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in which gavin looks at his life, looks at his choices and regrets everything

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THE MISPLACED PIANO
9.47AM

“It’s been seven days since our last nonsense,” Tina declared, raising his glass, “a new record!”

Gavin whooped and clinked his glass against hers, throwing Connor a wink when the android joined in with his own small glass of thirium; Chris rose his own glass warily, arching a brow at Tina.

“What was our last nonsense?” he asked, squinting at her slightly, “‘cause seven days is pretty good for us.”

“Oh shit,” Tina exclaimed, snapping her fingers, “you weren’t there.” She snorted and roughly nudged Gavin’s shoulder with her own. “This sad boy rang me to cry about losing Marco, which was justified, I get it, but then… ho-oly shit. It descended into him crying because Nines told him that he liked him – but just as a friend, so don't get too excited – and he just ran away without saying it back and ‘see T, this is why I’m supposed to die with cats and not pretty-face android boys who make my heart go—'”

“I swear, if you say doki doki,” Gavin snarled, interrupting her with a sour expression.

“Whatever, you get the point,” Tina snorted, waving her martini in Chris’ face, “he’s drowning in denial and still mad ‘cause I’m the only one putting in the work for his relationship!”

Gavin eyed her sourly over the rim of his cocktail glass – it was his seventh drink so far and probably his last too, as he could see the concerned glances Chris kept shooting him from the corner of his eye. Understandable, considering he had an early start the next day; Nines had informed him that he was going to pick him up and drive them up to the Whispering Waters retreat, which was all good and fine, until the android told him to be ready for 4.30a-fucking-m.

A whole fucking hour before his usual alarm goes off, but goddammit, that last hour was fucking integral to his beauty sleep.

“T,” Gavin said, wiping his wet lips with the back of his hand, “T… Tina… do me a favour, yeah? Do me a favour? Okay?” Tina nodded with a suspicious gleam in her eyes – Gavin grinned, sharp and unkind. “Cool: shut up.”

Tina shoved him hard, scowling.

“Look, at the rate you’re going, you’ve got a better chance of climbing into bed with Fowler—” Chris spluttered on his drink and even Connor wrinkled his nose at the mental image, “—than gettin’ down and dirty with Nines – let me help you, you actual goddamn sloth of a human.”

Gavin kicked her under the table.

Tina yelped and kicked him back.

“Children,” Chris sighed, tapping his glass impatiently, “we’ve talked about this. Tina, leave Gavin alone and let him sort his own mess out at his own pace.” Gavin stuck his tongue out at Tina. “Gavin, please know that, despite her questionable methods, Tina’s being a menace because she cares. And because we’ll all probably die and fossilise before you and Nines get anywhere.” Tina snorted and pulled a face at Gavin.

“Except Connor,” she pointed out, gesturing to the android with a sad pout, “he won’t fossilise, he’ll just be stuck, watching you two dance around your dumb relationship for the rest of eternity, and do you really want to put him through that—"

“I would not like to experience that,” Connor interjected lightly.

“—do you Gavin?” Tina demanded, her tone getting more heated than was warranted.

Gavin eyed her steadily.

“Yes,” he answered easily, snorting when she batted at him with both hands, “come on, T. We ain’t dancing around shit – he’s got no concept of fucking free will and he doesn’t want to fucking feel anyway… how the fuck can I even date someone like that?”

“Nines does have free will,” Connor insisted, furrowing his brows, “or at least, he has a thorough understanding of it. He also does experience rudimentary emotions, he just—”

“Connor, Connor, Connor,” Gavin chanted warily, shaking his head, “that’s all well and good, but you forgot one incredibly important detail.”

“Which… is?”

“If Nines has free will and feelings, then why the fuck would he like me?”

Tina threw her head back and groaned loudly, ignoring the curious glances she received from the patrons around here.

“Nope,” Chris declared swiftly, slamming his glass on the table with an air of finality, “we are not doing this shit, not again. Subject change, I demand a subject change.”

Connor cocked his head and took the opening presented to him.

“Who’s looking after your cats in your absence?” he asked, tracing the rim of his glass with a finger. The bar had somehow found a way to make carbonated thirium – the fizzing sensation delighted Connor, which in turn delighted Tina who then bought him five glasses just to see his LED wildly flash when he drank the stuff. “Because I noticed you had not asked me.”

His delicate tone did nothing to hide how betrayed he felt.

Gavin rolled his eyes and knew that if he could roll them any harder, they would most likely fall outta his head.

“Tina asked me first,” he explained plainly, “should’ve been quicker robo-boy.”

Connor frowned.

“It’s okay Bambi,” Tina cooed, batting her lashes at him, “you can come visit with me and Shannon.” Connor’s eyes lit up, his blue LED spinning steadily by his temple. “And I know where all his baby photos are kept! And his narwhale plushie! Oh, oh, oh! I’ll even show you the secret box under his be—”

“Do not make me ask Mrs McKinley, you know I will,” Gavin hissed, interrupting her quickly.

Tina pouted and poked at him. “But she’s so mean and grumpy. She doesn’t even know your cats’ names and I guarantee she won’t even talk to them!”

“Then behave,” Gavin sassed her, “otherwise you won’t get to babysit my cats and they will die from isolation and neglect, and it will be all your fault.”

“Your threat would work better if had some weight behind it,” Chris snorted, sipping at his sparkling cider, “you love those cats more than yourself.”

“Yeah, like that’s hard,” Gavin said, wincing when Tina kicked him again.

“Can we count that as a shitty comment?” she asked delicately.

“Oh yeah, that’s the shittiest of comments,” Chris agreed gravely, “probably amounts to three shitty comments in one go.”

Connor shook his head gravely. “Sorry Gavin, but this is a self-deprecation free zone,” he stated, a small smile flickering across his face when Tina nodded eagerly, “though you were difficult and rather unlikable at first, you have become an increasingly endearing presence in my life, and I am glad to have you around.”

Gavin stared at Connor in disbelief.

“Okay,” he said slowly, “sounds like a lie, but okay.”

“Gavin behave!” Tina demanded, slamming her glass down, “I call for a subject change!”

“Agreed,” Chris piped up tiredly, gazing at Gavin with clear concern in his eyes. Gavin merely rolled his eyes and shrugged, making a mental note to text Kate with clear instructions to wrap Chris up in several blankets and then kiss him at least seven times.

At least.

“Okay, what about this… how nervous are you about your next case?” Tina asked, playing with the umbrella in her drink. Gavin watched her and hummed softly as he mulled over her question.

“Like, this much,” he said, and held his fingers two inches apart. He then narrowed his eyes and shook his head, before holding his hands roughly one foot apart, “nope, this much.”

“Interesting,” Chris noted dryly, “does Nines know how nervous you are about this case?”

“Absolutely fucking not,” Gavin scoffed, “why the hell would I tell him that? It would fuck up the whole… dynamic thing we got goin’ on and make shit just fuckin’ weird. I ain’t gonna tell him I’m goddamn ‘nervous’ before I gotta spend the next, shit, fuck knows how many days, in the same room as him!” He took a long mouthful of his drink – the silence that ensued was tense and he could almost feel the scrutiny he was under. Gavin slammed his glass down and caught sight of Connor’s concerned gaze – he sighed and threw up his hands.

“Listen Care Bear, I—”

“Oh my god,” Tina suddenly gasped, her eyes wide with joy, “oh my god. Did you just hear what you just said?”

Gavin wrinkled his nose and reflected on his rant – he inwardly cursed himself immediately when he realised what Tina was talking about.

“Don’t,” he warned, his tone bordering on pained.

“Oh,” Tina repeated, “my god.”

She turned to Chris and started batting at his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare,” Gavin hissed insistently.

“Chris, Chris, Chris,” Tina chanted, her eyes sparkling as Chris captured her hands. Gavin moaned and slid a hand across his face; he swung his leg at her under the table and winced when her responding kick caught him on the ankle.

“Tina, what the heck?” Chris asked, holding tight onto her erratic limbs.

“And they were roommates,” she whispered gleefully.

Chris’ eyes widened.

“Oh my god,” he replied in a similar hushed tone, “they were roommates.”

Gavin groaned loudly and his head thudded soundly against the table.

“I’m divorcing you both,” he muttered sulkily, “literally. I hate you; I am never speaking either of you again.”

Tina and Chris chortled together – Gavin twisted his head on the table until he could peer at Connor with narrow eyes. The android had tilted his head and his LED was spinning yellow; Gavin inwardly cursed because he knew that Connor was looking up the reference.

“You’re corrupting him,” Gavin moaned loudly, reaching over to flick Connor’s LED, “get off the web! Vine died a long-ass time ago, leave it the fuck alone!”

Connor shrugged helplessly, a slight crease forming between his brows. “I can’t stop. They just keep… playing, one after the other. How… how are humans so good and yet simultaneously so bad at telling a story in six seconds?”

“It’s a gift,” Tina commented solemnly, nodding her head.

“Hank lied to me – he said he invented the word ‘yeet’!” Connor said, frowning, before his eyes widened, “the waffle-thing too? Is everything he says to me a lie?”

Tina snorted. “Those aren’t even the best ones!” she declared, before rolling up a napkin and then brandishing it at Chris, “look Chris, it’s the good kush!”

Chris shook his head but couldn’t repress the soft chuckle that escaped him. “This is the dollar store,” he obediently recited, “how good can it be?”

They snickered between themselves and Gavin could only shake his head, truly disappointed. He turned to Connor and scowled at the sight of the glowing yellow LED. He reached over and roughly prodded Connor between the eyebrows, unfazed by the glare he gained in return.

“Are you still watching Vines?” he asked, a touch dismayed.

“I am actually enjoying these videos,” Connor admitted with a small smile, “some of them are quite amusing. Now I know why Tina keeps singing ‘two bros chillin’ in a hot tub, five feet apart, ‘cause they’re not gay’ whenever she comes across you and Nines staring at each other in the precinct.”

