Two weeks into being back boot-planted on Earth’s surface, investigated for corporate conspiracy by a major world government, and having a life he can’t remember living declared legally terminated, Doug Eiffel’s got a List.
Specifically, he’s got a list Hera drew up for him, cross-referenced with what’s left of her archives, of every pop culture reference the other him made on the Hephaestus and what media it comes from. It took her awhile to collate, while Renée was helping him unpack boxes and boxes of log tapes into his dinky government-funded apartment on the coast, but Hera’s a quick study. That’s what he’s told.
The other him has an audio footprint the size of a small city, hundreds of hours of recordings between personal logs, official logs, snippets of conversations with Renée obviously captured for some kind of blackmail purpose, Hera trying to teach him French, and wistful lists of greasy American diner food. It takes multiple days to even get a dent in the sheer amount of lived experience currently taking up the floor of his closet. It makes him feel… something , to listen to his own voice recount things he has no memory of, events he can’t recall, names he has to think about first in order to connect them to faces.
Eiffel doesn’t know any French, and he’s pretty sure he’s never had a hamburger before.
Renée offers to have him over almost every day, so that’s where he decides to crash when he can’t stand the tape player anymore. She’s in a similar little one-bed one-bath while Lovelace takes a shot at unveiling the Goddard conspiracy to Congress, definitely bugged to hell and back, with Hera wired through the smart functions to give her some semblance of familiarity. Entire space station orbiting a star millions of miles from Earth to three-room cubicle in the heart of Southie - she’s adjusting great. At least the view is nice; the Charles is nominally less green this time of year, almost blue. She could sample the exact hexadecimal if he asked her to, probably.
Renée’s husband stops by sometimes, too. The two of them live separately, because although they’re still technically married, that marriage has been absolved through her legal death and at least partially due to the fact she’s not the same woman who left Earth as Commander Minkowski. She can hardly stand being around more than one physical human being at a time - she’s no longer someone he knows like the back of his hand. She’s also adjusting great.
Eiffel’s not sure if he should want to call her Commander. He’s not sure if she’d be okay with it if he did, or if it would feel like an affectation of a person who’s not there anymore.
“Where are you on the List?” Renée asks, popping a couple of take-and-bake pizzas into the oven. She’d plastered over the brand name on the appliances in her kitchen with duct tape. It makes Eiffel feel marginally better about doing the same in his place. The shape of the name Goddard makes him want to puke, and these days he’s not even sure why the visceral reaction hits him like a freight train, only that it makes his eyes slide off any word starting with G . Another phantom of muscle memory, maybe.
“Sci-fi action movies of the past two decades, thereabouts?” Eiffel replies. He narrowly keeps the frustration out of his voice. It’s difficult to keep track after trying to parse which Transformers movies are worth seeing (none of them, as it turns out) and in what order to watch the Star Wars trilogies (original, prequel, sequel, somehow). He throws himself down on the couch Renée didn’t pick and kicks his feet up on the arm rest. There’s something familiar about being in this position, to the point that he chases it whenever he can, seeking that special type of relaxation his bones know better than his brain.
“Isn’t that one about the huge robots Jacobi’s favorite?” Hera asks absently. Her new project is naming the colors she can see that humans can’t using preexisting color language. Eiffel thinks it’s to keep her from going stir crazy, or else pulling a Sky Net on the rest of the planet and wiping Goddard off the virtual face of the Earth.
He’s very proud of that reference.
Renée makes a face.
“I’m not sure Jacobi has a preference in anything other than butane, but I guess he mentioned it a lot on the trip back, yeah. I’m sure he won’t be too heartbroken.”
Eiffel chews his lip for a second, thinking. On his phone’s note app, he’s only managed to cross off a handful of List items. Everyone’s been a little too busy to sit through J J Abrams movies and seasons one through eight of X Files, surprise, surprise.
It’s only by looking at “Pacific Rim (skip the sequel; not worth it?)” on the dinky screen of a burner phone Lovelace got him that he realizes he hasn’t seen Jacobi in two weeks. That places last known sighting the day they stepped off what remained of the Urania, laying like a dead bird on the Canaveral launch pad, baking in the sun. There had been something cruel about his expression then, as though the sight of it no longer space-worthy and now planet-beached hurt him. It occurs to Eiffel, belatedly, that the Urania may have been the last place Jacobi got to see everyone he cared about in the same place, alive.
“Nah, it’s okay,” he decides after a while, ignoring the way Renée blinks at him in surprise like she does sometimes when she expects him to be thoughtless and casually mean, “I was actually looking forward to starting The Next Generation. Sound fun?”
That’s him, after all, isn’t it? Doug Eiffel, forever subverting expectations. Always the wild card.
He thinks Boston is… fine.
His birth certificate is from a hospital three blocks away from his current apartment - Brigham and Women’s, an easy walk from Fenway, a pretty view when there’s no overcast or pouring sleet. It’s weird, to stand in front of a building where another person was born that you have limited knowledge of, when that person is you.
He’s not really sure what Doug Eiffel, the moniker, the personality, the legacy, is about anymore. Out in space, orbiting the Wolf, it seemed like all he was really for was surviving to the next day, trying to keep as many people alive into that nebulous boundary of tomorrow as possible. On Earth, when he falls asleep he’s pretty sure he’s going to wake up the next morning. He’s pretty sure Renée and Hera and Lovelace and Jacobi (wherever those last two are) don’t need him to keep them together, on task, and sane. He’s pretty sure he could even live out the rest of his life here if he wanted, no infinite space probation or alien threat or crazy superhuman virus invading his bloodstream.
Eiffel goes to his state-mandated psych sessions and blood work appointments. The American government’s not so benevolent as to provide pensions and shelter to a group of miraculously not-dead astronauts claiming first contact and human rights violations and conspiracy without asking for something in return. Namely, they ask Eiffel to submit to a study of the Decima remaining in his system, mostly to track it as it benignly slides out of his lungs and capillaries, and to see someone about the devastating retrograde amnesia. They ask Lovelace to testify under oath and submit to physiological tests, Pryce to undergo questioning and help the investigation probe into Goddard, and for Hera to surrender what remains of her archive to be searched and corroborated, too, but Eiffel thinks it’s funny he’s the one assigned a shrink. Out of everyone who survived the Hephaestus mission, he thinks he’s probably the last person who needs the field of psychology’s assistance. And that’s saying something.
His therapist’s name is Peter. Peter’s nice, older and quiet and extremely out of his depth. Eiffel almost feels bad for the poor bastard, but then again Peter’s the one who asks him “and how are you adjusting?” every other week and expects him not to blow up in his face about it.
He’s adjusting fine, by the way, thanks.
Peter says something banal about upping his anxiety prescription, and Eiffel nods his head without paying attention. His bathroom counter’s a mess with translucent orange plastic.
“Hey, Pete,” he says instead, almost cutting him off, and winces, “sorry. I just, uh, wanted to ask - what’s Boston got that keeps you around?”
Peter smiles at him, always so forgiving, and talks about the resources for psychiatrists in the city, the bleeding edge of medical care churned out by the fraternity of hospitals, the great and terrible East Coast Weather, the rich history of a place that collects Paul Revere’s handmade silverware in hermetically-sealed glass cases.
“Why are you here, Doug?” He asks, and Eiffel blinks at him.
“Why do you choose to stay here? I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem to request a move, even across the country.”
Eiffel tries for a tepid smile, doesn’t really feel it on his face. He’s asked himself the same question. No good answers.
“I was born here, I guess,” he decides on, “and Renée didn’t really seem to mind when I said I wanted to see what it was like. I knew I didn’t wanna go back to the big T, anyway.”
Not with Anne still there, and Kate. Texas suddenly seems like a very small place when you’re hiding from guilt that’s interstellar.
