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It had started with Connor. Which was an exception to the rule as such; Hank didn’t make a habit of taking in strays. What he did do though was watch as Connor became his own person, become someone who was easy to love and be drawn to him. If Hank was honest with himself, he didn’t offer Connor a place out of pure altruism. Sure, he didn’t want to think about Connor in an android hostel while everything gets sorted, but he also wanted to spend more time with him, get to know him and maybe offer his heart up as well as his home. What Hank never banked on was Connor taking matters into his own hands and shyly ambushing him in his own home.

It had started off with simple little things that Hank had decided were Connor’s way of saying thank you. Tidying up when Connor didn’t need to rest, cooking things, greeting Hank with a warm smile each morning. Small things that made Hank’s life not only easier, but also better. Connor would sit with him at meals, sometimes he’d chatter about something new he’d seen or learnt, other times he’d sit quietly and play with his coin. It was nice, companionable and Hank found himself sinking into the comfort of company.

One evening Connor leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek as he said good night. Outwardly there was no real sign of anxiety but Connor still stared at him with wide eyed curiosity.

“Did my preconstructions and probability statistics get this wrong?” he had asked after a few moments of silence where Hank stared back at him.

“I don’t think so, no,” Hank had replied haltingly. He licked his dry lips and glanced at Connor’s which were still slightly parted.

Before he could do something rash like lean forwards for a proper kiss, Connor pulled away with a smile.

“I am relieved to hear that. It only had a fifty-four percent chance of a desirable outcome.”

“Oh yeah?” Hank had asked with a smile. “What were the outcomes?”

“There was a seven percent chance of physical violence, nineteen percent of being asked to leave the home permanently and twenty of being gently rejected.” As Connor listed the possibilities he’d come up with, Hank’s face fell.

“Way to make me feel like trash. Like I’d ever hit you or throw you out! What were the other outcomes?”

“There was a thirty-nine percent chance of you patting me on the head and going to bed and a twelve percent chance of furthering this conversation.”

Connor looked away from Hank then, a slight pinkness to his cheeks which was a fairly new development. Androids blushed pink, Tracis always had the ability to play demure or seem aroused but other models, while built with the capability, never did have the protocols for them. In an attempt to look and feel more human, quite a few of them had downloaded them.

“Uhuh,” Hank’s mouth twisted into a small smile. “That’s only ninety-seven percent. What’s the last three?”

“Well,” and here Connor shuffled his feet a little as he almost stuttered, “that you’d kiss me back.”

It’s not that the idea had never occurred to Hank, he’d just been careful, not wanting to push Connor into things. He’d only just become a deviant, barely had any time to experience life, Hank wasn’t going to be the one to shackle him down before he had explored all options. But now, there was a small grin that threatened to burst out from its containment.

“Yeah?”

Connor’s eyes flicked up briefly to meet Hanks and it was impossible to not catch him under the chin and pull him a little closer.

“Like this?” Hank asked him and pressed his lips against Connor’s. He pulled away after a brief moment and Connor stared up at him with wide eyes.

“Not quite, let me show you,” Connor whispered and pulled Hank in for another kiss.

It wasn’t mind blowing or earth shattering. Just a slow, warm pass of lips with a tongue sweeping over Hank’s in a gentle enquiry. One that Hank was all too happy to answer by letting his lips part and lick back in reply.

 

                Needless to say, Connor never moved out of Hank’s place and any further moving he did do was into the bedroom. Which left the couch open and Hank vulnerable when, out of the blue, Connor’s almost identical successor turned up at the precinct. The poor bastard had been assigned to Reed as a partner and Hank almost felt enough pity to make an appeal to Fowler on his behalf. He nearly choked when Connor told him RK900 had chosen Reed as his partner after a day of quiet observation.

Of course the question of where RK900 was going to stay never quite came up. He was there by the time Hank and Connor got to the station and was still at his desk when they left.

“You know he stays at the precinct and uses one of the charging ports over night?” Connor asked him as they were putting their coats on one evening.

They turned as one to look at RK900 who was still bent over his desk, sorting through files. Gavin was nowhere in sight.

“Really? Doesn’t Reed take him home or something?” Hank huffed in annoyance.

He’d spent the odd few minutes with the new android in the breakroom and once even a lunch hour. Who knew where his partner had buggered off to that day, but Hank thought it poor form to leave him behind.

“I don’t suppose we could invite him round for the evening?” Connor asked innocently. He’d spent much more time with RK900 and it sure looked like they were firmly becoming friends. “It’s not like we’d have to cook extra for him.”

That was how RK900 ended up going home with Hank and Connor. He spent the evening being a pleasant guest who adored Sumo almost as much as Connor did. It was easy enough to like him and Hank wasn’t in the slightest bothered when he stayed the night on the couch.

Slowly, RK900 became Nines, people around the precinct warmed up to him, even if Reed was as crass and caustic as ever. They got the work done and Nines seemed happy enough. Gradually he spent fewer and fewer nights at the precinct, hitching a ride home with Hank and Connor, he had his own blanket over the back of the sofa, a mug for thirium on the shelf and toiletries in the bathroom. One evening he went home with them and that was it, no more nights at the precinct.

So Hank had two android living with him, one in his bedroom as a lover and, what most people called Connor’s brother, on his sofa. It worked though; it was nice to have a house thrumming with life, even if it was artificial in origin.

“Do you ever worry about Detective Reed?” Nines asked out of the blue.

Hank snorted and shook his head as he took another sip of his drink.

“I despair for him but that asshole doesn’t need anyone worrying about him.”

“Why do you ask?” Connor ignored Hank’s scathing commentary and fixed Nines with a look.

“He often comes in with a lot of injuries.”

The explanation had Hank rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath about assholes getting what they deserve. Two sets of eyes stared at him disapprovingly.

“They’re not typical brawling or scrapper injuries. And he’s very guarded about them. I was wondering, does he have a partner?”

Discomfort settled around the table as the implications of his words sank in.

“Eh, if anything I’d feel sorry for his partner. That bastard has enough attitude to drive off even a saint,” Hank eventually grumbled.

That closed the conversation quite effectively, but both Connor and Nines kept a closer eye on Reed. There was nothing outright wrong with him, but insidious little things kept cropping up. A mild limp that he did the best to hide, a poorly concealed bruise on his cheek, bruises around his wrist and one memorable time around his neck. But nothing Nines did would get him to open up. More often than not he’d snarl at the android, tell him to piss off or hurl other insults at him. So, after a while Nines stayed silent about the matter, it seemed to help his partner calm down. Though it still didn’t stop Nines from alerting Connor to each new injury through their link.

 

                It was the office Christmas party and everyone was excited to go. Even Gavin had grudgingly agreed to go when he was dragged into the Secret Santa draw by Tina. He arrived late with a man next to him. They looked good together and even Hank had to admit that Reed seemed a little more dialled back than his usual attitude.

The evening passed almost pleasantly, when the time came to give out the presents that had been quietly piled onto the table, a hush fell over the room. People gathered closer and watched as gifts were opened and laughter erupted every now and then as the more humorous presents were revealed.

A small parcel was thrown towards Gavin who caught it and opened it with tight motions. He looked almost nervous, as though he was expecting something to jump out at him. A penis shaped stress ball slid out of the package to uproarious laughter, and a package of Gavin’s favourite chewing gum followed. He smiled as he showed them to his partner who frowned.

“Who gave you these?” he snarled.

A few people in the room tensed up at the tone and Gavin looked at him with a look nobody had seen on him before. Almost sheepish worry.

“Come on Dan, it was just a joke.”

“I don’t care about the crass dick, that sums you up perfectly. But who knew what your favourite gum is, down to the flavour?”

Gavin shrugged and tried to palm the offending item out of sight but Dan smacked his hand and the gum went flying. The punch that followed up to Gavin’s arm was harder than most would consider a friendly action. Yet Gavin laughed it off with a forced chuckle and rubbed where the hit had landed.

“Yeah, you show Bully Boy his place!” Tina shouted over the room and people murmured in quiet entertainment, her sentiment echoed by several others.

Only Nines and Connor saw Gavin rubbing his arm in earnest a minute later and shaking his hand as though trying to get pins and needles out of it.

For the rest of the evening, Gavin was unnaturally quiet, fetched Dan drinks as he wanted and was the most pleasant that many people had seen him.

“Bully Boy?” Dan asked him quietly at the edge of the room where they’d found themselves.

Hank didn’t mean to pry, he wasn’t one for eavesdropping but it was difficult not to. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gavin shrug.

“So it’s not enough that you roll over and let some fucking plastic be named your equal as a partner, but you let some dumb bitch get away with calling you names?”

The tone set Hank’s teeth on edge. Next to him Connor’s LED circled yellow.

“It’s not like that. And Nines isn’t so bad. Please don’t make a scene,” Gavin was almost pleading. “We can talk about this when we go home. Can’t we just have a nice time out?”

A hand gripped Gavin’s upper arm and it was impossible not to hear his hiss of pain.

“Damn right we’re talking about this at home. You better have a damn good explanation why you’re defending a machine. We’re leaving.”

Before Hank or Connor could do anything, Gavin was being all but dragged out. Somewhere near the door Tina wolf-whistled them and jeered about love being in the air. From where they stood though, it certainly didn’t look like love to Hank.

The conversation from all those nights ago crept back into his mind, when Nines had asked him about Gavin. Now, there was more evidence than he was comfortable thinking about to back up those concerns.

It shouldn’t have taken him by surprise that Gavin phoned in sick the next day. But looking over at the empty desk opposite Nines, he felt helpless in the face of not knowing what to do.

 

                Sometime in the new year, Nines finally found the moment to gently probe a little.

“How long have you and Dan been together?”

“What’s it to you, Tin Can?” Gavin snapped back. Yet after the conversation Hank had overheard at the party, his insults didn’t ring true anymore. It felt so much like the time Cole hadn’t wanted to go to school so tried lying about being ill. Somehow, it felt off and now that Hank knew what to look for, he could see the forced attitude in Gavin.

“I’m merely trying to make polite conversation,” Nines replied evenly, his eyes never left the tablet he was working on.

“Three and a bit years.”

It explained why Hank never really noticed that changes in Gavin. He’d been an over-eager recruit, hot-headed for sure but never malicious. Something had changed while Hank was engulfed in the grips of grief and depression. Sometimes he’d wondered what it was, but never had the energy to look into it. Perhaps he now had the answer.

“Are you happy, Detective?” Nines continued his soft questioning.

Silence reigned and Gavin glanced up at him with a strange look. Calmly, Nines stared back at him and waited for an answer.

“I guess,” Gavin bit out eventually. “Let’s stop with the pointless twenty questions now, okay?”

 

                It should have been like any other day. Without anybody really keeping track, almost a year had passed since Nines had joined the department. In fits and starts, Gavin had settled with having an android partner and some even joked about him warming up to them. Usually those comments were met with vehement and vitriolic denial, Gavin sneered insults. But Hank noticed that after an exceptionally hurtful comment there would be a mug of thirium on Nines’ desk that magically appeared. As close to an apology as Gavin could ever get, he supposed.

There was an almost comforting, mellow feel to the precinct. Sure, they still dealt with the worst of humanity at times but as far as the people working there were concerned, it was all quite pleasant. Which was why Hank had even agreed to the idiocy that Nines and Connor had cooked up. It was some dumb comedy performance that the androids had found and expressed an interest in. In a fit of generosity, Hank had agreed that while the three of them could go, it would be good for team morale that Nines should invite his working partner along too. He left the androids in charge of arranging everything, even accepted the idea that if Gavin was still with that Dan guy, he should come along too. There was a low buzz of excitement between Nines and Connor, obviously eager to arrange something so positive and probably fun.

Nobody expected Dan to storm through the bullpen, screaming for Gavin at the top of his lungs. All eyes were drawn to the way Gavin scrambled up from his desk, hands already raised to placate the incoming fury.

“On your knees,” Dan screamed in Gavin’s face.

Somewhere at the back of the room Tina laughed lightly. Nobody followed suit.

“I said on your knees, bitch,” Dan yelled and the backhand that followed whipped Gavin’s head to the side.

Nobody laughed in the stunned silence where the only thing that could be heard was the dull thud of knees hitting the ground. That was the point where Hank, Connor and Nines walked back into the room after lunch. They saw Gavin drop to his knees and two sets of LEDs flickered yellow with the odd burst of red.

“Who the fuck is Richard Stern, and how dare they e-mail you about a night out?”

