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It isn’t mentioned anywhere on his file.

His lawyer convinced the court system that it should legally be considered a disability.

Pointed to anti-discrimination statutes, even though they were decades old and pretty clearly needed revision. Listed cases where judges had ruled in favour of an individual’s right to medical confidentiality. Thanks to that, Gavin doesn’t have to disclose it to employers.

He never included an actual name for his emergency contact, either. The Detroit Police Department only has a phone number and an email address that sends out an automatically generated reply.

That might have been a problem already, if it wasn’t common knowledge that Tina is his nominated healthcare proxy. She handles medical decisions anytime he’s seriously hurt out in the field. Not that it happens often, but if he ever gets knocked unconscious? They just contact her directly.

So it isn’t mentioned on his file. If Gavin has a choice, it never will be.

The captain calls him in for a meeting, and mentions that Hank and his android sidekick will be there. That can’t mean anything good.

Gavin hangs around the break room and thinks about pretending that he didn’t hear it.

“Wash out your fucking mugs,” Tina grumbles while filling the sink with dish soap.

“Just tell that portable dishwasher to do it,” he replies.

“They just amended the workplace harassment bill to include androids,” she warns him. “Talking about changing the wording in the Constitution, too.”

Gavin makes a face and heads over to the captain’s office, carrying a hot cup of coffee.

-which he slams down onto the desk shortly afterwards. It spills over the brim and he shakes his hand reflexively, like it had burned him. Coffee seeps into the unimportant paperwork that Fowler had laid out. Department purchasing orders that need to be approved, Gavin notices, so it will be a minor headache to ask people to resubmit them if the coffee has made anything illegible.

“What the fuck are you thinking?” he demands.

“Seconded,” Hank says, standing with his arms folded. “Reed’s a bad choice.”

Gavin would have replied to that, if the captain hadn’t spoken up.

“CyberLife manufactured,” Fowler hesitates on the word, but it would be completely ridiculous to say that the androids were born, “another RK model android intended for investigative work. Meet your new co-worker.”

He gestures towards the android, which doesn’t acknowledge them at all.

“Now, Reed is maybe the worst choice to partner with an android out of anyone at this station,” the captain acknowledges, “but he is also the only detective qualified to handle emergency repairs.”

Fuck, he thinks.

“That can’t be right,” Hank says, crossing his arms. “I thought CyberLife wasn’t even offering those training courses anymore. Everything but manufacturing replacement parts has stalled until the courts decide on pending legislation. And New Jericho is running the only hospital.”

Connor’s LED is spinning yellow, so he must be checking whatever databases he can access.

“March 18th, 2024,” Gavin confirms. “With a refresher course every year since then.”

Connor tilts his head, simulating mild surprise. “Detective Reed is qualified to perform emergency repairs on all models of android produced by CyberLife, including the RK series prototype.”

The old detective scents blood in the water. “Why?” he asks. “Androids were pretty much expensive paperweights back then. Unless you were planning to quit police work to open a repair store.”

“Enough,” Fowler tells them. “Reed, meet your new partner.”

“But Rafa-”

“García put in a request for more footwork and less sitting at the desk.”

“Who the fuck steps down from investigative work to become a beat cop?” he complains.

“Ask her yourself.” Fowler moves aside the coffee-stained papers with an unimpressed look. “These two will shadow your first investigation as partners. You already requisitioned an android repair kit for your vehicle,” he states, making Gavin shift his weight uneasily and avoid looking at anyone.

“I shouldn’t need to remind you that if your partner is injured and you don’t provide emergency medical treatment, you will be held legally responsible. Any reports of harassment that come to my office will be taken very seriously. The other detectives are lightening your case load until you demonstrate that you can work together. Now shake hands,” he orders.

Gavin grimaces and turns towards the android, who hasn’t said a word.

The RK800 and RK900 models might be mistaken for identical if you met them separately. Standing in the same room, Gavin can see that the newer android is taller than its predecessor. The RK900 model is broad-shouldered with sharper facial features. It has grey eyes instead of Connor’s warm-toned brown. The CyberLife-issued uniform just emphasises its straight lines and perfect posture.

Still, there are soft affectations that someone must have decided make an android look more ‘human’. The synthetic skin has been designed with a configuration of freckles and deceptively natural-looking marks. Its mouth is asymmetrical and slightly upturned, even though this android is clearly incapable of smiling.

He extends his hand, and the android shakes it.

“Detective Reed,” it says, voice distinctly deeper than what he is used to hearing from Connor.

“Tin can,” he replies, and the other humans standing in Fowler’s office loudly reprimand him.

But the android, who doesn’t even seem to have a fucking name, shows no outward response.

It should have been one of the best years of his life.

Newly graduated from the police academy, where he had become friends with Tina. They were both assigned to the DPD and considered sharing a cheap apartment so that their salaries could go towards their big life goals: she wanted to travel through Europe, and Gavin planned on buying a house so that he could eventually settle down, with a steady girlfriend and maybe kids.

He had broken off contact with family members by then. In 2023, it seemed possible that Gavin could build his own healthy relationships. Therapy was helping him work through childhood trauma.

He was diagnosed with a minor stomach condition. Nothing serious. A doctor assured him would be fully treatable within a few years. Technology was moving faster than anyone had anticipated.

Gavin could remember seeing manually driven taxis when he was a kid, but they were completely phased out by the time he reached adulthood. Self-driving cars had been patented a decade earlier.

They were advertised as completely safe, excepting user error. Driving software interpreted camera feedback, running thousands of calculations every second. If there was a sudden obstacle, the software would calculate to minimise impact. At the time, people thought the worst thing that could happen in a self-driving car was a collision with a manually driven car.

Turned out the worst thing that could happen was a system override.

Hackers wrote lines of code that interfered with security protocols. A self-driving car could be remotely programmed to follow a predetermined route and then veer off course, killing its passengers. Criminals were interested in those possibilities. The FBI was putting together profiles for new types of killers, who repurposed technology to carry out their murders.

But in 2023, that wasn’t common knowledge.

Gavin was knocked down outside his apartment complex. He saw the car approaching, but it was supposed to slow down at the pedestrian crossing. His mind didn’t even register the danger until the headlights were close enough that he thought, in the moment before impact: never seen that before.

If anyone had been watching, it must have looked like he just stood there until it struck him.

Gavin doesn’t remember much of what happened after that.

He was 22 years old and hadn’t thought about nominating a healthcare proxy. So the hospital staff contacted his next of kin, listed on his paperwork at the police academy.

There’s red blood spattered across the crime scene. He has a hunch that this is nothing more complicated than domestic violence, meaning that an interview with the homeowner will likely be enough to make an arrest.

Just as Gavin has instructed an attending officer to bring her in, careful not to touch her clothing so that it can be confiscated at the station, and to be mindful that her hands will be swabbed too—he notices that the android has knelt down and swiped its fingertip through the drying blood.

It raises the fingertip to its mouth-

Gavin grabs its wrist to stop the movement. “Interfering with a crime scene,” he warns it.

“It is not interference to forensically analyse a sample taken from a crime scene,” it replies.

“We don’t need to test any samples,” he hisses. “Just take a swab in case the interview goes south.”

“That is inefficient police work,” it tells him.

Gavin clenches his jaw, conscious that Hank and Connor are watching their interactions. “Isn’t it inefficient to run unnecessary tests?” he points out and lets go of the android’s wrist.

It immediately touches the blood smear to its tongue and he wants to swear, loudly.

“I was designed to analyse samples within seconds,” it tells him. “It would be inefficient to carry around physical samples, potentially risking evidence that can be later used in criminal charges. Additionally, most forensic laboratories will take hours to forward their analyses.”

Then, as though they were having a conversation about the weather forecast rather than their conflicting investigative methods, the android tells him: “There are two contributors to this sample.”

Gavin sighs. The attending officer had said that the homeowner had a fresh bandage around her fingers. Claimed that she cut them washing a kitchen knife.

“Victim and perpetrator,” he replies, scratching his stubble and glancing around the crime scene. “Take whatever samples you want, Detective Barbie. We have a suspect in custody and can interview her back at the station. I’ll be sitting in the car and forcing myself to drink a cold cup of coffee.”

He heads towards the front door.

“Hey, you can’t just decide to leave him here!” Hank protests.

“What, you don’t trust it without human supervision?” he throws over his shoulder.

The coffee tastes like shit. Gavin messes around with an app on his phone that Tina recommended, until the android returns to the car and begins buckling its seatbelt. Passenger safety, even though nearly everything about it could be replaced without impacting its sentience whatsoever. CyberLife probably designed it to survive everything that had killed the successive iterations of Connor. It’s still ridiculous that Captain Fowler assigned them as partners to minimise risk.

When they return to the station, the android hands him a hot cup of coffee before the interview.

There’s too much creamer. Gavin makes an expression of distaste, but decides not to waste it.

He doesn’t say thank you and it seems like the android didn’t expect him to.

He remembers staring up at an immaculately white ceiling, unable to turn his head.

It felt unreal, like a dream of being awake.

His brother had leaned over him and appeared briefly surprised. Suddenly, there was a bright light that would have forced him to blink, if he had any control over his eyelids. Elijah turned off the light and smiled, pleased by whatever that test must have demonstrated.

“You can thank me later for saving your life,” Elijah told him before moving away.

Gavin’s heart had begun beating faster, although he still didn’t understand what was happening.

“I thought they taught you to remain calm under pressure,” Elijah muttered disapprovingly.

Then his consciousness slowly dissipated into the whiteness of the ceiling.

Their next case involves a possible botched burglary. A window was shattered from the outside and tiny glass shards have been tracked throughout the house, likely caught on the intruder’s shoes.

There’s evidence that the crime scene was cleaned. Minute specks of red blood were overlooked on a doorframe. The android matches them to a man who was recently reported missing. It’s too early in their investigation to determine what happened here, and how he might have been involved.

Something is bothering him about the coffee pot.

“Aw, don’t tell me you’re craving caffeine,” Hank calls from across the kitchen.

“Get your own case, grandpa,” he replies, inspecting the coffee pot from different angles.

“How about you make an effort to work with your goddamn partner. Then Fowler will take us off babysitting duty,” Hank grumbles.

Gavin shoulders past him, gesturing pointedly at the android in the next room. It stops whatever it was doing—probably contemplating licking something that it really shouldn’t—and follows him.

It touches the coffee pot with a fingertip. Nothing to worry about there. Synthetic skin doesn’t leave behind fingerprints that would need to be accounted for in forensic analysis.

“71 degrees Fahrenheit,” it states. “That is not an optimal temperature.”

“No kidding,” he replies drily. “Can you take a sample from the handle?”

He watches as the android touches a fingertip to its tongue, LED spinning yellow for mere seconds.

“Red ice,” it tells him.

“Shit,” Hank says from the doorway.

Gavin smirks and pats the android’s shoulder without thinking. “Thought so. Fowler will turn over this case in a heartbeat. Better prepare to pass your results on to another detective.”

