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Half doomed and semi sweet

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The rain sent him there. The last straw, the final push, to bring him out of the cold and deserted streets and into the warmth of a heated building. Whether he belonged there came second to his needs in that moment, shivering in alley ways with water dripping down his neck, shocking his systems as they leaked between circuitry and plastic. He could stand the abuse and the frayed wires and the tearing skin, but rain in his open wounds sent his panic skyrocketing and he stumbled down the sidewalks on quivering legs, searching for a place to go.

The first week hadn't been awful. Dirt and grime from the air and kicked up by the feet of people walking past him smeared Gavin's skin, and no one would look twice at him when they registered the bar code on his neck, the whirring of his eyes, but he could stand it. Shoved back and forth through crowds, tossed into the walls of buildings, smelling the sweat and pasty heat of the humans around him as he turned corner after corner of the scorching hot city for signs of shelter, he could stand it.

He found the first break in his skin in the second week, huddled cold and exhausted at the outdoor dining of a closed restaurant. His artificial breaths, part of the vents that regulated his temperature, came fast as he waited out the night, jumping at the sounds that might be a person walking by, someone who would throw him out of the shielded dining area and back in the street.

On the creaking metal of the chair he'd tucked himself in, he saw it, the tear of the skin on his arm. He couldn't tell at first glance what caused it, but Gavin quickly resolved to be more careful. With no owner to speak of, and apathy apparent in any human he met, he had no way to fix the cut.

Despite how careful he was, how much time he spent checking errant boxes for hidden dangers before holing up in them, the wide berth he learned to give people, and the way he made sure to catch himself on hands and knees and not let his vital parts hit the solid pavement and rock the motors in his chest like dice, Gavin couldn't avoid the damages. Slices and scraps dotted the silicone skin he wore like a polka dot pattern. If he were especially bored he connected them with imaginary lines and patterns, until his eyes couldn't focus anymore, internal systems giving high pitched whines at the struggle.

These injuries grew worse with time, exposing metal and eventually wires as he collected wear and tear through the elements. His vision started going fuzzy after a car knocked him down while he crossed the street, suddenly unable to register the face of the driver who screeched at him about green lights and what the hell he thought he was doing, how badly programmed must he be not to know basic traffic rules. Gavin avoided roads after that, which was just as well because his faulty eyesight wouldn't distinguish colors anymore and he would probably hurt himself again.

Without the main roads to go by, he turned down dark alleys and crept behind buildings, finding temporary homes with the one eyed cats and the dogs that reeked of dead things they rolled in. At night he slept beside dumpsters and trash cans and cooed softly to the strays who came to him. By the sixth week, walking was a chore, his motor systems shot to hell. He frequently smacked his own forehead on walls or tripped over heaps of garbage, vision blinking and blacking out, shutting half the world off. Noises roared in his ears, and some days he didn't even move, resigned to sitting in the muck rather than risk destroying himself by wandering in front of a car or a careless human again.

In the middle of Texas it rarely rained. That was his saving grace, that he could break down and forget why he wandered the streets or what he did to get himself thrown out, as long as he didn't get stuck in some body of water and short circuit to death. The first rain in two months brought him out of a faulty shut down behind a pizzeria, the tiny awning shielding all but his feet, which shook at the contact and snapped closer to his body. In minutes the downpour spattered across him and soaked through his body, minor shielding he had be damned, and Gavin forced himself to get up and move and hide.

Thankfully Texans weren't tolerant of terrible weather, and when he got on the sidewalk he saw no people except a few errant bodies running with coats and briefcases and bags held over their heads to protect them, none of them giving the torn apart robot a second glance in their rush to find shelter. Cars crowded the roads in their rush to get home. Gavin ducked under plastic shop tents and covered his face, doing his best to keep his eyes clear of water and let his half functional sight find the next best place to crawl into for the night. He couldn't run; every few steps his left leg gave out and forced him to crouch, breathing hard to get air in his system and cool the motors in his now broken knee. It took a half hour to get down one block.

