Markus smiles down at Carl, wheeling him beside the table before seating himself. Carl smiles at him, placidly watching him take a few bites before he turns on the TV. Markus’ glabella scrunches as he takes in the news, more coverage on the situation in the Arctic with Russia.
He sighs, sitting back in his chair with a petulant chomp of his bacon. “TV off.”
Carl tilts his head at him, blue eyes curious. “Markus?”
“I’m alright. Thank you for worrying, Carl.” Markus pauses and takes a sip of his coffee, “How about you find something to occupy yourself until I finish?”
He earns a nod and then Carl is wheeling himself across the room to the door beside the giraffe, moving into the studio and grabbing at a canvas before it can even slide shut. Markus smiles softly at the sight, even if the sight of Carl being unable to walk to his favorite activity makes him feel a pang of distant sadness.
“The damage was excessive, you might just have to get a replacement. I’ll give it to you free of charge, good friend, but even if we transfer his memory, he won’t be the same Carl that you know.”
“It’s fine,” Markus assured her.
“Then we’ll prepare--”
“No, I mean that that’s not necessary. We’ll be going now.”
Carl stared up with a certain twinkle in his eyes, and when they arrived home, all he managed was a, “Thank you,” to which Markus smiled, ever enigmatic, and told him that he was only sorry that he couldn’t be fixed.
Markus grabs for the remote on the table, turning the TV on and lowering the volume immediately. He changes the channel and rests his chin on his fist, melting into the table with a large, silly grin on his face.
“Lieutenant Connor Stern has just solved yet another case! Revealing a man who’d advertise himself as a loving father to be an abusive alcoholic, the victims of the abuse come forward to thank Stern personally.”
The scene cuts to a brunet little girl sat beside a woman with short blonde hair, both of whom brighten up upon a distracted-looking, mildly disheveled brunet male entering the room. He smiles at them gently, but his features contort in surprise and then sheepishness as the two females envelop him into hugs, smiling gratefully into his coat.
The newscasters voice-over the scene, cooing and gushing over the bashful grin the Lieutenant has. He notices the cameramen filming them and flushes beautifully, and Markus barely represses the urge to slam his fist into the table as an expression of his overwhelmingly swollen heart.
“Fanboying again?” Carl asks, suddenly right beside Markus, to which the dark man can’t completely quiet his shout of surprise, nearly toppling out of his chair.
Markus sputters before managing to shout indignantly, “N-No! I was just watching the news and he so happened to show up! That’s it!”
Carl smiles, amused. Markus blows him a petulant raspberry, crossing his arms while looking away. The TV draws his attention once more, as now it shows the Lieutenant, on his own, rubbing his neck and looking to the side.
“I just wanted to help them, the fame be damned. If I couldn’t find a steadfast legal method for saving them, I’d find a loophole or do it someway else,” he says, even as someone in the background attempts to reprimand him.
Markus unwittingly releases a dreamy sigh, upon which Carl belts out chuckles that stain Markus’ cheeks dark red.
“I didn’t take you to be someone who appreciates art,” he says, hinting at an inquiry.
Connor sputters, pink dusting his cheekbones. “I’m not—I mean, I just—it’s—I do! I like...! I like art...” he finishes lamely, deflating. Hank casts him an amused look, his LED cycling yellow as he likely documents that information.
“Quite a reaction to such a simple question. What aren’t you telling me, Lieutenant?”
“I didn’t climb my way up the chain just for my title to be used so mockingly,” Connor mumbles, but Hank doesn’t take the bait.
“You can’t change the subject so easily with me, kid. What has you so intrigued by this piece? Its uniqueness in comparison to the other images in this gallery is relatively low, so it should not garner such attention.” Hank continues his analysis of Connor, heedless of the redness crawling up to his ears, “You paused at a similar work on your terminal at the department, made by the same--“ A smile creeps up Hank’s face as he comes to a realization, his LED shifting to blue, to Connor’s dawning horror, “Do you, perhaps, have an interest in this particular artist?”
Connor’s face burns. “N-No, it’s just a coincidence, that’s all! Je— This artist’s art just happened to come up that day, and the name just... seemed... familiar.”
“Lieutenant, they don’t have the names displayed right now.”
Connor’s expression is that of defeat, his shoulders slumping and smile dead. “...Ah. So it seems.”
The HK800 refrains from laughing, his social programming dictating that he act as human as possible to maintain a friendly relationship with Connor, though Fowler’s disapproval from within the Zen Garden is inexplicably calling for him not to. His sly grin is still enough to garner a sigh.
“Damn android,” Connor mutters, burrowing into the collar of his coat with a petulant pout.
