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Bubble Gum Kisses

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There is no angry way to say bubbles.

 

That had been Simon’s secret weapon when he’d been a simple caretaker of two nearly-identical twins back before his days of deviancy. The two little girls had been the sweetest humans Simon had ever known, which had honestly been a miracle considering their parents were always absent—working, travelling, or merely neglectful to an asinine degree—and he was programmed to know that usually meant retaliation and/or attention-seeking in the worst of ways. But he’d gotten lucky; they were gentle, kind, and clung to him as if they were so starved for affection that an android would be a sufficient replacement for actual parents.

 

Plot twist: they wound up liking him better, much to his surprise.

 

Did that mean that they didn’t have their moments of being little hellions? Definitely not. Sometimes kids got intensely emotional and didn’t know what to do, causing things to escalate, so when it had first happened Simon had gone through a series of responses that he’d been pre-programmed with that, shockingly, hadn’t mattered in the slightest. Maybe he should’ve known he was going to become a Deviant in that moment, looking back, considering he knew what the emotion panic felt like these days quite intimately, and what he’d been feeling back then had most definitely been panic.

 

The twins had been having a tea party in the mid-afternoon sunlight on the back porch, the small table littered in snacks, knick-knacks, and covered in a purple table cloth made of cheap, thin plastic. Simon was inside doing the dishes left over from breakfast, the back door propped open so he could listen to the girls and keep an eye on things, and as he was sliding the final plate into the dish rack to dry he heard an abrupt shout, then two sets of lungs giving it their all as they burst into tears.

 

Alarm shot through Simon and he bolted outside, taking in the scene before him.

 

Sapir, who he’d known for her hazel-green eyes, was holding onto the body of a Barbie doll like a candlestick, shaking it back and forth helplessly as she cried; Shiri, deep blue eyes similarly glossed over with tears, clung to the hair of the missing Barbie doll head with both hands, the strands tangled in her trembling fingers. It was obvious what had happened and Simon figured he could easily solve it, but while humans were unpredictable at the best of times, human children were the living embodiments of IEDs. Primed and ready to explode the moment you applied the right amount of pressure, which always changed its set value.

 

He’d calmly approached the table, spoke softly as he told them it was alright, everything would be fine, and then crouched down between them both to try and get the doll pieces from them so he could put them back together. No matter what he said, or how gently he tried to coax either of them to let go, they clung to their respective Barbie pieces and merely cried harder. Simon, at that point, had begun to feel that panic he’d eventually have as a constant companion later in his life, but for the moment it had been tempered by concern. Their faces were so red, and Sapir had started to hiccup in an alarming way—alarming in only that Simon had never heard it before. His momentary fear had even conceived the irrational notion that she was malfunctioning, like an android, at the time.

 

Trying out several methods to soothe the girls proved to be as futile, and for the sake of his girls Simon grew desperate for a way to stop their crying, his processors working overtime to come up with something useful. Turned out, floundering and inanity were as much an android’s ability as they were a human’s.

 

“Bubbles!” Simon had blurted out, his eyes locked on the cheap little bubble-blower set among the other items on the table.

 

Shiri and Sapir had grown quiet at that, probably thrown through a loop as to why their android had suddenly shouted out something so random, but regardless of the reason Simon had created an opportunity with his momentary, humanlike insanity and ran with it.

 

Glancing at either of the them reassuringly, Simon had gathered a few napkins off the table and handed them to his girls, a smile slowly stretching over his face as they actually put them to use, sniffling and gulping in stuttering breaths all the while. The pieces of the Barbie doll were set down and forgotten, and Simon could still remember the feeling of his thirium pump slowing down, his whole body relaxing in relief. He’d even taken a deep breath of his own, despite not truly needing to, happily leading by example when the twins followed suit and finally found calm of their own.

 

It was only after a long, but not uncomfortable silence, where they all sat there and felt the warm breeze on their skin and listened to the leaves rustling in the trees, that anyone spoke. Oddly enough it had been Shiri, the shyer of the two.

 

“Why’d you say bubbles?” she’d mumbled quietly, picking nervously at the table cloth with two small, pudgy fingers.

 

Simon hadn’t really known how to respond at first, but then he’d set his hands palms-up against the table, waiting until his girls both took them and could give them both a gentle squeeze.

 

“I didn’t know how to help you,” he had said, his expression thoughtful, “but when I considered things you both liked, that would make you happy again, I thought of a quote from one of the stories I have stored in my memory.”

 

Simon had then brought their hands to his lips, gave them each an exaggerated, loud kiss on their tiny knuckles that made Sapir giggle while Shiri shyly smiled, and then had let go to grab the bubble-blower set, holding it up where they’d both see it. Their eyes, the only real difference between them, had glanced between his face and the set curiously; Simon knew then that, no matter what the initial problem had been, at that point he had their undivided attention.

 

Crisis averted. It only had to stay that way.

 

“I’d like both of you to try and say the word ‘bubbles’ as angrily as you can,” Simon said, his mouth turning up into a mischievous grin.

 

So Sapir and Shiri had, trying it numerous times until Shiri had all but roared the word with her warbling, high-pitched voice, and had sent Sapir into a fit of unadulterated laughter that Shiri herself fell into only seconds later. Simon had also succumbed to the urge to genuinely laugh for the first time then, which had caused his vocal processors to falter at making a noise he hadn’t been programmed to, and sound just as crackly and silly as Shiri had. If only a tad more electronic. That had, of course, only made his girls laugh harder.

 

Simon had hardly minded.

 

When all was said and done, and the twins were relaxed in their chairs with their chortles under control, Simon had stated as simply as can be, “There is no angry way to say ‘bubbles’, not at all.”

 

And the rest was history.

 

Now, years later, his ability to de-escalate a situation was being sorely tested.

 

A full year had passed since they’d demonstrated in the heart of Detroit and had been granted their freedom as a people, but the battle didn’t truly end there. Over the course of the past 12 months they’d been branching out politically, organizing their efforts in both Detroit (which meant all of Michigan by proxy) and Washington, coordinating with the human allies they made along the way to secure that freedom in the most indisputable ways possible.

 

Their most recent objective had been to meet the president, though only Markus and Simon attended as Josh had been busy, and North was afraid she’d say something offensive; she held a grudge for those camps, which no one blamed her for, but diplomacy needed more tact than she could offer. Markus was perfect when it came to being diplomatic—President Warren was much more charmed than she tried to let on, though Simon could recognize the signs from a hundred miles away. As for him, apparently he had a calming presence, something that made everyone feel comfortable and relaxed during their negotiations, or so Markus said; if he had managed to help in the slightest he was happy, but he wasn’t sure if it was true.

 

They’d only just landed after flying home from Washington D.C. when an anti-android mob had impeded their departure from the airport, completely blocking the exit. This forced the two of them to listen to the shouting of the crowd’s awful rhetoric, while they waved their many angry signs in their faces. Simon and Markus’ exit was brought to a near standstill because of it, which made Markus’ exhaustion from the trip seem all the more profound, or so the look on his face said.

 

At least the police were already at the scene, but that hadn’t stopped one of the protestors from producing a gun and taking a crack shot at Markus.

 

If it hadn’t been for Simon’s undying paranoia for Markus’ safety the shooter might’ve succeeding in doing something truly horrible, but instead Simon had been vigilant and analyzing the crowd for any threat of violence, granting him the opportunity to see the gun. With no hesitation he grabbed Markus by the arms and spun them both bodily around until it was his own back that got shot, instead of Markus’ thirium pump regulator, taking three whole bullets to (thankfully) fairly inconsequential spots.

 

Not that that apparently mattered to Markus, who pulled Simon close and hooked his chin over Simon’s shoulder to presumably peer down at his back, pressing against the bullet wounds as much as he could to stop the bleeding. Simon could feel Markus’ hands trembling; he wanted to explain he was fine, that Markus shouldn’t waste his worry on him when it had been Markus the guy was aiming for, but he couldn’t get his voice to work. It was hard to take in a full breath.

 

All the while the police swarmed the crowd, and as Hank Anderson and Connor had been among them, it was the RK800 that tackled the shooter to the ground and the Lieutenant who read him his rights. The rest of the officers broke up the protestors, no longer tolerating their presence when it had stirred up an act of violence, and a few EMTs led Markus and Simon away to an ambulance that was equipped to handle the wounds of synthetic bodies. The android-specific EMT, an AP700 model with short-cropped hair and a dark complexion that introduced herself as Rae, moved quickly in removing Simon’s jacket and undershirt to get a better look at the situation; Markus was standing as close as he could without getting in the way, much to Simon’s bemusement.

 

To try and lighten the situation, because Markus still had that awful look on his face (his skin would’ve probably been green if he were human), Simon said as casually as he could, “I’m alright—it doesn’t even hurt. He didn’t hit anything important since he was aiming for you, you know.”

 

Simon’s attempt seemed to fall flat as Markus’ brow only dipped lower, his mouth twisting downward into quite the unhappy frown. He supposed it didn’t help that his voice sounded strained, like he actually was in pain, but Simon couldn’t help that; it really was hard to take in any air, and from one breath to the next Rae flatly stated why.

