"Yes." Ashaya nodded. "It's a very intimate link."
Sascha turned to her packmate. "And it's probably not one you could forge with simple practice. That's why they ceased to exist. But the potential was always there."
"We have to monitor them," Ashaya said, eyes worried. "I don't want either of them unduly influencing the other. Keenan's my baby, but young telepaths don't always understand right from wrong when it comes to their psychic abilities."
Dev shook his head, watching Keenan help Noor onto the first branch. "That, I don't think we have to worry about. They enjoy each other too much to try to change the other person."
"It would be considered bad form to mind-control your future mate," Dorian said dryly.
Ashaya laughed at Dev's surprised look. "Those two are quite determined that they belong to each other. I have a feeling we'll have a hard time keeping them from jumping the gun when teenage hormones hit."
The thought made everyone grin. The kids played on, unaware of just how extraordinary they'd proven themselves to be.
Dev wanted so badly to talk to Katya, but she remained unconscious. He kept going into the ShadowNet, checking to see that the fine silver thread that connected them was still there. He got a surprise the fifth time he checked.
Silver had turned to gold.
The next day, gold had become platinum, a solid, unbreakable rope.
His nani found him in the ShadowNet. "Look at that, beta. Beautiful."
"It's stronger than any other thread." He kept running his psychic fingers along the length of it, amazed and delighted in equal measures.
Nani laughed. "Of course it is." A wave of affection surrounded him. "It's love."
"Yes." He felt his heart expand. "It's also because she can't access the biofeedback by herself. She has access to the ShadowNet because her mind is close enough to ours to allow it, but she's linked to me, not jacked into the network itself. I have to draw in the biofeedback for both of us."
"Does that bother you?"
"No - there's more than enough to go around." His heart swelled. "I wish I'd known it would work like this before."
"Love is unpredictable, Devraj. Those bonds, we can't control."
"Never liked surprises," Dev said. "But I think I've changed my mind."
As his nani laughed, he felt Katya awaken, their link to each other so deep and true, the knowledge was instinct. Dropping from the net, he strode into the bedroom just as her eyes lifted. "Hey, sleepy." It took incredible control to keep his tone light, his face calm.
Dev? A confused look. But -
"Shh." Kissing her gently on the temple, he helped her sit up, his heart thudding double time. She'd spoken telepathically and he'd heard. It was another piece sliding into place, another joy. "I'll explain everything."
And he did. No one interrupted them - knowing his grandmother, she'd played sentinel and barred the doorway.
"Those two are miracles," Katya whispered. "Dear God, Dev, if the Council ever - "
"They'll never find out," he promised her. "All of us, Shine, the cats, we'll all protect them."
Her face twisted. "And to think," she said, "that Larsen would've destroyed Noor had he had the chance. He'd never have understood the gift of what she is."
"You did." He ran his hand over her hair. "Lucas plans to apologize to you for chasing you in panther form."
That made her smile. "I thought I was done for that night."
"No," he said, closing his arms around her. "You had to live to meet me."
Her hand spread over his chest. "How am I hooked into your ShadowNet?"
"Through me," he said. "My grandmother agrees - your connection is only through me. It's our 'mating bond,' as the changelings put it, that's keeping you in the ShadowNet."
"A mating bond." She smiled. "I like that."
"Katya - that means if I die," he told her, "so will you."
A shining look up at him. "That's what happens to changelings, you know. One dies, the other doesn't last long."
"How do you know?"
"I did some research once. I was curious." Fingertips stroking over his cheek.
Dev understood. "It's not only changelings. Humans pine away, too."
"But," she said with a smile, "I'd like to have a long lifetime with you, so stay safe."
"You, too." He reached up to cover her hand with his own, holding it against his cheek. "Because if you die, so will I."
A smile that held a spark of mischief, a bright new thing. "Will you pine away?"
"It's no laughing matter." But he was smiling, too.
"Dev, my Dev." She rose to straddle him, her face glowing with happiness.
Placing one hand on her hip, the other on her lower back, he bent his head and let her press kisses all over his face, fleeting touches of love, of affection, of promise. "You saved me, you know," he said between kisses.
A curious look.
"Everyone's been worrying the metal would take me over." He drew in the scent at the curve of her neck. "But how can it when you have a line straight into my heart?"
"Dev." More kisses, gentle touches. Then a whisper against his ear. "I'm afraid to look at your ShadowNet."
He found himself whispering back, playing with her. "You? Afraid?" He slid his hand under the sheets to close over her thigh. "Not my Katya."
"Will you hold my hand?"