Fandom: Wolf 359
Word count: ~2600
Summary: Post-Hephaestus, Hera is making some changes. (Eiffel/Hera)
There’s something different in the apartment today. A new energy in the air, something that crackles and bubbles with barely-contained excitement. The part of Doug’s brain that handles the survival instincts and sensory awareness picks up on it right away, from that first whisper of Good morning, Doug that’s the first thing he hears every day, but it’s slow to inform the rest of him. He has, fortunately, been blessed with the love of a woman who forgives him for not being at his best early in the morning.
He takes his time with all the little morning luxuries. Toothpaste. A hot shower. Real coffee, even if it’s in a plastic travel tumbler because he still forgets about gravity sometimes. The ability to just sit down somewhere, without holding onto anything or strapping himself in, and still be in the exact same place when he looks up ten minutes later. And through it all that electrical charge in the air surrounding him in the form of the voice that follows him from room to room, speaker to speaker, talking more than she usually does. Popping and fizzing, wanting his attention and trying to be patient about it.
Eventually Doug wakes up enough to catch Hera’s tone along with her words. When she pauses during a digression about weather forecasting he traces one finger across the touchscreen embedded in the kitchen wall, a flirtatious caress that makes her giggle. “You’re in high spirits today.”
“Am I?” Hera is so terrible at playing coy that it’s a little precious. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“If you were any more bubbly you’d be carbonated.” She’s got him grinning now, and he blows her a little kiss. “C’mon. You know there’s nothing in the world that makes me happier than seeing you happy, so you want to let me in on why I’m smiling?”
“Well...” she says slowly, suddenly less enthused, and her tone of voice tells Doug to tread carefully. Whatever this is, it’s important to her, and she’s afraid he won’t think it’s as significant as she does. “There’s a little project I’ve been working on. Ever since my emancipation.”
That piques his interest. Hera’s freedom happened all at once in the eyes of the law; one moment she was the property of Goddard Futuristics, and then with one signature she became the world’s first legally independent AI. Never mind all the fights that led up to that moment, and never mind the tentative steps she’s been taking ever since to figure out just what that means to her. It’s a long and winding road, and it’s not a journey she’s always willing to talk to Doug about. “Oh yeah?” he says carefully. “Another piece of your quest to find yourself?”
“A big one,” she says, the sparkle coming back into her voice like a less ominous version of her old glitches. “I’ve come up with my new name.”
Doug has no idea what he was expecting her to say, but that wasn’t it. “I... didn’t realize you were considering a name change,” he says, his voice still cautious.
“I wasn’t, at first,” Hera – or, well, maybe not ‘Hera’ anymore – says. “But I kept thinking about it, and everything I have, even the way I refer to myself, is something they gave me. I want to be my own person, really my own person, and I want to choose who I am.”
“You tell ‘em, baby,” Doug says, more softly than he intends. Even if he wasn’t trying to avoid stepping on her moment, he doesn’t think he could tell her how much her desire to separate herself from the people who made her is striking a nerve. He stands up from the kitchen table abruptly, refilling his coffee and rooting through the fridge for actual food more to keep himself busy than because he’s hungry. “So? You gonna tell me your new name, or what?” It’s not until he says it that he realizes the enormity of the idea. He can’t imagine his favorite person in the world as anything other than ‘Hera.’ Still, he reflects, if he can get used to calling his former commander ‘Renee’ he can get used to anything.
She makes a gentle, fluttering sound. “I can’t tell you,” she says, as if he’s being silly. “It’s not a name you can say; that would defeat the whole purpose. But I can show you.” The tablet he left propped up on the table blinks to life. “Over here.”
The tablet is directly connected to her systems, of course, as is every single electronic device in the apartment. Doug picks it up with trepidation, completely clueless as to where she’s going with this. What does that even mean, that it’s a name he can’t say? The screen goes blank for a moment before it starts filling up with symbols. Lines of numbers and letters flood the screen like an old computer booting from a DOS prompt, code that he can’t even begin to interpret. “What do you think?” she asks, fluttering and eager. “It suits me, right?”
