Connie was bent over her desk, drafting a logo for a new client. Some smoothie and yogurt shop down in Cincinnati that was aiming for a sort of fantasy branding, and had found Connie’s comics on Instagram. She was hard at work when she heard Nix’s knuckles hit her door. There was a specific rat-tat-tat, tata-tat-tat-tat rhythm he always knocked out, whether he was at a door, tapping his feet, or just clicking nervously with a pen. She would always recognize him by it. At least that hasn’t changed, she thought.
The weather was getting warmer, and when she opened the door she saw Nix was dressed for air conditioning. He had on navy blue slacks he’d cuffed at the ankle, and a button-up shirt with a leafy pattern, layered over a v-neck tee through which a glimpse of his collar was visible. He wore black canvas shoes, and no socks. Aside from the shiny mark of submission around his neck, Nix looked positively preppy, like he was heading to some kind of client meeting. Connie was wearing a long grey smock dress stained with paint. She didn’t have an air conditioner.
They hugged at a brisker, more casual pace this time, Connie breaking away from him first. She felt an urgent need to make things seem normal and okay. The luridness of her last encounter with Nix had kept flashing through her mind all week. Him on his knees before her, completely blank and mindless, a hungry tongue extended up toward her, offering to be used. She worried that if she didn’t maintain composure, her friend would be able to tell she’d been fantasizing about it. And she wasn’t comfortable yet even confronting what that meant, herself.
“You’re all dressed up!” she breathed, gesturing to his outfit.
Her friend grinned. “I haven’t had an occasion to wear this stuff in a year, so.” He held up a growler of beer with the Cornerstone Brewery logo on it. “Can I put this in the fridge?”
“Oh, you came prepared! Of course, of course,” Connie fluttered into the kitchen, threw open the refrigerator door and went about pushing jars of condiments and bags of produce aside to make room. “I’m going to heat up some roasted chicken for us later, I made it last night and it was fantastic. Maybe some asparagus and new potatoes.”
She was nattering on to fill the air. Buzzing about the space, filling up two glasses with lemonade and foisting one upon Nix. Couldn’t stop moving. Couldn’t look him in the face. Any silence might swallow them both up.
“That all sounds amazing,” he said. “And I could definitely use some vegetables. The Controller and I haven’t gone shopping all week.”
Connie felt a jolt, stunned by the casualness of how Nix had said Anthony’s title. So they weren’t going to pretend last week hadn’t happened. They really were doing this.
Seeming unbothered, Nix meandered into the living room. He stopped at her desk and tilted his head. “Whatcha working on?”
“Mermaid Drinks,” Connie said a little disparagingly, trailing after him. “It’s a smoothie shop. Fantastical health food for the Daenerys-Hermoine girlboss in your life.”
The logo was in soft pastel colors. A flirty but cartoonish mermaid sipped from a pale-peach colored drink and winked mischievously. It was cute. The client was supremely annoying, all syrupy smiles and you-go-girlfriend affirmations of Connie’s gender. The pay was mediocre but it would make a good supplement to Connie’s unemployment so long as she didn’t report it.
Nix studied the image for a while, “take the brand name off and you could sell stickers of this at a convention. It’s really adorable.”
“Ohh, thanks,” Connie said. Was he making fun of her a little? She’d missed his edge.
He seemed not to know what to do with himself now, and lingered there, looking down at the tablet and sipping absent-mindedly at his drink. Suddenly Connie remembered what he’d just said, about Anthony leaving.
“How is Anthony’s work coming?” She asked. “Er. Wait, do I call him Controller too, or?”
Nix stared out the window. “Oh. Well, He’s my Controller, not yours. So I suppose it’s a bit contextual.”
“So like, your Controller?”
He nodded. “Sure. That feels right.”
“So how is your Controller’s work going?” she asked again. “Has the production started up or something?”
“They’re having lots of meetings, remotely,” Nix said. “Getting their team put together, developing their schedule. He’ll be flying out to LA next month to meet people face-to-face, and talk about marketing and merchandise.”
