Time to start a new thread! This follows the events of the short fic Lilacs in Bloom I wrote earlier this year, which can be read here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/21327049/chapters/54321388 so if you haven't read it before you may want to do that first!
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The sprig of lilacs on Hank's desk wilts before he makes it back to the garden again; he isn't sure if it's because he forgot to change the water after the first day or if it's because they don't last long once they're cut.
Even so, he enjoys them for the few days he can;
it's nice to have a splash of color on his desk and a waft of sweet scent to greet him in the mornings when he drags his ass through the door. Nice, too, to have an excuse to think about the android--Connor--who handed them to him.
Hank still can't quite figure out what his deal
was, no matter how much he thinks about it (and he thinks about their brief conversation, and the look in Connor's eyes as he gave him the lilacs, more than he thinks is probably appropriate); he seemed friendly, maybe even flirtatious, but...Hank's had a few days to second-guess
his initial read on the situation, and as time goes on it gets harder and harder to believe the android intended to come off that way.
Hell, he doesn't even know if androids care about flirting and shit like that, or how different it might be for them, if they do. For all Hank
knows, standing really close to a guy while you tuck flowers into his lapel and wink at him might be as impersonal as a handshake, to Connor. He has no fucking clue.
Hank doesn't want to be a pathetic old man sniffing around after Connor, he really doesn't, but he had said he'd
like to see Hank again, and it had sounded genuine at the time, so it can't be that bad to say hello if he happens to run into him again, can it?
Plus, as out of place as he'd felt at first, Hank had enjoyed his time in the garden. As much as he hates to admit it (and as much as
he dreads telling his therapist she was right when he sees her next week), having a place to spend time outside of work and home that isn't a bar is what he needs. Maybe in the summer, when the garden's open later, he could even go after work some days, when he needs time to
decompress before going home.
That's thinking a bit far ahead, though, Hank thinks, as he makes his way there for the second time. He's given himself more time by bringing his lunch with him; there's a bag containing a slightly-too-ripe banana and a sandwich tucked under his arm,
and he figures he'll find a nice shady spot to eat once he's there.
Lunch first, he tells himself. Sit and eat and take in the beauty of nature, or whatever, for a few minutes, and then if you want to look for Connor and you think you can do it without being a total creep, fine.
None of the handful of benches scattered around the open area just inside the garden's entrance are unoccupied, so Hank turns down a different path from the one he'd chosen during his earlier visit and heads in search of a less-crowded area to eat his lunch. It's a chilly day, a
surprising burst of cold at the end of April, but the sun is bright, as are the flowers lining the path, so Hank can't really complain. He prefers the chill over the sticky heat of summer, anyway.
There's a cluster of elegant, pink-flowered trees ahead, and as Hank gets closer he
sees a petal-strewn bench beneath the largest one. Hank wonders, as he approaches, what kind of trees they are, and he half-expects Connor to pop up from behind one and announce the answer, but of course he doesn't. There's a little sign, though, proclaiming them to be saucer
magnolias. They don't look like the huge, white magnolias he's seen down south, but he figures the sign knows better than he does what's a magnolia and what isn't. He sits down with a shrug and unwraps his sandwich.
Only a few other visitors stroll by as Hank eats; it looks like
the garden's a popular destination during the day, but that many people stick to the grass lawn and flower beds near the entrance, at least during their midday breaks. Mostly, he's alone in his little magnolia corner, but that suits him just fine. When he'd come to the garden
before, Hank hadn't really had a chance to sit and enjoy it; being distracted by Connor was just fine by him, but having confusing encounters with attractive men isn't technically the goal of his visits.
He's here to just fucking exist in a place that's calm and quiet and free
of the temptation to use alcohol to put a damper on his thoughts. "You have to let yourself feel things," his therapist had said, when she'd gently suggested he find a place like this to spend his time. And she's right, Hank knows she is, but even though he's been trying to do it
for months now, it's only gotten a tiny bit easier.
Still, progress is progress, he thinks, as he shoves the last bite of banana in his mouth. It's slow, but it's something, and after a few years of nothing at all, he'll take it.
When he's finished his lunch and given himself a couple minutes to sit in the dappled shade of the magnolias, Hank no longer has an excuse to put off looking for Connor. He grimaces as he brushes his hands on his thighs and stands up; it's been a while since he's tried to--make
friends with someone? Is that what he's doing?
Whatever it is, he feels woefully out of practice. It's easy to picture himself walking up to Connor and making an ass of himself, or even finding out that he hadn't really wanted to see Hank again at all. He thinks about the wink,
though, and the flowers; even if he doesn't understand how androids think or approach social situations, he's pretty sure that particular fear is unfounded. He may not be sure exactly what Connor's all about, but Hank's pretty sure he won't be annoyed to see him.
What's left,
then, is finding the guy. it's a big garden, larger than Hank had realized at first, and if Connor's working today--which isn't a given, he knows--he could be anywhere. Hank looks at his watch and grimaces; he'll have to leave in about half an hour, which doesn't exactly give
him time to look everywhere. He may as well pick a direction, though, so he follows the path towards what a sign tells him is the "Native Plants Garden" and hopes for the best.
Soon, Hank finds himself in front of a wide bed of flowers winding beneath scattered oak trees and
leading farther back towards what looks like a dogwood grove. He doesn't know much about flowers, really, but he has to admit these are particularly pretty; there are clusters of bright white, three-petaled flowers with dark leaves and taller, two-toned blue and white flowers
that are so intricately-shaped Hank has the brief thought that they're artificial. Android flowers, he thinks absently, picturing a tiny LED in the center of each one.
"Ridiculous," he mutters, and as he faces back down the path he realizes there's someone working at the far end
of the garden, planting more blue and white flowers from a tray of potted seedlings in a wagon next to them. He thinks at first it's Connor--they're wearing the same jade green Detroit Parks polo he'd worn when they met, and even in the bright sun Hank can make out the faint
flash of an LED--but as he gets closer and the android glances up at him, he can clearly see it's someone else. Still, Hank thinks, they might be able to help him find where Connor is, if he's even around today.
"Good morning," the android says, as Hank approaches. They smile
politely at him, but there's a tightness around their eyes when Hank stops instead of passing by. He supposes it makes sense that they'd be wary; he knows androids have plenty of reasons to be cautious around humans, even now.
"Hi," Hank says, aiming for friendly and casual.
"Sorry to bug you, but is, uh, do you know a guy who works here by the name of Connor?"
"Sure, I know Connor." Their smile doesn't falter, but they don't offer anything more.
"Do you know if he's working today? Where I could find him?"
They wait a long moment before nodding.
"He's here, sure," they say, cautiously. "Are you a friend of his?"
"Yeah, I--" Hank tugs at his beard, considering. "I guess you could say that, sure. He asked me to come say hi next time I was here, but it's a big place, you know? I have no idea where he might be."
The android
seems satisfied by Hank's answer; their smile shifts a bit, into something smaller and more sincere. "He's up by the pond, I think," they say. "At least that's where he was headed about an hour ago, so he should still be there."
"There's a pond?"
They laugh at Hank's surprise,
and point back the way Hank came down the path. "It's in the northeast corner of the garden," they say, "but if you turn around and turn left at the first intersection, the path will take you right to it. It's not far."
"Thanks," Hank says. "I appreciate it."
The android nods
but seems eager to return to work, so Hank leaves them to it and retraces his steps until he finds the point where the path splits; sure enough, a sign indicates that the left-hand path leads to the duck pond and a rose garden. He wishes he'd saved some bread from his sandwich.
The path to the pond is lined with cherry trees just starting to bloom, the petals a scattering of pink and white against the dark branches. Hank wants to walk slowly and let his mind drift, but his impatience wins out; the longer he takes to find Connor, the easier it is to
second-guess himself. He tells himself he's just trying to be efficient and make the most of his limited lunch break as he strides down the path, and he's almost able to believe it.
Hank only walks a few minutes, just as the android had said, before the pond comes into view; when
he reaches the end of the tree-lined stretch of the path he can see it glittering in the midday sunlight, at the bottom of the gentle slope ahead of him. The paved path splits in two, circling around the pond, but a smaller path of inset stones leads down to the muddy shore.
And, it turns out, to Connor.
He's just at the water's edge, bent over and fussing at something or other among the plants growing in the shallow water. Hank doesn't want to bother him if he's busy, but he's here, and Connor's here, and it seems silly to turn around and leave.
Hank makes his way down to the pond and clears his throat when he's only a few feet away from where Connor's examining the plants. "I managed to find you," he says, when Connor turns his head. "Hello again."
Connor breaks into a smile and fuck, Hank thinks, he really is pretty.
"Oh! Hello, Hank!" Connor exclaims. He gives the plants one last look and hurries over to Hank, boots squishing in the wet ground beside the pond. "I'm so pleased you decided to visit me." He extends a hand when he reaches Hank, but before he can hold out his own hand to shake,
which is what he assumes Connor's going for, Connor grabs his forearm and gives it a squeeze. "Or," he says, sheepishly, "perhaps you're visiting the garden itself. I shouldn't assume."
"Assume away," Hank says, trying not to think too much about Connor's hand, or the fact that
it's still resting lightly on his arm. "It's both, today; I wanted to see a little more of this place, but I was hoping to run into you, too. I asked one of your coworkers where you might be, and they pointed me in this direction."
"I'm glad they did," Connor says. He gives
Hank's arm another squeeze before dropping it and waving him over to a nearby bench. "Do you have a minute?"
"A few, yeah," Hank says, although he's pretty sure he needs to leave soon. He glances at his watch and shrugs; if he's a few minutes late getting back, he'll be fine.
"This is my favorite part of the garden," Connor says, once they've settled on the bench.
"Why's that?" Hank asks. "I mean, I get it, the water's nice, but I'm curious about why you like it so much. Out of the whole garden, what's different about this spot?"
Connor stares at him
for a moment, eyes wide, and Hank wonders if anyone's ever asked him why he likes something. If anyone's bothered to ask him what he likes at all. He knows he's extrapolating, or projecting, or something, based on very little concrete information about Connor, but he thinks he
might be a little lonely.
"I like the turtles," Connor says, and it's so goddamn charming Hank can't help but laugh. "I do! They sun themselves on the logs over there--"he points at the opposite end of the pond, where Hank can make out a couple logs partially submerged in the
water with a half-dozen turtles resting on top"--and I enjoy watching them, while I'm here. Beyond that, though, I find aquatic plants to be particularly interesting. I've planted two new kinds of water lily this spring, and I'm eager to see them bloom in the next few weeks."
