"Will it all come back on you? On Shine?"
"No, baby." He moved his body closer around hers, hating to see her like this, so quiet, so shattered. "This is simply another chapter in a war we've been fighting since my ancestors dropped from the Net. It's just out in the open now."
"Are you mad at me?"
"Yes." He could still remember the sheer panic he'd felt at being trapped in the car while she stood so close to Ming. "You weren't supposed to actually knock me out." The dose had been small - he'd started to come out of it even as they peeled out of the first meeting spot, but the injector had been meant to be empty.
"Because I know how thorough Ming is," she said, her fingers curling into his T-shirt right over his heart. "He'd never have missed that. I had to make him think I'd pulled off the ultimate double cross, made you believe I cared for you . . . then delivered you up to save my own life."
"And he's so sure of his power, he didn't bother to look beyond the surface."
"No." A tight smile. "I'm nothing to him - he can't comprehend that I might have a mind of my own."
He locked his arms behind her, his fingers clenched. "Where did you get the gun?"
She'd wondered when he'd ask her that question. "Guess."
"Yes." Katya had expected an immediate "no" to her request. Instead Kiran Santos had looked into her eyes for a long moment before reaching into her purse and retrieving the weapon. "At first, I couldn't believe she trusted me, then I realized it's you she trusts." She spread her fingers over his heartbeat. "Will you tell me about why locks open for you?"
"Figured that out, did you?" A lighthearted comment, and yet his soul went cold. Because if she was asking him for secrets . . . "No."
"Please - I'm so curious."
And because he could deny her nothing, he told her about his affinity to metal. "At first, it was just metal. I could sense it, feel it, taste it. The chill of it keeps me calm when everyone else is exploding." Except with her. Never had it worked with her. "As I grew older, I found I could manipulate objects with metallic components, like deadbolts."
"Did it develop further?"
"This year," he said, "I've begun to 'connect' with machines that have very few metallic components - I'm talking a single circuit. I can now command computers on a basic level, such as those in cars. In time, I might literally be able to 'talk' to much more sophisticated systems - Glen and Connor think it's possible I could grow beyond the need for metal altogether."
"Extraordinary," she whispered. "You're developing the ability to interface with machines on the mental level." For an instant, the pain receded from her voice as the scientist took over. "It's a skill specific to the technological age."
"That's what the docs say." Releasing the death grip he had on his own hands, he cupped the back of her head, stroked her nape. "Want to see a cool trick?"
A little nod, weak, too weak. Pain shot along his jaw, down his spine, but he didn't let the emotions out, didn't break when she needed him to stay strong. "Watch." Focusing, he drew metal to him.
"Oh!" Katya ducked as a small metal sculpture attached itself to his arm. "You're magnetic?"
"No." He pulled the sculpture off, placing it on a nearby table. "Though the effect is the same. You should see me with spoons."
A smile that tried so hard to hold on. But he knew. "Katya?"
"I'm so sorry, Dev." She blinked in a rapid burst. "I can't feel my lower legs anymore."
His entire body jerked. "No. Not yet."
"Not yet," she agreed. She couldn't let him go. "We don't have to worry about any other embedded compulsions - I'm not strong enough to be dangerous."
"Ming?" A single harsh word.
"As long as Ming's unconscious, his Arrows won't be able to find me. He did too good a job of hiding me." She'd been his pet project, his little perversion. "But when he wakes - "
Dev kissed her, halting her words. She surrendered, more than willing to delay the inevitable. Just a few more days, she thought, a few more hours with this man she adored to the deepest core of her soul.
Dev wanted only to hold Katya every second of every minute, but the director of the Shine Foundation didn't have that luxury. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he told her the next morning as she lay curled up on the sofa in the sunroom of his Vermont home.
"Don't worry. I'll be fine." She glanced toward the hallway. "Your friend Connor will be here."
"I can't leave you alone when you're so getting so weak," he said. "Don't ask me to."
"According to your grandmother, I should disagree with you on principle, but you already have bags under your eyes." Lifting a hand, she placed her fingers on his pulse in that way she had. "I'll be waiting for you."
He kept that promise close to his heart as he walked out the door. Cutting the travel time short by using a jet-chopper instead of driving, he arrived in New York twenty minutes later. His first task was to check in with Cruz. He'd talked to the boy on his cell phone a couple of days back, but it was good to see that dimpled smile on-screen.
"He's even starting to like me," Tag said when Dev transferred over to Cruz's current guardian.
"You okay on your own?"
"Cruz is behaving. And Ti'll be back after the meeting today." A pause. "Good luck, man."