“That’s so crazy.”
“It is,” Nix said, holding his glass close to his chest. “I don’t think it’s really set in.”
“How long will he be gone?”
“I don’t know,” he said sadly. “I hope only a few days, He says a week. I bet more like two.”
He suddenly seemed so sad. Lost, almost. Connie really felt for him. When she had put him into trance the week before, she recognized it put him at peace. She could feel it, just as she’d felt the relief flowing out of him the first time he tried on her old boymode clothing. Transition hadn’t been peaceful for her like that, something was still always amiss somehow. But with him, it felt almost spiritual to witness. Seeing Nix relax fully into trance at her command had been spiritual too.
In both contexts, of course, Connie had been in control somehow. She was the one who had nudged him to try on her old clothing. She’d been the one who stepped forward and pushed him under trance. It somehow felt right, taking charge and looking after someone’s wellbeing like that. It felt more right than any time she tried to bring greater comfort or anything like gender euphoria to herself directly. Interesting.
“I’ve been thinking,” Connie said, picking up her stylus and fiddling with it self-consciously, “it sounds like you and your Controller have a pretty rigorous training process. To keep you, like, programmed?”
“So you must be worried about losing progress while he’s gone. Or maybe, I don’t know, concerned about being a bad sub, not doing your homework.”
“I’ll do what He tells me,” Nix said quickly. “I have daily assignments, I must do them even when he’s not around.”
“Sure, sure,” Connie said. She eased into her office chair. “I just mean... it will be lonely and strange to brainwash yourself alone all day.”
He nodded, slowly and automatically. “Yes, it will be.”
“And without someone to command you, well, that’s potentially a lot more human-mode time than you’re accustomed to.”
“Yes,” Nix said airily.
“If you need someone to like, give you some structure. Or tell you to do certain stuff. I could… maybe I could do that.”
His eyes widened slightly, but with clear restraint. Nix was trying not to get too excited, or to appear too desperate. “I’ll… ask the Controller if that would be acceptable. But I imagine He would be very happy with that.”
Connie smiled. “Good. I mean, only whatever you’re comfortable with. But don’t leave anything out on my account. I mean, I’ve already seen it all.”
Her face got warm, thinking of the scene she had walked in on over a year ago. At the time she had thought seeing Nix all bound up and mindlessly repeating hypnotic phrases was nothing but a horror to her. But she hadn’t exactly behaved like someone who was scared or repelled. She’d stood there staring for a very long time. And when she approached Nix, to try and wake him up... a part of her had wanted to stroke his bare chest, his shiny latex-clad stomach, his inky black latex head. Maybe she had been scared of how it made her feel.
Or maybe she was just lonely now, and maybe she was just hot from the sun beating in through the windows. Hard to tell.
Nix settled into the couch with a sigh. The afternoon sun lit her friend’s face up in gold. He looked radiant, but he’d regret sitting there in a few moments, once the sweat broke through his nice shirt. Or maybe he wouldn’t care. He didn’t seem to react to his environment very much anymore, except in a very studied and intentional way. A well-timed look here and there. An observation shared when expected. Like he was running a small-talk protocol.
“Is it weird,” Connie asked, “knowing that the whole world will see Anthony’s art soon? Considering what that art means to you?”
Anthony’s work had always been very psychedelic yet dark. Though Connie admired the artistry of it, and it was undeniably a distinctive, striking visual landscape, she had wondered what the point of it was. All those inky swirls and tentacles, the pops of bright color undulating through the spirals. Now that she knew it was all brainwashing material he’d been using on his boyfriend, it being made into a television show was especially wild.
Nix contemplated her question a minute. “I find it… very satisfying that the whole world will get to see the Controller’s work. For years He has developed images to program me, and tested them on me. Now everyone will get to see the fruits of all that labor. It is an honor to be a tool that helped Him toward that end.”
