Fourth Interlude

“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.

Chapter Seventeen

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Third Interlude

[This interlude takes place after Chapter Five, and continues from there.]

“-reflection, twin, replica, copy, match-”

Aiyana touched the shower door, mouth firmly closed as she concentrated, then appeared on the other side. “I can’t believe you still have a dead-tree dictionary sitting around the house.”

“-verb form: reflect, match, reproduce, imitate, simulate, copy, mimic, echo-”

She appeared inside the tub again in an instant, eyebrows drawn together. “Aren’t a lot of those the same thing?”

“-from the old French ‘mirour’, which is from the Latin ‘mirare’, meaning look at.”

A deep breath, then she switched to her opposite hand. “The support is nice and all, but there’s no telling if I’ll be able to do more than just this.”

Franz snapped the book shut, then reached for his laptop. “No telling if you won’t, either. Predator got a whole bunch of stuff, why not you?”

“Flare only has one thing,” Aiyana muttered, popping through the shower door a few times with that hand.

“Flare only showed you one thing,” Franz corrected, fingers clacking away at the keys. “Would you show some random stranger everything you could do?”

She sighed. “No, probably not.”

“What are you complaining about?” Franz twisted his body to look at her from where he sat against the wall, “you’ve got superpowers! Live it up a little.”

“And my superpowers can be duplicated by someone kicking through the glass,” Aiyana grumped, “yay for-”

She appeared on the other side of the door with one foot raised in the kicking position. Surprised, Aiyana slipped and landed on her butt, yelping.

Franz, of course, promptly dissolved into laughter.

“Stop laughing, jerk,” Aiyana muttered, standing up and rubbing her backside, “I could totally punch the crap out of someone on the other side of a window, or something.”

Franz, of course, promptly started laughing harder.

That particular testing session dissolved into a sibling brawl, where the far more muscular Franz easily pinned his sister and tickled her mercilessly.

[*]

“What is that,” Aiyana asked flatly, stopped dead at the doorway to their dining room.

“Is one of your superpowers asking dumb questions?” Franz teased between bites of his cereal.

“Very funny, smartass,” Aiyana rolled her eyes, dropping her bag at the door and stepping forward to inspect the new addition to their dining room.

It was a pane of glass as tall as Franz, and probably twice as wide. He’d scooted the dining room table to the side to make room for it, and there was a good amount of space on either side. It was – somehow – supported by a sturdy metal base just long enough so neither glass nor base was sticking out. She pressed her palm to it, splaying her fingers across the glass.

“Figured you could practice your kung-fu teleport better with more room,” Franz commented with a forced-casual tone.

“How did you even get that in here?” Aiyana asked, flickering to the other side of the pane with only a split-second of concentration.

Franz snorted. “Half my job is being as buff as possible without losing flexibility, and the other half is coordinating with other people who are as buff as possible without losing flexibility.”

“No, the other half is putting up with little old ladies checking out your ass,” Aiyana smirked, teleporting from one side of the glass to the other at different points along the pane.

“At least I don’t get dirty old men choking the chicken after buying the pork,” Franz said innocently, “and don’t think some of those little old ladies at your work aren’t checking you out.”

Aiyana colored and lost the rhythm of her movements, giving Franz the evil eye. “I could say the same thing, y’know. You could totally have some repressed closet-bait old guy thinking about how you bent over just right-”

“Ew, okay, ew,” Franz cut her off, finishing the last of his bowl and standing.

Smiling victoriously, Aiyana trotted up to the kitchen to grab a dish rag. “How are we going to explain this?”

“If your lady friend needs you to explain why her glass-teleporting girlfriend needs a pane of glass in the living room, she is seriously too dumb for you to date,” Franz grinned, washing out his cereal bowl. “And besides, I’m an arr-teest and you’re a college student. We can totally get away with weird stuff in the house. Someone asks, we tell them it’s for an upcoming act.”

“And when no glass shows up in any of your performances?” Aiyana asked, scrubbing her handprints off the glass with the rag.

Shaking his hands dry, Franz put on his best ‘disgruntled artist face’. “The other performers just don’t get it. It’s a statement about how we all take on traits of each other, and they just want to stick to the old flips and tricks!”

Aiyana snorted, and threw the dish rag at him, then pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Take on traits of each other, huh?”

Franz, struck by the same kind of thought, only dodged the rag on reflex. “Hey, that’d be nifty. Maybe you can steal powers, like that girl who kills people when she kisses them.”

Aiyana pulled a face, walking back to her bag and shrugging it back on her shoulder. “I hope not. That was the most traumatizing thing you’ve ever made me read.”

“Worse than Silence of the Lambs?” Franz called after her as she walked back to her room.

“You think I really read that?” She yelled back, then closed the door on his noise of indignation.

Chapter Eight

Second Interlude

[This interlude takes place between chapters four and five. It contains sexual themes, but no actual sex.]

