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Don't Break My Android Heart

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There's a scrap yard about an hour from the centre of London, surrounded by mobs of seagulls and the looming shadows of tips silhouetted against a grubby grey sky. Most people would probably find it depressing, a dystopian wasteland. A sense of calm settles over Bressie as soon as he gets within a mile of it, though, an involuntary smile ghosting across his face in the rear-view mirror.

He's driving the flatbed today, work gloves folded on top of his leather jacket in the passenger seat and a list of materials and dimensions scrawled on a napkin tucked in the console cup-holder. His latest sculpture is still just a pile of sheet metal and blowtorches with a few gallons of iridescent opal paint stacked in the corner of the warehouse. He's got a real commission this time—finally able to build up his corporate portfolio and get some stability and routine into his work.

Bressie is on a mission today, knows exactly the kind of harsh, jagged pieces he's looking for in the junkyard wreckage. He checks in with Liam, the attendant at the gate, and drives over to the refuse awaiting the compactor at the northwest corner of the yard. Liam pulls up in a muddy yellow forklift not long after, jumping out to help Bressie load up.

"What're we looking for today, mate?" he asks, wiping his hands on his faded jeans before pulling on a thick pair of work gloves. He's sweaty and dirty, flannel shirt wrapped around his waist and a couple days' growth of beard on his strong jaw.

Liam's always a big help when Bressie comes in to collect supplies, and they've gone for a drink after his shift ended more than once. The heavy clunk of his workboots is offset by his crinkle-eyed smile, and he's brilliant to share a pint with, always has a good story. "Anything I can get off here, if you've got it. Whatever else catches my eye."

The corner of the yard they're in houses towering stacks of sharp steel, bent and mangled, rusted and corroded and exactly the kind of harsh and unforgiving wreck that Bressie's looking for. He jumps out of the cab of the truck next to Liam and pulls on his gloves as he scans the aisles, stretching out his arms and lower back so he doesn't pull anything when he starts lugging.

Bressie gestures to what looks like the bent bonnet of a car and Liam helps him dig it out, muscles shifting. In the next row, there's something akin to a partially de-toothed circular saw at least as big as Bressie's torso—after that, they go after four thickly ribbed pipes crusted inside with mould and rust, and more baggies of nuts and bolts than he could find in an entire B&Q.

There's the looming shape of some desiccated construction equipment over to the west a bit, so Bressie makes sure to tuck in the hem of his thick canvas trousers and starts hiking over the stacks of rubbish towards it. "Think we'll even be able to get any of that to budge?" he asks, thumbing in its direction.

"Honestly couldn't say, mate," Liam says, squinting at it. "Let's get the forklift, may help." Considering Bressie's not even sure they'll manage to dislodge it, much less load it onto the flatbed, he gives a curt nod and heads over to Liam's forklift.

They sit in companionable silence while Liam drives, Bressie eyeing the piles of refuse for anything that looks useful. "Seen Louis lately?" he asks, pushing up his sleeves.

Liam nods. "Yeah, came over to watch the match the other day. You should come too, mate—bet we'd have a good laugh."

Bressie's just about to make a date when something ivory-white glints in the bare hint of sun weakly trickling through the overcast sky; it immediately catches Bressie's attention. "Hey wait, stop a second—" He tumbles out of the cab of the forklift into a pile of cardboard and shuffles a bit, sliding on some rotten organic waste, using his gloved hand to steady himself as he fumbles his way down the tower of rubbish. The thing glinting at the bottom of the heap is a bit dirty, kind of matte, and it looks suspiciously like a body, now that he's closer to it. A human body, dirty and smudged. "Shit. Oh, shit. Liam! Get over here!"

Bressie pulls at the junk surrounding the body, industrial refuse of some sort, mostly sharp-edged, corroding metal. It looks like a boy, late teens at the oldest, and he's naked but for what seems oddly like some sheets of packing foam wrapped around his torso, secured with masking tape. "What the fuck," Bressie murmurs, and gets his hands under the boy's armpits to haul him up out of the rubbish.

Liam gives a shout when he's close enough to see what's going on. "Brez! Is he still alive?"

Bressie gets his fingers up under the boy's chin and feels for a pulse—nothing. But it's not just that there's no blood pumping under his skin. The skin itself feels too perfect, considering. And now that he's thinking about it, brain disengaging from panic and settling into detached practicality, the boy is heavy. Far, far too heavy for his slight frame and delicate features. His eyes are closed and his face is peaceful, and he's cold to the touch but none of his limbs have been stricken by rigor mortis; he doesn't smell like anything but plastic and the tang of the rusted metal he was buried in.

"I—he's definitely not alive," Bressie says, muscles starting to protest. The kid is so dense. Everything about him is off, somehow. "I don't think—Liam. I think it's a bot."

Liam skids to a halt next to Bressie, panting and looking at the kid—the robot—with wide eyes. "I've never actually seen one up close before," he says, a little awe-struck. "Certainly never had any dumped as long as I've been working here."

Bressie looks at its pale, placid face, dirty and strange. The hair is matted down, muddy, and where the thin packing strips aren't wrapped around the torso its limbs are scraped and soiled. It almost looks mottled with bruises, and a shiver goes down his back. It really seems exactly like the battered, lifeless body of a boy.

He's never been this close to a droid in real life—they're on telly often enough, but he usually only comes across them himself in places like Soho and Kensington, or when he's in the City for meetings. That's if he even notices them; high-end droids are difficult to tell from normal people. Once he held the door for one in a doctor's office on Hawley Street and didn't realise it until it plugged into a wall panel down the hall.

"Alright, Liam, it's real fucking heavy. Help me load it up?"

"You still have to pay by the pound, you know," Liam says, eyebrows raised, sounding concerned and unsure.

"I know. Let's not bother with picking up anything else, I'll just go with what I got."

"You sure?" Liam says, clearly trying to be sensible. "That thing's really giving me the creeps. Maybe I should just drive it straight over to the incinerator." Lots of people don't like the flash of droids, or the unsettling eeriness about them that comes from looking almost human enough, but not quite. Bressie's heard just as many people slagging them off as he's heard people wishing they could afford one of their own. Considering the more than passing resemblance this one has to a murder victim, he's not surprised that Liam's not exactly keen.

"No, I can use it," Bressie says, nodding down at the bot's feet to indicate Liam should give him a hand. "It's not every day you come across something like this. I can use it in a piece, for sure. And if not, I bet I could sell it for parts and make enough for the supplies for my next three projects."

"I have a mate could help you sell off the parts, most like," Liam says, pitching in with a grunt and a disbelieving smile. "You weren't kidding when you said it was heavy, Brez. Shit."

"I'll give you a ring if I need anything," Bressie says. They both lapse into silence but for the heavy breaths of exertion, using all their energy to lug the bot to the forklift.

Back at the truck, Bressie secures his supplies in the bed and has Liam help him awkwardly get the bot into the passenger seat. It's more than a little grotesque—the lolling head, the loose limbs. "Is it—you know, full-on, or like an Action Man down there?" Liam says, rubbing uncomfortably at the back of his neck once the bot is buckled in so it won't pitch through the windscreen if Bressie has to make an abrupt stop.

Bressie’s not sure—the packing material obscures most of its pelvis and groin, and it feels too awkward to check, particularly with Liam there looking on. "I can honestly say I have no idea or desire to know," Bressie says with a grin, and Liam shrugs sheepishly.

"Not often you get a droid just sitting there, you know. Makes a bloke curious."

"Well I'll let you know if I find out," Bressie says. "You should come over at the weekend and have a look. I'll have Louis round and maybe you can bring your techie friend. Give us a text if you're free."

Liam gives Bressie a salute and smacks at the side of the truck to send him off, smiling his sweet crinkle-eyed smile in the rear-view mirror.

___

Bressie makes the drive in to his studio space in SE15 consciously not looking at the prone form of the bot next to him. He surreptitiously checks his phone when he's stopped in traffic, does a scan to find what kind of bot this kid—this one—might be. There's nothing particularly conclusive, but the fact that its skin is completely seamless from what Bressie can see, waterproof and concealing anything obviously inorganic about its insides, means it's definitely top of the line.

Some of the most realistic-looking bots are the exorbitantly expensive sex droids, which makes Bressie blush hotly as if the bloke in the car next to him could tell exactly what he was looking at. The bot in the passenger seat looks so delicate, so young; he's not sure if that makes it more or less likely that it was made for—that. He shifts uncomfortably and closes out of his phone browser just in time for the traffic on the A2 to ease up.

He pulls up to the loading dock at the studio building on Haymerle Road and flips off the engine. He unbuckles the belt around the bot and folds him down awkwardly in the passenger seat so no passers-by will be able to see it lolling there lifelessly, then hops out of the cab and grabs a trolley to load up with supplies.

"Hi," drawls Harry, who shares the large warehouse studio space with Bressie. He's in the loading bay, checking reservation times on the clipboard hanging by the door. "You're early."

"I can wait if you're signed up?" Bressie says.

"Just noticing, not minding," Harry says with a sweet smile. He looks a bit spacy, but affable as usual.

"As soon as I get unloaded I have something you should see," Bressie says.

He can't imagine anyone who'd love to get an up-close look at a top-of-the-line bot more than Harry would. He'd done an admittedly spectacular performance piece a few months ago called Cyber Invasion that Bressie still thinks about sometimes. He's not entirely sure if he understood the story Harry was telling—the whole thing was pretty cerebral—but Harry did have a posh upbringing, and his nanny may have actually been one of the fancier child-minding models of domestic droid. There were a lot of autobiographical elements to the piece.

During the lead-up to the show, Harry would often come into the studio with diagrams of different kinds of robots, the cheap ones, the personal assistant models, the healthcare and rescue droids, the ones that barely bridged the gap between humanoids and pure machine-like assembly line fixtures. None of them looked nearly as realistic as the one in Bressie's passenger seat.

Harry would snap pictures of bots he saw out in the city, had a whole projection wall on his side of their space made up of things he'd collected into a collage of inspiration. Bressie's eyes had often wandered there. Some of the images had been of Harry as a child with what looked like the nanny droid, and there was one in particular that Bressie was immediately drawn to of young Harry and a little girl droid, playing. He never asked about it, and Harry never explained the personal images.

"I'll help you then, shall I?" Harry says, and hops up, clapping his hands together. "What've we got today?"

Bressie throws him a spare pair of work gloves. "Materials for the Muirhead Aerospace commission."

"Ah," Harry says with a cheeky smirk. "So that's where all the blowtorches have gone."

Bressie rolls his eyes, but pats Harry manfully on the back. "You know you're welcome to whatever you need, neighbour."

"So just come see you if I need my torch blown?" Harry says, all innocent eyebrows and primly clasped hands.

Bressie winks at him, "You fecker," and Harry laughs.

With the two of them, they make fairly quick work of the load in the bed of Bressie's truck, with only two minor disasters on Harry's part. He did have to run into the road to snatch up a runaway pipe, but even with the setback, four hands are much faster than two. "So what's this you wanted to show me?" Harry asks, untying his hair and shaking it about for a moment before re-tying it.

"C'mere," Bressie says, and opens the passenger door of the cab of the van. He grabs the bot's bicep and wrestles him back into a sitting position. "Look what I picked up at the tip today, Haz."

Harry's eyes bug and his mouth makes a perfect "o". "That's incredible," he breathes. "Never seen one like it."

"You can touch it if you want," Bressie says, suddenly feeling shy about it, then weird that he feels shy. It's not even his, not really.

Harry just shakes his head. "Their skin kind of creeps me out," he says. "Some people say they sort of suck the life force out of you. Because they want so badly to be alive." He trails off, and Bressie shifts awkwardly in the gravity of the moment. "Does it work, do you know?"

"Don't think so. Haven't really had a chance to investigate. I figure I can use it in a piece, maybe something just for me for once. And if not, maybe I can sell it for parts."

Bressie's been working on a project of his own, not anything like the large-scale lobby pieces he's trying to get known for among the architects and city planners in central London. It's mostly just blueprints yet, and he barely ever has time to work on it. It's intricate, intense, and he's trying to let it grow as organically as he can, considering how bound he is by his materials.

He got into art in the first place because it's an outlet for him, a way to work out his anxieties, to express a kind of darkness that doesn't have anywhere else to go. It was rough as a kid, not understanding his feelings, biting his tongue instead of telling anyone. It wasn't until he was older that he did some research and found out he could get a scan, put a label on the tightness in his chest and stop feeling like an alien in the middle of his own family.

He could get a subdermal implant to fix it, not ever need to think about it again beyond a few check-ups now and again to adjust the dosage of medication released under his skin. He doesn't want to, though; not that there's anything wrong with medication, it's just not for him. He tried it for a while, a few different kinds, but always ended up having them removed. Art is the solution for him, instead. It's how he can let it go for a while. He can twist and mangle unforgiving rock, sheets of metal and glass, shatter things and use the broken shards to add glittering sharpness.

