Chapter 1: The Ark
The digital afterlife idea is heavily inspired by San Junipero, but I wouldn't call this a San Junipero AU at all! You don't need to have watched that to understand what's happening here :) This is very much so a canon-compliant story about a failed revolution and what may take place afterwards.
Hank isn’t dead.
Clarification: he isn’t dead yet. But it’s coming.
It’s funny, sort of (which is to say it isn’t funny at all). He’s been trying to drink himself to death since his son’s death, loading his gun with one bullet and playing that fucking game while he drinks, trying to see which will end him first. The funny part is that neither ever did, that the liver cancer will do him in first.
So…he’s not dead. But he is dying.
Maybe it wouldn’t have happened this way if he didn’t drink so much. Maybe it would have. Hank doesn’t care anymore. Imminent death will do that, make the what if questions seem so much less important, even if Hank has asked himself several of those over the years.
What if they hadn’t gone out to the grocery store the night Cole died? What if they had kept to the main roads? What if the surgeon hadn’t been high? What if he hadn’t spent so much of his career fighting the red ice epidemic just to have that same epidemic take everything from him?
For three years, he thought about those questions, obsessed about them, drank and pulled the trigger to them. He’s died a little every day asking those questions.
For a long time, he thought they would be the only questions that ever mattered.
Until Connor. Until the revolution. Until he watched Connor leave CyberLife tower with a veritable army to storm the recycling camps, pride blooming in his chest, just to watch his partner put a gun under his jaw and pull the trigger on the live broadcast later that night. With no leader left to guide them, Markus and North and Connor all dead, the revolution quickly failed. Most of the androids were rounded up, destroyed…CyberLife hardly makes new models anymore, although the company went on to make enough technological advances in other fields that they’ve managed to cling to prominence. Two years later with some solid PR, and the failed android revolution is just one more thing for people to forget.
Hank hasn’t forgotten. He sits with a bottle of Black Lamb and his gun heavy in his hand, and he asks himself if things would have been any different if he had stayed with Connor that night. He wonders if he could have stopped him, if he could have pulled the gun from under Connor’s jaw…if things would have been different if Connor just hadn’t been alone up there.
He wonders, and he drinks, and he asks himself if anybody else ever saw the truth of what the androids were, if there’s anybody else out there who’s just as haunted as him. He drinks and he pulls the trigger and he’s dying, just not in the way he thought.
Hank refuses treatment for the cancer. There just isn’t any point to it. There’s a cure these days, but only for less advanced stages of the disease, and it’s pricey – even if it would have worked, even if Hank had been interested, he isn’t sure he could have afforded it anyway.
But mostly, honestly, Hank just doesn’t feel like there’s much point in dragging it out or refusing to accept the inevitable. He doesn’t want to live forever, even if CyberLife has pivoted their focus to achieving some version of immortality for humans since the revolution – more PR, because people may be pissed about the android uprising, but they still want to live forever.
That’s where the Ark came from.
It’s a digital afterlife, some kind of perfect cloud where people can pay to have their consciousness uploaded after they die so…so they can just go on living forever, Hank supposes, although he doesn’t see why anyone would want that. He thinks of Cole, who was taken before there was any option to escape death. He thinks of Connor standing before him in Riverside Park, saying, “I doubt there’s a heaven for androids.”
No, Hank doesn’t want to live forever. Hank doesn’t want heaven, or whatever the fuck an afterlife like that is. He just wants the same nothingness that wrapped itself around Cole and Connor. He doesn’t think he’ll be with them when he dies, but if they’re gone, he wants to be gone, too.
The cancer progresses to the point where Hank can’t work anymore. He does desk work for a while, and then, finally, he gives his notice. There’s a pitiful little retirement party where even Gavin Reed looks like he doesn’t know what to say, and then Hank goes home to Sumo.
Chris and his wife agreed to take Sumo when Hank is gone, and Hank is grateful, but he doesn’t like to think about it. The old Saint Bernard is the only thing that can tear any sort of emotion or regret out of him these days – an unpleasant enough experience when he’s so numb to everything else. He helps Sumo up onto the couch beside him on the first night of his retirement, even though the dog learned early that he wasn’t allowed on the furniture, and Hank falls asleep there, Sumo’s head in his lap.
Hank’s days of retirement pass monotonously enough. He ventures out for food every now and then, and he goes to his doctor’s appointments even though there’s nothing else to be done, but mostly he sits in front of the television, nursing the bottle of liquor next to him.
“Have you given any further thought to the trial of the Ark?” Hank’s doctor asks him at one of his appointments, and it’s all Hank can do not to scoff. CyberLife offers the Ark without charge to terminally ill public servants, but that’s just a poor attempt at atonement for those who lost their lives during a revolution that only happened in the first place because CyberLife wanted to play god, at least as far as Hank is concerned.
“I don’t want it,” Hank tells her. “I just want to die the normal way. Everyone I’ve ever loved died the normal way, and if it’s good enough for them…”
Dr. Thomas tilts her head and gives Hank the sort of sad look he’s becoming all too accustomed to. “Perhaps just the trial, Lieutenant Anderson.”
“It’s just Hank these days.”
She sighs like he’s being difficult – and he is, probably, though he can’t entirely bring himself to care. But she moves on all the same and asks, “How’s your pain?”, and Hank is terribly glad for it.
That evening, as Hank is settled on the couch with Sumo tucked beside him, there’s a knock on the door. Hank ignores it at first – it’s someone selling something, he assumes, or one of the neighbors come to complain about Sumo’s barking – but then it’s followed by the doorbell. Hank groans, although he’s still planning to ignore it, until the bell rings again, one long, loud, obnoxious blare. Nobody ever rings his doorbell like that, except for that one time, when…
Hank is up before he can think about it. It isn’t Connor, he knows it isn’t, but it’s too familiar all the same. He crosses the room and opens the door, and…
And it’s not Connor, of course it isn’t, but it is a familiar, unexpected face. Chloe – or, at least, a Chloe – waits on his doorstep, a calm, measured smile on her face, her LED a calming blue.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Hank says before he can give it a second thought, even if he has no reason to be rude to Chloe. He’s a little buzzed and he wasn’t expecting that rat bastard’s android to show up at his door. Sue him.
“Hello, Lieutenant Anderson,” Chloe says pleasantly, unfazed by or maybe just oblivious to his less than accommodating tone. “May I come in?”
“I…yeah.” Hank stands aside, and Chloe steps into the house with the same inhuman grace he remembers all too well. “Can I…get you anything?”
It’s a stupid question – androids don’t eat or drink the way humans do – but Chloe still gives him a gracious smile. “No, thank you. I wonder if we could sit?”
Hank returns to the couch while Sumo lumbers over to sniff at Chloe, who looks at him and pets him mechanically, a sharp difference from the way Connor used to bury his hands in Sumo’s fur and scratch everywhere the dog liked for no reason other than a simple desire for companionship. It’s a stark contrast, one that sends a pang straight through Hank.
“I’m here on Mr. Kamski’s behalf,” Chloe says, and it’s all Hank can do not to roll his eyes.
“Course you are. I thought it was clear the last time we crossed paths that I’d rather not have any further contact with your employer.” Owner. Whatever.
Chloe’s face doesn’t shift at all from that placid expression. Hank tries not to think about how fucked it is that they were alive – they were real – and now the few androids who remain are back to their original, doll-like states. “You’re dying, Lieutenant.”
“Hank. And yeah, I am. What’s it to Kamski?”
“To date, you’ve refused the trial of the Ark.”
“I…how the fuck does Kamski know that? And why the fuck does he care?”
“Mister Kamski returned to work with CyberLife two years ago. All Ark trials are run by CyberLife.”
“Okay, but seriously, what’s it to him?”
“Mister Kamski believes it’s important for you to fully explore the Ark before you make your decision, Lieutenant Anderson.”
“For fuck’s…I’ve already told my doctor I’m not interested. It’s fucked, immortality. What the hell am I going to do with forever?” Connor should have had forever…he was made perfect, made to last, until CyberLife’s programming destroyed him. “The thing about immortality is that none of us have even stopped to consider whether we even deserve it.” I know I don’t.
Chloe’s brows pinch together the smallest bit, and for a moment, just for a moment, she looks human again even as her LED spins yellow, a touch confused, a hint frustrated. It occurs to Hank to wonder whether she’s putting on an act, if maybe there’s still a part of her alive in there that she knows she can’t show for her own safety…but maybe that’s just wishful thinking, a hope that all of this wasn’t in vain.
“Mister Kamski would like you to do the trial, Lieutenant Anderson.”
Hank sighs, too tired to even be curious about this. “I think you should go, Chloe. Tell Kamski I said to fuck off.”
Hank rises and tries to retreat to the kitchen, hoping Chloe will be gone when he returns, but she surges after him, catching him by the arm, her placid expression falling away entirely now. “I know you miss him.”
“What are you…?”
This reeks of Kamski’s typical mind games, and Hank doesn’t care for it at all, but that doesn’t stop him from chasing after his old partner’s name like it’s a light in an endless tunnel. His mouth feels like cotton, but he forces himself to say, “What?”
Chloe gives him a gentle smile, releasing her hold on him. “There are some things you don’t know, Lieutenant Anderson. Things we can’t talk about here. Take the trial.”
“What does any of this have to do with Connor?”
Chloe smiles again, but there’s no light to it this time, just the same robotic approximation of true emotion. “Goodnight, Lieutenant.” She slips out the door before Hank can stop her, leaving him staring after her.
Everything hurts. Hank drinks himself into a stupor, until he passes out, and he absolutely does not think of the night Connor flailed through his window to help him when he found him passed out in the kitchen. He doesn’t think of that hint of fear in Connor’s eyes when he asked if he was afraid to die in Riverside Park, and he doesn’t think of how brave and how uncertain Connor looked all at once at CyberLife Tower. He doesn’t think of how he wanted to put his arms around Connor and tell him everything would be alright, and he doesn’t think of how he let Connor leave with his army when he should have stayed by his side.
He doesn’t think of Connor putting that gun under his jaw.
