That done, he went to sit near the fire and watch her work. Two things became immediately clear. One, that Brenna loved what she did, and two, that she was very, very good at it. Not that that was anything unexpected. She was a qualified computronic tech and had been engaged in further study before a sociopath changed the course of her life.
The images came again - of her, bruised and battered, the blood on the walls, the sounds of tearing flesh. Enrique's screams. Everyone screamed at the end. Everyone.
Judd had watched the former Councilor being torn to shreds by claws and teeth and felt no sense of racial allegiance. Blood for blood. Eye for eye. Life for life. It was changeling justice and Santano Enrique had deserved nothing less.
Brenna suddenly smiled and it was a flash of light cutting through the grim darkness of memory. "Finished."
"Are you charging for that?" he asked, aware of the value of her work.
"Oh, it's for Drew."
"And what does your brother think of you being here?"
Color flooded her cheeks. "Um, he sort of might think that I'm with Sascha."
"Ashamed to be seen with a Psy?"
"You know," she said, scowl gathering, "I think Indigo's right about the size of men's brains."
Judd decided not to ask for clarification. "You need to eat." He fetched the meals.
For once, she didn't argue. Dinner passed in silence but one unlike any he'd ever before known. It was...easy. After they'd cleared away the plates, she pulled him back to the fire. "Sit." He obeyed, the sofa at his back. Following, she proceeded to tell him what Indigo had discovered about the murder victim.
"Rush is used primarily by changelings?" he asked, not familiar with the substance.
"Humans, too, but less so. Their bodies process things differently from ours." She stretched out her legs, the movement more like that of a cat than a wolf. "Ruby Crush was developed specifically for changelings, like Jax was for Psy."
"Jax isn't a recreational drug."
Brenna half turned to face his profile. "You mean it has a medicinal use?"
Medicinal. That was one way to put it. "In minute doses calibrated to precisely match the patient's weight and metabolism, it has the effect of both intensifying the strength and enhancing the endurance of natural Psy abilities."
She braced one elbow on the sofa. "Like an upper for the psychic mind?"
"Yes. But without the physical consequences suffered by street users. The effect fades over a set period and then you're back to a normal level of strength. No crash."
Brenna frowned. "You said physical. What about psychic?"
All at once, he understood why he'd told her, what he was about to confess. "They said there were none - the M-Psy in charge of dosing us."
"You took it?" A shocked whisper.
"I was an Arrow. An elite soldier." He had never before either confirmed or denied his rank. "We were the reason Jax was originally invented." So they could be better, faster, deadlier than anything else in the Net. "Taken in the correct dosage, it has none of the psychic side effects you see in the addicts." A slow loss of Psy powers followed by a quiet form of insanity and then death. Yet his people continued to use it. He'd heard it allowed feeling during the high, a chemically induced short circuit of the conditioning.
Scooting to sit in front of him, Brenna touched a trembling hand to his knee. It felt like a brand even through his clothing. "It terrifies me that you were exposed to it. Tell me about the effects the M-Psy didn't warn you about."
He knew he should push off her hand. But he didn't. "It changed us while we were functioning under its influence, made us less human, more capable of killing. Perfect programmed soldiers who could still think with crystal-clear accuracy." Jax had altered the Arrows' view of right and wrong, made them incapable of seeing shades of gray.
"How long were you exposed to it, Judd?" She sounded frantic. "There could be long-term effects."
"A year," he told her, wondering why she wasn't running - he'd admitted to having blood on his hands. "I believe I'm safe. My brain didn't have a chance to reset permanently." As had happened with some senior Arrows. They truly were the darkness, lethal machines who followed the will of their handlers with unswerving dedication.
"Only a year." She rose up on her knees and leaned in close enough to grip his sweater. "How long were you an Arrow?"
He found he'd made a space for her between his raised knees. One more move and his hands would be on the soft curves of her hips. He fought the compulsion with the hard truths of memory. "From eighteen to twenty-six. Eight years." But he'd been in training since the age of ten, since the day he'd first killed.
Brenna uncurled her hands from his chest and reached out to touch him lightly on the side of his jaw. He met her gaze, fascinated as always by the spiking explosion of arctic blue around the pupils. He'd never seen it as a scar, but as a symbol of her strength. Most people did not walk out sane after having their minds torn open.
"How?" she asked, dropping her hand to his collarbone. "How did you escape being administered with the drug after that first year?"
The dissonance had kicked in during that fleeting caress along his jaw, but the pain was slight. Easily manageable for a man trained not to break even under torture of the most inhuman kind. "I realized what it was doing to me seven months in." He had known his handlers would never agree to a simple request to halt the drug regime, not when Jax gave them a fully obedient and extremely lethal army.