“This thing is not our dad, okay? Mark, look at it! You’re wheeling it around when it’s supposed to serve you! What good is it to you, huh? Did you replace your brain with your fancy paints? Or maybe plastic, like this fucker-- “
“That’s enough , Leo,” Markus breathes, trying to keep himself from lashing out. He steps in front of Carl, who stares up with forlorn azure orbs and an LED of faint yellow. “That’s enough.”
Leo seems to look for something, in his eyes, in the room, in the sad-eyed android in the wheelchair behind him, the one who’d been introduced as a servant and became akin to their—more Markus’ than Leo’s—father-figure.
Markus’ heterochromatic gaze yields nothing to him, and he flounders for a moment, stumbling over his words and over himself as he makes to storm off, “You--I-It can’t replace dad. Your little toy there, it can’t play house with you forever. It can’t love you the way dad did, and you’re just going to ignore your only family left for it because you think you care about it. But you never cared, Markus, not about it , not about him , and not about me .”
Markus feels a lump in his throat. Carl places a hand on his shoulder consolingly, and the two of them watch in subdued silence as Leo repeats himself quietly and leaves the studio.
“Wakey, wakey, Lieutenant.”
“Ah, shit, what the hell, Hank?” Connor whines, rubbing his cheek with bleary eyes, hissing as the stinging mark isn’t cooled by his palm.
Hank appears neutral, but Connor knows that behind the blank expression, he’s cackling at Connor’s expense. Or, rather, he has a feeling that that’s the case. He can’t see any other reason ‘the android sent by Cyberlife‘ would be such a pain in the ass.
“I need you for a case, so I had to wake you.” Hank’s eyes shift to the bottle of pills Connor tries to conceal behind his back, “In regards to your sleep, Lieutenant, why’d you consume a few too many doses of melatonin and then proceed to sleep on the kitchen floor?”
Connor laughs weakly, “I have trouble sleeping.”
Hank sends him a pointed look, glancing at the bottle for barely a moment and then, for just a fraction of a second, flicks his eyes over to the picture frame face-down on Connor’s counter, beside the cabinet where he keeps his medicine. “These are rather strong pills, Connor.”
“And my body has a strong resistance to medication of any sort.”
The two stare at one another, waiting for the other’s will to break, and it seems Connor is more stubborn than Hank had anticipated. Noted.
“I’m still tired, so how about you take care of this case yourself? You’re more than capable, as you’ve proven, so please just replace me early.”
Hank wordlessly stands up, which has Connor laying back on the kitchen tiles, curling up with his hand cushioning his head.
Not a moment later, Connor’s shooting up with a shriek as Hank dumps a pitcher of ice-water over him, enraged beyond measure.
“WHAT THE FUCK-- “
Hank doesn’t hold back his smile as he tells Connor that he’d better freshen up. Connor tries to punish him by having him pick out his clothes, but he ends up regretting it as Hank picks up a gag shirt someone’d gotten him at the department Christmas party, one with the design of a pug, holding a shield and a sword, majestically riding a horse. The words once printed overtop have long since worn off.
Bidding goodbye to his favorite cacti and a picture of his childhood dog, he follows Hank out to an autocab, unwilling to drive or let Hank into his car.
“I’m amazed that you managed to lead a revolution in this state,” Connor says, genuine awe written in the shines of his eyes.
Carl laughs, “It was a matter of planning. I was a strategist, but it was my--“ he almost seems to choke up at the next word, which still has Connor reeling, because how could anyone have ever thought these beings aren’t alive? “--my son who really did the hard stuff, like supply raids and marches. I ran speeches and the like, but it was all thanks to him and his support.”
“Your son? Is he--“
“He’s a human; his name is Markus Manfred. He was my owner, but he always felt more like family, and maybe we can now make that official.” His entire face softens when he says it.
The brunet smiles, and Carl can certainly see why his son is so taken with him. Little dimples frame his grin, and his earthy eyes have this gleam of knowledge that contradicts the naivete he seems to radiate with his boyish features, and his curls seem to bounce with life as he says, “I’m happy for you.” It’s so clear that he really, truly means it.
Hank seems to take an interest in the ‘making it official’ part, because he gazes upon Connor with a thoughtful look on his face, as though considering it. Carl sends him a secret smirk, and Hank gains a faux-sourness, to his amusement.
“I’ll introduce you two if you’d like. I think he’d be pleased to meet you.” Carl’s eyes have this slyness he’s no good at concealing, but Connor pays it no mind.
“I’d love that.”
“Hello, are you Carl’s—oh my god.”
“Are you Markus?” Connor asks, beaming. When Markus nods jerkily, unable to get past his attempts at ‘Yes’, Connor continues, “Carl’s sung your praises; I’ve been so excited to meet you! My name is--”
“Lieutenant Connor Anderson,” Markus breathes, reverence in his tone.
Connor scratches his cheek, “Did he mention me?”
Markus nods again, head practically swinging up and down like on a loose hinge.
