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Something About Knowing Name

This piece has been uploaded to Ao3 here, if you prefer to read things that way, or if you want to save it/download it.


The ruminations of a Fae on the meaning of names, and the acquisition of them too.

Rated T.
In which I play extremely fast and loose with how name magic is usually taken to work.

Work Text

9 - The Spy

It isn't uncommon, Spy knows, for names to change in potency across someone's life. Birth names are only gifts from a parent, parents, often well-loved but just as often dated by some margin or another. Clip the tail off, make yourself less imposing. Add part, devote yourself, echo some fount of holiness or another. A new name and address, binding in more than the legal sense. Metamorphose. Reinvent. Erase.

Hell, he's done it more times than he can count. Intentionally and unintentionally, growing names like dandelions, the oddly persistent weeds blooming and withering and dying. Birth of a self, death of a self. Brice and Elouan and Aldric and Olivier and Régis and Valéry and Ghislain. All grown. All buried. All gone.

It's just odd, he thinks, to see it happen in real time. Some of his people, he knows, are well versed in the subject. Skilled at perpetuating it, even, as names broken or crafted might make or break a modicum of control. But he has never been one to stick around long enough too see through such events himself. The long game was never his specialty, even as he snatched up what names, cloying favours, that he could. Time, he supposes, was never quite his forte. Favour of its cousin may well have saved his skin, but Space was never quite so changeable as he'd often hoped.

Equal exchange, so dear to him. What an irony.

No matter. He has all the time he wanted, now. More than he could want. He knew his mirror image when he saw her, and to push back would destroy them both.

In any case, Spy promised.

8 - The Sniper

It was, perhaps, unsurprising that The Sniper would lock his name down so tightly. Once bitten, twice shy - and The Sniper has surely been bitten, if the deeply-entrenched scars are anything to by. Such a man would hardly be careless with such perilous magic, if he had any sense - and as much as Spy hates to admit it, the team's sharpshooter is indeed possessed of some modicum of sense.

Still, the cramped space that was the team's base makes keeping secrets far more arduous a task than it perhaps should be. The Sniper is a sentimental sort, always calling back to an old life, an old time, even if it means weathering the disapproval of those he cared for. A virtue, Spy supposes, but one that inevitably lets things slip.

"You have rather a short name."

It's a loaded comment, and Spy drops it as he's gliding around the kitchen, the pair conscripted into making dinner by the Heavy's all-powerful chart of household chores. The Sniper doesn't flinch like some might, nor does he snap to rage or fear. It helps, in his line of work, to maintain a degree of focus, even when confronted by a knife-wielding Fae who kills for a living; his self-control saves Spy a great deal of delicacy, now.

"Yeah. What about it?" The Sniper asks, slightly brusque, and Spy smiles to himself even as he stands with his back to the man, half-occupied with hacking the tops off carrots.

"I was wondering if it was short for something, is all. Your parents are a traditional sort, are they not? I would expect something longer than Mick Mundy. Or is it a nickname?"

There's a silence, and Spy glances over at the toaster, The Sniper's face clearly reflected on the shiny surface. He's turned around, Spy notes, and goes back to the carrots.

"Of course it's a nickname," The Sniper says slowly. "Full names are for stupid buggers who get into trouble."

"Are you an - ahem - stupid bugger?" Spy asks, innocently, and fooling nobody.

"We're not meant to tell each other our names," The Sniper says. "It's in the contract."

Spy pauses. Puts down his knife. Turns around. "No matter. I do believe I know already."

The Sniper smiles. It's sharp as the canines it bares. Waxing gibbous; teeth are as good a measure of a man as any. "Bonza. Bloody brilliant, aren't ya?"

It's a plain denial; they both see it. "Do you object to me calling you Mick, then?" Spy asks, and turns back to the bench, picks up the knife again, cleaves a carrot in two. "The rules prevent you from introducing yourself, and I'm afraid I can't say I'm very fond of that title of yours."

He hears The Sniper shift from foot to foot, thrown off kilter. The provided out represents a pivot in perceived intent. Maybe flighty, maybe devious. Safe in the confines of his own head, Spy guesses it's both.

"You're not going to stop if I let you," The Sniper says, half-grumbling, half-accusing. "Will ya?"

"You think the worst of me," Spy sniffs, and The Sniper barks out a laugh.

