And told me to run.
- From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine
Half an hour after waking, Ashaya snapped on a pair of thin latex gloves included in her first aid kit before heading into Mercy's kitchen and beginning to open cupboards.
"That's not polite." The drawled warning made her glance over her shoulder.
Dorian had been fiddling with the organizer's security codes for the past thirty minutes, giving her time to clean up and consider her next move. She'd expected him to push for more information about Amara, but so far, he'd remained quiet. She wasn't fooled - leopards were masters at stalking prey. "I need some household chemicals."
He raised an eyebrow. "Try under the sink."
She did so and found most of what she needed. Aware of Dorian's interested gaze as he came to stand in the entrance to the kitchen, she found a bowl and began mixing the chemicals together. "Would you mind getting me the pale blue tube from my first aid kit?" She expected a refusal, but he left and came back with cat swiftness. "Here."
"Thank you." She emptied the pure alcohol into the mix.
Dorian stepped closer, until he was leaning against the side of the counter, his arm braced on the upper level, while she worked on the lower level. She couldn't help but note that despite his white-blond hair, his skin was golden, as if it tanned easily.
He peered at the mixture and sniffed. "Smells acrid, bitter."
At that moment, he appeared more feline than ever before. Once, she'd had a neighbor's domesticated cat sneak into the house she'd called home before the Council moved her to a lab - the creature had watched her experiments with the same fascinated expression.
Not sure how to take his continued lack of aggression, she fell back on Psy practicality. "You'd be surprised at how caustic household chemicals can be, especially when mixed with each other in a selective way." She shook the bowl gently and saw it was beginning to scar on the inside. "I'll pay Mercy for this."
"Don't worry," Dorian murmured. "It's not expensive - I can smell the strength of your brew. Whoa!" His exclamation had her looking down.
The mixture was bubbling.
"Excellent." Taking the bowl, she carried it carefully into the bathroom, put it in the sink, and pulled out the tissue-wrapped chip from her pocket. "May I borrow your timepiece?"
He snapped it off and handed it to her. An instant later, he gave a horrified shout as she opened the tissue and dropped the tiny piece of hardware hidden inside into the caustic mix. "Jesus, woman!" His hand clenched on her upper arm - the flesh bare since she'd showered and changed into a short-sleeved tee. "What the hell - ?"
She forced herself to speak with Psy calm, even as her heart rate skyrocketed. "Twenty-four hours prior to my defection, I coated the chip with a protective layer so it would survive my stomach acids." She'd put the poison over it, and protected that with a weak substance that would be destroyed the minute the chip touched her mouth. "It made the chip nonfunctional. I need to clean off the coating to get to the data."
Dorian moved closer, his hand still on her arm, his thumb moving absently against her skin. She almost missed his next words, she was so focused on the stark intimacy of skin-to-skin contact. A normal human or changeling interaction. Except she wasn't human or changeling. She was Psy. She hadn't been touched that way... ever.
"How will you know when it's done?"
She picked up the tweezers she'd found in the small cosmetic set in her pack. "Release me." As soon as he did, she retrieved the chip and put it on a soft face towel.
"I used your watch to time it," she explained, returning the timepiece. "The final parts of the solution will evaporate within the next minute, ensuring no moisture damage."
Dorian left without a sound.
Putting the sudden move down to feline capriciousness, she focused on the chip. It contained data the Council would kill for. And not all of it had to do with the Implant Protocol. Now, she just had to survive long enough to - Her head jerked up as Dorian's wild energy washed over her, through her. Her eyes dropped to his hands. "Messing with someone else's property is rude in any culture," she commented, trying not to think about the implications of her extreme sensitivity to his presence.
"Oops." He smiled and there was something different about it, something... playful. "Here." He handed her the organizer he'd pretty much taken over.
"Charm is wasted on me." A lie. Charm, anger, or outright hostility, something about Dorian touched a part of her that hadn't seen daylight since those lost hours on the day of her seventeenth birthday.
His smile widened. "Come on, Ms. Aleine. I want to see if that chip still works. I'll even say please."
"You have a very catlike curiosity." She'd never spent much time around changelings, was unprepared for how unlike a human - in the broader sense - he acted. "Do you exhibit human characteristics in leopard form?"
The charm faded away to leave his face expressionless. "I wouldn't know. I can't shift."
She halted in the process of sliding off the back of the organizer. "That's not normal."
He blinked, then burst out laughing. Again, the reaction was not what she would've predicted, having realized too late that her bluntness would probably be taken as an insult.
"Yeah, that's me," Dorian said, the grin creasing his cheeks turning him from beautiful to devastating, "an abnormal freak."
He confused her. She knew how easy it would be to change that. All she had to do was unlock the emotional center of her brain, give up Silence, and accept emotion. Yes, there were pain controls built into the conditioning, but she had a passive ability and her scientific instincts told her that the more active the ability, the higher the pain. The Tk, aggressive Tp, and exceptionally rare X designations would probably suffer the most.