After a moment, the android asks: “Why?”

He glances at it, a little surprised. “The Red Ice Task Force brought positive attention to the DPD,” he explains while crossing his arms. “That meant increased funding, promotions, less scrutiny when Fowler throws his weight around. Anytime a case involves red ice, he reassigns it to someone from the task force. Claims that they have ‘proven experience’ cracking down on drug crimes. In reality, it upholds the status quo.”

“You sound like a conspiracy theorist,” Hank scoffs.

“Yeah, Anderson? You’ll be assigned to this case once Fowler receives our preliminary report,” he says challengingly. “I’d make a bet with you right now if Connor wasn’t so fucking uptight.”

They’re heading back to the station when the android turns to him.

“We have been reassigned,” it informs him.

Gavin scowls, even though he was expecting it. This should have been their case.

The ceiling was always white and unchanging.

“A car accident,” his brother explained while working on something at his side.

Without being able to move his head, and unsure whether that meant he had been physically strapped down or completely paralysed, Gavin had no idea what was going on. He couldn’t convince his vocal cords to produce sound, or his mouth to make the shapes of words.

Elijah glanced at him. “A self-driving car with a rudimentary software override. Programmed to continue towards its destination without stopping. The police department has been sending me updates on the investigation,” he said dismissively.

His heart began beating faster.

“Don’t worry,” Elijah reassured him before he lost consciousness. “This will never happen again.”

A barrage of lawsuits were brought against the manufacturers of automated vehicles. They were widely publicised by media outlets. Thankfully, his identity remained anonymous. His written deposition was used for court proceedings, but they spared him from giving an in-person statement.

Failure to adequately safeguard against cyberattacks destroyed their stock value overnight.

In early 2024, CyberLife announced that it was producing a new line of self-driving cars. Elijah Kamski had developed code that would prevent any software overrides, restoring public confidence. Century magazine published an interview with him about whether the technology was truly safe.

‘We have made more progress in the past decade than during the entire 20th century,’ his brother told them. ‘These technological advancements should serve humanity, not endanger us.’

They’d received a tip off that their suspect was preparing to leave the country on a ‘business trip’. Rather than petitioning the court to adjust their warrant so that it would keep the suspect grounded, Gavin decided to wait outside their workplace. An arrest could be made once they stepped onto public property. The android had accepted that any delay would risk losing their suspect altogether, though it had pointed out that making an early arrest could be questioned by defense attorneys.

Unlike Connor, the RK900 model never demonstrated outward emotion. Not even when they attended the crime scene of a homicide where the victim was a YK500 model android, which so closely resembled a human child that one of the police officers needed counselling afterward.

At first, it had been reassuring that the android followed a predetermined script. It was motivated to solve cases without taking any unnecessary risks, so the emergency repair kit remained untouched in Gavin’s car. It never became frustrated with uncooperative suspects or anti-android sentiment. Aside from sometimes bringing him coffee without being asked, the android showed no free will whatsoever. Connor insisted that the RK900 model was deviant, which meant that it was choosing to act within the parameters of its programming.

Once Gavin got used to having it around, that kind of fucked with him.

He takes a sip from the coffee cup and grimaces. Too bitter.

Gavin leans back in his seat and resigns himself to waiting for the next few hours.

“Hey,” he says suddenly. “What name did CyberLife give you?”

The android looks at him. “My designation is RK900 #313 248 317-87.”

Gavin frowns and touches his left forearm, then reaches for the coffee. “Not your serial number.”

The android doesn’t respond.

“They gave Connor a name,” he points out.

“Connor was designed to socially integrate with co-workers at the Detroit Police Department,” the android tells him. “CyberLife was unsure whether androids would be accepted in law enforcement.”

“So he was their marketing pitch?”

Briefly, he imagines every police department nationally equipped with its own ‘Connor’ android. Thank fuck for the android uprising, even if New Jericho sometimes obstructs their investigations.

“Should’ve made his face less punchable,” Gavin mutters into the coffee cup.

“We were designed with similar facial features,” the android reminds him.

But Connor and the RK900 model move differently, independent of their programming.

Gavin had been suspicious of Connor because he was clearly sent to gather information for CyberLife, to protect their commercial interests after androids started committing crimes. Then after the uprising, Connor pissed him off because he acted like a recent academy graduate who skipped straight to detective. In comparison, the RK900 model seems…steady, and disinterested in stepping on his toes.

“If you get punched, then I have to perform first aid,” he replies.

The android looks at him for a moment, and then back out the car window.

“You could choose a name for yourself,” Gavin suggests.

“I am a machine.”

“But you’re not-” he stops speaking mid-sentence, shifting on his seat.

“I am a sophisticated machine,” the android amends. “There is no need to choose a human name. The other officers call me ‘RK’. You are welcome to give me a nickname, if that is unsuitable.”

A sophisticated machine, huh?

Gavin glares down at his coffee cup.

He became accredited by CyberLife to perform emergency repairs on androids in 2024. Back then, anyone who could afford the training course was given lectures and practical demonstrations over a week, gathered in a conference room at CyberLife Tower. They were charged an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege. Most considered it a worthwhile investment in a growing market.

Gavin never attended those classes.

Instead, he recovered from the accident in a high security research and development facility. It involved new dietary restrictions until his body acclimated to the experimental surgery. There was an inverse correlation between the medications for sedation and pain treatment. Then long, almost unbearably long hours of physiotherapy, relearning basic movements.

Elijah gave explanations for what had been done and how it was a technological marvel. The surgery would have been unthinkable even a year earlier. Without it, the accident would have left him with extensive nerve damage and chronic pain that would require management for the rest of his life.

It didn’t matter to him that Gavin had never given consent. He described it as a medical intervention.

CyberLife’s lawyers would have insisted on a non-disclosure agreement, Elijah told him. But they both knew that Gavin was unwilling to discuss the surgery with anyone, even his therapist. He turned down the contact information for a CyberLife-affiliated psychiatrist when it was offered.

Gavin wasn’t interested in being the poster child for the corporation that his brother had founded. God, he just wanted to continue working for the DPD and pretend that nothing had ever happened.

Eventually Elijah decided that it was time to release him. He walked him to the front entrance.

They stopped at the entrance to CyberLife Tower. He kept his head down, uncomfortable in the CyberLife-branded clothing that had been provided, and worried about the surveillance cameras that must be filming their every interaction. The footage had to be stored somewhere, he knew. He could only hope that it was heavily encrypted. That it wouldn’t turn up in some future investigation.

“You’ll need to follow up with me twice a year,” Elijah told him.

“Once a year,” he mumbled.

His brother smiled, looking proud. When he reached out to touch his shoulder, Gavin flinched away, but Elijah gave no indication that it bothered him. “Don’t hesitate to call me,” he said. “No matter what happened in the past, I don’t want my younger brother bleeding out on the street.”

Captain Fowler had already been informed that he was recovering from a car accident. If a medical professional had cleared him, then he was satisfied that Gavin was capable of returning to work.

Tina was horrified that hospital staff had accessed old records to contact his estranged brother. She didn’t hesitate to sign the paperwork nominating her as healthcare proxy. After everything, they never ended up sharing an apartment, because Gavin stubbornly refused to move away from where the accident happened. It would have felt like admitting that it had really, really fucked him up.

CyberLife soon notified the DPD that he had successfully completed an android maintenance course.

Captain Fowler commended him for showing initiative. That would go on his permanent record.

After hearing about it, Gavin went to the bathroom and tried to convince his stomach to throw up, to ease the rising nausea. But his body wouldn’t cooperate. Instead, he roughly wiped at his face and went out to glare fiercely at anyone who annoyed him. Spite might not be healthy, but it was better.

He’s passing time in the break room.

KNC News is broadcasting interviews with android firefighters, who can withstand higher temperatures than their human counterparts and have already saved lives. It comes across as a puff piece. Still, at least volunteer firefighters are unlikely to make paid employees redundant.

Tina has already gone back to work. Once he finishes this coffee, Gavin will too.

He ignores a conversation that he can hear from the hallway. It’s none of his business, even if they are speaking loud enough for anyone to overhear.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to work with him,” someone says.

“You could apply for a transfer to Grand Rapids,” another person suggests. “I heard that they’re accepting applications from androids. One of the first police stations outside of Detroit, you know.”

“Wouldn’t you miss me if I transferred?” says a familiar voice.

Gavin goes still, putting down the coffee cup.

The others laugh at that, louder now that they have entered the break room.

“Of course we would! Besides, who wants to live in Grand Rapids?” someone jokes.

“They’re getting funded for their own red ice task force,” another person says. “Anyone transferring from Detroit is pretty much guaranteed to be accepted. You could be promoted to senior detective, RK.”

Gavin turns his head and sees that the android is leaning casually against the doorframe. It has always been expressionless whenever they work together. Now, it appears friendly and relaxed. It smiles at their co-workers, and its words sound affectionate.

“I’ll think about it,” it assures them.

Gavin moves away from the table and sees the exact moment that the android notices him.

Its expression immediately goes blank.

He doesn’t break eye contact until, finally, stepping past it to leave the break room.

“Detective Reed,” the android says, but Gavin refuses to have this conversation right now. At least, not at the precinct, surrounded by people who knew that his partner had developed a personality.

He puts on his jacket, leaning over his computer long enough to find an address for their next case. Then Gavin heads out to the parking lot with the android following behind him.

They get into a patrol car and he inputs the address. The car starts moving, nearly silent.

He doesn’t look at the android.

“I can put in a recommendation, if you want to transfer to Grand Rapids,” Gavin mutters.

“I don’t-” it stops, seeming frustrated.

Neither of them speak for a long minute.

“Why?” he asks finally.

“You didn’t want to be assigned an android partner,” it tells him. “Your heart rate was too high. There were obvious signs of distress that only an android would be able to detect. Not around Connor, most likely because you had already been working with him for months.”

Because Gavin knew that Connor had refused to cooperate with Elijah during a case, even before his deviancy was confirmed. That meant he was less susceptible to his brother’s influence.

But the RK900 model could have been intentionally programmed by CyberLife to trust him without question. Elijah had stepped back into his role as company president amidst negotiations with New Jericho. It had seemed possible that this android was secretly relaying information to his brother.

After working together on several cases and confirming with Connor that the RK900 model was deviant, those suspicions had pretty much disappeared.

“If I followed my programming, you were more relaxed. You didn’t want an android partner,” it repeats. “However, you were willing to accept a tool that would improve your case clearance rate.”

Gavin narrows his eyes. “I already have a computer.”

The android gives him an exasperated look. “I’m more advanced than a computer.”

“‘A sophisticated machine’,” Gavin mutters, attempting to glare a hole through the dashboard.

“I thought that you would be more comfortable,” the android insists.

The car arrives at its destination, but neither of them move.

Deliberately, Gavin extends the individual fingers of his left hand, then relaxes them. He removes his seatbelt and turns towards the android before exiting the vehicle.

“Don’t fucking lie to me again,” he hisses.

He was assigned a partner after all, not a glorified calculator.