Gavin’s eyes were glued to the ground until fingers gripped his hair tightly and forced his head back. He never made a sound.

“Answer me and I might not throw you out.”

“I don’t know Dan; please don’t do this, not while I’m at work.” Gavin’s voice was soft and pleading, lacking all the bravado and usual bluster he carried. His arms were locked behind his back in a way that spoke too loudly of habits nobody really wanted to think of.

“The e-mail was me,” Nines slowly approached and Dan glanced over his shoulder at him. “I sent it to Gavin’s personal e-mail address but the site needed a full name. It didn’t accept my designation number so I put in Richard Stern – it’s a joke between Gavin and me.”

The slow sneer as Dan looked back down at Gavin was full of rage.

“An in-joke with a piece of plastic? What next? You’re going to tell me you’re friends? It’s not enough to shame me by having that thing assigned as a partner?”

A swift kick was delivered to Gavin’s unprotected stomach and he doubled over silently, his hands barely moved in time to catch himself from crashing to the ground. In that moment, Hank was reminded of the fact that both Connor and Nines were built for more than simple crime scene analysis.

As one they launched themselves at Dan, Connor bounding over desks while Nines rounded the final one between himself and Dan. There was no mercy as they two of them took down their target who kicked and screamed futilely in their grip.

“You assaulted a police detective, you are under arrest,” Connor hissed as he pinned an arm behind Dan’s back.

“Anything you say can and will be held against you. You have the right to remain silent,” Nines chipped in. Between the two of them they pushed the struggling man towards the holding cells. Nobody dared move.

Gavin was still on his hands and knees, arms trembled as he tried to suck in deep breaths and get himself under control. Softly, Hank approached and crouched down a little way from Gavin.

“Reed?” he asked tentatively.

With a huff Gavin pushed himself up on his knees. His eyes were wide, not quite seeing, his fingers dug into his knees.

“I’m fine,” he finally managed to grit out and his eyes briefly landed on Hank.

“Want to press charges?”

The shake of his head surprised everyone. Even when Hank asked he was sure, Gavin shook his head again firmly.

“No. I’m fine,” he repeated and pushed to stand. Nobody reached forward to catch him as he stumbled the first step.

Quietly, Nines and Connor rounded the corner and watched.

“Excuse me,” Gavin rasped and pushed his way out of the small crowd that had gathered around him. He was out of the precinct before anyone could say something.

Slowly, people got back to work but there was a strange hush across the bullpen and people glanced towards the door, expecting Gavin to return any moment. He didn’t come back though, and without him pressing charges there was no need to hold Dan who left spitting curses about police brutality and android incompetence. An hour later Gavin was back. He sat down at his desk and got back to work as though nothing had happened.

 

                When Hank got to work the next morning, Gavin was already there. Nobody dared comment on the black eye he had, or the edge of the bandage that peeked out from under the sleeve of a large hoodie. It was tempting to ask Fowler what was going on, he had obviously already talked to Gavin, but that would have been pointless. Fowler was many things but he knew when to keep his mouth shut. Still, Hank ambled by his office with the hopes of maybe finding out a little more. He changed his mind when he passed Gavin’s desk and saw a gym bag and a rucksack stashed under his desk.

For a change, when he was leaving, Gavin was still slumped over his desk, the small light cast a glow in the rapidly emptying bullpen. With a final glance over his shoulder, Hank left the precinct to go home with his two androids but somehow he couldn’t get the image out of his head.

The next morning Gavin was already there again and he looked awful. His black eye had darkened and swelled a little more, just seeing it made Hank wince with sympathy pain. The bags were still under his desk, his hair looked as though it had been finger combed and if pressed Hank wouldn’t have been able to say for sure that he wasn’t wearing the same clothes as the day before.

“Morning Detective,” Nines greeted his partner.

“Whatever,” Gavin huffed back and tried to rest his head on his arm before a wince made him abort the motion.

“Would you like me to have a look at your arm? It seems to be causing you some trouble.”

Gavin curled his injured arm against his stomach and glared at Nines.

“Piss off plastic,” he gritted out and turned his chair so he didn’t have to face Nines. It was petty but for the first time in his life, Hank couldn’t blame him.

The day wore on, Gavin nodded off in his chair a few times, only to jerk awake, eyes wide and wild as he tried to remember where he was. He didn’t leave his desk for lunch and so, Hank, Connor and Nines had full view of him nodding off again as they ate together in the breakroom.

“I think he stayed here over night,” Nines confessed, his gaze never left Gavin’s form, even as he slipped lower in his chair.

“His general attire certainly suggests that to be the case. I wonder why he didn’t go to a hotel at least.”

Connor’s agreement shouldn’t have taken Hank by surprise, heck, even he had suspicions about that but it was different to think them and to have other people confirm his worries. He let out a sigh and scratched at his beard.

“Sucks to be him,” he finally said.

It was half an hour before they could leave for home. Hank was already looking forward to sinking into the couch; maybe have Connor curl up against him while Nines tried not to ruin the murder mystery by announcing the culprit within the first few minutes. It was always fun to watch him squirm though and Hank laughed each time he realised Nines was holding back his conclusion. At least Connor could sit through it quietly even if he also knew the end before the great reveal.

There were moments in life though where everything that could go wrong did. Hank was busy daydreaming about his evening while Fowler was walking to his office and Officer Chen sauntered up to Gavin’s desk. Whatever she had been about to say was forgotten in favour of her face scrunching up.

“Fucking hell, what is that thing?” she screeched and pointed under Gavin’s desk.

Fowler stopped in his tracks and watched as Gavin tried to move his chair to hide something. However, Tina wasn’t having any of it; she pushed him out of the way and reached for the bag.

“Careful,” Gavin’s voice was strained as the bag thumped on the table. His hands reached for it but before he could hide it, something peered out of the clear bauble like window that Hank had assumed was a weird fashion fad.

“Reed, care to tell me what the fuck that is?” Fowler’s voice was a low rumble of suspicion as he approached.

“She’s my cat – hairless sphynx, sir,” Gavin sighed and pulled the bag off the table cradled it to his chest.

The tense silence was broken by the cat peering out of the little window again and letting out a disgruntled meow.

“She’s the stuff of nightmares, ugly as sin,” Tina laughed.

“Officer Chen, please return to your desk, I need to have a word with Detective Reed. Alone.”

The snide little “oooh, someone’s in trouble” went ignored as Gavin didn’t dare to look up at Fowler. What followed next was impossible to not overhear in the silence, even if Hank hadn’t wanted to listen in.

“Gavin,” Fowler sounded tired all of a sudden, “I know things are difficult. It’s why I let you sleep here overnight slide. But this isn’t a goddamn petting zoo. You need to get her out of here.”

“I don’t have anywhere to take her yet,” Gavin replied, his eyes were pleading as he finally looked up at his boss.

“It’s no life for a cat to live in a bag. If you can’t look after her then you should give her up. Call a shelter or something. But you can’t keep her here, I’m sorry but that’s final.”

Gavin’s lips quivered as he nodded and Fowler walked away. A few pitying gazes lingered on the way he clutched at the bag before people returned to work. Gavin too, turned to his computer and pulled up a new search. Silent tears trickled down his cheeks and people pretended not to notice.

The sniff was harder to ignore as the sound of a number being slowly tapped into a phone echoed with a finality.

“Hello?” Gavin’s voice broke as he swallowed back a sob. “I was wondering whether you’ve got space to take in a cat.”

Another harsh sob ripped its way from him and he apologised profusely.

“You’ve got to do something,” Connor hissed at Hank and he was inclined to agree.

“She’s eight, I know she’s old but, fuck,” Gavin broke off and pressed a hand against his mouth as he lost the fight against his tears.

“Sorry, sorry,” he whispered down the phone, “just promise you’ll try to give her a home and won’t put her down straight away? I’ve had her since she was a kitten. Please?”

Hank reached Gavin’s desk where he was doubled over, a hand gripped his hair and his leg bounced up and down. As gently as possible, Hank reached over and pried the receiver from Gavin’s hand.

“Sorry to have wasted your time, your services aren’t necessary,” he said evenly and placed the phone back in the cradle.

Gavin stared up at him, tears smeared over his cheeks.

“Why?” his voice was reduced to a croak.

“Come on,” Hank didn’t bother launching into an explanation as he urged Gavin up, pushed the cat bag into his arms and picked up the gym bag himself. “Let’s get you home. Nines, Connor?”

The androids rose as one and followed them out of the precinct, earlier than they should have been allowed but nobody tried to stop them.

Not a single word was said during the journey home. Gavin sat in the back with Nines, his bags between them. He let himself be steered out of the car and into the house, limbs moving on autopilot, his bag still cradled against his chest. A pair of hands pushed on his shoulders and Gavin sank onto a couch where a blanket was draped around his shoulders.

“Does she need to be fed?” Connor asked him and gestured to the cat. Gavin nodded and reached for the gym bag.

Although he shouldn’t have pried, Hank was hard pressed not to look at the other bag, expecting a few changes of clothes to be in there. Instead, it was cat food, a couple of toys, a bed and what looked dangerously like cat jumpers. He was glad he’d shut Sumo in the bedroom for now as he watched the cat slink out of the bag in all its hairless glory.

“She got a name?” he asked gruffly.

For the first time Gavin’s eyes met his briefly and he looked embarrassed.

“Princess Goblin,” he finally mumbled and Hank tried not to laugh.

“It suits her,” Nines smiled. His eyes dipped down to the bandage on Gavin’s wrist that slipped into view again. “May I take a look?”

He reached for the arm gently and steadied it. The bandage was slowly unwound to reveal a blackened bruise. Gavin didn’t dare look up from his lap, even as Hank let out a low whistle.

“Oh Gavin,” Nines sighed, “what happened?”

For a brief moment it looked like they weren’t going to get an answer. Gavin curled his uninjured hand around his stomach, as though he was physically trying to hold himself together and tucked his chin to his chest even as a small whimper broke free.

“He,” and he broke off, pulled his other arm from Nines’ hands and curled in on himself even more. “He was so mad. Said I was deliberately tormenting him. That I needed to be taught a lesson. One that I would remember because obviously he couldn’t beat it into me.”

Gavin buried his face in his hands, the bruise on his arm stark against his pale skin. It took him a few deep breaths to get himself back under a semblance of control.

“He took a hammer.”

Connor sucked in a small gasp at that while Hank grumbled in disbelief. Nines lay a comforting hand on his back and silently encouraged him to keep going.

“Said Princess will have to be made an example of. He was going to bash her head in.”

Another sob and Gavin couldn’t hold it in anymore. He buried his face in his hands and doubled over with harsh gasps as he cried. There was no resistance when Nines pulled him against his side, ran a soothing hand up and down his back.

“You saved her,” he murmured as he looked at the other two and nodded towards the door. On silent feet, Connor and Hank left the room. Even in the kitchen they could hear Gavin’s hiccoughing breaths and Nines’ soft voice.

“Fucking hell,” Hank muttered and Connor could only nod in agreement.

“He’s got a hairline fracture of his ulna; we should at least splint his wrist to prevent it getting worse.”

Wordlessly, Hank turned to his medicine cupboard, there was bound to be a wrist brace in there. His mind raced through possibilities and options for the unspoken question of “what now?” Gradually, Gavin’s tears dried up Princess had settled next to him on the sofa and he wiped furiously at his face.

“Here,” Hank passed him tissues and the brace.

“Thank you,” Gavin replied as he looked around a little sheepishly. “I don’t want to ruin your evening any more than I have already.”

He began to zip up his bag and encouraged Princess back into her bag.

“Where are you going?” Connor was the one to ask.

Gavin looked up at him with a sad little smile.

“I don’t know, I’m sure I’ll find somewhere.”

“You can stay here, sleep on the couch,” Nines offered without hesitation.

“Thanks but, I don’t want to be a burden. I’ll be fine.”

They didn’t dare try to tell him to sit down, fearful that it would come across as controlling, that Gavin might feel like he’s gone from one prison to another.

“At least stay for dinner then,” Hank bit out gruffly. “You look like you could use a good meal. And maybe a shower.”

That got a little, embarrassed huff out of Gavin.

“A shower would be pretty nice actually.”

“Show him the way Nines, you know where the towels are, right?” Hank shooed them off and turned to the kitchen with Connor.

They made a quick affair of getting dinner together while the water pipes groaned as they pumped hot water out.

“We can’t let him leave like this,” Nines said as he joined them.

“We won’t force him to stay though. But we can make a good effort of convincing him.”