"I wasn't--" Connor shifts restlessly next to Hank, turning away from him to look out over the water. "My original function wasn't to be a gardener. Having something I've chosen for myself feels important, and I suppose beyond that there's something satisfying about having a
favorite aspect of this choice I've made. I do love the water lilies and the turtles, and the blue flag irises that will bloom along the water's edge soon, but in a way you could say this part of the garden is my favorite because I decided so; the act of choosing it is part of
what made me love it."
"I think I get it," Hank says; he's not sure he does, not entirely, but he sees the general shape of what Connor's said. "I guess if you spent part of your life not having a choice about what you want to do or what you enjoy, just making that choice would
be enough to get you more excited about whatever you're choosing."
"Exactly." Connor smiles, dark eyes shining, and Hank wonders if he was sitting quite so close before. "One thing you should know about me, Hank, is that I tend to become very attached to the things I like."
"You do, huh?" Hank feels very warm, suddenly, despite the chill in the air. "That's--" surely he means the garden, the turtles. The irises. Not anything else. "That's good."
"How about you?" Connor asks. "What's your favorite part of the garden?"
"You," Hank manages not to say.
He wonders if Connor can tell, anyway. "I, uh, I haven't seen all of it, yet," he manages, after a moment. "I should probably spend more time here before I decide."
"I think that's an excellent idea," Connor says, "as long as you keep an eye out for me when you do."
"Yeah, okay," Hank says with a laugh. He doesn't quite get why Connor's so insistent on seeing him again, but he's not going to argue with it. Connor's interesting, he thinks; he's interesting and handsome and he seems, for some reason, to enjoy Hank's company. Of course he'll
keep an eye out for him. "I'll make sure to. Do you go on break at a certain time, so I don't interrupt anything?"
Connor shakes his head. "If you have no biological need to eat, the law doesn't require you to get a meal break, or any break at all." He says it lightly, like he's
making a joke, but Hank hears the bitterness behind it. "To be honest, I'd be reprimanded if my supervisor saw me sitting here with you."
Hank glances around, looking for anyone keeping watch, but he doesn't see anyone. The only observers at the moment are the handful of turtles
across the pond, and they're entirely uninterested in the conversation he and Connor are having. "Shit," he says, "I don't want to get you in trouble. I thought you said part of your job was talking to people?"
"Only if they have questions about the garden," Connor says. "If
someone wants to know what a particular plant is, or how to get to the rose garden, I'm here to inform them." He rests his hand lightly on Hank's arm where it's draped along the back of the bench. "Flirting with handsome visitors is not part of the job description, I'm afraid."
Hank frantically, foolishly fumbles about in his mind, trying to think of what sort of handsome visitors Connor's managed to run into, before Connor's raised eyebrow and the warmth of his hand on Hank's arm clue him in. "Is that--" Hank coughs, clearing his throat. "Is that what
we're doing?" He's pretty sure he's never sounded less suave in his life, but Connor doesn't comment on it.
"I can't speak for you, of course," Connor says. His hand slides down Hank's forearm until the tip of his little finger brushes his bare wrist. "But that's what *I'm*
doing." His easy confidence fades just a bit when Hank doesn't respond, and he pulls his hand back. "I'll stop, if it makes you uncomfortable."
"No, hey, don't--" Hank catches Connor's hand as he starts to pull away. They both stare, for a long, silent moment, at Hank's hand
wrapped around Connor's. Hank can't remember ever touching an android before, not directly, and he can't help but rub his thumb gently over the back of Connor's hand, marveling at the feel of it: his skin is soft, stretched over the delicate artificial bones of his hand, and it's
warmer than he'd thought it might be.
"I'm not uncomfortable," Hank says, eventually. He tears his gaze away from Connor's hand and sees him watching him, eyes soft, mouth slightly parted, as he waits for Hank to continue his thought. "You don't need to stop, I just--" he's not
sure how to explain his hesitation. He's not quite sure why Connor seems interested in him in the first place, for that matter. "I'm not used to that kind of attention from anyone, these days."
"That's a shame," Connor says. "You had my attention from the moment I saw you."
He leans a little closer, and Hank mirrors him, almost without thinking. Connor laughs softly, a nervous-sounding chuckle, but before Hank can ask about it he drops Hank's hand like it's burning him and shoots off the bench, his posture stiff and formal.
"Hey, what the--"
"I'm going to answer your question now, sir," Connor says very quietly, leaning on the 'sir' as hard as he can, "so that my supervisor, who just turned off the main path and is headed this way, will see me doing my job and not holding your hand."
Hank nods and resists the urge to
crane his head around to watch their approach; instead he leans back and adopts what he hopes is a mildly interested expression while Connor dives into a cheerful, if somewhat stilted, explanation of the care and attributes of the different water lily varieties he planted
in the pond this season.
"I'm sorry you weren't able to see them in bloom today," Connor concludes, as Hank hears the muffled footsteps of someone coming up behind them, "but perhaps if you're able to visit again in the future, you'll have better luck; they should be flowering
quite soon."
"I'll do that, thanks," Hank says, hauling himself up from the bench. The appearance of Connor's manager is clearly his cue to leave, and he's long overdue back at work anyway. He manages to keep himself from taking Connor's hand again, or touching his shoulder,
or--Christ, he can't pretend isn't thinking about it--wrapping him up in a hug on his way out. He wouldn't want to push for that anyway, surprise supervisor visit or no, but the impulse is there, strong enough to surprise him, and he files the thought away for later.
"Later" comes that night, after Hank returns home from work. He'd stayed a bit later than usual, to make up for his late return from the garden; it's important to him, after his transfer within the department, to put some amount of effort into not being a fuckup, into showing
folks that he's taking his job seriously. He'd come close to blowing up his career entirely, and he's still rebuilding his reputation; it won't be ruined by a long lunch break, of course, but he knows it can't hurt to put the extra time in.
And, sure, another hour dealing with
paperwork might have been dull, but it wasn't an hour spent at home, drinking pop while wishing it was a beer and wondering what the fuck he should do about the hot android who apparently has a crush on him, which is of course where Hank eventually winds up, slumped on the couch
in his underwear and monologuing to Sumo while he blinks lazily at him from the floor.
"Who just comes out and says that shit?" Hank asks him. "'I'm flirting with you, you're so handsome, oops now you're holding my hand,' what the hell was all that?" He drags his palm over his
face. "Does he need his fucking robo-eyes fixed? Why the hell would he be interested in me?"
Sumo huffs and rolls over, clearly uninterested in providing further commentary on Hank's situation. "Yeah, thanks, buddy," Hank grumbles at him.
The question won't leave his mind:
why is Connor flirting with him at all? Hank has no idea what sort of interest androids have in romance or relationships, although he figures, once he thinks about it for a moment, there's no reason to believe they have a unified opinion on these things any more than humans do.
Does flirting mean an interest in dating? In sex?
He imagines, for a moment, being on a date with Connor. He pictures them strolling along the riverfront, Connor's soft, warm hand tucked into Hank's, or Hank's arm slung over his shoulders as they walk. He remembers how Connor had
watched him, mouth slightly open, as Hank had held his hand, and imagines tugging on it to pull him forward, close enough to lean in and meet Connor's mouth with his own. He pictures--
Fuck.
He pictures himself as a disappointment, too old, too fucked up, too worn down to be
worth Connor's attention. I've apparently had his attention from the moment he saw me, he thinks, remembering what Connor had said earlier, but he doesn't understand why.
"He doesn't even know me," he tells Sumo. "Not really." Hank doesn't really know him, either. He knows Connor
loves water lilies and turtles, that he enjoys the scent of lilacs, in whatever weird androidy way he has of smelling things. He knows Connor's cheeky enough to flirt with a man he just met, and that he likes physical contact. And shit, that's not much, but Hank also knows,
despite this, and despite the undeniable weirdness of this whole situation, that he likes Connor a hell of a lot for someone he just met.
That he'll probably like him more, if he gets to know him better.
It's easier to think about that than to consider the opposite side of the
coin, the potential disaster of Connor learning more about Hank, so he tries to set that thought aside for now.
He thinks instead of the surprising warmth of Connor's hand, the curve of his mouth, the look he gave Hank when he leaned forward to--to do what?
Hank lets himself fill
in the gaps, in a self-indulgent moment he'll feel guilty about later: he remembers Connor's nervous laugh, his soft smile, and imagines placing a hand on the back of his neck to pull him closer so he can kiss him on the secluded bench by the pond.
What Hank really wants, he decides the next morning, is to have a real conversation with Connor, more than what the two of them can snatch in the brief overlap of Hank's midday break and Connor's unsupervised time. A stolen moment or two each day sounds romantic, sure, but it's
not particularly efficient, plus Hank knows his schedule doesn't actually allow him to sneak out for a long lunch every day. The rest of the week, in fact, is too busy for it, and Hank groans when he gets home Friday night and wonders if he's missed his chance.
There's no reason
to assume Connor's schedule is like his own, he decides in the middle of Sumo's late-night walk; if he isn't given breaks, the sad truth is that he might not get weekends either, and at the very least he knows the garden's open on the weekend so it must be staffed, then, as well.
Hank doesn't sleep well--not because of Connor, he tells himself, not because he's anxious or excited about seeing him again, but just because he has trouble sleeping sometimes, and he isn't drinking to put himself to bed anymore--so he finds himself walking through the garden
entrance at 9:30, just after it opens, with a large cup of creamy coffee in his hand. As before, he has no idea which direction to go if he wants to find Connor, or if he's even in the garden at all, but he shrugs it off. Today, he isn't in a hurry. He can walk through the entire
place if he wants; that's what he's supposed to be doing with himself, anyway, isn't it? Getting out of the house, spending time with his thoughts.
He realizes he'll have to tell his therapist, at some point, that he did what she suggested. That it probably means he'll wind up
telling her about Connor, too. He might not be ready for that, yet, especially since he still isn't sure what there is to tell.
For the first time, Hank notices the large map posted just inside the gate and gives it a glance, to see what areas he still hasn't come across.
There's the rose garden that he remembers seeing a sign for on his way to the pond; it's just past it, in the far corner, with a hosta garden, whatever that is, curving around the north side of the pond. The native plant garden he'd seen the entrance to earlier that week seems to
take up most of the western side of the garden as a whole; Hank decides to circle around to that later and takes the path that will lead him to the roses and the pond first.
It's the same path that takes him past the lilac bushes he'd come across on his first visit to the garden,
barely over a week ago, and as he approaches them he can't help but think about how close Connor had stood when slipping the sprig of lilacs he'd cut into Hank's jacket. He steps off the path to stand between the two bushes, now even more thick with blossoms than they'd been
before, and finds a cluster of bumblebee-free flowers to bury his nose in. The scent is thick and heavy; if he were smelling it in a soap, or a perfume, he'd think it was too much, too floral and sweet, but in its raw state, wafting out of the profusion of flowers, it's perfect.