“May...” Connor hesitates, probably because now that he’s actually looking at him in the light instead of glancing to the side to look for Carl, he realizes Markus is the definition of tall, dark, and handsome, and while Hank would teasingly list off the diseases increased heart rate would be symptoms of— that asshole— Connor is sure that the pounding in his chest is very much an effect of the man in front of him, “May I come in?”
Connor makes a weird gesture with his hand that’s supposed to indicate that he’s requesting entry, and he’s never wanted to remove a limb before but wow, it’s tempting if it means he never does something so embarrassing again. He always flounders around attractive people, goddammit.
“Yes, yes, of course! Please make yourself at home!” Markus moves aside, mimicking the hand motion, and now the feeling of humiliation is mutual.
Being inside makes all the difference in this interaction as Connor spots all the works of art decorating the walls and feels some of his anxiety melt away, intrigue and nerdiness taking control.
“Are these yours or Carl’s?” he asks, trying to keep his enamourment at bay.
Markus is very clearly proud when he declares, “Carl’s.” He points a few out to Connor, smiling, his own nerves being pushed aside at the chance to show off his father-figure’s works, for once not having to put it under an alias, or, worse yet, claim it under his own name. Er, well, his own alias. Whatever.
Connor’s cheekbones swell like cherries with his large grin. “Are there any more that I could see? I’ve recently gotten really into methods of expression and painting has got me enraptured, but there’s only so much one can get from Google Images and magazines, and I haven’t found anyone to go to a gallery with me.”
The darker man bites his inner cheek, “Yeah, there are plenty more, follow me,” he instructs as he leads Connor through the living room. The brunet looks around the room, but his attention draws back to Markus as the taller clears his throat, “And, uh, if you’d like to go to a gallery,” he clenches his eyes and fists and forces himself to say it, his back still to Connor, “I’d be glad to accompany you.”
Connor stops walking, and with the halt of the taps of his footsteps, Markus’ heartbeat follows.
Markus swallows and nods.
“That’d be wonderful! I’ll have to contact you as soon as I can find myself a day off, then, thank you!”
Connor doesn’t notice how Markus’ voice wavers, mostly because he’s too busy screaming internally at the fact that he might’ve-maybe-sorta gotten asked out on a date by a man that looks and sounds like he’s walked out of a wet dream.
The studio door slides open with a muted hiss, thankfully keeping them from needing to say anything to fill the brief, fleeting silence. Carl is puzzling over a canvas in front of him, paint forming a figure out of shades of blue. He glances over, then beckons the two with a wave of his arm, palette set aside and brush strewn over it on a table near his wheelchair. His LED is nowhere to be seen, but Connor is sure it’d be a roiling yellow.
“Tell me what you two think of it.”
Markus leans back on his heels and grips his chin, humming. “I like it, personally. There’s something about it... I can’t describe it, but it’s stirring something inside of me.”
“And you, Connor?” Carl stares into his eyes, even as Connor tilts his head and scrutinizes the painting, “What’s your verdict?”
The brunet rocks on the balls of his feet, biting his lip, his hands cupped behind his back as he leans forward a little to get a better look. “I’d say that it’s visually appealing, as well as stimulating. Despite a lack of colors beyond different blues, there’s still a good contrast in the lights and darks, and it makes for a piece that’s quite evocative. Overall, I’d follow Markus and say that I rather like it.”
Carl chuckles softly, “What an analysis. One’d think you’re the android of the three of us.”
Connor blushes, a smattering of pink across his cheeks and inching up his ears and down his neck. He sputters, but calms as Carl chuckles good-naturedly, Markus joining him.
“It’s flattering that you’d give so much thought to my work, thank you.” Carl cups Connor’s elbow with a grin. He peeks over at Markus, then turns towards one of Markus’ works nearby, wheeling himself over while dragging Connor along, the brunet stumbling but keeping from falling entirely. “I have something here I think you ought to take a look at, while you’re here.”
Markus seems to realize where Carl’s heading, trying to stop them, “Carl, wait--” but ultimately fails. The two of them are already peering at a canvas.
“Holy hell,” Connor breathes, “This is amazing. I-I can’t... There are no words, I can’t even fathom--it’s beautiful,” he finally manages. He’s utterly entranced, captivated, eyes looking over the black canvas with red and blue, a dark hand and a light hand moving from opposite corners of the canvas to cup a circle of yellow light, which seems to be like an android’s LED. Shackles sit around the wrists of both hands, chained to the circle, and splotches of blue and red decorate the area around the subjects, similar to blood splatter but somehow less grotesque or gory.
Markus flushes at the attention Connor gives his piece, the reverence in his eyes and on his face. His lips are parted, his eyes dilated, breath barely coming past his lips.
