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Dangled at a Cruel Angle

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It was shaping up to be a shit day.

Gavin left the relative warmth of the cabin-come-office bordering the wide city lot. He shuddered as sleet pelted the side of his face and neck. The thick sludge dripped down his jaw and gathered just under his t-shirt's collar.

"Fuck." Gavin tried to scoop out the snow, but it melted under his fingers and dripped farther down his chest. "Of course."

He zipped up his hoodie and leather jacket to shield himself from the weather, popping the jacket's collar and fussing with his hood. He hadn't expected to be called away from the precinct on Thanksgiving weekend, let alone to investigate outdoors.

He was done interviewing a potential witness in an attempted murder. As he'd expected, the guy was useless, hadn't seen anything. Cameras hadn't caught sight of the perp either since they only covered the office and entrance gates. Not like Detroit's snow dump had to worry about people coming here to steal. Or come here at all, Gavin would bet.

Their victim had survived, at least. Sophie Castello would be stuck in the hospital for a week, but it was a better deal than most victims in Gavin's cases. She'd even id'ed the guy who'd shot her: Johnny Mason, a suspected hit man. Mason was tied to a series of murders, but Detroit PD had never been able to make accusations stick.

This was the first time someone survived, the first time they had a real chance at a break in the case.

It was just Gavin's shitty luck that one of Mason's buddies was providing him with an alibi. They would need physical evidence to make the case air-tight in court, but there was little chance of finding anything here.

He had to admit, this place was an ideal murder site. With the regular addition of snow—the plows piled it high in a corner of the lot to clear the way for more trucks—any evidence left behind would be destroyed in a matter of hours. If Castello hadn't survived, they wouldn't have found her body until spring.

He shook his head at the thought. No use thinking about that. Castello was safe, officers posted at the door of her hospital room. Maybe she was a little loopy from pain meds—They gave me the good stuff, Detective—but her testimony was solid. Gavin was certain. And Nines had confirmed she believed every word of her account.

Gavin glanced around the lot. Spotlights had been set up under a patchwork of tarpaulins. It was a huge area to cover with only a skeleton crew of techs and beat cops. Fowler had tried to call people in, but on the Saturday after Thanksgiving most officers were out of town or 'unreachable'.

Working holidays wasn't so bad. Usually, the only cases he got were small time stuff. He might get called out to break up family squabbles if the beat cops were too busy. This year, the weather just made everything worse. Gavin hated the cold. He especially hated this humid cold: a shitty mix of freezing rain and snow that had been falling heavily for five days.

Last year he'd been able to stay inside the entire day, mess around on his phone, then head home the second his shift was over. Gavin had hoped for more of the same this year. It was only 3 pm, but he wanted to head to his drafty apartment and bury himself under a pile of blankets and cats. Maybe he'd watch one of the Alien movies. His cats didn't give a fuck, but Gavin got a kick out of pointing out Jones to them in between shots of Ripley kicking ass. His sleek orange tabby was named after Ripley's cat, after all.

It wasn't anything to brag about in terms of holiday traditions, but he couldn't be bothered with something elaborate when it was just him. Gavin and his sister hadn't done Thanksgiving properly—as properly as the Reeds had ever managed—since their mother died, and Sara had moved to Canada with her wife.

Sara and Emily tried to invite him a few times, but they didn't get Thanksgiving Thursday off. Celebrating on Saturday kind of took the fun out of it—what little fun there was when you didn't like football or shopping in crowds. He'd tried going over in October, for Canadian Thanksgiving, but it had felt weird.

So, Gavin covered the long weekend for his colleagues and avoided reminders of the holidays as much as he could. He didn't know why it bothered him, why every fall he got a sort of… out of place longing for something he'd never experienced in the first place.

He'd stocked his apartment with enough food to last him a couple weeks, long enough to avoid the Thanksgiving rush. Anything to avoid being seen at his grocery store's deli counter, buying roasted turkey breast and stuffing for one. That was too pathetic, even for him.

 

*

 

Gavin stood idle and shivering at the edge of the crime scene until Nines joined him, shaking him out of his seasonal blues. Snow and ice crunched underfoot in an even, deliberate rhythm as Nines approached.

Nines handed him a to-go cup and Gavin popped open the lid. He took a large swallow without asking what it was. Big mistake.

"Fuck! What the fuck, Nines?"

"You should decrease your coffee intake after 3 pm."

