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-before the events of DE-

 

The first time Nines sees an error flicker across his vision, is when he’s with Gavin. Of course, all subsequent errors Nines experiences of this sort will be in the presence of Gavin, coincidentally.

 

They’re at a party- a promotion for some other higher-up in another precinct the two of them don’t even know. There’s champagne and hors d’oeuvres for the humans, and thirium for androids.

 

The two partners mingle harmlessly in the crowd, lingering mostly with Chris and Tina, and Nines finds that he’s having a good time, that he especially enjoys getting to see Gavin in a more relaxed atmosphere.

 

Gavin is still tense, to be sure, but there’s a layer of ease that isn’t usually present with the human. His shoulders aren’t tense, his smile a bit easier as the group huddles in. The human holds a glass of water in his hand, and Nines watches.

 

Nines isn’t a talkative android by nature- er.. by design.. Whichever. He tends to observe as much as he can, rather than speak up- that’s one thing he was made to do, at least. It comes to him without even having to process it.

 

So he keeps an eye on Gavin. Monitors and scans his blood pressure, his heart rate, his breathing rate and pattern. And for the most part, things are calm.

 

But then something changes. He watches as Gavin’s heart rate spikes, how his breathing quickens and the blood pools from his face.

 

And immediately, Nines takes hold of Gavin’s hand with his-

 

Then just like that- there’s the error blinking in front of his vision, giving him pause, long enough for Gavin to flinch away and snarl like a cornered animal, “Don’t touch me, tincan-!”

 

But Nines is hardly paying attention to Gavin, not when his attention is suddenly diverted to the error. He’s already looking through the core source of it, and when he glances down, he sees the result of the error.

 

His hand- the synthskin flickers, the holograph peeling away to show the white of his chassis. For whatever reason, he feels embarrassed, horrified. This loss of control- how could it- where did it come from?

 

Nines doesn’t hear Gavin’s voice prattling on, something about him keeping his ‘plastic hands to himself’, but Nines is able to orient himself back into the present when he says, voice glitching and stunted. “I apologize- Detective, I- it was your heart rate, your breathing and your blood pressure. It spiked and I-”

 

The android watches as Gavin’s expression morphs into one of absolute rage. His teeth grind together, Nines’ sensors able to pick it up, and his olive-green eyes nearly spark. When he speaks, his voice is low and dangerous.

 

Never.. scan me without permission, understand?”

 

Nines still has a back processor running as he tries to get his hand to go back to normal- but the skin just won’t return to where it’s supposed to be. Embarrassed and somewhat horrified, he tries simply curling his hand out of view behind his back. “I understand your worry for privacy, Detective, but I was simply just-”

 

No, no-” Gavin starts, coming right up in Nine’s personal space. The android remains still, and doesn’t flinch or move away. The human snarls. “I said no, and I mean it. Do not scan me unless I say so, got it?”

 

Nines would sigh if he were human. As it is, he simply curls his hand behind his back, and makes his voice curt. “I understand, detective. And I apologize. I won’t do it again.” He chalks it up to a weird human thing.

 

“You better not,” Gavin growls, turns away, and stalks out of the room, leaving Nines alone, partner-less.

 

Nines watches him the whole way, tracks his movements. He realizes he could scan Gavin anyway, and just not tell him. Keep an eye on his vitals, ensure he’s all right. But of course he couldn’t do that. Gavin is right about it being a breach in privacy, even if it is something rather silly, at least to Nines. Humans were so.. persnickety over things like that. Still, Nines knows whatever caused Gavin’s face to drain of color so quick- it’s not a medical issue, but rather an internal reaction caused by an external force. Something he saw, or remembered-

 

The android watches. Gavin disappears out the door.

 

And someone follows.

 

One of the cops Nines doesn’t know personally, someone still in their blue uniform. Not a detective, then. The android isn’t able to see much of him, but he’s able to take in enough of the man to put some things together.

 

Young, crisp, blonde hair neatly combed to one side. Sharp, dark eyes.

 

Nines watches, and follows, avoiding the eyes of Chris and Tina on him. He’s already searching through the police database of their staff, until he finds a name, a date of employment, a history of arrests and reports. In just a couple of seconds he’s learned the name of the man and has a full picture of him in his head.

 

And what he sees he doesn’t like.

 

The android slips silently out the door, and follows the sound of two male voices further down the hall, away from the auditorium. The android soon finds himself at a corner, hidden from view, but within range to listen in on their conversation.

 

It’s not the honorable thing to do, but.. Nines just wants to ensure Gavin is safe. So he slides one shoulder to the wall, head tilted as he listens to the voices.

