Shift promised him pain when she took him in, promised him her protection, but also promised that it would change everything he was. She hadn’t mentioned nearly putting a knife in him and showing him she could break his neck with her bare hands. Justus was bone-weary by the time he left the training courts and stepped into the shower in his private quarters.
The team had a set of rooms down the same hallway in the same underground military facility, but sectioned off from the other three teams Shift told him resided on base. He got his own room by dint of Shift’s status: she was ranked the best operative in the entire Department and shoved for better treatment for her team whenever she could get it.
When he stepped back out of the shower, he stopped instantly, hackles raised and tension crackling through his muscles.
“Not bad,” an acidic tone commented. The Database.
He found her in the corner of the doorway, leaning against the silver-grey wall, arms crossed, bored expression on her face. She had knocked the last two times she’d entered his room. Too bad there was a time limit on the courtesy.
“Can I help you?” he demanded.
“You know for someone who’s supposed to protect women, you sure end up crushed by them in a fair fight.” She studied him with interest. He could see it flickering in her eyes, belying the boredom on her features.
Justus huffed out a breath. He’d found her a tolerable companion, if generally too sharp when he was already raw. “Do you have to be so caustic?”
He asked it amiably enough, and she startled him by laughing. It was a genuine sound, unfettered and untainted by the captivity they lived in. “Watcher used to call me that,” she said, still smiling.
“Watcher?” No one he’d met wore that name, but everyone here seemed to have more than one and none the one they were born with.
“Battery Acid. Caustic,” she stressed the word, “but indispensable.”
He blinked at her, uncertain of the relationship.
She shook her head and straightened, stretching out one hand, fingers flexing. “I play coverage.” The blanket on the bed rose a foot in the air, then fluttered down again. “There isn’t a gift in the Department I can’t use.” Flames lit around the room, turned to ice, shattered, disintegrated. The lights winked in and out, then steadied on again. She shrugged. “But there are limitations.”
“Are there?” he asked carefully. He studied her, her almost readable face, her almost readable stance. One day he would know her like his own sisters and know what she was showing him without speaking.
But she just raised an eyebrow, falling back into that caustic demeanor she’d almost trademarked. “What? You think I’m going to let you use my weaknesses?” Her eyes sparkled amicably.
Justus looked at her and knew without doubt that the question so playfully delivered was serious. He laughed with grim humor. “No.”0