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Time for Change
Anger prowled a monster beneath her skin, and it made her quiet. Not because she blamed Jacinda, but because she did not want her to think so. Tenzin’s legs ached to run -- to run through the concrete paths until she found her way home once more, to the places beyond the confines of this very human place. Now she knew pack circled the city it was difficult not to return to it, especially in time of need. It was not natural to survive alone. The nuzzle of soft fur would soothe away what were ultimately human concerns. Wolves lived more simply. They lived pure.

But Jacinda followed, and so she could not go even if she had allowed herself. Her sister spoke and Tenzin said nothing. She needed time.

It was not until the familiarity of den that she began to feel the tension and frustration ease. The contacts were pocketed on route using a car’s wing-mirror to ensure the ones beneath remained intact. She blinked rapidly, a snarl on her lips for the extra annoyance. Now she sat curled in one of the chairs. Her thoughts had returned to the girl, aware the inquisitor was not likely to rest -- and knowing she would need Jacinda’s help to navigate the technology to find her first. This was not a hunt she could scent with nose alone.

For now Jacinda’s mind was elsewhere. Tenzin’s dark eyes stared for a long time before she even tried to answer the question. Language barriers aside, it was a loaded one.

“Rākṣasa hatyārā,” she said eventually. Her voice sounded raw. “Trained in Alchi, small village. Follow the teachings of Buddha, mostly. Kill sparingly, only when needed, for hurt to the soul -- needs to have reason, you see?” She shook her head. “Minority still. Some say our monastery fell from path long time before, but feels right. To me.”
Tenzin's words reminded her of Hosteen Benally, from the Navajo Reservation. It wasn't something she thought of often. That whole memory was tinged with a sadness that she refused to think of. The first dousing of actual hope. Of acceptance. Of love. She shoved it away before her name bubbled up from the deep.

Instead, like someone with tongs careful over a campfire, she extracted the nugget she needed while avoiding getting burned. Many Atharim traditions. And while the American Atharim were not beholden to that of the Old World- and Regus in particular- their...connection still went back far enough that they felt related. Cousins.

But that tradition not only allowed a man like Regan to live, it let him thrive. She wasn't fool enough to think there weren't others out there like him. Atharim or not. But she was beginning to see the whole "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude had dehumanized them. Was ruining them.

She remembered the women held by a rougarou nest in Mexico only a few years ago. The brutal choice she'd given them. A pill or a bullet. One or the other. After horrors unimagined. Yes, she above most others, knew what being kept by a roug meant. The scar on her wrist and under her arm never let her forget it. The promise of being kept as a fuck toy and incubator of monsters.

But that was her choice. To die rather than be that. Not one she had a right to demand of them.

She felt like water was eating away at her feet and she kept slipping. What felt real was slowing being eroded. Not slowly. Not really. Quickly. And she didn't know what to do.

She grit her teeth and stood up, trying to focus on something real. She got lost in making coffee. Or at least tried to. Pot filled with water she only needed to add the ground beans to the filter. She was angry as she tried to pull the bag open and somehow it ripped out of her hands, making a mess all over herself and the floor.

She grabbed the counter, steadying herself. Fuck!, she whispered.

Because she knew what she saw. Sterling. That little girl. Scared and afraid. And a pawn. She saw the innocents she had killed, however gently. That they died painlessly did not make then less dead. Their dreams and hopes less crushed.

She pulled on herself, digging up strength from somewhere. She turned and laughed half heartedly. "Maybe I don't need coffee right now." she said with a quiet laugh. She ignored the mess, instead focusing on Tenzin. Studying her, searching for an answer in those black eyes.

She felt an overwhelming hunger within her soul. Desperate. "How did the people of your did they know when someone was too far gone? That they deserved to die?" She didn't realize her voice was whispering and trembled as she asked the question.
Tenzin watched the other woman, and was not subtle about it. Frustration was bleeding out of Jacinda like a gushing wound, and it filled her nose with an intensity that made her whole body want to shake out the tension of it. Her hands rested on folded knees, back straight, and instead she was very still, waiting. Coffee burst in a dark cloud from the fumble of fingers. Jacinda leaned heavy on the kitchen counter afterwards, like it might steady the floundering of her soul. Beyond the strength of self, only pack might offer that comfort, but if Jacinda accepted Tenzin as a sister-in-arms hers was still by choice a lonesome existence. It was usually the way of her human brethren. Mostly Tenzin accepted that.