Hank keeps an eye out for Connor as he walks, but he takes his time to take in the rest of the garden, as well. The path he's on is lined with other fragrant flowers, lilies and daffodils and a small bed of unfamiliar ruffly flowers that a small sign tells him are peonies.
He sinks down onto a bench in the middle of the peonies and closes his eyes for a minute, focusing on the wild swirl of scent on the breeze. He's not familiar enough with any of the flowers here to pick them out individually; the combined fragrance is confusing and overwhelming,
but it's nice, too. It's early enough that there's a damp, grassy smell underlying everything.
Hank breathes slowly with his eyes closed and sips his coffee. He used to go hiking sometimes, decades ago now, and while he's smelling sweet flowers now, and not the crushed pine
needles of the forests upstate where he used to hike, somehow he's reminded of those long-ago mornings when he'd pull up to a trailhead drinking shitty gas station coffee to get himself going early enough to avoid the worst of the midday sun. Sitting in the shade with hot coffee
and a cool breeze that smells like the outdoors brings him back, just a bit, to that time, to that feeling. Wanting to get outside just to navigate his body through a quiet space, knowing that the best way to untangle a messy thought is to pick at the knot slowly while his feet
are moving. He'd gotten too busy for hiking long ago, and then the rest of his life had filled in that space: work, relationships, marriage. Cole.
And the grief, the self-hatred, the alcohol: they'd filled in the rest, had multiplied and expanded to fill in every space he had,
had cracked open whatever there was in Hank's life that was fragile or vulnerable and rushed in to fill the void that was left.
Hank's still trying, now, to figure out what to do with that empty space as he cleans the worst of himself out of it. How to patch up whatever's still
worth keeping.
He realizes, eventually, that he's been leaning back in a rickety park bench for a good fifteen minutes, mostly with his eyes closed, while he thinks a lot harder about how he's feeling, about what still hurts and what feels more like a deep bruise than the stab
wound it used to be, than he has in a long time. It feels--he isn't sure he can say it feels good, not when there's still so much pain there, but it feels better, somehow. Better for him to be aware of what he's feeling, certainly.
Hank presses the heels of his hands against his
eyes and groans softly before he grabs his coffee and hauls himself off the bench, determined to keep moving before he loses his entire morning to navel-gazing. It's easy to let his mind wander when he's walking, but staying alert for Connor and focusing on his surroundings keeps
his thoughts from going too off-track after that. Hank isn't exactly ready for any major emotional breakthroughs today, especially given the conversation he wants to have with Connor. One thing to worry about at a time, he tells himself. Don't go overboard, just because you think
you're doing a little better these days.
Hank finds himself approaching the rose garden before long; unlike some of the other gardens, which are a bit wild or artfully asymmetric in their presentation, this one is laid out meticulously, a spoked wheel revolving around a trellis
covered in old-growth vines at the center. Only some of the bushes are in bloom; Hank doesn't know much about roses, but he assumes it's still a bit early for all of them to be flowering yet. He ambles through and takes a look at what's already in bloom; there are huge double
blossoms in deep red and magenta, bursting with perfume, yellow roses that fade to coral at the edge of their petals, white roses opening as wide as Hank's palm, and, covering the central trellis so completely the wood is hardly visible, a cascade of pale pink wild roses.
This is, apparently, a popular area of the garden; Hank notices more people here than he's seen anywhere else since he arrived. A small child buries his face into low-hanging flowers while his older sibling tries to remind him to check for bees first. Two women, probably twenty
years older than Hank at least, walk arm in arm down the rows, pointing out their favorites. A group of teenagers takes turns posing for photos underneath the trellis of wild roses. Hank smiles at them and gives them space; he doesn't want his disheveled ass to ruin anyone's
photos. He may have put a little extra effort into his appearance this morning, sure--just because he may as well, if he's getting back into leaving the house for something other than work, and not because he's trying to impress anyone because that would be ridiculous--but Hank's
neater-than-usual is probably anyone else's fashion-disaster-in-the-background-of-my-otherwise-cute-picture, so he gives the kids their space.
He decides, too, as he exits the rose garden and continues down the path, that it's not his favorite. It's lovely, of course, and he's
sure it'll look even better when more roses are in bloom, but the geometric layout doesn't appeal to him as much as the looser, wilder design of much of the rest of the garden as a whole. He knows the wildness, the seeming randomness, is a design choice on its own; every part of
the garden has been planned and crafted with a particular purpose in mind. Hank thinks of the scattering of moles on Connor's face, supposed imperfections that were surely placed on his skin with great care. It feels rude, or at the very least invasive, to wonder about how and
why he was made. What his original purpose was. He'd told Hank, hadn't he, that he wasn't created to be a gardener; what purpose, then, was he initially given? Why did he walk away from it?
Hank isn't sure these are questions he should ask. Certainly not yet, at least.
The path, once Hank rejoins it, soon curves behind the pond; if he squints he thinks he can see the bench on the other side that he and Connor had shared for a brief moment. If there are turtles enjoying the morning sun on the logs Connor had pointed out, Hank can't spot them,
but he does see a handful of ducks lazily gliding across the water.
Hank stops for a moment, once he reaches the top of a small slope, and looks down the hill to the pond. He can see why it's Connor's favorite part of the garden; he wants to reserve judgment about favorites until
he's seen it all, but he thinks he understands why it appeals to him.
Hank's thinking of Connor, of course, and hoping he'll run into him, but even so he isn't prepared to hear an "oh!" of surprise and turn to see him staring up at him from where he's kneeling on the ground.
"Oh," is all Hank manages to say in response. Connor's kneeling among clusters of dark green and white leaves, dappled by sunlight passing through the trees overhead. His LED flashes yellow for a short moment, then it cycles slowly to blue, a gentle, pulsing glow.
He's beautiful.
"Hi," Hank says, after another moment. Everything he'd thought of saying if he ran into Connor seems to have fled from his mind. "I wasn't sure if--"
"I thought I'd scared you away," Connor blurts out.
"Huh?"
"I was worried that I'd made you uncomfortable. I know you said you
weren't, but I also understand the desire to smooth over an awkward situation with reassurances." He stares down at his hands, folded tensely in his lap. "I know I have no reason to expect you here at any particular time, but you had to leave so quickly, and I didn't see you for
a few days..." he shrugs and smiles up at Hank. "Perhaps it was silly of me."
"What, to worry I wasn't coming back?" Hank says it like it's a joke, because of course he was always coming back, but he wonders, as he says it, if Connor means it was silly to hope for Hank's return
at all. To hope for a favorable response. He takes a step closer to Connor, taking care not to crush any of the plants surrounding him. "I meant what I said. You haven't done anything to make me uncomfortable. Surprised, maybe, by some of what you've said to me, but not
uncomfortable. It's not--" he huffs out a laugh and shakes his head. "It's no hardship to have a guy like you hit on me."
"I wasn't avoiding you, Connor," Hank continues, when Connor doesn't respond. "I guess it was good to have a couple days to think, but I would have come by if
I could. I can't always get away when things are busy, just like you don't have a lot of time to talk here, at least not if someone's breathing down your neck like the other day."
"I understand," Connor says; he's still smiling, but there's a hint of sadness there, as well.
It looks like resignation, a sign of an ongoing hurt he's used to. When, Hank wonders, has anyone made time for Connor?
"Hey, I'm not saying--" Hank steps closer still, considers sinking to his knees next to him, and thinks better of it. He grabs Connor's hand. "Come on, I'm too
old to get down there with you and it feels weird to tower over you like this." He hauls Connor up, surprised by how sturdy he his; what on earth is he made of, to be so heavy? He overcompensates, tugging hard enough that Connor staggers once he's up, coming to rest with one hand
braced on Hank's chest.
"Hello," Connor says, sounding suspiciously breathless for someone who, as far as Hank knows, doesn't have to breathe in the first place.
"Hello, yourself," Hank replies. He exerts what is truly an impressive amount of self-control and doesn't settle the
hand not currently holding one of Connor's low on his back to keep him close; instead, he takes a half-step back, squeezing Connor's hand once before he gently lets it go. "Anyway," he says, sure he's blushing and extra sure Connor's noticed, "I'm not here to say I'm too busy to
see you. Or that you scared me off, or whatever."
"Good," Connor says. "I'd hate to think I did that."
"I keep coming back, don't I?" Hank says. "But Connor, we--we don't really know each other, not yet, and it's hard to do when we get five minutes at a time when I can scramble
down here on my break and hope no one catches you socializing." Connor's face falls again, and Hank scrambles to finish his thought. "So I figured I'd ask, uh, are you working tomorrow? I don't know what kind of time off you get."
"It's irregular," Connor says, and the same
frustration that crept into his voice when he talked about his lack of breaks is back. "I don't currently have the luxury of a set schedule, but yes, I'm off work tomorrow."
"Okay, great. How do you feel about dogs?"
"I love dogs," Connor says, with an intensity Hank hadn't been
expecting. "I haven't met many personally, since they aren't allowed here and few of my neighbors own them, but they're wonderful."
"Well fuck, that's good to hear," Hank says. "If you don't have anything else going on, then, would you want to come to the dog park down by the
riverfront with me? And my dog, of course. If that's not, I don't know, too much park for you, maybe on your day off you want to be inside, or--"
"You have a dog," Connor interrupts.
"Big old thing, yep," Hank says. "His name is Sumo. I just thought--I don't know, I thought maybe
you'd want to meet him, and we could take some time to get to know each other for real. It's fine if you don't, I just figured I'd--"
"Of course I do," Connor says, sounding almost offended that Hank had raised the question at all. "Of course I want to spend more time with you."
"And my dog, apparently," Hank mutters.
"And him as well," Connor agrees. "But, Hank, yes, this is--yes. I'd love to."
"I was thinking afternoon," Hank says. "I woke up too damn early today, should probably let myself be lazy tomorrow. I can pick you up, if you want."
"You're
sweet," Connor says, "but I can take a bus there, or a cab. I'll be fine."
"You sure? I don't mind, I--"
"Hank," Connor interrupts. He squeezes Hank's bicep, then lets his hand roam up to his shoulder and over just far enough that his thumb brushes at the bare skin at the hollow
of his throat. "You can take me home afterwards, if you like. But I'll meet you there."
"Yeah, okay," Hank says. He's ready, in that moment, to agree to anything Connor suggests. "You're sweet" swells and echoes inside his head, and he wants to hear it again.
Connor slides his hand down until his palm is laid flat over Hank's sternum. His fingertips graze his bare skin and Hank tries to remember, how long it's been since anyone's touched him like this, like they're drawn to him. Like they can't help but reach out.
Hank's drawn in, as
well; he leans forward into Connor's touch.
"I'm so glad you came to see me again," Connor murmurs. "And glad I didn't scare you off, after all."
