It started beneath the overpass, his sensitivity to touch. He was now aware of his body beyond the rubric of his condition and the likelihood fulfilling objectives. He could feel. Before he knew what was happening, Hank approached him, grasped him by the shoulder and brought him close.
He couldn’t drown it out. The way Hank’s arms closed around his torso, how their torsos pressed together, the way his nose was jammed against Hank’s collarbone flowed over him in waves. Synaptic awareness sprung to life in a way that his various scanners and projections had never done before. The way his attention scattered didn’t make sense. And for the first time, Connor did not care.
Around them, the dull roar of his fellow deviants and police sirens echoed in the distance as he balled the fabric of Hank’s jacket in his fists. He couldn’t control his haptic sensors or direct their attention. The fabric gathered in his fists. It grounded him, making him utterly aware of Hank’s focused attention.
The sensors in his hands struggled to make sense of the scene: herringbone weave, polyester and wool blended yarns in gray and black working across his palms in a chevron pattern, presently soiled with traces of evaporated thirium, sweat, Hennessy whiskey, human blood, dog hair, the facets of their week-long investigation soaked up by the fiber. He felt his breath against the nape of his neck, his meaty, callused hand on his crown. He gripped Hank tighter, sorting through the confusion.
It was truly a new day. They said nothing. What was there to say? They were both alive.
It wasn’t long before wandering pedestrians interrupted their cathartic reunion. Humans and androids alike filed out of their homes, each uneasy and more aware of each other than ever before. Connor even felt self-conscious in Hank’s arms. Not because it was Hank, but he was suddenly aware of touch and etiquette. It applied to him now, he supposed, yet he didn’t re-assume his bland, formal composure.
“Aren’t you cold out here in that flimsy CyberLife jacket?” he said into Connor’s ear. Connor wasn’t, but he nodded anyway, an act that his prior self would have thought unimaginable.
Connor’s mind was hazy as they made their way to Hank’s abode. Perhaps it was the haze of being separated from Amanda’s oversight, or the strain of infiltrating CyberLife and coming to Markus’ aid. When they returned, Hank could only sleep, with Connor taking in his surroundings in a new light.
For the first few days, they laid low. For a more after that, they told themselves they were “playing it safe.” After another week, it was Hank who first broached the topic.
“Seems like CyberLife isn’t out to get you,” Hank said.
“It appears so. According to my network, talks between Jericho and the president seem to be going smoothly. I suppose I’m not longer an asset, in any case.”
Hank nodded and sat with Connor on the couch. Connor could tell he was thinking. Hank had a way of signaling that he was struggling with words. “Listen, do you have a place to stay?”
Connor folded his hands. “Hank, until the revolution the legal status of androids was that of property. Property cannot own property.”
“Wow. Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t have any possessions, per se, then.”
He looked at Hank with those deep brown eyes, noting his own hints of distress. “If this arrangement has become untenable, Hank, I can seek out my own accommodations.”
“No! No, I’m not asking you to leave.” Hank rubbed the back of his neck. A soft smile broke out on Connor’s lips. Hank’s eyes were so warm. His vitals betrayed his nervousness. “I’m offering you a place to stay. With the situation the way it is, it might be safer if you weren’t alone.”
“Really? I can stay here with you?”
“Could be as little or as long as you need, but I have space. Kind of gotten used to having you around…that’s all.”
Connor knew that wasn’t all, but he didn’t call him out on that. It was decided. “I will first need to gather a few necessities.”
“If you need to, sure.”
With little ceremony, Connor abruptly stood up and walked out the front door, calling a cab. Connor waved to them as he got into his cab and sped into the heart of Detroit.
“Lieut—Hank! It’s me, Connor,” he shouted as he pounded on the door.
Hank ripped open the door, light spilling out onto the front steps. “Okay first lesson on being human: you can ring doorbells, you know!” Connor furrowed his brow. “Woah, just a joke…that was quick, eh?”
Connor held only a small briefcase in one hand. He glanced around, making sure he wasn’t missing any suitcases. “This all your stuff?”
“It took some persuading, but I was granted access my old maintenance facility. May I come in?”
“Yeah, of course, of course. Mi casa es tu casa,” Hank said clumsily.
“Home?” Connor said, translating automatically. He hesitated on the door mat. Sumo was already waiting expectantly at his feet. He knelt and pet the massive dog, still scanning the room. “Yes. Home. Home feels…applicable.”
He followed Hank into the kitchen and set his briefcase on the table. Its contents were sparse: a sleek USB drive, a small box of specialized tools, a few containers of thirium and an extra jacket and tie. “Sorry to make you go through all that work, Hank.”
