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Being Alive

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Regardless of how they felt about the concept of celebrity, Hank and Connor became an overnight sensation. Clips and screenshots of their loving embrace spread across the internet like wildfire (or perhaps a virus, depending on who you were asking). For good or bad, their unapologetic love for one another started a meme revival. People posted reaction videos to the news footage (Joss Douglas became an internet celebrity in his own right, after his jubilant cries of “HE’S ALIVE! HE IS ALIVE!” ), while others took it upon themselves to make up unflattering nicknames for them (‘Egghead and Crybaby’ coming out on top, not that it mattered), others yet made angry posts to their social media feed about how humans and androids should stick to their own people, and By the Way, Hank may not look it, but he’s three months old. Barely.

It was only a matter of hours before Connor’s professionalism came into question, not just because of how everything blew up online, but in light of recent actions he’d taken after being pulled off the deviancy case. He was supposed to investigate deviants, bring them to justice (ie destruction, but no one was using that word anymore, for reasons of political correctness), and instead he gets involved with one?

Detroit PD’s own Captain Fowler wasted no time in issuing an official statement regarding Lieutenant Anderson’s conduct and character, saying the only policy they had regarding relationships between co-workers was that it could not affect their ability to do their job - and that went for all manner of relationships, not just the romantic variety. He went on to say that should Hank remain a part of Anderson’s team, he had no doubt whatsoever that they would continue to work as efficiently and professionally as they had, previous.

And what they did in their own time was their own goddamn business.

Overall, the human population was supportive, both of android rights and their reluctant celebrity couple status. Only time would tell what would happen going forward, but at least for the time being, humans and androids seemed capable and willing to coexist side by side.

Now, the proverbial ball was in the lawmakers’ court. It was time to pass new legislation, bills for android rights, constitutional amendments - and until that was all said and done, no android could feel truly safe, living in this human world, or truly be free .

But, for the moment? All was well with the world.

***

The drive back to Sterling Heights and Michigan Drive was nerve wracking, for two reasons: Connor feared he was having some form of emotional breakdown, or meltdown, because after thirty odd years of not feeling much about anything, he could suddenly feel everything at the same time. The floodgates were open, and he went from elated to outraged to horror struck to furious, with no discernible pattern. And then there was the fact that Hank went in and out of standby, and every time his eyes closed Connor had to make himself not fly into a state of panic. It’s just a nap, he told himself, heart racing.

They made it home without incident, and by that time Hank’s default complexion had begun to creep back in sections, like clouds over a clear blue sky. Connor got him into the house, with a bit of help from Andy, who was staying until the riots were under control. He couldn’t help but feel thankful that he’d beat the tabloids and paparazzi (because he could imagine all too well what they’d do with a ‘scoop’ like this: “ex lover and mother of son helps Lt Anderson with android lover”. “Love triangle gone wrong?”. “Deus (S)ex Machina”).

Cole was asleep in the bedroom, which meant they had to be quiet. Connor helped him out of his CyberLife uniform, cursing himself for not having anything else to lend him in way of clothing. Instead he wrapped him up in the only oversized thing he owned, which was a fluffy bathrobe that had less to do with bath time and more with lazy mornings reading the newspaper. He wiped his face with a damp, lukewarm cloth, and covered him in blankets; his designated spot was the reclining armchair in front of the fire, which crackled to life at the press of a button. Hank insisted that he didn’t need a fireplace, or blankets, that he could stand in the corner, out of the way. Connor didn’t listen, just tucked him into the armchair, cocooned by every blanket he could find and propped up against every pillow in the living room.

“Creature comforts,” said Connor, closing the blinds. “You need to warm up.”

Hank didn’t disagree this time, just let his eyes drift towards the flames, until his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. He didn’t have the strength left to do so.

“Connor, sweetie?” Andy brushed his arm, startling him from his staring down at his partner. “I made tea. Come on. Sumo’s got this.”

She was right. Hank looked so peaceful. If not for the chalky white-metallic patchiness to his skin tone and the distinct lack of facial hair, he’d just be a big-boned, long-limbed man halfway sprawled, halfway curled up in the relatively small armchair, with Sumo warming his feet.