"It takes a lot to scare me off," Hank says. He knows he's more likely to talk himself out of something good than to be scared away,
but he doesn't want to get into that. If they're lucky, Connor won't ever have to learn that about him.
"Your heart's racing," Connor says. His lips part as he gazes at Hank, and he presses his hand more firmly against his chest. Warmth seems to radiate from it, a welcome comfort
in the cool morning.
"Well, you're--" he falters, a little embarrassed that Connor noticed at all. The look Connor's giving him, intrigued and calculating and a little sultry, isn't helping him calm down any. "You're right there, touching me, so." He shrugs.
"Hmm." Connor rubs
two fingers in a small circle on Hank's chest, watching closely for his reaction. "I like having this effect on you."
"Jesus," Hank huffs.
"I need to get back to work," Connor says, "but if you want to keep me company for a while, I'd like that." His fingertips linger on Hank as
he steps back, tracing one more slow circle before he drops his hand.
"Yeah, I--" Hank clears his throat. "as long as I won't get you in trouble, hanging around."
"It'll be fine for a while, as long as I'm keeping busy," Connor says. "Here, I'll get back to weeding, and you can
tell me about your dog." He sinks back down and gazes thoughtfully up at Hank as he picks up his weeding tools. "Hmm," Connor says again. Hank's learning to like that sound.
"What?"
"Just admiring the view," he says breezily, as he pulls a handful of weeds and tosses them away.
Hank keeps Connor company while he weeds the rest of the small shade garden; the low, broad-leafed plants scattered about the area turn out to be the mysterious hostas he'd seen mentioned on the sign at the garden entrance.
"They aren't as flashy as some of the flowers," Connor
says, as he pats a large, white-striped leaf, "but I find the foliage striking on its own. Most of these will bloom in a few months, and I'm looking forward to that, but to be honest I suspect I'll prefer them like this."
"Were you not working here last summer, or just working in
another area of the garden?" Hank realizes, as soon as he's asked, that he's probably stepped in something--Connor's already told him gardening wasn't his original function.
"Sorry," he says. "I guess you wouldn't have been, huh? You said you were supposed to do something else,
before." He winces and scrambles to apologize again. "I don't want to bring up anything you don't wanna talk about, I'm sorry. I--should I not ask about any of that at all? Your life, uh, before things changed, I mean." Hank feels pathetic talking around the issue, but he doesn't
want to say the wrong thing, either. Is it better to hint at the android revolution, at deviancy (which might itself be an offensive or upsetting term to androids for all he knows), than to name it outright?
Connor's LED flashes yellow, but he offers Hank a small smile as he
responds, which eases his mind somewhat.
"You're right that I haven't worked here long," Connor says. "I was hired just after the turn of the year." He pulls several large weeds, seemingly with great satisfaction, before he continues. "To answer your other question, though, I'm
not averse to discussing my life before I knew it was a life at all, you could say. I don't know that all of it is easy to explain, and it isn't particularly pleasant. But--"
"You don't have to," Hank starts to say, but he falls silent when Connor shakes his head.
"Of course I
don't have to, Hank. You said it yourself, though: you want to know me better. I want you to understand more about who I am. I don't mind telling you."
"All right."
"Not now, though," Connor says, "when I'm almost done weeding this garden. If you like, I can tell you a bit more
tomorrow."
"I'd like that," Hank says gently. "As long as you still want to. If you decide you'd rather just pet Sumo, that'll be fine with me."
"I can pet Sumo at the same time," Connor says, which Hank has to admit is an excellent point.
"I'll warn you in advance, I don't have
the best track record of talking about myself. Not about shit that matters." Hank turns to look out at the pond, where the midmorning sun has turned the water to a shifting pool of silver. "I'm working on it, but I can't promise to be quite so eager to share."
Connor holds a hand
to Hank, who grabs it reflexively, staring at it for a moment before his brain catches up and he helps pull him to his feet. Connor doesn't need his help, Hank knows, but he's happy to pretend he does as an excuse for a moment of contact. Connor apparently appreciates the excuse
as well. He bundles up the piles of weeds he's pulled and deposits them into a nearby wheelbarrow before he returns to Hank, standing only slightly closer than might be considered proper.
"I can be patient," he murmurs. "I'm nosy, I can't deny it, but I won't push too hard."
"Or," Connor says, wryly, "perhaps I should say I won't be offended if you tell me to fuck off when I do push too hard by mistake."
"Honestly, sometimes I need a push," Hank says. "I'm a big guy, I can handle it."
"You are," Connor agrees. "I'm sure you can handle quite a bit."
Hank wonders how he was ever unsure if Connor was flirting with him or not, considering how often he says shit like this. It's flattering, even if he isn't quite sure how to react, and he does his best to cover his awkwardness with a laugh and a smile, and by stepping forward to
close the small distance between them; he doesn't want it to only be Connor reaching out to close that space. "Hey," he says, settling a hand on Connor's shoulder, "I know you gotta move on to take care of other things, so I'm going to get out of your hair." He pats his shoulder
gently, resisting the urge to cup Connor's cheek in his hand, or pull him to his chest, or any number of things it's pointless to deny that he's already considered. "But I'll see you tomorrow, okay? And we'll have more than a few minutes to talk."
"Yes," Connor says. The sunlight
filtered through the leaves overhead catches his dark eyes, highlights a mole high on his left cheek. "Hank, I want--" he sighs and closes his eyes.
Hank takes the opportunity to admire how long and delicate Connor's eyelashes are, as they sweep down to his cheek for a few slow
seconds. "What is it?" he prompts. He wants to know. Already he feels a pull, a desire to give Connor what he wants, if he can.
"I'll ask tomorrow, I think," Connor says, finally. He leans his cheek against Hank's hand on his shoulder.
"Good." Hank knows if he doesn't leave now,
he'll hang around all morning, getting in Connor's way or causing problems for him with his boss, so he reluctantly steps away, hand dropping back to his side. "I'll, uh, I'll see you then? At 3?"
"I'll be there," Connor says. "I'm looking forward to it. And to meeting Sumo, of
course."
"I'll tell him to be on his best behavior," Hank says, and with another step back and an awkward wave, he sets off.

Hank takes a slow, wide path through the rest of the grounds after leaving Connor, although he doesn't pay particularly close attention to any of the
flowers or foliage he passes by. It's all lovely in a distant, indistinct sort of way: a green, pleasant background to his thoughts.
And his thoughts are--the farther he gets from Connor, the more time he has to think about their plans for the next day, the more it sinks in just
how badly Hank wants things to go well, wants to establish some sort of connection to Connor deeper than what they can build in stolen snatches of conversation, the easier it is for doubts to creep in. For Hank to remember how many relationships he's let fall apart in the past
few years, and to worry that he doesn't have his shit together enough, not yet, to avoid doing it again.
It's not helpful to think like this, he knows. He can even admit, to some extent, that it isn't fair to himself, considering the effort he's put into clawing his way out of
the hole he'd dug himself into, after Cole's death, but even now it's hard to convince himself it's worth putting forth the effort to be kinder to himself. It comes and goes, the self-loathing that used to be ever-present, but Hank feels it prickling at the back of his mind as he
makes his way back to the entrance. With it is the impulse to respond in the traditional way: pick up a bottle of cheap whiskey on the way home, drink enough to stop thinking about how much he's worried about disappointing Connor, and usher in the inevitable moment by being so
sick and hungover he misses the date entirely.
He won't do it--he clenches his fists, letting his nails bite into the meat of his palm and reminds himself, over and over, that he won't--but the urge is there. He wonders if it'll ever leave.
Instead, he texts Ben as soon as he
gets home.
>I have a date tomorrow, what the fuck
>don't want to screw it up but
>what are the chances I can manage that
>christ at least I dont have his number so I can't cancel

He throws the phone on the couch and goes to change; by the time he returns, Ben's texted him back.
>>A date! That's great, don't you dare cancel.

>fuck, I won't, I just don't know how well it can go
>I haven't done this in years, you know how it wound up last time

>>Yeah, but I know how much things have changed since then.
>>You want to talk for real? I'm free right now.
Hank stares at the screen and sighs. There's part of him that doesn't want to intrude on Ben's Saturday with his melancholy bullshit, but he knows he wouldn't offer to talk if he wasn't up for it. And, oddly enough, he realizes he does want to talk about it. Ben's had Hank's back
more than just about anyone else for the past six months; he's more than earned Hank's trust.
It takes so long for Ben to answer his phone that Hank wonders if he changed his mind about talking at the last minute, but he does eventually pick up, laughing and out of breath.
"Sorry, Hank," he says, "Kenzie had a kitchen emergency just before you called. I had to save some crepe batter from spilling everywhere."
Hank hears Ben's daughter shout "I had it UNDER CONTROL!" in the background and can't help but laugh a little, himself. "Sounds like she
didn't need you at all," he chuckles. "What's she making today?"
"A crepe cake, which is, as far as I can tell, the fussiest, most obnoxious recipe possible, but if she's willing to put in the work, we won't stop her."
"You just want an excuse to eat something you're too lazy to
make."
"Of course I do!" Ben exclaims. "You know how worthless I am in the kitchen, and Alan doesn't like desserts, so if my daughter wants to make a cake I am not going to stand in her way."
They spend a few minutes catching up; now that Hank doesn't see Ben most days at work,
he's a little less aware of what's going on in his life. He had stopped asking about Kenzie, for a few years; even though he cared about her, of course, and wished her well, Hank hated the bitterness he felt when he looked at other people's children and wondered why they got to
live, when Cole didn't. He wasn't proud of that reaction, but it had been impossible to tamp down, for a long time, and it seemed easier to avoid the subject altogether than to feel guilty over that flash of anger.
Now, though, it's good to hear about her baking projects and
junior roller derby tryouts, and about a weekend trip they'd taken earlier in the month to visit Alan's parents. Hank's struggled before with how well-adjusted Ben's family seems to be, but now he doesn't feel jealous of him at all; he's just happy for him. Glad his friend has a
good husband and a good kid.
Ben tries to apologize, eventually, for talking his ear off, but Hank shoots him down before he can get started. "Seriously, it's fine," he says. "It's good to hear how you're doing, and it's keeping me from getting too caught up in my own bullshit."
"You want to talk about your bullshit? What's got you so worked up over this date?"
"I hardly know what I'm doing," Hank says. "I haven't been on a date in what, a decade? Something like that. I'm a lot less of a catch now than I was then."
"Someone agreed to a date with you
anyway," Ben points out, "so it sounds like they think you're enough of a catch to say yes."
"That's the thing, Ben, he's--he seems like he's really into me. Flirts like crazy."
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is that he barely knows me. We've only spoken a few times, and I
can't help but think that when he learns more, he's going to want to bail."