 

He recognizes Gavin’s easily- how could he not? They’re partners. After even just a few months, Nines would recognize Gavin’s rough and scratched voice anywhere.

 

Then the new voice, the one belonging to Barnes- the other cop.

 

“-hope we could have ended on good terms, better terms, you know. I know it was kind of a rough-”

 

Gavin’s voice. “I’m goddamn fine, Al. Geez, It’s been two months, already. I don’t need you to fuckin coddle me like I’m some kind of pining teenager-”

 

“I’ve just noticed… You’ve been smoking more, seem to be coming in late. I just want to make sure you’re doing okay-”

 

Nine’s expression sours. He hadn’t taken notice of Gavin’s increase in smoking. Within just a moment, he’s already looking up resources online for possible causes of increased smoking. Stress, anxiety-

 

“You’re not my boyfriend anymore, Al. Will you just-” and Nines looks up from where he stands around the corner, LED flickering yellow as he takes in a torrent of new information. His lips press together thinly. He shakes himself, and goes back to focusing on the conversation between the two policemen.

 

“-I’m fine, Al. And even if I weren’t, it ain’t any of your fuckin’ business anymore, is it?” There’s a huff of breath, irritated. “Just go, alright? I said I never wanted to see or hear from you again, didn’t I? Well I fuckin’ meant it. I can take care of myself.” There’s a kind of rustling, and just from the familiar sound Nines can tell that Gavin is searching for a cigarette. “So get lost.”

 

Silence for a handful of moments. Then- “Fine. Well. Take care of yourself, Gav, okay?”

 

“Fuck you.” Typical Gavin push-back.

 

Officer Barnes’ tired sigh, and a scoff. “Classy, really.”

 

The sound of steps start nearing from the hall. Nines’ bristles, and he starts to hurry back, afraid of getting caught eavesdropping.

 

He’s too late, though. Said officer turns the corner, and stops. Eyes wide, he stares, dark gaze inscrutable.

 

“You-” he says, lips forming the words carefully. “You’re.. Gavin’s new partner, right?”

 

He’s already been caught, no point in hiding it. Nines stands a little straighter, tugs at his Cyberlife jacket and pulls it down just the slightest, to sooth out the wrinkles. “Yes. RK900. I’ve been assigned as Gavin’s partner for the past few-”

 

The officer grins, and it’s genuine. He even barks out an abrasive laugh. “Wow. Can’t believe it. They assigned him an android. I guess you can’t get hurt if Gavin explodes his emotions all over you, huh? Assuming you don’t have any.”

 

Nines’ polite smile fades a little at the edges. It becomes strained, but he finds that he isn’t sure where to move his feet. “Well. It was nice to-”

 

“Nines?”

 

The android sees Gavin come around the corner, surely must have heard the conversation going on nearby. There’s a brief and slight expression of confusion on Gavin’s face, before it’s overtaken by that familiar anger. He starts toward the pair, lips already turning down into a scornful snarl. Nines readies himself for the scolding, then-

 

“The fuck you saying to my partner, Al?”

 

Nines blinks, taken aback. What?

 

Gavin stands between the two of them, his back to Nines, and the android lets his eyes widen in surprise. This was certainly unexpected.

 

Al looks just as surprised, his eyes darting between Nines and the short but bristly Gavin. “I- nothing, Gav. Really.”

 

“Fuck you- what’d you say about him not feeling anything- say that again, maybe it’ll make me feel explosive enough to punch you right in the goddamn mouth, because that’s what I am, right? Like you said-”

 

Al holds up both his hands. “Hey, I’m not trying to be a dick or anything-”

 

“Well you are,” Gavin snarls. “Acting like you care about me, then turning right around and insulting my partner? Screw you. Now get lost before I show you how explosive I can really be.”

 

Al stares in disbelief between the two of them, then shrugs, and brushes past Gavin with a rude bump of his shoulder, throwing a sour glower at Nines as he goes. Wise, he doesn’t say anything.

 

Nines doesn’t watch him go, but he follows with his sensors, ensuring that Al is well and truly gone before he focuses his eyes on Gavin-

 

Who’s finally turned his scowl back on Nines.

 

Ah, there it is. That’s what he’s used to.

 

Nines forces his body to relax, to show he isn’t bothered by Gavin’s snarling. “Detective,” he says, and though his tone is short, the edge in his voice is softened.

 

Gavin’s mouth turns down, sharp. “You, stickin’ your nose where it don’t belong, fuck-”

 

Nines blinks, and bites his bottom lip in a rare moment of human-like vulnerability. “I apologize, again.”

 

The detective glares, then looks away. “Yeah, yeah.”

