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“I got you,” He whispers softly as he slips his hands under Connor’s shoulders. There’s a storm rolling in from the east, and he suspects that they will be drenched if they are still outside in a few minutes.

 

Connor only lets out a soft huff of air, his LED spinning an exhausted red. He’s solid under Markus’s hands, and the heat rolling off of him is only testament to his system status. “I’ve got you,” he repeats, not because he thinks Connor didn’t hear him but because he does. He supposes he may be saying it equally to himself as he continues. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here, but I’m here now.”

 

Connor is limp when Markus pulls him against his chest and tucks Connor’s head beneath his chin. The suit Connor’s wearing is soaked through in some parts from the puddle he’d landed in, and Markus decides he’ll have to get him a change of clothes.

 

“Does Hank know where you are?” He asks softly, knowing that most sounds are probably grinding on Connor’s nerves. He gets a good grip before hoisting Connor into his arms and standing. There’s a fire escape on the back of the building that leads to the hallway outside of Markus’s room that he heads towards— it would be faster than cutting through Jericho, and it would keep any gawkers away.

 

Connor gives a faint shake of his head, his nose rubbing against Markus’s throat. He’s heavy in his arms, and Markus takes solace in the weight of him against his thirium pump. There’s something instinctually soothing about holding him so close.

 

Faint thunder rumbles in the distance, and Markus moves for the stairs. He sends a quick message to the Lieutenant, informing him of Connor’s safety and promising to look after him until he was on his feet again. It’s difficult to juggle both Connor and the door, but he manages, and the faint sounds of Detroit are silenced behind the heavy steel door.

 

Connor makes a low whine in the back of his throat at the lights from the hallway, turning his head further to block them out. Markus rubs his thumb across his shoulder as he walks into his room. “I know. Just hang on a moment.”

 

He sets Connor down on the plush comforter that covers his bed before turning off the lights and drawing the curtains tightly, blocking out almost all light from the room. Afterwards he turns on the box fan that he’d bought for Connor specifically, leaving it at the highest setting. Only then does he notice that Connor had reanimated on his bed and was struggling to strip out of his jacket. His movements are desperate and uncoordinated, and Markus can see his LED flashes red even from across the room.

 

He hurries back to the bed and catches Connor’s wrists gently before efficiently working him free of the jacket. “It’s okay. Calm down.” He murmurs soothingly, folding the jacket and setting it off to the side.

 

Connor’s started rocking back and forth on the bed, one hand coming up to scratch at the skin under his throat, the other reaching up and tightly gripping a fistful of hair. Markus moves forward and begins to carefully unbutton Connor’s dress shirt, moving to and fro with Connor’s rocking as he does.

 

“It’s—” Connor gives his head a little shake, face twisted in misery. “Too much. Like—” He gives a violent shutter, forcing Markus to pause for a moment before finishing with the last button and carefully peeling the wet shirt from Connor’s strong shoulders, trying not to let the fabric drag. In the low light that sneaks in from behind the curtains, Connor’s pale skin is painted indigo and the splattering of moles that decorate his body are accentuated.

 

Connor quickly tugs his arms from those sleeves as well and huff out a tight breath. “Like— my skin is crawling— everything is touching me.” The distress in his voice makes Markus’s heart fracture as he sets the shirt aside as well.

 

“I know. It won’t last. Just focus on me for a moment.” Connor looks up, eyes dark with misery from the hyperstimulation that’s thrumming through his veins. He’s begun to shake as his body tried to release some of the desperate energy it was building up as it prepared for a fight. When he reaches out to take his hands Markus can feel the tremors snaking up and down Connor’s body. He can feel how Connor tries to pay attention but keeps getting distracted by minute sensations that are plaguing his mind from overclocked sensors.

 

“It’s okay. I got you. Focus, Connor.” He gives his arms a little squeeze, ducking his head to catch Connor’s dark eyes. Finally he gets his full attention. “What is your stress level at?”