Gavin blinked at Connor’s creepy imitation of Tina’s voice. “Holy shit, what the fuck,” he muttered softly, palming his face. He slid his hand down his face and stared contemplatively at the android – he sighed and scooted closer. “Fuck it, if you’re gonna do this, you gotta do it properly and use your newfound knowledge for evil and evil only.”

“You want me to irritate Hank.”

“I want you to irritate the fuck outta Hank,” Gavin agreed easily, “so, here’s some homework for you. You’re gonna look up Patrick William Charlton, okay? The Sassy Nazi video especially – yeah, the name is pretty dire, but you gotta watch it and then use it against every fucking perp you can. Make sure Hank can hear you when you say that shit. Record his expression and send it to me, that bit is important, Connor, do you understand, that shit is especially fucking important, do not forget it! Also, Left in London, she’s fucking hilarious – literally, every video, watch ‘em, memorise ‘em, use that shit against Hank! Send me his fucking face! Tell him: Gavin says, ‘fuck you’!”

Quietly and slowly, Chris tugged Gavin’s cocktail glass away from the irate detective.

“Duly noted,” Connor said, his LED settling back to blue as a small smirk played on his lips, “for someone who appears to be dislike this genre of video, you are quite knowledgeable of the content.”

“I’m a Gen-Z baby, I grew up on this shit,” Gavin explained, blindly reaching for his drink.

“Down boy!” Tina called out, slapping his hand away, “you’ve gotta early morning tomorrow, so we’re cutting you off!”

“Ti-ina,” Gavin drawled, batting back at her, “don’t be mean to me, I’ve got issues.”

“Yeah, I know,” she sighed, clasping his hand into hers and threading their fingers together. Gavin eyed his drink longingly and knew that he’d have to leave soon – he had been busy packing when Tina rang and beckoned him with promises of alcohol and friendship. He still needed to figure out what he was going to wear each day… fuck. What do assholes wear to retreats?

Fucking pressed shirts?

Cargo pants?

Sandals?

Gavin grimaced and turned to Chris.

“What do straight men wear on vacation?” he asked, squinting at his friend with a small degree of panic coursing through his system.

Chris blinked blankly. “Gavin, you’re not even—okay, whatever” he sighed, stopping himself before he wasted precious air, “just wear something smart and nice. No hoodies though.”

“Ooh, ix-nay on your cartoon pyjamas too,” Tina added helpfully.

“Why would you care what straight men wear?” Connor asked, with a small crease between his brows, “you’re pretending to be in a relationship with Nines… surely you would—”

“Oh my god, you are completely missing the point,” Gavin sighed, running a hand through his hair and rumpling it up messily. Tina clucked her tongue and began patting it back into shape, “it’s Whispering Waters, Connor. It’s like… hetero-fucking-central. What if it’s all tacky-ass Hawaiian shirts and khaki capri pants?” Gavin shuddered – he couldn’t bear the thought of wearing anything that could’ve easily been swiped from Hank’s closet, especially around Nines.

“I honestly think that what you’re wearing is gonna be the least of your problems,” Tina said, squeezing Gavin’s hand gently, “seriously, you gonna be alright? ‘Cause you won’t be able to talk to us unless it’s an emergency and I don’t want you to go off the grid, losing your shit, ‘cause you’re stuck with your crush and thinking: ‘oh shit, he doesn’t like me, I’m gonna die alone, cats, cats, cats!’”

Gavin glared at her and leaned over to bite her sharply on the shoulder.

Tina yelped and batted at his face until he retreated back into his corner.

Chris watched and exchanged a withering look with Connor.

“Can I have a shot of that,” Chris asked, gesturing to the glass of thirium.

Connor shook his head. “I wouldn’t recommend it – also, I would miss you quite terribly if you died,” he said, his LED spinning yellow for a few seconds. Chris blinked, blindsided by the sheer honesty before a slow smile grew on his lips.

“Aw,” he cooed happily, “I love you too.”

There was a small beat of silence.

“Their bromance disgusts me,” Tina hissed loudly, thoroughly ruining their small moment.

“You’re just jealous ‘cause Chris is Connor’s favourite,” Gavin retorted, making zero effort to be quiet.

“Actually, Hank is my favourite,” Connor corrected with a small shrug. He turned to Chris and smiled apologetically, “you are a close second, however.”

“I will take that,” Chris grinned, nudging at Connor’s shoulder gently.

“How are you not jealous about this shit?” Tina asked, her tone playfully appalled and offended as she gestured at Chris and Connor.

Gavin snorted. “Because I am your favourite, obviously,” he pointed out, “and Chris is my work dad and Connor is Coffee Bean’s dad. Why the fuck would I get jealous when I am clearly the most important person in this friendship group?”

Tina stared at him in disbelief, before throwing her head back to cackle.

“You are so, so, so wrong,” she chortled, wiping the tears away from her eyes, “listen, listen. Chris is the sun in our solar system, we are just hapless planets who would float away without him around to ground us.” She waved her hand in the air, as if to demonstrate how hapless they would be if they really were planets. Chris had to duck away quickly before she smacked him in the face.

“How poetic,” Connor remarked softly, his eyes wide and a touch awed, “Tina, that was lovely, if factually incorrect.”

“Where the fuck did that come from?” Gavin asked, squinting at her bemusedly.

“Thank you, Bambi; go away Gavin,” she said without missing a beat, before focusing her attention on Connor, “Shannon’s super into space right now, like totally obsessed! We went to a planetarium the other weekend and the guy was talking about the relationship between the planets and the sun and it just hit me! Chris is our sun; makes sense, right?”

“I don’t think that’s how the sun works,” Chris began hesitantly, his words at odds with the glowing blush on his face from Tina’s compliment, “but I appreciate the sentiment anyway, so… thanks.”

“You are most welcome,” Tina replied with a wink.

Gavin snorted, despite the warm feeling blossoming in his stomach – it sucked that he wouldn’t get to hang out with them in the upcoming… fuck, however many days it would take to solve the case. He would miss his friends and he’d miss the support they provided whenever he was dealing with his shit. Jesus, how was he supposed to deal with Nines without these three around?

His gaze drifted to his half-empty glass once again and sighed heavily.

“He-ey,” Tina purred, leaning against him heavily, “you okay sweetie?”

Gavin sighed again and leaned against her, tipping his head onto her shoulder. She hummed and cuddled up to him immediately. He was closed his eyes, distantly aware of the flash of a camera and knew that he’d have to wrestle Chris’ phone from him later. As Connor and Chris began muttering amongst themselves, Gavin nuzzled in deeper against Tina and pursed his lips.

Fuck. An undercover mission where he had to pretend to be Nines’ boyfriend – fuck, how was he supposed to hide his feelings, whilst also using his feelings to help them with the case? Would Nines be able to tell the difference between him acting all loved-up and pretending that he isn’t all loved-up… not that he is loved-up, ‘cause who the fuck said anything about love, he just had a healthy appreciation for the android’s pretty fucking face and dry sense of humour and yeah, okay, the fact that Nines could literally crush his neck in one hand is kinda mind-blowing, but— well, shit. Now he’s arguing with himself.

Jesus Christ, what the fuck is wrong with him?

“T,” he whined, pawing at her shoulder weakly, “I hate boys.”

“I know,” Tina murmured back softly, “boys suck.”

God. What the fuck was he gonna do?


  WHISPERING WATERS RETREAT
  10.52AM

Gavin had no idea what he was gonna fucking do, but he knew that Fowler had to be laughing at him from all the way back at the precinct. That fucker Hank was probably joining in – there probably was a camera somewhere in this hotel room and they were recording his fucking face, eating popcorn and throwing kernels at the screen.

Assholes.

Assholes with their shitty-ass undercover schemes, god, Gavin hoped they choked on their popcorn.

“Detective, is there a problem?” Nines queried, and bless his little thirium pump, the android almost sounded concerned.

Gavin sighed and threw his hand out in front of him.

“There’s one fucking bed,” he said, his words coming out in a long whine.

“Astute observation.”

“Oh, fuck me,” Gavin sighed, rubbing the scar on his nose, “one fucking bed.”

“Yes,” Nines agreed, cocking his head and flicking his gaze between his partner and the bed, “that seems to be the case.”

“Tina is gonna have a field day with this shit,” Gavin continued, hands on hips as he regarded the double bed with a sour expression.

“I don’t understand,” Nines uttered slowly. Gavin could see his LED glowing yellow from the corner of his eye – the android was probably trying to research why this was an issue and sucks to be him, ‘cause all he’ll get in return is pages upon pages of shitty, cliché fanfiction.

“One fucking bed,” Gavin repeated, shaking his head, “why didn’t I see this coming?”

“Detective.”

“One fucking bed.”

“Detective, I don’t understand why this is an issue.”

“The issue is two grown-ass men sharing one fucking bed.”

There was a beat of silence as Nines slowly digested Gavin’s words.

“I’m an android, detective,” Nines said slowly, “I do not need a bed.”

Another beat of silence.

“… what?” Gavin asked weakly.

“I do not sleep,” Nines explained steadily, “when I require recharging, I can stand in a designated port. Similar to that one,” he pointed to the furthest corner in the room, where a silver port stood “there.”

“Oh,” Gavin said lamely, his face burning, “right.”

Shit, he definitely should have known that – he’s only researched androids a million times by now, but the sight of the one fucking bed just sent his mind into a goddamn tailspin.

“Did you think we would be sharing beds?” Nines asked, his words lilting slightly.

“Absolutely fucking not!” Gavin rushed out, dropping his bag to the floor and quickly turning away from the fucking bed.

“Then what is the issu—”

“Come on,” Gavin interrupted briskly, wanting the conversation to end and the moment to die. He refused to be the guy who has to explain this shit to a grown-ass android, “time’s a-wasting, let’s do a quick recce of the place and see what people know.”