 

“Thank you. For defending me.”

 

Hmph.”

 

Nines wants to bashfully look away, but he keeps his eyes steady, and waits for Gavin to cool himself down. “Are you alright?”

 

“Dumb plastic. I’m fine.” Gavin runs a hand through his curled brown hair, scruffing it up.

 

He does look stressed, like Al said he was. Bags under his eyes, hints of cigarette smoke and nicotine on his breath. The cigarette he lit just moments ago seems to have disappeared somewhere, likely under he heel of his shoe.

 

Nines doesn’t comment on the ‘I’m fine’, which he can tell is a lie without even having to scan his partner. But still, things make a little more sense, now. Al is Gavin’s ex; seeing him made the detective go into a panic attack. They only broke up a short while ago.

 

“I didn’t know you were gay,” somehow comes out of Nines’ mouth.

 

Gavin looks from the corner of his eye, tense, judging, trying to ascertain what Nines means by that. But then he relaxes, and Nines feels.. relief. “You never asked,” the human rebuffs, and shrugs both shoulders, looking away.

 

He feels safe enough that it’s okay if Nines knows.

 

The android relaxes a little more- and deep in his chassis, something curls and breaks through the soil of his uncertainty. Something new, like the first growth of spring. A bud of hope- what may soon grow into a luxurious garden.

 

Nines’ teeth bite into the softness of his lip. “It doesn’t bother me or anything, Detective, if.. if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 

“I ain’t worried about it, tincan,” Gavin scoffs, even with his face turning a bright red. He was worried. Nines doesn’t know why, per se, but he can guess. Who knows how much negativity Gavin has faced in the past surrounding his sexual orientation. He doesn’t need that from his work partner.

 

The two of them look at each other, bashful and tentative. But then Gavin clears his throat, and he brushes himself off. “Come on, then. Let’s go back inside.”

 

Gavin starts to stalk down the hallway, hands stuffed deep in his pockets.

 

And Nines follows, the glitch in his synthskin finally flickering back to it’s normal setting.

 

It’s nothing, he’s sure.

 

 

 

The next glitch happens weeks later, when Nines has nearly forgotten about it to begin with.

 

Though to be fair, much has changed between now and then- feelings recognized that Nines continues to process and attempt to understand. The seed of uncertain warmth, first a small sapling of green, now bloomed and flourished into a full garden of emotion.

 

He gets lost in his mind palace (garden, more like), more and more often, practicing and talking things through with the Gavin in his head. Figures out what he likes, as an android and as a new person, and structures the Gavin in his memory and processors as a model as accurate as possible to the real thing.

 

Small things he notices from the real Gavin, he adds to the projected one. Little birthmarks and freckles, the line of his stubble and the shape it takes after not shaving for several days. The cute scar across the bridge of his nose- the exact tone and shade of his olive-hazel eyes. How his voice grumbles and sharpens with friendly humor as the two banter throughout their work days together. The way it gets easier and easier for a causal touch to occur between the pair of them. A hand on the shoulder, knees touching beneath the table, thighs pressed to each other. Seemingly insignificant, but somehow the cornerstone of Nines’ building emotions.

 

It’s one such day when Nines is preparing Gavin his coffee, as usual. Mind lost in thought as he adds the number of sugars and cream his partner prefers, then goes over to where his partner is currently slumped over in his chair, still waking up.

 

Even from here, Nines can see the bags under his eyes, the stubble along his jaw.

 

The cases of the murdered androids have been getting to him, affecting the man even more than Nines is. Of course, Nines doesn’t require sleep or food or drink like his human counterpart does, but still.. Nines feels a certain emotion to know Gavin allows himself to get so worked up over a case that they haven’t been able to put to rest. Touched, emotionally, to know he cares. Certainly there are many cops who wouldn’t care about any of this but.. even Gavin changed his views of androids after he got used to Nines. And the android thinks.. the two of them have made excellent partners for each other.

 

One day he’ll have to thank Captain Fowler for assigning them together.

 

“Your coffee, detective,” Nines says, nearing the desk.

 

“Thanks, Ninesy,” Gavin grumbles. He swivels in the chair, still bleary-eyed, and when he takes the cup, the most wondrous thing happens-

 

And his fingertips brush Nines.

 

The error flickers almost at once onto Nines’ HUD, blue and startling the android, causing him to nearly drop the cup.

 

Gavin doesn’t seem to notice, both Nines’ little start, or how the android’s fingertips peel away to show the white chassis underneath, right where they touched.