Any further conversation was cut short by the water stopping. Something occurred to Hank and he peered into the living room. The gym bag was still there.

“Nines, sort him out for some clean clothes,” he suggested.

A few minutes later Gavin shuffled into the kitchen, he looked skittish until urged to sit down. The sweatpants clung to his hips while his bare toes were just about peeking out from where the material pooled around his feet. Thankfully the t-shirt was a slightly better fit – no doubt one of Connor’s, but it was still a little long though it pulled tighter across the chest. The wrist brace was firmly strapped on.

“Mind if I let Sumo out of the bedroom?” Hank asked and Gavin shook his head.

“Your house, your rules. Princess should be safe in her bag, right?”

Hank let out a little laugh and went to release his dog. The heavy thump of paws and clack of nails on the ground announced Sumo’s arrival and he made his way around in greeting, stopping by Gavin once he realised neither Nines nor Connor was going to slip him scraps.

“Hey big guy,” Gavin smiled and stuck his hand out to be sniffed. He laughed when his palm was licked, drool webbed between his fingers. That was the moment Princess let out an indignant meow and Sumo was off to investigate before anybody could catch him.

His big nose left a trail across the bag as he sniffed and let out a little boof. It was too late to zip the bag up and Gavin could only watch with mild horror as Princess climbed out of her hiding spot and stared down the dog more than ten times her size.

“Sumo,” Hank’s voice held a warning as he tried to call his dog away from the staring match.

Nobody expected Princess to hiss and smack Sumo across the nose, or for that matter for Sumo to let out a whine and dash into the kitchen to hide under the table. The laughter that followed settled when the oven beeped.

“It’s a help yourself kind of affair here,” Hank explained to Gavin as he grabbed plates and utensils.

Tentatively, Gavin took a plate and helped himself to what was possibly the measliest portion of food Hank had ever laid eyes on.

“That all you’re having?” he asked with a frown.

Gavin looked down at his plate with uncertainty.

“I,” whatever he wanted to say got stuck in his throat. He looked at Hank and his plate and swallowed. “If I take more,” he stopped again. “I don’t want to be a greedy pig.”

The way he said it sounded so much like something he’d heard too often and Hank gripped the edge of his chair hard to stop himself for kicking off. He thought back to all the times he’d seen Gavin eat at the precinct. The man would eat anything put in front of him, in a hurry as though it was going to be snatched away any moment.

“Take as much as you’d like, it’s just you and me for that dish, Tweedledee and Tweedledum here don’t eat, remember?” he jerked his head towards Connor and Nines who were sat by the table with a mug of thirium each.

“Yeah,” Gavin didn’t sound convinced.

Having had enough, Nines pushed his chair back with the intention of helping Gavin plate up some more food for himself. However, the sudden movement startled Gavin and the plate in his hand went crashing to the ground. It shattered and food splattered everywhere.

“Shit, sorry,” Gavin gasped and he was on his hands and knees, scrabbling to pick up the pieces. When Nines moved to help, he towered over him and Gavin flinched instinctively.

“Nines, Connor, give us a moment,” Hank asked firmly.

Alone with Gavin who was still profusely apologising as he tried to gather the shattered pieces, he took a moment to watch, the way a shard sliced across his finger and blood mingled with the mess. Hank crouched down at a safe distance.

“Gavin,” he called, “look at me.”

All movement stopped and Gavin stared with fearful eyes.

“I’ll tidy up and go,” he said softly.

“Or you could calm down, let me deal with it and then eat with us,” Hank countered. “It’s okay.”

“But, I wasted food, broke your plate.”

“Look at me; do I really look like I care, kid?”

“I’m not a kid,” the belligerent reply made Hank smile.

“Right, so, stay where you are until I’ve cleaned up, don’t want you cutting your feet as well as your finger, then we’ll try this whole dinner business again, okay?”

The small nod he got in return was all Hank needed as he got to work, called for Connor to get the vacuum and Nines to keep Sumo out of the way. Soon, Gavin’s finger had a plaster on it and they were sat around the table once more, with decent size portions of food.

Eating was a quiet affair but nobody could miss the way Gavin began to droop in his seat. Stomach full, freshly cleaned and warm in a home where he felt something close to safe, it was difficult to keep fighting his exhaustion.

“You okay if he takes the couch?” Hank murmured to Nines and got a nod in return.

“I don’t need to lie down to go into stasis; I’ll stay in the kitchen.”

“Thanks,” Hank spoke softly then cleared his throat. “Come on sleepy.”

Gavin blinked awake and Hank tried not to think about how he must have felt the previous night, with only his cat in his possession and nowhere to go. He wondered why Gavin didn’t go to a hotel or someplace equivalent but that was going to be a question for a later date.

“I really should go,” Gavin mumbled even ask Hank guided him onto the sofa.

“You can go if you want. But where would you go?”

“The station. Dan froze my card; our account is a joint one. He locked me out of it.”

Hank gritted his teeth and vowed to do something about it. A plan was already forming in his mind and he wondered if Connor and Nines were up to helping him. Rather than say anything, he grabbed a blanket from the back of the sofa and draped it carefully over Gavin.

“You stay for as long as you’d like.”

“I can’t pay you back,” Gavin’s voice tightened fearfully.

“I never expected you to. Sleep well.”

Before Gavin could reply, Hank walked to his bedroom where Connor was already sat on the edge of the bed and ready to sleep. Out in the kitchen, Nines sat on a chair, LED yellow as Connor slowly filled him in on Hank’s plan and he smiled. He wasn’t going to enter stasis that night; he’d keep an eye on Gavin. Princess hopped on the table next to him and together they kept a silent vigil.

 

                Going to the station the next morning, Hank walked straight to Fowler’s office with Connor and Nines next to him. They’d left Gavin softly snoring on the sofa, he still looked exhausted. Hopefully the note on the kitchen table, along with a plate of food in the oven would keep him there until they got back.

“Gavin’s taking the day off. In fact, he’s going to have a week off as approved by the captain as compassionate leave. Nines, as his partner will take a week’s holiday because what’s the point of being at work without a partner? As for Connor and I? We’re taking today off.”

Fowler stared at him with a deep frown.

“I could write you up for this you know. Flouting the rules, unauthorised day off, insubordination.”

“What’s another page in a novel?” Hank brushed it off gruffly.

“It would go on your file too,” Fowler stared at Connor.

“Every book has to start with a first page.”

It got a snort out of Fowler.

“You cheeky little shit. Fine. Consider it all authorised but Nines only gets today off, we still need him even if there’s no major case you’re fucking up by gallivanting off.”

Hank smiled and turned for the door.

“Oh, and Hank?” Fowler called after him.

“Yeah?”

“Look after him, alright? And thanks.”

They left the precinct and got in the car with that blessing.

 

                There weren’t many terrifying things left in life. But having a burly police lieutenant flanked by an android partner and a military grade android turn up on a doorstep was quite a shock. While Dan scowled, he let them in and told them to take whatever shit belonged to the android loving cocksucker.

Together, Nines and Hank walked through the rooms of the house and tried not to think about Gavin and Dan living together. The sofa had two warm looking throws over the back of it, the bedside tables each had books and knickknacks that spoke of a life interrupted. Hank didn’t want to think about it.

In a way it was like a crime scene, except there was no body to analyse. Together, they worked methodically through the obvious things, clothes, documents and the odd award on the shelf. They parcelled up a life they realised they barely knew anything about.

During all this, Connor ambled through the home with a cardboard box and a pleasant little smile on his face. Hank wanted to ask what on earth he was up to, but there was a lot to do in a limited time so he left Connor to his strange little wanderings.

Finally everything was loaded into the car, and with a final threat to Dan to sort out the bank account crap he pulled, they left.

 

                Back home, Hank let himself into the house with a plastic bag filled with clothes in his hand. His place had never been dirty, but with a dog and work it had been a little scruffier. Even when both Connor and Nines insisted they didn’t need sleep so would tidy. That lasted until Nines had tried to vacuum the living room at three in the morning, woke both Hank and Sumo up. To that day nobody knew who the growl came from.

Now though, the house was all but spotless. The shelves were dusted, the permanent layer of dog hair was off the sofa, and even Sumo looked like he’d been brushed within an inch of his life.

“Gavin?” Hank called tentatively.

The man pooped his head round from the kitchen with a nervous smile.

“I hope you don’t mind, I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Watch TV like anyone else would?” Connor offered as he dragged more things into the house with Nines. It wasn’t a huge amount, but enough to warrant a few trips.

“Or work out,” Nines offered.

“I already did that, TV just doesn’t appeal. So…I deep cleaned your fridge?” Gavin looked uncertain all of a sudden and his gaze flickered to the bags.

“We paid Dan a little visit. He said we could take anything that was yours. And he’ll sort the bank out too.” Connor smiled cheerfully and, with flourish, he presented the cardboard box of mystery to Gavin. It tinkled lightly as glass knocked into each other.

Gavin set the box on the table and looked at the three people surrounding him before lifting the lid of the box. He frowned. Reaching into it, he pulled out a bulb. And another one.

“Thank you?” he hazarded as the bulbs on the table piled up and were joined by a small army of batteries. They were all nestled in a sea of socks, none of them paired and rolls of toilet paper. Gavin looked at Connor with confusion and the android shrugged.

“He said to take whatever shit was yours, half of everything was yours. I didn’t know which socks were yours. Logic dictated that I take half of each pair.”

The laugh that rumbled through Gavin started off a little hysterical as he clutched at the table. He imagined Dan realising that all the lightbulbs in the house were missing. And all the batteries, from TV remote to torch, he had no doubt Connor collected them all. Not to mention that the idea of there being no toilet paper in the house would no doubt infuriate Dan, only to be topped off with the fact that he no longer had single pair of matching socks. Gavin slid down onto the floor as he laughed until his sides hurt and his eyes watered.

“Thank you,” he gasped between gulps of breath. “I know I didn’t do anything to deserve your help. No idea why you’re doing this at all, but thank you.”

“Stay as long as you need,” Hank replied.

It was the perfect moment for Sumo to interrupt with a giant slobbery lick to Gavin’s face. He groaned and pushed the mutt away even as his fingers buried themselves into the thick fur and petted him.

Of course, things weren’t as easy as they’d imagined. Gavin slept on Hank’s sofa and tried to sort out the bags that the other three had brought back. There wasn’t a lot to do during his week off. He was tired of crying, knew he needed to get on with things. So he worked out, kept to his regular regime, took Sumo for walks which turned into jogs. Gavin even contemplated cooking for when Hank got home but that felt a little too domestic for his taste, so he left that.

During all that, he waited for the new bank card to be delivered to the precinct and Nines dutifully brought it home when it arrived. There was a mild sense of relief when he finally had it in his hands, the prospect of getting on with life a sweet siren call. The first thing he needed to do was get money out, which was what he set out to do the next day as he returned to work. He could deal with the major changes of separating finances, savings account and all that later, first he wanted to get himself a sandwich that didn’t rely on the generosity of work colleagues.

The ATM next door to the station beeped at him cheerfully as it rejected his request. Insufficient funds flashed at him. Gavin swallowed thickly and hit the buttons to reveal the balance. It was close to zero.

“No, no no,” he groaned and yanked his card out of the slot when it popped out. It couldn’t be happening. A phone call to the bank revealed a bleak picture. All the accounts had been drained; there was nothing in savings, nothing anywhere. Dan had taken it all and removed himself from the accounts.

It was difficult to keep the rage and despair in, his hands trembled and Gavin felt he was spiralling. Payday wasn’t for another three weeks and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do until then. Hank was expecting him to move out, Gavin had made enough noise about that to make sure it left no doubt in anyone’s mind. He was certain Nines wanted the sofa back and that Connor and Hank were getting a little frustrated with his presence there.

“All okay?” it was Connor who cornered him for a change. Nines was over at Hank’s desk, both androids’ LEDs were flickering yellow.

“Just fine,” Gavin spat before he let out a sigh and his shoulders drooped. “Actually no. Not fine at all.

He hadn’t meant to be an arse, Connor had been nothing but kind to him and Princess, he really didn’t deserve to be snapped at.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your phone call.”

Trust an android to not only eavesdrop but also have zero tact about admitting it.

“You’re more than welcome to stay with us for as long as you need. Hank’s already said as much and I think Nines appreciates your company too.”

It was too much. Gavin had never been exceptionally good at dealing with kindness. He clenched his jaw and tried to control his breathing. It didn’t matter that he didn’t feel like he deserved the help he was being offered. He had to accept it; otherwise he and Princess were going to end up on the streets. Tersely he nodded and Connor’s smile as warm as it was genuine.

