Riley knew he'd f**ked up. Even his wolf knew he'd f**ked up. What he didn't know was how to fix things. That was what he did - he fixed things. For his family, for his pack, for everyone who mattered to him. But he had no idea in hell how to fix something so crucially important to him. Mercy had been so angry.
He looked up to find Elias running toward him, sweat rolling down his temples. "How'd it go?" Eli was one of their best trackers, his nose fine-tuned in either human or wolf form.
But this time the SnowDancer soldier shook his head. "They're smart - went straight from here to Pier 39, far as I can tell."
"Shit." Pier 39 was always jam-packed with people, and with the blue skies they'd had today, it was doubtless worse than usual. "The trail dead-ended?"
Eli nodded. "I didn't say anything to the others, didn't want to influence them in case they caught something I missed." Said with a soldier's calm acceptance that he was part of a team. "That cat - Kit - he's really good. He might be able to pick up the trail again."
But half an hour later, when Mercy called him, it was to say that Kit had only been able to get two piers farther down. "He thinks they might've had water transport. But we've got their scent now," she said, her voice terse, businesslike. "I'm sending everyone who knows that scent to do sweeps of the city."
"I'm doing the same."
"Teijan's coming over to take a sniff. Don't shoot him."
Teijan, Riley knew, was the Rat alpha. "Fine."
He wanted to say something else, anything else, but she'd already hung up. Gritting his teeth, he put the phone in his pocket and - after Teijan had come and gone - decided to join in the sweeps. If the bomb makers had acted smart and gone to ground, then they wouldn't find a fresh trail, but that didn't mean they had to be careless.
Sascha waited until she and Lucas were almost ready to leave to pull the lid on a powderkeg of trouble. She'd already broken the rules and spoken to Sienna's uncles - Walker and Judd had both agreed that something needed to be done. Their worry for the daughter of their lost sister was an ache beneath their skin, though neither man showed much on the surface.
"Sienna needs a break from the den," she said point-blank to Hawke. "I've offered her a room at the aerie." It was as well that Lucas had added an extra room once Julian and Roman started sleeping over on a regular basis. "I need you to release her from her duties here."
"Hell, no!" Hawke slammed a hand on his desk. "She's a liability. The Council gets any idea she's alive, they'll begin hunting the whole family."
"It'll only be for a week or two," Sascha said, "and we can disguise her. She's agreed to cut her hair, get contacts. She doesn't even walk like a Psy anymore after almost two years in the den. She'll fit right in."
"Cut her hair?" Hawke repeated.
She could understand his shock. Sienna's hair was incredibly beautiful, a rich, unique shade that burned with inner fire. It had darkened over the past year until it wasn't truly red. Closer to port, or the dark heart of a ruby. The color was so distinctive that they'd have to bleach it before dyeing it and the process would be easier with short hair. However, Sascha intended to talk the teenager into keeping the length - it would be a psychological anchor, very necessary when everything else was falling apart around her. "You have to let her go," she told the alpha. "She needs time to rebuild her shields."
Hawke's pale eyes glittered. "And why will a change in location help?"
Lucas stirred beside her, but didn't step in between. "Because," she said, "you won't be there."
Everyone went quiet. Then Hawke swore. "Damn it, Sascha. I haven't touched her. She's a kid."
"I don't think Sienna has been a child for a very long time." She looked into his eyes. "And she's growing up faster every day."
Another pause fraught with anger. Hawke finally thrust a hand through his hair, blowing out a breath between pursed teeth. His eyes were bleak when he met hers again. "You're right. Take her and help her. Maybe she'll get over her crush."
Sascha didn't know why she said what she did next. "If she doesn't?"
White lines bracketed Hawke's mouth. "Then tell her I can't give her what she wants." Unspoken were the words: Because I've already given it to someone else. Sascha felt a deep sense of loss, of pain, and knew that Hawke had lost his mate.
Lucas touched her lower back. "We'll protect the girl," he told the other alpha, one male to another.
Hawke nodded. "Take good care of her. And bring her back in a week or I'll do the job myself."
* * *
Riley made his way back to the den a little after six. The sweeps had netted nothing, but had served to make the populace aware of a threat in their midst. It would make them more vigilant, watchful. He'd discussed a public broadcast with Mercy - though "discuss" was probably the wrong word for the clipped words they'd exchanged - but they'd decided that with this little information, they risked starting a panic.
Instead, they'd told their people to quietly get the word out to those they trusted. The Alliance had to be finding it increasingly difficult to procure a hiding place - the stress might lead to mistakes. And when it did, the changelings would be waiting. This shift, that responsibility was in Indigo and Nate's hands.
Deciding he didn't particularly want to talk to anyone, he parked his vehicle on the very edge of den territory, shifted into wolf form, and loped off into the trees. He caught the scents of several other packmates along the way - Eli's whole family, including little Sakura; D'Arn with his mate, Sing-Liu; Tai and Judd.