Chapter 1: You really think he loves me?
Do you ever get the feeling that you can't shift the tide
That sticks around like something's in your teeth
And some aces up your sleeve
I had no idea that you're in deep
When Gavin told Nines that Tina Chen was his best friend, he’d totally fucking meant it.
They’d known each other for what was going on twenty years now, give or take a couple. They’d met when they were still young, bright eyed and bushy tailed brats fresh into the police academy, back when they’d thought they’d seen the worst that Detroit had to offer. Arguably, Gavin had been even more of a prick back then, who had problems with authority and had since a young age.
Gavin had never really had a good relationship with his father. A washed up alcoholic, a shithead that abandoned or abused the ones that needed him. He stayed pissed at the world because he lost his job, blaming it on immigrants and then, later on, androids. The truth was, he was just a drunkard that couldn’t stay sober enough to do a decent day’s work. It had pissed Gavin off that his mom stayed with him for as long as she did, but in hindsight, he knew it was because she was terrified. Gavin knew full well how physically violent his dad got when he was drunk, hell, both he and his mom knew. His mom was afraid that he’d do something much worse if she tried to leave him. Growing up, he was labeled a problem child because he had an attitude, because he had anger issues, because he spent too much time out on the streets. It wasn’t his fault, to be honest. If anybody else had been in his damn shoes, they wouldn’t want to go home either. He didn’t have any friends, his teachers didn’t like him, the cops around his part of town knew him by name, first and last.
The only reason anything had changed was because of a cop, oddly enough. One that had wondered why a fourteen year old kid was running down the risky streets of Detroit at two in the morning covered in bruises and sporting a broken, bloody nose.
That was the entire fucking reason Gavin wanted to be a cop. Because at one point he had been stuck in a hellhole of a house, terrified of coming home everyday because he didn’t know if his dad hadn’t had enough to drink to be passed out yet. It was easier when he was passed out – unconscious meant that he wasn’t hurting anyone.
Gavin had told this to Tina, once they’d chummed it up in the academy, when Gavin actually learned how to lighten the fuck up. “Damn,” she’d said, clearly not knowing what to say in response. It was always weird to reply to something like that. “I wanted to be a cop because I saw one on TV and thought they looked cool.”
Tina took his shit, and she returned it. She wasn’t scared away by his fucking attitude, by his sarcasm or his tone. She was his best friend, one of his only friends, someone he went to whenever he needed help, someone he confided in.
Which was exactly why they were here now.
The one thing about weekdays in a bar is that you could really tell who the borderline alcoholics were, especially when it was early afternoon on a Tuesday. The entire place felt lazy. Even the fucking music was slow and quiet. They weren’t really drinking, per say. It was their lunch break, they both still had a long day ahead of them. But sometimes, bar food was just what hit the spot.
This place was one that was pretty close to the office, one that he and Tina usually frequented. There, they knew their names and their usual, and sometimes they even had it ready before either of them had to go up to the bar and ask. Additionally, it meant that if Gavin showed any of the long time staff a picture of Hank, they’d probably recognize him. The bartender was a pretty good guy – he had a niece that worked there, too, one that was in her early thirties (Gavin thinks). A niece that was blond and beautiful, one that Tina flirted with every time she was there.
Gavin was thankful that this place was a fucking ghost town save for one guy at the bar, but he had his eyes on his phone and seemed to be minding his own fucking business, that and the two workers that were sitting on the other side of the room at a booth. He was thankful because he wanted as little people as possible to bear witness to his gay meltdown.
Or, well, that’s what Tina called it.
“So what’d the tin can do this time?” Tina started with, once she’d gotten her soda pop to drink. She’s taken off her hat, dropping it onto the table and unzips her jacket to put it across the back of her chair. It might be cold outside, but inside, the bar was nice and toasty. A refuge from the weather outside. The sky was cloudy, so there was no sun to warm the cold air that choked Detroit.
“I haven’t even said anything about him yet,” Gavin starts, crossing his arms and resting them on top of the table. Chen was too fucking perceptive for her own good. Gavin had always argued that she should become a homicide detective. She’d do a damn good job.
“Yeah, but I know he’s done something.” Tina grins, smug and obviously pleased, knowing that she’s hit the nail on the head.
“Fuckin’…” Gavin begins, then he drops his head against his arms and groans. “Fuckin’ Christ, Chen. This ‘droid’s gonna fucking kill me.”