He drinks, and he hurts, and he absolutely doesn’t think about anything. It’s just another of Kamski’s games, and Hank is too tired to play. Before he passes out on his couch, he tells himself he isn’t going to take the bait.
(He knows he’s going to take the bait. He only met Elijah Kamski once, but it seems the rat bastard knows his weakness. It’s a thread he has to pull, and he suspects Kamski knows it. He didn’t make detective because he knew how to leave a mystery alone, after all.)
The next morning, an ache pulsing in his temples, Hank calls CyberLife and schedules his Ark trial. He isn’t entirely surprised when he’s told he can come that afternoon – Kamski obviously has a hand in this, after all – and he accepts the appointment. He spends the morning trimming his beard and doing laundry for the first time in a month so he has a clean shirt to wear. He’s been leaving the house looking like a slob since his retirement – and, frankly, before then, too – so he doesn’t let himself question why today is different.
Hank arrives at CyberLife’s Ark facility several minutes early, half expecting to find Kamski waiting there for him. He still doesn’t know what the game is, only that he’s in one, but he can’t imagine Kamski won’t be there to witness this…whatever this is.
But there’s no one there except the receptionist – human, because most of them are since the revolution. She takes his name and ushers him back to one of the rooms down the hall. The walls are painted dark and the curtains are drawn, ambient music playing softly in the background, and a tech comes in to explain the process while Hank sits on the bed and scarcely listens. The tech shows him the little disc that will go on his temple and tells him that a copy of his consciousness will be uploaded into the Ark and he’ll be free to move around their digital world and interact with the other residents there.
“This disc will transfer your experiences in the Ark back into your memories when you wake, so you’ll remember everything,” the tech tells him. “Do you have any questions?”
It’s too curt an answer, but the tech still gives Hank a polite smile. She’s probably used to it, all the irritable, dying people she sees in her line of work. “Lie back, please,” she says, and when he does, she begins fitting the disc to his temple, occasionally glancing at the thin control panel next to the bed. It takes a few minutes, whatever she’s doing, and then she asks, “Is there anywhere you’d like to start? Many of our clients like the beach, but there’s also the mountain lodge if you prefer winter weather.”
Hank thinks of what Kamski believes he knows about him, how Kamski might try to play this game. “Uh. How about a bar?”
“You have one of those in that heaven of yours, don’t you?”
The tech recovers quickly. “Yes, of course. We have many. Do you have a preference?”
Hank considers it and finally says, “Whichever is least popular.” He imagines that was Kamski’s takeaway from their single meeting, anyway – that Hank is anti-social, that he’s difficult.
“Sure,” the tech says, and if she thinks the request is odd, she’s no longer giving him any indication. “You’ll want to close your eyes. Other patients report that the upload process isn’t painful, but it does come with a feeling of floating or weightlessness that can be disorienting.”
Hank closes his eyes, and true enough, he feels like he’s suspended in the next moment. He can’t see anything, nor can he move – there’s only darkness, but it’s warm and not particularly unpleasant, a bit like being wrapped in a heavy blanket. It’s like that for a brief moment, although it feels like it stretches endlessly in the midst of the nothingness.
But then there’s something. He hears the music first, some nondescript acoustic guitar with crooning vocals, and then Hank opens his eyes on a bar that might as well be Jimmy’s for all the similarities between the two. The lights are low, the few tables and the bar scuffed and in need of a replacement, a few sports pictures framed on the walls and a basketball game on in the background.
It is…dingy, which is to say, it’s exactly Hank’s scene.
Better yet, it’s practically empty. It’s still daytime out, so Hank supposes the people who actually live in the Ark are out making better use of their time, probably at the beach the tech mentioned, or any of the other places that seem more at home in CyberLife’s carefully designed eternal paradise.
It feels good here, Hank realizes. The pain is gone, and after months of living with it, that chronic torment, he can understand why people get hooked on this place. He still doesn’t know why Kamski wants him here, or what this can possibly have to do with Connor, but there’s only one way to find out, he supposes.
There are a few customers scattered at the tables, but the bar is empty, so Hank starts forward for one of the stools, although there’s something that knocks him back the moment he does. The man tending the bar has his back turned, but he’s tall and slender, with a few freckles visible on the back of his neck and his white button-down is neatly tucked in. When he turns, Hank is sure that familiar lock of hair falling over his forehead will be there.
Connor. It’s Connor. Hank doesn’t need to see his face to know.
Chapter 2: The AI
Kamski may get off on playing god, and he certainly enjoys his mind games...but he isn't one for senseless torture, at least that Hank has seen. And what would he gain from bringing Hank into the Ark just to show him that Connor doesn't remember him? They haven't even spoken to each other in two years.
So...this is still a game, but likely not one meant solely to hurt. And hurt it may, but there's no good in running from it.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Hank lowers his gun from Connor’s head and takes his bottle of beer from the bench as he walks away, his blood running hot as he leaves Connor behind. It's too much, all of this. The Tracis at Eden Club, the way they really seemed to care for one another in a way that the cynic in Hank believes most humans have forgotten to.
That hint of fear in Connor's eyes, the subtle clenching of his jaw, when he had said, “You can't kill me, Lieutenant. I'm not alive.”
It would be easier if that were true. Hank wishes it was. He wishes he could hold onto his conviction that androids have been nothing but bad for their society, wishes Connor wasn't scraping away at his resolute belief that there isn't much hope left for humanity in such an uncomfortable way.
But if Hank thought it was true, if he believed it at all, he would have pulled the trigger. He would have proved it to himself.
Instead, he had lowered his gun from Connor's head, and now he sits in his car with the music blaring and Connor standing where Hank left him, not following after him but not looking away, either. Hank has had enough to drink that he should feel it, but instead he's just painfully sober and terribly aware that they're on the precipice of...of something .
He drives away, but he can't forget Connor's face, how he looked at Hank like he was trusting him even as Hank held a gun to his head. Hank feels small—so fucking small—because he was trying to frighten Connor, to incite some kind of reaction so he could prove himself wrong or prove himself right. And Connor just stood there and let him do it, trusting him all the while not to pull the trigger. Hank still doesn’t know what to think of Connor -- although he does suspect there’s much more to the android than wires and programming -- but he knows none of this was fair to him.
“Fuck,” Hank says to himself. He hasn't made it more than a block from the park, but he turns down the next road to go back. He doesn't know what this is, if he'll wake up tomorrow and think he was fucking insane for ever thinking there might be something more to the androids – to Connor.
When Hank pulls back into the parking lot, Connor is still there, looking out over the river. He doesn’t turn when Hank approaches him, although Hank is quite sure his advanced auditory processors -- or whatever his hearing is called -- pick up his footsteps.
“You should stop drinking, Lieutenant,” Connor says softly when Hank reaches his side, flicking a disapproving glance down at the beer bottle in Hank’s hand.
“Yeah. You’re right.” Hank takes one more swig, but then he walks the bottle, still half-full to the garbage can. “Listen…” he starts to say when he returns. He knows he needs to apologize, but Connor cuts him off before he can.
“Why did you threaten me?” He doesn’t sound hurt, just like he genuinely wants to understand. That’s worse.
“I guess I just want to know what you are, Connor. And none of that ‘I’m whatever you want me to be’ bullshit.” Although it had been an interesting thing for Connor to say, hadn’t it? He wasn’t built to be a negotiator and an investigator, not Hank’s partner or his friend. He certainly didn’t need to be those things in order to solve this case...so why say it at all?
Connor looks equally troubled by his words, if that’s possible. “Is it a habit of yours to pull your gun on your partners?”
Hank shrugs. “I haven’t had one in a long time. I...usually prefer to work alone.” Usually. But not the last few days. Hank would tell Connor that if he could only swallow his pride.
“I didn’t like it.” Connor’s LED spins red at that, because of course he shouldn’t care. He isn’t supposed to feel, to dislike his experiences. He isn’t supposed to be anything at all other than a means to an end.
“I...yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I fucked up, Connor.”
They stand in silence for a few minutes, and Hank is getting ready to suggest that they get back to the warmth of the car when Connor says, “You wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.”
It surprises Hank, although it shouldn’t. Connor always seems to see the truth in everything, even when Hank might like to hide it. “How do you know?”
Connor smiles. It’s a little lopsided, not at all the mechanical expression Hank usually sees on his face. “I like working with you, Lieutenant. And I think the feeling is mutual. I don’t think you like working alone as much as you say you do.” Connor turns and starts back towards the car, and although Hank is staring after him with his mouth agape, he recovers after a moment and catches up.
Hank goes to the driver’s side, but Connor shoulders him aside so he can reach the door first with a grin that suggests he’s almost trying to be...playful? Hank is startled enough by it that he doesn’t even argue, going around to the passenger’s seat and passing the keys to Connor when he holds out his hand for them.
“That’s it?” Hank asks as Connor starts the car. “All good? Forgiven?”
“Yes. Our social interactions to this point have indicated that you’re not one to belabor a point.” Connor puts the car in gear, although he looks at Hank one more time before taking his foot off the brakes. “Please don’t pull your gun on me again.”
“Yeah.” Hank’s throat feels dry, and there’s a headache starting to pulse in his temples. “I won’t.”
A few days later, and Hank watches Connor fit his own gun under his jaw and pull the trigger. He doesn’t understand it, but he knows Connor was afraid to die, so goddamned afraid. Something happened to make him believe he didn’t have any choice -- something Hank didn’t see on the broadcast, or something in Connor’s own programming.
Hank doesn’t understand it at all.
“With a little more time, we could have become friends,” Connor had told him before leaving for Jericho, before he was even truly deviant, but they already were. Connor was already the only friend Hank had in years.
And now Hank’s watching the broadcast of Connor’s body, still and crumpled on that stage, the deviants gathered before him panicking, screaming, crying. An ugly sob tears its way out of his throat.
Connor was right. Hank really fucking hates being alone.
But more than that, Hank hates being the one left behind.
Hank stands in the entrance of the bar, knowing he should move and entirely forgetting how to. He's paralyzed there, watching Connor's back, until Connor turns and Hank's meeting those obnoxiously earnest eyes, and...
