Vasic looked at her downbent head, the soft black curls shining in the light that fell through the leaves above, and knew the harsh answers he had would hurt her. So all he said was, “Even the best foreseer in the world can’t predict the future with a hundred percent certainty.”
Ivy lifted up her head, her smile lopsided. “You’re saying I’m borrowing trouble.” Not waiting for a response, she looked him straight in the eye. “Maybe I am, but I just can’t seem to stop.”
He had the inexplicable sense they were no longer speaking about empaths.
• • •
IN the days that followed, the compound settled into a quiet, familiar rhythm. The eighteen people within it slowly stopped being individuals and started to become a community, and like any community, they had their subgroups. Of the empaths, Ivy was closest to Chang and Jaya, though Penn quite often joined their discussions. The Scottish male tended to speak about as much as an Arrow, but was concise and penetrating in his comments when he did.
The others all had different relationships with one another, as was natural, with Chang being friendly with Brigitte, while Ivy couldn’t seem to penetrate the older woman’s reserve. Isaiah remained abrasive, but calm Penn was able to tolerate him, and so it went. No one was isolated or alone, which was the main thing.
The Arrows, of course, stuck to their own, but she’d noticed that several spent time with their Es when they could’ve as easily kept their distance. Abbot, in particular, was never far from Jaya’s side.
As for her, she’d managed to talk Vasic into eating with her more often than not. He hadn’t touched her again after those exquisite minutes that had turned her blood to honey, but she was already an addict. It was torture to sit so close and not demand a repeat, but being with him was worth it . . . though she did cheat every so often by wearing the sweater that kept sliding off her shoulder. When he fixed it—and he always noticed and did so without a word—it felt as if he’d stroked her.
“Here you go,” she said on the fourth day after Sascha’s visit, passing him several nutrition bars before she came down beside him on the porch, her now-favorite sweater warm around her. “Your daily, super-delicious breakfast.” He’d already carried out the drink she’d mixed for him, along with her bowl of cereal and milk.
Vasic, his forearms braced on muscled thighs, ate one before replying. “You eat the same cereal every day.”
“Yes, but it has tasty dried fruits and berries, as well as a mix of grains. Your bars are blandness personified.” That was the point after all. “Here.” She scooped up a spoonful of her breakfast. “Taste.”
What happened next had her staring.
He actually leaned forward and accepted her offer. “There are too many flavors,” was his cool conclusion.
Ivy’s toes curled at that voice of his, so intense and contained it made her wonder what he’d sound like if he ever lost control. Eating a spoonful of cereal to give herself time to think, she realized her lips were moving over the same warm metal his had touched an instant ago. Skin flushing at the small intimacy, she said, “Sorry, but you don’t get a vote. Not when you only eat nutrition bars and drink the same stuff in liquefied form.”
Vasic didn’t understand why he’d done what he’d done. All he knew was that Ivy was extraordinary. Though she’d entered the compound with the most severe mental and psychic wounds, she’d quietly shown herself to be one of the strongest people here.
That included the Arrows.
While Vasic and the others dealt with the dramatic shift in the PsyNet by attempting to stick rigidly to their conditioning, Ivy rode the wave. Every time she hit a wall, she stopped, thought about the problem with a determined concentration that caused two tiny vertical lines to form between her eyebrows, then found a way around it.
His mind wasn’t as flexible as hers, but it had done an odd, unexpected thing in the past three days. While the other Es continued to scrape against his senses, Ivy no longer did, though she was exploring her abilities in depth. It was as if his mind had created a special category for this empath whose telepathic voice was one he was now so accustomed to hearing, it felt too quiet inside his skull when she was sleeping and he was on night watch.
His body, too, responded to her own in ways so alien that he had no experience with handling the reaction.
Now she ate another spoonful of cereal, and he saw the golden cream that was the exposed slope of her shoulder.
Reaching out, he physically tugged her sweater back into place.
IVY ALMOST DROPPED her bowl.
Steadying it telekinetically, he returned his hand to its previous position, his eyes on two Arrows going through a martial arts routine at the other end of the compound. “Do you feel in better control of your abilities?” he asked into the tautly stretched silence.
“Not in control,” she said at last, her voice a little breathy. “That implies too much conscious decision-making on my part. But it’s getting easier to handle the instinct.” Her bowl made a dull sound against the wood of the porch as she put it aside. “Does that make sense?”
“Arrows don’t acknowledge instinct, but it’s inarguable that our reaction times in certain situations are so fast they might be categorized as such.”
Turning toward him, Ivy folded one leg up on the porch in that way she had, a bare inch between her knee and his thigh. “What do you call it then?”
“Repetition and training until the knowledge of how to react to problematic situations is burned into our cells.”