“Not village,” she said. “Still innocent, down there. Just monastery. The lama.” Her tilted, though only slightly, the long tail of her dark braid resting against her shoulder. Her nostrils flared a little. It grieved her to sense that pain. “Together only, not burden for one soul. Too heavy. Not taken lightly, Jacinda. Not killed for birth in my home, only for action. Right way to me. But Alchi small.”
She felt lost. She didn't know who she was anymore. She looked at Tenzin's black eyes but didn't really see her, instead staring past her. What she had known to be true, had fully trusted had, little by little, cracked and fissured, splintering her world until she had nothing.

She was drifting in an ocean, its floor was miles below, prey to the waves that tossed about, washing over her head, lungs sputtering as she coughed, toes seeming to sometimes brush against something below.

Regan. Regus. Atharim. Jacinda...Cross. The name she took for herself. Jacinda Nolan had been a scared little girl, angry and heart broken. Jacinda Cross had refused to break, even if she hid what had happened even from herself. Had been her refuge at the time.

She realized her fingers were toying with the charm Ten had given her, the sharp end of the tooth pressing into her thumb deeply, the now realized pain bringing her back to herself.

Her eyes focused again and she moved to the table and sat, fingers of one hand now gently touching the charm, for reassurance.

She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She clenched her teeth and forced herself. She had no idea where to begin. "My name is not Jacinda Cross. It is Jacinda Nolan, the name of my parents." She looked out the window above the sink, open, the scent of a summer breeze flowing in, fluttering the curtains. A curious feature on a safehouse, but then again, there were steel walls that would slam down over the window, if necessary.

She looked back at Tenzin. Well, she might as well go on. And so she did. Her parents. Regan. Their death. Her becoming his...girl was the word she used. At the time, that word had made her proud. His girl. 32 years later, the word meant something else. Terrible. She had been 12. Not meant to be used by a man like him.

She felt the rage in her heart. At him certainly. But at herself. How could she have been so stupid not to see it, to have kept idolizing him all these years, craving to be owned once again. Her lip curled in disgust. "He owned me and I loved it." And she remembered not long ago telling Tenzin she had felt drawn to the Regus for the same reason, shame filling her. "God, he fucked me up," she whispered.

But she didn't shy away from the end. "And then he decided to get rid of me. I was too old. He had another girl in his sights." Julie. "He gave me to a nest of rougarou," she said weakly. That realization should have filled her with rage.

Instead, she put her head down, the silence filling the room, her eyes hot and stinging as tears dropped, a tearing in her chest she struggled to contain. How could he have done that to me? He'd said he loved her. It was that thought that killed her. And then gave her to rougs to be raped and bred and used until she got too old. He knew what they would do to her.

His screams into the night as the flames licked around him, haloing him in red and orange and yellow echoed in her mind. She had watched, refusing to look away.

She lifted her head. She had told Tenzin how he died. She knew she looked a fright, grounds in her hair, eyes red and puffy.

The charm was still there, in her fingers. She was all over the place. Anger and sorrow. Terrible loss and joy at his death. Deep guilt over the cavalier way she had carried out her work, as if she could be like Regan. Longing for a life like the one Tenzin described. "I don't know who I am anymore." Her hand moved to lightly touch the Atharim tattoo. "Or what this means for me anymore."
She did not share, of course, that she had intimate knowledge of the process. That she had been watched and judged and absolved of the otherness of her nature by the very people who had raised and trained her. In another life it might have been Jacinda’s own blade that slit her throat, rather than the gift of time she had actually been given to discover a way to exist peaceably with her duality. She listened quietly, to the new facets of her sister’s history, as well as to the parts that had already been shared. Mostly her expression was still, but she made no secret of the disgust she felt at Regan’s name. Fortunate the man was dead. Her jaw tensed. Somewhere distant she felt the Moscow pack inquire as to the nature of the enemy, but she soothed them with assurances of two-leg troubles and they quickly lost interest.