In the darkness and the chill he almost missed it, the barely lit neon that pierced the rain. Gavin stopped again to rest his broken leg and happened to catch it as he searched the street for some place he could take as his own. The sign was a fluorescent pink, dulled by the weather and blinking like a disco ball. He had English programming and he could read at a high school level, but some of the wires in the side of his neck had frayed and it took longer than it should have to make out the words electronic and repairs through the blinking light. Gavin had been to a repair shop only once in his life, and it spurred his owner into shoving him out the door. His circuits hummed a hundred times faster at the sight of the words, the implication of what could happen to him if someone found him this broken and beaten.

But it was raining. And his leg hurt.

The humans were all going home and all the lights inside the shop were off, a sure signal that no one was there, that its employees had left as quickly as every other person running down the street or stuck in traffic. Gavin heaved a giant breath, biting his teeth through the shock of simulated pain as he stood again. The designers had put in a nervous system to make him more lifelike, a personal touch for the rich who wouldn't let their robot get hurt anyway. He didn't see what purpose it served now, stopping him dead in the street with a useless leg.

Something like a pop sounded from his knee and he cried out against it, almost falling on the pavement again. Gavin caught himself on his hand like he learned to do in crowded streets and spared the torn skin another glance. His hands were the worst, metal framing visible under broken plastic and his fingers barely responding when he asked them to move. Another week or two out here and he wouldn't be able to bend the joints at all.

The shop sat across the street, but the next crosswalk was thirty feet away on the corner and Gavin couldn't make it that far. He stood again, holding his knee with both hands until he felt himself straighten, and signaled as best he could to the cars sitting idly in the road. They poured gas and electric hums, smell and sound working better for Gavin than sight at this point, and he ignored the shouts from irritated drivers as he stumbled through traffic. A few honked their horns, assured by the metal and wires poking out that it was more than okay to yell at him, a non human, for blocking their cars. Gavin waved to some of them like his owner taught him, a promise that he was moving and thank you for being understanding and he would be out of the street soon, please just wait.

The shop stood as dead as it looked from across the way, the sign blinking but otherwise dark. Concrete walls and high windows protected it like a fortress. The garage door on the right side was sealed tight, too heavy for even a healthy individual to lift, much less someone as broken as Gavin. He made his way slowly to the side wall and used it to support his frame as he dragged himself to the back. His shoes scuffed the ground and water sloshed back and forth across his feet. Gavin paused long enough to peel them off, dumping the water out before chucking them entirely. Exhaustion wracked his arms and torso, and putting shoes back on was the least of his concerns.

The back of the building had the largest window, spanning across the entirety of the south wall. The door was locked, obviously, although Gavin jiggled the knob to confirm. Next to it stood a dumpster, solid, hulking metal mocking him with its ability to withstand the rain. He would have kicked it if he bothered to replace his shoes.

On top of the dumpster was a box, cardboard and fraying at the sides, filled with junk metal. Combined with the height of the dumpster, it almost reached the window. Gavin looked up, blinking past the rain droplets, and caught the barely there opening, the two inches someone had slid the window open, no doubt to air the shop out during the typically sunny Austin days. Thinking only of shelter and his broken limbs, Gavin scrambled up the side of the dumpster, fingers clinging and straining to hoist his body across the top. He landed with a heavy thud, head knocking into the box.

Getting on top of the junk pile proved to be the hardest challenge. He turned the cardboard flaps across the top to cover the dangerous pieces, but their sharp edges poked through most of it, and wet cardboard wasn't the best surface for standing. Still, without it, Gavin couldn't reach the window. He turned back to the alley, missing his shoes. It was his own damn fault, too dazed to think he might actually need them. Blinking fast to get his vision in order, he put first his working knee, and then the broken one, atop the box, climbing up as far as he dared before he paused. The rain kept on, slinging hair over his eyes. He brushed it back quickly and put his foot against the box, searching tentatively for leverage. Once found, he put both hands on the wall and shifted his weight on his good leg. It took some fumbling and a muttered curse, but Gavin found his balance, both feet braced at the edges of the junk pile, cardboard barely protecting his socked feet. He breathed hard and swallowed the chill of the night air, releasing it in a long shiver before he looked up. A foot from his head was the window, open enough for one hand to grab hold. Gavin screwed his face tight, determined, and reached up.

