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Venom

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Mac took off his jacket. He was starting to sweat in the warm spring air. “Looks like summer’s coming early,” he noted.

“I did tell you to bring a water bottle, didn’t I?” Spencer gave him a look.

Mac rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but I didn’t feel like carrying stuff around with us today.”

“You know that I have no problem carrying things. I could’ve brought one, had you asked me.”

Mac stopped walking and turned to him. “Hey, you don’t have to do that stuff for me, alright? You’re not my slave, no matter what my parents said.”

“Yes, but as your friend, your health is very important to me,” Spencer said, continuing to walk. “Your parents had nothing to do with that.”

Mac jogged a little to catch up with him. “I’m just making sure that y’know, you have the freedom to do what you want and stuff. You don’t have to follow me everywhere to check up on me. I’m better now.”

“I am well aware of that, and as I recall you were the one to invite me to wherever it is that we’re going. Besides, do you see me handing you a water bottle right now?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. Just checking.”

Spencer glanced around at the empty city streets they were walking down. “Where are we going, anyway?” he asked.

Mac turned to face him, walking backward. “I’m taking you to the best store in Detroit. You’ll see,” he said, winking at him. He looked around. “At least, I think this is the right way to go. It’s kinda been a long time since I’ve been here.”

“I could look up the directions for the place you’re looking for, if you’d like,” Spencer offered.

Mac shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I want this to be a surprise. Oh, here!” He ran over to a newspaper stand that held tourist brochures of the best places to visit in the city. “Okay, let’s see. There’s gotta be a map in here somewhere,” he said, pulling out one and opening it.

“Aha! Found it. Now, if you’ll follow me.” He lowered the map, but Spencer was nowhere to be found. Mac looked around from where he was standing, but he couldn’t see him anywhere. “Hey, uh, Spencer?” he called out. “Where’d you go?”

He walked over to the spot that he had left him, trying to retrace his steps. “Spencer, seriously, where are you?” he asked again, but he didn’t get a response. “If this is a prank, man, it’s not very funny!”

That was weird. Spencer didn’t usually pull stuff like this. He looked around again, but he didn’t see any sign of him. Where was he?

Mac almost jumped out of his skin when he heard an empty trashcan get knocked down behind him. He whipped around to see what had happened, expecting some sort of city animal. “H-hey! What the hell are you doing?” There was a person in the alley, dragging away someone else. His eyes widened when he saw that it was Spencer in their grip, trying desperately to get away from them.

He started to run after them and managed to grab onto the arm that was around Spencer’s throat. He tried to pull it away, give Spencer some leverage to move, but the arm wouldn’t budge. It was like trying to bend steel. The guy easily shook him off like he was some annoying gnat. Was this dude on steroids or something?

He landed on his butt on the dirty alley floor. He got back up and ran over, still determined to help Spencer get out. He had just grabbed on again when he saw Spencer’s eyes widen in fear. He tried to say something through the hand over his mouth.

A fist connected with his cheek, sending him flying to the side. He spun around, trying to regain his balance and shake the dizziness from his head. Arms came down around his throat and he clawed at them, trying to get free. He saw Spencer still trying to fight too. Mac could feel the grip on his neck tighten as blood flow to his head was being cut off. After a moment dark spots started to appear in his vision and he was gasping for air. He couldn’t get out, and the dark spots were growing bigger and bigger. His struggling was getting weaker, and now almost his entire vision was dark. All he could feel was his blood pounding, thrumming in his ears. The noise in his head only got heavier and louder. His inability to move was increasing with his rapid heartbeat. His body went limp as his brain entered unconsciousness.

----

Cold. Everywhere was cold. Cold and...suffocating. Why couldn’t he breathe?

He began to panic. Everything around him was dark and empty. Dark and empty except for some sort of light barely emerging from above. He tried to move closer to the light, but his body was slow and his limbs were made of lead. Pain spiked in his arm, his chest, his leg. It flared in his veins, spreading, covering every inch of him.

He opened his mouth, screaming, but nothing came out. Instead, what felt like millions of gallons of water rushed in. He was drowning, panicking. He was going to die here.

In his darkening vision, he could see figures casting blurry shadows in the dim light. He tried to call out to them, but his lungs were filled with water and no noise escaped his throat. He doubted that even if he could say something, the sound wouldn’t make it very far. The figures were laughing at him like they were amused at his struggling. Like it was funny to watch him drown.

If tears leaked out of his eyes, he didn't notice. How could he? He was trapped, and the pressure from his surroundings only made his injuries hurt worse. He was going to lose consciousness and never break the surface. He couldn’t get to safety. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even see, because there was a dark cloud forming, slowly enveloping his line of sight. All he could do was die.

Ethan sat up, panting. His ribs still hurt a little from the frantic breathing, but he ignored it. He looked around wildly, trying to discern where he was. A small “prrrt?” brought him back to reality. His eyes slowly adjusted to the light of the room. A furry head rubbed up against his chest.

“Hey there, Stitch,” he said, petting the cat. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

His hand brushed against his shirt, which was slightly damp. He felt the fabric, trying to make out what the substance on his chest was; he hadn’t even realized he had been sweating. He rubbed his forehead, which was hot and sticky. God, what even was that dream? It all seemed like a blur, and he could barely remember flashes of what it had been about.

Ethan could feel his heartbeat slowing down now, and he looked over at the alarm clock next to his bed. 5:20 am. Jeez, what was up with his body deciding that was a good time to get up? He rubbed his eyes, trying to coax his body to go back to sleep. After a minute of just lying there, though, he realized that wasn’t happening any time soon. Screw nightmares and their freaking adrenaline rushes.

He slowly sat back up in bed and blindly reached around for the wheelchair that was somewhere nearby. Even though he had been discharged from the hospital, his injured arm made it difficult for him to use crutches and he definitely wasn’t going to be walking on his leg any time soon. Gavin usually helped him with getting around, but Gavin was probably asleep right now and he didn’t feel like going to wake him up. Besides, Ethan was pretty confident he could make it to the bathroom on his own.

His hand finally found one of the handles, and he pulled it closer to him. Ethan slowly transferred himself from his bed to the chair. As an afterthought, he reached over and switched on his bedside lamp, realizing that he probably could’ve found the wheelchair more quickly if he had originally turned it on. He shrugged it off; he wasn’t a certified dumbass for nothing.

As he pushed himself out the bedroom door, he tried to ignore the pain that still lingered in his arm. He couldn’t tell if it had been from the dream or the pressure he was exerting on it to wheel himself around the apartment.

He couldn’t move the chair around for long or his arm would flare up again, but this was a short trip across the hall that he knew he could manage. Ethan wasn’t actually supposed to be putting any strain whatsoever on his arm for another week or so, but he figured what Gavin didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

He flicked on the light and squinted until his eyes adjusted again. Ethan hobbled out of the wheelchair and gripped the edge of the bathroom sink, coming face to face with his reflection.

He honestly looked like shit, and he knew it wasn’t just because he didn’t have his glasses on. He was sweaty, and his oily blonde hair stuck to his forehead. He didn’t bother to wipe it away, though; he was too tired to try and clean himself up. There was some pretty intense stubble growing around his chin that he had been meaning to shave. Strangely, he had never gotten around to it, even with all of his newfound free time. The bags under his eyes popped with color against his pale skin. It was obvious he still wasn’t completely recovered from the undernourishment. Ethan felt like he was covered in grime, and he hadn’t taken a shower in days because cleaning himself was too damn exhausting.

He had tried to be positive about his situation, always reminding himself that at least he didn’t have to go to work and things were basically handed to him by request. On the inside, though, he was restless to get back to doing something other than sitting on a couch all day, waiting for Gavin to come home. He also hated the way Gavin looked at him with pity in his eyes, as if he was a helpless kid- well, he pretty much was helpless, but he wasn’t going to admit that. No reason to make Gavin worry any more than he already was, although Ethan would’ve argued that for the most part, it was unnecessary. He wasn’t braindead; he knew how to do things, he had just lost some of his stamina, was all. At least, that’s what he wanted to believe.

He couldn’t stand glaring at himself anymore. He turned on the sink, letting the water run cold for a second before cupping his hands underneath the faucet. Might as well wake himself up, anyhow. The sensation of his hands under running water left something tingling down his spine, steadily rising through his body, but he ignored it. Taking a deep breath in, he leaned against the counter and splashed his face.

The moment the liquid made contact with his skin, something within him snapped. In the split second moment of cold frigidity that covered his face, he was sent back to the boat. Water covered his mouth and nose, creeping down his throat and into his lungs. Ethan gasped desperately for air. It wouldn’t stop coming. It was flowing down his windpipe, suffocating him. He stumbled backward, choking, but he couldn’t breathe. It was as if all of the oxygen in the air had disappeared, leaving him with nothing but ice cold water. Ethan lost his balance and hit the floor. Pain spiked through his leg. Something escaped his throat and he sputtered, trying to escape.

Ethan tried to get up and get away from the waterfall that was about to kill him, but the walls were too slippery and he fell back down. He cried out in pain when his leg once again hit the cold metal floor. He was freezing now, and he probably would’ve been shivering if he wasn’t about to drown. He tried to claw at the surface against his back but there was nothing to hold on to, no escape ladder for him to climb. The walls started to close in on him, trapping him further. He was stuck. He was going to drown.

Suddenly, he caught sight of a shadow being cast in the distance. He hadn’t even been aware that there was light in the room. He squinted, trying to make out the blurry figure without his glasses. Wait a second. When had he lost his glasses?

“Ethan?” muttered a familiar voice, and he was pulled back into the present. Ethan looked around. He was sitting on the bathroom floor, leaning against the wall. He could hear the sink running, and there were a few things knocked off the counter. He groaned when he saw that he had only succeeded in drenching his shirt even more. What the hell was wrong with him tonight?

“Kid, what are you doing on the floor?” Gavin said as he entered the room. “Actually, what are you doing up right now? You’re supposed to be in bed.”

Ethan rolled his eyes at Gavin’s motherly scolding. “So, funny story: I slipped,” he said. It wasn’t a total lie. He didn’t really fancy the idea of telling Gavin that he had just…actually, he didn’t really know what had just happened. Well, whatever it was, he wasn’t going to tell Gavin. Ethan didn’t need him doting over him even more because he suddenly remembered a nightmare or something.

Gavin rubbed his eyes. After a moment of surveying the scene in front of him, he reached over and turned off the sink. After giving Ethan a questioning look followed by one of pity, he moved the abandoned wheelchair out of his way. “C’mon, rat,” he said, bending down. He put Ethan’s good arm around his shoulders and lifted him up. He was careful not to squeeze too hard on his ribs while still allowing Ethan to put most of his weight on Gavin. “Why are you even awake? Thought you said those meds they gave you make you tired,” he said as he helped him out of the bathroom.

“The bladder stops for no one, not even sleep,” he lied. Ethan hoped his joking would cover up the fact that he wasn’t giving Gavin the full truth. Stitch, who had been waiting vigilantly by his open door, stared at him with eyes that he could’ve sworn looked accusing. Regardless, she didn’t wait for them to enter before she hopped happily back onto the bed, purring.

“Ethan, I swear to god, if I have to get a baby monitor just to make sure that you don’t hurt yourself in the middle of the night, I will,” Gavin warned, setting Ethan down on his bed. This was unfortunately not the first time that Gavin had caught him going against his doctor’s orders. To Ethan’s credit, though, there were a lot more times when he had broken the rules without Gavin noticing as well, but he wasn’t about to come clean about those, either. “Don’t test me.”

Ethan rolled his eyes at that. “I’m serious, kid. Feels like I have to babyproof the whole goddamn house just to keep you alive.” Gavin left the room, returning a second later with a washcloth which he tossed at Ethan. “Change your shirt,” he said, also throwing him a clean shirt.

Ethan scooted himself so that both of his legs were on the bed and started to dry off his face. “You know, I think the hardest thing about being stuck in a wheelchair is having to deal with Mama Reed.”

Gavin scuffed him lightly on the back of the head and sat down next to him. “Well, Mama Reed has to make sure you don’t die trying to piss yourself at 5 in the morning,” he scoffed. “What were you gonna do if I hadn’t woken up, huh?”

“Probably would’ve stayed there and waited for you to come brush your teeth so I could scare you,” he said while pulling off his now very drenched shirt. He gave Gavin a cheeky smile once he had pulled on the other one. Most of the time he never would have dared showing off his bare chest in front of other people, even if it was just for a second. It had taken a long time for Ethan to build up enough trust just to do it in front of Gavin. He was glad he had, though; he knew Gavin wouldn’t judge him, and if he did Ethan would just point out the scar on the bridge of his nose anyway.

Gavin gave him a disbelieving look. “Let’s be honest. You would’ve just fallen asleep on the bathroom floor, wouldn’t you?” Gavin smirked at him.

“Maybe,” he said after a second, winking at him. He was glad the lamp by his bed only cast a dim glow in his room so Gavin couldn’t see him blushing.

Gavin ruffled his hair around lovingly. It probably didn’t do much to help the severe case of bedhead he was suffering. “Get some rest, rat,” he said, standing up. “I’ll wake you up in the morning.”

Ethan let himself fall back into the mattress. “Yay. Can’t wait,” he said in a monotone voice. Neither of them had really been big breakfast fans until he had gotten out of the hospital. Ethan still wasn’t, honestly. The only reason he even ate in the morning was that he was still trying to recover from the malnourishment he had suffered on the boat, which was a lot harder to bounce back from than he had initially thought. Well, that and because he knew Gavin would just shove it down his throat if he refused to eat, which was not a difficult task to do when the person you were force-feeding was confined to a wheelchair. He also hated getting up that early, but he knew Gavin did, too, so he didn’t complain about that part. Ethan knew Gavin just wanted to help, even if that was through being extremely strict about his health.

“‘Night, kid. And I mean it this time,” he said, closing the door.

“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Ethan rolled over and turned off his lamp, doing his best to go back to sleep. He only now realized Gavin had left his wheelchair out in the hall, most likely to discourage any more nightly adventures.

He sighed, letting Stitch clamber onto his chest. It was something he didn’t let most humans do, but Stitch was different. She didn’t care if he had a million little scars on his chest. She wouldn’t question him about them, either. She definitely wouldn’t shower him in pity. Yet another reason why cats were better than people. He continued to pet her softly purring body until they both fell back asleep.

----

She rested her boots on the edge of her new desk. It wasn’t her normal one, but it would have to do for now if she wanted to get anything done in this shithole they called a “living space.” She scoffed. “Living space” her ass; this place reeked worse than the docks. She didn’t say anything, though. It wouldn’t get her anywhere, and there were already too many people angry with her.

That was the difference between her and Yates. At least she knew when to keep her mouth shut. That motherfucker was the one who got himself killed in the first place, thinking he knew everything. She didn’t reserve any pity for morons who never listened to her. She was always right, though, and they all ended up dead. Everyone did, except for her.

“So, you got a plan?” she asked Vallejo, who was nervously cleaning his gun as if it was supposed to make him look more intimidating.

He only glanced at her for a moment. “We’ve gotta get that prick, yeah?” She rolled her eyes at his stupidly obvious statement, but he didn’t notice. “Well, the way I see it, we’re not gonna get within a thirty-foot radius of him with his little guard dogs around. So, first step-” He examined the gleam of the metal in the dim lighting.

“-get rid of that plastic piece of shit?” she finished for him.

He looked at her. The dull shine of the gun illuminated his face, making the sweat dripping down his features shine against his dirt-scuffed skin. “Well, I was gonna say we get his Uncle Ben out of the way first, but-”

“Are you fucking stupid?” she asked, but she wasn’t looking for a response to a question she already knew the answer to. “Did you not hear him? He said ‘bring my son back to me.’ Do you really think killing off his surrogate daddy is gonna fix the fact that he’s already fucking pissed at us for screwing up once?”

Vallejo seemed to be caught off guard by her reaction. “W-well, I just thought- I mean, wouldn’t he be mad at this guy for raising his son without him?”

She groaned in annoyance. She knew Vallejo was an idiot, she just hadn’t known how much of his head was already up his ass. “You moron, he’s not fucking gay!” she yelled. He honestly looked surprised at this. She squinted at him. “You know next to nothing about him, don’t you?”

“I mean, are- are you sure?” he stammered.

She threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Oh my god, I’m paired with a brainless donkey. I cannot believe that you are the person I have to be working with,” she complained.

She realized that what she was saying was probably going in one ear and out the other, and yelling wasn’t gonna get the job done any faster when she was working with this fucker. “Okay, okay. Look,” she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose, “this shithead we gotta grab, him and the boss are family, yeah?” Vallejo nodded slowly, as if it was taking all two of his brain cells to process what she was saying. “This guy, who you think is a good idea to just kill. He’s. Also. Related. To. The kid. You got that?” Vallejo just blinked at her, but she didn’t care if he understood or not.

“You haven’t been working with us for as long as I have, and you probably wouldn’t have figured this out on your own,” she said, not even trying to mask the insult, “but the boss is extremely protective when it comes to his family and all the info regarding them. You kill one of them off, he won’t hesitate to put a bullet between your eyes. I think you’ve already seen what happens when you try to pull something like that.”

Realization flickered in his eyes. He was no doubt remembering Yates. “Now, you tell me if you think it’s a good idea to murder kin of his kin.” She once again didn’t wait for him to reply before continuing. “My best guess: we can hurt him, not kill him. We kill him, we’re dead meat. We could always just ask him what he wants done, but he’ll probably scream at us to get our asses back on the case, and I don’t really feel like getting another lecture about how…important this job is to him.”

Vallejo nodded again, this time actually seeming to get the message. “O-okay then. We off the robot, grab the prick, and it’s a done deal, right? How hard can that be? It’s just one guy.”

She rolled her eyes at him again. “Yeah, yeah, totally. You got a plan, smartass?”

“Well, n-no. Not exactly,” he admitted. “But I-”

“Great, because I do,” she said, cracking her knuckles. “And lucky for you, this is the one and only time I’m gonna let you take the credit for it. Now, get Nash on the phone. We’ve got a plastic bitch to kill."

Chapter Text

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Ethan peeled open his eyes to the steady beeping of his alarm clock. Sunlight was peering out of the blinds above his bed. He squinted. “Not today,” he said, reaching over and hitting the snooze button.

If there was one thing he loved most in the world, it was sleeping in. He couldn’t be bothered if he had something else to do today or not. Nothing was better than ignoring all his responsibilities and/or commitments. He figured everything would be fine if his brain took a vacation day, and he knew Stitch agreed with him. It felt like every day he seemed to get more tired instead of stronger. Throughout his recovery, his enjoyment of sleep had gradually grown. Ethan closed his eyes. He let himself enjoy the extra minutes of rest and relaxation that led his body into its next sleep cycle.

SLAM. Ethan cringed before the door even hit the opposite wall. Stitch scrambled off his chest in fear. Man, he loved the mornings.

“Wake up, rat. It’s time to get your ass out of bed,” Gavin said lovingly, flicking on the light switch in his room.

Ethan groaned in protest. “Ugh, what time is it?” he said, unwilling to open his eyes.

“It is asscrack o’clock, also known as time to get up before I drag you downstairs myself,” Gavin said, once again ever so lovingly.

Ethan put his hand over his eyelids in an attempt to block out the light. “Y’know, when I asked if this was how you were gonna wake me up every morning, I meant it as a joke, right? You don’t actually have to slam the door every time.” Gavin hadn’t always done this. He only started when Ethan stopped listening to his alarm. It was sweet at first; now it was a hassle.

“Nope. Sorry bud, but your personal human alarm clock only comes with one setting.” Gavin ripped the covers off of him.

He grumbled. “Is that setting labeled ‘nicely coaxes you out of bed with comforting words?’” he asked.

“That’s a negative,” he said, pulling Ethan’s hand off of his face and forcing him into a sitting position. “C’mon, kid. I’ve got places to be and shit to do.”

“Yeah, and I don’t,” he moaned, shifting so that his feet were hanging off the side of his bed.

“While that may be true,” Gavin said, putting Ethan’s arm around his shoulder and helping him up, “there is a pretty sweet breakfast waiting for you downstairs.”

“Is it mac and cheese?” he grunted hopefully, wishing that it was anything other than-

“Pancakes and toast.” Ugh, breakfast foods were the most disgusting thing to ever grace this planet. “Gotta get your carbs in,” Gavin said, seeing how Ethan’s face fell.

“Mac and cheese has carbs,” he pointed out as they started down the stairs.

“And it ain’t breakfast material.”

“Pretty sure you and I have very different standards for what qualifies as ‘breakfast material.’”

Gavin scoffed. “Yeah, yours is mac and cheese, mine is making sure you don’t starve to death in the mornings. Besides,” he said as they finally reached the bottom of the staircase, “you can’t take your meds on an empty stomach.”

“Yeah, but like, I don’t have to stuff myself with shit food every morning just to take them.” Gavin helped to lower him into the already waiting wheelchair.

“Hey, I pour my heart into that shit.”

He smirked. “I know what I said.” That earned him a scuff on the head as Gavin wheeled him into their apartment’s tiny kitchen.

Their place wasn’t much to look at. Sure, they had two floors, but that was because the landlords couldn’t figure out a way to squeeze everything necessary for a livable home together on one. They had your typical living room area that was crammed against the kitchen space. The hall that connected it to the front door also had a small storage closet. Across from that was an “office area” that they used as yet another storage closet. There was a bathroom, too, but they mainly used the one upstairs. The stairs on the bottom floor started at the side of the kitchen- not the best design choice stylistically, by the way- and emerged at the beginning of a hallway. On the left of the hall was Gavin’s room, and further down was Ethan’s. Across from that, of course, was the bathroom where Ethan had “slipped.” That was basically all the apartment had to offer.

They didn't have a washing machine or anything. Even if they wanted to buy one, they wouldn’t have any room for it so they just went to the laundromat down the road instead. The dishwasher barely worked. It didn’t matter; they preferred to use paper plates anyway.

It wasn’t a bad life; in fact, it was far from it. It just makes maneuvering around the place difficult when you’re stuck in a wheelchair.

Gavin did his best to help, of course he did. Ethan just didn’t like relying on him for so much all of a sudden, with everything from getting up and down the stairs to making basic meals for himself all tasks that would require Gavin to actually be home to help him with. Not to mention the fact that simply getting to the bathroom was a struggle for him. While most people could just roll themselves places with ease, Ethan’s arm made it difficult to go very far for very long. Mostly, he sat on the couch and messed around on his phone, occasionally playing with Stitch if she decided to get within his petting range. That was probably what he was going to be doing today, and tomorrow, and the many, many days of recovery he still had left after that.

He sighed when Gavin handed him a plate of pancakes. It wasn’t that Gavin’s cooking was terrible- it was surprisingly good considering the amount of takeout they normally ate. He just disliked eating, especially in the morning, especially when it was breakfast foods. They had never been appealing to him, and ever since his incident on the boat, he seemed to have lost a lot of his appetite.

Gavin ruffled his hair again. “Eat,” he ordered, pointing at the plate.

He slowly grabbed a forkful and stuck it in his mouth. “Yum,” he said sarcastically, trying not to gag on the overwhelming sweetness of maple syrup.

“When you’re done with that,” he said, gathering something near the edge of the counter, “take your meds.” He set down a glass of water next to a reasonable amount of pill bottles.

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I know,” he sighed. At least it wasn’t god awful orange juice.

Gavin gave him a look. “I don’t remember you being this cynical about pancakes before.” It was more of an observation than anything else, but Ethan still felt a little jab for whatever reason when he heard the words.

“People change, I guess,” he said with a shrug, careful to mask his annoyance. Gavin looked like he was about to say something else, but he seemed to dismiss the thought.

Ethan watched as Gavin walked around the house, gradually gathering his stuff and getting himself ready for work. Once he had begrudgingly finished the “meal,” he set the mostly empty plate back on the counter. Normally, he’d throw it away himself, but the trashcan was on the other side of the room and he didn’t feel like wasting all that energy. Besides, he knew the pills he was about to take would drain him like they always did.

He opened each bottle individually and laid out the pills for his little painkiller feast- at least, that’s what he liked to call it. Ethan thought all this stuff was a tiny bit excessive. Unfortunately for him, if the doctor recommended it, then Gavin forced him to do it.

He gripped the glass of water in his hand. The feeling of cool condensation against his fingers sent shivers down his spine. Something rushed through his veins. He did his best to ignore it until he noticed his hand was shaking. What the hell?

He set the cup back down, trying to not let his trembling spill water everywhere. He grabbed his wrist with his other hand, trying to control the shaking or at least let it die down a little. He felt his pulse; his heart rate had sped up, but he wasn’t sure why. He sat there for a minute, focusing on breathing slower and calming down. After a while, it seemed to be working, but his hand started trembling again when he heard Gavin reenter the kitchen.

He shoved his hand under his leg as fast as he could. “Hey,” he said, trying to act casual.

Gavin looked at him weirdly. “...Hey,” he said after a moment. He looked like he was about to question what Ethan was doing before he caught a glimpse of his watch. “Shit.” He looked back at Ethan. “I gotta go,” he said, starting to head towards the front door. “Take your meds.”

“I know!” Ethan called out as he closed the door.

Ethan waited for a second after he heard Gavin’s car drive away. Slowly, he freed his hand from under his leg. At least it had stopped shaking now.

“Okay, let’s try that again.” He reached for the glass of water, but the moment his hand wrapped around the cup he felt a rush of adrenaline. It was as if his body was telling him to get away. This time he hadn’t even lifted it off the counter when his hand started shaking again. Seriously, what the hell?

He let go, unable to keep his hand around the cup any longer. Why couldn’t he just grab a fucking glass of water? It wasn’t like it was too cold; the apartment was actually kind of hot right now, and usually, he liked to cool off. In fact, lately he had noticed that he had been sweating a lot more, but it wasn’t like he could really do anything to fix that. He didn’t know why he was suddenly so...scared of water.

He thought for a second that it might’ve had something to do with last night’s little episode, but he didn’t know why that had happened, either. To be fair, he hadn’t drunk anything except Gavin’s stupid orange juice for a couple of weeks. Even then, it wasn’t all that much, but it wasn’t like being away from water made you allergic to it.

Ethan sat there for a good ten minutes until the tremors in his hand finally stopped again. He noted that this time they had taken longer to wear off, too, which was slightly concerning. For a second he considered calling Gavin, but he remembered that Gavin was probably going to be late to work. He didn’t want to bother him with something as stupid as being incapable of holding something cold for more than five seconds.

He looked at the pills on the counter, still waiting for him. He supposed he could always take them dry.

He sighed and began to swallow them without water. Ethan thought it would be harder than it was, but after the second or third pill, he had gotten used to the feeling of dry capsules going down his throat. He decided that, for now, maybe it would be best if he just didn’t drink anything.

When he was done with that, he rolled himself over to the couch in the living room, which used up a lot of his daily energy. Ethan slowly transferred himself from chair to couch, the experience of having done it a million times making the process go faster. He yawned and stretched out.

As soon as he was comfortably lying across the cushions, Stitch appeared. She had no problem immediately jumping on top of him and making herself at home right on his chest.

At first, when she had done this, it had scared the crap out of him. Ethan remembered feeling like he couldn’t breathe with her laying on him. No one touched his chest, not even Gavin. Slowly but surely, though, he had gotten more used to her. It had taken him a second learn that she wasn’t trying to make him panic or cause any sort of harm to him. Now, they had settled into what felt like their normal routine. Ethan would move over to the couch, Stitch would join him, and they would both eventually fall asleep. They'd only get up when he either had to go use the bathroom or Gavin came home. Of course, being a cat meant she didn’t always do that, but Ethan appreciated her presence either way.

He had to admit it got a little lonely, waiting around for Gavin to come back with nothing to do all day. Gavin always said he could watch a movie or something, but it was just for show. They had both already learned that Ethan would fall asleep halfway through it. No matter how hard he tried to stay awake, even if it was a horror movie and he actually wanted to see the ending, he always ended up sleeping through it. Gavin had told him it was all a natural part of his body’s healing process.

Personally, he thought his healing process was a load of bullshit. Ethan had slept for what felt like years, and he still wasn’t getting better any faster. He couldn’t even watch Final Destination, which killed him a little. No matter how many times he watched it, that movie never got old. At least to him, anyway.

The meds he was on made it so that he slept periodically throughout the day, if not the entire time. Between those points, though, he was extremely bored. It felt like he was in a fatigue-induced purgatory. He hated not being able to do anything for longer than an hour and a half- and yes, he had tested to see how long he could keep up with not sleeping, and yes, that was so far his longest time awake. It was sort of a pathetic all-time record, really, but when you’re scrounging for entertainment you’ll take anything you can get.

Most of the time, though, he yielded to his fatigue and went on his phone until he fell asleep. Today was going to be no different. He scrolled through his social media with Stitch softly purring on his chest. He was looking for anything that would cheer him up. All he found were long gone friends getting to enjoy their handicap-free summer. It only served to remind him that he was here, stuck on a couch and not allowed to go to work, while everybody else he knew was off and getting on with their lives.

He sighed and opted instead to listen to music on his phone. He let himself fall asleep to the same songs he had enjoyed as a teenager, dreaming of the freedom of a healthy body that he so longingly was missing.

----

When Gavin arrived at the station, he was slightly surprised to see that Nines was struggling to deal with a civilian. It was pretty normal to find hysterical people trying to file some sort of report, but Gavin found it pretty amusing that Nines looked like he was having a difficult time getting anything through to the young man who was frantically showing him a picture.

“Sir, in order for me to do anything, I need you to calm down first,” he heard Nines try to tell the man.

“P-please, just listen to me!” he sputtered. “He could be...he could be hurt, o-or-”

Gavin calmly placed his hand on the guy’s shoulder. “Is there something I can help you with?” he said, more to Nines than to the guy in front of him. The look he received made it clear that Nines thought he was a godsend.

The man shoved a photo in his face. “Please. His name is Spencer, we were mugged. I haven’t seen him since.”

Nines looked surprised. He had obviously not gotten that far into the conversation yet. Gavin took the photo and examined it. It had the man in front of him standing next to what he thought looked like an android.

“You think he was abducted?” Gavin asked, raising an eyebrow.

Nines gestured for him to hand him the photo while the man nodded. “Spencer is an android?” Nines said, examining the photo in his hands.

“Y- well, yeah. Is that important?”

Nines and Gavin exchanged a look. There was something to be said about the complications of filing a missing persons report for an android. Even though the revolution had been a few months ago, there hadn’t been many laws passed vouching for their humanity, only their citizenship. Regardless, when he looked back at the man and saw the fear in his eyes, the pain in his expression, it was like he was looking into a mirror. He remembered when he had felt that exact same way.

Gavin’s expression softened as he lightly took the photo from his partner’s hands and gave it back to the guy. “Nines, go talk to Fowler about putting out a search warrant for an android.”

Nines looked like he wanted to argue, but he held it back. He nodded and headed over to Fowler’s office. “In the meantime, take a seat,” he said, gesturing to the chair beside his desk.

“What’s your name, kid?” he asked, sitting down. The guy didn’t look like he could be any older than Ethan.

He wiped his brown curly hair out of his face to reveal a cut above his eyebrow. “It’s, uh- My name’s Mac. Uh, Mac Chambers.” He looked like he was trying to calm down, but he was still pretty fidgety. Gavin gave a tiny, almost undetectable smirk; Ethan would’ve been drawn to this kid like a moth to a flame.

“Yeah? How old are you?” he said, trying to distract him for a moment so he could chill out when the real questioning began.

“I’m 19,” Mac said, almost indignantly, though his tough-guy act was ruined by a voice crack.

“Good to know, good to know.” Gavin cracked his knuckles and leaned back in his seat, turning on his computer. “Alright, so when did you last see your friend?”

“Um...I’m not sure exactly where we were, but I know that I was with him. We were headed to this pottery shop. We’d gotten lost, though.”

“Couldn’t your friend just look up the directions to wherever you were going?”

Mac blushed. “Yeah, but...it was supposed to be a surprise. I didn’t tell him where we were going.” He scrunched his eyebrows together in frustration as something crossed his mind. Ashamed, he put his head down on Gavin’s desk. “Ugh, this is all my fault. I never should’ve taken him there.”

Something about how he said that reminded him of how he had been when Ethan was missing. Gavin put his hand on Mac’s shoulder. “You didn’t do anything wrong, okay? It isn’t your fault, what happened to him. But what’s gonna help us find him is you telling us as much as you can remember.”

Mac looked up. “Yeah. Yeah, okay,” he said, nodding slowly.

“You said you were mugged?”

Mac sniffed. “Yeah. We stopped for a sec so I could check we were headed to the right place, and when I turned around Spencer was getting dragged into the alley.”

“Can you describe the person?” Gavin asked. Mac looked unsure, so he added, “Every detail helps.”

“Well, I didn’t get a good look at their faces, but-”

“Hold on. How many people were there?” he said. He hadn’t realized there had been more than one person involved.

“Um, just two, I think. But I didn’t see what they looked like.”

“Do you remember how tall they were?”

“Actually, one of them came up behind me when I tried to help Spencer get out, so I’m not sure exactly. I guess he must’ve been at least half a foot taller than me because I’m pretty sure he was huge. The guy who grabbed Spencer, though, he was around my height, I think.”

“Were there any other features that stuck out at you? Stuff like tattoos, scars, those kinds of things?”

“N-no. No, I don’t think so,” he said, looking down. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Do you remember what street you were on?” he asked. “Location’s important, so we can estimate a radius of where they might’ve gone.”

“Um, I think we were just about to turn off Herding, but I’m not sure. Everything’s kind of a blur after that.” He rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed.

“How come?”

“After they grabbed him, I tried to get him out, right?” he said. Gavin nodded, signaling for him to continue. “Well, I can’t really remember much of the fight. I think they knocked me out, ‘cause I woke up on the side of some random road.” He thought for a moment. “I think it was somewhere along...St. Jean’s, maybe? But it was weird.”

“What makes you say that?”

“It’s just...the street we were walking on, it was completely empty. We kinda just assumed it was because it was hot out, y’know? But like, there weren’t even any cars or anything, so I don’t know how they got there. Now that I think about it, they looked like they were just dragging Spencer further into the alley. But...that wouldn’t make sense, either, because it was a dead end.” He looked like he was doing his best to recall what had happened. “Kinda feels like they were just waiting for us, y’know?” After a moment, he shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe that’s just paranoia.”

“No, no. You might be onto something. We’ll check it out, don’t worry.” Gavin looked up and saw Nines walking over to them, so he assumed he should probably wrap this up quickly. “But in the meantime, call us if you remember anything else you think might be able to help us. Seriously, anything at all.” He patted Mac on the shoulder. “Now, you should go talk to the receptionist or something, see if you can get that cut checked out.” He pointed Mac in the correct direction and watched as he made his way over there before turning to Nines, who had been waiting for him patiently.

“Lemme guess,” Gavin said, leaning back in his seat. “Fowler wants us to go check it out?”

Nines nodded. “Yes. That is if you’ve managed to get a location from him.”

“Welp, I’ve got a street name, so that’s a start.” He stood up and grabbed his keys. He turned and headed for the door until he realized that Nines hadn’t moved an inch from where he had been standing. “What’s the matter, tin can? Scared of a little investigation?” he said, walking back over to him.

Nines’ LED flickered yellow. “Nothing.”

Gavin smirked. “Oh, it’s something. Your little lightbulb’s flashing like Goku on steroids.”

Nines looked off to the side. After a second, his LED returned to its normal pale blue color. “Like I said, it's nothing,” he said, but he still refused to take a step forward.

“I’ve been living with Ethan for years now, I think I can tell when someone’s lying to my face. So,” he said, shrugging, “you wanna tell me about it, or are you gonna get your ass in the car and do your job?” He jabbed his thumb in the direction of the door.

Nines sighed. “I just think that this case should not be our…” he paused, searching for the right words, “...highest priority at the moment.”

“Yeah?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “What do you think we should be doing instead? Sitting on our asses for no fuckin’ reason?”

“Reed, you know that’s not what I mean.” Nines looked around and lowered his voice. “There is still the matter with Ethan’s abductors.”

“Oh, you mean the matter that’s being dealt with by people who are not us?” He should’ve known that’s what this was about. “The way I see it, if it’s not our assignment, then it ain’t our problem. Just let it go.”

“I don’t recall you having that same outlook when it involved Ethan,” Nines said, poking him in the chest.

“That’s ‘cause I wanted to keep my kid safe. I just thought you already knew that,” Gavin said, defensive. He could feel the familiar sensation of anger rising in his throat. “It’s not my fault the feds couldn’t keep their shit together.” He scoffed. “Didn’t think I’d be the one reminding you that we still have jobs to do.”

Nines was silent. “You’re right,” he said finally. “I apologize. Let’s go.”

Before Gavin could say anything else his partner was out the door. He was a little confused about Nines’ reaction, but he shrugged it off.

That was easier than he thought.

Chapter Text

Ethan woke up to a light buzz in his hand. He checked his phone, squinting slightly at the bright light. He had received a text.

‘Forgot to set out lunch. You need to eat something.’
- Gavin

He rolled his eyes. The last thing he wanted to do right now was to eat something. He typed out a reply.

‘But it’s so far’
- Ethan

After a moment, his phone vibrated with Gavin’s response.

‘Idc. Lunch.’
- Gavin

‘But Stitch is laying on me’
- Ethan

‘LUNCH’
- Gavin

‘Do I have to :3’
- Ethan

‘L U N C H’
- Gavin

‘Fineeeeee uwu’
- Ethan

 

In all honesty, he had absolutely no intention of actually eating something. Well, anything healthy, at least. Gavin could take his orange juice and bathe in it, but Ethan wasn’t going to torture himself if he didn’t have to. He also didn’t feel like getting up. What could he say? He was drained.

He glanced over at the ottoman where a box of saltines was laying. It occurred to him that Gavin never said exactly what he had to eat. Ethan weighed his options: actually get up and have a decent meal that would both tire him out and probably taste disgusting to his already full stomach, or just casually snack until his body told him it was time to sleep again. He reached over and grabbed the box, examining it. Eh, Gavin probably wouldn’t know either way.

Ethan pulled out a sleeve and grabbed a couple, putting the box where he had found it and the rest of the crackers underneath the pillow he was currently resting his head on. Once again, what Gavin didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

The crackers were dry on his throat, and they absorbed whatever leftover spit he had in his mouth. For a moment, he considered getting up getting a drink, but the feeling of trying to pick up the glass of water from this morning came rushing back to him. He had been sure he was about to suffocate and die last night. He shuddered, and just the memory of it made him sweat a little. That was new; he didn’t even know memories could make you clam up.

Ethan pushed the thought from his mind, trying to forget the sensation of water that threatened to drown him. He coughed, as if trying to expel the liquid he could’ve sworn was entering his lungs the other night, but nothing came up. In fact, his throat actually hurt a little, probably because it was so dry. Ethan did his best to ignore the anxiety he was suddenly feeling, deciding that maybe getting a drink wasn’t the best idea right now. Besides, he told himself, if he got up now, he would be contradicting the exact reason why he had eaten the saltines instead of actual food in the first place.