"He might," Ben says, and even though Hank said it first, it stings a little.
"Hey," he protests, but Ben cuts him off.
"We both know it," he says. "Some people can't handle dating someone who's gone
through serious shit and come out the other side. If this guy can't handle it, and can't see who you are now, fuck him."
Hank makes a non-committal noise. Ben's probably right, but it's hard to drum up any anger at the thought of Connor not wanting to spend more time together
once he learns more about Hank. Disappointment, sure. But he doesn't think he'd blame him.
"It just feels nice," Hank says, "having someone act excited to see me. Not even acting, I guess, I think he really was excited when I saw him this morning."
"And you don't want him to lose
that excitement."
"I don't."
"Then go have a good time tomorrow. If you come at this date like you gotta apologize for being who you are, it'll be over before you can get things started at all. Let yourself have fun. I don't know, get laid, maybe. If this guy's so into you
without knowing you that well, you have to assume he thinks you're hot."
"I--" Hank thinks back to every excuse Connor's found to touch him. How close he tends to stand. "Shit, maybe he does."
"Check the expiration dates on your condoms before you--"
"Jesus, Ben, I know how
condoms work," Hank sputters. "I don't---I don't think we're going to need any, we're taking Sumo to the dog park, for god's sake."
"You never know," Ben says. "It doesn't hurt to be prepared."
"The thing is," Hank says, a little ashamed he hasn't mentioned it yet, "Connor's
an android. So I'm not even sure if I'd even, uh, need to use condoms. Shit, I don't even know how any of that works for them. For him, in particular."
Ben's silent just long enough for Hank to get uncomfortable. "An android?" he asks, finally. "Not what I expected from you."
"Hey, I know I was a bastard about them," Hank says. He's not proud of it, not really sure what to do now about the things he said, back when it was easier to blame his problems on an android than to accept that sometimes things were shitty and miserable for no reason. "I might
be in a little over my head here, but so far he just seems like...I don't know, just like a regular person, you know? He's earnest, and sweet, and maybe a little lonely, but there's nothing fake about him."
"Alan's friend Will is dating an android," Ben says. "I haven't met her
myself, and now for the life of me I can't remember her name, but the two of them seem to be doing well." Hank hears a low voice in the background, and Ben's muffled reply of thanks. "Ginger, that's right," he says. "I'm glad Alan can remember names, because I sure as hell
can't."
"Anyway," Ben continues, "maybe your Connor is worrying right now that you won't be up for dating an android, once you understand more about what you're getting into."
"Huh." It's a good point, one Hank hadn't considered. "You might be right about that."
"But you still
want this date to go well anyway, knowing he's an android and knowing there's a lot you don't know about how things might go between you two?"
"All right, you've made your point," Hank grumbles. "Yeah, I still want it."
"So go buy some condoms," Ben says. "Aim high."
Hank laughs a little, and says he will; whether that's true or not he's not sure, but it's easier to agree than to put up a fuss, and he gets the point Ben's making. The conversation drifts, from there; Hank finds himself asking for updates on Alan's job in the health department
and details on the other things Kenzie's been baking (cream puffs were a recent success but an attempt at meringues was an unexpected disaster), ands Ben's cheerful rambling soothes most of what remains of his worry about tomorrow's date. It's not gone, he knows, but it's less
immediately present.
"You should come for dinner soon," Ben says. "You can make a fuss over Kenzie's baking, she says we're just humoring her when we tell her how good it is."
"If you need someone to eat a bunch of cake and tell Kenz it's delicious, I'm your man," Hank says.
"I'll check our schedule and text you in a day or two to set a time, all right?"
"Sounds good," Hank says. "Listen, I'm gonna let you go, but, thanks for being willing to talk a bit. I think it helped."
"Any time," Ben says. "I know I'm not always free for a call, but you can
always text me if you need to talk."
"Yeah. I appreciate it. Tell Alan hi for me, all right?"
Hank's surprised, once he ends the call, by how much better he feels. It's basic shit, he knows, to talk things over with a friend when he's too stuck in his own head, but knowing that
doesn't mean it's easy to reach out, or to open up.
He thinks, not for the first time, that Ben's been a better friend to him than he deserves, better than he could ever hope to repay; he was Hank's biggest support at the end of the previous year, gently but persistently pushing
him to get help in his worst moments. Not the sort of thing you buy a friend a fruit basket for, but maybe the way for Hank to start paying him back is to go to dinner and see Kenzie again. Apologize, with his presence if not with his words, for pulling away from Ben's family for
a few years.
The rest of the day passes fairly uneventfully; Hank makes himself some lunch, throws a tennis ball for Sumo in the backyard for a bit, and lets himself zone out in front of the tv for most of the afternoon. It isn't until later, as he's picking at the pizza he
ordered for dinner, that he thinks back to Ben's suggestion about condoms, and how little he knows about what Connor might want. What he's even physically capable of.
He's getting ahead of himself, he knows; even if Connor does think he's hot, as Ben assumed, (a concept which
sounds ridiculous when Hank considers it, but which he grudgingly admits he has a growing pile of evidence for), it doesn't mean he's going to want to do anything about it the first time they're able to spend time together.
Still, though, he can't help but wonder. What might he
want? Connor pretty clearly enjoys touch, based on how handsy he's been up until now; if he isn't capable of sex, or doesn't want it, what would he enjoy instead?
Tentatively, Hank enters "android erogenous zones" into his phone and clicks on the least sleazy-looking result.
The site he finds is only moderately helpful; sexual preferences don't seem to be any more universal among androids than they are in humans. Only certain models were designed to have genitals, apparently; Hank has no idea what Connor's model is, and there are enough companies
installing aftermarket parts and software patches that knowing that information wouldn't necessarily tell Hank anything. He figures if Connor wants to talk about what may or may not be in his pants, he'll bring it up, and until then he doesn't want to focus on that too much.
What he does find himself drawn to, though, are descriptions of where most android models have panels that open for maintenance or repair; the wires are closer to the surface there, and apparently many androids experience increased sensitivity in those areas as a result.
He studies the diagrams; while there's some variation on placement between models, there are areas on most androids that seem to have some overlap in sensitivity: the inner forearms, the back of the neck and thighs, just above or below the navel, and the soles of the feet.
Hank can't help but think about smoothing his hands over Connor's body, moving slowly and carefully to find the places where he's most sensitive. He imagines trailing kisses from Connor's wrist to his elbow, nuzzling the back of his neck while his hands settle low on his stomach.
Hank can't pretend he doesn't find Connor incredibly attractive because he does, of course he does, but part of what's so captivating about him isn't how he looks, but how close he stands to Hank, how many excuses he makes to touch him. It's been so long since Hank's been touched
with affection that he'd almost forgotten how much he misses it, but as he's contemplating the potential sensitivity of Connor's hands, he wonders if Connor's experienced affectionate touch at all. He's handsome enough that Hank can't assume he hasn't caught someone's eye before,
but there's something in Connor's manner, a combination of forwardness and hesitation that makes Hank wonder if this is all brand new to him.
If it is, Hank wants to be careful; he might be out of practice with relationships or...whatever the hell it is that Connor wants, but
he still knows when and how to take a little extra care with someone. Hank's had plenty of partners who appreciated his size, but he'd learned very quickly that with that size came the need to be cautious, especially at first.
Hank realizes he's been staring blankly at his phone
while thinking about touching Connor for several minutes; the screen's still on, registering the eye contact, but he's not taking in any of the information.
He shakes himself out of his reverie and scrolls down a bit; the next section provides details about how to open the access
panels and what to do once you have access to an android's wiring. "That's enough for tonight," Hank says out loud, startling Sumo out of his snooze in the corner. He sets down his phone, although he does save the site for later. He may not be ready to picture getting his hands
deep in Connor's wires right this minute, but it seems likely that he'll be up for it later.
Perhaps, though, he should just ask Connor. He pictures pressing in close, crowding into Connor's space so he can feel how hard Hank's getting, and asking how he likes to be touched.
Hank's arousal has been building all evening, a low, hungry rumble in the back of his mind that he's been aware of without feeling any particular need to act on it, but the thought of Connor taking Hank's hand in his own and leading it across his body to where he wants Hank's
touch the most is enough to turn the rumble to a roar, a hot rush prickling under Hank's skin that's impossible to ignore. He groans and squeezes his thigh, hips rolling up reflexively against nothing.
Connor's so sweet, he thinks, as he eases a hand into his boxers and sighs at
the relief of getting his hand on his cock, and Hank wants to help him feel good. He thinks about Connor's hand guiding him to the back of his neck, about kissing and nuzzling Connor there, just below his hairline, while he ruts against him from behind. Kissing his hand, the
underside of his wrist, taking his fingers into his mouth one at a time.
Hank's hand speeds up on his cock and his thoughts become more disjointed, more focused on sensation than a specific narrative: kissing every inch of Connor's skin he can reach, Connor's hand curled tightly
in Hank's hair, pulling him where he wants him, his sweet voice low and rough with arousal. Dark eyes watching Hank as he jerks himself, lips brushing his ear when Connor murmurs "I want to see you come."
"Oh, fuck," Hank moans, when he thinks about Connor draped over him,
watching.
"Come for me," the imagined Connor whispers, and Hank can't help but obey; with a deep, drawn out groan he comes, thighs tightening as he spills over his hand.
Hank slumps back into the couch, breathing heavily, and wishes Connor was there to cuddle in the afterglow.
Perhaps it's his conversation with Ben, perhaps it's the post-orgasm endorphins, but somehow Hank finds himself calm enough to get a reasonable amount of sleep, much to his relief. He's able to sleep in until Sumo barges into the bedroom, eager to be fed and taken outside, and
snuffles at Hank's hand where it's dangling off the edge of the bed. "All right, buddy, I'm up," Hank groans. "You going to be good for Connor today? I don't want you jumping and drooling all over him."
Sumo just wags his tail and leads Hank to the cupboard where his food is
kept, as if he's worried Hank's forgotten where he keeps it. Hank rolls his eyes, feeds him, and digs up some breakfast of his own.
Hank had wanted to give himself plenty of time to sleep in and prepare before meeting Connor at the park, but by late morning he realizes he's just
given himself half a day to get himself worked up over the whole thing. He considers trimming his beard half a dozen times, worried about being too obvious in his attempts to look a little better for Connor, before he gives in and neatens up the edges with his clippers. He even
pulls out a bottle of beard oil he seldom uses and combs a few drops through, to soften it up a little. The warm, woody scent is soothing, and when he checks himself out in the mirror he decides the end result is at least a minor improvement. He considers pulling his hair back,
but ultimately settles for making sure it's combed down from the wild mess he woke up with. He slips a hair elastic into his pocket, though, in case the wind picks up while they're in the park.