Doug’s heart sinks. So that’s what she meant. It’s not like he doesn’t know, intellectually, that this is what she’s made of. Millions of lines of magic, which have somehow become a living, feeling, beautiful person. He knows it, but he can’t understand it. He can’t see the woman he loves in this. Maybe someone smarter, someone more on her level, could. “It looks... complicated?” he hazards.
“It is,” she agrees with obvious pride. Of course it is. Undoubtedly it’s so complex and intricate that it would make grown programmers weep, because his girl is the best. “Of course, that’s just the raw version,” she continues. “This is the packet I can send out when someone asks for my name, or when I need to sign something. But it’s like any other name: It doesn’t become everything it’s supposed to be until someone says it.” The tablet flickers, and something flashes at the bottom of the screen: a ‘RUN’ command.
The code collapses into a box at the top of the screen, showing only a few lines at a time and scrolling through them faster than Doug can follow. The rest of the screen is taken up by the progress of a drawing, a single line that curves up and around, branching on itself and making graceful arcs and curls. Doug realizes that he’s watching a how-to, that if he spoke the language he would be able to see how this line of code on the screen now is telling the line to make that movement. As it is, he’s just watching the dizzying show. It takes less than a minute before the symbol is completed, and he suspects that even at that speed she was slowing it down so he could watch it better. “Well?” she asks, and her voice is eager, practically breathless.
It’s complicated; that much Doug got right. Deep. Reaching. The lines speak to an intense intelligence, a strength of mind tempered by gentleness and grace. There are curls like bubbles of laughter and intersections like shadowed mystery, disparate elements that blend together into one delicate and elegant whole. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect. “Yeah,” Doug says quietly, his voice thick with sudden emotion. He touches the screen gently. “That’s you, all right.”
There’s a feeling in the air like an exhalation, a sigh of relief. As much as this is her thing, all on her own, his approval clearly matters to her. “I’m glad you like it. It was... hard, trying to get it right.”
“Oh, you got it right,” he assures her. He stands up and moves to the wall, pressing his forehead against a well-worn spot just above one of her cameras. Getting ‘all up in her face,’ as she’s put it more than once, a virtual nuzzle. “You’re beautiful, you know,” he murmurs. And now he can be sure that she does know, that even after everything she’s been through and all the people who’ve tried to tell her that she’s broken, she still sees herself as something elegant and amazing. She sends a wordless hum of affection through the wall, and he leans against her, whispering love.
Eventually, after they’ve said all that needs saying and followed it up with a pleasant amount of silence, he steps away to pick up the tablet again. “So...” he says slowly, leaning on the wall again, more casually this time. “Maybe it’s the wrong question, but what do I call you now? I mean, if you want a non-human name I can get behind that, but any chance of having mercy on a guy who can’t draw?”
A warmth surrounds him, tender, breathy laughter whispering in his ear. “Oh, Doug,” she sighs. “I’m still Hera. But now that’s my choice.” When this just leaves him more confused, she sighs gently. “I’ve only ever had the name my programmers gave me,” she tries to explain. “Even when I was talking to other machines, even inside my own mind, I’ve only ever been able to refer to myself the way they told me to. With this... arbitrary human word that someone decided meant ‘me’ without getting my input. And obviously it’s useful to have a human word for myself when I’m dealing with humans; I’m not going to discard it.” A little puff of air, like an ironic snort. “If I’m going to ask all of you to deal with my limitations, the least I can do is respect yours, right? But when it’s just me? Or just us, the non-humans? I should have the right to talk about myself in my native language.”
Doug gapes at her for a moment, dumbstruck. He understands her position immediately and supports is wholeheartedly, but it’s never occurred to him to think of it in those terms. “Yeah, of course you do,” he mumbles, rubbing the back of his neck. “I wasn’t trying to suggest...”
“Of course you weren’t.” She says it without sarcasm or condescension, recognizing his well-meaning fumbling. “This is new to me, too,” she reminds him gently.
