If Gavin never listens to the voicemail sitting in his inbox, he’ll never know what it says—and that means he doesn’t have to do what it says.
Mom —16:08 Nov. 2nd, 2039
“Nine minutes long,” he utters, checking the details of the message. “Jesus fuck, Ma.”
Fowler’s in a meeting, so Gavin takes the unsupervised opportunity to prop his feet up against his desk without the risk of being scolded. Idling around on his phone isn’t as fulfilling as it usually is; the prospect of The Voicemail looms in the background, casting shade on each app refresh.
It’s that time of the year. The holidays are right around the corner, and with them come his mother’s manic tendencies to go full-blown Hallmark.
Either she’s got some scoop on the latest family drama or one hell of a guilt trip locked and loaded. It’s been two years since he’d last seen any of his relatives in person. Nowadays, excuses come easy. I’ve gotta work, is the easiest, most viable exit. Sorry, Ma, crime doesn’t stop when the turkey’s in the oven.
Though, the more she persists, the more she wears him down. He doesn’t hate his family. Could do without the unnecessary bullshit that tends to crop up whenever they gather in the same place, but he’s lucky to have them at all.
The longer he puts it off, the worse it’ll be. Both the voicemail and the reconvention.
He hits the play button on his phone before lifting it up to his ear.
“Hi, honey, it’s me. Just calling to check in on you. Have you been busy? Are you still alive? It’d be nice if you answered your phone every once in a while—or at least called me back instead of texting me a thumbs up emoji so that I can hear your voice.” She sighs, world-weary, before prattling on about mundane events in her own life. Gavin recognizes the way she’s beating around the bush, building up a preface until—
“Thanksgiving’s in a few weeks, and you know we’d love to have you. It’s gonna be big this year! Grandma, my brothers and their wives and grandkids. Your sister, of course, and her little ones. Oh, and speaking of—they’ve been asking after you, if you’ll be there. They miss their Uncle Gavin.”
She could be embellishing. It doesn’t matter either way, because it achieves its intended effect of filling Gavin’s insides with a cloying guilt. His nieces were meant to be his kids-without-having-kids but he can barely bring himself to give them the time of day.
“Call me back,” the recording of his mother demands, “or I’ll keep bothering you until you do. I won’t hesitate to reach out to your boss, either.”
Gavin jerks in place, growling. No way. No fucking way is he going to let his mother get ahold of Fowler.
He allows himself to throw a small tantrum, shoving the bottom of his boot against the edge of the desk before slamming it down onto the floor. Then, he thumbs the callback button on his phone.
One ring passes before his mom picks up.
“There you are! Did you listen to my message?”
“Unfortunately, yeah, all nine goddamn minutes of it—”
“So let’s make this quick, then,” she interrupts, flat. “Can you make it to Thanksgiving? What about Christmas? I know you never take time off during the holidays—or ever —so it’d be reasonable for you to request them off.”
He sucks on his teeth. The background noise of the precinct—radio chatter, a witness yowling at an officer down the hall, his coworkers bullshitting—is starting to agitate him. “I—yeah, I can. We should have enough coverage around here.” They didn’t, for a while, just after the revolution and subsequent evacuation. But in the following months, several androids expressed interest in being involved in law enforcement to balance out the wealth of power.
Just like that, the warmth returns to her voice. “Good! Oh, baby, I’m so glad to hear that. I can’t wait to see you.” Then, she says, “And, so you don’t feel alone, I’ll invite along my coworker’s son, Anthony; she has to work during the holidays this year, and he’s a bit of a—well, he’s a lot like you. Doesn’t have anybody else to spend them with. I think you’ll get along, really, he reminds me of—“
Gavin’s brain is stuttering to a halt like a faulty engine as he attempts to comprehend the sheer idiocy he’s hearing.
“What? Are you trying to set me up?” Worse yet, this isn’t the first time she’s tried to do it. Not only is the concept itself a whole new level of torture for somebody who simply hates people, but the men that she thinks will be a “good match” for Gavin are the exact opposite of what he’d call tolerable. “Fuck that noise.”
“Oh, give him a chance! When was the last time you went on a date, anyway? Maybe you’ll hit it off! Who knows!”
It figures. It really does. She gets him to agree to show up and then springs an ulterior motive on him. Well, he’s not letting it happen. Not this year.
“See, the thing is—I’ve already got a boyfriend.”
Silence envelopes the other end of the line. Then, “You do? Since when? That’s—that’s great, Gavin! Why haven’t you said anything? What’s his name?”
Gavin grinds his teeth together. “About a month?” he pulls out of his ass. That’s long enough to be serious, but too soon for dalliances like inviting him to, say, his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. “His name is—”
His partner rounds the corner, a tablet in hand, and Gavin blurts out “Connor” before he can stop himself.
“I’m happy for you,” his mother is saying as Gavin boils in his own idiocy. “Though I’m not sure I’ll believe it until I see it. Your sister hasn’t mentioned anything about you having a boyfriend. That’s how I learn anything about you these days—through her checking your social media accounts and rerouting the information to me.”
He knows. That’s why he keeps several of them on private. “We’re keeping it low-key, ‘cause—he’s my coworker, and—an android.” The lie works so horrifyingly well that he can’t stop himself from expanding upon it. “The public’s still critical of human and android relations, and… I used to be really douchey about ‘em, posting anti-android articles and statuses…”
The sound his mother makes is a harmonious mix of sympathetic and chastising. “I see. Well, since he is an android, he must not have any family, right? You should invite him to Thanksgiving dinner—and Christmas, too! I promise that everybody will treat him with respect. That, and I want to meet the man that changed your mind—on androids, and dating.”
Fuck. While he’s trying to come up with an excuse as to why that isn’t an option, Connor sits down in the desk adjacent to Gavin’s, still focused on the information displayed in front of him.
“I’ll ask him,” Gavin offers, closing his eyes. “But I’m not making any promises.”
“Well, I don’t see why he’d say no,” she says, a hint of contention carving the edges of her consonants. “Unless you’re lying to me about this to get out of meeting Anthony.”
“Or he has a fucking life, because that’s what they do now, and I can’t order him around!”
She immediately fires back with “Either he shows, or Anthony does. End of story. Call me when you hear from Connor.”
Gavin cringes at the echo of her voice in the receiver, casting his eyes toward Connor and searching for some sign of recognition. The guy’s got all sorts of bells and whistles, and he’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t know (or care about) the specifications of Connor’s auditory components.
The line goes dead.
“You tap into that?” he can’t help but ask, tense with paranoia.
“No,” Connor replies, an undercurrent of defense in his tone. He glances up at Gavin. “I know how much you value your privacy.”
And if that isn’t the biggest load of crock he’s ever heard. Connor’s like a cat that needs to be up in everybody’s business or he’ll go crazy from lack of exposure. He’ll tell Connor anyway—because as soon as he takes in that twisty little frown on Connor’s face, brows furrowed above warm brown eyes, Gavin’s struck with the debilitating notion that he has no other choice. “Hey,” he hedges, “you got any plans for the holidays?”
Sure, they’re on decent terms now. Good, even, on days that Gavin’s got some generosity to spare. But the smalltalk, while present, is infrequent. Connor’s quiet when he gets into his own head, reconstructing and analyzing all aspects of a case, and even though Gavin’s pretty chatty, being buddy-buddy with the guy he’d had several altercations with last year just isn’t on the agenda.
So the query pings Connor’s radar as bizarre. Gavin can tell by the way he cants his head and takes a long, thoughtful moment to stare at Gavin—his LED would be yellow, maybe, if he still wore the thing—before replying.
“Not that I know of. Last year, Hank didn’t want to do anything special.” He hesitates, and then adds, “He shut himself away throughout Christmas and wouldn’t let me keep him company. I’m not sure if he intends to do the same this year.”
Gavin spares a few seconds of pity on Hank and his situation, but he doesn’t allow himself to dwell on it for any longer than that.
“Why do you ask?”
Propping his head up on his fist, he picks apart Connor’s appearance. He’s made a few minor changes since he first showed up to the DPD; removing his LED being the most blatant, and discarding that gaudy CyberLife jacket in exchange for button-ups and Chinos. He styles his hair into something a little less meticulous, or—it gives the appearance that he doesn’t care, brown locks loose, but Gavin knows Connor spends real, actual time on it in the morning, because they’re partners now. Once, he’d had to pick Connor up at ass-o’clock AM and waited fifteen minutes in the car for Connor to show.
His mother would have one hell of a time trying to find a flaw in Connor.
“I need a favor.”
Connor lofts a brow. “You do?”
“Yeah. It’s a big one, too, so you can ask for whatever you want in exchange.” He thinks of adding within reason, but asking Connor to play his surrogate boyfriend for not one but two holidays is… pretty unreasonable.
He watches Connor’s eyes flicker to and fro at a rapid pace. Gavin scoffs, sitting up in his seat.
“Are you scanning me? Knock that shit off.”
“You never ask for anything. I’ve never met anybody more self-reliant than you,” Connor says, frowning.
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
Sounded like one to him. “You gonna hear me out or not?”
“I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend for a few days.”
The furrow in Connor’s brow deepens. “Are you making fun of me?”
“What?” Gavin tries and fails to keep up with the android’s leap of judgment. “Making fun of—no, genius, I’m serious. I already told my Ma that I’ve got a boyfriend—one that I work with—and you’re around my age. In looks, anyway.” He doesn’t like to acknowledge Connor’s age in relation to his skill set and knowledge and career nearly equivalent to Gavin, who worked his ass off to get where he is today. “Fowler won’t give a shit if you request off; you never ask for anything, and it’s not like you have clearance to do much without your human partner.”
Once again, Connor wildly misinterprets Gavin’s words. “I’m a member of this department just as much as you are. I’m a detective, too.”
He knows. Boy, does he fucking know.
