Connor flew in from Manhattan later that day and hooked up a feeding tube. "Take this out when you're ready," the doctor said before he left. "She'll slip away without pain."
Leaving Connor to make his own way out, Dev crawled into bed beside her. She was so warm, her heartbeat so strong, it seemed possible she'd wake at any moment. But he knew that was a cruel lie. Still he couldn't help hoping.
And though he wanted to keep her only to himself, when Ashaya rang two hours later, having heard what had happened through Tag, he knew he couldn't. "Okay," he said to her request for permission to come say good-bye.
He spent the night holding Katya, trying to find the courage to let her go.
His grandparents drove in before dawn. "My Devraj." Walking to Katya's side of the bed, his nani took off the ring she'd worn on her wedding finger since the day his grandfather proposed. Her withheld tears glittered diamond bright as she handed it to him. "Here."
Accepting the gift, he slid it gently onto Katya's ring finger. "She told me she wanted to be you when she grew up," he found the voice to say, forcing himself to rise from the bed. "Are there messages for me?" It was a hollow question.
"Aubry and Maggie have everything in hand. Your nana and Marty will take care of what they can't." A tender hand passing over his hair. "This time is yours."
Ashaya and Dorian arrived not long afterward, bringing both Keenan and his "girlfriend" Noor. "They're inseparable," Ashaya said to him, as if afraid he'd mind.
"It's good to have them here," he said, glad for the sound of laughter, of life around Katya.
Sascha Duncan had flown in, too, Lucas by her side. Dev knew the empath had come for him, to help him, but he didn't want any help, didn't want to hurt any less. "Cruz?" he asked Sascha.
"He's starting to hold his shields," the empath told him. "I think he'll be fine."
"Good." Leaving Sascha, he returned to Katya, wanting to tell her about the boy who'd helped her escape.
Ashaya found him there forty minutes later. "There's only one choice." The M-Psy's eyes were shimmering wet as she placed a tentative hand on his shoulder.
"I know." And his heart broke impossibly more with every hour that passed. "I just need a little more time to say good-bye."
Keenan and Noor ran into the room at that moment, skidding to a stop at the end of the bed. "She's sick?" Keenan asked, his face solemn.
Ashaya put her hand on her son's head. "Yes, sweetheart. She's very sick."
Little Noor went around Ashaya to pat Katya's hair, smoothing it out on the pillow. "She's Jon's friend."
"Yeah." Dev tried to smile for the girl, but couldn't quite make his lips move.
Ashaya picked Noor up and settled her in the curve of one arm, taking Keenan's hand with her free one. "Come on, babies. Let's leave Katya and Dev alone for a while."
Barely aware of the door closing, Dev lay down on the bed alongside the woman who held his soul, his heart, his everything. Her heart still beat, her breath still came, but her mind, that beautiful, sharp, courageous mind, was damaged beyond repair. She'd never wake now, but he could keep her alive for years on machines.
A sob shook his body.
How could he do that to her? To his laughing, spirited Katya? The truth was, he couldn't. He'd have to let her go, press a final kiss to her lips, and hope that heaven was real, that one day, he might look up, and there she'd be.
Ming LeBon lay severely injured in a sealed chamber accessible only to telekinetics with the ability to teleport - and the M-Psy they brought with them. It was meant to be the safest possible of all locations, since the Tks on the Arrow Squad would quickly take care of any intrusions.
"We could kill him now," Vasic said without inflection.
Aden nodded. "It wouldn't even take much effort."
Yet neither of them made the move.
"He dies," Vasic finally said, watching two M-Psy move carefully around the fallen Councilor, "it creates a vacuum."
"It'll destabilize the Net. No knowing who or what would fill that vacuum."
"You could." Aden was far more stable than Vasic, than any of the other Arrows. "We'd stand behind you." And no one - no one - had ever been able to withstand the combined might of the Arrow Squad.
"It's not time." Aden's almond-shaped eyes swept over Ming's body, and Vasic knew his fellow Arrow was noting every minor injury, every weakness. "We can't show our hand. We've lost enough men that there are a couple of Councilors who might be able to gather the resources to get in our way."
"Kaleb Krychek," Vasic said, "would've made an excellent Arrow."
"I checked his files." Aden was nothing if not thorough. "The public ones and the private ones I was able to hack into. He was considered for Arrow training - until Santano Enrique decided to make him his protege."
Santano Enrique, as Vasic knew, had turned out to be a sociopathic killer. It was meant to be a well-kept secret, but Arrows were shadows, impossible to trace or see. It was their job to know the Net's darkest truths. "Is he showing any signs of sociopathy?"
"None that I've been able to see - but he's on the far end of the Silence continuum."
"So are we." He stared at Ming. "We might be able to work with Kaleb."
"What makes him any different from Ming?" Aden asked. "He was an Arrow, and still he betrayed us."
"Kaleb has blood on his hands," Vasic replied, knowing too much about death himself, "but I haven't been able to find one instance of him eliminating an individual who'd remained loyal to him."