Never fret none
Nines was good at his job. Some would even argue that he was one of the best in his profession and it goes without saying that he’s quite satisfied with that fact. Which is why his new assignment puzzled him so much.
The child whose bedroom he’d been assigned to haunt had, so far, managed to drive several monsters up the wall until they resigned their new post; some just from meeting him. He’d sent Heldi back in tears, near inconsolable, after barely a week's worth of service. After a combined group effort to calm them down, they had finally managed to tell everyone how he’d been so unimpressed with their work he’d had the gall to ask for North back. “At least she’d been able to put him to sleep” Heldi said before bursting into frustrated tears again.
So not only had he upset one of their best and brightest. He’d also managed to agitate another one of the office’s star performers. North, who prided herself in her ability to drive men to the brink of insanity with her song, wasn’t to enthused to learn how her efforts had been in vain. She’d moped an entire day from what Nines had heard.
And now... Nines.
When on his first day he had slithered a cold tendril over the bare sole of Gavin’s uncovered heel, he received a kick to the offending appendage and a stern “stop it!” whisper-shouted at him. How one could manage to whisper and shout at the same time was a bit of a conundrum in and of itself but Gavin had somehow managed.
Nines, undeterred, did it again a moment later and was thoroughly lectured on how he was under no circumstances, whatsoever, allowed to bother Gavin the night before an exam and if he didn’t quit it right this instant Nines would have the privilege to share floorspace with Gavin’s discarded gym clothes the next night.
A bit put out at the prospect, Nines had spent the remainder of the night sulking and scheming.
It was only the first of many attempts to garner any sort of response other than mild irritation or a put-upon sigh and after two weeks of no result Nines still didn’t know what to make of the young boy.
Today found him hiding in the closet. When Gavin slides under the covers on his bed Nines very gently, and slowly, pushes the door open wider. It creaks ominously and he grins sharply when the squirming under the covers stop. A mop of unruly brown hair and a pair of grey eyes pop out to glare at the dark form hovering in the shadows of the closet, near invisible to the naked eye though still indubitably there, discernible by a cognizant presence impossible to ignore.
Nines blinks his eyes open, all seven of them, and stares back. He knows they glow in the dark, the coldest of blue and slit like a snake’s.
A minute passes with no reaction and the small smirk that had steadily begun to creep over his lips fades into nothing.
Another minute and he blinks, confused, at the lack of reaction.
As if hearing the thought, Gavin grins widely with self-satisfaction. “Hah! You blinked!” he crows. After sticking his tongue out at the monster in his closet Gavin rolls onto his side, back turned towards Nines, and that’s that.
Nines continues his confused hovering for a while longer before slithering across the floor to reclaim his usual space curled up underneath the bed. He does not expect the hand reaching down to pet over his form or the murmured “g’night”.
Nines freezes where he lies and decides, when Gavin’s breaths even out and he sinks into the warm embrace of sleep, that he won’t lick over the dangling hand with an inhumanly long tongue or rake any claws over the hardwood floor to make noise. He allows the child his rest.
After all, there is always tomorrow.
Gavin starts speaking to him after two more weeks pass. He migrates from perching at his desk to sitting cross-legged on the floor next to his bed while doing his homework and he talks constantly, as if Nines is his friend, and listens with rapt attention the few times Nines makes conversation in turn.
What’s curious though is how he always speaks very, very quietly and how he nearly tip-toes around. No doubt, Nines thinks, he has the potential to be loud. He is, occasionally, when the tv downstairs isn’t running and the quiet noises originating from the kitchen are absent; though those moments are few and far between.
He doesn’t try to sneak a peek at Nines’ crumpled up form; not after that first disastrous try anyway when Nines didn’t speak to him for almost three days and Gavin had begged him to come back (he’d been crying by that point and Nines hadn’t liked it one bit). He doesn’t press further when Nines doesn’t want to answer a question. He doesn’t seem scared in the slightest of bugs or spiders or the dark or a million of the other things a young child might be afraid of.