“If I could,” Peter says, “I think it would be helpful for you to think about why you want to be here, not why you’re beholden to stay. The memories you may or may not have don’t restrict your freedom of movement now, Doug.”
Peter smiles at him, benevolent angel of cognitive behavioral therapy, and Eiffel feels himself force the cracking wax mold of his smile broader.
Eiffel tucks his hands into his coat pockets on the subway ride back to Renée’s place, keeping his chin tucked into his collar and listening to another of his old self’s tapes through earbuds. This log is entirely dedicated to a failed toothpaste heist. It makes him feel a little cold, hearing Renée and the man who must be Hilbert talk to a ghost with his voice. None of them sound happy - they rarely do, in these early days.
Is that really what I sound like?
He walks into Renée’s apartment already complaining at top volume.
“When I figure out whose idea it was to stick me with that patronizing asshole I’m gonna force myself to remember how to throw a punch.”
Jacobi’s sitting on top of the kitchen counter, studying a fresh set of bruised knuckles and kicking his legs out a bit to hit the cabinet doors.
“You tell ‘em,” he drawls.
“Oh,” Eiffel says, “hey. Where were you?”
Jacobi shrugs and watches Renée walk in with a damp towel and a first aid kit with no small amount of dread. He looks a little shaggier around the edges, a little shiny-eyed and keen.
“Out and about,” he replies, easy, “and hey, I can teach you how to deck someone, if you want.”
“No teaching Doug anything,” Renée warns him, taking his hand in between hers with clinical analysis.
“‘Out and about’ took like two and a half weeks,” Eiffel adds, “not really a grocery run.”
Jacobi shrugs again, then hisses and scowls as Renée works a disinfectant over his knuckles a little too roughly. She doesn’t apologize, just slaps his wrist to keep him still and goes back to work.
“Turns out,” he says with affected nonchalance, his grin entirely eye teeth and sarcasm, “because my whole team’s dead, I’m the highest ranking field agent Goddard has! So I told the new CEO to liquidate as a favor to the rubble the Captain’s gonna make out of them, and then I quit. It’s not gonna work, of course - whoever Cutter had in his chain of command is just as shark-bitch ruthless as he was, but hey, at least I’m out of that little shop of horrors. Funny, never had to write a resignation letter before.”
“And the bloody knuckles…” Renée prompts, her voice low with a commander’s warning that she never really learned how to drop. Even now, it makes Eiffel’s fight-or-flight kick in, his body attuned to get the hell out of her range whenever she uses that tone with him.
Jacobi bites out another grin at her, kicking his legs like a kid. He apparently learned in the opposite direction - how to jump in front of Kepler’s warnings.
“You sticking around?” Eiffel asks, propping himself up on the couch, chin resting on hands stacked up over the top of a cushion, feet tucked into the corner. He doesn’t really want to admit to himself that he’d been worried about Jacobi, but having the last thing he remembers of the man being a furious glare leveled at the ship that had carried them all the way back home made him uneasy, to say the least. He’s just glad he’s back and being vaguely horrible like normal.
Jacobi makes a gesture with his un-fucked hand, clicking his tongue.
“In the city? Sure, Boston’s fun. I’ll see if I can’t get MIT to put up a plaque for Maxwell or something, that’d be nice.”
Renée spares him a look as she starts to pack the first aid kit back up that says she’s yet again surprised by his ability to show real human emotion every now and again. Eiffel smiles at her, a little unnecessarily proud of their partially-reformed self-described monster. It’s like being proud of a feral cat that’s only starting to learn how not to bite, except Jacobi comes with his own supply of accelerants.
he says blithely, still smiling, and Eiffel notes the plastic brightness of it for the first time, the way it’s starting to jab into his cheeks and the
in how tightly he’s curling his fists, “just thought you should know, none of you are ever gonna have to work again! Lovelace and Pryce included if y’like. The bastard I used to report to made
the sole inheritor of his will. Shocking no one, the late Warren Kepler was fucking loaded.”
He withdraws a folded piece of paper from his back pocket. Even from the couch Eiffel can make out the slight dribble of blood across one of its edges as it’s passed off to Renée.
“Jesus, Jacobi,” she whispers as she unfolds it, slipping a hand over her mouth. She scans whatever’s printed on the document with narrowed eyes.
“He made you… sole inheritor?” Hera asks quietly, almost delicately. It’s the tone she uses when Eiffel misses something important, something they shared, and she has to lead him back to the place it used to reside in his mind.
Jacobi beams in the general direction of the ceiling. Eiffel’s starting to get worried about that.
“Checked the execution date earlier today when I was gathering effects, y’know. Apparently, he made the decision three days before we disembarked on the Urania.”
Eiffel frowns, trying to keep his confusion inconspicuous as he watches Renée’s expression unfold in horror and Hera’s voice go gentle-pliant and sympathetic in ways he can’t understand. Kepler’s always a touchy subject around Jacobi, moreso it seems now that they’re back on terra firma, so he keeps his mouth shut and makes the executive decision to not ask.
“Anyway, just thought I should update you on the developments before you start applying to work retail. Once Uncle Sam’s done with the easy-way-hard-way routine, I’m fine with giving each of you a credit card and just draining it. Never did me any good.”
Renée laughs, a humorless little two-note sound from the front of her mouth.
“All-expense paid vacation, courtesy of Colonel Kepler.”
“I like the feel of it,” Jacobi agrees, grinning cruel and sharp, dipping his voice down into a register Eiffel doesn’t recognize and parroting something he doesn’t remember. He’s so angry about this, he can tell - it’s in the matching blood splatter on his knuckles and the paper in his pocket, the way he won’t stop smiling as though it’s all a funny ironic joke, the way he’s not explaining any of it to the one person in the room who doesn’t remember why Kepler was a piece of shit, why he’d let Jacobi keep everything he left behind, why that’s a bad thing.
Finally Eiffel just stands up and shuts himself in Renée’s room, sitting on the foot of the bed against military-perfect folded sheets and breathing in the scent of clean linen and leather polish. Her motorcycle jacket hangs neatly over the back of her closet door, embroidered with her Air Force rank and the name of her new command, Hephaestus. Her husband had brought it over with the rest of her things from their old apartment, a gift from when she’d been recruited by Goddard. Eiffel’s pretty sure he’s never seen her wear it.
He lays back and plays Tetris on his phone for a couple of hours, trying to outpace the frustration and confusion nudging at him to go do something stupid like step into the living room and for once demand a clear and succinct explanation of why Warren Kepler’s name makes Jacobi’s entire body lock up, or why Alana Maxwell’s makes Hera go so quiet, why the people who have effected his friends’ lives so acutely mean nothing to Eiffel.
Renée tried explaining everything to him on the way back home, but there were things she missed, things she wasn’t around for, things she didn’t want to say without a go-ahead. And Eiffel doesn’t fault her for it, not for a second, but he’s tired of his entire existence being one big catch-up to people he’s pretty sure were complete douchebags anyway. At least Pryce gets to start over, it’s not like she can do much worse than who she was pre-brain wipe. For Eiffel, he’s chasing something he can’t even see, and knowing with every step that he’s falling behind.
Around sunset he hears the knock on his door.
“Hey,” Renée says gently, propping her hip against the doorframe and leaning into the room, arms folded but relaxed, “he left, coast is clear.”
Eiffel sighs and rubs a hand down his face, letting his phone fall onto his chest.
“Sorry,” he tries.
Renée snorts and shakes her head. Her undercut is growing long, falling out of military regulation. It looks good on her, more natural.
“You never have to apologize for needing a break from Jacobi, Doug. I get it. He’s just acting like more of a dick than usual because he thinks Kepler’s getting a last laugh and he can’t stand it.”
