“I wonder what it’s like for Judd”—her gaze shifted to the trees through which the other male had walked away—“living in a changeling pack.”

“I can’t hope to understand,” he said, when he realized Ivy was waiting for an answer, though she hadn’t asked a question.

“Of course you do. You’re part of one yourself.”

“The squad functions differently from a pack.”

“No, it doesn’t.” She broke off a bit of his last bar to nibble on before giving him the rest. “They’re as tasteless as I remember.” Swallowing the bite with a shudder, she turned to face him, one foot on the ground, the other leg folded up on the porch, her hands on her calf.

“I admit I don’t know too much about changeling packs,” she said, the sun at her back, “but from what I understand, loyalty is the glue that holds a pack together. Isn’t it the same with the squad?”

“Yes.” It was often the only loyalty an Arrow had or would ever know. “Changelings, however, live in close proximity, bonded on a physical as well as emotional level.” Two packmates near one another would touch sooner or later—a handshake, a hug, a kiss, it depended on the relationships involved—but touch was a constant in every changeling interaction Vasic had ever witnessed.

Which was why he had trouble comprehending Judd’s life. Because unlike those in a pack—“Arrows are designed to function alone.”

Ivy’s sweater slipped off her left shoulder when she leaned forward, baring skin of golden cream to the morning sunlight. “Okay, I get that.” She didn’t notice when he nudged the sweater back in place with Tk, the temperature too cold for her to be so exposed. “But while you may be designed to function alone, that doesn’t mean you’re not as tight a family.” Passionate words, with no echo of a Silence that had always been an ill-fitting coat. “Like Aden and you, you said you’re brothers.”

Vasic didn’t talk about his childhood, but then he didn’t normally say this many words in a day or eat breakfast with a woman who kept reaching out as if to touch him before she caught herself, her fingers curling into her palm.

Today was not a normal day.

“We grew up together,” he said at last. “While I wasn’t placed into full Arrow training till I was four, I had military-level instructors almost from the cradle.” He sometimes considered how his unprotected mind might have been molded. What saved his sanity was the memory of his later childhood, when he’d been no model pupil. “Designation Tk-V is rare enough that the Council was notified at once of my birth.”

Ivy leaned farther toward him, one hand pressed to the wood of the porch and her eyes dark with an emotion he couldn’t identify. “How did they know your subdesignation so fast?” Her sweater slipped again and he nudged it back. “It usually takes time to be certain, even with genetic markers.”

“I teleported out of the womb.”

Ivy’s mouth dropped open. “No, really?”

“That’s what I was told when I was old enough to understand. The records I accessed as an adult bear out the story. According to the notes of the attending M-Psy, she almost dropped me.”

Ivy shifted close enough that her knee brushed his thigh, the soft scent of her whispering across his senses. “How did you know where to ’port?”

“It was put down to the telepathic connection I had with the woman who gave birth to me.” After which she’d severed all ties as per her conception and fertilization agreement with his biological father. “That’s probably the correct answer.”

Ivy looked at him for long minutes, and he had the sense he’d said something that distressed her, but he couldn’t identify what when he backtracked through his words.

“You were telling me about Aden,” she said at last, so close that he could’ve easily reached out and gripped the vulnerable arch of her neck.

Looking away, he stared at the hands that had ended more than one life. “He was assigned as my telepathic sparring partner.” He and Aden had bonded as only scared children could do, long before their capacity to bond had been tortured out of them. “We’ve known one another for most of our lifetimes.”

Ivy’s fingers brushed his arm before she jerked her hand guiltily back. “See? You’re family,” she said, her pulse a rapid flutter in her throat. “And what’s a pack but a great big family?”

Vasic glanced at her shoulder, nudged the sweater back up. This time, she noticed, color on her cheeks as her hand went up to the spot. “How many times?”

“Five.” He got to his feet before he could make it six. “I need to rest.”

Frown dark, she rose, too. “I’ve been keeping you. You should’ve said.” Folding her arms, she angled her head toward her cabin. “You can use my bed. It’s much more comfortable than one of those cots.”

That bed would smell of green apples, taking the scent from her hair and skin courtesy of the changeling-stocked bath items in the cabins meant for the empaths. And . . . it would smell of Ivy. “No.”

Her eyebrows drew together over her eyes. “We’ll argue about that later,” she told him. “After you’ve rested.”

Walking to the Arrow cabin where two others lay sleeping, he’d opened up a cot and was removing his thin but effective chest armor when Ivy’s iridescent secret of a voice kissed his mind. Don’t forget to take off your boots.

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