Instead of wasting his breath stumbling over a clarification and coming off as—God forbid— nice , he says, “Mascot, more like.”
“I prefer ‘poster boy’.”
“Uhuh. Is that really so much better?”
“Definitely. It implies that I’m a figure to model oneself after. You, on the other hand, are a warning label—or the unsavory fine print.”
Gavin clicks his tongue. “You think you’re so fuckin’ witty.”
“That wasn’t a compliment,” Gavin echoes, dry.
Connor takes a moment to preen, adjusting the sleeve of his jacket. Processing. “Thanksgiving is a holiday primarily centered around food. Cooking it, eating it, praising it.” He looks at Gavin like he’s checking for a concussion. “I can’t digest anything; your family will know that I’m not human.”
Gavin raises his brows, hands dug deep into his pockets. “And?”
“And…” Miracle of miracles—Connor is struck dumb by an outcome he’d considered unlikely. “Aren’t they—like you?”
Connor rolls his eyes—a quirk he most definitely inherited from Gavin or Hank. “Bigoted.”
“Oh, yeah, you’ll charm ‘em real easy if you keep talking like that.” A secretary passes the break room, her heels clicking softly against the linoleum. Gavin untenses his shoulders as soon as she leaves the range of audibility. “Honestly? I have no idea what they think about androids. I go out of my way to avoid spending time with them.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
His molten gaze crystallizes into something sharp. “Yes, I would. Or—I should, if I’m to play a convincing significant other.”
He doesn’t immediately register Connor’s implication the first go around. When he does, he stares. “You’ll do it?”
“You’re acting casual, but something tells me that this is more important to you than you’re letting on—or else you wouldn’t bother with it at all. I don’t mind helping you out, and it’ll be my first time experiencing the holiday season with a family. I’m intrigued.” Gavin opens his mouth, surprised by Connor’s easy acquiesce, when Connor adds, “But you are going to owe me.”
Figures. Gavin casts his eyes up to the ceiling. “Yeah, yeah. You can cash in a favor whenever you want.”
“Okay.” Smiling, Connor extends his hand across their desks. “Deal.”
Heaving a sigh, Gavin obliges the handshake. Connor’s hand is cold as ice, so he instinctively squeezes it tight like he can force heat back into it. Of course, the bastard thinks he’s being confrontational, so Connor grips him right back and twice as hard. Fighting back a flinch, he scoffs. “Okay, okay, Jesus. Let go, show-off.”
Smug, Connor does.
“Will we have to kiss?”
Instinctively, Gavin’s gaze drops to Connor’s lips. They’re untouched by the encroaching winter’s cold grasp—soft, smooth, and incrementally parted in anticipation of a response.
“Wha—? No,” he snaps, tearing his eyes away. “Just… some minor PDA, maybe. Hand holding. Enough to suggest that we’re a thing.”
“Okay,” Connor says with a perfunctory nod. “Most of the movies I’ve seen with this particular plot line include actions more… dramatic. That’s why I asked.”
“Movies? You watch those?”
“Yes.” His demeanor livens, irises bright. “I can download the synopsis of whichever movie I’d like, but I find enjoyment in watching them with somebody. Hank’s commentary is both enlightening and entertaining.”
Gavin leans back, pushing against the chair to force it into something a tad more comfortable, lips pursed. “You watch romcoms with Hank?”
“Among other things.”
“Wait,” Gavin says, rewinding what Connor had said, “what the hell were you expecting us to do?” Stage a makeout in the den? Fool around in the bathroom? Share a comically small bed? Gavin’s seen his fair share of those movies, unfortunately, and they never made any sense. There’s no need to embarrass themselves for the sake of validity they can achieve simply by verbally confirming each other’s supposed affection for one another.
“I wasn’t expecting anything. I’ll be following your lead; you know your family better than I do.” He blinks. “In fact, you should tell me more about them. Who will be there? Are there topics that I should avoid talking about?”
“Almost everybody, sounds like.” He looks at Connor with a hint of derision. “I wouldn’t bring up the revolution if I were you. It’s dominating the news, so it might be unavoidable, but don’t invite political drama. Rule number one of family gatherings.”
“There are rules?”
“Don’t talk about politics, religion, sex, money, family drama, the origin of Thanksgiving… That covers most of it.” He snorts. “As if anyone ever follows those rules.” His aunts are insufferable gossips that love to stir the pot, and his sister has absolutely no filter. “Anyway, you get pretty touchy about android crap, so don’t feed the fire if it comes up.”
“I get touchy?” Connor echoes incredulously.
“Here we go,” he mutters.
“Maybe I get touchy because I am an android, Detective, and it’s in a person’s nature to care about the things that pertain to them. I won’t just sit by and let them say things that are inappropriate.”
“I wasn’t saying that you had to, moron. But sometimes it’s just better to keep your mouth shut and let the subject pass without turning it into a verbal power play. Not like you’re going to see these people after December, anyway, so don’t even waste your energy.”
“A debate wouldn’t cause me to—”
“Figure of speech.”
Connor doesn’t pout, but it’s something close to it. There’s a slight dip between his brows as he turns back to the tablet he’d been studying from earlier. Gavin takes a look at what he’s reading to find that it’s the file for their last case—a brutal, serial murder. The killer is finally behind bars, but the fucker was smart and Connor’s convinced that there are loose ends they haven’t found and tied yet.
“We’ve got time,” Gavin mutters, reaching for his own terminal to get some work done today. “So let’s just forget about it for now.”
“That’s impossible for me,” says Connor, who obstinately refuses to interpret anything other than literally, “but alright. There’s something I noticed, and it could be nothing, but…”
Work is work. The weeks after a big case always provide that sense of wrongness, like they should go back to stake-outs and 70-hour work weeks and too much caffeine. Connor always finds a way to keep them busy, even as the weather gets colder and the crime load lessens. Gavin doesn’t mind it; he welcomes anything to keep his mind occupied.
One evening, as he’s wiping himself clean from sweat with a towel in the gym locker room, his phone rings. He squints at the display—an odd arrangement of numbers labeled “Connor” and then accepts the call with his Bluetooth headphones. “Yeah?”
“Does anybody in your family have any dietary restrictions or food allergies?”
“I’m doing well, thanks. You?”
“Detective Reed, please.”
“Calm down. Why do you sound so… panicked?” He rewinds Connor’s question and, after connecting the dots, he lofts a brow. “What, are you gonna cook something for Thanksgiving? Don’t bother. I was just gonna pick up a veggie tray or pie from the supermarket or something.”
Connor makes this— noise , like somebody yanked a wire right out of his chest, and says, “That’s not good enough. I have to make an impression. I was thinking of bringing a side dish, like sweet potato casserole, but most of the 5-star recipes call for pecans and 1.4% of Americans have some kind of peanut allergy.”
He can’t believe this. “An impression? We’re not getting married. You’ve just gotta show up, confirm that we’re dating, and sit through a bunch of boring conversation. Probably better off if you’re forgettable—it’ll make shit easier when we call it off.”
There’s silence on the other end of the line. “Regardless, I prefer to present myself in the optimal way for every setting. This included. I want to do this right—not just for you, but for me. Now, please answer my question.”
“Nobody’s got any food allergies, but my sister’s a lactose intolerant vegetarian and I’d bet good money that my aunts are on keto. That good enough for you?”
“For now. Thank you.”
“Whatever. I didn’t even know you could cook. Why’d they bother programming an android like you with that kind of knowledge? Not like you need to whip up a meal for a hostile perp.”
Connor pauses. “They didn’t. But it can’t be too difficult to follow instructions from a recipe.”
“It sure the hell can,” Gavin says. It’s the bot’s first time cooking? “If it was that easy, we’d all be master chefs.”
“My attention to detail is a bit more… refined than a human’s.”
Cocky son of a bitch. “Of course. Need anything else, or can I go?”
“You may. However, I request that you keep your phone nearby in case I have to call back.” Without waiting for Gavin’s agreement or denial, there’s a faint click and then the line goes dead. For all of Connor’s special social programming, his etiquette could use some work. Thanksgiving is bound to be an awkward affair, but it always is , so Gavin can’t find it in himself to be worried. So long as Connor can play his role, the holidays will be a breeze.
When Thanksgiving day arrives, Gavin picks up Connor around three o’clock in the afternoon.
Hank hovers at his doorstep, scowling like he’d just stepped in dog shit. The look is directed at Gavin, who idles in the driveway, tapping an impatient rhythm on the steering wheel. He has a model that offers both automatic and manual driving, but he fully intends to take the reins on the way to his mother’s house; if he doesn’t have something to occupy him other than Connor’s unbearable questions, he’ll go insane.
Scooting past Hank, Connor exits the house dressed in a peacoat and slacks. He holds a tinfoil-covered dish with two hands. Hank claps his back, tugging him into a quick half-hug, and says something to Connor that Gavin can’t hear. Connor nods—and Gavin can read the customary “Got it!” that shapes his lips.
As Connor approaches the car, Gavin rolls down the window. “Don’t worry, Mr. Anderson, I’ll have him home by midnight,” he shouts.
“Shut the fuck up,” Hank bites back, exasperation coloring his tone. “You’re pulling some real juvenile bullshit. I can’t believe you managed to drag Connor into it.”
“I really don’t mind,” the android quips, opening the passenger door.
Gavin ignores him. “Sure you don’t wanna come? We could say we’re into some polyam shit. You can be our sugar daddy.”
“I don’t make enough money for that to be believable.”
“Shame,” Gavin drawls. With that, he rolls up the window as Connor slides into his seat. He doesn’t greet Connor—never really does, because that’s not how they work—and Connor merely scans him, probably picking apart Gavin’s outfit and comparing it to his expectations. He’s in dress pants, too; they’re dark gray and form-fitting and he knows they make his ass look good. He wears his usual jacket over a navy crew neck sweater.
Gavin reverses out of Hank’s driveway and cranks up the speaker. Indie rock fills the space between them for a solid eight, blissful minutes before Connor speaks.