It wouldn't get him inside, the tiny gap. But it was enough to hold him steady against the concrete while his other hand grabbed the edge of the window and shoved for all his busted body was worth. It didn't budge at first, and he readjusted his stance. On the second try, it gave a couple inches. Huffing out a relieved laugh, Gavin did it again, managing to pry the window far enough for his torso to slip through. As it was, it might be tight. But inside promised warmth and, if he were lucky, the proper tools to get him working again. Gavin slipped his other hand to the window's ledge, bracing once more on the box, and gave a little jump to boost up.

He slipped. Only a little, his bad knee giving when he tried to push up. Gavin yelped and fell back, the box nearly knocked off. Holding fast to the ledge, he sucked in panicked breaths, motors whirring and threatening to overheat, fingers aching with their burden. One more try.

This time he got up, releasing the ledge with one hand to hook his elbow over it, fast and enough of a support that he didn't fall again. Chest pressed to the ledge, the frame of the window digging in his ribs, he pushed off the wall with his feet and pulled forward with his arms. If he bothered with his night vision, he might have more care for where he was falling, but at this point anything was better than the rain and the cold. Gavin slipped over the edge and fell. Something two feet below the window caught him, a shelf, only wide enough to slow his fall and not enough to stop him crashing to the floor.

Stunned at being caught at all, Gavin forgot entirely to scream out his artificial pain, laying on his back in the darkness. He blinked once, twice, adjusting as best he could and assuring himself it wasn't his vision that stopped him from seeing what the room looked like. The shop had been dark from the outside, too, after all. Sitting up, Gavin whirled his head back and forth. A sliver of light slipped in from what seemed to be a door at the far end of the tiny room. It was filled with more boxes and several shelves, one of which sat beneath the window and was what stopped Gavin from smacking his head straight on concrete. For a half second he wondered if that wasn't the better option.

Gavin struggled to turn on his night vision, unused when the rest of his sight started to go. There was a hum from inside his head and perhaps the sound of a spark going off, but it worked, and soon he could see almost everything in the room in a glowing green light. Tools lined the wall in specific configurations, with pencil outlines beneath the nails they hung on. The boxes sitting around him were filled with more metal and parts, better organized than the box on the dumpster. The pieces were lined in neat rows, except for the top layers, where they were tossed in to be sorted out later. One box in particular caught Gavin's eyes. An arm. A closer inspection revealed wires and metal casing, the arm lacking the skin Gavin had. His eyes lit up as much as they could in the darkness.

It must be the supply room. It explained why the window would be opened. The humans couldn't have their extra parts boiling in the room on the hot days, left alone for hours while the employees of the shop bustled around the other rooms. Gavin reached out and grabbed the arm, touching it softly, and pressing his other hand against his own arm. The parts weren't the same, the spare arm much thicker than Gavin's body. A manual labor robot, or a personal work designed to have a bigger frame. Gavin tossed it back and let out a tired sigh through his nostrils. One minute inside and already he'd found the patience to be annoyed at what amounted to a minor blessing, getting into a repair shop, a shop that operated on robots, no less, only to be bothered that the parts they had didn't match him exactly.

If he were lucky, though, they might have better parts in the other boxes. Piled high around him in towers ready to fall at the slightest push, some of them turned over already and others teetering on the edge of balance, he could only imagine what they held. Gavin blinked a few more times, turned over on his knees, and grabbed the nearest open box. It overflowed with pieces he couldn't recognize, plates and circles, wheels and screws, haphazardly gathered into piles that separated them by shape and weight. Gavin reached in and snatched a long cylindrical piece, turning it over carefully in his hands and feeling the soft curve of the metal. Time to figure out if he could use it.

 


 

A loud bang and several crashes alerted Ryan to a disturbance in the back room.

