Tai looked a little green as he shrugged. "Kit, Cory, and the others pulled a stunt in our territory, so we were, you know, paying them back."
Dorian wondered what the DarkRiver boys had done. "Do I need to talk to them?"
"Nah." He shook his head, swallowing as a wave of scent rose up in the shifting air currents. "We were just playing stupid games. Kid games."
"You didn't act like a kid today. Thank you." Dorian held out his hand.
Tai gave him a shaky smile as their hands met. "We've never killed. Not people."
Dorian glanced at Clay. "You called Hawke?"
"He's on his way."
Knowing the wolf alpha would take care of the boys, he told Tai and his friends to grab a seat on the forest floor a good distance away from the carnage. They obeyed without argument, leaving Dorian to walk over to the bodies. "Any ID?" he asked, crouching down beside Clay.
"No. But we found this." The other sentinel pulled up the pant leg on one body, revealing the back of the shooter's calf. The tattoo was simple. The letter A bordered by two straight lines. Except Dorian knew that that wasn't what it was. It was an A overlying an H.
"Human Alliance." He'd guessed as much, but it was good to have proof. "The others?"
"Yeah, ones with their legs undamaged." Clay's tone was predator - quiet as he said, "Two of them didn't have bullets in their guns, but some kind of a dart."
"Probably. I'm going to send it up to Sierra Tech for tests, have one of our people run it." To Dorian's surprise, he leaned in to lift the dead male's hair away from his neck.
Dorian spotted the reason why an instant later. "What is that?" The man had some kind of tiny metal device embedded at the top of his spinal cord.
Clay drew back his hand. "Maybe Ashaya can figure it out - they all have them." He tapped a finger on his knee. "Important thing is, I don't think we have to worry about another attack."
"I'm not letting my guard down again." He felt a sharp sense of disapproval along the mating bond. Ashaya, refusing to allow him to give in to guilt. It almost made him smile. "Why do you think this is over?" he asked Clay.
"There were fifty of them. All are dead." Clay shrugged. "Whoever is running this would have to be an imbecile to send more people in now that we've been forewarned. And judging from their prep, I don't think he's that moronic."
"No, he's not. If I hadn't had backup, they would've got what they wanted. Still, we make sure the word gets out that Ashaya's got no info worth this much death." Dorian didn't kill easily, and he hated this f**king waste of life. But these men had come in with the intent to attack a predatory changeling's mate and child. They'd made their choice.
"I'll get the Rats on it," Clay said, eyes narrowed as he began to go through the man's equipment. "It's time we began paying serious attention to the Human Alliance."
It took Ashaya most of the next day to settle her thoughts enough that she could talk to Dorian about his latency. Even then she had to wait until Keenan was in bed and Dorian had returned from a meeting with Lucas; Hawke, the SnowDancer alpha; and several others.
"Can I talk to you?" she asked as he came out of the shower and collapsed facedown on the bed. Naked. This cat had no shame. Lucky for her, she thought with a smile.
"About the chips we found on the humans?" He all but purred as she straddled his back and began to knead his muscles.
"No. I'm still working on that. It's a complicated piece of technology - some kind of a neuroinhibitor."
She pressed a kiss to his nape. "Don't go to sleep. This is important."
"I'm awake." He yawned. "Mostly."
"I think I did it, Dorian."
Something in her voice cut through the drowsiness, making Dorian turn onto his back to look up at her. "What, sugar?"
"I've figured out how to correct the mutation that makes you latent."
He froze. "Shaya?"
"I've run and rerun simulations. I think... I think if it works, you'll be able to shift. Gene therapy isn't as rare as it once was - this one is a complex and very, very fine genetic change, but I'm ninety-nine percent sure of success."
Not since his father had explained to him that he was different - at age two - had Dorian ever allowed himself to think about this. "Jesus, baby. How?"
"I don't think I could've done it without being mated to you, not even with my abilities." Her eyes filled with the devotion of a strong woman for her man. "It gives me a connection to you that's so deep, the work's intuitive. It's like my gift recognizes you on a primal level. Once I stopped trying to think and let instinct guide me, it was almost easy."
He blew out a breath, trying to make sense of the chaos in his brain.
"You don't have to decide now." She put a hand on his chest. "It's okay if you don't want to do it. I just wanted you to know the option was there."
"Would it matter to you?"
"Of course not, Dorian." A bright, beautiful smile that knocked out his heart. "I'd love you even if you were a damn wolf."
"Now you're learning." But despite his teasing words, his mind was pure turbulence.
In a large room in the sunken city of Venice, several people sat silently around a long table and considered the abysmal failure of their most recent operation.
"We wipe Aleine from the target list and go under," the man at the head of the table said. "And we stay under until the furor dies down."