Don’t do it

Tau Axis appears. I mean, not that he ever shows up any other way than landing practically on top of you whenever you least expect it, but it’s still disconcerting. Anyway, he’s wearing red, which is today’s color, and the design looks pretty much the same as the current one, I’d have to look at them side by side to compare, but pretty much the same, so he’s hopefully from not too far in the future, which is actually quite a bit less reassuring than you might imagine. He stares me down.

“Um,” I say, “hi.”

“Don’t do it,” he says, knocking on my desk for emphasis.

“Uh huh,” I say. “Sorry, don’t do what?”

He cocks his head. “You didn’t specify. Kind of assumed you would know. Were you planning on doing anything life-altering?”

I shake my head.

He shrugs. “Maybe you were going to smoke up. Drug testing later, you know.”

“I know,” I say, “we’ve all known for days.”

“Well,” he says, shrugging again, “find me at 9:30 and I’ll tell you what you were wearing.”

Then he disappears again, which is a lot less unexpected, but kind of rude. I mean, he did wave bye, but he didn’t wait for me to wave back and now I feel just a little unsettled, like the conversation was unfinished – although it was in a way, and now I’ll have to get back to him at 9:30. Maybe I can wave bye then? No, what the fuck, that’s just weird. I make a note in my schedule, because there’s no way I’ll remember if I don’t. I set an alarm, too, just in case.

Then I look back at my computer, and consider getting some sort of field emitter, because I can’t have people just dropping in on me interrupting my work constantly. Of course, if I do, they’ll just knock on the door, and that’s not substantially less distracting. Fuck. What was I even doing here?

I click through pages and pages of trivia, trying to get my train of thought back.

“Kuiper!” a voice calls, from out in the hall, like they can’t be fucked to come actually talk to me.

“What?” I shout back.

Whoever it was walks up to the door shaking a little plastic cup filled with sterile wipes, and hooks a thumb over their shoulder. I have no idea who it is. They don’t even look mildly familiar, and everyone looks at least mildly familiar. I wonder if upstairs has started hiring out a company, or if they just brought in a team from somewhere else. That’s not a bad idea, actually, having the teams switch cities so they don’t try to cover for their friends. I mean, I don’t know how you end up needing covering for, but it happens.

I go pee in a cup. I know they have to watch me go, but I have no idea why they have to scrutinize so fucking hard as I wash my hands.

The workflow’s already shot, though, so I take a detour down to the cafeteria to grab a snack or something. I don’t know. Chips or cookies or something. Anything I have to avoid eating in front of the kids. I have no idea what I want, but – actually, they have pizza bagels, so I don’t end up having to make a decision after all.

I eat two of them (well, one bagel, I guess) and stare at the wall. No one bothers me.

Eventually, I end up heading back upstairs. My work is still waiting for me, but it seems a lot more in order now that I’ve had something to eat, or taken a break, or walked around a little, (or peed in a cup, maybe) and it only takes me a few minutes to figure out what the hell I was up to and finish it up. Or at least the profile I was interrupted during. It’s going to take me a lot longer to work through all of them. Other cities clearly have a lot more people willing to take on a shitty teaching job. And by people, in this case, I mean heavily overqualified candidates.

I consider contacting Lisa to ask – no, that’s bad, Travis, don’t consider things. Considering things is what leads to Tau Axis zapping in to yell at you. I consider finding Sensei Domino to start training right now. I consider heading to the weight room for a while. I consider going for a run. I consider apologizing to Darren. I consider finding Smoke and asking any or all of the hundred questions I came up with the second after he left. I consider calling Paragon. I consider checking in on the kids’ stats. I consider giving up on work and finding some sort of freemium game to play.

It’s probably the running. Running right after you eat is guaranteed to be a bad idea. I mean, bad enough to instate Tau Axis’s help? Probably not. Maybe. Probably depends on how far you run.

Then again, with the day I’m having, I probably would’ve tried to run to fucking Norway, so I guess stopping me from running is – was that what he meant? Did I show up in running gear? Is he going to tell me I was covered in sweat and wearing track pants? Why the fuck do time travelers have to be so fucking cryptic, anyway?

I wonder if it’s hard for him, not being able to talk to his family about it.

Okay, new plan: Travis no longer considers doing various things, but just tries to plow through all these resumes, and answer his emails, and follows requests other people make if they show up asking Travis to do things. Travis waits for Sensei Domino to show up, then goes off to do karate or whatever, greets Lisa if and when she shows up and finds that intern task list again for her, and only interacts with the kids if he absolutely has to. At 9:30, Travis finds Tau Axis to talk to him about whatever the fuck, and stops having existential crises over self-fulfilling prophecies.

I am so ready for this week to be over.

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Fight the System

“No, you listen here!” the dad shrieks at me, shaking off the mom’s hand. “You are not going to treat my boy like you’re better than him.”

“Sir,” I say, “with all due respect, I am here to teach your son –”

“Then fucking teach him!” the dad yells.

“If he won’t treat me with respect, there’s not much I can do,” I say, blandly.

“Well, then, make him respect you,” the mom snaps at me, “my god, the entire place is completely full of idiots, isn’t it?”

“And how do you suggest I do that?” I ask.

