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Gavin hated hiking.

Ever since the hiking trip in his sophomore year that had resulted in a dislocated kneecap, Gavin strictly enjoyed the comforts of civilization. Yes, winter may have been his favorite season, and he had never truly outgrown his “camo-print” phase, but he wouldn’t be caught dead in “the great outdoors”.

So, naturally, when he and Connor snuck out of the back door of the cabin, he hissed a curse.

Nothing but pinewood and snow for miles.

“I am picking up a signal,” Connor said quietly, scanning the area. “My GPS is still active, but it’s spotty. They must have uploaded something to somewhat disconnect my senses from my central processing unit - and my optical units-”

“Focus," Gavin snapped, dreading what he could already sense was a long hike through the snowy woods. "How far do we have to go?”

Connor grimaced. “Two days, perhaps three, depending on the terrain.”

A shout from inside the cabin forced Gavin to step off of the cleared back porch and into the snow, grabbing Connor by the shoulder of his jacket and pulling him along behind him.

Gavin made a beeline for the trees, his mind spewing an endless stream of curses at the weather. Not only would the snow keep their tracks fresh for their kidnappers, but it also slowed him down significantly. (And it got in his shoes - fuck.)

“Route us, Siri!” Gavin yelled, trying to pick up the pace when he heard more shouting - they'd been spotted.

“Head left!” Connor called back.

Gavin looked to his left, seeing a wall of mountainous rock through the trees. “Can’t go left, we’ll be cornered! What else!”

“We have to jump!”

Gavin nearly stumbled over his own feet. “What- Off a cliff?! Do you have a screw loose or something? We’re not-!”

Suddenly, the woods erupted with noise, gunshots splintering the trees around them, sending wood shards everywhere. Gavin ducked instinctively, trying to make himself as small a target as possible while still running forward, now dodging bullets.

“It's the only way to lose them!” Connor yelled over the sound of gunfire.

“I’m not that suicidal!” Gavin countered.

A loud CREAK directed Gavin’s attention upward, just in time to see a large pine tree tip over, its already rotted trunk weakened from the bullets. Connor grabbed the back of Gavin’s jacket this time, forcibly pulling him back out of the way of the falling trunk.

Just barely.

Recovering his senses, Gavin scrambled to climb over the slippery fallen tree, grabbing hold of Connor’s jacket once again and pulling him forward.

They had barely made it ten more steps before pain shot through his calf. He cried out as his knee buckled and sent him crashing into the snow. Connor grabbed his upper arm and heaved him upright. “Come on! Keep moving!”

Gavin blocked out the pain, forcing himself to push onward. With every crunch of snow, his injury sent a jolt of agony up his leg, but he ignored it. Statistically, he could take two more gunshots before he went down.

Together, he and Connor broke free of the trees and stopped running, the ground suddenly gone. Below them rushed an overflowing river, frothing and foaming like some sort of rabid beast. All things considered, it would be a fairly straightforward jump - maybe 35 feet or so. He had been on the diving team for a semester and had jumped off of similar heights.

Didn’t mean he wanted to jump. There could be chunks of ice beneath the water’s surface, and even if there weren’t, the water was undoubtedly freezing, and they had no way to warm themselves up afterwards. A two-day trek in freezing clothes would give him hypothermia, and it would shut Connor’s biocomponents down for sure.

Connor looked at him. “Ready?”

Gavin gave him a look that he hoped fully conveyed how absolutely ridiculous, insane, and, ultimately, stupid he thought the android was. “This is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had.”

“I’m only six months old, that’s not a high bar to meet,” Connor sassed.

Then, just as a bullet ripped through the flap of Gavin’s jacket (not making contact but far too close for comfort), Connor fucking tackled him off of the ledge, sending them both hurtling into midair and falling towards the rushing river below. Gavin gripped Connor by the arm, making sure he wouldn’t lose tack of him as they hit the frigid water and were swept away by the strong current.

Gavin hated hiking.

The speed of the current spun him around, causing him to lose his bearings, but he didn’t dare move. Keeping one hand on Connor to ensure they didn’t get separated, he let himself hang in the water, hopefully giving the illusion that he had either died from impact or had been knocked unconscious and would drown. Connor must have caught on to what he was doing, because he didn’t move, either.

Holding his breath, Gavin let himself be jostled by the water, the cold water sinking to his bones, collecting heavily in his clothes. He waited as long as he could, his lungs burning at the lack of air, but before he could do anything, Connor pulled Gavin’s head above the water.

Gavin gasped for breath, accidentally inhaling some of the river water. He sputtered, but wasted no time in rounding on Connor. “The hell’d you do that for?”

"We have traveled a sufficient distance, and you needed oxygen,” Connor replied. “I judged it was safe.”

In spite of Connor’s (dumbass) assessment, Gavin scanned the cliffside and the trees, looking to make sure no one was around. He couldn’t spot any.

“Alright, c’mon,” Gavin said.

Gavin kept a hand twisted in Connor’s jacket, half-swimming to the opposite side of the river. The land was a foot above the waterline, creating a miniature cliff where snow met mud and turned to slush.

Cringing, Gavin took hold of an outstretched branch, ignoring how his palms stung and his fingers protested against moving.

“Give me a leg up!” he called back over his shoulder to Connor, who nodded and moved to beside Gavin rather than behind him.

Gavin focused on the task at hand, one hand on the tree limb and one still fisted in Connor’s jacket. “Alright. One, two, three-!” Gavin jumped, using the branch to pull himself up, and then he went flying, launched over the bank as if he weighed practically nothing.

He landed face first in the snow, the chill instantly infecting his wet clothes. He turned on his back in time to see Connor pull himself out of the river on his own, moving deftly with the help of that damn "constructing” program or whatever.

Connor extended a hand to Gavin, offering his help, but Gavin aggressively slapped it aside. “Fuck off.”

“I was only trying to-”

“We’re not friends, asshat,” Gavin spat, forcing himself to stand and fight the cold. “What, you think that everything’s suddenly different because we woke up tied in the same basement?”

“No-”

“Got that right,” Gavin said. “Don’t fucking touch me.”

Connor’s LED blipped red. “Okay.”

Gavin aggressively shoved the snow from his soaking clothes. “Alright, Alexa. It was your idea to go cliff jumping - where to next?”

