Okay, just gotta learn to do it on reflex, that’s all. I went through the motions of the saut de chat a couple times, then shifted into a Fouetté turne. It was there that I lost balance, only to catch myself in the air with my power. Dammit. Okay, better than last time, try it again. I righted myself, then began the routine again.
I allowed myself to do a few spins using muscle memory installed in me from such a young age that I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t know how perform them, and had no problems. Then I switched over to relying on my power for the movements, got about halfway through one more turn, and tumbled into the air yet again. I halted my spin about six feet above the ground.
AmusementDismissive. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one in Swan Lake.” Cecelia stepped out from the tree line. I declined to mention that I was trying to do La Bayadere before I gave up on anything more complex than a few steps. “What I can’t figure out is why you’re doing ballet instead of something you can use in a fight.”
I righted myself, then dropped to the ground. “I was taught martial arts for utility, rather than as an art in its own right, and that is usually reactive. They attack, you counter, all freeform or short routines. I wanted something formulaic, with lots of specific routine memorization. Hour long choreographed dance routines seem like they’ll do the job better.” Not that it made much difference. “Besides, ballet has more variety of moves, since it doesn’t need to be practical in combat.”
SatisfiedCurious. “You know, you’re putting an awful lot of faith in Domenic’s theories. He could be wrong.”
I couldn’t help but smirk at her, and the thin sheen of sweat which covered her skin. While I had been trying to tap into using my power as a mental ability rather than physical, Cecelia was now endurance training the natural way, rather than cheating by shapeshifting. “He could be. Do you think he is?” Better to focus on that subject, rather than the my suspicion that she removed some of the padding from her workout clothes.
PleasedKnowing. She started to walk toward me as she talked. “Well, he did say I got the body, and the two of you got the brains. Some girls might feel insecure after hearing that.”
Cecelia felt quite the opposite of insecure, but I defended Domenic on reflex. “He didn’t say you weren’t smart, just that your power-”
“Oh, I’m fine with being the body. I mean, look at me,” she gestured across her body, giving permission for me to scan her admittedly gorgeous figure. TeasingVictory. “I was talking about you getting labeled for your brains.”
Oh. “Well, uh,” Domenic thinks I’m beautiful. More than him saying it, I knew because I could feel the way he looked at me. Even when Cecelia was there being flirtatious and unfairly attractive, his focus was on me, and that meant more than any words could. “That’s fine, I know I’m never going to be centerfold material, and it doesn’t bother me.”
FrustrationResignation. “Please, you’re a babe, you may as well accept it.” She leaned in close enough that her breath warmed my ear. “I can think of a few ways to prove it.”
Okay, that’s enough of that. I stepped away from her. “I think it’s about time to head into town, get my registration for school done.” As flattering as Cecelia’s ‘attention’ was, she was still responsible for a lot of horrible things up to and including my mother’s death. To say nothing of my relationship with Domenic. I was a lot of things, some of which may have horrified me even a few months ago, but I was not a cheat.
UncertaintyDread. “Let me suit up and I’ll come with.”
I hesitated for a moment; part of the plan was for me to meet up with Dom for a bit of private time, now that we knew Cecelia could be trusted alone for a while. An indulgence I’d been looking forward to more and more every time Cecelia pulled another tease. I set to work thinking up an excuse to keep her here while I rushed off to take care of business. “I’m just going to do some out of costume work.”
“So you’re going to fly across town without wearing your costume?” SmugVictory. Cecelia smirked at me. “Or are you going to risk both your identities by going in costume and letting him strip you?”
Yes. “No?” I knew then that I was defeated, and so did she. “Okay, you’re right, it was a dumb plan.” Well, there’s still a slim chance Dom and I can find a moment alone. I had little hope of it, however. “Let’s get cleaned up and fly into town.”
Our new showers were a godsend, though the system we had wired up came with no ability to heat said water and I wasn’t too eager to drink well water despite all assurances that it was safe. My power supplied the heat, and soon I was enjoying the luxury of a good shampoo. I ran my fingers through my hair, which was now lower than my shoulders. Hmm, I’ll need to get Domenic to help cut my hair soon. Maybe that’s the excuse we can use to get rid of Cecelia for a bit.