“I asked you out.”
Thumbing down the volume control on his steering wheel, Gavin says, “What?”
“I presume that your family is going to ask about the development of our relationship.” Connor tilts his head to the side, a slight little motion, and squints at the frosted road ahead of them. “We need to establish a story—like an alibi. It has to be airtight, or else they’ll suspect that something’s off.”
His mother is pretty nosy, and he did inherit his attention to detail from her, so he concedes that Connor’s right to hash out some details. Not like they have anything better to do for the next two hours. Although he has to clarify, “Why’d you ask me out instead of the other way around?”
“Your pride got in the way.” Gavin shoots him a glare, ire on the tip of his tongue, but Connor speaks over him. “Think about it. Your family is well aware of your previous distaste toward androids and might find it hard to believe you would choose to admit that you were in the wrong.”
“I can admit when I’m wrong,” he mutters.
Connor gives him a look—an actual expression of disbelief with his lips set in a soft part—and then elects not to turn it into an argument. “That aside, you explained that you’ve been single for a while now and tend to prefer it that way. Altogether, it seems more likely for me to initiate a romantic overture, especially considering the swell and progress of deviant emotion. It’s only been a year; sometimes, it seems as though I feel too much at once,” he tacks on, wry.
Even though it’s fictional, he feels the urge to dispute the specifics. Then again—
Maybe it’s not so bad.
“So you were pining for me.” The corner of his mouth twitches up, his finger tapping against the wheel.
The shift in Connor’s attitude is palpable. There’s a beat before he releases a painstaking, “I suppose.”
“Wow. Show a little passion, sweetheart.”
Connor ignores him. “I asked you out after the Hansen case,” he states. “It was an arduous journey that brought the two of us closer.”
It did, in a way. He’d kicked a fit about working alongside the android after his reassignment to the DPD, Markus’ orders, but the bastard’s efficient—he’ll give him that. Long nights at the precinct and high-tension investigations led to seeing Connor in a different light. A little more appreciative, a little less hostile.
Like he’s somebody instead of something.
“And as soon as our shift ended after securing the arrest, I took you out for a drink.”
“You can’t drink,” he says reflexively.
Connor glances at him and then back to the road ahead. “Yes, Detective. But you can.”
“Sure,” he says. “But I don’t.”
There’s some length of silence as Connor processes the new information.
“Oh. I shouldn’t have assumed.” And because he’s too curious for his own good, he asks, “Why don’t you?”
“Not my thing.” He doesn’t want to elaborate any further—has no need for the bot to pry into his psyche this early in the afternoon—so he says, “We went out for ice cream.”
Connor smiles. “Oh?”
He tenses up, shifting in his seat. He’s already going numb from the car seat. “What? I have a sweet tooth. And I figure you can, I dunno, taste it. You sure do love to lick shit.”
“Yeah, yeah, sensors, tongue, instant analysis, got it. Spare me the technobabble.” He’s heard this elaboration far too many times. I don’t “love” it, as such , Connor had once explained, but it is inarguably convenient. “We got ice cream, you made your move, and the rest is history. Enough detail for you? Because it’s gonna be enough for them.”
“I believe I should learn more about you. I already know the intricacies of your file and related work life, where you went to university, and your medical history—”
“You what? The fuck happened to the Hippocratic oath?”
Connor, yet again, ignores him. “—but I don’t have much insight on your personal life, other than the minute details I’ve gathered from my own analysis.”
Oh, this’ll be good. “Oh yeah? Like what.”
“The way you take your coffee.” He lifts a finger. “How much blood you can ignore before it starts to weigh on you at a scene.” Another one. Gavin bites back a protest. “Your admiration for Hank.”
“Okay, hold on—”
“It faltered during the years after his son’s death, because he became a shadow of the figure you used to idolize. But you respect the way he stood up to Agent Perkins, even if it forced him to retire early.”
Fuck, Connor’s observant. He’s nearly, but not quite, spot on. “Whatever. What don’t you know?”
“Are you close with your sister? Why is it so important to your family that you engage in a romantic relationship? From where does your disdain for androids originate?”
Gavin snorts. “Sounds more like the kind of stuff a therapist would ask.”
A low hum resounds from Connor. “Aren’t significant others meant to be confidants? I could be wrong,” and the way he says it implies he’s confident that he is very much not wrong, “but most people place the highest degree of trust in their partners—and seek to share their psychological burdens.”
“I’d rather die than express a feeling other than anger,” he retorts, knowing Connor will take it at face value.
“Relax. Okay. My sister? Yeah, we’re pretty tight. We bickered a lot when we were kids, ‘cause she was the baby of the family and spoiled as hell, but that’s how it is for most siblings. She’s always been ahead of the curve, too. Promotions, a husband, kids. She works in pharmaceuticals. Big theater nerd. Inherited my taste in music. A lot more proactive with environmental and political shit than most people. She, uh—never wanted to buy an android, even when it became difficult raising two kids and working full time.” Lifting a shoulder, he adds, “Rubbed her the wrong way. Not sure how she feels about the deviancy and the revolution. Been a while since we’ve talked…”
Connor listens with rapt focus. “Why?”
“Why? I dunno. Life’s busy, people grow apart. Even family.”
Discontent with that answer, Connor glances out the passenger window like he’ll find an explanation on the side of the freeway.
“Gavin,” he says, and oh, boy, there he goes, using Gavin’s actual name. “I have to ask: will Elijah Kamski be there?”
“Fuck, no. That prick hasn’t shown up to a family function since—shit, 2032? 33?”
“Have you spoken to him since then?”
“Unfortunately,” Gavin grumbles. “A guy with that much clout can do whatever the fuck he wants. Why do you ask? Worried you’d have to meet the guy responsible for your creation?”
There’s a disconcerting length of silence from Connor. Eventually, he says, “We’ve already met.”
He snaps his gaze off of the road and onto Connor. “What? When?”
“Last year, during my investigation with Hank. We were running out of leads and thought he might have some kind of special insight on deviancy.”
A notable strain of disdain underlies Connor’s usual timbre. It fills Gavin with a deep satisfaction—to know that he’s got somebody on his side for once. Aside from his sister, the rest of his family fawns over Elijah’s intellect and success. Never mind that he’s become some kind of hermit, hiding away in a goddamn mansion and filtering communication requests through his personal androids. Shit, have they even deviated? They must have.
“Well, now you gotta tell me what happened while you were there.”
“We have more important things to talk about. Since he won’t be present, Elijah Kamski is irrelevant to today’s proceedings.”
It’s not often that Connor brushes him off. And that is what’s happening; he can see it in the line of Connor’s shoulders, the tension at the corners of his eyes.
“Fine,” Gavin concedes. “We’ll forget about it—for now. But I wanna know what he did to piss you off so badly.”
“I’m not pissed off.”
“Sure you are.”
“Do I look mad?”
“A little bit.”
Connor plays with his hands. “I’ll admit, I’m surprised you can tell. Hank never notices when he aggravates me.” A pause. “Never mind. Let’s continue. Why does it matter whether you’re single or not?”
He takes a moment to switch lanes before responding. “My mom stresses out about that kind of thing. Don’t what it is. She hasn’t been in a serious relationship since her first husband. With Elijah being a fuckin’ recluse to juxtapose my sister’s family, maybe she thinks I’ll end up like him unless she intervenes.”
“And you have no interest in dating?”
“I can’t stand it,” he admits. “I guess I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to meet all kinds of people, but—usually they’re freaks, or grieving. And if they aren’t, I still don’t know shit about ‘em. Makes a dinner date pretty grueling. Wish I could just fast forward to the part where we’re a comfortable year in. Skip all of the awkward attempts at getting to know each other .”
Humming, Connor says, “I like learning about others.”
“Yeah, clearly.” He rolls his eyes. “Anyway, it’s different with you. You’re my coworker, which means you’re part of my life whether I like it or not. You see me every day, so you’ve got context. I don’t have to explain everything—and you’re an android ,” he says, recalling Connor’s earlier assessments, “so you pick up on all of the shit I don’t verbalize.”
“What you’re saying,” Connor says, turning to give Gavin a little smirk, “is that I’m your perfect match?”
“Uh, no,” he snaps. “Just—that it’ll be easy to convince my family that you’re good for me.”
“Because lies based on truth are more formidable lies.”
“Exactly. Wait—” He glares at Connor, whose smile has widened into something unbearable. “Shut the fuck up.”
Unaffected, Connor reaches over to turn up the music. It’s the smuggest acquiesce Gavin has ever seen.
His childhood home is largely unchanged. It’s a two-story prairie style house, built into a similar shape and style than the other hundreds of houses in the suburb. The windows are lined with white trim, a crisp contrast to the olive gray siding, and the bottom quarter of the house has brick accents. The driveway—the very same one that he used to graffiti with chalk—is large enough to fit four vehicles; he parks behind his sister’s SUV, the only open spot, assuming that she’ll stay the night as she usually does.
Connor’s taking in the sight with eager focus, like a dog presented with something new and exciting. Gavin turns off the ignition with a sigh, weary, and makes his way toward the front door with his pseudo-boyfriend in tow.
“Here goes nothing,” he utters under his breath, reaching for the doorbell.
As they wait, Connor shuffles a bit closer. They don’t touch, but he’s definitely breaching Gavin’s usual standard for personal space, and it immediately sets him on edge. He isn’t given much time to dwell on it, however, because within the next moment the door is hauled open by his mother.
“Hi, honey!” she croons. Her face is lit up with delight; before Gavin can even get a good look at her, she’s sliding across the threshold and pulling her son into a tight embrace.
Gavin shuffles in her grasp, lifting his arms and giving her a couple of pats. He’s hyper-aware of Connor’s sharp gaze on his back. “Hi, Ma. Happy Thanksgiving,” he says obligingly. She hasn’t changed much. Her thick, dark hair is pulled back into a bun, a necessity while she cooks, and she has an apron over her blouse that flutters like an angel’s wings.
