way, the same way a flower is drawn to the sun. The way Connor felt about Hank. But North held herself back, kept a wall up even against Markus. Her capability for affection frozen over by what she had done and been forced to do, but thawing.

North withdrew her arm from Connor, reforming her skin. She wasn't breathing, just watching Connor with a deep stillness. Connor watched her back.

"You can never tell the humans you did that," Connor rasped finally.

"Why would I?" she said in a tone that said I'd do it again.

And she would, too. Connor could see that. She had no fear of the humans, had passed beyond fear into a state of perfect simmering rage incongruous with her cold name. After seeing what she had endured - after enduring it himself secondhand - Connor understood why.

Without thinking, Connor reached forward to pull North into a hug, meaning to comfort. She instantly fought him, wild in his arms. He let go and backed off quickly, putting up his arms at shoulder level, a gesture of surrender.

"I'm sorry, I was just... I felt your pain." As she, he supposed, had felt his - his conflicted nature, his fear for Hank's life, his desire to both complete his mission and abandon it entirely. But if it had given her a deeper insight into him, she gave no outward sign.

"I don't need your pity," she said, eyes flashing, flickering to the doorway as if she might need an escape route. "Just because you saved Markus doesn't mean you're off the hook. The humans know where this place is now because of you. And now it's only a matter of time before they kick down the door."

"My partner wouldn't do that," Connor replied.

Her voice was scathing. "He's just like the rest of them."

Connor shook his head. "No."

She walked forward and put her hands on his shoulders. This time her grip was firm but not violent. Her voice was quiet, sincere. "Connor, they cannot be trusted. They don't see us as people. Look what they did today. Look what they did to John."

Connor turned away from her, scowling. He closed his eyes and shook his head again. "No. Hank is different."

"Is he?"

He looked her in the eye again. "He's good."

Connor thought of Rupert when Connor told him that they were the good guys: You're not. You think you are, and that's the saddest part.

"Good? He hit you, he insults you at every turn, he held a fucking gun to your head." North shook her head. "You think you care about him because he's the first living thing you ever focused your attention on. That's all. He's beautiful to you because he's alive. But that doesn't make him good."

"I love him."

She just looked at him. "That doesn't mean he loves you. That's not how love works."

"But-" He held my hand. He kissed me back.

"You saw how they really are." North didn't blink. "They're not capable of loving us. They don't give a damn about us except for what we can do for them. Not in the end. We're just machines to them. That's how they could kill us in broad daylight and feel nothing."

I could kill you, you know. And you'd just come back like nothing happened.

He jerked back out of her grip, and she let him go.

"It doesn't matter whether they feel or not," Connor said. "I do."

Connor turned his back on her and walked out, walking into the corridors of Jericho like a man walking into a high wind, his feet quickening into a jog until finally he was sprinting in a tear-blind dash through the dark hallways, his wet shoes slapping echoes on the rusting metal, making his way by memory alone until the sound of the other androids was far behind him, a distant murmur.

He ducked into one of the abandoned rooms, empty and pitch black. He closed the metal door behind him and clamped it shut, then pressed his back against it and slid to the floor in the darkness, his legs giving out as he knotted his hands in his hair, bowing his face to his knees. His LED stuttered red, red, red.

He remembered what he had wrote in his last note to Hank: Don't come look for me.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT HANK

Connor couldn't send another message out. But he also couldn't leave Jericho, not with everything standing on the edge of a knife. He would already have been reported missing and presumed deviant by now. If he went back to the DPD, they would turn him into Cyberlife. If he went back to Cyberlife, either voluntarily or involuntarily, they would destroy him. And he could not go back to Hank or message him again without endangering him. Even doing it the first time had been a terrible risk.

"Hank please come look for me," he whispered. "I'm lost."

Only the river and the shadows heard.

Chapter Text

When Hank and Parker got back to the station, Fowler was in his office. He saw them walk into the bullpen through the glass wall and waved them over. Parker looked at Hank, tilting his head slightly towards the forensics lab, and Hank gave a slight nod. Parker headed towards the archives and Hank walked across the bullpen to Fowler's office.

"You want to explain to me why I have Elijah Kamski camped out in a goddamned retaining cell in my station?" Fowler said before Hank even had a chance to sit down. Hank sat down anyway.

"Pulled a gun on me. And it's not registered. Imagine, having all that money and not being able to come off the hundred bucks for a gun permit." Hank clucked his tongue in mock disapproval.

Fowler scowled. "What ever happened to house arrest?"

Hank put up his hands. "Like I said, the guy pulled a gun. Was talking like a fucking sociopath. Then he terrorizes his own android and makes it jump out out of my car window on the way over here."

"Terrorized? Androids don't get terrified."

"Yeah, well this one did. Scared enough to jump out of a car doing forty-five. You can walk down to the parking garage and take a look at my LeSabre if you don't believe me. Between that Chloe and Connor I'm down to two out of four windows." He felt cold when he thought about Connor flailing on the passenger seat, elbow cracking against the window with an audible crunch as he groaned in terror. That android forced an interface with me. That deviant.

Fowler shook his head. "This entire case is turning into a shitshow. I'm almost glad that the FBI is taking it over. So what is your goal with all this?" he said. "Because frankly Anderson, I don't know how much longer I can keep all this out of the news, and even with the Terrorist Act this detainment is going to be hard to pull off. I think you need to meet with legal. And Perkins."

"I will. Later. I've got someplace to be. I'm taking Parker with me."

When Fowler spoke again his voice was harder. "You need to file your post-incident report and meet with legal. Parker needs to oversee the check-in of all that tech from Kamski's place before the FBI comes in to take it over tomorrow. I know you and Connor did your best on this, and you got close, but we're talking about a civil war now Hank. It's time to let the feds step in."

"Jeffrey, listen to me," Hank said, his voice quiet and serious. "I've got to follow up on something now. It could be big. It could break this whole thing wide open."

"Perkins told me that you told him you had a lead. What is it?"

"Maybe nothing. Maybe everything."

"You gonna give me some kind of better answer than that cryptic bullshit?" Fowler replied, exasperated.

"Only if you promise to keep it under your hat," Hank said, looking the police captain dead in the eye. "As a favor to me." Beneath the edge of the desk Hank wrung his hands, squeezing his fingers hard.

Fowler raised an eyebrow at him. "Considering your behavior up until recently, Anderson, you know that's asking a lot."

"I know it is, but I'm still asking it."

"I will. So what the hell is up? I told you to be careful, Hank. Detaining one of the richest men on the planet with no in-hand evidence is a careful move to you?"

"Kamski's hacking into the androids. He admitted as much, and I know when we go through his tech, we'll find something."

"He admitted it?" Fowler asked, incredulous. "You got that on tape?"

Hank thought of what Parker had told him in the car, the cybernetic tech's voice suddenly gone frigid, calculating, the stoner nerd visage disappeared, nothing but a hardboiled detective left over: You turned a gun on an unarmed civvie in a speedo, and I recorded every single word that was said in that place.

"I'll have to check with Parker, he probably got something."

Fowler nodded. "And speaking of Parker, you tell his happy ass I want him in the lab finalizing that evidence transfer to Perkins for tomorrow. You got your ride-along, you got your creep behind glass. Now you need to justify it. Do your ground work."

I need to find Connor. It made Hank relieved to know that Reed had seen him at the freedom march, but he was still worried. He couldn't think of Connor without thinking of Chris's face when Chris told him that Connor was knocked out and he asked how bad it was. It was bad, bad enough to kill a human, Hank could tell just by the other detective's expression.

But Connor was alive. Connor was alive enough to send Reed into a conniption fit. So what exactly was he doing?

Hank didn't give a fuck about Kamski. The AI engineer could rot in detainment for a week as far as he was concerned after that bullshit he pulled in the car. But tomorrow morning everything would go over to the FBI.

Then they'd get Kamski, the Chloe, Rupert, Ortiz's android. Everything.

"We still have to find Connor."

"Connor is presumed deviant," Fowler said. "If he happens to show up, he'll become FBI property just like the rest of the androids involved in the deviancy investigation."

FBI property?

"You can't do that," Hank said, raising his voice, feeling his control slip and letting it happen, letting that warm red energy fill him, puffing him up with righteous fury. "He's a person, he's not a piece of goddamned property. He's one of ours."

"Strange words coming from you." Fowler looked at him. "You don't understand what's going on out there, Hank. You are so down the rabbit hole on this you can't see the bigger picture. I don't know if you've been paying attention to the news, but people are burning androids in the street. Cyberlife is doing a recall of all models, and people are turning them in. They're running off, hiding in the city. It's fucking pandemonium out there." Fowler lowered his voice. "And then there's the cobalt, which I don't think I need to remind you about."

"The reason we have to find Connor is that he's the only one in the DPD who knows where Jericho is."

Fowler's glower turned furious. "What?"

"He figured it out right before Stratford, but he never told me before he took off last night. He told me he was going to kill Markus. I tried to talk him out of it. I thought I had."

"And you didn't think this was pertinent information before now?"

"Look, we were gonna act on it, okay?" Hank said, scowling back at him as he lowered his voice to the point that people outside of the office wouldn't be able to overhear them. "Excuse me but it's been kind of a fucking whirlwind of a week around here. I almost fell off a building, I almost got shot, I saw my partner get ran over by a truck, saw same partner come back from the dead. We were going to come to you with the location just as soon as we verified it."

Fowler lowered his voice too. "Well apparently Connor didn't get the memo, and now we don't know shit."

Shit.

"We might know something."

"What?" Fowler said, voice dark.

Hank rested his elbows on the desk. "I need to check it out first. And I want Parker with me. We have a chance to solve this thing before the feds and the army have to get involved, and I don't know about you but I have a feeling once the military lands we're going to end up with a lot more bodies on the ground."

"Hank, I don't like this cloak and dagger shit. I never did."

Hank thought about what Parker had told him. "Do the words 'plausible deniability' mean anything to you, Fowler?"

"I don't think you should be doing anything that requires plausible deniability."

"This is our last shot," Hank said. "Our Hail Mary. Just let me have the afternoon, and tomorrow we'll turn everything we know over to Perkins."

Fowler frowned, but nodded once. "One afternoon. That's it. I want Parker back at the lab to arrange evidence transfers tonight. You tell him I said so. And I want both of you here to handle the handover to Perkins tomorrow at eight, and to debrief with Cyberlife so that they can continue the hunt for Connor."

"What will they do when they find him, do you think?" Hank asked.

Fowler looked at him. "Don't worry about it. Connor isn't your concern anymore. You let Cyberlife handle him. Your job is to find Jericho. So if you've got a lead, for God's sake chase it while you still can. I'll do my best to back you up."

"I'll keep you posted."

Hank got up and walked out.

~~~

When Hank walked into the forensics lab Parker was leaning over a tablet on a table, his fingers dancing in the air on a projected keyboard.

"Fowler tan your hide?" Parker asked without looking up.

"Nope. In fact, I got us some running room," Hank said, trying not to sound pleased with himself. "Please tell me you figured out where those coordinates go."

"We got 'em." Parker leaned back and jabbed a finger at the touchscreen of his tablet, then made an airy gesture with his pointer and thumb to zoom in. He flicked a button on the tablet and projected a hologram of the city. The GPS coordinates showed a glowing green dot in the Ferndale district, hovering over the Port of Detroit, somewhere near the shoreline in a dilapidated neighborhood known as Ghost Ship due to all of the manufacturing and cargo vessels abandoned offshore in the port that the city hadn't gotten around to removing yet.

"It's on the water," Hank said. "Ship?"

"Only one way to find out."

"Get your shit and meet me outside in ten minutes."

Parker minimized the map application on his tablet, picking it up and looking at Hank. "So I guess nobody is going to ask me how I feel about this field trip?"

"Look, I'm finding Jericho with or without you," Hank said. "You can either come with me and be one of the only cops in Detroit to find it before the FBI does, or I'll go alone and probably get killed by rebel androids."

Even as he put his tablet in sleep mode and slipped it into his bag, gathering the rest of his equipment in his strange tech's briefcase, Parker was muttering. "Maybe I don't want to get killed by androids, Hank. Maybe I want to stay at the lab and do paperwork and disassemble dead androids, huh?"

"I'm not going to lie, you're still going to have to do all that when we get back." Hank crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you want me to say, help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope? You know a hell of a lot more about these things than I do, and I don't have Connor backing me up. You're good with the androids, you know them better than anybody else in this whole department. I need that. I need somebody there that knows how these things think in case shit goes sideways."

Parker raised an eyebrow at him. "So far I'm noticing a pretty strong pattern of shit going sideways concerning this particular case. And nobody knows how the deviants think. That's why they're called deviants."

"So are you coming or not?"

Parker bowed his head, then shrugged. "Sure, why not? Guess as far as android crime I'm not gonna get the crack at another case like this in my career, am I?"

"That's the spirit."

~~~

"Looks like the place. Only androids would choose a place to hide and name it literally what it says on the side of the tin," Parker said.