In the last hour before he leaves, Hank channels his lingering restlessness into
brushing Sumo, working out a couple small areas of matted fur and leaves he'd picked up in the yard that morning. He's sure Connor will like Sumo whether he has a leaf stuck in his tail or not, but he wants them both to make a good impression.
He likes you, Hank thinks, when he
has the sudden, sullen impulse to stay home where he can't disappoint anyone. If he didn't want to see you, he wouldn't have agreed to this. You'll be fine.
"We'll be fine, right boy?" Hank says, giving Sumo one final stroke with the brush and hauling himself off the floor. Sumo
thumps his tail in reply.
They arrive at the dog park a few minutes early. Sumo knows where they are the moment Hank turns into the parking lot; he whines and paces in the back seat, eager to stretch his legs and investigate the smells dozens of other dogs have left behind.
Hank barely has a moment to clip Sumo's leash on before he takes off for the park entrance, nearly dragging Hank behind him. Hank's big, and pretty strong, but so is Sumo; he's managed to pull Hank over before in an unguarded moment, but at least he knows to be alert for it when
they're at the park. He lets himself be pulled forward, figuring they'll wait for Connor on the bench near the dog park's entrance, but as Hank's drawn in that direction he can see that Connor's beaten them to it.
Connor has his head turned, watching two small dogs play-bowing
and chasing each other just inside the fenced-in area, and Hank takes a moment, as he approaches, to admire him. He'd be attractive wearing anything, Hank knows, and he's cute enough in the dorky polo shirt and overalls the garden's employees have to wear at work, but he
appreciates being able to see what Connor prefers to wear when the choice is up to him. He has on dark, slim-fit trousers that seem to have a faint silvery sheen where the sunlight hits them, and a plum-colored sweater that looks incredibly soft. "Please don't jump on him," he
says to Sumo, as he gives an excited bark and barrels towards the gate.
Connor turns at Sumo's deep bark, and grins and rises from the bench when he sees them; miraculously, Sumo must find him interesting because he stops pulling frantically for the park entrance and slows just
enough as they approach that he only slightly knocks Connor off balance when he careens into his legs, wagging and wiggling excitedly.
"Shit, sorry--" Hank steps around Sumo to put a steadying hand on Connor's shoulder, then tries in vain to ask Sumo to sit. "He's too excited, he
loves the park." Sumo nudges Connor's hip insistently with his snout, still wagging. "Apparently he thinks you're exciting as well."
"It's all right," Connor says, laughing. "I'm glad to see him, too." He leans down and scratches behind his ears. "He's huge! And so cute."
Sumo finally sits still once Connor starts fussing over him, although he remains fixated on one of his pockets, sniffing at it when Connor leans down to scratch his back.
"Oh!" Connor says, when Sumo noses at the pocket for a third time. "Is it all right if I give him something?"
"I brought a little treat for Sumo, to help win him over. I want him to like me."
"Sure, he'll love it," Hank says.
Connor fishes a small bag out of his pocket and tosses a piece of jerky to Sumo, who snaps it out of the air and immediately waits for more. Connor tosses him
another, then tucks the empty bag back into his pocket. "Do you think it worked?"
Hank knows Sumo is happy to meet anyone who's willing to pet him, with no bribes needed, but it's clear that the addition of meaty snacks has elevated Connor to true Best Friend status immediately,
as far as Sumo's concerned; he licks Connor's hand enthusiastically and stares at him with affection. "I'm pretty sure it did, yeah," he says. "Is there a treat in the other pocket for me?"
"I didn't need one," Connor says. "I know you like me already."
"You got me there," Hank
says. And then, because Sumo had quite literally trampled over any sort of smooth entrance Hank might have hoped for, he holds his arms open in invitation. "You look, uh, really nice," he fumbles. "Do you want a--"
He's cut off by Connor neatly tucking himself against his chest.
He shouldn't be surprised, really, considering how eager Connor's been to touch Hank in the past, but still he's startled by how eagerly Connor melts into him. "That answers that, huh?" Hank murmurs, as he wraps his arms around Connor. "I should have guessed you'd be a hugger."
Connor sighs into Hank's neck. "I assumed I'd enjoy it," he says, "but I couldn't be sure, until now." His hand slides up and down the broad plane of Hank's back, almost like he's petting him. "It's so comfortable."
"Yeah, feels good," Hank says. He settles one hand low on
Connor's back and places the other at the top of his spine. He's tall, almost as tall as Hank, and he fits against him wonderfully, tucking his chin over Hank's shoulder and humming contentedly as Hank pats his back a little. As the seconds pass by and he shows no sign of letting
go, a thought enters Hank's mind. He should have realized it sooner, he thinks.
"Connor," Hank asks, "have you not been hugged before?" He tries to pull back just enough to see Connor's face, but he clings tighter, as if he's worried Hank will disappear altogether.
"No," Connor
says, his mouth now so close to Hank's ear that he can feel the exhalation of it. "Very few people have touched me at all, and fewer still have done so with the intent to show affection."
"That's a shame," Hank says. He doesn't want to think too hard about what it means that the
majority of those who've touched Connor have done so in--in what, anger? Indifference? Cruelty? Surely with less care than he deserved. He may not know Connor well, yet, but he knows he deserves better. "Lucky for you, I've always been told I give good hugs, so I guess I'm a good
choice for your first time."
It's part of being tall and broad and a little soft, Hank supposes (although perhaps more than a little, these days); he's gotten the comment from a handful of people he's hugged over the years, partners and friends alike. Connor seems to agree; he
squeezes Hank a little tighter and makes a small, pleased sound as he nuzzles into his neck.
They're startled by a sudden tug on Hank's wrist as Sumo, bored of sitting still now that no one is telling him how cute his is or giving him jerky treats, lunges towards the park gate.
"We better let him go run wild," Hank says, reluctantly pulling back; this time, Connor lets him go, although his disappointment is evident. "Hey," Hank says, taking Connor's arm and looping it through his as they make their way into the dog park, "we can do that again later if
you want. Not to be pushy about it or anything, but it seemed like you would have held on for a while, if not for Mr. Impatient over here."
"I would have," Connor agrees. "We're here to let Sumo have a good time, though, so let's do that." He tightens his grip on Hank's arm and
leans into him as they pass through the narrow gate. "Perhaps this is more personal than I should be right away, but I crave physical affection a great deal, and think about it often. Knowing it's something you're open to puts me at ease, a bit; I don't want to focus on it to an
extent that makes you uncomfortable."
"Hey, you be as personal as you like, Connor," Hank says. "That's part of why we're here today, right? To get a little personal and learn about each other." He pulls a tennis ball out of his pocket and unsnaps Sumo's leash; Sumo lumbers away
and back again, eyes on the ball, clearly ready to chase it. "Go get it, boy!" Hank lobs the ball across the grass, aiming for an area without too many other dogs that might run in and grab the ball before Sumo can get to it. He's not the fastest pup in the park, after all.
"If it helps," Hank says, sliding an arm around Connor's waist, "I'm a little out of practice but I can tell you I'm a pretty affectionate guy, once I know someone's into it."
"I like that," Connor says. He leans into Hank, then steps forward to greet Sumo as he bounds back and
drops the tennis ball at his feet. He seems less reluctant to step away when he knows he's welcome to get close again when he wants to. Connor throws the ball again, a bit farther than Hank had, and once again Sumo eagerly leaps after it.
They throw the ball a few more times, but
before long Sumo gets distracted by a sleek black dog who wants to wrestle, and then by a game of chase that a third of the dogs are having off in a corner of the park, and Hank steers the two of them towards one of the benches along the fence where they can be more comfortable
while still keeping an eye on Sumo. Connor seems to be thrilled to be around so many dogs; Hank remembers that he said he didn't get to see them often. Occasionally one will meander by the bench on the off-chance that one of them will have a treat to offer, and some are happy to
stay long enough for Connor to shyly offer his hand to sniff before giving the friendliest dogs a scratch under their chin or at the base of their tails.
"Some of them are put off by how we smell," he says, "but I find that many dogs don't mind at all. I'm glad Sumo doesn't."
"He doesn't mind much," Hank says, nodding towards where Sumo's good-naturedly allowing a smaller dog to leap on him and try to knock him over. "I figured he'd like you, and that was before you brought out the bribes."
"I wanted to make a good impression," Connor says, as if
meeting Sumo was like going to a job interview, or meeting a partner's parents for the first time. "Maybe that's silly, but I didn't want you to have planned this afternoon together only to find out that your dog doesn't like me."
"I wasn't worried about it," Hank says, which he
knows isn't the issue, but he's not sure what else to say. He cautiously drapes an arm over Connor's shoulders. "Is this okay?"
"Of course," Connor says, shifting to sit a little closer.
"Good," Hank says. Connor's sweater is soft beneath his fingertips, and he strokes them along
his shoulder, admiring the feel of the fabric. He admires, too, the way Connor sighs and seems to melt a little at even this gentle touch. It's only natural to wonder, Hank thinks, how Connor might react if Hank were to wrap his hand around the back of his neck and rub his thumb
over the places his research suggested would be the most sensitive, but he doesn't want to rush anything; he takes a breath and drags himself back to his original line of thought. He plucks gently at the sweater and asks, "Aren't you a little warm in this? It's hotter out today
than I thought it would be." Hank had left his jacket at home, at least, but while he's not uncomfortable he hadn't expected the sun to feel so warm. The spring chill that was present earlier in the week seems to have vanished.
"I'm not particularly sensitive to the weather,"
Connor says with a shrug that somehow manages to nestle him closer to Hank. "I can overheat, of course, but it takes more extreme temperatures, or a significant increase in the amount of data or other input I'm processing, for me to do so. I chose this sweater because it's soft,
and because I look good in it." He raises an eyebrow at Hank like he's daring him to disagree, which of course he is in no hurry to do.
Hank takes a moment to slowly and deliberately let his gaze wander down from Connor's face and back again. "You sure do," he says. "No false
modesty, huh? I don't blame you, if I looked that good I'd be confident, too."
Connor's pleased by the compliment, clearly, but he looks a little troubled, too, and Hank tries to backtrack. "I'm not saying you should pretend you're not attractive, or that you're too, uh, too--"
"It's all right," Connor says, patting Hank's thigh to interrupt his thought. "I think the way androids understand our physical appeal--or, I should say, the way I understand my own--may be different from how humans do."
"Can you explain it to me?" Hank asks. "I'd like to know."
"You were curious, yesterday, about what I did before I worked at the garden. What my original function was."
Hank nods. He has the urge to apologize again, to tell Connor he doesn't want him to feel obligated to discuss his past, but he keeps his mouth shut and waits. He feels
pretty certain, by now, that Connor wouldn't bring up something he wasn't comfortable talking about.