“It’s not like I haven’t heard that before,” Tina laughs, and that was rather true. Gavin had said this when Connor first fucking showed up in November, and he’d said it again when Nines had gotten assigned as his partner back at the beginning of January. “Spill. What happened?”
Gavin sighs, and fixes her with a serious glare. “He got me a fucking Valentine’s Day present.” He jumps back in shock when Tina slaps her hand on the table, and there’s an intense gleam in her eye that can’t mean anything good.
“You’re shitting me, right?” she asks, and Gavin’s at least thankful it was at a decent volume. “Wait, are we talking, like, roses and chocolates that comes with a kiss shit?”
“No, god, fuck no!” Gavin almost, almost wishes he’d never said anything. “No he just…” He sighs again, rubbing his face with his hands. “He got me a coffee mug, Chen. Because of how much I drink coffee and because of my ‘usual language’.” At Chen’s confused look, Gavin elaborates. “It says fuck you, you fucking fuck on it.”
“Oh, wow,” Tina laughs. “Dude that’s fucking hilarious.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Tina doesn’t come back with anything, and Gavin doesn’t know what to say. He’s so fucking lost, especially when it comes to anything relating to Nines.
“What’s goin’ on between the two of you anyway?” Tina suddenly perks up. “Last I checked in, you guys couldn’t stand each other.”
“I don’t…” Fuck. He can’t help but be honest with Chen. And maybe that’s only because she’s the only person that can see through his lies like they were clear glass. “I don’t hate him. God, I really fucking don’t. But I… He fuckin’ goes all Dr. Phil because he wants to ‘understand’ me, because he wants me to like him. Says he cares for my damn wellbeing, and that doesn’t make any fucking sense. I’ve was nothin’ but an ass to him for the longest and here he is, taking bullets for me and getting me damn coffee mugs because he wants to ‘convey his gratitude’ to me or something.”
Tina hums thoughtfully into her soda, but there’s a devious grin on her face that shows that she’s got something to say. “Sounds like he likes you,” she taunts. Gavin groans and rests his head against the table, keeping himself from beating it against the fake wood, but just barely.
“Of course you’d jump to those conclusions, Jesus,” he scoffs. “He’s just too nice for his own good, that doesn’t mean he likes me.”
“Well, either way he cares about you,” Tina continues, much to his chagrin. “Not many people have the balls to do that kind of shit.” She takes another sip of her drink, and Gavin says nothing to fill the silence. “Look, I get that you have some fuckin’ issues letting people in. But you don’t have to freak and shut people out when they care about you.”
Hey, sometimes Tina says some smart shit.
“I’m fucking shit at feelings, Chen,” Gavin huffs, ignoring Tina’s mumbled “That’s an understatement”. “But I don’t… I just don’t fucking get it. Like fuck, I don’t even know what I feel. How am I able to tell what the fuck a damn android does?”
“Hell, you could always ask him.” At Gavin’s incredulous snort, Tina continues, on a different train of thought. “Look, this is what I think. Take it or leave it, I don’t care. I think he likes you. If he’s able to put up with your shit just as well as I do, then he’s bound to. Hell, I’ve told you before that if I was straight, we’d already be together.”
“Not to be a dick or anything, but I couldn’t imagine dating you,” Gavin grumbles.
“Fair. We would have at least fucked. We may have even had a fuck buddies thing going.” She reaches across the table to shove at his shoulder, and then the two of them break into a fit of snickering laughter.
“But honestly,” Tina cuts in, becoming serious once more. “I think he loves you. And I know that you at least like him. Maybe it’s not love, because love is… kinda a big thing. But you never know.” She cuts off with a shrug. Gavin is grateful that Tina doesn’t say more. She lets him stew in his thoughts as they get their food, and then they’re just stuffing their faces.
“You really think he loves me?” Gavin asks quietly, almost bashfully, halfway through with eating and not quite able to ignore the question rummaging around in his head.
“Yeah. I think he does.” Tina hums around a mouthful of fish and chips. “Well I mean… you can think that he’s just nice. And he is, don’t get me wrong. But he doesn’t get me coffee, or cute little mugs for Valentine’s Day.” She shrugs, waving a fry around for emphasis. “He doesn’t take bullets for me, either.”
And that just hurt a little bit.
“I didn’t fucking want him to!” he snaps, and it causes the two workers to turn their head and look at them, breaking whatever conversation they were having. Gavin sinks down into his seat and waits for them to turn away before he repeats, much quieter, “I didn’t fucking want him to.”