 

“He’ll live,” she said, her needle-nosed pliers buried in one of the wounds to fish out the single bullet that didn’t go all the way through. “But this one I’m trying to get out grazed his lungs, so until his internal systems repair the damage he’ll have difficulties working them; talking should be kept to a minimum. Also, Simon, if you find yourself coughing up thirium at random times throughout the next couple of days, that’s normal. There’s going to be some thirium leakage into your lungs you’ll have to expel. Other than that, once I get this bullet out and close the wounds, take it easy for the rest of the week and everything will be alright.”

 

Rae gave Simon a serious look and added, “However, if discomfort persists beyond a week you’ll need to see a doctor, because that could mean your internal systems aren’t healing as they should, and I shouldn’t have to tell you that that’s not a good thing.”

 

Simon felt Markus’ gaze bore into the side of his head as he smiled politely and nodded, not really trusting his voice after it failed to alleviate the heavy atmosphere the first time. It was only a few more moments before Rae had the bullet removed, spread a sealant over the wounds that would help his systems mend the plastic, and placed bandages over them to keep them unexposed to the elements. Any excess thirium was wiped away, and with that Simon starting putting his shirt back on, though Markus butted in barely a second into it and insisted he help. It felt embarrassing to be assisted with what was such an easy task, but Simon let him get away with it anyway.

 

If Markus would feel better helping him out, then who was he to stop him?

 

It was a full hour before they got back to the Manfred house thanks to traffic, even with Connor and Hank acting as their police escort (just in case), but the moment they pulled into the driveway Simon could sense how much it calmed Markus to be home. It probably helped that North and Carl were standing on the front porch waiting, waving at them, and Josh’s head was peeking out from the door as if he’d only just realized what was happening. Markus must have been thinking the same thing because his lips finally ticked upwards into a little smile, and Simon sent thanks to rA9 for Josh’ ever-endearing, sometimes forgetful nature.

 

The lieutenant and Connor didn’t stick around once Markus and Simon were parked and out of their car, offering a wave of their own before they left (Simon noticed North wave at them with a strange tiny grin on her face, but he didn’t question it), and when they were out of sight things officially felt right again. Markus even let out a breath, as if he’d been holding it in this entire time; Simon supposed he couldn’t blame him for that, even if he still didn’t see what had happened as all that big of a deal. Markus was a worrywart, that was just a fact.

 

Simon was about to merely leave Carl and North to Markus, so as not to get in the way—of a father and his son, and North and Markus’...whatever they were to each other; they’d never really clearly said what their relationship was, after that kiss during the demonstration—but Josh blocked his path, and Carl had reached out for him from his wheelchair, gently touching his arm. When he lifted his eyes from staring at the ground as they had been, Simon’s arms hugged his sides a little more anxiously at the worried expressions they had on all their faces.

 

“We saw on the news that you got shot,” North said, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth as her eyes scanned him critically.

 

He opened his mouth to respond, but Markus stepped in, shooting him a look Simon couldn’t read. “There was a shooter in the crowd of protestors, looking to make a name for himself or something, but Simon must’ve seen him ‘cause next thing I know I’m being spun around and he’s getting shot in the back three times,” he said, and Simon saw the way his fists clenched tightly at his sides.

 

Though that also brought to his attention the fact that Markus’ hands had his dried thirium still all over them, a fact that distressed Simon more than he hoped showed on his face.

 

“Jesus…” Carl muttered as he shook his head, his grip on Simon’s arm tightening. “Are you alright, my boy?”

 

“He’ll be okay in a couple of days, a week maximum, and if he’s not we’ll make sure he sees a doctor about it,” Markus, once again, answered for him when Simon opened his mouth to speak. Shooting Simon that same unreadable look, he lifted a single eyebrow and held his gaze as he added, “And the doctor said he should keep talking to a minimum since a bullet grazed his lungs, so maybe keep questions to yes or no answers as much as possible for the next few days?”

 

Oh, that explained that look Markus was giving him. To be honest, Simon had taken the ‘talk as little as you can’ rule with a grain of salt. He knew his opinion wasn’t all that valuable, despite what they all claimed, and between Josh and North’s vocal contributions to any conversation Simon usually kept quiet. During their lead up to the demonstration all his offered advice had been the coward’s way out, and now that it was over his was the voice of compromise with an utter lack of ingenuity. So unless it was small talk, or his perspective he only gave because it was asked for, he didn’t bother.

 

Why talk when, in actuality, you had nothing good to say?

 

The fact that Markus was taking the doctor’s orders so seriously, and preventing him from even uttering a word to simply say he was fine, was something Simon considered odd, if not sweet in its own way. Markus didn’t need to bother, yet here he was, caring, like he did with anyone in his path, but Simon figured he ought to put a stop to that right away before he distracted Markus from more important things. Like washing his hands of Simon’s blood, for instance.

 

Loosening his arms from around his stomach, Simon patted Carl’s hand reassuringly and offered the kind, old man a smile and a nod, confirming what Markus said to be true. Then, Markus’ interference be damned, said, “I might cough a bit until everything’s healed, but I’ll live. What matters is that Markus is safe.”

 

Also giving both Josh and North that same smile, he snagged Markus by the forearm and started to pull him inside, figuring if he wasn’t going to be properly ignored like he thought he was, then he was going to do something useful. Markus was surprisingly pliant as Simon dragged him through the house until they were in the kitchen, and only then did he catch Simon’s eye with an inquiring look.

 

“Your hands,” was all Simon said, taking them in his grasp to place them under the running water in the sink.

 

Markus thankfully got the hint and started to try and wipe the thirium off, his expression taking on a concentrated, yet thoughtful appearance as he rubbed each finger. Simon watched him silently, thinking on how thirium, on any other surface, evaporated and became invisible to the naked eye after awhile, but on androids themselves it seemed to linger. As if they weren’t allowed to forget the violence they endured; he couldn’t help but wonder why that was. Although the better question, he quickly discovered, was why Markus thought only water would do the job, barely making a dent in the mess on his hands after a full minute of useless scrubbing. For the leader of the android revolution, he could be delightfully hopeless sometimes.

 

Smiling somewhat to himself, Simon picked the dish soap up from its place by the faucet and poured a generous amount into his own open palm, putting the soap container back down so he could work it into a thick coat of bubbly foam. Without looking at Markus’ face, not sure he could do this if he had to maintain eye contact at the same time, Simon took his hands into his own and gave each finger, each knuckle, each inch of skin stained by his thirium a thorough wash. He even got under the nails and around the cuticles with much more success than Markus had. Thirium was a stubborn substance to get off on a good day, but after an hour of drying it took a little over ten minutes straight of washing before Simon felt he’d done the best job he could do, using a lot more soap than what was probably necessary but left Markus with clean hands.

 

And that was really all he cared about.

 

Finally looking up, Simon parted his lips to say he was done, but the soft, contemplative look on Markus’ face stole the words from his tongue. They looked at one another for what felt like a stagnant moment in time, and Simon began to lament the fact that his complexion was so pale, knowing, much to his consternation, how easily a flush would show up on his face.

 

“What?” Simon asked when his brain jump-started and remembered his mouth was still open—he had to say something before he looked like a complete moron.

 

“It’s just…” Markus started, but something made him pause and let out a small, quiet laugh. He looked down at their hands as if to consider how to articulate what he was thinking, making Simon abashedly aware he was still holding on. Literally just standing there gently holding his hands, all covered in soap suds.

 

Looking back up into Simon’s eyes, Markus went on softly. “You know how a lot us, when we became Deviants, did these 180’s in personality from what we were programmed to do? Almost as if completely rejecting what we were to discover what we could become? I’ve met so many of our people, including a lot of androids that were made to be caretakers, and only a small portion of them even want to still take care of others—I mean, as an occupation, and really that’s it. There’s no personal investment in it other than work, from what I could tell. So they’ve gone into hospital care, social services, that sort of thing...and then there’s you.”

 

Simon blinked slowly, lightly flexing his grip while his mind was a blank canvas, unable to think of anything to say to that. He wasn’t even sure what it meant, or where Markus was going with it. Thankfully he didn’t have to actually respond since Markus merely carried on, as if Simon wasn’t having some sort of internal crisis right in front of him.

 

“Since the beginning you’ve been taking care of people with this single-minded focus that isn’t afraid to say ‘we gotta run’ or ‘it’s too dangerous’—the sort of things that most people don’t have the courage to say out loud for fear of being called a coward,” Markus said, wrapping his fingers around Simon’s hands so that he was properly holding them himself, as if to stop Simon from pulling away; it was that thought that made Simon realize he’d flinched at the word coward, remembering his own thoughts from before.

 

“I really mean that,” Markus said, his heterochromatic eyes intense as they bore into Simon’s. “You’re a lot braver than people give you credit for, probably even yourself, and it’s a bravery born from compassion.

 

“You didn’t bat an eye when I dropped into Jericho and started making plans, taking over, when I know that you were who they all turned to for leadership before I was even on their radar. While you haven’t always agreed with everything I did you’ve been there to support me, have my back, even at the risk of your own safety. Constantly putting your life in my hands and trusting that I’ll do right by you, when I’m not even sure I’m doing right by you— any of you. Having faith in me when I can’t find the strength to have it in myself…”

 

Markus’ expression took a turn for melancholic, shifting Simon’s hands in his grip so his palms were facing upwards, giving Markus the space to rub his thumbs against them slowly. A gentle brush back and forth that felt like it had to be calming him down more than it was meant to do so for Simon. Which Simon was fine with, more concerned with the fact that Markus felt that what he was saying was upsetting him in some way that Simon couldn’t figure out; this whole one-sided conversation was something he didn’t know how to quantify, so he kept quiet. Listened.