She pinches her lips together and then says, “well, he respects me, doesn’t he, so how hard can it possibly be for you?”

“Ma’am,” I say, and I sound affectless even to myself, “if he treated the teachers in his school the way he treats me, he would have detention every day.”

“Oh, right,” the dad says, “teachers always whine about how their job is so hard, but if you just instilled some discipline in these kids, it wouldn’t be so hard, now would it?”

“And what does ‘instilling discipline’ entail, in your mind?” I ask.

“Are you a man, or aren’t you?” the dad says. “Good god, these people have gone soft, all worried about child abuse and hurting people’s feelings and making their numbers.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting I strike your son?”

“What the fuck did you say to me?” the dad says.

“You touch a hair on his head and we’ll see you fired on the spot,” the mom adds.

“In that case, your son refuses to listen, pay attention, or work with me,” I say.

“And whose fault is that?” the dad sneers.

I just stare at him, trying not to visibly take a breath as I count to ten. “I can recommend several reputable private tutors, if he’d like to take that route.”

“Private tutors?” the mom snaps, “how about you do your job, instead.”

“Alternately,” I say, “he could join a program in a different city.”

“Oh, and just how the fuck are we supposed to get him to a different city every day, smart guy?” the dad says, “I guess you didn’t think of that.”

“Once the paperwork is through, he would meet here as normal, and be travelled to a different city to work with their program,” I say, keeping the purple sparks on the other side of the screen, not that the filter wouldn’t probably catch them, anyway.

“No,” the mom says.

“Your only other option for continued training is a private group, then, I’m afraid,” I say, “unless your son’s school offers some sort of program.”

The mom glares daggers at me. “We come to you because you have a problem teaching our son, because you can’t do it correctly, and you try to send us to someone else?”

I wait for her to add something, or for the dad to chime in, or to spontaneously drop dead so I don’t have to talk to anyone from this family ever again.

“Let me get this straight,” the dad says, through gritted teeth, “because you refuse to do your job, we’re supposed to pay through the nose, or let some creeps put their hands on our kid?”

“What?” I say.

“He’s not being travelled,” the dad says, punctuating it with a chopping motion, “who knows where they’ll take him or whether they’ll give him back.”

Oh, god. One of those. “Sir, I assure you, all of our travelers are trustworthy professionals, who’ve undergone extensive background checks. None of them will hurt your son.”

“That’s even if the radiation was safe!” he adds.

I suck in a breath. “There’s negligible radiation associated with any kind of travelling, and anyone we’d have working with your son would be rated safe for children.”

“Working with, that’s a fucking rich way to put it,” the dad scoffs. “I know how many kids go missing by their hand every year, don’t think I don’t.”

“No one’s going to make Todd go to a different city,” I say, a little too forcefully.

“Don’t you take that tone with my husband!” the mom says, “you just watch yourself around our son, do you understand me? I better not hear any more complaints.”

“Yeah, you want to get listened to, you better start being a teacher who deserves to get listened to,” the dad says. Then, under his breath, “if you even can.”

“Of course,” I say, resisting the urge to smash my head through the monitor.

“Well, that’s settled,” the mom says, icily, “I hope you have a nice day.”

“You better shape the fuck up,” the dad adds.

“Sir,” I say, forcing a smile, “ma’am. I –”

But it’s finally over with. I rest my head against the window, looking at the gym but not really seeing it, and let my breath fog the glass until my forehead goes numb. I hear the distant stomp of feet, and then the angry clearing of a throat, and then the door slamming shut.

I look up.

Darren is glaring at me. “Is that my sweatshirt?”

I glance down. Right, I took my coat off. I shrug.

He narrows his eyes. “Why are you wearing my sweatshirt, Travis?”

“It’s comfortable,” I say, “god, did you seriously come in here and interrupt me to talk about your sweatshirt?”

“No,” he says, “I came in here to talk about something else, but you spent five minutes ignoring me, so now we’re talking about my sweatshirt.”

“I was busy,” I say.

“The fuck you were, you were staring off into space,” he snaps, “you can’t just, you can’t just fucking do that, what the fuck, Travis.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve borrowed your sweatshirt,” I say, “hell, it’s not the first time I’ve worn this particular one to work –”

“It’s not the same, not when,” he says, “fuck you, you’re acting like you’re doing something totally reasonable, and not even considering how I feel about this, Travis.”

“Stop saying my name like that,” I tell him.

“Stop wearing my sweatshirt!” he yells.

“You know what? Fucking fine,” I say, yanking it off and balling it up to throw at his head, “no one’s going to think you’re a faggot because of one fucking sweatshirt, Darren.”

The sweatshirt unballs as it flies through the air, and he snatches at it, tucking it under his arm and stalking out. He opens the door hard enough that it bangs against the wall.

I change into my costume after all.

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It’s not the TK, it’s the ESP

Smoke knocks on my door before I manage to open it again, and I start not quite guiltily, but heading towards that direction, and awkwardly tug it open from across the room instead of just saying it’s unlocked like a normal person. Not that Smoke cares. He’s a fairly laid-back person, generally speaking. It’s actually very relaxing to talk to him, you know, as long as he stays out of your radius.

I wonder if it still bothers people without any esper traits.

