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He didn’t meet her eyes. He just . . . stood there.

“You should be starting to feel it by now—tingles in your arms and legs. Loss of feeling in toes and fingers.”

Bryn ignored her. So did Patrick, but he seemed to be walled off from the world now, as well as Jane.

Jane had expected something, she knew—some reaction from Patrick, or from her. When the silence stretched on, Jane frowned and said, “Well, I’ll leave you two to get reacquainted, shall I? See you in a few days. We’ll come and remove any bits that fall off. Oh, and Patrick’s body, since you’ll definitely end up eating most of him.”

She waved her guards out first, clearly sure there was no threat now.

Patrick looked up and met Bryn’s eyes, and in that moment, she saw that he’d never been broken at all.

She launched herself out of the corner. Jane was right, she felt clumsy—arms and legs growing weaker, fingers unsure around the sharpened brass weapon. But that didn’t matter. Jane saw her coming and stepped back, pulling the door shut.

Patrick got there first and shot his arm out. She slammed it in the door, and Bryn heard bone crack, but he shoved it open, grabbed Jane, and dragged her inside. He flung her toward Bryn, and as Jane skidded to a stop and pulled her sidearm, Bryn’s right hand moved in a precise arc, as beautifully timed as anything she had ever done in her life.

And she cut Jane’s throat, laying it open through the trachea. Blood sprayed, and Jane jerked back, but Patrick had her arms, and he stripped the gun away, turned, and fired at the two guards, who had only just now realized something had gone wrong. He dropped them both.

Jane sank to her knees, both hands clutching her fountaining throat. Bryn crouched down, too, not caring about the blood hitting her, only about meeting Jane’s surprised, furious eyes.

“Yeah, that won’t kill you,” she said. “I know. You were looking for the cure, though.”

Jane bared her teeth, a cornered animal ready to bite.

“Well,” Bryn said, and stripped the seal off the vial she held. “Congratulations. You found it.”

She had time to savor Jane’s look of incomprehension, and horror, just for a second before she forced Jane’s head back with a grip on her hair and poured the serum straight down Jane’s severed throat.

Then she kicked her into the corner, bleeding out, and turned to Patrick.

He was watching Jane with the coldest eyes she’d ever seen. Colder even than Jane’s. But when he looked at her, the ice broke, just a little.

He held his hand out to her, and she took it. They watched for long enough to see Jane start to convulse as the cure took hold, shutting down her nanites.

Ending her.

And then they walked out. The door shut fast behind them on a peculiar whispering sound, and it took Bryn a moment to realize what it was.

Jane was trying to scream.

She supposed she ought to have felt guilty about it but in truth, she just felt relieved.

Patrick paused to strip weapons from the guards and tossed her one; she checked the clip, nodded, and fell in behind him. The paper slippers were annoying, so she kicked them off in favor of bare feet as they went down a narrow concrete hall lined with cinder-block walls. More doors, all shut. Patrick rapidly entered a code into one of the locks and opened it, and Bryn saw, over his shoulder, that Riley was lying on the floor with her arm over her eyes. She sat up quickly to stare at them. The paper jumpsuit didn’t look any better on her, Bryn thought, and despite what Riley had done, what she’d cost them . . . the joy that ignited in Bryn on seeing her was undeniable.

Riley threw herself to her feet and stumbled toward them. Bryn buried her in a hug that lasted only a few seconds, then gave her a sidearm. “Good to go?” she asked.

“God, yes,” Riley said, and double-checked the gun. “Where’s that evil bitch?”

“Dying,” Bryn said.

Riley looked up and smiled, with teeth. “Good.”

Patrick had already moved off to the next cell. It was empty. So was the third.

The fourth held Joe.

“Oh Jesus,” Bryn whispered, appalled. The big man was lying on his back, like Riley, but that was the only real similarity. He was black and blue, and very bloody; he was still breathing, but the sound was labored and disturbingly wet. Patrick knelt down next to him. Riley, after that first horrified glance, watched the hall, ready to shoot. “Patrick . . .”

Patrick was unsnapping Joe’s paper jumpsuit, which was wet with blood, and he uncovered a gaping gut wound. A wide pool of red soaked the concrete beneath Joe’s body, and a wide stream ran toward the drain in the center of the room.

He’d been bleeding for a while—steadily, fatally bleeding. Hours. Maybe days.

His skin, beneath the bruising, was a shocking blue-white. The fact that he was still alive, still breathing was nothing short of a miracle, but . . . but it was a battle he couldn’t win.

That was obvious to all of them.

