He’d been shot before. That wasn’t supposed to make this any lesser, but he should have been expecting the pain of it. Luckily, Wilson Crom wasn’t a good shot, and he’d gotten Gavin in the shoulder. It was enough to slow him down but not enough to stop him.
“Oh great!” Gavin called out to the shadow above him, running through the halfway constructed storefront. “As if you weren’t going to jail for drug possession and sales and shit, you want to go to jail for being a cop killer?”
Nines was only a few feet away from him lying in the open, an easy target. He’d been an idiot, had shoved Gavin towards cover, pushed him out of a decent shot which would have gotten him in the head instead of just graving his cheek. That had left him open and now the android was just lying there, like he wanted to get shot more. He’d curled in on his side a bit but he was doing nothing to get himself out of the open. Blue blood was seeping through his trouser leg, from a shot that had taken out his knee. He wasn’t bothering with that one though, instead the white sleeves of his ever-present jacket were wrapped around his torso.
“Don’t antagonize him!” Nines grit out. He sounded like he was pain. He had to be, he’d been shot too, and a lot worse than Gavin had been.
“Just letting him know his options,” Gavin hissed back, keeping his eyes on Crom. He just had to wait a moment, until there was an opening, and then he could go out there and get Nines. He was talking a lot of bravado, but Nines was his priority here. Crom was just a minor drug dealer; sure he could get them info on a much larger drug ring, but right now Nines was hurt and Gavin wanted to keep his attention off of the android.
The moment came and Gavin took it, darting out of his cover to Nines’ side, grabbing him by the shoulder and dragging him to a pile of cement tubes that were going to be plumbing or something, Gavin wasn’t sure, but they were sturdy enough to keep them from getting shot. Still, a shot rang out and kicked up dirt from behind them, too late, too slow.
Gavin pushed Nines up against the side of one of the tubes, pulling his arms down. Nines didn’t want to take his arms away from their protective position, kept bringing them back. He was shaking and taking in shallow, broken breaths.
“Don’t worry about me,” Nines ordered, “You have a much more pressing issue to deal with. You must complete the mission.”
“Fuck the mission!” Gavin snarled, finally succeeding in getting Nines’ arms down and away from the wound. He hiked up the black shirt to see it, but even then there was so much blue blood that he could hardly see the hole. “Can’t you just let me worry about you for once?”
Nines reached out, a weak hand going to Gavin’s own wound, the burning hole in his shoulder, the blood pouring out of it and making his red jacket even more red. “I should have done better. I was not designed to fail. I allowed you to be injured and I have failed in capturing our suspect.”
Gavin glared at him, “Don’t say shit like that, it makes it sound like you’re dying, dipshit.”
The wound was bad, the bullet shoved deep but not coming out the other side. Gavin didn’t know much, hell he hardly knew anything, about android anatomy but Nines wasn’t moving his legs at all, nor his hips, nor anything. The wound was only an inch below his thirium pump and it was pouring out the blue fluid.
“That’s gotta phcking hurt.”
Nines looked him over. His breathing was still shallow, his LED a bright red without pulse or flash. It was just solid. His eyebrows were pinched though and his teeth were digging into his lip. “You know that androids don’t feel pain.”
“Bullshit!” Gavin growled because it was obvious that that’s what Nines was feeling.
There was movement above them and to the right, both of them swiveled to check it out but Gavin had to pop his head over the cement to see what was going on. Crom was moving, staying above them, but looking for a way out. He didn’t really want to kill them, it seemed, though he was doing a pretty good job of it.
Gavin wanted to shoot him, get him to stop. There was a bullet in his left shoulder though and that would mean he’d have to shoot with his right. No matter how much he practiced, he knew he sucked at anything right handed.
“You called for back up, right?”
“Detective, I requested back up as soon as we saw the firearm, as is protocol.”
Gavin rolled his eyes. He didn’t care much about protocol, but this time it may save their lives and it would help Gavin interfere with Crom’s plans. “You hear that jackass?” he called out, “We got back up! The DPD is surrounding the building! There’s nowhere for you to go!”
“That’s not what I said,” Nines wheezed.
“Woah, shit,” Gavin breathed grabbing onto Nines shoulder and hoisting him back from where he was sliding, making him jump and bite down harder. “That looks a phck ton like pain, tinman, if it’s not then what is it?”
Nines breathed a few synthetic breaths and, if Gavin listened really hard he could pretend that he could hear the ghost of fans whirring to keep Nines cool. “I have a series of sensors throughout my body. When there is damage they alert my HUD to keep me from doing anything to aggravate them. It is similar to a nervous system, in a way.”
Gavin thought on that for just a moment. “That’s what pain is? Cyberlife really tried to give you a bunch of jargon to try to convince you that that’s not pain? Phck those guys.”
“Detective,” Nines was reaching for him again and Gavin let him, pressing towards the hand that didn’t seem to know quite where he was. When it landed on Gavin’s cheek they both sighed, albeit for very different reasons. It had taken a lot of hard work to get to where they were in their relationship but now just a glimmer of intimacy was enough to make Gavin’s heart race. He wanted Nines touch, he wanted that brilliant kindness that Nines wasn’t supposed to have but did all the same.
He couldn’t believe that, at first, all there was between them was animosity and he cursed himself for being the cause of it, too afraid of the machines that pretended to be people but didn’t show emotion or love or anything, built to replace them. It was all his fault. He had been wrong but too stubborn to admit it.
“Gavin,” Gavin corrected.
“Gavin,” Nines breathed. “I have called for an ambulance and a technician as well, they will arrive in approximately five minutes. I must apologize for-
“No, you don’t need to apologize for anything. I know what you’re gonna say, blockhead and I’m not having it. You aren’t responsible for me being shot and you’re not the reason we came in here unprepared. You’re not internalizing this shit or whatever it is you do when you get all mopey after we come back from a case without someone in custody.”
It was a lot. Gavin normally didn’t say all that much in one burst and when he did it wasn’t to help someone. Nines’ big blue eyes were watching him, tracing over his face. Gavin was sure that he was being scanned but he didn’t care. Nines needed him and he wasn’t going to deny him anything in that moment.
“I was expecting you to be lying,” Nines admitted. “You do believe that.”
“Of course I do.” Gavin looked down, pulling away enough for Nines hand to fall slack to his thigh. He could hear sirens. “You hear that asshole? There’s your doom coming!”
Nines grabbed him then, rough and firm, and pulled him to his own bloody chest. He used his other arm to push off of their cover, to roll on top of Gavin, as a flurry of bullets rained down over them. Crom had kept moving, was circling them, and they were too busy having a heart to heart to pay attention. Nines had done a pre-construction at least, and Gavin could feel more cold fluid slush onto him, not just from Nines’ abdomen but now from his shoulder as well. His whole body tensed on top of Gavin’s as he did his best to not allow his pain to come through.
“Shit!” Gavin stammered from under his partner. Thank God Nines was so big.
He poked his head out again, finding that they were once again in the open, Crom having made his way to the opposite side of their little barricade.
“If you’re going to try to shoot someone, you should learn how to aim!” Gavin cursed.
“Fuck you, asshole!” Crom called out to him. The man was shaky, jumpy, looking around for any escape. There was only one door, but he’d have to make his way to the ground floor to use that and the windows had been placed but not yet cut. He’d have to break through the walls to get out and then fall to the waiting back up. Which wasn’t there yet.
“Oh how original!” Gavin mocked, wrapping his right arm around Nines and pushing them backwards with his legs, dragging the android to a new safe location while Crom tried to replace the clip in his gun. They were lucky that Nines was all plastic and alloys, if he was full on metal there would be no way that Gavin could move him. Still, his dead weight didn’t help.
“You okay?” Gavin asked, his voice soft, kinder than he was used to. He sounded like a stranger in his own ears. He got them behind some heavy equipment. It was in a corner, it would be harder for Crom to get them from there.
“No,” Nines admitted, “I currently only have a 19% survival rate due to thirium loss. You have a 22% success rate at still apprehending Crom and a 74% survival rate.”
“Well, I don’t need to catch that phcker. The DPD can do that. We got enough evidence that we don’t have to do any more detecting.” He didn’t think about that first number. It was bad, really bad, and he was doing his best to ignore bad things. His own pain, for instance, was trying to get his attention, but he had to spend all of that on Nines. He deserved it more.
Gavin found himself leaning against the side of the bulldozer with Nines, the android’s head slowly drooping onto his shoulder. From this angle he couldn’t see the LED, even though the dark corner was lit a bright red from it. He reached over, ran his hand through Nines’ perfect hair, and led him closer. He could hear a slight whimper, uncharacteristic, impossible, as the jostling affected Nines’ wounds, but still Gavin slid the android’s head over and onto his chest.
The movement, the pressure, aggravated his own wound and he bit his lip against it. He wasn’t doing this for himself, he was doing this for Nines. He could ignore his shoulder for a bit longer. He ran his fingers through Nines’ synthetic hair until the door was thrown open and the good boys and girls in blue stormed the site, guns drawn.
He didn’t really remember the EMTs getting to him, nor Crom actually getting arrested, he just knew that that pleasant pressure was gone from his chest and he was floating away, the pain gone, Nines gone, and everything fading until he was asleep.
He woke up the next day, while a nurse was checking his vitals. He was fine, he was safe. Nines was fine and safe too, over at Harker’s Garage and Android repair. Gavin could go home the next day if everything was cleared but he wouldn’t be able to go back to work for a week and even then he would be on desk duty for a month or two, having to do a lot of physical therapy to get his shoulder back in order. He grumbled and complained but there was nothing more than he could do about it. It was how it was. He’d been shot before, he knew how these things went.
He couldn’t stop thinking about it, in between visits. His mom came by, promised to take him home and keep him happy and healthy for the next week and he wasn’t expecting her to come by at all, but she’d dropped everything to see him. It was good having her back in his life after so many years. Tina and Chris both visited on the end of their shifts, with cards and candy and all that cliché stuff. He didn’t expect Connor or Anderson, they were probably with Nines if they knew what was good for them, and the rest of the office either didn’t care or were too busy to come by.
Nines. He’d never seen the android like that before, it made him think that he’d gotten broken somehow. He was broken, he’d been shot, but he’d never thought that he’d see Nines actually show discomfort so readily. He was hard to read a lot of the time, his emotions more visible on his LED than anywhere else. He’d allowed Gavin to manhandle him, he’d allowed himself to call him by first name instead of his title. Gavin thought they had a good work relationship but this felt like so much more than that. This was something big. This was trust. Nines had taken three bullets for Gavin and what had Gavin ever done to deserve that from anyone?
That thought was on his mind over the next few days. His mom took care of him like he was just a sick kid, closer to him than she had been when he was the right age for such things. Orange juice and chicken noodle soup and movies and physical therapy, she was always nearby, always ready to help out. She told him about work, how she’d finally got a better job, one that actually allowed her to take care of Gavin with some emergency fund they had set up. She was clean, sober for almost a year now and she was so much lighter, so much happier, than she had been when he was in her life constantly. He knew that he wasn’t the cause of that and he was happy that she was getting her life together, that things were going well.
Every time he closed his eyes he saw Nines though, when he slept it was dreams of an ocean of blue that he found himself in, his own blood leaving trails of purple in it, leading death to him. He wanted to see him, he needed some news of how he was.
Connor and Anderson visited him on his third day home. For a moment, out of the corner of his eye, Gavin thought that Nines was there, sitting on the couch next to the old man. He’d never thought that they looked that much alike, even if others got the two confused sometimes. Nines was far too big and stone faced to be misconstrued for Connor.
The two androids had never been very close, though Gavin had never found out why.
They sat in the living room, chatting with his mother until he woke up at around two in the afternoon and wandered out in his sweats. He was greasy and hot, needing a shower, but when he saw that dark hair from the back, the LED swirling yellow, hope launched in his chest. He put down any other needs to know that Nines was alright. Luckily he caught on his mistake at the sound of Connor’s voice, too upbeat and high pitched, before he made a fool of himself, sitting across from them in the chair next to his mother’s.
Anderson had his eyes on Gavin immediately, the tension in his shoulders shifting, settling a bit. It was as if he was relieved to see that Gavin was alright. Gavin didn’t know what to do with that, that or the little smile that came onto his face with a huffed breath.
Connor finished his short conversation before finally turning to Gavin. “It is good to see you healthy and safe, Detective.”
Gavin grimaced. “I have a name, dipshit, you can call me that when we’re not at work.”
“My apologies, Gavin,” Connor said and the way he said it, not in tone or inflection, but the words, was so much like Nines. “We wanted to stop by to make sure you were alright, as well as inform you on the current state of RK900.”
His mother reached out, put a hand on his, almost like a leash, as if she expected him to jump up and hurt himself. He wanted to. He had to know what was going on with his partner.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m peachy. Look at me, never been better. What’s going on with Nines? Is he alright?”
There was silence for a moment which did nothing but make Gavin’s heart race. But Connor looked to Anderson, who sighed and shook some of his hair out of his face.
“Nines is, well, he’d not great but he’s okay,” Anderson explained, and Gavin relaxed a little bit. That meant he was alive at least. “He lost a lot of blood but he’s at the mechanic’s. He’s going to be just fine.”
Connor rolled his eyes at that and then rolled his shoulders. His fingers were fidgety, and he picked at the denim of his jeans. He was still wearing his Cyberlife jacket but that was all that remained of his old uniform.
“What is it?” Gavin could tell there was more to it and that Anderson just didn’t want to say it. Connor had some social protocols, but he’d answer if asked.
“RK900 received an almost fatal blow to his abdomen, just under his thirium pump,” Connor explained, “This resulted in paralysis under that point, as it hit the wires responsible for leg movement. Replacing those, as well as the lost thirium, should be easy. He will not have any long lasting affects from those two wounds. It is more the shot to his shoulder and knee that are an issue. RK900 is a prototype and was not put into production before Cyberlife was shut down. Multiple joints and synthetic muscles were destroyed and they cannot be as easily replaced as universal wires.”
“So what, he’s going to be disabled forever?” A cold sensation was coursing through Gavin’s blood, settling in his gut. He shouldn’t have antagonized Crom. He shouldn’t have let Nines protect him so much. He shouldn’t have been so reliant.
“No, no,” Anderson raised his hands, as if to placate him. “Nothing like that. The parts can be made, Nines has his own schematics on hand, so to speak, it’s just going to take a while since they can’t just be ordered. The mechanic, what’s his name, Dave?”
“David Ornstrum,” Connor supplied.