Tina pulls an oddly sympathetic look. “I know, Gav,” she sighs, tone becoming serious. “Look. I know you’re fucking shit at feelings. I’ve been your friend long enough to know that. But Nines is… sweet. He likes you, I know he does. Fuck, his stupid heart eyes make me sick.” She shakes her head. “Remember that girl I dated for like, three years? Alli?”
Gavin did. He’d had mixed feelings about her, because she was fucking weird. Some eastern medicine obsessed, self-proclaimed spiritual purist that never wore shoes and drank the grossest smoothies in existence. But she’d made Tina happy, and Tina was his best friend. They’d had a good relationship for those three years, until they ended up splitting because she couldn’t support Tina’s choice of career as a cop.
“She was crazy, yeah, but she once told me that even if you’re only one person to the entire world, you can still be the world to one person,” she starts, eye level with him. “Nines looks at you like you’re the greatest fucking thing in the world. Like you’re some weird knight in shining armor, like you’re the greatest detective in all the US. So just… just stop freaking out, okay? It’s okay for people to love you. And it’s okay to accept that love.”
Gavin just stares at her, a little but stunned. He has to blink eventually, once his eyes start to burn. “When the fuck did you go off and become some shitty kind of love guru?” Gavin asks, rather amazed, and occupying his fidgeting hands by eating his veggie burger instead of drumming them against the table.
“It’s a natural born talent,” Chen grins back. “I do expect an invitation to the wedding, though.”
At that, Gavin sputters, pulling in air so fast that he coughs. “Damn it, Chen.” Gavin rubs at his own throat. “I’m not exactly the marrying type, ya know.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured.” Thankfully, Chen just continues eating instead of talking anymore. She finishes eating before he does, only because she doesn’t know how to pace her damn self. He thinks that, maybe, she’ll stay silent up until they leave, but he doesn’t get that lucky.
“I think he’ll treat you right, though,” she muses, almost like she’s talking to herself. He almost chokes on a bite of his burger, and when Gavin looks up at her, she as a distant, if sincere look on her face. “Nines is… a really good guy.” Yeah. She was definitely right about that. "So?" she prods him, and that devious smirk returns. "Are you two gonna go make out as soon as we get back?"
"Fuck off, Chen."
So Tina thought Nines loves him. Which was fucking weird, in and of itself. But the weirdest thing was when he asked himself a similar question, his answer came a lot easier than he had thought it would.
Do I love Nines...?
Yeah, I think I do.
Chapter 2: What is love?
Connor has always been the person that Nines has gone to when he needed help. Human emotion wasn't something that Nines could understand, and the subject of love is one that Nines thinks Connor would understand a bit better than himself.
I dreamt about you near me every night this week
How many secrets can you keep
Cause there's this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow
When I play it on repeat until I fall asleep
Ever since Nines was first “born” into this world, that is, first deviated from his programming, Connor was someone that he went to when he needed anything.
When Nines had first met Connor, he was rather ashamed to say that he had tried to kill him. The RK800 series was – as Amanda told him – obsolete, destined for decommissioning. The entire store of RK800 models that had been manufactured thus far had been destroyed, shut down and broken down into parts. Amanda had imparted upon him a certain… disappointment and frustration with the RK800 mark 52, specifically due to his retaliation against Cyberlife and his programming. Her specific instructions had been to “dispose of RK800 mark 51”, but her meaning could not have been more clear.
Shut him down, forcefully, because Amanda knew that Connor wouldn’t go willingly.
It had been rather difficult to break Nines of his programming when he was first activated. The RK900 series had been created with the intention of being able to perfectly follow orders, without question, without hesitation. So this meant upon first seeing Connor, upon first registering his identity, Nines had immediately tried to shut him down.
But once he was free of his programming, it was rather surprising that he and Connor got along as well and as quickly as they did. Nines was new to the world, new to deviancy and to emotion, much like Connor had been upon his deviation half a month prior. But Connor had Hank to assist him, and now, Nines had Connor to turn to for help.
And right now, that was precisely what he needed.
The entire range of human emotion was something that even humans themselves couldn’t fully understand, and despite being knowledgeable or being able to obtain the knowledge of everything accessible via the internet, Nines was in the dark. Emotions were complicated, they were messy and unclear. There had been times where Nines had wished that he couldn’t feel, that he could undo his deviation and never have to deal with emotion again, but in those times, Connor had been there.