“You were expecting my belongings to fill up more space,” he nodded to the space in the front closet. “I can see that you tidied up your abode.”
“Don’t know what I expected from a nosy android,” Hank said. He grasped Connor’s shoulders and gave him a hearty squeeze.
Initially, Connor took to his normal rest mode, standing upright near a wall, but when that startled Hank, he took to the couch instead, his jeans and shirt neatly stowed on a hanger in the front closet. At times he would enter waking mode and find Sumo on top of him, while other times he would discover a spare blanket from Hank, who covered him in the night. Connor told Hank that it wasn’t necessary. Androids were fully capable of maintaining an internal and external body temperature without the aid of bedding or clothing. That didn’t stop Hank.
The blanket was old. A plain weave in fluffy wool yarn, the edges of polyester beveling to contain the raw edges. Many weft threads broke apart from the grid, winding and spinning off away from the surface. A few black threads clumsily held big square patches in place. He scanned them. The uneven stitches were new. Hank must have joined the pieces recently. The curses under his breath in the bedroom and the faint traces of blood near the bathroom sink suggested he was unskilled in sewing.
The two had not spoken about their spontaneous connection beneath the overpass. He recalled how the fabric of his clothing gathered and crinkled and the allotment each nerve receptor as they merged into one. Connor was careful, but his synapses craved the touch again. More than once he wandered to the hall closet, reaching out to feel the sleeve of Hank’s coat, reliving the moment again.
Connor could detect that something was on the tip of his tongue. Hank’s gaze would linger just a moment longer, or when he would hold back from elaborating on a thought. The space between them ebbed and flowed, sometimes carefully distance, and other times falling into intimate radii.
At the end of the first month, they were settling in for a movie. Sumo wanted in on it. Preferring the armrest, he forced Connor to the center of the couch, shoving him close to Hank. The two locked eyes. Connor’s hand had landed on Hank’s chest. His heartrate was sky rocketing. Hank would say nothing unless Connor pushed him. His LED whirred, spinning in yellow.
“Can I ask a question, Hank?”
“Is it not okay if I am this close?”
Hank took a minute to think, going over his double-negatives most likely. “Why are you asking like that?”
“Research suggests posing inquiries in the negative elicits more honest responses. It feels better saying ‘yes, it’s not okay,’ than saying ‘no, it’s not okay.’”
“You say the weirdest things.” Hank watched him as he attempted to parse the statement. Connor studied him further, waiting for precious disambiguation.
He rolled his eyes. “I haven’t shoved you off yet, have I?” Hank said. Connor took that as an affirmation and rested his head on Hank’s shoulder. He paid more attention to Hank’s breathing than the movie.
Even when Sumo left to eat from his bowl, Connor remained tucked into his side. Hank lingered so long he had fallen asleep. Per his protocols, Connor entered sleep mode when Hank did. When he entered wake mode they were on their sides. Hank’s arms were around his waist, scratchy beard nuzzling the nape of his neck.
When Hank woke, he nearly jumped off the couch, spouting something Connor thought he would never hear from him: apologies. Connor stood up, his large t-shirt was rumpled and only barely covered his shorts. He merely approached Hank and threaded his fingers through his. His artificial skin still retained the warmth from Hank’s nap.
“Can I stay this close?”
Hank slowly nodded.
He had to know what it felt like. Connor, without thinking or running a projection or considering the consequences, pushed forward a mere few inches, kissing Hank. He had seen it innumerable times as he rifled through human media and stories, but still managed to gaffe it somehow. He held it too long. Or was he supposed to do something with his lips? He didn’t know. The sparks in his mind when they connected obscured all his thought processes and protocols. His scanners picked up an increased heart rate. And was that a slight increase in temperature as well?
He lowered himself, his big brown eyes searching for a response. The moment stretched on interminably. Connor began to turn away, but received his response when Hank took his face in his rough hands and brought him close again, nearly lifting him off the carpet. Connor balanced himself against hank, the back of his shirt crumpling in his grip. Hank’s lips were rough and active—exhilarating. The old him would have made notes for later. The new him basked in the warmth of this newfound connection, and his inexperienced mouth.
They pulled apart. Hank looked as taken aback as Connor. “I…umm..wow, did not see that coming,” he said with a slight smile.
After that day, Connor’s briefcase and jacket, previously sequestered in the front closet, migrated to Hank’s bedroom. Connor was quick to follow.