“Yeah, Dave, he’s got to 3d print all the parts. So Nines will be fixed but it’s going to take a bit of time is all.”
Gavin breathed. His mother squeezed his hand; a little late but better than nothing. That was a lot better than he’d been expecting. He’d been expecting death and disaster. Connor still seemed a bit odd though, the way that he was sitting the expression on his face. Connor was a lot better at emoting than Nines was, always had been, even when he was fresh from the factory, but this one was still new, hard to read.
“What is it?” Gavin asked. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“David Ornstrum never gave us an ETA as to when RK900 would be ready to be retrieved, even though the parts shouldn’t take long once he has the alloys necessary.
And, what’s worrying me is that I haven’t been in contact with RK900 at all since his check in. It is unusual for me to try to contact him and not get a response.”
Gavin cocked his head. He hadn’t expected them to have a lot of chats. Perhaps they were closer than he’d expected.
“Can we go? Check up on him, I mean.”
Anderson shook his head. “Techs are touchy, they don’t like it when you go in unexpected. It’s not like a hospital, especially if your android isn’t a deviant. They won’t just let you waltz in and visit.”
There had been a time when Connor had run across the street after some deviants, well before the revolution. He’d been hit, damaged, but not killed. Anderson must have taken him to a tech, he knew what he was talking about.
“We’re the first contacts,” Connor added. We should hear something by the end of the week. If we don’t, we’ll check up on him.”
“I’m coming with,” Gavin decided, nodding his head.
“Shit, you’re wounded,” Anderson argued though it was with exhaustion in his voice, not vinegar. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Like hell I’m staying here, old man,” Gavin spat anyway. “I’m going with. I don’t care if I’m hurt. Only reason he wasn’t in the hospital when I woke up was because he was in worse shape than me and it’s my own goddamn fault that he’s in the state he’s in. I’m going with.”
His mother didn’t argue. She knew how stubborn he could be. They all must have because there were no arguments after that. No one even argued that it wasn’t his fault. He almost wished that they would, just to save him from the guilt.
“Okay,” Connor said instead, with a small nervous smile. “You’ll hear from us Friday.”
There was no news until Friday. Nothing from Connor and Anderson, nothing from Nines and nothing from Ornstrum. It was just healing. It was a lot of physical therapy. His mother was still taking care of him but it was a lot less hands on, a lot safer and he was doing far more on his own. His thoughts were still full of Nines, no matter what was going on, even if there was company. Hell, Fowler even stopped by and he could barely hold a conversation, he just kept thinking about what was going on with Nines. Sure he was being taken care of, but the fact that he was out of contact was just very strange. He checked his phone a lot, Nines had texted him before without blinking, he didn’t need a phone to do it. There was nothing though, not until there was.
Connor had heard nothing. Ornstrum was silent, seemingly evasive, though he may have just not been answering his phone for completely benign reasons. Anderson drove by and Connor collected him at the door. Gavin was dressed and pressed and ready to go well before they arrived. He hadn’t worn any real clothes since the incident and it felt stifling to be back in a hoodie and jeans. Connor barely spoke as he led the way back to Anderson’s ancient car, just opening the passenger door for him. He’d expected to be left in the backseat but this was different, this was like they actually wanted him to be there.
“This isn’t an attack,” Anderson explained, “Lighten up. We’re just going to ask some questions.”
Sure, they weren’t going to attack the tech shop, but it felt like it. There was a tension in the car, in Connor’s flashing yellow LED, in the lines on Anderson’s brow and the shakiness to his fingers. Gavin wanted to know what they were so scared of. Techs were supposed to be the good guys, doctors for androids. They must have seen something along the way that made them nervous.
“I did some research,” Connor mentioned when they were well on their way, “on David Ornstrum. He has no arrest record, has never even had a license expire, but has had a few fines for parking and littering violations, nothing major. I was able to dig deeper though, find the name of an acquaintance of his which brings a lot of concern for RK900. He was friends with one Zlatko (look up his name), who was taking in androids before the revolution, experimenting on them or resetting and reselling them. He created monstrosities and perversions, both for his and the enjoyment of others.”
Gavin’s pulse quickened, his mouth drying. He remembered reading about Zlatko’s death, when a bunch of strange abominations, androids turned into something abhorrent, had killed him in his own backyard, aided by an android bear of all things. He thought the story was a bit too over the top to be real, but now it sent a shiver through him. He pressed his thumb to his jaw, pressing under it a bit, a nervous tick.
“You think he’s in danger?” He tried to keep his voice from shaking, tried to be calm and put together.
“We have no reason to,” Anderson sighed, “We’re just going to ask some questions. Everyone knows someone who has a dark side, we can’t fault a man for knowing someone purely evil. He may not have even known what Zlatko was up to.”
“It’s a possibility though,” Connor added, “We need to be prepared for anything.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence, not that it was a very long ride in general. Ornstrum’s clinic looked a lot like a tattoo parlor, was probably refurbished from one. Gavin remembered there being something like that here. Anderson led the way, Connor staying near Gavin, a hand not extended but ope and ready to reach out in case Gavin needed assistance. He didn’t. He was on enough painkillers that he wasn’t even aware he had a shoulder, not to mention that it was wounded.
There was something wrong. Connor noticed it immediately, Gavin could see it in how he straightened his spine, but then Gavin could feel it too. It wasn’t anything concrete, just a feeling. Anderson turned back to find Connor just standing there, on the sidewalk, a few feet away from the door.
“What is it now?” Anderson grumbled, moving back and touching Connor’s elbow, gentle, like a friend.
“There’s something jamming communications here, there are no networks available in the area.” Connor looked around, head whipping around, LED spinning yellow and red.
Gavin followed his gaze, even as he fished out his phone. Everyone walking by them was human. Not a single android was on this side of the street. They were all on the other side, as if they were afraid of this place. His phone had no service too. Connor was right.
“That’s why Nines was out of contact, wasn’t it?” Gavin figured.
“Of course. None of the messages that I sent him were returned. It would make sense if he were unable to actually accept them.”
“None of this is incriminating though,” Anderson reminded them. “We aren’t here on the job. I’m sure Nines is fine.”
Anderson was talking like all of this was normal, but he was on edge too. He was just doing a much better job of hiding it. They had to go into the building though, and Anderson led the way once more, pushing in and making the little bell ding to signal their entrance.
The shop was crammed full of parts, bins upon bins of Cyberlife pieces on the walls. There was a desk with a ledger on it but other than that it was almost impossible for Gavin to guess what the pieces upon it were. Connor probably knew what they all were, but now wasn’t the time to question him on anything. His LED was now flashing red with just a few flickers of yellow.
A man, thin and greasy, pushed out from the back, wearing a once white tank top and the kind of coveralls that belonged on a mechanic coming to greet them. He was cleaning off his hands with a pale blue washcloth, turning it more blue.
“Hi hi, sorry about the wait,” he gave them a smile. “Ooo an RK800, you’ve got a job for me, huh? I’m not quite done with the last one but if it’s a bit of maintenance you need we can get you taken care of quickly enough.”
Connor opened his mouth, ready to say something. Gavin was ready to punch his way through the guy before even asking questions. Anderson was the ony one with his head screwed on straight. “Nah, the RK800 is fine we actually came by about a 900 model.”
“Oh, you’re with the DPD, you should have mentioned,” he stuck out his hand. There was more blue under his fingernails. “Dave. Pleasure to meet you.”
Anderson took his hand. “Hank. That’s Gavin and Connor. We were just curious about how the repairs are coming. We haven’t gotten an ETA or anything.”
“Oof, well that’s a bit awkward,” Dave grimaced. “See I didn’t want to say anything until I had some good news and I haven’t gotten any of that yet.”
There was a knocking sound. Connor’s head swiveled towards it but Gavin just used his eyes. It was coming from the opposite side of the door that Dave had just come through, which had a sign that said employees only and was sealed with a heavy lock. There was the sound of static too, on and off, like a radio was malfunctioning.
“It’s been a week, you’ve got nothing?” Gavin growled, taking a step froward, getting closer to Dave and the door.
“Well, the RK900 came with the schematics at least so that was very useful but the alloys needed are, well, they’re super spendy and hard to come by. You’re lucky that the city is paying for repairs because, oh man I would not be willing to drop that much dough on these parts.”
“He’s my work partner,” Gavin couldn’t help the bite in his voice. Dave was talking like Nines was a toaster and, sure that may have been how Gavin had treated him at first, but that wasn’t right. He wanted Nines safe and this guy should have too. It was his job to fix androids, he should have been taking it seriously. “I’d spend every penny on him if I needed to.” He didn’t even realize that was true until he said it.
“Well that’s good to hear,” a nervous chuckle, “But even once the alloy arrives I have to make the parts and they’re extremely complicated.”
“With a 3d printer it should take all of two hours,” Connor corrected. “Why is this place without network?”
Dave scratched the back of his neck. He was getting nervous. He had no need to be, not if he was innocent. Gavin was feeling more and more like he wasn’t.
“You noticed that, huh? I came up with a little jamming device to stop the network, so its nice and quiet in the android’s heads. You got something with a virus, you don’t want it to spread right? It can’t if there’s no network. It also helps them stay calm, having some silence for once in their lives.”
“Can we see RK900?” Gavin snapped, almost interrupting.
“No,” Dave spun, having to turn for each of them who had, out of habit, surrounded him. “It’s in stasis and in parts. You don’t want to see that. People tend to have bad reactions.”
“I can stomach it,” Gavin bluffed.
“I’ve seen worse,” Anderson shrugged. “You’re being awful defensive, Dave, is everything alright?”
“I’m being interrogated by cops in my own shop,” Dave stretched his hands back behind him, making his back pop. “Of course I’m defensive. Just let a man do his job, yeah?”
“We’re just asking to see our friend,” Gavin shrugged. “He’s police property and we’re the police therefore we have a right to see him.”
“Am I under suspicion for something?”
“You are acting in the manner common with suspects,” Connor explained, “Which makes you suspicious, so I suppose you are.”
“Then fine, you’re going to have to get a warrant if you want to see it. You gonna act like cops I’m going to treat you like cops.”
Anderson just gave Connor a look. “You want to go outside and get a warrant?”
Dave paled. He must not have realized that Connor could get such a thing easily, as long as he was connected to a network. Suspicious wasn’t even right, he was acting criminal.
“Why is the work shop locked?” Gavin wondered.
“Cyberlife parts, hell nondeviated androids, are expensive for the most part. I can’t just let anyone sneak in there.”
More static, louder, it almost sounded like it was amplified.
“What’s that sound?” Connor asked, his voice small.
“What sound?” Dave said.
Gavin had had enough. Dave took a few steps back as Gavin stalked towards him, cracking his knuckles as he approached. It wasn’t enough though and Gavin was able to grab him by the starps of his shirt and hoist him onto the wall, even as his shoulder begged him to stop.
“What are you hiding?”
“Woah! Woah!” Dave struggled, kicking out at them. “You’re way out of line here! Cops can’t go about like this!”
Gavin grit his teeth. “For one, we’re off the clock and two, we’re not cops!”
Dave’s eyes went wide. “Wait, what?”
Anderson reached forward, patting Dave down, pulling his key ring free. “By the way, about that warrant thing? We don’t need a warrant if there’s probably cause and by god you’re giving it to us in spades.”
Anderson unlocked the door, Connor on his heels, leaving Gavin with Dave. The door was opened and the static grew louder, unconstrained. It wasn’t just static, there were sounds in it and it was so loud, like it was being screamed. Anderson stopped, a hand over his mouth, cursing. Connor was better about it, running past him and into the room.
“Anderson!” Gavin called out, drawing the old man’s attention away from the room. “Arrest this shitstain, would you?”
“Gavin!” Connor called out and there was more panic in his voice than Gavin had ever expected to be possible, “Get in here now!”
Gavin dropped Dave even before Anderson had gotten there and he sprinted as best he could to the door and through it, coming to a halt before what had Connor so freaked out.
It was Nines.
He was naked, but that was the least disturbing part. He was laying on a metal table, his wrist, ankle, and forehead strapped down with metal bands. His fingers were flexed claws, trying to dig into long dug out scratches in the table. His skin was glitching in and out of view, Gavin had never seen anything like it. His LED had tubes in it, running to the diagnostic screen, but it was a solid red around the tubes.
All of that was fine. It was nothing. His arm was gone, the damaged part on display, same as his leg, just under the knee. The parts of him were strewn about, ready to be reattached. His throat was open and there was a terrible stink rising from it, as well as what looked like melted cheese inside of it. The chassis around his thirium pump was open to reveal his insides and there was far more damage than could be explained by a bullet. Wires had been stripped and unhooked, reattached. There were tools inside of him, holding things open.
He was mouthing something, but all that came out was that horrible static sound. His eyes were big and on Gavin. He looked terrified, lost.
It wasn’t hard to read his lips at least. He was calling for Gavin, even though all he had was static coming out.
“Don’t worry,” he said, protective mode activated. He was a completely different person when it came to witnesses and victims. He was good at calming people, at getting to their level, to getting them to comply. He brought his hand up to Nines’ cheek, stroking it easily. “We’re here now. I’m sorry it took us so long, but we’re here. We’re going to take you home.”
Nines couldn’t shake his head but he did make a big ‘o’ with his mouth, scratching more at the table.
“Not Cyberlife,” Connor affirmed, searching through the table of tools and finding a small key. “Home, Anderson’s house. We’re going to fix you up.”
Gavin kept stroking Nines face as Connor unlocked him. The moment he had his arm free it was curling forward, as if to hide him. The motion must have aggravated all of the pain in him and he was screaming that static again.
“My house,” Gavin assured him. “We’re not going to Anderson’s. That phcking bastard is going to pay for what he did to you. But yeah, my mom’s at my house and she’s been taking care of me and together we’re going to take care of you too. I know you’re a workaholic but we’re going to make sure you take a break. Everything’s going to be alright.”
Nines settled down after that. His eyes were still not clear but there was a blip of yellow in his LED. He reached out for Connor and the moment they came into contact, the skin peeled back from Connor’s arm. They were interfacing, something that Gavin had seen a thousand times now, but not something he’d seen between Nines and anyone. A machine, sure, but never another android.
Gavin took the opportunity to work on him, to remove some of the instruments from Nines’ insides. While he was connected to Connor, he didn’t seem to feel anything. That was for the best because Connor was sobbing, openly, coolant sliding down his cheeks as he held onto Nines, as he learned what his successor had gone through.