“The latest satellite images suggests that there is a road two miles from here,” Connor reported, nodding to the left - the direction the river was running. “It is the likely path our attackers took. Assuming they are still coming for us, they will drive down that way.”

“Then we go back the way we came,” Gavin said. “Great.”

Connor pursed his lips, LED still spinning yellow. “That would be safest, but we would die. There is nothing but more wilderness in that direction; you would freeze to death.”

"So would you,” Gavin pointed out.

“I don’t feel cold temperatures,” Connor said.

Gavin crossed his arms, shoving his hands underneath his armpits for warmth. “So, what, we ambush them? What are the odds of that working? Two unarmed detectives against a truckload of Blue Ice suppliers? We'd have better luck-”

“You forget that I can calculate probabilities in real time,” Connor interrupted, slightly raising an eyebrow. “If we go away from the road, there is a 16% chance of survival. If we follow the river, our chances are between 33% and 71%, depending on how many cars we find. Besides, I don’t need a weapon to be effective. I have preprogrammed training in sixteen-”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” Gavin said, lifting a hand and pushing Connor away by his face. “Let’s just get moving - I’m freezing.” Gavin pushed off of the tree and started forward, but he stopped as soon as he put pressure on his injured leg. He put a hand on the nearest tree to steady himself, whispering curses under his breath.

Connor moved in front of him. “Sit down. I can dress it.”

“What, you’ve got some sort of EMT program in there too?” Gavin teased, but he did as Connor said and sat down, back against the rough bark.

Connor took off his jacket and passed it over to Gavin. “Here. I don’t feel cold.”

Gavin took the jacket, removing his tattered one and putting on Connor’s instead. It was a little big on him, but much warmer - the interior lining was a polyester texture, as opposed to Gavin’s own cotton interior lining. It would dry much faster.

"Can I tear your jeans?” Connor asked.

“Do whatever,” Gavin said dismissively.

Connor nodded, then ripped Gavin’s lower pant leg all the way up to his knee like it was nothing. Next, he took off that black tie he liked so much, tying it around the bullet wound to slow the bleeding. There was a marginal increase in pain, but Gavin didn’t let it show.

"Where did you learn that trick with the zip tie restraints?” Connor asked as he tended to the injury.

Gavin knew exactly what the prick was doing - trying to distract him so that the injury didn't hurt as much - and he scoffed. But he humored him anyway. “Hank.”

Connor smiled softly. "Of course.”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“He’s just very knowledgeable about random topics,” Connor said, that dopey grin still on his face. “I like listening to trivia shows at night, and before I can search my database, Hank will yell out the answer from wherever he is in the house. And a week ago, someone asked about the best way to open a bottle without a bottle opener, and Hank had the answer in nanoseconds.”

“Figures he’d know that,” Gavin grumbled.

Connor frowned. “He's doing better-”

“Are you done?” Gavin interrupted. “Not that I don’t enjoy a good heart-to-heart in the middle of fucking nowhere, but I’d rather talk it out with a real person. Y'know, someone that actually understands emotions and doesn’t just know the dictionary definition.”

Connor opened his mouth to protest, but fell silent, folding his hands in his lap.

Gavin used the tree behind him to stand up, then pushed off and started walking. “Come on. I don’t want to spend another second out here if I don’t have to.”

 


 

The two of them walked in relative silence for upwards of an hour, the only sounds behind the river that rushed nearby, their heavy breathing, and the crunch and squeak of the February snow beneath their wet shoes.

Connor had said it was only two miles, but the deep snow and lack of a clear path (plus Gavin’s own injured leg) made progress slow and hard-won.

Gavin could tell from Connor’s yellow LED that he wanted to say something, so Gavin resolutely stayed a few paces in front of the deviant - close enough to make sure they didn’t lose track of each other (no, Gavin wasn’t stupid enough to lose track of his walking GPS in favor of holding onto a grudge) but far enough apart to give Connor a clear message: don’t talk to me.

Finally, after trudging through the snow for awhile, Connor ran forward a few paces and grabbed Gavin’s elbow. “Wait.”

Gavin jerked his elbow away on principle. “I swear, if you tell me we’ve been going in the wrong direction this whole fucking time-”

“Hide there,” Connor instructed, pointing to a nearby boulder.

“What, is your vision better already?” Gavin asked. “I thought you said it’d take awhile.”

“I am able to compensate for my poor eyesight with my preconstruction software, along with my thermal vision-”

“Good fucking- Quit talking and get moving,” Gavin snapped. "I don’t give a shit about your dumb ‘android parts’ or whatever the fuck.”

Connor’s eyes narrowed. “I understand that you dislike me, detective, but could you at least be civil? The only way we’re going to get out of this is through mutual cooperation-”

“Shut the fuck up,” Gavin groaned. "My head hurts enough from that asshole that knocked me out. I don’t need you talking my ear off-”

“Get down!” Connor whispered, and he grabbed the back of Gavin’s shirt collar - as if he was a fucking cat - and pulled him behind the boulder.

“PH-” Gavin started, but before he could get out what he wanted to say, Connor clamped a hand over his mouth, his eyes peeking over the top of the boulder to the road.

Gavin thought about biting Connor’s hand, but the asshole was just made of plastic and metal. It would probably just hurt his own teeth.

“Snowmobile approaching,” Connor reported quietly, eyes still on the road.

Gavin whacked Connor’s arm away from his face, but remained silent at a wary glance from the deviant. Sure enough, a moment later, the sound of a distant engine echoed through the trees.

Leaning his head back against the boulder, Gavin shut his eyes, listening to the sound of the snowmobile and trying to mentally force his head to stop throbbing. The river had helped cool it, but walking for however long hadn’t exactly done any favors. Maybe Connor had a secret compartment for aspirin or something.

Gavin opened his eyes, intending to repeat the question aloud to Connor - it was worth asking, at least - but when he looked to either side, there was no deviant in sight.

Fucking plastic prick had ditched him in the middle of fucking nowhere!

Ignoring the way his head spun, Gavin moved to a crouch. “Connor-” he hissed.

The snowmobile’s engine was growing steadily louder, steadily closer. Gavin risked a look over the boulder and caught sight of the snowmobile approaching through the trees. He wasn’t slowing down - the driver must not have caught sight of him. Or Connor, wherever the fuck he was.

Gavin stayed where he was, and even though he was steadily watching the snowmobile, he almost missed the sight of someone dropping down from the trees and landing on the back of the vehicle.