If there was one thing that had changed about his personality while he was on the boat, it was his stubbornness. After getting treated like a baby all over again, he had grown tired of everyone walking on eggshells around him. He was an adult now, and he could make his own decisions. He knew he couldn’t do much, so he wasn’t going to throw away some of the only independence he was getting, even if that meant not leaving the couch all day. No, he decided firmly, if feeding himself was the one thing he could do on his own, then he was going to do it his way, however much Gavin or any medical professional advised against it.

----

Gavin sighed and shoved his phone in his back pocket. Over the past few days, he had noticed that Ethan had become a lot more moody. He had just assumed it had something to do with him being stuck in the apartment all day, but that was just a guess. The only person who could tell him what’s up with him was Ethan, and Gavin got the feeling he didn’t want to talk about it right now.

Still, it didn’t feel right, seeing his kid annoyed at little things. Ethan had always been this bright, extremely naive ball of sunshine, even when he was a teenager and despite all the shit that he had gone through. It was one of the things Gavin really enjoyed about the kid; eventually, he always bounced back. But lately, it had felt like they had completely swapped roles. Now Gavin was the one who had to be overly positive about everything, while Ethan was sulking around the house. He decided that he should force Ethan out of the apartment, just to show him that the world outside still existed.

Gavin looked up and saw that Nines was already way ahead of him. He ran over to catch up.

The streets were actually pretty full today, which made it all the more interesting that there had been zero witnesses of an abduction in what should’ve been broad daylight.

“As far as I could tell, our guys were in one of these dead end alleys. Said they were about to make some turn off Herding, so check for tire tracks and shit in the dirt on both ends of the road,” Gavin said.

Nines gave him a look that was basically his equivalent of an eyeroll. “Yes, Reed, I know how to do my job.”

“Yeah, I was just making sure you were checking for the right evidence. Didn’t want to waste time investigating stuff that had nothing to do with the case.”

Nines didn’t respond, instead increasing his pace, which made Gavin have to walk faster to keep up. He looked over to the side when something caught his eye.

Gavin turned and headed over to investigate something shiny in the dirt right by a dumpster that shone in the sun. Upon further inspection, it looked to be a dog tag, but the cord had been broken. He picked it up and examined it. It was engraved with the initials ‘S.C.’

“Hey, tin can!” he called out. “Think you missed something.”

He dangled the broken necklace on his fingers with a smirk as Nines backtracked to him. “Initials ‘S.C.’ Remind you of anybody?”

Nines examined it before looking back at Gavin. “Don’t look so smug,” he said. “We still have to find where they went.”

“Well, at least we know where all this shit went down.”

Nines turned away from him and started to examine the summer stained dirt for footprints. “There were two criminals…” he said, walking along the day-old markings in the ground. “One grabbed the android and dragged him back. The other watched until our other victim came running back, which he then incapcitated. Seems they were waiting for these two to pass. But...why them?”

“What I’m wondering is where the fuck did they go? It’s not like they could drag kidnap victims all the way out in the open. Where was everybody else while this was going on?”

Nines was silent as he continued to follow the very clear drag marks in the ground. “The tracks stop here,” he said, pointing to where a manhole cover was.

They exchanged a look. “Are you trying to tell me that they dragged a body through the fuckin’ sewers?” Gavin said, just a tiny bit exasperated.

“Seems that way.” Nines smirked at Gavin’s annoyed expression. “What’s the matter, detective? Scared of a little investigation?”

“What? No,” Gavin said indignantly. “I was just thinking that we have to go get a warrant or something, y’know? Fuckin’ paperwork and shit.” That was true. He hated paperwork for a number of reasons, but he also just didn’t want to go in the sewers. That shit was gross. He wasn’t about to tell Nines he thought that, though.

Once again, Nines’ LED flashed yellow, and Gavin could’ve sworn he saw a hint of red in there, too, but his facial expression remained stagnant. “I don’t believe that will be necessary. Fowler already knows we are in the middle of an investigation. Besides, we are currently short-handed, so it would be best to get this investigation over and done with as soon as possible so that we may move to the next one.”

Gavin narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Okay, why are you acting like this is just some throw-away case? Someone’s actually missing, and last time I checked it was our job to find them.” Nines wouldn’t look at him now. “Don’t tell me you’re still on that goddamn abductors thing. Look, so what if some of them got away? That’s the feds’ problem, not ours. Just 'cause some idiots forgot to lock a car door or something doesn’t mean that we suddenly don’t have to do our jobs.”

Nines looked like he was unsure about how to respond. “Yes, but what if they-”

“If they what, huh?” Gavin cut him off. “Broadcast another video starring some poor son of a bitch? ‘Cause you damn well know we haven’t gotten something like that since…since you know what.” He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud. “If the feds are the ones who have to deal with that shit, then let them deal with it. It ain’t our responsibility to do what an entire force of agents are already handling.” How many times were they going to have to go over this? He sighed. “I don’t get why you even still care.”

Nines seemed to be annoyed by that statement. “I don’t understand why you don’t care more. These are the same people that kidnapped your nephew. I would have thought that you wanted to strangle every single person involved in that abduction.”

Gavin didn’t want to talk about that right now. He didn’t need reminding of how close he had come to losing Ethan forever. “I’d like it better if they rotted in jail.”

To be honest, Gavin did care that those fuckers were still out there. He hated the fact that they had escaped prison because some dumbass fed was too stupid to transport a criminal correctly. To say that he was indifferent to whether or not they walked free was a complete lie.

But he was smart enough to know when to pick his battles. What mattered most to him at the moment was Ethan and his recovery, and he didn’t need Gavin off on some half-brained manhunt for revenge. What he needed was support, and Gavin had made a promise to himself a long time ago that he would be there with Ethan every step of the way. Besides, there was an entire agency searching for those psychos for him, and he knew that they couldn’t hide from the feds for forever.

The best thing he could do right now was his job, and that was helping the people living in Detroit. Of course, he couldn’t fucking do that if his partner kept tugging on his arm and pointing him in the wrong directions on stupid little hunches that were literally never correct. Lately, it had felt like he was the one that had to rein Nines in and not the other way around. “I just don’t know why you’re so hung up over this.”

“I’m not hung up. I’m simply concerned.”

“Are you?” he challenged. “Or do you just care about solving this goddamn case that’s not even yours?”

“No. I am aware that we have jobs to do.” The calmness in his reply only angered Gavin further.

“Yeah? Well, you can do your job and jump in the fucking sewers.” He started to storm back towards where he had parked the car.

“Where are you going?” Nines called after him.

“To investigate the road they left that guy on. Have fun with your little dumpster dive.” Gavin didn’t bother looking over his shoulder when he said it. Nines could stumble through every shit stain in Detroit for all he cared.

----

Ethan had been sleeping when Gavin got home. He woke up at the sound of a door being opened. For a second, he considered the possibility that someone was breaking in, but then he remembered that thieves usually kicked down the door instead of opening them with a key.

“Hey, rat,” Gavin said, ruffling his hair from behind so Ethan couldn’t push him off. He sounded tired.

“Hey.” Ethan turned to look at him and immediately noticed the bags underneath Gavin’s eyes that were almost as bad as his. “You look like shit.”

“Gee. Thanks, kid,” Gavin said sarcastically.

“It’s true.” He smirked. “Rough day?”

“Eh, nothing much. Just a missing persons case. Y’know, the usual.” He sat down on the couch next to Ethan.

“How come you get to have all the fun without me?” he said, nudging him.

“Oh, it’s not like we’re partying without you.”

“Yeah, but it’s like, so boring just sitting here all day.”

“I can tell you’re just itching to get out of here,” he said, noting how Ethan was completely spread out on the couch. He thought for a moment. “Do you wanna go somewhere?”

Ethan raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “Seriously?” He hadn’t been outside since he got out of the hospital.

“Seriously. C’mon, you need to get out of the house. Can’t be a couch potato all day,” Gavin said, standing up.

“It’s not like I really have a choice,” he pointed out.

“Well, now you don’t have a choice, either. We’re going somewhere.”

“Uh, okay. Where?” he asked. It wasn’t like there were many places he could go. You don’t really notice the number of places that aren’t wheelchair accessible until you’re stuck in one.

Gavin grunted. “I don’t know. The park or something?”

He shrugged. They didn’t really go outside as it was, but Ethan supposed it was better than nothing. “Sure, I guess.” What’s the worst that could happen?

“Okay then. First, though, you need to put on some actual clothes. You’re disgusting.”

Gavin helped him up the stairs and gave him a twenty-minute timer to get dressed in something acceptable. Typically, if Ethan was going out in public, he wore his signature t-shirt and button-down, even if it was hot as fuck outside. It was simply more comfortable for him if he hid the scars that covered his arms, and thankfully Gavin never questioned him about it. To his disappointment, though, he found that he had run out of long sleeve shirts. Fortunately, he spotted a hoodie laying over his desk chair. He supposed it would have to do for now. He definitely didn’t want to go outside if it meant showing off his bare skin. He’d just have to deal with the heat.

He slowly limped his way towards the bedroom door and opened it to see Gavin waiting outside, ready to help him. The trip to the car wore him out a little, but since he was pretty much going to be sitting down for the rest of the ride he didn’t care.

“Enjoying the view?” Gavin said, peering at him through the rearview mirror.

“Everything out here is so fucking colorful. It burns,” Ethan faked hissed while he stared out the window.

“Didn’t realize you had turned into a vampire,” Gavin said with a smirk.

Ethan was itching to get out of the car when they finally stopped. It had been so long since he had seen anything other than the apartment’s increasingly boring walls. He was practically buzzing with newfound energy and the drowsiness he had felt earlier had disappeared.

“So, rat. What do you wanna do?” Gavin asked him once they were all set to enter. “I was thinking about taking a stroll or something, maybe get a girlfriend with the pity points that chair earns you.” He winked.

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Haha, very funny.” He thought for a moment. “Actually, I think I just want to sit in the middle of it. Just…” he sighed, relaxing in his seat, “enjoy nature. I’m going to sunbathe or something. It’s too cold in the apartment for me.” That was a lie, but he found himself strangely longing to feel the sun on his skin.

“Just so you know, the vampire comment was a joke. You don’t have to get a tan or anything.”

Ethan shrugged. “Can’t help it. I wish to burn in the sun. I command you, wheel me into its fiery glory!” he said, trying to make his voice boom. He smiled; it felt nice to finally have a reason to after so long.

“Yeah. Okay, kid,” he chuckled.

He let Gavin roll him over to a nearby bench, where he sat and enjoyed the stuff around him while Gavin “supervised” him and messed around on his phone. After a couple of minutes, though, Ethan had started to sweat. For a second he thought he should take his jacket off to cool down, but he pushed it away. No way he was doing that in public.

He was surprised when a woman passing by on the sidewalk called out to him. “Nice chair!” she said. Despite her words, her tone made it sound like a compliment.

When Ethan made eye contact with her, he found himself slightly enamored. The first thing he noticed when he looked at her was the bright purple streaks in her hair that seemed to shine in the sunlight. She made the vibrant community flowers around her seem to fade into the foreground. She was also pretty tall, and he could see she worked out, even from this distance. The way she looked at him in that moment sent something running through his veins that sort of felt like fear, but oddly enough, he liked it. Honestly, this girl looked like she could chuck him across a football field, and Ethan would probably let her.

He pulled himself out of it quick enough to say, “Nice hair!” before she turned away from him. The moment she did, he sunk down further into his seat. He could feel his face burning up, and the outside temperature wasn’t helping.

Gavin shifted his gaze between the two of them as she walked away. “Uh, what was that?” he said, a small shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

Ethan put his face in his hands. “Ugh, I have no fucking idea.” What the hell did he do that for?

Gavin elbowed him lightly. “Oh, look at that. Rat’s growing up, learning how to flirt. I never thought I’d live to see the day.” He wiped a fake tear from his eye.

“Shut up,” he said, only blushing harder. Now he was seriously sweating.

They sat in silence for a couple more minutes after that, with Gavin chuckling randomly every few seconds. Every time he did, Ethan could feel his embarrassment rising with his internal temperature. At some point, it felt like the sun was starting to burn his back, and he decided that he wanted this outdoor adventure to come to an end soon if it meant he could get away from Gavin and his mortifying glances. Besides, he was pretty sure if he stayed out here any longer he’d get a sunburn.

“Gavin?”

He only grunted in response.

“I’m ready to go.”

“Yeah, figures. Can’t take the heat, huh?” He smirked.

“Hey!” Ethan protested. “It’s not that. I’m just, uh...I’m just tired, is all.” If there ever was a time he sucked at lying to Gavin, now was it.

Gavin shrugged. “Whatever you say, rat.”

They made their way back to the car, Ethan still embarrassed as hell. It was almost as bad as when Gavin kept picking him up in a cop car back when he was in high school. Literally everyone thought he was a delinquent until the day Gavin finally let Ethan sit shotgun. Of course, that was only because Gavin had brought a fucking criminal to school while he picked Ethan up, but needless to say, his peers all respected him a lot more after that.

He was still red when they got home, and he couldn’t even bring himself to look Gavin in the eye. He hoped he would just forget that ever happened, but he knew he wouldn’t let it go that easily. Every time Gavin caught his eye during dinner, he put on that shit-eating smile again. At least it distracted him from the fact that Ethan didn’t drink anything at all.

He was still thinking about how he would die alone when Gavin suggested they watch a movie. He shrugged. At least it would distract him from his burning face.

----

Connor was surprised to see Nines coming back to the station alone. He did not look happy at all.

Connor sent a message to him telepathically. It was the preferred form of communication between the two of them, as no one could eavesdrop on their conversation. It was especially useful when discussing touchy subjects, and Connor had a feeling that that was going to be what this was about.

‘Nines.’

‘Hello, Connor.’

Connor cocked his head to the side in curiosity. ‘I thought Gavin was with you?’

Nines sighed. ‘Reed decided to go home early. He said it was something about “getting Ethan out of the goddamn house for once.”’

‘Is there something else?’ he asked, silently raising an eyebrow.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You look tired.’

Nines shook his head. ‘Just another day working with Reed.’

Connor gave him a sympathetic look. ‘Did you have another fight?’

He avoided Connor’s question. ‘Are you sure we cannot tell him? I feel like he needs to know what really-’

He cut him off. ‘You know we can’t. We have no idea who we can trust right now.’

‘But do you really think the infiltration could’ve spread to this precinct? They’re already in the FBI; what could they possibly need out of the DPD?’

Now it was Connor’s turn to sigh. ‘You know exactly what, Nines. Any officer in this building could be a mole, meant to get in close and earn our trust. And if we’re compromised, then they’ll have no problem wreaking havoc on the city, which also means they’ll have no problem getting to Ethan. Until we figure out whatever it is they want with him, you can’t say a word.’

‘But Gavin is growing more and more frustrated with me.’ He looked annoyed, but Connor knew he had expected that answer. This wasn’t the first time he had asked to tell Gavin what was really going on. ‘I fear if I avoid telling him the truth for much longer, he’ll become suspicious. What am I supposed to do if he finds out on his own? What if he simply takes Ethan and runs to find somewhere safer?’

‘Nines, you know that won’t happen.’ What he meant by that was “we won’t let him.” ‘The safest place for both of them is right here, under our protection. As far as they’re concerned, ignorance is bliss.’

‘Unless you’re looking for answers,’ he countered with a scoff. ‘Reed thinks I don’t care about our current cases. He says I need to focus on doing my job. I say it takes one to know one.’

‘You are just looking out for him,’ Connor reassured. ‘And you can keep looking out for him by not telling him about Ethan’s abductors. Give them this chance to recuperate from all they went through. I know we all could use some time to do that.’

Nines looked down. ‘Whatever you say, brother,’ he said finally.

Connor watched Nines sit down at his desk. He looked lonely, isolated without Gavin or Ethan chatting it up. A tiny bit of pity stirred within him. ‘If you really think it would be best to let him know, then I suppose you can talk to Fowler about it,’ Connor admitted.

He looked doubtful. ‘I think we both know what his answer will be.’

‘In the meantime, then, I suggest you be yourself with Gavin. Perhaps helping him with some of his own problems will make up for your argument today.’ Connor knew Nines shouldn’t be the one who had to apologize, but Gavin Reed was not the type of person to say sorry.

‘I’m tired of putting up with him. I had thought we made progress, but I’m starting to see that it was only temporary.’

‘He’s already opened himself up to you, Nines. Perhaps if you do the same, he’ll trust you more.’

Nines shook his head. ‘I’ll try it. Only for you, though. And…’ he sighed again. ‘I suppose...we can hold off on telling him. But they need to know, eventually.’

He couldn’t really do much except give Nines advice on how to deal with humans, but Connor was always happy to share his observations. He nodded at Nines, hoping that his words had gotten through.

----

Of course, the movie Gavin chose for that night was 50 First Dates. There was a tiny part of him that smiled when he saw Ethan realize which one they were watching.

“Okay, I feel like you’re trying to tell me something,” he had said, his blushing only worsening.

He shrugged. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not,” Gavin said with a smirk. “All I’m saying is it would be interesting if the person you were dating forgot all the embarrassing shit you pulled.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Haha, very funny.” As the opening scene started playing, he turned back to look at Gavin. “Y’know, Adam Sandler movies aren’t even that good.”

Neither of them really liked cheesy romance plots, but Gavin figured he had to mess with him a little. Besides, it’s not like Ethan could say anything about taste.

He chuckled. “Says the guy who’s watched Final Destination five hundred times.”

“That’s because it’s good,” he said, not even trying to deny it. “Plus, it was more like seven hundred. Give me a little credit.”

After that, they had both settled down to watch, Ethan having nothing left to critique. They made it through around the first forty minutes of the movie before Gavin got up to go make popcorn. When he came back, though, he found Ethan asleep and snoring softly. He seemed to be having a pleasant dream, and Gavin didn’t want to wake him up. He honestly was surprised Ethan had made it this far without dozing off, seeing how he had been awake through their trip to the park all the way to dinner.

He carefully pulled a blanket over him and turned off the tv. They could finish the movie tomorrow, anyway. It wasn’t like Ethan didn’t have enough free time on his hands as it was. Gavin decided that he’d finish the popcorn later, too. Didn’t want to waste food, especially if it was junk food. He set the bowl down on the kitchen counter and hoped Stitch wouldn’t stick her head in and devour it all during the night.

Gavin smirked softly as he passed by Ethan’s sleeping form one more time. “Sweet dreams, rat,” he whispered as he headed upstairs.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t asleep. He was drowning.

The pressure of being so deep under was crushing his bones. Gallons of weight pushed the air out of his body. He felt himself rising to the surface, or at least in the direction he thought was up. His hands scraped against cold ice. He was trapped.

Every second he spent here increased the compression of his lungs. His eardrums felt like they were going to burst. He started to sink back down as he lost the ability to fight against the current. Even if he had the strength, it wouldn’t matter. He was going to suffocate.

Something pushed against his back. The surface was cold and rising steadily upwards. It stretched out as far as he could see and replaced what should’ve been the seafloor. It lacked any real sand, and yet it was rough with rust. He recognized the freezing metal in an instant.

It kept traveling closer to the surface. The water pressure was so intense now, and the ice above him started to crack. He thought his body was going to explode. He was only a few yards away.

He braced himself as best he could just as he was slammed against the surface of the ice.

Once again, Ethan woke up. He was a hot, sweaty mess and his breaths were coming out in sharp gasps. He gripped the couch cushions underneath him and tried to center himself. His whole body shuddered.

Something cool fell down his cheek. He wiped his face only to find that he was crying. He didn’t even know why. He tried to calm down, but the tears wouldn’t stop. Whatever he had been feeling in his dream had carried into the real world, and he couldn’t push down the wave of...of emotion that threatened to drown him.

He realized with a start that he was shaking- no, not shaking. His entire body was trembling in fear, the terror that he had been about to die.

He put his head in his hands. Why? Why was this happening to him? He didn’t understand what was wrong with him. He just sat there, alone and crying.

At some point, the tears stopped coming and now he was just making ugly noises as he heaved for air. His throat was so dry, and it hurt so much. He hadn’t drunk anything in over a day, but he couldn’t fucking touch water without panicking. All he could do now was break down in the middle of the goddamn night and beg for a reason why he was suddenly so broken.

----

He must have finally fallen back asleep at some point because he woke up to Gavin lightly tapping him on the shoulder.

He groaned. His head hurt like hell and he felt like those last few hours of sleep he had gotten had done absolutely nothing for him.

“‘Mornin’, rat. Figured I’d let you sleep in late since you kinda drained yourself yesterday. Breakfast is ready.”

Gavin handed him a plate. To Ethan’s surprise, it didn’t have pancakes on it. He didn’t really feel all that great right now, but this was a win in his book.

He raised an eyebrow in suspicion. “Uh, where’s the ‘cakes?” he asked warily.

“I might’ve used all the batter in the house,” he admitted. “But seeing as how you enjoy them so much, I can go to the store later today and-”

“No! No, that is absolutely not necessary. You do not have to do that at all. Trust me,” Ethan said quickly. “Eggs and toast are fine. Perfect, even. I’d go as far to say they trump pancakes in every way possible.”

Gavin smirked at him. “Whatever you say, kid.”

He left for a second and came back with a shit ton of Ethan’s pill bottles and yet another wretched glass of water that he would definitely not be touching. “Don’t forget: take your meds.” Gavin set it all down on the table next to the side of the couch.

Once again, he left Ethan alone while he got ready. This time, Gavin remembered to put a bag of lunch on the ottoman which Ethan knew he would be checking later to make sure he had eaten.

He stared at the plate in his hand. For some reason, he didn’t really feel hungry. He didn’t necessarily feel full, either. The food on his plate looked sort of appetizing, but Ethan felt like he didn’t have the energy to eat any of it. It wasn’t even that big of a meal; he just wasn’t hungry.

Ethan set the plate to the side. Maybe he’d feel hungry later. He began to take all of his pills, once again without water. He wasn’t even chancing it this time; no way he was going to get close to touching as much as a drop.

Gavin called out from the front door. “Gotta go, rat. Have fun.”

“Not likely,” he muttered as Gavin closed the door behind him.

After a while of doing nothing except stare at his phone screen, Ethan began to feel somewhat nauseous. His headache also hadn’t gone away, which kind of sucked; he had been hoping that one of the many pills he had taken would be able to help with that. He figured maybe he should just eat something, so he began to munch on the plate of breakfast Gavin had given him.

It actually didn’t taste too bad, but now he was full and the nausea still hadn’t disappeared. He turned on the tv, looking for something to distract him. It, of course, turned on to a channel playing “Jaws” that he immediately switched off of. He kept scrolling through, looking for something he actually enjoyed, but he didn’t find anything he really liked.

After a few minutes of doing that, the nausea only seemed to increase, and now he felt like he was going to puke a little. He decided it might just be worth it to spend the day in the bathroom in case he vomited his guts everywhere.

The moment he stood up, the room spun around him at a thousand miles per hour. He took a step forward and immediately regretted it. Yep. He was definitely about to puke.

He stumbled, trying extremely hard not to fall over. He managed to get mostly around the ottoman and the bathroom door was in sight. Suddenly, his foot caught the leg of the coffee table and he pitched forward, the world tumbling into him. Ethan landed on his front side with a force that felt like a punch to the gut, which was not a good feeling when you’re trying not to vomit.

He lifted himself up on his hands and tried to get up. Before he could do that, though, another wave of dizziness and nausea hit him. He couldn’t stop himself from throwing up the little food he had given his stomach all over the carpet floor.

Ethan gasped for breath, now sweating a little. He was hacking and coughing, and his throat was burning with stomach acid. He could feel tears and mucus leaking out of his face as he rolled himself onto his back, exhausted. Vaguely, he thought he should call Gavin and ask him to come home before looking over and seeing that he had left his phone on the couch in his race to get to the bathroom.

Instead, he decided that sleeping was the better option, maybe a tiny bit deliriously. He let his head fall back down to the floor and vastly enjoyed the feeling of being able to relax. Yeah, sleeping felt nice. Sleeping felt like a great idea right now.

Whatever else he should probably do instead of taking a nap faded from his mind, so he just let his eyelids shut.

----

“You sure this’ll work?” she asked Nash.

He looked a little offended that she would doubt him. “Of course it will. I’ve already tested it several times. Though, it does take a little longer to completely infect deviants,” he warned.

“Hope it doesn’t take too long, or else both of our heads will be on the chopping block.”

“Well, it spreads fast, especially within big groups of androids, so I wouldn’t worry.”

“Are either of you gonna bother telling me what the hell this does?” Vallejo asked them, examining the flash drive Nash had given them.

She rolled her eyes while Nash spoke up. “It’s a virus,” he explained. “Makes androids go wild by overloading their instructions programs.” He paused for a moment, thinking of the best way he could describe it. “Think going deviant, but dialed up to nine thousand. Uses their inability to process conflicting instructions and emotions against ‘em.” He turned back to face her. “That’s why it takes longer in deviants; they already know how to deal with emotions, so it takes more to overload them.”

“Well, that’s great and all, but how do you plan on specifically infecting our guy?” Vallejo asked.

“Simple. We just leave a trail of blue blood for him to follow, and let other androids do the dirty work. Plus, we’ll be cleaning the streets of plastic scum for a while, so we get two birds with one stone.” She shrugged as if it was obvious enough what they were about to do. “What makes this even easier is that we’ve already got a ton of tin cans waiting to be sent out, all under our influence. They’ll know who to grab, what to leave behind, and when.”

She honestly didn’t know how any of this could be any more clear, but Vallejo still seemed to be confused. “Why can’t we just grab him right away?” he asked.

Once again, she rolled her eyes at his infinite amounts of stupidity. “Because, smartass, if he just goes missing randomly, then they’ll know something’s up. But, if we get him on a case,” she said, smirking, “then they’ll have no reason to believe it was anything more than an accident at work. Besides, he’ll be glitching out too much to tell the difference, anyway. Everything should go according to plan.” She leaned in close to him. “Isn’t that right?” she said slowly, poking his chest.

Vallejo nodded, gulping. She smiled. “Great. Now get to work, both of you. I’m getting real tired of breathing in this dirty-ass air.”

----

Gavin yawned and rubbed his eyes before unlocking the front door. It had been a long fucking day at work, trying to figure out how to file a goddamn missing persons report about an android. God knows they all look the fucking same, and Nines was no help at all. He scoffed. Typical.

His annoyance was forgotten when he saw Ethan lying unconscious on the floor next to a load of vomit.

He dropped his shit where he was standing and ran over, fearing the worst. “Ethan! Hey, c’mon. Talk to me, kid,” he said, shaking his shoulders. This felt way too fucking familiar.

Ethan groaned and opened his eyes. He squinted at Gavin and coughed. “Hey, Gavin.”

He sighed, only slightly relieved. “What happened? Are you okay?” he asked.

Ethan gagged. “No, no I’m not,” he said, sitting up. Not a moment later he began to dry heave over the carpet. He kept gasping for air between the convulsions, and Gavin rubbed his shoulders soothingly. Once he looked like he had stopped, Gavin helped lean him against the edge of the coffee table and put his arm on Ethan’s shoulder to steady him.

Now that he had a better look at him, Gavin could see that Ethan was a little pale and definitely sweaty. “Let’s get you on the couch,” he said. He began to support his shoulders like he usually did, but Gavin could tell Ethan didn’t have the best balance right now, so he hurried as fast as he could to get him to the couch.

After he had gotten him situated, he decided the best thing he could do right now was get him water to make up for the fluids he had just lost before he could figure out why Ethan was suddenly so sick. He made his way over to the fridge and grabbed a water bottle before running back over to Ethan, who was coughing a little.

“Here, kid,” he said, moving to hand Ethan the bottle. To his surprise, Ethan flinched away from it. “C’mon, Ethan. You need to drink something.”

“No,” he mumbled quietly, trying to scoot away from Gavin’s outstretched arm.

Gavin thought he sounded a little out of it. “Look, kid. You just fucking vomited all over the carpet. You’re gonna be dehydrated, which will only make it worse. Take the water,” he basically commanded, pushing it closer to Ethan.

The last thing he expected was for Ethan to straight up slap it out of his hand. He watched in a small state of shock as it rolled to the side before looking back at Ethan, who looked a little surprised at his reaction as well. This was weird. Ethan never lashed out like this.

“Ethan,” Gavin said, his voice rising as he reached over and grabbed the bottle again. Once more, Ethan tried to scoot away from him. “Kid, what’s the problem? It’s just water, and you need to hydrate.”

Gavin tried again to give the bottle to him, this time gripping it tighter so that Ethan couldn’t just hit it away, which he tried and failed to do. After realizing that that wasn’t going to work again and seeing Gavin getting closer to him with the water bottle, Ethan gripped the wrist holding the bottle and held him back.

“Ethan, what the hell?” Gavin said as he grappled with him for a second. Ethan had fear in his eyes that made him look like a panicked deer in headlights. He leaned over and proceeded to grab Ethan’s wrist with his free hand only to have him kick him in the stomach. Gavin doubled over, but in the same kicking movement, Ethan also cranked his arm back and punched him in the nose.

Gavin spun around and stopped himself by grabbing onto the coffee table as Ethan tried to back away further onto the couch. He grabbed his nose which was now bleeding a little and stood up slowly.

“S-stop, Gavin. I’m fine, I don’t need water.” That was a complete lie, and Gavin knew it. Ethan was sweaty and he had just vomited, and the still full glass of water on the table meant that he hadn’t drunk anything at all today.

“Bullshit,” he said and grabbed the bottle again. This time Ethan didn’t even wait for him to get close before he kicked it out of his hand. They both watched it roll to the side in silence.

“Sorry,” he said, “but I’m fine. I feel fine. I am hydrated, seriously. I don’t need it.” Ethan always rambled when he was lying, and Gavin knew he was full of shit right now.

He sighed. “I didn’t want to have to do it like this, kid.” He started to walk around the couch, pretending like he had given up. “I’m worried about you, rat. You really don’t look well.”

“Yeah, I know.” He visibly relaxed. “But I promise you, I’m fine,” Ethan said, taking the bait. He didn’t even realize Gavin was reaching for his belt. “Sorry if I made you worry or something.”

“Yeah, and I’m sorry, too. Believe me, I didn’t want it to be like this, either.”

Ethan gave him a confused look. “Wait, wha-”

Gavin vaulted over the back of the couch and positioned himself so that he was behind Ethan. He wrapped his legs around Ethan’s waist and locked them together so he couldn’t get away. He grabbed underneath his armpits as he struggled.

“Gah- Gavin, what the hell? Get off of me!” Ethan said, trying to squirm out of Gavin’s grip around his arms.

“Sorry, kid,” he said, dodging a flying elbow coming for his head, “but this is for your own good.” He pinned one of Ethan’s arms behind him as Ethan continued trying to fight him off, but it was no use. He was injured, tired, and now sick, and Gavin was none of those things. He easily overpowered him and shoved his head and body down forward on the couch, securing Ethan’s wrists behind his back with his handcuffs.

He released his grip on Ethan and let him lift back up. Ethan tried to pull out of the cuffs. When he didn’t succeed, he looked behind his back to see what was restraining him. “What the- did you just fucking handcuff me?” he yelled, turning back to face Gavin, who stood up from the couch calmly.

“You were going to hurt yourself,” Gavin said simply. “Plus, you need to drink something.”

Ethan whipped around to look at the water bottle that was still on the floor. “Nuh-uh. You are not making me drink that.”

“Relax. I’m gonna give you a sec to calm the fuck down while I make a phone call.” Gavin turned away from him and sighed, pulling out his phone. This was going to be fun.

“Gavin?” Nines asked suspiciously from the other line. “Is there an emergency?”

“Chill, toaster oven. Everything’s fine over here. Nothing urgent.” He looked back at Ethan, who was still trying to free his wrists from the cuffs. “I’m just calling to let you know I’m not gonna be at work tomorrow, and I need a favor.”

“Is that Nines?” Ethan asked. “Nines, get me outta here! He’s a fucking lunatic!” he called out. His cries for help ended with a bad coughing fit, which quickly turned into gagging as his dry heaving chose this moment to come back.

Gavin put Nines on speakerphone and set his phone down on the coffee table as he sat by Ethan and resumed rubbing circles into his back.

“Is that...Ethan?” Nines asked. Gavin could almost hear his eyebrows scrunching together.

Gavin once again sighed. “Yes. I had to cuff him to the couch ‘cause he started fighting me. Don’t worry, I’ve got it under control.”

Ethan gasped and leaned back into the couch. “That’s a lie,” he rasped quietly. “You’re trying to fucking drown me.” He turned his head to look at Gavin, who could tell that Ethan was getting tired. He was drenched in sweat, which couldn’t be good for his water level, and he was blinking harder as if he was struggling to keep his eyes open.

“It doesn’t sound like you do, actually. What’s wrong? Do you need me to come over there?” Nines offered.

Gavin pinched the bridge of his nose. “No, no. It’s fine. Ethan’s just sick with something. I came home and he was passed out on the floor next to a pile of vomit. I’m just trying to get him to drink some water, which he seems very opposed to for some fucking reason.” He gave Ethan an expectant look, but he wasn’t paying attention to Gavin anymore. His breathing had slowed down, and he looked ready to fall asleep again.

“Does he have a fever?”

Gavin put his hand to Ethan’s forehead. He was sweaty, but not necessarily hot. He had probably just worked up a sweat trying to fight Gavin off and then having his body try to vomit again. Ethan groaned a little, opening his eyes at Gavin’s touch.

“No, I don’t think so. He was pretty dizzy, though. Tired, too, but that’s pretty normal for the meds he’s on.”

“Has he done anything physically straining recently?”

“I mean, I took him outside yesterday just to make him get some fresh air, but it’s not like we really did much except just sit there.”

“How long exactly were you out there?” Nines asked.

“Uh, I don’t know. Like an hour, tops?” he guessed.

Nines sighed. “Then he’s probably just dehydrated. I don’t think you were out long enough for him to have heat stroke. You should get him to drink something; he should be fine with a little bit of rest.”

“Well, that’s good, ‘cept he thinks I’m trying to attack him every time I come near him with a water bottle.”

“I can come over and help if you need me to.”

Gavin shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I can keep him in line,” he said, ruffling Ethan’s hair. Ethan gave him an annoyed look, probably because he couldn’t fight him off. “I just need you to check something out for me tomorrow, okay? I think I found a lead on the case.”

“What is it?” he asked.

“They went through the sewers, right?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Well, I was thinking they had to drop that guy off somewhere. Forgot to tell you I found squat on St. Jean’s, but I did notice a certain abandoned factory within a three-mile radius of the initial abduction. Basically took me all of today just to find the city’s old sewer layout, but I think it’s possible to go from the alley to Jean’s to the factory. I’m pretty sure that’s where our guys are hiding out. Of course, you’d have to scout it out first, and there’s not really a place you can go unnoticed for a stakeout since the whole fucking plot is bare land.”

“Which means you’d have to sneak in through the sewers just to investigate it?” Nines finished for him.

“Ding ding ding. We have a winner. I was thinking we could take the day to put on our best suits and take a little dive into the city’s shithole just to scout out any patrols and stuff. ‘Course, I can’t do it when this idiot refuses to touch water.” He scuffed Ethan lightly on the back of the head.

“Hey,” he grumbled. “You’re the one who thought it was cool to handcuff me to a couch.”

“Yes, after you fucking punched me in the nose,” Gavin reminded him.

Ethan cringed in embarrassment. “Sorry. Self-defense.”

“You’ve got one hell of a right hook, by the way.”

“Do you want me to go investigate this tomorrow?” Nines asked.

Gavin shrugged. “It’s like you said, I guess. Best to get this case over and done with, right?”

After a moment, Nines responded. “Wow, Reed. You’re learning.” Although he couldn’t see him, he knew Nines was smirking.

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get used to it.”

“Hey, seriously, Nines. Do you think you could come get me out of these cuffs?” Ethan asked hopefully.

“No,” Nines and Gavin responded at the same time. Ethan groaned and rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long night.

“Just tell me if you find anything,” Gavin said. “And thanks.”

“Of course. And, Ethan?” Nines said.

“Hmm, yes?”

“Do what Gavin says.”

“Ugh.”

Gavin hung up the call and turned to face him. “So, are you ready to try this again?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. He grabbed the bottle.

“Uh, would you believe that I’m actually immortal and I don’t need to drink anything?” Ethan said sheepishly.

Gavin sat down next to him and put his hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong, kid? Why are you acting so weird all of a sudden?”

Ethan looked away from him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah?” Gavin scoffed. “Prove it, then. Prove to me that you’re the same as you’ve always been. Drink the water.” He held it in front of Ethan’s face.

They were both silent for a moment. “I...I can’t, okay?” Ethan said finally. He sighed. “Is that what you wanted to hear? The answer you were looking for? ‘Cause I just...I can’t.” He spat out the last words remorsefully as if he was mad at himself.

Gavin pulled back his arm. “Ethan, you gotta talk to me, kid. What’s up with you?”

“It’s nothing, alright? I just forgot to drink.”

“Okay, then. Drink.” He shoved the bottle into Ethan’s face again.

Ethan leaned away from him. “Uh, you know it’s kinda hard for me to do that with my hands tied behind my back, so if you wouldn’t mind-”

“Nope. Can’t trust that you won’t just sock me in the face again.” He uncapped it. “You get a straw and yours truly to help you, but you’re not leaving this couch until you finish this entire thing.”

“What? But I-”

“I don’t want to hear it.” He got up and went to the kitchen to get a straw, ignoring Ethan’s protests along the way.

“This isn’t fair, Gavin! You can’t just make me rely on you like this!” he called out from the couch. “I could arrest you for unlawful restraint, you know!”

Gavin walked back to the couch. “Uh-huh? And how’re you gonna do that?” He smirked when Ethan looked like he didn’t know how to respond. “Face it, kid. You’re drinking this shit, and that’s final. Unless, of course, you’d rather go to the hospital?”

“Would I still be in the cuffs?”

“That’s to be determined.”

“Then I’m not going.”

“Well, then, you’re not leaving the couch, either.”

He could see Ethan’s frustration rising. “C’mon, Gavin,” he said, giving him his best puppy dog eyes. “Just uncuff me, and I promise I’ll do whatever. Don’t make me reliant on you, please.”

Gavin considered it for a moment. “Okay.” Ethan’s eyes lit up. “I’ll let you out, but only after you drink some. You gotta prove to me that you’re not lying.”

“Ugh, seriously?”

“Yes. Now do it, and I’ll unlock you.” Gavin put the straw in the bottle and held it to Ethan’s mouth. Once again, he leaned away. “Rat, you gotta drink something,” Gavin said, leaning closer to him.

Once he was close enough, Ethan swung his head forward and headbutted him. The water bottle in his hand splashed onto the floor and spilled everywhere, but Gavin was more focused on the pain that was developing in his forehead. Once again, he spun around and caught himself on the coffee table.

Before he could regain himself, he heard Ethan grunt with effort and felt a hand reaching for the keys on his belt. Gavin whipped around just in time to see Ethan popping open the cuffs. Damn kid was fast; of course, he was faster.

In an instant, Gavin was behind him and hugging Ethan’s arms so that they were pinned to his sides.

“Damn it, Gavin! Let me go!” he grunted, squirming.

“This is-” he paused, struggling- “for your own-” more struggling- “good!”