His fascination with Hank’s clothes continued once he made his base in Hank’s—no, their—space. Connor would go through the closet, unhanging the shirt he chose for Hank during their investigation. Factually speaking, he knew that his choice bore little logistical significance. Stripy, streaky, hippy—none of them had made or broke the mission. However, a new dimension arose. Hank had accepted his choice. He was wearing it when they reunited on that snowy morning and when they were caught in the fake Connor’s trap. Its fibers contained a mutual history, a record of their connection.
His hand grazed the sleeves of Hank’s other shirts. Speculating on the hidden stories they held, he began scanning them. Some shirts came with a minute ribbed texture, others a plain weave, and one woven with a damask-like pattern, florals slightly raised and with a satiny sheen.
He spent a couple nights going through articles and books on textile fabrication.
The creativity of his human creators never ceased to fascinate: heddles and treadles, back looms, upright looms, inkle looms, braiding, plaiting, embroidery and brocades. Not to mention the printing and dyeing methods that added even more life to these strands. All were built on warp and weft, fibers running vertically and horizontally, respectively.
Jacquard weaving in particular warranted further attention. “Joseph Marie Jacquard,” Connor said softly. A major 19th century innovation, Jacquard machinery allowed unskilled weavers to weave complex designs and patterns. Loom weavers would string a series of rectangular punch cards together, forming numerous binary patterns. Holes in the cards would determine whether vertical yarns were forced up or down. The horizontal thread, the weft, would slide between these two, the resulting texture greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes thousands of these punch cards were produced to program these patterns into the loom.
He watched videos of the cards filtering through the jacquard loom. They reminded him of his own systems, a series of seemingly simple processes that strung themselves together to make a complex whole. Both were machines instructed to complete tasks. However, it was the experience of the objects that gave them life. A 19th century tapestry could be produced to depict a person, but it was the stories that made it a living article of history. Connor was produced to pursue and detain his fellow androids, but his experiences with Hank made him alive.
It seemed that whatever the technology, life found a way embellish its original purpose. Indeed, the rectangular punch cards, with their carefully coded holes, led to innovations in computer technologies. Computer punch cards used holes in a similar way: instructing a machine to organize data. Up and down. True or untrue. Established in 1926, the International Business of Machines would become better known as IBM, creating computer technologies that Elijah Kamski, the creator of Connor’s android brethren, would master at the tender age of twelve.
A peculiar spark erupted in his chest: was this what it felt like to belong a lineage? It was a peculiar sensation. Humans had long histories of creating regalia and attire signaling belonging and responsibilities to their clans and kin: tartans, Chilkat robes, painted buffalo hides, carefully embroidered family crests and seals, woven brocades, and patterns passed down from mother to daughter to be painted on cloth made from tree bark. Different modes of dress indicated those who held positions of honor and reciprocal responsibility. Signaling belonging was chief in humanity’s survival, but it served an emotional function as well.
Hank may not have inherited a family crest or a specifically patterned plaid, but he did have a favorite pair of sweatpants. They were navy and threadbare with stains didn’t come out in the wash. Connor documented the date and circumstance whenever Hank donned them. Sometimes Hank would wait until the end of a long week, saving them for uninterrupted relaxation. Other times they would be a mainstay for several days straight. He even had other, newer pairs, but these were the ones he returned to repeatedly.
Perhaps he could signal his own belonging in this new way, Connor thought. Despite this knowledge of Hank’s attachment, Connor took to wearing them about the house too. They were Hank’s and now they were theirs. The intimate sensation he got when he wore them could not be parsed. It wasn't long until he stopped caring. He felt something special in them—an interpretation could wait.
It was a jarring departure from his previous method of self-presentation. The soft glow of his CyberLife jacket gave rise to conflicted feelings. Ultimately they designed his outfit as little more than a digestible label, from the “ANDROID” written on the yoke to his ID number on the breast. In dull neutral shades and conservative tailoring, he was designed to be visually unobtrusive, present for nothing more than his functionality. Yet, this is what he wore when he first met Hank. The neon glow of the armband and CyberLife branding continued to signal his presence in Hank’s home.
That this symbol hung next to the stripy shirt led to lingering gazes as Connor lay awake in bed beside a snoring Hank.
Other articles found their ways onto his body. He couldn’t help himself. Hank’s socks—a size 12 to Connor’s 10—rode up high on his calves as he did housework. A sweatshirt bearing the insignia of Hank's Alma Mater is what he donned after a hard day’s at the police department. He no longer merely registered and documented the textures he encountered. He felt them. He felt in them.