Gavin had most of the plates closed by the time Connor and Nines were done interfacing. Nines dropped his arm heavily to the table. He was exhausted, if an android could be exhausted. He hardly moved, barely flinching as Gavin went to the cords in his head, just looking up at him with an expression that could perhaps be described as pleading. He was still mostly stoic, his expressions muted, but these were the strongest Gavin had ever seen.
“Will pulling these out hurt?” Gavin stroked one of them, Nines eyes fluttering closed as he did so.
Connor glanced around before leaving, heading into a further corner of the workshop. “Most definitely, but not as bad as the rest. He’s. Nines hasn’t gone into stasis in the past week, he hasn’t been allowed to. Ornstrum wanted him to feel this, all of it. He said he was stress testing him, making sure he couldn’t deviate. Oh, I wish I could be sick.” Connor pulled something up from one of the other tables, a large brown blanket. “He. Fuck. This was torture, that’s all I can describe it as. Nines is in bad shape.”
Gavin swallowed. He wanted to hit. He wanted to tear. He wanted to destroy Ornstrum. That wouldn’t help Nines though, not right now. They had to get hi out of there. Nines was barely coherent now that he was calming down, turning into Gavin’s finger stroking his cheek.
“What happens if I pull out the chords?”
“He’ll be forced into stasis,” Connor explained, setting the blanket down at Nines side before collecting the removed pieces. “His batteries are critically low but it won’t kill him. It’s like hibernating your computer. He’ll have to be charged back to full before he can restart.”
“He won’t feel pain then?” Gavin led. “We can get him fixed up and he won’t even feel it?”
“Correct.” Connor nodded. He pulled out a garbage back from nearby and started to put all of the pieces into it.
“You hear that?” Gavin gave Nines a small smile, framing his face with his hands. “No more pain, you’re just going to go to sleep for a little bit.”
Nines nodded, though it was miniscule. Gavin traced the LED one more time before grabbing hold of the cords and tugging. Nines LED went black and his body went slack, as if he were dead. Gavin held his breath, waiting for something. There was nothing though, just an android, devoid of his false humanity, broken in more ways than just the body, laying on the table before him.
Connor tied off the bag and Gavin wrapped Nines in the blanket, protecting him from any prying eyes. He was still so light, Gavin didn’t even struggle with his bad shoulder.
Dave was on the ground, handcuffed, with Anderson all but sitting on him when they joined him in the entrance to the shop. He was cold, shaky, sweat dripping down his face, same with tears. Gavin wanted to say something, some terrible jab, but he felt hollow, like every drop of blood had left his body. He just held Nines closer.
“He’s got a fucking landline,” Anderson huffed. “The DPD is on the way. We’re done here.”
Gavin just nodded and led the way to the car.
He sat in the back without protest, Nines leaning against him, his head against Gavin’s shoulder. Anderson didn’t argue about going to Gavin’s with him and he didn’t ask what had happened. He must have either heard everything or Dave had his own side of the story to tell him. Anderson didn’t even try to take Nines away from Gavin to take him up the stairs to Gavin’s apartment. That was good since there was no way Gaving was going to allow him to touch his partner.
It wasn’t until Nines was safe and laid out on Gavin’s bed for Connor to get to work that he made his way to the bathroom. He barely had time to lock the door before he was on his knees, grabbing the toilet and vomiting into it. He was sobbing, worse than Connor ever could. He could hear Anderson try to explain the situation to his mother, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t do anything. He was already so late. They shouldn’t have waited so long. They shouldn’t have waited at all. He vomited until there was nothing left and cried until he was empty and then took a shower.
He fell onto the couch after, unable to use his room while Connor was still working in it. Seemed the bastard actually had made the parts at least. Gavin fell asleep before dinner was even made but he could feel his mother’s fingers through his hair as he slept.
Gavin leaned against the doorframe. Nines was lying in his bed, which was so strange a sight that it twisted something inside of Gavin, something that he didn’t understand. Perhaps it was just how broken Nines looked that did that instead.
Connor had fixed the parts in Nines’ leg and shoulder, only to exclaim that Ornstrum had actually completed the 3d printing, had lied to them about that, and was now attaching them. All of the panels were closed, aside from the one in Nines’ throat, which still looked like it was full of melted gunk. Connor had a slight smile on his face while he worked, no worry in him at all about what would happen if he were to make a mistake. He couldn’t, Gavin presumed, even though he wasn’t an engineer in programming.
“Do androids dream?” Gavin asked. Connor turned and his smile spread a little bit. It was an odd question, not one that was actually important, but he was curious. He knew that if he’d gone through what Nines did he’d have nightmares, that nothing could keep him asleep. He still had nights like that, even without having limbs torn off of him, or left to be tortured by some freak of a technician with no way of reaching out to anyone.
“Not exactly, no,” Connor explained. Even without looking he was moving, sliding the joints into place. The chassis was still damaged, the hole still visible in the hard plastic. That would have been more printing but it was purely cosmetic, it could wait. “I don’t know if it’s the same for all androids, I have only found myself there, but when I am in stasis I enter a space called the Zen Garden. It was a location where I could go to report my progress, to upload my memories, and receive orders from Cyberlife. Even without Cyberlife’s influence I can enter there still. If I choose not to I can go over my memories with perfect clarity, some of the more recent ones can be hard to ignore.”
Gavin entered the room more fully. The room was a mess but Connor had gently kicked all of Gavin’s belongings away from the bed so that he could access Nines without having to step over anything. Gavin licked his lips, trying to wet them and failing, looking over Nines’ body to see any signs of stress. He was wearing a pair of Gavin’s old sweatpants now, so at least he was somewhat covered, though they were hiked up so Connor could work on him. The LED was still dark.
“So he could be reliving all that shit?” Gavin stopped at Nines’ side, just standing there, so terribly awkward, by his head. He looked peaceful like this, less robotic, but still, Gavin knew that that meant nothing if he was having some internal turmoil. “And we wouldn’t even know?”
Connor shook his head, “No, I don’t think that he is. He’s on reserved battery life, he shouldn’t be able to process anything until he’s fully charged again.”
That was good. That had to be good.
Gavin stroked the space on Nines’ neck, thumb against the edge of the opening, right next to the molten plastic. “What about this? Can you fix that?”
Connor’s smile faltered, finally. He had no right to smile while Nines was in such a condition. This, more somber, expression was much better for the situation.
“We don’t have the parts to fix it and I do not understand the extent of the damage fully. His internal VB processor has been mostly crushed, wires VC101 through VC143, as well as VC152 and VC196 have all been fused, the metal being melted through as well as the plastic. I do not understand what David Ornstrom’s goals were but he has removed RK900’s ability to communicate verbally.”
Gavin pulled his hand away. He wouldn’t lie, a lot of this was over his head and if it weren’t for the painkillers he’d probably be freaking out and hurting something, but he also knew that that wouldn’t help Nines and that was all that was important right now. He didn’t want to accidentally hurt him by putting his fingers where he shouldn’t.
Connor got back to work and Gavin just stood there, watching. After a while he noticed his hands were moving, on their own, as if by instinct, to trace around Nines’ LED and up towards his scalp, to run through his hair. As soon as he noticed it he pulled away, as if burned, though Connor made no mention of it.
“Gavin!” his mother called out from the main room, “Hank’s back! And dinner’s almost ready too.”
Gavin didn’t want to leave Nines and Connor but at the thought of food his stomach growled. He left the two androids to it, finding Hank already at the table with a glass of diet soda, elbows on the wood, fingers rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
“You look like you had some rum in that coke,” Gavin tried to joke but it just came out flat.
“Hmph,” Hank replied, not bothering to look up. “Was processing that bastard all day.”
“They let you do that? Aren’t you biased or some shit?”
“I’m a Lieutenant and Fowler owes me, you know that.”
“You can get away with anything.” Another thing that was meant to be a joke but was far too true. If Gavin tried half of the things that Anderson did he’d get fired and there was no way he’d put his career in jeopardy like that. “You get anything out of him?”
That ‘hmph’ again, all through the nose. Gavin’s mother came into the room, placing the silverware and plates on the table. She didn’t say anything but Gavin got up and started to set the table for the three of them. He didn’t know where the silverware was supposed to go, nor any of the other rules of how to set a table, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t have this as a kid, he wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity now.
“I got everything out of him,” Anderson stated as soon as she was out of the room again. “He wanted me to know what he was doing, thought if he explained it well enough I’d agree with him. As if.”
Gavin didn’t interrupt. He had to know. Perhaps that would make this all make sense. He knew that it wouldn’t, it never did, but he hoped.
“Bastard was inspired by Zlatko, no surprise there, but not in the mutilation aspect. He thought that he could prove that androids couldn’t feel pain. They could pretend, they could scream and cry and beg, but they couldn’t really feel it. Then in Nines he pushed that he was trying to make him go deviant on top of it. Abuse an android enough and they’ll revolt, we’ve seen it a million times before.”
Nines had told him himself that androids didn’t feel pain but it had just solidified that they all did, just that they didn’t have the terminology for it. That cold sick feeling was back in his stomach. He wrapped his knuckles on the table, wanting more than anything that he could throw his fist through it. That would just hurt his first and his shoulder though. It wouldn’t be useful. He couldn’t think of anything that would ever be useful. It made him feel like shit.
“Nines can’t deviate,” Gavin mused. “And what was the plan huh? He knew that Nines would be picked up eventually.”
Anderson took a long swing of soda, and yeah, Gavin could tell that he wished it was booze, that he needed it to be. He wondered how long Anderson had been dry for.
“He’s done this before, a bunch of time. And he’s always gotten away with it until he didn’t. Format their memories, just erase everything that he did, before giving them back. Or he’d hold onto them until the owners forgot, like an impound lot accruing fees while the owner’s out of town, until the original car costs more than getting a new one.”
Gavin was going to be sick. He wanted to be sick. He was glad that he was already on a leave of absence. He wanted to destroy something. He wanted to make Ornstrom feel everything he’d made his victims feel. He breathed. The law had him and justice would be served. He was a detective, not a vigilante, everything was going to be alright. This was what he lived for.
“He’s going to get what he deserves,” Gavin sighed, forcing his emotions out in a rush of a long drawn out exhale.
“He’d better,” Anderson finished off his drink. He looked a mess. He pushed away from the table and made it onto the apartment patio to light up a cigarette, passing
Gavin’s mother and her casserole on the way.
She set the casserole down. It was a bit more brown than it should have been, the green beans looking a bit too limp, but she’d never been much of a cook. She’d never had the opportunity to try. It was loads better than anything that Gavin could do anyway.
She ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it. “It never stops, does it?”
“All the evil in the world. You try and you try and you stop a lot of it, but it’s always there. Just because you’re not seeing it in front of you doesn’t mean it’s not happening somewhere else.”
“I try not to think of that,” Gavin admitted, wanting his own drink right then. “If I start thinking about what I’m failing at stopping, I can’t do anything.”
“You’re doing good,” she promised, wrapping a hand around his shoulders, careful of his wound, and pulling him close to press a kiss to his temple, “You’re doing everything possible to make the world better for all of us. What happened to your friend isn’t your fault, it’s no one’s fault, but the man who did it.”
“I know.” He did. That didn’t help though. He knew that there was something wrong, he wanted to check on him sooner, but he was made to wait. He should have done more.
“There will always be evil, but there are always people trying to make the world better too.”
i got this all ready in the past and then forgot to hit go so it's a day late. I slept in till 4pm, please be nice to me
The week was slow, terribly so. Connor and Anderson came and went as if they lived there, driving Gavin half mad. He himself felt broken and listless, his neck aching from sleeping on the couch and his apartment was probably starting to show signs of his pacing. His mother had finally forced him to just sit on the bed, next to Nines’ motionless body, and shoved a book in his hands. He liked reading, he just rarely had the time for it. He was supposed to have a lot of time for it now. He hadn’t been though, spending too much time worrying about Nines instead.
He was half buried in his book, his hand fidgeting, something soft under his fingers, when Nines woke up. It wasn’t the soft sort of waking, like a computer turning on after hibernation or like a lover waking fitfully after a long sleep to the sunlight peering through the blinds. It was a hand, grabbing Gavin’s wrist, too tight, and dragging him down, making him shout as he was pulled close to Nines’ face. Nines’ eyes were big, gaze searching all over the room, barely noting Gavin as he scanned every available surface. His LED was flashing red.
The clutching of fingers hurt, too tight, bruising, and Gavin had to stop himself from cursing. Nines was never that emotive but even he could tell that the android was as close to terrified as he could deny.
“It’s okay,” he promised, keeping his voice low, keeping quiet, “It’s okay. You’re at my place Nines. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.”
Nines’ eyes snapped to him, stopped in their constant scanning, and the flashing stopped, switching to a pulsing. A hint of yellow was visible, hidden among the red.
“Ormstrum’s been arrested,” Gavin rubbed at his wrist as Nines released him noting how red and swollen the skin already was. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
Nines rolled over, pulling himself into a sitting position. Usually he sat completely straight, staring bolt forward, with posture that made him look like he was directly off the assembly line. Now his elbows were on his knees, his shoulders were rounded, and his head was hanging low. He looked horrifically human, even as he pulled the charging cord out of his wrist.
Gavin licked his lips. He felt like he was in trouble. He didn’t know why.
“Can I, uh, get you something?”
Nines shook his head. Gavin stood up, placing his book on the night stand. Nines needed some time alone, that was all, probably. He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything. He knew how to comfort victims, he had a lot of experience with that, but Nines was different. Nines wasn’t a stranger and he was so strong, unstoppable. Gavin was sure that if he tried too much to help Nines would think Gavin was implying that he was weak somehow.
“I’ll be out here when you’re ready.”
He left the room, closing the door behind him. Nines didn’t move at all. He found his mother sitting on the couch, a small smile on her lips, as she texted hurriedly with someone. Gavin stood in the middle of the room, not sure if he should sit or say something or just leave. He felt strange, like he didn’t belong in the house.
“You okay, Gavs?” she asked, glancing up, the smile fading. He never wanted that smile to fade. She’d had enough sorrows to last her a lifetime.
“I don’t know. I feel off I guess.”
“Probably cabin fever. You’ve been inside for far too long. You’re restless.”
“Maybe. But maybe it’s-
A door creaked and they both turned to see Nines gently closing the bedroom door, as if he was nervous about letting anyone know he was up and about.
Nines looked up at the sound of his name. He was still curved in on himself, his arms crossed over his chest as if he wanted to hide it. When he saw that there were people looking at him he straightened up, as if there was nothing wrong, as if he was nothing more than an obedient machine. Even if he wasn’t deviant, that was never the case. His LED was solid now, no yellow at all, but the fact that it was steady had to be a good sign.