“Great, I’ll let the others know.”

The space he was given was much appreciated and Gavin took a moment to pull himself together. Nobody around him was staring, so outside of Connor and the other two, nobody else knew. After everything that had happened, Gavin tried to keep what little dignity he had left. It wasn’t much though, never had been before it all really.

There was a low buzz of excitement back at the house. Sure, it was the weekend coming up but Gavin wasn’t sure what the plans were. Even Hank seemed to have an aura or mischief around him. That night, Gavin was on the sofa and trying to sleep. Princess was curled up on his chest and purring away, satisfied that she’d chased Sumo away from him. The silence was shattered by a sharp cackle of laughter and a muffled groan from the bedroom. Gavin glanced towards Nines who was sat at the table again, LED blue. Their eyes met and Nines smirked.

“I can turn my audio receptors off. Guess you’re not as lucky.” There was a smile to his voice and Gavin was hard pressed to not return it.

He had to remind himself that it was less than a week since he’d walked out on Dan. There were a lot of issues he needed to work through, namely worries around intimacy and control. His heart was too battered to be even considered worthy of giving away. Truth be told, Gavin didn’t know if he wanted to give it to anyone anymore. But that didn’t stop the thought circling his mind, preying on a moment of weakness. Gavin didn’t even realise he fell asleep.

 

                Sumo’s slobbery kisses woke Gavin and he stumbled off the couch with a grumble. He pulled the blanket around himself tightly against the chill and wished he could at least have a little more privacy. Mornings had never really been his strong point and he wasn’t sure how he felt about having people around him to witness his half asleep bumbling.

“I thought I might join you on Sumo’s walk,” Hank’s voice cut through sleepy fog and Gavin grunted in agreement. He was going to jog with Sumo anyway, it had become a bit of a habit to take the lumbering beast with him.

Having shoved a banana gracelessly in his mouth and gotten changed into his running gear, Gavin was more or less ready to go. Connor and Nines shooed them out of the house with wide grins, as if they were in on the best secret in the world.

They walked through the suburbs, Sumo tugged at his leash tirelessly, eager to build up a bit of speed.

“I was thinking,” Hank began, a little tentative. “You work out. Obviously.”

The look he gave Gavin was one that spoke volumes and Gavin didn’t know how to reply.

“Anyway,” Hank cleared his throat, “what are the chances of you wanting to help an old recovering alcoholic cop get back into shape?”

The question caught Gavin off guard. It was certainly a way to repay Hank’s kindness and there was something appealing about having someone else for company.

“Alright, on one condition,” he nodded after a beat. “You tell me why you’re doing this? I thought you hate me.”

A low chuckle left Hank as he looked down at Sumo who was sniffing a bush.

“Yeah, well, things change, people change. You’re Nines’ partner. He thinks highly of you and, as you may have noticed, it’s difficult to change the stubborn idiot’s mind if he’s decided on something. Plus, I don’t believe in kicking a man when he’s down.”

“Oh god, tell me about it. He still thinks mixing ketchup with mayonnaise is an abomination because the colours clash.”

They got to the park and Gavin paused as he looked around with trepidation. Whatever joke had been on Hank’s mind fell away as he watched.

“You okay there?”

Gavin nodded and licked his lips nervously as he stepped through the gate. He hadn’t meant to wind up there; it was an old habit, one of his regular circuits that he used to run. It was the park where he’d met Dan and they both regularly went there.

“Memories?”

Hank’s voice drew him back into the present and Gavin nodded again. He was an adult, he had just as much right to be there as anyone else.

“Want to go to a different park?”

They were all easy questions that Gavin could nod or shake his head to and suddenly he was so grateful for that. He wasn’t sure whether he could form a complete sentence without his voice breaking. Sumo tugged at the leash again.

“Jog?” he bit out and Hank gestured gallantly.

“Lead the way.”

They started off at a slow pace; one Hank could keep up with. It didn’t stop Gavin from glancing around every few minutes. All too soon, Hank was gasping for each breath and clutching his side.

“I’ve got to stop. This stitch is killing me,” he panted and sank onto a bench. “You keep going; I know this was merely a warm-up for you.”

Wordlessly, Gavin shrugged and tightened his hold on Sumo’s leash. They took off as a pace that was more suited to him and he let steady rhythm of his feet pounding against concrete lull him into a thoughtless trance. He ran until his lungs burned, his throat tasted of blood and even Sumo was flagging a little. Time stopped meaning anything at the second lap of the park and he’d lost track of how many times they’d looped round. Finally he stopped by the bench Hank had been sitting on.

“Better?” Hank asked with a knowing smile.

“Yeah,” he gasped out in return.

“Good, we need to pick up a few things before heading home.” Hank stood and began to lead the way.

They meandered from shop to shop, Gavin waited outside with Sumo while Hank went inside. Some of the things made sense – food, thirium, a toy for Sumo, but there were some things which Gavin frowned at such as a new pillow, a fresh set of sheets. They were all things that could have been easily ordered online and yet Hank showed his each thing and asked what he thought. Of course Gavin wouldn’t have said anything negative about the items but he found he didn’t have to. They were all discreet and warm colours – nothing like Hank’s usual preference for clashing patterns that were an affront to the eyes.

It was surprisingly late by the time they returned to the house. Each of them carried some bags; even Sumo was given one to hold in his mouth. All Gavin wanted to do was shower; grab a bite to eat (the lunch Hank had treated them to had been too long ago) and maybe crash on the sofa. Instead he found two androids all but vibrating with excitement and even Hank was hard pressed to hold back a smile.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Rather than reply, Nines led him down the hallway to the door which Gavin was fairly certain was the entrance to the garage. A quick glance behind him revealed Hank and Connor trailing after them. The door opened and Gavin blinked. He’d accidentally looked in the garage once before, it was a sad looking, dingy place. The washing machine was in the corner and a few shelves held an assortment of dusty tools. Now though, it was a completely different room. The door had been boarded up, the walls freshly painted. It was a bedroom, complete with a table in the corner and a bookshelf.

“We’d been meaning to make this into a second bedroom; you just gave us the push. It’s yours for as long as you need.” Hank’s voice was closer than expected and as Gavin turned in surprise, something cold was pushed into his hand.

He glanced down and tried to make sense of the key that had been pressed against his palm. Words eluded him. There were so many questions flitting through his mind but he couldn’t settle on any of them, let alone give voice to it.

It was Connor who broke the stunned stalemate with a light laugh.

“Make yourself at home. We’ll be around whenever you want.”

The three of them left and shut the door while Gavin stared in disbelief at the room.

Outside, Hank grinned at the two androids.

“I think we did good.”

 

                Things settled in an odd way. Gavin found comfort in the presence of the other three despite his expectations. A few weeks had passed since he’d left Dan and nothing he’d anticipated had come to pass. There was no urge to run, hide and lick his wounds. No anger that bubbled up in his chest at being cared for. He didn’t feel like a charity case even though he could contribute nothing to the little family he seemed to have been adopted into. And that wasn’t strictly speaking true, he and Hank worked out together, Gavin pushed him along gently and when Hank bowed out Nines would take his place. It was one hell of a pointless task to have an endurance competition with an android but Gavin still did it. Sweat dripped from the tip of his nose, muscles trembled with effort as he tried to hold the plank position while Nines next to him looked completely at ease, even two minutes in. It wasn’t fair but it was a laugh when Gavin finally collapsed into the ground.

His room had become just his, Princess lounged on the bed but otherwise nobody entered it. A sanctuary he could retreat to whenever he needed time alone. It was nice. In no way did it erase memories of Dan, of everything he’d been through. Some nights it was impossible to sleep, memories of being hit, punched and choked flashed through his mind. Those times he padded out of his room and into the kitchen for a glass of milk. No matter how quietly he tried to walk, Nines always woke up.

He’d reclaimed the sofa as his again, claiming that he didn’t see the need for a bed when he couldn’t get a crick in his neck. It had made Gavin uncomfortable at first but none of the three occupants of the house seemed to share his worry. Nines seemed content wherever he was.

The fridge opened silently and spilled light into the kitchen. Once Connor had realised the Gavin liked to raid the milk bottle, there was always a bottle there for him. It was just one of the small things Connor did to make life a little nicer. He was good like that, always quietly looking out for people he cared about and Gavin wondered when he’d made it onto that list.

“Can’t sleep?” Nines’ voice was soft behind him and Gavin’s shoulders drooped.

“Can’t stop thinking,” he admitted and took a swig of milk.

Once it was back in the fridge and darkness ruled the room he turned to face Nines whose LED flickered between blue and yellow. Wordlessly, he led Gavin to the sofa where they sat down at a respectable distance.

“Talk me through it.” It wasn’t an order but wasn’t quite a request either and Gavin huffed out a breath, unsure where to start.

“I don’t even know,” he began and his hand worried the edge of the wrist support. “I guess I don’t understand it. Why it happened.”

His eyes burned with frustration and tears.

“I mean, I’m a fucking detective. Why didn’t I walk out the first time he hit me? Why didn’t I protect myself? Why would he hurt me if he loved me?”

The last question made his voice buckle, and apologies got caught in his throat. He didn’t pull away when Nines placed an uncertain hand on his back and tried to comfort him.

“Why?” Gavin spat out between muted gasps, all too aware that Hank and Connor were not too far away.

He’d been doing so well too, adjusting, getting on with life. It made no sense for everything to suddenly catch up with him. Except, deep down, he knew he hadn’t been dealing. Instead, he’d been doing what he’d always done which was to push all the hurt away, lock it away until it all bubbled over in an ugly and sometimes dangerous way. Finally it had become too much, the dam was broken and it all came tumbling out without any control.

There was no stifling the wracking sobs and he didn’t even see Nines’ LED flicker between yellow and red. Gavin couldn’t even find it in himself to worry about waking Hank anymore, ugly hacking half breaths caught in his throat as he pressed the sleeve of his top to his face.

Crying was exhausting, it wasn’t a surprise that as the tears slowly dried up, Gavin couldn’t fight the drowsiness that caught up with him. He was asleep, on the sofa between one sniffle and the next. Nines blinked down at him with sadness, ran a hand through his hair and reassured Connor through their link that everything was as okay as to be expected. Neither he nor Hank needed to come out.

In the morning Nines alerted Connor to the fact that Gavin was still sleeping, having not even stirred when the alarm went off. Together, Connor and Hank quietly padded past the living room and into the kitchen. A quick glance revealed Nines sat at an awkward angle while Gavin was sprawled half on top of him – if he didn’t get a crick in his neck then Hank was going to eat a whole head of lettuce without complaining. They went about their morning routine as silently as possible. There was something endearing about the way Gavin didn’t stir until the smell of coffee wafted through the room.

His eyes blinked open slowly; a drowsy confusion written across his face was replaced by a scowl as he vehemently shoved away from Nines.

“Fucking plastic pervert,” he snapped.

Silence fell in the house as they stared at Gavin and his vitriol. It took him a few moments to gather himself before running a hand down his face and sighing.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean that. Habit, I guess.”

The thing was, he really did sound genuinely apologetic, even offered Nines a hand to pull him off the sofa. However, the damage had been done and Nines ignored the hand and walked past Gavin without a word.

“Come have some coffee,” Hank called as he nodded at Connor to follow Nines.

“Took all of me to fuck that up. I really should go apologise. Fuck, I didn’t mean it,” Gavin looked up at Hank who nodded.

“Drink, wake up properly and then you’ll offer a better apology.”

He made it sound so easy, Gavin propped his elbows on the table and rubbed the scar across his nose, a habit he’d picked up who knew when.

“Dan give you that?”

The question was so out of the blue, Gavin’s eyes snapped open in surprise and he looked away a little embarrassed.

“Yeah. First holiday together, must have been, what six months in?” Gavin let out a bitter laugh. “It was some dumb caravan holiday, gave out participation trophies for everything. I got one for who knows what, doesn’t matter. We got back to the caravan and he lost it. Threw the trophy at me, an inch to the right and it would have cost me an eye.”

Hank gave an outraged huff. The simple way Gavin talked about it jarred somehow, he made it sound so off hand and almost normal when it was anything but.

“Should have walked out then and there,” Gavin sighed and took a sip of his coffee, “shouldn’t have believed him when he said it was an accident, that it wouldn’t happen again. That he loved me. That’s the first time he said it you know? And after too, only when he thought I would leave would he trot that line out. I was such a fool!”