 

Nines fights the protocol trying to start his embarrassment reaction, face turning red, thirium pump picking up fast. He bites the inside of his cheek, and is able to school his expression into one perfectly neutral. In his mind, he processes and repeats Gavin’s words over and over again. Ninesy, oh ra9 that was too cute-

 

“Hey, you okay there, tin can?” Gavin snaps his fingers in front of Nines’ face, bringing him back to reality. “I lose you for a sec? You ain’t shutting down on me now, are you?”

 

Nines shakes his head, forces himself to come back to the present. “No, Detective,” he says, words drawn out, uncertain. “I apologize. Just an error. In my programming. It’s nothing to worry about, though. I managed to fix it.”

 

Gavin still gives him an odd look, studying him over the rim of his paper coffee cup. “Are you sure?” he asks. “Can’t have my partner shutting down on me, now.”

 

The android gives the detective a sardonic look, lips pressed together thinly in a strained smile. “Now, don’t sound too hopeful there, detective,” he mocks, wanting to push and fall back onto their familiar teasing with each other. “I can’t have you losing control of your emotions on me, as you humans seem to do.”

 

That wins the detective over, and he shows his teeth in an adorable crooked grin. It’s a reassurance on both their heads, to let Gavin know that things are truly okay, even as Nines folds his hand behind his back until the error in his system resolves.

 

“Shit, saw right through me, Terminator,” Gavin jokes, the green of his eyes lightening. “Guess I’ll have to try something else.”

 

“I suppose you will,” Nines returns, comforted by the ease that settles back down between them.

 

Nervous himself, Nines’ fingers slide and pinch together anxiously, though he tries hard not to show it.

 

 

He conducts his own research, talks to other androids, pours through handbooks for similarly-built android models, searching for an answer as to what’s happening with this error, this glitch that causes him to lose control of his holo-skin. He figures that if the error occurs once, then it’s just a simple glitch, a one-time occurrence he doesn’t need to worry about. But two times… it’s more foreboding, indicative of a pattern, and not one that the android finds himself wanting to continue.

 

What Nines finds isn’t too reassuring, specifically as he speaks to other deviants. Across the board, the answers are all the same.

 

Whatever he’s having is involuntary, a reflex, like eyes dilating to take in more light or toes curling when a specific nerve is touched.

 

“So what causes it?” he asks each android he speaks to, growing more and more frustrated by the moment as he doesn’t get the results he wants.

 

The androids he speaks to all shrug, or look bashful, or duck their eyes away to smile. And every time, their answer causes Nines to bite the inside of his cheek, and curse the error that continues to mock him whenever he and Gavin seem to come in physical contact with each other.

 

An attempt to interface, as androids commonly do, when displaying intimacy with each other- like how humans hold hands, or might kiss-

 

But it’s more than that, or at least Nines assumes so, the way the androids he talks to go on about it. It’s more than a simple exchange of information; it’s.. sharing with that person everything you are, and in turn seeing all of them. A joining of souls, in the most intimate of ways.

 

It causes Nines to grind his teeth together and clench his palms. He can’t share that with Gavin, his partner being a human, and he just prays that Gavin never looks it up or finds out for himself what the reflex actually means, lest Nines die of embarrassment.

 

He finds himself..wishing for the impossible, that Gavin could perhaps find a way to interface, even being human.

 

But no. It does no good to dwell on such things that will never exist.

 

None of the other androids he speaks to describe a way on how to stop the error, to fix the glitch or prevent it from happening in the first place. Some look at him, puzzled, and others he encounters look on in bold concern, even dare to ask, “But.. why would you wish to.. stop interfacing with the android whom you love? Do they not return your feelings?

 

Nines’ expression, already in a permanent, solemn grimace, turns further sour at the question, which he never answers.

 

Talk to them,” the kind and well-meaning androids implore him. “Surely if you interface they will feel and understand everything you do. There’s no need to torture yourself like this. And even if they don’t return what you feel.. it would be better to get it all out, would it not?”

 

Nines merely offers a faint smile, thanks them for their time, and shortly leaves.

 

From there, Nines tries to avoid touching Gavin as much as he can, to avoid the reflex.

 

It goes well, more or less. Nines takes extra precautions to not touch his fingertips when handing over his coffee, to cover himself up as much as possible, should other parts of his holo-skin pull away at the touch. He wears thick, dark turtlenecks with long sleeves, pants that go all the way down to the ankle, where he wears socks and shoes.

 

He restrains himself from casual touches he’s grown used to doing around Gavin- like brushing his shoulder or hand, or at least ensuring that he only touches the man’s clothes and never his skin.

 

He doesn’t think Gavin notices, and for the most part he doesn’t-

 

Though he takes note of the odd looks Gavin gives him, specifically as Nines starts to withdraw from their little shared moments together.