“Kepler’s, um,” Eiffel wracks his brain for a second, “military guy, Southern, took over the ship for a while, has a thing for whiskey, giant douchebag? He pops up on recordings sometimes, says long story short a lot. Sorry, there are a lot of bad guys to keep straight.”
Renée smiles at him, a touch sympathetic. It’s difficult keeping so many forms of human cruelty separated in his mind, but it’s necessary when the other him apparently knew the likes of Alexander Hilbert. Lived beside him for years. Ate dinner at the same table. Broke bread with the bastard.
Eiffel suppresses a shiver he’s not sure is his own.
“No, no, you got it. It’ll take him a while to calm down, but we’ll get there.”
“Jacobi’s kind of… a work in progress, still,” Hera supplies helpfully.
“And I was gonna see if he wanted to watch Pacific Rim with us. Damn.”
Renée sits beside him and kicks her feet up on the ottoman laying horizontally across the foot of the bed.
“I think it’s sweet you want to include him,” she says under her breath, very earnestly, eyes wide and tight at the corners for how much heart-sore worrying she does about him, and Eiffel catches her hand on a reflex just to see it ease a little, “but it’s okay, Doug. If there’s one thing I learned about him, it’s that Jacobi comes through when he’s needed. Never before.”
The first unique thing that The Second Coming Of Doug Eiffel learns once they’re planetside is that his particular brand of trauma is the least dysfunctional out of all of them.
There’s a Wikipedia page for retrograde amnesia that sometimes he or Hera will read out loud to each other when Renée isn’t around, Hera from memory and Eiffel from the print-out he’s got stuck in his unofficial ‘how to be Doug Eiffel’ notebook. Whenever he stumbles, or says something wrong, or catches Hera off-guard with a familiarity that they no longer share, she can quietly remind him “take as many do-overs as you need to, Doug,” and he can nod and they’ll both reset to their original places and start again. Chess pieces that don’t know how they can move, bishops in L-shapes and pawns on diagonals.
There are no Wikipedia pages for when Renée drops her toothpaste or a cup of tea because she’s expecting it to float, or when Hera gets so tired of being suddenly so small that she shuts down for the night, or the phone calls Lovelace makes that end scrupulously dry-eyed even though she’s alone in a city that wants her lobotomized because she’s an alien. There are no answers for the bottomless anger Jacobi hangs onto like a clenched fist pressed into his chest, all that compressed energy and nowhere for it to go. All Eiffel can do is clean up the ceramic shards while Renée sits down in her room, play Gilbert and Sullivan through the apartment’s bluetooth for whenever Hera comes back, and listen. Listen and listen and listen.
There’s no one else on Earth who can really help them, he realizes after about a month of being back from stellar synchronous orbit. All they have is each other.
Lovelace gets her official court date squared away in front of a live Senate tribunal. Every news station in the world is training its cameras on her face - wearier now with over a thousand logged days in deep space under her belt, a trip into the heart of a star she did and didn’t survive, too many close calls for an almost-forty year old woman to endure. She simultaneously looks older and younger with her slate blue suit all over national television. Eiffel remembers seeing her for the first time, expression slackening into a very bloody kind of unconsciousness, and thinking Jesus, she’s young. A thousand days of space travel, a resurrection non grata, and a corporate coup didn’t seem to put a dent in her despite the wrinkles along her eyebrows and bracketing her mouth. They almost look like smile creases, and sometimes Eiffel likes to pretend they are. It’s kinder to her, he thinks.
“Well, here’s the blood in the water,” Renée mutters under her breath as she flicks the television to the news, nudging Eiffel’s legs with her foot until he drops them off the ottoman to let her pass. She collapses next to him with a sigh, remote pressed into her stomach as though she were clinging to a detonator.
“Sir?” Hera asks. It’s harder for her, Eiffel knows, they both know, to let some things go. Programming, biology - inevitably the things they’re made of trip them up.
Renée lets it slide.
“Goddard is gonna fling everything they have at her,” she says quietly.
“They’ve done that before,” Eiffel replies, “haven’t they?”
“At least twice,” Hera agrees. Her voice is oddly firm, resolute in the near-quiet, just the three of them sitting grim-faced and watching the miraculous Captain Lovelace refuse to smile for the press. He’s oddly proud of her for it - she looks small against the backdrop of cameras and microphones and barriers behind which the public rally, every so often with homemade Justice for Lovelace signs, but she doesn’t change her expression once in giving her opening remarks to the thirty Senators held in session. When she says Fisher’s name, and Lambert’s, Hui and Fourier’s, Rhea’s, her back is straight and her eyes are forward.
“So how do we help?” Eiffel asks.
Renée shoots him a glance, another one of those looks he’s gotten used to over time as her double-checking that his kindness is sincere. Sometimes he hates the person he once was.
“She’ll tell us if she needs us,” Renée replies, although her mouth is drawn into a tight line that’s making him think that maybe Isabel Lovelace isn’t the kind of person to seek external help, to rely on other people. She wouldn’t be the only one, on a ship where only the most embittered sons of bitches Eiffel had ever met seemed to survive.
“Yeah,” he says slowly, mostly because he’s tired of being an embittered son of a bitch and because he has enough of his old self locked away on loop, pressed indelibly into tape reels in his head, to know when he sees a kindred spirit, “but how do we help?”
Hera makes a pleased little hum.
“Creating protocol folder labelled ‘Lovelace Contingencies’ now, Commander.”
Jacobi drops by again a week later.
He’s still full of vitriol and too-bright shiny rage, his pupils the reflective sheen of nickels and his hair longer around his ears since returning home. Eiffel wonders for a second as he catches him scooping whole spoonfuls of Chunky Monkey from the carton Renée keeps at the back of the freezer if he could ask if Maxwell used to deal with this kind of swanning in and out without being decked, and then decides probably not and grabs a spoon, too.
Renée’s out grocery shopping, and Hera’s back at Pryce’s place helping her sort through boxes and boxes of research she doesn’t remember doing until sundown at least. Eiffel smacks Jacobi’s wrist with the flat of his spoon to get him to stop clutching it like the Ark of the Covenant and thinks he’s a little too smart for his own good, or for anyone else’s good, for that matter.
And yeah, he’s proud of that reference, too.
“How’s brain training going?” Jacobi mumbles around a mouthful of nearly-liquid ice cream and chocolate syrup. Eiffel pretends to gag behind his fist and ignores the way he’s wearing a familiar bomber jacket with the company logo ripped out of its stitching across the breast pocket. There’s so many things that have to be clawed back from the grip of Goddard Futuristics, and it’s exhausting, and maybe not at all worth it, but Eiffel feels a little part of him soften seeing how ridiculous it is to take the fucking patch off of a jacket because you don’t want to just throw it away, because it’s comfortable or sentimental or just because it’s yours, it belongs to you.
It’s a lot less difficult than he thought it was going to be, deciding he wants to be friends with Daniel Jacobi.
Eiffel lifts himself up onto the countertop, ignoring the way Renée would probably vivisect him for eating ice cream at three in the afternoon in his pajamas on her nice clean faux marble counter. He points his spoon at Jacobi instead.
“I hate every second of it,” he answers, cheerfully brutal and honest in a way he doesn’t want to examine. At least he’s not expecting sympathy from him, the self-confessed amoral misanthrope extraordinaire.
“It’s always either advice on how to be more like a person I’m pretty sure sucked, or advice on how to start from scratch by abandoning my friends and moving back to Texas. I think I hate Texas, or at least the concept of it.”
“That’s rough,” Jacobi hums, licking a spot of chocolate on his chin by contorting his tongue over his lip. Eiffel snorts and takes the carton away from him. He’ll have to text Renée about getting more ice cream before she comes home and finds it gone.
“How’s, uh, whatever you’re doing?” He tries.