“Shit,” Hank had no idea what to say. He wasn’t the most verbose of men at the best of times, but in a situation such as the one he’d found himself in, it was a struggle to figure out what to say.

Thankfully he was saved by Nines and Connor returning. Immediately Gavin was pushing out of his chair, looking contrite, shoulders pulled up. Like a man expecting to be struck. It was a thought Hank would have brushed off as impossible, if he hadn’t lived through the last few weeks knowing what he did.

As far as apologies went, Gavin was sincere while Nines was standoffish. Whatever was going through Nines’ mind was obviously being put in perspective by Connor when he finally nodded.

“Apology accepted. But never assume again that I would lay a hand on you without your consent,” it was stiff but the best they were going to get for the time being.

 

                They were almost ready for work, Gavin stepped back to grab his phone from the table when his voice carried back to the hallway.

"Geh da runter oder ich bring' dich zum Arzt und du wirst gleich nochmal kastriert."

Hank looked over at Connor with a surprised frown. From the kitchen the annoyed lilt of German continued.

"Was zur Hölle machst du da?”

“Gavin, are you okay?” Nines hazarded to ask.

“Yeah, fine, Princess is being a little shit. Jetzt geh da runter!"

He reappeared in the hallway and looked at the three sets of puzzled eyes that stared at him like he’d grown a second head.

“I didn’t realise you spoke German,” Connor finally said with a small grin. “You’ll have to tell us all about that.”

 

It wasn’t an exciting tale by any means; simply a by-product of attending public school and liking the ability to curse even when it was inappropriate to do so. Plus, it was easy to have a cat who responded to praise in English and being told off in German – meant there was no doubt about what was going on. As an added bonus, the neighbours would never report him, even if he threatened to pull out all of Princess’ whiskers and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine each time she used his wardrobe as a toilet.

Somehow Gavin was still caught off guard when the next morning both Connor and Nines greeted him with a cheery “guten morgen”. The snickering from Hank as he leaned against the counter and sipped coffee earned him a finger and a muttered “Wichsbüddel” that had Connor laughing openly.

 

                It had been over three months and each payday Gavin set aside what he could towards getting his own place. Still, the measly sum in his savings account was laughably far from what he needed for a deposit, let alone furniture, sorting out utilities and agency fees. But, at least, he was able to help out with bills, paid for groceries every other week and felt a little less like a charity case.

He worked out with Hank, pushing him to run a little further, hold a plank for a few seconds longer each time. It helped them both and either Connor or Nines would usually be nearby with their own words of encouragement.  There was a soft camaraderie between them all and, despite himself; Gavin found that he preferred Nines’ company over the other two. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Hank or Connor, but somehow Nines made him smile more and he felt at ease.

Despite being a detective, it still took an embarrassingly long time for Gavin to figure things out. He didn’t just have a soft spot for Nines; he was slowly falling for him. The instinctive panic that kicked in hurt. Gavin knew he could trust Nines, wanted so badly to believe that he was worthy of love, kindness and everything life had always promised would come to those who deserve it. Perhaps Gavin wasn’t worthy of such things.

Reassurance came from the least likely source. At first Gavin had thought about asking Hank, maybe a bit of guidance on how he and Connor got over the whole host of issues. Because from memory, Hank hadn’t exactly been an avid android supporter at the start and Connor wasn’t the most affection drawing thing out there either. But the idea of approaching Hank and laying out all his insecurities, doubts and hopes didn’t feel right. As much as the man had swooped in and scraped Gavin up from the floor, all on the good word of Nines, it still didn’t sit well to bother him with such matters.

“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” Connor’s voice drifted across the kitchen and pulled Gavin from his thoughts.

He looked up with a wry smile and moved to get himself a coffee. With a heavy sigh he slumped onto one of the mismatched kitchen chairs and watched as Connor sank into one with a little more grace. They sat in silence, Connor’s eyes darting over his face and trying to assess him. In that moment Gavin was grateful that androids weren’t telepaths.

“It is okay to have feelings for others.”

Scratch that, Gavin stared wide eyed at Connor and decided to mentally scream in case Connor was a telepath. The bastard didn’t even flinch.

“It’s been three months, I’ve seen the way you look at him,” Connor continued smoothly.

Reflexively, Gavin looked towards the kitchen door, certain that Nines would walk in any moment. Though with his freaky android hearing, he wouldn’t be surprised if he heard everything anyway.

“He and Hank are out walking Sumo. It’s just the two of us at the moment, don’t worry.”

Gavin looked back at Connor with something akin to bashfulness. He glanced down at his coffee before peering up, head still tipped down.

“Is it that obvious?” he finally asked, mildly mortified.

“Not to most, no. But you do live with three detectives,” Connor had the grace to laugh a little.

Something about the sentence sounded off to Gavin. He went over it again in his head and realisation dawned on him.

“Wait,” he almost yelled, “is this an intervention? Did you draw the short straw? Are you here to tell me I’m not good enough? Do the others know?”

“Of sorts. No. Absolutely not. Yes,” Connor replied to each question. “Let’s take it one at a time though, okay?”

“Fine,” Gavin slouched in his seat, anxiety spiked high and he tried not to be too prickly with emotions.

“It’s not an intervention unless you think being given friendly blessing and encouragement is that. I didn’t draw any kind of short straw; we just agreed that perhaps I’m best equipped to negotiate through this conversation and in all honesty? That’s an honour. So yes, the three of us know. And you’re good enough for anyone you want, that’s never been a question,” Connor rattled off and with each word Gavin relaxed a little more.

“Why are you doing this?” It’s been a question on his mind for so long, in so many different instances. He didn’t know what he’d done to deserve such help and support and found himself questioning the others’ motivations frequently.

“It’s somewhat selfish,” Connor smiled, “partly we want to see you happy, partly because Nines is a pain in the ass with his mooning and also, I miss date nights.”

“Date nights?” Of all the things Gavin could have picked to focus on.

“Before, well, before you effectively moved in with us, Hank and I had regularly engaged in date nights and other romantic couple’s activities. Out of respect for you, we’ve curbed our more, uh, raucous proclivities.”

Gavin’s face fell. He didn’t want to think about what kinds of things Connor and Hank got up to, he’d heard more than enough in the last few months. If that was them being more restrained then he pitied poor Nines. No wonder he’d talked about turning his audio receptors off so smugly.

“Oh man,” he rubbed a hand over his face, “it’s too early for this shit. I’m sorry if I put a dampener on your and Hank’s relationship. I’ll find a motel to stay in. So I’ll be out of your hair by this evening.”

“That’s not what I meant. Merely, we were hoping you wouldn’t take offence if we resumed our date nights. We didn’t want to make you uncomfortable by rubbing our relationship in your face after all that had happened.”

The trouble was, Connor was so earnest, hands clasped on the table as he leaned forward to explain that Gavin had to laugh. It was either that or tear up at the fact that they cared enough about his comfort that they were willing to put their own relationship on the backburner just so he didn’t get hurt.

“Fuck it. I’m sorry. Go for it, it doesn’t bother me. You deserve to be happy and having fun.”

Connor’s LED flashed yellow briefly as he smiled.

“Thank you, Gavin. And for the record, if you wished to pursue your interest in Nines, I’m sure he would be amenable to it too,” Connor smiled and stood from the table. “Ah, they’re back.”

Sure enough the door was opening and Sumo bounded in, followed by Nines and Hank. If Gavin was a betting man, he would have put money on them actually loitering around the house until Connor called them back in with his funky silent messaging thing. The look Hank and Connor exchanged also cemented his suspicions.

 

                The rides to work had become quite the routine, Hank and Connor up front while Nines and Gavin were in the back. Most mornings Gavin sprawled in his seat and dozed until the rumble of the engine cut out to wake him up. Following his and Connor’s little chat, things were more or less the same but now, rather than just driving and occasionally glancing over at Connor, Hank freely reached over to hold hands and smiled much more freely. It was cute in a way and Gavin caught himself staring more than once.

Friday evening brought a new energy to the house. Nines was shuffling around, setting the table up in the kitchen for some kind of recalibration of his hand while the other two were laughing in their bedroom.

“Dare I even ask?” Gavin looked at Nines who shook his head.

“They’re going out; it’s been a little while since they’ve gone on a date. They’re excited.”

Gavin nodded and returned his attention to the TV until the bedroom door opened with more energy than usual. He let out a low whistle when Hank and Connor appeared, both dressed surprisingly nicely.

“Looking good,” he commented.

It was endearing how self-conscious Hank suddenly became, almost shrinking behind Connor who grinned and did a twirl to show off the cut of his suit.

“We’ll be back late, don’t wait up for us,” Hank finally said. “Hope you kids have fun.”

“Enjoy yourselves, now get going before the taxi leaves without you,” Nines ushered them out of the house and Gavin could see the two grab onto each other’s arms as they left.

Oddly, the house fell too silent, even Princess curled up next to him was quiet. Nines returned and sat down at the kitchen table, content to get on with his evening. A thought bubbled up in Gavin.

“Say, you want any help with that?”

“I am perfectly capable of doing it by myself,” Nines’ reply caused Gavin to deflate, “but I would be more than happy to show you what I’m doing and maybe you could help next time.”

Almost like an over eager puppy, Gavin bounded over and settled by the table in a chair. Nines’ hand was palm up on the table over a white cloth. The panel had been carefully lifted off and set to the side so all the wires, joints and tubes were exposed. Nines was poking a very slim screwdriver at a port.

“Don’t you guys get off on that kind of thing?” Gavin asked before he could think better.

“Would you get off on having a camera shoved up your anus?” Nines shot back immediately.

It made Gavin snort and he put his hands up in defeat.

“Fair point. Guess time, place and intent matters.”

“Very much so,” Nines agreed and returned to his arm. “What I’m doing at the moment is checking the interfacing nodules.”

The rest of the evening was spent in companionable poking and prodding. Nines explained each aspect of what he was doing and why, let Gavin ask questions and even let him do some of the more simple tests. It never occurred to Gavin that they were up well beyond his usual bedtime.

Nines looked up towards the hallway a few seconds before a key scraped against the lock and finally opened it. Lots of giggling and shushing floated down towards them and Nines let out a small smile.

“They’re in bed, you have to be quiet!” Connor’s voice was louder than Hank’s softer response of “then shut me up”. The sound of an appreciative hum and kisses followed and the two of them almost tumbled when they ran out of wall to lean against.

“You’re up!” Connor cried with delight as he straightened up and spotted Nines and Gavin at the table. “Hank! Gavin is fingering Nines on the kitchen table!”

“You’re drunk,” Nines replied and Connor cast a quick glance at Hank as he raised a finger to his mouth.

“He doesn’t know!”

“Buddy, how do I break this to you?” Gavin joined the teasing, “I think he knows.”

“What do I know?” Hank finally paid attention to the conversation.

“That,” Connor piped up suddenly, searching for a suitable lie, “I love you!”

“Of course I know that, you fool. You tell me every morning and every night,” Hank snaked an arm around Connor’s waist and pulled him in for a kiss to the cheek. “Someone needs their beauty sleep. Don’t stay up too late lovebirds.”

Without another word, Hank steered Connor towards their bedroom but neither Nines nor Gavin missed the playful swat he sent towards his partner’s backside and the giggles that followed. The door to their bedroom slammed shut and the sound of protesting springs as two bodies landed on it squeaked through the house.

“They had fun,” Gavin finally said and Nines nodded.

Together they closed up Nines’ arm and tried their best to ignore the loud laughter that turned into moans from the bedroom.

“Glad I can turn my audio receptors off,” Nines remarked slyly and for the first time Gavin was actually jealous.

The next morning, Hank and Connor were up suitably late and they shuffled out of their bedroom sufficiently embarrassed. There was a particular delight in teasing them, Nines and Gavin teamed up in their gentle ribbing. It was endearing to see the blushes, the apologies that were absolutely unnecessary, only to watch please smiles on their faces when told they were cute and should do what makes them happy.

 

                Somehow Friday nights became date night. Hank and Connor would leave in the evening and return at some point. It was a rare occasion that they came home as drunk as the first time, but a few evenings they were definitely merry.

“You ever fancied getting drunk?” Gavin asked Nines as they were left alone once more.

“It requires an update I haven’t installed yet,” the reply was sombre.

“Fair enough. Not your kind of thing?”

“While there is a certain amount of appeal, the feature is part of a major yet unnecessary for functions update. I have not found the time yet to install it,” there was a hint of remorse in Nines’ voice and Gavin looked at him with his head tipped to the side in contemplation.

“Didn’t want to do it overnight?”

