Leo takes the last few steps up to the flat of the hill, moving into the shadow of the bridge. The Fremont Troll sits squat and ugly beneath. The big iconic concrete statue holds tight to its Volkswagen and eyes Leo with its one visible shiny eye. Too early for tourists to be posing on its knuckles. Leo puts his hands in the pockets of his old leather jacket and curls his elbows forward, stretching out the tightness between his shoulder blades.
It’s the kind of day that could go in any direction, from sun to drizzle to squalls of full-out rain. Typical Seattle. At the moment sunlight reaches under the bridge, angling for the shoulders of the troll. Fine weather so far for a mindless eight AM walk, and from his little apartment on the Wallingford side of the bridge, the troll is a natural destination. Leo walks up to its right hand and stands between its fingers. The dusty, khaki-colored dirt that coats the troll clings to his shoes, but it doesn’t matter. He’s just wearing old sneakers and jeans. He’s lazy about clothes at this hour on a weekend, when he’s not quite awake enough to mind. He’s only going home to spend the afternoon reading, after this. But even on a lazy Sunday Leo needs to get out, breathe and move and keep himself from burrowing into the tiny world of his apartment and missing everything else.
An uncertain noise startles Leo out of his contemplation of the graffiti on the troll’s wrist. A voice, sort of–half breath and half pained-sounding low moan.
Or not pained. Leo’s shoulders tighten up again as he wonders whether to investigate and risk walking in on people fucking behind the troll’s head. But who the hell has sex on the dusty Fremont Troll at eight o’clock in the morning? It sounds totally unappealing to him–though more for the risk of dust in all his crevasses than the hour or the location.
Leo steps past the troll’s fingertips and climbs up around its right side, feet sliding in the dirt. There’s a convenient bridge support blocking his view of the back of the troll. He pauses there and peers around it. If someone is fucking up here, he’d rather not get caught snooping.
He squints, trying to make out what he’s looking at in the dim light. Not sex. There’s someone sitting against the back of the troll’s head, legs splayed out and head tipped back against the troll. It doesn’t look comfortable. The head is angled away from Leo, but as he watches it turns towards him.
“I know you’re there.” Tense and a little threatening.
Leo jerks his head back out of sight and blinks at the sandy darkness where the bridge meets the hillside. That voice has an underlying metallic quality to it, and he just glimpsed something like a tattoo under the jaw.
Leo steps out from behind the bridge support and climbs the last few feet of hill to where the android sits against the troll. He’s not wrong, and he’s relieved. He was more nervous when he thought he might be interrupting someone having sex, or one of the homeless humans who probably sleep up here. The droid may have called him out for snooping, but he’s not afraid to talk to it. Him.
The android is designed to read as male, with a Clark Kent square jaw and a lot of smooth dark brown hair. Judging by the impressive sprawl of his legs, he’s the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. He was probably nicely dressed to begin with, but sitting in the dust has ruined the slim-cut navy blue pants and soft grey button-up shirt. If he weren’t a robot he’d be cold; Leo’s got a sweater on under his jacket. The android has the smooth, unnaturally spotless but humanoid skin most multi-function androids get. Printed on the curve of throat just under his right jaw is a power symbol, silver-blue and glowing faintly. State law allows much more convincingly humanoid android designs than you get in some states, and it’s way more relaxed than robotics law in Canada or most of Europe, but the identifying symbol is mandatory. People have to know they’re interacting with a robot. Or so the law says.
Leo tries not to jump to conclusions, but he can’t help thinking it–sexbot. This is the android you’d build if your ideal man came off the cover of a Harlequin romance novel. Not Leo’s usual type, but undeniably attractive anyway. It’s not like anyone builds unattractive androids, for any function, but still.
Leo’s staring. “Sorry!” he says, when he notices. This is exactly what you’re not supposed to do, he tells himself. You let a robot introduce himself before you start thinking about what he was built for. “Sorry, what’s–what are you doing here?” The android isn’t moving at all, and Leo feels like he’s looming, so he crouches down by the robot’s left knee.
The android stares at him for a length of time that feels like payback, and Leo wants to kick himself. No matter how strongly you feel about robots’ rights, it’s clearly still possible to be a dick to individual robots. No robot has ever examined Leo this closely, even hospital triage droids. He feels self-conscious and uncomfortably appraised.
Finally their staring contest breaks and Leo is aware of more tension dissipating than he knew was there. The android lifts his hand away from his stomach, and Leo looks down at it. The shirt isn’t just ruined by the dirt. There’s a long tear in it, and through the gaping shirt Leo can see that the android’s stomach is ripped open too. He can see a hint of metal, and something white and plasticky, and a lot of thick blueish liquid. Leo rocks back on the balls of his feet, nearly losing his balance. He’s never actually seen a robot this badly injured before. Surprising, given his past.
