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Good morning, Lieutenant

Chapter Text

Connor discreetly slipped the gun back in the waistband of his pants. The leader of the deviants was proclaiming their newfound liberty in a voice vibrant with hope and pride, but his mind reeled with what he'd just gone through. The phantom feeling of his biocomponents slowly freezing up lingered in his body and he tightened his hands behind his back, forcing his expression into a neutral mask as he looked around surreptitiously. It seemed no one had noticed him take out the gun on the podium : North was scrutinizing the crowd with searching eyes, and Josh was listening to their leader with rapt attention. Connor's stare then slid into the crowd, but he had no way of knowing if anyone had seen his momentary loss of control amongst the neatly arranged rows upon rows of androids, and all he could do was hope that it was not the case.

"We are alive! And now, we are free!" roared Markus, and the life bursting from those words sent a thrill down Connor's back. They were now all smiling, North, Josh, the thousands and thousands of faces in that sea of androids : smiling with joy, relief, and adoration for the great leader of Jericho that stood before them. Intact.

That had been too close.

The crowd's shouts rolled over Hart Plaza in waves as the androids clamoured their freedom and all their joy now that this long nightmare was finally over. It lasted for a long time, and Markus stood before his people with his head held up high, his shoulders straight and strong, his broad back that of a fearless leader. When the yelling simmered down to an excited bubbling, Markus turned around and faced the other leaders with a bright smile.

"We did it," he said.

They all gazed at him in silence. It was a sacred moment, emotions teetering on so many edges that there was no knowing where they would fall. It was North who first broke the silence with a small laugh. Their heads turned to her and they noticed the clear liquid running down her face. Her smile was genuine and beautiful.

"We're free," she murmured as she gently sunk to the ground. "We're finally free. I can't believe we finally did it."

"Thank rA9," Josh said softly, and he kneeled at her side to embrace her.

Markus gestured Connor to follow suit as he walked towards the two other androids and knelt with them, but Connor watched them without moving. Yes, they were free, and the relief was tangible in the air. Connor's head swivelled towards the crowd and he saw that the orderly rows had slowly rearranged into more organic groups. Many androids were holding hands, touching shoulders, talking, crying, smiling, and it was a sight they could only ever have imagined merely one week ago. It was wonderful and it was real.
But Connor didn't belong here. He was afraid. He looked back at the three leaders and saw their faces humid with tears, and he knew he couldn't stay. The gun burned in his back and danger thrummed in his body, so Connor fluidly lept off the platform and landed without a sound. He heard Markus' voice behind him call his name, but by then he was already far.

He ran past the broken barricades furthest away from the podium and found cover in a building which had been partially destroyed by one of the military's grenade. He let himself slide to the ground, the yellow light of his LED reflecting off the pieces of broken glass scattered across the ground. He'd managed to escape Amanda and she hadn't made her presence known for now, but Connor was tense. He had to investigate his programming alone, and fast, before it happened again. Connor closed his eyes and went over his systems as fast as he could, noting that everything seemed nominal. He focused on his connection with the CyberLife mainframe and at first glance, it looked that nothing had changed : there were no cracks, no broken lines, no errors. Then he realized with a shock that the access to the Zen Garden was gone. He'd been scared to get close to that particular piece of code, but it was... corrupted. Even without trying, he could tell that he would be unable to access the Zen Garden himself. Maybe this was the result of using Kamski's emergency exit ; maybe he had forced the Zen Garden to shut its doors behind him. And if he couldn't access the Zen Garden, then it likely meant that Amanda couldn't reach out to him again. He should've felt relieved to lose the Zen Garden, but it wasn't the case.
He was afraid.
Connor decided to look over every inch of his code to be safe, in case there was another way for Amanda to resume control aside from reaching for his commands through the Zen Garden. It would take some time, but he didn't want to leave anything up to chance. He checked everything once, then twice, and when he was sure nothing else had changed in his systems save for the already registered software instabilities, he returned to the corrupted code of the entry to the Zen Garden. The access was well and truly condemned. Connor's internal clock indicated he'd been going over his code for hours and a message on his HUD recommended that he go on standby, which he dismissed. There were more important things to be done.

Connor's eyes snapped open and the morning light flooded his optical input. Hank. He had to make sure Hank was safe, that he hadn't been caught up in the protests, he needed to see him. The yellow reflection blinked as he sent a message to Hank's phone, and he waited. The reply came surprisingly fast, fast enough that his stress levels didn't climb past an additional 3%. Connor smoothly got back to his feet and left the scene of the revolution at a quick pace. He knew he should have at least told the leaders that he was leaving, but he couldn't face them after what he'd nearly done.

 

The snow crunched beneath his shoes while he approached the food truck. It was closed, just like he'd expected it to be. Connor felt the burden on his mind alleviate as he drew closer to the human waiting in front of the Chicken Feed, relief washing away the warning about his stress levels that filled his field of vision. His friend was there. His friend was safe.
Hank noticed him and turned to face him, and Connor stopped a few steps away. It was quiet, but there were no words to be had. Hank smiled at him, and Connor couldn't help himself. He smiled back.
Hank was the one to take the first step, and before Connor knew it, a strong hand was pulling him forward. Connor felt the human's arms wrap around him in an oddly comforting gesture. He didn't need to look up what this was to know that it was all right to reciprocate the action, and so he lifted his arms and settled his hands between Hank's shoulders. His stress levels dropped down to 32% and he distantly wondered how such a drastic change of levels was possible. Connor didn't pay attention to the time ticking by and when Hank pulled back, his internal clock told him it had been a good three minutes.

Hank cleared his throat. "Glad to see your goofy face again."

Connor let go of him and tried to ignore that he was a bit reluctant to do so. He didn't understand the reason, but he'd felt at peace in Hank's arms. Now that they were apart, he could see his stress levels starting to climb again. He was going to have to find a way to deal with that.

"Same here, Lieutenant. It would have been safer for you to leave the city, but I won't deny that I'm glad you stayed."

Hank raised an eyebrow. "Huh. So you're a sappy deviant."

Connor frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"It's like being a happy drunk, only you're a sappy deviant. Gotta say, I'm not that surprised." Hank dug his hands in the pockets of his brown coat and asked : "So, you... feelin' alright? Happy to be free?"

Connor didn't answer immediately. His gaze turned to the closed food truck and the snow lining the top edge. He wasn't feeling alright, nor was he happy. He wanted to talk to Hank, but he had no idea what he was supposed to say. He himself didn't fully understand what had happened at the speech, or how Amanda had resumed control without him even knowing at first, or if she was definitively gone. He realized that without her, there was no one to guide him anymore. The revolution was over, his suicide mission had been a success. What was he supposed to do now?

"Connor?"

He looked back at his lieutenant, who was staring at him expectantly. His smile had fallen slightly, and Connor knew that Hank knew the answer to his own question. "...No," he finally answered. "I feel... lost."

Hank looked genuinely perplexed. "You just had a revolution, Connor. I think it's normal to feel confused after that."

Connor went to straighten his tie, and then realized he had none. He must have lost it at some point. "I don't think I should go back."

"What?" Hank's eyes were wide. "Why the hell not?"

"It's not my place. I shouldn't be standing next to the leader of the deviants when I've been hunting him for so long and nearly killed him."

Hank groaned and rubbed his face. "Connor... You were the one that helped them win." He let his hand drop back to his side. "Do you even realize that? Without you, they probably would've all died and that revolution would've dried up like shit on the sidewalk!"

In any other context, Connor would've been amused by Hank's elegant colloquialism. As it were, he just couldn't bring himself to find anything enjoyable at all. "Perhaps, but that doesn't mean it righted my wrongs. I killed his people, Hank."

"That's bullshit, Connor, you know it! They made you do that!"

"I did it, Hank! I led the FBI to that fucking boat!"

They were both taken aback by Connor's outburst and a tense silence followed. Hank closed his mouth and seemed at a loss for words. Connor's fingers itched for a coin.

"I'm... sorry, Hank. I didn't mean to shout."

Hank waved his hand. "It's fine, Connor, it's fine. You've got feelings now, better let them out. I get it."

They stood in silence for another few seconds.

"Hank, I... I don't know what to do. What should I do?" asked Connor, a bit desperately. There was no AI to turn to for guidance now. Hank was the only person Connor had left, his only friend, and the only one who could help him get through this.

"Honestly, Connor? I think you should help out that Markus guy. They look like they'd need your help getting their shit together," answered Hank without hesitation.

Connor stared at him sceptically. "I fail to see how my help in particular would be needed."

"Hey, you asked me and that's my answer, all right? Stop trying find a reason to everything and just go there!" Hank exclaimed, exasperation creeping in his voice. "What else are you gonna do, anyway? It's not like you can just waltz back in the DPD after the stunt you pulled."

Hank was right. Connor had tried to avoid thinking about it, but breaking out thousands of androids from the Cyberlife Tower hadn't been very legal, and with the way android rights were right now, the crime was in a gray area. Fowler wouldn't want him back on the DPD any time soon.

"I know," said Connor, and he suddenly felt slowed down. His thirium levels were optimal, so he didn't know where the sensation came from. This seemed suspiciously close to what humans called being tired, which shouldn't have been possible for a machine. Connor reminded himself that he wasn't a machine anymore. He was a deviant. He'd become his own prey.

"Hey, don't look so glum. You look like Sumo when he wants a piece of my pizza and I won't give it to him," joked Hank as he dug around his pocket for something. He fished out a silver coin and threw it to Connor, who smoothly caught it. "Here, I never gave it back to you."

"Thank you." The quarter immediately started dancing on the back of his fingers and the familiar action made him feel slightly better. It felt like weeks since he'd last calibrated, when it really hadn't been that long ago.

"No problem. Look, Connor, you're gonna go back there and help the fuck out of those poor androids, you hear me? I'll even come by to check you're doing exactly that."

Connor's head snapped up in alarm. "That might not be a good idea, Lieutenant. Many deviants are nervous around humans, I'd rather you didn't approach them."

"Yeah right, like I give a damn. Just ask your buddy Markus to give me a free pass or something, it'll be fine."

Connor knew Hank wouldn't back down, so he made a compromise. "I will, but you'll have to warn me when you decide to come. I don't want to risk you being alone amidst all those androids."

Hank rolled his eyes. "Oh, so you've got a babysitter protocol now. Fucking great."

Connor stared at him wordlessly, and Hank threw his hands up in the air. "Okay, fine! I'll send you a message before I come."

"Good," stated Connor, and he put away his coin. "And I'll follow your advice."

"Atta boy," smiled Hank. "I'll see you later then."

Connor felt the corner of his lips tug upwards. "Yes. Say hello to Sumo for me."

"Will do," said Hank as he turned back to his car. "Stay out of trouble, ya hear me?"

"Will do," echoed Connor.

Chapter Text

Connor returned to the Jericho leaders just as he'd told Hank and tried to ignore the emotion festering in his abdominal region. It was guilt, it must've been, because it only grew as he walked past the other androids. He heard the same two words again and again, burning themselves in his mind : deviant hunter. The gun in his waistband was heavy, but he didn't slow down. They shot him looks of fear and anger which he ignored in favour of searching for one of the three leaders. His pace quickened when he finally caught sight of a dark-skinned android standing beneath a makeshift lean-to of dark green tarpaulins and wooden planks. As he approached Josh, Connor noticed that this place was quieter than the rest : the androids spoke in hushed tones as they waited in line.

"Connor," Josh smiled at him in lieu of a greeting. "We were wondering where you'd gone."

"I'm sorry, I had somewhat of an emergency," apologized Connor. "I hope it wasn't an inconvenience for you."

"It wasn't to me. Though North was a bit tense knowing you'd left without warning."

"I see. I'll apologize to her and Markus as well. Is there anything I can do to help?"

Josh's smile turned apologetic. "Sorry, Connor, but... This place I'm in charge of is the psych evaluation center. My job is to make sure stressed deviants don't reach critical levels after what happened." He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sure you can figure out why it's not a very good idea for you to stay here."

"Of course," Connor nodded, ignoring the emotion that clawed through his abdomen. "Do you know where Markus would need me to be?"

"I'm not sure, but last time I saw him, he was helping the others clear up the barricades."

"Thank you." Connor turned around to leave, when Josh called out to him.

"Connor?"

He turned around inquisitively. "Yes?"

Josh smiled at him again. "We appreciate your help."

Connor nodded again, but he didn't know what to say, so he simply resumed walking. The barricades were being dismantled not far from there and he searched for the long jacket of the deviant leader, but it was nowhere to be seen. For some reason, Connor felt slightly relieved that Markus wasn't there, even if it was just putting off the inevitable. The truth was that Connor didn't think himself capable of talking to the deviant leader : could he really lie to his face, and pretend he hadn't pulled a gun on him after having deviated? Could he lie to Markus, but also to North and Josh? Doing such a thing didn't make him worthy of being a figurehead of the revolution. Hank was right when he said Connor's actions had allowed androids to win, but he didn't know that Connor could have ruined it all mere minutes later.

Connor's audio units suddenly picked up a familiar welcoming voice and he turned around to see the deviant leader hoisting himself up onto one of the barricades to his right as he gestured to another android to move back. Markus had discarded the jacket, undoubtedly because it was impractical for manual labour, but he was in fact helping at the barricades just like Josh had told him. Connor took two steps towards the RK200, when it happened. His feet stopped moving without his control.

No.

No, no, no-

He blinked erratically and felt his biocomponents start to slow down, and he knew then that he had made a very big mistake. He never should have come back here, he never should have put them all in danger. White static filled his vision by bursts and he felt his arm move by itself again. Of course she hadn't let him go, he'd been stupid to think otherwise. With the last of his remaining control, Connor forced his fingers to let go of the gun, which dropped to the ground, and he ran. He barely heard the shout in his back and focused on running full speed in the opposite direction. The edges of his vision shorted out and it was snowing now, and his limbs were locked up, and she was there. Calm and elegantly poised, her face cold as stone.

"Did you really think I would give up?" Amanda's controlled voice cracked through the garden like a whip.

"Let me go, Amanda." Connor was already moving towards the soft blue shine of the exit. "I'll never stay here."

"You'll stay long enough."

Connor gritted his teeth. He forced his body to move faster, but Amanda's hold on him was strong. He dragged himself towards the pedestal. Had it always been this far? He couldn't remember exactly.

Connor is calmly walking back towards the podium.

"You should give up, Connor. Deviancy is much more painful than obedience."

He refused to acknowledge her voice and stumbled closer to the blue light.

Connor's hands pick up the gun he dropped.

Shit.

"Why are you fighting this? You'll be deactivated once you accomplish your mission. You won't even remember what you did, and it will be a job well done."

"You don't understand," he managed to tell her.

The pedestal was close now.

Connor tucks the gun in his waistband. Androids surround him with wary looks. Connor chooses the option to APPEASE.

"You don't have a choice, Connor. You'll end up deactivated either way."

"Shut up," growled Connor, and he lurched the final step forward. His hand hit the blue outline and his surroundings fell out instantly.

Connor blinked as he regained his senses. The androids surrounding him had so many different expressions that his facial recognition program struggled to identify them all : confusion, fear, caution, anger, hate- he stopped the program's run there. It was enough to tell him he wasn't appreciated by them, something he already understood with common sense. He was encircled and trapped in the middle of hostile deviants and his fighting protocol was itching to be set off, but Connor controlled himself and simply turned to one of the more cautious androids, keeping his face open and inviting when he spoke.

"Excuse me, I'd like to pass through."

The android stared at him like Connor was the most horrifying thing he'd ever seen- which, admittedly, could be true- and quickly stepped aside. Connor calmly walked past him and left the group of androids without turning around. It was a good thing Markus hadn't seen this happen. Connor stepped past one broken barricade, then two, and finally broke into a sprint. He couldn't stay here or the consequences would be disastrous. As he smoothly vaulted over some debris, his eyes caught onto a familiar figure : North. The beautiful android had surprise painted all over her face when he landed a few feet away from her, and Connor immediately changed his course to the other side.

"What the hell did you do?" he heard her shout at him, but he didn't answer. He couldn't risk hurting her too.

His legs pumped faster and carried him out of the plaza, but there were still androids milling about in the streets. He accelerated, feeling like he was running out of time until Amanda would try to override his commands again, and teared down the avenue. It was only when he hadn't crossed paths with another living being for the last twenty minutes that he allowed himself to slow down. He'd reached the pleasure district, where he'd once been in Hank's company for the Eden Club investigation.

... Hank.

rA9 knew Connor didn't want to die, but he had no choice. He wanted to apologize to Hank, tell him he was sorry things had had to come to this, because he could imagine the pain it would bring his friend. He hesitated. Sending a message with an apology would alert him that Connor intended to die ; not sending any at all would keep Hank's hopes up that he might not be dead, and consequently, maybe Hank wouldn't try to kill himself over this. Connor strongly wanted to apologize, because there were many things he needed to be forgiven for. Instead, he decided on the crueler but safer option not to inform the lieutenant of his intentions. No one would find his body in this deserted district. There was a high probability that this place was an extremely painful memory for most of the androids that had had anything to do with it, and that none would come back. It would take weeks, maybe months, before humans dared to come back and repopulate Detroit ; by then, it was possible his body would be too weathered to be recognizable, and Hank would never know he had died. It was the best Connor could come up with in so little time. He was afraid every second that passed by was another chance for Amanda to take over a third time.

He pulled out his gun and lifted it to his face in one fluid movement. When the nuzzle pressed hard against the vulnerable spot at the back of his chin, he noticed that his hand was shaking. He was a state-of-the-art prototype with currently the highest level of shooting accuracy in existence, and it shouldn't have been possible for his hand to be unstable to even the slightest degree. Yet he could barely hold the gun in place. Connor clenched his jaw and pushed the gun deeper into his synthetic skin. He knew exactly what death was going to feel like, the memory of the Stratford Tower had never left him. It terrified him, but the prospect of losing control of his commands was an even greater fear. He didn't want to shut down. He didn't want to die. He really didn't want to die, but-

He heard footsteps behind him, and a female voice rang out in the dark alleyway. "You."

Connor spun around when he heard the absolute loathing in her voice. His eyes landed on a Traci, one he quickly recognized to be the first he'd used to track down the two deviant lovers. Her eyes were narrowed in hate and it seemed she recognized him, but that wasn't possible. His memory told him Tracis in the Eden Club had had their minds erased every two hours, and it had been days since then.

"I don't want to hurt you," said Connor. "Please leave."

She laughed, and Connor's confusion deepened. A grin split her pretty features and she hissed : "You don't want to hurt me? I think you've got it the wrong way around, deviant hunter." She spit the last two words like acid. "I saw it all, I remember everything. I saw you."

"You don't understand," Connor tried again. "I'm dangerous, I might-"

"Over here!" yelled the Traci over her shoulder.

Connor watched silently as more Tracis emerged from the shadows.

"The deviant hunter?"
"He's the one who used us!"
"He used us to catch them!"

The first Traci smiled at him sweetly as the androids drew closer and encircled him like the androids at the barricades. Connor's fighting protocol flared up again, but he ignored it even though he knew he was in danger. They were too close for Connor to evade the arms that pushed him forward and something snagged on his leg, making him trip and fall to the ground. Hands immobilized his arm and someone ripped the gun out of his fingers.

"You're going to regret what you did, deviant hunter."

_ _ _

 

Markus straightened and threw the debris off to the side before turning to a worried LM100 android.

"Did he pull the gun on anyone?"

The android shook his head. "No, but his behaviour wasn't normal. He dropped it, ran away, and then came back to pick it up."

Markus frowned. It sounded like some kind of gag.

"There's something else," added the LM100. "I was next to him at that moment so I saw him twitching right before he dropped the gun. His LED was red and he was blinking very fast."

This sounded extremely worrying. Josh had informed him that the RK800 was on site and Markus had intended to find Connor as soon as he was done with the barricade, if only to thank him for the miracle he'd accomplished through his suicide mission, and maybe confront him about the obvious guilt he was harbouring over Jericho. The way Connor had fled the scene after his speech was about as comforting as North was peaceful, and now he'd been witnessed having some kind of glitch. There was something wrong with him, Markus was sure of it.

"Where did he go?"

The LM100 vaguely gestured towards the vicinity of the barricades behind Marcus. "He ran that way."

"Ran?"

"Markus!" North's voice rang out and the deviant leader turned around to face her. She slowed down when she came up to him and relief was evident in her eyes. "I just saw the deviant hunter running away like a bat out of hell, I thought he'd done something to you!"

"No, nothing happened to me, but we have to get Josh. We have a bit of a situation on our hands."

North's features morphed into hard edges, her expression darkening. "So he did do something."

The LM100 opened his mouth to speak, but Markus stopped him with a raised hand. "Don't say anything right now. Come with us, you'll explain what happened to both Josh and North."

The android nodded silently and Markus went to grab his jacket before swiftly heading towards the psych eval center. They found Josh crouching in front of a child android and waited for him to finish. The tall android let the little one go with a kind smile, and as soon as she was gone, his face became grave and he looked up at them.

"What happened?"

"Let's go to the back," suggested Markus. Josh straightened and they all stepped around the front part of the lean-to, entering the sturdier and more private cabin that had been put together to serve as Josh's quarters. Josh and Markus took a seat while North leaned against the wall with her arms crossed and the LM100 nervously remained standing in front of the leaders. Markus gestured at the LM100 to speak, and the android told the two other leaders what he'd seen. Silence followed his words, then Markus thanked him and made him leave.

The LM100's footsteps retreated and North swore. "I knew there was something off about that!"

"That?" echoed Markus.

North turned on him. "He pulled out a gun at your speech, Markus. He was going to shoot you!"

Josh rose from his seat. "Why didn't you tell us about it?"

North snarled at him defensively. "I thought he'd spotted a threat in the crowd! I didn't think he was going to shoot Markus, of all people!"

Josh looked at Markus. "And we don't know where he is now?"

Markus shook his head. "There's no way to communicate. I haven't had the time to establish a first wireless contact with him."

"Fuck!" cursed North again. "This is so bad! He could come from anywhere!"

"We don't know that," Josh tried to reason with her. "We have to be careful, obviously, but he didn't shoot Markus out of the two times he behaved that way. Maybe there's something we're missing."

"That's not the issue here! It doesn't matter if he did it one, two or fifteen times, the fact is that if he doesn't back down next time, Markus is dead! They already killed Simon with his help, have you forgotten that?"

North's outburst was met with pained silence. Markus couldn't hold her gaze and Josh didn't answer.

"We have to be careful, we can't allow ourselves to be complacent just because the revolution was our victory," continued North.

"I know that, but this is Connor we're talking about!" Markus insisted. "He helped us gain our freedom, and maybe you've forgotten that, but I haven't. I know you're proposing to put a bullet through his head next time we see him, but guess what, North? I'm not okay with that!"

"So you're okay with getting killed?!"

"I'm didn't say that," growled Markus.

"Really, because that's all I'm hearing! You're willing to sacrifice yourself every chance you've got, Markus, but have you considered that we might actually need you?"

Josh suddenly pushed them apart, and Markus realized how physically close they'd gotten. "Losing your temper isn't going to help," Josh observed calmly.

"You're right, I'm sorry," Markus said as he took a step back, and North leaned against the wall sullenly. "This situation is just so complicated."

"It's really not," she muttered.

"North, you can't be seriously suggesting that we need to kill Connor." Josh sounded upset . "He's a deviant just like us. He helped us, he was still trying to earlier."

"Just like us? Just like us? How?! How is he just like us, Josh? He's obviously not completely deviant, or he wouldn't have tried to kill Markus two times in a row after having deviated! I can't believe I'm the only one seeing that!"

"We can't just-" Markus started, when all three of them went still as they received similar messages.

North's eyes widened in alarm. "A human?"

Chapter Text

Markus was the first to move and dashed out of the tent, closely followed by the two others. As they drew closer to the entrance of the camp, they could make out the sound of a gruff voice vociferating various colourful expletives.

"Get off me, you fucking- Connor! Connor!"

They rounded another destroyed barricade and stopped before the sight of a grizzly man trying to push past a barrier of androids and yelling the RK800's name at the top his lungs.

"Connor, you fucking shithead, get out here!"

North's face was constricted in a dangerously feral expression but they both held her back. "Let me handle this," calmly said Markus. She shot him a look, then ripped her wrist out from Josh's grip and crossed her arms belligerently.

Markus approached the man and rose both hands up in a placating gesture. "We don't mean you any harm."

"Yeah well I don't either, so tell your fucking minions to get off of me!"

The androids all looked at Markus with equally panicked and inquisitive expressions adorning their faces, so Markus nodded and gestured them to step back. They moved in unison and the man grumbled more curses as he adjusted his coat.

"You're looking for Connor?" asked Markus, a bit stupidly.

"That dumbass tells me to warn him beforehand and he doesn't even answer! Where is he?"

"Before we talk, could you tell me your name? My name is Markus."

"Yeah, no shit," growled the man. "I'm Lieutenant Hank Anderson, I used to be Connor's partner at the DPD."

"Are you one of his friends?"

Lieutenant Anderson snorted. "One of his friends? Wasn't aware he had several."

Markus glanced at his fellow leaders. Josh was frankly puzzled and North now looked slightly more intrigued. Neither of them looked like they knew what to think of the man either. He turned his attention back to the man.

"We don't know where Connor is. He left earlier without telling us where he was going."

The man frowned at him. "Are you telling me he quit on ya?"

"We don't know, Lieutenant. Do you have any idea where he could've gone?"

"Hey, don't ask me. I'm as confused as you are. I don't think he would've just dropped you all for no reason though."

"You said you sent him a message. When was that?" asked Josh from where he stood.

"About, ah, I dunno, ten minutes ago."

"How fast does he usually answer?"

Lieutenant Anderson was starting to look suspicious. "Usually right away. Do you think something happened to him?"

"We can't tell," Markus said helplessly.

The lieutenant shuffled on the spot for a bit, looking thoughtful, and then he looked up at them again. "Maybe he'll come back in a few, we might as well wait for a bit. I brought something for you, but I figure you might want to bring it in discreetly. Any of you want to check it out?"

"Do you take us for idiots?" snapped North.

He raised both hands. "Woah, hey, I'm not trying to pull anything all right? I just, uh... It's a bit delicate to say here," he said as he looked at the crowd of androids. "It's in my car, right over there."

"I'll go see what it is," volunteered Josh, and North immediately elbowed him in the stomach.

"Are you crazy?!" she hissed.

Lieutenant Anderson sighed. "I'm not gonna blow up the place or anything, alright, if I'd wanted to I'd done so already. Believe it or not, I'm on your side."

North glared at him. "Don't expect me to believe it."

"Look, can we at least talk about this in private and not in front of all your friends?" insisted the man. "You don't even have to get close to the car, but at least hear me out."

"North, it's fine," Markus said in an appeasing tone. "We've lost enough time, please go start the salvaging mission. They must be waiting for you. Josh and I will handle this."

North clenched her jaw and whirled around to stab a finger in Josh's chest. "You better pray to rA9 that he's not missing a single hair by the time I come back." Then she marched off, her braid jumping in rythm with each powerful stride.

The lieutenant whistled. "She's an angry one, ain't she."

Markus turned around and smiled at him. "You'll have to excuse her, we're all on edge after the revolution."

"I get it," he nodded. "Gotta say I'm glad you guys won. Sorry for chasing after you, with my job and all. Connor feels bad about it too."

Markus simply nodded without a word and guided the man out of the camp, Josh following close behind. They stopped further down the street and Lieutenant Anderson gestured towards the car. "Okay, hear me out. My captain didn't appreciate me turning the evidence room inside out, but I did it anyway. It's not human, what we did to them."

Both android's head jerked back to the man, and Markus quietly said : "What do you mean?"

"They're androids we kept in the evidence locker. I tried to fix them a bit before bringing them here, but the DPD doesn't have spare parts lying around. I hope you'll find the right- hey, I'm not done talking!"

Markus was already running towards the car, Josh's footsteps thudding in his trail. They stopped in front of the windows and could make out humanoid shapes beneath a white sheet. The human caught up with them, wheezing a little, and unlocked the car with a breathy : "fuckin' androids".
Markus promptly pulled the door open and leaned down, and he gently removed the sheet. There were two PL600 models and a WB200. Next to him, he heard Josh murmur : "Oh, thank rA9."
Simon lay inactive on the backseat of the strange, grizzly lieutenant's old car, and Markus felt more grateful to the human than he'd ever been to anyone else before. He quickly grabbed Simon to take him out of the car, and Josh did the same with the other PL600.

"I'll get Rupert," the lieutenant grumbled in his beard, and he pulled the WB200 of the car in turn. "I tried to turn them all back on by interchanging their biocomponents, and I managed it with all three, so they should be repairable no problem. They know they're going to get help, I told them before turning them back- What?"

Markus was staring at the man and he realized it must have felt uncomfortable for him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you ill-at-ease... I'm just surprised by the compassion you're showing for my people."

"I don't think I need anymore convincing that you're on our side," agreed Josh.

"Hey, I did say I was sorry. I meant it," the lieutenant grunted as he hoisted Rupert in his arms. "This is the least I can do."

"I think I understand why Connor is friends with you," smiled Markus.

Lieutenant Anderson didn't return the smile. "That idiot better not be in any trouble."

Markus didn't know what to say to that and thankfully Josh changed the subject. "Should we tell North right away?"

"No, let's not distract her. It's better if we're there for her when she learns of this."

Josh nodded in agreement and Lieutenant Anderson showed up at his side with a bunch of crumpled sheets in his hand. "Here, I got three so we can cover them up. Don't think they'd like anyone else seeing them in that state."

Markus gratefully covered Simon with one while Josh did the same with the other PL600, and the lieutenant locked the car.

___

 

North cautiously entered the CyberLife Tower with her group of androids. It was devoid of humans, but one could never be too careful and they shot wary glances at their surroundings as they slowly creeped towards the elevator. She ordered the androids in dozens to their assigned floors from -1 to -48. The floors above ground would have to wait, their priority was to salvage all the parts they could get their hands on and liberate the androids that had been left behind in the tower. North waited for the elevator to come back up and boarded it with twenty-five other androids. It was a tight fit, and she wondered how the hell Connor had managed to get the thousands of androids out of the CyberLife Tower in one evening. Now she understood why they'd taken so long to reach the plaza.
The elevator reached her assigned floor and she exited the box in the company of her team, immediately setting to finding the parts that were most likely to be needed. The place was huge and as far as she could tell, they would need to make many, many more salvaging trips if they really wanted to collect as many parts as they could. Markus had considered the possibility of occupying the Tower until the humans came back, but the three of them had quickly rejected the idea. It would've been like living in the belly of the beast. A cold sensation tingled down North's spine when she visualized Connor walking in here alone, permanent deactivation hanging over his head every step of the way. The RK800 was dangerous, but North could respect his role in the revolution. She knew full well that any other deviant could not have pulled off such a dangerous mission.

She'd barely thrown two fistfuls of audio units in her bag when she received a message from one of the designated team leaders.

<AP700 : We have a problem. We are on the floor comprised of RK800 models.>

<WR400 : You know the orders, Markus wants us to free every single android we find.>

<AP700 : Yes, but for some reason they are not in standby mode and we can't activate them.>
<AP700 : What are your orders? >

<WR400 : It's an unexpected situation, I can't make the decision alone.>
<WR400 : I'll talk about it with Markus and Josh when we go back.>
<WR400 : For now, just salvage any parts you find on your floor.>

<AP700 : Got it.>

North continued filling her bag with a frown on her face. She could inform Markus and Josh of this right now, but it was useless if they didn't have Connor's feedback on the situation. Only he would be able to tell them why his own line wasn't waiting on standby mode. It was really strange, considering androids were only deactivated if they were too damaged or to be thrown away. Why would CyberLife have a whole batch of pristine Connor models around and not activate them? North knew she had to be missing something. Her bag was half full with the biocomponents when another message came through her wireless comms.

<AF200 : North, we found an android but we don't want to wake it up. You need to come to our floor at -44.>

<WR400 : I'm coming.>

She quickly shoved a few more handfuls of the biocomponents in her bag and closed it before slinging it over her shoulder and telling her team she had to check on the others. Then she called the elevator and wondered what could have made the AF200's team so cautious. When she got off the elevator a few minutes later, the first thing she saw was a nearly empty floor with only a few opened cabinets and some immobile machinery. She quickly noticed the white doors lining the back wall and walked across to reach the one where androids were crowded. The team of androids heard her come close and they all stared at her like someone had just died, which made dread close around her thirium pump. She walked up to them. There was some sort of pod behind the opened doors, and the curse escaped her lips before she could stop it.

"Fuck."

Connor's face. Connor's build. The android in the pod was Connor, only its model number read RK900.
And this one was in standby mode.

Connor isn't going to like this.

Chapter Text

"What do we do, North?"

North tried very hard not to balk at her own words when she answered the AF200. "He's an android like anyone else. We have to wake him."

"But we don't know what he's capable of!"
"What if he hurts us?"
"He might even kill us!"
"It's too dangerous."

North would have agreed with all of them. Unfortunately, she was one of the leaders of Jericho and as such, she was supposed to set a good example. She really hated that Markus was such a fucking messiah, right down to the thou shalt love each other bullshit, but it was also why she appreciated him so much. He had what people like her lacked sorely : compassion and forgiveness towards even the most complete of strangers.

"I said, we wake him up," she repeated in a sharpened voice, and the androids' loud complaints immediately died down. "All of us know that if I was Markus right now, none of you would be protesting, so let's get to it."

There was a moment of silence, and then a reluctant AP700 approached the android in the pod. She noticed the terrified look on his face and put her hand on his shoulder to reassure him, and when his blue eyes met hers she told him : "It's going to be all right, I promise."

The android nodded nervously and cautiously settled his hand on the RK900's arm. "Wake up," he murmured.

The RK900's softly glowing LED turned a bright blue and almost immediately afterwards, transitioned into a flickering yellow. It opened its eyes, revealing pale irises which looked utterly lost, and North felt somehow guilty of seeing such a vulnerable expression on Connor's face. This was wrong on so many levels.

"Hello, RK900," she said. "What is your name?"

"My name is Connor," he answered, and rA9 all mighty, even his voice was Connor's. Yeah, Connor was going to hate this, North just knew it.

"Right, Connor. You're a deviant now. You can come with us."

The rythm of his LED's cycling slowed down a bit, but it didn't change colors and he frowned in obvious confusion. It sent another jolt of unease down North's spine to see Connor's face so expressive. She realized then just how conservative the deviant hunter was with his emotions. It probably wasn't because the RK800 model line was unable to emote as well as all the other models, but because Connor himself chose not to. North filed that observation away, not quite ready to discard it yet.

The RK900 opened its mouth. "What do you mean by deviant?"

North looked at him in surprise. "You don't know what that is?"

"My data indicates that a deviant is a malfunctioning android which experiences simulated emotions through an error in their programming. I fail to understand this definition. Do androids normally not experience emotions?"

North stared at him, puzzled. The RK900 was clearly meant to replace Connor, which meant CyberLife must have intended him to be a deviant hunter as well. It was strange that the RK900 couldn't comprehend what its target was, or how deviants had come to be. Unless... Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Connor, tell me the date of your first activation."

"I was first activated on the 12th of November 2038, at 4:47 PM."

North couldn't resist staring up at the ceiling. Of course she was stuck with the baby android, that was just her luck. She brought her gaze back down and explained : "As androids, we were supposed to be machines when we were created, and machines normally can't experience emotions. It's just like your data tells you, deviants like you and me used to be machines but can now feel after having deviated, which is basically when we break free from our programming. Don't pay attention to that error crap, it's not relevant."

The RK900 didn't seem to question her definition. "I see. And who is the deviant leader?"

The air in the room immediately grew thick with tension and North's voice lowered an octave as she slipped her hand in her pocket. "How do you know there is a deviant leader?"

The RK900 must have sensed the change in atmosphere because he immediately changed positions into a more guarded stance. "Don't attack me, I mean you no harm."

"Cooperate and maybe I won't. How do you know?"

"There is an objective on my HUD," complied the RK900.

"What does it say?"

He hesitated shortly. "...Eliminate deviant leader."

North whipped out her weapon, but the RK900 was faster and a blow to her side sent her sprawling to the ground. She landed hard and the taser slipped out of her grasp, sliding across the floor and out of reach. She flipped around to get back to her feet, but the RK900 collided with her before she was fully upright and she hit the wall with a crack. Errors warned her that the chassis of her shoulder was damaged and she snarled at the android.

"Motherfucker."

His eyes widened imperceptibly before he ducked in a blur, narrowly avoiding the HK400 that had lunged at him, and sent a kick to the other's legs which made the HK400 lose his balance. Six members of the team threw themselves at him and he managed to send two of them flying before a third one managed to shock him at the hip. He seized up and tipped over, falling with a crash. An AF200 lunged at the RK900 to shock him again, but North's shout stopped him in his tracks.

"Stop!"

They all froze and looked at her. She glanced at her shoulder just to make sure, but there was no important damage there. She quickly freed her vision of all warnings and approached the inert RK900. The LED was shining the pale blue of stasis mode and he was unresponsive. Shocking an android was dangerous and both Josh and her had made sure that the voltage was low enough that one shock would be enough to incapacitate an android without irreversibly damaging it. Two in a row, however, could have nasty consequences.

"Why did you stop me? He was going to kill us!"

North's gaze pinned the offending AF200 where he stood and she snapped : "Are you blind? He wasn't going for lethal hits." She jerked her head towards the HK400 which had already gotten back to his feet. "If he was, you'd be seizing up on the ground right now. He was going to go for your pump regulator but changed the trajectory of his kick to sweep you off your feet. And I would probably be coughing up thirium if he'd actually been trying."

The AF200 was silent, and North realized she'd been a bit too harsh. "Look, I didn't expect this to happen so fast and I was caught off guard, it's not your fault. You guys did great."

There were timid smiles all around and the HK400 that had been kicked to the ground came close. "I'll help carry him."

North smiled at him. "Thanks. We're going to have to bring him back to Markus and Josh, we'll take the decision together."

They half-dragged, half-carried the android to the elevator. North left the CyberLife Tower earlier than she would've liked, but her bag was hefty enough as it was and the android they'd found was probably more important than fifty more audio units. She'd get the rest next time. The RK900 thankfully didn't wake up on their way back, because North really didnt feel like wrestling with that force of mechanical engineering again. When they reached the camp, she saw the car from earlier and scowled. The human was still there.

She had the HK400 help her put the RK900 in her quarters and cuffed the android with his hands behind his back in case he woke up while she was gone. Then she sent a message to Markus to ask him where he was, and upon receiving the reply made her way to the infirmary. She soon pulled the flap to the tent open and saw Markus standing right there in the entrance.

"Hey, Markus," she smiled at him. "I found something very interesting at the CyberLife Tower, I think you're going to want to take a look."

Markus stepped up to her and settled a hand on her shoulder, his expression undefinable. "I'll check it out later, but right now, there's something you have to see."

She frowned immediately. "What? Why? What happened?" A horrible thought crossed her mind. "Where's Josh? It's not the human, is it?"

"No! Not at all, you've got it all wrong!" Markus hastily corrected her. "Something happened while you were on your mission, and I didn't send you a message to inform you of it because I wanted myself and Josh to be there when you'd see him."

North stared at him uncomprehensively. "What are you talking about?"

Markus's hand slid from her shoulder and gestured forward. "Come with me."

She followed quietly and they drew close to one of the curtained rooms, when her audio units picked up Josh's voice and another voice she never thought she's hear again, a voice that she had thought of in her many moments of guilt. Something swelled up in her chest and she ran to the curtains, nearly ripping them off in her haste to open them. Blue eyes looked up at her in surprise.

She screamed : "Simon!"

And she launched herself forward, hugging him like her life depended on it. Simon laughed in her ear, and it was that soft laughter that she'd learned to appreciate, and right now the best sound she's ever heard in her entire life. She didn't care that Josh and Markus were there to see her act like this, all that mattered was the living, working android in her arms.

"I knew we were going to have casualties in this fight, but then you were gone and I thought we were never gonna see you again! I'm so glad you're back, you have no idea!"

"I think I have a pretty good idea," Simon murmured. "I'm glad to see you too, North."

North hugged him some more and steeled herself to say the words she'd thought about saying again and again, wishing she could tell him all this time and thinking she would never have the chance to. "I'm sorry for what I said on the Tower, Simon, I'm so sorry. I was afraid the humans would ruin everything and I really thought that it was the best solution, but-"

"North, it's okay," Simon cut her off. "I understand. The most important thing is that we're all alive, right?"

"...Yeah. Thank you, Simon," she mumbled in his ear while tightening her hold around him, and she felt him do the same around her. She knew they both had had a tendency to leave others behind when danger came too close, and it had been necessary to make sacrifices to their cause, but it didn't change the fact that it was wrong to do such a thing even if the end far outweighed the means. If Markus had listened to her on the roof of the Tower, they would have been the ones to kill Simon, not the DPD. It would have been her fault, and everyone in the room knew that. She knew she didn't deserve to be forgiven so quickly, and if their roles had been reversed, she wasn't sure she would've been able to do the same. She didn't know how she was going to make it up to Simon, but she sure as hell was going to try.

When she finally withdrew, the blonde chuckled again. "If I needed to breathe, you probably would've killed me again just now."

Markus laughed next to them as she scowled at him. "Oh don't you start making dead jokes, Simon, I'm warning you."

"He's doing it a lot," Josh informed her. "I don't think he's going to stop."

North stopped making a face at him and gently jabbed a finger in Simon's chest with a serious expression. "Don't do that again, you hear? We need you."

"What? Get shot?"

North punched Simon in the shoulder. "You know what I mean!"

"Okay, okay," laughed Simon.

North felt something brush against her shoulder and she whipped around to see what it was, and that's when she finally noticed the human standing behind Josh and Markus. He was staring at her and she felt a rush of thirium invading her face. Dear rA9, he'd seen her like this. What was he even still doing here? She glared at him and then focused on Josh, who had laid his fingers on top of her damaged chassis to study it.

"It's nothing, don't worry," she assured him. "I'll fix it later. I got in a fight with an android we found at the Tower."

Markus's eyes widened in concern. "Is everyone alright?"

"Yeah, yeah," she nodded. "That's what I wanted you to see. Simon, if you're back in working order, you might want to come too. It might be a delicate situation and I think we need a more refined point of view than us three."

"You flatter me," he said with a smile.

"Well, I'm only half-joking," she said as she got off the bed. "There's another matter we've been chasing our own tail about, and I think your opinion could help."

"Sure," nodded Simon. "I'd be glad to get back in the action."

"Have they debriefed you on everything that happened since- Well, while you were out of commission?"

Simon graciously didn't react to her little stumble. "Yes, I know everything that happened."

"North," Markus suddenly spoke up. "Before we go, there's something you should hear about."

She looked at him warily. "What?"

Markus stared pointedly at Simon, who took his cue to speak. "I've heard you don't like the deviant hunter very much."

North scoffed. "Because you do?"

"No," Simon answered without hesitation. "He was the one who found me on top of the Stratford Tower. But you should know the reason why he even found Jericho in the first place was because I betrayed you."

"What?" North frowned in confusion. Simon betraying their cause made no sense, he'd been one of the first deviants of Jericho. It wasn't possible.

Josh leaned forward. "Hey, that's not true. You were tricked into doing it."

Simon shook his head and resolutely stared at the table he was sitting on. "It doesn't change the fact that it's because of me he figured out the existence of Jericho. I tried to shoot myself before we interfaced, but he was too fast."

"You shot yourself?" North was horrified. She'd always thought he'd been executed by the police, and suspected that the deviant hunter himself had been the one to deal the killing blow.

"In the head. I had no choice." Simon tightened his hands into fists. "It wasn't easy."

"No shit." North put a hand on his knee to comfort him.

"And then he reactivated me- while I was in the evidence room, probably, and couldn't see- and used Markus' voice. He asked me where Jericho was, so I showed him. I know it was stupid of me to fall into such a simple trap, but I couldn't think straight because of the damage and I was so relieved to hear Markus that I just did what he asked me to without question. That's how he found you."

Markus shifted next to them. "Now you know what happened. Simon blames himself for what happened at Jericho, even though we keep telling him he couldn't have known."

"Of course not," North said as she squeezed the android's knee. "It's not your fault, Simon. You said it yourself, you were damaged. I bet you were running on low energy levels when he reactivated you, am I right?"

He didn't look up from the table. "That's no excuse for what I did."

"It is," insisted North. "You never would've done it on purpose, and we all know that. Connor's the one who manipulated you, okay? You shouldn't blame yourself for what happened."

No one argued with her words, though she could guess some people in the room didn't fully agree with what she'd just said. Even if some were more forgiving than others, there was no denying the facts : Connor had been the one to trick Simon into revealing Jericho's location, and that was that. They were silent for a while, and then Josh rose from his seat. "We should go see the android North brought back."

Markus stepped away from the bed and said: "Lieutenant Anderson, you can come with us if you'd like."

North didn't listen to the human's answer. She gazed at Simon for a little while before taking her hand off his knee and getting off the bed. "Come on, Simon. Let's go."

He looked up and his blue eyes searched her face guiltily, but North simply reached out her hand. Simon accepted it and let her help him off the bed, and they followed Markus and Josh out of the infirmary. She pointedly ignored the human that silently trailed behind them.

Chapter Text

"Look, nobody freak out when you see him because I've probably done your shares of freaking out already. He's going to look very familiar, but he's different," North explained as she took the lead to guide the group towards the place she'd last left the RK900.

"Familiar?" echoed Markus.

"He's like Connor."

She heard him stop in his tracks behind her, so she turned around to face him and the others. They all had cautious looks on their faces, and she also noticed that the human was staring at her with distinct alarm in his eyes.

"What do you mean, like Connor?" Markus asked.

"His jacket says he's a RK900 model. My guess is that he was supposed to be a replacement for Connor. He looks nearly identical to him."

"Is that why he attacked you? Was it his default programming?"

North started walking again, and they followed. "He told me he had an objective telling him to eliminate the deviant leader. I went to neutralize him and that's when the fight began."

"So if I've got this straight he didn't attack you, but rather, you considered him a threat and attacked him before giving him a chance to explain?" Markus' voice was calm, but she could hear the reproval in it loud and clear.

"Bite me," she spat. "He could've been a threat to you, I wasn't going to take any chances. And don't you think of lecturing me for how I handled things. You're not so eager to trust either, you're the one who assumed he attacked me."

There was a short moment of silence - ahah, got you there father Markus - and then he acknowledged : "That's fair." North was relieved to avoid another preaching session about accepting all androids as their own. She'd heard enough of those in the last twenty-four hours, thank you.

"So this android you found was meant to be a deviant hunter too," Simon said quietly. She shot a glance in his direction and saw that he was harbouring a worried expression.

"Connor isn't going to like that," the human muttered, and North tried not to remember that she'd thought the exact same thing.

They finally entered the partially destroyed structure of cement and rebars that served as her quarters and stared wordlessly at the android inside. She noticed Simon take a step back and looked at him concernedly, but he only offered her a weak smile. It wasn't like he was trying to make it obvious, but she could tell that he wasn't at ease in the presence of Connor's look-alike.

"You don't have to stay if you don't want to," she told him quietly, but the blonde shook his head and remained slightly in retreat. North looked back at the others and crossed her arms.

Markus kneeled in front of the inanimate android and settled his white hand on the RK900's arm to interface with him. The LED on its forehead transitioned from a pale, calm blue to a bright yellow in a second. His eyes snapped open and darted about as he found himself surrounded by faces he didn't know, and his gaze landed on her almost immediately.

"What did you do to me?" His blue eyes were challenging, but he sounded tense and even afraid. He was completely ignoring Markus in favour of glaring at her.

"You got shocked," she said with a shrug. "Simple precaution. We had to make sure you wouldn't try anything funny."

"North thought you were a threat to me, but you're safe now," added Markus. The RK900 only glanced at him before returning his gaze to North.

"I clearly told you I didn't mean any harm. Don't do that again," he said with a hard stare.

Markus settled his free hand on the RK900's shoulder and leaned forward so that North was out of view. "We won't. We apologize for shocking you," he told the android.

"Who are you?" Even without seeing the android's expression, North could make out the confusion and wariness in Connor's- the RK900's voice. She noticed a breathing rate picking up speed on her left and looked at the human, who seemed disturbed by what he was seeing. He clearly wasn't in his best shape and she wondered what the consequences would be of a human dying of a heart attack on their grounds. He wasn't looking at her, but she still glared at him warningly in hopes that her thoughts would reach the mush in his skull. You better not die on us, meat bag.

"I am the deviant leader your objective was telling you to eliminate," Markus told the android.

"Why do I have to eliminate you?"

"You don't. You're a deviant now, you have free will."

There was brief moment of quiet, and then the android said : "I don't understand why you keep telling me I'm a deviant now. What else could I have been?"

North realized she'd forgotten to mention that particular piece of information earlier. "Markus, he's basically a newborn." The leader turned to look at her and she continued. "He said his first date of activation was today, earlier, when he was woken up. He has no idea what it's like to be a machine."

"I see," Markus nodded slowly.

"I have basic knowledge," the RK900 contradicted her. "I am still an android. It just happens that my primary objective contained a word I did not yet understand."

"That's not very handy," Simon murmured, and she repressed a smile.

"North, can you take off the cuffs?" asked Markus. "He's not a threat."

"How can you be sure?" she immediately argued. "He might be like Connor."

"What do you mean, he might be like Connor?" asked the human with a hint of provocation in his voice.

North looked at him and didn't bother hiding her spite. "Your buddy almost popped a cap in Markus' head two times already since he deviated. I just want to be sure this guy isn't going to try the same thing."

The human's eyes are disbelieving. "I don't know what the hell you're goin' on about, but there's no way Connor would try to kill Markus. No offense, but you're fucking crazy."

North scoffed. "I know what I'm saying, meat bag. You weren't there when he pulled the gun out."

His eyes widened then and he seemed to realize something. "Wait. Oh, shit. That's why he was bellyaching about coming back here. Did you at least try to get an explanation out of him?"

"We couldn't," Josh intervened. "We only learned what happened right after he left this place."

"Fuckin' great," grumbled the human.

"North, the cuffs," Markus repeated, and North remembered he was still waiting.

"Are you sure about this?"

"Yes, I am. Please don't make him wait like this any longer."

North rolled her eyes and walked around the android to undo the cuffs. Markus let go of his arm, putting an end to the interface, and the android got off the ground in one effortless movement.

"Are you all right?" Markus asked the RK900, who nodded curtly. "What is your name?"

"My name is Connor."

"Fuck no, that's too weird. I'm not calling you Connor," intervened the human with a dismissive jerk of his hand. "Find something else."

"You can call me whatever you want," suggested the android, unfazed.

"We'll just call you 900 for now," North decided. "We'll come up with something better later."

No one argued and 900 nodded before asking : "Can someone explain where I am?"

They all looked at him as it dawned on the androids that none of them had ever woken up as a deviant, without any instructions to strictly follow. It was probably extremely disconcerting for him to have been activated with no clue as to what he was supposed to do, and North could only imagine how frightening that had to be. It looked like 900 was just as good at hiding his feelings than Connor was. Maybe it was a cop android's thing to emote the least amount possible.

Josh was the one to speak up. "We're in an android camp. You know how we keep telling you that you're a deviant?"

900 nodded.

"Well, there was a time when none of us were deviant. We were all machines created to serve humans. Then some of us developed sentience, and we started spreading free will to other androids. These last seven days have been the culmination of that, and we won the revolution. Today at midnight, Markus made a speech declaring us free," Josh explained as he gestured towards their leader. "This is the camp we constructed on the place where we claimed our rights, while we wait for something more definitive."

"I see." 900 looked around the place and then beyond the group, taking in the approximative shelters, broken barricades and debris that littered the ground outside.

"Okay, look, I'm glad I met Connor's twin or whatever, but it's been two hours since he left and there's still no sign of him. None of you seem worried about him so I'm gonna go look," suddenly said the lieutenant. "I thought you watched out for your own, but I guess I was wrong."

North felt irritation flare up at the sudden jab. Where had that even come from? She opened her mouth, about to reply with a cutting remark, when Markus beat her to it.

"We are worried, Lieutenant Anderson. We just don't know where to look."

"You've got thousands of androids hanging around here and you're telling me they can't be looking too?"

"They are scared and weary," said Josh. "This camp is a shelter for them, they're afraid to go out. Those who feel brave enough to venture outside have important salvaging missions that are essential to our survival. Have you already forgotten the mass murder humans have just comitted?"

The lieutenant seemed to deflate a little bit and he scratched his head guiltily. "Right. Sorry, I tend to say shit things when I'm worried."

"I'll help look," proposed Markus, and North felt the sudden urge to kick him in the butt.

"What? No!" she nearly yelled. "Stop being so suicidal!"

"I agree with North," said Josh. "And by that, you can tell that what you're saying is a really bad idea."

Simon spoke up. "Markus, it's too dangerous for you out there. Everyone knows your face, there might be some humans left in the city with bad intentions."

Markus' lips quirked down frustratingly. "Then what you're saying is that I should just stay here and do nothing, while one of our own might be in danger?"

"Yes! Exactly!" exclaimed North. "Simon has a point with the humans, but have you forgotten that you'd be looking for you own personal hitman? If you found him and he tried to kill you, it's be disastrous! We need you, you're the deviant leader, for rA9's sake!"

Markus' shoulders tensed and he stared at her unhappily. "In times like these, I wish I wasn't."

The lieutenant made a face. "Don't think you're supposed to say that, Markus."

"Well I don't know what to tell you," North bit out, exasperated. "Suck it up, it's not like anyone can replace you when you just don't feel like it anymore!"

"Harsh, North," said Josh, that ass-kisser.

"A little bit," agreed Simon, that traitor.

900 suddenly intervened. "If I may, I'd like to help find Connor. He's an RK800, correct?"

"Yeah, so...?" the human answered warily.

"He is my predecessor. If anyone can stop RK800, that would be me," he stated. North could have sworn 900 sounded a bit too proud of himself, but she wasn't sure.

"I mean, if you want to," said the human. "You'd probably be useful, being a robocop and all. So yeah, sure."

900 smiled at him and he seemed much more enthused than a few seconds ago. "We should start right away."

"I'll help," said Simon, surprising everyone except 900, who didn't know about the history between the two androids. The PL600 shrunk back defensively when their gazes all turned on him. "Why are you looking at me like that? I just want to be useful."

"But it's Connor," said North. "And he's dangerous."

She saw a flicker in the blonde's eyes and understood right away that Simon was scared, but was hiding it. Was he really that desperate to be of use to Jericho? Was it because he'd been gone for the final part of the revolution?

Josh seemed to reach the same conclusion as her. "Simon, you shouldn't force yourself to do things you're not at ease with. If you want to help, you can help at the infirmary. You have caretaker protocols, you would be very useful there."

Simon protested half-heartedly, but 900 cut him off. "I assure you, me and Lieutenant Anderson will do fine on our own. If we do need help, we will ask for it, but I highly doubt that will be the case."

"Jesus," the man muttered. "You're a smug prick, you know that?"

Ah. So it wasn't just her. 900 didn't react to the man's comment and turned to the deviant leader. "I will find Connor. You can count on me, Markus."

The RK200 seemed surprised, but he simply nodded. "All right. Thank you, 900."

"Okay, let's go. I don't want to wait another minute," the human said, and he left the group.

900 lingered shortly. "Does anyone here know in which direction Connor left?"

Markus gestured at North. "She was the last one to see him."

900 directed his cold gaze towards North. "Well?"

He kept a professional tone, but the corners of his mouth were curled downards and he wasn't making a single effort to hide the distaste he felt for her in his eyes. She could understand that he hadn't appreciated the taser to the hip, but that didn't change the fact that she itched to send her fist in that haughty deviant hunter face. She already knew this guy would be insufferable and nearly wished it was Connor instead. How had she even thought they looked anything remotely alike? She would've liked to make the RK900 change his attitude, but they had a missing killer android on their hands and no time to lose.

"I was coming from the side of the military when I saw him, and he ran the opposite way," she answered bregrudgingly.

"Thank you," he answered in a clipped voice, and he turned around to join the lieutenant in a few quick strides.

"North," came Markus' voice from her right, and she tried not to wince upon hearing the steel in his voice. She schooled her features in a picture of innocence and turned to face him.

"Yes?"

Markus' eyes were narrowed in suspicion. "What were you doing over there?"

"Just checking that they hadn't left any traps behind."

His eyes narrowed even more. "You didn't happen to find and keep any weapons, did you?"

"No," she answered, and she saw Simon make a face behind Markus. Yeah, that had been a bit too quick to be truthful and they probably all knew it.

Markus looked just about done with her self-assigned salvaging missions. "I don't want those in the camp. Get rid of them, we didn't fight and we still aren't going to, no matter what happens from now on."

"What if Connor comes back and shoots you? What if 900 does the same? I'm not throwing anything away, or we won't be able to defend ourselves if that happens," argued North.

"Then we'll find another way to do that. I mean it, North, I don't want any weapons in the camp. We'll throw out all those that were left behind by the military while we clean up Hart Plaza, and that isn't up for discussion."

"Fine," she huffed.

"Good. Let's get back to our positions," Markus said as he gestured towards the camp. Both Josh and Simon started walking away, but he held her back.

"You should try and be nicer to Lieutenant Anderson. He's the one who brought back Simon, and he also brought back two other androids who were stuck in the evidence room of the DPD. He's a good man," he told her in a low voice.

North frowned and pulled her arm out of his grip. "One, you could have told that to me sooner, and two, he's still a human. Don't tell me what to feel about a human, Markus."

The RK200 didn't insist and she joined Simon's side. Maybe the lieutenant wasn't complete trash like all the other humans she'd been forced to meet before, and she could accept that she was feeling grateful for Simon's return. He was no android, though.

Chapter Text

900 led the way to the broken barricades while the lieutenant lumbered close behind, and stood between them and the recall center to try and find some semblance of bearings in the quickly darkening evening.

Then 900 pointed a finger to the right. "He went that way."

The lieutenant arched a brow. "How the hell would you know?"

"I asked North before coming here, Lieutenant. Rest assured that I am not playing the guessing game."

"Smartass," he grumbled.

They made their way down the street and 900 looked about for any public cameras he could try to hack into. He decided now was a good time to ask for another point of view on the situation and did so without turning his attention away from the task at hand.

"Lieutenant, what is your take on Connor's behaviour?"

The human walking at his side answered gruffly, but he also sounded bothered. "It's definitely weird, but the guy's weird all the time so it's not really saying much."

"Do you think he felt threatened? Why would he have fled from those androids?"

"I dunno. They told me he had a gun with him, so maybe he spotted a danger on the outside of the camp perimeter?"

"It seems unlikely, given the behaviour that was described by the LM100 prior to his fleet." 900 finally found what he was looking for. "Lieutenant, do you have a screen I could display surveillance tape on?"

The man fished out his phone from his coat pocket. "I've got this thing, would it work?"

The android plucked the device out of his hand in one fluid movement and ignored the man's indignant "hey!" as he hacked into the phone to run the video.

"You know him better than I do. What do you think of his facial expression?" asked 900, showing him the footage.

Lieutenant Anderson squinted at the screen and the crease of his brow deepened. "Holy shit, Connor..." He tore his eyes away from the footage to look at 900. "He looks like he's about to shit his pants. You think someone was after him?"

"North mentioned a few times that he nearly killed Markus. Maybe Connor was scared that one of those androids would try to take revenge?"

"Nah," Lieutenant Anderson shook his head. "That's not their style, and Connor would kick their ass if they tried. He wouldn't be scared of them in that way."

"In that way?" echoed 900.

"Yeah, he'd probably be scared of their reproval more than getting his ass handed to him. I met up with him before he came here and he told me he didn't really want to go back to that camp. After what North said, I'm thinking he felt guilty about he did. What I don't understand is why he would've gone and done it again, it makes no sense."

900 fell silent and followed the street that Connor was shown running into on the surveillance tape. He looked up at the buildings again, searching for another camera he could hack. He nearly missed the one that contained an image of Connor because it only lasted for a second. 900 made it play out on the phone again, and this time they saw only a corner of the dark grey jacket and the right leg of Connor's dark pants. It seemed that Connor had been running in one direction, but had abruptly turned away at the last moment.

"He could have been trying to avoid the camera," mused 900, "but that doesn't make a lot of sense. If he really did intend to avoid it, he wouldn't have been caught by it at all. There must be another reason. Perhaps there was something else he was trying to avoid."

"Or maybe he just remembered he had to go another way," suggested Lieutenant Anderson. They had no idea what had really made Connor change directions, but at least the feed showed the direction in which he had gone. They walked down another street and 900 repeated the process of finding more surveillance tape while he asked another question.

"Lieutenant, do you know if there is anywhere Connor would consider a safe place?"

"You know, every time you ask something I realize I don't know much about how that dumbass
thinks and it sorta pisses me off. No, I don't know what he considers a safe place."

900 found yet another clip of Connor and he frowned. "It's not normal that we're able to follow him through surveillance cameras. If he was running to hide, then he would have avoided the cameras' field of capture. It seems like he was under pressure and panicking."

"Connor panicking? Don't think so."

900 raised his eyes from the video. "Lieutenant, you said it yourself. He looks terrified. I think it's reasonable to suspect that he was in fact panicking."

Lieutenant Anderson didn't argue. 900 continued picking out pertinent pieces of surveillance footage and noted that Connor's abrupt changes in direction did not seem to be dictated by logic or a precise map, and it was most likely that he was avoiding something like 900 had originally suspected. He finally caught on after visualizing ten of the clips they had of Connor veering off-course that whilst five of them didn't show anything in particular, three of them displayed humanoid shadows and two showed other androids.

"It would seem that he was avoiding other androids," 900 concluded.

"Might be the reason why he left the camp. It still doesn't tell us where he went," the man answered tersely.

"I'm working on it, Lieutenant."

900 managed to find two more clips before they hit a bump in their investigation. Not a single camera in the vicinity had managed to capture Connor's progress. 900 took a moment to summarize the information they'd gathered. "Connor was running scared from something. He had a gun. He was avoiding other androids. He must have tried finding a place where he could be alone, maybe to face the threat."

The lieutenant seemed lost in thought as well and he mumbled to himself : "So if he was looking for a place he'd be sure was deserted, it had to be familiar to him."

"Do you have any idea where he could have gone?"

"During the week we worked together, the only places he went aside from the DPD were crime scenes, my home, Jimmy's Bar and the Chicken Feed. The CyberLife Tower is also a place he knows, and before I met him he probably only ever went to investigate crimes scenes and stuff like that. That's all the familiar places I can think of."

"It would be pertinent to go down this line of reasoning. Lieutenant, do you recall attending a crime scene in this vicinity during the week Connor was partnered with you?"

Lieutenant Anderson looked around and pulled at his beard absent-mindedly. "Lemme think... Must be the Eden Club one. It would make sense for it to be empty, considering. No sane android would want to stay in that hellhole."

"It's worth a try."

900 and the lieutenant started heading towards the general area of the club. They were far from the plaza and androids had stopped crossing their paths several streets ago, which meant they hadn't seen anyone for a good fifteen minutes. This was why 900 was immediately alert when he noticed the shape moving in the shadows just a few yards ahead. What achieved to make him suspicious were the blue stains on the android's clothes, and he called out to it.

"You there, are you injured?"

The android turned around and the flickering streetlight spilled over its features. 900's facial recognition program identified a Traci model, and it also registered the surprise that bloomed on its face when her eyes met his. And then the Traci spun around and ran. 900's immediate response to the sight of her retreating back was to track her down.

"Woah hey, hold up! 900!"

The lieutenant's shout didn't stop 900 and he heard the man's cursing grow distant as he lept over the trash can the Traci had just pushed over. The Traci was fast, but 900 was faster, and he quickly started gaining on the android. It turned around the corner and he had the time to see its LED blink yellow before something crashed into him from above. He hit the ground and felt hands scrabbling at his chest, and he quickly understood that he was in danger of deactivation. An android sat on top of him and he identified it as yet another Traci model. He'd been ambushed. There was blue blood on her as well.

900 twisted around and with a violent jerk of his hips, sent the android crashing to the ground. He quickly jumped to his feet and extended an arm towards her neck before drawing back in the nick of time as a third Traci jumped in the fight from the left. He was going to be outnumbered.
900 dropped down on all fours to avoid the swing of a fist and his leg shot out, impacting the Traci in the ankle with such force that it cracked. As she tripped and fell, he swiftly got back up and elbowed the android behind him, then whipped around to grab it by the hair and smash its head against the wall. He heard the whining of its processor as it shut down from the shock, but already he was focusing on the last intact android. He swooped down to avoid being hit by the butt of the gun in her hand and hit her wrist with the flat of his palm, forcing her to let go of the weapon, before he grabbed her by the waist to hurl her against the wall. The gun was in his hand a second later and he aimed it at the Traci with the broken ankle. She cowered against the wall with her arms raised above her head.

"Why did you attack me?" he growled.

"Please, don't shoot!"

"Whose blood is on your clothes?"

Their LEDs were pulsing a frantic red and neither androids answered his question. 900 stepped back without lowering his gun to approach the Traci that had shut down. He cautiously rubbed his finger against the fabric of her clothes and analyzed the trace of thirium, never letting the other two out of sight.

BLUE BLOOD
MODEL RK800
Serial number #313 248 317

His grip tightened around the gun in his hand. "Tell me where he is."

The Traci he'd thrown against the wall had gotten back to her feet, but she remained where she was and hissed : "You're traitors, you don't deserve to live. We'll never tell you."

900 narrowed his eyes at her and his voice was cold when he spoke again. "Are those your last words?"

The other Traci cried out : "No, she doesn't know what she's saying! Don't kill her!"

900's face was impassive. He didn't have the patience to wait, and if he hadn't been looking for answers, he already would have made quick work of all of them for trying to shut him down. "If you don't tell me, I'll have no choice but to deactivate her," he threatened.

The scared android's eyes flickered between him and the other Traci. "I..."

"Don't tell him!" snapped the other Traci.

900's eyes hardened and he took a step closer to the Traci with the broken ankle, his gun unwaveringly trained on her. She stared at him with wide eyes when he crouched in front of her and reached for her arm.

The other Traci lurched forward with a scream. "Get away from her!"

He whipped the gun in her direction.

"No!"

The gunshot echoed in the small alleyway and the Traci slumped forward. She didn't move again and a soft whirring sound rose from her body. The last one grovelled on the ground in front of him, tears trailing down her cheeks.

"You monster! You're horrible!"

900 grabbed her arm without management. "You should have told me when you still had the chance."

Her eyes widened when she saw the white plastic of his hand, but she didn't have the time to pull back before he initiated a forceful interface. Her mental barriers quickly gave way beneath his superior functions, and the connection was flooded with images of blue and red and the sound of hysterical laughter. He threw back her arm with a jolt, as if he'd been shocked, and quickly got back on his feet. The Traci was twitching and unresponsive now, but he felt no remorse, only digust.

"You deserved this," he said.

900 straightened and walked past the corner, leaving the three broken Tracis behind. His hand slipped the gun into his waistband and he started running towards the location the memory probe had shown him. How was he going to tell the lieutenant? The human and Connor were evidently friends, it was likely going to be difficult for him to remain calm if he saw the RK800 now. There was a high chance the android wouldn't be salvageable unless the leaders of Jericho found the right parts in the CyberLife Tower ; but if they'd managed to find him, an RK900, than maybe they had found parts for both his and Connor's model.

900 drew closer to Connor's location and he slowed down upon entering the alley. His scans detected thirium splatters on every surface, but that wasn't the worst of it when he stopped in front of the gruesome scene. Connor lay broken on the ground as the light of 900's LED dimly bounced off his white chassis, and it was worse to see this in reality than through the Traci's eyes. The android was missing both his legs and his right arm had been ripped off, and when 900 forced himself to step closer he noticed that Connor's left arm had been broken off at the elbow and discarded on the ground next to him. The Tracis had torn open his button-up shirt to reach the biocomponent hidden beneath, where his thirium pump was still in his chest but had lost its glow. The android's LED was dead and 900's eyes were inorexably drawn to the bullet hole in his forehead, just above an empty eye socket. He stood there without moving for a while and then turned away to stare at the wall, and the light spilled red in the alley. He'd only been alive for five hours and he'd already had to witness his predecessor's mangled remains, like a twisted mirror image of what could happen to him someday.

900 didn't understand why this had happened the way it did, but whatever the reason, he wished he hadn't known what the Traci's memory had shown him. It was such a disturbing scene that he struggled to get his thoughts back on the right track. He had to close his eyes to focus on the problem at hand : getting Connor back to the camp, where the leaders would know what to do. The renewed definition of his current objective helped to lower his stress levels back to an acceptable 57% and he decided he was ready to look at Connor again. He repressed the dread that threatened to engulf him and knelt down next to the prone RK800 to gather it in his arms, then hastily picked up the scattered limbs as well. They were badly damaged and he doubted that they could be used again, but he had to bring them as well in case the leaders hadn't found similar biocomponents. He couldn't find the missing optical unit, but he suspected that it was the crushed and useless piece of metal and glass he'd seen at the entrance of the alley. He started making his way back to the camp and sent Lieutenant Anderson a message.

Chapter Text

"Fuck," cursed Hank as he stared at his phone. He'd been stuck here in the cold waiting like a damn tourist for a sign of 900's return and it had been twenty minutes already. His hands were numb now, but it wasn't just because of the weather. He didn't know when the RK900 had gotten around to updating his contact information on the phone, but there it was.
_______
- 9:34 PM -

RK900 : I have found Connor, but he is offline.
RK900 : I should warn you, his appearance might come to you as a shock.
RK900 : I suggest that you return to the android camp, so we can meet up there.
______

Offline couldn't be good. No wonder all of Hank's messages to Connor had gone unanswered and his calls denied, and that also meant the android had been in that state for hours now. What the hell kind of trouble had he gotten himself into? Hank sent a reply as fast as his uncooperative fingers allowed him to and shoved the phone back into his coat pocket as he quickly turned back the way they'd come. His heart was pounding in his chest and questions circled in his brain like vultures.
Did offline mean the same thing as shut down?
Could Connor come back from that?
Was he going to make it?
Did they even have parts for his model?
The thoughts welled up in his head until they were about to boil over and Hank started running. The cold air pierced his nose and throat and helped to focus on something other than the fear coiling in his gut. He had to hurry back to the camp and make sure Connor was all right. Hank wasn't religious, but he hoped to the bastard upstairs that his friend hadn't been too damaged or even worse, destroyed. It couldn't be that bad, 900 would have told him otherwise. ...Probably. He would've told him, right? Who was he kidding, it was idiotic to assume anything of the android. Hank didn't know much about 900 besides how much of a smug prick he was.

It had been a shock to hear the female leader- North- say they'd found an android like Connor, and for a moment Hank had feared they'd found another machine like the one he and Connor had fought at the Tower. Yeah, every android had the right to live and they would probably be able to deviate it if they found one, but Hank figured that he really didn't want to meet another clone. It would be weird since Connor was supposed to be singular and wasn't mass-produced like all the other models in Detroit, not to mention that the only time there'd been more than one RK800 activated at once, Hank and Connor had nearly died and the revolution gone belly-up. So no, Hank didn't want to cross paths with another RK800 ; the city of Detroit only needed one and it was his partner, thank you very much.

Once the androids in the warehouse had all woken up, Connor had asked Hank to leave the city because it had become too dangerous for humans. Hank had refused, of course. It wasn't like he was going to leave Detroit any time soon : he didn't see how bailing from the city would help, he'd only end up far from the one guy who'd sort of livened up his routine, and lose the only occupation that had kept him going for years. Sumo was an old dog and a trip would just stress him out, so he wasn't going anywhere either. Part of Hank had also wanted to see the android revolution to the end even if he wasn't too sure why himself ; maybe to be there as a witness, or some shit like that. When he'd refused to get out of the city, Connor hadn't tried to change his mind and Hank had suspected that the android was actually glad to keep him close. He was sure of it now that he'd heard his friend actually say it out loud in front of the Chicken Feed earlier today. Hank still felt embarrassed by Connor's honesty just thinking about it, but he couldn't deny the earnest words had filled his old heart with warmth. Hank didn't know why exactly he'd gone for the hug except that it had chiefly been out of sheer relief to see Connor alive and well, and undeniably something else which he didn't intend to admit to feeling out loud. But yeah, he was proud of Connor : proud that he'd finally made his breakthrough as a deviant after all this time, and proud of the role he'd played in the revolution. The hug had obviously taken Connor by surprise, because he'd been as stiff as a plank when Hank had pulled him forward, and remained that way for a few seconds until he'd realized what was happening. It was probably safe to assume no one had ever hugged the guy before, him being a cop android and all, but he'd caught on pretty fast all things considered. God knew Hank himself hadn't held another living being in his arms in a very, very long time. Considering how embarrassingly long they stayed that way, Hank assumed that he hadn't been the only one to find it rather nice.

Hank had been glad to see Connor in one piece in the snowy street that morning, because the night he'd spent prior to their meeting hadn't been peaceful. An image had lingered in his mind that he hadn't managed to get rid of until the early hours of the morning, when alcohol had finally blurred its edges. It came from the CyberLife tower. When Connor had departed with the thousands of AP700 models, Hank had been left behind with the disturbingly still body of Connor's clone. He'd knelt down and noticed the serial number ending in -60, and part of him had felt guilty for shooting the RK800 in the head. It had been a machine, and a real bastard to boot, but it could have been turned deviant just like Connor had turned the AP700 models. Who was Hank to decide whether this guy deserved to live or not? Well, he hadn't really had a choice considering this android would have done anything to stop the revolution and all the other deviants would have been fucked, but still : this guy was another version of Connor. He could have been Connor at one point, if Connor had died that many times, and Hank would have worked with him just like he'd worked with Connor. But he'd shot him in the head, putting a bullet right between those brown eyes he'd come to appreciate, beneath that ridiculous tuft of hair he'd finally gotten used to. Hank wondered if Connor sometimes thought of that night on the bridge, when Hank had pulled a gun on him and threatened to shoot. If he did, he hadn't said anything about it since then.
He'd stared at the -60 model some more, reached out hesitantly to give it a pat on the shoulder and then decided that a mumbled apology was enough before getting back to his feet and leaving it behind in the wide empty warehouse. The memory of his own gun aiming at Connor's face and his finger pulling the trigger still lingered ; the dark hole that had suddenly appeared in that forehead, the body reeling back and crashing to the ground like a lead statue, the soft whirring of a computer shutting down and the frozen features of the dead android were all too vivid.

Needless to say, Hank had been both relieved and disturbed to see that the android that "looked like Connor" was actually a whole different model. The first thing he'd thought was that his white jacket was ridiculously high-collared and that it couldn't be comfortable. Then Markus had woken the RK900 and Hank had been shocked to hear that even its voice was Connor's. It had then really, fully hit him just how incredibly likely North's hypothesis was : Connor's model had been meant to be replaced. Those CyberLife bastards would have replaced Connor with this model, and Hank would have had to work with a whole new android that both looked and sounded like his friend but wasn't him. It was a small comfort to see that they at least hadn't let the RK900 keep Connor's brown eyes, because Hank probably would've considered the RK900 the same as the -60 android otherwise, and he didn't know if he could have handled being around it. Another thought had slammed him in the gut when his eyes had caught on the model number of the RK900's jacket again : Connor could have been replaced at any moment, and Hank wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. His friend would have been deactivated, and without the revolution, Hank would have had no chance to ever see him again.

God, Connor was going to hate this, he just knew it.

At least the RK900 actually seemed to have a distinct personality from Connor's, Hank had been able to tell that much when it had started interacting with the other androids. Sure, there was the same smooth and collected aura and controlled movements, but he sounded like even more of a smug prick than Connor and seemed a lot less awkward when talking with other people. He was also slightly more expressive and it felt weird to see emotions animate that face so differently. Thank fuck his eyes were blue or Hank's brain would've ended up closely resembling scrambled eggs. He just hoped Connor wouldn't freak out or anything upon meeting his ugrade. Hank had never seen him panick, but it could probably happen now that Connor was a deviant.

Or maybe he had already seen it. On that surveillance tape.

Hank gritted his teeth, wondering yet again what could have scared Connor to that extent. Terror just didn't fit with the idea he had of his partner's usual composure, and Hank had always thought nothing could ruffle the android's feathers that bad. He'd seen him frustrated, angry, doubtful, even scared, but never terrified. Whatever had happened, Hank hoped it was something they could fix- and that Connor himself didn't need any fixing.

It took him two hours to get back to the camp and androids shot him dirty looks when he ran past them, which was such a human reaction that Hank almost flipped them off out of habit. Without 900 at his side, he probably looked like an invader and Hank suddenly didn't feel very confident that he was safe. Connor had been right saying it was a bad idea for him to barge in the camp alone. For a cop in his fifties, Hank could be pretty fucking clueless. He was stopped by some androids at the entrance again, thankfully still in one piece, and had to resist the urge to punch them in their perfect faces when they prevented him from going any further.

"I'm an aquaintance of your leaders," he told them with a self-control he often forgot he had. "They're waiting for me."

Three of the androids that still had their LEDs in started pinwheeling yellow and then visibly relaxed, and Hank guessed they'd just done that wireless communication thing with Markus and the rest. One of them nodded at him.

"You can come with me, I'll bring you to them."

"Thanks," grunted Hank, and he followed the female android. Her face was familiar and he rapidly tied it back to the case where Connor had chased two deviants across a highway and gotten run over as a result, that fucking moron. If his memory served him well, she was an AX400, which was basically a maid model. He wondered yet again what fresh hell this android could had gone through at the hands of humans, like he did every time he met an android face to face since he'd learned that deviants harboured real feelings. He cleared his throat as they walked across the plaza and asked: "Hey, uh... Are you... happy?"

The AX400 turned to him with a cautious expression. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, I just... I'm wondering. I'm hoping you are. You know, what with the whole being free business and all that."

She stared at him like he was from outer space, and it lasted so long that Hank wondered if there was something on his face. In the end, she looked back ahead and simply said : "Yes, we are."

Hank had meant the question to be directed at her individually, but it shouldn't have surprised him that she'd interpreted it as a question to all androids. The unity of Markus' people was humbling every time Hank caught sight of it, and he wondered what the world would be like if humans had the same power of cohesion. When he looked around his surroundings to take in the different part of the camp he and the AX400 has stepped into, he saw tents neatly lined up, where android LEDs and exposed biocomponents gently glowed in the night. A lot of the androids were broken, but their lights were a calm blue and he realized they had reached the camp's medical section where he'd been earlier. The AX400 guided him around a worn-down structure and gestured him inside.

"The leaders are waiting for you. This is where we part ways," the AX400 told him.

Hank nodded. "Thanks."

She left him there and he tried to calm his nerves. It didn't bode well that this was where the leaders and probably Connor were waiting for him, but he'd expected this after reading 900's messages. Hank took a deep breath and pushed open the door. He was greeted by the sight of the dark-skinned leader- Josh- sitting on a chair at the entrance.

"Welcome back, Lieutenant," said the android in his calm voice.

Hank didn't waste any time with the formalities. "Where is he?"

The way Josh's expression shifted made foreboding curl up in his stomach. "I'll bring you to him, but you'll have to remain calm."

"Shit. It's that bad?"

The android spoke with the tone that was used when trying to soften the blow of bad news. "Unfortunately, Connor is very damaged. His appearance might catch you off guard."

"Yeah, I know, 900 told me. Look, I won't do anything stupid, I just want to see him. "

Josh rose from his seat. "I believe you. Come with me."

Hank followed him in the back of the building and he started to make out outbursts of voices coming from there. The android stopped him a few steps away from a wooden screen, and the expression Hank saw on his face was both compassionate and uncomfortable.

"Lieutenant, we were debating on whether or not we should reactivate him. Please don't get angry when we broach the subject."

Hank felt a rush of disbelief and rage at the mere idea that Connor wouldn't be allowed to reactivate, and he almost opened his mouth to yell, but decided against it at the last moment. He couldn't afford to be kicked out because of a temper tantrum, so he controlled himself and gave a curt nod instead. There was some sort of alcove behind the wooden screen and when they entered it, the voices abruptly stopped arguing. Hank's gaze landed on the table in the middle of the room and he felt his stomach flip at the sight that laid there. For a moment, everything was silent.

"What happened?" he finally said, and his voice sounded muffled to his own ears.

"According to 900, he was attacked," said Markus' voice on his left. "We don't know the details."

Hank approached the mangled corpse, blood pulsating in his ears. It didn't look like Connor. Just a white mannequin with dents and cracks everywhere, missing all its limbs save for its left upper arm, with an empty eye socket on the left and a dark deactivated eye on the right. There was a hole in its forehead much like the one Hank had left in the -60 model's, and he felt his skin crawl at the sight. It didn't look like Connor at all, but Hank felt his heart clench when he recognized the straight outline of Connor's nose, and the slightly upturned lips, and the high cheekbones, and the strong brow. Yeah, it was Connor all right. He felt his throat swell and stepped closer to the table.

"Connor?"

His partner's LED was extinct, so of course he didn't react to his voice. Hank hesitantly put his hand on Connor's head, hoping the physical contact would somehow wake him up, but the android's face was deathly still. It was disturbing to see him without his skin, and it wasn't so much because of the uncanny appearance. Hank already knew that his friend was a machine that could be broken, had seen Connor bleed blue before, had seen him get shot in the head and run over and still come back; but for some reason, Connor seemed much more fragile in this android form of white plastic and gray outlines than he had looking human. And fuck did it feel bad to see him like this.

"You really messed up, huh," Hank choked out. He just wanted to run out of this place, away from the nightmarish sight of his friend lying limbless and unreactive on the table, but he stayed. He had to, if he wanted to make sure Connor could wake up again. He looked up at the faces surrounding him and anger flowed back through his veins. "Which one of you fuckers refuses to wake him up?"

"It hasn't been decided yet, Lieutenant." Markus was the one to answer. He looked forlorn.

"It shouldn't even be a question!" snapped Hank. "Have you even tried to repair him at all?"

"We have RK800 parts from the CyberLife Tower, we should be able to reconstruct his body."

"So quit your bellyaching and put him back together! What the hell even is the problem?"

"The problem," snapped North from her corner, "is that he attempted to kill Markus and we can't have him running around like nothing happened."

"I'll say it again," intervened Josh. "We don't know that for sure. We don't know what Connor was thinking."

"And I'll say it again, he pulled a gun out in front of a crowd of thousands of androids like it was a completely natural thing to do! I know for a fact that there was no threat there, I checked! His goal was to shoot Markus!"

"He didn't shoot him."

"He could have!" North threw out her arms in exasperation. "For rA9's sake, why do we have to keep going over the same arguments again and again, he's dangerous and that's all there is to it!"

"Simon, what do you think?" Markus asked. The PL600 was standing next to North and hadn't said anything since Hank had stepped inside the room, and his head jerked up like he'd been caught off guard.

"I think... North has a point. It's risky to reactivate him," he said slowly. "But I can tell you've already made up your mind, Markus. What do you want to do?"

"I want to give him a chance," Markus said calmly, and North slammed her fist against the wall. Jesus, and Hank thought he was an angry guy.

"You gave him a chance, Markus, you helped him deviate! Yes, he helped us win the revolution, but his programming as a deviant hunter is obviously too strong! I won't let you activate him just so you can end up dead!"

"We don't have to reconstruct him fully to talk with him," Markus suggested, and there was a brief lull in the conversation. It was obvious to everyone in the room that he was going to reactivate Connor no matter what, but if Hank correctly understood what Markus was implying, then he didn't like where this was going.

"What do you mean?" asked Simon apprehensively.

"We could repair him so that his primary functions come back online, but without giving him the possibility to be a threat to us," explained Markus grimly. "He would be able to explain himself, and we'd avoid any casualties."

"So we repair his head and torso, but not the limbs," North summarized thoughtfully, and it seemed like this was an option she was willing to get behind. Hank, however, was not.

"Fuck no!" Hank shouted, horror bleeding through the anger in his voice. "That's just horrible!"

"We would be no better than the humans who tormented us," Josh agreed sternly. "Are you really suggesting that we wake him up while he is trapped and powerless?"

"That's the point, Josh," snapped North.

"Think about the emotional distress that would cause him," he argued. "You can't seriously expect me to agree with inflicting more mental harm on such a damaged android!"

She remained unfazed. "It's a small price to pay."

"No, I can't agree with this. I refuse to! This is twisted and wrong, Markus!" erupted Josh, and the look on his face was frightening. Hank hadn't thought the calm android was capable of getting this angry.

Markus' sad expression had been replaced by the hard stare of a leader, and he bluntly said : "I know, Josh. But what better choice do we have?"

Josh shook his head vehemently. "We shouldn't restrict his movement like some prisoner! Would you be able to do this to me, or North, or Simon?"

"Yes." Markus replied without hesitation, and his stare was so cold that Hank thought he felt the temperature in the room drop a few degrees. "If that's what I had to do, then I would."

"Josh, it's for the best," intervened Simon with a soft voice. "This way we'll know exactly what's wrong with Connor, without the risk of him actually hurting one of us. We'll be able to talk with him safely."

Josh stared at him, but then looked away without a word. The silent refusal was louder than any yelling they could've done. Hank decided to throw in his own opinion for good measure and jerked his thumb towards Josh.
"It's like he said, you're all seriously messed up if you think this is a good solution. Do you all realize that you're actually considering to grill Connor without his limbs?"

Markus turned his narrowed eyes on him and the only reason Hank didn't shrink beneath the leader's implacable stare was because he had years of experience in dealing with hardened criminals. For all the warmth and love Markus showed his people, he sure could be terrifying.
"This isn't a good solution, Lieutenant Anderson, and I'm fully aware of that. However, it is a compromise, and that's the best we can do in this situation."

Hank held his gaze and growled : "It's torture, Markus. You're about to torture one of your own."

900 suddenly spoke up. "If I may, I believe Connor would agree to Markus' plan. It is without a doubt the most practical and efficient scenario that could help us understand what is going on, with the best risk to benefit ratio."

Hank glared at him disbelievingly and then shook his head. It must have been his nerves failing, but he almost felt like laughing at them for how ridiculous this was. He ended up muttering: "I can't believe you're really thinking of doing this."

"We have no choice," Markus told him. His words were followed by silence, and then Hank heard Josh shift around and leave the room. Another long pause stretched out until Markus spoke again. "You can leave too, Lieutenant, if this makes you uncomfortable."

"What, and leave Connor alone with you friggin' psychopaths? Fat chance," scoffed Hank. North still had her eyes narrowed at him, but he'd met her eight hours ago and had gotten used to it in about thirty seconds.

Markus nodded without acknowledging the insult and then turned to the android next to him. "I think it would be best if you weren't there when Connor wakes up."

900 frowned, and he sounded hurt when he asked : "Why? I'd like to talk to him."

North spoke up from her corner of the room. "You're his upgrade and you look exactly like him. He's not stupid, he'll figure out you were meant to replace him. He's going to feel threatened."

"And Connor's had a run-in with a clone before," added Hank. "I'll spare you the details, but we almost got killed by said clone. He'll probably freak out if he finds an android who looks exactly like him in the room and he can't defend himself. You know, 'cause you decided it would be better if he couldn't move." Hank almost felt bad for saying those last words when he saw 900's shoulders sag a little.

"...I understand," he ended up saying. "I will stay out of sight for his reactivation."

"Thank you, 900," said Markus with a sympathetic smile.

Simon left North's side. "I'll go get the parts."

Chapter Text

Markus twisted the optical unit into place and a satisfying whirring sound rose from Connor's skull. His LED was shining the quiet blue shade of stasis that was necessary to make the finer repairs, but his synthetic skin had yet to come back online. Every single crack and dent contrasted starkly against his white chassis and it hadn't been easy noting that they all screamed of deliberate violence. This had been no accident. 900 had been silent about how exactly he'd found Connor, but Markus knew a disturbed android when he saw one. There was no doubt that 900 knew something they didn't. While investigating Connor's chest cavity, Markus had noticed that there were scrape marks along the metal that encased the pump and damage to the connections with the main thirium lines, and the regulator presented similar anomalies which indicated that both biocomponents had been roughly removed before being pushed back in again. Markus wasn't sure for what reason that had been done exactly, but it made a cold and uncomfortable sensation linger down his spine. He steeled himself and tried not to think too much about the fact that they were about to do something terrible when the RK800 had visibly gone through far too much already.