The Medic

The Medic is the sort of man who is content to cozy up to creatures that could tear a person to shreds without so much as a thought, stitching magic into his skin just as easily as plucking organs from a corpse. Spy, then, is hardly surprised by how easy it is to snatch up half of the man's name - it's provided as easily as the man's arrogant, mildly menacing smile, as simple as waving a hand. The Medic shows no true resistance to him using it, either, nor any to the new one Spy assigns him. He understands, Spy thinks, that each and every call of "Docteur" creates something entirely separate to "Medic" - he must, with the way he flutters so carelessly around magics he was never meant to touch without burning himself. And yet, he lets it go.

A lesser creature would think it foolish - and perhaps it is, in The Medic's odd, jovial way - but foolish is not it all. There is, after all, something else there; or perhaps something else that is Not. The Medic is all deft fingers despite broad hands, killing intent meshed with soothing balm, eyes that lock onto you as sharply as a fox and fail to see the world without round glass windows to hide behind. A crow in the body of a dove. It is, Spy thinks ruefully to himself, entirely fitting that such a man would be so easily nameable and yet unnamed.

"I sold it, I'm afraid," the man confesses - or perhaps brags - to him, the information curling around them unprompted. "I shan't be seeing that one again!'

"You sold your soul, you mean," Spy corrects, and The Medic simply shrugs, smiling as if he'd been talking about raiding the cookie jar. Perhaps that's all this is to him.

"Ach, semantics. You do not need to worry about it, Herr Spy - it's hardly a problem - no more than that license I lost!"

"Were you never taught not to give your name away, Ludwig?" He places an emphasis on the final word, the name twisting in the air with magic enough to bind. If The Medic notices, he doesn't let on. How typical of him.

"Ah, well! Yes, I was. It's quite a simple lesson! Beings that want names - they do not care about humans, very much..."

The smile sits, everpresent, on The Medic's face, even as he trails off. Spy watches him, closely. "Indeed they do not."

"I don't think it's anything to worry about," The Medic says, carelessly. "A man's surname is worth very little, in the grand scheme of things."

This is true, Spy knows. As much as his own kind prize the names of men, they prize each other's names more, and for good reason.

"In any case," The Medic adds, cheerily, "I was named after my father, was I not? And we must all grow up eventually." He laughs. "What an adventure!"

Ludwig, Spy notes, is a name tied inexorably to the man's roots, and a name with no true power at all.

He wonders if The Medic regrets it. Most likely not; but he still wonders.

6 - The Engineer

"You know, Spy," The Engineer drawls, voice cutting over the clamour of the battlefield, "I preferred it when you called me Labourer."

Spy glances over at him from his spot next to the dispenser, and doesn't bother trying to suppress the idle smirk that spreads across his face at the other's irritation. He does, however, keep his teeth well-squared within his mouth; he's hardly under the impression that he might frighten the other, but he does have some decorum, no matter what the others might sometimes insinuate. "Ah? Is something the matter, Monsieur Conagher?"

He can't see The Engineer's eyes behind his goggles, but he's sure they're shooting him a glare. The name tugs unevenly, like the deceptively-strong threads of a spider's web. It's a little rude, for sure; but The Engineer is fun to tease.

"Dagnabbit, Spy," The Engineer grouses, dropping his wrench with a loud thunk and turning around to face Spy properly. "You know that's my daddy's name."

"And his father's before him," Spy muses. "Tell me, then, how is Monsieur Conagher doing?"

The Engineer huffs. "Oh, you're a polite one, aren't you?"

"Not every part-elf lives a long time. Especially not such... hard working ones. Forgive me for wanting a hint as to whether my teammate might drop dead."

"Well, bless your heart," The Engineer says, irritably. "You got any other personal questions to ask?"

Spy watches him, carefully. Wonders how this would play out if The Engineer was wholly, entirely human. Radigan Conagher is long gone, probably buried so deep that nobody will ever find out that there were no bones or meat to bury, just ichor and gold. It's a blessing, of sorts, that his name is out in the open, lively as a bird in the springtime. For the old man, at least. Spy knows all too well how hard it is to hold something flailing and alive in your chest.

"Just one," he says, eventually. "Tell me, mon ami - do you favour The Engineer, then?"

