With enough time and effort, William could learn to morph the cells of his own body—but the skill was a difficult and enervating one even for Judd, and he was much stronger than William. “Tell everyone you did it on a dare,” he said, opting for a much more accessible and effective solution.
A grin. “That’s smart.” His eyes went to the inside pocket of Judd’s leather-synth jacket, revealed by the way Judd had braced his forearms on his thighs. “I like chocolate.”
Judd pulled out the bar he’d picked up en route. “It’s yours if you can demonstrate your proficiency with the technique I taught you last time.”
“Like a test?”
“Yes.” Some would say the boy was too young for such things, but those people didn’t understand how a psychic loss of control could devastate. The accidental death of his pet had almost destroyed William. What would happen if he stopped his mother’s heart or gave his father a stroke?
No. Better that Judd be a harsh taskmaster—though he had no intention of treating the boy as brutally as he’d been treated as a child, until he’d broken and been re-formed into an assassin. Hence the candy bar for a reward, as recommended by Ben, his personal consultant when it came to all things concerning small children.
“Okay,” William said, jumping off the log. “I’ve been practicing.”
Putting the chocolate bar back in his pocket, Judd took out a small pocketknife. “Ready?”
William rubbed his hands down the front of his jeans, took a deep breath and said, “Yes. Go.”
“I need to monitor you telepathically.” The only time he would ever invade the boy’s mind without asking was if William lost fatal control—and William had made that request himself.
“So you can see if I’m following the correct process,” William said, his tone a perfect imitation of Judd’s when he’d spoken those words.
It made his chest grow warm, the smile building from within. “Yes.”
“Here they go.” William dropped his shields, but he was never vulnerable to an attack—Judd had already taken over the task.
“One, two, three.” He slicked the blade of the knife across his palm.
Blood welled, thick and red.
IT LOOKED IMPRESSIVE, but he’d made the cut shallow—this was about building William’s confidence in his abilities. It didn’t take long before he felt his skin begin to tingle, then tug. In front of him, William’s forehead was scrunched up, his eyes glued to the cut until Judd wasn’t sure the boy was even blinking. Sweat trickled down one temple, his small fists clenched so tight the light tan of his skin was bloodless.
Five minutes of fierce concentration later, William said, “I’m done,” and swayed on his feet.
“Sit. Drink.” He gave the boy the liter bottle of nutrient-rich sports water he’d placed by his foot. Only when William was steadier did he take a tissue from his pocket to wipe away the blood and reveal the faint pink line of a scar that looked two days old. “Very good.” He passed over the chocolate bar.
William tore off the wrapper to take a big bite. “It makes me really hungry,” he said after he’d swallowed. “And tired.”
“That’s because you’re using your psychic muscles. You need to remember to refuel and rest.” Young, his body developing, William’s psychic reserves were low. That didn’t negate his power. “You did an excellent job.”
When William beamed and leaned into him, Judd felt another one of those cracks form inside him. The ones the people he loved kept making, showing him he had the capability to feel even more than he believed.
William finished the chocolate bar and looked up. “Okay, I’m ready for the other stuff.”
The “other stuff” was where Judd took the boy through his entire method, teaching him where he could be more efficient, stronger, or more careful. “Close your eyes and focus.” Dropping his inner shields just enough to allow William to slide into a specific part of his mind, Judd showed the boy the psychic pathway he’d taken, asked him to critique his own performance.
William was smart and motivated—an excellent student.
Well done, he said after the boy figured out the solution to a niggling problem. That’s enough for today. Disengage, shields up.
“I’m going to Venice,” he said when William opened his eyes. “Do you know where that is?”
“No, but I know it has water, lots of it. And funny boats.” A pause. “Is that why I had to take a nap this afternoon and meet you so late? Because you’ll be gone tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Judd said, because he didn’t lie to children. “You’re important.”
“You are, too.” William’s hug was fierce.
Judd hugged him back before escorting the boy to the edge of his parents’ property, where his mother and father sat waiting at a wooden picnic table. William ran to them, bursting to share his success. Only when the small family was safe inside the house did Judd turn and walk back into the woods … and to the men who awaited him. “Aden,” he said, finding the Arrow seated on the same log he and William had used. “Vasic.”
“We didn’t think you’d spot him,” Aden said as Vasic shifted out of the viscous shadows between the trees.
Judd took a seat beside Aden. “I’ve learned a lot about tracking from changelings.” He’d sensed Vasic’s presence because of the silence the teleporter had created in the tiny denizens of the forest.