Stroking his back, Ivy said, “No, Vasic, it’s beautiful.” A song of sorrow and peace. “To go public with this information is to risk other lives.” The Net was stable in one sense, but the psychological impact of the events of the past months—the past century—had left jagged cracks in millions. One more thing could tip an already wounded people over the edge of tolerance.
“The day will come when people are ready to confront the past,” she said, her throat thick. “On that day, we’ll make a public announcement, read each name aloud, make sure their stories are known.”
“I don’t want to cheat them, Ivy.” Vasic’s eyes held such raw emotion, she couldn’t imagine how she’d once thought him cold. “I don’t want to build a future on a broken promise.”
“You aren’t.” It was hard to speak past the knot choking her, because she knew he carried each and every name in his heart and his mind always. “This, what you’re doing, it’s what you can do at this moment in time. As the world changes, you’ll keep going.” She cupped his face. “I know you’ll never stop, never forget. We’ll come here as often as you need to, and we’ll bring the families to whom the truth matters. We’ll keep the promise, Vasic. Together.”
He didn’t answer, simply lowered his face to her neck, his arms coming around her. Ivy held him tight, held her Arrow who couldn’t cry, but who mourned all the same.
• • •
IT took them almost two days to personally visit those Vasic knew wanted the truth—because he’d kept track of every single one of the affected families. Ivy stood with him as he accepted their recriminations, their rage and sadness, and then she held the people who needed it. Others were too angry, would need time to come to terms with the truth.
That was their right.
As it was Ivy’s to spend these last hours before the operation making sure Vasic’s life was ordinary. A normal day in a normal life . . . or as normal as it could be when the man she loved was an Arrow. He deserved a normal day, one without blood and horror and darkness. He deserved a million such days and she wanted to give them to him.
Sitting on the stoop of the cabin, she hugged her knees to her chest and watched him go through a quiet, dangerous martial arts routine with Aden in a corner of the yard he’d telekinetically cleared of snow. His best friend hadn’t said a word since his arrival, his shields impenetrable and his face expressionless.
Zie Zen would also soon be here, Vasic scheduled to pick him up in another forty-five minutes. They’d have lunch together with her parents, and she’d make sure she laughed because Vasic hated it when she cried. And she’d continue to hope for the comm to chime or her phone to buzz.
So many people were working to the final hour to find another, less dangerous solution. Ashaya and Amara Aleine hadn’t yet been able to unravel the complexities of Samuel Rain’s invention, but continued to try. The original project team had never stopped its attempts at formulating an answer. Even the surgeon was completing simulated operation after simulated operation in an effort to alter the percentages.
Samuel Rain, however, had become a hermit.
“I’m sorry,” Clara had said to Ivy when she’d called the sympathetic woman this morning. “I’ve tried to get in, see him, but he’s intransigent. All I can tell you is that the medical scanners built into the room report he’s healthy. He continues to send out order requests for arcane equipment and supplies, all of which Zie Zen fulfills at once, but we have no idea what he’s doing with it.”
Ivy caught the subtext—Samuel Rain might be trying to do what he’d once done with such ease, and each failure could be driving him further and further into despair. “Has he . . . Is it a total breakdown?” Ivy’s fingers had clenched on the phone.
“He seems rational when he does communicate, but he barely communicates.” Clara’s voice had softened. “I’ll keep trying, Ivy. I know how important this is. But we can’t barge in; that’ll erode any trust he might still have in us.”
“It’s all right, Clara. I never wanted to harm Samuel in any way.” She’d truly believed he was strong and becoming stronger. “I hope he comes through this.”
Now, four hours after that call, she sat watching the man she loved move with a deadly economy of motion beside his best friend. Aden had treated the latest burn an hour ago but hadn’t had the equipment to totally remove the mark, and so it was an ugly redness on Vasic’s arm.
Fingers fisting in Rabbit’s coat, she said, “You know it, too, don’t you?” Rabbit had taken to following Vasic around, leaning up against his leg any time he stopped. Vasic didn’t rebuke their pet, always finding time to stop and touch Rabbit before going about his work again. But Rabbit wouldn’t be soothed, as Ivy couldn’t be soothed.
Her mate was dying and she couldn’t do anything to stop it.
WHEN A THIRD Arrow walked out of the orchard to join Vasic and Aden, Ivy wasn’t the least surprised. They’d started doing that ever since she and Vasic had settled at the cabin, just turning up. She’d fed more than one at the dinner table—though that was easy enough, since most just wanted nutrition bars. It wasn’t the food they came for, of course.
“Home,” Vasic had told her. “They come because they know they’re welcome in our home. To men and women who have never had a true home, a place of warmth and safety, it is a treasure beyond price.” He’d kissed the top of her head. “And they know you’re my treasure. So they come to check on you when they’re nearby. Do you mind?”