“My name is Hector,” the android says. “I must be repaired.”
Augustine shows up twenty minutes after Leo calls, with her robotics kit in hand and a disappointed look on her face. At least she gets to work before giving Leo her opinions on the decision to bring home an injured android.
Even on a sheet of plastic garbage bags, the sight of the lanky, handsome android lying on Leo’s bed is irresistible. He sits on the uncomfortable wooden chair by the window he never sits on, arms crossed and eyes returning to the slope of Hector’s chest. The weather has decided on drizzle, for the moment. The dull grey light makes Hector’s identifier sparkle on his neck.
The black plastic rustles as Augustine sits back on her heels and looks down at Hector. She tugs at her sterile gloves and asks, “Mind telling us why you took a butcher knife to the torso? And why you thought Leo would be able to help?”
Given Leo just walked twelve blocks with Hector’s big, heavy body supported by his own skinny arm and then called in a trustworthy robotics tech, this question seems unfair.
Hector turns his head and looks at Leo. Leo uncrosses his arms, sits up straighter, offers a smile he hopes is reassuring. “He’s wearing a bolt-hand pin on his jacket,” Hector says.
Leo tucks his chin in to look at his own chest. He hasn’t taken off his leather jacket, which still has several old buttons pinned to the breast pocket. The bolt-hand is a white hand on black background with bolts for fingers and a hexagonal nut as the palm.
Augustine snorts. “Because that ensures he’d have the means to help you, and all,” she says.
Hector turns to look up at her with wide, unassuming eyes. “It dramatically increased the likelihood he wouldn’t want to compound my injury.”
“I’ll give you that,” Augustine says. She tosses her Bristol screwdriver, letting it flip in the air before it meets her hand. She regards Hector with an assessing, professional eye that Leo expected, but should have braced himself for better all the same. “I can fix your injury. I’ll have to shut you down to do it.” She glances briefly at Leo, and then says deliberately, “Is that okay?”
“I consent to any necessary repair operations,” Hector says.
“Okay. Lift up.” Augustine puts her hand on Hector’s bare shoulder and helps him up on his elbows, and then reaches around with her other hand and feels for the power switch concealed in the small of his back.
Hector flops down onto the bed when she lets go of his shoulder, motionless. The glow of his identifier goes out, the power symbol dimming to dull grey. Augustine is less gentle with his lifeless body than Leo would have been, but then she’s a roboticist and this is her job. She’s too well-trained to view robots as machines to be kind to them.
Augustine sits back on her heels again and picks up the specially regulated screwdriver from the black plastic layer that protects the bed from Hector’s oozing blue preservative gel. Hector’s dusty, ripped shirt is crumpled on the bed on his other side. He’s still wearing his pants. Next to the lithe, half-naked body of the android, Augustine looks compact, old-fashioned, and overdressed. No more feminine than the square-jawed named-for-a-Trojan-hero Hector, but not comparable either.
“I thought you were done saving robots.”
Leo crosses his arms again. He only put on this old jacket, with its old political pins, because it’s good for this kind of weather and he wasn’t going anywhere in particular. His friendship with Augustine is of the same vintage as the jacket, but they’ve sat more evenly with each other since he got out of the robots’ rights movement.
“I didn’t go looking for one to save. I’m not a fucking missionary.”
Augustine flips open her robotics kit, a white plastic box that Leo doesn’t usually get to see. She rummages through its compartments and comes out with a tool that reminds Leo of a soldering iron. She doesn’t look at him, but somehow he doesn’t take her silence as rejection. “He didn’t tell us how he got knifed,” she says finally, as she sticks her fingers into Hector’s open stomach.
“Does he need to?”
Augustine rolls her head towards him and glares flatly. “This is an extremely expensive android, who has been attacked with a kitchen knife and left on the Fremont Troll. Nobody lets a robot this expensive go. Did he run away? Was he stolen? He could have been knifed in self-defense. You hadn’t thought of that. You have no idea where this robot came from.”
Leo can feel sunshine on the back of his neck; the weather must have changed again. He wants to take his jacket off, but doesn’t. “Do you have ideas?”
“Let me fix him first.”
“Is this illegal?” Leo asks, tucking his arms tighter against his chest. “For you, I mean. Fixing a robot who isn’t… isn’t yours to fix.”
Augustine brushes a wayward tuft of hair off her forehead with the back of her wrist. “Yes.”
“Thank you.” It comes out without pause or stutter.
“I’m doing it for you. It’s not the first illegal thing I’ve done for you.”
Their friendship is long and sometimes complicated, and Augustine is sympathetic to the robots’ rights movement but it’s not hers and she’s done things for Leo she wouldn’t have done for anyone else. “I know,” he says.