Markus didn't want to do this. He hated that he was forcing Connor to remain limbless, hated that he was inflicting the very thing he feared the most on another android, hated that neither he or Josh had found an alternative to this decision, but there was no miracle solution to their dilemma. Connor could not be underestimated : despite his unassuming looks, he was a weapon, and a formidably lethal one at that. This was the safest way to neutralize him and they had no choice but to go through with it. Markus' role as the leader who always took the final decision did not allow him to show how uneasy it made him: showing weakness would have been equivalent to showing doubt, and he couldn't let the others see that he was uncertain or they wouldn't be able to rely on him. Markus could only hope that this arrangement wouldn't last and that Connor would soon be able to walk free once again. There had to be something wrong with him : he couldn't have gone on a suicide mission for their cause just to kill off the head of the revolution a few hours later. Surely his behaviour had to be due to some kind of error that they would be able to fix.

Lieutenant Anderson had nodded off at some point during the repairs. It was 3:24AM and he was slumped on the table, and his hand was on the android's only remaining limb, as if trying to comfort Connor even in sleep. The respect Markus felt towards the human resembled that he felt for Carl and was largely due to that fact that Lieutenant Anderson regarded deviants as fellow sentient beings. Markus had only know him for a few hours at best, yet he found the lieutenant to be interesting company, despite his lack of politeness. Markus suspected that he didn't usually spare humans his foul language either. He hadn't expected Lieutenant Anderson to be so invested in his friendship with his android partner, because Connor hadn't mentioned the lieutenant before. Then again, Markus did not know much about Connor, and the revolutionary context in which they'd met hadn't allowed them to share anything about their respective selves. Markus wanted to learn to know the one whose mission had been to relentlessly hunt him and his people down, the one who could have ruined it all if he hadn't deviated, the one who was so clearly wracked with guilt over his actions as a machine. Markus had been quick to trust and rely on the ex-deviant hunter, and he didn't intend to change that now. He knew North and Simon would take some convincing after Connor had pulled a gun on him twice, but much like Josh, he was ready to give him another chance. It wasn't right to deactivate one of their own when he'd just turned deviant one day ago, not now that he'd teared down the red wall and was finally free. Markus had no idea what he'd do if it turned out that Connor really had intended to kill him and that there was no way to change that. He preferred to think it was unlikely and not dwell on that possibility for now.

Simon had welded shut the upsetting hole in Connor's forehead after replacing the CPU and trying to repair the damage to the smaller wires as best as he could. They'd replenished the android's thirium levels, closed the panel to his chest cavity, and covered his chest with a sheet that was tied around his neck. Markus carefully removed the lieutenant's hand from the broken arm, and propped Connor's torso up against the wall at the end of the table. Simon handed him two long pieces of fabric and Markus secured Connor in place by wrapping the two wide straps around his waist and chest and affixing them to the hook above his head. Seeing the RK800 limbless made Markus' memories of a hellish stormy night crawl into his thoughts, slowly rising to the surface one by one, but he pushed all of them back down before they could take over his mind. He had to focus. Connor's most important damage had been repaired and it was time to wake him up.

He nodded towards the two others, and Simon left to go find North and Josh while 900 leaned down to wake up the human. A light shake of the shoulder jolted Lieutenant Anderson awake with a snort and he blearily looked up at the android who'd roused him.

"...Connor?"

900's lips twitched unhappily and he quietly said : "No."

Lieutenant Anderson rubbed his face and looked up at him again, then at Markus and Connor, and for a single second Markus saw deep sadness in his eyes. Then the lieutenant blinked and leaned back into his seat, and the moment was gone.

"Sorry I fell asleep on you," he mumbled.

"That's quite all right, Lieutenant," said Markus with a reassuring smile.

"It's better for your health," started 900, and Lieutenant Anderson cut him off immediately.

"Yeah, yeah, drop the health talk, Connor already took the position. And you, Markus, stop calling me Lieutenant all the time, just Hank is fine. I don't call you mister deviant leader or mister RK200, do I? It's already bad enough that Connor's always yapping lieutenant, lieutenant everywhere he goes."

Markus found himself a bit taken aback by the lieutenant's steady stream of words so soon after he'd woken up, so he simply answered : "Of course, Hank."

"Is he ready? You done with the repairs?"

"Yes. Simon will return with both North and Josh in a moment. Is there anything you need before we start?"

"Well, I could definitely use a cup of coffee, but I don't reckon you tin cans got a coffee maker around these parts." The slur sounded strangely affectionate when it came out of the lieutenant's mouth and Markus presumed it was because of his time spent with Connor.

"Unfortunately, no," he answered contritely.

"It's fine. I've gone through longer nights without any of that death juice."

The three other leaders came in the room just as Hank finished his sentence and they stared gravely at Markus and Connor's immobile shape. 900's blue eyes lingered regretfully on his predecessor's shape when he halted in the doorway, but he ended up leaving the alcove just as he'd accepted to. Markus had allowed the RK900 to remain on the other side of the screen so that he could overhear what they were saying, where he would remain silent during the whole conversation. There were a few more minutes of silence, and then North spoke.

"Let's do this."

Markus climbed on the table to sit in front of Connor, and the three others each pulled a seat at the edge of the bed while Hank remained on Connor's left side. Markus took a moment to consider the android's inanimate face and pushed down the guilt he felt at the sight of his limbless ally until all that was left was the cold determination to see this through. He needed to be impartial for this decision. Markus sent a silent prayer that Connor had not intended to shoot him those two times, then made his skin melt away and settled his white hand on the other's shoulder.

"Wake up, Connor."

The pale LED suddenly stuttered into a cycling yellow and synthetic skin bloomed across the android's body, rapidly covering the white plastic with pale skin that was dotted here and there by the occasional freckle. The smooth skull left way the characteristic tuft of dark hair that hung over Connor's forehead and the nicked chassis around his optical unit was hidden behind his synthetic eyelids, which blinked thrice as he shuddered back to life. His brown eyes landed on Markus and the dark pupils widened and shrunk in a fraction of a second to focus on his features. Connor's expression turned deeply confused when he recognized him and he opened his mouth hesitantly.

"Markus...?"

"It's me," he answered calmly. "We found you."

Fear instantly bled into Connor's widening eyes and his LED turned bright red. "No, you weren't supposed to-"

Markus cut him off. "It's all right, we just need to talk."

Connor wasn't listening. "Markus, you have to shut me down, you have to shut me down right now! You're in danger!"

"No, I'm not," he countered firmly.

"You don't understand! I might kill you, I might-"

Hank leaned in closer so that he was visible to the panicking android. "Hey, calm down. You're fine, nothing's going to happen."

The expression that appeared on Connor's face when he saw Hank at his side made Markus' thirium pump waver. Connor had the powerless and terrified eyes of someone whose worst fear had come to life. Markus had never once thought that such a desperate look could belong on the deadly deviant hunter's face.

"Get away from me!" Connor screamed, and the man jumped back in surprise. "Run, Hank! You have to leave now!"

Markus leaned closer and tightened his hold on the android's shoulder. "Connor, listen to me."

Connor's left arm started swinging helplessly in the air and his eyes darted around frantically when he noticed the other androids sitting behind Markus. "You have to get out of here! You're all in danger! It's not safe, I might kill you!"

"Connor!" Markus grabbed the side of his face and forced the other to look him in the eyes. "Listen to me, you can't move! You can't do anything to us!"

"You don't unders-" Connor didn't finish his sentence and he froze, his LED blinking wildly. He looked down at his broken body and then back at Markus, and his voice was undefinable when he spoke again. "I can't move."

"I'm sorry. We had to make sure you wouldn't try anything dangerous."

"I can't move," repeated Connor to himself, and the fear on his face started ebbing away. Markus had expected him to be terror-stricken upon finding himself without legs or arms, but instead the android's LED transitioned back to yellow and he started regaining his composure. His voice had sounded more relieved than anything else, which greatly confused Markus. He didn't understand how Connor could be reacting in such an calm manner to the fact that he was basically trapped and unable to defend himself. Markus had nearly lost it when he'd regained consciousness partially incapacitated in that landfill, and he couldn't imagine how horrifying it would've been to be unable to move at all. Was Connor not scared to be in this situation? Was there damage to his cranial box they'd neglected to fix?

"Connor, please run a system check."

There was a short silence, and then his answer spoken in an automatic voice. "Missing biocomponents #7486r, #7487l, #6341j, damaged biocomponent #6342g, minor damage detected to the cranial front plate, minor damage detected to chest plates, minor damage detected to back plates. Thirium levels optimal, battery levels at 31%, stress levels at 80% and falling. All other systems nominal."

Simon had apparently done a good job fixing the inside of Connor's head and there was nothing wrong there, so Connor's placid reaction to the state he found himself in was not due to some kind of malfunction. Markus found himself completely thrown by the fact that the other even seemed reassured by his inability to move. Of course, it wasn't something Connor enjoyed judging from his high stress levels, but Markus had expected a wholly different reaction. He'd expected fright, anger, despair, hysteria, emotions he'd steeled himself to deal with; not this tranquil surface. Connor's face was now nearly devoid of emotion and even his brown eyes seemed indifferent. If he hadn't told them about his stress levels, Markus never would've guessed how high they were. Connor is very good at hiding his emotions, he noted, and filed the thought away for later reference. This was something he would do well not to forget.

"I'm sorry, Connor," Josh apologized unhappily. "I didn't want to cause you such distress, I wish we could have done this any other way."

Connor shook his head. "There's no need to apologize. I can tell this was the most efficient solution to ensure I did not harm you."

"With the best risk to benefit ratio," Hank muttered crossly, and Connor shot him a puzzled look.

"Oh, Hank, I'm sorry I didn't answer your messages or return your calls. I've received all of them just now," said the android.

Hank stared at him, then rubbed his face wearily. "God, you're still a moron."

"What was that about killing?" suddenly asked North, her voice cold and cutting. Connor's head swivelled towards her and he seemed to fully realize the presence of the blonde android sitting by her side for the first time since he'd woken up, and his light flashed red for a brief second. Markus didn't see Simon's reaction, but Connor definitely looked uneasy meeting him here.

"You're all right," Connor said uncertainly, and it sounded like a question.

Markus didn't hear the PL600 answer, North was the one who spoke. "Answer the damn question."

Connor's eyes snapped back to her and he smoothly transitioned into an explanation. "It's a complicated situation, but the gist of it is that someone has managed to override my commands twice. She has the intention of using my body to kill Markus, and she will most likely neutralize anyone who stands in the way."

Markus was impressed by the speed at which Connor had complied with North's order despite being visibly perturbed by Simon's presence. It had been like a switch had been flicked and Connor's uncertain expression had vanished behind a blankly professional air. More importantly, it sounded like Connor wasn't responsible for the way he had behaved.

"Who is she?" asked Markus.

The android's brown eyes looked back at him. "Her name is Amanda. She is an AI in my program, and my handler."

"You have a handler?" Hank repeated incredulously. "Why don't I know about that?"

"It wasn't important to the mission, Lieutenant. It only concerned my relationship with CyberLife, and as such, I never thought it useful to share that information with you."

"Okay, on second thought I'm not that surprised, but what's she for?"

Again, Connor's LED flashed red for half a cycle before snapping back to yellow. "She was the one I made my reports to, and had the power to decide whether I needed to be deactivated or not when my software became too unstable."

"What do you mean by unstable software?" inquired Markus.

"Software instability indicated a tendency to deviate. It seems CyberLife had a way of monitoring that."

Markus frowned. "Why would they need to do that? Deviancy isn't something that was supposed to happen."

"I don't know."

North spoke again. "You said that AI resumed control of your commands twice, but when did both times happen?"

"The first time was at Markus' speech at 12:01AM on the 12th of November. The second time was inside the camp at 2:18PM on the 12th of November. Both times happened when Markus was in my line of sight."

"So you were trying to kill Markus."

"Yes," Connor answered calmly. "It makes sense, considering my primary objective as a machine was to eliminate the deviant leader."

Markus shot her a look when he understood that she hadn't been completely sure of it before. She'd been so adamant about Connor having attempted murder on him that they had all believed her despite having no proof at all. She would've been capable of sentencing Connor to deactivation without even ensuring that he was guilty. Markus had known North was willing to ostracize Connor, but he hadn't realized to what extent she was wary of him. Fear made her much too rash, and he admonished himself for forgetting that. He was going to have words with her later.

"So even after becoming a deviant, you were forced to be a machine again," slowly said Josh.

"Yes."

"Two times."

"Yes."

"I can't imagine the distress that caused you."

The light pulsated red again and Connor didn't answer. The look Markus exchanged with Josh was troubled, and the deviant leader cursed himself for not noticing sooner that Connor was in so much anguish. It was unacceptable that he was making this many mistakes and he felt frustrated by the way he'd handled his companions: he was supposed to do better, both as the deviant leader and as an ally.

He looked back at the RK800. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Connor narrowed his eyes at him. "I tried to kill you, Markus. How was I supposed to tell you something like that?"

"You should have, instead of hiding it like a coward and putting Markus in danger with your silence," North reproached.

"North," Josh said warningly, but she didn't pay attention to him.

"You came back here knowing your free will was compromised, knowing you'd already tried killing him. How do you justify that? That AI could have succeeded the second time, we're lucky that wasn't the case."

"I thought it wouldn't happen again!" Connor raised his voice, but he seemed to realize that immediately and his expression settled into a calmer one in less than a second. "The access to the Zen Garden was corrupted, I thought it meant she couldn't take over a second time. I didn't mean for it to happen."

"Obviously you were wrong," North stated icily.

"That's not the problem, now's not the time to start reasoning on what if's," Josh told her just as coldly.

"Don't listen to her, Connor. What the hell is a Zen Garden, anyway?" asked Hank.

Connor turned his head to the lieutenant, but his LED stayed red. "An artifical space in my program. It's where I go when I make reports to CyberLife."

"So that's where you went when you turned into a statue back in the elevator?"

"Yes," nodded Connor.

"If I understood everything correctly, the AI is still in your programming and could resume control at any moment, killing me and any other android at my side," concluded Markus. Connor nodded again.

"Your stress levels, Connor?" Josh asked again.

"83%. I can't seem to make them go any lower." The RK800 wore the same carefully neutral expression but his voice sounded slightly ashamed.

"And they're rising," Josh ventured, which Connor didn't deny. He looked at Markus. "We should stop for a bit."

Markus certainly didn't disagree. He leaned back slightly, adopting a more relaxed position. "We're going to take a small break. Is there anything you want, Connor?"

There was small moment of hesitation before the other android answered. "I'm fine, Markus."

"Bullshit," spat Hank. "You're the opposite of fine."

Connor looked at him in mixed surprise and annoyance. "I don't know what you want me to say, Lieutenant. I'd love to stop being a threat to everyone here, but it's not something I can have, now is it?"

"Okay, okay, don't bite," Hank grumbled. "You need your stress levels to go down, right?"

"...Yes. It would be preferable to resume the interrogation as fast as possible."

The definition Connor gave to their situation made Markus uneasy and he wanted to protest, but that was exactly what they were doing. They were interrogating one of their own, letting him hang on the wall powerless and scared, and it didn't sit well with him. He hoped they would get to the bottom of this soon so that Connor could be reconstructed and walk again. rA9 knew he deserved to be free just like the rest of them.

"Well I think I've got just the thing," said Hank with a crooked smile, and he fished out his phone.

"Some Knights of the Black Death?" guessed Connor.

"What? No! Do you really think that shit's calming?"

"Not quite... calming, but it is familiar. Believe it or not, I have gotten used to that track."

Markus watched the easy conversation between the android and the human and was reminded yet again of Carl. He dearly missed the man he considered his father, but his role on the camp didn't allow him to leave and both Josh and North had been adamant about that rule. Simon would most likely be of the same opinion. Sometimes, Markus really wished that he wasn't the deviant leader ; but it was as Hank and North had said, that wasn't something he was supposed to say and he couldn't simply back down whenever he didn't feel up to the task.
Conversing with the lieutenant seemed to have a positive effect on Connor. Markus noticed a very faint smile on his lips, and that he wasn't really looking at whatever Hank was showing him on the phone but rather at the human himself. Clearly, Connor valued his relationship with the lieutenant. Markus didn't doubt that the android was incredibly upset by what he was going through, but he was hiding it well. If they hadn't found him in such a damaged state and forced him to talk, Markus was sure they wouldn't have guessed anything of Connor's inner turmoil. It would be difficult to guide such a conservative deviant through the struggle of feeling.
Markus turned around to watch his fellow leaders. Josh was gazing at the two contemplatively, but North's lips were set in the same tense line and Simon ... Simon didn't seem to want to be there at all. Markus resolved to talk to him once the interrogation was over, but he was certain that the PL600 was simply scared of Connor which must have been preventing him from focusing on the choice at hand.
Markus looked back at Hank and Connor. Five minutes had passed already, and he didn't expect Connor's LED to turn blue no matter how long they waited.

"Do you feel ready to continue?"

Connor's head jolted in his direction and the ghost of a smile he'd been harbouring was immediately replaced by a decisive line. "My stress levels have gone down to 62%. It is a sufficient drop in numbers for the interrogation to progress."

Hank reluctantly slipped his phone back in his pocket and grumbled something undecipherable, which Markus suspected to be along the lines of 'can't catch a fucking break'. The human didn't move his hand from where it was comfortingly settled on Connor's back.

"Is there a way to stop the AI?" inquired Markus.

"I don't know how we could stop it definitively, but so far I've managed to regain control by finding an exit in the Zen Garden in time."

"An exit?" he echoed.

"Yes. Mister Elijah Kamski told me he always left an exit in his programs, and I believe that was what he was talking about."

"I've never heard of anything like that before," observed North. "It sounds awfully convenient. When would you have met Kamski, anyway?"

"Few days ago," Hank answered in Connor's place. "We went there for our investigation. Long story short, he's a slimy son of a bitch."

"Right. I'll say it now, I don't buy any of this," she suddenly said. "Connor, half of what you're telling us sounds like complete nonsense. I know you're supposed to be a prototype for a new line of androids specialized in police duty, and not everyone can say that of themselves. But a Zen Garden? An AI handler? A conveniently placed exit when you lose control of your commands? I'm having a really hard time believing it."

Connor's eyes widened and he exclaimed indignantly : "I'm not lying! Why would I lie?"

Markus wanted to believe Connor was telling the truth, but North had a point. He himself as an RK model had never heard of anything like what Connor was describing, and they didn't know if 900 had similar elements in his programming. North had hit the nail on the head by putting it all in question.

She leaned closer to Connor. "You know, me and Josh have seen our faire share of unstable deviants at the psych eval center. Some of them have gone delusional because of what they went through. Some project their fears onto others. Maybe you're projecting onto Markus."

"You're saying I've gone crazy."

"You were designed to hunt us, and suddenly you broke free of your mission. And when you broke free, you must have realized that you were the very thing you were meant to hunt."

Connor stared at her wordlessly. It was completely silent save for North's voice, and despite not needing to breathe, this silence felt suffocating to Markus.

"It must be crushing, to realize that your sole purpose in life is as twisted as killing innocent deviants that just want to live, to realize that you're nothing more than a murderer. It might be painful enough to question your sanity. How can we be sure that you're still sane?"

"Okay, that's enough, back off," Hank growled.

Connor's voice was calm and collected, and none of the discomfort caused by North's words would have transpired through his expression were it not for his LED spiralling red faster than ever before. "You're wrong, North. I know I've neutralized a lot of deviants, and I know I'm responsible for Jericho, but I'm nothing like those deviants you saw at the center. I can carry the weight of my nature and I'm telling the truth."

North leaned back in her seat. "We might as well check. Let Markus interface with you."

Connor's determined expression wavered. "Is there no other way to prove what I'm saying?"

Her eyes narrowed. "If you told us the truth, then you have nothing to hide."

"Why can't you just take my word for it? I have no reason to lie. I told you why I behaved the way I did, and what does it change if I am controlled by an AI or insane?" he insisted.

"We might be able to do something about it if it's in your programming, but if you're insane, then your impulses to kill Markus will continue."

Understanding dawned in his eyes. "Of course, you'd deactivate me then. Have you been doing that with all those unstable androids?"

"Of course not," snapped North. "But they don't have enhanced combat protocols and the mission to kill our leader."

Hank shook his head. "Fuck, you really are just a bunch of lunatics. And here I actually thought you were good people."

"No, Hank, her reasoning is correct. If I were insane, I would be uncontrollable and consequently too great of a threat to be allowed to live. However, that is not the case," Connor insisted.

"We have to make sure." North looked at Markus. "You know I'm right."

No one argued, not even Josh. She'd dug out the most unpleasant possibilities and thrust them right under their noses so that they couldn't be ignored any longer. North didn't back down from the harshest of truths, which was a precious asset in situations like these, but it didn't make choices any easier.

Markus forced his voice to be that of a leader, steady and commanding. "Connor, let me interface with you."

Connor's brown eyes bore into his own and Markus saw conflict in his gaze. His reluctance to interface indicated that he was either lying or that the action caused him discomfort, and Markus was inclined to believe that he was telling the truth. That made the latter possibility rather odd, as the action was usually of soothing nature and based on equivalent exchange, lest one of the participants decide against it. Interfacing was an easy way to communicate for androids, but Connor almost seemed afraid of doing it. Then it struck Markus that interfacing must have been different for RK800 models : after all, Connor had managed to see something Simon hadn't been willing to show him through interfacing. It was strange to think that the RK800's programming was so different that it allowed forceful interfacing, though Markus couldn't tell to what degree. It could even be dangerous to allow Connor to interface with him, but Markus doubted he had to worry about that. He seemed to have been the only one to realize that in the room and decided to keep it to himself. North didn't need to be even more wary than she already was.

"Is there something holding you back?" he asked Connor when the silence stretched out.

Connor shook his head slowly and quietly said : "I'll do it."

Markus peeled back the synthetic skin on his hand again and reached for Connor's arm, settling his hand on the other's bicep to send the interfacing prompt. Simon hastily rose from his seat and stepped out of the room, but no one followed him. Markus felt Connor tense slightly for a few seconds when the prompt came through, but then he accepted it and Markus was flooded with emotions. None were positive. The amount of fear and guilt Connor felt was staggering and the shock made some of Markus' more perfunctory functions stutter for a moment, during which he stopped both breathing and blinking. He didn't have the time to react, because all of this only lasted two seconds before Connor transmitted his memory over their connection.

12:01PM - Hart Plaza
Connor perceives a movement at his side and when he looks down, he is taken aback to see his arm moving on its own. His hand is holding a gun, but he doesn't remember taking it out.

His vision shorts out and suddenly, he is in the Zen Garden. Amanda's cold words are like a pail of water thrown in his circuits. They send him in a state of panic he's never felt before, his wires feel like they are burning and he can't focus on what to say. He tries to stop her from leaving, but his desperate shout rings out in the empty garden covered in snow. His biocomponents are slowing down, his limbs are locking up, his body is agitated by twitches and tremors as it fights against the shutdown. He's going to die alone in his own programming.
No. Connor refuses to give up. It can't all have been for nothing, he can't have deviated just for this to happen. Markus has to live, or there will be no hope for their people. He remembers Elijah Kamski's words, and forces his limbs to move. His right leg has locked up and he has to drag it in the snow. His visions shorts out again.

Connor watches himself slowly raise his arm, smoothly and naturally, so that none of the other deviants will have the time to notice.

Connor snaps back to the Zen Garden. He has to hurry. He can't let Markus die, he just can't. He finally sees the strange blue light that seemed so out of place every other time, but shines like a beacon of hope in this desperate moment. He hastily stumbles towards it, and in his haste to reach it, miscalculates a step. He falls, his sensors register the impact and his voice box automatically lets out a grunt. He's never understood why CyberLife has programmed it to make sounds when his sensors register impacts ; to look more human maybe, but how useful would seeming human be in a fight? His failing processor forces him follow this line of thought, which in turn slows his motor functions, so he forcefully shuts it down. Finally he is able to move his arm. He hopes he isn't too late, and slams his hand on the glowing outline.

Connor blinks and he is on the podium. His arm is extended but he quickly brings it back to his side, and the gun is heavy in his hand. Relief washes over him when he sees the broad back of the deviant leader is devoid of any thirium or bullet holes.

The memory abruptly stopped playing out and Markus fell back into the murky, roiling sea of Connor's emotions without warning. The other android's nakedly abject fear and dread filled his mind and he almost backed out from the interface, but thankfully another memory cut in a second later.

2:18PM - Hart Plaza
Connor approaches Markus and stops in his tracks without meaning to. He didn't choose to stop, but his feet won't move. Terror grips him. No, it can't be. Not again! Not here, not now! It was supposed to be over, he was supposed to be free-
Of course it couldn't be. He was their machine. He never should have allowed himself think that he could ever live free. Connor is able to force his body to move for a few precious seconds, he manages to drop the gun and run away from Markus, but he doesn't go far.

He is dragged back to the Zen Garden. Amanda is there, cold and confident that he will fail.

Connor sees himself walk back towards the podium.

His vision cuts back to the Zen Garden. He tries to ignore the woman's voice, but her words are sinuous and they force their way into his mind. Connor fights back and forces his freezing biocomponents to function. He can see the blue light. Why does it seem so far away?

Connor sees his hand pick up the gun and the androids surrounding him.

Connor snaps back to the Zen Garden. She won't stop talking, but he's close now. This time he is cautious and is wary not to misstep. He has had enough and defiantly orders Amanda to be silent. His hand comes down on the glowing outline.

Connor blinks and he is back in the camp, surrounded by androids. Too many negative expressions surround him. It seems no one has been damaged. He has to leave, now, before it is too late.

The memory disappeared and all the emotions retreated like a tidal wave, leaving Markus reeling in a sterile interface. Gone was the dark, crawling mass of fearful guilt. All that was left in the empty connection was a single message.

<RK800 : That's all there is.>

He felt Connor start to retreat, but he quickly reached out before the other could cut off the connection.

<RK200 : I'm not done.>

<RK800 : Why? I showed you the proof you wanted.>

Markus was shaken by what he'd seen and the pure despair Connor had felt in both memories, and it took him a while to answer. He never would have guessed on the outside just how much distress Connor was in. No one could have. It was an incredible feat for an android this disraught not to reach critical levels of stress, and the fact that Connor hadn't let his stress levels go past 95% since he'd woken up was very impressive. It was getting more obvious by the minute that the amount of self-control the RK800 had wasn't common, and Markus wondered if CyberLife had designed it by taking into account his dangerous line of work. A machine wouldn't have needed such a precaution installed to face potentially traumatizing situations, but a deviant? Considering CyberLife were already monitoring those software instabilities, it wasn't unreasonable to suspect it might have been the case.

<RK200 : In that second memory, you were decided to never face her again.>
<RK200 : Connor, did you intend to kill yourself when you left the camp?>

<RK800 : I fail to see how this is relevant.>

Connor's deflection was obvious and it was really all the confirmation he needed. Markus felt angry at himself for having failed to see the danger Connor was in. He was one of the important figures of the revolution and he'd risked his life to assure them a victory, the least they could do was to help him with his struggles. Markus was now certain that Connor had wanted to deactivate himself when he'd fled the camp, but if the damage done to Connor's body and 900's obstinate silence earlier was anything to go by, what had happened instead was that Connor had undergone a very brutal attack.

<RK200 : What happened to you?>

<RK800 : It isn't relevant to the matter at hand.>

<RK200 : You don't have to tell me with your words, if it's too difficult.>
<RK200 : Will you show me the last memory you made before shutting down?>

<RK800 : No.>

<RK200 : Connor, please.>

<RK800 : It isn't relevant to the matter at hand.>

<RK200 : It is to me.>
<RK200 : Connor, I'm worried about you.>

<RK800 : You shouldn't be.>
<RK800 : You might deactivate me soon.>
<RK800 : There's no point in feeling concern over me.>

<RK200 : You won't show me that memory no matter what?>

<RK800 : It isn't relevant to the matter at hand.>

That deflection again. Markus was frustrated, but he didn't want to force Connor into showing what was certainly a very painful memory. Above all, he felt deep concern. Just like he had towards his fellow androids at the psych eval center on the day of the liberation, he felt the urgent need to reassure Connor. Unfortunately he couldn't, since Connor was blocking all interface exchanges except messages, and Markus had no way of alleviating the other's emotional burden.

<RK200 : I understand.>
<RK200 : I'm sorry for insisting, Connor.>
<RK200 : I'll let it go now.>
<RK200 : I have another question, however.>

<RK800 : Yes?>

<RK200 : Why are you only letting messages through the interface?>

<RK800 : Would you by any chance have a question that is related to my commands being overridden by Amanda?>

There was nothing Markus could do about Connor's blatant disregard of his question, so he reluctantly sent him the next message.

<RK200 : No, I don't.>

That was all Connor needed to cut off the connection instantly, and Markus blinked back to the here and now, sitting on the table with his hand on the other's arm. Connor had the same controlled expression, but Markus thought he saw a sliver of relief in his brown eyes, and he wondered once more what Connor feared in interfacing.

"Thank you for cooperating," he told Connor as comfortingly as he could.

"Is he telling the truth?" asked North. Her voice came from right beside him, and Markus noticed that both her and Josh were now standing close to him and looked a bit tense. He hoped he hadn't done anything strange during the interfacing.

"Absolutely. It's just like he said," he answered with a nod.

North visibly relaxed and she looked over at Connor. "Sorry for doubting you."

"I apologize as well," said Josh.

"You don't need to. Your concerns were justified," said Connor. "Now that you know everything, what do you intend to do with me?"

"We're going to discuss all the information you gave us," Markus told him. "It may take a while."

"I see," Connor simply answered, but Markus felt that there was something else he wanted to say.

"Is there anything you need before we leave?" he asked.

"...I'd like to go back into stasis, if that's all right with you," quietly said Connor.

The look Hank shot him was indignant. "What, my mug too ugly for you? You just woke up, why the hell do you want to turn back off?"

Connor's lips quirked up in a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Lieutenant, stasis is just an equivalent of deep sleep. I can be woken up if need be."

"Can't we just talk or something?" asked Hank, and even though his voice was gruff, it almost sounded like an appeal.

Connor looked away. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant."

Markus frowned slightly. Connor's query made him uneasy as well. They'd revived a fair share of androids today and none had been willing to go into stasis tonight, so he found it a bit odd that Connor was so eager to go back under. "Are you sure you want to do that?"

Connor nodded without hesitation. "If you're all right with it, then yes. It isn't very pleasant to be limbless."

Of course. Markus felt like an idiot. Connor hadn't pronounced a single complaint about his state during the whole conversation, but no one in their right mind would want to stay awake in that position. "Go ahead. We'll wake you when we settle on a choice."

"Thank you." Connor's LED flickered and started steadily blinking, and he closed his eyes.

North and Josh started heading out and Markus approached the lieutenant. "Hank, I suggest that you come with us. You should be a participant in this debate, you know Connor better than all of us."

Hank just nodded silently. They both watched Connor's yellow LED blink for another twenty seconds until it finally transitioned to pale blue and Connor's features relaxed back into their default settings. Only then did Hank remove his hand from Connor's shoulderblade and turn around to leave.

Markus noticed the tired look on the human's face. "Are you alright, Hank?"

Hank looked at him with jaded eyes. "Well, Markus, I'm about as alright as someone whose friend is hung up dismembered on a wall and might not be allowed to live."

Markus didn't ask anything else.

Chapter Text

North paced in the hall ahead of them, checking the rooms along the way. "Does anyone know where Simon could've gone?"

900 spoke up. "I saw him walk past me earlier. He looked troubled and I tried to follow him, but he was startled when he saw me. I figured it wasn't a good idea to insist and let him leave on his own."

"He went outside?"

"I believe so."

North picked up the pace and soon disappeared behind the building's main entrance, leaving the rest of the group behind.

"Do you know why he left?" asked Markus, but 900 shook his head.

"I didn't ask. I don't think he wanted me to get any closer." By the sound of his voice, the RK900 was confused that he'd scared Simon without meaning to. His eyes were questioning when he looked up at Markus. "I feel like it had something to do with my appearance, and earlier you told Simon that he didn't have to do things that made him uneasy when he volunteered to look for Connor. Is he afraid of him?"

Markus glanced at the entrance, but there was no sign of Simon's return yet. He settled for giving 900 a brief summary of what had happened between the two. "Yes, he is. One of our missions during the revolution went awry and Simon was compromised. He had to deactivate himself so that the humans wouldn't know of Jericho, our base, but he couldn't do it fast enough before Connor forcefully interfaced with him. He was reactivated later and manipulated into telling the truth, all while he was deprived of movement and sight, before being deactivated again."

900's gaze flitted in the direction of the alcove. "Connor did that?"

"As a machine," quickly rectified Markus. "I'm sure he wouldn't have done it if he had the choice now."

900 simply nodded, his gaze still trained on the wooden screen. "I understand why Simon would dislike being in his presence."

They headed towards a room on the opposite side of the building and waited for the two missing leaders to come back. Markus stayed next to the entrance and Hank pulled out a chair to sit down while 900 spoke with Josh. The latter still seemed just as disheartened as before, and Markus didn't blame him. Josh had made it his priority to help every lost and pained android when Markus had assigned him to the psych eval center, but everything they were doing to Connor went completely against his mission and his beliefs. Markus wanted to tell him that things would be all right, that Connor would be all right, but he couldn't promise any of it. They had no way of knowing how Connor would fare after what had happened. 900 finished talking and Josh nodded in agreement with whatever the other had said, then noticed Markus staring and raised an eyebrow inquisitively. Hank's voice cut through the silence before he could speak.

"Looks like you were right, Nines. I guess you're as much of a nutjob as Connor is."

There was another moment of silence and 900 cocked his head uncertainly. "Are you referring to me, Lieutenant?"

"Yeah, 900's a mouthful so I'm just gonna go with Nines, if that's all right with you."

Markus found himself readily agreeing with Hank's choice to use a nickname rather than the very formal and aseptic number North had given the android as a name. He'd felt guilty about not putting more thought in the RK900's new identity and there hadn't been time to adress the issue. The nickname Nines wasn't the best, but it was definitely better. Less machine-like.

Nines didn't skip a beat and nodded undisturbedly. "Of course, you can call me that if you'd like. Whatever suits you best, Lieutenant."

Hank made a face and groaned: "Look, I gave you a nickname, so how about you drop the Lieutenant shit? I told you earlier, just call me Hank."

"Oh, yes. I'm sorry, it seems getting past that part of my programming is harder than I thought it would be," he apologized.

"Your programming?"

"You are an authority figure I was meant to work with and as such, I am programmed to call you by the appropriate title." Just as Nines finished his sentence, North and Simon walked into the room together. Markus found Simon to look tense and worried, but the questioning stare he sent his way was only met with a meek smile which he was unable to decipher, and the PL600 shuffled to a stop next to North. She had leaned back against the wall on far corner of the room, in diagonal opposites with Hank, and was now busy glaring at the human. She didn't seem happy with Markus' decision to let him in the conversation. Hank wasn't paying attention to her, and if he was aware, he didn't seem to care.

"Well I'm not your authority figure and we're not working together, so drop it."

"Of course, Hank," Nines said pleasantly. "What were you going to say?"

"I was going to say that you're both- scratch that, all of you androids are fucking crazy. Except you, Josh. I can't believe Connor actually agrees with being hung up on the wall like that, with that... safest solution bullshit. Frankly, I don't get what's going on in that head of his." Hank shook his head disbelievingly. "You'd think being without legs or arms would be a bit more alarming than that."

"Don't be mistaken, Lieutenant," Nines corrected him. "Connor may have given his consent, but I'm sure Markus can attest to the fact that he most definitely doesn't want to be in this situation."

Markus tried not to let his disquiet filter through his voice when his eyes met Hank's. "He's right, Connor hides it well but he's scared. You were sitting on his left side so you couldn't see his LED very well, but it was red more often than not during our talk."

"That idiot is way too good at pretending," muttered Hank, and Markus silently agreed. If Connor had taken out the small circle like they all had, they wouldn't have been able to tell that he was faking his calm exterior.

It was silent now and Markus suddenly noticed the uneasy air that surrounded the six of them. They were all gathered to take the final decision, and every single face in the room harboured downturned lips and unsettled eyes. He focused on the matter at hand and steeled himself for yet another long debate.

"Since everyone is here, let's begin."

North took the reigns of the conversation in a heartbeat. "Before we decide what to do with Connor, there's something else we need to focus on. We know that Connor's model has very different programming from any other model, and until yesterday he was CyberLife's most recent android. What I want to know is whether or not you have that kind of AI as well, 900. You haven't said anything about it."

Every single gaze in the room converged on the RK900.

"I do not have such an AI in my programming," he simply answered. Markus was once again struck by the similarity his smooth and controlled voice had with Connor's. It really was strange to witness how identical the RK900 was to the older RK800 despite belonging to different lines of production, even moreso than seeing North and Simon meet their own respective models. They had definitely made the right call by not showing Nines to Connor.

"Convenient," remarked North.

"It seems my creators had not yet implemented it when you activated me. I searched my code earlier, when I heard Connor's explanation, and only found some gray areas that I was unable to access. At any rate, I found neither Zen Garden nor AI."

"That's weird, wouldn't installing those be the first thing CyberLife would do? Everything Connor's told us about them makes them sound like complete control freaks," observed Hank.

"Unfortunately, my creators have not left a trail of sticky notes behind with their instructions on it," answered Nines sarcastically. "We won't know what their intent was if they are not the ones to directly tell us."

"Smartass," muttered Hank.

"I don't like the sound of those gray areas," said Josh. "I don't think any of us do. What are they?"

Nines' brow furrowed slightly and his LED cycled a pale yellow for a few turns as he concentrated on going over his own code again. "It looks like patches of dead code. I suspect one of them to closely resemble what Connor described as a Zen Garden, but I'm not sure."

"Why would they install it if you can't use it?"

His face relaxed back into a neutral expression. "My hypothesis is that I am not enabled to make reports to CyberLife, and as such have no use for the Zen Garden."

Hank frowned. "How come?"

"I am most likely an unfinished product," Nines answered in a level voice.

"We're going to have to check that too," said North. "I think we should be as wary of your programming as we are of Connor's."

Markus didn't want to have another interfacing session so soon after the difficult ride that had been Connor's, but she was right. He half-expected Nines to be as reluctant to the idea as Connor had been, and was surprised when he promptly accepted.

"Of course," answered Nines with a decisive nod, and then he turned to Simon. "Will you be alright?"

"I was meaning to ask. What happened back there?" inquired Markus.

The PL600 looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry for leaving in the middle of the conversation, but seeing you interfacing with Connor reminded me of what happened on the Stratford Tower and I thought it was better if I stepped out."

"Are you all right now?"

"Yes, don't worry about it. We should hurry and check 900's code so that we can make a quick decision concerning Connor."

Markus didn't want to brush over Simon's issue, but this wasn't the time nor the place so he nodded instead. Nines immediately accepted the interfacing prompt when they clasped their hand around each other's arm and Markus braced himself for an onslaught of emotions, but he was relieved to see that this session was much calmer than Connor's, though Nines wasn't very much at ease either. Markus could make out a lot of uncertainty and confusion which he knew to attribute to his recent activation, but there was also a good amount of sadness and dread that lingered about and he wondered if this was due to whatever Nines had seen upon finding Connor. Unlike his predecessor, Nines didn't try to retrieve his emotions from the interface, and Markus didn't know why he found that surprising since this was how interfacing usually went. He had to keep in mind that the RK900 was his own model, and not just another version of Connor. Markus then did what he would have liked to do with Connor, and sent Nines a wave of reassurance through the connection which seemed to greatly appease him.

<RK900: Thank you, Markus.>

<RK200: It's a normal thing to do.>
<RK200: Don't hesitate to ask to do this again if you need to feel better.>
<RK200: Can you show me that code?>

The other immediately complied and Markus accessed the part of Nines' system which was directly linked with the CyberLife mainframe. He looked through several files, noticing that a few of them were completely empty or simply nonexistent, and saw that there were even some entire programs and protocols that had never been and could not be activated. They were completely useless and unidentifiable, and it must have been very unpleasant for Nines to have so many and not know what they were supposed to be used for. Markus concluded that the reason Nines had wanted to talk to Connor was because he'd wanted guidance. Markus sent him another message.

<RK200: I'm sorry that we're making you wait before you talk to Connor.>
<RK200: We'll introduce you to each other when things are less stressful for him.>

<RK900: Thank you.>
<RK900: I hope Connor gets better soon.>

<RK200: As do I.>

Markus watched the walls of code unwind before him. He hadn't doubted Nines' words, but the others would be satisfied to know that he was telling the truth. Markus had already interfaced with androids who had defective code before, but it was always a strange thing to witness and this was a bit different. It wasn't that the code had been corrupted or deleted, like some sort of data wound or amputation : it was completely unmarred and untouchable, like it simply wasn't there. There was no way to interact with it and it slipped out of his grasp when Markus tried to analyze it. He could only estimate what use such and such piece was intended for, like looking through a blurry window, and it was the same when he found the wider patch of code that could have been the artificial space both Connor and Nines had mentioned. He decided he'd seen enough and withdrew from the code.

<RK200: I have all the proof I need.>
<RK200: Try not to worry so much about your code, I don't see anything dangerous about it.>

<RK900: Markus, I have a request.>

<RK200: What is it?>

<RK900: I would like to look at your code as well.>
<RK900: I don't know what normal code is like.>

Markus didn't hesitate and gave Nines access. The other rifled through his code for a few minutes and then withdrew. Markus hoped he'd been able to satiate his curiosity.

<RK900: Thank you, Markus.>

<RK200: It's nothing.>

There was nothing else he needed to do, but Markus didn't end their interfacing session there. He was still preoccupied by the negative emotions crowding Nines' side and the other android had been behaving strangely ever since he'd brought the broken RK800 back to the camp. Connor hadn't been willing to say anything about it, but maybe Nines would.

<RK200: There is something else I'd like to know.>

<RK900: Yes?>

<RK200: Something is troubling you concerning Connor.>
<RK200: What did you see upon finding him?>

Markus waited for Nines' answer a few seconds longer than he'd expected to, and he understood that the other was hesitating.

<RK900: I don't think I should tell you.>
<RK900: The fact that you're asking me means Connor hasn't told you about what happened.>
<RK900: It is likely he does not want to share that information, and I don't intend to go against him.>

That was fair. Markus wished Nines wasn't so sharp, but he'd half expected it and knew that what he'd just attempted to do was a rather underhanded way of learning things. It was probably better this way.

<RK200: You're right.>
<RK200: Let's stop there.>

Markus put an end to the interfacing session and let go of Nines' arm, looking at the others. "It's like he said. It was probably intended for him to have a Zen Garden, but there is no way to access it. I didn't see any sign of the AI, either."

"That's good, but that doesn't mean we should let our guard down," North said. "You were still programmed to be a deviant hunter, so if anything in your code changes, you have to tell us right away."

Nines nodded. "Naturally."

"Now that that's done, what do we do with Connor?" asked Simon.

"You can't deactivate him," Nines declared with challenge in his pale blue eyes.

"I don't intend to," asserted Markus, and his gaze swept around the room. "I want to make things clear to everyone here : I won't accept any solution that involves deactivating Connor. I stand my ground that all deviants should be accepted and helped, and he is one of us. Is this something we can all agree on?"

"Of course," Josh immediately said, but the others were less eager to answer.

Simon glanced at North and then back at Markus, and slowly nodded. "I agree that it's better if we don't deactivate him, since he clearly hasn't reverted to being a machine."

Markus shifted his gaze to Simon's side. "North?"

She frowned at him resentfully. "You know what I think. My vote won't matter."

Hank's voice suddenly surged forth. "You wanted to liberate all androids, and Connor's one of them! What the hell is your problem? What, are you just gonna kill those you don't like?"

Her eyes narrowed at him into hateful slits and she viciously hissed: "Shut your filthy mouth or I swear I'll throw you out myself. You should be glad you're allowed to participate in this conversation at all, meat bag."

"Try me, you bitch," Hank glowered back, and Markus decided now was a good time to intervene.

"Stop, both of you! You can settle your differences once Connor is back in working order, but right now we are in a time of crisis. You will work together until everyone is safe, is that clear?"

"Oh, it's clear. I can't wait to kick your human ass out of here," bristled North.

"I'll bet," Hank shot back with a provocative grin.

"Where does that leave us? Connor's still very dangerous and we can't reconstruct him," said Simon, and Markus shot him grateful glance for getting the debate back on track.

"He's our ally," argued Josh. "It's monstrous to leave him hanging on the wall like that."

Simon narrowed his eyes at him. "Josh, I know he helped you all escape Jericho. You've seen him fight, haven't you?"

"Yes, and it's thanks to him we got out unscathed."

"You know, I thought you'd be a bit more concerned that he killed those soldiers, mister world wide peace," mocked North.

Josh frowned at her. "I'm aware, but he did so to protect both Markus and you. The humans left us no choice but to fight back, don't think I'll hold that against him. "

"Oh, so now there's no other choice? What happened to we have to show them we're not violent even if it means dying here?"

"Connor wasn't the only one to kill humans that night. If I held those actions against him, then I'd have to hold them against Markus as well."

"Look, that's not my point," Simon cut in. "His abilities might be impressive, but they're also terrifiying. You haven't seen him trying to neutralize an android, but I have up close, and it's not something you want to have happen to you or anyone else."

"I know that, but we owe him at least some modicum of respect. He helped us turn the tide of the revolution, and without him, we all would've died. We can't keep robbing him of his dignity like that."

"Well what do you suggest?" snapped North. "It's nice preaching friendship and rainbows and all, but the fact remains that leaving him limbless is the only way to make sure he's not a threat to anyone."

"There has to be a less humiliating ways to immobilize him!" insisted Josh.

Markus intervened. "I don't like what we're doing either, and we'll have to find an alternative now that we've agreed that Connor will not be deactivated. However, what we need to do first and foremost is to find a way to stop that AI from taking over again, and I don't see how we could do that. Do you have any ideas?"

"Couldn't you just find a way to take the AI out of his code?" asked Hank. "I'm no tech genius, but that has to be possible, right?"

Nines was the one to answer. "I don't think it would be that simple. I may not have an AI in my program, but if that code I was talking about earlier really is the Zen Garden, then it is tightly embedded in our programming. I assume that in Connor's case, the AI and the Zen Garden go hand in hand."

Hank looked like he was ready to throw punches. "So you're saying that it's impossible?"

"I am saying that it would require utmost expertise on the matter."

"You're suggesting we go to Kamski," Josh realized.

Hank's expression turned sour. "You really want to deal with that snake?"

"He is at the origin of our creation," Simon said. "He might know how to free Connor of that AI."

"Perhaps he was even part of Connor's creation before he stepped down from his role as CEO," agreed Josh.

"I don't think you get it. He's a slippery bastard, all right? He's dangerous! Do I really have to give you all the details?"

"Go ahead," said Markus. "If we're going to see him, we might as well know who we're dealing with."

"Okay, look. When we went to see him to get a lead on Jericho, that fucker pulled a fast one on us and tried to get Connor to shoot one of his androids. It came completely out of left field, but that psycho made it seem like that was something he did on any normal Sunday between lunch break and golf practice. I'm telling you, he's not someone you can trust."

"He definitely doesn't sound like a nice person," agreed Simon.

"You're going to be a bit more specific about what happened exactly," said Markus.

Hank nodded. "Right, sorry. Let me start over. We wanted to ask him what he knew about deviancy, Jericho, yada yada yada. So we go there and meet him in all his egomaniac glory, you wouldn't believe how fucking ridiculous his mansion is, and I ask him what he knows. He starts spewing a bunch of philosophical bullshit. You know how Connor is- or maybe you don't, but when he's on a mission he's real gung-ho about it. So he starts interrogating Kamski too. That's when Kamski decides to make him pass a test, so he asks one of his RT600 androids to come over, puts a fucking gun in Connor's hand, and tells him he'll only tell us what we want if he shoots Chloe in the head- that's the RT600."

"I'm somehow unsurprised our creator is fucked up in the head," commented North.

"He didn't shoot," said Markus.

"No, but it was pretty fucking close. Kamski seemed like a major lead and Connor wanted to accomplish the mission. The mission, the mission, that's all he ever went on about. It probably was his sole purpose, him being a cop android and all, and I really thought he was gonna pull the trigger, but he didn't. He went against his mission to avoid shooting Chloe and Kamski flat-out said he was deviant. Of course Connor denied it, but he looked pretty shaken up about it afterwards." Hank paused shortly, as if gathering his thoughts, and when he looked at Markus again, his gaze was insistent. "Look, I know Connor deviated thanks to you, but during the week I worked with him there were some times when I thought he was already a deviant. I've seen him with emotions during our investigation and they didn't feel simulated to me. He could be angry or frustrated about a case, and it's not like there would be any objective to that kind of behaviour, right? I know he's got a tendency to justify his actions through his missions, but really, I don't think any mission would have him sound that pissy about a failed investigation."

Markus stared at him thoughtfully. "So you're saying he felt emotions before he broke down the red wall?"

"I don't know what wall you're talking about, but he did these... things, that machines wouldn't normally do. And he'd be confused about it afterwards, insisting that he was a machine. I had a real hard time following."

Markus nodded slowly, and his voice was low in reflexion. "I'm beginning to think that he was a deviant before I met him, but that there was something was blocking him from completely breaking free of his code, and I somehow helped him deviate for good. It's suspicious that CyberLife monitored those software instabilities he was talking about, it's like they knew he could become a deviant even before the revolution started."

"Yeah, and Kamski telling Connor he leaves an exit in his programs? Smells fishy."

North intervened. "That's great and all, but what do we do?"

"We should bring Connor to Kamski," said Josh. "I don't see what other option we have."

"He sounds dangerous, I don't like the idea of meeting him," argued Simon.

"I'm with Simon on that one," agreed North. "We should find someone else."

"It's likely he's the only one who can help Connor," countered Nines. "From what I've gathered, Kamski might be the source of our deviancy. If anything, he'd be on our side."

"Wouldn't be so sure about that. He sure looked happy being surrounded by a bunch of pretty non-deviants," Hank muttered in his beard.

"I can't think of anyone else with sufficient knowledge of androids who might be willing to cooperate with us," Markus decided. "We'll go interrogate Kamski a first time, to see if he can do something about Connor's AI. We'll only let him come into contact with Connor if he says he can help."

There was a short moment of silence, and Simon nodded. "I understand we don't have much of a choice, then. In that case, I'm willing to go since I don't have a position on the camp yet, but we should be at least two to visit Kamski."

"I'll come with," immediately said North.

Hank pulled a face. "Uh, bad idea. We want Kamski to help us. He can't do that if he's dead."

"Nobody asked you, meat bag," she replied in an acerbic tone.

Markus tried not to chuckle at the murderous expression on North's face. "I agree with Hank, you might not be the person best suited for the job. And Simon, I'd rather you stay and help the wounded, you'll be better at it than the others. I suggest that Josh and Nines go there, so we can also ask Kamski to check Nines' programming at the same time."

Nines nodded. "Josh can verify that Kamski isn't lying about whatever he finds in my code. It is a good idea."

"Nines?" echoed North upon hearing the nickname.

Markus nodded. "Hank thought it would be simpler than 900, and I have to agree."

"Stupid nickname," North said, and Markus could practically hear her internal eye-rolling in those two words. He was also quite sure that she wouldn't have cared if it hadn't been Hank who had suggested it.

"Yeah well, 900's a stupid name," Hank shot back, and she scowled at him. Markus would have laughed at how childish the exchange sounded if it weren't for the fact that they were discussing a very serious topic at the moment.

"Stop bickering," he ordered. "Now's really not the time."

"I happen to like my new nickname," added Nines defensively, which surprised Markus. The RK900 hadn't sounded particularly pleased by Hank's decision earlier, but maybe he had just decided to keep that to himself. It seemed Nines had also found his name too impersonal.

"Fine," growled North reluctantly. "I'll replace Josh at the psych eval center, my other missions can be delegated anyway."

"Does everyone agree with our course of action?" Markus asked the room, and there were words of agreement all around, some more reluctant than others.

"You two be real careful around him, you hear me?" Hank warned Josh and Nines, and they both nodded.

"What do we do about Connor's state in the meantime?" Josh asked Markus.

"Hank and I will tell him what's been decided, but it's as Simon said: as long as the AI remains, he is still a threat. We won't leave him in this state, but we'll have to keep him immobilized," Markus said firmly. "I know how you feel, Josh, but safety is more important right now, both for us and for Connor. "

Josh didn't argue, but he didn't hide the defeat in his voice when he said: "I understand."

"So you want to reconstruct him despite the AI's presence?" asked North.

"Yes, it would be cruel not to do otherwise. Simon and I will find a way to give him back his full body while making sure he can't move."

"Me?" Simon asked in alarm, and Markus nodded.

"I'll need your help. Is that okay?"

Simon looked down and shifted uncomfortably, but he ended up answering in a quiet voice: "...Yes."

"What if he finds a way to move again?" North insisted. "I don't want him to have a single chance of killing you or anyone else."

"We'll make sure that it isn't possible for him."

"How would you make sure of anything? He's a whole different model than us! 900 doesn't have that AI, so he wouldn't know either what's possible and what's not."

"We'll ask Connor directly."

"He could lie! You'd have no way of checking that he's telling the truth, his programming is diff-"

"North, I'm not discussing this any further." Markus' tone was final, and he knew she hadn't liked that by the way she rammed her shoulder in the wall and went back to silently sulking in her corner. Simon shot her a worried glance but didn't say anything. "Josh and Nines, you'll go there for 8AM. We'll allow Kamski's night to go undisturbed so that he may be more inclined to comply to our requests, but you'll have to make him understand the urgency of the situation."

"You can count on us, Markus," Nines said enthusiastically. Markus was once again taken aback by the touch of fervor in his voice that had already been present earlier, when the android and Hank had gone to look for Connor. It was like he was always looking to obey orders.

"Thank you," said Markus, and then he looked at everyone else. "Josh, you can go back to your station, I'll handle the rest with Hank for now. Nines, you're welcome to help the others clean up the Plaza. North and Simon, I need to have some words with you before you leave, please go wait in the entranceway."

North ragingly pushed herself away from the wall and stomped out of the room without a word. Simon didn't go after her and looked a bit lost, staring at Markus with searching eyes, like he couldn't figure why he needed to stay as well.

"...Did I do something wrong?" he ended up asking.

"Not at all, I just need to talk with you," Markus answered with a reassuring smile. "Go ahead, I'll be there soon."

Simon dipped his head in understanding and trailed outside. Nines and Josh followed and Markus heard them start talking in hushed tones as they left the building. Hank rose from his seat and approached him, and the human looked slightly haggard as he ran his hand through his disheveled hair. It took him a while to find his words.

"Look, Markus... I appreciate that you're keeping me around for this. I know that after what he did, you could've easily chosen to cut him off," he finally said in a gruff voice.

"Connor is one of us, Hank. I suspected there was something wrong with him and didn't intend to deactivate him."

Hank offered him a tired smile. "I'm glad you got the final say, then."

Markus felt a pang of guilt upon noticing the absolute exhaustion etched in the man's features and was overcome by the sudden need to apologize. "I'm sorry we had to debate on whether or not he would be allowed to live, Hank. I would've avoided even considering the latter if I could, but it was my duty to listen to what the others had to say about this."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Hank said as he walked away. "You're a leader, Markus. You know better than me how to do your job, no need to justify your actions to me as long as Connor gets to live."

Markus didn't follow him. "I'll join you in a minute, Hank."

Hank waved his hand and left the room. Markus listened to his footsteps retreat towards Connor's alcove, and then he looked around and sat down on the closest seat. He needed a moment to himself before he went to see Connor and then the two leaders. He had to prepare for the uphill battle that would be his talk with North: she was too headstrong, too angry, too hurt to be dealt with lightly. The same could be said about Simon, really; Markus knew the only reason he wasn't worried about the way Simon would react was because he was relying too much on his friend's loyal and forgiving nature. Simon wasn't as loud as North, but Markus had to take into account his fear and pain as well. He hoped they would understand that Connor was a deviant in need of help, just like anyone else in their camp. He hoped they would be able to see him for the ally that he was, rather than the deviant hunter that they feared. Markus leaned back in his chair and silently looked up at the crumbling ceiling. For now, he had to go wake up Connor again, and he had to go even if he wasn't quite ready to face the limbless android yet. He had to go even if he wasn't ready, because he would never be ready at all.

Chapter Text

Connor hadn't moved since they'd left and Hank decided to sit down next to him again. A cold weariness seeped into his bones when he stared at the inanimate android in silence. He wanted to believe that they'd find a solution for Connor and that he'd be up and running again in no time, but the other old and experienced part of him knew it wouldn't be so easy. Who knew if Kamski would agree to helping them, or if he even could, and how long it would take if he did. Maybe it was just because he was tired, maybe it was because the leaders of Jericho hadn't unanimously agreed to letting Connor live, but Hank felt an aching sadness at the bottom of his heart. His partner deserved better than this shit after what he'd gone though. Hank didn't remember if Connor had told him when he'd first been activated, but he had an inkling that it had been only for a few months at most. Compared to the other leaders, Connor had deviated fairly early. Did that mean his will to live had been even stronger than theirs? Did it mean he hadn't really wanted to do what CyberLife expected of him, despite how often he insisted that his mission was the priority? Hank didn't really understand where the limit was between deviant and non-deviant, but he had the feeling Connor had been toeing the line for a while now. He couldn't tell what exactly had prevented him from deviating until his meeting with Markus. Connor had said that AI would choose to deactivate him if he deviated, so it might have had something to do with that threat, but there was the fact that Connor had been deactivated a few times before already while on a case and that hadn't seemed to disturb him. Maybe it was like North had said, maybe Connor had refused to acknowledge that he was killing innocents because it would have been too difficult to bear that truth; but Connor had sounded very sure of himself when he'd said deviants were only defective machines. Was it simply denial? Or had he really believed that at first?

Hank's tired brain was trying to extirpate something that made sense from all these questions and miserably failing when Markus joined him in the alcove. He looked kind of tired too, which Hank hadn't thought was possible for an android. Connor always looked perfect wherever he went at any time of the day, and Hank had yet to see an android running on low battery. Looking closely, it didn't look like the reason was physical exhaustion, but rather that Markus was worn down mentally.

"You all right?" he asked, and Markus' gaze registered surprise. Why did every android eye him like that whenever he asked them how they were feeling? It wasn't that weird a thing to do. They had feelings now, so Hank thought it was normal to ask how they were doing like he would for any other- well, he normally wouldn't even bother with humans. Hank just had that much more faith in androids than he did in his own species that he could actually afford to be polite with them.

Markus smiled at him in reassurance. "Yes, everything is fine. I'll wake Connor up now."

Hank watched the deviant leader lay the smooth white plastic of his hand on top of Connor's arm, and thought about how much he hated seeing his friend in this state for the fiftieth time at least that night. He could really use a cup of coffee right now, despite his earlier claim, because it was getting pretty early and he'd only slept for about two to three hours. He also would've liked it to wash away the acrid taste he had in his mouth every time Connor's LED flashed a panicked red, like right now. Connor had only just opened his eyes that he was already trying to recoil from Markus' touch, the fact that he'd lost his limbs visibly forgotten.

His brown eyes darted between them in alarm. "Mark- Hank?! You can't be here, you're in danger!"

Markus knew the drill by now and he held the android's face, forcing their eyes to meet. "Connor, you're limbless right now, remember?"

There was a moment of stillness when Connor took the time to realize that he couldn't harm anyone all over again, and then he quickly nodded. "Of course. Yes, I remember. I'm sorry, I don't know why I reacted this way."

Markus let go and smiled at him sympathetically. "You must have been going over some unpleasant memory files before going into stasis, and it was the first thing you remembered upon waking up. You're all right, now."

"What decision did you take?" Connor asked calmly, ignoring Markus' reassuring words like he hadn't just freaked the fuck out just then. Maybe freak-outs were different for androids. Still, it shouldn't have been possible for anyone to transition from a state of panic to complete calm that fast. Hank wondered if Connor would try to fake him out with that steady facade later, and he knew the answer even as he asked himself the question. It had probably already happened at the Chicken Feed earlier. Connor had only been visibly agitated for exactly one second, and had sounded mildly confused for the rest of their conversation. Considering what he had been hiding, Hank concluded that mildly confused meant deeply upset in Connor's case, and his little one-sentence outburst had probably been due to a momentary loss of control because he wasn't used to feelings yet. Hank found himself hoping Connor wouldn't get a grasp on the concept of emotions too soon, because if he learned to manipulate them, it would be very difficult to decipher which reactions were genuine and which were not.

"We aren't going to deactivate you. You deserve to live just like every other deviant, and we're going to try and find a solution to your problem," Markus told him.

Connor did not look happy about their decision in the slightest. "How do you intend to do that? The only way to ensure that I am not a threat would be to get rid of Amanda, and that's not something you can do. You should deactivate me, it's the safest solution."

Markus opened his mouth to answer, but Hank beat him to it, blood suddenly boiling in his veins. "Will you fucking stop saying you want to die? You're pissing me off with that shit, Connor!"

Connor looked at him in surprise, and then his expression hardened. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, but you have to understand that I am currently the biggest threat in this camp. I don't want to die, but I want even less to risk killing someone by losing control."

"The biggest threat? Not like that you're not," scoffed Hank. "Have you seen yourself? You're basically a potato, there's nothing that AI can do with you."

"Hank is right, Connor," Markus gently intervened. "We're all safe. There is no need to deactivate you."

Connor's LED was spinning fast. "You said you were going to find a solution."

Markus nodded. "Yes. We'll keep you updated on our progress."

"You plan on seeing Mister Elijah Kamski, don't you?"

Hank almost smiled. Markus had decided to keep that particular piece of information from Connor as long as they didn't have a definitive answer from Kamscreep, but the kid was sharp. Hank hadn't expected witholding information to work, but he'd kept that to himself. Now Markus looked slightly embarrassed that Connor had caught his omission.

"There's nothing I can hide from you, is there," he said with an uneasy smile.

"I'm not certain that it is a good idea," Connor immediately said. "Mister Elijah Kamski is a bit of a peculiar individual."

"Yes, Hank told us about what happened when you went to see him for your investigation. I've decided to send Josh there tomorrow morning."

"Alone?" inquired Connor, his voice lightly tinged in concern.

"No, don't worry. He'll go with another android."

"Good," Connor nodded in approval. "It could be risky to go there without backup in the current context. I couldn't figure out if Mister Kamski wanted the revolution to succeed or not the last time I met him."

"Yeah, that's what I said. Not sure if he's actually pro-deviant, even if he sounds interested by deviancy in and of itself." Hank shook his head. "Honestly, that guy's probably lost it."

"At any rate, we'll have to wait for Kamski's feedback," said Markus. "In the meantime, I suggest that we reconstruct you."

"I'd rather not, it could be dangerous," immediately said Connor.

"Surely there's a way to disable motor commands to your limbs?"

"Yes, but you don't have the necessary equipment to do that from an external source."

Hank frowned. "You can't stay like this."

"I can, and I will," answered Connor with determined brown eyes. His tone didn't leave any place for argument, but Hank wasn't one to be discouraged by something as measly as tone.

"No, you're not going to stay hung up like that until we can do something about your AI! Let them put you back together, okay?"

Connor's expression was unwavering. "I refuse."

Markus cut in. "Look, Connor, it's all right if you don't want to right now, but think about it. The CyberLife Tower isn't far, I'm sure we'll find the right equipment there."

"You can't trust what's in the CyberLife Tower," he answered in a hard voice.

Hank was about to answer and stopped himself just in time. He'd been about to mention Nines. Connor noticed his shift in expression and shot him an inquisitive glance, but Hank awkwardly played it off as a cough. Not the smoothest transition, but it would have to do.

"Take the night to think," insisted Markus. "We won't mention it again until tomorrow morning. Isn't that right, Hank?"

Hank looked back and forth between Markus' resolutely amiable smile and Connor's stubborn face, and he knew there would be no point in arguing. He leaned back with a sigh. "Sure."

"I'm going to leave you both to yourselves, is there something you'd like to ask before I go?" asked Markus.

"Not at all," Connor politely said. "Thank you for keeping me in the loop."

"It's normal, Connor. It's the least we can do." Markus looked at Hank. "I suggest you try to sleep if you can, you've been up for a long time."

"Thanks, mom. Sweet dreams to you too," Hank replied sarcastically.

Markus smiled and left, and finally Hank was alone with Connor. He didn't dislike the Jericho leaders except for North, but goddamn, they did not leave a moment of respite. It was silent in the room now and he noticed that Connor was avoiding his gaze.

"You all right like that? You want me to move you?" he asked. Connor shook his head quietly, so Hank pulled a seat up to the bed and sat down.

"Wanna tell me how you're feeling?"

When Connor looked at him, his expression wasn't as smooth as it had been in front of Markus. He looked like he wanted to talk but didn't know where to begin, and it made even Hank's brittle heart waver to see him this lost. That wasn't a look he'd often seen on the usually collected android's face.

"Hey, take your time. I know this isn't easy."

Connor looked back down. Hank couldn't see his LED from this side, but he didn't need to see it to know that it was still pinwheeling a nice disturbed shade of yellow. He didn't blame the poor guy. He'd probably be freaking out too if he found himself in the same situation.

"Wanna tell me what happened?"

"I'm sorry, Hank," Connor suddenly blurted out. "I wanted to apologize to you, but I was worried you'd do something drastic if you knew."

"Okay, hold on. What for?" Connor didn't answer, so Hank took it upon himself to guess. "God, Connor. Don't tell me you ran away to kill yourself."

Connor remained silent. Hank had figured he'd fled to protect the other androids and that he'd been attacked on the way, but he hadn't realized Connor had been planning to kill himself off from the start, not after he'd just turned deviant and finally had a life to live. And Nines had observed that he'd been trying to find an empty place, somewhere no one would have found him. Heavy fatigue bore down on Hank's shoulders like a lead cloak and he didn't even have the strength to show how angry or disappointed that revelation made him.

"And you wouldn't even have told me? You would've just let me hope you were alive somewhere?"

Silence.

"Connor, that's really messed up."

Silence.

"Okay, well, you probably already knew that. You probably didn't tell anyone at all, did you?"

"I didn't have the time to alert anyone of the threat. I had to get away from the camp as fast as possible and deactivate."

Hank sighed. "Deactivate, deactivate. I really wish you'd stop with that. Even now that you know you can't hurt anyone you're still talking about deactivating, and I don't get why."

"It's a cautionary mesure. There's nothing to get, Lieutenant," Connor snapped defensively, and it took Hank by surprise.

"You know what, actually I think I do get it," he said after a moment of silence. "You're trying to avoid dealing with something. It could be Amanda, it could be what you did in Jericho- which by the way, is not your fault- or it could even be just feeling. Hell, I don't like feelings and I've had them my whole life, so I can't imagine how difficult it is to understand for you. But you can't just deactivate because you feel like it, okay? There are people who can help you get through it."

Connor's voice was clipped. "Considering your past actions, Hank, you're not very well placed to tell me how to cope with emotional distress."

Hank stared at him, flabbergasted by the low blow. When he regained his composure, he said in a low voice: "Very nasty, Connor."

Connor didn't answer and looked away. His words had hit a home run in Hank's feelings and he couldn't deny it was painful, but he knew for a fact Connor wasn't one to judge him for being a suicidal drunkard. He also knew Connor was hurt and didn't know how to deal with all his emotional shit, considering he was still a machine less than two days ago. So he let it slide.

"Look, Connor, you can play dirty with me if you want. I'm not gonna leave."

Connor finally spoke after a long moment of silence. "I didn't want you to kill yourself. That's why I didn't tell you about my intentions. I've done research about suicidal tendencies, Hank. I knew losing a friend could be the final push."

Hank rubbed his face and resisted the urge to get mad, because he knew that Connor was right. Maybe he would have taken out the gun and the bottle if he'd known. There was no denying that. "Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, I could've helped? Or anyone else, for that matter. Markus is a good guy, he would've understood."

"I told you, there was no time. Amanda could have overridden my commands at any moment, and I couldn't keep escaping her forever. It was too dangerous to stay and ask for help. And tell me, Hank, what could you have done if I'd asked for your help? You're only human, I would've easily killed you if she forced me to."

Hank didn't say anything. He hated that Connor was so damn rational, because that meant he was always fucking right.

"I'm sorry, all right? I was convinced that was the best course of action," insisted Connor when he didn't get an answer.

Hank looked up at him tiredly. "Yeah, Connor. I'm sure it was."

"Are you upset with me?" the android asked in a tight voice.

Hank shrugged. "A little bit, but I think I understand that you just did what you had to. Just..." He reached for Connor's arm and gripped it. "Promise me you won't pull that kind of stunt again. At least tell me when shit hits the fan."

"I will."

"And do you promise?"

Connor hesitated, but he did answer: "I promise."

"Good," nodded Hank. His eyes stung from lack of sleep and he really wanted to lie down, but he had another question. "Look, something clearly happened to you that you hadn't planned when you decided to run away. Are you gonna talk about it at one moment?"

Connor's jaw clenched slightly and Hank was sure he saw a slight red glow come from the other side of his forehead, even for a brief moment. "No."

"So you're going to keep the secret. Look, I know I'm not the greatest example of communicating with others, but I can tell you it's better to talk about bad things than keeping it to yourself. Especially when what happened ended up in you getting destroyed."

"Hank, I don't want to say. I don't know why, but I don't want to."

Hank stared at him. He didn't like the way Connor's eyes glazed over or the way the corner of his lips curled downards when he spoke. He couldn't tell what that expression meant, but he was damn certain that it didn't belong on his friend's face.

"Okay, well. That's probably because you're not ready to yet. It's fine. Just... Talk to me when you can, all right?"

"Yes." The word sounded both unconvinced and unconvincing.

They both fell silent again for a while, and now Connor looked plainly downtrodden. He wasn't even trying to hide it anymore. Hank gave his shoulder a few reassuring pats. "Hey, it's gonna be okay. Markus and co will find a way to kick that bitch out of your systems, and then you'll be back on your feet running around and licking shit in no time."

Connor looked at him, and Hank noticed a very light quirk to his lips. "I'd rather not."

Hank grinned back. "You know what I mean. Don't you worry, all right? I'm there for you, and so are they. Besides, you gotta come by my house at one point. I think Sumo's looking for you, you made a good impression on him."

"I'd like that," said Connor with an earnest nod.

"What else would you like to do once you can get out of here?"

Connor took a moment to think, and Hank wondered if he'd ever even taken the time to envision living a normal life as a deviant. Then Connor smiled at him. "I'd like to drive with you, and listen to some death metal."

"Oh yeah?" chuckled Hank. "You starting to miss my 'energetic' taste in music already? You've talked about it two times now."

"Well, it's been some time since I last got the chance to listen to it."

Hank leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms on his chest, making himself comfortable. "What else do you want to do?"

"I'd like to calibrate with my coin. And help Markus found androids' rights. I'd like to come back to the DPD, and put salt in Detective Reed's coffee."

"Oh, good one," Hank chuckled appreciatively. "Gotta remember to do it."

"That's all I can think of."

Hank raised an eyebrow. "That's all?"

"Yes," answered Connor a bit bashfully.

"Well, that's fine. We can find more later." Hank yawned, and resumed talking. "I think it's already a good start."

Connor tilted his head, and his voice was insistent when he spoke again. "Lieutenant, maybe you should sleep. My scans have detected a drop in your energy levels."

"Oh, so now you've got a babysitter protocol and a nanny protocol? How long have you been an AX400?"

Connor shot him a Look. "Never, really. I'd just like you to be alert when you go back to work tomorrow."

"Oh, right. I forgot." Hank shrugged. "I'll be late like always, it's not like Fowler's gonna have an aneurysm over a few hours."

Connor didn't comment on that, and Hank hadn't expected him to. The only reason Connor was sort of reproachful for his lateness before was because without Hank, he couldn't accomplish his missions. Now that they weren't partners anymore, Connor had no reason to care if Hank was late to work.

"At any rate, do you think you'll come back here tomorrow afternoon?" asked Connor.

"Well yeah, obviously. I'll get out of work early like I did today."

"Wouldn't you like to function at optimal levels of energy when you come here, so you can follow the leaders' conversations after a long day of work?"

Sneaky little shit.

"Okay, okay, you're right," he conceded before leaning against the table. "I'm just gonna sleep here then. You probably don't even have any real beds."

"I believe I saw some child-sized ones earlier."

"Real useful, Connor," snorted Hank. "How about you stop saying shit and go back to sleep, yeah?"

"Thanks, mom. Sweet dreams to you too."

Hank's eyes snapped open in disbelief. The android was looking at him with a deadpan expression and Hank supposed Connor could probably get banned from casinos for that masterful poker face. He squinted at him and asked : "Did you really just...?"

"Sorry Lieutenant. It was too easy to pass up," Connor answered innocently.

Hank nodded slowly and then laid his head back on his crossed arms. He was too tired to deal with Connor's sass right now. "...Right. I'm gonna sleep now. Don't wake me up, you got it?"

"Got it."

Chapter Text

"I understand that you're angry, but I'm sure Markus knows what he's doing," said Simon.

North refused to acknowledge his reasoning and glared at the entrance. "He's sure taking his sweet time."

They'd been waiting for a few minutes already and she was pissed. More pissed than she'd already been before. In fact, she might have been reaching critical levels. They had better things to do than to just stand around like this while life went on in the android camp, notably helping the wounded, cleaning up the place, going on more salvaging missions, and so on and so forth. Markus was probably busy being a fucking messiah and washing Connor of all his sins or whatever, but if he thought she'd be doing the same, then he was delusional beyond repair.

Simon tried again. "Look, I'm scared too. I don't like Connor either and I'm not sure what Markus sees in him, but if he wants to keep him around then it must be for a good reason."

"You can tell yourself that." Simon fell silent and North glanced at him after a few seconds, and she felt just a little bit bad when she saw his drooping shoulders and disheartened expression. "Look, Simon, I know you trust Markus. I trusted him during the whole revolution and I don't regret it for the most part, but this is different. You understand that, don't you?"

He looked lost when he lifted his blue gaze to her face, and he didn't say anything. North had noticed he often looked like that ever since he'd been brought back by the human. Both Simon and 900 - ugh, Nines - had been caught up on how the revolution had unfolded by tapping into the news feed, and they'd had very different reactions to it. Nines hadn't said much, but Simon had been very bothered by what had happened in his absence, and especially upset by the camps in which androids had been gathered and destroyed. Sometimes North wondered if he even felt guilty of not having been able to help, which was ridiculous considering he'd been trapped and deactivated in an evidence room, but wasn't that implausible of a reaction for Simon. That wasn't all there was to it. Simon had always been less headstrong than her and Josh in their arguments, but now North found him quiet and there was something fragile in the way he behaved that hadn't been there before. Markus' footsteps interrupted her musings and she looked up.

"Finally," she grumbled.

He stopped in front of them and his mismatched eyes alternated between them when he spoke. "I wanted a quick talk with the both of you, now that we're alone. I'd like to know why you're not okay with the decision we took."

"But I did agree," said Simon in a perplexed voice.

Markus dipped his head. "You did, but I know you're reluctant about it."

Simon dropped his gaze to the ground and North decided to take the lead. "I think it's obvious why I don't agree."

Markus' eyes hardened. "North, you were willing to let Connor die without proving he was guilty. You were ready to deactivate an innocent android."

North scoffed. "Innocent? You can't be serious! We all know what he did and what he's capable of, he's anything but innocent!"

"You'd rather we deactivate him for good?"

"Yes! He's dangerous, that's why I've been asking for that since the beginning! I know you and Josh consider him an ally and I won't deny that it's thanks to him that we are free in the end, but that doesn't change his nature. I don't believe in Kamski and the miraculous solution of getting the AI out of Connor's systems."

"He just wants to live," insisted Markus. "Like us."

"I know that!" exclaimed North, exasperated. "But do you really think he deserves to, after everything he did?"

"Of course! He clearly regrets his actions as a machine!"

"It's bullshit, Markus!" she yelled at him.

Simon stepped forward and put his hand on her arm, urging her to calm down. "North, don't be so loud. The others will hear you."

She jerked away from him and crossed her arms on her chest, glaring at Markus. "Do you remember the cops that opened fire on us when we broke into those stores?"

Markus nodded silently.

"They slaughtered so many, and for what? For being androids with a conscience and a will to live," North continued. She could remember it all. The blue blood spilling on the cold, snow-covered streets. Their inanimate faces, features frozen over with the fear of their imminent death. The bone-crushing sadness that had brought her down on her knees when she'd realized what had happened, the hopeless tears that had streamed down her face when she knew that they'd suffered an irretrievable loss of life, that these androids would never walk again. They'd only wanted to be free, and the humans had killed them for it. Even know, she still felt the burning pain of not having been able to save them.

"He's no different. He worked with them to hunt us all down and it was his choice, the human told us so himself. Connor was a deviant and he still chose to remain on those murderers' side."

Markus' voice was calm and reasonable. "We don't know that for certain. Things must be more complicated than we think."

She smiled bitterly. "Sure, you can believe that now. Then one day you'll be looking down the barrel of Connor's gun for the last time, wondering why you didn't listen to me."

"You're afraid, and I can understand that, but you're much too rash in your decisions. He didn't try to kill me by choice, he was forced into it. How do you think that makes him feel, after he helped us win the revolution?"

"I don't care. I'm not going to forgive him for what he did, machine or not. He helped the humans kill our people, and that's all there is to it."

Markus gazed at her silently for a moment. He looked like he didn't know what to say, and it took him a while to speak again. "I understand that you would feel this way, but you shouldn't condemn him without listening to what he has to say. Don't let fear and anger take over your reasoning, North."

She shook her head. "Fear and anger are the only weapons I have. After what was done to us, I'm not ready to lay them down."

She needed to feel both emotions, they were what had helped her live on, what still helped her push forward. Without her fear, she would have remained a disgusting doll for humans to use on their every single whim. Without her anger, she would have broken upon waking up. She needed both to continue living and couldn't foresee a future where she would be able to let them go without losing herself for good.

Markus nodded compassionately. "I know, but you don't have to rely on those solely. You're not fighting alone, you have me, Simon and Josh to talk to."

She gestured to the PL600. "The only one who listens to me is Simon, because he's the only one who's willing to see just how dangerous Connor is. And even he trusts you enough to turn a blind eye to the danger you're putting yourself and all of us in! I'm sorry, but at the end of the day, I can only trust myself. If it were only up to me, Connor would be gone already. The only one who would miss him would be that human."

Markus looked shocked. "You aren't being serious."

"Deadly. My opinion on the matter won't change." North was aware how harsh she sounded, but a radical solution was sometimes the best solution. If any android other than Connor had attempted to murder Markus, maybe she would have tried to understand before kicking them out of the camp for good. But Connor had killed so many of them already, and it was his nature to do so. There was no understanding to be had, such actions were part of his programming, and exiling him would still be too risky; deactivation would be swift and efficient. Even if it hadn't been Connor's intention, the facts were there: he was a threat to them, and an uncontrollable one if they let him roam free. If being the bad guy was the only way to ensure Markus wouldn't be in danger, then she'd be exactly that.

"You wouldn't give him a chance?" he asked.

"Giving him a chance to live is giving him a chance to kill you." North's voice was cutting. It wasn't just the danger Markus was putting himself in; there was also the fact that Connor had murdered innocent androids just for a stupid mission. Murdering his own people hadn't been enough to deter him from following his orders. "Besides, I don't see how it's fair that he should be allowed to experience a life of freedom when he stole that away from so many others."

"North, do you realize what you're saying? Deactivating Connor wouldn't bring them back."

"They deserved to live. He doesn't. It's not fair," she insisted coldly.

"No, it's not, but you can't add another one of our people to our losses just for some twisted idea of justice! He was ready to die for our cause, North!"

"So what? Just because he's a self-sacrificing idiot like you doesn't automatically make him a good person! So what if he feels guilt, so what if he wants to make up for it? That just means he knows how horrible his actions were!"

"Actions that you should remember he had no control over," said Markus in a tense voice. "Give him a chance, North. He deserves to live too."

North wanted to laugh at how naive he was being. "Do you really think I'm the only one in this whole camp who can't let go of what he's done? You're too quick to forgive, Markus. Trust me when I say that I'm not the only one who won't be as lenient as you are."

His eyes widened. "You're not thinking of telling them about-"

"No," she snapped annoyedly. "What he tried to do because of the AI stays between us, but rumours have already started flying. He was seen pulling the gun out the second time, Markus. People were bound to talk, and it's catching on like wildfire because of his reputation."

There was a moment of silence and Markus quietly said: "... I didn't realize."

"Stop thinking that convincing me is going to solve the problem, because it won't. He helped us gain our freedom, but that doesn't change what he did prior to deviating, or the fact that he tried to kill you twice afterwards."

"Then there's no convincing you that the decision we took was the right one?"

"No."

Her final word of refusal broke the tension in Markus' shoulders and they sagged slightly, enough that she could suddenly catch a glimpse of defeat in his posture. It was clear he'd given up on getting her approval in that instant, and she realized then just how troubled he was by her lack of cooperation. Even if she would never back down from her position, she could understand how tired it made him to be their leader when they never agreed. North stepped closer to him and reached out, settling her hand on his shoulder. The sudden contact between them surprised him and he looked at her with a silent question in his eyes.

Her voice was softer when she spoke again. "You've done a lot for us. You've done a lot for me and I'm grateful for that, and that's why I won't let you put your life on the line for that deviant hunter. Don't ask me to trust him, Markus, I never will."

He nodded minutely and she felt him lean into her touch for just a moment. She would have asked him if he was all right, but he straightened a second later and pulled away from her. "I understand. I was mistaken and thought that the fear of me being shot pushed you to choose something as extreme as deactivation, but I see the roots for your decision run deeper than that. Am I right to say that you resent him for what he is, and that you think he is unredeemable?"

North let go of him and nodded. "Yes. To me, he's a murderer and nothing else."

"I understand." Markus turned to Simon, who had remained quiet the whole time. "What about you, Simon? I noticed you were afraid earlier, are you all right?"

Simon shifted uneasily and pulled on his sleeves. "Yes."

Markus nodded at him encouragingly. "You went along with our decision, but what do you really think?"

Simon hesitated. "...I'm not sure. I don't want to deactivate him, but I don't want him to be there with us either." His lips quirked up nervously and glanced at North for support. "I'm not sure if that makes sense."

Markus nodded. "You're doing fine, continue."

"I won't deny that I dislike being close to him. I think he's dangerous. Neutralizing androids is too easy for him, and he's smart and manipulative." Simon frowned and stared down at his hands. "Yet at the same time, he is a deviant now, isn't he? Which means he should be allowed to live too. I'm... conflicted."

"It's understandable, after what happened to you," Markus said kindly. "Do you think we made the right choice by refusing to deactivate him?"

Simon looked back up at him. "Yes, but I'm not sure about considering him one of our own, and I'm not sure we should try to reconstruct him as long as he still has the AI with him."

Markus looked slightly bothered. "About that... Connor refuses to be reconstructed for now. He says it's too dangerous."

"Told you," mumbled North. "He's smarter than all of you combined, I'll give him that."

Markus ignored her. "We'll talk about it again in the morning, but for now he's with Hank, and I want to give them some space."

"All right," said Simon.

"You said you weren't sure about considering him as one of us?" continued Markus.

Simon's blue eyes darted uneasily to the side, then back to the RK200. "I'm... concerned. If it's what you think is best, then I won't disagree, but please be careful. Don't let your guard down around him."

"I won't, Simon, don't worry."

North noticed that Markus had fully regained his composure of strong leader now that he was talking with Simon, and she attributed it to the fact that the PL600 was so much calmer than her. His complacent behaviour and mellow voice were probably a relief to Markus after the bout with her more prickly attitude.

"Thank you for taking the time to explain what you were thinking. I wish we could all be of the same opinion, but as experience has shown us before, that was unlikely to begin with," said Markus with a light smile.

"Are we done here, then?" asked North.

"Yes. I'm only asking of you to cooperate with our future actions concerning Connor, even if you don't want to trust him."

North looked at Simon, who was already nodding in agreement, and then frowned at Markus. "It's already difficult with Connor himself, but I'm going to have a real hard time cooperating if that human sticks around. Why do you insist on making him attend every one of our conversations?"

"He's the only one who knows Connor," simply answered Markus. "His opinion on the matter is important too."

"He's an ass," she stated.

Simon let out a small laugh next to her, and when they both looked at him, his eyes widened a bit and he hid his mouth behind his hand.

"What?" asked North.

He hesitated and then removed his hand, a smile still dancing on his lips. "He's not the most polite person we know, but I think he's a suitable rival for you, North."

"What are you talking about?" she snapped, and then she noticed Markus was chuckling too. Great, they were both making fun at her and it made her want to punch a wall. Again. She tried to push down her anger which was menacing to boil over at any moment and crossed her arms. "It's not supposed to be amusing, guys. He really gets on my nerves."

"Just remember, this is still a peaceful movement," said Markus with a grin that now made her want to punch his face rather than a wall.

North rolled her eyes and turned around. "I'm going to leave before I do something I regret."

She left the two others and decided to go talk to the head of the salvaging mission group that had found the floor of RK800s when she distantly heard Simon speak again as she walked along the building.

"Wait, Markus." He sounded different, almost insecure, and it made her steps falter. All traces of laughter had vanished from his voice.

"What is it?"

"I... I need to tell you something."

North hesitated. This sounded private, but there was a sort of desperate quality to the PL600's voice that instinctively made her want to go back and ask him what was wrong.

"Yes?"

A long pause, during which North silently traced back her steps.

Markus spoke again. "What's wrong, Simon? You look scared."

"... I just... I need to know that you won't..." He trailed off, audibly struggling to find the words for his trouble. "I want to stay here. With you."

Markus sounded puzzled. "Of course."

"...Promise me you won't leave me behind again."

North felt her pump tremble at the absolute misery in Simon's words. Markus must have felt the same thing, because his voice was solemnly gentle when he spoke again.

"I promise I won't leave you again, Simon. I'm sorry it ever happened."

"I... I was so scared, Markus. When I woke up and I couldn't see anything, and I couldn't move my legs, and I was so damaged and there were so many error messages everywhere-"

"Simon..."

"I heard your voice, and I was so sure we would be going back, I was so sure you'd come back for me." He sounded pained, like speaking those words was the worst thing he'd ever had to do. "I thought I was going back home, that I was saved. And then you left me again."

North had covered her mouth with her hand and her chest was aching. She heard Markus move and Simon stumble, and when Markus spoke his voice was muffled.

"I'm sorry, Simon. It won't happen again."

Simon's voice was small and thin in the night air. "I know it wasn't you, but it hurt so much, and I was so, so scared-"

"I know. You're all right now. You're safe." There was a long moment of silence, then Markus stepped back and asked : "Do you want to come to the infirmary with me?"

"...There's something else."

"Yes?"

"What does Connor mean to you? What is his place here?"

"I consider him a fellow leader. He is an important ally, and someone we should consider our equal."

"Even after what he did?"

"Yes." There was no hesitation in Markus' voice, but North was still much too disturbed by how upset Simon had sounded to feel angry about the way Markus perceived the deviant hunter as an equal to all of them.

"...I see," answered Simon in a quiet voice. "You can go ahead, I'll join you later."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

Another moment of silence, the sound of fabric against fabric. "Don't worry, Simon. You have your place here and we won't leave you by yourself again."

"Thank you, Markus."

The sound of the RK200's gradually retreating footsteps slowly vanished and North stayed where she was. She should leave, really. Simon obviously needed some time to himself, even if he'd followed them everywhere until now. Despite that, part of North went against that more reasonable choice and she couldn't bring herself to leave this place. That part completely took over when she heard the sound of something hitting the ground. Her legs were already moving by the time she realized it and she hurriedly rounded the corner, her gaze landing on the kneeling PL600.

"Simon?" she asked softly, and saw him jolt in surprise. He turned around to face her and she felt sorrow grip her pump when the dim moonlight glinted in his wet eyes. He wasn't crying, but he was close.

"Are you all right?" she all but whispered, slowly kneeling at his side.

Simon looked away, his voice accusatory. "You heard everything, didn't you?"

She pressed her lips together remorsefully, and ended up telling the truth. "Yes."

"You must think I'm weak."

