It took a few seconds for her to let go. "Sorry I'm - "
"If I had wanted an apology, I would have asked for it."
Her mouth snapped shut. "Where did you learn your charm - the gulag?"
"Something like that." He stepped out to find the garden empty. The pups had probably been herded inside when the sky grew heavy with the promise of more snow. Completing the visual scan, he did a telepathic one to confirm his findings. "It's clear."
Brenna emerged from the door with a confident expression, but the second she hit open air, her breathing went from smooth to rocky. He could sense her fear as if it were a physical wave smashing repeatedly into his body. Reaching back, he took her hand. Changelings craved touch. It centered them as much as it did the opposite to those of his race.
"Stay with me." Refusing to think about why he'd done something so alien to his nature, he pulled her through the garden and toward a narrow pathway. "Farther?"
"Yes." Her husky voice took on a hard edge. "I'm sick of being afraid. He's not going to win."
"You're too strong for that to ever be a possibility." After learning of what Enrique had done to her, Judd had expected Brenna's to be a shattered mind twisted through with madness. But not only had she survived, she was sane.
Her hand tightened on his. "Judd - "
Something brushed the edge of the telepathic scan he'd continued to run. "Quiet." He was conscious of Brenna's eyes on him as she stood close enough that her body heat reached him even through the enhanced insulation of his jacket. Consigning that knowledge to a dark corner of his mind, he refocused the scan. There were two soldiers walking in this direction, likely returning from a watch on the outer perimeter.
They wouldn't stop him, but he didn't intend to have his whereabouts tracked. That was why he'd worked out several discreet ways to ensure his frequent trips in and out of SnowDancer territory were never logged. However, if they saw Brenna, they would certainly try to hold her until they received instructions from either Andrew or Riley.
"Can you smudge their minds?" Brenna asked in a low whisper, pressing even closer to his body. "Make them look the other way?"
"Changeling minds are harder for us to influence than human." Strong Psy could kill changelings with a blast of sheer power but manipulating them was a different proposition. "There may be another option."
Sending out his senses again, he found six unshielded minds. Taking control was easy - young black bears didn't have much of a defense, especially this deep into hibernation. "Can you stay here by yourself for a few minutes?"
Skin pulled taut over her cheekbones as she nodded. "Go." Releasing his hand with notable reluctance, she backed up and moved behind a tree.
"I won't be long." He could see how close she was to panic, but to her credit, she only nodded when he gave the next order. "When you hear the guards begin to move, run southeast. No hesitation."
He headed toward the two men, making sure he was out of Brenna's line of sight before he blurred himself. Not even the other men in his highly specialized Arrow unit had possessed this ability. Most blurring, or "smudging" as Brenna had put it, occurred on the mental plane, with the Psy casting telepathic interference across the viewer's mind.
Judd was different. He could alter his own physical form. The skill was telekinetic rather than telepathic. Because Judd wasn't simply a strong telepath, nor was Tp his main ability, as was widely believed - as he'd gone to great lengths to make people believe. What would Brenna say if she realized he was an extremely powerful telekinetic - a Tk, the same designation as the killer who had tortured her in that blood-soaked room?
It was a question he'd never have answered, as he had no intention of telling Brenna the truth of what he was. Shifting his cells a fraction more out of sync with the world, he moved out past the two other men - when he blurred, changelings couldn't see him except as a shadow out of the corner of their eye. More importantly, they couldn't scent him either, a fact that supported his personal theory of how his ability worked.
A minute later, he sent the bears crashing through the forest on the right-hand side, and downwind, of the soldiers. The creatures made enough noise to distract them into changing direction. Settling his molecules back into sync, Judd deliberately crossed paths with the men - as if he were on his way back to the den.
"Anyone come past you?" Elias stopped, while his partner, Dieter, kept going.
Nodding, Elias took off after Dieter. Judd used the opportunity to lay a false trail all the way back to the den. Then, taking the time to hide Brenna's trail even as he hid his own, he headed southeast. He thrust some Tk through the air as he ran, muddying up and dispersing their scents so they couldn't be tracked that way either.
Brenna was fast. When he found her, she was well out of the White Zone, and in the central core of the inner perimeter - considered safe for adults but not children. There were sentries in this section, too, but they were stationed some distance away, on the border where the inner perimeter gave way to the outer. Around Judd and Brenna the forest was quiet, sound muffled by the thick blanket of snow. The trees were blue with it this far up in the Sierra, icicles hanging off the branches like transparent blades.
"Careful." He moved to cover her when she passed under a particularly lethal spike.
"What?" She looked up and behind herself, then shivered, shifting to lean her side against his chest. He froze, unmoving as the trees. His reaction didn't escape her notice. "I'm sorry, I know you don't like being touched. But I need it right now."