“Means guardian,” she said simply, and with steel. Wolves had no use for the complex emotions of humans, and to some degree Tenzin shared that simplistic notion of life. Stubbornness reared in her voice as she twisted her arm to show the same mark on her own skin, hers engulfed by the other colourful images decorating her arm wrist to shoulder. It was not a misunderstanding. She scented every conflicting emotion clear as a forest trail, and knew it was not the answer Jacinda wanted to ease the shadows of her soul. Life had been hard for her. The cruelty curled Tenzin’s lip protectively, but there was no throat to tear. No enemy to chase down.

“No life without regret. No life without pain. Not for us.” For rākṣasa hatyārā the serpent also communicated where training had taken place. The further south in India Tenzin travelled, the more wary recognition became of her origins. Had those people also witnessed her yellow eyes, she would have become one of the hunted. That was fact. But she had never swayed over her loyalties, never truly suffered the loss of faith she sensed in Jacinda now. Perhaps that was the wolves’ influence. “Past is past. Can’t change it. Only grow. Or die, but look still kicking to me.” Her brows rose, and though it had been a joke it didn’t much crack the seriousness of her expression. She was not without compassion; Jacinda had seen that side of her already, the night of her injuries. But she was practical too, and fierce in her convictions.
She listened quietly, knowing Tenzin meant well, yet...She supposed it was cultural. Or maybe just personality. People were different. Or she was. Probably the latter.

She heard. And it was all true. Even locked in that room, she never questioned what she knew. Or what she thought she knew, anyway. A lie, as she had finally realized. Regan would not have saved her, if he had known where she was. But at the time...she hadn't questioned. Now, she knew the truth. It had always been just her.

In that ocean she floated, untethered and unsure. She felt exposed in a way she couldn't have imagined, not in her darkest memories.

The shutter on the lantern opened, the tiny flame exposed. And she felt herself sink. The flame guttered and flickered and went out.

She ran a hand through her hair and coffee grounds rained down. Forcing a smile, she stood. "Yep. Still kicking. That's something " She touched Tenzin's shoulder, looking into her black eyes. "I'll think about it." She nodded to the mess. "I'll clean that up after I shower."

Once in the bathroom, she stepped into the tub before stripping off her clothes, shaking them out and then dumping them on the floor.

The water was hot as it rained on her, brown swirling down the drain to take away her frustration and shame. She thought she was past this. She had learned her lesson. At least she thought she had. Despite the heat, she felt a gust of icy air. Just her memory.

She wasn't really sure why she felt as she did. Or what it even was. Loneliness choked her but strangely, here, now, she refused to cry. She was done with that.

Streams of water flowed down her arms and she watched it, studied the patterns of ink she'd had needled onto her arm. All of them were visible. She needed to see them. Aside from the dragon on her back, anyway. She loved that one but regretted that it took a mirror to remind her it was there. But her arms...yeah, she saw them every time she looked at them. They meant something. Her journey.

The one on her wrist, a broken chain, was woven into a long white scar. The one from that night, the tearing and enough blood to slip the cuffs over her hand. She raised her other arm and saw the jagged lines under her arm from the broken glass as she opened the door of her prison.

She had thought she was not alone. But it was she who broke free. She who had killed the rougs. She who had let Regan die. Tenzin was right.

You can't change the past. You accept it and move on. Accept who you are and move on. She learned that, that day. And again, 15 years ago, as she drove off, heart broken, rejected.

A sort of peace came to her. She was Jacinda. Not Cross. Not Nolan. Just Jacinda. She defined herself. You couldn't let others define you. Or need them. People came and went. Such was life.

Water stopped, she stepped out and dried herself off. She stretched, noticing that her shoulder and back no longer twinged. She smiled at her reflection, suddenly feeling the need to be physical.

She putting on a sports bra, a top, yoga pants, and running shoes. She hadn't been to the gym since she'd come to this house. She'd have to look one up.