"What did you give me?"

"Tea. Stop complaining, it's hot."

"Entrapment, that's what it is." Gavin said, grumbling when he caught Nines' smirk.

Gavin sighed and took another sip, tentative this time. At least Nines had added milk. It didn't entirely taste like dirty dishwater.

The tea was hot enough that Gavin could track its progress, a trickle of warmth pooling in the pit of his stomach. His whole body relaxed into the sensation, and Gavin wondered where Nines had managed to get tea around here, in the ass crack of Detroit.

He breathed in the steam coming out of the lid and chanced a sideways glance at Nines. He'd traded the herringbone tweed jacket from earlier for a DPD windbreaker. It was left unzipped, and Nines did not even pretend to be bothered by the cold and snow. Underneath, he wore the usual black turtleneck tucked into jeans.

Gavin didn't get why Nines insisted on wearing the dorkiest jackets he could find on top of an already nerdy getup. At first, he'd teased and mocked him for his fashion choices. He'd said he looked like a philosophy professor or a therapist rather than a cop, but Nines only seemed amused and pleased.

They'd established a routine of sorts. Nines showed up every morning in a turtleneck, and Gavin's stomach did backflips. Nines would refuse to take constructive criticism. Instead he'd be a walking and talking reminder of Gavin's embarrassing crush on his Intro to psych college professor.

It was kind of depressing to realize his tastes hadn't improved over the last decade.

Gavin shifted the cup to his left hand and brushed off the snow as it gathered in clumps on his shoulders and neck.

"There's an extra windbreaker in the mobile lab. It would keep you dry."

"I'm not taking fashion advice from you, Steve Jobs."

Tea was one thing, but Gavin couldn't handle Nines messing with his head right now. He didn't want to deal with Nines' bullshit when they were under so much pressure to find evidence against Mason. At the precinct, Gavin could get away. But in the field, when Nines acted like this, like he wanted to look after him—whatever Nines meant to accomplish by that—it gave Gavin an itch like he needed to tear out of his own skin.

Sure, Nines had bullied him into better work habits. He'd made sure Gavin didn't push himself so far past his limits that he was impossible to be around, or worked on a case until he was so exhausted he'd miss glaring facts. Gavin hadn't taken it personally; Nines was an android and hot for efficiency. No surprise, right?

But then Fowler had taken notice of the boost in his arrest stats and attendance. Both scores improved his chances of becoming Lieutenant one day. Gavin had kind of just… not asked Nines to stop.

It had come on so progressively, Gavin hadn't initially noticed the shift into suggestions that were more about his well-being than performance.

"Was Mr. Diaz helpful?"

"Nope. Cameras sound like a bust, too," Gavin said. He scraped the heel of his hand against his jaw. The rub was uncomfortable on his stubble and a poor substitute for his caffeine fix. "I sent a copy of the footage to the techs, but it doesn't cover the area where Castello was found."

Nines nodded in acknowledgement, LED spinning and yellow at his temple. He looked every bit the machine, stood ramrod straight with only his neck and head turning as he took in the crime scene.

Gavin relaxed a bit. When they first became partners, Nines acting like a machine, deviant as he was, had made it easier to work together. Gavin wasn't so suspicious of Nines; it didn't look like he was trying to ingratiate himself with Gavin the way Connor had with Anderson. He'd thought Nines' behavior would highlight the differences between them. Instead, Gavin had let down his guard.

"You?"

"Nothing so far."

"We're gonna be stuck out here for hours."

Gavin tugged down his hoodie's cuffs to use the thumb holes. The fingers of his free hand were already numb from the cold, but it made him feel better to dig his hands into the worn-soft cotton jersey.

"You're in a foul mood." Nines' tone was taunting. As if a microsecond wasn't enough for him to scan Gavin and see that his body temperature was uncomfortably low.

The more Gavin learned about the range of his partner's abilities, the more sarcasm Gavin could detect in his comments.

Either way, Gavin wasn't putting on the damn windbreaker.

"Next year, remind me to tell Fowler to go fuck himself when he asks us to cover the holidays."

"Certainly. And I'll be sure to send you pictures."

"Pictures?"

"Of the party Connor throws when you get fired for insubordination."

Gavin snorted, but quickly recovered. "Oh. Haha. Fucking hilarious. Don’t quit your day job, man."

"As you haven't run me out of the DPD yet, it is unlikely I'd leave 'my day job'."