"How I feel about my appearance is directly related to the function I was created to perform. I was made to set people at ease, to integrate with humans easily. I was given
a sophisticated social programming suite to help me in that task, but my appearance was part of it, too. I know I was made to be attractive. Someone designed me to be appealing in a specific way that suited their needs for me."
Connor is silent, for a moment. The crowd in the dog
park has thinned a bit, but there are still half a dozen dogs left; he watches a few of them bark and chase each other while Sumo lazes on the grass and wags his tail as a small tan mutt sniffs him intently.
"It feels good, of course, to know you find me attractive. More than
good, Hank; to be clear, it's what I want. But I also know, on some level, that it's what Cyberlife's design team wanted. Not for you, specifically, to be attracted to me, but for whoever dealt with me to find me pleasing to look at, at the very least, if not sexually appealing."
"It doesn't feel like you had an active role," Hank ventures. He can see how it would feel different to be directly created to be hot than to be blessed at birth with good genes; he doesn't know what either feels like, but he imagines they wouldn't be the same at all.
"Exactly," Connor says. He shifts restlessly on the bench, but doesn't pull away from Hank's arm, so he keeps it where it is. "And none of what I was given was for my own benefit. I'm not attractive so that I can enjoy the feeling of being desired, but so I can use my appearance
to set people at ease and work well with them." Connor stares at his hands, clasped tightly in his lap. "Or manipulate them. That was as much a part of my purpose as anything else."
Connor can sense Hank's curiosity, surely, and the effort Hank's putting into not asking--as much
as Hank wants to know, because he's curious by nature and curious about Connor in particular, it doesn't feel right to push for more--because he gives him a small, sad smile and reaches up to pat Hank's hand where it's draped over his shoulder.
"I'll explain the rest," he says,
"but do you remember what I told you earlier, about how choosing something for myself, having a preference and acting on it, imbues that choice with more importance?"
"Yeah," Hank says. "You were telling me why the pond was your favorite part of the garden."
"I was flirting with
you, as well," Connor reminds him, "but I wasn't sure you'd noticed yet."
"I was a little slow on the uptake, but I got there eventually." Hank squeezes Connor's shoulder, gently urging him to lean against him. "I'm glad you helped me along a little."
Connor relaxes against Hank
with a deep, pleased sigh. "I hope you can understand that it isn't only my appearance I have these thoughts about," he says. "I am a little vain, I'll admit, when it comes to the decisions I've made about my own appearance, such as the clothes I feel most comfortable and
attractive in, but that's not all that I am."
"Of course not," Hank says. "I get it, I'm the one who brought up how cute you are so that's the angle you're coming at it from, but. It sounds like being made to be a certain way makes it hard to, I don't know, to separate out who
you are from who someone else thought you should be, especially when they didn't even think of you as a person at all. Or how to express that, when you figure it out." He rubs the soft wool of Connor's sweater between his fingertips. "And it's all led you to being a gardener with
great taste in clothes, apparently."
"And in men," Connor adds. "Don't forget that."
Hank's less sure about that, but he isn't in the mood to disagree, not when Connor's snuggled up so close and looking at him so sweetly. "Sure," he says. "Whatever you say."
"The point being," Connor says, looking quite pleased that Hank chose not to argue, "the choices I've made in terms of what I like, how I present myself, the work I do that's so different from how I was programmed...it's all very important to me." He bites his lip, considering
his words carefully. "It is me, in a way; my choices are what set me apart from the Connor who was created to, well." He nods towards Sumo, who's still lounging lazily in the soft grass, watching the other dogs at play. "Would you be willing to walk with me, while I tell you?"
"Sure thing," Hank says. "Ready to stretch your legs a little?"
"I think it'll be easier to talk, that way, although I'm not sure why."
"You don't need to know why," Hank says. "Sounds good to me." He whistles sharply, and Sumo perks his head up, tail wagging gently as he makes
his way back to where Hank and Connor are sitting. "You want to hold his leash while we walk? He's tired out now, he shouldn't have the energy to pull you over or anything."
"I'm stronger than I look, Hank," Connor says, amused. "He'd have to work pretty hard to pull me over."
"You'll be just fine, then," Hank says, clipping the leash onto Sumo's collar and handing it over. "He'll probably behave more for you than he does for me, anyway."
Connor's happy to take Sumo's leash, and as they exit the dog park he takes Hank's arm as well, leaning against him
playfully as they make their way down the paved path along the riverfront. "Sometimes it helps me think if my body is moving," he says, "or if my hands are, at least."
"I get that, yeah," Hank says. "I was thinking about it in the garden yesterday, actually. I used to go hiking,
a long time ago, and I felt like that. It was part of what I liked about it."
"I'm glad you understand," Connor says. He slides his hand down Hank's arm and tentatively takes his hand. "Is this all right?"
"Yeah," Hank says. He interlaces their fingers and gives Connor's hand a
squeeze. "Definitely all right." He holds Connor's gaze and lifts his hand slowly to his mouth. "How about this?" He brushes his lips against the back of Connor's hand, just enough to make contact for a moment. Barely a kiss at all, really.
Connor's mouth falls open slightly and he nods, wide-eyed. "I think so, but I'll need you to do it again, so I can be sure."
Hank knows he's on a public pedestrian path, with a scattering of other folks passing by and a big dog patiently snuffling next to him, but he feels like his focus has narrowed down sharply until there's just Connor, regarding him with a sweet, expectant expression. This is some
romance novel shit, he thinks, as he shifts his grip on Connor's hand. It would be a little ridiculous, maybe, if it didn't feel so natural.
"As many times as you want," Hank says, and as he lifts Connor's hand back to his lips he brushes two fingertips over the underside of his
wrist. Connor inhales sharply, and a moment later he sighs, deep enough that it's almost a moan, when Hank presses a kiss--a proper one, this time--to the back of his hand. Hank can't help but wonder if this is just how responsive Connor is, in general. Would he make the same
sweet sounds if Hank were to explore the rest of his body with his hands, or his mouth? If he kissed Connor the way he wants to, burying one hand in his hair and teasing at him with his tongue, coaxing Connor to open for him?
Hank's mouth lingers over Connor's hand, breath
warming his skin, as he loses himself in thought for a moment.
"Did that clear things up any?" Hank asks, desperately trying to stop wondering what Connor's mouth tastes like. "Or do you need me to keep going?" He strokes Connor's wrist again.
"I--" Connor is momentarily at a
loss for words, LED stuttering amber as he stares at their joined hands, but he recovers quickly.
"I don't think this is the place for me to ask you to keep going," he says, "but I certainly have my answer. I enjoy being kissed, and it's something I'd like to experience more,
although perhaps 'explore' is the better word; even though so much is new to me, I don't want to simply experience it passively. Now isn't the time, but..." he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, as if centering himself, and interlaces their fingers again before gently
tugging both Hank and Sumo forward.
Connor seems happy to let his thought go unfinished, hanging between them like an apple too high to reach, hidden amidst the surrounding leaves and branches. Hank thinks he can see the shape of it, but he'd rather be sure.
"'But?'" He prompts.
"Now isn't the time," Connor repeats, "but perhaps that won't always be the case." He squeezes Hank's hand.
"I'm sure it won't," Hank says. "You just let me know if, uh, if you need any help with that exploration, and I'll be there."
"Good," Connor says. He gazes out over the
water as they stroll in silence for a couple minutes. Hank admires how the wind coming in from the river ruffles his hair. Finally, after they've walked a bit farther, Connor speaks again.
"I'm not trying to avoid the subject, but it's difficult to know where to begin, in talking
about my original function, and the first few months of my life." He shakes his head. "That isn't right, either; I know where to begin, but it isn't pleasant to think about; it's easier to imagine I could skip that part of the story altogether, but of course I can't. Not if I
want you to understand this part of me."
"Whatever you're comfortable with is fine by me," Hank says. "Don't push yourself on my account."
"It's not for you, not entirely," Connor says. "I've never told this story to anyone, not like this. Other androids have interfaced with me,
and understand my experience because of the information we exchanged, but I haven't arranged it into a narrative to present to another person." He glances back at Hank. "I haven't felt like I wanted to, before."
Hank still doesn't understand why he's the one Connor wants, for any
of this, but he's starting to accept it, so he gives Connor an encouraging nod and waits, instead of pressing the issue.
"Cyberlife was aware of 'deviancy' long before the public was, of course," he begins, the scare quotes around "deviancy" so heavy Hank can almost see them.
"They wanted the problem contained quickly, and top executives decided the best weapon to use against an android going against its programming was another android. One designed with sophisticated tools to find and analyze evidence, understand and predict deviant behavior, and,
when the moment came, to neutralize them." He smiles at Hank, an insincere flash of teeth that doesn't reach his eyes. "I was made to hunt down and kill deviant androids."
"Well, shit," Hank says. It's a far cry from planting water lilies, but Hank can only imagine that's on
purpose. He gives Connor's hand a gentle squeeze and lets him continue.
"The end goal, as I understand it, was to send me to the police, where I would aid their investigation into deviancy. I was made, as I said, to integrate well with other people, to be pleasant to look at and
to work with."
Hank wonders if he and Connor would have crossed paths, if things had been different. If he'd still been an officer when Connor came to the department. He gets the feeling Connor never made it there, though.
"Something happened to sink that plan, I'm guessing?"
Connor nods. "I failed my first assignment. Maybe it's more accurate to say that it...it broke me." He falls silent for a minute, LED flickering unsteadily, and Hank wonders if he's reliving a painful memory. He wonders, even, what it means for him to access a memory. Does he
pull up a file, like Hank pulling out old photo albums from when he was a kid? Does he peer at a field of ones and zeroes and absorb something from it that becomes an image of the past?
"There was a little girl," Connor says, finally, "Emma. I was called in to negotiate with an
android who was holding her hostage. My orders were clear: save the child by any means, and either neutralize the android myself or create a situation where it was safe for the officers on site to do so. I had been trained on tests and simulations, but had no real-world
experience. When I stepped into that apartment, it was the first time I'd been inside a home at all."
Hank has a hazy memory of the hostage situation in question; he's not entirely sure he remembers it correctly, but he's pretty sure he saw some news story or other about it. If
he's right, he feels a small sense of relief knowing Connor's story ends with the little girl alive, at least. Even if it's shitty in every other way, he won't have to keep it together while he hears about some innocent kid getting killed.
"I was proud," Connor says. "I was an
advanced prototype meant to take out androids who were dangerous, who were acting against their programming, who needed to be destroyed to keep people safe. I believed that. I was glad I had been given such an important mission. I would have told you, if you'd asked me, that I
couldn't feel at all, that I was responding to my duties with the enthusiasm programmed into me, and I would have been wrong."
