damaged goods, damaged goods
4minute, sohyun-centric, 2840w, pg
notes: for the unniedearest halloweenus exchange, prompt was cyborgs/robots. only one more now :3
Sohyun finds her in a dumpster, upside down and missing an arm which, when she looks harder, is buried deeper in the dumpster than she thinks she’s prepared to go. Her entire back covering is missing, there’s a chicken bone jammed between her ribs and there’s more frayed and cut wires than Sohyun can be bothered to count.
Sohyun drapes her jacket over her shoulders, wraps her scarf around her hips and takes her home anyway.
She calls her Jihyun – “Ji” after NAMJI900109, the serial number printed onto her wrists and the back of her neck, and “hyun” after Sohyun’s own name because she’s never claimed to be a creative genius.
Sohyun spends the night researching, finding out everything she can about Jihyun and writing out her new information on tiny post it notes to stick neatly on her wall. Jihyun’s an old model, a CUBEbot from when they first started producing them. She’s outdated, practically useless compared to the newer models and Sohyun guesses that’s why Jihyun was half-wrecked and out with the trash, why she seems to fit so well with the junk in hers and Hyuna’s apartment.
It’s possible to get her functioning again, she concludes after reading through what feels like a million different webpages. She rubs her eyes with the palms of her hands, exhaling through her nose as she thinks. She’ll need a lot – too much, maybe – and she doesn’t know how she’ll afford it when she can barely pay her half of the bills as is and Hyuna already works two jobs to cover her own ass.
All it takes it one look at Jihyun slumped in the corner of her room wearing someone’s old shirt (Jiyoon’s, Sohyun guesses because it’s not hers or Hyuna’s and Gayoon wouldn’t be caught dead in it) for her to decide that she’ll find a way to make it work, she has to.
Their living room is like a graveyard for broken things; dead laptops, TVs that stopped working before they could even settle down to watch, Hyuna’s old Roomba – their coffee table is their old fridge turned on its side after the motor blew in the middle of the night.
Jihyun is frozen in her corner and Sohyun is hopeful.
“I’ll make it work,” she tells Jihyun, “I’ll make you work.”
She keeps Jihyun in her sad excuse for a closet, on top of clothes she doesn’t wear anymore and next to a mop she’s never used, because it gets creepy having what looks like a corpse sitting in the corner of her room.
She takes her out when open her closet to look for a scarf and realizes keeping Jihyun in there is even creepier and pushes Jihyun under her bed instead.
She changes her mind again after she keeps tripping over Jihyun’s stiff limbs and Jihyun ends up back in the corner with a lampshade on her head. Sohyun doesn’t know where the lamp is.
“I’m sorry,” she says, straightening the lampshade and making sure it’s balanced, “but I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and feel like you’re watching me.”
She starts (tries to start) work on Jihyun as soon as she has a day off. Hyuna’s already gone by the time she drags Jihyun into their living room; a note stuck to the doorframe tells Sohyun she’s at Job #2 making the best damn pizza in town. It’s not the best, Sohyun knows that for sure, but Hyuna’s the boss’ favorite and brings home free pizza so she doesn’t complain.
She lays Jihyun face down on their refrigerator-turned-table after bunching her shirt up to her shoulders so that she can see Jihyun’s insides in the harsh sunlight. Sohyun frowns at how worn Jihyun is, how the metal inside her is tarnished and grimy from age.
“What the fuck am I doing,” she sighs, collapsing back onto their couch – the backseat of a car; the other seats in their apartment have also been taken from cars. Hyuna is adamant that it’s gritty and kind of cool. Sohyun is just glad they have seats.
Jihyun’s face is turned to her and Sohyun leans forward to carefully poke at her cheek, watching it move under the pressure of her finger. Jihyun’s skin feels real, disconcertingly so and Sohyun shifts uncomfortably as she digs a nail into Jihyun’s jaw, sees the small half-moon indent it leaves. She shakes off the feeling as she sits back again, studying Jihyun.
She wonders what Jihyun would look like in motion, when her eyes are bright with fake emotion, if that emotion would be convincing. She wonders if Jihyun would smile more with one side of her mouth than the other, if she could find a way to program her to do that. Maybe Jihyun would listen with wide eyes and an easy smile or maybe, when she’s deep in thought, she’d purse her lips and look absently into the distance.
Sohyun’s not sure what Jihyun would look like in motion but as she looks at her face, completely still and serene, she decides that she really really wants to know.
By the end of the day Sohyun is no closer to getting Jihyun working again but in her mind she has a clear picture of the Jihyun she wants, worlds away from the one lying on her coffee table.
“At least I know what I’m working towards now,” Sohyun tells Jihyun as she lugs her back to her – their, she supposes – room.
It takes a month and countless mistakes for Sohyun to get Jihyun to twitch. She has no idea what she’s doing for the most part, relying on DIY videos and poorly worded how-to guides to get her where she needs to be and she’s practically given up when it happens.
It’s a small movement; the slightest bend of the fingers on Jihyun’s right hand and Sohyun almost misses it.