Connor stares for a long moment, eyes roving over every inch, memorizing every brushstroke. Markus’ heart thumps, climbing into his throat; he swallows thickly to return it to his chest, but it thrums under his skin. Markus is so enthralled with Connor’s appreciation of his art, heat crawling under his skin.
He looks to Carl, “Did you make this, too?” Connor doesn’t seem to think so, even if he asks, and he nods when Carl shakes his head. “I had a feeling. This actually reminds me of an artist I’ve come to love,” the sentence was supposed to end there, but Connor quickly adds on, “the works of! I love their work .”
The android has a secretive smirk, like he knows something neither of them do. “Oh, do we know their name?”
Connor’s face is a little pink, but he suppresses the excitement in his voice as best he can, “Jericho.”
Markus can’t breathe. He physically can’t, there’s too much going on in his chest, a war between pride, joy, infatuation, terror, and shock. It turns out the battle ends with all of them fallen, Markus unable to allow his brain to process this information. Carl takes one look at him and bursts into laughter, doubling over in his wheelchair with his arms hugging his waist.
“I-It’s not that funny, Carl! Besides, their work is just so... so....” Connor trails off, a dreamy expression coming onto his face.
Carl coughs, likely some thirium-based fluid making its way into a moisture-sensitive component in his throat, waving his hand at Connor. “No, no, it’s plenty amusing, but not for the reasons you’d think! Right, Markus?”
Another bout of uproarious laughter sounds as Markus blankly mutters, “So funny.”
Connor looks between them, head whipping back and forth like he’s watching a tennis match. “What is? What am I missing here?”
Fuck it , Markus thinks, mildly tempted to start sobbing hysterically. “The fact that I’m Jericho.”
Ah, it seems he and Connor are on the same page again, both so emotionally overwhelmed that they just shut everything down.
“I put my works under my alias, Jericho.”
“Oh,” Connor says, as though he understands but doesn’t, “You’re Jericho. You, Markus Manfred, are Jericho. Okay. Okay, I see... Give me a moment.”
Connor turns away, a fist coming to his mouth, thumb against his (probably soft, if maybe a bit chapped) pink lips. There’s a beat of silence, ignoring the unending chuckle-fest Carl’s having, and then suddenly Markus is hearing an ear-piercing, high-pitched scream echo through the room.
The scream dies down for a moment, during which Markus nurses his aching ears, and then there’s fast panting, and, wow, it seems Connor is hyperventilating. Neat. That’s just great.
Connor rounds on him once he’s caught a semblance of breath, pointing. “You’re Jericho!” he finally shouts, as though the realization has finally made its rounds through his head and stuck. “I! I love your work so much. I’ve never seen such evocative pieces before I stumbled across some of your street art and then googled your other works, and I-I never thought I would meet you, and you’re—I just, you’re so--!” Connor squeezes his eyes shut. “I’m so sorry that I’m acting like this but the excitement is taking hold of me and I can’t stop myself from talking please tell me to shut up for the love of god--”
“Connor, please shut up.”
“Thank you,” the brunet sighs, running his hands through his hair as he hangs his head.
Carl seems to finally have gotten control of himself—thank god. He wheels himself beside Markus to pat his back. “Isn’t that great, Markus? You have a fan,” he teases, to Markus’ ire.
“ Dad ,” he whines back, “Don’t embarrass us anymore, please, I’m begging you.”
“Fine, fine, take an old man’s fun.”
“You aren’t even twenty years old, if we’re being technical.” Markus finally returns his attention to the Lieutenant with a face stained so deep a red that even their most saturated acrylics could never compare. “I’m sorry about him. And I’m very flattered that you think so highly of my stuff.”
Carl nudges him not-at-all discreetly. He huffs and rolls his eyes, his own face warming as he admits, “I have to confess that I’ve also been a fan of yours, even before Carl had come into contact with you and Hank. It took everything I had not to yell as soon as I saw you at the door, but, well, I can’t say I really kept my cool then, either.”
Connor laughs shakily, “Yeah, well, you certainly did better than I did at controlling your excitement. I apologize for screaming in your face.” Carl makes a comment that is just quiet enough for his son to hear. Markus pointedly ignores it, though he sends the android a dirty look, earning raised eyebrows and a sneaky grin.
It takes a bit of courage, probably aided by the emotional rollercoaster he’s been experiencing since the hot Lieutenant arrived on the property, but Markus decides to take a chance, hoping that his smile is charming more than it is nervous. "Well, I think I could forgive you if..." Markus watches Connor brace himself for some type of demand for compensation. The brunet looks ashamed, but he seems like he’s determined to do whatever Markus asks of him. The drumming in Markus’ chest is near-deafening as he blurts, "...if you'd let me take you out on a date?"
The Lieutenant before him blinks, once, twice, multiple times. "Pardon?" He appears to be in disbelief, and Markus can't quite blame him; he's surprised that he'd even been able to say it at all. And, well, he's about to repeat it, isn't he?
