Nathan’s eyes widened slowly as he began to grasp my meaning. “Do you really think Tansy might still be functional?”
“I think Dr. Banks is smarter than your mother wants to give him credit for being. He wouldn’t throw anything useful away.” That included Tansy. She could only be useful to him if she was still herself. Once he took that away, all she could be used for was parts. “He kept me for years, even when he had learned everything he could without taking me apart, because there was still a chance I could be useful.”
The hot/cold mix in my belly finally solidified, becoming something that was greater and more dangerous than either could have been alone. I stood. Nathan mirrored the motion, frowning.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I need to talk to Dr. Banks alone.” It was one of the most frightening statements I had ever made, but it came surprisingly easily, now that my mind was made up. This was a thing that only I could do. I owed it to Tansy to try. “I need to ask him where she is, and I think there’s a good chance that he’ll tell me.”
Nathan looked at me, regret and understanding etched in his face, and didn’t say a word. The only sound was a crow somewhere in the streets below us, cawing harsh dominion over the broken works of man.
The area outside the room where Dr. Banks was being kept in temporary isolation was abandoned when we arrived. Nathan started to reach for the door. I grabbed his wrist before he could touch the knob.
“I said I needed to talk to him alone,” I said. “I meant I needed to talk to him alone. That means you can’t come in either.”
Nathan turned to face me, eyes wide and terribly startled. “Excuse me?”
I swallowed a sigh. It wouldn’t have helped. “He thinks of me as something between a developmentally disabled child and a very clever lab experiment. No matter what I do, he never really takes me seriously or believes I’d be capable of choosing to betray him. I mean, he left me alone in his office after he was almost entirely sure I was working either with or for your mom. I don’t think Dr. Banks is capable of looking at a chimera and seeing a person. It just isn’t how his mind works.”
“But I’m a person,” said Nathan grimly.
“Yes,” I said. “If you come in with me, he’ll assume I’m just asking the questions you want me to ask, and that anything I say has an ulterior motive. Me alone, there are no ulterior motives. There’s just the little girl he already knows how to work around.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
I smiled at that. I had to. “Dr. Banks has never been as good at controlling me as he wants to believe he is. Don’t worry about me.”
“It’s not like I’m asking you to stand by while I walk into a room with my father.” Sally’s father, who I would always think of as “mine” on some terrible, immutable level, no matter how many times I tried to tell myself that he didn’t deserve that power over me or that place in my heart.
Nathan looked at me for a long moment before he stepped in, leaned down, and kissed me long and slow, his lips crushed against mine, until the drums began beating in my ears and the skin on the back of my neck seemed like it was too tight, vellum stretched over hard bone and not skin at all. When he pulled back all I could do was blink at him dazedly, too lost in the memory of his kiss to speak.
“If you need anything at all, I will be right here,” he said. “Do you understand me? Right here.”
“Okay,” I murmured, and turned, and opened the door, and stepped into the chamber with my personal demon.
Dr. Banks had retaken his seat since I’d seen him last. His elbows were resting on his knees and his forehead was in his hands, making him look much smaller and less intimidating than he normally did. I eased the door shut behind me, trying to minimize the sound that it made when it closed. I wanted a moment to look at him without him realizing that he wasn’t alone.
So this was my enemy. One of many, really—Sherman, all of USAMRIID, my own confused, sleepwalking cousins—but he had been the first, and he was still the one who loomed largest in my mind. He was the one who had held my life in his hands and decided not to tell me what I was. How could I help but hate him? And at the same time, he was the man who had provided my medical care and taught me how to walk, talk, and think—even if he’d done it for his own reasons and to serve his own twisted ends, he’d done it, and that left me with a debt to him that I could never entirely repay. I wondered if humans felt this conflicted over their parents and teachers. I hoped not. It would be terrible to have an entire species with bellies full of mingled love and hate, anger and fear, walking around and thinking that they controlled the world.
That faint shabbiness that I had noticed when he first entered the factory was only highlighted by his helpless posture and utter lack of affectation. He didn’t know he was being watched, and so he didn’t bother putting on a show. That, more than anything, told me how dire his situation really was. I’d known that he had to be desperate to come to Dr. Cale, but I hadn’t known how desperate. Bit by bit, I was coming to understand.
Bare feet silent on the tiled floor, I walked across the room and stopped a foot or so away from the plastic barrier that kept him contained. It had been intended as a quarantine zone, keeping the staff from catching anything nasty that we brought in from the outside. It was serving its intended purpose very well.