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The sickening crunch of plastic and metal colliding is obscenely loud in Gavin’s ears and he’s at the perfect angle to watch Nines go over the hood of their witness-turned-suspect’s economy car. He goes up and over, leaving an impressive dent in the driver’s side door frame, and tumbles back over onto the asphalt like a ragdoll. He lands in a way that would’ve snapped a  human’s spine easily and stays there, unmoving, for the longest three seconds of Gavin’s life, before he twitches and moves slowly onto his knees. Gavin ignores the panic that lodges itself firmly into the back of his throat and manages to turn on his heel, gun in hand, to shoot three successive shots at the retreating vehicle’s wheels. 

The car crashes onto the sidewalk and into a bus stop, the air bags deploying. Out of his peripheral Gavin can see Nines pick himself back up off the ground with relative ease, like being hit by a moving, thousand pound vehicle is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. There’s a list of things he needs to be doing running through his head at top speed (approach the car, detain the suspect, call it in), but Gavin has had a hell of a week and his priorities might have shifted. 

“Nines! Hey!” Gavin gets a hand around Nines’ arm, the white leather of his jacket dirty from sliding across the asphalt. “You okay? Are you all right?”

“Fine, detective,” Nines assures him, which is in direct conflict with the flickering red and yellow of his LED. His reassurance is definitely at odds with the tear of synthskin across the curve of his jaw, disappearing into stark white where it reaches the torn collar of his jacket, but Gavin can do little right now but take him at his word. Nines says again, expression softening like he fucking knows everything, “I’m fine, Gavin.”

Their suspect is not fine. She’s bleeding from her head and, while still breathing, is motionless against the airbags. Despite having been a hood ornament two minutes ago, Nines still manages to be the first one to both call it in and call for an ambulance. Gavin manages to still his hands long enough to check her for a pulse. 

He manages to keep a lot of things under control until they’re back at the precinct. He keeps his trainwreck of emotions securely squared away until after he’s done filling Fowler in on their progress, until after he’s returned to the safety of his desk, and only then does everything start to fall apart. Because Nines is sitting on the edge of his desk, holding his damaged jacket in one arm and holding himself just a little too tense to be normal. 

“You wanna tell me how you really are?” Gavin asks, sinking down into his chair. Nines’ left eye twitches involuntarily then, as if to prove his point, and Gavin feels that familiar, unswallowable lump of panic settle back into his throat.

Nines clenches and unclenches his jaw. The faint blue streak of road rash along the underside of his jaw, from where his face had caught him on the asphalt, is easier to see under the fluorescent bulbs than it was in the glare of the sun. 

“The superficial and cosmetic damage will be taken care of by my auto-repair function,” Nines says, and there’s just enough wrong with the edge of his vowels for it to be noticeable. There’s just enough about Nines that’s off - that’s not immaculately and perfectly polished - to be noticeable. “However, that scuffle earlier seems to have knocked something loose.”

“Scuffle,” Gavin repeats, raising both eyebrows, and somehow manages to keep his voice steady. “You mean when you got hit by a fucking car? Yeah, I can see how that might’ve left some lasting damage.”

Nines ignores him and continues, “Normally I would have Connor help me, but he’s not back from New York yet.”

“Help you with what exactly? You mean… repairs?” Gavin leans forward in his chair, eyebrows still at his hairline, and exhales loudly. “Shit, Nines, I don’t even know how to set the clock on my microwave.”

“It’s nothing serious,” Nines is quick to assure him, and there’s a tenseness in his voice that makes Gavin uneasy when he elaborates, somewhat quietly, “I would rather not go to Cyberlife unless absolutely necessary.”

“Well that makes two of us then,” Gavin replies, and grabs his keys up from the desk. The idea of taking Nines back to Cyberlife for the second time that week makes him feel nauseous - makes him feel suddenly, inexplicably exhausted. There’s still an hour left in their shift, but after the day they’ve had Fowler isn’t likely to give them shit about leaving early. “Although the jury is out on how ‘helpful’ I’m gonna be.”