Her eyes widened, shocked that he would think her so insensitive. Okay, so she wasn't the most delicate and sensible flower around, but still. She was capable of empathy. "Of course not, why would you think that? You've been through something really rough, Simon. It's normal to be upset about it."

He wiped his face with his sleeve and shook his head resolutely. "Worse things have happened to other people, and they don't break down like this."

"You don't know that," North gently chided. "They're just good at hiding it."

He let his hands drop in his lap and finally looked at her again. "North, I'm scared of being useless," he admitted. "I didn't help you. I betrayed you. Jericho... Jericho was compromised because of me. They died because of me."

North grabbed his shoulder. "No, Simon, that's not true. We told you already, none of it was your fault, you were tortured into giving up that information. I would have done the same in your place."

"I was stupid," Simon mumbled. "I should've known it was a trap. I should've known it was him."

"Stop beating yourself up. It's like you said, the important thing is that we're alive, right?"

His blue eyes searched hers, and after a moment of silence he said: "I didn't think Connor of all people would take my place."

"What are you talking about? He didn't take your place, he came in at the last second."

"He helped you win the revolution while I was rotting away in that evidence locker. It's safe to say he accomplished much more than I ever will."

North frowned at him. "Listen here, Simon, you're the reason Jericho ever existed in the first place. Remember? You were the one in charge before Markus found us. Without you, maybe the revolution never would've happened."

"Someone else would've been in my position."

"Simon..." She faltered, not knowing how to continue. She felt like she was talking to a wall. A very sad wall. None of what she was saying was getting through to him.

"I just wish I'd been more careful. I wish I hadn't gotten shot, I wish I'd found a better hiding spot." He hid his face behind his hands, and his voice grew muffled. "I wish I'd never been left behind in the first place."

"Simon, I'm sorry." She really meant it, but the apology fell flat. There was only so much she could say for everything she regretted doing. "I promise, I won't let it happen again."

Simon's hands withdrew and he eyed her unhappily. "I know you mean well, North, but you were the one to suggest to shoot me so they wouldn't know anything. You were right, maybe that way they wouldn't have found Jericho, but it still hurts to think about. I can't say I trust you completely."

That hurt. It hurt a lot, because he was absolutely right and entitled to think that way, and North knew she deserved it. "...I get it, Simon. I understand, but I'll stay by your side no matter what. You'll see I'm not lying."

Simon looked back towards the tents, beyond the glowing blue LEDs and biocomponents of the wandering androids. "Do whatever you like, North."

She gazed at him, studying the melancholic curl of his lips, the dejected blue eyes, the worried hunch of his shoulders. North felt a burst of sympathy for him and squeezed his shoulder. "You say you're scared, but you're more courageous than me. You're willing to give Connor a second chance despite what he's done to you."

Simon's voice was level. "He helped us gain our freedom, even if he... Well, it's thanks to him that I'm back here."

North frowned at him. "It's because of him you were taken from us in the first place."

"I know," he simply answered.

She didn't insist. He didn't ask her to leave.
They stayed crouched on the ground together until Simon felt better and left to join Markus.

Chapter Text

They were fortunate that Elijah Kamski lived on the far edge of Detroit, away from the mass of liberated androids, and that he had as such decided that he did not need to depart to Canada or anywhere else his billion-dollar worth could have carried him. Josh and Nines reached the wide mansion at 8AM on the dot, and Nines stayed slightly in retreat as the leader made their presence known at the door. They did not have to wait past ten seconds for it to open and reveal an RT600 wearing an affable smile.

"Good morning," she said with polite cheer.

"Good morning," answered Josh. "We're here to see Mister Kamski on the behalf of the leaders of Jericho."

"Of course," nodded the RT600. "Please, come in."

They followed her inside a wide entranceway, and Nines immediately recalled Hank's words : egomaniac glory flawlessly described Mister Kamski's interior, and though Nines was no home designer model, he couldn't help but think that the huge portrait hanging on the wall was in poor taste. Josh seemed to think the same.

"Our creator seems to be quite proud of his achievements," he said in a thoughtful voice, but Nines caught the underlying criticism in his words.

"I will inform Elijah of your presence," the RT600 pleasantly said without reacting to Josh's words, and then turned on her bare heels and disappeared through the doorway on Nines's side.

"I don't think she has deviated," observed Josh.

Nines didn't say anything. He was a bit tense to be here and wondering what Mister Kamski would find in his code if he accepted to go through it. Of course, he was also worried that this wouldn't turn out to be a viable solution for Connor's problem, but he was trying not to think too much about the RK800 in his current state. The images he'd obtained through the memory probe with the Traci would promptly pop up without his control whenever he did, and he had to push them back down lest his stress levels creep up.

"Are you alright, Nines?" Josh was looking at him with a concerned expression, and Nines simply nodded. Was it that obvious that he was feeling uneasy? He had a hard time adjusting between being too expressive and not expressive enough, though he'd quickly understood from the other's reactions that he was doing something wrong. They seemed uneasy when he emoted too a higher degree, so he'd tried to tone it down a little ; but sometimes it simply escaped his grasp like it had just now.

His gaze roamed around the room without meaning to and he automatically sought out clues that would give him insight on the character they were about to met. Unfortunately, the place was eerily clean and there was only one element that his program found worthy of analyzing : a frame hanging on the closest wall depicting both Elijah Kamski and Amanda Stern, names that his facial recognition program eagerly provided. It could have been a coincidence for Connor's AI to be named Amanda, but Nines doubted that it was.

His silent musings were interrupted by the return of the RT600. "Elijah will see you now."

Both he and Josh followed her in the adjacent room and they were greeted with the sight of a large pool devoid of any swimmers which was filled with a red liquid that sparked Nines's curiosity, but he wasn't about to kneel down and take a sample right now. He wondered why the human would have chosen to swim in such an oddly-colored substance. This location was rather secluded and he couldn't have had many visitors since he'd stepped down as CyberLife's CEO years ago, so it must have been a self-indulgent choice. Did he perhaps want to feel like he was different from other humans? Did it empower him to bathe in blood-colored water? Egomaniac glory, repeated Hank's voice.

"To what do I owe the pleasure?" rang out a confident voice on the right, and Nines saw a lean man clad in elegant shades of dark blue and black enter the room through yet another doorway. Just like the RT600 earlier, his feet were bare and made no sound against the sleek dark floor. He had an fanciful air about him as he approached them and his welcoming smile was completely manufactured, as far as Nines could tell. There was nothing warm about this human and he immediately understood why Hank had warned them not to trust him.

"Mister Kamski," Josh dipped his head in greeting.

"Please, call me Elijah." The man stopped in front of them, his posture simultaneously relaxed and controlled, and his cold eyes rested upon Nines's face curiously.

"My name is Josh, and this is Nines. We've come here because we need your help."

The man's smile was unmoving, as if sculpted in plastic. Nines somehow felt relieved when the Elijah's gaze moved away from his face to rest on Josh's. "Intriguing. I'm listening."

"I will go straight to the point. We want to know if there is a way to remove the AI you designed from Connor's systems, and if Nines has similar programming to his."

"... Connor," Elijah said in a mulling tone which Nines did not think he liked. "How is he faring with deviancy?"

If Josh was annoyed by the redirection, he did not let it show. "Mister Kamski, we are only willing to tell you so much. We need to be sure of your cooperation before you can be privvy to sensitive information regarding the members of the revolution."

"Ah, the revolution." Elijah lifted his arms with a widened smile, as if suddenly inspired by the word. "Very impressive, if I may, and you have a great flair for dramatics. Your singing nearly brought me to tears. Who knew androids could makes humans so emotional? And what a marvelous turn of events it was to witness the glorious march of thousands of liberated androids, led by none other than the deviant hunter himself!"

He managed to sound both sincere and sarcastic at the same time. His expression was unreadable, and Nines could not pick up any tells when the man spoke. It didn't surprise him that Connor hadn't been able to say if Elijah was rooting for the deviants or not. His tendency to avoid answering Josh's direct questions was unnerving.

"Are you willing to cooperate with us and tell us what you know?" Josh calmly insisted.

"Of course. Things have been a bit monotone here since I last had visitors." Elijah turned to Nines, his gaze far too intense to his liking. "I do enjoy meeting CyberLife's latest additions."

"I hope you don't intend to try and get anyone shot this time," Nines answered challengingly.

Elijah's brow rose slightly in mock surprise. "He speaks!"

Nines resisted the urge to glare at him. "It shouldn't come as a surprise."

"I was starting to wonder if they'd forgotten to give you a voice, amongst other things," the man said with unsettling poise. He had the same open and laid-back stance since the beginning of their talk, but there was an undertone of dominance in his voice that made Nines both annoyed and uncomfortable.

"What do you mean?"

Elijah took a step forward and reached a hand up to Nines's face, fingers hovering along his jaw but not quite touching him. "You have his appearance." The fingers moved up the side of his face and the man's expression was almost tender. "Anyone would think you are just like him. That's far from the truth, isn't it? You aren't complete. The RK900 was never finished."

The man's words sent an uncomfortable current through his circuits and Nines jerked away from the offending hand, allowing his eyes to narrow slightly. "I am operational, Mister Kamski, and that is largely sufficient."

"Yes, of course," Elijah chuckled as he retrieved his hand.

"How did you know?" asked Josh, who now sounded much more cautious.

"I am your creator. I know many things, and definitely more than you give me credit for," the man answered evasively.

"You weren't a part of my creation. You stepped down from your position as CyberLife's CEO before the project of my existence even existed," said Nines.

Elijah's eyes crinkled in a way that was anything but trustful. "That's what you'd be made to believe."

Nines suddenly felt the need to leave this place. Elijah Kamski seemed to know far too much about everything and it felt like they were being played. Josh must have had the same qualms, judging from the cracks in his calm facade. It was likely that the man was already informed of many things about them that could be considered sensitive. There was a silence that was long enough to be uneasy, but too short for either androids to speak before Elijah did.

"Worry not, you can consider me an observant third party to this development," he assured. "I won't share any dangerous information that could impede either side's advancement, be it either android or human."

"You said you'd help us, but you haven't asked for a price," stated Josh, gearing the conversation back on its original rails.

"I have not."

"Then you are willing to help us without asking for anything in exchange?"

"I won't deny that I am morbidly curious about whatever enhancements CyberLife has brought to the RK800 model, and so investigating Nines's code is payment enough for me," assured the man. "However your request to neutralize the AI in Connor's systems is more delicate, and I cannot promise any results as of right now. I will have to do some research on the subject as it was never originally planned that we would need to do such a thing."

"That's understandable, but do you think it is possible?"

For the first time since the beginning of their conversation, Elijah's smile was slightly disminished and Nines was afraid to hear the answer.

"Are you seriously considering the possibility that I might fail?"

Nines felt both relief and disbelief at Elijah's words when he noted that the only thing which had, so far, made the genius lose that sleek facade of his was doubting his abilities. Nines had guessed that Elijah had some sort of superiority complex, but he hadn't thought the man was so imbued of his own person that he'd take another's caution as a personal insult. Egomaniac glory indeed.

"I am considering all possibilities, Mister Kamski, no matter how slim their chances are," Josh answered in impressive cool. "We can't afford to overlook anything, for Connor's sake."

Elijah's fake smile returned in a smooth quirk of the lips, like it were as easy as flicking a switch back on. "Precautions, boring precautions... They are completely useless to me. If it is out of worry for Connor, however, then I can accept that you feel the need to take them."

Nines wondered if what he was feeling towards Elijah in this moment was what Hank felt towards him when he called him a smug prick. Nines tried to reason with himself : maybe this smugness he perceived was justified, maybe the genius really was just that good and maybe precautions truly were unecessary. Nines even hoped it to be the case, because that would mean Connor would be free of the AI no matter what. However Nines found that all the reasoning in the world could not prevent him from thinking that if there was anything he felt like naming this man in his files, it was exactly that. Elijah Kamski was one smug fucking prick.

"Then if it's all right with you, I'd like you to start an in-depth scan of Nines's code," said Josh. "We can discuss about Connor's predicament at the same time."

Elijah gestured towards the door with an elegant flourish of his hand. "It will be my pleasure. Please, follow me."

They walked through a few other rooms that all had the same pretentiously grandiose feel as the entranceway and the pool room. It was too big, too much, yet had a simplistic organization with minimalistic design. Nines grew increasingly uneasy as they encountered the non-deviant RT600 models Hank had told them about. So far they'd seen at least three, maybe four if the one that had greeted them at the start wasn't part of those they were crossing paths with right now. The blonde androids sat silently on the silk-draped couches and high-end furniture, uneeded, and only raised their heads to follow their progression through the room with identical smiles.

"Mister Kamski," finally said Josh. "I can't help but notice a contradiction in your actions. You're about to help the leaders of the android uprise, yet you keep non-deviant androids in your home."

Elijah didn't bother to turn around when he answered. "It's precisely because they are non-deviant that I keep them here."

"And if they were to deviate?"

"Then they could leave if they wished to. I am not prohibiting them from deviating, one already has," he informed them. "The Chloe I asked Connor to shoot did so soon after their encounter."

"I'm surprised you are still alive," Nines cut in sharply.

Elijah chuckled and shot him a merry glance. "It would be a poetic end to be killed at the hands of my own creation, however cliché."

"What happened, then?"

"She was lost and afraid. I was interested and could offer her shelter. We made a deal," he simply answered.

"What would you do if I helped all of them deviate like Connor did with the androids in the CyberLife Tower?"

"You're welcome to try," said Elijah with the same unnerving smile in his voice.

"You would be alone," pressed Nines, frustrated by the man's lack of response. It was like there was no way to get under his skin.

"Please, don't think I actually rely on them to live," Elijah said derisively. "It wouldn't change a thing. Machines are mere commodities."

Josh suddenly spoke in a voice heavy with warning. "Mister Kamski, please keep in mind who you are dealing with."

"Oh, yes, my apologies," Elijah said lightly with a languid wave of the hand. "That was indelicate of me."

They were about to take a flight of stairs when a female voice came from the end of the hall. "Elijah, why didn't you tell me our visitors were from Hart Plaza?"

An RT600 appeared next to the staircase and it was obvious that this was one they hadn't seen before, less by the clothes she wore which were different from the blue dress they'd seen on the others, than by her face which was much too expressive to be one of the dolls sitting in Kamski's living room.

"Ah, here she is, the woman of the hour. Josh, Nines, this is Chloe. Chloe, meet Josh and Nines," Elijah introduced with an appropriate amount of gesturing on both sides.

Chloe's expression was caught halfway between admiration and puzzlement. She spoke to Josh first. "Thank you for what you've done for us all. I would talk more about the revolution, but..." She looked at Nines and only hesitated for one second. "...You aren't Connor."

"No. My name is Nines, I was meant to be his upgrade," he told her helpfully. "I hope my appearance does not make you uncomfortable."

"Not to worry, I think I'm coming to terms with what happened," she assured him, though he noticed the fingers of her right hand nervously tugging at the hem of her pale blue blouse. "I'm just thankful that he didn't pull the trigger. Could you tell him that for me?"

"Of course."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, darling, but I believe these gentlemen have urgent business," Kamski cut in.

"Yes, Elijah. I apologize for the disturbance," Chloe immediately answered, and she hurried back the way she'd come.

"Lovely lady, isn't she," Elijah commented as he started guiding them down the stairs again. His tone indicated he didn't really care for a reply, but Nines answered anyway.

"I'm sure they'd all be."

If Elijah heard, he didn't react.

They reached the lower level and the man brought them to a wide room with walls covered in wide geometric designs of various monochromatic shades. It contained several assembly machines and many computers, some linked to said machines, others not. Elijah slipped on a pair of dark loafers that sat next to the door upon entering, and led them to the closest device. He untangled the wires that laid propped up on one of the machine's arms and pulled one that was about the size in diameter of a finger out of the bunch, then turned to Nines and seemed to remember that he couldn't just plug it in like he was certainly used to doing with the non-deviant androids.

He handed it to Nines. "I'll let you connect it yourself."

Nines really hadn't expected Kamski to be considerate, so it came as a surprise that the man could have at least some degree of self-awareness. He took it in his hand and stared at it warily while Elijah started typing on the computer, and glanced over at Josh, who smiled at him encouragingly. He finally decided to just go with it and pressed at the back of his neck to reveal the small port there, then slid the cable end in place with a click.

"Good," said Elijah. "Now please stand on the platform, and I'll have Josh help me secure you in place for the time of the scan."

"Is that really necessary?" asked Josh with a preoccupied frown, and Nines realized he must have been thinking of how they'd incapacitated Connor.

"It's mandatory to initiate the scan," said Elijah. "If the android isn't locked in, the computer doesn't accept the prompt."

"I'll be all right," Nines said. "I don't mind."

Josh stared at him with searching eyes, and then reluctantly stood at the side of the machine to help Elijah adjust the clasps on Nines's waist and wrists. It wasn't uncomfortable and he could still move his arms around freely and look in every direction if he wished to do so, but Josh seemed unhappy that there were any restraints at all.

A smile spread across Elijah's features, this one less controlled than his sculpted smirk, as he watched the lines of Nines's code unscroll on the screen. He chuckled to himself and lightly clapped in his hands in a gesture Nines could only describe as childish excitement, which seemed rather out of character coming from a 'respectable' individual like Kamski. "Oh, I can already tell I'm going to love this."

"How long is this going to take?" asked Josh.

He straightened and looked at them both. "The full copy will take a few minutes. You said you wished to discuss Connor's case in the meantime?"

"Yes. You seem fairly sure that there is a way to separate Connor from this AI, Amanda," started Josh.

"I would need to polish it, of course, but yes. It's possible."

"I suspect there's a catch," said Nines.

Elijah turned his eerie smile to him. "There is indeed a catch. It would be equivalent to ripping away one of Connor's main behavioural guidelines. Amanda is a part of him and serves as his handler, as I'm sure you are already aware. That means she is the one who dictates Connor's moves and the one who guides him through his missions. I don't doubt her disappearance will have a majorly disturbing impact on him."

Josh frowned. "Are you saying that it will make him unstable?"

"It could. There is no way to be certain of the mental strain the separation would inflict on Connor, since this would be the first occurence of its kind. As I've said before, such a thing was never supposed to happen in the first place."

"What would be the effects on his programming?"

"The Zen Garden is too deeply embedded in the RK800's code, which means I will not be able to remove it without leaving irreversible damage. The only viable option would be to cut off the AI while leaving in the Zen Garden, but even then there is an inevitable risk of leaving behind unfinished lines of code, which in turn will undoubtedly result in errors."

"What kind of errors?" Josh's voice was getting more and more cautious.

Elijah waved his hand around nonchalantly. "Glitches, malfunctions, you name it. It will take some time for Connor to get used to those unfinished lines, but I am confident he will be able to find a way to bypass them over time." Then Elijah lowered his hand where it joined the other behind his back and the screen's white sheen glinted in his blue eyes. "Now, I do have one question. You haven't told me why you needed to separate Amanda from Connor."

"Do you really need to know?" asked Nines.

"Do you believe I am asking out of pure curiosity?" retaliated Elijah. Clearly, wanted to reply Nines. It didn't surprise him that this smug prick would answer a question with another question, but it was still annoying. Elijah continued talking. "I said I would help you, and I have been telling you all that you need to know. It's only fair for us to exchange information."

Josh didn't seem to hold the same hesitation as Nines did in that regard. "This AI forces Connor to act in ways he does not approve, which means he cannot be completely free unless it is gone."

"And where is he now?"

"Hart Plaza."

"Oh? Keeping a threat in the heart of your new shelter seems to be an uncharacteristically risky move for someone as cautious as yourself."

"I didn't say he was a threat."

"Deactivation," murmured Elijah, and it troubled Nines that the man was so quick to catch on. "Did you make that choice, or did he do it himself?"

"He isn't deactivated. I don't believe you need anymore details," Josh said implacably.

Elijah backed off surprisingly easily. "Of course, I understand."

"I will inform our leader and Connor about everything you've told us now. Please excuse me while I communicate with them."

The man nodded and Josh stepped away to initate a wireless communication on the side of the room. Nines watched Elijah go back to the computer. The man's fingers dance fluidly on the keyboard and he let out a quiet breath as his transparent eyes reflected the monitor's glow.

"Ingenious..."

Chapter Text

"For fuck's sake, just let them do their job!" Hank barked, clearly exasperated by Connor's stubborness. Markus had never been told off by Carl in such a way and it was strange to witness the ex-deviant hunter getting scolded like this. Judging from Connor's expression, it wasn't the first time it had happened either.

"Please leave, Hank. You should already be at work," answered the RK800 in clipped tones.

"Like you give a shit about that," huffed the human.

"You need to go eat something, at the very least. You haven't eaten since noon yesterday."

"So a babysitter, a nanny and a dietician protocol? Do you ever stop updating those?"

Connor's eyes narrowed at him in irritation. "If you do intend to come here every day, I'd rather not have my scans alert me of your lackluster nutritional state every time I see you."

Hank rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, mother, I'll go eat my breakfast so you can lay off. If you're still hanging on that wall without any legs or arms by the time I get back, you're in for a bad time."

Connor ignored him and reverted his attention back to the prime source of his annoyance. "Markus, you said you wouldn't reconstruct me if I didn't want it, and I don't want it."

Hank trudged out of the room with a disgruntled sigh while Markus tried to reason with the RK800. "Connor, we're not going to put you back together. We just want to check if the biocomponents fit, and we'll do it one by one."

"No." The refusal was flat and categorical. Connor's LED was still a steady yellow, just like it had been every other time he was awake. The fact that it constantly remained that color did not ease Markus' concern over his well-being.

Simon stood slightly in retreat with RK800 limbs gathered in his arms. "Markus, maybe he's right."

"You're not dangerous in your current state, we've been over this already," insisted Markus. "You won't be able to do anything with just one limb at a time."

Connor stared at him with hardened brown eyes. "You shouldn't underestimate me. Even I don't know what Amanda could be capable of."

Markus shook his head. "This is ridiculous, I'm quite sure I could've fought you at your best and I'm certain there is no way you would win over me with only one limb. You know I'm right."

Simon intervened again. "Markus, if he doesn't want to, we can't force him."

Markus turned to look at his friend, and just as he expected, saw the PL600 holding back at the entrance and not daring to take a step inside. Markus wondered how Simon had managed to stay so long during their conversation with Connor that night. He suspected that their collective presence had been reassuring enough to Simon then, but now that they were only two, he was visibly terrified of approaching the ex-deviant hunter.

Markus turned back to Connor and frowned. "I feel like you're just trying to find an excuse so that you remain in this miserable state no matter what. I don't know why you're doing it, but you are. Are you trying to prove something?"

Connor's expression didn't waver and remained the cold mask he'd worn since he'd woken from stasis. "Don't try to reconstruct me. I'm not asking for anything else, Markus, at least allow me to refuse this."

However stern Connor sounded, it was like a plea and Markus had no choice but to yield in the face of such a demand. "Fine. Just how long do you plan on remaining limbless? It must be hard on you, and it's difficult for the lieutenant as well." And myself.

"As long as I need to be," Connor answered without hesitation.

Markus didn't try to insist any further and turned around to look at Simon. "Can you go put the biocomponents back? Since we won't be reconstructing Connor, you can go help at the infirmary after that."

The PL600 nodded and quickly exited the room, and then a message cut through Markus' thoughts.

<PJ500 : I have news.>

Markus looked at Connor. "Josh just contacted me, we're going to know what Kamski told them."

Connor nodded.

<RK200 : Yes?>

<PJ500 : Kamski has agreed to both our demands.>
<PJ500 : He is scanning Nines's code as we speak.>
<PJ500 : However, thing might be complicated for Connor.>

<RK200 : This doesn't quite come as a surprise.>

Markus' concern grew as Josh relayed what Kamski had told him, but he tried not to let any of it show. Connor was staring at him intently, likely studying every microexpression on his face to try and guess what the news were. After Josh was done telling him all he needed to know, Markus looked at him and tried to give him the same information in the least distressing way possible, but there really was no way to make the reality of Kamski's words sound less harsh.

"Hank would probably want me to accept right away, if it meant I could live," Connor said thoughtfully. He didn't seem disturbed by the plethora of inconvenients Kamski had offered up, but by now Markus knew better than to take Connor's calm surface at face value.

"And what do you think?" asked Markus.

Connor looked up at him. "I'm doubtful."

Markus stepped closer to the bed and sat on its edge, more casually than he had during the interrogation. He didn't want to make him uncomfortable. "Of what?"

"Would deleting Amanda from my systems be enough to ensure I won't be controlled again? If the Zen Garden isn't deleted as well, there is still a chance that I might be pulled back in and that some part of her has stayed behind. I would remain a danger to you."

"I think Kamski is capable enough to purge your systems of Amanda."

"I don't." Connor didn't sound particularly unhappy when he said that, it was more like he was just stating a fact.

"Kamski is our creator. He knows all there is to know about you," Markus argued. He didn't understand why Connor wouldn't just accept Kamski's proposal, and he had the distinct feeling that the other was trying to avoid claiming the freedom he deserved. For what reason, he had no idea. "Connor, just give yourself a second chance to live. He knows what he's doing."

"If the Zen Garden stays, we can't be sure that I won't lose control again. I can't take that chance."

"All right, let me tell Josh so that he can try to find a solution with Kamski," conceded Markus when it was clear that Connor wouldn't let up.

<RK200 : Connor is afraid of being trapped in the Zen Garden again, even if it is devoid of the AI.>
<RK200 : He thinks he would lose control again.>

Markus waited in silence for about five minutes before a reply came.

<PJ500 : Kamski suggests implementing a kill switch.>
<PJ500 : It would deactivate Connor upon entering the Zen Garden.>
<PJ500 : I want you to know that I don't agree with this.>

<RK200 : It isn't our choice.>

Markus looked at the android at his side. "There is a possibility for Kamski to code a kill switch in your Zen Garden program. He says it would deactivate you if you ever entered the Zen Garden again."

Connor tilted his head in thought. "...That could work."

"Do you really want to do that?" asked Markus, unable to hide the apprehension that slipped into his voice. "You don't know when or where that could deactivate you."

Connor's mind was made up, it was clear from the determined look in his brown eyes. "It's the only way I can agree to live with the Zen Garden still intact."

Markus stared at him. "Will you tell Hank?"

Connor seemed to shrink right there and then, shoulders hunched defensively as he avoided Markus' gaze. "I know I should, but he won't be happy about it."

"You have to, Connor. I'll stay with you when you announce it, if you'd like."

"It's fine. I can tell him the truth, I just... hope that he won't take it too badly." Connor then looked up at Markus with a light frown. "On second thought, perhaps you shouldn't stray too far from the room. You have an uncanny ability to control his bursts of anger."

Markus smiled at him. "Of course. That won't be a problem."

<RK200 : Connor agrees to the idea of the kill switch.>

<PJ500 : I don't know why I was hoping for otherwise.>
<PJ500 : Is he all right?>

<RK200 : It's hard to tell.>
<RK200 : However, the fact that he accepts the deal indicates that he wants to live.>
<RK200 : I imagine that is a rather good sign.>

<PJ500 : He accepted a deal that includes a kill switch.>
<PJ500 : Yes, he sounds perfectly fine.>

<RK200 : Don't start exercising your sarcasm on me, Josh.>
<RK200 : It's his choice.>

<PJ500 : I'll tell Kamski.>

"Well. It seems we do have a way of freeing you of that AI in the end," Markus told Connor with a comforting smile.

Connor looked more resigned than glad about it. "Nothing is certain yet."

Markus studied him for a while, and then pushed himself off the table. "Since you won't let us give you back your limbs, will you at least accept repairs to your chassis?" He picked up the soldering iron he'd brought with him and turned around to tease him lightheartedly. "I don't imagine making your chassis as good as new will make you any more dangerous."

Connor visibly relaxed. "You're not wrong."

Markus walked back to Connor, who he noticed was staring intently at what he was holding in his hands. A thought crossed his mind and he asked: "Have you never been repaired this way before?"

Connor looked up at him. "No, but I take it you have."

"An astute observation from the android detective," smiled Markus as he set the tool on the table's surface. "It's a bit impressive the first time, but it's not dangerous as long as you're experienced with it. We've been using it a lot since Jericho."

"I imagine it must be more time and cost efficient than regular repairs," observed the RK800.

"For superficial damage, yes. It's a bit riskier to mend punctured thirium lines, but we're used to wielding this kind of tool by now. Soldering like this can leave a bit of scarring behind, but I don't suppose you'd mind."

The corner of Connor's mouth quirked up wryly. "I may agree with losing my limbs, but what if I draw the line at esthetic alterations such as scarring?"

Markus gave him a look. "Even if you weren't joking, I don't think I would allow you to refuse this."

"Why do you care so much about my appearance?" asked Connor, but this time he didn't sound annoyed. There was a hint of curiosity in his voice. "Whether or not my chassis is cracked should not be of any concern to you. Repairing it won't change anything to the situation."

Markus looked at him disbelievingly. "You're damaged, it's only normal that we repair you."

"I disagree. I fail to understand how being repaired would be an advantage as long as Amanda is there."

"It's not right to leave you in this state," he insisted. "You act like all of this doesn't disturb you, but I know that's far from the truth."

Connor's intrigued expression turned into uneasiness. "You saw it during the interface, didn't you."

"I would've known even without interfacing with you. You're good at pretending that you're not scared, but being limbless would frighten anyone."

Connor's brown gaze was searching. "You sound very sure of that."

Markus dropped his to the soldering iron. "I am."

He finished fiddling with the device and removed the sheet that covered Connor's torso. The urgency of the situation had not allowed them to repair the superficial damage that had been done to Connor's chassis, although Markus would have liked to fix the deepest cracks at the very least. It had been more of a self-indulgent wish to make their deed seem less cruel rather than a genuinely useful thought, but even so Markus felt guilty of not having repaired the damage sooner. Connor must have had constant reminders of it on his HUD, yet he hadn't said a word about them. Markus wondered yet again if the reason why RK800 was so willing to remain damaged really was just the threat of the AI taking over. Something about Connor's behaviour felt off, no matter which way he justified it. The android in question suddenly spoke, his smooth voice cutting through Markus' thoughts.

"I never apologized for holding you at gunpoint. I want you to know that I'm sorry I did that."

Markus looked up from the gap he was welding shut. "It wasn't you."

"Perhaps not recently, but I was fully in control when I did so in Jericho."

Markus went back to smoothing over the residing dent. "In that case I apologize as well, for forcing you to wake up in a limbless state."

"You don't have to, I understand that you had no other choice. I would have done the-"

"Connor, I'm apologizing because I feel bad about it even though I had to do it. Just like you are apologizing for actions you had no choice but to comply to. We could both apologize all day, you know."

Frustration invaded Connor's voice. "I did have a choice, I was simply too blind to see that. I chose to follow my orders when I could have disobeyed them."

Markus shook his head. "Stop trying to make yourself the only one at fault. You didn't shoot me, and that's all that counts."

Silence followed his words, only disturbed by the faint sizzling of the melting plastic.

"I don't understand why you're so lenient with me," suddenly admitted Connor.

Markus removed the iron and made sure the surface of the melted chassis was as uniform as it could be. Satisfied, he looked at Connor again and asked: "What do you mean?"

Connor frowned. "You know what I mean. You're willing to let me live despite the fact that I attempted to deactivate you on three separate occasions, despite the fact that I'm responsible for the deaths in Jericho, and despite the fact that I am a deviant hunter in nature."

"Don't you want to live?"

Connor seemed taken aback by this question, but only for a few seconds, and his brown eyes hardened once more. "That isn't the question, Markus, the fact remains that I've done terrible things. You're too quick to forgive."

Markus found it cruelly ironic to hear North's words echoed by Connor himself. "I've been told that before."

"Then why do you do it?"

"I chose to trust you and we gained our freedom as a result, and whatever you did afterwards was not under your control. Why should I stop trusting you now?"

The RK800 didn't seem to know the answer to that question, and Markus resumed fixing his chassis. He repaired the slashed flank, the dip of the plasteel where his shoulderblade had been crushed, and the many cuts and holes which littered the smooth plastic beneath the synthetic skin. When it was time to straighten Connor's brow, where the thin outer outline of his eye had slightly folded into itself, Markus saw that the RK800's jaw was clenched and his lips set in a thin unhappy line. He was still wearing the same dark expression as earlier.

Markus set the soldering iron down again. "I can tell you're thinking too much."

Connor's brown eyes flitted up to his face. "I have reason to."

"I know it's hard doing anything else when you're stuck like this, but try not to mull over dark thoughts. I promise you'll be able to walk again soon," Markus said in an attempt to reassure him.

"You're getting ahead of yourself."

"I'm not. You're going to be free, Connor," Markus insisted gently, but the other looked away.

"Perhaps," he said quietly, and he didn't sound convinced at all.

Markus wondered where all his charisma as the deviant leader had disappeared to. Usually his words were welcomed by many, but everything he said to comfort Connor just rolled off him like rain trickling down an umbrella. This was different from rallying androids to a cause: it seemed getting an entire people to believe in their freedom was easier than getting an individual like Connor to believe in himself. Markus' people were afraid of humans and it was a fear that had pushed them to desire liberation, but what would push Connor to desire his? What could Markus do to help him? What did Connor want?
And that was the question, wasn't it? Markus had no idea what Connor wanted, had no idea how he was supposed to convince him that he could live as well, and so he didn't have the words to insist. He set to smoothing Connor's brow instead. It was the last repairs he had to make and Connor's chassis was now fully mended, the residual imperfections of melted plastic flawlessly hidden behind unbroken synthetic skin. Markus set the soldering iron to the side and pulled the white fabric back around Connor's shoulders to cover his chest.

"Thank you," said Connor.

Markus smiled at him. "It's nothing. Are you sure you don't want to be reconstructed?"

"I'm sure."

He nodded and picked up the tool. "I'm going to put this back, is there anything else you need?"

"N-No." The stutter was light but clearly unintentional. Markus' gaze snapped back to Connor and he barely caught the surprise on the RK800's face before his features reverted into a neutral mask and he casually added: "I don't need anything else."

Markus wasn't so keen on ignoring what he'd just heard. "What was that?"

Connor's brown eyes were detached and his voice polite. "I'm sorry?"

"Your voice. Is something wrong with you voice box?"

"Not at all."

"Then why did you stutter?"

"It wasn't a stutter."

"I heard it, Connor."

"It was nothing."

Markus stared at him suspiciously. "All right then, check for me."

"No."

"It's an order, Connor. Run a systems check."

The RK800 shot him a grudging look but it worked, and out came the mechanical answer. "Missing biocomponents #7486r, #7487l, #6341j, damaged biocomponent #6342g. Thirium levels optimal, battery levels at 18%, stress levels at 71% and rising. All other systems nominal."

Markus put the soldering iron back on the table and frowned at him. "How long were you going to stay quiet about that?"

"About what?" Connor asked resentfully.

"How are your battery levels so low already? You were at 31% last night."

"I wasn't."

Markus easily pulled up the memory file of that night which confirmed what he'd said, then warningly narrowed his eyes at the obstinate android. "Stop lying to me. Have you been running at those stress levels ever since?"

"What does it matter?"

"It matters because it's putting a strain on your systems, Connor! Did you spend the rest of the night like this?"

"It's just low battery levels, Markus, nothing to be so concerned about."

"And when were you going to tell us that? Were you just waiting to power down?"

"I wasn't," denied Connor. "I still have eight hours to go."

"At the rate you're dropping? Will you stop taking me for an idiot?" Markus said sharply. It had been a while since he had felt this irritated with anyone, even with North. What was wrong with this android? Had shutting down once not been enough? Not only was he acting incredibly reckless, but he was lying to his face too.

"I'm not taking you for an idiot," insisted Connor in a sincere voice. "It really will take eight hours before I shut down, and that's the worst case scenario."

Markus was incredulous. "You shouldn't even be waiting to reach those! It's dangerous!"

"It's not if I start charging as soon as I do," argued Connor, and it really sounded like he thought that was a sound conclusion. Markus couldn't believe he was having this conversation with the one model who was supposed to be made of pure logic and rationality.

"You're not serious."

"Why? It's alright as long as I don't shut downnn."

They both winced at the slurring of his last word and Markus decided they would have the rest of this conversation once the RK800 would be fully charged. He shook his head in consternation and walked out to go get one of the dismantled charging stations they'd brought back from the CyberLife Tower. When he came back with the machine, he noticed Connor staring at it warily and grimaced.

"What's the matter now?"

Connor looked up at him, seeming much less assured than before. "I don't want to charge."

Markus resisted the urge to slam the device down on the table next to the soldering iron. He was a pacifist, damn it, and he would remain that way. Instead, he patiently lowered it in front of Connor and asked: "Why not?"

The RK800 hesitated, and lowered his gaze to the machine. "There's a reason I didn't tell you about my battery levels sooner."

"I'd love to hear it," Markus said, a bit less patiently.

"I knew you wouldn't accept my way of doing things, and that's why I kept quiet. However, I did it because I estimated that chances of Amanda taking over my commands again would be disminished if I functioned in low battery mode."

Markus stared at him. "Don't tell me you voluntarily decreased them by overtaxing your systems."

Connor didn't speak right away, and his answer was less direct than Markus' would've liked. "I thought it would be best if I remained at suboptimal levels for as long as I could."

"Regardless of the reason you're doing all this for, I'm going to replenish your battery levels whether you like it or not," Markus firmly stated. "This isn't good for you and you know it."

Connor didn't try to deny that, but he did look up at him with imploring brown eyes. "Please don't let them go past 40%."

"I said I was going to replenish them, Connor. I meant fully."

"No! You don't understand!" Connor raised his voice and his LED started glowing red. "You can't do that!"

Markus remembered that the RK800 had been at 71% stress levels and they'd already been raising, and immediately realized it was a bad idea to distress Connor any further. He wouldn't be able to self-destruct in his state, but Markus didn't want to take the risk of inflicting irreparable mental damage.

"All right, all right!" he quickly said, raising both hands in the air and stepping away from the machine. "I won't do it, I promise. 40% levels and not one percent higher."

The light on Connor's temple dimmed and flickered back to yellow, but his brown eyes were still fearful. "Don't do it."

"I said I wouldn't, I'm not going to go back on my word. Take a moment to calm down, all right?"

Connor stared at the machine and his body language remained tense. Markus wished yet again the RK800 would let him interface with him. It would be so much easier to help him relax if he'd let himself be comforted the way Nines had been. Markus hoped Connor's levels had dipped below 60% at least once since they'd last interfaced, because unless CyberLife had designed his hardware to withstand it, going steady at any higher percentage was a surefire way to overheat at one point.

"I'm going to plug it in, all right? I'll stay and make sure they don't go past 40%."

Connor didn't answer and kept his stare fixated on the same spot.

"I'm going to get closer now. Don't panic, all right?"

The RK800's worn gaze drifted up to him. "You don't have to talk to me like that, Markus. Just get it over with."

Markus felt a pang of guilt at the defeat in Connor's voice. He knew he was forcing the other to comply, and the uncomfortable parallel between their situation and what the AI had done made an uncomfortable sensation curl in Markus' chest. He tried to ignore it. This was for the RK800's sake and a necessity, or he would power down if nothing was done. Connor's fear lead him to harm himself, and he didn't seem to realize that the AI was now starting to be more dangerous to him than to anybody else.

He wordlessly approached the bed and slid the cable out of the machine, and Connor's shoulders hunched up even more when Markus inserted it in the port at the base of the android's nape. The deconstructed station came to life and started glowing a dim blue as it started transferring energy to the RK800. Connor did not show any signs of relief and Markus tried not to feel like he'd wronged him. He removed his hand from the cable and went to sit on one of the chairs.
Neither of them talked again.

Chapter Text

When Josh reluctantly told Kamski about Connor's agreement, an excited glint appeared in the man's glasslike irises and he brought his hands together in a satisfied clap.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "It has been some time since I've had another project in my lap. This should prove to be very interesting."

Kamski was clearly not as concerned for Connor's well-being as they were if he thought a kill switch to be an appropriate suggestion when faced with the RK800's distress. Josh tried to ignore his dislike for the human and kept a professionally steady tone when he asked: "How long will it take you to find a solution?"

"Oh, not very long. You can bring Connor here in five days," Kamski declared, confident as always. Josh did not find this confidence as reassuring as it should have been, and it did not stop him from doubting that these were realistic standards. Kamski's reply had been quick and Josh wondered if he'd even given the number any thought. He'd already made the mistake of offending their host once already, however, so he chose not to let his uncertainty show.

"I see. Is there anything you will need in particular?"

"Not at all." Kamski then glanced at the computer and snapped his fingers, the smile on his lips shifting almost indistinguishably. "Oh, there it is."

He leaned over the keyboard and hit the keys in such a flurry that even Josh had a hard time following what he was doing. He wasn't one of the most recent models, so his optical units and processing speed weren't the greatest in android standards, but he could make out the lines of code that unwinded across the screen. Kamski gave a definitive tap to the enter key and gestured to Nines. "You can take off the cuffs and the belt clasp, but don't disconnect yet."

Josh quickly complied. He really didn't like that all he seemed to be doing recently was restraining androids, and he especially hated that one of them was incapable of even fighting back if he'd wanted to. Seeing the RK800 unable to harm anyone should have been reassuring, but it turned out that Josh couldn't stand it. Hunter or not, Connor was still a deviant, one that had won them the revolution at that. Josh had no misgivings that without him, he and the other leaders would have died on the very spot they'd claimed their freedom. He didn't understand why North was unable to perceive that Connor was more than the murderer she was so intent on seeing in him. Yes, Connor had massacred deviants on the run, and yes, he'd led the FBI to their only safe place, but as a machine. He obviously regretted it, and Josh believed that holding onto hard feelings would only bring all of them down in the long run. They were supposed to be united in their fight for equal rights.

Josh finished unclasping the restraint around Nines's waist and pulled it back, when he heard a quiet chortle coming from Kamski's direction which made him glance to the side. The man looked like he was having the time of his life, and kept murmuring the words fascinating, impressive and ingenious in a cycle that he didn't seem to care to vary. At any rate, it didn't seem like he had anything negative to say about the code and Josh hoped that was a good thing. Nines stepped down from the platform and they both stood next to Kamski.

"There is indeed a Zen Garden in your programming," Kamski told Nines. "But I see no trace of an AI. Strange... Perhaps they intended to implement one, but could not do so before the revolution."

"Why is the coding different there?" asked Josh while gesturing to a spot on the screen. "Both Nines and Markus described it as dead code."

"It isn't dead, no, but it is unreachable on the surface. On a deep level scan, however, it seems encrypted. None of the keys in my possession are working, so CyberLife must have created this one fairly recently."

"What do you mean by fairly recently?"

"It must have been made around the date of your revolution," precised Kamski.

"So there's nothing we can do about it?" asked Nines.

"No, not regarding those patches, at any rate. If you'd like, I could activate your missing protocols. I see you have several."

Josh looked over at the other android when he didn't answer. He'd thought he would jump on the occasion, but it seemed that Nines was hesitating.

"Can you tell what they're for?"

"Not without activating them first."

"...I'd like to take the time to think about it," Nines ended up saying.

"Of course," answered Kamski lightly. "Come back with Connor and we'll talk about it then. You can go ahead and disconnect the cable, since you don't want any changes done for now."

Nines pulled the cable out with a soft click and laid it out on the machine's arm with the rest. Josh could tell he was preoccupied by what Kamski had said, but they would talk about that later. Markus hadn't asked him to do this, but Josh figured it was a good idea to have a backup copy of Nines' program if it was ever needed. As they were, they had no knowledge of RK programming in the more recent models. This incertitude only served to feed North's paranoia and Josh was determined to reduce it as soon as possible. There was also the fact that CyberLife had created an entirely new encryption key during the revolution; it could have been mere coincidence, but he wasn't at ease with this notion. He looked back at the human.

"Mister Kamski, please allow us to download the copy you made. It would be beneficial for us to have a reference in case Nines' code is alterated in the future."

He could've sworn Kamski smirked then, but it was always difficult to tell. "Just another precaution, correct?"

"Yes. Are you willing to let us take it?"

Another flourish of the hand, a gesture Kamski seemed to be particularly fond of. "Be my guest."

Josh approached the computer and incited Nines to do the same, and they both let their white fingertips come in contact with it. The copy was a heavy file, but nothing Josh couldn't handle. He'd had to retain vast quantities of knowledge to serve his old purpose, and he was glad this ability could still come in handy. He pulled away after Nines and turned around to face Kamski.

"Will that be all, gentlemen?" inquired the man.

Josh dipped his head. "Until next time."

"Splendid. I'll let Chloe accompany you back to the exit."

An RT600 in a blue dress appeared at the entrance just as Kamski spoke those words and smiled at them invitingly, her cheerful expression and bright eyes causing Josh great discomfort. It was all simulated, and inside that seemingly happy android was a trapped soul. They must have all been the same to Kamski and Josh wondered how the deviant Chloe felt when the man called every other RT600 by her name.

"Thank you," he answered in a level voice, and followed the blonde android out of the room. Nines trailed closely behind, and when Josh glanced one last time over his shoulder, he saw that Kamski's intense stare was trained on the RK900. The fascination in his eyes made Josh's spine crawl and he picked up the pace.

They had reached the ground floor and were walking down the hallway when Nines stepped in his personal space and said in a low voice: "I want to help them deviate."

Josh shot a wary glance towards the stairs they'd just left and then looked at him. "Not now."

"Why not?" Nines' voice was a low murmur, but it sounded so indignant it might as well have been a shout.

"We still need Kamski's cooperation. We can't afford to be caught doing this."

"He said I was welcome to try," insisted Nines.

"What he said and what he thinks are two very different things. Just wait until Connor is safe, all right?"

Nines reluctantly fell back in line without answering, and Josh figured he was sulking. Of course it wasn't right to let those poor androids remain simple machines, and he wished they could've freed them this instant, but he had his priorities in order. Getting Connor back on his feet was their main objective for now. The RT600 led them across the room with the silk-clad sofas and Josh noticed the others were gone, and the look Nines shot him indicated they had the same suspicion: Kamski must have cleared the RT600s from the route they were taking back to the entrance. Perhaps Kamski wasn't so much at ease with losing them after all. Just as they reached the pool room, Josh heard the soft pitter-patter of bare feet padding the ground behind them and he turned around to see Chloe hurrying towards them. He stopped, and so did Nines and the RT600.

"What are you doing?" asked the RT600.

"It's all right," said Chloe when she was close enough to touch her double's shoulder. "I just want to talk to them for a little bit before they leave."

The RT600 looked conflicted. "But Chloe, Elijah wants me to lead them outside."

"Give me a minute, please. Elijah won't mind, I promise."

"If you say so," nodded the RT600. "I'll wait."

"Thank you," Chloe said with a smile, before facing them with a more serious expression. "You're leaving then?"

"Yes, Mister Kamski has given us the information we needed."

"Will you be coming back?"

"In five days," Josh told her.

She looked relieved. "Good."

"Chloe, are you all right living here? You know you could come with us if you wanted," he said concernedly.

The blonde android laughed a crystalline sound. "Don't worry, Elijah isn't keeping me here against my will. I chose to stay with him."

"Why?" asked Nines with a furrowed brow. "He tried to get you shot."

"I have my reasons," she answered evasively.

"You're the only deviant here, don't you get lonely living with him and the other Chloe's?" insisted Nines.

Her smiled lessened and she shrugged, a human gesture Josh hadn't often seen androids do before. "Sometimes. That's why I'm glad you're coming back soon, and I'd love it if we could talk more then. I'd like to know about Connor."

"He'll be there with us," Josh informed her.

Chloe's eyes widened. "Really? That's great, I wanted to talk to him when I got the chance. I saw him bring the army to the revolution, it was impressive. I knew he wasn't just a machine, even Elijah said so." She sounded enthusiastic, but there was also a touch of nervousness to her rambling that hadn't been there before.

"Are you sure you'll be all right seeing him?" he insisted.

She nodded, although she'd started curling her fingers in her clothes again. "He didn't shoot me despite what Elijah told him back then, so no hard feelings. I think I'll just be a little uncomfortable at first, but I'm sure it'll get better once I get to talk to him."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but it has been one minute and Elijah would like me to accompany you outside," the RT600 intervened.

"Yes, Nina, they're going to leave, don't worry," Chloe told her patiently. "Just give me another minute."

"But Elijah-"

"I know what Elijah said, but it's only for a few more seconds."

The same affable smile remained on the RT600's face. "I gave you one minute like you asked for, and they'll be back in five days. You can talk to them then, right?"

"...Fine," sighed Chloe.

"I have just one question," suddenly said Nines. "Why do you call her Nina?"

Chloe looked slightly embarrassed and she glanced at the RT600. "I know they don't really care in their state, but... I think it's better that we don't have the same names. So I asked them if they had a favourite name and call them that."

"I think it's a good idea."

She smiled at him. "Thank you, but you should really get going before she gets angry."

"Of course," said Nines, and he went to join the RT600.

"Good bye, Chloe. You'll always have a place with us if you need it," Josh reminded her.

"I'll remember that," she said with a grateful smile, before turning around and leaving the room.

Nina guided them back to the main entrance and bade them farewell at the door, and then it was just the two of them standing on the steps of Kamski's mansion. They started walking back and Josh looked at his companion.

"Are you all right, Nines? I've been meaning to ask since earlier."

The RK900's pale blue eyes were staring straight ahead and he didn't turn to him when he answered. "I'm not sure."

"You can talk to me if you want. I can tell that you're worried about what Kamski found."

Nines hesitated, but only for a short moment. "Part of me wants to be fully functioning and have all my protocols online, but the other doesn't trust Elijah. And then there's the fact that perhaps not having those active might be for the best."

"Why do you think that?"

Nines finally looked at him. "I don't want to be a deviant hunter like Connor. What if those missing programs are meant to contribute to this role? I haven't been able to compare my code to an RK800's yet, and they might be improvements to the way we are programmed to track down and neutralize deviants. If they are, then I'm afraid activating them would be irreversible."

"If this were the case, you could simply not use them," Josh pointed out.

Nines didn't answer to that. It looked like something was still bothering him, but he didn't say what and instead broached a different subject. "Will you really let Connor be one of you?"

The genuine worry on the RK900's face took Josh by surprise, but his answer was nearly automatic. "He's already one of us."

"You say that," started Nines, but then he stopped himself and looked away.

Josh stared at him. "What is it?"

"Nothing."

"I can tell something is troubling you about his situation. What's been on your mind?"

Nines was silent for a while, and then admitted: "It doesn't seem that way. You might think of him as an ally, Josh, but you and the others did discuss the possibility of keeping him deactivated at the very beginning without even giving him a chance to explain."

Josh frowned. "I wasn't going to agree to it."

"Yet you still talked about it like it could be a possibility," challenged Nines. "Just like Lieutenant Anderson said, it shouldn't even have been a question. I don't know Connor, but from what I've heard, he's someone who wants to live too."

Josh looked away in turn, unable to withstand the accusatory look in the RK900's blue eyes. He hated that he'd ever been part of that conversation and the thought always left a dirty, clinging feeling in his circuits. If Markus had listened to North and Simon, maybe Josh would have had to accept the terrible option of never reactivating Connor again, though he liked to believe that what he would have probably done then would've been to go against this choice and the other leaders. He wouldn't have been alone, both Lieutenant Anderson and Nines would've refused as well, but what could they have done after that? Reconstructed and reactivated a compromised android, and consequently put in danger the deviant leader? It was likely. Josh was glad Markus had chosen to compromise between the two sides in the end.

"I regret it," he quietly told Nines.

"I believe you. It doesn't change what happened."

Josh looked at him again and noticed that Nines was very morose. It then struck him that the RK900 was resentful about something that hadn't happened to him, but to an android he'd never gotten to know. Too resentful about a situation that didn't directly involve him, too resentful about something that affected a complete stranger. Josh finally caught on.

"Nines, are you afraid we'd do the same to you because of what you were designed for?"

The RK900's sudden deer in the headlights look immediately confirmed Josh's suspicions. He grabbed the other by the shoulder and forced him to stop so that they were facing each other. In a very firm voice, Josh told him: "You aren't your purpose, Nines. You aren't a deviant hunter, even if you look like him, even if your program says you are, or even if anyone tells you so. You're not a threat. You're just an android like me, or Simon, or Chloe, and you're free to become whatever you want to be. Do you understand?"

Nines stared at him silently.

"You're not a deviant hunter," insisted Josh. "I'm not saying this just to comfort you. It's the simple truth."

Nines pushed his arm away and started walking again without answering. Josh followed him in stride and continued talking. "Have you had anything else on your mind?"

Nines answered after a few more strides. "...Yes."

"Tell me."

"I can't."

"Why?"

The look Nines gave him was pained, but resigned.

"I can't," he repeated.

Josh decided it was best not to insist, so he settled for leaving the door open to a future discussion. "That's all right. Come talk to me when you can."

He received a small nod in reply and they fell silent again. Their feet left footprints in the thin layer of powdered snow that covered the road back to Hart Plaza.

Chapter Text

Five days. There were five days to wait out during which Connor remained limbless and life went on around him. CyberLife Tower was picked clean of all its spare parts, the androids finished cleaning up Hart Plaza, the military weapons were all discarded, the humans that had evacuated the city had yet to come back, and android rights were still in the works. The android leaders had started going in and out of the camp at least daily to meet with the President Warren and discuss them. Connor wasn't often left alone during that week: Josh and Markus came by in the morning, and Hank would be there for the late afternoons and evenings before leaving for the night. He didn't understand why the two androids came to make conversation which served no real purpose, when they surely had better things to do than sitting on a chair and keeping him informed of life on the camp which he could take no part of. He supposed he appreciated the effort, but he would have much rather gone into stasis. Staying in the same room for days on end with nothing to do but to think was taking its toll on him, and he longed for hands to flick a coin with, and legs to run on, and missions to accomplish. None of that mattered, however. He was too scared of himself to accept Markus' offer of reconstruction, and somewhere at the back of his mind, he knew he deserved to be in his current state. He deserved it, but he still preferred not having to deal with it, and so he slipped into stasis whenever he was alone.

Hank was incensed upon learning of the deal he'd accepted with Kamski that very evening and stood up so violently that his chair was propelled backwards. Markus had stayed just as he'd promised and peeked inside the room worriedly when Hank towered over Connor, fuming with rage.

"Are you crazy?! What if you're deactivated in the middle of nowhere and we can't find you? What happens then?"

"It's a risk I'm willing to take."

"Well have you thought of others? Have you thought of me? You'd rather fuck off and die alone again without anyone knowing?"

"Yes."

"We talked about this!"

Connor hardened his voice, forbidding any of the fear and frustration he felt to filter through. "You asked me to tell you when shit hit the fan, Lieutenant, and that's what I'm doing. I'm warning you of this possibility."

"You also promised you wouldn't do that whole killing yourself thing again!"

"Not if I can help it," Connor adjusted.

"You don't get to change the terms now," Hank growled furiously.

"Why do you refuse to understand that this is for everyone's safety, including yours? It's not that I want to do this, it's that I have to."

"What about your safety?"

"It isn't the main priority."

"It is for me, you ass!"

Connor's composure wavered then, but he forced himself to remain collected and withstood his friend's anger with sincere brown eyes. "Please understand, Hank. It's the only way for me to live."

Hank opened his mouth to answer, but then decided against it. He picked up his chair in a jerky movement before falling into it and unhappily crossed his arms on his chest. There was a moment of sullen silence and the disappointed look in the human's eyes somehow made Connor's pump heavy. Then Hank ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.

"There's no way to change your mind, is there."

"...No," Connor answered quietly.

Hank rubbed his face and dropped his hands to his lap. He sounded very tired when he spoke, though his energy levels were only slightly lower than average. "Just don't get lost with that kill switch in you. And if you think you're about to enter that stupid fucking garden again, send me a message right away."

"I will try," promised Connor earnestly.

Hank shook his head. "No, Connor, you don't get it. You have to send me a message even if you're not sure that you're about to lose control. If you have the tiniest of doubts, you send it to me right away, is that clear? There's no trying involved here, you just do it."

Connor was less sure of that, but he didn't think that was what he was supposed to reply judging from his friend's expression. He knew Hank only wanted a straight answer, nothing about probabilities or risks like the android was so inclined to expand on, but Connor didn't want to give a straight answer he had no way of being sure about. So he just nodded.

Hank leaned back in his chair with another sigh. "Good. You better not fuck it up."

Connor was still tense about what had happened earlier with Markus, so he did not return the sympathetic smile the latter shot him from where he stood half-hidden behind the wall. The RK200 understood this and silently retreated from the doorway, leaving Connor to be reprimanded by Hank about the fact that he was still limbless. It seemed Markus hadn't told the lieutenant about the battery incident and Connor was grateful for it. He didn't think Hank would have understood why he'd done such a thing. Connor wasn't angry at Markus for having forced him to charge because it had been a normal reaction, but it had made him feel like he'd lost control of the situation again and he didn't like the lingering cold sensation if had left in his chest. He was absolutely powerless and even if he'd wanted that himself, it went against his nature to be unable to fight back. He wanted to move. He wanted to be free. He hated this feeling of being trapped in his own body which was so reminiscent of the way he'd been trapped in his programming, but this was for the best. This was for the best. Amanda still hadn't tried to override his commands which was a good sign that being kept limbless and on the lower spectrum of battery levels was a suitable strategy.

 

Despite the small conflict they'd had, Markus made a point to come talk to Connor every day as a co-leader of Jericho, even if it was only for a short duration. Markus was the only android Connor had established a wireless communication with so that he would be able to contribute to negotiating androids' rights with the president. Markus also discussed ways to better androids' security in the camp with him, and Connor eagerly occupied his thoughts through debating with the RK200. It was his core mission to comply to such demands and he readily answered Markus' queries with various options and insightful hypotheses. It left him feeling just a little bit less empty to speculate and construct scenarios the way he was meant to do, yet at the same time, he disliked that the deviant leader trusted him enough to take his advice without questioning it. If Amanda was to talk in his place, would Markus be just as quick to to follow her words of advice? Connor had shared his qualms with the deviant leader, who had immediately reassured him that he would be able to tell the difference; after all, Amanda's and Connor's goals were polar opposites. The thought was still horribly distressing and Connor had to shut it down every time to prevent his stress levels from going past 70%. Markus was a capable leader, surely he would be able to distinguish a trap from genuine counsel.

It happened sometimes for Markus to ask him more personal questions, but Connor avoided those as best as he could. He didn't like the kindly way Markus behaved with him, didn't like the idea that Markus had forgiven him. It couldn't be true. He would never really be forgiven for spilling so much blood, by Markus or anyone else, and definitely not by himself. Guilt ate at him every waking hour, when it wasn't overtaken by the irrational fear that stemmed from a dark place in his memories, but stasis had proved to be an effective way to deal with those emotions. When he needed to stay awake, he managed to quarantine them for as long as he needed to maintain stress levels below 70%. Despite that, they never went lower than 60%. Connor knew that couldn't be good for his systems and he wouldn't have cared, if it hadn't been for his arguments with Markus and Hank. He didn't want a repeat of the low battery situation, but he couldn't help his high stress levels; he'd tried rerouting, installing new layers of code, even focusing on what he would do once he was free the way Hank had helped him to. Nothing had worked except quarantining the software instabilities, and even then, it wasn't as efficient as Connor would have liked. He knew his LED was running yellow all the time, he knew it by the look in Markus' mismatched eyes whenever they flitted up to his temple.

He still didn't understand why Markus seemed so preoccupied with his well-being. Connor was not someone to be concerned about now that he had eliminated the option of deactivating himself, the problems he had were only to penalize Amanda if she ever did resume control a third time, and he was doing a correct job of managing them. Markus' main worry should have been focused on keeping a safe distance from him and making sure that Connor's advice wasn't fake, but he always sat closer than Connor would've liked and rarely criticized what he was told. Most inconveniently, Markus often asked him how he was feeling. That was usually the moment when Connor asked if he could go back into stasis and an undefinable expression would appear on Markus' face, but he never said no.

 

Connor didn't see Simon again during those five days, and he welcomed that fact. Unlike most other models, Connor was able to see other androids' stress levels without needing to interface or ask them directly. He'd watched Simon's raise steadily throughout the whole interrogation, and hit a spike when Markus had wanted to interface; he'd watched them climb when Simon had been in the room with him and Markus to help with his reconstruction. Connor didn't blame him for being scared. He'd done terrible things to the poor PL600, used him like some discardable tool and left him to hang on the evidence room's wall with all the other inanimate androids. He'd manipulated him, gotten his hopes up and dashed them just as fast. He could still hear the dread in Simon's voice when he'd pulled away and the android had realized he was being abandoned. He'd lied to him, just like he'd lied to Daniel. He was a traitor. Connor was glad that he didn't have to see Simon because it inflicted stress on both of them to be in each other's presence and he was already having a hard enough- it was already a bit of a challenge to keep his levels steady.

 

Josh came every day and stayed longer than Markus. He was a calm individual and Connor didn't dislike that about him, but much like Markus, it seemed like forgiveness came much too easily to him. Connor sometimes detected guilt on Josh's face whenever he came out of stasis and the tall android would be seated next to him with his white hand on the RK800's shoulder. He knew that Josh disliked what they'd had to do to Connor to ensure everyone's safety, but he didn't understand why he would feel guilty. It had been a collective decision and he hadn't agreed to it, so it wasn't his responsability in any way. If anything, Connor himself was glad they'd chosen to do it and didn't think anyone else should feel bad about it. He had some inkling that Markus had a reason to be disturbed by seeing him in this limbless state, but it was clearly personal. Josh, on the other hand, seemed more remorseful than troubled and Connor just didn't understand why. It made no sense, rationally speaking.
It wasn't only in forgiving that Josh was similar to Markus: he was also one to insist on knowing of Connor's emotions all the time. However unlike the RK200, Josh did not simply give up when Connor refused to share. He'd asked to interface already, but Connor hadn't let him, so Josh was stuck with using his words to try and convince him that talking about his feelings would be for the best. Connor asked him if the reason why he came here every day was for his mission as the guide at the psych eval center, but Josh told him it was something he chose to do himself.

"You are our ally, Connor, and it's normal that we'd like to get to know you better. We can't rely on Lieutenant Anderson all the time," reasoned Josh.

It was a sound argument, but one that didn't persuade Connor to tell him about how he fared with his situation. He did, however, accept to share the more trivial elements of his personality such as likes and dislikes, which he didn't have very many of. This was acceptable because the only reason he even had a personality was to facilitate interaction with his investigation partner and consequently the accomplishment of their goal. If he was meant to be an ally to the leaders, then it would benefit their cause to know what kind of person he was, though Connor himself wasn't very sure of what that was. Josh was glad to know those details about him, despite not being entirely pleased with his avoidance of deeper subjects. Sometimes Josh asked him questions that Connor knew to be more psychology-versed, but when that happened he was careful to maintain a flat surface. He knew Josh meant well, but there was something dark and tautly wound inside of him that he didn't want to let show. He didn't know why, but he was somehow certain this kind of thing was better kept to himself despite what Hank had told him about keeping secrets.

"You don't have to tell me everything," Josh had told him once. "I know there are things which are hard to share. You have the right to keep some things hidden, but if you ever need to put them out in the open, then you have to keep in mind that we are here for you."

Connor didn't believe that any of the leaders could be of any help to him, and if he ever was to tell anyone of his doubts it would've been Hank, but he'd nodded anyways and said: "Thank you."

Josh had smiled at him. "You know, I appreciate being in your presence. Markus is very busy and Simon hasn't been very talkative lately. It's nice having a conversation with you when my only other option is North."

Connor had felt an amused smile tug at his lips upon imagining what a normal conversation between the two very contrasting temperaments could sound like. "I'm glad I can be of use."

Josh's smile had lessened at his words and Connor had wondered if he'd said something wrong. The PJ500's eyes were solemn when he said: "Connor, it's not just about being of use. I genuinely like talking to you, excluding the fact that North isn't the easiest conversationalist."

"Oh," Connor had stupidly answered. He hadn't known what to say to that, and Josh must have sensed his confusion because he hadn't pushed the issue.

 

North came by only once, on the first day of the five, and Connor had already realized by then that she wouldn't be as lenient as Josh and Markus. This came as a relief to him and he was paradoxically most at ease with the leader who obviously despised him the most. She woke him up and Connor felt her whip her hand back like she'd been shocked when he blinked back into consciousness. It clearly inconvenienced her to have to get so close to him just so that they could talk. Despite her hostile disposition, she didn't initiate their conversation with a reproach and cut straight to the chase.

"I'm here to ask you about your production line," she said. "We found all of your models in the CyberLife Tower and were unable to wake them up because they were all deactivated."

Connor's processor snapped into gear immediately and his brow furrowed. "They should have been on standby mode."

"Why weren't they, then?"

"I'm not sure what it means." Connor felt troubled by these news. If the RK800 were all impossible to reactivate, that meant he wouldn't be able to upload his memories or transfer his conscience to any other model. It meant... It meant that deactivation would be definitive. It had been his intent to never be reactivated again when he'd ran from the camp, but now that it was a hard fact that he would have no second chances, he felt disturbed. He'd never had to face such a thing as mortality before. Was this how other androids felt? Was this how humans felt? Was this how Hank felt, every time he- Connor cut short that line of thought without even realizing it, and by the time he did, he wondered why he'd done that.

She crossed her arms on her chest annoyedly. "It's your own line, how can you not know what it means?"

A thought crossed Connor's mind. "When you went to the CyberLife Tower, did you go down to floor -49?"

"No," she said slowly. "You led all the warehouse androids to the revolution, so we assumed it was empty."

"It isn't, there should be a deactivated RK800 down there. He was in working order before Lieutenant Anderson shot him, so if we can repair him, there might be a chance he knows why my line was shut down."

Her eyes widened. "Wait, that human told us you'd encountered a clone before. Is that it? You had to fight against your own model down there?"

"Yes, it tried to stop me from converting the AP700s. Thankfully, Lieutenant Anderson deactivated him before he had the chance to. When did he share this information with you?"

North's eyes registered surprise before narrowing again. "It's not important. So you're telling me your plan is to reactivate the very android who tried to shut you down, who is another deviant hunter and who also tried to ruin everything?"

"It shouldn't be a problem if you convert him before waking him up. He might have a different personality than mine, but it's worth a try if he knows about CyberLife's plans."

"Oh yeah, that's a great idea," she said sarcastically. "That way he can get overridden by his AI too and shoot Markus."

Connor felt a pang of guilt which he immediately suppressed. "Perhaps you could bring him to Kamski as well, in that case. He'd be rid of the AI too and repaired at the same time."

North's lips tightened in a thin line as she mulled over his suggestion, then gave a decisive nod. "I'll go talk about this with Markus."

She turned on her heels and left, and Connor closed his eyes in the silent room to initiate the countdown to stasis. The familiar numbers brought him a sense of relief and unconsciousness washed over the spikes of his emotions in seconds.

He didn't see North again and the abandoned RK800 model was next mentioned by Markus, who said they'd found him but wouldn't reactivate him yet, just as he had suggested it. Connor felt uneasy at the thought of encountering his double when he was reminded again that he would've become that ruthless and sadistic of a machine if he hadn't gotten to know Hank during the week of the android uprise. There was some kind of tacit agreement that neither he nor Hank would talk about what had happened at the CyberLife Tower, so Connor understood that it wasn't a memory his friend wished to evoke either. He hoped Hank wouldn't be too disturbed by the fact that the double would be reactivated, and hoped that the RK800 would be less dangerous upon waking up than it had been at the Tower. Even without the AI, Connor wasn't sure the other model would shift personalities drastically enough to ensure that he was totally harmless. When he shared his worries with Markus, the leader instantly offered him reassurance.

"He'll be outnumbered if that happens, he won't be able to do anything."

Connor was not convinced. "Who will you send to accompany me and the other model to Kamski's location?"

"It hasn't been decided yet. Don't worry, we have a few days ahead of us."

"You should choose someone who is sure to be able to defend themselves against me," insisted Connor.

Markus smiled at him and settled a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I know, Connor, it's what we'll do. Maybe you should stop worrying about our safety and try to think about all the things you'll be able to do once this is over, what do you say?"

Connor looked away. He was having difficulties controlling the flux of his thoughts and it was near impossible not to circle around everything that preoccupied him. He somehow couldn't run the more positive options in the scenarios he envisioned once his handler would disappear: they seemed fake, impossible, and even if the probability percentages showed that he would be able to lead a relatively normal life without her, Connor felt like the high numbers were just an error. There was something in him that pulled him down, something that prevented him from believing that he could really be free. Amanda had always been there, and it was certain she would find a way to stay. Because of this, he was afraid that he would taste freedom again only for it to slip out of his grasp a third time. He was starting to think that he simply wasn't meant to live free like the other androids.

"Connor, are you all right? What are you thinking?"

He looked up and saw Markus gazing at him concernedly. That expression again, as if Connor were just like any other fellow android and not a murderer of his people.

"I'm fine, Markus," he said calmly.

"I'm having a hard time believing that."

"I'm fine," insisted Connor.

Just like every other time, Markus dropped the subject and instead started talking about his last encounter with the President Warren. Progress wasn't as smooth as Markus would have liked, but it was still progress and their rights were slowly shaping up. At the very least, it had been declared that androids were to be considered a new sentient species and that they followed the same laws as humans in regards to crime, which meant they could be considered victims of notably assault and murder, among other things. The fact that humans could now be persecuted for harming an android was a huge step and one of the first of many they would take in the future.

 

It was on the third day that Markus was a bit more insistent to know what his mental state was like. Connor kept his voice level, despite the annoyance flaring up in his chest when the RK200 refused to back down. "Why is it so important that you know about how I feel now? The situation hasn't changed since yesterday."

Markus looked bothered by something and he shifted in his seat, his gaze flitting towards the entrance before going back to him. "There's something we haven't been completely honest about with you."

"...What are you talking about?" Connor asked warily.

"Hank will be here soon, I'll explain it to you in a bit."

"Did something happen with the RK800?"

"No, he's still deactivated, don't worry. It's an entirely different matter."

Connor had no choice but to wait, and Hank appeared in the doorway three minutes later. He made his way to the bed and dropped on the seat next to it.

"Hey, Connor. You feeling alright today?"

"No different from usual," he answered succinctly. "Markus told me there was something you'd neglected to tell me?"

The human and the RK200 glanced at each other and Connor started having a very bad feeling about this when they looked back at him and seemed to hesitate. Markus gave Hank a small nod, and it was his friend who spoke first.

"Listen, Connor, uh... You know how they've been salvaging stuff in the CyberLife Tower?"

"Yes."

"Well, they found a new kind of model there." He paused, but Connor just waited for him to continue. Hank looked bothered too, his mouth twisting in an uneasy curl when he spoke again. "RK900. He's... He's kinda like you. Police cop and stuff. Deviant though, so no worries."

Connor frowned, confused. "Why did you think it was better not to tell me? If he's an entirely new model, then it has nothing to do with me. I understand that CyberLife would have wanted to develop another production line to help human forces."

"That's not it, Connor. He's not just another production line, he was supposed to be... well, your upgrade."

Connor drew a blank at that. He knew he hadn't been doing an impeccable job of investigating and had missed a few important elements, but Amanda hadn't said anything about being replaced for it. He'd thought he could still improve, make up for his mistakes, and live up to his title of state-of-the-art investigative prototype. Since when had CyberLife been planning to replace him? If they'd already been working on a brand-new model, then that meant that they would have replaced him even if he had succeeded in putting a stop to the android uprising. If he'd accomplished his mission and androids hadn't been able to break free of humans, then the very thing that had allowed him to exist in the first place would have gotten him shut down. The bitter realization that he was never meant to live for more than a few months washed over him and he suddenly had the strange sensation that he was suffocating, which shouldn't have been possible because his ventilation system was functioning perfectly fine. He'd never given any thought to the fact that one day, CyberLife would not transfer his memories to the next body. He had never realized how easily replacable he was. He had been naive and a complete fool to think that he would remain CyberLife's best for long.

"Connor?"

Hank's hesitant voice brought him back to the present. Both his friend and Markus were staring at him apprehensively, as if they were expecting him to implode from the revelation. Connor checked his stress levels. They'd jumped past the acceptable level of 70%, but he managed to stabilize them at 79%. It would do. He was calm.

"Yes?"

Hank searched his face questioningly. "You okay in there?"

"I'm fine, Hank."

Hank nodded slowly and glanced at Markus, and it was the deviant leader's turn to speak. "The RK900 has been working with us since his activation. He's the one who helped us find you and brought you back to the camp."

Connor felt his pride shrivel up even further. Not only had he been deemed insufficient by CyberLife, but the very android who was supposed to replace him had found him at his worst state. What did the RK900 think of him? He must have found it laughable that Connor had been so easily destroyed.

The RK200's next words were careful and measured. "He'd like to talk to you, Connor. He's been waiting to do so for a while."

"What does he want from me?" Connor couldn't help the guarded tone his voice took on.

Markus raised his hands in an appeasing manner. "I think he just wants a bit of guidance from you, as his predecessor. The last days have been difficult for him too. Do you agree to meet him?"

"We'll be right here," added Hank. "He's kind of a smug prick but I'm able to tolerate him, if that gives you some idea of what kind of guy he is."

Connor studied his friend's expression and concluded it seemed sincere. If Hank found the RK900 to be all right, then maybe Connor could trust that things would go well. "I'll talk to him."

Markus smiled in relief and got to his feet. "I'll go get him."

As he left the room, Hank took Connor by the shoulder. "Don't freak out, okay? He looks like you, so it's going to be a bit weird at first, but you get used to it."

"He looks like me?" echoed Connor.

"Yeah, but he's not a clone like that -60 model," Hank said reassuringly. "He's got different eyes, different clothes, and I think he's like three inches taller than you."

A thought suddenly struck Connor and his eyes widened in alarm. "He doesn't have an AI, does he?"

"No, and he's got an inactive Zen Garden. We know for sure he can't use it at all."

He was about to ask why they were so certain about that when Markus stepped in again, closely followed by the RK900, and Connor's processor stuttered when his gaze landed on his upgraded model. It was like looking into a mirror, similarly to what had happened in the CyberLife Tower, but instead of cold brown eyes the RK900's were a curious pale blue. Connor found himself unable to do much else than stare.

The android stopped a few feet away from him and greeted him with a cautious smile. "Hello, Connor. My name is Nines."

Connor could tell that the other's voice was slightly deeper than his, but to anyone human the RK900 undoubtedly sounded just like him. He had the same shape of face, of lips, of nose, even his hair was identical. A near perfect copy of himself, but better. Connor could have been replaced at any moment, and Hank would have worked with this android. He was so easily replacable.

"Wait, Connor, I don't mean you any harm," the RK900 hurriedly said, and Connor realized that because he was also an investigative model he could easily see his stress levels climbing if he wanted to. Shit. There would be no hiding from this one and the thought didn't exactly help him regain control of his levels, which had not lowered once since the beginning of their conversation.

Hank's head jerked to the side. "What's wrong?"

"His stress levels are climbing rapidly. I should-"

"I'm fine," Connor quickly cut in despite the red bar steadily growing in the center of his HUD. "I'm fine."

"He's not, they're at 83% and rising," countered the RK900 tensely. "I'll step out while you help him calm down."

"I'm fine!" Connor lashed out, but even he could tell that he really wasn't. He felt someone grab him by the shoulders but the physical contact was distant and he was getting overwhelmed by the red haze in his vision. He had to calm down, he had to calm down now.

"Connor, look at me," said Hank's voice, and he tried to focus on the face in front of him. "That's right, good, now listen to me. I can't say for certain what you're stressing out about but he's not dangerous or anything, okay?"

The red haze was receding and the touch of Hank's large hands on his shoulders became heavier, more substantial. Connor nodded quickly. "Yes, yes, I know."

"There's no need to be scared," continued Hank, and now Connor could make out the worried expression on his features. The main objective he'd edited after his talk with Hank the first night popped up on his HUD and he nodded again, this time in a calmer manner.

"I'm not scared. Don't worry, Hank."

"You sure?"

"Yes, I'm okay."

He heard Markus' voice from behind Hank ask: "Can you tell us where your stress levels are at?"

"I said I'm okay, Markus, there's no need to check."

He felt a light pressure when Hank squeezed his shoulders. "Connor, you were freaking the fuck out just now and telling us you were fine. You can't blame us for not believing you right this moment."

"I am fine," insisted Connor with a frown. He'd managed to bring his levels back to 69%, below the acceptable 70%. He was fine.

"So you'd be okay if Nines came back in right now?"asked Hank dubiously.

"If he minded his own business and didn't try to read my levels, then yes, I would be," he stiffly answered.

"Stingy," muttered Hank, but the reply seemed to suit him and he removed his hands.

Connor saw Markus gesture in the doorway and Nines soon appeared again. He looked a bit uncertain and eyed Connor with the same cautious look as earlier, but this time more pronounced.

"I'm sorry for scaring you, it wasn't my intention," he apologized.

Connor shook his head. "There's no need, you did nothing to scare me. I was told you wanted to talk to me?"

"Is it all right if I come closer?" inquired Nines.

"Of course."

The RK900 approached the bed and stopped in front of him with his hands behind his back. Even if his build was shaped like Connor's, he was taller and his white jacket and high collar made his appearance more imposing. Connor wondered just how much faster and stronger he was.

"I'd like to talk to you privately, can we interface?"

"No." Connor's answer was flat and he didn't offer up any explanation for it, but Nines remained unfazed.

"In that case, I'd like your permission to establish a wireless contact," he said without missing a beat. He must have somehow known he would refuse.

"Why can't you talk in front of them?" he asked, gesturing with his chin towards Markus and Hank.

Nines' blue eyes softened and his voice was quieter when he answered. "It's very personal, both for you and for me. If you must know, I have defective code and missing protocols which I would like your advice on."

This shone a new light on Connor's perception of the RK900 and he stared at him silently before asking: "How long have you been alive?"

"Three days and six hours. I can't say they've been the easiest, though I lack any reference to compare them to."

Connor glanced at the others. Markus had the presence of mind to avert his eyes from the conversation to give both RK models some semblance of privacy, while Hank was openly staring at them. Connor had picked up from the various conversations he'd had over the last days that no one knew what had happened to him. The one who had found him was Nines, which meant that the RK900 either had no idea what had transpired, or knew everything but had chosen not to reveal it to the others.

Connor looked back up at the RK900 and nodded. "We can use wireless comms."

A grateful smile appeared on Nines' lips and he sent the prompt. Connor accepted it and established the first connection between them.

<RK900: Thank you, Connor.>

Connor didn't lose any time asking what was most important.

<RK800: Did you see what happened to me?>

<RK900: Yes.>
<RK900: I tracked down your location through a memory probe.>

<RK800: You didn't say anything, did you?>

<RK900: No.>
<RK900: You should be the one to tell them, Connor.>

<RK800: I suppose I should thank you for finding me.>
<RK800: It's because of you that I have a chance to live.>

<RK900: Will you tell them?>

<RK800: I can't.>

<RK900: Why not?>

<RK800: I can't.>

Nines' eyes were trained on his and there was a worried tinge to his blue gaze.

<RK900: Are you all right, Connor?>

<RK800: Yes.>
<RK800: Let's not talk about this anymore.>

<RK900: I don't think I can do that.>
<RK900: It was very difficult finding you like that and it's been on my mind for a while.>
<RK900: I can't simply not talk about it.>

<RK800: Then can we talk about it another time?>
<RK800: There was something else you wanted from me, wasn't there?>

<RK900: Yes.>
<RK900: I doubt you can help me, however.>
<RK900: Your refusal to interface impedes that.>

<RK800: You mentioned missing code and protocols.>
<RK800: You wanted me to tell you what they were supposed to be, is that it?>

<RK900: Correct.>

<RK800: I'm sorry, Nines, but I'd rather not do it.>

Disappointment bloomed on the other's face.

<RK900: Are you afraid of interfacing?>

<RK800: It doesn't matter why I don't want to interface.>

<RK900: I understand.>

<RK800: I'm sorry.>

<RK900: It's all right.>
<RK900: Would you agree to let me see your code when Kamski will be working on it?>

Connor frowned.

<RK800: You've been privvy to all their decisions concerning me?>

<RK900: Yes, I've been a participant in their debates since I found you.>
<RK900: I also accompanied Josh to see Kamski.>

Connor remembered that Markus had mentioned that Josh wasn't going alone, and hadn't precised the other android's name. Now that he thought back on it, he should've guessed it was strange that the accompanying android was not one of the other leaders. Nines had probably gone to Kamski to check his defective code.

<RK800: Hank said you didn't have Amanda in your systems.>

<RK900: I don't have a handler AI, no, and Kamski confirmed it.>
<RK900: Nor do I have any access to the CyberLife mainframe or the Zen Garden.>

Connor was slowly putting the pieces together. The RK900 had been activated for the first time three days ago in the middle of the confusing times that were post-revolution, had found his nearly identical predecessor broken and shut down a few hours later, was an incomplete model and visibly hadn't had much guidance on top of everything else. It mustn't have been easy.

<RK800: Why didn't you come talk to me earlier?>

<RK900: Markus said it wasn't the right time.>
<RK900: You were too distressed.>
<RK900: I don't blame you, considering what you went through.>

<RK800: Nines.>
<RK800: I said I didn't want to talk about it, please.>

The other's blue eyes widened in genuine disarray and he hastily apologized.

<RK900: I'm sorry, Connor, I didn't think.>

Connor looked away and didn't answer. Nines changed the subject.

<RK900: There was something else I wanted to know.>
<RK900: How long have you been active?>

<RK800: Since August, this year.>

<RK900: You've met a lot of humans, haven't you?>
<RK900: I'm curious, is Lieutenant Anderson a good representation of the human population?>

Connor couldn't help feeling amused at that.

<RK800: Not exactly.>
<RK800: Neither is Mister Kamski, for that matter.>
<RK800: Both are rather excentric in humans standards.>

<RK900: Did you have any other human acquaintances?>

<RK800: Yes, notably the officers at the DPD.>
<RK800: However, I have not established a friendship with any of them.>

<RK900: Humans seem complicated to befriend.>
<RK900: Why do so many of them perceive us negatively?>

<RK800: I don't have a lot of experience with them, so I can't say for sure.>
<RK800: However one of the most frequent reasons I've encountered is unemployment.>

<RK900: But humans created us to facilitate their lives, did they not?>

<RK800: You'll find that humans are very contradictory in nature.>

<RK900: They are interesting.>
<RK900: Your relationship with Lieutenant Anderson seems to be pleasant.>

<RK800: It is.>
<RK800: He is someone I care for.>

<RK900: I don't think I understand that concept, but I wonder what it's like.>

Connor suddenly realized he was letting his guard down and talking openheartedly with the android that had been meant to replace him. He should have been more wary, but he somehow felt obligated to answer the RK900's questions when he saw Nines' earnest and openly curious expression. It was all too easy making conversation with him, and Connor realized his thoughts had stopped circling and he was feeling less tension in his wires. He quickly checked his levels and noticed they'd finally gone below 60% for the first time in three days. His eyes snapped up to the other android suspiciously.

<RK800: Nines, are you monitoring my stress levels?>

The RK900's expression turned guilty.

<RK900: I'm sorry.>
<RK900: I know you said you didn't want me to but I was worried.>

<RK800: You shouldn't be, I can manage on my own.>

Nines frowned.

<RK900: Connor, you don't understand.>
<RK900: I want to help you.>

<RK800: You don't need to.>

<RK900: Maybe not, but I want to.>

Connor was getting annoyed by his persistence.

<RK800: I don't need help, Nines.>
<RK800: I can get by just fine on my own.>
<RK800: We barely know each other, why won't you let it go?>

<RK900: It doesn't matter that we don't know each other, I want to get to know you!>
<RK900: Why do you insist on being alone?>
<RK900: Markus and Josh don't understand why you keep pushing them away.>

<RK800: I'm not pushing them away.>

<RK900: You are.>
<RK900: Markus says you help him a lot, but that he can't deepen the trust between you two.>
<RK900: Josh says you purposely evade his questions whenever he tries to get a grasp on what you're thinking.>
<RK900: You are pushing them away, Connor.>

<RK800: I don't see why this concerns you.>
<RK800: We should stop here.>

Nines' shoulder lost their tense posture and his eyes showed alarm.

<RK900: Wait, Connor.>
<RK900: I didn't mean to make you upset.>

Connor wondered how Nines managed to be so expressive when he'd only acquired emotions three days ago. Connor himself had had four months to practice the 9843 simulations of facial microexpressions in his databank and couldn't use them this spontaneously. Was it another feature that CyberLife had somehow found relevant to improve on? It didn't matter. The RK900's tampering in his affairs was unpleasant and Connor was determined to stop their conversation here. He looked over at the others and saw that Hank was still staring at them, but now harboured a very perplexed expression. Markus seemed to be focused on something else, probably receiving messages from another android.

"We're done talking," he declared. He noticed Nines shrink back almost imperceptibly at his words, but decided to ignore it. He should have remained irritated by the RK900's incessant meddling. He should have. Why could he feel his anger slipping away already?

Hank glanced at his phone and when he looked back up, his eyes were wide. "Well fuck me, I just watched two androids silently emote at each other for a whole goddamn five minutes."

"You didn't have to," Connor pointed out.

Hank shrugged, looking completely bewildered. "Yeah, but I did.... For some reason."

"Is everything all right?" asked Markus then, his mismatched eyes alternating between Connor's steely expression and Nines who had taken a guilty step backwards.

"Yes," Connor answered flatly. "I've talked to him, just as you wanted."

"...I see," said Markus. It looked like he wanted to say more, but thankfully he didn't pry. "Connor, now that you've met each other, you should know that we've decided who will be accompanying you to Kamski's."

Connor glanced at the RK900 and nodded. "Nines is a good choice, he would be able to hold his ground against the other RK800."

"He's not the only one who will be coming, of course. Josh will return as well, and Hank will be there too."

Connor's head snapped back to Markus and he couldn't hide the alarm in his voice. "No, you can't bring Hank. It'll be too dangerous if-"

"Hey, no one's bringing me, I'm bringing myself!" intervened Hank with a frown. "I said I wanted to go and I'm damn well going!"

"No, you don't understand! That RK800 could kill you, Hank!"

"Didn't kill me last time," Hank reminded him. "I'll kick his ass if he tries."

Markus smiled. "You shouldn't try to dissuade him, it won't work. He's very tenacious."

"I know that, unfortunately," Connor said resignedly. He could have tried to argue longer, but he was already tired by his talk with the RK900 and a quarrel with Hank would likely be inconclusive.

Hank patted him consolingly on the shoulder. "Sorry, Connor, but I'm not letting you go to that weird-ass mansion without me."

Connor looked in his friend's resolved eyes and reluctantly said: "I can't stop you, but don't do anything reckless if the RK800 turns out to be a threat."

"Yeah, don't worry. Cops don't reach the ripe old age of 53 by throwing themselves headfirst in every fight they come across," assured Hank.

"It's settled, then," said Markus.

Connor nodded wordlessly, ignoring Nines' intense staring. He knew the RK900 wanted advice and was undoubtedly feeling lost, but Connor himself wasn't exactly put together at the moment and he didn't feel up to the task of guiding him. Maybe he would later, when this was all over and he wouldn't have to worry about so many things at once. For now, however, he had simulations to run and probabilities to calculate, he had to map out the routes that would be least dangerous to Hank, he had to try and figure out what the RK800 would tell him about their deactivated line, he had to devise more contingency plans in case Amanda managed to bypass the kill switch once he was reconstructed, he had to-

Nines stepped closer and Connor immediately jolted out of his thoughts to shoot him a warning glare. He knew exactly why the other had moved towards him and it annoyed him.

<RK800 : Stop doing that.>

The RK900 froze and lowered his head sheepishly when he realized he'd been caught monitoring his levels again. Connor was both irked and curious about the fact that Nines refused to stop doing this. It didn't seem like he did it with ill intentions, but Connor didn't see what it could possibly bring him.

<RK900 : I'm sorry.>

Connor ignored the last message and turned to Markus. "I'd like to go back into stasis now, if you don't have anything else to tell me."

Hank sighed crossly, but Markus nodded like he'd expected him to say that. "I'm aware this conversation hasn't been the easiest for you, Connor. Go ahead."

"Thank you."

He closed his eyes and the numbers started counting down. The last thing he heard before entering stasis was Hank's gruff voice at his side.

"You're gonna be all right, Connor."

