No judgment on his face, nothing but an intense concentration. “Is that normal?”
“In a way. Psy children often don’t know what they’re doing with their abilities, so most parents keep a psychic eye on them.”
“The same way adult changelings make sure pups don’t claw each other by accident.”
His words, the attempt to find common ground between them, thawed a little of the frozen lump in her chest. “Yes. But my mother, she was a cardinal telepath, very, very strong—she didn’t realize just how much power she’d been utilizing to block me. If she’d been weaker . . .” She shook her head, the chill returning to infuse her very bones. “I would’ve killed either myself or another child much earlier.”
Hawke sensed the gut-deep pain behind the calm, almost flat words. Five years old. A baby, and she’d been in Ming’s care. “Your mother went with you?”
A nod. “I didn’t know then, I didn’t realize, but my mother was different. Most women would’ve handed me over to Ming and released themselves of all liability, but even after he was able to take over what she’d been doing to help me on the psychic plane, she refused to sign away her rights as my mother.” Gleaming pride melded with a furious depth of tenderness.
“However,” Sienna continued, “she couldn’t teach me control. She was a communications specialist, not gifted in mental combat like Ming. It took him four months to safely isolate and contain me behind his own telepathic shields. Then he taught me. It was hard.”
Such a simple statement. Such a terrible statement. “I hate Ming for what he did”—because that isolation, that containment, Hawke understood it had been a prison cell around the mind of a scared child—“but he helped you stay alive.”
“No,” Sienna disagreed, “he helped me become Silent. Most Psy graduate the Protocol at sixteen. I was Silent by age nine. Sometimes, I think that’s why my mother decided to have Toby—because she knew I was gone from the instant Ming walked into our home.”
And yet, Hawke thought, Sienna had never lost her soul. She’d retained the capacity to love Toby with a fierceness that was wolf in its strength, retained the loyalty to family that had seen her defect to save the children’s lives. It staggered him to realize the incredible will she must’ve had even as a child that she’d been able to hide and protect that part of her psyche from a Councilor.
About to speak of the depth of his pride in her, to tell her she had no reason to carry any shame, he heard a slight sound. “I think Simran is up.”
Sienna flowed off his lap, concern replacing the heavy darkness that had fallen over her face as she spoke of her mockery of a childhood. “Should I fetch Lara?”
“No, let me check first. But why don’t you look in on the others?”
When he walked into Simran’s room, it was to find the injured sentry smiling weakly at the woman who sat by her side, a lanky soldier so fleet of foot that Hawke often used her as a messenger across den territory. “Inés,” he said, running the back of his hand over her cheek. “When did you get back?”
“Ten minutes ago.” Her body trembled as she leaned in to rest her head against his side. “Simran won’t tell me how badly she was hurt.”
Simran said, “No need,” her throat husky.
Making a hushing sound, Inés reached for the bottle of water on the bedside table. “I’m talking to my alpha, if you don’t mind.” The words were chiding, the tone affectionate as she put a straw into the bottle so the wounded sentry could take a sip.
Hawke pressed his lips to Inés’s temple when she put down the bottle. “It was bad,” he said, ignoring Simran’s scowl, “but I had her and I wasn’t letting go.”
“I’m so glad you’re a stubborn bastard.” Inés’s thin arms hugged him tight before she leaned over to brush the hair off Simran’s face with fingers that were exquisitely tender.
Riordan, when Hawke glanced into the novice soldier’s room, remained in a sedated sleep, but Elias had regained consciousness, his hand on his mate’s head as she pressed it to his uninjured side. Thank God. Figuring Lara would forgive him for not waking her up since it was good news, he was about to leave the couple in privacy when Sienna brushed past him and into the room. “Here,” she said, putting a warmed-up cup of soup in Yuki’s hand. “Drink it or you know he’ll keep fussing.”
“I don’t fuss.” Rasped-out words. “Now drink it.”
Deep shadows lingered beneath the liquid dark of Yuki’s expressive eyes, the lids swollen and red, as was the tip of her nose, but there was no lack of energy in the face she made at her mate. “Bossy man.”
“You’re stuck with me.”
“Yeah.” A smile so intimate, it felt wrong to witness it. “For the next century, at least.”
Lara appeared in the doorway beside Hawke right then, her cheek bearing marks of sleep. “What’s the ruckus?” she asked with a beaming smile before shooing both Hawke and Sienna away. “Get rested in case I need you tomorrow.”
Seeing that Walker had returned to the infirmary, Hawke acquiesced. “I want to grab some fresh air,” he said to Sienna.
It wasn’t until they were outside, with her leaning up against a gentle knoll in the White Zone, that she said, “It must be nice, don’t you think?”