"If you'd be willing, I'd love to take you out on a date," he spits out quickly, hopefully fast enough that the potential regret can't wash over him yet.
Connor mouths the words back to himself, staring off transfixed at nothing, the area between his brows crinkled, taking a moment to understand. It seems to click, suddenly, his head whipping up, curls bouncing and strands fluttering as he stares at Markus, mouth agape.
"I'm! I'm more than willing, yes!"
There's heat boiling under the skin of their faces as they nervously, shyly begin to smile at one another.
Of course, Carl has to ruin the moment.
"It's about time. This boy's been watching you on TV religiously for the past 2 years, 7 months, 3 weeks, and 4 days. If he didn't ask you now, I would've done so for him! "
"Oh my god, Dad , why ," Markus groans, burying his face into his palms. Connor can't help but giggle, though he empathizes to an extent, as he's sure that if this situation were reversed, Hank would definitely do the same thing to him.
It takes a bit for them all to "air out the room" of the awkwardness, but things settle soon. Carl doesn't stop himself from teasing them every now and again, and occasionally, the two of them will make eye contact and share bashful grins.
This could have gone worse, that's for sure.
"Oh, lighten up, Con, it'll only take a few minutes. Now go and get yourself all pretty, princess."
Hank shoves Connor into his bedroom and pulls the door shut, holding the knob until he hears Connor step away from the door with a sigh and slide open his closet, likely already getting frustrated with it, as told by the groan of distress followed by the sound of him rifling through the organized chaos.
Hank made sure to put some of his favorite garments somewhere harder to find, so Connor, the stubborn fool, would take longer than the brunet would have expected. It should give Hank enough time to finally put his research to good use.
The telltale sound of a motorized vehicle approaching their property has Hank on alert, using what information is discernible from the audio input alone to determine that it's a motorcycle parked by the sidewalk, its kickstand landing on the sidewalk with its rider getting off of it smoothly. The clacks of expensive shoes against the pavement have Hank calculating the weight of the visitor along with their shoe size, and it's easy to deduce, even without the match with his profile, that the man is Markus.
Hank opens the door just before Markus can knock, pleased to see that he timed it perfectly, Markus' fist hovering in the air. The darker man's heart stops beating, stress levels spiking abruptly, his hand dropping behind his head to rub at his neck awkwardly, a failed attempt at being smooth. Hank represses his smirk.
"So, first date with Connor, huh?" he asks, voice pitched slightly lower than usual.
Markus nods, just a hair too quickly. "Yeah."
Sighing anxiously, he repeats, "Yeah. Very. But I think it'll all go well, and we'll have a fun time."
"Come inside," Hank urges, "Connor isn't ready yet." As soon as Markus is in, Hank leads him to the kitchen table, instructing him to sit.
"Nice home," Markus comments, nearly relaxing against the seat, his legs a little wide and shoulders slumped so he can lean his elbows on his knees.
Hank doesn't respond, instead staring down at Markus with a blank but firm face, jaw set. Much like he'd interrogated Carlos, the android who assaulted his owner (who seems to be on the verge of waking from his coma, thank rA9), he slams his hand flat against the table, the rattle just loud enough to startle Markus into proper posture but still not enough to alert Connor in his room. Hank slowly sits across from Markus, and only when Markus' eyes are firmly and fearfully on him does he bring out the gun hidden at his waistband. He drops it onto the table, but hovers his hand over it, the threat resting in the air.
"If you hurt him," Hank growls, at the edge of his voice modulator's default range, "you will do more than regret it. I will utilize every ability Cyberlife has gifted me with to hunt you down and tear you piece from piece, and I'll make it beyond painful, testing my knowledge of anatomy to keep you alive through all of it. Carl may be a companion to me, and you may have assisted my deviancy, but if Connor sheds even a single unhappy tear, you will never see the light of day once I get my hands on you. Do you understand, Markus Manfred?"
Markus gulps loudly, his adam's apple bobbing. His stress levels are only about 10% higher than before, however, a far cry from what Hank had expected. It lowers as Markus takes a few breaths and then looks him in the eye, meeting him with a face of honesty and determination as he replies, "Of course. I will do everything in my power to make Connor happy. It's too soon to say what will happen with our relationship--it's the first date, you know?--but I swear that I will do my best." Hank doesn't let his surprise show, but Markus continues, "And if I do somehow fuck this all up badly, I'll deliver myself to you without any arguments or attempts at escape, promise."
The gun is picked up. Markus doesn't waver, doesn't even glance down, so Hank lets his smile spread across his lips, tucking it away again. "Then have fun. Have him back by 1; he has work tomorrow, and I'd rather not have to resuscitate him after he drowns himself in coffee and energy drinks again."
Markus lets out a wince mixed with a laugh, nodding. "Will do."
