"Give me a minute." Making her way to the living room, she found Keenan seated quietly in front of Kit, absorbed by the fluid movement of Kit's hands.
A coin trick, she saw a moment later.
Keenan's fascination was no surprise - her baby had always been attracted to shiny things. A small flaw, negligible in a child. Only Ashaya had wondered if the predilection arose from the secret he carried within. The shiny things would reflect attention off him, making him invisible. Or perhaps, she thought as she knelt beside him, she was seeing too much into a child's simple pleasures.
"You're going," he guessed, lips trembling for an instant before he bit down, reining in his emotions.
Her heart hurt. One day, she promised silently, one day, he wouldn't have to hide anything. "But I'll be back." It was out before she could censor herself. So she didn't even try. Raising her hand, she cupped his cheek as she hadn't dared to do for so many years. "Be good, little man. I return tonight."
Thin arms wrapped around her neck with surprising strength. "I'll wait for you... Mommy."
They were in the car before Ashaya allowed the impact of those words to filter through her. How would it affect Keenan if she didn't return as she'd promised - tonight or any other night? "Will you look after my son if I don't make it?"
Dorian's jaw firmed to a tight line. "The fact you need to ask that tells me how little you know about DarkRiver. And no one's touching you while I'm around."
She didn't know where her next words came from. "You're the only one allowed to execute me if I prove a traitor?"
His lips twitched. "Yes. So you be good, too."
Feeling the quicksand shifting under her feet, she took a step back. "You didn't tell me who this meeting was with."
He made a sound of disappointment at her retreat. "Kiss me and I'll talk."
She knew he was trying to annoy her on purpose. "Do cats take pleasure in being inscrutable?"
"Maybe. How's the DNA voodoo going?" Amusement, not mockery.
She didn't blame him for his disbelief - to him, her avowed ability had to stretch the bounds of impossibility. But to her, it made perfect sense, being the extreme end of the M-Psy spectrum. "It's a slow process. Do you think I could get a control sample from one of your packmates for comparison?"
"Sure." He shrugged. "It's not like the Psy haven't got our DNA already."
"I was never in that field of research."
"Biological weapons designed specifically to target your populations."
Dorian's hands clenched on the manual controls. "We guessed, but no one's ever been able to confirm."
"That outbreak of virulent flu in Nova Scotia three years ago? It was meant to be limited to the changelings in the area." She finally felt as if she was giving DarkRiver something of value in return for the priceless gift they'd given her in protecting Keenan.
Dorian whistled. "It spread - to humans and then the Psy. Damn, I was right."
Curious, she decided to cooperate. "What the scientists working on these projects don't seem to accept - and I don't know if it's willful blindness, or an inability to see the obvious because of bias - is that despite our racial differences, we are one species. It's why we can interbreed. Our genes are simply expressed in different forms."
"You can't engineer a virus to affect one without affecting the others?"
"That's what I thought about Omega," Dorian said. "It was never about controlling the Psy, but the world." He glanced at her, smiling in a way that made her stomach feel all tight and hot. "Bet you didn't think us nonscientist types could figure that out."
Again, the words came out without thought, born in that cluster of neurons that sparked for him alone. "Bet you didn't know anything about Omega before my broadcast."
"You win... this time." He smiled, but his next question was serious. "Is there any chance that you're wrong and a completed virus exists?"
Ashaya lied without a pause. "No." On this one subject, he'd have to earn her utter, unflinching loyalty before she trusted him. And it wasn't exactly a lie. Because there was no Omega virus. There was something worse.
Dorian didn't say anything for several minutes. "You're lying, Shaya."
Her palms dampened. "Excuse me?"
"Stop freaking out." Reaching over, he slid his hand behind her nape, tugged her to him, and nipped at her lower lip, startling her into a gasp. "I've decided not to kill you, whatever happens." He released her. "I'll just keep you in my personal dungeon instead."
Ashaya swallowed, her wires completely scrambled by the raw hunger of that kiss - and the teasing amusement in his voice.
"Whatever it is you're hiding," he said, turning into a busy street in Chinatown, "I'll figure it out."
The warning was enough to snap her brain back into action. "There's nothing to figure out." People crossed in front of them, paying no heed to the traffic signals. "This area of the city is notoriously chaotic. Why here for the meeting?"
"Because" - he beeped the horn and the wave of humanity parted - "Psy don't like chaos." He rolled down the window as they passed and called out a greeting in what she thought might be Cantonese.
It felt like several thousand people responded. But only one lanky boy ran up to them. "Hey, Dorian." The youngster's face was bright with mischief, his eyes sparkling obsidian in a face that spoke of eastern shores and California sun all in one fine-boned package. "We had some folk" - his eyes flicked to Ashaya - "come around asking about her. They showed her picture around."