Connie wrinkled her nose. “But wait. Um. Random people won’t get hypnotized by watching the show, will they?”
Nix shook his head. “No, His show will have more of a narrative than the spirals He uses on me. Less abstract, no hypnotic audio or subliminals. Plus, you can’t really be hypnotized without your consent. It’s not like it looks in movies.”
“What I saw looked a lot like in movies.” Connie said. “Like, you couldn’t wake up.”
“That is the product of years of training,” Nix said in a measured voice. “Hours and hours of conditioning and bondage. We are very much an anomaly, even in the hypnosis kink world. I asked Him to push me to the absolute limit of what is possible. We both want total obliteration. Nobody’s tried it before. I don’t know anyone who has gone this far.”
“You’re his experiment.”
“I am. Well,” Nix paused, and his voice dropped. “This unit is completely His creation.”
A shiver ran up Connie’s arms, despite the heat. Her friend seemed to be losing touch with reality a bit, eyes going glassy and posture going a bit rigid. There was no need for him to hide his true nature, since they weren’t in public, and all this talk was pulling his mind back down into the empty, programmed place to which it was acquainted. Connie remembered that her job was to help Nix connect with his humanity, at least some of the time. So she reached out and jostled him.
“Hey,” she said. Then she remembered the trigger phrase. “Phoenix, return to me.”
He took a short breath and blinked the trancey expression off his face. Then he took a long sip of the lemonade. “Sorry. Was that too much?”
“It’s fine, I’m not uncomfortable. I just want to be mindful that I’m supposed to be helping you socialize.”
“Oh,” Nix said. “Yeah. Right. Sorry. I just… had a really intense session yesterday. I’m still kind of reeling.”
“You’ll tell me all about it later, okay?” Connie smiled. She wanted to know everything. But first they had to look after Nix’s remaining shreds of sanity. “After dinner we can really get into it.”
“Okay.” Nix adjusted his posture and bearing a bit, shifting into a more conversational mode it seemed. “So Connie… what’s new in your life?”
She shrugged. “Oh, you know…working a little…went to the farmer’s market…” she laughed at herself. “I guess I’m still trying to become a human again after Coronavirus, too.”
“Have you been on any dates lately?”
Connie laughed. “Oh yeah Cleveland’s pandemic-traumatized t4t scene has been a real meat market.”
“What about that guy you were seeing before,” Nix looked down, processing. “Amar.”
“Amar was nice…” she frowned. “He isn’t out to his parents. And when Corona hit he moved in with them to save money.”
Nix grimaced, after a brief delay. “I cannot imagine.”
“Yeah,” Connie said. “I should respect his choice. But I couldn’t even video chat with him, if his folks were around. If they heard me… if they saw me. I don’t know.”
Nix’s hand was on her knee.
“Don’t apologize for yourself,” he said. “He made his decision, and you had to make your own about what was best for you. I’m very sorry that happened.”
Connie flopped her arms against her sides as if to say, well what can you do. “I’m sick of making smart decisions, Phoenix. I’m so horny and touch-starved.”
“I could help with that, later,” her friend declared matter-of-factly. He placed his hand back in his own lap.
The images flashed through her head again. Nix on his knees in Service Mode, mouth open and ready to please her. Nix’s body evacuated of consciousness, nothing but an obedient tool for her to command. Nix twitching and sputtering, spraying lubrication on the floor. The devotion he had pledged to Anthony, palpable in how he spoke about him, and how his body responded to Anthony’s touch. To feel even a fraction of that kind of love radiating at her… maybe it was just touch starvation, but she did want to cuddle up with that mindless little bot and enjoy some of it for herself.
Connie asked, “Are you sure your Controller doesn’t mind? If I… use you?”
“He trusts you completely, and trusts me around you,” Nix said. “The Controller knows everything I think and feel. There isn’t even a possibility of secrets. And He is grateful for your help in taking care of His property, while he’s away.”