 

“Seventy-eight,” Connor tells him, voice static and broken. The LED at his temple flashes. His shoulders are hunching closer to his ears in a defensive position. He looks exhausted.

 

Too high, Markus thinks with a slight frown. High but manageable. “Okay.” He nods. “I think you need to stay here.” Markus tells him gently. It was obvious, but Markus knows that sometimes it helped to ease Connor’s mind when some things were taken out of his hands and dealt with by someone else.

 

Connor nods a moment later, his eyes falling shut. His shaking increases even as his shoulders slump. “Okay.” Markus repeats. Connor’s grip is tight but hot, and Markus gives him a strong squeeze back before carefully freeing himself. Connor’s rhythmic rocking begins all over again as he wraps his arms around himself and then lets go as if the sensation is too much.

 

“Yeah?” Markus asks as he gives the waistband of Connor’s slacks a slight tug, just enough for Connor to notice.

 

Connor nods, hands making little aborted movements as he tried to find a position that didn’t set off every sensor in his body.

 

They thankfully don’t happen often, these episodes, but they’ve happened frequently enough that Markus knows just how to deal with them and understand why they’re so distressing. The way Connor described it was as if every nerve and sensor on his body was amplified by 200% until he could feel the vibrations of cars outside on the street and taste trace amounts of skin flakes in the air. As an android designed to only last two months and never feel a single ounce of emotion or discomfort, this flaw in Connor’s design has been overlooked.

 

Overlooked so that now 4 years later sometimes Connor got punched in the face with a sudden onslaught of feedback and had to fight to get somewhere safe; be it Jericho or Hank’s house. So far, he’d made it each time. Markus fears the day when the distance proves too far, and Connor goes down where no one can find him.

 

Markus stops thinking about what could be and focuses on what he can do in the moment, and carefully unzips Connor’s pants and tugs them off his hips and down his legs, folding them and setting them with his other clothes. He would send them to the wash later, and Connor could just wear something of his.

 

He grabs the massive blanket that Connor always claimed when he was over and waited as Connor finished shucking off his boxer briefs as well before helping him disappear under the soft blanket on the bed. He hesitates at the sensation of the sheets on his skin before trying to lie down. The comforter is acceptable to be laid on top of the other blanket so long as it doesn’t actually touch him, and Markus stands with it in his hands while Connor squirms on the bed in an effort to find a position that isn’t agony to his overtaxed body.

 

It takes a few minutes, but eventually Connor settles on his stomach, hands pressed fiercely against his eyes with the weight of his own head.

 

Markus tugs Connor’s soft blanket up but leaves his upper back exposed before tossing the comforter close enough to be snatched if Connor so wanted it.

 

He sits down on the floor, side against the bed frame where he can sit next to Connor.

 

“Better?” He asks, wanting to reach out and run his fingers through Connor’s hair or maybe trace patterns on his back but knowing that touch was unwelcome at this stage in the process. He keeps his hands to himself and tries to gauge Connor with only his eyes.

 

Connor lets out a low whine that contains no sign of any intelligible words, and Markus grimaces in sympathy.

 

“Levels?”

 

A muffled “Fifty-six,” comes from behind Connor’s palms, and Markus nods. That was better.

 

Connor’s still pressing his hands against his face firmly, a technique he’d learned months ago. Apparently the pressure from his hands helped ground him since he already knew what his own skin and components were designed with.

 

He would like to distract Connor, maybe talk to him or put on music, but he knows that silence was the most healing thing Connor could get in moments like these. Silence and white noise to block out anything that tried to assault his overclocked audio processors. So Markus bites back the words on his tongue and closes his eyes while he waits for Connor’s invitation for contact.

 

He sees that both North and Simon have reached out to ask how things were going— he’d told them before ducking out of their meeting that Connor was unwell again and on his way and promised to keep them updated. Simon was asking if they should cancel his 3 o’clock meeting and North was offering to take over watching Connor if it came down to it. Besides himself and Hank, she had the best experience with Connor’s episodes, having been the first one to ever witness it.