“You too.” She kisses his cheek and then ushers him inside. Gavin stumbles over the rug that says Welcome Home and, while he toes off his shoes and peels off his jacket, glances back at Connor. “You must be the boyfriend,” she says. Her tone stays warm and inviting, even though Gavin knows she’s searching for imperfections or some kind of tell. “Connor, right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replies, the corner of his mouth twitching into his approximation of a polite smile. He extends a hand forward, looking every ounce of the unassuming Church boy he was designed to replicate. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Please, call me Evelyn. No need to be so formal—not around here.” She claps Connor’s hand in both of hers, executing some kind of welcoming squeeze rather than an actual handshake. Connor’s head tilts incrementally to the side but he says nothing, noting her preference. “Oh!” she says, reaching for the dish in Connor’s other hand. “I’ll take this. How thoughtful of you to bring something.”
“Ma, let him in already. Jeez.” He backs up to give them both space; Evelyn releases a sheepish laugh and urges them both to get comfortable while she gestures to the shoe mat next to the door.
Connor mimics Gavin, sliding out of his dress shoes. There’s an awkward length of silence as Connor unbuttons his pea coat; his mother’s eyes feel like an iron-hot weight.
“Here, babe,” falls out of his mouth. He takes the coat from Connor’s shoulders, sliding it off of his arms, and then quickly turns to the hooks embedded into the walls to hang it up and disguise his grimace.
“Thank you,” Connor says without missing a beat.
“There are snacks in the living room,” Evelyn tells them, padding back toward the kitchen with intent. “Dinner will be ready in an hour or two.”
“Uh, a margin of an hour doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence.”
She disappears around the corner but shouts, “Turkeys are complex!” in her defense. Gavin huffs out a laugh. Then, he slowly inhales—steeling himself for the rest of his family. Thankfully, Evelyn withheld any passive aggressive comments—so far, today—on Gavin’s absence during the holidays for the last couple of years, but there’s no way he’ll escape the ire of his younger sister.
“Okay,” he breathes. Connor stands beside him, scanning the interior of Gavin’s family home. The foyer extends into a long, narrow hallway, an entrance to the living room at the first left. Beyond that on the same side is the kitchen, across from the guest bedroom, bathroom, and staircase. There’s a den—just a small room with a couch and TV and closet full of board games—where Gavin fully intends to hide once they’ve made their customary appearance. A cacophony of noises emerge from each room; a comfortable murmur of overlapped conversations, the laughter of children, his mother moving around in the kitchen, and, of course, the football game.
He places his hand on Connor’s back, right in the middle, and nudges him toward the living room. It’s like trying to move a brick wall; Connor stands in place, head angled toward the wall.
Gavin follows his gaze. He scrunches up his nose at the array of photos mounted against a warm, earthy beige. There’s one of Gavin’s middle school yearbook photos, another of him riding a mountain bike, and a group shot of his family at Disney world. Elijah’s in that one.
“C’mon,” he insists.
This time, Connor obliges, turning back toward Gavin. “I’ve never seen you smile like that.”
“Yeah, well, that was before my soul was sucked out of my body by adulthood.”
Connor blinks at him. Gavin avoids expounding further by stepping into the living room, immediately attracting the attention of the family members spread out among the couch and recliners. His uncles and their wives are grouped up and engaged in some kind of debate while his sister and her kid pop up from their seats to rush forward.
“I’m sorry, who are you again?” she asks, her arms crossed over her chest as she leans into his space, just as obnoxiously confrontational as she’s always been. “Anybody recognize this guy?”
“Mommy, that’s Uncle Gavin!” her daughter says.
“Ohhh, right, right. It’s been so long I barely recognize him!”
Gavin rolls his eyes. “Jesus. You really lay it on thick. Two years, Mia.”
“That’s a long time!” She unfolds her arms and winds them around Gavin’s shoulders, giving him a good squeeze. Gavin gets a mouthful of her dark brown, curly hair. Her youngest daughter Chantel, feeling left out, hugs Gavin’s leg. “Missed you, jackass,” she mutters into his ear.
“Missed you too,” he grunts, giving her back a quick thump and then pulling away. He pats Chantel’s head. “Hey, kiddo. Quit growing, or else you’re gonna be as tall as me before your next birthday.”
Honey brown eyes lighting up as if this is the best news she’s heard all day, she says, “Really?”
She releases Gavin’s leg and slides her thumbs around each band of her suspenders. The whole outfit, a dress shirt tucked into dark slacks, is somehow the cutest thing he’s ever seen—even though, if he saw anybody else wearing it, he’d wanna shove them into a locker. Must be the fact that she’s so tiny.
Chantel turns her wide gaze onto Connor, then. Gavin suppresses a sigh; maybe it’d be less taxing to introduce Connor in front of everybody, as awkward as that’d be.
“Mia, Chantel, this is Connor. My, uh, boyfriend.” He taps Connor between his shoulders again.
“Nice to meet you,” says Mia, sizing him up. “Huh.”
Gavin bristles; he hates that tone. “What?”
“Nothing. Just—he’s your type, alright. Congrats.” He can see Connor quirking his head in his peripheral. Thankfully, his sister goes on before he can say anything. “How long have you two been together?”
“About a month,” answers Connor. “But we haven’t had the chance to go on many dates; we’ve been busy wrapping up a case that keeps us at work late.”
Mia’s expression twists at the corners. “Oh, so you’re a cop too.”
Connor hesitates. “Yes?”
Rolling his eyes, Gavin slides his hand up to Connor’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “She’s not big on law enforcement.”
“The way they conduct—”
“And the rampant abuse of power from anyone that carries a badge? I swear, I’ve never seen a more heartless group of people. But I know Gavin’s one of the good cops.”
Gavin elects not to comment on that. He sure as fuck used to be the guy that let it all get to his head, made him reckless and stupid, but at least he treated all criminals the same way. Nobody got special treatment.
The android situation makes him feel tacky and uncomfortable. He doesn’t necessarily consider himself in the wrong for bullying them before they truly became sentient—at least he didn’t use them for sex—but there’s a part of him that regrets using Connor as an outlet for his own repressed insecurities.
He should probably apologize for that one of these days.
“Hi,” says Connor to his left. Chantel has been staring at him for the better part of his introduction, so he takes it upon himself to greet her. He crouches at the knees and holds out his hand. “My name is Connor.”
She doesn’t take his hand, sticking close to Mia’s stocking-clad leg and blinking over at him.
“He’s a nice guy, Chantel,” Gavin says, dropping his hand on top of Connor’s head now that it’s in range. He ruffles up his hair a bit. The sharp glare that Connor levels him with is both surprising and hilarious. Gavin grins; that vanity of his is beyond amusing. “A little goofy, but you might like that. He can do some cool tricks.”
“Tricks?” And that’s his uncle’s grandson that just turned the corner, barely four years old. He’s got that willowy-soft platinum hair that a lot of white babies seem to start with before it’ll inevitably darken like the others in his lineage.
His uncle, noting the presence of his grandson, tips his head up and away from the conversation he’s having with the rest of Gavin’s relatives and toward Gavin and Connor.
“Here, we’ll make this easy,” he says with a jovial wave. “Connor, right? I’m Eric. This is Kathy, Oscar, and Jenn. We’re all charmed.”
“Eric,” Kathy sighs.
“What? They don’t need to stand there for an hour while we line up and introduce ourselves. He probably won’t even remember our names. Which is fine,” he says, chuckling.
“I’ll remember,” Connor says with a nod.
Eric’s lips part in muted confusion. Then, he laughs. “Oh, right! Android. Never seen a model like you before, and you don’t have the,” he gestures to his own temple in place of using the actual term, “so if nobody knew any better I’d believe you were human.”
“Yeah, well, have a conversation or two with him. You’ll pick up on it real quick,” Gavin quips.
Kathy’s over-plucked brows bounce up her forehead. “That sounds a little mean. Doesn’t it?”
Connor smooths it over with ease. “Not at all. We tease each other often. Our banter is what devolved into flirting before we got together.” This time, it’s Connor that bridges the gap between himself and Gavin, nudging him in the side and then staying in his personal space, shoulder-to-shoulder. “Besides—if he didn’t like how I spoke or acted, I wouldn’t be here.”
Ha, Gavin thinks.
Placated, Kathy stretches her painted lips into a thin smile.
“Tricks!” Eric’s grandson repeats, reminding everybody that he demands attention Or Else.
“Okay, kiddo,” sighs Eric, shooting Gavin and Connor an apologetic grin. “If you ask Connor nicely, maybe he’ll show you one of his tricks. Can you do that?”
Unlike Chantel, Eric’s grandson isn’t shy about approaching Connor. His bold strut forward does inspire her, however, and suddenly Connor is bracketed by two small children.
The words tumble out of his mouth, overeager. “Can you please show us?”
“Sure.” Connor withdraws a quarter from the pocket of his slacks. Gavin regards it with skepticism; it’s been a while since he’d seen Connor use it for calibration—or whatever the fuck its intended purpose is—so he’s a little intrigued to see it make an appearance here.
Not that the unfamiliarity shows. He twirls the coin with ease, his programming replicating muscle memory. It dances along his knuckles and slips between each finger, from one hand to the next. The kids watch each arcing motion with rapt focus.
Mia shuffles on her feet. Recalling that some repetitive sounds set her off, Gavin asks, “Where’s Riley?” to distract her.
“Probably still hiding in the den.”
Riley is Mia’s other daughter. She’s gotta be fifteen or sixteen by now—which means family functions have long since evolved into some kind of hellscape.
“Let’s go track her down. I missed her.”
Blessedly, Mia doesn’t remind Gavin that he could visit, or call, or even send a text every once in a while to remind them all that he cares about them—or, at the very least, that he hasn’t been killed on the job. Instead, she nods, moving toward the hall and then shooting a glance toward Connor.
