Chapter 31--Crumbling Walls--

Lucian opened his eyes to see an unfamiliar lady carrying a glass of something toward the furniture by the bed. So this was Dominicís Lorelei. He had called her a friend, but if she was a friend of his, why hadnít he gone to live with her instead of running away on his own? Not wanting to live with oneís parents wasnít unheard of, but choosing to abandon everyone when there were other options was strange to say the least. She looked as if she couldnít be much older than forty yet there was something else about her. Something odd.

"Glad to see youíre awake, Lucian Ambrose," sang Lorelei, setting the glass on the bed-stand.

"Nicky told you my name?"

"Nicky? I never thought I would hear someone call him that again," the woman replied with a small smile. Then, she hid a laugh behind her hand and adopted a more sincere expression. "Iím sorry. I didnít answer your question, did I? Yes, Dominic told me your name when he first arrived. He was so worried about you."

"I could see that. Have to admit I was a little freaked by the shift in personality. Me and Nicky donít have the best of friendships," confessed Lucian, smirking at the amusing reality of the statement.

"Oh. How long have you known each other? I havenít seen my nephew in five years."

"Nephew!"

Lorelei nodded and handed the glass to the youth. "This is for that fever thatís been heckling you. Itís probably from infection, but Iíve seen to most of that. Now itís just a residual effect. It should be gone by tomorrow."

Her younger companion could see a smoke screen in effect. She didnít want to elaborate on her relationship with Dominic. Sadly, she was his only source of information right now. Dominic refused to talk to him about himself and Nadia shied away from most of the delicate topics. He knew that if he could just learn a bit more about Dominic, then he would finally be able to reach the older boy. Dominic couldnít continue to fortify his personal walls if he knew that Lucian actually understood what had happened to him. Maybe, he wouldnít be as scared to connect with him anymore.

"Dominic just said that you were a friend of his. He never said anything about you two being related," the youth informed in hope that Lorelei would recognize his eagerness to continue the conversation.

"No, he wouldnít have called me his aunt. He never has. Dominic has always refused to accept ties with the Auriel family. He rarely acknowledged Atina as his mother. Though that wasnít much of a change for him. Dominic wouldnít even call his own father anything other than Loren. I guess he was always like that. Dominic never came across as a normal child."

"You can say that again. Nicky is definitely anything but normal," affirmed Lucian, downing the drink in one gulp. He made a face and slowly gave the glass back to Lorelei. "Uck! Now I know why I usually avoid taking medicine. Say Lorelei, would it be okay if I took a shower?"

"I suppose but Iím just going to have to rewrap all those bandages afterwards," the lady commented with a slight shrug.

"I can deal as long as I get to wash my hair. I think itís sticking to my neck."

"I must say, Lucian, youíre quite a change in Dominicís usual company."

"Heís getting better. A few months ago, he abhorred the ground I walked upon. Now, weíre damn close to being friends," he chuckled, trying to inch over to the end of mattress. There were still some mild surges of pain, but the painkillers had lessened most of them. He figured that with a little support, he could probably limp around. That would keep him from being completely helpless.

Realizing her patientís intent, Lorelei stepped over to him and hesitated about lending him some help. "Itís too early for you to be walking. You need more rest. Those wounds were serious."

Sharp red eyes met hers in a resolute gaze. "Maybe, but Iíve had enough of sleeping. Itís about all Iíve been doing for the past few days. And speaking of wounds, how come youíre all calm and collected with my condition. Most people would be asking me tons of questions, which of course, I would refuse to answer. Whatís your deal? Youíre more than just Nickyís aunt, arenít you?"

Instead of answering him, Lorelei closed her eyes for a moment and clutched her hands close to her chest. Without warning, the clear blue orbs sprang open again and she reached out for his hand. Lucian was too puzzled to stop her as she lifted his loosely curled fingers away from his palm and stared at the shimmering gem that lay on his skin. The woman plucked the amulet from the spot and held it in her fingers as she sighed in awe.

Lucian bristled and shot out a hand to reclaim his property. "Give that back! Itís mine! You donít even know what it is," he snarled in a voice on the verge of rage. But the lady ignored him as she continued to pore over the lovely relic.

"A Shard. The source of power for both the Guardians and their charges. I have only seen one in my lifetime, though I heard about them while I was growing up. My mother was a wonderful storyteller. It wasnít until I was seventeen that she finally revealed that all of her old yarns were in reality ancient legends. Soon after that, I met a young man my age. He had the sweetest green eyes that I had ever seen. I fell in love with those eyes. I guess you could say that that was when I fell in love with him too. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he too knew about the prophecies and even possessed one of the mystical Shards."

"Another Guardian?"

"The descendent of the original Guardians," murmured his companion, as her eyes seemed to glow with nostalgia.

"And you? Are you also one of the descendants? Do you also know of the Chimera?" Lucian pressed, feeling his heartbeat accelerate to a speed that made his chest ache.

So there were more Guardians than just the young ones. Tashira had somehow predicted this. What luck! Maybe, they could clue them in on some things such as the true power of the Cruce. Somewhere down their lineage, someone in their family had to have known about the Alistars, possibly even met one of them personally. Since Tyrell and his sister were now known to be part of that impressive family, it would come in handy to have a little background information about their bloodline. It might even clear some things up on the Destins who were supposedly under the protection of the Alistars at one time.

Nudging her hair behind her neck, Lorelei gave her head a rough shake. "Sorry Lucian. I know that that those connected to the Cruce have always been hunted, but I have no further knowledge on any beings known as the Chimera. From your condition, I can only speculate that they are the present enemies of the ones who hold the Shards. I wish I could help you more."

"How many others are there like you?"

"As far as I know, there were three originally and the one possessing the Cruce. From that information, we can assume that the current Guardians are the heirs to the othersí power. That doesnít necessarily mean that you share their blood, only that you have somehow been given their task."

"I donít mind being a Guardian. It gives me quite a rush," laughed the boy, leaning over to take his amulet from Lorelei. He tossed it up and caught it in mid-air. "Thereís nothing more exciting than having such raw power dancing around you. And fighting with it is like a shot of pure adrenaline. I wouldnít give it up for the world. But..." Lucian broke of from his reverent narrative and touched the ring on his neck with his other hand. "But this sort of life shouldnít be for everyone. Others donít deserve it."

"Others? Like my nephew?" Lorelei asked with a small drop of her eyes.

He was surprised that she had determined his angle. Still, it made it easier for him to bring up his next question. "Has he always been so...angry?"