He watches me calmly, and it takes me a while of watching him back before I realize he’s waiting for me to do or say something.

I motion him inside. “Coffee?”

He glances over at the machine. “Sure, I’ll have a cup. What flavors have you got?”

“Uh,” I say, looking through the capsules, “mocha. Everything else is just coffee, but I have a lot of syrups, if you wanted me to add some.”

“Sure, mocha,” he says. “You can add syrup if you want to, though.”

I stare at the syrups for a while, until I remember that I’m making a cup of coffee, for fuck’s sake, I do this every day, it’s not that hard. I head over to my mug shelf, avoid the bird one in case Darren wants it back, and try to decide what mug Smoke would want. Or at least won’t hate. Will be willing to use. All my mugs are terrible. Why do I have such terrible fucking taste in mugs? Hurry the fuck up, this isn’t – I pick out one with the agency logo, because you know what, if he just runs off with that one and never comes back, it’s not like any of our lives will be the poorer for it. You can get one of these everywhere. He can take his coffee and never have to speak to me again. I’m not even sure this one is mine, anyway. I turn back to the annoyed little machine and stick the mug under it. I almost forget to check the water level, but it’s fine, it’s always fine, I can’t even make a fucking cup of coffee today.

I fit the capsule in on the second try. “Cherry?” I offer.

“Cherry sounds good,” Smoke agrees, continuing to watch me from across the room.

Awkward silence slowly expands to fill the space between us.

“You know I’m not going to turn your powers against you, right?” he asks, frowning slightly.

“It’s not the TK, it’s the ESP,” I tell him, swirling my field around a little to illustrate, but it’s a vague, half-finished motion to follow a vague, half-finished thought.

“Oh,” he says. “Feels too similar to…?”

I squint at him in confusion for a second, and then my last cup of coffee settles hard in my stomach while I picture myself having a panic attack. Yes. A breakdown, in my office, in the middle of the day, this is exactly what I need. My hand is gripped too tight around the handle of my mug by the time I realize I’m not actually having a flashback. I sit down.

Smoke walks towards the coffee, still skirting my sensory radius as well as possible. He brushes up against the edges, but it’s not the same, not intrusive the way…it doesn’t matter. Smoke takes his mug, pours a little of the syrup into it, and starts swirling it with a coffee stirrer.

I should order more of those.

“I can put on a cuff, if it would make you more comfortable,” he says, like he’s said it a million times before. He probably has. I would hate to be a mirror. Nice to be used to cuffs, though.

I shake my head when I notice I’m not responding.

“I can come back later,” he adds.

I thunk my head back against my chair. “Later won’t help. Later I have the kids.”

“It’s Monday,” Smoke says, slowly.

“Fuck,” I say.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “I hate Mondays, too.”

I watch him give me a concerned once-over, and I’m not even sure how angry or annoyed or frustrated I sound when I say, “did someone send you over to check on me?”

“No,” he says, “but are you sure that’s a bad idea?”

I glare.

“Okay,” he says, holding up the hand without the mug in it, “I just wanted to know if you wanted to do any of the recruiting bullshit.”

I shrug.

“Yeah,” he says, “that’s about how I feel. But they send me to talk to the marines every year, getting them to specialize and getting them in the joint programs both.”

“Trying to get them to retire into our ranks, you mean,” I say.

Smoke grins. “You’re much more pragmatic than Coach Domino.”

“Did they usually send him with you?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “But, then, they also aren’t usually sending me to talk to kids.”

“What?” I say.

“Military brats,” he says, “the powers that be want me to talk to them.”

“Oh,” I say. “For the kids’ program?”

Smoke shakes his head. “For internships, I have to figure. You did the college program, though, right? And you’re good with kids.”

“I did the college program,” I agree.

He laughs. “They haven’t killed each other, yet; more than I expected I could achieve when they asked me about it.”

I grin. “Just out of curiosity, where were you in their list?”

“Towards the bottom, I think,” he says, “they won’t admit it, but they hate military trained extras. Think we’re about to go all drill sergeant on the kids.”

“Well, you know, you try to channel them,” I say, “hard habit to break. I can’t even stop conceptualizing it that way, and mine was a teddy bear by the time he got to me.”

“I think I’d have the opposite problem, actually.” He sips his coffee contemplatively. “I mean, they’re just little kids, really. I’d be scared to push them too hard.”

“Oh, believe me, they make perfectly clear when they’ve done enough,” I say.

Smoke smiles at me. “I think you’re doing pretty well with them.”

I make a noise of disgust.

He shrugs. “Well, I think it’s better to have a couple perspectives, you know, someone who’s gone through the military programs – Psychobitch if we can get her – someone who did the college track, someone who picked it up as a second career.”

“Vector Analysis,” I suggest.

“Hmm?” he says, “the architect, you mean?”

I nod. “Powers reconceptualized sort of, uh, sideways of obvious.”

“I usually like someone who spent a little longer in their other career before they switched over,” he says, “but the kids probably won’t know the difference. Maybe.”

I nod. “Well, let me know when it’s going to be set up, so I can fix my schedule.”

Smoke nods, placing the mug in the sink. “You take care of yourself, buddy.”