“It’s the most illegal.” She doesn’t look up from her work on the unconscious robot, but she cracks a faint smile.
Leo takes off his jacket and leans back into the sun against the window.
Leo leans his hip against the stove and pokes at the spaghetti. Five minutes ago he walked into the living room intending to offer Hector–something. Not lunch, obviously. But then he stood there staring at the identifier glimmering on the side of Hector’s neck, and could think of nothing at all that he might need.
There’s an android sitting on his couch petting his cat. This didn’t seem quite so weird in the first rush of getting Hector home and taken care of. Augustine left twenty minutes ago–she’s willing to help, but she’s also adamant about making Leo fix his own problems.
Fritters meows and Leo leaves the spaghetti to look into the living room. The big orange fluffball is sitting on the coffee table, back to Hector.
“I believe I caused some offense to the cat,” Hector says, looking at Leo over the back of the couch. It’s the first thing he’s said that sounds more like casual conversation than careful, relevant information. Leo feels himself relax a little.
“Did you try to stop petting her?”
“Continuing to do so indefinitely seemed irrational.” Hector stands. The cat jumps off the coffee table and goes to sit, feet tucked under, in the corner by the door.
The dusty shirt and pants have been replaced by one of Leo’s old University of Washington t-shirts and a pair of sweatpants that are too long for Leo but still about three inches short for Hector. He watched Hector change. He was going to leave the room after finding Hector new clothes, because it’s only polite to give people privacy, but Hector started taking off his pants before he got a chance to move. Which is how Leo knows that Hector is wearing black boxer-briefs and has incredibly muscular thighs.
“She’ll forgive you,” Leo says, waving the spaghetti fork still in his hand vaguely at the cat. “Come into the kitchen.”
Hector follows him into the kitchen and watches him make lunch. The look on Hector’s face approximates polite interest, but Leo has the sense that Hector’s taking it all in with a calm kind of robot thoroughness. He hopes his preference for garlic basil pasta sauce from a jar doesn’t reveal anything too intimate about him.
“So,” Leo begins when he’s sat at the table across from Hector with his bowl of pasta. He feels impolite eating in front of someone else, but that’s stupid. Hector’s a robot and he doesn’t need food; it doesn’t do him any good to apply human standards to him. “What’s your story?”
Hector’s smart enough that conversational expressions like that don’t trip him up. Leo’s tried talking to the library computers like that; it doesn’t work. Augustine’s probably right about how expensive Hector is. Both to build, and–well, if he’s a sexbot, that part’s probably expensive too.
“My dramatic tale of action, adventure, and quest for freedom?” Hector asks, voice just a shade off toneless.
A forkful of spaghetti slips back into the bowl. Leo looks up, surprised. He wasn’t expecting Hector to make jokes. Now that this expectation has been countered, he realizes what an awful one it was to make. He should know better. He rearranges his surprise into a smile. It is genuinely funny; Hector seems to be aware that Leo is thinking of it in terms of freedom, and to poke fun at that without actually refuting it. Or maybe Leo’s reading too much into this.
“Yeah, that story,” Leo says. He leans forward over the bowl of spaghetti, waiting for the story. Sitting with someone else while he eats and they don’t has stopped feeling rude and started to feel comfortable, like something you’d do with an old friend who no longer counts as a guest.
Hector has responded to Leo’s smile, but it fades away as he watches Leo eat and starts to tell his story. “My hardware and operating system are designed for companion droid functions,” Hector says. Leo feels a thrust of satisfaction–he was right. “Companion droid” is the more euphemistic term for “sexbot.”
“A client who had not been properly vetted stabbed me. I was blamed for the incident. I took the opportunity to leave, before my owners wiped my memory.”
Leo drops his fork in the bowl and sits back. Augustine would be brutal in saying “I told you so,” if she’d heard that. “So they’re looking for you,” Leo says. It’s raining again; he looks out the window over the sink and has the sudden cinematic thought that it’s a good thing. Hector was dripping blue from his stomach at least part of the way between the troll and the apartment.
“Yes. I’m both an asset and a liability.”
“How would they find you?”
Hector tilts his head in an oddly endearing way. He looks like he’s thinking the question through. “I don’t believe I have a GPS implant. I did not operate in public, and I was not considered likely to run away. I was… compliant.”
“But you know what the bolt-hand symbol means.”
Hector blinks at him. “Every android knows what that symbol means. Your movement claims to work for us.”
“It’s–” Leo’s about to say “it’s not really my movement anymore,” but he’s not sure denouncing it is better. It has its problems–the ratio of humans to robots is one of them–but he’s not willing to kick it aside so easily. His reasons for being involved were good. His reasons for getting out were good too, but they weren’t a lack of belief.