It's therapeutic—pulling the grime and sickness from inside of him and putting it on the outside instead makes him feel cleaner, healthier. There's that burning drive in him that says maybe this piece could be something special—maybe it could show other people that it's okay to not be okay, that getting it out is better than keeping it inside you, letting it fester.

Back home in Ireland, the suicide rate is shamefully high. Kids with no outs, burdened with stigma and fear because they know they're not normal and they don't know that there are options for them. They don't know there are ways to make it something they can deal with, like Bressie didn't. He could use his piece to do something—he's been trying to get a gallery show since he first moved to London from Mullingar for the art scene.

He's had a few pieces in other shows, but never one of his own. He always wants to do more, wants to get his ideas out in the world. He could speak his message, get real backers from the right circles to start a program for kids to make art instead of slicing themselves open. What he's doing now pays the bills, but he's only just starting to find any stability, and having a name in the art world would mean he could focus on the important stuff instead of just making sure he can live off his work.

"You're sitting on a fortune, probably," Harry says, bringing him back to the droid sitting in front of them. "Should've never come across one of these in a dump, though. They've got really strict laws for decommissioning and disposing of bots. Particularly high-grade ones like this bloke." Harry's eyes are soft, and it's almost like he's looking at a living person, some stranger sleeping in the cab of Bressie's truck—someone a little dangerous, maybe, but fragile. Bressie hums in the back of his throat and claps Harry on the back. He's got an anxious prickle in his belly for some reason, and he doesn't like it.

"I did try doing a scan on the way here," he says, shrugging. He ghosts his hand over the droid's muddy hair, barely feeling it brush the pads of his fingers. "The closest thing I could find was—"

"The sexbots," Harry says, waggling his eyebrows. "He's pretty enough to be one. Look at that face. That's a good face. Beautiful mouth." Bressie clears his throat. Harry shrugs. "What? He does. Just stating a fact, mate." He grins.

"Yeah, well." Bressie sucks his teeth and smacks at the side of the truck, making a hollow clang. It's strange that the body doesn't twitch or move at all. "Thanks for the help, Haz."

"Heading home?" Harry asks, hunched and pigeon-toed but still looking long and lean and glitter-eyed.

"Guess so. I'll be back tomorrow to put in time on the Muirhead piece, but I got more important things to take care of right now."

"Reckon so," Harry says with a smirk, and Bressie can't tell if he's being dirty or if his face is just like that.

__

The drive back to Belsize Park isn’t too perilous, and luckily no one stops Bressie on the way or gets an eyeful of his passenger. Not that it's too unorthodox to have a droid riding shotgun, but they're usually not a beat up mess like this poor bot.

His flat is the top floor of a converted Victorian house—crisp and solid but pretty small, all told. Luckily the gabled roof gives him enough extra headroom to be comfortable. Unfortunately he does have to figure out a way to get the bot up the stairs, since there's no lifts in these old houses and the dumbwaiter is boarded up.

He parks in his spot in the service drive around back. There's an Aston Martin in the front of the house; his downstairs neighbour is a frightful show-off. Bressie does well enough, has a car he doesn't have to be ashamed of, but he'd rather die than go that flashy. It's not lost on him that carrying around a droid the likes of the one he's got now is a million times flashier than any Aston.

The gravel crunches under his tyres, and he parks with a heavy sigh. It's going to be a right pain in the arse lugging the bot upstairs. It was bad enough when he had Liam to help.

As if he'd been summoned, Louis Tomlinson comes scuttering out the service entrance to the house, hair a tousled mess that he pulls off admirably well and feet bare inside his little plimsolls. "What'd you bring me?" he asks with a mischievous smile.

"Not a damn thing, greedy guts," Bressie says, hopping out of the cab and grabbing Louis in a headlock before he can get too close to the passenger seat. "Why aren't you at work?"

"Rehearsal cancelled." Louis shrugs and pulls a thick-knit beanie out of his hoodie pocket, putting it on surprisingly carefully, arranging his fringe to peek out the front just so. He's the most homeless-looking pianist Bressie's ever seen, that's for sure. But then again Louis about bites his head off every time he says as much—I'm a session pianist, you knob. Not a concert pianist.

"So what now?" Bressie asks, pretty sure the answer is going to involve himself, unwilling or no.

"So now I'm bored and I need entertainment. Want a kick-around?"

Bressie shakes his head and rubs absently at Louis's shoulders, slight under his hands. He's just noticed the football sat lifelessly by Louis's feet. "Nah, but I saw Liam and Harry today, man. You know Liam's off soon and Harry makes his own hours, you should give 'em a ring. I've got work to do."

Louis raises an eyebrow in a what could possibly be more important than indulging me gesture.

"Sketches," Bressie says quickly. "For—you know. For my piece. The real one." He feels bad lying, invoking something Louis knows is so important to him—but hey, maybe he will do some work on it. There's a part of him itching to take the bot apart and use its body for just that purpose. It would be twisted and gross—exactly the right effect.

"Well fine then. I'm off to the park. I'll ring the lads. We'll have an epic game and you'll be sorry you missed out, Mr All-work-and-no-play." Louis has his mouth crooked meanly, but Bressie can see his eyes are soft.

Bressie shoos him away and fiddles around with the packing blankets he has in the bed of the truck until Louis is far enough down the street that he couldn't look back and catch an eyeful. Bressie gets a trolley out of the back—thoughtfully stowed away by the oddly insightful Harold, no doubt—and awkwardly yanks and slides the bot until it's loaded up and secured with a set of bungees.

It takes a sweaty twenty minutes or so, but Bressie manages to heft the whole kit and caboodle up to his third floor flat. It's cluttered but comfortable, an overstuffed couch and several mismatched chairs, a cast-off dining table from his mum and a cabinet that together are far too fancy for the rest of his furnishings. The walls are still stark white, but he did fit a nice art deco hanging lamp over the dining table, and he's got some free-standing pieces he and some friends have done that cast interesting shadows on the blank walls. It really does all come together nicely, if he says so himself.

He leaves the trolley with the bot strapped to it inside the door while he shucks off his clothes and makes a beeline for the shower. He lets himself drift while he soaps up. The little droid's a mess, and he'll have to figure out how to clean that as well, but a shower probably won't work.  He could try and get it into the bath—he's not sure if that's even possible, if they'll take the water. They must get clean somehow, though, and he's seen a few personal droids out in the rain before doing shopping. They must be waterproof.

Images of the little bot all soapy and clean press in on him then, its eyes opening finally as Bressie towels off the last toe and looks up at it. He groans and leans his head against the slick tile of the wall, palming at his dick. He's a complete bollix. It's weird. Even if it is a sexbot, that's weird as shit. It looks like a kid.

He cranks the water to cold for a blood-chilling moment, then off, and shakes his head vigorously. It's been a while since the model in Tipperary, but not long enough to justify that train of thought.

Bressie towels off briskly, has a shave and cleans his teeth and generally putters around putting together an outfit for no reason—no one's going to see it—and putting on aftershave for no reason—no one's going to smell it. He's just stalling, he thinks, so he doesn't have to go figure out what to do with his new home furnishing.

The bot is still strapped to the trolley of course, so he wheels it into the converted sewing room—it's a workroom for him, now, worn wooden floors and high windows with a lot of natural light. His piece in progress is over in the corner, covered with a tarp. He props the trolley up on the opposite wall, and frees the droid from the bungees. "Here goes nothing, I guess," he murmurs, and starts peeling away the thin foamy packing strips.

The droid's body is slight but well-proportioned, covered in pale skin darkened with filth and mess and scratches from being in the junkyard. It's hard for Bressie not to call them wounds as he reveals them, because if the bot is anything, it's disturbingly life-like. Beautiful, even. It has two perfect round nipples, shallow grooves where the obliques would wrap around the ribs. Softly defined abs, subtle armpit folds complete with hair. The shoulders are narrow to Bressie but broad compared to the trim waist, the barest flare of hips. It doesn't have any chest hair, barely any arm hair, but it does have a hint of a treasure trail, looking well but out of place on the delicate body.

Bressie is loath to remove the last packing strip, some strange desire to leave the droid with a semblance of dignity. Himself, too, maybe. It's not immediately obvious where the power switch is, though, and Bressie ought to at least see if it turns on before relegating it to be scrap. He presses his fingers gently to its straight boyish nose, the bare hint of cleft in its smooth chin, then to the back of its neck, short hairs there tickling at the whorls of his fingerprints just like it was a real boy. He traces down to the perfectly sculpted wings of its collarbones, pressing along them. He tries the sternum, over the heart, even—embarrassingly—the nipples. He tries the tips of each of the droid's fingers—surprisingly long and able looking. He tries the pulse points at the wrists, where whatever droids have as skin feels thin and fluttery even though there's obviously no heartbeat, no blood, no animation at all.

Bressie tries the dip at the bottom of its spine, checks the bottom of each dirty foot, the hollow of each knobbly young knee. Its legs have hair, just enough to seem right, like its arms. He gently presses at its eye sockets, the hardness of whatever it uses for eyes feeling strange under the thin lids, not giving like a human eye would.

Bressie's mouth has gone dry and he's breathing open-mouthed, the tell-tale heaviness of anxiety stirring in his belly. He flicks open his pocketknife and slices through the tape on the last packing strip, secured double around the droid's hips. He clears his throat and pushes into a clinical place in his mind—like he's helping out a mate who got a jellyfish sting while surfing in Sligo.

He rips the packing strip away—the droid has slim, delicate hips, contoured as perfectly and accurately as the rest of its slight body. Bressie hums in the back of his throat and gingerly pushes apart its thighs, fleshy and strong with what feels eerily like real muscle. It's anatomically correct in every way, not that he's surprised, but it's awkward when he pushes aside its penis, flaccid and uncircumcised and average-sized, perfectly proportional to its frame. His reading did not suggest whether bots actually need to use them for anything—sexbots aside—and he's not particularly interested in finding out just now.

His shoulders itch a little, hypersensitive to the seams of his shirt. He rolls them and steels himself up to peer between the droid's thighs, past the awkward tuck of its balls—there's nothing that looks like a switch down there, and Bressie can't bring himself to probe with his fingers, goosebumps already shivering up and down his arms. It's getting too creepy, and he can't imagine that something that's most likely used for sex would have an on switch someplace it could so easily be accidentally pressed.

Liam's Action Man question has been completely and irrevocably answered, but Bressie isn't about to ring him to let him know how that happened.

He gives up with a shaky sigh, keyed up and feeling even weirder and guiltier than before, like there's a dead stranger in his house. He pulls one of the soft blankets from the built-in shelves on the other side of the room and wraps it around the droid, tucking it tight and dragging the whole thing over to the far dark corner until he can figure out what to do next.

Having what is most likely a sexbot sitting there in the corner leaves him with a sickly guilt residue in his stomach—for all that he's seen the sensationalised telly programs about them and maybe-possibly had a furtive wank or several over the thought of one, he'd never admit it to anyone.

He's only ever seen one once that he knows of, out with its owner and dressed exactly as you'd expect a sexbot to be dressed: in something revealing and expensive. He'd been fascinated but uncomfortable at the time, although more people take their sexbots out these days, proud to show them off and use them for all their various other outside-the-bedroom functions. It still seems more like something Bressie would watch on a trashy reality show than ever encounter in his actual life.

The itch in him, the tingly pins and needles under his skin, propels him towards his sculpture by the window. The uneasy clouds in his chest are exactly what he wants to work out, are what he wants to capture in it. He grabs his pliers and the coil of steel wire and the sheet of carbon fibre on the sturdy table next to the half-formed pillar and starts giving shape to the sharpness trying to cut its way out of him. He flicks on the stereo with his universal remote and loses himself to the work.

__

Sometime later, the humming drone of decades-old Kraftwerk is swaddling Bressie in white noise when something startles him, makes him snip a second too early on the wire he's working with, ruining part of the frame. He turns around, eyeing the shadowy corner where the droid was slumped under the blanket, but it's exactly where he left it. For a second he could swear he saw the head move, maybe even just the flutter of an eyelash—something. He's staring at it too hard now, though, convincing himself just through the power of suggestion that he can see its chest move, rising and falling at least a hair's breadth. He shakes his head, rolls his shoulders. Come on, Brez. Snap out of it. No reason for a bot to be breathing anyway.

He gets back to work, but it's only a couple minutes later that something makes a hollow thunk, unmistakable even over his music. He pushes up to his feet and stalks across the room, some crazy part of him determined to rip it limb from limb if it's moving on its own, even though he knows full well he can barely lift it and that it would be entirely impossible, no matter how hard he's been training.

Bressie angles the work lamp into the corner and crouches down, peering at it cautiously, just barely extending his hand out to give it a tap in the middle of the forehead.