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A Brand New Day

I groan, grabbing my head and wondering what the hell I had to drink last night. It takes me a minute to sort back through my dreams enough to piece it all together, but the answer is nothing, or at least nothing after those coffee drinks we got, which were barely alcoholic, and also which happened substantially before I went to bed. Several hours substantially. And I know I got enough to eat and was hydrating – I shove my head back into my pillow and fumble around for water.

Darren’s helpfully left a few bottles on the other nightstand for me, along with a note, tucked between them, which falls somewhere out of my immediate range as soon as I move one of them and whatever, I’ll find it later. I misaim with the one I grab. It smacks me in the back. Lovely. I grab at it and manage to get the cap off, but I only take a few sips before I’m just. Not. I cap the bottle again and sigh, flopping back down. I drop my arm back over my eyes. Like, I’m probably hungry, but at the same time, fuck breakfast.

I yank my drawers open, one by one, trying to remember where the fuck I put the ibuprofen, and I’m surprised to find I can actually remember how much force to use on them so as not to fling them across the room.

It takes some doing, but I finally find it, take a pair of pills, and down the rest of the water bottle. The fact that I feel sick and not like drinking it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not dehydrated. Hydrating is a good way to get ready for the day. Plus, now all the drawers in the entire room are conveniently open, so I just summon over some underwear and more than one sock and a shirt and hope to fuck I can figure out where my pants went before I accidentally leave for work without them. It’s still a little bit of a struggle to pull everything on (minus the extra sock), and the blanket gets stuck inside my shirt twice, and I put my underwear on backwards the first time, which I guess is what I get for buying symmetric underwear. It’s times like this I wish I had the power to fly, or at least float. And I have no pants.

Oh, right. My pants are in the wash.

That was probably what the note was about.

I pull open the dryer, and they’re still damp, but wearable. Once I tug them on I shut it again, letting it rumble back to life. The pockets stick to my skin, both during and after the tugging them on part, but it doesn’t do much more than make me swear at them. I should get new pants. These ones are starting to look almost gray. I glance down to make sure I’m not wearing cargo pants instead, but, no, these are definitely mine. Just old.

I grab some juice out of the fridge and shake it as I try to decide what I want to eat. By the time I’ve finished drinking it, I still have no idea, so I give up and grab my phone and whatever paperwork I’m sure I had for a reason that I’m probably finished with now, and you know what, if I’m not I don’t even care, it’s all going to the same place in the end anyway. I pick a sweatshirt up off the chair and shrug it on. It’s worn out and probably extremely unprofessional to wear, but it’s warm, and it smells nice, and it has holes for my thumbs, and no one will even see it under my coat, anyway.

I give up on the book I’m listening to halfway through the drive. I have to keep skipping it back, and at some point I lose track of where I’m even skipping it back to, so I just put on the radio instead. It plays boring, unoriginal music at me. I don’t even register the change from it to the elevator music until I’ve already stepped out of the elevator.

A couple people say hi to me. I’m almost entirely certain I say hi back.

I shut the door. I mean, I’m not the only one who uses my office, so it’s not like nobody could come in even if I locked it, and, anyway, I’ve already told a bunch of people they’re welcome anytime, plus I pretty much have to be here if the kids show up with any problems, not that they probably will, because it’s still school hours, although I might not be accounting for short days and school holidays, or they might be sick, although if they were sick I don’t know why they’d be here, unless they were only faking. Of course, if they do have an emergency they have to skip school for, I’m probably a good bet to talk to, actually, fuck. I have no idea when Lisa’s showing up.

But the door closes and muffles the sound in the hall, and the office almost shifts colors with the sudden calm and solitude. I lean my head against the lockers for a few minutes, and decide not to change after all. If someone needs Teke, they can fucking ask for him.

I make myself a cup of coffee, instead, taking my time adding just the right amount of sugar, mixing in syrups just so. The smell permeates the room, just coffee and printer ink and the weird smell of new monitors that hasn’t gone away yet. Office smells. Work mindset. I sit down in my chair, close my eyes, and sip my coffee. It’s nice when it’s this quiet. Just the one cup, and I’ll open the door back up. As soon as I finish my coffee.

I open up my latest reports on the kids, update my notes, rework the schedules a little bit, and send off a few messages, including confirming a guest lecturer. It’s easy to get lost in the rhythm, so much of what I type up so formulaic, half of it with the headers already filled in. There are questions, here and there, from kids who are thinking about joining the program or thinking about transferring, some from my actual students, something from Gatling’s parents. Some interdepartmental stuff to deal with. Something of Lisa’s to sign off on, a short interview to send back upstairs for vetting, and the soothing clack of keys. Before I know it, my coffee’s gone.

I sigh, get up, and make myself a second cup. Just one more. Promise.

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Case File: Smoke the Mirror RPF (Transcript)

Note: Everyone on the site has been vetted; none of them have any connections to Smoke, with the exception of our ghost writers. (ghost writers) (enable links) (original screenshots)

Addendum: Smoke has asked not to be contacted regarding anything to do with this site (or any of his fansites, with the obvious exceptions). He’s not in charge of the file, and he doesn’t want updates. Notes within this file addressed to him will be ignored. Notes sent to him about this file will be ignored and complaints will be filed.