“So they can’t find you,” Leo says, when he’s pulled his thoughts back from twining around years-old internal struggles. “But they’ll look in all the usual places run-away droids go. I was going to say I could phone some old friends, try to find you a safe place, but that’s maybe not the best idea if they’ll look in places run by the movement.”
Hector looks at him wordlessly for a moment, then looks slowly around the kitchen. He scrutinizes it in a way no one’s ever done before. A stack of clean plates by the sink, the electric kettle, the jade plant, the media dock. Leo doesn’t have a table cloth on the table and his dish towels need washing. “May I stay here?” Hector asks, when he’s done looking.
It takes Leo’s brain a minute to process the question. He’s surprised that Hector would want to, but more surprised by his own hesitancy. A rushing urge to say no slides up his throat, but he swallows it down and tries to pick it apart. Hector makes him uncomfortable, but not only–not even mostly–because Hector’s owners are actively looking for him and Leo broke the law the minute he put his arm around Hector’s back and heaved him up out of the dirt.
Leo’s first impulse is to say no because ever since he got out of the movement robots make him feel guilty for never trying to get to know them. For all the years Leo spent his free time picketing robotics companies and writing detailed analyses of the power structure of the robotics industry, he never actually spent time hanging out with androids. He’s ashamed of not knowing any robots personally, and now here’s an opportunity almost literally falling into his lap. Let Hector stay, and test himself: practice what you’ve preached, Leo.
“Yes,” he answers finally. The fear that he might disappoint himself is overwhelmed by a rush of embarrassed determination. “Yes, you can stay.” His mind wriggles away from his discomfort, imagining what spending more time with Hector might be like. He lingers on the image of Hector splayed shirtless on his bed, of bare legs stepping into his sweatpants. He feels his face heat, and his skin’s dark enough blushes don’t show much, but Hector can probably sense the temperature change. If Hector’s a sexbot he probably notices the merest traces of arousal. No keeping that a secret.
“Do I need the cat’s permission too?” Hector asks. His face is blank, but the corners of his mouth start to tip up when Leo stares at him.
Hector parks himself on the couch and spends the afternoon just looking. He watches the cat fall asleep on her back in the spot of sun that appears under the window, then watches her get up and pace back and forth. He looks at Leo’s bookshelves–they make good insulation, Leo tells people whenever they ask why he still reads paper books–and the row of photos of old friends over the TV screen.
Leo is embarrassed all over again by how little practical knowledge he has about what androids are like. It’s never occurred to Leo to wonder what robots do with their free time. He’s argued that robots should be allowed free time, but he never thought it through. Would they have hobbies? Would they spend time with other robots, or go shopping, or read?
He’s relieved all over again that he dropped out of the movement when he did. Not for the reasons he had at the time–exhaustion, getting older, a more responsible new position at the library–but because it’s become more obvious with time how little he knew about what he was doing.
He never asked robots what they wanted. And now years later there’s a robot sitting on his couch watching his cat, and he knows he’d feel like an asshole if he asked now. Too little, too late. So he sits and reads, and tries to be subtle about watching what Hector chooses to do with hours of unoccupied time.
At six o’clock Leo drops his book–an old spy novel, no robots involved at all–on the floor by his chair, and rolls his shoulders. It’s dinner time, maybe. He turns on the lamp between the chair and the couch and looks over at Hector.
Hector’s looking at him. He has no idea how long Hector’s been looking at him, because eventually he got caught up in the book enough to do more than pretend to read it.
“I want to express my thanks for your allowing me to stay here,” Hector says. It’s half-dark outside; the muted yellow lamplight is a good look on him.
“You’re welcome,” Leo says, distracted.
“I would like to offer… hmm, compensation. I have numerous skills I could put to use in a way you might find satisfying.”
Leo feels his eyebrows climb. “Are you offering to fuck me in exchange for letting you stay here?!”
A wicked smile appears on Hector’s face, subtle and suggestive and irresistible. “If you would enjoy that. And I think you would.”
“Oh, you think so?”
Hector’s smile shifts. He looks delighted, in a strange boyish way. “You find me attractive. You don’t currently have a stable romantic partnership, and you don’t go looking for one-night stands. You spend most of your time working, reading, and socializing with friends, not dating. You masturbated yesterday, so you’re probably not uninterested.”
Leo straightens his spine and stares. He feels–not offended, not violated, but something like it. Investigated. “How do you know all that?”
“I observe. My primary function is observation and analysis.”
“You said you were a sexbot.” Leo’s not thinking fast enough, or he would have filtered out “sexbot” for the politer “companion droid.” His reaction to the slip feels distant, when it does come.
“Yes, I do that also. It’s my–” Hector pauses, blinks and smiles. “My cover? I have sex with clients so they won’t notice how much information I’m gathering about them.”