He and the android stand for half a moment in silence, before Hank turns to the hallway nearby and calls out, "Connor, you can come over here now."
The brunet walks towards them slowly, his hair half-tamed--mostly combed back, but many strands curl up to form little cowlicks closer to the back of his head, his usual few locks escaping and spilling over his forehead, even despite his attempts to wrangle them back with his fingers.
"Hi," he greets, smiling shyly, trying to keep himself from looking Markus over for too long. It seems he has difficulty, but Hank'll let it slide without teasing.
Markus is beyond breathless when he sees him, smile weak only due to how awestruck he is. Connor doesn't look much too special to Hank--he'd only combed his hair and put a baby-blue half-sleeved sweater on over a white button up with tan pants, and maybe the bow-tie was a nice touch to pull his appearance together entirely--but the way Markus looks upon Connor has Hank sure that his son will be in good hands.
"...Hey," the darker man says after a long pause, during which Connor had shifted nervously and fiddled with the hem of his shirt, "I'm sorry, you look... so... even the word 'gorgeous' can't explain it completely, wow. God, I don't know how I got so lucky." The last part is an aside, hissed under his breath, but upon hearing it, Connor flushes to the roots of his hair, a squeak barely lodging itself in his throat before it can escape, though there's a tiny hint of it in his sudden inhale.
"Y-... You look better," Connor twiddles his hair between his fingers, averting his eyes to keep from ogling his date too openly. Markus fights back a grin, biting the inside of his cheek, especially as Connor nibbles at his bottom lip. Hank coughs, and Markus offers Connor a hand. Connor takes it, palm just a tad colder and smaller, thinner, than Markus'.
They bid Hank farewell and make for the gallery they're to visit.
They see a lot of people they know, such as Rose and Adam, who finally have no more reason to pretend that they're Kara and Alice's housekeeping androids. Markus makes a comment to Connor about their old owner and abuser, Zlatko, and Connor takes a quick note on his phone. There's also Ralph, who Connor carefully approaches, asking if his burns are healing alright. He explains to Markus, later, that Ralph had attempted to help an android that had been set on fire and ended up with burns all over his body.
The brunet has them stop by at a small restaurant on the way, only because Markus' stomach growls insistently; Markus initially attempts to deny his hunger, but his yowling innards eventually win out. Connor can't stop smiling.
The restaurant has one man outside of it, sitting at a table with many a bird around him and on him, seeds and grain alike scattered across the floor around him and cradled in his palm. He nods briefly to Connor. Inside, a redheaded man eagerly seats them as soon as he sees Connor, the many around him very similar in appearance, majority android with only him as the exception.
"That was Rupert, out there, and the happy guy and all his android buddies are Jerry."
"I take it Rupert likes birds?"
Connor chuckles softly, "Yeah, it gets in the way of cases a lot, when he disappears to take care of one with an injured wing or to routinely throw birdseed. He's undercover, since he's usually quite innocuous."
"Shouldn't that be confidential?" Markus asks teasingly, leaning his head on his fist, his elbow resting on the table.
"I won't tell if you won't." Connor winks and sends him a secretive, mischievous grin.
Markus mimes zipping his mouth shut and tossing the key away, to Connor's amusement.
The gallery itself is quite uneventful, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Markus employs all of the cues for dates and flirting he'd seen in the awful soap operas Carl would put on to punish him, and Connor ends up laughing at his attempt and fumbling in his own adorably awkward way.
Connor is home soon, and lo and behold, sitting at his couch with his eyes unwaveringly staring at the doorway where Connor stands. His LED is cycling between crimson and amber, which Connor has grown to figure is usually bad. The grey-haired android blinks into awareness upon Connor waving his hand before his face, LED returning to the blue that matches his eyes.
"Welcome home. Fun date?"
Connor ignores him to instead inquire, "Are you alright? Your thingy was red and yellow." He points to his own temple to indicate what he's talking about.
"Nah, nothing." Hank withers as Connor pins him with a glare, "Okay, fine, I was thinking."
"About? ...If you're comfortable telling me, that is. Don't feel forced to."
Hank leans back with a gruff sigh, staring into the ceiling and letting the information form into dialogue on his tongue. "I was worried about ya, and I was wondering why. And I think it's just because of, well..."
Connor waits for him to gather his thoughts.
"There was a deviant that I had to handle, way before I was your partner, and it--he, sorry, was not something I was prepared for. He was a YK500, Cole. Held a man at gunpoint and I just had to complete my mission, I couldn't let him shoot the guy, but he looked like a kid, he was a kid, he talked all adult, cursed like one, but, fuck, I'd seen him around the area before and he was anything but grown up. And I--I killed him, Connor, I killed him, and he said it was my fault; I couldn't argue, it was, it was my fault."