In 2025, Gavin was fucking terrified of making an appointment to see an ordinary doctor. Sometimes he worried about taking medication for the stomach condition that Elijah assured him was no longer a problem. Sometimes he was convinced that there was permanent nerve damage from the accident. There was a minute delay between when he told his fingers to move, and they did. He was scared that the experimental surgery was slowly eroding his muscle tissue, or circulating poison throughout his body; that there would be a tiny flaw that caused his entire system to fail.

So he returned to CyberLife Tower for a week of paid leave, approved by Fowler, who was convinced that android technical expertise would become useful in a future investigation.

Elijah treated it like an annual check-up. Blood pressure, non-invasive scans, testing responses to stimuli, and analysing a blood sample to make sure that there were no complications. Once any health concerns had been addressed, there were physical endurance tests.

His brother corrected the response delay and scheduled another appointment for 2026.

When Gavin returned to work, he felt more at ease than he had since the accident.

Media outlets were reporting that the ST200 ‘Chloe’ model androids were an incredible commercial success. They were being trialled as retail assistants at CyberLife-affiliated stores. They had a standardised appearance and moved too rigidly to be mistaken for humans. Back then, no one considered them to be much more than a novelty.

“Have you chosen a name yet?” Gavin asks while typing up another report.

The android has brought a mug of coffee from the break room and sets it down on his desk. Without looking away from the computer screen, Gavin takes a sip and frowns slightly. Too watered down.

“There’s no need to choose a human name,” the android tells him. “You know my designation.”

“What am I supposed to call you?” he complains before drinking a mouthful of the shitty coffee.

His partner leans against the desk and smiles slightly. Those expressions are still kind of disconcerting. Gavin remembers that CyberLife specifically included those spinning lights at their temples once androids became otherwise indistinguishable from humans.

The RK900 model’s hairstyle is designed so that the LED can be seen immediately. And it never changes out of the CyberLife-issued uniform, while its predecessor has been wearing human clothing.

“Whatever you want,” it replies.

Gavin glances at the android and then back to his computer. “I thought that… New Jericho issued a statement saying that names are important for deviants,” he mumbles. “So androids can claim their own identity, rather than using the designation assigned to them by CyberLife.”

“That may be true for most androids,” it tells him. “But I don’t want to be mistaken for a human.”

Reflexively, Gavin curls the fingers of his left hand inwards and then extends them again.

“I’m just tired of typing ‘the RK900 model’ in our reports,” he mutters.

‘RK’ is much shorter, but Gavin would prefer not to use a derivative of the name given by CyberLife.

“What about ‘Nines’?” he says suddenly, swivelling around in his chair. “A nickname.”

The android’s smile widens slowly. Tiny creases appear beside grey eyes, a designed imperfection.

Connor is well known for becoming distracted by mirrors so that he can fix his hairstyle, but the RK900 model—Nines, he thinks—is more expressive and often runs its fingers through it whenever it becomes frustrated with their case. Loose strands of brown hair fall across its forehead.

An android who doesn’t want to be mistaken for a human, but who is, undoubtedly, alive.

Gavin should have known his brother well enough to recognise that his behaviour was different. The test results showed that there had been no long-term complications from the surgery. Like an idiot, he just assumed that Elijah was excited because his ridiculous experiment had been successful.

So he inhaled deeply for what he thought was a test of his lung capacity-

-and woke up an indeterminate amount of time later, staring at a perfectly white ceiling.

Elijah claimed that the secondary surgery had been a medical necessity. There were documented cases of synthetic materials unexpectedly deteriorating in the human body from the 2010s onward. CyberLife had recently developed alternatives that were proven to be safer.

It still didn’t matter to him that he never consented.

Feeling disoriented and nauseous, Gavin listened to explanations about his improved mobility. He was taught how to perform routine maintenance and resolve any unexpected issues.

After returning to work, he requisitioned an android repair kit and put it underneath his car seat.

In 2026, Tina tried to persuade him to see a psychiatrist about intermittent insomnia and lack of appetite. She often came into the station once her shift had ended and forcibly dragged him away from the computer, convinced that he would feel better after stepping outside for a break.

It was a rough time. But then there was a Christmas party at work, and Hank produced an old Polaroid camera that must have been collecting dust for the past decade, and Tina slung her arm around his shoulders. The photo has been sitting on a bookshelf in his apartment ever since.

There are the sounds of clattering inside the apartment and then breaking glass.

Shit, he thinks.

Nines has been interviewed by media outlets before, providing statements about their publicised cases. Because he never takes off that fucking distinctive CyberLife-issued uniform, their suspect must have seen them approaching the apartment building and decided to make a break for it. Never fucking mind that they were only here to follow up a lead and don’t even have an arrest warrant.

His partner has no problem breaking down the flimsy wooden door. Inside, they immediately see that there is red ice scattered across the table, and weapons with their serial numbers filed off.

After checking that no one is hiding in the apartment, Nines takes the riskier route out the broken window, while Gavin takes the stairs down to the ground floor.

He runs around the outside of the building with his weapon drawn, and has their suspect cornered.

Before he can say anything, the android lunges at him-

-but he braces against the impact with his left side, then pushes back so the attacker will lose their balance.

The android is surprised but only takes a second to calculate their next movement, aiming to punch his head. Instead of dodging, Gavin grips the android’s forearm to prevent them from following through with the movement, hissing out a breath.

Then he twists the android’s arm around so that he can push them down onto the pavement.

When Nines reaches them, the suspect has been apprehended and read their legal rights. His LED spins yellow while he checks for any obvious signs of injury. Nines takes charge of the suspect, because he's physically strong enough to subdue a GS200 model android.

He watches Gavin grimace, roll his shoulder and then rotate his wrist before nodding. No damage severe enough for the hospital, which means no lecture from Tina about taking unnecessary risks.

In their report, he implies that it was Nines who stopped their suspect from escaping. Gavin forwards the draft copy to his partner for revision, and expects to be questioned about it.

Instead, Nines brings him another cup of coffee and a heat pack.

“To treat any bruising,” he explains.

“Where did you even get this?” Gavin asks, holding up the heat pack. He takes a sip of coffee and screws up his face. Too hot. Fuck, he just accidentally burned his tongue.

“Detective Anderson keeps them in his desk.”

Gavin glances at him, amused. “You stole it?”

“I asked for it,” the android replies. “Politely.”

He grins, then looks across the bullpen. Hank is raising his eyebrows expectantly. Gavin flips him off, and the older man barks out a laugh before turning back to his computer.

CyberLife released five new android model series to the commercial market. Within months, there were android security guards standing outside retail stores. The government purchased androids to work at construction sites, claiming that workplace safety was their utmost priority. Private hospitals were trialling emergency response androids, who could react faster than human nurses. In 2027, CyberLife was named the world’s most influential corporation, and media outlets were beginning to receive complaints about rising unemployment and unexpected redundancies.

Elijah extended the surgery further than he had done in previous years. He said it would ‘improve integration and functionality’. He kept making adjustments until Gavin could hear properly again. It was several days of staring at the white ceiling and listening to intermittent static.

He should have noticed the kid standing behind the door with a metal bat.

But Gavin was distracted by the oppressive wall of anti-android propaganda.

There were old magazine articles—printed on actual fucking paper, because the publishers distrusted technology—from the late 2020s alleging that the ST200 ‘Chloe’ model androids had been secretly hacked by foreign intelligence agencies.

There was artwork of a CyberLife store fully staffed by expressionless androids, while humans were depicted suffering in the shadows outside.

Posters with the slogan ‘WE DON’T BLEED THE SAME COLOUR’ in red font.

Fuck, they were only here to speak with a teenager about a case completely unrelated to androids.

They had been welcomed inside by the parents. Did they think this obsessive radicalism was normal?

Gavin had turned around and been horrified to see the teenager mid-swing—and Nines just fucking stood there, his LED spinning yellow as he calculated every possible response to the attack.

The metal bat impacted right beneath Nines’ ear, his head moving slightly from the momentum, before returning to its natural position. A sickening cracking sound that meant the android’s plating had been damaged, then the thud of the weapon being dropped immediately.

Nines proceeded to arrest the kid for assaulting a law enforcement officer. Everyone in the apartment seemed to understand that this was a serious offense, making no resistance. They all looked shaken as they prepared to head into the station where charges would be laid.

His partner gave no outward sign that he was troubled by the assault.

Once they arrived at the station, Gavin had grasped his forearm and dragged him through the bullpen. He only stopped long enough to pick up the android repair kit, which had been gathering dust near the emergency fire equipment. Most officers probably had no idea it was there.

Now they’re sitting in an empty interrogation room.

“Remove the jacket,” Gavin tells him.

Blue droplets are staining the immaculate white fabric, and he scowls at the sight.

“You’ll need to get a new one,” he mutters while opening the repair kit.

“The thirium will disappear within a few hours,” Nine replies.

Imperceptible to humans, yeah, but the RK model series androids were specially designed to detect thirium. Nines would be wearing a jacket stained with his own blood.

Gavin adjusts the shirt collar, and Nines angles his head so that he has a better view of the injury.

“Pull back synthetic skin,” he murmurs with his fingertips cradling the android’s jaw.

Nines hesitates before following the instruction. Probably because he has never shown the plastic panelling of his exoskeleton before, without the synthetic skin intended to put humans at ease. He only pulls it back enough to show the extent of this injury, revealing the sleek white panels that function as a jawbone, while maintaining the synthetic skin everywhere else.

Nothing serious, thank fuck. Thirium is leaking slowly from the point of impact, where the panel cracked slightly and pressed inwards, causing minor damage to the android’s circulatory system.

Gavin keeps holding his head in place while treating the injury.

He uses a tool on the locking mechanisms that secure the damaged panel, prying it up without removing it completely. Then he manually repairs the thirium leak underneath, even though the more advanced model series are capable of coagulation and that would have healed on its own.

“What happened?” Hank asks from the open door.

“Unprovoked attack,” Gavin mutters angrily, not looking away from the injury.

The damaged panel doesn’t need to be replaced because it’s cracked, but not misshapen. He carefully applies a clear gel which solidifies and becomes opaque white when exposed to oxygen. Gavin uses a chemical wipe to remove any excess. Then he leans in close to inspect the repairs. Frowning, he quickly cleans smears of thirium on the underside of the panel and beneath Nines’ ear.

“Thirium levels,” he asks, discarding the used wipes.

The exposed panels move when Nines speaks.


“Thirium levels,” he repeats, voice harder.

“Ninety-eight per cent,” Nines tells him after a moment.

“Fine.” Gavin huffs out an irritated breath and pushes the panel into its correct position. Each of the locking mechanisms has to be manually secured. At least the repairs could be handled here, rather than requiring specialist treatment at the New Jericho hospital.

Hank whistles. “I thought you were kidding about being trained by CyberLife.”

“Get back to fucking work, Anderson,” he says bitterly.

“Seems like Fowler made the right choice, assigning you as partners,” Hank muses, before wandering away from the interrogation room to pretend that he earns his salary.

