Freedom came with so many things. Now, suddenly, there were emotions and feelings, which weren’t always the easiest to deal with, but the positive ones usually made up for the negative ones. Much harder to handle, however, were choices, because making a decision when you no longer had your programming to tell you what the best option was meant that you also had to have a good grasp on likes and dislikes. Some androids had figured out their own preferences quickly enough, while others still struggled to understand the concept.
Nines sat firmly in the latter category.
For the most part, Nines was okay with this fact. It was easy enough to defer to the preferences of those around him, which in turn usually made them happy, or, in the case of Detective Reed, at least much more tolerable to be around. Connor was usually more upset about Nines’s indifference than Nines himself, fretting about how much his little brother let himself be walked all over. Nines appreciated the concern, but the truth was that it was far easier for Nines to let everyone walk all over him than to face the distress he felt when he was asked, “What do you want to do?”
Nines didn’t know how to want.
That was the fundamental difference between Nines and his big brother. Connor wanted things. Connor liked things. Connor liked fish, Connor liked dogs, Connor liked music. The house he’d gotten in the same neighborhood as Hank was full of things he liked. Houseplants. Blankets. Paperback books. Exactly two fish tanks. Nines’s own small apartment, further into the city, was utterly sparse in comparison. A television. A couch. A bed, because Connor insisted that it was better than simply dropping into stasis tucked away in the corner of the room. Nines wasn’t sure he agreed. After all, a bed meant picking out bedsheets, and that was a matter of preference. In the end, he’d settled on a light gray set. He didn’t know if he liked gray. He didn’t know if he disliked gray. To him, it was simply gray. He didn’t know how to attach feelings to it.
“It’s not very cozy,” Connor always said of the apartment when he came to visit. Connor liked cozy.
“It’s efficient,” Nines always answered. He didn’t need anything beyond what he already had.
“You don’t have to be efficient anymore, Nines.” Connor always looked right at him when he said this part. “Don’t you want to be anything else?”
Nines wasn’t sure, but he was starting to get a feeling that he did. Not in the way Connor meant it, not exactly, but he'd ended up considering what other people thought he was, and who they thought he was supposed to be. It differed, depending on whose viewpoint he considered. There were still plenty of anti-android groups out there, and to them, Nines was it. A thing, not a person. And there was no denying that something about that hurt. To everyone else, though, to colleagues and friends and strangers on the street, Nines was he. And when it came down to it, Nines didn’t think that felt right.
He was the first thing Nines decided to consciously dislike.
That revelation naturally called for a great deal of self-reflection, something Nines had never been very fond of doing. Looking inward had always made Nines feel something like a void, containing nothing but busted programming, a few dead roses, and an ocean of passivity. Still, Nines knew that there was no choice this time. Not unless Nines wanted to continue to hate being he.
She didn’t feel right either, so Nines quickly threw it out, though there was definitely an appeal to certain aspects of the feminine. So, nonbinary then? Perhaps. That felt right, in fact. Something inside Nines seemed to settle at the admittance. Not quite like a puzzle piece slotting into place, but more like the void Nines carried inside suddenly filled up a little more.
Nines leaned back against the couch, its fabric also gray. Dull, Nines thought. Nines disliked gray. It was too passive, too easy to ignore. Too empty. Nines decided to perhaps buy a nice blanket to throw over the back of the couch, one that was soft and bright and vibrant, a pop of color against the emptiness of the apartment.
Connor would like that, Nines thought. Connor would also probably like to know that Nines seemed to have discovered a few things to like and dislike too. So Nines messaged Connor and asked him to come over, because Nines could think of no better person to discuss all this with for the first time anyway.
It wasn’t long before Connor joined Nines on the couch, so thrilled to have been invited over for once rather than inviting himself over that he’d made it to the apartment in record time. He cared for Nines so much, truly, like a real big brother, and Nines decided to like that about him. It would hopefully make this next part easier, at least.
“You always ask if I want to be anything else,” Nines began, slowly, carefully, unsure of the words.
Connor nodded, watching Nines carefully. He was waiting to hear more, to finally know who Nines wanted to be. He was excited. Nines could practically feel the energy rolling off of him.
That made one of them, at least. Nines had never been quite so nervous. Nines had never had such a clear grasp of nervous before, either.
“I’ve decided that I do want to be something else.” Nines took a careful, measured, unnecessary breath. “Perhaps not in the way you wished, but I hope you will find it . . . acceptable, at least.”