“You’ve got two fully functioning hands and, on occasion, can take direction,” Nines says, with a smile. “I think we’ll manage.”

 

-/-

 

Gavin sits cross legged on his own couch, in a pair of well worn shorts and a tank top that has seen better days, and tries to remember the last time he held a soldering iron. If he pushes himself there’s a memory of 9th grade shop class and an even fainter memory of one of the few times he had bothered to attend. Back then it had been an outdated radio disassembled on the workbench in front of him, a myriad of parts staring up at him without any clear designation or purpose, and he had haphazardly piecemealed the device back together without success. The radio had turned back on but had been able to do little else and it’s that kind of track record that makes him more than a little nervous to be attempting any sort of repairs that are more complex than changing out batteries.

There’s no radio this time. This time there’s his typically immaculate android boyfriend, sitting shirtless on the floor against the couch with Gavin’s knees bracketing his shoulders, waiting just as patiently as that radio had for him to fuck everything up beyond repair. The soldering iron is heating up on the end table beside the couch. There is a panel on the back of Nine’s neck that would be unnoticeable if it weren’t standing wide open, revealing a plethora of wires and circuits that are doing nothing to help with Gavin’s increasing anxiety. There’s shop class, and then there’s changing the oil in his car, and then there’s whatever the fuck this is; they’re not anywhere near being on the same level. 

This thing between them is only five days old and already evolving quickly; Gavin doesn’t have any comparison for it. The last serious relationship he’d been in had ended poorly after a rocky six months and they’d never reached the point where he and Nines already are. So it’s fair to say that he’s a little out of his element, even without the expanse of Nines’ neck open in the middle of his living room floor, and he’s trying to remind himself how to compartmentalize. It’s been a long time since someone trusted him so intrinsically and the weight of it settles heavily in his chest in a way that he can’t shake. 

“This valve needs to be replaced first, so I stop leaking Thirium,” Nines says, tapping on the vein-like tube stretching through his lower neck, the break in it slowly dripping blue. “I’ll turn off the flow of Thirium while you replace it. I won’t have full use of my hands until the connection is restored.”

“Sure, just turn off your blood, why doesn’t everyone do that?” Gavin retorts and hesitantly, carefully, reaches in to grasp the broken valve in question. “Really just pull this out? You’re sure?”

“The replacement should just flex into place,” Nines replies and his arm does twitch then, an aborted motion. “Calm down, Gavin. You can’t hurt me.”

“Famous last words,” he mutters, and tries not to feel squeamish when the valve unhooks from inside Nines’ neck and comes loose into his hand. “Be calm, he says. Just pull out my insides while I watch you, Gavin. Just stick your hand in my spine, Gavin.”

He can feel, more than see, Nines roll his eyes. Apparently that function hasn’t been inhibited.

He opens the replacement piece - that’s been sitting patiently on his knee, waiting for him to get up his nerve - with wet fingers and discards the plastic wrapper to the edge of the couch to be forgotten. Despite the unsteadiness of his hands, and the strangeness of the task, the part does bend easily into place where the pinched valve had been. Gavin removes his fingers from it slowly, as though it will pop back out of place the moment he’s no longer touching it, but it stays securely fitted. 

Gavin exhales noisily, relieved. “Great. Wonderful. What’s next?”

Movement restored, Nines’ nimble fingers reach back to sort through the tangle of wires in his own neck like it’s something he’s intimately familiar with. There is the faint tinge of Thirium on his fingertips, bright blue against stark white, and Gavin doesn’t look away. He watches Nines easily move the pieces of himself around and repositions what’s fallen out of place, discarding broken components off to the side like he knows what they are even without looking. There’s a sense of order to it that feels calming. 