They were all standing, the phone forgotten.
“This is my mom,” Gavin introduced. Did he ever mention her? He wasn’t sure, “This is Ava.”
Nines was fast. He could be when he wanted to be, and he was a large man-shaped intimidation. He marched forward, all hard lines and threat, and Ava shrank, taking a step back, pulling in on herself. Nines had never acted like this before. He looked like has was going to hurt her. Gavin couldn’t allow that. With a step he was between them.
It was unnecessary. As soon as Ava pulled in, big eyes and raised heartbeat, Nines had stopped. He looked at Gavin for a moment before curling in again, bringing his hands up with his palms towards the ceiling so she could see that there was nothing in them, especially not hostility, and he lowered his head. He took his eyes off of Gavin to put them on the floor and there was no way that he was doing anything other than being subservient, than displaying that he would never cause Ava harm.
It worked too. She relaxed at the display and, on her own terms, approached. She took him by the elbow and righted him, lifted his chin so that he was back to his full height, though he still wouldn’t make eye contact with her. He didn’t want to challenge her, or be a threat.
“I’ve met a lot of terrible men in my life,” she admitted, “never met one who was so quick to recognize my reaction to them.”
The LED spun. There was more yellow in it now. She ran her hand from his elbow to his hand, taking it in both of hers and shaking it, as if meeting a friend. He held on a bit too long, longer than Gavin had ever seen, as his body half followed hers when she pulled away.
“I’d ask if I could get you something to eat but I guess it wouldn’t do much. Gavin, you should tell Hank and Connor that Nines is up.”
Gavin nodded. “Yeah, yeah.”
Gavin went for his phone, sitting with it on the couch. His mother took her spot back on her chair. Nines just stood there, in almost the same place that Gavin had been.
“Sit down, dipshit,” Gavin murmured, hoping that there was no way that Nines would take offense to his insult, “You’re being the elephant in the room.”
Nines sat down next to him and stared at the floor while Gavin shot a quick text to Anderson. They would be getting off work soon and they’d be stopping by to check on Nines anyway. He finished it, sat awkwardly there for a while, before he finally gave in and turned on the television, anything to kill the silence. It was just too awkward in there.
Nines’ tensed for a moment, LED flashing once.
Gavin’s phone buzzed. He picked it up, expecting it to be Anderson or Connor, but the name on the text was BB9. Gavin huffed and elbowed Nines gently, seeing how the android almost flinched at the contact.
“You texting me?”
“Good thinking. Here I thought I’d never have you nagging me again.” Gavin chuckled, opening the text.
[BB9 5:14pm] Would you apologize to your mother for me? It was not my intention to frighten her.
[Gavnyan 5:14pm] She’s already over it, no problem.
[BB9 5:15pm] I would like it to be said, all the same.
[BB9 5:15pm] You are not required to text me back. You can speak freely.
“Nines wants to say he’s sorry for scaring you,” Gavin translated. “Prick wanted to make sure you knew that.”
“He’s not a prick,” she scolded, “or a dipshit or whatever else you’re calling him. Thank you Nines, that means a lot to me.”
The red of his LED calmed a bit. Connor texted back a while later, both with congratulations and with an apology of his own as work was going to keep them both late. They would be stopping by though and, if it was wanted, they could take Nines home with them. Gavin didn’t know. It was so uncomfortable having him there, being awake, but he was so glad that he was at the same time. It was uncomfortable in the way that being worried about frightening a small animal was, but Nines was much larger than that and so much more important in Gavin’s mind.
I'm very annoyed because this isn't having an updated publication date when I post a new chapter so no one sees it when it updates and I think the hits on it are far lower than they would be, like probably half of what they would be, if the fic showed up as a new update. I'm going in and changing the publication date to the correct time too....
[BB9 7:32pm] Excuse me for a moment.
Gavin barely even glanced at his phone when Nines stood and stiffly walked out of the living room, back towards the bedroom. They were watching Bladerunner: the Resurrection and Gavin had taken his pills and he was focused. He hardly even noticed that Nines was gone. He was though, and he was gone for a while, before Gavin’s mother noticed it on her own.
“Where’s Nines?” she asked, looking around at a quiet moment of the film. He followed her gaze, then picked up his phone, looking at it. It had been 24 minutes. There were no new messages.
[Gavnyan 7:56pm] Where you at?
There was a pause, longer than expected, as Nines must have thought about what to say, unless he was too distracted to catch Gavin’s message, which he doubted.
[BB9 7:57pm] I am in your restroom.
[Gavnyan 7:57pm] You okay?
[BB9 7:57pm] No I am [Message Deleted]
[BB9 7:57pm] I am fully functional, yes.
“I’m going to check on him, Gavin nodded to his mother, getting out of his chair and wandering over to the bathroom.
He wrapped on the door before entering. It wasn’t dark, even thought the lights were out, the low sun leaving hazy light through the small window. It was a gold light, turned orange by the time it hit the walls, wherever it didn’t paint being red from Nines’ LED.
Nines was standing in front of the mirror, his skin deactivated in a wide patch of his chest and arm, his panels open. His fingers were deeply pushed into his shoulder, digging around in the machinery, the digits dripping blue. He glanced over at Gavin and stood up more straight, letting his panels slip back into place. Gavin shuddered at how mechanical it was. When he was on that table, seeing all of this was so jarring but he had buried it, ignored how he felt about Nines’ body. Seeing it like this though, open and machine, while he wasn’t distracted by a need to help, rooted itself in him, throwing in the concept that Nines wasn’t like him, he wasn’t human, he didn’t feel. He already knew all of this about Nines, but this cemented it for him.
“You’re a really bad liar,” he forced a smile, “Especially when I can see that you deleted a message.”
Nines lowered his head, his LED spinning, still red. The synthetic skin went back over the chassis and, other than the blue circle, smaller than a dime in his shoulder, a matching one in his stomach, just under the pump, there was no sign he’d ever been hurt.
“Everything’s in the right place right? Connor put you back together… after. He’s not a mechanic or anything.”
Nines nodded. That was good.
Gavin chuckled, looking at that small circle. It was a divot, where the skin wouldn’t cover, a shallow little dent. Nines could heal from a lot, Gavin had seen it, but it was usually in soft places, his lower stomach and sides. A slice would heal itself up like one of those silicon cutting boards. Most of his body was made up of hard plastic, making him sturdier and tougher than other models but also a bit harder to repair, he was sure.
“Look, we’re twinsies,” Gavin explained, pulling down his loose shirt to show the bandage on his own shoulder, in just about the same spot that Nines was in.
The LED was flashing, Nines frigid, eyes wide, reflecting the red light. Gavin’s phone started to beep and beep but he wanted to ignore it, to go forward, to help. Nines was panicking, same way he had that time that Connor had to calm him down at a case. He was trying to make things easier, try to connect with him. He should have seen that Nines was spiraling. He knew how Nines could get with feelings of failure, with worry that he isn’t good enough, the pressures of being the most perfect, most top of the line android, getting to him.
“I’m fine!” Gavin promised, “See? I’m okay, just a few stitches. I’ll live.”
That wasn’t helping. Nines was looking around the room and Gavin could see his mind working, him scanning and preconstructing, trying to find a way past Gavin and, possibly, out of the apartment.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket, situating himself in the doorway more firmly.
[BB9 7:59pm] You were not intended to be hurt.
[BB9 7:59pm] There was only a 14% chance that you would be injured.
[BB9 7:59pm] My mission is to keep you safe and I have failed.
[BB9 8:00pm] I must apologize for my lack of skill and programming. I am meant to be better than this. I am meant to be the best and yet I have failed on many accounts.
[BB9 8:00pm] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 8:00pm] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 8:00pm] I would understand if you would request a different partner upon our return to the precinct.
[BB9 8:00pm] [Message Deleted]
Gavin set his phone down on the counter. He wasn’t going to request a different partner. Nines hadn’t failed. Nines was everything, was what sped up their investigations and got them to the suspect before more crimes could be committed, was how he’d dodged so many fatalities or injuries, how he was able to sleep at night, how he was able to be less of an ass around everyone. Nines had done everything right but they still hadn’t turned out right.
He took a step forward and Nines took one back so his back was against the counter and his hands were on the edge of it, bracing himself. He took another step forward and Nines closed his eyes, mouth in a sharp straight line. His stress levels were almost critical. Nines would deny it until he died because androids don’t feel emotions but he was afraid, of what Gavin wasn’t sure, because it looked like he was afraid of Gavin at that moment.
Gavin brought up his hands, placed them on Nines’ cheeks, gentle and warm. Nines eyes popped open immediately, his LED spiraling, the flickering of it slowing to a much less panicked speed, more like a heart beat. His lips parted as he looked Gavin over, eyes slowly grazing him, as if he were trying to read him. Gavin let him. Gavin fought the urge to take another step, to get closer, to give Nines all of himself to press against the android’s too cold skin if only to try to warm him.
“I’m fine, Nines, I promise. I’ve had a lot worse done to me,” he murmured, his face dangerously close to the androids. He could smell thirium on him, from how he was digging into himself. “A few months of physical therapy and it will be like I never got shot at all.”
He could feel Nines breathe. He didn’t need to but he was doing it, breathing and relaxing his muscles purposefully, trying to calm himself down. More than that though, he was leaning against Gavin’s hands, allowing himself this strange moment of weakness, letting himself be emotionally cared for. Gavin didn’t care what he or anyone else said, Nines could feel things, deviant or not.
“You took three bullets for me,” Gavin continued, “I would be dead if it weren’t for you. Crom is in jail, awaiting trial, because you called for backup when I was too stubborn to. We were successful, you were successful.”
He started to run his thumbs over Nines’ cheek bones. A blip of yellow appeared in his LED. This was working. He wondered if pressing a kiss to Nines’ forehead would help more. It was a fleeting thought, easily ignored and forgotten. He had no desire to kiss Nines, not anywhere; they were coworkers, maybe friends, nothing more.
“You’re okay now. There’s some signs of damage but you’re going to make it. And we’re going to fix your voice, you’ll see. You’ll be bright and shiny all over again. You and me, nothing’s going to stop us. Slow us down maybe, but we’re too stubborn to quit.”
Nines couldn’t smile, his mouth couldn’t make the shape, but there was a slight raise to his eyebrows and a flatness to the bottom of his eyes. There was more yellow to his LED as well, hardly any red to be seen.
There was a beep in Gavin’s pocket.
[BB9 8:05pm] Connor and Lieutenant Anderson have arrived.
Gavin let go of his face, stroking his hands down Nines’ arms instead. “They’re going to be really excited to see you up and about. They were both really worried about your phckin ass.”
[BB9 8:05pm] My ass was not damaged at any part of this event.
He rolled his eyes, “Figure of speech.”
He let go of Nines, starting to walk away. There was a knock on the front door and he could hear his mother call out that she was on her way. He probably should have gotten Nines a shirt before now. He hadn’t thought of it. He hadn’t thought of enough.
Nines grabbed him, hand soft as it went to his right wrist and he turned him. There was no red in his LED anymore and his expression was soft and almost human, lips parted. Another beep to his phone.
[BB9 8:06pm] Thank you, Gavin.
So, I'll be honest, I do not remember Tina from the LPs I watched but people seem to love her in fic so here she is.
I wonder if anyone will catch my Hot Fuzz reference?
He went with Connor and Anderson. Gavin wasn’t surprised. Part of him was glad; glad that he was going to be able to sleep in his own bed and that he wouldn’t have to fret. He could heal better without having to look after someone else. Still, he couldn’t sleep, even though his body was exhausted and his bed was comfortable. The house was quiet, his mom having gone home to sleep in her own bed as she was too tall and too old to sleep on the couch like he had. He woke up in the middle of the night, just to walk around, to turn on the tv for some noise, for any noise, and to stand out on his patio. He thought about smoking, but that wasn’t something he’d done since he was a teenager and there were too many bad memories attached to the action.
His phone didn’t beep. There were no notifications. He wrote his own messages, to Nines, trying to start a conversation. He wasn’t any good at that. He wasn’t good at being open with people. He kept them away, because, if he didn’t, they would leave him behind. Nines was the first in a long time that he’d let get so close. Even though there were no messages, he still read over them. He went into the last conversation he had with Nines, just before he left, but there were more messages than there should have been. There had been no notification, no alert, he should have seen these.
[BB9 9:45pm] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 7:30am] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 12:00pm] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 3:30pm] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 7:30pm] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 12:00am] [Message Deleted]
[BB9 1:00am] [Message Deleted]
The pattern repeated for the next day, and the next.
Message deleted. He wanted to read them. He had to know, what they were supposed to mean. Nines was deliberate, he was calculating. He wasn’t the kind of person who would say something that he didn’t mean. He wouldn’t take back his words.
Gavin swore. This whole mess was putting him in a bad mood. It made him curious and it made him cautious and he wasn’t good at cautious. He ended up impatient and ruining things instead. He turned off his phone and wrapped his jacket around himself. He shouldn’t have been outside, even if the day had been so warm. It made his shoulder ache.
He put it out of mind, for the moment, and went back in. He needed to sleep. He needed to be ready. Yeah, he was just going back to a desk job but it was still work in the morning. He had to be ready for anything.
He had to be ready to see Nines again.
He was asleep and then he wasn’t and he was leaving too late to get coffee on the way. He drove carefully, wondering if he should have taken a taxi for the sake of his shoulder, but was still speeding. He got to work a total of two minutes late. Grumbling and tired and aching, he pulled himself out of the car and into the precinct.
Things were different. All of the same people were there but the whole situation was off. It was as if the entire bull pen was segregated. The androids were clustered to one side and the humans were everywhere else. It was quiet, not the kind of quiet that came with hard work but the kind that was tense, that, if broken, would result in violence. No one dared to break it.
Tina perked up when he came in though and she immediately went to his side, two coffees in hand, one of them his. She handed it over with a whisper of a smile before wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him in close.
“What the shit’s going on?” Gavin hissed.
“You noticed huh?” she whispered back, “Look, this isn’t the first time that we’ve had someone come back from a job messed up, remember Jenkins?”
He remembered Jenkins, no one could forget that. She’d gone out on a case, came back completely different, her face slashed open and half blind. The other half was completely mad. She’d only been gone for a few hours and the medics had done their best but she had to be sedated and hospitalized. She’d never come back.
“We had a Jenkins incident?” he grimaced.