She almost misses it, but she doesn’t.
Sohyun sees it and it knocks the breath out of her so she does the first thing that comes to mind and clutches at Jihyun’s hand and cries quietly on the floor of her room.
Jihyun doesn’t move for weeks after that and Sohyun loses sleep trying to understand what she did to fluke it that first time. She probably breaks more things that she fixes as she tries to figure out to do it again but it’s all worth it when a slip of her hand brings Jihyun’s whole arm to life, bending and straightening under Sohyun’s fingertips.
Jihyun clenches her fist tightly. It’s strong, unmovable when Sohyun tried to pry her fingers apart. She relaxes after a moment and Sohyun pokes experimentally at her palm.
Jihyun does nothing but Sohyun doesn’t stop grinning for hours.
Hyuna finds out about Jihyun when she comes home early and finds Sohyun on the living room floor with her sleeves rolled up to her elbows and her hand wrapped around Jihyun’s cold metal spine. Sohyun freezes, mouth open and no idea what to say.
“I have garlic bread,” Hyuna says quietly, carefully as she walks towards them. She raises her eyebrows in curiosity as she steps closer, closing the distance quickly and sliding into one of the seats. “Whatcha doin’, roomie?”
“Um,” Sohyun doesn’t exactly know what to tell her. The truth, probably but her cheeks burn like she’s done something wrong and part of her just really wanted to keep Jihyun a secret, “just some stuff.”
“Okay,” Hyuna nods, watching her silently.
Sohyun turns her attention back to Jihyun, trying to go back to work and ignore Hyuna’s presence. It doesn’t work and it feels like Hyuna is boring holes into her back, her gaze weighing heavy on Sohyun’s shoulders for no reason. Sohyun pretends she’s doing something anyway.
“I have garlic bread,” Hyuna repeats.
“Where is she?” Hyuna asks later, leaning against Sohyun’s doorframe and scanning the room.
“Corner,” Sohyun nods. She picks at the hem of shirt, unraveling loose threads and pulling them off.
“Oh my god,” Hyuna laughs. It’s light, airy, and she claps a hand on her forehead as she laughs. The sound sets Sohyun at ease and she smiles at Hyuna’s crinkled eyes. “I thought she was some kind of artsy lamp.”
“I could always turn her into one,” she jokes, “we could keep her in the lounge and freak people out.”
Hyuna joins her sometimes, lazing on Sohyun’s bed or the couch and watching as quietly as she can while Sohyun works.
She’s absolutely no help at all but Sohyun appreciates the company, the soft sound of Hyuna tapping away at her phone and the occasional enthusiastic replies to things she didn’t even know she was saying out loud.
The first time Jihyun moves – really moves, with her whole body instead of just singular limbs – Sohyun is alone and she couldn’t be happier because she bawls when Jihyun sits upright and turns her head every which way.
Her movements are jerky and awkward, Sohyun can see that much through her tears, and she makes mechanical whirrs the whole time but Sohyun couldn’t care less because she did it, she’s close, so close and all Jihyun needs is–
Something in her shoulder jams and Jihyun spasms, over and over and over again, before slowly losing power.
Sohyun cries until she falls asleep on the floor next to Jihyun and Hyuna has to carry her to her room.
Sohyun stops bothering with the lampshade after Jihyun’s movements start getting smoother, after she stops twitching and jerking her limbs and starts moving without issue. Her arms bend properly now, her head turns naturally, and Sohyun even figures out how to get her to walk the short length of her room.
She doesn’t quite figure out how to get her to stop – she guesses something is wrong with her sensors – but that’s not the point. Jihyun is coming to life before her eyes, right under her hands and Sohyun takes the lampshade off because it feels rude to keep treating her like a piece of junk. She’s not junk, not anymore, she’s Sohyun’s pride and – okay, she still can’t do anything and she overheats on a weekly basis but even if she is junk, she’s Sohyun’s junk.
“I’m getting closer,” she tells Hyuna when she goes to hang the lampshade in their living room. It’s colored like a UFO, the result of hours of labour and more permanent markers than Sohyun wants to think about. “You know I could probably find a way to get her to mix drinks. I was telling her the other day and you won’t have any reason to complain anymore.”
Hyuna laughs, kicking her leg out and digging her toes into Sohyun’s calf. “I like complaining,” she grins, and after a pause, “don’t you think you should take a break?”
“Can’t,” Sohyun says, shaking her head as she heads back to her room. She stops to mess up Hyuna’s hair and shove her face into the couch. “I’m almost done. Besides, that was my break,” she gestures to the new art piece that hangs from their ceiling.
“Pretty shitty break,” Hyuna mumbles.
Sohyun pretends not to hear it.
Sohyun forgets to check Jihyun’s voice banks so the first time she test runs her voice she sounds like Microsoft Sam. Sohyun is sure she is Microsoft Sam and she jumps back in surprise when Jihyun speaks, hand clutching her chest in fright.
“That-“ she breathes, eyes wide and heart racing. Jihyun recites the time, the date, the weather, repeats until Sohyun is close to just ripping her voice box out to shut her up. “That sounds hideous.”