Without waiting for his partner to finish his sentence or even persist with the conversation, Gavin strode out of the hotel room. Their room was on the fourth floor and two doors down from the elevator – he was distantly aware of Nines following after him, but he kept his gaze on the silver doors ahead of him. It was odd, but Nines barely made any noise when moving, but Gavin could just feel his presence; as they came to a stop in front of the elevator, his nape prickled with the knowledge that he was being stared at. He roughly jabbed at the button and folded his arms, refusing to pay any attention to the android next to him.

You’re acting like a child, said a tiny voice in his head.

The tiny voice that sounded like an irritated Chris.

Fuck off, he bitterly responded, before he became aware that he was arguing with himself.

“Fuck me,” Gavin sighed under his breath, his cheeks growing warm when, from the corner of his eye, Nines peered at him curiously. The elevator arrived with a tinny ding and Gavin barely restrained himself from throwing himself bodily into it.

Nines gracefully followed suit and thankfully stayed silent.

His LED flickered, however, and that’s all Gavin needed to know that his partner was concerned – or, he was as concerned as he could be, considering his emotionless state of self. He watched as Nines pressed the button for the ground floor and found himself wanting to crawl out of his skin – the silence was touching upon awkward and Gavin hated so many things, so many fucking things, but awkward silences were in the top three.

He sighed roughly and forced himself to peer over at Nines.

“So, what do you think this asshole’s deal is?” Gavin asked, shoving his hands into his pockets, “racist fuck? Religious nutcase? Some weird asshole wanting to make a statement?” He shrugged. “All the above?”

Nines hummed contemplatively – he seemed to accept the change in pace quite easily, though Gavin privately hoped that the android wouldn’t bring up the bed-thing for the rest of the case. “They does possess a degree of artistic talent,” he noted, “a steady hand… probably used to cutting up bodies or meat, so perhaps has first-aid experience? A chef perhaps? Or maybe someone who used to work at Cyberlife?”

Gavin shuddered. “That’s the grossest thing you’ve ever said,” he commented, though inwardly he did agree with Nines. Whoever was mutilating the couples had to have a steady hand, with an eye for presentation. It was odd though… the killer enjoyed turning the bodies into elaborate art and they were always hidden close by the retreat. It was like he wanted to get caught; or perhaps that was the point. Either way, whoever was doing it was a twisted fuck.

The androids were always dismembered, with their synthetic skin removed and their limbs typically hanging off their bodies – it was almost reminiscent of Zlatko Andronikov’s work. God, the sick bastard had clearly inspired some other deprived fucks; except this time, the asshole was toying with humans too. They usually ended up getting flayed and dismembered until they were nigh unrecognisable – without dental records, they’d be fucked.

Then, as if that shit wasn’t enough, the asshole would position them in weird-ass ways and in some freaky fucking places. One couple had been hung by a makeshift altar in the woods, with all of their organs removed; somehow their heart and thirium pump had been torn from their chests and then carefully placed in their skulls. Another couple had been found chained to the bottom of a nearby lake, their bodies carefully wrapped in purple tarp.

Whoever was doing this clearly had a lot of time on their hands and a really macabre imagination.

After receiving the casefile, Gavin had showered for two whole hours under a burning-hot stream of water and then sat on his kitchen floor surrounded by his mini pride of cats. He had seen some sick shit as an officer, but this really took the whole-ass cake. The photos were one thing, but Nines had managed to recover some audio-visual footage from the androids – turns out, the prick liked to kill the humans first and force the androids to watch.

Gavin had managed to watch the first seven seconds of a video before recoiling and flinging his tablet across the room. He shuddered as he remembered their screams and turned to face his partner again.

“You know what, forget it. I don’t give a shit what this asshole wants or what point he’s trying to prove, we just gotta shut this shit down,” Gavin murmured, still feeling slightly bitter over not successfully closing his last case. He had already fucked up once, he needed this case to fix the damage to his reputation… and his pride.

“An admirable call to action,” Nines noted, his tone oddly warm, “I do believe that whoever is doing this is most likely human – from the fibres we found, and the prints uncovered, I believe we are looking for a human male who has mostly likely suffered a loss? The way he attacks the victims suggests anger, even disgust… but is he disgusted by the couples, or is he projecting?”

Gavin felt his head throb at Nines’ minor psychoanalysis – he and Tina had briefly discussed the motive behind the attacks, but it quickly ended when Chris demanded a subject change.

Neither of them could really pinpoint the reasoning behind the murders, bar the obvious: racism, religious fanaticism, fucker had been cheated on, etc…

Hearing Nines dissect the murderer’s possible motive just made him feel ill again. He shifted on the spot and felt his skin prickle – suddenly all too aware of how small the elevator was.

He was practically pressed against Nines’ body – the close contact was doing incredibly detrimental things to his blood pressure and knowing that Nines could easily read his vitals did nothing to calm Gavin’s nerves. He almost jumped out of his skin when, out of nowhere, Nines placed a firm hand against the small of his back, the android’s fingers pressing deep as a means of comfort rather than anything else.

“Deep breaths, detective,” Nines murmured, “I have seen you in action before; you are a fine actor and I am sure there are worse things in life than having to pretend that you are in love with me.”

Gavin’s body went rigid, his mind whiting out for a hot second.

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” he asked, cursing himself when his voice broke halfway through.

Nines’ LED flashed red for a second – as always, Gavin’s heart skipped a beat and his skin prickled unpleasantly. Though Nines was adamant that he was not heading towards deviancy, his LED was still a good indicator of his mood; seeing it flash red… scared Gavin, more than he’d like to admit.

The elevator suddenly felt a lot smaller.

“I… was just merely trying to reassure you,” Nines uttered haltingly, his LED spinning blue slowly, “you look… tense and your vitals indicate an increase of anxiety. I just wanted to let you know that I am willing to do anything to solve this case, as I am sure you would too.”

“What, like pretending to like me?” Gavin asked sourly, ‘cause what the fuck, way to make it sound like Nines was making some big fucking sacrifice – Jesus, was pretending to like Gavin that bad?

To his credit, Nines looked somewhat stricken.

“I’m not—"

Whatever argument the android had planned was swiftly cut off by the chirpy elevator voice announcing that they have arrived on the ground floor. Gavin roughly swallowed as he stiffly stalked out of the elevator and across the quiet foyer – he didn’t wait for Nines; he just trusted the android to dutifully follow after him.

He could hear Nines’ shoes clacking against the floor and distantly remembered that they needed to play the loved-up couple – it would look to weird now to grab the android’s hand, but also… the thought of holding Nines’ hand made his stomach churn painfully, so Gavin put that thought aside and just carried on marching through the hotel.

He approached the concierge’s desk and gave the lady a short wave. She was a pretty, young woman with a blonde bob and green eyes – her nametag read Carla and judging from the small New Jericho sticker on the badge, she was an android. Or, at least, a human who supported New Jericho – they had come out with a whole line of merchandise to help fund their cause and it was surprisingly popular with human allies.

Connor had bought him a pair of sweatpants with ‘Built in Detroit’ printed on the ass accompanied by little New Jericho logos along the cuffs – they were comfortable as fuck, made his ass look tight as hell, and all profits went to Markus’ little charity schtick, so Gavin also felt like he was doing his bit to make up for being a narrow-minded prick from before.

He eyed the little sticker and gave Carla a short nod – she responded with a sunny smile and waggled her fingers at him.

“Yo,” he greeted, leaning against the counter with roguish grin.

“Hello!” Carla trilled, her gaze sliding from Gavin to Nines – she barely blinked at the RK900 unit, “you must be our newest couple, how fabulous! Welcome to the retreat, I hope you enjoy your stay with us!”

“Thanks,” Gavin replied blandly, already feel exhausted by her exuberant attitude, “I’m gonna be honest, we were kinda worried about coming here after all the… shit that went down recently.” He inwardly winced at his lack of decorum and could practically feel Chris’ disappointed glower from across the city.

“Oh, yes,” Carla’s sunny disposition faded slightly, “well. We have top-of-the-line security patrolling the area and we have cameras and alarm systems placed all over the facility, so you should be safe!” She came across as incredibly uncertain, as if unsure as to who she was supposed to be convincing, herself or Gavin.

“And when were they installed? Before or after death number four?” Gavin asked, trying for a casual tone – unfortunately, Carla was too unsettled to buy it.

“U-um,” she stammered, her gaze flicking between Nines and Gavin desperately – she was painfully human; Gavin had yet to meet an android who could stammer or stumble over their words. Even when emotionally conflicted, they were more likely to start and stop sentences, their sentences trailing off when they become lost in their thoughts – it was oddly adorable.

Not that Gavin would actually admit that.

“Apologies for him,” Nines came to Gavin’s rescue quickly, “his bluntness, though endearing, is something that we are working on.”

Carla blinked at him, a pink flush glowing on her cheeks – a slow smile grew on her lips as she nodded quickly.

“Ah, right, okay,” she said with a soft chuckle, “you two are cute. You know you’ve found the one when they adore all of you, even your flaws!” Nines merely tilted his head, yellow LED stuttering and mixing with a soft blue hue – Gavin barely registered the odd sight, too caught up in the idea of someone finding them ‘cute’, ‘cause fuck yeah. They would be cute, suck on that Chen. Fortunately for them, Carla had not noticed their internal crises. “So how can I help you today?” she asked, tilting her head.

Gavin grinned and nodded towards the pamphlets on the desk.

“Check-in was kinda brief – was hoping you could give us some more info to work with,” he asked, because whoever had checked them in beforehand had been shockingly thin on detail. Gavin had tried prompting the dude for some insight into what the facility had to offer, and he got fucking nowhere. Nines ended up dragging him off to their room – the android could probably tell that his partner was seconds away from launching himself at the receptionist, fists first.

Thankfully, Carla appeared to be more forthcoming.