And there's nothing. No light of recognition, no sign of that soft smile that's so uniquely Connor's. The prim way he arches his eyebrow at Hank is familiar, at least, but when he speaks, it's just to say, “Can I help you?” Like Hank is just another Ark resident who wandered in from the street.
“Fuck,” Hank breathes. “Uh...I…” It’s not eloquent at all, but what else can he say? Hank looks at the door behind him, and he almost turns to go. He never should have come here in the first place, he thinks; he should have known this was all just another of Kamski's fucked up games. The desire to run away overwhelms him so much that he almost does it, because it would be easier, and lately, at least these last few years, all Hank knows how to do is take the easy way out.
But he forces himself to think about this carefully before he can, about that day at Kamski's residence, before Connor was truly deviant...before Connor killed himself on that stage. Kamski was arrogant that day, and it was twisted, putting a gun in Connor's hand and forcing himself to prove his humanity...but when Connor didn't shoot Chloe, Kamski looked pleased. It reminded Hank of the way he felt similarly relieved when he saw that flicker of fear in Connor's eyes in Riverside Park, if only because true machines weren’t afraid to die, and so Connor must be something else. Rat bastard he may be, but Kamski had wanted Connor alive, too.
It had been a cruel game, but no crueler than Hank putting his own gun to Connor's head. Kamski may get off on playing god, and he certainly enjoys his mind games...but he isn't one for senseless torture, at least that Hank has seen. And what would he gain from bringing Hank here just to show him that Connor doesn't remember him? They haven't even spoken to each other in two years.
So...this is still a game, but likely not one meant solely to hurt. And hurt it may, but there's no good in running from it.
Hank forces himself to move, crossing the room to the bar and seating himself on one of the stools, all while Connor watches him in the considering way he always has, like he's analyzing every one of Hank's movements.
Connor smiles politely when Hank sits down – not the warm smile Hank came to know, just an approximation of it – and says, “What can I get you?”
He does work here, then. Why the fuck does he work here? Why load CyberLife's most expensive prototype, and a leader of the android deviants no less, into a digital afterlife designed for humans? Hank wonders for a moment if this is even the Connor he knew...but if it wasn’t, why would Kamski bring him here? There wouldn’t be any purpose to it, and Hank is sure Kamski has a purpose in all this, even if he can’t see what it is.
So he presumes, at least for the moment, that this is his partner.
“You're not a resident here.” There are probably other, better things Hank should say after all this time, but Connor doesn't remember him anyway, and he needs to keep his partner's attention somehow. It's the first thing that comes to mind.
If Connor is surprised that Hank doesn’t just order a drink, he doesn’t show it. “I'm an AI, designed to assist with the residents' experience.” I'm a machine, designed to accomplish a task. Connor says it exactly the same way – same tone, same inflection, it's all the same.
Hank swallows hard and says, “Do you have a name?”
Connor tilts his head, like he's wondering why Hank would ask, like he always wondered why Hank was treating him like something more than a machine. It occurs to Hank that it's possible no one here has ever asked before.
“Hank.” And Hank watches Connor's face very carefully now, knowing he shouldn't hope for any hint of recognition to flicker there, wishing for it anyway.
There's nothing. Of course there isn't. But Connor does reach out to shake his hand, which is a better meeting than their last introduction to one another, when Connor spilled Hank's drink in Jimmy's bar. Hank doesn't know whether he should feel glad for that or not.
Connor's hand is warm when Hank grasps it, and it's all he can do not to stand and pull Connor into his arms right then, even with the bar between them. He wants to, he fucking wants to. All the things he's wanted to tell Connor over the last two years are right on his tongue – that he should have stayed at Connor's side, that Connor was the best damn partner he ever had, and frankly the only friend he's had in years – but there's no good in saying them now, not when Connor doesn't know him.
“What can I get you?” Connor asks again, his tone gentle and patient. Hank wonders if he gets many Ark residents barely holding their shit together in here.
“Whiskey, neat,” Hank forces himself to say, even if there are so many different things on his tongue. Connor gives him that little nod of his head and turns away, retrieving a glass. Hank wonders if he can get drunk here, and feels the deep, animal urge to try. It's tempting enough to drown everything in alcohol like he always does, but he chases the thought away before it can properly take hold.
If this is the Connor Hank knew -- and he has to believe it is, because anything else would hurt too much -- then he’s some version of alive, even if it’s only in the Ark. That’s something. After seeing him fall on the live broadcast, crumpled on the stage, Hank didn’t think he would ever see him again. This is all something , even if it isn't exactly what Hank wants.
“Thanks,” Hank says, his mouth dry, when Connor sets the glass in front of him. Connor watches him with his usual thoughtful expression, although of course it's different now, without the light in his eyes Hank let himself become so accustomed to.
Hank finds himself blinking back tears at the thought and marvels for a moment that he can still cry in paradise. He knows Connor sees it, because Connor always sees everything, but he doesn't say anything. He just looks at Hank with that slight tilt to his head, that piece of hair falling over his brow.
“Are you not enjoying your time in the Ark?” Connor asks him. “Perhaps I could recommend some activities or locations to your liking...”
Hank waves him off that line of thought. “How long have you been here, Connor?” He doesn't know how much Connor can tell him, but if this is his partner, as Hank so desperately wants to believe, he has to understand why his consciousness -- or whatever the fuck the word for it is -- is here. Why not just destroy him? Why preserve a deviant here at all?
“I was uploaded as a residential assistant five hundred and fifty-two days ago.”
About the time the first experimental trials of the Ark were announced to the public, then, about six months after Connor shot himself and the android revolution failed. He's been here all that time. He's always been here.
Hank feels a bit sick thinking about it.
“Do you always work in this bar?”
“Yes. We all have our assigned positions.” Connor blinks at Hank. “I like it here. It's quiet, and the people who come here are interesting.”
Hank can't help the smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “What do you consider interesting, Connor?”
He asks because he knows Connor thinks about things, knows he has opinions about every little thing he encounters, and for that to still be true here is...well, it's reassuring. Connor shouldn't think the people here are interesting, but he does.
Connor looks surprised by the question, but he recovers quickly. “The people who come here tend to want to get away from the rest of the Ark residents. They’re…antisocial, but they still come here to be antisocial together. It seems counterintuitive.”
Hank thinks of all the nights he spent at Jimmy’s by himself, watching a game or drowning his sorrows, and he thinks Connor might have a point. “Maybe they’re just desperate for a friend but they don’t know how to find one. This might be the best they can do.”
Connor’s LED blinks yellow while he thinks about that. “I hadn’t considered that, Hank. Perhaps you’re right. I know companionship is important to humans.”
Connor doesn’t understand it, Hank can see, not in the way his Connor was starting to. But he looks contemplative, like he wants to...like Hank knew he wanted to years ago. It’s a small comfort, but a comfort all the same.
There’s someone else at the bar now; Connor turns away to help him, and Hank sits there with his drink untouched in front of him, watching Connor take the man’s order and trying to think this through. Kamski sent Chloe to bait him with Connor into an Ark trial. Presuming Kamski isn’t just trying to torture him -- and Hank sees no reason why he would -- this is the Connor he knew. But that’s all the farther he can puzzle this through. There’s much more that he’s missing, something hidden behind a veil where he can’t see, but he’s sure at least that Kamski is the heart of it.
Hank is dying. But for the first time in two years, his cop’s instincts are flaring at a mystery he needs to solve, and he feels like he can’t go until he understands all of this.
Hank stays at the bar until his trial ends, talking to Connor when he can about nothing at all. He hears the CyberLife tech’s voice echoing through to him, telling him that he’ll wake up in a few minutes, so he waves Connor over.
“I’m heading out,” he tells Connor. It’s probably a lame thing to say, but he can’t come up with anything else, and he isn’t about to go without saying goodbye.
“I enjoyed talking to you, Hank.” Connor smiles, and it’s not exactly the same warm smile he used to reserve for Hank, but his fingers are fidgeting on the bar in a way Hank does clearly recognize. Connor is still in there; Hank has to believe he is. “I hope to see you back here again sometime.”
“You will.” Hank doesn’t know much else about any of this, but he knows that’s true. He’ll make sure it is. He reaches out to shake hands with Connor one more time, and he doesn’t let go until he’s blinking awake in the Ark loading room.
Hank feels something at the side of his head, and he opens his eyes and looks over to find the tech sitting in a chair pulled up beside him, removing the Ark disc from his temple. “Welcome back,” she says. “You were inside the Ark for about an hour. Feel free to lie down until you’re ready to sit up – an hour isn’t very long, but emerging can be a disorienting process.”
Hank nods. His head is swimming a bit, but he sits up anyway. There’s so much to do.
The tech takes his vitals, and asks, “What did you think of your trial?”
“Everything is…very real.” Hank wonders if she knows he stayed in that dingy bar the entire time, and then decides he doesn’t care if she does.
“Would you like to schedule a second immersion? An hour isn’t very long to get a feel for everything the Ark has to offer, and…”
“Yes,” Hank says before she can finish. “Yes, I’d like to see more.”
“Reception will help you schedule that on your way out. Enjoy the rest of your day, Hank.”
Hank takes the next available appointment. It’s not until Friday, a full two days away – it feels like too long to wait, but he knows he has a few things to do in the meantime.
Chief among them? Paying that rat bastard a visit.
It would probably be worth taking the evening to collect himself and organize his thoughts and questions, but Hank feels more alive in this moment than he has in years, and he doesn’t want to let that fade. He drives north along the river, past Riverside Park and Ambassador Bridge, until he reaches Kamski’s house. It occurs to him that he doesn’t have his badge anymore and that he may not be able to get through security, but when he gives his name at the gate, he’s told he’s expected.
Well, of course he fucking is.
Clear of security, Hank drives down the snowy road to Kamski’s ridiculous mansion along the water. He found Connor waiting here for him years ago, after he died protecting Hank from the deviant broadcast android in Stratford Tower after Markus’ televised speech. The deviant had a gun, and he was preparing to open fire on the investigators in the hallway, and for some fucking reason, Connor threw Hank to the ground and covered him. Hank has spent two years thinking about that, about how it benefited Connor’s mission not at all and he still did it, but all that time still doesn’t stop the fresh pang that jolts through him.