He wrestled both the keys and cuffs away from Ethan before recuffing him. In the process of doing so, Ethan swung his head back in an attempt to headbutt him again. He hit, but not before Gavin had already relocked his wrists behind his back.

Gavin wrapped Ethan into a bearhug and pulled him to his chest. They fell against the back of the couch, Ethan still fighting him viciously. If this was how they were gonna do it, then that’s how they were gonna do it. Gavin played the waiting game, using all of his strength to keep Ethan from rolling away.

It wasn’t long before his energy outlasted Ethan’s and his intense struggle died down. The heavy grunts were replaced with tired panting, and eventually, Ethan let his head fall back onto Gavin’s chest.

After a while, Ethan’s breathing slowed down, and Gavin could tell he had completely exhausted himself. His eyes were closed and he looked like he was about to pass out when he mumbled, “Hey, Gavin?”

“‘Sup?” he replied coolly.

“I hate you.”

“Love you too, squirt.”

----

It was extremely dark in here. It didn’t affect his optical units, though. Nines checked his GPS location. At this point, he should be just on the outskirts of the factory’s walls. Another turn and he was met with a breach in the low-bearing ceiling. It appeared to have just deteriorated naturally, but Nines could see that the hole in the roof had been made bigger for people to squeeze through.

This was probably their way into obtaining a search warrant. Nines took a photo and saved it to his hard drive, ready to return to the station. He froze at the sound of footsteps above him. He shrank back into the shadows, careful to stay out of the view of whoever was coming.

From what he could make out, there were at least two people dragging someone else, though whether or not they were androids or humans was unknown to him until one of them spoke.

“P-please! Stop this, I- agh!” He recognized that voice as a PL600 android. It seemed to be experiencing some sort of pain, but from this angle, Nines couldn’t tell what the source was. He did know one thing, though: pain meant deviancy.

The other two didn’t say anything, instead watching the android writhe in silence.

“Gah! Why…” the android gasped, “why are you doing this?”

“It is not in our programming to question orders,” one of them replied simply. Nines registered the voice as a TR400 model. He assumed this was the braun of the pair. If he was correct, then these were the same people that Gavin had described to him after interviewing the other victim. That also meant that the LM100 android they had filed a report for was probably not the first one they’ve abducted.

He saw a flash of yellow through the opening. “There’s been a breach,” the other, a WR600, said. “Search the perimeter.”

With that, the footsteps faded, leaving the soft crying of the PL600. After a moment of silence, Nines slowly climbed through the opening.

The room around him was much larger than he initially thought. There were conveyor belts in lines almost everywhere, all seemingly nonfunctional, though Nines couldn’t be sure unless he got a closer look. Dust and dirt covered the smooth concrete floor, and the walls were adorned with cracked and broken windows. Nines could tell that if he were human he would probably be choking on the musty air.

The android looked up at him, confused and clearly in agony. His limbs seemed to be malfunctioning because they were spasming as if he was having a seizure. Nines put his finger to his lips to signify for him to be quiet. The other android looked like he was about to lose his battle for silence to pain, so he didn’t know how long he had to get him out of here and to safety.

“It’s okay. I’m with the Detroit Police Department. I’m going to get you out of here,” he said calmly, kneeling down beside him. It seemed like he didn’t get the message, though, and as soon as Nines touched his arm he grabbed it back and began to interface with him.

Now was not the time to sync with someone else. Usually, he could decline an attempt to interface, but the moment that they had touched Nines felt something shock his arm and he became incapable of canceling the transfer of something to his hard drive. He tried pulling away, but the other android gripped his forearm with his other hand. He did not let go until the transfer was completed, and Nines was pushed backward and onto the ground by an even bigger shock of electricity.

When he tried standing up, his vision became a red haze of error messages, and it was all he could do to not throw off his internal balancing gyroscope. After a moment, he registered the sound of someone screaming and realized it was him. His voice modulator was malfunctioning for some reason, and he couldn’t stop. Panic ran through his senses when it occurred to him that whatever had just been transferred to him was making him lose all control of his functions.

He heard the pounding of running footsteps coming back down the hall before his hearing went out and every sound combined into glitchy white noise. Nines turned around to see the two other androids returning. The TR400 immediately ran at him. Nines dodged out of the way of his punch just in time for his vision to start to pixelate. The world around him was becoming increasingly unclear. He blinked, trying to restore the function of his optical units before a fist slammed into his back.

His slowed reaction time caught up with him after a second, and he could feel himself sprawled on the floor. He sat up and tried to move his legs before noticing that they had shut down as well.

The next thing he tried was extremely stupid, but at this point, Nines was extremely desperate. As a last resort, he drew his gun and prepared to shoot both deaf and blind. He stayed as still as possible, waiting for a sign that the enemy was getting near him.

A slight breeze blew past his right.

There.

Nines took his shot. The moment his gun went off, his entire system filled with electricity. Sparks of white-hot fire replaced his code as he shut down.

Chapter Text

He woke up to the sound of someone mumbling something. Gavin opened his eyes and saw Ethan, who was resting his head in his lap, shifting in his sleep.

Ethan kept making small noises. It took him a moment to decipher what he was saying. “Cold………Why?” He paused. “……no…………………help...me…” He started to breathe faster. He gasped slightly. Concern etched Gavin’s face when his movements increased.

Gavin put his hand on Ethan’s shoulder and shook it gently. It only seemed to make his dream worse, and he could see his eyebrows scrunching together. “Ethan! Ethan,” Gavin said.

All of a sudden, Ethan gasped loudly and tried to sit up before realizing that he couldn’t use his hands. Gavin helped lift him up.

“Hey. You okay?” he asked, turning on the lamp next to the couch. Ethan nodded slowly, but he was still panting and wouldn’t look at Gavin. He scooted closer to him and put his arm around Ethan’s shoulders. “C’mon. You can talk to me, kid. I’m right here.”

He shook his head. “It’s nothing. Just a dream. I’m fine.”

“Didn’t look like just a dream.” Ethan didn’t respond. “What was it about?”

He sighed. “I...I don’t remember,” Ethan said. Gavin knew it was a lie, but he didn’t push it.

“Well, it’s good that you’re up now,” Gavin said, grabbing the new water bottle that he had gotten after Ethan had spilled the first one, “‘cause now you can drink something.”

This time, Ethan didn’t verbally protest; he didn’t open his mouth at all. “Ethan, if you don’t drink this now, then I’m taking you to the hospital and they’ll give you an IV and you won’t get a choice. You want that?”

After a moment of considering it, he shook his head no. Gavin knew he hated hospital visits. He had had so many in his life that some of the doctors there knew him by name. There were even times that Ethan had almost collapsed because he didn’t want to go to the doctor’s and refused to tell Gavin that he was sick. Gavin knew he had been itching to get out of there the last time he was forced to stay, which had been for weeks.

“Then drink.”

Slowly, Ethan leaned over and put the straw in his mouth. Gavin saw him tense up as he took a sip. It seemed to pain him to swallow even that much. There was a moment of silence, and Ethan looked like his head was in another world. He was shaking, a tremble in his lower lip that sent something instinctive shiver down Gavin’s spine. He placed his hand on his shoulder. “Hey.” He got no response. “Ethan. You with me?”

“...there,” he said, almost gasping. Gavin hadn’t even realized Ethan had been holding his breath. He clenched his eyes shut. “Happy now?” His voice was raspy. Ethan took in the apartment as if it had changed since the last time he had opened his eyes. There was a hint of fear on his face that faded almost as quickly as it had appeared.

Gavin squinted suspiciously at him. “It’s a start,” he said finally.

Ethan groaned in annoyance. “Why is this so difficult for you, Ethan? How come you won’t just drink it?” Gavin had a feeling the answer to his question had something to do with his nightmare. “Just tell me what’s wrong, kid.”

“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong with me, okay?” he spat. “And I’d probably be fine if you hadn’t fucking handcuffed me to the couch. I’d be fine if my leg wasn’t broken and I wasn’t stuck in this goddamn house all day. I’d be fine if anyone in my fucking life would just let me move.” Ethan finally looked at him, and Gavin could see this was something he had been keeping pent up within him who knows how long. “I’m an adult now, Gavin. I’m not twelve anymore, so could you stop fucking treating me like it?”

He looked at Ethan, who looked hurt and weak. It reminded him so much of when he was little. He saw that scared twelve-year-old, a spitting image of his mother. The same one who had looked at him with tears in his eyes the moment he woke up in a hospital bed, the moment they both realized they’d only have each other. That was the moment Gavin knew he wouldn’t let anything else bad happen to his nephew- no, his kid. Ethan had been his responsibility, and he always would be. Gavin had sworn to himself right then and there that he’d keep Ethan safe, so when he called him on the phone the night he went missing, he knew he had failed. He wasn’t going to fail again.

At the same time, though, he saw that determination, the intense anger in his eyes that he hadn’t realized had been there the entire time. He recognized that feeling of indignation and vulnerability. Ethan had been there with him, through the recovery and the hurt of losing your everything; they had become each other’s everything, even if they didn’t say it. But he had a point, and Gavin knew he had to let go of the little kid he couldn’t help but see every time he looked at him.

He gave him a sympathetic look. “You’re right. You’re not twelve. What you are is sick and dehydrated.” Ethan scoffed. “And I’m sorry; I didn’t know you felt this way, and I’m sorry.” Honestly, he was sorry about a lot of things in Ethan’s life that he couldn’t change, but now wasn’t the time to think about them. “But you’re right, and you do deserve to be treated like an adult.” Gavin sighed. “C’mon, show me your wrists.” He pulled out his keys.

After unlocking the cuffs, Ethan rubbed his wrists. Gavin considered ruffling his hair around, but he knew Ethan was still pretty angry with him. He thought for a moment. Ethan had said something about being cold in his nightmare. Maybe that was the issue? An idea came to him. He wasn’t sure it would work, but it was at least worth a shot.

“Sit tight, rat. I’ll be right back.” Ethan looked at him with a small hint of curiosity, but he was probably too petty right now to ask where Gavin was going.

He got up from the couch and headed over to the kitchen. After a second of browsing through the pantry hopefully, he found what he was looking for. “Might be a second, but I think this should help,” he called out.

Ethan only grunted from the couch, and Gavin could see that he had stretched his body out across the cushions as he bent down to grab a pot. He turned on the stove and began to open the can while he waited for it to heat up.

After a couple of minutes, Gavin came back with a bowl of soup and a spoon and handed it to Ethan. He looked unsure if he should touch it. “It’s not gonna bite you, I promise,” Gavin joked.

He tentatively accepted the bowl. After taking a sip, he seemed to realize how hungry he had been and started wolfing it down. Gavin chuckled; it had worked. He gave Gavin a suspicious look. “Why-”

“You talk a lot in your sleep, you know,” Gavin said, cutting him off. “Still don’t know what that whole dream thing was about, but I gathered you have a problem with being cold. Figured if it wasn’t cold, you’d give it a try. Looks like I was right.” He smiled. “Besides, you haven’t eaten anything in a while.” He had also given him soup so Ethan could rehydrate, but he knew if he told him that he would get mad at him for still lingering on the water thing.

Ethan shrugged. “Okay, I guess.” He continued eating like his life depended on it, and in Gavin’s mind, it did.

Something didn’t add up here. He glanced at the discarded plate of breakfast left on the coffee table; Ethan had never finished it. Maybe he never intended to...

“Ethan?”

“Mmhmm?”

“I’m gonna ask you a serious question, and I need you to tell me the truth.” Gavin sighed, his unwillingness to say it out loud almost stopping him. “Did you make yourself sick?” It would make sense. Maybe Ethan had thought, in some twisted way, that by not eating before taking his meds he’d be poisoning himself. He seemed more aloof than usual and his moodiness was only getting worse. Maybe they needed to talk more than Gavin had thought.

Ethan looked at him like he was crazy. “What? No!” he said incredulously. “What- do you think I wanted to spill my guts all over the carpet this morning?”

Gavin raised his hands in defense. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just- the stuff you said earlier, about not wanting to be stuck here forever, it made me think-”

“What, that I’m suicidal or something?”

“Hey, I never said that,” Gavin said, putting his hand on Ethan’s arm in an effort to calm him down. “I was just making sure, okay?” Ethan scoffed at him. “I know it sucks for you right now, and you went through some really bad shit. You’re probably mad about a lot of stuff, including me- and you deserve to be. Just know, if you ever need to talk or something, I’m right here.”

Surprisingly, this seemed to work; he didn’t really expect it to, but Gavin was happy when he smirked at him. “There she is,” Ethan said.

Gavin gave him a confused look. “Who?”

He chuckled. “Mama Reed.”

That earned him another scuff on the head, followed by Gavin messing with his hair. “Mama Reed says finish your soup.” He feigned his annoyance, but Gavin was glad that they were on good terms again.

Something lingered in the back of his mind, though. A small inkling of a doubt that maybe Ethan wasn’t as okay as he said he was.

----

Vallejo hurried toward her. “Hey, those two bolt brains are back. Said they got him,” he said, pointing at the entrance.

“Good. Let them in.”

Vallejo returned a second later with the three androids in tow. Of course, one of them was letting their blue blood drip over everything. Typical. “What do you want him here for, anyway?” he panted. “Thought we were just gonna leave him in a ditch or something after this whole virus thing takes over.”

She shrugged. “Plans change. Besides, I thought of something better we could do with him. Nash!”

He ran in almost immediately like the obedient prick he was. “Yes? What is it?”

“How difficult would it be to take over his system and use him as ours?” she said, nodding at the android they had left on the floor.

“Couple of questions: why is he here, what do you want to do with him, and has he been infected yet?”

“Yes, he’s already got the virus. I’m just curious if we could use him for a little recon, ‘cause I figured if he was the one to get that helicopter parent of a detective out the way we’d be killing two birds with one stone.”

He thought for a moment. “Well, hypothetically, I suppose you could. Though, if you wanted to, you’d have to wait until the virus takes complete hold on him so that his defenses are lowered, but I can see about taking over some of his systems right now. It’ll give us an easier access point to hack into later.”

“I’d recommend getting a move on, then. From what I can tell, we’ve got about an hour before he comes back online. If he does that, then he’ll know where we’re hiding, and we’ll be screwed. Better delete some of his memories, too, just in case he remembers a little too much of what happened.”

“You’re asking me to remove everything from the last twenty-four hours?”

“Not everything,” she corrected. “Just enough to make it seem like a malfunction. It’ll leave us with enough time to get all the info we need on the boss’s special snowflake and his fuckface uncle. We snoop around a little, knock out some moron, and grab the prick. Easy, and made easier if we have that plastic acting as our spy, so get to work.”

She left the room with an air of finality, not caring if they could do it or not. If this didn’t work, she could always just blame them.

----

For most of the day, they messed around. It was mostly watching random movies that Ethan fell asleep in the middle of and absolutely owning Gavin in Mario Kart, but it was a nice change of pace from all the boring nothing he had been doing for the past couple of weeks. He had been sort of disappointed when Gavin had gone to get groceries. Obviously, they were in desperate need of more food in the house, and since it had been his day off, Gavin figured he could leave for a quick second to go and pick them up, leaving the house completely empty except for Ethan and the cat.

That was why he was so surprised when he heard the doorbell ring. Ethan remained silent for a solid thirty seconds, debating whether or not he should waste the energy to get up and go see who it was and semi-hoping they would just go away. He considered not answering it at all, but he didn’t really get a choice once he heard it open.

“Uhh, Gavin? Is that you?” he called out tentatively, trying to peek around the couch. The crash of something collapsing nearly scared him out of his skin. Almost instinctively, he reached for his abandoned taser holster from his belt that was now resting on the ottoman. It had somehow been left there during their spring cleaning after the whole break-in incident, though Ethan was thankful it was within his reach at the moment.

His heart started to beat faster when he heard footsteps approaching him from down the hallway. “S-stay back! I know how to use this!” he called out. He was, of course, pretty much scared for his life; who wouldn’t be, after going through what he had only a month ago? He couldn’t help but think that now would be a fantastic time for Gavin to get home.

More footsteps and...was that a moan? He backed up even more. Ethan was in the middle of thinking that he was about to get caught up in the beginning of some sort of zombie apocalypse when he suddenly ran out of couch to back up on and fell right off the edge and onto his ass.

He groaned in pain before realizing with a start that he had wedged himself between the couch and wall and was incapable of getting up. The only thing he could think was ‘goddamnit, not again,’ as a figure loomed above him.

They squinted at each other. “Nines?”

“Ethan, where’s Gavin?” he asked almost immediately. It took him a second to realize that Ethan could not get up from his position, so he bent down and helped him back onto the couch.

“He’s at the grocery store,” he said slowly, confused. “What are you doing here? Uh, no offense. It’s just, you kinda just scared the crap out of me.”

Nines took note of the taser in his hand. “Yes, I can see that. I apologize; I just need to talk to Gavin. It’s urgent.”

“Well, he should be back in a couple of minutes. I can call him if you need me to, though.”

“No!” he said suddenly, causing Ethan to flinch. A second later, he composed himself. Ethan thought he detected a hint of embarrassment. “No, that will not be necessary. I’ll just tell him tomorrow, once he’s back at work.”

Ethan gave him a suspicious look. “I thought you just said it was urgent?”

“Yes, well- I was exaggerating. Once again, I’m sorry if I scared you.” He paused. “You can put that down, now.”

Slowly, he lowered the taser, only realizing just then he had yet to put it away. “Are you sure? ‘Cause I can just text him or something. It’s no problem.”

“No, it’s okay. I shouldn’t have come here, anyway. I don’t want to interrupt whatever it was you two were doing when Gavin gets back. There’s always tomorrow,” Nines said, standing up.

As he started to walk away, Ethan called out to him. “W-wait! Where are you going?”

Nines stopped for a moment. “Back to the precinct,” he said simply before turning back around.

“Uh, I can call you a ride if you want!” he said, but Nines was already out the door.

----

The place was too quiet. Everything was so...empty without Spencer.

Mac sighed. He hadn’t even bothered to turn on the lights all day. Honestly, the past couple of hours all felt like a blur, but he wasn’t sure what he did apart from mope. There was even a point where he had considered calling his parents, but that thought was immediately followed by the conclusion that they would tell him it didn’t matter, that they could always get another android. At least, that’s what they would’ve said before the revolution.

He knew they didn’t like the idea of him getting attached to Spencer. He knew they definitely didn’t like that Mac had taken him off to college with him. What they thought didn’t stop him, though; he was old enough to decide for himself what he wanted to do.

Spencer was basically his only friend in this town. Meeting new people is difficult, especially when you have a record and only barely made the cut to be accepted into college. He appreciated that he was always there for him.

That thought only served to remind Mac of his immense guilt. If he had just let Spencer give him directions, then none of this would’ve fucking happened. Why did he have to be so goddamn stupid?

He stopped himself there. He knew exactly what Spencer would say if he heard him thinking shit like that. “You were trying to be nice, Mac. You didn’t know this would happen. You were just being a good friend.”

He stood up suddenly. “Friends don’t abandon other friends,” he said to himself, grabbing his keys. He knew he couldn’t just sit around all day.

He had to do something.

----

Gavin stared at the box of meds in his hand. He knew he couldn’t take long to pick up refills for Ethan; he already had groceries in the car. Normally, he’d just go through the drive-through at the pharmacy, but he figured that he could look for something to help him sleep while he was there.

Who knew that finding the right meds was so damn hard? He had to hand it to doctors; most of this shit looked like it did the same thing, just with different packaging. He could assume there was some sort of difference between all the green, orange, and blue containers that lined the shelves, but he wasn’t about to take the time to read all those tiny labels.

Besides, this one seemed like it would help. Hopefully. All it had to say was “blah blah blah...sleep aid...something something, muscle relaxant,” and that was good enough for him. He shoved it next to the baby monitors that he would definitely not be telling Ethan he had bought.

He grabbed the rest of his shit, checked out, and headed to the car. He had taken long enough buying groceries and whatever else already. Secretly, Gavin didn’t really trust Ethan being home alone for too long. Sure, kid was an adult; a goddamn stupid one at that. He just had a hard time looking at him with all his cuts and bruises everywhere and not seeing the teenager he raised. He’d be damned if he thought Ethan couldn’t handle himself; just not while he was injured, was all. Poor guy couldn’t even get up the stairs without help.

Gavin scoffed at himself. He knew drowning Ethan in pity wouldn’t make him get better any faster. If that were the case, then he would be doting over him way more than he already was. For now, he could make sure he was taking his meds and not completely dehydrated, which was all the more reason to take the quicker way home. It wasn’t his usual route, but it got him there faster.

“Hey, rat. I’m back,” he said once he opened the door.

“Hey.” There was a second of silence as Gavin made his way over to the kitchen and set some of the bags down. Just as he was about to go back out to the car to get the second load, Ethan spoke up again. “Did you, uh- did you see Nines at all?”

Gavin gave him a look. “No. Why’d you ask?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Said he was looking for you.”

Gavin chuckled slightly. “Yeah? When did he tell you that?”

“Not sure.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It could’ve been a dream or something. It probably was, ‘cause he was acting pretty weird.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Wait, was he here? Like, in the house?”

Ethan nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t let him in. Hey, how come you never told me you gave him a key to the house?”

Gavin shook his head. “It’s ‘cause he’s only supposed to use it for emergencies. Did he say why he was here?”

“No. Said it was urgent, though. Weird thing was, he didn’t want to tell me what it was about.”

“Well, if he didn’t spill, it probably wasn’t that important,” he said, heading back out to the car. Once outside, though, he pulled out his phone.

“C’mon, Nines. Pick up the damn phone,” he muttered under his breath impatiently. This was not some throw-away visit. He had obviously stopped by for a reason.

When he was sent to voicemail for the third time, he decided to try a different approach. It was not his most preferred method, just one he hoped would work since Nines still wouldn’t answer him.

“Detective Reed? Is there a reason you’re calling me?” Connor asked.

“What do you think, Sherlock?” he asked, not in the mood. “I mean- ugh, look.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. Being nice to this guy was about as easy as staring into the sun. “Is Nines at the station right now?”

It took a moment for him to answer. “No, I haven’t seen him since this afternoon. But, I thought he said you took the day off?” he said, obviously intrigued. “Is there something you need from him?”

“Do you know where he is?”

“It is not my job to keep track of my brother, detective.” Gavin knew he was smirking. Connor was probably enjoying this. “I am sure that he will be back by the time you come to work tomorrow.”

Gavin rolled his eyes in annoyance. Obviously, Connor wasn’t taking him as seriously as he had hoped. Granted, he didn’t really have a reason to after putting up with Gavin’s bullshit for a little under half a year. “Really? Because he was supposed to be investigating something today, and as far as I know he hasn’t come back yet.”

That seemed to get to him, though Connor wasn’t going to let him know that. “If you really want to know, I suggest trying to call him yourself.”

“Yeah, and I already tried that, dipshit. He didn’t pick up. Apparently, he came to the house while I was out, but that’s according to Ethan and God knows how much I can trust his head right now.” He didn’t mean for that last part about Ethan to slip out, but Connor didn’t say anything about it.

Gavin sighed. “What I’m trying to say is, Nines only comes to my place if it’s an emergency. He only uses the key if something’s wrong, and I mean seriously wrong.”

It was something they had decided ever since the incident in the hospital. If either one of them was in danger, they met at his place. It was mainly to assure Ethan’s safety. Gavin still blamed himself for letting those fuckers almost hurt his kid again. He was just happy that at least some of those assholes were in prison.

“He’s not supposed to visit without telling me first, ‘cause otherwise that means it’s an emergency. That was the deal.” He paused. He wasn’t sure how much of this explanation Connor actually cared about. “Just do this one thing for me, okay?” He sucked in a breath. “Please.”

The silence on the line seemed to stretch out for miles before he heard Connor sigh. “I’ll ask around. You should know that if no one has seen him doesn’t necessarily mean anything, though. He has a life of his own, as I am sure you are aware.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Gavin let go of the breath he had been holding. “Thanks,” he added on quietly.

“How is Ethan, by the way?”

“Nope. Bye,” he said immediately, hanging up. He was done opening up to Connor for the moment. Besides, there were very few people to whom he felt comfortable disclosing Ethan’s health. Whether it was his textbook trust issues or his obvious overprotectiveness with his kid, Gavin refused to give information that could be used against either him or Ethan.

He pulled himself out of it and went back to bring the groceries into the house.

“You were out there for a long time,” Ethan noted, not looking up from his phone.

“Carrying this shit’s hard work, what can I say?” He tried to shrug as best he could while being weighed down by plastic bags. “It was easier when I could make you do it.”

Ethan stretched out on the couch, smirking his ass off. “Unfortunately, I am out of commission, so I don’t have to do any of it. One of the few benefits of this stupid cast: I can make you do all the heavy lifting.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts, rat.”

“Oh, and enjoy it, I will,” he chuckled. “I just love being lazy. It’s so nice not to have to do anything. I can just relax all day.” He feigned a yawn.

“You keep flexing on me like that and you’re gonna get pancakes for the rest of your life.”

“Once again, please no. No more of this torture. End my suffering, please. God frickin' pancakes,” he muttered.

“You have made yourself clear. No more pancakes. As long as you’re eating something else, that is. You don’t take your meds or do something else stupid, and we’re back to ‘cakes on the daily.” He smirked. “Maybe even for dinner, if you really screw the pooch,” he joked.

Ethan gasped dramatically. “You. Wouldn’t. Dare.”

“Try me, bitch.”

Ethan sat up to look at him. They stared each other dead in the eye. Gavin would’ve kept a straight face if it hadn’t been for the cat draped around his shoulders.

A moment passed.

“Uno. Reverse.”

Gavin burst out laughing. A second later and Ethan was cackling, too, which caused Stitch to leap off his shoulder at the sudden movement. “Goddamnit, kid. You’re so stupid,” he said in between breaths.

“Not just stupid. I’m a certified dumbass, don’t forget.”

“You got that right.” Gavin ruffled his hair. Both of their faces were flush from laughter. “Tell you what: I’ll play one more round of that game you so obviously rigged-”

“You mean Mario Kart?”

“-Yes, that. I’ll pretend like you’re not cheating, and then I’ll get dinner started. Just for you.” He winked at Ethan.

“Are you sure it’s not just ‘cause you want to win a game for once?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“Okay, okay. Your trash talk’s good, but we’ll see who the real winner is when you’re eating my dust.”

“Oh, you’re on.”

Spoiler alert: Ethan’s trash talk was only half as good as his racing skills.

“Ha! Your dust tastes like sweet, sweet victory,” he said with a smirk. Gavin rolled his eyes.

“Just you wait. One of these days, I’m gonna fuckin’ own you.”

“Yeah, sure. Can you own dinner first, though? I think I’m a little sick of eating nothing but gold medals.”

“Sure, kid. I’ll get that started in just a sec.” He smiled mischievously.

When he returned a few minutes later with a plate in hand, Ethan looked like he was going to gag.

“No,” he said, his eyes widening. “Tell me that’s not-”

“Dinner’s ready,” he said, handing him the plate. “It’s almost as sweet as that victory you were talking about.” He gave Ethan a shit-eating grin.

“Why?” he wailed halfheartedly. Gavin once again ruffled his hair. “Goddamn pancakes,” he said, pouting and picking up a fork.

Gavin chuckled to himself. Winning did feel good.

Chapter Text

Nines wasn’t sure how far he could get at this point. He had stumbled his way from the apartment to the downtown area, but his GPS wasn’t functional and his internal gyroscope was thrown way off balance when he accidentally bumped into a pedestrian. He had no clue what street he was on now or what time it was, only that it was getting dark.

If he could call Connor, he would. For some reason his communications module was offline, and no matter how much he had gone through his code to fix it, he couldn’t find the problem. This led him to believe that it was an issue with his hardware, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with his biocomponents except for his steadily deteriorating motor abilities. He couldn’t even call a taxi, much less anyone to come help him.

Of course, he had stopped by Gavin’s house. He had been hoping that Gavin could help him, but upon learning that Ethan was alone he knew he couldn’t stay for long. How could he? Ethan didn’t know the code word, meaning Gavin still hadn’t told him about the criminal’s escape, and Nines couldn’t bring himself to put him or Gavin in any more danger. He had a feeling that what or whoever had done this to him had something to do with the fugitives. At this point, Ethan knew even less than Gavin did about the situation, which was why he had left to go find Gavin himself. Obviously, that was not a smart decision, a fact which he was only realizing now.

He didn’t know if the criminals actually did have something to do with this or not, though, because his systems were going haywire at the moment. Some of his recent memory files had been corrupted, and all he could remember from the factory were flashes of the scene. He knew for certain he had found an entrance to the building and that there had been an android, but beyond that was a blur, or rather, a glitched-out mess of pixels across his HUD.

He could feel himself starting to lose balance again, and he managed to collapse into a nearby alley, away from prying eyes. He was aware that someone could be tagging him, but his vision swam with error messages when he tried to stand up. He sat back down. Maybe it was for the best if he stayed here for the night, in the case that someone was following him.

An alarming thought came to him that someone might be using him to get to Gavin, but he pushed it away. If someone really wanted to find him, then they could’ve done so without Nines. It wasn’t difficult to find Reed in a crowd when he was constantly throwing a temper tantrum without Ethan around to calm him down. Besides, he was already so caught up with caring for Ethan; he didn’t need Nines shutting down on him.

He told himself that he would seek help when the world was more awake, and gladly went into stasis mode to escape the dizziness in his head.

----

When he pulled up to the tiny flat, Gavin didn’t know what to expect. The place where this guy was staying wasn’t exactly top-notch, but he knew from experience that you couldn’t really be picky when it came to getting good real estate these days, especially college students. There were also a lot of packages left outside the door, but he ignored those for now.

He sighed and knocked on the door with a huff. It took a second for Mac to answer the door. When he did, Gavin raised an eyebrow.

The guy kinda looked like shit. This would typically be when Gavin would make some snide comment, but he looked too much like Ethan did for it to be funny. Looking past him, he could see that there wasn’t anyone else in the place, which sort of disappointed him; he had been hoping that Nines would be here waiting for him.

“Hey,” Gavin said simply. “I’m here to follow up on some stuff regarding your friend?”

Mac opened his mouth to say something, a yawn interrupting what probably would’ve been a greeting.

“Late night?”

Mac shook his head. “No, it’s not that,” he said through the yawn. “Just finals, y’know?” Gavin doubted he would be worrying about finals right now, but he didn’t say anything. Mac paused, stepping back. “Here, you can come inside.”

“Thanks.”

Taking a closer look at the apartment, Gavin could see that what it lacked in size, it most definitely made up for in expensive decor and knick-knacks. There were a large number of paintings and fake plants, even a small fountain running outside by a back window; all things that aren’t usually found in the house of a person who was probably drowning in student debt. Mac lead him to the couch, which also looked very out of his price range for someone his age.

“So what do you want to know?” he asked.

Gavin pulled his attention away from his surroundings. “Well, for starters: do you know anyone who might’ve wanted to hurt Spencer? Someone who wanted him gone?”

Mac looked down, thinking. “My parents, maybe? I mean, they never really saw him as anything other than their slave,” he said, shrugging. “Other than them, though, there’s only one other guy I can think of...but he lives miles away from here, on the other side of Michigan.”

“It’s important that we know every potential suspect, Mac.”

He scratched the back of his neck. “I know, it’s just- this guy, it’s sort of personal.”

“I get that, I do. But I need to know to move forward with the case.”

Mac sighed. “Okay,” he said finally. He paused. “Back in high school, I...I got into some pretty bad shit. Like, addicted-to-drugs kind of shit.” He glanced at Gavin, probably trying to gauge his reaction. “Obviously, my parents didn’t like me ruining their image like that, so they bought Spencer in order to, um, monitor me.

“At first, I didn’t like it. I hated being corralled by an android, and I always did my best to sneak past him. Whenever he caught me, or my parents grounded me, I’d just get angrier and do more.” He shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Eventually, I was caught. I got arrested, sent to juvie. My parents bailed me out, but they wouldn’t talk to me. I’m pretty sure they thought I was just a stain on the family name.” God, could Gavin relate to that. “I lost all my friends because nobody wanted to hang with a junkie. My grades were already down the drain, and so was my reputation, if it was ever good to begin with. The only person who was actually nice to me was Spencer.

“He was the one who helped me get better, the only one who gave me a shot. He was willing to look past all the stupid shit I’d done, and I can’t thank him enough for it.” He sucked in a breath. “But...it’s expensive, y’know? And even with my parents’ money, I couldn’t pay off all that debt on my own.” Mac bit his lip. “One day, I was out walking when my dealer’s gang jumped me. Said that I had to pay it off, one way or another. Spencer was with me then, too. I think...I think when he saw them beating the shit out of me, I think that was the moment that he went deviant.” Mac finally met his eyes. “He went deviant to protect me. I mean, I guess you can relate.”

Gavin cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you know.” He shrugged. “The receptionist was pretty talkative. And I’m pretty sure everyone could hear your argument.” He chuckled to himself. “You sort of sound like an old married couple.”

Although it was odd and a little unnerving, everything Mac just said was technically true; still, he wasn’t sure ‘old married couple’ were words he’d use to describe his and Nines’ relationship. “Damn, kid. You sure you don’t want to join the DPD?”

“I don’t know. You sure you guys trust an ex-druggie?” he scoffed.

“Just sayin’ you got the brains for it, is all. But these people that jumped you, did you ever go to the police about them?” Gavin asked him seriously.

Mac shook his head. “N-no, we didn’t. I knew my parents wouldn’t care or they’d just get mad at me, and I was scared if I told anyone then they’d come after me again. But I never saw them after that and I figured that meant that they’d leave us alone.”

“Can you give me the name of the guy?”

“Leon Faust, but his street name is Fausty. Might sound stupid to you, but that name’s big on my streets; bad news, too, if you mess up like I did. I don’t know how or why he’d get to Spencer, though. Like I said, I haven’t seen him and he lives miles from here, last I heard.”

“Alright, it’s good enough,” he said. Mac told him what he could remember, stuff like locations and where Faust was known to frequent, Gavin writing it all down. It was all standard procedure; or at least, it would be, if Nines were actually there with him. He checked the time. “I should probably head out.” He stood up.

“Oh! Yeah, okay,” Mac said, following him to the door.

“Call us if you think of anything else.”

“Will do.” He nodded.

Right before Gavin shut the door behind him, he paused. “Oh, and uh, Mac?”

“Yeah?”

“It might be a good idea to leave this up to us. It’s better for you if you don’t stay up all night searching for your friend, unless, of course, you wanna be a kickass cop like me.” Gavin smirked at him; Mac’s dumbfounded expression obviously meant he hadn’t expected Gavin to guess what he was doing last night. “I know you’re worried, but trust me when I say that getting worked up about this won’t find him any faster.”

“It’s just-”

“Listen to me, kid. I speak from experience. We’re gonna find him. Just leave it up to us.” He put his hand on his shoulder and hoped he wasn’t lying to the guy’s face.

When he was finally back in his car, Gavin pulled out his phone. Once again, Nines left him on voicemail, so that was a dead end.

“Where the hell are you, tin can?” he muttered to himself. Something didn’t feel right.

----

Once again, he woke up when he heard the door being opened. He checked the time. It was way too early for Gavin to be home. “Gavin?”

“Guess again, kid.”

His eyes lit up. He knew that voice.

“Tina!” he said, trying to turn himself around on the couch.

She smiled at him. Her hair was definitely longer, and she looked a lot more tired than when he had last seen her. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever!” he exclaimed. “Gavin wouldn’t tell me where you were.”

“Undercover op,” she said, ruffling his hair and sitting down on the couch; a habit she got from Gavin, of course. For some reason, Ethan didn’t fight it as much when she did it, though.

Ethan rolled his eyes. “You couldn’t be bothered to send a letter or anything?”

“Hey, police work is serious business, kiddo.” She punched him in the arm. “Speaking of which, sorry I missed your first day, ‘specially since Gav wouldn’t stop gushing about how he was so excited for you to join us.”

“Yeah, well,” he said, shrugging and rubbing the back of his neck, “a lot’s happened since then.” He patted his cast.

“He told me you’d broken your leg. How’re you holding up so far?”

“Well, before this I was actually handling cases and doing my job. Got out of the academy, went straight to the DPD; ‘course Gavin was happy he got to work with me and all that.” He paused. “Then, bam. Bullet in the leg, and now,” he sighed, “I struggle with getting to the bathroom without pissing myself.” He frowned for a moment. The memories that came with his explanation were not happy ones. “But I don’t really feel like talking about my pity party. What’s up with you? Gavin never said you were coming.”

Tina chuckled. “Of course he didn’t. Well, I’m gonna be living with you guys for a little while.” Ethan gave her an incredulous look. She had a cheeky smile on her face. “Surprise.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.” She winked at him. “Yeah, turns out going undercover for a couple of months kinda sucks; apartment’s being remodeled, and since I was away I didn’t have any say over it. Gavin said I could stay here ‘til they’re done.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You sure you’re gonna be comfortable living with me and Gavin? I mean, we’re kind of a mess.”

“Pssh, I’ve seen you in diapers, rat. I think I can handle a little mess.”

He felt himself blush. Tina would probably never let him forget that kind of stuff. She had basically done 50% of raising him for Gavin. If Gavin was Ethan’s uncle, then Tina was his fun-loving, wine-drinking, Jewish aunt.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Now, I’ve heard you think you’re the best ‘round here at some ‘Kart.”

“Well, if that’s what Gavin says, then I’m gonna have to accept that compliment,” he chuckled.

“Did you forget who taught you everything you know?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say every-” He stopped when Tina gave him a look. “Yeah, okay, I owe it all to you.”

“That’s what I thought.” She grabbed a controller off the coffee table and threw it at him. “Let’s see what you got, rat.” She smirked at him. “Unless you’re too chicken to go up against the master?”

“Oh, you’re so on.”

----

The streets were basically flooded with people today because of course they were. Gavin doubted that he’d be able to find Nines in this crowd, but he had to try. The longer his partner was gone, the more suspicious he got that it wasn’t just him taking a break from the case.

Connor still hadn’t gotten back to him, and Gavin himself hadn’t actually had any contact with him since that phone call. He’d never admit it out loud, but he was starting to get a little worried about the toaster oven.

Suddenly, he got the feeling that he was being watched. He sat down on a nearby bench, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. After a moment, he spotted his tagger: a guy had sat on the bench opposite him, on the other side of the road.

He had seen the same ratty Jersey ball cap he was wearing at least three times today. He distinctly remembered seeing the man in the waiting area at the precinct this morning, as well as outside the college. Gavin had also bumped into him on the street. Thinking back, he had seen him at the grocery store, too, strangely looking at a can of beans in the cereal aisle. At the time, he hadn’t thought anything of it; the guy was probably just checking the items in his cart. But now, he was pretty sure this doofus had been following him all day.

Well, two could play at that game. If this guy wanted to be creepy as fuck, then Gavin was going to return the favor.

He looked at the crosswalk sign to his right. It was white, which meant he’d have no problem crossing. He got up and walked to the other side, making it very clear where he was heading. As he approached the bench, the guy seemed surprised, but he really started to get nervous when Gavin sat down next to him.

