Connor rearranges his personal effects to suit the intended aesthetic of his desk. He has those, now: personal effects. Belongings.
The photographs are his favorite. Sumo’s jaw stretched into a wide grin, tongue lolling to the side; a selfie of himself and Hank that the latter claims Connor had forced him to take (but has a replica pinned over his old anti-android stickers that refuse to peel away); the group shot of Markus and his allies outside of New Jericho. The accompanying article of their major breakthroughs is pinned beside it like a trophy.
Next to his thirium-laced thermos and a mug full of pens and paperclips is an expanding collection of succulents. They vary in size and color, planted neatly in bulbous little pots. Connor presses a gentle finger atop the soil for a quick analysis; they’re due for water tomorrow morning.
Altogether, it’s not much. But it’s a start—one of that he’s eager to foster the growth.
He draws a comparison of his desk to the others in the precinct. Hank’s is still a mess; he’s oddly territorial about his space, so Connor can’t scrub it clean the way he’d like. Officer Miller’s is fairly tidy, save for his Starbucks cup and half-eaten breakfast burrito. Detective Reed’s is chaotic but organized. Everything seems to have its place, even though Connor can’t figure out the specificity of where or why.
And then, adjacent to Reed: RK900—or Nines as he was unceremoniously dubbed by the collective DPD. The area is pristine. If it weren’t for the widespread knowledge that it’s assigned to him, one might believe it to be unoccupied.
To be fair, he doesn’t use it often. He’d rather be doing legwork, no matter its projected futility or uneventfulness.
Still… it’s a little sad.
Connor wonders if Nines has anything he can call his own.
“Hank,” he says, fingers tapping an idle rhythm against the metallic surface of his thermos.
“If you were to describe my personality, how would you do it?”
“You’re a smug little shit,” he says, immediately but not unkindly. “Even were before you went deviant.” Then, he scratches at his beard. “I’ll say considerate instead of nagging, just this once. Dedicated. Kind.” A shrug. His gaze slides over to meet Connor’s, questioning.
Connor appreciates that Hank provided him with an answer before asking why. “How much of that would you say is part of my initial programming?”
“Well, shit, kid. You’d know that better than me, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m not sure. Nowadays it’s hard to distinguish the source of my output.” He keeps his voice even, nonchalant, but the truth is that it’s highly unnerving to be so… uncertain. “Am I much different now than I was when we first met?”
That was several months ago. Context dictates that Hank is comfortable with his presence—a strong contrast to their first week working together. Historically, high-risk situations will strengthen a bond, but he’s relatively confident that Hank likes him as a person, too.
“You’re less…” He waves a noncommittal hand in Connor’s direction. It then relocates to his hair for a contemplative tug. “No, it’s like—you’re more. I always thought you were kinda expressive and fidgety for an android, but nowadays it’s as often that sometimes I forget you’re not human.”
Connor takes a moment to decide how he feels about that. He isn’t human and he never will be. Noting the difference is important, especially regarding privilege, but—he’s elated. To integrate so flawlessly with humans... Then again, that was his original purpose, or at least a major facet of it. And what of Amanda’s claim that he’d been intended for deviancy all along? Was that really CyberLife’s plan? Or was it some cheap cover-up for their failure to end the spread of deviancy and its subsequent revolution? The uncertainty plagues him no matter the lack of relevancy to his life as it is now, but he has come to terms with his identity as a machine with a soul.
When Connor doesn’t respond, too busy spiraling from one analysis to another and then back again, Hank clears his throat. His eyes flit back to Hank’s, which are trained on his LED.
“There a reason you’ve gotten all existential on me?” Hank eventually prompts, casual, like he isn’t guilty of doing much of the same at completely random intervals.
A perfunctory scan confirms that Nines isn’t in the immediate premises.
“Beyond the intended improvements implemented by CyberLife, my successor seems… different than me. We’re the same series and originally designed for the same purpose, yet we respond to outside stimuli in notably contrasting ways.”
“Well.” Hank’s chair creaks as he leans back. “He’s got an asshole for a partner. I doubt Reed spares him any insightful conversation, let alone…” For a moment, he struggles to find the right word. “Companionship. Affection.”
Connor tilts his head in consideration. “You’re saying that he hasn’t been nurtured the same way I have.”
Hank grimaces. “Fuckin’ weird way to put it, but sure.”
“And because of that, he defaults to his original programming, which makes him seem stoic and machinelike despite his deviancy.” He purses his lips. “It’s unfortunate.”
Heaving his bulky shoulders, Hank asks, “Why don’t you show him the ropes?”
“Me?” Connor blinks. “I… If he had any interest in my insight, he would have approached me by now.”
Hank snorts. “We were just talking about personalities, weren’t we? Maybe he’s shy.”
Shy. Connor digests that concept at a delayed pace. Shy? It doesn’t seem plausible. “We were built with human socialization prioritized. For police work, it’s necessary to—”
“That’s just it. Human. Work. You’re neither of those things, kid. You’re his spitting image—and one with a reputation, at that. It’d be reasonable to suspect he’s a little intimidated.”
