His late sister's seventeen-year-old was walking a very thin line. She'd been almost fully conditioned when they'd defected, which had left her in a difficult position, even more so because of the problems that came with age in relation to her abilities. But overshadowing that was the fact that she seemed to have made it her new purpose in life to annoy Hawke in as many and as varied ways as possible.
"She's convinced some of the juveniles she can read their thoughts and that I'm paying her to do exactly that." Hawke was scowling, but there was amusement in his eyes. "I've got confessions coming out my ears."
"I'll talk to her." Walker had taken charge of the two younger kids - his daughter, Marlee, of course, and their nephew, Toby. It had been natural for Judd to do the same with Sienna - he could help her in ways Walker couldn't. Of course, his niece didn't think she needed an adult keeper.
Hawke waved a hand. "Don't worry about it. I'll deal with her."
In the first few months following their defection, Judd would've nixed that idea. But after having witnessed the way Hawke handled the wolf juveniles, he knew that while Sienna might get her hide stripped on the sharp edge of his tongue, she wouldn't come to any real harm. "Then why did you ask to meet?"
"You." A harsh response that made the wolves growl. "You're a problem."
"So much for the parade." He paused. "Does the pack know the details of what I did?"
Hawke shook his head in an immediate negative. "They think you somehow deflected the bullet. We've been helping that rumor along."
"Good." That meant his newfound skill remained a tactical advantage. "Then what's the problem?" If the alpha tried to separate him from Brenna, he'd have a fight on his hands. A bloody one.
"You're causing havoc in the pack. What's your fight count to date?"
"Do you want the exact number?" Judd had been facing off challengers since the day he walked into the den.
Hawke snorted. "I know the number. I also know you've won every single one of those fights." He went down on his haunches to pet the wolves. They growled and butted their heads against his touch before loping off into the woods. Hawke stood back up. "Which leaves me with a powerful male in my pack who stands outside the pack structure."
He recalled Indigo's recent behavior as well as certain other acts. "Some of your people have already begun treating me as if I have status."
"Yeah. They figure they'll just wear you down."
"Wear me down to what?"
"Joining the pack fully or getting the hell out." A blunt choice. "I can't have a strong lone wolf in my territory."
"You want to give me an official rank." Everyone in the pack had one. Status could be changed in one of two ways - through a physical fight or by the utilization of a complex system of skill sets and respect he didn't completely understand. However, he'd been in SnowDancer long enough to guess at some of it - Lara's status was apparently the same as Indigo's, while the elderly librarian, Dalton, had Hawke's ear anytime he cared to speak.
"I had rank once." As an Arrow. One of the elite. "What I realized is that blind trust in any hierarchy is idiocy." He'd been nineteen when he'd understood how ruthlessly he'd been betrayed and used.
"We're not Psy." Hawke scowled. "Do you see Indigo or Riley bowing and scraping to me?"
That was also true - the predatory changelings held their leaders to tough standards. He'd seen a grim example of that in Parrish's execution. Not one of the hyena pack had asked for mercy for their leader. The ritual death had, in fact, been administered by the incoming alpha. Bloody justice but justice nonetheless.
It was a system of checks and balances that had been denied to the Psy populace for over a century. "Even if you make me a soldier, I'm unlikely to obey your every order."
"If I'd wanted mute obedience, I'd have found a pack of sheep." Hawke's response was almost a snarl. "You in or not?"
He would never walk away from Brenna. Or from his loyalty to his family. "Yes." He was prepared to accept a lower rank than he had held in the PsyNet, though it chafed. Pride. An emotional weakness, but he'd never claimed to be perfect. It was his race's goal of icy perfection that had stolen their humanity.
Hawke grinned. "You should've asked what rank you'd be assigned before you accepted. Too late now."
"I assumed low-to midlevel soldier." And Psy did not make baseless assumptions.
"I go through this whole song and dance telling you you're too f**king strong to be left to roam and you think I'm going to give you a rank that'll confuse the hell out of the pack?" Walking forward, the alpha slashed out with his claws, the move so fast that Judd didn't have time to react. It would've been logical to blast out with Tk power, but his martially trained mind processed Hawke's body language and came to the conclusion that he wasn't under attack. Reaching up, he felt four thin lines on his neck. Surface cuts but enough to color his fingers.
Hawke slashed his own palm and let it drip to the snow. Acting on instinct, Judd spread his bloody hand and caught a drop of Hawke's blood. It burned hot, as if it carried fire. Something snapped tight inside of him, but when he looked into the psychic plane of the LaurenNet, he found no new connection.
The burning sensation lingered even after he dropped his hand. "What was that?"
"The completion of a blood bond." Hawke closed his hand into a fist, stemming the flow of blood. "You're now a SnowDancer lieutenant."
Judd looked down at the snow stained pink and then back to those pale eyes. "You despise the Psy." He didn't know the reason for that hatred, but he knew it existed.