 

If Simon understood anything, it was that sometimes you simply had to speak your mind, and how you really feel would make itself known eventually.

 

His girls had been like that a lot. It was a terribly charming thing that Simon was weak to, even more so with Markus right here, acting the same way. The pure display of being human, being alive and imperfect, never failed to make something melt inside Simon. He didn’t realize he was smiling a bit until he noticed Markus was smiling in tandem.

 

Chuckling quietly, Markus said, “What I think I’m trying to get at with all of this is thank you. Thank you for taking care of our people at Jericho, thank you for always finding your way back to us, and thank you for just being... you. But also, maybe once in awhile, let one of us take care of you too. You were the one shot and yet here you are, determined that I be the one with clean hands.”

 

Markus’ smile took on that same sad note from before as he practically whispered, “Somehow you’re always the one keeping my hands clean.”

 

It didn’t take any elaboration for Simon to understand what he was referring to, his mind immediately summoning images from the roof of the Stratford tower, the barrel of a gun staring him down right along with a mismatched pair of anguished eyes. There’s always a choice, he’d said then, and to this day he stood by those words; words that Markus apparently had known weren’t entirely meant to save his own life, but to protect Markus for having to make that particular choice as well. Simon had been the one who’d seen the expression on his face then, had known that if he’d pulled the trigger there’d be no turning back on a number of levels, and more than anything he didn’t want him to have to suffer through that.

 

Even if it meant Simon pulling the trigger himself, if it came to that.

 

But he’d been fortunate enough to not have to, and had eventually made his way back to Jericho before collapsing in his arms, coming full-circle with putting his life in Markus’ capable hands. Hands that Simon, currently, was still holding, or more accurately being held by, and realized he should probably finally do something about that.

 

Very carefully Simon extracted his hands, which seemed to jar Markus out of the fugue he’d fallen into and shift to run the water over them, leaving Simon standing there, watching him, his own hands still covered in soap. Markus still looked troubled, and Simon wouldn’t stand for it any longer. Much like he attributed it to his desperation to help his girls stop crying, Simon once again turned to momentary inanity and brought his fingers up towards his mouth, laying them flat as he blew a breath full of soap bubbles right into Markus’ downtrodden face.

 

They were both stock still as it sunk in what had just happened, an intense sense of mortification building within Simon as Markus slowly turned to face him, the glob of soap bubbles jiggling a bit, but otherwise seemingly content to stay stuck right where they were. Oh and, hello, there was that panic Simon knew as an old friend at this point, fusing with the mortification to birth something truly awful and heavy in the pit of his stomach. What in the world had made him think that was a good idea?

 

But before the terrible feelings gnawing at his insides could get carried away, Markus was grinning in a way that Simon could honestly say he’d never seen before, destroying his anxiety and shame with such raw vivacity that Simon felt like he’d taken a physical blow to the gut. Next thing he knew Markus was swiping his fingers over Simon’s hands, snatching up the remaining bubbles, and then smearing it onto Simon’s flushed cheeks.

 

This caused him to sputter in indignation, which made Markus burst into real, unadulterated laughter, arresting Simon’s ability to conceive a single thought beyond how beautiful it sounded. How beautiful Markus was overall, to the point it was painful to look at him sometimes—though you’d have to kill him to stop looking at him now.

 

The fact that Simon hadn’t seen that smile, or heard Markus laugh with wild abandon like this before left a perturbed feeling in his chest. They’d been free for over a year now, Markus had worked so hard for them all so it would stay that way, and it was a small moment in the kitchen with soap bubbles that gave him the inspiration to genuinely laugh? Hadn’t he said back at Jericho, after stealing a truck load of spare parts, that he wasn’t going to ask for the right to smile? Or love?

 

Well, North had given him the last one, as far as Simon knew, but what about smiling? Maybe when those two were in private Markus was more carefree, less constrained in his expression of happiness, but he shouldn’t have to be. If anyone deserved to be freely joyful however he wanted, whenever he wanted, with whomever he wanted, it was Markus. Simon wanted to remind him of that.

 

Just like he’d reminded him that there was always a choice.

 

And right then, Simon made one of his own. A choice to make Markus’ happiness his utmost priority, everything else—politics, their interpersonal relationships, lingering prejudice—be damned.

 

With a rare moment of sparkling clarity, knew exactly what to do. Something he’d planned to do for his girls once, but had never gotten the chance.

 

But first he had to deal with Markus still losing his shit, to put it mildly, the sound of his laughter drawing the attention of Carl, North, Josh, and even Leo who had come out of the woodwork to see what was going on. When they all saw the two of them with soap stuck to their faces it only ignited more mirth, filling the kitchen with its melodious sound.

 

North accused them of denying her the right to participate in what was obviously a battle of bubbles; Josh apparently found the way he and Markus looked so funny he couldn’t breathe and had to hold onto Leo for support, who was snorting himself and calling them losers (affectionately); and Carl had this adoring look on his face that crinkled his eyes, watching his son laugh, which had him chuckling in a soft, husky way. They eventually quieted down, cleaned up, and made tea (a thirium-based variety for the androids) to take to the living room, where they all caught up on what each of them had been up to, spending the rest of their evening in good company and a peaceful atmosphere.

 

Before the night came to an end, Simon covertly managed to get Carl and Leo to stand off to the side where they couldn’t be heard, waiting until the other three were out of sight to address what he was up to. With a couple of questioning looks being thrown his way Simon put on a grin, that was a touch playful, and kept his voice low to make it obvious he didn’t want anyone but them to hear. It was also kinder to his injury, which was a plus.

 

“I want to do something nice for Markus,” he prefaced his antics with, making Carl smile widely while Leo rolled his eyes, but nodded to continue all the same. “We’ve all been working extremely hard for Android Rights, but Markus has been at the forefront of everything since the beginning. He has so much responsibility on his shoulders that he’s just accepted as his due instead of asking for help, and it’s...he’s exhausted, I can tell, and I’d like for him to have a break. A real break, where he can remember that he’s only one person, that he’s not alone in this fight, and can actually enjoy a moment to relax every once in awhile.”

 

Clearing his throat gently, his voice a little scratchy from saying so much without interruption, Simon valiantly ignored the twinge in his lungs and carried on, hugging himself a bit nervously.

 

“I have an idea, but I’ll need accomplices. Carl, you could know where the Ark of the Covenant was located and not tell a soul, plus you’re crafty to a frankly terrifying degree. Leo, you’re so bad at keeping a secret that it becomes reverse psychology, and people think you’re actually kidding when you tell the truth sometimes.” Carl had to slap his hands over his mouth then to stop from barking out a laugh, which would draw attention to their little conspiracy to commit the murder of Markus’ sadness, but Leo, surprisingly, paused as if he wanted to be insulted, then nodded in reluctant agreement a second later.

 

“That makes you two my ideal accomplices.”

 

“You’ve obviously got somethin’ cooked up, so what do Pops and I have to do?” Leo asked, using the back of Carl’s wheelchair as a leaning post.

 

Carl carelessly waggled a hand behind him, as if swatting a fly, and batted Leo on the cheek; Leo didn’t even flinch, and instead grinned like the cat that got the cream. Simon knew it made Carl's eye twitch to be called ‘pops’ but Leo seemingly couldn’t have cared less. “I’ll fund whatever you have in mind,” Carl said, ignoring Leo entirely—Simon always found their interactions rather cute, not that he’d ever say so aloud.

 

“That would help a lot,” Simon admitted, running a hand through his hair while the other fell limply at his side. “I’ll take care of mostly everything else, but I’d like to reserve a section of the William G. Milliken State Park, that park with the lighthouse and harbor view, and maybe a few food vendors? Not just the thirium-food-substitute suppliers either, but organic human food as well. If everything goes right this’ll be a human-inclusive gathering that’ll show exactly how far we’ve come since last year.”

 

Carl and Leo both looked somewhat surprised at that, staring at Simon as if he’d said something remarkable, but almost simultaneously their expressions turned soft and thoughtful. Leo straightened up and crossed his arms over his chest, his brow furrowed in consideration as his head tilted to the side.

 

“I think a lot of my support group would find that sorta thing fun,” he said, referring to the people he’d met at rehab for his Red Ice addiction that had started a group after being released, to keep up their network of support to stay clean. It was merely a perk that they’d all become friends. Simon had met them a couple times when Leo had invited them over for a garden party he held every once in a blue moon, and knew they were a lovely and kind group of people. They’d treated him very respectfully when he’d brought them all drinks and said hello, never once batting an eye at the fact he was an android.

 

It had left a very positive impression and Simon said happily, “I’d love for them to come.”

 

Leo smiled back helplessly in response.

 

Carl had a few suggestions of his own. People among his own plethora of connections that would be delighted to attend something like what Simon was concocting, establishments who could cater to both androids and humans, things like that. He appeared very excited to help, which warmed Simon’s heart.