“Oh, no problem!” she chimed, before pulling out a leaflet from under the desk, “here’s the map of the facility, as well as a timetable for scheduled events and activities.” She opened up the map to the centre on the desk and began pointing at the different buildings and sites across the facility. “I recommend the hot spa soak and the cocktail masterclass! They’re on every other day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon! We also have three restaurants, with two being all-you-can-eat buffets and the other being an international restaurant with a different theme every night!”

Gavin arched a brow – a good case and some good food?

Rock ‘n’ roll.

Carla circled the two classes she recommended and highlighted the opening times for the restaurants before passing it to Gavin. He nodded his thanks and briefly scanned them, taking note of the opening times for the restaurants and the exits on the map – he tucked the leaflet away, inwardly noting to glance over it properly once it was safe to talk.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Carla asked, her eyes flashing from Gavin to Nines. She seemed sweet – oddly, she was one of the first androids who didn’t appear unnerved by Nines’ existence. Her face looked oddly similar to Shannon, however, so Gavin supposed it was just as ST300 thing.

“Nah doll,” Gavin drawled, finding her soft giggle incredibly endearing – shit, Tina would’ve climbed her like a tree by now, “thanks. You’ve been incredibly helpful.”

“No problem! Have a nice day!” she trilled, waggling her fingers as she waved them goodbye.

Gavin grinned and walked away, fingering the leaflet in his jacket as he approached the doors that led outside of the complex. According to the map, there were five exits on the ground-floor and twenty-five acres of land to work with – the freeway wasn’t too far off, which made Gavin antsy. It would be too easy to spook the culprit and have them take off. Lucky for them, it was too far away from the river, so at least it was just more land they had to deal with.

He hummed contemplatively and turned to face Nines – he arched a brow when he saw the oddly crimson LED that flickered at the android’s temple. Gavin inwardly groaned – they were not even one whole day into their case and already the fucker was pissed off.

Jesus… and the asshole still had the audacity to deny feeling shit.

He blew a stray hair out of his face and kicked Nines in the ankle; instantly, the LED calmed down to a soothing blue, the android’s attention solely focused on him.

“Hey… so,” Gavin began slowly, musing over how to approach their case, “you wanna split up? Could cover more ground that way, scope shit out and ask the staff what they know?”

“Perhaps tomorrow, or later on,” Nines replied, mulling over the timetable of activities in his mind, “we should establish ourselves as a couple first, build a minor reputation across the facility and then consider splitting up.”

“Huh, shit. Good point.”

“Which also requires we act like a couple,” Nines said, his tone almost snarky. Gavin arched a brow and folded his arms.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he snorted, “you want me to throw myself at you? Swoon every time you walk into a fucking room? Oh, Mister Nines, oooh!” Gavin’s voice rose in pitch, becoming airy and breathy as he feigned a swoon against Nines’ body. The android looked unimpressed and righted his partner up stiffly.

“I take it back,” he murmured, LED slowly spinning, “you are a terrible actor.”

“So sayeth the prick who’s also supposed to be loved up and shit,” Gavin shot back.

“I am acting adequately enough for someone in my position.”

“Someone in your position? You’re supposed to be in love with me, not hanging out with a goddamn leper!”

Nines blinked – he appeared to consider Gavin’s words.

“I consulted many online guides and believe I am doing what they have recommended. I am maintaining constant eye-contact, I have offered you many genuine compliments and I have even extended physical gestures of affection,” Nines explained, tilting his head slightly.

“Is that why you ain’t been blinking? Jesus, I thought you were broken, freaking me the fuck out over here, fuck!” Gavin exclaimed, clutching at his heart dramatically – their relationship had yet to reach the point where Nines could banter back with him properly, but they were slowly getting there.

“I have also deliberated over buying you gifts, but I am unsure as to whether your delicate sense of masculinity would handle being presented flowers and chocolates. Also, I do not know your favourite chocolate and I do believe the language of flowers would be wasted on you,” Nines persisted dryly, his LED spinning slowly.

Gavin snorted.

“Okay. First of all, fuck you. Secondly, my favourite chocolate is salted caramel, but the soft kind, not the hard, chewy shit that breaks your teeth,” Gavin instructed, wagging a finger in Nines’ face.

“Duly noted,” Nines stated, his face twitching slightly, “and flowers?”

“I’m allergic asshole,” Gavin said, rolling his eyes.

“I know,” Nines said slowly, arching his brow slightly, “I would not have given you real flowers, but rather artificial ones made from plastic and silk.”

“How romantic,” Gavin scoffed.

Nines observed his reaction and his LED flashed yellow.

“I find that they would be romantic – you could keep them longer and they wouldn’t irritate your sinuses,” Nines explained; his expression looked a little lost and Gavin felt his heart stop for a second. It sounded like Nines had really given this a lot of thought and for some reason, that made Gavin feel more besotted than ever before. None of his exes, if he could even call them that, had ever brought him flowers.

None of them would have even cared enough about his allergies to accommodate for them either.

Fuck – Nines really was something else.

“O-oh. Well. Fuck. Haven’t you given this a lot of thought,” he spluttered out, aware of the flush creeping up his throat.

“Indeed, I have,” Nines nodded, his face twitching again. Gavin briefly lamented the fact that Nines always stopped himself from smiling fully – unless the android wanted to unnerve someone, he always restrained himself from producing a whole-ass smile and it was beginning to get on Gavin’s nerves. Like, Jesus, whoever heard of an android going deviant over one stupid smile?

“Well then, where the fuck are my flowers?” he sassed, gesturing to Nines with grabby hands.

“I did not buy any, as I mentioned before,” Nines replied with a single arched brow, “I had not thought they would have been received well. Furthermore, I am disinclined in partaking in a one-sided relationship during this case.”

“What?” Gavin asked flatly, ‘cause he sure as shit wasn’t having Nines throwing his ability to be a good boyfriend into disrepute.

“Though gestures of affection are to be given and should not be considered favours, I am not interested in playing the suitor who has to constantly chase. Especially, if we're already in a relationship,” Nines continued, his yellow LED spinning thoughtfully.

Gavin’s brows rose to his hairline in disbelief.

“Translation: I’m a spoilt bitch Gavin, give me presents,” he snarked, slightly blindsided by how serious Nines was taking their fake relationship.

“You have completely missed the poi—” Nines began to argue.

“I’d probably get you a new jacket,” Gavin interrupted hastily, the words falling from his lips before he could stop them.

“—nt,” Nines finished, his LED flashing red as he registered Gavin’s words. “Ah. Why?”

Gavin’s heart jumped into his throat – he had never seen the android look so awkward.

“Because this one is a fucking eye-sore,” he sassed, tugging at Nines’ sleeve with a small smirk. The android had removed all the details that gave away his identity as an FBI agent, but the white jacket was still fucking grotesque, “like, you only have one fucking outfit, do you have any idea how tragic that shit is?” He wasn’t totally lying – it was true that Nines’ lack of choice bothered Gavin greatly and he wanted to give the android a small taste of free-will, even if it was just another set of clothes.

“I think I would like that,” Nines admitted, before flinching away from Gavin slightly, his eyes fluttering shut for a second. “I… we should get started on our case.”

Gavin narrowed his eyes and nodded slowly.

“Alright,” he said, taking the leaflet out of his jacket to scan over the classes quickly, “it’s almost half eleven, could check out the yoga class?” Gavin’s eyes flicked back up to Nines and he waggled his brows. “Could be fun.”

“I think you mean, beneficial for the case,” Nines corrected with a small frown.

Gavin rolled his eyes. “It can be both, god Nines,” he sighed, “I know how to do my job – doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy myself a little. The last case kicked our asses – time to kick some ass back.”

Nines blinked slowly – his version of an exasperated sigh. Gavin, at a push, would consider it adorable, if it weren’t for the fact that this adorable machine could probably skin him alive using his bare hands.

“I suppose it would help in building a realistic and believable cover if we were to engage in activities that you… found enjoyable,” Nines said, casting a glance around the foyer, “your enthusiasm is rather infectious.”

Gavin grinned.

“Don’t start,” Nines sighed.

Gavin’s grin grew wider as he reached up to poke Nines playfully on the nose.

“I ain’t ever letting you live that down,” he promised, before he began to make his way towards the gardens, “come on, let’s go be enjoyably infectious and shit.”

He made it five steps before he realised that he was by himself; he paused and turned back to see Nines looking somewhat perturbed. He arched a brow and cocked his head.

“What?” he asked, “the fuck is wrong now?”

“You’re missing something,” Nines called out, as toneless as ever, yet Gavin could detect a slight tease underlining his words. Gavin rolled his eyes and threw his hands up.

“What the fuck could I have missed now?” he asked tiredly, returning to Nines as he rubbed his scar agitatedly.

“This,” his partner simply said, before smoothly taking Gavin’s hand into his own, threading their fingers together and squeezing softly.

Gavin’s mind went blank – like, 404: Page Not Found, blank.

“You…” he trailed off, unable to form a single thought because holy fuck, that was so fucking smooth.

He swallowed roughly, his pulse roaring in his ears as he evaluated his situation. It was strange but Nines felt… remarkably human. His hand was easily bigger than Gavin’s and softer too; the skin felt so real and warm, the fingers long and tight as they threaded through his own. He could almost feel the gentle pulse of thirium being pumped around Nines’ body – Gavin was transfixed, staring at their joined hands in awe.

He honestly could not remember the last time someone wanted to hold his hand.

“Are you alright?” Nines asked, gently flexing his fingers in Gavin’s grip.

“Super-fucking-duper,” Gavin replied distantly, dragging his gaze away from their linked hands to Nines’ pretty face, “come on, let’s be sociable fucks.”


YOGA CLASS
11.47AM

“You alright?”

“I… yes.”

“You sure? You look like you’re blue-screening.”