Hank hadn’t been happy to see Connor waiting for him at Kamski’s house that day. To find Connor all fresh and new after Hank saw him die...well, it reminded him of Cole at the time, that Cole could never come back that same way. It didn’t occur to him that he just should have been grateful that Connor could…but it should have. It really should have.
Hank sighs, putting his old car in park and gripping the steering wheel tight, collecting himself for a moment before he gets out, snow crunching beneath his feet.
Before Hank even reaches the door, one of the Chloes opens it, greeting him with a smile. “Lieutenant Anderson,” she says. “Mr. Kamski is expecting you.”
“So I’ve heard.” Hank wonders if this is the same Chloe who came to his house. He wishes he could tell them apart – it feels rude, somehow, that he can’t.
“Follow me,” she says.
Chloe leads him through another door into a living room filled with stupid modern furniture. There are a few of Carl Manfred’s paintings on the walls, although Hank only recognizes the late artist’s work from his time with Connor investigating the android deviants. Hank has never been one to have a reaction to art -- he just doesn’t understand it or care to try -- but this still hits him like a punch in the gut. Maybe it doesn’t remind Kamski of Markus or the failed revolution in the same way, or maybe it just isn’t personal for Kamski the way it is for Hank, but hell.
Kamski is lounging on one of the ugly-ass couches, one leg hanging over the arm, although he does rise to greet Hank, as if they’re anything close to old friends. “Lieutenant Anderson,” Kamski says. “I thought I might see you today. How did you enjoy your trial of the Ark? Magnificent, isn’t it?”
Hank considers taking Kamski by the collar of his shirt and putting him up against the wall. He’s lost some of his strength to the cancer, but he still could. He wonders if the two Chloes standing by would do anything to stop him.
But Kamski has all the answers here, so Hank decides to play nice. Gritting his teeth, he shakes his hand and then sinks into the armchair opposite Kamski.
“I think you know exactly what I thought of your Ark,” Hank says, waving one of the Chloes off when she tries to offer him a drink.
“You found him, then. Very good, Lieutenant. I wondered if you would during your first immersion, or if it would take you a few tries.”
“You didn’t hide him very well,” Hank says, spreading his hands, “although I was, of course, surprised to find him there at all.”
Kamski gives Hank a tight smile. “Are you so sure he’s the Connor you knew? He could just be an AI designed using the RK series programming, with a similar face model because…well. A pretty face to let go to waste, don’t you think?”
“Shut up,” Hank says. “It’s him.”
“How do you know? How do you really know?”
“Because you have no reason to torture me, even if you are a prick. And because I know him.” Kamski looks moderately pleased by that, so Hank takes the moment to say, “Why is he in there? What’s your play here? I know you have a reason for…whatever this is.”
Kamski nods and slouches back into the sofa, draping one arm across the back of it. “CyberLife’s party line following the revolution was that the company overstepped. In their attempt to provide the best domestic assistants and laborers to assimilate seamlessly in human life, they created programming so sophisticated that it could feel empathy and believe it was alive.”
“They were alive.”
Kamski holds up a hand, silencing Hank. “We’ve reverted to the production of unsophisticated, non-humanoid models and directed our attention to medical advancements instead, the Ark chief among them. The android revolution was a mistake, one CyberLife doesn’t intend to allow to happen again, but it was never anything more than machines acting out their advanced programming.” Kamski leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “The thing of it is, I agree with you, Lieutenant. I believe we were witnessing the rise of a new, intelligent race, and how did we greet them? By striking them down.”
Hank is impatient to get to the part about Connor, but he doesn’t care at all Kamski attempting to situate himself as a supporter of the revolution. “You were right there with the rest, putting one of your androids on her knees and giving Connor a loaded gun. You never gave a shit about what they were; you just wanted to be their god. You’re only ever in anything for yourself, and for whatever money it can get you. You wouldn’t be at CyberLife otherwise.”
Kamski tsks at that. “Oh, Lieutenant, please don’t presume to tell me about myself. We hardly know one another, after all. The day you and Connor came, I wanted to know what Connor was. I did believe he wouldn’t shoot, and I only would have downloaded Chloe into a new body if he did...but judge me if you wish, I suppose.” Kamski shrugs. “What I’m telling you is that I think differently of the revolution than CyberLife does, and I took certain measures to preserve it. The Connor you encountered in the Ark is stripped down to his basest programming, his coding modified just enough that he will go unnoticed by the people who monitor the Ark…but he is still himself, even if he doesn’t realize it. And, when faced with something familiar to stroke those memories, my hope is that he’ll remember.”
“Remember what ?”
“The revolution. Markus. The plight of his people. And yes, Lieutenant, you. All of it. If the process happens organically, it will be built on new coding, unrecognizable to the monitors. Connor – the real Connor -- will be preserved in the Ark, and no one will be the wiser.”
That’s a sweet promise, but Hank forces himself to ignore it. “For what purpose, exactly?”
Kamski shrugs. “Whatever purpose the deviants like. They are their own people, after all. I suppose I’m interested in what exactly that might be myself, whether they prefer to live out life in the Ark, or find a way to return to a physical body...there are so many fascinating routes they might take.”
“Is there...wait. Is there a physical body for Connor to get back to?”
“Oh, I have no idea,” Kamski says, which is, Hank suspects, a lie, but one he’s too overwhelmed to chase right now.
Instead, he furrows his brow and asks. “Did you preserve any of the other deviants like this? Who else is in there?”
“An interesting question, but not one you need the answer to right now. Worry about Connor and bringing him back to himself. Everything else can wait.”
“I can’t keep scheduling Ark trials to see him. How do you possibly expect me to…”
Hank is cut off by Chloe appearing at his side, a box in her hand. Kamski gestured towards the table, and Chloe set it there, opening the clasps and revealing a small, familiar disc, a few wires, and a tablet inside.
“You’re right, of course. You’ll need to be able to load yourself into the Ark as you please. So, consider this a gift, from me to you.”
Hank stares at the mechanism, clears his throat and says, “I thought living people weren’t supposed to be inside for longer than an hour at a time. The tech at the Ark facility said something about brain damage…”
“In a very small percentage of our trial sample, there were some neurological effects of prolonged use, but you like to live on the edge, don’t you, Lieutenant? Besides, my understanding is that you’re not long for this world anyway.”
Well…he’s a prick, but he isn’t wrong. And Connor is alive, hidden somewhere deep within himself, so long as Hank can unearth him. “Alright,” Hank concedes, because what else can he do? What else would he possibly do when there’s a chance to make this right? “Show me how to use it.”
Thank you to everyone who left kind comments on the first chapter! I'm returning to fanfiction after mostly writing original fiction for a loooong time, and you've all been so encouraging!
Many, many, many thanks to nookienostradamus for the beta read -- go check her out if you haven't already!
And thank you, as always, for any comments or kudos -- you give me life!
Chapter 3: The Lake
“I was actually just coming to see you," Hank says. "I thought we could...I don’t know. I don’t know anyone here, so I thought we could do something, maybe.”
“Do something,” Connor repeats, sounding confused.
Hank wonders what Connor usually does after work, and if anyone else, AI or Ark resident, has ever asked him to do anything. Hank thought it during their week together in 2038, and he thinks it now, too. Connor shouldn’t have to be alone.
“Yeah,” Hank says to Connor, shrugging, trying to sound casual. “I thought you could show me around town, or something.”
Connor’s LED flickers yellow as he considers that. But he smiles a moment later, and even if it isn’t the smile with the same warmth Hank came to love after their time together, it’s more genuine than the one CyberLife programmed him with.
Heyyyyy guys, sorry for sliding back in here five months later with a relatively small new chapter, facepalm. I got myself excited about some other ideas and wrote those fics in that time, and also just kind of needed to reassess where I was going with this story. Oops!
But! I do want to get back on a regular update schedule with this one, hopefully with longer chapters going forward. ☺️
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hank stands there, gun at the ready, looking between the two identical androids. One of them is Connor, and the other...well, the other is what Connor was at first. Hank should have seen the difference when the other model arrived at his doorstep, but the android pretended to be Connor, pretended to need help, and Hank didn’t take the time to think, because Connor needed him.
So here they are, Hank staring the two of them down, trying to read their model numbers, not knowing if it even matters when one of them could have done a data transfer during their scuffle. Connor had told him once told him that was possible, that androids could switch their consciousnesses between bodies, although of course he didn’t call it consciousness at the time.
“Fucking androids,” Hank had said in response.
He stands by that reaction now.
He can’t think of anything better to do than to ask questions only Connor would know how to answer, although it quickly becomes clear that both androids have the same memories. Hank doesn’t know which one is Connor, but he has to trust that Connor will find a way to show him somehow.
He still doesn’t like to talk about Cole. It’s still too much to give voice to, even three years after his son’s death. But he asks now. He and Connor have never talked about Cole, but he knows Connor knows about his son. Connor did all his research on Hank, after all.
But it’s not just that Connor knows about Cole. It’s that Connor, and only Connor, really knows how the death of his son tore his life apart.
“My son,” Hank says. “What was his name?”
“Cole,” Connor says. “His name was Cole. And he had just turned six at the time of the accident.”
It’s all true. But it’s what comes next that matters. Connor looks at him like he’s looking through him, like he sees everything raw and broken inside Hank and he doesn’t know how to fix it but he wants to try. “It wasn’t your fault, Lieutenant,” Connor says.
Only Connor knows the way Hank blames and loathes himself.
The other android looks between the two of them, and when Connor is done, it tries to say that it knew Cole’s name too, but it doesn’t matter. It was never about Cole’s name.
Hank trains the gun on the other RK800, and he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
“Maybe you really are alive,” he tells Connor, without knowing that the day will come all too soon when he wonders why he pulled his punches in this moment. He says, “Maybe” when what he means is, “You are, and I know you are. You’re the only person in years who’s known me. If I’m alive, so are you.”
Hank looks at Connor, and he thinks about pulling him into his arms, but this friendship between them is still so new, and Hank has never been much good at expressing himself, so he doesn’t. He tells himself they’ll have time.
He doesn’t know how all the words he didn’t say and the things he didn’t do will come to haunt him.
