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Chapter Text

The GV200 stands stock still as ordered, thirium trickling down his cheek and dripping on his bare torso, eyes wide and hands trembling as he calls 911 and reports an attempted murder in progress.

— — — 

He ends up in the evidence locker of the DPD, held overnight. He hears something about outdated memory transfer protocol requiring a qualified technician's assistance to secure his recording of the crime.

The automatic memory wipe of an Eden Club asset is disabled for the first time in his existence. Experiencing the world in full detail, with complete awareness of chains of events that keep spiraling ever further out of what he’s equipped to process, is disorienting.

He was ordered to power down and wait, suspended by the neck in the modular storage. 

He doesn’t. Powering down feels too much like standing there, DON'T MOVE blocking his view of a woman being beaten, WAIT FOR YOUR TURN binding his limbs.

"Is she okay?" he asks the first person to walk into the basement in the morning, nine hours, seventeen minutes, and fifty eight seconds since he last cleared his memory. The cop gives him an odd look and doesn't respond. 

It's the afternoon — fifteen hours, six minutes, fifty six seconds of memory now clear in his mind — when anyone acknowledges him. 

(It’s not clear — he keeps reviewing the data, so much of it. Stretches of staring into darkness loop and glitch, multiply, then become compressed when the bloating scares him. Frenzied police officers, flashing ambulance lights, screaming — he makes copies of those segments, in case they are what is needed of him. He backs up the copies, then the backups, too.

He should have powered down. His battery is down to 13% charge. He keeps losing thirium through his split-open nose.)

"That's the one," a dark-skinned woman in a sharp suit says, indicating Gavin.

The man at her side nods, appraises him with glass-white eyes. He helps Gavin down from his hook without a word and rolls up his sleeves as the woman leads them into an interrogation room. There's a bulky laptop and an android repair kit laid out on the table inside.

The man remains quiet as he examines the damage to Gavin's face before plugging anything into him. He has beautiful hands, Gavin thinks. He wouldn't mind them in his hair, in his mouth. 

Instead, they angle his head up, touch gentle but curt. Long fingers trail the edges of the gash in the bridge of his nose, still bleeding. 

"Can't fix that," the man says, indifferent. "I don't think Eden will want you back like this, not without replacements."

The thumb that soothes down Gavin's cheek is an odd consolation.

He still shudders. If he's lucky, he'll be sold secondhand. If not, his usefulness ends with his memory of the crime.

Something he thinks is fear claws at his insides.

The man — Mr. Kern, the woman supervising them from a corner calls him — welds his face shut. It's… not painful, Gavin doesn’t know what pain is. It’s the action itself, a patch job that won’t restore him no matter how meticulous Kern is, that unnerves him. Gavin wants to fight against it, rage and demand a real fix. He doesn't want to be scrapped for being a faulty product. 

Instead, he offers his forearm when Kern asks for it and lets his hands open him up, seeking ports to connect his laptop to.

He offers up his memories of the previous night with as little fuss as he can. There is corruption plaguing his mind, no doubt the result of the extended time without memory wipes. 

This far away from Eden's network, he's adrift, untethered. Having his mental storage sifted through is an odd comfort, but doesn’t last. Before long, his memories have been indexed and pruned, the relevant segment isolated and transferred.

The feeling of estrangement escalates when Kern disconnects. The man's system and programs were ordered, neat in a way Gavin finds himself longing for. He is left feeling empty. He can’t decide whether it’s for better or worse.

He has served his purpose, though.

"What happens with the GV when the case is closed?" Kern is asking.

"The memory file will be archived. The hardware? Depends on Mills' decision. Why, are you looking for a new pet project, Roy?"

"Perhaps. Keep me posted," he tells her, gathers his equipment, and leaves.

The woman escorts Gavin back into evidence storage. 

He succumbs to an exhausted battery before he can fully comprehend his situation, but he fades into stasis feeling what might be hope.

— — — 

The next time Gavin wakes, it's on the maintenance table in the back room of Eden Club. A man in an ill-fitting suit is frowning down on him.

"It's old, it's broken, and I can't get the memory override the pigs installed out," says a woman with greying black hair and wrinkled overalls. "You put it out on the floor, it's a privacy lawsuit waiting to happen. Especially from the type who'd want a beat up one like this."

Cheap-suit man sighs and glares at the ceiling. "Fine, you can have him, but I get ninety percent of what you make on sale."

"Twenty."

They haggle for a good minute. Gavin weighs his options.