The brunet doesn't let him continue and instead pulls his hand back to swing it towards him, slapping him across the face.
"Stop that," he whispers, "Don't say things like that. Please. I don't want you to go to the mental space I used to. Just... Stop."
Hank nods, pursing his lips, the world just a bit blurrier than usual. Connor moves closer and wraps his arms around him. Hank shakes, feeling the cold from the blizzard still raging in his mind palace, even after all this time. A blanket is draped over him, fuzzy, warmth growing and spreading thanks to Connor's body heat.
He hadn't realized that he'd been shivering until he stops.
"Thank, Con," he murmurs, voice soft.
"Always welcome," Connor pauses, "...Dad."
His throat closes, but there's no notification from his system about something blocking it, though there suspiciously is fluid pooling in his optical units and the temperature in his chest rises a fraction of a degree.
Carl informs him of a voicemail as soon as he gets home. The fact that he doesn't even ask how his date went has Markus on edge, shucking off his jacket haphazardly and hurrying over to the mirror beside the coathanger, playing the voicemail with an expression that is both firm and tender, like he's ready for his heart to be torn out of his chest.
Markus at first doesn't register the words, lost in the tones of his brother's voice and being washed by both relief and something anxious.
Leo had a right to be angry with Markus, after choosing to turn a blind eye until Leo's addiction became a proper problem and pushing his brother out of his life, after secluding himself to stay alone with his android father in a mansion while Leo lived with difficulty on his own, after shoving him into a machine nearby that earned him a trip to the hospital with a concussion and a possibility of never waking up.
He asks Carl to replay it from the beginning, just so he can finally allow himself to hear what was said, even if it could be one of the most painful things he'll hear.
"Hey, Mark. I'm, uh, I'm out of the hospital. I-I didn't want them to call you, because, I... I have a lot to tell you, like this. Not in person, yet, just. On the phone, here."
There's a breath, a rush of air just a bit more focused than a sigh, like Leo's psyching himself up.
"I'm quitting all that shit I was on before. I'm never getting involved again, I promise. It'll be.... really fucking hard, even the doctors said so. Recommended I join some type of addiction group or something. So, I think I'll try that out.... I don't want to give you a reason to keep me away, anymore. I'll be a better brother, the next time you see me, and a better man."
Markus nods, as though Leo can get input from him.
"Hopefully you will be, too. Tell, uh, Carl.... Tell him I said that I'm sorry for being a dick to him. I didn't think he could feel, but clearly he and all those others do, and I think. I think he really loves you."
To himself, Markus murmurs, "I think he'd love you, too, if you'd let him."
Leo takes a few more long breaths, "I'll see you soon, and I'll be clean, I promise. Let's talk sometime. ....Love ya, bro."
Carl wraps an arm around his back, unable to reach his shoulders like he used to. Markus is sure he's imagining the warmth from the arm, but it doesn't matter, the action is still comforting enough as is.
It's quite out of the blue, as she'd just finished her breakfast, her posture slumped as she leans against the table sparsely decorated with crumbs, chin in her palm and looking over the body of water beyond the glass. It's thawing, and light reflects off of small patches of unfrozen water into the room, sparkling on the butter knife propped at an angle against her plate.
"Would you like to leave?"
For once, he has a choice. Of course, the answer is beyond clear to him.
"No, Chloe. I'd like to stay with you, if you'd allow me to."
Chloe tucks the corner of her lips into her cheek, the apples of her cheeks blossoming, pink and perfect as ever. Her blue eyes twinkle, not thanks to any affection, but cold calculation and consideration. After a moment, she nods, turning back away.
Elijah smiles, finding it strange how his lower eyelids come further into his vision. His eyes will never be as clear or dazzling as hers, he thinks, as her orbs are like the blue of his own LED.
Beside him, there's a cough. Unnecessary, but Chloe made both of them dramatic in different ways, didn't she? "I wanna go."
She tilts her head, adjusting herself to face them entirely. "Do you need anything to take with you?"
Gavin nods and lists them off, and Elijah watches her stand up before the two of them walk off, deep in discussion, not glancing back. He adjusts his stance, leaning more weight into one leg over the other, LED cycling yellow once, then sits at the edge of the pool, dipping his feet in to his ankles, reaching over for the butter knife and pressing the rounded but flat tip against the outer edge of the item at his temple.
His reflection falters and morphs further as the small, circular object falls into it, color beginning to darken and fade.
"There's a metaphor here," he whispers, a half-smirk pulling at his lips.
Then, placing the knife to the side, he pushes off the edge and plunges into the red pool, the water (colored as per his request; it had previously been a nearly equally-unnatural aqua/cerulean blend) surrounding him and embracing him.
Before the Lieutenant had convinced Hank not to shoot him, he'd never truly felt its warmth.
"I have someone I'd like you to meet," Connor had told them over the phone.
