A woman’s voice, teasing, friendly. A man’s, surprised but open. The woman asks a question. The man replies, cautious but with an undertone of curiousity.
Aiyana rolls over, yawns, sits up. The conversation continues through her yawn, just indistinct enough that she’ll have to actually get up and investigate to hear what’s going on.
“-not sure I should wake her up.” Aiyana comes in at the tail end of Franz being almost-believably reluctant.
“Oh, hey.” The woman in the doorframe leans to one side, smiles at Aiyana over Franz’s shoulder.
Franz steps to the side with a confused, ‘who the hell is this?’ look on his face when he turns to Aiyana.
Truth be told, Aiyana doesn’t know. The woman looks vaguely familiar, but Aiyana knows she doesn’t know anyone with that amount of ink on their body. Her hair is that shade of dishwater blonde that a lot of people – including Franz – have within a shade or two, her eyes are a forgettable brown, and her height and weight are both average. She seems a little more toned than most people her age – mid twenties? – but not so much so that’s it’s really a defining characteristic. If not for the tattoos, she’d probably just be “that girl with the spiky hair” until Aiyana got her name down properly.
“Hey, Aiyana.” The woman cocks her head to the side. “Our boss asked me to stop in.”
Aiyana knows everyone at the grocery store by name, and she sighs when she realizes who this must be. “So, you’re–“
“—Beth.” Abyss gives another smile, this one a little more pointed. “I’m also still standing in your hallway.”
Franz’s eyes flick between them, and when Aiyana nods, he lets Abyss in. He shuts the door behind her, steps back, and crosses his arms over his chest. “So, you’re from the PLE.”
His tone has ‘protective older brother’ written all over it, and Aiyana rolls her eyes. She steps forward and reaches for Abyss’ arm with the intent to drag her back into the office. “Come–“
Abyss twists her arm so that Aiyana’s fingers close around her wrist instead, and she offers a half-smile. “I don’t let our kind touch my ink, thanks.”
Aiyana blinks, and starts to pull her toward the back, slowly at first, but with more confidence when Abyss doesn’t resist. “Franz, we’re going to be in the office.” Her tone has ‘bug off’ in it, and he huffs in return, but doesn’t protest.
“Alright, why are you here?” Aiyana asks, when they’re in the office and the door is firmly closed.
“Luke has things to do,” Abyss shrugs, falling into the desk chair.
“So you’re a babysitter?” Aiyana leans back against the door, arms folded.
“Think of me as a language tutor.” She gives Aiyana a slow, lazy half-grin.
“A language tutor?”
“Unless you already speak Esperanto,” Abyss reaches into the pocket of her jeans, pulling out her phone.
Aiyana stares. “Esperanto?”
Abyss flicks a few things on her phone, turns the screen back off, and slides the phone back in her jeans. “Yeah, Esperanto. The Doctor refuses to speak English, and you should probably know how to tell when he’s insulting you during your evaluation.”
Aiyana’s eyes narrow. “What evaluation?”
“The one in an hour, back at base?” Abyss rolls her eyes when Aiyana’s face stays blank. “I should have known they didn’t tell you. You’re going to meet the Doctor. Nobody at our level knows what his actual Name is, but it’s ‘Doctor’ in some language. He’s a Name specialist. He’s also an asshole.”
“Great,” Aiyana grumps.
“So, the word for ‘incompetent’ is….”
Aiyana leaves her uniform at home on Abyss’ recommendation, and they drive – separately; they may work together, but Aiyana doesn’t trust Abyss quite yet – to Chicago PLE headquarters. Abyss shows her to the conference room, which is apparently where the Doctor will be evaluating her, and falls into a chair where she can watch Aiyana and the Doctor.
The Doctor himself studies her, wide eyes darting this way and that over her. He wears an honest-to-god lab coat, white with dark blue stitching, and she can see bulges in his pockets from here.
“Kio estas tio?” The Doctor’s head turns to Abyss, one finger raised to point at Aiyana.
Abyss replies in lazy Esperanto that is still too fast for Aiyana to follow, and the Doctor rolls his eyes.
“As far as we can tell, he’s asexual,” Abyss says unhelpfully, when Aiyana eyes the Doctor for moving closer. “He just wants to know everything about all of us.”
