A/N: This is the last chapter in this little story. Like I said before, the story DOES continue, but there is enough of a tonal change that I've decided to make it its own story as a continuation. It'll probably be around the same length as Heat, but so far it's looking like the chapters will be longer (hence, there will be less of them). It is called From Behind the Red Wall and it will be posted in the next few days!
I also wanna mention that some of its themes will serve as a connector for both Heat and a story that takes place after the ending of the game which as of right now is called Eternal Winter, a much longer and more sprawling narrative arc that will also feature this story's Connor and Hank, and as always, will have a focus on in-character Connor and Hank and the bond between these two awesome dudes. Check out my profile for a brief teaser both on Heat's sequel, From Behind the Red Wall, and on Eternal Winter, the story that ties it all together and is at its core the story I'm really setting out to tell here.
Lastly: hopefully you can tell by now I'm not the type to beat this horse into the ground, but I do feel like this is a good time to remind you to add me to your Author Alerts if you wanna make sure you get the updates when the new stories come out!
It's been a blast so far, guys. Thanks so much for the support, it's really motivating and makes me want to make my writing the best it can be for you guys. Remember, this ain't the end. It's just the beginning.
Chapter 7: I Can See You
To think… to think it had been less than twenty-four hours since he was forced to acknowledge he could feel things.
Connor's left hand showed no lingering signs of trauma from the Stratford Tower incident. Whatever blue blood might have still been staining his hand washed away in the shower. No scratch, no scar, no hint of evidence remained that it had even happened. No reminder that Hank had helped him heal in the DPD Central Station. No bruises from the barfight; they had faded away by the time they made it back to Hank's house.
Their adventure had left few signatures.
Regret sprung up in his stomach and chest. He forced it back down, away, deeper that the tertiary systems whose processes he didn't have to think about. There was nothing to regret. There was no point having an emotional attachment to a day that, in the end, had meant nothing.
All of that, and Hank still saw a machine. That could only mean one thing: a machine was all he really was.
His suit would need to be washed, so instead of putting it back on, Connor took some of Hank's too-big clothes from his bedroom and used them as pajamas. On his way out, he saw a drawer he had ignored before. Snooping around Hank's room so far hadn't seemed to catch the old man's attention, so he opened it in case there was a more suitable set of clothes for him to borrow. Instead, he found some photos and Hank's revolver. Shit. He had meant to address that. Hank killing himself would be… would not get them any closer to finishing the investigation.
Getting an idea, Connor went back across the hall and into the bathroom, opening the mirror cabinet and taking a blank note. He scanned and then copied Hank's handwriting from one of the numerous sticky notes on the mirror (this one in particular said 'SHAVE or NOT?' and even his bleak state of mind Connor couldn't help one corner of his mouth tilting up in amusement), then wrote a message in Hank's hand on the clean one.
GET BLANKS, dumbass! Less chance of dying.
Of course, a blank could still kill at close range, but it wasn't a guarantee the way a bullet was. If Hank wanted to die that badly, he wouldn't leave five chambers empty. This was just another way to increase his chance of survival while still taking the gamble.
At this point, Connor didn't stop to ask himself why he cared. Even as a machine, he was meant to preserve human life when he could. With any luck, Hank would see the note and not realize anyone other than his own drunken hand had written it. He stuck it on the barrel of the revolver and threw the pen in the drawer too.
Then, making as little noise as he could, Connor went and deposited himself on a chair in Hank's kitchen. He spun a quarter on the table, seeing how many seconds (and milliseconds) it would last before it was still. Every so often he had to adjust the sleeves on the clothes he had borrowed from Hank's bedroom. They were a little too big for him.
After a while – or maybe only a few minutes, but it sure felt like a while – Hank glanced at him sidelong from the living room. "What're you doing?"
Connor didn't look at him. "I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
He wasn't calibrating his reflexes. He wasn't taking any measures of himself. There was no real purpose to him spinning the quarter on the table. He was just doing it.
"Connor, I'm talking to you. Why didn't you say anything when I knocked before?"
