They kissed; said soft, intimate words; rocked together. The orgasm was quieter but the intimacy no less potent. Mine, she said, mind to mind. You are mine. Every breath, every scar, every perfection, every flaw, every light, every darkness. It’s part of you, and it’s mine.
Vasic shuddered and collapsed onto her. The man I was, the man I am, the man I will be, the man I want to be, they all belong to you. Always.
Despite the visceral power of their vow, Vasic’s mind remained separate from hers on the psychic plane. Ivy’s chest ached, but it wasn’t from hurt. She knew what he was doing, her Arrow. He tried so hard, but he couldn’t stop protecting her . . . especially against the consequences of his possible death.
No, she said silently, no. But it was getting harder and harder to forget the lethal countdown to a highly risky surgery. Then, in a vicious reminder, Vasic’s gauntlet malfunctioned again a half hour later. A cool blue laser shot out, scored the same wall Vasic had repaired after the attack by Ming’s men.
The feedback from the laser caused a minor overload, but he was worried only about her, wanted her away from him. “The weapons capability might spontaneously reinitialize again. I could hurt you.”
Ivy wasn’t about to budge. Swallowing her tears, she sat him down on the bed and, using the advanced first aid kit Aden had quietly dropped off three days ago, took care of the burns on his arm and rib cage. “Mine,” she whispered again, pressing her lips to the thin-skin bandage that protected the healing skin.
His hand stroked through her hair. “Ivy.”
Refusing to look up, her hold on her emotions fragile, she said, “It’s time we hunted down Samuel Rain.”
• • •
VASIC took her to Haven, but the engineer refused to see them. According to Clara, he’d been shut up inside his room for days. “He accepts food through the slot he sawed into the bottom of his door”—the manager pointed out the mangled hole—“but will reply to no one.”
Wanting to scream, Ivy disobeyed Clara’s orders and banged on the door. “Samuel!” she yelled, slamming her fists against the barrier. “Open this right now! Samuel!”
“Stop, Ivy.” Vasic enclosed her in his embrace.
Angry and infuriated, she kicked at the door, her words directed at Samuel Rain. “I will make your life unbearable if—” She couldn’t complete the threat, couldn’t acknowledge the fear. Trembling, she held on to Vasic’s strength, unable to imagine a world where he didn’t exist.
A kiss to her temple. “Shh.” His heart pumped steady and powerful in his chest; the idea it might stop was one her brain just couldn’t process.
After leaving Haven, they went to see the surgeon—who told them that the chance of Vasic surviving the surgery was eight to ten percent.
“One in ten,” Ivy said afterward. “It’s not so bad if we put it like that. One in ten.” She repeated that over and over to herself, cupping the meager shield it provided around the flickering candle of hope in her heart. Never would she let that candle go out. Never.
• • •
THE infection continued to hurtle across the Net in the ensuing days, decimating a huge swathe of the psychic plane and leaving thousands of people in comas. Jaya and the other medical empaths figured out a treatment of sorts five days after that beautiful, horrible afternoon of love and despair when Vasic and Ivy had crossed Samuel Rain off as an option. The treatment succeeded in bringing a small number of the infected back to consciousness and to reason.
“The disease is simply dormant in the patients we’ve been able to wake,” Jaya told her one night as they sat on Ivy’s bed, dark circles under her friend’s eyes. “It’s not a cure, and we can’t know how long the Band-Aid will hold.” A defeated slump of her shoulders. “I’m so tired, Ivy,” she said, a sob in her voice. “You are, too, even if you smile through it. Your clothes are starting to hang off you.”
Ivy couldn’t dispute Jaya’s assessment, not with her body feeling as if it had been beaten. Hugging her teary friend close, she stroked her hand down Jaya’s hair. “We’re all on the edge of exhaustion, even the Arrows.”
That wasn’t the only problem.
“How many?” Ivy asked, her fingers trembling against her mouth as Aden gave them the news the next morning.
“Nineteen,” he said. “Not many in the scheme of things, but enough.”
Legs shaky, Ivy sat down on the edge of the sofa. “Why did . . .” She couldn’t say it, couldn’t even think it. It seemed impossible that a mob had formed to kill a group of innocent Psy going about their business.
“Fear,” Vasic answered shortly, his hand on her shoulder. “They believed the victims infected. The only surprise is that it took this long to spill over into violence.”
“The worldwide cooperation agreements,” Aden said, while Ivy tried to process the horror of it, “gave people pause. But now with empaths burning out under the nonstop outbreaks and the infected turning violent again, even formerly rational individuals are seeing vigilante justice as an answer.”
Vasic glanced at the gauntlet that continued to function as far as communications were concerned. “Krychek is on his way.”
“Good. We need to discuss a way to throttle the mob violence before it escalates.”
A flicker at the corner of Ivy’s eye half a minute later announced the deadly cardinal’s arrival. Beside him stood a woman dressed in a forest green sweater-coat belted over black jeans, her dark hair pulled into a rough tail and her eyes a deep midnight blue. “Hello.” She smiled at Ivy, though the strain in her face couldn’t be masked. “I’m Sahara.”