Blankets and sweatpants and worn wool sweaters were warm like tea and hot chocolate and movies on chilly days. Hole-ridden t-shirts and shorts were loose and out of mind as they scrubbed the kitchen, their decrepit condition belying the pride of a home well-maintained. An old pair of sneakers and a hoodie were playful like when Sumo had free reign of the dog park. Hank would sneak up behind him and pull the hood over his eyes. When Connor traipsed around wearing only a large sweatshirt and his CyberLife briefs, he detected an increased heart rate and a lower rate of blinking. The verge of the reveal, less about the clothes and more about what he was about to see. Curious.
What Hank dubbed his “business jeans” gave him an air of authority. What the labels previously signaled as merely different now said wonderfully different: an android working and living among humans as a sovereign entity, neither a mere tool nor property, but colleague and partner. He belonged to a whole comprised of three units: Hank, Sumo and himself.
The concept of owning property reared its head again when Connor, in the heat of a chase, got caught on a bit a barbed wire. The spikes shredded his jeans down the side. Fortunately, he was uninjured and the suspect apprehended, but the scans of his jeans were less auspicious.
Twill pattern with the weft-facing slate blue fibers interrupted at numerous points. Reweaving was expensive and laborious, not to mention something that would need to be done by hand and not the complex machines out in North California, where his uniform was constructed.
“Looks like we need to get you downtown,” Hank said back at the precinct. “Can’t play peek-a-boo at the office.”
Connor furrowed his brow. Hank interrupted himself during his next jab, seeing Connor’s distress. Were the tear along a seam, a repair would be feasible. As is, they were a lost cause.
“What’s wrong? We can go now if you want. Booking and the other guys can handle the suspect from here.”
Hank sat him down on his desk. “They were what?”
“I have grown attached to them. They carry secondary meaning.”
“They’re just jeans, Connor.”
“I was wearing these when I met you,” Connor insisted. “I started living in these.” Hank raised an eyebrow. “I know it doesn’t make sense. I am having trouble verbalizing…”
Hank’s eyes met his. Connor knew he was being irrational. His protocol began with the utility of the jean: tailored for professionalism and for freedom of movement, reinforced for the extra wear of an android that could run at top pace for hours.
Threads of it snagged along the way. When he had saved Hank in the Stratford Tower investigation, CyberLife salvaged them. He could even see faint stains of his own thirium that the human eye couldn’t. They carried his personal history: the passage of him as RK800, to revolutionary, to Connor Anderson.
Hank rubbed his beard. Grabbing him by the hand, he led Connor to their lockers. Hank made three attempts, remembering the combination to his locker on the third try. When he did his hand emerged with a truly ratty t-shirt. It was hardly a shirt, structurally speaking.
“See this shirt?” He unfolded it and held it up against his chest. “When I was a rough and tumble freshman in college, I went to my first metal show.” He traced the logo with his finger, worming his way through multiple holes.
“What happened there?” Connor said, taking the hem delicately in his fingers.
“Got a black eye in the mosh pit, got trashed, had my first kiss and punched a guy out. I bought this t-shirt as a memento.” He held it up and peaked through the holes that formed around the faded print.
“As is, it can’t really cover you or provide warmth,” Connor observed.
“Of course not. That's not why I keep it around though. It’s my lucky shirt. I guess that’s why I keep it here.”
“I did not know you were superstitious, Hank.”
“It’s not a superstition. It is lucky. You’re here, aren’t you?”
Connor took another look in the mirror. His jeans had seen better days too. They were slightly faded and signs that it would soon fray along four points in the hems. He was sure they were not visible to the human eye. He wouldn’t want to appear unprofessional to his colleagues at the DPD, but he was somehow pleased. He was living a life now as opposed to performing a function.
Hank came up behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist. “These can be your chore jeans. Or walk-Sumo jeans. Or the cuddle-on-the-couch-with-Hank jeans. I don’t know. Take your pick.”
“So, your point is that the memories matter more than the material object’s relative condition.” He turned to Hank. "I suppose these are my lucky jeans. I met you."
“See? It's just a matter of perspective.” Hank pecked him on the cheek. His beard tickled. "Want to get going?"
Connor turned. Hank had that quizzical look on his face when he wasn’t sure that his point would stick or not. He gave him a light kiss. “I suppose I have no choice but to acquire new bottoms in these. I don’t have any other pants. Do you suppose people will notice the tear?”
“If anyone gives you a hard time, I will give them a harder time,” Hank said.
Hank marched into Fowler’s office and told him he was taking off for the day. Before he could protest, they were in an auto-cab riding into downtown.
They stopped outside a department Connor had to contend with the odd sensation of embarrassment as they walked around downtown Detroit. He stopped abruptly in front of one outlet and headed inside. “Hey, wait up!” Hank said. Connor found a display of jeans and trousers. The mannequins seemed to be new. It was no surprise: androids frequently modeled in stores before the revolution. A worker stepped over and greeted him.
