“Amin is here.”
Following Vasic’s gaze, Ivy saw a uniform-clad Arrow emerge from the moonlit shadows, his skin the darkest brown Ivy had ever seen. He ignored Rabbit’s curious presence to walk over to Vasic and Ivy. “What do you need?” he asked Vasic.
“Ivy will explain.”
“An experiment.” She smiled, though she could feel nothing from this man, as she’d once been unable to from Vasic. “Would you mind spending some time with me?”
Amin’s eyes met Vasic’s in a silent question before he said, “All right.”
“Thank you.” Inviting him to walk with her, Vasic on her other side, she’d only gone a few steps when Rabbit scampered over, tail wagging triple time. “You like this place, huh?”
Then he was off again, zipping around the corner. From the bark Vasic heard, their pet had located Ella. Sure enough, he led the lithely muscled brunette to them ten seconds later. Ella, too, agreed with Ivy’s request to spend time with her, and the four of them walked along the pathways of the otherwise empty green area.
Catching his eye almost ten minutes of stilted conversation later, Ivy telepathed, A little help?
I don’t know how to chat, he reminded her, because it was the truth. They may well consider me deranged if I begin now.
Ivy’s lips twitched. Stop making jokes, she said, though Vasic wasn’t aware he’d done so. Amin and Ella know you, trust you. Please, try?
I can’t promise success, Ivy. You must remember who I was before you. That is where they are now. In the cold numbness that permitted them to do what needed to be done.
Vasic didn’t bother to engage the other two Arrows in conversation; he went right to the heart of the matter. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” It was impossible to separate the two voices that answered.
“Then you need to trust Ivy.”
It shattered an unknown wall in him when they didn’t hesitate. Turning to Ivy, Ella said, “If you have Vasic’s trust, you have ours. What do you need from us?”
Ivy blinked. “It’s done.” Laughing, she jumped into Vasic’s arms.
Amin’s mind touched his. She truly is yours.
Yes. He looked into two pairs of dark eyes. Life isn’t only for other people. It was a reality it had taken him a long time to accept. We’re permitted to exist, too.
Neither Amin’s nor Ella’s expression altered, but he could read them as only a fellow squad member could, and he knew both were shaken. Releasing Ivy after drawing the scent of her into his lungs, he listened as she turned and laid out the facts for his fellow Arrows.
“The connection,” she said, “is through Vasic, which makes complete sense.” I’ve also lost two others that I was linked to through Aden, so I must be maxed out on the number of people I can protect.
That won’t matter once the entire empathic network is in place, Vasic pointed out. There will be multiple failsafes.
“Does this connection equate to a security vulnerability?” Ella asked.
“I can’t access your minds or your emotions if that’s what you mean,” Ivy said, “but I’ll be honest—I have no idea how it may affect you. If this is meant to cure the Net, the connection to me could equal a change in your emotional equilibrium.”
“Understood.” Amin was the one who spoke. “We’re aware of what’s been happening to Arrows linked to empaths. It’s an acceptable risk.”
Ivy’s face was suddenly stricken. You don’t think I influenced you to be with me somehow? she asked Vasic. I swear I didn’t do it consciously if I did.
Vasic closed his hand over her nape, her curls warm against the back of his hand. All you did was haul me into the light. I could’ve walked away at any point. I chose to stay. I will always choose to stay.
The knot in Ivy’s throat was a huge, wet thing. Unable to speak, she just listened as he thanked the two Arrows for their patience. They turned to walk away, and as they did so, Rabbit raced up to them, tail wagging. The Arrows glanced down, then the male angled his head at Ivy. “What does he want?”
“To play,” she said. “You could throw a stick.” She looked around, but Vasic had already found one in the undergrowth. “He likes chasing it.”
The Arrow took the stick from Vasic and threw it. The two began walking again, were soon out of sight, but from Rabbit’s happy “woofs” for several minutes afterward, he’d found some new stick-throwing minions.
“The connection’s already having a subtle impact,” Ivy whispered, thinking of how both Arrows had ignored Rabbit earlier.
Vasic leaned down to tug the stick from Rabbit when he decided to come back to them, play fighting with the dog until Rabbit let go and raced off in preparation to catch it. “Our minds link to the PsyNet because we need the biofeedback to survive,” he said. “Yet the biofeedback has undeniably been damaged in a subtle but fundamental way for an unknown period of time.”
Ivy’s eyes grew wide. “The link to an empath might be acting as a filter to clean up the biofeedback.” She thought again of the two Arrows who were now connected to her. “They trusted me because of you, but others will put their faith in an E out of desperation.” It wasn’t clean or tidy, but it might just work.
Eyes of winter frost met hers. “We need more data, and we need it as fast as possible.”
Neither one of them slept for the next seventy-two hours, and neither did seven of the other empaths who’d been part of the original group at the compound. Isaiah was still in hospital and needed more rest, but he was alert when awake—and irritable. Ivy was delighted to see him on the road back to his normal self.