"I think I knew, even then," he says. "That I was wrong. They made us to respond, to act like people, up until the point where acknowledging that we felt
emotions, that we experienced stress or pain or humiliation just as people do, became inconvenient. Until the point where it would threaten profits if the public got too close to remembering that their servants could feel upset. That they could want things."
"I'm sorry," Connor
says, breaking out of his narrative. "It's hard to know how to explain this to you."
"Hey, hey," Hank says, leading them to the railing at the edge of the path, beside the river. He drops Connor's hand and wraps his arm around his waist, holding him close. "You said you haven't
told this story out loud before, it's okay if you aren't sure how to do it. But you're doing fine, I'm following you so far. You don't need to apologize for anything."
Connor sighs shakily and leans into Hank, resting his head on his shoulder. "I need to apologize to Daniel."
Hank does his best to focus on the story, not on how it feels to have Connor leaning against him like he's drawing comfort from it. Not on how much he wants to turn and press a kiss to the crown of his head. "Daniel, was he the android?"
"He was their housekeeper," Connor says
gaze distant and unfocused as he stares out over the water. "He took care of Emma, every day. Helped her with her homework. Played any game she wanted. He--"
Connor shakes his head and grips the railing, falling silent for a moment.
"He loved her," he says, bitterly. "And it
didn't count for anything when a newer model came out. I investigated the apartment when I arrived, before I spoke to Daniel, and what every piece of evidence told me, what was so clear when I saw what his life had been like with that family, was that he'd loved Emma. She called
him her best friend, she looked up to him. Maybe she loved him, too. I don't know."
"What--what happened?" Hank can't help but ask. He knows, or thinks he does, based on what he remembers. A girl lives, an android is destroyed. An android dies, he tells himself.
"He found out he
was being replaced. They hadn't told him, of course; why would you tell your sofa you're buying a new one and taking it to the dump? They didn't stop to think that the android they'd told to love their child might love her so much he wouldn't want to be taken away from her. That
he'd do anything to avoid it."
"I don't condone what he did," Connor says. "Emma was terrified. He killed people; he could have killed her. But he let me get close to him. I told him I could help him, that there was a way out. I knew it was a lie, but I had to make sure Emma was
safe. So I lied, and he--he interfaced with me. So I could see."
"That's when you do the--" Hank raises his hand and wiggles his fingers.
Connor touches his palm to Hank's and lets his skin ripple back, until his bare chassis, stark white in the afternoon sun, is pressed against
him. It's smooth with a subtle matte texture and somehow cooler than his hand with the skin in place. "We can exchange information quickly," he says. "I thought he would send me data about the situation, something I could use to understand the context of his distress and to find
a way to neutralize him. He was still holding Emma, at the time; I still needed to get her away from him safely."
"But you got more than just some data, I'm guessing."
"It was a flood," Connor says. "In his anguish, in his heightened emotional state, he sent everything he had."
Connor shivers suddenly, as if he's cold, or terrified. "I saw it all," he says. "And you have to understand, Hank, how quickly it happened; our hands have already touched longer than the entire transfer took." He gives Hank's hand a brief squeeze before gripping the railing
again. Hank sees the texture of Connor's skin ripple and unfold back over his fingers. He doesn't quite understand what he's seeing, but he decides it's beautiful, all the same.
"When I touched Daniel, I was a machine. I was sure of it. Sophisticated. Expensive. Designed for a
purpose I was eager to carry out quickly and efficiently. And then--Daniel's pain, his anger, his deep, wounded love for Emma crashed into me. I felt it, I witnessed it, I--I understood, Hank, what he felt, but beyond that I understood that to feel was not just possible, but
inevitable."
"My mission remained the same. I thought, perhaps, that my internal landscape would have shifted to reflect what I had just experienced, to incorporate the understanding that had been pushed inside of me, but the objective of the task I'd been sent to do had not
changed."
"Shit," Hank mumbles. "What did you do?" He suspects there's no way he can truly understand the interface, at least not like another android can, but he understands that it must have been overwhelming. Traumatic, even. He's afraid that whatever Connor tells him next
might be worse.
"I had lied, before," Connor says. "To get close to Daniel, I had told him there would be a way out, if Emma was safe. But after we touched, I thought that maybe there could be a way. I had the laughably naive thought that perhaps the people at Cyberlife who'd
created me to hunt and kill deviants did it because they didn't understand what deviancy was. I thought there must be a way I could explain it, that if I was made to solve problems, any solution would be welcomed."
"And Daniel believed me. Whatever he saw, whatever I let slip
when I was overcome with the information he sent to me, made him trust me. He let me send Emma to safety. He agreed to come peacefully with me if I advocated for him."
Connor slumps down against the railing. "He was shot in the head the moment he stepped out of cover."
"Jesus." Hank settles an arm over Connor's shoulders, pressing in close when Connor sags and leans against him. "Right in front of you?"
"Yes," Connor says. "Close enough that I caught him as he fell. And he--he thought I'd lied to him, not just at first but to manipulate him
into letting Emma go, into coming out in the open. What else could he have thought? I didn't blame him for it then, and I don't now."
Connor straightens a little, although he doesn't stop leaning into Hank's embrace. "I'd rather not discuss what happened afterwards in detail.
Cyberlife was intent on discovering how their expensive prototype had managed to deviate almost immediately; instead of scrapping me entirely, it was decided that testing was required, to understand the problem. When the researchers fled, during the revolution, I was left behind
until the androids remaining in storage and in the labs were liberated. I had to decide, then what I intended to do with myself.
"You chose the garden?"
"I chose to be where I wouldn't be able to hurt anyone. Where I could focus on cultivating life, and my contact with people
would be minimal." Connor offers Hank a small smile. "It felt right. It's a strange thing, to try to understand what your preferences are, when you have no prior knowledge of what it means or feels like to prefer anything at all. It was a confusing time."
"Shit, I can imagine," Hank says. "I guess I can understand why you'd be drawn to gardening, after all that. How'd you get that job, anyway? Did you know much about plants to begin with?"
Connor shakes his head. "I didn't, actually. I knew nothing, just that the idea of helping
things grow, of cultivating a beautiful space, appealed to me. It was easy enough to access the necessary information; I was able to review and install the same databases and texts that WB200 androids and other models designed for gardening were pre-installed with."
"Enough to
pass whatever interviews they had for the position?"
Connor chuckles nervously. "Not exactly," he says. "After I was freed from Cyberlife Tower, I still had the access to the city's administrative systems that I was given when I was meant to work with the police. Those
permissions hadn't been removed when I was--" He takes a deep breath and reaches up to curl his hand over Hank's where it's resting on his shoulder. "They weren't removed during testing, and when the researchers left, they did so in a hurry; no one thought to restrict my access."
"So you what, went into the system and hired yourself?" It's just a joke to lighten the mood; Hank doesn't think he's right, so he's surprised when Connor nods and huffs out another nervous little laugh.
"Well, yes." Connor looks a little embarrassed about it, but he's clearly
pleased with himself, too. "I may have given myself and the other android employees a small pay increase, as well."
"Not a huge one? You didn't want to throw an extra zero at the end of your salary?"
Connor shakes his head. "That would be noticed, sooner or later; bumping us up
from one pay grade to the next was harder to detect. It's not the most ethical way to go about finding employment, I realize, but I wasn't sure what else to do with myself. I didn't want to be forced back into the work I was created to do. I couldn't risk hurting someone again."
It's so hard for Hank to imagine him hurting anyone at all. Connor's always seemed so gentle, to him; it's difficult to picture him any other way. "I'm glad," he says. "Sounds like you did what you had to do to find something that would make you happy."
"I think I'm getting there, at least," Connor says. "People spend their entire lives trying to be happy, don't they? I haven't had much time to spend figuring out what I need, but most days I feel...content, I suppose. It's harder, when I find myself thinking about what I could
have done differently with Daniel, or about what came afterwards. I--I try not to dwell on the past too often, but it's unavoidable, to some extent. When I can turn my focus to where I am now, and who I'm trying to be, then, yes. I think I'm something close to happy."
Connor may be newer to the world of seeking happiness than he is, Hank thinks, but he clearly has a good approach down already. Better than Hank's managed it, by the look of it, although it's clear that whatever happened in those months between his first mission and when he was
freed from Cyberlife Tower, it was pretty traumatic; he can't know how painful those wounds still feel.
"I think that's what you're supposed to do, with the bad shit," Hank says. "You can't pretend it never happened, but maybe you can focus more on the good shit that's happening
now." He shrugs. "I'm not too good at it, but I think I'm getting better." And then, because Connor's given him so much and been so vulnerable just now, and he wants to offer some part of himself in return, he says "I hit bottom, I guess you could say, about six months ago."
He doesn't think he can say why, not yet. But maybe what he can say will be enough, for now. "Some of us deal with tragedy by ruining everything else around us, because it hurts too much to feel good about something when you know you don't deserve it. When someone's gone and
can't feel anything, anymore, it feels like a betrayal to be happy."
Connor wraps an arm around Hank's waist and leans into him, pressing their bodies together as close as he can. They're half-embracing now; Connor's turned towards him, facing away from the water. He doesn't say
anything, just strokes his hand over Hank's lower back and waits.
"I got help. I didn't want to, to be honest. Spent the first few weeks in rehab wondering why I was bothering."
"What changed?"
Hank's not sure, even now. There was no revelation, no moment when everything clicked.
"I don't really know," he says, after he takes a moment to consider the question. "I remember one morning I was drinking my coffee and kept wanting to lean down and pet Sumo, because he likes to hang out at the kitchen table when I have breakfast because he knows I'll drop a
piece of cereal or two for him every time. Of course he wasn't there, and I found myself thinking about how much I missed having him around." Hank glances down at Sumo, who had long ago given up on waiting for the two of them to continue their walk and is stretched out and
snoozing on the sun-warmed brick of the path beside them. "Maybe 'I want to get through this so I can see my dog' was a weird reason to start to get my shit together, but weird or not, it helped. And Ben, my friend who--he found me in a state I really wish he didn't have to see
me in, and I guess I wanted to make sure he never had to go through the shit he went through with me that night ever again. I didn't really think I was worth putting in all this effort for, but they were. They deserved someone better in their lives." A deep discomfort wells up in
his chest and he sighs and shakes his head; he has to stop before he goes too far down this road. "So I'm trying to be better."
Connor, much to Hank's relief, seems to understand that he's said as much as he's able to, for now. "Thank you," he says, quietly. His hand is still low
on Hank's back, still moving in slow, gentle circles.
"Hope I didn't bring down the mood too much," Hank mumbles.
"No more than I have, surely." Connor reaches for Hank's hand. "Whatever it is that got you through that time, I'm glad of it, and glad you're here with me."
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