“I am… simply concentrating on the class. I’m also slightly surprised with your patience for these poses.”

“Used to do Pilates with Tina back at the academy. Was a time when I could pull my leg behind my neck… here, lemme see if I can still…”

  YOU DO NOT WANT

  YOU DO NOT WANT

  YOU DO NOT WANT

“Oh shit, you okay? Your nightlight is starting up a rave!”

“I am most adequate. I would also recommend you cease with splits; you are garnering too much unwanted attention.”

Gavin snorted and finally looked across to the unsettled android – Nines was scanning the class with a bland look, his little LED flashing yellow, as he sat in the lotus position. Gavin had yet to see the android attempt any other positions, but he seemed quite content on offering his opinions on Gavin’s form.

“Good,” he uttered breathlessly, pulling his legs back into cobra, “figured we could lure the bastard out by drawing attention to ourselves – plus, we’re supposed to be taking part. What happened to establishing ourselves as a couple?”

Nines’ LED flickered, his nose wrinkling subtly.

“Pull your navel in towards your spine more,” he instructed softly, before plucking at the grey sweatpants he was wearing. Gavin had cried laughing when Nines informed him that Connor had donated some clothes for his not-a-clone to wear. They were all two inches too short for the guy and some definitely came from Hank’s wardrobe, “and we are. You are my darling yoga enthusiast and I am simply the encouraging pillar of support who is there for you, no matter how dreadful your form.”

Gavin snorted and pulled himself up into plank, his face twitching from the strain.

“Ain’t you sweet,” he huffed out, counting to three before lifting up into downward dog, “any more ideas as to how to look more couple-y?”

“I am rather unsure,” Nines admitted, his LED flicking yellow as he considered his online guides, “do you believe public displays of affection would be better, or do you believe the killer goes after couples who do not get along?”

Gavin hummed, gently lowering himself back into plank, before he folded himself up into child’s pose. Nines eyes followed the strong curve of Gavin’s back – it was remarkable to see the subtle power in Gavin’s muscles, the way they barely shook as he moved from pose to pose. His DETECTIVE REED folder had, unsurprisingly, required a substantial expansion of memory since their case had started.

Nines now knew which side of the bed Gavin preferred and how perfectly his ankles would fit into the palm of Nines’ hand. It confused him how his programming allowed such nonsense information to stay, yet any implication of emotion would be eradicated instantly.

However, he had long given up on trying to understand how his programming operated – at least, for now. Once the case was closed, he would have ample time to inspect how his coding truly worked.

Maybe he could visit Connor again – the android typically had intriguing insights.

“Good call – could do both?” Gavin suggested, his voice slightly muffled, “start off all lovey-fucking-dovey and then bam! Giant fucking argument… see what gets the asshole going?”

“Sounds like a plan – also, detective, I should let you know that we have been watched for ten minutes now,” Nines noted, his gaze drifting across the class once more.

So far, there were six other couples at Whispering Waters – they were the only human/android pairing currently booked into the treat, which boded well in regard to protecting other innocent civilians from getting hurt. Of the six, only three other couples were taking part in yoga – they appeared completely absorbed in the class, giggling and chatting amongst themselves pleasantly. Nines had yet to approach any of them – rather, he wanted to focus on the staff – however, he could see the reasons as to why they were at the retreat.

Two were dealing with infidelity, one with infertility and the other three had financial problems that were affecting other areas of their life.

“Yeah, it’s cause you ain’t joining in,” Gavin commented, switching from child’s pose to the lotus position. He leaned over and prodded Nines roughly on the cheek. “Come on, you were bitching about not being couple-y enough, Jesus.”

“I am busy assessing the area,” Nines protested, eyeing the instructor with a slight frown, “I do not trust that man – he has yet to approach us, yet seems quite content with assisting the others.”

“Does he look grossed out by us?” Gavin asked, stretching out his neck and shoulders.

Nines scanned his vitals. “No, he appears bored, honestly,” he noted blandly.

Gavin hummed thoughtfully. “You glaring at him?” he asked, his words almost a tease.

Nines rolled his eyes – a first for him that honestly left him stunned for a few seconds.

“I am not glaring at him,” he argued firmly.

“Liar,” Gavin snorted, glancing at him askance, “maybe cool it with the possessive Terminator bullshit and the nice instructor might come over and help me with my locust pose – could also question him at the same time?”

“I am not glaring,” Nines repeated, turning to scowl at Gavin petulantly. As if to make a point, he faced the instructor and shot up a hand, his LED spinning yellow, “we require assistance.”

Gavin barked out a laugh. “You smooth bastard,” he chuckled, eyeing Nines with a knowing glint in his eye. Nevertheless, he perked up when the instructor jogged quickly over to them. The man was a good-lucking human, with bleach-blond hair and a softly tanned body – for a second, Gavin allowed his eyes to wander, before a very pointed cough from Nines brought him back to reality.

“Hey!” the instructor greeted, “sorry, I swear I wasn’t ignoring you – you just looked so comfortable without me interfering, thought I’d leave you to it! Is everything alright?”

Nines turned to Gavin with a yellow LED flickering by his temple.

“He needs assistance with the… ah, locus position, was it?”

Petty bastard, Gavin sighed inwardly, wanting to roll his eyes – instead, he exercised some restraint and focused on the yoga instructor.

“Locust position, honey,” he sniped back, before glancing up at the instructor with a sunny smile, “I struggle to keep my balance, thought you could give me some pointers?”

The man, whose nametag read Jake, grinned brightly and roughly rubbed the back of his neck.

“Ah, yeah, I could but you gotta know, this is a strictly no-contact kinda place,” he said, quickly sending Nines a nervous smile, “hope you understand!”

“Perfectly,” Nines practically purred, turning to Gavin with a smug aura radiating from him.

Gavin rolled his eyes and glowered at the instructor.

“Listen buddy, just tell me where I’m going wrong, okay?” he asked – his cheery tone from earlier had completely vanished. Jake nodded shortly, his wary gaze drifting to Nines once more.

“You wanna join in?” he asked, his jovial tone quivering slightly.

“Absolutely not,” Nines replied delicately.

Gavin snorted and muttered ‘boring’ under his breath, as he manoeuvred his body back into plank position, before moving into cobra and then carefully attempting locust. Nines barely acknowledged Gavin’s surly comment and simply observed as Jake circled Gavin’s body with a contemplative hum. Whilst he was aware of his LED glowing yellow, Nines chose against hacking into it – he rather… Ȅ̵̯̺̰̬͔̅͊̽͒̇̅͝N̵̜̝̜̈́̃́̿̎̑͝͝J̵̢͖̰͔̍O̵͔̿̅̓̉̄̅́̿Ẏ̷̡̹̦̓̐̽̈̀̎Ȅ̴̫͙̼̍̈́D̵̰̣̺̟̹̘̳̩̓̅̐͘ seeing Jake so unsettled around him.

“Huh, you want to draw a strong line from your chest to your nose – there’s no shame in placing your arms on the mat to help you balance,” Jake commented softly, bending down to eye Gavin’s form critically, “use your thighs to push away from the mat, keep your ankles steady – perfect, you’re doing so well!”

Gavin huffed out a self-conscious laugh as his body shook – Nines eyed the pale flush and knew that Gavin’s comment about his praise kink wasn’t a complete jest. He reflected on his DETECTIVE REED folder and hummed when he found the sub-section of Gavin’s weaknesses.

  GAVIN REED HAS A PRAISE KINK

Oddly enough, seeing Gavin’s discomfort was not as endearing when caused by someone else.

“Kitten, please pay attention to the kind instructor,” Nines murmured, his LED spinning as Gavin’s flush grew further down his neck, “he said to place your arms on the mat should you require assistance.”

Gavin’s body trembled.

“Bite me,” he seethed, yet he did as he was told and allowed his arms to fall against the mat.

Jake chuckled as he eyed Nines from across Gavin’s strong back.

“Y’all are pretty cute, can’t see why you’d need a retreat!” he commented, hoisting himself back to his feet as he circled Gavin once more, “nice man! Lookin’ good!”

A sharp whirring noise cut across the serene silence that had floated since the class had begun. Gavin shot Nines a knowing side-glance, his lips curling up into a smug smirk – he had somehow figured out what that noise was and what it represented.

Some fucker was gettin’ jealous and that fucker was growling.

“Someone needs help getting to grips with their emotions,” Gavin teased, waggling his brows as he let his body drop into cobra.

Nines bared his teeth, his LED flashing red – the sight caused Jake to blink in surprise, clearly taken aback by the unsettling sight.

Someone has commitment issues and is completely allergic to any concept of communicating about emotions,” Nines shot back, his tone bland but Gavin could feel the sharp edges.

“Well someone needs to acknowledge that they have emotions!” he snapped, his cobra falling apart as he reared up in annoyance.

Jake blinked, his gaze shifting from Nines to Gavin, concern written across his face.

“So… I guess we know why you’re here,” he joked weakly, chuckling as he slowly backed away from the irate couple, “but you should know, you ain’t the first deviant who still struggles with havin’ feelin’s, or even sayin’ that they have feelin’s! It’s totally normal! Just gotta give it time, y’know?”

Nines snapped his head around to focus his attention on Jake.

“Do you have many androids staying here?” he asked, his LED spinning slowly as he cocked his head.

Jake laughed nervously again and shrugged. “Can’t really tell you much, confidentiality and all that – but, uh, yeah? Got lots of androids rockin’ up here with issues and shit. Normally they’re with each other, but…”

Gavin arched a brow as Jake tailed off softly.

“But?” he prompted, leaning back on his arms with an arched brow.

“But lately,” Jake shrugged, “they’re comin’ with human partners and it’s nice, y’know? Compared to how things used to be, shit feels all… wholesome?”

Gavin blinked and shared a look with Nines.

Good. Same wavelength then.

