Aden, Vasic realized, was thinking years ahead as he always did, this time into a future where an Arrow might need friends outside the squad. “In two. One . . . two.”
They arrived in front of a sturdy log cabin surrounded by open land that merged into dark green firs set far enough apart that there was plenty of light on the ground. That ground was coated in snow that glittered in the sun burning from a crystalline winter sky, the sound of water flowing over rocks in the distance.
Standing with their backs to the cabin were the DarkRiver alpha, the SnowDancer alpha, and two others. Vasic didn’t know the tall female with the black hair and vivid indigo eyes who stood next to the wolf alpha, but he recognized the white-blond male beside the feline alpha. Dorian Christensen, the changeling who’d spoken to Vasic over the body of a young woman whose life and death Vasic had been sent to erase.
A dark-haired male who walked with the deadly grace of an assassin appeared from the side of the house at that instant. Judd Lauren, Arrow and member of the SnowDancer pack. There was no split loyalty; Judd had made it patent his primary loyalty was to the pack that had become his home. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t do everything in his power to assist the squad, so long as that assistance did no harm to SnowDancer or its allies.
Family comes first. Words Judd had spoken to Vasic in the deserted backyard of a Second Reformation church. But the squad is family, too. I won’t ever betray you unless you betray me by seeking to hurt those I love.
Love was a concept of which Vasic had no comprehension, though he knew how to recognize the signs of it in others. Learning the subtle physical cues that betrayed emotional bonds had been part of his training, intended to give him tools he could use to exploit targets from the emotional races. He didn’t, however, actually understand what it was any more than a trained animal understood the words spoken to it.
He could ask Judd to explain it to him, but he suspected he simply didn’t have the correct emotional foundations to comprehend the explanation.
“You have the final details of the security measures?” Aden’s voice cut through the sounds of the forest, the silence that disquieted many Psy nowhere in evidence—water, birds, wind, the hint of a wolf’s howl in the distance, it was a natural symphony.
Hawke raised an eyebrow. “I guess the pleasantries are over then.” Despite the wolf alpha’s lazy words, the pale blue of his gaze was that of a predator. Focused. Unblinking. “Judd’s got the schematics.”
The other Arrow pinned the hard-copy map to the side of the cabin using his Tk. “The inner perimeter”—he tapped a border marked in yellow—“is set with underground sensors that’ll detect any movement. No way to access them. They’re buried deep and in large numbers.”
Vasic had no intention of attempting to subvert the packs’ security, but Judd knew how Arrow minds worked, and the precaution was a good one. “Outer perimeter?” Marked in orange, it was some distance from the inner one, creating a significant buffer zone.
“Laser line. Set to incapacitate immediately.”
“You should set it to kill.” An Arrow needed only the slimmest margin to alter the balance of power.
No surprise in Judd’s expression. “That’ll be taken care of by the security measures in the red zone.”
“Are all the areas marked?” Aden broke in, attention on the map. “We’ll have civilians with us.”
Judd nodded. “Even a child couldn’t miss the boundary lines. Anyone who manages to survive the red zone will be tracked and eliminated in a far messier fashion.” A glint in the gold-flecked dark brown of his eyes that Vasic translated as humor. “Trust me, you don’t want to be torn apart by wolf or leopard claws.”
Vasic scanned the map into his gauntlet as a backup to the file Judd would no doubt send him. “That leaves teleportation.”
Holding his gaze, Judd said, “Do you intend to use a facial lock to breach the perimeter and enter Pack lands?”
“Not unless it’s an emergency where I have no other option.” A vow, Arrow to Arrow, one that was accepted without further discussion; if Judd had had doubts, they wouldn’t be standing here.
“The others can only ’port to a visual reference,” Judd pointed out, “and the entire area beyond the outer perimeter is heavily patrolled. Subtle light barriers will ensure any attempt at taking long-range photographs will produce a distorted image.”
Making them useless to an ordinary teleporter.
He’s always had one of the most inventive minds in the squad.
Vasic agreed with Aden’s telepathic statement. It was Judd after all who’d worked out a way to wean himself—and as a result, other Tks—off Jax, without sending up a red flag. Aden and Vasic had been working on the same problem for months when it became clear Judd Lauren had succeeded and that all they needed to do was quietly reinforce the changes he’d set in motion.
It’s a pity we didn’t realize he was one of us until after his defection, Aden said, referring to the other Arrow’s rebel tendencies. I almost approached him after the Jax maneuver, but he was such a “perfect” Arrow in every other way that the risk outweighed my instincts.
Vasic wasn’t so certain that had been a mistake. If we’d brought Judd in, he may have made different choices, and he wouldn’t be who he is now. An Arrow who hadn’t only survived, but who lived. It was a sharp distinction. Judd had a mate, a family, a real life that, unbeknownst to him, was a beacon to every splintered member of the squad.