Tally's pain was the one thing he couldn't handle.
Nine thirty the next morning, Talin stood with Clay's packmates in Tamsyn's kitchen, feeling deliciously sore and an idiot over her recent self-pity attack - Clay would never just decide to abandon her. He was far too loyal.
Her mood dimmed again. What if that was all that was tying him to her? Loyalty and friendship, the kind of friendship that wouldn't allow him to rest until they had beaten the unknown thing killing her from the inside out? Her illness hadn't struck since the day she had woken unable to gasp in air, but it would, and then Clay would have to look after her again, would feel obligated to do so.
Her mind filled with images of how she'd massaged him yesterday. That, done in love, had been no hardship. She wouldn't cheapen Clay's commitment to their relationship by imagining he felt any differently. But that's not what she wanted to be to him, someone to be looked after, a friend in need. She wanted so much more - she wanted all of him.
Clutching at her coffee cup, she looked out the window to find Jon talking to one of the teenagers she'd first seen at the bar - a tall, auburn-haired boy who was starting to grow into his long legs and powerful shoulders.
"That's Kit," Tammy said, coming to stand beside her. "Old enough to know better and young enough to get Jon. Your boy, he's strong. He's going to be okay."
"Yes," Talin agreed. "He'll become somebody if he's given the chance." But first, they had to make him disappear. Since neither of the children had family, Clay had told her the disappearing wouldn't be a problem. DarkRiver was happy to accept them.
"Tally." Clay held out his hand from where he was standing by the table.
She put down her coffee and went to him. His hand closed warm and safe around hers. "Where's Dorian?"
"Missing me already?" The blond sentinel walked through from the living room. With him were Lucas, Sascha, Nathan, and a redheaded female Talin hadn't yet met.
"I'm Mercy," the woman said, before Dorian took the floor to relate yesterday's events, with Clay and Talin filling in the gaps on their end.
"Judd coming?" Clay asked before Dorian could begin. "He deserves to know what happened. Man didn't have to help us, but he did."
Lucas nodded. "SnowDancers are turning out to be better allies than we thought."
"For feral rabies-infected wolves," Mercy muttered.
Dorian snickered. "Still mad over being the liaison?"
Mercy gave Dorian the finger, then twisted her head toward the front of the house. "He's here," she said, though Talin hadn't heard anything.
Judd walked through a minute later. "I have a certain antipathy toward this place."
Tamsyn scowled, hands on a muffin tin. "Why?"
"Because the last time I was here, I was bleeding half to death and you were torturing me with a stitch gun."
"See the thanks I get?" the healer muttered.
"If you ever need anyone killed, just let me know," Judd said with a straight face as he pulled out a chair and spun it around so the chair back was against his chest. His attention switched to Clay. "You said you got the boy and another child out?"
"Yes. Went like clockwork. Your contact have anything to do with that?"
Judd nodded. "But you got lucky with the timing, too. Something big went down in the PsyNet last night. Your op was hidden in the shadow of it."
Sascha leaned forward. "I talked with Faith this morning. She said she'd spoken with the NetMind, but that it was too agitated to make much sense."
"Damn," Clay muttered. "An assassination?"
Judd's eyes flickered in surprise. "Yes. A Council member."
Silence gripped the table. Talin saw open distress on Sascha's face. "My mother?" The cardinal clasped Lucas's hand in a tight grip.
"She wasn't the target," Judd said, and Talin was startled to hear a hint of gentleness in his voice. "Oddly enough, Nikita is one of the more moderate Councilors - as long as her business interests aren't compromised, she doesn't support the idea of wholesale genocide."
Talin shuddered at what that faint praise said about the Council as a whole.
"You can't confirm?" Lucas asked, his facial markings stark against skin pulled taut.
"No. My contact's gone silent and I have no way of knowing who was hit. I'm getting data through other sources. What I can tell you is that the Net is in chaos."
Talin wanted to hug Sascha. She knew too well the confused feelings of an abandoned child. Part of her would always miss the stranger who had left her at the clinic door. Then Sascha lifted her head and her eyes told Talin the sentiment had been felt and appreciated.
It disconcerted her to be in a room with someone who could sense her emotions, but she figured she'd get used to it, as she had to the changelings' ability to scent her moods.
"Dorian," Clay said into the silence, "do the report."
"Right." He glanced at Judd. "This is in relation to the classified data you gave us."
Judd's expression iced over. "That wasn't for public use."
"The location is still airtight," Clay said, meeting Judd's eyes, two predators weighing each other up. "But we've got another problem."
After a tense moment, Judd nodded. "Go."
Dorian ran through the events that had led to the rescue of the children with military efficiency. Then he told them about the woman he'd followed from the point where they'd picked up the children. "Our contact."
"She stuck around to make sure they were okay," Talin said, unsurprised.