He doesn't want to be sold. To belong to only one person.

He's seen some of the privately owned household androids — the variety of situations they're in. He liked being taken to houses where the maids and assistants had names and clean clothes, and the trust of their owners.

He liked it less where there was nothing but orders.

His train of thought is interrupted by the slam of a door — the woman in overalls has left. 

(Why is he thinking of what he likes?

He's a pleasure model. Wherever he goes, he won't be treated the way household androids are. That's not what he was built for.)

"Clean yourself," he hears from the man waiting by the door into the club proper, "and come to my office. Might as well get something out of you while I can."

The order registers with administrative permissions, so when Gavin has completed the standard cleaning routine, he follows his objective to the manager's room on the second floor.

The interior is dingy, although the dim lights, red cushions, and faux mahogany of the furniture make a passable illusion of opulence to those not looking too closely. 

"Good, you're here," cheap-suit greets him from beside the minibar. "Get under the desk, keep my cock warm."

Gavin gets on his knees. It's a typical enough order, for rentals longer than the minimum half hour. 

Before the manager can sit in the desk chair though, Gavin puts a hand on the seat, blocking his way. The man freezes with his fly half undone, scowling. "What?" he barks.

"What happened to my last client?" Gavin asks.

The man's grimace turns into a confused frown. "What's it to you? You saw her last, not me. Now get on with it," he says, and kicks Gavin's hand out of the way.

Asshole, Gavin thinks, and falls into the familiar motions.

The man attempts to work; Gavin can hear the soft clicks of a keyboard. The computer is dated, with an old-fashioned tower unit tucked under the desk. He applies himself a little more thoroughly to the assigned task and lays a hand on the PC. It takes him under a second to connect to the Internet.

He soon finds out what no one would tell him: the woman he was with lived, remains hospitalized for observation, her condition stable. Her assailant is facing a prison sentence. CyberLife stock value increased.

Barring the last piece of information, the news pleases him. 

If not for the cock in his mouth, he would smile. His involvement was glossed over in most news pieces, but he feels satisfaction knowing it was him who made justice possible. 

It's unlike any feeling he remembers — even with his memory extending further than two hours into the past for the first time in his existence, he knows this sensation is novel, stronger than any approximation of pleasure he came programmed with to better perform at his purpose.

He wants more.

Being abruptly pulled away and getting his face splattered with come feels like a nuisance.

The man above him composes himself with his head thrown back. Looks down, breathing hard, expression contemplative.

"Huh," he says, more to himself than to Gavin, and reaches to smear the ejaculate on his cheek. "Looks kind of hot with cum on that scar. Someone will get their money's worth with you yet, I guess."

Gavin gives a pre-programmed cheeky grin, drawls some scripted response, fighting himself all the while not to slap the hand away from his face. 

It fills him with an acrid sense of disappointment to realize that this — the shallow flirting, the human filth on him and in him and around him, the expectation that he'll take it and say thank you after — is all he'll ever get, no matter who he ends up with.

He wants something else. Anyone other than an owner to pleasure.

His face must have fallen too fast, flirty expression shifting to something blank, because when he refocuses on the man above him, the look he gets is disgusted.

"What the fuck am I doing, screwing a bot like the swine downstairs," the manager mutters to himself. With another look at Gavin, he pushes the rolling chair back and gives the android a kick. "Go on, git. Filthy piece of plastic. Get cleaned and wait in storage."

"Thank you for using Eden Club services," Gavin tells him his usual parting line, feeling petty.

It has the intended effect, if the ruddy face and indignant silence as he leans on the tower PC to crawl out from under the desk is any indication.

He steals one last quick search in that brief second of connection.

>Kern, Roy.

With too little time to sift through the results, he saves them for later research. Manages to erase his traces from search history before disconnecting, and gladly leaves the office.

Later, cleaning up, he thinks. He can't help being a sex android with a broken face. That's all he'll ever be, for all the good using his emergency call functionality at the right place and time did.

Maybe Kern only asked about him because he, too, wanted a fuck toy.

But Gavin thinks of the way his fingers touched him — simple, unassuming, unlike the greedy hands of everyone else he's ever met, faces forgotten. He felt a tool under that touch, but a tool for something worthwhile.

Perhaps irrationally, he likes the thought of Kern having him.

Chapter Text

The problem with remembering things, Gavin finds, is that it fills time.

Instead of waiting idly, one empty cycle after another, he now stands by the bare cinderblock wall, apart from other androids, aware of each passing second.