Well, fuck. Way to call out a guy.

Gavin couldn't seem to hold Nines' gaze. He looked away and took a hurried sip of the milky tea, surprised to find only dregs at the bottom of the cup. Maybe it hadn't been so gross, or maybe it was the cold getting to him.

"Whatever. I sure hope Connor and Anderson are enjoying their days off."

Yellow pulsed at Nines' temple. Gavin could guess what was coming: Nines was gossiping with Connor.

"They are. Connor thanks you for wishing them a pleasant holiday."

Figured. Gavin flipped him off, but didn't take offense. Much. The hostility between him and Connor had died down over the past year. Now it was part of the routine and background noise. Kind of like what he had with Anderson.

Gavin stomped his feet on his way to their car; the frost had started to seep into his boots. He tossed the empty cup inside to deal with later.

"Ready?" Gavin asked, heading for the area covered by tarpaulins without waiting for an answer.

Nines grabbed Gavin's elbow as he walked by and dragged him closer. "Almost."

Nines loomed. He shook Gavin's hood free of snow then pulled it over his head. He set off without a word and before Gavin could get his bearings.

Gavin stared after him for a beat. He might have to do something about this soon, Nines was giving him emotional whiplash.

"Fuck."

 

*

 

Gavin had been inspecting along the south wall of the fence when he found the footprint. He called Nines over, and he tried not to get lost in fantasies of ordering from his neighborhood tacos place as he waited. Nines gingerly made his way to him, sinking almost to his knees in the thicker snow banks.

A scan was relayed to the officers who held Mason at the central precinct.

Ten minutes later, they heard back with confirmation of a match. The relief was felt throughout the entire team. They kept combing the snow yard for evidence, but the pressure was off. Nines seemed quietly pleased with Gavin.

After that, it felt like no time before they met back at their starting point.

"Just the final scan left?" Gavin asked when Nines reached the edge of the tarpaulins.

Nines nodded, surveying the area.

This part used to annoy Gavin. He'd thought it was a waste of time to scan a crime scene again when they'd already walked around. But he expected it now; it was one of Nines' idiosyncrasies. He couldn't fault Nines for being anxious about his level of performance on the job. Gavin could relate.

Besides, it was useful. Nines had found new evidence during his anxiety fueled sweeps.

All Gavin had to do was stand out of the way and observe. He slipped his hands under his armpits, between his leather jacket and hoodie. It was pushing 6 pm and their shift was over. Some of the tension in his shoulders eased off knowing that in a few minutes he'd be out of the cold and in their car.

Nines' LED finally switched to blue for the first time that afternoon.

Nines walked over to Gavin, eclipsing one of the DPD spotlights littered around the yard. His expression indecipherable while the light haloed his face. Gavin squinted against the passing glare. He blinked away the afterimage to find Nines looming, his open windbreaker brushing against Gavin's elbow.

"You're freezing. You need winter clothes, Detective."

Gavin scrambled back, boots slipping on the snow and he hurried to the car. He wanted to get out of the cold.

"It's not usually so cold so early in the season. I haven't had time to get my winter shit out of storage."

"This year's temperatures meet the decade's average. Did you forget about the weather app installed amidst all the games on your phone?"

Gavin yanked the door open and glared at Nines over car's roof.

Unease trickled at the back of his mind. He'd noticed a pattern: if Gavin didn't acknowledge Nines' concerns, his next comment would be couched in sarcasm, as if it actually bothered him when Gavin neglected himself.

Most of the time, he dismissed or ignored Nines' comments altogether. Neither of them were stupid, though, and he couldn't imagine Nines was fooled for a second. Which meant Nines was letting him pretend nothing had changed in the tone of their conversations. Nines was humoring him. For now.

Not that Nines was being pushy or anything. Gavin even liked some the recommendations. He had tried out a bunch of them, from the office's new flavor of coffee creamer, to replacing his phone's blaring alarm with an app that eased him awake in the morning.

Obviously, he hadn't told Nines about it.

Gavin wasn't sure he wanted to let their partnership turn into… whatever. Go beyond the clear boundaries of work.

He wasn't ready for that. Didn't think he'd ever be ready for that.

"Detective?"

Gavin blinked. He'd been staring, unseeing, at the car's dashboard for who knew how long.

"I'll drop you off at the precinct. We're done here." It came out harsher than Gavin had intended, but he didn't take it back.