First, she needed to clean up the mess she'd made, though.
Her temper still roiled around in her like a summer storm, and it was not soothed by the shifting scents in the room. Maybe translation ruined the sentiment she shared, or maybe the wolfishness of her was too stark to be comforting. Jacinda read little of her mood in turn. The stillness of her, when usually restlessness nipped her heels like spring pups eager for first hunt. That was what it was too, and perhaps a regrettable concoction. She watched Jacinda depart. It was not until the slap of running water sounded from the bathroom that she released the growl crouched in her throat.

Tenzin had known the world in which she stepped into when she crossed the ocean, or thought she had. Certainly she had prepared herself for her Athari cousins’ blunt ways, quite sure she could find a way to exist among them, but even so she had been surprised by the impunity of their actions here. The cruelty of Jacinda’s past only met justice because she dealt it herself, not because the Athari had any sense of caring for one’s own. They searched for the monsters among them, all right, but the wrong ones. This time her teeth did bare as she stalked from the sofa. Her fingers stretched and clenched. She had seen Nox Durante’s injury with her own two eyes. A hunter would not waste such effort on a channeler in their pursuit; she could guess at the rest, enough to assume that the man still plagued the underworld despite his exile. Proof of more value to the tattoo than the man who bore meaningless titles and pulled a gun outside a hospital.

It was madness!

Run with us, Star Dancer. Run and hunt!

The images flooded a sweet temptation even at this distance. A simpler existence, untainted by human corruption and stink. She almost whined the frustration, but swallowed it down in a brutal wrench of one of the cupboards in search of a dustpan and brush instead. Awareness of her own limitations focused her on the very human task. Her hackles were bristling nonetheless. She squatted by the spill of coffee, murmuring low to herself in her own language as she swept it up in wide, angry strokes. She could not kill a man who was dead. She could not oppose an organisation that would turn its teeth on her in turn, nor risk Jacinda by association. But she needed something to do.
She opened her door, feeling as of it was the first time in years. Not the room the rougs took her in. No, the one she was dragged into when was 12.

She was alone. But that was life. She should just be resigned to it. The door stood open, offering freedom, but she couldn't make herself go through it. A part of her didn't want to see Tenzin, she realized. She was scared. She'd probably leave anyway, at some point.

The thought washed away her determination and she stepped back and sat on the bed, overwhelmed at the choice before her. She wondered why she had thought things would be any different. She should have just stuck with doing her own thing. Being part of the Archangels had been a mistake. She knew that almost from the start, the way she had butted heads with Barovsky. Coming here.

She knew herself. She seemed to always find ways to burn bridges. To leave before the other person did. Or drive then away. At least it would be her choice. Jill had been the last time she ever let anyone choose, she remembered.

She grit her teeth, heart tearing. She didn't want to leave. She had exposed herself to the woman, shared with her what she had shared with not another living soul. She couldn't bear the thought that Tenzin would do it too, even though it was only a matter of time.

She stood and walked out the door, determined to go without a world- at least to the gym, for now, as she figured out how to disentangle herself from this situation- when she noticed the woman bent over, cleaning up her mess, angrily muttering in a foreign language, braid bristling like a cat's tail.

Jacinda stopped, watching, resolve melting away. After a moment, she walked silently to the woman, quiet voice betraying her fear. "I was going to clean that. Thank you." was all she could say.

She got the trash bin and brought it over to Tenzin for her to dump the now full dustpan. Instead of getting up, she sat there on the ground and watched the woman. "I'm not used to having friends. Sorry I dumped all that on you."

What was she doing? She was supposed to be disentangling. She shook her head at her stupidity. "I'm not used to having friends. The last time I tried.. It's been easier to just be on my own." Easier? Maybe. But...

She peered at the woman. "I'm not sure what to expect from you. You can be hard to read at times." Despite the serious nature of her words, she laughed a bit. Talk about understatement.
She was aware when Jacinda returned; scent preceded her, and the soft tread of her footsteps. The quiet of her emotions was all very loud. “Know that,” she muttered. “You said.” Dark eyes glanced upwards. None of the anger had been at the other woman, nor was it now, but Tenzin did not blunt herself for the other’s benefit. That was a privilege of pack. Or maybe a burden, depending on how you looked at it. She shoved the offending coffee in the bin, snapping the pan against the metal rim even though it made her sensitive ears ring. “Didn’t “dump”. And not friends. Said we were same.” Something in the way she said it almost suggested a perceived insult, though she knew that was vastly unfair. It did very little to dilute her frustration.