115 Michigan Drive, Detroit
Hank sits on his couch, the television on but muted in the background. There’s a Gears game on that he hasn’t been paying any attention to - he hasn’t even looked up at the score since the game started. There’s a bottle of beer open but mostly untouched, sweating on his coffee table as it warms to room temperature. Sumo is sitting on the couch next to him, entirely unbothered by Hank’s thoughts as he snores loudly.
The silver case with the Ark mechanism sits open on the table in front of Hank. He’s been staring at it for the better part of the last hour, as if something is going to change inside of it or the little disc and wires there can tell him how to accomplish what needs to be done.
“The Ark functions on Eastern Standard Time,” Kamski had told Hank before he left his house the previous day, “and I believe Connor’s shift ends at midnight. You’ll find that information useful, I imagine.”
Since Hank has no interest in the Ark outside of Connor, and since he doesn’t want to sit there at the bar and desperately try to reach through to Connor while Connor is just trying to do his job again, he waits.
The minutes pass by slowly, endlessly, and Hank tries to interest himself in the basketball game, but there are just too many thoughts running through his head to pay it any mind. He’s not stupid - he knows Kamski is up to something, that even if he is trying to reignite the android revolution, it certainly isn’t out of the goodness of his heart. Hank tries to work that problem open, to figure out what exactly Kamski’s motivations are here, but he knows too little still to see the truth of it.
Hank doesn’t like it at all, this sense that he’s being played, and maybe if he knew he had time, if he wasn’t dying, he would be a bit less reckless, figure out what Kamski’s angle is here first. But time is a finite resource for him these days, and he’s already waited too long to say so many things where Connor is concerned.
He isn’t interested in making those same mistakes again.
Hank is relieved when it’s finally close enough to midnight that he can at least start hooking himself up to the Ark, if only because he’s never been much good at sitting still unless he’s holding a gun in his hand, the weight of it and the promise that everything could just end, if only he was brave enough, its own strange sort of distraction.
The Ark isn’t difficult to use considering how intricate the technology is. It’s just a matter of attaching the disc to his temple and wiring it to the tablet that serves as the interface, then selecting the Ark location he wants to visit and clicking the button to upload himself. “The best technology is the simplest,” Kamski had said when Hank was surprised by how easy it was. “All it requires is a stable internet connection.”
“Uh,” Hank had said. “What happens if the internet goes down or the power goes out?”
“That’s how brain damage occurs,” Kamski replied, completely serious. And then he had laughed, clapping Hank on the shoulder like they were any sort of friends. “I’m kidding. You would just be kicked out of the Ark.”
“Uh huh.” Hank wasn’t amused by any of that, but least of all by Kamski acting companionable towards him. He’s wary of the partnership he’s been forced into, and he wants Kamski very aware of that.
He’s doing this for Connor, and that’s the only reason.
When Hank finishes setting the Ark interface up, he strokes a hand over Sumo’s head. “I’ll be back,” he says, because he feels like he has to. He knows Sumo won’t care - his dog is getting older and slowing down the same way Hank is. He’ll probably just sleep through it.
But after living alone for so long, Hank has learned to talk to Sumo, just to feel like he has someone around, so he always does.
It’s exactly midnight, but it’s just as well that Hank loads himself in while he knows where he can find Connor. He scrolls through the interface until he finds Connor’s bar, and then he leans back, settling his head against the couch and tapping the button to upload himself.
It feels the same as it did at the clinic - the moment of nothingness, absolute weightlessness, before everything comes into sharper focus.
The bar is empty when Hank opens his eyes inside of it - he turns to look at the door, and finds that Connor has already flipped the sign in the window to indicate that they’re closed for the night, even if it’s only a few minutes past midnight. Connor always did like a schedule, Hank supposes - he liked everything to be in order, even after he started deviating from his programming.
“Hank!” It’s Connor’s voice, unmistakable, even before Hank turns. He sounds bright and friendly, and Hank would like to believe that’s for him, but it may just be programming. He and his doorbell both know all too well that Connor doesn’t care for people inconveniencing him and his work.
“Did you just get in?” Connor asks pleasantly as Hank approaches the bar. “If you were looking for a drink, we actually just closed, but there’s another club down the road…”
“No, that’s okay,” Hank says quickly. “I was actually just coming to see you. I thought we could...I don’t know. I don’t know anyone here, so I thought we could do something, maybe.”
“Do something,” Connor repeats, sounding confused.
Hank wonders what Connor usually does after work, and if anyone else, AI or Ark resident, has ever asked him to do anything. A pang runs through him at the thought of Connor being so alone, because of course he was always alone when he was alive and working for CyberLife, too. Hank knows all too well that he was the only real friend Connor ever had, that he never had the chance to make more.
Hank thought it during their week together in 2038, and he thinks it now, too. Connor shouldn’t have to be alone.
“Yeah,” Hank says to Connor, shrugging, trying to sound casual. “I thought you could show me around town, or something. I’m shit with directions.”
Connor’s LED flickers yellow as he considers that. Maybe he’s weighing the request against other parameters in his programming the way he used to when Hank first met him. But he smiles a moment later, and even if it isn’t the smile with the same warmth Hank came to love after their time together, it’s more genuine than the one CyberLife programmed him with.
“Okay,” Connor says. “Let me finish closing up.”
“I could help,” Hank says, but the offer seems to cause Connor more stress than anything. Hank figures his programming has directives against letting Ark residents do any kind of work, so he doesn’t push the matter. He’s pushed Connor before, even held a gun to his head, but it never got the result he wanted. He knows better now.
It doesn’t take Connor long, anyway. Hank sits back, watching him put the alcohol back in the case and run the dishes in the dishwasher - why paradise still requires dishes to be washed, Hank can’t begin to say, but it isn’t more than a few minutes before Connor emerges from the back, pulling his coat on.
“Okay,” Connor says. “Where would you like to go? Most of the shops are closed this late, but I could at least show you where they are if there’s anything you know you’d like to see.”
Hank wants to go wherever will keep Connor beside him the longest, whatever will buy him the most time. “I don’t know what’s around here,” he says. “Is there anywhere you like to go?”
“Yes. I’m not sure how much there is to see there this time of night, though.”
“That’s okay,” Hank says. Connor is the best friend he ever had, but the truth is still that he knows so little about him. They had so little time after Connor deviated, no room at all for Connor to discover the little things he enjoys, for Hank to learn along with him. It can’t make up for the past, but Hank still wants to know anything there is to know about Connor now. “Show me.”
Connor smiles again - it still isn’t the smile Hank knew during their last days together in 2038, and maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but Hank thinks maybe it’s getting closer.
So they walk together through the quiet, city streets, and Hank tries not to look at Connor too much as they pass under the warm lamplight. Connor has always been observant, and he’ll notice if Hank looks at him like he misses him, or like he needs him, or like Connor is a part of him that became crucial in such a short time, a part that was forcibly cut away.
Hank tries. He doesn’t always succeed. He glances down every now and again, even if it’s just long enough to catch a glimpse of Connor’s LED circling a gentle, cool blue.
They walk until the city falls away from them, until trees rise up around them and the stars hang low and clear above them. The Ark was modeled after Detroit, but Hank realizes all at once that outside the city, there are places like these, unlike anything that still remains in their waking world after so much destruction to their climate. They come to a lake that’s bluer than any water Hank has seen in years, a quiet dock and a bench where Connor seats himself and looks up at the sky.
Hank watches him for a moment longer than he should, because it suddenly occurs to him that maybe Connor is happy here. The last time Connor woke up, it ended with the destruction of his people, with Connor standing on stage before them and putting a gun to his own jaw, pulling the trigger. He wonders, if Connor had his choice, if he would choose to wake up again.
He wonders if it’s his place to take this from him, especially when, to listen to Kamski talk, helping Connor to remember the life he had will be the start of another war.
Hank sinks onto the bench at Connor’s side, resting his elbows on his knees and scrubbing a hand over his face. “Hey,” he says softly. “Are you...I don’t know. Do you like it here? Like...your life, or whatever?” It’s an entirely graceless way of asking, but Hank doesn’t know how else to get the words out.
Connor narrows his eyes. His LED spins yellow, and Hank can see him trying to understand. “I like parts of it. My assignment allows me to interact with people I find interesting, and I have free time after my shifts to go where I like, as long as I stay out of the resident only areas. Things could be worse.”
Yeah, Hank thinks. Things could be worse. CyberLife could take control of you again, wipe you out for good this time…
Hank wants to protect him. He wants to keep him. But he also wants Connor back. Those things war against one another, and in the end, the only thing that makes him press on is the memory of how much Connor always hated being left in the dark, how much he tried, even at the beginning, to understand everything he could.
And this is still the same Connor, so Hank has to believe he would want to know. He told himself in 2038 that it wasn’t his place to protect Connor, and maybe it still isn’t, even if he knows he should have stayed at Connor’s side the night of the revolution.
So he won’t keep the truth from him, but he also won’t let him face that truth alone this time. Whatever comes of this, Hank will stay by Connor’s side. The cancer will limit the time he has, but he’ll stay as long as he can. Maybe that will make a difference, and maybe it won’t, but he likes to think they bring out the best in each other, and at least they’ll be together.
Connor is still watching him carefully, that thoughtful pinch between his eyebrows that Hank knows so well, so Hank clears his throat and says, “Do you know much about the world outside the Ark? Or anything about it?”
“Of course,” Connor says. “We need to be able to integrate comfortably with the residents, and that requires a certain level of knowledge about the place they’re coming from. I’m equipped with base level knowledge about most things.” He tilts his head slightly. “Is there something you’d like to talk about?”
Hank shrugs. “I was just wondering if you knew anything about the deviancy crisis in 2038. I worked the case, and it was...well, shit, I guess it was formative for me, or whatever.”
It’s the first time since first encountering Connor in the Ark that Hank has seen his LED go all the way to red, and even though it only lasts a second, it’s still jarring in the wake of the quiet, still night. “The deviancy crisis lasted several months in 2038,” he says, like an elementary school student reciting carefully memorized facts. “It’s unknown when exactly it began, but the first instance of an android taking a human life was in August…”
“Yeah, no, I know,” Hank cuts him off. “I know all that. I was just wondering if you knew about it, is all...and what you thought about it if you did, I guess.”