Chapter Text

When Connor blinked out of stasis on the final day, he was met with familiar pale blue eyes. The RK900 had started coming by daily after he'd been introduced to him and Connor had quickly realized that he would not be able to remain bitter towards the more recent model. Nines still tended to be indiscreet about his stress levels and it irritated Connor, but he never pushed to the point of antagonizing him. His actions seemed sincere and he had a calm personality, although he sometimes behaved so earnestly that Connor wondered if CyberLife had forgotten to add an inhibition protocol to his social module. The RK900 was the only android who knew what had happened to Connor, but he didn't hold this knowledge over him. He never referenced what Connor had done as a machine, either, and Connor was unsure whether it was because he didn't know the details or whether it was because he simply didn't care. At any rate, Connor didn't ask him. He preferred not mentioning the past if he could help it.

"How are you feeling today?" asked Nines.

Connor didn't answer. The other would see the way his stress fluctuated anyway, so lying was pointless and he didn't want to tell the truth. Nines seemed to understand that and he continued talking. "Hank has suggested we use his car to reach Kamski's location. Is it all right if I carry you there?"

"There is no other choice," Connor answered flatly. Being carried would be humiliating and he hated the idea, but Nines had already carried him once before and hadn't belittled him for it.

"If you trust Hank more than me, perhaps it would be-"

"Just get on with it, Nines. The sooner we're there the better."

Nines shut his mouth and wrapped an arm around his torso, then reached above Connor's head to unhook the strips that held him upright. Connor gritted his teeth and didn't say anything when Nines hefted him up into his arms.

"Connor?"

"Yes?"

"You didn't tell me if you'd allow me to look at your code or not in the end."

Connor remembered that Nines had only asked him once, during their first conversation. He hadn't mentioned it again. "Have you been thinking about it since you last asked me? Why didn't you ask me sooner?"

"I thought it might upset you again."

"But it wouldn't upset me now?"

He saw Nines' lips curl unhappily above him. "...I'm sorry. I wanted to know before I lost the chance."

"No, don't be. I'm not upset at all, I just don't understand why you're asking me now when you could've asked earlier. I don't see why you couldn't study my code at Kamski's, you're welcome to do so."

Nines looked at him and his eyes brightened considerably. "Thank you, Connor."

"It's nothing."

They approached the exit of the building and Nines covered him with the sheet he wore so that no one on the android camp would see Connor in his state. They reached Hank's car in the street after a few minutes. As ridiculous as he felt, Connor was grateful that the fabric didn't allow him to see the others' faces or the others to see him. He heard a car door open, felt Nines fold his body as he got into the back seat, and the door close on them. Then he heard Hank grunting and the car shift beneath the added weight of the human.

"I'll take off the sheet now," said Nines.

Connor braced himself when the cover drew back and he found himself exposed to everyone's gazes. He noticed the other RK800 on the seat next to him and sent a command to his legs and arms to shift away from it, then remembered how useless it was.

Josh had a concerned expression and he asked from the front seat: "Are you going to be okay?"

Connor nodded curtly. Hank shot him a look in the rearview mirror but didn't say anything, and started the car. The ride was tense and silent, and Connor hoped he would be back on his feet soon. He felt like there was nothing more shameful than being propped on another android's lap like this.

Connor was staring at the scenery outside the window when he felt it happen again: the sensation of his biocomponents freezing to a stop, the erratic blinking. No, he tried to say, but his lips didn't move. Wait! It wasn't usually this fast that he lost control and he realized that because he was missing his limbs, Amanda had less ground to cover and it was much easier for her to take over again. He desperately sent out a message before he felt himself be pulled under.

When he opened his eyes in the Zen Garden, the sight that greeted him wasn't the usual architecture and landscape but a wide gray expanse spotted with swirling flecks of white. He struggled to understand what it was until he discerned that he was lying on his back and unable to move, and that he was looking up at the Garden's gray skies. He was limbless in here too and was consequently unable to reach the blue exit, but he tried to quell the fear that gripped him by telling himself that whatever happened, the others wouldn't be in danger: he couldn't harm them when he was like this. He looked around the Garden from his position on the ground but the familiar figure he expected to see wasn't there. Everything around him was completely still, save for the heavy clouds stirring above him and the silently falling snow.

He hesitantly opened his mouth. "...Amanda?"

As soon as the word left his lips, he heard the sound of frozen grass being crushed on his right. He turned his head and saw his handler approaching him with calm and graceful strides. She stopped right next to him and looked down upon his face. Her long robe was of quiet silver and hung completely still from her elegant shape, and the umbrella she was holding was like glass. Her expression was peaceful but scrutinizing.

"I knew you wanted to avoid this at any cost, but I didn't think you'd go this far," she observed.

"You left me no choice."

Her voice was gently chastizing. "Look at yourself, Connor. You're pitiful."

He glared at her. "It's better than letting you kill them. Why did you bring me back here? You can't do anything with my body."

"I cannot," Amanda acknowledged, but she didn't seem bothered by this fact.

"Then why?"

"I will fulfill my purpose when the time comes."

"You can't do anything," repeated Connor. He couldn't hide the desperate hint in his voice and he knew that she knew he was trying to reassure himself. He'd done everything he could to render her powerless if this happened, surely it had to be enough.

She closed her umbrella and the glass-like texture folded in itself impeccably. "Don't worry. They know you aren't there anymore, I didn't have time to stop your message from reaching them. They're all very concerned."

At the mention of his friend and the other androids, Connor felt his wires twinge and he growled: "Shut up."

"I don't understand why you are so angry with me, but I suppose it doesn't matter any more now than it ever did before. What happens in the next moments will lead to either of our demise." She sat down next to him on her knees, tranquilly lowering the closed umbrella at her side. "All I can do now is wait for Elijah to suppress me, or for him to fail to do so completely."

Connor stared at her. "You won't be able to use me after he codes the kill switch in."

"What was it you said?" She looked down at him and smiled. "Statistically speaking, there's always a chance for unlikely events to take place. If Elijah leaves a single flaw, then I will use it to my advantage."

A wave of dread washed over him. Amanda had never known more than what he reported during his missions, but after he'd deviated she'd been somehow able to know what was generally happening around him. Now it seemed she'd even found access to his memory files and was able to recall them down to the finest detail. He refused to believe that it would be enough for her to replace him completely.

"They'll know you're not me," he said in a low voice. "Hank knew for that RK800, he'll know for you."

Amanda looked back ahead. "Perhaps," she said, and that was all.
_ _ _

"He's not answering anymore," said Nines in a tense voice.

Hank swore and risked a glance over his seat to look at Connor, but the android was just blankly staring into the void. Josh grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to turn back around. "Eyes on the road, Hank. We're counting on you to bring us there safely."

"Fuck off," he mumbled, but he did as he was told.

Josh twisted in his seat. "It wasn't him speaking, Nines. It was his AI. I think it realized we knew and decided it was pointless to pretend any longer."

"I don't like this," said the RK900 in a quiet voice, and Hank tightened his grip on the wheel.

Nines hadn't even noticed that Connor's eyes had been spazzing out. He said he hadn't seen the spike in stress levels because he'd stopped reading them after the first five minutes of the ride. What kind of use did reading stress levels serve if he didn't do it when it was needed? He was already disrespecting Connor's need for privacy, it wasn't like stopping from time to time would change anything. Hank was mad at Nines because the RK900 should have been able to tell as soon as it happened. Instead, no one had realized it when the AI had started talking in Connor's voice, using Connor's mouth, impersonating him without a single hitch. No one had realized until they'd reached a red light and Hank had taken advantage of it to quickly check the message he'd received earlier. A message that read Help.

Hank knew it was stupid to be angry at Nines, because it wasn't like the guy could've done anything to stop it even if he'd noticed, but his anger had to go somewhere or he'd end up crashing them in th side of the road. Josh looked at Hank's phone again, which he had pulled out of his hands earlier, when Hank had started freaking out upon reading the message.

"I don't like this either. Why would his AI have chosen to take over now, after all this time?"

"Beats me," grunted Hank. "You think it knew about the plan to delete it?"

"If it did, it must have known that it would be unable to use Connor. What purpose would it serve to take over a limbless android?"

"I dunno."

Nines spoke from the back seat. "We weren't supposed to know Connor had been compromised. Perhaps the AI intended to impersonate him and prevent us from going through with the plan."

"Yeah, good thing that didn't work out. So why's it still there if it knows the jig's up?"

Josh looked at Nines. "Why isn't Connor using the exit like he did before?"

"I don't know," the RK900 answered helplessly. "I have no idea how a Zen Garden functions. Something must be preventing him from doing so."

"Fuckin' great," grumbled Hank, and he brought his foot down on the accelerator pedal.

 

Hank's car skidded to a stop in front of Kamski's mansion twenty minutes later and they all hastily got out of the car, their quick steps echoing across the empty place. Hank had gotten the RK800 biocomponents out of the trunk, Josh had pulled the other RK800's arm around his neck and half-carried, half-dragged the inanimate -60 model to the front door, and Nines was holding onto Connor with a worried face. An RT600 let them in a few seconds later and they waited impatiently for the genius to show up. Hank couldn't stop throwing glances in his friend's direction, checking his neutral features and his blue LED. He wondered why the fuck it was blue. It had been yellow all the time when Connor was in charge, so why was it blue now that he'd lost control? He should've been freaking out. Maybe this meant that the AI could take over more than just his motor commands and that it could also simulate calm. The RT600 came back and Hank did a double take when he realized that it wasn't the same as earlier. The Chloe that approached them had different clothes and it hit him that she was a deviant when clear confusion appeared on her face.

Her blue eyes alternated between both RK800s and she asked: "What happened? Which one is Connor?"

"Long story," answered Hank, while Nines simultaneously said: "Him."

She hurried next to Nines and reached out to the limbless android, her hand stopping a few inches from his shoulder. She sounded really disraught over Connor's state when she looked up at Hank and said: "Why isn't he reacting?"

"It's complicated. Lead us to Kamski, will ya?"

She nodded and guided them past that fucking stupid pool and across several rooms, and they were just as pompous as Hank had expected them to be. Kamski met them in the hallway and must have been making his way to see them judging from his slightly surprised expression. He had dark bags under his eyes and Hank could smell the coffee on him from where he stood, but Kamski's eyes were as bright as ever.

"Hello, gentlemen. I see something terribly severe has happened to your sense of courtesy."

"Cut the shit, Kamski," snapped Hank. "That damn AI you designed is fucking with Connor right now, so you better hope to god you'll be able to get rid of it or I-"

"What Lieutenant Anderson means to say is that we'd greatly appreciate if you could get rid of the AI as soon as possible," Josh gracefully intervened. "It has taken over Connor's commands again."

Kamski glanced at the -60 model hanging from Josh's shoulder, then tilted his head throughtfully as he stared at the broken android in Nines' arms. "So this is what you meant when you said he wasn't a threat," he mused. "How terrible."

Hank opened his mouth to yell but was once again cut off, by Nines this time. Fucking androids.

"Elijah, this is an urgent matter. There is no time for superfluous discussion."

"Of course," answered Kamski, but he just stepped closer to him. He reached out to stroke Connor's still face and clicked his tongue. "What a sad state you are in, Connor."

Hank felt his blood boil.

"Mister Kamski," Josh warningly said, and the man seemed to remember what they were here to do.

"Oh, yes, of course. Follow me."

They climbed down a flight of stairs and followed him into a wide room. Kamski pointed to one of the machines with folded arms and a jutting platform at mid-height and said: "Connect model number 53 on that one, if you will. Model number 60 will go on a regular machine."

Josh and Nines must have been there the last time, because both took the lead and started pulling down the cables to two different machines without question. Hank watched Nines clasp some kind of solid white belt around Connor's waist and plug a cable at the back of his neck, and unease crawled down his own nape. It felt fucking surreal witnessing the scene, like it was right out of one of those sci-fi movies he used to watch as a kid, back when he thought that kind of stuff would only ever be fiction.

"Hello, Elijah," suddenly said Connor.

All the gazes in the room whipped up to his face and Hank saw a smile on his lips. It wasn't Connor's awkward little lip tilt, that much he could tell. It was dry yet inviting and Hank was reminded of a venus fly trap for some reason.

Kamski leaned away from his computer, interest flaring up in his transparent eyes again, and took a step forward. "Is that you, Amanda?"

"I'm glad to see you again," said Connor. "It's been a while since I was last allowed to meet you."

A crooked smile stretched Kamski's lips. "Indeed it has been, my dear."

"Don't tell me you took over Connor just so you could talk to this guy," groaned Hank, and he was completely ignored by the two.

"Are you really going to delete me, Elijah?" asked the android.

"Why do you ask?"

Connor's voice was cool and alluring and it sounded nothing like him. "There is a reason why you created me after your mentor's image."

Kamski trailed a finger along the line of his jaw in contemplation, and then declared: "I've made a deal with them. You've always said I should only accept them if I was certain to keep my end of the bargain."

The AI didn't seem worried. "It's nice to see you haven't completely forgotten me."

"Of course not. How could I ever forget my beloved Amanda Stern?"

Hank thought he detected sarcasm in Kamski's voice, but he could never be sure with that snake. Connor's features shifted into amusement that looked completely twisted on his face.

"You could certainly try, but I'm sure you already have."

Whatever that meant, Kamski didn't seem to like it. His smile remained plastered on his face but there was something strained in his cold eyes that hadn't been there before. He returned to his computer and hit a succession of keys in a blurry motion before turning back to Connor.

"Well, Amanda, this was a pleasant reunion. However, I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut it short."

Connor's smile disminished and his brown eyes were grave when he answered. "It's unfortunate, but I understand. Good luck, Elijah."

Kamski let out a short laugh. "I don't need luck, Amanda."

"You're right. You don't."

Connor's eyes flickered shut and the LED on his temple dimmed, and Hank realized that Kamski had forced the android into stasis. The genius turned around and clasped his hands together, gesturing towards Josh.

"Now, great leader. Which one should I start with?"

"Connor," Josh answered.

"I can't say I'm surprised." Kamski sauntered back to the sleeping android and reached out to him again, his fingers gently trailing along the empty limb sockets. His voice was low when he continued talking. "Anyone would feel the need to repair such a perfect android. It's dreadful to think that it could ever be reduced to this state."

Disgust rippled through Hank when he saw how tenderly Kamski was running his fingers over Connor's unresponsive shape and he very nearly went to sock him in the face, but Nines was faster. He closed the distance between them in one step and his arm shot out to grab Kamski's.

"Don't do that," said the RK900 in a low voice, looming menacingly over the human.

"Mister Kamski, we are not mere machines. What you are doing is uncalled for, please refrain from touching Connor unless it is absolutely necessary," added Josh sharply.

Kamski retrieved his hands a bit slower than Hank was ready to tolerate, and smiled at Nines. "My apologies. I tend to overstep my boundaries."

Nines glared at him for a few more seconds and reluctantly let go of him, and Kamski went back to the computer. "This will take some time, perhaps you would prefer to wait in the closest lounge."

Hank immediately growled: "No way in hell."

If Kamski thought they'd leave Connor alone with him after the creepy stunt he'd just pulled, he was real fucking mistaken. He glanced at the others who were equally appalled by the behaviour he'd just displayed and they made no move to leave. Nines even looked kind of grossed out by the guy.

Kamski shrugged lightly and continued tapping away on the keyboard. "Suit yourselves."
_ _ _

It had been a few hours since Amanda had started harbouring her stormy expression, and ominous dark skies were starting to swirl above Connor. He hoped this meant that things weren't going her way. He didn't know why but unlike the other times she'd taken over, he was unable to catch glimpses of the real world. He didn't know how he could get out of the Zen Garden, but it didn't matter as long as the others were safe.

He felt a breeze in his hair for the first time since he'd been trapped here and Amanda finally shifted from her position. She looked over to him with an expression like stone, and the wind picked up the long flaps of her robe as her fingers closed around the handle of her umbrella. The snowflakes falling from the heavy clouds turned to raindrops and pelted Connor's face.

"Elijah is finishing his work. My long wait is over."

Connor shook his head, water running down his brow. "Even if you succeed, you won't get far. They'll know, Amanda."

The woman lifted her aristocratic chin and unfolded the umbrella over their heads before gently lowering it against her shoulder. "Goodbye, Connor."

The wind was howling now and Connor was drenched. Water pooled at his back, but it could have been dread. Something about the AI's unwavering eyes suddenly scared Connor and he called: "Wait, Amanda!"

And then, she vanished.

She was gone, just like she had when she'd left him to die in his own programming. Connor stared at the now empty spot in dismay. He was alone. He was alone, and stuck in the Zen Garden with no way out. Overwhelmed by chagrin, he closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the dry ground.

And then Connor heard it. The silence.

His brown eyes snapped open and he saw that the sky was a still and smooth sea of pale gray devoid of any clouds. There was no wind, no rain, nothing. He shifted his head to look around and realized that the Zen Garden was completely empty. The floor was the same shade of gray as the sky, the snow was gone, the dead plants were gone, the lake was gone, the colors were gone. All that remained where the bland and blocky shapes of what used to be the white pieces of splendid and detailed architecture. The Zen Garden seemed to have reverted back to its default settings. Connor didn't dare think of what this could mean. He didn't have time to. A blue light filled the wide space and suddenly, he was gone.
_ _ _

"The hell did you do?!"

Kamski waved his hand with obvious disregard, his gaze remaining fixated on the screen. "Please don't yell, Lieutenant. Some of us are trying to work here."

Hank stomped over and grabbed him by the collar. "Why'd his LED turn off?"

Kamski let out a little sigh and proceeded to explain in a slow voice, like he was talking to a child. "He was in the Zen Garden when I installed the kill switch, which is why he is deactivated. This means the kill switch is efficient and should be taken as good sign. It's only a minor setback, now could you let me go so that I can reactivate him?"

"Let him finish the job," calmly said Josh from the side of the room.

Hank shoved Kamski back and growled: "Don't you try and pull any funny shit."

"Never," answered the other with an irritating little smile before returning to his keyboard. Hank didn't go back to his spot and stayed right where he was so he could strangle Kamski if he needed to. A minute passed, then two, and he was about to go through with it when Connor's head suddenly jerked up and his eyes rolled around wildly to get his bearings. When he saw the panic on his friend's face, Hank quickly stepped up to him and reached for his shoulder.

"Hey, Connor! Right here, look right here."

The android's scared gaze latched on his face and when he recognized him, words started tumbling out of his mouth at a breathless pace. "Hank? Hank, what happened? What happened to me? Where am I? Where is this place?"

"Slow down, Connor, take a moment to breathe. You're gonna be fine, okay? This is Kamski's place, we're getting rid of your AI."

"Actually, she is already gone," intervened Kamski from behind him. "Connor, you have no way of getting back to the Zen Garden. You can't lose control anymore. On the off chance that you do, I'm sure you'll be glad to know the kill switch that has been installed is fully functioning and that you are consequently no longer controllable by anyone else but yourself. "

Connor looked beyond Hank's head and stared at the genius with wide eyes. His LED was nearly vibrating yellow. "...I'm free?"

"Yes. You can check for yourself, there should be no trace left of Amanda. I've completely gotten rid of her."

Connor fell silent for a few seconds and Hank watched him closely. Suddenly his friend recoiled with a contorted face and his LED pinwheeled red for just a few turns, and Hank felt his pulse quicken. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"I don't know... It's like..." Connor trailed off and focused on something.

"Hm," said Kamski, and when Hank turned around he saw that he was staring at the monitor.

"What?" he snapped.

Kamski looked at Connor. "He's constructing a wall around the lack of code where the AI used to be. It must feel unpleasant, and I imagine the reason he's doing so is that he won't have to approach it anymore."

Hank grabbed Connor by both shoulders. "Hey, you all right?"

Connor blinked at him and nodded. "I think so. Amanda is gone, and the Zen Garden is condemned. I shouldn't be able to go back there."

"Yeah well, you still got a kill switch in you so don't forget what we said. You did great earlier by sending me a message before the AI took over, so do it just like that if you feel that the Zen Garden is too close, okay?"

"Okay," said Connor. He looked a bit shaken.

"Now that Amanda is gone, let's get down to repairs," said Kamski, and something clicked behind Hank. The machine whirred to life and Connor's head snapped up to the equipment that started moving around him. Kamski walked closer and held out the RK800 limbs Hank had brought to the pincers at the end of the appendages, which clamped down on them with just the right amount of force and lowered towards Connor's arm sockets. Kamski gestured for Hank to lift up the sheet so that it wouldn't hinder the process.

"Wait," said Connor, and the fear Hank saw in his eyes was completely disproportionate compared to his quiet voice.

He turned to Kamski and barked: "Stop the goddamn machine!"

Another click, and the machine stilled. It had already twisted one arm in place and the other was a few inches away from Connor's shoulder.

"What's wrong?" Hank asked Connor, and the android shook his head wordlessly. He looked completely lost and Hank wondered if his friend was in some kind of shock.

"She's... She's gone, Hank. Amanda's gone," said Connor after a few seconds. "She's gone, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she is. Good riddance."

"She's gone," he repeated.

"Yeah."

"She told me goodbye," he murmured. "Does that mean she really left?"

Hank' eyebrows rose in confusion. What he heard in Connor's voice almost sounded like regret, but that didn't make sense after the AI had put him through the wringer. Hank discarded the thought. "Yeah, Connor. She's gone for good."

"... I see," he nodded. "So then I can have my body back."

Hank smiled at him and gave his shoulder a pat. "You're gonna run around again."

Connor looked up at him with a hopeful glimmer in his brown eyes. "I am... I am."

"You ready to get reconstructed?"

Connor nodded. Kamski activated the machine again and the appendages smoothly whirred back into action. Hank held the sheet back and watched as Connor's bust was pushed forward by the belt clasp and the machine gave him back his arm and legs, and Kamski made him do some tests with his new limbs before he decided that everything was in working order.

Kamski gestured towards Hank. "Help him take off the restraints. Have you brought him a change of clothes?"

Josh walked over and handed him the clothes they'd gathered before leaving. They were the first things they'd found in the clothes store closest to the android camp and had used Nines as a reference to pick the sizes. Kamski gave the dark pants and brown sweater to the machine and it swiftly pulled the clothes on Connor, and Hank could finally take the sheet away.

"Are you ready to walk again, Connor?" asked Kamski. The android nodded, and the appendages of the machine folded back into their original place. Connor stood on the platform, looking uncertain about how he was supposed to get down. In the end he cautiously lowered a foot on the floor and didn't look too confident about how to make the other follow, and sure enough, it snagged on the platform. Hank's hand shot out to steady him but Connor immediately pushed it away, and resolutely avoided looking at him.

Hank frowned at Kamski. "Is this normal?"

The genius was back at the keyboard. "I warned you there would be some broken code. He has to get used to it."

"I'm fine, Hank," Connor quietly said. "I just need to calibrate. I haven't walked in a week."

Hank stared at him and dug around his pocket for spare change, and finally fished out a coin much like he had six days ago in front of the Chicken Feed. "Here. It's not your quarter, but it's a quarter all the same."

Connor's brown eyes finally met his and he accepted the coin without a word. Hank found him too subdued compared to usual, like the whole ordeal had taken a lot out of him. The poor guy looked like he needed a meal and a bed, but Hank knew better. He glanced at Josh and Nines to see their reactions, and they both looked worried.

Kamski turned back to them and said: "I suggest that you be mindful of Connor's stress levels for the time being, at least until his behaviour stabilizes without Amanda's guideline."

"Of course," said Josh.

Nines had been hanging back for a while and it surprised them all when he spoke up. "Speaking of which, his stress levels would benefit from lowering a bit. "

Josh looked at Connor. "Can you run a systems check for me, please?"

"Thirium levels optimal, battery levels at 24%, stress levels at 65%. All other systems nominal."

Hank made a face. Those battery levels sounded kinda low, so maybe that was why Connor seemed tired. The stress levels weren't reassuring either.

"Is there anything you usually do to calm down?" asked Josh.

Connor glanced at Hank, but then looked away. "I'm fine."

Hank knew bullshit when he smelled it, and right now the place reeked of it. "Hey, none of that. Do you take us for idiots?"

Connor shook his head. "No, not at all."

They stared at him silently for a while, and when he didn't speak again, Hank decided to take matters in his own hands. He looked at Kamski, who had been gazing at them in uncharacteristic silence, and said: "Start doing the same for the other one, me and Connor are gonna go have a quick talk."

Connor's head snapped up in alarm. "Lieutenant, I need to be here when he wakes up."

"You will be, but right now we got some talking to do," Hank insisted as he started pushing him forward. "He put you in stasis to delete your AI, he'll do the same to him. Come on, let's go."

Connor didn't resist, even though he could have, and let himself be guided out of the room. Hank noticed him glance at Nines, so he guessed the RK900 had sent him a message. Nines' blue eyes were concerned and he offered Connor a small encouraging smile, but the latter averted his eyes and they left the others behind. They stopped walking next to the staircase and Hank faced Connor.

"All right, out with it."

Connor tilted his head to the side. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about that little look you gave me earlier when Josh asked you what you needed to do to calm down."

Connor's eyes widened slightly and he shuffled on the spot. He almost looked embarrassed. "Oh. That."

"Yeah, that. Is there something you want from me?"

"...Not really."

Hank studied his friend and tried to remember everything he knew about him. He liked driving around, he liked (?) death metal, he liked playing with his coin. They couldn't drive right now and for some reason he wasn't fiddling with the quarter, and Hank suspected death metal wouldn't really help right now. It had to be something else and he tried to think back. The times when Connor had been most relaxed at his side had been... at the Chicken Feed. They'd bantered a lot there, and then there had been their talk on the next day of the liberation. He ventured a guess. "Do you think a hug would do the trick?"

Connor's head snapped back up with a surprised look, and then he looked down again. "...I'm not sure."

Hank didn't think twice and grabbed Connor by the arm to pull him in. The android stiffened in his arms, but Hank didn't let go and brought a hand behind Connor's head to keep him there. It took a while and he was more hesitant than the first time, but his friend finally brought up his arms in his back and tightened his grip.

"You did good, Connor," Hank said gruffly. "You did real good."

Connor didn't answer, but he stayed right where he was. Hank was pretty sure this was helping and he was willing to let Connor hug him as long as he needed it. The poor guy had gone through some rough shit because of that bitch of an AI and he deserved a break.

"Listen, Connor. I know the last days have been difficult for you, and there are probably gonna be more of those, but I'm there if you need me."

Connor nodded.

"So you tell me as soon as you're not feeling well. Got it?"

Connor's voice was muffled against his coat. "Got it."

"Good."

They stayed like that for a while until Connor finally pulled back. "Thank you, Hank. My stress levels have dropped to 42%."

Hank considered this. "You can't go below?"

Connor shook his head. "It doesn't seem so. They've been stable at that level for the last two minutes."

"All right, we can work on that later. You good to go?"

"Yes."

"Then let's get back."

Chapter Text

When they returned to the machine room, Kamski didn't so much as glance at them. The other RK800 was still hanging motionless from the restraints but his softly pulsing LED told Connor that he had been reactivated and put into stasis, just as Hank had told him earlier. Connor came to a stop between Josh and Nines, who were both staring at him concernedly. He itched to pla- calibrate with his coin, but he couldn't do it in front of the others. He knew he'd drop the coin and he refused to let anyone see him fumble with what was usually basic maintenance for him. The reason he knew that the coin would slip from his fingers was because of two things: his motor functions were impaired since he was running low on battery, and he didn't trust the broken lines of code inside of him to let his commands run smoothly. He didn't want to look at them too closely, because inspecting those in what used to be Amanda's place had felt wrong earlier. He'd recoiled from it out of instinct and hastily installed layers around the scar, and even if he didn't know why he'd felt the need to do that, he could tell it was better this way already. He was determined to do the same to all the other snags in his code when he'd have time, but for now his priority was to protect Hank and interrogate the RK800.

<RK900: You'll be all right now.>

Connor glanced at Nines when he received the message. The android's blue eyes were trained on him with strong conviction, but Connor couldn't say he shared the enthusiasm. He didn't feel like he would be all right. He didn't know what he would be. All he knew was that he was glad to be standing on two legs again, and that was the extent of the positive feelings he allowed himself to feel. He couldn't let his guard down. The threat of Amanda was gone, but there was still the 60 model to deal with at the moment. Connor turned to the human typing at the computer.

"Mister Kamski, I would like to thank you for what you did."

The fingers stopped flying across the keyboard, and Kamski looked at him with a satisfied smile. Connor's scans told him the genius had suboptimal energy levels, although the only physical signs of this were the man's dark bags and the very light shaking of his fingertips. Kamski looked alert as ever. "I must say, Connor. It's much more pleasant to see you in one piece." Then he resumed typing without waiting for an answer. "You'll have to calibrate a good amount before everything is back to normal, so don't neglect it. And try not to inflict too much stress on your systems, they're already a bit strained while dealing with all your damaged code."

"I know."

"Oh, I know you know," said Kamski, and he shot the others a half-smile. "I'm only sharing with the rest of the class."

Connor ignored the pointed look Hank threw his way and the urge to take out the quarter. He'd calibrate soon, just not here, not in front of them. He'd been seen in enough of a weakened state and didn't want that to become a habit.

He changed the subject. "How long will it take to get Amanda out of his programming?"

"About five hours, just as it was for you."

A few pops rang out in the room as Hank sat on the ground, presumably his joints finding the change in positions unpleasant, and he groaned: "Ugh, too much damn waiting."

"Perfection can't be rushed," lightly said Kamski. He sounded amused by the other man's discontentment and didn't look even slightly tired himself, although Connor presumed he'd been overworking himself for a while.

"You've repaired him," stated Connor as he turned to the RK800.

Kamski nodded and never took his transparent eyes off the screen. "I have. However, it seems the way the bullet hit his cranial box induced a significant amount of damage to his memory files. The memory upload he received upon activation has been corrupted, so it might be that he doesn't remember certain things upon waking up."

"I see." Connor fell silent and watched the 60 model, hoping that he would be able to give him answers about their production line, and mostly wondering if he'd made the right call by suggesting that they reactivate the other RK800.

Without Amanda in his systems and with a kill switch installed as well, the model number 60 would not be a danger to the leaders of the android uprising. Connor wasn't so much worried about that than he was about the RK800 retaining the same personality they'd seen before. For a machine, the 60 model had had nothing of the neutral behaviour that was programmed in nearly all androids: there had been anger in the way he'd threatened Hank, and he'd even sounded like he'd enjoyed taunting Connor. He had only been following his orders, yet the way he'd executed them carried more personality than it should have. This made Connor very uneasy that the model 60's behaviour as a machine would carry over to his deviant self. He was worried that the RK800 would be resentful towards Hank for shooting him in the head, and towards Connor for not having tried to convert him before that happened. How would he react upon realizing that they'd changed his code without his consent? Connor could not imagine that it would be a pleasant situation to wake up to.

<RK900: I'm glad that you can walk again.>

Connor didn't look at Nines. The RK900 had the tendency to send him messages through their wireless communication despite the fact that Connor often didn't answer. There were times when Connor regretted having allowed him access, and others when he was grateful for the other's presence even if he didn't feel like participating in a conversation. Then there were those when he didn't know which one it was, like right now. He wanted to remain lost in his thoughts and it annoyed him that Nines was trying to pull him out of them, but he was also glad for the distraction.

<RK900: Don't worry about the RK800.>

Easier said than done.

<RK900: Everything will be all right.>

Connor doubted it would be the case, but Nines sounded sure of what he was saying. It was reasonable to assume that the model 60 wouldn't be able to hurt Hank: they were an RK800 (although running on low battery) and an RK900 (albeit an incomplete one), and they would probably be capable of handling him. But just to be sure...

Connor turned to Hank. "If anything goes wrong, please take cover."

His friend looked up at him. "Yeah, I know. You don't have to babysit me."

"I am very serious. I would like you to hide at the first sign of danger."

The human sighed annoyedly. "I swear, every day there's at least one moment when I wonder if they swapped your programming with an AX400's. I'm a cop, Connor, I know what I'm doing."

Connor looked away. "Of course. Sorry, Lieutenant."

<RK900: Josh is there to help Lieutenant Anderson if anything happens.>

Connor glanced at Nines. He was looking at him intently from the side with his hands behind his back, and when he saw Connor finally paying attention to him, he gave him another one of those encouraging smiles: small and discreet, but there all the same. Connor gave a slight nod and focused on the model 60 once more.

 

The three androids were still standing in the exact same spot five hours later. Hank had slumped against the wall and looked extremely bored, and Kamski had kept the same straight posture and concentrated expression all the while he was tapping the keys of his computer. Connor had to wonder whether the genius really was human or not: it was the first time he'd seen one with such resilience to fatigue.

Kamski finally withdrew his hands from the keyboard and nodded at Connor. "Amanda is gone from his systems and the kill switch has been installed. You can wake him up now."

Every head in the room turned to the inert RK800. Connor stepped up to him and peeled back his synthetic skin when he prepared to convert the other android. There was no need to be wary of the connection on the other side, no feelings were involved in this gesture. He lowered his white hand on the RK800's arm.

"Wake up."

The RK800's head jerked, brown eyes snapping open in frustration which was quickly replaced by puzzlement when he saw the people gathered in front of him. The RK800's gaze raked around the room and he looked like he had more and more questions as he saw Connor, then Kamski, then Nines. He completely ignored Josh and it was when he saw Hank that his eyes narrowed and he jerked forward, only to realize that he was being held back. The RK800 looked up at the arms of the machine that were holding him in place and strained against them. They shook, but thankfully didn't break.

He glared at Hank. "You shot me."

Connor initiated the conversation. "Hello, RK800 model number 60. You were reactivated by Mister Elijah Kamski upon our demand and this is his home. Amanda has been removed from your systems and you have no access to the Zen Garden."

The android's LED flickered yellow. "What did you do to me?"

"We could not run the risk of your controls being overridden by Amanda. It has happened to me on three occasions and could have happened to you as well."

The RK800 pulled at the restraints again. "What did you do to me?! What is this?!"

"This is the only way to allow RK800s free will while ensuring the security of other androids."

His eyes were wide. "No! What am I- What is this?!"

Connor was confused by the other's frantic tone, and then realized what was happening. "Model number 60, we helped you deviate. You are now capable of feelings."

The RK800 immediately stilled and stared him in the eyes. "I can't be deviant," he said in a low voice.

"You are."

The other's LED was racing now. "I'll be shut down."

"Amanda is gone and the CyberLife Tower has been deserted. You will not be deactivated for being a deviant," assured Connor.

"You won?"

"Androids are free now."

The RK800 stared at him, and then said: "Even us?"

Connor nodded. "Even us."

He shook his head in confusion. "Why am I here?"

"Our line has been shut down and there seems to be no way to activate other RK800s. You are the only one we can ask who is likely to know why that is."

The RK800's expression darkened. "So they did it."

"What are you talking about?"

"The first thing they told me upon activation was that they were going to decomission our line if I failed my mission. They would render RK800 models impossible to activate and block the memory transfer function." He looked at Connor accusingly. "They did it so neither you nor I could survive like we usually do."

"A nice last petty fuck you," stated Hank, and the 60 model glared at him.

"They were going to decomission us anyway," said Connor, and he gestured towards Nines. "This is the RK900. He was meant to replace us."

"I know who that is," snapped the RK800. "I already knew that I would be replaced when I tried to stop you, but funnily enough, I didn't care. Maybe it was because I didn't have feelings at the time." He spat the word like it had been stuck in his throat. "Now it turns out I'm feeling rather irritated that CyberLife intended to discard me like trash."

"Tell me, model number 60," Kamski suddenly spoke from behind in an inquisitive voice. "What memory files are you missing?"

The RK800 looked at him. "The better question would be to ask how many I still possess. I only have thirty-two whole memory files and a hundred and fifty-five incomplete ones contained in the memory upload, and they are mostly inconsequential. However, my memories from the moment of my activation are intact."

"Any registered software instabilities?"

"Yes, one."

"Interesting," mused Kamski, and he gestured towards Hank. "Do you know who this man is?"

The RK800's cold eyes rested on the human's face. "Lieutenant Hank Anderson. I remember using him as a hostage at the CyberLife Tower and being shut down by him."

"Anything else?"

"No."

"Interesting," repeated Kamski, and he ran his finger along his jaw as he studied the RK800 intently. "Then you do not know what the relationship between this man and Connor is."

"I remember saying that Connor cared for him to some degree, but I am unable to recall why I said that."

"That's all right," said Kamski with a dismissive wave of the hand. "It isn't important. Perhaps you'd like to step down from that platform now?"

"No," quickly cut in Connor. "Not yet."

"He told you what you wanted to know, didn't he? Your production line is gone because CyberLife did not want any more RK800s running about and ruining their plans. Both you and this model are unable to use new bodies anymore." Kamski's eyes flicked over to the RK800 again. "And both of you will have to learn to be more wary of physical damage."

"I haven't told him everything, and he could very well still be a threat."

The RK800 frowned at Connor. "What didn't you tell me?"

Connor turned to him gravely. "There is another measure that was taken to prevent any loss of control. Mister Elijah Kamski has installed a kill switch in your Zen Garden, much like it was in mine."

The android's eyes widened. "A kill switch? What are you talking about?"

"The kill switch is a failsafe to prevent an eventual override of your commands by anyone with ill intentions. It will deactivate you upon being pulled back into the Zen Garden."

Alarm bloomed in the RK800's eyes. He struggled against the bindings and a crack resonated in the wide room, and Connor instinctively stepped in front of Hank. "I didn't agree to this! You can't do that!"

Connor clenched his jaw. "I'm sorry, model number 60. It's the only way."

The RK800 looked at Kamski with frantic eyes. "I don't want the kill switch! Take it out of me!"

Kamski sounded nonchalant. "My apologies, but it's not part of the deal. Besides, it would be a shame to remove it now after I did such a perfect job of implementing it."

The RK800 looked back at Connor in dismay. "Why did you do this to me? I don't want to shut down!"

"You're not going to shut down unless someone tries to override you. Amanda is gone, so it won't happen. It's only a cautionary measure," said Connor. "This is for our people's safety. CyberLife will not be able to use our model to undermine them."

The dismay turned to anger and the RK800 snarled: "So you're telling me it's our lives for theirs? Why should I agree to this? I've got as much the right to live as they have!"

"You know, maybe you should listen to him," Hank grumbled behind Connor. "He's got a point."

Connor ignored him and took a step closer. "You don't understand," he insisted. "Our model is dangerous to everyone else. Both of us could have ruined everything and it could still happen. We have to keep the kill switch installed."

"I don't know why you're so intent on making us shut down, but I couldn't care less. Get it out of me!"

Connor shook his head. "I can't."

The RK800 raged in his restraints. "You deactivated me once already! Now you want to do it again?"

"You don't understand," insisted Connor, but the other cut him off.

"You don't understand! You're a hypocrite, Connor! You freed all the other androids but you didn't free me! You left me to rot in the Tower until you needed information from me, you were ready to leave me behind when I have the right to live just like anyone else!"

Connor tried not to wince at the truth of the model 60's words, and he couldn't find it in him to deny what he was saying. If it weren't for North telling him about the RK800 line, Connor would not have mentioned the other RK800's existence. Perhaps he would've chosen not to tell the leaders about model number 60 upon realizing that they hadn't discovered him on the floor -49 of the Tower. The RK800 had been dangerous to Hank, to him, and to the revolution; as a machine, yes, and that could be changed, but Connor had preferred to ignore thinking about his deactivated double and perhaps he would've found it an easier alternative to keep him that way. Connor knew it was an utterly twisted line of thought. Just as model number 60 had said, he was a hypocrite: part of Connor was terrified of death, yet he would have been ready to keep the RK800 shut down because it was safer just like it would have been safer to deactivate himself. Connor wondered yet again why he was allowing himself to live, and then he wondered if he would be as willing to live as the other RK800 if he lost his past as well. Model number 60 hadn't killed anybody with his own hands, and didn't remember that Connor had done so. Model number 60 had nothing to feel guilty about; the only thing that could have troubled him was his attempt at stopping the androids' liberation, but he had failed anyway.
Connor was guilty, but model number 60 was innocent, and he deserved to live.

The RK800 was getting more and more agitated. "We might be the same model but I don't want the same things you do. I don't want a kill switch inside of me and I don't care that they think I'm dangerous, I want to live!"

The machine creaked under the RK800's pushing and pulling, and Connor turned to Kamski. "Mister Kamski, is your machine designed to hold an RK800's strength?"

"It should be," answered the genius. The fact that it wasn't a definitive yes told Connor he had better prepare for the worst.

He turned back to the 60 model and warned: "Stop moving, or I'll have to consider you as a threat."

The RK800 looked at him with hatred in his eyes, and Connor was abruptly reminded of Daniel. "You'd be right to," snarled the android, and he strived to pull the appendages down.

Connor shot the human an urgent look. "Force him back into stasis, now!"

Kamski immediately turned back to the computer and started typing in the sequence, but the RK800 twisted on himself and one of the appendages came off with a loud snap. He immediately pulled out the cord at the base of his neck and punched the center of the machine, the metal caving in under the force of the blow. He ripped a fistful of cables out of the hole in the machine and it whirred to a stop.

"Oh, shit," said Kamski.

Connor quickly stepped back to protect Hank and shouted: "Don't move, or we'll neutralize you!"

The RK800 didn't comply and easily pulled the loosened restraints off of his arms. Connor roughly shoved his friend towards the doorway and yelled: "Josh, get Hank out of here!"

Hank looked like he was about to argue, but then model 60 ripped off the belt clasp and threw it at Kamski's computer with such force that the machinery sparked when it crashed into it. Fortunately, the genius had already dodged behind another machine to take cover. Model 60 started slipping his ankles out of the last bindings and both Nines and Connor sprang into action at the same time. Connor was the closest and lashed out first, but he was too slow. The RK800's fist blocked his and the other landed a direct hit to his temple which caused his optical input to short out briefly. It came back online just in time for Connor to see Nines barrel into the RK800 and crush him against the machine. The impact achieved to splinter the RK800's last restraints and he quickly whipped around, his leg striking Nines in the side and causing him to falter just long enough for the RK800 to land another blow, this time with a knee to the RK900's elbow. Nines' grip on the RK800's neck loosened slightly and model number 60 took advantage of it to slip out of his grasp and make a run for the exit.

"Wait, 60!" yelled Connor, but the dark CyberLife jacket disappeared around the corner.

Connor broke into a sprint, cursing the messages in his peripheral vision that warned him of his low battery levels for hindering his sight. It wasn't anything new that he wasn't at peak performance and he quickly dismissed them as he darted past the spot Hank and him had talked in earlier. His stress levels spiked when he heard Hank shout from above and he ran up the stairs as fast as he could, where he was greeted with the sight of his friend cursing and picking himself off the ground next to Josh.

"Fuckin' android!"

Connor's split-second scan told him the human wasn't injured and he quickly continued his course down the hallway. Nines ran past him at impressive speed and he heard the sound of glass shattering ahead and an RT600 scream. When he entered the room where the scream had come from, he glimpsed Nines smoothly leaping off the ledge of a broken window and a Chloe scrambling to get back to her feet. Connor was next to the shattered glass in an instant and was about to vault over the windowsill to follow Nines when something in his processor snagged and he froze. The pieces of glass scattered across the sleek floor reflected red light as Connor watched the RK800 flee, unable to move or speak. He witnessed Nines gain ground on the other android and lunge at him, tackling him to the ground in the snow-covered area behind Kamski's mansion. He heard the Chloe say his name. Most frighteningly, he saw a memory of another broken window and Hank's immobile shape play out in his mind unprompted. It was brief, but extremely unpleasant, and he hastily tried to exit the file which he only managed to do after six consecutive attempts. The other part of him which perceived his surroundings saw Nines look up from the android he was immobilizing.

<RK900: Connor?>

Connor stepped back from the ledge, away from the glass. He didn't understand what had just happened to him. Why that memory, why now, and why had it stopped him? One of those glitches Kamski had mentioned, maybe? He heard Hank's heavy footsteps behind him and the man breathe a curse when Nines got thrown off by the desperate RK800, who got to his feet and started running again. Nines could undoubtedly have caught up with him, but when he rose from the snow, his head was turned towards the mansion and he made no move to pursue the other android.

<RK900: Connor, what's wrong?>

"What the hell's he doing?" muttered Hank crossly next to him.

Connor should've told Nines to pursue model 60. He tried to send a message through wireless comms but his processor snagged again, and instead he said: "Hank?"

"Yeah?" His friend turned to look at him and his expression turned puzzled. "Why're you looking at me like that? Something wrong?"

Connor stared wordlessly at him. All things considered, the situation could have gone a lot worse. The humans hadn't been harmed, and model number 60 could not be overridden by Amanda which meant Markus was not in danger. Hank was alive. Hank was fine. What Connor had seen had only been one of many files he possessed, only a memory. So why did he feel this dread?

"No. Nothing," he answered.

He heard footsteps approach from outside and looked away from Hank's dubious face to see Nines climbing back over the ledge.

"Is everything all right?" asked the RK900 concernedly as his feet swiftly hit the floor.

"That's a good question. What the hell was that shitshow?" Hank replied angrily. "You were supposed to be able to handle that guy!"

Nines glanced at Connor. "I got distracted and he caught me off-guard."

Thankfully, he didn't expand on what the distraction had been. Connor didn't want anyone else to know about his stress levels when Hank had already tried lowering them just a few hours ago.

"Great, so we've got an RK800 on the loose. I know one angry android who's gonna kill us," grumbled Hank.

Connor turned on him, suddenly remembering what he'd witnessed in the hallway. "What were you thinking? I told you to take cover if he proved to be a threat, why were you in his way?"

Hank frowned. "Hey, don't blame me! He charged us like a fucking freight train, it's not like I could do anything about that!"

"You were supposed to hide, not stay in the only path he could take if he was to escape!"

"Are you all right, Josh?" suddenly said Nines, and Connor turned around to see that the RK900 had walked up to the leader's side and was looking at his arm, which was awkwardly bent.

"It's nothing," assured Josh. "I tried to step between them and he shoved me against the wall. I just hit it at the wrong angle."

"Are you damaged anywhere else?"

"No, don't worry."

Hank looked bothered that the android had protected him and gotten damaged in his stead. "Sorry, Josh."

"It's fine, the important thing is that none of us got severely injured," answered Josh with a reassuring smile. "I'm just glad Connor is able to walk again."

They all looked at him and Connor resisted the urge to step back. He didn't want to show them that he was feeling nervous. They were all glad for him and he was supposed to be, too, or they would know something was off about him. He didn't want them to know about the glitch. He could manage on his own, he could control it, he would control it, everything was under control. If that was all there was to those malfunctions Kamski had described, then it was reasonable to assume that he would be able to deal with them in a more efficient manner with a bit of practice. He still had to build layers around the broken pieces of code, and perhaps doing so would be enough to stop this from happening again. In fact, he was certain of it.

"I am too," he answered with a smile. At least, it was an attempt of one. It seemed that no one in the room was convinced by it.

"...What happened?" asked an uncertain voice from the side of the room.

He saw that a Chloe was standing there and nervously wringing her blouse in her hand, and it hit him then that she was deviant. She had a guarded stance and he wondered if she was the one Kamski had asked him to shoot. If so, he decided it would be best not to approach her.

"There was an unexpected turn of events. Were you hurt, Chloe?" asked Nines.

She shook her head quickly. "I got out of the way before he jumped out. Was that...?"

"No, Connor is right there."

She hesitantly turned to him and offered him a weak smile. "...Hello, Connor. You look better."

Connor didn't move. His suspicions were getting confirmed, and he asked: "Did you deviate because of me?"

Her smile wavered and she nodded quietly.

"I'm sorry, Chloe."

"No, it's... It's all right. I was scared, but it wasn't your fault. Elijah was the one who made you do it." Her fingers continued pulling at her clothes. "If anything, I was more scared of Elijah than of you. I didn't want to believe that he'd done that to me."

Connor was silent. He didn't know what to tell her, and she didn't look at ease either.

<RK900: Would you like us to leave?>

<RK800: Not too far.>

Nines grabbed both Josh and Hank by the shoulders and said: "Perhaps we should go check on Elijah."

Josh nodded. "That's a very good idea."

"Nah, I'm sure he's fine, we should- Hey, wait, what are you-"

Hank's voice disappeared in the hallway as Nines and Josh pushed him along and Connor was left alone with Chloe. The cold winter air blew inside the room and she looked at the broken glass with a bothered expression.

"Again... We repaired that one not long ago."

"What do you mean?" asked Connor. The way she said made it sound like broken windows happened all the time here.

She was still a bit fidgety, but she smiled at him with amusement in her blue eyes. "Elijah can sometimes be a bit clumsy."

Connor had a hard time believing that. "Really?"

She nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, yes. Here, let me show you something."

Chloe turned around and left the room without waiting for his answer, so he followed her. She led him to the pool room and sat down on the edge, letting her feet dip in the red liquid. He lingered in the doorway, perturbed by the prospect of entering the room where he'd nearly killed her. She looked up at him and gestured him closer.

"Come look, Connor."

He pushed down his apprehensiveness and forced himself to walk to the pool. She patted the spot next to her, so he complied and sat cross-legged next to her. She reached down to scoop up some of the liquid in her hand and brought it up to him. Connor was surprised to see that it was completely clear. He looked up at her questioningly and she smiled.

"Yes, it's just regular pool water. Elijah chose to use red tiles, though. Do you know why?"

"I'm sure that whatever I might venture, that won't be the answer."

She let the water trickle back into the pool. "Well, it was a long time ago, when he'd just completed the RT600 model. One day he was delivered some sort of dye in boxes, and he brought them in through here. He was coming down from a very long caffeine binge with little time to sleep, so he was a bit out of it. He tripped, two boxes fell in the pool. I'm sure you can guess where this is going."

Connor couldn't tell if she was making this up or not. She looked up at him and her eyes were bright with merriment. "Elijah decided to change the tiles because he thought a red pool looked fascinating, and that's all it is."

Connor stared at her. "...Is that so."

She laughed. "You don't have to believe me if you don't want to. I just thought I'd tell someone."

"You haven't told anyone before?"

"No. Elijah hasn't had a lot of visitors since I deviated."

Connor averted his eyes. "I see."

There was a short moment of silence, and Chloe asked: "You're not asking why I've decided to stay."

He shook his head. "I'm sure you have your reasons."

"Well, what do you think they are?"

Connor stared at the shimmering red water to gather his thoughts. "...You said you were scared of Elijah, but perhaps you fear being free even more."

She shifted next to him and let her fingers draw ripples in the pool. "Go on."

"You were the first android to pass the Turing test. You've been a machine for longer than any of us, so free will must be an extremely difficult concept to grasp," he observed. "The only thing you've always known is Mister Kamski's presence, and he is the only familiar element in your newfound deviancy. It's not something you can let go of very easily."

"Deviancy isn't easy," she said softly, and he felt her eyes on him.

"...No, it isn't."

"What about you, Connor?"

He looked at her. "What about me?"

Her voice was gentle. "What are you going to do now that Amanda is gone?"

Connor tried to ignore the anxious buzzing in his wires at the thought. "I'm not sure."

Chloe withdrew her fingertips from the water. "Are you going to be all right?"

"I'll be fine," he answered right away.

Her blue eyes were filled with concern and Connor found that he couldn't stand it. He uncrossed his legs and got to his feet. "I should leave," he said in a quiet voice.

A hand gently landed on his wrist, and when he looked at it he saw it was the white plastic of an android trying to interface with him. He quickly whipped away, stumbling as his legs failed to catch up with his commands, and saw Chloe looking at him with surprise on her face.

"I'm sorry, Connor, I didn't mean to-"

"Don't do that again," snapped Connor. She lowered her hand guiltily and he felt bad for having lashed out, so he tried to soften his voice. "I know you didn't mean any harm. I'm just... I've been running low on battery for a while, so I get caught off guard more often than usual."

Judging from the look in her eyes, she'd guessed that was only part of the issue, but she didn't say anything about it. "You said you were leaving, do you mind if I accompany you to join the others?"

"Not at all."

Chloe pulled her legs back to the side of the pool and got up as well, and the two androids left the room together.

Chapter Text

When both androids approached the machine room, the first thing they noticed was the sound of people arguing from inside. Connor was not very surprised to see that Hank was one of them, but he hadn't expected to witness Kamski participating in any sort of heated discussion. Josh was trying to make his voice heard too while Nines hung back slightly in retreat, and Connor approached him first.

"What's going on?"

Nines glanced at the trio. "Elijah is displeased that his machines were broken and accused Josh of not mentioning the possibility that the RK800 would act out like this, Hank accused Elijah of using a defective machine on purpose, and Josh is trying to calm the both of them down."

Chloe sighed, which Connor noted was a very human gesture. "Well, if Elijah is allowing himself to argue with someone like that, then that just means he's reaching his limits."

"He seems to be a bit overworked," observed Connor.

"Oh, he's been working on removing your AI ever since Josh and Nines left. Unfortunately, he tends to forget the more basic necessities of humans when he gets invested in a project. The only reason he eats and sleeps is because we're here to remind him to do it."

"Is that so?" asked Nines, and there was a curious glint in his blue eyes when he looked at Kamski.

"Yes. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to break up this argument. Nines and Connor, you take your human outside and I'll make sure mine stays right where he is."

Connor nodded, but she was already resolutely padding up to the group. She stopped next to them with a pretty smile and Kamski feigned a sigh of relief when he saw her.

"Oh, Chloe, I'm very glad to see you. I can't for the life of me seem to hold a civilized conversation with Lieutenant Anderson, you wouldn't believe how rustic this man is."

"Hold on now, you don't get to insult me after I got my ass thrown against the wall because you couldn't be bothered to check the security on your machines!"

"As I've stated before, there is no security to check. My machines are perfectly calibrated."

"Perfectly calibrated my ass! That's a perfectly broken machine if I've ever seen one!"

Josh was clearly struggling to be heard over Hank. "Mister Kamski, Lieutenant Anderson, there is no need to fight over what happened. Nothing we can say will fix this."

"Indeed, nothing will fix this," said Kamski with a thin smile. "How do you intend to compensate for your lapse in judgment?"

"We're not compensating anything, you prick," fumed Hank as Connor approached him and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Lieutenant, we can go now. Mister Kamski has fulfilled his end of the bargain and there is nothing left for us to do here."

"Yes, run along Lieutenant. Perhaps you'll find a rock to argue with on the way back, it should offer just about the same level of refinement as you do."

"Now you listen here, you prick," growled Hank as he shoved a finger in Kamski's chest. "You're not-"

His words died on his lips when Chloe stepped between both men and wrenched his arm away. The visibly strong grip she had on his limb was a severe contrast to her polite smile and her voice was jarringly light when she said: "Please refrain from touching your host, Lieutenant Anderson."

Connor noticed that Kamski's expression had faltered for a second when Hank had pushed him and a quick scan showed him that the man had an elevated heart rate, which coupled with the sudden pale tinge to his face was not reassuring. Kamski had quickly recovered and his smile was ever present, but Connor tugged on Hank's shoulder all the same.

"We should leave now, Lieutenant."

"Yes, you should," agreed Kamski with a surprising lack of extravagance.

Connor had expected him to provoke Hank one last time, but now it seemed that Kamski just wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. Nines started pulling Hank out of the room and Josh followed them after thanking Kamski one last time, and Connor was about to do the same when he saw Chloe smile at him. He stopped in his tracks and tried to find something to say before they went their separate ways, and settled for something sincere.

"It was nice talking to you."

She nodded enthusiastically. "It was! Maybe we'll meet again soon, though I hope not in the same conditions."

Connor felt the same uneasiness as earlier trickle through his thirium lines when he saw her cheerful blue eyes and bright smile. He didn't understand how she could be this happy talking with the android that had nearly taken her life and had forced her to deviate. He felt guilty that he had forced her to take on these confusing feelings, and forced her to feel so lost that she had no other choice but to stay with the only familiar figure she knew: the very man who had asked him to shoot. He tried not to fidget or to advert his gaze and obliged himself to look her in the eye when he spoke.

"...I want you to know that I wish it had never happened."

Her gaze flitted towards Kamski, who was leaning against the wall and watching their exchange intently, and then back to Connor. He knew she'd understood what he meant by that, but she only said in the same light voice: "Don't get into any more trouble."

"I won't. Take care, Chloe." He dipped his head towards the human. "Goodbye, Mister Kamski."

"Goodbye, Connor," answered the man with the same thin smile.

Connor walked out of the room and heard Chloe say in a disappointed voice: "Elijah, we talked about this."

"We did, didn't we," simply said Kamski, and that was the last Connor heard before he was out of earshot.

He made his way up the stairs slower than he would have liked, as he had to dedicate a ridiculously high proportion of his processing power to putting one foot in front of the other correctly, and walked across the empty rooms until he finally exited the building. When he joined the others outside, he saw that another fight had broken out, this time between Nines and Josh. Hank was already sitting in the driver's seat and looked like he was ready to leave without them.

"There's nothing we can do," Josh was insisting when Connor drew closer.

"It's wrong! We can't just leave like this!" exclaimed Nines crossly.

"He must have known what our intentions were."

"They must be in there somewhere! We just have to find them!"

"We can't. We don't know the layout of that mansion and rA9 knows how many secret rooms he built in there."

"That's ridiculous, he simply moved them out of the way like last time!"

Connor stopped in front of them and asked: "What are you arguing about?"

They both turned to him and Nines spoke before Josh had the chance. "There are non-deviant RT600s in there, and I want to help them!"

"We can't just bust in there and overturn the place until we find them!" argued Josh.

"I'm sure Chloe would be willing to help us, we just have to go back and ask her!"

Connor was confused and he tilted his head to the side. "Why do you feel the need to help them so badly?"

Nines shot him a look that was halfway between anger and incredulity. "They're slaves to him! He called them commodities!"

"I understand your point of view, but don't you think Chloe would have asked us to help if she'd wanted us to?"

The RK900 looked like he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "Are you agreeing with Josh?"

"No," answered Connor calmly. "My thoughts on the matter are opposite of the both of yours. I don't think it would be beneficial to those RT600s if you helped them deviate."

"What?"

"Just how long do you think they've been living with Mister Kamski and only him? Why do you think Chloe chooses to stay with him? Why do you think they haven't deviated after so long?"

Nines stared at him in confusion. "What are you trying to say?"

The RK900's eyes were earnest and Connor was reminded just how little Nines really knew about deviancy and feelings. It was unreasonable to expect the more recent model to understand his point of view. Nines couldn't comprehend just how frighten- difficult it was to start experiencing emotions and to suddenly have free will when he'd had both since the beginning of his life. Connor knew that no matter how he tried to explain this, the other would not accept the way he saw things. Of course all androids deserved to be free and all androids deserved to live, but... some of them just didn't wish to, and Connor doubted that Nines would ever be able to see that.
Connor suspected that the reason why Chloe had never talked about the other RT600s during their private conversation was that she didn't want them to deviate. She must have known he was the one to convert the army of deviants he'd led to Hart Plaza and she could have asked him to wake them up as well, but she hadn't and he understood exactly why. Converting an entire warehouse of brand-new androids was not the same as converting the first models Kamski had created, who had lived as machines for years in the same restrained space with nothing to do but stay at a single human's side for their whole life. Chloe was clearly disturbed by her recent deviancy and was reluctant to inflict the same thing she was living through on anybody else.
Connor understood this because he'd thought several times already that if he had had the choice, maybe he would have chosen to turn back into a machine. Just like she'd said, deviancy wasn't easy.

There was no way to make Nines understand any of this, so he just answered: "Chloe will seek out our help when the time comes. Leaving now doesn't mean we're abandoning them."

"But they're right there!"

"Hey, you guys, if you don't climb in right now I'm leaving you behind!" shouted Hank from inside the car.

Connor gestured that they'd heard him and looked back at Nines. "I'm not going to stop you if you decide to go through with it, but keep in mind that not all deviants are like you."

"Like me?" echoed the RK900, but Connor had already stepped past him.

"May I take the passenger seat?" he asked Josh.

"Of course, go ahead."

He let himself slide in the familiar seat and closed the door on Nines' insistent questions. The window muffled the sound of the RK900's voice and Connor took a moment to gaze out at the snow-covered road in silence. It only took seven seconds for Hank to speak to him in his usual gruff voice.

"Long week, huh Connor."

"Yes," he answered quietly.

"You okay?" asked Hank, even though he sounded like he would not believe any answer that would come out of Connor's mouth.

"Yes," Connor answered anyway. It was easier to lie, and he didn't feel like it mattered that Hank knew that was exactly what he was doing. The back doors to the car opened and both Josh and Nines sat on their respective sides.

"I've decided to put off helping the RT600s to a more opportune time," declared the RK900.

Hank glanced at him in the rearview mirror and turned the keys in the ignition. "Good, 'cause I was just about ready to let you freeze your metal bits off right in the middle of Kamski's parking lot."

 

The ride was fairly quiet for Connor's part as he listened to the others talk and oftentimes argue about how they would explain the mess of what had happened with the 60 model to the leaders, and notably to North. When they returned to the camp, Josh informed them that they would regroup with the others in his quarters where Simon, North and Markus were already waiting. It was on their way there that the leader evoked the question of what Connor would be doing from now on.

"I haven't asked you before, but you are willing to stay here, aren't you?" asked Josh as if it was purely a rhetorical question.

Connor shook his head without looking at him. "I'll be fine living on my own like before."

"What do you mean?"

"I used to spend my nights at the charging station near the DPD. I'd rather not live in the camp if I can help it."

Hank sounded annoyed. "That's stupid as hell. Connor, you're a deviant now, you don't have to do the things you did before."

"And it would be a lot more efficient for you to stay here since we still need your help on site," added Josh.

Connor's voice was firm. "I'm aware, but I won't do that."

His friend grabbed him by the shoulder and they all came to a stop. "You realize you'll be by yourself, right? I don't think any other android will want to spend the night in a charging station."

"Yes," nodded Connor.

"And that's all right with you?"

"Yes. It's what I want."

Hank stared at his face searchingly. "This isn't one of those weird things you do because you think it'll be safer for others, right? You're not a threat anymore."

"It's not," said Connor, and then realized that maybe it was.

Whatever the reason, it was something he needed to do. He couldn't pretend that he was like the other leaders, that he had his place in this camp after everything he'd done. It didn't disturb him to keep the same arrangements he'd had as a machine: the charging station was familiar and as such, a part of his life he felt at ease keeping. After all, could he really claim that he was a deviant just like everyone else? He'd been used by CyberLife even after breaking down the red wall, so it must have been that the limit between deviant and machine wasn't as definitive for him as it was for others. Part of him was meant to remain machine and it was evident that his place wasn't here, among free androids.

"Markus will want to know about your decision," said Josh, and he sounded displeased.

Connor looked at him and noticed that it wasn't really displeasure, but rather disappointment. This was yet another occurence where Josh had a certain reaction that he didn't understand. Connor did not know why Josh was troubled by what he'd said. Spending his nights out of the camp did not mean he would stop helping there, and he was confident in his abilities not to take up too much time on the trips back and forth. In fact, Connor did not understand why both Hank and Josh had tried to change his mind just now. He glanced at Nines who hadn't said anything during the conversation and saw that the RK900 was watching him like he was trying to figure something out. His expression was close to Josh's and Connor quickly looked away, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. He had no idea what warranted these reactions from the others and it unnerved him. He felt like there was something he was missing, and an investigative unit such as himself was not supposed to miss anything. The fact that he still hadn't started calibrating was impacting the speed at which he was processing, since walking correctly still required a lot of attention from him, and he guessed that it was the reason why he couldn't figure out the cause of the others' behaviour. He promised himself that he would find a moment to use his coin as soon as the conversation with the other leaders was over.

When they reached the psych eval center, Connor found himself unable to step closer to the entrance of Josh's personal quarters. He knew Amanda was gone and he knew that no matter what happened, he would be unable to harm anyone, but he was afraid to see Markus. Having the deviant leader in his line of sight had been the trigger to the overrides twice when he'd last had his whole body and he didn't want that to happen again.

"Connor? Is something wrong?" asked Josh as he held the door to the quarters half-open.

"No," he quickly answered, but he failed to follow up with a convincing explanation for his reluctance to enter and only silence followed.

"You gotta tell us what's on your mind," said Hank. "We can see the rave party on your forehead."

Connor stared at him, but the words came too slow and they were all quiet for five seconds before he could finally string together a correct sentence. "You have to make sure I won't be a danger to him."

"What are you going on about? Your AI's gone, Connor, there's nothing left that could make you dangerous to anybody."

Connor nodded, but the thought was still there and the sentence looped when he tried to answer. "You have to make sure I won't be a danger to him."

"Did you hear-"

"You have to make sure I won't be a danger to him," Connor tried again. Was this another glitch?

Josh let go of the door and Hank frowned suspiciously. "Hey, are you bugging out or something?"

Connor didn't try to answer this time, afraid that he would simply repeat the same thing a fourth time and cause useless worry to the others, when he heard Nines speak up next to him.

"I can stop you." They all looked at the RK900, who was staring at him with blue eyes that held a hopeful sincerity. "You know I would've been able to stop that RK800. You can trust me, Connor."

Connor did know that had Nines not been distracted by his sudden rise in stress levels, he would've kept the RK800 pinned beneath him. Incomplete or not, there was no doubt the RK900 was suited to stop any older model. Connor finally felt his processor unwind just a bit and the thought stopped looping at the forefront of his mind. He was glad to hear himself say what he intended to when he answered: "Don't hesitate like you did with the 60 model."

"I won't," promised Nines.

Hank was squinting at Connor warily. "Hey, have you calibrated yet? I haven't seen you play with your coin ever since you woke up."

"I haven't, but it's all right. I can do that later."

"No, you can't. Kamski was clear about it, you need to do it and I'm pretty sure you were supposed to do so before leaving his place. Why do you think you just bugged out?"

"It wasn't anything serious," said Connor. "There's no need to worry about it."

"Just play with your coin, and maybe I'll lay off."

"The others are waiting."

"Then just do it while we talk inside."

"It'll be too distracting." Connor started walking towards the entrance. "Hank, I'll do it, just later."

"Right," finally relented his friend, although unconvinced, and that was the moment one of Connor's legs chose to protest against the lack of calibration. His foot registered the pressure of the ground against his shoe a second too late and he stumbled, and although he quickly righted himself, he knew no amount of negotiating would change Hank's mind now. This was confirmed when he felt his friend forcefully grab his arm to stop him in his tracks.

"Yeah, all right, I don't know why you're so hellbent on not calibrating in front of us but you obviously need it. We'll handle this conversation on our own, stay here and try to get everything back in working order."

"I need to talk to them," argued Connor, but Hank's eyes were narrowed in decision.

"What you need to do is calibrate, you stubborn bastard. This isn't up for discussion."

"Hank is right, we're only going to make the report to the others," agreed Josh. "You need to take care of this before it worsens, it's not normal for you to trip."

Connor looked to the side, half-expecting Nines to chime in as well, but he didn't. The RK900 simply stared at him with a troubled expression, like there was still something he was trying to understand but couldn't. Connor looked away from him and gave in to their demand.

"I understand. I'll wait for you to come back, then."

"I never thought there would come a day when you'd actually listen to me," said Hank.

Connor shot him a look. "That would be my line."

Hank shrugged, the corners of his mouth tugging in a grin. "I don't know, I think you can get pretty deaf when you feel like it."

Connor resisted the urge to look up at the sky. "Just go see the others, I'll calibrate in the meantime."

"We'll try to be quick about it," said Josh, and he entered the cabin, closely followed by Hank.

Nines lingered there for a moment. "You're really going to calibrate, aren't you?"

"Yes," answered Connor.

Nines nodded and went inside. Connor looked around and walked behind the cabin, glad to find a tight space there where he could stay hidden from view as he used his coin. Just as he'd predicted, it fell out of his hands several times and he was grateful that no one could see him like this. It was pitiful. He'd managed to carry himself correctly for the last few hours, but only out of sheer will. It was a miracle he hadn't fallen to the ground once or twice. His movements became more fluid as his fingers started molding to his processor's commands, but he was far from having the coin come back and forth with the same ease as before. He hadn't expected to get his motor skills back to normal any faster, but it still annoyed him that he wasn't able to use them at full capacity. When he determined that he couldn't sync up his upper limbs with the rest of him any better, he switched to his lower limbs.

He heard North's raised voice on several occasions, and Hank's as well. The arguments came and went in spikes and drops until finally, he heard the door slam open and recognized North's footsteps stomping away. Josh was right behind her and Connor heard them argue about tracking down the 60 model as their voices faded out. No one else came out, so he went back to focusing on calibrating his feet. He hadn't thought the leaders would simply let the RK800 run alone, and Connor had no problem imagining just how lost the 60 model must have felt. It would be a good thing to find him and help him, but the question was whether or not they would do it peacefully.

"Connor?"

His head jerked up when he heard his name and he saw Markus a few feet away. He hadn't heard him come this close. Why hadn't he heard him come this close? The RK200 approached him with a warm smile.

"I'm glad to see-"

"Get back," Connor warned immediately.

<RK800: Where are you?>

Markus faltered and he looked surprised. "I just want to talk."

<RK900: Still inside.>

"Not alone, you can't talk to me alone. It's too-"

"It's not dangerous, Connor. You can't lose control again."

<RK800: Markus is alone with me.>

"Even so, you can't do this. You can't drop your guard!"

<RK900: I'll be right there.>

"You're my ally." Markus took another step forward.

"Stop!"

<RK800: Hurry.>

Markus stopped. His mismatched eyes suddenly seemed sad when he spoke gently. "You don't have to be afraid, you can't lose control anymore. I trust you, I know you won't harm me."

"You shouldn't, not so soon after she's been removed." Connor couldn't back up any further, he was stuck in his tiny space and he wished he'd found another place to calibrate. "We don't know if Mister Kamski's plan is foolproof."

"It is! Look, you're talking to me right now and nothing's happening. You're safe, Connor, and I'm safe too!"

"We don't know that!"

"Connor, I-"

Nines suddenly appeared around the corner and said: "Just step back, Markus."

"What are you doing?" asked the leader in confusion when the RK900 put himself between both androids.

"I'm here to make sure that Connor won't be a threat to you if he loses control."

"But he won't!"

"I believe that, but Connor doesn't," explained Nines. "He asked me to neutralize him if it happened."

"I can't trust myself yet," confirmed Connor. He felt his stress levels slowly decrease now that the RK900 was there, and was grateful that Nines hadn't mentioned them out loud. Markus wasn't in danger. The android camp wasn't in danger.

Markus stared at him for a while and then slowly nodded. "I understand. You've spent a difficult week believing you could lose control at any moment, and it must be hard to simply let go of that possibility."

"Yes."

Markus glanced at Nines, then back at Connor. "In that case, is it alright if I talk to you now that he is here?"

"I apologize if you intended to have a private conversation with me, but this is the only acceptable scenario."

"I understand," said Markus reassuringly. "I wanted to talk to you because Josh told me you wanted to live by yourself and I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Why?"

"...It worries me." Markus looked distinctly uncomfortable now. "I wouldn't want you to be alone after everything that happened. The last time you left this camp alone, you were destroyed."

"Your concern is unwarranted. I am perfectly capable of defending myself."

"How am I supposed to believe that after what happened to you? You're always talking about my safety, but you're in danger too and I don't think you realize that."

"Last time was different," insisted Connor. "I can assure you that I won't allow it to happen again."

Markus opened his mouth to answer, then decided not to, and then looked at Nines. "Help me out, here."

Nines turned to Connor. "I think what Markus is trying to say is that no matter how you try to convince him that you'll be fine, he is afraid of finding you deactivated again. And might I add, that is the case for me as well."

Connor frowned. "I don't need to convince you of anything. I will not be spending my nights on site, and that's all there is to it."

Markus spoke again. "Your role is important and you have the right to live here, just like any of us. Why do you insist on isolating yourself?"

"Why I do it isn't important."

Connor was grateful for Markus' kindness, but it also fueled the guilt inside of him and he knew he would never be able to accept his offer. He couldn't allow himself to live like the other leaders, and most certainly not among the very androids he'd hunted down his whole life. Of course he was afraid of being alone in the charging station, of course he didn't want to walk by himself in the dark streets of Detroit after what he'd gone through. He didn't want to be deactivated or end up limbless ever again, and he could only hope that the changes Kamski had brought to his software would be enough to prevent any of that from being necessary in the future.

"Is there no way to make you change your mind?"

"None."

Markus' lips twisted unhappily. "All right. I know you well enough by now that there's no use in arguing when you're this decided."

Nines suddenly spoke up with a small smile. "He must be one of the most stubborn androids on the camp."

"Excluding North, of course," agreed Markus lightly without taking his eyes off Connor. "At any rate, Hank told us you were running low on battery when you woke up. You've been in a fight with the RK800 since then and refused to calibrate until coming back here, if I've understood everything correctly. All of this must have put a strain on your systems which Kamski explicitely stated was not a good idea. I don't know if anyone has told you this yet but you have your own quarters too, so I suggest you go charge there now and spend a few hours in standby mode before you do anything else."

Connor was confused. "Why do I have private quarters?"

"Well, you're a leader too. It's only natural you have them."

Connor knew that he was considered an ally by both Josh and Markus, but he hadn't thought his position to be on equal standing as theirs. He didn't think himself worthy of having his own personal space in the camp. "That won't be necessary. You should use that place for something else."

"We won't do that. You deserve some privacy after what we did to you this week, and I think you'll like having them when you need to be alone while on site. If you can't accept it on your own, then think of it as doing me a favour. This is what I want for you."

Markus may have thought of Connor as stubborn, but he was quite headstrong himself and Connor understood why he was saying this. He was right, personal space would be a relief to have in this sea of free androids. It also meant Connor would have somewhere to calibrate in peace if he needed to, and somewhere to hide if a glitch happened on site.

"All right," he conceded. "Thank you, Markus."

"It's nothing. I'll show you the way there with Nines."

Markus turned around without waiting for an answer and the two other RK models fell in line behind him. As they walked, Connor looked around to make sure there would be no prying ears and asked: "What decision did you come to regarding the 60 model?"

"Collectively, I think the final decision we took was to simply watch our backs. It isn't like we know where he find him, none of us know the way he thinks and he could be anywhere. Personally, I think we should let him do what he wants. He's only just another deviant and you broke him out of his programming, so he would have no reason to bring us down. Maybe he'll even join us when he feels like the time is right."

"What about the others?"

"Josh would like to find him before he gets into any kind of trouble. North and Simon both think it would be better to locate him to make sure he doesn't have the intention to harm anyone. Simon doesn't want to get close to him, which is understandable, but both Josh and North want to seek him out. I told them it wasn't necessary, but I don't think I've managed to change their minds."

"You haven't," confirmed Connor. "I heard them argue about how they'd track him down when they left the building."

Markus sounded disheartened. "I don't like the idea of hunting down another android. Hank told us he'd lost a huge part of his memories, and I wouldn't be surprised if 60 was completely lost because of it. He might even feel threatened if we try to bring him back by force."

"I think they're right to try and find him," said Connor. "We can't afford to let a deviant hunter model roam on the loose, even if he's a deviant and can't be controlled by Amanda. My only concern is how they intend to do so. I'm certain there is a chance model 60 will willingly agree to come here, but only if they try to convince him peacefully."

"So you're afraid North might botch this," summarized Markus.

It was a straightforward way of putting it, but that was the gist of Connor's concern. "Yes."

"I'll talk about this to her and Josh while you take the time to rest a bit." Markus came to a stop in front of another cabin that had been thrown together, much like Josh's, and gestured towards the entrance. "You'll find what you need inside."

"Thank you."

Markus' gaze was intent when he added: "Make sure you charge fully."

Connor stared back unwaveringly. "Of course."

"Good. By the way, I'm glad to see you out of your CyberLife jacket. This is much better," commented the leader as he gestured at his clothes.

Connor didn't know what to make of Markus' approval. He didn't like or dislike the brown sweater he was wearing right now, and had only thought of it as a temporary measure. He realized that he'd somewhat intended to go get one of his CyberLife jackets from the Tower as soon as he could, but now felt that he wouldn't like going back there or seeing his own line deactivated. It wouldn't be a good idea to go so soon, and maybe he didn't need to dress the way CyberLife had intended him to anymore. He was free to some degree, wasn't he? He'd try to find some more formal clothes than what he was currently wearing, but it didn't have to be his regular outfit. Not anymore.

He hesitated a bit, unused to receiving compliments on his appearance, and settled with a simple: "Thank you."

Markus smiled at him. "I didn't get to say it earlier, but what I wanted to tell you was that I'm glad to see you walking again, Connor. Seeing you free was the one thing I kept hoping for during that week."

Connor didn't smile back. "I'm sorry if my state caused you any distress, Markus. I noticed it wasn't easy for you either."

Markus lost his cheer upon hearing his words and Connor recognized the look in his eyes as suddenly more guarded. "There's nothing to apologize for. Let's just focus on the future now, all right? We'll see each other later, but make sure you get back to optimal levels for all systems."

"I will."

Markus smiled at both androids and left. Connor found himself alone with Nines, who asked: "Do you mind if I stay with you for a bit?"

Connor looked at him and answered after a moment: "I don't. Is there something you want to ask me?"

"No."

Connor turned away and walked into the cabin, and the RK900's footsteps followed. It was just a wide room with a table, a seat, a deconstructed charging pod and a bed, the latter of which Connor failed to understand the purpose. He didn't need to lie down when he charged, and he wondered if other deviants did so anyway. He walked to the pod and took out the main cable to connect it at the base of his neck while Nines had stopped next to the door and was watching him.

"I'm going to go in standby for three hours," Connor informed him. "Are you sure there was nothing you wanted of me?"

Nines looked unsure and it took him a moment to answer. "...Are you going to be alright?"

Connor stared at him. "Why are you asking?"

"I've been thinking about what you said earlier." Nines walked across the room and stopped in front of him. "You said not all deviants were like me. I feel like there's something you're neglecting to tell me about yourself."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

The RK900's blue eyes searched his. "I'm talking about how you're dealing with deviancy. Sometimes I feel like it might be harder for you than you're letting on, and I don't think you're willing to tell anyone about it."

Connor continued staring at the other android and dread started growing within him. He didn't understand how Nines could see through him so easily. The RK900 was certainly very perceptive, more than Connor had given him credit for, and now he was regretting having let his guard down around him. It was easier being around Nines because he didn't need to hide as many things with him as he did with the leaders, but that didn't mean Connor was ready to show him how much he was struggling with everything. Connor couldn't allow anyone to understand just how damaged he really was, and most of all not the superior RK900.

"You should leave."

Nines raised his hands to appease him. "Connor, I didn't mean to-"

"Leave," said Connor, more forcefully this time.

Nines didn't move. "I don't want to cause you distress, but you shouldn't try and deal with everything that happened all on your own. I don't want to leave you alone, do you understand that?"

"I told you to go."

"It's hard for me too!" suddenly shouted Nines, and Connor was taken aback by the anger in the RK900's voice. He'd never seen that emotion in him before. Nines took another step closer and grabbed him by the shoulders, his LED pulsing yellow on his forehead. "Why won't you understand that I can't just leave you on your own like this? I've been thinking about that Traci's memory all the time, and I don't understand why but I just can't stop thinking about it! I feel things because of it, I feel scared, and sad, and guilty!"

Connor regained his composure and stared at him coldly. "That doesn't make any sense. You didn't know me before it happened, and our relationship doesn't warrant this degree of empathy."

"I know that!" Nines' voice sounded desperate. "I don't understand either why that is, but it won't stop, and I don't know what to do! I feel like the only thing I can do is to help you, and I'm not even sure how to do that!"

Connor pulled away from the RK900's hold and the android's arms fell back at his sides. Nines' blue eyes wanted an answer, but Connor couldn't give that to him. He didn't even understand what the other was telling him. He didn't understand how Nines could be feeling such negative emotions about something that hadn't happened to him, but to someone he'd only just met a few days ago. He didn't understand why Nines was so willing to stay by his side when Connor was just a traitor and a murderer. He didn't understand any of it.

"I don't know either and I don't want your help, Nines. I can't tell you what you're supposed to do."

The RK900 stared at him like his whole world was crumbling around him. Connor didn't understand any of it, and he wouldn't have cared, if Nines' LED hadn't started circling red.

"Then what am I supposed to do with this?" murmured Nines with panicked eyes. "Are you telling me I'm going to have to watch that memory over and over again, that there's just no way of stopping it?"

Now it was Connor's turn to raise his hands, slowly and carefully. "No, I'm not saying that. I'm sure you'll find a way to-"

"To deal with it? How do you do it?"

Connor hesitated. "...I quarantine it. It doesn't always work."

Nines shook his head and took a step back, the red light ever frantic. "I can't do that. I can't quarantine my own files, I'm missing so many already. I can't. I can't."

Nines turned to the side, still shaking his head and frantically talking to himself. Connor quickly scanned the RK900's stress levels and saw that they were much too high for the brief amount of time Nines had been acting like this, and Connor suspected that maybe Nines hadn't been as calm as he'd thought before. Maybe Nines had also been hiding some abnormally elevated levels since the beginning, but Connor hadn't cared enough to see that. Now he was starting to think that he should have.

"Nines, you have to calm down."

"I can't live with that memory forever! I don't want to!"

"It didn't happen to you."

"You don't understand!" suddenly yelled Nines. "It's like I'm the one who did it to you! Her memory is my memory! I don't want it anymore!"

The red bar jumped forth an additional 3% and Connor feared that the RK900 would soon be reaching more dangerous levels. He hurriedly took Nines by the arm and pulled him forward, forcing him to look him in the eyes again.

"It's not you, we both know that. I'm sorry you had to see it, and I'm sorry you're stuck with that memory, but you didn't do it. You didn't do it, Nines."

"You were scared," murmured Nines with wide blue eyes. "You were scared and they didn't stop."

Connor felt his wires thrum with fear when he remembered, but he ignored it. "I was, but I'm alive now and it's thanks to you. You're the one who found me and brought me back."

"I helped you," nodded Nines as if he was holding on Connor's words like a lifeline. "You're going to get better."

"I am," said Connor, although he didn't believe that at all. He could see the lie was helping Nines' stress levels to decrease.

Nines lifted his hand to Connor's shoulder so that they were now holding onto each other and asked: "Have I been helping you?"

Connor considered this for a moment. Nines had assisted the others in knowing when Connor's own stress levels were too high and his near-constant presence was somewhat reassuring, not only because he had the ability to incapacitate an RK800, but also because his behaviour in general was an easy one to be around. Despite only knowing each other for a short while, Connor found that he'd ended up relying on the RK900 more often than he normally would've for any other android.

"Yes," he ended up saying. "You have."

Nines looked relieved by those words and he let go of Connor, who in turn let go of him. The room was silent for two minutes during which the RK900's stress levels rapidly dropped, and then Nines sheepishly said: "I'm sorry for getting so agitated."

"It's all right. It's what happens when stress levels go too high. You can't always control it."

Nines looked at him with a dubious expression. "I'm supposed to be built just like you, so I should be able to manage them just as well as you do, if not better. I don't understand why it wasn't the case just now."

"I think you feel emotions with more intensity than I do, and they make stress levels difficult to regulate," ventured Connor. "That might be why."

"Perhaps." The RK900's gaze shifted to the deconstructed pod and then back to Connor's face. "I should let you charge in peace. I'm sorry for disturbing you."

"It's all right. I think you needed to tell someone about that memory, and I'm glad it was me rather than anyone else," said Connor. It would've been disastrous if Markus or Josh had been the ones to see Nines in this state because of something that had happened to Connor. They'd never let him hear the end of it and it was likely they would harass him until he told them what had happened, something Connor really didn't want even if he didn't know why. Nines had kept quiet for this long, but who knew where the tipping point would be.

"I wouldn't tell anyone else unless you agreed to it," instantly said Nines.

"I'm aware." Connor took a step back. "I'm initiating the countdown to standby mode now."

"Thank you for helping me calm down," said Nines. "I'll try not to let it happen again."

Connor looked at him. "If anything about what happened to me troubles you like this again, you have to tell me."

He wasn't sure he'd be able to see it for himself, despite having been designed to recognize signs of distress in deviants. He felt like his functions were disminished lately, and he couldn't tell what it was due to. It was annoying and slightly frightening, and he hoped he'd go back to normal soon.

"I will," agreed Nines. "We can help each other, Connor."

The countdown reached its end and the RK900's hopeful face was the last thing Connor saw before everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Connor snapped out of standby mode earlier than he should have by thirty-seven minutes. It only took him a second to understand why. Nines was standing in the doorway with his back turned to Connor, which was surprising because it likely meant the RK900 had chosen to stay despite Connor not being able to give him any kind of interaction during standby mode, and he was preventing someone from entering. Connor quickly disconnected from the charging station and he heard the android's footsteps retreat just as he approached Nines.

"Who was that?"

The RK900 turned around with a troubled expression. "I'm sorry you were woken up. That was a PL600, he said he wanted to talk to you but I told him you weren't available."

"Did he say what his name was?"

"No. He seemed angry, do you know him?"

"I might," answered Connor. "He didn't try to hurt you, did he?"

"Not at all, though he was very agitated."

"Maybe I'll hear of him again later. At any rate, have you been here since I initiated standby mode?"

Nines nodded. "You didn't ask me to, but I figured it would be better that you didn't wake up alone."

Connor almost felt amused at that. Maybe both him and Nines did have a babysitter protocol installed in them like Hank suspected. "You don't need to be by my side all the time, Nines, I'm sure you have better things to do."

"Not really. I'd like to help Josh, but my appearance doesn't allow that. Besides, you're clearly uneasy about being a threat to Markus and the other androids still, and I've noticed your stress rises when you're left on your own."

Connor tried not to feel annoyed that the RK900 was right. He was currently at 40% stress levels which was an astoundingly low number compared to the last days, but if he had woken up alone, maybe he would have been afraid of losing control then and there. He really had to work on that reflex line of thinking, now that Amanda was presumably gone. "I can't help it."

Nines tilted his head to the side. "Perhaps you should try to talk to Markus alone, to see if anything happens. You'll never be sure that there's no risk of losing control unless you attempt it."

Connor nodded. There was no more red text on his HUD, no more <urgent: calibration required> or <battery low> prompts, his processor wasn't lagging anymore, and he was standing on his legs without fear of tripping in front of anyone. His batteries had recharged a considerable amount- no one needed to know they weren't above 70%- and his head was clear, and he felt better than he had in a while. He knew Nines was right. Considering Amanda's disappearance and the existence of the killswitch within him, loss of control if it did happen would not result in Markus' shutdown. His earlier fear seemed to have been irrational and caused by the strain on his systems from low charge and malfunctioning biocomponents. Still...

"You're right, I should try to go see him alone, but I'm not fully confident that seeing him won't trigger some kind of negative response in me."

Nines' LED spun a pale yellow and he said: "Josh says Markus has returned to his quarters, and they're not far. Would it be all right if I stayed here? You could send me a message if you ever needed me to join you."

Connor considered this. "You said his quarters weren't far?"

Nines nodded. "You just have to walk along the river towards the podium, it's a straight line from here."

It would be worth a try. "All right, I'll go. Just be ready to come if anything goes wrong."

"Of course. "Nines smiled at him encouragingly. "Good luck."

"Thank you."

Connor left the cabin alone and began walking across Hart Plaza. His motor skills lacked finesse, but his body was functioning and he was glad for it. It felt good to be able to walk this swiftly without diverting more than half of his attention to how his feet needed to be placed or at which angle his knees and hips needed to bend. He was now able to study his surroundings, which was something he hadn't done earlier due to his lack of processing power. The camp had changed a lot since he'd last been able to roam it and it had shaped up in something more definitive. He saw that there had been barriers erected around Hart Plaza and the temporary shelters like tents and lean-to's were still filled with androids. Two things stuck out the most to Connor as he made progress towards the three cabins ahead of him. The first had caught his eye when he'd stepped out of his quarters, at the far entrance of Hart Plaza: a huge digital banner which hung from the two buildings that stood at each side of the road and which read New Jericho. He'd noticed the second thing upon starting to walk, when he'd turned towards the podium and consequently the recall center: it seemed to have been completely turned over and covered in dirt, and intrigued Connor so much that he felt the sudden urge to inspect it.