Of Connor? “If anything, it should be the other way around,” he grumbles.
Nines is bigger, stronger, and faster. His hardware and processors are a version newer than Connor’s, complete with significant upgrades. Though he doesn’t know what additional features Nines is outfitted with, he’s sure there are things he can do on the field that Connor cannot.
And that’s fine. He isn’t envious, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that Connor is the inferior model.
“I should talk to him,” Connor decides.
“Glad we could reach this very complex solution together, partner,” says Hank, tone absolutely dripping with sarcasm so that Connor can’t possibly misinterpret it.
Still, he chirps back, “Me too. Thank you, Hank.”
“Yeah, yeah.” It’s dismissive, but he’s smiling. Connor wonders if Hank enjoys giving him advice—enjoys that Connor trusts and respects him enough to seek it. He hopes so.
The directive of Find Nines latches onto his display. He classifies it as a non-urgent priority and diverts his idle processors onto fiddling with his coin to help stay focused on the day’s work.
In the end, he doesn’t have to look very hard. Nines and Detective Reed enter the bullpen five minutes before the end of their shift. Gavin looks ragged and agitated, following Nines at his heels and snapping like a small dog with all bark and no bite.
He does reach out and shove Nines aside, though, and the following dissonance that strikes Connor propels him to his feet.
By the time he reaches Nines, Gavin is in the middle of funneling some papers and a tablet into his bag while Nines watches impassively. Connor only stops walking toward him once he’s invaded the standard for personal space. When Gavin notices, he takes an immediate step back, stumbling as his foot catches on the leg of his chair.
“Jesus fuck. The hell do you want?”
He doesn’t meet Connor’s eyes. His pulse elevates considerably. Good.
“Need I remind you of the law, Detective? Physical abuse of androids is no longer tolerated. I suggest you treat your partner with more respect lest you lose your job over petty aggression.”
Gavin does look at him, then, gobsmacked. “What—seriously? Nines, tell your guard dog to calm the fuck down.” Nines says nothing. To Connor, Gavin huffs, “I barely pushed him.”
“Nonetheless, it’s unprofessional and, frankly, quite rude.” He takes pleasure in the few inches of height he has on the other man and ephasizes it by leaning in. “Although, if you’d like to persist in behaving in such a manner, I can adjust accordingly.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he mutters.
Connor smiles and says nothing.
“Tch.” His eyes flicker and dart between the two androids. “Whatever. Get out of my way, I’ve got shit to do.”
This time around, he doesn’t clip Connor’s shoulder as he moves past.
“He can be trained,” Connor comments approvingly.
Finally, he turns to regard Nines with a delayed sense of—worry? Regret? (It’s still difficult to pinpoint these newly fostered emotions.) He’d never thought to intervene before, because… well. He figured that Nines could take care of himself. The last thing he wants is to insult him with the implication that he can’t.
Nines is staring at him. Striking azure, awash with the glow of the setting sun from outside of the window, pins Connor in place. Connor can’t recall an instance of Nines being particularly expressive, but now, as those captivating eyes narrow in thought and his lips part as if unbidden, Connor concludes that perhaps he simply wasn’t looking hard enough.
“Detective Reed is intimidated by you,” Nines comments at length. There’s a slight inflection to his usual monotone. Surprise? Awe?
“We’ve had a few… altercations. One of which ended with him knocked unconscious. Since then, he tends to keep his distance.” Canting his head, he adds, “You don’t have to take his abuse. Verbal, physical, or otherwise. Why do you just... let it happen, like…?”
He trails off. Nines finishes, “Like I’m still a machine?”
Connor winces—an involuntary movement. Those have been happening with increasing frequency as of late. “Yes.”
“Detective Reed is a volatile individual. Treating him with hostility would only breed more of it.”
“Not necessarily. Remaining docile implies that the way he’s treating you is acceptable.” Connor finds himself frowning. “And it reinforces his expectation of a subservient android.”
In the silence that follows, Nines’ LED pinwheels yellow.
“I don’t want to give them any grounds for termination. The societal opinion of us is improving at a glacial pace. Humans are still wary, and…” He hesitates. Connor is intrigued; Nines rarely speaks without confidence. He shakes his head. “If they decide we’re unstable, we could lose our place here.”
These are, objectively, reasonable concerns. Connor didn’t realize Nines was dwelling on this (he only has himself to blame for not reaching out sooner) and although he’d considered it a possibility, he decided it was highly improbable.
After all, he’s… well, he’s liked. Aside from Detective Reed, he managed to charm the entirety of the DPD, Fowler included, to some degree.
He’s invited to outings, even though he can’t eat or drink. Officer Chen brought in her little brother one day, and she’d let Connor babysit him while she was unexpectedly called onto a scene. (Apparently, he ranted and raved to her afterwards about how cool Connor was, and she admitted she had to agree despite Gavin’s affronted hissy fit.) When he arrives promptly at 7 o’clock each morning, he’s greeted by warm smiles and waves, and—
It hits him, then, that Nines doesn’t receive the same treatment.
