That bloody day and the ones that followed had shaped him, scarred him, and strengthened him. No one hurt the people Lucas cared about. No one took those who were his. He'd proven that he'd kill anybody who tried. Anybody.
Sascha had been feeling odd since the moment she'd woken. Worried that the changelings would pick up on the strange sadness weighing her down, she'd canceled her meetings with DarkRiver and occupied herself at Duncan headquarters, trying to keep under the radar so that Enrique wouldn't track her down.
It was a relief to come home and shut out the probing eyes of the other Psy. The heavy darkness in her had increased through the day until it was a sharp pain in her heart. Not sure if it was an effect of her rapidly deteriorating mental state or something physical, she considered going to Medical.
A second later, she ruled that out. She didn't know what the M-Psy saw when they looked inside a body. What if her mental patterns were so aberrant that they showed up and the medics demanded further tests? Sleep seemed the best option. If she wasn't feeling better by tomorrow, she'd try to find some way of getting treatment without exposing herself to deep scans.
Another wave of thudding pain rocked through her body. She winced and rubbed her temples. Her eyes went to the communication panel. Maybe Lucas would know a medical person who would be discreet. Almost immediately, she shook her head. What was she thinking? Lucas clearly considered the Psy to be heartless automatons - why would he help her?
And why couldn't she stop thinking about him?
Lucas met no one on his way home. Parking his vehicle in a distant spot, he ran the rest of the way on panther feet, feeling the pounding earth like an extra heartbeat. The climb up the tree to his lair was as easy as breathing.
What wasn't easy was coming back from the animal. He wanted to retreat into the panther's mind and wipe away the human's pain. The temptation was dangerous, a lethal seduction that could turn him rogue, unable to remember his humanity but retaining enough human intelligence to do far more damage than a normal leopard. That was why rogues were hunted down - they were far too dangerous to be left to roam. Often it was their former packmates who became their targets, as if some broken part of them knew what they'd once been... and could never be again.
Driven by his instinctive need to keep his people safe from harm, he pushed past the enticing voice of decades - old despair and gave his body the command to change.
Ecstasy and agony.
Part pure pleasure and part ripping pain, the change took only seconds but seemed to last forever. He knew that from the outside it looked like his body was turning into a thousand particles of brilliant light and re-forming itself into another shape. It was quite beautiful.
But from the inside it felt as if his skin was being torn from him as a new form tried to emerge. Melting heat sizzled through every part of him from fingertips to toes. When he opened his eyes, he was human again, his beast caged behind the walls of his mind.
Naked, he padded to the shower and turned it to cold. The brutality of the sharp needles succeeded in removing the last vestiges of temptation from his mind. Usually, he had no trouble switching between the animal and human parts of his psyche but today wasn't a good day.
Today, he could almost understand the Psy need to banish emotion. If he didn't feel, he wouldn't remember. If he didn't feel, he wouldn't mourn. And if he didn't feel, he wouldn't hurt with every beat of his very human heart.
He was beginning to expect her in his dreams. When she touched his shoulder, he rolled away to look up at her. His intention had been to tell her that he had no heart to play with her tonight, but when he saw her, he stopped. Wearing what looked like old cotton pajamas, her hair in two simple braids, she appeared about sixteen.
That was when he realized that he was dressed in a pair of dark gray sweatpants identical to his favorite pair. "What's the matter, kitten?"
A kind of confused vulnerability swirled in her eyes. "I don't know." She wrapped her arms around herself.
Opening his own arms, he said, "Come here."
After a small hesitation, she laid her head down on his chest and stretched her legs out along his side. "I feel so... heavy." One fine-boned hand rested beside her head, palm-down on his skin.
"Me, too." The rock that sat on his heart would be gone by morning but its memory would linger.
Her hand stroked over his heartbeat. "Why are you sad?"
"Sometimes I remember that I can't always protect those I love." Under his fingers, her hair was soft and silky.
She didn't try to tell him that he wasn't God, that he couldn't protect everyone. He knew that. But knowing and believing were two different things. What she did say succeeded in stopping his heart. "I wish you'd love me."
"Because then maybe you could protect me, too." Haunting sorrow whispered through her tone.
"Why do you need protecting?" His male instincts were rising past the dark burden of memory.
She cuddled closer and he wrapped his arms tight. "Because I'm broken." Her hand kept smoothing over his heart and he could feel a melting warmth invade his body. "And the Psy don't allow broken creatures to live."
"You feel perfect to me."
No answer. Only that smoothing hand over his chest. With each stroke he felt more at peace. A different form of heaviness infiltrated his bones. It felt strangely as if he was going to sleep again. As darkness closed over him, her quiet statement circled his mind like an endless river.
Because I'm broken.
And the Psy don't allow broken creatures to live.
Sascha was waiting for him when he arrived at the office the next day. Troubled by the disquieting intensity of the dream, he tried to draw her into conversation but hit a brick wall. It was as if she'd retreated deep within herself, so deep that she'd almost ceased to exist.