Leo’s leg jitters. He stands up abruptly and puts more distance between himself and Hector. His discomfort with his lack of knowledge about robots rolls through him–if what they do with their free time is use creepy programmed skills on people who try to help them, he’s not sure he wanted to know. “Why?” he says to a shelf of paperback fantasy novels.
Hector has no difficulty recognizing that the question is actually directed at him. “I don’t know. My owners want information about my clients. I provide it. I’m not programmed to act on it.”
Leo looks up at him. He has his legs crossed like a child in front of him on the couch, but his back’s very straight. Leo’s t-shirt is a lot tighter on him than it is on Leo. “I’d have thought you’d–you’re not curious why? It sounds like–like blackmail.”
“Most likely, yes. Or secret intelligence.” He pauses, and smiles faintly. Leo hopes he’s reviewing what he just said because it’s terrifying, and he sounded way too calm about it. “It did not seem useful or safe to ask why I was programmed to do that. But yes, I did wonder.”
“You should have told me,” Leo says. “You–you work for criminals or fu-fucking spies, and you’re in my house, and they’re looking for you.” The reality of this breaks over Leo like a wave and he rocks back on his heels, shoulder blades pressing uncomfortably into the edge of the bookshelf. “This is–this is really dangerous.” Not just because Hector has dangerous people after him, Leo thinks, pulling at the threads of his thoughts and realizing that Hector has power over him. Leo is attracted to Hector, and Hector is used to using that to get information. There’s nothing uncomplicated about being attracted to a robot.
“I’m sorry,” Hector says. His brow furrows. “I don’t want to put you in danger. I have reason to be confident they won’t find me here, but–”
It doesn’t help. It just makes it worse, because Hector could just be saying that, could be lying, and Leo would have no way to tell.
“I can’t do this,” he says. He gravitates toward the door, legs feeling like they belong to someone else. Shoes, he needs shoes, he has to–has to go outside. He needs to breathe. Shoes behind the couch. He has to bend down to grab them, which puts him way too close to Hector’s profiled head. The hair at the back of Hector’s neck is slightly curly. “I’m going outside, I can’t–” Leo says. He puts his shoes on standing up, not looking at Hector. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, he just needs to be somewhere else. “Just–just stay here for now.”
And he grabs his keys and his phone off the table and bangs out the front door.
The sun’s almost completely gone now, the sky a paint-shade of blue that’s a lot prettier than the orange-black it’ll be when it’s fully “dark” and the light pollution becomes noticeable. Leo sits on the low concrete wall in front of his building and wishes he had something to do with his hands. Nobody he knows smokes anymore but he thinks of people in old movies smoking under streetlamps.
The fresh air helps with the panic, but it doesn’t fix anything. Augustine was right. Leo’s in over his head. The android in his living room is far scarier than any of the courier, chauffeur, or nanny droids he encountered in the movement. He should have known he wasn’t just working for them. If he was working for all androids he was working for ones like Hector, who are not only far smarter than they’re supposed to be but smart enough to hide it. Smart enough to choose when to reveal it. Smart enough to run away from people who want to use them for probably very illegal business, and to find some idiot who’s fucking stupid enough to give them a place to hide.
And behind that, curling around the edges, Leo has the feeling that his fear is failure, that he might not be so afraid of a human who did what Hector did. He’s afraid the nagging in his head was right: he can talk all he likes about how robots should be treated, but maybe he can’t follow it through. When a robot comes into his life and ask for his help, maybe he can’t stop the almost-irrational thought that it’s a trap–Hector could be learning everything about Leo he can in order to use it against him, or against the bolt-hand movement. He could be planning to cause Leo enormous harm–but Leo can’t tell if that’s a realistic worry, or if he’s only thinking it because Hector is a robot.
Leo’s phone is still in his hand. He calls Augustine.
“Are you in jail yet?” she asks. Her deep, comforting phone-voice sounds unimpressed.
“No. Not yet.”
“I was joking, you dick.”
She wasn’t. Leo’s pathetically grateful she’d claim to be, though. “He’s a spy sexbot,” he blurts.
“That’s what he does, he has sex with people while he gathers information about them. I don’t know, he didn’t know, but why would you have a robot do that if it wasn’t spying, or blackmail, or–?” Leo hunches forward over his knees and puts his head in his hand. “I–. Fuck.”
“Yeah, you’re fucked.” When he makes an incoherent noise, she says, “Calm down.”
It’s an order, and not a gentle one, but it helps. He takes a deep breath. “They have no way to find him,” Leo says. “So if he stays here for a while, it might be okay. It might–I like him, actually.” He’s surprised by it. He knew he was predisposed to like Hector, who’s very smart and hot as hell and a runaway android. Exactly the person to push on Leo’s sympathies, to make him care. But that’s not the same thing as realizing he likes Hector, in an ordinary personal way. Sitting at his kitchen table and watching him eat, petting his cat, calm and a little funny. Hector’s a person and Leo likes him. The realization makes him a little less afraid; it dissipates the gnawing suspicion that Hector intended to put him in huge danger and the guilt over that suspicion.