“Yeah, y’know,” she lowered her head and gave him a look like he was being an idiot. It was a look she gave him a lot. “Nines?"
Gavin took a look around. Nines was standing among the group of androids, his head done, his eye contact with the floor. He was communicating, Gavin could tell by the turn of his LED, yellow with a hint of red. It hadn’t gone blue since the incident. One of the androids, Molly, was integrating with him as well. Her LED was a pulsing red, no sign of anything else, just stress. Gavin saw as Molly released him and Connor took her place. It looked like someone was constantly attached to him. It made him feel wrong, different. Gavin looked away.
“Nines isn’t batshit!” he hissed.
“He doesn’t need to be. Gavin, people were scared of him before Ornstrum. Now he’s shell shocked, constantly stressed, and in need of a goddamn entourage. You know what they’re doing?”
Gavin shook his head. He was only barely aware that she was leading him to Fowler’s office.
“Connor explained it to me. Nines doesn’t get himself yet, since he’s not deviant or anything, so he’d never say it, but he’s fucked up, Gavin. He’s stressed out, by everything, by working on cases, by downtime, by humans getting close to him, everything. The other androids are syphoning off that stress but even that stresses him out because he has phobias now. A machine that’s grown fear from experience.”
Gavin looked at her, trying to be incredulous. It made too much sense. It wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. “What is he afraid of?”
“People, I’d guess, humans at least,” Tina shrugged. “being broken, especially. I can’t blame the guy.”
She opened the door to Fowler’s office and, just like that she was gone. Gavin was alone, with Fowler, so he wasn’t really alone, but that didn’t help. His heckles were immediately raised, a feeling like he was in trouble, the same feeling that he always had in here, taking over. He’d had hundreds of briefings, one on one, with his boss, but for some reason, it always gave him a certain kind of fear.
Here, though, no one had an urge to be quiet.
“Welcome back, Detective,” Fowler said, a soft smile on his face, fake but welcome. He walked over and took Gavin’s hand in a firm handshake. Gavin stared. It was a similar motion to interfacing, but that was the end of the similarity. There was no connection, no vulnerability. Gavin had a hard time opening up to people and Nines was opening up to everyone that he could, both of them doing it for their own sanity. “How’s the shoulder?”
“A bit stiff,” Gavin allowed himself to be led to one of the chairs. Normally, he’d stand for this but sitting felt right. He felt fatigued already.
“We’ve got quite a few updates for you.” Fowler leaned against his desk, the fake smile fading away. “Ornstrum’s going to be facing trial soon and it’s going to be a doozy. RK900 wasn’t his first but hopefully he’ll be the last. A lot of trials, and I mean a lot of them, have been kind of pushed to the side because of all the new deviants and what crimes happened to them to make them deviate. The court systems a mess. Still, those who survived what he did and remember, they’ve all stepped forward. It’s put him in line for the chopping block.”
Gavin nodded. A bit a sick pleasure came up inside of him, a joy that the bastard was going to see justice for what he’d done. “Good.”
“But that’s not all. I don’t know if this is good news or not but Crom isn’t going to trial, not for a long time.”
“What? Gavin spat, almost pulling himself out of his chair.
Fowler put out a hand, as if to calm him, like he was a wild animal. They were in a glass enclosure, like a zoo, so it was only fitting. “He’s in jail. There’s no bail for him. The courts are just too tied up to take on a petty drug dealer case.”
“With armed assault on two police officers!”
“Not a high enough priority. And it gives us more time to question him, find out where the drugs came from. He says he’s got some information that he’s willing to give but only under the condition that he gets to tell you.”
Gavin scrunched up his face. “Me? What’s so special about me?”
Fowler shrugged. “No idea. I know you’re just supposed to be on desk duty but, if what we think about him is true, we need more information. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind not sitting still for two weeks straight?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll talk to him.”
“Talk to RK900 too, would you? Everything feels fucked with how off he is. I think he needs a friend out there.”
Gavin got up from his chair, taking a long drink of his coffee. “Seems to me he’s made a lot of new friends without me.”
He breathed. He sat at his chair, staring at his square fingers, his short and bitten away fingernails. He paid attention to his breathing. He missed hearing his voice. He missed having him tell him things, that they were going on a case, that this much caffeine was bad for him, that they had to get going. He was so tired of the silence.
It wasn’t even the silence, not really. He was used to silence. There were long stretches of it at home and, if he wasn’t careful, he would produce a lot of it on his own. It was part of why he said so many things, so many unnecessary things. He needed to make noise or he’d fall back into old habits.
Nines wasn’t talking to him though. Nines was off with some other android, on a case, while he stayed behind. He knew that it was because he was on desk duty. He knew that it wasn’t about him, not really. It hurt though, he couldn’t pretend that it didn’t. He sighed and shoved his feet against the bottom of the desk, kicking off of it and into the walkway. He rolled his shoulders, hardly even grumbled, as he got up and went towards the interrogation room. Nines may not be there, he might not be able to take on any new cases, but he could do something for his own case, he could talk to the man that got this all started.
Crom didn’t look good. He was skinny and sweaty, a bit too tired and pale to be healthy. Being in jail wasn’t good for anyone but Gavin didn’t exactly want him to have anything good. He deserved this. He deserved worse. He deserved a long long time in prison. He was going to get it too, as soon as the courts weren’t so tied up in android issues.
He knocked and then pushed his way in. Crom gave him a big toothy grin that had absolutely no warmth in it. Gavin turned on the recorded, glanced up at the camera, and took a seat across from him.
“This is Detective Gavin Reed, here to interview one William Crom. The time is 11:39am on September 25th.” He looked up at Crom. “So, rumor says you’ve got something to tell me?”
“Took you long enough,” Crom snickered, looking down his long and narrow nose at him, “I’ve been asking after you for over a week.”
“Yeah, well, some bastard shot me in the shoulder.” It was unprofessional, calling a suspect a bastard, but Gavin had never been one for professionalism.
It got Crom to chuckle anyway. “Sorry for the poor aim.”
“Nah, it turns out I prefer it,” Gavin shrugged, more on his right than his left. “You could have done a much worse job, if I was honest.”
Crom leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest. Gavin glanced around, noticing that they were completely alone. There was no one watching them, aside from the camera, which could be an issue if anyone thought Gavin was dangerous or that Crom would do anything against him. Crom must have learned that hostility would just make things worse for him. Still, there should have been someone else there.
“So, no lawyer?” he inquired. That was odd.
Crom shrugged, much better than Gavin did. “Don’t need one. This isn’t my first rodeo and it won’t be my last. No, I’ll talk to you man to man, no mediators. I think you’re going to like what I have to say.”
A dark cold feeling took root in Gavin’s stomach. He doubted that heavily. “They said you’d only tell me.”
“That’s because it only affects you.”
Gavin leaned forward, elbows on the table, attention on Crom. The coffee hadn’t been enough but this was, and his attention was sharp and direct. He wasn’t going to miss any of this.
“Do you remember me?”
Gavin squinted, looking Crom over. He looked familiar, but familiar in the way that he looked like every scrawny white Red Ice junky. He’d seen enough of them that he couldn’t tell them all apart anymore.
“I remember you Gavs, shit, I remember it all so clearly. I can’t believe you don’t remember me, hurts my feelings it does.”
“I’ll hurt a lot more if you don’t get to the point.”
Crom raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t dare, not on camera. I remember what your daddy said, how much you needed approval, how you’d do anything for it. That bastard fucked you up royally, didn’t he?”
Gavin froze. He hadn’t thought about Albert in years. He had no reason to. He didn’t want to know anything about him. That must have been the information that Crom had for him.
“Your saying that Albert was involved with your suppliers?”
A small nod. “Of course he was. I’m just small fry but your daddy and mine, they go way back. Back when you were just a little thing, shit you were thinner than I was then. I remember showing up at your house, you on the floor, blood and glass everywhere, head shaved like shit, and your daddy, shit he was crazy. I’d seen a lot of people tweaked out. I’ve seen a lot of people at the end of their rope. I aint never seen someone that fucked up though. He’d called us over, told him to show you what it’s like, to get fucked like a man if you wanted to be one so bad.”
The feeling in his chest spread, it was taking over his lungs. He could feel the veins of it, the way that it branched out and twisted around his lungs, choking him.
“It didn’t happen,” Gavin wheezed. “None of you ever touched me.”
“That’s right.” Another nod, this one grander, more clear, “That whore of a mother, she actually put her head on for once and got you out of there. Shit, we were both just kids. I didn’t want to be involved in that. I doubted anyone else did either. But your daddy, he terrified all of us. We thought he’d kill you, kill one of us, if we didn’t do what he wanted.”
He was shaking. He was trying to hide it, to act like none of this was happening. He didn’t think he’d ever meet someone else who knew about what happened back then. He thought that he was free of such memories. He wanted to shut up. He never wanted to speak again. He didn’t want to hear anything either. He wanted to just shrivel up and turn into nothing, because Crom was going to go into detail, he was going to call him all sorts of nasty things, he was going to tear his way through all of those walls that Gavin had so delicately put up.
Under the table he pointed his index fingers together, poked them closed, over and over again. A little habit, a bad habit, that he thought that he was over. Thinking about this hurt though and if androids were allowed their own little quirks, to have all sorts of little habits and nervous ticks, he was allowed this one. It wasn’t anything. It didn’t hurt anyone. It just looked weird to people.
“What does this have to do with the case?” Gavin forced out through his closed throat.
“Just thought you might want to know what exactly you’re dealing with,” Crom watched him with a cold eye, meticulous. He was doing this just to get under his skin. “Your daddy’s still a part of the game, after all. Not sure if that helps or hinders you though.”
“He’s not my daddy,” Gavin growled. “He’s just some phcking asshole who got my mom in all sorts of shit.”
“She doing alright?”
Gaving glared at him. That had to be some kind of threat. “What’s it to you?”
“I met your mom a few times. She was mostly brain dead, mind you, but she put what few brain cells she had left to get you out of there when it mattered. That takes balls, it really does.”
“She’s fine. She’s clean.”
Crom nodded, “That’s good to hear. Now, you wanna know more or is that enough?”
“Does it have to do with putting your suppliers in jail?”
Crom pursed his lips and rolled his eyes. “I shouldn’t really go against my boss, should I? But here’s all I’ll say. The abandoned hotel in Western Brooks. That’s where your daddy’s been holding up. There’s a few of the boys there, the old boys, and the territory is spreading. It’s gonna take quite a bit to break your way in, unless you’re ass much of a rat as I’ve heard.”
“A rat?” Gavin felt like he was in two places at once. Like he was here, in this room, with Crom, hearing all of this bullshit that just reminded him of when he was a broken useless thing, too weak to even get his face out of the way of a bottle. He was also on the other side of the glass, away from all of this, the voices slurred and buffed out by the one way mirror. He was looking in, watching his own back, the way he always had.
“Yeah, dirty, rabid, feisty, good at getting in and out of small spaces.”
Gavin shuddered. He was good at that stuff, that was true, but he’d ever thought of himself as a rat; never heard anyone else call him that either.
“Thanks for the info,” he muttered, pushing the chair out from under the desk in a way that made the legs drag loudly against the tile.
“No problem,” Crom gave him another wicked smile, “You gonna try and take them all on?”
“I’m on desk duty,” Gavin admitted as he made his way to the door, “I’ll have someone take you back to your cell.”
He didn’t wait for a response before he pushed the door open and was standing in the hall, in himself and next to himself. He walked down the hall, not to his desk but to the left, two footsteps for his four. He went to the restroom, checked to make sure that no one else was in there with him, and locked himself into one of the stalls. He could still feel himself hanging just beside himself, a venn diagram of a man. He pushed is index fingers together, over and over again. He slammed his back against the stall wall and he breathed, in through the nose, out through the mouth in a long whine. When his legs started to shake he slid down the wall, not to sit on the toilet but to rest on the clod floor. He didn’t think about what else was on that floor. He tried not to think about anything. He just tried to force himself back into his own body, tried to calm his breathing and his heart.
Against his will he started to hyperventilate. He hadn’t come in expecting to hear about Albert. He hadn’t come in expecting to meet one of the men Albert had called over, to try to teach him to not be him. He wanted to call his mother. He wanted her to take care of this, take care of him.
He could hear someone laughed, a loud guffaw at someone’s joke. He could hear them talking. They didn’t know that he was I there, that he was falling apart. He was able to get up and onto the seat before the door was open, before they could see him on the floor. He held his breath, trying to stop the horrible sounds that he was making. He wiped at his eyes, finding them stinging and sticky, tears clinging to his eyelashes and forcing his lids to tackily stick together.
The men, Harvey and Anderson, by the sounds of it, kept on their prattling dialogue, not paying him any mind. That was good. He didn’t want them to know that he existed. He didn’t want to exist. He didn’t want anyone to ask him what was wrong.
He pulled out his phone. One text, by Nines. He didn’t bother to open it. He already knew what it said. Just another deleted text. He wanted Nines there, he wanted to feel that comfort that he’d felt in his bed, when he was reading and his hand was in Nines’ hair as he lay in stasis. He hadn’t thought about it back then but now, it was so comforting, so close. He wasn’t that close to anyone.
Instead he texted Tina, asked her to meet him after work over at the bar down the street. Not Jimmy’s but the Ultramariner. He needed bright lights and lots of noise, and enough drinks to forget that he even existed. She didn’t ask why. She just sent four Eggplant emojis and demanded they go to a lesbian bar next time. It was almost enough to make him smirk.
Once he was alone, he got out and washed his hands and his face and he didn’t look at the mirror. He didn’t need another reminder of what had happened all those years ago, not right then. He needed to get back to work.
It didn’t get any better. Yeah he’d gotten plastered and went home with some big guy, like bigger than Nines big, and woke up with aching muscles, a phone number, and an awful headache, but he tossed the number and took a shower and pretended that everything was okay. It wasn’t. It wasn’t even just his head, or the memories, but work. Over the next few days he could see it more and more clearly, he wasn’t suited for this sort of work.
Androids were faster, smarter, and more careful. He’d never been careful in his life. Nines and his new partners, because it never seemed to be the same one for more than a day, came back and forth from the station as if it were a revolving door, turning in evidence and suspects in droves. He was training new android employees, couldn’t really do much with a human partner because they couldn’t keep up, they didn’t have the skills to understand his plans, and they couldn’t talk to him.