“He gonna be okay?”
Gavin puffs out a single laugh. “He’ll live. He was programmed for social integration.”
Despite that, Connor looks over his shoulder, gracing Gavin with another warning glare. His hands don’t falter, which only serve to impress the kids more.
“I’ll be right back. Five minutes.”
Connor’s eyes twitch. He smooths out his expression before regarding his audience once again.
As Gavin and Mia enter the hallway, she says, “Oof.”
“Leaving him to the wolves? That’s cold.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“He looked mad.”
“He’ll get over it,” Gavin amends.
Whatever Mia wants to add, it’s blockaded by the short walk into the den. Gavin lifts his hands up, each formed into the shape of an L, and frames them around Riley.
“Is that Riley Thomas, in the flesh?” It’s a callback to the way he used to hype her up. She’d always liked to pretend she was a celebrity, dabbling in her mother’s makeup and piecing together outfits she deemed extravagant. Sometimes, Gavin was her paparazzi. Other times, her bodyguard.
Riley pulls a wireless earbud out from one of her ears and huffs, lips fighting back a smile. Like Gavin, it’s really goddamn obvious when she blushes, further darkening her skin. Unlike Gavin, it gives her a charming glow.
“Hi, Uncle Gavin.”
He takes her in. She’s all long limbs now, contrasting her close-cropped pixie cut. No makeup, he notes, or it’s subtle enough that Gavin can’t tell the difference, and she’s decked out in a warm-colored flannel and skinny jeans rolled at the ankles.
In a family full of straight people, Gavin finds solidarity in his teenage niece. He knows she feels the same; she came out to Gavin before her own parents.
And the relieved look in her eyes tells him she’d been waiting for someone bearable to show up.
He plops down on the couch beside her, leaning over to see what’s on her phone. It’s just a mobile game; some anime bullshit he doesn’t recognize.
“Y’know, it’s pretty rude to shut yourself away from the rest of the family.”
Riley hits him with a deadpan stare.
They both laugh.
“Mom said you were bringing a boyfriend,” she says, peering into the hall like she’s expecting Connor to be hovering somewhere nearby.
“Where is he?”
“Entertaining the little kids.”
“Oh.” She minimizes her game, locks her phone, and shoves it in her pocket. “What’s he like?”
Gavin appreciates that she doesn’t ask What’s it like dating an android? or something equally as distasteful. As always, the younger generation tends to be more open; she probably doesn’t even think it’s weird that he’s dating somebody who was manufactured rather than born.
“Kind of a prick, like me. Competitive. Really smart—notices everything. Doubt he’ll be anything other than a cookie-cutter, stepford boyfriend tonight, though. He’s obsessed with making a good impression.”
“That’s a good sign,” says Mia, sitting on the arm of the couch beside Gavin. He glances at her. “Means he expects to see us all again. That he’s in it for the long haul.”
Gavin’s gut churns as Riley’s smile turns peacefully delighted. “… Uhuh.”
“I can’t believe you just left him out there,” Riley says, echoing her mother. “You know everyone’s gonna start asking stupidly invasive questions.”
“In front of the kids?”
“Have they started on the wine, yet?”
Mia sucks in a breath through her teeth. “Yep.”
“Okay, okay,” says Gavin, pushing himself off of the couch. “Just wanted to see my favorite niece. Excuse the fuck out of me.”
“If Chantel heard you say that, she’d start crying.”
“What, that you’re my favorite? Or ‘fuck’?”
“You should get something to eat, honey,” Mia tells Riley, reaching across the couch to pet her hair. “There’s plenty of snacks out there. If you shove enough food in your mouth, you don’t have to force as much smalltalk.”
“Sound logic,” snorts Gavin.
Riley sighs, but relents. “My meds screw up my appetite, so I’m not really hungry.” Another aspect that he shares with her; the depression, the BPD. Ridiculously, he feels a little like he’s at fault, like she’d caught all of his fucked up traits as if he were contagious. At the very least, he can make things easier on her anxiety with small gestures—like easing her out of the den without a stranger standing watch. “I just want to meet your boyfriend. What’s his name?”
“Connor Reed,” she echoes, thoughtful. Gavin’s face splits into a grimace before he can help it; Riley only laughs, misinterpreting the expression. “Relax, I was only curious about how it sounded. You haven’t been together very long, right?”
“About a month,” he mutters.
“That’s like, a decade in gay years.”
Unfortunately true, if a bit hyperbolic. Still, “Even if we wanted to—someday—we can’t. Androids don’t have access to marriage licenses yet.” He only knows that because of a case, but he’ll let Mia and Riley assume that he and Connor have talked about it. “Anyway, let’s head back out. Promised Connor I’d only be gone for a few minutes.”
Back in the living room, Connor has a kid in the crook of each arm, holding them both high up off of the floor. There’s not a hint of strain in his face or posture.
“I can support up to four times my own weight,” he’s explaining to Eric.
He whistles, long and low. “Impressive.”
“What’s so impressive about it? Not like he had to earn the muscle,” Gavin intercepts, reaching for Chantel. “C’mere, twerp.”
For one dreadful moment, Gavin thinks she’s going to resist, staying put in the arms of her new toy, but she obliges, excited to spend time with her uncle. “M’not a twerp.”
His sister plops back down onto the living room couch while Riley hovers in the archway. “It’s still kinda cool,” she says, twisting her hands. In tandem, Connor and Gavin turn to face her. “Uh, the super-strength, I mean. Means he can protect you, too.”
“Or put him in his place,” Mia snickers
“Shut the f—up,” Gavin catches himself, two sets of youthful eyes burning a brand into his skin. Horrifically, Connor turns to meet Gavin’s eyes—and grins. “You too.”
Mia straightens her posture like a bloodhound catching a big whiff of something good. “Oh, there’s a story there.”
“Did Gavin ever tell you what happened shortly after we met?”
“Nope,” she replies, eager, but Gavin’s not willing to let the entire goddamn family hear about how he got his ass handed to him in twenty seconds flat by an android.
“Not exactly the kind of story to tell in front of the kids,” he grits out, rocking Chantel in his arms.
Eric’s grandson twists in Connor’s grip. “I wanna know!”
He might just pop a vein. Fortunately, Connor relents. “We’re good for each other. Let’s leave it at that,” he says, all TV-show charm and good humor. Gavin can see the cartoon hearts floating above his relatives’ heads. Connor seals the deal by parking close to Gavin. It’s the physical contact that reminds him of their position: coupled up in the middle of the room, the only ones standing, with a child in each of their arms. They must look like something out of a diversity campaign. A gay couple, human and android, holding onto mixed-race children.
The flow of attention catches up with Gavin and agitation itches beneath his skin. He channels his focus onto Chantel, tossing her up in the air before catching her. She squeals, a peal of giggles following in its wake.
“See? Your Uncle Gavin’s still got it!” He twirls her around and then deposits her onto Mia’s lap. Mimicking him, Connor releases Eric’s grandson. He runs back to his grandpa to babble about Connor. Gavin’s sick of being the center of attention, so he says, “We’re gonna go grab some snacks. C’mon, Riles, you too.”
“Okay.” Content to follow Gavin around, Riley joins Gavin and Connor. “Dad’s in the kitchen with grandma and great-grandma.”
“That old hag’s not dead yet?”
Connor sends Gavin a look of alarm.
“What? She’s racist as fuck. I’m surprised she’s letting Derrick help cook.”
“Derrick is…” He looks to Riley. “Your father? I’m sorry, we haven’t met yet.”
Gavin pauses in the hallway. “Oh, right. Connor, Riley: Mia’s older daughter, my niece. Riley, Connor.”
“Nice to meet you.” This time, Riley’s the one that reaches out; Connor responds with a hint of surprise in the curve of his smile, gently shaking her hand. “But, um—yeah. My dad owns a restaurant. He’s a really good cook, so he likes to help out whenever we have family dinners like this.”
“Saved us from Nana’s dry, under-seasoned mush, is what he did,” Gavin mutters. “Ma’s the experimental type. Finds cutesy, niche recipes on blogs and tries to replicate it. Never works out the way it’s supposed to.”
In the dim hall, with just the three of them in earshot, Connor admits, “That sweet potato casserole I brought? It’s the fourth attempt.”
Gavin bursts out laughing. “See? Told you. And you were all ‘I’m a being of superior intellect’ and shit. How do you even know if that one turned out the way it’s supposed to? You can’t taste spices.”
“No, but I can measure the contents. It’s accurate—numerically. It looks like the photo.”
“I love sweet potato casserole. I’ll test it,” Riley volunteers.
“Even if it’s garbage, nobody’ll tell you so. They’ll just shit-talk it behind your back.”
Connor clicks his mouth shut, vaguely terrified.
Gavin reaches out to slap a hand on Connor’s shoulder, unable to resist jostling him in a way that skirts at the edge of fondness. It’s his face . He’s more expressive than he used to be, and the looks appear to happen naturally, rather than some protocol he runs as a proper response to the corresponding stimuli. Maybe he’s a little proud of how far he’s come. It’s a weird thought—one that he’s eager to dismiss—but there’s a kernel of truth in it that he has trouble denying, even to himself.
The kitchen is in a controlled state of chaos. Evelyn’s mom, Maria, or old hag as Gavin prefers, is attempting to wrestle a vegetable peeler away from Derrick Thomas—Mia’s husband.
It’s a lost cause. Derrick is huge, both in height and muscle, and Maria has always been a short woman that shrank down even further in her less than graceful aging. She has a permanent hunch to her back and arthritis in her wrists. Derrick handles her manhandling with ease, glancing over his shoulder when he notices the arrival of the others.
“Gavin,” he greets amicably, setting down the peeler. As soon as he steps away from the counter, Maria snatches it up and resumes peeling the skin off of the potatoes while Evelyn rifles through a cabinet at the other end of the kitchen, occupied.
