Vasic, she said on her way out, I’m leaving Rabbit here. Could you or Abbot check in on him if we’re gone long?
Vasic didn’t tell her he had far more important things to do. Instead, he said, I’ll pick him up once we’ve cleared all the buildings of threats. He can help me keep watch.
He melted her from the inside out, her dangerous, beautiful Arrow, made her veins fill with a joy so incandescent, it was captured sunshine. I adore you.
Tell me again when we’re alone.
• • •
IVY was still a little breathless from the rough sexual promise inherent in Vasic’s last words when she walked into the hospital with Aden and Jaya. She didn’t know what Aden said to the nurse in charge of the ward in question, but the trim Hispanic woman didn’t dispute their right to be there.
In fact, she led them to a young male in a state-of-the-art monitoring bed. Though he was free of wires, his vital functions monitored by the bed itself and accessible through the panel at the end, he had at least three tubes feeding in and out of his body.
From what Ivy could see of his face and shoulders, his pallid white skin was clear of cuts and bruises.
“Vehicle accident resulting in severe head trauma,” the nurse said, a subtle wildness to her emotional resonance that told Ivy she was changeling. “We’ve done all we can, but he’s been in a coma for the past eight weeks.”
That explained the lack of visible injuries.
“He’s human,” the nurse added. “That make a difference?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Jaya’s shoulders rose then fell as she inhaled slowly, exhaled as slowly. “Is it all right if I touch him?”
“I’ll monitor his vitals in case he has an adverse reaction.”
Standing near the doorway with Aden while Jaya took a seat in the chair beside the bed, Ivy found herself examining him. At about five feet nine inches, he wasn’t as tall as Vasic, and his features were Asian to Vasic’s Slavic, but the two Arrows were cut from the same template regardless. Military bearing, eyes that saw everything, a face that gave nothing away.
“May I ask you a question?” she said softly, one eye on Jaya as the other empath placed her hand on the patient’s forehead with conscious gentleness.
Aden nodded. Telepathing will be easier if you don’t wish to be overheard.
Thank you. It’s about Vasic.
Aden’s dark eyes—so rich a brown they were near black—held hers. I know.
I want to ask you to tell me the things he never will. Her Arrow was too protective, too uncaring of his own pain. Teach me what I need to know. Vasic and Aden were blood brothers, intertwined on a level that made them as close as twins. She couldn’t get to know one without the cooperation of the other.
Aden was quiet for a long time. I’ve lost him, too, he said at last. He’s been walking toward the abyss since the first time he was injected with Jax and forced to take a life. I watched it happen, and I couldn’t stop it.
Nothing in his voice or his expression betrayed any hint of pain, but Ivy knew Arrows now. These men and women were too strong and too intelligent not to have the capacity to feel with wild fury. You helped him stay stable.
No, Ivy. I made sure he didn’t go over the final edge, but that isn’t enough. He maintained the intensity of the eye contact as he continued. Deep within, Vasic doesn’t believe he has the right to have a life. Do you understand?
Pain stabbed the backs of her eyes at the confirmation of what she’d already suspected. Yes. I’ve told him the future is his to make, that he can choose the path he takes.
Aden put his hands behind his back, the fingers of one clasping the wrist of the other. He may appear to accept that on the surface, but the wounds go deep. He’s lived in his personal purgatory for years. You can’t be complacent.
I won’t, she said, jaw tight. I think if the ones who used him and hurt him stood in front of me, I’d happily forget I was an empath and do them serious damage.
You’d have to wait your turn.
Ivy looked up at that lethally cold statement, her gaze on the clean angle of his profile. Do you mind? That I’m trying to get him to bond with me?
Even were you Nikita Duncan, Aden said, I’d back you with every cell in my body, so long as you promised to haul Vasic into life. A pause. An empath though . . . he needs softness and kindness and care on the deepest level. And he needs it from someone strong enough to care for him even when the return seems negligible. Again he turned to her. Do you have that courage?
The answer was easy. It’s never negligible, Aden. Vasic speaks with his eyes, with his touch, with the way he cares so deeply and truly that I’ve come to simply accept he’ll be there when I need him. Emotion burned her eyes, her telepathic voice impassioned. He has a heart so huge, it’s kept pumping, kept going long past endurance—even though life has bruised it to a pulp.
Aden turned his body toward her . . . and then he did an unexpected thing for an Arrow. He reached out to cup her jaw, hold her face for a long, taut second, their eyes locked. I think, he said at last, you are a worthy match for my friend, Ivy Jane. You see the greatness of him—and you see his vulnerability. Neither scares you. A decisive nod as he broke contact. Anything you need from me, you can have. You need only ask.
Ivy blinked rapidly to swallow the scalding wet of her tears, conscious Jaya had just gasped and turned toward them. “I can sense him.” A dazzling smile. “He’s in there, and he’s frustrated and angry that no one can hear him. I can help him find a way out.” Jumping up, she tugged Ivy close with excited hands. “You try.”