She was heat and woman, fear and courage, sensuality and laughter.
And she was not his.
If he tried to change that, he'd end up killing her. Because he wasn't anything as simple as a Tk. He was a Tk-Cell, a subdesignation so rare, it wasn't listed on any public record. After Silence, Tk-Cells had become the Council's dirty little secret, their most lethal assassins. Before Silence, before the imposition of control, those of his subdesignation had always ended up murderers, killing their wives and daughters first. It was as if their ability snapped out to strike at the only ones who might have pulled them back from the abyss.
Judd made his decision then and there. He had to leave the den before Brenna unknowingly set off his abilities. She had no idea of the horror she could unleash.
He wasn't an assassin by choice. He was one because he couldn't be anything else.
Judd found Hawke before dawn the next morning, having spent the previous afternoon and night sealing up the cracks in his conditioning - it was all that protected those around him from the killing rage of his ability. "I want out," he told the alpha. He wasn't used to asking for permission, would have just walked out had he been alone, but he wasn't. His unexplained disappearance would impact Walker, Sienna, and the kids' position in the den.
Hawke raised an eyebrow. "What does your family think about that decision?"
"They have nothing to do with it." A complete truth. "Walker's settled and able to steer them through any turbulence. I'm a disruptive influence." As the recent murder had shown, anytime things went badly wrong, eyes looked toward the Psy, toward him. "All of them have integrated into the pack to some extent." While he'd made every effort not to.
The SnowDancer alpha didn't look convinced. "Why now?"
Judd had already decided to tell a truth. It was simply not the one that mattered. "In the Net, I held a rank equal to those of your lieutenants. I knew that should we survive our defection, I'd lose that. It was a price I chose to pay." To save the children from the living death that was rehabilitation.
"So what's changed?"
"I didn't count on the fact that the enforced idleness, the effectual caging of my abilities, would have a consequence." Also true. Despite the covert work he'd been doing - both for the Ghost and to earn income for the family - the pressure was building. It was, he told himself, the reason why Brenna had been able to crack his shields with relatively little effort. He'd already been compromised. "Those idle psychic muscles need to be stretched or they'll begin to act without my conscious control."
"Like our beasts."
"Yes." He'd seen wolves go rogue, seen the damage they could do. "But worse."
"I'm not buying." Hawke leaned back against the dark wood of his desk, pale eyes more wolf than human. "I recognize control when I see it. And yours is precision-tuned."
No other option was feasible for his subdesignation. However, that wasn't something Hawke needed to know. "You've guessed at my position in the Net," he said instead. "I was who I was because my abilities lie in combat. Such aggressive abilities have to be utilized on a regular basis to ward off loss of control."
"How are you planning to do that?" No overt suspicion, but the implication was there.
For a fleeting second, Judd considered calling attention to the insult, but then stifled the reaction as irrelevant. To the wolves, he was an enemy, not a fellow soldier. "I have no intention of rejoining the PsyNet - it would mean death for my family should the Council realize we weren't executed when we walked into your territory. I can, however, blend in with the general populace and go freelance."
He met those cold wolf eyes. "As a man who cleans up certain kinds of messes, what else?" A brutal choice but one that would serve to keep his abilities in check.
"I can't let an assassin loose on the f**king public." Hawke shoved a hand through hair almost identical to the silver-gold color of his pelt in wolf form.
Judd didn't see the need to point out that he'd already been working for months without setting off alarms. The clients never saw him. He never met them. And he didn't kill for them. Not yet. "No wet work," he said. "I'd work in surveillance and protection in this state for the next three or four years."
Until Sienna became capable of taking over some of what he did to keep the LaurenNet functional, he couldn't go far. The familial Net linked him to his family and generated enough biofeedback to keep them all alive. No Psy could survive without that feedback. If he put distance between himself and the others, it would strain the already thin fabric of a network made up of only five minds, leaving more room for mistakes. "I won't practice my profession in your territory."
"What happens when Sienna grows up?" Hawke asked astutely.
"I'm considering mercenary work in the African states." In the deepest, darkest jungles where changelings held sway and where there were no Psy, no one who might possibly recognize him. And no woman with sunshine in her smile. He crushed that thought with merciless reality - the day Brenna truly saw him, the day she discovered the things he had done, he would lose her smile anyway.
"There is another option." Hawke's eyes were predator-still, watchful. "You could work as a SnowDancer soldier. That would allow you to use your abilities, correct?"
"Enough to blow off the most dangerous steam." The instant the words left his lips, Judd knew he should've lied. So why hadn't he? He looked inward and found his shields solid. Yet something was making him behave in opposition to his own decision to leave the den. "However, it's not a viable option in my case. None of you trust me - it would be a farce."