Jacobi blinks at him. He looks ridiculous, unbrushed hair and chocolate smudged across the corner of his mouth, the knuckles on one hand still healing from shiny purple-pink blunt force damage. He doesn’t look like the person whose voice is pressed forever into Eiffel’s brand new brain saying the words you treated me like one of them, in a brig thousands of miles away orbiting a star that both killed and saved someone named Doug Eiffel.
“Sucks,” he chirps after a second, catching back up quickly, “being stuck on earth with you guys like this was supposed to be the nightmare scenario, y’know.”
Hera’s disconnected and Renée’s out, Lovelace is five hundred miles away, and the Wolf is a fever dream held on the very edges of everyone’s mind all the time, an oh my god, did that actually happen? none of them get to laugh and shrug off. Maybe that’s why Jacobi’s acting the live grenade about it - no one within the blast radius he cares about getting hurt anymore.
“I mean, why me, right?” He asks, shrugging, stabbing his spoon one last time into the ice cream and excavating a few walnuts from the bottom. Eiffel hates them.
“Alana would be taking apart Goddard’s patents on artificial consciousness, leaking their servers, something techy and anticapitalist like that. Kepler would be getting his next assignment from whoever’s in charge of SI-5 now and forgetting we ever existed, meeting whatever poor bastards he was put in command of next.”
Eiffel thinks about how Hera talks sometimes, in the darkening quiet of his empty little apartment, about Alana Maxwell forcing her very clever hands into her brain and ripping something irreplaceable out, smiling and hushing her the whole time. He thinks about Renée telling him the story of the big bad wolf masquerading in military fatigues, Warren Kepler, and how by the end he might have even acted with some lingering shred of humanity, whether or not it mattered.
“You really think so?” He asks.
Jacobi looks decidedly not at him and sticks the spoon in his mouth, grabbing the closest DVD from the stack on the kitchen island and shoving it into Eiffel’s chest as he walks by.
“C’mon, Memento, be a good host and watch something with me.”
So this, then, is the issue with Daniel Jacobi, human wild card: SI-5 was his family. It was a shit, awful, monstrous, pieced-together family composed of people who were self-admittedly the kind of evil that only comes from bad sci fi plots. But it was his. And now it’s gone.
Eiffel’s got Hera to talk to about all the incredible colors he can’t see and the bad taste in media he used to have; Renée to argue with about what should be for dinner and why it shouldn’t be instant ramen for the fifth day in a row; even Lovelace, thrown wide out of orbit, who complains about cheap hotel accommodations and the lackluster water pressure of Best Westerns when she calls.
Daniel Jacobi has the last will and testament of Warren Kepler made out in his name, a flash drive he keeps protectively laced around his neck alongside his dog tags, and no bodies to bury. He’s the last of his kind, literally.
Here’s a memory the New and Slightly Improved Doug Eiffel has: the observation deck of the Urania at 0400. Earth is a rapidly approaching pale blue dot cresting the horizon of Saturn’s rings. There’s a distinct atmosphere of compartmentalized grief and survivor’s guilt that Eiffel doesn’t want to touch with a thirty foot pole, but he figures it’s the decent thing to do. It’s a new thing he’s trying: being decent.
Lovelace calls it overly penitent self-flagellation, but she can fuck right off.
“No,” Jacobi sighs, “no ‘hi’.”
“Alright,” Eiffel agrees, kicking off into the room anyway, “we won’t do ‘hi’. Does ‘hey’ work?”
“Jesus. Go away, Eiffel,” Jacobi tells him. There’s an ossifying anger to it, not the kind that tells him to go make himself useful for a change but the kind that chucks him into the nearest bulkhead with an elbow against his jugular. Skip straight to battery, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Vicious mutt anger. This is a portrait of the Current and Slightly Revised Daniel Jacobi.
“Bother someone else.”
“I’m going to be near someone on this ship for once without them apologizing for my entire existence, and if it has to be you, then fine,” Eiffel snaps, then immediately catches his tongue between his teeth hard enough to taste iron filament. His brain screams that he’s had a lifetime of being a sullen son of a bitch and he’s got the audio to prove it, caught on tape, red handed.
“Oh, woah, sorry, I’m sorry. That was - I should -“
Jacobi tilts his head at him. The gesture is less like trying to see how two puzzle pieces fit together and more like aiming down a sniper’s scope. Not analytical; just a warning.
Eiffel swallows and craves a cigarette so suddenly it’s like a gut punch.
“I just wanted to check in on you. Everyone else is - trying to make sure I’m okay, and I’m not. So I figure you’re not, either.”
Jacobi raises his eyebrows. He’s got a thin scar on his upper lip, not quite touching the bottom of his nose, and Eiffel has the nauseating thought that he’s probably noticed it before, but the thought no longer belongs to him. That’s someone else’s observation now, and he has to entirely relearn the only people he knows.
“You lost your memory, Eiffel.”
“You lost your friends.”
He says it as quietly as he can in the cavernous silence, but Jacobi still flinches.
Renée can’t quite meet his eyes sometimes, and Hera stumbles over her words when she wants to call him Officer Eiffel and Doug at the same time, and it hurts, because Eiffel feels like he’s lost his friends, too. There’s a body of proof in every audio recording he listens to that these were people he loved, but that bedrock is gone now. All they are to him are outlines, fill-in-the-blank prompts only made of blanks.
Jacobi doesn’t even get to have ghosts.
“It’s not a contest,” Eiffel acknowledges, “I just wanna make sure you’re okay. And obviously, well, you’re not. I’m realizing I don’t know exactly how to comfort someone, so, like. How about we just feel guilty about all the bad things that happened to us in silence for a while.”
Jacobi smiles at him.
There’s an entire archive full of his voice, years of recordings transferred onto the hard drive of the Urania. Not once on it, through the hours and hours of tape, does Eiffel ever hear himself describe Jacobi smiling. It’s possibly the first thing since becoming the New and Improved Doug Eiffel that doesn’t feel like an impossible game of catch-up.
“Fine. Sure. Not the worst thing I could be doing with my time. Lovelace still won’t let me anywhere near the weapon lockers.”
Hera’s listing what sounds like the entire United States legal code trying to identify if Lovelace counts as a citizen of any country and if naturalization laws could in any way be impeded by a nonterestrial origin while Renee makes breakfast the next morning. Jacobi and Eiffel nurse cups of coffee while nodding and intermittently going uh huh so Hera knows they’re paying attention, but attention in this case counts as barely parsing individual words in between phrases like statutory act of expatriation and established by legitimation.
“Hera, sorry, just one sec,” Renée interrupts and shakes the fancy french press she bought a week ago at her guests, “did one of you take the last of the coffee?”
Jacobi and Eiffel share the universal look of not it as Renée turns around to rescue a crackling fried egg from its pan. Eiffel opens his mouth to start another apology for being a coffee hog and also not caring about the sanctity of fancy coffee served over breakfast as much as draining three mugs of stomach lurching black tar and eating nothing until lunch.
Without a word Jacobi switches their mugs, snagging Eiffel’s from his hand and tilting it toward Renee when she turns back to show off the freshly topped-off cup. He beams at her, sugar sweet like cordite.
“Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.”
Renee rolls her eyes and turns the water heater back on to make another pot. Eiffel blinks at his new half-empty mug of cream and sugar before Jacobi winks at him and switches them back.
Hera fakes clearing her throat. It’s a weirdly accurate imitation for a sound so reliant on having a throat.
“The point,” she says, bemused, “is that I don’t think Captain Lovelace is going to be able to come back home for a while. Months, maybe?”
Renée sighs. She busies herself with cutting bell peppers to give her hands something to do - Eiffel’s noticed a lot about her nervous tics in the time they’ve been back on terra firma. It took her awhile to get used to cooking in normal gravity again, but she likes it. Something about methodic motions, probably.
