“Careful.” Ivy kept her tone gentle, one hand on the screen she’d unfolded to block out the light from the open door and the kitchen window. “Rabbit’s a scam artist, will have you doing that all day.”

Eben had gone motionless at her first words, his eyes wild, but he jerked to movement again at Rabbit’s demanding bark.

“See,” Ivy said with a smile. “Would you like a hot drink?”

A hesitant nod.

Leaving the room, Ivy went to the kitchen and mixed up a nutrient drink, judging the boy would prefer the familiar. Traumatized on the deepest level, he had no control of his fear and pain, and it scraped against her every sense. The other empaths had felt it, too, offered to help, but she’d asked them to stay away for the time being, not sure Eben could handle any more strangers.

Footsteps on wood.

“Take a seat,” she said without stopping what she was doing. “I’m Ivy.”

Eben sprawled into a chair at the table in a way that was pure teenage boy, Rabbit hopping up onto his lap to shamelessly demand more scratches. “You’re Psy.” It was a blurted-out comment.

Placing the nutrient drink in front of him and bringing out a little pot for her tea, Ivy said, “So are you.”

“But you smile.”

“I was always a very bad Psy,” she admitted. “You’re safe, Eben. No one here will betray you.”

Adam’s apple suddenly prominent as he swallowed, he said, “I can’t maintain my Net shields.”

“I’m sure Vasic’s already taken care of that.” Her strong, protective, infuriating Arrow who thought he should be condemned to live in the shadows even as he fought to save countless others. “He’s the teleporter who brought you here.”

Eben’s eyes unfocused for a second. “Yes.” Shuddering, he seemed to crumple in on himself. “I hurt people.” His agony almost brought Ivy to her knees. “I hit and I hit and I hit and there was blood and other wet things and it was on me and they wouldn’t stop. I screamed at them to stop but they wouldn’t! They wouldn’t stop, Ivy. They wouldn’t stop.”

Throat thick, Ivy breathed past his pain and her own response, and managed to get herself into a chair across from him. “Will you let me help you?” She took his hand, understanding his nauseated disgust at what he’d been forced to do in a way only another empath could. The sole mercy was that he didn’t seem to be suffering from the rebound effect, perhaps because he’d acted in self-defense, with no desire to cause harm. “Eben?”

His fingers grasped hers with bruising force, his eyes awash in tears. “Please.”

This was far beyond anything she was trained to do, but there was no choice—Eben’s psychological state was devolving by the second. Opening up her empathic senses, she tried to take the boy’s pain into herself, where it would be neutralized.

She didn’t know how long it took, but she was conscious of her own stomach threatening to revolt as her mind began to blur at the edges. Ivy stiffened her spine, clenched her jaw—she couldn’t collapse in Eben’s presence. That would undo any good she’d done . . . and when she looked at him, she thought maybe she had done some good. The strain on his face had faded, his eyes clear, his shoulders no longer hunched.

Fighting the nausea that shoved at her throat, a toxic obstruction of fear, grief, rage, and guilt, she released his hand with a small pat. “Feeling better?”

Eyes wide, the teenager nodded. “Yes.”

Ivy could feel his need to ask questions, but she wasn’t going to last much longer. “Would you mind doing me a favor?” She found a smile from somewhere and told a small lie. “I haven’t taken Rabbit for his walk today.”

His face lit up. “Oh, sure. I— Does he like fetch?” A shy question. “One of my human classmates has a dog, and I’ve seen them playing fetch.”

“He’ll love you forever if you play fetch with him.” Tapping her thigh, she said, “Fetch, Rabbit.”

Tail wagging quick and excited, her pet skidded to his basket and returned with a stick they’d found in the woods. “It’s just right for throwing.”

Rabbit lunged for the door with a hopeful look over his shoulder, and Eben followed, too involved with the dog to look back. Just as well because Ivy was doubled over, Eben’s horror now her own.

Chapter 27

Intelligence and the capacity for independent thought are prerequisites for entry into the squad. An Arrow is a finely honed instrument capable of handling situations beyond the skill set of even the most well-trained black-ops soldier.

First Code of Arrows

IT ONLY TOOK Vasic minutes to ascertain that Eben’s custodial parent, his father, was in a coma. His mother lived in another region and was uninfected, but it made no sense to send the boy to her in his current state—he was much better off with Ivy.

That task complete, he joined the other Arrows in their house-to-house search for further survivors. In view of the risk posed by the infected, many of whom had struck out wildly with their psychic abilities during the fighting, he’d informed the local authorities that no one would be allowed into the homes until the Arrows had cleared the area.

They found a number of dead victims in the first building. At first glance, they all appeared to have killed one another, but he was sure Aden would make the pathologists check for brain aneurysms such as that which had struck down Subject 8-91.

Reporting the locations of the bodies to the local authorities, Vasic and his small team continued inward, each taking a different floor as they entered the next building. The work required meticulous concentration and unremitting alertness. A small number of humans were hunkered down behind locked doors, and Vasic told them to stay there after verifying the fact they were human.

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