“Angry, is all,” she snapped, as though that explained everything. “For inquisitor. For Regan.” Another bang, though the pan was empty. “And then sound like giving up! For what happened making doubt. But I tell you we are guardian. You and I, same now. Regan can’t take it. Nor inquisitor. Nor dead Regus. Won’t let them.” The vast quantities of emotion squatting in her chest did very little for her broken English, nor her impatience to be understood, which she sorely doubted would be the case -- even to her own ears, it sounded like gibberish. So she reached for the other woman’s wrist; the one with Silver’s tooth, and shook the limb none too gently. “Not alone, stupid.” 

Pack. If only Jacinda could feel the force of that sentiment as deeply as Tenzin did, but she might as well wish to swallow the moon as Silver had tried as a pup. She’d at least thought the past months had built bonds, though; ones not so easily thrown away on human insecurities.

She sat back on her heels.

“Not neatly packaged. Nor you.” She jabbed an accusing finger for the last word, but she thought the worst of her ire had drained now. Perhaps she should have run, despite Jacinda following so swiftly behind after she abandoned the inquisitor and his hunt. It was how she usually worked out her emotions and maintained the sort of calm she imagined Jacinda had come to expect of her company. It would have been kinder, perhaps, but nature was seldom kind. Wolves fought, and even innocent teeth sometimes tore skin. Perhaps Tenzin could not share the whole truth of herself, but she could be honest at least about that. “Did not mean to bite,” she said eventually. “Well, did. But did not mean to hurt you.” A final exhale, still bordering on belligerent. “Say something now.”
For some strange reason, each biting word injected warmth into Jacinda. She had never seen Ten so...emotional. The woman was almost always cool and collected. Jacinda was the hot head. While she normally kept an emotional distance, she wasn't one to temper how she felt. To hide it or keep it under wraps.

It was a contrast she had appreciated- and found amusing.

And yet the women's outburst had an effect she hadn't anticipated. Normally, she would have gotten defensive. Would have been insulted. Would have gone on the attack. And yet...she only barely kept from smiling, feeling something want to burst in her chest.

Somebody cares. Tenzin fucking cares. It was an alien feeling and she marvelled at it.

She fell silent and despite Tenzin's punctuated statement at the end, Jacinda was at a loss for words. She studied the woman, looked again at the charm, the one Ten had physically called attention to.

No, this wasn't something she wanted to walk away from. Not a bridge she wanted to burn. It might hurt, in the long run. And yet... "It's messy, being with people. Being a friend. A sister." She did smile slightly. She looked at her tattoo, at Ten's, considering. Thinking on the Atharim she had known. The difference between them and this woman.

She pursed her lips. "Guardian. Atharim has never meant that for me. The Atharim have lost it. Or haven't had it in a very long time. At least the ones I've known."

Despite the display, the woman was serene and at peace at most times. It was not something Jacinda was used to. The quiet firm resolve. And she felt a profound hunger for it. To know that tranquility.

After a moment, it finally came to her. "Teach me how to be what you are." She realize how vague that sounded and floundered, looking for the words. "That peace. The...way to look. To...see as you see. I am just a hunter. That's what Atharim has always meant to me. What I was taught. It's all I've ever known." A dumb tool, in fact, But Tenzin's experience showed there was so much more. "It's not so black and white is it? How we guard, who we guard matters." She paused, remembering how she felt in the van. She paused, thinking back. Her protective instincts had overwhelmed her. She could see that. "That little girl mattered. Regardless of what the Inquisitor thought of her. Of what she was."

She tipped her head back against the cabinet door, thinking, reevaluating while absently biting her lip. She could see it. After a moment, she looked again at Ten, curious. Was it her? "Are all of like you? As...compassionate as you?" She tilted her head, studying her, searching those unnaturally black eyes, realizing. The woman was a mystery. One she wanted to understand. "Why did you choose to be a guardian." She liked the word. Atharim was foreign and meaningless. Guardian was something else entirely.

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