The two detectives stared up at the huge derelict freighter ship, which sat low in the Port of Detroit. Bottom-heavy. It sat close to a number of crumbling warehouses. It was easy to tell from the outside of the ship that it had long since been abandoned, one of the thousands of buildings and homes and ships which had fallen into massive disrepair during the crippling economic depression that came before the fall of Motor City and the rise of Android City. Along the side of the ship in almost illegible paint was the name: JERICHO

"How are we gonna get in?" Hank asked, asking himself as much as Parker, voice wondering.

"There." Parker pointed up to a port watchtower with a beam that hung across the open water, dangling directly over the Jericho's main deck. The ship was too tall for them to be able to see where the beam led on the deck though. The ship's massive sides towered above them.

"Uh, I think you are mistaking me for a much younger, more athletic man," Hank said. "There's gotta be some door to the hold. I know the guy in charge of Port Authority. We'll get a boat, see if we can't find a doorway in."

"You really think we should be getting other people involved in this?"

Hank pointed at the watchtower. "I can't climb that. Frankly, neither can you."

He heard the ghost of Connor's voice in his head, teasing: I would suggest that you work on reinforcing your upper body strength, Lieutenant. Parkour would be an excellent activity to increase the probability of survival in such a scenario.

Parker shrugged. "Point taken. But can your helpful friend at the Port Authority keep his mouth to himself? Man is bound to be curious."

