- From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine
When the changeling carrying her finally came to a halt, Ashaya wasn't sure he had. Her body felt as if it was still in motion. Forcing open eyes that seemed glued together, she found herself near a small cabin lit up from within. There was a pine needle-strewn clearing around the house, and what looked like wildflowers crawling up one wall, though in the dark she couldn't be sure.
"Can you keep your feet?" her rescuer asked as he helped her off his back.
"No." Her legs threatened to crumple when she released his shoulders, the injured one useless, the other stiff with the way she'd had to clamp it around him.
One of his arms was around her waist before she saw him move. "I've got you."
Quiet. But it was a quiet unlike any she'd felt in the Net, filled with emotions that battered at her conditioning with unrelenting force.
The door to the cabin swung open even as she fought to maintain her death grip on Silence. "Dorian? Who's that with you?" The speaker was female, her hair a vibrant red that touched the curve of her spine.
"You didn't get a message from Vaughn?" The sniper - Dorian, his name is Dorian - all but carried her inside the cabin and put her in a chair in front of the fireplace. His words might've been harsh, but he was careful with her, almost... gentle.
The female closed the door, frowned. "No, I just got back from - She's Psy!"
"Keenan's mother." When he returned his attention to Ashaya, the absolute blue of his eyes felt like flames licking at her, a weapon against which she had no defense. "She's injured. Needs stitches." The words were bitten out.
"Get me the kit. You know where it is." The woman moved to Ashaya. "Name's Mercy."
Ashaya fought the impulse to turn, to keep Dorian in her line of sight. He was dangerous to her in every way that mattered, and though he'd saved her life tonight, she wasn't sure he'd continue to let her live. "You're a medic?" she asked Mercy, even as she listened for the sound of Dorian's return.
"No, but I've had some extra training." She bent down for a quick look. "No use unwrapping that before I have tools in hand. You mind a scar? Can always get it removed later."
Dorian returned, kit in hand. "You're alive," he said with a shrug that was as feline as the way he walked - a grace that held a lethal promise. This man would make a pitiless enemy. "I wouldn't complain."
"No." She wondered whether he'd have shrugged as negligently had he found her mauled body tonight. Likely. "All that matters is that the leg works."
"It will. Dorian, can you...?" Mercy jerked her head in the direction of the sofa.
Dorian moved without argument to expand the compact piece of furniture into a bed. Mercy covered it with a thick sheet, then made as if to help Ashaya. But Dorian was already there, his arm strong and hot around her waist, the heat a vivid indication of his wild changeling energy. "You're not as bony as most Psy in the Net."
She'd studied emotions, understood them better than others of her race, but she didn't know how to answer him, how to comprehend the nuances in his voice, the strange gentleness of his hold. So she stuck to the truth. "Metabolism and genetics." As she spoke, she realized the implications of the distinction he'd made - between Psy in the Net and those outside it.
"On your stomach," Mercy said as they reached the bed. Once she was in position, the other woman gave her a pillow for her head, then placed several towels under her right tibia. "This is going to be rough and ready but it'll get you in shape. You can get one of your people to look at it later."
Ashaya heard something rip, and realized the redhead had torn away what remained of her pants leg from the knee down. "I don't have a people."
"Huh." A quick movement and the bandage fell away. "Lynx. They don't usually attack humans. What did you do to piss them off?"
"I believe they thought I was food."
Dorian made a sound of disagreement. "I think I saw signs of kittens nearby."
"I see." And she did. "They were protecting their young." She pressed her face into the pillow as Mercy probed the wound with a tool she couldn't see.
"Sorry - you want an anesthetic?"
"No," Ashaya said immediately. "Psy bodies don't handle anesthetics well."
"I thought I heard Sascha mention something like that."
Suspicion gelled into knowledge. "You're part of DarkRiver." The leopard pack that had two Psy members, one of whom was Sascha Duncan, daughter of Councilor Nikita Duncan.
"That's no secret," Mercy said but Ashaya sensed a rise in the tension blanketing the room - after a lifetime spent negotiating the cutthroat waters of the Council substructure, her survival instincts were razor sharp.
Dorian's voice sliced through the tension with the lethal efficiency of a steel blade. "Put yourself under." It was an order.
One Ashaya chose not to obey. She was already so vulnerable. If she put herself into the trancelike state that was the Psy version of anesthesia, she'd be placing her life totally in their hands. Preferring to remain conscious, she gritted her teeth and buried her face in the pillow. The choice, she told herself, had nothing to do with the fact that it was Dorian who'd given her the command.
Dorian's eyes narrowed at Ashaya's defiance. "She's not out." He was certain she couldn't hear him. Her withheld screams had to be a solid wall in her ears.
Mercy didn't stop what she was doing. "Her choice. She's keeping her leg immobile, that's all that matters."