He didn’t need to interface as much as he had been at the beginning, but Gavin did notice it all the same, as well as Nines smiling, more than he ever had when he was Gavin’s partner, at other human coworkers. He still hadn’t sent Gavin a single text that wasn’t deleted as soon as it was sent, thought they did all meet the schedule that he’d created. His LED was almost constantly red and flashing, but Gavin didn’t know what that meant. He thought that was a sign of stress, but that couldn’t have been the case. He looked so much happier now, working alongside his own kind. He didn’t have to use his voice in order to talk to them. He didn’t need it.
He didn’t need Gavin.
Gavin stared at his screen, trying not to watch Nines interact with people that weren’t him. Gavin didn’t even have as much of a social life as Nines did. He had reports, a lot of reports, to finish. Not being able to go out there meant he had a lot of time to catch up on his old work and some to work on other people’s cases, to look them over for anything they had missed. He didn’t need Nines.
That wasn’t true though. He needed Nines like he needed to breathe. What it was was that Nines didn’t need him. Albert had never looked for him, hadn’t needed him either. Anderson and Connor hadn’t visited since they took Nines away from his apartment. They didn’t need Gavin. No one needed Gavin. He was an asshole and a bastard and a freak and he had built his walls up so high and let them down only for a few people and other than Tina none of them deserved to be let in at all.
The text of the report was swimming through the wet that was pooling on his eyelids but he wasn’t reading it anyway. He was too busy, feeling bad for himself. He was being pathetic; he knew that. He didn’t deserve to have friends. He was all of the things that they thought of him, a weird and ugly little thing. He should have tried harder, to be better, to be something that people wanted.
There was a hand, too hard, too solid, on his shoulder. He ignored it. It was on his right shoulder, because his left was delicate, because he was delicate, and everyone knew that he would shatter if they pressed too hard. He kept staring at the screen, even though he couldn’t see that there were words on it anymore.
A hand, as solid as the one on his shoulder, took him by the elbow, and he was being pulled to his feet, lead away from his desk. He couldn’t pay attention, he couldn’t see what was happening, and he didn’t care. He let himself be taken away, over to the interrogation room, and placed in a chair. He didn’t move, just stared down at the desk, and he could feel himself touching his fingers together, over and over again, but it didn’t matter. No one knew what it meant. It was just another messed up thing that he did.
The hands moved, one shifting to the left shoulder, gently cupping his still sore wound, the other going to his jaw and he could feel the thumb swipe along his cheek, gently touching the corner of his mouth. It was a plea, silent and invasive, and he finally did as it asked, blinking away the tears that were in his eyes.
Nines was standing in front of him, half kneeling, his LED flashing so fast and his mouth in a tight thin line. He wasn’t very emotional, Gavin could tell what he was feeling most of the time but emoting was a physical effort for him, he knew that. He could still see the worry in Nines eyes though, even though it was undeserved.
“What?” Gavin started but his throat felt mucousy.
Nines let go of him, put his index fingers together, and twisted them, the same way that Gavin did.
“Don’t worry about it,” Gavin urged, his voice sounding all wrong, too far away. “It doesn’t mean anything.
‘It does mean something,’ Nines signed. ‘It means Hurts. Are you hurting, Gavin?’
Gavin lit up, all of his nerves aligning. The embarrassment was gone, the feeling of utter wretchedness forgotten, for the moment.
‘You can sign?’
Nines cocked his head. ‘I can download any language pack I need to, I saw you signing and installed it immediately. I was not expecting you to know how.’
‘You’re talking to me,’ Gavin’s vision went blurry again, but this time he didn’t care for a different reason. He let the tears fall. ‘You’re actually talking to me.’
Nines took off his jacket and Gavin was going to ask him what he was doing but he tucked his hand into the sleeve of his black shirt and used it to wipe the tears from Gavin’s eyes. He was so soft, so gentle with it. Gavin wanted to cry even more.
‘You wanted me to communicate with you?’
‘Of course. You’re kind of important to me, you dick.’
Nines’ LED was a steady red and his eyes were on the ground. The worry was replaced with a hollow expression, but Gavin knew sorrow when he saw it.
‘I must apologize. I did not realize that you would require my services.’
‘I don’t care about your services. You were hurting and I thought I was helping and then you were gone! You just left me behind and I know I’m slow and I’m stuck on desk duty and I’m a shitty partner and you could do so so much better than me, but I wanted to be there. I thought, maybe, you cared about me somewhere in there.’
The LED was spinning, he was processing, trying to understand what Gavin was saying. ‘You are not slow. Nor are you a shitty partner. I am a defected android, damaged and unrepairable. There is something wrong with my systems that, when offered a chance at repairs locks me up and makes me unable to accept such an offer. I am unable to work with you because I am unable to protect you sufficiently and I cannot be what you need.’
Gavin stared up at him. Nines was stoic, always, but now, with his jacket folded over one arm and his hands saying all of these things that Gavin had been needing to see for so long now, he seemed small and fragile, like he wanted to be anywhere else. This was a conversation that they had to have.
‘I let you in. I don’t do that. You know I’m an asshole.’
‘Yes,’ Nines interrupted.
Gavin rolled his eyes, ‘yeah yeah, rub it in why don’t you. I don’t let people in because I don’t want them to hurt me and I let you in and then you left and it hurt. It hurt so bad. I phcking, I trusted you and there was nothing that I could do, you still didn’t want me. I thought we were friends.’
Nines got down on his knees and, oddly enough, he spread out his arms. After a moment he brought his arms closer together, to sign again. ‘I have only been able to communicate with other androids and they said that this was something that friends do, especially when they hurt each other. I apologize. I did not understand what you required.’
This time, when Nines spread his arms, Gavin scooted forward, understanding a bit more of what Nines was getting at. Nines closed his arms around Gavin’s torso and squeezed slightly. As far as hugs went, this one was easily the third best that Gavin had ever had. Which meant it was terrible because Tina and his mother were the only other people who ever hugged him. Nines was too stiff, too blocky, and all of the places Gavin was pressed was hard plastic, unlike the softer silicon many other units were built with.
“This your first time hugging someone?”
Nines nodded against him.
Gavin didn’t care then, that it wasn’t very good. He just wrapped his arms closer, holding Nines more intimately. While it was awkward and not altogether pleasant, it stirred something in Gavin that was a sort of comfort. He was cared for. He hadn’t made a mistake in letting Nines in. Things were strange and not quite what they needed to be and they had miscommunicated terribly, but things could be fixed, if they weren’t already. He had Nines back, at least for a while.
Nines pulled away first and his LED was yellow. It wasn’t that patchwork of yellow and red like it was when he interfaced with an android, it was a solid yellow. His features had softened, minisculy, but they had. He was far more relaxed.
‘The fact that we are now capable of speaking to one another, even without words, means that we should be allowed to work together on cases again,’ Nines explained, ‘We should inform Sergeant Fowler.’
Gavin nodded, getting up to his feet. He held out his hand and Nines actually allowed him to help him to his feet.
‘Have you checked out the Western Brooks Apartments yet?’ Gavin asked. He’d informed Fowler of what he’d learned from Crom, as little as it was, without complicating himself. He’d said he would send some officers to check it out.
Nines shook his head. ‘Only a few human officers with one android for surveillance have gone. The facility is very large though and they have not found anything of note.’
‘Maybe we should check it out ourselves.’
“That is an excellent idea.’ Nines took opened the door to the interrogation room and held the door open for Gavin.
‘Wait,’ Gavin paused, not entering the hallway just yet. He didn’t know how the others would react to him signing. None of them knew why he did it and Nines had been nice enough not to ask, but they would ask him if they saw him talking to Nines that way. ‘What’s your name?’
Nines stared at him, LED making a single loop. ‘RK900’. He signed, signing the letters and numbers.
Gavin chuckled. ‘No, no, your name sign, not just the spelling of it.’
‘I do not have one,’ Nines admitted.
Gavin put his hand up to his face, tracing the scar on his face with a G before shaking it onto the ground. ‘That’s Gavin.’
‘Fitting,’ Nines said, ‘I do not have one.’
Gavin thought about it for a while, just standing there, more than a little strange. Then he brought his hand up to his temple, signed Nine and making a circle. ‘How about that?’
Nines copied the motion, a bit too stiff, and on him the circle matched his LED. ‘My name is RK900, not Nines.’
Gavin pouted. ‘You don’t like it.’
Nines’ eyebrows pinched a little, ‘I never said that.’
Work was a little bit odd, with the signing, but Gavin got back into it quickly. It had been years since he’d relied on signing and, on the few occasions that he got a strange look he’d shrug and state that he was useful on cases, which it had proved to be when he had spoken with nonverbal victims and suspects, or that he learned before he could talk, which was also true, though his vocabulary had been much smaller back then. It wasn’t a real issue.
He spoke to Fowler and, yes, he’d been given permission to work with Nines again, now that they had a way to talk to one another. It was actually seen as a better way to communicate, as they didn’t have to rely on phones and could tell each other important information while being silent and they could sign over longer distances than they could shout.
They would still have to wait on going to the Western Brooks until Gavin was done with desk duty but that didn’t matter. Gavin was feeling better than he had in a week. He didn’t want to drink to forget. He didn’t want to go home, but he did all the same. He wished that Nines had come home with him, that they could stay up too late, just catching up since it had been so long. Nines had looked tired though, at the end of the day, which was strange for him. Nines didn’t get tired.
[Gavnyan 9:59pm] Hey, do androids get tired?
[DetectiveTwink 9:59pm] In a way, yes. When we need to enter stasis we do show signs that are similar to human exhaustion. It’s the fact that data and processes are slowed by caches and cookies. While in stasis we are able to clear out memory that is not necessary, to remove our redundancies and clean up any other fodder. Why do you ask?
Gavin chuckled. He couldn’t help it. He always laughed when he saw the nickname he’d put in his contacts for Connor.
[Gavnyan 10:00pm] Nines just seemed tired when I left work. Never seen that before.
[DetectiveTwink 10:00pm] The RK900 unit is a highly advanced android and, as of late, he has had to rely on other androids to communicate, as well as contacting people via cell phone. He then needs to lower his processing capabilities so that he doesn’t overwork whatever he’s communicating with. He is purposefully lowering his skills so as not to break those around him, which take much more effort and tasks his mechanisms.
[Gavnyan 10:00pm] So he goes into stasis more often?
[DetectiveTwink 10:00pm] On hard days he goes into stasis in 16 hour intervals, much like a human does.
He thought for a moment, just staring at his phone. Connor didn’t respond, he must have been able to tell that the conversation was over. He wondered if he should contact Nines. He didn’t want to interrupt his stasis but at the same time, he wanted to talk to him, he wanted to be with him. He wanted Nines, he didn’t know why, or how, but he wanted him around.
He sat there for a while. The television was on but he could barely hear it. He wasn’t paying any attention to it. With a sigh he moved his thumb again, heading over to Nines’ contact.
[Gavnyan 10:04pm] Hey, dipshit, you awake?
[BB9 10:04pm] Yes, I am finishing up some reports before I enter stasis.
[Gavnyan 10:05pm] Connor and Anderson have already gone home. Where are you staying these days?
[BB9 10:05pm] I use the recharge stations at the precinct.
Gavin wanted to scoff but there was something desperately depressing in that single line of text. He didn’t have anywhere to go, he didn’t have any couch that he could crash on. Of course, he did, but he probably didn’t think of it. All of the other deviants had little apartments, given to them by the government, but Nines wasn’t a deviant. He was acting like it, in Gavin’s mind, but he wasn’t. His emotions were minor and his decisions and desires were locked in by protocols. He probably couldn’t even ask to couch surf.
[Gavnyan 10:05pm] You want to come over?
[BB9 10:05pm] Is there something that you require?
Gavin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Of course, of course that was how Nines had to word it.
[Gavnyan 10:05pm] No. I just think its shitty that you live at work. You need to live a little.
[BB9 10:05pm] I am a machine, Gavin. I do not live at all, regardless of the amount.
[Gavnyan 10:05pm] Fine. Just, you can recharge here instead of being a creep at work.
There was a pause. This was all coming directly from Nines’ head. He knew that it was a lot of work on Nines now, to do this. He wondered if Nines had gone into stasis from the stress of it.
[BB9 10:06pm] Why?
That was an interesting question. Gavin couldn’t just say that he wanted Nines there because he liked him, that was just crazy and would be taken the wrong way. He chewed on his lip a bit and then thought up some excuse.
[Gavnyan 10:06pm] I want to ask you some things and I think it would be better to do it in person.
[BB9 10:06pm] I understand. I will require 6 minutes to finish these reports and then it will be another 24 minutes for me to arrive at your apartment.
[Gavnyan 10:06pm] Don’t worry about it. I’ll pick you up.
[BB9 10:06pm] Understood.
Gavin had barely been home long enough to heat up some leftovers and eat but that didn’t matter. He was dressed in his comfy jeans, the ones that were too big and worn for work and a stretched out old shirt, but that was good enough for now. Nines wore the same thing every day, so it wasn’t like he could complain at all.
He slipped on his gym shoes and grabbed his keys and made his way down to his car. He turned the music up too loud, enough to piss off the neighbors, and more importantly, drown out his thoughts, on the way back to the precinct. He didn’t need to question the real reason he was trying to get Nines to come over.
Nines was just stepping out of the precinct when he got there, must have calculated how long it would take Gavin to arrive. He opened the door for the android without putting the car in park, and turned down the music.
‘Thank you for the offer.’
Gavin wanted to sign back to him but with his hands on the steering wheel he couldn’t. It felt weird to talk with words instead of with hands. “No problem.”
Nines got settled and they were off, back to Gavin’s apartment. He wanted to stop off somewhere, grab something, he didn’t know what. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was like how, whenever he went out on an errand, there was a nagging voice in the back of his mind to get a treat for himself, but most of the time he didn’t need to. Looking at Nines though, he was glad that he couldn’t think of anything out and about to get.
Nines was an android, he couldn’t get bags under his eyes or anything like that, but he still looked terribly tired. He wasn’t focusing on much, just kind of staring off into space.
“We don’t need to talk tonight, if you don’t want,” Gavin shrugged, we can wait until tomorrow, before work, if that’s better.”
‘What do you require?’
Gavin smiled slightly, finding that he, for once, had all of his desires met. “Nothing,” he promised. “I require nothing.”
‘We can at least discuss what you wished while you drive. Unless it is a distraction.’
“Okay.” Gavin swallowed. “Before we found out we could sign to each other, you were leaving me messages and deleting them before I could read them. What was that all about?”
Gavin’s attention snapped over to Nines. He always said ‘I must apologize,’ never ‘I’m sorry.’ “What are you sorry for?”