“These three need to be put back into place,” Nines instructs, and reaches back to take Gavin’s hand in his own, to guide Gavin’s fingers to the wires in question. They’re frayed at one end, like they’ve been forcibly removed from where they were originally attached, and they’re missing their connection components entirely. There’s what is essentially a first aid kit of biocomponents sitting on the couch beside Gavin, with a plethora of pieces in varying sizes, and of course this wasn’t going to be as easy as connecting wire A to port B.

It is obvious, at least, where the wires go. The components and wires in Nines’ neck are meticulously organized despite their abundance and the empty ports where the three wires used to be connected are easily visible even without the penlight Nines clicks on and holds up for him. The light only helps marginally either way; he doesn’t really know what he’s looking at in the dark or otherwise.

“Sure, nothing to it,” Gavin deadpans, and starts sorting through the connectors in the kit at his thigh like he knows what he’s looking for. Maybe if he pretends this isn’t weird as fuck he’ll start to believe it. “Do you have to do this kind of thing often? You know, go digging around in your insides?”

Nines reaches into the kit and places the correct piece into his palm almost without looking. “Not recently, no. Generally my auto-repair function takes care of most repairs. The kit is for anything more severe.”

Nines gets injured more than he lets on - and repairs himself without fanfare or announcement on the daily - but Gavin can guess at least one of those times easily because monumental moments in their partnership can be categorized by the fallouts they weathered after. Until recently that would have easily have been five months after they’d become partners, when Nines had casually taken a bullet for him like it was nothing. It had lodged itself into his left shoulder and Nines had still been functional enough to fire back at their shooter. 

And, because Gavin has all of the emotional capacity of someone raised by wolves, they’d fought about it. Loudly. From the warehouse it happened in, back to the car where Nines had bled blue blood all over the upholstery, and back to the precinct where Connor had been waiting with a kit and a pensive frown. And it makes sense that he’s only having Gavin help him now because there’s no other option. After all, Gavin has no idea what he’s doing and it would make sense for another android to have a better grasp on what goes where, but it doesn’t stop him from feeling defensive about it regardless. 

“You could’ve asked me for help before now,” Gavin says, carefully soldering the connector onto the end of the first wire. The white expanse of Nines’ back underneath his skin feels cool and smooth. “You know, before all of this. I know I’m an asshole, and maybe it seemed like I didn’t want to know how, but I would’ve. If you needed help.”

“It wasn’t a responsibility I wanted to place unwillingly on your shoulders. Connor has typically always been available.” 

One connector securely in place, two more to go. “It’s not that I’m unwilling, I just… don’t want to fuck anything up.”

There is a lengthy pause - deliberate, because Nines doesn’t need time to think about what he’s going to say. It means he’s spending time processing outcomes.

“I felt, in the beginning, that you were uncomfortable with my lack of humanity,” Nines explains slowly, as though carefully choosing his words. “So it wasn’t something that I necessarily wanted to draw further attention to. At least, not while we were already at each other’s throats.”

Gavin snorts. “You expect me to believe you weren’t doing everything in your power to intentionally make me uncomfortable back then? Hell, you still do that now, tin can.”

“I provoked you plenty,” Nines agrees, “but asking you to do this would have been different.This is very…”

The soldering iron pauses and Gavin looks up from his work with a raised eyebrow. “Nerve-wracking? Intimidating?”

“Intimate,” Nines finishes, tilting his head just enough to see him out of the corner of his eye, expression difficult to read. His LED is spinning yellow. 

Gavin can feel the back of his neck heat up and focuses his attention entirely on attaching the second connector to the second wire. He tries and fails to keep the defensiveness out of his voice when he asks, “So you just have Connor help you with it instead, is that it?”

“Must be his charm and good looks,” Nines agrees dryly, and nudges his knee with his shoulder. “I did not think, until recently, that you would have been… amenable.”

He’s not wrong. Not entirely. It’s certainly been a process to get where they are, but the journey wasn’t as long and arduous as it originally appeared. Gavin has maybe taken longer than he should have to get his emotions in check and his traitorous feelings corralled into something that could be considered order, but it’s not like this thing between them is new . It’s not like Gavin hasn’t wanted something to be there for longer than he wants to openly admit. 