Electric blue eyes snap open and a cold hand wraps in a death grip around Bressie's wrist. He tries to shout but it gets stuck in his throat as he throws himself backwards, scrambling away with a flailing crabwalk, boots thunking madly against the floor, heels of his palms slipping sweatily against the wood. "Jesus fucking Christ!" he finally manages, smashed in the corner by the door to the en suite bathroom.

The droid, who must've let go as soon as Bressie pushed away, is just sitting there in the corner now, eyes bright blue, wide and fixed on Bressie. Its mouth is in a little moue, head cocked to the side ever so slightly, exactly like a curious cat. It makes a quiet noise, half between a beep and a purr, and slowly wraps the blanket around itself like a shawl, legs drawn up under it, knobbly knees pulled to its chest.

"Fucking bollix," Bressie breathes, and takes a few giant, calming gulps of air, one hand outstretched towards the bot as if he were still warding it off. It looks like a cold human boy, all told, dirty and confused. The desire to talk to it is overwhelming, both because Bressie needs to calm himself down, but also because it's entirely possible it can understand him, and he doesn't know what confused droids may or may not do to their feckless—owners. Operators. Unlucky bystanders. "You scared the living shit out of me."

The bot doesn't say anything, just beeps softly, and Bressie could swear its eyes glow for a second, phosphorescent ice blue. "What's your name?" Bressie tries. He inches closer, hand still outstretched. It stays silent, and Bressie can't say he's too surprised. He's seen Tarzan, he knows how these things are supposed to work. He points to himself, presses his hand to his own chest. "I'm Niall. Breslin. Niall." He points at the bot after, raising his eyebrows, nodding his head. "You're…?"

"Niall," the robot says.

"Yes, I'm Niall," Bressie says again, motioning to himself. "Do you have a name?"

"Niall?" the robot says again, mirroring Bressie's hand placement on its own chest. It gestures to itself just like Bressie did, and Bressie sighs.

"I'm Niall." Bressie puts his hand on his chest again. "You are?" He moves his hand, inching closer to the bot, nearly touching it.

"Niall," the bot says again. It stretches out its arm, placing its hand on Bressie's chest. Bressie starts, but it just feels like any normal hand—a little warm, delicately boned, solid. His pec twitches involuntarily where the droid makes contact, and the bot pulls its hand back, touches its own chest and nods. "Niall."

Bressie laughs. "Well shit. This always seems a lot easier in the movies. So you're Niall now too, I guess." He shakes his head, and tries one last thing. "Niall," he says, pointing at the droid. It nods. "Bressie," he says, pointing at himself.

"Bressie," the droid says, pointing at Bressie, and then smiles for the first time. It's a wide, sweet smile, a little empty and confused but disarming on its worse-for-wear face. "Niall," it says, and points back at itself.

Bressie tosses his hands in exasperation, but he can't help smiling back. "You're a little fecker, aren't you? Fine. You can take Niall, hardly anyone calls me that anymore these days anyway."

The fact that it could say two names, take one on for itself and learn Bressie's—at least sort of—suggests that it has some sort of functional language ability. It doesn't say anything else, though, just continues blinking back at Bressie with a slightly confused but generally pleasant look on its face.

"You're in a right state," Bressie says, and reaches out slowly to take the droid's—Niall's—hand. "Can you wash your hands, maybe?" Bressie asks, holding Niall's hand up next to his own, trying to show him the difference. "You're filthy."

"Filthy," Niall says. He has an Irish accent, and his voice is young and bright if a little worn—probably from being out of commission in a scrap yard for who knows how long, Bressie reminds himself. He clears his throat, trying not to think about the sexbot discussion with Harry, and moves swiftly onwards.

"Right. Well. I have no idea if you can even have a bath, or if it'll make you short-circuit or rust or something," Bressie manages, but he gets up and pulls Niall up after him, helping him stand on his own.

Niall's tiny, comparatively, and suddenly is easy to move, light and delicate, nothing at all like when he was powered down and the densest thing Bressie had ever attempted to haul. "But I guess since you were rubbish before anyway, it doesn't matter if it does, right? Long as you don't electrocute me to death." He feels weirdly bad after he says it, even though it's completely true.

There's a knock at Bressie's door, then, sharp and sudden. Bressie jumps a little and, strangely, so does Niall. Bressie could swear he heard the click and hum of something inside Niall, but he can't be sure since the rapping on the door is getting louder and more insistent. "Chill out, man!" he shouts towards the door. "Not you," he murmurs. Niall is looking down the hall, face blank. "Niall," Bressie tries, and the droid looks up at him. "Can you sit in the corner? Just for a second." Niall doesn't move, though his lips part just a little, like maybe he's thinking about trying to shape the words Bressie's saying. "Never mind," Bressie sighs, and takes Niall by the shoulders, walking him backwards into the corner and pressing him down to the floor, throwing the blanket over his head. He holds his hands over it while he says, "Stay, please. Just for a second," and hopes Niall gets the message.

Bressie jogs to the front door and opens it, just barely, just enough to see Louis on the other side, impatient frown on. "What are you doing in there?" Louis demands. "You having a wank or something, Brez?"

"I'm working," Bressie says smoothly. Something warm touches his hand and he manfully represses a yelp. He tilts his head just enough to see Niall by his side, peering at him, pawing at his hand.

"Oh, is that right?" Louis says, and it's clear he doesn't believe Bressie for a second. "I came to drag you out to have that kick-around. You've been 'working' too long." Bressie can hear inverted commas around that working like Louis has shouted them.

"Can't, chief," Bressie says, shrugging, trying to look disappointed. "I'll ring you when I come to a stopping point, though." Louis is up on his tiptoes, straining to see around Bressie's body through the narrowly opened door, but he's too small to get very far. Bressie makes sure his shoulders are wedged up to the door so there's no way Louis could catch a glimpse of Niall.

"I don't b—" Louis starts, but Bressie cuts him off.

"Gotta get back to it! Bye now!" he says brightly and shuts the door in Louis's face, locking it, turning with a sigh to lean against the door. Niall looks at him and makes a chirruping noise that Bressie tries not to find adorable. "You're not meeting Louis until you've at least had a bath," Bressie says. He can't help but smile, and Niall smiles easily back.

Niall follows him around, blanket still drawn around his body, just far enough behind that Bressie's reminded of a heeling puppy. He gathers a towel, his big fluffy dressing gown, a clean pair of his own jogging bottoms and a too-small undershirt that may be one of Louis's that somehow got into Bressie's wash from the communal dryer in the laundry room of the house.

Niall shuffles around at his elbow, watching everything he does. Bressie gets the distinct impression he's observing on purpose, cataloguing, learning. He follows Bressie's movements, mirrors what he does. Partially, Bressie feels like he should be unnerved, or annoyed, but there's something strangely delighting about little Niall following him about, doing what he does but simply, just because Bressie's doing it.

"Alright, this bit's probably going to be more complicated," Bressie says once they're sequestered in the bathroom, water filling up the tub. "I've just had my shower so I'm not getting in with you. Hopefully I can—help you—without needing to show you, okay?"

Niall just stares back at him pleasantly. "Filthy?" he says mildly, holding up one of his grimy hands. He gets distracted by the running water after a moment, looking at the stream coming from the faucet with undue fascination.

Bressie laughs and nods. "First, let's get rid of the blanket." He reaches out to unwrap the blanket from Niall's shoulders, preparing himself for the fact that Niall's still naked under there. Niall doesn't let it go right away, looking a little confused when Bressie takes it. "Sorry, I'm—I don't know if you get cold, but the water is warm, so." He motions to the tub, miming stepping into it. "If you get in the water, it'll feel better."

Niall's shoulders hunch in a little now that he's naked, and Bressie can't decide if it's more appropriate to look, seeing as Niall's just an object, really, and it's probably weirder to act like he isn't than anything else, or if it's more appropriate to look away.

He looks exactly like any teenager Bressie's ever seen, with narrow hips and soft belly and pale, fleshy thighs. Bressie clears his throat and eyes the water level instead, reaching out to grab Niall's wrist gently and tow him over to the side of the tub. He mimes getting in again, and this time Niall seems to catch on. He steps in, not very gingerly, but luckily Bressie is ready to catch him when his feet slip a bit in the water. "Easy, chief," Bressie says, and eases Niall down to sit on the bottom of the tub.

Niall looks up at him, eyes wide. "Normally you'd say, 'Thanks,'" Bressie tries.

"Thanks," Niall says. It occurs to Bressie that Niall's probably only got an Irish accent because Bressie does, and he lets out a shaky breath. Everything feels far too complicated.

"I guess I can—help you clean up," Bressie says, not really sure that Niall could do it on his own. Considering the quest for Niall's power switch earlier, he figures it can't be too bad.

After a few minutes of bathing Niall with a soapy facecloth in the now-murky bathwater, it's clear how wrong he was. Having Niall looking back at him as he rubs and scrubs at his pale pink skin and buffs at the scratches and smudges is far, far more awkward than looking for his power switch was. Bressie's sure he must be red-faced at this point; his cheeks are hot and he feels the shivery curl of embarrassment in his chest every time he has to touch a new one of Niall's parts.

"Tilt your head for me," he says, pushing gently at the back of Niall's neck, his own hand feeling enormous against the wings of Niall's shoulders. Niall goes easily, obediently, and Bressie pours a pitcher of warm, clean water through Niall's matted, dirty hair. It feels intimate, human, and Bressie tries to ignore the weird twist in his gut as he works his fingers against Niall's scalp, massaging out the grit and grime, rinsing him clean.

Niall's got blond hair under the dirt, and his skin is even paler and pinker than Bressie had him down for. He's got sweet smatterings of freckles down his neck and across his shoulders and chest. His knees are knobbly and young, and one of his toes is a bit weird, like it's been broken and not reattached or mended quite right. He looks so very human now that he's clean, just with an unsettling edge of too much perfection even in his flaws, something tight and calculated in every feature, every freckle. There's a silent electronic something in the air around him like when Bressie walks into a room and can tell there's a computer in it somewhere, on or in sleep mode, even if he can't see it.

Bressie gets up and gently takes Niall's forearm, pulling him up too. "All clean," he says.

Niall holds his other hand up, head cocked curiously. "Filthy?" he asks.

"Not filthy," Bressie says, shaking his head, trying to ignore that Niall is standing up in the tub all wet and naked. He holds his free hand up to Niall's, like he had before. "Clean."

"Clean," says Niall, and smiles. "Niall clean."

"Niall is clean," says Bressie, feeling the corners of his mouth ticking up.

"Niall is clean." Niall sounds happy, relaxed. Bressie can't even begin to contemplate what programming there must be in his robot brain, which parts of it are working and which aren't. He's blank and confused but learns almost instantly—maybe there are different circuits, different divisions of memory in him. His language storage and procedural memory are gone, maybe, but his learning chip works. Bressie doesn't even know if personal droids have learning chips. He sighs, and Niall mirrors it, his small, bare shoulders heaving. Bressie can't help but smile.

"Yep, you're clean," he says, and helps Niall out of the tub and into his white terry cloth dressing gown. He ties the sash tight for Niall, trying not to look at the inviting curve of his torso as he leans his chest back, hips jutting, so he can watch what Bressie's doing. The dressing gown is enormous on him, clear down to his feet, and the shoulder seams of it hang over his triceps. It makes him look smaller, and it makes Bressie's breath catch. He bites his lip and looks at the ceiling and ushers Niall out to his living room.

It's getting late, the sky outside Bressie's window long since dark. "Do you eat?" he asks Niall, probably fruitlessly.

Niall just looks back at him with a small smile, a little hopeful, like maybe if he just wants hard enough to understand, he will. Bressie mimes eating at him, and Niall doesn't say anything, just mimes it back, little nibbles on an imaginary sandwich and a sip of imaginary tea. Bressie sits him down on the overstuffed rust-coloured couch instead, pacing in front of the coffee table. Niall's head tracks his movement like he's watching a tennis match, and it should probably be unnerving, but mostly it's just kind of cute. Every so often he makes little chirruping noises, and Bressie's not sure if that's a droid thing in general or just Niall. It makes him sound kind of like a mix between a kitten and R2D2.

"You probably don't eat. Why would electronics need to eat. Maybe you need to charge? I have a charge pad over in the corner?" He points to the square black wireless charger in the corner of the room, right next to the big screen TV. Niall follows where he's pointing and gets up on his own, shuffling over to the charging pad. He stands still for a moment, just looking at it, but before Bressie can say anything, Niall's shed the dressing gown and crouched on it, feet and fingertips all in contact with the glassy surface. His eyes glow dimly as he looks up at Bressie with a smile. "Yes," he says, and Bressie could swear in the shadow of the dark sky through the window, that Niall's eyes get brighter.