"I have rarely seen him happy. Dominic seems to prefer rage. It makes things easier to deal with than talking them out."

"Even as a child?"

"Dominic was often in trouble for fighting at school. He could be very brutal in his fights. One thing that he has always been is strong. Anyone who got in a fight with him wound up with a bloody nose at the very least. Atina told me that her husband didnít take those offenses very lightly. Frankly, I never did approve of the way Loren disciplined his son. He hardly ever rose his voice to little Nadia. It was usually Dominic who took the full brunt of his wrath. So it didnít come as much of a shock to us when the family separated."

"Why did they do that?" the youth inquired; though he had a fairly decent idea of what the answer could be.

"One does not speak of such things. They are private family matters," muttered the woman, immediately helping Lucian to his feet. "Didnít you say you wanted to take a shower?"

Cursing, Lucian shoved himself away from Lorelei and steadied his side against the wall, panting from the strain at maintaining his balance. "Damn it! Iím sick of people beating around the bush with me. I am family! Iím the only family Nickyís got right now. Tashira and I are the only people he lives with. I have the right to know what makes him act the way he does. I know itís not his true nature. Iíve seen Nicky when he drops the shields for just a moment. Nicky is an amazing person. Heís not this bastard that everyone seems to think he is. All I want to know is why he wants to be thought of as that. Heís my friend. I want to help him."

Though she appeared flustered by his actions, Dominicís aunt padded to his side and touched his shoulder. "To tell you the truth, Lucian, I donít think my nephew wants to be helped. He enjoys his solitude. It makes him feel safe," she explained in a gentle timbre.

"Being alone 24/7 doesnít make one feel safe," spat the redhead, palming the wall for extra support. "It just makes them feel worthless."

"Lucian, I cannot change my nephew no matter how much I desire to. I very much doubt that you can either. But I will tell you this. If you want to know what makes him do what he does, then the best person to ask is Dominic himself."

"He wonít tell me," Lucian groaned, glaring at the adult.

"Then perhaps youíre not as close as youíd like to think. After all, shouldnít a family talk?" posed Lorelei, placing Lucianís arm around her shoulder. He didnít fight her this time. The boy was too engrossed in what she had just said.

There was the cold truth right there. What was the point in interrogating every member of Dominicís family? They werenít going to give him anything. If he wanted to really know the dark-haired boy, then he would just have to get his answers straight from him. If Dominic wouldnít talk, then that was that. But Dominic had claimed to be his friend. Friends could share things with each other. They were supposed to be there for each other. That was how it had always worked before. Why shouldnít Dominic share his secrets?

Then, it hit him. There was still one secret that he had neglected to share with the other youth. It was the one secret that he knew he could never tell him. What right did he have to expect Dominic to open up to him when he was still willingly lying to him with every breath? Dominic had no idea what he really was. But he didnít want him to know. It was too risky. Dominic would hate him forever. Not only that, seeing that look of scorn in Dominicís eyes as he saw him as everyone else had always seen him when he was growing up would make him despise the other. Dominic seeing him as a freak, leering at him with those same accusing stares just like all the others, hating what he couldnít understand. Would he do that? Was it worth finding out? The answer was a deafening Ďnoí to Lucian.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Killer.

Murderer.

Monster.

The words replayed in Dominicís mind over and over again in their agonizing loop.

"Seriously. You look like you're a serial killer."

Thatís what he was, wasnít it? A killer. He had killed his mother. He had killed Aiden. And now he had killed Lionelle. What a disgusting cycle! How long was it supposed to repeat? He was a Guardian, sworn to do anything to protect the Keys. Did that mean that there would have to be more death in the future? It was so much more real than when he was just using the idle words in a threat. Fury and blinding rage always spurned them. Why had he never stopped to contemplate the true gravity in the words?

He could still smell the gunpowder on his hands despite the numerous times he had soaked them in the sink before leaving the house. Images of the Chimeraís head snapping forward upon the impact of the bullet assaulted his mind. He had been astonished by how much blood stained the grass. Blood always did a great job of outlining a body, carpeting it in its crimson flow. It was indifferent to what it mixed with on the ground. Clumps of sunlit golden tresses. Even ragged strands of jet black. Those times, it had seemed like it didnít even care who it sullied with its touch.

It could have cared less that it was pooling around the still form of a god with comforting green eyes. Eyes that could tame the wildest of beasts. Eyes that had even managed to tame the beast that lived inside of their owner. Even the heavy pounding of rain hadnít managed to wash its presence away. It had stayed and desecrated the body of the deity, covering him in streaks of sickening red. The torrent of desperate tears had failed to drown it out. In its mad thirst for new territory, it had made its way over to the shaking figure that pressed his head against the torn chest of the black-haired god. The heartless river had soaked through his shirt and arms and deep into his long tied-back hair.

Dominic wrapped his arms around himself at the vision and rocked upon the ground. Why had he come back? He was cursed. Lucian almost died because of him. Fang had lost his family because of him. Lorelei had lost her best friend because of him. Even that son of a bitch, Loren, had lost his beloved wife because of him. What did he bring anyone but pain and suffering? It made him want to run again. That would be so easy. Just change back into Wolf and disappear once more.

But now there was Lucian. He had seemed so overjoyed to see him again. Those crimson eyes had sparkled with a light that he had never seen before. Lucian had begged him to stay. He had said he needed him. Maybe he did. Lucian was hurt and needed to see Tashira.

Of course, he could always ask Lorelei to return the twin to his home. It wouldnít be so hard. Still, he knew that Lucian would never accept that. Lucian thought he was his friend. Hell, he had dubbed himself that with his own lips. Friends werenít supposed to leave each other high and dry. He had to stay. No matter how awful he felt, he had to make amends to Lucian for letting him get hurt.

That reminded him how he had already made a mess out of things today. He had stupidly kissed the younger boy. It hadnít been the tender kiss that Lucian had given him that one night either. It had been fierce and starved. He had once imagined kissing Aiden like that.

The idea had first come to him when Aiden had taken him to the park one night to see the fireworks. He was around thirteen then. Aiden had sent him to buy a snow cone and he had wandered into a couple kissing by a tree. They had seemed so enchanted by each other, gazing at each other with warm eyes. Nobody had ever looked at him like that. After that, he had occasionally thought about what it would be like to have someone that he could kiss like that. Now, he could almost understand why people seemed to like it so much.

Lucian had tasted of cooled blood. Considering how he had been hacking up the fluid earlier, it wasnít that strange. But the blood hadnít sickened him. On the contrary, it had made him want more of the boy. Blood had always held some sort of calming effect over him. Its taste made him feel alive and powerful. He could do anything.