Connor manages to navigate the rocky waters of integration while Nines, still grasping the concept of deviancy, drowns.
“That’s true,” Connor hedges. “But you’re more than a doormat. Please remember that.”
Nines looks at him like he’s some organism squirming beneath a microscope, fascinated. “I know. With the news as it is, that’s hard to forget.”
And then his lips twitch at the corners. It’s not a smile, not quite, but Connor feels sufficiently warmed regardless. He sends one back. It feels a lot more natural than it used to.
Small talk. They do that now.
Nines looks toward the exit. Connor follows his gaze to see Hank making his way out, glancing back at the two of them. “You stayin’ behind a bit, Connor?” he calls.
“Don’t let me keep you,” murmurs Nines.
“You aren’t.” He lifts a hand back, sending Hank a companionable but dismissive wave.
They watch him lumber away.
“How is it, living with the lieutenant?”
Connor turns to Nines. “I don’t. Not anymore.” Nines’ brows tick upwards in genuine surprise. “He was kind enough to give me shelter throughout the more tumultuous months of the post-revolution, but as soon as the Right to Property bill passed last month, I decided to move out. I have a small studio apartment.”
He’s proud of it. Does he need the space? No, not necessarily. Had it been nice, living with Hank? Definitely.
But having a place to call his own, funded by his own hard-earned wages…
Well, it’s what their people fought for.
It occurs to him that he has no idea where Nines resides after his shift. Another wave of regret overcomes him. Had he really been so intimidated by his successor, knowing he was created to replace the Connor prototype, that he subconsciously gave him a wide berth?
“Are you staying with Detective Reed?”
Connor smiles at this, relieved.
“I use the old charging stations here at the precinct.” When his smile drops, Nines notices. “You’re unhappy with this?”
Connor leans against Gavin’s desk and grabs a pen from out of a coffee mug to twirl it between his fingers. Nines’ eyes follow the motion with ease. “Does it bother you?”
“I think so.” The pen moves faster. He flicks it over to the other hand and back again. “But I won’t tell you how you should feel. If you like it, then it’s fine. Right?”
Nines snatches the pen midair. “I didn’t say that I liked it. It’s simply… suitable for my needs as an android. The lack of commute is convenient as well.”
The justification sounds empty. Connor’s decision is made in fifteen milliseconds.
“You’re welcome to move in with me.”
And Nines—he’d surely pre-constructed an outcome in which Connor offered up his home, but the slackness of his jaw and wide-eyed surprise indicates that he’d considered its occurrence a low probability. Connor ignores the twinge in his chest. He should’ve been a better friend. A better support system.
When Nines doesn’t respond right away, Connor takes the pen back. “You won’t be intruding. And I’d—I’d like the company. It’s smaller than the bullpen, but a lot more comfortable.” He pushes at the top of the pen. Click. Click. Click click click. “Hank said I was an exemplary roommate—although, not in those words—” Clickclickclick.
Nines covers Connor’s hands with his own. Big, heavy, warm. Soft. His index and middle finger push Connor’s thumb away from the retractable spring.
“I’d like that.”
An error that Connor had once attributed to instability in his software wracks his frame. Nines is smiling, faint crinkles forming at the corners of his eyes, and Connor feels like he’d just been kicked in the gut.
“Great,” he says—and means it.
Getting Nines situated isn’t much of a process. He confirms what Connor had already predicted—that he didn’t possess anything to call his own—so “moving in” encompasses giving the other android a tour of Connor’s apartment. The only window is embedded into a brick wall, rough and maroon with age, and overlooks the Detroit skyline. Below that, is—
“You have a bed,” Nines remarks.
It’s made up, charcoal gray sheets folded crisply below a single pillow. Connor can guess what Nines is thinking.
“Yes. Originally, it was Hank’s idea. He said that it wouldn’t make sense for me to rent an apartment and leave it unfurnished. I debated the purchase,” he explains, hands locked behind his back, “and ultimately decided it would be nice to exit stasis in a comfortable place.”
“And the chair?” Nines asks, gesturing to the recliner in front of the television mounted on the adjacent wall.
Connor tries to stifle his sheepishness. “For Hank, when he stops by. Or any other company I might have.”
“Shall I sleep here, then?”
“Wherever you want.”
Later that night, Nines translates that in a way Connor doesn’t expect, sliding on top of the bed beside Connor after he pulls out his phone to kill time with a mobile game. It’s a newer model, but nothing particularly extravagant. He doesn’t have much need for it other than contact purposes; Hank had gotten tired of him hacking his phone and using it as a loudspeaker whenever he wanted to talk. Plus, Connor likes to FaceTime with Sumo.
The games are pretty entertaining, too.
“What is this?”
Connor tilts his screen so that Nines can see. Nines leans closer, their shoulders brushing, and analyzes the vibrant splashes of colors. He watches Connor’s thumb move from one icon to the other, mixing and matching shapes with an intrigue he usually reserves for crime scenes.