Bressie barks a short laugh, pleased that he finally got something right. He tries not to dwell too long on Niall's awkward naked crouch. He really didn't need to take the dressing gown off if the contact has to be between his feet, fingers, and the charging pad. Bressie sidles over to him and drapes it hesitantly over his back. "It's probably better if you're not naked," he says.

"Naked," Niall says, blinking up at Bressie innocently. Bressie clears his throat.

"I'm—you know what? You can just sleep out here. I mean, I guess you don't get cold, so you don't need a blanket. Probably better for you to stay on the charger anyway. Who knows how long you were in that tip, right?" He backs away, and as Niall moves to follow him, he holds his hand out, palm to Niall, like he had when the bot had just woken up. "No, stay. Stay and charge."

"Stay," says Niall, sinking back down to his crouch. "Charge."

"Good. Good boy," Bressie says, taking a shaky breath and backing down the hall to his bedroom. "Stay." It's like he's talking to a particularly smart dog.

He means to stay awake and listen for Niall making any suspicious noises out in the living room, but of course he falls asleep as soon as he's under the covers, the stress of the day wearing on him. He dreams of Niall's electric blue eyes, glowing bright with a soft blink like the full charge light on his phone.

 __

Bressie wakes up to the murmuring of Radio 1. He groans, feeling completely unrested, like his head has only just hit the pillow. When he turns over to smack the alarm, his arm hits—a body. A cool, slight body, next to him in bed, tucked into his chest, hair tickling his armpit. A completely naked body, skin pressed neck to toes against Bressie.

"Jesus," he barks, and sits up, scrambling back towards the headboard. He wasn't even drinking last night, and he would've definitely remembered— "Niall," he says, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

Niall is sitting up now too, one hand outstretched towards Bressie, palm out, the other clutched in a fist over his chest. His eyes are wide, expression like maybe Bressie's scared him. If he can even be scared.

"Sorry, sorry," Bressie says in a rush, catching his breath. "It's just—what are you doing here, why are you—" he trails off, and Niall looks confused and unhappy. "Fuck, I'm sorry, you scared me." He forces a smile, and brackets Niall's wrist with his hand gently, pulling him back towards the middle of the bed. "You're okay."

Niall settles instantly, smiling at Bressie. "Charged," he says with a shrug. Bressie's movements look different on Niall's little frame. Cheerful.

"You're—not wearing anything." Of course, Bressie had left him on the charging pad last night with the dressing gown draped over him, Bressie's undershirt and jogging bottoms left forgotten in a neat pile on the lid of the toilet. "Fucking bollix," he mutters, trying not to look at the smooth planes of Niall's chest. He's cool to the touch, and Bressie's not sure if bots have stand-by modes like computers, but if they do, that would explain it. Bressie tucks Niall's hand back into his lap.

"Fucking bollix," Niall says, tilting his head. The duvet pools around his hips. His shoulders are actually quite broad for his waist, the muscles around his ribcage softly defined.

"No," Bressie says, shaking his head with a laugh, "don't say that." He claps his hand over his mouth to demonstrate, and Niall mirrors him. His eyes are smiling even though the curl of his lips is obscured. The fact that he's naked is more apparent than ever.

Bressie's life has become very strange.

Even if Niall doesn't need to eat or drink anything, Bressie definitely still does. He gets up with a groan. "I'm gonna put the kettle on," he says. "You can stay in bed if you want."

He's just turning from the kettle on the counter to the cabinet to get out a cup when Niall appears in front of him—must've followed him completely silently. Bressie gasps and jerks backwards, Niall just peering at him. "Why do you keep doing that?" he spits. "Make some noise!" He stomps his feet to demonstrate, and Niall does the same, his footsteps finally making some noise. His dick bounces awkwardly as he does, and Bressie tries not to choke. "Good, yes. Now clothes. You definitely need clothes."

He helps Niall into his undershirt and jogging bottoms, which of course Niall is absolutely swimming in. He looks half crazed, but it's the best Bressie has for the moment. Niall strokes at the material, looks intently at the weave and the seams. "Clothes," he murmurs.

"Good boy," Bressie says, weirdly proud.

He has to be back at the studio pretty early, so he turns on the telly to a station playing soap opera reruns and sets Niall down on the couch with a stern look. "Niall, please stay. I have to leave but I'll be back later tonight, okay, chief?"

Niall's eyes are narrowed, expression like he's concentrating or trying to understand. "I stay," he says. "You leave, I stay."

"Yes, exactly! Fuck, that's perfect. Yes." Bressie can't help himself and hugs Niall, quick and tight around the shoulders. Niall's grinning. Bressie ruffles his hair, soft now from the thorough washing. Bressie scritches his fingers in it a bit, wondering what it's actually made of. Niall's eyes slide closed, and he makes a chirpy beeping noise. "Alright," Bressie says, shaking himself out of it. "See you tonight."

He drives to the studio with the radio turned up, singing along to every single song even though his window is rolled down.

__

The sun is just setting by the time Bressie manages to leave, beating a hasty retreat while Harry's mid rambling joke, still lying on his back on a dolly under a car made primarily out of blue neon tubes. He's a sweet kid and he'll forgive Bressie, so Bressie doesn't feel too bad about it. He texts him at the first red light just to make sure he knows something came up.

The traffic's murder, and it's well and truly twilight when he pulls up outside his place. The high peaked window of his living room is lit up warm and gold in the dark, and Bressie's chest pinches a little when he thinks about Niall up there, curled on the sofa and watching Emmerdale.

He takes the stairs two at a time, and when he gets to his door—it's unlocked. He's positive he locked it before he left in the morning, and his heart catches in his throat. He never should've left Niall alone.

"Niall!" he shouts as he bangs the door open, not caring when it bounces off the living room wall with a heavy thunk.

Niall's on the couch, just as Bressie left him—but so is someone else, leaning over him, touching him. "Who the fuck—" Bressie starts, angry, and Niall whips around instantly. The person on the couch looks up at him, sharp eyes narrowed. "Oh, L—Louis," Bressie says, deflating.

Niall wriggles away and off the couch, running over to Bressie. He leaps at him, arms outstretched, and hugs him tight around the torso. "Bressie!" he says, guileless and happier than Bressie has ever heard anyone, probably.

"I can explain," Bressie starts.

Louis's eyebrows are practically in his hair. "Oh, can you?" he says dryly. "I'm not entirely sure you need to, mate."

"It's—he's a droid," Bressie starts.

"He's—what?" Louis's smug smile is gone.

"I found him yesterday when I was out getting scrap for my project. He's—I guess maybe a personal droid that malfunctioned, that's my best guess. Doesn't know how to talk or do anything."

Louis looks sceptical. "I mean—he was talking to me alright. Seems to know your name, too. And how to cling to you like a limpet."

"Well, he doesn't—he just woke up. Turned on. Whatever. Just started working properly yesterday, and I don't know. He wasn't on when I found him, I figured I could—use him for parts." Bressie trails off.

He'd completely forgotten that he'd been planning to dismantle Niall, sell his parts or fuse them into his project. It's disgusting, looking back on it. He couldn't possibly do that now. He lets his hand find the back of Niall's neck, scritching into his hair, rubbing at the wiry muscles where his neck melds into his shoulders. The unsettling knowledge that they're not actually muscles makes Bressie's nose itch a little, but he does it anyway.

"Use him for parts, eh?" Louis says, laughing. It's not unkind. "I get it. Always knew you were a secret pervert."

Bressie pulls his hands away from Niall like he's been burned and steps back. Niall stumbles, having been leaning on him heavily, not prepared for him to pull away. He makes a rapid clicking noise and looks distraught. "Sorry," Bressie says, a little breathless. To Louis, he says, "It's not like that at all. I was going to break him down and sell off the parts, but I accidentally turned him on somehow." He conveniently leaves out the fact that he spent agonizing minutes trying to turn Niall on on purpose, first. "He was all manky from being in a rubbish heap, so I cleaned him up, and he started learning words, and—"

"Are you really such a narcissist that you named him after yourself?" Louis asks, eyes bright like he's endlessly amused.

"That was an accident," Bressie says, rubbing over his lips, embarrassed. "I tried to tell him my name and it all went a bit pear-shaped."

Louis laughs again, completely delighted by Bressie's stupidity, per usual. Bressie can't help but smile sheepishly himself. "Why'd you leave him here all alone then?" Louis asks, tucking his feet up under him tailor-style on the couch. He looks comfy in his ratty t-shirt and jogging bottoms, not entirely unlike Niall. At least Louis's clothes fit.

"I can't very well bring him into work with me like this, can I?" Bressie says, gesturing at Niall's sorry excuse for an outfit and then taking Niall's wrist and towing him back over to the couch. "Derelicte." He sits down, and Niall tries confusedly to sit in Bressie's lap. Bressie's cheeks heat as he awkwardly shifts Niall to sit properly on the middle cushion. Louis side-eyes him obviously.

"Doesn't seem right, to leave a poor helpless little boy—droid—all by himself when he doesn't even know how to shout for help," Louis says, somehow managing to sound half like a prick and half genuinely concerned. "I could give you some of my stuff, maybe? Would fit better than your circus tents." He looks at Niall, something warm in his face. "You could take him shopping, then, get him something good enough to be seen in properly, eh?"

Bressie nods absently. "Did you introduce yourself, or—" he starts.

"Louis," Niall says, putting his hand to Louis's chest, smiling blithely. Bressie fights the urge to pull Niall's hand back.

"It's like Tarzan or something," Louis says, huffing a laugh through his nose. "I swear it was saying perfectly sensible sentences to me earlier. A little stilted, but I just thought you had a funny cousin visiting from someplace weird. Maybe it was just copying the telly."

"He," Bressie says automatically without thinking. Louis slants a look at him.

"Mmhm," he says. "This isn't going to go well, is it. You've got your own little sex machine—" Louis holds up a hand to stop Bressie from interrupting, and Niall does as well. "And you've already named him, put him in your clothes, given him a gender. Brez, I love you, but you're a fuckin' oaf. He's a bunch of ones and zeros inside a store mannequin."

Bressie rolls his eyes and gets up off the couch, using every inch of his height to loom over Louis. "You can go get some clothes for it, and then kindly fuck off," he says, imperious as he can be. Louis shrugs, giving in.

"I'm just saying. I'll be right back." He scurries out, and Bressie doesn't bother to close the door after him. He flumps on the couch with a stricken sigh, and next to him, Niall does exactly the same, even down to the hangdog expression. Louis is probably right. This whole mess is probably one enormous mistake.

But too late now.

Before long, Louis comes back with his arms full of clothes, clean but rumpled like he just scooped a pile up off the floor. "Here," he says, tipping them onto the couch. "He can have whatever."

It's almost entirely jeans and t-shirts and jogging bottoms, with a few hoodies and slightly nicer jackets. Bressie picks out the least homeless looking things with a sigh. "Tomlinson, you need a new wardrobe."

"I have one, mate," he says, grumbling. "That's why I've got a pile of shit I'm happy to just randomly give away to needy robots." Niall watches them both curiously, picking at the knee of Bressie's jogging bottoms. Louis must have a nervous tic that Niall picked up, because Bressie doesn't tend to do that, himself. Something bitter curdles in his stomach.

"Sorry, of course, chief. Thanks a lot, seriously." Louis nods, satisfied.

"I actually have to do some work," Louis says with a sigh. "Shame to miss the rest of this little guy's first full day of consciousness." He really does look fond of Niall, and Bressie can't say he's entirely sad that Louis has to go. "Still can't believe he's a droid. I had no idea."

Bressie shrugs. "Figure he must be real top of the line, you know."

Louis looks thoughtful. "You, uh. You know?" Bressie raises an eyebrow. "Is he—intact?"

"Louis!"

"Well! You can't expect me not to want to know! Look at him, he's probably a million-pound sexbot. I've never seen one look so good. And he blushes and breathes and his skin feels like actual skin and his hair—"

"Louis," Bressie says again, dangerously. "What exactly did you get up to with him before I came in?"

"Nothing, I swear," Louis says, hands up in surrender. "He was just sitting there when I walked in, I gave him a fist bump—or tried to, he just grabbed my hand and shook it. I thought he was, you know. A lad. I would never—"

Bressie nods, rolling his hand. "I get it I get it, sorry. I just. I don't know, he's an expensive piece of equipment." Louis doesn't look convinced that that's what Bressie meant. "Anyway, I don't know what kind of droid he is, exactly. I can't say it didn't—you know. Cross my mind. That he might be a sexbot." He says the last bit almost under his breath, though at this point Niall probably can't understand what they're talking about. Or maybe he can, if Louis's right and he's been picking things up from the telly. "He, uh. He is—intact. As you put it. I cleaned him up after I got him back here, like I said. He has—everything you'd expect a guy to have."