 

smokebombshell: I think the bigger question is, do we know where he came from before he was working as a hero? He didn’t start particularly young, so we have to assume that’s not when he got his powers, but that leaves a fair amount of time unacounted for. There’s no particular reason he couldn’t have been a villain for a while.

houdinimangosalsa: I thought we agreed that he was working for a private group?

genderfluidsassykitten: We’re trying to figure out his actual background, Mango. This isn’t for timeline compliance, it’s for the canon wiki.

houdinimangosalsa: oh. In that case, he was in the army for a few years.

smokebombshell: I’ve never seen those before. Where did you find them?

anyway, the point still stands that between the last date he was seen working for the army and the first date he was seen working for the WHC, that’s almost three years. What was he doing?

nulloferised: I’d alwasy assumed he was recuperating from an injury or something. Or PTSD.

smokebombshell: okay, REGARDLESS, he COULD HAVE BEEN working for hire for some vigilante group or even private detectives, OKAY?

genderfluidsassykitten: oops, sorry about that, Mango, apparently we are just discussing whatifs. my bad.

In that case, I propose he was on an alternate world working as an ambassador for a few years, where he secretly learned magic that he was swron not to use except in case of world-ending emergency. He teaches it to only two apprentices at a time and they both have to be bound to the same ancient contract scroll resrticting use. I propose Guardian and Guardian Angel.

smokebombshell: You know what, Kit, you don’t have to be an asshole, and also, you could try staying on topic for ONCE.

smokefan2034583: are you in danger of getting arrested??? Looopholes in the law you don’t know…never register as a technopath and stay SAFE for ten years

magicmirror420: does anyone know why smokebombshell is always so obsessed with smoke being a villain for a while like half her aus

houdinimangosalsa: I’m pretty convinced it’s because she secretly has a thing for villains, but also has a stick up her butt about liking bad guys so she has to like someone who’s really good.

nulloferised: I mean, I have a pretty big thing about the redemption arc, too, but honestly I think it’s a little wierd to be trying to make a thing about it in real life, like to make him actually have done it. I don’t think Smoke ever had an evil phase. I don’t think he even had a dubiously legal phase. Like, maybe he worked for Black as Night, because I can see that – I kind of think we’d have a record of it, though, since he’s going by the same name now as in the army. He could have before, though.

puppieskittenscapes: I kind of think the obsession is maybe racist, actually.

genderfluidsassykitten: Laila! Yeah, I got that feeling too.

smokebombshell: Oh, gee, okay, someone’s going to call me a racist out of nowhere with no explanation, that’s always fun.

puppieskittenscapes: Well, if you need an explanation, here it is: people are a lot more likely to try to assign criminal backgrounds to xoc than white extranormals, especially when it comes to public figures. Especially popular is, as in the redemption arcs you write, the fetishization of suffering, often making these characters more like caricatures, ‘forced’ into whatever stereotypical background you think makes the most sense for them having no choice but to become criminals.

smokebombshell: Actually, a lot of people are criminals. In fact, a lot of people DON’T have any choice except turning to crime, and guess what, a lot of poor people aren’t white, or did you forget that fact? I don’t know about you, but that sounds kind of racist to me. Maybe you forgot that Smoke is my favorite cape, or is that RACIST because I’m white?

puppieskittenscapes: Let’s leave aside the fact that you clearly didn’t read anything I just said, and I’ll remind you that Smoke is an ACTUAL PERSON who exists in ACTUAL REAL LIFE and therefore assigning him a criminal background when, by the looks of it, he entered the army by either enlisting at eighteen or through Fort Hudson, then entered law enforcement, is KIND OF FUCKING WEIRD.

smokebombshell: You don’t know any better than I do, so what makes your opinion more valid than mine? Oh, I forgot, its cause I’m white and you’re black, so you know everything. Whateve. If you people don’t want me here, then I’ll fuckng leave, how about that? This archive sucks lately. No one will even let you talk about a cape’d HYPOTHETICAL background.

puppieskittenscapes: so…what were we saying about Black as Night?

nulloferised: I don’t know if he necessarily would’ve had time, but I think Smoke could’ve worked for them sometime before he joined the army. Their motto and stuff is pretty in line with what he’s made for public statements (but that doesn’t really mean anything tho). I don’t actually think he did, but it might make a cool story.

houdinimangosalsa: I liket hat a lot, actually. Is this going to be an alterenate timeline thing, or is it something he did before but he’s hiding it, or what?

genderfluidsassykitten: I’m voting for he’s moved on, but there’s a mystery and/or love interest draggin him back into old political entanglements.

nulloferised: I had an idea for it that was like, what if our Smoke met a different Smoke (I was going to go with parallel Smoke, but now I have a really good idea for alternate timeline shananegins) and then they had to team up. No romance.

magicmirror420: okay but you’re wasting a perfect opportunity for Smoke to make out with his double and you know he would

nulloferised: haha, thsi would really be his alternate timeline self, so I think that would be selfcest and I can’t really write that, but you totally should if you want to. I think I might do the thing Kit said about rekindling an old love interest if it gets very long, if anyone’s interested in me writing it.

genderfluidsassykitten: I’d read it.

houdinimangosalsa: yeah write it

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Underdressed

Vector shows up in an extravagant red gown, made out of something simultaneously velvety and reflective, and a king’s ransom in sparkly accessories. I look her up and down, trying to formulate a response to the sudden opulence.