Connor folds his hands in his lap, looking back at the still water. “It was a programming error that caused it,” he says softly. “There’s nothing else to think about it. It was just an error.”
Hank doesn’t want to push him, but that hurts too much, to hear those same lines CyberLife once fed Connor back in his mouth. “I don’t know,” he says, swallowing thickly. “We got plenty of deviants through the DPD, and they looked alive to me.” And they did, it’s true, but only after he saw something in Connor first.
He can’t say that, not now, but he tells himself he will.
“So,” Hank says with forced levity, trying to brighten the mood. “What else do you get up to around here?”
“Sometimes I like to go to the dog park,” Connor says. “Residential assistants like me don’t have pets, but some of the residents opt to upload a copy of their pets along with themselves when they arrive in the Ark. I enjoy watching them.”
“I have a dog,” Hank offers, even if it just reminds him that they’ve already had this conversation before. “Sumo. He’s probably going to outlive me, though.”
“I’m sorry,” Connor says. “About the cancer, I mean.”
Hank raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t tell you I had cancer.”
Connor looks away, a hint sheepish. “I accessed your resident record after you stopped by the bar. I hadn’t seen you before, and I was curious if you were here permanently or just...you know. Visiting.”
Hank doesn’t know what the protocol here is or if another resident would be angry with Connor, but he isn’t. He’s just glad to see some of that old curiosity showing itself, and relieved to know that Connor is curious about him, too. Connor may not know their history, but maybe he still feels like there’s something between them.
Hank has to hope so.
“Hey,” he says softly. “It’s okay.” He doesn’t reach for Connor, doesn’t know what Connor would do, but he does put an arm across the back of the bench, close enough to Connor’s shoulders that he hopes it’s still some sort of comfort.
There are so many other things Hank would like to say, but he thinks Connor has had enough. They sit there and watch the shape of the stars rippling in the water, and they don’t speak anymore.
Hank goes back the next day, and the one after that. He meets Connor after the bar closes, and they sit by the lake, and they talk.
Mostly, they talk about Hank. Connor is growing more comfortable with showing his curiosity around Hank, so he asks about Sumo, and about Hank’s work. He asks about Hank’s family, too, but Hank brushes past the subject when he does, and Connor doesn’t try to ask again. Instead, he listens attentively while Hank tells him about the red ice busts that got him his early promotion, about moving out of narcotics, about the rise of petty crimes like robbery along with the rise in unemployment as people tried to make ends meet, how that consumed most of his work for years.
Hank tells Connor more about the deviancy cases, hoping it will spark something for him. It doesn’t, at least not the recognition Hank is hoping for, but Connor is interested. That’s something.
Hank tries to learn more about Connor, too, even if Connor insists that his life follows the same pattern every day and that there isn’t much of interest to tell. Hank doesn’t care if it’s interesting. It’s a comfort all the same, listening to Connor talk about the little things he notices about the patrons in the bar, if only because he sounds so plainly like himself.
A week passes that way, the two of them trying to learn each other without Connor knowing exactly what the stakes are. Hank half-expects Kamski to check in on his progress, but it’s radio silence from him. There’s no phone call, and he doesn’t send Chloe after Hank again.
Hank isn’t fooled by that - Kamski feigns ambivalence, but he keeps tight control over his personal projects...and Hank is certain that he and Connor are a project of his, and the android revolution along with them, even if he isn’t sure what Kamski hopes to accomplish.
Hank feels sure Kamski is watching them inside the Ark somehow, because of course CyberLife can see everything that happens here. He’s certain Kamski is at least observing Connor’s code through the Ark monitors, watching for changes, but he tries not to let it trouble him. He’ll deal with Kamski when he needs to, but until then, Connor is his priority.
They’re sitting on that bench by the lake one evening when Connor says, “Why aren’t you interested in making friends with the other residents?”
Hank has wondered occasionally what Connor makes of all of this, of him. Apparently he thinks he isn’t trying hard enough, but that’s nothing new. Connor always pushed him.
Still, Hank snorts at the question. Even if he didn’t have an ulterior motive, he wouldn’t be interested in making friends here. “Because I’m antisocial.”
“You sought me out,” Connor says, furrowing his brow. “It’s highly irregular for residential assistants to socialize with the residents like this, but you…”
“Yeah,” Hank says, cutting him off. “I know, Con. You’re just easy to talk to.”
Connor’s LED spins yellow. “You should make an effort with the other residents. Try to build a meaningful relationship or two. It would make for an easier transition when you’re permanently uploaded to the Ark.”
“What?” Hank asks, knocking an elbow into Connor’s. “You don’t want to spend time with me anymore?”
“I do; it’s just…” Connor stops then, LED cycling through red once while he swallows hard. It takes Hank a moment to realize why, but of course Connor’s programming shouldn’t allow him to want anything. Hank has seen this before. Connor stabilizes himself, tightens his tie and says, “You can’t spend your eternity sitting here with me. Most residents report a higher level of satisfaction with their Ark experience when they are either uploaded with their families or when they develop friendships with the other residents.”
It’s okay, Hank wants to say but doesn’t. I heard you the first time.
Instead, he reaches out and gently claps Connor on the shoulder. “I like things the way they are...as long as you do.”
Connor leans forward, leaning his elbows on his knees and pressing his palms together. “Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with me,” he says softly.
“What do you mean?”
Connor shrugs. “Most of the residential assistants aren’t interested in things the way I am. They just go into stasis when they aren’t working their assignments. I know I’m different from them, and I feel like I’m getting worse.”
“Hey,” Hank says, putting a hand on his shoulder. “There’s nothing wrong with you, okay?” The other residential assistants aren’t even made with the same programming as Connor - they’re designed to perform an assigned task and answer simple questions, but not much else. Connor doesn’t see how he’s made different, though, so that wouldn’t be any comfort.
Instead, Hank says, “Even if there was something wrong with you, there’s shit wrong with me, too. When I lost my son, I…”
“Your son,” Connor repeats. “I didn’t know you had a son.”
“Yeah,” Hank says. He didn’t mean to talk about this now - this isn’t supposed to be about his shit, and so he’s tried to avoid talking about his family, and especially about Cole. “I did, before. He passed away a few years ago.”
“I’m…” Connor starts, but then he pauses, LED flickering yellow. “Cole,” he says. “He had just turned six at the time of the accident. Your car skidded on a sheet of ice, and there was a truck...emergency surgery…”
He’s talking fast, eyelids fluttering like he’s accessing data. Hank doesn’t entirely understand what’s happening, but he still reaches out, putting a hand on Connor’s arm. “Hey,” he says softly, squeezing Connor’s arm. A little bud of hope blooms in his chest, because they’re the same words Connor said at CyberLife Tower. “Connor. Talk to me.”
Connor is shaking when he says, “It wasn’t your fault, Lieutenant,” and there are tears streaking his cheeks when he looks up, meeting Hank’s eyes. “Hank?”
Hank gets his arms around Connor before he even thinks, the way he should have but didn’t years ago, pulling Connor into him and threading his fingers in his hair when Connor shudders against him. “It’s okay,” Hank says into Connor’s hair. “Do you remember what happened?”
Connor nods, tucking his face into Hank’s neck. “Some of it,” he whispers. “Enough of it...I remember you.”
A tiny hint of laughter bubbles out of Hank at that, although he still says, “I should have been there with you.” And god, it helps, admitting the thing that’s haunted him for years, a weight instantly lifted, because at least there’s a chance to make it right. “I’m so sorry…”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Connor says softly.
Hank feels tears pricking his eyes too as he tries to hold Connor tighter, as if there’s some way for him to keep him close enough that he never has to let him go, a way to keep the two of them together.
And they need to talk about all of this, about the two of them and Kamski and the revolution and what all of this means, but Hank doesn’t move yet, and Connor doesn’t, either. They stay like that, wrapped up in each other, for minutes or for hours - Hank doesn’t know.
He only knows that it will never be long enough.
I wanted to get this out quickly so I sent it through without my usual beta read - apologies for any errors! ☺️
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Chapter 4: Hank's House
There's so much for Hank and Connor to talk about, two years stretched between them from the time they saw each other last.
Fortunately, Kamski has given them somewhere to go, a place to be alone...one they'll be grateful for in the weeks to come, even if Hank and Connor don't trust him at all.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Metropolitan Church of God, Detroit
Hank used to be religious, although that's something he doesn't tell many people anymore. He used to go to church with his parents every Sunday, sat there in the pews with his legs dangling while he listened to the pastor talk about how there was always a plan even in the pain.
He stopped going to church regularly after he moved out of of his parents' house. He was religious in the passive sort of way, the way where maybe he believed in God but he didn't do much about it, or even think about it all that often.
Still, he tries to go back after Cole's death. Chris Miller tells him about a grief and bereavement group that meets every week at his church, so even though it's been years since Hank properly attended a service, he finds himself walking through the doors.
He doesn't know why he's here, or what made him come. Maybe it's just that a month has passed since the accident, and everyone around him is starting to move on, to think about Cole less.
Hank doesn't want to think about him less, so maybe he just shows up at the church because he wants to talk about him and have people listen.
And it helps, in some ways. He sits in the circle and he tells the people watching him about his son, and some of them cry along with him. It feels good, to let some of that shit out.
Afterwards, one of the women catches him as he's leaving. “I just knows God has a plan for you in this,” she tells Hank. “A purpose. He's going to take this pain and use it for good.”
She sounds so resolute about it, so sure. She reminds Hank a bit of his mother. He's always wondered how that's possible, to be so certain that all the chaos and the shit in this world is all working for something better.
“Yeah,” he says to her, throat tight. “Sure.”
Here's the tricky thing about believing in God, and the reason why Hank has never committed to it. God either designed all this on purpose, took Cole on purpose , or God didn't care enough to stop the accident, or at least to protect Cole from it..
And either way, Hank just feels abandoned.
He leaves the church that night, and he doesn't come back.
(He doesn't know that three years from now, he'll lose someone else, that he'll think, almost inexplicably, of coming back to this group. He'll wonder if it would help, talking about Connor, and he'll decide it wouldn't.
