"Don't believe everything you've been told, Faith."
It was the first time he'd said her name and he made it sound interesting, as if it were more than a useful tag to call her by, made it sound ... She didn't know to describe it, but she knew it was something she'd never before heard.
"The Psy Council is expert at spinning lies to further their own ends."
She stood without warning and headed for the door, her steps unsteady but determined. "I need to breathe." Walking out into the night, she grabbed the railing around the porch and took several gulps of cold night air.
It was no surprise to feel Vaughn's heat beside her a bare second later. He leaned his back against the railing so he could look at her. When he raised a hand, she shook her head. "Please, don't."
He paused. "You're stronger than this."
"No, I'm not. If I were strong, I would've faced those visions instead of running from them and my sister would still be alive." There, it was out, the truth she'd been hiding from since the moment her father had told her about Marine. "If I were strong, I would've understood what it was that I was seeing." She stared into the darkness of the forest, a darkness that was a gift and not a curse.
"I've seen things since I was a child. Benign, useful things. I see when the market's going to go up or down. I see if a new invention is going to catch on so businesses can invest money at the outset. I see if a start-up venture has the potential to succeed." Her hands clenched on the wood of the railing and she felt a sense of chaos beating at the back of her mind, a threat from within her own psyche. That was how the madness began - with the inability to control physical reactions. "I don't see death and blood. I don't see murder."
"F-Psy used to." Vaughn's voice was a deep purr that rubbed against her insides in a way that was disturbingly intimate. "They used to see disasters and murders, pain and horror."
She finally looked at him. "No wonder they went mad."
"Only some of them."
But these days, all F-Psy eventually faced that fate. She saw what he was trying to say, but couldn't accept it. Too much. It was far too much. "I need time to assimilate everything."
She expected him to push her as he'd been pushing her since the instant they'd met. But he nodded. "Go on." He jerked his head toward the door. "Sascha's making up a bed for you in one of the rooms."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Sascha and Lucas - how?" She couldn't fathom how a cardinal Psy could've survived the severance of the Net link, much less entered the changeling world.
Vaughn's face underwent a subtle shift. "Do you see this?" He lifted his right arm and she saw the tattoo on his biceps for the first time. Three jagged slashing lines, they were reminiscent of the markings on Lucas's face. "I'm a sentinel. My loyalty is to Sascha and Lucas. And you might yet be a threat."
She wondered why that caused an odd sensation in her chest. "You really would kill me if necessary."
"Yes." Those cat eyes seemed to glow in the darkness. "So play nice."
"I don't know how to play." She couldn't ever remember doing such a thing. "I've been working since I could form any kind of understandable sentence."
Vaughn's beast scratched at the walls of his mind, wanting a closer sniff of Faith, as she walked past him and into the cabin. He leashed the cat this time. Faith was hanging on by the thinnest of threads. He had no desire to push her over the edge and snap that thread completely.
Because the truth was, he wasn't certain he could kill her without hesitation. And that made him wary. Psy weren't all gentle and empathic like Sascha. Some of them were coldblooded killers. DarkRiver knew that too well - they'd lost a young female named Kylie to a Psy serial killer less than a year ago and their blood allies, the SnowDancer wolves, had almost lost a female of their own.
Brenna, the SnowDancer who'd been kidnapped and tortured, remained deeply damaged despite everything Sascha and the healers had done to help her. Vaughn could guess why - as one of the hunters who had tracked down and executed the killer, he'd seen the face of the evil that had touched her, knew exactly what kind of atrocities the Psy were capable of committing.
Faith could turn out to be nothing like she seemed. Until they knew for sure, Vaughn had to distrust his reactions around her. While it was true that Psy generally had difficulty manipulating changeling minds, Sascha was proof that nothing was impossible. And notwithstanding the training he'd received from his alpha's mate, he wasn't Psy, while Faith was a cardinal.
Following his quarry into the house, he watched her and Sascha meet in the middle of the living room. His hand rose to rub over the tattoo on his arm - his loyalty to DarkRiver stemmed from an act of the most cruel betrayal and was set in stone.
It was the leopards who'd come to his aid at a time when he'd lost everyone and everything that mattered. And it was Lucas who'd extended the hand of friendship that had brought him back from the savage edge of an all-consuming rage. He'd lay his life down for his alpha and until this moment, nothing and no one had ever threatened to shift the intensity of that focus. That Faith was doing so after only a few hours made him more than suspicious of the reality of his response.
Faith fell asleep seconds after her head hit the pillow, body and mind both worn out. But that didn't stop the visions. Nothing ever stopped them when they were determined to find her.
Darkness brushed her consciousness. Her heartbeat accelerated. She recognized this darkness. It wasn't friendly, wasn't something she wanted to see. But it wanted her to watch. There was a twisted pleasure in it, pleasure she understood because it wasn't her own but generated by the darkness. During these visions, she was the darkness and if she'd felt fear, that fact would've terrified her. But of course she wasn't scared - she was a product of Silence.