They were both quiet for a long while.
"Sascha, what does this mean?"
"We're safe," she whispered, barely believing it. "Seven adult minds are feeding the web... giving me what I need. It's more than enough."
Lucas clasped her to his chest, rolling over on his back. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." She kissed his chest, his neck, his chin. "Yes! Thank you for being so damn stubborn."
He didn't return the caresses, holding her so tightly she could barely breathe. "You almost killed yourself for no reason."
"No, Lucas." She squeezed him back. "I lived because of you. That's how I'll always remember it."
"It's going to take me a long time to forgive you." Sascha wanted to cry in joy. "We've got forever."
They held a meeting of the sentinels and Tamsyn later that week. The leopards were sprawled around the living room of their lair, some seated, some standing.
"So you can come into our minds?" Mercy asked.
"Only if you let me. I'd never walk in uninvited - I can't." Sascha knew she was talking to the most independent members of DarkRiver. They would hate to be vulnerable on any level.
"But I know you're doing something to me," Dorian said quietly. "I wondered what it was. It feels like before... when I wanted to go for your throat."
"I'm sorry, Dorian. That's not something I can help."
Amazingly, the sentinel gave her a slow smile. "I can handle being kissed by you."
She wanted to blush. "It's not like that."
"A hug, then." He shrugged. "It feels good."
The others frowned. Clay said, "I don't feel any different."
Sascha wondered how to say this but Dorian beat her to it. "Because you don't need patching up, Clay. Right, Sascha?"
She sighed. "I think you're a menace but yes, Dorian's a little bit more battered than the rest of you. Once he's up and running, my empathic gifts won't really affect him, like they don't really do anything to you." The sparks healed, but on the most subconscious of levels. Dorian was only feeling them because he was so hurt.
Lucas squeezed her shoulders as she stood in front of him by the short hallway that led to the kitchen area. "We're giving you a choice. Sascha says she can cut some of you free from the web without doing damage."
"Tell me, Sascha," Tamsyn said, "is it easy to slip in and out of our minds?"
"No. Every mind has a natural shield. On the PsyNet, the only open minds belonged to the exhibitionists. All of you are shut up tight. To go in without your consent, I'd have to rip you apart."
"And kill us." Vaughn's eyes were almost glowing.
"Yes." She wouldn't lie to them, wouldn't tell them they weren't vulnerable to her. "Remember, I'm an empath. Causing you pain would double back on me."
"When I took the blood oath," Vaughn said, "I vowed to lay my life down for Lucas. As his mate, you have that same promise."
She'd expected the loner, the jaguar, to balk. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, Sascha darling." He prowled over to stand in front of her, tall and beautiful and dangerous. She gasped as he brushed his lips over hers. "My life is yours." Then he was gone, a golden blur as he leaped off the porch.
Shaken by the commitment, Sascha leaned backward into Lucas. Her eyes followed Dorian as he stood and walked over.
"I've been yours since the day you first took my pain."
Dorian picked up her hand and kissed her fingertips, before leaving the same way as Vaughn.
Mercy uncurled from her cushion and came to stand in front of Sascha. Her stunning face was serious but there was a smile in her eyes. "Think you could find out some male secrets for me?"
Sascha smiled. "The only male I know that intimately is this one." She turned to steal a kiss from Lucas. "And his secrets are mine."
Laughing, Mercy hugged her. "I'm a sentinel. I vowed to stick by Lucas to death. If he trusts you, so do I. I'll see you later - I'm going to catch up with Dorian."
Clay, the most distant sentinel, the one who never touched her, was the one Sascha had feared most would choose to be cut from the web. She didn't know what effect it would have on him, and had discussed it with Lucas. They'd decided to wait for the decisions before borrowing trouble.
Now the dark-skinned man came to stand in front of her. "My mind is not someplace you want to be," he said quietly.
She felt his coolness, felt his control, wondered what lay behind it. "I'll only come in if I'm invited."
He touched her cheek and she knew he'd accepted. Moments later, he was gone. Nate and Tamsyn were the only ones left. The healer was grinning. "You know I'll never say no, and Nate's so dedicated, I think he loves our alpha more than me."
"I resent that," Nate grumbled. "I might love football more than you, but definitely not Lucas's ugly mug."
Sascha laughed at their joking, fully aware they were crazy for each other. The web spoke for itself. It was bursting with light, with rainbows, with love. "The Web of Stars," she whispered.
"Is that what it looks like?" Lucas's voice was a rough purr in her ear.
"Yes." The starry plane of the PsyNet was barren compared to the Web of Stars, a cacophony of color and emotion, a web created not by need alone but by choice. Choices of loyalty, choices of love, choices of emotion. "I've got so much to learn." Her powers were growing, changing, becoming.
"We have a lifetime."
Turning, she wrapped her arms around him and threw back her head as he picked her up to spin her around. Her laughter sparkled along the Web of Stars, flickering joy that affected every mind within it. It was small and barely aware, but at that moment, the Web was far, far stronger than the PsyNet could ever hope to be.