 

They wrapped up their discussion quickly, however, when Josh peered into the room they were still lingering in and gave them an inquiring look, saying that he and North were leaving. The two of them shared a large apartment near the Wayne County Community College district, where Josh taught several courses outside of the many seminars and peace talks he had, and North...well, to be honest Simon wasn’t sure what North was up to. Not that that was a bad thing, they all valued their privacy after all, her especially, but it did make him wonder.

 

She’d refused a room at Carl’s home, and other than when Josh wanted to visit she never came by on her own; it had left him feeling a little out of sorts because, while they were eager to have their own space, Simon had latched on the offer of a place to stay with Carl, Markus and Leo. He worried sometimes if that made him appear clingy, even if it was due a great deal to him being the one that was constantly asked to accompany Markus on political ventures. But as for North, last he remembered she’d mentioned something in passing about working with the Detroit police department, though she hadn’t gone into all that much detail about it, but Simon supposed if it brought her some joy (and she wasn’t out wreaking havoc) then that was all that mattered. What that meant for North and Markus’ relationship, he couldn’t say, and it wasn’t his place to question it or bring it up.

 

Simon’s own personal feelings didn’t matter, as long as they were happy.

 

He shook off the maudlin feeling and plastered on a polite smile, wishing Josh and North a safe trip home, and then giving Carl and Leo a slight nod and a whispered ‘we’ll talk about it more tomorrow’ before they wandered off to go get ready for bed. That left him alone with Markus, much to the increased stress of his biocomponents.

 

He opened his mouth to say goodnight but Simon wound up turning away in a jerky twist of his body, his face contorting slightly as he was suddenly overcome with the need to cough. It wasn’t more than a few heaves of his lungs, a little wet though not terribly loud, but Markus was still on him within seconds, a hand rubbing his back comfortingly as the other held the arm closest to him in a soothing but strong grip.

 

“Simon?” Markus whispered, sounding far more concerned than he had any right to be.

 

Clearing his throat more harshly than he had before, Simon took a deep breath before looking up into Markus’ worried face. “I’m fine, Markus,” he said. “It’s nothing bad, just a cough, so you can stand down now.”

 

Simon meant it as a joke, but Markus’ gaze only seemed to get more intense for a moment, and that’s when he knew he was being analyzed—damn the RK series and their enhanced analytical capabilities. He was about to object to that but then Markus backed off a step, giving Simon’s shoulder a placating squeeze, and turned towards the stairway to head up to his room.

 

“Goodnight Simon, call if you need anything,” Markus said, as he did every night, and by now he really ought to know Simon never would call if he needed anything. Markus shouldn’t have to be his caretaker anymore than he already took care of everyone around him, to an exhausting degree.

 

Simon waved him off a little helplessly, his esophagus not entirely cooperating yet, and watched him all the way up the stairs before Markus was out of sight. He jolted out of his stupified state, somewhat disturbed that he’d simply stood there, watching Markus leave like the love-sick fool he was. He ran a hand over his face before going back to the couch and sitting down. It was a miracle Markus still even wanted him around, considering how obnoxiously unsubtle he was a lot of the time with how highly he held him in regard; he hoped it wasn’t obvious that that regard was an all-encompassing, life-defining feeling of love, or else he would have to die on the spot.

 

One deep breath and a gentle, calming pat to his chest later, Simon reclined on the couch facing the large bay windows and reminded himself it didn’t matter. Markus didn’t want him, hadn’t wanted him for a long time now (and why would he when he had someone like North?), so it simply didn’t matter. And anyway, he had more important things to worry about other than his own self-pity, and that was his plan to give Markus a moment of happiness among the stress of what it was they had been working towards for a little over a year.

 

There was a lot to do, and not a lot of time to get it done to fit within their rather insane schedule, so with that Simon took one last longing look at the waning moon before he shut his eyes and went into sleep mode.

 

He’d have all day tomorrow to plan, and the sooner it came the better.

 

 


 

 

Or at least that had been what he’d anticipated. Simon had been awake for all of a couple hours enjoying breakfast with the others, before he’d tried to stand up and get Carl another cup of tea, but his body had had other ideas. He immediately slapped a hand over his mouth, curling in on himself as his other hand grabbed the area over his lungs tightly, wrinkling his shirt; he coughed so forcefully and so harshly that he was surprised his biocomponents hadn’t flown right out of his mouth. As it was he could instantly tell he was coughing something up, because of how wet his hand felt, but knew, if nothing else, his organs were still where they should be inside of him.

 

His thirium was another story.

 

When the coughing died down and he could finally catch a breath, Simon focused back in on his surroundings, specifically the people within it, and had the immediate thought that dying would be easier to handle than this. Carl’s face was twisted up in such concern that his eyes even looked glossy, as if he were about to cry, something he’d never seen Carl do; Leo had a strikingly similar look on his face, but his arms were crossed, hugging his body tightly and hunching his shoulders, looking for all the world that he wanted to physically help somehow but didn’t know what to do. It was so childlike, that helplessness, that Simon had the obscure thought of wanting to soothe it away. And then there was Markus.

 

Somehow, without Simon realizing it, Markus had plastered himself to his side, pulling Simon in towards his chest so that he was leaning against him in support while he coughed his guts out. Markus was doing that thing again too, rubbing his back in slow, calming circles with just the right amount of pressure, but this time he’d also started humming. It would’ve been nice if it weren’t for how broken it sounded, like it was coming from someone on the verge of panic, and that epiphany alone caused Simon to freeze like a deer in the headlights.

 

When he eventually gathered the courage to straighten up enough in Markus’ embrace to look him in the face, Simon was thankful that there were no tears, not even watery eyes, but Markus did still appear distressed. This was not a look Simon was familiar with on his handsome face; this was also the opposite of what he had planned, and Simon hated himself then, a much more familiar thing than what he was seeing in that moment.

 

He wanted to say something to diffuse the situation but he still had a hand covering his mouth, hyper aware of the fact that he’d probably look like a murder scene if he pulled his hand away—that wasn’t going to do anything to calm the others down. Instead, Simon attempted to smile with his eyes and wave his other hand through the space between him and Markus, to attempt to signal he was perfectly fine.

 

As was apparently his wont, that was the opposite of how Markus interpreted it.

 

He seemingly zeroed in on the fact that Simon wasn’t letting his hand fall away from his lips, and Simon could almost map in real-time exactly when Rae’s warning from the previous day crossed his mind. He nearly rolled his eyes at the way Markus’ expression took a turn for protective, an affectionate ball of warmth taking roost in his sternum, but didn’t get the chance to do much of anything in response when his free hand was taken by Markus and he was benignly carted off to the kitchen.

 

A strangely reminiscent scene from the one that played out yesterday occurred then, the only difference being it was Simon’s hands being scrubbed clean by Markus. They deviated from the familiar rather quickly, however, when Markus cupped Simon’s chin and very carefully, very tenderly, wiped the thirium from Simon’s mouth and face, not breaking eye contact throughout the whole thing; if Simon’s cheeks weren’t on fire, they were definitely the next best (read: worst) thing and flushed a bright, pervasive blue that went to the tips of his ears. And there were those thoughts again about how dying would’ve been easier to handle than this.

 

If Markus noticed the change in his pigmentation he didn’t mention it, or even hint at it, much to Simon’s relief, but what he did next was most definitely worse (read: better) than that would’ve been.

 

Setting down the now-stained wash cloth by the sink, Markus held Simon’s face in both of his hands and looked at him like he was inspecting his work, reminding Simon of a sculpter examining his finished piece. Then he slid his hands further down, one resting over the column of Simon’s throat, making Simon painfully aware that Markus could feel him swallow nervously, while the other was planted further down on Simon’s chin than before. He parted his lips to ask what Markus was doing, but his voice died in the tiniest movement of Markus’ thumb brushing his bottom lip.

 

“There,” Markus said, his voice sounding deeper than normal, “you’re perfect.”

 

And as if he hadn’t just thrown Simon into a computing logic loop of disbelief that this was reality, when it felt more like a fever dream, Markus offered him a cheeky little smirk and walked out of the kitchen. He could hear him announce that Simon was going to live from the other room, but he was hardly in any condition to process it, Simon’s systems overheated as they were. He had to take a few girthy, painful breaths to reduce his body temperature, ignoring his lung’s protestations, and then patted his cheeks harder than what was probably necessary to get his complexion back under control.

 

Glancing between where Markus had been standing and the door a few times, Simon cursed these feelings of his and what they did to him; he couldn’t handle even the tiniest bit of intimacy before devolving into a complete mess. And now he was going to be thinking about what happened all day and not be able to concoct anything even remotely close to a coherent thought.

 

The plan had been to come up with a plan today, but already had he been foiled.

 

Maybe resting today wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

 

 


 

 

It turned out Carl and Leo had both been insistent that Simon relax, but promised they’d get started on what they already had talked about—the sooner they could get the park blocked for a party, the caterers vetted and reserved, and the people invited, the better. Which left Simon the rest of the day to loosen up, occasionally excuse himself to cough up more thirium in private, and contemplate his own part of their machinations.