He let Andy herd him off to the kitchen, sitting him down in one of the chairs. She, if anyone, would know just how exhausted he felt. Emotionally, physically, in heart, mind and spirit. He could barely lift the mug, his hands trembled so much.

“I saw the news. He’ll be fine,” Andy told him in no uncertain terms, confident like he wasn’t able right now, stroking his back in windshield wiper motions. In just a matter of seconds he went from shocked but coping, back to the depths of now-remembered despair up on the container, when he’d thought Hank was gone forever.

His chin wobbled, his mouth twisted and his eyes burned. He nodded, not trusting his own voice when his throat ached like it was trying to collapse into itself.

Of course, their son chose that moment to come padding out from the bedroom, tiny knuckles rubbing into his eye sockets. He went to his mom first, not yet old enough to think anything of sitting in his parent’s lap. The sleepiness probably helped, too. “Why’rrr you still up?” He blinked, squinty-eyed and pouty, gaze landing on his dad.

His dad, who maybe wasn’t as cold as his co-workers believed, if in the right company, but nonetheless hardly ever wore his heart on his sleeve. Just like that, Cole was wide awake. “Dad? What happened?”

Connor held up his hand, shaking his head. “Hank’s fine,” he said, very quiet, and nodded his chin in the direction of the armchair. “He’s sleeping. He could’ve died tonight, but he didn’t.”

Cole looked over, and the frown lines he got from his father came out in full force. No protests, no arguments, no further questions.

“Hank needs his rest, princess,” said Andy, and kissed her son’s tousled bed head mop of hair.

Cole nodded, decisive as ever. “Does Hank need blue blood? Maybe we should stock up in case CyberLife stops making it.”

It was a thought Connor didn’t want to entertain. It had to be the easiest way to stop the android rebellion: shut down all manufacture of biocomponents and blue blood. Even if the androids learned how to make it themselves, they could never manage it on the same scale as CyberLife’s enormous factories…

But, Cole was right, as he so often was. Where Connor was going to find any, after the rioting and the property damage done to android tech shops and CyberLife’s stores… “There’s got to be some in storage at the station. I’ll make a request--”

“You’re not going anywhere tonight,” said his ex and quite possibly best friend in the whole wide world right now. “Your place is on that couch, and nowhere else.”

Squeezing her son around the middle, she took him with her as she stood up, his legs swinging in the air. “Come on, let’s grab a pillow for dad, and a blanket. Scoot!”

Connor gave a small sigh, finally relaxed enough to lift his mug for a sip. It was sweet, dosed with enough honey to lure a brown bear. Just what the doctor ordered. He had another mouthful, and another, listening to Cole’s giggles coming from the bedroom. Andy had a point: this way, this close, he could keep one eye on Hank and one on the news coverage. He could look over and see the rise and fall of his chest, even if it was purely mechanical. Hank could sleep. Get a bit of well-earned rest after the past week, and Connor would hold the fort. Should Andy pad out into the open plan area, he could pretend to be asleep. She could pretend she didn’t notice.

Two hours later he was still awake, but he hadn’t been completely unproductive. He’d returned his missed calls and even reassured Fowler he was okay and yes , he was still going to see the crisis counselor over the phone in the morning even if he felt fine, and Hank was going to be okay, and yes , he could take the day off - him and Hank both, for office related reasons of politics as well as he could use the rest. At least Hank managed to sleep through the night.

Connor smiled as he looked over, setting his phone to the side. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a moment. Where’s the harm in a few minutes? A power nap, like they used to call it when he was a kid. No harm at all.

When he next opened his eyes, it was several hours later, as evidenced by the sunlight streaming in through the blinds. There was a new text waiting for him, cell phone blinking cheerfully (he’d never view ‘smart’ phones the same way again). It was from Andy, and it was as to the point as she knew he preferred.

| Sumo needed a walk: done. Talked to Jeffrey, going to get blue blood from DPD. Took your car, Cole tagging along. Call if you need anything. |

Connor let the phone go into standby on the coffee table, and spied across it to the armchair, and the big shape of a certain someone who was still asleep. Hank needed his rest, and that had to be at the top of his priorities. His own recent influx of clingy emotional responses would have to wait. He snuck into the kitchen, prepared coffee but didn’t push the button for fear of its ruckus waking Hank. Instead he Rambo-stealthed to the bathroom by way of the bedroom for a one minute shower and a shave. As much as he appreciated Hank’s beard, he preferred his own face to be smooth.