“Semi-recently,” Gavin corrects, and it’s low enough to be almost to himself, but of course Nines would hear him even if they weren’t sitting on top of each other. He can tell that Nines is looking at him out of the corner of his eye again.

The second connector stays firmly attached when he releases it. There’s one more to attach and then it’s the simple process of plugging the three wires back into their ports. Gavin’s fingertips are stained blue and he’s left smears of fingerprints both along the plating on Nines’ neck and the handle of the soldering iron.

“How long?” Nines asks finally, as though he’s weighed the pros and cons of asking versus not asking. It’s easy to tell the LED is spinning even with it not facing him. 

‘How long have you loved me? ’ he doesn’t ask, but Gavin hears it all the same. And that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? There’s an answer settled somewhere around Gavin’s rib cage that feels sharp and familiar, but it’s too far from his tongue to find its way out of his mouth. He’s been holding onto it for too long to let it go. 

He finishes with the third connector and places the soldering iron back on its resting plate on the end table, next to his forgotten cup of coffee. 

“A while,” Gavin admits, the words like lead on his tongue, and he’s sure Nines’ scan is telling him far too many details about his pulse, and his heartbeat, and the flush that’s steadily creeping across the bridge of his nose. “It doesn’t matter. You’re right - I wouldn’t have helped you with this in the beginning.”

The three wires slide into their ports without issue, each one clicking into place. Nines shoulder twitches after they’re all three fixed and he rotates his right arm to test the movement. The panel slides back into place and integrates seamlessly into the white of Nines’ back, until the only indication it was ever open in the first place is the hint of blue whorls of fingerprints along the edges of the plates. Synthskin filters back into place, still blemished and healing but intact all the same.

Nines turns around to face him and Gavin moves his hands back to rest on his own knees. Some of the damage to the synthskin on his face has already begun smoothing itself over, slowly covering up the hints of blue underneath that have been fading steadily over the course of the day. His LED is still yellow, still spinning slowly at his temple, and he slides one of his hands, the fingers white and smooth, over Gavin’s own. 

“You’re helping me now,” Nines says, with a shrug that would come easily for a human but has to be purposeful when it comes from him. Every motion - every unneeded breath - Nines makes is intentional; everything Nines does is painstakingly deliberate. “We got here in the end.”

Gavin leans forward and smooths the thumb of his free hand against the still-mending tear along Nines’ jaw. The synthskin there is patchy and uneven, damaged enough to still display some of the white plastic underneath, but is still smooth underneath his fingers. And he knows Nines doesn’t feel pain - doesn’t feel anything at all really - and maybe that’s why his heartbeat picks up again when Nines’ eyes close and he leans forward into Gavin’s touch.

He closes the distance between them to place a kiss where his thumb had been. Nines is warm against his mouth - warm and unmistakably alive. This close he smells of ozone - like something clean and electric in the air - and it’s the same scent that still lingers on Gavin’s jacket, because it’s only been 5 days. Regardless of how long he’s felt this way, regardless of how long he’s fought against this pulling in his chest, it hasn’t been any time at all. 

‘We almost didn’t get here at all ,’ he thinks, and the weight of it - the truth of it - is still pressing against his lungs every time he breathes. 

I shouldn’t have made you fight so hard for this,’ he should say, but the words won’t form on the tip of his tongue.

“I love you,” he says instead and even though it’s just the two of them his voice feels incriminatingly loud in the quiet of the apartment. He says it without hesitation, before he can overthink any of this more than he already has. He’s rewarded with the slow spin of yellow into blue, of the way Nines’ smile intentionally softens in affection. Then he continues, because it wouldn’t be him if he left it well enough alone, “Even if you have been choosing Connor over me to play doctor with.”

Nines rolls his eyes and turns his face to press an open kiss into the palm of the hand still curled around his jaw. 

“As you said,” he says, still affectionate, “I do love to provoke you.”