"But if he'd pushed for much more," Dorian said, seeing the tightrope they'd walked, "the Council might've become suspicious enough to investigate, and discovered his rebel activities." Leaving Keenan utterly vulnerable.
"Yes." With that Ashaya got out and began to walk toward the man who, in changeling society, would have been her mate.
Dorian didn't like it. Gritting his teeth, he slid his own door up and reached her just as she got to the rigid figure of Zie Zen.
"What are you doing here?" Ashaya asked, not touching him, not making any contact at all.
Zie Zen put weight on his cane and stood. "I have information for you." He glanced at Dorian. "Confidential information."
"Wait." Dorian called out to the others, clearing the warehouse. When he turned back, Zie Zen looked at him questioningly. "I stay."
The Psy male held his gaze for several long moments, then nodded. "Your shields are very strong."
Dorian wondered if the old man was trying to make him angry by implying that he'd attempted some form of mental persuasion. Psy were more than adept at exploiting the "weakness" of emotion against the other races. Instead of getting angry, Dorian folded his arms and shrugged. "Lucky for me. Now talk. We don't have much time. This place is clear for the moment, but that won't last." Chinatown was a safer meeting spot than pretty much any other part of town, but, as the SnowDancers had recently discovered, spies were everywhere, even where you least expected.
Ashaya shot him a quelling glance. "Treat Zie Zen with respect. He is as much a warrior for my people as you are for yours."
It was a slap down - delivered in a very prissy ladylike voice - but a slap down nonetheless. Dorian's cat liked the show of feminine strength. "Respect is earned." But he toned down his aggressiveness.
The old man looked from him to Ashaya, appearing to see more than he should. But when he spoke, it was all business. "You've made yourself the number one priority for the Council. They'll attempt to capture you first. If that fails, the death squads will be set loose."
Dorian felt his leopard flex its claws. "How good's your information?"
Zie Zen looked to him. "I was told we have a mutual acquaintance. He can't risk contact with DarkRiver at present, even that which appears for business alone."
"Then your information is good." He was aware of Ashaya looking from him to Zie Zen, and, though her expression didn't change, he could tell she was irritated. Ms. Aleine, he thought with an inward grin, didn't like being left out of the loop.
"Ashaya." Zie Zen's attention shifted. "We had a plan in place to extract Keenan."
"Not fast enough." Ashaya's jaw set. "Any more waiting and he would've been permanently damaged by the circumstances of his confinement. They were hurting him."
"I'm not going to argue with you about Keenan's welfare, but you took another step we weren't prepared for." Censure, delivered in cool Psy tones, but Dorian recognized an elder's criticism when he heard it.
Funny, he was no longer thinking of Zie Zen as Ashaya's husband of sorts. The relationship was clearly something quite different. He got more proof of that when Ashaya looked down at her feet.
Well, hell. Dorian's eyes narrowed - he'd never been able to make her back down. But, he thought, even he - tough-shit sentinel that he was - bowed his head in front of his mother. He'd bet on Zie Zen not being Keenan's father, even in the cold, scientific way of the Psy.
"It was the only way," she said at last. "I had to make sure Omega would never be completed."
"We both know that Omega is not, and has never been, an active project. You also know that we were working to remove even the idea of it from the arsenal."
This time, Ashaya's spine went stiff and she looked up. "Too slow."
Zie Zen held her gaze. "You lied in order to gain publicity. What we can't understand is why, not when you've never before shown any political aspirations." When Ashaya remained mute, he said, "Amara has been co-opted by the Council."
Ashaya's defiance seemed to disappear. "No. She's too smart to get caught."
"Something tripped her up." Zie Zen reached into his pocket.
Dorian didn't make any aggressive moves - he worked with weapons almost every day; he knew the older man had plain paper in his pocket.
"Here." The Psy male passed an envelope to Ashaya. "It's a message from her."
Ashaya stared at the envelope as if it was a live snake. "I don't want it."
"That's irrational behavior. She's the only one capable of reinitiating the Implant Protocol and undoing everything you've achieved."
When Ashaya still refused to accept the letter, Dorian reached out and took it from the other man. "I'll make sure she reads it."
Zie Zen gave a slow nod. "Make certain she also gets her shields back in place. She's breaking."
"No." Dorian would not put Ashaya back behind that wall of ice. "She's becoming who she was always meant to be."
Zie Zen's eyes flickered, before snapping to Ashaya. "You haven't told him."
Dorian felt a prickle at the back of his neck, the honed instincts of a hundred predators before him. "Ashaya?"
She gave him a look that could've cut glass. "This is not your business."
And that was when Dorian crossed over a very defined line in his head. "Yes," he said. "It is."
Zie Zen glanced at his sleek silver timepiece. "I must go."
"Your pickup about to arrive?"