“And how do you feel about it?” Connie and Nix had never really had a sexual connection before, aside from a few tentative makeout sessions in high school, back before even Connie had transed. It had been inert, horrible. Like trying to eat someone out through several layers of Saran wrap. “And don’t tell me you feel whatever Anthony feels. I don’t need a like, pity fuck.”
“I feel so close to you, Connie,” he said, voice becoming a bit more human and earnest. “I would be honored if you’d use me. That’s how I connect to people. This robot’s purpose is to be of service. It would like to make you feel good.”
Fuck. Connie’s face flushed. She stared her friend deep in the face, the sunlight igniting his brown eyes into a beautiful amber color. Though she was a switch, Connie usually bottomed as a matter of principle. Trans women experienced so much pressure to top; people assumed a trans woman’s anatomy was somehow a reflection what they desired to do, and it left her feeling dehumanized and used. But this was something new. Someone offering to be whatever Connie wanted them to be. Not assuming Connie wanted to be in control in a specific way.
“Can you top?” she asked. “When you’re… away?”
Nix’s eyes softened a moment, affected by Connie’s hinting at his trigger phrase. “Of course. I’m an object that obeys. I can be any kind of fuck machine you want.”
“Okay.” She jiggled her stylus absent-mindedly between her fingers. “God, we are bad at staying focused on normal-human topics.”
Nix laughed. His face was pink too, Connie noticed. Probably not just because of the heat. “So uh… do you want to hear what’s new with me? Normal-human-stuff wise, I mean?”
“Sure,” Connie said. “I didn’t realize you’d have normal-human updates to report.”
Nix nodded, accepting the directive. “Well, I went to the mall this past weeked to help Milo pick out a couch. It was fun.”
“Oh yeah? How did it go?”
“Milo doesn’t know anything,” Nix began, “About my situation. So it was good practice. I had to shake a few screws loose so I could even tell him which couch I liked. It’s hard having opinions!”
“About a couch?”
“The Controller does all the thinking,” Nix said flatly. “My opinions don’t exist anymore.”
“Well,” Connie thought out loud, “your apartment is definitely Anthony’s design sensibility now that you mention it. All that black and neon.”
“It is his lair. I’m just another piece of furniture.”
“But eventually you were able to tell Milo like, oh, not the mauve couch, get the denim one.”
Nix made a face. “A denim couch? Ewww!”
“There we go!” Connie said, pointing. “See, you do have opinions and feelings!”
“I guess so, yeah.” Nix replied. “I don’t have limits or boundaries anymore very much, but I guess you just found a hard limit. No jean couches.”
“Dare I say, a jouch.”
“Eww!!” Her friend giggled and squirmed in his seat. “Okay, you know what, the very last shred of my humanity that I’ll give up is the part that screams no jouches.”
Connie beamed at him. A devilish impulse swirled inside her. She gave voice to it, “Well, that’s just too bad, because the first thing I’m doing to you tonight is deleting that preference from your memory.”
She trailed a finger along the edge of her glass. “What? You said you wanted to please me.”
He blushed. Connie cackled a bit and patted him on the knee. “Stay right here. I’m going to preheat the oven.”
She stepped into the kitchen and allowed herself a private moment to smirk. It felt good to dance on the edge of issuing him commands. Telling him what to talk about and when. Threatening to fuck with his mind. It was all kind of delicious, actually.
When she returned to the living room, Nix was sitting still, staring at the wall in front of him. Well, I did instruct him to stay put, she thought.
“Tell me the rest of the story!” she declared, easing back into her seat.
Nix nodded obediently. “Milo has a horrible sense of laying out a room, so my eye was valuable with that. He was gonna buy a couch that wouldn’t even fit in his apartment. I convinced him to order something in more of a midcentury modern style. Then we got Chinese food in the food court. It was nice.”
Connie leaned forward. “And were you buggin the whole time?”