“It is an update that requires multiple rebooting and can leave you very disoriented. Hence it’s recommended that it is done in the company of someone else.”

Slowly, Gavin nodded. It made sense why Connor already had the update then, he’s had Hank there throughout the night. No doubt the man even stayed up just to make sure Connor was okay, even after the update had been completed. Mind made up, Gavin sat down on the sofa and patted with an expectant look.

“I’m here if you want to go for it while the others are out.”

He was flashed a grateful smile as Nines sank down onto the sofa next to him at a respectable distance. It earned him a huff and Gavin rolled his eyes.

“You’re going to fall off the sofa if you reboot while sat so primly. Come here.”

Without waiting for Nines’ apprehensive nod, he reached for him and pulled him over. Though Gavin did underestimate Nines’ weight and they went from what was intended to be a half armed hug into a full sprawl on the sofa. Half-heartedly Gavin let out a little chuckle.

“I guess this works too, hang on.”

He shoved at Nines’ shoulder to sit him up before swinging a leg onto the sofa. From there he tugged at Nines to lie against his chest and picked up his book again.

“You won’t fall like this,” Gavin murmured.

After a beat of silence Nines squirmed a little to get more comfortable.

“Thank you. While updates are meant to be fairly straightforward and painless, they’re not always pleasant.” The admission made Gavin frown but he didn’t say anything, instead his spare hand carded through Nines’ hair until his eyes fell shut and his LED spun yellow.

Nines hadn’t been lying when he said the update would take a while. Or that it wasn’t always pleasant. It seemed very similar to when a human fell asleep and jerked awake at times before sinking back into a jerking, twitching dream. Once, Nines tried to sit up, completely unaware of his surroundings but Gavin managed to pull him back down and an arm around his chest stilled him. Despite himself, Gavin found his eyes slipping shut and his book slipped in his lax fingers.

He woke to voices in the house and a weight on his chest that pressed him into the couch. Princess had deemed Nines a perfect spot for a nap and was curled up on his stomach.

“Think we should leave them to it?” Connor’s voice was soft in the kitchen where the light was spilling from.

“Think Gavin’s neck could handle it? We should at least take his glasses off him.”

Self-consciously, Gavin reached up and took said glasses off, they’d slipped as he snoozed and were wonky, low on his nose. He tried not to feel embarrassed at being seen in them. Quiet footsteps approached and he squinted up as Hank came into view.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he sounded a little uncertain. “Is Nines okay?”

“He’s updating.”

Connor’s face lit up behind Hank at hearing that, obviously it had been a source of friction between the two of them for a while now.

“He’s lucky to have you. If it’s the recent update then he’ll be in stasis for a while after installing is finished.”

The soft approval made Gavin look away, uncertain of how to take such an open blessing to the potential thing between him and Nines. It had been building so slowly, almost crept up on him. It didn’t matter though, what was important was that Nines felt safe enough to update, he was comfortable(ish) on the couch, weighed down and warm.

“Go to bed guys, I’ll be heading there soon too.”

It was only a partial lie. Gavin had every intention of going to bed, but he wasn’t going to dump Nines on the couch without warning. So he snuggled a little lower down on the sofa and smiled in gratitude when Connor draped a blanket over them.

“Good night Gavin,” he said and followed Hank to bed.

 

                In the morning, Connor was the first up and he snuck out of the bedroom to let Hank snooze a little more. He fully expected to see Nines up and about, probably already having sorted through the various new functions he’d installed and turned off the ones he deemed useless. Instead, his sock clad feet halted at the sight of Gavin and Nines curled up on the sofa together still. The blanket had been kicked off them at some point in the night and Gavin was the one lying on top of Nines. It was an oddly endearing look and Connor hastily took a picture to send to not just Hank’s phone but also the other two’s.

It was Hank’s grousing in the kitchen over breakfast that finally roused the two on the sofa. Nines blinked awake in a moment and peered down at Gavin sleeping on his chest. His hands reflexively curled around the man, protectively.

Even that small amount of movement was enough to nudge Gavin out of his sleep and he grumbled as he curled against Nines’ chest more to avoid the light in the room. It took him a moment to register the fact that he wasn’t in his bed but after an owlish look at Nines he shrugged and slowly sat up.

“You should have shoved me off,” he said, voice thick with sleep still.

“I have only just exited stasis myself. It would seem one of the new features is sleeping in,” Nines mused and he pulled himself up too.

They grinned at each other, oblivious to their audience.

“You a fan of it?” Gavin asked and Nines hummed in contemplation.

“Certain aspects of it were certainly pleasant, especially the company.”

Before things could go further, Connor bounced into the room with a chirpy greeting and spewed enthusiastically about all the features Nines may want to try out. Being drunk, sleepy, tasting foods (and there was a whole side rant about taking Nines for ice cream in there) amongst other things and warned Nines to turn off things like hangovers and yawns. It was endearing and Gavin glanced at Hank to see a fond smile on his face. After that, breakfast was a surprisingly pleasant affair, even if Nines declined tasting breakfast.

 

                “When I got home the other night,” Connor was telling Chris in the breakroom with a mischievous grin, “I walked in on Nines spread open on the table and Gavin fist deep in him.”

A gasp of shock went up from not just Chris, but also Tina and a few others in the room who were pretending not to eavesdrop on the conversation. Gavin stood in the doorway and snickered at their faces.

“Don’t downplay it Connor,” he chided, “I was elbow deep. He needed the oil pressure regulator in his chest cavity checked, it was a simple matter of opening up a pectoral panel, unspooling the optical wires and reaching under the ventilation sacks to sort it.”

A low whistle sounded somewhere in the room.

“Look at you go,” Tina grinned, “a right little android lover if I ever saw one.”

Nobody missed the blush that spread across Gavin’s cheek, or the stumping realisation that Tina’s comment may have hit closer to home than intended. However, nobody dared say anything more when Nines loomed in the doorway.

“Did you mention coffee?” he looked so hopeful at the prospect that Gavin snorted and shook his head.

Of all the things Nines could have developed a taste for, it was coffee. That fact had caused no small amount of amusement back home and the only thing Nines lamented about the whole thing was his inability to consume large amounts in one go. Little sips for tasting had been fine, but he wanted more, wanted to down a whole cup and pouted when he couldn’t. So now, whenever Gavin went to get himself a coffee, Nines trailed after him with a hopeful look. He always got first sip of a mug.

 

                The rides to work in the morning were a quiet affair. It was an unremarkable Wednesday morning, the heater in the car was just warming the air up and Hank was glaring at the traffic. There was nothing special about the morning.

In the back of the car, Gavin was half sprawled on his part of the seat while Nines sat primly and stared out the window. Without a word Nines’ hand slowly stretched out on the seat and covered half the distance between him and Gavin. He didn’t stop looking out the window.

To be fair to him, Gavin didn’t notice at first and when he did, he cast a curious look at Nines whose face was turned away. After a moment’s hesitation his hand slid out too, fingers nudged against Nines in what could have been brushed off as an accident if need be. Instead, he saw Nines’ mouth curl into a smile and their fingers intertwined. Gavin turned to look out the window to hide his own grin.

Neither of them saw Hank glance in the rear-view mirror with a warm smile of his own, or the knowing look his and Connor exchanged.

 

                Nothing changed really. Yet everything had. There was a new, tentative strain between Nines and Gavin, a sudden shyness that didn’t exist before.

“He’s calibrated his hand enough to finally get to hold it,” Connor huffed as he flopped back on the bed. Hank turned on his side and propped himself up on his elbow.

“Let them be,” he groused, “it’s not like we can claim to have moved fast.”

“I just want Nines to be happy. And Gavin. But Nines, he deserves to have everything he wants.”

Hank let out an ungainly snort and watched as Connor traced circles against his chest, right where a thirium pump out to sit.

“I get it, you’re his big brother. But Nines is old and ugly enough to get what he wants.”

“Considering we’re nearly identical, I shall pretend not to have heard you call him ugly,” Connor’s fingers continued to trace round and round.

It was mesmerising to feel the steady thump of a heart that couldn’t be pulled out, under his fingers. Until Hank, in theory he knew that human chests didn’t have the circle where the pump could be slipped (or ripped) out. But in practice, the smoothness of it all was almost alien to him. Connor found a comfort in the steady beat and rush of blood he could hear if he tuned in, so different to the steady thrum of his pump.

“You know what I mean,” Hank paused and waited for Connor to look him in the eye before finishing teasingly, “Conbear.”

Rather than rise to the bait, Connor rolled his eyes and his hand fell away from Connor’s chest.

“I think I’m just worried for them. And I’m fairly certain Gavin will be moving out soon. I don’t want our family to fall apart,” there was a tinge of sadness in Connor’s voice and Hank pulled him closer.

“Proximity does not make a family. Even if Gavin goes, and if Nines goes with him, we’ll still see each other.”

He pretended not to hear Connor’s sniff and internally cursed the update that allowed androids to feel sad and cry.

 

                True to Connor’s predictions, Gavin found a place that he could afford, took pets and was close enough to work. His last night at Hank’s fell on a Friday. It seemed weird, almost six months on from that day in the precinct. Gavin sat at the table, helped himself to a second portion while telling Nines to get his own fork if he intends to keep stealing off his plate.

Part of him didn’t want to leave, to be on his own again but at the same time he craved his own space again. He smiled at Hank and Connor as they’d refrained from going out on date night, opting to spend it with him instead.

“You got everything packed?” Hank asked and Gavin rolled his eyes.

“Yes dad,” he sighed.

“Actually, he’s more brother-in-law. If you’re dating Nines, Nines is my brother and I’m dating Hank,” Connor had a shit eating grin on his face as the two men eyed each other with mild horror.

“That’s something I’d rather not think about,” Gavin mumbled which only spurred Connor on.

“And, if you’re really Elijah Kamski’s half-brother, he is technically like a father to me and Nines which makes you our uncle. Oh. You and Nines shouldn’t be legal then.”

“Connor,” Hank’s tone was sharp, “just for once, shut up.”

An awkward silence descended around the table until a strange little titter broke it up. Three sets of stared landed on Nines who had a hand pressed against his lips to stifle the giggles that were threatening to erupt from him. It was a losing battle and the more he looked at his friends the worse it got until it all bubbled over and he descended into a cackling mess. Opposite him Connor beamed proudly.

“The humour update!” he all but yelled.

Gavin and Hank looked between him and Nines who was still helpless with laughter. It made Connor roll his eyes and quickly explain how it was an experimental feature, one that took up to a couple of months to manifest depending on the android and their personality matrix. There was some scope for what type of humour the android would find funny but until the code settled in their programming it was impossible to tell.

Each time it looked like Nines’ laughter was abating, he’d look up at one of his friends and it started up again. It got to the point that he looked at Connor, started in another fit and Connor’s mouth tugged upwards too, the laughter contagious. So there were two androids sat, helplessly chuckling more and more while Hank and Gavin shared a pained look. It was difficult to repress their own smiles and Hank’s shoulders began to shake as Gavin stared firmly at the table in front of him to hold back. The fight was lost when a snort left Hank and Gavin collapsed forward on his arms to hide his face in the crook of his elbow.

After a minute the noise died down and they all looked a little sheepish until Nines sat up straighter and looked far too pleased with himself.

“I think I like knock-knock jokes,” he announced proudly and took a sip of Gavin’s coffee.

 

                The house felt empty without Gavin there. Hank drove him over to his new flat with Nines and Connor in tow. Although Sumo seemed pleased that he no longer had to eye the sofa sadly while Princess sprawled on it, he was the only one who looked happier. In the kitchen, Nines stared at the mug that had been Gavin’s and left behind. It had been in the sink, hidden under plates and in need of a wash. He made a note to take it to work on Monday and give it to Gavin. So lost in thought, he missed Connor entering the kitchen and seeing him morosely cradling the cup in his hands.

“You’ll still be able to see him as much as you want,” he offered and Nines tried not to jump at the sudden voice.

“I know,” he groused. “It’s better this way. It didn’t feel right to engage in a relationship with him while he still felt indebted to this family.”

“But you’re still allowed to miss him.”

And Nines did miss him. The table still had four chairs but only three were occupied now. The gap Gavin had left was bigger than they could have imagined. That night, Nines slipped into what had been Gavin’s bedroom, his scent still lingered there as he sat on the freshly changed sheets and slipped into stasis for the night.

 

                In his own flat, Gavin unpacked the few boxes of possessions he’d accumulated and kept before flopping down on the sofa and tried to figure out just what to do with himself. It had been far too long since he’d been truly alone and he wasn’t sure whether he liked it.