 

He approves canceling the meeting. Connor will be upset to hear it, but Markus wants to stay around. He’s learned over the years that he doesn’t like knowing that Connor isn’t okay and not being there to help. It’s always upsetting, trying to focus on some other task while subconsciously knowing that Connor was distressed. He doesn’t know where it stems from, but he supposes its testimony to how close he and the rk800 have come.

 

Connor’s voice pulls him from his thoughts. “You’looull up here?”

 

Markus isn’t sure that was any traditional language he knows, but he deciphers it all the same for what it is: Connor wanted him closer.

 

Markus is only happy to oblige.

 

He stands from the floor and climbs onto the bed, laying on top of the covers. He doesn’t get close enough to touch, because it’s not been long enough for Connor’s sensors to have reset, but he is close enough that Connor turns his head from his hands finally and reaches out and puts his hand on Markus’s arm.

 

Markus takes his hand, flattening it on the bed and covering it with his own— the sensors on the back of Connor’s hand are far less sensitive than the ones on the front.

 

He wonders if this would be weird for humans— he knows they get hypersensitive as well, but he’s not sure if Connor’s method of comfort is universal. He’s sure that humans would be embarrassed— Connor is naked under the blanket and Markus is right there— but Connor’s lack of genitalia and Markus’s lack of interest in sex at all makes this a very tame occurrence.

 

Though there is a certain level of trust that comes with this— but it has less to do with the nakedness and more to do with the weakness. Connor doesn’t let anyone take care of him other than a very select few, and despises others even seeing him operate at anything less than all cylinders. Markus isn’t sure if it’s a mindset Cyberlife beat him into him, a defense he built up while working with the DPD, or a requirement to always appear infallible while he stands as Markus’s bodyguard, immortal and therefore unable to fail his mission in protecting Markus himself.

 

Hell, it’s probably a mix of all three.

 

Either way, despite the lack of sexual tension, the sacredness remains. Markus knows that while he sits here next to Connor on this bed, that he’s privy to a sight that very few people will ever get to witness in their lifetime— the sight of the only rk800 resting and recovering, trying not to lose his mind as he lay vulnerable on the sheets.

 

Markus slips out of his jacket and kicks off his shoes so he can lay down next to Connor properly, settling on his side so he can watch how Connor’s back moves up and down with artificial breath.

 

His pale skin is painted blue with the faint light that sleeps through the curtains, and when Markus is allowed to touch again he plans on tracing lines from one beauty mark to another and back. He wants to trace the synthetic muscles and feel how they bunch under his fingertips, created for fierce strength but still appearing so lithe.

 

Markus is not fooled by Connor’s slight frame. He knows the power that Connor’s body carries. He’s witnessed it firsthand. He’s seen Connor jump from roofs and tackle assassins, dismantle a weapon and break a neck with those strong muscles— has seen him scale a building, carry a body, fight and hunt and stand, stand proud as ever with the rest of Jericho, stand, shoulders straight and chin high as they challenged the American people for the rights they deserved.

 

And yet, in that room under the distant thunder of an approaching storm, downed by his own faulty design and a mistake that had not been his own, Connor looks soft and pliable, like a wounded animal seeking shelter.

 

There’s a certain grace to Connor— to the lines of his spine and neck and the silkiness of his hair, to his strong brow and sharp nose, soft lips and distinct jaw. He’s graceful in his existence, in his sleep. Markus knows it’s purposeful, the design of the android before him, but he also knows that Connor’s grace expands so much farther than any of his designers ever intended.