Still, he didn't respond. He couldn't bring himself to meet Hank's eyes.
"Connor?" Softer, this time. Betraying concern. Compassion. Connor shot Hank a frigid look so brief that the lieutenant didn't even notice. He didn't want to deal with this. He had just resolved himself to leaning back into his original programming. The last half hour had been too much of a whirlwind to start second-guessing himself already.
"You seemed so pleased that I trusted you the other day," Connor said. "At the police station. Tonight, when I opened the door without my skin activated… I was only trying to hand you some paper, Hank. I didn't even think twice about it. I didn't consider the human unpredictability of different situations. I just… trusted you."
"And now you don't feel like you should have," Hank sighed, traipsing closer. He was still sufficiently buzzed, but somehow he seemed mentally present.
"On the contrary, I'm grateful," Connor said. "You've reminded me of who I need to be. What I need to be. It didn't even occur to me to reactivate my skin when I opened the door, Hank – and maybe to you, that's indicative of trust or closeness, but to me, it's dangerous. I always consider the possibilities. I'm designed to analyze everything. And yet, with you, I erroneously stopped doing that because I didn't think I needed to. Now, I realize my program is in place to keep things from being complicated like they are right now, and keep people from getting hurt. From here on out, I will be attempting to revert back to that original program."
Hank's expression didn't change much, but it changed enough to make him look strangely heartbroken. "Okay, uh… can I sit down?"
"It's your table, Lieutenant. You can do whatever you want."
"Listen, Connor, I know I fucked up, but I think you're overreacting just a little here. I know all this is new to you, but you gotta understand – I've never seen you like that before. That was new to me. If I'd seen that on day one, it wouldn't've even surprised me! The only reason it caught me off guard now is because I have come to see you as more. More than a machine, I mean. And, if we're being honest, without your skin, you do look more machine-like. That's all. It was a gut reaction."
"I'm… not sure I understand."
"Connor, I don't even wanna admit this out loud. But I've become so accustomed to seeing the humanity in you, that seeing something other than that – even if it's just exterior – fucked me up a bit. That doesn't speak to your machinery, Connor, which is I think how you're interpreting it. Really, it speaks to just how human you are. I forgotyou were an android long enough that seeing the plastic underneath set me off. That's not a testament to your program; it's a testament to you, Connor."
"Okay," Connor murmured. "Okay, I think I see what you're getting it. But you still… you still…" Where were the right words? "It hurt, Lieutenant. It seemed like you were afraid of me. Like you suddenly wanted nothing to do with me. And… that wouldn't be very conducive to our mission."
Hank rolled his eyes. "Look, I'm sorry, Connor, if that's what you need to hear. There's just a lot about this I'm still getting used to, and it generally takes humans longer to adapt to new situations than it does androids. Bear with me."
Not quite convinced, Connor nonetheless took a breath to agree with Hank's assessment because agreeing was easier and would make Hank stop talking about it. Before he could say anything else, Hank reached out and took hold of his hand – the same hand that he had helped fix a few days ago. Slowly, Hank lifted it up, and pressed it against Connor's own temple. Connor could have resisted, but somehow felt that he shouldn't.
"That's how you do it, right?" Hank asked, still holding Connor's hand close to his LED. "Go on, then."
"Hank, I… I can't. I understand now that it's… undesirable. That it isn't human. That…"
"And I'm the one who taught you that," Hank muttered, growing frustrated, "so now let me un-teach you. I'm the one who fucked up this time, Connor. Give me a chance to fix it."
"Chances like that don't come by demanding it."
"I'm not demanding anything," Hank said. "You get up and leave, I'll let you."
Would he, really? Every now and then, he found himself tired of Hank walking all over him. He almost did want to get up and leave, wanted to take control for a change, but then it occurred to him that being compliant to Hank's request could have even more of an effect in that regard. After all, without his skin, he had scared Hank. He had found himself with control of the situation without even meaning to. He could do that again, right now, and…
And Hank knew that too.
SOFTWARE INSTABILITY ^
Maybe Hank wasn't taking control; he was giving it back and just asking Connor to take it. And if he really meant that… he would stay. Even if he was uncomfortable.