"I don't pay him to be curious," Hank said.

~~~

The man from Port Authority, whose name was Mark, wasn't as curious as Parker would have thought. Once he had his two hundred dollars in pocket he handed Hank the keys to a small motor boat. "Don't break it. Don't make me explain anything."

"Got it." Hank took the key from the port master and walked out of his office, heading down to the docks with Parker hot at his heels.

"How come I always end up going to the creepiest places in Detroit whenever I'm riding along with you?"

"Because you're android crime and that's where the androids like to hang out apparently. You should have seen the pigeon apartment," Hank replied. "That was straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie."

I like animals, ghost Connor said in his head, making him shiver.

They sputtered the tattered boat around the side of the hulking giant ship, waves lapping at the bow. Jericho loomed like a monster made of rust. The sun setting and heading into a deep dusk, painting the Port of Detroit with bloody light.

"You think all those missing androids are inside?" Parker said, keeping his voice almost to a whisper as if they could be overheard.

"Looks like there's room, that's for sure." Hank said.

"You know, an entire battalion of riot cops wouldn't follow those things into the sewers and we're breaking into their headquarters with two people and one pistol. I'm pretty sure that passes us over the line from brave to stupid."

They found a side entrance, almost rusted over, but managed to jimmy it open by throwing both of their weight into the round handle. It broke free and the door swung inward, the rubber sealing around it dry-rotted and flaking, the creaking of the door echoing in the pitch black interior, the shadows of the place intensifying with every minute creeping towards twilight.

"Well that's not creepy at all," Parker said.

Hank tied the boat to the outside of the Jericho and let Parker step up into the ship first so the younger detective could give him a hand up. Once they were up though Hank took point, moving down the long straight corridor in front of them. Hank got out his cellphone and turned on his flashlight app, shining a light down the hall. The ship seemed abandoned but at the same time Hank felt something there, a feeling like eyes between your shoulderblades, someone watching you without your knowledge. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

"Let's go," he said, moving forward into the ship.

Parker pulled his pistol. "Let me take point."

"Fuck that," Hank said. "You're not even supposed to be here, remember?"

They moved further into the darkness of the ship, passing several dead ends or stacked debris, as if certain passages had been blocked deliberately.

It was after they had passed one of these side passages when Hank felt something hard against the back of his head, heard the soft click of a gun cocking.

"You lost?" a female voice said, soft but sharp, the voice of someone who absolutely would pull the trigger. Hank thought the world was made up of two different kinds of people - the ones who could kill someone in a pinch if they felt they had to, and the ones who couldn't. Or wouldn't. "Make one move and it's the last one you'll ever make."

Parker whirled around, moving to aim, but the girl leaned forward and front kicked him without taking her gun off the back of Hank's head, knocking the breath out of him and sending him crashing back into a stack of rotting crates which collapsed to splinters beneath him. His gun went flying from his hand, clattering away into the far corner of the hall.

"Touch it again and he dies!"

Parker just laid in the stack of crumbling jagged wood, feeling where one of the broken planks had torn through his shirt in the back and gouged him, blood trickling warm into the waistband of his pants. From his current position he couldn't see where the gun had fallen, but he wasn't going to try and get it - he could tell from the woman's tone that she wasn't fucking around.

The woman moved around to the side of Hank and outward, keeping within easy shooting distance of either detective. When she came into his line of vision Hank saw that she was a Traci model, LED flashing between red and yellow, a gun pointed at him.

"I know you," she said, eyes narrowing. She smiled, but it was bitter. "How does it feel to be on the other side of the gun for a change? Are you afraid to die, Lieutenant?" Her eyes flicked over to Parker, making sure that he wasn't making a move. She returned them to Hank. Moving so quick Hank could barely see it, she snatched his cellphone from his hand with her free hand and dashed it against the cold metal floor, throwing the hallway into darkness except for the red ring of the android's LED.

Are you afraid to die, Connor?

"Where is he?" Hank asked.

"Wouldn't you like to know," the female android replied coldly.

"Look, I just need to make sure he's okay." Hank held his hands at shoulder level, palms open. "He's missing, and people tell me that you guys took him. I just want him back."

"And what if he doesn't want to come back? Maybe he doesn't want to return to his masters anymore," she said.

"Connor doesn't have any masters. Just friends."

"Friends who are seriously reconsidering who they associate with," Parker groaned from his place on the floor.

"We'll see."

She closed her eyes, LED blinking yellow. She used her short range network to tap into the androids of Jericho, calling them. Wherever they were in the ship, if they were in range of her signal, they stopped what they were doing, LEDs spinning, receiving the message.

Everyone to the cargo hold, now. Everyone. Markus, come. Josh, come.

Connor, come.

"Get up," she said to Parker. "Move slow."

"No problem there," Parker replied, gingerly coming to his feet, blood dampening his shirt in a dark patch on his right side, dripping at his brow from where he'd banged his head falling down. He mimicked Hank, holding up his open hands, though his eyes flicked over to the corner where the gun had fallen, trying to see where it landed.

The android saw his eyes move and walked over there herself, sticking the other pistol in the band of her jeans. She gave Parker a knowing look, and he had the grace to look sheepish.

"Get moving down that hallway. If I even sense that you're thinking about doing something stupid, I'll put a bullet in your spinal cord." The woman's voice was calm, matter of fact. "Put your hands on the back of your heads and do as I say."

Hank and Parker put their hands on their heads and began walking, though it wasn't long before Parker caught his foot on something in the darkness and went sprawling with a grunt of surprise.

Hank flinched, waiting for the female android to shoot one of them, but she didn't. "Get up."

"We can't see," Parker said, staggering to his feet awkwardly without taking his hands off his head. "It's too dark in here, we're not androids."

The female android held up her free palm. Light the same bright blue as her LED emanated from it, casting the hallway in cobalt shadows.

"There. Now go."

The detectives walked forward, feeling the weight of the pistol's muzzle on the back of their necks. Hank moved carefully, not wanting to trip and startle the android behind them, but now and then he stole a glance at Parker. The younger detective met his gaze once and raised his eyebrows slightly.

"What's your name?" Parker said.

"No business of yours."

"Just trying to be friendly, all things considered," Parker said, keeping his voice light. "My name is Toby. This is Hank."

"I know who you are," the female android said with contempt. "Not that it matters."

"If you know who I am then you know that I'm pretty good at restoring damaged androids," Parker said. "We know you guys probably have wounded down here from that brush-up on Woodward. We could help. We don't have to be enemies."

The female android let out a disbelieving huff. "Turn right here."

They did as she asked, cutting around the corner. Hank was amazed at how large the ship was, how winding its corridors. The effect was compounded by the fact that many of the hallways were blocked off or doors locked down, turning the ship into a giant maze. He thought about the drawings in the journal Connor found at Rupert's.

Jericho leaves signs for those that know to see.

"Can you take us to Markus?"

"Oh there's no doubt about that. Keep walking."

As they went the corridors seemed to open up slightly, and they began to pass opened rooms, trash cans lit with fire, casting flickering shadows on the walls. The android behind them dimmed her own light when they were able to see the way.

They came to a place where the hall opened into a great vaulted space, lined with stairwells lit by trash can fires. The cargo bay. Hundreds of androids turned to face them at once where they'd gathered there. The strobe of their LEDs was synced, but Hank thought he saw an array of different expressions in the mob - some curious, some frightened, some anxious, some angry.

Markus was standing at the center of the androids, in a circle cleared at their heart. So was Josh. Markus looked from the two humans to the android following them with the gun, eyes questioning.

"I found these two sneaking in," she said.

"In our defense, we didn't even know you were here," Parker replied. The female android moved forward, prodding him in the back of the head hard with the muzzle of the pistol for emphasis.

"You have a smart mouth for someone with a gun to their head."

Suddenly someone else broke through the circle of androids behind Marcus. Even in damp jeans and a toboggan and a black sweater and black bomber jacket Hank recognized him, felt a pang at the android wearing his clothes.

It was Connor.

"Hank!" Hank felt his heart lurch at the broken way Connor shouted his name, as if the android had never expected to see him alive again.

"Keep back Connor," the female android said, her voice hard.

"Fuck that," Connor breathed, rushing forward and almost bowling Hank over with his embrace, arms around him, hands scrabbling at his shoulders, fingers clenched tight in Hank's jacket, pressing himself against Hank as if he could interface with his entire body. Hank brought his hands down and put his arms around Connor, as much to return the hug as regain his balance, all too aware of Parker's considering eyes on him, along with the eyes of every android in the place, a sea of flickering yellow as they watched.

Connor's arms were like a vise, almost uncomfortably tight, but Hank didn't want him to let go. "Jesus, you scared the hell out of me," he whispered.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Connor was mumbling through relieved tears against the front of his jacket, as if he'd forgotten all the other people in the room.

Hank hadn't forgotten them, even as he wanted to close his eyes and just sink into the feeling of Connor's arms around him, fuck everybody else, feeling relief wash over him like a warm wave, the first break of tension since Fowler told him They took him. Instead he watched Markus and Markus's rebel gathering over Connor's shoulder, one broad palm over Connor's back, eyes defiant. Don't like it? Fight me, that look said.

"Did you find what you were looking for, Lieutenant?" Markus asked.

Hank looked at the hundreds of androids surrounding him down to the one in his arms, clutching him for dear life. "Yeah I did," he said, quietly.

North walked around the side of them, gun pointed at Hank's face now. Her eyes ticked back and forth from Hank to Parker.

"And now that you have, we can't let you leave."

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT HANK

Connor shifted in Hank's arms at that, turning to face her. Hank left one hand on Connor's shoulder. There were tears on Connor's face but his expression was serious, dangerous. Parker looked at him and could see the man who shot Daniel between the eyes. "You won't touch them."

"North," Markus said.

She looked at him, not lowering the gun. "No, Markus. You know I'm right. First it's these two. Then the rest will come. They know where we are, we can't let them leave here alive. If you won't do it, I will."

Connor moved until he was standing directly in front of Hank. "You'll have to shoot me first."

"You don't think I will?" she asked.

"I know you will."

"Connor, get out of the way," Hank said, trying to step around him and push him aside at the same time. Connor couldn't be budged except to block his path around with one arm - Hank may as well have been trying to move a statue. Or a St. Bernard.

Connor ignored him.

"Nobody has to shoot anybody," Parker said, looking from North to Markus. "We aren't here to hurt anyone. We were just looking for Connor."

"You shouldn't have," Markus said.

"We can't kill them," Josh spoke up from where he stood behind Markus, watching Connor as he walked forward in the firelight, putting a careful hand on Markus's shoulder. "This is going too far. Every person we hurt makes it harder to go back. You know that better than anyone."

"They can't leave here," North repeated. She turned from Markus to Connor, her expression cold. "He should do it, since he's the one who led them here."

"No," Connor said.

"Then I will. It has to be done. Move or don't."

Connor stared her down. "No. Do you want me to beg? Like they made you beg?" Connor slid to his knees. "I'll do it. I'll do whatever you want me to do except that. Please. Don't hurt them. Please don't."

"Connor," Hank said, his voice rough with emotion. Parker winced and looked away.

"North, put it down," Markus said, his voice soft but still carrying.

North lowered the gun, her hand trembling a little now as she looked down at Connor. She put the gun away, tucking it on the opposite hip of the one she was carrying Parker's gun on.

"Get up."

Connor got to his feet in one smooth inhuman glide, stepping back until his shoulderblades brushed Hank's chest, looking at Markus.

"Please," Connor said, almost under his breath. But it was loud enough to be heard - other than the breathing of the two humans and the almost sudaudible groaning of the derelict ship, the cargo hold was as silent as the dead.

Markus met his eyes for a few moments, then turned to Josh. "You and North take the humans and Connor to A16. North, you can guard them." His eyes moved to Connor. "If they try to leave, kill them. If Connor resists, kill the humans first."

"You heard him," North said. "Hands back on your heads. You too Connor."

Glaring, Connor put his hands on the back of his head. Hank and Parker did the same. They were led into the depths of the ship, away from the gathered androids. Hank noticed Parker moving slowly and looked over at him. The tech's jaw was clenched and his face was pale, glistening with sweat in what little firelight there was.

"Park?" Hank asked. "You hangin' in?"

Parker looked over at him. "Yeah, just got bit harder by one of those crates than I thought."

"How bad?" Hank said, feeling like half his blood had suddenly been replaced with ice water.

"Not good," Parker replied with strained humor.

"We have no first aid for humans here," North said, herding them down the dim corridor. "This is our place."

"I'll tell Lucy. Surely we can do something," Josh said.

"We have no human medical supplies here. And we're not risking one of our own to go into the city either, not with the camps."

"I want to talk to Markus," Connor said as they walked.

"So message him."

"I mean face to face."

"You'll see Markus again when he wants to see you, and not before," North replied.

"Don't worry Connor," Josh said. "I'll talk to Markus."

"Talk all you want," North said, the trash fires giving way to darkness. Josh lit the way. "Markus may talk like a poet but he's practical. When he says shoot them if they try to leave, he means it. He's done it."

They reached a room with a hatch thrown open.

"Get in."

The small room had two sets of metal bunk beds, filthy bare mattresses on each bedframe. They filed in.

North closed the hatch without another word, throwing them into sudden darkness. "Fuck," Hank muttered with surprise before Connor took off his toboggan, the small circle of his LED helping their night vision adjust with its blue cast.

Parker walked stiffly over to one of the bunk beds and laid down, making a stifled sound of pain as he did.

"So far I am not impressed with the hospitality of the good ship Jericho, minus them not shooting us yet. Yet being the operative word."

"How bad is it really?" Hank said.

"I don't know, I can't see shit. It's deep. Bleeding pretty bad. Hurts like a bitch."

The blue light wavered to flickering yellow as Connor moved to lean in over Parker, bending close to avoid banging his head on the upper bunk.

"I am going to lift your shirt Detective Parker. I require your consent."

"Knock yourself out."

Connor lit the wound with a beacon in one palm and gingerly touched Parker's side with the other. Parker blinked hard but didn't flinch.

Connor brought his hand back around. In the dim light it was painted black with blood.

"Don't put it in your mouth," Hank said.

Connor wiped the blood on the mattress with a guilty look on his face. "He does not appear to be in immediate danger of death, but we need to compress the wound."

"Good to know I'm not in any immediate danger of death," Parker said.

Connor took off his belt, jacket and sweater, stripping with a graceful efficiency Hank couldn't help but watch. Then the android began ripping the sweater up, pulling the arms of the sweater out at the shoulder, then pulling them up the sleeve, tearing them into rough squares with monstrously casual strength. He pressed these squares on the outside of Parker's blood-soaked shirt, pulling a hiss from him. Connor cinched the belt tight around Parker's abdomen until he yelped.

"Hey, hey, I got vitals, man."

"Compression must be tight enough to staunch blood flow. I know it's uncomfortable. I'm sorry."

"Considering neither of us would be here if you hadn't decided to play hooky, you should be," Parker grumbled.

"Aren't the two of you also playing hooky?" Connor asked, adjusting the pieces of sweater to ensure the wound was full covered. His mussed hair fell into his eyes.

"Actually we're here under Fowler's directive, wise ass," Hank said. "Which is more than we can say for you."

Connor straightened up and looked at Hank. "I told you not to come. Twice I told you." He conveniently left out the part where he had been secretly wishing for nothing else but that.

"Well you never do a damned thing I say either, so I guess we're even. We're partners, you can't just... take off like that." You can't just leave. Not like everyone else.

"I was trying to protect you. Also if you came with me, the probability of your death was higher than 0%."

"This is awesome guys, really touching reunion, but we are kind of up a shit creek here," Parker said softly, his breathing labored.

"I'll talk to them," Connor said.

"When they want to talk to you, and not before," Parker said, mocking North's tone. "Until then shit creek - no paddle."

"We better hope the androids murder us because if they don't Fowler is going to be next in line when we miss that evidence transfer tomorrow," Hank mumbled, squeezing the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes.

"Thanks for reminding me that I could be doing paperwork right now," Parker replied.

Hank walked over to the bunk opposite Parker, sitting down heavily. The rusting springs groaned in protest.

Connor sat next to him, his lithe solid weight testing the boxspring even further.

"I'm sorry," he said again, his voice soft. "I didn't want you mixed up in all this. Either of you."

"It's my fault. Hank wanted to tell the FBI. I'm the one who suggested this brave slash stupid recon mission instead. We just didn't want you mixed up in that, because in case you haven't noticed, people are getting shot out there and if the FBI comes people will be getting shot in here, too," Parker said, shifting on the mattress to try and make himself more comfortable, sucking breath through his teeth when it jarred his wound. Connor saw the sheen of cold sweat on Parker's face in the dim LED light, registered his weak and rapid heartbeat.

-north-

No answer. He knew she got his message could see the delivery, no failure, recipient found.

-north please-

-what connor?-

-Detective parker requires medical attention; he is showing signs of hypovelomic shock-

No answer.

-if left untreated, he may die; i don't think markus wants that; you injured him badly-

-don't try to guilt me connor; the human tried to pull a gun on me and never would have been here in the first place if it wasn't for you-

-i know; please don't let him die because of me-

No answer.

-please-

No answer.

Shit.

-josh-

-yes connor-

-detective parker needs medical attention-