So it was a good thing that he had suddenly remembered that the whole thing was supposed to be a joke. Lucian had brought it up so he would have to buy that excuse. That made it easier to explain his impulsive actions.

It wasnít like he had intended to do that either. But the combination of the free opportunity and the crestfallen mood of his companion had seemed to drag him into a semi-conscious state. He had reacted before fully comprehending what he was doing. But it hadnít been such a bad thing now that he thought about it. Lucian had said that it would make him feel better and it had seemed to work. No harm done there. Best of all, he had done it under the guise of a jest. It couldnít be expected to mean anything. There was no real danger if it was just a one-time thing.

Yet even that uplifting thought couldnít seem to yank him from his slump. He glanced up at the clouds, recalling how he used to get a kick out of arguing with Aiden about what shapes they made. Aiden loved cloud watching. He had told him a few times about how he used to do it with Selene when they first met. Apparently, Selene had seen the same things in the sky as her son. Both saw the most fantastical things. Aidenís interpretations were always more practical.

Though, he never really cared what Aiden saw in the clouds as long as he could lie beside him and watch his lively eyes glisten with delight. Who could ever resist eyes like those? Oddly enough, they seemed to pale in comparison to a certain pair of shining garnets. Still, Aiden had been his entire world back then. What would he think of his ĎNicksí now? Just a trigger-happy teenager who pretended to live behind an insurmountable wall. Yeah, Aiden would be real proud of him.

How come he managed to wreck everything he came in contact with? It must have been his curse. That sure made it a lot tougher to do his job as a Guardian. Well, as long as he kept a healthy distance between him and the Keys, he should be able to handle things. It was getting pointless to try and keep his distance with the Guardians. The Ambroses sought out his companionship and Erik seemed keen on forming some sort of personal bond with him. She would sure like him now. He was a gun-user just like her. Dominic wondered if Erik had ever considered the possibility of killing anyone. She seemed to talk big but so had he and he was still regretting his foolish boasts. No, Erik would probably like it. She lacked the feeble amount of restraint that he still possessed.

He rocked himself harder and pulled his knees up to his chest. This was the worst he had ever felt since losing his only friend. He wanted to talk to someone. Anything to get this wretched feeling out of his being. It didnít even matter if it was a temporary release from the pain. As long as he could forget about it for a while, he would be content. But his only means of plausible communication was far away at the moment, probably lying on some piece of furniture in Lucianís room. How was he supposed to talk to Aiden now? Aiden was the only person who could possibly assuage his misery.

"Whatís wrong with me, Aiden? Why canít I be the person you wanted me to be?" the boy whimpered, digging into his shoulders with his fingernails, deep enough to pass through the cloth. "Why canít I make you happy? Youíre the only person Iíve ever wanted to make happy. Help me, Aiden. I need you. I need you!" His cry turned into a heartbroken roar as he felt blood rush over his fingers.

"Who are you talking to, Nicky?"

At the sound, he tore his hands away from himself and quickly wiped them on the grass without turning his head. "Go away."

Damn. Why had he been so busy baying like a dumb hound that he had missed the noise that would have alerted him to the otherís approach? He was usually so good at picking up things like this. Rustling in the grass, shifts in the earth, loud panting. All were his spies. He used them well to determine what was going on around him. It was good to be on guard at all times. But this time, he had been surprised. How embarrassing? He must have looked like a total moron screaming out to no one in particular with blood dripping down his arms.

Then again, he might have been able to handle such a scene if his intruder was anyone other than the person that stood apart from him at this very minute. Lucian was skilled at picking up lies. Being a master of the art himself, the boy always seemed to know when Dominic was hiding something from him. Why did he have to show up now? Wasnít he sleeping? Where was Lorelei when he needed her? Had she actually had the stupidity to let a youth that could barely walk come all the way out here on his own? What the hell was wrong with her? He couldnít depend on anyone nowadays.

"I heard you yelling. I was worried. Are you hurt?" Lucian continued to speak to him, undaunted by his caustic demand.

"Iím not hurt. I was just...I shouldnít have to explain myself to you! Go away!" the other teenager growled in a voice just as savage as the one that he used when they fought.

Lucian shivered and rubbed his arms. "What are you doing out here? You should be inside. Itís too cold to be outside."

"I like the cold," snapped Dominic, straightening his shirtsleeves to make the blood stains less noticeable. Pity, this had been a nice shirt a few hours ago. It had been clean at least. Much better than that gory one that he had ripped into pieces and deposited in the trash can.

"How did I know that you would say that?"

"You are supposed to be sleeping. And why the hell are you walking on that leg? Have you no common sense?"

His companion eased himself down to a sitting position a few feet from the other boy. He massaged the leg and took a deep broken breath. Walking on mainly one leg was not kind on his body. Why did Lucian do such ridiculous things? Did he want to destroy what he had spent almost four hours fixing with Loreleiís help? Didnít he realize how close he came to dying? Dominic watched Lucian separate strands of his hair. It was back in a ponytail and appeared wet. That meant Lucian planned on courting a cold as well today. Didnít he think a fever was good enough?

"It doesnít hurt too bad. Painkillers do wonders," argued the redhead.

"Youíre an idiot. Go inside. I donít want you to get any sicker," his friend ordered futilely as Lucian smiled at him.

"Thatís so thoughtful of you, Nicky. But chill, Iíll be fine. If you can brave the elements, so can I," bragged Lucian, trying to meet his eyes.

"Iím not recovering from massive lacerations and a serious fever. I canít believe Lorelei let you leave. Iím going to go give her a piece of my mind," the dark-haired youth grumbled, climbing to his feet with a wobbly motion.

The other boy scrambled up and grabbed his shirt before he could leave. His wavering eyes pleaded with Dominic to stay where he was. Dominic moved a hand to force him away when he noticed how unstable Lucian was on his feet, shaking and almost falling on top of him. Yet Lucian forced himself to stand still as he held the other teenager in place.

"Donít. I told her I wanted to check on you since she says youíve been out here for some time," he coughed as his breath left him in splintered heaves.

"And she actually agreed? Some doctor."

"Hey! Leave her alone, okay? Lorelei wanted me to stay in bed, but I wanted to come out here. I forced her to accept my decision and she knew it would be silly to hold her ground any longer. Besides, I was tired of lying around. I slept for another two hours. Isnít that good enough for you? Give me a break already."

Exhausted amethystine eyes seared the flesh of the younger boy, followed by a cynical growl. "Oh, youíre going to get a break. That leg from you putting too much strain on it."