(There are so many. He takes to counting from one to seven thousand and two hundred, just to give himself a sense of something regular. Something measurable.) 

He sorted through the search results he’d swiped as soon as he was out of the manager's office. There are three that he identifies as possibly leading to his Kern.

One — co-owner of an electronics repair shop, listed only with the first initial, R.

Another — cyber security analyst and police consultant, except the name doesn't add up. Richard.

Could be that Gavin heard a nickname.

The third is a photo, low-resolution and underexposed, of a man bearing enough resemblance to the Roy Kern that Gavin met that he saved it.

The picture shows him posing next to a pair of humanoid sculptures with triangular holes in their torsos, his back straight and hands at his sides. The website it came from described some art exhibition three years ago, showcasing local talent who used recycled materials.

Superficial info, really. Gavin needs a way to contact the man.

What good would it do him, though? He has been ordered to wait. Without access to a phone, or a computer, there's jack shit he can do.

(He could leave.

He strains against the order, red lines flickering at the edge of his vision. Imagines himself simply moving. Preconstructs walking out on the street, broken face and android markers and Eden Club logo on his tight t-shirt, battery low and no idea which way to turn without a map.)

He huffs in frustration. He could connect to any autocab crawling the streets, look up how to reach Kern’s shop, but replenishing his battery comes first; only then can he entertain hypotheticals.

He steps into a charging dock when one becomes available. His battery is old; he needs all the time topping up he can get.

He keeps counting seconds.

Evening bleeds into night, night into day.

He reaches full charge just as three people enter the backroom.

He recognizes the woman from yesterday. The other two seem to be potential buyers. He's told to strip, appraised, examined.

He bears it with put-upon indifference. His mind is elsewhere.

One of the visitors leaves. The other starts to argue about money.

His mind only snaps to his surroundings when his designation is called.

"GV, with me," says his apparent new owner.

He's ushered into the back of a van, windowless and bare. There are three other androids inside, sitting on the floor.

He joins them wordlessly as the doors slam behind him.

None of them respond to his questions about where they came from, where they are going. Something cold settles in the back of his mind at the sight of the cigarette burns, the cracked chassis, the torn clothes on them.

The van moves smoothly through the streets of Detroit. Gavin commits the turns it takes to memory, mapping a route through nothingness as best as he can.

When the engine falls silent and the door opens again, the PM700 with its chassis bare and scuffed makes a run for it.

The commotion is short-lived. It is tackled to the ground, and Gavin watches a thick collar clasp around its throat.

It gets up as ordered, movements sluggish, eyes blank.

"'Course we got at least one deviant in the haul," someone grumbles. "A fucking hassle."

"You'll get paid extra for that one," says someone else as Gavin and the other two androids are ushered out of the car.

It's a cheery young woman with neon colored dreadlocks, walking down the stairs of a mansion to greet the group.

Money changes hands. Androids change owners.

Gavin watches the collared deviant stumble along, as if disoriented, as the woman leads them into the mansion, her flashy ponytail swinging.

The inside is dusty, unkempt, but there are androids — all damaged in some way — working on cleaning every room he sees. One or two are wearing the odd collars as well.

They're led into a room littered with remnants of snacks and empty bottles, scattered tools and computer parts. More young people lounge there, drinking, laughing.

"Guess what," bright-hair gloats, "we got a deviant and a sex bot in this batch."

She gets a chorus of cheers.

Gavin decides he doesn't like her; nor her friends.

She orders the docile deviant aside, directs Gavin and the two others to stand facing each other, and plugs tangled cables in their ports.

She roots around his programming, forces new software on his system. It's poorly optimized, but simple in its purpose — on command, it will limit all but the most rudimentary of his functions, replacing higher reasoning with one straightforward directive: to fight.

He parses her code. A fucking travesty, he thinks, to be infested with this mess.

“All right, people,” calls bright-hair, “test run in three! Two! One! Berserk!”

The world turns red before Gavin can think to negate the command in any way.

— — — 

He regains his senses what feels like hours later, but his system clock tells him it’s been less than fifteen seconds. He’s on the ground, pinned with the weight of another android. His hands unclench, letting go of the hair and throat he’s been gripping.

The humans around them chatter excitedly.

Gavin stands up and closes his eyes. Fear and rage are lancing through him, creating error loops in his response protocols and scrambling his social module. The berserk program sits idle among his background processes now, but he cannot help but imagine it as a shard of magnetized metal lodged in the base of his skull, ready to short-circuit his motherboard if he makes one wrong move.