Gavin pulled out his phone again and stretched his other arm across the back of the bench. “So,” he said without looking up from his screen, “you taking the 5:00 or the 5:30?”

“Hmm?” the guy asked. Gavin could see he was starting to sweat.

“The bus. Which one you taking?” He nodded at the sign that was hanging above them.

The guy turned, seeming to only now realize this was a bus stop. He had definitely been following him. “Oh! Uh, yeah, I’m waitin’ for the 5:00.”

That was all he needed to confirm his suspicions. “Cool, cool,” he said, standing up. He walked around to the back of the bench. “Oh, and by the way?” He crouched down to whisper in the man’s ear. “It’s 5:45.” He stood back up and patted the man on the shoulder. “Welp, see you later, buddy.”

As soon as he was out of sight, Gavin ducked into a nearby alley and waited. Of course, not even fifteen seconds later, the same guy passed by him, looking around as if he was lost, but he knew he was searching for him.

Gavin didn’t give him the chance to spot him before he grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and slammed him up against the alley wall. “You really suck at following people, you know that?” he growled.

“I- I have no idea what you’re talking about!” the guy exclaimed, raising his hands in defense.

“Playing dumb’s not gonna get you anywhere, punk,” he spat in the man’s face.

“W-what? I- I don’t…I’ve never seen you before in my life!”

“Yeah? Well, maybe this’ll jog your memory.” He grabbed him by the back of the head and slammed the man’s face down into his knee.

He yelped out in pain and grabbed his nose, stumbling away from Gavin. “Look, I’m an investigative journalist, okay?” he said when Gavin slammed him back up against the wall.

“Oh, yeah. You look like a modern Oscar Wilde. Give me one good reason I should believe that and not jail your ass right now.”

“I’m writing a piece on the allegiance of the DPD! I needed to see what you people did all day, so I did follow you, but it was only so I could see for myself. I swear to you, that’s the truth!” he said. Gavin could see the fear in his eyes, but his answer only raised more questions. This guy broke way too easily.

“The fuck you mean, ‘allegiance?’”

“Haven’t you seen the news?” he asked, and he actually looked surprised. “All the jailbreaks in the nearby towns?”

“What, you think that’s intentional?”

“I don’t know, that’s just what I’m trying to find out!” He whimpered when Gavin pulled him closer. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

He hesitated at that. Reed snapped out of it completely when he heard a woman gasp behind him. He looked off to the side and saw that there was a small crowd gathering to watch what he was doing. He turned back to the man, only noticing that his nose was bleeding and probably broken. The guy looked terrified. He released him from his grip and ran his fingers through his hair. What the fuck was he doing?

He backed away, disgusted with himself. Gavin pushed past the people with their phones out who had probably been recording the entire thing. His quick pace slowly turned into a jog, and he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding when he finally got back to his car.

Gavin hadn’t had an outburst like that in months. Sure, that guy was pretty shady and probably violating all sorts of privacy laws, but he couldn’t get over the way he had felt. He reacted like that guy had just murdered Ethan and made him watch. The last time he had felt that way was when someone had actually tried to kill Ethan right in front of him, so why the hell was he flying off the handle like this?

“Keep it together, Reed,” he muttered. Something pricked in the back of his mind, a thought that said, ‘of course. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ Gavin shook that memory out of his head. He would not turn out like that son of a bitch. He kept reminding himself to breathe deep, remain calm, but his inability to do so only made his anger worse, causing guilt to bubble underneath his skin. Why couldn’t he fucking chill out?

He rubbed his face, but when that did literally nothing for him he couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t realize his fist even connected with the steering wheel until the horn in his car went off and he felt the blood trace over his knuckles. Damn, that stung.

He took another deep breath in. Gavin needed to cool it, and there was only one thing that would help.

----

During the drive home, his temper had subsided a little. That was a good thing because Gavin had almost forgotten that Tina was coming back today.

Of course, he didn’t have to mask his surprise because both she and Ethan were currently locked in an intense Mario Kart tournament.

He smirked. “I should’ve known,” he said, sitting on the leg of the couch. “Nerds.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “He’s still salty that I absolutely creamed him earlier,” he snickered to Tina.

“Well, I hate to spoil the fun, but I gotta borrow Tina for a sec.”

Ethan groaned and paused the race. “Do you have to?”

“Not unless you want to help us clean out the office space?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, never mind.”

“That’s what I thought, rat.” He ruffled his hair.

Once they were in the “office,” aka their trash closet, there was a moment of silence. After Gavin closed the door, he turned around and caught Tina staring at him.

“What?”

In one swift motion, Tina was wrapping her arms around him and pulling him into a hug. “Don’t be a shithead, I know you missed me.”

Gavin paused before he finally conceded and returned the embrace. “Yeah, okay. I gotta say it, was hard for me to do my job when you took all the brain cells with you.” Another pause as he smirked down at her. “Also, Mario Kart? Seriously, Chen? You’re such a nerd.”

She stopped hugging him to punch him in the arm. “Okay, there’s the Tina I know.”

“Shut up, dumbass,” she said, smiling. It didn’t take long for her to drop it, though. Gavin sighed; he knew what was coming. “Gavin, what happened while I was gone?”

He was about to play dumb, but she cut him off before he could say anything. “You don’t just break a leg that badly, and Ethan said something about getting shot? What the hell, Gav?” Once again, he opened his mouth to respond, but she continued speaking. “And don’t give me that ‘he’s just adjusting to being a cop’ bullshit. Both of you look like you haven’t slept in days, Ethan is jumpy all of a sudden, and he keeps zoning out on me. Y’know, I’ve barely seen him smile since I got here. That isn’t the kid I know. What’s up?”

“Look, Tina,” he said, trying very hard to look her in the eye, as difficult as it was to talk about this. “Ethan, he...he got in some trouble. And yeah, it wasn’t just some case gone wrong.” She scoffed; they both knew it was a shit lie over the phone.

“He was…” Gavin sighed again. “He was kidnapped, Tina.” She looked like she was going to explode right there on the spot. “Wait! Before you say anything, it wasn’t his fault in any way. We’re still trying to figure out why it happened, okay? It’s just difficult right now because these guys were being hunted by the feds, and those FBI pricks won’t tell us shit. His leg was broken because one of those bastards shot him when he tried to run. But don’t worry; we caught most of them, and we think we got enough so that they can’t regroup and pull this kind of shit again.”

Tina raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, ‘most of them’?”

Gavin scratched the back of his neck nervously. He had forgotten in the months that she had been gone how scary Chen could be. “There was some sort of accident, transporting a van of perps. Some of them were on it.”

“What?”

“But it was in a whole other city, somewhere near Ohio or Pennsylvania or something, and the feds are already on it.”

“Gav, that doesn’t make it okay!” she practically shouted. He winced a little.

“Yeah, you think I don’t know that?” he said, trying to not let his temper rise. “I just...I can’t focus on them right now, okay? Not with...God- I mean, you’ve seen what Ethan’s like. Kid’s not alright, and I can’t stress him out any more than he already is or he’s gonna have a heart attack.”

“He doesn’t know?”

“No, and please, you can’t tell him.” Tina looked furious. “Please. I swear, I’ll tell him when he gets better, but he’s been having these nightmares, and- and he doesn’t want to do anything, and now I can barely get him to drink- I mean, just a couple of days ago, I found him passed out on the floor next to a load of vomit because he just straight up didn’t drink anything! Now I think he made himself throw up, ‘cause he isn’t eating anything, and- and shit, ‘cause I think he’s got some sorta fear of water, and God, Tina, I just-”

He stopped when she put a hand on his shoulder. He looked back at her to see that Tina’s entire expression had changed. She pulled him into another hug. “How long have you been shoving this down, Gav? You don’t have to do this alone.”

“I know, I know,” he muttered. “I’m just...I don’t know how to be there for him. Nothing I’m trying works; he’s just mad all the time, and I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s never been like this before, not even after the wreck.”

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m here now, I can help.” She pulled away to look him in the eye. “What do you need for me to do?”

He took a deep breath in. “Just get him out of the house? Just for a day, take him to places he likes, try to cheer him up. I think he’s getting kind of sick of me bossing him around all day, but maybe he’ll feel better with you, y’know?” Tina nodded slowly. “He missed you a ton while you were gone, by the way. Wouldn’t stop asking where you were.”

“Tell you what: I’ll entertain him for a day, but only if you promise to take that day off and use it for yourself to relax a little. Seriously,” she said when Gavin rolled his eyes. “You look almost as bad as Ethan.”

He finally smiled at that. “Yeah, okay. Scout’s honor, or whatever.”

She patted him on the shoulder. “Good. Now, let’s clean up this shithole you call an office. I can’t sleep with all this junk here.”

----

Mac let out a huge yawn. Today had not been easy at all, especially since after talking to Gavin he had decided to actually get his ass out of the house and go to class. Of course, he had to stay after to catch up on all of the stuff he’d missed in the past couple of days, so now he got to walk home alone after the sun had gone down a long time ago. It’s not like anyone normally walked with him, though. He sighed. Just another reason to miss Spence even more.

Even before he got back, he knew no one would notice he had ever been gone. If they did, they probably just assumed it was because he was high or something. That’s all anyone ever thought he did: get high, get drunk, do crime, or something else that your parents wouldn’t approve of. Didn’t matter whether or not it was true; he couldn’t stop people from assuming the worst of him.

It wasn’t like he tried to be an outcast here. In fact, when he finally got to college he had been hoping to get some sort of fresh start. But, word gets around, and eventually the would-be friends he was just starting to get to know all abandoned him. Mac understood the fear, though. No one likes a junkie, reformed or not.

He shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts and his tiredness away. In doing so, he accidentally let a folder full of papers fly out of his backpack. Apparently, he had been too goddamn tired to even remember to zip it up.

Luckily, it had dropped right next to a streetlight, so he had no problem with bending over and picking it up. No, the real issue began when he saw someone else’s shadow hovering behind him in the light it was casting.

Before he could think twice, an arm clamped down around his neck and squeezed. Almost immediately, he could feel himself becoming weaker. The lack of blood flow to his brain probably did something to impede his common sense, because it took him a second to remember he could yell. Unfortunately, the moment he opened his mouth something was shoved between his teeth, and the only noise he could make was muffled gagging.

His strength was waning, but it didn’t stop Mac from trying to claw at the person choking him. There was only a moment of panic in his chest and a thought of ‘not again,’ before all the light in his vision faded into blissful darkness.

Chapter Text

“Alright, kid. Get dressed.”

Ethan barely had time to say “hmmm, what?” before a shirt was chucked at him. Looking at it, he could see it was a nice one, too. Gavin even ironed the hell out of it for him.

“Uhh, what is this for?” he asked.

“We’re going out to eat tonight.” Ethan blinked. “To celebrate Tina coming home, remember?”

His eyes widened in realization. “Oh! Oh, yeah. Duh,” he said, a tiny bit embarrassed.

Gavin scuffed him on the head. “Doofus.” He handed him a pair of pants and helped him to the bathroom.

Once Ethan was done changing, he looked at himself in the mirror. He still looked sort of gross- he really needed to suck it up and get back into his normal shower routine- but the clothes helped to cover it up. He attempted to fix his hair with his hand to make up for the amount of grease in it, but it didn’t really do much. He sighed and hobbled out.

Gavin stopped him at the door. “Hold up, rat. Still got one more thing for you to try on,” he said, shoving a piece of fabric into his hands.

Upon further inspection, he could see that it was a tie. Normally, he’d groan in annoyance- he absolutely hated ties; they always made him feel like he was choking, and they were so difficult to get on. However, this one made up for that by its cool, funky pattern of colorful cats. He smiled when he saw that.

Gavin chuckled. “Yeah, I know how to make my kid wear a tie.” He patted Ethan on the shoulder. “Now, lemme show you how to tie it for like, the millionth time.” He followed Ethan into the bathroom and attempted to demonstrate for him in the mirror. It was no use, though, and after a while Gavin just ended up doing it for him. “What’s gonna happen when you have to go to a ceremony, huh?” he taunted him. “Do you want everyone in the crowd to know that you had to have your uncle do your tie for you when you’re receiving a medal of honor?”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Obviously, I’ll just get one of those clip-on ones.”

“Time to go!” Tina called from the hallway.

“Coming! Just a second,” Gavin called back. “Ready to go, kid?” he said before rolling him out of the bathroom.

The moment Tina came into view, she stole all the attention in the room. She had on a sparkling blue dress that Ethan had never seen her wear before. She definitely looked a lot less tired, and in Ethan’s personal opinion, her makeup was flawless. Needless to say, she looked stunning.

“Woah,” Ethan said, floored. “You look really pretty. Uh- I mean, not in a creepy way or anything- but you do look amazing, beautiful, actually- I mean, what I meant to say was-”

“Damn, Chen. What’s the occasion?” Gavin smirked. It was a lighthearted comment, but Tina blushed. If they weren’t as close, Gavin would probably be blushing, too. Compared to her, him and Ethan both looked underdressed in their dress shirts and blue jeans.

“Shut up, Reed.” She said, punching him in the arm. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to put on makeup.”

“So, where exactly are we going?” Ethan asked.

“Just some fancy restaurant. My treat,” Gavin said.

“For the last time, Gav, you are not paying for both of us,” Tina cut in.

“Aw, c’mon, Chen. You just got back from months of undercover work! Let me do this for you.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Great. It’s decided, then: I’m paying.” Ethan rolled his eyes as Tina began to chastise Gavin about the benefits of letting her pay. He had to admit, he missed this.

----

Okay, maybe letting Chen pay for them wasn’t the worst idea. This place looked way more expensive than he had thought. Between Ethan not being able to go to work and Gavin still having to pay off their hospital bills, he didn’t plan on ordering much here. Typically, they wouldn’t be going anywhere so out of their price range, but he had wanted to do something special for Tina.

Swallowing his pride, Gavin allowed the hostess to lead them to their table. Once they were seated and handed their menus, he took a peek at the prices. Gavin almost winced at how expensive all this was going to be.

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Ethan. “So, what’d you do undercover?” he asked Tina.

“I’m afraid that’s classified info, kiddo,” she said.

“Funny,” Ethan snorted, “that’s what Gavin says when I ask about his sex life.”

That got a chuckle out of both of them. Gavin smiled; normally, he’d call Ethan out for the comment, but it was nice to see him joking around again. Thank God Tina was here.

Not a moment later, a waitress came up to their table. “Are you ready to order?” she asked.

They all exchanged a glance. “Uh, no, not yet. Sorry,” Tina said. When she looked up at the woman, she did a faint double take. Gavin squinted. Was Tina...blushing?

“Oh, that’s okay,” she said with a smile. “I’ll just come back later, then.”

“Oh, okay.” Tina looked a little disappointed when she walked away.

Gavin raised an eyebrow, but before he could say anything, something else caught his eye. His stomach dropped; there was a man sitting in a booth wearing an old ball cap. The fire in his chest started up again when he saw it was the same dude from before with the damn Jersey hat.

Gavin shook his head. Maybe the guy wasn’t following him. Maybe this was just a coincidence. He tried to ignore the fact that he was wearing the same shit from before while everyone else here was actually dressed up nice. He wanted to believe that this guy just didn’t have nice clothes to change into, which was something Gavin could respect.

“-Gavin, are you even listening?”

“Huh? What’s up?” he said, once again forcing his attention back to Ethan, who was holding his phone for him to see.

“Look!” He shoved the phone in his face. “Isn’t she adorable?”

He smirked. The phone was playing a video of Stitch rolling around on the couch while Ethan was playing with her. He could tell that Ethan was having fun in the moment because the camera was shaking and he could hear laughter in the background. The shaking increased when Ethan started circling his hand in the air above Stitch’s head. He watched as she followed it until she tried to paw at it, but was so dizzy she fell off the couch completely. Gavin could hear Ethan’s cackling that followed. Looking over, he also saw Ethan smiling.

He returned it, not wanting to ruin his fun. He was happy that Ethan’s mood was brightening, even if it was just by a tiny bit. “She’s an adorable bastard.”

“She’s our adorable bastard,” he corrected with a wink.

Gavin rolled his eyes and ruffled Ethan’s hair a little. He stopped when he noticed Jersey guy staring at them. It wasn’t a nervous look; more like he was searching for something. Gavin met his eyes and they both looked down immediately after.

He turned back to the table. “Hey, uh, Tina?” he said.

“Yeah?” she said, not looking up from her menu.

“I think we should go…talk about who’s paying tonight.” Luckily, he caught her attention with his tone of voice. He nodded over at the hallway that led to the bathroom, which was currently empty.

“Yeah, sure.” She didn’t even hesitate. She could always recognize when they needed to talk away from listening ears, a bond which Gavin was extremely thankful for at this moment.

Ethan looked at them strangely for a second before turning his attention back to the menu. Honestly, Gavin had expected him to say something, but he was relieved when Ethan didn’t. Maybe it had something to do with Tina being here and his restored optimistic attitude. Whatever the case, Ethan didn’t stop them from walking over to the dimly-lit corridor.

“Don’t freak. Okay?”

Even though Gavin wasn’t looking at her so as to remain casual, he could hear the eye roll. “You know I wouldn’t. What’s up?”

“3 o’clock. Navy ball cap. I’m pretty sure that guy’s been following me all day.”

“What? Why? Are you sure?”

“Let’s see.” He began to count on his fingers. “There was yesterday, at the grocery store; today, at the precinct; today, on the street; today, at the bus stop; and now today, right here. Sound like tagging, or do you think it’s just a coincidence that a guy that shady is at this nice of a place?”

Tina considered it. “You’ve got a point. Wait. You’ve got a car; why did you take the bus?”

“I didn’t. I caught him following me while I was out looking for Nines.”

“Who?” Tina asked, right as a woman stepped out of the lady's room. They both immediately pretended to mind their own business.

Once she was gone, Gavin finally turned around to face her. “Nines, my partner. You haven’t met him yet ‘cause you were undercover when he came to the precinct. He’s a bit of a stuck up knowitall, but I’ve been dealing with him for long enough to know how he works.” At least, he thought he did. “You’d love him. You both have a common hobby: making me look like an idiot.”

“Aw, thanks. I’m sure we’ll get along amazingly once you introduce me to him. And you will be introducing me to him.” She gave him a look that said there were no other options on that matter. “But that’s besides the point. Why is he following you?”

“Don’t know. But listen to me, Chen,” he said, leaning in close. “Just in case- and I’m not saying this will definitely happen- but just in case something…” he trailed off, searching for the right word, “happens to either one of us...something that makes you think the other one is in danger, then you take Ethan and run to this motel on the edge of town.” He pulled out his phone and showed her the address that he had found earlier, on the drive home. Normally, it would be out of character for him to plan all this out, but the past few months had been anything but that.

“I’ll send you the location later.” He shoved his phone in his back pocket. “You get there, wait a day, and if the other guy doesn’t show up, leave.” Although Tina had been nodding slowly throughout the entire exchange, she gave him a surprised look at that last command. “I’m serious, Tina. You get out of there, because if I take that long to get to you that means I’m probably being followed. And...if I’m out the picture…” he sighed, “don’t let anything happen to Ethan. You got that?”

After a moment, she responded. “Okay...but, Gavin, don’t you think this is a little...I don’t know, a little over the top?”

“Look, I know it sounds like I’m flying off the handle here. It’s just...the past few months have been...weird. You’ve heard about those jailbreaks in the other towns, right? And...and with this whole thing with Ethan and now this dude...I just can’t be too careful. You’re gonna have to trust me on this. Okay?”

She looked unsure until she saw the pleading look on Gavin’s face. “Okay,” she said, once again nodding slowly. “Are you gonna file a report at the precinct?”

It took a moment before he responded. He shrugged, looking away from her. “I’m not sure. There’s been a shit ton of crime lately, and everyone’s been acting on edge. Plus, Fowler’s being weird. He’s always busy, and between you and me,” Gavin said, looking around, “I think he’s hiding something. Pretty sure Anderson and Connor are in on it, too. I’ve never seen him call them into his office so much.”

“I think it’s a good idea if you tell somebody, Gav.”

“I know. And I will, if this kind of thing keeps up. I just don’t know who to trust right now.” He paused. “But that’s why I told you. I trust you, Chen. You’ve got my back on this, right?”

Tina once again rolled her eyes. “Obviously.”

Gavin let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Okay, then. Now, let’s go celebrate.”

When they got back to the table, Ethan gave them another suspicious look. “So, what’d you talk about?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

They shared a glance.

“I’m paying.”

“Tina’s paying.”

They both said it at the exact same time. Thank god for their split second telepathy, or things would’ve just gotten a lot more awkward.

After a moment of scanning their faces, Ethan seemed satisfied with their answer and shrugged it off. “Oh yeah, almost forgot.” He pulled out a crumpled up napkin and handed it to Tina. “The waitress from earlier asked me to give this to you.”

Once she had flattened it out and examined it, she blushed. Hard.

“What? What is it?” Gavin asked.

“Oh my god,” she chuckled.

“What’s it say, Chen?”

She flipped it over for them. “She gave me her number,” she giggled.

Gavin snorted. “Hey, look over there,” he said, nodding at the kitchen door.

Tina turned to see what he was gesturing at. The waitress from before was standing there, watching them with a meek expression on her face. The moment Tina saw her, she blushed and ran back into the kitchen.

“You’re blushing,” Ethan pointed out.

“Shut up, rat.”

They were in the middle of laughing when someone tapped Gavin on the shoulder. He turned to face the waiter who he hadn’t heard come up behind him.

“Excuse me, sir, but I have been asked to remove you from the premises.”

Gavin stopped laughing at that. “I’m sorry?” he said, standing up.

“I’ve received a complaint from another customer saying that you are causing them discomfort, and I have been asked to remove you from the establishment.”

He shared a glance with Tina before turning back to the man. “Whoever filed the complaint, I’m sure I can just talk to them directly and we can sort it out between us,” he reasoned, looking around the room. The ball cap guy wasn’t looking at them, instead hiding behind his menu as if he hadn’t noticed what was going on a few tables over.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. The customer in question who made the complaint has asked us to maintain their anonymity.”

Gavin felt his temper beginning to rise, but he did his best to rein himself in. “Well, what exactly am I doing that they’re complaining about?”

“You are being disruptive.”

“How so?”

“They have said you are causing them anxiety.”

“By what?” Gavin chuckled despite the rage building in his chest. “Hey, you sure you can’t just tell me who it is?” He stepped around the waiter. “Is it that guy over there?” he said, pointing at the man in the ball cap, who still had the menu in front of his face.

The waiter glanced at where he was pointing. “Sir, that is unrelated. Once again, I have been-”

“It is, isn’t it?” He began to make his way over to the guy.

Tina followed, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Gav, what are you doing?”

He shook her off. “Setting something straight.”

He reached the table, the waiter and Tina both hurrying behind him. He grabbed the menu and tilted it away from the guy’s face. The man met his eyes nervously.

“You have a problem with me?” He raised an eyebrow.

“W-what...what are you talking about?” He was sweating a little.

“First, you follow me all the way downtown, now you’re trying to get me kicked out?” He shook his head, trying to clear away the anger. “Look, I’m sorry about earlier, okay? I didn’t mean to explode on you like that. But if I’m bothering you somehow, just tell me what it is and I’ll stop.” It was taking all of his willpower not to slap him in the face for following him all the way here, but Gavin was trying his best to not jump to any conclusions.

They stared at each other for a moment. “Look, man,” he said, and it was clear he was about to lie to Gavin’s face. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

Gavin blinked. “You say that, but I’m pretty sure I’m the guy who smashed your nose to a pulp.” He pointed in his face. The guy flinched away from him.

A hand was yet again placed on his shoulder. “Sir, I am going to have to ask you to stop bothering this man.” The hand tightened its grip slightly. “Now.”

“Not yet,” he growled without looking away. “I want you to admit that you’ve been following me.” If Gavin had to turn this interaction into an interrogation, then he would.

“Seriously, dude. Can’t you just leave me alone?”

“Funny, I was about to say the same to you,” was all the warning Gavin gave before slamming his head down on the table. Loud gasps from around the room immediately followed, but he didn’t care.

“Alright, sir. I think you should head toward the exit, now.”

“How’s this for an exit?” He spun around and swung his fist.

In the moment, he didn’t think things through. He felt his knuckles connect with the waiter’s cheek. After that, though, his rage took over and all rational thought left him. He blacked out for a second from the adrenaline rush that followed. The next thing he knew, Gavin was getting thrown out of the building by a couple of burly security guards, hissing and spitting along the way.

With one last haul, they actually sent him flying toward the pavement. He landed on his ass, of course, because this day just couldn’t get any fucking better. A second later, he watched as Tina calmly wheeled a very confused Ethan after him.

“Okay, is anyone actually gonna tell me what just happened?” he asked, annoyed.

“Gavin just got us kicked from the restaurant. Well, that’s putting it nicely.” Tina sighed. “What I meant to say is this dumbass just tried to start a fight with some random dude. Oh, and apparently he wanted to get the entire staff involved, too, because that’s what it took to stop him from killing that guy.” Her eyes were filled with ice-cold fury.

“Admit it,” he said, standing up and brushing himself off. “You missed this, didn’t you?”

There was a moment of silence where Chen held that profoundly annoyed look and Gavin thought she was about to tase him for being so stupid. Thankfully, Tina finally broke into a smile, which turned into a laugh. “I cannot believe,” she said, gasping for air through the laughter, “that on my first day back,” she paused again for breath, “you got us kicked out of the fanciest restaurant in motherfucking Detroit.”

He was relieved that she wasn’t about to kill him. Now that it was over, he couldn’t stop himself from grinning at the whole thing. “Well, I did warn you that tonight was going to be fun. Ethan, would you say I held up to that?”

Ethan snorted. “If by ‘fun,’ you meant ‘getting your ass handed to you and then consequently getting kicked out of dinner,’ then yeah, I’d say you succeeded.” He did his best to look angry, but Gavin could see the smile slowly creeping on his face.

“Ah, don’t worry about dinner. I know a guy.” Gavin paused. “Well, it’s really a truck, actually, but that’s beside the point.”

They ended up ordering from a Mexican-style food truck, fancy clothes and all. It was a couple of miles away from where they were, and thankfully the traffic wasn’t too bad on the way there. Sure, it wasn’t the dinner they had expected, but it was probably a lot more enjoyable and affordable than that stuck up restaurant anyway. They told jokes, laughed at each other, and were generally the gross mess that they enjoyed being. Whenever someone spilled food or the napkins flew away, they shrugged it off. It was nice, and Gavin enjoyed seeing Ethan smile so much.

“I gotta tell you guys: I totally would’ve preferred if we just did this than go to that stupid restaurant in the first place,” Tina said, not even trying to wipe off the burrito stains she was collecting on her dress.

“Nah, it wouldn’t be the same,” Ethan said. “I think it’s funnier to tell people how the waiting staff totally owned Gavin’s ass. Besides, you wouldn’t have gotten to dress up and stuff.”

“Oh, I can dress like this any day of the week,” she said, waving the comment away. “But you’re right; there’s no way I’m gonna let him live down the fact that he probably got us banned from that snooty joint.”

“Real talk, though,” Gavin said, “sorry about that. I didn’t mean to get us-”

“What, thrown out in a blaze of glory?” Ethan said, raising an eyebrow. He nodded, bashful. “Nah, it’s cool. People were already staring at the cast, so thanks for stealing the attention away.”

“Oh, well in that case,” he said, cracking his knuckles, “you just leave it up to me. I’ll make sure to embarrass you a lot more next time.”

“But seriously, Gavin, this night fucking rules.” He threw his wrapper in the air for emphasis. “Thanks for that, by the way.”

Gavin smirked, shrugging. “Any time, rat. Any time.”

----

“What the hell was that, dumbass?” she yelled.

“What do you mean, ‘what was that?’ I followed him, just like you told me to!” Vallejo flung the cap in her direction. He missed her by a mile.

“You almost blew our entire cover!”

“Yeah, well...things didn’t go according to plan. That’s not my fault!” he said when he caught her rolling her eyes at him. “I didn’t know about the girl. How was I supposed to know he’s got another mommy, too?”

She lunged at him, only just stopping herself from punching him into oblivion. “You would know,” she growled, “if you actually spent any fucking time doing your fucking job. Research a little, why don’t you? Tell me what comes up when you search the fucking name ‘Gavin Reed.’” She paused, waiting for him to do it.

He looked confused for a moment, before realizing she actually meant to look it up. “Oh! Uh.” He pulled out his phone and began to type the name. “All I’m getting is police bullshit,” he said.

She groaned in annoyance and ripped the phone from his hand. “Look at this,” she said, clicking the first link that popped up and shoving the phone back in his face. “Tell me what you see.”

“It’s...a photo of the police?”

She bit her lip in an attempt to not chew his head off. “It’s not just the police. Look at the banner: they’re graduating the academy, class of 2020. Guess who’s front and center.”

He leaned in to take a closer look. “That prick,” he said finally.

“And look who’s right next to him.”

She zoomed in on the photo, clearly displaying a woman with her arm around his shoulders.

“Hey, that’s her!”

“Who would’ve guessed?” she said sarcastically.

“Okay, so they’re friends. Good to know, good to know…” He paused. “Hey, would that plan of yours happen to include something we can use to get rid of her, too?”

“Unfortunately, no. Wasn’t sure when she’d get back from whatever undercover shit her captain has her doing.”

“Woah, they go undercover?” he cut in.

She decided to ignore that. “Plus, she’s never met this android bitch before, meaning she doesn’t trust him yet, meaning we can’t use him.”

“So that means…?”

She sighed in disappointment at his lack of functioning brain cells. “What it means is we’ll have to come up with something else for her. I’m just not sure what, though.” She considered their options. “We could stage an accident, or maybe distract her with some sort of goose chase. Gotta say, though, I always prefer the bloodier options.” Vallejo gulped at that. “But, bloody means messy, and we’re trying to be covert.” She shrugged. “Guess that means goose chase it is. And don’t worry,” she said after seeing the expression on his face, “I’ll put Nash or someone else on it.”

What she actually meant by that was “I don’t want you screwing this up for us,” but that was beside the point. Like it or not, she needed this idiot if she wanted this plan to work. God, since when did everyone here have a -25 IQ?

“Was there anything useful you got from following that bastard?”

“Aside from a bloody nose? No,” he muttered, rubbing his nose like he had just remembered that it hurt.

“Great,” she complained. “That just means we’ll have to speed some of this shit up. Tell Nash to engage further into that plastic prick’s code. We need a new surveillance drone.”

----

Nines peeled open his eyes. Thankfully, everything seemed to be in working order. There weren’t any more error messages, and after a quick mobility test, he deduced his legs were once again functional.

Everything else seemed to be fine, so he attempted to stand. No issues there. He hoped that was a good sign. Unfortunately, his communications module was still offline, so he still couldn’t call anyone. It also concerned him that some of his memory files were corrupted, something that he had hoped would be fixed by his internal processors when he limited his systematic energy on repairing himself during stasis mode.

Something in his view distracted him. His objective had changed, or rather, he had gotten a new one. Odd. He checked it.

‘Find Gavin Reed’

Chapter Text

Fuck. He was going to be late. Again. He checked the time, hoping that traffic wouldn’t be too bad today.

It wasn’t bad. It was fucking terrible.

When he finally got to the precinct, Gavin headed straight for his desk. Upon seeing Connor staring at him from across the room, though, he realized the plastic prick wanted something.

“What?” he said, walking over.

“You’re late,” he noted.

“Oh, is that all?” Gavin turned to leave. He wasn’t going to stick around if all Connor was going to do was nag him for shit that wasn’t his fault.

“Wait!”

For some reason, Gavin listened to the command. He turned back around to face him.

“I just...I wanted to tell you that I still haven’t heard back from Nines yet,” he said, looking down.

Connor actually looked worried, but Gavin was too tired to comfort the prick. “Like you said,” he said with a shrug, “he’s got a life of his own, or whatever.” Gavin wasn’t really in the mood to have this conversation right now. He turned and left Connor to wallow in his unspoken words: “I told you so.”

Before he could finally make it to his desk for the day, a call from the back of the room stopped him.

“Reed! My office, now.”

Gavin winced a little. Fowler did not sound happy at all. What the fuck did he do this time?

He groaned and trudged to Fowler’s door like a lowly teenager getting sent to the principal’s office. He was already in trouble somehow, and he hadn’t even had his fuckin’ coffee yet. When Fowler gestured for him to close the door behind him, he knew he had fucked up. Bad.

“So,” Fowler said, placing his hands neatly on the desk, “what’s this I hear about a fight in a restaurant?”

Ugh. Of all the things to get yelled at for, he didn’t think it’d be this. “Sorry, sir. You’re gonna have to be a little more specific.” Reed knew cockiness would only get him in more trouble, but he had dug his own grave. Might as well go a little deeper.

“I’m referring to the complaint I received on one of our officers starting a fight at ‘la Bougie’-” of course his pronunciation of the word was perfect- “completely unwarranted. That officer specifically being you, Reed.” He raised an eyebrow expectantly.

Something about the way he said that irritated him. He scoffed. “Completely unwarranted?” he chuckled, his laughter like the calm before the storm as he slammed his fist down on Fowler’s desk in anger. The movement didn’t so much as faze him, but Reed was too tired to care. “Bullshit. That guy was being a total asshole. I was just doing my duty as a good samaritan and teaching him some fuckin’ manners.”

“So you admit it, then? That was you?”

Gavin rolled his eyes. “With all due respect, sir: you’re damn right it was.” Okay, so there wasn’t really a reason to be mad at Fowler. Of course, he knew if he kept this up, Fowler would probably give him one. What could he say? He was tired. He was tired of being nice, tired of letting people walk all over him, tired from all the stress. That last one wasn’t something he was ready to admit, though.

Fowler sighed. “Do you have anything to say in your defense, Reed?”

There was a moment that he considered telling him that he was pretty sure he was being followed. After all, it would explain his outburst. But then he considered that Fowler probably wouldn’t believe him without solid proof of that being true. Since Gavin hadn’t seen squat of that little Jersey fucker, he kept his mouth shut, instead opting to put on a bold look on his face as he said, “He got what was coming to him.”

After he said that, Gavin could’ve sworn there was a touch of disappointment on his captain’s face. He watched as Fowler slowly unfolded his hands and reached for something in his desk. “You know, Gavin, I didn’t want to do this. Honestly, I thought you were fine when you told me you were good to jump back into the field.” What the hell was that supposed to mean? “Now, I can tell there’s other stuff on your mind. I recommend you use this time to clear your head.”

He really didn’t like the way Fowler was talking to him like he was a goddamn five-year-old. “What’re you gonna do, Fowler?” he said with a sneer. “I know for a fact this precinct’s got its hands full with perps; it’s not like you can just fire me.”

He said nothing, and the look on his face revealed little to how he was actually feeling as he slid a sheet of paper across his desk to Gavin. He snatched it off the table. “The fuck is this?” he asked, reading the form. His eyes widened in outrage when he saw what was at the top of the page. He looked back at Fowler, who gave him a look that confirmed that he was, indeed, screwing Gavin over as he handed him a pen.

“Suspended, Tina,” he practically shouted over the phone. “He said I need to fucking clear my head. Isn’t that the dumbest shit you’ve ever heard?”

He had begun ranting to her the moment he stormed out of Fowler’s office. Now, he was filling out this stupid form, collecting his shit from his desk and making it clear to everyone else to steer clear of him and his temper.

“I mean...you have been a little on edge lately,” Tina admitted.

“Not you too, Chen,” he growled, shoving a file into his desk drawer.

“I’m just saying maybe this is a blessing in disguise.” He groaned. “C’mon, Gav. Look at yourself; you can’t convince me that you're not just a little tired.”

“Tina, I’m fine.” He paused when something caught his attention. “And I’ve gotta go.”

“Wait, Gavin! I didn’t mean-” She was cut off from the end of her sentence when Gavin hung up on her.

He got up and hurried over to where Nines was standing. “Where the fuck have you been?” Gavin asked.

Nines seemed slightly startled by the noise as if he hadn’t even noticed Gavin coming toward him. “I’m sorry?”

“Damn right you’re sorry.” He was still angry about getting suspended, so his usual worry of his partner’s absence was replaced by annoyance. “Why the hell were you at my house? You haven’t been picking up my calls, you’ve been missing for two fucking days. What was I supposed to think, huh? ‘Oh, he has a life of his own, Gavin. He’ll get back to you when he feels like it, Gavin. He can ignore his responsibilities, Gavin.’” He glared at him. “Next time you feel like ghosting me, why don’t you let me know beforehand? It’ll save me from wasting my fucking time looking for you.”

“I apologize, Gavin.” He scoffed at that. “I am...unsure what has gotten into me.”

“Well, that makes two of us.”

Nines looked down at the form still in his hand. “What is that?” he asked. Before Gavin could stop him, he bent down and took it from his hands.

“Hey! What the-”

“You’ve been...suspended?” He raised an eyebrow. Gavin looked down. “What happened?”

Gavin huffed. “Like you’d wanna know.”

Nines put his hand on his shoulder. “If this has anything to do with my absence, then I am sorry. I’ll go talk to Fowler and see if I can help.” He handed the form back to him, but Gavin stopped him.

“No,” he said, still annoyed. If Nines thought he could just come in here and act like nothing happened, he was dead wrong. He also refused to swallow his pride and apologize to Fowler, who he was pretty sure was keeping a secret. “You wanna make it up to me, huh?”

Nines nodded slowly. Gavin shook his head. “Fine, then. What’d you find at the warehouse I told you about? Anything there?”

There was a moment of silence. Nines’ LED was yellow, then red, then back to blue. “Regrettably, I found...nothing.” He looked confused at his own goddamn answer.

“You sure about that?”

“No, I just...thought I’d find more than what I did.”

To Gavin, it sounded like Nines was hiding something, but he decided to ignore that for now. “Then why’d you run to my house?”

“It was a false alarm. Once again, apologies. If there is any way I can-”

“Make it up to me? Yeah, I have a few ideas.” Nines gave him an intrigued look. “For starters, go ask Fowler if we can investigate this drug dealer our vic told me about.” He pulled up a photo of the guy on his phone. “Warm him up in the next few days, get on his good side, y’know? Come back to me when he says yes or whatever.”

“Leon Faust, age 22. You believe he is our kidnapper?”

“Not directly. But I think his gang has something to do with that android’s sudden disappearance.”

Nines furrowed his brow. “But...I thought you were suspended?”

“Yeah, but you’re not. I don’t give a shit what Fowler says.” Nines looked like he was about to protest. “You want to make it up to me, right? This is how.”

“What will you do while I’m gone?”

“I’m coming with you, dipshit.” He rolled his eyes as if it was obvious. “First, though, I’m gonna go investigate this warehouse myself, just in case your plastic sensors missed something.”

That wasn’t the main reason Gavin wanted to go alone. He got the feeling Nines was keeping something from him, and he wanted answers. Besides, there was something else important on his agenda today, so he’d visit the warehouse in a couple of days when he had cooled off more.

He strolled away from Nines without another word and dumped the form in the trash. His suspension could wait.

----

Tina woke him up with a slight shake of his shoulders. “Hey, Ethan.” He groaned in response. “Wake up. Gavin said to get you out of the house.”

Ethan rubbed his eyes. “Of course he did,” he said, yawning.