"Ease down, Nicky. Itíll be fine. Look, Iíll crawl if it makes you happy," Lucian offered, dropping to the ground carefully and scooting forward on his knees. He gave Dominic a sarcastic expression and then rolled onto his back like a big cat. "Better?"

With a grimace, Dominic also lowered himself to the grass and glanced at his hopeless companion. "You know what would make me really happy? You back in the house," he informed in a half-hearted snarl. He knew he was fighting a losing battle. It was hard to stay angry with Lucian when he was acting like such a child. All of his spiteful slanders seemed to transform into mumbled phrases at the sight of the boyís engaging grin. Lucian was a trip.

"Aww, is that concern for moi?"

Consternation got the better of the older boy and he scraped his fingers across Lucianís collar and yanked him into a half-sitting posture. "I can move you myself if I have to," he warned, choking up on his hold to show the youth just how ready he was to live up to his threat.

Lucian pried his fingers away with his good hand and angrily threw them to the side. Dominic caught sight of the white wrappings that encased his wrist, now painted in light grass stains. The redhead looked at him with his tired visage and moved to the left. "Just give me a few minutes, okay? You look like you could use some company."

"Appearances can be deceiving."

"Liar. Whatís riding you lately? You said it wasnít anything I said, so what is it? Youíre acting more distant than usual and thatís saying a lot," debated Lucian, crossing his arms as he tried to figure out what was going on in Dominicís head.

Despite the utter nonsense in the thought, Dominic knew that Lucian was the last person he wanted to talk to about his problems. Lucian was not Aiden. He would never be Aiden. The only way out of this was to subvert the topic. Well, Lucian was always susceptible to taunts. He lived for the chance to fight back.

"A bit nippy for shorts, donít you think?" the dark-haired youth mocked, pointing down to the cut-offs that Lucian had produced within the past two hours. They looked mismatched with his long-sleeved dress shirt. It was somewhat of an insult to Lucianís usual taste.

"Arenít we cute? The pants were trashed. I had to salvage them somehow."

Dominic wiped back his hair, pleased that Lucian had been sidetracked. Swerving Lucian from topic was not that much of a challenge actually. Mention fashion or frivolities and he was ready to jump into discussion with great enthusiasm. Seeing that Lucian was distracted, it was best to go along with his plan. He grasped a piece of the otherís sleeve and pulled it experimentally. "At least the shirtís long-sleeved. That way you wonít freeze completely."

"Yeah. Lorelei said you helped her pick it out since my other one was more or less shredded beyond recognition," Lucian approved, admiring his new attire as he stretched his body in ways that mirrored the exercises of a model.

"Sheís right," replied Dominic, moving his eyes away from the spectacle that his friend was making before him.

"A little fancier than I usually go for but doable nonetheless," the redhead snickered.

"I figured you would like it. You like to be pretty."

"Look whoís talking! I say, the lavender really brings out your eyes. How precious!"

His friendís voice had the echo of a catís hiss, only one that had the luxury of being combined with a schoolboyís laugh. It made him sound quite irked with his older companion. But Dominic was unruffled by Lucianís dislike of his comment. It only made him look down at his own clothing and frown at the cool lavender turtleneck. This was not his choice piece of clothing. It was simply the only piece that he could find that wasnít too tight on him. Lucian had a lot of gall to mock him.

He glowered at the younger teenager and put some more distance between them. "Tell me the truth. You came to talk me to death as my punishment for trying to kill you."

Short bursts of laughter were his immediate response. "Honestly, no. But now that you mention it, that plan sounds very appealing."

"Glad to see you in a brighter mood, Lucian."

"Anything for you, Nicky," Lucian quipped. The pause following seemed to give him a new sense of enlightenment and his eyes turned somber. "Enough playing around. Come on! Tell me why youíre sulking out here on your lonesome. When I first saw you, you looked really disturbed. Care to share with me whatís on your mind?"

"Itís none of your business," Dominic roared, considering getting to his feet and walking away. But he knew better. Lucian would just chase after him and probably break his leg even more. With his luck, he might even break some other bones. Staying here was hard enough on him. There were far too many memories that swirled around this place. He didnít want to spend any more time here than he had to. As soon as he felt his mind was in a suitable condition to drive, he would leave this place. Lucian seemed to be feeling well enough to travel.

Frustrated at the fact that he was going to be forced to argue this thing out with the other boy, he moved himself farther away, praying that Lucian would get the picture and stay put. In an unexpected move, the redhead didnít go after him. Instead, Lucian glared at him and punched the ground, as if he imagined that it was his face. After driving his knuckles against the solid dirt, the younger boy drew back his hand and rubbed the reddened joints. Dominicís eyebrows raised at this crazy display.

"Are you enjoying yourself or are you disappointed that you didnít break your damn hand?" he spat as Lucian flung down the injured hand and scooped up a large pebble from the ground. Dominic held up a hand to ward off any incoming blows and gave the redhead a heated stare. "Try it and Iíll beat you senseless."

"Iím not going to throw it at you, Nicky, even if I think you deserve it," Lucian snarled through his teeth as he chucked the rock over Dominicís head. "I was just under the impression that we were passed all this. I just offered to help you and you turn on me as if I threatened you or something. Whatís the matter? Donít you trust me?"

"I donít know."

"Great! Join the group."

The older boy rolled his eyes and scoffed at Lucianís whine. "Donít give me that crap. Plenty of people trust you, Lucian."

"Funny, I donít see it the same way," huffed the younger youth.

"You canít play the angst game. Thatís my job, remember?" Dominic told him in a slightly less bitter tone.

"You can share!"

"What if I donít want to?"

Lucian narrowed his eyes in incredulity and made a clicking noise with his tongue. "You canít hog the right to be depressed all to yourself."

"Sure I can," asserted the other boy with a vague wink.

Seeming to understand that Dominic was just messing around with him, Lucian dropped his melancholy act and reverted to his playful manner. "Youíre a jerk, you know that?"

Dominic responded with a slow shrug. "So what else is new?"

Trying to stay serious, Lucian covered his face with one hand and shook his head. Dominic leaned over to see what the other youth was doing. The redhead checked over his shoulder and giggled at the sight of Dominic checking on him. "If youíre trying to make me feel better...youíre doing a damn fine job of it."

"Okaaay. I wasnít expecting that sort of response," mumbled Dominic as his face fell into a sheepish expression.

Before he could back off again, Lucian approached him and leaned against his shoulder. "I know. Thatís why I said it," he pointed out, knocking the other youth with his shoulder.