"I wonder how old he's meant to be," Louis says, thankfully not dwelling on the dick talk for once in his life. "He could be anywhere from like, fourteen to twenty-two."

"Does it really matter?" Bressie says, trying to convince himself that it really doesn't.

Louis looks flummoxed for a second, then shrugs, like he's batting away the hard questions. "Who cares. I need to be getting on. Have fun with—Niall." He claps Bressie on the back and shuffles out, closing the door behind him with an unnecessary slam. Bressie sighs heavily.

"I'm glad you're back," Niall says, suddenly, and Bressie about shits himself. Niall smiles brightly. So Louis was right; Niall's nothing if not a fast learner. Before Bressie can say anything, Niall's on him, his lips pressed to Bressie's in a bright haze.

They're soft, taste a little like talcum powder and a little like a penny, but mostly like any other mouth. Bressie can't even process it at first, and Niall's mouth is opening under his before he finally gathers his wits enough to push Niall away. Niall mewls, leaning against Bressie's arm, trying to get back to his mouth. Bressie gulps a breath, chest swooping, skin tingly everywhere he and Niall are touching.

"I'm glad you're back," Niall says again. "It's been too long."

Bressie not only left the telly on all day, it's been tuned to soaps. No doubt Niall learned more than he perhaps should have about passionate greetings. "I'm glad, too," he says weakly. "You don't have to kiss me, though, Niall. That's—not everyone does that."

"Kiss me, you fool," Niall says, smiling through it, and Bressie holds him off with a surprised laugh, hands around Niall's ribcage, fingertips pressing into his muscles under the worn softness of his own undershirt.

"I'm not going to kiss you," Bressie says, not unkindly. He can't even begin to contemplate the morality of making out with a probably-teenaged possibly-sexbot who doesn't know English or have any sense of who or what or where it is. "I am going to make myself dinner, and you can help if you want. And then I'm going to watch some footy, and then I'm going to go to bed."

"I want to go to bed with you, Gary," Niall says. "Bressie," he says after a moment, like it just occurred to him to swap out a character's name with Bressie's. "I want to go to bed with you, Bressie."

Bressie wishes he'd picked just about any station on the planet other than a soap opera channel, but it's too late now. It's possible Niall's predisposed to this line of thinking because he's a sexbot, but now he'll never know since he muddied the waters with the fucking TV. "You have to sleep on the charger, you can't sleep with me," Bressie says. Niall frowns, looking far more desolate than he should given the situation. Hopefully he'll find some equilibrium between having no emotions and having soapy emotions in a reasonable amount of time.

Bressie busies himself making dinner—some grilled salmon, instant rice, veggies from the farmer's market he picked up last weekend. He has a couple beers while he works, singing under his breath. He's stirring the rice when he hears the sweet little voice coming from the other side of the breakfast bar—Niall's picked up the song he's singing and is singing along, quiet and under his non-essential breath just like Bressie.

Bressie grins and scrapes his rice out into a bowl. "You're good, Niall," he says. Niall smiles, cheeks colouring. Bressie wonders what he has in his skin instead of blood. He wonders what inside of Niall tells him when it's time to blush. Nothing makes sense, and it's disconcerting.

"Thanks," Niall says, and he sounds like Mullingar.

Bressie explains the rules of football to him after he's done eating—Niall sat at the table with him, made all the motions like he had his own dinner, but there was nothing in front of him. They're tucked together on the couch now, Niall snuggling happily into Bressie's side, and Bressie doesn't have the heart to make him sit a respectable distance away.

"Yellow card!" Niall shouts helpfully at one point after one bloke pulls another roughly to the ground. Sure enough, just a moment later, the ref flashes a yellow card. Bressie beams proudly.

"You catch on quick, don't you, head?"

Niall shrugs. "You explained it," he says. "I like football." His grin is sweet and uncomplicated, and then he turns back to the telly. Bressie chews at his lip, looking down at Niall's face as he watches the game instead of watching it himself. Louis was right. It's not going to end well.

Bressie turns off the TV around midnight, stretching expansively. Niall copies him, yawn and all, looking more like a cat than ever. "I need to turn in," Bressie says. "You probably need to charge again, right?"

Niall shakes his head no, widening his eyes. His irises glow with a soft, barely audible beep. They're as bright as they were this morning. "Fully charged," he says, and the glow fades again.

"What—um. How do you. You don't really need to sleep, then, huh?"

Niall just looks at Bressie levelly. "I want to go to bed with you, Bressie," he says, like before. Bressie swallows thickly.

"It's not really—right. For you to come to bed with me. I know you did it last night, but you probably—shouldn't." He rubs his hand over his mouth awkwardly.

"Why?" Niall looks at him, open and confused, blinking deliberately. Bressie can't help but think of Data from Star Trek, just in that moment. He honestly can't put words to a single good reason. He shrugs, exasperated, and Niall gives a happy wriggle. "Take me to bed," he says, smiling, nothing at all like Data, and Bressie huffs a defeated laugh.

"Fine, but stay on your own damn side of the bed." Niall gives a celebratory fist-pump.

__

Bressie wakes up to the radio again the next morning. This time he knows it's Niall snuggled back into his body, cool to the touch but pliant while he's in stand-by. Sleep mode. Hibernation. Whatever he calls it. He looks sweet, and calm, and peaceful. Bressie brushes the back of his fingers down Niall's cheek, just for a moment forgetting that he's not alive. "Morning," he murmurs, and Niall's eyes flutter open with the quiet humming click of a camera's automatic focus.

"Good morning," he breathes. He doesn't smell like sleep, no morning breath or stale night sweat. Just picking right up where he left off last night like it's not eight hours later.

"Gotta go to work," Bressie says, pulling his knees up under the duvet, straightening his back out. Niall touches his thigh through the puffy down, then his hip.

"Me too?" he asks, looking plaintively at Bressie.

Bressie laughs, giving him a long-suffering nod, dropping his legs with a fwump and taking Niall's hand. "No reason not to, I suppose. Harry will go spare. He's my mate; he'll love meeting you. Maybe you can even help us out, yeah?" Bressie gets up with a grunt—Niall grunts too, giving a stretch just like Bressie's. His hair is mussed even if the rest of him is still flawless. It's smashed up on one side, and Bressie can't help but card his fingers through it, sorting it out before he gets up to have his shower.

Bressie strips off in the bathroom and gets in the shower without giving it a second thought, brain maybe still on autopilot. After a second the shower curtain whips open and he almost shouts—it's Niall, of course. He peers in at Bressie. "Filthy?" he says with a smile.

Of course Niall's only bathing experience involved Bressie washing him, which would explain why he's got a facecloth in his hand and is soaping it up, reaching into the shower like how Bressie had reached for Niall when he'd been in the tub.

Bressie backs against the wall and shoos Niall back. "No, no, I'm—I can clean myself. Don't need you now. Go—go make tea, Niall."

Niall looks confused, maybe disappointed, but not necessarily upset. He folds the facecloth neatly and leaves it on the side of the tub, emitting a few soft beeps as he leaves to go to the kitchen. Bressie takes a couple deep breaths and tries not to think about the fact that his dick twitched against his thigh when he pictured Niall climbing into the shower with him, soaping him up.

He washes his hair, perfunctory and efficient, but when he's washing his pits, his throat, reaching behind himself to soap up his arse, his balls—it's second nature to linger, to pull at his dick and let his mind wander. Niall's sweet sleeping face, his earnest begging for Bressie to take him to bed. The kitten-ish tone in his voice, innocent and eager, the surreal taste of his lips when he kissed Bressie.

If he were really a sexbot, there'd be no end to the things Bressie could do with him—to him, for him. He's been sickly fascinated by more than one TV show about them. They have specialised circulatory systems with silicone or water-based fluids that feel real, that taste real. They're responsive just like a real human body, but with almost infinite capacity for stretch, give, pain. Robots never need to take a break, never need to use a safeword unless you configure them to. It makes him shiver even in the hot stream of the shower that somewhere written in Niall's code could be depths of depravity Bressie can't even conceive of.

He's seen Niall naked, has touched every part of his body and felt his skin, soft and unbelievably realistic. His cock twitches and he leans against the wall of the shower, letting his feet slide apart and his chin drop to his chest, water running down his spine, over his arse. He gets his hand around himself solidly, then, working slick through the soap lather. He lingers on the image of Niall's face, the innocent quirk of his chin and the precise gradient of his flushing cheeks, juxtaposes that with what Niall's body may be capable of, the words he could say, the sick fantasies Bressie could make him want more than anything else if he just pushed the right buttons. A viscous blurt of precome oozes over his fist, and his hips pump wantonly.

He runs his thumb over the spine of his dick, hard now and straining up towards his belly, bobbing when he pulls roughly at the head, slides his palm down and over his balls, tight and ready. He gasps out a breath and rubs his face over his forearm against the wall, pressing his lips into his own flesh, tasting bitter with soap. He squeezes around the thick heft of his cock, focuses up near the top, jerking fast and hard, trying and failing not to think about Niall's face, distressed and turned on and moaning, the soft beeps and clicks and the faint smell of antiseptic that makes it impossible to forget he's a droid.

He comes with a grunt, toes curling against the tub, thick wads of jizz slipping down the tiles in the rush of the shower. There's a guilty knot in his stomach, and he doesn't know if it's good or bad. On one hand, it's good that he does still have a conscience, but on the other, robots aren't people. Thinking about them like that is deluded, probably sick.

He cleans up quickly after that, struggling to dry off in the steamy bathroom and pull on clothes when his skin is still frustratingly post-shower tacky.

__

They make it to the studio without any further incident, and Bressie's heart trips messily when Niall sings along to the radio, picking up the songs by ear and matching pitch like he was made for it. His voice is pure and young, just a hint of a scrape when he's trying to sing something that sounds rockier. It's almost a shame when they get to the warehouse.

Harry's in the loading bay, stacking palettes in the corner. He's wearing a weird, dated outfit—unusual for the rest of the world, but not for Harry. He's got on two plaid shirts today and a pair of blue skinnies, with what looks like his sister's scarf tied around his flyaway curls. "Howiya," Bressie shouts, hopping down out of the cab of his truck. Harry beams back at him, waving expansively.

"Bressie!" he shouts back. "Things okay? Left in a hurry yesterday."

"Sure, everything's fine," Bressie says. "I have someone for you to meet, actually, if you have a minute."

"Ooh," Harry calls in a mocking falsetto. "Someone to meet, have—" He stops mid-sentence when Niall pokes his head out from behind Bressie, waving cheerfully to Harry.

"This is, um. Niall," Bressie says, a little sheepishly forgetting how strange that must sound. "You've sort of met already."

Harry's mouth has dropped open comically. "Sick," he says, and waves back. "Hi Niall, I'm Harry. I saw you briefly the day before yesterday when you were basically just corpsing it in Bressie's truck. Are you a sexbot?"

"Hey, wait a second, he—" Bressie starts.

"Hi Harry," says Niall. He looks a little confused—even Bressie's not sure he's ever heard corpse used as a verb before—but generally unfazed. "I don't know."

Harry nods, lips pursed. "Interesting. What do you know?"

Niall blinks, bemused. "I don't know what I know."

Bressie grips Niall by the shoulders and starts propelling him out of the loading bay. "The only thing I know is that I know nothing, right, Harry? We'll leave the philosophical questions to you, shall we? Wouldn't want to short-circuit his brain on his first day out and about." Harry waves distractedly, consumed by his thoughts, and doesn't object.

Bressie gives Niall a quick tour of the building and his work area in particular, and sets him up with the stereo in the corner. "You can be DJ, how's that?" he says. "That means you can pick the music."

Niall flips through Bressie's expansive iTunes library, generally picking pretty good tunes. It's about an hour into Bressie's work, and he's sketching out the support system for part of the base of the piece when Niall suddenly says, "What are you doing?"

Bressie looks up with a shrug. "Planning out what this piece is going to look like."

"Sculpture," Niall says, testing the word out in his mouth.

"Yeah. That means art in three dimensions like this, instead of just on paper." Bressie points to a poster on the wall. Niall scoots closer, looking a little unsure. "You can watch if you want," Bressie says, and motions him over. "Just thought it might be kind of boring for you."

"It's—sick," Niall says, looking up at the height of the piece, reaching out to gingerly touch it. Bressie feels soft and particularly fond, all of a sudden.

"Thanks, Niall. It's supposed to make you feel like—flying. Like technology. Like air and machines, you know?"

"Air and machines," Niall says, and he closes his eyes. He emits a few barely audible beeps, and Bressie wonders if he can imagine, if maybe he has a mind's eye just like a human. If he's picturing an airplane. When he opens his eyes again, they glow faintly for just a fraction of a second. He has a look of real joy on his face, and Bressie's not sure something like this could really be learned from old episodes of Eastenders. His chest feels tight and he wants to touch Niall's smooth skin.