“Can I help you find anything?” she asked.
“Jeans like these,” Connor gestured to his own, “They suit my body type well. A slim or narrow cut, uniform wash in dark blue or black are versatile, and suitable for work or play.”
“Where’d you get that from?” Hank asked. “It sounds like you’re trying to sell her something.”
“I accessed databases of menswear magazine publications: Details Magazine, VMan, Esquire, and Another Man. I share many characteristics with models that their editors and photographers depict. I thought it would be a good place to start.”
“That’s one way to do it, but I can take it from here. You're in over your head, I can tell." She stuck out her hand and Connor shook it. "I’m Darlene. We certainly have what you described, but a lot of other things too. Maybe you could try on something different if you’re feeling up to it.”
Connor’s eyes darted to the various mannequins. They tastefully displayed different combinations and patterns. He imagined dark blue for a night out and green for a walk in the park perhaps. “Yes, I can do that. I haven’t had the chance to purchase something on my own. I’m afraid I don’t know where to begin without referencing others.”
“It’s a bit of a slow day,” Darlene said. “I can give you my full, undivided attention. How’s that for customer service?”
Connor smiled and followed her to the tidy shelving. She asked for his size. Connor rattled off his design specifications and she began draping pairs over his outstretched arm. “Now, some of these are a little outside what you specified earlier, but I want you to try them and see what you think.”
“That’s a good idea. Might find something unexpected,” Hank said. “This is your chance to liven things up a little.”
“Is there something wrong with my CyberLife issued uniform?”
“That’s just it—it’s what they issued you. Now you get to make a choice for yourself.”
“A choice…” Connor repeated. “I’ll try, Hank.”
Hank and Connor followed Darlene through the displays. She instinctively reached for a few pairs and thought about others. The moment Connor’s gaze lingered on one, Hank got her attention.
“That should do for now,” Darlene said. She led them to the dressing rooms. “Now the limit for the dressing room seven pieces." She looked over her shoulder. "But I gave you nine,” she added with a whisper.
“I will be out in just a moment,” Connor said. “Hank, please let me know which ones you like too, okay?”
Hank blushed and pushed him inside. Connor was before another mirror. The rip was really bad. He sadly hooked them onto the wall and pulled a comparable pair from the stack. He listened to the two of them talk outside.
“So…living with an android? As partners or…?”
“Look, if you’re gonna lecture me about ending our species, you can forget about it. I’ve heard every tired and batshit thing there is,” Hank said. “I know. I’ve said half of them.”
“Oh no! I wasn’t gonna go off spouting things like that. I’ve seen a lot of odd couples through here lately. Human and android. Android and android. Human, human, android, android…it’s kinda nice.”
He pulled the jeans up. The denim felt stiff and unfamiliar, but advertisements said they would break in “wonderfully” with wear. It is not something he would have considered before, but the scratch was noticeable against his legs. He tucked in his shirt and he was good as new. Connor stepped out of the dressing room and to the mirrors.
“These seem suitable.”
Hank chuckled. “So you get free will and self-determination and you go and pick jeans exactly like your old ones. Talk about living it up…”
“I have to start somewhere. I’ll take one in blue and one in charcoal. Next pair,” Connor said, re-entering the dressing room. He folded and stacked the two and picked the next from the pile.
“You’ll like these next ones, big guy” Darlene said.
“Okay, shoot. Why’s that?” Hank asked.
“You seem like a derriere kind of man.”
Connor could detect an increased heart rate. He knew Hank would be at full blush in a few seconds. “Your boss must love you. You talk this way with all your customers?”
‘No. Not all of them look like they’ve seen as much as you two though. Thick skins.”
“Gotta admit, it’s kind of refreshing to have a human in the stores again. Getting waited on hand-and-foot by androids chaffed me a bit,” Hank said. “I never felt more awkward.”
Zipping up his pants, Connor called through the door. “It is interesting that you believe she is human, Hank.”
Hank’s eyes widened and he raised his hands. “I’m sorry, Darlene. I didn’t mean to…you see…I don’t know,” he stammered.
She laughed. “No, it’s okay. I get it all the time. People were so used to android-run retail that a deviant reads a certain way.”
“Androids have unprecedented freedom of choice. May I ask why you chose this line of work?” Connor said as he posed and squatted in front of the mirror.
“I was basically a personal shopper before. My owner was rich enough to buy anything. And she did.” She took the pair that hung over the door and folded them neatly. “Our people all over are trying to find themselves...I figure I can at least help them be comfortable and look good. World’s hard enough when you can’t control how you present yourself.”
