Wincing, she wondered how bad a mess she'd made of his face. He'd hardly even touched his lips to hers when she'd felt the dark wave of violent insanity pour over her, thick and choking. The first few minutes after that were blacked out. All she could remember was seeing Greg backing off, hands pressed to a bleeding face. Just like her attempt at wreaking revenge, the disproportionate response made no sense.
Enrique had never kissed her. She'd been an animal to him, to be tortured and experimented on. A lab rat. It revolted her that the last time she'd been in wolf form, it had been in front of him. He'd somehow learned to force the change on her, humiliating her by taking what she most treasured and turning it into pain and a kind of psychic rape she had never imagined might exist. In the end, he'd torn her changeling heart right out of her.
She started. "I'm coming." Shaking off the memories, she finished getting ready, then checked that her hair was okay. The short strands were another mark he'd left, one she hated seeing in the mirror.
Judd was standing almost on the doorstep and she nearly walked into him. It was all she could do not to hide in his arms. "I'm ready." She directed a bright smile his way.
He looked at her with the pure focus of a hunter. "You don't have to pretend for me."
She swallowed and let the smile fade. "For my brothers then. For Hawke. I broke their hearts once. I won't do it again." Seeing that angry pain in their eyes - the pain of men who hadn't been able to protect what they loved - devastated her. "Lie if you have to," she told Judd, "but don't let on how serious this was." She knew it had been very serious, a nightmare that had crushed her hope of normality.
"Alright. But you can't try to pretend that nothing happened." A command. "That'll only make them more concerned."
She decided to listen to him. "Okay." When he moved to open the bedroom door, she saw the jagged tears in the black wool of his sweater. "I'm sorry."
"I've told you, they're surface cuts. It'll likely calm your brothers to see that you drew Psy blood."
She laughed and that was when he opened the door. Andrew was arguing with Riley but froze the instant she exited the room, Judd's silent darkness at her back. Hawke was the first to move forward. "You look good, Bren."
"I feel good." She pressed her skin against his hand when he cupped her cheek.
Hawke's ice blue eyes looked over her head. "You brought her back."
"She had nothing to come back from." Absolute Psy calm as he lied for her. "You mistook a small setback for a complete degeneration."
Hawke scowled. "That was a hell of a lot more than a small setback."
"Bren," Drew interrupted, breaking Hawke's touch to pull her into his arms. His hug was crushing. "Greg swore he didn't touch you. Did he?"
She knew that if she said yes, Greg's life was forfeit. As it would have already been had she not stayed Judd's hand. Her Psy's reaction, on the other hand, was a different story altogether. That had been no act of emotionless Silence.
"Greg did nothing," she said. "He merely had the bad luck to be the first male I tried anything sexual with since the abduction."
Her brother released her. "I've never seen you like that."
"And you won't again." She didn't have any other explanation to give him and was hoping he wouldn't push. Then he opened his mouth.
But Judd beat him to it. "Sascha and I have been preparing for such a lapse, though we didn't believe it would occur so abruptly."
"What?" Walking closer, Riley tugged Brenna into the curve of his arm, turning her so she was no longer standing with her back to Judd.
"Your sister has a backbone of steel." Dark chocolate eyes met hers. "She refused to cry or release her emotions in any but the most restrained fashion during the healing."
"Building up the pressure," Brenna completed, moving from Riley's hold to stand beside Judd again. "I should've listened to Sascha." The healer had urged her to embrace and accept that she'd been hurt, raped in the most sadistic of fashions, her mind stripped and then filled with things that were not her own, her body tortured. But Brenna had simply wanted to move past it, to pick up the threads of her life as if they had never been snapped.
"You can listen to Sascha when she arrives," Hawke ordered. "She'll be here soon."
"No." It came out without thought. At the wary looks on their faces, she tempered her tone. "I need time to sort this out in my own head. Judd can help me if necessary."
"He's an assassin, not a healer." Riley's voice dropped close to a growl.
It wounded her that because of her, her generous, forgiving brothers had become so inflexible in their hatred of the Psy as a race. "Riley - "
"You'll see Sascha," he ordered.
"Enough." Judd's voice held an unmistakable tone of command. "Bullying her into seeing anyone won't help the situation."
Riley took an aggressive step forward. "We call this taking care of our own. You've done your bit, so get lost. No one wants you here."
Brenna felt her stomach drop. If Judd had been a changeling, those words would've been reason enough for a fight. A big one. And after having seen the look in his eyes when he'd spoken of executing Greg, she wasn't so sure about his control. Stepping back in what she hoped was an unobtrusive manner, she let the fingers of one hand brush over his thigh. The muscles were bunched, ready to attack.
"Brenna is perfectly capable of taking care of herself," he said. "If you want to help her, stop making her feel incapable at every turn."