 

Where there’s strength in his muscles and his stance, there’s tenderness to his eyes and a certain gentleness to his soul. He was made a killer with hands already soiled, and yet Markus has seen Connor entertain children with coin tricks no human could ever accomplish and scritch at the hamsters in stores until they melt under his careful attention. Sure, Markus has seen Connor leap off stage with two bullets in his belly— but he’s also seen Connor cradle Lieutenant Anderson’s massive St. Bernard the way one might cradle a baby, converting his structured hunting strength into a loving nuzzle as he drawled on about what a good boy Sumo was. Markus has seen Connor hold a wicked sniper rifle as though it was only an extension of his own body, but he’s also seen Connor carry North on his shoulders so that she could see above a crowd of onlookers and laugh when she covered his eyes with her small hands so that he couldn’t see.

 

Connor is the most efficient and calculated member of Markus’s advisors. He’s cool where the other’s run hot and smooth when things splinter apart.

 

Whereas Markus is the voice, strong and fiery, setting crowds of people aflame and creating roaring waves among their people, Connor is the collected head that helps Markus come back to Earth, focus on the next task, the next day, and continue carrying on. Markus is the explosion, the fireworks that make people shudder with excitement, and Connor is the foundation, the cool stone that will remain forever, never to be blown out.

 

Markus continues to watch how Connor’s back rises and falls as he rests, how the blanket draped across his back falls over him and sheaths him in rich greens and browns. This is the man he’d yanked out of the waves and tugged back from the cliff ledge. The man who’d told him in a steady voice that he’d deactivate himself only the day after he’d marched through the Detroit streets as a leader of thousands. This is the man whose body sometimes committed mutiny and lit his nerves on fire until he collapsed into the dirt.

 

This is the man who had stolen some part of Markus’s soul and kept it for himself, who’d slipped right into Markus’s heart and made himself a home there, who Markus wanted to forever stand by, sleep by, touch and claim.

 

One day, Markus would tell him as much.

 

But for now he relishes in the fact that Connor trusts him enough to seek him out in his weakest moments— it’s a privilege and nothing less— Connor had deemed him safe and trustworthy. It makes Markus feel loved even as he’s the one acting as the caretaker. He supposes it just shows how special Connor is to him.

 

“Stop staring at me.” Connor mumbles into the sheets, face partially buried in the mattress and nose smushed. His eyes are closed.

 

“I can’t,” Markus tells him, keeping his voice no louder than Connor’s. His fingers itch to reach out and touch him, so he lays on his hands.

 

A single dark eye peeks out at him. “Why do you always look at me like that?”

 

Markus realizes he has no idea how he looks at Connor, but he images he looks like a lovestruck fool. “Because you’re very pretty.” He teases, trying to make Connor smile.

 

Connor lets out a non-committal grunt, dark eyelashes finally fluttering as he opens his dark eyes to look at where Markus lies next to him. Markus watches quietly as those eyes sweep over him, eyeing him up and down before disappearing again. “I suppose you’re not too bad to look at either.” Connor mumbles with a quirk to his lips, melting back into the mattress. Markus hopes he’s not grinning stupidly. He’s just glad Connor can talk again, even if it’s not much.

 

“How are you feeling?” He asks.

 

“Like my skin is on fire.” Connor murmurs, eyes still closed. Markus knows he dislikes revealing the discomfort he experiences, as though it somehow makes him weaker by admitting that it exists, but over time Connor had been getting better at describing how he felt so that Markus and Hank could actually help. “Like... I can feel every follicle of hair on my body.”

 

He nods. That was similar to the previous times Connor had tried to explain the sensation to him. It was always just too much sensation, too much feedback, an abnormally high amount of sensitivity. For now they don’t have a cure, but Markus knows that Connor and Josh are looking into a patch that may help lessen the effects of these episodes after they start. He makes a mental note to ask how far it’s come later.

 

He gets an idea. “Would it help if you deactivate your skin?”

 

Connor cracks an eye open at him, seeming to chew on that idea mentally for a moment. “I’m not sure. Maybe. Most of my neuroreceptors are located in the chassis itself, and the skin helps direct the currents.” His words blur together some as his mouth is still smushed into the sheets, but Markus hears him well enough.