The man makes an odd expression. Inscrutable, even to someone practiced in faces and mimicry. Twisting at the edges, stiff and blank in the planes. A mess of suppressed thoughts. The un-response doesn't matter, much; the question was hardly one that was genuinely important, especially as they stood on the same side of the ongoing fight, listening to men yell and weapons fire off.

In any case, they both knew the answer long before Spy opened his mouth.

5 - The Heavy

"I am Heavy Weapons Guy," The Heavy insists, and Spy wonders whether he dilutes his name on purpose, or if he's just pedantic. It might be both. The Heavy does not enjoy being laid at the mercy of weaker men, after all; it only makes sense not to throw them a bone.

Their class names aren't real names - or, at least, they're not meant to be - but a name repeated is a name repeated, impersonal or not. Some of them lean harder into them than others. The Heavy's case is complicated. Few can be bothered to spell out his full title, the man himself included; but vocalisation isn't everything. Spy takes the time to think of his name in full, every so often. Just in case.

There's another name buried under there, Spy knows; another one that lays scribbled in minutely-varying cursive, soft as the cotton-fluff snow makes itself out to be. A nickname, perhaps; but a nickname made real. It's a pretty thing; a swallow flitting graceful as can be across the pages upon pages The Heavy writes to his family. Silent syllables written in flowing hand, fluffed-up with joy and freedom. How ironic, some would say, that such a hulking brute of a man would have a name so delicate.

Spy does not know how to read Russian; but he does not need that to read the book in front of him. And it is a fascinating one, even as he turns the pages ever-over, sneering at the assumptions he pushes past. He is not, he would wager, the sort of person who was intended to read to the end; but there it is, signed off with a flourish, and he takes the bird's tale, smooths it out, and lets it free. Oh, he could hold it, surely; but he is not fool enough to pick a fight with the face of a man whose skin is tougher than hardened leather, nor is he fool enough to throw away an ally who could stand beside him. His kin are laughing at him, no doubt. That is old news, though, and provoking the most powerful halves of dwarf and human won't change that.

"Do you believe in the afterlife, mon ami?" he asks, instead, as they step out onto the battlefield, and The Heavy harrumphs.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Tough question."

Spy's hum of assent nearly gets lost in the clamour of footsteps and battle cries. "You seem noncommital, no?"

The Heavy smiles. It's wry, lacking the softness of a brother or the fever of a bloodthirsty killer. "It does not matter, now, hm? I am alive. I will not find out, soon."

It's a pragmatic sort of view. Bland, and unromantic. Spy watches as he trots away, revving his minigun as he goes, and soon the bullets are whistling gaily through the air, twittering, deadly distraction as the Spy slips past the front line. The song stops as the metal sinks into enemy flesh, he notes idly, but there is no mistaking it. They are, without a doubt, singing.

No, he thinks, as he rounds the corner and sinks a blade into the enemy's unwary back. It is no irony that Heavy would hold that errant bird so carefully; no irony at all.

End Notes

  1. -
  2. I first wrote this draft out almost a year ago. I am, somewhat, under the impression that this section was intended to imply some sort of prelude to Bloody Suit - although I can't be sure. You can interpret it to be like that, if you like, but I don't think the exact nature of the relationship is so important as the sort of block-and-hold... thing.
    Real quick note: Spy does "know" Sniper's full name at this point, since it's fairly easy to extrapolate, but there's a world of difference in power between just figuring a name out and actually having it said aloud by the person, or given to you.
  3. In this case, I don't think Ludwig is Medic's original name - or, at least, not in the way he's chosen to use it. I'd also like to elaborate a little in that "Medic" is a class title, whereas variants on "Doctor" (which he very much is not, title-wise. Unlicensed ass) lean more heavily into identity and thus are at more danger of becoming a "real" name - or at least something on par with a nickname.
  4. I struggled a lot with Spy's "voice" in this. Trying to balance like three different types of bitchassery and also being polite and rude at the same time. Also the overall sorta reflection overarching upon this entire piece. I think it turned out... okay?
    I do think that Engineer has a name that he both likes and has all to himself. It's just. His "real" name. And thus not one you want to just go handing over. (Also the Administrator would kill him and feed him to the sharkbay sharks. Not Worth It.)
  5. I'm probably 80% sure I originally intended this to go in a different direction but when I came back to the draft I ended up finishing it in an entirely different direction. Big lean on the bird thing because I like Heavy as a bird for some reason. Can't say why but this is the second AU where I decided to give Bird decent carriage duty. Idk.