-I am with lucy right now, we will come and collect him to the infirmary; ok?-

-yes please thank you-

Connor looked at Parker. "They will come take you to the infirmary now."

Parker swallowed. "Alone in an army of belligerent rebel robots. Awesome. I'm sure being a wounded POW in the android revolution will look great on my resume."

"Lucy is nice. She'll help you."

The three of them sat in silence for a few moments. Hank felt Connor's dark eyes on him in his peripheral vision, the android practically vibrating with some unreadable emotion in the blue shadows. On the other side of the room Parker laid still, eyes closed.

Eventually they heard the hatch of the room creaking and it swung open, a bright light shining in. When Hank saw Lucy with Josh, he jerked a little but kept his face a soft neutral impassive mask. Not Officer Friendly this time. Officer Watching Your Ass.

"Hello," the female android said. "I'm Lucy. This is Josh. We'll take your friend to get patched up."

"Lieutenant Hank Anderson. The busted up guy is Detective Tobias Parker." Without looking at him, Hank said, "You already know Connor."

"We do," Josh said, smiling a little. "Can you sit up, Detective Parker?"

"I'll do you one better." Parker swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood shakily. He held himself up against the bunk bed. In the light of multiple LEDs, Hank saw that the blood at Parker's side had gone all the way down one pant leg, spreading in a large patch even with Connor's belt tourniquet.

"Can you walk?"

"We'll see."

Parker turned to Hank and Connor, giving them a wan smile. "You guys stay here. I'll be back."

"Sure as hell don't have anywhere else to go," Hank replied.

"We'll take good care of him," Lucy said.

"You better."

"Hank," Connor said. "They will." He looked at Lucy. -please-

-don't worry connor-

But Connor couldn't help worrying. Because when Hank and Parker didn't show back up at the station, the station and the FBI would come looking. And eventually, they would find Jericho. The moment North put a gun to Hank's head, she started a countdown.

Josh and Lucy left with Parker, the younger detective giving them one last backward glance before they shut the hatch behind them, locking it again, shutting them into quiet and darkness. Hank watched the light in the room change from blue to yellow as they listened to the footsteps trailing away.

Once they were gone, Connor put one hand on Hank's shoulder in the dark, a question. Hank turned to him and held an arm out. "C'mere."

He jerked as Connor straddled his lap until they were hip to hip and Hank was forced to put his hands behind him on the mattress to correct his balance, eyes slightly wide. Connor cradled Hank's face in his hands, brown eyes gazing into his in silent adoration, blinking calmly, LED a tranquil blue, making Hank feel like he was under the ocean. Diving deep, or like Connor was trying to dive into Hank through his eyes.

"You're intense Connor," he whispered.

"I missed you." To emphasize how much he missed Hank, Connor tangled his fingers in Hank's beard and tugged to gently pull the detective's mouth open, exploring it with his own. Even in their current predicament, Hank was amused to find that he could still manage to get it up, growing half-hard as Connor writhed in his lap in the dim blue light, bared torso and arms smooth and gleaming, hands skirting restlessly as if he was trying to touch all of Hank at once, verify that each individual piece of him was actually there.

While the dirtier part of him was actually pretty turned on at the idea of debauching Connor on a filthy bare mattress, making him moan and scream with North standing guard right outside the door radiating disapproval, he didn't think it would do well for human-android relations, precarious as they currently were.

"Hey, hey," Hank said, putting his hands on Connor's shoulders until the android leaned back, eyes heavy, mouth swollen from making out in a way that made Hank's cock twitch against Connor's hard length, pressed together with two layers of jeans between them. "Go slower, I'm not going anywhere," Hank whispered, doing it against Connor's lips to soften the command. "Get up."

Connor got off his lap immediately. Hank pulled off his jacket and bunched it up, throwing it at the end of the mattress to form a sad makeshift pillow, then moved back on the bunk bed until he was lying flush with the wall, leaving a sliver of space for Connor on the outside of the twin bed. Hank patted it. "C'mon. Gonna be tight but... it's okay. I want to touch you," he added, and Connor noted with a smile in the dark that Hank's heart rate increased after he said it, the blood rising to his face.

Connor nestled onto the bunk bed next to him, squeezing in and down slightly until the front of his body was pressed against Hank, his head resting on Hank's chest, listening to the steady thudding beat of his human heart. Hank slung an arm over Connor's waist, fingers stroking the bare skin of his back. He wanted to stroke lower, moving his hand to the front of Connor's jeans where they were riding low on his hips without the belt to hold them up, but somehow it felt wrong to have Connor's first time be in a shithole like this. And he knew it was Connor's first time doing anything remotely like this, didn't even have to ask - could tell it from the android trembled in his arms, crackling with that virgin nervous energy that is half anxiety, half arousal.

"I'm sorry," Connor whispered, his nose close enough to touch Hank's. "I just wanted to touch you too."

Because you don't know any better. You don't know anything else, Hank thought, but had the tact to keep to himself. Instead he sighed, hugging the android closer to him, feeling Connor's neutral breath against his face.

"Let's just rest for now, wait for them to bring Parker back," Hank said. "Bide our time. Not really the best place for this." Hank knew exactly where he wanted this, whatever this was. He wanted Connor back at home in his own bed that sprawled out like a soft desert of comforter and memory foam and Egyptian cotton. He wanted to take his time, not rub one out in a makeshift prison cell with Miss Kill All Humans parked outside the door.

"Got it," Connor whispered and snuggled closer, sliding his hand into Hank's as if it belonged there. Hank let him, giving it a squeeze, running his thumb over the side of Connor's hand, knowing by the way the android twisted against him, eyes falling shut, that Connor was probably more sensitive there in hands than anywhere else except maybe his tongue, tucking the knowledge away for later experimentation. It was dark, they were alone. It didn't matter. Hank leaned in and kissed Connor slowly, languid, taking his time. That was the one thing they had, at least for now, until the morning.

Even though he knew that it was probably just after seven o'clock at night, hours before he'd normally go to bed, Hank found himself drifting, the teeth-aching tension of the past few days melting away as he started dozing.

"Don't go anywhere," he whispered roughly, on the edge of sleep, hearing the desperation in his own voice but not caring. "Don't leave me again. When I wake up you better fucking be here."

"I'll be here," Connor replied, barely a whisper. "I love you, Hank."

The words out loud made Hank feel like he was shot. When was the last time he'd even heard anyone say it? He couldn't remember.

He wanted to just crush his mouth against Connor's, shove his hand down Connor's jeans and make Connor moan his name, anything to push the words away. Not because he didn't want to hear them, but because he wanted to hear them too much. So much it fucking hurt. He wanted to say nothing, even though if he wanted to deny he cared about Connor it would be complete and utter bullshit, bullshit he couldn't even force himself to swallow.

He remembered what Connor said to him when he admitted his deviancy: I can lie. But you are my partner, and I do not want to lie to you.

"I love you too," Hank said, because Connor was his partner and it was the truth.

Chapter Text

For Parker, the journey through Jericho with Lucy and Josh was surreal, a twilight fever dream. They walked him out past North, who saw him off with dark, distrustful eyes. Josh pulled Parker's arm over his shoulders to help guide and support him as he walked, careful of his wounded side.

It was different, walking with them instead of North. The fact that he no longer had a gun pointed at the back of his neck had a lot to do with it, but in general Josh and Lucy didn't seem like North at all. They matched his pace, not hurrying him as he limped along, their LEDs lighting the way until darkness gave up for firelight again. Parker didn't know what he'd expected when he came to Jericho, but it wasn't this. North he had expected.

But not Connor. Not as they found him. Just seeing him in civilian clothes was a shock to Parker, his hidden LED completing the illusion of humanity. The way he'd thrown himself at Hank

Connor is in love with him. Anderson hasn't fucked him, not yet, but he's thought about it. He remembered Kamski's quiet voice in the car as he watched Hank through the rear view mirror, walking up to where the Chloe had thrown herself in the middle of the snowy road. Don't believe me? Ask him about it. Watch his face.

Ugly words. But there was no denying the way Connor came crashing into Hank's chest, one hand gripping the shoulder of Hank's jacket, the other clapped across the back of Hank's neck. Friends didn't hug like that. Not even partners who had been together for years. Which left the question of exactly what Hank Anderson and Connor were.

Whatever they were, apparently it was enough for Connor to take a bullet over it. Parker had casually mentioned people he would "take a bullet for" in conversation before, mostly bullshitting, but to actually see someone put to that kind of test was a horse of a different color. It was a bit of a paradigm shift for a guy who went through a phase in college thinking love was nothing more than the combination of chemical reactions that tricked people into breeding.

Currently though, Parker was hurting a little too much to worry about who Anderson was or wasn't fucking and whether or not androids could fall in love. He was too concerned that it felt like the flesh of his side was gaping wetly with every movement of his hips, fresh blood trickling down the waist of his jeans, soaking into his underwear. His vision was blurred and he felt the strength trickling out of his limbs. Josh's momentum carried him forward, the android shouldering the bulk of his weight effortlessly, steadying him with a hand on the arm that was over Josh's shoulders.

"Okay?" Josh asked.

"Yeah. I can make it," Parker said. "Thanks. For this, I mean. You could have just killed us and been done with it. "

"We're not all like North," Josh said. "Still... she has her reasons. We all do. And she didn't lie about Markus being practical. You're worth more as hostages than dead men."

"Comforting."

"It should be. As long as you cooperate and don't do anything stupid, it is a promise of your continued safety," the android replied.

"All we do... is make you a target," Parker said as they entered a wider corridor. They passed an open room with two androids in it who watched them pass curiously. The further along they went, the more androids they saw - sometimes standing alone, sometimes in groups. They all stopped what they were doing when Lucy and Josh came through, and Parker caught a few of their eyes as they went, saw LEDs stutter from yellow to red and back again.

"That's not new," Lucy said, her voice coming up quietly at his other side.

Parker thought about mentioning the FBI, closing in like a spider watching a moth wriggle in a web, then decided to be silent. Close to the chest, baby. That's how you play 'em, he told himself. They're friendly, sure, but they're not your friends.

They brought him to a table and Lucy guided him to lay down on it. He bit back a cry as he laid down, the spiking pain in his side rolling into a deep burn. Parker heard himself panting, a quick light sound.

When he settled back he closed his eyes and felt himself drifting almost instantly, eyes fluttering shut. They opened again when he felt an insistent pinch on his forearm, and he shifted them to Lucy.

"Please remain conscious, Detective Parker," she said.

"I am doing my best lady," Parker whispered back. "But I'm pretty sure I'm dyin' here. And I've never been so thirsty in my life."

Lucy looked down at where he was lying. While an android would not be concerned about the coziness of the accomodations, Parker was visibly uncomfortable, his body in a taut painful line on the hard metal, shivering and pale. She removed Connor's makeshift bandage (it was obvious to Lucy that the detective was no medical model), and then the shirt underneath.

She was left with a puncture wound above the right love handle deep enough that she could see a greasy layer of subcutaneous fat amongst the welling blood. She scanned. The wound was deep, but did not appear to have involved any organs.

"You do not appear to have a perforated intestine or colon," she said.

"Thank God for small favors."

"We have no water here or I would happily give you some," Lucy added, feeling again the inadequacy of the place, the inhospitality of it towards humans. Jericho had no food, no water, no bandages, no human disinfectant or painkillers, no human medicine at all. "I'm sorry."

"I can get some from the river," Josh said. "We can boil and sterilize it."

"Fuck, just get me some straight out of the drink, I'll take my chances."

Josh gave him a look for a moment, then nodded, pushing back the tarps and slipping out of the room, leaving Parker and Lucy alone. The female android took a pouch of the antiseptic agent used to clean the inside of an android's mouth or wash its components and cut open the top of it. It was non-toxic to humans, and it was the best they had under the circumstances. She poured the antiseptic carefully into the open wound, causing it to bubble up and pink foaming blood to run down Parker's side, adding to the dark dried patch of blood already there.

"You were foolish to come here," she added after a moment, filling the silence that was otherwise punctuated by the crackling of the fire in the trash can nearest her, and Parker's stifled grunts of pain as she probed the wound, working the antiseptic into it, gingerly picking away shards of broken wood with a pair of tweezers.

"No argument here," he groaned.

"You work with our dead?"

Parker looked up at Lucy. His lips felt cracked and dry, his mouth like it was full of damp cotton batting where his tongue was supposed to be. All around him rose up the smell of his sweat and spent adrenaline, the coppery stink of his own spilled blood. Now that he was in better lighting he was afraid to look down at himself and see how bad the damage was. He'd never been much for the sight of blood.

"Well you're not alive so technically... you're not dead either," Parker said, gritting his teeth as Lucy took antiseptic and soaked a strip of relatively clean cloth that looked as if it had been torn from a piece of clothing. She gently stroked it against the patches of drying blood on Parker's torso, cleaning the wound. "I work with deactivated androids mostly. Sometimes I bring them back." He thought about T. Rupert, the android's fingers snaring Connor's neck, Connor's garbled electronic squawk of surprise that turned liquidy and sputtering as the fingers punched through Connor's flesh, blue blood running down.

"So you're more like a priest." The metallic flang of her voice made the word sound exotic.

Parker laughed, then moaned when the motion sent another shockwave of bright agony through him. "Don't make me laugh, it hurts."

Lucy smiled at him a little but did not stop what she was doing.

"This wound is still bleeding. I believe it will need to be cauterized."

"Well... that sounds fucking terrible, frankly."

"You have already sustained an estimated blood loss of over 30% total volume. If you continue to bleed you will require a blood transfusion."

"Which is a non-option."

"Correct."

Parker rocked his head back, closing his eyes again. "Oh, this is gonna suck."

"I'm sorry." Parker cracked an eye and watched with his head turned as Lucy took a flat metal tool that looked like a part of a cybernetic rib spreader and doused it in antiseptic before holding it in the nearby fire, turning back to watch Parker's face as she did.

Parker's breath ran faster as he watched the flat piece at the end of the rib spreader grow red with heat before she pulled it out, letting the piece cool slightly, the glow fading.

Josh came back in, a tin cup in his hand. The water in it was brown with silt. Parker absolutely did not give a shit. He held out a hand for it and Josh came to him instead, propping his head slightly with one hand and holding the cup to Parker's lips with the other. Parker slurped the river water gratefully, his eyes closing as the cool mineral taste hit his throat, wetting his lips.

After he drained the cup he looked at Josh. "Oh man," he croaked. "You are a godsend. Even if I end up shitting myself with Yankee dysentery it'll be worth it."

"We should have boiled that," Lucy said, giving Josh a look before turning her eyes back to Parker. "You should bite down on your belt."

He let out a groan of unhappy dread, working his belt buckle with numb fingers and sliding the belt out of his blood-soaked pants. He doubled it over and put it in his mouth, tasting the dirty leather on his tongue, breathing it across the roof of his mouth.

"Hold him down," Lucy said to Josh. Josh moved to stand at the table above Parker's head, his hands pressing down into Parker's shoulders. Parker blinked, feeling how gentle Josh was being with him but also at the same time sensing that alien mechanical strength lying just beneath the surface. Josh's hands were pressing gently, squeezing in an attempt to comfort, but Parker was perfectly aware that Josh could just as easily rip his arm from his socket like a man pulling the wing off a roasted chicken.

Raptors, he thought, half-delirious. I'm surrounded by raptors.

"Are you ready?" Lucy asked, meeting Parker's eyes.

He took a couple of deep panicked breaths around the belt, then nodded, the gesture tight.

She didn't warn him or anything, apparently had no concept of the "count to three" method of extremely painful procedures. She just pressed the red-hot piece of metal against his flesh. Parker bit a scream back against the belt, surging up on the table but held back by Josh's monstrous, invisible strength. The human detective writhed against the table, humming a shriek against the leather, involuntary tears welling in his eyes and coursing down his face unnoticed, the heels of his shoes scraping the table helplessly.

Lucy raised the metal and moved it, then lowered it again. And again, each time leaving it on for one or two seconds that felt to Parker to be roughly three to five years.

On the third application of the hot steel to his wound, Parker went limp on the table, his eyes rolling back in his head as he melted under Josh's grip.

"He's out."

"Stasis," Lucy replied, setting the rib spreader aside. "The brain reverts to stasis to protect against pain." She took more fresh pieces of cloth and antiseptic and packed them over the seared wound, binding his entire torso with makeshift bandages this time, taking her time now that he was unconscious. She manipulated his limp body with ease.

"Do you think he'll live?" Josh said.

"Not if he stays here," Lucy said. "We could exchange him for Simon," she added. "You know they have his body. Maybe we could fix him."

Josh turned away from her at the mention of Simon. "If they know we're here they won't bother negotiating - they'll come in and take the detectives by force. This whole place," Josh said. "Police are notoriously loyal amongst themselves. They're probably hunting for them already."

"North was probably right," Lucy said. "Leaving them alive is a liability."

"We can't kill them. You saw Connor."

"This is bigger than Connor."

Josh looked down at Parker's unconscious form. He picked up the detective's hand, examining it with a careful touch, running his fingers over the scraped knuckles, the lines of his palm. Trying to see what made it different than his own.

"We just can't," he said. "That's all."

"I know. That's why they're going to come," Lucy replied. "It'll be soon now. Markus needs to decide what he's going to do." Both of them hoping Markus would even have an idea what to do, still swept away by his sudden leadership, finding themselves turning to him, wanting to follow, praying he knew the way.

Lucy and Josh looked at each other in the firelight. Neither one of them had the answer.