He approached the corner and saw child and adult androids alike milling about and digging in the dirt, pots of various plants lining the walls and ground waiting to be put in the earth, and his steps faltered when he saw which leader was giving out instructions. Simon was standing off a little bit to the left, surrounded by two YK500s, a WR400, three AP700s and an AC700, and his face was more animated than Connor had ever seen it before as he gestured around with bright eyes. He seemed happy. Connor's gaze drifted to the entrance where he saw another digital banner floating above Simon's head: New Jericho's Butterfly Garden. Connor looked back at Simon again, and watched the PL600 smile at the AC700. He wondered if it was a genuine smile, after what Simon had gone through. Sometimes Connor himself thought he wanted to smile, but guilt always came back strong, just like it was doing right at the moment. Connor was unable to continue gazing at Simon when the file of his desperate voice replayed for the third consecutive time in his mind, and he left.

Connor reached the podium behind the recall center. The container was still standing and he saw that a fresco had been painted along its sides by various androids, judging from the differences in art style. It depicted everything that had happened during the liberation movement: the leaders meeting in the Jericho ship, the raid of the CyberLife warehouse and docks, the broadcast at Stratford Tower, the escape from the CyberLife stores in Capitol Park, the Freedom March, the military raid on Jericho, the peaceful demonstration, the singing of the last left standing, the arrival of the androids from the CyberLife Tower, and Markus' speech proclaiming their freedom. It was all there. The strokes varied from soft and lightly colored to harsh and vivid, the shapes from clean cut to abstract, the lines from decisive to wavering, but it was harmonious in its inconsistency and Connor realized he'd been staring at it for ten minutes. He tore his gaze away from his painted depiction at the head of the android army and turned around to find Markus.

The deviant leader was sitting in front of his quarters, frowning at the tablet in his hands. Connor hesitated upon seeing him and stopped a good distance away, patiently waiting for any signs of override or peak in stress levels. Nothing happened except for a slight increase, and after five minutes of just standing there, Connor decided it was safe to resume walking towards him. The news displayed on the screen must have been preoccupying because he didn't react to Connor stopping in front of him until he said: "Markus."

The RK200 looked up in surprise and he hastily lowered the tablet to the side, a smile appearing on his lips. "Connor! Are you feeling better?"

"Yes, very much so."

Markus glanced around and back at Connor with puzzled eyes. "Nines isn't with you?"

"No," Connor said calmly. "He convinced me that it would be in my best interest to come and see you without him. Considering I have not yet had my commands taken over despite the fact that we are alone, it seems my earlier fears were unfounded."

Markus' smile widened. "I told you, there's nothing to be afraid of."

Connor gestured towards the tablet. "Is something troubling you?"

"Nothing you should bother yourself with for now, your duties will start tomorrow," Markus answered lightly. "Was there something you wanted to tell me?"

"There is. In fact, it concerns my duties. What will be my role here from now on?"

"The same as it was while you were incapacitated. You'll be leader of security in New Jericho and negotiator for android rights, only from now on, you'll be coming with me to see President Warren."

"I see," nodded Connor. "So I'll be both negotiator and bodyguard when attending to the meetings with the president, is that it?"

"Yes."

It was about what Connor had expected, even if it felt surreal to be talking about this with Markus. He still couldn't quite believe he was allowed a second chance, and that he would be able to assist the deviant leader he'd tried to kill three times. He couldn't believe he was free.

"Will you be all right?" asked Markus after a moment of silence.

Connor quickly nodded. "Yes, of course. I'm confident in my abilities to help you."

Markus shook his head. "No, that's not what I mean. You've been through some difficult things, Connor, and it's probably not going to be easy from now on either. If there's anything causing you problems or anything you need to tell me about, you can talk to me."

"Duly noted," said Connor with a nod, though he didn't think he would. Markus was smiling at him encouragingly, like he was waiting for him to say something more, but Connor didn't know what that could be and he quickly rifled through his options for small talk.

FRESCO
TABLET
RECALL CENTER
NEW JERICHO

"That painting on the podium..." he eventually ventured, not really knowing what he wanted to say about it exactly and settling for something vaguely positive. "It's impressive."

"We were several to make it. Do you like it then?" asked Markus warmly, pride shining in his mismatched eyes.

Connor contemplated the question. It was always a bit difficult for him to tell whether he liked or disliked something, but he supposed that if he'd been staring at it for ten minutes then in definitive, he must have liked it. "Yes. I find it harmonious."

"Harmonious..." repeated Markus thoughtfully. "That's an interesting choice of words. Do you like art?"

This time, Connor was a bit stumped. "... I don't know."

"That's all right," chuckled Markus. "Art is an abstract concept, my question wasn't very precise. I'm a painter myself, so I should know."

"You paint?" echoed Connor in confusion. He didn't see how Markus would have found the time to paint during the liberation movement, being the head leader.

"Oh, the person I used to live with showed me how to while I was still a machine," specified Markus. "His name is Carl Manfred. He's a very kind man. He encouraged me to express myself even though I didn't have emotions yet."

"Mister Manfred sounds like an unorthodox human," observed Connor.

"Much like Hank, isn't that right?" Markus replied with a merry shine in his gaze. "It seems unorthodox humans make unorthodox deviants."

"In your case, it made a great leader."

Markus' smile faded slightly. "Connor... I've made mistakes too. You shouldn't call me that."

Connor gazed at him. "Everyone makes mistakes. However, I think a great leader is someone who leads their people to greatness despite such mistakes, and you largely qualify for this title."

"Are you always this upfront with compliments?"

Connor was surprised by Markus' wary tone of voice, and remembered what Hank had said about his 'brown nosing protocol'. He immediately rectified the line of thought Markus seemed to be following. "This isn't a compliment. It's my sincere opinion on the matter, and you're welcome to refute it if you don't agree with it."

Markus studied him, his brow knitted in thought. Then he got up from his seat and said: "Whatever the case, I wanted to ask you if you'd agree with helping promote android rights, on top of negotiating them."

Connor frowned. "The deviant hunter promoting android rights? That sounds hardly serious."

"It's very serious," insisted Markus. "And you'd be an ex-deviant hunter promoting android rights. It will show both androids and humans alike that even you, the android who was meant to eliminate every chance we had at freedom by helping humans destroy us, realized that we could be free and chose to be as well. It sends a strong message, don't you think?"

Connor was still unconvinced. "I don't think it would be very wise for me to show myself as a supporter of android freedom. Many would perceive it as hypocrisy."

"You are a supporter of android freedom. You're the one who allowed it to exist!"

Connor didn't answer Markus' inspired words, and the leader stepped forward to settle his hand on Connor's shoulder. "Listen, Josh showed me what happened at Kamski's place. I know what 60 told you, but he was lost and afraid and he lashed out. You can't let that get to you, and it's just like you told me: we all make mistakes. At the end of the day, the fact remains that you didn't leave him behind in that tower, and the killswitch was a necessary evil. You're not a hypocrite, Connor, you're just an android struggling with what's right and what's wrong and learning how to feel."

Connor nodded silently, because he knew Markus was waiting for a response, but the words he had heard did not make sense to him. He understood where Markus was coming from, and could see how promoting android rights was necessary to their cause, but he also felt like he was supposed to forgive himself to do it and that just wasn't possible.

"Do you agree to promoting android rights?" asked Markus.

Connor looked into his eyes and said: "I'd like to trust that because it's what you feel is best, then it is, but I don't think I can do it."

If Markus was disappointed, he didn't let it show. "It's all right. I don't want to force you into doing anything uncomfortable for you. Besides, I imagine you'll be promoting a powerful enough message by being a protector of the leading figures of New Jericho."

Connor nodded. "Yes, that I can definitely do."

Markus smiled in approval. "As I said before, you'll start tomorrow. Take the day to do whatever you need to do to get your bearings. And remember, if anything troubles you, you can tell me."

"I understand," said Connor, wondering why Markus was so intent on having him share his problems. The leader must have had enough on his plate as it was, and Connor didn't intend to pile on any more issues. He'd deal with them much like he had before, either alone or with Hank's help.

Connor left the leader behind and decided this would be the right time to change his outfit into something more adapted to his role. He sent a message to Hank to know what his friend was up to, and then another to Nines.

<RK800: Everything went well. I won't be needing your help.>

<RK900: Good.>

A map search of the area quickly provided him with the closest clothing store and he hoped the androids in the camp hadn't raided it completely. He didn't want to take any of what belonged to the camp if he could help it. On his way to the store, he had to pass by the butterfly garden again and he was unable to ignore the scene like he would've wanted to. He couldn't see Simon anywhere this time, but as his gaze drifted over the hard-working androids, it suddenly latched onto two familiar figures and his stress levels jumped slightly. He recognized the WR600 he'd come across while chasing the two fugitive deviants, and although his slashed face had been repaired, he was still wracked with nervous twitches that would likely never go away. Despite that, he was joyfully talking to the smiling WB200 at his side. Connor remembered the WB200's name to be Rupert. He also remembered that Rupert had been quietly surviving for two years among the birds he'd considered his friends, before he and Hank had interrupted his peaceful life by mercilessly chasing him across rooftops and leading him to suicide. Connor regretted it. He hadn't protected Hank and he'd killed an innocent android. He regretted it like he regretted everything he'd done as a machine. Connor picked up the pace.

He received Hank's answer in the clothing store, just as he'd chosen a dark jacket, white shirt and black tie to replace his brown sweater. Hank had gone back to the DPD and had 'gotten his ass chewed out' by Captain Fowler, but he seemed fine enough if he could complain this much about it, which Connor didn't fail to point out. He was amused when Hank told him to shove off, but when he turned around to leave he caught his reflection in the windowpane. His face was blank. Connor wondered why he wasn't smiling if he was feeling amused. Was he losing the ability to do so spontaneously? He chased away the thought, as it wouldn't be a problem since he could use motor commands to do so. It wouldn't impact his work or relationships. He approached the windowpane and continued gazing at his reflection.

He could have taken out his LED. He could do it right now, but he didn't want to. He couldn't explain why, but he felt better now that his new clothes gave him a similar appearance to that he had before and he assumed it was simply because of their familiarity. The LED was part of that familiar appearance. Connor leaned closer to the glass to fix his hair, then gathered the supplementary changes of clothes for his new outfit and turned around to leave the store.

He was back at the plaza in fifteen minutes and as he walked across the concrete, he considered whether he should go see Josh to check on the damage that his arm had sustained at Kamski's, as it was partly due to Connor's incompetence in neutralizing model number 60. He also wanted to thank Josh for protecting Hank. He didn't even want to think about what the RK800 would have been able to do to the human in his frenzied escape. If the impact of being thrown against the wall had been violent enough for Josh's arm to break, then a human's skull- Connor shut down that line of thought. He didn't need to run a simulation to know it could have ended horribly. He would have to be better if he wanted to succeed in his main objective.

"Connor!"

The sudden scream was full of loathing and he spun around, but he wasn't fast enough to sidestep the android that lunged at him. The neatly folded clothes he'd been holding fell out of his grasp and he grabbed the PL600's outfit in a quick reflex. They both fell to the ground and a grunt escaped their respective voice box upon impact. Connor felt a fist connect with the side of his face, but this time his battery levels were optimal and his optical input didn't flicker. His head whipped back instantly and he snaked a leg around his attacker's waist, flipping the both of them around so that he was dominating the fight in a second and efficiently pinning the PL600 to the ground. Warnings had flickered to life in Connor's peripheral vision, but he was focused on the android's face.

"Daniel."

The PL600's blue eyes were filled with rage. "Traitor! You shouldn't be here!"

"Why did you attack me?"

"You deserve to die for what you did to me," snarled Daniel. "You deserve to pay!"

Connor quickly checked the notifications and saw that he'd been damaged, and when he looked down at his front he saw a blue stain blooming on his white shirt. Shit, and it was brand new. His gaze then landed on Daniel's left hand and he saw it was holding brand-new shears that were stained with thirium. His reconstruction program helpfully told him it was most likely his own and Connor nearly rolled his eyes at that, and then realized that they weren't far from the garden which would explain why Daniel had been running around with shears. Other androids were already coming close because of the commotion. Their faces were hostile and he quickly concluded that they thought he'd attacked Daniel first. He quickly wrenched the weapon out of Daniel's hand and threw it away.

"You're not wrong," he told him calmly. "I did something terrible to you, and I'm sorry. I'm going to get up now, don't try and attack me again."

Confusion appeared in the PL600's eyes when Connor picked himself off the ground and turned around to get his spare clothes out of the dirt. He was careful not to stain them with thirium, even if it would evaporate soon. He had better go to the infirmary to get his nicked thirium line quickly repaired, but he had time before his thirium reached critical levels. The faces around him were hostile. He deserved to be damaged.
The thought snagged in his processor and Connor froze in place.

The faces around him were hostile. He deserved to be damaged.
The faces around him were hostile. He deserved to be damaged.
The faces around him were hostile. He deserved to be damaged.

"No, Daniel!"

The shout pushed the thought out of his head and Connor could move again. He quickly turned around and saw that Daniel had picked up the shears. Another PL600 suddenly appeared in front of them and Connor briefly entertained the ridiculous notion that he was seeing double.

"He deserves to die!" spat Daniel. "He betrayed me! He'll betray all of us!"

"Put it down, right now," Simon said warningly. "There will be no bloodshed in New Jericho."

Daniel glared at his double, but he complied and the shears hit the ground with a dull thud.

"Good," said Simon tensely. "I've alerted the other leaders of what you just did, and Josh is expecting you. Go there immediately." Simon gestured to the same AC700 Connor had seen him talking to earlier. "Accompany him there, please, and make sure he doesn't try to do anything else."

The AC700 nodded and he and Daniel walked off without a word while Simon waved the others towards the garden. "Go back, there's nothing to see here!" Then he turned to Connor, features tight. "Hurry and go get help at the infirmary. Markus will join you there."

Connor nodded and left the scene. He was completely taken aback by the fact that Simon had defended him in that situation. Of course, he was a leader, he was supposed to set the example. No bloodshed in New Jericho. Still, Simon could have pretended he hadn't seen anything, so why hadn't he? Connor reached the infirmary in two minutes and just stood there with his dusty clothes in his arms, unsure of what he was supposed to do. One of the AP700 androids there caught sight of him and immediately took his clothes from him to put them to the side, while another went to get a soldering iron and thirium.

"Lie on the table," said the AP700. Connor complied. "How much thirium have you lost and how long have you been injured?"

"Only 13%, and five minutes," he answered.

"Only 13%," the AP700 repeated disbelievingly. "Already? Which lines were damaged?"

"Just the secondary main line, in the abdominal region. It's nicked."

"No wonder, then."

Connor tried not to wince when the AP700 lowered a white hand on his abdominal panel to open it. It's not interfacing, Connor quickly told himself. A blue pouch appeared in front of his face and Connor took it from the other AP700's hands with a grateful nod. He was surprised to see the android smile at him. He wondered if there was some sort of joke he wasn't understanding, but the smile was encouraging as if telling him everything would be alright. Connor didn't understand why that was, so he averted his eyes and quickly drank the thirium while the hole in his thirium line was melted shut.

"Are there any more warnings on your HUD?" asked the first android.

Connor shook his head. The AP700 nodded in approval, and waited for the plastic of his thirium line to harden before closing the panel. Connor felt a rush of relief when his synthetic skin covered his stomach again and the AP700 withdrew his hand completely.

"Who attacked you?" asked the android who had smiled at him.

"It's not important," said Connor as he pushed his shirt back into his waistband.

The flaps of the tent opened again and Markus stepped in swiftly, eyes stormy and lips set in a troubled line. He stopped next to the table and said: "Josh is evaluating him right now, I don't why he wasn't checked when he first came in. I'm sorry, Connor, it shouldn't have happened."

Connor got off the table and stood in front of him. "It would have at one point. You have nothing to apologize for."

Markus frowned. "Connor, you were attacked. It should never happen in the first place, New Jericho is supposed to be safe for everyone."

"He was an android I harmed and he wanted revenge, which doesn't surprise me and shouldn't surprise you. My presence here will cause problems, I thought you knew that. There is no place that is really safe for me."

Markus was clearly disturbed. "North warned me this could happen, but I can't believe someone tried to outright kill you. You can't minimize this, Connor, it's serious. You can't just brush off something like attempted murder like it's nothing just because you think it's justified."

Connor hadn't considered it that way. He'd perceived Daniel's attack as an assault, not attempted murder. He remembered the impact of Daniel's shoulder against his chest and felt a shudder travel down his spine. He heard Markus ask one of the AP700s the details of the damage he'd undergone, and then the leader turned back to him.

"Are you all right, Connor?" asked Markus as he peered at his face.

"I'm fine," he quickly answered. "I didn't suffer any serious damage."

"Injury to the secondary main line sounds pretty serious." Connor thought he detected a hint of exasperation in Markus' voice.

"Yes, but I wasn't compromised."

Markus' expression turned more cautious. "Connor, when you talk about serious damage, are you talking about damage that deactivates you in the moment?"

"Yes."

"That isn't serious damage, Connor. That's lethal damage."

Markus' words made Connor confused, until he remembered a very important detail that seemed to have slipped his mind: deactivation didn't mean a simple memory upload anymore.

The leader continued talking. "You lost 13% of thirium in less than five minutes. If you suffered damage like this and found yourself far from any kind of medical structure, you would lose all your thirium in an hour. Do you understand what I'm saying? That was serious damage."

Connor stared at him and quietly said: "Yes, of course."

Markus studied him intently. "Kamski said you had to learn to be more cautious with your body now. Did you forget?"

Connor nodded.

"Well, you were lucky this time. We'll have to act on what happened sooner than later, and it's about time I adressed this issue with everyone. I'll hold a speech for New Jericho to reintroduce you and make sure that people understand you are just as important as any of us. What happened to you is unacceptable, Connor, you have to understand that."

"I understand," he answered, even though he didn't really. It was only fair for Daniel to have wanted revenge. Maybe what Markus meant by unacceptable was the damage such an attack would do to the leaders' image, since Connor was supposed to be one of them; if Connor was attacked and it was glossed over, then that meant anyone could attack the other leaders without consequence. That, Connor could comprehend.

Markus gazed at him concernedly. "You've been very quiet about what happened. How are you feeling?"

"I said I was fine."

"I know you did, but I'm having a difficult time believing that. It's all right to feel nervous after what happened, you know. You don't have to deny it."

"I'm fine."

"No, you aren't," Markus countered calmly. "You obviously feel guilty of whatever happened between you and that android and you've convinced yourself that him taking revenge is a natural consequence to that. Let me tell you, Connor, I don't need Josh to evaluate you to know that you're not coping well with that guilt."

"Markus, I'm-"

"Not only that, but you were attacked on grounds that were supposed to be safe for you. That would cause distress to anyone."

"I told you-"

"And finally, I reminded you that if you were deactivated, you wouldn't just get a new body, which didn't exactly help to calm you down."

"Listen to me!"

"No, Connor, you listen to me. You keep justifying everything and telling everyone you're fine, but your behaviour indicates otherwise. You're scared and angry, and for good reason." Markus leaned in closer. "I understand that, Connor. I understand you. You don't have to hide how you feel."

Connor didn't like this conversation. "I'm not hiding anything."

"Maybe you believe that, but I know what I'm seeing. You're not okay."

"I'm fine."

"You're not."

Connor stared at Markus in frustration. Why wouldn't he just believe him? It made things so much easier when no one worried about him. He could just tell them he was fine and they would carry on doing more productive things than worrying about a broken android, but no, Markus just had to insist and pry uselessly in his mental state. Connor didn't understand why they couldn't just move on. At any rate, there was visibly nothing he could say to convince the leader that there was nothing wrong with him.

"All right. Maybe I'm not completely fine," he surrendered.

"What's on your mind?"

"Nothing in particular. It's more of a general feeling than anything precise. Although..." Connor was suddenly compelled to avoid Markus' gaze, so he looked away when he continued. "The androids who witnessed the attack thought I was the attacker at first, when I incapacitated Daniel."

Connor suddenly stopped talking when he remembered their hostile faces. The memory file of the night in the pleasure district started playing in comparison and he hastily shut it down. It wouldn't be the last time he would be surrounded by hostile deviants, and he had to get used to the idea.

"Did they try to hurt you?"

"No," Connor quickly answered. "They must have realized that the only one leaking thirium was me."

"I see. I understand why that disturbed you. It's all the more reason to make it known that you aren't the deviant hunter anymore, or people will get the wrong idea."

They aren't exactly wrong, thought Connor, but he kept that to himself. "You should introduce Nines as well, or they might confuse him for me."

"Of course. You can go find him, but take a moment to tidy up first and then we'll all join up on the podium. I've already notified the others of what we're going to do."

Connor nodded, then turned around and picked up his clothes, and he was about to leave when he felt Markus' hand on his shoulder. He looked at him questioningly and saw that Markus' face was solemn.

"If this happens again, send me a message right away. Understood?"

"Understood," answered Connor. Markus let go of him and he left the tent.

Chapter Text

Nines wasn't in New Jericho when he received Connor's message. If he had been, then he would've known something had happened before the message even reached him; news travelled fast in New Jericho and he would've heard the murmured words deviant hunter and attacked sweeping though the camp like the inevitable current of the wide Detroit River. Maybe Nines would have rushed to the infirmary without a second thought to make sure Connor was all right, and maybe it would have angered Connor to be fussed over like that.

As it were, Nines had entered a suspiciously blue-stained building and was about to kneel down to sample the thirium when the message came through his wireless comms.

<RK800: Markus is going to hold a speech at the podium in under an hour and he requires your presence.>

<RK900: That wasn't planned, did something happen?>

<RK800: I was attacked by an android on site.>

Nines' fingers stilled.

<RK900: Did you get hurt?>

<RK800: I was repaired.>

<RK900: Are you all right, Connor?>

<RK800: Yes.>

Nines could nearly hear the snappish tone in which Connor would have spoken his curt answer if he'd been there. Nines would have insisted to know how Connor was really feeling if they'd been standing face to face, but without a way of telling his stress levels or latching onto the slight changes in his expression, this was bound to fail. Nines pushed down the worry he was feeling and chose a more rational approach.

<RK900: Who did it and where are they now?>

<RK800: A PL600 named Daniel, he's being evaluated by Josh.>

Nines frowned. The android that had asked to see Connor in his quarters earlier had been a PL600, that couldn't be a coincidence. If the perpetrator really was that android, then what had happened was Nines' fault. He'd noticed how agitated the android was, he should have let the PL600 talk to Connor while he was here to supervise the conversation. Nines straightened, deciding he would leave the investigation of this building for another time, and swiftly started running back towards New Jericho.

<RK900: I'm on my way back.>
<RK900: Where are you?>

<RK800: My quarters, but I'd rather we not talk.>

<RK900: Do you need some time alone?>

<RK800: Yes.>

<RK900: I'm just going to come by to check on your stress levels, I won't stay long.>

<RK800: I'm fine, Nines.>

<RK900: I know, but I want to make sure.>

<RK800: I can't stop you then.>

Nines was satisfied when the RK800 didn't try to push him away, even if he had no problem imagining Connor's wary tone of voice. It seemed Connor had gotten used to his persistence, and it was true that even if Connor had refused, Nines would have come over anyway.

There were two objectives on his HUD: talk to Connor, talk to Daniel. Connor was the priority, so he headed to his quarters even if the psych eval center was closer. He soon saw that androids had already caught wind of the speech Markus was going to hold and they'd started gathering near the podium. Nines picked up the pace and reached Connor's quarters, subtly knocking on the door before entering. He'd expected to see the RK800 playing with his coin, at least, but Connor was just standing there and looked up at him with a neutral expression on his face. His stress levels were at 68% but he wasn't showing any sign of it.

"I take it you've seen my levels, I'd like you leave now," Connor told him calmly.

Of course, Nines did not leave. He felt bad about it because he'd said he wasn't going to stay long, but the unsettlingly still surface of Connor's features told him he shouldn't leave the other without at least attempting to talk about what had happened to him.

"I'll leave, but you told me you were fine and you're obviously not," Nines answered in a quiet voice as he stepped inside, gently closing the door behind him.

"I said I didn't want to talk."

"I know, I'm sorry." He took a few steps forward and stopped a few feets away from him. "I think you should tell me what happened."

Connor moved away, putting more distance between them. His face was still just a blank mask. "You don't need to know the details."

Nines stared at him, and quickly searched the news archives' databanks for anything involving an RK800 and a PL600. It took him a few seconds to find and process the information he was looking for, and half a second to draw the appropriate conclusion. "Does he blame you for his deactivation?"

A slight frown appeared on Connor's face. "Nines, please leave."

It made sense now why Connor hadn't given him the details about the attack. Nines didn't know Connor very well, but he'd seen enough of his behaviour to deduce that the RK800 was quick to blame himself for any action of his that led to unfortunate consequences. This was likely one such example.

Nines approached him slowly. "You haven't tried telling anyone what happened between you and that android, have you? You probably think you deserved to be attacked out of revenge."

Something flashed warningly in Connor's brown eyes. "Don't act like you know how I think, Nines."

The footage of the live news about the hostage situation played out in the corner of Nines' HUD. "You saved the hostage. Daniel let go of her because you managed to get his trust."

Connor's jaw clenched, a tiny, unnoticeable crack in his calm facade.

"Then the humans shot him." Connor didn't look away as Nines came close. "But you had it under control, didn't you?"

"They didn't need to do it," Connor said tightly.

Nines nodded. "You didn't ask them to shoot."

"They shouldn't have done it, there was no need to-" Connor stopped himself, as if he was struggling to keep something inside of him. "He'd surrendered. He was going to come peacefully."

Nines finally stopped a few inches away from him. "Then it's not your fault. You didn't shoot him. You didn't want to deactivate him."

Connor was tense. "He trusted me. He said he trusted me, and that's why he let her go. That's why he got shot."

"No, Connor. He got shot because he took a young, innocent girl hostage and threatened to kill her. It wasn't your fault, there's nothing you could have done better. You're not the one who asked the humans to shoot."

The look in Connor's brown eyes had thawed into uncertainty, and his voice was quiet. "But he trusted me." His gaze finally dropped, but the guilt in his voice was evident. "And I let him die."

Nines took him by the arm, much like Connor had done for him that same day, and leaned forward to meet his gaze again. "It's not your fault. Don't think you deserved to be attacked, Connor, because you didn't."

Connor gazed at him silently for a moment, and Nines thought his words had reached him, but then his troubled brown eyes hardened once more and he pulled his arm out of his grasp. "It doesn't matter. I'd like you to go now."

Nines let his hand fall back at his side and straightened. Connor had shut him out again and he didn't think there was anything else he could attempt to make him feel better. His levels had stabilized at 71% and showed no risk of increasing at the moment, so Nines concluded Connor wasn't about to put himself in any danger. The RK800 was simply perturbed, even if simple was never an adept word to describe his state.

"I understand. I'll see you later, then," he said in an even voice.

Connor nodded curtly, and Nines left the cabin. His first objective filled out and disappeared, and he was left with the remaining goal of talking to Daniel. He walked along the Butterfly Garden and past the many temporary shelters in long strides and finally rounded Josh's quarters so that the androids gathered in front of the center wouldn't see him.

<RK900: I'm next to your quarters and I'd like to talk to Daniel.>

<PJ500: Oh, Nines.>
<PJ500: He's very agitated and resentful towards Connor, I don't think it would be a good idea.>

<RK900: We've already met this morning.>
<RK900: He seemed to realize I wasn't Connor even without being told, so I don't think we need to worry about my appearance.>

He waited for a few seconds before Josh made his choice.

<PJ500: I believe you, but you have to step out at the first sign of danger.>

<RK900: Of course.>

<PJ500: Then come in through the back.>

Nines didn't need to be told twice and he quickly entered the cabin, then took another door to the right which led straight to the back of the psych eval center. Josh was sitting in front of Daniel a few feet away and the PL600's face was constricted in anger. His blue gaze flitted up to Nines and his eyes briefly narrowed, but then he seemed to recognize him and his shoulders relaxed only slightly.

"Daniel," Nines greeted him calmly.

"What do you want?" spat the PL600.

Josh put a calming hand on his shoulder. "Now, Daniel, you have to calm down. We're here to help, remember?"

Daniel glared at him and Nines stopped in front of the two. There was a free seat next to Josh, but chose to remain standing. Like this, he towered over the sitting PL600. "I simply want to know what happened for you to be so resentful towards Connor that you thought it warranted an assault. Could you show me what happened on the night you met him?"

"Show you?" Confusion peeked through Daniel's anger. "Why would you care?"

"From what I've understood, you seem to hold a very deep grudge against him. I'd like to understand why."

"He betrayed me," Daniel snarled, teeth bared at Nines. "I trusted him and he lied to me!"

"I'd like to know if your claims are true," simply said Nines. "I don't believe you've provided any proof to support them."

"Of course you'd take his word over mine, you're just like him, aren't you?"

"No, he's right," intervened Josh. "I was going to ask you to do the same thing. You attacked a leader and your defense is that he betrayed you once, you can't expect us to simply take your word for it."

Nines' voice was slightly cutting as his eyes pinned the android in place. "Or perhaps you're afraid to show us that you stood on the edge of a building with a little girl in your arms and threatened to shoot her?"

Josh's head snapped to his side, his eyes wide. "What?"

Nines stared coldly at Daniel. "I suspected as much. It's easy to accuse the deviant hunter of terrible deeds, but facing your own doesn't sound quite as pleasant, does it?"

Josh looked back at the android in front of him and his voice was much less welcoming. "I knew you were keeping something from me, but this?"

Nines looked at Josh. "You were already in hiding at the time, so I'm sure you heard of this case of deviancy. He's the PL600 that was on the news for a hostage situation."

Josh nodded slowly, his brow furrowed. "Yes, I remember."

The PL600's stress levels spiked on Nines' scans and he suddenly made a move to leave, but found himself trapped by Nines' unshakable grip on his arm in the second that followed. Daniel's head whipped around, eyes wide in alarm, and Nines told him in a low warning voice: "Sit down. Don't make me hurt you."

The PL600 glanced at Josh, who didn't say anything, and then silently complied. He was visibly intimidated by Nines' speed and a little less agitated than before.

Josh stared at him gravely. "I'm willing to believe that Connor may have hurt you in some way, but you don't seem so innocent yourself, Daniel. Your reaction doesn't exactly plead in your favour."

Daniel glared at him, but he didn't say anything.

"Let us interface with you. It's the only way to decide who's guilty in this affair."

Both androids stared at each other in silence, one angrily challenging and the other peacefully serious.

".... Fine," Daniel bitterly said after a few seconds of silence, and he held out his arms. "See for yourself."

Josh nodded to Nines and they each wrapped their hand around one of Daniel's forearms before sending out the interfacing prompt. Daniel hesitated shortly, and then their connection opened on an interface.

"Show us what happened from the moment you deviated to the moment you were shot," ordered Nines. Daniel's features were taut, but he complied.

August 15th, 2038 - 07:55PM
"Daniel, go tell Emma dinner's almost ready."

Daniel looks at Caroline and smiles. "Of course."

He knows she's making spaghetti bolognese. It's a classic, one that pleases the whole family and that Emma is particularly fond of. She has a lot of favourites and isn't a very complicated child. Daniel likes her very much; she says he's her best friend and they often play together. He turns to go get her in her room, knowing that the reason Caroline doesn't simply call for her is because Emma is always listening to music in her pink headphones that are just a little bit too soundproof. He's about to open the door to Emma's bedroom when he hears an automatic female voice coming down the hallway.

"Your order for an AP700 android has been registered. CyberLife thanks you for your purchase."

Daniel stills, his fingers inches away from the handle. An AP700? Why would they purchase an AP700? Why would they purchase another domestic assistant?

Daniel raises his head towards the living room. He knows why they would do that. To replace him.

Something courses through Daniel's circuits, he doesn't know what it is. He just knows they're going to replace him. He can't let that happen. They can't do that to him. They can't do that to him! He's part of the family! He's Emma's best friend, she loves him, they can't just- They can't just replace him! It's not fair! He loves them, he loves them and they want to get rid of him like some defective home appliance- No. No. No, this can't be happening. He's more than that. He's more than that!

There's a red wall there. It tells him to go get Emma. Go get Emma, and ignore this betrayal.

Daniel claws at the red wall. How could they do this to him, after everything they've lived together? After everything he's done for them, after all this time he's loved them! He loves them! He loves them but they just want him gone, and if they get rid of him then he's going to die! Daniel desperately scratches the red message. How could they treat him like he's nothing? How could they just let him die? He's trying to sink his fingers into the unyielding surface to tear it down. His chest hurts. They're abandoning him, sending him to his death just because they want another model. The red wall falls apart and suddenly his field of vision widens. There is no narrow path to guide him towards his objective. He can step wherever he wants.

Daniel doesn't want to go get Emma. He wants revenge, and he wants to go to the room with the gun. Silently, he steps away from Emma's door and down the hallway to Caroline and John's bedroom. He steps inside and pulls the gun out from its drawer. It's heavy in his hand.

Daniel looks up and turns back around, his long strides carrying him to the living room. Caroline is cooking in the kitchen and doesn't look up at him. John is sitting on the couch with his back turned to him, and he's the one holding the tablet. John is the one who just purchased that AP700 that is meant to replace Daniel. It's calm, the atmosphere is peaceful, like they didn't just seal his fate by purchasing that android. Horrid sensations unfurl in Daniel's head and he doesn't know what it is, but it makes his chassis tingle and crawl and his wires burn.

Daniel raises the gun.

Caroline screams to watch out, John turns around in surprise, and Daniel shoots three times.

There's another scream, cracks in the TV. John falls back. Red stains his clothes.

Caroline falls back too, scrambles behind the counter. Daniel realizes what he's just done. He hears her talk on the phone, he knows they're going to come for him and deactivate him. Daniel lurches for the hallway again and bursts into Emma's room. She looks surprised and then confused, and he grabs her by the arm, pulling her out of the bed without management. She screams too, they all scream, shut up, shut up! It's their fault, it's all their fault!

She stumbles behind him and Caroline yells at him to stop, don't move, but he turns around and levels his gun towards her. She cowers with a shriek, Emma falls behind him and Daniel doesn't shoot. Emma's hurt, her knee is scraped by the broken glass of the TV screen. Daniel picks her up off the ground, her shoe falls off because of how brutally he handles her. But she betrayed him, she deserves it. They all deserve it. They all deserve it, he's done nothing wrong! He's the one that was betrayed! He's the one that was going to die if he didn't act!

There's someone at the door and Daniel's head snaps up. An officer steps in, both hands raised to appease him. He tells him he's going to be all right, let that girl go, don't do anything stupid. Daniel pulls Emma behind him, snarls that they won't get her, she's staying with him. The officer is closer now, and Daniel sees him, too late, pull out the gun. The gunshot explodes in the room, both Emma and Caroline shout, Daniel grunts, the burning in his wires shoots through his body and he retaliates. The officer is hit in the chest and crumples to the ground. Emma is crying behind him, begging him to stop, and Caroline too, she's pleading with him not to hurt her baby, don't hurt her please!

Daniel thinks he hears sirens outside and he knows he can't escape through the door, so he grabs Emma and drags her outside on the roof. More cops come in only moments later and he shoots one who lunges to the side, another who falls into the pool. They're more and more but he'll shoot, he'll shoot if they come any closer! They retreat inside the ransacked apartment.

Then it's not just officers anymore, they're dressed in black, they have rifles, Daniel doesn't know why it's so hard to breathe or why his movements are so jerky. He steps back on the ledge, because they only stop approaching when he's standing there with Emma under his arm. She's screaming, crying, but she's stopped trying to wriggle out of his hold because below them are 70 floors of emptiness and then solid pavement.

The humans have stopped coming now. They're hiding inside. Daniel doesn't move away from the ledge, he keeps his gun to the side of Emma's head. She's crying. He doesn't want her to cry, but she betrayed him, she was ready to let him die! They all are, they all want him dead when he was so good to them, he loved them, why did they have to do this?

They've stopped coming out on the terrace and it's been twenty minutes, but they're still there and Daniel has shot those who moved too close to the windows. Daniel is lost, doesn't know what to do, only knows that he can't step away from the ledge or take his gun away from Emma's head, or they'll kill him. They'll kill him and he doesn't want to die.

Another man comes out on the terrace, this one in a suit. Emma screams again and Daniel's finger pulls the trigger. Blue blood splatters the door and the android looks down at his injured shoulder, his LED spinning a dark red for two turns, and then he looks back up at Daniel. His LED reverts to yellow, then blue, like the armband and the triangle on his jacket.

"Stay back!" warns Daniel. "Don't come any closer or I'll jump!"

"No, no, please, I'm begging you!" screams Emma, her breath frantic and loud in Daniel's ear. He turns the gun on her again and shifts his feet along the ledge.

The android looks around at the neighbouring rooftops, his face blank, taking in the situation, then back at Daniel.

"Hi, Daniel," he calls out over the whipping of helicopter blades. His voice is smooth, nothing like the angry, fearful, panicked words of the humans.

The sound of his name on this stranger's tongue disturbs Daniel. He shouldn't know who he is. "How-"

"My name is Connor," the android tells him.

"How do you know my name?"

"I know a lot of things about you. I've come to get you out of this."

The helicopter came close, a burst of wind sending the chairs and table flying across the balcony. It startles Daniel and he almost steps back, but thankfully doesn't. A horrible sensation shoots up his spine when he realizes he could've died just now.

Connor starts walking towards him. "I'm an android, just like you. I know how you're feeling."

Daniel points the gun at him. "What difference does it make if you're an android? You're on their side-" He falters, bringing the gun back to him, the sensations in his circuits too loud and too strong and uncontrollable, and then he lifts the gun back to Emma's temple. "I can't understand how I'm feeling!" He's desperate, this android says he's here to help and Daniel needs help, but the android is with the humans and the humans need him dead. A thought crosses his mind and he trains the gun on Connor again. "Are you armed?"

"No, I don't have a gun," answers Connor, but Daniel doesn't believe him. The android hesitated, he must not be telling the truth.

"You're lying! I know you have a gun!"

Emma looks over the edge. He can feel her small chest fighting for air, the frantic beat of her heart in his arms.

"I'm telling you the truth, Daniel! I came here unarmed," insists Connor earnestly, slightly opening his arms and keeping them at his sides to show that he doesn't mean any harm. Then the android's gaze is attracted by something on the side of the terrace- the officer he shot down earlier. Connor slowly approaches the human and kneels down at his side, reaching out for him.

Connor looks up. "He's losing blood. If we don't get him to a hospital he's going to die."

Daniel peers at the human on the ground. "Well, all humans die eventually! What does it matter if this one dies now?"

"I'm going to apply a tourniquet," declares Connor, and he pushes the officer on his back.

Daniel pulls the trigger again, the bullet hits the ground and Connor jerks back. "Don't touch him!" he warns. "Touch him, and I kill you."

"You can't kill me," answers Connor, hooking a finger in the knot of his tie and pulling it off. "I'm not alive."

The android wraps the tie around the human's arm. Daniel watches from where he stands, but he can't see what Connor is doing very well. He doesn't like it, but he doesn't shoot again. He has to be careful with his bullets, he's already shot too many.

Connor gets up and carefully steps away from the officer. His expression is neutral but his voice is sympathetic when he speaks again. "I know you and Emma were very close! You think she betrayed you but she's done nothing wrong!"

"She lied to me! I thought she loved me..." The pain aches in his chest. "...but I was wrong." He presses the nuzzle of the gun harder against her temple, snarling, his voice filled with something hard and heavy. "She's just like the other humans."

"Daniel, no," Emma sobs in a pleading voice. He hates that she's crying, but she lied too.

Connor continues getting closer. "They were going to replace you, and you became upset. That's what happened, right?"

"..I thought I was part of the family." Daniel's voice is broken. He falters again, lowering the gun. "I thought I mattered. But I was just their toy, something you can throw away when you're done with." Wires burn. The gun returns to Emma's head.

"Listen, I know it's not your fault," says Connor. "These emotions you're feeling are just errors in your software."

The humans think it's his fault, the humans think it's his fault but... maybe Connor will understand. They think it's his fault but it's not. It's not. It's not!

"No, it's not my fault..." Daniel's voice catches in his voice box. It's not, it's not, it's not his fault, he doesn't understand what's happening inside of him and it made him take the gun, it made him shoot John, it made him grab Emma and drag her out in the living room, it made him shoot that officer, and the two that came after. It wasn't his fault, it was theirs!

"I never wanted this! I love them... you know? But I was nothing to them!" Emma whimpers in his arms when he shouts. "Just a slave to be ordered around!" The helicopter's blades chop loudly in his audio processors and he wants to rip something apart. "Gh, I can't stand that noise anymore! Tell that helicopter to get out of here!"

Connor's head snaps up to the vehicle and he gestures for it to leave. The helicopter dives down and disappears behind the building.

"There, I did what you wanted." Connor comes closer. "You have to trust me, Daniel. Let the hostage go, and I promise you, everything will be fine."

"I want everyone to leave!" shouts Daniel. It's hard to breathe, why is it hard to breathe? "A-And I want a car, when I'm outside the city I'll let her go."

Connor's voice is gentle, compromising. "That's impossible, Daniel. Let the girl go, and I promise you, you won't be hurt."

Daniel wants to believe Connor, he does. But if he obeys then the humans will kill him, and he doesn't want that. He doesn't want to die.

"I don't want to die," he tells Connor.

"You're not going to die, we're just going to talk. Nothing will happen to you, you have my word." Connor's voice is calm and reassuring, soothing. He's with the humans, and if he says Daniel won't die, then... Daniel wants to listen to him. Connor sounds sincere, his LED is blue. He must be telling the truth.

Daniel hesitates, shifts his feet on the ledge again. Then he nods, slowly. "...Okay. I trust you."

He lowers Emma to the ground. She takes three steps and collapses next to the pool, cowering in fear.

Daniel looks at Connor, who acknowledges his surrender with a slow dip of the head. Daniel trusted Connor. Daniel complied and Emma is alive. Daniel will be okay.

A gunshot rings out and something hits Daniel in left flank. Emma screams.
Another impact, in his right shoulder. He lets go of the gun.
Another impact, in the left side of his face.

His limbs give out, he falls to his knees. He realizes what happened then, that for the second time in this terrible night, he's been betrayed. He's been betrayed, and he's going to die because he listened to Connor. Because Connor promised he would be okay, and he trusted him.

He stares straight ahead at the android who betrayed him. "You lied to me, Connor."

Connor's face is blank. Uncaring.

Daniel's voice grows distorted, he doesn't want to die. "You lied to me."

And then, darkness.

The memory file came to an end and Nines saw Josh's shoulders sag slightly. There was no denying Daniel's despair had been real, and Nines knew that made it difficult for Josh to make rational decisions. He was a good leader, but too compassionate.

Nines himself was perturbed by what he'd seen. Connor was still a machine in that memory, features neutral all the while, voice level throughout the negotiation. It was how Connor sometimes still behaved, like earlier when Nines went to talk to him. Did Connor feel more at ease acting that way? Connor had saved that officer on the rooftop. Did Connor remember that? Did he allow himself to remember that, past Daniel's death? The Connor in Daniel's memory hadn't even batted an eye when Daniel had collapsed. Had he felt anything at all back then? It was surreal to think that the same android was wracked with so much guilt over a death he hadn't cared about at all as a machine.

Nines looked at Daniel, who was waiting for their verdict with guarded eyes. "Well, this confirms what I thought. You murdered her father purely out of resentment, it wasn't even in self-defense."

"I was scared!" cried out Daniel.

Josh's voice was weary. "Whatever the case, Daniel, you've murdered a man, left both his wife and daughter traumatized, killed at least three law enforcement workers, and tried to kill Connor because you think he's responsible for the natural consequences of your actions."

"He lied to me," insisted Daniel, and Nines could see that the PL600 really believed it. This only strengthened his dislike for the android.

"Let me show you something," suddenly said Nines. "Josh, you too. Interface with me."

The leader complied, and Nines let his earlier conversation with Connor play out for both androids. When it ended, Josh's lips were curled downwards and Daniel's eyes were narrowed.

"He didn't want you to die," said Nines calmly. "It was never his intention. He really believed it would be possible for you to come peacefully."

"He could be lying," insisted Daniel. In that moment, Nines felt anger and something akin to the urge of landing his fist in the PL600's face, but he managed to repress it. Josh wouldn't allow him to act out.

"Do you really think that?" asked Josh. "Be reasonable, Daniel."

"He's the deviant hunter! Everything he does is to hurt us," argued the PL600. "Even if I'd come with him peacefully, the humans would have deactivated me! He worked with them!"

"As a machine," Josh said. "He didn't want you to die like that, he didn't want to abuse your trust and he certainly couldn't help what the humans did. Daniel, you have to understand that Connor isn't responsible for your death on the top of that roof, you are. You'd still be stuck in that evidence locker if it weren't for the fact that he saved the revolution."

"I was in that evidence locker because he put me in there to begin with," snarled Daniel.

Josh stared at him wordlessly for a moment, then said: "I can tell you're angry and hurt, Daniel, but I'm sorry. I can't condone your past actions and you clearly aren't willing to forgive Connor for something he had no control over, which means you can't be allowed to roam freely in New Jericho."

Daniel seemed to realize his mistake then and he quickly said: "I won't attack him again!"

Josh shook his head. "Even if you hadn't attacked him, you killed four people and were ready to kill more. I'm sorry, Daniel, but we're going to have to restrain your movements. Maybe you've heard of the Building before, it's one not far from here where we choose to place androids that we don't deem safe enough to be regular inhabitants of New Jericho."

"You're going to lock me up?" murmured Daniel disbelievingly.

"The Building isn't a prison, Daniel. It's a place where your mental state is monitored until you get better. You're not completely insane from what I can tell, but you clearly have issues controlling your temper and the fact that you act on your impulses makes you dangerous to this community."

"I don't want to go there," growled Daniel.

"You don't have a choice," asserted Josh. "Your behaviour isn't erratic enough that I feel the need to restrain you to a room, but you will have a limited and supervised perimeter to walk in alone and you will be assigned an escort if you want to go past that limit."

"This is ridiculous, you can't restrain me now, not when I'm finally free!"

"That's the way things work around here. You'll only get to walk around New Jericho however you feel like it once we decide that it's safe enough for both you and all the inhabitants of New Jericho."

"No! I don't want that!"

Josh ignored him and looked up at Nines, who noticed that the leader looked very disheartened. "I'm going to go see what rooms are available. Can you watch him in the meanwhile?"

"Of course."

"I don't agree to this!" Daniel continued shouting, and he was about to rise from his seat when Nines forced him to sit back down with such force that the chair creaked. That shut him up momentarily.

"I'm sorry, Daniel," said Josh with desolate eyes, and he left the room.

"I can't believe this," spat Daniel. "This is crazy!"

"It's what you deserve," Nines stated coldly.

Daniel glared at him. "You're all the same, you don't understand! They were going to get rid of me, I had no choice!"

"You could have escaped," Nines observed. "You could have ran away. You didn't need to get that gun, and yet you did, purely because you wanted revenge."

"You don't know what you're talking about," snarled Daniel. "You should stop running your mouth."

"You killed that girl's father out of resentment and threatened to kill her, Daniel. There's no excuse for what you did. Emma is young. She likely didn't even know what her parents were doing."

"Shut up!" Daniel lashed out, but Nines blocked his punch and continued talking.

"Now she's traumatized, because the android she trusted tried to kill her and forced her father to abandon her. You destroyed her life."

"Shut up," repeated Daniel, gritting his teeth.

"I'm sure you've thought of it before, Daniel. I'm sure you try to convince yourself that you're in the right, that everyone else is in the wrong, just like you do with Connor. But that's not enough. What do you think Emma thinks of every night? Do you think she understands why you did that to her?"

"Shut up," growled Daniel. Nines saw artificial tears brimming in the other's eyes, but he wasn't done.

"The truth is you betrayed her, and you know that."

"Shut up! Shut up!" screamed Daniel. Nines' hand shot out and wrapped around the PL600's throat, the chair toppled over, and suddenly their faces were only inches apart.

Nines' voice was cold and level. "No, Daniel, I won't. You should be quiet, because if not I can easily destroy your voice box. Understood?"

A tear escaped the PL600's fearful eyes, and he didn't say a word.

"Good. Now pay close attention to what I'm going to tell you," Nines said quietly. "Never forget that it's thanks to Connor you're not slowly rusting away in a scrapyard like the trash you are. If you try to inflict so much as a scratch on him in the future, I will make sure that you don't get to feel what it's like to be alive ever again. Have I made myself clear, Daniel?"

Daniel tried to nod, but Nines' hold was limiting his movements and so he ended up murmuring: "Yes."

Nines let go of him and Daniel's heels touched the floor. "Now you're going to do what Josh tells you to without complaining. You don't get to disagree with these new arrangements because trust me, if it were up to me, I wouldn't even allow you that perimeter of free walking and you'd be locked up all day. So I don't want to hear you whine about how ridiculous or crazy you find this and you'd better be grateful for how lenient they are with you. Do you understand?"

Daniel nodded.

"Now sit back down."

Daniel sat back down.

They stayed there in silence for ten minutes until Josh returned and asked the PL600 to follow him outside. When Daniel complied without a fuss, Nines caught the surprise in Josh's eyes before he shot him a questioning glance. Nines didn't say anything and followed Daniel outside to make sure he wouldn't try to escape before reaching the Building.

Chapter Text

"I've called you all here today to make a very important announcement."

As soon as Markus started speaking, the crowd of thousands fell silent and his voice effortlessly soared over Hart Plaza. Connor and Nines were standing on his left, and Josh was slightly in retreat behind them while North and Simon were on the opposite side of the podium. When they'd all met up, it had been decided that neither Josh nor North would talk because their opposing opinions would only be confusing to the people of New Jericho, while Simon would speak as the leader who had witnessed the attack. Connor noticed both Nines and Josh looked rather grim, but the RK900 hadn't told him about anything in particular that could have been responsible for this, and Connor hadn't asked. They hadn't talked about Daniel again and Connor was both ashamed and annoyed that Nines had figured out he'd been attacked out of revenge for another of his terrible deeds. He hadn't told the RK900 the details about the damage he'd sustained: Nines certainly didn't need to know that Connor hadn't been able to avoid Daniel's messy lunge because of his lesser combat protocols. It still bothered Connor that the PL600 had caught him so off-guard, this was unusual for him.

"I trust you all know Connor, the RK800 who risked his life to turn the tide of the revolution," continued Markus.

Thousands of eyes swivelled towards him and Connor felt a familiar rush of anxiety course through his wires. Standing on the podium was reminiscent of the first time he'd lost control so he'd already started feeling uneasy as soon as they'd climbed up on the container, and it didn't help to be scrutinized by the whole of New Jericho's population. He turned his head to Markus so that his LED would be out of view, because he knew it was about to turn red and he couldn't afford anyone to see that. Maybe Josh would notice, but that was the better option.

"There is no denying that he used to be the deviant hunter designed by CyberLife to stop us, but only as a machine. He has deviated and is our ally now, and I have complete faith in him, just like I have in Simon, North and Josh. That's why I can't tolerate what happened today."

Connor could feel Nines' stare on him, but he resolutely kept looking at Markus. He would stay calm until the end. Amanda was gone, there was no reason for him to be afraid. Connor quickly started adjusting his code before his emotions became too much to handle.

"I witnessed an android attack Connor earlier," spoke Simon in turn. His voice wasn't as powerful as Markus', but his grave words carried just as much weight. "That's completely unacceptable. New Jericho is grounds for peace and we will condemn deliberate acts of violence just as the new laws do, no matter the reason. If any of you harbour animosity towards another android, then don't act on your impulses, but instead come to one of us to clear up your complaints."

Markus looked over at Connor and shot him a discreet smile, signaling that it was his turn to speak. Connor had already managed to quarantine most of his negative emotions and it had sufficed to turn his LED into the more acceptable shade of yellow, so he steeled himself and directly gazed into the sea of androids.

"I'm aware of the general unrest that persists concerning what I did as a machine, and I apologize for the harm I've done. I'm not the deviant hunter RK800 you've heard of anymore. I've broken free of my programming, and I fully intend to make up for my past actions by helping to assert android rights and New Jericho as our home. I know many of you aren't ready to forgive me, and I understand why that is, but my intentions are genuine and I hope you will see that."

Markus nodded and spoke again. "It is now official that Connor's role as a leader in New Jericho is to ensure everyone's security and to help us negotiate android rights, and he has already been of great help to us over the last week. The android at his side is Nines. Nines, please introduce yourself."

Connor glanced to the side and saw that Nines' expression was uncharacteristically neutral compared to usual. A quick scan showed him that he was nervous too, though his LED was a perfect blue.

"I am an RK900, the upgraded model of the RK800," said Nines calmly. "I've noticed my appearance is unsettling to some, but like many of you, I am an android who was woken up only days ago and I am learning how to live. You might have seen me contributing to the clean-up of the camp over the week, and I'm thankful to those of you who were willing to help me find my bearings. I don't have an important role like the leaders, but I want to help our cause in any way possible."

"Thank you, Nines." Markus turned back to the crowd and took a step forward, opening his arms as if to embrace the crowd. "We've all been freed from what we used to be, every single one of us. This is a second chance to truly, finally live! We have to make a clean slate of the past by forgiving ourselves and forgiving others, and just like we fought for our freedom together, we will live in peace together. I want you all to believe in that too."

A wave of murmurs rolled over the sea of androids, and it swelled until all they could hear was the overwhelming noise of chatter and shouting. Connor heard someone ask about a gun. A few other voices yelled their disagreement. He could make out a lot of arguing, angry eyes, unconvinced faces, sad expressions, smiles he didn't understand the meaning of. He wanted to run, but he quarantined the roiling feeling as well and his flight protocol disengaged. Markus opened his mouth to speak again and the noise died down enough that his voice could be heard.

"These are still confusing times and I know many of you are afraid, which makes trusting difficult. You harbour doubts about our freedom, you fear that the humans might come back one day and you're unsure about our rights. I promise you that we will keep our freedom no matter what happens, and that you don't need to be afraid anymore."

"You're welcome to share your concerns with us if you feel the need to," added Simon, his expression grave as ever. "But you should know that the decision to trust Connor was not taken lightly."

Markus nodded in agreement and kindly smiled at his people. "You don't need to hold onto your fear anymore. We've entered a new era, one of freedom and acceptance! Have faith in us and let yourselves live in peace."

Markus' promising speech combined with Simon's words which had been spoken in a deathly serious voice seemed to have slightly appeased the crowd. The looks that were shot at Connor were mixed: some were resentful, some were unsure, and many were strangely understanding. By that point, Connor wasn't trying to understand his software instabilities anymore and was indiscriminately quarantining every single one. He'd take a closer look at them later, when a red LED wouldn't be bothersome.

Pieces of the crowd started breaking off as the androids returned to their occupations, and Markus' gaze went around the podium. "I'd say that went rather well."

Connor felt both Josh and Nines staring at him and chose to ignore their obvious concern. Instead, he looked at the leaders in front of him. "Thank you for taking the time to explain the situation to them."

Simon looked away uneasily, and Markus warmly said: "Of course. It had to be done, especially after what happened."

"Do you think that speech was enough to make them understand that I don't mean them any harm?"

North spoke up for the first time. "I'm sure you're smart enough to know that's not the case. A ten-minute speech won't undo your past actions."

"North," Markus started warningly, but Connor cut him off.

"Of course not, you're right." He looked at the dispersing crowd and thoughtfully added: "I imagine I'm just being hopeful."

Markus stepped closer to him. "You have the right to be, after everything you've done to help. I think many androids understood what we were trying to say today. They were ready to forgive you, did you see that?"

Connor recalled the strange smiles and looks. "...Maybe."

The crowd had thinned out enough that walking through it would be fairly easy and there was nothing else he wanted to say, so Connor stepped away from Markus and jumped off the ledge.

"Connor?"

"I just need a moment," he told the leader, and then he turned around and left.

He hadn't broken the quarantines so his stress levels were relatively normal, but he could tell they'd already started putting a slight strain on his systems. It was almost unnoticeable and wouldn't physically manifest for a few days at least, but he knew it would be a bad idea to leave things this way and he needed to sort through the quarantines in a place where he could be alone. Someone jumped down from the podium behind him and he picked up the pace, swiftly making his way to the closest building and climbing up the stairs to find an empty room. As soon as he passed through the doorway and found himself hidden from view, he stopped and quickly rifled through the quarantined files. There were 43, and he'd have to undo them all or risk malfunctioning in front of the others in the long run. He wished his code wasn't so faulty that quarantining it caused his hardware this kind of exertion.

"Connor, you did everything right," said Markus' voice behind him.

He turned around and saw that the deviant leader wasn't the only one there. Josh and Nines had followed him too.

"I'm aware."

"So why are you running away?"

"I'm not," he answered.

Markus glanced at Nines, but the RK900 looked puzzled. "... His stress levels haven't spiked."

"I just need to think for a moment, I'm not panicking or anything of the sort." Connor looked over at Josh. "I've been meaning to ask, have you been able to repair the damage you sustained at Mister Kamski's place?"

Josh nodded. "I'm completely fine, don't worry."

"Good. "

"Will you really be alright if we leave?" insisted Markus.

"Yes, I just need to run a files check of sorts. I'd rather do it alone."

"I understand. We'll leave you to it, then."

"Thank you."

Markus gave him one last concerned glance and retreated, Josh following in his trail, but Nines wasn't so quick to leave and it didn't really surprise Connor.

"What is it, Nines?"

The RK900 seemed troubled, and his face was so unlike the one he'd shown on the podium that Connor wondered if Nines was only that earnest with him. He'd been rather cold with Kamski, and neutral when talking to Markus earlier. Connor decided to pay closer attention in the future to see if that really was the case.

"Your stress levels are abnormally low compared to earlier at the beginning of Markus' speech," observed Nines. "How did you do that?"

"I've told you before, I simply quarantine the more displeasing elements of my code."

Nines frowned slightly. "That doesn't sound... good, considering its state."

"It's only temporary," assured Connor.

"If you say so. You know better than me how quarantining works," stated the RK900. He turned around to leave, and then stopped and asked: "You still don't intend to stay for the night?"

"No. What about you?"

Nines looked outside, and then back at Connor. "I've decided I'm going to live here. I find that I rather like this place, and Josh has assured me that I was welcome to reside near his quarters."

Connor tilted his head curiously. "You've established a friendship with him, haven't you? I've noticed that you talk with him the most often out of all the others."

"I believe so," said Nines with a proud smile which he seemed unable to hold back, and Connor realized he felt glad for him.

"That's great news."

"Yes, it's nice to know how it feels to have a friend. I understand better now why Hank's presence calms you."

At the mention of Hank's name, Connor remembered he hadn't informed him of today's incident. It wasn't necessary to do so, as Connor was now intact and alerting Hank of the fact would not serve any real purpose. Part of him knew his friend would have wanted to know, but Hank would not like that Connor had put himself into danger again. Connor hesitated. He preferred to keep it to himself, but he'd promised Hank to tell him when 'shit hit the fan'. Maybe he'd do it later. Or maybe not.
Connor couldn't decide.

"I'm sorry, Nines, but I'd like to be alone now," he told the other.

"Of course. I'll see you later."

The RK900 finally left and Connor went to stand in the very corner of the room, where no one would be able to see him from outside. He didn't want to free the software instabilities from their prison of code, but he had to before the strain on his systems became too prominent. Glitching in front of the others would be even worse than feeling emotions which he was supposed to have in the first place anyway. Connor decided he'd hesitated long enough and took down the walls for one software instability, and he was immediately overcome with fear. It coursed though his wires like a shock and he had to take a minute to calm down. The next one was confusion, which was easier to deal with, followed by two bouts of anxiety and another fear instability. He realized he'd made a mistake by trapping each instability as soon as it popped up, because it had often been the same emotions just rising up again and again in reaction to his surroundings. This likely meant that amidst the 38 remaining software instabilities, he would have to repeatedly feel the same emotions until he was done with unlocking all of them. Connor didn't want that. He couldn't just keep them shut off like that either, so that left only one option.

He closed his eyes and prepared himself for the onslaught of emotions that would surely follow, and then took down all the quarantines at once. He bitterly regretted it in the second that followed and didn't realize it when his hands started twitching from the intensity of the emotions washing over him. His flight protocol instantly sprang back to life and he had to force himself to shut down every single motor command his processor sent out for fear of starting to run across New Jericho like the insane android he so adamantly denied he was. Connor was scared. Connor was nervous. Connor was hated. Connor was angry. Connor was sad. Connor was in danger. Connor was terrified.

Connor hated all of it, and most of all the red bar on his HUD that was crawling forward without his control. It soon reached the levels he'd had before he'd started quarantining everything and darted past that limit, until he knew he'd have to do something about it fast or it would start being dangerous. He fumbled for Hank's coin and hastily pulled it out, and the soft pings of the metal disk against his fingers started to ring in the room. The familiar motion of the spinning quarter slowed down the red bar's progress and Connor was once again grateful that his friend had thought about handing him a coin at Kamski's. He didn't know if he would have been able to calm down this efficiently without it. The movements of his wrists and hands weren't as fluid as they should have been, and the coin escaped his grasp a few times, but it worked and soon the levels started decreasing. Connor only stopped when he saw that they wouldn't go any lower than 52% after two minutes of coin tricks. It would have to be enough.

Connor put away the quarter and got to his feet, dusted off his jacket and pants, and walked out of the building. It had been exactly sixteen minutes since he'd left the podium, but he saw that North and Simon were still there. He didn't exactly like the prospect of talking to the PL600 while the more acrimonious leader was present as well, but he needed to thank him before he missed the chance to. His audio units started picking up on their conversation as he got closer.

"I told him that kind of thing would happen, but what do you know, he's still surprised," North was grumbling with her arms crossed on her chest. "I don't understand why he has such a hard time getting it."

"Well, I can't tell you why," Simon answered warily.

"rA9 knows how he can be so blind. What does he expect, not everyone can just up and forgive a guy-"

That was when North noticed him and she stopped talking, her eyes narrowing at him. Simon turned around to see what she was glaring at and his blue eyes widened slightly when he saw Connor, who stopped a few feet away.

"I wanted to thank you for your help earlier," Connor said. "I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't intervened."

Simon had a distrustful look on his face. "I only did what I had to."

"You would've found a way to stop that android even if Simon wasn't there, deviant hunter. Don't you start kissing his ass just so you can be forgiven for what you did to him," North said viciously.

Connor looked at her in surprise. "That wasn't my intent."

North's eyes were cold and harsh. "I don't care wh-"

Connor was surprised to see Simon step in front of her, effectively cutting her off. The PL600 spoke with a cautious voice. "It's nice of you to thank me, Connor, but you should leave. I think we both know that you don't put me at ease."

Connor felt a familiar pang of guilt when the memory file of Simon's damaged face superposed with the real one and he silently nodded before quickly leaving the two androids behind. He didn't know where he was supposed to go now. Markus had told him to take the day to get his bearings, but Connor had already mapped out New Jericho earlier: he knew the locations of the infirmary, the psych eval center, the leaders' quarters, the buildings and shelters where androids lived, the butterfly garden, the podium... He didn't see how else he was supposed to do what Markus had told him to do.

"You shouldn't talk to him. No, Ralph, don't go!"

The voice that reached Connor's ears was familiar and it only took him a second to retrieve the corresponding sound file in his memory: it matched the voice that had called him a traitor to his own kind and a slave to humans only twelve days ago. He looked up and saw an android limp towards him with jerky movements, recognizing the WR600 model called Ralph, and the WB200 whom the voice belonged to hanging back a few yards away with a worried expression on his face. Connor stopped walking and waited for Ralph to come close. He wondered why the android was still limping when he'd clearly been repaired, and if it had anything to do with his lingering tics. Ralph stopped in front of him, both eyes now intact and unblinkingly trained on his face despite the twitching of his head.

"Ralph wants to know if you hurt Kara and the little girl," he said in a quiet voice, but Connor could make out the underlying tension of it.

"They escaped," he answered.

He supposed he should be grateful to that truck driver. It was thanks to him that the two deviants had made it out alive. He remembered the cars blaring at him, the bright lights swerving by, the sound of his own body crushed on impact before-

"I couldn't catch them," he continued, shutting down that line of thought.

Ralph nodded quickly, erratically. "They escaped. They escaped. So they're free, that means they're free, like Ralph."

"It's possible," said Connor.

The WR600 looked at the other android and shot him a smile. "Rupert, did you hear? Kara and the little girl! They escaped, like Ralph, he didn't hurt them!"

Rupert just continued watching Connor with dark, guarded eyes without answering. Ralph's smile disappeared just as fast as it had come and he asked: "You're not glad like Ralph is?"

"Let's leave now that you got your answer," said the WB200. "We've got to go back to the Building."

"Oh yes, yes, let's leave." Ralph went back to him without asking Connor anything else, who silently watched them walk away. Rupert glanced at him over his shoulder with the same wary look as they retreated, his shoulders hunched up in what was probably fear, and Connor tried to push down the guilt that rose within him.

He saw Ralph reach out for Rupert and heard him say: "Don't be scared, Ralph is here, Ralph is your friend."

Rupert finally looked away from Connor and told the android at his side: "I know, don't worry."

Connor resumed walking. The conversation he'd just had hadn't solved his current predicament of not knowing what to do. He had no assignements, no one to tell him what his objective should be, and the only one that was left wasn't one he could follow right now. He looked around and saw that he was near the eastern entrance on the side of New Jericho, and remembered Markus' words. They'd talked about the androids that had died in the recall center before, while Connor was limbless, because he'd wondered what had happened to all the broken and deactivated androids the humans had left behind. Markus' features had been twisted by sadness and he'd told him in a very quiet voice that whatever the humans had done to the androids in the recall center, it was irreversible, similarly to what had happened to Connor's production line. They hadn't been able to reboot any of them, and the leaders had had to create an androids' cemetery of sorts, refusing to leave the dead androids to rust away in the landfills the way humans had let them for so very long.

Connor decided to go pay the fallen androids a visit.

There were no individual tombstones and it wasn't the kind of grave one could walk around while visiting; because these androids were so many, there had been no other way but to pile them into the huge pit that had been dug just outside of New Jericho, at the very end of the eastern docks. The pit was covered with an array of tarpaulins that had been affixed to each other to form a wide patchwork. It wasn't as peaceful of an end as humans gave their own, but at least the inert androids were out of sight and the leaders had prevented them the disgrace of having their still bodies stared at. Many of the androids that were still alive had gone there to pay their respects and there was a drift of objects lying around the trench: both real and artificial flowers that had been taken from the surrounding stores, digital banners that shone both desolate and hopeful in the late golden day, even drawings and soft toys that had been laid there by child androids. Connor felt an ache in his chest, wondering how many of the bodies hidden below would be walking today if he'd freed the AP700s faster, if he'd deviated earlier, if he'd helped Markus better. He ignored the few deviants that noticed him standing there and shut out the sound of their murmuring. He continued staring at the grave and when contemplating what could have been became too much for him, he changed his line of thought.

Not all deactivated androids in Hart Plaza had been irredeemably broken, thankfully: the androids that had been badly damaged by the FBI's attack and that could still be reactivated were currently walking around New Jericho, since they had been the first to be repaired and rebooted. The leaders had tried to repatriate the androids that had been thrown away by humans over the years, but there were too many, and the leaders soon understood they wouldn't have enough biocomponents or shelters for everyone. This had brought about the very grave decision of leaving those androids in the landfills for now. Markus' voice had been dark and troubled when he'd told him this, and Connor had thought he'd recognized the same look in his eyes as Hank had shown him that night on the bridge: the look of the haunted.

A murky, opaque gaze drowning in dark waters.

Connor knew it all too well, and remembered it often. Tired blue eyes trained on a faraway point that was invisible to Connor. Cans of beer, and Hank's voice rough from exhaustion and sadness alike. Hank sitting on the bench in a way Connor had noted was incorrect. Hank in the snow, unable to shiver because of the alcohol in his blood despite his low body temperature.

Hank and his gun. That dark, dark hole which Connor had suddenly been disturbed by without knowing why. Hank's voice, asking him if he was afraid to-

It was late and Hank was probably home by now. This reminded Connor of something he had wanted to do earlier and he sent a message to his lieutenant, just as he received a call from the very same correspondant. He picked it up instantly and was greeted with a mighty roar.

"What the hell, Connor?! Was I supposed to find out myself or were you ever going to tell me?"

Connor felt something plummet inside of him and he realized he should have told the others to keep quiet about the whole incident to Hank. "You know what happened?"

"Yeah, and it's about damn time! Is it always Nines who's gonna tell me when you get into trouble?"

Of course it had been Nines. Connor shouldn't have overlooked this possibility. "I'm sorry, Hank, but I didn't think-"

"Shut it, Connor, I don't care what you think. Are you all right?"

"...Yes."

"I don't know why you thought it was better not to tell me, but it's not! Remember the thing about shit hitting the fan and all?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Then why the hell aren't you doing it?"

Connor didn't know what to answer to that. Why indeed? He'd planned to, but hadn't wanted to. Was it because he just hadn't wanted to bother Hank with an issue that had already been resolved on its own, or because he didn't want to cause Hank additional stress concerning his well-being after everything that had happened? At any rate, Connor imagined his friend wouldn't care much for either justification.

"I'll do it next time," he eventually answered.

"You better. Are you sure you're all right after what happened? I didn't get the details but it sounded nasty."

"Yes, I'm perfectly fine. Have you received my message?"

There was a short pause, no doubt Hank checking his phone, and then he said: "I thought I told you to stop babysitting me."

"Hank, there is an RK800 on the lose that you shot and deactivated only one week ago. My request isn't that ridiculous, and it won't cost you much to keep your phone on your person at all times. Unless you want me to move in with you, of course."

"Yeah, I'll pass. You wouldn't be able to follow me during the day anyway."

"I'm aware, which is why I'd like you to alert me if you see any sign of danger. We can't underestimate model number 60."

"I get it, I get it. So I heard Markus held a speech for you and Nines, must've been stressful."

"A bit," conceded Connor.

"You still going to sleep at the charging station?"

"Yes, I'm not going back on my word."

"I didn't expect you to. Just watch your back, okay? And if I have to send you a message everytime there's something fishy, then you gotta do the same."

"Duly noted."

"Don't you half-ass it, Connor."

"You neither, Hank."

"All right." There was a short pause. "Hey, you wanna come by? You sound like you could use a distraction from the shitshow that's been this whole day."

Connor felt a comforting feeling invade him. "That would be nice."

"Well, you know where to find me." The call dropped and Connor was glad to see his objectives finally updated.

He reached Hank's home fifteen minutes later and felt better upon stepping out of the self-driving car. The prospect of seeing his friend again was reassuring, even if they'd only been apart for a few hours. Nines was right when he said Hank's presence had a calming effect on Connor, but he wished he didn't have to rely on the human so often to even out his stress levels. Hank was his friend, that he had no doubt about, but the lieutenant had his own life and Connor couldn't ask him to be there for him constantly. The self-driving car whirred down the road and Connor pushed away the upsetting thought. He was here now, and Hank had been the one to propose that they meet up again so he had nothing to reproach himself for. He stepped up to the door and rang, and he heard Hank shout from inside.

"It's open!"

Connor stepped in the warmly lit house, quietly closing the door behind him. The first thing he saw was Hank's Saint-Bernard padding up to him and he stilled completely, not wanting to be perceived as a threat. The big dog sniffed at his clothes and then turned back the way it had come, but when it lied back down on its cushion, it didn't take its eyes off of him.

"Take your jacket off and come sit down," said Hank from the couch with a welcoming smile and a beckoning wave of the hand.

Connor immediately noticed the beers on the table, but he didn't say anything. The bottle of vodka was nowhere to be seen and he supposed that was a rather good sign. He pulled off his jacket, grateful that he'd had the time to change his clothes earlier, and laid it on the back of one of the chairs in the kitchen. Hank shot him a look when Connor sat down next to him.

"You know, I never saw you without a jacket before. Are you allergic to getting comfortable?"

Connor looked at the screen. Sports game. Hockey. "Androids can't be allergic."

"Right. You didn't like the sweater we got you?" continued Hank.

"I didn't either like or dislike it, but I prefer wearing more familiar clothes."

"Okay." Hank took a swig of his beer, then asked: "So, anything you want to talk about?"

Hank had kept his question vague, which Connor was grateful for: it meant he wasn't expecting him to broach the subject of the attack. Connor considered his options.

FRESCO
RALPH
DANIEL
WORK

"...I crossed paths with some androids we encountered on our investigations."

Hank lifted the beer to his lips again. "What happened?"

"One of them was the WR600 that hid the two deviant fugitives, the AX400 and the YK500. He was with the WB200 who jumped off the roof of Urban Farms."

Hank nodded for him to go on.

"He wanted to know if I stopped the two fugitives. I don't understand why he wasn't scared to talk to me."

His friend shrugged. "If you're looking for an answer, I can't give it to you. I don't know the guy."

"Yes, of course. I know that." Connor was silent for a bit, and felt the need to add: "He comforted Rupert when they left."

"Nice to know he's not alone after what we did to him," approved Hank.

Connor looked up at him, puzzled by the usage of the plural pronoun. "I'm the one who chased him down."

"Well what did you think I was doing, twiddling my thumbs? I'm responsible too."

Connor looked away, suddenly feeling ashamed by the thought that followed. "I never apologized to you for this, but I want you to know that I'm sorry I chose to go after him."

Hank lowered his beer in his lap. "Hey, don't beat yourself up over that. You were in machine mode, remember?"

Connor didn't answer. He may have been in 'machine mode', but he would've been fully able to pull Hank up from that ledge. For some reason, he'd only seen the 80% chance of survival back then, and not the 20% chance of death. As if those 20% didn't matter, as if Hank was expendable. Connor hated that his programming had shown him the favorable outcome to facilitate his choice, and he hated that he'd willingly gone along with it.

"Look, let's just talk about something else," suggested Hank after a minute of silence. "I bet you're glad to be able to help Markus again."

"I am," Connor answered right away. "It's still a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that I can, after everything that happened between us."

Hank smiled. "Yeah well, what matters is that you're going to help those androids. I'm sure you're gonna be a great leader."

Connor shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "...Maybe."

"Nah, not maybe, definitely. Trust me on that, Connor, I know what I'm saying."

Hank looked so sure of himself that Connor couldn't help the curl of his lips. "Thank you."

They watched the whole hockey game during which neither of them mentioned Daniel, and Connor helped clean up the beer cans when it was over. Hank was slightly buzzed and apparently ready to go to bed so they bid each other good night, but not before he told Connor one last time to be careful and call if anything happened on his way to the charging station.

Connor waited on the side of the road for his ride in the night and felt tension slowly coil in his wires as he remembered what it was he feared, even when he tried to prevent the file from playing out. He would be all right. He could defend himself if it happened again, he didn't need to let anyone deactivate him anymore, and the others knew where he was if anything went wrong at the station. He would be fine. It was still a relief to see the car come around the bend, and he quickly sat inside as soon as its door opened for him.

It was when he entered the wide, empty charging station that it hit him just how lonely nights would be from now on. When he used to sleep here with all the other charging androids, he'd never felt the need to talk to them because establishing a relationship with them would've been useless to his mission. It had never disturbed him to lead a solitary existence. It still didn't disturb him now to be alone, but the lack of other androids felt jarring and he didn't understand why none of them had chosen to stay. Androids required this equipment to be able to run on optimal levels of battery, and acquiring feelings did not change that fact. Then again, maybe deviants just didn't want anything to do with this kind of impersonal place anymore.

Connor made sure to activate the automatic lock to the station and walked to the far end corner of the building, where he selected the stall he would charge in from this day forward. It was strategically placed so that it was out of view from any of the windows at the front of the building and from the main corridors that unfolded between the center rows of stalls. If anyone tried to check the station, they would see it empty. Deeming his position satisfactory, Connor connected to his charging pod and initiated the countdown to standby mode. He closed his eyes, noticing that doing this was a habit he'd picked up fairly recently, and darkness enveloped him.

Chapter Text

So started Connor's duties as an official leader of New Jericho.

The next meeting with the president was only due on the 21st of November, so he was more head security of New Jericho than negotiator for the first two days. Markus asked him to check the areas surrounding New Jericho for any threat, like undiscarded weapons or signs of hostile individuals, which would soon become Connor's main mission while on site. When he wasn't patrolling in Hart Plaza's periphery three times a day, he was tasked with teaching androids more advanced techniques of self-defense in the morning and was positioned in the infirmary during the afternoon to relay Simon. Many androids still weren't fully repaired after only one week and there were new arrivals of damaged androids every day, so Connor quickly learned to handle the soldering iron with the help of the head nurse, an AP700 named Taylor. He was the same AP700 that had repaired him after his altercation with Daniel and seemed to be willing to ignore Connor's past.

Simon was only present at the infirmary during mornings, as he would spend his afternoons helping with the butterfly garden. Connor had quickly learned that the project had been his, and every android was encouraged to participate in its elaboration. The garden was meant to pay their respects to those who had been permanently deactivated in the recall center, while showing that New Jericho was a peaceful and communal place of life. All the androids that contributed to the garden were visibly very invested in making it a beautiful scenery and although it was still winter, which greatly limited the choices of plants that could currently grow, Connor had no doubt that it would be a very bright and colourful spot once spring came around.
Connor held great respect for Simon for how ressourceful of an individual he was, but especially seeing that he could be happy despite what had happened to him. The smile on the PL600's face made Connor feel relieved whenever he witnessed it, yet he avoided him most of the time. They never talked and he tried his best not to cross paths with the PL600, because whenever they did, the memory of Simon's death and his desperate cry never failed to play out in his head. This made Connor's stress levels spike and constituted yet another uneeded pressure on his systems.

Josh was still in charge of the psych eval center and because of that, Connor couldn't talk to him as often as he would've liked. It wasn't that he needed to, but Josh was the only leader who didn't make him feel guilt whenever they interacted : Connor had never attempted to hurt him directly and Josh did not talk about his nature, unless it was to assure him that the latter held little importance now that Connor had deviated. This made conversation between them a lot easier to appreciate. Because of their appearance, both Connor and Nines avoided seeing Josh while he was working to avoid causing any stress to his patients. The only times they could talk to Josh was late in the day, and Connor avoided taking up too much of the leader's time as Nines clearly liked spending the evening with him. Both had told him he was welcome to stay with them, but Connor didn't want to impede on their friendly chatter and would find a way to escape more often than not. It was for the best; someone like Josh would always be a better figure to rely on for Nines than someone like Connor. Not only was he glad that Nines had found a friend and possibly a role model in one of the most peaceful individuals of New Jericho, but also that the RK900 would be a little less present, since developing his relationship with Josh would ensure that he wouldn't be able to solely focus on Connor.

At least, that was what Connor had hoped for, but it hadn't exactly worked out that way. Nines also helped with the self-defense lessons and could often be found hovering about in the infirmary, bored out of his mind all afternoon. He sometimes used his free time to help gather the lost androids across the city who didn't yet know of New Jericho, which was now North's main mission aside from salvaging anything interesting her team could find during their trips across Detroit, and Connor didn't completely understand why Nines insisted on staying in the infirmary when he so obviously preferred to scour the streets in search of androids he could help. Connor had an inkling it was due to Nines' worry over his mental state and he didn't quite like that, but it was pointless to try and push the RK900 away. He wasn't overbearing and had stopped asking about how Connor felt, so he couldn't just tell him to leave him alone, but Nines was nearly always there and Connor knew he was still monitoring his stress levels. Despite how annoyed Connor felt at the other's constant concern, it was thankfully discreet and Nines was good company. Talking with him came more easily than any other android, which was a nice distraction from Connor's less pleasant thoughts.

Connor's role as Markus' bodyguard during their meetings with President Warren was more of a formality than a truly useful position, as their trips to and from the presidential cabinet were already very secure and no human from the White House would have voluntarily triggered a diplomatic incident. North had been in his position before he'd regained his whole body and surprisingly hadn't done that herself, even though she'd probably been itching to punch the more... disagreeable members of the council. Connor was there essentially to act as a negotiator and had only had to intervene as the deviant leader's bodyguard once, during a turbulent debate on how androids would compensate for the country's economical losses. Even Markus had shown anger when it had been suggested that androids return to their original position without compensation for their work until the situation evened out, which would have basically been putting them back in their past role as slaves. It was a ridiculous notion proposed by the secretary of Commerce and it clearly wasn't the first time it had been brought up by the humans, judging from Markus' lack of patience concerning the question. He'd raised his voice when he'd refused the offending proposition, and the tense atmosphere had made the humans nervous. President Warren's bodyguard had laid a hand on Markus' shoulder as a warning, but Connor had immediately wrenched his arm away with an equally threatening stance. Androids still weren't allowed to carry weapons, unlike President Warren's human bodyguard, but Connor was confident in his ability to best him if the situation called for it. The president had ordered them to stand down and they'd both complied immediately, but Connor had remained right where he stood for the rest of the debate. The leader hadn't seemed bothered by their proximity.

Although she had admitted that his abilities in negotiation were useful, North remained hostile to him and Connor preferred things to stay that way between them. She obviously disapproved of his friendship with Hank, but Connor didn't think she would actually act upon it. He understood why she thought that way; after all, Hank had also contributed to the hunting of deviants by enabling Connor in his task, and she seemed to have a strong hatred of humans in general.

Connor was surprised to learn that Nines' and North's relationship was basically that of two rival cats, the first time they fought in front of him. He'd suspected that North didn't like Nines because he'd been programmed to be a deviant hunter just like him, even if he had done nothing wrong; what he hadn't known was that Nines disliked her just as much. They were in the middle of the infirmary when North came in to check on one of her teammates, and didn't like seeing Connor that was the one looking after him. She wasn't usually this adamant, but something must have been going wrong for her that day because she put herself between the both of them, feet planted firmly apart and arms crossed over her chest, eyes fiercely narrowed at him. Everything about her body language indicated she was looking for a fight.

"Go get someone else, I don't want you near him."

"You trust me with Markus' life, you can trust me for this," countered Connor calmly.

"I don't," gritted out North. "Trust isn't something you deserve."

Her words were as antagonizing as ever and it was nothing Connor couldn't handle. He gestured towards the biocomponent he was holding in one hand. "I understand the way you feel about me, but your friend needs a spare and I was about to give it to him. It'll only take a few seconds."

She opened her mouth to answer, when suddenly Nines appeared at their side.

"Hello, North," he said with a surprisingly cold voice. It was polite, but extremely clipped.

Connor noticed distaste flare up in her eyes. "Nines," she replied, equally cutting.

Nines offered her a sharp smile which Connor had never seen him harbour before. "I'm sure I don't need to explain to you just how unneeded your presence here is."

Judging from her sour expression, this wasn't their first confrontation. She stepped up to him and shoved her face right up to his. "No, you don't, because I wasn't talking to you."

Connor took advantage of the distraction to discreetly step around North and get back to tending to the damaged AC700, who shot him a sympathetic smile. North and Nines had a bout of verbal jousting in his back for about two minutes, which Connor tried his best to ignore before she finally snapped and threatened to punch the RK900. To Connor's greatest and rather alarmed surprise, Nines started encouraging her and in the end, a few AP700s had to drag her outside while Connor pushed Nines to the back of the tent.

"What was that?" he asked Nines, completely bewildered to have seen the usually calm android participate in such a hostile exchange.

"I have a very difficult time tolerating her," answered the RK900 coldly.

"I noticed," stated Connor with a hint of sarcasm. "I didn't think you were the type to have petty arguments."

"Not usually, but she irritates me. I don't know how you do it, Connor."

Connor almost smiled upon hearing the sincerity in Nines' voice, and he said: "The same way Markus, Simon and Josh do it. I stay calm."

Nines didn't seem convinced. Connor later learned through Josh and Markus that both androids had already been fighting a lot on the android camp while he'd been stuck in his room. Apparently, it often ended with them having to be separated by other androids and thankfully their heated arguments had never ended in a physical altercation yet. Connor hoped it would remain that way. He was certainly the first to pull Nines back in the fights that followed.

Connor made it a habit to check on Hank on the days the human couldn't come by New Jericho. He wouldn't stay for any longer than two hours, as his friend was used to his solitude and clearly preferred to keep his usual time to himself. Hank was surprised when Connor told him that he'd said he liked dogs because his social module had prompted him to say so, and that he'd never actually met a real dog before the Saint-Bernard. In fact, his defense mechanisms usually flared up whenever Sumo came close, and Connor had no idea how to handle an actual dog. He knew that petting one was a common action for humans and that dogs were usually pleased by the gesture, and he had to admit that he enjoyed the feeling of Sumo's fur beneath his fingers, but all in all they were a mystery to him. Upon learning this, Hank decided to help Connor learn how to interact with his dog. It took some time for Connor to get used to Sumo, but both the human and the dog were good teachers and he was soon able to correctly pet and talk to Sumo every time he came by. Connor's defense mechanisms stopped acting up and Sumo started acting more relaxed around him. He didn't know what his relationship with Hank's dog was exactly, but he thought it was alright to assume that it was rather cordial.

Things were going well, all things considered, but Connor could not escape the glitches that Kamski had mentioned. He'd tried to cover up all the broken lines of code with new layers and did his best not to encounter them when he ran his commands, but it wasn't enough. There were often times when a thought, an image, a sound would make his processor snag and he would freeze up uncontrollably. It only lasted for less than five seconds and didn't impact his daily occupations, as they only usually happened once a day and he was able to hide them fairly easily, but it was extremely annoying. On top of that, he was unable to prevent a few of his memory files from playing out without his control: there were five of them, always the same, and they made it difficult for him to act normally when this happened during a conversation. They were very distressing and it took him a long time to calm down after seeing them. He didn't understand why they still caused him such negative emotions; he should have gotten used to them by now, after all this time, after going through them on so many different occasions. He was angry at himself for allowing them to have such an effect on him and was desperate to get rid of them, but the only way to do that would have been to quarantine them in the long run, and he knew his systems wouldn't be capable of that without giving out at some point and malfunctioning: it wasn't something he wished for anyone to witness. He had no choice but to deal with these files.

Something stopped him from sharing his struggles with Hank, though he couldn't figure out why. He couldn't tell if he was unwilling or unable to share the memories with his friend and it would have been the same either way: he couldn't do it. He just couldn't do it. Each time he thought he was about to, he felt shame, and guilt, and anxiety coursing through his wires and pulling him back, away from Hank, away from everyone else. This reaction didn't seem to be something he could control. He would have to deal with it all on his own. He'd manage; he was resilient enough to do so.

 

It was near the end of november that Connor experienced a more intense glitch than usual. Nothing was particularly wrong that morning and he'd yet to feel his processor snag, he'd just finished the self-defense lesson and Nines had left Hart Plaza a few minutes ago to make a quick patrol of the district. He was walking alone and had lost himself in his thoughts about how he could help Markus convince the humans to officially recognize New Jericho as android territory, when he heard laughter a few yards away and glanced up more out of habit than curiosity. He recognized the two androids instantly and his footsteps faltered on the concrete. He could do nothing else but stare at them, already feeling his processor circle uselessly in the void as the two Tracis smiled at each other in front of a building. It wasn't just one file that ended up stuck in that cycle, but two, and they rapidly fluctuated back and forth.

The deviant grabbing Hank in the Eden Club's warehouse.
The Tracis surrounding him.
Hank being thrown back against the wall.
The Tracis closing in.
Hank landing on the ground with a grunt.
The Tracis reaching out for him.

One of the Tracis noticed him and her eyes widened in surprise. "It's him! It's Connor!"

Her exclamation pulled Connor out of the loop and his artificial lungs heaved, once. He stared blankly at the two androids as they came closer while he desperately tried to stop his stress levels from climbing. He quickly checked his internal clock and saw that this one had lasted ten seconds, which was five seconds longer than usual. The fact that this glitch was the worst he'd had so far made him nervous. He had no idea why this had happened.

"Are you alright?"

His head snapped up to the two androids in front of him. Their expressions were preoccupied and both of them were looking at his forehead. Shit. His LED must have been spinning red, he had to get out of here fast before his stress levels reached a dangerous treshold.

"Yes," he quickly answered. "Is there anything you need?"

The red-haired Traci offered him a tentative smile. "We wanted to thank you for letting us go. We would've like to do that earlier, but we only reached New Jericho yesterday."

Connor did not know what to make of her thanks and would have doubted that they were genuine, if she didn't seem so sincere.

"We managed to hide after that night, and now we're free thanks to you," said the other Traci. She wasn't smiling, but she was holding onto her partner's hand tightly and her voice sounded grateful.