“Thanks Jake, pretty sure I’m good for now!” Gavin exclaimed, throwing the instructor a thumbs-up. Jake grinned in response and nodded.

“Cool, see you guys later! Remember to breathe through the strain!” he instructed warmly, before jogging off to assist the other couples. Gavin watched him leave briefly, before returning his attention to Nines. The android’s LED was spinning slowly, almost contemplatively, as he watched Jake walk away.

“So, our perp ain’t bothered by androids ‘cause they’re androids,” Gavin mused aloud, “just freaked out ‘cause they’re hooking up with humans, huh?” Though some considered it controversial at best, mixed relations between humans and androids had been quite the hot topic in society when New Jericho announced that it shouldn’t be considered illegal or taboo – so long as the android in question was fully deviant, it shouldn’t be a problem. That being said, certain places still frowned upon androids and the humans who cavorted with them. He guessed Whispering Waters was just another place trying to jump on the progressive bandwagon. “So guess we’re looking at some purist dickface, right?”

“He didn’t appear concerned by the recent string of murders,” Nines noted, his eyes narrowing slightly as he ignored Gavin. “This could be due to avoiding a panic-induced situation – honestly, he is rather difficult to read. Though he does not appear overly malicious, it is rather suspicious how he finds the current atmosphere to be ‘wholesome’.”

Gavin hummed. “I ain’t gettin’ murder vibes, honestly,” he said, eyeing Jake carefully. The man seemed genuine and kind… after Angela though, he had found it difficult to trust anyone at face value. “But shit man, I’ve been wrong before.”

“You have?” Nines asked, his eyes sparkling in the summer sun.

Don’t tell T.”

Nines hummed as his LED span yellow. “You’re right – Jake isn’t our culprit,” Nines said, ignoring Gavin as he whooped with joy, “he was on vacation when two of the murders took place.” He looked almost pained at having to admit that Jake was innocent, and Gavin secretly delighted in seeing the expression.

“Please tell me it was some spiritual retreat,” he begged, grinning as he leaned in towards Nines eagerly, “like, he went to Bali to find himself, right? Or India? Dude, did he go to India?”

Nines arched a brow. “Behave detective,” he chided lightly, before standing to his feet, “come. The class is over, and we have more ground to cover.” He held out a hand, gesturing for Gavin to take it. After eyeing the hand with clear conflict in his eyes, Gavin eventually took it and allowed himself to be pulled up. The detective choked out a thanks and averted his eyes – Nines found it incredibly endearing that his partner could be so abrasive, yet so shy in the face of physical affection.

“Right, cool,” Gavin uttered, flexing his fingers in Nines’ grip, “let’s bounce the fuck out.”

Before he could squirm out of Nines’ grip to collect his belongings, Gavin found himself being tugged back towards Nines. The android’s grip was like steel, firm and unyielding, as he yanked his partner against him. Gavin stumbled and flushed as he pressed a hand against Nines’ chest to steady himself. He peered up and found himself torn between embarrassment and outrage – before he could decide how to react, Nines squeezed his hand softly and caused his mind to draw a blank.

“It was a ten-day surfing adventure and he went to Thailand,” he murmured conspiratorially, his lips twitching at the utter delight that blossomed across Gavin’s face.

“Holy shit,” he uttered weakly, “of course he did. Full moon party too?”

Nines’ lips twitched again, and Gavin felt everything within his body melt.

“I can show you the photos later.”

God, I want to sit on that face, Gavin thought helplessly.


POTTERY CLASS
1.12PM

“Come on, let’s Ghost this shit.”

“Let us… what? I do not understand.”

“Christ, just look up the movie Ghost, god, my references are wasted on you.”

“Oh. Oh, I see. Do you wish to play the role of Sam or Molly?”

Gavin snorted and threw Nines a wry glare.

“Fuck you and get behind me,” he instructed, straddling the bench quickly, “and don't mess this up! I wanna make a new bowl for NORP – motherfucker threw his last one outta the damn window.”

Nines cocked his head and moved to the space behind Gavin; he gracefully threw a leg over the bench and sat down, folding his body over Gavin’s with a silent hum. The detective immediately flushed, ducking his head as his body went rigid. Why the fuck had he even suggested this again?

“How did he manage tha—”

“It doesn't matter!” Gavin snapped, his skin prickling as he slowly registered how close Nines was and how good he smelt too. It was weird how androids just smelt good – it was a clean scent, but Nines always had this underlining spice to his smell. He bit his lip when Nines arms came around him to rest upon the pottery wheel in front of them.

“Oh. Detective, this an excellent viewpoint, good idea,” Nines praised, peering across Gavin’s head to scan the class – there were even less couples here when compared to the yoga session. The instructor this time was a young android with shocking blue hair which matched the LED set against their temple. They had a pretty face but dirty clothes, and bright eyes that sparkled as they engaged in conversation with each couple. Nines observed them blandly – he scanned for their schedule and found that they were not present during the other murders.

Either they were innocent, or they planned it so they at least appeared innocent.

Nines narrowed his eyes and waited patiently for them to approach him and Gavin.

“Hello!” the android trilled, sauntering up to them with a short wave, “my name is Ash and I will be your instructor today. Your clay is in the red bowl, the water in the blue – I want you to feel free to create whatever you wish, use your emotions to build with the clay! Think of your hands as extensions to your thoughts, close your eyes and let your fingers do the talking!”

Gavin flushed and glanced down at his hands – this was suddenly a terrible idea.

The instructor, Ash, then turned to address the class as a whole.

“I see some of you have adopted the ‘Ghost’ position – whilst very romantic, I can assure you that things will get messy as the two of you try to navigate the clay. Hence, communication is important! Talk to each other, test each other’s body language – allow your hands to guide and be guided! The trick to art is not perfection, but emotion! Passion! The joy of creation!”

“Christ, T would be all over this shit,” Gavin muttered dourly, imagining Tina and her girlfriend giggling as they squished the clay between them. He couldn’t see Nines letting loose like that – the android was too prissy to be messing around with clay.

“Get messy! Get creative! Get closer!” Ash chanted, throwing their hands up as they paced around the room, “an-nd get going!”

There was a beat of silence as the android beamed at each couple, before it was broken by a chorus of scrabbling for tools and the humming of pottery wheels being turned on. Gavin wrinkled his nose as he cupped a handful of clay and carefully placed it atop the wheel.

“They weren’t here during the other murders,” Nines murmured, reaching around to prod gently at the moist clay. Gavin couldn’t see his face, but he knew the android was pulling a disgusted expression – the thought distracted him momentarily, before his partner’s words slowly registered in his mind.

“Huh? Who wasn’t there?” he asked blankly, turning the wheel on and connecting it to the pedal by his foot. Slowly, he began to apply pressure on the wheel, watching as it began to spin – the clay didn’t move an inch and Gavin wrinkled his nose as he eyed the water. It would be messy, and he wasn’t even sure what he wanted to make – who knew what Nines would have in mind either…

Urgh.

They should have picked archery.

“The instructor, Ash?” Nines clarified, “their shifts at the retreat do not coincide with the murders – odds of them being the murderer are around 8%.”

Gavin snorted as he dipped his hands into the water and slowly began to mould the clay – if it turned into a penis, then who could blame him?

“Could probably scratch them off the list then,” he suggested, furrowing his brows as he flicked his gaze up to watch the other couples. Goddamn, Youtube made this look so easy, fuck, “we should probably check out the timetables of the other instructors, see who was around during the murders.”

“Already ahead of you, detective,” Nines murmured, leaning in close as he reach around to place his hands over Gavin’s – the human jumped in his embrace, his body stiffening instantly. Nines almost hummed in amusement. “The only staff members who were around the facility during each murder were the catering team, a small number of receptionists, two instructors, seven housekeepers and a groundskeeper. Oh, and the manager – but I highly doubt he was involved, due to being housebound as a result of a recent bout of pneumonia.”

Gavin blinked and sniffed away his embarrassment as Nines began to mould the clay, using his hands to manipulate and shape the messy material.

“Guess we should make some rounds then – who’s the instructors?” he asked, shifting subtly against Nines’ broad chest.

“The cocktail instructor and the ballroom teacher,” Nines answered, scanning the timetable for the next available classes for them to participate in, “we could attend tomorrow’s cocktail masterclass, but ballroom dancing is surprisingly popular – the next available class is in three days.”

Gavin sighed as he watched Nines slowly turn the lump of clay into a little bowl – androids really were perfectionists, Christ. He scanned the tray of tools and wondered if his partner would let him carve NORP’s name into the creation… could probably add in some paw prints too. Fuck, it would be so goddamn adorable.

“Sweet, getting wasted on the job and on Fowler’s dime too? I’m into it,” Gavin said, mentally hearing Chris’ exasperated sigh, “and I ain’t waiting three days – let’s just gate-crash the next fucking dance class.”

Nines rolled his eyes. “We are not to be thrown out or draw unnecessary attention to ourselves,” he recited the rules from Fowler’s handbook perfectly, “we are also to follow the retreat’s strict rules to the letter and should not attempt to demonstrate any behaviours that would lead to suspicion being aroused.”

“Say ‘aroused’ again,” Gavin teased, flexing his fingers against Nines’.

“No,” Nines said, almost petulantly.

“Killjoy,” Gavin sighed, flicking a finger out and ruining Nines’ smooth creation.

Nines sighed against Gavin’s neck. “Do not be a child,” he admonished, attempting to fix the damage, but Gavin was quick to trap his finger between his hands. The wet clay, with no hands to protect it, quickly began to fall apart on the wheel – Gavin refused to take his foot off the pedal, however. “Will you behave?”

“Make me!” Gavin shot back, snickering, using his other hand to squish the clay bowl between his fingers. A rumble made of electric annoyance vibrated against his back – he chuckled and flicked the clay behind him, knowing that Nines’ borrowed t-shirt was gonna get wrecked.