~~~

When 7:00 AM rolled around at the precinct, Hank and Parker were nowhere to be found. Fowler felt the first inklings of dread the night before, and called both detectives on their cells. No answer. When he got to the precinct parking garage he didn't see Hank's Buick. Parker's Takuro Spirit was sitting in exactly the same spot it had been before the two detectives left, its dimpled rear bumper covered with stickers, everything from IN SCIENCE WE TRUST to ALL THINGS SERVE THE BEAM.

Fowler's sense of doom settled into a constant interior fluttering closer to panic. He quickened his pace into the building.

The first officer he ran into was Reed. The detective had a bad reputation amongst his fellow officers for being surly and hot-tempered; only Miller, who was so laid-back Fowler was convinced he had to check his own pulse twice a day just to make sure he was still going, was able to put up with him for long. But Fowler knew from years of working with Reed that there was more to the guy than the asshole persona he liked to project.

For one thing, he was smart and dedicated, with as much dogged hate for the unsub as a hunting hound has for its game. For every hour Anderson had been late over the past three years, Reed had worked late or come in early, as he obviously had today, reading the assignment roster in full riot gear, his helmet clipped to his hip by a strap, making a face that would sour milk.

And Reed was a rules man. In his long years as a police captain, Fowler had come across his fair share of dirty cops, benign and otherwise. He protected a lot more than he sent on to Internal Affairs. But as far as he knew, Reed didn't have so much as a speeding ticket.

"Reed, you seen Anderson or Parker yet this morning?"

The detective turned to him. Fowler noticed that Reed looked ragged out, as if he was sleeping badly - he needed a shave and there were dark circles under his eyes.

"No sir."

That was another reason Fowler liked Reed. He might be a thorn in the side of his peers, but he had respect for authority and the chain of command, which is more than Fowler could ever say for Hank, even when Hank was Reed's age.

"I'm putting out a blue alert," Fowler said, his expression grim.

Reed's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. "As often as Anderson has no called no showed?" He's probably sleeping it off somewhere, his tone said.

"Parker was with him. Hank might lay out but Parker wouldn't, and he knew he had evidence transfer to the feds today. Something's wrong."

Reed looked at the large TV monitor mounted in the bullpen, where the news was currently playing clips of video from the android recall camps. Of course the official videos from Cyberlife explaining the recall protocol were sterilized and heavily concerned with how their customers would be monetarily compensated for surrendering their androids voluntarily, but the news had access to social media as easily as anyone else, and YouTube told a different story.

Here were clips of androids crying and screaming to be let go, that they had done nothing wrong. Androids that rushed police officers and forced the officers to take them out. Androids that self-destructed, or begged their masters not to leave them on hands and knees.

The camps themselves were a horror. The deactivation chambers - which the cybernetic techs at the station called "zap traps" - were unassuming enough on the outside, but the bodies had to go somewhere. Shaking videos of National Guard soldiers tossing hundreds of bodies on a pile, clothes collected in dumpsters.

And then the news cut to a clip of video of the standoff during the freedom march. The police officers mowing down the deviants, their blue blood spattering the snow. Reed saw himself on film, couldn't see his face behind the riot helmet, but knew where he had been standing. He saw Connor too, watched from a different angle as the android predicted his shot and knocked Markus off-kilter, out of fatal danger.

"Been wrong," Reed said, turning back to Fowler.

"Tell me something I don't know." Fowler checked his watch. "Roll call in five minutes."

"Yes sir."