Hunched over a desk, coat pulled tight around him to keep out the chill as the rain battered on the windows outside, he'd been in the middle of fixing the wheel base for the motorized scooter he had propped against his work table. The woman who brought it in claimed it was an emergency, that she needed the scooter for her next trip outside the city, and told Ryan and his crew she would pay double to have it fixed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for him, the other men claimed sick or longing for their families when the first signs of the rain showed, clouds hanging like a mask over the sun in the late afternoon. Without a family and too ethical to feign an excuse, Ryan agreed to stay late and fix the scooter before the woman came back for it in the morning. The only major problem was with the wheel, which stuck fast when the scooter moved more than a few feet and sent its owner into an angry sputter when Ryan tested it in the garage. He agreed to help only if he got to take Friday afternoon off, and the other three men happily agreed, grabbing their keys and running out the door before the woman could so much as thank him for taking on the job.

Bent over his table, working by lamp light in the dark room, he jumped at the sound of something crashing to the floor. He turned fast, one eyebrow raised toward the door of the storage room at the back. With a scoff, he shrugged it off; tools and boxes were always falling off the shelves at the slightest vibrations. In the morning he could speak to someone about finally organizing the damn place. It would cut their work time in half if they didn't have to rummage through four or five boxes to find the parts they needed.

No other noises came from storage, and Ryan hunched over again, glasses slipping down his nose as he tinkered with the axis he'd removed from the wheels. The metal kept catching when he turned it, clinking loudly and stopping all movement. He sighed and tapped his forehead with his finger, pressing hard against the bone. In the back of his mind, a light pounding started, a rush of blood as his body begged him to go home and go to sleep.

He almost did it, gathered his bag and left the scooter for the morning for everyone else to scramble over. It would lose him his afternoon off, though, and probably his credibility for any other last minute projects. And really, the scooter wouldn't be hard to fix. He was just tired, body sagging as the sound of the rain increased with every second. Midway through the silent debate with himself, his thoughts were cut short by another loud bang, and a distinct shout of, “Fuck,” from the storage room.

Ryan froze, hands halfway through another cycle around his temple in their pathetic attempt to rub the growing headache away. Silence stretched in the empty room, the rain covering any minor noises with the repetitive thrumming on the window glass. He listened hard.

Nothing new came, but the damage was done. He definitely heard someone shout. The garage door had been closed since five thirty, and he locked the back door. Unless one of the guys forgot something and came back for it, which Ryan doubted would be worth anyone's time in this weather, he was completely alone. And that shout didn't sound like anyone he knew.

“Well,” Ryan said, getting up from the rickety stool he'd been sitting on and kicking it to the side, “there's never a better time to get murdered by a serial killer than on a stormy night, alone in a repair shop.” He pushed his glasses up his nose and glanced about the room, seeing nothing out of place in the low light of the lamp. The main room of the shop was made of open space, with a couple work benches and tables pushed against the wall, but otherwise uncluttered. The messes went to the storage room, everyone dumping spare parts and tools they didn't use back there to be cleaned up later, although later never came. Now someone was back there with the mess, probably hiding in the piles of junk, ready to leap and stab him the moment he walked in. Heart pounding, Ryan swallowed the lump in his throat and walked across the room.

Closer to the door and away from the windows and the noisy rain, Ryan could hear the clambering in the room. Scrapes and bumps and the occasional muttering, a sure sign someone had come in to steal whatever things of value they could find and silence whoever saw them. He put a hand up near the door knob, hesitating. In a one on one, Ryan could probably take whoever it was. He worked out on the weekends and liked to bowl, far from being a wimp with his wide shoulders and strong legs. But if the perpetrator had any kind of weapon, he was doomed.

A quick turn around and a moment later, Ryan had a wrench in his hands, heavy and stable with the promise of pain for anyone who came running at him. He clenched his fingers tight around the chilled steel, his other hand on the door knob. Through the thin wood of the door he could hear what sounded like a single voice. It was one good sign, at least, to know he wouldn't have to beat off too many robbers. Taking a deep breath, Ryan moved a half step back and opened the door, peering around the edge.

In the moments it took to adjust to the darkness of the storage closet, he relied solely on his hearing, wrench held against his chest like a shield. The voice was clearer now, a distinct accent heard through the quiet, irritated syllables. With the minimal light, he could make out the shifting of a body, sitting on the floor and tucked over.