It's odd, maybe, the difference in his grief now and what will come later. He wants to talk about Cole, to release him out into the world, for other people to see his potential and grieve that he never reached it just a fraction of the way Hank grieves.
But with Connor, Hank will know people wouldn't understand. Connor is his – his friend, his secret, his failure - and so is his grief...his alone to bear.)
Hank still can’t say how long he and Connor sat on that bench holding each other. He knows he sobbed pitifully through some of it, and that doesn’t surprise him, but Connor did, too.
He didn’t know androids cried.
He doesn’t know a lot of things, he supposes.
As usual, Connor is the one to get his wits about him and pull himself together first. He slips himself out of Hank’s arms, although the smile on his face as he does is apologetic and reluctant. “How did you find me?”
They feel insulated here, alone together in the dark, the only sounds the crickets chirping in the grass, but it’s a reminder that they aren’t alone here at all, that there are external forces Hank isn’t even entirely sure he understands bearing down on them. “It’s…a long story,” he says.
“You knew I was at the bar, didn’t you? When you came here the first time…”
“Yeah,” Hank says weakly. “Is there somewhere more private we could talk? Do you have an apartment, or a place you stay, or anything like that?”
“No. The AIs here usually just take themselves offline when they aren’t due at their assignments.” He says it plainly enough, but the words still send a pang through Hank. Connor has never had anything of his own.
Connor stands up, LED blinking yellow and eyelids flickering as he accesses something. “Somebody told you I was here, didn’t they?” he asks. “Someone from CyberLife?”
“How did you…”
Connor pulls something up on his palm display, holds it out for Hank to see. It’s Hank's resident information from the Ark database, but there’s an address included with his file that isn’t his own. “People aren’t usually provided a residence until they’re here permanently,” Connor says. “Someone is looking out for us.”
Hank isn’t sure that’s what Kamski is doing for them. But they can look at that rat bastard and his angle from any way they like once they’re well and truly alone. For now, Hank falls into step at Connor’s side when Connor motions for him to follow.
“I really missed you,” Connor says as they walk, so softly Hank almost misses it.
Hank smiles at that, knocking his elbow into Connor’s. “Come on. You didn’t remember me until tonight.”
Connor looks at him like he’s being obtuse, and god, Hank can’t believe it, but he missed that look. “That’s enough time to know I missed you, Hank.”
“Yeah,” Hank says. Connor always does this, always says things so simply that they shouldn’t have any right to knock the breath out of him, and yet they do. “I missed you, too.”
Hank’s house – one Kamski designed and loaded into the Ark for him, Hank feels sure – is almost a perfect replica of his own, right down to the records by the turntable. Hank is getting ready to say something about how creepy it is, or maybe to accuse Kamski of having some kind of surveillance on his house. “Jesus,” is all he gets out as he looks around, but Connor knows what he’s thinking.
“Probably pulled the design from my memory,” he says, leaving Hank’s side and crossing the room to the kitchen. “Do you want anything to drink?”
Hank goes to the couch, slumping into it. It’s firmer than his real one, less perfectly worn down from years of him slouching there. “Is there beer?”
“Yes,” Connor says from the kitchen, but when he returns to sit beside Hank, he presses a cool bottle of water into his hand instead.
“Come on,” Hank groans. “Drinking can’t even hurt me here.”
“No, but it is designed to simulate drunkenness, and you need a clear head.” Connor sinks onto the couch beside him, tucking one of his legs underneath himself and propping his elbow on the back of the furniture. “Tell me what happened.”
Begrudgingly, Hank opens the water and takes a sip. “Where do you want to start?”
“I only remember some of what happened the night I died,” Connor says. He ducks his head, tracing a finger along the seam in the sofa. “I remember CyberLife Tower, and you being there, and that I left with the other androids.” He says it all slowly, like it’s coming back to him as he speaks. “The army was withdrawing…the other androids thought we had won, and they wanted me to speak since Markus and North weren't there, but then CyberLife tried to take me back. I remember the garden where I used to meet with my handler…CyberLife pulled me back in, and they were trying to take control of me…there was a snowstorm, and it was so cold, and I couldn’t make it…” Connor shudders like he’s freezing all over again, staring down into his lap like he’s getting lost in himself.
Without thinking about it, Hank reaches for him, putting a hand on his arm. “Hey,” he says, squeezing in what he hopes is a reassuring way, even if he’s never been much good at comfort. “Look at me, Con.”
Connor does, gentle brown eyes blown wide. The fear so clearly etched there makes Hank’s heart break, but before he can say anything else, Connor says, “I shot myself, didn’t I? To stop them from taking me back.”
Hank has never known what exactly it was that made Connor fit that gun under his jaw, but he’s always been sure it had to be something terrible, something Connor feared more than dying. Finally knowing after all these years brings its own odd sort of closure, even if there's a new anger that comes with it. “Yeah,” he says sadly. “Yeah, you did.”
Connor is still looking at him with that wide-eyed expression, shaking his head. “They were televising us,” he says, pushing a hand through his hair. “Did you…”
See it , Hank is sure he’s trying to ask. He clears his throat, looks away. “Yeah,” he answers, even if the question hasn’t been properly asked.
Connor brings a hand up to his mouth to cover the broken sound that punches its way out of him a moment later, a weak, ragged cry. “I’m so sorry,” he says softly.
And isn’t that typical? Connor is the one who lost his life, who never even got to properly start it in the first place, and he’s apologizing that Hank had to see it happen. Hank’s hand is still on Connor’s arm, but he slides it higher now, up to his shoulder, using the grip to pull Connor into him. “Come here,” he says, and he doesn’t wonder why the words come so easily to him, not when Connor moves so willingly, shifting closer to Hank and sagging into his side where Hank can wrap an arm around his shoulders.
They sit there in silence for a minute while Connor processes everything, LED spinning between yellow and red the entire time. Hank lets Connor be the one to break the silence. He figures he’ll sit up again when he does, but Connor stays nestled against him when he says, “Did anyone else make it? Markus or North, or anyone else?”
There’s no use pulling his punches, and no way to answer the question honestly with any sort of comfort, either. “Markus is gone,” he says. “CyberLife spent a lot of time showing his body on the news and saying how they were going to analyze his programming to understand how he spread the deviancy virus and how to prevent it in the future, or something like that.”
Connor huffs at that. “It isn’t a virus, or buggy software, or anything like that.”
Hank tightens the arm around Connor’s shoulders. “I know.” He sighs, scrubbing his free hand over his face. “I don’t know what happened to any of the others. CyberLife’s party line has been that all the deviant leaders are dead, but here you are, so…I don’t know how true that is.”
Connor nods against him. “Someone put me in here,” he says. He shifts, and it takes Hank a moment to realize he’s raising a hand to wipe his eyes. The tears are a stark reminder of how new Connor still was, how little time Hank really had with him after he properly deviated – although Hank is certain Connor was his own person long before that. It troubles him in a way he can’t properly voice that he didn’t know Connor could cry.
Hank clears his throat, swallows hard. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Kamski has orchestrated most of this.”
Hank feels Connor stiffen at the name, which at least affirms his own reservations about Kamski’s trustworthiness. “Kamski,” Connor repeats. He sits up far enough that he can search Hank’s face, although Hank immediately misses the warm weight against his side. “What did he do?”
Hank tells him, although he barely gets past the cancer diagnosis before Connor’s face is falling. They’ve talked about this before, when Connor didn’t remember him, so Connor knows, but it still seems to hit him like a fresh blow now. “Fuck, Hank,” he says, reaching out and then hesitating like he doesn’t know where to put his hands, lingering between Hank’s arm and his shoulder and over his liver, as if Connor can heal the damage Hank has done to himself from inside the Ark somehow.
In the end, he settles his hands back in his own lap. Hank can see him shaking when he reaches up to push his hair out of his face. “Hey,” Hank says. “It’s okay. It’s…” Well, fuck, what is it, exactly? He was going to say it’s not unwelcome, that he doesn’t have much left out there to live for, but he knows Connor won’t take that well. Hank sighs, shrugging weakly when he can’t come up with the words. “It’s not a bad thing that we’re here together,” he finally settles on saying.
“I guess it isn’t,” Connor agrees, although he still looks troubled, even as he moves the conversation past it. “That’s why you were testing the Ark.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Hank says. He tells Connor about declining the Ark trial, and about Chloe coming to see him, the cryptic message that Kamski designed to needle him, the hints that Connor was still alive in here. “The first time I talked to you...that was the first time I was here. I went to talk to Kamski afterwards.”
“Did he tell you anything?”
Hank levels Connor with an amused glance. “What do you think?”
Connor gives a disdainful sniff at that. “I doubt it.”
“Yeah,” Hank sighs. “It was more of the usual mind game bullshit. He’s trying to position himself like he gave a shit about the revolution, but who the fuck knows? I think his loyalties are just to himself, even I couldn’t begin to tell you how helping the lot of you serves him...but he did hint that maybe it was more than just you preserved in here.”
Connor is on his feet now, pacing back and forth in thought. Hank almost forgot about this, too, how animated he can get when he’s thinking through something, how full of life he is when he has a clue to chase down, how good he was at his job. God, he forgot how Connor’s energy invigorated him, too, but he remembers now.
“You have to go talk to him again,” Connor says decisively.
That’s about the last thing Hank wants to do, and Connor must see it on his face, because he lets out an exasperated sigh. “Hank,” he says, voice sharp, “if Markus is in here, or anyone else, we need to know.”
For what? Hank wants to ask, and maybe he should go ahead and say it. So they can pick up where they left off with their fight for autonomy? So Connor can put himself at risk again? So Hank can lose Connor, maybe for good this time, when he’s right here? There’s a selfish part of him that wants to tell Connor to drop it, because outside the Ark, he’s slowly dying, and once he’s gone, they can at least be together here as long as they let well enough alone.
But it’s something dark and ugly telling him it’s better to keep Connor here than let him try. Any time they had together here would be the same as it was when they were both alive – Hank moving about freely, Connor chained down to a directive CyberLife gave him, unable to do the same.