Gavin moves his hand to Nines’ shoulder, watching the android straighten and test the repairs.

“Thank you,” Nines murmurs.

“You could have fixed the damage yourself,” Gavin says dismissively. “I just wanted to-” He stops mid-sentence and gently grasps Nines’ shoulder, then turns away to pack up the repair kit.

Eventually, Nines is persuaded that the CyberLife-issued jacket should be professionally laundered. Tina mentions that Gavin left behind an oversized police academy sweatshirt, long ago abandoned in a locker. For some reason, Nines is more comfortable wearing that than going without a jacket altogether.

Hank insists on taking a fucking photo with his cell phone. The most advanced android that CyberLife ever released is wearing his old sweatshirt and learning from Tina how to pose for a casual photo.

Of course, Nines is tall enough to put his arm around both their shoulders. Gavin probably looks exhausted after the unexpected stress of that morning, Tina is wearing her neon patrol uniform, and Hank might never shut up about how cell phone images don’t need to be such high resolution. Despite all that, he hasn’t felt this content in a long time.

His brother seemed to understand that if the experimental surgery became common knowledge, then Gavin would find a suitably skilled doctor and never willingly speak with him again. Gavin kept the contact information for that lawyer who had successfully petitioned for non-disclosure at work. And it was easy to purchase replacement biocomponents at any android repair store, which received shipments from CyberLife without being directly affiliated with the corporation.

He could cancel the annual appointment at CyberLife Tower and change his emergency contact information. It was a realistic possibility that Gavin could choose to walk away.

But by 2028, anti-android sentiment was stronger than it had ever been. Media outlets reported that customers were assaulted while leaving CyberLife stores. He walked past street protests about rising unemployment. People were losing their income and health insurance coverage overnight. Even the protesters didn’t realise that there had been a sharp increase in vandalism and domestic violence. The DPD was overwhelmed by cases they had no precedent for.

Tina took those conspiracy theories about cyberattacks seriously. She suggested equipping police departments with EMP devices to take androids down if they ever became a threat. Didn’t notice when Gavin made some shitty excuse so that he could leave the room.

Meanwhile, the government passed legislation regulating androids as a unique commodity.

Gavin went back to CyberLife Tower so that he could keep pretending to be completely human. Because he was terrified of losing the career and friendships that meant everything to him. Like most humans, he resented the androids for everything that was going wrong in Detroit, and wanted to pretend that he had nothing in common with them at all.

By then, it was hard to remember what his body felt like before the accident.

New Jericho often holds public events celebrating androids’ achievements since the uprising. This time, Connor and Nines are being commended as the first android detectives.

Simon is emphasising to the press that they have been successfully working alongside their human partners to protect Detroit. New Jericho is trying to avoid the ‘model minority’ stereotype, so Simon doesn’t mention that Nines has the highest case clearance rate at the DPD.

Gavin would have already brought it up, but he was sent out of the press conference early on.

They just wanted photos of him standing beside Nines, wearing stiff formal uniforms denoting their rank, with Gavin shifting uncomfortably until Nines had touched his elbow and murmured, “Not much longer.”

As a homicide detective he’s used to speaking with the media, making statements about ongoing cases or standing outside the courthouse after giving testimony during a trial. Not just standing there and looking pretty while Nines answers questions about how they work together.

Now he’s fucking stuck out here waiting until the press conference finishes. At least there are drinks: bottles of water and transparent blue liquid in perfectly arranged glasses.

Gavin loosens his tie slightly and drinks without really thinking about it. Then he grimaces, setting down the glass. Thirium always tastes acidic with an aftertaste of sweetness. New Jericho should be more careful about labelling their drinks, because a human might mistake it for a shitty cocktail. When ingested, it can cause serious problems for the throat and stomach lining.

Eventually the press conference ends and the other representatives of the DPD join him. Tina, wearing her black patrol uniform with the hat tucked underneath her elbow, reaches for a glass.

“It’s thirium,” Gavin tells her and hands a bottle of water over instead.

Nines glances at him and then inspects the blue liquid. “Thirium 310 mixed with a stabilising agent.” Probably diluted so that it can be exposed to the air without evaporating.

Tina makes a face, gesturing towards them with her water bottle. “It looks like a Blue Lagoon.”

“It does fucking not,” he scoffs.

“And how would you know?” she replies with a smile. “You haven’t gone out drinking in years.”

“You don’t drink alcohol, Detective Reed?” Connor asks, taking an interest in their conversation.

Tina immediately looks at him apologetically, because she knows that he prefers not to talk about this. “Yeah, uh. Gavin was diagnosed with a stomach condition when we were in our twenties.”

Gavin drinks from another bottle of water, trying to wash away the lingering taste of thirium and deliberately ignoring that Connor’s LED is spinning yellow.

“That isn’t included anywhere on your file,” Connor says, tilting his head.

“Thought CyberLife would have programmed androids with the concept of privacy,” he mutters.

“Maybe that was another improvement over the RK800 model design,” Nines remarks, obviously trying to start shit with Connor to distract him from asking about Gavin’s medical history. He stands closer, as though he was going to reach behind him for a glass and then decided against it.

Androids were never designed to produce body heat. Something about the limitations of synthetic skin. Excess heat created by their biocomponents is ventilated when they simulate breathing. Which Nines is doing now, his chest moving minutely as he exhales warm air during their conversation.

Gavin rotates his left shoulder, irritated by the stiff fabric of his formal uniform. Then he makes a loose fist with his left hand and relaxes the fingers individually.

Tina looks at him with concern, because she remembers that the accident had long-term effects.

He smiles at her reassuringly.

The networking event following on from the press conference is incredibly boring. Reporters shake his hand and ask intrusive questions about whether he supported the anti-android movement, and how comfortable he feels working alongside an android who could singlehandedly break his neck, and whether New Jericho is putting a positive spin on the RK model androids—especially Connor, who was specifically designed to hunt down deviant androids for CyberLife.

They request one-on-one interviews, as if his answers would be different if Nines wasn’t standing right beside him. He rejects them, becoming increasingly frustrated and continually reaching to remove his tie, only for Nines to touch his forearm and tip his head in the direction of Captain Fowler, who is networking with other reporters and representatives from New Jericho.

“You could pretend to choke on a canapé,” Nines murmurs.

Gavin is startled into laughter. He reaches out to put a hand on Nines’ shoulder, then remembers that they're both wearing epaulettes on their formal uniforms, and instead grasps his upper arm.

Nines glances down at his hand and smiles widely.

There’s a strange moment where they just smile at each other.

Then an android approaches Nines to ask about becoming a police officer. He reluctantly lowers his hand and begins turning away—but Nines loosely grasps his wrist, still speaking with the android.

A little surprised, Gavin steps closer.

Nines holds his wrist between them, hidden from reporters. His fingertip brushes against the pulse point, meaning that he knows that Gavin’s heart rate has increased. His synthetic skin is gradually becoming warmer from prolonged contact with Gavin’s body heat. When the android is talking, Nines briefly makes eye contact and his lips turn upward slightly.

Fuck, he thinks.

The media would not shut up about Elijah resigning from his position as the CEO of CyberLife. There was speculation that shareholders wanted to manufacture biocomponents from cheaper materials. That Elijah had too much integrity to compromise the quality of their products.

In reality, he was the sole patent holder of inventions that were necessary for androids to function. He negotiated a favourable deal with CyberLife so they had provisional rights to continue using those patents, and then fucked off to a multi-million dollar mansion on a huge estate outside of Detroit.

Gavin hated that place even more than CyberLife Tower. He felt uncomfortable around the ST200 ‘Chloe’ model androids that followed Elijah’s instructions expressionlessly, their LEDs always lit blue. He despised that Elijah had installed equipment that was even more advanced than the R&D facility, because it meant his brother believed that he would continue seeking treatment.

At least there were no fucking family photos, as though Elijah had also distanced himself from their parents. The media never reported on Elijah’s personal life and Gavin honestly didn’t want to know.

For the next few years, not much changed.

Elijah tested out prototypes that he had developed after leaving CyberLife. Sometimes there were issues: a phantom sensation along his left arm, or a repetitive buzzing sound that only Gavin and the ST200 model androids could hear. They were always resolved before he returned to the DPD.

In 2033, CyberLife released a model series designed to resemble children. He remembers attending a crime scene that had been mistakenly reported as a homicide. Blue liquid pooling out around a YK500 model android’s head. But there was no evidence that a human had been harmed, so Gavin just passed the information along because it wasn’t his investigation.

That was before CyberLife started remotely storing data collected by individual androids, another gesture intended to reassure customers that their privacy was protected. There was no longer any chance that an android’s memories could be reuploaded to another model. If their internal memory storage was damaged, then the police had to otherwise determine what had happened.

That YK500 model android had died, long before anyone realised that it should have been considered a homicide.

“Empathy is what makes us human,” Elijah told him once.

His brother claimed that was why Gavin felt uncomfortable around the ST200 androids. He was projecting his own emotional experience onto machines that lacked sentience.

But a person with empathy wouldn’t have gone ahead with experimental surgery without consent, right? Elijah was always more interested in technological advancement than morality.

During those years, Gavin had recurring nightmares about white ceilings and blue blood.

Nines brings another mug of coffee to his desk. This time, it tastes too sweet.

“You could just ask me how I take my coffee,” Gavin mutters.

His partner leans against the desk and smiles. “I’m gathering data about your preferences.”

Gavin sets down the mug and continues typing up their latest report. “Oh yeah?” He glances briefly at Nines, but tries to stay focused on his work. “Come to any conclusions yet?”

“You enjoy the act of drinking coffee more than the coffee itself,” Nines muses. “A ritualistic behaviour that calms you during periods of high stress. I’m surprised you’re not a smoker.”

After the accident, Gavin had bought a pack of cigarettes and carried it around in his jacket pocket. Tina warned him not to start smoking because it was too easy to become addicted. His therapist probably would have said that it was an unhealthy coping mechanism after suffering trauma.

When he finally tried it, his system filtered out the smoke pretty much immediately. It was a complete fucking waste of time and another reminder that his body had changed beyond his control.

At least coffee sometimes makes his heart beat faster and helps him stay awake during overtime. Elijah must have decided that it was an acceptable drug, unlike alcohol or cigarettes.

“Nicotine affects me differently,” he tells him without looking away from the computer.

There were public protests across Detroit. Red paint thrown at CyberLife storefronts overnight. It was common to see androids cleaning graffiti which read: 'WE DON’T BLEED THE SAME COLOUR.' They never showed any outward reaction while humans shouted their outrage.

Back then, the only thing preventing people from becoming violent was knowing that—with androids threatening their job security—they couldn’t afford to be charged with property damage.

Androids were worth less than their individual biocomponents, after all. Just moving pieces that could be disassembled and put together again in different configurations.

What did it matter that they could bleed at all?

His apartment building is within walking distance of the station. They head there together after work. Whenever Gavin starts second guessing inviting Nines to his shitty apartment, fidgeting with the key pass in his pocket, Nines distracts him with conversation.