This pair made him feel strange. The fabric hugged him like a second skin. He was processing. What did he feel? Connor stepped out of the dressing room. Hank’s eyes ran up and down his figure. He felt self-conscious, but perhaps in a positive light. He decided that Hank would be a good rubric. Seeing Hank "check him out," pleased him. His Hank-seduction-jeans.
“Darker wash that is not uniform throughout. Lighter patches seem to be placed strategically for emphasis,” Connor noted in a semi-neutral tone. He squatted and knelt. Despite the fit, he was surprisingly agile.
Behind him Hank ran his eyes up and down his hips and legs and, indeed, his derriere. They were tighter than his other jeans and made from more elastic denim. Connor turned around in the mirror too look at his backside. “More darts above and below the posterior create a tighter, rounder fit,” he observed, tugging at the belt loops. Connor met Hank’s gaze. He scanned, noting an increased heart rate. He smiled when Hank blushed. “I like these too.”
“We’ll take them,” Hank said without hesitation.
Darlene crossed her arms. “You’re welcome.”
Back inside the dressing room the next pair did not appeal. They were wide leg and slightly flared starting at the knee. He felt that the extra fabric was superfluous and made him appear like he got the incorrect size. “I don’t think these are a good fit,” Connor said. “I would prefer to not come out, if that is alright.”
“It’s good you learned that now,” Hank replied through the door. “High school Hank could’ve used a little more restraint.”
“What about now? You seem to like the big bold patterns, Hank,” Darlene said.
He heard Hank sigh through the door.
Next were separate wool trousers in charcoal with dove grey pinstripes. From the way Hank’s eyes traced how the stripes hugged his legs, Connor considered these a win as well. The houndstooth trousers were different; what Darlene referred the pair with a blue-and-white diamond Jacquard he accepted automatically; the was surprised how much the dove-gray cropped pants appealed; a high-waist and flared leg light-wash denim worked better than the low-rise ones. Unexpectedly, he was having fun. He folded the ones he desired and handed them to Darlene.
“New high score for me,” Darlene said. “Eight out of nine.”
Hank fingered the price tags, eyes widening once they landed on the price. “Yeah, well, hopefully you get commission.”
Next came shirts. Connor’s eyes darted back and forth. Revere collar, rounded tip, straight, spread, button-down, long sleeve, short sleeve styles were all represented. He recalled the fiber content of his favorite shirts of Hank’s. Linen and cotton, lyocell, rayon, modal, and heavy silk comprised the ones he "abducted" most frequently, in Hank’s words. He liked the softness against his synthetic skin. That they were Hank’s resonated even more.
Darlene and Hank allowed him to wander through the displays. He liked the orderliness of smaller, uniform patterns. They were calming. He would like to appear calming. There were still days when, on their walks with Sumo or out grocery shopping, people would focus on the glowing “ANDROID” label on his back and sneer. He made no effort to hide his identity, but still it stung, as if he didn’t belong. He knew he did; he looked back at Hank who observed fondly.
It was tempting to spend more on patterned shirts, but he also had work to think about, so he sought twill, oxford broadcloth, and poplin shirts in grays, blues, and whites. These seemed typical of professional attire.
“You’re really getting into this,” Hank said. “Starting to make my credit card nervous over here.”
Connor flipped around. “I can pay Hank. Please don’t feel obligated. It is more than I anticipated, especially since we are, ‘flying by the seat of our pants.’”
“No way. I can grab this,” Hank said walking behind Connor. “I was just joking.”
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Darlene added with a smile. “I say take him up on it.”
"If you both say so." Connor pouted and continued to pick out shirts. He would find some way to pay instead. It was enough that Hank opened his home to him. He shouldn’t have to clothe him as well.
“Say, you look like you could use a new shirt too,” Connor noted, testing the water. “You should try on something too.”
“You really know how to compliment a guy,” Hank said, rolling his eyes.
Connor walked up to him and pressed a loud paisley shirt to his chest. “This seems like something you would wear, Hank.”
“Fast learner,” Darlene said. She eyed the print and reached over for a different one. “I think we should go with a larger-scale print. A finer one kind of…how should I put it…gets lost on a bigger frame, you know?”
Connor watched Hank glance into a nearby mirror. He turned away and shook his head. “I’m an adult. I know I’m fat,” Hank said. “If you got old, the same would happen to you, buddy."
“I didn’t mean it that way! Just trying to be helpful,” Darlene said. "I'm here to help everyone look their best."
Connor scanned Hank again. He knew he was self-conscious about his weight, but he rarely verbalized it. The novel event of shopping together must have initiated some thinking on his part. His thoughts lingered on how Hank must have felt, so he grabbed a second shirt in the paisley.