So, here they sit at 9:24 AM on Saturday, both dressed with polar opposite capabilities in fashion.
Hank post-deviancy is one of no sense for colors or shapes or how to flatter himself. His hair sits free instead of pulled into the small ponytail it'd been in before, and his beard is slightly messier than before. He wears a yellow shirt with blue and red stripes and tan pants that are baggy and appear almost dirty. He's a stark contrast to Markus, who wears a grey shirt with a fold for a collar that leads into a zipper with a pair of well-fitting dark jeans with a longer jacket overtop his attire.
"Who do you think Connor's introducing us to?" Markus asks after a long bout of silence, glancing around the cafe anticipatorily.
Hank shrugs, "I have my suspicions, but I won't calculate probabilities right now; it might actually be a breach of privacy to view Connor's close ones' files and schedules, nowadays."
The response to that is cut off by the ring of the bell at the door, through which two brunets enter the building, chatting quietly. Their own conversation trails off as they approach, Connor twiddling his fingers restlessly.
"Hey, Markus, Hank," he greets, "This is my brother, Conan." He nudges his brother, urging him to speak.
Conan blinks at them blankly and then goes back to staring idly at Connor, "Hello."
"Hi," Hank returns dryly.
"Nice to meet you," Markus says instead, holding out a hand. There's a beat of silence, during which Conan stares at the darker man's hand, and then gives him a quick, dismissive handshake before pushing Connor to sit. He prevents Connor from sitting beside Markus, however, watching the two of them with his piercing silver eyes.
It's incredibly quiet for a bit, though a server comes by and takes their orders during it. Eventually, Conan sighs in annoyance and readjusts his posture, crossing his arms. "I don't quite understand his interest in you two."
The android and millionaire both peer at him in confusion, Hank even adding an audible, "Hah?" to urge elaboration.
"Conan! Don't be rude!" Connor hisses.
Conan waves his palm. "Quiet. You, android," he points at Hank, "Your appearance is somehow quite haggard despite there being clues that this occasion is special to my brother. It's incredibly easy for you to adjust your appearance accordingly, yet you maintain the appearance of an old alcoholic."
Hank releases an affronted scoff, holding up his middle finger (he can add Conan to the list of people he's developed disdain for within ten minutes of knowing them. He's placed just under Richard Perkins), though Conan has already turned his attention to Markus.
"And you, Manfred. What do you want out of my older brother? Are you going to shower him in gifts and money in return for sexual favors? You seem like the type."
Markus sputters in surprise, cheeks burning. "A-Are you accusing me of being a sugar daddy?"
"Are my accusations correct?" Conan tilts his head with an unimpressed arch of his brow.
"No!" both Connor and Markus cry at once, their faces tinged in shameful hues.
Connor sighs in mortification and aggravation, "I knew I shouldn't have let you come visit! Every time you're around, you do something to embarrass me!"
Conan leans his chin into his palm, smiling for the first time since he'd arrived in the room. "Who said that this was a visit?" Connor pales at that, then horror creeps down his face at the next sentence. "Say hello to your new neighbor, dear brother."
Hank ushers them out of the car and drives off quickly, heavy metal blaring and audible even with the windows rolled up.
As soon as they've passed under the threshold of Connor's front door, the brunet is collapsing onto Markus with a dramatic wail, Markus blinking rapidly in surprise and grabbing at his shoulders to support him. "You alright?"
"No!" Connor whines into his shirt.
Markus sighs, "Do you wanna talk about it?"
No words are said, but the way Connor shuffles them over to the couch is indicative of his will, so Markus smiles exasperatedly and settles his boyfriend of a few months against the cushions, randoms strands of brown hair now set askew as he sinks into them. "I'm just not thrilled about Conan being here," he mumbles, pulling his knees up and tucking into himself.
"Amanda," Connor sighs.
"She quite prefers him to me, which is why I inadvertently got him transferred to another district upon his promotion. It's selfish, but..."
Markus quiets him, pulling his head to his chest and holding him close and warm, carding his fingers through his hair soothingly; a few strands calm under his touch, but others just bounce and curl against his digits. "No, I get it, baby, it's alright."
"I had to live under his superior abilities for much of our lives together at home, and he'd never truly held it against me, but I couldn't help but just feel so much... lesser." The final word is soft, shaky. Markus squeezes him tighter.
"You're amazing, whether Conan is here or not, and whether the Captain sees that or not." Connor hides his half-smile against the crook of Markus' neck, drinking in the warmth the darker man exudes. "I love you."
It's not exactly the first time, drunken nights leaving no filter between thoughts and speech, but neither of them can really stop their hearts from skipping or speeding through beats.
"I love you, too."
Especially when the response flows so fluidly out into the air, no sense of hesitance in it.
Maybe, Connor thinks, with Markus here, everything might be alright.