"Messing around as usual?"

Despite his growing vexation with his friend, Dominic didnít feel like forcing the other away right now. It wasnít doing any good and being with Lucian did keep his mind off things. Maybe this wouldnít be so bad. As long as Lucian could keep his mouth shut, then he wouldnít mind using him to quell his pain for a while.

"I donít have to. You could talk to me. Iíd listen. I promise," suggested the redhead, gazing at him with eager eyes.

Scratch that idea. "I donít want to talk."

"You never do, ergo the wallowing in self-pity bit."

"Youíre not making any progress, Lucian," Dominic snapped, turning his head from the boy.

Why couldnít Lucian take a hint? He wasnít going to accept his help. All he was doing was making him want to act wicked enough to scare the boy off and knowing how odd Lucian was already acting, he weighed that as a very bad idea. Why couldnít Lucian fathom the notion that he just wanted to be left alone right now? He could play the buddy-buddy role later. At the moment, he just wanted a chance to come to peace with some things in his life. Lucian was just in his way.

Without a word, Lucian crawled around him so that he was once again in front of his eyes and waved a hand impatiently. "Fine. Forget the games. Letís put it this way. You saved my life and I owe you. So let me help you with whatís troubling you and we can call it even. Sound like a plan to you?" he insisted, sounding horribly distressed by the fact that his friend still refused to confide in him.

Dominic could not fight the ball of guilt that rose up in his gut. He was being selfish again. So what if Lucian couldnít actually help him? If all he wanted was a chance to repay him for his rescue, then he should be entitled to it. He had been so awful to him for so long. It was time to start making good on his promise to stop hurting him. Even if he couldnít comprehend why Lucian wanted to help him so badly, he might as well give Lucian a shot at it. It would satisfy the other boy enough to make him want to go back to the house before he got any sicker.

He laughed weakly and leaned close to the younger youth. "You think you can help me?" the dark-haired teenager challenged dryly, raking his eyes across Lucianís determined visage.

"I can sure as hell try," retorted Lucian, planting his hands on his shoulders in a rough gesture.

"Lionelle."

The sob left him before he had time to rethink his reply. Instantly, a horrid chill swept through him and he closed his eyes for a moment. In his head, he could hear the report of the gun as it took Lionelle out of the picture forever. He could see the smoke float above his maddened eyes and feel his hoarse breathing as his blood raced through his veins at the knowledge of a kill. It was Wolfís usual reaction to the catalyst and set all his senses afire. This was supposed to be his element. But it was not. It was the wolfís world. Not Dominicís. He could sense rage quickly fading into shock and then terror.

"Say that again," his companion requested, shaking him from the prison of his mind.

His voice reacted to the command as if it was being unconsciously controlled. It rolled out of him in a husky whisper. "You asked whatís bothering me. Thatís what it is. Lionelle."

"Lionelleís dead, Nicky. You killed him."

Bastard! He was supposed to be understanding! He was just making this whole thing worse. Why had possessed him to even think about presenting his problems to this moron? Lucian was such an unrefined airhead!

Anger flooded his mind and he furiously shoved Lucian from him. He could feel the humiliation and rage taking over his body as he fought for control. Damn it all to hell! Why was he wasting his time like this? Lucian could never understand. For all his twisted habits, Lucian was clean. He had never killed anyone in his life. Why should he pour out his soul to someone who was just going to mock him? All this concern must just be another well-played act by the other boy. He was messing with him. Argh! It just made him want to make something hurt. But the only thing there was Lucian.

"I donít understand. Tav...I mean I saw you kill Lionelle myself," Lucian sputtered from the ground, gingerly touching his back and then yanking away his hand in obvious pain.

"No? Really? I didnít know," Dominic answered in a cold hiss. He punched a fist against one hand and clawed at it to keep himself from striking the other youth in his ire. His mind wanted to shout out to the redhead causing him such agony. Shut up! Shut up!

Thankfully, his words seemed to awaken something in Lucian and the boyís mouth fell open in realization, as his eyes grew rueful. "Oh," he said in a lifeless undertone, pushing himself upright again. "I see."

Forgetting his composure, the older youth dipped his fingers under Lucianís necklace and forced the redhead over to him. He could tell that his grip on the chain was jamming it into Lucianís neck, probably making it hard for him to breathe right. His own breath had quickened and his head felt like it was about to explode from all the pressure building up inside it. In this state, he glared down at the youth in his hold.

"Do you? Do you know what itís like to feel like this? To feel like a murderer? I shot him. I didnít even think about it! I just did it. All I could think of was him hurting you. I couldnít let him. I shot him! I killed Lionelle!"

Lucian hung limply in his grasp, though he wasnít shaking and didnít seem even close to being scared. Dominic couldnít tell if he was hiding it or not. Without moving his eyes from the older boy, Lucian brought one hand up to Dominicís and closed the ends of his fingers around the palm. He didnít try to disconnect the dark-haired youthís fingers from his chain and instead looked at him with his addictive red eyes. They were wide and full of grief for his friend.

"Do you regret it?"

Dominic didnít know how to answer that. He wasnít even sure yet. All he knew was that it had to be done. If he had let the Chimera live, the younger teenager would be dead. He knew that was the truth. Lionelle had wanted to kill Lucian. He had come very close to succeeding. If he had arrived any later...It was stupid to think of what-ifs now. So how was he supposed to answer Lucian? Might as well just go with the way he felt. One couldnít get any more honest than that.

"Yes!...I mean no...Not really. He deserved it for what he did to you, what he did to Tyrell, and what he did to me. Iím glad heís dead. But...Iím not proud that I was the one who killed him."

"Why would you be? Youíre not a monster," consoled the redhead, paling a bit at the last word.

"Are you so sure? I killed someone. I murdered him in cold blood...."

"It wasnít like that. You wanted to help me. You were just being...a Guardian."

Flinching at the name, Dominic began to release the chain as he stared back at Lucian with naked shame radiating in his eyes. "Have you ever killed anyone, Lucian?"

His companion readjusted the necklace so that he could breath properly again and coughed softly. "No...Well, I almost did when I was younger. Some punk was threatening Shira so I beat him up. At least thatís what they called it at the school. Iím not sure if smashing someoneís face against the pavement, kicking him in the ribs hard enough to break a few, and trying to choke him to death would really fall under the term of being beaten up. You know, I think I would have strangled him too if those teachers hadnít shown up and forced me away. I was that angry. When I was a young kid, I used to get angry a lot. It made me feel safe. Of course, thatís nothing like your situation. I shouldnít have brought it up. Well, Iím an idiotic. Would hitting me make you feel better?"