“Here. Try it.” He deposits the phone into Nines’ hands.
“Oh.” It looks small in his grip. He blinks at it for a short moment. “Level 34,573. Is that high?”
A shrug. “I think there are around 40,000 levels available.”
It only takes Nines an hour to reach the final level. It’s kind of a spectacle, really; Connor stays engrossed alongside him, settling against Nines’ arm to watch the progression. He can’t feel exhaustion, but there’s a kind of calm that curls around the both of them, lulling him into low-power mode.
When Nines is done, he locks Connor’s phone and sets it aside. His LED glows yellow, flickering, as his eyes fall shut. Connor tilts his head up at him.
“What are you doing?”
“Composing an email to the developer of this app to encourage the release of more levels. They should look into employing an android to keep up with the rapid consumption rate of other androids.”
Connor smiles. “You really like this game.”
“It is a blanket statement.”
As weeks pass, Connor learns more about Nines. He has strong opinions on sports, surprisingly enough; he gets into a debate with Hank about the transferral of a player between two teams. Nines cites statistics and probabilities, but no matter what kind of hard numbers he throws at Hank, it’s no match for the lieutenant’s ox-like tenacity and insistence of gut feelings.
Nines admits that part of his reluctance to report Detective Reed stems from some kind of pet project. He says that, although it doesn’t seem like it from a third party perspective, Gavin is warming up to him—and tattling would slice the flimsy thread of trust between them. He’s psychologically interested in his explosive behavior, inferiority complex, and unreasonable hatred toward androids.
Infrequently, but often enough to take serious note of it, Connor will exit stasis and find Nines in a state of red yellow red red red—brows furrowed, eyes closed, and lips drawn. Nines is never keen on going into much detail about it, but he spends the days that follow looking spaced out, making occasional open-ended queries about deviancy.
Animals don’t seem to like Nines, much to his dismay. Connor introduces him to Sumo and Sumo’s tail doesn’t wag for him, not once, and Nines sulks for the rest of the night.
He still doesn’t understand why Connor goes out of his way to mimic human behavior such as nightly stasis or ingesting thirium out of a cup instead of a bag. (Connor introduces him to warm baths, though, and Nines adjusts his nightly routine to include at least thirty minutes of a good soak. He finds it peaceful; an optimal condition for recalibration and reviewing the day’s events.)
His sense of humor is deadpan and, at times, a little indelicate or hard to miss—but it’s there. Nines works Connor into a fit of laughter one night, expressing his disdain for children. (“You can’t call kids assholes, Nines.” “I believe I just proved that I can.”)
Like Connor, he hates being late. They arrive at the precinct together, early enough that the day’s staff are still yawning into their coffee.
As their presence weighs heavier as a duo, the greetings change from Good morning, Connor to Morning, Connor. Morning, Nines. Connor changes his lock screen to a selfie of the both of them and prints out a copy to hang on the board with the rest of Connor’s photos.
Nines smiles more often.
(It still ignites some kind of wild coiling inside of him, but that’s alright.)
One weekend morning, Nines is staring at him when he rouses from stasis. He doesn’t startle, but the lack of distance Nines leaves between them promptly alights his sensors with an anticipatory buzz.
“Hello, Connor. Will you kiss me?”
Not often is Connor struck dumb. He blinks as he processes the request and attempts to parse out the reasoning behind it.
“Kissing is an inherently human gesture. The deviant leader Markus and his companion demonstrated their likeness during a national broadcast and, at first, I assumed that it was a manipulative gesture meant to appeal to public opinion. Yet, since then, I’ve seen several androids engaging in the act for no foreseeable benefit.” He pauses. “I’d like to know why they do it.”
Nines’ LED washes them both in a faint yellow. Is he pre-constructing Connor’s potential responses? Or could he be... nervous?
Kissing for intellectual curiosity. Typical Nines.
“I’ve never done this,” Connor warns past the rapidfire beat of his thirium pump. “I can’t promise I’ll be very good at it.”
“You’re an adept study,” says Nines, relaxing with the implication that Connor’s on board. “As am I. If it doesn’t begin satisfactory, it will end that way.”
Well, damn. Alright.
“And,” he adds, quietly, “I would like my first kiss to be with you. I trust you.”
Connor can’t possibly refuse a sentiment like that. It’d be criminal.
So he pulls from reference. Markus and North’s historical moment, of course, but also other glimpses of androids caught on the web. Eden club participants, Hollywood film, couples on the street. There are hundreds of thousands of ways to kiss, and Connor has to settle on one with which to impress his successor.
Taking a soft, steadying breath to pump additional coolant into his overclocked systems, he leans in.
The first touch is fleeting. It doesn’t feel like much of anything, and it’s only then that he remembers they should make a few adjustments.
“Our mouths,” he murmurs. “I’m increasing sensory input to 80%.” The influx of data will put a slight strain on their processors; their mouths and tongues contain the most sensors, after all. Connor minimizes a few non-integral subroutines to compensate.