“Let’s try these on together, Hank,” Connor said. He offered his hand. Hank begrudgingly accepted and they returned to the dressing room.
Pairing proved more difficult. He put on the striped trousers again, tucking his shirt in and letting it billow in the back. Beside him he heard Hank hang his jacket and disrobe. He was putting in a good-faith effort.
Hank was quiet in his room as Connor and Darlene waited outside. He emerged, and Connor was surprised to see Hank in his normal clothes.
“Didn’t really fit right,” he said, glancing to the side.
“Can I see it regardless?” Connor asked. Hank waved him off. Connor could see the shirt on the hanger beside the mirror. He must have grabbed the wrong size. He did not account for discrepancies in brand sizes.
“Nah. Maybe I can't pull them off. Looks good on you, though,” Hank said plainly. Connor could tell he was distracted, but chose not to push it further.
“Can I help you find a different one?” Darlene asked.
“Nah. I guess the patterns here are all kinda on the small side, huh?” He glanced at Connor, fingering the hem of his older shirt: a nervous tic. “Besides, I think we found what we were looking for.”
Connor struggled to find the words. He could not account for the change in mood. Hank usually played off his self-conscious attitude toward his weight with humor. Something was different now, as if he believed Darlene did not permit him to wear prints.
Hank cast his eyes on the significant basket of clothes and exerted himself to smile. “You got quite the haul. Ready to go?” Hank asked.
“Oh, yes,” Connor said quietly. “This should be more than adequate.” His LED began to whir yellow as Darlene moved to the transaction.
Hank gritted his teeth. “I told ya, I’m buying these. Connor, charge it to my account. I’ll know if you didn’t.”
“You really don’t have to. I have more than enough funds to cover it.”
“Bullshit. You’ve only been on payroll for what, two months? I’m buying them.”
“I want to,” Hank said. He grasped him by the shoulder for emphasis, his gaze warm and earnest. He changed the charge over to Hank’s credit and Darlene’s module accepted.
“Thank you, Hank,” Connor said. He brushed his hand along his cheek and gave him a quick peck as Darlene bagged his haul.
“Thank you both so much,” she said. “And…if you change your mind about the shirt, Hank, I can save it for you.”
“Not necessary,” he said. He grabbed a bag and without saying a word left. Connor followed him outside.
“Perhaps you would like something to eat?” Connor said. “We spent a more time in there than I anticipated.”
Hank hummed and led them to the nearest fast food joint. He said little as they waited in line, outside of saying how excited Connor must be to put together some outfits for work. Connor scanned. He was tense, blood-pressure was on the rise too. His hands hung awkwardly at his sides, still fingering the hem of his printed shirt. He said nothing until they were seated.
“Have I caused some distress,” Connor said halfway through Hank’s fries. “I did not mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“What are you talking about?” Hank said with his mouth full.
“I mean, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I thought you might have liked the shirt as well.”
“Just didn’t suit me, I guess.”
“I noticed that you have many patterned shirts, Hank. I think another in stock would have suited you. According to user reviews, that brand’s sizes tend to run smaller than comparable men’s attire. It's not you, it's the retailer.”
Hank only shrugged and sipped his coke. Connor surmised that this was not only about the fit. Hank had cut Darlene off in the store. He was certain they had other sizes to accommodate Hank. He did a quick scan on the shop’s website. A comparable patterned shirt came in larger sizes.
“Something else seems to be bothering you.”
“Can you just drop it?” Hank said, plunking his soda cup down on the counter. "Tryin' to eat here."
“I would like to know. That way I can avoid this sensitivity in the future. I feel sorry that it flared up so suddenly.”
Hank pinched his brow. “You didn’t embarrass me, Connor. I just—it just made me think about something, that’s all.” He glanced down at his shirt, lost in thought.
“The garish patterns? What do you mean?”
“She said I couldn’t pull off patterns. Maybe I should stop wearing them.”
“That is not what she said, but I understand how it could be interpreted differently,” Connor replied.
Hank quietly finished his burger and sat for a minute. Connor’s big brown eyes pleaded with him. He crossed his arms. “You’ve probably heard that dick Gavin talking about my shirts over the past few weeks.”
“A few times. I doubt it is about the patterns as much as his being a resentful and immature individual.” Hank cracked a little smile. “It seems to be a matter of personal choice. So long as some professionalism is maintained, I see no problem with your attire in our work setting. Really, I find it fascinating how people choose to present themselves.”
“You mean how people make up their minds on what to wear?”