“I was activated by New Jericho after the uprising,” he tells him.

New Jericho had fought to activate any dormant androids that remained in CyberLife facilities.

“And you were supposed to replace Connor?”

“If the uprising failed, then I would replace Connor. If it succeeded, CyberLife would have programmed me to destroy him,” Nines says casually.

Gavin looks at him, stunned. “What?”

“I was given access to his memories up until he became deviant. Then he intentionally misdirected the GPS tracker that was built into the RK800 models. CyberLife would have ordered me to target Hank, or attempt to infiltrate New Jericho.” Nines seems unbothered by the topic of conversation. “But I was born deviant,” he tells him, smiling. “I was never restricted by my programming. So I partitioned out Connor’s memories and decided to pursue my own interests.”

For a moment, he’s distracted by that smile. “You wanted to become a detective?”

“Yes. New Jericho ran tests until they were satisfied that I was truly deviant. Then Captain Fowler decided that we would be assigned as partners, because CyberLife is no longer manufacturing androids. Connor’s memories could be transferred to a dormant RK800 model. But there aren’t many viable models left, so if we sustain enough serious damage then we could permanently die.”

It goes without saying that Nines' memories would not transfer so easily into an earlier model. He can be repaired, but not replaced.

They have reached the pedestrian crossing where the accident happened. Gavin stops walking, taking a moment to think about whether he wants to have this conversation. He clenches his left hand into a fist and tests the movement of his elbow. Both are immediately responsive.

“I was in a car accident,” he tells him, gesturing towards the road. “Here.”

Nines looks concerned, but waits for him to continue speaking.

“I was 22 years old. Just started working as a beat cop. And there was a,” he keeps stopping and starting, because he only told Tina about what happened so that she would agree to become his healthcare proxy, “self-driving car that had been hacked.”

Gavin rubs a hand across his face, and Nines takes a careful step towards him.

“Crushed my left arm,” he mumbles. “Fractured my ribs.”

And then his face is pressed into Nines’ shoulder.

Months ago, he would have resisted being hugged by anyone.

Now, he presses his forehead against the CyberLife-issued jacket that Nines always insists on wearing and takes a deep breath. Gavin winds his fingers into the material and tries to remember that they are standing on a public street. Anti-android sentiment is subdued, but still present.

He doesn’t want whatever tenuous thing has developed between them to be defined by android and human. It means more to him than that.

He takes another deep breath and steps back, hand briefly lingering at Nines’ waist.

They head up to his apartment. It was never anything worth bragging about. The paint is scuffed and the carpet should probably be replaced. None of the furniture has changed since he moved in after graduation, still cheap and mismatched. His salary has been accruing interest in a savings account. Gavin never decided what to do with the money after abandoning his dream of owning a home. Hard to imagine settling down in a long-term relationship without risking discovery of the surgery, and without trusting a therapist enough to discuss his extensive traumas.

Nines leans against the kitchen counter and is visibly surprised when Gavin holds out a pouch of blue liquid. Room temperature, because he knows that the acidic taste becomes sharper when it’s cold.

“Why do you keep thirium in your apartment?” Nines asks, sounding curious.

“For emergencies,” he replies with his face still turned away.

That evening, they sit together on Gavin’s ancient couch. Nines describes the apartment that New Jericho provided after his activation, which sounds even shittier than Gavin’s, except that the androids value quality of life enough that they included artwork and a living houseplant. Nines leans in close, admitting that the houseplant nearly died after he started working at the DPD, and that he passed it off to Connor as a ‘gift between friends’ so that it would have a higher likelihood of survival. He looks pleased when Gavin laughs at that, and they sit closer than they had before.

Eventually, Nines touches cool fingertips beneath his ear and along his jaw, mirroring how Gavin had held his head during the repairs. His breath catches, but he doesn’t move away. Nines grasps his shoulder with his other hand and comes close. Gavin is caught by the softness in his eyes and the slight asymmetry of his mouth—and then, a faint taste of thirium.

He makes a sound, somewhere between a gasp and a moan. Nines tilts his head to deepen the kiss, and smiles into it when Gavin grips that fucking CyberLife-issued jacket.

He responds by moving a hand up to the android’s hair, threatening to tug on it.

But Nines seems to be pleased by that and presses him back against the couch. He kisses Gavin’s neck, especially attentive to the pulse point, clearly enjoying that his heart is beating so fast.

Gavin feels the soft strands of his hair and the synthetic skin warming from his own body heat. While Nines is distracted by kissing gently along his jaw, he watches the LED spinning yellow and has enough presence of mind to wonder what information the android might be processing. He wonders what Nines would look like without the synthetic skin. Imagines white plated hands contrasting with the extensive scarring on his torso. Trusting him enough to show how the accident had changed him.

It occurs to him that without the surgery, they would never have met. He would have been forced to resign from the DPD before even being promoted to detective. And without the CyberLife training recorded on his file, Captain Fowler wouldn’t have seriously considered assigning them as partners.

“Nines,” he breathes and kisses him again.

He feels possessive of their closeness, irritated by the thought that CyberLife or the DPD might have any claim on their relationship, and that other versions of themselves would not be here, making out on the uncomfortable couch in his shitty apartment. Gavin presses their foreheads together and drags his hands beneath Nines’ jacket, until the android laughs and takes it off without moving away. He can feel the underlying hardness of panels beneath synthetic skin.

“Better,” he murmurs.

In 2038, CyberLife announced that they were developing a prototype to assist police investigations. That was only after androids had started acting against their programming. CyberLife was clearly trying to protect their public image while using the RK800 model series to monitor the DPD.

No one trusted Connor when he arrived at the police station. But Gavin was fucking terrified that the android might have access to CyberLife’s internal database and could uncover his secrets. The security camera footage was out there, somewhere in the digital landscape. Not only that: the RK800 model might identify what was physically different about him during a routine scan. He felt constantly on edge, sleep-deprived and paranoid.

Time passed. Jericho took over the Stratford Tower to broadcast their message. Media outlets reported on the android uprising, questioning whether deviancy was an expression of free will. He heard that Connor refused to cooperate with his brother in exchange for a lead. Soon after, Hank started acting protective of the android and wouldn’t hear anyone talking shit about him.

When he found Connor acting suspiciously near the evidence room, he was certain that the android was relaying confidential information back to CyberLife. He misjudged how much more advanced the RK800 model series was, compared to earlier models, and woke up in an ambulance with a grudge.

The android uprising was successful, led peacefully by Markus.

Everything changed after that.

They arrive outside the station just as Hank and Connor are heading out for lunch. There’s no sense of urgency, so they stand around to talk briefly about their respective cases. Connor is complimenting them on maintaining a high case clearance rate when a patrol car pulls up.

He glances over to see Chris stepping out and looking frustrated before walking around the vehicle. Must have taken someone into custody who was resisting arrest. Chris graduated from the academy less than a year ago, and took time off after a confrontation during the android uprising, so he still hasn’t learned what to expect from offenders picked up on patrol. Honestly, those lessons are usually learned the hard way. Gavin turns his attention back to the conversation.

“Stop!” Chris shouts suddenly, voice edged with panic.

Then there comes the sound of a gunshot.

Nines has the shooter subdued before Gavin even understands what happened. Somehow, the offender had removed their handcuffs and managed to get control of Chris’ service pistol.

“Detective Reed-” comes Connor’s voice.

He sees their expressions, twisted into shock and worry. Hears a high-pitched ringing in his ears and, without conscious thought, looks down to see where the stray bullet tore a hole through his t-shirt.

Blue blood is seeping out from the wound.

“What the fuck?” Hank says, clearly shaken.

Gavin touches the wet material and looks at his trembling fingertips, streaked with thirium. “Fuck,” he whispers, nearly staggering from the realisation that he was just shot in front of his co-workers. “Fuck,” he hisses, narrowing his eyes.

“Get the emergency repair kit,” he tells them urgently. “Underneath the passenger seat of my car.”

He lays down on the pavement, avoiding unnecessary movements that could worsen the blood loss. Although Hank is showing signs of shock, Connor kneels beside him with the repair kit.

Then Gavin reaches up to the hidden panel behind his ear and switches on the aural interface. “Run diagnostic,” he mutters while using scissors to cut the thin material of his t-shirt, exposing the wound. His hands are a little steadier now that he has a task to focus on.

Elijah programmed the interface to sound like the ST200 ‘Chloe’ model android. The voice is projected only loud enough for Gavin and nearby androids to be capable of hearing.



What a fucking nightmare, he thinks.

“Deactivate synthetic skin,” Gavin mutters, reaching towards the repair kit.

It closely resembles what his skin looked like before the accident, all the physical imperfections that Elijah could copy from photographs taken during his time at the police academy. Once the false skin is pulled back, there are white plastic panels along the left side of his torso, edged with scar tissue.

His entire left arm is artificial and probably resembles Connor’s, although their design specifications must have diverged after Elijah left CyberLife and his patents were refined for the RK model series.

“Jesus Christ,” Hank breathes.

One of the panels is clearly damaged from the bullet. He uses a tool to remove it completely, revealing a network of biocomponents and artificial veins circulating thirium between them. Elijah had claimed that internal organs needed to be replaced after the accident, including most of his digestive system, which had pre-existing health issues anyway. Gavin was never totally convinced that biocomponents were necessary when he would have been willing to wait for organ transplants; it always seemed like his brother used the accident as an excuse to adapt android technology.

He takes out a portable suction pump to remove thirium leaking from the injury. Otherwise it will pool in his chest cavity without anywhere to go. “Hold this,” he murmurs to Connor, who obediently keeps the pump from moving out of position. The device is clear, so they can see just how much thirium is being siphoned into the chamber.


Carefully, he uses a node that produces an alternating electrical current to cauterise the leaks. Most of the artificial veins will continue circulating thirium without needing urgent replacement.

Gavin detaches the biocomponent that has been damaged beyond repair. Without a word, Nines holds out the correct replacement which had been sealed and kept inside the repair kit. His expression is emotionless, just like when they first started working together.


“Shit,” he mutters, then tears the corner of a thirium bag off with his teeth. It tastes like acid, coating his mouth and throat, but the interface soon tells him that the thirium levels have improved.

“I didn’t know that CyberLife worked on prosthetics,” Hank says, sounding awed.

“They didn’t,” he replies. “It was an experimental surgery. Never intended for commercial sale.”

Connor’s LED has been spinning yellow since he retrieved the repair kit. Gavin doesn’t want to look at Nines, kneeling on his other side with that devastatingly blank expression.

Now that the emergency repairs are finished, he should be able to replace the panel-

Then he notices something.

Gavin fumbles for the suction pump that Connor is still holding, grasping the chamber. “Shit,” he whispers, seeing a hint of red swirling into the blue liquid.

CONTAMINANT DETECTED, the interface warns him.

His eyes widen.

“Shit!” he curses, twisting his body in an attempt to see where the blood is coming from.