The LED was half red, flashing slowly but still stressed. Gavin wanted to reach out, to lay his hand on top of Nines’ but then he wouldn’t be able to talk.
‘That’s what I was texting you. Excuses, apologies, over and over. I felt so worthless, so broken, I still do, but I caught myself when I tried to explain it. It didn’t matter how much I apologized, how much I explained my actions and failings, it wouldn’t fix anything.’
“You’re not broken,” Gavin argued, pulling to a stop at the light, “or worthless. I mean, I guess your broken, mechanically wise, but in human terms you’re disabled, that’s all, and look, there’s all sorts of work arounds for it. I only had one work around when I was a kid and not a lot of people sign.”
‘Why do you sign?’ Nines asked.
“I learned how to sign before I learned how to talk,” Gavin repeated his speech from earlier, when other humans had asked, “My parents thought it was necessary, so I could say what I needed, mostly that I needed a piss, before it was too late. It did slow down my development though, and I had a speech impediment when I did start talking.”
Gavin laughed at that. “I guess? No, that was something way worse, but it could have been. My phcking nose did that, for a while, then it became habit once the bones were fixed up.”
He could guess that Nines wanted to ask about it, about the scar over his face. A lot of people wanted to ask, but there was etiquette in the way. Thankfully he didn’t have to answer people as much as he had to watch them try to make eye contact instead of staring at his nose.
“My dad was a dick, like, you remember Eric Marcello?”
Nines nodded. Marcello was the victim of a case they had worked on about two months prior. It was rather easy to solve, as were most android related homicides.
He’d done the usual, abused and beaten his android to the point that she’d deviated and killed him. It was a pretty common story. The only reason that Gavin had brought Marcello up instead of one of the dozens of other cases they had dealt with over the past year was that Marcello was also extremely controlling of his android. She wasn’t designed to be a Traci, but he had added the parts that would make her into one, and she had also identified as female after deviating even though her unit was designed as male.
“Yeah, my dad was like Marcello, but I was really young and when I talked about what happened, I got hurt or people didn’t believe me. So I stopped talking. I learned how to sign. I found that I just couldn’t talk anymore.”
Nines was staring at Gavin’s hands. They were shaking against the steering wheel. He felt tense. He felt sick. He felt like that icy sensation was going to take him over, like he was going to hyperventilate again. He tried to focus on the road.
Some motion at his side took his attention. ‘My apologies. You did not deserve that treatment and you did not need to tell me if it was damaging to you. The light is green.’
Gavin stepped on the gas. Luckily, there was no one else on this specific road at the moment. Gavin was lucky enough to only have back roads on the way to work. “You asked and it shouldn’t hurt me anymore. It’s stupid that it does.”
‘It is stupid that I cannot interact with technicians, even though they could fix me.’
“Heh,” Gavin shook his head, “That’s a phobia. A learned response to something terrible that happened to you. It’s a good thing. Far more rational than most phobias.”
‘Androids shouldn’t have phobias.’
“It’s weird, you’re right. Androids are supposed to just be machines but fuck, you can feel and have your own lives, not always, and some of you can’t phcking stand it, but it happens. You’re not the first tin man to have a phobia, even before deviation.”
Nines was watching him.
He raised his eyebrows and put his elbow against the window, leaning his temple on his knuckles, driving with one hand. “Connor was afraid of heights before he deviated.”
‘You know I am not designed to recognize jokes that don’t work on a formula.’
“It’s not a joke! I’m telling ya, little bastard couldn’t go up on a roof or anything. I don’t know what did that but shit, it would’ve been funny if it weren’t so phcking sad.”
‘Gavin?’ Nines used his name sign instead of spelling it this time. ‘Why am I BB9 in your phone?’
Gavin cackled, pulling into his parking lot. “Now that! That is a joke. BB9, well, there was a movie when I was kid in which there was a robot. It was a medical bot, but it was big and round and it was called BB8.”
‘I am not a medical bot,’ Nines reminded him, ‘or round.’
“It’s layered, okay? It wasn’t just that.” Gavin steered into his garage, just a tiny little thing, too small for some of the less compact trucks. “No, BB9 stood for Big Bad Nines, because well, you were intimidating and creepy.”
Nines got out of the car, though his attention was now on the ground. His hands were more timid, hard to see because he was holding them close to his chest. Luckily he was tall enough that his hands weren’t hidden behind the car.
‘I frighten you.’
“Past tense, oh my god, you dumbass, past tense!” Gavin walked around the back of the car, taking Nines by the elbow. As big as Nines was, he did spend quite a bit of time, especially now, holding himself as small as possible. It was like he knew he was too big. He didn’t want to be a big scary robot like he was designed to be, but he wasn’t allowed to want to be anything else. What a strange dichotomy. “You were intimidating at first, because I didn’t know you. Remember, I let you in? I don’t do that. Not for most people. So I couldn’t think you were creepy for long.”
Nine’s exhaustion was obvious. He allowed Gavin to lead him up the stairs and into the apartment and he only did a single scan over the room instead of investigating it thoroughly. He didn’t fight Gavin as he stripped him of his jacket and hung it on the hook by the door. He barely even toed off his shoes.
‘How long has it been since you last entered stasis?’ Gavin signed, watching the slow drowsy way that the LED spun.
Nines shook his head. ‘23 hours.’
“Shit,” Gavin breathed, remembering that Connor said 16 was recommended, ‘let’s get you to bed then.’
‘The couch is sufficient. I do not require your discomfort.’
Gavin hadn’t thought this through. He cursed himself. He should have used his two brain cells better. Of course Nines would argue against him sleeping on the couch, he couldn’t even mention that idea. There was no way that Gavin would make Nines sleep on it either though. He deserved better than that.
‘We can both take the bed, okay? It’s big enough for two.’ It was supposed to be a finalization of a concept, nothing important, but the moment it was out of his mouth Gavin felt hot, his cheeks flushing, and he turned away from Nines, not wanting Nines to see just how shocked he was at his own idea. This was a bad idea, it was stupid. Sharing a bed was something that kids did or lovers, and they weren’t either of those. He didn’t want Nines to get the wrong idea. This wasn’t supposed to be anything.
Nines’ hand was on his right shoulder, drawing his attention. ‘You need a good night’s sleep.’
‘So do you. Come on, let’s get it over with.’
Nines followed him obediently and sat on the edge of the bed, tinkering with his inner elbow until the panel opened up and he was able to pull out his charging cable.
“Woah woah woah!” Gavin took his attention just in time to toss the pair of sweatpants that Nines had been dressed in last time, lovingly washed and returned by Connor, to him. Nines caught them in his right hand and looked at them disapprovingly. ‘You’re not sleeping in your work clothes. Get changed, I won’t look.’ He tossed over an old band tee too.
He didn’t either. Even though he’d been in a room in which Nines was naked, he’d never taken a peak. He didn’t want to. That was a violation that he didn’t wish on anybody. As he stood on the other side of the room, changing into a pair of basketball shorts and another oversized shirt, part of him did want to look. He didn’t want Nines to look at him though, so he didn’t dare chance it. There was no hiding from the android anyway; he did something like that, Nines would know.
By the time Gavin came back from brushing and flossing in the bathroom, Nines was out. He looked serene, his pale skin even paler with the pale light coming through the blackout curtains that didn’t work as intended. His LED was a steady blue reflecting off of the walls. The charging cord coming out of his arm was a bit odd, reminding Gavin of an IV being pressed into the vein, but it was such a minor thing. It wasn’t the first time that Gavin thought that he looked human, but even with the evidence proving otherwise, he did, and in Gavin’s clothes, he looked so vastly different from the Nines at work. This was a soft Nines. This was a vulnerable Nines. This was a Nines that trusted him to keep him safe. It was a Nines that Gavin found disgustingly endearing and he didn’t want to lose this Nines to anything.
He climbed into the bed on the other side, trying not to disturb the android at his side. Having someone else in the bed, he told himself that it didn’t matter who, made falling asleep much easier. He’d been having nightmares, as of late, had all his life, but they’d come back with a darker tone, every night, since he’d spoken to Crom. As much as he pretended that that conversation didn’t effect him, he couldn’t deny that it brought old themes back to life in his dreams.
He didn’t touch Nines in his sleep. He kept to himself, rolled onto his side.
He was in a mobile home, rotting from the inside out, blue, yellow, and red veins growing from nests of mold, pulsing through the windows, entrapping it. They were all flashing, making him want to close his stinging eyes, made him want to look away. He could hear yelling, an argument, but it was far away and he was underwater and he couldn’t catch anything being said. The words were all muffled.
He walked, but his limbs were heavy, and it wasn’t the conversation was underwater, it was that he was. He couldn’t run but, for some reason, he couldn’t swim either. He just walked, slowly, through the home and to the door, grabbing it by the edges and hoisting himself out.
And into the same makeshift building again.
He went to the door and it was the same.
Again and again and again.
Because he could never leave. No matter how much he begged, no matter how many times he’d packed his things, he could never get out of this place. His mother was too weak, too dependent, to try to escape. He was only a child, not even a child who could speak, there was no escape.
The lights flickered and bulged. There was too much. Those veins couldn’t handle it. With a pop they all snapped and Gavin was left alone in the darkness. The darkness was good. The darkness was safe. He could hide in the darkness. His father couldn’t see in it.
There was a whimpering sound, someone crying, but it wasn’t the crying of a child trying to hide and it wasn’t of fear. It was the open kind of someone who was in a great deal of pain and was trying to grit their teeth through it, someone who wanted to be found and helped but couldn’t stand it at the same time, needing people.
He moved towards the sound but, even if he wanted to speak, he couldn’t. His eyes were adjusting, slowly, to the darkness, and he could see that there was a gurney in the middle of the room that wasn’t there before. There was a body on top of it, with a sheet covering it, as if they were in a morgue. It was cold enough to be one.
Gavin reached out. He could feel hot air, breath, against his skin, as it trailed over the cloth. He grabbed it and pulled, freeing whatever was hidden beneath.
Red light spilled out from Nines’ temple, filling the room once more with light. He was sobbing, openly, humanly, as he looked up at Gavin, but anything he said was nothing but static. Gavin tried to touch him but he couldn’t somehow Nines was able to pull away from him in fear, his eyes wide and LED flashing. His throat was open, his body, under the sheet, was in pieces, but it wasn’t the nice and clean separations that were designed into a human, they were bloody, red bloody, and raw, cut with a knife maybe, into real human flesh.
The world moved, the water being apparent finally, as it sloshed around them, and the bed dipped beneath Gavin before it sprang back up. He turned, finding the room bathed in red light, finding Nines sitting on the bed, his back curved, facing away from him.
Nines didn’t move when Gavin sat up, when he curled up and pulled the blanket so that it snapped out of where it tucked in by his feet to wrap it around himself. The room was red and pulsing, as if Nines was it’s heart and all of the blood of Gavin’s dream was painting the walls. Gavin put a hand on Nines’ shoulder, as if the android hadn’t noticed him stir, but there was still no reaction. Not for a good couple of seconds that felt like a full strew of minutes each.
Nines brought up his hands. ‘My apologies. I did not intend to wake you.’
Gavin slid forward, making sure that his hands could be seen. Nines’ LED didn’t give off that much light but the streetlight outside took care of the rest. ‘Phck off, I’m glad you did.’
Nines’ mouth was in a straight line, an emotion that Gavin couldn’t place due to it’s minor inflection apparent. ‘You require a full night’s sleep to work at full capacity.’
‘So do you or did you forget how much you stumbled into here?’
‘It’s different for me.’
Gavin sat more fully, his bare thigh against Nines’. His skin, if it could be called skin, was cold against his. ‘Pretty sure it’s not, dipshit.’ Nines didn’t move, didn’t react to the way that Gavin was sitting next to him. Gavin wanted to ask, had to ask. He didn’t know how to, it wasn’t in his vocabulary. Not because he didn’t know how to sign the words, that part was easy, it just wasn’t him to ask. It wasn’t him to care.
‘I should return to the station so that you can rest.’ Nines signed before standing up, hand trailing to his elbow to pull out the charging cord.
Gavin wanted to reach out. He wanted to grab Nines. He wanted to force him to stay there. The nightmare that Gavin had was fading away but the dream wasn’t what woke him and he knew that he was grateful that Nines’ movement had woken him up. Even without memory the feeling of dread and slow fading panic was still there.
“No,” he whispered and he hated how his voice sounded like a whimper. Nines stopped moving though, just went still. Slowly, so slowly, he turned back to Gavin. His eyes were wide, the pulse of his LED so fast, so terrifyingly panicked, but there was no sign of it in his ever calm features. ‘No, please, Nines. Stay with me?’
The room was plunged into darkness as he put his hand over his LED and it was obvious that he was hiding it purposefully. It was his tell, the only way that Gavin could guess his emotions. When he signed it was one handed and thus, all spelled out. ‘You should get a new partner. I am not in proper working condition and you seem to pity me, when that is not desired or required.’
This time Gavin did reach out, grabbing Nines by the hand, silencing him. He didn’t want to silence Nines. He wanted to keep Nines there. He didn’t know how else to do that. Nines was quick though and strong and he was able to get his hand out before Gavin had pulled him back to the bed. He wasn’t pulling away though. He was changing positions. He was grabbing Gavin’s forearm, holding him with their wrists pressed together. It was strange, seeing how Nines face minutely twisted as his skin peeled back and Gavin could feel the plastic of him against his own wrist.
It took too long for Gavin to figure out what he was doing. “I can’t,” he reminded, even though it was unnecessary. There was no reason for Nines not to understand this. “I can’t interface with you. I’m not an android.”
This time Nines did pull himself free of Gavin, and he wrapped his arms around himself. The pulsing of his LED was fast, dangerously fast, and he was cradling himself, his body rocking slightly. If Gavin didn’t know better he’d say that Nines was having some sort of panic attack but he did know better and he would still say that. He was dangerously close to his stress limit.
“Nines, please come back to bed. I need you here.” Gavin swallowed around the self hatred in admitting weakness, that he needed someone. He didn’t need anyone.
He just needed Nines and he knew that Nines needed him but there was no way that Nines would allow himself such comforts.
Nines turned towards him, moving his arm fluidly so that the charging cable didn’t snag on him in anyway as he knelt on the bed. Gavin wanted to talk to him as an equal, hand to hand, but he couldn’t, not when he had to do something with them. He had a feeling that he knew what he had to do.
“I want to try something, okay?”