It was movie night again. Dinner had been finished and Nines and Connor were currently working to clean up the kitchen of the few dishes that had been dirtied. Hank had gone into the living room, working through his collection of DVDs, picking through his favorites to find the next one on their lineup. The lieutenant had suggested Reservoir Dogs earlier in the evening, but it was always subject to change. Nines dries the plate that Connor had handed him, and in the process, asks the question that has been plaguing his thoughts for most of the day.
“Connor,” Nines begins, only the slightest bit unsure about asking the question at all. “What is love?”
Before Connor has the chance to reply, Hank calls from the living room. “Baby don’t hurt me!” It wasn’t said with any inclination of a tune, and judging from Nines confused look, Connor gives him some exposition.
“It’s from a song,” he explains, just as Nines completes a statement search and finds the mentioned track. “Why do you ask?”
“I…” Nines begins, but upon remembering that Hank could hear their conversation from the living room, he opts for a different method. He sets the now dry plate onto the kitchen counter, and reaches out to ask for Connor’s hand.
They had had issues with data transference in the past. Nines’ processor was larger than Connor’s, so Nines had – as Hank had summed it up – an overactive mind. He thought about hundreds of different things at once, some frivolous pursuits like card tricks and alcoholic drink mixes, some more important subjects, like sweeping through the DPD database for suspect information or decrypting data files from one of their cases. Initially, Nines hadn’t known how to restrict data transference, and so their first interface had been a bit overwhelming for Connor. He had had terabytes of data flooding his mind that were entirely unnecessary.
Now, however, Nines knew how to pick and choose the things he wanted to show Connor, so that’s what he did now. Once Connor dries his hands of dishwater, he accepts Nines’ outstretched hand, and Nines shows Connor exactly why he was asking.
Nines shows Connor his partner how the RK900 sees him. He shows Connor Gavin’s dedication to his work, shows his restlessness when they aren’t making progress, shows him sleeping against his desk when coffee just isn’t enough for the late nights. Shows him the tiny smiles, the ‘thanks for the coffee’ that Nines gets him because he wants to. He shows him Gavin’s astonishment that someone wanted to come to understand him, the “I don’t… hate you. You know that, right?”, the “you are my friend”.
The beautiful smile, the actual happiness on Gavin’s face because of something as simple as a coffee mug.
And along with all of those things, everything that Nines has felt during these moments. The happiness, the worry, the gratefulness, the confusion because he isn’t actually sure what he’s feeling.
Connor’s LED is spinning red for a moment whenever the interface ends before it returns to yellow, and then a steady blue. He looks surprised, shocked even, and merely stares at Nines with his mouth open, as though he was going to say something. When he does, however, it’s not directed towards him.
“Hank?” he calls, and doesn’t wait for the lieutenant’s response before he continues. “We’re going to take Sumo for a walk before the movie.”
Together, Nines and Connor finish what little there is to clean up in silence. It is a concerning silence, purely because Nines knows there is a lot that is going to be said. If Nines judges correctly from Connor’s red LED and the expression he wore after the interface, there will definitely be a conversation between the two of them, and Nines isn’t sure what exactly it will entail. Connor gets Sumo’s leash, and the Saint Bernard seems more than happy to go for a walk. The two of them put their shoes on before they leave, promising Hank they would be back soon.
They get a short distance from Hank’s house before Connor says anything. “Love is a complicated topic,” he begins, not looking at Nines but rather, watches Sumo sniff at the edge of the sidewalk against a wooden fence post. “It was boiled down to a concoction of chemicals in a human brain, a simple influence of neurotransmitters to bond two people together in a uniquely unpredictable way. Though obviously that version is a little dated.” Connor pauses, seemingly interrupted by Sumo’s low bark at a passing stray cat. “As for what love is… Love has a lot of different meanings, I think. It means different things depending on who that love is between. But a general consensus is that love is… not just a way you feel. It’s the way you act as well. You can’t say you love someone if the only thing you do is hurt them.” Here, Connor pauses again, and as they cross the street, he gives Nines a curious glance.
“You care about Detective Reed. You care for his wellbeing and his safety and his happiness. It makes you happy to see him happy, and it pleases you when he allows you to care for him in some way. I feel much the same way about Hank.”
“Do you think…” Nines begins, stops, and then begins again. “Do you think Detective Reed could ever love an android?”