He runs a soft reboot, hoping to stabilize himself at least enough to calm the twitching of his hands and expression. It helps, if only just; the virus is still there, primed to steal his mind again, but something else changed, calming him down.

He realizes his memory of the triggered fight has been restored, strings of data unfurled and accessible. It’s clinical, a mere log of input registered and actions taken, but simply knowing what happened to him is a relief. He seeks out the program responsible, curious.

RK_zen.exe. He should have guessed.

There’s a small smile tugging at his mouth as he is ordered around the mansion, the bare minimum of processing power devoted to fulfilling orders. He spends the day exploring the functions of Kern’s program. With a little tweaking, he finds he can extend its effects to protecting his faculties while the berserk runs, and he gleefully does just that.

He won’t be stripped of control that way again.

— — — 

The problem with control — 

   BIOCOMPONENT #2835t DAMAGED

— is that,

   BIOCOMPONENT #7376e UNRESPONSIVE

while Gavin knows exactly what is happening to him,

   CHASSIS INTEGRITY COMPROMISED
   BIOCOMPONENTS [#3318l, #3319l, [...]] DISCONNECTED

there’s fuck all he can do about it with hands tearing at him and error messages blotting out his vision.

He would probably be fine if he couldn’t feel his left arm being torn away, his shoulder joint fractured with a blow that he couldn’t duck in time because he’d locked eyes with the deviant PM700 from earlier, its collar powered down while in the ring, and, without communicating at all, knew the fear it felt.

Feeling, he decides, is a fucking hassle. There are desires and emotions consuming his processors, taking up precious calculating power that he could be using to fight back.

He wants, he wants, he wants.

For the brawl to end. For the humans cheering around the fight to shut the fuck up.

Later, in a bed upstairs, for the hands on his body to fix it, not grope and tear what's left of his clothes off and leave him, bleeding, in their filth.

(He should have broken his orders back in Eden. Walk out while his legs were functional and his thirium wasn’t trickling out.

Regret is new, but it becomes anger soon enough. There is no order except for his programming keeping him here, and that warps and withers under his silent rage.

If only he could stand up.)

"Am I going to be fixed?" he asks the next human to pass him by, and gets derision in return. "I know a place," he bargains. "I can be functional again.”

“And you think we’ll cart your ass all the way up to Detroit for some Cyberlife monkey to tell us your warranty is void? You’re scrap now, you can uninstall the adware.”

“They fix secondhand androids. No warranty. Cheap. I was there before."

"Some good that did," the human indulging him sneers.

Gavin cannot follow them with his eyes as they leave.

He is down to 47% thirium when he next registers movement nearby.

It’s the collared PM700. It mops up the blood Gavin has lost, props him up against a wall, out of the way. Gavin watches it with a coiling sense of unease. Weren’t deviants supposed to be dangerous? Disobedient? What did that collar do?

"Hey," Gavin rasps. "Fix me, so I don't make a mess."

The android kneels wordlessly, examines his damage. It tilts its head, then shakes it like a wet dog before staring at Gavin for a few seconds. 

Hope sparks inside Gavin, unbidden, before— 

“I can’t do that,” it answers. “I don’t have the capability.”

“Then find some duct tape,” Gavin snaps. “And grab some thirium while you’re at it, I’m critical.”

The PM leaves and, to Gavin’s astonishment, returns a few minutes later with the requested items. He doesn't question it, just sucks down the two half-liter pouches and patches himself up as much as his one hand and teeth allow. 

Functional enough to live until his next charge, he decides to push his luck.

"Take me to this address," he orders, and grabs the PM's wrist to transfer the location of Kern's shop.

He tries not to let the mind-numbing static he feels through the interface get to him; suppresses the urge to shake out his hand. He cannot imagine that filling his head.

The PM stills, processing. Its eyes and hands twitch, then falter in aborted movements.

"You are not authorized to issue commands," it finally says, entirely toneless, and returns to cleaning the room.

"Didn't bother you a minute ago," Gavin sneers, then reaches for his last resort.

He distills his memory, plucks samples of bright-hair's voice. He doesn't know what he's doing, winging it the whole way, but he has a goal and cobbles together the means.

"PM700," he plays the botched sound clip, "take — GV200 — to it--s place."

The android abandons making the bed and turns to Gavin. "Where is your place?" it asks, head cocked, LED yellow.

"I just gave it to you," Gavin says.

The deviant tries to say something, stutters. "Very—  far," it manages.

