Aiyana studies her unwanted guest. It’s as much social gambit as it is gathering her thoughts and sizing him up, and her eyes flick between his as she thinks.
‘He takes his fitness seriously’, she muses, thinking on the hard physique hinted at by his current clothes and delivered by his skintight PLE uniform. Unlike Anna – Aiyana bites the inside of her cheek to guard against a wave of concern for her girlfriend and anger at law enforcement in general – Codename Smoke’s musculature seems methodical, less aesthetic and more functional. She wouldn’t be surprised if he is or was an athlete, and wonders what kind of gym facilities the PLE has.
She shakes her head, as if that will banish the irrelevant thoughts. She’s tired and scattered, knows she’s tired and scattered, and she still has to handle him before she can lock herself in her room and sleep for a week.
“You’re going to help me put my life back together,” she says without any preamble, trying to sound as confident as she feels (and trying not to sound as tired as she feels), “since you guys are the ones that made me miss a week of classes and work without notice.”
Smoke purses his lips, and Aiyana thinks she sees a flash of guilt in his eyes.
“I was just-”
“Just following orders?” Aiyana cuts him off, staring holes into his eyes. He doesn’t answer. “Do your orders say you can’t fix the collateral damage from trying to find Anna?”
“No,” Smoke says simply.
“Right, so you’re going to come talk to my boss and professors, and explain what happened,” Aiyana says, raising a hand to cut off any potential protests. “I know you can’t tell them what’s really going on, but you can say something about it being an ongoing investigation, right? And tell them that you had to keep me isolated for the past week?”
Smoke nods, and Aiyana crosses her arms over her chest, satisfied. “Good. So you’ll do it?”
“Only if you show me what you can do.”
Aiyana eyes him, waiting, but he doesn’t elaborate. Eventually, she shrugs, rolling her eyes. “Sure. After you talk to people for me.”
“Okay,” Smoke says.
She shows him the spare room and the attached bathroom, makes sure he knows where the snacks are – more out of respect for her brother than Smoke himself; Franz will kill her if she doesn’t treat a guest well – and collapses into bed for a nap.
Smoke sweet-talks her professors with an honest, wholly-sincere charm that startles her. It doesn’t seem right that a member of the PLE could sound that genuinely apologetic over the inconvenience he’s caused her. She thinks it’s an act at first, but when they get to her last professor and he doesn’t sound any less sincere than he did at first, she’s forced to admit it may be legit.
Some of her professors impose late penalties on her missing assignments, but all of them let her turn them in late, and make up the tests she’s missed. Aiyana attributes that about half to Smoke’s unexpected charm, and about half to his badge. She doesn’t honestly know if the school has a policy on how to handle students caught up in legal proceedings, but she’s glad she doesn’t have to find out and then fight her professors about it. Doing all her previous homework at the same time as her current homework is enough of a pain.
“What’s your major?” Smoke asks, as she drives them from the school to her work.
“Gender and Sexuality,” Aiyana answers, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.
He starts, as expected, and Aiyana smothers a laugh. “Not what you expected?” She asks.
“We didn’t have that major,” Smoke answers, “we had Gender & Women’s Studies, though.”
“Where did you go?” Aiyana asks, curious despite herself.
“University of California Berkley,” Smoke says, shrugging. When she’s silent, he continues, “for dance.”
“Dance?” Aiyana blurts, surprised.
“Not what you expected?” He teases, and this time her laugh refuses to be smothered.
“No,” she answers honestly, “I thought criminal justice, maybe.”
“Most of us were just regular people before we got powers,” Smoke says, “there’s one guy who was a cop before he was PLE, but he’s the only one I know of. The rest are from a bunch of different places.”
She doesn’t answer, pursing her lips. If not for their interference in her own life – and the fact that they’re established enough to have uniforms and ranks, but she’s never heard of them – she wouldn’t be horribly opposed to being in the PLE. She doesn’t think it’s for her, but the existence of the PLE raises the question of what she’s going to do with these new abilities. Anna used hers for her own benefit, and if Flare is out saving puppies with his it’s news to her, but could she just stand there if something’s going wrong and she can help it?
(She knows the answer for Anna is yes. Anna has a lot of finer points, but she’s unashamedly, undeniably selfish. If it didn’t benefit her in some way, Aiyana knows she’d let a building burn, or a man get mugged, even if it were happening directly in front of her.)
Uncomfortable with the turn her thoughts have taken, Aiyana asks, “what kind of dance?”
“You learn all kinds in the program, but ballroom is what made me want to dance for a living,” Smoke tells her, “it’s not popular right now like hip hop or breakdance, I know, but I like dancing with people, not next to them.”
They make small talk about professors and gen-eds all the way to her work, then, after Smoke has managed to charm her boss, they pick the conversation up on the way back. It’s nice. She knows it’s just the calm in the storm’s eye, but it’s still nice to have a chance to catch her breath before the weight of everything (Anna, the PLE, class) crashes back onto her shoulders.
Aiyana sighs at Smoke’s prompt. She had been hoping he’d forget, but luck, it seems, is not on her side. She makes a snap decision not to show him the other thing she figured out she can do, but he already knows she can impersonate people, so there’s no real harm in a demonstration.
“Stand up,” she says, resigned.
The two of them rise from the remnants of their early dinner.
She leads him into the empty space in the middle of the dining room where her glass pane used to stand, and holds up a hand. Smoke stops moving obediently. Aiyana takes a deep, clensing breath, and concentrates.
Her hands raise to level with the top of Smoke’s head. She pinches her first three fingers together, hands touching, then draws them apart in a straight horizontal line. Smoke’s eyes widen as a thin black line appears in the air, but he stays silent as Aiyana moves her hands to the side as far as she can reach. Fingers still pinched, she brings her hands down to the ground, crouching so she can touch the carpet. The line extends downwards with her hands, and she opens her hands when the line touches the carpet.
There’s a few beats, in which Aiyana stands and Smoke studies her with undisguised curiosity. Then, she swipes her hand downward carelessly in the space outlined by her earlier motions. The air itself ripples, then the entire space thickens into a recognizeable upright mirror.
Aiyana nods to herself, willing her mental image of Smoke to appear on the mirror’s surface. A second later, it does, and she frowns when she realizes something about it is off. Instinct leads her to look through the mirror (she files away her ability to do so in the back of her mind as something to think about later), and she touches the very tips of her fingers to the parts of the image that don’t match the man on the other side.
When she’s fixed the line of his jaw and the length of his hair, she performs one last visual check to make sure everything’s accurate. Satisfied, Aiyana steps through the mirror.