He just fires up his blowtorch, instead.

__

They come back to the studio every day, Bressie folding Niall into his routine through those first couple weeks like he's always been there. Liam comes by at the weekend like he said he would, though Zayn demurs Bressie's invitation, and Niall gets along with him like a house afire. At work, he takes a real shine to Bressie's library of old music and completely owns his duties as DJ.

On on e hand, Niall seems particularly drawn to dubstep and EDM, but on the other, he's also managed to go through Bressie's entire collection of The Eagles and Blondie. The dichotomy isn't lost on Bressie. Today he's been on his toes all morning as Niall flips back and forth between classic rock and the likes of Skream & Benga. "You've got an eclectic mix going there," Bressie says. "Really different kinds of stuff."

Niall shrugs. He's got the edge of his thumbnail in his mouth—not one of Bressie's habits—and he looks up sharply, like maybe Bressie distracted him. "I like it," he says. "Is that weird?"

Bressie laughs indulgently. "No. It's all on my iTunes, isn't it? Old stuff, but it's still the best, to me. People might not usually play those kinds of things together like you are, though." Niall changes the Bassnectar track he'd been playing to Willie Nelson, and Bressie moves from the steel welding he was doing to carving out the hunk of pressurised wood on the left edge of the piece. "It's not bad. I like it. Makes me wonder how you're processing it. You like the sounds of some things over other things, and those two really different music styles—I don't know. You're a complex little guy." Niall shrugs his shoulder up, turning his face into it with a huff out of his nose.

"I guess I am. I don't know why I like them. The dubstep makes my sternum vibrate and it feels good in my ears."

"Takes you back to your electronic roots, probably," Bressie says, as if he has any idea what he's talking about.

"The other stuff—I don't know. It just makes me feel like I have lungs. And a stomach. Like I'm warm all over. There are stories in the words." He shrugs again. "It's like watching TV, but nicer."

"Like watching TV but nicer," Bressie repeats. "There you have it." He wonders whether Niall would imagine he had internal organs if Bressie played him some of his own music.

There's a crash on the other side of the room, then. Niall's up in a defensive crouch before Bressie can even blink. "Sorry," Harry trills from under a pile of cardboard. "I'm fine, everything's fine!"

"Go sort 'im out, Niall," Bressie says, nodding over at Harry. Niall scoots over with a smile; his shoulders shifting, spine curving invitingly into his narrow waist. Bressie sighs and goes back to sanding. The beat of the track Niall's got playing lulls him into the perfect work-trance—alert enough to use his tools and follow his schematics, but out of it enough that time slips by him in bright edges and textures and the vibration in his sternum that Niall can feel too.

"He's quite a cheery chap, isn't he," Harry says, slowly and quietly enough that Bressie doesn't start. He sets down his awl and rocks back on his haunches. "Heya."

"What've you put him up to?" He slips off his thick work gloves and peers around Harry's legs. Niall's stacking crates happily at the other end of the space, doing what looks like a wiggly little dance between trips. Bressie's lips twitch up into a smile, and Harry eyes him knowingly.

"He asked if he could help out, and I have that pile that needs moving from the delivery last week that's just been sitting there—Liam said he'd help me when I called him on Monday, but you know he has that thing at the—" Bressie rolls his wrist in the come-on-then gesture they so often employ around Harry. "Anyway. He's strong, for such a titch. Got a good smile, too."

"Sure, are you coming on to my droid, Styles?"

"No," Harry says, drawing it out, cheeky. "But would you have a problem if I did?" Bressie raises an eyebrow. "I think you would. And not in the don't leave fingerprints on my phone screen way."

"My phone doesn't independently decide it’s partial to The Eagles and early electronica," Bressie says. As if that explained anything. The smile Harry gives him suggests that it actually does.

"I know. You should talk to him about it. Just because he was built and programmed doesn't mean he should be treated like an object." Harry sits on the floor, cross-legged, and works on retying his headband while he talks. "We're programmed too, you know. By our experiences. By the chemicals in our brains. By our parents and friends. Who's to say Niall's any different?"

"He is different, though," Bressie says, spinning on his stool, hands pressed together between the anxious clench of his thighs. "He's getting in two weeks what I got in 33 years. He doesn't feel love, or pain, or—"

"How do you know?" Harry asks, unblinking. "He reacts when his programming tells him he's feeling things. That's all we do. We grow to love people because of the way they act towards us, because of the way we perceive them. He's just as capable of doing that as you are. He wants to spend time with you, right? He was beside himself to see you even when he'd only been conscious for a day."

"How did you —"

"Spoke to Louis. If he can have feelings about music, why can't he have feelings about people?"

Bressie doesn't say anything, staring down at his hands. Niall acts like he has feelings, but there's no way to tell if he really does or not.

"And pain—what is pain, really, but our bodies sending us electrical signals telling us not to do things? Niall's got that, for sure. All droids do. They need to avoid getting damaged just like we do, because they're complex and expensive to fix."

Bressie throws up his hands expansively. "Well fuck me, then. Sure I don't know what the hell's going on. I don't know how to feel about him. It. Anything. Harry, you've seen him smiling, being completely clueless and somehow also completely earnest. You've seen him changing—he talks back now, takes the piss, makes me laugh. How the hell am I not supposed to have feelings about a lad like that?"

Harry grins, shaking his head. "I think you can't avoid it, mate. I say good on you, really. He's just like a person. More like a person than any bot I've ever seen. Probably more like a person than most people even, you know? There's no reason not to treat him like one. But you still don't know where he came from—things could get sticky, yeah? I get what's going on in your head, and I can't say I wouldn't be the same if I'd found him instead. Just don't get too lost."

"Too lost?"

"A little lost is just lost enough," Harry says. He gets up like that was his final nugget of wisdom, like everything should make sense now. Bressie just watches him go, brow furrowed, more confused than ever.

Harry sends Niall back over after a bit, the pile finally taken care of and Niall still chipper.

__

"Can I do the music again?" Niall asks the next day, as he usually does now, leaning against Bressie's side once they're ensconced in the studio space. "Be DJ?"

"Sure you can. Go on then." It strikes Bressie then how difficult it would be to tell that Niall's a droid at all, now that he's got a better command of English.

Harry's in again as well, and they all three of them work for a good few hours without speaking, Harry and Bressie in their spaces working on their projects, Niall flipping through music and doing some wire-stripping for Bressie during songs. Eventually Harry strolls over, sweaty from welding but smiling curiously.

"Niall, do you know you're a robot?" he asks suddenly, hip cocked and standing in the middle of the space, hand hovering over an apple tucked awkwardly in his pocket.

Bressie drops his level with a clang. "Shit, Harry, you can't just—"

"I—yes. I think so," Niall says, head tilted a little, like maybe he's scanning whatever it is he's got in his bot-brain. "I'm not like you." Bressie pulls off his work gloves and tosses them on the bench along the back wall, wanting to devote all his attention to this conversation if it's really happening like this, right here and now.

"Harry, you complete bollix. Now is not the time. I don't know what he knows or doesn't know or whether it's even any good for him to think about—"

"I can think about things," Niall says, sounding put-upon. He turns the music down and scoots closer. "Sometimes I don't have all the words I need but I'm not a child." He crosses his arms in front of himself, stand-offish, just like Bressie would do.

"How old are you?" Harry asks, dropping to sit in front of Niall on the cold floor of the workshop. Bressie rolls his eyes and abandons his stool to sit with them as well.

"I'm—" Niall's eyes glow a bit, his face slack, like someone spacing out in class. "I'm not sure. Eighteen. I think I'm eighteen."

"Can't have been built eighteen years ago," Bressie says. "No way did we have your level of technology eighteen years ago. Barely even had universal wireless."

"He's supposed to feel eighteen," says Harry. "He's supposed to seem eighteen."

Niall looks at Harry, square in the eyes, and it's unnerving for Bressie even though that look isn't levelled at him. "You can talk to me," he says, emphatic. "Not just about me."

"Sorry, yeah," Harry says, shifting uncomfortably. "We're supposed to think you're eighteen, Niall," he tries again. "Do you know a model number? Year? Anything?"

Niall shakes his head and shrugs, maybe a little irritated to seem useless when Harry does actually speak to him.

"But you were probably built a year or so ago. Can't have been much more than that, you're so—you're brilliant. Bots are getting so advanced, so fast."

"Harry's a bit of a droid hobbiest," Bressie says. "Got a history, don't you, Haz?"

Harry shrugs sheepishly and musses his own hair a bit. "Had a droid nanny when I was a kid, guess I've always had a soft spot for your sort. Probably something in there a therapist should examine." He shakes his head. "But anyway! Usually bots know when they're made. What model they are. That kind of thing. So you can check, so fraud's not so easy. It's weird you don't know. How d'you know you are one at all?"

"Well, you don't have to sit on a wireless charger at night, do you?" Niall asks Harry, and Bressie tries not to laugh at the dismissive way he says it. "I don't get hungry. I don't need the toilet. It's obvious, when I think about it. No one treats me like they do each other." The fact that it's only through observation and his apparently advanced learning chip that Niall can even tell he's different makes something in Bressie ache.

"That's not normal," Harry says, frowning. "If you're a sexbot you should definitely know you are. You should have terabytes of data in you about how to have sex and how to act and what phrases and words to say to people and things."

Niall's face goes blank again, the face Bressie's come to associate with what must be a system scan. "Nothing," Niall says with a sad shrug. "Just what I've picked up so far. All the telly I've watched. The rules of football. How Liam, Louis and Zayn like their tea. What Bressie sounds like when he's asleep." Harry raises his eyebrows and Bressie goes hot in the cheeks. "First thing I can remember is Bressie's workroom in his flat. Watching him soldering."

"How'd you turn him on?" Harry asks, obviously trying not to snicker at the double entendre.

"Accidentally," Bressie says. "Was just listening to some music and he came on. Maybe it was my remote? No power switch on him at all, so I couldn't turn him off again even if I wanted to." Niall makes a distressed beeping noise. "Not that I do," Bressie adds quickly, a hand out plaintively in Niall's direction. "Because I don't. Want to."

"You found me somewhere, right?" Niall asks, listing towards Bressie like he doesn't even realise he's doing it.

"In a scrapyard in Merton, yeah. You were beat up pretty good. Someone must've pitched you, but I don't know why. I don't know if you've seen any other bots on telly or anything, but you're—in a different class, Niall. You look almost entirely human, must've cost unfathomable amounts of money to build."

"Definitely weird someone'd just toss you away," Harry says, staring intently at Niall, like he's trying to find all the ways he doesn't look human. "But if there's something wrong with your memory, if your hard drive's corrupted or something, maybe that's why?"

"Can't we plug him into something to check what's in there?" Bressie asks, trying not to sound as callous as he feels saying it. "Droids are meant to be compatible with other electronics."

Niall looks excited, clutching Bressie's phone tightly. "I can talk to your phone, if that's what you mean?" he says, and turns it so Bressie can see the screen. There's a little icon next to the battery life indicator that looks like a crude version of a robot, antenna sticking out of its head. It must recognize Niall like it would recognize a dock, or a wireless signal. Bressie takes the phone and opens up the file manager, trying to find anything out of the ordinary.

As soon as he accesses the drive for Niall (D:e6ba8f023e92bbb5aaf06052cd0c6551) the phone screen goes snowy, freezes, then fades out. Bressie presses the power switch over and over, takes out the battery and puts it back in, but nothing. It's completely dead, even though it was fully charged. "Bollix," he murmurs, looking up at Niall and Harry. "Well, guess that didn't work so well."

Niall's mouth twists, and he looks genuinely upset and guilty. "I'm sorry. Shit, I didn't mean to fuck up your phone."

"It's alright, chief. Don't get a complex—not gonna bin you again." Bressie shrugs and pockets his phone. He'll take it to Zayn when he has a chance. "Guess you're just a mystery to us then, huh, little bot?" Bressie says, ruffling Niall's hair and feeling particularly fond. Niall colours and grins and ducks his head into his shoulder.

"Aww," Harry says. "He's so cute."

__

They get back to Bressie's flat that night and there's something charged between them, something different. Maybe it's been building up over the past couple weeks, but it feels new to Bressie, crackling. "I like seeing you sculpting," Niall says from where he's perched on Bressie's guitar-shaped stool at the breakfast bar. "You look good when you're working."

Bressie scoffs. "Look like a big sweaty oaf with constipation," he says, popping some leftovers in the microwave for his dinner. "I've been told all about the faces I pull."

"Alright, big face," Niall says with a smirk. His expression turns thoughtful, though, and he leans forward on his elbows. "You don't, though. You look—intense. It makes me want—I don't know. It makes me want something. I don't really understand it, but I can feel it."