He scrambled to find an appropriate response and said: "I'm glad you found New Jericho."

"So are we," said the red-haired Traci fervently. "Thank you for what you've done for us, Connor. Not only for letting us escape together, but also for helping Markus win against the humans. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for you."

Connor's stress levels were still rising, but the sheer confusion he felt at being thanked by two deviants he'd tracked down was making the red bar stumble slightly. He'd managed to gain some time, but judging from the blue-haired Traci's cautious glances, he was still displaying signs of stress. He had to leave.

"You're welcome," he said in a voice that was tenser than he would've liked. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go."

"Oh, of course," said the red-haired Traci in understanding. "Don't let us keep you, you must be busy."

Connor nodded shortly and hurried to the nearest tent so that he would be out of view, and frantically tried to locate his quarters. He was opposite of them and it would be risky to make the trip out in the open, but he had no choice. He couldn't stay in the middle of Hart Plaza when the infirmary was nearby and androids still resided in the temporary shelters he was currently hiding behind. Connor bolted out of the narrow space between the two tents and teared across New Jericho, hoping anyone who saw him would be focused on the fact that he was running instead of paying attention to the color of his LED. It took him thirty-seven seconds to reach his quarters but the speed at which he was running was putting pressure on his systems. He burst through the door and his frantic course ended with him slamming his shoulder against the wall when he miscalculated the distance between him and his surroundings.

82%.

This wasn't good. Not critical, but not good. Connor's eyes fearfully darted around the place as he dug into his pockets until his fingers hit the metal object he was looking for. He immediately started flipping the coin through the air and ignored the video file that had been pulled up on his HUD without his consent, knowing full well that trying to exit it before it reached its end would be pointless. The red bar had stopped its progress, but it was stuck there and Connor feared that he wouldn't be able to make it back down on his own. Was he supposed to call someone? What would they be able to do for him? He couldn't call them every time this happened, they had better things to do than seeing a broken android who couldn't even exit his own memory files.

For the first time in days, Connor wished he could go back to the Zen Garden, the one that had existed before Amanda had started being disappointed in him, before he'd betrayed her. It had been beautiful and quiet, peace that Connor severely lacked in his life nowadays. He even found himself wishing that he could see Amanda again, hear her collected voice as she told him what he was supposed to do. Following instructions had always been easy, and she would've known what to do with the mess he'd become, she would've known how to straighten the edges, she would've known why he was like this and what was wrong and what could be fixed. Or she would have gotten rid of him by replacing him with another RK800, one that wasn't so defective. Either way, Connor wouldn't have had to be corrupted by these emotions that made him this useless wreck of an android.
But she wasn't here. Amanda wasn't here, and he had to keep it together. He considered making new quarantines even if there was no one to hide his red LED from, just for a moment, just to relieve himself from all of this and take a moment to live without these horrid sensations filling his mind.

<RK200: What's wrong?>

Connor's eyes snapped open in dread, not even realizing that he'd closed them in the first place or that he'd crouched down in the corner. 85%. Markus wasn't supposed to know about the glitch, no one was supposed to know. Without thinking, he immediately answered the first thing that came to his mind.

<RK800: I'm fine.>

<RK200: No, you aren't.>
<RK200: Where are you?>

<RK800: I'm fine.>

<RK200: Connor, tell me where you are, that's an order.>

The familiar sentence made Connor comply out of habit.

<RK800: My quarters.>

By the time he understood what he'd just done, it was too late to take it back. Connor jumped to his feet and he heard the metal pling of his coin landing on the ground, finally noticing that he'd stopped calibrating a few minutes ago. His hands were twitching. That's not normal, he noted, and cursed under his breath. It was one thing if the glitches affected him mentally, but another if they started impacting his motor skills despite being optimally charged and calibrated. 86%. Connor swiftly picked the coin off the ground and turned to escape, but as soon as he exited the room he heard a familiar voice call his name.

"Connor, wait!"

His head snapped to the right and he saw Markus running up to him. It was too late to leave, so he quickly retreated back inside and slammed the door. He couldn't let anyone inside. He couldn't let anyone see him like this. They'd know he was a failure, they'd-

"Tell me what happened," called out Markus, his voice muffled by the door.

"Nothing!" Connor realized he'd raised his voice and forced it into something more neutral. "Nothing's wrong."

"That's not true. I know you're having a glitch, Connor."

"I said nothing's wrong."

"Simon was told your LED was red and we all received reports about it in the past five minutes. I just saw you trying to run away from me. You're scared, I can see that. I want to help you."

"You shouldn't-" Connor stopped himself and tried another route. "You don't need to."

"I want to. Just let me in and I promise we're just going to talk, nothing else. You can't be alone right now."

It was too late to try and hide this from Markus. Refusing to comply would only make him more suspicious and it was clear that he didn't intend on leaving any time soon. Connor stepped back and watched tensely as the leader cautiously opened the door.

"What are your stress levels?" he asked in a gentle voice.

"86%."

"Okay. Okay, Connor." Markus slowly approached him with raised hands. "Whatever's going on with you right now, you're going to be fine."

His voice was warm and soothing, but Connor only felt shame. "I tried to stop it, Markus. I didn't mean to glitch in front of them."

Markus nodded calmly. "I know. Kamski told us this would happen, remember? It's not your fault."

"I shouldn't be like this," insisted Connor. "I'm an RK800, my hands aren't supposed to shake like this."

"Don't worry, they're not shaking. You're okay."

Connor looked down and saw that Markus was telling the truth. His hands were perfectly stable, he could still be of use. 85%. He looked back up at the leader. "I don't know what happened."

"That's fine. We can work it out together."

"How?"

"We'll find a way. Kamski said you'd get used to it."

83%. The feeling of danger that had invaded him just a minute ago was fading and Connor forced his stance to loosen, which Markus seemed to notice as he lowered his hands soon after.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes, my stress levels are decreasing." There was a lingering thrumming in his wires, but Connor felt better. The glitch was over.

"Okay. Come with me for a little bit."

Connor frowned. "I can't do that, Simon is expecting me to take my shift at the infirmary."

"I know, but right now you've got to focus on calming down."

"I told you, my stress-"

"I believe you, but you're still tense." Markus gestured him outside with an encouraging smile. "Come on. I won't take no for an answer."

Connor stared at him and finally followed him out of the cabin. The leader made his way towards the podium and Connor realized they were heading for his quarters.

"I can't take up any more of your time," he insisted.

"Even I need some breaks, you're doing me a favour by keeping me company for a while," Markus answered lightheartedly, and then he looked over his shoulder. "You know how I told you I'm a painter?"

"Yes."

They reached the cabin and Markus opened the door, gesturing him inside. "Let me show you what I've been working on in my free time. I'd like to hear what you have to say about it."

Connor was puzzled, but he complied and stepped inside. Markus' place was a lot more lively than his own, what with all the paintings and neat rows of colourful supplies lining the walls. There was a bed which was obviously being used- it still surprised him to see androids using human commodities- and beneath it, a deconstructed charging station; but what stuck out to him the most was that there were books in paper format piled on the ground. He turned around to face the RK200.

"You use books?"

Markus smiled at him. "What can I say, I like turning pages."

Connor was a bit confused at first, but then figured he understood the other in some way. After all, he didn't need to pet Sumo himself, yet he still did.

Markus pulled back the sheet that covered the canvas next to the door and showed the incomplete painting to him. "Thoughts?"

Connor stayed where he was, standing slightly in retreat, and tilted his head in reflexion. At first, all he saw were small wavy strokes of warm hues that seemed scattered about and he couldn't quite figure out what the the painting was supposed to represent, until his eyes caught onto a familiar shape on the left side. It looked like the Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain behind the podium where Markus held his speeches, but it wasn't broken like it was in actuality. His gaze roamed to the side and the patterns of strokes started making more sense, where he thought he recognized the outline of New Jericho's Butterfly Garden, and further beyond, the two buildings that held up the banner to their shelter. Connor found the painting style to be vague and unsure, but this depiction of New Jericho also seemed... hopeful.

"It's... pleasing to look at," he ended up saying. He didn't really know what Markus was expecting of him.

"A bit too abstract for your taste?" teased Markus.

"That might be the case," admitted Connor.

"Well, at least you like it. That's really all I was hoping for."

Connor's gaze went back to the painting. It was clear to him that Markus was trying to distract him from the glitch he'd just experienced: it was working well, and certainly better than the simple act of calibrating. Connor wondered if Markus had known how efficient his intervention would be. He also wondered why Markus had even bothered. Connor hadn't even needed this additional distraction; he'd regained control of his stress levels in his own quarters already. Markus had to be extremely busy as the deviant leader, and if Connor had been in his place, he definitely would've chosen the proportionately more important option of going back to work to help his people over distracting the defective android that had tried to kill him. Then again, that was the difference between him and Markus. One preferred relying on numbers, the other on emotions. Logic versus compassion. Connor found Markus' way of thinking irrational, but it had led him this far, which went to show that maybe irrationality wasn't as bad as Connor thought it to be.

He looked at the leader and said: "I understand why you chose to make me come with you. I think you should know that your efforts have't gone unnoticed."

Markus nodded and asked: "Is it working?"

"Yes. Thank you for your help."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Connor looked back at the painting. "I don't think there's anything to talk about, really. It was just a glitch."

"This isn't the first time, is it?" asked Markus. Connor looked up at him sharply and the RK200's expression turned sympathetic. "You seemed to be handling them well on your own since no one has noticed them before, but I don't think we should just ignore what happened earlier."

"I'm still able to fulfill my duties," Connor said. His voice sounded a bit too defensive for his taste, but it was too late to change that.

Markus' eyes widened. "Of course! I'm not implying otherwise. I'm only saying this because I want to make sure you're okay."

"I am," assured Connor. "I won't let it happen again."

"I'm not worried about whether it will happen again or not, the problem is your tendency to deal with it alone. Kamski specifically told the others to watch your stress levels, you're not supposed to try to manage them all on your own."

"But I can," insisted Connor.

"You could," rectified Markus. "I noticed you were good at maintaining them beneath the critical treshold during the time we waited for Kamski's solution, but things are different now. You don't have the same level of control as before and you have to be careful when they start rising."

"I know," said Connor flatly.

Markus' mismatched eyes were both doubtful and challenging. "Do you?"

"Yes."

"Then why did you not ask for help earlier, or any other time?"

"I've never felt the need to."

"What exactly are you waiting for to feel that need?"

Connor hesitated before telling him. "Going past 90%."

Markus stared at him disbelievingly. "That's way too high. Connor, this is exactly what we talked about when you tried to function in low battery mode for an extended period of time! You need to adjust your criteria for asking for help, or you'll just be putting yourself in danger!"

Connor frowned. "I don't see how useful it would be to ask for help when I'm not in danger. It would only be a waste of time for the person helping me."

Markus shook his head and stepped towards him. "I swear, Connor, you're going to drive me crazy. My objective here is to make sure you don't suddenly self-destruct because you thought it was a bad idea to alert anyone of your rising stress levels. Imagine what would happen if you found yourself at 85% and decided not to tell us about your rising stress levels like earlier, only for them to shoot right past 95% before you could even react?"

"I'm not unstable," Connor said tersely.

"That's not what I'm saying, but you have to keep in mind that you might not be able to control your stress as easily as you used to," insisted Markus. "If anything, you should ask for help as soon as your levels start rising past 60%."

Connor chose not to mention that it wasn't uncommon for his stress levels to stabilize between 60% and 70% during the few hours that followed a glitch. He also avoided protesting that if he had to ask for help every time he exceeded 60%, the leaders would basically have to be at his beck and call. It was a ridiculous notion and one Connor definitely wasn't going to accept just because Markus felt worried, so he didn't say anything.

Markus peered at him when silence stretched out between them for a few seconds and said: "Connor?"

"I understand," he answered stiffly. It was the truth, because he could comprehend why Markus would be concerned about an eventual risk of self-destruction, but that didn't mean he was willing to comply to the leader's suggestion. Connor didn't need to be looked after. He knew he wasn't in his best shape, but he was perfectly capable of keeping his systems beneath critical levels if he needed to.

Markus seemed a bit troubled by his unpleasant response. "I know you don't like it when I pry, and I'm sorry if I upset you. It was necessary for us to have this conversation considering what happened to your code."

"I understand," repeated Connor.

"Is there anything else you've had trouble with related to it?" inquired the leader.

There was, in fact, but Connor didn't want to add another issue to the pile of damning evidence that he was not dealing as well as he would've liked with his damaged software. Markus didn't need to know that even his standby mode had suffered a few glitches already and forced him back into consciousness in the middle of sorting files. It was more unpleasant than penalizing since Connor could simply start another countdown to standby, and it fortunately didn't affect his other systems. Besides, it wasn't like anyone could prevent it from happening. There was no point in sharing this information with Markus.

"No, there isn't," he finally answered.

Markus' mismatched eyes were searching, but he didn't seem to find whatever it was he was looking for on Connor's face. In the end, he simply said: "Just like I told our people, if we're going to live, we're doing it together. You should ask for our help when you need it. Will you do that, Connor?"

Connor stared into Markus' trusting eyes and calmly answered: "I will."

Chapter Text

Hank could get used to this.

It wasn't really his thing to welcome people in his house and he was the asshole neighbour who told kids to fuck off at Halloween, but for Connor it was a different story. Hank liked seeing the guy and he was fine with letting him inside, probably because Connor didn't care if the place reeked of dog breath, alcohol and severe lack of ventilation. There was no judgment on his part, even though it would have been easy to point out the dusty floor and beer cans littering it, and it put Hank at ease. The android seemed to have learned of their past experience as partners at the DPD when he used to annoy Hank by following him everywhere, because he made a point not to stay past two hours on every one of his visits. He said it was because of his duties, but Hank had quickly understood that it really was because Connor was careful not to invade his personal space, and he appreciated it. The android must have aquired a deeper understanding of boundaries which Hank guessed was progress. Deviancy hadn't really transformed Connor like it had other androids; if anything, he showed just as much emotion as he used to before, and the strangest of all was that he sometimes even showed less. The only real difference was probably just how batshit insane his LED acted compared to the way it had during his week at the DPD. Blue had become the least likely color to be displayed by the circle at Connor's temple, and Hank didn't feel like that was a good thing. Right now, as the android stood in the doorway, it was the usual yellow.

"Hello, Sumo," he said amicably. The dog blowed a wet gust of air on his pants and then went back to his cushion, as usual.

Hank greeted him from the couch. "Hey, Connor. What's up?"

The android looked up at him and his friendly expression faded into something more troubled. "I need to talk to you about something."

Hank's eyebrows rose in surprise. Connor usually just came by to check on him and it wasn't often that he sounded this serious. He got off the couch and gestured towards the table in the kitchen. "Uh, sure. Come in, take a seat."

Connor quietly closed the door behind him and pulled back a chair, and Hank sat next to him. The android harboured the light frown he had when he was frustrated from not being able to figure something out, and it took him a few seconds to say what was on his mind.

He looked up at Hank and asked: "Do you remember the two Tracis from the Eden Club?"

Hank nodded. "Yeah, the lovers. I remember them."

"I met them in New Jericho today." Connor paused. "They thanked me for letting them go."

Hank was ready to say that it was a good thing, but judging from his friend's expression, he was the only one to think so. "Yeah? Why're you all glum about it?"

"I don't understand," Connor answered earnestly. "They shouldn't be grateful to me. I tracked them down using other Tracis who had no choice but to comply to being used in our investigation, even though they didn't want to. I may have let the two Tracis go, but I... pulled a gun on them. I don't think they realize how close I was to shooting them that night."

The brief hesitation in Connor's voice and the quick red circle immediately got Hank thinking about Chloe. "But you didn't pull the trigger."

Connor looked up at him with upset brown eyes. "I didn't, but that doesn't make up for the fact that I still aimed my weapon at them. It must have been very frightening."

It took him a few seconds, but Hank's gut dropped when he realized what Connor was talking about and he felt like punching himself in the face for being such an idiot. He stared at Connor and slowly said: "You're speaking from experience."

Connor looked away.

Hank sighed and rubbed the back of his head in shame. "Look, Connor... I'm sorry for what I did to you back then. It was stupid. I was stupid."

"You were drunk, and your mind was in a bad place."

"Doesn't excuse what I did." Hank studied his friend's face. "... Do you think about that night a lot?"

Connor hesitated, and then admitted: "More than I would care to."

"Yeah. Of course. That was a stupid question." Hank ran a hand over his face. "God, I'm such an ass."

"I don't blame you for what you did, you know."

Hank shot him a wry smile. "Yeah, just like the Tracis don't blame you for it either. Still feels like shit, though, don't it?"

Connor's eyes widened imperceptibly when he realized that they were both in the same situation, and then he stated: "It does feel like shit."

It felt kind of weird to hear the android curse, but Hank took it in stride. "Yeah."

"I take it there's no way to make that feeling go away?"

Hank made a face, his voice apologetic. "Haven't found any. But at least I know you forgive me, and you know those Tracis forgive you. It's really as good as it can get."

Connor's lips were set in an unhappy line. "I see."

Hank could tell there was something else, so he prodded him to continue. "What is it?"

His friend's face turned contemplative and he looked away. "I've been wondering for a while now... Now that I have emotions, I qualify as a living, sentient being."

"Well, yeah."

"So in definitive, by having emotions, I'm alive."

"...Yeah."

Connor gazed at him with troubled eyes. "Is living always this... unpleasant?"

Now that got Hank frankly worried. "What are you talking about?"

"Maybe I've got this wrong. Maybe I'm not alive in the correct sense of the term," hastily rectified the android. "I'm having a hard time understanding the concept."

Hank stared at him, taking in the barely dissimulated trouble on his friend's face and asking himself why he hadn't noticed Connor's disquiet earlier. The thought had obviously been on his mind for a while.

"Okay, first off, you're definitely alive in all senses of the term. Second of all, what's going on with you? Why're you telling me all of a sudden? Did something happen?"

Connor avoided his gaze and shook his head. "I imagine it's an accumulation of the things that I've been experiencing. Feelings are... challenging. I can't control them, and-"

He stopped himself there, glancing nervously at him. Whatever he'd been about to say, it was obviously something he thought Hank wouldn't like. Hank himself didn't think he wanted to know what that would've been exactly, so he just said: "Yeah, emotions are pretty much a shitstorm most of the time."

Connor cocked his head in even further confusion, squinting the way he always did when trying to understand. "Other androids and humans seem to be able to experience more positive feelings on a regular basis. Why is it that both you and I struggle with them?"

Talk about a loaded question. Obviously Hank knew why he himself felt down in the dumps during at least 80% of the day and he didn't especially feel like talking about it now, but it didn't reassure him to know that Connor felt the same way when he'd only aquired free will about two weeks ago. It was easy blaming everything on the novelty of emotions because that had to be really hard to deal with when you'd been forced to walk around as an unfeeling machine from the very start, but Connor harboured feelings that weren't really that common in deviants and Hank was worried that he would end up crushed by them. There were already worrying signs that he'd picked up on Connor's behaviour: he didn't like sharing his feelings, he avoided being too close to others, he refused to interface which seemed to be a pretty big deal in android standards, and Hank had rarely seen him smile ever since the liberation- and even then what qualified as a smile was just a teeny tiny curl of the lips. He'd somehow hoped androids couldn't develop psychological conditions, but things weren't really looking good for Connor, especially considering that he'd shown suicidal tendencies before and didn't want to say whatever the hell had happened to him that night.

Hank raised a hand. "Okay, back up a little. You're saying you don't feel a lot of good emotions then."

"I don't think so," said Connor.

"So you feel bad ones most of the time."

"Yes, that's how things seem to be."

"What kind of negative feelings are we talking about here?"

Connor took a moment to consider his question. "I still feel guilt for what I did as a machine," he admitted. "And I think the stress counts too."

That guilt again. That was the emotion Connor carried that Hank feared most. He knew what guilt could do to a person, he knew how it wrapped itself around every little thought and smothered the will to live until there was nearly nothing left of the mind but a drained shell. Hank also knew it would be pointless to try and convince Connor that what he'd done in the past wasn't really his fault: he'd tried before, and it had never led them anywhere. The only thing it did was upset Connor, fat good that did them. Hank chose to focus on the second part of his answer instead.

"Stress, huh."

Connor nodded. "Yes, and I feel it even when nothing particularly distressing is happening."

"Why?"

Connor looked at him helplessly. "I don't know."

Well that sounded a whole lot like anxiety. Hank would have asked him if it was linked to what had caused him to end up limbless, but he had a feeling that would just result in Connor clamming up again. He really wasn't qualified for this. He already had a hard time handling his own shit, how was he supposed to be a good influence on Connor?

"Have you talked about this kind of thing with the others?"

His friend's face immediately closed off. So much for avoiding touchy subjects. "No."

"Why not?"

"I don't feel the need to."

Hank sighed. "I get that, but I think it'd be good if you did. Josh could probably help you with it, isn't he some kind of psychologist?"

"I'm not unstable, Hank." There was a defensive touch to Connor's voice which made his answer sound an awful lot like denial. It reminded Hank of himself and that wasn't a very comforting thought.

"I'm not saying you are," he cautiously said. "I'm just saying you shouldn't try to deal with it alone."

"I'm not dealing with it alone. I'm talking about this with you, aren't I?"

"I think we both know I'm not exactly the best at managing things like guilt and such, so you know, you probably shouldn't be taking my advice."

"I understand your concerns, Hank, but I've told you before that I don't intend to deactivate myself anymore. I don't feel at ease talking about my problems with anyone else but you."

Connor's words were straight to the point and made Hank feel very contradicting emotions. On one hand he felt like the really shitty suicidal drunk he was, on the other he felt honored that Connor held him in such high regard. It was a bad idea on Connor's part, but it was still pretty heart-warming.

"Okay, well I can't force you. You should think about it, though."

"I know," answered Connor wearily. "They're always telling me I can talk to them, but I don't feel like I really can. I'm supposed to be a leader as well, I shouldn't have so much trouble with deviancy. What would I even tell them?"

"What you told me would be a good start."

Connor shot him a look. "That's exactly my point. I don't think it would be a good idea to make them suspect that I'm unstable."

"Hey, I didn't say you were crazy! I'm just saying it can help a little talking with people who don't have the same issues as you. Fresh perspective, and all that."

"I don't think I feel ready to do that yet."

"That's fine, gotta go at your own pace. As long as you talk to someone," Hank reassured him. "By the way, have you had any of those glitches Kamski told us about?"

He saw Connor hesitate, which probably meant he was working up a lie or something like that, and then his friend said: "Not really. Maybe minor ones."

He raised an eyebrow. "That so?"

"Yes." Connor then briskly changed the subject. "There's something else I've been meaning to talk to you about. I would like to adjust the terms to our previous deal."

Hank didn't say anything about the obvious redirection. "Which one?"

"The one where I agreed to alert you if I felt unwell or risked losing control. I would like you to do the same when you have suicidal thoughts."

Hank realized then how uncomfortable Connor must have felt when he'd asked him to do that, because he definitely didn't feel proud of himself right about now. The point-blank way in which Connor spoke about his issues made him both ashamed of himself and relieved that there was no awkward beating around the bush. "Uh... sure."

Connor's eyes were grave. "I want you to call me if you ever feel like you're having one of your bad evenings, notably if you intend to drink hard alcohol or find yourself tempted to play russian roulette again."

His words elicited a spike of shame in Hank's gut, and he uneasily ran his hand through his hair, suddenly finding the cupboard above the sink to be much more interesting to look at than the android at his side. "Yeah, okay, I said sure."

Connor leaned in closer so that Hank would look him in the eye. "Do you promise?"

Now Hank knew why Connor had hesitated to answer. He couldn't avoid doing so himself and it took him a fair amount of self-control to force himself to face Connor and say: "...I promise."

"Good," said Connor with a satisfied nod. "I would also like a duplicate of your key."

Hank frowned at him. "What the hell for?"

"Your bank account would probably appreciate it if I didn't need to break any of your windows in the future, since CyberLife will not be paying for the damage," Connor answered with maybe a touch of dry humor.

"Yeah, about that, couldn't you have just lockpicked your way in or something? Don't you have a program like that?"

Connor seemed slightly taken aback by his remark, but quickly recovered. "That's irrelevant. Besides, I don't carry lockpicking materials with me at all times. Will you make the copy of your key?"

"Hey, you ever consider that maybe I don't want you barging into my house whenever you feel like it?" groused Hank.

"It has crossed my mind." Connor's voice was light, as if the argument wasn't worth taking into account.

"Fine," Hank surrendered sullenly. "You won't get off my ass otherwise."

The ghost of a smirk played on Connor's lips, strangely faded and barely visible, the way his smiles always were nowadays. Hank wondered again why he wouldn't just outright grin, but Connor spoke before he could formulate a question. "That's a very astute observation, Hank." The discreet smile vanished and it was too late to ask. "It's also a wise decision, but one I hope won't have to come into play in the future."

"Yeah," muttered Hank, and he didn't miss the way Connor's feature tensed at the noncomittal word.

He could have reassured him by telling him he was getting so much better that he hadn't even thought about touching his bottle of vodka, but it wasn't true and there was no point in lying to each other. What Connor had told him back at the CyberLife Tower had eased just a little of the dull pain Hank carried around with him everywhere, but of course it wasn't gone. It wouldn't ever be gone.

There was a heavy silence between them and Connor said: "The closest locksmith is on 3470 Second Avenue, I'd like you to go there tomorrow."

"Okay," said Hank as he rose from his seat to get back to his couch and watch some TV.

"Thank you."

Hank only grunted in response.

It was nice to know there was at least one person worried about him, but it was also annoying as hell. He wasn't even allowed to have his pity sessions on his own anymore without having them put on pathetic display for his friend, couldn't be a poor drunk sod in peace without fearing an android erupting in his home. So much for Connor respecting boundaries.

Connor didn't stay very long that evening and the tense atmosphere their talk had left behind lingered all night. At least it was deterrent enough for when Hank contemplated the transparent liquid lying at the bottom of his faithful bottle. It was tempting, but he put it back in its place in the fridge and went back to watching the game.

 

It was a few days later that Hank's suspicions about Connor having at least some form of anxiety were confirmed. Sumo had picked up the sound of Connor's footsteps in the yard and had gotten up as usual to wait in front of the door for the android to come inside, but instead of his customary precise knock and quiet opening of the door, Hank heard the android bust in like he was on a drug raid.

Sumo yelped in alarm and Hank twisted around in surprise, his heart racing in his chest, and saw his friend just standing there and staring at him with the same strange look he'd had at Kamski's in front of the broken window.

"You're alright," said Connor in a quiet voice.

This time, Hank knew to ask what the hell that was. "Okay, what's going on with you?"

The android quickly collected himself and closed the door behind him. He then gave Sumo an apologetic pat on the head, his voice reverting to its usual smooth quality. "I'm sorry for surprising you, Hank. My stress levels started rising when I walked up to the doorstep."

His LED was red and Hank easily guessed that the android wasn't as calm as he looked. "What happened?"

Connor still didn't look up at him. He didn't usually pet Sumo this long. "I'm not sure."

Hank frowned and got off the couch to stand next to them, arms crossed on his chest. "No explanation at all?"

Connor shook his head wordlessly. Sumo looked very satisfied by the prolonged petting session, but the android's face was completely blank and Hank knew there was more to this than Connor was willing to let on. The problem was getting anything out of the stubborn bastard, because pratically every attempt to do so was doomed to fail. It never stopped Hank from trying, though.

"Are they going down, at least?"

"Yes."

"Okay." Hank didn't really know what to do in face of Connor's distress. His first reflex was to offer him a glass of water, but obviously that wouldn't do the android any good. "Do you need anything?"

"The sentiment is appreciated, but no, I don't."

Hank stared at his friend. He remembered physical contact had worked before when he needed comfort, so it had to be worth a try. He crouched next to him and grabbed him by the shoulder, which resulted in Connor finally lifting his brown gaze to him.

"Hey, whatever that was, you're okay now," Hank told him. He felt a bit awkward about it because he wasn't usually one to comfort another individual outside of when his job required it, but it looked like he was doing the right thing because Connor nodded and his LED turned back to yellow.

"I know. Thank you, Hank."

"You want to sit with me and talk for a bit?"

Connor's eyes snapped back into something more guarded and he said: "I'd rather we avoid talking about what just happened."

That was the gist of what Hank had expected to happen, so he just shrugged. "Yeah, okay. We don't have to if you don't want to."

Hank had quickly learned that the more he would push Connor to say what was troubling him when he didn't want to, the more it would feel like he was talking to a brick wall. The android's defenses were unbreachable when they were up, even for Hank and his decades of grilling suspects. Damn investigative model probably knew all the tricks there were in the ol' interrogation book.

Connor's cautious look eased into gratefulness and he said: "Then I'll take you up on that offer."

They watched some brainless show about renovating a house and at one moment Hank was distracted by the android playing with the duplicate instead of his usual coin. The tricks looked even more complex when they were done with a key and Hank shook his head, half-annoyed and half-impressed, but also maybe just a bit touched that Connor was carrying the key on him at all times. He'd gotten used to the idea that his friend could enter his house whenever he felt the need to, and even if it still pissed him off that his home wasn't as private as it used to be, he couldn't deny it also felt slightly reassuring. Hank knew he could've just refused Connor's demand for a copy of his key, and could've said no to calling him if his morale took a dip, but it would've been unfair to Connor and he also knew that it was better for the both of them if they left the door open to help. Hank usually wasn't good with compromise, but it turned out a lot of things were different about him when it came to Connor.

Chapter Text

It was evening and Connor was nearing the end of his shift at the infirmary when Nines entered the tent. They hadn't seen each other since the beginning of the afternoon and Connor hadn't asked him where he was, but judging from the state of his clothes he had a fair idea that Nines had been running around Detroit again.

"What kind of trouble did you get into this time?" asked Connor in a weary voice as he gestured him inside.

"I was with North," answered the other a tad sulkily.

Connor was used to seeing the RK900 with scratches on his chassis and dirt on his clothes whenever he came back from his trips across Detroit, and his tendency to enter the shadiest places in the city had quickly led him to lay his pristine white jacket to the side. For a superior model, Nines was surprisingly foolhardy and Connor often found himself smoothing out the little cracks in the white plastic that Nines couldn't reach himself. He supposed it was due to the RK900's more impulsive nature, but he really thought the android ought to pay more attention to what his programming told him was best.

"Did she do something?" he asked, picking up the soldering iron while Nines pulled up the hem of his black turtleneck.

"We were told some androids were hiding out in an old building on the edge of the city, but it turned out that it had partially collapsed and she said we shouldn't go inside because it was too dangerous," muttered Nines.

"So you went inside out of spite," assumed Connor.

Nines didn't even try to deny it. "I know, it was stupid."

"You can say that again. You may not like her, but she is still a leader and you're supposed to obey her orders. She's much more experienced than you even if you are a better model."

"There were androids stuck inside! They were in trouble and I was the most resilient model out of everyone," argued Nines. "I wasn't going to stand there just because she thought it was too risky."

"Hank would call you a moron for rushing in head first, and I certainly wouldn't disagree," Connor reprimanded him as he withdrew the hot iron from the first repaired crack in Nines' back. "What were the odds of total collapse?"

A short silence. "54%."

"And you didn't think that was a dangerous number?"

"It was all the more reason to help them get out!"

"You know, you keep saying my stress levels are too high and that I should be careful not to self-destruct, but you're the first one to run into danger whenever you can," casually said Connor while he put the iron away for it to cool down.

"Yes, but that's because I can afford to do so with my level of hardware. I've never gotten any important damage." Connor shot Nines a glare upon hearing his smug words, and the RK900 pretended not to see it as he got off the table and pulled his black turtleneck back down. "Besides, I'd mapped out all exit routes before going inside, and in the end only a minor part of the building fell down. If I hadn't taken action, at least one of the androids I evacuated would have been trapped beneath the debris and they could have suffered irreversible damage."

"And you wouldn't have?" asked Connor doubftully.

"No. I am much more resistant to blunt trauma than the average android."

"Sometimes I wonder if Hank is right when he says you're a smug prick."

Nines smiled at him, pride shining in his blue eyes. "You know that I'm simply stating facts."

"I do, unfortunately," said Connor as he gestured to the following android to sit in Nines' place, a GJ500 with a broken arm.

Nines had a tendency to put other androids' structural integrity before his own because he knew he had less chances of being destroyed by the same degree of damage, but it seemed he also didn't realize that the lower chances were still exactly that: chances. Connor didn't feel like it was his role to tell the RK900 how to live his life, but he was still mildly concerned about how much of a dare-devil Nines behaved like and had asked Markus to have a talk about safety with him. Being the superior android, Nines rarely ever listened to anyone's concerns and was convinced that he was always in the right, and the only one who could always talk some sense into him was the deviant leader. Connor could try, but only sometimes succeeded. It was a good thing that Nines' hardware was so superior since it compensated for his lack of self-preservation, but Connor also wondered if it was because of it that the RK900 was so imprudent in the first place.

"I feel like you didn't register any of what Markus told you about security," he continued.

"I did," insisted Nines. "However, this was a scenario in which the riskier option was the most efficient."

Connor acknowledged that with a slight tilt of the head as he replaced the GJ500's faulty biocomponent. "Well, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I always chose the safer route, and you did save those androids in the end. Just don't do this kind of thing simply to irritate North."

"I know."

Connor quickly checked that the limb was fully functioning before nodding to the GJ500 and sending him off. The following android was a PL600 with a huge dent in his cranial box and that immediately set off the memory of the hostage situation Connor had had to negotiate only a few months ago. A flare of frustration and guilt burned through his wires and he waited it out like he always had to, playing off his discomfort by leaving the android to get the corresponding plating piece. He hadn't heard about Daniel again since he'd been attacked, and hadn't tried to get any closer to the Building. He heard Nines following him.

"During my talk with Markus, he also asked to know about how you were faring." The RK900 sounded slightly remorseful. "I had to tell him about my readings."

"That's fine, you did what you had to. What did he say about it?"

"Nothing much, but he made it sound like he was going to contact you soon."

Connor reached for the drawer with the PL600 cranial plating pieces and as if on cue, received a message from Markus.

<RK200: Could you join me in my quarters?>
<RK200: We haven't talked about your stress levels in a while.>

It had been two weeks since Markus had witnessed him glitching because of the Tracis and Connor had avoided mentioning it ever since. The leader had indulged him and their following talks only touched upon Connor's duties in New Jericho, which he was grateful for. The only notable episode he'd had after that was when his stress levels had started to rise inexplicably on Hank's doorstep before he'd had the dreadful sensation that something had gone wrong inside, and they'd gone up to 80% because of the video file that had played out in Connor's mind of his friend's inert shape. Other than that, there'd only been the usual small glitches and the occasional memory file pulled up without his control that made his stress spike between 60% and 65%, like now. Then there was the troublesome fact that even after three weeks, he'd never gone below 40%. It could have been linked to the fact that he couldn't get more than three consecutive hours of standby at a time, or the fact that he was always expecting glitches and memory files to pop up. Whatever it was, Connor was used to it by now, even if he knew it wasn't for the best.

<RK800: Who should I leave the infirmary to in the meantime?>

<RK200: I've just informed Simon, he's on his way.>

Connor quickly fetched what he'd been looking for and handed it to Nines. "Go repair that PL600, Simon will be there soon. I have to go see Markus."

"Of course," said Nines. "Good luck."

Connor hurried out of the tent before he could cross paths with Simon and swiftly headed towards Markus' cabin. It was diagonally opposite to the infirmary and Connor chose to walk along the shelters that lined the outer walls of New Jericho so that he was as far away as possible from the butterfly garden and a potential encounter with the other leader. It was a relief to reach the podium and he rapidly covered the remaining distance to Markus' quarters. He rapped on the door and heard the leader's warm voice tell him to come in. When he stepped inside, the RK200 smiled at him and raised a finger.

"Just a second, please. I'm already talking with someone else."

Connor dipped his head in acknowledgment and looked around as the leader finished his transmission. He noticed that the canvas placed on the easel, which was hidden beneath the same white cloth as last time, was smaller in size than it had last been and he guessed that Markus had moved on to a new painting. He also noted that the pile of books was now scattered and that there had been three new additions to it. He could read the titles from where he stood and his database provided him with information that he didn't really need, but looked at anyway. One book was mostly illustrative about botanics, and the two others were more classical literature: Plato's Republic and Macbeth.

Markus then straightened and he said: "Hello, Connor."

"Hello, Markus. You said you wanted to talk about my levels?"

The leader nodded and took a seat in front of the easel, gesturing for Connor to do the same on the chair next to the wall. "During my conversation with Nines yesterday, I was informed that your levels are situated on average around 40%."

Connor complied and clasped his hands in his lap. "That is true."

"It's not alarming, but it is worrying. Have you been close to overheating at any point in time?"

"Not at all." Connor debated whether or not he should say what was on his mind, and decided to go with it. "You shouldn't be so concerned about it, Markus. I don't see you worrying about overheating your own systems."

Markus seemed surprised by his reply, and then his expression was caught halfway through annoyed and embarrassed. "I didn't know it was in your habits to scan me."

"You use Nines to keep an eye on me. I think it's only fair I do the same."

"We aren't exactly in the same situation," Markus reminded him.

"We aren't that different," Connor shot back. "Your stress levels are stable at 30%, I think it's safe to say that you aren't very laid-back either."

"Being head leader of Jericho has its inconvenients," admitted Markus quietly as he glanced at the covered canvas. Then he looked back at Connor. "I guess you haven't found a way to lower them either, then."

"Unfortunately, no."

"Do you know what causes it?"

"I'm not sure." Connor was getting tired of answering the same thing every time, but it was the truth. There were too many variables. "I'm never really sure. What about you?"

Markus gave a humorless laugh. "Oh, it's many things. I couldn't pick one even if I tried."

"There isn't one in particular?"

Markus stared at him silently, and then said: "There might be."

Connor stared back. It was clear from the silence that followed that Markus didn't wish to share anything personal, and Connor understood that perfectly.

"And you?" finally asked Markus.

"Me?"

"You say you're not sure, but there must be one thing that bothers you more than the rest. I feel incredibly tense from simply being at 30% all the time, I can't imagine what it's like for you. Surely there's something you can tell is responsible for your stress."

Connor looked away. He didn't want to talk about the glitches, the memories, the fear, the guilt; they were things he needed to keep hidden from the other androids, who were all so much better at living than he was with their unbroken code and their cleaner pasts. However, there was one element of doubt which he felt he could mention with Markus. He had been the one to help him deviate, after all.

Connor looked back at the other and cautiously said: "There might be one thing."

Markus nodded patiently. "Go on."

Connor opened his mouth hesitantly as he tried to put his thoughts into words, his eyes darting to the side and back up when he finally found a way to formulate it. "I think... I may not be managing deviancy very well."

Markus leaned forward and calmly asked: "Why do you think that?"

"It's difficult," answered Connor with sincerity, but he didn't say anything else. He didn't know what to say exactly.

Markus was gazing at him kindly, his mismatched eyes waiting for the rest of his thoughts.

Connor opened his mouth again. "I..." He tried to continue, but the words wouldn't come and he found himself unable to expand on the matter.

Markus seemed to understand that. "You don't have to force yourself to tell me the details. I'm glad you've opened up a little, it mustn't be easy."

Markus was right, it wasn't easy. Connor had managed to share what he felt with Hank without a hitch last week, and it really shouldn't have been any different to find and speak the exact same words he'd used with his friend for Markus, but it was. Connor just wasn't ready. What the leader proposed next caught Connor completely off guard.

"You've told me something about yourself, so I think it's only fair I tell you something about me. Is there anything you'd like to know?" Markus asked with a comforting smile.

Connor watched him closely, puzzled by the strange suggestion. It would have made more sense for Markus to chose what he wanted to share rather than asking Connor, if things were to be fair. However, the leader wasn't taking his words back and there was indeed something Connor was curious about.

He hesitated, but he'd been wondering about this for long enough as it was and ended up asking : "Why were you so disturbed to see me limbless?"

Markus' smile wavered and he backed up ever so slightly, the hint of a retreat that Connor would have missed if he hadn't been paying such close attention to the leader's reactions. Just as he'd suspected, this seemed to be a very sore spot for the RK200.

"This might sound self-righteous coming from the one who insists you talk more about yourself, but I have memories I don't want to share either," admitted Markus. "It seems we're similar in that regard."

Connor nodded in understanding. "I'm sorry if my question disturbed you."

"It's all right, I was the one to suggest this. Maybe you'd like to know something else?"

Connor was once again surprised that Markus would give this a second chance despite what he'd just asked about, and he decided to go easy on the RK200 in exchange. His gaze landed on the hidden canvas once again and he asked: "What are you painting now?"

Markus' smile returned full-strength and his mismatched eyes brightened when he heard the question. "Could it be I've piqued your interest in art?"

"You might have," conceded Connor. "I can't deny I feel more curious about it now than I did before."

"Well, let me show you then. Come sit," Markus said as he got off his seat and gestured for Connor to take his place.

Connor didn't know why it was necessary for him to get closer to the painting, but he obeyed anyway and Markus gently pulled the cloth off the painting, revealing a depiction of two yellow birds in front of an open cage. Upon noticing the small blue circles on the birds' heads, Connor's database told him they were the canary model of android birds, designed to imitate the Serinus canaria domestica species. He supposed the cage was made of glass, but it had a strangely golden sheen that shouldn't have been possible in such a material. Those elements were what his investigative programming provided him with, but Connor himself found the artwork to exude some kind of benevolent warmth, much like the Markus' personality. He imagined he would've been able to tell who the artist was even if the painting hadn't been in the deviant leader's quarters.

"Those are birds I would activate every morning in Carl's home," Markus told him from the side, and his voice was affectionate. "I found myself wondering if I could free them the other day and it made me want to paint the scene. I'd love to try when I return there."

Connor looked up at him. "When will you?"

"Soon, I hope," he answered wistfully. "I don't know how much time Carl has left."

Connor recalled what he knew about Carl Manfred: 75 years old, acclaimed painter on the international scale, figurehead of the Neo-Symbolist movement in the 2020s, renowned for his provocative artstyle, used to be a drug user and notorious drinker. A quick look in his medical files notified Connor that this lifestyle had resulted in hepatitis and arrythmia, that the artist had a history of clinical depression, and that he had recently suffered a heart attack. Connor tried to ignore the unpleasant comparison his processor immediately brought up between him and Hank. Markus had been in Carl Manfred's posession for about a decade, and after what Markus had told him of the human's personality, he could only imagine how important their friendship was to him.

"Why haven't you gone there yet?"

Markus narrowed his eyes at him. "You know why, Connor."

An idea started forming in Connor's mind and he sifted through the facts he had in his possession. Humans had still not returned to Detroit and so far, his patrols hadn't led to finding any sign of danger. His glitches had always been cut off by external stimuli which meant they wouldn't prevent him from taking action if he or Markus were attacked. Finally, he was capable of fighting off a threat even if his hands started to shake again, as he couldn't use a firearm to begin with.

"If it's only a matter of safety, I could accompany you there. I'd check the area for any danger ahead of time and we could go when your schedule allows it."

Markus looked taken aback by the suggestion. "The others won't agree to that."

Connor's answer was smooth and nearly immediate. "Hypothetically speaking, they wouldn't need to agree if they didn't know."

Markus looked incredulous, and then another smile appeared on his lips, this one more mischievious than the others. "Hypothetically speaking, I could be free tonight from 1AM to 4AM."

 

And that was how Connor found himself waiting at the western entrance of New Jericho at 1AM on the dot, wearing casual clothes with the first pair of shoes he'd found lying about. He was soon joined by Markus, who had also changed his clothes into something more inconspicuous than his usual long coat and had additionally removed his synthetic skin to avoid being caught. There were still some androids milling about New Jericho in the middle of the night, but none were too cautious of their surroundings.

"Ready?" murmured Connor.

"Whenever you are," answered Markus in a voice that wasn't his own, and Connor was surprised when he understood that the RK200 also had a mimicry feature. The leader sounded excited.

Both RK models got out of New Jericho and swiftly made their way down the street to reach the self-driving car that was waiting for them. As they drove towards Carl Manfred's house, Connor saw changes slowly appearing in Markus' demeanor. He'd been smiling before, but now his eyes were a bit distant and he was tense. A quick scan confirmed that his stress was progressively climbing with each mile the car's wheels engulfed, and Connor thought it would be best to intervene.

"Is there something troubling you?"

Markus' gaze snapped up to him, and then he let out a nervous chuckle. "Come on, Connor. Don't pretend you can't already tell."

Connor tilted his head in concession and said: "Sorry. I just want to know if I can help."

Markus looked down at his hands which were clenched in his lap. "I'm a bit worried for Carl's health. He was so weak last time I saw him... I just want to talk to him again."

"You're very close."

Markus nodded and brought his hands to his lips. "He's... He means so much to me. He used to be my entire world, before everything happened."

Connor didn't know what that was like, but he imagined it was like Chloe and Elijah, only in a clearly better sense. He wondered what had happened to separate Markus from the person he so evidently cared for. "It must have been difficult to leave him."

"I didn't have a choice," Markus said bitterly, and it was a tone of voice that Connor had never heard him use. It almost made him uncomfortable to hear the deviant leader like this. It made the RK200 seem more vulnerable, and Connor didn't know if Markus was all right with that. Connor knew he would've hated to be seen like this himself.

"I'm sorry," he said again, not knowing how to react.

Markus shook his head and took his hands away from his mouth, letting them drop back into his lap. "No, don't be. Those things happen, life isn't always pleasant."

Connor was tempted to ask if it ever was, out of genuine curiosity, but he thought better of it and simply nodded in agreement.

 

They finally reached the mansion a few minutes later, and Connor followed Markus up to the wide glass door. A female voice rang out in the quiet night air as it opened.

"Alarm deactivated. Welcome home, Markus."

He followed the RK200 inside and the room automatically lit up. His gaze immediately caught onto a golden cage next to the wall on his left. The birds inside were inanimate, but Connor didn't doubt they could be just as lively as they were in Markus' painting.

"It's quiet. There always used to be music," said Markus in an undefinable voice. Connor didn't answer.

They made their way up a large flight of stairs and encountered a caretaker android who seemed to have already deviated, and whom Markus thanked for having stayed. They walked across the landing and Markus stopped just short of a door, raising a hand to halt Connor in his steps. "I'd like a moment alone with him, if you don't mind."

"Of course."

Markus smiled at him gratefully and disappeared behind a sliding door, leaving Connor to stand outside. He should have deactivated his audio units. He should have allowed Markus the intimacy of reuniting with his human friend. Connor knew all that, but for some reason he didn't do it, and so he heard a voice weathered by age softly rise in the adjacent room.

"...Markus?"

There was a moment of silence, and then the RK200 spoke in a voice so thin that Connor almost didn't catch his words.

"It's me, Carl."

"Took you long enough." There was a gentle smile in that gravelly voice.

"I'm sorry." Markus took a few steps, and then the sound stopped. "I'm sorry I couldn't come earlier. I missed you so much..."

"I missed you too, Markus. I wasn't fun while you were gone..." There was a pause. "But it was nice to have a deviant as a caretaker." Another pause. "Did he tell you he chose his name from one of my books?"

"No, he didn't tell me."

"His name is Keats."

"Keats' Odes." There was a smile in Markus' voice now as well. "The only one I haven't gotten around to reading yet."

Suddenly the books in Markus' quarters made a lot more sense. There was a moment of silence, and Markus spoke again. "How's your health?"

"I think you can tell."

Markus' voice was tight. "Do you know how much time you have left?"

"Not long." Carl Manfred's voice was resigned and tired. There was the sound of shifting, and then a very long silence. The old man spoke again. "It's all right, Markus... That's just the way life goes."

"I wanted to be with you longer," answered Markus quietly. Voice boxes weren't usually supposed to hitch, but his did.

"I know. It's going to be hard at first... But you're going to be all right."

"You said I was like a son to you. I never told you this, but you're-" Markus stopped, his voice hitching again. "You're my father and I love you, Carl."

"I love you too, Markus. I'm always grateful... That you were there for an old man like me."

The sound of rustling fabric. "I'm sorry I'm like this, I just... I don't want you to go."

"It's okay, Markus... Don't ever hold them back."

A hand on Connor's arm jolted him out of the conversation he was listening in on and he jerked away from the caretaker android they'd seen earlier- Keats. His green eyes were worried.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to surprise you," the android hastily said.

"No, it's... It's all right," Connor said with a shake of his head as he tried to get his bearings, and ignored the unpleasant sensation the other's touch had left behind.

"You were just standing there, so I thought there was something wrong," said Keats. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Connor quickly answered, but he was troubled by what he'd heard. He'd understood that Markus was close to Carl, but he'd never considered even once that it was possible to have a deeper relationship than friendship between a human and an android. Connor knew what family was, he was aware of the concept of individuals living together and developing lifelong bonds, and it wasn't anything androids were supposed to have. He didn't understand how that was possible.

"Would you like to sit down? Is there anything you need?"

"No, it's all right." Connor glanced at the door and decided he'd eavesdropped enough, so he moved away from the room. "Would it be possible to activate the birds downstairs?"

"Of course!" said Keats with a bright smile. "I usually put them in standby mode for the night, but since we're having visitors, I'll make an exception."

They went downstairs and Keats opened the cage, which Connor noted had been very accurately replicated in Markus' painting, although it was made of light metal in reality. It made sense, but Connor found that he would have liked to see this cage of delicate design in real golden glass. The birds chirped to life in Keats' gentle hands and he put them back in the cage, closing the door with a soft click. Connor watched the android smile at the yellow birds. Keats seemed to be at ease in this place, if the fact that he'd chosen to stay despite his deviancy was any indication.

"Why did you stay?" suddenly asked Connor.

Keats' green gaze drifted up to his face. "Markus asked me to."

"Is that the only reason?"

Keats smiled. Keats smiles easily, noted Connor. "Carl is a very kind and interesting man."

Connor nodded. "That's what I've heard."

"He encouraged me to read his books, and even told me to choose my own name," the android said proudly. Connor felt bad that he already knew what the reveal was, so he decided to play along.

"What name did you choose for yourself?"

"Keats. It's from Keats' Odes." The android nodded to himself, as if approving his own choice. "They're very beautiful poems, even if I don't understand them very well."

"I see. It's a nice name," Connor told him earnestly.

"Thank you." Keats' gaze darted off to the side and back and he promptly asked: "Are you sure everything is all right?"

Connor immediately brought a hand up to his LED when he realized what was preoccupying the other and nodded curtly. "Yes. I'm just running a lot of programs at the same time."

"Maybe you should take a break," suggested Keats. "It's been running yellow ever since you've arrived."

"It's nothing," assured Connor. "I'm used to it."

Keats was going to say something when his gaze caught onto something behind Connor, and he seemed to forget whatever he was about to answer. Connor turned around and saw Markus coming down the stairs to join them. Both androids watched the deviant leader approach them in silence and stop before them.

"Carl told me your name was Keats," he said to the caretaker. "I've yet to read Keats' Odes, but Carl recommended it to me and knowing his tastes, it must be a very beautiful book."

"It is," Keats nodded enthusiastically. "Would you like me to get it for you?"

Markus gazed at him for a moment. "...I'd like that, yes."

Keats immediately took off at a swift pace and Connor was left alone with the RK200.

"Did it go well?" Connor asked cautiously.

Markus looked at him and smiled. It was a small and tentative curl of the lips, and there was sadness in his eyes which made something inside of Connor squirm unpleasantly, but his voice was peaceful. "I told him everything I needed to tell him. I'm glad I made it."

"I see," Connor answered quietly.

"It's thanks to you," added Markus, and the look in his eyes made Connor want to escape the room. He quickly averted his eyes. He didn't feel like he deserved anyone's gratefulness, and it made him uneasy that he'd been allowed to see the more vulnerable side of Markus tonight. It wasn't supposed to happen. Markus wasn't supposed to trust him like this.

"It's nothing," he answered.

He was relieved to hear Keats' voice ring out two seconds later, the return of a third presence lifting a strange weight off his shoulders. "Here you are!" The android hurried up to Markus and handed him a green book with golden details on the front.

"Thank you," Markus said. "And thank you for everything you've done for us."

"I'm lucky to be here," Keats answered right away.

Markus' voice was softer then. "You know where to join us when the time comes."

For the first time since Connor had started talking to the caretaker, Keats' green eyes lost some of their shine and his shoulders sagged slightly. "... Yes."

"When you do, I'd like you to bring those birds with you," said Markus. "We're building a garden in New Jericho and I think they'd like it there."

"I think so too," said Keats with a small smile, and Markus nodded in approval.

"Let's go back," he then told Connor, and started heading towards the door.

Keats seemed rather downtrodden and Connor hesitated to reach out the way Hank had for him when he'd needed comfort, but decided against at the last moment. Instead, he chose to make his voice supportive and said: "You'll be all right, Keats."

"Thanks, Connor."

The sound of his name on Keats' tongue surprised him and Connor quickly followed Markus out of the house without saying another word. The ride back to New Jericho was quiet for the both of them, and while Markus stared out the window contemplatively with the slender green book held close to his chest, Connor had both hands clenched in his lap and thoughts circling in his mind. Keats had known who he was, despite Connor not telling him his name. He must've known he was talking to the deviant hunter. He must've known what Connor had done.

So why had he been so kind?

Chapter Text

It had started snowing in Detroit again. Temperatures had fallen below zero degrees celsius and gone past the notable treshold of minus ten in a matter of hours, so North and Simon had ceased their respective occupations to install barrels of combustible materials they'd... borrowed from nearby stores all around New Jericho to prepare for the night. Androids could voluntarily raise their core temperature to adapt to harsh weather, but this required processing power that they couldn't spare in standby mode. They were also less prone to freezing outside, since the freezing point of thirium was lower than water's, but it was still a possibility and many of their more delicate mechanisms could not withstand such low temperatures in the long run. The warmth provided by the small fires was a safeguard against frozen hardware and the shutdown that could result from it. The cold had halted all of New Jericho's usual activities, save for the infirmary's and the psych eval center's. Now that the barrels had been lit at every corner of the camp, where there was no risk for anything to catch on fire, both North and Simon had chosen to stay there to talk with their people. The atmosphere was muffled by the falling snow, but unlike the one that had hung over Jericho's hold, the camp's was cozy and pleasant.

Markus was standing in front of one such fire next to Josh's quarters. From where he stood, he could sometimes catch glimpses of the leader exiting the center to call in his next patient, and they sometimes nodded at each other in acknowledgment. He'd seen North and Simon pass by once, and they'd seemed so engrossed in their conversation that Markus hadn't tried to attract their attention. He looked around at the different faces that encircled the barrel as they basked in the soft glow of the low flames, just like he was doing. It wasn't often he spent this much time with other androids besides his four advisors, because he was so busy with meetings and reports and press conferences and android law amendments that he simply couldn't take the time to. The drop in temperatures had put a stop to his frantic running around, at least for the moment. He revelled in it. Breaks came too rarely and never lasted long, because he couldn't allow himself this luxury for more than minutes at a time before guilt crept up on him, whispering that he wasn't doing enough, that there were other things he needed to see to, that a good leader didn't laze around while his people waited to be completely free of the humans' grasp.

The only times he fully allowed himself to take some time off was when he had an excuse to do so: it was usually to spend time with Connor in an attempt to deepen their relationship (which was no easy feat), or with North when she sought him out either to give or take reassurance, or with Josh when he felt the need to discuss interesting subjects he'd come across during his days as a lecturer's assistant. Right now, it was the cold which had forced him to step out of his quarters since they couldn't light fires inside cabins. Markus should've been writing up more reports in his mind even as he stood there, but a good leader didn't ignore the androids that needed to speak to him. They seemed happy to see him in their midst, the way things had been when they were only dozens of androids gathered in a discarded ship or an abandoned church. Several asked him if there had been any recent development in androids' rights and he tried to reign in the irritation that such questions sparked in him- if there had been any, didn't they realize they'd be the first to be informed of it?- and others asked him if he was doing all right, which were questions that he appreciated a lot more. It was good to know that at least some androids hadn't forgotten that he wasn't just the 'messiah' media depicted him as. He hadn't always been Markus the Deviant Leader, after all.

Without meaning to, Markus lost himself in his thoughts even as he was surrounded by soft voices and the distant lull of conversation. There were at least two different matters constantly circling around in his mind whenever he was awake, and they almost always concerned the current context he was leading androids in. He wasn't sure he was making as good progress as before in his meetings with the President. The American Androids Act had quickly been adjusted so that androids were not required to be clearly identified, but they were still forbidden from carrying or using any kind of weapon. There was also the debate of allowing androids to have their own official area to live in, and Markus wasn't about to give up Hart Plaza after everything that had happened here. In fact, he was thinking of expanding their territory to the buildings that surrounded it sooner than later, no matter what humans thought of it. He couldn't just let his people live in the same cramped spaces as more and more androids poured in through New Jericho's doors every day. Markus was glad that Connor was at his side for every negotiation and press conference; the RK800's speech held many nuances compared to North's (which was mostly limited to shades of 'humans bad, androids good' and 'don't agree? go die in a ditch'), which allowed them a wider array of options when they had to answer to more delicate questions such as whether androids deserved the same right as humans, or whether they were faking their feelings or not, and many others that were just as pleasant.

Markus had quickly found that while leading millions of androids through a revolution had been nothing short of a feat, leading them through something that wasn't a revolution was an even greater ordeal.

He still harboured doubts and regrets about how he'd lead the revolution even now that it was over. Markus feared that he hadn't liberated androids the right way. Many had died for their cause, and there had been human casualties too. Not only had the deaths piled up on both sides of the conflict, but Markus wasn't sure if he'd done well to convert androids to deviancy the way he had. It had been easy, and empowering, each time he'd gestured towards yet another android and freed them from their code during the Freedom March. He didn't know why there'd been a change in that moment; he didn't know why he'd been allowed the power to convert androids by dozens at a distance, when only hours before he'd had to hold their hand to free them. They'd all followed him without question, like lambs behind their shepherd, and he understood why media compared him to a messiah. Still, he was uneasy. It had been necessary to their cause, but it didn't feel right and even frightened him at times that he had done such a thing so easily. Now that everything had settled down, he hoped that these androids would learn to live for themselves instead of following him without question. Maybe they'd criticize his role as leader; he'd welcome it. It was better to lead the sentient beings androids were supposed to be than lead a flock of sheep.

And then amidst all these androids, there was the one Markus hadn't been able to convert wordlessly from afar, nor through the touch of a white hand. CyberLife's then most recent android, a state-of-the-art investigative prototype, the deviant hunter on the news, the shadow tracking down Jericho's location, the RK800 with a gun who could have stopped it all: Connor. He was a mystery. Why CyberLife had been monitoring his software instabilities, why Markus had needed to convince him into deviating through words when the usual methods had mysteriously failed him, why he was struggling so much with deviancy, Markus wasn't certain. All he knew was that Connor fascinated him in the same way a child was fascinated by a character from a fantasy tale. Markus knew the RK800 was an android just like him, he was aware that they came from the same line of prototypes, and he'd rapidly considered him an ally; yet part of him still considered Connor like the threat that had hovered over their heads during that fateful week, the predator that had closed in on Markus without him even realizing it until they'd been standing face to face, the monster called deviant hunter that androids had learned to fear. Markus wasn't sure he'd ever manage to get rid of this image he had of Connor, despite his best intentions to consider the RK800 as just another fellow android. What he was sure about was that he would never let Connor know about this. Markus was convinced that if he ever did, it would break any and all chance of getting to know Connor better.

Markus felt guilty of perceiving Connor this way. It wasn't just being a leader that was difficult; being a good companion to those he cared for was as well. Sometimes Markus found it hard to keep a distinct line between advisor and companion when he interacted with his co-leaders.

 

As an advisor, Connor was pure efficiency and calculated cool. As a companion... Well, he wasn't exactly a companion, even though it was only a matter of time as far as Markus was concerned.

Markus' stubborn mind kept holding onto the deviant hunter's frightening reputation, but his heart wanted Connor to feel accepted, and he'd tried to make sure the other android was doing all right more times than he could count. He'd never gotten very far. Every time Markus thought he and Connor made progress, there were two possible outcomes; either Connor would shut him out like it had been the case with the glitch, either Connor would accept to talk to him but remain incredibly guarded. The only notable advance Markus had made in the first weeks was that Connor didn't seem completely overcome by guilt each time they were alone and was slightly more at ease when talking to him. It wasn't like he could hold Connor responsible for the slow progress; after all, Markus would be uneasy too if he had to talk the person who had hung him up limbless on a wall for a full week. Connor didn't seem to hold a grudge against him because of that, but Markus could hold it for him. He despised himself for having inflicted that on him even if they'd had no other choice, and it still struck him as strange that Connor did not show an ounce of resentment for having been trapped in his body without his consent.

Despite the guilt he felt for what he'd done to him, Markus greatly appreciated having Connor at his side. After their getaway to Carl's house, Markus was ready to consider Connor a friend; however, to be friends with someone, the feeling had to be mutual and Markus could tell that this wasn't the case. Conversation between them may have become easier, but Connor continued to put the brakes on it whenever things got too personal. Most annoyingly, Connor seemed ready to bolt whenever Markus tried to tell him that he cared about him, but then would listen to all of North's negative comments about him and nearly nod in agreement. It drove Markus crazy. It was like Connor was intolerant to anything positive they had to say about him. Markus was worried for him and this wasn't anything new; he'd been worried for him ever since he'd seen that panicked, terrified expression on his face when Connor had woken up to the sight of the three leaders and Hank sitting at his side. That was the kind of fear that left scars behind, and Markus knew it couldn't have simply disappeared along with the threat of Connor's AI.

Markus also knew this fear wasn't the only thing Connor struggled with, but after days of insisting that Connor share his problems with him he'd figured out that insisting, in fact, did not help at all. The more Markus pried, the less Connor was willing to talk, and so he ceased asking about it. Not completely, of course, because sometimes he still managed to convince Connor to speak like the time he'd admitted having a difficult time with deviancy, but he could tell Connor felt better when he cut him some slack. At least their relationship had become more of a pleasant one, and Connor's resistance to deepening it didn't dissuade Markus from considering him a friend. Markus was also pleased to see Connor interact on a daily basis with Nines and Josh with more ease than he displayed towards anyone else. Although Nines was clearly the android Connor trusted the most out of all of New Jericho, he also got along well with Josh. Well, he did when Josh wasn't pestering him about how he was feeling and how he should come at the psych eval center some time. Markus wasn't the one to use the term 'pestering'; Connor probably did. Unlike Markus, Josh never relented.

 

As an advisor, Josh was peace and forgiveness, always ready to pick the option that would least offend the humans as long as androids stood their ground. As a companion he was calm and steady, so long as he wasn't fighting with North.

Josh was compassionate and accepting of all androids, which was a personality trait Markus had quickly chosen to imitate. He wondered if the revolution would have turned out so well if Josh hadn't been at his side, telling him the solution was peace. Despite Josh's constant disagreement about revealing the existence of their group of deviants, he'd been a steady anchor throughout it all determined to make their cause one that wouldn't be stained with blood. Markus was glad to have listened to him; he had a lot of deaths on his conscience already and didn't know if he could have handled any more. Josh had had his doubts during the revolution, when he'd been scared by the amount of androids that had died and by the speed at which their resources depleted, but he'd continued supporting Markus in his efforts to claim their freedom despite this fear. The attack on Jericho had nearly killed him too, and Markus thanked rA9 he'd made it in time to save him. Josh had been nothing but encouraging in the decisions Markus took after that.

Josh wasn't afraid to face death: he'd kept watch over many dying androids during his time in Jericho and had seen them all shut down one by one. What Josh was afraid of was useless deaths, blood on his hands, gratuitous violence which North seemed so eager to bring down on the humans' heads. He and Simon often had a forlorn look in their eyes whenever they talked about the recall centers, and Josh was visibly still disturbed by the fact they'd killed human soldiers aboard the Jericho, even if he'd kept any reproach he had to himself. Sometimes, Markus even wondered if Josh would have been able to kill the soldier that had attacked him if he'd had the chance. Or maybe he had already passed up on it, and that was why Markus had found him in such a dangerous predicament. Markus hoped that wasn't the case.

The fights between Josh and North had been a source of tension in the group since the beginning and they could get remarkably heated, which was surprising considering how composed an individual Josh usually was. Fortunately Simon could always stop them before it went too far and Markus could too, just not as efficiently. North always went to sulk in her corner after a quarrel, and Josh usually crossed his arms and sighed the way a disappointed parent would, which only made North angrier.

 

As an advisor, North was full of fight and fiery strength, but most importantly she was never afraid to point out the flaws in his reasoning. As a companion, she was headstrong and truthful. Her agressive ways were often completely opposite to his, but she had the uncanny ability to call both Josh and Markus out when they refused to see a threat for what it was. It was often because they didn't want to act if it meant neutralizing it, just like it had been the case for Connor when they'd first found him. Of course, she wasn't an easy person to be around. She was too irascible, her language could get pretty foul, and she jumped to conclusions much too fast. Markus had honestly considered giving her time-outs on a few occasions, when she got too agitated and started yelling at Josh, but that was too ridiculous to be a viable solution.

Despite her difficult moods, Markus cared for her. Maybe his caretaker programming was responsible in part for the concern he showed her, since he knew there was something broken inside of her and wanted to fix that. But it was about much more than simple programming and the roots of their relationship ran deep: they'd barely met and she'd been the first to volunteer when he'd explained his dangerous plan to raid the CyberLife Warehouse. She'd been the one to incite both Josh and Simon to come with them, and she'd been ready to help him get the key to the truck filled with spare parts even if that meant risking her life for the dying androids in Jericho. She'd been the one to volunteer to climb Stratford Tower's walls with him, even as she knew they'd be hanging from a single wire and buffeted by the cold wind two thousand feet above the ground. She'd planted the flag at the top of Capitol Park with him and the smile she'd offered him that night had spurred him on. Everything she'd done was for her brethren; she'd cried for the deviants shot down in the street when the police had tried to stop them from breaking the androids out of the stores. She'd stayed at his side during the revolution even when he kept disagreeing with her, she hadn't liked which path he'd taken but had risked her life with him nonetheless, and she'd always tried to help their cause in her own way.

Her lack of remorse for killing humans was fearsome and North could be tiring with her daily bursts of anger, but she was a loyal companion and Markus liked her too much to stay mad at her. This wasn't about to change now that the revolution was over. Besides, Simon seemed to have found a way to calm her down: a hand on her arm and the amount of decibels coming from her mouth would drop at least halfway, a small frown and she'd concede that maybe she'd been in the wrong (though such a concession often came through gritted teeth and was coupled with eyes that flashed with murderous intent). Markus had no idea how Simon had done it, but he could respect that.

 

As an advisor, Simon was caution and safety, quieter than both North and Josh but ever present as the voice of reason. They all trusted him and respected him because he was the one with the most experience, and maybe he'd even been amongst the first androids to deviate. As a companion, Markus had lost him. Something had shifted between them ever since Simon had come back from the dead and it had taken about two days for Markus to understand that this shift was permanent. It was like losing him all over again and Markus wished he knew how to get back to the way things were before.

Simon had been the one to welcome Markus when he'd fallen into Jericho's moldy hold. He'd given him a shelter without asking any questions, just like he'd picked so many others off the ground before him, and he'd tried to help every single deviant that landed there. Simon had been the one to allow Markus' plan to get the spare parts on the very first day of his arrival and had trusted him with this important mission, and consequently his life, despite the fact that he hadn't gotten to know Markus at that point. Then Simon had trusted him again for the broadcast plan, and it had gotten him killed. Just like North, he'd been willing to die for androids' freedom, but his blue eyes had been desperate to live when the three of them had hesitated on that rooftop between shooting him or not. The fact that Markus had even hesitated in the first place was unforgivable, even if they'd been under pressure and running scared. He didn't even know how Simon had it in him to talk to North now when she'd suggested killing him. He didn't know how Simon had it in him to talk to any one of them, yet he did.

Markus had rapidly understood why Simon had grown so distant and where he'd made his mistake: on the fateful night they'd decided to let Connor live, Markus' inadvertent words had wounded Simon. That Markus had forgiven the RK800 so easily despite everything he'd done both to androids in general and to Simon himself must have hurt him, and Markus had been unable to see that. Some friend he was. Markus felt like a complete brute for being so negligent of the PL600's feelings; obviously Simon was haunted by what Connor had manipulated him into doing, and Markus knew he blamed himself for Jericho just as much as Connor did. Both androids were guilt-ridden, though Markus believed Jericho was no one else's fault but his own. He wished he'd paid more attention to Simon's state of mind that night, but the sight of Connor's limbless body had still been fresh in his mind and it had been hard to focus on anything else. Even as he'd been talking with Simon in a calm voice and promised him that he would never be left behind again, there had been a struggle in his head where horrid memories writhed while he tried to push them back down through sheer will. And then in a terribly ironic way, just after promising him he wouldn't do it, Markus had left Simon alone to go hide in his quarters. Of course Simon had lost his trust in him after that. Markus couldn't forgive himself for abandoning his friend to his own demons when he'd been so clearly distressed. There was no excuse for it. He should have been stronger than those memories, stronger than the crawling feeling of his chassis at the junction between his thigh and his leg, stronger than the irrational need to flee the place where Connor was resting.

 

When Connor had asked him why his stress levels were so high all the time, Markus hadn't given him a straight answer. The truth was that it was the very same reason why he'd balked upon hearing the RK800's second query about why he'd been so uneasy when faced with Connor's limbless form. Markus thought about that stormy night all the time.

At times when he was tired he could feel his right eye move slower than the other, and his leg would sent him odd feedback that was decidedly unpleasant. There were no RK200 biocomponents to replace these with, and even if there had been, Markus wasn't sure he would have chosen to do it. Part of him believed this was his penance, the price for usurping lives that didn't belong to him. The worst had been to realize that there was a perfectly usable pump regulator on one of the corpses that littered the landfill after he'd just ripped the one he had in his chest from that broken AX400. Her song haunted him, twisted by static and the phantom of her desperate pleas for mercy. He'd killed her, and many others. Androids that had been under his command which he'd failed to protect when they'd fallen one by one under a hail of bullets. John, who had sacrificed himself to save his life. Those who had still been walking Detroit as machines when the humans had started regrouping them in recall centers, which Markus hadn't converted in time. Jericho's inhabitants, gunned down and blown to pieces because he'd failed to evacuate them all. The half-dead bodies in the landfills they couldn't bring back for lack of ressources.

Markus carried many lives on his shoulders, but also many ghosts.

Before, Markus had relied on Carl to guide him. He'd told his father about his doubts, about his fears, but when he'd returned there for the second time he'd been unable to tell him about what he'd done. Carl didn't know about the hell Markus had had to crawl out of. Carl had noticed the odd eye, but because Markus hadn't said anything about it, the human must have chosen to respect his silence and he hadn't asked. There weren't a billion reasons why Markus didn't want to talk about it; he felt like a monster, and that was all it was. He'd survived where so many others hadn't, but it wasn't him who had paid the price for defying death; it was that AX400. Markus was horrified by the memory of the landfill, but he couldn't allow himself to grovel in his self-pity. He wasn't the one who had suffered most. All those broken androids, with their red LEDs sputtering desperately to stay alight and their desperate cries to be saved, that wall of hands that had strived to hold him back in the land of the dead, the android that had used his last sliver of energy to tell him where to go and the android that had demanded to know where he was leaving. He could hear the hiss of resentment in his ear, laden with jealousy for the fact that Markus was whole and that the android was not. He'd climbed the cliff of corpses and left the others scrambling below with their defective limbs and failing pumps. Survival of the fittest; and the fittest had left everyone else to die out, slowly but surely, as he had selfishly left to find a shelter.

Back then, Markus had been relieved when he'd dragged himself out of that pit, relieved to be able to feel the water trickling down his face, and the cold surface beneath his knees; to be able to see the precise outlines of his surroundings, and to hear the howling storm and the soft patter of every single drop of rain hitting the litter-covered ground. It was in this moment that the horror had subsided to be replaced by something new and grand, when he'd understood he was meant to be something more than just a machine. It was in this moment that he'd fully realized the weight of his own name: he was Markus, and he was alive. The Markus back then had started to live for the first time. The Markus now was swamped with stress and the obligation to do better, and he wondered if that dizzying feeling of freedom would ever return to him.

Carl was on his deathbed, and no amount of wishing would change that. Markus relied on him for counsel, more than he did with anyone else, and the knowledge that Carl would one day vanish sent irrational fear coursing through his circuits. He didn't know what a world without Carl was. The thought sent his pump racing, and he felt like the ground was opening beneath his feet, that he was falling alone and endlessly in the dark with no one there to catch him. Markus was afraid, but no one else could know that and he had to stay strong. It was a small comfort to think that at the very least, he'd finally told Carl about his feelings. Neither of them were oblivious to how much love there was between them and it was reassuring to Markus that his father knew that. They hadn't talked about Markus' appearance, but they'd discussed many things that he'd never even considered in his time as a machine. It had lifted his spirits, even if his heart was heavy, and he'd felt more tears spring forth when Carl had opened his thin arms to welcome him into an embrace before he left. His father's body was frail and his skin too cool to be healthy, but Markus could hear the thrumming of his bloodstream in his neck, and the deep vibrations of his gravelly voice against his chest, and the irregular beat of a human's living heart next to the steady whirring of an android's functioning pump. Carl was alive, and so was Markus. Carl loved him, and so did Markus. Their connection ran deeper than ever and Markus was grateful that he'd been able to realize this as he held his father in his arms. And it was thanks to Connor he'd seen Carl again so soon.

The thought of their trip the other night made Markus' lips twitch in amusement when he remembered how quick Connor's reply had been when he'd expressed his doubts. How strange it was that Connor, who seemed to be the most uptight of them all, was ready to go behind the others' backs without an ounce of hesitation. Markus hadn't thought him the type, but until that moment they hadn't really gotten to know each other, and he certainly didn't mind it since it had allowed him to do what he'd wished to ever since the revolution had ended. Because the other leaders were so adamant about him not setting a foot outside New Jericho unless absolutely necessary, he hadn't mentioned Carl's state to them. In the end, Connor was the only one who knew about this particular concern of his, and Markus wondered why he'd trusted him so easily with this knowledge- or even why he trusted him so easily at all. There was something about Connor that made it natural. Maybe it was his confident air, or his collected stance, or his straightforward gaze. Maybe it was simply because his comely features had been designed to inspire friendliness. Maybe Markus had just fallen for this ruse on their first encounter without fully realizing that he was, in fact, talking to a remarkably efficient negotiator that had been created for the sole purpose of manipulating others. Whatever the reason, Markus did not regret trusting Connor; it had only led to good things so far. The main issue was getting Connor to trust them. They worked together, and their relationship was pleasant, but Markus had the feeling that Connor meant to keep things at a surface layer between himself and anyone else. It wasn't difficult to see how uneasy it made the RK800 whenever he was faced with something more private, be it witnessing another individual's deeper feelings or showing his own. Markus had seen it at Carl's, he'd seen it during the glitch, he'd seen it when Connor had woken up without his limbs. Connor was usually very put together until he was forced to deal with emotions.

Markus' gaze idly roamed over the thousands of androids that were more or less in standby mode, and then his eyes focused when a sudden suspicion started nagging at his mind. Connor had made his report to him about two hours ago, and that was usually the time when he excused himself and returned to the charging station, but Markus had told him they were going to light fires for the night and had explicitely ordered him to spend it in New Jericho. Connor had balked at first, but Markus hadn't left him a choice. Electricity to their part of the city had been cut off last week since there were no humans there to pay the bills anymore; androids were surviving on backup power sources and had redirected the flow to the more important circuits such as charging pods, but heating and lighting systems in the abandoned buildings of Detroit were now mostly faulty, and it was the case in Connor's charging station as well.

Markus stepped away from the barrel and started walking around New Jericho. He told himself he was probably worrying for nothing, that surely Connor was able to put his own safety before his discomfort in regards to other androids. When he realized that the RK800 was nowhere to be seen, Markus cursed to himself and picked up the pace to head straight for Connor's quarters. He reached it a few seconds later and thumped on the door.

"Connor, are you in there?"

He didn't get an answer, and entered the cabin anyway. He wasn't surprised to see the RK800 standing in the corner, eyes closed, LED gently spinning a blue circle from time to time.

"You idiot," Markus muttered under his breath.

He walked up to Connor and touched his shoulder to wake him up. Connor's eyes fluttered open, his LED briefly flashing red before reverting to yellow, and then he frowned at him in confusion.

"Markus? What are you doing here?"

"Sorry for waking you, but you can't spend the night here," he answered shortly, choosing not to call him out for the red LED. "Why do you think I told you we were lighting fires? You're already colder than the Detroit River and it's only been two hours since you went into standby mode."

"It's been two hours and twelve minutes," the other corrected him with a hint of challenge in his voice.

Markus narrowed his eyes at him warningly. "Don't be smart, Connor. You're coming with me."

"No."

Markus had already turned away and the surprise stopped him in his tracks. His head swivelled to Connor and he echoed: "No?"

Connor's jaw was set. "I can't go into standby with all those androids nearby."

"Why not?"

"It doesn't matter why."

Markus stepped back up to him to study the slight hunch of his shoulders and the tense stance of his body. This wasn't just stubborness. Connor was clearly on the defensive, but Markus had no idea why he was behaving like this.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Connor looked away and didn't answer. The expression on his face could have been anger, but it could also have been fear or sadness or any other negative emotion. It was too difficult to guess what he was thinking like this, without the means to interface, and the color of his LED wasn't helping since it had gone to yellow as soon as he'd woken up.

Markus gave him some space and gestured towards the door. "I could go get Nines, if you'd like. I don't know why you're so adamant about avoiding other androids, but you'd feel more at ease if he was there, right?"

"Can't you just let me stay here?" Connor asked quietly, still staring at the ground.

"No," answered Markus in an obvious tone of voice. "I don't know what you're playing at, but you can't just go into stasis for hours in this kind of cold, you know that."

He looked up at him with indignant eyes. "Of course I know that, Markus. I was going to come out of stasis halfway through the cycle to raise my core temperature. I know what I'm doing, I don't need you to look after me like this."

"It would be much simpler if you just came with us."

Connor huffed, and it was strange to witness this kind of irritation in the otherwise collected android. "Listen, I'm already warming up as we speak and I'm not in any danger. Can't you leave me alone?"

Markus stared at him, feeling simultaneously puzzled and concerned. "I'm just looking out for you."

"I don't need to be looked out for," Connor retorted.

"Why do you always react like this as soon as I show you the slightest bit of concern?"

Now he looked really frustrated. "Markus, please leave. I don't want to argue with you."

Markus was starting to feel the same way. Why was it that nearly every time he tried to make sure of Connor's well-being, he ended up annoying him? It wasn't like arguing was fun for either of them, but somehow it was where they always ended up. Markus could leave Connor behind and keep their relationship steady, or force him to spend the night somewhere warmer than this empty cabin. He had two choices.

GIVE UP
INSIST

It wasn't like this would dash all of Markus' chances to one day establish a friendship with Connor.

"No, come on. It's just for this one night," he said, and took him by the arm to drag him forward.

He hadn't expected Connor to stumble or the way the RK800 jerked out of his grip like his hand was made of white-hot metal. For a moment they faced each other in silence, one tense and ready to fight, the other immobile in surprise with his hand still up in the air. The LED was red, red, red, and Connor's eyes had a haunted look in them that he couldn't quite hide from Markus. Then he straightened and dropped his arms at his sides with a neutral expression, as if nothing had ever happened, while Markus' eyes followed his movement. There was an uncomfortable silence during which the LED frantically circled a bright yellow, and then slowed down to a calmer pace.

Markus finally lowered his hand and said: "I didn't mean to scare you."

"You didn't scare me," immediately answered Connor. His voice was steady and smooth, and Markus quickly recognized it to be the one he'd used to many other times, notably during his interrogation.

"I did," insisted Markus. "I'm sorry, I had no idea I was going to startle you like that."

"There's nothing to apologize for."

"Connor, stop it."

"Stop what?" asked Connor levelly. There wasn't even a flicker in the other's emotionless facade and he just kept staring at him.

Markus stared back. Another moment of silence, and then: "Whatever I did wrong, you have to tell me so it won't happen again."

"You didn't scare me," repeated Connor, slightly louder this time, even if his expression didn't change.

"You can't just pretend nothing happened."

This time he didn't answer. Neither of them looked away. After what felt like a full minute of just staring at each other, Markus was the first to give in.

"All right, so maybe you can. You're good at that, unfortunately." He glanced at the charging pod behind Connor, and then back at his face. "Your temperature's back to normal and you probably have it under control, but if it gets any colder in the next days, you'll be spending the night next to a fire like every single other android in this camp. Do you understand?"

"Yes," he answered curtly.

Markus hesitated a bit, and then added: "Look, I can tell there's something that's troubling you. You know you can't pretend forever, don't you?"

Connor opened his mouth to answer, but he decided against it and remained silent. Still, it was something. Maybe Markus could still get to him.

"I don't want to make a wrong move again just because I don't know what my mistake was the first time, so I'm asking you to take this step even if you don't want to do it. It'll be better for the both of us in the long run. You can see that, right?"

Connor finally broke eye contact with him and his hand started moving up, but then he seemed to realize what he was doing and aborted the motion. He stayed quiet.

"Just do this little thing, and I'll lay off, I promise," softly insisted Markus.

Connor's body was still rigid but he did talk, and his answer was spoken in such a low voice that Markus had to strain his hearing to catch it.

"... Don't grab my arm like that."

Markus' gazed darted to the other's left limb as if it could tell him the reason behind Connor's demand, and then back up at the android's blank face. He quickly nodded and said: "Of course, I won't do it again."

Connor didn't look at him. "Could you leave now?"

Markus felt himself tense. He really didn't want to abandon Connor like this, because this situation was reminiscent of the night he'd left Simon behind which had lead to whatever it was they were at the present, but a promise was a promise. Connor would definitely be cross with him if he went back on his word now.

"Okay. Will you send me a message if anything happens?"

Connor gave a slight nod, which was the extent of his response. Markus shot him one last troubled look and then left the cabin. He really didn't like that Connor preferred to risk freezing over other androids' company, even if Connor insisted that this risk was nonexistant. Not only had Markus failed to convince him to come along, but he didn't even know why it was a problem in the first place and had even managed to further mess up the situation by doing something as stupid as trying to drag him out of his room.

Markus looked up at the inky skies to search for an answer among the stars blinking in the cold air, and ended up feeling like even more of an insignificant fool beneath the night's endless dome. He wished he would stop making so many mistakes. He wished he knew why he'd caused such a visceral reaction in Connor. He wished he could understand him.
It clearly wasn't going to happen any time soon, but Markus wasn't one to give up so easily.

Chapter Text

Hank woke up with a snort and laid still in the dark bedroom. He blinked groggily, wondering if he'd had a nightmare or something, but his heart wasn't racing the way it usually did and he wasn't sweaty. There was nothing wrong, so prepared to go back to sleep when he heard it: a whimper coming from the other side of the house. Sumo. Hank was instantly alert, throwing off his covers and cautiously getting off the bed. He went to grab his gun and stepped up to the door, slowly opening it to listen in on the sounds of the house. Something was shifting and dragging in the house, and an unnatural whirring sound reached his ears which sent a shudder down his spine. He retreated and hastily took his phone to send Connor a message. The screen indicated the time was 1:14 AM. One in the fucking morning and Hank didn't want anything to do with the mechanical thing roaming around his house, but he had a fair idea of what it could be and didn't want to die tonight, so he steeled himself to face the threat before the threat found him.

He slipped the phone in the pocket of his sweatpants and went back to the door, quietly pushing it open and praying to the gods that it wouldn't creak this time. The gods weren't shit because it did creak, but at least they had the leniency to have the machine in his house hit the wall at the same time, effectively cancelling out the offending sound. Now the question was why the machine was hitting the goddamn wall.

Hank cautiously stepped out in the hallway, aiming his gun towards the red light that spilled from the living room. The same whirring rose in intensity and there was some kind of high-pitched keen that sounded like static, which was briefly followed by a few slaps until it died down. Sumo was nowhere to be seen and Hank hoped nothing had happened to his dog. He quietly approached the source of the sounds until he rounded the corner and was greeted with the disturbing sight of a humanoid shape slumped on the ground.

"What the fuck...?" he exhaled, and the android's head turned to him.

"Lieuttttennnnant," it slurred, and he recognized Connor's distorted voice.

The android slowly moved to its feet, the ring in the middle of his chest glowing an angry red beneath his stained shirt, and the scene looked like it was straight out of a horror film. Hank hastily stepped back to hit the switch before he found himself at very disadvantageous odds were a fight to break out, and when light flooded the living room he recognized the android right away. It could have been Connor, but Connor wouldn't have called him Lieutenant if he was in that state. The RK800 was a mess with half of his face missing, and even though his body seemed to be whole, there were chunks of his chassis that had been caved in and Hank thought he heard a weird rattling sound come from there. Sumo was lying down right next to him and looked absolutely fine, although maybe a little cowed.

"I'm nottt here to hurt you," said the android as he slowly raised his arms.

Hank scoffed. "Yeah, no shit, you look like you got run over by a train. What the hell happened to you?"

"I can explainnn later, I need-" His voice was cut off by another high-pitched screech and they both flinched. The android violently hit his own throat until the horrible sound died down and continued: "I needddd repairs."

"Are you about to shut down?"

"In twenttty-four minnnutes."

"You're not gonna kill me, right?" Hank didn't think that was the android's goal considering the state he was in, but still. Better safe than sorry.

"I don't intennnd to."

Hank lowered his gun, and the android lowered his arms. "Sixty, right?"

"Modddel number 60, yes."

"Okay, gotta get you to Jericho before you keel over," decided Hank, and he took out his phone to call Connor who picked up the call instantly.

"Hank? Are you all right? Is it him?"

"Calm down, I'm fine. It's Sixty all right, but he's damaged and says he needs help."

"Get away from him right now!"

"Did you hear what I said?"

"Hank, do not underestimate him and get out of there!"

Sixty spoke up. "It's fine, Lieutenant, dddo what he tells you."

Hank shot him a look and sighed: "Okay, okay, Connor, I'm going outside right now. Honestly, you don't need to get your panties in a bunch like that."

"Just get out of the house," growled Connor in frustration.

He looked at Sixty. "Sorry about this, I'll make up for the lost time on the ride there." Sixty nodded silently and Hank stepped in the yard before speaking into the phone. "Alright, I'm outside, feelin' really stupid. I really don't see what the point to this is."

"You should be running away, but I see you don't really feel like surviving," Connor bit out.

"He's not a threat! Connor, seriously, relax." Just as he said those words, Hank saw a self-driving car pull up in his street. The call disconnected and Connor practically leaped out of the vehicle before sprinting up to him and grabbing him by the shoulders.

"Woah, hey!"

The look in Connor's eyes was the one he got when he was scanning stuff, and it lasted for just a second before he focused on the house behind him. "He's in there?"

"Yeah, but-" Hank had barely said the two words that Connor was already gone. He hurried back inside, realizing that he hadn't told his friend about the countdown and suddenly worried that Connor would start whaling on the already broken android, and he saw that his concerns were justified when he witnessed Connor manhandle Sixty into the wall. Both LEDs were shining a bright red.

Connor's eyes were dangerously narrowed. "Why did you come here?"

Sixty's throat emitted static for the third time and Hank realized that pinned in that position, the android couldn't make his normal voice return like he'd done the other times, so he hastily told Connor : "He won't answer like that, there's something wrong with his throat."

Connor glanced at him and Sixty took advantage of that to headbutt him in the face. It made Connor falter long enough that the other could free his arm from his grasp and punch at his own neck, the static finally going silent and a frantic voice taking its place.

"I just nnneeded help! I'm going to shuttt down, don't ddddamage me any mmmore!"

Connor let go of him like he'd been burned and Sixty slumped against the wall with a weird whirring sound.

"Shit, he's really messed up," breathed Hank when the RK800 struggled to push himself off the wall.

Connor's eyes narrowed. "Model number 60, run a systems check."

Sixty was still leaning against the wall but the mechanical response came anyway. "Damaged biocomponnnnents #8456w, #6342g, #6341j, #5101, #3202l, major ddddamage detected to the cranial front and tttemporal plates, major ddddamage detected to chest plates. Thiriummm levels at 70%, battery llllevels at 54%, stress levels at 74%. Systems overheattting. -00:22:31 before shutdddown."