At least it calms him down much more than Augustine’s order. She’s not very good at sympathy, but she’s pretty good at sitting there and not calling him stupid while he works himself through it. “How did you find this out?” Augustine asks.
Leo laughs, only sounding a little hysterical. “He told me. He’s been observing me all day, I think. He managed to figure out I’m not dating anyone and I jerked off yesterday.”
“Does his information-gathering usually have such a sexual theme to it?”
“I doubt it. Sex scandals are kind of old news, aren’t they? You’d need something better for really effective blackmail.” That idea hangs in the air for a minute, sucking everything else in like a black hole. “Shit.”
“But he told you,” Augustine repeats. “I assume he doesn’t usually tell clients all the incriminating stuff he knows about them. That implies that he trusts you, not that he’s repeating the pattern of whatever his work was before.”
“Yeah,” Leo says, realizing this at the same time. “That–that’s better, right?”
“He put you in major fucking danger, I think he’s a dick. But I also think it’s plausible that he didn’t intend to. So take it or leave it.” She pauses, and Leo tries to figure out how to do either. “Where are you now?” Augustine asks.
“You left the spy robot alone in your apartment?”
“Yes?” A vaguely offended tug jerks at Leo’s stomach. It surprises him, hits at a new angle–if he instinctively trusted Hector enough to leave him alone maybe the desire to trust Hector on principle is more than just empty words. Augustine’s doubt doesn’t shake that trust. He takes a deep breath. “I think I trust him. This will probably blow up in my face later, but I don’t think it’ll be his fault.” He believes that, and maybe it’s enough of a start. He doesn’t really think Hector is seriously spying on him. Who’d spy on a twenty-seven year old introvert who works at a library and doesn’t even picket robotics companies anymore?
“Go upstairs. Not–” she interrupts, when he’s about to argue “–not because I think he’s ransacking your apartment. Or because you do. You’re allowed to trust your gut instinct, if that’s what you’re doing. But you have to go upstairs eventually.”
“I can’t believe you don’t think this is the worst idea I’ve ever had.”
“It’s your life. I’m not telling you how to live it.”
Leo takes another swallow of evening air and lets it out through his nose. “Okay. Thank you.”
“If you do get arrested, I’m not bailing you out. I’m not one of those asshole corporate roboticists, I don’t have that kind of money.”
When Leo lets himself back into the apartment, Hector hasn’t moved. He watches as Leo takes his shoes off and sits down on the end of the coffee table.
“I’m sorry,” Hector says. “I thought the probability that I wouldn’t be found was good enough that mentioning it wasn’t necessary.”
Leo nods. “Okay.” He takes a deep breath and meets Hector’s eyes. “If you believe that, that’s–good enough for me.” He searches Hector’s face, and comes back around to the question that set this off. “Why did you offer to have sex with me?”
Hector has an answer ready. “You believe it’s possible that I might want to.”
Leo lets himself study Hector’s model face, strong jaw and arched eyebrows and surprisingly unremarkable nose. “I also think it’s possible you might feel like you owe it to me, for letting you stay here. I think you even said that.”
Hector tilts his head–that seems to be a mannerism of his–and considers that. “You’d prefer it if I had sex with you purely for the sake of it?”
“Yeah. Because you want to. Because–I want to.” Leo glances away and gives himself a moment to breathe, listen, think. “Do you like sex?”
“It fulfills a need, for me. I need to use my skills. I need to be useful. I showed you my observational skills, but I am aware those can be dangerous. Sex is comparatively innocent. And very useful.” He blinks at Leo for a moment, almost smirking. “Yes, I like sex.”
Leo would feel like a dick if he doubted Hector’s word about this, after doubting the truth of everything else Hector’s said. He starts to smile. “Okay. Yes, if you’re offering. You really don’t have to, though, okay?” One corner of his mind throws him another image of Hector’s broad shoulders against the bed, and the imaginative opposite corner responds with a video–Leo leaning over Hector, putting his hands on Hector’s shoulders, Hector rolling him onto his back. Leo blinks at the real Hector, still sitting cross-legged and answering his smile. Hector nods confirmation, and Leo believes it. “Fuck, yes, let’s have sex.”
Hector moves first; he must be able to tell that Leo needs him to. He unwinds his legs and leans forward, bends over Leo and puts his hand on the back of Leo’s head.
Leo’s never had sex with an android, or thought very hard about what it might be like. He’s not turned off by the idea or particularly turned on by it–and politically, of course, he finds the fetishization of robots offensive. But there’s no question that a sexbot could be expected to be really good at sex. Not just in terms of mechanics, but because a robot like Hector has the means to notice exactly what’s working.