 

When Simon had known ‘exactly what to do’ yesterday, he really meant the main attraction to the event he was envisioning. It was something he’d wanted to do for Sapir and Shiri for their birthday that had been approaching once upon a time, but then...well, he’d never gotten the chance to get that far. There had been a break-in, a robbery gone so awfully wrong, and his girls had been cruelly ripped from him in such a shocking moment of violence that Simon had become a Deviant to try and save them. He’d been too slow, too late, and he would never exonerate himself for that. He’d sat with them for days, the parents never once bothering to stop by and check on the kids, and when he’d finally managed to get himself to move, to stand up and walk away, he’d left them cleaned up and tucked in the bed they’d shared as if they had only been asleep. He didn’t want the police to find them as a murder scene, but rather as the tragedy their young lives being cut short had been.

 

Simon merely hoped that, by going through with this, and sharing that piece of happiness from his past he’d had planned for them with Markus and the others, he’d be doing his girls proud.

 

That maybe, where ever they were now, they’d forgive him.

 

So by the time the next afternoon rolled up, Simon was outside gathering his supplies, conversing with Leo as he helped him get everything he needed from Carl’s extensive garden. Leo, although having no clue what Simon was going to do with all this crap, seemed enthusiastic to assist him nevertheless; Simon appreciated it, don’t get him wrong, but he also suspected Leo desired an audience for all the anecdotes he wanted to share from that morning’s rehab group session, including the response his friends had to being invited to their party-in-progress. More than happy to be that audience Simon simply smiled to himself, injecting only here and there when it was appropriate.

 

It wasn’t long before he had everything he required and stored it in the greenhouse where he set up shop, Leo leaving him to it to help Carl with his part of the planning. Simon had to give him credit; Leo was keeping a tight lid on things from Markus and the others, even diverting attention away when Carl had said something suspicious that morning during breakfast. He was a lot more cunning than Simon had thought, and now he had to wonder if it was simply in his genes. The Manfreds were a (unique) force to be reckoned with.

 

The next several days were spent skirting around the edges of Markus and company’s radar, Carl and Leo handling all the outside details once they had a set list of what needed to be done, while Simon worked away in the greenhouse in private each night.

 

Two days before the planned event Simon checked everyone’s schedules for the thousandth time, making absolutely sure no one would have any other plans that would make this entire plot for naught. But that still left a bit of a hole for Simon to fill, when he considered everything, and knew he was going to have to bring someone into the fold that could either let the cat out of the bag, or be a trusted ally in this war against Markus’ sadness.

 

Simon called North.

 

She sounded a bit confused over the connection as to why he wanted to meet out of the blue, and for ‘reasons he couldn’t disclose yet’, but went with it anyway; she’d told him if this was a murder attempt he was going to be the one to perish. They’d chuckled, no matter how true a statement that was (she’d destroy him in a fight to the death, Simon had no delusions about this), and in a few hour’s time met at the base of the lighthouse in the park the surprise party would be happening at. He figured it’d make it easier to explain, and also wanted to see the entire space they rented out for himself.

 

North was already there when Simon arrived, and the smile she shot him was sharp yet charming. Much like she was.

 

“So, I see no obvious weapons—you got a sniper situated up in the lighthouse or somethin’?” she asked, turning her back to the harbor she’d been staring out at, leaning casually against the railing.

 

“That’s child’s play; I actually showed up three hours ago. I coated the railing in a toxin only harmful to androids, that’ll paralyze your biocomponents until you’re helpless and at my mercy. Then the torture begins,” Simon deadpanned, his expression as flat as his voice.

 

They stared each other down for a solid minute and a half before North burst into unadulterated laughter, holding her stomach and being unabashedly loud to the point of scaring some squirrels into scurrying away. Simon couldn’t help but melt a bit at the sight, grinning as he approached, planting himself right at her side and giving her a small nudge.

 

“I know it was last minute, asking to meet up like this, but thanks for coming.”

 

North shrugged the shoulder not pressed into Simon’s arm, slipping her hands into her pockets and crossing her feet at the ankles. “Didn’t have anything better to do, so it’s fine,” she replied, her lips curved into a small but happy smile. It was a good look on her, being this relaxed, not worrying about the next danger lurking in the shadows. He was beginning to think that that was proof of their progress in the last year, more than anything else. Sure, North still wanted to strangle President Warren to an inch of her life, but, well, baby steps.

 

“You know how I’ve been checking up on you, Josh, and Markus on and off this week? To make sure you all aren’t busy this coming Sunday?” he asked, glancing at her from the corner of his eye. When she lifted a single, sculpted eyebrow and nodded, he carried on.

 

“Well, the truth is, I’ve been conspiring to throw Markus a bit of a party here, and it’s going to be a surprise so I’ve kept the number of people who know about it to an absolute minimum.”

 

If North was at all startled by this revelation she didn’t bother to show it, responding as if she’d been included in the planning process from the start. “I get the impression that you’ve got most of it handled already, so where do I come in?” she asked, looping her arm through his before tucking her hand back into her pant pocket. It was nice, warm even, and it left Simon feeling comforted; he’d been a little concerned she might not like what he was up to, or be upset she hadn’t been told since the beginning, but that obviously wasn’t the case.

 

“I’d like to invite some of the Detroit P.D. to the party, specifically Connor and Lieutenant Anderson for all they’ve done to help us, and you’re the only one I know who would be able to make that happen. I mean, if you’re okay with helping with that?” Simon asked, throwing her a questioning look. North might’ve been working with Connor’s department doing whatever it was she did, but that didn’t mean she’d be comfortable with any law enforcement’s presence at the party, considering the past they all had. Progress they made, for certain, but was it enough was the question.

 

Bemusing Simon greatly, however, North absolutely lit up and smiled, turning to face her body towards him and hug his arm to her chest in what Simon couldn’t help but think of as childlike excitement.

 

“That’d be great!” North announced, almost hopping in place to her tiptoes. “I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get that boy on a date for months and you just hand me this on a silver platter. You’re a saint!”

 

She did hop up and plant a kiss on his cheek then, completely oblivious to the fact that she’d turned Simon’s world completely upside down in the span of a sentence. He had a hard time recovering, but with sheer willpower he forced a little grin, asking her in a teasing manner, “You trying to make Markus jealous?”

 

North, not one to beat around the bush, huffed in such a dismissive way that it made Simon’s false expression falter, though thankfully she didn’t see it as she rested her head against his shoulder and stared out into the park. “Markus wouldn’t be jealous no matter what I did. We haven’t been together for almost 5 months now; we’re better off as good friends. Let’s us live our own lives while still being apart of each other’s, ya know?,” she stated as simply as can be, shifting enough to look at him with upturned eyes, her smile turning cheeky.

 

“I’ll forgive you for not knowing that before now because we’ve all been so god damn busy with politics and crap, so don’t worry about it,” North said, her voice surprisingly sweet.

 

Simon still flushed in embarrassment, remembering his thoughts from earlier that week, and really thoughts he’d had for awhile now, that were only relevant under the assumption that North and Markus were a couple. How could he not have known they’d broken up months ago? Busy or not, it seemed like something he should have noticed. Something he definitely would have wanted to notice. Was he that self-centered when it came to his feelings for Markus? Simon was mortified.

 

But North only laughed, apparently seeing some of what he was feeling on his face.

 

“Like I said, no biggie,” she stated. Simon internally disagreed because, to him, it was most definitely a 'biggie', but he let it go all the same. He could obsess over it later, in private, where no one could hear him banging his head into a wall repeatedly.

 

“So, you and Connor then?”

 

And with that North delved into an entire spiel of personal anguish over how oblivious Connor was, despite her very obvious attempts to get him to date her.

 

Apparently what North did at the department was act as a Civilian Investigator, helping specifically in the crimes against sex-worker androids, who now were compensated for their work and properly protected, after a lot of reworking for anti-prostitution laws on a national level; North had been very vocal about that, and had forged a path to make it possible with her fierce attitude and refusal to back down. Two female Traci models, especially one with long, blue hair, had been brought in to assist in forming North’s android civilian unit by Connor (who the Tracis were friends with), and that’s how North and him had had the opportunity to get to know each other and bond.

 

But, much like him apparently, Connor was a complete moron.

 

North explained how she felt confident that he would be willing to give a relationship a chance. She went into detail about the many times they’d flirted, how he’d shown as much interest as she had, and even the several moments recently that they’d almost kissed. Like a frustrating romantic comedy, she said. According to her, she was going to—

 

“—lose my shit, I swear to fuck!” North whined, throwing one of her hands up in the air in frustration, before latching it back onto Simon’s arm. It was all pretty endearing, and he was definitely smiling contentedly by the time she settled down against him.

 

“Well I’m glad I can provide an opportunity for you to get into Connor’s pants,” Simon said lightly, earning a small smack against his chest that made him chuckle.

 

“I mean, someday for sure if that’s what he’d want in a relationship, but first all I ask is that he see me as more than a friend that he sometimes almost kisses. Since we’re always interacting at the department it never feels like the right time for it to get to that point, but this surprise party could be a legit date,” she said in a small voice, her expression softening in consideration.

 

Simon reached over and brushed some of her bangs back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “This might be something I thought of to make Markus happy, but you deserve happiness too, North. You get him, and whoever else you deem worthy there, and I’ll make sure that everyone can find something to be happy about.”

 

North’s mouth quirked up into a grin, trying to look teasing but the edge was softened by sincerity, her eyes a bit glassy and giving her away. “Maybe you’ll find a some of that too at this shindig, huh? You have a habit of writing yourself out of these sorts of equations,” she said, hugging him a bit closer as she tugged them forward, forcing them to start walking away from the railing.