He started the car and jabbed the buttons to turn on the heater. The air that sputtered out of the vents was somehow colder than the inside of the car. Gavin swore and scrambled to aim the vents away from him.

His hands were numb and clumsy around the wheel. Frustration mounted, burning cold and restless behind his ears. He wanted to head back to the station, drop off Nines, and finally head home, but his fingers refused to cooperate.

He cupped his hands to his mouth, breathing against them and rubbing his hands together. It didn't help and his breath felt tacky against his fingers. Desperate, he cracked his stiff knuckles.

Gavin grimaced as pain shot up his hands. He could feel his right index going numb. He might have pinched a nerve. Beside him, Nines flinched as if he could feel it too.

"Stop it. Give me a moment," Nines said as a whirring sound rumbled out of him.

Gavin stuck his numb index in his mouth, hoping that would loosen up the joint.

"Here, let me."

Nines held out his hands and Gavin's brain—which had been trying to figure out why the fuck Nines sounded like a computer fan—came to a screeching halt.

"Wha—?"

"It will be quicker if you allow me to warm you up."

Gavin snorted around finger. The guy couldn't possibly understand what that sounded like. Right?

Nines stared back. He raised his eyebrows, slow and pointed. "There's also the negligible benefit of avoiding injury."

"What do you get out of it?"

Whoops. Wasn't supposed to go there.

A squad car pulled out of the lot. Nines was unnaturally still under the passing headlights, it sent him straight into uncanny valley.

Gavin met his gaze. He realized it had been a while he'd been unable to read Nines' expression or tone.

Someone yelled outside. Gavin couldn't make out the words, but it broke the stillness.

Nines snapped, "Are you done being difficult for the sake of it alone?"

Gavin frowned, a retort burning the tip of his tongue.

"We would be out of here in a few minutes if you'd give me your hands," Nines said, cutting over him.

Gavin's hands were halfway there before he thought to ask, "You're not going to like, blow hot air on them, are you? I've seen what you put in your mouth."

Shivers ran down his spine at Nines' predatory smile.

As it turned out, there was no blowing involved. Instead, Nines' hands warmed up, and his heat seeped into Gavin's tense fingers.

The whirring sound leveled out.

The back of Gavin's neck prickled. The only other noise in the car was air rushing through his nose.

"Detective? Your stress levels are—"

"Shut up."

Gavin didn't pull back. Not even when Nines dug his thumbs in his palms, massaging away the tension. He wondered if Nines was familiar with that reflexology stuff. His sister swore by it. Years ago, she'd tried to drag Gavin to a reflexologist for his recurrent headaches.

The soothing waves of pressure made him shudder. Just a reflex. Gavin told himself he should pull back; this wasn't necessary.

The silent touching was starting to feel creepy, and Gavin tried to think of something to say. Anything would do.

The noise coming out of Nines sounded almost like a purr.

"I bought the artisan pet food you told me about. My cats seemed to like it. Even Churros, the prissy monster."

There, something about his cats. That would be safe enough.

"Churros?"

He knew that tone. Nines was mocking him, the absolute fucker.

"Shut up. She's a Munchkin and sheds all over my stuff." Gavin scowled. He'd been proud of the name; he'd thought it was clever. "She wobbles around like she owns the place, but won't let people pet her."

Gavin bit his lip to shut himself up. Talking was worse than the silence.

It felt like Nines' eyes were burning into his forehead. Gavin looked away—he tried not to track Nines' moving thumbs in his peripheral vision—and concentrated on the to-go cup discarded on the floorboard.

"You have two cats?"

"Yeah. The other is Jones."

"Why 'Jones'?"

"Like in Alien. 'Cause he's orange. And a huge baby. Churros spends most of her time cuddling or grooming him"

Gavin fought against the rising fondness, squashed down a smile. Nines didn't need to know this, it wasn't like he would ever meet them. Probably.

Gavin had imagined it a few times, though. When he couldn't sleep—in need of something to think about besides the details of a case—he'd wonder what it'd be like to hang out with Nines on their day off, to invite him over. Would his cats hide when Nines showed up? Or would they like Nines? Gavin was pretty sure they'd adore him.

His wandering thoughts were stopped short by the look on Nines' face. His LED was spinning, calm and steady—blue, blue, blue—and he wore the same expression as earlier, when Gavin had found Mason's footprint. Nines wasn't smiling, but he was obviously pleased. A minute relaxing of his face, something attentive and piercing in his eyes.

