Ashaya stared at the closed door, her heart filled with a turbulence of emotion she was far too inexperienced to fully comprehend. All she knew was that Dorian was hurting. Hurting so badly that it threatened to break his heart. She raised a hand, rubbing it unconsciously over her own chest. She was an M-Psy - she had no capacity to heal emotional hurts. She didn't even know how to begin.
The only thing she could do for Dorian, the only gift she could give him, was to enable his body to shift. That's what she would work on, she thought, clinging to the familiar, the easily understood. It was a good solution, a solution that utilized her skills... and yet she knew it was wrong. She couldn't sit here, willfully ignoring the truth - she had shoved Dorian to the edge of the abyss.
The only question was, was she ready to walk over the edge with him?
Ashaya had never considered herself a coward - she'd survived the Council with her mind intact, had put her life on the line to help others escape certain death. But tonight, this choice, it was the hardest of her life. She knew that if she went after Dorian, if she accepted his pain as her own, it would be an irrevocable step.
Keenan, she thought, her mother's heart clenching - he was already at home with these cats. This choice would take nothing away from him. But Amara... she didn't know what would happen to Amara. Her twin had been with her since birth, since before birth, their minds linked, their souls connected. A single tear streaked down her face as she cried for the loss of a relationship that had never stood a chance, but that held her prisoner.
Then she stood, wiped away the tear... and walked outside.
Dorian was standing with his back to the hidden wall of glass, his eyes focused on the shadowy bulk of the trees that faced his home. He didn't say anything when she opened the door and came out, as unmoving and unwelcoming as stone. But when she made a small movement toward him, he lifted his arm and dragged her close. "Don't cry." It was an order couched in a voice that still trembled with anger. But beneath the anger was a powerful, blinding emotion that threatened to wrench her from everything she'd ever known and throw her into the spinning darkness.
Burying her face in his chest, she wrapped her arms around him. "Then don't hurt." She felt something tug at her soul, inciting an odd kind of breathlessness.
Dorian went very quiet around her.
She fought the pull, knowing it would tear her from Amara. And while Amara was her jailer, Ashaya was also her keeper. Without Ashaya, Amara would kill, would murder, would become the very monster Ashaya had spent her life trying to prevent her from becoming. "I was born first," she whispered. "She's my responsibility."
Dorian's body stiffened for a moment. Then he shifted to drop a kiss on top of her head. "So was I."
"Will you tell me about her?"
He pulled her tighter against his warmth. "She was laughter," he said, a painful roughness in his tone. "Nothing seemed to make her sad. The only time I ever saw Kylie cry as a child was after someone taunted me for not being able to shift." His voice caught. "She was so mad. She said it didn't matter to her, that I was the brother she would've chosen if she'd been given the choice. God, she was a fighter."
Unbidden, an image formed in Ashaya's head, of a girl with Dorian's charm and mischief in her eyes. "Did she look like you?"
"Same hair, same eyes. But her smile - a knockout. She could talk anyone into anything." A husky laugh. "Even when she pissed me off, she could make me smile. She'd tell me stupid 'knock, knock' jokes until I broke. Then she'd hug me, call me her favorite brother, and smile because she knew she was forgiven."
Squeezing her eyes shut, Ashaya swallowed the knot in her throat. "She was precious to you."
"A piece of my heart died with her. I don't know if it will ever grow back."
"That's okay," she managed to whisper. "That piece was hers to take."
"I miss her." He buried his face in the curve of her neck as she rose on tiptoe to wrap her arms around him. "I miss her calling me up to pick her up from some club at one in the morning. I miss her telling me those stupid jokes. I miss her laugh. I miss her every damn minute of every day!" His body shuddered and damp heat bloomed against her neck.
Blinded by her own tears, she held this powerful leopard, this sentinel.
She held him as he cried... as he stole the last remaining pieces of her own heart.
Forty-five minutes later, Dorian watched dawn begin its stealthy creep across the sky and felt an odd kind of peace take hold in his heart. Perhaps it would last only a moment, perhaps longer. What mattered was that he knew the peace was a gift from the woman who moved so softly inside his home while he stood watch outside.
He'd tried to tell her to go back to sleep, but she'd shaken her head. Twice now, she'd come to tell him she could feel Amara getting closer. Once she'd worried that her twin was lost in the dark, a catch in her voice. When he heard her footsteps getting closer again, he expected another update.
But she exited with a cup of coffee in hand. "Here."
"Thanks." He looked intently at her, knowing he'd have to be careful with his mate - force of habit might make her hide what he needed to see. As he'd expected, her face bore no visible remnants of her sleepless night or the words spoken between them... until he looked into her eyes.
Those eyes, so f**king beautiful. Like one of the lakes up in the Sierra, before the snows. Silver-blue and so clear you could see the detail of every reflected leaf. "We'll do everything we can to take her alive."
A coolly Psy nod, but her hands had curled into fists.