“Maybe we should just go see her? That’s a brutal timeline to be alone.”
“She’s done it before,” Hera recalls sadly.
Renée shakes her head.
“It would be risky to ask for all of us to leave at the same time without causing more problems for her, and getting Hera anywhere would take a lot of convincing.”
“She might not want to see you, y’know,” Jacobi adds, tipping back at a dangerous angle in his chair. He’s playing pinball on his phone in one hand and gesturing with his coffee mug with the other, and Eiffel wonders not for the first time how it’s possible for someone to be so disaffected by the things they’re doing while simultaneously needing to do three or four things at once to keep from getting bored.
“I’m sorry?” Renée asks. She sets the knife down and leans slightly across the cutting board. As though bracing.
Eiffel busies himself with his suddenly very interesting place setting.
Jacobi rolls his head back and considers her for a long time.
“I’m sure she’d be thrilled to have her three stoodges all in the same room as her again,” he says slowly, the drip-drip-drip of a tone too close to what he used to use with Kepler on every recording Eiffel’s ever heard, “but she’s trying to convince a global superpower of corporate conspiracy, and trying to get them to care, too. She might not want to see you. She might not want to see anyone. Doing it alone is kind of what she’s known for, right? Indomitable Captain Lovelace.”
“She doesn’t have to,” Eiffel snaps back at him. His sneer is too sharp, digging its shrapnel edges beneath his skin. Jacobi is vicious about everything, even his advice is gasoline.
“But she does, right? None of you have to deal with being called an alien, or worry about whether or not you’re going to be opened up on an operating table in the name of first contact. None of you were up there longer than she was, knew what command was doing more than she did.”
“But you did, didn’t you, Jacobi?” Hera asks suddenly, maybe because she’s irritated or angry or just because the crushing claustrophobia of a too-small body makes her careless, “At least. A part of it.”
Eiffel and Renée glance at each other and stiffen.
“Ha,” Jacobi says, “ha ha. Good one, Hera. Great one.”
“I’m sorry, I promise I didn’t mean -”
“It’s fine,” he dismisses, pushing his chair back and placing his half-finished mug on the counter in front of Renée with a sharp click, “I’ve got places to be, anyway. Fun talk.”
Renée gives Eiffel another, longer look, like she’s trying to gauge something. He can recognize the analytical light in her eye as an astrological navigator mapping something in her brain. After an interminable moment, she tips her head toward the front door, toward Jacobi as he closes it behind him.
He leaves his coffee.
It’s raining this morning, a slight kind of drizzle that turns the clouds overhead paper thin and a particular damp grey. Eiffel frowns up at the sky; his session with Peter later today is going to be miserable, beginning-middle-end, if it doesn’t let up. The subway stops always have a kind of mildewy, water-on-metal scent to them when it rains like this.
“You’re coming to my place and watching something on the List,” he calls to Jacobi’s back.
His sweatshirt is a few sizes too big to give him enough pocket room to shove his arms into, and the hood kind of engulfs his head, but it keeps the rain off. Jacobi’s bomber, on the other hand, looks like it might shrivel up into a tiny scrap of faux leather if he leaves it in the cold and wet any longer. Eiffel resists rolling his eyes; he’d once told him he grew up in south Cali.
“Fuck off, Eiffel,” Jacobi says brightly. There’s something to be said about Jacobi’s voice and accelerants, maybe - gasoline, kerosene, butane, and this. You can’t help but react, and it pulls you along violently.
Eiffel almost trips to catch up to him, keeping his hands tucked into the warm front pocket.
“Nope. You’re coming with me and we’re having friend time.”
“You can’t call reacclimating your brain to your former self’s memories while I stick around ‘friend time’.”
He scuffs the tip of his Converse against the pavement and stops for a second, watching Jacobi’s shoulders as he keeps walking. He doesn’t walk like an army brat, controlled lines and illusions of grandeur and that awful fake confidence of someone who’s held a gun. Eiffel’s never seen anyone stand the way he does, like he’s bracing for a detonation, but then again, the sample pool is vanishingly small.
“Kinda getting tired of you insisting we’re not friends yet, Daniel.”
Jacobi freezes and those shoulders come up, tucking behind his ears. He does a good impression of raising his hackles, and here we come back to that kicked dog anger.
“Sharing near death experiences with le commandant du cirque, a faulty AI, and an amnesiac science experiment doesn’t make us friends. And if you call me that again, I will deck you.”
Eiffel tilts his head and considers it.
Jacobi glances behind him, his boots crunching on the wet asphalt. It smells like saltwater and chlorine this close to the bay, like an open air aquarium.
“You don’t like that we know you, and what you did, and what got done to you,” Eiffel says as he tips back on the soles of his shoes, rocking back and forth to catch raindrops on his upturned hood, “and you don’t like that you have us instead of them. But we’re here, Jacobi. And if you want to be angry about the fact that you got left behind, no one’s gonna stop you. I’m pretty sure we have enough collective rage to, like, overthrow a small government. But you don’t get to walk in and out like we haven’t earned knowing you. That’s not the deal.”
“Did you memorize that?” Jacobi asks. It’s fair, probably, that it stings a little. Eiffel resists snapping at him again - he likes being shouted at, likes irritation being directed at him. Maybe he’s a little too much for their dinky group of loveable misfits, a little too combustible, but they’ve earned him. And anyway, they’re all a little too open-wound sore to let go of even one more person who knows what they’ve been through. All they have of the Wolf now is each other and the red light behind their eyes that never goes away.
“For the record, I don’t mind if you call me Doug,” he replies blithely, “and I’ll even let you pick what we watch. I’m nice like that.”
Jacobi raises his eyebrows. He stands like someone trying not to stand like a soldier, Eiffel suddenly realizes.
“Fine. Lead the way.”
They watch Blade Runner back at Eiffel’s apartment. Jacobi had looked at the cover while sorting through the List pile and said “Alana never wanted to watch this one with me,” with a conspicuous lack of tightness to his voice.
It felt a little like trust, to be allowed to ignore such a loaded comment.
Eiffel’s got his eyes practically glued onto the television screen when something occurs to him. His brain doesn’t stay locked onto anything for more than a few minutes. It’s kind of nice, hearing a version of himself topic-hop through tape reels. At least he’s consistent in inconsistency.
“Hey,” he says, nudging Jacobi’s shoulder. It’s a feat, with two cushions worth of space between them, but he’s bendy.
Jacobi swats him.
“Shut up. Movie.”
“Eloquently said,” Eiffel rolls his head back against the top cushion, “what’s your middle name?”
Jacobi glances at him and away. He frowns like he’s a competitive champion, like he’s a professional with a catalogue of different microexpressions that can be conveyed with a downward lip twitch.
“I know Renée’s, and Hera picked one for herself. Lovelace doesn’t have one. So that just leaves you.”
Jacobi sighs and curls his legs up until his knees almost touch his chest. He doesn’t look away from the screen for a moment, like he’s stuck to it, the colors of rain-slicked neon and concrete making moving patterns on his shirt and neck. Eiffel’s never really seen him enjoy something, except for the idea of blowing something up or retelling a story where he blew something up. Workaholic, it’s in his bones.
“I’ll tell you mine. It’s horrible,” Eiffel offers, grinning.
“Is this the ‘friend time’ thing you were talking about? Because if it is I think I want to pass.”
“See! See? I told you,” Eiffel laughs, throwing himself back against the cushions on the opposite end of the couch, everything warm and soft and blue-tinged from the television. It’s not the first time Jacobi has looked human since being back planet-side, but it’s something Eiffel’s noticed with increasing frequency. Probably
something to do with trying not to be an irredeemable corporate shill, not that he’d ever say that out loud and expect to get away with all of his teeth still intact.
