Dropping the pinecone, the other empath thrust her hands into the pockets of her winter coat, the color a rich aquamarine. “I don’t have any proof, but given what I know of Ming’s tendencies, paired with the squad switching its allegiance to Kaleb, I think Ming tried to turn them into his personal assassination squad.”

Ivy stopped walking. “They believed in him and he used them.” The betrayal would’ve struck at the heart of the loyalty that bonded Arrow to Arrow—the one thing on which, it was obvious, every single member of the squad relied.

Including Vasic.

He’d been abandoned as a child, tortured, then used. He’d never say any of that to her, but Ivy listened. So she’d made the connection between a child who’d started training at four years of age, and a man who called his parents “the woman who gave birth to me” and “my biological father.”

There are some things that shouldn’t be in your head.

No one became so encased in ice by being treated with kindness. He’d been hurt. Over and over. Then, in what must’ve been a final, staggering blow, he’d learned that the terrible things he’d been asked to do for the good of his race had instead been done so Ming LeBon could bloat himself with power.

Every muscle in her body locked tight. She wanted to destroy the system that had allowed this to happen. “It doesn’t seem fair, Sascha, that he—that any Arrow—should have to walk alone and thankless in the darkness.”

Slipping her arm through Ivy’s, Sascha began to lead her back to the compound. “Do you remember what I told you about Alice Eldridge?”

It took Ivy a second to speak past her fury. “Of course.” Ivy had hurt for the scholar who Sascha told her had been put forcibly into cryonic suspension for over a century.

“Well, in Alice’s book—which she’s given me permission to copy for all of you—she has a bit in the middle that’s full of quotes by the friends and lovers of empaths.” The stars returning to her eyes, Sascha smiled at Ivy, and the expression held a vein of unexpected mischief. “The most common word in that entire section is ‘stubborn.’ Apparently, Es have a problem with giving up on anyone. I’d say your Arrow doesn’t stand a chance.”

Ivy’s responding smile was shaky. “No,” she said, “he doesn’t.”

It wouldn’t be easy, and there was a high chance she’d fail in her quest to shatter her Arrow’s defenses, but Ivy hadn’t survived a brutal reconditioning by being a shrinking violet. If Vasic needed Silence to survive, that was one thing—and agonizing as it would be to recognize that she could never truly know him, she’d accept it, because to do otherwise would hurt him.

But, if her warrior-priest was using the isolation of the conditioning to punish himself for the crimes of another man, one who’d sacrificed the hearts of good men and women on the altar of power, then no, Ivy wasn’t about to let that slide. Not now. Not ever.

• • •

VASIC checked the PsyNet late that night to discover the infection, its tendrils a malignant darkness, had well and truly invaded the compound, though it wasn’t yet touching any of the minds inside. It went against his every instinct to leave Ivy and the others in the infection’s path, but to remove them would be to deny their nature.

Dropping out of the psychic network after taking one final look, he scanned the area. It was swathed in the pitch-black of a moonless night, the cabins quiet and the only movement that of the Arrows on sentry duty.

One, however, wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Abbot. Report.

Sir. I’m with Jaya. She experienced a nightmare and requested I stay within her sight.

Does she need medical attention?

No. I believe she is . . . afraid.

Vasic considered whether or not to pull Abbot from the detail. He’d chosen the younger Arrow for his unit not because Abbot’s Silence was flawless, but because it was cracking in an erratic and possibly dangerous fashion—the squad needed to know if their more damaged members could work with empaths going into the future. As a result of Abbot’s mental state, Vasic and another senior member of the unit had kept a close eye on the male throughout.

It had soon become clear that he was stabilizing in an unanticipated way, his presence more ordered and calm than it had been for months, his concentration acute. The problem was that he appeared to have attached himself too deeply to his empath.

Vasic? A light going on in Ivy’s cabin.

He caught the tremor in her voice, turned immediately to head to her. What is it?

I just . . .

He was on the porch pushing open her door before she finished. When she came directly to him, curling up against his chest while Rabbit leaned against her leg, he did what he’d seen humans and changelings do to offer comfort, and closed his arms around her upper body. And he knew Abbot wasn’t the only Arrow who’d attached himself too deeply to his empath.

Holding her to him with his gauntleted arm, Vasic cupped the back of her head with his other hand, her curls a warm tumble around his fingers. The fabric of her pajama pants was green and white flannel, but her top half was clad only in a thin, strappy top. When she continued to shiver and attempt to get closer, her arms tucked up between them, he used his Tk to alter the air molecules around her to generate heat, at the same time that he tightened his hold, and widened his stance to allow her to tuck her feet between his booted ones.

It seemed to work, Ivy’s skin warming under his fingertips where they grazed the edge of her face, and under his palm where it curved over her arm. Every other part of him was shielded from her, his combat uniform designed to protect . . . but now it was a barrier that stopped him from feeling the slight weight of her fist against his heart or the pulse that fluttered under the flushed gold of her skin.

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