“Here. We can start with this list.” Three columns of names flickered onto the terminal screen. The scrollbar on the far right side was a barely-visible sliver. “You don’t have to pick from this, of course. If you think of something you like better, you can use it.”
His Guardian sat up on his bed with a groan of protest, blonde hair already a mess from burrowing into the pillows and cocooning himself in the blankets. Not that Torch could blame him. It was his first time out of armor with a safe place to sleep. He had been running around the Tower all day, and the only time he wasn’t asking questions was when he was expressing an almost childlike wonder over his first meal, a bowl of minestrone.
Even so, his Guardian shuffled to the terminal, one thick blanket still wrapped around his shoulders. After a few bleary blinks, he looked to Torch. “That’s a lot of names.”
“There’s more. Scroll down.”
Torch had to show him how, but once he figured it out, he began scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling. His eyes bulged. “Is this every name there is???”
“Oh, no. Not at all. That’s just what I picked to start with.”
His Guardian turned to gape at him in shock.
“…If you’d rather do this some other time, I understand. There’s no rush.”
The Guardian closed his mouth and looked back toward the screen. After a moment of consideration, he moved the terminal cursor over one of the names. “How do you pronounce this one? Aiden?”
The cursor moved to another name. “And this?”
They continued through the list for several hours in a similar fashion, pausing every once in a while so the Guardian could ask further questions, sometimes about the names and sometimes about the Tower. He was quiet and subdued, in sharp contrast to his earlier exuberance.
Despite his obvious exhaustion, it took Torch several gentle suggestions to rouse him enough to take the few steps he needed to get to his bed.
“Gauthier?” Torch read off the list.
The Guardian looked up from a stack of armor diagrams. “Hm?”
“For a name. Gauthier.”
A thoughtful noise, then a shake of his head. “I don’t like that one.”
“Alright. What about–“
“Torch, if we go through the ‘G’ names right now, I might mess up and start calling myself ‘Gardbrace’.”
Torch laughed. “Do you want to be ‘Gardbrace’?”
His Guardian looked him dead in the eye. “Absolutely. I want to be attached to the strong arms of a mighty Titan. I’ll just hang out there forever. It’s ‘hang out’, right?”
He couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing again.
“But, Torch! You saw all this cool stuff about armor, right?”
“I did.” Torch drifted away from the terminal. “You’ve really taken an interest in armor, haven’t you.”
“It’s cool!” His Guardian pulled one random schematic from the stack. “Here, see? This one is about…” He paused to glance at it. “…Helmets. Look at all the layers in helmets! There’s the outer shell, then the impact ab…absorption? I think that’s how you pronounce it. Then there’s the electronics layer, and that’s just full of stuff! Monitors, comms, a camera….”
Torch listened as he went on and on about everything he’d learned about armor in the past week. When his enthusiastic chatter slowed down, the Ghost offered a suggestion: “You know, there are Titans who make armor for other Titans.”
The effect was instantaneous; the blue eyes brightened, the excitement returned. “…That’s me. I’m going to do that.”
When he reported to his training the next day, it was the first question out of his mouth.
Tonight, the Guardian lay on his back, one hand stretched up toward the ceiling as if he was inspecting it. He was tired, but satisfied.
Today was a milestone for him. Today, for the first time, he’d harnessed his inner Light and thrown a ball of lightning from his hand, making it explode in a blinding flash.
“We should celebrate,” Torch suggested. The Guardian just grunted in response, lowering his hand and staring at the ceiling.
Once he slowed down for the evening, he didn’t want to do much. He was slow to get up most mornings, too. He was anything but lazy, though; once he was up and active, he was in motion nearly all day. A Titan in motion stays in motion, Torch mused, and a Titan at rest stays at rest. Suddenly the predisposition toward the arc lightning of a Striker made a lot more sense.
“Torch?” His Guardian’s eyes were on him now. “Can you read off some more names?”
He was surprised by the request, but more than happy to oblige. “That’s a good way to celebrate. Let’s see….” There were a few mechanical chirps as he pulled the list out of his memory; there wasn’t much point in firing up the terminal right now. “We left off on…Michael?”
The Guardian paused between bites of his sandwich. “Nah.” Since his revival over a month ago, he was much more comfortable with English.
“Alright, how about….”
“I heard ‘Shin’ earlier today. That’s a nice name.” The Guardian punctuated his statement with another bite.
Torch blinked. “I think that name’s taken.”
“Shin Malphur is the renegade Hunter who defeated the notorious Dredgen Yor,” Torch explained.
The Guardian paused to swallow another bite. “Mm. Okay.”
“Anyway, next on the list….”
“I bet the Commander could take him in a fight,” said the Guardian to no one in particular. “The Commander is so cool.”
Torch’s rear nodes twitched. “Why would they fight???”
“I don’t know. That Shaxx guy is always telling people to fight, right?”
Torch tried to make a sound of exasperation, but he couldn’t hide his amusement.
Tomorrow, the Guardian would follow a senior Titan into the field on his first patrol. For now, he tossed and turned, unable to sleep. He was nervous. No, not just nervous. Something was eating at him.
Finally, he peeked out from under the blankets over his head. “Torch?”
Torch drifted over, his lone blue eye bright against the darkness. “Guardian?”
“Do you think I’ll do well tomorrow?”
“Yes, Guardian,” he replied gently. “I think you will.”
The Guardian heaved a sigh and said nothing.
“…Is something wrong?” Torch pried.
That was a lie. He could tell that was a lie. “Are you sure? Whatever it is, I’ll listen.”
The Guardian was quiet for a moment. “…Does it normally take this long to pick a name?”
He genuinely didn’t know how to respond to that question. “You’re fine, Guardian. Don’t worry about it.”
“I don’t feel fine.”
“You are fine! Here, I can pull up the names you really liked. We narrowed it down to just a few, remember?”
His Guardian heaved a sigh and closed his eyes, but he was no closer to sleep.
A new feeling welled up in Torch then, arguably one worse than the pangs of worry he felt while trying to guide his Guardian to the Tower. It was sorrow, frustration, helplessness–his Guardian was suffering, and he didn’t know what to do….
“Balian,” Torch began. “Bedivere. Gawain. Godfrey.” He did his best to keep his voice steady, but it was hard. “Philip. Raynald. Reginald. Tristan. William. See? It’s a short list! You almost have it!”
“You pick one.”
“I like them all, Guardian! I can’t pick!”
His Guardian opened his eyes. “…Go down the list again?”
“Balian. Bedivere. Gawain. Godfrey. Philip. Raynald–“
“That,” the Guardian interrupted. “It’s not quite…there. But it’s close.”
Progress. “Raynald? Renauld? Reynold? Renault?”
“I like the ‘T’ sound,” his Guardian mumbled.
Torch drifted a bit closer. “Renault. Raynalt. Reynolt.”
“Reynault.” A small smile tugged on his lips as he lifted his eyes to meet Torch’s. Then it dawned on him that he’d just named himself, and his smile grew. “My name is Reynault. Okay?”
Just like that, the helpless feeling was gone. Torch lowered himself down to his Guardian’s eye level. “Okay…Reynault.”
“Okay.” Reynault reached out a hand from under the blankets and, much to Torch’s surprise, affectionately pet one of his nodes with a single finger, as if the Ghost were some small fuzzy animal. “Thanks, Torch.”
“…Of course, Reynault.”