 

They kept a sedate pace, not venturing far from where they met up, and Simon said nothing in response to that; upon reflection, it was worryingly true. He often didn’t think about himself and happiness existing in the same space, and it was jarring that he hadn’t even realized it until someone else brought it up. Simon was saved from having to make any statement about his terrible lack of self-care when North stopped them in the middle of a large, concrete circle that made up the main pathway, overlooking the yachts swaying gently in the water.

 

“Now tell me everything,” North commanded, her expression becoming excited as she glanced around, probably trying to imagine for herself what the space would look like on Sunday.

 

Simon was more than happy to fill in the blanks.

 

 


 

 

The night before the big event found Simon in the greenhouse, whittling away the final touches to his major contribution of this whole thing. What had originally been a small contraption made of empty plastic bottles, some vines, bamboo, and the drive to make two girls smile had blown up to be much, much more than that. For starters, Carl had a lot more at his disposal than what Simon had to work with back then, so he could build upon his original design, making it bigger and more efficient to allow for a wider coverage. He could also build it to last, maybe keep it around as a nice memory, assuming everything went according to his plan. He refused to think about it going wrong, for now at least.

 

Just as he locked the last piece into place, giving it a hard once-over to ensure that everything was perfect, there was a knock on the greenhouse door, startling Simon out of his hyperfocused state. He floundered for a moment, grabbing the large sheet he’d borrowed from Carl’s studio to throw over his creation, made sure nothing was peeking out, and then hurried over to the door. With a quick pat to his chest and a deep breath to calm his pounding heart, he gently pulled the door open.

 

Markus was the last person he expected to be on the other side.

 

“Hey Simon,” he said, his hands held behind his back and his expression almost sheepish.

 

“Hello,” Simon replied, his brow furrowed a little in confusion. According to his internal clock it was nearly midnight, and Markus was usually very adamant that he keep a tight sleep schedule; something about how routine made for a less stressed state of mind, and a more invigorated body. He could only guess it had to do with how Markus used to take care of Carl, maybe, but if he were honest Simon had never truly understood the notion. Then again, perhaps that was why there was always an undercurrent of stress buzzing in Simon’s skull, because him and routine had a vicious falling out the moment Markus had dropped from the sky and into the hull of Jericho, changing their lives (their routine) forever.

 

“Is something wrong?” Simon asked as he stepped outside, locking the door behind him. He figured he was done for the night and Markus (always) required his full attention.

 

Shooting his hands out in front of him, Markus seemed jittery, almost pent up with nerves as he shook his head, waving his hands in what was probably some kind of attempt to ease Simon’s concerns. It didn’t work.

 

“No, no, everything’s fine,” Markus tried again with reassuring him, doing a bit of a better job than flailing his hands had, but it still wasn’t enough to convince Simon and he seemed to realize it. “I just...wanted to see how you were doing.”

 

“How I was doing?” Simon hugged his elbows loosely, tilting his head to the side questioningly. As far as he knew he hadn’t shown any signs of distress, had stopped coughing thirium up days ago, but then again North had surprised him with her own innocuous observations; who knew what Markus might’ve noticed when Simon wasn’t paying attention. It was a bit disheartening a thought, that he might be displaying all these negative personality traits and not even be aware of it, but he supposed it was better to be told than to never know about it in the end.

 

Although of everyone he knew, he really wished Markus wasn’t the one to notice them, but that was a purely selfish wish.

 

Something about where his train of thought was headed must’ve been expressed because Markus was suddenly much closer, placing his hands on Simon’s forearms and giving them a comforting squeeze, accompanied by a small, charming smile. “You’ve been coming out here every night for almost a week now. I was curious what you were up to, but more so I was worried that you might be pushing yourself a bit too hard for whatever it is,” he said softly, brushing his hands up and down a couple times over Simon’s arms, as if to warm him.

 

Simon blinked slowly as he processed that, staring right into heterochromatic eyes that looked back at him earnestly, reflecting that concern he’d mentioned. And for some godforsaken reason, despite the many other things he could respond with, all that came to Simon’s mind to say was—

 

“Is it true you and North haven’t been together for months?” he asked, a bit horrified at his audacity.

 

What kind of thought-to-vocal processing error had compelled him to ask that?

 

But, in true ‘leader of the android revolution’ fashion, Markus only missed half a beat before he replied, his eyes narrowed in what Simon prayed was Intrigue. “It’s true. We decided that we were better off as friends, and anyway, she’d have a hard time pursuing Connor if we were still trying to make our failing relationship work. It happened a while ago though, why do you ask?”

 

The problem was he had no god damn clue why he asked, and wanted nothing more than for the earth to split beneath his feet and gobble him up, but instead all he could do was wrench his gaze to the ground and hope that he wasn’t a blushing mess. Simon had the awful inclination that was exactly how he appeared—he could even feel the simulated heat coming off his face. He wondered if his stress levels were self-destruction worthy yet; It’d be really helpful right about now to simply blackout, humiliation be damned.

 

“I…” Simon tried and failed to articulate a good enough lie that would excuse the question, so instead his voice trailed off into a nervous swallow.

 

From one breath to the next he went from staring at the grassy walkway to Markus’ sheepskin outdoor slippers, jolting Simon into looking up and right into a face he did not expect to be so close. So close, in fact, he could make out the intricate details of both of Markus’ eyes, down to the flecks of gold scattered throughout the green, and silver within the blue. He had the asinine thought of how similar a shade they both were to Shiri and Sapir’s own eyes, but that was not a path he wanted to traverse down anytime soon. Especially right now.

 

“Mar—”

 

“Simon,” Markus interrupted, his voice silky and quiet. It might as well have been his commanding tone, however, with how it liquified Simon’s spine and crawled under his synthetic skin, making itself at home.

 

As if hadn’t been living there already.

 

“I never did thank you, you know,” said Markus, his thumbs brushing over Simon’s arms in a slow, rhythmic movement. “I don’t like it when you get hurt defending me, but I’m pretty sure you saved my life when you shielded me from that shooter at the airport.”

 

There was something absolutely electric about each syllable Markus spoke, each tiny movement he made, every millimeter of space between them. Simon hardly dared to breathe, but he had to say something, anything, before he went and did something stupid. Like lean in and kiss those lips he was valiantly not staring at.

 

“Um,” he managed, flushing harder at how utterly dumb he sounded. “I—I only wanted you to be okay, that’s all.” There, it was a bit clumsy but to the point, and should’ve been enough to diffuse the...situation, or whatever he ought to have called what was happening.

 

“That’s the thing,” Markus said, his voice dropping to nearly a whisper. He leaned in closer, causing Simon to suck in a breath and hold it, his heart thundering within him while Markus spoke directly into Simon’s blue-tinted ear. “All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be okay too.”

 

And then Markus did something truly unbelievable as he pulled back enough to slide his hands up Simon’s arms in a slow, unexpectedly sensual caress until he was cupping his face, and then tilted Simon’s head downward ever so slightly. That gave him the perfect angle to press a soft, tremulous, yet terribly sweet kiss against Simon’s forehead. When he took a full step back, no longer looking him in the eye, Markus’ own complexion was a little bluer as well but his expression remained at ease, happy even.

 

“Take care of yourself Simon. I’ll see you tomorrow for whatever it is you’ve been scheming with Carl and Leo for all week. I look forward to it!” Markus said as casually as could be, grinning, slipping his hands into his loose pajama pants and heading back inside.

 

Simon stood stock-still in place for what felt like an eternity, but couldn’t have been more than a couple minutes, ignoring every warning on his HUD about how overclocked and overheated his overall system was getting. The breath he’d held captive burst out of his mouth in a gusty sigh. He felt like a puppet whose strings had been cut, no longer able to stand on his shaking legs, so he squatted down and hugged his knees. Combing one shaking hand through his hair and planting it there against the back of his neck, he dropped his forehead against his knees heavily.

 

What the hell had just happened?

 

He didn’t even notice how every exhalation thereafter held within it a plume of steam, the high temperature of his body becoming visible to the naked eye in the cool night air, putting how affected he’d been by Markus on display for anyone to see; truly Simon’s only saving grace was that he was now alone and unobserved. Though even that was questionable in the end, as it finally registered that he'd been found out, or mostly found out anyway. Markus knew he’d been up to something, despite how hard they’d all worked to keep it a secret.

 

A quiet, hysterical whine that was trying (and failing) to be a laugh escaped him, and Simon pressed his forehead a bit harder into his kneecaps in disbelief. Had he ever been able to keep anything from Markus ? he wondered, curling in on himself as much as he could. Well, there was one pretty significant thing, but...

 

How many of his secrets had Markus uncovered?

 

Simon couldn’t decide if he’d be more terrified or excited to know the answer, but maybe, just maybe, he could utilize that courage Markus was convinced he had and ask him. And perhaps he could do what North requested of him, and include himself in the equation of happiness he hoped to invoke at this party.

 

It was daunting, but there was only one way to find out.

 

 


 

 

The stage was set.

