Dorian put the phone in his pocket and turned to find Ashaya in the open doorway. "I thought I told you to stay inside."
"The other man left." She held up the rifle he'd had stashed in his closet. "And I don't have to be a good shot to hit a man from this distance."
"Yeah?" He watched as she tried to tuck her hair behind her ears. The unruly stuff refused to stay in place, dancing gleefully in the quiet air currents rushing through the trees.
"I heard some of what you said - have they tracked me this far?"
He couldn't lie to her. "Amara must've told them."
"No." A stubborn shake of her head. "She would never betray me."
"Shaya - "
"No, Dorian." Her hand clenched on the rifle and she frowned. "Even if they broke her mind, she'd find some way to misdirect them. This is too close - there's too much of a chance they'll actually locate me. Not like in the chaos of Chinatown."
He was swayed by the sheer belief in her tone. "That leaves only one other option."
She gave him a questioning glance as he got rid of some of the vegetation from his front wall to expose a window. "They're not tracking you," he said. "They're tracking Amara."
The rifle trembled in her hand. "I guess I knew that."
"She in your head?" Walking up, he took the rifle and nudged her back inside.
"No." She thrust both hands through her hair. "The psychic 'door' on my end of the bond is closed. I don't know when or how that happened, but it doesn't matter. We're still aware of each other - she's following that awareness."
"Like a homing beacon."
Door closed, Dorian tapped in the security code and reinitiated the perimeter alarms. "Can you do it in reverse? Track her?"
"Yes, but I don't want to." Her cheekbones stood out sharply against her skin. "It's dangerous. If I focus on her, I might open my end of the link. There's no telling what she might attempt to send through or do. I can't risk it when I don't know how I blocked the link in the first place."
"Fine. Andrew didn't mention seeing her, so she can't be too close. We have time." He checked the rifle, then began to go through his other weapons, pausing only long enough to send Luc a quick message about the possibility of it being Amara the Council soldiers were tracking. "If you want to shower, do it now."
She hesitated. "What if it's a red herring and she's going after Keenan?"
Instinct had him shaking his head. "Amara's out for you." And the boy was as safe as they could make him, protected by a pack that took threats against children very seriously.
Ashaya nodded. "I'll be quick." Her voice shook a little, but she was as good as her word, returning in seven minutes.
Dorian decided to take the chance to shower, too - Amara might not be changeling, but it'd be plain lazy not to worry about a scent trail. "Use the window to keep an eye out." He put the rifle in her hands, kissed her because he missed having the taste of her in his mouth, and ducked into the shower.
Three minutes later, he was out and rubbing himself dry. "Shaya?"
"Nothing." She poked her head around the door to give him a troubled look. "How can I still want you even when things are so out of control?"
Throwing the towel over a railing, he began to pull on his clothes. "I once heard Faith say that some things are set in stone." Pants on, he tugged her to him with one hand behind the damp weight of her hair and took her mouth in a hotly protective caress. "We're one of those things."
She stayed in his arms for a few more seconds before pulling away. "You're saying we were inevitable."
"No." He shook his head, shoving wet strands of hair off his face. "We made choices, you and I. But the time for choices is over."
How dare she?
In any other being, it might've been called anger, but what possessed Amara Aleine was a stunned kind of incomprehension. She literally couldn't understand why Ashaya had made the choice she had. Ashaya was Amara's. That was how it was. How it should be.
As she slogged her way painstakingly through the thick dark of the early morning forest - having been forced to abandon her stolen vehicle when the vegetation became too dense - she tried to order her thoughts, to find sense in the chaos. It was difficult. She wasn't accustomed to being outside the lab, had never once in her life been in a place so very quiet. And yet it was a quiet filled with things that scurried and whispered, eyes glinting out from behind the massive bulk of the trees in her path.
The ground tried to trip her up every second step, and her hands were bruised from having caught several falls. If she hadn't had Ashaya's mind to guide her, she'd have been lost two minutes after she entered this place.
But even now, Ashaya was refusing to answer her calls, blocking her end of their bond. Her twin had been doing that sporadically for years, but today, Amara could feel an increase in intent. More than that, she could feel the other connection, the one that threatened to dilute Ashaya's link to Amara until it faded entirely. And that was what Amara couldn't comprehend.
She knew that Ashaya had always had a weakness for emotion. That was a given, part of her sister's psyche. It interested Amara as everything about Ashaya interested her. But now Ashaya was doing things that defied the understanding between them. The worst thing was, she'd brought someone else into their game.
That was against the rules.
Amara tripped, fell heavily on one knee, and sat there until the physical pain became manageable. As she started walking again, the initially stiff joint loosened up. The second it did so, her attention shifted back to the real problem.