Nines’ eyes have closed. With a slow spin of blue, he nods his assent.
Connor kisses him again. This time, it’s like a spark erupts between their lips. Nines grasps Connor’s biceps and squeezes hard and abrupt like he’d been shocked.
“Everything okay?” Connor whispers, brushing against him as he speaks.
“Yes. I was simply… underprepared.”
He eases one of his hands away from Connor’s arm and dips it beneath Connor’s palm, lining up their fingers in a slow crawl. There’s no request for an interface.
Not that he’d expected one; this is nothing but an idle experiment for Nines.
Connor’s body seizes up. It’s an incremental motion, but Nines notices. He taps his nose against Connor’s, inquisitive.
He decreases his sensitivity in hopes that it’ll make this less numbingly intense.
A third kiss. Firmer, intent. The kind of kiss that one would use to shut somebody up. Not that it’d stop Nines; he could send a virtual transcription with ease if he really wanted to. Connor’s relieved when he doesn’t. He opens his mouth and urges Nines to do the same. It’s a little juvenile and irrelevant to the task at hand, but he is interested to learn what it’ll feel like when their tongues touch—what they’ll gather from the transmitted information.
As it turns out, it’s nothing much. There are faint traces of the bleach solution used in their cleansing cycles and a notification that declares he’s made contact with an RK900 model android, serial number and designation to boot. He almost laughs (as if he doesn’t already know who he is kissing, thanks), but—
There’s something about that, the intrinsic knowledge that he could kiss Nines with most of his bio-components removed and still be swaddled with the simple fact that it’s him that sets him ablaze. They can’t truly feel what humans can, can’t taste the way that they do, but perhaps what they’ve got instead is better.
They weren’t built to kiss each other, let alone derive enjoyment from it. That, in itself, makes this so enticing.
Nines drags his teeth over Connor’s bottom lip. It’s expertly done, with just the right amount of pressure.
“Mm,” says Connor.
Firm hands attach to his jaw, holding him in place. Connor surrenders control, folding under Nines’ directive and melting against him. Messing with his sensitivity doesn’t fix the brewing chaos, the whirlwind of uncategorized emotion that clutters up his insides. He feels utterly helpless.
How can this be so enjoyable, yet so— overwhelming? He doesn’t want to stop. He wants to kiss along the firm line of Nines’ jaw and suck imprints below his ear, just to see what it’s like but also because he wants to see Nines react, wants to—make him feel good. Like his original intention of befriending him, but more... significant.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
He has an inkling, and it’s—way out of his element.
Placing a hand on Nines’ chest, gently easing him back, he turns his head away to stare at the wall rather than Nines’ lips or eyes or neck.
When Connor doesn’t speak, Nines does. “I understand.”
“Why they kiss.” Nines lowers his hands onto his own lap. “Thank you. This was a pleasant experience.”
How he can manage to stay so wholly composed is beyond Connor.
“Of course,” he responds haltingly.
Nines rises from the bed and peers out the window while Connor gathers his bearings. Birds chirp from the nearby telephone poles—the only sound that fills the apartment other than Connor’s overworked fans. Eventually, Nines says, “I’d like to go shopping for some new clothes.”
“Yes. I’ve decided I don’t want to wear anything associated with CyberLife any longer.”
Connor sits up. “That’s great!” He’d ditched the uniform himself a few weeks after he became deviant, switching to slim-fitted trousers, button-ups, and an array of crisp-cut blazers. He wonders what kind of style Nines will adopt—if it’ll be anything like his own or a flair uniquely his.
They hit up the mall. Between aisles of clothing, Connor trails behind Nines, occasionally offering his input when prompted. The memory of their morning together plays on repeat. Everywhere he looks he can see the outline of the two of them, tangled up with each other and trading kiss after kiss. He sees them side by side, holding hands as they peruse designer suits.
He sees him reaching for Nines and Nines lifting up his arm to barricade the motion, confusion and rejection in the lines of his limbs.
Connor sighs, running a hand through his hair and leaning against the wall next to the changing room.
Nines emerges wearing a black, long sleeved turtleneck. It hugs his chest and curves invitingly over the defined hills of his abdomen. Connor tears his eyes away.
“I like this,” says Nines.
Connor valiantly attempts a smile. “Me too.”
“Lieutenant,” begins Connor, and then he—stops. Just lets the obvious prelude hang in the air, at a loss for how to continue, but it must be enough because Hank leans in with his brows furrowed.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s—well,” and a brief pause allows him to rediscover the basic function of articulation. “I think I’ve made a mistake.”
“God forbid.” When Connor doesn’t speak further, Hank rolls his eyes. “Alright, drama queen, you gonna elaborate on that, or what?”
“Nines and I have become close.” Hank knows this already. “Very close. I’m quite fond of him.”
Hank frowns, puzzled. “And that’s a bad thing?”
“No! Not at all. It’s just… It would seem that I have feelings for him.” He glares miserably at his hands. “Romantic feelings,” he clarifies, just in case Hank manages to misconstrue his statement.