Connor.

The deviant threw the driver off of the snowmobile and tossed him to the side, then slowed the vehicle to a stop and got off, moving back to the driver.

The driver hastily stood up, but he didn’t have enough time to properly launch a counter-assault on Connor. He threw a desperate punch, but Connor caught his wrist and pulled, sending the driver off balance. Connor drove a knee into the man’s gut, then brought a harsh elbow down on the base of his skull.

The driver dropped to the snowy ground, motionless.

Quick.

Efficient.

Detached.

Mechanical.

Gavin’s stomach clenched.

Connor turned around and looked at Gavin, then beckoned for him to come out of hiding. Grumbling to himself, Gavin complied, limping through the snow. Just his luck - of course he had to be stuck with the murder bot.

When Gavin reached the road, Connor had already taken off the unconscious driver’s winter jacket. He held it out for Gavin. “Here, you take it. I don’t feel cold.”

Gavin took it, but eyed Connor with suspicion. “Are you sure? Don’t androids risk shut down if they get in temperatures lower-”

“Lower than negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit?” Connor finished. “Yes. But you forget, I am an advanced prototype. My model’s more durable-”

“Alright,” Gavin snapped. “I’m assuming you have a plan?”

Connor pointed to the snowmobile. “We’ll just follow the road. It goes straight to the highway. From there, we’ll be able to pull a vehicle over and call for assistance, if they don’t just give us a ride.”

“And, let me guess, you’ve got a snowmobile program, too,” Gavin grumbled.

Connor just smiled.

 


 

Gavin tried not to let his ego hurt too badly when Connor pointed out that, although he could drive a motorcycle and could likely figure out the controls in no time, Gavin would still be operating with an injured foot, likely for a few hours. He was already risking nerve damage just by staying out in the cold with his crudely treated bullet wound. Overexerting when he didn’t have to could spell disaster for him.

So, he let Connor drive, and spent the ride on lookout. There could have been more attackers following, after all, or the driver could have theoretically made it back to his base and alerted the other kidnappers. 

The sun disappeared in the trees and the air grew even colder. Gavin hadn’t thought it possible.

The sky turned lavender, then pink, light orange...and then to grey. The trees’ shadows were hardly noticeable at this point, the long limbs and trunks bleeding together to form a monolithic darkness across the forest.

He tapped Connor’s shoulder. “Shouldn’t you turn on your headlights?” he called over the sound of the engine.

“Night vision,” Connor called back, tapping his temple.

Gavin rolled his eyes. Of course he had night vision.

They continued for maybe an hour, until the darkness became thick and the cold sank its teeth into Gavin's bones.

The snowmobile slowed down, sputtering out with noises from the engine that definitely didn’t sound like they were supposed to happen.

Gavin frowned. “What's wrong?”

“Out of gas,” Connor answered. “We’ll have to go the rest of the way on foot. But not tonight - we’ll go a little distance from the road and you can sleep. I’ll keep watch.”

Gavin warily put weight on his injured leg, testing to see if he could walk on it without too much of a problem. To his relief, the injury had numbed.

Connor offered a hand for stability, but Gavin shook his head. “I’m good. Hungry, but good.”

“I’ll be sure to have us wake up at a decent hour so that you can have food as soon as possible,” Connor said.

Gavin waved a hand. “Don’t worry about it. We’re not gonna be out here long enough for me to start starving, anyway. I’m more focused on the whole ‘hypothermia’ and 'bleeding out’ options for death at the moment.”

“I’m monitoring your vitals carefully,” Connor assured. “You’ll make it back to Detroit. I promise.”

“Can’t promise that,” Gavin said, but something in him - a small, small and totally inconsequential part of him - softened at the reassurance that someone was looking out for him.

No, not someone, something.

“Whatever,” Gavin mutters, and he picked a random direction and started walking.

He heard Connor follow behind him, but that was the last thing he was fully conscious of. His mind fell into a fog, an endless mantra of left, right, left, right on loop in his head as he walked forward.

He couldn’t be sure of how far he walked before Connor put a hand on his shoulder. Gavin was too tired to shrug off the touch. “Here’s good,” Connor said.

Gavin nodded and moved to the nearest tree, sitting at the base of the trunk and leaning back against it. Connor sat down somewhere nearby, but Gavin didn’t see where. His eyes were already closed.

And yet, despite being so bone-tired, he simply could not fall asleep. He would inch close to unconscious bliss, but the wind would blow against him and all he could think about was how cold it was-

“Detective?”

Gavin groaned, looking over at the yellow LED in Connor’s temple. “What.”

“Earlier, when we were running from the cabin, you said you ‘weren’t that suicidal’. What…?”

Gavin took a deep breath, too tired to care about what he was saying. “I’m depressed. Chronic.”

“Oh,” Connor said quietly, then he fell silent.

Gavin adjusted his position against the tree, trying and failing to get comfortable.

An owl hooted somewhere.

The wind whispered through the branches.

“Detective?"

“Spit it out, Connor.”

“What’s it feel like?”

Peeking one eye open, Gavin looked back over at Connor, making out the general shape of his features from that yellow LED. “Why do you ask?”

Connor fell silent for a few seconds, then answered. “I was telling Hank that… Markus and the others seem so… I don’t know… They're different. They’re more...at ease. I asked them what their emotions felt like, and they all said they were wild, and uncontrolled, but sharp and clear. But for me, I just…”

Connor trailed off, searching for the words as he stared at his hands in his lap. “My emotions aren’t… I feel so confused, all the time. And tired, even though I don’t require sleep. I don’t desire to do anything in the same way that Markus waits for the opportunity to paint, or Josh waits to open a novel and read. I don’t feel…'bad', and I don’t feel ‘good’. I just...I just go from one moment to the next, and I can hardly tell the difference.” Connor went quiet for a moment, then huffed a humorless laugh. “I sometimes wonder if I’m a deviant at all.”

“And you feel achy, don’t you?” Gavin joined in. Connor looked up, surprised. “Like you’ve been hollowed out, and there’s muck in your chest that makes it impossible to get a deep enough breath in.”

Connor nodded wordlessly.

Gavin turned back over, away from Connor. "Congrats. You’re depressed, too.”

“But I can’t be,” Connor protested. "Depression is a neurological condition caused by chemical imbalances in a human brain-”

“Not always,” Gavin said. “Look, I’m not your therapist. Maybe you've got some kind of weird android depression, I don't know. Go find a shrink once we’re back in Detroit - I’m sure Hank would cover the cost."