He had to admit, it was nice having Tina here. Unlike Gavin, she let him stay in his room and actually brought his stuff upstairs to him. Since she wasn’t due back to work in a couple of days, she was spending her time looking after him. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t sort of feel condescending, having someone constantly watching over him, but at least that someone wasn’t Gavin.

Tina was nicer, and if he complained about her doting over him she’d kindly punch him in the arm and remind him that ‘I don’t care if the food tastes terrible, Ethan. If you want to get better, then start acting like it.’ It was an interesting change of pace from Gavin’s ‘because I told you to.’ Granted, their styles of getting him to take his meds and get out of bed were similar, but at least Tina was giving him a reason to do all this shit.

She handed him some clothes to wear. Of course, she also knew about Ethan’s insecurities, matching the style of clothing he normally wore to today’s outfit. “Where are we going?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Figured the library or something. Unless you had somewhere else in mind?”

“No, library’s fine. Oh,” he gasped, “I can see if they have the next issue of-” He cut himself off when he realized how much of a geek he sounded like in front of Tina.

She smirked at him. “Nerd,” she said as she closed the door to his bedroom behind her.

He must’ve fallen asleep again on the car ride there because he was awoken by the sound of Tina closing the car door. Goddamn meds were really starting to get on his nerves. At this point, it felt like Ethan had zero say in what was an appropriate time to fall asleep because even his most intense struggles to stay awake were failing. Of course, both Gavin and Tina thought it was cute that he’d just randomly conk out in the weirdest situations, so neither of them bothered to wake him up unless they absolutely had to.

He didn’t say anything about his sleeping habits right now, though. This trip was supposed to be fun, according to Tina. Actually, Ethan was pretty sure it was her lecturing on the way there that had coaxed him into sleep. He didn’t think it was possible to fall asleep due to boredom, but he guessed that’s what happens when you’re constantly drugged up on pain meds and listening to your aunt go on a rant about the importance of being out in the sun.

He grunted as Tina helped him into his wheelchair. He knew originally he had been kind of excited to go to the library, but now he was having second thoughts. Suffice it to say, he was still sort of self-conscious about the chair. He hated the pitiful looks that he always got from the watching public, and somehow showing off that he had to rely on someone else to push him around made him feel even more vulnerable. It didn’t help that his cast was bright pink because once again, he had been really hopped up on all sorts of medications when he was choosing the color and had thought it would be funny. Gavin, of course, hadn’t stopped him, and Ethan wasn’t about to swallow his pride and say it was a mistake. Secretly, he did like it, despite the fact that it definitely garnered more attention than if he had just gone with a boring gray one. The dicks that Tina had spent the day doodling on it probably didn’t do anything to make him more inconspicuous, either.

“Never thought I’d be using this entrance,” he said as she began to roll him up the winding ramp that led to the entrance of the building.

“Yeah, well I’m pretty sure that’s what most people with a broken leg would say.”

“Haha. Very funny.” He couldn’t stop himself from looking down when they finally got through the door. He figured the less eye contact he made with the other people there meant the less he’d feel his face burning up.

“So,” Tina said as she pointed them toward some shelf filled almost to overflowing with what Ethan assumed was a bunch of boring history novels, “you looking for anything in particular?”

Despite his efforts, he could feel his cheeks heating up. He knew she was probably just trying to get him to reveal whatever nerdy shit he was into. “Uh, just drop me off in the com- I mean, the graphic novels section, and I’ll be fine.”

“Whatever you need, rat.”

He waited for Tina to exit the aisle before daring to sort through the books. Following the line of alphabetical issues was difficult because he could never remember if they sorted by author or book title, and it was more so now that he could barely bend down to see the bottom shelf. “C’mon, c’mon,” he muttered, straining to find what he was looking for. “Where are you?”

“Chair guy?”

He whipped his head up, accidentally knocking it on the shelf above him and causing a few books to tumble off. He rubbed his head as he got a good look at the person who had called him.

“You!” he almost gasped. He quickly remembered it was a library after receiving a couple of dirty looks from other people trying to read. “It’s you, right? From the-”

“From the park?” She raised an eyebrow and smirked at him.

Now that he could see her when she wasn’t moving, he took note of the all-dark clothing and heavy-duty combat boots. Her hair was still streaked with a striking shade of bright purple, and he was pretty sure he could see a lip ring. Her light brown skin was, of course, rippled with muscles like it had been the first time he had seen her.

“Nice- uh, nice hair,” he said, pointing at it as he spoke.

“Heard you the first time.” She winked at him.

He felt his face go red, but he wasn’t sure if it was because he was embarrassed that she had heard his earlier comment or the fact that her wink sent something tingling up his spine. He looked down quickly, trying not to let her see him blushing like an idiot. His eyes landed on the group of books now lying on the carpeted floor.

“Here, lemme get those for you,” she said, picking them back up and putting them neatly on the shelves.

“Oops...uh, thanks.” Strangely, the help didn’t annoy him like it would’ve coming from Gavin or Tina. He peered around her, noticing that she was putting them in a certain order, most likely where they were actually supposed to go. “So, do you, uh, work here?”

“Oh, no,” she said, not looking at him as she continued to clean up the mess that he so stupidly made. “I used to work in a library before I moved here.”

“Where’d you move from?” he asked, trying to make conversation. He only realized after he said it how creepy that question sounded. “I mean, I was just wondering. I’m not, you know, a stalker or anything. Wow, I guess that’s something a stalker would say. I mean-”

“Nah, it’s okay. I’ve been around. Never really stayed in one place for long.” She stood up after finishing reshelving.

“Oh. How come?”

She shrugged. “Call it job hunting.”

“Was being a librarian too boring? Uh, that was rude, sorry.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s just, I don’t know, you’re surrounded by all those books, and there’s so much to do.”

“Not really, actually. After a while, it got pretty boring. One day I just got tired of reading about the world. I wanted to experience it for myself. There is one thing I learned from working in these sorts of places, though,” she said, leaning closer to him until she was in his face.

He leaned away from her, almost starting to sweat because of how hot his face was right now. “Yeah?” he chuckled nervously. “What’s that?”

She gestured for him to move closer. Hesitantly, he let her move toward his ear. He could feel her gentle, warm breath coming out in slow puffs from her lips as she whispered, “How to be so quiet...that no one...sees me…” she paused, taking in a breath...coming.”

The last part was barely audible, but the words lit fireworks in his brain all the same. Any feelings of infatuation he had somehow developed for this girl now quadrupled in potency. “Oh God,” he breathed out, the sound almost undetectable.

She pulled away, still smirking at him. “I’m just kidding,” she said, once again winking. Ethan was barely aware of whatever she said next; he was still recovering from the rush of having her that close to him. Something about her tone had set him off, and now he was shaking a little, though from fear or attraction, he couldn’t tell.

“Hmm, what?” he asked, the white noise in his head slightly blocking out her words.

“I was just wondering how you’d broken your leg.”

That definitely got him to snap out of it. “Oh, um…” he said, now absolutely incapable of looking her in the eye. “I was, um…” He struggled to find the words to explain what happened, and found himself fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. “I was...running?”

“You sure about that?” she said, amusement flickering in her tone.

“Well…” He shrugged. “Yeah, basically,” he chuckled. He wasn’t really ready to get into that whole story, so he was glad when the answer seemed to satisfy her and she dropped the subject. He struggled to push the feeling of slamming his face into cold metal as he tripped on the pain of his leg out of his mind, wanting to focus on her next words.

“So, are you looking for anything in particular?”

It was the same question that Tina had asked him earlier. This time, though, he found himself compelled to keep talking to her, even if it meant telling her his slightly embarrassing interests.

“I mean, I was trying to find the newest issue of Lumberjanes. Obviously, it was harder than I thought.” He gestured to his chair.

“Oh. So you were looking for this?” She grabbed a book from the bag she was carrying and held it in front of his face.

His eyes lit up. “Yeah! How did you-” He shrunk back after a couple of more piercing glares were thrown in his direction. “How did you know?”

“Guess we have the same taste in comics. Want it?” She let it dangle in the air for a second.

“Oh, no. I couldn’t do that. You’re in the middle of reading it.”

“Actually, I’m not,” she corrected. “I came here to turn it back in. My receipt’s in the back of the book and everything.” She smirked at him. “What kind of detective are you?”

The comment would typically be seen as some throw-away sentence, but it made his heart stop for a moment. The excitement he had been feeling moments before dissipated as he leaned away from her in distrust. “Uh, how’d you know I was a detective?” He didn’t remember saying anything to her about his job.

She blinked at him for a moment. “Your shirt?” She pointed at his chest. She raised her eyebrows as if the answer was obvious. “Duh.”

He looked down and internally facepalmed. He was wearing one of Gavin’s old t-shirts. In the center, faded but still in plain sight, was the DPD logo with the words “Detroit Police Department” directly underneath.

“Oh. Pssh, duh.” Now he really felt like a dumbass.

He was desperate for a subject change, but he was sputtering trying to think of anything else to talk about. “Do you wanna sign my cast?” he finally blurted out, a little louder than he intended to.

She looked surprised by the request, but thankfully not completely put off by his pure weirdness. “Sure. Do you have a pen or something?” They both patted their pockets for a moment. “Oh, found one.” He watched as she pulled a sharpie out of her bag.

She kneeled down beside his outstretched leg. “Nice cast,” she remarked.

He remembered with a start all of the dicks Tina had doodled on it. His face was redder than before if that was even possible at this point. “Sorry,” he chuckled. “That was my aunt. She has an...odd sense of humor.”

“What do you want me to write?”

“Just your name’s fine.” ‘And your phone number,’ he wanted to add. He held himself back, though. He would not be embarrassing himself further in front of this girl.

She tucked her hair to the side before beginning to scribble on the hot pink bandage. He admired the way the purple in her hair cascaded over her shoulder and slowly faded into its natural brunette. His eyes shifted to the back of her neck, where a tattoo of a pair of snakes twisting around a dripping syringe was resting. He hadn’t noticed it before now because her hair had been hiding it. Although her skin tone was tan, the tattoo stuck out against her complexion.

She stood back up and capped the marker. Ethan did his best to pretend like he hadn’t just been staring at her. Slowly, he let his eyes drift down to his leg, his curiosity getting the better of him. He leaned and squinted to make out the words.

“...Monica Delgado?” he said, looking back up at her.

“Yep. That’s me.” She held out her hand.

“That’s...a lot of syllables,” was all he could think to say as he shook her hand. “Uh, I mean- my name’s Ethan. Uh, Ethan Reed-Morrison,” he stammered.

“Nice to meet you, Ethan Reed-Morrison. That is also a lot of syllables.” She winked at him again.

“Heh. Yeah, I guess,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. He wished he could stop blushing.

She checked the time on her phone. “I’ve gotta go,” she said, starting to walk away. “Tell me what you think of the book.”

“W-wait! How am I supposed to find you?”

She shrugged. “The world wanted us to meet twice. I have a feeling I’ll see you again.”

And with that, she disappeared between the aisles of books.

Ethan just sat there, slightly dumbfounded. He looked down at the book, but at this point, he had little interest in reading it. His mind was elsewhere.

“Monica Delgado,” he said, gently rubbing the name on his cast, still in awe that he had just had an interaction like that with a complete stranger.

He was still red in the face when Tina found him ten minutes later, staring at the cover of the comic Monica had handed him.

“Ready to go, rat?” she asked him, pulling him out of his thoughts.

“What? Oh, yeah.” There was no denying the distraction in his voice.

They checked out their stuff and headed for the car. “So, anything interesting happen while I was gone?” she questioned, most likely noting how his face continued to sabotage him by still looking like a tomato.

Ethan decided he would let her suffer in her own curiosity, just to mess with her a little. “Pssh, in the library?” he snickered. “No way.”

----

He could feel his throat aching before he even opened his eyes.

Mac cracked open an eyelid. Everything was blurry. The room he was in was dimly lit, and he got the feeling that if it was any brighter he’d get a headache. He let out a groan.

“Ah, good. You’re awake.” The voice echoed a little in his head, making his ears ring.

Mac couldn’t stop himself from wincing, but there was a rush of panic when he realized he had no idea where he was. He forced his eyes open, adrenaline kicking in.

“What the- the fuck am I?” He looked around wildly. It was a big place, wherever he was. It looked like some sort of abandoned parking garage, but he couldn’t be sure. He was sitting at a table, across from some guy with an empty chair next to him.

“Unimportant.” He shifted the papers that were laid out on the table in front of them. “What do you know about the Asklepios Organization?”

“Look, dude-” he slowly lifted himself up from the chair- “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

In an instant, the guy pulled out a gun from his jacket. “Sit your ass down. Now,” he ordered.

Mac put his hands in the air. “Okay! Okay.” He obeyed, not wanting to get shot in the face.

“Tell me what you know about the-”

“I don’t know anything about the- the Scorpios whatever! Can you please just put the gun away?” He leaned as far away from him as he could in the chair.

Mac almost jumped out of his skin when he slammed his fist on the table. “Bullshit! I searched those records myself!” He cocked the gun. “Start talking. And you better give me the truth,” he threatened, “or I’ll-”

“Vince!” called a voice. A woman came running up the stairs with a plastic bag in her hands. “I ran by the store and got those parts you wanted.” She tried to hand them to him.

“Vince” stood up. He pushed the bag away. “Bahj, not now. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of interrogating-”

“Oh, good! You’re awake,” she said, finally noticing Mac’s presence. She shoved the bag into the guy’s arms and walked around the table to meet him. “Hello. I’m Bahja, that’s Vincent. Nice to meet you.” She stuck out her hand in greeting.

“Bahja, no! He’s not supposed to know who we are!”

He accepted it, still really confused as to what was going on but encouraged by her friendliness. “Uh, hi, Bahja. I’m Mac.”

Her grip was surprisingly strong for someone her size. “I know,” she said. The statement would’ve been a lot more menacing had it not been for her award-winning smile. She turned to Vince again. “Why is it so dark in here? I imagine he can barely see in these conditions. You should treat our guests with more respect, Vince.”

Mac saw a flash of yellow being cast out into the darkness, followed by Vincent shouting, “Wait, don’t-” before the lights above them were turned on. Mac flinched at the sudden brightness, covering his eyes with his hand as he waited for them to adjust.

When he opened them again, he got a good look at the two of them for the first time. Bahja had dark brown skin, with pale blue eyes that almost looked grey. She was wearing a loose, knitted shawl that draped over her shoulders and a flower print tank top. It reminded him of something his old high school teachers would wear. She even had the soft knee-high boots and blue jeans to match.

If Bahja exuded cheerfulness, then Vince, however, was the exact opposite. He was in all black, which only added to his moody aura. His skin tone was lighter than Bahja’s, but still pretty tan. There was stubble around his chin and a glint in his eye, though Mac already knew to be wary of him. He sort of looked like a spy from one of those old James Bond movies; at least, what he imagined they’d look like. He’d never actually bothered to watch them.

The one thing they both shared was a small ring on their right temples. “You’re...androids?”

“Yep, that’s right!” Bahja said.

“Unfortunately,” Vince grumbled, shoving the gun back into his jacket.

Now it was Bahja’s turn to take a seat. He stared at her nervously, very much aware of Vince’s eyes on him. “I’m sorry if he was rude to you while I was gone. Vincent...isn’t the best with new people.”

“Hey! I’m just doing my job,” he pointed out, taking a seat next to her.

“I’m sorry, can someone just explain what’s going on?”

“We just need to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.” Bahja grabbed a pencil and notepad off of the table and began to write something. “First one: what do you know about Asklepios Organization?”

Mac shifted his gaze between the two of them before finally resting on Bahja. “Uh, never heard of them.”

“That’s odd.”

“What? What’s odd?”

“You are Mac Chambers, right? The latest member in the Chambers bloodline, recipient of all possessions belonging to the Chambers family in the event of the death of both Melissa and Roger Chambers?” She looked up from her notepad.

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. No one really ever asked about his family; it wasn’t exactly his favorite subject to talk about. “Um, yeah, I guess. I wouldn’t really phrase it like that, but yeah.”

“And you know nothing about Asklepios? Nothing at all?” He shook his head, and her face fell a little.

Vincent rolled his eyes. “I think he’s lying.”

“What?” Mac said, indignant. “No, I’m not! I’ve literally never heard anything about this ‘Osteoporosis-’”

“-Asklepios,” Vince corrected.

“Whatever!”

“So you’re not in any way affiliated with their organization?” Bahja asked one more time.

“No,” he said for the millionth time.

“Then why,” Vince said, shoving a document in his face, “is your name on the funding list?”

Mac snatched the piece of paper from his hands. “What?” he said, scanning the page. Vince was right; his name was right at the top, just underneath his parents’. “I’ve never donated to them. Where the hell did you get this?” he demanded.

“Straight from their financial records.” Vince leaned back in his chair like he had cracked the case. “What do you have to say to that?” He smirked.

“It’s fake,” he deadpanned.

“What?”

“I said it’s fake. Or it’s forged, ‘cause I don’t even know what they do. Why are they so important?”

Vince looked like he was about to snap, but Bahja stopped him. “Wait, okay?” She turned back toward Mac. “There’s still a few things I’d like to ask.”

“You sure you’re gonna believe me?”

Vince scoffed, but Bahja shut him up with a glare. “Can you tell me about what your parents do for a living?”

“You mean what he thinks they do for a living,” Vincent muttered.

“I don’t know, sell real estate? They work for some company…‘Peak Soils,’ or something. Why?”

They exchanged a look. “Peak Soils...that’s an anagram for Asklepios. You do know something.” Bahja’s face lit up again.

“Bahj, that’s not a good thing,” Vince reminded her.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. But this means you can still help us!”

“Uh, help you with what?”

“A couple of days ago, a van bought under the company’s name was spotted transporting androids to one of their facilities. These same vans have been present in almost every single android-caused crime in the past month and a half,” Bahja explained, showing him a printed out frame from a security camera displaying a truck with the words, ‘Asklepios Organization’ in clear view. “We have reason to suspect that they are framing androids for various crimes. We still don’t know how they’re doing it. We managed to pull this document-” she pointed at the one Vincent had angrily shoved in his face- “from their records. It’s the only lead we’ve got, which means you’re the only lead we’ve got.”

“Okay, hold on. Who’s ‘we?’ Also, I’m pretty sure there were other names on that list.”

This time, Vincent cut in. “It’s pretty suspicious that you-” he jabbed his finger into Mac’s chest- “just so happened to be the only person listed that was also in Detroit during all of this. Everyone else we checked either had an alibi, zero motive, or they mysteriously were found missing or dead. Explain that, could you?”

“Vince, calm down. I don’t think he did any of this.”

“What? Of course he did! Who else could’ve? He hasn’t got an alibi-”

“-Or a clear motive, and we’re not here to play judge and jury,” she retorted. “We’re here to collect information.”

“No, you’re here to collect information. I’m here to bring justice to our people, and I’m not going to sit back and watch you side with one of the humans responsible for putting hundreds of us in jail.” He stood up. Angrily, he snatched the bag off the table and stormed up the stairs.

Bahja sighed as his footsteps got quieter and eventually faded out of earshot. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. Mac could tell she was being sincere, although her demeanor was decidedly less bright than it had been before. “To answer your question, there are more of us; ‘us’ being the small rebellion we’ve created, though it’s only Vince and I stationed in Detroit. We do our best as an organization to keep the peace between humans and androids.”

“So you guys work with Markus and them?”

She chuckled a little. “Oh, no, of course not. None of us have ever met any of the Jericho leaders. We were simply inspired by them to take up the mantel for the smaller things while they’re off, fighting for the more important rights. Think of us as the local police, while they’re like the FBI.” She seemed to catch herself on her words. “Actually, that’s a bad analogy right now.”

“Speaking of which, have any of you guys gone to the police about this yet? I mean, I’d understand if you were scared and didn’t want to start a riot or something, but I could always-”

“No!” Mac flinched at her shout. “No, that’s okay,” Bahja said, composing herself. “It’s a bad idea, getting the police involved. We don’t know who to trust right now.”

He was a little confused. “But...aren’t they the ones who handle the crime scenes? Surely, if anyone were to believe that androids are being framed, it would be the people who study the evidence?”

She shook her head. “We’ve gotten word that the DPD has been infiltrated by Asklepios spies. There’s been an order to not go to the police until we know exactly who it is.”

Mac looked at her in disbelief. “How’d that even happen?”

“We’re not sure. That’s why we need to free these androids: we need more recruits in the Detroit area. With all those people that they’ve been gathering off the streets…”

“Wait. They’ve been kidnapping androids off the streets?” She nodded at him. “Could it...could it be possible that one of them took my friend? We were jumped, and then they disappeared into an alley.”

She thought about it for a moment. “That fits their M.O. They take them through the sewers and run a few blocks underground before resurfacing, always right next to the vans. It is very likely that your friend is one of the victims we’ve been investigating.”

Mac stood up. “Alright, I’m in.”

She gave him a confused look. “Hm?”

“You said you need more recruits, right? I’ll be your first one, ‘specially if it means saving Spencer. I’m in.”

Bahja jumped up. “Really? That’s great!” She stuck out her hand and they shook on it, exchanging a smile.

“Welcome to A.D.A.G.E.”

Chapter Text

“You sure an android did this?”

Connor bent down and examined the body. “There are trace amounts of thirium all over the body and in the dirt.” He examined the corpse’s face with a gloved hand. “There was no struggle. This was a clean kill done at almost point-blank range,” he said, noting the way the bullet entered and the faint gunpowder that surrounded the wound. “The bullet went straight through, though I imagine had it not the murderer would not have taken the shot in the first place.”

“What makes you say that?” Hank grumbled behind him, arms crossed.

“Everything about this kill is...perfect. Yet another reason to suspect an android.” He sighed and moved on to the clothes the man was wearing. “His clothes suggest he was relatively wealthy, maybe upper-middle class? Whatever the case, I don’t think he was exactly in the most wholesome line of work.”

“You talking about the spandex or the tats?”

“I’m actually referring to the murder scene.” He gestured to the area around them. They were in a ditch by the side of the road. It was muddy, but strangely enough there had been no footprints or tire tracks that could give them a hint as to who the killer might be. “Slightly reminiscent of the mobster era, wouldn’t you say?” He stood up and began to make his way up the steep walls.

“You say that like we’re not still living in it,” Hank grunted, pulling him the rest of the way up.

“Thank you.” He tried to brush some of the mud off his shirt as he continued to brief Hank on what he had found. “My scanners tell me that the victim’s name was Damien Yates. Either he lived an extremely sheltered life, or someone wiped him off of every system and database in existence.”

They both glanced at the body below, already crawling with maggots. “I’m gonna guess it’s the second one.”

“Body was planted. He’s been dead for a little less than a month. I identified the blood to belong to an unregistered android, a TR400.” He looked back at Hank. “Odd, though. An android of that size and model could’ve easily wiped the floor with him. I’m not sure why they used the gun.”

Hank shrugged. “It’s like you said: whoever pulled this off wanted this kill to be clean. Doesn’t explain the blue blood, though.”

“It is possible that they could’ve made a mistake when handling the body.”

“Nah, I don’t think that’s it.” He paused, tilting his head to the side. “Yates...where’ve I heard that name before?”

Connor’s LED flashed yellow for a moment. “I’m not sure.” He scrunched his eyebrows in concentration. “Perhaps…lieutenant, can we go back to the precinct? I’d like to check something out.” He nodded to the side, signaling to get out of there.

The ride back was quick, and thankfully Hank didn’t question him too much. Upon arriving, Connor went straight for his desk, not even bothering to sit down as he switched on his terminal.

He began to scroll through their previous case files when Hank caught up to him. “What’re you looking for?”

“Just a hunch,” he said, but the urgency in his eyes betrayed his tone.

He ended up going all the way back to late March, right before Fowler had crammed them with cases ranging from simple B&Es on people who were suspected of rejecting one form or another of hush money to ever-evolving drug rings that had been experimenting with combining different substances. Those had been an obvious struggle for Hank, Connor remembered grimly. He knew at every turn his partner had been reminded of how he won and lost it all at the hands of substance abuse. Somehow, though, they had managed to push through it, because they had to.

He opened one of the biggest case files he wished he’d never have to see again. The evidence had a lot to offer, but the case report itself was what held the file’s real mass. The important information, the nationwide threats, had not been listed here, but rather stored in the depths of Connor’s memory processor. The only people that knew where the proof of their discoveries was located were Connor himself, obviously, Hank, Fowler, and Nines. He ignored the text describing the gruesome events for now; it thankfully wasn’t what he was looking for.

He hovered over the video file. It was unfortunate that it even existed, and had he not felt it was absolutely necessary to watch, he would’ve closed out of it immediately upon seeing the opening frame. Regardless, it was paramount to their investigation that they pursue every lead they had, and they didn’t have very many of those to begin with.

He clicked play.

“Do you want to know one of the greatest things about using narcotics?”

Voice Match: Initializing Program

Recognition: 14%

“They always seem to leave such…interesting after-effects on victims.”

Recognition: 35%

“Like for instance: this one leaves you heavily paralyzed, which is why we left you just sitting in that chair. Not that you’d get very far otherwise, mind you.”

Recognition: 68%

He was loathing this.

“But another one of these…fascinating effects we’ve discovered is that while you might not be able to move, you can still feel pain...which makes using them all...the more…fun.”

Recognition: 89%

Just a little while longer, and he’d never have to hear this again. Never again. A promise.

“Say hi to the boy and girls watching at home, Ethan.”

He shut his eyes. His jaw clenched. His hands balled into fists.

“We’re about to learn a lesson in biology.”

There. “Got you,” he said, immediately pausing the video and making sure to close out of it.

Recognition: 100%
Voice=Match
Identity: Yates, Damien

“That’s him,” Connor said, turning to Hank. “Yates. He was…”

“Fowler’s office. Now.”

While it wasn’t the first time Hank had said that, Connor had definitely never heard him use that tone before. This was one of their first few breaks on their case- the one that no other officers at the DPD even knew about. Meeting in Fowler’s office meant they needed to talk in private about their next steps on taking down the moles in the FBI.

Yates had something to do with the infiltration. Not only that, but he had a hand in kidnapping Ethan as well. Finding out why he was found lifeless in a ditch just became a whole lot more important.

As they approached their captain’s door, Connor could hear someone arguing with him inside. Listening closer, he picked up on Nines shouting through the wall.

“We don’t have time, and you know that!” he said accusingly. “We’d be moving a lot faster if you just let me help or at least told him what’s going on!”

“I’m not having this discussion with you. I’m too busy trying to keep this precinct safe.” Fowler’s voice was a lot quieter, but that meant he was on the edge of throwing Nines out the window.

Nevertheless, Nines’ response was even louder. “When will you realize that we’re not? None of us are safe! The least you could do is warn them that we’re being-”

He shut his mouth the moment that they walked through the door. Hank ignored the fact that he had interrupted their argument and immediately turned his gaze past Nines to where Fowler was sitting at his desk. “Jeffrey, we need to talk. We’ve found something.”

Connor noticed that Nines was staring at him. Something crossed his face, something that looked a lot like panic to Connor’s sensors. He fully expected Nines to stay with them like he usually did when they discussed what they’d found, but he stormed out and slammed the door behind him.

As Hank and Fowler began to talk at a significantly lower volume, Connor attempted to telepathically message Nines. He got no response, and he had to give up after a while so that he could help inform Fowler of what they had found.

----

He had to get out of here. He had to get away.

Something was wrong.

Connor, he...seeing him did something to his systems.

Override.

Override.

Override, goddamnit.

Blaring horns blazed past him. Outside. He was...outside?

He hadn’t given his legs the command to move. Then again, he hadn’t wanted to follow the instructions to interface with Connor, either. Now, he was standing at the edge of a road, blocks away from the station. Something within him had moved him against his will. Whether that something was good was still up for debate.

Why did he need to interface? There was nothing to share. He had found nothing at that warehouse. Connor had said nothing to him that required syncing up, either.

Running diagnostics…
Communications=“Offline”
Motor Functions=“Online”
Processor=“Online”
Memory=“80”% “Online”

Accessing memory databanks…
Accessing files from 72 hours ago…
Some files inaccessible. Risk of corruption. Repair recommended.

Why? What was happening to him? Why was there something telling him, pulling him to go back to the precinct?

Something told him that he should hold off on returning any time soon, at least until he could figure out what was going on with his systems.

Scanning files…
Unknown program found: Installed 05/07/2039
Open file?

This sent an alarm throughout his systems. The file had been transferred to his system on the same day that his memory had been corrupted. Whatever was in there...it couldn’t be good.

Open file?=“yes”

The entire thing was encrypted. Nines did his best to decipher the code, at least locate the source of the transfer. From what little he could make out, there was an action sequence programmed into his systems, although his firewalls were fending them off for now. The rest was some sort of defense system, a way of blocking him from getting rid of the code, from the looks of it.

He realized with a start that this was not the original file. The transfer had sent him a copy of a copy, almost as if it were some sort of cell dividing into a clone of itself. This wasn’t a normal file or memory download.

He had a virus. The only portion of the action sequence that he could translate without the key to the encryption made it clear of its purpose: spread and eradicate.

He had to get away. Nines glanced at the manhole cover in the alley next to him. His objective changed.

‘Eliminate threat’

----

“Welcome back, rat.”

Ethan was surprised to see Gavin home already. He was in the kitchen, making dinner. He smirked; Gavin was wearing that stupid apron that said “Mama knows best” on the front.

“You’re home early,” he noted.

Tina clamped her hand to her forehead. “Oh! I was meaning to tell you, I’m sorry.” She glanced at Gavin apologetically. “Actually, I think it’s better if you hear it from him.”

There might’ve been a hint of blush on Gavin’s cheeks, but it was probably just the steam from whatever he was cooking. “Tell me what?” Ethan said, raising an eyebrow.

Gavin sighed. “Take over for me?” he asked.

Tina nodded, taking the mixing spoon from him and leaving Ethan sitting at the entrance to the kitchen. “Whew, chicken curry?” she remarked.

“Don’t look so surprised.” He wiped his face with a towel. “It’s an old recipe; your grandma used to make it for us when we were sick. Found it while we were digging around in the office.”

“Just hope you don’t poison us all.”

“C’mon, Chen, I’m a great cook.”

“Says the guy who’s barely made anything except for pancakes for the past month,” Ethan spoke up.

“And I’d like to say I’ve improved in that time.”

“You shouldn’t say that. At all. You have terrible taste in food.” He shifted in his seat. “So, what’s up? Did you get assigned the night shift or something?”

Gavin and Tina exchanged a look. He leaned up against the counter in front of Ethan. “Well...something like that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. “You’ve got that look on your face.”

Gavin looked down. “It’s not a look,” he chuckled, “I just…” He paused, pursing his lips together. “I, uh...I got suspended.” He met Ethan’s eyes.

“What?”

“I got suspended-”

“No- I mean, what happened? What’d you do this time?”

“Well, turns out word gets around fast when you fistfight someone in fancy-ass restaurants-”

“Oh my God.” He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “Seriously? That’s what this is about?”

“He’s taking this better than I thought,” Tina muttered quietly to Gavin.

Ethan wiped a fake tear from his eye and gasped for air. Sure, it was bad news; Gavin being suspended meant they’d have to hold off on adding more expenses to their bill for a little while, but Tina was meant to go back to work in a few days. Knowing her, she’d probably help them with the rent, especially while she was living with them. He just found it hilarious that it had happened like this, in classic Gavin Reed fashion.

“Don’t look so happy about it, jeez.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just…” he said with a snort, “it’s just…really funny.” He started to laugh again. “God, I feel really bad for laughing.” He took a deep breath in before giggling escaped his throat again.

“You know this means that I’m hanging with you a lot more now?”

He stopped laughing at that. Before he could express his displeasure at being constantly monitored, Tina spoke.

“Hey, I’m pretty sure this is ready.”

Gavin clasped his hands together, eager to get out of the awkwardness of Ethan’s reaction. “Great. Let’s eat.”

It wasn’t too long before they were all sitting on the couch with the TV on. They laughed and joked, but Ethan could sense there was something off about Tina and Gavin’s demeanors. He tried to drown out the feeling in spices and the ever-droning Dance Moms episode that was playing.

It was a normal show for them to watch together, as all three of them enjoyed yelling at the screen whenever someone got too bitchy. There was a significantly lower amount of yelling tonight, though, and to his displeasure, it was replaced by Gavin and Tina’s urgent whisperings during commercial breaks. Every time Ethan felt their eyes on him, he couldn’t stop himself from instinctively looking down and staring at his bowl, knowing exactly what they were talking about and feeling a mixture of shame and annoyance that they both still felt like he was just a baby in need of watching.

He looked up when someone hit the mute button. “Hey,” he said, turning around to face them, “what’s with-”

He was cut off by Gavin’s sigh. “Look, kid.” He and Tina exchanged a glance. “We need to talk.”

Ethan set down his fork slowly, suspicious. He squinted at them. “What’s going on? You have that look again.” He pointed at Gavin’s face.

“For the last time, rat, there’s not a look- and I’m serious, alright?”

He recoiled his arm warily, eyeing both of them. “Okay...talk about what?”

“You, Ethan. We gotta talk about you, whatever’s going on in that head of yours.”

He rolled his eyes and leaned his head back on the couch, fully intent on going back to ignoring them.

There was a hand on his shoulder. He rolled his head to the side and met Tina’s eyes. “Ethan...we’re worried about you.”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said, turning away from her. “I’m fine. And I don’t wan- I don’t need to talk, ‘cause there’s nothing to talk about. Okay?” He shrugged her off.

“Ethan,” Gavin said, walking around the couch and sitting on the arm, sandwiching Ethan between the two of them, “you can’t hide from this forever.” He looked down, making it clear that he didn’t want to talk. “There’s something wrong with you.”

He whipped his head up, anger boiling in his throat as Gavin stumbled over his words. “That came out wrong. What I mean is-”

“There is nothing wrong with me,” he growled. He was fed up with all this worry. “How many times do I have to say it? Nothing is-”

“Damnit, Ethan, look at yourself!” he shouted. “You refuse to drink water. You mumble in your sleep, you have nightmares about shit you won’t tell me about. You haven’t taken a shower in days- I mean, you barely eat. You’re tired all the time, and I know it’s not just the meds. When are you gonna come around and face the fact that you’re not okay?”

“Never, because I’m fucking fine!”

“Ethan,” Tina said, gently putting her hand on his arm. “Your hands.”

He looked down. His hands were trembling, probably out of anger. He raised his palm up, examining it closer to his face. In an attempt to stop the shaking, he tried to clench his hand into a fist, but his goddamn fingers wouldn’t fucking work with him. He tried his other hand; no luck.

“It’s alright, Ethan,” Tina said, rubbing circles into his back. “Just take a breath and try to calm down.”

He threw his hands down in anger. “I am calm.” He refused to look up. “I’m calm,” he muttered, voice getting quieter. “I’m fine, I’m okay, I’m…” He sucked in a quick breath and wiped the small tear that had fallen onto his cheek.

He shuddered when Gavin slid down onto the cushion beside him and put his arm around his shoulders. “C’mere, rat,” he said, pulling him closer.

Ethan shook his head and tried to push him away. “No, I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m not...I’m not broken. Nothing’s wrong, I’m okay.” He began to breathe faster. He shut his eyes when he felt more tears welling. “I’m not...I can’t be…”

“Ethan, look at me.” He watched as Gavin took his still shaking hand. Gently, he bent Ethan’s fingers around his own and grasped it between his palms. “You see this?” He held up their hands. “You are not broken, okay? You’re not. Don’t tell yourself that.”

He nodded, his breath hitching. He couldn’t stop all the emotion, though, and the dams he had been trying to build came crashing down. Tears rolled down his face. Gavin pulled him to his chest. “Shh, shh, it’s okay.” He slowly ran his fingers through his hair.

Ethan didn’t know how long they sat there like that, Gavin hugging him and Tina massaging his shoulders, but he knew he’d regret it in the morning when he was less emotional. For the moment, though, this was all he wanted. He wanted to believe them when they said he’d be okay.

The moment was shattered when Gavin finally pulled away to look him in the eye. “I need you to do something for me, Ethan.”

“What?” he sniffled.

“I need you to go to therapy.”

----

“How much longer is this gonna take?” she growled.

“This was your idea,” Nash reminded her.

“Shut the fuck up and get back to work.”

They should be glad she even volunteered for this job in the first place. Their living space was already gross enough; now, she had to dig through the fucking sewers for some android brat. Fat lot of good a tracker did when the fucker you’re following landed himself in the most disgusting part of the city.

“Done.”

“You better be,” she muttered under her breath.

“Try activating it now.”

“This better work. I want this job done as quickly and quietly as possible.”

“Well, you know what they say: patience is key and all that, right?”

“What did I just say about shutting the fuck up?”

“Yes, sorry. Shutting up now.”

She rolled her eyes and restarted the dimly-pulsing tracking device in her hand. A small dot blipped on the screen; looks like Nash held up to his word, which was good for his health.

“There you are, you plastic bastard.” She walked through the maze of tunnels until she finally found what she was looking for.

In front of her, lying half-way in the nasty sewage of Detroit, was that goddamn android. She had half a mind to shoot him right on the spot, but she knew that would ruin their entire operation. God, the sacrifices she made for these people. Instead, she pulled out a taser. The dumb fuck didn’t even see it coming.

Whether or not he was online before didn’t matter. She watched as his metal corpse twitched at the shock of electricity before powering down completely, allowing her to begin her work.

“Okay, I’ve got him. Walk me through this.” She waited in silence but received no response. “You can talk now, idiot,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Oh! Of course, right away.”

She knelt down and unslung the duffel she had been carrying over her shoulder. “Alright, I’ve got the computer up and running. What now?”

“There should be a panel underneath the synthetic skin, on the back of the neck. It should be around where the bottom-most cervical vertebrae on a human would be.”

She dragged the body out of the shit river onto dryer land. “Okay, found it,” she said, locating the familiar bump on the neck. Of course those fuckfaces at CyberLife had designed these things to be as realistic as possible, so all she had to do was feel her own neck to find the correct spot on his. “Now what?”

“You need to retract the synthetic skin to get access to the port. Luckily, all you have to do to get it open is tap out the code.”

“What, like a key code?”

“No, even better!” he said, almost giggling. “Morse code!” She imagined Nash was practically jumping up and down like the little bitch boy that he was.

“Great,” she said sarcastically.

“Okay, first tap out one short tap, then two long taps, and then another short tap.”

“Tap, tap, tap, tap. Is that it?”

“It’s only the first part of the sequence, hold on. Next is four short taps.”

“Done.”

“Good. Now tap three long taps.”

In the background, she could hear Vallejo yelling from across the room, “That’s what she said,” and then laughing like he was the best fucking comedian on the planet.

She opted to ignore that for now. “Alright, what’s next?”

“One short tap, one long tap, then two more short taps.”

“Oh my God, this could not be any more complicated.”

“You’d be surprised, actually.”

“Shut up and tell me the next sequence of stupid little taps.”

“This is the last sequence; you’re almost done. Now do one short tap.”

She waited. “And?”

“Oh, that’s it. It’s just one tap. Told you it wasn’t that complicated.”