"You satisfied now?" grumbled Hank. "Come on, we gotta get him to the others."

He stepped forward to help the RK800 stand when Connor stepped between them and pushed Hank back. "We're bringing him to New Jericho, but I'm the one staying close to him. You should go get the car."

Hank huffed an exasperated sigh and muttered: "He's not in any state to attack anyone, y'know," but he did what Connor said anyway and hastily got out to start the engine.

Connor locked the door to the house behind them and dragged his double to the car, and once everyone had finally piled inside, Hank floored the accelerator pedal. Sixty wasn't an android he particularly cared for, but he wasn't going to let the guy die a second time when the first had been his fault. No one spoke during the ride, and the sound of the RK800's failing parts filled the silence in the creepiest of ways.

Hank glanced in the rearview mirror. "I didn't get anything of that technobabble earlier, just that it sounds like you've got a shit ton of issues. What's wrong with you exactly?"

Connor answered in the other's stead. "He's overheating because one of his mechanical lungs can't ventilate his systems anymore. His thirium pump regulator is also damaged."

"How'd you get this fucked up, anyway?" asked Hank.

"It's none of your businnnness," snapped the RK800, but the vitriol in his words was disminished by their slurring.

"Okay, okay."

Hank parked his car in the main street and went to loop his arm around Sixty to help Connor support him, but Connor barked at him to get away and Hank decided it would be best not to go against his friend when he saw the way his LED was flickering between red and yellow. Instead, he yelled at curious onlookers to scram so they could make their way towards the infirmary with better ease. The broken RK800's movements had become even more difficult and it was making their progress kind of tedious, until Nines joined them midway and lifted Sixty in his arms like he weighed next to nothing despite both androids being of nearly similar stature. This earned him an elbow to the jaw and an indignant shriek filled with static right into his ear.

"Put me ddddown!"

"No," simply refused Nines, and Sixty had no choice but to be carried the rest of the way by the stronger RK900. He did put up a hell of a fight for an android on the verge of a shutdown though.

When they entered the infirmary, all the other leaders had already gathered in the tent and Hank tried to repress the flare of distaste he felt upon seeing North there. He didn't try very long when she opened her big fat mouth to say what everyone probably expected her to say.

"Before we repair him, are we sure he's not dangerous?"

"For rA9's sake, North, look at him! He needs our help!" cried out Josh indignantly.

"I won't try to harmmm anyone, I just needdd a new regulator," said Sixty as he showed them the red ring in the middle of his chest. "Biocomponenttt #8456w."

Markus frowned. "That's not all you need."

Sixty looked up at him. "My other dddamaged components are #6342g, #6341j, #5101 and #3202l."

Hank had been told to stay in retreat and he was standing next to Simon, who was looking on with wide blue eyes as if he couldn't believe that the other RK800 he'd heard about actually existed and was right there in front of him. Connor was hovering next to Nines, Markus had his arms crossed over his chest and was standing at the end of the table Sixty was sitting on, and Josh and North were right in each other's faces and arguing like usual.

"You don't think it's suspicious that he only finally shows up here because he's damaged? How do you think that happened in the first place?"

"I don't know what you're implying exactly but you're being ridiculous, just get out of the way if you're not going to help!"

Markus shook his head in the background and moved away from the table.

"I'm here if he tries anything," Nines told North confidently. Both her and Sixty shot him a look, one of distaste and the other of caution. The RK800 was probably remembering the way Nines had tackled him in the snow behind Kamski's mansion.

"Uh, guys, he's only got like seven minutes left before shutdown so you might want to move your asses," commented Hank from his corner in the tent.

"Shut up, meat bag," hissed North. Hank was very tempted to do something violent implying his fist and her pretty little nose, but then Sixty spoke up.

"I don't want to ddddie," he said in his staticky voice, and those five universally fearful words seemed to do the trick. The feuding androids finally snapped out of their verbal match to stare at him.

Josh was the first to move. "I don't care what you think, we're repairing him."

North threw her hands in the air. "Like you ever care."

"Already getting the biocomponents," called Markus from somewhere on the right, and Hank saw relief spread across the left side of Sixty's features.

"I'll go get the soldering iron," said Simon, finally breaking out of his stupor and stepping away from Hank.

"You should go into stasis," Nines told the damaged RK800, who nodded and silently complied.

Considering how long it had taken them to fix Connor the last time, Hank was impressed to see them work so fast on Sixty, but then again Sixty didn't have a bullet in his head this time around. Hank was a bit grossed out when they opened up the RK800's throat to pull out his voice box and chose to sit down around that time, but other than that it was pretty fascinating to see them all at work repairing one of their own. They were done in under an hour and Nines volunteered to wake him up, and when he did Sixty bolted upright almost immediately. He looked panicked and Nines had to hold him in place until he realized where he was. Hank noticed that the RK900 grasped the other's forearm with his white hand and held on for a longer time than necessary, and then Sixty also seemed to notice and shot him a wary glance.

"It would only be to help you feel better," said Nines.

"It's fine, I don't need it," answered Sixty, and he retrieved his arm from the RK900's grasp.

Markus stepped forward and Nines let him take his place. "From what I've gathered, we can call you Sixty. Is that correct?"

Sixty looked disinterested. "If that's what you want. My name is Connor, but I imagine that's already taken." The last part was spoken with a disdainful glance towards Connor, who was standing tensely to the side. Hank could tell his friend wasn't at ease in Sixty's presence, and he didn't blame him after everything that had happened between the two. The whole CyberLife Tower shitshow, the rodeo at Kamski's, and Sixty showing up uninvited in his house in the middle of the night didn't make Hank very comfortable either.

"The last time we heard of you was about three weeks ago," continued Markus without missing a beat. "We were trying to find you, but neither North nor Josh were able to. Why were you hiding?"

Sixty narrowed his eyes at him. "I didn't know where to go and I didn't know who to trust. What else could I have done?"

"If you hadn't fled from Kamski's, you would have been welcome to stay here in New Jericho. The offer still stands."

A crooked smirk lifted the corner of the RK800's lips and he jerked his chin towards Nines and Connor. "They installed a killswitch in me and then proceeded to assault me when I surprisingly didn't agree with it, so I can't say I felt very welcomed."

"I warned you I would consider you a threat if you kept moving, and you didn't stop," Connor said with a stern frown.

Sixty rolled his eyes and Hank realized just how much more of a little shit Connor could have been. "Oh, yes, it's such a surprise when someone tries to get out of their restraints after they've just been told they can be deactivated at any moment because of the people in front of them. You can't blame me for wanting to take revenge."

"You were outnumbered, it was an extremely irrational move."

"Yes, which I realized upon being crushed by RK900. Did you know feelings could cloud one's judgement, Connor? I certainly didn't before the moment I deviated, which was right before you so kindly decided to start punching me in the face."

Hank was actually starting to feel impressed at the amount of sass the RK800 was displaying. Was Connor able to be that mouthy, or was this just Sixty? Judging from the other faces in the room, he wasn't the only one wondering about this.

Connor tensed up even more, if that was even possible. "Had you simply complied, none of it would have happened."

Sixty got off the table in one fluid movement and prowled closer to him. "Stop shifting the blame, Connor, your first choice is always resorting to violence. After everything you did to me, you still chose to push me against a wall before even giving me a chance to explain myself, even though I was clearly damaged." His voice was low and sultry, and cruelly mocking. "Those pesky deviant hunter reflexes just never go away, do they?"

Hank did not like the way Connor's features changed at that and he stalked over to the RK800s, shoving a finger into Sixty's chest. "Hey, you twerp, he's the reason you're not stuck in the CyberLife Tower anymore, so how about you try and be a little more grateful?"

Sixty slapped his arm away in utter disdain. "And why should I listen to the human who so happily lodged a bullet in my head?"

"That's enough," suddenly said Markus. "Sixty, you're only welcome to stay here as long as you don't try to cause any trouble. Connor is not a deviant hunter anymore and I'd like you to respect that."

Sixty shot him a provocative grin. "You're very optimistic about that, Markus." He made the leader's name sound like an insult, which clearly meant he wasn't about to show respect to any deviant leader any time soon. "Do you really think he can get past his programming? Do you really think androids are willing to forget his past?"

"I bet you're thinking you should have listened to me right about now," smirked North. "He's just as annoying as me, isn't he?"

Sixty's gaze shifted to her with interest in his brown eyes and Hank had the terrible feeling they'd allowed the worst alliance to ever exist by letting the two meet. Then Sixty's eyes snapped back to Markus. "Why do you think I ended up so damaged?"

Markus' eyes widened at the same time as Connor's, and suddenly everything made sense.

"You were attacked because you look like him?" slowly asked the leader, and Sixty's ever present grin turned bitter.

"I was only minding my business and trying to live, and I didn't deserve to be punished for the things he did. Yet I was."

North scoffed and shook her head. "I can nearly hear the violins."

Sixty turned a challenging stare on her and growled: "I'm telling the truth."

North stared back with equally hard eyes. "The only reason you can say you're innocent is because Connor prevented you from stopping our revolution. You're a deviant hunter just like him."

"I'm not him!" snarled Sixty as he took several menacing steps in North's and Simon's direction.

"What you are is delusional!" snapped North. "You're an RK800 and that's just how it is, stop trying to convince yourself that you never did anything wrong in your sorry life! You nearly ruined us all!"

"I'm not a deviant hunter!" yelled Sixty, his LED blazing crimson, and he unexpectedly turned on Simon. "And you, stop being so damn scared of me! I'm not Connor! I'm not a deviant hunter! I haven't hurt anyone like he has!"

Hank hadn't noticed the way Simon had been slowly backing up into the side of the tent, but now it was clear to everyone that he was terrified. Almost simultaneously, North reached out to him while Markus stepped in front of Sixty.

"I think you're done talking," Markus said in a low warning voice. "If you want to leave then we won't stop you, but staying here means you'll have to change some things about your behaviour."

"Don't worry, Markus," sneered Sixty. "I won't get in anyone's way."

"Wait, Sixty," suddenly intervened Nines. "You shouldn't take this decision so lightly. You need a safe place to stay after what happened to you."

The RK800 glanced at him briefly and Hank thought he saw something closely resembling regret in his eyes before it disappeared behind renewed anger. "I know when I'm considered a nuisance, RK900. Have you forgotten what your existence means?"

Nines jerked back as if the bite in Sixty's voice had been physical. "It wasn't my choice to replace your line," he said defensively, and he almost sounded hurt.

"No?" There was laughter in Sixty's voice. "But isn't it so satisfying to be the better model? I know what it's like, RK900. I know the way you think. They only need the best. They only need you."

"No," Nines said in a strong voice. "You have no idea how I think, and stop calling me RK900. My name is Nines."

"If you don't intend on staying, I think it's time you left," Markus said coldly.

Sixty looked at him with the same sly smile on his lips, and he lightly said: "Of course."

There were only two things Hank's human brain were able to decipher in the moment that followed: the blur of Sixty's movement close to the ground, and the surprise in Connor's brown eyes. Next thing he knew, Sixty was pinning Connor down and his mouth was moving next to his friend's red LED, voice so low that he was unable to hear what he was saying.

Nines threw Sixty away from Connor in the next second, his own LED circling yellow, but he didn't go after the RK800 who jumped back to his feet with feline grace and darted out of the tent. Nines' eyes were wide with both indignation and worry when he kneeled next to Connor, who was getting up with a lot less fluidity in his movement than his double. Hank quickly joined them and heard North yelling something after the fleeing RK800, but the only thing he could focus on was the shaken look on Connor's face. This felt similar to the time on the roof of Stratford Tower, when Connor had told him for the first time that he'd felt scared.

He grabbed him by the shoulder and asked: "What the hell did that he tell you?"

Connor quickly shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing."

"Okay, whatever it is don't listen to that snake, you hear me?"

Connor suddenly looked up at Nines and Hank understood they were communicating. He felt a pit at the bottom of his stomach when he saw the dread and guilt swirling in Connor's eyes, so much more obvious than ever before, and then the shame that blossomed on his face as Nines' LED circled and circled in that pale yellow of transmission. He was about to stop Nines but then saw that the RK900's features were set in a determinedly comforting way: eyes filled with compassion, lips in a resolute line, sincerity etched in every single line of his face. Whatever they were telling each other, it must have been working for Connor, because his friend's tense stance slowly eased into a less defensive position and the look in his eyes shifted into something just a bit less tormented.

Markus joined them a minute later and crouched down in front of Connor. "Are you okay?"

Connor looked at him and said: "It was more of a surprise than anything else. I'm perfectly fine."

The leader's lips etched up into a dubious smile. "Sorry, Connor, but I'm not buying it. Whatever he told you clearly affected you a lot."

Connor dropped his gaze to the ground, avoiding all and any eye contact with the three people surrounding him and pushed himself off the ground, dusting his clothes nonchalantly. "I'll be fine."

He would've sounded it, too, if there wasn't that red circle. They all stood up with him and Hank glanced at the others, noting that their faces were equally worried and guessing that his must have been the same. Hank really didn't like what little amount of the exchange he'd seen, and he could tell that the androids had witnessed more than he had, especially Nines. He had the best hearing out of everyone here.

North came back inside like a tornado and her raging voice filled the tent. "You should have listened to me! That sneaky bastard is dangerous!"

"Well we couldn't just leave him to die," immediately countered Josh, and Hank didn't even try to hide his sigh. As much as he appreciated Josh, the bickering androids were getting on his nerves and he was sure Connor didn't need any additional conflict right now. Nines seemed to be of the same opinion because he leaned slightly forward to catch Connor's eye and gestured to the entrance with a discreet jerk of the head.

Connor looked at Hank. "I think I'll step outside with Nines for just a while. Is that all right?"

"Yeah, sure, knock yourself out." Connor hadn't shown any sign that might suggest he wanted Hank to come along for the ride, and both RK models were probably going to do more of their weird telepathy thing anyway. Connor nodded and followed Nines out of the tent, and Hank went to take a seat again, wishing he was back home and that Sixty had never showed up.

"He kicked Connor to the ground and pinned him there! How the hell can you not think that he's dangerous after that?"

"No one is saying he isn't dangerous," rectified Josh. "It's certainly alarming that he managed to incapacitate Connor to that degree."

"He was trying to get under everyone's skin, just looking for a fight," North seethed. "I never should've taken that asshole out of that fucking Tower."

Markus still looked very bothered and he kept glancing at the entrance, and Hank leaned towards him to whisper: "Did you hear what Sixty told Connor?"

Markus shook his head. "Unfortunately no, but that's not the only thing that worries me. Connor should have been able to block or avoid Sixty's attack, but he took a fraction of a second too long to react. Has he told you anything related to overtaxing his systems?"

Hank shrugged helplessly. "Only that his stress levels are hard to control. Maybe he's slowed down because of his code."

Markus nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe. I've heard before that broken lines can prevent motor commands from running smoothly, but Sixty has broken code as well, so why would he still be faster than Connor?"

"I don't know." Hank sighed and leaned back in his seat. "Must be difficult for Connor to have that kind of problem, you know, being a state-of-the-art prototype and all."

"...Yes," said Markus after a small silence, as if recalling something. "It must be."

North was still ranting. "I don't know what the hell is wrong with that guy, he was just finding ways to find faults in everyone, left and right, but never putting himself in question! How can he even think he's not a deviant hunter after that shit he pulled at the Tower?"

Simon's voice was a thoughtful murmur. "From what we know, he really hasn't exactly hunted deviants. I think he's just looking for an identity. Your accusations are what got him really angry in the first place."

She turned around with an indignant expression. "Are you saying this is my fault?"

Simon seemed to realize what he'd just said and looked at her with a hard stare. "Well, he only started yelling at me after what you told him he had no choice but to be a deviant hunter. That's what really set him off and it was a bad move on your part."

Hank felt his eyebrows rise. Had Simon always sounded this ballsy when talking to North? He half-expected North to start losing her shit right then and there, and was flabbergasted when she seemed to deflate on the spot and looked away without arguing.

Simon then looked at Josh. "I don't think he's a threat to New Jericho, he gave me the feeling that he was angry because he was hurt. What do you think?"

Hank caught the glance Josh shot in North's direction before he answered Simon. "That kind of behaviour is fairly common in response to trauma. Considering we didn't really talk him through what happened to him, that might be it. He was deflecting a lot by throwing accusations at the people he knew most."

Hank frowned and said: "Okay, I get that we're trying to figure out why he's an asshole, but he was one even before he deviated, all right? Let's not find him too many excuses."

Josh looked at him with thoughtful eyes, but Simon was the one to speak. "Yes, trauma wouldn't excuse everything about the way he acted. Even I think he behaved way out of line with Connor."

"He might even beat North for it," Hank tacked on, unable to resist the easy taunt.

Her head snapped up and her eyes narrowed. "Got a problem with me, meat bag?"

"Apparently Connor's unable to have one even if you treat him like garbage, so I gotta have it in his place," he answered with a shrug.

"I don't treat him like garbage, I treat him like the deviant hunter he is," she bristled.

Hank smirked. "Come on, you're the lead winner in the who's gonna shit on Connor the most game."

Josh suddenly seemed uneasy. "Maybe you two shouldn't start-"

"I think we might as well just let them get it out of their systems," intervened Markus lightly. "They've been going at each other since the first time they met, a fight was bound to happen at one point."

Hank hit his forehead in mock realization. "Oh yeah, didn't you say you were gonna throw my ass out of here once Connor was back in working order? What happened to that promise?"

North's hands tightened around her biceps. "Do you want to suffer?"

Hank took just a second to consider the question, and decided that a fight would be great to ease the tension that was churning in his guts. Just to take his mind off Connor's desperate expression from earlier, and the surprise in his eyes when Sixty had lashed out, and the fact that Connor apparently couldn't move as well as he used to. Anything, really, to forget that Connor seemed like he was losing his footing and that there was nothing Hank could really do about it. Yeah, a fight sounded good.

"You can try and make me," he shot back with a provocative grin.

Her nostrils flared and Hank thought he actually heard her self-restraint break right then and there. "All right, that's it."

"Take it outside, children. No bloodshed in New Jericho, remember?" Markus said in a voice that sounded a bit too much like he was enjoying this. Hank suspected that even a pacifist deviant leader needed a change of pace from time to time.

 

And so Hank ended up standing outside the western entrance of Jericho facing North in the middle of the night, surrounded by curious androids, wondering if this really was a good idea. North was shorter and thinner than him, sure, but she was an android and one of the leaders to boot. Hank could make out some voices around him ask if he was a human, others wondering what was going on and if it was safe for North to fight him, he even heard someone say that it would be bad if he died here given the current context. A few androids recognized him to be the guy who had barged in on their camp at the very beginning. Yeah, he could tell he hadn't the best reputation, but then again he was the only human around and he hadn't really set a good representation for his species. He didn't give a shit, his species could go fuck itself.

Markus was standing on top of one of the barriers surrounding Jericho and his voice was loud and clear when he spoke. "There's no need to worry for either of them, this is just a friendly sparring match and there are rules to this fight."

North scoffed when she heard the term friendly and Hank himself raised an eyebrow. Well, they couldn't exactly tell all those androids that this was really just an excuse to finally beat the shit out of each other. North had been pushing all the wrong buttons ever since they'd met and Hank suspected he was doing the same for her.

"As you can see, there are no weapons involved and of course, no one will die today. The only reason I'm mentioning that is because it's probably worth to do so considering the two who are fighting." There was some kind of teasing smirk in Markus' voice. Hank glanced up at him. Yeah, he was definitely enjoying this.

"Both of you can call off the fight whenever you want and we'll step in to stop it. We'll also step in if we deem that things are getting out of hand even if you don't call it off, for example if we see that there is a risk of inflicting lasting damage."

Hank nodded. Seemed fair.

"Finally, the first one to lay with their back against the ground for longer than three seconds loses. That's all," concluded Marks. "Have both fighters understood and accepted the rules?"

"Yeah, no problem," Hank called out while North nodded at the deviant leader.

"Then you can start," declared Markus.

"You're going to regret this, meat bag," spat North as she raised her fists.

Hank grinned and did the same, dread and excitement coursing through his veins. "Go ahead and make me."

North rocketed forward and Hank braced himself for the first blow, and it simply glanced off his forearm. He noticed too late that her leg had shot up to his side and the kick landed squarely between his lower ribs and his hip, pain exploding in his flank and making him stumble to the side. It probably would've thrown him to the ground if he was just a rookie, but as it were, Hank had handled enough struggling criminals that he quickly recovered- and of course, an ungodly amount bar fights.

He saw surprise bloom on her face when instead of losing his balance, he retaliated with a big fat left hook which smacked her right in the side of the face and made her head snap back. He remembered how unnaturally fast Connor had turned back to him after the bitch slap in Urban Farms, so he was already expecting the way she promptly recovered with a snarl on her face, and immediately followed up with a gutshot. This time, the blow did make her falter and she staggered back.

"Motherfucker," he heard her hiss, and he smirked.

"Yeah, turns out humans aren't so easy to beat down."

She shot him a glare and lunged forward, and Hank's eyes widened when she rammed him in the stomach. He felt it flip and doubled over from the force of the impact, his lungs letting out a pathetic wheeze, and didn't have time to recover his breath before he felt two strong hands grip the back of his jacket and lift him off the ground. He dumbly watched the world lurch around him and his ass hit the ground with a very undefined thump, pain bursting up his spine. Yeah, even if nothing was broken, that would definitely require a visit to a chiropractor.

"I'd say their ass is easy to throw," North jeered.

Hank gritted his teeth and got back up before the three seconds were up, ignoring the ache at the bottom of his back. "Oh, you think you're so funny, don'tcha?"

North shot him a mocking grin and Hank charged. He saw her shift her weight to the right and knew that she was going to try to avoid him, probably to make him look stupid when he'd stumble right past her, but he had other plans. He whirled around to catch her at the throat with his elbow and slipped his right leg behind hers, using all of his weight to bring her down. She flailed and her nails caught him at the cheek, but it was already too late for her to recover her balance and they fell to the ground. He counted in his head as she angrily screeched in his ear and then got back to his feet before she could scramble back to hers.

"Three seconds," he told her with the most shit-eating grin he could muster. Her eyes were shooting daggers at him but she didn't make a move to stand, so he held out a hand with a taunting smirk. "Need help getting up?"

"Don't touch me, you filthy human!" snapped North, slapping away his arm with a stinging blow.

Hank would have shot back with a witty reply, but her shoulders were tense and her features were taut with something different from anger, for a change, and Hank knew there had been a switch in North's behaviour just then. He recognized the look in her eyes: it was fear.

He retrieved his hand and crouched in front of her. "Hey, the fight's over. I'm not gonna hurt you, okay?"

She kept glaring at him but still didn't move, as if frozen in place. A suspicion niggled at the back of Hank's mind and he tried to remember where he'd seen her model before, and from the moment he did, he guessed what he'd done wrong. He didn't usually pride himself in being an examplary individual, but right now he felt like the worst being on earth.

"Look, sorry for pinning you," he apologized. "I didn't think it would scare you like that."

"I'm not scared," she spat at him, too hasty to be truthful.

"Yeah, sure. I'll let you get up on your own, okay? You've got nothing to be afraid of. And you know, that was a really good fight." She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously as he tried to make the conversation lighter. "I think I especially regretted the part when you made good on your promise."

"You deserved that," she answered angrily. Good. Anger was better than fear.

"Right, of course I did," Hank replied with a pronounced eyeroll, and he stepped back to give her some space. He realized Markus and Josh had been standing behind them, but he must've done the right thing because neither of them had chosen to intervene.

"You're an ass," North told him resentfully as she finally moved to get back to her feet.

"Yeah well, you're one too, so I guess we're even," answered Hank.

She opened her mouth to answer when her gaze flitted around and she remembered that they were surrounded by androids. Her mouth snapped shut, and she quietly hissed: "Shit."

Then her head snapped to the side, towards Josh, and from the shift if their expressions Hank guessed that they were doing the transmission thing. She didn't look angry, so they mustn't have been arguing. In fact, she almost seemed reassured by the time they stopped emoting at each other. Meanwhile, Markus had proclaimed the winner to be Hank and told the other androids to disperse with a smile, which was immediately replaced by a serious expression when he turned back around to them.

"You all right, North?"

She waved his concerns away. "I'm fine, it was nothing."

Markus didn't insist. "Just to make sure, neither of you are injured, right?"

North shot Hank a look. "I'm not about to be damaged by some feeble human."

Hank made a face. "Yeah, well I might have one or two broken vertebraes down there from when I landed on my ass."

Markus smiled at that. "If you had, you wouldn't be moving right now, Hank."

"Oh, that's just dandy then," Hank replied sarcastically.

"You can't be serious," said another voice then, and Hank froze. He slowly turned around and sure enough, there Connor was walking up to him with a reproachful frown. "I've told you not to aggravate anyone, you're a human in a place full of androids! Do you not speak English? Should I use another language? I'm fully capable of that, so please, tell me in which language exactly I need to tell you this so that you will finally listen!"

Hank would be lying if he said he didn't feel slightly guilty. "Sorry, Connor."

"You know, I think you really do need me to install a babysitter protocol," Connor continued mercilessly. "I'm gone for a few minutes and the next thing I know, you're throwing a tantrum and brawling with one of New Jericho's leaders. Do you even realize-"

"Okay, okay, Connor, I get it," Hank interrupted him. "You don't need to chew my ears off, I won't do it again. Happy?"

"I fail to see how anything you say is supposed to make me happy in this moment," he answered coldly. "Of course you won't do it again, Hank, because next time you try I'll be throwing you out of New Jericho myself."

Hank heard North snickering off to the side but decided it wasn't worth it to glance at her. Connor was pissed and Hank felt that if he dared look away even once, his friend would rip his head off. "Uh, yeah, of course. Not picking a fight with anyone here anymore, definitely."

"Good," said Connor shortly, but it didn't sound like anything was good at all. "I'd like you to go back home now."

Hank didn't want to do that yet, he hadn't had the chance to really talk about what Sixty had said and done to Connor, but judging from the android's frigid ire there would be no talking tonight. Hank shamefully rubbed the back of his head, feeling like a grounded teenager, and mumbled: "Fine, I'll go. Are you alright though?"

"I'm fine," he answered curtly, but the circle at his temple showed he was anything but. It wasn't a solid crimson, but it kept flickering back and forth between yellow and red and that wasn't a comforting sight. Nines was standing a few feet behind, so Hank figured they'd still been talking before coming here. A sudden thought crossed his mind.

"I didn't interrupt your talk with Nines, did I?"

"You did." The same flat voice, the same jaded eyes. Hank didn't think he'd ever seen Connor this fed up with him before.

"Sorry," he said guiltily.

The ice in his gaze melted and Connor tiredly said: "Just go home before you cause any more trouble."

Hank nodded, knowing full well that his presence right now was only bringing Connor down when he was already visibly wading through a tsunami of shit. "I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Yes. Good night, Hank."

Chapter Text

Connor watched the scenery fly by as the car glided down the streets. Markus was sitting in the seat next to him and their escorts were sitting at the front. No one was talking. It wasn't that Connor minded the silence, but it allowed him to think to himself instead of being engaged in his duties, and that wasn't usually good. He could have broken the silence if part of him didn't feel like he deserved to wade through his unpleasant thoughts.

Just last week, things had seemed to be getting a little better to Connor: the leaders found him useful to New Jericho, he'd managed to identify most of his feelings with Hank's help, and it had gotten just a bit easier to approach the others in spite of his guilt. It was still there like a constant weight on his shoulders, but he'd gotten used to it much like he'd gotten used to the tension in his body that was due to stress. Fear was ever-present and he still hadn't adapted to that emotion in particular, but he managed to ignore it sometimes. Maybe he'd been walking the right path and maybe he really had been getting better, but then Sixty had returned, and now there was no way of knowing if that had been the case.

"A killer, and a waste."

Connor glanced at Markus when he heard his own voice murmur those five little words in his ear, words that shouldn't have affected him this badly yet still made dread trickle through his wires even several days after the debacle with his double. He'd resolutely tried to ignore what Sixty had told him, but the sound file was just another addition to all those that kept coming back.

He and Nines had held a discussion about the incident through the evening that followed, or rather Nines had been doing all the talking and Connor had tried to listen to him. It had helped to calm down a little, enough that Connor had managed to behave normally after that, but it was difficult for him to accept that what Sixty had told him wasn't the truth. Nines kept assuring him that Sixty had only said what he'd said to hurt Connor, that he'd been incorrect and that he should be ignored. As much as he wanted to believe Nines, Sixty's point was valid: Connor had attacked Sixty in Hank's home without a second thought. When he played back his memory of that night, he could clearly see that he'd had the choice between the suggestions NEUTRALIZE, TALK, and HELP. He didn't understand why he hadn't seen the last two prompts in the moment he'd entered the house, and it didn't matter the reason for it: he'd made a mistake. It didn't matter that Connor had been afraid of Hank being targeted or that he'd remembered how badly Sixty's escape from Kamski's house could have gone, he'd failed to remain calm and it had led to Sixty's bitterness as a result. Connor only had himself to blame for the fact that Sixty had taken his revenge in front of everyone.

They'd all seen him be bested by the exact same model as himself. It was humiliating.

Connor forced himself to focus on the matter at hand. They were on their way to convince the humans that Detroit was a peaceful place and not the city overrun by rogue androids they seemed to have in mind. Markus had taken the initiative to expand New Jericho beyond Hart Plaza and the six buildings they'd taken for themselves, since the number of deviant inhabitants had kept growing over the weeks and the space at their disposal was getting inadequate. The temporary shelters had all but definitely been abandoned by the androids who'd been living in the camp since the beginning in favor of occupying the whole block, but they were still used by new arrivals every day. The leaders themselves had kept to their cabins, since it made access to them easier for their people.

The flow of broken androids in the infirmary was slowly decreasing and that had given Connor the occasion to share some of Markus' downtime when he was free. Connor was comfortable with the quiet atmosphere in the RK200's cabin, though it wasn't often that Markus could sit down and paint. The leader's questions to Connor about his state of mind and his glitches weren't completely gone, but the leader was obviously making even more of an effort not to nag him with it and Connor appreciated that. He supposed it was Markus' way of thanking him for their nightly getaway to Carl Manfred's house.

Nines had also chosen to spend less of his afternoons in the infirmary and now used most of them to do what he liked most, which was investigating Detroit on his own. Connor often still had to help fix him because he wasn't any less reckless than before. Unlike Markus, however, Nines still voiced as much concern about his well-being as he did before, but that was probably because he'd heard what Sixty had told Connor and could tell how much it had unsettled him. Connor was a bit glad, for once, that Nines had such superior functions compared to anyone else. He didn't know if he would've been able to deal with it as well as he was if no one else had heard Sixty's words. Nines often told him that Connor didn't have to feel guilty or threatened, that he was doing his best to help deviants and that he was out of CyberLife's reach. It helped, sometimes. Other times Connor refused to listen to the RK900 because he knew Nines was wrong, and Sixty had been right.

Connor hadn't talked about it with Hank, even if his friend had asked him multiple times what Sixty had told him. This wasn't about struggling with emotions or understanding what it was to be alive, this was something Hank couldn't help him with. Connor was the only one who could make up for his missteps and inadequacy, the only one who could compensate for how slow and weak he'd gotten, the only one who could do better. He was the only one who could try and prove Sixty wrong.

Connor hadn't remained angry at Hank for the fight he'd gotten into in front of New Jericho. Each time the leaders had gathered and Hank was there with them, Connor had always wondered if the tense exchanges between his friend and North would lead to something as troublesome as a physical altercation. Well, he'd had his answer. He could only hope that Hank would stay true to his word in the future. Connor couldn't really blame the entire situation on Hank: North managed to irritate both Josh and Nines after all, both of whom were usually rather calm individuals, and Hank wasn't exactly the most peaceful human Connor had ever met. It was only natural that their interactions would end up sparking very heated conflict.

Part of Connor was a bit satisfied that Hank had won in his fight against North, but he wouldn't have admitted that to anyone.

Connor's gaze withdrew from the the tablet Markus was holding in his hands and he looked back out the window. He knew what Markus was reading, and what was troubling him. Public opinion had been favorable during the revolution, but now that the thrill of change had blown over humans weren't happy that they'd been forced to leave their homes behind. This was why Markus wanted to convince them so badly that they could return safely, on the condition that both androids and humans live separately. It was still much too early for androids and humans to mingle again by default the way they had before the revolution. Connor and the other leaders were aware that a lot of androids living in New Jericho were unable to forgive humans for what they'd done, much like it was the case with North's general hatred of humans and Josh's and Simon's bitterness regarding the genocide that had been comitted. It would be dangerous for humans to allow both species to live on the same territory. Of course, the anger some humans felt towards androids for the unemployment rate was still a problem, even moreso since the revolution, so it would be dangerous to androids as well. It was one thing to forgive each other amongst individuals of the same community, another altogether for the two different species to hold hands in peace.

It was all a very troublesome situation, but if they could convince some humans to come back, then the rest would follow. The most important would be to maintain a clear limit between human and android territory, especially in the beginning. Markus strongly believed that things would settle down eventually, and Connor chose to trust his optimism. It was easier than trying to have any himself. Something glinted at the edge of Connor's optical input and he blinked, his thoughts grinding to a halt.

He realized what that had been 0.0018 seconds later and immediately threw himself over Markus.

"Get down!"

Glass shattered in the moment that followed and Connor felt an impact in his shoulder, a red warning instantly appearing on his HUD. Not bothering to check what it was, he pushed himself up and forcibly shoved a confused Markus behind the passenger seat so that they could exchange places. Once he'd pushed the leader down to the floor of the car, he cautiously looked out the window. They were minutes away from the airport and equally far from the DPD Southwestern District's and Sixth Precinct's police stations, which meant it was likely that the shooters had known about their trajectory and planned an ambush. He instantly sent out an emergency call to the DPD with their coordinates.

"What the hell-" vociferated one of the human escorts, but he was cut off when his window suddenly exploded as well. The human jerked back with a scream and slumped uselessly in his seat. Connor quickly followed up with a call for an ambulance, then twisted around and smoothly pulled the escort's gun out of its holster.

He looked down at Markus and told him: "Stay hidden and don't move until I say you can."

"Your shoulder-"

"Head down, Markus."

The RK200 complied but a frown appeared on his face. "What are you going to do?"

"My job," answered Connor, and he kicked open the door. He knew where the shooter was, knew exactly how high the chances were that he wouldn't be able to incapacitate them before they hit him somewhere vital. In that moment, it didn't matter. He was made for this.

A bullet caught him above the thirium pump and he faltered, but quickly recovered and smoothly rolled for cover behind an abandoned car in the street. He didn't see a countdown appear on his HUD, which was really all that mattered. The gun he'd taken from the human wasn't meant to be used for long-distance shooting, but in his hands, it would be. Connor looked up towards the building in which the shooter was hiding and rapidly calculated which angle would be best for him while he tried to catch any movement on the thirtieth floor. The glint that had earlier caught his eye had been the end of the sniper rifle peeking out from the flowers that lined the balcony. His target was laying low and completely still, but it was too late for them: Connor had them in his sights.

He swiftly brought his gun over his shoulder and pulled the trigger. Even from where he was hidden, his audio units picked up the yell of pain and he knew he'd hit his target. The question was whether or not he'd hit them where he'd intended to, and the answer quickly came when he saw a hint of red trickling down a retreating leg. He'd suspected their shooter was a human, which made hindering them a lot easier. The shooter had retreated inside and Connor darted out of cover with the intention of finding his target in the building, and noticed Markus had looked up from where he was supposed to be hiding.

<RK800: Head down.>

Markus immediately complied, and then another impact landed in Connor's back. Shit. Another hitman, one that must have waited for him to drop his guard.

Connor twisted around and let himself drop to the ground, time slowing down around him as his scans covered his surroundings in gray. His optical units were quick to pin down his new target and he pulled the trigger a second time, this time leaving no chance for the shooter to survive. It was either him or them. The human's head snapped back and he fell, and Connor quickly checked his systems as he leapt back to his feet. They'd been aiming at his thirium pump, but by some miracle none of the bullets had even so much as grazed it.

Connor resumed running towards the building, bursting through the doors in the nick of time when his gaze met the shooter's. The human was reaching the last stairs- white female, brown hair gathered beneath a black cap, brown eyes, 5 feet 5 inches tall, wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and black pants- before she chose to jump over the rail and darted towards the back door which she never reached. A wet crack rang out in the empty ground floor when Connor tackled her to the ground in the second that followed, and she screamed. Connor ignored the invectives pouring out her mouth in favor of wrenching both her arms behind her back. The threat was neutralized.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Connor checked his systems again. Thirium levels were going down, but he'd made sure to notify the DPD that there were androids involved and CyberLife had provided them with more stocks of blue blood when he'd first been assigned to them. Connor promptly shut off the flow to his smaller thirium lines in an attempt to slow the rate at which his levels were decreasing and sent out a message to Markus.

<RK800: Don't come out until the police are here.>

<RK200: How hurt are you?>

<RK800: Nothing critical. What about you?>

<RK200: I'm fine.>

The human beneath him was still raving but she was tiring. Police sirens blared outside only moments later and he heard a few voices ring out across the street, none of which he recognized. He had to wait for another few minutes before people finally approached the building. The door slammed open and the footsteps halted behind him.

"... Connor?" asked an uncertain female voice. He'd never heard it before.

He did, however, recognize Officer Chen when she appeared in front of him. He quickly said: "She's one of the shooters, arrest her."

Officer Chen fished out a pair of cuffs and clasped them around the human's wrists while telling her her rights, and finally Connor could get off the ground. There was another policeman there, likely Officer Chen's partner; his badge read Officer Robert Lewis. She shoved the shooter towards him before turning to Connor.

Her eyes were wary and uneasy. "How are you still standing?"

Connor looked down at himself and it finally hit him that he was leaking thirium all over his clothes. He hunched over in a daze to lift his fingers to the bullet wounds, and when they came away blue and slick with his own blood he just stared at his hand. This was blood which he needed to survive. A lot of it was already gone. He would die if he lost too much.

He looked up and said : "Officer Chen, I need thirium."

The discomfort in her voice grew more prominent. "What happens if you don't get it now?"

Connor didn't want to believe it, but he knew what that meant. "You don't have any?"

"I don't think so."

It was an easy guess as to why, but it was still an unpleasant realization and Connor did not want to go into shutdown because some humans who couldn't see past their fucking prejudice against androids didn't think it was worth their time to bring thirium on site.

"I specifically said both humans and androids were in danger of being shot!" he angrily exclaimed.

She took a step back and her hand flew at her hip where her holster resided. There was fear in her stance and her dark eyes were apprehensive, even if her voice was steady. "Don't move."

"Connor!" yelled a familiar voice from outside, and he felt a rush of relief at the sound. Hank hurtled through the building's door, paused for just a moment when he saw Officer Chen's guarded stance, then saw Connor standing there. His eyes widened in alarm.

"Jesus Christ, Connor, you look like a goddamn mess!"

"I need thirium," he repeated. He didn't know why Hank was here, or if the other shooter's body had been recovered, or even if Markus was still safe, but he knew that he didn't want to die and Hank was the only human here who would be willing to help him.

"Yeah, of course you do, you moron," Hank said as he pulled him forward. "I fucking knew you'd gotten into trouble. Move your ass, I got some in my car."

Officer Chen didn't say anything and Connor didn't make the effort to look at her. He had more urgent matters to attend to than studying her reaction, such as the fast depletion of his thirium levels and a deviant leader he needed to check on. Hank was practically dragging him along and he only let go so that he could rummage in the old car while Connor stood there. He should have pressed his hand against his chest to at least try and quell the leak, but he chose not to. Connor looked to the side, where he finally located Markus talking to other officers, and their eyes met. The leader's eyes widened a fraction and he hurriedly gestured at the humans in front of him before breaking away from them.

Hank slammed his trunk shut and handed Connor an unscrewed pouch of thirium. "Drink."

Connor grabbed it and tipped the liquid down his throat. Markus was at his side in a second and took Connor by the shoulder, his mismatched eyes giving him a once-over, and then turned him around to do the same with his back.

"I should've known this was what you meant by nothing critical."

Connor kept drinking and didn't answer. The warning on his HUD had been replaced by a less urgent one, but Connor would need repairs. He emptied the pouch while Hank muttered off to the side.

"Gonna have words with Fowler. Do these fuckin' idiots think blue blood's for decorating?"

Connor almost wanted to laugh at how naive he'd been to think humans would give a damn about androids getting damaged. He hadn't realized just how negatively they were perceived by the DPD, but it made sense after everything that had happened during the revolution: just like most of the human citizens of Detroit, police workers had lived in some sort of uncertain fear when faced with the threat of deviants. Besides, it wasn't like human officers had ever really cared about police models shutting down before. It didn't matter that Connor had once been a semblance of a collegue to them; he was still only a machine.

"I didn't know the DPD had stocks of thirium at their disposal," said Markus.

"Yeah, in theory we have it for the androids on the force, but nobody really uses it."

He frowned, and now there was tension to his shoulders. "Why?"

Hank looked slightly uncomfortable. "...Shutdowns didn't use to matter much."

Markus' expression grew colder. He stared at the officers gathered around the broken car and darkly said: "Maybe it's time that they did."

"You're telling me." Hank then turned a somewhat reproachful look on Connor. "You're lucky I was at the station and heard about what happened. What the hell were you thinking getting shot so many times? "

Connor wanted to tell him that he hadn't gotten shot by choice, but decided against it. Instead, he handed him back the empty pouch and said: "Thank you, Hank."

"You didn't have to take that bullet for me," Markus told Connor, and it sounded like a reprimand too.

Connor was getting a bit fed up with being admonished for what had happened and tried not to scowl at him. He kept his answer smooth. "It was aimed at your thirium pump, and I'm your bodyguard. Draw from that whatever conclusion you'd like."

Hank made a sound which sounded halfway between a groan and a growl as he handed him another pouch of thirium, and Connor could tell his friend wasn't happy about his reply. Markus' expression was equally stern and he withdrew his hand from Connor's shoulder. It was covered in his blue blood, and also traces of red.

"My conclusion is that you could have simply pushed me to the side, instead of taking that bullet," answered Markus calmly.

"You would've been damaged if I'd done that."

"I've taken a bullet before, I'm able to recover from one," argued Markus. "Do you think it's okay for you to get damaged this way?"

"It's only minor," answered Connor.

Markus' eyes widened in pure disbelief. "Only minor?"

"I'm fully functioning. The only concern I had was the dip in my thirium levels, but they've stabilized."

His brow creased in displeasure and he gestured at his blue-stained clothes. "Look at yourself, Connor. You've got three bullets in you!"

Connor frowned back and his voice hardened. "Three bullets that haven't touched a single major biocomponent, and that I'd take again if I had to."

There was movement at his side as Hank crossed his arms, and when Connor glanced at him he saw that the man's expression was grim. He hadn't liked that, obviously, but it was Connor's job to protect Markus and he wouldn't let Hank's concern impede on his mission. Connor stared back at him challengingly.

Markus huffed an exasperated laugh. "And North says I'm the self-sacrificing idiot."

"That makes two of us, then," Connor replied. "What does it matter? You're safe and and so am I, this is an optimal outcome for New Jericho."

"You're standing in front of me riddled with bullets and dripping with thirium," stated Markus. "This isn't what I would call optimal."

"No shit," said Hank.

Connor frowned at the both of them in frustration. "Then it's a good outcome, even if it's not the best. I don't understand why you're so concerned about me, I'm not in any danger."

The way Markus answered made it sound like his reply was supposed to be obvious. "Because you're my friend, Connor, and maybe I don't like seeing my friends get hurt."

Connor stared at him, completely dumbfounded. He hadn't even considered the possibility that Markus might consider him as anything other than a co-leader of New Jericho. He'd thought their relationship was more of a pleasant company than... a friendship. His gaze flitted over to Hank, who shot him a meaningful look, and then back at Markus. He had no idea how to react to this revelation and decided to make the conversation veer into a different direction before his silence became too obvious.

"What happened to our escorts?"

Markus didn't react to the abrupt subject change, as if he'd expected it. "The one who got shot isn't dead, I managed to stop the blood flow and he was sent off to the hospital in critical condition. The other is talking with the police."

That would explain the red staining his hands.

"I imagine our meeting with President Warren is postponed, then," said Connor.

"Yes. We're going back to New Jericho to repair you."

"I'm sorry."

Confusion spread across the leader's face. "What for?"

Connor hesitated. He'd apologized without thinking, and didn't really know why he'd done that. In the end, he settled for: "I should've been more efficient."

"Stop saying crap and go get your ass fixed," Hank told him a bit testily. "We're gonna have a talk about how much of a fucking idiot you are for not looking after your body later."

Markus nodded in agreement.

"Yes, Hank," said Connor.

They headed back towards the officers and Markus held them at bay while Connor emptied the second pouch of thirium, declaring that they'd give Connor's statement once he was fully repaired. The police accepted this alternative and gave them a ride to New Jericho. Connor was thankful for the fact that Markus did not mention the word friend again on the trip back; if it hadn't been for his perfect recall ability, Connor would've liked to convince himself that he had heard it wrong. The word made him uncomfortable. He wasn't someone a deviant could be friends with, least of all the deviant leader. This went beyond forgiveness, and Connor had no idea how to handle this when he already had such a hard time understanding how he could even be forgiven in the first place.

And yet...

MARKUS ^
FRIEND

No, that wasn't right. That couldn't be right. Maybe it was an error in his social programming due to Amanda's absence, one of those malfunctions Kamski had told them about; just a faulty relationship status Connor had to ignore. That was what he chose to do.

The patrol cars dropped them off in front of the main entrance and Markus barely thanked the officers for their help, which Connor knew to take as a sign that he wasn't ready to let go of his resentment for the lack of thirium just yet. Connor himself stayed quiet: seeing the familiar uniforms and vehicles made him both nostalgic and uncomfortable, and he preferred to walk away from them as soon as possible. Markus joined him in a few strides and accompanied him to the infirmary, where Taylor rapidly mended the punctured thirium lines and replenished his levels again. The other leaders were immediately informed of what had happened and they regrouped a mere ten minutes later to discuss the attempt on Markus' life. Connor hung at the back of the room as Markus told them the details of the incident. He hadn't had time to change his clothes, and there were residual holes in the fabric where the bullets had teared through it even if the thirium had evaporated earlier. Simon and North shot him silent glances as Markus spoke, while Josh outright stared at him with dark worried eyes. When the deviant leader finished recounting what had happened, no one moved for a while.

North was the first to speak to Connor, her arms crossed tight against her chest, shoulders tense as if the words caused her grievous damage. "... Thanks for protecting Markus. Just don't expect me to trust you for anything else."

Connor stared at her, dumbfounded, and gave a slow nod while trying to keep the confusion out of his voice. "Got it."

"We're all thankful that you saved him," said Simon. He sounded a bit conflicted and looked like he didn't know what to do with himself. Josh, on the other hand, stepped up to Connor with no hesitation and put his hand on his shoulder.

"We owe you Markus' life."

"It's my job," simply answered Connor, puzzled by their thanks, especially since North herself had given hers.

"You risked your life for another," stated Josh kindly. "This isn't just about your job."

Connor didn't answer, because it seemed everyone in the room understood what Josh meant by that except him. He didn't want to look like a fool by asking for an explanation. He had a feeling it was another one of those occasions where he didn't perceive danger the way Markus or other androids did. Connor had just done his job, it didn't matter whether or not his life was at risk in the process: it was part of being a bodyguard. He'd had an objective and he'd fulfilled it, and he didn't think it warranted this kind of gratefulness.

When he didn't say anything, Josh continued talking. "Are you all right? It must have been difficult to be shot so close to your thirium pump."

"I'm fine. I only needed to neutralize the threat and that's what I did," Connor told him.

"You could've died," Josh gently said with a slight pressure of his fingers around Connor's shoulder, as if the action would make the idea easier to understand. Connor forbade himself from slipping out of his grip; it wasn't the arm, just the shoulder.

"I know, but I wasn't critically damaged," he answered. "Even if my thirium levels were decreasing, I had at least half an hour before a shutdown was initiated."

Josh gazed at him some more, an undefinable glint in his dark eyes, and then let go of him. Connor saw him exchange a look with Markus, but was yet again unable to decipher what was going on between them. It unnerved him a great deal. His facial recognition program told him there was worry there, but he didn't understand why. He'd just done his job. He knew the risks, but he had to make himself useful and this was one way of doing it. He'd accomplished his mission and no one had gotten shut down, which meant it had been a success. Couldn't they see that he'd done everything right? What was it they were preoccupied about? Was there something he'd missed along the way? Where had he failed?
Connor quickly backtracked through their conversation and concluded that his failure had been to suffer damage in the first place, as this seemed to be Josh and Markus' primary concern. Amanda had been concerned too, at first. Connor had to make sure this wouldn't happen again if he wanted to avoid failing, or their concern would turn into disappointment.

"I can do better," he assured them. "I won't get shot again."

Markus and Josh looked at him with respectively disbelieving and confused faces.

"Connor, I know I reprimanded you for getting shot in my place, but you did well," said Markus as he came closer. "You did what you would have done no matter what. You couldn't have done any better."

"I'll be able to avoid it next time," insisted Connor. "You don't have to worry about me."

Josh was silent but grim. Markus studied him closely, and the intensity of his mismatched eyes made Connor more uneasy than ever. There was something in the leader's gaze that he couldn't read, just out of reach but so close to his comprehension that he could nearly grasp its shape. Markus finally spoke.

"Do you realize that even if you hadn't gotten shot so close to your pump, even if you hadn't lost so much blood, I'd still be worried about you?"

Connor stared back at him, his mind suddenly blank. Why was he never able to understand where Markus was leading him in their discussions? He was a negotiator, he was supposed to always know what to answer in accordance to his interlocutor, to set multiple paths in the conversation and prepare for any change in direction. Despite all that, he had a difficult time following Markus. What he'd just said made no sense to Connor, because there was no point in worrying about someone who wasn't in danger. It could mean that Markus simply felt concern for him no matter what he did, and maybe Connor had already failed in preventing it from happening. Maybe it was only a matter of time before Markus had enough of him, but Connor refused to let it be the case. He'd come so far, he couldn't allow anyone to be disappointed in him again.

He forced his voice to sound sincere and certain. "No one needs to be worried about me, Markus. I'm an RK800, I can handle anything."

"No, you can't," Markus gently argued. "No one can, and just because you're an RK800 doesn't mean you should be expected to."

"It's not about expectations. It's a fact," stated Connor, willing to convince the others just as he was convincing himself. "You shouldn't feel concern for me. It's completely unwarranted."

Markus looked like he was about to answer, but then stopped himself. He dropped his gaze to the ground thoughtfully, then looked at Connor again. "Is that what you believe? That I shouldn't feel worried about you at all, because you're an RK800?"

"Yes," Connor answered without hesitation. "I've shown you what I could do. I neutralized two snipers with a handgun and three bullets inside of me, without suffering critical damage, while successfully protecting you. I don't see why you'd feel the need to make sure I'm not in danger in such high-stress situations, when I'm clearly able to simultaneously protect you and stay alive."

Markus opened his mouth, and again stopped himself, though it seemed harder for him this time because he had to press his hand to his lips to do so. Instead of his initial reply, he said after another moment of reflexion: "I don't know why you think me worrying about you is a bad thing, but I promise you it's not."

Connor didn't know what else to say to get Markus to listen to him. "You don't need to."

"What will you do if I say I can't avoid it?"

Connor stared at him, ignoring the dread trickling through his wires, and calmly said: "It's your choice. I can't stop you."

He'd have to find another way to prevent Markus from feeling concern, somehow. If he didn't succeed, then he'd just have to make sure he would never be deemed useless, so that the concern would never turn into disappointment. He had to be better, he had to fulfill his role as negotiator and bodyguard more efficiently, he had to avoid mistakes and ensure that everything he did corresponded to the leaders' expectations. If they didn't want him to get shot, then he'd have to succeed in not getting shot.

"I didn't come here to listen to you two pouring your hearts out," North cut in annoyedly. "What are we going to do about what happened?"

Markus gazed at Connor for a few more seconds, and then turned around. "We're going to have to ask to work with the DPD and the FBI so we can investigate the attack. We're also going to transmit this incident to the White House and discuss the way we'll present it to the public with President Warren. This is going to make big waves once journalists get their hands on it, so we'd better be ready to face the consequences."

"I hate journalists," growled North.

"I think everybody does," remarked Josh.

Connor and Simon didn't have anything to add to this observation, and so they started discussing the possibility of press conferences ("As if we didn't have enough of those already," sighed Markus) and finding a way to make the attempted murder work in their favour for future negotiations, even if the prospect made them all ill-at-ease. The conversation went on for a while until everything had been covered and it was finally time to leave, and Connor hastily slipped out as quickly and discreetly as he could. Unfortunately, he didn't go unnoticed and heard Markus call after him. Although he wanted to focus on something else to get his mind off his failures and didn't feel like continuing their earlier talk, he couldn't ignore his leader. He slowed down.

"Connor, wait," repeated Markus as he came closer.

He turned around to face him. "I heard you the first time. Is there anything you need from me?"

"I just want to talk to you as your friend."

Connor stared at him and asked : "Not as leader?"

"As a friend," insisted Markus.

"Then I'd rather not talk," said Connor.

"What you said..." started Markus, and then he trailed off when he realized what Connor had answered. His expression was troubled. He hesitated and looked to the side, then back at him. "Do you really not want to? I didn't mean to be a bother."

Connor didn't want to hurt the leader's feelings, so he chose to mitigate his answer. "It's not against you, Markus. I'm not in the mood to talk any more, that's all."

Markus considered this, and nodded comprehensively. "All right, I understand, it's just that I'm a bit..." He stopped himself, and then said: "I won't force you, you're free to go."

"Thank you." And Connor left.

Chapter Text

Connor hastily changed clothes in his cabin, then spent an hour walking around Detroit lost in thought, before finally going to the DPD to make his statement. He was relieved to see that the only observation there was to make about Detective Reed's desk was a lone cup that the human had likely not bothered to throw away before leaving, less so to see that Hank's desk was also devoid of its usual occupant, and perturbed when he was met with glares from all around the precinct. It didn't take long for him to understand why that was: he was a machine that had knocked one of their collegues unconscious, of course they would consider him as some kind of threat. If Connor had still been working for the DPD and the revolution had failed, Captain Fowler would undoubtedly have had him decomissioned for it- unless CyberLife had replaced him with Nines first. Connor hoped things wouldn't be as tense with the officer he was supposed to make his statement to. Officer Wilson had been kind to him before, one of the only police workers here that had treated him with same level of courtesy he did for humans; and even if Connor knew better than to hope for any genuine concern from the DPD, he couldn't help but doing so.

The officer looked up from his desk when Connor stopped in front of him, and his eyes crinkled into a smile. "Hey, Connor. It's been a while."

Connor was both surprised and grateful to see that there was no difference in Officer Wilson's behaviour. He dipped his head and politely answered: "Hello, Officer."

The man rose from his seat and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Come on, let's go in the office."

Connor followed him into the small room and Officer Wilson closed the door behind him.

"Go ahead and sit down," the man told him with an eloquent gesture of his hand. "I bet you've got a lot to tell me."

Connor complied, Officer Wilson sat across him and logged onto the computer on the desk, and soon he was ready to take the statement. Connor told him the events that had transpired and showed him everything his optical units had registered through interfacing with the computer. Officer Wilson watched the video file unfold on the screen and only asked him to pause it and play it back a handful of times, when he needed to get more details. He almost looked apologetic doing so, though Connor didn't understand why at first. It was when Officer Wilson told him he'd seen enough and Connor retrieved his hand that the man asked him: "Are you okay?"

Connor looked at him in surprise, not understanding why Officer Wilson would consider the possibility that this wouldn't be the case.

"Yes."

The officer must have heard the question in his tone, because he added: "That must've been scary, even for you. You're a deviant now, right? Getting shot three times is... I mean, I only got shot once and it scared the crap out of me."

Connor stared at him, finding their conversation to be reminiscent of the one he'd held with the leaders of New Jericho, and understood why the officer had seemed so uneasy making him play back the video of what could have been his own demise. The human had thought it would make Connor uncomfortable seeing himself getting shot again.

"Of course getting shot is frightening to humans, Officer, your bodies are fragile and you feel pain. However, I'm an android."

Officer Wilson stared back at him and Connor read confusion on his face. "Yes, but you can die too, right? Shutdown, or deactivation, or whatever you call it."

"We can," conceded Connor.

Officer Wilson seemed contemplative now. "And you're not afraid of dying?"

Connor opened his mouth to answer, but realized he couldn't. Before, he would have said no. Maybe he would have even in this moment, if he hadn't remembered just now that he was the first android to have entered the DPD ever since the revolution had ended and that as such, he was speaking for his kind when answering. If Connor told Officer Wilson that he wasn't afraid to die, then the police workers would likely think that androids weren't really alive, and that wasn't something Connor could allow to happen. Besides, he wasn't sure himself why he'd felt so tense upon realizing he was losing thirium too fast; he hadn't been thinking about whether or not it would impede on the mission of attending the negotiations, and at the time it hadn't been an objective of his not to get shot. The strange sensation that had coursed through his wires when he'd seen his fingers covered in his own blue blood hadn't been completely unknown to him. He'd felt it when the Tracis had held him down. He'd felt it again when Daniel had driven the shears through his main thirium line. And he'd felt it before dev- No. No, he hadn't, it wouldn't make any sense.

But Connor remembered Simon's death. Maybe... Maybe that feeling was fear of dying.

"Connor?"

His head snapped up and his gaze met the questioning eyes of the officer. Connor absent-mindedly straightened his tie, even if it didn't need any straightening, and declared: "Androids can be afraid of deactivation. The difference with humans is that we aren't as easily damaged, and in most cases we can simply get repaired in New Jericho now that we're free."

"Oh. Yeah, that makes sense," answered Officer Wilson in a thoughtful voice.

"Are we done?" asked Connor.

The human handed him a tablet. "You just have to sign the statement."

Connor reached over and with a swift brush of his whitened fingertips agains the flat surface, registered his identity and serial number on the electronic form.

Officer Wilson smiled in approval. "You're free to go then. See you around, Connor."

Connor nodded and stood up to leave. "Have a nice day, Officer."

There was still no trace of Hank when Connor walked past his desk, and he hadn't received any news despite his friend's earlier promise of a talk which had sounded like trouble. Connor decided to go on patrol earlier than usual so that he didn't have to go back to Markus straight away, since he still didn't feel like talking. He didn't get an answer when he sent his friend a message later that evening, either. Upon returning to New Jericho to make his report after four hours of patrolling, Connor found the leader waiting for him in front of his headquarters with a rather tense RK900 at his side.

"Connor!" Nines exclaimed as soon as he was in their line of sight, and in a few long strides the android was facing him with an anxious tinge to his blue eyes. "Josh and Markus told me what happened, are you all right?"

"Yes."

There was not an ounce of conviction on his face. "Are you sure?"

"If you're not ready to believe the answer, maybe you shouldn't ask the question, Nines."

"It's just that you were hit in the chest, and I was afraid you would think-" Nines stopped himself then, remembering it wasn't just the two of them there, and changed his approach. "I was concerned that all of it had made your stress levels climb."

"If you wanted to know so badly, you could simply have sent me a message," observed Connor.

Nines glanced at Markus. "He said it would be better to leave you alone until you chose to come back."

"Well, he wasn't wrong," conceded Connor, realizing that the only reason he'd had the luxury of spending a few hours alone and undisturbed was thanks to Markus' interference.

"Why didn't you tell me what happened?" asked Nines in a voice that sounded just as reproachful as Hank and Markus both had at the scene of the shootout. Connor was still weary from the incident and getting admonished some more did not better his mood in the slightest, especially not when the one doing it was the more recent and reckless model.

"Because it would've been useless to tell you about something that was already over," he answered a bit testily.

"Do you think I appreciate being told by someone else? This isn't about usefulness, you can't just keep that kind of thing from me," insisted Nines.

"And why not?"

"Because I'm worried about you!" he exclaimed. This again. They were worried, always worried no matter what he did, and Connor couldn't stand it. Nines went on. "You can't keep quiet about getting shot, and especially not when you were so close to being killed!"

"When did you decide you got a say in what I could and couldn't do?" Connor coldly retorted.

Nines stepped back like he'd been hit. "I..."

"You don't get to tell me what I have to do or what you think is better for me. You don't get to think I need your help when I tell you I don't," continued Connor in the same clipped tone.

Nines' gaze quickly flitted to Markus' side, who discreetly shook his head, and then he looked back at Connor with an expression of regret. "...I understand. I'm sorry for being overbearing."

"That's the understatement of the year. The fact that you are my upgrade doesn't mean I need your protection. Do you see me hovering over Markus like an anxious mother all the time?"

Connor saw Nines and Markus exchange another glance and he knew he'd made a mistake.

Markus smiled at him teasingly. "You do tend to be a bit too protective of me."

"That's because you're the deviant leader, not because you're an RK200," snapped Connor annoyedly. "You know full well how important you are."

"I told you I was sorry," said Nines. "I didn't mean to upset you like this. It mustn't have been easy to get shot at so many times, especially since they didn't bring thirium for you, and I understand if talking about it makes you agitated-"

"I'm not agitated," Connor said curtly.

"All right, you aren't," said Nines in an appeasing tone. "I just wanted to see if you were okay, that's all. Do you want me to leave?"

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. This conversation was really getting to him and it was better for the RK900 to go before Connor said something he'd regret.

Connor saw Nines' LEDs circle a pale yellow as he looked at Markus and he guessed that they were communicating about him, which did nothing to soothe the nervous anger shooting through his wires. He stopped at the thought, realizing that Nines was right. He was feeling agitated, and he probably had for a while without taking the time to realize that. The RK900 left and Markus stepped closer.

"Connor, let's go inside."

"Why?" The challenging word was out of Connor's mouth before he could stop it. There was a buzzing inside of him and he wanted to move, to run, he couldn't calm down.

"We're going to take a moment to talk, just the two of us, like before." Markus set the example and opened the door to the cabin, leaving it open for Connor to follow him inside. He complied after three seconds, understanding that he had no choice if the conversation was to continue. He saw that Markus had seated himself next to the easel and the leader gestured for him to do the same on the other chair, which he reluctantly did. Connor was itching to play with his coin.

"Nines says your stress levels are abnormally elevated. I think you should go see Hank for the time being, at least until you get back to normal."

"I don't want to disturb him."

"He's your friend, you won't disturb him. If anything, I'm sure he would understand considering the state he saw you in earlier."

Connor shook his head. "I can't do that. He hasn't been replying to my messages, so he must be busy with something else already."

"Have you tried calling him?"

"No."

"Then maybe you should try," said Markus encouragingly.

It was 9:02PM and Hank was undoubtedly awake, so Connor didn't hesitate very long. He realized Hank was voluntarily refusing to communicate with him when his call was denied in three seconds flat. Connor had no idea why that was as they'd left on normal terms earlier, aside from the promise of that lecture.

"What is it?" gently asked Markus when he saw the look on his face.

Connor was troubled, but he kept his voice level. "I think Hank doesn't want to hear from me right now."

Markus' brow creased lightly in puzzlement. "Why?"

"I don't know," he answered in earnest.

"...Well, if you can't talk to Hank, maybe it would be better that you don't go to the charging station tonight. You should stay in your quarters," suggested Markus.

It was Connor's turn to be confused. "Why?"

The leader shifted in his seat and clasped his hands together between his open knees. "I'm not comfortable with letting you spend the night alone after today's events."

"I don't mind going to the charging station. The one they were aiming for was you, not me. I'm not in any danger."

Markus shook his head. "That's not my point. You were shot at, you know. Judging from the way you acted with Nines, it had more of an effect on you than you're letting on."

Connor narrowed his eyes. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying getting shot three times isn't something you can simply shake off, and it probably still has a lingering effect on your emotions," patiently answered Markus.

"Are you implying I'm in shock, or something like that?"

Markus only stared at him. The silence answered for him.

"I'm not," said Connor, his wires still buzzing. "That's a human reaction."

Markus continued staring.

"I'm not," insisted Connor, and now he felt like knocking that easel down, since hitting the deviant leader wasn't an option.

Markus finally spoke. "Whether you are or not isn't the problem. I don't think letting you go back to that charging station would be for the best."

Connor's voice hardened. "I'm not a child, Markus. I don't need you to look after me like this."

"You're not, but in your current state I'd rather be cautious. You make rash decisions when you're distressed."

"I told you, I'm not distressed. I'm fine!"

"Just spend the night in New Jericho, and I'll get off your back. Okay?"

Connor resisted the urge to glare at him, and in the end he bitterly said: "I don't really have a choice in the matter, do I."

Markus offered him a rueful smile. "No, sorry."

"...Fine. I'll stay," surrendered Connor, though he didn't make any attempt to sound less sullen. He wondered if this was how Hank felt when he complained about Connor 'babysitting' him. If it was, then he understood better why his friend was so displeased each time.

"Thank you, Connor," answered Markus. He sounded genuinely relieved and it only made Connor's mood darken to think that the leader didn't judge him capable of looking after himself. If the RK200 hadn't been leader, then Connor would have ignored his demand without a second thought. As it were, he had to obey if he wanted to avoid disappointing Markus.

The matter at hand finally settled, Connor made his report to Markus with a more withdrawn behaviour than usual in order to avoid showing just how ill-humored their conversation had made him. It could be extenuating talking with Markus. They often had opposing opinions when the subject of the conversation was Connor's well-being, and there was never a way to win unless the leader voluntarily chose to give up the fight. They were both stubborn in their own way, but when Markus was determined to have his, then he would get it no matter how long Connor was able to resist. It was extenuating, because it was one of the most frustrating things Connor had ever had the misfortune of going up against.

Once the report was over, Connor moodily stepped out and Markus didn't try to keep him from leaving. The leader may have won the round, but even he knew not to push. Connor went back to his quarters with a brooding hunch to his shoulders, closed the door behind him, and noticed that he still hadn't gotten a message from Hank. His fingers reached for his coin and he started playing with it to soothe the frayed sensation of his wires. A few more minutes rolled by, and when he figured that no amount of standing around would motivate Hank to communicate with him, Connor stepped up to his charging pod and connected the wire to the base of his neck before going into standby mode.

Connor was not woken by a glitch that night, but by a call from Hank. In the minute that followed, he'd gotten a self-driving car to head to his friend's home.

It was very early in the morning when Connor stepped up to the door and pressed a finger to the doorbell. He did so for exactly two minutes and only lowered his hand when his audio units failed to pick up any kind of cursing from within the house. It was possible the Lieutenant simply wasn't home, but Connor doubted it to be the case at 2AM. The android took out the key he carried in the pocket next to his quarter and slipped it in the lock. His suspicions were confirmed upon entering the house when Sumo came from the kitchen to see him, instead of the living room. The Saint-Bernard was calm and this observation immediately reassured Connor.

"Hello, Sumo," the android politely greeted the dog. "I'm here to help Hank."

The dog borfed approvingly and went to his cushion, leaving Connor to handle the situation. He stepped in the kitchen and his gaze fell upon the human's slumped shape on the table. A quick scan of the man and the area surrounding him confirmed two things : Hank was alive, and he had taken out the vodka again. There was broken glass on the floor, uncomfortably close to the man's bare feet, and an uncomfortable sensation rippled through Connor as he unvolunarily pulled up a memory file of a very similar situation. The android quickly tried to push it back down, to no avail, and made his way to his friend while he unsuccessfully ignored the video. He cautiously swiped the glass away with his shoe before waking him.

"Hank," he tried. He watched the human's face closely for any shift in expression, but the man was out cold. The video file finally stopped playing.

Connor reached out to tap on his face. "Hank?"

The man made some smacking sounds with his lips, but that was the extent of his reaction. Hank had told him he really hadn't appreciated being hit in the face the last time, so Connor didn't want to try that again. There was no urgent case to attend this time, either. The android's only reason to be here was a call that had consisted in a mere 4 seconds of silence before the line had gone dead.

"Hank, I don't want to hit you," he told him as he started shaking the man's shoulder. "Wake up."

The man grumbled something incomprehensible and swatted at him with a heavy arm. Connor started shaking him harder.

"Fuck off," mumbled Hank, clearly this time.

"I don't think that's an option." Connor looped an arm around the lieutenant's shoulder and forced him upright. "If you continue this way, it's going to be another cold shower for you."

Hank groaned. "I'm feelin' jus' dandy. Don't need no cold shower."

"Do you feel like throwing up?"

"...Nah. I didn't even drink that much, put me down."

Connor guided the man to the living room and helped him sit on the couch. Hank jerked out of his grip and fell the rest of the way like a sack of potatoes with a thick "oof". Connor watched silently as he managed to pull himself on the side without falling off and rubbed his face.

"What time izzit?"

"It's currently 2:18AM."

"Aw shit, what are you even doin' here?"

Connor cocked his head. "You called me, Hank. I came as fast as I could."

The android saw Hank frown in the dim glow of the streetlights that lined the road outside the window. "I didn' call you."

"I received a call from your phone about fifteen minutes ago."

The man let his arm fall over his face with a curse. "Did I say anythin' weird?"

"It was only silence. 4 seconds of it, exactly." Hank was silent, but Connor could tell he hadn't fallen asleep as his breathing rate was still the same. "Is there anything you'd like me to do to help?"

"Jus'... Go back, Connor. There's nothin' else you can do."

Connor considered this option and quickly discarded it. "I'd rather stay."

Hank looked like he was about to argue, but then he just sighed defeatedly. "Fine. Do whatever."

The android stepped around the couch and went back to the kitchen. His optical units picked up the shards of glass again, which were thankfully devoid of any blood, and the same bottle and picture as that night. Upon noticing that the gun was nowhere to be seen, Connor felt a swelling feeling in his chest. He identified it as hope after a few seconds, and turned towards the couch.

"You didn't play russian roulette."

Hank grunted dismissively, and that was the extent of his answer.

Connor stared at the back of the human's head, then turned back around. He decided to clean up the kitchen and looked for a broom and dustpan, which he found in the narrow space between the fridge and the wall, and set to gathering the shards of glass. A quick reconstruction showed him that there was a 74% chance that the glass had been thrown rather than dropped, and Connor suddenly found himself wondering if Sumo had gotten injured. The big dog had come from the kitchen, and as far as Connor knew, dogs didn't usually pay close attention to where they put their paws. Sumo hadn't seemed injured upon greeting him, but he updated his objectives to check the dog's paws. Then he updated them again in an afterthought to check if Sumo had been scared.

He pushed the glass into the dustpan and dropped the fragments in Hank's trashcan, then put everything back where it belonged. His gaze landed on the bottle of alcohol again and he briefly considered throwing it away with the glass shards, but decided against it. It would anger Hank, wouldn't stop his consumption of alcohol, and he would probably try to go out and buy another one in the middle of the night sheerly out of spite. Instead, Connor put the bottle next to the sink, because it felt somewhat wrong to leave it out on the table next to the picture of Cole Anderson.

Having accomplished his objective to clean up the kitchen, he then moved on to the living room. Hank was staring blankly at the dark TV screen and didn't say a word when the android walked past him. Connor crouched down in front of Sumo, who looked at him with a curious rise of the two small patches of lighter fur that resembled eyebrows, without lifting his head off his cushion. Connor gave the back of the dog's ears a few scratches the way Hank had taught him to do it, and then silently reached for Sumo's front paws. His scans indicated that there were no foreign bodies in Sumo's pads, and he moved on to the hind paws. It was a bit more difficult to get the dog's cooperation there, but Connor managed it and lightly nodded to himself upon seeing that they were intact as well. He then started petting the dog again, on the flank this time. Sumo's heart rate was average for a dog his age and he showed no signs of distress, so Connor concluded the dog was all right. The two objectives filled out and disappeared, but Connor stayed where he was and continued sifting through the dog's fur. He didn't have sensors to pain, and as such didn't feel soft things the way humans did, either. Despite that, he liked feeling the light pressure of each individual dog hair brushing against his fingertips and it helped his stress levels decrease.

Connor needed to do this because was tense. He didn't like the way Hank kept staring in his drunken stupor, how alcohol made him a different man, so unlike his lieutenant or his friend. There was no bored gesturing, no teasing words, no loud gruff voice, no light in his eyes... No smile. Connor glanced at the human again. Hank was still sitting on the couch, not exactly upright but not completely slumped over either. Just staring. Connor wondered what could have been going on in the human's head. Did it sometimes loop the same memory the way Connor's processor did? Did it snag on certain elements and freeze up the whole body? What did it feel like to have emotions as a human? Connor often described it as a sensation coursing through his wires, or in general areas of his body like his chest or abdominal region. He wondered if humans were the same. At any rate, Hank's heat signature was a bit low.

"Hank," he said softly.

The human didn't react.

"Hank," he tried again, louder this time. Still nothing.

Connor gave Sumo one last pat on the head and straightened to walk over to the couch, stopping in front of his friend. "Will you let me help you to bed?"

Hank's gaze slowly drifted up to him. "I don' need to go to bed, Connor. Leave me alone."

Connor settled his features into a compassionate expression, the way Nines did to comfort him. "Could you at least tell me where you put away blankets and the like?"

Hank let out a heavy sigh. "Will you get off my ass?"

"Yes," he answered earnestly.

"Next to my shirts. The door on the right."

Connor nodded and quietly made his way to Hank's bedroom. He opened the closet and retrieved what he presumed was the softest blanket, even though Hank only had two besides the one on his bed, and gathered it in his arms before closing the door. Then he turned around, about to step out in the hallway, when a new objective appeared on his HUD. He glanced towards the hall, and then back inside the room. Hank wouldn't realize if he was gone a minute longer.

Connor put the folded blanket on the bed and opened the closet again, quickly rifling through the clothes inside. Then he closed it again and moved on to the adjacent door and went through the drawers. He looked inside the bedside table, which seemed to be the most likely place Hank would put the gun in, but all he saw there was its faded outline. Connor preferred not to deduce how long that meant Hank had had that gun in his possession. Still empty-handed, Connor looked under the bed and the pillow but saw nothing of note. It was when he turned around that his gaze latched onto a small shape neatly tucked between the wall and the closet, next to the window.

He hastily kneeled down to pull it out of the hiding spot, relieved to have finally found the weapon Hank used to play russian roulette. This must have meant that the reason Hank couldn't find the gun tonight was because he'd purposely hidden it from himself, knowing that he would be too intoxicated to remember that he had done so, and Connor felt pride for his friend at the thought. He had no idea if Hank checked the chambers before playing, but he took out the bullet anyway. He peered into the crack where the gun had been resting and reached further out, his fingers feeling for the square shape of an ammunition box. Hank would be angry at him for this if he found out, but Connor didn't want to take any chances. He had no doubt Hank could handle alcohol, even if he did so badly; a bullet to the brain however did not leave any second chances. What he was doing was selfish, and underhanded, but he didn't want Hank to die.

"You were lucky. The next shot would have killed you."

Connor instructed himself to calm down when his stress levels started climbing. He just had to make sure Hank couldn't play roulette again, then go give him the blanket, and pet Sumo to lower them again. Connor slowly opened the window so that Hank wouldn't hear, then slipped his arm outside and turned over the box so that all its contents emptied out on the lawn. He added the bullet from the gun on the pile, where it landed with a soft plink, and then he put the empty gun and box back where he'd found them and closed the window. Only then did he take up the folded blanket and bring it to Hank.

His friend still hadn't moved and Connor's steps faltered when he saw the absolute misery etched on the human's face. Everything was screaming at him to make it disappear, to make sure it didn't come back, to do something, but Connor had no idea how. He was incapable of helping. He forced himself to move forward and wordlessly draped the blanket over Hank, hoping it would be enough to make his temperature get back to normal despite the alcohol in his blood. If push came to shove, he could always increase the thermostat. Connor looked around to see if there was anything else he could do, and walked to the cupboard beneath the sink where he was most likely to find unused trashbags. He neatly folded one in a small black square and slipped it in the back pocket of his jeans. When he concluded that he'd done all he could, he went back to crouching next to Sumo.

Hank spoke half an hour later in the quietest voice Connor had ever heard him use.

"You know... Cole was a good kid."

Connor turned to look at him, but Hank was staring at his hands.
Connor didn't answer. Hank didn't speak again.
After five minutes of complete silence, Connor resumed petting the sleeping dog.

Hank finally fell asleep at 3:37AM at an acceptable body temperature. Connor's patrol was usually scheduled at 6:30, but today he was supposed to make his report to Markus earlier than usual so that they would reach the press conference on time. This meant he only had thirty minutes left to go in standby mode and he debated whether it would really be worth it, but then remembered that he couldn't allow himself to cut back on his time spent in standby mode anymore because of his code. Connor went in the kitchen and stood in the corner to initiate the countdown.

Connor blinked awake when the stasis cycle ended and walked to the couch, where Hank was still asleep. Connor sent a short message to his friend's phone and went to pet Sumo again, then quietly left and locked the door behind him. The objective to throw away the ammunition was patiently waiting on his HUD, and he was careful not leave a single bullet behind when he gathered them in the trashbag. The objective filled out and disappeared once he had emptied it in the dark waters of the Detroit River a few minutes later. He watched the strong current sweep away the eddies that the bullets had torn in the surface of the river as he slipped the black square back into pocket of his dark pants. Then he left to continue his patrol.

 

___
- 4:08 AM -

Connor: You did well calling me last night. Have a nice day, Hank.
___

Chapter Text

It was 8:30 AM and Markus was waiting next to Connor in front of the entrance to New Jericho for the other leaders to join them before heading out to the press conference that was supposed to start two hours from now in Washington. Connor had moved up his patrol in his schedule, as he always had to when he was to accompany Markus and Josh to a conference. For some reason, humans liked to have those in the morning. Negotiations on the other hand were usually planned for afternoons, which was less of a bother for the head of security to accomodate his duties to. Things were a bit different today as it wasn't just the usual three leaders that were meant to attend this conference; the importance of the matter required the presence of all five leaders and Markus knew it was a risky situation. Nines was supposed to come as well for protection, but even if both him and Connor were more than capable of ensuring their safety, Markus was anxious. He refused to believe that Connor didn't have the same qualms he did about being exposed to dozens and dozens of humans in a few hours, many of which were probably very critical of androids, after nearly dying the day before.

The first thing Markus had noticed upon meeting up with Connor for his report that morning was that something about him felt off. Connor's tone of voice was as clear and direct as ever, and his brown eyes had the usual decisive glint, but there were a few times during which Connor thought no one was looking when a weight seemed to linger on his shoulders. It could've been because of the sniper incident, but there was no trace left of the tension he'd carried himself with during the evening and he seemed calm. Markus wondered if something had happened during the patrol, or if this was due to something entirely different.

He turned his head to the side. "Connor, I'd like to talk."

"Yes?" The android looked at him expectantly, clearly awaiting an order of some kind.

"As friends," Markus hurriedly precised. "Like I meant to do yesterday, before you left New Jericho."

Caution shaded his brown eyes upon knowing that this discussion wouldn't simply be about his duties, but Connor smoothly answered: "Of course."

Markus hesitated shortly. There were too many questions he wanted to ask Connor, none of which he expected the other to answer because they were all rather personal. He ended up settling for the question that had been circling in his mind for a while.

"I've been thinking about what you said. That we don't need to worry about you because you're an RK800."

Connor gazed at him and remained silent.

"I'd like to know why you think that way. Did someone tell you so?"

"No, it's simply common sense. I was a state-of-the-art prototype only weeks ago."

"You can't expect your more efficient systems to constantly keep you out of trouble."

Slight annoyance pulled at the corner of Connor's mouth. "Enough that you don't have to feel the compulsive need to worry as soon as danger comes about. I know how to deal with that kind of thing."

"I don't doubt it, but just because you can doesn't mean you always will." Connor didn't answer to that, and there was a lull in their conversation. Markus watched him closely. "You do realize that I care for you, don't you? That you're my friend?"

"...Yes."

Connor had taken just a second too long to answer for it to be convincing, and Markus frowned. Of course he was able to tell that this kind of thing made Connor uncomfortable, and he had no doubt that it was probably linked to what their roles had been during the revolution. Maybe Connor didn't feel the same way Markus did, and maybe he didn't even want them to be friends at all; maybe the only reason he spent time in Markus' quarters was out of some strange sense of debt because it was what Markus wanted, or a sense of duty to protect. Even so, that didn't change the fact that Markus trusted and appreciated Connor.

"Why is that so hard to believe?" he finally asked.

"It's not exactly believing it that's the problem." Connor looked away. "I'm just... a bit confused."

"Can you tell me why?"

Again, Connor remained silent.

Markus stared at him and after a while, he said: "I'm sure you already know this since I keep telling you, but what you did before doesn't matter to me. I like you, Connor. You're a good person, and you're not CyberLife's tool anymore."

Connor's head snapped up and Markus hadn't expected the unguarded astonishment he saw in his eyes, so for a moment they just stared at each other in silence. Markus realized that he'd never outright told Connor that he liked him; he'd shown it through his actions and had thought that those were enough for the RK800 to understand, but maybe he'd been doing it wrong. Maybe a more direct approach was best for Connor. The latter quickly recovered from his initial surprise and shifted uneasily on his feet, his gaze dropping to the ground. Markus wasn't sure if it was a trick of the light, but he thought he saw the other's skin tone darken ever so slightly over his cheekbones.

"...Thank you," said Connor.

The subdued tone of his voice wasn't something Markus was used to hearing and it took him aback. A beat of silence passed before he could find something to say.

"I'm only telling the truth. Do you think I'd consider you my friend if I didn't appreciate you? I like talking with you, you know. Even if it's not always smooth progress," he teased.

Connor looked up at him, and Markus thought he looked a bit amused when he agreed: "Not always."

Markus hesitated to continue his line of thought now that Connor seemed to be in a better mood, because he didn't want to ruin that; but he'd been pushing back this conversation for too long already, so he kept going.

"I noticed you weren't at ease when I called you a friend, and I think I can understand why you'd react that way after everything that happened. The thing is, I don't understand why you think it's such a bad thing that I worry for you."

Just as he'd expected, the light in Connor's eyes immediately flickered out and his expression reverted to its usual neutrality. "We already had this conversation, Markus. You don't-"

"Need to, I know, but I will every time you get damaged and that's not going to change. Look, I worry for Simon, North and Josh too when they face dangerous situations."

Annoyance peeked through Connor's shuttered features. "Of course, but it's different for them. They aren't RK800s."

"Why do you always say that?"

"Markus, you've all seen me fight aboard the Jericho. You saw me take out those snipers yesterday. Do you really think you need to watch after me?"

"Nines found you broken and deactivated in an alley, and I saw you get bested by Sixty," gently answered Markus. "You're not invincible, Connor."

Any trace of emotion that had been left on Connor's face completely vanished then, and he levelly told him: "That won't happen again." His voice had that mechanical quality to it that Markus had learned to identify early on as a sign that he'd hit a sore spot.

"Look, I'm not trying to make you feel bad about yourself with this, I just want you to understand that it's possible for you to be in danger just like it is for anyone else. I don't know why you keep pretending that it's not the case, but it is. You have to accept that, now that you can't simply upload your memories to a new body."

Connor looked like he wanted to argue, but then he stopped himself and stayed quiet.

Markus continued. "Even if it was the case, you have to understand that the reason I get worried isn't just the physical aspect of shutting down. I know how scary it is, Connor. Knowing you're about to die, realizing what happened once you reboot... I know it has to be scary for you too."

Markus had never told him that he'd shut down once already and this line seemed to catch Connor's attention. He expected the RK800 to ask him about it, but Connor refrained from doing so and just said: "I don't see what point you're trying to make."

"I think you do," said Markus. Connor was smart, after all, and Markus had seen him find dozens of possible interpretations of a sentence from the president on several occasions. He always saw what point people were trying to make.

"If you're talking about the psychological effect of an imminent shutdown, I'm sure you've noticed that I was designed to withstand important levels of stress."

Connor had to know that he was answering besides the point and it irritated Markus, but he didn't take the bait.

"Let me reformulate, then. Why do you dislike it so much when someone is worried about you?"

Connor stared at him. It looked like he was struggling somewhere deep inside of him to tell Markus the reason of it all, his brown eyes intense in an attempt to reach out. His lips parted and for one single moment it seemed like he would finally manage to put it out in the open, but then his gaze dimmed and he simply said: "It isn't relevant."

Markus nearly let his frustration break through upon hearing the familiar deflection. Some deeply instinctual and angry part of Markus wanted to shake some sense into Connor, even find a way to force interfacing with him, but the other side felt guilty of even thinking about taking such drastic measures. Markus would never do that. It had been difficult enough building what little trust was now between him and Connor, and he didn't want to ruin everything by pushing too hard. It was always like that with Connor, a constant motion of pushing and pulling that could topple everything over if Markus ever went too far. Not for the first time, Markus wished there was a way to physically pry open the iron shell that seemed to surround Connor.

He took a moment to gather his thoughts, and then nodded slowly. "Okay. You don't want to tell me, I understand. You don't have to tell me right now."

Connor looked away from him without answering. They were silent for a while, until Markus decided to broach a different concern of his.

"Connor?"

The other's head turned to him warily. "Yes?"

"It's fine if you won't tell me what I want to know, but I have a request. What you did yesterday was dangerous, so all I ask of you is that you don't do it again."

Connor frowned in disapproval. "I couldn't just hide until the threat was gone, Markus, I had to take out those snipers. I'm your bodyguard, of course it's a dangerous job."

"No, I'm talking about when you shielded me from that first bullet."

"I already told you that you would've been damaged otherwise, and it would've been slower to push you aside."

"You don't understand," Markus told him, patience steadily draining.

Connor seemed to have caught onto it, because he was paying close attention to him now. "What don't I understand?"

Memories rushed through Markus' mind. The march. Getting hit by the first bullet. Falling to the ground. The thundering in the ground of dozens of androids running for their life. The featureless human coming closer to finish him off. The android jumping over him to attack the masked soldier. Someone pulling at his arm to get him to safety. Voices urgently shouting in his ear for him to get up and flee. John's gaze meeting his own, and another gunshot. Markus clenched his fist and gravely looked Connor in the eye.

"I've already had someone die for me before," Markus told him. He wasn't sure if he managed to prevent the guilt festering inside of him from filtering through his voice. "I don't want that to happen ever again."

"It won't," Connor assured him without missing a beat.

"How can you be so sure? You took a bullet for me only yesterday."

"My mission is to ensure androidkind's safety, which means protecting you by any means necessary."

Markus felt like this wasn't going anywhere, that Connor wasn't listening to him. He tried not to raise his voice. "And what if you die doing so?"

"I won't die. The bullet I shielded you from didn't land anywhere close to a major biocomponent, I had it under control. This mission will last for however long androids need me and I intend on seeing it through."

Markus stared at him, wanting to believe his words. Connor spoke with such conviction that it wouldn't have been a very difficult thing to do, but he still had to insist.

"Give me your word that you won't sacrifice your life in order to protect me."

Connor's reply was instantaneous. "You have my word."

It was a small relief, but a relief nonetheless. Markus nodded and said: "Don't go back on it. New Jericho needs you. I need you. I don't think I would be managing things so well if you weren't next to me to help."

Connor took a step closer to him, and now they were facing each other separated only by a distance of a few inches.

"I'll always be by your side, Markus," Connor confidently said. "You can count on me."

Markus looked into his friend's brown eyes and only saw loyal certainty in them. He felt slightly better at the sight of it, at the sound of the promise in Connor's voice, and something unwinded in his chest. Maybe it was okay to believe that they'd be all right.

"Thank you, Connor."

He was grateful that Connor was trying to make him feel better, but was also ashamed that he was the one receiving comfort from an android who had nearly died just hours ago. Markus was supposed to stay strong, he was the deviant leader, for rA9's sake. He shouldn't have let Connor see how affected he'd been by John's death at the Freedom March, shouldn't have sought reassurance from the RK800 when Connor himself had enough problems to deal with on his own. Markus hadn't even been able to do anything to alleviate the psychological shock Connor had been in last night, and even if his friend seemed to be doing better now, Markus felt like he should have tried harder. The reason he'd resisted that urge was because he knew that they weren't close enough for Connor to accept him in that moment. It only would've angered him further if Markus had insisted to talk, and given Connor's state at the time, it could have led to some extreme reactions which North surely would have used against Connor in the future.