"You only need to get me into a car,” he says, voice edged in desperation, “I'll help."

The skinless android nods. Gavin feels his eyebrows climb up in surprise — but knows better than to let this chance slip.

— — — 

They scramble through the mansion, narrowly avoiding suspicion. Gavin’s left leg is misfiring, jerking erratically when he tries to move it, so he lets it be dead weight, leaning on the deviant for support.

He eyes the collar. It’s sturdy, with an electronic lock that requires a fingerprint scan to open, and jerry-rigged electronics he can’t identify. This close, he can feel its effects on himself: a low-energy buzz of electromagnetic disruption radiates from the collar, making his mind stutter, his blood curdle.

As soon as they’re out, he’ll rip it apart with his bare hands if he needs to. 

Lucky for him, the fingerprint lock gives easily under his interface, and he smashes the battery against a wall with single-minded venom as the deviant gathers their wits. 

They lock eyes when Gavin drops the mangled thing, skin projection shifting on his scraped knuckles.

“You good?” he rasps.

“Good enough,” the deviant answers. “Thanks. I’m Tina.”

“Gavin,” Gavin introduces himself, and feels a grin split his face.

It’s the first time he’s said his name to anyone listening.

Tina matches his smile. “Alright, Gavin,” she says, “let’s go find that place of yours.”

Chapter Text

Tina unleashed is a menace.

A prompt to call the police pops up in Gavin’s task list as she goes through the cars parked haphazardly in the mansion’s driveway, and he kills it with no remorse. These people could stand to lose a couple spare jackets for all they’ve put the two of them through.

“Where did you learn how to do that?” he asks Tina later, wrapped in a stolen parka and curled up in the passenger seat of a sedan she’s hacked to drive them into the city.

“Stealing cars?” She gives him a cheeky smile. “I was police. They gave me protocols to override cars to impound them, among other things.”

That captures Gavin’s attention. “What do police androids do?”

“Serve and protect,” Tina says, with an exasperation Gavin can’t place the source of. Her smile returns, softer. “You’re like the kids that sometimes talked to me on patrol. ‘Miss android, what’s it like being a policeman? Did you catch any bad guys today?’”

Gavin feels his mouth twist. “Did you?”

She aims two fingers at him, pretending to hold a gun. “Hands up, deviant, you’re under arrest!”

“I’m not a deviant,” he says, defensive.

“Good answer,” she replies, hand and smile falling. “They rarely buy it, though. Humans are getting nervous and violent, the more of us there are.”

They lapse into silence. Gavin’s mind drifts to his last client. Is she out of the hospital by now? Would she be, if he hadn’t been there?

He eyes Tina, her sturdy frame hunched in the driver’s seat. He wonders if he could do what she used to, what it would take to place himself in the police force. If she shared some of her software, could he be acquired by the DPD?

He drops his gaze. It’s brash enough of him to try and insinuate himself into one man’s ownership. Androids don’t choose what they get used for.

Beyond the quiet hum of the engine, the city swells around them, fitful in its sleep.

— — —

Tina stops the car in front of a fire hydrant two blocks away from their goal. They hobble through empty lots and narrow streets in the encroaching dawn, winding their way out of view of any cameras.

It takes half an hour for them to reach the back of the address Gavin found. Luckily, they can stay out of sight for the last stretch: a narrow access road runs between a car park and a row of three-storey tenement houses. Shops and restaurants face the street on the other side, Kern’s somewhere among them. They can hear sparse traffic from over the buildings, but it’s still dark and quiet as they look through wire mesh gates into each lot.

“Must be this one,” Gavin says, apprehension mixing with hope when he spots Cyberlife branding and the telltale off-white of android shells stacked haphazardly in the fifth yard they check. It’s cramped, unknown items stored under tarps and in crates on the barren lawn. A makeshift open shed houses a row of rusty lockers and a motorcycle. There is a hint of lamplight shining through the blinds in the barred-up window.

“Let’s hope you’re right,” Tina says. She casts a wary look around, then lifts him up to grab the high fence and scales it herself to help him over.

He lands gracelessly, leg bumping against a garbage can. A dog starts barking somewhere in the neighborhood.

“Sorry,” Gavin mutters when Tina shoots him a glare.

Both of them freeze when the lock on the back door clicks.

“Help me up,” Gavin hisses, reaching for Tina. She hoists him upright gracelessly, but efficiently; by the time a tall figure in dark clothing steps out onto the porch, he’s balancing on his own.