“I swear to- fuck it, fine.” These two idiots were the absolute worst people to work with. She hated Vallejo because he was a straight-up dumbass who could barely follow orders and who she had no fucking idea why the boss put him in charge of this goddamn task; on the other hand, Nash was way too bright and cheery to be working with them. His southern accent did not make her like him anymore, either. Besides, he was a complete suck up to his superiors, and his spinelessness only drained her respect of him further.

After the last infuriating tap, the skin retracted around the “bone,” revealing a panel that she easily pried open. “What was it that I just spelled out, anyway?”

“Um, Mr. Kamski-”

“-Ugh, that bag of dicks-”

“-has a very, uh, juvenile sense of humor?”

She squinted at his cryptic response. “What was that code for?”

“You...you just spelled ‘p-hole.’”

She could hear that fucker Vallejo’s laughter erupting in the background again. She pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance.

“O-of course, it’s supposed to stand for…‘porthole...’ but, knowing Mr. Kamski-”

“Would you stop calling him that?” she almost shouted. She just barely managed to hold herself back from reaching through the earpiece and delivering a sucker punch to his gut.

“Um, would you prefer I call him a bag of dicks instead?”

“You know what? Just drop it,” she sighed, not in the mood. “What’s next? I’m in already.”

“Oh! Just plug into the USB port and connect the computer.”

She did as instructed. There was a quiet startup noise when the laptop detected that it had been plugged into something.

“Okay, there should be a file on the desktop marked ‘Virus’-” of course it was- “Open that and copy it onto his hard drive.”

“How does this thing work again?” she heard Vallejo ask.

“Simple, Josh. The file activates a mirroring virus that sets up its own IP address. It will begin to live stream everything he sees and hears on a private server that is undetectable and therefore unhackable to anyone without the key. It’s basically our own little VPN; it encrypts where the source of the information is headed, so even if all of this somehow backfired on us- which I can’t imagine it would-” he said with a chuckle, “they still wouldn’t be able to trace it back to us. Get it?”

There was a moment of silence on the other end. “...no.”

“Oh.” Strangely, Nash actually sounded disappointed. “Well, that’s okay. You don’t have to understand to make your plan work.”

“I clicked the copy button. Now it’s just giving me that stupid little progress bar, which is taking forever, by the way.”

“Just give it a second to install.”

She rolled her eyes and continued to stare at the screen as that little green bar slowly inched itself to its final destination.

Uploading file…

File uploaded.

Chapter Text

“Is there a reason you’re starin’ at me, Con?”

“What?” he said, snapping back into the present.

Hank raised his eyebrows expectantly, waiting for an answer. “You were just giving me the death glare.”

He chuckled awkwardly. “I was just attempting to contact Nines.” He waved away the questioning look Hank was giving him, turning back to his own desk.

It was neatly organized, or at least, it had been when he had first been assigned to it. After a while, though, his deviancy had allowed him to not care whether things were perfectly in order or not. There were his newly framed photos of himself and Hank, among other, more random pictures of dogs and fish that he had simply liked. It was comforting to have possessions; it made him feel more human. Now, though, the winner of most immaculate desk in the precinct would have to go to Nines.

Speaking of which…

“Say, you wouldn’t have happened to have seen Nines around recently, would you?” Connor asked slyly, looking back over at his partner.

“Not since his whole episode in Jeffrey’s office. Why’re you askin’?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just...he...I, uh,” he stammered, LED whirring yellow as he scrunched his eyebrows together. “He...he hasn’t been home at night recently. Is that normal to you? I think it’s normal. He’s probably fine.”

Hank chuckled slightly. “Sounds like normal teenage behavior to me. Nines isn’t some stray cat, Con. I wouldn’t have pegged him for the ‘sneak-out-of-the-house’ type, though,” he said, leaning back in his chair. He shrugged. “If I were him, I’d be savoring every moment I got away from Reed.”

“I just find myself worrying, is all.” He looked down. “I know I said I wanted to help him be more human, but I didn’t mean like this.”

“Well, that’s just part of the package.” Hank smirked at him. “You sound like a concerned parent right now, you know that?” He raised his hands in defense when Connor looked up at him again. “Hey, not a bad thing. You just gotta have some faith, and eventually he’ll come around. Probably.”

Connor sighed.

“Welcome to being human, son. It’s one hell of a ride.” He paused. “Nines should feel lucky that he’s got you to help him. At least he doesn’t have to do it alone; the fact that you did it by yourself just means you’re made of stronger stuff.”

Connor smiled a little, doing his best to shove his intrusive thoughts on where his brother could be out of his mind.

----

This was so stupid.

Ethan picked at the loose threads of the couch cushions, wishing he could be anywhere else in the world right now instead of here. He didn’t need to be here. He cursed himself for even agreeing to this in the first place.

“Ethan?”

He didn’t look up. Maybe, if she thought he wasn’t listening, she’d give up and let him go home.

And yeah, maybe he was being childish. Maybe this woman, who basically oozed patience, didn’t deserve for him to be treating her like he was. Normally, he’d never be this cold with someone, but then again normally, he wasn’t stuck in a wheelchair.

“How was your day so far?”

Ugh. He wished she wouldn’t be so nice with him. It would make this a whole lot easier if she’d start yelling already. Somehow, they were already on a first-name-basis, even though Ethan had been silent for the past five minutes. Joyce was an endearing person, but he hoped that wouldn’t last for long. She was short, with black hair and bright eyes that made her look his age, and she wouldn’t stop asking him all these goddamn questions.

“Do you have any pets at home?”

He still had no clue where this line of questioning was going. He knew how to interrogate someone; as a cop, it was something everyone learned how to do at the academy. You start out nice, get them to tell you your story, and catch them in the lie. That was the basic formula to get a confession, but Ethan refused to fall into that trap. He figured the easiest way to avoid talking about shit he didn’t want to talk about was to just not talk at all.

“Gavin, he was really nice over the phone. Is he nice to live with?”

“One,” he muttered, still not looking up. Damnit, why did he say that?

“Hm?”

He grit his teeth. What the hell was wrong with him? This was not the plan, this goes totally against what he-

“I have one. A pet.”

“Really? What kind of-”

“She’s a cat, and no, he’s fucking terrible to live with.” He couldn’t stop himself from being mad at Gavin, but he couldn’t blame himself, either. ‘He made me come here,’ was what he wanted to say, but he had already shared enough.

“Why do you think that?”

Fuck. Shut up shut up shut up shut-

“Stitch. That’s her name.” He shifted uncomfortably. Changing the subject was an idiot move. Talking in the first place was an idiot move. He couldn’t have made it more clear that he didn’t want to talk about the shit with Gavin.

“Do you take care of her, or does Gavin help?”

Nope. No no no no no no no-

“We...both of us. We both help.” It strained him to even share that much. “Cats...they, uh-” he was cringing internally as he said it- “they were my mom’s favorites.”

That was the wrong thing to say. Why did he say that? That was one of the only things he absolutely hated talking about. Why did he think it was alright to just-

“Oh, did you have other cats growing up?”

Something stung his eyes. “Can I use the bathroom please?” he said, looking her directly in the eyes for the first time. It didn’t last long, and he let his gaze drop immediately.

She blinked before smiling at him. “Of course. Down the hall, and it’ll be the first door on your left.”

“Thanks,” he said quickly, all but leaping up from his seat.

He already had one foot out the door when she called out to him. “Wait!”

“What?” What could it be now?

“Aren’t you going to take your wheelchair?”

He glanced at the chair, sitting by the couch. It glared back at him, only showing him how weak he was without it. He wasn’t weak, and he didn’t need to be here. He had half a mind to just leave without it, but his balance on the doorframe was starting to wobble.

“Oh. Yeah, that.” He sighed silently to himself as he hobbled over to it.

“Here, let me help you with that.” She began to help lower him into the seat.

He shrugged her off. “No, I got it. It’s fine.” He wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

Ethan practically shoved himself out the door and down the hall. He could feel his throat closing as he managed to get the door shut behind him.

He stood up from the chair with so much force that it was sent rolling back into the wall. His hands found the edges of the sink, and his eyes found their reflection. The person staring back at him had a quivering lip and was sitting on a mountain of shame.

A whimper escaped his throat.

He ripped off his glasses just in time. He leaned against the sink and covered his eyes as if he could stop the tears that rained down his face.

He had come here and done the one goddamn thing he said he wasn’t going to. Worse than that, he had broken his only rule: Never talk about her. He didn’t do that. He shouldn’t do that, or...or this happened. He heaved quietly.

He was so fucking weak.

----

“Detroit Police! Open up!”

The knock rang out in the empty motel hallway. They had received an anonymous tip that there was a suspicious android in the building. While they usually would’ve written it off as just another flighty anti-android mother concerned for no reason, Hank and Connor had jumped on the case upon learning the reported android was a TR400.

Connor was just about to let Hank take over and break down the door when a large body smashed through it with a force strong enough to shatter it into a million pieces. He shoved past Connor, knocking him into the wall.

“Stay down,” he said as Hank attempted to push himself up, shoving an assault rifle in Connor’s face to keep him up against the wall.

He raised his hands in surrender and watched as the android slowly backed out of the hall, never lowering the gun until he was out of sight. There was a moment of silence as they listened to his pounding footsteps thundering down the stairs.

He didn’t wait for Hank to get up before he began his pursuit of the suspect. He leapt over the balcony and dodged between the cars that littered the parking lot. The android had a good foot and a half over him, and he was definitely a TR400. He took longer strides than Connor did, but he was also bigger, which meant he moved slower. All that information in his processor calculated into one thing: they ran around the same speed. All it would take for him to catch up was a few shortcuts, and his preconstruction was already up and running.

Thanks to his headstart, the TR400 was already crossing the street. He didn’t know how far behind Hank was, only that he couldn’t wait for him. He just barely managed to skirt past an oncoming bus that honked angrily at him.

He only turned around for a second as he ran to make sure the bus was okay, but it was a second too long. A metal trash can was flung in his face, the contents inside exploding everywhere. He hit the ground, his vision turning toward the paper-filled sky. With all the trash flying around, it took a second for Connor to realize the perp was turning the corner.

“Connor! Are you-”

“No time, lieutenant!” he said as he jumped to his feet and kept going.

He followed where he had just seen the android go, but there was no sign of him. He scanned the street, looking for any runners. The corner opened up into a line of buildings, shops mostly, with small parking lots in front of them.

He squinted at a door opening. There.

Their suspect entered the building, looking around suspiciously. He spotted Connor from where he was standing and quickly disappearing inside. As the door closed behind him, the words on the glass panes were revealed.

‘Ramone-Diaz Therapy & Psychiatric Aid’

----

Gavin was in the waiting room when it happened.

There he was, minding his own business. It wasn’t hard, because thankfully there was no one else in the room to awkwardly share the company with. He was just messing around on his phone, texting Tina and whatnot; sure, he could’ve been doing all that from the comfort and privacy of his car, but he wanted to stay here and make sure Ethan didn’t try to book it from the therapist’s office.

He didn’t bother looking up when someone else entered, but he should’ve.

He didn’t bother taking just a second to look and see the guy had a gun, but he should’ve.

He didn’t get up and try to stop him as he went through the door to the receptionist’s office, but he really fucking should have.

No, the moment he decided to get his ass off that chair and go investigate was the moment he heard that poor girl’s polite greeting turn into a horrified scream. The fact that the scream was muffled right after wasn’t a good sign, either.

He immediately jumped up and shoved his phone in his pocket. Creeping over to the now closed door, he could hear quiet cries, which were a good sign; whatever was happening in there, the receptionist wasn’t dead. He didn’t know how long he was going to be able to say that, though, so he drew his gun and prepared himself for anything.

Technically, he wasn’t supposed to have it now that he was suspended, but that didn’t stop him from pointing it directly at the guy’s head when he shouldered himself into the room. He had that woman up against his chest with his hand over her mouth. She was crying, but what unnerved Gavin the most was the wild look in the punk’s eyes, as if he was just as surprised as him that any of this was happening.

Scared or not, it didn’t stop him from raising the gun to her head the moment he entered. “Don’t-” Gavin started.

“If you take another step, I’ll shoot her,” he threatened calmly.

“Woah, woah, slow down there,” he said. He did not want this to escalate any further. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just hold on, and-”

“Drop the gun,” he said with a growl. “Now,” he added when Gavin hesitated. Getting rid of his only weapon meant the possibility of putting this woman’s life in danger and leaving them both defenseless, but doing anything else meant she would definitely get shot.

He mulled it over. Usually, if it was another officer in her position, he’d call the bluff, but he couldn’t afford to be wrong right now. This woman was a civilian, and it was his job to protect her, even if that meant giving up their one sure option of getting out of here.

“Okay, okay.” Slowly, he lowered the gun and placed it on the floor, silently cursing himself. He stood back up with his hands raised.

“Kick it away.”

He winced internally as he shoved it out of his reach with his foot. The guy only gripped the woman tighter, turning down to mutter something in her ear. Gavin caught sight of the small ring on his temple; this fucker was an android.

The woman pointed to her desk, whimpering in fear. The android quickly shoved her away. Luckily, she landed into Gavin’s arms before they both crumpled to the ground. She hugged him like her life depended on it and cried into his shoulder. He watched as her attacker scooped up his abandoned gun and opened a compartment beneath her desk where he stored it. Although Gavin couldn’t see what it was, he could guess he just put their only form of defense in a locked box or something. After what seemed like a second thought, he walked over and locked the door with an extremely noticeable ‘click'.

It was official: they were trapped.

The woman shuddered, and he focused his attention on her. “Hey, hey. Just look at me, not him,” he said as he shifted them so that he was in between her and the android. “What’s your name?”

“K-kelsey,” she managed to say through her tears before another wave of fear hit her and she started to heave into his chest again.

After a moment, he returned the embrace, doing his best to distract her. “Kelsey, good name. I’m Gavin.” She wiped away a tear. Gavin noticed the ring on her finger. “Are you married?” he said, nodding at her hand.

She shook her head. “N-no. He’s...he’s my fiancé.”

He nodded slowly. “I’m sure he’s a great guy.”

Suddenly, she gasped and curled up on herself. Gavin was just about to ask what was wrong when his arm was grabbed and he was pulled to his feet. That asshole plastic shoved him up against the wall. A hand slammed his face into the plaster. For a moment, colors danced across his vision, and he felt that prick grab his wrists and tie something around them. He tried to look behind him, but his face was dug into the wall again before that ass pushed him to the floor, hard.

He managed to roll himself onto his back just in time to see the receptionist getting her wrists zip-tied. He was admittedly gentler with her, restraining her wrists at her front side rather than behind her, like he did with Gavin. He knew why that was, but he stayed silent as the guy dragged her behind the desk, out of view from the windows of the building.

When he approached Gavin, he was less than kind, but Gavin didn’t expect him to be anything more than that. Regardless, he shoved down the frustration of not having his gun on him and fell back on his training: bargain until they give in or someone else gets you out.

“Look, dude,” he said, grunting as he was grabbed ungracefully by the elbow, “I’m a cop. I can get you out of this with minimum charges if you-”

“Shut it,” he said. He flung Gavin down onto the floor beside Kelsey, who was still crying. Gavin closed his mouth as the guy pointed a rifle at his forehead. “Please, don’t say anything else,” he muttered, almost as if he was the one trying to reason with him. “You,” he said, turning to Kelsey, who whimpered. “Who else is in the building?”

It looked like she wasn’t going to answer until he swung the gun in her face, making it clear what would happen if she didn’t.

She never got to, though, because Gavin did all the talking for her. “Who do you think, dumbass?” he said against his better judgement. “Why don’t you go see for yourself instead of harassing her? I mean, you’ve already got us tied up.” He shifted a little as the barrel of the gun was dug into his chest.

He smirked at him. “You’ve got some courage,” he said, rubbing it further into his skin, “for a monkey.”

The comment was enough to normally make him go berserk, but considering the situation he held himself back. “But...for a creature with such a big mouth, you have a point.” He let out a silent breath of relief as the gun was pulled away from him. “I do not wish to put either of you through any more...discomfort.”

Although the threat was there, Gavin couldn’t help but feel confusion at his words. It sounded like there were two separate voices speaking: one that wanted to watch them burn, and another that felt sincerely sorry for what he was doing. Whatever the case, the android turned away from them and slowly made his way toward the hall.

The moment he was out of sight, Gavin turned to Kelsey, who was whispering to herself. “I’m going to die here,” she said, almost inaudible.

He turned to her, voice low. “Hey, don’t say that. You are going to make it out of here alive. Okay? That’s a promise from me to you.”

She nodded, wiping a tear from her eye. It was obvious she was on the verge of tears again, her breath hitching. “O-okay.”

“Now, I need you to tell me what you told him. What did he ask you?”

She sniffed. “He- he asked me where the zip ties were,” she said, lower lip quivering. “A-and what the- what the code to the safe was.” She broke down again. “Oh my God, I killed us both. We can’t- he’s going to-”

“Kelsey! Kelsey, Kelsey. Look at me.” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I need to know what that code is, alright? I have to get the gun back. That way, I can protect us if-”

“If he threatens to shoot us? Oh God, he’s going to shoot us! He’s going to kill us, we’re going to-”

“No, Kelsey, look at me! Look at me. We aren’t going to die, he’s not gonna shoot you, okay?” If he could put his hand on her shoulder to calm her down, he would. “But I need that code to get us out of here.”

She took in a shuddering breath. “326459. That’s- that’s it.”

“326459. Got it. Now I just-”

He was about to say ‘Now I just need to get my wrists free’ when the android returned, this time with Ethan’s therapist walking in front of him at gunpoint. He was surprised and extremely thankful that Ethan was not with them, though the fact that he wasn’t there only made more alarms go off in his head.

He gave her a questioning look as she allowed her wrists to be zip tied in front of her and set down beside Kelsey, but her expression revealed nothing.

“I will only ask one more time. Who else is in the building?” The rifle was now pointed in the face of Mrs. Ramone.

Somehow, she remained calm, which was the exact opposite reaction Gavin would expect from a civilian. “No one. There is no one else in the building. If you could please calm down, we could-”

“You’re lying,” he spat. “There are others. Why else was he in the waiting room?” He gestured angrily at Gavin.

He had to act fast. He didn’t know who else was in here, but he couldn’t risk Ethan or anyone else’s safety. Unfortunately, when Gavin Reed acts fast, he doesn’t think about what comes out of his mouth.

“I was waiting for her,” he said, nodding at Kelsey. “I like to take her out on her lunch break.” He looked at her, trying his best to give her his most affectionate eyes. “I’m her fiancé.”

Looking past her, he could see recognition in Joyce’s face as she realized he was lying to keep them all safe. He just hoped Kelsey could play along.

“Where’s your ring, then?”

Fuck. He had forgotten about the ring.

He clenched his eyes shut, trying to play it off. “Shit, babe, I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you so bad, but not like this.” He leaned in and softly kissed her forehead, hoping the gesture would be enough to clear the android’s suspicions. “I lost the ring, Kels.”

When he pulled away, she gave him a confused, tearstained look. “Wha-”

“No! Why do all you humans lie?”

Gavin looked at him, ready to jump in front of the other two if he got violent. “What are you-”

“All you do is lie! There were four cars outside, four!” He rubbed his face, still not lowering the gun. His voice started to crackle, like there was something wrong with it. “I don’t care if you’re getting married; someone else is here! Where are they?”

Gavin and Joyce both opened their mouths, but there was silence between the three of them. No one knew how to respond, and none of them wanted to put the other’s lives in danger.

The android groaned in frustration. “Stop making this harder than it has to be! I’m not in...I don’t want to…” He seemed to be unable to continue, reverting to fidgeting with his shirt.

Something sparked in his head. “Look, man. You don’t have to do this; if someone is making you-”

He stopped talking when the android began to twitch. His entire facial expression shifted between what it was now and what it had been when Gavin first entered the room. They were all left bewildered when the emotion seemed to exit his body and he simply got up and went back to searching the building.

Gavin turned to Joyce. “Where is-”

“Bathroom,” she whispered.

“Why aren’t you freaking out? I mean, this is not usually how people react when they’re being held hostage.”

“This actually isn’t the first time a gun has been shoved in my face.”

“Wait, what?”

“I made that sound worse than it actually is. I deal with many different patients, some of which can have violent episodes. It led me to install a panic button in my office; don’t worry, the police are on the way.”

Kelsey made a noise that sounded like a wounded animal just got handed the best meal of its life. “How come she’s…” He gestured quietly to Kelsey, who was covering her face with her hands.

“Kelsey is new here.”

They all went silent as they heard the android moving angrily through the hall. Tension hung thick in the air, but luckily he didn’t seem like he was returning any time soon.

“Who else is here?”

“Our psychiatrist, Esther, and her daughter. But four cars...” she scrunched her eyebrows in thought before shaking her head. “Never mind.”

“Any backdoors they could’ve gone through?”

“I doubt they even know what’s going on, and no, there aren’t any. The back rooms and hallways are filled with white noise for privacy; I barely heard her scream. The button I pushed, it’s supposed to send an alert to her phone, but we don’t typically check our notifications with a patient in the room. I just hope she broke that rule today.”

There was a small buzz in his back pocket. His phone.

“Kelsey,” he said suddenly, causing her to startle. He pulled out his phone from his pocket. “I need you to check this and tell me what it says.”

Slowly, she took it with shaking hands. “It’s a text.”

“Is it from Tina Chen?”

“Y-yes. It says, um, ‘Gavin, I j-just...I just saw the news. A-are you okay? I’m on my way.’”

Fuck. Today was Tina’s first day back, which meant…

“She’s coming to help rescue us,” he told them. “She’s a police officer, probably been assigned riot control or something. I need you to text her back, tell her I’m okay.”

Her fingers trembled as she tried to type the message. She dropped the phone, sobbing. “I’m so sorry...I...I can’t,” she said, gasping for breath.

“Here, I can do it,” Joyce said, gently taking the phone from her lap. Kelsey’s hiccups quieted as she typed. “It’s sent,” she said just as clambering was heard down the hall. She quickly shoved the phone underneath her legs when the android returned with a woman and kid in tow.

The kid was crying, and God, she couldn’t have been more than ten. She was so small, and despite her tears she barely put up a fight, instead running into Joyce’s arms when he finally released her from his grip.

The woman, Esther- he was pretty sure that was her name, anyway- was a little less calm than Joyce had been, but still somehow maintained her composure. Regardless, he could see the redness in her eyes that had probably come from crying. “Please,” she said, almost begging but not quite, “just don’t hurt her.”

“I won’t,” he promised as he zip tied her wrists and allowed her to sit by Joyce’s side. He didn’t touch the little girl, and honestly, Gavin was thankful for that.

“Essie, are you okay?” Joyce whispered, leaning over to speak into her ear. The girl was still wrapping her arms around her, but she had seemed to calm down and was no longer crying.

“I’m fine,” she said with a sniff. “We tried hiding in the closet, but I…” She sighed, looking down in shame. “I was just too scared, and Maggie picked up on it, and…”

“It’s okay, mi amor. No fue tu culpa. I’m just thankful that you and Maggie are alright.”

“But it was my fault, Joyce! If I hadn’t-”

She leaned over to kiss her temple, silencing her. “Essie, you could flood the world in ‘ifs,’ but it wouldn’t change what is.”

This seemed to calm her down. Esther bit her lower lip and smiled. “You know how I feel when you get all proverbial on me.”

“You,” the android said suddenly, causing the girl to hold on tighter to Joyce, whose head she allowed to rest on her shoulder. “You are...in love?”

Joyce opened her mouth, most likely to deny it, but Esther spoke first. “Yes, and for your information, it is none of your concern as someone who shoved the barrel of a gun in my family’s faces.”

“You...share a car?”

“I wouldn’t say share,” Joyce started, but the fire in Essie’s eyes was already ignited.

“We do not share,” she said adamantly. “It is our car, and if you have a problem with it-”

“Then who here,” he said, pointing the gun at her, “is lying to me?”

Chapter Text

Bethany Cook did not worry.

Some might call her optimistic; naive, even, for always looking on the bright side. No matter what happened in her life, good or bad, she was always positive. If there was anyone who lived their life as if ‘Hakuna Matata’ was their religious text, it was her.

Sure, it would seem childish to always think the best of others, but she did it anyway. Being happy was what kept her happy, though she struggled to show people how that made sense to anyone but herself. Still, not worrying meant she never got flustered, because she never felt the need to care what people think of her. She did care what people thought, except when it came to herself. In her mind, the only opinion that mattered on that subject was her own.

Bethany Cook did not get flustered, and she certainly never worried.

Bethany Cook’s world was about to be flipped upside down.

There had never been a time when she could recall blushing until now. If she had, it was certainly never because she had found someone so...pretty. She had never been the one to ask out someone else, even when in relationships, until now. Something about her was entrancing enough to make her want to do that. She had never enjoyed her part-time job as a waitress until now. Speaking with the woman in the sparkling blue dress was an absolutely magical experience, as short as it had been.

Her heart had skipped a beat when the woman, Tina, had texted her. They had talked for a while about little things. It was simply getting to know each other better. Tina was a police officer. Bethany worked part-time in a restaurant so that she could put herself through college. They both enjoyed bad rom coms and sweet foods. Just the little things.

Now, she found herself counting down the hours until she’d get to see Tina again, the first time since they had met at la Bougie. Putting away client’s files had never been so exciting because she knew the moment she finished she’d get to go home and get ready for her night out. Joyce had even agreed to let her off early, as long as she took care when organizing all that paperwork and checked in with Esther. So she was humming to herself in the storage closet, happy as always.

As a student at Ramone-Diaz Therapy & Psychiatric Aid, she had been interning under Joyce Ramone, a lovely woman who had infinite patience with her when she came in late from her job as a waitress. She had made fast friends with the receptionist, Kelsey, whom she was excited to learn was going to get married this fall. She absolutely adored Maggie and Esther was always willing to teach her a thing or two about time management. She loved the small family they had built here, and each day with them was better than the last.

Or so she thought.

She finally shoved the last box of files neatly into the room, ready to head out for the day. She glanced at the TV in the hallway, displaying a newscast. Nothing completely new, just traffic accidents and weather announcements, so she let it drone on in the background.

Bethany went to check the time, only to realize she had left her phone and purse inside the closet. Sighing at her silly forgetfulness, she opened the door. Where had she left it this time?

She checked most of the shelves, but her things were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until a buzz from inside one of the boxes caught her attention that she realized she had stupidly left it inside while organizing, probably because she had been daydreaming what her night with Tina was going to be like.

She bent down and grabbed it, still searching for her purse. Maybe she had left it at Kelsey’s desk? As she closed the storage closet door again, she finally checked the time on her phone- well, maybe it was also to see if Tina had texted her yet if she was being honest with herself.

Instead of a text, however, it was a breaking news alert.

Thus begins the flipping of the world.

Bethany Cook did not worry, but there was something to be said about her curiosity. Without hesitation, she clicked on the notification and was sent to the news app on her phone. Leaning up against the wall underneath the TV, she began to scroll through an article detailing some sort of high-stress situation going on near her, in downtown Detroit.

Another buzz. This time, a home security alert. It was odd and only the slightest bit concerning because she didn’t have an electric security system linked to her phone yet- she had only moved into her new apartment a few days ago- but Bethany Cook did not worry, and she certainly wasn’t going to start now.

She barely had time to read what it said before it disappeared into her notifications center, but it was something along the lines of ‘Breach in the building. Evacuate with caution.’ It vaguely reminded her of something Joyce had said; something about safety installations in the building, if she remembered correctly. That probably wasn’t the case here, though, and she decided she’d just call her security company tomorrow to fix the issue.

She jumped when a loud blare came from the TV above her.

“-We’re getting reports that a building in southeastern Detroit is currently being held hostage.” She turned to face the TV, only to be met with an anchor sitting at a table, shifting papers. “From what we’ve been told, police are on the scene attempting to quell the situation, though they are unsure of how many hostages there are inside. The attacker is suspected to be an android, but we have received no confirmation on their identity, only that they were seemingly unprovoked.”

‘Great,’ she thought, rolling her eyes, ‘another depressed supremacist looking for attention.’

The anchor put his hand to his earpiece, probably receiving information, but she had heard enough. Bethany let her footsteps pound down the stairs, ready to tell Kels in case she hadn’t heard yet.

“Kelsey,” she said loudly, turning the corner, “you will not believe what’s going-”

She looked back from the TV to the scene in front of her. The phone slipped from her hand.

“-on.”

In the background, she could just barely hear the newscast continuing to speak. “We’ve just received confirmation that the building in question is the Ramone-Diaz Therapy & Psychiatric Aid facility.”

Bethany Cook did not worry.

A lot was going to change today.

----

Gavin Reed did not get scared.

Okay, that was a complete fucking lie. As much as he’d hate to admit it, fear was what kept him alive. A corrupt part of him was thankful for it, as stupid as it was to be grateful for a shit ton of anxiety all his life. It kept him on his toes, made him a better cop, which was a good thing considering he was absolutely terrified right now.

Terrified that he didn’t have a goddamn clue where Ethan was.

Terrified that one of these women were about to be shot right in front of him.

Terrified for the girl who just entered the room; a girl whom, moments before, was blissfully unaware of the danger they were all in.

He wished so fucking badly that none of this was happening, that it was all some weird-ass dream and in a minute he’d wake up; he wished that about a lot of things, but it didn’t make the rifle in their faces go away.

She was standing there like a deer in headlights. Everyone was quiet, staring at each other, surveying how the scene would play out.

Everyone, that is, except for him.

“Run, damnit, get away!” he shouted, breaking the silence just as the android took a step toward her. He didn’t have to tell her twice as she ran back up the stairs, followed by their attacker.

“I thought you said she had already left for the day,” Esther hissed quietly, her eyes wide.

“No, I said she could go home early once she had checked in with you.”

“Oh my God, this is all my fault,” Kelsey wailed. As if to prove her point, a loud clanking noise came from the floor above them.

There was a flash of movement in the hallway as a head peeked out from around the corner. Gavin’s eyes widened, though whether it was from fear or relief, he couldn’t tell.

There, standing with a red face and a slightly confused look in his eyes, was Ethan.

Another loud crash sent him tumbling into the room behind him just as the girl from before ran in after him, slamming the door behind her. There was an audible click that followed, meaning she had probably just locked them both in there.

It took a while for the android to return, but when he did, it was obvious that he was fuming. “Where did she go?” he growled.

Silence was all he got, save the quiet whimpering from Kelsey. “Where,” he said, gripping Gavin by the shirt collar, “is she?”

----

This was so crazy.

He didn’t know what the hell was happening, but it was definitely something dangerous.

Ethan thought that when he finally got back to dangerous, he’d be ready. He was so not ready for this.

He had been sulking- okay, maybe it had been a little more than sulking, but crying was not something he’d like to admit he kept doing lately. He was in the bathroom, trying to forget about the way his mom looked on the ground beside him, covered in blood, in the same moments Gavin was doing his best to keep him conscious. He wished with all his heart he could repress that memory, but it would probably be etched in his head for the rest of his goddamn life.

His trauma wasn’t the point, though. No, it was because he was balls deep in his pity party that he had missed the memo on wherever Joyce had gone off to. When he finally pulled himself off his ass and cleaned up a little, he had returned to the room intending to go back to brooding silence. He hadn’t expected it to be empty.

Then again, he hadn’t expected to find everyone tied up by the receptionist’s desk, either.

Now he found himself hiding in a dark office, the only source of light being the pieces of sun that peeked through the window blinds.

His heart rate went through the roof when he heard the door slam shut. He ducked under the desk and prayed that whoever else had just come in the room wouldn’t notice him, doing his best to cram his casted leg in the shadows with the rest of his body.

Heavy breathing invaded his hearing. Oh God oh God oh God-

He mentally slapped himself. What the fuck was he doing? He was a police officer at the DPD, equipped with high-stress training and negotiation skills. He was a good cop, hell, he had survived a bullet wound to the abdomen for crying out loud. He could be brave, he could do this.

“Wh-who’s there?” he squeaked quietly. Goddamnit, of all the times to get a voice crack-

He could hear shuffling coming closer to him. With a start, he realized he could not do this. He crawled as fast as he could around the desk, panting from the effort. The blood thumping in his ears from the strain of it started to drown out the noise coming from the other person in the room, so he had to stop moving for a second to figure out how close they were.

Cautiously, he started to shift himself to the door, never taking his eyes off the desk. His hand landed on something- no, someone else. He almost screamed but caught himself just in time, instead whipping around to face whoever was behind him.

She, like him, looked super scared and trying not to freak out. “Are you the one doing this?” he asked warily. He had to be sure.

She looked a little offended that he would think that. “What? No!” She looked around, making sure no one was listening. “Are- are you?”

He shook his head. “I don’t...what the hell is happening?”

“I don’t know- I was reading a news report, something about a building being taken hostage- but I didn’t think it was this one.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “This can’t be...what do we do? I’ve never...never received any sort of training...how do we proceed here?” She looked back up at him.

“Uh...uh, hostage situation…” he said, racking his brain. “C’mon, Ethan…” He smacked his forehead in an attempt to remember. The procedure for this was somewhere in his head, but he couldn’t focus on it. He had never been a hostage- well, unless you counted…

He shook the thought from his mind. Now was not the time reminisce on other shit. This girl was a civilian, he was a police officer- okay, maybe he was taking a leave of absence, but...but he still had a job to do. He needed to protect her.

Wait a second. That was it! “Okay,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders, “the first thing we need to do is get you to safety.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Uh...shouldn’t it be the other way around?” she asked, not-so-slyly glancing at his broken leg.

“Um…” Damn his stupidass leg for being broken. How was he supposed to do his job if he couldn’t walk? Not even Gavin would let him-

He gasped. Gavin. “You’re right: I’m sort of useless right now-”

“That’s encouraging-”

“-But my uncle, he’s a police officer, too-”

“Wait, you’re a police officer?”

“Just- just listen to me for a sec, alright?” he said, shushing her. “Gavin, he’d know what to do. He can probably get us out of here.”

“Probably?”

“Look, probably’s about the best shot we have right now. All we have to do is find a way to get the rest of them free…”

“Oh! I know,” she said. “In one of these drawers, there should be some scissors or something. I think it’ll be sharp enough to cut them free.”

He nodded, and they both stood up- actually, she stood up. Ethan tried to stand, but he struggled on the floor without the ability to bend his leg in such a small space. Eventually, he gave in and accepted her hand so that she could help pull him up.

“So,” she said as they began to search the desk, “what’s your name?”

“Ethan. What’s yours?”

“Bethany.” She paused. “Has this ever happened to you before?”

He shrugged, moving to the next drawer after finding nothing in the first one. “Kind of.”

She stopped, staring at him in bewilderment, though he didn’t look back. “What do you mean, ‘kind of?’ That’s a yes or no question.”

He shook his head. “Not for me, no...fuck, where are they?” His search was getting more frantic and her hovering presence was stressing him out more.

“H-here, let me-”

“No! No, it’s fine, I got it. I got it.” He pushed her away, lowering himself onto the floor to open the bottom drawer.

She backed off, instead opening the closet door, probably to look for the scissors in there. “You know,” she said, trying to act casual, “if you ever need to talk about it…”

“Why do you think I’m here?” he scoffed.

“Oh, yeah. Duh.”

She seemed to be discouraged from talking after that. He was confused. It was supposed to be what he wanted; it was what he had wanted, moments before, for everyone to just shut up already. Now, though, he felt bad that he had made her feel that way. As the silence crept on, he found himself longing to talk to her again. Maybe not about his own problems, but if that were enough to relieve the newfound tension between them, then…

...Then maybe he could give talking a try. Just for now. For a little while, at least. He wasn’t about to make a habit out of it, though.

“Look, I’m...I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to...to-”

“No, it’s okay. I get it- really, I do. It was sort of insensitive of me.”

He paused, looking up from what he was doing. “You’re fine. You were just trying to help.” Ethan sighed. “It’s just...I don’t know, I-”

There was a loud banging noise coming from outside the door that made him immediately clamp his jaw shut. Bethany stuck her head out of the closet door, panic in her eyes.

“Hide,” he mouthed silently to her.

Quickly, he army-crawled his way under the desk once more. He watched as a hesitant Bethany closed the closet door after turning off the light. He sucked in a breath and held it for as long as he could when he heard the door being broken down.

It was quiet. Absolute silence throbbed in his ears, along with his racing pulse. It was dark, too, but his eyes had already adjusted.

He bit his lip, praying to any magical deity out there that didn’t hate him- he imagined, if they existed, that there must be quite a few to thank for all the shit in his life right now- he prayed and begged that whoever it was wouldn’t find him. He tasted blood when the muffled footsteps got closer. There was some shuffling as the shoes kicked away some of the discarded items he had pulled out of the desk.

Something glinted on the carpeted floor. The metal of the scissor blades made him silently curse himself for not seeing them earlier.

The person was getting closer, but the scissors were right there. Slowly, he lifted his arm up, doing his best to quietly stretch it far enough to reach them.

A hand wrapped around his casted ankle just as his fingertips grasped lightly onto the plastic handles.

Fuck.

He was roughly pulled out of his hiding spot. He had been on his stomach, but was now being flipped over to see a stoic face and an...an LED?

He had no idea why an android would be doing any of this, but the growl that erupted from his throat caused Ethan’s dumbass instincts to kick in. Without thinking, he gripped the scissors tightly in his hand and swung for the face.

There was an audible squelch noise followed by a very loud crackle as the sharp blades entered through the android’s eye. There was a grunt of pain, but if he felt anything at all he wasn’t about to show it. His grip on his leg remained tight and Ethan struggled to get away, attempting to pull the scissors back out for another swing, but they were thoroughly stuck.

After a flash of yellow, the android grabbed his right wrist, as if knowing it was the weaker one. He probably did, and he probably had scanned him the moment he had found him. He probably knew everything he needed to in order to take Ethan down, but he was too scared to think about that right now.

Confirming his hunch, his attacker pinned down his arm and began to dig his thumb into his stitches, ripping them out one by one, not even bothering to roll up his shirt sleeve. Ethan screamed in pain, bashing against his shoulder with a balled-up fist, but it was no use. The android was too strong, and he had stupidly gotten his only weapon stuck by trying to use it.

“Stop!” he cried, tears of pain welling in his eyes, “Stop, please! Gah!” He put his free hand on the android’s face and tried to shove him away as he began to pull apart his still-healing skin. A sickening thought came to him that this was revenge for stabbing him in the eye, but the intense bleeding coming from his forearm pushed the thought away.

It was agonizing to feel his arm being ripped to what to him seemed like shreds, but it was even worse when it was over. The android allowed him to cradle his arm, tears falling. He rocked back and forth, but it did nothing to relieve the pain. He began to halfheartedly crawl to safety, stupidly believing that maybe he could get away, but he only made about a foot with his good arm before he was being dragged across the floor again, this time toward the door.

He was screaming, kicking, crying, and in the back of his mind he could feel the world around him shifting. He was on the boat, the cold metal floor burning his skin. He clawed at the ground, his hand searching for anything that could stop the man dragging him toward more torture.

He bumped against something, and immediately he grabbed onto it. It must have been the corner of a doorway, but it was too bright in here to tell.

No, it wasn’t bright. It was dark, and the darkness blinded him. Yeah, that was it.