I skipped a towel, instead forcing the water to evaporate off my skin in the shower room. I skipped makeup, since the only products designed for people with glowing skin were both expensive and not sold in this city as far as I knew.
Cecelia was in costume by the time I’d finished. I slipped my outfit on, then Cecelia began the process or fusing it back together. “So you seem excited to back to school.”
Am I? I shrugged, in part to answer, and in part to test the flow of metal. We’d need Domenic to restore his part soon, before it returned to a pure solid and became a real pain to move in. “I guess I’m looking forward to some normalcy in life.” And internet access. “What about you?” I knew the moment I asked that it was a stupid question.
ResentmentHate. “Wouldn’t know. I was homeschooled.” Cecelia’s helmet shifted to cover her face. “Looks boring, anyway.”
What was that. I tried to find a way to ask Cecelia, but she’d already made her retreat to the exit of our base. I could only follow behind, unable to broach such a sensitive subject to her. I hovered behind her on the way out of what I came to think of as our ‘manhole’. Most of the time, when I was behind her, she’d put a provocative wiggle in her hips, but this time she just got out as fast as she could manage.
She was waiting when I got out, lightning dancing across the ‘membrane’ of her ‘wings’. They didn’t work, but they looked like something a Gadgeteer might cook up, and were good enough to generate lift at the speeds I flew. I opened my mouth. What are you running from? RefusalPleading. I closed my mouth again, until I could find a new set of words. “Well, nothing more to do here, let’s go.”
ReliefGratitude. I took her hand. Enough juice coursed into me to power a small house, which I used to propel us into the sky so fast we couldn’t hear one another over the roaring winds. We all had our baggage, and I wasn’t about to force Cecelia to unload hers on me, however much I wanted to.
We had to land several blocks from the school; much closer would have involved too great a risk of getting noticed. I put us down in a park which catered to the same sorts of people as the school and neighborhood: wealthy ones. Even without having lived in the woods for the last month, I could recognize the effort which went into keeping this strip of forest well managed, with minimal ivy or brier plants to ‘mar’ the ‘natural beauty’ with the chaotic mess of real nature.
Cecelia’s costume folded back, then slid off her before she did the same for me. I had to peel the leggings off, as they’d spent the last of Domenic’s influence during the flight. It was only through great care that I managed to remove them without destroying the jeans I had under the armor. AmusedKnowing. “Guess we’ll have to invite him back with us later.”
I smiled up at her. “Yeah, guess so.”
The walk was better for us than others, who had to endure the crushing summer heat. The ‘taste’ of the air was different, once we started into the city proper and my access to natural power faded. It startled me just how little energy I had to work with before having access to Dom and Cecelia to bolster my reserves. I avoided thinking about it too hard, since that path led to my family problems.
I noted Domenic’s grandmother’s car in the lot moments before his presence joined our emotions. It was like a windstorm had cleared in my mind, making me less agitated. I stopped and looked at Cecelia. “This is where we part ways, I guess.”
UnderstandingPatience. “Have fun.” Her eyes left mine. “Don’t worry, I think I’ll be out here taking in scenery.”
I followed her gaze straight to Anne’s backside, almost all of which was bare. Oh, there is no way she’ll get away with that. The fact that she was here with her father in an outfit that I’m not sure Beatrice would be brave enough to wear sent up a handful a red flags. I ran through what I knew of Anne, who seemed normal enough for a school like this one. Not the life of the party, but not a wallflower, either. “I… see…”
“I knew you’d understand.” Cecelia leaned back against one of the decorative stone pillars. “Oh, and don’t worry, it’s not what you’re thinking.”
Oh thank god. Cecelia’s senses were good enough that if there was a problem, we could trust her to see it long before Domenic or I did. “Well, have fun with that. Shouldn’t take more than half an hour.”
“Take your time. I am fine right here.” Fine is right. Cecelia wasn’t the only one looking; a number of guys and handful of girls gave more than a glance at the exotic bombshell.
“We’ll be back soon.” I walked for the doors as fast as I could, hoping to find Domenic as soon as possible. I could feel his anticipation, through the little band of metal he wore for us. The lines inside weren’t long, one benefit of an exclusive school which considered less than three hundred students to be ‘full capacity’. I didn’t see Domenic right away, which meant he was probably in a meeting to fill out the paperwork. I figured he’d either meet me in the hall after signup, or outside with Cecelia. I hoped for the former.