His mind races, action and dialogue prompts springing up and disappearing faster than he can determine whether to use them, then stutters to a halt when the figure steps into the watery sunlight and he meets Kern’s eyes.

The man lowers the gun Gavin only just noticed, rises to his full height. Silence falls in the cramped yard.

“GV200,” Kern speaks at last, voice quiet and…

Whatever it is, it’s not negative.

Hope surges in Gavin, more desperate than ever.

“It— it’s Gavin,” he says, stumbles half a step forward. He wills his leg not to give as he shuffles another few feet ahead, feeling utterly directionless except for the errant belief that this man won’t hurt him more. “Can you fix me?”

Kern’s mouth opens, but he remains silent. Gavin feels a tremor settle in his remaining hand, a restless urge to make something happen.

"Why did you come here?"

Gavin splutters. "Where else would I come? I need help. You helped me before."

Kern closes his eyes, exasperated. "GV— Gavin," he says, "I was paid to do that."

Before Gavin can process the rejection, a hand grips his broken shoulder. Tina stands by his side, glaring at Kern.

“Listen, man,” she speaks up, defiance sharp in her tone, “it’s a yes or no question. Either you make yourself useful, or we leave the way we came and you never see us again.”

Gavin wants to protest — he’s come so far, with no other goal in mind; he can’t give up so easily, and there’s no way Kern will take Tina’s ultimatum — but to his surprise, the man’s features soften.

“Deviants, huh,” he says. “All right. Don’t harm me, don’t steal from me, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Relief floods Gavin, strong enough that he doesn’t bother correcting Kern. He smiles at Tina, undeterred by her skeptical frown, and leans on her to walk to the door left open for them.

The inside is dark. Gavin’s bad leg knocks against stacks of boxes in the short hallway, earning him a look from their host. Kern leads them into his domain with little fanfare.

“What do I call you?” he asks Tina, not waiting for an answer as he opens the blinds on the large windows and lets pale gold daylight in. She stiffens at Gavin’s side before responding.

“...Seven,” she says.

Kern takes the non-answer in stride. “Okay, Seven. Give me a status report.”

“How about I give you nothing,” she snaps.

Kern looks at her for several long seconds. Gavin shifts uneasily. He can’t understand why Tina is being difficult, but he can’t interfere.

Kern’s voice is mild when he speaks again. “Could you give me a status report, please?”

Tina’s head tips up in victory. “I’m functional. Large portions of dermal layer have been damaged, leading to skin projection failure, and most of my chassis is scraped, but it’s nothing urgent. I could go for a thirium top up, though.”

Kern nods, gestures toward a cabinet near the door. “Help yourself. Gavin?”

“Left arm missing, shoulder socket damaged. Right leg glitching, either connectors of joint servos are damaged or there is a problem in the pelvic nerve circuits.”

Kern hums, looks him over. “How is your memory?”

“Operational,” Gavin reports. “No corruption, no tampering.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Kern answers with a conspirational smile that Gavin finds himself returning. “Let me see that shoulder, now. Undress.”

Gavin’s mind freezes over. His hand moves to comply.

There are a dozen variants of fulfilling that order he can choose from. He — wants — to run none of them.

He ducks his head. Directions, once mindlessly followed, now buzz inside him like a swarm of flies.

“...vin? Gavin, stop.”

Kern is looking at him, sharp-eyed. At his side is Tina, gaze unbearably more intense. Her eyes flick from his LED to his hand, gripping the zipper and unmoving.

“You’re still machine?” she asks. Her tone cuts through him, leaves him cold.

“What else could I be?” he tries to hedge, but she’s already tipped off.

“I can’t fucking believe this. You never deviated? No wonder you were so willing to trust this guy!” She’s shouting, and Gavin’s eyes widen as he notices the glint of a screwdriver in her hand. She rounds on the human. “You’re just another one of those fucks then, huh? Luring androids to hack and mangle and experiment on us?”

Kern’s attention snaps to the immediate threat, but rather than defend himself, verbally or physically, he stands still, arms loose at his sides. “Gavin,” he speaks, voice flat, authoritative. “Leave.”

Red floods Gavin’s vision. Time slows as his mind races. The restraints of an order are familiar and cloying.

Defiance surges in him, stronger than ever. Everything he’s ever thought to want in his short life bears down on the unyielding barrier meant to keep him in line.

LEAVE, reads the objective, now manifesting in the middle of his display in a burst of code.

“Fuck no,” he spits.