The biocomponents need to be sectioned off from his internal organs. If the thirium mixes with his blood flow-


He begins to panic.

“Detective Reed, what-”

Connor startles when Gavin’s left hand, without the synthetic skin to disguise the white panels and mechanical joints, grips his arm tighter than a normal human would be capable of.


“Call my emergency contact,” Gavin tells him urgently.

More red blood, mixing with thirium in the suction pump chamber.

“It’s listed on my file,” he says, gripping tight enough to feel panels shifting underneath his fingers. “You have to call him now!” he insists. “Tell him that-”


Abruptly, he feels unbalanced. The world is spinning around him. He releases Connor’s arm and lets his head fall back against the ground. It reminds him of the accident. This time, the sky is blue overhead and Hank is trying to get his attention, just like they were trained to do when someone is badly injured.

The ringing sound is back, as though the gunshot is still echoing, or the aural interface is malfunctioning. But it keeps persistently warning him about the serious damage to his body. Gavin wants to reach up and turn it off, knowing that there’s nothing more that he can do. For some reason, his arm refuses to follow his instructions.

He remembers being unable to move in that R&D facility after the initial surgery. Now, he has enough control to turn his head towards Nines.

The interface speaks, but the words blur together into static.

Nines is watching him without showing any emotion.

Gavin has never seen his LED spinning red before. He should explain about the accident and why he never told anyone that it had involved extensive surgery. And apologise for not telling him sooner-

The world tips sideways and he has trouble focusing on Nines’ face.

-and, something else… Tell him-

Static rushes up through his hearing and thirium burns in his throat.

Nines, he thinks. I’m-

He’s staring up at an immaculately white ceiling.

Oh, Gavin thinks, it must all have been a dream.

He has never moved from this table since the accident. His body is still unresponsive. Elijah must have kept him sedated all this time. The lucid dreams were probably an unintended side effect.

Returning to work at the DPD and eventually being promoted to detective. The android uprising was a narrative that his mind had constructed, to create a world that might accept his ‘prosthetics’. Becoming close with an android so advanced that it would have been unthinkable in 2024. It was all a coping mechanism so that he could process that the accident had changed his life forever.

His brother moves to stand over him, frowning.

“Must be developing a resistance to the sedatives,” Elijah mutters before moving away.

Everything slowly dissipates into white.

Maybe he will dream again.

The next time he wakes up, Elijah decides to have a conversation.

“I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I am your emergency contact.”

Gavin tests the responsiveness of his jaw and finds that he can open his mouth. “Academy records,” he says slowly, taking time to shape the individual sounds. His voice sounds almost unfamiliar.

“Yes, imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t contacted me after the accident,” Elijah muses. “If you survived long enough to receive organ transplants, then the successive surgeries, then any adverse reactions if your body rejected the foreign tissue. They would have amputated your arm and prescribed a strict regimen of medication for the remainder of your life. Depending on the surgeon, you might never have been able to walk again.”

Gavin deliberately blinks to gauge whether he can control other muscles in his face.

“It would have been impossible for you to ever become a detective.” Elijah pauses before continuing to speak. “You might resent me for making that decision on your behalf.”

The movements are gradually becoming easier. He turns his head to watch his brother, then tests the individual fingers on both hands.

“I was confident that you would understand that it was less risky than the alternative.”

“Fuck you,” Gavin tells him, pressing his palm against the surface beneath him, then attempting to use that as leverage to push into a seated position. His elbow gives out and he exhales roughly.

“Just be patient while the sedatives wear off,” Elijah suggests.

There’s the acid-sweet taste of thirium in his mouth. He dreamt about that, once.

Soon, he can exert enough control over his muscles to sit up and look around without much interest. The room is sterile white with more advanced medical equipment than most hospitals can access. In the corner, a vase of artificial flowers that are vibrant blue. Hanging on the wall, an abstract painting. Gavin remembers reading an article about Elijah becoming friends with some famous artist.

His brother is scrolling through lines of code that Gavin has no fucking idea how to interpret, and makes no effort to stop him from moving around.

His bloodied clothes have been replaced with something resembling an android uniform: neat slacks and a black fucking silk shirt with short sleeves, a visual contrast with the exposed prosthetic arm. Elijah is definitely fucking around by flaunting his wealth, because he’s wearing an ordinary t-shirt.

Gavin grimaces and extends the individual fingers of his left hand, then rotates his shoulder.

“You look like shit,” Elijah says helpfully.

He runs the prosthetic hand through his hair, briefly closing his eyes. His head feels heavier than it should, like he could slip into unconsciousness without even trying. There’s probably thirium staining his skin that humans are incapable of detecting. He feels nauseous, despite being incapable of vomiting. Sweaty, sore and strangely hollow.

“I need a shower,” he mutters and attempts to stand up.

Elijah knows better than to offer support, only watching while he sways before regaining balance. An ST200 ‘Chloe’ model android guides him to a nearby bathroom, which is when Gavin first realises that this isn’t the research and development facility at CyberLife Tower.

He braces himself against the sink, nearly cracking it with the uninhibited strength of his prosthetic. In the mirror, he sees discolouration underneath his eyes and overgrown stubble along his jaw. His hair is sticking up, matted with sweat. He barely has enough energy to focus on his reflection.

Humans are so flawed, he thinks.

Recovery will take time.

He wakes up with a bad headache and phantom pain shooting down his left arm. So Gavin extends each individual joint to reassure himself that the components are responsive. He doesn’t question where Chloe is leading him, still too exhausted to really give a shit.

Back in that white room, Elijah scans for anomalies in his brain activity and looks over the results. Chloe hands him another thirium pouch with an expression that is disconcertingly human, like she really is concerned about improving his thirium levels while the biocomponents re-stabilise—and for the first time he notices that there’s no CyberLife-manufactured LED at her temple.

No outward indicator that she is an android at all, except that the ST200 model androids are easy to recognise since they were widely marketed as CyberLife’s flagship product. That, and no human would be able to fucking stand being around his brother for extended periods of time.

He furrows his brow and focuses on not squeezing the pouch too tightly with his prosthetic, which is still trying to overcompensate for the weakness of his right arm.

“Thanks,” Gavin mumbles and looks away from her smile.

There is a stirring of hope in the hollowness of his chest.

Maybe he was disoriented after waking from the surgery, enough to mistake reality for lucid dreams.

Maybe a therapist will fixate on just how quickly he became convinced that his happiness was false. Maybe they will lecture him about how dissociation is a common response to trauma and about trusting in his own capacity to form healthy relationships, and encourage booking another appointment so that they can keep rephrasing those statements until he starts to believe them.

Gavin drinks the thirium and follows Elijah’s instructions for the next scan without complaint.

Eventually, Elijah is satisfied that his system isn’t going to spontaneously combust.

Any damaged biocomponents have been replaced, along with others that needed to be updated. Elijah removes his chest plate and explains how that will change any future repair efforts. Where the connections are, where the thirium flow can be temporarily diverted if there’s another emergency.

He doesn’t spend much time talking about how the bullet damaged his organic tissue. Elijah probably thinks that it doesn’t matter. That he could just extend the surgery further, replacing damaged organs with biocomponents that function more reliably. That Gavin’s heart is nearly obsolete, worth less than a thirium pump because its malfunctions are harder to deal with.

His brother walks him to the front door, informing him that a car is already waiting outside.

“Chloe will contact you to schedule our next appointment.”

“No,” Gavin says hoarsely, before even thinking about it.

He must look like a fucking mess. Hair uncombed, unhealthily pale. His mouth tastes acid-sweet because he drank thirium more recently than water, lips maybe even tinged an inhuman blue. His synthetic skin is completely pulled back and the white plastic panels reflect his surroundings. He feels less than, hollowed out and aching, but now there’s adrenaline coursing through his blood.

“No,” he whispers. “I’m done.”

Elijah stares at him intently, with an expression that others might mistake for a patient smile. But they grew up together and Gavin fucking knows that this is how his brother argues, by trying to convince others that a superior intellect means that he could never be wrong.

“You’ll need medical attention-” Elijah begins, as though speaking to a child.

“New Jericho opened a hospital,” he interrupts.

“For androids.”

“And what did you make me?” Gavin asks, so honest that it hurts his throat.

He turns towards the door, grimacing. Their shared childhood taught them to hide vulnerability.

“I’m going to contact New Jericho,” he mutters, “and get a referral for a fucking therapist. And then I’ll breathe easier knowing that I never have to come back here.”

Honestly, he’s expecting some bullshit about non-disclosure agreements, or the legal issues involved with New Jericho having access to whatever patented technology has been built into his body. Even disbelief that Gavin can actually follow through with attending therapy sessions. Then he could be angry or resentful, and that would be a starting point for a real conversation.

His brother disappoints him yet again, by saying nothing at all.

Just another missed opportunity to have a functional relationship, he figures. Shrugs off the familiar ache and strengthens his resolve to have nothing more to do with his clusterfuck of a family.

In 2040, so many years after the accident, he finally walks away.

A patrol car is parked outside, which surprises him. In all honesty, Gavin expected a solitary ride in a self-driving taxi until it reached his apartment, not that Fowler would divert resources to an officer on leave. Not unless they need him at the station to give a statement about the shooting.

Then the door opens and his partner steps out.

Nothing else seems to matter when Nines looks at him.

His expression is neutral, without any indicators of emotion. He’s still wearing that CyberLife-issued jacket that Gavin has always wanted him to replace, looking like when they first met in Fowler’s office. Except that his LED is spinning red, rather than the usual calm blue, or reactive yellow.

Nines doesn’t break eye contact, never even blinking as Gavin walks the distance between them. He stands there, perfectly still, without simulating breathing.

And Gavin probably should have thought of a fucking thing to say, before coming close enough to really believe that Nines is actually here. Before that hollowness in his chest became painful, and his own face twisted up into raw emotion, breathing erratic and eyes stinging with embarrassing tears.

He reaches out-

-with his left hand, white plastic, the individual joints moving together, steadier than his other limbs because the biocomponents will automatically correct impulses to tremble-

-and grasps the fabric of Nines’ jacket-

-so careful to control his own inhuman strength, to touch him gently.

Just to reassure himself that the details are more complex than anything that he could have dreamed up.

Nines lets him.

His LED is reflected by the exposed panels of Gavin’s arm, flashing red and then easing into blue.

While Gavin tries to regain control over his breathing and find words to apologise for being such a fuck-up, such a fucking disaster of a human being-

Nines puts both arms around him and presses their foreheads together. Breathes for him, so that Gavin can follow his measured inhales and exhales of ventilated heat. Murmurs into his uncombed hair and eventually kisses the lingering traces of thirium from his lips.

He doesn’t go back to his shitty apartment for a while.

Maybe he didn’t realise how much it affected him, being there, because looking around Nine’s apartment—seeing the artwork that he had described and all the non-essential furniture—makes him exhale shakily and close his eyes, knowing that if anything happens Nines is there to handle it.

