"Which would make them suspicious about the deaths of the others," Sascha completed. "I understand, Judd. Don't feel guilty about putting the lives of the children first. I'd do the same."
"The Psy don't feel guilt." Judd's eyes were cool.
Despite the urgency of the situation, she wanted to smile. "Of course not."
Lucas kissed the tip of her nose and the gesture was so playful, she could do nothing to hide her smile any longer.
"My Psy does." Laughter flickered in his eyes but his arms held her tight.
Hawke looked at the two of them. "And we're not going to lose her."
Lucas locked gazes with the wolf. Sascha didn't understand the depths to which predatory changelings would go to protect their mates, didn't understand that she owned him in a way no one else ever would. "No, we're not."
"They refuse to believe I can't survive outside the PsyNet." Sascha shook her head. "Tell them."
"She's correct," Walker said. "She needs to have another psychic net in place to link to when she drops out. If she doesn't, she'll die of a kind of psychic starvation in a matter of minutes."
"Even if we could somehow figure out a way to get her out of the Net, she'd be a prisoner like Toby and Sienna." Judd pointed to her eyes. "We can alter our appearance and go out into the world, but you can't hide cardinal eyes."
"She won't be hiding." Lucas had no intention of burying Sascha in any way - she'd spent too much of her life buried already. "My mate is going to stand by my side."
"The Council will find a way to kill her." Walker's tone was matter-of-fact.
"Leave them to us," Hawke said. It was clear he was talking about both DarkRiver and the SnowDancers. "Your job is to help us figure out how to keep Sascha alive outside the PsyNet."
A deep silence spread over the room. Lucas stroked Sascha's back and thought about how to scare the Council so badly that no one would ever dare touch her. They might not feel emotion but everyone was afraid to die.
Judd's eyes unfocused in front of him. A moment later, Walker's did the same. Lucas felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise and knew the two were telepathing intensely. As if aware of his discomfort, Sascha snuggled closer, wrapping her arms around his neck. He let his body feel her soft weight, her heat, her life, and gloried in having found his mate. No way in hell was he going to lose her.
"There's a possibility," Walker said.
Everyone looked at the eldest Psy.
"Sienna's been trying to convince us that our minds simply need feedback, not necessarily Psy feedback."
"The problem is, there's no way to test that without dropping out of the Net." Judd looked like he was continuing to argue with Sienna even as he spoke to them.
Sascha's forehead wrinkled. "How would I get the feedback without linking with Psy minds?"
"You'd link with changeling minds. For reasons we'll explain, we don't think human minds would work."
Lucas squeezed Sascha so tight that she protested. "Sorry, kitten," he muttered, his concentration on Walker Lauren. "Can that be done?"
"No, of course not." Sascha sat up, tucking behind her ear a strand of hair that had come loose from her plait. "How could a link be held without Tp power on both sides? All Psy are born with telepathy to a minimal level."
Lucas's beast scented a kind of raw desperation in her that told him she was hiding something. "Let them talk, Sascha."
"Why?" she cried. "So they can sell us lies?"
"Shh." He ran the knuckles of his hand down her cheek. "Are you so eager to leave me?" How could she not want to fight for every day they could have together?
Pain fractured the beauty of her eyes. With a ragged sob, she dropped her face into her hands. "I can't handle being given hope only to lose it."
He wished he could take the hurt from her, wished he were the empath, not his vulnerable mate.
"Sienna is convinced it'll work." Walker's pale green eyes followed the motion of Lucas's hand as he rubbed the back of Sascha's neck. "She thinks the way two mates bond equals a kind of psychic link. That mating link should keep Sascha alive when she drops out of the PsyNet."
Sascha's head jerked up. "Don't you think I haven't thought of that?"
"What?" Lucas growled. "Why didn't you tell me?" The panther wanted to bare its fangs in fury.
"Ask them why." She was more furious than he'd ever seen her. "Because a single mind can't supply the feedback I need without killing itself. To use a link with you in any way is sentencing you to a slow death with me."
"Yes," Walker said. "Our familial net functions the same way as the PsyNet but on a smaller scale - the feedback somehow accumulates. However, we're all Psy and we all supply the Net as well as feeding from it, which we believe creates the multiplication effect.
"In your case, there would be no such effect. To make up the deficit, you'd have to link with others in your mate's pack. With three or four minds, there'd be a pool of background feedback - spare energy every mind produces. You wouldn't be actively draining anyone."
"Impossible." Sascha was leaning forward, palms braced on the table. "I agree the connection between mates is almost psychic, but that bond doesn't exist for me with anyone else. How do I mate with more than one leopard?"
"You don't," Lucas snapped before he could stop himself. "You belong to me. End of story."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I know that, your highness, but I was pointing out the impossibility of what Walker is suggesting. There's no way for me to link with anyone outside of you."