When he got back out not five minutes later, the armchair was empty, and Connor’s heart leapt into his throat - but before he could work himself into a panic, he could hear the coffee machine in the kitchen. He rounded the corner, and lo and behold, there he was: Hank, looking worse for wear but in one piece, sitting hunched by the small wooden table. He looked half asleep still, elbow propped up, bearded cheek smushed against the back of his hand, like a supporting structure.

He was pale, but intact, with a full head of hair nearly as long as Cole’s but not as wavy, and his beard was back in all its salt-and-pepper glory.

There was a mug set out on the table, right in front of the one, lone chair next to Hank. Connor practically slinked into the seat, back straight and smoothing the front of his knitted pullover. He wanted to reach out, but…

“Hank?” He whispered, if for nothing else than letting Hank know he was right there. Wouldn’t want to startle him. “Did you start the coffee machine for me?”

“Hm?” Hank hummed, chin swiveling away from its perch. His pretty blue eyes opened one after the other, but slowly. “Oh. Coffee. Yup.”

“How are you feeling?” asked Connor, seeing as they were far beyond the ‘are you okay’ stage. No more surface. He was going to learn everything he could about Hank from this day forward, figure him out, ask him anything that came to mind, no holds barred, and he’d make sure Hank did the same in return. But, first things first.

Hank shrugged, stretching his neck left to right, but subtly tilted his body more towards him. “The closest I can describe it is a splitting headache,” he said, lips pressing together into a wry smirk. “Fully restored, all systems cleared. Ready and raring to go.”

It was the smirk that gave Connor the boost of confidence he needed to slide his hand over Hank’s back, ending up in a one-armed hug of sorts. “You look like shit.”

“Oh,” Hank sighed, the smirk opening up into a grin. “I’ll feel better once I’ve topped up my thirium stores. Look better, too.”

“Ah,” said Connor, suddenly unsure his teasing didn’t come across as such. “I didn’t mean you don’t look good,” he pointed out, just to be safe. “You’re… I… I think you’re beautiful. Even when you… No.” He shook his head, getting up, grabbing his mug to distract himself from a terrible, terrible, horrible thing to say. Coffee.

“I know you didn’t mean it that way,” Hank said through low, warm chuckles. He turned his head to look, see where Connor up and went, even if he only went a few steps. “Get back here. Even when I what?”

“No, no,” Connor insisted. “You’ll realize how much of a creep I am, and there’s no going back from that. Oh, by the way! Andy and Cole went out to get you some thirium, they shouldn’t be long.”

“Connor.”

“Yes, Hank?”

“Sit your ass down and talk to me. Come on.”

It was fair to say the innocent routine wasn’t working, but then again it hardly ever did, with anyone. Connor resisted giving a deep sigh, put the coffee pot back on the tray, and followed the directions. Sit down, check. Look anywhere but Hank? Also check.

He sipped his coffee despite it being just a teeny bit too hot; Hank’s eyes stayed on him, waiting him out. He had a hunch he could give Hank a run for his money where patience was concerned, but he had to concede the fact Hank would very likely outlive him by several decades, if not centuries. It was a losing battle before it had even begun. Connor allowed himself a small sigh, and a bit of preamble.

“You’re going to think I’m weird. Or some sort of ist.”

“Ist?”

“Elitist, sexist, racist - stupidly opposed and/or condescending to something on the basis of self-importance or a mistaken sense of superiority.”

It wasn’t how he viewed himself, and certainly not how he wanted anyone else to view him, although...he cared more about how Hank saw him than anyone else.

“Just out with it already.” Hank’s voice was calm, and when he reached out to brush his fingers over Connor’s cheek it sent a flush of warmth right through him. Through and through.

Connor shrugged. “I was going to say you’re beautiful no matter how you look. Even when you were hurting and-- fighting to survive, I… All I saw was you, and you’re...beautiful.”

He stared into his coffee. Hank was quiet for a long time.