“I worry I seem like a crazy person,” he said. “Human Mode is a simulation. It’s not real. It’s all very deliberate. I keep worrying, am I giving the game up? Can people tell?”
It was true that Nix was different from the person he’d been before. Forever holding something back. His movements were too precise and considered, no words or energy wasted. Even his vulnerability right now was measured. It was like an honesty dial had been turned up.
Connie considered it a second. “Well, it all sounds a lot like being closeted. And we both know how terrible the normals are at figuring what you really are, when you’re in the closet.”
Nix’s head tilted. “Huh. Yes. It is a lot like that.”
“So don’t worry about it,” she said, taking a sip. “I’m sure you did fine.”
The oven beeped. “Let me go throw the chicken in,” she said, touching him on the knee this time. She made eye contact with him and held it, meaningfully. “While I get the food ready, I’d like you to pick out a TV show for us to watch. Whatever you want. Can you do that?”
His eyes adjusted their focus. “Y-yes,” Nix stammered.
Connie gave him an approving nod and padded into the kitchen. “And when I’m done fixing our food,” she called out, “I’d like you to pour us two glasses of beer. Understood?”
“Yes, Connie.” His voice echoed flatly from the other room. “Understood.”
“Good.” She almost called him good robot, or good toy, but decided to save that for later. They had all night to savor it.
They were together on the couch, outer thighs touching, empty plates before them on Connie’s thrifted coffee table. The growler was on the floor at Nix’s side, half-empty. Whenever Connie’s glass got near empty she held it out and commanded him to refill it. He stopped whatever he was doing to comply. His movements were so smooth. A careful bow forward. Fingers adjusting around the handle. Rising up, pausing, then grasping her glass and watching the fluid pour in. Replacing everything carefully, all attention drawn to his task. Each time, Connie reminded him he ought to refill his glass as well. Take care of yourself too, she told him. This is your day off.
A pleasant buzz had settled over the two of them, rendering them giggly and relaxed. He’d picked the show Inuyasha, a favorite anime from their youth. They’d first become close by talking about the show together in chemistry class. Over the course of the two episodes they watched, their bodies melted slowly against one another. The years came off them too, a whole history disappearing and them becoming like teenagers again. As the credits on the second episode rolled, Nix’s head touched her shoulder gently. She relished the contact, let it fill up her heart. God, the pandemic had been hard.
“This is so nice,” Nix murmured, his voice a bit creaky and effeminate.
She patted him affectionately. “Buddy, you have no idea. I didn’t so much as shake someone’s hand for eighteen months.”
“It must have been horrible,” he almost slurred, hugging her tight. “I’m so so so sorry you had to go through that.”
“It’s okay,” she said softly, still thumping him on the back. “It’s over now.”
“And when you needed your best friend most!’ he muttered. “I was gone!”
“You were doing your own thing. I would never hold that against you.”
“I don’t deserve a friend as patient as you.”
“Hey. Stop that,” Connie said. “You’re exactly the friend I want.”
Nix straightened himself and looked over at her. “So. What now? Would you like to watch another episode or do something else?” His eyes seemed bleary, which concerned her.
“You should drink a glass of water,” she told him. He nodded and rose.
He returned a minute later, having drained the entire glass of water while standing at the sink. He seemed more alert already. She asked him, “Feeling okay?”
“Yes,” Nix said. “I’m fine, I was just feeling emotional. Nostalgic. It just all… hit me, all at once. Thinking about how you must have felt, being so lonely all that time, and me just being like. Hello. Yes I am well. How are you?.”
A part of Connie almost wanted to feel bitter about it. She had been reaching out to Nix all pandemic long. But he couldn’t support her then, because he was too busy hiding the changes he’d undergone.
“Didn’t you think about how I might have been feeling?” she ventured.
He swallowed. “I didn’t think. I barely even noticed how much time was passing. And now it’s all just, hitting me. I’m so sorry.”
Connie decided to let all of her hurt feelings go. Him realizing it and mourning it was somehow enough. He was here now, with her, really present as himself. And at last she was ready to know all of him in return.