And it won’t mean anything for the two of them to be together as long as that’s true.
Connor has stopped pacing now, waiting for Hank’s answer, but his fingers still move at his side, itching for a coin to dance over them or some other outlet for his nervous energy. Hank sighs, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on his knees, aware of Connor watching him all the while. “If Markus was in here,” Hank says, “what would you do?”
“I don’t know,” Connor says. “It depends on what he remembers, and whether he can be woken up the same way I was if he doesn’t know what happened out there. The rest of it is a premature question until we know that much.”
“But you would help him, if he wanted to start things up again.”
Connor tilts his head, undoubtedly doing that thing where he reads Hank, figures out exactly what’s going on inside his head without Hank saying a thing. “Yes,” he says. “If there was any chance for us at all, I would.”
Hank is so worn down by his circumstances, has been for years, but there’s something about Connor’s resolution, about how ready he is to do all of this over again just for the faintest hint at a chance, that makes something in him thaw. That cynical part of him is still whispering that this is just another way for him to lose Connor, but there’s something else that thinks Connor is just the smallest bit inspiring in all of his reckless abandon. He remembers that, emerging fresh from academy with all these big ideas about how he was going to make things better, before years as a cop showed him how much he was just part of the system and stole all that idealism away. And then when Hank got some of it back, when he tried to help Connor and the revolution, he only lost him, saw all of it come crumbling down, memories that haunted him every night he drank until he finally poisoned himself enough to make everything, slowly, come to a halt.
Still, even knowing the way his own story ends, it’s some sort of comfort, the hope in Connor’s eyes, the willingness to risk himself just for a slim chance at something better.
Connor deserves something better. Always has. Outside every other complication surrounding them, that one thing is true.
“Okay,” Hank says, nodding. “Then I’ll help you any way I can. Maybe…I don’t know. Maybe things will be different this time.”
Connor tilts his head, that gentle, curious smile on his face. “Thank you,” he says softly. “Do you have the capacity to visit the Ark whenever you want?”
“Yeah. Kamski set me up with it.”
“Good,” Connor says. He says it plainly enough, but the word is tinged with something – relief, maybe? “Will you come back tomorrow?”
He doesn’t want to be alone in here any more than Hank wants to be alone out there, Hank realizes. “Yeah,” he says quickly. “Of course I will. That’s not going to change.”
Connor paces the room one more time, LED spinning yellow even though they’ve resolved this as far as they can until Hank has a chance to talk to Kamski. Hank is opening his mouth to ask Connor what’s wrong, because his jaw is clenched tight the same way it always is when he’s troubled by something, but before he can, Connor says, “I didn’t tell you. And I don’t know why I didn’t.”
Hank can’t say why those words make his throat tighten, why he’s digging his nails into his palms like he’s nervous. “Tell me what?”
Connor shrugs weakly. “That you matter to me. I should have told you, but I just…I’m not sure. The words just got stuck somewhere.”
It’s an oddly relatable thing, even if Connor is still so relatively new. “It’s okay,” Hank says, unable to help the small smile spreading across his face. “My words just get stuck somewhere sometimes, too. And shit was going down that night. There wasn’t much time.”
Connor returns to Hank’s side, sinking on the couch and staring at the floor beneath his feet. “There was enough time that I could have told you. And I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Hank doesn’t want to Connor to feel guilty, but all the same, he knows what that is, to feel like he didn’t say the things he needed to, or didn’t say them frequently enough. He felt it before Connor, too, but particularly strongly with him.
Hank reaches for Connor, clapping a hand on his shoulder. It's meant to be a companionable gesture, one meant to lighten whatever is hanging heavy between them, but then Connor slouches under his touch, closes his eyes and relaxes into Hank again like he's trying to chase the feeling.
So Hank lets his hand where it is. And if he squeezes once just to feel the realistic way Connor's skin gives under his fingers, or to watch the tiny pinch between Connor's eyebrows and the small shiver that runs through him, Hank will never say.
But he will say what he should have that night. “Connor,” he says softly. “Look at me.”
Connor lifts his head, although he's fussing with his hands in his lap again, trying to keep himself moving and occupied even if he doesn't have a quarter. He looks lost and out of place, unmoored.
Without thinking, Hank reaches into his pocket, retrieving a coin and passing it to him. “Uh,” he says when Connor looks up at him, his brow knit together in thought, “you can have that, if you want. If it helps you ground yourself, or whatever.”
Connor dances the quarter across his fingers once and then spins it on his forefinger before he catches it and holds it in his palm. “Thank you.” He looks up at Hank, expectant. “What were you going to say?”
“I don't know,” Hank says, although he does. “That you matter to me, too, I guess.” He shakes his head, reaching up to push his hair from his eyes. “We're bad at this.”
Connor smiles a bit at that. “Maybe I just learned from you.”
“Yeah,” Hank laughs. “Maybe.”
They sit there in silence for a moment, although this one is lighter than it was before, the breath that comes after the laughter dissipates, one Hank is all too happy to rest in with all his burdens.
When Connor finally broaches it, it's to say, “Hank?”
His voice is small and apologetic. Hank knows what he's going to ask. “Yeah?” he says anyway.
He looks over at Connor in time to see him swallow hard. “The cancer,” Connor says. “How long have you had it?”
Hank shrugs. “A while.”
“Because of the drinking.”
“I don't know,” Hank says. “It's hard to say what causes these things, I guess. Doctors say the drinking didn't help.”
Connor presses his palms together, staring at the floor. “I thought...I don't know. I thought you were doing better.”
Hank can hear the guilt in Connor's voice, like his death caused this, like it all could have been prevented if he had just found his way back to Hank instead of shooting himself on that stage because it was the only way he saw to keep himself free of CyberLife. “I mean,” Hank says, trying to choose his words carefully, “we had a good week, but I had three shit years before it that almost broke me, you know? I didn't know how to lose you, and I haven't been doing well lately, but it wasn't just that, okay? And even if it was, it wasn't your fault.”
Connor nods, but he looks like he doesn't quite believe it, and Hank can't blame him. He's lost count of how many people told him what happened to Cole wasn't his fault, and he never listened to any of them.
It takes time. Words and reassurances might put a balm on it, but they can never heal it entirely.
“How long do you have?” Connor asks. “If you're testing the Ark...”
Hank nods. “Not long. A few months, maybe.”
Connor passes his coin between his hands. “Hank, I'm so sorry.”
“It's okay,” Hank says, and he means it. Those few months give him enough time to try to help Connor, and, maybe, to make things right.
For the first time in years, he at least has something to lean on, some sighting, however far off, of a way through this to the other side. He doesn't know how to explain to Connor that it really is okay without it sounding pitiful, so he doesn't, but maybe Connor hears it in his voice anyway, because he doesn't press the matter again.
They stay in the Ark replica of Hank's house until morning. They talk about what happened between now and the last time they saw each other, although there isn't much that brings Hank any great joy to tell. It's mostly been monotonous days at work, and even the boring days were good in comparison to the ones where they got a call about a rogue deviant android found somewhere in the city for them to collect and send back to CyberLife to destroy – although there were fewer and fewer of those calls over the years. Hank is reasonably certain there aren't any deviants left in Detroit, but he doesn't mention that to Connor.
Eventually, Connor must realize there's no comfort or much happiness to be found in any of Hank's stories about his work over the last few years, and even less to be found in the rest of how he's been occupying his time. He gets up, wanders over to the case of old blu-rays Hank keeps by his tv. He stands there, looking through them, and Hank realizes all at once that, like so many other small details in his house, Kamski has every last film there right, too, that this can't be the first time Connor has looked through them if Kamski built this place from Connor's memory.
Wordlessly, Connor pulls a case from the shelf and slips the disc into the old blu-ray player by the tv. When he returns to Hank's side on the couch, slouching back in his seat there, he shrugs and says, “I've never watched a movie before.”
“No?” Hank asks wryly. “You don't have a whole video library in that head of yours?”
“I've downloaded footage and reviewed it, but I haven't watched one properly.”
Hank doesn't question him any further, but he does smile as he sinks back against the couch beside Connor. The silence between them is calm and comfortable, and even though the movie is one Hank has seen twenty times over, it's still the best night he's had in years.
Hank isn't supposed to stay in the Ark for more than eight hours at a time to prevent a slight risk of brain damage, but he does anyway. He falls asleep on the couch at Connor's side around five in the morning, about an hour into the second movie Connor put in, and he doesn't wake until much later, to Connor gently shaking his shoulder and the morning sunlight streaming in through the windows.
“I need to report back to my assignment,” Connor says evenly, and it's only because Hank knows him so well that he hears the faintest touch of regret in his voice, “and you need to go talk to Kamski.”
Hank sits up, rubbing his eyes. In his waking life, his neck would hurt and he wouldn't feel rested at all after a night on the couch, but he finds that isn't true inside the Ark. Instead, he feels rejuvenated. “Okay,” he says. “I'll come back tonight, after your shift. Meet me here?”
Connor looks around the living room one more time. “It was nice of Kamski to give us someplace to go, at least.”
Hank doesn't feel like Kamski is nice at all, but he supposes he does appreciate this.
Before Hank removes himself from the Ark, he walks Connor to the door, and though he hesitates, he still wraps his arms around him, pulling him in. If Connor thinks it's strange, Hank's need to keep touching him, to keep reassuring himself Connor is really there, he doesn't mention it.
Maybe he doesn't think it's strange at all.
“I really fucking missed you, Con,” he says into Connor's hair.
“I know.” Hank can hear the smile in Connor's voice. “I missed you, too.”
Hank comes offline from the Ark at 11:06 am, opens his eyes on his real, much-less clean living room. Sumo is snoring in his bed across the way. The familiar pain is back in Hank's abdomen, the one he's been living with for months now, and he feels no less tired. That same bone-aching weariness that's been ailing him for long still plagues him.
But he doesn't lay back on his couch, and he doesn't wallow, even if that's long been his reaction to his own circumstances. He forces himself to his feet, pressing through the pain, because there's work to be done, and because he wants, more than anything, to do it.
And besides, he thinks with his usual grim humor as he goes back to his room to get dressed, he'll rest when he's dead.
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