“I don’t want to tell him,” Connor said, his voice meek. “If I have it, that is. He’s done so much already…all of them have.”

The words were oddly familiar. Gavin had said something similar to Tina, however many years ago… He had decided to not tell Fowler or Hank. After all, a bad psych evaluation could cost him his job, and would certainly impact his chance at being promoted.

“Up to you whether you tell him or not,” Gavin said. “Now would you just let me get some sleep? I can’t stay awake forever.”

“Of course,” Connor said instantly. “I will cease conversing with you.”

Gavin said nothing, pulling the jacket tighter around his torso. I feel so confused, all the time… And tired… I just go from one moment to the next, and I can hardly tell the difference…

Tina was his other half, yes, and Hank used to be a real mentor to him. But never had Gavin met another colleague that so acutely understood how he felt. He had certainly never met someone that felt depression in the same way that he himself did. Hank probably could have related, but the man was always cold to Gavin, at best.

The thought hit him suddenly: he and Connor had something in common.

Huh. Maybe the plastic had feelings after all.

 


 

The next day, Connor woke Gavin up bright and early. To his immense relief, it hadn’t snowed or rained any more, as was always possible in the upper Midwest at this time of year (especially with their luck).

He and Connor struggled on, both unsteady but trying to use the other for balance as they followed the road they had taken yesterday, staying in the trees for cover. Somehow, they managed for several miles.

The hours passed as they crunched through the snow, saying nothing of real substance to each other and instead focusing on staying upright and moving forward.

Gavin lost track of how many miles they had walked - it was uphill, downhill, round mounds and rivers… Everything seemed to bleed together.

They finally took a break, taking cover behind a large boulder that would keep them hidden from the road.

Gavin stuffed snow in his mouth, not caring that it was probably gross. He was tired and miserable and he was absolutely parched - besides, who really gave a shit if he died out here, anyway?

Connor leaned against the tree trunk, his eyes unfocused and breathing hard. “Only...only five miles left,” he managed. “Then we’ll...come upon the highway. We should be able to...to wave someone down from there, call the...call the DPD and get help.”

“Five miles?” Gavin repeated. “So...two hours...maybe?”

“Maybe a little longer,” Connor said, grimacing. He coughed from panting so hard. “Especially… Especially at our pace.”

“Alright,” Gavin said. He grabbed Connor’s arm and put it over his shoulder. “Let’s speed it up a little.”

And they were off again, trudging through the deep snow and cringing away from the wind every time it blew. Both of them were breathing in gasps, but only Gavin’s breath fogged up.

Just another thing that makes him different, inhuman, a voice in the back of Gavin’s mind whispered. He’s just plastic, metal, and Thirium. Synthetic, fake-

Gavin wondered when he stopped believing that voice in his head. He had trusted it ever since he first saw that picture of Eli, all those years ago, and it had grown prominent when he first came into the office to find the beat cops replaced with a row of rechargeable androids.

Maybe Connor wasn’t human. Maybe he wasn’t a machine, either. Maybe he was something else.

Gavin had never had a lot of luck with humans. Anyone could see that. And machines had done nothing but threaten his job - his life, his new home - and remind him of the brother he wanted as a kid. The one he had looked forward to meeting, the one he had wanted to confide in and go through his childhood with… The one who thought books and nuts and bolts were more worthy of his time.

But if Connor was something else… Maybe his opinions on androids didn’t apply.

They continued to walk, stumbling through the trees as the hours passed. They said very little, both of them completely focused on moving forward.

But finally, something changed in the air.

Gavin frowned, trying to place it…

Tires. He could hear the sound of a car passing at high speed- The highway.

Gavin’s head snapped up, and he could have cheered in relief. As it was, he was too tired to manage anything more than a relatively enthusiastic, “Look! Look- the highway, we made it-”

And then Connor’s knees buckled.

Connor’s legs gave out, sending Gavin falling down beside him on the ground. He managed to catch himself before face-planting, but Connor didn’t. He laid, face-down in the snow, unresponsive. His LED spun scarlet, turning the glittering snow into rubies.

Gavin hurriedly flipped Connor onto his back. The deviant’s eyelids were drooping, his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

“Connor,” Gavin called, patting the deviant’s face in an attempt to rouse him. Connor remained unresponsive. Gavin drew a hand back to slap him harder-

Connor blocked the blow with an arm, movements more sluggish than usual but purposeful, as always.

Gavin felt something in his chest loosen when Connor’s eyes finally focused on him. “You good? Why’s your light still red?”

“My biocomponents are shutting down,” Connor said, making no move to stand.

"What? Why?” Gavin frowned. “You said you…”

You take it. I don’t feel cold. My model’s more durable-

Shit.

“You son of a bitch," Gavin hissed. “You were lying, weren’t you? About not being shut down by the cold?”

“You had a higher likelihood of making it out if I made sure you were not a victim of hypothermia,” Connor said, his voice underlaid with a somewhat metallic crackling sound. “I took a calculated risk.”

Gavin grit his teeth, then turned so that he was facing away from Connor. “Get on my back.”

“But, your leg-”

Now,” Gavin ordered.

A second later, Connor’s arms appeared around Gavin’s shoulders. He gripped Gavin’s jacket somewhat weakly and rested his head in the crook of Gavin’s neck. The cold plastic was almost the same temperature as Gavin’s skin, but it still made him wince - especially knowing that Connor had put his own life in danger in the name of keeping Gavin alive.

Gavin grabbed Connor’s legs and forced himself to stand up, biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself from yelling in pain when he put weight on his injured leg.

He took one step forward, then another, only focusing on the next step because if he thought any further into the future, he feared his knees would give out. But he could do one more step. And one more. And one more.

“Connor,” Gavin grit out, breathing heavily. “Diagnostics.”

“Damage to five biocomponents detected. Seven components require attention. Shutdown in approximately thirty-one minutes and twenty seconds,” Connor reported.

Gavin spat a curse, trying to double his speed but only going faster by a bear minimum. “What...happens...when the...other seven…?” he panted.

Connor caught onto his question. "I’ll shutdown faster.”

“Fuck!” Gavin hissed. He dared to look up and saw the highway, closer than it had been before. Just five steps to the edge of the forest, then a dozen or so to the highway. He could make it. “You're going to make it,” he said. “Don’t you fucking dare give up on me.”