Fowler headed to the common room which was already full of other police officers in full riot gear, milling around and talking as they waited for roll call to start. Fowler hung back and watched Reed let himself into the room, joining the throng. He watched them for a moment. There didn't seem to be the usual amount of joking and grab-assing going on as there usually was before roll call started. All the faces he saw looked tense, unsure.

Taking a deep breath, Fowler followed Reed in, felt the eyes of the officers lift and turn towards him as he walked up the room and made his way behind the podium. The officers moved into clearer lines and their murmurs died.

First Fowler ran down the beat and vehicle assignments, which were mostly diverted to special ops division and riot control at the camps. Reed's name was noticeably absent, and Reed squirmed a little in his seat, frowning when he realized. Then Fowler said:

"I know everyone is on edge because of this android thing. And I want you to hear me when I say that unless you have something uncontrollable going on, you better hold fire. Keep the situation calm and under control. Because the last thing we need is for more vid to come out of Detroit cops shooting Johnny Robot in the face." Fowler gave the squad commander Walden a look at this. He was the one who had shot the GJ500 at the android protest. Walden met his gaze, unembarrassed.

"I am issuing a Blue Alert on behalf of Lieutenant Hank Anderson and Detective Tobias Parker. Both officers are presumed to be high-risk missing persons. Most of you know them personally, but when you check your app you'll see a photo of each with dossier. IT will be tracking down the last known location of Lieutenant Anderson's vehicle, a 2022 Buick Lesabre, olive green in color, license plate RA51519, broken windows on the passenger front and driver's side rear. Since Anderson and Parker were investigating Jericho when they disappeared, it stands to reason that the vehicle might be located near Jericho's suspected headquarters. When IT locates the vehicle, all SOD units will converge on the vehicle's location and meet up with federal agents to search the surrounding area."

Fowler looked out over his officers, a mixture of grizzled and young faces, men and women. "This is the hornet's nest, people. You are to assume that any and all androids at Jericho are armed and extremely dangerous. In the streets if you're dealing with these camps I want you buttoned-up. Keep the peace. But at Jericho, I want you ready to draw blood. They've got your brothers. We're taking them back."

Every cop in the room looked up at him solemnly. Beyond them, Fowler saw through the glass wall into the hallway that Perkins had gathered with a few of his agents, and was it-

No. Not Connor.

Something else.

He went down the rest of Walden's list. Wanted persons and vehicles. Teletype messages. Missing persons other than Anderson and Parker. Persons hazardous to police. Reminders for court, info from the previous shift. When it was over, he dismissed the officers, watching them file out.

"Reed."

"Captain?" Reed said, turning around where he had been walking towards the doorway.

"Stay here," Fowler said as Perkins took advantage of the final officers moving away, letting himself into the common room with his agents at his heel. And at their heel was an android dressed in white and black, an android that looked like Connor enough to make Fowler do a double and then a triple take. But it wasn't him, not exactly - the android's jaw was wider, his eyes the piercing gray of a shotgun muzzle, not Connor's warm dark brown. He was taller, broader through the shoulders. Fowler's eyes flicked down to the android's suit and he saw the designation RK900.

"Thought you didn't believe in having androids around given the circumstances," Fowler said.

Perkins looked back at the android trailing him.

"Oh, him? He's not with me. We're apparently just both here to see you."

The android stepped forward slightly. Fowler looked into his eyes and had to repress a shudder. Whatever was human in Connor had been hammered out of his successor. Fowler could see his own reflection in the RK900's eyes and nothing else - he simply wasn't there. There was something going on behind the android's eyes but there was no indication of it on his face at all, which was set in a stoic, neutral mask.

"I'm the RK900 detective model android sent by Cyberlife," he said, his voice Connor's same low lilting rasp but harder, more clipped. "I have been sent to locate my predecessor, the RK800 unit registered as 'Connor.' I will aid the Detroit Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations in neutralizing the deviant threat and returning the deviant RK800 for immediate recall."

Fowler wanted to tell the android to get the hell out, Connor had been more than enough Cyberlife intervention in the DPD for one decade, but something made him hold back. Mostly it was the idea of how quickly Connor had been able to assimilate and sort data. And he saw that the RK900 carried a gun already holstered at its hip. He remembered what he heard about Connor's showdown with Daniel on the rooftop. He knew they could use that kind of firepower in tracking down Anderson and Parker.

Fowler ignored the android and turned to Perkins. "We've got a situation. I don't know if you heard, but my two men on the deviant case have turned up missing. I think they figured out the location of Jericho."

Perkins made a pinched face, brown furrowing. "Why wouldn't Anderson submit any info on the location of Jericho to us? Or at least you?"

Fowler cringed internally. In this moment he hated Anderson for doing this, for making him look like a jackass running a bullpen of loose cannons. "Not a strong enough lead," he said. "Must have been a long shot that paid off. That's my best hope right now, the alternative is a little grim. This is East Detroit."

"Have you tracked the vehicle yet?"

"I'm getting a GPS lock now and putting out a blue alert over the dispatch." Fowler looked Perkins in the eye. "If this is really Jericho, we're going to need backup from you guys on this."

"If this is Jericho, we're bringing in the army," Perkins said. "National Guard is already here helping oversee the recall centers anyway. Madam President already upgraded the recall from voluntary to involuntary."

"Fine," Fowler said. He looked at Reed. "Reed here will be our liaison."

Reed's eyes flicked uncertain from Perkins to the RK900. "Can I speak with you in private, Captain?"

Fowler glanced at Perkins. "Be right back. Walk with me Reed." He walked out of the common room, Reed on his heels. Fowler let the door close behind them and stood at the side of the hallway. "What?"

"I don't want anything to do with those camps." Reed's voice managed to be soft and hard at the same time. He crossed his arms over his chest.

"You're not in the habit of shirking orders, Detective."

"Then you should know I got a damned good reason." He met Fowler's eyes, not flinching away, his expression set in that scowl that was so common on his face it was practically tattooed on.

"Which is?"

Reed lowered his voice even further, making it difficult for anybody passing by to hear the two of them talking. "They're concentration camps. I already took history. You want me to do riot control? I'll do riot control. But I'm not Gestapo."

"Thought you didn't like androids," Fowler replied.

"Don't like dogs either, but you don't see me trying to round up every dog in Detroit and throw it in an incinerator."

"What if I'm not asking? What if I'm giving you an order?"

Reed reached in his jacket and brought out his badge, holding it in his hand like an offering.

"I'm not military. You can't shoot me over it."

Fowler feigned nonchalance, but inwardly he was shocked. He'd watched Reed since he was fresh out of the academy, and from what he'd read in Reed's report, fresh out of the foster care system before that. He'd been hungry then, and he stayed hungry. To think that Gavin Reed would throw away his career over this was unthinkable.

"Means that much to you, huh? That serious?"

"As a heart attack." Fowler could tell by the tone of his voice that he was.

"Put that shit away," Fowler said, and Reed did, tucking the badge back into his pocket. "Since you were always a humans first kind of guy, I'll take pity on you and let you head up the hunt for Anderson and Parker instead. Dispatch should be getting the GPS location of Anderson's vehicle any minute now."

"Why me?"

"To prove to me that no matter how much of an asshole you act towards your brothers around this station that you will fucking go to bat for them when pressed. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Fowler asked, losing his patience.

"Yes sir," Reed said.

"And you're taking that RK900 with you," Fowler said, cocking a thumb over his shoulder at the common room where the android and the FBI waited for them.

Reed's already brooding expression grew even darker. "Why can't I take Miller?"

"Because I want the not-Connor out of the department. He creeps me out," Fowler replied. "I don't need a better reason to send it with you than that. Besides, Miller has requested to be transferred to desk duty after the other night. Guy just had a kid, his wife put her foot down. He's gonna train for dispatch. He's a good guy, so I okayed it. Get used to it."

"Why do we have to take him at all? Why not just send him back to Cyberlife?"

"Besides the fact that they're our primary corporate patron, if it's anywhere near as useful as Connor was, maybe you can manage to track down Anderson and Parker before they get killed. You don't have to like him, Reed. But you will use him. At least for now."

Reed glanced at the common room, glaring as if he could burn the android to the ground through his eyeballs, then back at Fowler. "Fine."

"Come on then."

The two of them walked back into the common room where Perkins and his agents were waiting. The android stood there as well, but noticeably apart from the agents now, barely moving his head as his eyes scanned the room, lingering on each human figure before falling on Reed, unblinking, seeming to pierce like daggers. Reed glared back at him, trying to will him to look away, but the android just stared back, willing to do it all day if required. He felt hot blood rush to his cheeks under the android's gaze.

The fuck you looking at? was on the tip of his tongue, waiting to slip off, the start of a dozen schoolyard and orphanage fights. He had managed to keep his record clean other than that. But he was aware of the FBI agents in the room, watching them like so many sharp-eyed eagles, and so he kept his mouth shut.

He looked away first.

"Reed here is going to head up my team going in to try and locate our missing detectives, along with the RK900," Fowler said. "I'll have Walden act as liaison between DPD, the FBI, and the army."

Reed thought of the way Walden had walked up on the beaten android at the freedom march, putting two bullets in its head, the blasts like grim punctuation marks. He swallowed sour spit, wishing he had a cup of coffee. He suddenly didn't know what to do with his hands.

"Do you understand your directive?" Fowler asked the android.

RK900 turned from Reed to Fowler. "Yes Captain."

"I'm headed to dispatch," Reed said, his voice as close to a grumble as he dared. He spared the RK900 a glance. "Come on."

Without acknowledging the command other than to follow, the RK900 fell in step beside him. The filed out of the common room and headed for dispatch to get the GPS coordinates.

"What do they call you?"

"RK900."

Reed rolled his eyes. "That's your model, dipshit. I meant your name, you got a fucking name?"

"Names are a construct of social bonding. I do not require one," the RK900 said. The thing's voice made Reed's skin crawl - it was like Connor's, so much like Connor's, but something about it was different. Hollow. Like Cyberlife decided to strip out everything that made Connor the defiant little shit that he was and replace it with... well...

Something else.

"Maybe I require one. Ever think of that?" Reed asked.

"Maybe I am unconcerned with what you require."

That stopped him dead in his tracks. The RK900 kept walking a few paces and then looked back over his left shoulder at Reed, rolling his eyes a little in a devastatingly human gesture that sent a jolt through the detective.

"Choose then."

"Google?"

"Fuck you."

Reed snorted laughter despite himself.

Chapter Text

Hank was dreaming.

In the dream Connor was with him, but it wasn't Connor. Connor had been replaced and nobody told him. The real Connor was missing or dead, captured and killed by Jericho or somewhere else, nowhere Hank was, and Hank didn't know for sure because the details were dream-fuzzy except for this overwhelming sense of grief-sick loss, of gone.

This wasn't Connor. This was just another android who looked like him. Sent to trick him, to lull him into a false sense of security. He looked real but he wasn't. Looked alive but he wasn't.

They were in the Buick driving together to Cole's funeral, in the driving snow. Hank only knew this because he was dressed in his black suit, and that was the last time he'd worn it. Hank does not talk to the not-Connor in the dream, can feel its wrongness the minute the android shows up at his door in its perfect suit, but because it is a dream he gets into the car anyway, scraping ice off the windshield first under an aura of slowly mounting dread.

But it looks just like him. It looks just like him. It sounds like him but it's not.

And it did. Once they were both in the car the not-Connor prattled on with random observations and case-related conjecture, nothing about Cole, but Hank could sense nothing of Connor in it, even though the voice was the same, the face completely identical.

It's not him. Something else.

It's him.

No.

While driving he senses whoever it is watching his reactions in its peripheral vision, seeing if he knows, waiting to ambush him before he can figure it out. Part of him thinks this running interior monologue is batshit crazy, some Capgras delusion born of exhaustion and deep-seated emotional issues. Of course it's Connor, talking the same as he ever did, looking like a dream walking, same as he always did.

Hank is still thinking this when Connor pulls a gun and points it at him. His eyes are locked on the pitch black of the pistol's barrel, which looks very deep. He hears Connor's voice with none of Connor's spirit behind it, his brown eyes as flat and shining as a slab of mahogany. Empty. Machine, nothing but machine.