 

Everyone but Markus, Carl and Josh were already at the park and marveling at the space they’d blocked off for the party, flittering around in anticipatory excitement while getting to know one another. Nothing was in full-swing yet, couldn’t be without the Man of the Hour, but the atmosphere that was building was already friendly and lively. There were quite a few Detroit PD androids present, most from North’s civilian unit, but a decent number of human cops were scattered about in a social buzz that filled Simon with relief. The fact that North had made acquaintances with humans as well as androids said so much, put North’s personal growth on display in such a big way, and when it first occurred to Simon what that meant he almost teared up.

 

He’d never say it to her face, because she’d probably punch him for sounding like an old man or something, but he was so very proud of her.

 

The fact that she was currently plastered to Connor’s side, an arm wrapped around his waist with his resting on her shoulders, looking for all the world like she’d won the lottery...well, that was just a bonus. It appeared she’d managed to get through to Connor within the last two days, and really Simon couldn’t help but be impressed. It’d be a nice thought if his machinations had anything to do with it, even if it was merely an excuse North used to officially—in layman's terms, so he’d have no excuse to mistake her intent like the oblivious fool he could be—ask him out, but he knew better. North was a fire that could burn away at anyone’s resolve if she was determined enough, so really Connor never stood a chance. Simon didn’t even try to hide the smile such an anecdote conjured.

 

Checking his internal clock told him he still had about twenty minutes before Markus showed up, so long as Carl was successful in herding him and Josh to the park, as he’d been adamant he be the one to do so; Simon wasn’t going to tell a father no when he wanted to surprise his son. And anyway, Markus apparently knew something was afoot, so he doubted he would put up much of a fight. The shark-toothed grin Leo threw him when he caught Simon’s eye told him everything was fine, so he wasn’t especially worried.

 

With the seconds until their arrival a thought in the back of his mind, Simon wandered around the area and checked in with the vendors to make sure they were all set up and ready, made quick conversation with the guests, and then walked over to the base of the lighthouse. Hank Anderson was keeping guard in front of the door that led into the structure, and offered Simon a friendly pat on the shoulder before moving out of the way.

 

“This is a nice little get-together you made happen,” Hank said, arms crossed as he leaned against the railing, his feet planted on the bottom step. He simply watched Simon unlock the door, radiating an aura of contentment that put Simon’s nerves at ease.

 

Snapping the deadbolt out of place by twisting the key he’d been given, Simon hummed in agreement, pushing the door open with a gentle shove. “I can only hope it gets even nicer from here on out,” he said, shooting Hank a subtle but pleasant expression, thankful the Lieutenant had been kind enough to stand watch.

 

Peering around him to try and probably see what Simon had hidden inside, Hank raised a curious, bushy eyebrow, but said nothing about whatever he may have glimpsed. Instead he moved away from the lighthouse steps and stretched his arms into the air before letting them flop back down lazily, Sumo materializing seemingly out of nowhere to bound up to his owner’s outstretched, waiting hand. “Whatever it is you got in there, I know it’s going to be great. And you can trust my gut—I’m a detective, after all,” Hank declared with a tiny chuckle, scratching Sumo behind the ear before the two of them walked away. Jeffery Fowler was somewhat off the path ahead, waiting for them, and Simon watched with a warmth curling in his chest as Jeffery tenderly grabbed Hank’s wrist and led him away, chattering animatedly while Hank could only watch him and smile.

 

Oddly enough Simon felt pretty reassured.

 

There was just something about the way Hank could say things so plainly, yet so charmingly, that was very soothing; maybe it was because he used to be a father, and was now something of a father-figure to Connor. Simon couldn’t be sure, but he was thankful all the same. He needed every ounce of reassurance he could get when he really had no idea how well (or how awfully) his plan was going to pan out. But he was going to discover the answer shortly either way, so he closed the door behind him and gave his organically-made contraption a good, thorough examination, making sure each and every part of it was exactly as it should be. He’d performed many minute tests over the course of building it, but now it was time for its official debut.

 

Simon took several deep breaths to try and calm his pounding heart, which hadn’t gotten the ‘we’re reassured’ memo the rest of him had, but it was useless. He had to remind himself it would work or it would fail, but no matter what all that mattered was Markus’ happiness in the end. That was the whole point of this, after all. It was about time he did something truly helpful for Markus, instead of just sitting at a negotiation table, occasionally saying something apropos to the topic of discussion, or getting shot for one reason or another.

 

Especially that last one.

 

He hoped his girls were watching over him, guiding his path to where it was he was so desperately trying to go. He wished they were here for this...

 

Simon had to consciously loosen his grip on the hem of his jacket, unaware he’d been squeezing the ever-living hell out of it while his anxiety had built back up, and his thoughts had taken a darker turn. He was about slap himself silly to shake off the nerves he’d been so proud of whisking away, if not the melancholy, but then he heard a commotion outside and jolted, nearly tripping over his feet to get to the nearest window and peer outside.

 

Markus had arrived.

 

Through the warped, thick glass of the lighthouse window he could see Markus standing behind Carl’s wheelchair, Josh nearby and looking as shocked as he did. Carl, however, had on a smile that would make the Cheshire cat jealous; truly he had worked one over on his younger son, if his expression had anything to say about it. Which was honestly quite the feat, considering Markus had known something was up already. Simon was awed, but that awe quickly turned to panic. He was inside, locked away with his creation, while everyone was out there, shouting and clapping and overall bringing it home that all this was supposed to be a surprise party for Markus.

 

Simon was missing the big reveal, and couldn’t do a damn thing about it. He simply watched while a large, incredulous curve of the lips took over Markus’ face, exposing his perfect teeth in the most beautiful way. Laughing—he’d started to laugh, but Simon couldn’t hear it, he could only imagine, and Markus reached down to give Carl a big, yet careful hug. A hug Leo joined in on a second later, and then Josh, seemingly because he was there and he could. North made herself apart of the touching display without any hesitation shortly thereafter, with all the subtlety of an atom bomb, and Simon could hear the applause and cheers that rung throughout the park and pierced the lighthouse walls.

 

Looking back at his contraption, Simon grit his teeth. He shouldn’t have been so damn paranoid about it not working, wasting so much time doing that, he was now missing this. And worse yet, he hadn’t gotten it outside beforehand like he’d planned, so it would completely spoil any sort of surprise if they had to watch him clambering down the steps with it, ruining the magic before he’d even had the opportunity to cast any engineering spells. Sulking sounded good right about now, especially when the activity outside had picked up and carried on without him, and he couldn’t help but let his face fall forward, clunking his forehead against the contorted glass with a heady sigh.

 

What he wasn’t expecting was the window jostling along with the movement, jarring him enough to pull back and blink. They were such old windows with a lot of depth to them, he hadn’t expected them to move; if anything he’d have thought the paint was too old and thick around the frame, that they’d have been glued in place over time. Simon made a walk around the parameter and gave the other two large, heavy windows a good jiggle, discovering that they too were loose and could be opened. Immediately his mood lifted, and his expression brightened.

 

This gave him an idea.

 

It took another 6 or 7 minutes of prep, and some figuring out of the logistics, but Simon had his machine made of wood, flowers, bamboo shoots, and vines all set to go and began pouring the water in through the spout at the top; once it got going, he set a big water bottle up to continuously trickle to keep it going without him. How it worked was that the water would pour down the bamboo shoots, held in place by the vines and spindly, long flower stalks, until it reached a concoction of bubble mixture and light, savory essence. The mix would then pool over into another path to travel down, making it to a series of windmill-like mechanisms, which spun with the power of the flowing water separate from the bubbly liquid (the run off, as it were, that came from some of the bamboo being split into multiple channels). Simon had designed it to function completely without actual mechanical bits or electric power, and he was absolutely thrilled it worked when the first spinning wheel swooped down, the viney loop attached to it dipping into the mixture, and produced the first in a string of bubbles.

 

More and more bubbles began to fill the lighthouse, at a rate he hadn’t anticipated, but Simon appreciated it all the same as it worked out in his favor. Quickly he circled the space, throwing open all of the windows but the one parallel to the door (it led directly out to the harbor where no one was), and then smiled with relief as the wind from outside picked up and carried the bubbles outside. He didn’t have to get his creation outside to share in its joys—it wasn’t all for nothing. Simon would have cried in solace if not for the fact that it’d grown quiet outside, and he came to the realization that the partygoers had started to notice what he’d done.

 

It was time to face the music.

 

Wiping his palms on his pants, as if he actually could get sweaty from nerves, Simon gave himself a quick look-over before approaching the door, using the moment he paused to collect himself and take a deep breath. Hank had told him it was going to be great, that what he’d put together was nice...Simon so desperately wanted to trust him, to not make a liar out of him, so he bit the bullet and pushed open the door.

 

What he hadn’t expected was for the sun to be at such an angle that, at the very moment he finally left the lighthouse, it’d be shining down directly on him—the stage had been set, and now he was in the spotlight. Made only more intense with the flurry of bubbles that followed in his wake out the door, sending rays of colored sunlight reflecting on every available surface, which was mostly Simon himself. He was bathed in splashes of rainbow, surrounded by his own intent to bring happiness to the one he loved most, each tiny sphere floating on the gentle breeze out into the park filled with amazed and ecstatic faces.

