He thought perhaps there was a correct way to reply to that statement, to the wary softness of her, but he didn’t have that knowledge. “Why are you on your own?” He’d left only because he’d seen her parents and others on the way, armed and ready to protect.
“I’m not.” A quick glance over her shoulder before she lowered her voice to a whisper. “My mother, however, hasn’t yet realized you’re here. Do you want to meet her?”
“If you believe it’ll assist her in accepting the parameters of your proposed contract.”
“Probably not.” A slight wince, her expression so open he knew she wouldn’t have been able to fake Silence in the outside world. “She’ll probably take one look at you and pull out a gun.”
“If I’d meant to kill you,” he pointed out, “you’d be long dead, your body disposed of in a crematorium incinerator.”
Blinking, Ivy stared at him with those unusual eyes that made him feel stripped to the bone. “Maybe it’s better if you don’t meet my mother.”
“I disagree.” A taller woman, her body rangy, appeared in view a second after that pronouncement. “At least,” she added, “he’s honest.”
Handing her own broom to an Ivy who was looking increasingly doubtful about the situation, the woman Vasic identified as Gwen Jane from Ivy’s biographical data, said, “Your father’s about a minute away with the materials to repair the window and doors.” She stepped out to Vasic. “Let’s take a walk.”
The next ten minutes were . . . interesting. In the twenty-seven years since he’d been drafted into the squad, Vasic had experienced many things, but never had he found himself being interrogated by a mother concerned for her child. Gwen Jane might appear Silent on the surface, he thought, but in her ferocious protectiveness, he glimpsed the truth—and while he had no experience of maternal love, he understood it to be a formidable force.
“I’ll make certain she comes to no harm,” he told her. “Krychek’s priority might be the Net as a whole, but mine is the safety of the empaths, with Ivy my particular assignment.”
An intent look. “How can you promise that when you work for Krychek?”
“A common misapprehension.” One the squad permitted because it gave the Arrows freedom to stay below the radar. “We choose to side with him because his current stance benefits the PsyNet and the populace. Should that change, he knows not to expect our support.”
“Not tame dogs but wild wolves who’ve decided he’s an ally for the moment?”
“Except we aren’t wild.” To be an Arrow was to live a tightly regimented life. It wasn’t a choice but a necessity. Because there was always a reason an Arrow was an Arrow, and each and every one of those reasons was deadly.
“There are different kinds of wildness,” Gwen said as they came within sight of the cabin once again.
He could see supplies for the window repair laid out against the outside wall—wood for the new frame, the old one having been cracked by the barrage of bullets, as well as a sheet of glass designed to click in. From the sounds echoing over the sunlit snow, Ivy and her father were working on the front door. It only took him a short time to take care of the window, his telekinesis at 7.9 on the Gradient. He didn’t have to pound in nails, simply push with his mind; they went through the wood as if it was butter.
The skill required was of subtlety. Push too hard and the nail would exit out the other side. Working with a thick plank and hundreds of nails had been one of his easier and more fun exercises as a child—back when he’d lived with his “father.” The same man had later dropped him off at an Arrow training facility and never looked back.
Not even once.
Vasic knew because the scared four-year-old he’d been had stood in the entryway of the training facility and watched his father’s vehicle getting smaller and smaller and smaller. According to his memories, he’d cried, but he could no longer access the emotion that had led to the response.
“Well,” Gwen murmured, this woman who’d proven willing to go toe-to-toe with an Arrow to protect her child, “that’s useful.”
“Yes.” People had found Vasic useful his entire life, but it didn’t usually have to do with anything as harmless or as oddly satisfying as fixing a window. “I assume from your earlier questions that Ivy has decided to accept the contract.”
“I’ll let her answer that.” Leaving him with that statement, Gwen went around to the front door.
Ivy came over soon afterward. The sleeves of her faded denim shirt were now rolled up to the elbows to reveal the white of a long-sleeved tee, her scarf having slipped a fraction to set several curling tendrils free. Rabbit, of course, was at her heels. He bared his teeth at first sight of Vasic.
“I’ll agree to the contract,” Ivy said without prelude, “but Rabbit comes with me.” Tipping up her chin, she folded her arms. “Where I go, he goes.”
“He’ll have to be taught to stay within the boundaries,” Vasic said, wondering if Ivy was as loyal to everyone who belonged to her. “I’m certain the changelings would do nothing to harm him, but there are natural wolves and lynxes in the area, too.”
Ivy’s arms dropped to her side, eyes huge. “We’re going to be near changeling territory?” It was a hoarse whisper that brushed over his skin like a tactile sensation.
“Inside it.” Neither Vasic nor Aden had expected the changelings to agree to Krychek’s request, but it was official as of the previous night. “DarkRiver-SnowDancer territory.”