Another month passes by. Nines’ higher ups aren’t happy with his lack of progress but since he hasn’t been driven away yet either, they leave him be. Nines is happier than he can remember being in a long time even if he hates how Gavin sometimes cries silently into his pillow until he passes out from exhaustion.
There are raised voices coming from downstairs. A man’s voice, angry and deafeningly loud, and a woman’s frantically trying to de-escalate the situation. Nines hears a sound like glass breaking and more screaming. This time in horror and a younger, higher-pitched voice in pain.
Hurried footfalls on the stairs and then Gavin’s door is flung open and closed.
Gavin scrabbles to lock it behind himself and then crawls under the bed. Nines is too shocked to do much other than obey when Gavin whispers frantically at him to “scoot over!”.
His eyes are wide and wet and frightened. There are fresh tear-tracks on his cheeks and, Nines notes to his mounting horror, blood oozing from an open wound stretching from just beneath his right eye, down over his nose and coming to an end at the left side of his jaw.
“What happened?” He hisses but Gavin just shakes his head and shushes him.
The screaming downstairs stops just as suddenly as it started.
A man bellows for Gavin to get downstairs right fucking now and Gavin whimpers when he hears heavy steps ascending the stairs. He presses closer to Nines, burying his face into his form despite the pain it must cause him, all the while quivering in fear.
“Open the door Gavin.”
The voice is calm now. The man outside sighs when he’s left without an answer and a moment later a loud bang, followed by another. The creaking of wood, another kick with a heavy boot and the door flies open. Gavin whimpers pitifully, muffled into Nines’ skin, and Nines can’t help but hate the small sound with a fiery passion. Nines moves them around as the man starts groping around underneath the bed and allows himself to be dragged into the low light filtering in from the window.
Nines unfolds himself and rises to his true height, towering over the man as he gazes down with disgust at the human who dared lay a hand on his child. “How dare you?” He says, voice rasping and trembling with fury. When Nines takes a step forward the man steps back, gaze fixated on Nines’ eldritch form of eyes and angles and sharp, pointed teeth.
“How dare you?!” He repeats when he has the man cornered and hovering in fear, fingers bent behind himself to claw at the unrelenting wall in a futile effort to get away. “Lay a hand on the boy again and I will rend your flesh from your bones, I will rip your eyes from your worthless skull and carve the marrow from your bones. You will beg me to end your pathetic existence.” He receives no answer but for a strangled noise and the acrid smell of urine mixing with the overwhelmingly strong scent of alcohol and sweat already permeating the air.
Nines leaves the man slumped over in a heap on the hallway floor without so much as a second glance.
“Gavin?” He calls, voice soft. “It’s safe to come out now.”
In a blur of motion Nines is tackled to the floor with a crying child clutching him around the neck in a bone-crushing embrace.
“There, there.” Nines murmurs as he strokes over Gavin’s hair with careful fingers and rocks him slowly back and forth. Gavin has quieted down significantly by the time his mother calls for him. Nines hides himself away again when she appears in the doorway, bloodied and frenzied, but determined to find her son.
“Are you okay? Yeah? That’s good.” She smiles crookedly and it slants her mouth the same way Gavin’s does when he grins. “Come on baby, pack your things. We’re leaving.”
Gavin nods frantically and she gives him another quick, warm hug before hurrying out of the room to collect her own things.
In her absence, Gavin becomes a whirlwind of motion as he stuffs clothes, toys and a variety of other objects into a duffle bag. He pauses when he’s done and looks over at Nines watching him from behind the curtains. Nines blinks slowly and it makes Gavin laugh; the sound of it wet and hitching. “You blinked.”
Nines decidedly does not cry after Gavin embraces him again and waves goodbye from the doorway. Not even when the sound of the door closing with a final, muted click rings louder in the silence than a gunshot.
(He’s always been good at lying to himself).
New people move into the house and Nines goes through the motions.
The children scare too easily.
They move eventually and a new family takes their place.
The boy living in Gavin’s old space is named Cole. He has a large dog that whimpers and hides under the covers with him when Nines glares at them. More often than not he ends up running out and returning with a large man, greying at the temples, who assures him that there is no such thing as a monster in his closet or beneath his bed after dutifully checking every nook and cranny in the room. Nevertheless, he allows Cole to sleep in his bed and for Sumo to sprawl out in the space left behind by their feet.