“How’s that a bad thing?” Hank looked genuinely perplexed when Connor sneaked a glance his way. “Is this about the Egghead and Crybaby thing?”

Connor shrugged again: maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was, he just… As glad as he was that they were still alive, he couldn’t help but worry. The back of his mind was always full of worries, ready to propel themselves to the forefront. The more stressed he got, the uglier the worries. It was likely just the stress talking. It had been a stressful few days, to say the least. A stressful week.

“I don’t know. Yes. No. I don’t really care , but… What if you care? What if you start to worry about what other people think?”

Hank was blunt, and pushed the mug closer to him. “I don’t give a shit. Have your coffee and just-- breathe for a bit, okay?”

Connor took his advice. He focused on his breathing, on one small mouthful of coffee after another, until he found himself relaxing against the wooden backrest of the chair. He sighed.

“Better?” Asked Hank. They both knew the answer to that query, but it only made Connor smile.

“Better…”

Hank’s hand found the back of his neck, that big thumb scratching through the hairs at the base of his skull. Any other context, it might have made him shiver with desire, but right now it was just a low, warm thrumming of comfort. It was relaxing. Soothing. He had another sip of coffee, thinking he should probably start breakfast. Instead he turned his head, and found himself looking into kind, gentle, blue eyes. Hank had a temper on him, for sure, but he was a gentle soul.

A gentle giant, sat in his kitchen, wearing nothing but a bathrobe Connor rarely used because he felt dwarfed by it. Well… almost nothing but.

“I didn’t know CyberLife’s standard issue uniforms come with black boxer shorts,” he said, only a hint of a tease to his voice. He was actually quite intrigued.

Hank’s eyebrows hiked up a notch, then leveled out. He wasn’t biting. “Standard issue for my model, maybe.” ...or perhaps he was biting, after all, just looking at the curl of his lips. “Can you imagine me in a pair of tighty whities?”

Yes. Definitely taking the bait. Connor hid a fresh grin behind the rim of his mug, and another mouthful of coffee. He swallowed, for effectful pause as anything. “No,” he said, and set his mug down very neatly.

“Lace panties, though…”

He waited for the response he knew he was going to get, but it turned out to be somewhat different from what he expected: no frowns, no funny, ha hah chuckles, no elbow nudges to the effect of you’re so strange . Instead, Hank’s eyebrows bounced back up into surprise, and stayed there. He seemed to be...actually considering. Browsing reference pictures, perhaps? Connor could feel a blush spreading all over his head before Hank finally spoke.

“I’ve never tried lace boxers,” he said. “Or briefs.”

“Well, then!” Connor made a floundering gesture, aiming for encouragement. This was not a conversation he was used to having. Not even with Andy, back in the day. “There you go!”

Hank nodded, and thankfully, didn’t go for the obvious question, but went in a rather different direction. “You know what I think we should do?”

“Hm?” Sip coffee, sip coffee, say nothing…

“I think we should be proud of who we are, and what we’ve accomplished together, and if anyone has a problem with our relationship, just fuck’em. Not literally, but fuck’em.”

All his coffee gone, save for a drop at the bottom of his mug, Connor couldn’t quite believe his ears, and he couldn’t even hide behind another sip. He knew Hank didn’t actually say what it sounded like. Didn’t stop him from being a troll. “‘Buttfuck them’? Hank…”

He could almost hear Hank’s jaw hinges pop open, and he burst out laughing; soon they were both giggling like it was going out of style. They ended up leaning against each other, temple to temple, arms wrapped around one another, hands clasped where they fit.

Perhaps Hank wouldn’t stay forever: his future was up in the air, and who knew where he’d end up landing. Did he belong to CyberLife still, was he government property, could he be claimed by the DPD, or was he a free agent? The President had called for the assembly of a Senate Select Committee on whether androids were a sentient species or not, and until that Committee had reviewed evidence and drawn up its reports on the matter… It could take months - of not knowing, of wondering where to go, what to do, who to be . Months of being marginalized, targeted, abused (and even if, or when, when , androids finally gained citizenship, would it end there? Not likely, but Connor knew he would fight tooth and nail for everyone’s rights. Not just Hank: everyone. He owed it to all the androids he had failed to help in the months he’d been in charge of the deviancy cases. It wasn’t just about humans anymore, human rights, human privileges.

