“All I care about is that he’s alive,” Ivy said, trembling with the force of her relief. “Aden, come with me.” She stretched out her hand, took his again, and drew him into the operating room.

Edgard Bashir dragged himself out as they hit the door, muttering, “He’s a genius. He’s also mad.”

Ivy thanked him and the exhausted but exhilarated nurses who left in his wake, but her attention was focused on the man who lay on the surgical bed. The screens at the end of the frame showed his vitals, strong and stable and alive. She released Aden’s hand, went to the side of the bed.

Pressing her lips to Vasic’s forehead, her shaking fingers on his chest, she kissed him on the psychic plane at the same time. “We’re here,” she whispered, both with her voice and telepathically. “I love you.”

Thirty seconds later, his lashes fluttered, his lids lifting. Eyes of silver frost, unique and beautiful, met her own. “Don’t say no.”

Vasic tried to give Ivy more warning of what was about to happen, but it was too late. His mind smashed into hers like an out of control bullet train. Her hand spasmed on his chest, her eyes sparking with a cascade of color, and then he saw her, all of her. His Ivy. Strong and stubborn and loyal and with flaws that made her unique . . . and her heart, it was his. Always his.

No one had ever loved him like Ivy did.

Enough to claim him in this most elemental way. “We’re bonded,” he said when he could speak, the splinters of their minds falling back into place. But they weren’t the same any longer, the black of his mind edged with translucent color, the empathic shade of hers streaked with protective black.

“I know.” Crying and laughing at the same time, she kissed him. “I’ve been ready for so long.” She made a stern face at him. “I knew you didn’t want to accept it until you were certain you wouldn’t leave me. Idiot man.”

The affection in those words made him smile deep inside, her love his sunlight. Over her head, he saw Aden standing tall and strong. Thank you. For watching over Ivy, for being his friend, for bracing him when he would’ve stumbled.

May I see? Aden asked.

Vasic opened the shields he’d instinctively snapped around himself and Ivy when their minds collided, and Aden slipped in. The bond between Vasic and Ivy was different from that which connected Kaleb Krychek and Sahara Kyriakus. It wasn’t a single titanium rope, but countless threads of finest black translucent with color. Each appeared as if it would break at a whisper, but when Aden glanced at Vasic for permission and touched a psychic finger to one, it bent with the pressure, then flowed right back into shape.

Quickly closing his shields back up as soon as Aden stepped out because he wasn’t ready to share this with anyone else, Vasic looked at his friend.

I think, Aden said, this may be your most challenging assignment yet.

Vasic wrapped his arm around Ivy when she climbed into bed with him, her hand over his heart and her head on his shoulder. I’ll learn. He’d learn anything for her.

Aden nodded and quietly left the room, saying one last thing as he gave them privacy. I truly understand hope now, Vasic.

So, Vasic thought, his heartbeat aligned to that of his empath, did he.

• • •

FOUR weeks later and three weeks after he left the hospital, Vasic was told that while medical science had advanced to the point where limbs could be regrown from the cells of the individual who needed them, so as to negate the risk of rejection, his body had suffered too harsh an insult with the gauntlet. He was otherwise healthy, should have the same life span as any other Psy, but no biological transplant would take.

“I could try, but it would involve further surgery on my brain,” Vasic told Ivy as they sat on the stoop of the cabin he’d started to extend the day Ivy stopped fussing over him if he so much as moved a muscle. He had to admit he’d enjoyed the fussing; he might even have played lame duck for a day or two longer than strictly necessary.

Ivy’s response came out a near growl that made Rabbit prick his ears where he sat just behind them in the cabin. “You try and I’ll beat you.”

“You’re becoming very violent, Ivy.” Vasic rubbed his hand over the roughness of his head. Edgard had had to shave off his hair to get to the tendrils fused to his brain. Those tendrils were still there, would remain till the day he died, but the surgery had rendered them permanently inert.

Grabbing his hand, Ivy pressed her lips to the back of it. “It’s growing back,” she said, smile lines bracketing her mouth. “I never knew you were so vain.”

He was used to being teased by his Ivy now. “I think you want to be teleported into the middle of a swamp.”

A heavy-browed scowl. “Try it and see who’s sorry.”

Pulling his hand from her grasp, he wrapped his arm around her to tuck her close. “I may have lost an arm,” he said, “but it’s the stubble on my head that reminds me of how close I came to death. Perhaps because when I feel it or see it, I can’t help but imagine Samuel Rain digging around in there with manic glee.”

Ivy snorted with laughter before slapping him on the chest. “He saved your life, you ungrateful wretch!”

He loved watching Ivy laugh, could do it forever. “Rain will make certain I don’t forget his genius.” In truth, Vasic would never be able to repay either Rain, Edgard, or the two nurses. Whether the four knew it or not, they now had the support of an entire squad of Arrows. “But even Rain agrees a biological replacement is off the table.”

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