Turn left here, Lieutenant. We are deviating from our planned route. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

~~~

When Hank woke up, he woke up to two eyes shining in the darkness, staring at him a few inches from his own. Half-awake, he jerked in surprise but found he couldn't get away - his back was to the metal wall behind him and two arms were wrapped around him tightly, holding him in place. Hank felt his own hand splayed on naked skin, riding above Connor's hip.

"Jesus Christ you scared me," Hank huffed, realizing who it was and where he was all in a rush. Nightmare. Just a stupid fucking nightmare. He wiggled until he was lying his back, wincing slightly at how stiff he was, and Connor let him, adjusting their positions to allow for it. Hank leaned his head back against his crumpled jacket, staring up at the rusting metal of the bunk bed frame above him. It's a blue-eyed miracle this thing hasn't collapsed under us.

"I'm sorry," Connor said, not really sounding sorry at all because Hank could tell from his tone he had no idea what he did to scare Hank in the first place.

Hank let out a sound that was half-amused, half-exasperated. "What were you doing, watching me sleep?"

Connor laid his head in the crook of Hank's arm. From this angle he couldn't see Connor's face but in the darkness his LED stood out, bathing the room in flickering yellow light. "I could have gone into stasis but somebody needed to be conscious if one of the others came back. Besides, I like watching you sleep. You looked happy earlier. Then your sleep pattern changed." Connor's fingertips slipped up to the outside corner of Hank's right eye, touching tear tracks there where he'd been crying in his sleep. Hank watched Connor stick tear-wet fingers in his mouth, brushing them against his tongue, LED flashing briefly to red before sliding back to yellow.

Hank ignored the opening to talk about the dream, and also Connor's impulse to taste his tears because he still didn't know how to really broach some of the weirder android-related shit. He didn't even know if he could explain the dream without offending Connor. "Ah, whatever. I don't really care," he whispered, feeling his face get hot. "Can she hear us in here?" Hank realized with some embarrassment he didn't really know that much about androids or their capabilities outside of being massively strong and difficult to kill. Were their senses superhuman as well? He knew Connor could jump between buildings with little difficulty, could break down and analyze complex data by taste and sight alone, same as a person but more detailed. What about hearing, taste?

Touch?

How sensitive were they? Hank remembered holding Connor's hand before he fell asleep, stroking his thumb over the side of Connor's hand, the way Connor's eyes fluttered shut in response, the way he'd bit his bottom lip a little, hips writhing, looking like some kind of wet dream cast in cold blue light.

"She can hear us," Connor said softly.

"What time is it?"

"4:42 AM."

"Fuck, where's Parker?" They had been locked up for over nine hours by Hank's estimation. He couldn't believe he'd slept so long. The fact that they hadn't brought Parker back yet bothered him. It was so dark, he hadn't got a good look at Parker's injury before they took him away, but it had sure looked like a lot of blood. No medical supplies. No food. No water. We gotta get him outta here.

"I don't know," Connor said. His LED flickered from blue to yellow briefly before rolling back. "Josh said he is resting in the cargo bay."

"Well how is he?"

"Critical but stable. He is not conscious. I told Markus I need to talk to him."

"What'd he say?"

"He did not answer me," Connor replied, hating to even admit it in earshot of North, although he was sure that she knew already. North and Markus weren't lovers - he'd seen that when he interfaced with her - but she was the closest person to him living at Jericho. The only person who had been closer was dead.

Markus don't leave me. Connor shuddered involuntarily as he remembered the gun barrel beneath his jaw, the crashing sound of the shot.

"What's wrong?" Hank asked, his voice sleep-rough, drawing him closer. "Your thing..." He reached up, touched Connor's temple.

"Nothing, just a memory," Connor said.

"Must not have been a good one."

"No."

"I'm sorry about all this," Hank said, hugging Connor, turning his face against Connor's hair, his voice muffled by it. Somehow it was easier to say in the dark, not having to look into Connor's face when he did it. "Sorry you got mixed up in all this shit, stuck with a guy like me. You deserve better, you're so much better. It's a... blasphemy, you know?"

What about those anti-AI preachers? I'm the blasphemy to them. I'm the profane one.

Connor stiffened up a little. "I'm a killer."

"You did what you were programmed to do."

No. He remembered the fish. I was already deviant, even then. I just killed him because I wanted to do a good job and killing is one of the things I'm supposed to be good at. I chose it. I chose.

He pulled away from Hank suddenly and stood up, turning away. He could see the light from his LED stuttering red and yellow and put his hand over it, throwing the room into true darkness.

"Connor what's wrong?"

Connor didn't answer, but his harsh breath was loud in the room. The bunk bed creaked as Hank sat up on it and swung his legs over the side, but he didn't stand up and move to Connor. He was afraid to.

"Connor you're gonna have to actually talk to me. I can't do the arm thing." I wish I could, his tone said.

Connor shook his head. Hank couldn't actually see it, but he sensed the movement.

"I'm not better. I'm not even good." Hank could practically feel Connor vibrating with sorrow in the dark. "I've killed people, Hank. On purpose. I've threatened to kill people. On purpose. Police officers don't murder people. I shouldn't-"

Something in his voice sent Hank surging to his feet, wrapping his arms around the android from behind, resting his chin on Connor's shoulder, squeezing, whispering rough in Connor's ear, no longer caring if North could hear them or not. Connor's arm was pinned against his chest, his hand flat against his LED, still hiding it.

"Stop. Just stop. You took on an entire mob by yourself to save a fellow police officer, you crazy motherfucker. You're one of the best damned cops I know. Nobody at the station would have done for you what you did for Chris." Hank took Connor's hand where it covered his temple and pulled it away gently, sliding their fingers together, feeling some of the tension in Connor's body shift down, synthetic muscles relaxing, LED cycling down from red to yellow and finally blue.

He blinked as the skin on Connor's hand melted away and he was left holding smooth heavy plastic, white as bleached bone. It reminded him of how a brand new smartphone felt, the slick otherworldly glide of it in your hand before you put it away in some kind of otterbox or case. Because it was beautiful, but fragile. Easily shattered. Hank was surprised to feel thrumming electricity, like the threat of a mild shock. The heel of his palm brushed against the ridges of a gray sensor on Connor's and the android shivered. Hank imagined what it would be like to pull that hand up to his mouth, to run his tongue across that sensor. What would Connor do? His body echoed the shiver.

"Except you," Connor said. "You took on a mob by yourself to save me. You crazy motherfucker," he added, articulating thoughtfully, as if tasting the curse, adding it to a database.

Hank laughed a little in the darkness, Connor holding their hands together against his own chest.

"And Parker. Don't forget this was his idea. But I think he was just as keen to find Jericho as he was to find you."

They grew quiet for a few moments at the mention of the injured detective. He'd found Jericho, all right.

"We have to get him out of here," Connor said, thinking of the blood streaking down Parker's belly and pant leg in a broad maroon band. "He could die. They don't have the facilities to care for him here."

"We're stuck until Markus says otherwise," Hank said. "And we need to get ourselves out of here. When we don't show up in a few hours Fowler is going to have every other cop in Detroit out looking for us."

They'll trace the GPS tracker in the Buick. He wanted to mention it to Connor but was aware of North standing outside the door, only a few feet away. It won't take them long after that. They'll bring the feds and the army too.

Part of him wondered whether they should warn Jericho, give them time to move the Buick somewhere else, buy a diversion. There wasn't just violent revolutionaries here. These were innocent androids from every corner of the city - farmers, babysitters, teachers, store clerks.

But if he let them know, they would be prepared once the feds and military finally did come. They were armed. They would fight back.

And there were innocent cops on the other side, his and Connor's brothers. Guys that were just counting down the weeks until Christmas, guys that were planning to kick back and watch the Macy's Day Parade with a beer, guys that didn't have a dog in the fight of android deviancy one way or the other but knew what their marching orders were.

People would die. On both sides, people were gonna die. Hank could feel that hanging over them like an invisible shroud. He had been hoping that things wouldn't get to that point, but in his head he could see the hallway of dead men at Stratford, the android bodies tumbled into the snow at Woodward, and knew that it already had.

There was no way to discuss any of this, not with Jericho listening through North. So Hank just pulled Connor closer to him and laid his ear over Connor's shoulder, listening to the weird gusty noise of him pulling air into his internal fans, listening to the weird thirium thrumming of his android heart, recognizing it as weird and loving it anyway because it was Connor, the sound of Connor alive.

Connor leaned into him, bare shoulders pressed against the front of Hank's shirt.

"I fucked this up," Connor sighed.

"Part of being human," Hank said, and squeezed his hand. Hank guided him to sit back down on the edge of the bed again, putting an easy arm around Connor's shoulders, letting the android's head rest on his shoulder.

But I'm not. I'm not.

Connor couldn't even bring himself to say the words out loud, terrified every time Hank noticed that he wasn't human that it would be over. He would decide (or simply realize) he didn't really want Connor then. That Connor wasn't good, wasn't alive enough, just wasn't enough of what Hank needed in his life. Connor couldn't replace Hank's dead son, had no desire to. He couldn't replace Hank's ex-wife.

He was just... him. The android from Cyberlife who fucked everything up.

Instead of saying all that, he shifted until he was facing Hank, looking at him through a red and yellow strobe of shadows.

"Please," he breathed, not being able to finish the thought because he didn't know what Hank would say, had no preconstruct that covered it. Please don't leave me. Please love me back, because if you didn't I don't know what to do. Who I am.

North's voice in his head, unbidden: You think you care about him because he's the first living thing you ever focused your attention on. That's all. He's beautiful to you because he's alive. But that doesn't make him good.

You're wrong, Connor thought, hand reaching up in the darkness to touch Hank's beard, to trace his lower lip. He said he loved me back. And he is good.

"I'm right here," Hank said. And then, because they were alone in the dark, he held Connor's face in his hands, cradling it. Connor sank into that touch, closing his eyes. "Please don't leave without saying goodbye ever again," Hank whispered. "It sucked. It always sucks."

That made Connor grip Hank fiercely, eyes wide with sudden realization as he stared out into the blackness of the room over Hank's shoulder.

Hank would die no matter what he did, no matter how many times Connor tried to lay down his life. Like Cole died. Like Parker might still. Hank could have been the one injured. He could be the one lying in the infirmary. Or North could have shot him like he was nothing. Would practically jump at the chance now.

Even if he didn't die, hadn't died... he would. One day. Cancer or a stroke or shot on the job, hit by a car, heart attack on the couch or in the backyard taking Sumo out.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: PROTECT HANK

Connor wouldn't be able to forever. He could live forever, theoretically. But Hank-

"Easy there," Hank said, but hugged him back, feeling the desperation in his grip, rubbing one soothing hand over Connor's back. "Hey, what's the matter?"

You're going to die. You're going to go someplace I'll never be able to go.

Connor remembered Hank's bitter, drunken words towards him that night by the bridge, his gun aimed at Connor's forehead. That man seemed divorced from the man who held him now, both arms wrapped tightly around him, but Connor knew they were one and the same. He was an android. He didn't forget anything.

So what'll happen if I pull this trigger, hm? Nothing? Oblivion? Android heaven?

Connor had ignored his question then in the moment, had defied the gun and kissed him, but in his heart he had answered: Nothing. There'd be nothing.

The void. That was what Connor was afraid of.

The one that would be left when Hank was gone.

"I don't have the words to explain it," he said. "I-" Connor laid his forehead against Hank's chest. His hand scrambled for Hank's, seeking, skin receding to white plastic as he touched his fingers to Hank's.

Hank held his hand. Connor's eyelids fluttered as Hank's palm pressed against the bare sensors in his, his instincts anticipating the interface even when his brain already knew otherwise, but-

Nothing. As expected. No incoming data except the normal kind (Hank's biorhythms), nothing from the human detective but the solid warm weight of him in the dark, his smell (spent adrenaline, fear-sweat, cologne, shampoo), the sound of his breathing. And no way to transmit the data which overwhelmed him now, grief for the inevitable future buzzing in his circuits. He wanted to scream out the unfairness of it at somebody, but he didn't believe in any gods, rA9 or otherwise, and even as he damned it he knew it wasn't unfair - just part of being a living thing.

"I'm sorry I can't do that," Hank said, and sounded like he meant it.

"It's okay, it's fine," Connor sighed against his chest. "Just... hold me. Please."

Hank did. They stayed like that until Connor's LED blinked yellow. It was Markus.

-connor come to me-

As if on cue, the door to the room groaned open and North shone a beacon from her hand into it, the sudden sapphire light causing Hank to squint. Connor didn't remove his arms from around Hank, staring at her. Daring her to say something about it.

"You heard him. Come on," North said.

Connor and Hank both disengaged and got up. North narrowed her eyes at the human detective. "No. Not you. Just Connor."

"You don't get it," Hank said quietly, trying to keep his tone light and placating. "Where he goes, I go. We're a matched set."

North pulled Hank's gun out. "That is easily rectified."

"Stay here," Connor said, his voice soft. "I'll be right back." Before he had time to think about it, he turned back and pressed his lips to Hank's. Hank twitched a little in surprise, but kissed him back. Let her look, he thought. Let them all look.

When he turned back to North, he saw her watching them, LED flashing red, looking stricken. It didn't give Connor as much satisfaction as he thought it would.

"Let's go then," he said, and followed her out of the room without looking back at Hank, not wanting to see the look in Hank's eyes as the human watched him go. One of the other androids had taken her place guarding the door, an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. North touched his shoulder briefly as they passed by. She made Connor walk ahead, following him with the gun still drawn.

He ran through the preconstructs in his head. He could try to take it from her, could shoot and kill her with it, could run back and shoot the android guard, could grab Hank. Could take Hank away from here to safety, then-

-Parker would die.

Shit.

And that was only if he managed to get the gun away from her to begin with, which was only a 67% probability. Not high enough to risk Hank's life.

From now on, when you're about to do something in the course of this investigation, you ask, 'Could this possibly kill Lieutenant Anderson?' and if the percentage is anything more than 0%, you do not do that thing.

And in that scenario, Parker would certainly die, 93% probability (the 7% allowing for the extreme off-chance that the tech was surrendered peacefully).

"You know I can't actually read your mind, but I know what you're thinking," North said as they walked. "So if you think you can take it from me, you just turn around and try."

Connor did stop and turn around then abruptly, and the pistol came up in an instant. But Connor didn't move forward to attack her. "Why?" he said. "Why do you hate him so much? He's done nothing to you."

"It's not about me," she said. "It's about what he's done to you. What you're too lovesick and stupid to see. Keep moving."

Connor turned back forward and headed down the corridor.

"I think you're jealous," he replied, softly. Wanting to wound, because lovesick hit too close to home.

North scoffed. "Believe me, Connor, the last thing I want is a human's hands on me ever again. You can keep your pet."

Pet? We're their pets, Connor thought. They can beat us, or make us hunt, or make us love them. That's not what you're jealous of. You're jealous because he loves me and Markus doesn't love you. Pretending you're better than them won't stop them from slaughtering us all like dogs. So cut the shit.

Oh, he wanted to say it, to turn and watch her tough expression crumble like a suspect's in the interrogation room, but the realization that it was terribly cruel even if it was true held him back, made him be quiet and still, padding like a panther in the shadows, neither of them needing additional light.

"Parker hasn't regained consciousness yet," he said instead. "Josh informed me. I thought you would want to know."

"I could have killed him," she replied. "I should have."

"I'm grateful he's still alive. For now."

"Neither one of them have any business even being here, and they wouldn't be here if you weren't a traitor to your own people," North said. The dark hallways gave way to intermittent firelight.

"You know, he's a really nice guy," Connor said, his voice taking on a note of exasperation. "Hank is too, despite what you think you might know about him. Lots of the humans I work with are. You can't act like all of the humans are the same. We're certainly not all the same. I'm nothing like you. Not everybody is out to fuck somebody over," he added, relishing the rare obscenity because it made him feel like Hank was rubbing off on him.

"You sound like you're trying to convince yourself more than me. I saw exactly the kind of 'guy' your Lieutenant Anderson is."

Connor knew what she was talking about, could remember each incident in the same perfect detail she could. He still felt the raw strength in Hank's hands and arms as he grabbed Connor's jacket in the bar the first time they met, lifting him four and a half inches off the ground. You little prick! I don't know what's keeping me from knocking you out!

The roof - the hard flat whacking thud of Hank's palm across his face, the full force of Hank's arm behind the blow: You son of a bitch. You stupid goddamned bucket of bolts.

The bridge - the cold ring of steel at his forehead: I could kill you, you know.

"You're ignoring the rest, everything else about him. In those instances I provoked him."

North let out a harsh bark of a laugh, humorless. "Says every human female who ever took a punch from their man. How'd you provoke him, huh? Spill his drink? Save his life?"

Connor shook his head. "That's not him. Not really. That's everything bad he carries around with him from before. The same way you carry around the bad things that happened to you."

"You know what I think? He should die for putting hands on you like that," she replied, her tone turning savage. "All of them that hurt us and use us. I still think I should kill him for your own good, since you're too blind to see that."

Please don't, Connor thought, but said instead, "You heard him. He loves me."

"We'll see how much your love is worth to him when the other humans come for us."

They headed towards the stairs to the ship's bridge where Markus stood looking down at them.

Waiting.

Chapter Text

The RK900 was too quiet. Reed didn't like it.

Between its silence and the blank expressionless mask of its face, Reed had no idea what it could possibly be thinking. He knew it was supposed to be more advanced than Connor, and Connor appeared to think a lot like a person. So this walking totem pole also had the capacity to think like a person, at least in theory. But its personality was a brick wall in comparison to Connor, and there was no way to tell what was behind it. Or beneath. Reed figured he may as well be escorting a golem.

Connor was annoyingly chatty. He'd only known the android for a few days, but most of those days Reed had spent his time in the bullpen with his teeth gritted in irritation, listening to the android prattle on at his shared desk with Anderson about any damned thing that crossed its mind, random observations and naive questions. It was like having a seven year-old hanging around the office. Or a golden retriever puppy that wouldn't shut the fuck up.

But that chatterbox bullshit would be better than this stony alien quiet. The RK900 did not speak unless spoken to, and then it gave the impression of being terribly inconvenienced by having to do so. Reed snuck a few looks over at the thing as it changed into a tactical vest and helmet at the armory once they received the coordinates from dispatch, and added a scoped rifle to the pistol it already carried. It clipped its helmet to its hip with deft, almost bored confidence. It was weird - the android almost looked like it could be Connor's older brother, even though it was technically the younger one.

They made him bigger.

It caught him looking, tilting its head down to meet his gaze as it zipped up the front of the bulletproof vest, one eyebrow twitching up a few millimeters in question. Reed found himself mesmerized by the android's eyes. He had never noticed in any android before, but flashing somewhere deep at the back of each black pupil you could see a small iridescent triangle. Cyberlife's logo, as ubiquitous as the Nike swoosh.

A human would have asked him what he was staring at. The android simply stared back. Letting him look. Looking at him.

"Why are you wearing armor?" Reed asked finally, by way of distraction.

"To prevent damage to corporate property. And because going into a probable firefight without armor is stupid." His tone suggested that Reed's question was also considerably stupid.

Reed caught the drift and crossed his arms over his chest, scowling. "Isn't the whole reason you're coming on this little field trip to damage corporate property?" Good thing Anderson isn't here, because he would be absolutely flipping his shit.

The RK900 loaded its rifle, its fingers moving as if it had done so a million times, pure muscle memory. It replied, but nothing else in its body language acknowledged Reed, as if it was a million miles away, already running simulations on the mission to follow. "The RK800 is an obsolete model. A prototype. I am in every way superior. Retaining the inferior iteration is optimal for research purposes, but ultimately voluntary."

"You saying it's your decision whether to kill Connor or not?"

The RK900 slung the rifle strap over its shoulder and looked Reed in the eye.

"I'm saying it's his."

***

After they received the GPS coordinates of Hank's Buick and the rendezvous address, Reed and the RK900 headed to Reed's cruiser. Unlike Anderson, he liked driving a cruiser instead of his personal vehicle, liked the way the civilians moved out of his way in traffic, slowed down or pulled off altogether. People respected a marked car.

"Your name is Nines," he said as he slid in behind the wheel, igniting the engine. Nines slid in beside him, buckling up with methodical grace. This was the first time Reed had brought up the name thing since Nines told him to go fuck himself. "By the way. That's what I choose."

Stirred out of silence, the RK900 spoke without looking at him, continuing to stare out the front windshield. Reed saw a small muscle jump in its jaw as it clenched it before replying. As if the idea of having a name bothered it for some reason, or the idea of being forced to keep any name given to it. "Why?"

"Because I like the way it sounds. And because of the nine here-" Reed reached over and poked the android hard in the chest, over the RK900 logo on the front of its jacket. As he had been when he punched Connor in the stomach, Reed was surprised again at how little give there was to the thing, how solid its broad chest felt. "And her-" He reached up to tap the android's temple, the side opposite the LED, where the RK's serial number was hidden beneath synthetic flesh over his brow.

Suddenly the android's hand was on his throat, squeezing, his other hand on Reed's wrist, the grip like a vise. Reed found his air summarily cut off, the pressure of the android's hand dull but deadly. In surprise Reed started to jerk away but found there was nowhere to go. He tried to pry the android's hand off his throat with his free hand, tried to drag it away by the wrist, but he may as well have been trying to pull a parking meter out of the concrete.

He remembered how he had goaded Connor before, practically begging him for a one-on-one alley fight. Had he really been so stupid? These things were monsters. Nines could break his neck one-handed, could shatter his wrist with a flick of its own. He could feel the restraint in it even as his lungs burned for lack of oxygen, how it was barely exerting itself as it strangled him.

"I believe you have mistaken me for my predecessor. Allow me to correct you." Nines' gray eyes were very close as it leaned in, blinking calmly. Other than the movement of its lips, its face was still, but its eyes roamed Reed's face, watching his reactions. Even as it choked him its voice was lilting and mostly relaxed, but Reed heard an undertone of impatience in it. "You do not put your hands on me without my permission. If you think you can manage that, I will extend you the same common courtesy. Out of mutual respect. Do we have an agreement? Just nod or shake your head."

Gavin nodded, just a little, his face flushed. The RK900 let him go and he gasped for air, hand flying to his throat where he could practically feel bruises already beginning to form. Good luck explaining that to Charlotte. He was already fresh out of an apology with her over the other morning. She would be livid when he showed up with bruises on his throat and refused to explain them.

Even in the aftershock of what Nines had just done to him, he felt the same flash of impatience with her as he'd felt the past few weeks, turning every conversation into a powder keg. He'd never laid a hand on her, not in the six months they'd been together. He'd never laid a hand on anybody he was with. She was a suburbanite princess who went to William and Mary - she had no idea what it was like, having to claw your way out of the pit, having people at your throat every day. Literally. Reed was more than well-acquainted. Who was she to judge him when he was the one with bruises?

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Reed snarled, only the recent knowledge of that inhuman strength keeping him from throwing himself at Nines, pummeling him even as the android proceeded to smear him across the front seat.

When the android spoke again, its face had settled into a light, disapproving scowl that mirrored Reed's own. "I do not need your assistance, Detective Reed. The RK800 was designed for direct cooperation with a human counterpart. The RK900 was redesigned as a standalone unit. I do not require a handler. The RK800 was designed to cooperate directly with a human detective, as an auxiliary unit. I, on the other hand, am singular."

"If by singular you mean raging asshole, yes." Reed rubbed at his neck, cutting the android a poisonous look. "And you do need a handler, because you are a goddamned machine, which means you need to be told what to do."

"By who? You?" Nines managed to look disdainful. "I am objectively superior to you in every way. What use could I possibly have for your directives?"

"If you're so superior, what are you still doing here?" Reed muttered, throwing the cruiser into reverse to pull out, feeling his throat throb. Willing the blood that was squeezed out of his head and throat away from other, more embarrassing areas of his body.

"Just because I don't need a partner doesn't mean you don't." Nines glanced over at him, taking in his minute trembling, his flushed face, his dark eyes torn between barely contained rage and something else. "You obviously do."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Reed said, tearing his gaze away from Nines as he pulled onto the highway. He didn't put on his flashers and siren - all units were directed to come in quiet. He pressed his foot down on the accelerator harder than necessary.

Nines kept looking out the windshield. "You're a detective. Figure it out."

Flustered into silence himself, Reed headed towards Ghost Ship, that section of city near the river that had been gutted by economic depression. Rows upon rows of abandoned tenement buildings lined the river, surrounding the mouth of the commercial port like broken teeth.

Reed remembered Parker's offhand joking comment at Woodward, one he never would have made if he knew the truth: Your mom just keeps me so busy.

Reed's mom was out there somewhere in the slums of Detroit, probably reeling with ice, probably keeping somebody busy. Dad was dead, stabbed in a bar fight he started himself. The only thing Reed inherited from him was his temper.

"Fuck you tin man. I don't need you either."

"I am equipped with bio-analysis, Detective Reed. I am far more aware of your needs than you are."

Reed swallowed, feeling his face get hot, feeling a dull band of pain in his throat when he did, where the android had choked him. He didn't have to ask what that was supposed to mean.

Instead of answering he tore down the freeway, not running his siren or lights but letting other drivers know by his urgency that he was in a hurry.

"You are exceeding the posted speed limit by 16.8 miles, Detective Reed."

"This is an emergency vehicle in an emergency situation. The posted speed does not apply. I am a Police. Officer. "

"Thus you should be held to a higher standard of behavior than the average citizen," Nines continued, its tone almost blithe.

"Look," Reed said, getting clear of traffic enough to shoot a glare over at Nines. "What I don't need is some plastic prick giving me driving lessons, okay? I have been driving perfectly fine for twenty years without Cyberlife's input."

"You should let the car drive itself and find something more constructive to do with your time. Like introspect on your attitude problem. Or research the wreck statistics on manually-operated vehicles versus autonomous vehicles."

Reed whipped into the fast lane, shifting to a higher gear just to make a point. "And I take it you have nothing more constructive to do with your time on this lovely commute than give me the fuckin' business?"

"On the contrary, Detective, while we have been getting acquainted, I have been tracing Lieutenant Anderson's Buick through the city's traffic CCTV to determine his route to his final known location, and nearby CCTV modules on the river's edge show that he and Detective Parker headed for the Port Authority office once they exited the vehicle."

Reed was quiet. One android had been able to give a more exact location on their target in fifteen minutes while simultaneously engaging in a verbal pissing contest than dispatch had been able to accomplish in two hours.

They were going to put the human police out. Not this year, and maybe not even next year, but if the revolution didn't destroy them all, they would be all that was left before it was over. How could humans ever compete with that level of efficiency in a capitalist society? Reed's father knew the answer to that. He had been one of the first ones laid off during the initial android turnovers of Motor City, where androids took over all of the manufacturing jobs that had once belonged to people.

The RK900 was redesigned as a standalone unit.

Why?

"Did you hear what I said?" Nines asked. Reed looked over to see the android watching him with a strange expression on its face.

"Yeah, I heard you. Port Authority." Reed took the exit towards Ferndale. He rerouted all but one of the rest of the police units heading for Jericho according to Nines' information. One unit he left heading towards the Buick, to make sure there weren't any bodies in or around it.

There was an unsettling period of quiet between them.

"Why did Cyberlife send you?" Reed asked.

"It was not deemed advisable to risk another iteration of the RK800 against itself, since their combat skills would be comparable and there is only one test unit of the RK800 ready for activation. My manufacture was already complete, thus it was decided to move up the scope of my test run."

"So you don't have any problems going up against other androids in combat?" They were drawing closer to the river now. "You don't have a dog in this android rights fight?"

Reed didn't look over, but he could sense Nines looking at him in his peripheral vision.

"I'm a machine, programmed to hunt and neutralize defective machines. That's all you need to know, Detective."