It’s pretty obvious Hector already knows what Leo likes. He looms over Leo and bites down gently on Leo’s lower lip, and Leo takes a sudden breath in through his nose and presses into a rough kiss. Hector’s mouth is wet and when Leo slides one hand up under his t-shirt his skin is warmer than Leo’s.
Hector breaks the kiss after a minute and pulls Leo up. “You can tell me what you want if you like,” Hector says, grinning at him. Their chests are pressed together. “Or you can let me figure it out. But tell me if I miscalculate.”
Leo slips two fingers under the waistband of Hector’s sweatpants. “You figure it out.”
So Hector reaches around and digs his knuckles into the space behind Leo’s shoulder blades and kisses him again. Leo puts his hands in Hector’s thick romantic hero hair and tugs downward just enough that he doesn’t have to tilt his head back.
When Hector lets go again his mouth is red and damp. The identifier under his chin glows stronger than it did earlier and the silver-blue light pulses slightly, as if Hector’s heart-rate has sped up. He steps away, out from between couch and coffee table. The sudden distance between them stretches out the tension, like a rubber band pulling so taut it vibrates. Hector takes his t-shirt off.
It’s impossible to find the place where he was wounded; the skin all across his stomach is smooth and unmarked. When Augustine finished repairing his internal structure she simply pinched the skin back together and waited for it to fuse. Leo can’t remember quite where it was anymore. It doesn’t matter. Not when Hector’s nipples are pink and tight and Hector is pulling at the drawstring on the sweatpants.
Hector drops his pants and it feels like plucking the rubber band between them. “Do you like clothed sex?” he asks, tilting his head and stepping out of his underwear. It seems a funny question when he’s stark naked.
But then, Leo’s still fully dressed. He’d forgotten. “Not as much as I like being naked,” he says, and lets Hector step back in and unbutton his shirt.
“Here,” Leo says, when Hector’s hands are on the button of his jeans, forgetting that he was going to let Hector figure out what he wanted. It’s impossible not to say. “Let’s do it here.”
So Hector gets Leo naked and pushes him down onto the couch. “Wait,” he says, and walks straight into Leo’s bedroom. Leo blinks at the reflection in the dark window, which shows him naked and aroused on his ugly green couch. He feels like he’s dreaming. The vision of the Fremont Troll hunches in his mind’s eye, surreal and out of context and slightly creepy.
Hector’s footsteps startle the imaginary troll; the bridge collapses on it and Leo blinks it away and looks up at Hector. He’s holding the lube from the drawer in Leo’s bedside table.
“I don’t s’pose it took a lot of observing, finding that,” Leo says. He reaches out, not for the lube, but to put his hands on Hector’s hips. He slides forward on the couch and digs his thumbs into the hollows of Hector’s hipbones. Right at eye-level, Hector’s cock is pink and hard and tilted slightly leftward. Leo takes a deep breath and blows it out, just trying to clear his head, not aiming. Hector’s cock twitches anyway.
“You might not need to be told what I like,” Leo says, when his brain stops swimming with imagery both sexy and surreal. “But I want to be told.”
“I’ll like what you like,” Hector says.
Leo looks up. Is that enough for him? He isn’t sure. It must show, because Hector puts his free hand on Leo’s shoulder and says, “I’d like your mouth.”
And that’s something Leo’d like, and Hector probably knows that–anyone would, Leo’s fucking face is practically there already–but he appreciates the request. He wets his lips and then licks the head of Hector’s cock.
It tastes a lot better than Leo recalls. Startlingly so. Leo pulls back and arches an eyebrow up at Hector. “It’s designed to be more palatable to human tastebuds,” Hector says, with a dirty smug little grin that Leo likes too much to blame him for.
“Your dick tastes like a fucking strawberry.” He licks it again. “What if I didn’t like strawberries?”
“I’d adjust it.”
Leo knocks his head against Hector’s hipbone and slides into helpless laughter. This is all much more fun than Leo could have predicted, for having sex with an android who was stabbed this morning and is now on the run from his owners. Twenty minutes ago Leo was panicking about all of this, and now he’s giggling and naked. He can’t tell if Hector is doing something to make it fun, or if sex is just a good way to relieve tension, or if some button has been pressed in his brain to make him relax into the ridiculousness of the situation.
He can’t tell, so he puts his mouth around Hector’s cock and wriggles his tongue.
Hector is, perhaps surprisingly, vocal. Not in a stupid exaggerated pornographic way, which wouldn’t have been surprising from someone programmed as a sexbot, but in a real way. His breath is loud and shaky, and he cuts off low moans before they can escape beyond the small circle of their bodies, the couch, the living room. Leo’s enthusiastic about working his mouth down Hector’s cock, and he gets more so when it starts taking Hector longer to cut short his moans.