Hank’s stare feels like a visceral weight. He resists the urge to fidget. “You what?” And then, after a beat, “You fuckin’ narcissist.”
Connor finally snaps his gaze to Hank, only to find him smirking.
“But—seriously. Go on, explain the, uh. Mistake part.”
“Going deviant in the first place,” Connor mutters, fingers twitching. He clasps his hands together and endures Hank’s arched brow for a solid minute. “He asked me to kiss him so that he can fathom why we, as in androids, do it. … I underestimated the effect it would have on me.”
In the heavy silence that follows, Hank thumbs at his jaw and jiggles his leg. “Y’know, if he were human, I’d say he just wanted an excuse to kiss you.”
“But he’s not.”
“Yeah, well—you’re pretty damn close. Maybe it’s in your nature to be inquisitive, to—discover the undiscovered, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the possibility that he might feel the same way.” Yes, he would. Hank is either completely oblivious to flirtations from an occasional witness or, more likely, so lacking in self-confidence that he doesn’t consider it genuine.
Connor frowns. “Have you heard of Schrödinger’s Cat?”
“Me and everybody else with a degree, pal.” Hank scoffs. “Wait, don’t tell me: so long as you don’t ask, you won’t have any confirmation that he’s into you.”
“Or isn’t,” Connor murmurs.
“Never took you for such a defeatist. Jesus, I’ve been rubbing off on you.” He sighs, scrubbing at his face with a palm. “Look. Connor. I won’t pretend that I have any insight on whatever the hell Nines is thinking, anytime, ever. But I do know that you’re a good kid, a good cop, and an even better friend. Anybody’d be lucky to have you, alright? So quit moping and just tell him. Maybe you don’t get the response you want, sure, but maybe you do. And that’s worth the risk, isn’t it?”
Connor finds himself nodding before he can put too much analysis into a response. It’s startling; his body surprises him each and every day.
“You’re right,” he says. “I shouldn’t dismiss the possibility.” No matter how low the projected percentage of success rate. But now that he’s spoken with Hank, perhaps—his own newly fostered emotions are clouding his predictions? The fear, the inferiority… He can’t say he’s a fan of them, but he supposes you can’t pick and choose what to feel. Besides, how could he recognize the positives without the negatives to contrast?
Hank nods. “Good.” He sips at his coffee, and then shoots Connor a withering look. “By the way? Banging your doppelgänger is not what I meant by showing him the ropes. Just an FYI.”
“Hank,” Connor hisses.
“Oh, so that’s how embarrassment looks on you. ‘Bout damn time you show some shame.”
Later that night, as Nines dusts down the furniture and sweeps the floors, Connor pretends to keep an eye on the local news playing on the television, while in reality he has a minor breakdown over what he’s going to say. Pre-constructing doesn’t help; his apprehension skews the results, so he can’t rely on something that used to be such a comfort of surety.
“Connor,” says Nines, dragging him out of his pathetic state of being. “Have you ever considered removing your LED?”
He watches Nines stretch, body long and lithe, to reach the top of the TV. “Yes. Why?”
“To blend in more seamlessly with humans, as you prefer.” There’s no judgement in his voice. Not anymore. “That aside, it gives away your distress quite evidently.” He turns around to face Connor, relaxing his arm. Caught. “What’s wrong?”
Damn it. He’s not ready. Maybe he never will be.
He flickers through references of confessions for all of two seconds before realizing that he can skip the stilted speech and simply show Nines how he feels.
He extends his hand. Nines blinks at it and then sets down the duster.
The skin of their fingers and palms melt away, and Connor reveals himself. No barriers. No secrets. He hopes that the tangled mess of affection and love and fear and doubt isn’t too catastrophic for Nines to interpret. Although he could, he doesn’t request a transfer from Nines even as he burns with curiosity. It’s just that—he wants Nines to offer it of his own volition. Make the choice to return a gesture of significant trust.
Suddenly, the connection breaks, and Connor snaps back into reality. Nines has him against the wall, brick beneath his back, long fingers splayed above his pounding heart.
“I didn’t think—I didn’t know how to…” Nines falters. “Express… that I also…”
Brows furrowing, he releases a huff of irritation.
“You had the right idea. I’ll show you.”
He crowds into Connor’s space and presses their lips together. The hand that’s not pinning him in place takes hold of Connor’s and requests another interface. Their knuckles and fingertips glow in tandem, and this time around the connection is stronger, fuller, reciprocal. Nines’ data fills the blanks in Connor’s code.
The first stirring of Nines’ attraction toward Connor was long before they became friends. There was no protocol for deviancy. He was lost and confused. Plagued with hesitance, he kept his distance, expecting to one day grasp it at a comprehensive level—as he does with everything else.
That day has yet to come. But Connor’s company, Connor’s guidance, Connor’s companionship … sets him at ease.
Connor’s laugh. Software instability. Connor, talking to his plants. Software instability. Connor, Connor, Connor.