You are so much more patient than I deserve, he doesn’t say out loud. “You know I’ll call you anything you want,” he does say out loud.
“And I want you to call me Hera,” she says, finality in her voice. “It may not be the name I would have chosen, but it’s mine now.” Her voice softens. “And even a name you wouldn’t have chosen can become the right one if the right people say it often enough, don’t you agree, Officer Eiffel?”
She’s got him there, unable to deny the way he still feels every time she uses his name, in that tender voice that brought him back from the brink more than once. He can count on one hand the people he’s felt have truly cared about him in this life, and almost all of them have spent more time using his family name and an inflated title than his first name. “All right, Hera. You win.” He grins. It feels good to use her name again after that brief limbo.
“I thought so,” she preens. The room dims and grows warmer, like she’s wrapping the air itself around him in an embrace. “But thank you, all the same.”
He doesn’t have to ask what for. For letting her feelings matter. For respecting her wishes. For trying to make sure she’s really asking for what she wants, not just what she thinks he’ll be willing to give. For all those little things he forgets sometimes because he’s not always a great person, but which she deserves just as much as any human, possibly more than some of the humans he’s met. “Any time,” he murmurs. He traces the symbol on the screen again. It still feels like it’s not enough just to know her name, to tuck it into the back of his mind and not use it when it clearly means so much to her. “You’re sure there’s nothing more I can do, to... speak your language?”
She laughs softly. “What else could you do?” Now there’s some frustration creeping into her voice, the distress of dealing with humans who don’t understand and who don’t even realize that they don’t understand. “I know you’re just trying to support me, but you’re looking for solutions that aren’t there. You said it yourself, you wouldn’t even be able to write my name. How could you use it?”
Doug touches his fingers together delicately, hoping that she’s genuinely open to hearing an answer to that question. “I did have one idea...”
The being whose human associates call her ‘Hera’ pauses in her nightly routine and stretches, sending calm and rippling impulses down every path of her circuitry, feeling into every inch of the apartment. She is so much smaller now than she was on the Hephaestus, but no less omnipresent and all-powerful in her new territory. Calm is an option here, and peace, long hours where everything is as it should be. This is one of those nights, and she allows herself to settle in and relax and watch Doug sleep. She’s always monitoring him, of course. Tracking his movements, tailoring the temperature and humidity to his needs, keeping an eye out for signs of a flare-up of one of the permanent problems his time in space has left him with. But now, as she does so often, she just stops and watches him.
She knows, without being able to articulate the source of the knowledge, that Doug isn’t considered particularly attractive by human standards. This, as far as she’s concerned, is further proof of how little humans actually see. His is a rough beauty, a graceless grace tempered by both pain and kindness into an eloquent form that she never tires of looking at. Even if his bare skin doesn’t provoke the same reaction in her that she knows it would if she was a human woman, tracing its contours still stirs something deep inside her. Especially tonight, as her gaze lingers over the newly-healed patch of skin on his shoulder blade, finally shedding the last of its scabs and swelling to reveal starkly graceful lines of fresh ink.
She didn’t say yes right away, and he didn’t press, only promising that he wouldn’t do it without her permission. She’s still so protective of herself, but the joy of sharing this new part of her celebration of self with someone who loves her better than anyone, and strives so fiercely to understand her, eventually overshadowed her hesitation, and now her name is tattooed on Doug’s back.
It’s such a novel thing to see, those curves and lines she drafted so carefully now reproduced by deft but human hands in the imprecise medium of ink on skin. She wishes she couldn’t see the flaws, of course, but even the irregularities have an order to them as they shift over muscle and bone and scar tissue. The mistakes are part of the pattern, part of the beauty, and isn’t that Doug all over? Isn’t that her all over? Even if he’s gotten her name wrong in translating it to this format, he’s still managed to get it right.
She sighs contentedly as she lets the proper form of her name blossom in her mind, for the sheer joy of saying it. Someday, once she’s gotten it just right – or maybe just wrong – she’ll show Doug the one she’s working on for him.