Come Monday morning, he walked to work and felt tension seep out of his shoulders at seeing Nines again. Plus Hank and Connor, but there was something about Nines that eased the knot in his chest. Maybe it was the easy smile from the other side of his desk, or the mug he’d realised he’d left behind that was carefully handed to him, filled with chocolates.

Going back to Princess and his new flat was difficult, Gavin sat at his small table and pouted at the truly pathetic dinner he’d managed to assemble for himself. It wasn’t that he couldn’t live and function alone but he’d grown used to having other people around. Even if said idiots teased him when on his day off he stumbled out of the bedroom half asleep in just a t-shirt, boxer briefs and glasses.

Perhaps it was better he moved into a flat rather than a house, the sounds of people around him provided a small measure of comfort but he eyed up his phone and wished he wasn’t so uncertain about being allowed to message Nines. Thankfully by Wednesday evening his dilemma was solved when his phone lit up with a message.

Date night on Friday again. Want to come and keep me company?

Gavin had never replied to a text quicker in his life.

That Friday he takes a taxi to Hank’s house and rings the doorbell. He’s nervous and despite having lived there for six month, suddenly he feels like an intruder.

“You’ve still got your key, haven’t you?” Hank greeted him as he opened the door.

Gavin shuffled his feet and glanced away.

“Wasn’t sure if I was allowed to use it, forgot to give it back on Saturday.”

“Just because you’re back on your feet doesn’t mean you’re not still family. Come over as and when you please. Though maybe message one of us so you don’t walk in on something you don’t want to see.”

The reply made Gavin huff out a laugh but he also relaxed a fraction. While he knew that realistically nothing had changed, in his mind everything had. As the door closed behind him, Hank hollered for Connor to get his ass ready and then called for Nines about having company.

There was pizza on the table, a plate set out and two mugs. Almost like someone was expecting a dinner guest. Warmth flushed through Gavin and he eyed the setup before his eyes were drawn to Nines. There was a certain amount of uncertainty in his face mixed with a soft hope that drew Gavin in.

“We’ll be back late. Stay as long as you want,” Connor squeezed Nines’ shoulder and patted Gavin’s for good measure. Hank yelled his goodbyes from the door and they were out.

“So,” Nines’ hands flapped once in an awkward gesture that had Gavin smiling.

It would have been endearing if he didn’t feel just as out of place.

“I got pizza if you’re hungry?” Nines offered and pointed at the table.

As far as starts went, it was one they both stumbled over, conscious of how they were choosing to spend time together rather than having the excuse of living together. Everything they’d been slowly building towards was so much more in the forefront now, Gavin itched to run.

“That sounds lovely. As long as you haven’t licked each slice for a taste,” he replied instead and walked towards the table.

Behind him, Nines rolled his eyes.

“I can assure you I have not. Connor on the other hand,” he trailed off teasingly.

The slice of pizza half way to Gavin’s mouth stopped mid-air and Gavin looked at him before shrugging and cramming the whole slice in his mouth and grinning around it.

“Evolution went so wrong with you,” Nines sighed and stole a small bit of cheese off the box.

“If you’re so desperate for a taste, you could always steal it from my mouth,” Gavin said and immediately slammed a hand over his mouth as he realised how that sounded.

“Is that so?” Nines asked in a sultry tone.

Neither of them could say much more before the door opened and a profusely apologising Connor ran to the living room to grab something. He was gone as quick as he came but the moment vanished with him. Instead, Gavin grabbed another slice of pizza and stared at it with great concentration.

“Once you’re done, I have an additional processor that needs installing. I was wondering whether you’d be able to help?” Nines asked, almost timid in his request and Gavin nodded around a bite.

That was how, later that evening Connor and Hank returned to Nines sitting on the table, shirtless, a panel on his side open and Gavin crouched next to him, poking around. Nobody mentioned the look that Connor and Nines exchanged, followed by the rapid yellow flickering of LEDs.

 

                After that evening, Friday nights at Hank’s became a regular thing. Most evenings the house was left to Nines and Gavin but some night the four of them sat around the table laughing. Then the awkward question had to pop out of Connor’s mouth, whether Gavin and Nines would like to join them on a double date. Or not a date if that’s not what they were. It got awkward, Connor tripped over his words and dug himself deeper into the hole until Hank butted in with a “shut up. You guys fancy a night out with us, you’re welcome to join”.

Which was how they ended up at an outdoor ice skating rink. Naturally, it had been Connor’s suggestion and after mild trepidation, Hank had succumbed to his puppy dog stare. They got their skates and stood at the edge of the rink, Connor’s LED flashed yellow rapidly until it abruptly turned blue and he turned to Hank with a smile.

“Skate with me,” he’d said and took to the ice as though he’d spent his whole life doing nothing but skate.

“Don’t tell me there’s an ice skating program you can just install,” Gavin huffed.

“There isn’t. My predecessor learns through observation. No doubt he’s watched the people present to assimilate enough information.”

“Huh, wish I could do that too. Just watch and learn. You ready then?” Gavin stood up in his skates and wobbled.

It had been years since he’d been on ice but he still remembered the basics. Opposite him, Nines sat on the bench looking a little less eager.

“Unlike Connor, I do not learn by observation. I have been programmed to learn as I do something.”

Gavin thought the admission almost hurt Nines, acknowledging that he was a slower learner than his prototype. Still, he was ever the gallant gentleman and held out a hand.

“Come on Bambi; let’s show you how it’s done then.”

On the whole, it wasn’t a disaster. Nines was a quick study, followed Gavin’s instructions carefully and exactly. The first few steps were more like a geriatric on a treadmill, jerky and uncertain but it smoothed out. Just as they were getting a steady pace worked up, someone whooshed by with a giggle.

“Connor you lunatic, slow the fuck down!” Hank’s voice was tinged with panic as he clutched onto Connor who was pulling him along at an alarming speed.

“He may be the older model, but he is more of a child than I ever was,” Nines grumbled and promptly lost his balance. He clutched Gavin’s arm who wasn’t expecting the sudden grasp and they tumbled to the ice in a pile of limbs.

“Ow,” Gavin observed as he sat up, his backside smarted.

“My apologies,” Nines said as he pulled his legs off from where they landed over Gavin’s.

Together, they got back up and turned as one to the commotion on the other side of the rink.

“Connor you asshole!” Hank screeched as he flapped his arms like a penguin while gliding along by himself. Connor was two steps ahead of him, skating backwards and was watching his handiwork with a wide grin. Just when it looked like Hank was going to stack it, he turned off to the side in a spin that brought him alongside Hank and grabbed him, pushing him along into another smooth slide.

“Children,” Nines sighed and looked at Gavin who was still keeping a steadying hand on his elbow.

Silence fell between them which wasn’t all that unusual to be fair. But they were standing so much closer than usual and it was impossible to miss the way Gavin’s eyes briefly flitted down to Nines’ mouth. Nines angled his head down a little in invitation the same moment Gavin cleared his throat and stepped back.

“So, want to get moving again?” he asked and rubbed his arms through his coat against the chill.

“No,” Nines said simply and Gavin stared at him in hurt confusion.

“Want to sit and watch people then? I guess I’m game for that too.”

“No,” Nines repeated and slid closer to Gavin again, chest to chest which forced Gavin to tip his head up to look Nines in the eyes.

There was confusion written all over his face which fell out of focus as Nines leaned lower and closed his eyes as their lips met. It was a simple, dry press of lips with the feeling of a smile curling Gavin’s up underneath his.

“Finally!”

They heard Connor’s victorious yell in time with Hank’s panicked “Connor watch out!” which was followed by a crashing sound. As one, Nines and Gavin turned to look at the commotion. Connor was picking himself up from where he’d slammed into the edge of the rink when he got too excited to pay attention to where he was going. At least Hank’s consequent crash was padded by Connor’s as he bounced off his body and onto the ice.

Almost disapprovingly, Nines shook his head.

“Children,” he said again and linked his fingers with Gavin’s as they took off at a slow, leisurely pace around the rink.

 

                While Fridays remained an evening at Hank’s, at least one, though usually two nights a week Nines would accompany Gavin home and head back to Hank’s in the early hours of the morning. He brought things for Princess to play with, even offered to help Gavin cook some nights. It wasn’t always a success but the throwing pasta at the fridge competition had far outweighed the slightly burnt meatballs that went with it.

Mixed in with the quiet evening were nights spent on the couch, Gavin’s legs comfortably draped over Nines’ and their hands linked in the space between them. Slowly, that space grew smaller and smaller, holding hands turned into arms around shoulders and a head tipped up for a stolen kiss or two.

They slipped into something comfortable and unspoken between the two of them. Nines forever harassed Gavin for a sip of his coffee while Gavin tried to find some sort of food Nines didn’t want a taste of.  He thought he’d found something at long last, pistachio ice cream, when after the first lick, Nines didn’t pester for the spoon.

A curious look over at Nines’ face revealed it was lax in stasis and Gavin couldn’t help the little grin he flashed at the sight of it. As quietly as possible, he put the ice cream carton to the side and hauled himself out from under Nines’ arm where he’d snuggled into his side. Carefully, with reassuring, soft murmurs he helped ease Nines across the couch and covered him with a blanket before turning the TV off, putting away the ice cream and slipping into the bedroom.

Gavin woke to the shrill ringing of his phone and he picked it up with a grumble.

“Gavin!” Connor’s voice was far too loud in his ear. “Where’s Nines? He didn’t come home last night and isn’t responding to my calls.”

The worry that laced Connor’s voice was almost cute and Gavin grunted at him as he rolled out of his bed and padded to the door. He opened it and surveyed the scene in front of him.

“He’s asleep, like most normal beings at five o’clock in the morning. Conked out on my couch last night, didn’t bother waking him.”

“Oh,” Connor audibly deflated, “I thought he’d turned the sleeping in function off. I’m sorry I woke you. Usually he lets us know if he’s out and rough times he’ll be home.”

“Well, we all get caught up at times, don’t worry about it.”

A pair of blue eyes blinked open to stare at him with gentle murder. There was a small huff of a laugh on the other end of the phone.

“He’s just contacted me. Said if I don’t shut up and you don’t keep it down, he won’t be responsible for what happens next.”

“Oh yeah?” Gavin grinned wide. “What will happen next?”

There was a soft “meep” down the line and Connor bid him a hasty good bye without explanation. Gavin leaned casually against the doorframe and eyed Nines up.

“Care to clue me in?” he drawled.

“I’ll do one better and show you how I planned to silence you.”

The way Nines stood up from the couch, placed Princess back down gently was nothing short of terrifying and Gavin let out a little squeal as he rushed back into the bedroom, laughter tightening his throat. He expected Nines to burst through after him as he hopped on the bed. Instead, the door opened slowly and Nines walked through calmly, eyes fixed on Gavin where he stood on the bed.

“Oh no,” Gavin screeched and tried to jump out of the way when Nines lunged.

His back hit the mattress and he was momentarily winded and dazed as Nines crawled up his body with a grin that held more promise than mirth.

“I do believe I wanted to shut you up, not make you squeal like a pig,” he growled playfully.

Under him Gavin froze, body tight and his eyes went wide. Immediately Nines rolled off him, gave him space and watched as Gavin tried to pull himself together. It took a few seconds before Gavin blinked and visibly shuddered as he sat up, shuffled away from Nines with a guilty look.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“What did I say?” Nines asked as he tried to understand what had just happened.

One minute they were playing, messing around with the promise of something a little more and the next moment Gavin was skittish and panicked, completely the opposite of what he’d been aiming for.

“Nothing. It’s not you. Just me being stupid,” Gavin tried to wave him off and Nines made a decision.

He sidled up the bed until his back was propped against the headboard and put an arm out in invitation for Gavin to cuddle in. While he’d calculated a 73% probability of Gavin accepting the offer, he didn’t quite anticipate the force with which the man launched himself into it. Without another word he began to stroke up and down his back, fingers eventually winding into his hair. Incrementally, Gavin relaxed and his breathing evened out.

“He used to call me a pig.”

It was barely audible, muffled into Nines’ shoulder but it didn’t matter. Understanding dawned on Nines and with it came the desire to hurt those who had hurt Gavin before. He’d felt negative things before, but the sudden wave he was drowning in was chilling. The urge was strong, he could easily track down Dan, probably enlist Connor’s help in making the man suffer then disappear off the face of the earth. Nobody would know what had happened, and if the body was ever found there’s be no fingerprints.