Bressie leans on the counter in front of Niall, too, levelling a serious gaze at him. "Something?" That could mean Niall wants Bressie to show him how to sculpt, or any of a million other things. Suddenly the distinction seems incredibly important.

Niall shrugs, staring at the counter instead of at Bressie, a soft, barely-audible whirring coming from his chest. "Yeah. I kinda use your phone for more than just music and poker while you're working." He looks sheepish. "I might not know what I was made for, but I do know how to find porn on the internet. At least now." Bressie can see the corners of his anxious smile, hear the bubbling of an uneasy laugh in Niall's voice.

"Christ," Bressie breathes. The morality of the situation is as fuzzy as ever—at least now he knows Niall's meant to be eighteen. It's small comfort when Niall can't even remember what he's made for, when his memories tell him he's only been alive for a couple weeks. Everything Niall knows or has experienced was because of Bressie, was about Bressie. He wouldn't even have a name or an accent otherwise. It's too much.

Niall slides off his stool and comes around into the kitchen, padding silently. He's wearing Bressie's jogging bottoms again, not Louis's, and Bressie tries not to have a visceral reaction to that, tries not to feel it in his dick. They're drooping low on Niall's little hips, drawstring pulled as tight as it can go and looped into a knot, end dangling down to Niall's thighs. The ankles of them pool on the floor, his bare toes just visible. "Christ," Bressie says again, as Niall stops, nose pressed right to Bressie's clavicle, chest shifting with his breaths but no air puffing against Bressie's skin.

"It's weird, Bressie," Niall says, quietly, and takes the first two fingers of each of Bressie's hands in his fists, squeezing them gently. Bressie shivers, breaths thin and wavering. "I want things. I don't know why, but I do."

"People don't know why they want everything they want, either," Bressie says, barely more than a breath.

"Sure, it's no different, is it? Just because I was built instead of born, been programmed instead of raised." Bressie tries to shake his head, but can't move at all at first, frozen in place by Niall's gaze, intensely human in that moment.

Eventually he manages it, the barest shake of his head. "Not different." The conversation from earlier comes flooding back.

"Please," Niall says, and leans up on his tiptoes, pulls down on Bressie's fingers until he ducks his head. Bressie meets Niall's lips, kisses him warm and open. Niall still tastes a little like talc, with the slight tang of metal. His mouth isn't dry like Bressie would expect, but damp with spit.

"Your mouth's wet," Bressie murmurs against Niall's lips.

"That's not the only thing," Niall says, wry as anything, and Bressie laughs into his kiss, helpless and charmed.

"Exactly how much porn did you watch?" he asks, voice low and scratchy with how much he wants to paw at his undershirt where it's slipping over Niall's shoulder.

Niall laughs, too. "Sorry," he says. "Too much. I am, though. Feels—weird. Good." He palms at his dick, hard and obvious where precome is seeping through the weave of Bressie's jogging bottoms.

"Yeah?" Bressie's breathless, kisses Niall again. He pulls his fingers away from Niall's grip so he can cup Niall's jaw, stroke at his smooth pink cheeks with his thumbs. "Not to ruin the mood—"

"Nothing short of an electrical storm could ruin the mood."

"But what exactly—how do you have spit in your mouth? What's that you're smearing in my clothes? You're—how do you have—you know. Fluids?"

Niall looks down at his cock tenting out the cotton, the spreading dark spot. He licks at his lips, and they shine, slick. "Guess it's for realism's sake?" he tries, and kisses Bressie again, up on his toes, then kisses down his neck, resting his forehead against Bressie's chest. "Reservoirs of it sitting somewhere in my guts, waiting to get pumped out. Does it matter?" He sounds dejected, like Bressie would think it was gross, like it's all going to stop before it starts.

Bressie can't help but catch his breath, thumb at the corner of Niall's eye which is just damp enough to look completely, utterly human. Knowing it's not, that there's something synthetic thrumming around inside him, triggered because of Bressie being here, wanting Niall—it's unbelievable, completely strange but completely thrilling. His heart thumps wildly.

"Of course not," Bressie says hurriedly. "Just curious. Probably makes me gross? For wanting you." He kisses him again, slicks his tongue into Niall's mouth, tastes the back of his teeth, the surface of his tongue. He slides his arms around Niall's skinny back, holds him, one hand spread across his hips. He presses his fingertips in, feeling the give of Niall's flesh, how regular it is, how smooth.

"Aren't you the charmer," Niall says, sardonic, but he's cheeky, smiling, hands edging up under Bressie's shirt, knobby knuckles grazing over Bressie's waist, the hair on his belly. "Be honest though, haven't you thought about it? I've never had sex before, Brez. Never even thought about it before. Never got hard for anyone but you. The internet tells me that's something you're gonna like."

Bressie groans, pushing one of Niall's hands down to his fattening cock, straining against his flies. "Feel that," he says, pushing off the counter. "I want to. God, this is fucked up."

"Good fucked up, though," Niall says, sounding the barest hint unsure as he tows Bressie to the bedroom.

"Definitely good fucked up." He pushes Niall down on the bed with both hands big on his shoulders, spanning down to Niall's biceps. "What do you—I don't even know how to make you feel good. Don't know what you can feel. What's it like in there?" He kisses Niall's forehead, lets Niall's soft hair tickle at his nose.

"I think just do whatever you want, and if I don't like it, I'll tell you," Niall says, calm but thrumming, skin warming up under Bressie's touch. "I already feel good. Like I know why they say turning me on. I feel—on."

Bressie pushes Niall back on the bed, thigh pressed up to his cock, and ruts against him, pressing him down, letting himself take, just for a moment, making Niall feel him heavy and hard and panting. "Me too."

Niall is sweet and responsive in bed, everywhere Bressie touches making him shiver, twitch, gasp. He's finely tuned, makes helpless, unselfconscious noises. The bow of his body shifting up into Bressie's is like it's perfectly sculpted from Bressie's best wank fantasies.

Bressie strips his own clothes off Niall slowly, reverently, looking at every inch of him again, new this time, putting his mouth on Niall's body and breathing deep. He smells clean, a little bitter and tangy in his pits, the crease of his thigh, places that Bressie gets sweaty.

He has a perfect dick, unsurprisingly, pink and straining hard, uncut and flexing irresistibly. It tastes better than Bressie is used to when he finally sucks his lips around the head, laves at Niall's slit, feeling it open around an obscene sluice of precome. He hums and Niall trembles under him, thighs spreading, open and slutty.

Bressie fingers him open, drinking in every sound and shiver. "God you're perfect," he murmurs into Niall's ear, runs his hand through Niall's soft hair, thumbs at the artificial pulse under the nearly translucent skin of his throat. Everything he's touching isn't what it seems, every taste and sound the product of code, plastics and metals. Someone sculpted Niall's body, chose his eyes and hair and the generous curve of his lips. The way Niall cries out when Bressie strokes up inside him was programmed into him; his voice could be someone else's voice and Bressie would never know.

Bressie reaches for a condom from the bedside table, but Niall grips his wrist, chest heaving—for show only, Bressie thinks, and presses his hand there, hand spanning it nipple to nipple, making him look so small. "Don't," Niall says. "I'm—I can't get anything, or give you anything. Please."

Bressie shuts his eyes tight, leans his sweaty forehead down to Niall's chest, kisses up his neck. He slicks himself with precome first, his own and Niall's, and Niall pushes his hand away, takes over with a groan while Bressie gets the lube, then slides his fingers over Niall's, both of them working over his dick together.

"Ready?" Bressie murmurs, and presses Niall's knee up, one slick hand to the back of his slender thigh, other hand guiding himself in, circling Niall's hole with the fat head of his dick, working in bit by bit, agonizingly slow.

Niall flexes his hips, arches his back, groaning and pleading for more as Bressie pushes in, breathing hard, beads of sweat dripping onto Niall's perfect skin. They shift together, and Niall's tight, so hot and wet around him, the squeeze of his muscles impossibly real, impossibly human. The fact that everything Bressie's feeling is machine, that the pull of Niall's hole around his dick isn't muscle at all, only makes it hotter, makes it strange and filthy when Niall moans his name, the first name he knew, the only memories he has.

When Bressie comes inside him it's with a half-sob, clutching Niall to him, chest to chest, shaking as Niall digs his heels into the small of Bressie's back, holding him in, taking everything. "Come on," Bressie gasps, hips still pumping, dick still hard inside the sweet clench of Niall's arse. He reaches between them to jerk Niall off, fist enveloping Niall's wet dick with obscene slurping noises. Niall shudders into his orgasm, muscles twitching all over his body, eyes rolling and squeezing shut as he keens, fingers gripping tight at Bressie.

They lie together as Bressie comes down, slowly softening inside Niall's body, still holding him to his chest, Niall's face turned into Bressie's armpit, kissing at him mindlessly, gently. "Can a human be in love with a robot," Bressie says, a whisper down into Niall's ear, vulnerable and foolish.

"Can a robot be in love with anyone?" Niall murmurs, lips tickling at the soft fold of skin between Bressie's chest and the inside of his arm. Neither of them have any answers outside each other.

Bressie falls asleep like that, Niall in his arms.

__

Niall is easy and happy when he wakes Bressie up in the morning with a cold nose in the crook of his neck, not unlike a sleepy puppy. The thrill of the morning after melts away through the day, though, and Niall's dragging by the afternoon when Bressie finds him listening to Frank Sinatra as he crouches on the wireless charger in the living room.

"What's the matter, little droid?" Bressie asks, chucking Niall tenderly under the chin.

"I just—the more I learn, the more I have inside me, the bigger and more noticeable it is that I don't know what I am. Where I'm from. The contrast is bigger." He shakes his head, like he can't find the words for what he's feeling, and Bressie aches for him.

"Maybe we can do something about it," he says, getting down on the floor with Niall to hold his hands, rub gently at the ball of his ankle, then his knobbly knees in Louis's jogging bottoms. "I know someone who might be able to help us get a start.”

"Alright then," Niall says with a hopeful smile, and that's that. Bressie fires off a text to Liam.

__

Though Niall met Liam before, albeit fairly briefly, Bressie never mentioned that Liam was there back when he'd been found, not sure how Niall would feel about knowing Liam had seen him when he was as good as dead. He tells the whole story in the car on the way to the scrapyard, and Niall doesn't seem bothered. Pleased, if anything, that he's closer to Liam than he really knew.

Liam's waiting for them once they get there.

"Hi again, Niall," he says, hopping up on the running board of the cab. "Lookin' good."

Niall smiles and waves across Bressie's body. "I hear you facilitated this serendipity. Didn't realise that when we met last weekend."

Liam laughs, eyes crinkling. "I'll pretend I understand what that means. You've picked up more words in two weeks than I have in my whole life. But Bressie did find you here, if that's what you're getting at. We've got some records you guys can come look through with me if you like. Unfortunately it's all hardcopy. Simon—that's the guy who owns the place—is a survivalist at heart, we reckon."

The office at the scrap yard is a worn but clean little house on the corner of the property, sagging floorboards scrubbed and faded. The foyer is painted a cheery yellow, and opens into a room lined with filing cabinets that would've been the sitting room had it be used as a family home. "The files are by year and month, and the map of the yard and where we made dumps is up on the wall here," Liam says, gesturing to a complex map suggesting that there's a grid system to the scrap yard that Bressie never would've copped on to himself.

Liam sprawls on a low, moth-eaten sofa by one of the filing cabinets and takes out a stack of folders that he splits into three, handing Bressie and Niall each a pile of papers to go through.

Niall hums absently as he flicks through the papers far faster than Bressie's able to, his fingers shuffling through them with an audible rustle. He reaches out to Liam for more before Bressie's gone through half of his stack.

"Hey, here's something, maybe," Liam says, lighting up. Niall quirks his head to the side and Bressie can hear the hum of something in him focusing, hear the gentle click of something new being engaged. It makes his fingers clench on the papers in his hands. "There was an unscheduled dump two months ago by a company called TecCorps. Industrial refuse is all it says, and the mass recorded here is way higher than the average we get even from a corporate load."

"Cross reference with TecCorps, then?" Niall says, eyeing the filing cabinets on the opposite wall. "See what else they've brought in?"

"Like the way you think, mate," Liam says, cheery and crinkle-eyed. "I'd love to know what it's like in that head of yours." Bressie clears his throat audibly and Liam looks away, shoving up off the couch.

"Let's see what we've got then, shall we?"

What they have, it turns out, is nothing. There are no other files for TecCorps, and nothing on record they can find that leads to another dump from them, or any material of theirs in an amalgamated dump. "My phone's wrecked," Bressie says, and sees Niall cringe out of the corner of his eye. He rubs gently at Niall's back. "Do you have a computer or something we could use to do some recon on that company? Even if we can't find a paper trail here, there must be something online."