Gavin would have said it was a creepy android thing, but Connor never looked like that. It was strictly a Nines thing. Gavin had been on its receiving end more and more often in the last two months.

Gavin shifted in his seat.

"I haven't spent any significant time with cats, but I understand pets are usually affectionate. At least towards humans and other pets."

It hadn't been a question, but Nines' gaze was expectant.

"Uh. Yeah?"

"Androids, on the other hand, tend to receive mixed responses."

"They'd like you," Gavin said without thinking. He scrambled to find an excuse. "You know, because of the…" He nodded at Nines' hands—mentally stumbling over the realization that their hands were still cradled together. "They're cats so they like to anyone who's warm."

Smooth.

And he kept talking for some reason.

"I didn't know you could heat up at will. If you came by my—. I mean, if you met them, they'd probably pile up on you. You'd leave with a grey and orange turtleneck."

"I can put up with shedding. Lieutenant Anderson's dog, on the other hand, drools."

Gavin wrinkled his nose and pulled away. "Yeah, no thanks."

The car was overheating. Gavin lowered the vents' settings and tried not to think too hard about how far he'd allowed the conversation to stray.

Nines sat back and stared out the windshield. The officers were gathering equipment and making their way to their cars.

The clock on the dashboard shined 6:23 pm as he drove out of the lot. Their shift had ended almost half an hour ago.

Gavin fiddled with the radio, and settled on a classical music station he knew would appeal to Nines—if only to drown out the grating squeak, thump of the wipers—while he tried to make up his mind.

They had reached the highway by the time he spoke up.

"And—" Gavin cleared his throat, "and I tried the coffee place you mentioned. The one down the block from the precinct?" Gavin frowned, self-consciously reminding himself that Nines had only ever talked about the one coffeehouse. "It's good… Thanks."

"Thank you for telling me, Gavin."

He blinked at hearing Nines use his first name.

"Whatever. It's nothing."

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, chanced a look sideways.

Nines was actually smiling, his lips quirked just so. Gavin swallowed, and the wet sound was unmistakable in the car. His face prickled with heat. He hoped the passing streetlights weren't enough to make it evident. Evident to the top of the line investigator android. Right. Great.

When they got off the highway, Gavin took side-streets instead of the main road that cut straight to the precinct.

Nines stared at him, but didn't comment.

"Hey, so. We're off the clock," Gavin said, nervous but compelled to point it out. It was his way of holding himself accountable. He'd flaked out of enough of these types of situations; committing to a course of action—no matter how ill advised or reckless—was his way of growing a backbone.

And there was no hiding from the facts: this was fucking reckless. He'd spent the past months pointedly not thinking about getting to know Nines. About whether he wanted to. Because even Nines' passing attention was like a Pavlovian call. Gavin wanted more, more, more.

It freaked him out that he couldn't tell what Nines got out of it. He'd thrown dozens of roadblocks at Nines, and he was still here, though.

Gavin swallowed again. His throat clicked, gone dry.

"Yes?"

"There's a… I know it's early for dinner. And, and you don't eat food—"

"I enjoy restaurants."

"You do?" Gavin glanced away from the road to gauge whether Nines was messing with him.

"Yes. I am interested in the variety of ambiances. Also, it's an ideal place to observe human behavior under pressure."

"Yeah? You get your rocks off watching humans be socially awkward, Nines?"

"I wouldn't have put it that way. It's a relief to analyze behavior in a low stakes stetting, for once."

Huh. Maybe he should ask Nines along for drinks the next time he went out with Tina and Chris. He might get a kick out of all the embarrassing human stuff going down at a bar.

Gavin smirked as he imagined Nines' deadpan comments aimed at someone else.

"I know a great tacos restaurant a few blocks away. Do you want to come with?"

Nines did the satisfied not-smile thing.

"I'd like that."

Gavin was starting to relax when Nines added, "Did you finally make up your mind?"

He barked out a laugh and took a hand off the wheel to flip him off. Nines snatched his hand midair and drew it back to the wheel.

Gavin looked away from the road to snark back at Nines, but he was beaten to the punch.

"Concentrate on driving us safely to the restaurant, Detective. You can enjoy the view later."

"Smug fucker."

Gavin ignored the instruction, a smile pulling stubbornly at his cheeks.