She nodded, looked toward the front, then shook her head. Strangely, he understood. She would tell him her secrets but not with a witness. He'd accept that. But he'd keep nothing from his packmates that they needed to know - Ashaya was smart enough to have figured that out.
"Did you troll the message boards like I asked?" he said to Rina, keeping his tone low because changeling hearing was acute in close quarters.
"Yeah. Hold on." Rina made a sharp turn. "Found out something you might be interested in - you know how we thought there had to be backup root servers since the Internet was only down for thirty seconds?"
"Word is there's a network of paranoid computer hackers who've made it their business to set up secret fallback servers all around the world."
Dorian considered that. "Paranoia isn't always a bad thing."
"So says a computer geek," Rina teased. "Anyway, Ashaya's broadcast is doing the rounds - we uploaded a perfect version to make sure. Council seems to have given up trying to keep it under wraps."
"Then I was a success," Ashaya said.
Rina made a noise in the front. "I dunno. A lot of the posters are questioning whether you're for real or just a publicity hound. Then there are the ones who accuse you of being a vindictive bitch because you were taken off a multimillion-dollar research project in favor of another scientist."
"So" - Ashaya's eyes filled with a quiet intensity - "since they weren't able to stop the broadcast, they're going to try to discredit me."
"You knew that would happen." Dorian watched her, examined her, knowing he'd never have a better opportunity. She was beautiful, something her intense intelligence had a tendency to overshadow. And beautiful in a very feminine way. Yet there was something missing - the spark that turned beauty into the truly extraordinary.
He knew what that spark was, of course, knew it was missing because he'd seen it light her up from within bare minutes ago.
Ashaya had retreated, rebuilding her shields as she went. She'd said it was necessary but he wasn't convinced. He didn't want to be convinced. Because the woman who'd told him to get unused to ordering her around, hell, she was just about perfect.
"You ask me, you have to do another broadcast pretty soon," Rina said, breaking into his thoughts. "Right now it looks like you've cut and run, and that's not exactly good for your image."
"I'm not particularly concerned about my image."
Dorian shook his head. "You might not be, but it's what's going to keep you alive."
"My becoming infamous hasn't kept them from hunting me."
"It's given them pause." He considered what Zie Zen had said. "It's probably why you're not on the kill-on-sight list right now."
"Possible. But more likely, they want access to the data I have. Ming is perfectly capable of siphoning it out of my mind and leaving me an empty husk."
Dorian looked at her face, her slender shoulders, and knew she had the strength to carry this burden. "You'll beat him. You made a stand when it would've been easier to run. That takes guts."
"You know why I didn't run." Iliana had run. She'd returned home in a body bag.
"That doesn't mean it took any less courage to go out there and fight for your son's right to live, your people's right to have a choice in whether or not they become nothing more than insects in a hive." He quoted her with unerring accuracy.
Ashaya broke eye contact. Dorian saw too much with that vivid blue gaze. "I'm not that noble. I did what I did out of selfishness - to save Keenan."
He shrugged. "I fight monsters to protect Pack. They aren't any less dead because I do what I do out of a selfish need to save those I love."
"People who stick up their heads have a way of getting those heads blown off," she said, clenching her hands on the denim that coated the muscled length of his legs.
"I've got your back." There was a promise in those words that whispered down her spine with the exquisite heat of a leopard's touch. "You want us to set up another broadcast?"
She swallowed, but nodded.
"We're here." The driver brought the vehicle to a smooth stop.
Dorian was already moving. She'd come to expect that from him. He could wait with a predator's silent grace, but in life he was full of movement. Now she watched as he pushed open the back doors and jumped down. When he raised a hand to help her out, she shook her head and gestured for him to go on ahead to speak with his packmates. Her shields were already paper-thin. Much more and they'd be nonexistent. And to think how arrogant she'd once been, considering her defense of faux Silence unbreakable.
What a joke.
Of course it had been unbreakable in the Net. There was no one there who lived emotion every moment of every day, no one who challenged her as this wild changeling did. Other than her indefinable relationship with Amara, only Keenan had been a point of emotional weakness, and Ming had cut her off from him for months at a time.
Her lips pressed tight as her feet hit the ground and she knew that, no matter what, she would never again let anyone keep her son from her. It had almost broken her when the connection between them had been sheared off. She wasn't strong enough to bear the loss a second time.
In the chaos of everything that had taken place, she hadn't even thought about how she'd known to go to Keenan this morning. The link had shattered - she'd never forget the tearing pain of it - when he'd dropped from the PsyNet. And since that link should never have existed in the first place, she had no way to search for it. Yet she knew it had re-formed - the knowledge had nothing to do with logic, and everything to do with love.