Despite coming closer than she’d like him, his manner reassures her that he’s all business. He keeps his touches light, cursory, motioning for her to twist this way or that while he mutters in what she’s pretty sure is still Esperanto. He asks Abyss things occasionally, to which she replies off-handedly, and Aiyana feels a muscle in her eyebrow twitch when they show no sign of switching to English.
The Doctor touches her ear, then freezes. His eyes flicker over her face, focusing and unfocusing. He moves his hand to her brow, holding his palm over it as if testing for fever. After a few seconds, he jerks his hand back, cradling it in the other as if he’s been burned.
He whips his head to stare at Abyss, then begins speaking in a voice that starts calm and level, gradually increasing to barely-contained fury. When his tirade ends, Abyss stares at him. Her response is short, flat, and in English: “What.”
The Doctor turns back to Aiyana. “You have been manipulated.” He has a slight European accent, but his English is perfectly understandable, and he huffs when Abyss mutters something about his sudden ability to communicate clearly. “This is more important than forcing self-improvement on my coworkers.”
“Yeah, I already knew I’d been manipulated,” Aiyana raises an eyebrow. “Smith blackmailed me.”
“No, girl, I do not mean it in such a mundane sense. You have been acted upon by another’s abilities.” He frowns disapprovingly. “One of them, I am disgusted but not surprised. The other is new to me. I suspect the one for which they watch. Your lover, the one who walks with murderers.”
“You think Anna– Predator– used her powers on me.” Aiyana wants to say that Anna wouldn’t. Her mouth even opens to tell him as much, but she closes it again. There’s always been something shady about the way Anna found her in the first place. She’d claimed a source she couldn’t reveal, but it would make a lot more sense if she’d set it up herself.
Then again, Names are fairly strict about what the Named can do with them. She’s seen some creative interpretations, but nothing about ‘Predator’ suggests she’d be able to push events like that.
“What kind of manipulation?” She asks finally.
“The first, from the one I have seen before, was docility, cooperation. The second…” He purses his lips. “…lust.”
Aiyana clenches her teeth. No, no way. She could believe that Anna set them up to meet, she could even believe that Flare used his small manipulations to bring them together that night at the bar, but Anna using her powers to make Aiyana want her? No, impossible. She’d thought the other woman was attractive from the moment they met.
“You’re wrong.” She wants to rail at him, to tell him just how wrong he must be, but she keeps it to herself. She doesn’t think Smoke would jump the gun and restrain her just for getting mad, but she doesn’t know Abyss, doesn’t know her powers or have even a hint of her orders. It could be that one shouted word will get her locked up all over again.
“I am not wrong about the manipulation, but I admit my thoughts on the source are only speculation.” The Doctor’s tone is even, the anger from earlier gone.
“What did you mean, about the manipulator you recognized?” Aiyana asks, trying and failing to unclench her jaw.
The Doctor gives her a long, measured look, then lifts his chin. “Take in more protein and calcium. Your Name is restructuring your body, you require the materials to support the change. More calories in general; you have lost more weight than is healthy.”
“Wait, what?” Aiyana asks, but the Doctor sweeps out of the door without giving an answer.
“Everyone’s Name changes them,” Abyss stands, stretching her arms over her head. “The Doctor says mine was mostly mental, but some people get a lot of physical changes.” A beat, then, “I’ve never heard of it being anything harmful. Shield is straight muscle now, Smoke is unbelievably flexible, and one of my old teammates would get stabbed, and start healing around the knife before it was even taken out.”
Aiyana frowns. “That’s not what I meant.”
They look at one another for a few seconds, Aiyana searching Abyss’ eyes, and Abyss studying her in turn. Finally, Abyss says, “it’s shitty, what they’re doing to you. I feel for you – and obviously so does the Doctor – but our hands are tied. There are some questions we can’t answer until you come off of probation.
“And until then, I’m just supposed to accept someone’s messing with my head?” Aiyana glares, folding her arms over her chest.
Abyss stares right back, and something about her gaze makes Aiyana look away. “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
They leave. Abyss follows her home, then takes off without so much as a goodbye. Aiyana collapses onto her living room couch, and tries to think about nothing at all.