The other boy didnít give the final question any acknowledgment as he wrung his hands, feeling the sticky sweat that seemed to glue the fingers together as he talked. "I know I always say that I will kill something or other, but Iíve never really done it...before. I never knew it would be so bad. I mean, wolves kill things and have no compunctions. Thatís how they live. Killing kind of makes them feel alive. The thrill of the hunt. No human luxury can compare. Blood is our life. Thatís the way nature designed us."

"Humans arenít wolves, Nicky," Lucian murmured as he pulled Dominicís violent hands away from each other before they could tear his skin any further. The backs of them were already pocked with several tiny rips and cuts from his shaking nails.

"I know. I just wish I could stop thinking about it," moaned the dark-haired youth, leaning back his head and taking huge trembling breaths.

Sighing, Lucian dropped the otherís hands and pulled back, an expression of utter guilt claiming his pale face. "Iím sorry. If I had been stronger, then you never would have been forced into that situation. Iím the reason you killed Lionelle. I was too weak to save myself. If he would have killed me earlier, then...."

"Shut the hell up!" shouted Dominic, embracing Lucian before he was even aware of his actions. He wrapped one arm as far around the boy as he could manage and seized a fair chunk of his hair in his bleeding hand. "Donít ever say that again, Lucian! Never! Do you hear me? I wouldnít know what to do with myself if you died. Youíre all I have left. Iíd rather suffer pain ten times worse than this than know that you were gone. Do you understand me? Do you?"

"I mean that much to you?" questioned the redhead, his voice sounding far more cheerful than it should have been considering the circumstances.

It brought Dominic back to his senses. He removed his arms from the other youth and got up as he made a small noise in his throat. Then, he walked a few feet from Lucian and stretched out on the grass, hoping to pretend like nothing had happened.

Why was he being so damn impulsive lately? He was taking too many chances. Far too many chances. Hadnít he learned a thing from what had happened the other day? Being close endangered those around him. He had hoped that he could devise a way to stay with Lucian while managing to stay somewhat detached. A friend was a new thing for him. Aside from Aiden, he had never really had any friends. He had never wanted any. Foolishly, he had tried to convince himself that a friendship could work with Lucian as long as he was careful. Obviously, he had forgotten the very meaning of the word. First a rough kiss and now this. If this kept up, he would probably have to leave again. He was so stupid!

"Are you pretending like you didnít hear my question or are you testing out some of your patented selective hearing?" Lucian called from behind him.

"I heard you," stated the other boy. Upon answering he realized that honesty might not have been the best of policies given his situation.

"And?" Lucian continued to press, showing that he was not going to be deterred so easily.

"I guess."

"Thatís not an answer. Thatís a cop-out," griped the redhead as Dominic heard him shuffle to a stand and limp over to him. He looked at the older boy as if he was about to begin a massive rant and then stopped when his eyes fell on Dominicís sun amulet. "Shit! I forgot. I should probably give this back to you," he exclaimed, taking the chain from him neck and shaking the ring into his other hand. Lucian reached out for Dominicís hand and deftly opened the still tender fingers. Then, he held the ring above them for a minute before letting it collide with the otherís palm.

Dominic raised confused eyes to him and choked, "The ring? What for?"

"I donít need it now and it means a lot to you."

"You...You donít want it?" stuttered the dark-haired boy, feeling as though Lucian had just stuck him with a knife. Tashira had claimed that he wore the ring all the time. Why would he give it back now? Didnít he understand how hard it was for him to give up such a treasure? He wanted him to remember him. Didnít he understand?

"Wait Nicky! Donít take it like that. Iím just saying that I donít need something to remember you by when I have you here," Lucian placated, closing Dominicís fingers around his white-gold trinket. "As long as you have it, I know you wonít leave."

"Thatís just what Nadia said."

Lucian flashed him a big smile. "Yeah? I like her. Sheís a great girl. Who knows? Maybe we think alike. After all, we both seem determined to force some light into your life."

"How can you think so highly of me?" demanded Dominic, shoving the ring back in his pocket.

"Hey, youíre my best friend and youíre one of the smartest people that Iíve ever met as far as book knowledge goes. We wonít get into the common sense department. Anyway, why shouldnít I think highly of you?"

"Iím cursed, Lucian."

His words seemed to make Lucian take a step down from his happy high. He struggled with the chain and the ruby amulet that he had retrieved. Somehow, the simple task of slipping the necklace through the gem seemed unusually difficult for the redhead. Lucian kept his eyes on his possessions as he replied to his friend. It looked like he was afraid to meet his eyes for a moment.

"Yeah, Nadia told me about how your asshole of a father fed you that bullshit. You donít honestly believe that, do you?" he laughed harshly.

"Yes," uttered the other teenager without a secondís delay.

The chain fell from Lucianís hand and he spun around to the dark-haired boy, eyes wide with vehement disbelief. "What would possess you to buy a word of that? Your dad must have been a really fucked-up guy to say such a thing! Nobodyís cursed, Nicky."

"No. He was right."

A tortured laugh broke free of Lucianís throat. He grabbed Dominicís arm and shook him hard. "I canít believe youíre saying this! You! Dominic Solanis, the boy who lives on logic! Does this shit sound logical to you? What did that bastard do? Brainwash you?"

So Lucian already knew. Nadia had told him about Loren. How dare she! She had promised to keep it a secret. Nadia never lied to him. But she obviously hadnít told him everything. If she had, then Lucian would not be arguing over whether or not he was cursed. He would know it to be a fact. Well, if Lucian wanted to be his friend, then maybe he should be allowed to know exactly what was up with him. Maybe it would encourage him to keep his distance more often. That way there would be no...temptations since evidently he was getting worse at ignoring them.

But what should he tell Lucian? Everything? He had never told anyone the truth about Aiden. Even Nadia had never known just what Aiden was. Was Lucian worthy of the knowledge? Aiden was special. He was the best thing that had ever happened to him throughout his entire life. Dominic doubted anything could ever bring him such joy again.

Still, Lucian did seem hungry for the truth and he himself had told him that he saw him as someone special. Perhaps, Lucian was the only person that he wanted to know about Aiden. Lucian might be able to relate to his pain. He had heard that talking about things was supposed to help one deal with them. It seemed to have worked a little with the Lionelle situation; maybe it had a chance of working with this. Besides, it was wrong to continue to let Lucian be around him unless he knew what he was getting into. For once, he actually wanted to talk. And this time, he wanted to talk about everything. About Selene, and Loren, and...Aiden.