“Stay…” he told Hank, while he pressed kisses to his temple. “As long as you like. You’re always welcome here, you can always come back. You don’t have to go.”

Hank sighed. It was not the response he’d been hoping for. “I want to stay… But I have a responsibility towards the others. I have to do what I can to help.”

At least it wasn’t the end. It was just a parenthesis, or a tangent. He couldn’t stay indefinitely , but then again neither could Connor, not realistically. They each had their job to do - but Hank never said he wouldn’t come back.

“We’ve been here before,” Connor murmured, angling his head to kiss Hank’s cheek. “But with post-its.”

***

Hank stayed true to his word, in that he was serious about dividing his time between Jericho and the Anderson household. However, his first few attempts at leaving the house was met by the onslaught of journalists and photographers and hovering camera drones. He and Connor didn’t want to hide their relationship, but being turned into a nationally famous meme overnight had its definite downsides. Hank couldn’t simply slip away and rendezvous with the other androids; even if Connor dropped him off somewhere on his way to work, he was instantly recognized, and everyone and their auntie had their smartphones out faster than you could say cheese! It was evident within those first two days that they were going to have to think of something else, if he was ever going to be able to help his fellow androids.

Sunday evening there came another blow, albeit of a different kind. Hank had to experience the first of many times he had to say goodbye to Connor’s son. Andy and Cole were going back to her place, seeing as the curfew had been lifted, the evacuation order was no longer in effect, and school was officially up and running as per Monday morning. Business as usual, as the saying goes. Everything was returning to normal, but for Hank, there was nothing normal about watching that little ray of sunshine go away. Cole was the consummate professional, but he’d been doing this for years now. All packed and ready to go, all smiles and big hugs, happily waving his goodbyes out the door.

Hank was fine. He was perfectly fine until the door closed, and there would be no more running hugs or unabashed giggles, no more bedtime stories. It had only been three days and two nights so far, but he had become incredibly fond of the little kid.

“He drew a lucky charm for me,” he told Connor, as he finished locking the door (the lock didn’t need turning five times over, but Hank was glad to see he wasn’t the only one feeling a bit stressed out about Cole leaving).

“Yeah? Show me?”

Hank swallowed against what had to be an imaginary lump in his throat, and took out a folded piece of paper from his jacket. “It’s a shield. He was telling me about how the police in New York don’t have badges, but shields, and he thought I should have one to keep me safe.”

Connor’s answering smile was knowing, and brimming with affection. “In that case, I suggest you never lose it.” He took Hank’s hand, and dragged him over to the couch. “Now let’s see if we can find something else for you to wear. Get you out of that uniform.”

Hank nodded, feeling irrationally sad. He didn’t trust his own voice.

“You’re such a big softie,” Connor teased him, but only a little bit. “I love that. Now, why don’t you tell me if you see anything you like - colors, patterns, cuts, anything. Let’s build your first basic wardrobe.”

***

Over the two weeks that followed, things had calmed down enough that Hank wasn’t housebound and could actually go out into the city and find Markus. He became something of an advisor with regards to security and other matters of safety. He talked to the ever growing community about how to stay safe, how to think, to trust their instincts; how never to develop a routine, and not take unnecessary risks even if they felt ridiculous. Slowly but surely he gained the trust of the community, and spent more and more time with them, wherever they went. Androids were still targets for atrocious crimes, and even though the President had suggested they might be a new species, that did little to take away the fear of more riots in the streets, more raids. As a result, Jericho was never one cohesive unit, but many, many smaller groups that moved from shelter to shelter, from church to chapel, to abandoned buildings, to human allies’ homes. It wasn’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a necessity. It was temporary, or, that was the hope: that one day androids could live amongst humans without fear of persecution or ignorance. Someday soon.

But then, as he had promised, Hank circled back to Connor’s house, unannounced and completely shameless about it. Connor teased him every time, saying if he had a wireless uplink to the cell towers, he might as well call ahead, but they both knew why he never did. He had to be invisible, as much as he possibly could.