“Did I miss something?” I ask.

She wraps an arm around my plebeian shoulders as I lock the door behind me. “Why, whatever do you mean, Travis, I always dress this way.”

I tug on my jean jacket. “I feel extremely underdressed.”

“For sandwiches?” she says, with an eyeroll, “there’s not even indoor seating there.”

Well, that explains the stole, anyway.

She laughs at me. “Are you going to ask?”

“No,” I say, offering her my arm, “no, I’m just going to pretend this all makes sense, and I’m not a) having some sort of hallucination, b) in the middle of a prank show, or c) extremely confused about the way that social norms function in the society I’ve lived in all my life.”

“Why,” she says, “is it not normal to show up in an evening gown when you hit someone up to get fast food with you twenty minutes ago?”

“I am literally not sure anymore,” I tell her.

She laughs, and I pretty much resign myself to not getting an explanation from her at any point. Of course, when we get to the sandwich place, it turns out to have a falafel sandwich, at which point I order that and completely forget my confusion for a blissful several minutes, until I get to the table Julia’s snagged, where she continues to be wearing that baffling outfit.

“Our fries will be done in a few minutes,” I say, slowly.

She beams at me above her egg salad.

I sit in silence for a moment, contemplating mostly my food and not so much her dress anymore. The hummus is amazing, and flavored with something I can’t quite put my finger on, even if the falafel themselves are boring and a little bit dry. Okay, except maybe the fact that it looks kind of purple instead of red out here in different lighting, what the hell even is that fabric? Is it alien? Is it some kind of experimental stealth technology? Is it –

“I was on a date,” she says.

“What?” I ask, with my mouth full of sandwich.

“Well, you were going to hold out possibly literally forever,” she says, “and I need to vent, so apparently I have to bring it up myself.”

“Oh,” I say, “okay then.”

“You know how I love ballroom dance?” she asks.

I nod, despite the fact that this explains only the style and not remotely the material.

“So, I figure,” she says, wiggling her fingers, “he’s kind of a smarmy douchebag, but he says he’ll take me dancing, some historical building, fun food, fun drinks, pretend we’re old-timey.”

I make a face. “A little too old timey?”

“Too old timey,” she agrees, with an eyeroll. “He started in immediately on how many kids I was going to have and how would I raise them.”

“So you threw a drink at him?” I ask.

She grins. “I actually upended his entire dinner into his lap and took off.”

I hi-five her, pause to go pick up our fries, and when I get back with them, ask her, “so you texted me on your way to get replacement food because you realized I live nearby?”

“What? No,” she says, “I texted you from home, Travis.”

I look at her dress again, wondering if I missed something.

“Do you know how long it took me to get this pretty, Travis, it was not easy, it took me a long time, and I’m going to have more to show for it than a quick set of selfies, damn it.” She shakes her head and brandishes a fry at me.

“I kind of,” I tell her, “don’t particularly want to dance, though.”

She shrugs. “The dancing kind of got ruined, anyway. Doesn’t matter. Let’s go see a movie or something. I don’t know. I need to do something while I look this good, fuck.”

“You do look very pretty,” I tell her.

She grins and turns her head slightly. “Fucking A. Did you see this hair clip?”

I look dutifully at it, although it really just looks like a clip with rocks on it. I mean, it’s a similar kind of red-purple to the dress, but that’s kind of more normal for gemstones. “Nice,” I say.

“It took me ages to get the curls right,” she says, with a sigh, finishing off her sandwich, and tossing the crumpled paper into a trash can on the other side of the seating area.

She stands up and bows as several people clap.

“Don’t look now,” I say, pushing the fries in her direction, “but at least one person was filming that, so I think your outfit is a success.”

“Sweet,” she says, munching on fries. “Why were they filming?”

“Initially, I’m pretty sure they were trying to film that, actually,” I say, pointing to a group of pigeons having a board meeting of some sort.

She stares at them for a minute. “The animals in this city are weird.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I think it’s all the cars. The exhaust fumes get to them.”

“That would imply mountain animals aren’t weird,” she says.

I shrug. “The only animals I’ve seen on mountains are pets.”

“I’ve been hiking,” she tells me, “trust me, wildlife out in the great outdoors are also weird as hell. One time I saw a bunch of squirrels playing hopscotch with acorns or something.”

“Animals, man,” I say.

She nods. “Next thing you know, some species is going to go around starting to build buildings in places, and invent literature and art, and start creating laws.”

“Can you imagine,” I say, “some of them dressing up in bright costumes, flying around after other ones in also sort of bright but differently shaded costumes.”

“Yup,” she says, “let’s face it, some species are just strange.”

“So strange,” I agree.

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Barbershop

I drop the magazine back on the table when I hear my name called, walking over to settle into the chair. The barber tucks a towel into the back of my shirt and I try not to fidget. I hate being tired enough that my skin just maintains that itchy crawly feeling all day.

“Just a trim?” the barber asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Same haircut as before?” he asks, waving a hand slightly, “you want it a little shorter in the back, or are you growing that out?”