There’s a long stretch of silence after Nines asks this question. Connor mulls over his answer, and Nines waits apprehensively for it. There’s a dark part of his mind that tells him of course not. Detective Reed despises androids, and a friendship with him had only developed through a significant amount of time and considerable hardship. But there’s a part that also remains hopeful. A part that things that Detective Reed has come to call him a friend after a time, and who’s to say that, with a little more, there could be no more progress?
“I don’t know the specifics of Detective Reed’s heart,” Connor finally replies. “A lot of times, people hide their feelings and it ends up getting mixed in with insecurities and ego. They withhold discussing their emotions because of fear.”
“What would they be afraid of?” Nines questions.
“It could be many things,” Connor shrugs. “They could be afraid because they’ve been hurt before by someone they loved or because they’re afraid that revealing their emotions could drive the one they love away.” Nines suddenly thinks that Connor has a bit more experience in this matter than previously disclosed. “Being hurt before tends to cause someone to build walls around their heart. It can take quite a bit of chipping away at those walls before they’re able to feel comfortable, or even to allow themselves to be happy again.”
“Do you think that’s what happened to Detective Reed?” Nines idly wonders, asking the question aloud without fully realizing. They turn the corner, and then Hank’s home is just a few hundred feet away. Connor pauses just after the corner, giving Sumo more slack on his leash so he can have more freedom to explore while they stand still.
“I don’t know,” Connor answers truthfully. “But I do know that – from my own observations – that he definitely seems… much happier nowadays. Whatever walls he has, and for whatever reasons, you seem to be doing a very good job at removing them.” Even with Connor’s subtle reassurance, Nines can’t help but remain worried, previous thoughts of his own stubbornly reemerging. Connor seems to notice his confliction, as he asks, “What is it?”
“What you said a moment ago, about revealing your feelings and driving away the one you care about,” Nines starts, but doesn’t quite know how to continue. There was always the threat that these feelings of his weren’t reciprocated, that Gavin knowing about these emotions would only cause their relationship to go full reverse.
Nines didn’t want Gavin to hate him again.
Connor reaches over and puts his hand on Nines’ shoulder. It’s a comforting weight, and that, combined with Connor’s reassuring smile, makes him feel a bit better. “Love is risky,” he says softly. “Things won’t always go perfectly, and there will always be unpredictable factors. You just have to decide if that person is worth the risk.”
There are a few more moments of silence, and then they return to their walk home, if only due to Sumo’s insistent tugging at his leash. Nines stops Connor before they leave the sidewalk, pulling him in a tight embrace. “Thank you, Connor.”
He owes his predecessor so much.
“Of course,” is the simple reply. After a second of silence, Connor murmurs, “I love you, Nines.”
Love was a complicated thing, but Nines knew he would learn it. Just like he learned everything else. “I love you too, Connor.”
They stand like that until Sumo seems to become jealous, or perhaps just frustrated at the lack of attention, and noses against the side of Connor’s leg, prompting him towards the house. “All right, all right, we’re going,” Connor tsks, and they return inside, where Hank is now resting on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in his lap and the movie waiting for them on the television.
There were two important questions Nines had to ask himself. Nines has to admit that he didn’t pay much attention to the movie. Instead, he watches a movie of his own, a sort of compilation of memories of his partner, of everything he’d showed Connor and more.
Was this what love was? Love wasn’t just a way you felt. It was a way you acted. To act with care, with appreciation towards another person. To devote yourself towards their wellbeing, to want their happiness as much as you want your own, to strive to accomplish that goal with no feeling of obligation. Love is not just a feeling, love is in one’s actions.
So could Nines say that he loved Gavin?
Of course he could.
The second question he had to ask himself was harder to answer than the first. Because love is risky, there are unpredictable factors and there was always a risk of a painful outcome. It wouldn’t matter if Nines loved Gavin or not. If those feelings were not returned, Nines had no idea what could happen. Would this become awkward between them? Would things go back to how they used to be? It made Nines unbearably nervous and upset to think this. To think that he would go back to being another useless, annoying tin can in his partner’s eyes. To think that Gavin would no longer consider him a friend.
Even if Nines was the most advanced android to date, he still could not give himself any statistical predictions.
Even if Gavin didn’t love him, Nines would still stay by his side, to ensure his safety, to ensure his happiness as much as he could, if Gavin allowed it.
So was Gavin worth the risk?
Of course he was.