“Of course I will.” Connor nudged Nines with his elbow, a decidedly playful gesture. He had always wanted to have a closer relationship with Nines, like real siblings, not just the manufactured pieces of inorganic material they really were. He must be thrilled that Nines was finally opening up to him. Nines just hoped that Connor wouldn’t change his mind in a few moments. “It’s you, Nines. Whoever you want to be, it’s fine.”
That was reassuring. Comforting, even. Nines hoped it was true. “I’ve decided that I do not wish to be perceived as male, nor do I wish to be perceived as female. I find the possibility of identifying as nonbinary appealing.”
A negligible handful of seconds passed before Connor smiled and pulled Nines into a hug, something that Nines was usually unsure of but in this moment took a great deal of comfort in. “I’m happy for you, Nines! I mean that. I’m glad you found this out about yourself. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me.”
Nines made an attempt to return Connor’s hug, arms awkwardly wrapping around him. Physical contact wasn’t something that Nines had become particularly skilled at yet. Connor simply laughed kindly and squeezed Nines tighter before pulling back. “Have you decided on pronouns yet?”
Nines hummed, eyes closing, head leaning back, LED swirling yellow. Choosing new pronouns was something that Nines hadn’t fully managed to consider yet, instead getting far too caught up on sharing the news with Connor. There were several options outside of the traditional gendered pronouns. It would take even more self-reflection to make that decision. “No. In truth, I’ve only just decided on this. I felt that you should know as well, however.”
“That’s fine.” Connor nodded. “You don’t have to decide on everything right away. This is a big step! I’ll just avoid using pronouns for you at all for now.”
“Thank you.” Nines couldn’t even begin to describe the overwhelming relief Connor’s response had provided. It was good to know that nothing had truly changed about their relationship because of this. If anything, they’d both only grown closer. And it was validating to know that Connor still respected and cared for Nines so much, even if Nines had ended up not being quite what Connor was expecting.
“Oh, there’s one more thing.” Connor seemed incredibly excited again. “Do you want to go shopping or anything now?”
Nines blinked. “Why?”
“Well, for example,” Connor waved a hand towards Nines, “are you happy with your clothes?”
Happy. Another emotion that Nines wasn’t always the best at, but now seemed more important than ever. Nines looked down, considering. Long gone was the CyberLife uniform, but now filling up Nines’s closet were clothes relatively similar. Dress pants. Button ups. A plethora of white coats. Nines didn’t dislike them, per se, but there was always the possibility that there were better options out there. That Nines could find some clothes to actually like.
“No,” Nines finally admitted. “At least, I don’t know if I’m as happy as I could be.”
Connor hopped up from the couch, practically vibrating. “I’ll go with you, if you’d like.”
“I would appreciate your company.”
It ended up being a long trip, hours sliding by as Nines attempted to pit a budding understanding of preference against Connor’s (quite frankly, terrible) fashion choice. Nines knew it was all worth it in the end, however, leaving the store with three new dresses, a few pairs of tights, one more white coat (with a decidedly feminine cut this time), and a new feeling of confidence that Nines had never yet known.
It was a week later when Nines ended up in a meeting between the DPD, Jericho, and the Detroit city council about a string of human-led protests that had ended badly for more than one android. Nines had picked out what had quickly become a new favorite outfit for the occasion: long black sweater with an asymmetrical hem over bright blue leggings, heeled black boots, the newest white coat with its feminine waist — and although figuring out the curling iron had been quite the experience, Nines knew that the freshly curled hair completed the look. Connor had nodded in approval when Nines had entered the conference room, though that was slightly more concerning than it was reassuring. Far more surprising had been Detective Reed’s response, a quick once-over and a “you don’t look half bad, tin can,” which Nines suspected was as close as the man could ever get to a compliment.
Meetings of this sort always started out the same way, with everyone introducing themselves with names and pronouns. The practice had become widespread in recent years, something Nines was now deeply grateful for. Previously, Nines had been oddly uncomfortable with these introductions (although now the reasons for that seemed more clear). Gavin had usually introduced them both at once to spare the android — “I’m Gavin, he/him, and this is my partner. We call him Nines.” That obviously wouldn’t be acceptable anymore, though, especially since Nines hadn’t managed to come out to the detective yet. Or anybody except Connor, for that matter. Nines supposed that would be changing today. It was either embrace the fear of coming out or deal with the pain of being misgendered for approximately two hours.
So when it was Gavin’s turn, and he’d finished his own short introduction and turned to Nines, Nines reached out and caught the detective’s arm to stop him. It was now or never, and Nines had to be the one to do it.
“I’m Nines, and my pronouns are ve/ver. It’s nice to meet you all.”