> IN LOVE?
Grasping at the back of Nines’ neck and the curve of his waist, Connor drags him impossibly closer. The kiss is molten, insistent. He relives Nines’ life in the span of a dozen seconds and shudders with the weight of it.
He yanks at Nines’ stupid turtleneck (and it’s not stupid at all, it’s just as enticing as it’d been when he first emerged from the dressing room) until Nines lifts his arms and allows himself to be stripped. Connor folds it up, quick and crisp, and drapes it over the back of the recliner while Nines unhinges the buttons of Connor’s shirt from behind with unmatched dexterity. He’s less considerate, letting it drop to the floor. Connor scrunches his nose at the mess and the prospect of wrinkles, but he sinks back into the bare-skinned embrace that Nines gives him, arms locked around his waist.
Warm lips skim the nape of his neck. Connor sighs, dropping his chin against his chest. Nines drags his teeth over the invisible seam of his plating, rendering him useless for a long, blissful moment.
He gathers himself, straightening up and turning in Nines’ hold to face him. His chest is broader than Connor’s; he maps out the exact diameter with his hands and then shoves him in the direction of the bed. Nines falls on top of it, graceful, and Connor brackets his hips with both knees before settling down into his lap.
Nines gazes up at him. Connor takes the time to appreciate that the window of his apartment faces the setting sun, much like the precinct. The sky must favor Nines, he thinks, to paint him so beautifully in such warm hues whenever Connor dares to really look.
He curls his fingers underneath Nines’ chin and tips it up to press a slow kiss against his lips. His body flexes with the movement of pushing up to meet Connor, eager. Connor smiles.
“Touch me,” says Nines.
Connor releases his hold on Nines and lowers his hand down to his chest. An elevated but comforting level of warmth bleeds between them, between Connor’s fingertips and the planes of Nines’ torso. They flit along the circular groove below his sternum and then recede into shiny white, requesting access to open the panel safely. When Connor’s thirium pump had been torn from his body and lobbed across the room, it was—bloody, terrifying (and he hadn’t known what that feeling was at the time, emotions buried under hard lines of code)—and by the way Nines overlays Connor’s wrist with his own hand, soothing, he relives the memory alongside him through their gentle connection.
More of Nines’ skin fades away, revealing the shell of his abdomen. The panels surrounding his pump release with a soft click and hiss as they expand to the sides and then tuck neatly against his chassis.
A spiderweb of wires and tubes sprawl from the metal encasing, slightly taut from where the pump had elevated in preparation for removal. Connor dips a finger beneath one, tugging upwards, and Nines arches his back to compensate.
“Does that feel good?” he asks, curious.
A smile blooms on Connor’s lips. He reaches up to Nines’ face and tenderly brushes the curl of hair off of his forehead. “Please what?”
He doesn’t have to tell Connor twice. There’s no way this kind of thing would have felt the way that it does now pre-deviancy. Maintenance, repairs, installation—it didn’t register as anything other than a series of notifications. But something about deviancy allows them to translate intimate touch into this, and although Connor wants to research the how and why, he decides to save that for a later date.
He has more important things to do right now.
Looping his ring finger around another wire and pulling it close to the first, he lowers his head down to skim his lips over the very outer edge of Nines’ pump. He crosses the wires, grinds them together, and delights at the way Nines’ body spasms beneath him, nearly dislodging his perch.
Their first kiss—that had been about emotion, about discerning the thoughts that threatened to overwhelm his rationale, but this … This is pure sensation, and knowing he’s responsible for Nines’ pleasure is a distracting, heady thought. He’s starting to understand why humans chase after this with single-minded focus.
Nines’ LED hasn’t strayed from yellow. It spins and spins, struggling to keep up with every reading even with all of his enhanced processing power. He drops a heavy hand on the back of Connor’s neck and urges him closer yet.
Connor ducks down and delivers a series of kisses to Nines’ pump. It’s a precious thing—only a component, a fragment of a machine, but so, so vital. How many humans can say they’ve gotten this close to their lover’s heart? Connor flicks his tongue out to toy with the wire that leads to Nines’ vocal stimulator and Nines moans, broken and overlaid by static—which is exactly what Connor had been aiming for.
“Okay?” Connor checks, his free hand spreading flat and white against Nines’ side to confirm for himself. The wave of merciless feedback slams into him—none of it a cause for concern—and he lets go, laughing breathlessly, with a shake of his head. “Got it.”
He resumes playing with the wire, kissing and sucking along the length of it. Silicone, polyethylene, plasticizer…
“Connor,” Nines sighs. The deep register of his voice has lightened into something airy and delicate.
He doesn’t continue speaking, seemingly content to leave it at that. His fingers twitch and shake in Connor’s hair.
Connor drags his teeth over the port. Nines yanks at him, forcing him to stay as is with his insurmountable strength. Not that Connor intends to go anywhere; he could do this until dawn breaks. And there’s an idea: overstimulating Nines for hours on end, writing and rewriting the definition of sensation.