 

While sitting at his desk, Nines busily downloads and updates information on a case, and distracted, doesn’t hear Gavin approach. So when his partner affectionately ruffles his synthetic hair, grinning cheekily, “Hey there, tincan-” the android nearly jumps out of his molded-plastic skin.

 

Gavin jumps in turn, nearly spilling his drink everywhere. “Geez, Nines! What the hell-”

 

“Apologies, detective,” Nines says quickly, flustered himself as he struggles to readjust himself back to equilibrium. He runs a quick diagnostic on his systems to ensure no error is causing his hair to face away, and he looks at his hands before he looks back to the detective, trying to appear nonplussed. “You just startled me, that’s all.”

 

Gavin raises an eyebrow, unconvinced. “I scared you? I really fuckin’ doubt that.”

 

Nines’ smile is tight, “I was lost in thought. A side effect of deviancy, I assure you.”

 

Gavin studies him, eyes narrowed. “Sure you’re all right, tin can?”

 

“I’m sure, detective.”

 

Gavin harumphs to show he doesn’t believe him, and goes back to sipping his coffee as he drops back at his desk. “Well fine, keep your secrets,” he mutters, just low enough for Nines to hear.

 

Nines tries not to let himself too guilty about brushing off Gavin’s query. He goes back to his report, eyes staring and going vacant- before Gavin shakes and interrupts him again.

 

“God, that’s so creepy.”

 

Nines tilts his head at a short angle. “Pardon?” he says.

 

Gavin watches him over the rim of his cup, eyes pointed, nearly unfriendly. He’s clearly bothered by Nines’ lack of response to his bite, and is trying to goad him on more. “When you connect to the computer- you don’t even close your eyes. You just sit there- eyes open, like you’re frozen or.. or dead or something.”

 

The android stares. All his own systems and processes grind to a halt. “Oh. I.. did not think about that. I apologize, detective. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

 

Gavin’s cheeks just barely suck in, his lips pursing. “I didn’t say I was uncomfortable.”

 

“You said it was creepy.”

 

“That’s different from ‘uncomfortable’-”

 

“How so?”

 

Gavin scoffs, looks like he’s about to throw his arms up in defeat. “It just is! God. Will you just stop it? Can you.. I dunno, close your eyes or something when you do it?”

 

Nines shows only the faintest of smirks, smug to the end. “I could, I suppose.” He’s amused by how quickly he was able to get a rise out of Gavin..again. The man wasn’t exactly known for his patience and reticence.

 

The detective catches on to the hidden meaning easily enough. “But..will you?”

 

Nines looks on smugly. “..Perhaps.”

 

Gavin scoffs, rolls his eyes, and turns in his chair, propping his feet up on the desk. The crease between Nines’ brows tightens just a little. The detective knows how much that irritates Nines- it isn’t professional-

 

And yet-

 

And yet…

 

It’s so endearing.

 

Nines looks away again, ducks his eyes to look at his hands now folded in his lap. He tucks in that little action of Gavin into his garden, nurtures and plants that little trait- another one to the many things he finds interesting and attractive when it comes to the human.

 

The android doesn’t say anything, but from then on, he never does his reports with his eyes open- at least not when in the office, around Gavin.

 

(**)

 

The last time the error flickers across Nines’ vision (at least unbidden and unwanted) happens in the line of duty.

 

The two of them are in the cross-hairs of a bad deal gone wrong, a fight neither of them anticipated.

 

“Who’s shooting at us?” Gavin calls to Nines as the two take shelter behind a huge crate. Sound echoes off the warehouse walls, amplifying everything to an impossibly loud volume. Bullets zing and fly through the air, accompanied by the sound of rapid-fire gunshot.

 

“No one is shooting at us,” Nines corrects, already processing the faces he saw in one breath of a moment. “This is a fight that doesn’t even involve us. It seems we’ve been caught in the middle of a red ice war- I reason our informant wasn’t supposed to be selling in this area.

 

Gavin has his gun out, holding it close to his chest in the right position, leaning carefully against the wood at their back. “Well, shit,” he mutters, only perceivable to Nines in the first place due to the sensitivity of his audio-processors. Gavin calls to Nines above the noise, even being as close as they are. “And you called for backup?”

 

Nines nods. “Officers Chen and Collins are on their way- ETA 10 minutes.”

 

“That’s not enough time. Our squealer might get killed between now and then.”

 

Dread floods Nines’ processors. No. He can’t really be.. is his own self-worth this- “Detective, you really cannot-”

 

“We can’t risk it-”

 

Nines sees the movement right as Gavin starts to go- how he shifts and prepares to run directly at the opposing fire. It’s only thanks to Nines’ pre-construction abilities that he can react appropriately at all.