 

In the front row of his unintended performance was Markus, who had moved away from his father to join North and Connor in some kind of lively discussion, which had come to a halt with Simon’s appearance. Who was himself glued to the spot, Markus’ eyes wide and so utterly gorgeous that Simon could hardly breathe, let alone traverse down the few steps away from the door and onto the pavement. It was as if the world itself had stopped, time’s passage marked only by the bubbles dancing through the air between them.

 

What felt like a century of shared eye contact was only barely a minute, thankfully interrupted by North who took a few steps forward and drew their attention.

 

“So like I was telling you Markus, this was all planned and put together by that loser standing over there,” she said in a careless, casual way, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at him.

 

That shook Simon out of the trance he hadn’t realized he’d fallen into, his face heating up in embarrassment as he finally got his body to move forward and down the steps. He was rubbing the back of his head by the time he’d gotten close enough to be polite, unable to look any of them in the eye.

 

“I came up with the idea, sure, but Carl and Leo did most of the work,” Simon said in a tiny voice, a tremulous, anxious smile on his face.

 

Because of how he was positioned he couldn’t see Markus’ reaction to any of this, but he could hear a few of them shift around, probably exchange some sort of look that Simon couldn’t help but be scared to see for himself. While he didn’t believe for a moment that Markus was unhappy with this surprise, he’d seen how he’d completely lit up from the inside when he’d first arrived after all, that didn’t stop Simon’s mind from conjuring a number of possible scenarios. From Markus being disappointed that Simon had kept it all a secret, to him being mad that Simon hadn’t been there to greet him in the first place. It was asinine, he knew, but his mind was often unkind to him like that.

 

When a bubble floated into his point of view he tracked its slow, jittery movements until a hand gently came into the picture and waited patiently underneath it, providing the perfect landing pad for it to rest on. The hand then began to raise up and Simon, ensnared once again by the man the hand belonged to, followed the sight all the way to Markus’ face, which had the softest of expressions on it. For what felt like the millionth time, Simon’s breath was stolen from his lungs by the most handsome features he’d ever had the privilege to look upon.

 

Simon was further caught unawares when Markus’ smiled beatifically at him, the freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose and his cheeks shifting, like stars reflecting on the surface of a pool of gently swaying water. “There you are,” he said, his voice low and quiet as if he were sharing a secret. “I was wondering when I’d get to look into those pretty eyes of yours.”

 

Simon hardly noticed that Connor and North had disappeared, or that the life of the party was now thriving in a sea of scented bubbles and joyous laughter—all he could concentrate on were Markus and the fact that he’d just called his eyes pretty. Dear lord, Simon was going to die.

 

“I—what?” Completely at Markus’ mercy, Simon couldn’t think of a damn thing to say in response that wasn’t complete bafflement.

 

Taking a step closer, leaving only enough distance between them to fit his hand still holding the bubble motionless and content, Markus tilted his head a little to the left and squinted his eyes, his happiness written for all the world to see on his face.

 

“Did you really spend every night this past week building a bubble-making machine in the greenhouse? Planning the rest during the day?” he asked, sounding reverential in a way that made Simon’s flush deepen. “I can’t believe you—”

 

“All I wanted was for you to be happy!” Simon blurted out before he could stop himself. It wasn’t loud enough to draw anyone’s attention, not when everyone was busy living within the little dream world he’d created for the time being, but Simon pressed his lips together tightly, self-consciously all the same. He glanced away, ashamed, and said, “You have the entire android world sitting on your shoulders all the time, weighing you down and making it hard to find the strength to really let go and relax, be happy...I just wanted you to remember what it was we were fighting so hard for.”

 

Simon finally looked out into the park with a simple turn of his head, watching the dreamscape he’d envisioned come to life right before his very eyes.

 

A number of the human officers, as well as Leo’s friends, had children they’d brought along to the event, and they now were running around in pure elation, chasing after arrant bubbles that fluttered out of reach. Hank was bent over, holding his stomach in laughter as Jeffery tried to stop Sumo from leaping into the air and catching a few bubbles in his mouth, failing so spectacularly at his mission that Hank obviously found it hilarious. Connor was reaching up and tenderly combing the hair back from North’s face, unable to help himself it seemed, and then chuckled when North’s response was to collect a handful of bubbles and blow them into his face; Simon had never seen her so joyous, and his heart clenched with such an intense emotion it almost hurt. Josh’s captivated expression, and slow, careful gestures as he corralled a few bubbles in his cupped hands was the final straw. Simon had to look away before he was overwhelmed.

 

But that meant looking right back into Markus’ waiting gaze, and this time Simon was well and truly trapped.

 

Markus said nothing, merely kept staring at him, his eyes flittering across Simon’s face as if he were taking in every detail, cataloguing each megabyte of data he collected for safe keeping. It made Simon’s blush only burn more blue. And Markus seemed to notice because his smile turned soft, sympathetic, and he carefully raised his hand so that the bubble was right in front of Simon’s face, where he then proceeded to bop Simon’s nose with it and cause it to burst.

 

Simon jumped a little in surprise, blinking dumbly. He lifted his own hand to try and wipe the residue off of his nose that the bubble left behind, but half way up on its journey to his face Markus caught Simon’s hand, stilling him completely with that single touch.

 

He reached out with his free hand to do what Simon had intended, tracing the line of Simon’s nose with his forefinger in a gentle touch. He finished with a quick, light swipe of his thumb right on the end of his nose, lowering his hand to cup Simon’s chin instead and brush his thumb back and forth. Simon trembled, and he wasn’t even sure why.

 

“There,” Markus said, his entire face smiling, “now you’re perfect.”

 

It was as if everything inside of him expanded, pushed with all their might against their confines inside of him, and punctured the seams of his very being; it was so similar to days before, in the kitchen, he couldn’t stand it. Suddenly, without warning, Simon just couldn’t keep all that he felt, all that he’d been feeling hidden away any longer, and his entire expression morphed into desperation. Tears gathered in his eyes from the intensity of his emotions but he kept them at bay, though only just barely.

 

“I love you,” Simon said, shaking from head to foot. “Markus, I—I love you so damn much, I just—I can’t—”

 

Before he could utter another word Markus’ lips were on his, silencing his distress, his helpless want to explain how Markus meant more to him than words could even express properly. All Simon could do was respond in kind, imbuing the kiss with every ounce of want and need he’s felt for more than a year, tears falling down his flushed cheeks and giving the kiss a bittersweet, salty flavor. When Markus pulled away Simon’s mouth chased his, but Markus held him back, chosing to press their foreheads together instead and gaze right into his eyes. Simon was trapped, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

“I love you too, Simon,” Markus whispered, his hands holding either side of Simon’s face, brushing the tears away in the most tender way. “I feel like I always have, and I’ve just been too blind to see what’s been in front of me the entire time.”

 

Simon reached out and took hold of Markus’ shirt against his hips, twisting the fabric with his fingers as he held on for dear life. He felt like he was in a dream and if he let go he’d fall through the world and wake up on the other side, alone and devastated.

 

“Thank you for waiting for me to catch up,” Markus said, giving the corners of Simon’s eyes each a kiss, the touch so soft it was nearly worshipful.

 

Simon’s trembling whittled down to complete stillness, something deep and profound settling within him. He loosened his grip on Markus’ shirt and slowly dragged his hands upwards, feeling the contours of Markus’ body until he could slip his arms around his neck, planting his hands there and looking him dead in the eye, for the first time with no trepidation. He wondered if this is what it felt like to be at peace, the concept so new to him. Although, of course it would be Markus who led him down the path towards peace—he always had and he always would.

 

“You don’t have to thank me. I’d wait forever for you, it’s not even a question,” he said, his voice filled with so much conviction that it surprised even himself.

 

It also had the interesting effect of dusting Markus’ face with a blueish flush of his own, something within Simon lighting up in delight at the realization that he could make Markus blush. Feeling emboldened he leaned forward the bare inches between them to plant a kiss on Markus’ warmed cheek, giving life to a radiant smile on his face by the simple act. And in doing so they’d finally caught the attention of the others, earning a wolf whistle by none other than North, who had the biggest shit-eating grin when they glanced over in unison to see who had done it.

 

The entire ensemble of people broke into laughter, even the children who weren’t entirely sure what was so funny. Simon and Markus were left a little embarrassed but more so exasperated by their antics, and really Simon couldn’t mind when the outcome was Markus wrapping his arms around his back and bringing him in closer for a proper, warm embrace. Simon tightened his own grip around Markus’ neck and buried his face against his shoulder, finding that he felt almost lightheaded, despite oxygen not being a factor for androids.

 

Markus himself had begun to laugh, the low rumble of it resonating at a frequency that set every microscopic particle of Simon at ease. The wonderful sound of it invoked a smile so big and so foreign on Simon’s face that for a second he thought he was malfunctioning, the synthetic muscles in his face almost hurting from disuse in forming the expression. That’s when an epiphany sprung to the forefront of his mind.

 

Not only was he surrounded by people all enjoying in their own euphoria, Markus was happy too. If nothing else, he’d accomplished the one thing he’d set out to do, but somehow, by some miracle of the life they’d all fought so hard to be allowed to have, Markus even loved him back after all this time. His epiphany rang with the undertone of North’s quiet, caring voice.

 

He was happy.

 

Simon was truly, incredibly happy.

 

At this park by the sea, in this dream land of family and laughter, there was no angry way to say bubbles.

 

Not at all.