I stifle a sigh. I knew I waited too long to get a haircut. When he looks at me expectantly, I clear my throat and say, “yeah, shorter in the back. Shave the edges off.”

He nods, and starts trimming my hair. He purses his lips at it. “What are you, washing this every day? You know you can’t wash your hair every day, kiddo. Dries it out.”

“Yeah,” I say, cursing out Darren’s cheap shitty shampoo, “I know.”

“Mm,” he says, and continues to work in silence for a while.

I close my eyes, listening to the quiet radio in the background.

“So, what’s your major?” he asks me.

I open my eyes again. “Huh?”

“You in college right now?” he clarifies.

“History,” I say, not really wanting to bother correcting him.

“Oh, that’s fun,” he says, nodding as he brushes away some stray hairs, “anything in particular, or are you still in introductory courses?”

How the fuck young does he think I am? “Extranormal Studies,” I say, and think better of it only after the words are already out of my mouth. Well, great. I may be able to prevent myself from zoning out, but there’s no superpower to engage a filter when you talk faster than you think.

He takes it in stride, though. “Interesting. Too much math for me, I’m afraid, I was always more of an art history person. You concentrate a lot on World War Two?”

“Mostly World War One,” I say, relaxing back into the chair. “That’s when a lot of the standards were set, and the earliest actual studies. Two was mostly for the terminology shift.”

“Oh?” he says, “I thought they did a lot of experiments then.”

“Well, if by experiments you mean flailing and saying ‘maybe this’ll work’, then sure,” I tell him, “but the notes are notoriously bad, and even the useful ones had to be recreated.”

“Sure,” he says, “got to be hard to keep notes during wartime.”

“Yup,” I say, “we even lost a lot of what we did have, for one reason or another.”

He chuckles. “Too bad we don’t have time travel. I remember when folks started showing up jumping back and forth a couple minutes at a time, we thought we’d develop a whole thing.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “too bad.”

“It’d be fun,” he says, “go back, save lost notes, lost artwork, lost historical figures, go back and study cultures we have no record of.”

“Get some extinct animals,” I offer. “Dodo birds or something.”

He laughs. “That would be a great craze, all the kids asking for their new pet birds for Christmas – of course people would probably start farming them if they really are that delicious.”

“I would definitely keep a pet dodo,” I say, thinking of how ridiculous Darren would get over that. I don’t think people get more excited than Darren contemplating weird birds.

“I mean, dumb and friendly,” the barber says, taking a straight razor to the back of my neck, “great for a pet. Ends up liking you without destroying everything you own to find the treats.”

“You have a cat, don’t you?” I ask.

He grins at me. “Two, actually. They love each other. Me? I don’t know. They spend most of their time conspiring against me. I have to hide string everywhere.”

“Why, is that what they’re looking for?” I ask.

“No, but it sure distracts them,” he offers, “looking for some, I don’t know, salmon or something, find a ball of twine, boom, instant cat-defuser.”

“For how long?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Sometimes a couple hours, but always at least fifteen minutes, by which point, if I’m home, I’ll have noticed what they’re trying to get into.”

I picture the poor guy’s apartment when he gets home every day. “What about when you’re not there, though?”

“Well,” he laughs, “I just have to hope the child locks hold, you know? I try to put their enrichment objects well away from the kitchen.”

I laugh, too. That’s the exact trick Priscilla tried on their cat, which never, ever worked.

“You want it a little shorter?” he asks, handing me a hand mirror.

I look at the front, which looks good, and the back, which is maybe a little too long, but not enough too long to bother trimming it down anymore. The corners are nicely rounded off, anyway, which is the important part, with all the itchy little hairs at the back of my neck shaved away. I grin at myself in the mirror, which seems a little forced, but whatever.

“Looks good,” I say, “thanks.”

“Wonderful,” he says, and gestures at the counter, “you pay over there.”

I stretch when I stand up, and walk through the small display. I’m happy to see my normal shampoo again. I pick up a bottle and head over to the checkout, tempted to buy a magazine just because the covers are so nice, despite the fact that I’ve never felt the urge to read a whole magazine about hair in my entire life. That is some spectacular hair and amazing photography, though.

The cashier, yet another stressed looking teenager, runs my card and offers me a receipt to sign, vacillating between handing it directly to me and sliding it across the counter. I miss my old barbershop. I don’t know why they had to go and move.

A finger taps at my receipt just before I sign it. “Tip.”

Well, that’s a good point. I don’t even have cash on me, I don’t think.

“Study hard,” the barber calls, heading into the back.

I give him a good tip anyway.

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Bowling

“Where’s Hannah?” I ask, changing my shoes.

“New kid,” Magnet says, crunching on a chip.

Chris tries to hand me a soda the size of my head. “Latched onto her like, what, a barnacle or something – he’s from the East Coast, too.”

“Limpet,” Magnet says. “You mean limpets.”

“That’s – basically the same, right?” Chris shakes the soda at me, “fuck’s sake Fox, just take it, you know you’re going to drink it anyway.”

I take it. It’s an alarming shade of blue. “Is she going to turn up at some point, just late? Should we save a spot for the new kid or something?”

“No, it’s fine,” Chris says, “do one lane by hand and the other TK or something.”