“Detective,” Nines said warningly, his arms tightening around Gavin’s body, “I will not tell you again.” The android nudged his foot against Gavin’s ankle, but the detective refused to comply. Gavin practically giggled as he kicked back, snorting when the android emitted a growl of annoyance again. “How old you are you?” the android asked, somewhat exasperated.

“I’m young at heart, fuck you,” Gavin retorted.

Their fingers clutched at the clay together as they kicked at each other – Nines coldly uttered warnings whilst Gavin laughed them off with hissed insults and taunts. He couldn’t remember the last time he had flirted with someone he liked; he never really tried this hard to provoke the guy he was into… normally he’d just ask them to suck his dick and see where that got him.

It surprised him, but he found that this was much more fun and seemingly garnered better results.

“Detective, if you disrupt this case—.”

“Agent, if you don’t get that stick outta your ass—”

Detective.”

Agent.”

Yes! See this passion! This love! This is what I’m talking about!” Ash declared, interrupted their moment without a single care, “see this mess they’ve made? They made it together, with pure emotion! They spoke with their hearts and look what they made!”

Gavin knew his face was practically glowing from humiliation, but even still, he glanced down and eyed the mess on the wheel. They had made… some sort of plate? Bowl? Shield-thing? It was oddly curved, but it came to a single point and— oh.

Oh shit. They've made a fucking heart.

Fuck.

A fucking heart.

He eyed the window and found himself embittered by the fact that they were on the ground floor – fat lot of use that would be, throwing himself outta that fucking thing.

“Oh. Detective look, it appears we made a—”

“Don’t fucking say it.”

Ash floated over to them, peering down at their shitty clay heart with a soft expression in their eyes. “Your feelings for each other truly transcend all expectations! You must be so devoted to each other! Please, you must share with us, how long have you been together?”

Gavin swallowed inaudibly, acutely aware of the attention he was receiving from the rest of the group. A man with long black hair was glaring at him  – he was sitting next to a truly disgruntled woman who had her arms folding as she scowled at the mess on their wheel. Fuck, he was getting flashbacks of bullying the teacher’s fuckin’ pet and he knew that this was karmic retribution, finally coming to take his ass out.

“Two years – it’s actually our anniversary in three days, hence why we have come here. We wanted to do something different to celebrate, isn’t that right kitten?” Nines was saying, answering Ash’s question on Gavin’s behalf; his tone was bland, but Gavin could feel the smug aura emitting from behind him. Bastard android.

“Kitten? Oh, how quaint!” Ash gasped, clutching at their chest as they stared, starry-eyed, at Gavin. The detective could feel his face burning and mentally begged for some natural disaster to come along and put an end to everyone's fucking misery.

“Well, yes. It makes sense, see? He may seem abrasive and harsh, but I know how to make him pur—”

A harsh metallic noise echoed in the horrifically quiet room as Gavin slammed his elbow into Nines’ steel-fucking-stomach. He winced as pain flared up his arm and rattled his funny bone something fierce, but he found that he didn’t give a shit, he had to do something to get Nines to shut his fucking mouth. Ash blinked, tilting their head as they took a subtle step back and clasped their hands together.

“Such… passion,” they said weakly, before mechanically turning around to approach the miffed couple that had caught Gavin’s eye before, “now let us see what you have produced! Oh! A cow, how wonderful!”

“It’s supposed to be our daughter," the woman replied bitterly.

“Oh,” Ash said, “how… abstract!”

Gavin tuned them out and turned to glare heatedly at Nines.

“Call me kitten again and I swear, I will fucking rip your dick off,” he hissed, his cheeks burning from the humiliation.

Nines arched a brow, his lips twitching as he gazed back serenely. “Good luck with that,” he murmured, prodding at their clay heart curiously, “I don't have one.”

It shamed him to admit it, but it took Gavin almost ten whole-ass minutes to figure out what Nines had meant.

He could almost hear Tina cackling at him from across the city.


THE SLOW BOAT RESTAURANT
7.47PM

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Gavin asked.

Nines blinked, unsure as to how to answer – truthfully, he had been rather distracted by the image the detective presented. Though they had returned to their room together, Nines had cleaned and redressed first, leaving Gavin behind to grab a table at the restaurant. Since Gavin’s arrival, Nines had found himself unable to tear his gaze away from the detective’s form. His partner had changed into a rather tasteful white Oxford shirt, leaving the top two buttons undone – Nines could spy a sliver of collar bone and a hint of chest hair. The shirt was paired with a pair of tight, light blue jeans and burgundy suede loafers. The jeans ended two inches above the detective’s ankles and Nines hadn’t realised that bones could be so distracting, he found himself wanting to… wanting to… touch the detective’s ankles and… and…

  YOU DO NOT WANT

  YOU DO NOT WANT

  YOU DO NOT WANT

  YOU DO NOT WANT

  YOU DO NOT WANT

Nines sighed and closed his eyes – the messages regarding his system instabilities were increasing as of late and Nines was starting to… feel Ì̶̡̲̅ͅR̶̢̗͍̱͇̦̃̈́̓͋̇̐͝R̷͖͗̈̐̇Ȋ̷͇̭͊̏̓̇̌͝T̵͔̗̙̼͒̓͋͗͝͝Ã̵̡̧̡̺̱̠ͅT̸̝̲̬̗̫̠͐̃̈͗̕͝Ḝ̴͎̪̭̺̭̙͛͛̂̈́̐́͝D̶̟̳̼͐̂̈́̆͘ by the colour red.

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

“Yo,” Gavin murmured, nudging Nines’ leg gently under the table, “you okay?”

“I am,” Nines began haltingly, “fine. I am fine, just… considering our case.”

“Liar,” Gavin shot back, but his eyes were glittering in the candlelight, his lips tugging upwards into a soft smirk.

Nines blinked in surprise – he had not known that Gavin could read him so easily.

“I… I suppose I was thinking that you looked rather… handsome. I suppose,” Nines admitted, his gaze drifting over Gavin’s face. The man had recently shaved, and he appeared to have utilised hair product to fluff up his locks.

“Fuck me,” Gavin blurted out, his cheeks tinging pink, “I mean, that’s gotta be the nicest thing you’ve ever fucking said to me.”

“Liar,” Nines shot back.

Gavin snorted softly.

“Okay, but you’ve never said anything nice about the way I look before,” he murmured, averting his gaze downwards to his empty plate.

“Yes, probably because you’re normally coated in toothpaste stains with dark bags under your eyes. You also rarely shower due to your lack of prioritising your own state of health when dealing with difficult case. Also, Connor once informed me that your hoodies aren’t particularly stylish, so—”

“Okay, okay!” Gavin announced, holding up a hand, “I’m a hot fucking mess and an actual trash goblin of a human, thanks.”

Nines blinked. “I never once considered you a… ah, ‘goblin’. Rather, I enjoy seeing you regardless of your natural state – your humanness is something that I find… endearing?” he admitted, eyeing the pink hue that slowly crept across Gavin’s cheeks.

“You… you feel endeared, huh?” the detective huffed out, trying hard to redirect the conversation to something less embarrassing for him, “funny. Pretty sure you ain’t supposed to feel shit.”

“I don’t really,” Nines insisted lightly, internally deciding to not discuss what Connor had informed him just yet – it was too soon and would probably distract Gavin from their case, “I can simply see how others would feel endeared by you.”

Gavin snorted, before throwing his head back and laughing loudly. Nines wasn’t sure what was so amusing but seeing Gavin’s face in the throes of joy caused his inner circuits to buzz pleasantly. The man’s face crinkled up, the lines by his eyes deepened and grew… minor signs of age, but they added character to his overall appearance. Gavin, from what Nines could see from online resources, was a rather good-looking man considering society’s expectations of human attractiveness – he could see why he would garner a lot of notice from those around him.

Nines just… did not appreciate the extra attention Gavin was receiving.

Their waiter came by their table and lightly touched the detective on the shoulder – judging from the stance the man had adopted, he was attracted to Gavin and Nines… Nines… did not…

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

… L̶̛͖̹̫͎̱̪̜͎͓̮̪̺͇̮̽̒̆̆̍͋̓͐̈́̋͗̕͜͠I̸̧̢̬̝̝̚Ḵ̸̻͔̈́̐̎̆̔̆̓͂Ę̸̧̢̨͖͈̱͎̬͖̠̅̒̀ that.

“You want any food for the table?” the waiter asked, smiling softly at the detective. Gavin blinked at the hand on his shoulder and arched a brow. He flicked the menu a quick cursory glance and shrugged, dislodging the waiter’s hand easily.

“Nah, I’m good,” he replied. Truthfully, he felt a little uncomfortable at the prospect of eating in front of Nines when the android couldn’t do the same. Just the idea left him feeling rather unsettled and he resigned himself to surviving off of the protein bars that Connor and Chris had packed him, “just bring me another house red, yeah?”

“Certainly sir,” the waiter responded, and Gavin almost purred at the title he was given. Fuck, he lived for feeling important and shit, “and for you?”

Nines glanced at him blandly, scanning the waiter for anything unsavoury. The man had a clean record, with no misdemeanours or charges against him – Nines narrowed his eyes and scanned him again, just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything out. Nines almost pursed his lips; there wasn’t even a single detention in his file.

“You have nothing that interests me,” he stated bluntly, his gaze drifting to Gavin when his partner choked out a quiet laugh.

“O-Of course sir,” the waiter uttered, his cheeks flushing pink, “I’ll be back with your drink.”

“Cool, thanks,” Gavin acknowledged absently, peering at his partner with blatant amusement sparkling in his eyes. The waiter nodded and left, heading towards the kitchen with a slight skip in his step. Nines felt his lips twitch again – though, for some odd reason, it felt different this time.

Gavin observed him for a moment, before he rolled his eyes and kicked the android under the table.

