"Eamon got you being shot on tape," Clay said into the quiet. "He didn't drop the camera until after the blood started spraying."
"Gee, thanks for the reminder." Dorian scowled at the other man.
Mercy threw a cushion at him. "You're an idiot, Blondie. Clay's saying maybe the Council shot itself in the foot this time."
"No, they shot me," Dorian said, but he was thinking. "How much did Eamon get?"
"Full back view of the shooter, you taking the hit for Ashaya. It was a live feed - it's already out there." Clay shrugged. "You could stalk them, and maybe get yourself killed in the process, or you could sit back and let them implode."
"You're asking me to be f**king rational," Dorian muttered. "I haven't been rational in a long time."
Cool blue ice over his soul, passion and heart, gentle hands and sweet lips.
His mate. Safe and sound. And rational enough to anchor his more volatile personality. "Fine, push the feed again and again," he said. "Let's see how the bastards spin this." Psy were emotionless but they weren't stupid. "Get enough copies out there and someone will upload it to the PsyNet."
"Probably already done," Nate said from his position on the floor. "We'll have to wait and see which tack the Council decides to take. Could be it finally makes Ashaya too hot to hit, or..."
"Or could be they try to destroy the root of the problem."
"In which case," Lucas said quietly, "we'll all go hunting with you."
Dorian looked at his alpha and felt his leopard settle a fraction. He knew the promise would be kept. "Any other business?" he said, telling them the vicious edge of blood hunger had passed. Whether the calm would last was another question. He'd never been particularly good at letting things go.
"The humans," Clay said. "The ones that were sniffing around after Ashaya? The Rats thought they might have a base in the Tenderloin, but there's been no movement for days."
"Probably scared off by the shooting," Nate said. "Humans don't like to get in the middle of Psy-Changeling turf wars."
Dorian agreed. "We'll need to stay on alert, but there's very little chance of a human getting close enough to Shaya to do any damage. They don't have the physical senses to beat us on our own territory." Unaware of air currents and scents, humans gave themselves away the same as Psy.
"I'm going to tell Tally you said that." Clay smirked. "Your ass is toast."
"Nah." Dorian grinned. "Shaya will protect me."
Everyone laughed and the discussion turned to other matters.
"Aaron," Lucas said to Dorian. "I'm taking your advice, shifting him out of Chinatown. We need a replacement."
"Mia." Vaughn suggested. "She can fit in anywhere, and she looks about as threatening as a gnat."
"Fine," Lucas agreed. "Mercy - how's Cory?"
"Good. I think it's time he and Kit both got bumped up officially out of juvenile status."
"Nico, too," Clay said. "The other kids still have some work to do."
Several minutes of discussion followed as they considered the pros and cons. With changelings, adulthood wasn't a right. It was a privilege earned through hard work and maturity. With Kit carrying the scent of a future alpha, they had to be even more careful - young alphas could easily go off the rails.
But this time, they were all in agreement. Kit, Cory, and Nico had grown up a lot in the past year. All three would now carry the rank of novice soldier. Being a soldier wasn't about war. It was about protecting the pack. And about standing by your own.
In blood... and in joy.
Shoshanna stared at her husband, Henry, across the width of her desk. "Why did you do it? We decided to go with the majority."
"She was a threat."
"How?" She glanced at the clip playing on her computer screen. "It's true Aleine's actions will equal the probable end of Protocol I, but her death would've only made matters worse." Shoshanna didn't like being thwarted, but she was also a creature of cold intellect. "You almost turned her into a martyr." Better that she was alive and digging her own grave. "It's obvious from this clip that Aleine has broken Silence. Any threat of her becoming a rebel leader has decreased to negligible levels."
Henry remained unmoved. "I was unaware of that fact at the time."
"Even so," she continued, "the assassination attempt has created a massive political quagmire." She turned the computer screen toward him. "Bloody violence. And at the hands of a Psy who is obviously one of our elite operatives." The Council's rule was built on Silence. And that Silence was supposed to have ended violence among their race. "You've undermined - "
"It was the correct choice at the time," Henry interrupted. "We can't keep allowing the changelings to get the better of us."
Normally, Shoshanna would have agreed. "Don't you comprehend what you've done? We can't kill her now. The instant anything happens to Aleine, it will confirm every one of her allegations and give the rebels all the ammunition they need."
"An unfortunate consequence." Rising, he walked to the window. "However, she's no longer on my list of priorities."
She didn't understand his behavior. Henry measured as a powerful 9.5 on the Gradient, but he'd always been the beta partner in their relationship. She was the one who'd made all the critical decisions - such as having them both implanted with stolen copies of the prototype Aleine had developed in the course of her work on Protocol I. Until the implants had had to be removed, she and Henry had been one mind, and even there, she had ruled. "Explain your reasoning to me," she persisted.