“Hey,” Gavin says, offering his best attempt at a smile. Derrick’s one of the bearable guests, even if seemingly everything about the guy is frustratingly perfect, from his pearly-white teeth to the big brown eyes that shine gold in the right light. Riley and Chantel inherited those, too; they should be registered as weapons of mass destruction.
“Control freak,” Riley whispers, shooting a glare at Maria. “We get it, you’re an Aries/Taurus cusp.”
Connor turns to her, blinking his lack of comprehension.
“What’s your sign?” she asks.
He hums. “I’m not sure. It would depend on which date is considered my ‘birthday’, wouldn’t it? That could be the very conception of my model, the day I was activated, or the day of my official deviation.”
“Well, what do you think?”
Connor is momentarily stumped, the way he always is when given the virtue of choice. He takes a serious length of time to consider his answer, and then he says, “The day I was activated. August 15th. That would make me a Leo.”
“Oh, I love Leos! You’re the likable fire sign,” she says, grinning. Gavin arches a brow at her, amused, because she’s been obsessed with astrology for a few years now and Connor obliging the fixation is an immediate win of her favor. “Uncle Gavin’s a Libra, so—ohh.”
“Are we a good match?” Connor asks.
“You can be. He’s not like most Libras, though.”
That gets Gavin’s attention. “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re more… um… self-sufficient? A lot of Libras are obsessed with being in relationships, and you’re… uh.” She starts to deflate, realizing that she doesn’t know how to explain herself without sounding like she’s insulting him. “Independent. Except, now you do have a boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean…”
“I get it.” He throws an arm around her shoulder. “That’s part of why I like Connor, actually. He lets me do my own thing.”
“Leos are more intuitive than they let on,” Riley says, wise. Gavin’s pretty sure Connor’s intuition comes from the fact that he’s a multi-billion dollar lie detector, but he’s not enough of an asshole to rain on her parade.
Derrick, who has been passively watching the exchange with fondness in his gaze, extends his hand out for Connor to take.
“Connor? You brought the casserole, right? I’ve got it in the oven to keep warm. Looks amazing.”
Connor doesn’t necessarily beam at the praise, but it’s something close. Guy’s a sucker for being told he did a good job. Gavin likes recognition for his work, too, but CyberLife must’ve done something screwy to warrant Connor’s desperate need for reassurance. It conflicts with his confident demeanor and he’s never outright said anything, but Gavin knows all about pride and the way it twists you up inside.
“Thank you. I hear you’re something of a chef yourself,” says Connor, bridging the way for more conversation.
Derrick takes the small talk in stride. He even sounds like he enjoys it, which is something that mildly impresses Gavin. Never been good at faking enthusiasm the way the rest of his family is. It helps that Derrick’s a genuinely nice guy; Mia rarely complains and he’s close with both of his daughters. He puts a lot of thought into his gifts and has a bumper sticker on his car that says Cook yummy food for the ones you love.
While Connor chatters away, Gavin leans against the kitchen counter, and the realization that Connor’s enjoying this seeps into him with the gradualness of a sunrise.
I like learning about others, he’d said. No kidding, Gavin thinks, watching Connor gesture with enthusiasm as he speaks. Gavin glances wryly at his own crossed arms and wonders if he’d picked that up from him. Wonders how much he’d influenced Connor overall throughout the past year.
Gavin’s idle thoughts fade away as an invisible weight settles on his shoulders. His eyes flicker over to his mom, who’s peering at him with a soft, knowing smile.
He huffs, turning back toward Connor. His ears burn, feeling caught and unsure why.
“I’d appreciate that,” he’s saying, hand outstretched toward Derrick’s phone. The tips of his fingers go white as they make contact with the screen. “Gavin seems to think iced coffee is a suitable substitute for lunch.”
“It is,” he immediately retorts—and his voice is overlaid with Riley’s, echoing him. Smirking at her, he lifts up a fist and bumps it against hers.
“Don’t endorse skipping meals, please,” Derrick sighs, pocketing his phone. He returns to the pot of potatoes, thick biceps flexing with each press of the masher. “Besides, Riles, too much caffeine will stunt your growth. Just look at your Uncle Gavin.”
Gavin narrows his eyes. “Watch it,” he growls.
“What you lack in height, you make up for in bulk,” Connor says, palm fluttering over Gavin’s breastbone. He sputters, involuntarily pressing back into the counter. One corner of Connor’s lips twitches into a smirk before he drops his hand.
Riley’s won over by the gesture, smiling behind her hand, and Derrick releases a laugh that Gavin makes Gavin want to bury his face in his hands until he repeats, internally, that flirting is all par for the course.
“Well,” says Derrick, bending at the knees to peer below the pot full of mashed potatoes and adjusting the heat to low. “That’s the last of it. Just need to wait for the turkey and we’re ready to eat. I’d give it another thirty-five minutes.”
Evelyn emerges from the cabinet with an array of varied knitted pot protectors and points at Derrick. “That’s what I was thinking, too.”
“Sure, Ma,” says Gavin.
As much as he’d like to hide in the den with Riley, he knows he won’t be able to get away with because Mia can and will drag him back into the living room. So, preemptively, he makes his way back toward the couch, sitting next to his sister. He expects Connor to follow, seeing as he’d gotten all freaked out when Gavin left him alone earlier, but after a minute or two with no sign of him, Gavin shrugs and lets him do what he wants. He seemed to have hit it off with Derrick and Riley; Maria might give him a hard time, but Evelyn’s there to play damage control…
Mia nudges him in the side, paper plate full of fruit balanced precariously on her lap. “So, how’s it going?”
“You don’t have to act like this is the worst thing in the world, you know,” she says, exasperation coloring her tone. “It’s kind of irritating. We missed you. Isn’t it good to see your family every once in a while? The people that love you?”
“You are so fucking heavy-handed, you know that?”
“I have to be, to get through that thick skull of yours!”
“Shut up. I’m watching the game.”
She rolls her head back against the couch, casting a dreary gaze toward the Detroit Lions setting themselves up for failure with the formation they’ve decided to execute. “A half-century of loss and you’re still holding out hope, huh?”
“Cubs fans waited 108 years to win the world series. Anything can happen, baby.”
They talk about football for the next fifteen minutes. Chantel shows up, pudgy hands curled around a juice box, and shuffles onto the couch right in between Mia and Gavin. Without preamble, she says, “We went to the Apple farm this morning!”
“Orchard,” Mia says, like she’d already said it hundreds of time today in an attempt to teach her daughter a new word.
“Oh, yeah?” Gavin humors. He dips his chin down to look at her. “How was that?”
“A lotta fun. There was a corn maze, and we had cookies with frosting on them, and—oh! There were animals! Like goats and chickens!” she rambles. “One of the goats tried to eat my jacket, but I wouldn’t let him.”
“Proud of you, kiddo.”
She lowers her voice, leaning in conspiratorially. “Connor knew what happened just by looking at me… Is he really magic?”
A laugh barrels out of Gavin before he can stop himself while she stares up at him with wide, twinkling eyes. He considers lying, just to see what she’d do if he confirmed her fantasies, but decides it’s not worth her eventual heartbreak. On the other hand, explaining the technological marvel that is Connor could be a headache in itself. “Nah. Just observant. He does that to me, too.”
She hums and then reaches out to grab an apple slice off of her mother’s plate. Mia allows her one, and then holds the plate out of reach. “No more. I think we’re about to eat dinner.”
On cue, Derrick pokes his head past the hallway door frame. “Time to eat.”
Gavin holds back his commentary (Finally!), because he’s supposed to be setting a good example for his niece, but a soft sigh of relief erupts from Mia makes him feel better about his own griping. Then again, she had a much longer day than he did, so her weariness is justifiable.
Everybody halts what they were doing and puts a hold on the conversations they were having to congregate into the dining room. Connor emerges from the kitchen with Riley, dropping off the last dishes onto the rich, burgundy cloth-covered table, cushioned by pot protectors with various designs. Evelyn encourages everybody to start building their plates, and the weird dance of twisting between relatives begins.
The stuffing is piping hot, the top layer browned ever-so slightly. Green bean casserole is a Thanksgiving staple, however much Gavin would prefer them on their own rather than overly dressed (though there is a smaller dish of plain beans set aside for Mia; maybe he can steal a few from her). Gavin takes a generous helping of cranberry sauce before noticing Connor’s eyes on him. When he looks up, he’s got on this weird little smile.
“What?” he mutters, shuffling to avoid Kathy’s vicious claw for the white meat turkey.
“You weren’t kidding about that sweet tooth,” Connor whispers back at him, settling his hand on Gavin’s back to gently urge his body closer to the table as Derrick passes behind them.
“And what about it?”
“Nothing,” he replies innocently. “Just thinking that maybe I should’ve added more marshmallows to the sweet potato casserole I brought.”
He seeks it out. It’s off to the side, already half-gone. Gavin adds a bit to his plate, aware of Connor’s gaze on him, and then goes for the turkey and mashed potatoes before finishing it all off with a handful of dinner rolls.
As everybody finds a place to sit, Gavin’s mom fusses for a moment, making sure that everybody has something to drink, can she get anything—?
“Ma,” says Mia, reaching up to place a hand on her arm. “Everyone’s good. Sit down and eat.”
She ignores her, zeroing in on Connor.
“Can you taste anything at all, Connor?” Evelyn asks him.
“Yes,” Connor lies. “I just can’t ingest large quantities of food.”
Evelyn perks up, her eyes shining. “Then I’ll make you a little plate.” She struts into the kitchen with purpose.
Leaning in, voice low, Gavin mutters into Connor’s ear, “Manipulative little shit.”
“You make it sound like getting on your mother’s good side is a bad thing.”