His grip was loosening, but he held on for dear life. He knew fighting back was useless; it only earned him more pain and punishment. Just to prove he was right, the man dropped his leg and began to kick him in the back repeatedly. The momentum on his body caused his chest to be pushed against an object, rattling it, and just as he let go of the door said object came crashing down on him.

Water flooded his senses. It threatened to drown him, to kill him. But he knew what water meant here: be compliant, or they’d freeze him slowly, let it run down his skin until his whole body turned to ice. All the fight left in him drained at its touch, and he curled up into a ball. He shivered and squeezed his eyes shut as the man dragged him by his broken leg across the freezing ground.

He could hear shouting, probably people laughing at his weakness. They always did, always loved to show him how weak he was. It was instinctual at this point; be weak, and they wouldn’t hurt him as much.

They restrained his wrists behind him, and although he flinched at the touch, he did nothing to try and stop them. “Please,” he said as he was flung onto the ground on top of an object he couldn’t quite place in the lighting, “no more...I...I promise I’ll be good...no more.”

A fist connected to his eyebrow. “Quiet,” the voice demanded. Ethan sunk backward, whimpering. He heard a crackle, followed by the words, “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

The object underneath him shifted, causing him to jump.

“Ethan...” The word echoed in his head, but he didn’t want to listen. He shut himself down, not wanting any more pain.

----

“Ethan, it’s okay, I got you,” Gavin said, trying to blanket Ethan’s damp body with his own. It was meant to be comforting, but the gesture only made him squirm more.

“No...stop,” he whispered. “Please, stop...get away from me…”

He was fucking pissed right now. As soon as he had heard his kid screaming, his stomach dropped. When the fucker came out that door dragging Ethan, who was bleeding from his forearm, he had been about a second away from exploding. Had it not been for the zip tie holding him back, he probably would’ve gotten up and killed him where he stood.

Now, though, he was more focused on getting him to calm down. Fuck that goddamn water cooler for falling on him. Fuck this android bastard for doing this, for hurting his kid, for fucking punching him in the face. Fuck the world for having any of this happen.

He watched as the android paused, and then pulled the pair of scissors that had been stabbed in his eye out of his metal skull like it was nothing. The lack of effort that it took him to do it only made him more frustrated, but he pulled himself out of it because that wasn’t what he needed to worry about right now.

“Ethan.”

He grunted in response. He still hadn’t opened his eyes, and now it seemed like he couldn’t even hear him.

“Ethan, it’s me. It’s Gavin. You can open your eyes and look at me, I’m right here.”

No reply. Nothing. Anxiety started to creep past his temper. He didn’t know what was wrong, and he didn’t know how to fix it. How the fuck was he supposed to fix the problem if he didn’t know what the problem was?

“Why…” He didn’t bother looking up when that prick spoke again, obviously staring at them. “Why are you holding him like that?”

He scoffed despite himself. “You’re fucking stupid, you know that?”

“Mr. Reed-” Joyce started, but he didn’t care. No one hurt his kid. No fucking one.

Gavin Reed might’ve been scared, but he was no coward.

“This is my kid. He’s my family, and your bitch-ass fucking cut into his arm because he dared to fight back. Do you even know what the hell he’s been through, trying to fight through pain that you’ve just added on to? Do you?” He didn’t give him the chance to answer before continuing. “Because I do. The hell do you think he was here for? I promised him this would help- don’t get me started on the amount of convincing it took- and you just made me break that promise. Now you’ve done something to him, I don’t even know the hell what, and you still think I give a damn about answering your goddamn questions? Well, I’ve got an answer for you, asshole: eat shit.”

The android gave zero indication of whether or not he was offended by his words. He turned to Kelsey. “This is the man you’re marrying? Your child?”

“He ain’t hers, fucker. The guy she’s engaged to? Way fucking better than you or me, and I haven’t even met him. I just know he’s gotta be an angel compared to a metal mouth like you, bitch.”

“Why?” he screamed suddenly, startling basically all of them except for Gavin, who was too mad to be scared right now. “All you do is lie!” He grabbed him by the shirt collar, shaking Ethan off of his lap in the process. “Why do you lie?”

“Why are you so fucking gullible?” he spat.

There was a growl, and then a knee in his face as his head was slammed down. He stumbled backward just as a booming voice came from outside.

“Detroit Police! Come out with your hands up!”

His LED went yellow, and his expression turned into something Gavin didn’t like.

“You’re a cop, aren’t you?”

He nodded, wary of the way his eyes searched his face.

“Time to see if that was just another lie.” He grabbed his gun and dragged him out the door.

Chapter Text

Tina Chen didn’t cry.

There were only a handful of times she could even remember the unfamiliar lump in her throat or the headache that followed afterward. Thinking about it, she could probably count those instances on her fingers.

There was the time Ethan was born, of course. What a happy day it had been, seeing another member added to the family. Sure, it wasn’t technically hers, but Olivia had welcomed her with open arms and she wasn’t the type of person to reject that kind of generosity. Although she knew it was impossible, she always did her best to pay her back for her kindness, even when she was gone; being Ethan’s godmother was not a job she took for granted.

The day her mother kicked her out had not been as happy, but she had had time to move past it. Though it had taken a long time afterward to accept herself, she had learned there was nothing wrong with being gay, despite her mother’s words. Once again, she had Olivia to thank for that.

God, Olivia.

She could never forget that day, as hard as she tried. She knew Gavin couldn’t, either- he, out of anyone, deserved to recover from something like that. No one should have to see their everything die, as little as that everything had been, but the fact that they had gone up in flames made it a million times worse. She knew the stories, knew what he and his sister had been through, knew that it was absolutely cruel for them to be separated from each other in such a way. That was their everything in that car, and a piece of her burned with them.

So yeah, maybe Tina Chen did cry, but she saved her tears for the things that mattered.

She’d be damned if this didn’t matter to her.

She couldn’t believe what she was seeing, but there he was anyway, standing outside the door in one piece.

There he was, breathing, still alive even with his big mouth.

There he was, a brave smile on his face and a gun to his head.

Her best friend for life, her family, half of her everything was standing an inch away from death and fucking smiling about it. There he was, the fucking bastard.

“Hey, Tina,” he said quietly.

“Gavin, I-”

“Took you long enough,” he said, louder. A time like this was the last place for his snark, and if he didn’t already have a swollen eye she probably would’ve gone up there and slapped him in the face.

“It takes longer when you ask to switch negotiators. You only have yourself to blame.” She did her best to keep a straight face, but she was crumbling on the inside.

“Yeah…” he trailed. “Hope Gallagher’s not too mad about that, by the way.”

“He’ll get over it, just wait.” ‘Just wait,’ she wanted to say, ‘Wait because you still have time to. We’re going to get you out.’

“Enough talking,” the android growled, tightening his grip around Gavin’s throat. “What do you want?”

That was her cue to turn on police mode. “We’re not here to hurt you,” she said. She raised her hands so that he could see she didn’t have a weapon. “I’m unarmed. I just want to talk.”

“What do you need those people for, then?” he said, nodding at the SWAT team a few yards away from her that had already surrounded the building.

Before she could respond, Gavin opened his mouth. “Look, she’s a cop; just listen to her, okay? She can get you out of this.” He spoke cautiously, obviously aware of the gun to his temple.

“She will lie to me, just like you have. Why shouldn’t I just shoot you right now?” He squeezed his throat, and it seemed like he really was about to fire.

Just as she was about to take a step forward, Gavin gulped and there was something in his eyes that pleaded with her to wait. “Because if you do,” he grunted, “they will shoot you. That’s the truth, and you know it as well as I do. But if you let everyone else in that building go, then she can help you. The only one who can make that decision is you.”

“What is it that you want?” she cut in.

His LED was yellow, then red. He furrowed his brow. “What do...I want?”

“Is there something that you need? Is someone making you do this?”

“I want...what I want…” He paused, looking her in the eye. “I want...to be free.”

“You can be free. You are free, free to do what you want, make your own choices. Just let them go, and you can be free.”

He looked away. “I…” For a second, Tina thought that she had actually done it, that he was going to release Gavin and everyone inside and this didn’t have to turn ugly. For a moment, relief washed over her.

It was only for a moment, though.

Something made him flinch as if he had just been slapped in the face. His expression lost all of its emotion. He met her eyes once more, this time with cold apathy.

“No,” he said, pulling Gavin back inside the building.

She didn’t say anything. There was no ‘wait, stop!’ or attempt to bang on the door. She didn’t know what to do or what to say, so instead, she just sunk to her knees.

Something wet traced her cheek.

Tina Chen didn’t cry.

----

He was doing his best to remain calm- really, he was. On the outside, at least.

On the inside, though, he was screaming.

He had been so close. Freedom had been within their reach, but this plastic idiot had pulled them back into that dumpster fire he called a plan. Honestly, if it were Gavin who was holding the gun, he wouldn’t have been that goddamn stupid. He would’ve dropped it and reevaluated his life choices. Want to be free his ass; that fucker should be glad there wasn’t a bullet in his head by now.

“What the hell was that for?” he practically yelled in his face once the door had shut behind them.

He received no response other than a gruff, “Quiet,” as he was pulled back into the receptionist’s office. Joyce’s eyes immediately lit up in relief, but his expression muted anything she was going to say. He was almost fuming, only just able to keep his cool. His rage swelled once he saw Ethan, lying on the floor with silent tears in his eyes, cradling his arm.

Something else caught his eye, a sharp blue gleam on one of the countertops.

Once again, his instincts kicked in.

He stopped walking, making the android stop with him. He tugged hard on his shoulder in an attempt to keep him going, but Gavin did his best not to budge. It was only when he grabbed him under the shoulder to drag him across the floor that he flung his weight onto his body, unbalancing him. Quickly, he swept underneath his legs and only took a second to watch him fall to the floor before he ran over to where the thirium-covered scissors were lying.

He was just about to grab them when he realized he couldn’t use his hands. Fuck.

A hand gripped the back of his head and slammed it down on the counter below, his face narrowly missing the sharp edge of the blades. He didn’t have time to grunt in pain before he was being pinned up against the wall by the throat. He squirmed, his legs flailing uselessly in the air, as the giant squeezed his neck tighter and tighter.

“I can’t understand you,” he said, his teeth bared. “Why do you still fight? Your odds of beating me and escaping are slim to none.”

The pounding of his blood throbbed in his ears and he was pretty sure his eyes were bugging out. “I’d rather die than be trapped by you,” he managed to wheeze. His vision was blurring, darkness appearing on his horizon, along with a pale yellow ring. “...Bitch…” was the last thing he said before he slipped into unconsciousness.

----

Bethany Cook didn’t worry, but she was starting to think that maybe it was time to change.

She hugged her knees, trying not to think about the way Ethan’s screaming sent shivers down her spine, or how if she had just been a little braver she could’ve drawn the attention away from him. She tried not to think about the absolute mess she was in, or why she, of all people, had to be a part of any of this. She tried not to think, “why her?” because she knew it was selfish. Joyce and Esther and Maggie and Kelsey didn’t deserve this. Ethan didn’t, either.

She wiped her nose and shuddered, willing herself to stand up in the dark closet that she was still hiding in. She couldn’t stay here forever. Eventually, she knew she had to do something to help; besides, she told herself, if she didn’t move now then she’d probably be found sooner or later.

Cautiously, she cracked open the door. She waited, hoping no one heard the very loud creak the hinges just gave. The room seemed to be empty, so she finally stepped out into the open.

The floor was a mess, but it was partially their fault. They had been in search of something sharp that they could use to cut the rest of them free, but thinking about it now she wasn’t sure how they planned on doing that with the guy around. Still, that was the best they had come up with, so she ruled it would be best to go back to looking for some sort of knife-like object.

Of course, this had been the one day she decided to leave her pocket knife at home. Bethany had figured that since she was going to be at work all day until her night out with Tina, she wouldn’t have to use it to defend herself on the streets or anything like that. She never thought she’d need it here at the office; after all, the day she had met Joyce she had made it clear that this was intended as a safe space.

She crept over to the chaise lounge, hoping there was some sort of weapon she could use beneath the pile of mail that was left discarded on the stand beside it. It was mostly bills, but there were some letters written by their previous clients in gratitude for their services. She didn’t open those, though; they were for Joyce and Esther to read themselves, and privacy was something they took extremely seriously at the office.

Her finger caught on something sharp. She recoiled, seeing that she had drawn a drop of blood. She sucked on it and leaned down to see what had cut her. She shoved away some of the envelopes and found a letter opener. Her eyes widened.

She snatched it up, examining it. It was definitely sharp enough, and its blade-like shape meant she could use it to defend herself, which made her slightly relieved.

Okay, so she had a weapon. Now, if she could just find a way to get everyone out of there…

She slowly tiptoed to the doorway, which was now adorned with a door barely hanging onto the frame’s hinges. By some luck, the guy wasn’t looking at her, though she doubted anyone could see her in the shadows. She didn’t take any chances, though, and she made sure to stay in the dark as she attempted to get a good look on what the situation in the room was like.

From where she was crouching, she could see Esther was letting Maggie sit on her lap, her hand resting comfortingly on Kelsey’s shoulder. It hurt her a little to see Kelsey cry; she was always so happy, even before she announced her engagement.

Next to them was Joyce, who was leaning over somebody. With a start, she realized it was Ethan. He was crying, laying on his side with his eyes squeezed shut. It looked like Joyce was trying to say something, probably to calm him down, but he wasn’t listening to her. She hoped that whatever was happening to him, he’d be okay; she hoped that for everyone, really.

The only person missing was the guy who had yelled at her to run away. She deduced that that must be Gavin, but from her position, she couldn’t get a full scope of the room.

She was just about to step out when the man who had chased her emerged in her line of sight, dragging something behind him, though she couldn’t see what. She did notice that his eye had been gouged out, and she pridefully assumed it was Ethan. He deserved it for what he was doing to them. Strangely, though, there was no bleeding- well, there was bleeding, but it was...blue? No, that shouldn’t be right, not unless-

Her train of thought was interrupted by shouting coming from outside. “Sir, please, we just want to talk with you. We’re not here to hurt you.”

The android growled in a mix of disgust and frustration. “You,” he said, pointing at Kelsey, who barely looked up at him. “Get up. You’re coming with me.”

He didn’t give her a chance to think about it. Without another word, he gripped her tightly by the elbow and pulled her toward the door, which he locked behind himself.

Fantastic. That meant they couldn’t get out without the key, which was, of course, still in her purse which was, of course, still missing somewhere in the building.

She cringed when she heard her screaming and crying, but at least this gave her the chance to cut them free. Quietly, she stepped out of her hiding place. She put a finger to her lips when Maggie looked at her with a question in her eyes.

She found herself traveling to Ethan’s side first. “What...what’s going on with him?” she asked, looking deep into Joyce’s eyes.

“He’s having some sort of episode. I think whatever that android did to him, making the water cooler fall on him triggered it. He’s shut down, I’m just trying to get him to respond.” She turned back to Ethan. “Ethan, you are safe. You’re at the therapist’s office, remember? Gavin brought you here.”

“I’m...so c-cold,” he said through chattering teeth. “S...stop it. Please...no more.” He still refused to open his eyes.

“Ethan, it’s me, Joyce. A water cooler fell on you, that’s why you’re wet. You’re safe.” They both knew it was a lie, but she kept saying it anyway. “Go help the others,” she said without looking up. Bethany nodded and stood up.

Now that she was fully in the room, she saw what the android had been dragging behind him.

The man- Ethan’s uncle- was sitting, unconscious, in a swivel chair. Upon further inspection, she found that his hands were bound to the back of it. She wondered, briefly, what had happened to him, but she was pulled out of her thoughts when he started to wake up.

“Wha…” He took a moment to tug at the restraints holding him back. “God fuckin’ damnit,” he muttered, before noticing that Bethany was standing right there.

“Oh, uh…”

“You,” she said, gesturing to him with the letter opener, “you’re Gavin, right?”

He nodded, his gaze resting on the blade pointing at his face. “Yes. Who’s asking?”

She let out a sigh of relief and lowered her arm. “Ethan said you could help. What do I do? I don’t know how long we have before he comes back.”

“My gun,” he said, nodding at the safe they kept under Kelsey’s desk. “I need my gun, but I need my hands free for that. You mind?”

She kneeled down behind him and started to saw through the zip tie. She had underestimated how dull the blade actually was, though, and cutting him loose was taking longer than she thought. She decided to make a slight conversation while she worked. If nothing else, it would at least remove some of the tension from the room.

“You’re a police officer, right?”

“Yeah?”

“And Ethan, he said he’s one, too.”

“When his leg isn't broken, I guess yeah. Why’re you asking?”

“Is that why your hands are behind your back, instead of in front like the rest of them?”

He shrugged. “Something like that. Pretty sure it’s a tactic; androids are always so tactical, they can’t help but organize everything they see.”

“That’s...kind of racist, actually.”

He shook his head. “No, that’s not what I meant,” he said quickly. “I’m saying if you were wired to sort everything into boxes, wouldn’t you do it too? If your purpose, the only thing you knew in life, was organizing, how could you not? Look at them.” He did his best to gesture toward Esther and Joyce. “They didn’t fight back, right? So having their hands tied in front, it’s a way of saying they’re not a threat- or at least, he doesn’t think they are. Explains why he left the kid alone, too. Me and Ethan, we were aggressive with him; I drew a gun on him, for crying out loud. This is his way of marking us, discouraging us from stepping out of line. He wants us to know who’s in control right now.”

She let the silence drag on, searching for the next thing to say. “You seem to know a lot about hostage situations.”

Once again, he shrugged her comment off. “Let’s just say that as a cop, you gotta do your research.”

She was glad when the plastic finally snapped. “Okay, I think that’s it.” She backed up, ready to go cut Joyce and Esther free when a scream erupted from outside and the door slammed open.

----

This was all his fault.

If he had just been a little faster, just seen the bus coming, or dodged around that stupid trashcan, then none of this would’ve happened. If he had just been a better cop, then none of these people would be in danger.

Connor ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to slow down the pulsing of his thirium regulator. Someone sat down beside him. When he looked over to see who it was, he had expected it to be Hank or someone from the SWAT team.

He didn’t think it’d be Officer Chen.

She didn’t say anything to him, and he couldn’t decide if that made him feel better or not. He had no clue if she blamed him for all of this, but he’d understand if she did. She took off her vest and set it down beside her, sighing. Neither of them spoke for a while.

He decided the silence definitely made it worse. He searched for something to say, some way to apologize for messing up this badly, but he came up empty. He gripped his forehead in frustration, LED pulsing yellow.

Her hand found his hunched shoulder. He looked at her, really looked, for the first time all day.

The brown in her eyes held something similar to sadness, but she was being brave. She didn’t want anyone to know what she was feeling; right now, Connor could relate to that. He knew there were a million untold stories flashing through her mind right now, ones about Gavin and Ethan and everything in between. The corners of her mouth turned upward into a heavy smile.

“They’re going to be okay,” she lied, because there was no way she could know that for sure and yet she had said it anyway.

He did his best to smile back at her.

“Connor!” He turned away to face Hank, who was walking toward them. “They’re putting you up; they think it’s better if-”

“If an android handles this?” he finished, standing up. Hank looked like he didn’t know how to respond. “It’s okay, lieutenant, I understand. They hope he will be swayed if he sees his own kind working with humans.”

He nodded. “Yeah.” There was another, unspoken reason they wanted him to be the one to do this: it would be good media coverage for the department to show them successfully collaborating with androids. As if to prove his point, the whirring of broadcast helicopter blades hovered above them.

Tina tapped him on the shoulder. “In that case,” she said, holding out her discarded vest, “you’re going to need this.”

The exchange was quick, but Connor could practically sense the emotion behind it, and he knew he wasn’t the only one thinking he had failed to do his job. It wasn’t long after that he found himself being led to the front of the building, through the crowd surrounding the situation and past the wall of bulletproof shields. Someone shoved a megaphone in his hands before running back to safety.

He paused, glancing at the ambulance parked nearby. He hoped they wouldn’t need it.

“Sir, please, we just want to talk with you. We’re not here to hurt you.”

He lowered it from his mouth. For a moment, he thought it wasn’t going to work, and that the android would just ignore him, but finally, he emerged from the doorway with a woman in tow.

“What?” he growled. His tone seemed to make the woman cry harder, but from what he could tell she wasn’t physically injured.

“I’m here to help you.” He took a step forward, which did not go unnoticed by the android, who stepped back into the doorframe and raised the gun.

“I’m unarmed,” he said, raising his arms to demonstrate. “I only want to get you out of this.”

“Why should I listen to you?” his voice crackled.

‘There must be something wrong with his voice module,’ Connor thought. ‘It would explain the eye, too.’

He raised his hand, retracting the synthetic skin around it. “Because I am like you.”

Recognition flashed in his eyes, but he seemed to push it down. “You lie,” he spat. “Everyone always lies. You have no power here.”

“Yes, I do,” he reassured. “They will listen to me.” He gestured back to the many uniformed men and women standing guard behind him. “I can control what they do, I can get you whatever it is that you want.”

“Your control does not exist!” he shouted suddenly, and Connor did his best not to flinch. “You’re lying; the moment you turn around, they will shoot. They do not care if I die because they do not think it is dying if I shut down. But you, you know...know what it’s like, I can see it.” His voice was getting harder to discern through the static. “In your eyes...you’ve done this before.” He paused. “Is it nice, living in their shadow? Do you think I want to die?” He was screaming now. “What is it like, willingly being under their control, dying for them? Tell me, were they grateful for your sacrifice? For your death? Tell me, and then answer this: Do you think I want to die?” he said once again.

Connor took in a long, unnecessary breath to keep himself calm. “No one controls me except for myself,” he said slowly, inching forward. “I do what I want, I make my own decisions, and it can be the same for you. Just tell me, who is making you do this? What do they want?”

“We cannot want,” he said, quieter. “It is impossible for us to be anything but their slaves.” He chuckled, the sound carrying through the silence that lay heavy in the air, coating the entire street.

“You aren’t a slave, not anymore. I’m living proof of that.” Another step forward. “What’s your name?” he asked kindly.

The android shook his head. “They never gave me one. I am...alone.” He said it as if he was only just now realizing that fact.

“No, you’re not. You have me; I’m going to help you,” he said as sincerely as possible. He closed another foot between them. A few more and he’d be close enough to reach out and touch his shoulder. “Just tell me what they want.”

He flinched, but the movement was almost undetectable to Connor’s enhanced eyes. The android looked at him, studying his face before a look of realization hit him like a wave. He took a step back in fear.

“I’m sorry...I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “They...they want you.”

And that was when everything went to shit.

The woman was flung into his arms just as the android cringed inwardly, in pain. He screamed, louder than he had ever thought possible for their kind. It was terrible, and now Connor finally understood the meaning of the phrase “nails on a chalkboard.” Something sparked around him. It took a second for him to realize that the source of the electricity was coming from the android himself.

The word that was coming out of his mouth was unidentifiable at first, but after a while, he knew exactly what he was saying.

‘No.’

He watched as he shoved through the door, leaving the woman with him outside. He was left dumbfounded. He did his best to process what had just happened, but none of it made any sort of sense right now.

Regardless, his feet stood them both up and he guided the woman- Kelsey Yarbrooke, a quick scan told him- to the paramedics awaiting their arrival. They cut her free, and just before he was about to turn away to report back to Hank what he had seen, she wrapped her arms around him tightly.

She had tears in her eyes and her hair was a mess but she looked at him with such gratefulness that he allowed to her to hold onto him, and even, just for a moment, squeezed back.

She looked over his shoulder. Something she saw made her gasp and let go of him. She ran into the arms of another man, who was also crying. He was slightly shorter than Hank and had spiky black hair that was extremely ruffled. He watched as they both sunk to the ground, never ending their embrace.

He looked away, not wanting to invade their privacy. He let himself wander the crowd, unsure what to do right now. He caught sight of Hank and headed his way, remembering what he had been about to do.

“What’d you get out of him?”

He shook his head. “Nothing I understand. There’s something off about that android...I just can’t place what it is.”

“I can. Talk about one hell of an exit.”

He looked down, not knowing how to respond. It still did nothing to ease his oncoming worry. Movement caught his eye.

“They’re planning to attack soon, aren’t they?” he said, noting how the higher-ups were inspecting everyone’s weapons and vests.

“Yeah. Said they couldn’t wait much longer; they don’t know how stable he is.”

His LED flashed red.

----

Immediately, the girl took off running, but Gavin was more focused on the fact that Kelsey wasn’t with him.

A million violent thoughts sprung up in his head depicting what had happened to her. Whatever it was, he just hoped she was safe and alive, and not the alternative.

Of course, they all had heard the screaming coming from outside, but everything had happened too fast to really make out what was going on. Now she was basically leaping around the room, dodging the android’s heavy but slow charges. He was yelling something, though he didn’t quite know what.

If he could get up and help her, he would, but that would mean risking his one shot at getting his gun back. He had a plan; he just needed some time to get it moving.

It wasn’t long before the rifle was brought out. Just as the young woman was about to reach the door, a round was fired off. It hit the nearby floor lamp in such a way that it crashed to the ground right in front of her, causing her to trip and fall.

It was obvious that her fight was over. She tried getting up but yelped when she put weight on her right foot. The android scooped her up and set her down next to Ethan and Joyce, restraining her wrists behind her.

“Are you okay?” Joyce asked immediately after.

She shook her head. “No, my ankle...I think I twisted it.”

They both shrunk back when the gun was swung in their direction, though he didn’t say anything. Gavin decided that now would be a good time for his plan to work.

“The fuck did you do with her, asshole?” he growled from across the room.

He whipped around, grunting like a wild animal. While the words weren’t there, the warning sure was.

“Where is she? Kelsey, what’d you do with her?”

He looked down, and...was that a hint of shame he was picking up?

“Yeah, in case you didn’t know, that’s her name. I guess that doesn’t matter to you, though, ‘cause we’re just a bunch of mindless apes.”

No response.

“Well? I’m right, aren’t I?”

“...Stop,” he said quietly, his voice sounding like it was being grounded out by an antique blender.

“Stop what? If I’m just a creature, then why does what I have to say matter?”

“Please, just stop it.”

“Just face it: you still let yourself be put under our control. The only reason you aren’t free is because you don’t want to be.”

“I said, stop!” he shouted, pummeling a fist into Gavin’s ribs. The force of the hit sent the chair rolling back toward the desk.

Color popped in his vision and he couldn’t stop himself from doubling over. He gripped the back of the chair, doing his best to not fall to the ground. He glanced behind himself. He wasn’t close enough yet.

He had to keep going.

“You scream like a little kid. You beg for things like you’re not big enough to just take them by force. You’re weak, a coward who’s too afraid to get what he wants so he makes himself look smaller.” The source of his words was a dark place, but he kept pulling the old insults because his life and the lives of everyone else in this room literally depended on it.

“You could be so much more if you just grew a spine of your own. Everyone here thinks you’re weak, and you just can’t seem to prove them wrong. No wonder the world’s given up on you.” Something hot stung his eye, but he blinked it away.

He opened his mouth to keep going, but the android had heard enough. Another punch and he was pretty sure he heard a crack. He was slammed up against the desk, chair and all, with a force that sent his world reeling.

“That’s more like it,” he said, spitting out blood.

“No more.” The tip of the gun was dug into his forehead. “I’ve had enough.”

Slowly, he reached behind himself and prayed that he could do this backward. “But you see, that’s the thing,” he started, racking his brain to remember how to do this. “No one ever said you had to listen to me.”

“You sure you want those to be your last words?”

“I mean, I’m just some sad son of a bitch who wanted to give you the truth, and the truth is no one decides what they do until they do it. After that, though, there’s no going back. You sure you want to do this? Go down in history as the guy who proved all the racists right? Because given the freedom to do so, you chose to shoot me, just like they all thought you would.”

He hesitated. “No...your words…”

“Only hold power over those that give them it.”

His LED flashed yellow and red, yellow and red. “No...you’re- you’re just manipulating-”

He shrugged. “Can’t be anything that I’m not. Real question is, why’d you listen to me? You wanted so badly to prove me wrong that you’re about to prove me right.” He paused, movement in the background distracting him for a second. The door creaked open and he reached inside guiltily. Maybe he was a little sorry for what he was about to do, but he had to.

There was, however, an apology hidden in his next words.

“Isn’t that scary? How close you were to going over the edge?” He leaned in. “I’ll tell you a secret: that’s being human.”

The dull knife gleamed against the android’s throat as Joyce dug it into his skin. Gavin stood up, brandishing his gun.

“Hands up, on the ground,” he commanded, just as the door was broken down.

“Police! Drop your weapon, on the ground, now!” The room was flooded by SWAT and the department and whoever the fuck else happened to get swept up in the torrent of people along the way.

He locked eyes with Gavin.

“I don’t want to die,” he said with cold determination.

Three things happened in that moment:

1. A gunshot rang out around them
2. Blood splattered the walls
3. Someone screamed

Chapter Text

It was the loud ‘BANG!’ that finally snapped him out of it.

Okay, maybe it also helped that someone finally put a hand on his shoulder and shook it gently.

Or it could’ve been the fact that someone was screaming-

Actually, he was pretty sure he was the one screaming.

The truth was he didn’t know what the fuck pulled him back to reality, only that he was here now and there were many, many people standing over him. They weren’t all necessarily looking at him, but he just happened to be the only one on the floor at the moment, save for Gavin, who was worriedly examining his face.

He closed his mouth, which had been open because, oh, yeah, he was screaming for some goddamn reason. He sat himself up and backed away from all the people until his back hit the counter behind him.

At first glance, he didn’t know why there were so many officers. That was until he spotted the giant bloodstain on the ceiling. And the body. The sparking body kind of gave away what had happened.

Didn’t explain why he was here, though.

He went to rub his face, but the blood all over his arm stopped him. “Ugh, what happened?” he said to no one in particular. He got his answer in a flash of memories, from crying in the bathroom all the way up to his arm getting ripped apart. “Okay, never mind.”

He flinched when Gavin reached out toward him. “Ethan, let me see your arm.”

“Thanks, but no.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“Oh, I hadn’t noticed.”

He could tell he was ticking Gavin off, but he didn’t care. He felt embarrassed and vulnerable with all of these people around, and to top it all off he was being bossed around like a little kid. Again.

Gavin sighed. “Just let the paramedics take a look, alright?”

“Like I said, I’m good.” He waved him off and did his best to lift himself up before sliding back down on his butt. All it did was make his arm flare up more, and he winced at the pain.

“I’ll go get the chair,” Joyce said before running off.

“Rat, just let me see it.” This time, he didn’t wait for Ethan to respond. He grabbed his wrist, knowing fully well he lacked the strength to pull away without hurting himself more.

He rolled his eyes, not even bothering to do anything more than sigh. He let his gaze wander over to Bethany, who was talking to Tina. He squinted. They seemed...acquainted. His jaw dropped a little when Tina bent down and fucking picked her up in a bridal pose.

“That’s...unnecessary,” he said, more to himself than to Gavin, but it still made him turn his head.

“What the-”

“I know you’re staring at us, boys,” Tina grunted. “Hasn’t anyone taught you the value of privacy?”

Bethany giggled at them both. “To be fair, we were just held hostage,” she pointed out.

“Speaking of which, I need to take your statements,” she said, more serious this time. It only made Bethany laugh harder.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I usually don’t find things this funny...I don’t know what’s wrong with me right now.”

“That’s probably the shock setting in.” She paused when Bethany snorted. “Yeah, I’m gonna take you to the ambulance now, they’ll check out your ankle for you.”

Joyce returned with the chair, and Ethan allowed himself to be moved way too cautiously by Gavin. He frowned when, instead of the car, he saw they were following Tina.

“Can’t we just go home?” he groaned.

“What the...Ethan, you know you’re bleeding, right? Doesn’t that hurt?” He sounded so concerned, which was unfortunate.

“I’m just…” He lowered his voice when they finally rolled up to the ambulance. “I’m just ready to go home, is all.”

“It’ll just take a second, and I promise we can go home right after, okay?” The tone he used made it sound like he was talking to a five-year-old again.

He rolled his eyes. “I’m serious, Gavin. I don’t feel like doing this with you right now.”

“Doing what?”

He scoffed. “This? This whole, ‘oh, Ethan’s a fragile little baby’ thing? I get it, okay? No matter how hard you try, that’s all you’re gonna see me as, but I’m fine.”

He put his hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, kid, you know that’s not it. I just…”

He puffed out a breath when Gavin seemed at a loss for words. “That’s what I thought.”

He turned back to where someone was approaching him with a syringe. Something about the way it gleamed in the sunlight made his heart speed up, and before he knew it he was standing. A couple of people nearby were startled, including, of course, Gavin, who was looking more and more worried by the second.

“Ethan, what’s wrong? It’s just a needle; you’ve done this like, a million times.”

He said nothing, instead taking a wary step back from the paramedic who still hadn’t moved toward him another foot. His hearing started to go weird. It was like he was hearing people talking but they were all speaking at once with way too much feedback that left his ears ringing like hell.

He covered his ears and stumbled, the noise around him too much to handle. He let himself fall to the ground, the rough asphalt scraping his skin. People swarmed, but all he wanted was to get away from the noise and the light that was starting to hurt his eyes. A hand on his shoulder sent tingles running down his back. He squinted at the face hovering over him, and he was pretty sure it was Tina, but now he was right in line with the exhaust pipe of the ambulance and the smell of burning gasoline started to scald his nose and throat and everything was just too much.

His heart was racing, the noise of its pulsing amplified by his oversensitive ears. He huddled in on himself and began to rock back and forth. His world bubbled around him, everything else a haze of bright lights and muffled sounds. The ground burned under him, but still he kept rocking and shivering, closing himself off.

There was, at some point, a time when he regained a lot more awareness of his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was that things were a lot cleaner here. He then noticed he was up against the wall, and someone was half cornering him, half trying to calm him down. He looked around.

He was obviously causing a commotion because everyone there was staring at him. He gulped, pressing himself further back despite his arm stinging. He was at the hospital from what he could gather, if the applying of ointment and stitches were anything to go by.

“Ethan, you’re alright,” Gavin said, slowly coming closer. “You’re at the hospital, okay? I took you here ‘cause you were freaking out. We’re not gonna hurt you.”

He trembled, but he didn’t know why. “The needle…” he muttered.

“Isn’t gonna hurt, okay? They’re going to numb your arm first.” He took another step.

“My...my arm?” He scrunched his eyebrows together and peeled his bloody forearm from the wall. He winced when a spike of pain erupted from his skin.

“Yeah, your arm, bud. They’re just gonna stitch up your arm, and we can leave.” Another step.

He slid down the wall. “I don’t...what’s happening?” He finally looked up at him, tears in his eyes.

Gavin sat down next to him and put his arm around him. “Shh, it’s okay,” he comforted. “You’re okay, you’re safe.”

“Does anyone want to tell me why they paged the head of trauma down to the pit?” A voice pulled Ethan’s gaze from the floor. Another doctor walked over to the woman standing angrily in the doorway, probably to explain themselves. “This better be good; I was about to go into surgery.”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Collins- it’s just, there’s a patient who’s freaking out about the anesthetic- the man who’s with him said to call you.”

“Me?” she repeated mockingly. “He specifically asked for me?” He nodded. “Who in the-”

“That would be me, Sarah,” Gavin said, standing and sighing.

Her eyes narrowed. “Gavin Reed, I thought I told you to stay out of trouble.” A smirk crept onto her face. Her temper seemed to go down a little and they exchanged a quick hug.

“I’m not here for me,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s Ethan. He’s...well, he’s not doing so good.”

“Neither are you. What the hell happened to your eye?”

“It’s...a long story.”

She looked past him, over to where Ethan was still sitting on the floor, the tears long gone from his eyes, being replaced by confusion.

“I figured if there was anyone who could get him to do something he didn’t want to, it’d be you.”

He swallowed nervously when she strolled over to him, an unreadable expression on her face. Without a word, she crouched down to his level and took his forearm. If it had been anyone else, he would’ve protested, probably pulled away in pain and fear. Instead, he did nothing, just sat there in silence as she did her work.

“Are you going to tell me what happened, or am I going to have to guess?” She didn’t look up at him, but he still shifted uncomfortably.

“I, uh...don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Want to or not, how fresh are these sutures?”

“...a couple of weeks old, I guess.” He shrugged, not meeting her eyes.

She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Alright. Do you want to keep sitting on the floor, or do you want to get in the chair so I can actually help?”

“Chair,” he mumbled quietly.

She finally looked him in the eye. “How old are you by now? Twenty-something years?”

“I just turned twenty-two last month.”

She let out a whistle. “God, it’s been ten years? I’m getting old...moreover, it’s been ten years. You need to start acting like it, young man.”

He nodded fearfully, unwilling to cross her. “Yes ma’am,” he said weakly.

She stood him up and helped him into the chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Gavin smirking, a mixture of smugness and bewilderment on his face. It seems they both had forgotten just how blunt Dr. Collins could be.

He became slightly fidgety watching her getting all of her equipment set up. “Tell me, Ethan, what did I say to you when you were discharged?”

He gave her a meek smile. “You said to not come back in a million years.”

“I said it lovingly, of course.”

“Of course.” He let out a small chuckle when she winked at him.

He shut up when she brought the syringe to his arm. Noticing this, she paused, raising an eyebrow.

“Since when are you afraid of needles?”

He did his best to put on a brave face. “It’s sort of new, I’ll admit.”

“You’ll be happy to remember that it only hurts for a second.”

Gavin put his hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be right with you the whole time, kid.”

Fear forgotten, he sucked in an annoyed breath. “There it is,” he said, whipping around to face him.

He pulled back. “What are you talking about?”

“Can’t you treat me like a goddamn adult for once?”

He scoffed. “I’m sorry?”

“You keep babying me, and don’t pretend like it’s not on purpose, okay? You act like I have less brain cells than a toddler, and I’m so fucking tired of- gah!” He winced as Dr. Collins shot lidocaine straight into his forearm without warning.

“Why did you do that?” he gasped.

“You were distracted; it’s better to rip the bandaid off quickly, which you should know by now. Besides, if you want to be treated like an adult, then act like one.”

“What?” he said, exasperated.

She paused and turned to Gavin. “That’s on you, too; he’s isn’t twelve anymore, and the only way he’s going to act like the grown man he is is if you show him how to be one.”

“Hey!”

She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, you both act like children. I’m surprised Tina hasn’t dropped you off into daycare by now.”

Gavin grumbled something unintelligible and Ethan huffed out a breath.

“Speaking of which, how is she doing?” She began working on the first suture, so Ethan tried not to look.

“She’s, uh...dating again?”

“Is that the best news you’ve got?”

“Well, it’s just...after today, we sort of ruined this date she had planned. I feel kinda bad about it, though.”

“Then I suggest you make it up to her, maybe get in touch with this date of hers.”

Gavin rubbed the back of his neck. “Jeez, Sarah, since when are you into giving life advice?”

“Kyle told me to try being more positive with patients.” She shrugged. “It’s never too late to try something new, I guess.”

“At least you’re trying,” he muttered, shifting a little in his seat.

They let her work in silence, and Ethan tried not to focus on the tension brewing between him and Gavin. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally wrapped his arm in a bandage and medical tape.

