And why, if he was set on finding a maternal female for a mate, did it matter that he be fascinating enough to enchant a sentinel?
Entering the White Zone, Sascha waved off her escort - Dezi and Vaughn - and walked over to take a seat on the ground in front of Toby. He'd chosen a peaceful spot where the little ones wouldn't disturb them but which kept him from breaking the rules about venturing too far. "Hello, sweetheart."
"Hi." A bright smile that showcased a truly gentle soul.
It was a miracle, that smile. Toby had been a shocked, too-quiet child when she'd first met him. Now he could've been any child in either pack, with as much mischief in his heart as laughter. But, she thought, he was a little more sensitive than even the healers. "How about we start with you telling me how things have been going?"
"Well, the rainbows are stronger."
The "rainbows" were pieces of color that floated in the dark spaces within a neural network. The PsyNet had no such rainbows. The Web of Stars had had it from Sascha's first glimpse - because those rainbows were the psychic emanations of an E-Psy, an empath. Sascha didn't consciously create those emanations - they were simply part of who she was. But in the PsyNet, that truth had been buried under a thousand shields.
As had Toby's.
The boy wasn't an E-Psy. His main ability was a variant form of telepathy, but he had enough E in him to affect the LaurenNet. "Do you think it'll get any stronger?" She had a theory - that if the LaurenNet had had a powerful E-Psy in its midst, Toby's latent ability would have remained that way. But because the LaurenNet was without its own empath, need had compelled the strengthening of muscles that might otherwise have lain dormant.
The boy frowned in thought, easy in showing emotion. His face was a masculine version of his sister, Sienna's, intense and compelling. "I'm not sure," he said at last, "but I don't think so. It feels . . . finished now."
"That's what I think, too." She touched his hand, and their fingers intertwined. "Have you been feeling people's emotions?"
A nod. "It's not all the time now - the shields you showed me work good."
"Excellent." She'd had to learn her skills rough. There were no other E-Psy - no free E-Psy - around to teach her. With the recent discovery of the Forgotten, the descendants of the large rebel contingent that had dropped from the PsyNet a hundred years ago, she'd hoped for more knowledge, but the Forgotten had evolved in different ways, their blood-lines enriched with human and changeling blood. They'd been able to give her some help, but not much.
It had been disappointing, but not catastrophic - she'd been well on her feet by then. Her shielding skills had always been excellent, even in the PsyNet, so she'd had a good base to work from. One thing she'd learned since mating with Lucas was that she didn't always have to leave herself open to the emotions of others - it was draining, and more than that, it invaded their privacy. But there were some things an E-Psy couldn't control. "Are you still picking up on people's emotional resonance?"
"Like sort of knowing what they're feeling without trying?"
"Yes." It was second nature to her, as effortless and as unstoppable as breathing.
Toby nodded. "But it doesn't hurt or anything. It's normal."
"That's exactly it - being aware of others' emotional states is normal for us." No one, she thought fiercely, remembering her own childhood, would tell this bright, beautiful boy that he was flawed. No one would crush his smile. Sascha would make sure of it. "It's like the wolves can scent where people have been, or who they've touched."
"I saw Riley before I met you," Toby volunteered.
"He was sad." Quiet words. "Not crying-sad, but deep-inside-sad. Old-sad."
Sascha understood in a way most people wouldn't have. "Like the sadness is buried so deep, he might not even know it's there?"
"Yeah." A pause. "Was that . . . unethical?" He said the last word with frowning concentration. "That I knew that about him?"
"Well," Sascha said, "it depends on how you found out. Did you use your abilities consciously, or did you just know?"
"I just knew." A definitive nod. "Like I know when Sienna's grumpy, and Marlee's happy."
"Then I see no reason for worry." Smiling, she brushed his hair off his forehead, the gesture more of affection than necessity. "Now, shall we practice your shielding?"
Riley was heading into his office to clear the decks when he heard the strangest thing. Sienna was speaking to Hawke in his office, and since the door was open, he could hear everything. That wasn't the strange part. The strange part was that Sienna was being polite to their alpha.
"I appreciate you giving me a position in the hierarchy," she said, sounding more mature than he'd ever heard her.
Silence. Then, "You earned it." Short, clipped. Hawke probably wasn't sure what the hell she was up to now.
"I won't let the pack down," Sienna added. "Indigo says I pretty much have the physical aspect of soldier training down - it's a case of becoming familiar with the other parts."
Riley wasn't surprised at the rank Hawke had decided to assign her. Sienna was a dominant. She'd be far happier doing jobs associated with protecting the pack than otherwise.
"See that you do. Or Indigo will flay you alive."
Okay, this was getting beyond strange. Sienna wasn't built for such unresisting compliance. She was like Mercy. A little wild, full of passion, incredibly vivid. Instinct told him that whatever was happening in Hawke's office was important.