“Hideous,” Jihyun repeats, awkward as she strings the syllables together, “adjective. Definition-“
“No,” Sohyun snaps, reaching up to cover Jihyun’ mouth. It does nothing to stop her and she keeps talking, words barely muffled by Sohyun’s hand. “Don’t. Please don’t.”
“Fuck you,” Sohyun hisses through clenched teeth.
Jihyun doesn’t stay on for long after that.
“That’s your fourth,” Jihyun says, eyes following Sohyun as she twists the cap off another beer. “You should slow down, maybe eat something.”
She’s been talking for a while now, working for a while now, completely finished for a while now and Sohyun loves it. All she wants to do is sit and talk to her, gauge her reactions, study her mannerisms and see how she can improve them, so she does. They take to sitting on Sohyun’s bed cross-legged facing each other, or side by side with their backs against the wall and their legs stretched out in front of them. Jihyun is taller, her legs longer and Sohyun has made it so that she has to bump their legs together so that Jihyun will bend her legs so Sohyun doesn’t look so short. It’s the little things, Sohyun thinks.
Jihyun’s not much of a talker – Sohyun only has herself to blame for that – but she listens well and Sohyun likes to watch for the small delay, the unnatural stiffness of Jihyun’s face while she processes Sohyun words and generates a response. The delay gets smaller with time, with every tiny, barely noticeable upgrade Sohyun makes, and the words that fall from Jihyun’s lips turn from insincere stock phrases to exactly what Sohyun want them to be.
“How’s Jihyun?” Hyuna asks, resting her head against Sohyun’s shoulder.
There’s a movie playing on their small TV, some mindless action flick. Sohyun doesn’t know where the remote is and she’s too lazy to get up and change it. “She’s good.”
Hyuna hums, threads their fingers together and pulls their joined hands into her lap. “You’ll show me when she’s all done?”
“Yeah,” Sohyun says offhandedly. She thinks of Jihyun in her room, perfectly functional but not perfectly perfect, “when she’s done.”
Sohyun retells a joke she heard at work. She’s not supposed to eavesdrop on customers, just make their coffee and be done with it, but Gina forgives her when she hears because it’s just that funny.
Jihyun laughs like Gina did, loud and lively, losing her balance slightly and using the wall for support. Sohyun knows she doesn’t actually find it funny, knows that she’s just responding the way she’s been programmed.
Sohyun also knows she’s not supposed to laugh like that, not with her whole body and not with her mouth wide open and her eyes closed, and definitely not at that volume.
“You’re playing up again,” she sighs. “Turn around, I’ll fix it.”
Sohyun rubs a hand over her face. She didn’t realize anyone was home. Hyuna wasn’t supposed to se Jihyun yet, Sohyun didn’t want her to see Jihyun yet. “She’s okay,” she sighs. Jihyun smiles happily from her place on the couch, too wide and showing too much teeth, face cradled in Hyuna’s hands. “She’s not supposed to do that with her face.”
“Who cares?” Hyuna laughs, turning Jihyun’s head this way and that. “She was junk months ago, now look at her.”
“She’s okay,” Sohyun stresses. Jihyun laughs, eyes animated and almost alive as she takes a strand of Hyuna’s hair between her fingers. Sohyun sighs and makes a mental note to fix it, “just that.”
“We need to do something about you,” Sohyun says.
Jihyun looks up, slouching on Sohyun’s bed and blinks at her. There’s something wrong, Sohyun thinks, it’s all wrong.
The glint in her eyes should be gentler, her voice kinder, posture straighter. The crease in her brow should be different, less challenging and more questioning; her step should be lighter, the flick of her wrist sharper, the curve of her smile softer.
“You’ll fix me?” Jihyun asks, pulling up her shirt and turning her back to Sohyun. She still has nothing to cover her back and Sohyun isn’t even sure if she should bother finding something.
“I’ll fix you.”
Sohyun gets sick of it the day that Gayoon and Jiyoon visit.
Jihyun is perfect to them and Jiyoon pulls her into a headlock and says, “Who knew there was a brain underneath all this dumb?”
They’re impressed, to say the very very least, but Sohyun can’t find it in herself to be proud because Jihyun is too loud, too in your face, too distinct for Sohyun’s liking. She’s Sohyun’s to play with, Sohyun’s to mess with, Sohyun’s to test and experiment with. Jihyun is her blank canvas, hers to use as she wished, to tinker with and change however she wants.
They talk about Jihyun as if she’s perfect and Sohyun only sees mistakes.
After they’re gone Sohyun asks Jihyun to power off and then she takes a hammer and destroys everything inside her, rips the lampshade off the string it’s hanging from and places it back on Jihyun’s head.
“Where’s Jihyun?” Hyuna asks, poking her head around Sohyun’s door and scanning the room.
“Corner,” Sohyun tells her, not looking up from her book. “She’s an artsy lamp now.”
- damaged goods, damaged goods (4minute, sohyun-cetric)