Connor said nothing. He didn’t even look up when Gavin stopped by the edge of the interstate.

As carefully as he could, Gavin set Connor down against the guardrail. Connor helped as best he could, but his movements were clumsy. He leaned his head back against the railing and closed his eyes, LED spinning a sluggish red.

Gavin stood up and stayed next to Connor, looking either way on the road in search of a car. “How much time you got?”

“Twenty-two minutes, fourteen seconds,” Connor said. “But three biocomponents are on the verge of malfunction, so I might not…”

Cursing again, Gavin looked around-

Finally, the sunlight glinted off of a distant eighteen wheeler. A wave of relief eased the tension in his shoulders briefly, and he started waving, trying to catch the driver’s attention. “Detroit PD! Pull over!”

“Do you see someone?” Connor asked.

Gavin looked down to see Connor’s tired face squinting up at him. “Yeah, commercial.”

Connor hummed and closed his eyes, LED still scarlet.

Gavin turned his attention back to the truck, which was approaching steadily and slowing down, thank God.

The driver pulled over into the breakdown lane. Gavin squeezed Connor’s shoulder in reassurance, then limped towards the truck.

The driver - a heavyset woman with curly red hair - opened the passenger side door. “Emergency?”

“Hell yes it’s an emergency!” Gavin yelled. “I’m with the Detroit police. I need you to give me and my partner a ride to the city-”

“Do you have a badge?” the woman asked.

“I was just kidnapped! No I don’t have a badge!” Gavin exploded.

She glanced uncertainly at a camera hooked up to the corner of the car’s interior. “Look, if you don’t have a badge, I really can’t give you a ride. I’ll be fired. Plus, I’ve got relief items in my cargo. If I don’t get this to Cheboygan on time, there are gonna be a lot of hungry people. Here.” She pulled out her phone and unlocked it, then slid it across the seat to Gavin. “Call the police. I’m sure they can send someone out here stat.”

Gavin took the phone and hastily dialed 911. Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long for the call to be answered.

“911, what’s your-”

“This is Detective Gavin Reed from the fifth precinct in Detroit,” Gavin said. “I’m with Detective Connor Anderson on…”

Gavin glanced at the driver uncertainly. She caught on and said, “75 North, near West Branch. Close to exit 47.”

“Interstate 75 North,” Gavin repeated. “Near West Branch, close to exit 47. I need an ambulance and technicians out here right now.”

“Yes sir. I’m sending emergency services to your location. They’ll be there in approximately fifteen minutes.”

Gavin hung up the phone and handed it back to the driver with a mumbled, “Thanks.”

She took the phone and smiled sympathetically at him. “Hold on.” She ducked down and reached under her chair, then pulled out a fleece blanket and tossed it to Gavin. “You keep that. Stay warm.”

Gavin only held himself in place long enough to nod, then he shut the passenger door and ran back over to where he had left Connor on the grassy side of the guardrail. The deviant’s LED was pulsing red, and while Gavin had next to no knowledge of androids, he knew enough about tech to know that a red light wasn’t usually good.

“Alright,” he muttered, shaking out the fleece blanket. “Alright. Don’t make this weird.”

Connor huffed a weak laugh, but said nothing.

Choosing to keep the jacket on, Gavin draped the large blanket around his shoulders and sat next to him. He put his arm around Connor, pulling the deviant into his side so that he could leech off of Gavin’s body heat. A knot of concern gripped Gavin’s chest at the way Connor’s head lolled onto his shoulder. “How are you doing?”

“...Less than ideal,” Connor admitted quietly.

“Can’t you...I dunno, go into ‘sleep mode’ or something? Save power that way?”

“The only way to save power would be to shut down non-essential systems,” Connor said. “I would be shutting down my sight, taste, and smell, and… There’s something else, but I…don't think you would be comfortable-”

“Connor,” Gavin warned. “Do it.”

Connor said nothing, but the synthetic skin on his hands peeled back, leaving the white chassis exposed. A moment later, the hair on his head retreated, and the synthetic skin on his head and neck was gone. His eyes went pitch black, and his LED spun a slower red.

Gavin shifted his grip on him. “Are you sure that doesn’t make you colder?”

“A little,” Connor said, staring off into space, effectively blind. “It’s negligible-”

“Good fucking grief, is this what Anderson has to deal with everyday?” Gavin said under his breath. “No wonder you kept dying on him. Pull your knees in.”

Connor blinked at him. “What?”

“I’m trying to warm you up and make sure you don’t die, asshole!” Gavin yelled. “For fuck’s sake.” He scooped up Connor’s knees and pulled them under the blanket, steadfastly ignoring how he was basically cradling Connor. If Tina could see him now…

You know what? It didn’t matter. Connor had been willing to risk his life for Gavin’s - the least he could do in return was risk embarrassment.

“How much time you got?” Gavin asked.

“Sixteen minutes, eight seconds,” Connor said, his voice so faint it was practically a whisper.

“Gonna be cutting it close,” Gavin said. He adjusted the blanket, making sure it completely covered Connor, from head to toe.

Connor put a hand on Gavin’s. “I’m not…” he started. “I likely will not be...awake when help arrives.”

“That's fine,” Gavin said. “You can go to sleep-”

"No, Gavin, I…” Connor trailed off, eyes still unseeing. "I’m going to shut down before they get here.”

“You said you had sixteen minutes!” Gavin protested.

A look of peace fell on Connor’s features. “68% of my biocomponents are already malfunctioning. I just manually disabled another 17%.” He stopped - if he had been human, he might have taken a deep breath. “It’s o-okay, Gav-vin. I-”

“Shut the fuck up,” Gavin hissed, subconsciously holding Connor closer. “You keep fighting, you hear me? You know what Hank would do to me if his kid died on my watch?” Do you know what kind of weight that would put on my conscience? “No. You keep yourself online, asshole. You don’t get to leave me out in the middle of nowhere, got it?”

Connor didn’t say anything.

“Answer me,” Gavin growled. "You will not shut down. Say it.”

"I...I-I will not sh-sh-shut down,” Connor repeated, his voice glitching.

“Swear."

“I s-s-s-swear.”

“Of all the bad habits to pick up from Hank, you pick up his suicidal ideation,” Gavin muttered. “He’s gonna love that.”

