“I think you’re wrong in one sense,” Chang said, eyebrows drawn together above narrowed eyes. “You should have an empathic partner, at least so you can test different methods.”

Ivy hadn’t wanted to pressure anyone by making that request, but now Jaya slipped her arm through Ivy’s. “I planned to ask you if you’d mind some company.” On the telepathic level, she added, Abbot and I both believe in your theory.

Ivy squeezed her friend’s hand.

“I’m afraid,” Concetta whispered, her amber eyes miserable in her heart-shaped face. “I wake up with nightmares of the oily, ugly evil, my breath choking in my throat.”

“I don’t think we can eliminate our awareness of the darkness.” Ivy, too, had woken up slick with sweat more than once, her heart pounding so hard it was all she could hear.

“Yes, we can.” Concetta wrapped her arms around herself, her wool coat a pale beige. “If we go back to sleep, go back to being normal!”

Beside her, Isaiah shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “You can do that.” His voice was toneless, his jaw rigid. “But it’s not only the nightmares you’d be losing.”

Face crumpling, Concetta raced off toward her cabin.

Jaya glanced after the other woman, a helpless expression on her face. “Shall I . . . ?”

“Leave it.” Tone harsh, Isaiah resolutely didn’t turn to look at where Concetta had gone. “We have to each make this decision on our own. If the Council and our families hadn’t screwed us up as children, we wouldn’t need to, but the bastards did f**k us up. I, for one, don’t intend to be a coward hiding out in a cabin in the woods.”

Ivy thought of the Eldridge book that Sascha had shared with the group. In the past, while some empaths had helped those with terrible mental illnesses, others had worked as school counselors or even in corporate offices. Es covered as wide a spectrum as any other designation.

It appeared Penn’s mind had tracked the same path, because the big man stared at Isaiah, his accent heavy as he said, “Not everyone’s meant to be a soldier. Doesn’t mean what they have to offer isn’t of value.”

Shoulders tense, Isaiah didn’t respond, but left a minute later. He returned with his hand holding Concetta’s five minutes after that. In the end, the decision to leave the compound to head into infected zones was unanimous. It didn’t take much longer to confirm partnerships. Penn ended up with Isaiah and Concetta, since Concetta was obviously not built to handle the infection directly. She’d instead focus on the victims, see if she could help ease their trauma.

“This’ll be our last night together then,” Chang said, after everything was settled. “I suggest we have dinner together. All of us, empaths and Arrows.”

That was what they did, bringing extra chairs into the Arrow cabin. The Arrows were quiet, but no longer silent as they’d been at the start, all of them adding their thoughts to the intense discussion about possible tactics.

The Arrows’ security responsibilities meant they rotated in and out, and whenever Vasic was outside, Ivy missed him until she couldn’t breathe. Jaya, Abbot, you, and I are to be stationed in New York, she told him telepathically. One of the others has family in Alaska and requested Anchorage. That had originally been Ivy’s intended destination.

I’ll arrange apartments near the street that suffered the outbreak today.

Thank you.

It’s my job, Ivy. There’s no need to thank me.

Her nails pricked her palms. Is that all I am to you? A job?

Why would you ask me a question to which you already know the answer?

She thought of his arms around her, of the tender way he had of cradling the back of her head . . . and she allowed herself to think of the ugly thing she’d never forgotten. That the man who held her with such care had a ticking time bomb on his arm.


I’m mad at you, she said, panic and nausea twisting inside her. Be quiet.

When he rotated inside a half hour later, he attempted to catch her eye. Scared for and angry with him for having made a decision that could end them before they began, she kept her gaze stubbornly on the others. When the talk finally faded, she got up and headed to her cabin, Rabbit bounding up ahead and Vasic a silent shadow by her side.

“Don’t be silly,” she snapped when he went to take a watch position on the porch. “It’s snowing.” The sharp words dripped crimson with her own heartsblood, the sheer unfairness of the blade hanging over Vasic’s neck making her want to rage and scream and throw things in useless fury.

He came into the kitchen, held up the wall while she stomped around packing up her belongings. It didn’t take long, and then she could no longer avoid looking at the horrible thing on his arm, the thing that was killing him.

“If I can’t undo this, will you be angry with me till the end?”

The quiet question broke her. “No,” she whispered, throat raw. “I just need to be angry first.” Before she sank into him, so deep that he’d leave a tattoo of himself on her cells, the memory one that would never fade.

“Would you like to go somewhere?”

She jerked up her head from where she was writing his name over and over on the counter with a fingertip. “What?”

“I’m off shift for the next six hours.”

“Yes.” Trying to think past the storm of anger and agony inside her, she looked down at her jeans and favorite white cowl-neck sweater, having taken off his jacket when she’d entered the cabin. “Am I dressed okay?”

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