“I’m working on projection and control, but it’s spotty,” Luke admits, inhaling deeply, then exhaling a thin stream of light grey smoke. “It comes out just fine, any way I want it, but–” his eyes focus sharply on the smoke. The center of it jerks some, then goes back to floating upwards and out, the way smoke typically does. “–when I try to get a hold on it outside my body, that happens.”
The Doctor makes a small noncommittal noise, gesturing for Smoke to go on.
“The thicker it is, the easier,” Luke breathes out a thicker puff, dark and heavy enough to obscure his features. This time, the center swirls, first one way, then the other. It stops abruptly mid-motion, losing cohesion and going back to normal smoke behavior. “But at some point, I always lose it. Any other kind of smoke is worse.”
He pulls a lighter and a piece of paper out of a pocket of his uniform, lighting the paper on fire. This smoke barely twitches when he looks to it. They watch as Luke tries and fails to coax any other movement out of the vapor, then waves out the fire on the end of the paper, setting both it and the lighter on the conference room table.
“Do you believe it is a question of skill, or internal limitation?” The Doctor speaks in Japanese, a language that has been giving Luke far more trouble than his first three. It doesn’t particularly matter that he only barely understands the words themselves; the Doctor asks the same question every time.
“I think it is skill,” Luke replies, switching to Japanese from English after long seconds of grasping for conjugation and sentence structure. “I improve, I have not stopped.”
“And your mental studies?” The Doctor asks this in plain English, and Luke sits up, frowning. The man never speaks in an Agent’s native tongue unless it’s important, and Luke himself has no idea what he’s talking about.
“What mental studies?”
The Doctor studies him for a few seconds, his face expressionless, then speaks rapidly. “Are you the blood in the vein?”
“No,” he says immediately, voice becoming slow, hypnotic. “I am the smoke upon the water.”
His head falls forward, dropping to his chest. His eyes close, arms limp at his sides. A thin cloud of white smoke rises from him all at once, rising quickly. When it hits the ceiling, his head jerks back upward, and his eyes snap to the Doctor.
“Why?” The voice that comes from Luke’s mouth is deeper, rougher, a voice that one could easily come from years of smoke inhalation. Smoke looks out through Luke’s eyes, showing none of the warmth of the man who entered the room.
“Mental wellbeing check,” the Doctor replies crisply, folding his arms over his white lab coat.
“Does my being seem well enough to you?” Smoke doesn’t blink, doesn’t vary his tone. He straightens slowly, methodically, cracking joints as he goes.
“It will not seem well enough to me until you cease this pointless game.” The Doctor’s tone, in contrast, drips with disapproval.
“Pointless?” Smoke chuckles. “Are you not the one who insists on constant self-improvement, Herr Doctor? What better opportunity than this, than working so closely with those women, whose Names grant them such insight?”
“What will you do when they no longer trust you?”
“What will you do when you choke upon your hypocrisy?”
The two men stare at one another for long moments. Then, the Doctor’s lips thin further, and he gestures in one sharp, dismissive moment.
“Return to hiding, spectre.”
“Have fun while I’m gone, Doctor.” Smoke’s head drops once more, body limp, and when he stirs once more, it is Luke who blinks out of dark, confused eyes.
“Get more sleep.” The Doctor says, and leaves the room.