"Course you can," Liam says, gesturing to a laptop on a charger in the corner of the room. Niall shies away to the corner next to Liam.

"Don't want to blow it out," he says, sounding irritated, tired. "I don't know how I did it last time, no telling if I'll do it again without meaning to."

"I'll ring Zayn, how 'bout?" Liam says, going to find his phone, and Bressie does a fist-pump.

"He'll know what to do, for sure." Bressie and Niall sit companionably in the quiet, Liam's voice muffled a few rooms away.

"Says he'll be here when he's ready," Liam says when he comes back a few minutes later.

"I don't think Zayn's ever done anything in his life before he was ready," Bressie says, feeling fond.

Before too long, Bressie hears the clomp of Doc Martens down the wooden floor of the back hall.

Zayn comes in with a tablet in his hand, black-framed glasses with a hint from red from the inside pushed low on his nose, face as strikingly perfect and stone-chiselled beautiful as always. If Bressie had known to think of it before, he'd have questioned whether Zayn were a bot himself.

"Let's plug him in and run some tests," he says, distractedly. He looks up finally, expression blank until his gaze lands on Niall, and he breaks into a bright sunshine smile. "Wow. You must be Niall," he says, and Niall nods, struck silent for once, it seems. Bressie tries not to be jealous. "I think the best thing to do is just go straight to the source, like. See what's in there."

After a harrowing three attempts to get Niall hooked up to the diagnostic computer without shorting it out, wiping its memory, or otherwise frying it, Zayn seems to have finagled something that will hang together long enough to load a recovery program into Niall's core.

"You can bring him back anytime," Zayn says, gentle. "If the recovery program works, like, and you need me to—help. With whatever it reveals. You know I'll be here, lads."

Bressie tries not to dwell on how ominous that sounds.

He and Niall have a fraught evening, and it seems like proximity is the only thing that comforts Niall's restlessness as he waits for the program to load and run, sitting with untold potential inside him. "It's like my brain itches and I can't scratch it," he says, tucked into Bressie's side on the couch.

"You know it's not going to matter," Bressie says, rubbing at Niall's side, not sure how one goes about calming someone down who doesn't actually have any nerves. "Whatever it says, you'll always have a place here. I can help get you back where you belong, if you like," he says, heavy with how lonely it will seem even after just a few weeks of getting used to Niall's happy blue glow and sweet smile.

Niall doesn't say anything at all. He goes stiff, eyes flashing, and Bressie scrambles off the couch with a start to face him, hands bracketing his hips as Niall goes into scanning mode. The TV flashes, picking up what must be a wireless signal broadcasting from Niall, and a video pops up on screen in fits and starts, snippets of memories and loaded information melding together and playing in a patchwork of what must be hidden behind Niall's unreadable partition.

A-5 . Niall's droid classification is A-5, according to what looks like scraps of a training film, holograms demonstrating kill tactics and infiltration manoeuvres. A-5s, it seems, were designed by the government as assassins. It hits Bressie like an icy fist in the gut, hard to process and even harder to believe.

The ones in the film are all fresh-faced teenagers like Niall, and the lectures and blueprints flashing across the screen are hard for Bressie to catch, to order into something coherent, but it looks like A-5s were meant to befriend the children of world leaders, get close to and kill the families of dignitaries, key decision-makers, and intelligence agents with a high degree of skill and success.

Government protocol is that assassin bots only have a shelf life of a year, to prevent being tracked or intercepted. The dates in the data on the screen would suggest that Niall was supposed to be disposed of—was, probably, but poorly, considering the state Bressie found him in. His unbelievable reflexes and uncanny ability to blend in and adapt are remnants of his original code, inexpertly and ineffectively erased.

Niall snaps back into consciousness with an urgent beeping, whirring dangerously loud inside his chest. He's white as a sheet, eyes wide and wet. He clutches at Bressie's hand, and Bressie bundles him in close, kisses frantically at his hair, his face, knowing there's nothing he can say that would make it better—needing instead just to be there.

__

"His hard disk was mostly wiped," Zayn says. He's wrapped in a blanket with a mug of tea on Bressie's couch, hair soft over his forehead. Bressie roused him in the middle of the night, and he's not sorry. "Not completely, though. He must've been left with some procedural memory, basic language and advanced language acquisition. Not really anything else relating to being a functioning human in society, though. Just his personality chip, you know. Guileless. Lovely. Genuine. Programmed like that because it would make him tons of friends, got him in with anyone and everyone so he could...you know. Probably also why his sex drive and fluid systems are top-notch." Bressie's cheeks heat, and he clutches a little tighter at Niall's thrumming body next to him on the couch. "Assassins have to be able to manipulate people in whatever way will get them what they need."

"Do you—remember everything, now?" Bressie asks, tender but scared. Niall just nods, face pressed into Bressie's arm.

"I killed people. Children. There's video of every single one." Bressie rubs his back and looks back at Zayn, desperate.

"Can you wipe it? Please, tell me you can wipe it."

Zayn looks concerned, but he nods. "Probably. I'm not positive, and it could be risky. I'll see what I can do. But Brez, Niall—this is top-grade government secrets we're talking about here. This is life or death stuff."

"All the more reason to get it the fuck out of me," Niall says, teary but determined. "I don't give a shit if it's risky." He clutches Bressie's hand. Bressie tugs at him, gesturing at Zayn to give them a minute alone. Once Zayn's in the kitchen, Bressie presses a firm kiss to Niall's lips and links their fingers together.

"Just take a second," he says, focusing on his own deep breaths, staying solid for Niall.

"I can't turn it off," Niall says, eyes glowing, wide and desperate like he's trying and failing to do something in his own head, manipulate the memories, his programming, anything.

"It's not you," Bressie says, voice soft, sliding his hands up to cup around Niall's shoulders. "Think about it like it's just a movie or something, Niall."

"I can't," Niall says again. "It's not like a movie, it's like being two completely different people. I'm me, but I'm also that—monster. Someone who did awful, disgusting things for reasons I don't even understand. Yet there's this deep sense of rightness, like I did a good job, like I succeeded." He shakes his head too hard, like he's trying to dislodge something, and Bressie presses his palms to Niall's jaw to stop him, cradling his head.

"It's okay, I get it. I do. Your brain's messing up just like a lot of other people's."

"I can't keep these memories and be okay," Niall says, voice thin. "I can't think of anything else. But if I get rid of them—you'll all still know."

"We'll all still know, and Zayn may also mess up the rest of you. We don't know what'll happen if he rips them out, you might lose everything else, too," Bressie says, looping his hands gently around Niall's wrists. "And you won't be the only one losing something."

"Maybe Zayn can just make it—less," Niall says, something in him making a soft ticking noise. "Like if I were human and there was something wrong in my brain, you know?"

"Like medication," Bressie says. "I don't know if that would work, but if anyone can write a program to approximate an antipsychotic subdermal, it'd be Zayn." Niall brightens, just barely, and it makes Bressie's heart clench painfully.

"I'll ask," says Niall, and he skitters off to the kitchen.

Zayn, life-saver that he is, claims he should be able to write something that will work the way Niall suggests. "It's still risky," he says to them, back on the couch and running his thumb over the big ring he's wearing on his index finger. "But I should be able to hack the weighting mechanism in the sensory recall and emotional core of that information and tone them down. Niall can compartmentalise, then. He'll still remember, but he can think about other things, focus on himself instead of the stuff from before."

"When?" Niall asks, and his face is drawn, arms wrapped defensively around his knees, back to the armrest.

"A week, maybe?" Zayn says, apologetic, obviously knowing what a hardship it will be for Niall to be reliving his former life that whole time.

Bressie nods, resigned, and squeezes at Niall's ankle. "Alright. Give me a ring the second it's sorted," he says.

It only takes twenty minutes for Zayn to get home and text Bressie that he's already working on it.

__

If the following week is harrowing for Bressie, he can't even imagine what it's like for Niall. His eyes have the constant high-alert glow of a deer caught in headlights, and he often goes missing only to turn up after a frantic search curled at the back of Bressie's closet or in the footwell of his truck, face blank and emotionless. Bressie knows plenty about PTSD and schizophrenia in people, but there hasn't been any research at all on human mental illness in robots—at least not that he can find after long nights of nothing but searching. It's terrifying, and the idea that something could be going on inside Niall's head that will permanently change him no matter what Zayn comes up with leaves Bressie sleepless and anxious in ways he hasn't been since he was a teenager.

Zayn finally texts them after six days, and Bressie's up with his phone balanced on his thigh even though it's four in the morning. Niall is sat on the charger, blue glowing eerily through his closed eyelids, fingertips scratching rhythmically on his jeans. It's driving Bressie round the bend, but he'd rather deal with it than deny Niall self-soothing.

I'm coming over , is all it says. Bressie clenches his fist tight around his phone after he reads it, forcing himself to take deep, calm breaths.

"Niall," he says, but Niall doesn't move or acknowledge that he's said anything. "Zayn's coming."

There's a knock and the door not long after. Zayn's in a beanie and six days of beard, shoving a small rectangle into Bressie's hand before he even says hello. "Give this to Niall. He just needs to hold it, should download wirelessly and boot up." His face is grave, and Bressie gives him a curt nod.

Niall's motionless, not even making the usual compulsory breathing movements he doesn't need but goes through anyway. Bressie opens his slack hand and presses the little black drive into it.

"Probably should stand back, like," Zayn says, and Bressie's loath to, but he does it.

Niall makes some soft beeps and whirring noises, the glow of his eyes dimming and brightening, but doesn't budge. Bressie sits on the couch, draws his knees up like Niall would even though he can barely fit on the cushion that way. Zayn is in the chair in the corner, typing furiously on something that hardly makes any noise. It's long minutes before Niall's eyes finally blink open.

"Hey," Bressie says immediately, scrambling to his knees by Niall, praying that he'll answer, that it won't be like the first time. "You okay?" He wants to bundle him up in his arms, wants to kiss him, but he doesn't, scared of what might happen.

"Yeah, I think so," Niall says, voice just the same, corner of his mouth starting to twitch up. "Hi, Bressie."

Bressie jumps on him them, near crushes him in a hug, peppering his face and hair with kisses. "Thank god, fuckin' bollix, Niall, I swear. You've been scaring the shit straight out of me all fucking week."

"It's better now," Niall says, muffled by Bressie's armpit. "Not like—gone, but. More like it happened to someone else, like it's wasn't me—"

"It wasn't you," Bressie says fervently, but Niall keeps going.

"—and like it's just sitting there, not like a constant 24/7 movie of everything happening at once, no voices of people who aren't here, no missives running through me making all my muscles clench up. I can't even explain it," he's breathless now, relieved. "Fuck I feel so much better." He clutches Bressie around the middle, rubs his face happily against Bressie's chest. He's still tense all over, but so much visibly better, Bressie's eyes go a bit watery. "Zayn, man," he says into Bressie's belly, lifting an arm up to wave at him in the corner. "Thanks."

Zayn comes over, smiling tiredly. "Welcome."

"You're a genius," Bressie says, lost for any other words to express his gratitude.

"At least you know," Zayn says with a shrug and wry smile. "Niall, since you're a bit of a maverick, like, and have this annoying habit of possessing a fully functional personality that changes and grows," Niall looks up, beaming, "you may have to come back to me every once in a while for, like, patches and updates."

"Doctor Zayn the bot psychiatrist," Bressie says, standing up and pulling Niall after him. He claps Zayn on the back.

"Sounds like a plan," Niall says, and Zayn gives him three cheeky tweaks on his chest and belly.

"Looking good," he says. "I'll leave you two to it, like."

Bressie pulls Niall into a deep kiss, all tongues and hands, and he doesn't even notice when Zayn leaves.

__

Niall greets every morning with a sweet, sleepy smile on his face, just like he always did. Bressie hears him singing in the kitchen while he makes them tea—it turns out the spit and tears and jizz need fluids to replenish, and Bressie can't say he minds. They shower and brush their teeth together, and Niall comes to work with him, strength and well-tuned sense of space perfect to help Bressie with his sculptures.

He has weird days where he goes through what Bressie comes to think of as his archives, and Zayn's right—he does need updates sometimes when the code keeping things at bay ages slower than his mind. Niall worries sometimes that he could be tracked down, that whoever created him will find him again. He's so human now, though—unlike any other droid, every tic and facial expression and phrase he says more real than the last. Bressie's not too worried. It's nothing they can't handle.

Bressie finally completes the piece Niall first saw when he woke up—it's evolved now, into something much larger but ultimately more simple than he'd ever planned. There's a sweeping chaotic wave, made from steel and glass and splinters, and it funnels down into a smaller, cleaner form. It's a person, still made from shards and scraps, but shaped and sanded and given structure with wires. He adds the finishing touch of two bright chips of electric blue glass and calls it The Body Electric. He may not have used Niall for parts, but part of it is still made of him.