He scooped Lucianís chain from the ground and threaded it through the amulet in one speedy motion. Then, he handed the necklace back to Lucian as he took a relaxing breath. This was going to be tough. When Lucian went to take the necklace from his clasp, Dominic snatched his hand and looked up into his eyes. They appeared nervous but didnít turn from him. It gave him enough courage to go on.

"Let me tell you some things, Lucian. Things about me. Then you can decide if you still want to care," he began as Lucian nodded his head as though transfixed by his gaze.

*~*~*~*~*~*

"My parents were Selene and Loren Solanis. From what I heard, they were very much in love. But my mother was always very weak. She had been sick as a child and had never completely recovered. Still, she wanted to live a normal life I suppose. And like most normal wives, she wanted a family. I was the answer to her desires. I donít remember her at all except what Iíve seen in pictures. Loren always had many many pictures. She was gorgeous though. Her hair was a creamy chocolate brown and her eyes were rich aquamarines. In all the pictures, she had her hair let down and it cascaded down to her mid-back. Those who would dare to call me handsome say that I must have gotten most of my beauty from her. Loren was not as aesthetically designed.

"I think she must have loved me. I was her greatest accomplishment. Her way of showing everyone that she could live just like everyone else. Unfortunately, my mother was very wrong. She couldnít live like others. Having me put too much strain on her body and apparently, she grew ill again. There was really nothing anyone could do. She died when I was one, leaving me with Loren as my sole provider...for the time being anyway."

"But Nadia? Didnít your father remarry?" asked Lucian, thrilled that he was finally getting to the bottom of this. Dominic was willing to talk to him.

It was like a miracle. First, Dominic had been insistent that he leave and was even willing to attack him to stress his point and now he was truly opening up to him. He wasnít positive on what had called the change, but as long as he got his answers, he decided that that mystery could wait until later.

One mystery had already been solved. Loren had told his son that he was his motherís killer because she had died from a weakness due to Dominicís birth. That was why Dominic actually believed that it was his fault that she was dead. The facts matched and Dominic based everything on facts. It was clear that young Dominic was no exception. What a horrible guilt to grow up with. No wonder the boy acted so distant all the time.

What made him feel even worse was the knowledge that this wasnít the end of the story. This was just the beginning. Dominic had a more unpleasant tale to share with him. He had figured that out from what Nadia had already told him. As of yet, Dominic hadnít even touched on his relationship with his father. Lucian knew that would be a chilling narrative.

"Iím getting there, Lucian. I donít like to be rushed. And will you refrain from calling that man by that affectionate title? In most cases, the husband of my mother and the one who helped me come into existence would be known as my...father. But Loren was anything but a father. Loren was a heartless piece of shit!

"As Nadia told you, he blamed me for my motherís death. He was a shitty parent. When he couldnít figure out why I was crying, he would hit me savagely until I stopped. If I didnít follow his orders, he would scream at me and curse at me as if I was the most unholy creature on earth. After he tired of that, he would usually beat me some more. I couldnít stop him and I couldnít understand why he was so angry with me so I often ignored him out of confusion. That just got me hurt. But he never left marks in the beginning. Such bruises on a toddler would be too noticeable. Loren was smarter than that. Sometimes, I think he felt bad about what he was doing. Those times, he would try to justify his abuse by saying that I was just being a bad boy and needed to be disciplined. It never even mattered to him that he was talking to a child who could barely understand him.

"Sometime before I turned two, he did remarry. He found this young lady named Atina Auriel. She was an okay person, but she was blind to all of Lorenís outrages. You would think that having another kid would calm him down. It did in a way. Loren adored Nadia. So did I. Despite the fact that he never thought of hitting her, I loved her. She was my sister. My flesh and blood. Something that I could believe in that wouldnít hurt me. She became the world to me. When I was with her, I could try to forget Lorenís vicious blows or his pinching fingers or disgusting slurs.

"Nadiaís mother, on the other hand, was a complete idiot. She was a wealthy businesswoman. So she was scarcely ever home. She never figured out how Loren treated me when she was gone.

"It seemed that as I got older, Loren got more violent. Maybe he thought I could take more. By the time I was seven, he was leaving bruises. Dark ones. He also started beating me with a belt around that age. His excuse for this was that I didnít respect Atina. I wouldnít call her mother and it infuriated him. Or sometimes I was seen as a bad influence on Nadia. That warranted another beating. That clueless Atina bought every word of his excuses for Ďdiscipliningí me. She never stopped him. Of course, he never completely tore into me when she was around. That sort of manhandling was reserved for her absence."

"How could she have not known?" the redhead cried, appalled at the casual manner in which Dominic was speaking about being repeatedly abused at such a young age.

He had suspected that he had been beaten but not when he was so young. The boy swore to himself that if he ever set eyes on the sorry son of a bitch that had dared to strike his older friend, he would show him what if felt like to be treated like garbage. Dominic had a good reason for ignoring pain. He had been conditioned to deal with it and probably hide it. Dominic would not want Nadia to see him suffering. This also explained why Dominic was so violent with others. It had seemed that it was all he had known upon growing up. It was probably hard for him to think of other methods when he had been taught to handle all things with violence.

Dominic seemed to peer at him with smoldering eyes. No doubt, he was annoyed with him for the constant interruptions. He certainly wasnít making this any easier on the older boy. Biting his lip, he motioned for Dominic to continue. The other youth accepted his silence and complied.

"Hitting me was made even easier when I started school. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to other students and had my share of brawls. Loren used these as excuses both to punish me and to explain away my bruises. But Nadia knew. Of course, she knew. Nadia was always an intelligent child. A bit meek, mind you. Never one to cause trouble but very observant. She wanted to tell Atina. But Loren had warned me what would happen should I ever complain about my punishment. So I told her to keep quiet. Eternally loyal, Nadia obeyed.

"But there was one particular fight that she never knew about. I was eight then and she was with her Aunt Lorelei. I think I had actually gotten into a school fight that afternoon. Some schoolboy had decided to make fun of my bruises. He told the other boys that my parents probably beat me for being a rotten child. I have never taken taunts too well. He had a bloody nose and I got an afternoon with the principle. I knew Loren was going to be pissed. So I took my time coming home. Big mistake."

*~*~*~*~*~*

He caught Lorenís icy glare just as he walked in the house. The dark-haired man had the phone by the sofa and was clutching the belt like a thick stick. Knowing that it would be pointless to flee, young Dominic shuddered and crept into the room with his head held low.