Slowly, Connor relaxed his hand. He let Hank press the white of his own exposed fingertips against his LED, and then allowed the command to complete.
Even though he was fully clothed, he felt naked. Hank, however well-meaning he usually was behind the grumpy exterior, had taught him less than hour ago that his skinless face was to be met with fear and shame – and that made Connor feel those things himself.
"Jesus, Connor, it ain't that deep."
Hank's voice was soft, concerned, and not nearly as exasperated as it was trying to sound. Connor felt something similar to the shower on his cheek, but only one. Warmth, moisture, tracing a slow line down towards his chin.
"Shit." The lieutenant hastily reached up with a piece of the toilet paper he had retrieved earlier and wiped the wetness off the plastic surface of his jaw. "Hey."
Connor was frozen. It was too much.
"Hey. Connor. Look at me."
He didn't have to execute the command… but he did. And he quickly found Hank's eyes looking into his own, wide with concern and grief and nothing else. If there was anything else, Connor would be able to detect it; that was why he was afraid to keep looking. But seconds passed and there was nothing but authenticity.
"I'm sorry, Connor. I fucked up."
The [pain?] that he had felt before seemed to loosen, then shift apart, then disappear completely. The uncertainty was still there, but it was… bearable. Quietly, he asked, "Can I activate my skin again?"
"If you want to." Never breaking eye contact, Hank smiled halfway. "But you don't have to. You understand?"
Grateful, Connor nodded.
"'Sides, now that you've opened 'em again, I can see you in your eyes. Hey, there might be other things we gotta get used to someday. We are different, after all, you and me. But I want you to know I'll do what it takes to do that, for whatever that's worth."
"It's worth a lot, Lieutenant," Connor replied. "Thank you."
"You know, I don't want us to have this misunderstanding again, Connor. Why don't you, uh, stay that way for a bit? Seeing more of you without your skin activated… I mean, ya look like a bar of soap, but it might help, if that makes sense. I know you're still you, but it wouldn't hurt to get used to it a bit. I mean, imagine if Chris walked into the station and turned white or Hispanic or…" Hank sighed. "Shitty comparison but you get the idea."
Connor, who had just been about to reactivate said skin out of residual discomfort, smiled and did as Hank asked. "Likewise, it may take me a little time to get used to the fact that this is okay. When you saw me like this in the bathroom, it… rewrote some things. And now my programming needs to rewrite them again for it to feel comfortable. But I'm sure it won't be long."
Flopping back down on the couch, Hank propped his feet on the coffee table and gestured for Connor to sit down too. Connor did, placing himself at the other end so he could lean on the armrest there.
Over the course of the next hour, he watched Hank succumb to a combination of fatigue and increasing drunkenness, and wondered how humans could change their states so easily without even thinking about it. Then, whilst idly tapping his fingers together, Connor noticed the skin there had at some point reactivated, all the way up to his arms… no, up to his shoulders… no, everywhere. For the first time, he noticed the heat. It was subtle, maybe only a degree, but it was there. Hank, frequently intoxicated and thus too hot, kept the house cold to balance it out. Connor's synthetic skin kept him warm.
Still… he hadn't even thought about it, and it had happened right as he was asking himself how people could change their states so seamlessly. Now he knew. It just happened. And his desire to hold onto what he had learned had come back the same way: without him consciously deciding. It simply didn't cross his mind to go back to his program.
"Hey," he whispered to Hank, leaning over and shaking his shoulder. "I'll get Sumo outside if he needs it. You should turn in for the night. Humans' quality of sleep is improved in an actual bed."
"Fuck off, Connor," Hank muttered comfortably and without any trace of malice, resuming his slumber on the couch.
Connor smiled. All was well.
A/N: Don't forget, add me to your AUTHOR alerts if you want updates when I post the new stuff! Some info is on my profile page if you want a taste. I'm excited to share them with you guys. They've got the same soul as this story and if you love Connor and Hank as much as I do, I daresay I think you'll love these stories too. Take care!