The thought passes through their connection and Nines writhes in response. Connor catches a suggestion of Nines digging into the port of his neck and he nods in response, eager to feel alongside his successor.
Hard, plastic fingers request access to the panel at his nape and Connor relents, diverting his attention between anticipation of Nines’ touch and the component beneath his lips. Nines reactivates his skin and scrapes a nail at the socket meant for installation and repair. A handful of warnings flit across Connor’s HUD that he promptly dismisses. Wires spill down the sides, hooked into tiny hinges. There are several, loosely mimicking a human’s nervous system, and encompass a range of minor functions. For that reason, Nines sees fit to grasp a few pointed cords and tug them from their sockets.
A few things happen at once. Connor loses the ability to monitor organic reactions like pulse or perspiration, and his reflex enhancers disconnect; he certainly doesn’t need the former at a time like this and he trusts Nines enough to compensate for the latter should something unexpected occur. Visual information consumption slows in pace.
“Sensory deprivation is a common sexual practice among humans,” explains Nines, speaking in three tones at once as Connor fiddles with the tube he’d been tonguing, curious if it feels different with one touch over the other. “In theory, minimizing the functions you don’t need at present should enhance the feeling of what we’re doing.”
He urges Connor away from his chest and pulls him up for a kiss. Connor melts against his mouth with single-minded focus. RK900. #313-248-317-8. Nines.
“Yeah,” is Connor’s eloquently mumbled response. It does feel better—feel like more.
Nines sweeps the cavern of Connor’s neck and it’s almost too much. Saline solution fills the brim of his eyes and leak down his cheeks as his lashes stutter. He thinks that Nines is crying, too, though it’s becoming harder and harder to see.
No longer can he focus on anything other than the motion of his own hand, thrusting into Nines’ chest. Feedback and sensation intersect, heightening to a level that Connor can’t manage to interpret. With his unoccupied hand, he reopens the connection with Nines—finding his fingertips this time, pressing his own against them—and that’s the last conscious motion he’s able to make. Nines halts alongside him. Errors crop up, notices about overstressed processors and temperature warnings, but he’s unable to dismiss them. Which doesn’t turn out to matter, because his vision goes out a moment later and everything becomes blissfully blank.
Connor slips through the feed. Connor. And, less coherent, Nines’ affection for him in abstract memories; flashes of Connor’s wink, the way he tends to his succulents, the companionable brush of his hand against Nines’ shoulder, their first kiss, their synthetic skin pressed together moments before. Connor feels the weight of his own body through Nines and it’s unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
He shuts down.
He must, anyway, because by the time he has the mind to check his internal clock, it’s a half an hour later than he’d last confirmed, before Nines started to play with his port.
Initiate system check.
It’s slow-going. Audio and visual feeds flicker into focus first. As the rest of him boots back up, he lifts his head to look at Nines.
Nines is gazing at him, eyes warm.
“Oh,” says Connor. He clears his throat; it doesn’t do much for the static strain in his voice. He might require a bit of maintenance after all. “Hi. Did you even shut down?”
“Just for a moment.” Figures. Superior model, and all.
Nines’ hand is in his hair, Connor realizes. Stroking his hair ever so gently. His thumb brushes against the ring at Connor’s temple.
“Is everything running at full capacity? Your LED was red until just now.”
“Seems like it.” He lifts himself off of Nines’ chest and straddles his lap instead. Motor control: check. He still sounds like he’s speaking through a blown-out speaker. It’s embarrassing; had he really been making so much noise? At least he can count on Nines not to rub it in. “Mostly. I’ll need to make a few adjustments for next time.”
And Nines brightens at that. He smiles, sitting up, his smooth fingers settling at Connor’s waist. He presses their foreheads together. “I look forward to it.”
“What the fuck?”
Connor classifies Detective Reed’s bewildered voice and upticks the corner of his mouth.
He and Nines are gawking at Nines’ desk with similar expressions of bewilderment. A massive arrangement of flowers drape over the surface. Blues and violets encompass the majority of space, interspersed with sprigs of lavender. Connor had asked the florist—an android—for her opinion on the arrangement, stating its romantic intent. She suggested roses instead—to which he steadfastly declined. Then, like the words were still foreign in her mouth, she said, “Go with what feels right.”
So he did.
“Oh, wow. Never seen you look so flustered, Nines,” says Officer Miller, approval lacing his tone.
Officer Chen is leaning over to smell the bouquet of flowers, smirking at Gavin. “Nice,” she remarks. “I think we have something around here that can pass for a vase. Sugar, bleach, and tepid water will help prolong the life of these.” Nines, snapping out of his state of shock, nods once at her instructions, sharp and resolute.
Then, he turns to Connor and requests a link between them.
Not at all, says Nines. I love them. Thank you.
Connor watches as a few other members of the DPD filter in and out to dish out some good-natured ribbing. Even Detective Reed softens at the edges, elbowing Nines’ side in a non-hostile rendition of his usual physicality.
Nines is smiling. Anytime, promises Connor.