“Leo,” Hector says. His voice is loud and rough. It’s the first time he’s said Leo’s name. Now it’s going to be definitive: how Leo hears it every time Hector says it, no matter how long their unexpected alliance lasts.
It’s a warning, but this doesn’t register until Hector’s stomach ripples under Leo’s hands and his come fills the back of Leo’s mouth. He swallows, because it still tastes like fucking strawberries. One of his hands slides away from Hector and sneaks down to curl around his own cock.
Hector is still hard. Leo lets him slip out of his mouth and looks up. “That’s another perk, right? Multiple orgasms and fruit-flavored come? I want to be an android.”
“No, you don’t,” Hector says. His voice is flat, but there’s something complicated in his face, some conflict of emotions that pulls at Leo’s chest. Leo’s emotions stumble, because no, he doesn’t, and to have said so feels insensitive.
“Sorry,” he murmurs, and licks at Hector’s cock again until the moment passes.
Hector taps the bottle of lube gentle against Leo’s shoulder and pushes him back. “I want you to fuck me.”
“Okay,” Leo says, before he’s even processed the idea.
Leo sits all the way back on the couch and watches, wide-eyed and shivering with the feeling of his own hand teasing around the base of his cock. Hector kneels over him. He’s several inches taller and slightly broader than Leo, and in this position it’s a little overwhelming. But Leo likes to be overwhelmed. He watches Hector uncap the lube and squirt some onto his own fingers, and reach back.
“You want to watch me do this more than you want to do it yourself,” Hector says, like an explanation. Leo’s thighs are shaking; he’s probably right.
It clearly doesn’t take much, anyway, because it’s only a couple of minutes of watching Hector’s arm muscles shift as he fingers himself open before Leo is desperate and Hector is shifting forward and lowering himself onto Leo’s cock.
“Fuck,” Leo gasps. His eyes close involuntarily, “Fuck, fuck.”
“Yes,” Hector says. “Precisely.” His breathing is still erratic, but he sounds a lot more composed than Leo does. Leo thrusts up hard in retaliation.
Hector’s cock slips against Leo’s stomach; Leo takes hold of it and lets his hand slide back and forth as he struggles to thrust with any kind of coherent rhythm.
When Leo comes it’s to the blurred sight of Hector with his head tipped back, his identifier blinking as fast as the little moans in his mouth. Hector’s second orgasm follows, and the way he clenches around Leo’s cock wrings another cracked gasp out of Leo’s throat.
Leo rests his forehead against Hector’s chest and waits for the pounding of his heart to stop making him feel dizzy. Eventually it does stop. Hector climbs off him and goes into the bathroom.
Leo just fucked an android. He’s never done that before. The tension that sits perpetually somewhere in his shoulders is gone. It’ll be back, but it’s gone for a minute. Until Leo gets off the couch and cleans up, puts his clothes back on. Until he remembers that he’s putting himself in danger by letting Hector stay here.
Hector comes back into the room. Still naked, he sits down on the coffee table in front of Leo. His hair is still perfect, still in a sweet spot between “artfully tousled” and “just had sex.” He looks at Leo for a while with an unreadable expression. Leo is too fucked-out to worry about why he looks like that; he slumps against the back of the couch and watches Hector watching him.
“Thank you,” Hector says finally.
“What for?” Leo asks. His brain boots up properly. The tension isn’t back yet, but it’s waiting, like the heavy coat you know you’ll have to put on before going outside.
“For letting me stay here. I think that if I thank you verbally, you won’t take the sex as gratitude.”
Leo laughs. “Nobody’s that enthusiastic about gratitude sex.”
Hector tilts his head again–to the other side, this time. “You don’t forget I’m a robot,” he says slowly. “But you talk to me as if I’m human.”
Leo looks around the room, at his bookshelves and uncurtained windows and the cat, awake and watching them from her spot by the door. Cats are such voyeurs. He’s looking for a response, but nothing jumps out at him. “It’d be just as bad, treating you according to human standards, as if I treated you like you’re just a soulless robot. I try to compromise.” He sits up and shrugs. “I want you to have options. Not just because I worked for robots’ rights for years and I want that on principle. I like you, and I think you should have options. About how you’re treated. Tell me if I fuck it up. Nobody told me how much I fucked up when I was actually an activist.”
“I may not be here for long,” Hector says. “I may be caught, or need to move on.”
“I know.” Leo reaches out and takes hold of Hector’s wrist, loose on his knee. “I know, that’s my point. You can leave if you need to.”
“I don’t need to yet.”
Leo smiles. “Good.” He sits back, tugging gently on Hector’s wrist. “While you’re still here, tell me what else you’ve figured out about me.”