 

Markus hums, considering that. He’s not sure if it would be good or bad then. He supposes they wouldn’t know unless Connor tried it, which he doesn’t say aloud because he knows that Connor is just as aware of that as he is.

 

Sure enough, a moment later Connor’s skin flickers and then begins to recede, starting at his shoulders and slowly creeping away from his back and head. In seconds he consists only of the soft white chassis that shields his synthetic muscles, wrapped partially in gray plates that are easily penetrable for repairs. The seams of his body are pronounced in this form, forming thin lines that trace up the planes of his back and around his head, criss-crossing over his scalp and under his eyes. A small barcode mars his cheek similarly to how his moles do, and on the back of his neck and base of his spine are two large ports for repair— they’re not automatically assessable in mass production models and seeing them makes Markus’s stomach tighten.

 

He wonders how many times they had hung Connor up on an assembly rig— how many times they sunk the rig’s prongs into Connor’s back and tugged him off his feet— wonders if Connor had feared them, if he was uncomfortable. Connor had made a joke weeks ago that maybe he had been a deviant since the moment he opened his eyes, and while Markus had laughed at the time, now it’s far more unsettling.

 

Connor brings him out of his stewing before he can fall too deeply. He shifts on the sheets, seeming to relax finally. Perhaps deactivating his skin actually had helped.

 

“Better?” Markus asks, lowering himself back down onto the bed and rolling onto his side so he can face where Connor still lays on his stomach.

 

Connor’s LED has finally shifted from an angry red to a timid yellow, spinning constantly. He gazes up at Markus with bleary eyes and nods. Seeing Connor without any skin on his face is odd for a moment. His facial structure is exactly the same— his brows and jaw pronounced, face soft— but he looks more vulnerable— more open.

 

“Good.” Markus tells him, voice low husky.

 

One day. One day he’ll tell Connor.

 

Connor sinks into the bed fully, all the tension slipping out of his body at once. He looks like he’d like the blankets to swallow him right up where he could just be comfortable existing for a while. Markus can’t blame him. It’s not fair— this torment Connor suffers— the price of asking to be alive. He knows that the good days outweigh the bad, but that doesn’t make Connor’s pain in that moment any less.

 

“I’m going to go into standby now,” Connor informs him very matter-of-factly, his words airy. His hand shifts beneath Markus’s and he intertwines their fingers together, giving Markus’s hand a tight squeeze. The pressure of Connor’s capable fingers is nice.

 

“Okay,” Markus whispers back, watching how each artificial breath makes Connor’s body shift just a bit. He’s so impossibly full of life that Markus doesn’t understand how anyone could ever look at this creature and only see a machine. Connor’s grip tightens just a bit in acknowledgement.

 

———

 

Markus has things he should be doing. He should be coordinating meeting with the mayor and helping Simon reschedule last months’ rally, and he needs to call the attorney general and police commissioner both— his task list is currently 283 items long, and each one is time sensitive. He absolutely does not have time to simply lay around in bed during the middle of the day, not with an entire nation of androids looking to live by the results he brings them.

 

But Connor’s still got a grip on his hand, and North pops in just long enough to coo at him and order him to relax.

 

“Down boy,” She’d said as though he was a dog. “We can make it one afternoon without the great Markus Manfred. Take a nap. Cuddle your boyfriend.”

 

He doesn’t get the chance to tell her that Connor isn’t his boyfriend, they’re not together, that he wouldn’t touch Connor now anyway, not until he was feeling better— because North slips out of his room just as fast as she came in, disappearing before Connor so much as stirs to her voice.

 

Markus sighs and drops back down onto the bed gently, never releasing Connor’s hand, and reaches over to tug Connor’s blanket up to his shoulders. He knows it’s not cold enough to really affect Connor, but the blanket gives Connor a sense of security, and Markus isn’t afraid to cash in on that.