 

“Gavin, no-!” The android’s hand lashes out to stop Gavin from rushing out behind their cover. His hand takes hold of his, turning the detective in place and slamming him up against the crate. “Stop! You’re going to get yourself killed out there! You don’t even have any kind of appropriate armor on!”

 

The man snarls, turns and shows his teeth as he tries to struggle out of Nines’ grip. “Dammit, Nines! If we don’t do something now, then-”

 

“Both of our chances of getting out of this unscathed is less than 5%,” the android reminds him, voice low and commanding. Even now, it tremors with new deviant fear. He doesn’t want to lose Gavin any more than he wants to be shot himself. If anything, he doesn’t want to risk losing Gavin at all.

 

He’s come to realize and accept by now that he’s in love with Gavin Reed. In love with his recklessness, his drive, the tone of his eyes the sharpness of his voice, the line and stubble of his jaw-

 

His laugh. That knowing smirk on his lips, the twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

 

Nines can’t risk losing him. Especially not for something like this, that hardly matters at all. One little informant dying isn’t going to change the whole direction of this case they’re on.

 

Nines grits his own teeth. “I can’t let you go out there-”

 

“Nines-!”

 

“I can’t, Gavin!” he cries, a plead in his voice, and the error flickers across his vision even as he pins Gavin in place. His vocal program glitches, causing his voice to crack with emotion. “I’m not going to let yourself- let yourself throw yourself into the line of fire without a second thought. Not when the risk is so high and the loss of doing nothing is so small- Please, I can’t-”

 

The glitch has faded down from his fingertips, going all the way to his wrist, exposing his whole hand. Gavin glares at him, the tension in his jaw shifting as olive-green eyes glance at the hands holding fast onto his wrists. He doesn’t say anything from noticing the white plastic, and Nines goes on.

 

“Please, just let us wait for Officer Chen and Officer Collins. This isn’t our fight. We’ll find another informant. This isn’t going to be a dead end for us, I promise, please-”

 

He’s shaking. Gavin stares at his partner’s hands for what feels like an eternity, his brow furrowed, like he’s deep in thought.

 

But Nines feels the tension ease out of Gavin’s wrists, and the human nods, going against his gut instinct to just run out in the middle of a firefight. “Alright, okay Nines,” he says, shifting his gaze from their hands up to the desperate expression Nines no doubt bears at this very moment. “I’ll wait. Okay? Just relax, calm yourself down.”

 

The android nods, his own tension easing from his body, but he doesn’t let go of Gavin’s hands. “Thank you,” he breathes. He can hear the police sirens approaching. “Thank you.”

 

Gavin doesn’t say anything, just stares at him, observant, and mute.

 

 

Later that day, on the drive back to the precinct, Nines sits lost in his own thoughts, replaying the scene in the warehouse over and over in his head. A bad movie stuck on repeat, a replay of his mistakes, his snap of emotion, his loss of control over himself. He would be embarrassed, if he wasn’t so relieved by the fact that Gavin is in one piece now, and not shot up and bleeding out on the warehouse floor.

 

“You called me by my first name in there.”

 

Nines blinks, and turns his head to look at Gavin, who’s eyes are fixed pointedly on the road as he weaves in and out of traffic in typical fashion. “Sorry?” he says. He heard and processed what Gavin said, of course, but that doesn’t mean he wants to address it directly.

 

“Back at the warehouse,” Gavin fills in, after shooting his partner another odd and exasperated look. “My name. You don’t usually-” Nines might dare to say a touch of pink dusts over Gavin’s cheekbones. He clears his throat. “Just. Wondering. Anyway. And you-” he shakes his head. “Don’t give me that bullshit ‘what?’ excuse, okay toaster? I know you can hear me when I talk to you.”

 

“Perhaps I simply don’t have anything to say to that query,” Nines returns, ignoring how his thirium pump runs at a faster rate in his chest, and how his android stomach (a reserve for evidence sampling) seems to do somersaults in his abdomen. “And you didn’t ask me a question. If anything it was a simple observation-”

 

“God, okay! Geez, sorry I asked.” Gavin brushes him off, and raises the volume of the music in the car- some local radio station playing a fast-paced pop song.

 

Nines stares after his partner, not looking away. He studies the line of his nose, how it wrinkles a bit when he’s irritated, how he holds fast to the steering wheel with almost-white knuckles. Nines plants more seeds in his garden.

 

He doesn’t want to make Gavin feel awkward, or crowded in as they are, already in a car, so Nines looks out the window when he says. “Do you.. is it all right? That I called you by your first name?”