“Yes. Gavin seeks to disguise his impotence by wearing leather jackets and big boots. On the patrol officers, uniforms convey authority and structure for ease of intelligibility. My CyberLife jacket is another example. Yet you wear colorful shirts. Given your taste in music, I would assume that would lead to darker palettes and more intimidating choices—like the t-shirt you showed me at the station.”
“In a previous life, yeah. When I was a college idiot, I definitely dressed edgier,” Hank said. “Spiked leather, patched jacket with bootleg metal band logos, big steel-toe boots. It was kind of exciting to be scary to people, you know? Then it got old.” Hank paused. Connor knew the past was a difficult subject. He chose to wait instead, providing a gentle nudge in the form of a hand on his knee.
Hank sat back. Connor could not read minds, but he could tell when Hank was remembering something painful.
“It’s about Cole, isn’t it?” Connor concluded.
Hank paused. He knew it was more effective to let him continue at his own pace.
“When it came time for the police academy, I got put in my place and got a lot of perspective. Hair was buzzed short, posture straightened—and I’m a pretty tall guy. Kicked ass on the force, and kinda made a reputation for myself as a hard ass.”
“I believe you still are one,” Connor said with a wry smile.
“And everyone at Cole’s school thought so too. I showed up to a parent-teacher conference night in a goddamn suit. The other parents…well, they wouldn’t talk to me. I still had that rigid law enforcement demeanor, even down to the way I talked.”
Connor imagined Hank alone near a bowl of chips and dip, other parents keeping their distance.
“Hell, even had Cole's teacher quaking. I remember after the first parents’ night of the year we were driving home. Cole was chattering about this and that the way kids talk—a mile a minute. Then he says, ‘Daddy, my friends think you’re scary.’ I remembered looking into the rear view mirror. He was confused. To him I was 'daddy' not some scary brute.”
“So you started wearing flamboyant colors to put people at ease,” Connor extrapolated.
“Knew I kept you around for a reason,” Hank chuckled. “Well, it worked. I had a few more parents come over and make small talk. I almost couldn’t believe it was that simple.”
“Which one was it?” Connor asked.
“The one I’m wearing right now. I know you have a little nickname for it: 'hippy,'” Hank said fondly. His empty paper cup crumpled in Hank’s grip. Connor knew what was coming next. “I bought a few more shirts after that. Goddamn…the accident wasn’t too long after that. After Cole was gone…I just sort of made it a habit.”
“So…it is a way of remembering Cole,” Connor said. He projected; Cole was running up to his dad, little backpack bouncing on his back, to a wall of color. Hank would lift him up, getting him into his car seat, chatting with another parent.
Hank’s hand covered his. “Ah come on,” he said softly, “Lighten up. I think they look good too, y’know.”
“I like wearing them too, Hank. And I’ll like wearing all of these ones, and making memories with you. Which is why…”
He grabbed Hank’s hand and marched him out of the burger joint and three blocks down the road. They had twenty minutes until closing, and they weren’t leaving until Hank agreed to buy the shirt.
Darlene greeted them at the door. “Hey guys. Back so soon?”
“Where was that shirt again?”
“Changed your mind, I see,” she said with a smile.
Connor grabbed another size and led him to the dressing room. He coaxed Hank inside while he took his own booth. He changed into the matching shirt and the tighter jeans Hank seemed to like. He knocked on the door. Hank opened it.
They stood in front of the mirror. Hank turned to the side. He squatted, testing the pull of the buttons around his stomach. He appeared to be more comfortable. Connor linked his arm around his, forming a swath of paisley.
“Looking good,” Connor said. “What do you think, Hank?”
“Yeah…we’re looking good,” he answered.
Before Hank could continue, Connor’s LED flickered yellow. “Here’s a receipt for your records,” Darlene called from the store.
“Connor! You didn’t have to spend your own money.”
“It’s a gift, Hank! These can be our walk-Sumo-in-the-spring shirts.”
“Or our piss-off-Gavin-shirts.”
Connor turned to Hank, wrapping his arms around his midsection. In his own peculiar way Connor began a record—no, a memory. Aniline dyes in vibrant color. Dry-clean only. A quick search indicated that hand-washing told and drying flat sufficed as well. They could launder them together perhaps. Twill weave, cotton and silk blend, thick but breathable. A choice inspired by his son and Hank’s desire to fit into his school life. A topic for further conversation: warm memories of Cole. Warp running down diagonally, creating a subtle striped texture, warp crossing over the weft just as their interlaced fingers did as they made their way home. Their first little trip together, walking in a wintry city, wearing their vibrant shirts, seeing their clouds of breath merge in the air.