“Joe,” Patrick said, and put his hand on the man’s forehead. “Joe, can you hear me?”

Joe’s eyes fluttered open, unfocused, and he said, “Jesus, took you long enough. Bitch got me. Sorry. Kinda lost my temper.”

“You? Never.”

Joe’s eyes slowly fixed on Patrick’s. “Been friends a long time,” he said. His voice was soft and lazy-slow. “Brothers.”

“Brothers,” Patrick agreed, and took Joe’s weakly upraised hand.

“She said she was fucking you,” he said. “I pretty much had to shut her up, you know?”

Patrick shut his eyes for a moment and went very still, but he somehow kept smiling. Bryn couldn’t imagine the strength it took to do that. “Rest, man. We’ll get you help.”

“Help’s not coming; we both know it. Don’t fucking lie to me,” Joe said. “You tell Kylie I love the hell out of her. You tell my kids the same, all right? And you take good care of them.”

“I will. But you stay with me, man, stay—”

It happened just that fast, like a switch turning off. Joe went still, and a slow, uncontrolled breath bled out of his mouth. His eyes were still open, still damp, but they didn’t move their focus as Patrick said his name.

He was gone. Just . . . gone.

“Fuck!” Patrick snarled, broken and angry and desperate all grinding together in that single word. “No, Joe, don’t you fucking do this—”

Riley had vanished, and Bryn hadn’t even noticed her departure until she came back what felt like an eternity later. She stepped into the room, crouched down, and held out a capped syringe to Pat.

“From Jane’s stash in her bag down the hall,” she said. “Do it. Give it to him.”

It was a shot of Returné. He wouldn’t want this, Bryn thought. He’d want to die clean and stay that way. She believed that, and she knew that Patrick did, too, but she also knew it was impossible just now, in this raw, painful place, to make a rational decision.

Not when there was a chance. That was the awful thing about the drug . . . about having a choice at all. Because, in the end, love wanted more time.

Patrick grabbed the syringe from Riley’s open palm, uncapped it with his teeth, and jammed it without a pause into the motionless vein in Joe’s neck. He pressed the plunger, withdrew the needle, and threw it violently away, spitting the cap after it.

Revolted by what he’d just done, but desperate for it to work, all the same.

“Come on, Joe, come on—you’ve never given up a fight in your whole life. . . .”

Nothing. Bryn could—on some weird meta-mechanical level—actually feel the nanites in Joe’s blood, moving through his body, but there was something wrong. Something not quite . . . adaptive. They were going too slowly—underpowered, perhaps. Maybe the shot was flawed. Maybe the drug was too old, past its sell-by date.

But in any case, it wasn’t going to work. She knew that.

From the sick despair in Patrick’s eyes, he knew it, too.

Bryn felt it all spiraling up inside her, all the pain, desperation, hunger, anger, frustration, black despair, and raw, pure anguish of losing someone else—someone else who did not fucking deserve it. She was shaking, she realized. Shaking and desperate and something . . . something was driving her now, something beyond her control.

Riley had told her in the first, horrifying moments of her own infection: The nanites are programmed for self-transfer if the host is awake and mobile. They’ll transfer the excess supply to the nearest identified ally.

What was Joe, if he wasn’t her ally?

She walked over to Patrick and Joe, and that, too, was beyond her control.

“Bryn!” She heard Riley say from behind her. “Bryn—”

She felt something moving inside her, under her skin, inside her flesh, a horrifying sensation of something breaking free, splitting off, becoming . . . and she could not control the hands that pushed Patrick away.

She grabbed Joe’s arm in one hand, raised it to her mouth, and felt a rush of heat through her blood, through her entire body, that seemed almost orgasmic in its intensity, though it hurt, hurt horribly . . . and she bit down, into flesh and muscle, all the way to the hard crunch of bone. She didn’t have to bite to infect him, but . . . but she needed to. Some sick part of her craved it.

And the activation would be faster than simple skin-to-skin transfer.

She knew Patrick was trying to pull her away, but there was no part of her that cared about self-preservation just then; her attention was only on one thing.


The nanites rushed out of her, into Joe’s open wound—an army of microscopic warriors charging into a battle almost lost. It wasn’t that she chose it, any more than he had asked to receive it. . . . Riley had warned her that the nanites would mature, would reproduce, and would force implantation.

But it was a small mercy that at least it was to save someone she loved.

Patrick finally succeeded in tearing her away from Joe, and he flung her into the wall hard enough to draw blood from her banged head. She didn’t care. The rush left her exhausted, and she couldn’t react when he hauled her upright and shook her hard enough to send blood drops flying from her head wound.