But then, there was the matter of Thursday the 25th of November, Hank’s first ever Thanksgiving. According to tradition, it didn’t matter where Cole was staying for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year’s, or his birthday, he and his parents always celebrated together. This year, Andy being her own inimitable self, decided to throw a bit of a party, even if they were only four people. There was the traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings they all enjoyed and none that they didn’t (gravy, yes please; cranberry sauce, noooo), but there was something there for Hank, too, even though he couldn’t eat.

After quite a bit of head scratching, Oogling stuff up online, and experimenting with her own, resident mad scientist (that would be Cole), they had discovered that thirium didn’t freeze solid, but it also seemed to melt very slowly once it hit that state. And, the best part was, when frozen, it could be whipped into the consistency of the most unctuous, luxurious looking sorbet.

Hank had the distinct pleasure of sharing dinner with their family, which was fast becoming his own for how easily he had been accepted into the fold. He scooped up spoonful after spoonful of fluffy thirium and let it melt in his mouth while the others enjoyed their food. Cole was so proud of himself and his mom that he couldn’t stop grinning all night.

It was the best Thanksgiving Hank had ever had.

***

Christmas came and went, work mixed with Christmas tree lights and ornaments, with holiday cheer and holiday stress turning people into an inimitable mix of murderous and elated. The four of them had dinner the night before Christmas, once again at Andy’s place. They gave each other presents, but Cole was more excited about the nail art pen he got for his new best friend. It was one of many cosmetic gadgets using technology to make life easier for the consumer. All you had to do was select a color from the app, touch the pen to the nailbed, and draw. Cole loved drawing even more than he loved color on his nails, and Hank went home with a different holiday themed design on each nail, and he couldn’t have been prouder.

***

The day after New Year’s, Hank and Markus had an appointment with Captain Fowler, to negotiate the release of the androids kept in standby, hidden away underground in the evidence lockers. It was to be the first of many meetings, because departmental policy clashed with what they and Fowler knew was the right thing to do. Those androids weren’t merely evidence in a case, they were sentient beings kept incarcerated against their own will.

After weeks of Fowler going back and forth between these meetings and his superiors (even the mayor had opinions that had to be duly noted), they finally came to an agreement. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.

Daniel, the PL600 who had killed three humans and wounded several more, was not to be released. He was deemed unstable, and even Hank couldn’t argue the fact he’d shown no regard for life, human or android, when Hank had first met him.

Victor was too badly damaged to function. Even if he was taken in for repairs, he would likely be a completely different person. It was unclear what such a replacement of hardware would do to an android who had not only woken up once before, but taken its own life. Victor, too, would stay in storage.

Then, there was the matter of Simon: as the oldest surviving member of Jericho, he had become a symbol of moderation. He’d always sat somewhere in the middle of North’s and Josh’s polar opposites, neither advocating for inaction or giving back as good as the humans dished out. Perhaps he was an even more reluctant leader than Markus, but that didn’t change facts: he was necessary to the community moving forward, and if he stayed in storage indefinitely, he would become a completely different symbol that the DPD didn’t want or need at this moment in time.

While it was true Simon had been complicit in several counts of illegal activity, as orchestrated by Markus, he had never raised his hand against a human, nor used weapons against them.

Simon was released into the custody of Markus and Hank, on the condition that should he ever take part in any manner of illegal activity ever again, Hank was to bring him in the moment androids gained citizenship.

***

It was early February by the time Jericho’s leaders were asked to send a small delegation of representatives to the Senate Select Committee in Washington, to plead the case of the sentient androids formerly referred to as deviants. It was by no means the end of their struggle for independence, but it was a beginning. It was safe to say that everyone in Detroit was talking about the hearing, which was broadcast on every news channel worth its mettle. Hank had been elected as delegate, after his relentless efforts in keeping the Jericho community safe, as well as those who chose not to join them. He had taken special interest in the many child models out there, scraping by in the streets, making sure they had a roof over their heads even if it was just a shelter: making sure they knew they could always come to him if they needed help. Goodness knows they were defenseless, and amoral humans weren’t the only ones preying on them. Even without those efforts, he had acted as the bridge between Markus and the Detroit Police Department in their negotiations to set androids free. He had helped getting Simon out of there; Markus himself said he couldn’t have done it without him.