“Douglas Fernand. Isn’t it the worst.”
Jacobi shrugs one shoulder and roots around in the bag of chips at his hip.
When faced with the option of a squeaky clean standard-issue Goddard apartment complex and the idea of defacing every square surface in an act of extremely bad impulse control and maybe-necessary catharsis, Eiffel went with the path of least resistance and just covered the space with as much shit as possible. Laundry, empty chip bags, small castles made of empty soda cans. Whatever took up visual space.
It’s why Renée doesn’t come over to his place, coincidentally, although Eiffel would argue to the death that never having to spend another day confronting the fact that he lives in what is essentially a Goddard-expensed safehouse, irony of ironies, more than makes up for the uncomfortable mess.
“What’s worse,” Jacobi says thoughtfully, “is Daniel Kenneth.”
Eiffel chokes on his soda and has to sit back upright in order to breathe again.
“You’re messing with me.”
Jacobi cocks his head and considers the label on the can Eiffel holds.
“Named after my dad,” he confirms.
Eiffel grins at him and raises his drink in a toast. Jacobi rolls his eyes, but eventually clinks their sodas together. Little carbonated pops like champagne seal the gesture. They go back to watching rain-slicked neon.
He keeps an eye on Jacobi anyway, every now and again, just letting himself slide back to watching him watch the television. He never does relax all the way.
It’s fine, Eiffel tells himself, even though it still manages to hurt; they’re both still kind of learning the rules of life after the Wolf.
It’s silence that does it, Eiffel thinks absently - neither of them can stand it being so fucking quiet. There’s a frantic way they jump to fill it that’s maybe less about the other person hearing the words and more about filling the yawing silence.
“Two hundred and twenty three days out in space,” he whistles, hanging upside down over the couch cushion, feeling the blood drain into the basin of his skull, “and I don’t remember any of it. But I get to listen to it, sometimes, when I’m feeling up for it. Y’know, I had the record button pressed the whole time, stuck it down with tape or something.”
Jacobi tosses his empty soda into the tiny trash can in the corner and misses horribly.
“I still have no idea if I’m an alien!” He replies, grinning shiny and slick and completely serene, “Isn’t that fucked up? I’m never gonna know if that thing on the other side of the hull was actually me. Like, I think I know, I’m pretty sure I’m the original, and it would make sense, right? But I’m never going to know for certain I’m not some alien copy like Lovelace is.”
They hold each other’s gaze for a long time, a bit too long to be comfortable, and look away only when the Bluray player clicks off automatically, making them both too hard to see in the half-light without squinting.
“Not to mention the secret experimentation.”
“Or the being betrayed by my commander, twice. He even managed to sneak the last one in after he died - always was an over-achiever.”
“Renée jettisoned me from the ship so I wouldn’t get hurt, in the end. I dunno if I can forgive her for that, or if it’s something I’m even allowed to make a decision about.”
“Pryce put a collar on me and turned me into a puppet and now I have to pretend it never even happened because she doesn’t remember.”
“Renée and Hera both almost suffocated me.”
“I listened to my best friend die.”
Eiffel breathes out, long and slow, feeling his lungs deflate and constrict against his ribs.
“It’s not a competition,” Jacobi reminds him from across the couch. Eiffel can feel him watching idly, the way someone might look at a ceiling tile in a doctor’s office. A part of the scenery, something to keep his gaze forward. Like Lovelace.
“People only say that when they know they’re winning.”
Jacobi laughs, short and sharp, and Eiffel tilts his head to look at him properly. Upside down, he might even look comfortable. It feels a little bit like still being in zero gravity, and never in his life has he wanted to be suspended back in orbit the way he does now.
At least in space he knew it was bad and getting worse - on Earth he can never really tell how he’s oriented, just that he’s adrift.
“I like you better without memories, y’know,” Jacobi tells him quietly after a few minutes, “is that awful? Am I supposed to care about that kind of thing now?”
Eiffel blinks and stares at him. Gasoline, kerosene, butane, and this - Daniel Jacobi, less of a monster than before, on his couch, admitting to liking something for the first time that Eiffel can remember since waking up not remembering anything.
And it’s possibly the most convoluted mine field of a thing to like. Typical.
“I - No one’s told me that yet. But, uh, I think I do, too.”
Renée calls a beach day at the end of the week.
The weather is miserable all up and through Maine, but there’s apparently sun closer to the Cape.
“It would be nice to see the ocean,” Hera says in a small voice, as though to herself, and Eiffel shares a look with Renée across the living room that manages to convey the lurch in their chests as their hearts bang up against their throats. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile Hera, the blue-white bright light zipping through their custom-installed intercoms, with the woman who chose her own middle name and guides Miranda Pryce through the intricacies of humanity and still sometimes does things like start to read spectroscopy reports from the Wolf before she realizes what she’s doing. She’s seen the outer limits of the known universe but can’t feel the texture of sand against her fingers, Eiffel realizes, and maybe he should feel pity for an existence like that, but instead there’s something in the center of his chest that wants to show her waves and tide pools and algae floating in with the tide.
Hera’s probably got a List of her own, after all.
“Well,” Jacobi says from the couch, reading a paperback with his cheap plastic-frame reading glasses sliding gradually off of his nose, “I’m not going to Hyannis. Fuck Hyannis.”
Renée nods sagely. Eiffel raises his eyebrows at her, and she flips him off.
She doesn’t seem to realize it’s the first time she’s agreed with something Jacobi said without putting up a fight first, but Eiffel bites his lip and decides not to bring it up - oil and water don’t mix, but if you shake them up enough, oil and vinegar do.
It’s only an hour and a half drive from the city to Narragansett. Renée spends the morning packing up her truck, slapping Eiffel’s hands away when he tries to help.
“There’s a system,” she insists, laying everything out at perpendicular angles like stacking Lego blocks. There’s the particular brightness in her eyes that Eiffel’s come to learn means she’s putting her genius brain into gear, so he leaves her to fold the beach towels using the Marie Kondo method in the bed of the pickup in peace.
Hera, on the other hand, wants to know everything. Massive stellar synchronous space station to one-bed one-bath, that’s their mother program. Eiffel can still hear her telling him through the endless reels of rewound tape about the floes of gamma radiation passing peacefully by the hull of the Hephaestus, the angle of decent in the dust motes on every floor and in every room, the chaotic simplicity of a world seen through binary. He resolves to pick up a few seashells before the end of the day, if only to show her the perfect spirals and evenly-spaced notches.
Jacobi helps load the microwave-sized hunk of metal and circuit boards the houses Hera’s main functions and essential sensory processors. She probably won’t be able to feel the saltwater crust in the wind, but she’ll be able to name a few more colors on the spectrum that no one else can see.
Eiffel doesn’t entirely miss the way Jacobi pats the top of her array once he sets it down in the back seat, but pretends to look away to give him some semblance of an alibi.
The beach they settle on is a small inlet covered in pebbly sand. The sun is gut-punch bright and white in the sky, but the water’s cold and tastes like swallowing table salt.
Renée sets up a few blankets far from the shoreline and Eiffel sets Hera down carefully in the center, aware of the encroaching sand like invaders to his stronghold.
“I didn’t think it would be so flat!” Hera laughs, the sound a little crinkly around the edges in a way Eiffel’s slowly learning means she’s delighted.
Jacobi goes knee-deep into the surf without ever laying his towel out. Renée builds herself a comfortable fort of picnic blankets, towels, and long shawls and sinks into the sunlight like a cat. Eiffel collects rocks and shell fragments and tries to find sea glass, each time he picks something up making another set of tracks toward Hera to show it off. She ends up with loose piles of beach debris all around her, mounds of treasure with her, ocean queen, metallic in the sun at the center.