“I’m not...not suicidal,” Connor said, still struggling to speak. “I ch-chose to k-k-keep you s-safe. It’s w-what I… It’s w-w-what I was built f-for. Prot-t-t-tect-ting…”

Gavin tightened his grip, almost to a level that would be bruising. “You stay online. Just focus on that. Okay? Help’s on its way.”

Connor nodded.

After checking once more that the blanket was completely covering Connor, Gavin looked back at the road, searching for sirens and flashing lights. 

A minute passed, and still no sign.

“Are you warming up, at least?” Gavin asked, turning his attention back to Connor.

“I…c-can't t-t-tell,” Connor confessed. “I shut...shut down my t-temperate sens-sors…”

“Okay,” Gavin said. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. He began to take off his jacket, trying not to jostle Connor too much. Of course, this left him in just a t-shirt and jeans - both of which were still damp with cold water. “Fuck, that’s cold. Okay. Shit.”

Tossing the jacket to the side, Gavin gathered Connor back into his arms and readjusted the blanket. “Better?”

Connor smiled faintly. “I just s-s-said… I c-can’t tell.”

“Okay, smartass,” Gavin grumbled. He went to check the road again-

Connor whimpered and grabbed Gavin's shirt. "Ten minut-tes,” he choked.

“You’re gonna be alright,” Gavin assured, tucking Connor’s head beneath his chin. “You’re gonna be fine.”

“I’m s-scared,” Connor whispered. “I don’t- Gav-vin, I d-don’t-t want to die.”

“You’re not going to die!" Gavin snapped. “You… You stay online. We’re gonna make it… Where the hell are they?" He looked back at the highway, desperately searching both directions for flashing lights.

Logically, he knew that help was on its way. He knew that the DPD had likely put out a BOLO the minute Gavin and Connor didn’t check in - Hank was always overly cautious that way. The whole precinct was probably on alert, just waiting to find a lead or to be contacted, either by the kidnappers or by Gavin and Connor.

But on the side of that lonely highway, Gavin couldn’t help but feel like they had been abandoned.

No other life in sight.

No sound except for the wind.

And in Gavin’s arms, he held a deviant that was slowly shutting down - a deviant that had chosen Gavin’s life over his own, even though he was only six months old, even though he had just won his freedom - and he couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Gavin tightened his grip again, knowing that it was ultimately a useless gesture; it wouldn’t stop Connor from slipping away. “Don’t shut down, you plastic prick,” Gavin warned. “Don't you dare shut down.”

Connor didn’t say anything. He didn’t move, either.

Gavin looked down and felt his heart stutter. Connor’s eyes were closed, his body completely limp in Gavin’s arms and his LED blinking a sluggish, struggling red.

“Fuck," Gavin spat. "Fuck fuck- shit-”

He looked back at the highway desperately, but he couldn’t focus on it. The trees blurred together, the concrete of the empty road stretched from horizon to horizon.

He turned back to Connor, shaking him. “Come on, Connor, come on-! Wake up, please- I take back calling you a ‘plastic prick.’ Okay? I promise, if you wake up right now, I’ll stop calling you that- Connor, please…"

The LED continued its slow pulse.

“Okay,” Gavin said, tucking Connor back against him and rubbing his arm, trying to generate heat. "Okay. Fine. Prick. Die of hypothermia, see if I care.” Though he wasn’t sure if it worked on androids, he had heard that skin-to-skin contact was best for sharing body heat. He carefully checked, making sure that his bare arms were against Connor’s cold ones and biting back a curse at how freezing he was. He kept Connor’s face against his neck, hoping that he could at least stave off the cold for a little bit longer.

Just a little bit longer.

Gavin’s mind fell into a fog again. If he had the awareness to worry about it, he would have wondered if it was a result of his likely concussion or the blood loss in his leg.

He fell into a rhythm.

Check Connor’s LED, readjust the blanket, hold Connor closer.

Check Connor’s LED, readjust the blanket, hold Connor closer.

Check Connor’s LED, readjust the blanket, hold Connor closer.

Time passed in bursts, as far as he knew. All he could think was please don’t die please don’t die not for me please don’t die-

Suddenly, the blanket was ripped away from Gavin’s shoulders and hands grabbed Connor, pulling him easily out of Gavin’s numb fingers. He shouted in alarm, scrambling to get Connor back, because if the kidnappers had found them and were taking them back to their hideout in the middle of fucking nowhere then there was no way they could make it back to Detroit-

“Gavin! Gavin, calm down and look at me.”

The fog in Gavin’s mind cleared - he recognized that voice. He stopped fighting back and his gaze settled on an officer’s face. “…Tina?"

She gave him a grin that didn’t reach her eyes. “Hey asshole. We’re gonna get you to the hospital, okay? Can you stand up?”

“Where’s Connor?” Gavin demanded, leaning to the side to try and spot the deviant.

“Connor has to go to get repairs,” Tina said. “It’s an entirely different building in New Jericho-”

“I want to go with him,” Gavin said, pushing himself to his feet. He caught sight of Connor, being lifted on a stretcher by a technician crew of androids. “Connor!”

He moved to limp over there, but Tina grabbed him. “You can’t. No humans allowed, Gavin. You have to let him go.”

The android technicians shut the doors of their van, cutting off Gavin’s view of Connor. They were driving off in seconds.

A new blanket was put around Gavin’s shoulders and Tina started to guide Gavin back to the waiting ambulance. “C’mon. He’ll be fixed in no time. He’ll probably be able to visit you first, anyway.”

Gavin said nothing, the world spinning now that the reason for staying upright - survival - was no longer a worry.

Tina frowned. “Wait, why are you limping-?”

And Gavin nose-dived, blacking out before he could even feel the paramedics catch him.

 


 

Gavin blinked.

He had been in a hospital before - most notably, for the injury that gave him the scar on his nose. He recognized the sound, the smell, the feeling of the hospital gown and well-used white blanket laying snuggly around his form.

There were a few noticeable differences; namely the intense heat from heat packs and extra heated blankets. There was some sort of bandage on the back of his head, and his injured calf was numbed to high heaven. An oxygen mask fed heated air into his lungs.

“Mind telling me what the hell you were thinking?”

Gavin looked to his right, where Fowler himself stood, arms crossed.

“I feel peachy, thanks for asking," Gavin returned, giving Fowler what he hoped was an unimpressed look.