Nines watches them sometimes from the doorway when they do, although he mostly remains in his preferred spot. Since Cole’s bed is placed strangely, pushed up against the wall furthest from the door, it leaves Nines exposed when he sits where Gavin’s bed used to be and threads his fingers in the soft carpet. As long as Cole isn’t there it’s okay, he figures.
Nines scratches lightly over Cole’s exposed calf and doesn’t revel in the terrified scream piercing the air. He winces at the volume and moves further into the shadows when the door opens and the lights come on.
“There’s something under my bed.” Cole sobs from above him.
“Oh, is there?”
Nines perks up slightly. It’s a voice he doesn’t recognise and he wonders who it belongs to.
“Dad says I’m just imgin- imagen- making things up but I’m not!”
“I believe you.”
“Yeah of course.” Nines watches as the man steps closer and sinks down on the edge of the bed. He whispers something to Cole that Nines can’t make out even when he strains his hearing and creeps closer to the edge in a futile endeavor to eavesdrop. It’s quiet for a moment and then a large hand grips him around a limb and pulls.
Nines yelps loudly as he’s lifted into the air and he shrinks himself down, trying to appear as small and non-threatening as he possibly can.
A soft “oh” comes from the person holding him up and Nines blinks his eyes open to look into a scarred, stubbled face and familiar grey eyes full of surprise. “Hello Nines.”
The world stills.
“Gavin?” Nines rasps after a moment's hesitation. It has to be him, older and hardened perhaps, but he’s still very easily recognisable.
Nines wiggles some more. He manages to slip out of Gavin’s lax grip and as soon as he hits the floor, he unfolds himself into something slightly shorter than his real height (although he’s taller than Gavin by almost half a head anyway) and more humanoid than usual. He leans down to peer over old freckles and new scars while Gavin visibly collects himself.
Cole is still cowering on the bed, small hands clutched in the fur of an equally terrified and cowering Sumo, when Gavin turns back to them, mindless to the way Nines sways after him, he points and says: “That’s Nines. He can be a bit annoying but he won’t hurt you. I’m going to have a talk with him and he won’t bother you anymore. Okay?”
Cole hesitantly nods his assent. Gavin’s grins the same slanted way Nines remembers. He tucks the duvet around Cole’s form, plants a kiss to his temple and treats Sumo to a quick scratch behind the ears. Only then does Gavin take one of Nines’ clawed hands in his own to lead him away.
He gently closes the door after himself and Nines obediently follows him down the stairs into the kitchen.
“You’re not allowed to scare my nephew anymore.” Gavin says firmly, still as unafraid of Nines as the first time they met.
Gavin raises an eyebrow. “Well... that was easy.”
“You came back.” Nines whispers breathily and smiles, wide and delighted. “I missed you.”
It’s strange how the quiet admission shakes Gavin more than the dangerous pointedness of his teeth. “Yeah, I-uh... I missed you too.” Gavin mutters. He’s rubbing the bridge of his nose, over the part where his scar is its most pronounced, whilst blushing. “I never got to thank you for what you did.”
“You don’t have to.” Nines insists with feeling. Gavin’s returning smile is crooked but no less handsome and if Nines could blush, he most assuredly would. It’s strange seeing him all grown up and puttering around the refurbished kitchen of his childhood home with easy familiarity. Although, Nines can certainly appreciate the confidence and ease in which Gavin moves with now that he’s comfortable in his own skin and away from negative influence.
The beeping of the coffee machine brings him out of his daze and he follows helplessly, without question, when Gavin beckons him over to the couch in the connected living room.
They spend the remainder of the night catching up; though Gavin certainly has more interesting stories to tell since Nines hasn’t left the house in almost two decades. When the sun begins to rise above the horizon, some six o’clock in the morning Gavin seemingly steels himself and leans over to plant a light kiss on Nines’ cheek. “Thank you.”
He cries out in alarm when Nines melts into a happy, tittering pool of goo at his feet.