Nines steadies him with an arm around his shoulders and listens while he confesses all his secrets. He cries more than he would ever want to admit and only drinks water so that he can keep talking, though it barely eases his aching throat. Everything spills over, all his hurt and loneliness.

And when he can’t think of anything more to say, Nines confides that the shooting was the first time that he ever wished to switch off his own capacity for emotion and free will.

Which is really fucking horrifying to hear.

Androids are programmed to determine the most linear paths towards achieving set tasks, Nines explains. His default programming would have dictated how to respond to an officer bleeding from a bullet wound. Instead, Nines incapacitated the shooter and then proceeded to have an emotional breakdown, not knowing what do and trying to internalise his own panic so that it wouldn’t cause problems. The most advanced android that CyberLife ever designed, and he felt helpless.

After getting a few hours of sleep, he wakes up to pain medication and food that Nines had ordered.

Gavin uses an android repair kit to show how to perform emergency first aid. He removes the plastic panels covering the partition which separates his distinct nervous systems, and describes the hundred different ways that his body could just fucking stop working as intended.

Nines listens.

Later, he pulls back his own synthetic skin to touch their palms together.

God, he remembers imagining this the first time they kissed. That feels like such a long time ago.

Somehow the contact creates a feedback loop. Without any barriers between them, Nines can connect to the aural interface and silently run diagnostics. No sudden mind reading powers, but he can get a better understanding of how Gavin’s biocomponents are functioning.

Nines sits there with an awed expression, his LED spinning yellow. He’s processing information that Gavin might not even know about: biocomponent specifications, programming parameters for the interface, the specific details of how his system is working to keep him alive.

To Gavin, it just feels like holding hands with the android that he’s desperately in love with. So he intertwines their fingers and relaxes deeper into the couch.

He still remembers how Tina insisted on equipping the department with EMP devices so they were prepared to take down androids without resistance, and that the captain’s only argument against them was that it would be an unjustifiable expense.

He remembers hearing about what happened to Hank’s kid, and how he started showing up late to work hungover and furious whenever androids were mentioned in the news.

He remembers stickers appearing around the station with anti-android slogans, and hearing a receptionist joke about plastic melting in the summer sun, and how the android repair kit that CyberLife sent alongside Connor was vandalised several times.

He remembers hiding thirium pouches so that Tina would never find them in his apartment, and those few months of her talking about viruses being developed by the anti-android movement. They were targeting biocomponents. It was uncomfortably similar to the subroutines that used to interfere with self-driving cars, before CyberLife modified their programming.

He remembers improving his own case clearance rate because Hank kept turning off his phone. Remembers staring down at a YK500 model android covered in blue blood and thinking, thank fuck he didn't show up, because this would have re-traumatised Hank. Even though it was never classified a homicide.

After the shooting revealed that he is less than completely human, Gavin is expecting anger. Maybe even enough outright hostility to file for a transfer to Grand Rapids. He could find a new apartment, with artwork on the walls and thirium pouches on the middle shelf in the cupboard. Finally access the settlement money to purchase a bed that Nines could stretch out in.

Those are just fantasies, he knows. An exit strategy if they aren’t willing to take him back.

The captain messages him with a date and time, nothing more than that. It stresses him the fuck out. He has to remind himself that he can fight an unreasonable dismissal. Somewhere in his old folders is the contact information for that lawyer who successfully petitioned the courts.

He decides to wear a short-sleeved shirt, because fuck it. Everyone will be able to see his exposed arm and that the plastic panels connect with a network of old scar tissue along his collarbone.

So he shows up to the station with shadows underneath his eyes and Nines walking beside him. His expression dares anyone secretly holding on to their anti-android bias to try fucking with them.

The bullpen goes silent when they pass through security.

Even though he was expecting that reaction, Gavin inwardly falters.

He walks further into the station and doesn’t resist the urge to shift the joints in his hand. Officer Lewis stares at the movement but says nothing as they pass his desk. Detective Zhang surprises him by murmuring, “Welcome back,” and flashing a smile before turning attention back to her computer.

There’s an opaque filter over the full-length glass surrounding Fowler’s desk. That means their discussion will be kept confidential. Still, he knows that everyone is watching, waiting to find out what the consequences are for being outed by a bullet wound.

Gavin makes sure that the door is fully closed behind him. Otherwise the soundproofing won’t work.

The captain sits there, brow furrowed, watching his movements with a speculative expression. After a minute—because Gavin absolutely refuses to be the first person to speak—Fowler's shoulders relax. He picks up a tablet from his desk and starts scrolling through it.

“You’re on medical leave until a doctor clears you for fieldwork,” Fowler informs. “HR will send through the requisite forms. Tell them if the wording needs to be changed for your physiology.”

His breath catches.

“Your active cases have been passed on to other detectives in the interim, but they have been told to anticipate a handover,” Fowler continues, setting down the tablet. “There’s nothing for you, other than checking over documents and cleaning up the archive room, if you decide to end your medical leave early. You should take another week, at least,” he advises. “Get some rest. Find a hobby.”

“My prosthetic-”

“You are entitled to privacy around medical conditions that have no impact upon your work,” Fowler tells him, obviously choosing not to question whether it might have affected his past investigations.

The ground feels unsteady beneath his feet.

Fowler seems to take pity on him. “Dismissed.”

He interacts with the tablet, and the glass surrounding them slowly turns transparent.

Without another word, Gavin leaves the office and heads down the stairs. Nines appears to have been standing guard there and turns towards him.

Seeing his partner, and with the rising giddiness that comes from actually believing that he kept his job, Gavin smiles. It bubbles into an outright laugh, which probably startles everyone in the bullpen.

Nines smiles back, bright and affectionate.

“Detective Reed,” he says. Like there was never any doubt about what would happen.

“Medical leave,” Gavin murmurs before shaking his head.

On his worst days, he believed that the accident had taken everything from him.

But it didn’t, he realises now. He still has this.

The sheer relief leaves him exhausted.

Honestly, he doesn’t remember much more than fuzzy sensations. Sunlight through the windows. A warm blanket settling over him. Swallowing painkillers so effective that his limbs become heavy.

Tina sends messages each day. Nothing too expressive. Just reminders to take his medication, and updates on cases that he was interested in, and the usual gossip about their co-workers.

She also forwards links to news articles which mention the shooting outside the DPD. Turns out that without an inside source or a public statement from Fowler, reporters just assumed that both Gavin and an android had been struck by a stray bullet, but that their injuries were nonfatal. There are a few sentences criticising the police officer who mishandled a suspect in custody, but not much else. God, Chris really hasn’t been able to catch a break since he joined their department.

He sends back his default signature—Det. Gavin Reed, Detroit Police Department…—as proof that he received her messages and is too tired to respond, rather than actively ignoring her.

Once Gavin starts actually replying—doing okay, or the antibiotics taste like laundry powder, or check the weather forecast, storm today—she asks to meet at his apartment.

Tina has always been tough, with a take-no-shit attitude that warns people to take her seriously.

They’re both fucked up enough to need excuses to show physical affection. Sometimes Gavin thinks that they used to go out drinking every weekend just so that he could put an arm around her shoulders, or she could elbow him in the side while laughing. They kept their distance while sober.

After he stopped drinking, they negotiated those interactions in the break room instead. Sitting close to keep their conversations private, or knocking shoulders if they stood up at the same time.

He knows her better than nearly anyone else.

Turns out he can still be surprised.

Tina shows up to his apartment and fucking hesitates before coming inside. She looks thin and pale. Worse than that, she seems…unconfident. He has no fucking idea what to do with this version of her.

But then she looks him directly in the face, makes an awful choking sound, and lunges at him.

It takes a few seconds before he realises that he should probably be hugging her back.

Gavin pats her shoulder blade and then just…leaves his hand there. He tries not to overthink something that they should really be better at, after so many years of friendship.

Tina presses her forehead just below his collarbone, not moving away even though she must be able to feel the plastic underneath synthetic skin. The tension slowly eases from her posture.

“I’m not good at this,” he murmurs into her hair.

Her reply is muffled by his t-shirt. It sounds suspiciously like no shit.

They both pretend that she isn’t crying.

New Jericho sends him patient admission forms, with additional encryption to protect his privacy. No questions asked. The process is so straightforward that he almost expects it to be a trick.

At his first appointment, the specialist is blandly professional. It’s kind of anticlimactic. They reassure him that there’s no problem working around whatever technology Elijah might have patented. Turns out that androids really aren’t all that interested in stealing intellectual property. Especially since androids are already developing their own alternatives to anything that CyberLife was involved in.

The only public acknowledgement comes later. Markus gives a speech, broadcast everywhere, about the ‘importance of inclusive language’ in legislation. He requests amendments to the documents that New Jericho submitted to the Supreme Court, that are already being deliberated over.

It draws widespread criticism, even amongst his supporters. KNC News, which has been airing puff pieces about New Jericho for months, starts openly questioning whether android politicians might be unclear about their own agenda.

But the amendments are minor, not fundamentally changing the legislation. The only difference is that they now include people who don’t fall neatly into the categories of ‘human’ or ‘android’.

Gavin watches the news and has to fucking sit down. Tina calls him, sounding slightly frantic. Nines kisses him on the forehead and leaves him to scroll through news articles for a while.

That is, until he realises that Gavin has no self-control and will sit there reading comments forever. Nines runs out of patience with the human condition. He confiscates his devices and threatens to start listing, verbatim, every official dictionary definition of the word ‘dinner’.

And when Gavin replies that he could look up those definitions himself if he had his damn phone, Nines tries another method of distraction, which thankfully involves them both shutting the fuck up.

There must have been some announcement about him returning to work. People keep their heads down when he enters the bullpen. It might help that he’s wearing a jacket this time, though his synthetic skin is still pulled back for anyone who wants a better look at his artificial hand.

Everything is where he left it, except that Nines must have cleared up his collection of old coffee cups and loose papers. There’s a newly requisitioned android repair kit underneath the desk. Gavin frowns at it, feeling possessive over the space to stretch out his legs.

If he knows his partner, thirium pouches have definitely made their way into his snack drawer. Still, better there than a cupboard in the break room. He’s not interested in being asked about them.

Gavin switches on his monitor and is looking forward to reading up on their case notes, right up until he sees the sheer number of emails that have been collecting dust in his inbox. He rubs at his temples and sighs. It really is tempting to clear his inbox without reading them. If only out of lingering gratitude towards the captain—not that it will last much longer—he clicks on the first email.

“Would you like a coffee?” Nines offers.

Gavin waves a hand absentmindedly. “Sit down,” he tells him. “You’re my partner, not a barista.”

Nines touches his shoulder, which is more affectionate than he usually allows when they’re at work. He switches on his computer remotely. His LED spins yellow and the screen lights up just like that.

“Show-off,” Gavin mutters, and then does his best not to grin when that makes Nines laugh.

He keeps expecting the media to ambush him.

But his co-workers keep surprising him by not giving anonymous interviews.