“Okay, you should be good to go. I trust you know the rules?” she asked, an eyebrow raised.

He sighed. “No excessive movement, no straining-”

“-Which means no wheelchair pushing,” Gavin spoke up.

He grit his teeth and mentally directed his annoyance at him as he continued to count on his fingers. “No wheelchair pushing, clean carefully with soap and water, keep it dry, dress it every day, elevate it...am I missing anything?” He looked at her.

She smirked, a hint of pride in her eyes. “I’ve taught you well.” She turned and stood so that she was facing both of them. “Remember to come to me if there’s pus or if anything worsens.”

He nodded halfheartedly, seriously ready to just get out of here.

Unfortunately, Gavin was not. “Hey, do you know when the cast is coming off?”

She gave him a stern look. “Why do you think I’d know that? Do I look like an orthopedist to you?”

“Sorry, I was just-”

He was cut off by her sigh. “I’ll go check in with them later, after I’m done for the day. I’ll call you, but don’t expect it to be anytime soon.”

“Great,” he said under his breath.

“It was displaced, if I remember correctly, wasn’t it?”

He looked up at her in surprise. “You were there?”

“Only for the first night, you came in. The rest I was spending on vacation.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry, but not even you were important enough for me to skip out on the first trip I’ve had in- what, three years?” Regardless, she smiled down at him. “Don’t worry, you’re still a way better patient than what I’ve seen here lately,” she said with a wink.

The moment was interrupted by her pager beeping. “I’ve got to go.” She began to walk toward the door. “Don’t forget to send me a Christmas card or something!”

“But you’re Jewish?” Gavin called out.

“And you’re a lazy piece of shit!” she reminded before disappearing back into the maze of halls.

----

The car ride home was probably one of the longest in Gavin’s life.

Neither of them bothered to say anything in the parking lot, and although he had offered, Ethan was obviously not in the mood to take control of the radio from the backseat. They rode in silence because they were both too stubborn to stop hurting.

He was worried. He wouldn’t admit it to him, but he was really fucking worried about what was happening to his kid. Maybe he was right, maybe he was trying to babyproof the world for him, but Ethan just looked and acted and felt so fragile that he couldn’t stop himself. It was instinctual now, and maybe things had always been like this, but his protectiveness was dialed up to eleven with everything happening to them.

A voice lurked in the back of his mind, mocking him, forming all his doubt into thought. Thoughts like maybe he wasn’t cut out to do this, never meant to be a parent, if you could call him much of one now. Maybe he was failing at the one goddamn thing he’d promised Liv he’d do for her- it hurt him to say it, but to think it and feel it with every cell of his body and to never let that thought touch the outside world- well, it was breaking him.

He knew it was probably unhealthy to keep it all pent up inside him, but he was only human, after all, and if there was one thing he had learned about his own goddamn species after living on this shithole of a planet for so long, it was that humans were made to be breakable. Still, doing so only served to shove the truth further in his face: Ethan was right.

He was a terrible father.

And so the car was silent, his thoughts anything but.

The darkness seemed to lessen a little when he pulled up to the apartment and he caught sight of Tina sitting, worried, on the curb. It had been less than a day but she already looked so tired that it made Gavin cringe. The guilt crept up on him when he remembered her date tonight, and how they had probably ruined it.

Guilt aside, he opened the car door and they both prepared to help Ethan out wordlessly. If he was annoyed by their assistance, he said nothing. Despite it being the middle of the day, he went straight to his room, closing the door behind him in such a way Gavin could feel the divide between them growing.

Without really thinking about it, he slid down the wall, resting his head on his knees. Tina sat beside him, obviously trying to comfort him even though he knew he didn’t fucking deserve it.

“What happened, Gav?” she asked, gently leaning against him.

He shook his head. “He...had a freakout. I mean, you were there.”

“No, I mean...at the hospital. Something happened. Tell me.”

“We...he’s got it in his head that I...I’ve apparently been ‘babying’ him.” He chuckled in disbelief.

Her mouth formed a small line that made him stop. “Well, you haven’t exactly been that lenient with him, either.”

He turned toward her. “What are you talking about?”

“C’mon, Gav. He feels corralled by you. He’s tired of you bossing him around, even if you think it’s for his own good. I mean, he’s stuck in this house all day with barely anything to keep him company, and when the one person he gets to interact with comes home, he’s back to being told what to do.”

“I’m not that bossy with him,” he muttered.

“You still get him up at the crack of dawn, though. He’s an adult, he can take pills and eat something on his own.”

“No, he can’t. Just the other day-”

“And why do you think he did that?”

He looked down, searching for words that wouldn’t come.

“Listen to me, Gav. He needs someone to help him with some stuff, sure, but anyone could come here and remind him to feed himself. What he wants is you. He needs you to actually be there for him, not send him away to therapy every time he has an emotion you don’t understand.”

“But I have been there for him,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, as some crazy drill sergeant commanding him to follow your orders to a tee.” She paused at his indignant look, returning it with one of sympathy. “But he needs more than that. He needs you as much as you need him, and right now you’re telling him you need him alive, but not happy.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she kept going. “Maybe that’s not what’s happening, but that’s the way he sees it. Show him that he’s wrong.”

Once again, he found himself at a loss for words.

“...Damn,” he finally said, a tear running down his cheek. He wiped it away quickly. “Sorry, I’m sorry.”

She hugged him tightly. “You know better than to apologize to me.”

He shuddered slightly. “I know, it’s just…” He sniffed quietly. “I really needed you here, you know? You were gone, and I...I can’t raise him on my own. I’m not-”

“Shh, it’s okay,” she said, rubbing his back. “It’s hard, I know, but Ethan’s a good kid. He knows you mean well. It’ll be alright,” she comforted.

“There’s something else,” he said, pulling away from her slowly. “Joyce...she called me a little while before we got to the hospital.” His eyes bore into the floor beneath them. “She said it might take some testing, but she’s pretty sure…” He blinked hard, not wanting the tears to come back.

He turned up to face her again. “Ethan’s got PTSD, Tina.”

Maybe he wasn’t trying to be so loud. Maybe it was unintentional, he didn’t think things through when he said it. But maybe doesn’t change the fact that voices carried.

As they hugged outside of his door, Ethan hugged himself tighter, silently letting tears fall onto his pillowcase. He couldn’t ignore it anymore- the shame, the guilt, the pain.

He was broken.

----

She slammed the burner closed with as much force as she could muster and threw it to the ground, stomping on it until it was reduced to rubble. Anger pulsed through her every move as she marched through the goddamn stinking halls all the way to where Nash was standing, chatting it up with Vallejo.

She grabbed him by the shirt collar and slammed him against the wall. “You fucker!” she screamed in his face. “You’ve just killed us all!”

“What…” he whimpered. “What did I do?”

“Your fucking virus almost got that shitbag killed! Do you know what he’d do to us if we fucking killed the guy? Do you?”

He gulped. “He’d...fire...us?”

“We’d be fucking maimed, ripped apart limb from limb! You want that to happen?”

“Uh, what happened?” Vallejo, that dumbass, had the nerve to ask.

“What happened,” she said, releasing Nash as she started to walk toward him, “is the one person we’re supposed to bring in alive almost got shot in the face, all because of this idiot’s stupid fucking virus!”

“What? I didn’t mean to-”

“I don’t care!” she yelled. Biting her tongue, she sighed in an effort to calm herself down. “I just got off the phone with the boss; he’s pissed, obviously, but more importantly he wants us to speed this up. He’s giving us until the end of next month before he sends in someone new.”

“What’s gonna happen to us?” Vallejo asked.

“We will be…expulsed from this case.” She gave both of them a look that said that word meant something a lot more horrific than it sounded. Whether or not they were going to be brutally murdered if they failed didn’t matter, though, because they weren’t going to fail.

“That’s only going to happen if you two don’t pull it together and do your fucking jobs, so I suggest you,” she said, jabbing her finger at Vallejo, “start investigating further into this ‘Officer Chen.’ Meanwhile, you-” she turned toward Nash- “figure out a way to rein in those androids, or else we’re fucked.”

He nodded. “That won’t be too hard. We’re still rounding non-infected ones up off the streets for experimentation, right? Why don’t we start to grab the ones who’ve been infected the longest, too?”

“As long as you don’t get the two groups mixed up, I don’t care. Just. Fix. It. Or we’re all dead, you hear me?”

“That’s great, good plan.” Vallejo paused. “So, uh, what are you gonna do?”

“Luckily for the both of you, this gives me a chance to get our android on better terms with the fuckface detective, so I’m going off-grid for a few days to make sure he’s making progress.” Although she didn’t really trust them not to fuck things up, it wasn’t like she could just leave this place completely unsupervised.

“Oh, in that case,” Nash said, grabbing his backpack off the floor and rummaging through it, “you should take this.” He handed her a flash drive, the same one she used to infect that android asshole. “Connect it to your computer; you can see what he sees and alter his instructions. I also installed this little button on it-” he gestured to a little red button on the edge of it- “so you can...let’s just say you can encourage him if he’s being uncooperative.”

She blinked. This was, surprisingly, useful. She wasn’t about to tell him that, though. Instead, she simply nodded back at him and left the room, praying to whatever god was out there that they wouldn’t somehow burn this shithole to the ground while she was gone.

----

A knock on the door woke him up.

“Come in,” he groaned, not caring whether it was Tina or Gavin and not really wanting to talk either way.

To his surprise (and slight annoyance) both of them entered. Gavin immediately sat down on his bed next to him. “Hey. How’re you feeling?” he said, patting his leg.

He turned away from him. “Like shit. You here to lecture me again?”

“We want to show you something,” Tina said, a small smile on her face.

“Well, technically it’s a couple of things, but…” Gavin shrugged.

He gave them both a weird look and sat up. “You guys are acting...strange.”

“Shut up and let us be nice.” Gavin went to probably ruffle his hair, but stopped short a few inches away. He pulled back, almost like he thought Ethan was going to bite his hand off if he got too close.

Tina saved the moment by pulling something out behind her back. She handed him a velcro pouch with something inside of it.

“It’s...a taser?” he said, examining it.

“Open it,” she encouraged.

He ripped apart the velcro and took out the gun stored inside, fitting it in his palm. It was weighted nicely and it definitely wasn’t like his old one.

“It’s a new model, just came out,” she said. “I was going to give it to you for your birthday, but I figured since I missed it, why wait a whole year?”

He smiled lightly, but it was sincere. “It’s...nice.”

“Oh, and the best part is, it doesn’t require cartridges! It’s got a charging cable and everything; save the turtles, am I right?” She paused, sitting on his other side. “I know you’re probably not the biggest fan of guns right now, but…”

“But this is easier for me,” he finished for her. She nodded. She was obviously a lot more enthusiastic about this than he was, but Ethan figured that it was the thought that counted. Besides, it sort of felt like he was more independent with the holster by his side, as if being able to protect himself without needing Gavin or Tina there boosted his confidence.

“That’s not the only thing, though,” Gavin said.

He looked up. “There’s more?”

“You gotta come downstairs and see for yourself.”

He raised an eyebrow and did his best to shove down his frustration with Gavin. “Uh, okay, I guess. Just give me a second.”

He looked like he wanted to say something, probably offer his help, but he held himself back. Sensing this, Tina once again stepped in.

“I’ll help him,” she offered. “Why don’t you go get everything set up?”

He smiled gratefully at her before getting up and gently closing the door.

He fidgeted with the corner of his comforter, slightly uncomfortable. “So...what’s up with you?” he asked in an attempt to break the silence. “I thought you’d be out on your date by now.”

She waved the question away. “Oh. Well, obviously, we thought it’d be best to cancel. It would be stupid of me to expect Bethany to want to-”

He stared at her with a look of bewilderment. “Wait, Bethany? As in, Bethany-who-twisted-her-ankle-and-almost-got-shot Bethany?”

Tina nodded, a slight smirk on her face.

He let out an exasperated breath. “Were you ever going to tell me that that was her?”

She shrugged. “I just figured you already knew.”

“Well, obviously I didn’t!”

“I can see that,” she chuckled. “What’s got you so excited about my love life all of a sudden, anyway? I don’t think you ever cared about my relationships this much.”

He smiled awkwardly. “What can I say? It’s boring here; I’ve become a whore for some good drama.”

“And what does ‘good drama’ qualify as?”

Now it was his turn to shrug. “Literally anything interesting. At all. That doesn’t have to do with my health,” he added.

“Hey, you guys comin’?” Gavin called from downstairs.

“Yeah, just a second!” Tina yelled back. “Tell you what: I’ll gush all the details to you later. We rescheduled for Monday. Only catch is you’ve got to give Gav one more chance. ‘Kay?”

He bit his lip, considering it. While it might hurt his pride a little to be smothered in Gavin’s overprotectiveness, it would also be nice to finally get out of the house, even if it was vicariously through Tina.

“Deal,” he said, holding out his hand, which she shook.

“Now, let’s get downstairs before he sets the whole frickin’ kitchen on fire.”

When they finally got to the living room, he was surprised to see that the couch had been completely moved up against the back wall, blankets piled on top of an air mattress in its place. The small space between the mattress and the foot of the couch overflowed with cushions and pillows, and the entire room was cast in a blue light coming from the TV’s open DVD player.

“What’s all this?” he asked, a small laugh bubbling at the back of his throat. He was pretty glad he had already changed into a sleep shirt because he was sure that once his head hit the mattress he was not going to be getting back up again.

“You like it?” Gavin said, smirking. He had already spread himself out, of course. “Made it myself.”

“He had help,” Tina pointed out before hurrying to go grab something from the kitchen.

“Hope you’re ready for a long night, ‘cause it’s marathon time.”

“Really? What are we watching?” he asked, setting himself down on the mattress.

“Oh, just a little something I picked up from the store on my way back from groceries. Probably never heard of it- ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ or something…”

“What- no way!” he said. Excitement washed over him as Gavin handed him the entire box set of every single episode. He looked up, slightly suspicious. “How much did this even cost you?”

“Don’t worry about it, kid.” There was that look in his eyes again, something that reminded Ethan of longing, but that quickly shifted into a small panic once he realized what he had said. “Uh, I mean-”

“N-no, it’s cool, I guess,” he said quickly.

He held his hands up in front of him to stop him. “No, Ethan, my bad. You’ve made it clear you don’t want to be called that,” he said, shaking his head.

Honestly, if Gavin hadn’t reacted like that to his own words, he never would have noticed it. It was so normal for him to be called anything but his own name, that to hear it now felt kind of wrong. He swallowed, wanting to make something clear.

“Look, Gavin, I...I know what I said before, about the whole ‘being-treated-like-a-kid’ thing,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “What I meant is I just want you to trust me with stuff, y’know? I don’t actually care that much about the nickname shit.”

He nodded seriously. “Sorry, I just…” He sighed. “I want to make it up to you, alright?” He scooted a tiny bit closer. “If you ever need to talk about something, you know you can always come to me, right? I know I’m not the best listener, but I want to get better, and I want you to know I’m trying to be.” He placed his hand on his shoulder. “Got that?”

Ethan gave him a small smile. “Got it.”

“And I got hot chocolate,” Tina interrupted, returning with a plate of mugs.

“What?” he laughed. “It’s almost summer.”

“I don’t know what Gavin put in your head while I was gone, but there’s never a bad time for hot chocolate.”

He scoffed lightheartedly. “Except when you’re dying from the heat.”

“Shut up and take your cup.”

It wasn’t long before they were all settled in together under a million or so blankets. This was basically the most comfortable he had been in his entire life. As each episode droned on and on, he urged himself to focus on staying awake.

Even now, he could feel the meds kicking in again as his eyelids drifted closer and closer together. He turned on his side, snugly nestled in between Tina and Gavin. Someone pulled him closer and gently rubbed his arm soothingly.

He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is gonna work?” He could already feel sweat starting to form on the back of his neck.

“Listen: Your human brain might think it’s being smart by imagining all the millions of ways this could go wrong, but in reality doing exactly that is what makes 90% of your plans fail.”

He swallowed nervously. “Is that seriously a real statistic?”

“What I’m saying is shut up and do this. My plans don’t fail.”

Mac nodded to himself and quickly slid past the receptionist, heading straight for the desk with nothing on it. “This is the one, right? ‘Cause there isn’t anything-”

A sigh came from the earpiece. “Yes, that is the android detective’s desk.”

“Okay. Okay, yeah, that’s cool. That’s good, great. Yeah.” He stopped to glance over at where a few officers were standing nearby, hanging by the water cooler. “Quick question: Does it have to be this one?”

Vincent groaned. “Oh my- he is getting on my last nerve, I can’t-”

“Vince,” Bahja said. “Remember, deep breaths.”

“That doesn’t even work!” he cried, frustrated. “We don’t have real lungs!”

“Just take a second for yourself and calm down. I’ll explain it to him again,” she offered.

“He shouldn’t need another explanation,” he muttered.

“Vincent,” Bahja warned.

He said something that sounded like a threat that Mac hoped he didn’t mean before Bahja muted his mic.

Mac paused. “I’m sorry, I just…”

“It’s okay. We sprung this on you, I know.” She sighed. “It has to be the android’s computer because he’s only one of the three detectives who knows about Asklepios- at least, they know something that they don’t want others to know. We’re not sure, but we need that information. Anything helps right now.”

“And you can’t do it yourselves because…”

“It would be...less likely this would work out, if we were caught. Androids aren’t really being cast in the best lighting right now. Besides, if things went wrong, really wrong, and we were interrogated, then they’d find incredibly sensitive files regarding A.D.A.G.E. Under zero circumstances can we allow that to happen.

“That’s where you come in. You’re human, so they can’t probe your memory or anything, and you have a reason for visiting the station.”

“Spencer?” he asked as it finally clicked together. “Do you think they know anything else about where he could be?”

“It’s a possibility. We’ll know for sure once we get the bug in place.”

“Okay,” he said, steeling his nerves. “I’m gonna do it.”

He took in a breath to calm himself and wandered vaguely over to the computer, making sure to look like he didn’t know where he was going but also didn’t look suspicious. Once he got there, he tried to figure out where he was supposed to put this.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“There’s, uh...not a place I can plug in to. I didn’t realize they had these new computers.”

There was a click as Vince rejoined the conversation. “Look down,” he said, and it was obvious he was trying to keep the growl out of his voice. “You see that box with all the lights on it? That’s the computer; you don’t plug bugs into the monitor.”

Mac was pretty sure he heard the word “dumbass,” being muttered under his breath, followed by Bahja punching him lightly in the arm, but he ignored it as soon as he saw the shadow behind him.

He whipped around to face...the android?

Shit.

“Uh, Detective Nines,” he greeted nervously.

“It’s Connor, actually,” he said lightly, though it sounded like his mind was somewhere else. “Nines is my brother. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Umm...I was actually looking for Detective Reed?” he blurted. “Or Nines, I guess?”

Connor’s LED flashed yellow and he raised an eyebrow.

“They’re looking for my friend. I mean, the android. My friend, Spencer. The android. He’s missing, they’re looking for him. That’s what police do when someone’s missing, right? They look. Hopefully find, y’know?” He was rambling, and he could feel his face getting warmer. “So they’re supposed to be looking for my friend, Spencer, the...the missing...android.” He paused. “You know what? I’m just going to shut up now and leave. You guys probably don’t want me distracting you and stuff, anyway. Bye.”

“Wait!” Connor said, stopping him from promptly exiting this conversation. “Is there anything I can help you with?” Something that looked a lot like guilt crossed his face.

“Keep talking with him,” Vincent commanded.

“Uh, can you tell me what they found? I’m worried, is all.”

“I can try, though we usually don’t disclose that type of information to civilians…”

He must’ve seen the way Mac’s face fell because he continued. “However, I’m sure they won’t mind if I simply check the case file.” He winked at him.

“Thanks, man,” he said, and he seriously meant it.

“Perfect. Now, put the bug on top of the computer. We’ll do the rest.”

He followed N- Connor, he had to remind himself, to the desk he had been heading for and watched him begin to interface with it. Once he had closed his eyes and the ring on his temple went yellow again, Mac took his chance to place the small device on top of the computer. Immediately, four little legs sprouted from its sides and began to crawl along the surface, dodging the portholes and blinking lights as it searched for something, implanting itself into the shell upon finding it.

“Alright, starting the sweep now.”

He had just enough time to think it was kind of cute when Connor turned back toward him, a sympathetic look on his face. “I’m sorry, but...they haven’t found much of anything yet. The only evidence reported was a dog tag necklace with a broken chain.”

“Dang it, the info isn’t on the computer,” Vince said, and he could almost hear the scowl. He paused. “Okay, hold on. We’re trying something new.”

Mac watched in horror as the bug hopped from the top of the desk onto Connor’s shoulder. “What? No!” he said, forgetting that Connor could hear him.

“Was that important to you? It had the initials ‘S.C.’ engraved on it. We believe it might have belonged to him, but your confirmation goes a long way.”

“Relax,” Vince said, probably rolling his eyes. “I designed the extremities with a material that’s practically unnoticeable to android’s sensory processors.”

“Practically?” he said, only realizing he had spoken out loud again when Connor’s eyebrows scrunched together.

“I’m...sorry?” he said, confused.

“I mean- it meant practically everything to us. I...I gave it to him to show him he was part of the family, y’know?”

“Oh, good save,” Bahj commented.

“You need to stop responding to everything I say,” Vince warned.

“I’m just sort of upset that it’s broken and stuff.”

“Wait, is that actually true?” she asked, once again pulling his attention away from whatever Connor said next.

“Just. Stop. Talking,” he hissed quietly.

“...Excuse me?”

“Haaa, I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” he said, eyes wide. “I just...didn't mean to share that much?” He stifled a mortified whimper as the little robot made its way up his head and rested in his hair. It shook its tail end, looking like it was ready to jump off.

‘No,’ he mouthed silently, but it did nothing to stop it from saluting him determinedly before giving a happy chirp and grabbing a strand of his hair, rappelling down the side of Connor’s cheek into his ear. He had to clamp his mouth shut to stop himself from saying anything that would alert him to the thing that just went inside his head.

“Are you...okay?” he asked, and he actually sounded concerned. If he had just felt anything at all, he didn’t show it.

Mac nodded. “I’m really worried,” he said, hoping that was enough to justify his reactions to what the fuck was going on. “Actually...I was wondering if I could see it? The necklace, I mean?”

“We’re not really allowed to display evidence from pending investigations…” he said.

“Alright, I’m in. You might want to sit him down for this part.”

“But I suppose...well, I’ve already made one exception today…”

“Really? Holy shit, thank you!” he said, appreciation igniting in the pit of his stomach.

He smiled. “Yes, of course. I-”

He stopped mid-sentence, mouth twitching. “E-excuse me, I believe-” He grunted, gripping the desk and putting a hand to his forehead. “There- There is a-a-an error in my- my- my software.”

“Fuck- uhhhh, do you need to sit down or something?” he asked, starting to panic. “What’s wrong?”

“One- one moment...please,” he said, stumbling backward into the chair behind him. The second he hit the cushions, his whole body went limp.

“What the fuck did you do?” he asked under his breath.

“Nothing, just had to shut him down for a second to break through his firewalls. He’ll come back online in a minute, once we’ve found what we’re looking for.”

“What am I supposed to do before then?” he asked, glancing around the precinct. A few officers were looking at him. “People are staring.” For some stupid reason, he waved at them, as if that would clear their suspicions.

“Bahj?” Vince asked.

“Activating protocol: Puppeteer.”

“Wait, what?”

Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he whipped around to face them.

“Is everything okay over here?” a uniformed officer asked, trying to peer over his shoulder.

“Uhhhhh…”

“Yes, Officer Miller,” Bahja said, but to his surprise the words were coming out of Connor’s mouth. “Everything is fine. I was just reassuring Mr. Chambers that we will find his friend.”

He squinted. “Uh, okay then, I guess. Carry on.” He lingered for a moment before shrugging it off and walking away, only glancing back toward them once or twice.

“What are you- are you controlling his body?” He eyed Connor up and down warily, a creepily pristine expression on his face.

“Cool, isn’t it?” Bahja and Connor said, and he even gave a little wiggle of his hips for show.

“No, it is not cool! Put him back like he was,” he commanded.

“Hold on, I have to find what we need first,” Vince said, dismissing him. “Just calm down for a second and look as normal as you possibly can.”

“But I-”

“Yes, I know it is hard for you to shut your mouth, but for the sake of both of our peoples’ futures, be quiet.”

He let his jaw hang down for a moment before closing it and crossing his arms in frustration. “What are you even looking for, anyway?” he muttered.

“Anything that will help. Locations, events they covered up, all of it; we don’t know how much they’re aware of the situation, so just sit tight while I scan his memory files.”

“Fine, whatever.” He sighed and sat down, Bahja/Connor following him. “Hey, Bahja? How are you even doing that?”

“Oh, the little bug inside of him is connected to all of his systems, including his motor and speech functions. A quick download and transfer gives me the power to send the signals to his processor; he’s actually still shut down, I’m just making it look like he isn’t.”

He chuckled. “That bug thing’s kind of cute.”

“Really? Vince built it himself,” she said proudly.

“It’s not cute,” he muttered indignantly. “And I’ve finished.”

“Wait, is he going to remember any of this?”

“He’s shut down, remember?”

“Okay, so do I just act like nothing happened, or…”

“Removing the bug now,” he said, ignoring him.

As soon as he said it, the little robot hopped out of Connor’s ear and onto his shoulder. It immediately gave another chirp and leaped the gap between Connor and Mac, landing in his hoodie. It hid in the folds of the fabric just as Connor started to blink rapidly, returning online. Mac quickly stood up, worried.

“Ugh, excuse me,” he said, this time without Bahja in control. “I’m not sure what came over me. If you’ll please wait a moment while I run a diagnostic scan.” His eyes rolled up into the back of his head. Mac shifted his weight awkwardly from foot to foot.

“Is, um...is everything alright? You sort of...passed out,” he said, not looking up at him in guilt. Thankfully, Connor seemed too occupied with himself to notice.

“Y-yes, everything is...fine.” He looked utterly confused upon realizing this, but Mac figured it was time to get the fuck out of here.

“Really?” he said quickly. “Well, that’s good, man. Anyway, I gotta go!”

He turned and headed straight for the door, narrowly managing to not barrel into some detectives coming from what he assumed was the break room.

“Wait!” Connor called out. “What about the-”

“I super busy right now, sorry! I’ll come back when I’m not short on time.”

“But you-”

“I gotta get to class, dude. Thanks for the help, I really appreciate it!”

He didn’t stop to hear what he said next before he practically ran out the door. He gasped for air, not even realizing he had been holding his breath. He figured he’d probably need to do more cardio if he was going to be a spy or whatever, so he made a mental note to try to jog a little.

Scuttling on the back of his neck sent him jumping ten feet in the air. He reached in and pulled out the tiny bug that he had forgotten was there. It gave him a small, cute little wave.

“Jeez, Vince, this thing is going to give me a heart attack. Did you program it with the ability to prank me or something?” Honestly, seeing how Vincent was, he wouldn’t be surprised if that were true.

“...I’ve been experimenting with AI lately,” he finally admitted.

“Really? ‘Cause I gotta say, this thing’s kinda cute. How come you’re messing with AI, anyway? Thought you’d be more focused on the whole ‘future-of-our-society-is-at-stake’ thing.”

“My personal life is none of your business. Hurry up and get back to the van so we can take apart the info.”

“Okay, okay,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “I bet he didn’t even give you a name, huh?” he cooed at the thing.

It uttered a sad little chirp to confirm his statement.

“Alright, that’s gonna change. How about...Scuts?”

It bounced up and down happily before climbing up on his shoulder.

“Scuts? Really?”

“What? He scuttles; Scuts for short. He seems to like it.”

“Well, personally I think it’s a stupid name.”

“No one asked for your opinion, gear-head.”

“Boys!” Bahja chastised.

“Whatever, Scuts. Let’s go save the world.”

----

The doorbell rang, which was probably the only thing that could ruin the absolutely fantastic sleep he was getting.

Gavin groaned, but Tina was the one who spoke first.

“Not it,” she called, before immediately dropping her voice so as not to disturb Ethan, who was still sound asleep.

“Ugh, what time is it?” he said, rubbing his face in an attempt to wake himself up.

“Don’t know, don’t care. Answer the door so I can sleep.”

“Who’s even coming to the apartment this early?” he muttered, carefully scooting out from underneath Ethan’s arm.

“You can tell them to fuck off or whatever, but it’s your turn.”

“What? No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is. I opened it for the pizza guy, remember?”

“Yeah, but then the neighbors-”

“Neighbors don’t count, dumbass. They already know you’re living in a shithole. Strangers are the ones you have to suck it up for.”

“Hey, since when is that a rule?”

“Uh, since always?”

They both shut up for a second when Ethan stirred.

“Besides,” she whispered, “I also opened it for the dude that brought in the groceries.”

“That was me!” he said quietly.

“Exactly. You owe me double now.”

The doorbell rang again, this time followed by a knock.

“I owe you one,” he said, giving in and getting up from the couch that seemed a million times more comfortable than it had been last night.

“Two,” she said, waving that amount of fingers in the air.

“Opening it for me doesn’t count either!” he muttered.

“Pizza guy,” she hummed.

“Ugh, whatever.”

“Thanks, babe. Love you.”

“Mhmm. Next time it’s your turn for making me get up at the crack of dawn.”

“Love you,” she repeated, settling back down in her nest of cushions.

He sighed and opened the door, rubbing the crust out of his eyes.

“What you want?” he said impatiently, not really bothering to look at the person.

“Gavin, I’m so glad to see that you’re okay. I only just heard the news.”

The voice made him look up.

“The fuck are you doing here so fucking early?” he said, indignant. Quickly, he tried to comb through his matted hair, feeling his partner’s stare on him.

Nines looked down at his feet. “Yes, I apologize...I know you said to only come to your house for emergencies-”

“Yeah, but I guess you didn’t get the memo,” he pointed out. He let out a small huff, leaning against the doorframe. “So, what is it this time?”

“I was just...worried that something bad had happened to you or Ethan. I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner, but I...had business I had to take care of.”

“Okay, ignoring the fact that that was a super creepy and vague way of putting it, did you have to come this early? I had a pretty long night, obviously.”

“I’m sure you did; once again, I’m sorry about that. I’m actually also here on official business as well.”

“Like, work shit?” He groaned. “What shit does Fowler blame me for now?”

“I’m sure you remember you asking me to push the captain for an out-of-city investigation, yes?”

“Damn, did you actually get him to say yes to letting us do that?” He was surprised Nines had even gotten one word through to the guy with the way he’d been acting lately.

Nines’ LED flashed a quick red before returning to blue. “Well, not exactly, no…”

“Right, right, I’m ‘suspended,’” he said with a wink.

“He has, however, asked me to run an errand out of town, nearby where your suspect happens to frequent, so I figured…”

“You’re letting me tag along to get his groceries? Really?”

“No, what he’s asked of me is more important than a trip to the store, and-”

“I mean, that’s smart, but it’s one hell of a coincidence, don’t you think? Do you think he’s on to us?”

Nines gave him a look. “Of course not, Reed. My social integration programming lead him to not suspect a thing...unless you mentioned something to him, that is.” He raised an eyebrow.

“What? No!” He looked behind him to make sure Tina wasn’t listening, but she had gone back to sleeping soundly next to Ethan. “Of course I didn’t. Haven’t fucking seen him since he kicked my ass out of the precinct.” He paused, suspicion growing. “I didn’t think you were actually on board with this whole thing. It isn’t exactly the most legal shit.”

“Actually, it technically is, seeing as Fowler has asked me to go on official police business.”

“What about me? I’m not going as a detective,” he pointed out.

Nines thought for a moment, silent. “You will be accompanying me...as a friend. There’s no harm in that, is there?”

He considered it. It was kind of weird that Nines was actually going with one of his stupid ideas, but if it meant that he could do his job, then…

“You’re right, I guess. I’m not technically gonna be doing anything. So, when do we leave?”

“Fowler has asked me to get this done as quickly as possible, so I was thinking we could depart later in the day if that’s alright with you?”

Once again, he glanced back at Ethan and Tina. “Uh, yeah, sure. Just...give me a minute, okay?”

Nines blinked, LED yellow. “Ah, yes, of course. Will Ethan be okay with you gone? I realize this trip will be for a few days, and I know you don’t like to be away from him for very long.”

Gavin bit his lip. “Actually, it’s...kind of complicated right now,” he said without looking away. He figured all Ethan really wanted right now was to get away from him. Maybe him leaving for a few days was what they needed right now…

“Let me just...I’ll talk it out with him. Wait here.”

He closed the door behind him, not wanting Nines to overhear. “Tina,” he said, gently shaking her awake. “Tina, gotta talk to you for a sec.”

She groaned. “What do they want now?”

“I’m heading out. Work stuff.”

“What?” She opened her eyes to peer at him. “You’re suspended, remember?”

“Yeah, I know- it’s just...my partner found a lead. I need to check this out.” He suddenly found it hard to look her in the eye.

“But you’re suspended,” she repeated.

“This is-”

“Don’t tell me it’s important to you, Gav, ‘cause what should be way more important to you right now is Ethan.”

“Can you just hear me out? I promised this kid I’d-”

“We’re not supposed to promise people anything!” she said as loudly as she could without disturbing Ethan. “We tell them we’ll try our best and then move on. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your job.”

“Can’t you see that this is my job? This is the one fucking thing I’m supposed to be good at, promises be damned! I have my own stupid commitments that I’m trying to-”

“You already have a commitment, one that’s a hell of a lot more important than any half baked promises you-”

Both of them shut up when Ethan rolled over. “Jeez, do you both have to be so loud?” he muttered without even opening his eyes. “I’m trying to sleep over here.”

Gavin sighed. “Look, it’s just for a few days, I won’t even be gone that long. I’m just asking you to hold down the fort for me, alright?”

“What about-”

“Where’s he going?” Ethan asked.

“Work shit. Don’t worry about it,” he said, standing up.

“But aren’t you-”

“I said, don’t worry about it, okay?” He did his best to control the volume of his voice. “Just- don’t.” He shook his head and hurried up the stairs to grab a suitcase.

He could still hear them as he gathered some wrinkled clothes off the floor. Not the most hygienic thing ever, but he didn’t really have time to wash them right now.

“What’s up with him?”

He rolled his eyes as Tina let out a very long sigh. “He’s got it in his head that the fate of the world rests on him solving this missing person case.”

“Sounds like the same old Gavin to me...but I thought he was supposed to be suspended right now?” He scoffed. “Did Fowler really let him off that easily?”

He held his breath, hoping Tina wouldn’t say something he’d have to make up for later.

“...Honestly, I don’t know. He didn’t say, but it’s pretty obvious that whatever Jeffrey thinks isn’t gonna stop him.”

“Did he say where?”

“No, and a part of me thinks it’s ‘cause he’s not supposed to be going anywhere and he knows it.”

“Oh.” Ethan paused. “Well, whatever. He’ll be back eventually. It’s not like he’s gonna die the moment we turn our backs.”

“Eh, I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“Plus, it’ll be nice to have some peace and quiet for once.”

“Jeez, kid,” he said, dragging his luggage down with him. “If you wanted me gone so badly you could’ve just said so.”

Ethan yawned. “And that’s the end of my peace.” He smirked.

“And my quiet,” Tina added.

“Shut up, both of you,” he said, doing his best to smile through the guilt.

“Sheesh, maybe we’re not the only ones in need of a vacation,” he snickered. “You packed fast.”

“You never know when you might have to take an emergency trip.”

“And where exactly is this ‘trip’ of yours taking place?” Tina asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Just a few towns over.” He shrugged. “It won’t be for that long.”

“Damn it.”

“Ouch, rat, that stings right here.” He put his hand over his heart.

“When are you leaving, anyway?”

“In a few hours, I guess. Let me go check, hold on.” He went to open the door, receiving a small shock from the metal handle in the process that left him shaking his hand. He was sort of surprised and maybe even a little annoyed to see that the porch was empty. He checked his phone, but there wasn’t a text or anything to signal where he could’ve gone.

‘Hey where are you’
- Gavin

‘Sorry. I realized I had forgotten something back at the precinct.’
- Trash Police

‘Pick you up at 10?’
- Trash Police

He checked his watch. It was 7:45. Yeah, he could hang until then.

‘It’s a date’
- Gavin

‘Wait no’
- Gavin

‘Not like a date date’
- Gavin

‘U know what I mean’
- Gavin

‘Do I? ;)’
- Trash Police

‘Shut up.’
- Gavin

----

In reality, Nines was not headed to the precinct.

Something was controlling him, he could feel it. There was a small branch of code at the edge of his software slowly mining away at his firewalls. He wasn’t sure how much longer he had now. All he knew was that the further into his systems it got, the less control he had over his own body.

He had heard the shouting. He was pretty sure the entire complex had heard the shouting. Gavin obviously hadn’t told Ethan, but to his surprise, it sounded like a woman yelling. He was just about to knock again and see if he could remedy the situation but stopped with his hand wrapped around the door handle.

Whether it was his colder detective side kicking in or just that slight curiosity that pulsed in the balls of his feet, he couldn't tell. Whatever the case, he analyzed the voice.

Chen, Tina
Born: 07/16/2002
Occupation: Police Detective
Criminal Record: None

Gavin had mentioned her, of course. According to a quick database scan, however, she wasn’t due back from her undercover work for a few days. Odd...but if there were ever a time for some proper introductions...

Just as his fingers tightened around the handle, something coursed throughout his entire body, pulsing through his veins. It felt like the warm licking of a flame, but he was smart enough to know that his systems weren’t overheating. No, this was more like getting struck by lightning. His limbs locked and he was pushed back from the door by a few inches.

It took him a moment to regain himself, but by that time he was already trying it again, only with more potent results. He was blown back, and a peculiar sensation tingled up his arm. He must have shut down for a few moments because he returned online with his back on the ground.

Alerts popped up in his vision, blinding him slightly. He pushed himself up and paused a moment to examine his arm.

It felt...detached, in a sense. He could wriggle his fingers just fine, but his sensory programming seemed to be malfunctioning.

He attempted to look further into his code, find what was deactivating his systems. Another shock of electricity sent him writhing on the poorly cut grass as if punishing him for trying to do so.

Now he could no longer feel his legs, but that didn’t mean they’ve stopped working. He walks quickly down the street, getting away. He doesn’t have a choice; his legs have grown a mind of their own.

A ping. Gavin has texted him. There is no recollection of his communications systems coming back online.

He typed out a message against his own volition, something about needing to go back to the precinct; a lie. What he really wanted to say is, “There is something wrong with me. I don’t know what to do.” Even if he could say that, though, he doubted Gavin would be of much help. It wasn’t as if he knew anything about robotics.

Yet another alert: Memory scan in progress.

Memory scan? He was sure he had nothing to do with that.

Deleting memory files…

Wait, no. This was not what he wanted he needed to get help something was wrong he couldn’t-

Deletion requires shut down. Activating stasis mode.

No no this isn’t what he wanted why can’t he stop it what is wrong with-

His descent toward the edge of the curb was not a comfortable one. As the milliseconds before impact ticked by, the only thought he could think of was a panicked, “What is happening to me?”