Instead of plotting out senseless revenge, Nines reeled his mind back into the present moment, Gavin vulnerable and hurting next to him. Briefly he wondered whether he’d ever be completely okay but that thought made anger swell up in him again so he quickly shut that line of thinking down.

“I’m sorry. I forgot. It was meant with all the love in the world,” he settled on whispering into Gavin’s hair.

“I know that. It’s my fault for being so stupid. It’s just a single word.”

“But said enough times, with enough venom, it becomes so much more than a soundwave that makes your eardrum vibrate in a pattern that makes your nerves alight with an electrical impulse that your brain then interprets as a word.”

Gavin huffed a little at that and looked up at Nines, eyes a little watery, cheeks red.

“You’re such a nerd. I love it.”

Silence stretched between them, while the words weren’t quite the three almost dreaded ones, it was close enough and Nines wondered what the correct response was.

“I mean,” Gavin looked flustered and his muscles tensed against Nines, ready to flee.

Thankfully Nines stopped whatever stupidity was about to come out of Gavin’s mouth with a kiss. It did the trick and Gavin smiled up at him sheepishly. Although it was half past five in the morning, neither of them wanted to go back to sleep for another hour before Gavin’s alarm was meant to go off. After a moment of looking at each other, Gavin shrugged and pressed in for another kiss.

Later on, at the precinct, Gavin ignored the pointed looks sent his way by Connor and Tina, his lips still tingled a little and without doubt they were swollen from all the kissing. Quietly he cursed Nines and his lack of such a human reaction; it wasn’t fair that Gavin had to suffer the consequences while Nines could sit there without even a hickey on his neck.

 

                More and more nights Nines found himself at Gavin’s place. It tipped from a couple of evenings a week to Nines not returning to Hanks until Friday night when they had what had become a “family dinner” while date nights for Hank and Connor changed depending on the week they were having.

“Would you and Gavin be able to dog-sit for us?” Connor asked one lunchtime as he wandered past Nines’ desk.

It was an out of the blue question and carefully asked out loud where Gavin could hear it too. Whatever Connor was plotting, it was meddling once again in business his nose didn’t belong in.

“When?” Gavin interrupts before Nines could reply.

“Friday. I know it’s short notice. But, I found some tickets to a concert in the afternoon and Hank and I can both have the day off. We’d be back late at night so we’d miss family dinner. But we’d order you whatever takeaway you want,” Connor shrugged a little helplessly with a hopeful look.

Silently Nines cursed him and his puppy dog eyes before looking to Gavin who nodded easily.

“Sure. Not that I don’t appreciate the heads up but why didn’t you just ask Nines. He lives with you guys after all.”

It was a fair point and Nines was curious to see how Connor would react. The brat smiled brightly as if that had been the very question he’d been hoping to hear.

“He spends more time with you now than us. I didn’t want there to be a scheduling conflict in case you wanted to spend some alone time with him in your own home while we’re out.” Without a backwards glance, Connor said thank you and all but skipped back to his desk where he looked far too smug.

 

                Friday rolled round slowly. Hank’s and Connor’s desks were empty as expected and Nines was even given permission to leave early that day so Sumo wouldn’t have a full day alone. He’d started at the precinct early so his hours would be made up, he didn’t want to be seen as a slacker.

The door to the house opened slowly when he got home and Sumo’s tail thumped noisily against the floor in greeting. Nothing looked out of place from when he left in the morning but somehow, Nines still felt like he was trespassing in a friend’s home rather than his own. Thankfully, the feeling quickly dissipated and he settled down to scan through the news.

Later that evening there was a knock on the door and Gavin let himself in with a small smile. He had a bag of takeaway food in hand that he dumped on the kitchen table much to Sumo’s disappointment.

“How was the rest of the afternoon?” Nines asked.

“Better now that I’m back with you,” Gavin mumbled into Nines’ chest as he hugged him.

It was uncharacteristically sweet of Gavin and Nines enveloped him in his arms, pulled him closer as he wondered what had happened. Various scenarios flitted through him mind but none seemed to fit. Gavin seemed almost nervous, muscles tighter than before.

“You okay?” he asked gently and Gavin nodded into his chest.

“I want to try something,” he said simply.

Whatever it was, Nines was willing to give it a go. It wasn’t often Gavin was so forthcoming and he wanted to indulge the man. However, after a moment Gavin pulled away and turned to sort through the bad.

“Dinner first,” he smiled and Nines grabbed the plates.

 

Eating was a quiet affair, Gavin offered up the odd little piece for Nines to taste but otherwise he was content to munch and ponder whatever was on his mind. Any questions Nines asked about his day were met with answers that didn’t quite invite further conversation.

They settled on the sofa together, Gavin slouched low on his half and the TV played even if neither of them were really watching it. Slowly, Gavin’s hand slithered across the space between them. At first he just touched Nines’ wrist, fingers rested lightly against him. Soon though, the fingers moved to brush up and down the exposed skin and Nines found himself shifting, letting his sleeve ride up a little to give Gavin better access.

The distraction was too good, too much and Nines glanced over at Gavin who had given up all pretence of watching TV and was instead looking at Nines with wide eyes.

A tug at Nines’ wrist was all the hinting he needed to roll from his seat and straddle Gavin’s lap, looming over him a little from his new perch.

“Yes?” Nines asked in a low voice.

Gavin didn’t bother replying, he arched up, silently asking or a kiss Nines was more than happy to give. They made out on the couch like a pair of teenagers, Nine’s hand cupping Gavin’s cheek while the other steadied himself on the back of the sofa. Meanwhile, Gavin’s hands roamed up and down his back, fingers teasing the hair at the back of his neck gently.

“I want to try something,” Gavin repeated himself from earlier, some of his trepidation seeping back into his body.

“Tell me what you’d like,” Nines said and kissed the tip of his nose.

“I did some reading. About androids,” thanks to his nerves Gavin was rambling around his point, “and some said there’s an area under the neck panel that’s sensitive.”

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was on Gavin’s mind. Taking pity on him, Nines leaned forward to kiss him again and opened the panel that no doubt had been the one in question. With gentle hands he guided Gavin’s fingers to the opening, not breaking the kiss.

He’d expected it to be pleasant; maybe a thrum of warmth as Gavin’s fingers traced the edges of the open chassis and lingered on a wire. What Nines was unprepared for was the burst of haywire notifications, static and overload that pounded through him with the smallest of touches. He must have let out some kind of noise as he jerked forwards at the sensation.

Immediately Gavin’s fingers were pulled back, hands steadying on his shoulders and a concerned pair of eyes tried to find his.

“Did I hurt you?” Gavin asked with open worry.

“No,” Nines shook his head and took Gavin’s hand to put it back to where it had been. “Do it again.”

Hesitantly, Gavin slipped his fingers back into the open panel. His fingers grazed along the edges blindly before dipping in, a finger caught on a port and Nines hissed. Gradually, Gavin gained confidence in his motions, began to play with finding what noises he could draw from Nines, whether he could kiss the sounds from his lips while his fingers tugged lightly on wires.

There was no denying that he was hard under Nines, watching the way the android lost his composure in light of a few well places strokes, running a nail down the side of a port. Static had slipped into Nines’ voice; his usually succinct coherence was wiped away into half words. Heat poured out of him, simulated breathing had picked up to help ventilate his components.

Neither of them noticed the sound of the door opening and a pair of footsteps drawing to a halt in the living room doorway.

“Right in front of my dog?” Hank’s voice was like cold water over them.

Nines jolted upright from where he was working a bruise into Gavin’s neck between moans and Gavin pulled his fingers from the panel which made Nines whine. Even Connor had the good grace to look a little bit scandalised with a blush. Nobody dared say anything as they stared at each other.

“Welcome back,” Nines finally broke the stalemate and tried to correct his dishevelled looks.

At least the panel had closed up again and by the time he clambered off Gavin’s lap there was no visible evidence of arousal in either of them.

“So, uh,” Gavin looked anywhere but at the other two. “Good concert?”

“Yes.”

“Sumo’s all fine, Nines took him for a walk earlier,” Gavin rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the door. “I’ll just go now. Yep. Bye.”

He had got to the door before Connor called after him.

“Wait! Gavin! You don’t have to go,” he shouted and peered around the wall. “It’s perfectly natural when-”

“Bye!” Gavin shouted over him and slammed the door behind him.

“I was only trying to be nice,” he heard Connor all but whine but missed the response.

The car purred to life as he slid into the driver’s seat and Gavin was surprised when the passenger door opened. Gracefully, Nines slid in and stared out the windshield without a single glance at Gavin.

“I do not appreciate being interrupted.” It was the only thing that Nines said and Gavin shrugged with a half grin. All in all, it was pretty funny. The number of times Connor had teased them about finding Gavin buried in Nines when they got home, it felt like payback in a way.

“Also, Connor said to avoid overstimulating the port so much. It makes plugging in sore for the next few days.”

 

                Work was no different on Monday, Hank grinned at them with a knowing look while Connor gave Nines a silicone socket cap. Turned out, he had been right about the port being uncomfortable after too much touching.

It was coming up to Friday again when, for a change, Hank appeared at their desks.

“Coming round for dinner?” he asked.

Behind him Connor was craning his neck to see and Nines sent him a message asking what was so interesting. All he got in reply was a sense of excitement, happiness and being pleased for someone else.

“Why don’t you come ours for a change?” Gavin asked.

He got two incredulous looks which he shrugged off with wide eyes.

“It was just an idea,” he mumbled, embarrassed for not knowing why he was being stared at and the seeming rejection.

“No, sure, it’s a lovely idea. We’ll go to yours,” Hank replied and ambled back towards his desk while Nines stared at him some more.

“What?” Gavin snapped.

“Nothing, Gavin. It was nice of you to offer, that’s all,” Nines looked back down at his files and didn’t meet Gavin’s eyes.

If anything, Gavin could have sworn there was a slight blush there. Rapidly, he tried to think back to what he could have said in a single sentence that made him look like such an ass. The invitation had been amicable, he’d meant it. It was about time Hank and Connor went to their home for a change. Oh. Their home. He hazarded a glance up at Nines who didn’t look up. They were going to have to have a conversation about things.

The conversation had to be put on hold. That evening, just as they were about to settle down for dinner, a call came in about a new crime scene. It shelved all possibilities of a chat about living arrangements though at least Gavin had already given Nines a key to the place when he moved in. They got back home in the early hours of the morning, Gavin was exhausted and all but fell into bed, pulling Nines with him like an overgrown teddy bear. Then it was time to go to work and in the afternoon Hank and Connor were heading back with them.

“Are you coming home at the weekend, Nines?” Connor’s question was simple enough but there was a teasing lilt to his voice. Nines blinked as he turned in his chair to get a better look at Connor.

“It’s just that you’ve not been back since last Friday you know,” Hank picked up the thread.

There was definitely something afoot between their gentle jostling. Nines’ LED spun yellow briefly.

“I.” It was the first time anybody had seen him lost for words. “I didn’t realise it had been so long. I apologise. Both to you for causing concern and to Gavin for outstaying my welcome.”

“What?” The outrage in Gavin’s tones was almost comical. “You’re always welcome. Heck, I consider you part of the furniture. You’ve got the key, Princess loves you, I love you. So just move in if you want.”

That was no how he’d planned it. At all. There were some positive aspects to being hot-headed and not thinking things through before speaking but in that moment it most definitely wasn’t to his advantage.

“Well,” Connor was doing his best not to laugh and losing, “and I thought Hank and I were bad at this stuff.”

“Shut up Con,” Hank grumbled even as he smiled.

 

                Dinner was, as it had come to be, an animated affair full of friendly teasing, Hank trying to convince Connor that people outside of Detroit ate burgers with a knife and fork because they were “superior” and “civilised” compared to the cavemen the city bred.

They took a taxi home together and stood in the doorway, Connor’s arms wrapped around Hank’s waist from behind.

“So,” Connor murmured in his ear.

“It sort of feels like an empty nest, doesn’t it?” Hank sighed.

He was happy for Nines and Gavin. They deserved all the happiness possible but, having the house crammed full had been fun.

“There are advantages to that,” Connor kissed his way up Hank’s neck softly, enjoying the way it brought out shivers. “I do believe some three months ago someone had said “every room in the house, isn’t that a dream?” and well, now I think it’s time to make dreams come true.”

The yelp Hank let out when Connor grabbed his backside firmly was many things but manly. It did however pave the way to laughter and Hank was never going to be able to look at the kitchen table the same way again.