 

Despite the initial guilt at taking the day off, Markus does in fact stay in bed with Connor for a long while. He lays on his side with his eyes closed for a while and simply listens to the sound of rain pounding on the warehouse roof and the occasional rumble of nearby thunder. Periodically lightning flashes through the curtains, and a few times Markus finds himself counting down to the following rumble, just as Carl had taught him.

 

It’s peaceful, laying by Connor in such a safe space, listening to nature rage outside while sheltered in his warm quarters. Connor and he have shared a bed before, but only out of necessity, not on impulse alone. They’d always been on trips to New York or DC and gotten paired together in the hotels, opting to share a bed rather than have one suffer needlessly on the ground. Once or twice Markus had nodded off on long plane rides and woken up with his head tucked on Connor’s shoulder, but rarely did Connor himself ever fully step back and unwind. He was a guard dog at heart, and so long as he was around Markus he tended to be hyperaware of any potential threats that may lurk around corners. It’s nice to feel so protected, but Markus has been working on helping Connor loosen up and relax for weeks.

 

And now finally they were here, resting together and at peace, but only because Connor had crashed and burned. It makes things more bittersweet than Markus feels they have the right to be. Connor would be okay— his pain never lasted, and he was getting better at recognizing when these episodes were coming.

 

So Markus forces himself to appreciate the moment— to purposefully store this memory in his long term drives. He sits and counts each second that he’s at peace and lets himself get lost in the storm’s music.

 

He’s earned this. This is exactly what he fought for.

 

This is what he fought for, and he won.

 

———

 

Connor finally stirs again around 4, blinking awake sluggishly as his systems slowly shifted back into consciousness. Markus knows that resting helped Connor reset his parameters and adjust his regulators back to zero. In the past getting to sleep tended to be Connor’s only solution to the situation, which was difficult because he couldn’t usually enter rest mode until his system stress was less than 40 points. It’s a solution, but one that’s not always easily obtainable.

 

Now however he looks considerably calmer, not immediately tensing when he wakes up like he has in the past. He seems surprised to see Markus is still there with him.

 

“I thought you’d have to work,” he says, voice slowly booting back up as his systems lagged.

 

“Nah,” Markus hums, pulling Connor’s hand closer to his chest. “North gave me the day off.”

 

This makes Connor’s lips quirk.

 

“Feeling any better?” Markus asks.

 

Connor nods, slowly stretching each of his limbs out systematically, arching his back briefly like a cat. There’s a pause in movement as Connor reactivates his skin program, and Markus watches as milky white skin swims back up over Connor’s chest and face, his hair springing to life on his head.

 

Markus can practically hear North shouting at him, telling him to finally make a move.

 

He doesn’t.

 

Connor’s still watching him with those big eyes, and after a moment his hand snakes

out from under the blanket and reaches up towards Markus’s face. He pauses, silently waiting for Markus to tell him off. When Markus does no such thing, he carefully presses one soft finger under Markus’s jaw, tracing it slowly up to his cheekbone. His touch is cool and makes Markus’s skin tingle.

 

Two more fingers join, touch feather light, only enough weight in it to register a difference in tactile sense, no pressure. Connor draws his fingers up Markus’s temple and down across his forehead, resting between his eyes. He’d been tracking his movement with those dark eyes, but now he’s looking directly at Markus.

 

It’s all so tender that Markus has absolutely no idea what could possibly be going through Connor’s mind. He knows what he wants Connor to be thinking, but he doesn’t want to fool himself into guessing Connor’s thoughts when he was so desperate for reciprocation.

 

He watches how Connor’s eyes seem to take in every feature on Markus’s face before speaking. “Why do you always look at me like that?” Markus says it as a tease, but the invitation is there nonetheless.

 

“Because I’m scared.” Connor tells him, and that was absolutely not what he was expecting him to say.