“Well? Aren’t you going to invite me up?”

Mirror bit the inside of her cheek, searching Predator’s eyes. The urge to take control, to force the issue reared up, and Predator hauled hard on the reins. ‘Down, girl,’ she thought to herself, ‘this one needs a little finesse.’

A beat, then Mirror nodded, hesitantly looping her arms around Predator’s neck. “I- yeah. Come up-” She flushed in that way dark-skinned people did, where it was more a change in their face than them getting red. “Come up with me.”

Predator chuckled, running her nails lightly along Mirror’s back. “Lead the way.”

Swallowing hard, Mirror stepped back, dark eyes searching Predator’s one more time before she turned to her apartment building.

Predator watched her walk. The sway to her hips caught her eye, as it had the first time she’d seen her, and she felt no shame at her open appreciation. Mirror had to be unaware she was dead sexy. The way she moved, her surprise at Predator’s attention; either she didn’t know or she was way better at playing this game than Predator, and that wasn’t even worth thinking about.

Mirror managed to get them inside the building, but fumbled with her keys at the apartment door, and Predator came up behind her, hands braced on either side of the doorframe. She dipped her head, running her nose along the length of Mirror’s neck and inhaling. Mirror shuddered, and Predator’s gut clenched in response.

“I’m going to devour you,” the words slipped from Predator’s mouth, and she skimmed her lips along the side of Mirror’s throat, “I’m going to devour you, and you’re going to like it.”

Mirror’s knees buckled, and Predator caught her with a quick arm wrapped around her waist.

“I-” Mirror squeaked, “-you can’t- someone- my brother-”

Predator turned her head away from Mirror and inhaled deeply, closing her eyes to sort out the ambient scents.

“Someone left this apartment not long ago,” She purred, her hand coming up under Mirror’s shirt to smooth her palm along the other woman’s stomach. “A man who smells of talc powder and sweat.”

“Man that smells like-” Mirror arched backward as Predator began to kiss the side of her neck, “my brother’s an acrobat. He must have gone out for the night.”

“Long enough for you to smuggle me into your room,” Predator agreed, nipping at Mirror’s jaw before releasing her.

The door opened into a dark apartment, and Predator waited until her eyes adjusted before she stepped inside. Mirror moved inside right away, slipping off her shoes and walking toward the back of the apartment quietly.

Predator shut the door behind herself, taking off her shoes and stalking behind Mirror. The other woman opened the door to a room that (probably) belonged to her, and Predator lunged, pushing Mirror onto her bed.

“God, I-” Mirror didn’t manage to catch herself, bouncing on the mattress and looking up at Predator with wide eyes. “Close the door, my brother might come back soon-”

“Just relax,” Predator cut her off, but closed the door and locked it with a swipe of her thumb.

For a few seconds, they stared at one another. Mirror’s chest heaved, and she propped herself up on her hands, biting her lip. Predator reached up to the buttons of her blouse, chuckling when Mirror’s eyes widened.

“I put a lot of work into my body,” Predator smirked, opening her shirt one button at a time. She shrugged off the dark blouse, not caring where it fell. “Come find out just how much.”

Chapter Seven

Interlude

[This interlude takes place between chapters two and three of the main story.]

“I don’t like where this is going, you askin’ for things like this.” He gave her a disapproving look. He was old enough to be her father and they both knew it, just like they both knew that she’d never grown out of the ‘rebellious teenager’ phase.

“You don’t have to do much,” she wheedled, returning his disapproving look with one that suggested what she was asking for was entirely reasonable, “just nudge her a little.”

“Even if I were up to doin’ what you’re askin’, which I’m not, you know I can’t nudge. It’s a full push or nothin’, and it don’t stick.”

“If it doesn’t stick, then why are you worried?” A hint of victoriousness entered her eyes. “I just want to help my odds a little.”

“I’m worried ’cause I don’t wanna piss off some up’n’comin’ para if I can help it. Humans’ll fuck you, but paras’ll fuck you in ways that make the laws of physics cry.”

“She’ll never know it was you.” A bit of pleading, now.

“Couldn’t damn well be anyone else, could it? Ain’t never heard of another para who can do it like me, and even if the man existed, why would he mess with her head just to get her into your bed?” He didn’t budge, didn’t take his eyes off her.

“I never said I wanted her in bed.” Deny, deny, deny.

“You never said you didn’t, either. I know how you work, girl, know how you lure women in and fuck ’em ’til you get bored of ’em.” His disapproval turned to concern. “What I said don’t just go for me. She ends up feelin’ used at the end, she could go after you. Just ’cause ‘Mirror’ ain’t ‘Hellfire’ don’t mean she ain’t dangerous.”

“Whatever.” An eyeroll. “Just come do your little fire trick so she stops thinking I’m some kind of stalker.”

“You are a stalker, Predator. Your Name ain’t ever gonna let you be anything but.”

Chapter Five