"Until we know how dangerous she is, I can't chance that," Dev answered. "Shine might be the main target, but if I know the Council, they'll use the opportunity to hurt anyone they can. DarkRiver is a real thorn in their side." All true. But there was another truth - in asking him to end her life, Katya had put that life in his hands - he'd allow no one else to interfere. "I'll let you know if we find anything more."
Dev had just hung up when Glen paged him down to the medical floor. "She's ready to be discharged," the doctor told Dev as soon as he arrived. "I've given her several bottles of supplements - combine those with a steady diet and she should bounce back fairly quickly."
Dev's shoulders tensed as he was reminded of exactly how badly she'd been treated, but he made himself focus on the issue at hand. "Any indications of her abilities?"
"According to the tests we've run, she's midlevel in terms of strength. Can't yet tell you what type of ability she has, but what I can tell you is that she doesn't appear to be accessing it at present."
That lowered the level of threat, but - "We need to keep her close until we figure out why she was sent in."
"I can't justify holding her down here." Glen's boyish face set in stubborn lines that might've surprised many. "It's a nice-enough clinic, but she needs sunlight, fresh air."
"I can't set her free, Glen, you know that." Yeah, it made him feel like a bastard, but his ability to be a bastard was why he'd been chosen as director. Metal was his gift, and perhaps his curse, but that growing layer of metallic ice meant he didn't hesitate to do what needed to be done.
The doctor pinched his nose. "The Hippocratic oath doesn't differentiate between friend and enemy."
"I know. That's why you have me." Squeezing the other man's shoulder, he turned toward Katya's room.
"Dev." Glen's expression was troubled when Dev looked back at him. "You can't keep being responsible for all the tough decisions."
"I made that choice when I took the job." Or perhaps he'd made it decades ago, the day the cops found him lying half-broken in the corner of his parents' bedroom. That was the day he'd first felt the metal, first begun to sense the cold intelligence of the machines around him.
Glen shook his head. "It doesn't have to be you. Shine has a board."
Yes, it did. And that board was now made up of men and women who wouldn't simply look the other away when reality became too harsh, too uncomfortable. But - "A good leader never asks his troops to do anything he can't." Shifting on his heel, he said, "Go home, Glen. Get some sleep."
"Not until I know what you're going to do with her."
That was when Dev realized Glen didn't trust him to not hurt the woman who, by her simple existence, her survival, reached parts of him he preferred to leave in darkness. It was a blow . . . and it showed just how much he'd changed from the man Glen had first called friend. "I'm not that far gone yet," he said softly.
"No . . . not yet," the doctor echoed as Dev crossed the doorway into Katya's room.
He found her sitting on the bed dressed in a new pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt, having thrown on a heavy gray sweatshirt over the top. Her shoulder-length hair had been plaited into a tight French braid, and there were out-of-the-box-white sneakers on her feet. Her lips lifted in a tentative smile when she saw him. "Hi."
And that quickly, the metal threatened to retreat, to leave him wide open to the raging protectiveness that slammed into his skin with brutal force. "Where're your boots, your coat?" he asked, and the words were hard.
"In here." Smile fading, she patted a khaki-colored duffel with a quietly possessive hand. "Thank you for the clothes. And the other things."
"Maggie bought them." He jerked his head toward the door as he reached for her bag. "Come on, you're leaving this place."
She tugged the bag away from him. "Where are you going to take me?" The finest thread of steel.
Not that surprised, he dropped his hand. "For now, to my place in Vermont."
"What about your work?"
He looked into that still-pale face, wondering if the question was simple curiosity or something far more sinister. However, the answer wasn't exactly a state secret. "I can handle things remotely." His team was solid, used to working with him regardless of location. "If necessary, I can commute." Shine had access to several jet-choppers, but Dev preferred to drive most of the time - the trip took less than three hours in a high-speed vehicle, and it gave him time to think free of distractions.
"Why?" Katya's eyes were crystal clear as they met his, each shard - brown, green, yellow - perfectly defined. "Why not just dump me on someone else?"
"Because I don't know how big a threat you are," he answered, and it was a truth. She had no need to know about the complex, unwanted emotions she aroused, the buried memories she unearthed. "You'll be staying with me until I can figure out what to do with you."
"You could let me go." Her fingers curled on top of the duffel.
"So I'm a prisoner again."
The point hit hard, stabbing into the core of honor he'd somehow managed to retain. He wondered if it would still be there after this was all over. "No, you're the enemy." This time, he took the duffel without waiting for her agreement.
Katya watched the broad wall of Dev's retreating back and forced herself to get off the bed. For the first time since she'd woken in this place, she felt not fear, not terror, not worry. Instead, something else burned in her, a hot and sharp and violent thing.