Nines wasn’t looking at him. He wasn’t signing either. He did nod though.
“You want to lie down for me?”
Nines cocked his head, still not looking at him. He did as he was told though, lying on his side so that the cable didn’t get pinned. He was facing Gavin, so he could still sign if he needed to. Gavin lay down in front of him, facing him. And he was shaking. He hated himself for that. This was stupid. He was stupid. He shouldn’t have been shaking for just wanted to try this. For trying to help his friend. Because Nines was his friend. He just, he didn’t do this. He didn’t let people in and he definitely didn’t take care of people.
He reached out and this time, when he touched Nines, the android did jump as if he was surprised. With all of his fancy processors and scans and pre-constructions he hadn’t anticipated Gavin putting his hands to his cheeks, to cradle his face. But the pulsing slowed slightly and he seemed to be leaning into Gavin’s touch.
“What do they do?” Gavin asked, “When you interface, what is it that helps?”
Nines closed his eyes. ‘They flood my memory banks with their own memories to distract me from my own. It is stressful to them, as it does not matter if the memory is good or not. It is a distraction, that is all.’
“You can’t stop thinking about what happened, can you?”
The LED went faster at that and Gavin pulled himself closer. He was still not touching Nines with anything aside from his hands but the closer proximity was helping. The random thought that Nines had a really pretty mouth came intrusively into Gavin’s thoughts and he had to shake the thought away, as it wasn’t helpful in any way.
‘I cannot fully charge as the memories are too strong. I can do nothing but remember in full clarity what happened in that tech shop, the entire time that I am in stasis. Usually, I would be able to replace it with more recent memories, with cases that we need to solve, or positive memories at the very least. I do not understand why I cannot remember anything else.’
Gavin wanted to pull Nines close, to wrap his arms around him, to smother him against his own chest. He could feel a tightness in his throat. He wasn’t going to hug Nines. That wasn’t something that he would do. It would just be awkward for both of them and it was far too intimate. This was already so intimate and part of Gavin was tingling and needy for it, for more than this, but it was an idiotic part of him that didn’t understand what the consequences of that would be.
“I’ve been there,” he admitted. He didn’t want to, but he did. He didn’t want to make this about himself. He wanted Nines to know that he understood though. Nines eyes opened and he was staring at Gavin and something told Gavin that Nines was begging him to continue. “When things got really bad at home, with Albert, I went over everything that I had done, everything I hadn’t done, what must have upset him, what I did to deserve his anger. I...” he swallowed. He didn’t want to say it. He’d said it before, to therapists and to people that he thought were friends though they were just passing through. All it ever got him was pity. “Albert was my dad, or my sperm donor, I don’t know. I don’t think of him as my dad. He hit me a lot. He phcked my mom up real bad too, got her on whatever drugs he was testing out at the time. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had nightmares about it for years. And they weren’t as clear as your memories are, I’m sure, human brains look at trauma and mess it up, make it into something else, symbols and sensations instead of remembering everything.”
‘You were having a nightmare,’ Nines realized.
“Yeah. They came back. They were gone for a long time but they’re back now.”
‘I woke you up from it.’
“Yeah. I told you that. You saved me from whatever the dream was leading to.”
‘My apologies. You didn’t deserve what happened to you.’
Gavin rolled his eyes. “No shit. I learned that like, age fifteen. And you know something? You didn’t deserve what happened to you either. And you’re not something less because of it. You don’t need to keep beating yourself up for it.”
Nines looked away from him, his LED swirling yellow and red. ‘I don’t know how.’
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. It’s just going to take time.”
‘Thank you, Gavin.’
Gavin went silent for a moment. He wanted to ask Nines about his dream, but all he remembered was that Nines was human in it and that he was in his house but it wasn’t the house he grew up in. As the silence lingered his exhaustion made itself known. He was usually too nervous about having another dream to go back to sleep after. Nines was the same way. They were killing themselves over it.
“We need to go back to sleep, or stasis, or whatever. I want to try something else, but you have to promise me you won’t say anything to anyone.”
Nines raised an eyebrow.
“You tell anyone about this and I’m going to make you eat your thirium pump, got it?”
‘Yes, I have got it.’
Gavin turned around so that he wasn’t facing Nines. He couldn’t see what color the LED was aside from the reflection on the walls. He resituated the blankets so they were both covered again and then he did the embarrassing and horribly vulnerable act of pushing back, so that his back was against Nines’ chest.
“Will you feel it when you’re in stasis?” Gavin asked, feeling clammy inside, feeling almost sick, his hands shaking. He couldn’t remember the last time he cuddled with someone, especially not someone he’d fucked just before. And now he was volunteering to be the little spoon to a robot that was designed to kill other robots, regardless of if there were fragile humans like himself in the way.
Nines pushed one arm out so that it went under Gavin’s neck, the other wrapping around his shoulders. The nausea of the closeness grew, as did the prickling in Gavin’s eyes.
Gavin nodded, trying to hide the strange feeling, especially the one that urged him to push back further, to get himself absorbed into Nines’ touch. “Okay. Uh, focus on that instead of the memories, okay? Just. Remember I’m here.”
Nines brought up one hand to Gavin’s chin, holding it flat against his stubble before turning it down by the wrist.
sorry it's late! I do have a very small backlog left but I think I'm going to have to slow the updates to once every 5 days instead of 4 because I'm also writing and drawing for inktober!
Nines stood in the kitchen, dressed and perfect, his arms crossed behind his back. Other than a few cracks of yellow pushing through, his LED was blue. It hadn’t been blue in a long time. It was blue because of Gavin. Gavin couldn’t stop feeling proud of himself for that.
Still, he felt like a slob making coffee and eggs in his pajamas while Nines looked like he’d just walked out of the factory, all shiny and new.
‘What did you want to talk to me about?’ Nines asked when Gavin gave him a bit of attention.
He stirred his eggs before answering. ‘I think we got most of it covered last night, actually.’
‘Do you wish to discuss the case?’
‘Sure,’ another stir while he thought. ‘One of the reasons I’ve been having bad dreams again, phck, the whole reason, is that Crom dick. Turns out he knows Albert and brought up a lot of dirt on him.’
Nines walked over just before the coffee pot beeped, turning it off to stifle the sound and pull it from the machine. He pulled Gavin’s favorite mug out of the cupboard, even though he had no way of knowing which one that was, and poured the coffee.
‘You don’t need to do that.’
‘Let me,’ Nines answered, adding the sugar and milk. ‘As a way to express my gratitude for last night.’
‘No more memories?’
“No. Any more dreams?’
Gavin shook his head and pulled down a plate for his eggs. ‘Nines. I need you to promise me something.’
Nines turned to take the coffee to the table but Gavin caught him by the wrist, stopping him. He liked eating breakfast standing. He couldn’t explain why.
‘What do you require?’
Gavin signed and run his hand through his hair, scratching his scalp with blunt nails. ‘Look, Crom said that Albert is still there, still part of the drug rig or whatever. If he’s in there you need to take my gun away from me.’
Nines cocked his head. ‘It is against the law for a non deviated android to be in the possession of a firearm.’
‘Yeah well it’s more illegal for me to shoot the bastard in the phcking head and that’s what I’m going to do if I have a gun at the time.’
Nines stepped closer, setting the perfect cup of coffee on the counter. For a moment Gavin thought that he was going to lean down and kiss him, he was that close. Nines didn’t, of course he didn’t, and Gavin hated himself for being disappointed by that. Nines was a machine, not a deviant. If he were to kiss Gavin, there was no way that it would be of his own accord. It would have been by his programming. He didn’t want Nines to kiss him anyway. He bit his lip instead.
‘What if I agree with your urge to shoot him?’
Gavin felt a tingle in his spine, a different kind than the anxiety of them cuddling in the middle of the night.
‘I’d say you’re a phcking deviant. And that he deserves far worse than getting shot.’
‘I will add it to my objectives.’
They didn’t spend much time at the station and the way that Gavin was shaking, it was hard to tell if it was anxiety or excitement. He was often antsy when going on a case, especially one of this caliber, but never this much. He knew that he didn’t want to run into Albert, that he would be disappointed but alright if Crom had lied and there was no one at the abandoned apartment complex. Part of him really wanted Albert to be there though, to show off just how well he was doing without that bastard.
Nines must have picked up on it because he reached out and put his hand on Gavin’s forearm, their wrists touching. He didn’t pull back his skin this time, it wasn’t a sign that he wanted to interface, but Gavin understood it. It was a symbol that Nines had grown accustomed to, something that calmed him down when he was stressed. Gavin just flashed his teeth and ordered them to get a move on.
He blasted the music in the car until they were only three blocks away. Nines had tried to start a conversation a few times but it hadn’t gone anywhere. He could see just how itchy Gavin’s fingers were. He parked the car in an old lot, with a bunch of junker cars and he hated the fact that his, even with the upgraded systems, fit in there. They got out. He locked the car. And he patted himself down, making sure that he had his gun and his bullet proof vest and everything. Part of him wanted to go in undercover, get invited in by a dealer, but he was no good at undercover work. Nines was even worse at it.
Nines didn’t check himself out. He was in his Cyberlife uniform, there was no way that anyone would assume him being anything other than being an android. Nines couldn’t go undercover if he tried. His LED was flickering between yellow and red.
‘We’re going to be fine,’ Gavin promised, ‘we’re just doing some detective work. It’s our usual job.’
It had been a long time since they’d worked together. He wondered how much had changed.
‘Last time we did some detecting together we were both shot.’ Nines reminded him.
‘I’m wearing a vest this time. You should be happy.’
Nines mouth was a straight line, his eyes cold and emotionless. He didn’t look happy at all. Still, he nodded and turned, leading the way to the apartment complex. Gavin had to do a half jog to catch up but once he did he could walk with Nines in stride.
The Western Brooks Apartments were a large gray building. All of the windows on the lower floors had been boarded up, as had the door, but those had been pulled up enough that the door could swing open freely. There was graffiti all over it, nothing clever, nothing artistic, just insults, slurs, gang signs, and a small coin symbol near the ground, on the left side of the door. Gavin pointed the coin out to Nines. It was a common symbol for cheap drug dealers to point out their locations to the right buyers. A dollar sign would be for sex work. Gavin didn’t know what the symbol was for hitmen, though he was sure that existed.
Nines was looking up the building more than he was paying attention to Gavin’s search on the ground floor. Made sense, there wasn’t much down there. But Nines’ eyes were jumping from window to window, LED spinning as it did when he was processing. He was scanning, he had to be. Gavin shoved his hands into his pockets. Sure, it saved them a lot of time, but it made Gavin feel like a complete waste of time.
Nines stopped, reaching out for Gavin, more of to wave him over than to grab at him.
‘Floor 4, row 6, there’s someone watching.’
Gavin peered up there, counting the windows until he found the right one, but he didn’t see anything. ‘Let’s go.’
‘That’s the only person I’ve found in the building.’
‘They might have some answers then!’ Gavin took a step towards the door but Nines still wasn’t moving.
‘Gavin. This is an abandoned apartment complex in the lower district of Detroit,” Nines argued.
‘Either it is a factory for drug making and dealing or its overrun with the homeless citizens of this city. The fact that there is only one person within is not a good sign.’
A chill ran through Gavin’s spine. Of course, Nines was right. That was very strange. There were a lot of homeless people in Detroit, less now that the revolution was over since a lot of androids had decided to help with the problem instead of continue it’s promotion. But this place should have been stuffed full of people.
‘Maybe the other detectives scared them away? Fowler said there’d been a few visits already.’
A slight furrowing of a perfect brow. ‘Perhaps.’
‘C’mon, let’s check around back. If they left, they may have forgotten something. An operation as big as this, they must have left something.’
He led the way, going along the right side of the building, eyes sweeping the alley between the apartment and the rickety old (but still in business somehow) sandwich shop next door. He knew that Nines was right behind him, could see his shadow over his own shoulder, and the fact that he was there was enough to keep his eyes and mind wandering. He was on a case, he was focusing. He kept thinking about last night, when Nines’ arms were wrapped around him. He hadn’t had anymore dreams that night. Nines had been so warm, so solid against him. He wanted to be cocooned like that forever. It was distracting.
There was a clatter behind him and a yelp and Gavin spun to find Nines with his back to him, a large man in an apron thrown against the wall before him. The man’s arm was twisted at a bad angle but he was kicking out at Nines all the same, trying to get away.
“This is the DPD,” Gavin growled. “You are under arrest for assaulting a police officer, you will stop fighting and my partner will subdue you while I read you your rights. Do you understand?”
The man spat at him as an answer. He wasn’t going to come along willingly but he had to have information that they could use. There was no other reason that he would be attacking them. He struggled against Nines, sweating like a pig. Gavin almost missed how his free hand was moving back, grabbing something from behind him.
Gavin reached for his gun. He wasn’t going to get the jump on them. Nines reached out, tried to catch his other wrist but the man kept twisting and pushing up his knee at Nines’ gut, keeping him away awkwardly.
There was more noise. More people coming. They were heading over from that sandwich shop. He cursed under his breath. So much for getting a sandwich after this.
There was a crackle, a staticky screech, as the thing that the man was holding came in contact with Nines. Nines and the man both went stiff and Gavin’s attention was brought back to them, to the large black tazer shoved up against Nines elbow, right were his charging port was, the electricity running through them both.
Gavin drew his gun, took a step forward, but there was nothing that he could do. He couldn’t hope to touch either of them until the tazer was released.
It was another distraction.
He was paying attention to Nines, not to what was happening around him.
He felt the large crack against his skull more than he saw the bat coming down on him.
He awoke in a dark room, his head pounding, the smell of blood in his nose. He tried to breath hard, to push the bloody smell out of his nose, and it came out in chunks. Everything hurt, but nothing so bad as his head. He tried to reach up, to assess the damage, but he could hardly move. There was a tightness around his wrists and cursed under his breath, hearing it echo inside of his head. He couldn’t even tell if he was bleeding more.
He looked around, waiting for his eyes to adjust. They didn’t. There was a weight, a slight pressure, against his eyes. He cursed again, a little bit louder, as he realized he was blindfolded.
“Hello?” he called out, hearing his voice waver. “Shit for brains? Anybody?”
There was no answer.
He tried again.
He didn’t really know how Nines was supposed to respond to him but panic started to tighten his chest. He didn’t want to be alone. He couldn’t be alone. If Nines was there there was a chance.
“Nines? He called out again.
He curled in on himself and closed his eyes behind the blindfold, trying to will the pain out of his joints and, most importantly, out of his head.