Isaac didn’t answer right away but Bettie could see him visibly relaxing. He closed his eyes, took slow, deep breaths and relaxed the muscles in his arms and shoulders. When he opened them again it was like nothing had happened. Oh, he still looked completely serious and no-nonsense but Bettie was relatively certain that that was his version of normal.
“Let’s head up. They’re waiting for us.” he told her. Bettie followed him without question.
“So why are we taking the stairs?”
Okay, not entirely without question.
“There was a fire here yesterday afternoon. The doorman was doing a search of the building at the time so it was caught pretty quickly. Even so, it was intense enough to do some damage to the electrical system and the elevators don’t run on emergency power. Not sure if that’s a bug or a feature.”
“So, we’re investigating a fire? Was it a pyrokinetic or something?” she asked.
“Or something.” he agreed. “And no, we’re not investigating a fire. SFFD does that, did that. They found… evidence that it might have been Empowered related so they called us. Now, Analysts are here to investigate that. We’re here to provide security.”
“Ugh. I know Operative’s are sposed to be combat personnel, more or less, but on Prime Time-”
“Prime Time is a cartoon.” he cut her off. “This isn’t.”
Bettie gave a disgruntled sigh. “I know. Heck, I knew that before I joined and they sure made a habit of drilling that in during Basic. Still, I just figured we’d be a little involved in investigations.”
Dauntless didn’t answer that but words popped up on her screen.
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED, THERE’RE CITADEL COURSES AVAILABLE. GET THE RIGHT CROSS TRAINING AND YOU CAN PARTICIPATE.
Bettie gave a little smile while she typed a silent thank you to Analyst Potts into her wrist-com.
Around the time when Bettie was beginning to wonder if they were taking the stairs all the way to the building’s roof, Dauntless stopped climbing and opened a door. He even held it open for her which she decided was his way of saying sorry for snapping at her. As her way of saying sorry for startling him earlier, Bettie decided not to draw attention to his gesture.
She froze as soon as she’d gotten a few feet into the hallway.
The Shady Leaf was an old building. Old enough to be classified as a historical landmark which, admittedly, didn’t actually require it to be all that old in San Francisco. Still, the classification had some odd effects. For one, the original flooring was still in place and carefully maintained, one of the expensive building’s selling points. Lots of little tiny tiles interspersed with the occasional crack, underneath a clear coating of something or other that was meant to keep any more cracks from appearing.
Citadel HQ’s interior had a more modern appearance but, for some reason, Bettie felt a similarity. Added to the cracks, that left her with a sudden worry that a rat was about to run out and bite her again.
“What’s wrong?” Dauntless asked from behind her.
She did her best to explain but she was afraid it came out as a bit of a rambling mess. That happened to her sometimes.
“So… you were bitten by a small animal that you think was a rat.” She nodded. “But you didn’t get a good enough look at it to be certain.” Bettie nodded again. “And this happened on either the eighth or the ninth floor of the Citadel building.” She didn’t nod this time but he seemed to assume that she was doing it internally or something.
“Did you know…” the big man’s voice had a curious tone to it. “… that we’ve got some of the most advanced security in the country built into those facilities? Rumor has it that even a gnat can’t get around without showing up on a monitor. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not but I do know that Support goes through on a monthly basis.
“Among other things, they check the walls and floors for integrity. I severely doubt they’d miss a mouse hole. They also exterminate at the same time. If they did miss a hole, the stuff they use wouldn’t leave any kind of vermin behind.”
She started to protest, to insist that it had actually happened and she wasn’t making it up. Bettie couldn’t have said why that seemed so important to her right then but it did. Without pausing to give her chance to, Dauntless kept right on talking.
“Did anything else happen afterwards?”
Bettie told him about meeting Kelly again and how he’d given her a weird, totally unnecessary and overprotective warning about Dauntless. Also, the way he’d been… leaking at the time. She was a little afraid that he’d be upset at her but, as far as she could tell from his face, Dauntless was more amused than anything else.
“Kelly was a little isolated when he was younger, didn’t have many friends in school. You get the idea. Now… let’s just say he has a very understandable but somewhat extreme tendency to… protect the people he cares about or feels responsible for. That’s good news for your friend Jordan, incidentally. Anything that might be a threat to him will have to survive Kelly and he’s got a lot of ways to hurt someone when he’s motivated enough.”
“Um, okay.” She didn’t really get where he was going with this but from the ‘I’m waiting for you to get my point even though I’m not coming right out and saying it’ look he was giving her, he thought it was something important. Apparently, that wasn’t the reaction he wanted from her.
Dauntless sighed. “He was threatening you, Bettie. Don’t worry, I’ll talk to Kelly about it.”
“What? He didn’t say anything like that!” she insisted. “Besides, I can take care of myself. I was ranked fifteenth in my class! That’s higher than him so-”
He laughed. It didn’t seem like a mean one but it still hurt a little. Pissed her off, too.
“Bettie, think about it. Your power, it’s not automatic. To block something, a punch, a bullet or a bite, you have to know it’s coming. Right?”
She nodded, still angry.
“The ‘rat’ bit you before you even knew it was there. I promise that was Kelly and, if he’d wanted to, he could’ve injected something that would’ve left you dead before you even felt the pain.”
Bettie thought about it and nodded, a tiny little tendril of worry creeping in around the upset and the anger.
“That gas he was putting out while you were talking to each other? It was probably just water vapor, mist. Gasses are his newest trick and he doesn’t have all that many under his belt yet but I happen to know he can manage chlorine and a few others. Even if you knew in time to act, I don’t think your power would work against something like that. Would it?”
The anger was gone and that tendril was wrapped firmly around her stomach and squeezing hard.
“Like I said, don’t worry. I’ll talk to him. Taking care of me isn’t your job, not yet. Right now, I’m supposed to be the one looking out for you. Kelly isn’t the only one with an overly enthusiastic protective streak.”
Dauntless smiled then. It wasn’t friendly. It was actually one of the scariest looking expressions she’d ever seen, cold and hard and… Still, it made her feel better.