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“Taking off?” he asked.

“Yeah. Nathan’s here to get me.” I retrieved my bag from the hook by the door. “The kittens in the isolation room are fed, and all the boxes are scooped in all five rooms. You going to be okay without me for the rest of tonight?”

“Yes, and for the rest of the week. See you Saturday.” Will smiled, making a waving gesture toward the door. “Go on, Sal. You need to spend some time with your boyfriend. Do normal things before your review. I worry when you let yourself get this stressed out.”

“You, Tasha, and everybody else,” I said. “Goodnight, Will.”

“Goodnight, Sal.”

It was a warm night, and the streetlights cast just enough light to make walking down the steps feel like something out of a movie: darkness that wasn’t really dark, more… cosmetic. Nathan slid off the hood of the car when he saw me coming.

He was in the driver’s seat by the time I reached the passenger side door—which was, naturally, locked. I tugged the handle and glared at him through the glass. He smiled without showing his teeth. I made a downward gesture with my free hand, and he hit a button on the steering wheel, causing the window to drop.

“Yes, miss?”

“You’re a dork,” I informed him. “A giant dork.”

“That’s a new word.” He pressed another button. The door unlocked. “Where’d you learn that one?”

“Eric—the kid next door. He said it was less offensive than calling someone a dick, but that it came from the same family of words.” I slid into the seat, glancing toward Nathan and quirking an eyebrow. “Why? Did I use it wrong?”

“No, you seem to have grasped my essential dorky nature.” Nathan leaned over to kiss me slowly. “Missed you today.”

“I missed you, too.” I returned his kiss before sinking deeper into the seat, trying to let my shoulders relax. Nathan adjusted the environmental controls. My seat warmed up and began rubbing my back in slow, rhythmic motions. “Mmm. Thanks.”

“You’re more fun when you’re not so tense that I can see the whites all the way around your eyes,” he said, and started the car. I tensed again, and relaxed as Nathan pulled smoothly onto the mostly empty street. Cars make me nervous. But Nathan was a good, safe driver who let me read his insurance statements when I asked him to confirm that he’d never been in an accident. He also kept both hands on the wheel when he had me in the car with him. “How did it go with Morrison?”

“He thinks I’m crazy.”

“Yes, he does.”

Nathan’s honesty was usually one of the things I appreciated most about him. At the moment, I wasn’t feeling much like embracing my inner truth. I glared at him. “You could be a little slower to agree there, you know.”

“I didn’t say I thought you were crazy, I said that he thinks you’re crazy. Or at least he’s convinced himself to think that you’re crazy.”

I frowned. “Support your thesis.”

“Normal people don’t say ‘support your thesis’ in casual conversation, honey.”

“Right.” I sighed. English is not an easy language to learn, and it was no better the second time. Basic sentence structure was mostly okay, but I had trouble with colloquialisms—the slang, the shading of the words, the reason that some things were more appropriate than others. English is a language full of words and syntax and phrases. It was a good reason for not talking much around strangers. “Can you explain?”

“Look, to Morrison, you’re a unique case that needs to be studied, and he figures that he might as well be the one doing the studying. Most people don’t come back from what you experienced.”

“I know that,” I said peevishly. “Why does that give him the right to act like I’m insane?”

“It doesn’t. It just gives him the motivation he needs to convince himself that you need his help more than you need anything else in the world, and so he keeps looking for excuses.” Nathan glanced at me, then back at the road. “He thinks I’m doing the same thing, you know.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Morrison. He thinks I’m dating you because it’s the best way to keep track of what’s going on with your metabolism.”

“That’s… wow. If you were doing that, you’d be an idiot. I’m peeing in so many cups and giving so many blood samples every week that you wouldn’t need to buy me dinner to keep track of my condition.” Nathan was a doctor—a parasitologist, to be exact—at San Francisco City Hospital. We’d met when Joyce had to go to the hospital to have the health of her implant checked. He’d given her some basic nutritional supplements and asked me out to dinner. It was the first time someone had shown interest in me like that, and I’d been delighted. I still was.

Nathan laughed. I loved that sound. “I know. Add the fact that SymboGen handles everything having to do with your Intestinal Bodyguard internally, and there’s a media blackout that means I couldn’t get your medical records if you asked me to, and I’d be a specialist without a subject.”

“That’s why I adore you,” I said. “You’re willing to waste time on me even when I don’t advance your career.”

“Right now, I’m more interested in advancing dinner,” he said.

“Good plan,” I said. “How do you feel about Mexican?”