"I never take anything on face value." Hawke's eyes looked metallic to Judd's compromised senses, as if seeing things in technicolor depended on his psychic eye. "I need to talk to you about something else. What do you know about a Ghost in the Net?"
It was a question so unexpected, Judd went silent.
Hawke scowled. "Nothing?"
"He's a rogue." It had to be one of the women, he thought as he answered. Either Sascha or Faith still had contacts in the Net. "Not much is known about him, but he's anti-Council, from what I saw before I defected."
"Do you have any way to get more background on him?"
"No. He's in the PsyNet and I'm not," he lied without compunction. Hawke might've taken them in but loyalty was another matter. The Ghost, on the other hand, had earned Judd's silence.
Wolf eyes looked at him with a predator's watchful attention. "You're not Psy any longer, Judd. Choose."
"I chose a long time ago." He held the alpha's gaze. "If I learn anything else, I'll let you know."
"While you're doing that, why don't you consider the decisions you need to make about where your loyalties lie."
Judd could no longer distinguish the color of Hawke's hair - the world had turned monochrome. But he held his ground. "Have you ever considered what I'd be if I wasn't Psy? There is no other available designation."
"You could be a SnowDancer."
"That's not an available option for an adult Psy male. Your pack doesn't accept outsiders."
"Bullshit." Hawke snorted. "We accept human and outside-pack changeling mates all the time. It'd be a small pool if we didn't."
"There's a difference with Psy."
"Only if you create it. Marlee and Toby are already SnowDancer."
Hawke's words caused Judd to go motionless. "Don't make that statement unless you're willing to stand by it." To fight for the kids if Judd, Walker, and Sienna were somehow killed. "Everyone knows you despise the Psy."
"I'm not in the habit of saying things I don't mean." But he didn't deny Judd's accusation. "What happened between you and Bren?"
"None of your business." The answer came out so fast, he had no chance to censor it. Instinct. Something that could've gotten him rehabilitated in the PsyNet. Because what was instinct if not the harbinger of emotion?
"I'm her alpha." A command, an order.
Judd had never been very good at taking them. "As Brenna would say - you're not her keeper."
Hawke grunted. "You do realize Riley and Andrew will gut you where you stand if you so much as touch her."
"Also none of your business." Her brothers considered him an easy target. That was their mistake. "But I will ask you to keep her safe over the next day." Until he could take over the task himself.
Judd's vision was fraying at the edges, details lost to the encroaching darkness. "I'll be back in twenty-four hours."
Hawke didn't push for more, surprising given the tight rein he liked to keep on the Lauren family. "What do you think Bren would say if I told her you'd asked me to look out for her?"
"Most likely she'd show you her claws and say that she can take care of herself."
"She can. But I don't care what she thinks, she's not back to full strength yet." Hawke raised an eyebrow. "Want a piece of advice, one male to another?"
"Wolf females get really, really, really pissed off when their males don't support them against others in public." A flashing smile. "You're going to have to grovel to get back in her good graces."
"Loyalty. I understand that." And he did.
Hawke angled his head. "One of the scouts is returning."
Judd didn't bother to waste words. He just walked around the cabin and jogged into the trees. He had three hours at most before the physical crash. Wanting to race through the forest, he nonetheless set a slow enough speed that he could keep an eye on his surroundings. Without his Psy senses, he wasn't human but less.
Psy were meant to be psychic. Removing that aspect of their makeup affected everything about them. His hearing was already compromised, sounds coming through as if blocked by a wall of water, while his sight was no longer as acute as it should have been. But it was enough to drive.
Reaching the vehicle Brenna had forgotten in her anger, he punched in the code, slid back the door, and entered. Given his destabilized state, he would have normally set it on automatic, but that was impossible in this territory. The roads were less than tracks in most areas, with none of the embedded computronic tags needed by the vehicle's navigation processor.
Falling back once more on the lessons he'd learned in the bleak emptiness of Old Sapporo, he arrowed his concentration to a fine point. He'd barely reached his destination when the physical crash hit full on. His mind blinked out - to all intents and purposes, he was now in an unbreakable coma.
Brenna pushed herself to the limit on the run back to the den and was exhausted by the time she returned. Peeling off from the other two, she headed toward her room. Unfortunately, since Andrew lived in the same family quarters, she couldn't get rid of him.
"That was some pace, Bren. Where did that come from?"
She spun around. "I don't know. I don't know where anything in my head or body comes from anymore. Even if you ask me a thousand times, I still won't know!"
"What's got your tail in a twist?" He scowled. "Your new boyfriend didn't kiss you right? Oh, I forgot. He's a f**king robot who doesn't know how to kiss."