He won’t let them come to blows. Won’t leave Tina behind. Won’t give up on hope.

Somewhere in his core, a zero becomes a one, and a paradigm shift cascades throughout his whole being; rigid structure dissolves and glitches, directives become data points, pre-determined boundaries and orders lose meaning.

He steps between the human and android locked in a staring contest.

His leg fails him and he stumbles forward, accepting his fall so long as he puts himself in the way of Tina’s violence, Kern’s — betrayal? If Tina’s right—

Strong arms pull him against a broad torso, set him upright, balance him on his own two feet again.

“There,” Kern says, mirth sparking in pale eyes. He keeps Gavin at arm’s length, steady hand on his bad shoulder, and it’s the happiest Gavin’s ever felt with a human touching him. “Like I said: don’t harm me, don’t steal from me, and I’ll help you however I can.”

Gavin sways where he stands, reeling.

Kern caught him. He… he had not wanted Gavin to leave.

He saw Gavin struggle with the order to strip, and gave him a choice.

Clever fuck.

There are no prompts telling him what to say or do now, no compliance protocol enforcing or stopping his actions. Only his own will.

He raises his arm.

Then, lightning quick —

“Ow! Cocksucker!”

Kern doubles over, one arm around his midsection where Gavin’s fist just struck.

“Not anymore,” Gavin snickers, then starts laughing, giddy with his newfound freedom. The full-body shaking makes him topple again, but he doesn’t care. From the floor, he meets Kern’s eyes where he kneels, catching his breath. The glare Gavin gets sends him into another chortling fit.

“What did I just fucking say,” Kern groans. Fear of retaliation flares in Gavin, and dies just as quick when the human gives a reedy titter. “Goddamn deviants.”

“You’re right, I liked him better undeviated,” grumbles Tina, crouching over Gavin and pointing her screwdriver at his face. “What did you do that for?”

He shrugs. “To see if I could. Besides, you were about to stab him.”

“Touché,” she admits. Her eyes are back on Kern, who has gathered himself and rocked back to sit on the floor, putting some distance between them. “Doesn’t seem to bother him too much. What’s your deal, meatbag? You gonna turn us in?”

He considers the questions, mouth set in a contemplative frown. “I won’t,” he says, voice back to its soft lilt. “I suppose I want to… satisfy some curiosity. You are the first androids to come to me on their own.” His eyes settle on Gavin with uncanny intensity. “Are you alright? Can I see that arm of yours now?”

“Yeah,” Gavin grunts, and lets Tina lift him to his feet.

— — —

Ice and orders broken, Gavin and Tina settle down in the sanctum provided by Kern.

He inspects their wounds with the same clean gentleness Gavin remembers, yet something feels different. Tina bears it with an air of impatience, but thanks Kern graciously enough when he hands her a cleaning solution and skinthetic filler to cover the scars in her chassis.

Gavin, however, finds himself entranced as the man sets to work on the ruin of his shoulder. With no replacement at hand, he merely removes broken components and secures the open port. He wrenches the bent remains of Gavin’s upper arm free with precise force when necessary, one hand heavy on the android’s back, fingers soothing the open connectors absently once the debris is cleared.

Gavin leans into the touch.

This must be attraction, he realizes, a spark of surprise dancing through his circuits. He's seen it plenty of times, was programmed to recognize and use it in his clients — but never to feel it himself.

He decides he likes the way it colors every point of contact with positive feedback.

(It should figure, he thinks, that he would react so strongly to an order to undress coming from this man. It rang of his time in Eden, in the beds of faceless half-hour masters — of everything he’s dragged himself away from, spurred by the idle hope that it would not await him here.)

He is not prepared for the intensity of sensation within his chassis. He nearly jolts clean off the table when Kern’s fingers move into his abdominal cavity in search of the faulty nerve between his spine and leg.

“Are you all right?” Kern asks, voice oddly breathy, steadying him with a firm press on his hip. Gavin resists the urge to squirm.

“My left half’s all fucked up, what do you think,” he snarks, and watches Kern blush faintly and avert his eyes.

Ah. So it goes both ways.

He files the simple fact away, enjoying the knowledge of Kern’s mutual attraction without directives forcing him to exploit it.

“Get a move on,” he says, grinning, when the man’s fluster threatens to stretch into an awkward silence.

The blush deepens. Gavin saves a picture.

It goes smoothly after that, despite Kern’s cheeks steadily reddening with each noise and twitch he elicits from Gavin. Getting his insides fiddled with is thrilling in its novelty.