“I’ve missed your TK,” Magnet confesses, “new kid’s manifested, but he’s got the whole predator package, you know, sense of smell and urge to growl.”

“Wears cat ears,” Chris adds.

“Just generally?” I ask.

Magnet laughs. “I’m pretty sure he’s trying to convince them to let him go mask, but I like to imagine he actually forgets he’s got them on.”

I take a long draught of my blue raspberry soda monstrosity, and then step up to the lanes, hefting the balls until I find one with the right balance, cradling it in my hands. Then I pick out another one that doesn’t have the kind of ridges that agitate my telekinesis, which takes me quite a bit longer, because your average bowling ball is not made to be TK friendly, and float it over to the other lane. To kind of a lot of good-natured ribbing (shouted), I toss both at once.

They head into the gutter simultaneously.

Chris grabs a ball (at random, as far as I can tell) and hurls it down one of the lanes, giving a satisfied nod when it knock over half the pins. Magnet, for his part, quickly finishes up his nachos, and pulls out his own bowling ball. (The purple alien, today. I wonder why. It’s been a while since he used that one – I thought he’d retired it.) He rolls it not quite into the gutter, which he does a fist pump for, even though it only hits one pin.

Of course, then that pin spins the fuck around knocking down every single other pin, at which point Magnet jabs his other fist into the air and starts doing a victory dance.

Chris snorts, and takes a sip of – oh, god, he got the awful blue soda, too. “Are you entirely sure you’re still latent, Magnet?”

Magnet shrugs. “Last test was inconclusive.”

I nod sagely. “Ah, so this is your new power at work.”

“Could be,” he says, wide eyed, and when Chris tries to interrupt, “no, I’m still latent, I’m just a fucking badass bowler, fuck you guys. I own like ten bowling balls.”

“And a pair of shoes,” I add.

Magnet jerks a thumb at me. “Like this guy said. And shoes.”

Chris glances down at his own shoes pointedly, then they both laugh at mine. Thanks, guys.

I stand up again, picking out the same balls as last time, when a shout from behind me almost makes me drop both of them.

“Finally ditched him!” Hannah says, hi-fiving me with both hands.

For a moment, I’m caught hovering two bowling balls in the air, and really, the one with better balance is hell on my TK. I don’t even know what going on with its surface. I snatch it back two-handed, and manage to stub both my thumbs. “Hey, Hannah. Nice to see you succeeded in getting rid of…cat dude. You’re almost on time.”

“Travis!” she says.

“Hannah!” I say.

She grins. “No. Catboy is Travis.”

“What? That’s a terrible nickname,” I inform her.

“Oh, I know, we’re not keeping it,” she tells me, picking up the ball hovering over the other lane. “Wait, what the hell, Fox, this thing has the worst balance ever.”

“I mostly picked it because it was blue,” I tell her, shrugging and gesturing at my drink.

She stares at the drink for a minute, stares back at the comparably blue bowling ball, then puts it back with the rest, looking through her other choices. I feel a heavy, dramatic surge of disappointment that I won’t be able to try bowling two at a time again, because I was definitely getting the hang of it, and definitely would’ve done it right this time. My moment, cruelly ripped away, seconds before I would’ve acted. I toss mine all by its lonesome down the other lane and knock over two pins.

Hannah finally decides. “Blue enough?”

We all stare at the grayish orb, Magnet finally pronouncing, “no. Terrible.”

“That’s silver at best,” Chris agrees.

“Even if it were blue, it’s not very bright,” I add.

Hannah grins. “Suck it, haters!” The clash of pins reverberates.

“Cool,” Magnet says, taking a sip of a much more normal looking drink, what the hell, Magnet, I want one, “now we’re tied.”

Hannah whips around, narrowing her eyes. “If that’s a joke, that’s not funny.”

We all point to the scoreboard. She looks at it, then rolls her eyes, muttering that of course he would, because that’s chaos for you. He grins at her.

“So, where’d you dump the kid?” Chris asks.

She waves a hand. “I sent him on a walking tour. Said it was important to get to know the city. Assuming he doesn’t get mugged or kidnapped, it’ll do him some good. Can I have some of that?”

Magnet hands her the ginger ale instead. “This one. Trust me. Where’s he going?”

“Oh, I have no idea,” Hannah says, sipping on a soda that I should trade her for, I mean, she wanted the blue one, anyway, “I figured he’d notice touristy bullshit. I think it was the illuminati.”

“You sent him to the illuminati?” Chris gasps, almost covering himself in blue dye as he presses his drink to his chest.

“I wish the illuminati had organized the tour,” she gripes, “then at least I’d want to listen to his story once he got back. No, I think it’s about how they…built the city or something, I don’t know.”

“But not to convince you to join their cause?” Magnet asks.

Hannah shrugs. “I think it’s just some conspiracy nuts. They may also be trying to get you to save the environment or something, you know, go vegan, worship Satan, collect vintage plates.”

“Oh, well, then,” Chris says, “at least we’ll have something to eat the vegan finger foods off.”

“Was that supposed to be a pun?” Magnet snaps, “fuck you, Chris, fuck you so hard. You suck at puns, you are a fucking stain on the English language, you have got to be shitting me if –”

“I don’t think Satan eats fingers, anyway,” I add, amidst the swearing.

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