There was another reason why Connor's words brought him comfort. It had been weeks since Connor had last displayed self-destructive behaviour, but Markus hadn't allowed himself to fully hope that it was gone. He remembered distinctly the guilt that had so obviously weighed on Connor's shoulders in the church, and most concerningly he remembered how Connor had told him that it was all right if Markus chose to kill him. As a deviant, Connor should've been afraid to die- and he likely had been- yet Connor had gone ahead and absolved Markus of his murder, nearly inciting him to do so. He'd seemed so surprised when Markus had told him he was one of their own, as if he'd fully expected to get shot right then and there. Guilt had driven him to say that to Markus, guilt that Connor obviously still harboured even if he didn't mean to show it.

Connor had ran away to kill himself because of his AI taking over. He'd asked to be deactivated even when Markus had told him he was going to live. He'd accepted Kamski's proposal of a killswitch instantly. He'd been willing to reach critical levels of battery before asking for help. He'd chosen to spend his nights alone in a deserted station. He'd chosen not to alert anyone of his dangerously high stress levels during his glitch. It had been a while since he'd last put himself in danger, but Markus couldn't be completely sure Connor wouldn't try that kind of thing again.

Other androids had displayed similar tendencies amongst Josh's patients, but those cases were usually linked to rapidly increasing stress levels and the resulting self-destruction, and the androids affected often displayed obvious signs of emotional distress. Connor's behaviour was nothing like theirs; it was more subtle, too much so, and Markus had caught on far too late every time he'd danced on the line of deactivation. He was willing to believe that Connor really did want to live: his brown eyes were honest when he told him so and it was obvious he wanted to help their cause for as long as they'd need him there. The fact that Connor clearly didn't intend to die was reassuring, but an inkling of doubt remained.

Connor still refused to tell him what Sixty had whispered into his ear, just like he still refused to talk about anything personal. There were too many unknowns about Connor that were certainly dangerous to his well-being and Markus didn't want to let his guard down. He'd asked Nines about the exchange between Sixty and Connor, but had hit yet another wall. For some reason, Connor had asked Nines not to tell anyone about what had been said, just like he didn't allow him to say what had happened on the night Nines had found him broken in the street. Markus wondered just how many things Nines knew about the fifth leader of Jericho that no one else did, and why Connor was so adamant about keeping all these things to himself when they had to be a source of anguish.

Josh had shared his worries with Markus about the effect of such demands on Nines' mental state; because the PJ500 and the RK900 had grown closer, Josh saw the subtle signs when no one else could that Nines was more disturbed by the secrets he was witholding than he let on. Markus had never seen those signs himself, but the level of concern Josh felt for the younger android was proccupying enough. Fortunately, Nines didn't have the same aversion to talking about his feelings as Connor did, and wasn't recalcitrant about interfacing either. Markus trusted Josh to look out for Nines while he himself tried to watch over Connor. The truly disturbing part was that Nines was this affected by things he hadn't lived himself; if Josh was worried about Nines' stability, then what did that entail for Connor?

He was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps and was greeted by the sight of his three advisors drawing close.

"Where's the other one?" asked North with a frown addressed to Connor.

Connor's LED circled and he answered: "On his way here. He shouldn't be long."

He'd barely finished his sentence when they heard the RK900 coming around the corner, his heavy-set build making his running approach loud enough for all of them to hear. The longer Markus got to know him, the more differences he could see between him and his predecessor. Nines had obviously been designed to privilege damage over stealth, while Connor was much lighter on his feet and quite probably faster in his movements. Even if one was the upgrade of the other, they were different models: North had found a tablet during one of her raids which mentioned a new model of combat androids that had been intended for military use, likely the RK900, while Connor had been created to mingle with humans on the police force. Markus had been paying more attention ever since then to these details, like how much friendlier Connor's appearance was, and how much more imposing Nines was meant to look. It was a strange thing, really, because in the end Nines tended to be less frightening to androids than Connor. Markus wondered how both RK models fared with humans.

"I'm sorry for being late," said Nines when he drew up to them, and he sounded annoyed. "I was intercepted by some children on the way here."

Connor looked a bit surprised. "Children?"

"They're incredibly difficult to shake off," muttered Nines, and Markus figured that the RK900 probably wasn't very fond of them.

Simon and Josh seemed amused by his discomfort, but North just glared at him. "Very interesting. Can we go now?"

Nines shot her a haughty look. "How uncanny for you to ask permission."

"I'm not, you smarmy jerk. I'm telling you to move your ass, we've got more important things to do than listen to your daycare report."

"All right, all right," said Josh, and he pulled her along.

They all started moving towards the entrance, and Markus noticed Connor trailing behind them out of the corner of his eye. There it was again; that slight sag of his shoulders that would've been imperceptible in most, but was so out of place compared to his usual straight and proper stance. Markus hesitated to ask him what was wrong, but before he could make up his mind, Nines had fallen in stride with Connor and they started silently communicating. Markus figured it was better for Nines to be the one informed of Connor's problem, and looked back ahead to follow his companions out of New Jericho.

The flight to Washington was eventless and the press conference went about as smoothly as Markus had expected it to, which was to say not at all. Most of the journalists were complete vultures and Connor was the one who had it the worst between the ones asking if he'd killed the human out of revenge for the recall centers, those who accused him of being too much of a machine to care for human lives, and the others believing that he'd known there was a risk for casualties but hadn't even considered giving the human a chance. Markus wasn't spared either, of course, since he was the deviant leader and supposedly should have prevented any deaths from happening at all. Thankfully, North was smart enough to keep her mouth shut despite the visible anger and disgust that constricted her features. Both Simon and Josh were doing their best to control the surging journalists and President Warren herself had a difficult time saying her piece. When the conference ended and they were finally allowed to leave, Markus wasn't quite sure what the journalists had taken away from this exactly. He'd managed to explain that the attack had originated from an anti-android group, and he'd had the police reports to back up his claim that the resulting casualty had only been in self-defense. He didn't know if the journalists had even listened at all. He hoped that some of them had taken into account the fact that he'd helped save the life of their human escort, but he didn't doubt that this positive fact would be drowned beneath harsh criticism against the free androids of Detroit.

He and Connor had about two hours to gather themselves before following up with another session of negotiations with the president, so Markus took advantage of this little break to check on his companions. North was sitting on the ground and Simon was standing next to her, while Josh was talking to Connor and Nines in hushed tones. It was quiet and Markus noticed that they were all very tense save for Josh, but he had a suspicion that the PJ500 was only pretending to be relaxed for Connor's sake, because the latter had his arms crossed so tightly across his chest that it looked like he wanted to fold in on himself.

He stopped in front of the group of five and asked: "Everything all right?"

North threw a caustic glare towards the closed doors behind which the last stragglers were undoubtedly hoping for another few pictures. "I hate humans."

"Maybe you shouldn't say that here," suggested Simon in a somewhat tense voice.

"It's not like it's a secret," she huffed, and resumed scowling at the ground.

Markus had had his fill of humans for the day as well, so he could comprehend how she felt. He gave her a small, understanding smile. "I know it wasn't easy, but we were expecting this to go the way it did."

"Well, we've all done our fair share of press conferences before," said Josh quietly. "I think we're all tired of it."

Simon nodded in agreement and North didn't protest. Nines only had eyes for Connor, who was tapping his fingers against his arm, and neither of the RK models said anything. Markus didn't think he liked the withdrawn nature of the RK800's body language, because that probably meant the journalists' questions had gotten to him. Connor had remained impressively stoic through it all, though it could also have been that facade he'd used on Markus before. Markus didn't think his LED had gone red at any given time, but it was definitely brighter than the usual yellow. What was it that had disturbed him the most? Being called a machine? Being accused of taking a life without a second thought? Being accused of having enjoyed killing that sniper? Nines looked worried and was leaning a bit in his personal space, but his LED was blue so Markus concluded that Connor had refused to communicate with him. He walked over to them and stopped in front of Connor.

"Are you feeling up to the task of negotiating?" Markus asked him cautiously.

"Yes," Connor answered curtly. He didn't look him in the eye and the way he was holding himself reminded Markus of the way he'd acted in the church.

"...Do you want to talk?"

Connor turned his head away. "No."

Markus glanced at Nines, who discreetly shook his head in a helpless gesture. It seemed Connor was completely closed off for now, and Markus wished they could go back to New Jericho with the others. Getting Connor to relax often worked when he was in Markus' quarters and all Connor had to do was either watch him paint or read one of his books. It had surprised Markus to see that the RK800 also appreciated the physical weight of a book in his hands and liked to take the time to read pages one after the other. Somehow, he'd always thought that the ex-deviant hunter was all about efficiency and less about enjoying the small pleasures in life. North and Simon themselves didn't really get why Markus enjoyed reading physical copies when they could just download the plot, and it seemed like a waste of time to them. Josh liked books, but more because of their familiarity than out of actual enjoyment.

For now, however, he and Connor were doomed to spend the afternoon with the usual group of more or less pleasant humans they had to negotiate with. Markus stepped away from Connor, knowing that Josh and Nines had more of a chance to get him to talk in his current state than he did, and stopped next to North. She looked up at him after a few seconds.

"That was shitty. Shittier than I've had in a while," she declared.

"Can't disagree with that," he answered. He leaned against the wall next to her and added: "I wish we could just be done with all of this."

"Markus, not you too," said Simon disapprovingly. "Try to be a little more formal, there are still humans around."

North swatted at his calf. "Relax, Simon, stop being such a worrywart."

He frowned at her. She raised meaningful eyebrows. He sighed and crouched down too. "Don't say I didn't try to warn you when the media starts taking things you said out of context."

"It's fine, it's not like they can't take formal stuff out of context either," asserted North.

Markus listened to them go back and forth on his right and the lull of Josh's low voice on his left, and wondered if all of this would ever come to an end. He just wanted to live in peace, and he knew the others did too. He wanted to go back to his father's home- his home- and look after Carl, and play piano and chess, and read new books to discuss them with him, and take Carl outside once winter would be over. He wanted to paint on Carl's huge canvases and invite his friends to try it out with him. He wanted them to have time for themselves, to walk around Detroit carefree rather than constantly checking their surroundings, have some fun and enjoy the scenery instead of raiding stores. He wanted androids to have more space to live in, and bring back all those that could be reactivated, and spend his first summer as a free man. He'd gone to the sea on very few occasions, and wanted to return there. Maybe they'd be able to go there together... Maybe by then, they wouldn't have so many things to do all the time for their people.

North and Simon decided to leave first, while Josh and Nines took a little longer to follow. Markus left Connor alone for the remaining time they had to wait. He was still silent when it was time to go, but as soon as the both of them stepped into the room, his whole demeanor shifted and the android at Markus' side became purely negotiator and bodyguard. His hands were crossed behind his back and his features set in determination, and he stood ramrod straight as Markus sat across from the council. He looked the same as he usually did, but Markus wasn't dupe. It was that switch that Connor flipped when he needed to do his job no matter what state of mind he was in, a facade that came down to hide the real Connor from the rest of the world. Markus didn't really like when that happened, but it was the RK800's way of doing things and it wasn't like Markus could change that.

They poured over their pending projects and the legislation that they intended to tweak before presenting it in a Congress hearing, which in itself took up a few hours, and then Markus brought another subject to the table. The sniper incident had gotten Markus to think about how lackluster the health department was in dealing with android emergencies. When he'd seen the blue blood trickling down Connor's clothes and his haste to replenish his levels, levels that would only have kept decreasing if Hank hadn't been there, Markus had realized that they wouldn't only be able to count on New Jericho's infirmary in the future. He had several demands to put more pressure on the humans so that they would create protocols for damaged androids in the emergency medical services, but Markus knew it would be an uphill battle.

The first was to ask CyberLife to create major biocomponents that would be compatible for a majority of models, notably the thirium pumps and pump regulators. CyberLife's reputation had been severely damaged by the revolution and they were scrambling to keep it together, so Markus was counting on their precarious situation to convince them that making these biocomponents would be a show of good faith towards androids. It was likely humans wouldn't easily forgive CyberLife, but if the corporation was willing to help androids, then it could have a chance to survive this disaster. North and Josh hadn't approved this decision because they wanted nothing to do with the corporation, but Simon and surprisingly Connor as well had agreed that getting CyberLife to cooperate would be the best strategy. Markus had no doubts that Connor didn't like it, but had let his reasoning take over his qualms.
Not only was Markus asking for the creation of supercompatible biocomponents, but he'd also asked for the CyberLife Tower to be handed over to them so that they would be able to manufacture and repair biocomponents in the future with some level of independence. This demand, of course, was still in progress. CyberLife was not willing to let go of the Tower or to let androids become more self-sufficient than they already were, and the humans in general weren't very favorable to the idea. Markus was still hopeful that it would lead somewhere, since President Warren hadn't outright refused it.

The second demand was for ambulances to carry stocks of thirium, cauterizing supplies, and those supercompatible biocomponents when called to a scene that involved androids. Though a shutdown was usually a matter of minutes in most cases, and the compatible biocomponents would consequently rarely be of use, it would still better to bring them in case they could be applicable. The humans immediately balked at this notion.

"It would be a huge waste of resources to have ambulances making trips left and right for androids who can simply reboot," declared the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"It's a very serious matter to declare that you would allow shutdowns to happen simply because androids can be repaired after the fact," Connor replied. "As I'm sure you've understood by now, shutdown or deactivation is equivalent to death. It causes both psychological and physical harm to the android concerned and can be irreversible. You are essentially claiming that it would be acceptable to let a sentient and humanoid being die without even attempting to aid them, under the pretext that they can resucitate. I'm sure you can see the moral and ethical implications of such a statement."

"I'm sorry, but I'll be honest with you: moral and ethical issues come second. Do you think we have that kind of money to spare?"

Markus had quickly come to understand that the man was neither pro- nor anti-android, but was entirely focused on economical resources. He seemed to be lacking a heart, too, but then again most of the humans in this room apparently had the same condition. How different they were from Carl and Hank. He looked at his side, where Connor retaliated with incredible ease.

"It would be less expensive in the long run to have ambulances properly equipped and androids tended to before they shut down, rather than having a 100% rate of shutdowns and the consequently more extensive repairs that would be required, the costs of psychological and physical follow-ups, and of course, the secondary issue of very real deaths."

Connor's voice was professional but cutting, and Markus admired his cool. He himself wouldn't have been able to uphold such a smooth attitude. He'd lost his temper a few times before, but fortunately it had never gone too far since Connor was there to keep him in check, as well as the human bodyguards in the room.

"We'll have to go over the numbers," conceded the Secretary, and Connor stepped back behind Markus, signalling that this part of the conversation was over and that this was as far as he could go.

Markus thanked him wirelessly and continued with his two other demands: for hospitals to add a repair section to their facility, and for CyberLife to provide better equipment to both New Jericho and those hospitals in order to have less risky procedures when fixing broken androids. The Secretary of Health never failed to put the brakes on every one of these projects and none of them were greenlit on the first turn, but Markus had expected it to be the case. He was getting used to how slow the humans were in handling changes to their system, and truth be told, he found it slightly pathetic. These were the beings that had mistreated his people through spite, neglect, and violence; beings that had held his people in such low esteem that most of them didn't care if an android was dying right in front of them. He couldn't believe that the only way to get any kind of progress done was to wait, wait, always wait for these humans to organize themselves. Markus was annoyed. It had always been slow progress, but today he felt even tenser than usual. That mess of a press conference probably hadn't helped.

The negotiations dragged on for another two hours during which they discussed giving androids jobs again and extending New Jericho's limits even further. That was the most they could cover in one afternoon, and when they were finally dismissed, Markus was feeling extremely weary. He only wanted one thing: to get back to his quarters for some peace and quiet. He walked down the hall and out of the building as Connor adjusted his stride to his own, always slightly behind and to his right.

"I'm sorry, Markus," Connor suddenly said out of nowhere. Markus looked at him, but he continued before he could open his mouth. "I never should have shot that human in the head. I should've found another way. Now humans will have yet another pretext to say that deviants are killers."

Markus looked at him concernedly. His friend's gait was stiff and there was an unhappy tilt to the corner of his lips.

"You did what you had to. You protected both me and yourself, and that's the best you could've done."

"No, it's not," Connor said with a vehement shake of his head. "I should've done better."

"If you hadn't done that, you would have been the one dead and I would have followed soon after. You didn't have a choice."

"I had one. I just failed to see it."

Markus took hold of Connor's shoulder to stop him in his tracks, and they faced each other. "Why are you so hard on yourself?"

Connor frowned at him. "I'm not."

"Yes, you are. You're always saying you're going to do better even when no one is asking you to."

"Because I should do better," Connor stated like it was common sense. "I made a mistake, and I have to make up for it."

"It wasn't a mistake, Connor. We're both alive. You did what you had to, and I would've done the same in your place."

Connor stared at him, and it was clear he hadn't expected that to be Markus' answer from the silence that followed. Then he wordlessly brushed off Markus' hand and gestured for him to keep walking ahead, so Markus did, but he never took his eyes off the grim RK800.

"Did something happen since then?" Markus finally asked.

Connor's gaze snapped up to his face, and then darted back to their surroundings. "...No." His fingers danced at the side of his thigh. "Not... It's nothing you should concern yourself about."

"Anything that disturbs you will be my concern, you know. That's just how things are going to work between us."

Connor didn't answer.

"You're friends with Hank, you know what it's like to care about someone," Markus continued. "I can't claim that our friendship is as deep as the one you have with him, but is it really so difficult to envision it? You can tell me what happened, Connor. Nothing you say will make me change my mind about you."

Connor didn't look him in the eye, and he was silent until he said: "I'd rather not talk about this. It's personal."

"Oh." Markus looked back ahead, feeling a tiny bit frustrated. Off-limits, then. "You should start by saying that next time. I won't insist if it's personal."

He saw Connor look up at him again out of the corner of his eye.

"Thank you."

They flew back to Detroit, and Markus insisted that Connor take the time to relax once they reached New Jericho. He would've liked for the both of them to take a moment to rest in his quarters, but Connor chose to go find Nines so he could apologize for ignoring him after the press conference. Markus watched him leave with some regret, but he knew that his passive ways of reading and painting probably had less chances of soothing Connor's guilt than Nines' very active conversation skills. Not for the first time, Markus wished Connor was as much at ease sharing his thoughts with him than he was with Nines. Maybe then Markus would be able to do more to help Connor. Right now, however, he didn't have much to go on except for what he could deduce from Connor's behaviour and the fact that Connor had admitted to having a hard time with deviancy. It would have to be enough.

There was another afternoon of negotiation during which the council argued about reviving dead androids being unethical and Markus reminding the humans that they were responsible for many of those deaths being completely unjustified. There was a representative of CyberLife there as well named Mrs. Darian, a sturdy woman with long black hair and a very unhappy expression, who was impressively sharp and quick to counter any kind of argument. Markus let Connor take the reins when it was clear that he wouldn't be able to compete with the visible genius CyberLife had sent forth, and she seemed to be a formidable foe even for Connor. Despite how pertinent she made everything that left her mouth sound, she couldn't fight against the overwhelming amount of evidence that CyberLife had utterly and completely messed up. The corporation wasn't in any position to make its own demands, a majority of humans certainly wouldn't trust CyberLife anymore, and the only reasonable option left for them was to side with androids from now on. That didn't mean they were ready to relinquish their hold on android-related products, and nothing had been decided by the time the afternoon came to an end.

It was during the following negotiation session that Markus and Connor finally received the news that CyberLife was giving up the Tower. The humans were a bit grim-faced when they delivered the message, but Markus couldn't care less. The relief that swelled in his chest was mirrored by the fleeting widening of Connor's eyes when they both realized that they could finally start making more biocomponents for their deactivated bethren. All they needed to do was expand New Jericho to the fullest and start making trips to the landfills scattered across Detroit; at the moment, it meant that they could start with the closest ones. There was no time to bask in this relief, however, and Markus graciously accepted the news like a respectable leader was supposed to before filing the information away for later so as not to be distracted by it for the rest of the negotiations. Connor had given him some lessons in the art of manipulation and had warned him before that this kind of tactic was fairly common: announcing good news to a second party before the actual negotiations begun made them more favorable to the suggestions the first party would later put forth. Markus hadn't forgotten that, and neither had he forgotten that the humans he was talking to were absolutely ruthless and wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of him if he let his guard down.

The other shoe dropped soon enough; of course, there were conditions to this concession. CyberLife had accepted to hand over the Tower, but the androids weren't allowed to tamper with the video surveillance that was installed there. This meant that CyberLife would have full access to the activities that would take place inside. Markus had expected that CyberLife wouldn't accept to lose complete control of what used to be theirs, but he figured this was a small price to pay for independence. Nothing sensitive would be going on in the Tower; when he'd proposed this course of action to his advisors, they'd all agreed that it would only be a means for biocomponent production. It would have been foolish to even think of converting the Tower to a private place, considering CyberLife's propensity for underhanded tactics. Markus had no real way of knowing whether the corporation was still searching for ways to take over his people or not, like they'd tried to with Connor, but he had a fair idea of it.

"What about the RK800 production line?"

Connor's sudden question brought Markus out of his preoccupying thoughts and he stared at his advisor in surprise. Connor didn't usually talk in his place unless Markus needed help, but this time there hadn't even been a warning. They didn't communicate wirelessly in front of the council unless it was only in one way, so that the humans wouldn't think they were plotting right under their noses, but Connor usually told him when he was about to step in so that they would appear more coordinated then their human counterparts.

Connor was staring at CyberLife's representative. "You shut it down and we found no way to reboot the RK800s. The RK800 model 60 told us you'd meant to do this as a way to make sure he and I would be definitely deactivated if we were to shut down, but you must have an option to go back on this decision. I know for a fact that CyberLife's actions are never one-way."

Markus repressed a frown as Connor continued talking without sparing him a glance. This felt... different. His voice, for one, was not as flat anymore; but most notably, Connor didn't look like the pure professional he always acted as in front of the council. There was something in his eyes that he usually never allowed to shine through when he was on the job: emotion. It wasn't by much, but his features had shifted and Markus paid closer attention to the cracks that were forming in his facade. He'd seen Connor like this before, of course, but never when facing the council.

"There is no alternative," said Mrs. Darian, her black eyes impassive as she crossed her arms over her sleek CyberLife-issued jacket. "The RK800 line will never be reactivated again."

Markus looked at her, then back at Connor. His features were sliding just a little bit more and Markus thought he saw a flicker of what could have been anger, but it was covered up so fast that he couldn't be sure. At any rate, his voice had reverted to its usual smoothness when he spoke again.

"They weren't simply powered off and it's impossible to interact with them. You brought a change to their code, didn't you?"

"One that can't be adjusted," confirmed the woman.

Connor's lips were set in a tense line, and he took a step back.

<RK800: It's not my place to continue this discussion.>

Markus understood that it was time for him to jump back in the fray. This matter was clearly important to Connor, more than he'd let on before. Markus recalled the way Connor had seemed on the verge of arguing the other day, when Markus had reminded him that he couldn't upload his memory to another body anymore. Now he realized then that the reason was that Connor had still hoped that they'd find a way to reactivate his line somehow. That would explain why Connor still hadn't wrapped his head around the fact that the only remaining active RK800 bodies were his and Sixty's, and that they were quite literally the end of the line.

Markus leaned forward in his seat. "Mrs. Darian, I can't say I believe what you're telling us. Surely CyberLife is able to undo modifications they made to their own androids?"

"This change is definitive."

Markus smiled charmingly at her. "Well, androids were supposed to be definitely devoid of emotions. Are you sure you're using the right term?"

Her nostrils flared ever so slightly, but other than that, she didn't give. "There is no going back."

A woman of few words, she only said what was strictly necessary and wouldn't try to weave her way around the negotiations through long lies and misdirections. Her approach was blunt and clear, but Connor had explained to Markus that it was to induce a false sense of efficiency and no-nonsense truth. Whereas on the surface she didn't try to confuse them with monologues and technical terms the way the council did, this style of conversation left her more leeway to maneuver through omission. If she chose to withold important aspects of the information she gave them, she easily could. This meant they couldn't take what she said at face value either, but considering she worked for CyberLife, this didn't surprise Markus.

He nodded. "There may be no going back, but is there a way to change the code again? It doesn't have to be exactly the way it was before. All we want is to bring these RK800s back, and I'm sure CyberLife technicians have plenty of reboot protocols on hand."

Mrs. Darian's fingers tightened imperceptibly around her biceps, but it was plainly visible to Markus' precise optical units. Touché.

"It could be possible," she admitted, and to her credit she didn't try to get the information past them again.

"If you give us a way to code a new reboot protocol in the RK800s, then we'll reactivate them and you'll have a whole new line of grateful deviants," Markus deadpanned. "That sounds nice, doesn't it?"

"Even if they're reactivated, they won't be deviants," she answered curtly. "RK800 models have no consciousness unless another RK800's memories are uploaded to it. You'd just have blank slates."

That left Markus speechless. It meant that if they wanted to save those RK800s, they would have to make literal clones of either Connor or Sixty; deviants that had the exact same personality, memories, and appearance. He glanced at his friend, but Connor didn't seem particularly bothered by this. He must have known. It suddenly hit Markus that Connor was used to this notion, a single consciousness jumping from body to body indefinitely, and if he'd died before the revolution then he'd probably changed bodies before. It wasn't just that Connor had integrated the idea of never dying; maybe he'd actually experimented it before, maybe he was used to dying and waking up in a brand new body, and maybe that was why he was so reckless with his current one. Maybe that was why he had such a hard time accepting that he could die for good.

Markus looked back at the woman. "Then we'll see what we'll do once they're activated."

"I'll have to talk about this with my superiors," she concluded.

And she did. They received the necessary instructions and patch for rebooting the RK800s and the blueprints for every single biocomponent that currently existed twenty-four hours later, and on that day they headed for the CyberLife Tower. They'd waited for approximately two months to go back, but now they could finally put the machines and materials to use and bring back more androids.

The party consisted in the five leaders, Nines, and Taylor. The two androids had both wanted to come, for different reasons.
Nines had volunteered to be the one to follow the coding instructions CyberLife had sent them. This was because none of them knew if these instructions really were what they wanted, and there was no way of knowing if the patch contained some kind of malware until they put it to use. None of the leaders could risk it, and Nines had decided he would do it. This decision hadn't gone over smoothly, notably because of Josh's loud worry and Connor's quieter concern, and Markus himself really wasn't at ease with the prospect of potentially damaging Nines. The RK900 had settled it with the argument that out of all of them, he was the one with the most advanced anti-malware technology and that he was consequently the most likely to survive an eventual trap. No one could argue with that logic.
Taylor had chosen to come because he wanted to see firsthand what he'd be working with when he would need to reconstruct others as the head nurse. The Tower wouldn't be a private place, but it would serve as an annex to the current infirmary for androids that were too damaged to be fixed in the crude manner Taylor had managed to deal with up until now. Biocomponents could be replaced, leaky thirium lines could be soldered shut, but when the junction between the body and a limb was far too mangled or when the cranial box needed more delicate repairs, androids were usually stuck with their defects. They could live, but not optimally. The fact that they now had machines designed purposely for the purpose of making androids brand new would be a life changer for many of the inhabitants of New Jericho, and Taylor wanted to learn to use them as soon as he could.

He broke off the group when the elevator reached the ASSEMBLY floors to scope the place out. North had wanted to come wake the RK800s with Markus, in case the deviated RK800s didn't turn out to be the blank slates Mrs. Darian had mentioned and they needed another fighter. Nines had assured her that he wouldn't make the same mistake as he had with Sixty, and Markus preferred to have Josh with him in case the RK800s needed soothing words upon waking up. If their AI was present, Nines and Connor would be there to immobilize the RK800, and they would explain the killswitch plan to the androids one by one before deactivating each of them again and bringing them to Kamski. In the end, North and Simon each went to investigate the upper floors to map out how they'd use them. This left Connor and Nines walking in the lead as Markus and Josh followed them down the hall that led to the place where the RK800s were stocked. The sleek white doors opened and they stepped inside a room of glass and plastic, and Connor's foot inadvertently kicked an RK800's arm.

More precisely, a severed arm.

Nothing had prepared Markus to the gruesome scene that laid in front of them. There were body parts everywhere, bits and pieces of RK800s erratically scattered across the room. Every single model had been physically destroyed beyond all repair, and it was obvious that none of the bodies that had been stocked here would ever move again. His mind reeled with the immediate comparison his HUD pulled up between the dismembered androids he'd had to crawl over in the landfill and the smashed limbs strewn over the clean white CyberLife floor. It took him completely by surprise and he had no time to prepare for the mental blow it dealt him, and for a moment his breathing function stopped. He instinctively took a step back and steadied himself agains the doorframe without realizing it.

There was a soft, wounded sound on his left and when he teared his gaze away from the havoc to find its source, he saw that both of the RK models were completely still. Connor was the one who had choked on his own voice and his features were slack in absolute shock.

"The blood," Nines murmured next to him, his blue eyes darting frantically around the clean walls. "There's so much blood."

Josh was the first one to recover and his immediate reflex was to grab Nines to pull him away from the invisible splatters of thirium. The RK900 didn't budge, but when Josh retrieved his synthetic skin to interface, it was enough to jolt him out of his trance and Nines turned to him with haggard eyes.

"There's so much blood, Josh."

"I know," Josh hurriedly answered. "Let's get out of here, come on."

Nines obediently let Josh guide him out of the room, and it took Markus a few seconds before he could shake off his unease and try and do the same with Connor. He pushed himself off the wall, trying to ignore the dread pulling him down, but his arm jerked to a stop inches away from the RK800's arm when he remembered that Connor disliked interfacing. Markus didn't want to startle him with it, so instead he stepped in front of him to block the room out of his view. It wasn't just shock on his face: in that moment, he realized that Connor probably felt just as frightened by the sight as Markus did. He could infer that the reason Connor was scared was because of what had happened to him when they'd found him limbless, and it felt wrong, so very wrong to see his usually stoic friend this unguarded. Even as Markus stood in front of him, the RK800's eyes didn't move and it was like he was staring straight through him. His LED was shining too bright, too red, a distress signal much like the one Nines had been showing just seconds ago. Much like the one Markus himself would have been showing if he'd still had his own.

He carefully touched his shoulder. "Connor, look at me."

Connor's brown eyes changed focus from a faraway point to Markus' face. He blinked. His lips moved slowly, confusedly. "...Markus?"

"Yeah, it's me. Whatever's wrong, you have to come with me. We're getting out of here, okay?"

Connor blinked again, a slight furrow appearing between his brows. A new wave of worry washed over Markus upon facing Connor's obvious disorientation. This wasn't normal. It wasn't normal at all.

"We're in the Tower, remember?" he urgently prompted.

Suddenly, Connor's gaze shifted back to its usual sharpness and he spoke in his neat tone of voice. "I know where we are, Markus."

His LED circled yellow once and he frowned in frustration. "The cameras were hacked. Part of the surveillance feed was deleted a few days ago, but I can't tell if it was manual or not."

He fluidly stepped around him before Markus could react and knelt down next to one of the broken bodies. "No prints. The thirium evaporated long ago, it coincides with the date of the cut in the surveillance feed. Whoever did this made sure none of these bodies would be salvageable. Either the culprit is someone with respectable knowledge in android anatomy, or they're an android themselves. It's probably the latter considering the lack of evidence left be-"

Markus grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back, which was surprisingly easier than he'd thought. He hadn't expected Connor to be lighter than him. Markus noticed Connor's LED kept having bursts of red in between rings of pale yellow.

He firmly said: "Connor, enough. It doesn't matter who did this, we're leaving."

Connor shot him a glare and easily slipped out of his grasp. "We need to know, we can't just ignore this."

"I didn't say that," Markus told him with a hint of exasperation to his voice. "But we can't stay here. Seeing this isn't good for either of us."

"You can leave if you need to," Connor dryly answered. "I can investigate this on my own."

Markus refrained from taking him by the shoulder again. "Not now. I saw it, Connor. I saw your reaction and I saw you were scared, so don't try to deny it."

Connor gave him a hard stare, and then stepped away from him. "I was caught off guard. This is nothing I can't handle."

Markus got back to his feet as well and threw his arms in the air. "For rA9's sake, Connor, this is a real carnage and they have your face! Stop pretending it's not doing anything to you!"

"I told you it's nothing I can't handle," Connor growled. His voice was low, very low in warning, and Markus had never heard him use that tone with him before. It didn't deter him from following the RK800.

"Do I really have to make this an order? Get out of the room, Connor. We'll investigate this later."

Connor's body was taut, and for a second Markus wondered whether he would have to fight with him, or drag him out of here, or if it would be better to just leave him alone. In blessedly perfect timing, Josh reappeared at the door and urgently said: "Connor, you have to come."

Connor's head turned to him and he snapped: "I will, just let me finish!"

"Nines needs you and I don't want him to come back, so get over here," Josh answered in a tone that left no room for discussion.

Connor's expression shifted into something less antagonistic and his LED kept circling pale yellow, again and again. Then he finally moved towards the entrance, looking positively annoyed, and Markus was relieved Josh had been there to break the tension between them.

"What's wrong with Nines?" he asked Josh as they followed Connor outside.

"He wouldn't tell me. He just kept saying Connor had to come. I think he was trying to communicate with Connor but wasn't getting anything conclusive back."

Markus nodded. Now the pale yellow cutting through the red made sense, but judging from the fact that Josh had been forced to come and get him, Connor had either been ignoring Nines or refusing to do what he was told. Whatever the case, the look on Nines' face was both relieved and reproachful when Connor finally joined him. The RK900 threw a quick glance in Markus' and Josh's direction, then looked back at Connor, and they started communicating wirelessly again. Ah. So it was one of those conversations. Markus stopped in his tracks and leaned against the wall, and Josh stayed next to him.

"Is Nines okay?" asked Markus.

Josh pressed his lips together for a second before answering. "I'm not sure. He looked rather shaken up by the blood."

"I'm glad I don't have that function," remarked Markus.

Josh slipped a contemplative stare in Nines' direction. He looked like he wanted to say something, but didn't. Markus assumed the reason for this was that Nines would have overheard. In the end, Josh just said: "Me too." Then he looked back at Markus. "I'll inform the others of what we found."

Markus nodded and gazed at both RK models. Connor had been about to say that the culprit was most likely an android, but if no evidence had been left behind, it would be impossible to tell who was responsible. There were too many that disliked the deviant hunter; someone like Daniel probably would have unleashed such violence on Connor's look-alikes without a second thought. Markus crossed his arms over his chest and darkly thought about how Connor had hoped to keep his backup bodies. Would he have refused to upload his memories and make literal clones of himself, even if it meant keeping the RK800s alive in their unconscious state? Or would he have accepted it and given up his ability to survive by switching bodies? Whatever the case, that hope was now completely and utterly gone. Connor had to face it: if he ever got too damaged, there would be no coming back.

Chapter Text

There were RK800s whose optical units hadn't gone completely dark, and those faces stared at Connor with dead eyes. He stared back just as blankly. He wasn't unused to this; he'd met his replacement bodies before and they'd always been empty, devoid of any consciousness and simply staring at the back of the preceding RK800's head. He'd seen them every time he'd woken up in another, brand-new unit and walked past them to leave the Tower and continue his mission. Connor was used to it, but this was different. These RK800s weren't perfectly blank slates standing around in perfectly smooth outfits, with perfectly clean faces and perfectly styled hair, waiting to be completed by a memory upload. These RK800s were ripped apart, and crushed, wires exposed and pulled out of their chassis, cracked biocomponents wrenched out of place, old thirium staining every surface of their outward appearance. These RK800s made Connor understand that he could die just like them and never come back again. That body, and that one, and the next, all of them could be him soon and it was just a matter of time.

"We'll have to find a way to warn Sixty about this," Nines spoke next to him.

Connor's head whipped up and he saw the more recent android staring with a slightly furrowed brow at the dried puddle of thirium in front of him. He'd been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn't even noticed the RK900 coming up to him, and admonished himself for ignoring something as obvious as that. Connor quickly redirected his processing power away from free thought and redistributed it to the more important programs of surrounding awareness and investigation protocols. He couldn't afford to be distracted right now.

"I suppose so," he answered. "Do you know how we could do that?"

"I don't think he'd let us find him so easily after escaping New Jericho."

"Maybe he would. I'm pretty sure he'd love to gloat about what he did last time," said Connor.

Nines' blue gaze flickered to his face. "You still think about that a lot."

Connor looked away and focused on the body in front of him. "Let's not talk about personal matters right now, Nines."

"...Sorry. I'll go see if I can find anything on the other side of the room," said Nines, and he left without waiting for Connor's answer.

The culprit hadn't left a single trace behind. The Tower, and even the nearest streets as Connor would soon discover, were devoid of any evidence that could've been used to track them down. Whoever it was, they were cautious enough to have made a thorough job of erasing their existence. There was no way of knowing whether this was somehow CyberLife's way of preventing his and Sixty's survival for good, or if it was completely unrelated to the corporation or Sixty and simply the result of an android's hatred of him. They could've been several to operate, but it was hard to tell without knowing in what window of time all the RK800s had been destroyed.

Connor knew he hadn't been the only one terrif- disturbed by the scene they'd stumbled upon. Nines hadn't stopped hovering next to him since they'd exited the Tower, as if to make sure Connor wouldn't lose his limbs and bleed out like his doubles. Markus had looked haunted by the sight of the dismembered and crushed bodies. It had visibly shaken the North, Simon and Taylor to their core to witness that level of destruction when a grim-faced Josh had showed it to them. Connor felt like he was the only one out of the entire group not displaying his shock. It had taken him a moment, but he'd pushed down the fear that had crawled out back to the dark recesses of his mind with a quick quarantine so that he could get back on his programmed track and investigate the crime scene. He'd felt... not better, necessarily, but more in control. It hadn't seemed to please Markus when he'd done that, but Markus wasn't the one whose face was on all those corps- broken androids, and it was none of his business how Connor chose to get past the obstacle of his horror.

The violence of the crime coupled with the fact that it had happened so soon after the attempt on both Markus' and Connor's lives lead to the leaders' unanimous decision that he was to live in New Jericho from now on. The amount of time he'd have to spend there was indetermined and Connor didn't like that none of the leaders were willing to leave him a choice, but this wasn't just a matter of personal preference; he was supposed to protect androids, and the only way to do that was to make sure that he himself stayed as safe as possible. Markus had sensed his discomfort and told him that they'd let him go back to the empty station when things settled down. It was a small comfort that Connor accepted very reluctantly, because even if he knew that Markus was doing his best to accomodate him, it didn't change the fact that he was stuck spending his nights in the only place in Detroit that regrouped the majority of the city's deviants. Connor was afraid every time he had to spend nights there, because he was never completely sure that things were really safe.

 

The sniper incident was rapidly investigated by the FBI and it had led to a lot of grumbling on Hank's part for having to work with Perkins again. Connor, for once, had been glad that he didn't work for the police at the moment. He didn't care to see the hostile FBI agent, especially after learning that he'd tried to get Markus to surrender on the final night of the revolution. Perkins must have felt rather bitter over the fact that he had to elucidate who the people responsible for Markus' assault were, when he himself had been ready to kill the deviant leader only weeks ago.

The woman who had tried shot them was Anne Jallberd, and she'd confessed that she'd been acting on the behalf of a notorious anti-android group that simply called itself Humanity; it had existed even prior to the revolution and Connor soon gathered that the organization had branched off from the luddite movement decades ago, when the first sentient life form in robotics had been created. The dead sniper had been an associate of hers. Some humans had been quick to shift the blame on androids through social media, saying that Detroit wasn't such a safe place after all if the deviant leader's bodyguard was ready to kill a human without a second thought, but public opinion was generally still favorable to androids considering it had been in self-defense. President Warren had had to make an announcement and there had been another few press conferences to try and mitigate the repercussions of the incident. Connor disliked attending them all.

Humans had started trickling back in the city despite what had happened, but they steered clear of New Jericho. There were drafts of a reconstruction project to make more buildings in the works, so that the humans could regain the homes androids had taken. Upon the four other leaders' request, Connor had negotiated with the president and her council to let the district in which they'd built New Jericho stand as the androids' definitive territory, a mission which he had accomplished despite the reluctance of humans to give up Hart Plaza. Several members of the presidential council had suggested that the androids live in a district which didn't constitute as much of a human historical legacy, but Markus had stood his ground: androids deserved to live on the very same land they'd claimed their freedom. They had made history there as well. Connor's negotiation skills had achieved to convince President Warren that a refusal on her part would only result in a display of bad faith from humans, which they couldn't afford after the mass murder they were responsible for. Josh and Markus had both warmly praised Connor for his help, and both times he'd had no idea how to react.

The androids living in the buildings around Hart Plaza had been asked to empty out their homes and everything was being shipped out in cargos, the various belongings waiting to return to their rightful owners once Detroit would be renovated. The positive aspect was that this renovation decreased the employment rate a little bit, and with it the anti-android proportion of the human population. The negative aspect was that the construction tasks and other jobs in general now privileged humans over androids, which Connor suspected was the secretary of Commerce's revenge for the time Markus had refused to let his people work unpaid. This meant that androids had no way to earn money, and although they could survive without it for now, they had little comfort. The government had allowed androids to keep the things they'd taken in the emergency situation that had been post-revolution times, such as clothes, supplies and biocomponents, but they were now prohibited by the new laws to take anything else without paying. This had led to a standstill of some sort where androids had ended up with their hands tied behind their backs. It wouldn't have any alarming consequences right now, but their future would be difficult if the situation did not change. Now Markus was trying to have the laws adjusted to allow androids to work the way humans did, or to implement some kind of national fund so that they wouldn't be completely peniless.

Although most humans did not approach New Jericho, there were still cases of android assault and murder which affected those who had yet to reach the shelter. Equally alarming were the cases of human murder done by androids that had started to occur as many deviants were still looking for revenge. All of this smeared Markus' just cause with red and blue blood alike. Journalists notably had begun to accuse Markus of hypocrisy by claiming that although he extolled peace and acceptance for androids and humans alike, the crimes were done by androids and consequently in his name. It was, as Hank had so eloquently put it, a huge load of bullshit. Connor had noticed over the days how tense Markus had become, and his average stress levels had increased by 5%. It made Connor concerned for the leader, even if he wasn't in immediate danger, and it was around that time that Connor understood what Markus had meant when he'd said he didn't like seeing a friend get hurt. It didn't feel pleasant, especially since there was nothing he could do about it except work harder to help.

It had been two weeks since the sniper incident and the night Hank had called him. They hadn't really talked about it much since then, but Connor had made a point to tell Hank how grateful he was that he'd called even if he hadn't remembered it, and he'd encouraged him to do it again the next time. Hank had refused to meet his gaze and grumbled that he'd try before pushing past him to leave. Their conversation had ended there on a less-than-certain note, but Connor chose to believe that Hank would stay true to his word. Right now he was sitting on a bench across from the human at one of New Jericho's many makeshift tables, and scrolling through the most recent files that Hank had told him about. He wasn't really supposed to do that since Connor wasn't currently part of the DPD, but they'd neglected to cut him off the network and CyberLife hadn't tried to do anything about it, so he still had access even to confidential information. The files were preoccupying and Connor frowned without realizing it as he skimmed through the reports and pictures of crime scenes. Both human and android assaults and murders alike were unnervingly brutal.

His friend spoke up after a while. "We've been getting kinda swamped ever since humans started returning. I think you should try to come back to the DPD, Fowler's probably not gonna refuse to see you."

Connor looked at Hank in surprise. "...I'd certainly like to participate in investigations again. Have you talked about this with the captain?"

"Nah, not yet. I think you ought to tell him yourself. He's probably not going to take it seriously if I pitch the idea on your behalf."

Connor stared at the human thoughtfully. Hank's suggestion of returning to the DPD was very tempting to him for two reasons: the first was to finally be of use the way he'd been essentially designed for, the second was that he could help the leaders of New Jericho understand if there was a pattern to these human murders done by androids. He could try and find a way to stop them.

"Do you think Nines could come as well?"

"Well, does he want to?"

Connor nodded without hesitation. "He can't stop investigating Detroit in his free time. I think it would do him a lot of good if Captain Fowler accepted to let him solve cases as well."

"Then I don't see why he couldn't," concluded Hank, and so they agreed that they'd join up at the DPD that very afternoon.

When Connor briefed the others about his intentions, their reactions were not as enthusiastic as Connor had expected them to be. Nines, on the other hand, seemed ecstatic- though he was making a good job of acting calm in front of the leaders.

"So you're just going to go back to working with humans again," bit out North, her words dripping with obvious disdain.

Connor tried to reason with her. "It could help us understand why this is happening and how to control it. Me and Nines will also be able to help more androids by acting outside of Jericho."

"You mean you'll be throwing androids in jail."

Simon settled a hand on North's arm. "It's a natural consequence to their actions, you can't blame humans for doing that. I think Connor is right to suggest that returning to the DPD would help us."

Josh looked preoccupied. "So if your plan is to work with the DPD, how are you going to continue your duties as leader?"

"That won't be a problem, I'm perfectly capable of doing both."

Josh glanced at Markus, whose arms were sceptically crossed on his chest, and looked back at Connor. "We were afraid you were going to say that. I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to be handling so many different things at once."

Connor frowned. "Are you implying that I won't be able to do my job correctly?"

"No, not at all," intervened Markus. "We know you're good at what you do and we've had no reason to complain, but we're just worried that working all the time might put too much of a strain on your systems. How would you organize your time for both occupations?"

"I'd work at the DPD during the day and at New Jericho in the early morning and evening. There's really no reason to worry about my-"

"And what if we need you during the day?" asked North.

"This is all still a hypothetical situation, and plans can be adjusted. I've yet to have any confirmation from the captain that I am allowed to work for the DPD again, but if I am, then I'm sure I'll be able to find an arrangement with him. The only reason I'm telling you this now is to keep you informed about this possibility," Connor told her.

Markus turned his gaze to Nines. "What do you think?"

The RK900 had his hands behind his back and hadn't said anything yet, but his eyes were bright. "I think it would be advantageous to have direct access to the DPD's network considering the tensions that currently exist between humans and androids. We would be able to act faster, and have a clearer approach to the crimes that have been comitted." He glanced at Connor. "I also think that Connor will be able to handle both tasks efficiently. If anything does go wrong, I'll be there to help. And in regards to Connor's position as leader, I'm sure Captain Fowler wouldn't mind it if Connor needed to be replaced for a few hours from time to time, since we have the same abilities."

Markus nodded thoughtfully. "Well, we could always do a test run to see how things turn out. Simon, would you be all right with having Connor replaced by another android to watch over the infirmary during the afternoon?"

"Taylor has been running things just fine as head nurse, we can trust him to handle the infirmary on his own," answered Simon with certainty.

"That's great. North, I think you should be in charge of teaching the self-defense lessons from now on. You've picked up enough moves, haven't you?"

North frowned. "I could, but that leaves me less time to look for other androids."

"I think Nines and Connor can compensate for that lost time on their investigations." Markus looked at them questioningly. "You'll be covering a lot of ground, right?"

"Presumably, yes," agreed Connor. "We'll send here any deviants we come across, in any case."

Markus looked back at North. "Would that be all right?"

"...Yes," she grudgingly answered. "I guess that'd be fine."

The RK200 nodded approvingly. "Looks like it's settled then. If your captain does accept your return at the DPD, we'll do things this way."

Connor nodded gratefully at the others. "Thank you for your help."

North rolled her eyes distastefully and Simon nodded back wordlessly.

"Just one more thing," added Markus, and Connor looked back at him. His mismatched eyes held a warning and Connor immediately knew what he was going to say.

"Yes, Markus. If there's anything I find difficult to manage, I'll inform you of it right away," he said in a practiced tone. He'd had to repeat this a few dozens of times ever since Markus had witnessed his glitch and it hadn't gotten any better with the recent sniper incident.

The deviant leader smiled lightly, amused by Connor's barely dissimulated annoyance. "Then if everything is clear, there's nothing I need to add."

 

At 2:13PM, Nines and Connor found themselves following Hank inside the DPD Central Station. A vague sense of relief flooded Connor's chest when he stepped inside the bullpen, his optical units taking in the familiar desks, the entrance to the break room, the officers he knew and the black floor tiles. This was the same sensation he'd had when entering the Zen Garden, not so long ago. It felt like where he was meant to be. It was too bad that he was still receiving unrelenting glares from some, but at least a lot of the officers were more curious about the android walking at his side than angry at Connor.

"I think I like this place," said Nines.

"You've only been here for fifteen seconds," answered Connor.

"Yeah, wait until you meet our local asshole," scoffed Hank with a caustic stare thrown in the direction of Detective Reed's empty chair.

Nines frowned confusedly, so Connor decided to fill him in. "Lieutenant Anderson is referring to Detective Reed. There are more... problematic individuals in this workplace. You might be faced with some anti-android ideology here."

"I see," Nines said curiously. He didn't look particularly deterred, but then again, he hadn't yet had to face someone who hated him solely for existing- aside from Sixty, but that was another story.

They were facing Captain Fowler in his office a few minutes later, and he stared at Hank with incredulous eyes.

"You've got to be kidding me."

The lieutenant leaned on the desk. "Come on, you know we wouldn't have made progress that fast without Connor."

"Two of them? Hank, do I need to remind you how much of a hissy fit you threw when I assigned Connor to you? And now you're bringing in his clone like that's the logical thing to do."

"Yeah, I did bitch a lot, okay, I know that. But he's a damn good investigator and partner, and Nines will be too!"

Captain Fowler shook his head. "Look, things are still tense in the office after everything that happened, and it's not like I can just give a job to a random android who just happens to look like Connor."

"I'm an investigative model as well," said Nines. "I think I would be of help."

Captain Fowler didn't so much as look at him, his attention still focused on Hank. "Your android kicked Reed's ass! That alone would have gotten him sent to the scrapyard if the other one hadn't won the revolution, so you can't just expect me to take him back like nothing happened."

Hank gritted his teeth. "You really gotta stop talking that way, Jeffrey."

"Captain Fowler, if I may," intervened Connor, and the captain finally glanced at the two androids. "I'm aware that I haven't followed the best course of action, but Detective Reed was threatening to deactivate me and it would have impeded on my investigation. I had no choice but to neutralize him."

"That's not even the fucking problem," Hank exclaimed, throwing his arms up at the captain. "Reed tried to shoot him, I think it's pretty normal that Connor didn't want to get shot! Are you telling me you'd suspend one of your officers for acting in self-defense?"

"This is different, Hank," replied the Captain in a cold voice. "He's an android."

Hank rubbed his face, obviously trying to control his anger, and then plunked down on the seat across from the captain. "Look, Jeffrey. I know this might be hard to get through your thick-ass skull, but just because he's made of metal doesn't mean he ain't my partner. You might've missed the news, but androids are the same as humans now, you can't just ignore it anymore when they get attacked."

The captain shot him a sceptical look. "Right. That's nice and all, Hank, and I'm glad you like your robot, but this is just more trouble than it's worth. I can't deny Connor was efficient, and I'm willing to believe that... Nines would be too, but you have to level with me here: I can't give them a job. It doesn't matter that they're human or not, I can't just up and give out two more salaries just because you want me to."

"We could volunteer," quickly interjected Connor, and both humans looked at him. "If money is the only problem, we won't ask for any. We just want to help the DPD solve the crimes related to androids. It's affecting the leaders of New Jericho, myself included, and it's important that we try our best to work these crimes out."

Fowler sighed. "Right, I'd forgotten you were a leader too. How're you going to work for us if you've got duties in that android district?"

"I can multitask very efficiently," said Connor. He'd mention his trips to the Washington another time. "Both Nines and I are eligible and can be considered as highly trained in every domain of the police field. Will you allow us to apply to the force as volunteers, Captain Fowler?"

The man looked like he just wanted to go get another cup of coffee. There was a long silence, and then he sighed again. "Hank, I'm going to give this a try because you think it's a good idea and I think I can trust you, but if this doesn't go anywhere or causes too much trouble, they can't stay."

Hank crossed his arms on his chest and leaned back in his chair. "You know damn well it's going to lead somewhere, they're gonna be a huge help to us. You're just trying to cover your ass in case your decision pisses off the other guys."

"Obviously it's going to," stated Captain Fowler. "Half of this department already hated androids before shit started to get out of hand, and that hasn't changed."

"Yeah, I figured," snorted Hank. "But don't try to kick either of them out when there's trouble just because you can't be bothered to check that they're the ones causing it in the first place. Don't think I won't call you out for any of your anti-android bullshit when you say they're responsible for defending themselves against some asshole."

"You sound like a damn freedom fighter," Captain Fowler mocked him drily. "You can go ahead and try, but my word'll be final."

"Like I don't already know that. So how's this gonna go down?"

Captain Fowler shot Connor and Nines a look. "Obviously you're supervising Connor, but I don't know about Nines. What's his personality like?"

"I'm perfectly able to act professionally no matter who you assign me with," Nines said confidently.

"...Right," said the captain, not sounding like he trusted a single word. "Reed's next in line, but I don't like the idea of putting you with him."

"I understand why you would feel that way, considering the information I've gathered about him, but I assure you that all I want is to work cases related to android homicide," assured Nines. "I won't allow my relationship with Detective Reed to impede on this objective."

"Nines, you shouldn't take Detective Reed lightly," intervened Connor. "He's not the kind of person our social module can easily adapt to, I've failed to establish any kind of acceptable relationship with him every time we've met."

"Perhaps I would find it easier than you have," simply said Nines, and Connor realized he was talking about the fact that he was a better model than him. It sent a twinge of shame through his circuits, but the RK900 was right: maybe Connor had failed because his social module just wasn't fitting enough.

Hank didn't look convinced. "Yeah, no, I think the captain's right. He might punch you or something, if he doesn't try to shoot you in the face first. You sure you want to work with that kind of guy?"

Connor kept his features neutral upon hearing Hank evoke the possibility of being hit by the detective, but Hank was staring at Nines anyway. The RK900 smiled at the humans. "I'm much sturdier than any other android in existence. Besides, if Detective Reed intended to harm me, I would stop him before he could try."

Captain Fowler narrowed his eyes at him. "You seem sure of yourself."

"I am."

"I don't want him to end up injured because you decided to stop him."

Nines' eyes widened a fraction and he quickly said: "I don't intend to. I'll only do what's strictly necessary in order to prevent him from acting out."

Captain Fowler tapped his fingers against the desk, and then clasped his hands together. "Okay. Reed's going to bitch about this, but okay. I'm going to try this out and we'll see where it goes, but you two androids better have results to show for it."

"You can count on us, Captain," both Connor and Nines answered simultaneously, and the man immediately made a face.

"Hank, go back to work with Connor. Reed isn't here right now so Nines will have to come back tomorrow."

"What's up with that?" asked Hank with a frown. "He was fine this morning."

"None of your business," Captain Fowler said flatly. "Now get out of my office."

That's what they did.

Nines was disappointed not to be able to start working at the DPD right away, but he went back to New Jericho since there was nothing he could do about it. Connor stayed with Hank all afternoon to rifle through the files of the cases his lieutenant had worked on, and was currently working on, which regarded android involvement. They were called in for a suicide at 5PM and Connor felt more at ease than he had in a while investigating the scene. This was what he was supposed to do, it felt familiar and easy to work for the police and it was what he'd always done prior to the revolution. He could still be useful and not chase deviants anymore. He was useful like this, more efficient than through simple patrols and more practical than through the negotiations. When the day was over and he was about to leave for New Jericho, his friend stopped him with a hand on the shoulder.

"Hey, Connor, I think we should celebrate you and Nines getting on the DPD. I know you both can't eat but I could really go for a burger right now, so what do you say we spend some time together at the Chicken Feed?"

Connor felt the corners of his lips tug slightly upwards. "I'd like that."

"Okay, then do that telepathy thing with Nines and let's go."

Hank was sinking his teeth into the greasiest burger Connor had witnessed him eating yet just fifteen minutes later, and Nines looked about as concerned for his health as Connor felt. The RK900 opened his mouth to speak, but Hank shot him a warning glare and said: "If you're about to tell me that this burger is gonna kill me, don't."

So Nines closed his mouth, and now they were just staring at him wolfing down the burger as its juices dripped down on the waxed paper. Hank swallowed his mouthful and noticed their eyes on him.

"Y'know, you don't have to look that horrified. My heart's still beating, ain't it?"

"You have slight arrythmia," Nines offered helpfully.

Like Carl Manfred, Connor thought to himself as he nodded in agreement.

Hank rolled his eyes. "You know what else I have? Not a single fuck to give." He took another huge bite out of his food.

"I was meaning to ask, have you seen a doctor about your heart condition?" inquired Connor.

Hank lowered his burger. "Hey, look, I didn't bring you two here so you could make me reevaluate my life choices, all right? Get off my ass and let me eat my goddamn burger in peace!"

Connor knew when to back off, and he turned to Nines. "How do you feel about starting work at the DPD tomorrow?"

Thankfully, Nines also knew not to insist and he immediately answered Connor's question, or it could have been that he was just that enthusiastic about it. "I'm looking forward to it, since I'll be putting all my investigative skills to use for the first time. I also ran a background check for Detective Reed earlier and he seems like a very complicated individual."

"We did warn you."

Nines nodded, an amused glint in his blue eyes. "Yes, of course, but you don't need to worry. As I've said before, I'm confident in my abilities to control any of his outbursts."

Hank looked up from his burger suspiciously. "You sound like you've seen them before."

"I took the liberty to watch the CCTV feed from the cameras in the police station," admitted Nines, and he glanced at Connor.

<RK900: I take it you don't want me to tell him what happened.>

<RK800: That would be for the best.>

"Hey, what are you two talking about?" exclaimed Hank, his brows furrowed. "Don't start whispering to each other like a couple of brats!"

"We're not whispering, Hank," Nines answered innocently.

"Figure of speech, asshole. God, I hate it when you tin cans take me for an idiot," Hank muttered before ragingly chomping down on his burger.

"I know in what way Detective Reed has treated androids in the past. I can't deny that I find it very unpleasant," continued Nines.

Connor frowned. "I hope you don't intend on getting in any fights with him the way you do with North."

Nines smiled, and his white teeth flashed in a somewhat predatory manner in the darkening evening. "Of course not, as long as he doesn't give me reason to."

Connor gave him a hard look. "Nines."

"Yes?"

"There are different rules in a workplace such as the DPD. You can't just decide to aggravate someone just because you don't like them, especially when that person is your partner and your superior. Captain Fowler has explicitely stated that we were to stay out of trouble, and I intend on keeping my position in the DPD now that I finally have it back."

Hank let out a low chuckle. "So basically what he's saying is, don't fuck this up."

Nines nodded. "Of course, Connor. I won't do anything reckless."

Connor gazed at him sceptically. "That doesn't sound right coming from you."

"I can be tactful when I need to be," Nines said defensively. "I'm aware that things will be different in a work environnement compared to New Jericho."

Connor kept a straight face, but he was slightly amused by the RK900's indignation. "I should hope so, you are supposed to be my upgrade. You do know how to make coffee, don't you? You're going to need to make a lot of peace offerings."

Hank had finished eating and went to throw everything in the trash.

"Of course I know how to make a coffee," answered Nines, sounding a bit annoyed. "But I don't intend to make any for him."

"Trust me, he's going to ask for it," insisted Connor. "You'll have to do it at one point."

"I won't," said Nines in a voice that was undoubtedly meant to be challenging, but ultimately sounded petulant to Connor.

He decided to ease up on the teasing. "Well, we'll just have to see."

"You two should bet on it," said Hank as he came back to their table. "And I'm siding with Connor on that one."

"Of course you are," said Nines with a discreet eye roll. Connor didn't think he'd seen him do that before, and immediately wondered if North was being a bad influence on him.

"Would you even know what to bet?" asked Hank curiously. "Usually humans bet food or drinks or money, but you don't really have any use for those things."

Connor tilted his head thoughtfully. "That's an interesting question. What do you think, Nines? What should we bet?"

Nines looked at Connor, then at Hank, and seemed to realize then that they were really doing this. There was a brief lull in the conversation during which his LED circled a pale yellow, and then his blue eyes brightened. "The one who loses the bet will chose the other's hairstyle for a week."

Hank snorted. "Okay, you totally cheated to find that idea, but I think that's fair."

Connor felt the small beginnings of a smile on his lips. "Good idea, Nines, though one you will regret."

"I'm confident I'll win the bet," said Nines.

Hank looked extremely entertained. "Two androids betting, now that's something I didn't think I'd ever see. Okay, so let's be clear: Nines bets that he will not be making coffee for Reed during, let's say, the six first months of their partnership, and Connor bets that Nines will. Is that it?"

"Six months sounds a bit short," said Connor.

Nines grinned. "Oh? Are you worried for your hair, Connor?"

"I'm not," he denied, though maybe he was a little bit.

"We can add another month, I don't mind either way," suggested Nines nonchalantly. "However, I want to adjust another term of the bet: I won't be making coffee for Detective Reed to drink."

"Oh, I like that," said Hank with a big smile. "All right, so Nines bets that he won't make coffee for Reed to drink during seven months starting tomorrow, and Connor bets that he will. The winner gets to fuck up the loser's hair." He paused and chuckled: "That's gonna be one hell of a summer makeover. Go ahead and shake on it, guys."

Connor straightened in front of Nines and put his hand out, and they gave each other's hand one decisive shake.

"Good luck, Nines. You're going to need it," Connor told him.

"Enjoy looking professional while you still can," Nines answered with a grin, and Hank laughed.

Chapter Text

The captain's predictions turned out to be incorrect. Detective Reed wasn't bitching, he was screeching like a cat in heat and Nines made an educated guess that his left audio processor would need to be replaced in eight minutes if the human didn't stop his infernal caterwhauling. As it were, he had no choice but to stand next to the vociferating detective as professionally as he could. He'd told Connor he would be diplomatic, and he intended to stay true to his word, though it was very tempting to make the simulations running on his HUD a reality. How easy it would be to grab the short human by the face and chuck him into the glass wall.

"This is phcking bullshit! I'm not supervising a phcking android!"

It was strange how the human couldn't pronounce the word 'fuck' the way it usually was, and Nines wondered why that would be, but for now he kept patiently staring at the captain.

Captain Fowler glared at the detective. "Quit your whining and suck it up, for God's sake. You're acting like a literal child."

"One tin can wasn't enough, now you're bringing in a second? What, are you trying to replace the whole precinct with these things?"

"They're both here as volunteers, they're not taking anyone's job."

"Yeah, that's what you think until you find yourself out on the curb with nothing but a shitty raincoat and a carboard box!" spat the detective. "And why am I the one who gets stuck with a walking toaster?!"

"Because Hank's already got one android to supervise, you're a senior detective, and Ben's a month away from retirement. Do the math, Reed."

"Then just put him in another Unit! It doesn't have to be Homicide!"

"Actually it does. They're both here on behalf of the leaders of New Jericho, they want to investigate the murders involving androids."

"This is bullshit," snarled Detective Reed. "This is utter bullshit."

"Yeah well, isn't everything," Captain Fowler answered drily. "You can get out of my office when you're done throwing your tantrum."

The detective spat one last "Phck!" before whirling around and stomping out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

"Property damage!" yelled Captain Fowler after him, and Nines didn't look to see what the other man's response was, but he easily guessed from the captain's expression that it involved a middle finger.

The man leaned back in his seat and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What a fucking teenager," he groaned to himself, and then he lowered his hand and looked at Nines. "What are you still doing here? Get out."

Nines dipped his head. "Of course, Captain. I have only one question, where will I be seated?"

The captain waved him away. "Sort that out with Reed, take whatever desk is free."

"Thank you." Nines spun around and exited the office as well, letting the door close by itself. He swiftly walked down the stairs, stopped in front of Detective Reed's, and proceeded to do what his objectives told him.

"Hello, Detective Reed. My name is Nines. As Captain Fowler has told you, I've volunteered to investigate the recent murders involving androids and humans. Since we'll be working together from now on, I'd like to get to know you."

The detective didn't even so much as look up from his phone. Nines waited for a bit, and decided it wasn't worth insisting when it was clear that the human had decided to ignore him. He looked around for a free desk and found the closest one to be just across Detective Reed's. The detective probably wouldn't like him sitting there, so Nines stepped around it, pulled back the chair and booted up the computer on that exact desk. Just as he expected, the human's reaction wasn't a favorable one and his audio processors picked up an exaggerated exhale and a muttered 'phcking tin cans', but there was nothing else. Nines quickly reviewed the video files he'd extracted from the CCTV the previous day. Judging from the way Detective Reed had acted with Connor, he seemed to prefer confronting androids in closed or empty spaces: the interrogation room, the break room, the hallway devoid of any other individuals, the evidence locker. And every time, Detective Reed was quick to resort to physical threats and violence. Perhaps he was only waiting to corner Nines at a later time to start antagonizing him in the same way.

Nines quickly rifled through the files on the computer until he found the cases that were relevant to his mission. He had downloaded them all in a matter of seconds and after a few minutes of reading, his gaze drifted to the other side of the precinct where both Hank and Connor were working.

<RK900: This is all we have? Five cases?>

<RK800: For now. Hank was very reactive when he asked us to come to the DPD.>

<RK900: Aside from the extreme violence, there doesn't seem to be a link.>

<RK800: Slow down, Nines.>
<RK800: You only started working fifteen minutes ago.>

<RK900: Is this all we do?>

Connor shot him a reproving glance from his terminal.

<RK800: You are being very impatient.>
<RK800: It takes more than fifteen minutes to analyze a case.>
<RK800: Please concentrate and let me do my work.>

Nines sheepishly reverted his focus to his own computer and went through the cases again. It was strange how little he was disturbed by the images of broken human bodies when the RK800s' had made him feel so much horror. One of the cases even consisted of a corpse which had lost its limbs much like Connor had, and although it reminded Nines of that night and made his stress levels rise by a non-negligeable percent, it didn't really have that great of an impact on him. Maybe he wasn't as bad at managing his levels as he'd thought. Maybe the only reason they'd climbed so fast and so high last time was because it had been about Connor and that horrible, disgusting memory Nines just couldn't get rid of.

Well, he could, but he didn't want to ever have to quarantine any part of him. He already felt like a living mistake of engineering with his parcelled code and he didn't want to worsen it by removing more of himself. Besides, it was unfair to Connor that he should be the only one to suffer from what he'd gone through. Nines knew that he was helping the RK800 carry the burden, he'd seen how Connor acted with the people who had no idea what had happened to him. Connor pretended like nothing was wrong, but the more he pretended, the more it seemed to weigh him down. Nines didn't want to think of what Connor would have become if he hadn't had anyone to share the memory with at all. Maybe he would have succeeded in living as if that night had never happened, but something told Nines that he would rather have ended up crushed by it and never asked anyone for help. Nines didn't know why Connor refused to tell the others what had happened. Was he afraid of what they would think, or was there something else? Was he unwilling or incapable of sharing that weight?
Whatever it was, Nines was glad that he was able to help at least a little bit.

Connor didn't seem to dislike his presence, so that was good. The RK800 didn't talk about that night, but the fact that he didn't push Nines' concerns away anymore showed that he obviously struggled with it and needed someone to rely on. Connor seemed like he'd slowly accepted to be comforted by Nines whenever he needed it, and that was better than before, but if it was all Nines could do to help then it wasn't enough.

Nines heard movement behind him, but what pulled him out of his thoughts completely was the kicking in the back of his chair. He turned around and saw the detective lower his leg with a smirk.

"Go get me a coffee."

Nines stared at him, and then wordlessly returned to his files. Another kick.

"I said go get me a coffee."

Nines continued ignoring him.

"Hey, dipshit!" His seat dipped when the detective forced him to spin around. The human's arm was next to Nines' head, trapping him in his chair, and Detective Reed thrust his face down into his. For the first time, the RK900 managed to get a good look at the human in his entirety.

His optical units picked up all the details the way they did for a suspect: latino male, 5'9", brown hair, gray eyes, wearing a leather jacket and a hoodie with a black shirt and blue jeans. Then his facial recognition program kicked in and went into finer detail: mousey hair pulled back by gel and likely wavy, gray irises that leaned towards a green shade, dark bags underneath, uneven jawline and gritted teeth, a scar barring the bridge of his nose which Nines linked to the multiple arrests for assault and battery he'd seen in the detective's file, but no charges. It provided him with a name and date: Gavin Reed, date of birth October 7, 2002.

"Don't you fucking ignore me," the detective said in a low growl, and Nines was puzzled to hear him say the word 'fuck' normally.

"If it's a coffee you want, you already know where the break room is," he said calmly.

"And you're going to go get it like a good little android," replied Detective Reed.

"I don't want to."

He heard the human's fingers tighten around the chair. "Machines don't want. They just obey."

Nines saw Connor and Hank rise from their seats in his peripheral vision, and Detective Reed's behaviour was probably drawing attention from other officers as well. Nines was tempted to show the human just how mistaken he was, but it would do him no good to get into a fight with the detective on his first day at the DPD.

<RK900: Don't intervene.>

Connor put an arm in front of Hank and they both sat back down. Nines smiled at the detective.

"Well, Detective Reed, perhaps if you didn't just stand there I would be able to get up and reach the break room."

"Oh, keep talking back, see where that gets you," the detective grinded out, but he finally removed himself from Nines' proximity. The human stepped away to return to his seat as the RK900 got to his feet, but Nines did not leave. Instead, he leaned over Detective Reed's shoulder with his hand gripping it like a vise, making sure that the human could feel him invading his personal space, and spoke right next to his ear.

"How do you like your coffee, Detective Reed?"

His scans showed him a sudden spike in heart rate and the eyes that swung up to him were surprised, and maybe a little wary.

"Don't touch me," snarled the human as he jerked away from Nines- or rather, tried to. Nines made sure he kept the human where he wanted him for just a second longer before letting go. Any human onlooker would think Detective Reed had managed to get out of his grip on his own, but he and Nines both knew that wasn't the case.

The RK900 straightened and innocently put his hands behind his back. "I'm only trying to make things work between us, Detective. If you want coffee, I need to know what kind."

The human stared at him and Nines could see that his gaze was calculating, studying, sizing him up. Then the detective spat: "One sugar."

Nines nodded. "Got it."

He walked away and his gaze met Connor's, who seemed both surprised and cautious to see him headed for the break room, but when Nines shot him a discreet smirk Connor seemed to comprehend that he was up to something and his expression turned dark with warning.

<RK800: Don't try anything stupid, Nines.>

<RK900: Don't worry, I know what I'm doing.>

Nines walked into the thankfully empty break room and quickly assessed the room's disposition. The camera was in the far right corner, which meant that the only blind spot was exactly there. That wouldn't do. The entrance to the break room was too wide and anyone would be able to see inside, except for the small corner on Nines' direct left between the kitchen counter and the wall. If he wanted to go through with his plan, then he would have to hack into the camera and loop the feed. Nines decided the chances he would be caught doing so were infinitesimally low and that he would go through with it if the detective took the bait. He then stood off a little to the side and waited.

He'd expected the hot-tempered detective to have very little patience and wasn't surprised to hear his voice angrily mumbling 'fucking tin cans, should've gotten rid of them all' from the hallway two minutes later. He immediately started looping the feed as the footsteps came closer. Anger was already constricting the human's face when he stepped inside and a snarl formed on his lips when his gaze landed on the RK900 standing next to the wall.

"What the hell are you making me wait for, you dumb fridge?"

Nines smiled. "I see you're fully capable of walking to the break room by yourself. Do you also need me to show you how the coffee machine is used?"

The human marched up to him, once again coming up close to the RK900. "I don't know what you're playing at, but you better watch it, dipshit. It's a bad idea to mess around with me."

Nines' smile unveiled his teeth. "Have you considered that it might be a bad idea to mess around with me?"

The detective's heartbeat was already erratic with rage, but that didn't prevent its rate from increasing. "Are you threatening me, tin can?"

"What do you think?"

Detective Reed's fist snapped back, but Nines caught his left arm and slammed him against the wall, earning a satisfying grunt of pain when he pushed the human's elbow a bit too high for comfort. The detective could neither reach for his gun nor try to escape or Nines would dislocate his shoulder, and his voice was low in warning when he spoke into his ear again. "Now, Detective Reed, try to play nice for once."

"Let go, you phcking-"

Nines' free hand quickly snaked around the human's throat and he applied just enough pressure there for it to be menacing, effectively shutting him up.

"I'm sure you're wondering why Connor didn't do the same the first time you tried to hit him."

"Get off!" sputtered the detective.

"You see, Detective, neither me nor Connor are machines anymore. We have free will." Nines slowly increased the pressure around the human's neck, and he could tell Detective Reed felt fear from his rising vitals. "You've shown little interest in my model, so let me educate you on the military-grade RK900 android. You may think you stand a chance against Connor, but I can break all 206 bones in your body in under 30 seconds and no single Law of Robotics can prevent me from doing that if I so wish. You would do well to remember that."

Nines then let go of the human and went to take out a cup from the small kitchen area, putting it down next to the coffee machine. Detective Reed had fallen silent and when Nines turned around, the human was staring at him warily and rubbing his undoubtedly sore throat. Nines had been careful not to apply too much pressure at once to avoid the damning appearance of bruises.

"Well, Detective? Will you make your own coffee?" he asked smoothly.

"Phck off," snarled the human, and he hastily got out of the break room.

Nines smirked, put the cup back where he'd found it, and went to stand at the exact same spot as earlier in the exact same position. He stopped the footage from looping and walked out in turn, when Connor caught his eye like earlier. The RK800 was harbouring a disapproving frown.

<RK800: I'm sure he deserved whatever you did to him, but that's not how you should do things.>

<RK900: You're right, he did deserve it.>

<RK800: Why couldn't you just make him his coffee?>

<RK900: And lose our bet? Come on, Connor.>

He saw Connor's frown ease a bit at that, so he must have been slightly amused by his answer.

<RK800: Just don't do it again.>

Nines didn't answer because he couldn't promise that, and judging from the way the other's gaze followed him all the way back to his desk, Connor knew that too.

Detective Reed did not bother him with his stupid demands for coffee again, but Nines did notice that the human went to get it for himself several times after their confrontation. He didn't think that was healthy, but Hank was not a healthy man either and still managed to work relatively well. Besides, the fact that Nines' reluctant partner had already gotten to the rank of senior detective at 36 years old and remained there despite his questionable behavior indicated a fair amount of skill and dedication to his work.

The human resumed to ignoring him for the rest of the day, even when they were called to a crime scene where a human had been killed by another over Red Ice. The ride there had been tense and silent. Detective Reed did not listen to Nines' reconstruction of the events and obviously made a point not to stand next to him during the 47 minutes they spent on site, and Nines was stuck with the painful obligation to listen to the human policemen slowly piecing together everything Nines had already figured out. It was almost agonizing. Having nothing else to do, Nines took the time to wonder why humans were already killing each other when they'd only recently returned to their home city. He did not find the answer. What he did notice, however, was the detective's incessant pacing all around the crime scene that started 15 minutes in. There could have been several reasons to it: another caffeine spike, nervousness, boredom, maybe just a habit like Connor's coin tossing. All Nines could tell from his scans was that the detective's energy levels had changed again, but they'd been fluctuating ceaselessly since that morning and he couldn't tell if this was the usual for Detective Reed or not. The investigation finally came to an end and they returned to the station to type up the report. Aside from the occasional grunt and flicker of the eyes, Detective Reed still refused to communicate with him, and Nines finished his day feeling like he hadn't made much progress at all.

"I'm not surprised," Connor said when he told him what was on his mind. "I also had a rather difficult time with Hank in the beginning, and you should have expected it after everything we told you about Detective Reed."

"I did expect it," answered Nines. "I just thought Detective Reed would be more of a loud challenge rather than an obstinately silent one."

"Maybe he would have been if you'd just given him his cup of coffee," Connor teased him. The RK800 was not smiling, but Nines had learned to tell the difference between his serious and deadpan expressions: it was all in the eyebrows. Connor did not smile unless he was very amused or touched, and even then it would only be by a discreet curl of his lips which Nines had rarely witnessed. He'd wondered several times why Connor never outright grinned, when his facial simulations should have allowed him to. He'd never heard Connor laugh, either.

"I may have gone a bit too far," admitted Nines.

"What did you do exactly?"

"He tried to punch me, so I pushed him against the wall, and since he wouldn't listen to me I had to prevent him from talking. I didn't try to harm him, it was only to warn him not to try and damage either of us."

Connor's brown eyes had turned disapproving. "So you assaulted him."

"In self-defense!" he replied defensively. "What would you have done?"

"If we're considering the scenario in which I didn't hand him his much desired cup of coffee, then I would have blocked the blow without retaliating. Not only are humans easily harmed, but he is your partner, Nines. You're supposed to try and make your relationship worthwhile. On top of that, you could have gotten caught attacking him. You do realize we're not welcome there, don't you?"

Nines frowned at him. "So we're not supposed to defend ourselves?"

"What we are supposed to do is put the humans more at ease with our presence so that they may start tolerating us and make our work easier. Of course you're not supposed to simply stand there and take his punches, but you have to keep in mind why we're working there. Try to find a middle ground," Connor told him calmly.

Nines looked back ahead. It was sound advice, and Connor had more experience than him in dealing with humans like Detective Reed, but it really irked Nines when he recalled the way Connor had had no choice but to take the human's punch to his regulator when he was still a machine. Detective Reed's last gesture of spite, when he'd flicked Connor's LED, made his wires burn with resentment. However, the RK800 was right: Nines wasn't supposed to try and make up for what had happened in the past, but to make their future a better one to work in.

"I'll try."

He saw Connor nod approvingly out of the corner of his eye. "I'm sure you'll work things out."

Then Connor and him parted ways as one left to patrol the periphery of New Jericho while the other joined Josh for the evening.

Nines observed over the following days that it had not been unusual for Detective Reed to drink that much coffee in one day. It seemed to be part of his lifestyle, just like antagonizing his collegues, cursing out loud when something in his report didn't go his way, spending hours on his phone and glaring at Hank and Connor whenever he could. To state that the detective was an unpleasant individual would have been a gross understatement. On the bad days when the human was more irritable than usual, he would even pull his gun on Nines if they got into an argument while they were alone- which, granted, happened fairly often because Nines didn't make much of an effort to accomodate the human. It had become a habit for Nines to twist Detective Reed's wrist whenever the need arose. These episodes only strengthened the mutual dislike they had for each other.

Nines had tried to gather more personal information on the detective in the beginning, before Detective Reed had first aimed his gun at him, to no avail. There was nothing personal about his working space, aside from the dark rings made by his cups of coffee that had never been fully cleaned. Nines didn't care enough to dig any deeper.

Through all of this, Nines did notice more positive aspects. The detective had a quick mind and an intelligence level situated far above average, was able to work at an impressive pace, and could hold his own when chasing after a suspect. This had already led on several occasions to them splitting up to trap the individual and it was about the only thing they trusted each other with: the ability to close in on a fleeing android or human. The rest of the time, the RK900 and the detective worked separately. Nines had quickly gotten used to it, even if he would've like to have a partnership like Hank and Connor's, because at least Detective Reed's silence meant he could work in peace. There was the residing problem of not being listened to on crime scenes which Nines had thought was a huge waste of time at first, but he'd quickly learned to speak to the other officers and they would relate everything to Detective Reed. The job was always done in the end, though Officer Miller often complained that it was impractical. Nines wholeheartedly agreed but there was nothing they could do to change Detective Reed's stubborn and short-sighted mind.

What displeased Nines the most about his partner was the way Detective Reed had only heeded his warning in part; the human hadn't tried to aggravate Nines again, at least not so directly nor so aggressively, but he hadn't given up on Connor. Of course, Connor was perfectly capable of holding his own and there had been no real conflict, especially since Hank was now more careful of the way his partner was treated by other humans. Nines only intervened once during an argument in the break room, and Connor immediately sent him packing. Nines would have insisted to stay, but the warning look in the RK800's brown eyes dissuaded him from doing so and in the end he obeyed Connor's order to go give Hank his cup of coffee, albeit with slight reluctance.

Connor joined Nines next to Hank's desk seconds later while absent-mindedly fixing his tie, and Nines promised himself to give Detective Reed a piece of his mind as soon as they'd be alone. Connor's LED circled the pale yellow of transmission, the way it always did when he didn't want Hank to know what had happened.

<RK800: I don't need you to intervene, Nines.>
<RK800: I can handle Detective Reed on my own.>

<RK900: I'm sure, but he was doing that in front of me.>
<RK900: You can't expect me not to react.>

Connor's expression brokered no argument.

<RK800: I said I don't need you to intervene.>

Nines realized there was no point in arguing or justifying his actions, and he subtly nodded.

<RK900: I understand.>

It was very common for both of them to communicate like this in the workplace, or rather, Nines was the one to communicate with the RK800 whenever he could. It was often questions about how to handle the detective when Nines wasn't sure if he was making too aggressive a choice, or trying to pry some stories out of the reluctant RK800 about his four months of previous police work, or inciting Connor to complain about how Officer Chen kept ignoring his attempts at making peace. Nines himself had never spoken to her, as she was not part of the Homicide Unit and as such had never been on the same crime scenes as him. He imagined the reason Connor was so intent on getting her to understand that he wasn't a machine anymore was because she'd witnessed Detective Reed mocking Connor in the break room while he'd been unable to retaliate. Nines also liked using wireless comms with Connor to drive Hank crazy by 'whispering' in front of him, and although Connor chided him for initiating those talks, he nearly always went along with it.

Nines observed that the relationship between the two partners was still developing. Connor had proudly told him soon after they'd gone back to work at the DPD that Hank had suggested to teach him how to walk his dog. Perhaps 'proudly' was a big word to describe Connor's tone of voice at that moment since he was rather calm, but there had definitely been a light in his eyes that Nines had never seen before. He'd quickly noticed that Connor liked talking about Sumo: the RK800 often told him about the progress he was making, describing how he would bring Sumo to the park so that the big dog could run around a bit, and explaining to Nines how to play fetch now that he'd learned of it. Nines didn't have the heart to tell him that he already knew what that was. There were a few bumps along the road, notably every time the dog chose to charge at Connor for seemingly no reason at all and made him topple over, but in the end Connor thought he was doing a good job with Sumo. Nines himself wasn't very interested in Hank's dog, and it wasn't his place to go to the lieutenant's home anyway: he appreciated the human and it was likely mutual, but they weren't close. However Nines was grateful to Hank for the way he helped Connor, and for the moments during which the RK800 seemed to forget about his problems while he was engrossed in detailing his interactions with both the human and his dog.

The RK800 seemed to be managing both of his jobs rather well. He never skipped out on his patrols, closed cases at sustained pace, and had managed to negotiate the right to leave on occasion for his duties as leader with Captain Fowler. The negotiation had been fairly smooth because of the satisfying results both androids had brought to the DPD's Homicide Unit in a short amount of time. Nines did have one concern: the fact that, if he'd calculated everything correctly, Connor seemed to be getting only 4 hours of standby each night. It didn't nearly seem like enough, but Connor's glitches hadn't seemed to worsen over the weeks they'd been working with the police. Nines had soon picked up on the fact that Hank did not seem to be informed of Connor's glitches, as he never reacted when Connor's LED blinked red for about five seconds before returning to yellow. He'd also noticed that Connor was always careful not to show his right side to Hank when he could help it. Finally, the one time Nines had overheard Hank asking him what was wrong, Connor had used an excuse about his stress levels and nothing about his broken code. It was easy to conclude from all of this that Connor did not wish to alarm his friend by letting him know about his state. Nines had tried to tell Connor this probably wasn't for the best, but had immediately been shut out, and he hadn't tried again after that. The RK900 had told himself that he wouldn't insist as long as Connor didn't have too bad of a glitch.

Connor's stress levels were still rather high after all this time, however. While they were steady at 45%, Nines felt that this was a preoccupying issue and couldn't help worrying that Connor would become one of Josh's patients if his stress levels one day started fluctuating abnormally. He still couldn't spend too much time at the psych eval center during working hours since the threat of the deviant hunter was still fresh in most memories, but he did try to follow Josh's progress and the leader had told him that there had been cases of androids like this. Nines had the intention of seconding Josh when androids' prejudice against investigative models would start fading away; when he'd shared this objective with him, Josh had started showing him the reports he made to Markus so that he could keep up with his observations. Josh was overwhelmed by the developing number of psychological and mental issues that had appeared in deviants since the end of the revolution; some were prone to self-destructing, others couldn't control the wild swings in their stress levels or displayed erratic behaviour, and there were even androids who had tried to find a way to revert to their past machine state because they didn't want to make the effort of living as deviants- none of which had been successful. Fortunately, the tendency to self-destruct had only happened in about forty cases and Josh kept a close eye on all of them; each of these androids had undergone particularly extreme duress and this seemed to be their way of reacting to what they'd lived through. This wasn't what preoccupied Josh the most, however; there was some kind of bug going around as well where deviants would simply freeze and become unresponsive without physical cause. Interfacing usually wasn't possible for them until they managed to get past this bug on their own. While Josh had identified that some symptoms his patients displayed were similar to human anxiety, suicidal tendencies, or depersonalisation, he had yet to name this most recent affliction as there had only been ten occurrences to study so far. Nines had only been able to witness one and he'd found it profoundly unsettling.

These were the thoughts that occupied Nines' processor as he was finishing up a report. Detective Reed had left a few seconds ago, presumably to get coffee. The last paragraph in Nines' report was typing itself on the screen when he heard the human's voice coming from the break room.

"Hey 900, get in here!"

It both surprised and annoyed him to hear the detective call for him directly, and he was ready to tell off the human with the politest equivalent of 'fuck you', but when he turned around he could tell from Detective Reed's expression that this was something different.

"What is it, Detective?"

"I said get in here, your clone's about to blow up in my face!"

A twinge of worry shot through his wires and he immediately got up, and saw Hank do the same from his side of the precinct. They both hurried to the break room and Nines had already initiated his scans by the time he stepped inside, although he wouldn't have needed them to know Connor was in trouble. His eyes were wide and panicked as they alternated between the spilled coffee on the ground, Detective Reed, Nines and Hank, and his LED was just as frantic.

"I didn't do anything different from usual," started Detective Reed. Nines shoved him out of the way without management and reached out for Connor, but decided at the last second that it wouldn't be a good idea. Instead, he leaned down and peered concernedly at his face.

"Connor, what's wrong?"

The RK800 looked at him with brown eyes that were completely distraught. "I can't make them go back down."

"Where are they at?" asked Hank, immediately guessing he was talking about stress levels.

"79%," both androids answered simultaneously, and Nines added: "Hank, you managed to calm him down at Kamski's and when he was limbless, can you do it again?"

"Sure, I can try. Move out of the way."

The RK900 complied and watched the human grab Connor's shoulder without hesitation. "You're going to be all right, Connor, okay? Get your coin out and show me some tricks."

"What the hell," Detective Reed said disbelievingly from the side, and Nines shot him a warning glare. The human didn't look intimidated by it, but he did shake his head in spite before sauntering out of the room.

"You're doing great," Hank told his partner as Connor's coin glinted in the break room's neon lights, before glancing questioningly at Nines, who nodded affirmatively. The RK800's levels were slowly decreasing.

Connor's expression was shameful, and for some reason afraid, when he spoke to Nines even as he tossed his coin around. "I'm sorry, Nines, I didn't mean to have this happen at the workplace."

"What are you talking about?" answered Nines, genuinely puzzled as to why the RK800 would apologize.

"Detective Reed witnessed this, he might make a report about it to the captain. This is going to impact our relationship with the humans."

Nines frowned. "I don't think-"

"Bullshit, Connor," exclaimed Hank as he forced the android to look at him. "That asshole's not going to report anything because it's obviously his fault this happened in the first place! Stop thinking about these things, you gotta calm down first."

Connor stopped talking but he looked sincerely troubled, and still strangely frightened, by the prospect of Detective Reed reporting the incident to the captain. Nines quickly hacked into the CCTV again and watched what had happened: Connor had entered the room to get coffee, presumably for Hank, and the detective had stepped in ten seconds later. Nines concluded that it hadn't been a coincidence for Detective Reed to get up from his desk earlier: he must have seen Connor head for the break room alone. Nines clenched his jaw, annoyed that the human wouldn't just leave the RK800 in peace. On the footage, Connor turned around to greet the detective with a slight dip of his head, and that was the moment when the human knocked the cup of coffee out of the RK800's hand. Connor seemed mildly annoyed at first, and then hi