 

He’s only able to see Gavin’s reaction due to his scanners and from the faint angle of his periphery. The detective glances his way, and seems to be flustered himself as he chews on the inside of his mouth, and clears his throat. “Well, I, uh. Yeah. I mean. I don’t mind. Fuck- we’ve been partners for months now. I’m not your superior or anything- you can call me by my first name.”

 

A far different comment made by a far different Gavin. Nines can still recall the tantrum his now-partner threw when he found out they were first partnered together. He had been so cruel, saying such horrible things to the android, and insisting he always call Gavin ‘Detective’ or ‘Detective Reed’ rather than be as base as to use his first name.

 

“I mean it’s not like I call you ‘Detective Nines’ or something; it’s only fair you should get to call me fuckin’ ‘Gavin’, right?” the human goes on, seeming to grow more flustered the longer the drive goes on. Something clenches deep in Nine’s abdomen, a reaction he didn’t think was possible for a model designed as he is. “And besides, it’ll only get weird if you keep calling me that as time goes on, no one else calls their partner by their last name-”

 

“Thank you..Gavin,” Nines says, voice soft as falling snow.

 

As gentle as his voice is, it still carries over the music, over the traffic, over the faint hitch in Gavin’s breathing. The human risks one quick glance off the road to find Nines’ earnest eyes, the pale winter blue looking more like.. a warm but cloudy spring sky.

 

And there’s.. an emotion there, surely, that Nines refuses to acknowledge upfront. At least for now.

 

“It’s no problem,” Gavin stutters, face rather pink, by now. He turns back to the road, and jams the music up even louder.

 

The human clears his throat again. “Let’s just consider ourselves lucky our informant didn’t get killed, tincan. I’m not gonna spend the rest of my career here cleaning up your messes, got that, Nines?”

 

But Nines is smiling, despite the teasing admonishment. “Of course, Gavin. Whatever you say.”

 

A garden in full bloom.

 

 

The last error finally happens on that balcony a few weeks later, after everything finally imploded and collapsed.

 

The android murders- freeing Ada after turning her deviant, Nine’s nearly getting shut down in the alley-

 

The love confession, and the gentle, tentative kisses shared between them.

 

On the balcony at sunset- Nines letting Gavin play with his hand, turning it over, smiling, studying it as if seeing him for the first time. The man as bright as the very sun on their backs as he looks at the error, the glitch that always sends the warning fluttering in front of Nines’ vision.

 

“What is that?” the human asks, something smug in his voice when he says it, turning Nines’ palm over in his hand.

 

Nines withholds a shiver, but he doesn’t fight the smile as he bites his lip, laughing softly as he explains how it works to Gavin. He could go on about it, and just stay in this moment forever, with Gavin trailing his fingers along the exposed chassis of his hand.

 

And then-

 

“Yeah, I know, just like to hear you say it,” Gavin says with that cheeky smile of his, eyes darting up just briefly, looking shy as a teen with a crush.

 

And how is Nines’ supposed to resist that?

 

Gavin and him find each other in a kiss, and he imagines himself going completely bare before him, all of his skin fading away to reveal the true form underneath while Gavin worships him with his eyes and his ever-gentle touch.

 

It’s going to be all right, now. It has to be.

 

 

Nines’ garden is gone, now. Or at least.. the one from before is gone. But it’s better now, because the real Gavin remains, not the one he manufactured in his head.

 

He’s grateful he had a place to go to, to explore certain facets of himself and the man he loves- to realize that he had comfort zones even as a newly-awoken android. And he’s grateful for the made-up Gavin he had in his zen garden, even if he wasn’t real-

 

It’s different now, though. That Gavin served his purpose, and served it well, and now.. Nines has something.. someone so much better.

 

The Gavin from the garden was right, though. Having the real thing was far superior to the one Nines had locked in his head.

 

Nines eases out of stasis one morning with a human arm crossed over his chest, and a leg tangled with his. Soft and curled dark hair tickles his lips, the human warm and breathing easy, still in sleep.

 

He looks so peaceful, so easy and content like this, vulnerable as he curls and rests his whole body over Nines. The android can’t help but thread his fingers through Gavin’s hair, a gentle smile in place as he analyzes and reserves the information he receives- the feedback for every little brush and fiber against his fingertips that comes with each slow brush of his palm and fingers along Gavin’s scalp.

 

The human stirs only faintly, murmuring and mumbling in his sleep as he turns his head up toward Nines, angular nose brushing Nines’ jaw. The android goes still for a few careful seconds, wary of waking his partner. But after a few careful moments, Gavin doesn’t blink open those eyes, and Nines goes back to the familiar movement through the dark, curly hair.