I went into the office for my paperwork. “Hey, Chloe. I’m sorry about your mother. Are you okay?”
I looked at the girl managing paperwork, a junior named Kathy. I corrected myself: this would be her senior year, now. She was a somewhat chubby brunette who both looked and acted like she was born to one day be a teacher, or host a cooking show on daytime television.
“I’m holding up. Some days, I can almost imagine I hear her voice.” Those days are the worst. LoveConcern SupportFocus. Right, I still have a mission to complete. “Hey, Kathy, do you think I can talk with Principal Reeves? I’ve got some special issues I need to sort out.”
“Well, she’s busy,” Kathy looked back at the door. “But, I’m sure she’ll understand.” Her smile was sweet, though I found the look of pity infuriating. I bit down my emotions, and allowed her to be nice for her sake while she reached for the intercom buttons. “Miss Reeves? Chloe needs to talk to you.”
We had to wait a minute before the principal opened her door. “Of course. Come in.”
“See you in class, Kathy.” I didn’t stop to listen as she offered a quick goodbye before moving on to the next applicants. I wanted to get through this as soon as possible, before I lost my nerve or got too mired in emotions and slipped up.
“You needed to see me?” Miss Reeves shifted the stack of paperwork aside when she sat down at her desk. It made sense; with as wealthy as these students’ parents were, a lot of stuff couldn’t be trusted to assistants. “Where’s your father?”
And here’s where it gets tricky. “Busy.” I paused, hoping my hesitation came across as natural. I called on my acting courses, and thoughts of mom, to evoke tears. The risk that they’d reveal my powers was there, but that was a lesser concern. “He… hasn’t been the same, since she died.”
Principal Reeves looked at my hands, where I was filling in the parts of the sheet dealing with basics like name and contact information while pretending to pay attention. Standard protocol would involve at least contacting Dad, and I wasn’t certain he’d go along with this charade enough to get me admitted. I had hoped she would ignore that in my case, but it didn’t seem she would. Plan B it is, then. “And I’ll need paperwork for an athletics exemption.”
Her eyes went back to mine. “I don’t understand, wouldn’t your mom want you to keep up in gymnastics?”
Translation: the school needs me as filler in competitions. I held no illusion that I was good enough to be better than that. “I’m afraid it’s a matter of law.” I drew on my power to absorb energy, and tapped into some of the charge Cecelia left behind. For a heartbeat, my eyes flashed both blue and orange, which would look purple for the brief moment before the light went out. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
“I…” Principal Reeves glanced at the door for a moment. “Of course I won’t. Thank you for feeling you could trust me. Let me get the papers.” She stood up and moved for one of the filing cabinets in the back. “I’ll grab the Outreach literature as well, so you don’t have to take one from the wall where someone might see.”
“Thank you.” Trust had little to do with it; if she revealed I had powers, her career was over. In fact, there was a chance she’d face prison time, though that was remote. As such, the risk was minor, and the payoff of her ignoring the fact that I registered without a guardian was more than worth it. “I’m not that strong.” Alone, at least. “But the law is the law no matter how much it sucks dick.”
“I’ll just let that slide, this time.” She returned to the desk with another set of papers and some silly propaganda pamphlets from Outreach that would serve better as toilet paper than a recruitment tool. “How long?”
“Near the end of the school year.” I chose to keep it vague, and she didn’t push the issue. I didn’t know if she knew how Retributive Imbuement worked, though she did have Imbued security on the payroll who could tell her. The process wasn’t well understood, even by those who knew it existed, but the open secret of Starfall and Amanda Harrison being one in the same would fill the blanks. “I promise, I won’t be running out of class to go fight crime or anything.” Because I’m under the threat of blackmail. “I just want to have a normal life.”
Principal Reeves smiled at me. “That’s a relief. You’re not exempt from truancy or delinquancy laws just because you have powers. In fact, nothing’s changed at all.”
Everything’s changed. “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
Then the loudspeaker kicked on.
“Attention students, guests, and faculty. Please make your way to the auditorium. This is not a drill. I repeat, everyone in the building please head to the auditorium immediately.”
The world around me turned black.