His efforts were recognized by Markus and his fellow leaders, to the point that it seemed an obvious choice that he be nominated. The rest of the community agreed.

That was over a week ago: Hank had left Detroit for Washington DC, nails painted thirium blue for luck and driving Connor’s old car, with three more androids joining him: Markus, Lucy, and Simon. Markus for his vision, his spark which had catapulted the world into a new era, Lucy for her foresight and knowledge of the community, and Simon, because of his standing not only as the oldest, living member of Jericho, but because he was one of the very first to wake up, over two years ago.

None of them had ever been on a road trip before; for which Connor was both excited and terrified. Yay, road trip! If only that was all it amounted to. He followed the news coverage all week, obsessed with it, driven to distraction by every last buzzing of his phone, until he had to mute it completely.

For every day that passed, public opinion seemed to grow in favor of the androids, and every attempt by politicians or so-called experts to change that fell flat. There was simply no comparison to the stories these four androids had to tell, and they were questioned, again and again, as if they could prove their sentience by answering invasive questions. But no one complained, not a single one of them argued the point of the hearings. No one, except for Hank.

Hank, who only had a filter when he wanted to; who only showed empathy when someone deserved it; Hank, who did not mince his words. Perhaps he was fed up with the media attention these past two months. Perhaps he simply didn’t see the relevance of asking him about his ‘intentions’ in engaging in a romantic relationship with a human - but he didn’t get riled up, because he never did unless he was really pushed. In the greater scheme of things, it was nothing compared to the possibility of android rights - to reproduction of thirium and parts, to owning property or land, to gaining employment, the right to vote, to be recognized as citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities that came with it. Compared to that, having some conservative old ignoramus ask him about his morals was hardly going to rattle his cage.

He was witty, and clever, and respectful (except for when he wasn’t, and he still made everyone in the room grin). He answered everyone’s questions, but he didn’t tell them anything that didn’t pertain to their purpose of being there - and it won him major points, both in the Jericho community as well as the human population. He went from android non grata to super hero in a matter of days, because of his design. Never before had it been so apparent that the RK800 was a different kind of android, built to work with humans, not alongside them, not to be delegated to the sidelines of history. His lines and faint wrinkles spoke of age and experience, the noticeable gap between its upper front teeth, the beard, neatly trimmed, the wavy, shoulder-length gray and white hair pinned back behind the ears. He was nothing like the androids who had been created before him, for good and bad. It set him apart from the others, which some of the senators remarked upon.

Hank was calm even then, saying that it didn’t matter what he had been designed to do. What mattered was what he had chosen to become - and that was a choice all androids should get to make, not because humans necessarily owed them anything: but because they were alive, and self-aware, and all they wanted was to live a life free of terror and abuse.

“We’re not asking for much,” said Hank on national television, live, for all to see.

“We recognize that integrating androids into human society is a process that won’t happen overnight, but...the thing is… We’re part of this world. We’ve been a part of your world for seventeen years, starting with the first Chloe. I know no one thought we’d end up sitting here, discussing whether or not androids are truly alive, but we’re here to tell you that we are . We’re here. Get used to it.”

It was only a week, but it was the longest they’d been apart since they met, back in November. Connor stood with his fists shoved into the pockets of his long winter coat, looking out over the expanse of frozen water, and the Ambassador Bridge that spanned it. This was where it had all started, for him - that breaking point where he (and Hank) realized there was more to his easy camaraderie with Hank than mere professional partnership. It had been a special place for him for years now, somewhere he’d taken Cole as often as he could. It was a bit early in the morning to go to the playground, not to mention too cold, but Cole was still having a blast in the background.

