“Why don’t you recite the alphabet to me?” he said now to Keenan, knowing he would have to beg forgiveness for his crimes from Sunny when he crossed the threshold of this world, for she would’ve never made the same choice.

Each life, every life, is important. Even this incredibly terrifying insect with way too many legs. Take it outside, Z. Don’t squash it!

Keenan’s young voice intersected with the memory of Sunny’s. The boy ran through the entire alphabet without hesitation, complete with examples for each letter. A smile of pride on her face, Ashaya cuddled her son before Keenan scrambled away with a cheerful good-bye.

“He’s extremely intelligent,” she said. “Far beyond his age level.” In her face was the knowledge that Keenan’s DNA held myriad secrets. “But he doesn’t want to skip anything, wants to attend the same classes as all his friends.”

“It is a happy thing for a child. To have friends.” Vasic had only ever had one, but sometimes one was all that was needed to maintain a hold on reality, on the world. “You can always work with his teachers to make sure he has more challenging assignments as he matures.”

“I’m already in touch with them,” Ashaya said, before her lips curved. “And I wouldn’t have him miss anything, either—I want him to be a child, to grow up at his own pace. He does finger painting and loves it just as much as any other child. And yesterday, he joined a cubs and pups baseball team that’ll start practicing come spring. Dorian’s coaching.”

Zie Zen saw the softening in her expression as she spoke her mate’s name, and he didn’t admonish her for that tenderness of feeling. He’d once seen the same expression on his own face in the mirror, and he knew it did not weaken but rather, made one strong. He wanted to see the same on Vasic’s face, wanted him to have the chance to grow into the love that had rooted itself in his heart.

I could not save the child, Sunny, he told the woman who had lived in his own heart through all the cold, lonely decades. But I will save the man. I promise you this.

Chapter 38

An Arrow trusts no one but another member of the squad. Any Arrow who breaches this rule must be placed under immediate probation and given corrective training.

First Code of Arrows

AN HOUR AFTER Jaya’s unexpected, pained reaction on the street, the tall, elegant woman lay curled up on Ivy’s bed. “I’m different from you.”

“Yes.” Sitting down beside her, Ivy stroked the lustrous hair Jaya had released from her braids. “That must be why you collapsed when you tried to calm the crowd. Your tolerance for that type of empathic act is lower than mine.” Because, as had already become clear, empaths weren’t all the same. “But I couldn’t even penetrate the victim’s mind. You saw everything.”

“What use is it?” Jaya grasped a fistful of the sheet, crushed it, released the wrinked fabric, then repeated her actions. “To read the emotions of the dead?”

“Maybe it’s not about the dead,” Ivy said, having had a chance to consider it. “Remember that bit in the Eldridge book about the impact on Es of long-term critical-care work? We all assumed it had to do with conscious patients, but what if she was talking about—”

“People in comas.” Jaya sat up, twisting to face Ivy, her pupils huge.

“Or those otherwise trapped in their bodies.” Wonder burst inside Ivy at the miracle of Jaya’s gift.

“I have to know.” Jaya’s hand shook as she thrust it through her hair. “I have to know, Ivy.”

Ivy nodded—if Jaya did have the ability to help people trapped within their own minds, they couldn’t waste a single minute in confirming it. “The nearest hospital isn’t too far. We can walk.” Ivy paused, considered the logistics. “We should probably have an escort though.” Confirmed Es continued to be the targets of attempted violence and simmering unrest. “I’ll ask Vasic.”

Aden will go with you, he said in response to her telepathic query, and that was when she understood just how much he trusted the other Arrow. There may be further outbreaks—Abbot and I should remain close to the scene.

The ice in his tone was somehow harder, edgier. Ivy wished she could hold him, remind him that life wasn’t only horror and pain. We’ll be down in a few minutes, she said, as Jaya rose and motioned that she was going to get her coat.

No, Vasic replied. Wait for Aden to reach you.

All right. Going with instinct, Ivy blew him a telepathic kiss, unsure if he’d understand the message that held no words.

You have a bad habit of distracting me, Ivy Jane.

Ivy shivered, then smiled, because while the ice remained, it now held an undertone of tenderness she didn’t think her Arrow was aware of, but that she heard often when he spoke to her. I’ll behave . . . for now. Take care of yourself—I’ll be really, really angry if you get hurt.

I would never disobey your orders.

Heart aching, she decided that, somehow, today hadn’t done the damage she’d feared. Her Vasic was still her Vasic. It was difficult not to continue speaking to him, but he was right; he had to concentrate—and she had to put on her own coat and shoes.

“I’m sorry, Rabbit, but you have to stay here,” she said to her pet when he jumped up at the sign that she was going out. “I have to go inside the hospital with Jaya, and I don’t want to leave you tied up outside.” She rubbed his furry head. “What would I do if someone stole you, hmm?”

Her dog didn’t look impressed with that, but hopped up on his haunches on the sunny windowsill, eyes on the activity outside.

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