 

It’s their day off. They don’t have to go anywhere, today. Usually on one such morning Nines would get up, help breakfast ready for Gavin and see to both their days getting off to a prompt, neat start.

 

But right now, Nines doesn’t want any of that, and he just wants to relax, with his arms around the man he loves, and simply hold him until he wakes.

 

With his free hand combing tenderly through Gavin’s hair, he sees the familiar (and now welcome) error blip again in front of his vision. He dismisses it immediately, but not without a slight and pleased smirk on his face as the synthskin of his hand fades away. The smooth plastic doesn’t catch on any of Gavin’s fine hairs, and his hands are more sensitive like this, like raw and exposed nerves when there’s nothing to cushion his sensors.

 

It’s then that Gavin finally starts to stir. He rolls a little in place – towards Nines, of course- and grumbles a bit. He inhales deep in that way humans do when they just wake up, and blinks open his eyes, stretching against Nines like a cat as he orients himself back to the world.

 

“G’morning,” he mumbles easily enough with his head on Nines’ chest.

 

The android smiles, and doesn’t stop his hand pulling through Gavin’s hair, soothing and gentle. “Good morning, detective. Did you sleep well?”

 

“Mmm. Fine.” Gavin is always a tad grumpy in the mornings. “Am I up early or something?” he asks, words barely decipherable from being so sleep-addled. “Y’haven’t made breakfast yet, not used to that.”

 

Nines hums to himself, like he’s thinking about the answer. “Oh. Just wanted a late morning in, I think.” He doesn’t say it out loud, but he likes holding Gavin, likes the feel of the man’s weight on his chest, the rise and fall of his breathing, the slight snores.

 

Gavin makes no complaint as he turns his head into the touch along his scalp, then smiles when he sees the white chassis of Nines’ hand. He always reacts like that when he notices the error that causes Nine’s skin to fade away.

 

He takes Nines’ hand in both of his, like a prize, staring at it and turning it this way and that before he brings it right to his face, and kisses the palm right in the center.

 

A pleased tremor of emotion passes from Nines’ toes all the way to his chest where he swears his thirium pump skips a beat. He smiles, and tilts his head down so he can touch his forehead to Gavin’s. It marvels him.. how much Gavin has changed. A man who insisted Nines wasn’t alive, who detested androids for the longest while.. now here in bed, treasuring each other, sharing his life and his space with Nines, as equal as he would any human partner.

 

“What are you thinking about?” Gavin murmurs, the sound quiet and almost disappearing into the warm glow of the morning sunlight. Fingertips delicately brush Nines’ brow. “Can tell you’ve got something in that robot brain of yours.”

 

“Just.. merely thinking of you, how proud I am of the man you are and have become since we first met.” It’s fond, his voice. There’s no judgment there.

 

Gavin grunts, not totally convinced, and doesn’t always treasure being reminded of the anger that used to fuel his whole life. “I’m glad I’ve changed since then.” He turns his head in Nine’s direction a little better, lips and stubbled cheeks brushing the android’s face. “It’s all because of you, y’know. I never would have believed androids were alive, otherwise.” His voice is more awake now, the longer he goes on.

 

Nines tries to protest. Surely Gavin would have been convinced at some point, even if it took him longer- but Gavin stops him from even getting the words out. “I know me, okay? Already fought at every turn accepting it. But.. if I had to change my views for someone-” the green of his eyes soften. “Then I’m glad it was for you, tincan.”

 

Nines is the one who finally closes that modicum of space between them in the form of a gentle kiss.

 

It’s the same as it is every time when they meet- an airy, weightless feeling floods his whole system. His shoulders bunch up, body going light but heavy all at once, like he might float to the ceiling or sink to the floor at the same time. He can feel and measure the exact way Gavin’s mouth turns up in a smile as he meets the kiss, slight bit of beard scratching Nines’ face.

 

Their hands tangle together, and Nines pays no heed to the error that flickers again in his vision when both palms show the white plastic underneath.

 

“I’m glad it was me, too,” Nines murmurs back, dazed by how Gavin always gives him that swept-up feeling. The android tilts his head down, smiling, nuzzling into the kiss. He can sense the exact temperature of Gavin’s face, knows the lines that lift his smile, the laughing voice and the bright hazel-green eyes.

 

“I still can’t believe you don’t hate me,” Gavin says, something in his voice not entirely serious, but rather playful. An offer.

 

“Oh Gavin,” Nines sighs, and goes back in for another morning kiss. “Don’t be ridiculous. I love you.”

 

Detective Reed smiles beneath him.