“You were supposed to be on a stakeout,” Fowler said. “What’s so hard about sitting in a car with a cup of coffee and watching the damn place?”

“I ran out of coffee.” Gavin shrugged.

Fowler pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, thanks to you, I’ve had to deal with Hank and Tina almost going rogue for the past few days, and now both of them spend all of their off hours either here or at New Jericho. Not to mention all of the protocols you broke-”

“Hey, we got valuable information,” Gavin snapped.

“And you almost died in the process!” Fowler snapped back. “You and Connor were an hour away from…” He huffed, trying to rein in his temper, ignorant of the dread growing in the pit of his stomach. “Reed-”

“Where’s Connor?” Gavin asked.

“Being monitored,” Fowler said, frowning. “Why-”

“What’s wrong? I thought he was fine- Can’t they just… I don’t know, switch out the malfunctioning parts?” Gavin spoke in a rush, sitting up and taking off his oxygen mask.

Fowler quickly grabbed Gavin’s wrist. “Stop. You’re still not-”

“I can’t let him die because of me,” Gavin said, pulling his hand out of Fowler’s grip and continuing to disconnect this and that with no regard to the beeping and alarms that were going off. “I can’t-”

Fowler grabbed both of Gavin’s wrists this time, holding tighter now that he didn’t have to worry about snagging the IV. “Connor is fine. He’s with Hank right now-”

“I don’t believe you,” Gavin said, fighting against Fowler, but he was still weakened from his and Connor’s kidnapping. “I don’t- I want to see Connor. Right now.

A frantic nurse ran into the room, closely followed by Tina, who still wore her uniform - she must have just gotten off duty. The nurse grabbed a syringe, moving to sedate Gavin, but Fowler held out a hand.

“Alright," Fowler agreed. "Alright. We’ll take you over there for a quick visit. But then you’re coming straight back here and staying until you’re discharged. Am I perfectly clear?”

Gavin nodded.

 


 

The nurse overseeing Gavin’s recovery was less than happy about it, but they managed to convince her to let Gavin move to a wheelchair. They heaped blankets on his lap and around his shoulders, and the nurse made him carry a warmed teddy-bear-heat-pack with him, and he had to have the IV. 

But he was still out of the hospital in half an hour, pushed by Tina and escorted by Fowler, the latter of whom hadn’t stopped looking at him oddly.

Tina leaned down next to Gavin’s ear. "I think you broke the captain.”

“Took long enough,” Gavin joked, but Fowler’s new demeanor put him on edge.

They managed to maneuver him into Fowler’s SUV with little trouble, (“You have a van?!” “I have three boys that play three different sports, yes I have a van.”) and they were off.

The pain medication was starting to wear off somewhat by now, and it was all Gavin could do to keep from yelping every time they hit a bump. Fowler and Tina must have noticed, because the captain drove with the caution of a mother with a backseat of babies in a blizzard, while Tina tried to provide a distraction by making fun of Fowlers aforementioned driving and filling Gavin in on everything that had happened since he was taken.

Finally, they reached one of New Jericho’s technological repair centers, and Gavin was moved back to the wheelchair. The blankets were replaced, the IV was checked, and he was pushed to a side door of the facility, where a tall android was waiting.

“Hello, Captain Fowler,” the android said, glancing at Tina and Gavin warily. “Thank you for calling ahead. I’m sorry we can’t let you stay longer.”

“That’s alright,” Fowler returned. “I was meaning to check in on the kid later today, but I appreciate that you let us move up the appointment. And bring in unexpected guests.”

“Of course,” the android said, turning his attention to Gavin and Tina. He extended a hand. “Hello. I’m Josh.”

“Detective Reed,” Gavin returned.

Josh’s LED blipped yellow. "Gavin Reed?”

A spike of worry seized Gavin’s lungs. “Yes. You know me?”

“No,” Josh said, offering a disarming smile. “Connor’s been asking about you. That’s all. I thought he would try to jailbreak to come find you, since none of us knew how you were doing. He’ll be relieved to see you.”

“What the fuck,” Fowler muttered under his breath.

Tina elbowed the captain. “You should’ve seen them when I found ‘em, Cap. Gavin passed out before I could convince him to let go of Connor. Maybe you should've sent them on a camping trip instead of a stakeout.”

“Follow me,” Josh said, holding open the side entrance.

Gavin chose not to snap a heated reply at Fowler and Tina. He settled on a warning glare, but Tina just ruffled his hair as she pushed him inside. “Yeah, yeah, we know you’re a tough bad-boy. Don’t be so defensive all the time.”

Josh led them into a wing of the repair center and gestured to a room, labelled 128. “Go right ahead,” he invited, opening the door.

Gavin entered first, searching the room and finding Connor, lying on a hospital-esque bed. His lower half was covered by a grey blanket, but his torso was open and exposed. The synthetic skin had returned to his face, but his eye - the one that he had to reinsert back in the basement where they first woke up - was covered by a white bandage. There were tubes and wires connected to nearby machines, which tracked power levels, temperatures of multiple biocomponents, Thirium levels...

Connor’s working eye found Gavin, no doubt running a scan to check on Gavin’s vitals.

Hank stood up angrily, moving around the bed. “The hell is he doing here?” he growled.

Fowler held out his hands. “Hank, he-”

“He’s the reason Connor was kidnapped in the first place!" Hank yelled. 

“You would’ve done the same thing, Lieutenant,” Tina jumped in. Gavin recognized that look on her face - the ‘If someone doesn’t give me a pillow to punch instead, my fist is going in someone’s face’ look.

“Officers, if you could please keep your voices down-” Josh tried.

“Fuck you, Chen,” Hank said, turning on her. “I would never have put Connor’s life at risk like that. Reed doesn't even think Connor’s alive-

Gavin did his best to not get involved, choosing instead to wheel himself over to Connor’s bedside, leaving Fowler and Hank and Tina to argue without him.

Connor let out a breath of relief, but otherwise, he didn't move very much. In fact, he was almost completely motionless from the neck down, aside from his breathing. “I thought I would have to wait until Hank was sleeping to be able to see if you were alright.”

“Yeah, well,” Gavin muttered. He pressed a hand against Connor’s cheek, then checked his forehead and arms. “You’re still freezing.”

“I can’t warm up too fast, or else my Thirium will evaporate,” Connor explained. “They’re monitoring my levels carefully.”