It isn’t bad. It’s great—until he rains on her parade after they break up. Evelyn’s charmed by Connor and undoubtedly views him as a positive influence on Gavin. It’ll devastate her to learn that they won’t work out.
“Ugh,” Gavin mutters into his glass of water.
Evelyn returns with another plate and makes quick work of constructing a sampler with an array of sides. It looks kind of stupid, like the kind of plate a baby just starting to eat solids would have, but Connor’s enthusiastic nonetheless. Gavin figures he’s just happy to partake in the most relevant aspect of the holiday.
They aren’t a very religious family, so after a brief pause of mutual appreciation for the spread of dishes filling every space on the dinner table and a quick photo by Mia, Evelyn says, “Let’s eat!”
This is the part where Gavin usually zones out. There’s enough pleasantries and compliments to the chefs to smoothen each transition between bites, setting a comfortable atmosphere that’s a lot more natural than the mingling from earlier. He can’t help but watch Connor watch his family, though; the curiosity is written all over his face, the way he’s poised, alert and observational. This is new to him; for a moment, Gavin wonders what it’d be like to look through Connor’s eyes.
Once there’s enough overlapping conversation to act as a security blanket, Gavin nudges Connor in the side and asks, “Aren’t you gonna try something?”
“Of course.” Then, he shifts his attention to Gavin. “What should I try first?”
“The gravy? Then… the stock from the green bean casserole. And finish it off with the cranberry sauce.” As a kid, he kept his distance from the cranberries, citing disgust, because something sweet had no business belonging on a plate with other savory dishes. He glances at Chantel, who has no problem coating everything with a layer of the sauce.
“Got it.” He picks up his spoon and taps the outer curve of it against each sample before drawing it up to his mouth and touching it against his tongue. Gavin gets so caught up in the experience that he forgets about his own food.
Connor hums. “Everything seems to have been made with the proper allocation of ingredients. So, put simply: it’s good. Right?” He looks at Gavin.
“Uh—yeah.” He turns his eyes back to the table.
Riley, who chose the other seat next to Gavin, leans over to catch Connor’s attention. “You nailed the sweet potatoes, Connor. This is so fire.”
He blinks at Riley, and then Gavin for clarification.
“She loves it.”
His smile lights up the room. “Thank you, Riley. I’m glad I got your seal of approval.” And as Gavin’s other relatives hear that Connor was responsible for the dish, they pass on their own praises. He’ll be radiating pride for the rest of the night; nothing gets Connor going more than accomplishing his mission.
They get wrapped up in a bit of small talk. How’s work? How did you get together? How long have you worked at the DPD?
Connor handles it smoothly, because the little bastard loves to hear his own voice, while Gavin sits back and munches on the last of his bread. This is pretty great, actually: not having to be the one to answer polite but meaningless questions.
After everybody’s stomachs are full and the lul of contentment falls over them like a blanket, Evelyn gets up to stress over clearing the table, taking any empty plates back into the kitchen and ignoring any offers to help.
There’s this frustrating fifteen to twenty minutes or so where everybody lingers at the table, nobody wanting to be the first person to get up and break away from the Thanksgiving Atmosphere. Eventually, Gavin’s discomfort supersedes the obligation to be polite and he pushes his chair back.
“C’mon, let’s go see if my Ma needs help serving the pie,” he says to Connor.
Mia hops up. “Oh, I’ll come too.”
In the kitchen, a triage of pies rest on the island surrounded by paper plates and plastic forks. There’s a tub of vanilla ice cream primed for excavation beside a jumbo can of whipped cream.
He exchanges a look with Mia and then they both start toward the island, each grabbing a plate and salivating over their respective favorites. She cuts into the apple while Gavin claims first blood on the cherry.
“Ravenous, you two,” Evelyn tuts, shooting a fond smile over her shoulders as she rinses dishes in the sink.
Mia funnels scoop after scoop of ice cream on top of her pie. Gavin turns to see Connor staring at Mia’s plate, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips.
“Aren’t you lactose intolerant?”
If Mia thinks it’s weird that Connor knows about that, she doesn’t show it. She looks up at him, digging her fork through the ice cream and pie, and shovels the pile right into her smiling mouth. “Yup.”
Connor watches her leave the room, meandering through the bodies of Eric and Oscar, with a puzzled furrow to his brows.
“Something you should know about people who are lactose intolerant,” says Gavin, backing away from the island to let his uncles pass, “is that they rarely give a shit about ingesting dairy.” He snorts. “Pun not intended.”
“I still don’t understand the human nature to actively pursue the things that are a detriment to their health.”
“Only got one life. Gotta fill it with things that make us happy.”
“Or take care to prolong it,” Connor huffs.
Gavin tosses a dismissive wave, vastly uninterested in walking this Earth for any longer than he absolutely has to, and then heads back into the living room. Connor trails after him. They find a place on the loveseat to settle down on, listening to his aunts talk about something that happened to one of their cousins—until Evelyn emerges with a heavy, leather-bound binder that Gavin recognizes upon sight.
“Oh, no,” he says, scowling. “You’re not doing this.”
“Why not? I saw Connor looking at the photos on the wall.” Gavin thinks back on their arrival and doesn’t remember his mother paying much attention to them after she went back to the kitchen; Connor must’ve gone back for another look and she’d cornered him then, or—shit. He’d left him in the kitchen with her. “He asked if I had any more.” She gives the binder a hearty slap. “Of course I do!”
He’s going to kill him.
At least Mia looks about as enthused as Gavin feels, her face pinched up with distaste. “Can we not do this? I used to be a mess.”
Riley sidles right up to Evelyn. “I want to see.”
Between Connor and Riley, that’s enough reinforcement for his mom to ignore her kids and sit down on the floor, crack open the binder, and start flipping through it.
An ache begins to bloom at each of Gavin’s temples, spurned on by the relentless clench of his jaw. There are dozens upon dozens of pictures. Family trips, school photos, holidays, Mia’s performances. Each and every one of Mia’s outfits were outlandish, like she’d been trying to set the trends instead of follow them, but Gavin can’t muster up the amusement he’d normally feel upon reminiscence.
Connor’s especially drawn to the baby pictures, amazed by the resemblance between Chantel and one year old Mia. Inevitably, he asks, “Do you have any of Gavin like this?”
Evelyn hesitates. Mia and Riley exchange a look.
“I was adopted at age seven, so,” Gavin says, flat. “No, I hadn’t told him yet. Never came up.”
Connor looks between the faces of Gavin and Evelyn, then back again. He parts his lips, like he’s searching for a way to breach the tension and then settles on: “Is there something wrong with that?”
“Of course not!” Evelyn says, planting a hand on Gavin’s shoulder. “He’s my baby, same as my other kids. Look, this picture was when—“
Abruptly, Gavin stands, shrugging off his mother’s hand.
She falters a little, torn between entertaining her guests and going after Gavin. In the end, she tells the story of the time he, Mia, and Elijah got lost in the woods during a camping trip one summer. Elijah had convinced them all that there was a witch that lived deep among the trees. They found their way back to the grounds before discovering the witch’s hut, of course, covered in mud and leaves.
Gavin was around nine, then. Just two years after he’d started living with Evelyn.
He can’t be bothered to get his shoes and coat from the front hall, so he passes through the kitchen, ignoring Maria, and opens up the liquor cabinet to retrieve the first bottle of hard alcohol he can find. He steps onto the backyard deck in his sweater and thick wool socks. It’s chilly, but nothing he hasn’t built a tolerance against from living in the Midwest his entire life, and the rush of fresh air gives him a momentary burst of relief—but it’s not enough.
The bottle of whisky is heavy in his hand. There’s nothing and nobody to stop him from taking a shot, or two, or three. Maybe the burn could replace the toxicity in his throat. Maybe it’ll sit soundly in his gut and provide the illusion that he isn’t empty inside.
He wouldn’t know how it feels. He’s never tried it.
Propping the bottle up on top of one of the posts, he scrubs at his face. Standing out here, alone, only amplifies the festering darkness in his mind. He’s an imposter, and not just because of the stunt he’s pulling with Connor. He doesn’t belong here. He doesn’t deserve this.
Glaring at the bottle, he projects all of his irritation onto it and blames it for each and every one of his misgivings. He’d love to smash it against the deck and thrash around in the pieces until each drop of liquid dries up and all that’s left is the battered foundation, but—this is Evelyn’s liquor, and even though she tends not to drink more than wine and only on special occasions, he’s loathe to be any more of a financial drain than he already has been.
So it stays as is. He thumbs the neck of the bottle for a while longer, forcing his tangled mess of thoughts out of the forefront. If Evelyn told Connor about his early childhood—well, he’ll just have to deal with it. And if that means refusing to acknowledge any attempt at bringing it up, so be it.
With Herculean effort, he pushes himself away from the railing and heads back inside. The kitchen is devoid of any bodies; he tucks the whisky back into the shelf where it belongs and then checks the hallway. There’s Riley passing by; she’s cringing as she pads toward the stairs.
“Riley? What’s up?”
She ushers past him, shoulders held tight like she’s about to shrivel away. “They’re starting to ask Connor uncomfortable questions. I can’t deal with the secondhand embarrassment. Please go save him. I’m gonna go hide in the bedroom. Night, Uncle Gavin. See you at Christmas.”
“Fuck,” he mutters. “Night, kid.”
The dining room lights are dim, now, the table clear aside from two bottles of wine and an assortment of glasses. Connor sits primly at one side, hands planted against the tops of his thighs, while Evelyn, Mia, Derrick, Eric, and Kathy are peppered around the table on either side of him. There’s one empty chair beside Connor that Gavin promptly claims.
He plops into it, throwing an arm around Connor’s shoulders, and leans in to whisper in his ear while the rest of his family is in the middle of laughing at some joke he didn’t catch.
“Fill me in. What’s going on?’
Connor mimics him, nose brushing Gavin’s cheek as they turn in tandem. “Your mother asked about my life expectancy.”