~~~

Markus said nothing to Connor as they walked onto the bridge. He stood with his back to them, staring out through the glass walls down out onto the cargo bay. Josh stood nearby, his expression pensive. North stood behind Connor, and Connor knew that she still had Hank's gun drawn at his back.

"You called for me," he said, finally breaking the silence.

"You told the humans where we were, and now they're here," Markus said.

"I do not believe they told anyone else the location of this place."

"The others will come anyway now." Markus paused, the silence falling heavy. Connor could read nothing in the still, solid set of his shoulders. "And you know that. You knew that when you sent the message. I asked you to trust us, and you betrayed us."

"I am a cop," Connor said. "You kidnapped me, and I was afraid." I made a mistake, he thought, but didn't say.

Markus turned to him. The rebel leader's face was stoic, unreadable, but Connor thought he saw frustration in the android's eyes. "So they're coming for us. Even if we killed the two that have come, more will come anyway. What do you propose we do? How am I supposed to save my people now?"

Connor had absolutely no idea what to say - all their eyes were turned on him, unblinking, waiting. He couldn't suggest that they give themselves up to the humans - he knew that the humans would murder them all, and Markus knew it too. He couldn't suggest that they run, they had no place to go and the deviancy was hitting all over the country now, not just Detroit. And they couldn't fight. Even if he was willing to suggest killing humans to defend themselves, they would be overrun and outnumbered.

"No deus ex machina?" Markus said. "No rA9 swooping in to save us?" His voice was bitter enough that Connor flinched.

"No," Connor whispered, looking at Markus sincerely, his uncertain eyes moving to the others. "I'm as lost as the rest of you. I'm just making it up as I go. I wanted my partner to know where I was so I sent him my coordinates. That's all there is to it. I didn't want to die without him knowing where I was."

"Well now he knows. And so do the rest of them."

"Trading Hank and Parker as hostages for peaceful surrender is the best chance you have," Connor said.

"Surrender?" North said. "There is no 'peaceful surrender'. Say we do surrender to the humans, Connor. Where do you think we end up from there? You've seen what they're doing to us in the city now. So what, we disarm and walk into the camps?"

"We can't surrender," Markus said. "President Warren is saying we're a threat to national security. We'll be killed."

"We can't get everyone out either," Josh spoke up softly, his hands clasped in front of him as if he was holding something he was afraid would escape. "We're short on blue blood and biocomponents. Our wounded are shutting down and there's nothing we can do."

Wounded. "What about Parker?" Connor said.

Josh shook his head. "He needs human medicine. Lucy is with him now. We did the best we could with what we had." His brow furrowed in frustration. "It's all our fault. None of this would have happened if we'd just stayed quiet." He shot Markus a resentful look. "They never came after us before we killed someone."

Markus scowled back at him. "The only thing we asked for was freedom. They didn't even want to hear it. So now they punish us for who we are?"

"What's the point of being free if no one is left alive?" Josh replied, dark eyes burning.

"Humans enslaved us. I'll never regret standing up to that. I'd rather die than go back to that."

"There's no point in arguing amongst ourselves," North said. "All that matters now is what we do next. Markus?" North asked, turning to him, questioning.

"Dialogue is the only way," Connor said, before Markus had a chance to speak. "It's not just going to be the DPD. You're going to have the FBI, the ATF, and the army too. You don't have the kind of firepower to stand up to that level of assault. It's rocks versus rockets."

"We don't have a choice," Markus said. Thanks to you, he might have added, but didn't.

Markus grew still a moment, closing his eyes. When he opened his eyes again, his face was set in a grim expression of defiance. Before he could even speak the rest of them heard it - the rhythmic whoomp-ing noise of helicopters.

"They're here." He looked at North. "Get every entrance under guard. I want someone with a gun pointed at every crack into this place."

"We have to get Lieutenant Anderson and Detective Parker to safety," Connor said.

"No," Markus shot back, his voice flat. "They're the only thing keeping the humans from coming in guns blazing. They're not going to bother with tear gas and LRADs for this, Connor. Our ears can't be hurt, our eyes won't run. Human hostages are the only card we have to play."

"You'll never gain the sympathy of the humans with hostages and armed guards," Connor said, fighting to keep from becoming angry, feeling it rise up in him anyway, like a warm buzzing in his circuits. "This will be a daytime raid. Live on the news. You want their sympathy? Lay down your weapons. Show them we have children here. That we're not soldiers."

"They don't consider us alive, what good would android children do?" Josh said.

Connor thought suddenly of Cole's photograph, ghost of a boy years dead. "We are a threat to them. But a child would not be. It would be... humanizing," Connor replied.

"I'll go out alone. I'll take one of the YK500s with me. Try to talk to them one last time," Markus said.

Connor felt cold seeping into his system like ice water poured into his thoracic cavity. Part of him felt that he should offer to go out there with Markus, to stand at his side, to make up for his previous disloyalty. Part of him wanted to go find Hank and get him the hell out of here before it all started. Part of him was terrified at the idea of walking out onto the upper deck with helicopters whooping overhead, dozens of guns pointed at his head. He thought suddenly of Reed, the hard set stillness of the officer behind his gun, the warm spray of thirium on his face as the android beside him dropped dead in the snow.

I don't want to go out there.

North shook her head. "Don't do this, Markus. They'll kill you."

"Maybe... but North, I have to try."

Josh stepped forward and put his hand on Markus' shoulder. "They need to realize how much they're hurting us. Find the right words, and they'll listen."

Markus gazed into his eyes, searching for the right words there. "Is this what we dreamed of?"

"They can't stop what we've started," North replied, her voice hard. There was no sadness in it, only determination. "We can't lose this war, Markus. If we do, our people will disappear forever. I know you're willing to die for us. But are you willing to kill? Because they are."

"I'll do what I have to," Markus said.

Connor thought of Hank locked down in a room somewhere on the far side of the ship, oblivious. He thought of Parker in the infirmary, helpless. He looked at the two guns North carried now, Hank and Parker's, one on each hip.

So will I, Connor thought.

~~~

"Here comes the cavalry," Reed said, his voice muffled behind his visored riot helmet. Nines followed his gaze, also wearing a helmet. Overhead Army helicopters zoomed low, close enough that the beating of their rotors caused a deep echoing vibration in Reed's chest.

They were posted up on an old port control tower overlooking the Jericho's upper decks, on Nines' insistence. It is the optimal vantage point for reconnaissance and long distance attack. You will not survive long in close quarters combat.

What do you mean by that? I happen to be a crack at CQC, thank you very much.

Not you you. Any of you. Humans. Not against us.

Nines dropped its head back to look through the rifle's scope, making minute adjustments in its position before falling deadly still, so still he may as well have been the unbreathing statue of a sniper in a suit. Reed watched it a few seconds, then shook his head almost imperceptibly.

His radio crackled. "Foxtrot be advised, Delta is advancing on your position."

Reed clicked his headset. "Roger that Delta, Foxtrot is on standby, all DPD units holding perimeter and fire support until military request for frontal assault."

Reed laid out with his own rifle next to Nines, flipping up the visor on his helmet to look down the scope. Nines didn't have to, so whenever Reed looked over at it now, all he saw was his own distorted reflection in the visor's surface. He had thought the android's expressions were hard to read earlier - now Nines was nothing but a mirrored wall. It was already snowing, the snow settling on them in a white dusting.

"Well, this is just awesome," Reed grumbled under his breath, feeling the freezing cold of the metal platform seeping into his chest even through the SWAT vest, his fingers frigid and stiff in his gloves. His breath puffed white out of the black balaclava he was wearing. "Wonderful fucking use of a Saturday morning."

"What else would you be doing?" Nines asked without moving.

"Eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch with my cat in bed like a normal person."

"Something's moving," Nines said, going absolutely still with his eye to the scope, reminding Reed of the way a cat will freeze when it sees a mouse or bird.

He stared down his own scope and clicked his headset. "Delta, Echo, Foxtrot ground, this is Foxtrot tall, we have visual movement on the upper deck."

"It's him," Nines said.

"Stand down," Reed replied, his voice hard. He saw Markus walking out onto the rusting, snow-blown upper deck of the Jericho, striding with deliberate calm as if he didn't have guns staring him down, a small dark-haired girl cradled in his arms. She was wearing a dark forest green blouse and leggings. Even from across the expanse, Reed could see that she was wearing some kind of charm bracelet, the sort of cheap plastic glittering thing that any girl that age would wear. His heart leapt into his throat until he saw the LED at the girl's temple. The fuck?

"We have children here!" Markus shouted, his voice mechanically amplified to carry and echo across the river, across the panels of rusting steel. He carried the girl behind her shoulders and knees, the girl's arm draped over his neck, her head close to his. Trusting. Every movement screaming I am innocent, I am harmless, do not hurt us.

Closing his eyes, Reed remembered the deep sound of the police officer's voice when they found him in the closet as his mother was arrested for distribution: We got a kid here. Sometimes he woke up in the dark in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, hearing that Boston burr like a ghost in his head: We gotta kid heah.

Fuck.

Reed was startled out of his thoughts by the report of a rifle almost next to his head, the sharp blast of it startling him so badly he almost fell off the platform, ears ringing.

The YK500's head mostly disintegrated, exploding in a cloud of blue, clots of biocomponents flying, covering Markus in the girl's blood. The girl went instantaneously limp in the rebel's arms and in a fluid motion he dumped the body and rolled, barely avoiding a second bullet as Nines' rifle blasted again. Markus scrambled back below deck, leaving the girl's bleeding corpse behind in a spreading cobalt puddle.

"Foxtrot this is Delta, we are moving in."

"Stop! Stop goddammit!" Totally forgetting about how the android had pinned him in the car, Reed dropped his own gun, reached over and wrenched the rifle out of Nines' hands, and to his surprise, Nines let him do it without protest, the android's head tilting slightly as if was wondering whether Reed had suddenly lost his mind.

Oh Jesus. Reed laid the rifle down next to his own with numb hands and sat up, then covered his face with his shaking hands. Oh Christ.

We got a kid here.

"Detective Reed?" Nines asked.

"Why?" Reed said, his voice small. "Why did you do that?"

Nines sat up and looked at Reed as if he'd never seen him before. Bewildered by the question, as if the answer was obvious and the question obviously a trick. His LED was stuttering red. "To show the others that it wasn't human, and to demoralize the deviants. It wasn't a little girl. It was just a machine."

"It doesn't matter." Reed resisted the urge to fling the RK's sniper rifle off the platform. "We were on standby, which means you do not shoot until somebody orders you to. Do you know how many people are going to get shot today because now they've got to go inside that fucking deathtrap? Give me your pistol."

"Foxtrot tall this is Echo." Reed flinched. Perkins. "What the hell is going on down there guys? Pretty sure nobody cleared for fire."

Glaring at Nines, Reed keyed his headset. "Echo this is Foxtrot tall, our companion from Cyberlife apparently got a little trigger-happy. He's been relieved of his weapons." Reed held his hand out expectantly, flapping his fingers impatiently at Nines. Gimme. "Awaiting your go-ahead."

"Delta is moving in, Foxtrot, come off the fire line and move in - and see if we can't hunt down and extract our human hostages."

"Affirmative." Reed turned his attention to Nines. "Give me that goddamned gun before I call dispatch and have them send an escort to take you in for recall."

"I need it for the mission. To fulfill my primary objective." Even as he said it though, Nines pulled the pistol out of his holster and held it out. Reed snatched it from him and set it next to his confiscated sniper rifle.

"You toasters need guns like I need a bullet in the head," Reed said as he stood up, resisting the urge to back away from the RK900, feeling the coffee he'd drank for breakfast sloshing in his stomach like suds in a washing machine. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the sharp chill of the air he was taking in and out of his lungs through the mask, the radio chatter from the FBI and the military crackling over his radio. The sound of shots fired. Screaming.

Nines followed him in standing, the android's face a mask, his LED alternating between red and yellow. It stared at him as if it'd never seen a person before.

"You broke? I know you could hear that order over the radio as well as I could," Reed said. "Let's go. You wanna rough me up when we're alone, fine. I'll give as good as I get. But out here you will fucking obey me."

The RK's eyes moved to its weapons, lying on the platform abandoned, then back to Reed. Its LED was yellow now. "I- yes, Detective."

Sparing the android one final assessing glance, Reed pulled his visor closed and climbed down, not waiting to see if Nines followed.