“Can’t they just...I dunno, ‘swap out the parts’? Is that a thing?” Gavin asked. He felt very stupid, asking such a question when androids have been in public life for over a decade, but he didn’t know the answer and needed to know.

Connor smiled in understanding. “No. I’m a prototype. My components are rare. They only have a few parts set aside for me, so if I don’t need a new biocomponent, they prefer to just repair what I have. Takes a little while longer, but it's alright. Hank needs the time off, anyway.”

“It doesn't...hurt, though, right?” Gavin checked.

“No, they turned off my pain sensors and temperate sensors when I came in, and they removed the virus,” Connor answered. “I don’t really feel anything, at the moment. It’s somewhat alarming.”

Gavin grabbed Connor’s hand. “You can feel my hand, though?”

“Yes, pressure sensors are online,” Connor said, face softening. “Thank you, Gavin. But how are you? I was trying to convince North to let me visit you, but she was...adamant. And Hank was in agreement." 

“I’ll be okay,” Gavin said, shrugging. “I've been worse.”

“Same here,” Connor returned.

“Doesn’t mean it was okay,” Gavin said. He looked at Connor’s open eye, all business. “You ever try that shit again, I’ll kick your ass.”

Connor grinned.

Gavin’s eyes narrowed. “What? What’re you smiling at?”

“Are we friends, detective?”

“...No, we're- We’re colleagues-”

“My social module is telling me-”

“Your social module is fucked.”

“-that you are no longer hostile-”

“Look, prick. I’m one hundred percent hostile-”

“-and you are getting dangerously close to befriending a ‘Tin Man’.”

“-I will fight you, anywhere, any time. Fucking come at me.”

“In your condition?”

“What the fuck,” Hank said.

Gavin looked back to the door and found Fowler, Tina, and Hank - the three people who had known him better than anyone else in his life - staring at him as if he had just turned purple. “What?” Gavin demanded.

“Are we sure that he only has a minor concussion?” Tina asked.

“Are you sure you found the right Gavin?” Fowler returned.

“Hilarious,” Gavin deadpanned. He turned back to Connor, ignoring the others for the moment. “Hank has my number. Anything changes, you need anything, you call me.”

“Only if you promise to do the same,” Connor said. “You have Hank’s number?”

“Hold on,” Hank said, snapping himself out of his shock. “I'm not gonna play ‘messenger’ with you two-”

“Yeah, but I don’t know where my phone ended up,” Gavin said. “Call Tina. Hank’s got her number.”

“No way,” Tina protested. “I’m not going to be dragged into-”

“They’re cooperating,” Fowler snapped. “Don’t ruin this. I expect you and Hank to encourage them, for however long this lasts. Am I understood?”

Hank looked visibly outraged. “Jeffery-!”

“That’s an order,” Fowler warned.

Hank fell silent, but he glared at the police captain, as if he could intimidate him into backing down with his temper alone.

Josh cleared his throat. “I apologize, Captain, but I can’t let you stay longer. You’re welcome to come back tomorrow, if you wish.”

“I’ll call and let you know,” Fowler said.

Tina moved forward and grabbed Gavin’s wheelchair. "Alright, come on, Not Gavin. Gotta get you back on your pain meds and reheat your teddy."

Gavin groaned. "Fucking hell- That’s the last time I take initiative on a stakeout. If I’d known you were just gonna bully me, I would’ve just keeled over in the woods somewhere.”

Tina didn’t laugh.

Fowler was already ducking out into the hallway. “Take care of him, Hank.”

“‘Course,” Hank returned, moving back to the chair he had moved to Connor’s bedside.

Connor waved a hand in farewell. Gavin nodded back as Tina pushed him out of the room, and the occupants of room 128 disappeared from view.

“How’s your leg feeling?” Tina asked.

“It’s feeling,” Gavin said.

The wheelchair accidentally bumped into a cart in the hallway and Gavin hissed a curse under his breath. “Sorry,” Tina said.

“I’m fine," Gavin said, brushing her off. “It's not as bad as it was-”

“Gavin?”

Tina stopped pushing the wheelchair, and Gavin looked to where the voice came from.

Elijah blinked at him in surprise, wearing some ridiculously expensive jacket and with his hair in a ponytail. His pale grey-blue eyes scanned over Gavin, the slight crease in his brow the only indication of any worry or confusion he may have felt. Assuming Elijah had feelings.

“The fuck are you doing here?" Gavin asked in a low voice.

“I owe an RK800 a favor," Elijah said, moving closer. A blonde android followed at his heels, curiously looking at Gavin from around Elijah’s shoulder. “I know a thing or two about androids, you know.”

“So I’ve heard.” Gavin glared at him. "Not that it hasn’t been great to catch up, but I have a bucket of morphine at the hospital with my name on it. I’m sure you have something more interesting to look into, anyway.” Gavin pointed toward the side door, where Josh and Fowler waited, watching the exchange with interest. Tina started pushing him away.

“Gavin-” Elijah called after him.

Gavin flipped him off. “You’ve never cared, Eli. Don’t start now. You’ll have an identity crisis.”

And with that, Tina pushed him out the door, patting his shoulder in wordless approval. “You don’t need him. Screw that guy.”

"Yeah, who needs family, anyway?” Gavin agreed. And something in him - a puzzle piece that had never quite fit into the rest of him - clicked into place.

His family was a mess. Everyone knew that.

His friends were messes in their own right, but they had been more of a family to him than anything he had ever known.

And he had been throwing it away, content to let Hank grow bitter and Fowler grow cold and Tina grow distant and himself grow entitled - but that was it. Not anymore.

Connor had been trying to piece together the broken relationships in the DPD, to mend the broken people that Gavin had let go their own way. And, after Connor had been repaired and Gavin had been discharged, life changed. Every time Connor took a coffee break with Gavin, every time he volunteered to go by his place to feed his cats, Gavin knew full well what he was doing.

He was trying to befriend him.

And though Gavin would resist referring to Connor as a friend for almost two years after the Blue Ice incident, the same could not be said for those around the office. Everyone would agree - usually prefaced with "I can’t believe I’m saying this…” - the two young detectives had come back from their captivity as different people, and as friends.

And if Gavin bought Connor a thick winter coat (and made sure he wore it), and if Connor took Gavin aside to talk when he was having one of his bad days, then no one was going to mention it.

And slowly, the DPD pieced itself back together, one person at a time.