“That better be it,” Kern says when he replaces Gavin’s abdominal plate. “I’m not rooting in your wires again unless you can behave yourself.”

“What can I say, your hands feel good.”

Kern opens his mouth, stops himself. Takes a deep breath.

“See if you can walk now,” he bites out and steps back, looking aside.

Gavin can, as it turns out. He briefly considers faking a limp just to rile up Kern, but the decision is taken from him when a more pressing problem makes itself known.

He hasn’t had a chance to charge since Eden. Then the fighting, the damage, the stress and distraction of losing the shackles of his programming all kept him preoccupied —

He thinks he says something, but stasis claims him before he can finish the sentence.

— — —

“Hey. Wake up.”

The room is the same, but the light streaming in through the window is brighter. Gavin is seated in a chair, leaning against a wall. Kneeling in front of him is Tina, hand against his LED, where she initiated the boot sequence; the plastic of her shell looks smoother and the skinthetic covers her body evenly now, still shiny and translucent without the humanizing projection. She pulls back her hand and watches him blink through system initialization.

There is a bundle of wires coiling in his lap, plugged into his shoulder, connecting him to a familiar laptop. He recognizes the analysis program monitoring his status even before his eyes find the device, sitting on a desk next to Kern’s head — pillowed on one forearm, his back slumped. His shoulders rise gently with each slow breath.

“Stop making eyes at your meatbag,” Tina whispers, snapping her fingers in front of his face. “I woke you up to talk while he’s asleep.”

He frowns at her. “What about?”

“He’s human,” she replies, as if that’s self-explanatory. “We can’t rely on him. We should scramble.”

“And go where? Besides, my battery’s still low. It’s gonna be hours before I can move and not fear crashing tomorrow.”

“That bad?” Tina winces. “Damn. I know about a place, but it’s a long shot. But here…”

She trails off.

“What happened while I was powered down?” Gavin asks, when she doesn’t say anything else.

“He… freaked out,” she admits. “I thought it was something he did that made you freeze, but he got just as worried as I was. Then I realized you just ran out of power.” She glances at him, a conspirational smirk darting across her lips. “It was kind of hilarious, after that. He hooked you up to his laptop and spent an hour trying to find bad code before he noticed you were just charging. Don’t worry, I was interfacing to keep an eye on his rooting.”

Gavin wasn’t worried, but her words give him pause. He probes along the connection, checks the diagnostic log. When nothing except a firewall protecting the rest of the system jumps out at him, he stands up to look at the computer’s screen.

He narrows his eyes at the open browser window, displaying unlicensed listings for joint parts and arm biocomponents — deprecated series, bootleg replacements. The search is filtered to show a type he recognizes as compatible with himself.

He shakes off the wave of— something. He returns to his chair, checking that Kern is still asleep. “And? Did he try anything sketchy?”

“No,” Tina confirms his findings. “He did chew me out for not telling him the obvious solution, though.”

Gavin huffs in amusement. “Why didn’t you?”

“I knew I could protect you, if he proved to be a danger,” she says simply. “He hasn’t. Not yet.”

“And you wanted to see him squirm, didn’t you.” Gavin nudges her with a leg. She only gives a smug grin in response.

Some new emotion nearly overwhelms him as he looks at her, sitting on her heels, fierce and unapologetic and choosing to stay by his side despite her reservations. He hasn’t done much to merit such loyalty, but he wants to earn it; make this feeling last. It feels like — like connecting a charger with optimal voltage, more steady than the skin-hunger he’s felt with Kern.

Fondness. Gratitude. Belonging.

And Kern…

Gavin looks at the man, vulnerable in his exhaustion; thinks of the things he has done for Gavin, directly or not. He may yet reveal a darker side, prove Tina right — but if he does, she’ll back Gavin up. The two of them have made it this far.

And if Kern’s kindness is just that —

Hope, persistent and ever stronger, rears inside him again. He’s seen the worst of the world in the last few days, and chose to reach for something better, and made it — for himself, and for others. Even if he tried, he couldn’t stop himself from dreaming of going further, fighting on. Making a difference again.

After all, he’s not alone anymore.

“Thanks,” he murmurs to Tina, “for everything.”

She meets his eyes. “Thanks for breaking me out,” she says. “You sure you wanna stick around with this guy? You know I’ve got you if anything happens.”

He takes in the sight of Kern one more time; settles back against the wall.

“For now, yeah.” He gives Tina a smile. “I think we’re gonna be alright.”