“The doctors are hopeful, but there is no definite prognosis as yet.”

“Concetta must be devastated.” Hand dropping to her side and voice raspy with withheld emotion, she said, “Why did you hide it from me?”

He curved his hand around the side of her neck. “I knew it would hurt you.”

Gaze meeting his, she shook her head. “I don’t want that kind of a life. Padded against danger and insulated from reality.”

“I know.” He leaned forward, pressed his forehead against hers. “Just . . . give me a little time. I’ve never had someone who was mine before.”

She softened, hand spreading on his thigh. Enclosing her in his arms once more, he held her close, the scent of her in his nose, his heart beating in time with hers. And he knew he’d fight a thousand outbreaks, vanquish untold nightmares, to have another moment such as this. “Have you attempted to attack the infection on the PsyNet itself?” he asked, the idea a sudden, acute one. “The infected are only a symptom. The cause is the poison in the PsyNet.”

Ivy sat up and shifted sideways so that her back was braced against his raised knee. “We tried that back at the compound on the day of the farewell dinner. We thought we should attempt it while we were all together.” Her skin crawled at the memory. “It threatened to suck us into itself, as if we were insects and it was a huge spider.”

“You were inexperienced then, unsure.”

Ivy tapped a finger on her knee, gave his statement serious thought. “Yes.” Not only had the group been uncertain and untested, they’d been feeling the staggering responsibility of coming up with a solution before more people lost their lives. Not ideal conditions. “I think there’s something I can try during the next outbreak as a test.”

Vasic took her chin in a gentle but firm hold. “I won’t get in your way, but promise me you’ll stop the instant you feel any pressure on your brain.”

Ivy felt her heart break at what she saw in his expression, what he let her see, her lethal Arrow trained to hide all vulnerability. “I promise.”

If she’d thought she’d have more time to consider the idea, that proved to be a false hope. An hour later, all hell broke loose in Midtown Manhattan, the outbreak the largest across the world to this point. Arriving with Vasic, Ivy fought her instincts and didn’t wade into the fray when he began to work to contain the situation. Instead, she took a protected position behind a wall and opened her eyes on the PsyNet.

The area where she was anchored remained quiet, but she could see minds sparking an erratic red not far in the distance, violent against the velvet black of the psychic plane. Shooting to the turbulent section, she took a deep breath and whispered, Shh, be calm, be at peace, to herself and released the empathic energy within her.

It was a translucent ripple, akin to the colors formed inside a soap bubble, so subtle it was near invisible against the black. The ripple traveled over the tormented minds, settling on them in undemanding gentleness . . . yet the violent red sparks continued unabated. Disappointment heavy in her gut, Ivy was about to stop and volunteer to fetch and carry for the medics, when Vasic’s mind touched hers.

Ivy, if you’re doing something and it’s not hurting you, keep doing it. This entire block has gone eerily placid—the infected are standing around looking confused, while the noninfected are so calm they’re falling asleep on the street.

Bracing her hands on her knees as her legs threatened to go out from under her, Ivy nodded though he couldn’t see her. Okay, okay.

She didn’t know how long she stood there, but by the time Vasic appeared in front of her, her back was stiff and her calf muscles knotted. “Well?” she rasped, dots in front of her eyes.

“Drink this first.” He thrust an energy drink in her hand and hunkered down to massage her calf muscles with firm, knowledgeable hands that made her moan in relief.

“Only limited casualties,” he said when he rose to his feet and saw she’d finished off the drink.

Already she felt better, her power outlay nowhere close to burnout.

“It could’ve been a massacre.” Vasic’s expression turned grim. “There was a gun shop within the zone of infection, and several of the infected worked inside, had the weapons.”

Ivy shuddered at the thought. “The infected I calmed?” she asked in cautious hope. “How are they?”

“The majority fell asleep over the past ten minutes.” Wrapping his arms around her, he teleported to the apartment before adding, “Jaya and the medics say signs are they’ll slip into comas like the others.”

Heart falling, Ivy stumbled to sit on the arm of a sofa Vasic had righted. “It might be that the cure for this infection isn’t psychic at all,” she said, uncertain what else an E could do. “Maybe it’s a medical problem.” Even as she spoke, she knew it couldn’t be that simple, not with the Net itself beginning to erode.

“Krychek has a top medical team looking into that possibility.” Disappearing without a word, he returned in seconds, Rabbit in his arms. Once again, it was the off-shift Arrows at Central Command who’d kept an eye on their pet.

Rabbit was asleep but woke soon afterward. Ivy hated seeing him so lethargic, so unlike himself. Stroking and petting him as she murmured loving reassurances, she reminded herself how hurt he’d been when he’d first dragged himself to the orchard. If he could survive that, he’d certainly come back from this.

“He likes the sun,” Vasic said, and taking him carefully from Ivy’s lap, placed their pet on the wide windowsill that was his favorite lookout. He didn’t sit up and stare out the window as per usual, but he did stretch out in the late afternoon sunshine.

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