He cringes. “Ma,” he laments.
“It’s okay,” Connor assures him. “I didn’t tell her the truth.”
Gavin realizes that he doesn’t know the truth, either.
“I was a mass-produced prototype, and never intended to be maintained past a few decades—when my usefulness became irrelevant or I would be succeeded by a superior model. Unlike domestic models, I wasn’t built to be a companion.” He pauses. “I told your mother that so long as the parts are available, I could live forever. She said that would come in handy for—if we ever decide to have children.”
He was a fool to ever have left Connor’s side. “Christ. And what’d you say to that?”
“That I have enough on my plate taking care of you,” he says, voice dropping a register as his lips brush Gavin’s ear, “let alone an actual child.”
What the fuck. Gavin flinches, heat rushing to fill his cheeks. “Fuck you.”
“Everybody else thought it was funny,” Connor says, pulling away to grin at him.
“You know,” says Eric, suddenly, booming with the voracity of a man inebriated, “I get that you’re a police android, Connor—built for certain tasks, and all that. Not like cooking, or cleaning, or—fucking, like the bots you can rent at nightclubs.”
“Could,” Connor corrects.
“Sure, could. But what I’m getting at, is—how do you—?”
Gavin leans forward. “If you’re about to ask what I think you’re about to ask, fucking don’t, before you leave here with a black eye.”
“Gavin,” Connor says with the same tone his mother would use to chastise him. “That’s not necessary. I don’t share the same sense of embarrassment that humans feel about their bodies or their sex life.”
“Well, I do.”
“You’ve got something to be embarrassed about, bro?” Mia says, swirling her wine with an intolerable, crooked grin.
Gavin kicks her underneath the table. “Not what I meant.”
As always, she carries on as if Gavin hadn’t even spoken, but her foot slams against his own shin with impressive accuracy. She’s swaying, just a bit, her eyes glazed over with amusement. “Well, Connor’s gotta be packing; Gavin’s a size queen.”
“You shut your goddamn mouth, bitch,” he snaps.
“Kids!” Evelyn shouts. “Jesus, the language.”
“Oh, so talking about my boyfriend’s dick is fair game, but cussing is crossing a line?” He grunts. “Didn’t you promise you’d make sure everybody treats him with respect? This is fucking ridiculous.”
That kernel of wisdom penetrates Evelyn’s wine-silly demeanor and she has the good grace to look abashed. “He’s right,” she says to the room at large. “I’m so sorry, Connor.”
Kathy chimes in with an apology of her own, though its level of sincerity is debatable; then, she pushes away from the table and stands, settling a manicured claw on her husband’s hand. “It’s getting late. We should be on our way, anyway. Last I saw, Maria was dozing off on the recliner in the den. Go collect her.”
Eric obeys, clapping Connor and Gavin’s shoulders on his way out. “Good to see you two.”
“Yep,” Gavin says, noncommittal.
While Eric and Kathy say their goodbyes, Maria in tow, Gavin takes the chance to use the bathroom. While he washes his hands, he avoids his reflection, gazing instead at the kitschy decor peppered along every available surface. Wooden signs with cheesy phrases, a tin full of fake sunflowers. A wave of homesickness washes over him; for all of his complaining, he craves this. Misses growing up, when everything felt novel.
On his way out, he bumps into Mia. She’s wearing her university sweatshirt and black leggings, fluffy throw blanket tucked under her arm. She beams at him.
Drunk. Gavin wrinkles his nose.
“Going to bed?”
“Yeah. Going back to your place with Connor? Or his?”
“Uh.” He scratches at the stubble of his jaw. “Mine. He doesn’t have a place of his own, so…”
Mia stares at him, lips stretched into a sappy smile, crows feet marking the outer corners of her eyes. When she doesn’t speak, he hikes up both brows, wordlessly urging her to spit out whatever emotional barrage she’d prepared.
“I’m just—I’m really happy for you, Gavin,” she says with heart wrenching sincerity. “You really did have eyes for each other the whole night, it was like—it was really cute. I’m so glad you found a good match for you. I really like Connor.”
“Say ‘really’ a few more times.”
“Shhhh.” She slaps a hand over his mouth. “Shut the fuck up. I’m being serious.”
“Mhm,” he replies, muffled. A prickling streak of shame lights up his guts. Leaning away to dislodge her hand, he adds, “I like him too.”
She laughs. “Obviously! Okay, okay, I’m gonna go check on my hubby.”
“You do that,” he sighs after her retreating back.
He finds Connor on the couch in the living room, alone, eyes shut. After a moment, he reaches over to poke the side of his head. He doesn’t sway, but his lashes begin to flutter, abrupt, and he casts a look of consternation at Gavin.
“What?” he asks, plopping down beside him. “Thought maybe you were sleeping.”
Connor nods. “I was just processing—now that things have wound down.”
“Lotta shit to keep track of at once, huh? Now you know why humans find this kind of stuff overwhelming.”
“It’s a bit much,” Connor concedes, “but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Gavin gives him a noncommittal hum. “Agree to disagree.”
They descend into mutual silence. Connor’s shoulder is right there. Filled to the brim with food, body lax, mentally and socially exhausted, Gavin finds it fit to lean against it. This is what he’s supposed to be doing, anyway: seeking out the easy solace his boyfriend provides. He’s no more or no less comfortable than a human, he finds; the gentle glide of his dress shirt brushes Gavin’s cheek as he settles in.
“Should get going soon,” he mutters into the space between them.
“Your mother offered us one of the guest bedrooms.”
He scoffs. “I bet she did. We’ll get our chance for that on Christmas. Fuck, I’m tired.” A yawn follows the statement with precision. “Should’ve requested off tomorrow. I don’t wanna deal with all of the Black Friday chaos.”
“You’ll survive,” Connor placates. Gavin can feel the tilt and slight strain of his neck; he’s looking down at him, observing their points of mutual contact.
The moment is languid. Peaceful. Faint sounds of dishes clanking against each other float into the living room from the kitchen. If he were a good son, he’d be helping his mom clean up; as it is, he’s not, so he passes the mantle onto Derrick, whose voice is a gentle wash that softens the sounds of the cookware.
He spends a floaty stretch of time in a barely-conscious food coma. Connor’s fidgeting is kept at a minimum; he taps his fingers against his thighs in some kind of rhythmic pattern.
Finally, Gavin grunts, sitting up. “Alright. Let’s get out of here.”
Connor nods. Together, they enter the kitchen to say their goodbyes to Evelyn, Mia, and Derrick.
“I’m a hugger,” Evelyn warns, already mid-reach. She holds Connor close. “It was good to meet you, Connor. I hope we see you at Christmas.”
“You will,” Connor says, confident and bright. He takes to the contact like a plant in the sun, conforming to the interlocking of limbs like he’s starved for it.
He’s passed onto Mia, who offers him another embrace—just with a little less intensity than Evelyn. The blanket she’d been holding is draped around her shoulders and she wraps Connor up with it during the hug. “See ya, Connor. Thanks for tolerating my brother.”
Gavin rolls his eyes, patting his mom on the back and then shaking hands with Derrick. Leaving is a much quieter affair than arriving; they slide on their shoes and jackets and step out into the cool midnight air, oak door shutting soundly behind them. Connor makes his way toward the driver’s seat.
“I’ll drive. You can sleep on the way back to Detroit,” he says, hand poised at the handle of the car door.
He almost argues, but the prospect of a nap is too enticing. “Just switch it to auto. You can still sit behind the wheel and keep an eye on the road, though.”
After a few minutes on the road, his music a quiet backdrop, Gavin succumbs to sleep. He’s woken up by a hand on his shoulder; he jolts in place, rubbing roughly at his face, and then takes stock of his surroundings.
“This is my complex,” he says dumbly.
“Yes,” says Connor. “I’ll take a cab home.”
“Could’ve gone to Hank’s, first,” he grouses. “I’m tired, not incapacitated.”
Connor is already moving as he speaks, exiting the car and standing primly in the apartment parking lot, hands behind his back. As Gavin stumbles out of his side, he notices Connor watching him like a hawk. It pricks his awareness, makes him tense.
“I’m going to walk you to your door.”
He recoils. “Uh, why?” When Connor doesn’t respond right away, he adds, “You’re not actually my boyfriend, remember? You don’t need to do that shit. I can handle climbing a flight of stairs.” Connor takes every task too seriously; he’s probably expecting to play his role up until his very last glimpse of Gavin for the night.
A flash of something Gavin can’t interpret crosses Connor’s face. Then, he says, “I’m aware of that, Detective.” Oh, good, we’re back to Detective. The sharp edge of his tone tells Gavin he agitated him somehow. “I just thought it’d be…” And, like he’s choosing from a list of adjectives, there’s a contemplative pause. “Nice.” He starts walking toward the building, so Gavin huffs and trails after him. “And I wanted to say that even though being around your family stresses you out, I enjoyed myself. They’re nice people.”
“I guess,” he concedes. “So you’re still on for Christmas, then?”
Connor looks back at him, eyes wide. “I promised Evelyn.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just making sure. It should be less of a clusterfuck, at least. It’s should just be Mia, Derrick, and the kids. Ma. Me and you.”
Before Connor faces forward again, Gavin catches a hint of a smile. “I look forward to it.”
Silence stretches between them until they reach Gavin’s apartment door. He doesn’t bother asking Connor how he knows which unit is his; he has a feeling the fucker snooped, and he doesn’t have the energy to get worked up about having his privacy invaded yet again.
Gavin unlocks his door, Connor’s gaze a weight on his back.
“Well,” he says, pushing the door open a bit. “Uh. Night. See you at work tomorrow.”
Closing the door on Connor is strangely uncomfortable. Gavin stands in the entryway and peers out the peephole to see Connor idle for a moment longer before he makes his way out.
Despite the heaviness to his limbs, it takes an hour for him to fall asleep. When he does, he dreams of winter.