"Where the hell have you been, Dominic?" Lorenís voice came to him in a brutal roar.

"School," he replied, already aware of the fact that the administration had called the man speaking to him.

"Fighting again, I hear," sneered Loren, making like this was an average father-to-son conversation. It was his way of making himself feel better for beating his child like a dog.

"He started it!" Dominic argued before realizing that he had spoken. Immediately, he pulled back and shut his eyes, setting his bookbag on the carpet with trembling hands.

"Did I ask you to talk?" snarled the man, leaping up from the couch and pointing at his son with his belt. "Get over here this instant. Iím going to teach you what happens when you fight."

Dominic realized that he was going to get punished either way. He might as well have his say for the moment. It might give Loren something to think about tonight when he was snuggling in that cozy bed with Atina. "You should be proud. I won the damn fight! I kicked his ass!"

Loren sprang at him and dragged him backward, jerking his arm in a painful way. "What have I told you about using that filthy language?" he spat as he lashed the leather belt across his childís back and legs.

"You use it all the time!" yelled Dominic, fighting back tears as he felt his skin sting at the touch of the belt.

"Iím your father and you will not treat me with such disrespect!"

"Youíre not my father! I hate you!"

Even before he finished the denouncement, he felt the blood leaving his face as he predicted the response to his words. Instants later, a hand slammed into his cheek and he lay sprawled on the ground. As he tried to get up, Loren floored him with another powerful slap. His whole cheek felt like it was burning and he held a hand to the enflamed flesh. Not finished with him yet, the man yanked away his hand and struck him again and again.

"You are the most evil brat alive. If my beautiful Selene could see you now, she would wish you dead. You should be the one dead, not her. She was worth something. Youíre just a stubborn little bastard!" Loren screamed as he beat his son, changing his target from face to torso, intent on causing tears. Dominic remembered how he loved to poke fun at him for crying. He tried to hold his own. But soon, it became clear that his dream was not going to last. Loren was hurting him too much.

"I hate you! I hate you! I canít stand you! You donít deserve to be loved!" he hollered, as tears poured down his face, making him feel weak and helpless as always.

At the sound of his sobs, Loren stopped hitting him and pulled him up by his arm. He glared at his rebellious offspring and tossed him to the entrance of the room. Dominic lost his balance and fell upon his knees with a hard crack.

Desperately wiping his eyes with his sleeve, he sought out the edge of the wall and lifted himself up. He could taste blood in his mouth and knew that Loren had probably split his lip again. It wasnít a new feeling at all. Loren usually ended up making him bleed in some way before the week was out. He was getting used to the copper taste. It was almost relaxing. It told him that Loren knew he had gone too far and would leave him alone for the rest of the night. That was a comfort. If the blood could bring comfort, then he welcomed its presence.

"Quit your balling and go start your homework. I wonít have my son be a bully and an ignoramus," ordered the man as he fell back into his chair.

"Yes, sir," Dominic gritted through his teeth, all the fight gone from him. Loren didnít know the first thing about him. Some ignoramus. He had the highest grades in the school and that included the upper levels. Teachers fawned on him to help other students and his tests were always used as examples. He wasnít stupid. Dominic knew that much. At least that was one thing he could praise himself on. He may be worthless to his family, but he excelled in his studies.

He peered outside and saw that it had started to snow. Cold made bruises feel better. Anyway, it was better than staying in the house with only Loren.

Sneaking to the back door, he quietly opened it and raced out into the backyard. As he reached it, he heard a strange sound. He had heard it once before when Atina had taken the children to the zoo. What was the animal that had made it? A Gray Wolf?

Those creatures had seemed so sad in their cages. More beautiful than anything else he had seen, but sad. Their dispirited howls had shaken his very soul. It was almost as if he could sense their pain. Such guttural calls of despair and aching to be wild. How could anyone keep such a fascinating animal penned up?

But this one was free. So why was it here? Didnít it know it was dangerous to be so close to people? People feared it.

Feeling something pull him toward the faint howl, he hefted himself over the fence with great ease and followed the intangible tug into a small wooded area. He had seen it while driving by once and had always wondered what it would be like to explore. It was filled with all sorts of noises. Moaning winds that pounded against headstrong trees, incessant chattering of rowdy birds, sharp squeals descending from the squirrels on the tree limbs, and the gentle flowing of a private brook. Lifting his eyes to the brook, he spied the welcoming spheres of forest green that called to him from within. The spheres belonged to a noble black wolf that looked much larger than those of the zoo. It lapped at the brook silently, as its eyes seemed to gleam upon sight of him.

Dominic knew this was crazy. The wolf was thrice his size and could take him down in a heartbeat. He could see the pristine white fangs that rested in its jaw as the wolf yawned. But he wasnít afraid. That puzzled him. Why wasnít he afraid? Maybe he was so used to being hurt that it no longer frightened him. Or maybe he knew that the wolf was not here to hurt him. Just the mere vision of the creature filled him with a terrible longing. He wanted to be with it. It wanted him. He could feel its summons.

Heavy snow now decorated the ground and pillowed around his legs. It occurred to him that the temperature should have frozen the brook, yet the wolf was still able to drink from it. How strange. Moving to get a better look, he noticed that the water appeared to be bubbling as if it was being heated by something. But the only thing near it was the wolf.

The steaming water looked rather inviting in his current state. He could hear his teeth chattering and feel his arms stinging from the intense cold. The wolf also seemed to pick up on his dilemma and dashed away from the brook, drawing the excited child with it. He eagerly bounded after the dazzling beast, realizing only to late that it had led him back to his fence.

When he turned from the fence, the wolf had vanished. He was alone again. Alone and trapped until he was old enough to escape from this hellacious place. Heartsick, he stumbled back into the house and crept upstairs.

*~*~*~*~*~*

"A wolf like you?" mused Lucian, partially beginning to detest himself for forcing Dominic to remember such tragic moments.

Who would want to remember being beaten by the one person who was supposed to love him unconditionally? That was a pretty good reason for not wanting to talk. Yet, this wolf alluded to something else. In his journal, Dominic had written that his shape-shifting talents came from power given to him by Aiden. He had seemed like a very important person in Dominicís life. Perhaps, his influence held the key to Dominicís seclusion. This was worth investigating.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Comments: This is the first of the major flashback chapters. After the next chapter, there wonít be any other massive past recollections. But the flashback chapters are important in explaining what motivates two of the major characters. And Lorelei is done for the moment but she will be showing up again soon since she does know so much about the Guardians.

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