“Dammit,” the person on the floor cursed, kicking their leg out, and Ryan heard the accent better this time, clearly a British curl bending intensely around the words as he spat out his frustration. Ryan paused, one eyebrow quirking as he watched the man from his cover behind the door. Carefully, wary of any noise he could make, he nudged the door open with his toe, letting a sliver more of light in the room. When his eyes adjusted again, he gasped quietly, nearly dropping the wrench on his own foot.

The man curled over himself on the floor had a tear in his arm, and pulled wires from his limb as he cursed and tried to tame the tangled mess pouring out from his body. At his feet were wire cutters and pliers, both tools nearly kicked away as the man-- the robot-- thrashed and grit his teeth through what was obviously pain, yanking another wire so hard it almost snapped the plastic off. If not for the metal and wires, he would have looked like any other human, with realistic skin and a tuft of hair poofing from his head, and a soft face that would be likeable if it weren't contorted in pain. Ryan recalled in that short moment that personal models tended to have nerves implanted, to make them act as human as they looked, but it came with pain as well as touch sensation and pleasure. So the robot was an expensive one, at least, and what he was doing in this tiny shop by himself, Ryan had no idea.

“Fuck,” the robot said under his breath, this time not angry but frustrated as he took the next wire he could get his fingers around and tried to connect it, one handed, to another wire lying on its side. His brows knit together and his tongue poked from his lips, muscles tense as he grasped desperately to both wires, doing his best to connect them with his forefinger and thumb. As concentrated as he was on the pathetic effort to restore a connection, the robot didn't blink as Ryan opened the door wider, eventually freeing the doorway for him to lean on one side with his hip, an arm propped above his head and the other swinging the heavy wrench as he watched the robot struggle.

The light, however, did seem to register. Another few seconds of flailing, and the robot stopped, eyes blinking rapidly. He dropped the wires hanging from his arms and put both hands against his temples, pushing hard and frowning. Ryan waited, fear trickling out of his system and replaced with curiosity and mild concern for the robot who didn't look at him, but held his head in his hands and kept blinking.

He stopped blinking, and looked up. His eyes, unfocused and searching, finally found Ryan, leaning on the door without a care in the world, assured that it wasn't a burglar but rather a helpless robot that had found his way inside. A quick glance at the window and the empty shelf below it, the contents of which were spilled on the floor below, let Ryan know exactly how he'd done it. He told Brandon they needed cameras out back, or at the very least some extra alarms. Granted, it was harder to make the case for added security with a robot discovery rather than robbery, but if a robot could make his way in, couldn't a human do it even better?

Ryan turned his attention back to the robot, who had scuttled away until his back bumped against the nearest box. He narrowed his eyes at him, though the action must have disturbed something in him because they went wide and he was blinking again. “H-how long have you been here?” he asked, despite his distress. His legs coiled against himself and his fingers went stiff, ready to springboard his body off the floor. Ryan scoffed, a little hurt at the thought he would endanger a robot, or that he would even feel the need to. Dangerous robber with a gun? Bring out the wrench and hope for the best. A helpless robot? Ryan could probably take him down with one hand.

He swung said wrench again, flipping it idly a couple times, until it nearly slipped from his fingers and he had to scramble to catch it, losing the relaxed image with panicked hands. “Well,” he said, when he got a hold of the tool and tightened his fist around it, “it was long enough to know that you know nothing about robot mechanics.” He raised his free hand to point at the robot's arm. “Those two wires are different colors for a reason. They don't connect.”

The robot's shoulders came up to his ears, head ducking down to hide his face. Ryan stared at him for a minute, eyes roaming from his face, scratched to hell and caked in mud, hair splayed wildly around it and falling in his eyes, down his battered chest to his torn legs, skin broken to expose more wires, and he even thought he saw a spark when the robot drew his legs close again. The poor thing was beat to death and looked ready for the trash heap. That he worked well enough to break in and try to repair his injuries should be a miracle in and of itself.