“Dude, unless you can shoot lasers outta yours eyes, I’d just give up,” he remarked, “that being said, you should totally find a way to install lasers into yours eyes. That’d be fucking wicked.”

Nines’ LED calmed down to a soft blue as he absorbed Gavin’s words.

“I don’t think such an application is high on New Jericho’s list of priorities,” Nines responded blankly, though privately thought that laser eyes would be most… beneficial in certain situations. He’d have to ask Connor about it once their case was finished.

“Pity,” Gavin remarked, leaning back in his chair to observe Nines with a scrutinising look, “so… you gonna tell me why you wanted to skin that poor dude alive?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“God, you’re such a shitty liar,” Gavin declared, rubbing his scar tiredly, “like seriously, considering how fucking advanced you think you are, you’re still so fucking dumb.”

“And yet I still far surpass you in terms of intelligence,” Nines sniped back.

“You were jealous of that asshole, right?” Gavin shot at him, for once not rising to the bait. Nines was getting good at finding ways to get under Gavin’s skin – luckily for him, he was just as good at finding Nines’ berserk buttons.

“No, Gavin. I was not.”

“Oh really? Then why the icy fucking attitude?”

“I… I don’t know,” Nines forced out, suddenly finding it difficult to form words.

“You know what I think?” Gavin asked delicately, eyeing his partner carefully, “I think you’re fucking scared.”

Nines’ LED flickered red, almost too fast for Gavin to really take note of it – his face remained stony, which did nothing to quell the fear the flickered in his stomach.

“I do not get scared—” Nines began, and fierce irritation swallowed up any fear that Gavin felt of his partner. He leant across his place and glared hotly at the android.

“Bullshit,” he spat, “bull-fucking-shit, you get scared. I’ve seen you get scared.” Nines’ LED flashed dangerously, but Gavin took no heed of it, “every time you get angry or frustrated or feel any-fucking-thing, you… you like, seize up or some shit and it’s like you just can’t cope with whatever you’re going through and then it’s… it’s like you fucking switch off. Gives me goddamn whiplash and you think I don’t fucking notice, but I do.” His hands grew clammy and he could feel his heart pounding against his chest, but he had been repressing this shit for far too long.

“Detective, I really don’t thin—” Nines began, his LED spinning crimson and yellow as he gazed stonily at his partner. Unfortunately, his rebuttal was lost when their waiter reappeared behind Gavin.

“Here’s your drink – are you sure I can’t get you anything else?” the man asked, setting the wine glass in front of the detective as he gently placed his hand on Gavin’s shoulder. Nines eyed it and felt something crack in his code.

“Must you insist on touching him?” he barked, his LED blaring red. Gavin blinked, staring at him with what appeared to be horror and concern – more importantly, the waiter jumped away from their table, fear radiating from his frozen form. The restaurant had fallen silent, the patrons staring at their table with varying degrees of judgement; Nines knew that Gavin detested this kind of attention, but he found it difficult to care when the waiter was still standing far too close to his partner.

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

  YOU DO NOT FEEL

Gavin cleared his throat uncomfortably and twisted around to shoot the waiter a sheepish smile.

“I think we’re good for now, thanks,” he said, throwing the man a wink to try and break the tension.

“You sure I can’t tempt you?” the waiter replied, slowly relaxing in response to Gavin’s easy demeanour. His words drew a dark whirring noise that Gavin recognised as Nines reaching his limit – the android didn’t understand emotions at the best of times, which meant he really didn’t know how to handle them either. The fact that the bastard still refused to admit that he experienced emotions just made the whole ordeal more exhausting than it needed to be.

“Nah, we’ll flag you down if we need anything else,” he sighed, wanting to nip this shit in the bud quickly.

The waiter nodded and flicked his gaze over to Nines briefly before he absconded back towards the other patrons. Gavin wrinkled his nose, absently aware of the envy he felt for the lucky bastard being able to escape such an awkward moment. With a lowly muttered curse, he turned back to Nines and folded his arms.

“You know, if he’s the murderer, we’re definitely fucked,” he mused, picking up his wine glass to swirl the red liquid inside, “just saying – you’re always nagging me for acting professional and you probably just pissed off a serial kill—”

“He’s not the killer,” Nines interrupted, his tone cold and hard, “and I think you’ll find that I was acting appropriately. The waiter has been paying you an unusual amount of attention considering you’re clearly in an established relationship and—"

“So fucking what, guys find me hot, big deal,” Gavin interjected with a shrug, “it’s not like I was gonna suck his dick at the table... not like there's another one to suck here anyways.”

Another whirring growl emitted from Nines’ body and Gavin felt his body prickle with unanticipated arousal and a hint of shame for the shitty joke. His breath caught in his throat and he stared up at Nines, curiosity burning through his veins. It was a dangerous game, tricking Nines into feeling shit, but Gavin was a glutton for punishment.

He just had to be careful – one wrong move and their case could be completely ruined by Nines killing the shit outta him. Taking a slow sip of wine, Gavin eyed Nines and sat back in his chair.

“Marco found me hot,” he said conversationally.

“Enough.”

“The waiter finds me hot.”

“Detective.”

“What are you gonna do about it?” Gavin asked, his eyes flashing as his lips curled into a soft smirk – an unspoken dare.

“I am not impressed by your behaviour,” Nines said, ignoring Gavin’s question, “you have flirted with every member of staff before me, from the concierge to the yoga instructor—"

“The fucking concierge?”

“—and it is not safe. A member of staff may be our murderer and I do not want you provoking them in this manner,” Nines declared, his LED spinning as he scanned the room. Gavin watched him, his face falling blank as he slowly registered the change of subject.

“Please tell me you’re not just saying that ‘cause of your blatant jealousy,” he remarked dryly, sitting back in his seat as he considered Nines’ statement. It would make sense for a member of staff to be the murderer – they would have access to details about the couples, who they were, which room they were in, when they would be out and about…

“Do you honestly believe that I would feel such an inconsequential thing?” Nines asked reproachfully, staring down Gavin with a single raised brow, “and do you honestly believe that I would allow anything to affect this case?”

Gavin suddenly felt too exhausted to even try and argue with Nines; they were just going around in circles, bickering over the same topic and not arriving at any satisfying conclusion. Instead of calling Nines out on his denial, Gavin shrugged and pushed his wine glass away.

“Whatever,” he scoffed, “so someone working here is taking on some extracurricular shifts, huh? Makes sense. Someone working here would have access to the victims – countless murder weapons in the kitchen too. We’d need to find an excuse to check it out, question the workers, see if anything is missing.”

“It could be a chef,” Nines pointed out, “they would have the skill required to make such precise cuts, as well as access to cleaning products to tidy away their mess.”

Gavin nodded before picking up his glass to sip at his wine.

“They still need access to the weird-ass locations we found the victims in,” he said, tapping his glass thoughtfully, “the groundskeeper then? Or someone who knows where the groundskeeper keeps their shit?”

“Possibly,” Nines noted, his LED flashing yellow, “a groundskeeper would also be quite adept with sharp objects – there appears to be two who work at this facility, but the elderly gentlemen was away for three of the murders, which leaves a middle-aged woman. I shall add her to the list of potential suspects.”

“Sweet,” Gavin chimed, drinking more wine as he mulled over the facts of the case, “we should probably head back to the room, cross-reference your list of suspects with the data from the case. Shame they wouldn't give us access to the CCTV recordings... fuckin ’ assholes, ‘we want to protect our guests’ privacy’, well I want to protect your guest’s fucking lives, shit.” He drummed his fingers along the table as he knocked back more of his wine. Nines watched impassively as he considered his partner’s words.

“If I can access a computer, I’d be able to download the full set of CCTV recordings, as well past clients and personal records over the past few months,” Nines said, his LED circling blue slowly, “we could use our findings to narrow down the suspects on my list – we could potentially find the murder too.”

Gavin’s lips curled up into a soft grin. “You know this means we’re gonna have to track down a computer,” he said, tapping his wine glass absently, “ain’t like we can just ask reception to use theirs – looks like we’re gonna have to sneak around, maybe even break into the manager’s office. Seems like the most likely place for computer to have all that shit on it.”

Nines shot him an unimpressed glare.

“You should not sound so excited – this has the potential to get us kicked out and any hopes of solving the case will be thrown out of the window. Not to mention the odds of alerting the culprit to our presence and having them escape without being arrested,” Nines berated.

“That’s why we’re gonna be careful, duh,” Gavin scoffed, holding out his hands, “this ain’t my first fucking rodeo. You can link up to the cameras, right? Just turn that shit off and keep an ear out for anyone who could rumble us. Easy-fuckin’-peasy.”

“I am not a commodity you can just use at will,” Nines said, frowning slightly, “however, I must admit that your plan has some merit. We will need to observe the staff’s rota for patterns – if we are to sneak into the manager’s office, we will need to ensure that it is at a time when there is little risk of being caught.”

“Sweet, can’t wait to tell T that we’re living her Totally Spies dream,” Gavin grinned.

“Just remember to keep your distance whilst we interact with the staff from now on,” Nines said, flicking the detective a warning look. Gavin snorted and leaned across the table with a sharp smirk.

“You know,” he said slowly, tilting his head as his grey eyes glittered in the candlelight, “I can’t tell if you’re saying this ‘cause you’re worried I’m gonna get killed… or ‘cause you think I’m gonna suck someone else’s dick, ‘cause you ain’t got one.”

There was a fragile beat of silence as Gavin smirked at his stony partner.

“I’m leaving to do my job now,” Nines announced flatly, standing up with an unimpressed expression plastered across his face. “When you remember that we’re here on a case, come join me.”

Gavin rolled his eyes as the android stalked across the dining room. “Hate to see you leave, love to watch you go,” he called out teasingly, winking at a nearby couple who appeared scandalised by his behaviour. Fuck yeah, Tina was right – no one could take him anywhere.

His sniggering quickly turned into choking on his wine when Nines mechanically flipped him off.