The little guy was bundled up to the point of overheating, but Connor had always appreciated the necessity for layers in cold weather. He could hear Cole cheering as he went as high up as the swing would let him, high up in the air. It made it easier to ignore the sounds of his own footsteps, the endless crunch of snow and brittle ice beneath it. He wasn’t pacing. He didn’t pace. But he had to concede the fact he was fidgeting where he stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He...was anxious. Excited to the point of not fidgeting. He didn’t. He played with his coin to pass the (agonizing) time until he could relax again. Hank was headed home, just in time for Valentine’s - a holiday Connor used to detest with every fiber of his being, but now felt ridiculously nervous about. It was Hank’s first ever Valentine’s Day, and luckily, Connor had both Cole and Andy to look to for advice on what to do about a holiday he had never felt the need or desire to celebrate. They had made Plans together, a Conspiracy of three, capital letters and everything - but first Hank had to get home safe. He had to get there, first, to the place where Connor opened up to him for the first time. It seemed a fitting start to the first day of the rest of their life together.

He started on his nth coin trick when suddenly a chortling bout of laughter filled the air, and his son yelled out the name of the man they were waiting for. Connor turned around, heart racing in his chest. Hank, still wearing his fancy dress shirt and vest, his suit jacket and pants, all grays and blues and jumbled patterns beneath a thick, timelessly elegant winter coat - crouching to wrap Cole up in a hug as he ran over. Hank’s tiny circle of light shone blue at his temple, and he smiled. They rocked side to side, and then it was over, Hank standing up and Cole positively skating across the icy ground to get to him faster.

“Dad! Look! It’s Hank!”

“Yeah, grasshopper, I know.”

That smile was infectious; Connor could feel his own lips part on a grin. They’d made it out alive. Both of them: alive. A bit worse for wear, sure, fair enough, but alive . The world hadn’t ended overnight. Public opinion was firmly in the android rights camp, much thanks to Markus’s non-violent protests, but also...because they loved each other and weren’t the kind of people to hide it. Maybe Connor had been that kind of person, but it felt like a lifetime ago. He’d had a wake up call that chilled him to the bone and still gave him the shivers at times, and he wasn’t about to let himself forget. 

Perhaps one day soon, androids would be considered citizens. Perhaps then, he would ask Hank to be his partner in a legally binding sense as well as the practical, romantic sense. When you looked at it that way, the future seemed bright enough to blind him…

Or, perhaps that was all down to the warmth in Hank’s eyes. It was like a magnet pulling him in, despite the doubts left in his mind by his own overactive imagination. He couldn’t resist stepping closer, because Hank was everything he’d never known he needed: opinionated, stubborn, kind. Sharp. Compassionate without ever devolving into pity. Solid. A pillar of strength and stability in a world filled with chaos.

Beautiful. Every last bit of him.

His heart pounding in his chest, and knowing Hank could very likely read his vitals like an open book - see right through him - Connor hurried closer, closing the distance, and wrapped his arms around Hank’s substantial middle. Staring into his eyes, Connor felt uncertain of everything the future may hold-- until the moment Hank tilted his chin down, and his arms closed around Connor’s shoulders in a firm hug that wasn’t going anywhere. Hank surely knew about the three second rule of hugging, but he didn’t seem to give a fig about it.

His lips felt warm where they pressed a kiss into Connor’s temple, and that’s when he felt it. Hank’s heart was beating just as fast as his.

Trust. It was all about trust: and if they couldn’t place their lives in each other’s hands, then who? It was so simple, when you looked at it from a certain point of view. They’d found each other, through sheer, stupid luck, or karma, or fate; they belonged together. They would grow old, together.

Hank kissed him: his temple, his cheek, tracing the angles of his face with the tip of his nose until their lips met. Then, quite out of the blue, Hank pulled back with a grin worthy of an imp (and everyone present knew exactly where he’d learned that grin), and very unceremoniously, lifted Connor up into his arms and swung him around. 360 degrees. Full circle.

It was more fitting than Connor liked to admit, never having been hoisted up in the air by anyone in his entire adult life. Cole bubbled with laughter, Hank was laughing, and it was only a matter of seconds before Connor’s surprised whoops turned into chortles of his own.

“No fair!” Cole protested, despite grinning like the man in the moon. “Me too!”

Hank put Connor back on the ground, gave him another kiss while struggling not to grin, then did the same for Cole - hands under his arms, and up in the air he went, but even higher. Cole shrieked with delight, and when Hank set him down atop his shoulders and told him to hold his arms out, only to start running back and forth through the park… That was it. Connor could feel it in his very bones.

They would be okay.

Everything would be okay.

 

~THE END~