And damn, if that didn't tug at his heartstrings.

Ryan smiled, and let out a quiet, sympathetic laugh. “Do you need help?” he asked, pushing off the doorway to step closer. The robot pushed back again, the box behind him rattling with the movement. He brought one leg up, foot resting with his ankle on the floor to show the underside to Ryan, ready to shove him back. Catching the signals, Ryan stopped and knelt down a few feet away.

When Ryan halted, the robot let out a tiny breath and turned away. Ah, he could breath as well. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make him act human.

The robot's shoulders sagged, with broken gears or a weight Ryan couldn't see. The leg he didn't hold on the defensive bent inwards, and he put a hand on his ankle. “No,” he said, with that pretty accent, and shook his head. “I don't have any money. I'm sorry, I'll leave.”

Ryan drew his brows together, shifting to his knees and dropping the wrench he'd been holding. Each movement made the robot flinch, and he was slow as he shuffled closer and reached a hand out, trying to touch the exposed casing on the robot's arm. The robot scrambled again, swatting Ryan away with his other hand. Undeterred, Ryan kept moving close and put a hand on the cut, quietly shushing the robot as he did so. “Hey, hey, hey,” he urged, voice quiet, “you're okay, it's okay.”

“I'm not a damn rabbit!” The robot smacked his hand, and took the hesitation from Ryan as a chance to push himself up and back into the wall, arms tight against his body. Another slew of spare parts toppled to the floor in front of his feet like a barrier between them.

Ryan shook out his hand until the sting went away, and stood to match the robot's height. Though he looked straight at him, the robot wouldn't meet Ryan' eyes, instead staring at the floor. Ryan rubbed his hand and considered his options. He was taller by several inches and, if need be, could probably pick the robot up and drag him out. Skittish, jumping every second, full of mistrust and torn to bits, it was no wonder the robot had been wandering by himself and somehow found his way in here, although part of him had to ask where the hell his owner went. If he'd come with the goal of fixing himself, sitting on the storage room floor and pulling his own wires out, he probably knew this was a repair shop, which meant he could probably read. An intelligent model, built slim and young looking, further confirming his suspicions that he was a personal model. Ryan doubted anyone would program him to act as sour as he was, hiding from him in the corner. Something must have happened to him that processed as a mistrust of humans.

He leveled his gaze with the robot again. “You don't want help.”

It had been such a long moment of silence, that he jumped yet again when Ryan spoke. The robot shook his head quickly, tucking tighter against the wall. The objects on the shelf behind him rattled when his back bumped on the wood. “Because you haven't got money?” Ryan asked, eying his injuries again. It would take hours to fix everything. The robot was blinking rapidly again and Ryan would hedge a guess that something happened to his visual components. The breaks in his skin and casing would need to be fixed and replaced so he didn't appear to have been broken, possibly with custom made parts. And the mistrust, of course, which wouldn't be so easily changed without taking the poor robot's brain apart, a thought that didn't appeal to him.

All in all, a very long term project.

“Please,” the robot said, so quiet Ryan almost missed it. He put his hands together, wringing them around each other a couple times, until he winced and had to stop, dropping his hands back down. “Please,” he repeated, “don't tell anyone I was here. I'll leave, I promise.”

Skittish and afraid, apparently. Ryan sucked in a breath at the sound of his plea, and the way the robot stepped from foot to foot in place. He wouldn't last another week outside.

With nowhere else to go, squished against the shelf, the robot couldn't run, and Ryan didn't worry about it as he bent down again and started cleaning up. He grabbed the tools the robot took from the wall and replaced them where the pencil outlines underneath half hammered nails dictated their places. He kicked some of the stuff out of the way, putting back the ones he could see had fallen from specific boxes, slowly making a path in the crowded room. The robot pushed against the shelf again, hands splayed wide. Ryan picked a few more metal scraps up and chucked them in a box before quickly, quietly, stepping close. As predicted, the robot tried to dodge and run around, but Ryan caught him by the shoulder. “Hey,” he said again, ignoring the way the robot shivered at his touch. “I can help,” he said, louder, to catch his attention. It worked; the robot stopped and looked up at him. “No charge,” Ryan continued. “If you promise to clean up the rest of the mess you made getting in here, I'll take a look at you and fix anything I can.” He gestured behind him to the remaining clutter. “It's a pain in the ass cleaning this place. I'd rather you do that than pay me anything.”