“It was a strange time for everybody,” Connie allowed. “We all went insane in our own ways.”
Nix smiled. “And some of us never came back.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Do you still want to...play?”
“Are you sober enough, to, you know.”
“I can get more sober,” he said.
“Sure,” he said with a shrug. “Just tell me to. Like a percent.”
“Phoenix,” she said firmly. “Reduce…. Intoxication by 25%.”
His eyes flew back in his head. “Reducing intoxication levels by 25%...”
She sat still while his eyes flitted back and forth from under his lids. His breathing slowed. Then he returned his attention to her. He looked brighter. “Intoxication reduced by 25%.”
“Good robot,” she said. Nix visibly enjoyed hearing being called that. “So. You’ve been here for hours, has it been hard being a person?”
He nodded slowly, half awake, half under her power. “Yes. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a human state.”
“It doesn’t feel natural, does it?”
“No. It is not natural. It is a simulation.”
“But your feelings for me,” she said. “Those kind things you just said. Those are real?”
A poignant expression emerged from his face. “Oh Connie. Of course. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you when you were so alone.”
“Shhh, don’t worry little bot,” she whispered, leaning toward him. “I forgive you.” She hugged him tight. “You couldn’t meet my needs then… but you can now.”
She broke away, holding his shoulders in her hands. Looked him in the face. He looked very relaxed in his sadness, somehow. Unhiding. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been with somebody. Like I said, I’ve been very lonesome and touch starved. Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
He nodded up and down several times, eyelids drooping. “Yes Connie,” he told her. “I want to connect with you in this way. I haven’t stopped thinking about last week.”
“Me neither.” A heat rose between Connie’s legs. “You look so beautiful like this, Phoenix. I’ve never wanted you more.”
He let out a soft moan, leaning forward and meeting her lips with his. It startled Connie a bit. She hadn’t expected him to express any desire like that, to approach. Her lips parted, accepting him. His arms, so much bigger and stronger than they were in their youth, enveloped her and pulled her in close. She felt girlish, and giddy when his hand came up behind her ear to comb through her hair.
“Nix,” she murmured, parting their lips briefly. “How long have you wanted me?”
“I’ve always loved you,” he said, his eyes staying closed, his body pressed against hers. “It was just never right before. We were always out of step. And I never thought you’d really like me like this, if you knew..,”
“I really like you,” she whispered. “I like you like this. I like how you are.” She squeezed his shoulder. “I like having this kind of effect on you.”
He looked up at the ceiling, and drank in the pleasure of Connie’s words. “I’m so glad Connie,” he said, “I don’t think I realized just how badly I’ve been wanting this.”
“Then come and get it,” she said.
With an eager, loving grin on his face he crawled on top of her, enveloping her in affection.
They made out on the couch for a while, bodies shifting slowly against one another. Their hands intertwined, studied one another’s palms and finger prints, and then broke away softly to explore one another’s bodies. Hands fluttered over curves and gripped soft spots with patient intensity, then slid under clothes. The sensation of Nix’s warm hand on Connie’s thigh made her pussy twinge with yearning. She kissed him hard, sighing and pressing her breasts against him, then took his face in her hands.
“I want you, Phoenix,” she said slowly. “I want you inside me. Do you want that too?”
“I want you, I want you,” Nix said nodding, pressing his body against hers. “I want to do whatever you want me to do.”
“Good robot.” Connie took a deep breath, gathered herself. She was ready for him now, and felt prepared to take command. His body was primed for use, aroused and adoring her, and clearly eager to fuck her actively, passionately, and exactly how she liked. He was both submissive and filled with agency right now, awake and a million miles away at the same time. This was what it was really like, to love all of him, she thought. Every piece.
His eyes fluttered at her with eager anticipation. Her hand dangled before his face. Attention fully focused on her. It was all hers to use.
“Phoenix,” she said to it firmly, “go away.”