Responding with a growl, Vaughn walked into the house. He shifted in the bedroom, then grabbed a pair of jeans and an old black T-shirt from the trunk where all the sentinels kept a change of clothes. When he walked back out, Sascha waved at the empty chair across the small folding table from her. He raised an eyebrow and perched instead on the railing that ringed the platform, hooking his legs around the posts.
"I'll never get used to the way you cats do that." Sascha shook her head and rubbed her bare feet on the wooden floor. "Do you realize you could fall and break every bone in your body?"
"Cats always land on their feet." Vaughn sniffed the night air and found everything as expected, but did a visual scan to confirm. Even in human form, his keen eyesight remained undiminished. "Are you always like this when Lucas is gone?" She seemed jumpy, agitated, though she was usually a calm pool in the midst of the predatory turbulence that was DarkRiver.
"Yes." She continued tapping her finger. "Were you running?"
"Yes." He looked at his alpha's mate, able to understand Lucas's fascination. Sascha was beautiful and utterly unique. It wasn't the night-sky eyes or the face, but the essence of her. She glowed from the inside out and that was to be expected. After all, she was an E-Psy - an empath, able to sense and heal the most damaging of emotional wounds.
But though he understood Lucas's fascination, Vaughn couldn't imagine feeling the same. Sascha was Pack. As a sentinel, he'd lay down his life for her, but he'd never have mated with her - because the concept of mating was alien to him. He didn't understand how the leopards could tie themselves to one person for the rest of their lives. It wasn't that he was promiscuous. He was very choosy about his lovers. But he liked his freedom, liked knowing that no one else was emotionally reliant on him.
His death wouldn't tear the soul out of anyone.
"I never know what you're thinking." Sascha stared at him, tilting her head slightly to the side. "I'm not even sure you like me."
The cat enjoyed being seen as inscrutable. "You're Lucas's mate." And therefore had his loyalty.
"But what about me as an individual?" she persisted.
"Trust takes time." Though she'd earned a good chunk of it the day she'd almost died trying to save Lucas's life. The other male was the closest thing Vaughn had to true family, a blood brother in the most brutal sense.
"There's something about you - you're less ... civilized than the others."
"Yes." There was no reason to deny it. He was far more animal than most predatory changelings, had had to become so to survive. As Sascha had had to become Pack. "Do you ever miss others like you?"
"Of course." She looked away and out into the forest, a lone Psy in a pack of leopards. "How can you not miss the world you lived in for twenty-six years?" Her eyes returned to him. "Do you?"
"I only lived in another world for ten." More than enough time to have the scars of betrayal burned into him. "Tell me something. Why would a Psy live alone, apart from the crowd?"
Sascha didn't berate him for his lack of a real answer. "Well, she could mate with a panther who prefers to live in the middle of nowhere on top of a tree." She made a face, but her smile gave her away. "It's uncommon but some Psy do prefer to live in isolated surroundings - they're usually on the weaker end of the Gradient. Maybe because their gifts don't threaten to overwhelm them like they do the rest of us."
"No." He shook his head. "This one was guarded like she was the president." She. Of that, the beast was suddenly certain.
"Are you sure?"
"Fences. Hidden cameras. Live guards. Motion sensors."
Sascha's eyebrows rose. "Of course. It must be one of the F-Psy."
"Foresight?" It helped to have a Psy in the pack. Before Sascha, they'd been close to blind about the intricacies of the Psy world. "I thought they were extremely rare. Wouldn't the Council want them locked up tight somewhere closer to where they could keep an eye on them?"
She shook her head. "I've heard it said that the most powerful of them need space even from other Psy. So though you saw live guards, it's likely no one actually lives in the home except for the F-Psy herself. I don't know that much more about them - foreseers are close to a subrace within the Psy and they belong to PsyClans, which represent them in public. Meeting one face-to-face is almost unheard of. Rumor has it that some of them never leave their homes. Ever."
Vaughn understood the need for aloneness, but there was a pathology to what Sascha was describing. "Are they prisoners?"
"No, I don't think so. They're too important to be made unhappy," she said, then seemed to catch herself. "You know what I mean - Psy don't feel happiness or unhappiness, but if the F designation decided to cease forecasting, the economic consequences would devastate the Psy.
"So no, I don't think they're prisoners, just that they prefer to live in a shell where they don't have to face the dark side of light." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Maybe if they stepped out occasionally, they'd remember the world they'd forsaken and wake up to the reality of their gift."
He watched her and knew she was remembering the vicious torture her mate had undergone as a child and his resulting vengeance - vengeance that had cemented the bond between Vaughn and Lucas. Perhaps if the F-Psy hadn't retreated into Silence, if they hadn't stopped forecasting disaster and murder, Lucas might've been spared that horror.
And perhaps Vaughn could've grown up jaguar, instead of being abandoned to the most savage kind of death by his own parents. Perhaps.