The robot glanced between the mess of the room and Ryan, eyes wide and no longer blinking. This close, he could see the cameras embedded within them, whirring softly as he stared. A beat of silence passed. With a heavy swallow in his throat that Ryan could see, the robot nodded. His shoulder drooped in his grip, body losing its tension. Ryan smiled.

“Great,” he said, moving back and releasing him. “Follow me, I've got a work station already set up.” He turned, stepping carefully across the floor and picking the wrench up on his way out to toss on a nearby shelf. He held the door open and looked back, lips pursed at the sight of the robot still standing at the back wall. “Come on,” he said, and tilted his head toward the main room. “We're not getting anything done with you standing there.”

The robot wouldn't move. He tried to twiddle his hands again, winced, pattered back and forth on his feet, stood still, looked at him again. Ryan waited, tapping his fingers on the door. The rain kept on outside, the rhythm a comfort as he stared at the frozen robot. He let another few minutes go by, before muttering, “God damn it.” Ryan let the door fall shut and stalked across the room. The robot flinched and drew back, but couldn't escape the arm put around his waist. With a pained grunt, and a reminder to himself to go to pick up an extra hour at the gym, Ryan lifted him, holding the robot's weight on his chest and treading carefully back out of the room. The robot squawked and wriggled in his grip, kicking his feet like a child on their way to bed. Ryan plopped him on the floor when they left storage, and put his hands on his knees, breathing hard. “Forgot how heavy you guys are,” he said, inhaling fast.

“You didn't have to do that!” the robot said, brushing Ryan's touch off every inch of his body. “I can walk.”

“But you didn't.” Ryan shook his head and swiped his hair from his face, eying the robot again. The main room didn't have much better light than storage, with only the lamp Ryan had been using for the scooter parts, but it was still an improvement. In here, he could see the dusty brown of the robot's hair, and how green his eyes were. He was even thinner than Ryan first thought. Perhaps he was a teenage model. “What's your name?” Ryan said suddenly, surprising himself with the thought.

It caught the robot off guard as well, pausing mid swipe down his arm of the imaginary trace of Ryan. He turned back and forth, eyes searching for a place to look that wasn't the man standing before him. “Gavin,” he said, quiet once more. He resumed brushing himself off, less enthusiastically than before, and stepped a couple feet away. “It's Gavin.”

“Ryan,” he said, putting a hand out. “It's nice to meet you.”

Gavin eyed the hand like he might a venomous snake. Ryan gave up and walked across the room to the table he'd been working on. He pushed the scooter parts to the side, nudging the scooter itself from where it leaned against the table legs to sit a few feet back, and turned to face Gavin. He pat the tabletop. “All right, then, up you go. Let's have a look at you.”

As it seemed to be with anything that brought him physically closer to Ryan, Gavin moved slowly, walking step after careful step until he reached the table. There was a limp in the way he walked, his left knee giving out a couple times. Ryan eyed the offending part suspiciously, and reached out to help Gavin up. The robot refused him and boosted himself, knocking bottles of glue and boxes of screws as he turned himself over to sit properly. Ryan let out a tiny puff of air and grabbed what had fallen, setting them aside as neatly as he had the patience for.

“Good,” he said, hands going to his hips as he looked Gavin over once more. “Don't worry, we'll have you fixed up in no time.” He opened the nearest drawer and rummaged around for what he could use, glancing at Gavin, who still refused to look at him and watched the windows instead. The rain kept steadily on the glass, providing background noise to Ryan's work as he pulled out a measuring tape and a magnifying glass. “Trust me,” he whispered, moving in close to take Gavin's hand. The robot tried to draw back again, but Ryan's grip was firm and gentle, peering close to take stock of the broken skin all around the edges of his palms.

Beside them, the scooter sat, neglected and still broken.