At some point Jacobi flings water back at Renée and pretends like he isn’t standing almost entirely in the surf, saltwater dripping all the way up to his elbows, when she yells at him.
“Not a clue how that happened, Commander!” He shouts back joyfully, stuffing his guilty hands into the pockets of his trunks. Eiffel makes sure she has his attention with the good old don’t pull my rank to get yourself out of trouble you insufferable jackass routine before dunking Jacobi fully into the waist-high wave that comes barreling toward them.
Hera dissolves into staticky, teary laughter. Renée puts up nine fingers to rate his technique.
Eiffel bows in front of them. Jacobi trips him.
They stay for the day. He’s not entirely sure he can remember being this relaxed, or hearing the other him sound so happy - it’s almost weird, the way the words come out of his mouth as he sits talking to Hera about what could possibly eat them in the water this far north, stealing Renée’s hat to keep his face from peeling away with sunburn and flipping Jacobi off when he laughs at it. He doesn’t feel self-conscious of who he sounds like. He doesn’t feel desperately apologetic to an unknown source.
He almost doesn’t know what to do without it, how to sound like himself, a sequel of a man named Doug Eiffel.
It’s almost sundown before Hera asks, quiet as the surf rushing back and forth, “I wish Lovelace was here.”
Jacobi stiffens. He’s laying back against a towel with his arms crossed above his head, but Eiffel is good, is expert, at finding the little motions of someone’s body that means they’re suddenly uncomfortable. It’s a survival instinct for a traumatic amnesiac.
“I know,” Renée agrees.
“We could always visit,” Eiffel says, trying to aim for light and instead hitting somewhere close to desperate and melancholic.
“Not really,” Jacobi reminds him, but it lacks its usual canid roughness, so he elects to let it go.
“It would make more problems for all of us,” Renée corrects, not as benevolent as Eiffel, “but we could technically do it. We’ve been granted freedom of movement as long as our whereabouts are known.”
The waves have lulled. They rock in slow-moving ripples, like syrup.
“I could always put in a travel request,” Hera says.
“And do what, then?” Jacobi asks. He’s staring straight up into the sky.
“Jacobi - ” Renée snaps, but he’s already beat her to the punch and still has his hackles raised. Eiffel puts a hand down on the edge of his towel as if to catch the shrapnel if he detonates. Here’s that non-soldier posture, pinkish-blue bruised knuckle anger, cornered animal reflex. A study of Daniel Jacobi, exhibits A, B, and C; the man not entirely done setting the things around him on fire.
“None of you know what it’s like,” he tells them.
Eiffel catches Renée almost flinch out of the corner of his eye, sees the way she pulls it into her chest and hold onto it instead.
“No one on Earth thinks she’s human anymore. She isn’t, but that’s not the point. Don’t you think she wants space?”
“Not funny,” Hera clips. Her voice is unsteady in the cradle of the speaker set into the steel frame of her body.
“Not a joke,” Jacobi hisses back, “do any of you actually think she wants company right now?”
“Yes,” Eiffel replies.
“Yes,” Hera replies.
“Yes,” Renée replies.
The tide slips out. In the dark it’s almost like they’re sitting in the middle of the desert, the distant roar of water covered over by wind, a tarp of sky overhead and nothing but shoreline beneath them.
Earth is loud, Eiffel is learning. Quiet is rare. He likes the silence of interstellar space.
“I don’t know what she really wants from us,” Renée says after a minute, “I’ve asked, and she never has an answer for me. But at least we can be with her, help her figure it out.”
“Even when she thought she was going to escape,” Hera murmurs under her breath, soft and sad in a way her programming could never teach her to sound, “when she could’ve taken the shuttle and gone back home, she wanted to take us with her. She didn’t want to leave us behind - not even me.”
Jacobi doesn’t say anything else until they pack the truck back up, all of them quiet as though waiting for the tension to break, to broach the anger and the ache and the phantom-limb pain of missing an essential member of their rinky-dink little band of astronauts.
“Fine,” he sighs from the backseat as Renée flips on the high beams. The tall, reedy grass furthest from the shoreline goes yellow and orange and white in the light, like the beach is on fire.
“I want it on the record that I hate this plan and think it sucks, and in advance call dibs on ‘I told you so’ privileges.”
“Noted,” Renée responds evenly. Eiffel grins in the dark.
There’s a fine mist coating the city like powdered sugar when they get back. Renée immediately takes her truck in the direction of her apartment, Hera in the backseat humming a warm one-note sound. Jacobi and Eiffel get out a block down from Eiffel’s place, close to the subway as the entrance disappears underground, a giant mouth of steel and concrete directing passengers onto and off of the red eye commuter rail.
“I’ll walk you back,” Jacobi says, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets. He says it like he’s accepting the final nail in his coffin. Eiffel rolls his eyes.
“It’s ‘isn’t dead’. And fuck off.”
The street is rain-softened and swirls with tail lights and high beams and the dull dots of street lights every few feet. Ambulance sirens, television chatter seeping through windows, and graveyard shift traffic are neutral ambience. He’s already gotten used to this place - a hometown kid wiped tabula rasa , and no one cares except for the shrink he’s got and the people he made it home with. It’s comforting, maybe, to be so completely unimportant. Chewed up by a star and spit out back onto solid ground.
“You really think this is a good idea?” Jacobi asks him quietly. They don’t touch as they walk, almost elbow to elbow, but Eiffel doesn’t really mind. It’s quiet except for the city murmur and cool with the mist. The tip of his nose is already cold.
“Probably not. But Lovelace shouldn’t be doing everything alone. We’re all part of the same team, right? We stick together.”
Jacobi blinks at him, as though he’s never considered it. Like this ‘team’ idea is new to him. Eiffel sighs and tips his head back. No stars with thin clouds like these, but at least the sky is a nice dark lavender. Air pollution, and all.
“We all made it out of the Wolf alive. That’s gotta count for something.”
“It doesn’t have to,” Jacobi replies, a little too sharply, like he’s trying to defend himself.
“It does. I didn’t go through bullshit I can’t remember to abandon my friends, and I fucking know that I’m not going to let them leave me, either. Would you stop with this already? I’m standing here telling you you’re one of us. That you have a place with us.”
Eiffel realizes he’s stopped walking about the same time Jacobi turns around and looks at him, hands still shoved in unknowable shapes into his pockets, heels dug firmly into the asphalt as though he’s scared of tipping over.
Eiffel pushes his fingers through his hair and puffs out a visible breath. Renée told him once that as a kid her father would call it dragon breath, when it was cold enough to do tricks with in the air if you were patient.
“I get it, that you don’t want it to be us that you’re stuck with. That you’d rather have Maxwell and probably Kepler, too. And even though I can’t begin to wrap my mind around that, it doesn’t matter. We’re the ones that made it with you. We’re the ones telling you that you can stick around. I’m not going to see Lovelace because I think she needs my help, Jacobi, I’m going to see her because every day she’s away from the rest of us is a day we all spend fucking miserable. And it would be like that for any of us. Including you.”
Here’s a portrait of the New and Slightly Improved Doug Eiffel: cold, slightly damp, standing outside a Thai restaurant watching the way Daniel Jacobi purposefully tries to stand like someone who isn’t a soldier, aching and missing something he knows he’ll never have a name for. Both of them remnants of the Wolf.
He’s never going to know again exactly why Alana Maxwell’s name makes Jacobi avoid eye contact like it hurts, or why Warren Kepler’s name makes his mouth set into a thin, unhappy line. He’s never going to understand the kicked dog anger held tight underneath his skin the way that maybe he used to. There’s no frame of reference for it anymore even if he could.
They all took something with them from the frontier that pushed back, but not Eiffel. No souvenirs from a red dwarf star eight lightyears from Earth except cassette tape.
Eiffel keeps walking toward the apartment. Jacobi walks with him.