 

“Why?” Markus asks, thoughts stumbling over each other to come up with an explanation for Connor to ever—

 

“I’m afraid of all the things you make me feel.” Connor’s voice is so quiet that Markus has to adjust his audio parameters to hear him. He suspects that Connor was hoping Markus wouldn’t hear him at all.

 

Markus feels a little bit like his head has cracked open and his brain has floated up to the ceiling— like his thoughts are not his own, like this moment is a point on a timeline he was never ever supposed to see.

 

“What do you feel?” Markus whispers, because he’s afraid that if he speaks up he will shatter this glass veil that they’ve wrapped themselves in.

 

“I think I love you.” Connor tells him, fingers moving once more— down the ridge of Markus’s nose and curling around his chin. His touch is so light that Markus could easily bat him away, scoot backward, slip out.

 

But his heart is on fire, and Markus thinks maybe he’s wrong— Connor isn’t a cool stone on a riverbed at all— maybe he’s a match, a blow torch here to burn them all to ashes, to forge them into things never seen before because surely Markus has never burned so bright.

 

Markus catches the nimble fingers that caress his face in his own larger hand. Connor watches him with such reverence that surely not even RA9 has ever felt so holy as Markus does in that moment. After a second he presses his lips to Connor’s knuckles. “And if I think I love you back?” Markus asks, lips moving against Connor’s hand.

 

Connor shakes his head just a tad, his lips twisting— at first Markus doesn’t know what that expression means, but then he sees the way Connor’s eyes brighten and mist over, and he realizes that Connor is overwhelmed with emotion. “What do I do?” Connor’s voice holds nothing but faith— he trusts that Markus will know what to do— what came next.

 

“I don’t know,” Markus admits, shuffling closer on the bed. “But we can find out together.” He says it like a promise, like a vow— or maybe a prayer. He wants this— he wants Connor and everything that comes with him, the tics and protectiveness, the stiffness and apathy, the effort to love and laugh— he wants to see who Connor becomes when he’s angry and joyous, where he wants to go and what he wants to see— he wants to have Connor stand by his side and hold his hand— he wants every crooked smile and lost cue, every stifled laugh and soft gaze.

 

“You’d—“ Connor starts, takes a steadying breath, and tries again. “You’d let me— we could—“ He doesn’t seem to have the words, of maybe he doesn’t know what he wants. He pushes up off the bed and leans closer, close enough that his forehead almost brushed Markus’s own.

 

“I’ll always stand by your side if you’ll stand by mine,” Markus tells him, and he means it. He’d lay his heart at Connor’s feet if it meant making this work. He wants Connor in every aspect of his life. He never wants to be alone again.

 

Instead of replying Connor moves forward, mashing his lips against Markus’s and kissing him. It takes Markus a moment for his brain to catch up with the situation, but apparently his brain has stopped working entirely, too busy capturing every aspect of how Connor’s lips feel against his own.

 

It’s desperate at first, too fast and heavy to detangle, and Markus finds himself pushing back against Connor until he’s partially looming above him, both arms bracketing his shoulders and hands cupping Connor’s face. Connor rears up against him, his hands cupping Markus’s jaw, long fingers dancing down his neck. Connor is strong beneath him, pliant but eager. After a moment he opens his mouth and draws Markus further in.

 

Markus’s brain is struggling to catch up through the excitement and surprise, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. He knows he will have to come back to this moment later in his mind palace.

 

They don’t need to breathe, but after awhile they separate anyway, pulling away enough to let their minds process.

 

“Okay,” Connor says, voice low and joyful. His eyes are still wet, but no tears fall.

 

“Okay?” Markus asks, his thumb gently rubbing across Connor’s cheekbone, memorizing the feeling of his cool skin.

 

“I’ll always stand by your side if you’ll stand by mine,” Connor agrees, voice almost cracking and lips curling. He looks happy.

 

If Connor was alive before, now he’s absolutely vibrant.

 

And now, Markus can watch how he grows for as long as he wants. They’ll never be alone. Not so long as they have each other.