"I'm awake now, baby." She let all her love for him color her voice. "I'll come see you soon."
"I've got lots and lots and lots to tell you." He sounded excited. "I have friends. Ben's a wolf and Tally brought Noor to play, too. I'm going to marry Noor one day. And Ben's gonna mate with Marlee even if she is bigger than he is."
Ashaya's heart smiled to hear her son sound like a child. Behind her, Amara lay sleeping but uninjured. And Dorian... Dorian was alive.
She opened her eyes.
Her gaze met his. His smile slipped away, to be replaced by a look of such intense emotion that she felt it as a touch. Impossible... except that he was in her heart now, the bond between them a brilliant, golden beacon.
It scared her a little, the depth of this fury.
"It would've been easier," she whispered.
"What would?" He stayed beside the bed, as if he was content to simply watch her.
She felt embraced by his eyes, stroked by his soul. "If you'd fallen in love with Mercy."
A slow smile. "She's too mean."
It made her smile, too. "I'm going to tell her you said that."
"Aw, come on." That smile softened, his eyes filling with the chaos in her own heart. "You almost died for me."
She saw the frown lines forming, cut him off. "No, Dorian. You don't get to be angry at me."
"Why the hell not?"
She spread the palm of one hand against the sheet. "Your blood gushed over my hand, like a river." She shook her head as her heart stuttered in memory. "Why did you take the bullet? I wouldn't have survived if you'd died."
"Move over." Slipping into her bed, he cradled her against his chest. "You're wrong. You would've pulled yourself together for Keenan, for Amara. That's who you are."
He didn't understand, she thought. "But I wouldn't have survived." She put her hand on his chest, wanting to feel the pulse of his life. "Pieces of my heart, Dorian. You're in so many pieces of my heart."
He sucked in a breath at her use of those words, tightening his embrace. "Shh, now, sugar. I'm a tough bastard... though you'll have to explain how I survived a shot to the carotid."
The practical question anchored her, and she guessed he'd known it would. "I have no idea. I was unconscious."
Dorian began to say something, but right then, the door opened and Tamsyn walked in with several others. Ashaya found both herself and Dorian being bullied into a battery of medical tests. She told them she was fine, but no one listened. Tammy's eyes actually went leopard on her when she dared protest. Ashaya shut up.
"Let them fuss," Dorian whispered as they were being taken down for yet another scan. "They had a shock, too, need to convince themselves we're okay."
She could understand that. "Amara?"
"She's being watched. I talked to Sascha while you were having the bloodwork done. She thinks we woke quicker because we bolster each other's energy."
Ashaya didn't know enough about this new web to answer. Instead, she kept a psychic eye on her twin as they completed the scan. When it was time to return, she put her foot down and was allowed to walk - as Dorian had been doing all along. She was a little shaky, but no invalid to be pushed around.
Mercy was standing outside their room, waiting. "Hey, glad to see you're feeling better." Her smile was genuine. "If Blondie gives you any trouble, call me. I know all sorts of stuff you can use to blackmail him into good behavior."
Ashaya had the most startling thought - she liked Mercy. Mercy could become a friend. "Can I borrow your gun for a minute?"
Mercy gave her a wary look. "Um, what did he do?"
Dorian put his hand on Ashaya's back. "What is it?"
Ignoring the sharp protectiveness lacing his tone, Ashaya held out a hand. "Please, trust me."
"You're Dorian's mate," Mercy said, as if that was an answer. "Here." Metal warm from Mercy's body touched her palm. "You know how to use it?"
"The basics, yes." Tucking the gun to her side, she went to the door.
Dorian slammed out his arm to block her but she ducked under and slid it open, knowing him well enough by now to have predicted the move. She swiveled to find Amara standing with her back against the wall by the door, a broken water glass in hand. Her twin froze at seeing Ashaya instead of Dorian.
"I won't let you hurt him." Aware of both Mercy and Dorian standing in the doorway ready to attack, Ashaya raised the gun.
Baring her teeth, Amara threw the makeshift weapon at the opposing wall. "You win today but what about other days? How will you protect him then?"
"Dorian can protect himself." Her hand began to shake. "Let it go, Amara. Just let it go."
"No. I'm a monster," Amara said with cool indifference. "I'll remain a monster. Kill me or you'll spend a lifetime waiting for me to strike."
Ashaya's hand wavered. "I can't." Because no matter what, Amara was her sister. "God help me, but I can't." Not like this, not in cold blood.
"Then we're at a stalemate." Amara looked at Dorian, then back at Ashaya. "You can't kill me, and I won't kill you. Nor am I unselfish enough to kill myself. Yet we both know I can't be allowed to live."
Ashaya envied her sister her emotionless calm. "You care nothing for your life?"
"My life..." A pause at last. "Have you seen the new network we're linked into?"
Ashaya gave a shaky nod. The Web of Stars, Dorian had called it. A minuscule network in comparison to the PsyNet, but instead of isolated white stars on black, this network, this web, was filled with connections. Golden threads that tied each star to another, sometimes to more than one. And in between streamed ribbons of color, streamers of joy and light, hope and forgiveness.