“Sorry,” Jacobi sighs after a minute. Eiffel startles; he’s never actually heard him apologize.
“It’s not. I just keep expecting, I dunno, that I’ll get over it? That was always a prerequisite for joining the team, y’know, ‘really good at getting over genuine grade-A bullshit’. But I can’t. And that isn’t fair, because none of you knew them the way I did, and neither of them admitted that what we did to you was wrong, so I’m back to square one but this time with friends that saw me do some pretty awful shit. And I’m tired of it.”
Eiffel tilts his head to the side.
“Yeah. I mean, from what I’ve heard, you guys really sucked. Like total supervillains, pretty much.”
Jacobi laughs and kicks the bottom half of a beer bottle into the gutter as he passes.
“‘Jacobi comes through when he’s needed. Never before’,” Eiffel tells him, grinning with his most winning retrograde amnesiac charm. It’s tooth-rotting stuff, perfected to a saccharine polish.
Jacobi narrows his eyes at him.
“Who said that?”
“We only talk to like three people, Eiffel. I’ll figure it out.”
Eiffel takes the short steps up to his front door two at a time and leans over the railing toward Jacobi. The light over his door is piercing blue-white, not the nice dull yellow kind his neighbors have.
“You’re not a bad guy,” Eiffel tells him, his palms already cold and slick from the railing, the top rung digging into his diaphragm, “you used to be, sure. I also used to be a giant douchebag. You can be part of the club. You keep asking yourself when you think you’re gonna feel better, and the answer is gonna be never. But you can listen to us, the people that grudgingly like you instead, and maybe you’ll get there a little faster.”
Jacobi raises an eyebrow at him. He looks washed out in the blue light, but the wet cement sidewalk sparkles a bit and the sky is a deep velvet curtain pulled low over the city, so it all balances out. A portrait of a freshly reformed monster.
“‘We don't get to choose who we fight with, we don't get to choose who we fight against, we only get to choose how we stand together against the enemy’,” Jacobi says, rocking back on his heels, “Lovelace said it once. And I get to be president of the club, thanks.”
Eiffel grins at him.
“Now you’re getting it. G’night, Jacobi.”
Jacobi smiles back. In the dark, he almost looks relaxed.
It’s two hours later that someone knocks on his front door.
Eiffel checks his phone and winces at the light. It’s not like it’s easy for him to get to sleep anymore, but laying down in a comfortable dark room is possibly a favorite pastime after disembarking from the Urania for the last time. Not a lot of relaxation to be found in deep space, shocker.
The warm, quiet darkness is possibly the only time where Eiffel feels like himself, curled up in regular one-point-oh gravity beneath piles and piles of blankets and not beholden to anyone to answer the question why aren’t you him?
Jacobi’s at the door and the rain has started to pick up by the time Eiffel finds his (Renée’s) UC Berkeley sweatshirt to shrug on.
“Hi,” Jacobi says, looking almost completely drenched and a little out of breath, like he’d run the distance from the subway station to Eiffel’s door in the rain. It’s not the dumbest thing he’s seen him do.
Eiffel blinks at him.
Jacobi leans in over the threshold, shiny nickel pupils big and wide and this start-then-stop smile tugging at his mouth. He looks like he’s watching a fireworks display, and Eiffel reflexively curls his hands around the door frame to keep himself steady. Daniel Jacobi’s an accelerant; pulls you along with him.
“Weird question, don’t freak out about it. Can I kiss you?”
Here’s an action repeated twice, looped like old, tangled cassette tape: Eiffel blinks at him.
His apartment’s the kind of recently-renovated dinky that only seems to come from big cities like this one, where it’s possible to have a hi-fi setup and no laundry plugins to speak of. But it’s got a great view across the river where it’s hit by streaming sunlight through the slats in Tobin Bridge. There’s a park there he sometimes sits in the swingset of and pretends to be spinning dizzy circles up in Earth’s orbit.
Watching Jacobi in front of the pink sunburst of dawn and the most beautiful goddamn scenery Eiffel’s seen in his laughably short second life, he still feels dizzy.
He makes a noise that’s probably beat translated to “ hm?” but comes out like a strangled yelp.
Jacobi laughs at him.
“Stay right there,” Eiffel tells him. Talking is slow-motion and torturously unwieldy. For someone who used to make his living chattering into radio silence, suddenly words are a weight pressed against his chest he can’t breathe around.
Eiffel shuts the door and walks down the hall into the bathroom. He leans his forehead against the mirror.
“You’re a big, dumb, stupid idiot and so was the Doug Eiffel before you,” he reminds himself levelly. There are no forthcoming arguments.
Jacobi leaning against the door jam when he opens the front door again, curling into his jacket against the rain-chilled wind. Eiffel winces in sympathy.
“Did you have to get permission first?” Jacobi asks, a little mean around the edges because first and foremost the thing he knows how to do is blowtorch a positive impression of himself.
“So, Memento, what did Renée say -“
“Come here,” Eiffel interrupts, tilts his jaw up, and kisses him.
Jacobi almost immediately pulls away, laughing.
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“God, that’s cute.”
Eiffel makes an indignant noise that gets swallowed by the sound of Jacobi kicking the door closed behind him and kissing him again.
“This okay?” He asks when he leans back, while Eiffel is experiencing time dilation and has to double check that it’s still kind of dawn by glancing out the kitchen window. Welcome to the edge of a black hole and how it fits in the space between him and Daniel Jacobi; the Wolf would weep bitter tears to liquify his brain half this much.
“Elaborate on ‘this’,” he says.
“I’ve been reliably informed my way of flirting sounds a lot like the third degree, so I figured I’d save you from that and be straightforward about it,” Jacobi tells him, still leaning back against the door with a boot propped up and his head tilted at a curious angle, like he’s waiting to see what Eiffel does and whether or not it’s going to surprise him.
Jacobi huffs, smiling lopsided and bemused.
“Don’t mention it.”
Eiffel runs a hand through his hair and stuffs the oversized cuffs of his sleeves into his pockets to hide the way they curl and uncurl. After a minute he turns on a heel and pops open the topmost Bluray in the stack on the television stand.
“You can take me out for breakfast to make up for waking me up and we can talk about whatever this is when I haven’t been awake for twenty full hours,” Eiffel informs him with as much unsophisticated exhaustion in his voice as possible.
Jacobi laughs at him again. They find their way back to their original configuration from their last movie night but drawn closer together in mutual gravity.
Here’s a snapshot of what came back from the big bad Wolf: Jacobi’s nice enough not to mention when Eiffel props his head on his shoulder, tired and relaxed and a bit careless because of it. Eiffel’s nice enough not to tease him for the way Jacobi watches monster-killing robots with the kind of rapture found in holy communion and the previous Doug Eiffel’s descriptions of diner food.
And they finally watch Pacific Rim.
In the morning Jacobi kicks his shin beneath the covers to get him awake and Eiffel smacks him with a pillow without opening his eyes.
Renée stops by in the truck with Hera once again settled in the backseat, this time with a few more complex and incomprehensible steel-framed arrays settled in the space beneath. She’s humming something quick and polyphonic. Neither of them mention anything in the vicinity of Jacobi wearing Eiffel’s oversized hoodie or the fact that he’s already got a backpack ready despite obviously not needing to go back to his place for it, and Eiffel thanks each individual stellar flare on the surface of the sun for that miracle.
Renée raises an eyebrow at him over the center console when they all pile in, but Eiffel elects to ignore it as a favor to her.
“Ready to go get our girl?” He asks instead.
“As long as the cops don’t detain us for crossing state lines while half the car is legally dead!” Jacobi says brightly. Hera hushes him.
“Ready,” Renée responds, smiling gently. Eiffel grabs her hand for a second, a reflexive reminder that he’s present, and then lets her drive.