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Welcome Distractions

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One of the earliest lessons is that perfection lies within. The world is rough and unpolished, so the mind must be as sharp as diamond. The world will bend, as long as the Psy does not.

The logical corollary is that the Psy mind is perfect in its isolation, unfettered by any deep connections to other rough, unpolished people. Nikita does not question it until after rising to the Council, and sees for herself the emphasis placed on this truth. Truth speaks for itself; lies need embellishment.

She does not understand until the first time Anthony's mind opens to her, truly opens, beyond a superficial touch.

It happens without calculation. They've spoken privately during Council sessions; by themselves, in the forests. Nikita is confident enough in her shields, and that Anthony will gain nothing from her death, that they've switched to conversing mentally. It is so much more efficient.

It happens, as many things do, when they discuss their plans.

What does your niece see? she asks.

Is is easier to show you, Anthony tells her.

She expects a push of information for her to pluck. Instead, the connection to Anthony's mind deepens further, and after a moment, considering, she lets hers open too.

Violence. Blood. Fire arcing over snow; soldiers pouring into San Francisco. Her, on the highest floor of her tower, sighting the enemy on the streets below, and shattering their minds with a lance of power. Layers of disordered images, overlaid with Anthony's faint commentary about what he received from which of his F-Psy.

There's a jolt from Anthony's side of the connection. It feels like surprise should. She catches a glimpse further not just of Anthony's thoughts, but of him. His mind is well ordered, deep like the vast spaces of the PsyNet, and it is as soothing as watching the city beneath her window.

Thank you, she says, and steps back.

It happens, and then happens again.

She wonders what he sees in her mind.

The first time they physically touch is an accident, and that is disturbing enough.

The Pure Psy have scattered, their attack on San Francisco utter failure. Nikita sits at her desk, flicking through reports on her organizer so she can tabulate her losses. They are not insubstantial. Financial holdings strangled; company warehouses destroyed; staff members reported missing. They are worth the gains she has made, for her chosen path forward.

Sascha's image forms in her mind, slow. After all these years, Nikita knows better than to try and push it away; it is easier to breathe in, and let it pass again.

Light reflects off the surface of the organizer, obscuring its text. She rises and turns to face the wide planed windows; is is time to change position, to keep her body competent.

A familiar touch on her mind. Anthony. She opens their connection.

Do you have ten minutes? I need to redistribute my soldiers.

His message, as it seems to these days, comes with more than words. She can feel him outside the door to her office; his words are no less clear than usual, but they're less cutting, the way Anthony tends to get at the end of twenty-hour days, when the body can no longer stand the mind's demand.

A verbal order, and her door opens. He does not hesitate. He comes to stand beside her, and their organizers begin exchanging the less important data files once her door is again secure.

There were reports of soldiers outside this building, he says, as though they hadn't both been prewarned from his F-Psy. Your defences are impressive.

They are adequate, she says. The Pure Psy were not nearly strong enough to test me. How are your compounds?

Nikita has received reports, of course, but more information is always better, and there are some things her spies would not have seen.

We have no losses among the F-Psy, he says.

Nikita waits. Anthony's mind shifts with his understanding; physically, he does not twitch. Yes, she wants more information. He arrived at the tower expecting unbarred entry, expecting it would not be a waste of time if she were otherwise occupied and would not meet. She needs something more from him too.

The mental spirals were fewer than predicted, he adds, which is not precisely what Nikita had been asking. One of my TPs proposed that the F-Psy join their minds to promote stability. No one would spiral without being seen. It seems to have worked.

She could press again, but she has other priorities, so she pulls the torrent of more sensitive information he's brought up for exchange, and he does the same. Some things cannot be trusted to wireless connections; they've spoken enough, exchanged enough complex information, and the logical route would be to use their connection to transmit it instead.

There are shades of gunpowder and smoke in the information, a memory of an unused compound exploding under Psy attack, and Nikita has planned too many attacks like those to flinch. She is more tired than she thought from the fighting, though, because the stream of information from her mind wavers.

His fingers brush against her elbow, a faint touch that burns through cloth. It is a shock, that lick of heat, that sense of contact creeping up her arm.

Nikita has dealt with many unexpected things. She feels it, lets it rise, and lets it fall away.

Anthony's eyes are on hers. He doesn't look away until she does.

Their connection is not always open, no matter what Sascha clearly thinks, glancing at Anthony, then returning to her.

Sascha's shields are beyond compare, but it's harder to defy knowledge and experience. Nikita knows her daughter. She knows the quirk of her lips, and after two years, has filed away the way Sascha and Lucas Hunter share smiles -- a non-threatening exchange of information. Sascha has smiled like that more often over the last several months, during their meetings.

It is practical that she and Anthony communicate swiftly. Their soldiers are few, and need to stretch over shared territory; they both receive sensitive information at all hours of the night, and it is more efficient if the other knows of it. When there is no need, the connection is silent, a dark thread that she can reach in a fraction of an instant, but otherwise closed.

Sophia wonders, too. She does not smile as easily as Sascha, but Nikita hears her more often. When she visits Anthony, or Anthony visits her, Sophia's voice is pitched at a higher frequency even as the volume is softer. It is what humans would call teasing.

Nikita does not bother to find out what anyone else thinks.

It is of no consequence.

The next time their mental connection deepens, months later, it is not an accident, and Nikita is weight down by too much physical agony to consider it from every angle.

He orders her to sleep, to forget the lacerations of glass across her body, and most of his message is outside the words: he is firm, and honest in his hardness, and there isn't the faintest hint of malevolence in what he says.

She does it. She sleeps.

The next time they touch physically, it is not an accident, and it happens after thorough calculation.

Her body still suffers from phantom aches, too many for her mind to obliterate, but she is physically well. She leaves Sophia to speak with one of Anthony's people -- Sophia does not protest -- and walks with Anthony instead. They move deeper into his compound, past the rows of featureless rooms, and into a small indoor garden filled with low lying rushes. It's lit like the early morning sky, the most productive time of day. Wooden seats are laid in a circle around a pond where nothing grows. It is as still and soothing as Anthony's mind.

She has never visited this room before. She thinks he might know why she's here.

"You told me to trust you," Nikita says. He will remember to what she refers. She's found it hard to forget.

"You want me to do the same," says Anthony.


She remembers, too, the first time she saw Sophia distracted, and read her face without effort. How much easier it is now to mark the cues of the different kinds of Changeling smiles, with teeth or without. She remembers how his voice was something else to hold onto when aches wracked her body, though Nikita never told him.

Nikita uses every weapon at her disposal. She cannot afford to ignore this, which could bring her greater strength, even if there is risk. She does not want to.

"Touch," Anthony offers, "is a distraction."

She holds out her hand, waiting.

And the tips of their fingers touch. The sensation is heavier this time, warmth turning into a slow burn, and spreading from where they are skin to skin to fill her entire body.

It is indeed distracting.