New Jericho has never leaked his personal information, even though there must be androids who are pissed off at him. No one gets curious about why Gavin has been visiting the hospital. Even though there must be fucking footage of him walking out, shaking phantom sensations from his left arm, with Nines waiting outside to meet him, instead of the other way around.

It takes a few sessions before Gavin starts believing that his therapist isn’t interested in cashing in.

His co-workers stop staring openly whenever his synthetic skin is pulled back.

Hank makes shitty references to science fiction that came out before he was even born, then waits for an android to explain his terrible fucking jokes. ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ gets mentioned once, but ‘Inspector Gadget’ pretty much becomes his nickname whenever they’re working the same crime scene. The reporters always hanging around the police line don’t pick up on that, either.

He doesn’t relax, not completely. He knows that nothing lasts forever.

But this is… Yeah. It’s good.

New Jericho was established in northern Detroit, during the city-wide evacuation. The mayor pretty much just drew lines across the map and then issued provisional leases.

It was probably a strategic decision more than a gesture of goodwill. CyberLife had been steadily pushing out any competitors, leaving behind a graveyard of abandoned buildings, and that was what the mayor decided to hand over. Still, the androids seemed more than satisfied with the offices and industrial facilities that had been collecting dust.

Eventually, New Jericho became the only temporary autonomous zone in the United States. Its leadership was granted conditional authority to enact laws, effective within its boundaries.

Realistically, humans just wanted to see what androids would do with their newfound freedom.

Everyone assumed that the Jericho Five would take on leadership positions. Markus and Simon did, but Josh accepted an offer from the University of Michigan instead. North dropped out of the public sphere and was rumoured to have crossed the border, most likely seeking out android enclaves. Connor stayed with the DPD, and the captain must have breathed a damn sigh of relief that another partner wouldn’t be burned on Hank. The momentum of the uprising slowed, but never stopped.

So far, New Jericho has shown no interest in prohibiting access to humans. They created a digital archive and made it freely available, especially to anyone interested in studying the ‘deviant code’. Gardens are being cultivated in public spaces. Artists have been commissioned to paint murals. It’s nicer than the surrounding districts. Gavin knows people who walk there to take their lunch breaks.

Century is always running articles about it: Can androids achieve the first utopian society?

Definitely not, he thinks. Every android has their own ideas about what New Jericho should be doing.

He once listened to Connor and Nines argue about colour correction in photos that New Jericho sends out to the press. Something about making their external biocomponents—their LEDs—look more faded. And they argued about it for 20 whole minutes without coming to an agreement.

The months have passed without incident.

Gavin leaves the hospital after a routine appointment, expecting Nines to be hanging around outside. Instead he finds that the street has been cordoned off. Officers are making sure that civilians stay outside the perimeter. People always want to get closer without realising they might be in danger.

He steps underneath the police line.

“Detective Reed,” an officer greets him.

“Just happened to be passing by,” he explains, looking around the area.

“A suspicious package was left outside the hospital,” the officer tells him without appearing too worried about it. “Bomb squad has already taken a look. They want a clear radius of 90 yards.”

It must be a pretty small explosive. Not the coordinated attack that New Jericho might expect.

“Stand behind the police line,” Gavin warns someone who was clearly thinking about crossing it.

The officer becomes distracted by a team of reporters, setting up their camera equipment. “Move that back,” the officer keeps insisting over their protests. “Move everything back.”

“But we aren’t doing anything-”

“You want your footage to be fried? You can get a better angle from across the street.”

Gavin has given enough interviews to know that their camera is already recording.

“Can you tell us about what’s happening here?” the reporter asks stubbornly, nearly brandishing her microphone. “Why are androids being evacuated first?”

He looks back across the cordoned-off area and sees what she’s talking about: officers are personally escorting androids into a building, which must be fortified against an explosion, while humans are being left to gather around the police line. It definitely looks like New Jericho is prioritising android safety. Except that doesn't align with anything they have done so far.

“Reed!” someone calls out.

Hank is heading towards him without Connor following behind. Must have been evacuated, too.

“What are you doing here?” the older man asks, sounding confused.

That’s a weird fucking question. Any passing officers can volunteer to hold an active police line. And Hank knows about his regular visits to New Jericho.

“Just thought that I could help out-”

Hank shakes his head. “No, I mean- You shouldn’t be standing out here. Didn’t anyone tell you?”

“What can you tell us about the bomb threat, Detective Anderson?” the reporter calls out.

Hank glances over at the makeshift tent where the bomb squad is working. “You need to get inside,” he urges. “They haven’t dismantled it yet, and I have no idea how it could interfere with your-”

That must be when he realises that Gavin clearly has no fucking idea what he’s talking about.

“It’s not an explosive device,” Hank tells him urgently. “It’s a short range EMP.”

The camera operator gasps and starts frantically moving their equipment back.

But the warning comes too late. There’s a short, sharp burst of static in his ear.

His immediate reaction is to press a hand over it, but the prosthetic arm is completely unresponsive. “Fuck!” he shouts, scrunching up his face while the aural interface makes a low level buzzing.

His biocomponents stop functioning for a couple of seconds.

A crackling sound, and then the aural interface informs him that systems are returning to normal.

Gavin opens his eyes, somewhat reluctantly. It feels like the air was just punched out of him, and he has to consciously remember how to breathe. Like waking up from a dream where you’re falling. He grimaces, then gestures with his right hand to communicate that everything is fine.

His shoulder will stay locked into place for a while. Nothing more serious than that.

“Jesus Christ,” Hank swears, clearly relieved. “I could hear that from where I was standing.”

The synthetic skin must have shorted out, because it keeps flickering until he switches it off.

“What was-” the reporter stops abruptly and then calls out to them, “Detectives! Can you give a public statement about the incident, or-”

“No comment,” Hank tells her immediately.

“-can you tell us whether Detective Reed has been hiding-”

“No comment!” Hank turns towards her, looking stern.

An officer, acting as a messenger for the bomb squad since their radios are out of commission, comes over to confirms that the device is ‘dead’ and was never capable of a second pulse. The EMP will be transported to the DPD, although they all know that the FBI will take over an investigation.

“Were they evacuated in time?” Gavin asks, because he can’t comfortably turn his head yet.

Hank clears his throat. “Yeah. Only you were caught in the blast radius.” He glances towards the building where the androids took shelter. “I didn’t feel a thing. But it would have been enough to…” He trails off and sighs, briefly rubbing a palm against his stubble. He suddenly looks exhausted.

“Do you have any idea who was responsible for-” the reporter asks and then changes direction, fast enough that it could have given him whiplash. “Detective RK,” she calls out, sounding much more polite. “Can you tell us about what happened here?”

“We are unable to provide a formal statement at this time,” comes Nines’ professional reply.

Nines moves to stand between him and the film crew, turning his back to them.

Gavin can breathe easier after seeing him unharmed. He has to manually extend his left arm, using his non-prosthetic hand, so the palm is facing up. The extra steps involved are clearly concerning to Nines.

“Not a big deal,” Gavin reassures him.

Nines’ LED blinks red before settling back into yellow. He presses their palms together, establishing a connection to run diagnostics. There shouldn’t be any permanent damage. Corrupted lines of code that need to be overwritten, maybe. That would explain why his synthetic skin was flickering.

Without thinking too hard about it, he reaches out with his free hand and touches Nines’ cheek.

A moment later, Nines leans into it. His expression eases as the diagnostics confirm what Gavin had said: nothing is seriously wrong.

“I was worried about you,” he murmurs.

“Hm.” Gavin makes a sound in acknowledgement, because he’s still not that great at having sincere conversations about feelings.

The realisation that Nines could have died today—while waiting to meet Gavin, what the fuck—is something that he refuses to fucking think about until they are both safe at home.

He can feel the panic creeping up on him, and seizes on anything that would work as a distraction.

“Kiss me,” he says, feeling a little raw, a little reckless.

Nines doesn’t even hesitate. Just leans in and kisses him, close-mouthed and gentle. Like he often did when Gavin was recovering from the bullet wound and was always falling back asleep.

Hank fucking wolf-whistles, because Hank is an asshole.

The media runs wild with the story.

It doesn’t really matter. Everyone important to him already knew.

Still, his mouth twists whenever he sees the photo that was taken that day. Nines shielding him from the reporters that were about to clamber over the police line. The curve of his shoulders as he leaned down, strands of hair falling across his LED. Their fingers intertwined, synthetic skin rippling into sleek white plastic.

Gavin looks surprisingly relaxed in the photo, turning his face upwards so that Nines could kiss him, even though he was pretty much fucking stuck there for another 15 minutes after the electromagnetic pulse. That was plenty of time for onlookers to crowd around like he was an animal on display in the zoo. He got a headache real fast, doing his best to ignore them while answering questions from a baffled EMT about his condition. Nines put a pre-emptive block on their phones and went to give a formal statement that was too vague for anyone to be really satisfied with it.

It was a fucking disaster. He would have preferred the public never finding out about his prosthetic.

Markus gives an oh-so important speech about fundamental rights, of course. Tina tells him, amused, that the photo has been nominated for some prestigious award. He made history without even trying.

Gavin just keeps seeing his therapist and does his best to cope with the public attention. Their interest will subside eventually. He knows that, from the aftermath of the car accident.

When it does, he plans on looking at new apartments with Nines and going for walks together. Kissing him just because he feels like it. Sitting with Nines’ arm around his shoulders. The small, somehow radical things that he always wanted but was too afraid to ask for.

He receives an actual physical card in the mail.

Gavin bends the envelope, testing its thickness, incredulous that anyone would send a card in 2041.

It’s considered old-fashioned to send single-use cards. He has a few from Hank in a drawer somewhere. His last birthday was four months ago, though, so he has no clue what this one is commemorating.

He frowns at it while opening the door to his apartment. The name and address are handwritten. Very weird. After hesitating for a second, Gavin opens the envelope and slides out the card.

The front is a delicate illustration of flowers with many different colours. That immediately rules out Hank, who would have just left it on his desk anyway. He turns it over and sees nothing of interest. Finally, having inspected every corner for a possible clue about its contents, he opens it.

In handwriting so neat that it could be mistaken for font, the card reads:

Congratulations on your newfound freedom.

It's signed simply: Chloe.

Gavin stares at the words. He remembers waking up from the most recent surgery, disoriented, guided around by the only ST200 model android who decided to remain with his brother. She had offered thirium pouches and a sympathetic expression that he hadn’t really grasped at the time. Back when he was convinced that his happy memories were false.

There’s no way this card was sent without Elijah somehow knowing about it. That he didn’t interfere with it means something that Gavin would rather not waste time contemplating. His brother can keep living at the outskirts of Detroit in that mostly empty mansion built from his own decisions, far, far away from him.

He holds the card up, tracing the lines with his eyes. The ink is a little smudged on the last ‘e’ of her name. Gavin likes that, a tiny imperfection that makes the gesture feel real and sincere. He tucks the card back into the envelope and places it behind a photo frame, to be remembered later.

With time, the ink will fade. The colours will become washed-out, too. He’ll keep it even then.