Vasic looked from one to the other. Ivy, who reached parts of him he hadn’t known had survived until her. Aden, who’d refused to consign him to the abyss. They were the two most important parts of his life, and now they stood with him, Ivy’s fierce refusal to let him fall—let any of them fall—coming up against Aden’s iron will.
“Why fight for us?” Aden asked, his tone quiet. “Vasic, I understand. He’s yours. Why do the rest of us matter?”
“Because you’re his family, and because whatever you may have done, you paid the price for it in the kind of pain no child should have to bear, in not being allowed to even exist.” She touched her fingers to Aden’s shoulder. “Enough, Aden.” It was a gentle plea. “This isn’t only about rehabilitating the public’s image of the squad, but your own image of yourself and your Arrows.”
“Would you welcome other Arrows to your home, Ivy?” Aden asked. “Would you truly treat them as family?”
“Of course,” she said as if the answer was self-evident, as if every woman so blithely welcomed a squad of trained killers into her home.
Rabbit got up and ambled ahead at that instant, and the three of them followed.
“That’s another reason why Vasic must be our public face,” Aden said a minute later. “You humanize him.”
Vasic waited for Ivy’s response, wasn’t expecting it to be laughter. “Did you throw me and Vasic together to get this outcome?” Her fingers petted his back under the jacket, and he knew she wasn’t offended at the idea.
“No. But now that it’s happened, I’ll use it.”
Vasic didn’t interrupt his partner; he and Aden had too much trust in each other for Aden to place Ivy in any kind of danger.
“The human and changeling media,” his fellow Arrow continued, “is very good at picking up the nuances of interpersonal relationships.” Taking the datapad, he brought up an article linked from the first. It wasn’t as long, but had a number of pictures.
The first was of Ivy on her knees in a street overrun with the infected, bleeding from her ears.
“That’s from right back at the start,” Ivy murmured.
The other images had a far different tone. Vasic’s hand on Ivy’s lower back as they took Rabbit for a walk. Ivy’s face quiet with a trust that pierced him to the core as he lifted her in his arms when her strength ran out. Ivy laughing with her whole body on the doorstep to their apartment building, her hand curled around his upper arm.
“The public,” Aden said, “is fascinated by you and your relationship. We can use that.”
Ivy made a face. “I want to help the squad, but I don’t want to live our relationship out on the world stage.”
“That’ll never happen.” Vasic had no intention of allowing any intrusion.
“I don’t expect you to,” Aden replied. “To do so would look false, and the reason you’ve caught their attention is that you don’t look false together.”
“Then why,” Ivy said, “are you telling us?”
“So you know you’re being watched.” Aden looked down at Rabbit as the dog dug up a fresh stick with unerring canine instinct and came to drop it at his feet. “Why does your pet think I’m his personal stick thrower? I’d expect that task to fall to Vasic.”
Lips twitching, Ivy bent to rub Rabbit’s head. “He’s testing you out. He already knows how Vasic throws—Rabbit likes variety.”
Aden threw the stick. Multiple times.
Passing through a patch of sunshine ten minutes later, after Rabbit had decided to give Aden a break, they shifted to the right to allow a jogger to pass. The blonde shot Ivy and Vasic a dazzling smile, calling out, “You’re both amazing for what you’re doing!” as she passed.
Ivy sighed afterward. “I guess we can’t just ignore the media.”
“No,” Aden confirmed.
“It’s not just about the squad’s image, is it?” Vasic said as Ivy walked on ahead to make sure Rabbit didn’t venture into the more heavily trafficked areas. “It’s about the squad.” He’d known his partner too long not to pick up the unspoken subtext.
Aden paused beside a statue half-buried in snow. “Seeing Krychek connect with Sahara Kyriakus was a positive sign, but he wasn’t trained with us, didn’t grow up with us.”
“Judd is one of us.”
“He also had a family to anchor him.”
While the majority of the squad, Vasic completed silently, had been cut loose from those ties. His relationship with Zie Zen didn’t alter that; it had begun after his childhood ended, and his great-grandfather had never been able to treat him as a child who was part of the family unit, only as a foot soldier in the war.
“Judd gave the others hope,” Aden said quietly. “You make them believe in that hope.”
It was the last position in which Vasic had ever expected to find himself. “I’ll speak to Ivy about how open she wishes to be about our relationship when it comes to the squad.” He didn’t think his sweet, generous empath would mind the attention of men and women who sought to understand love, but the choice would be hers.
Nodding, Aden glanced at the sleek timepiece on his wrist. “I’d better head to my meeting with Santos.”
“About their handling of the outbreaks?” The Forgotten teams had done a stellar job, as had the other groups in the city.
Aden shook his head, angled his body to face Vasic. “Zaid set up the Arrow squad to protect Silence, but he also set it up because Psy with certain abilities fit nowhere else.”