Her teeth accidentally grazed his lower lip and the growl that came from him poured into her mouth. She froze. That was when sharp teeth caught her lower lip and bit down in a way that whispered temptation. Something low and deep in her burned and the conflagration of her mind was joined by the shuddering heat of her body.
Her stomach tautened, sweat glimmered over her skin, and somehow her hands were clenched in Vaughn's hair, his scalp under her fingertips. Heat and touch, desire and need, power and fury, it all thrust into her in a brutal wave that tore away her innermost shields. Suddenly the pleasure was pain and the pain edged her vision with ebony.
Vaughn felt it the second Faith broke. Claws long since retracted, he pulled back from the kiss because she seemed unable to do so. "Faith."
Breathing ragged, she opened eyes gone the bad kind of black. "It's taking me under." The words were a statement of the inevitable.
Rage threatened to shatter his newfound control. "No, it's not." Getting up off the floor, he watched her rearrange herself to lie on her side in the center of the bed. Her eyes tracked his every movement. "Did I help you?"
"Yes." He licked the taste of her off his lips.
"At least I'm strong enough to do that."
"You're strong enough to get past all of it. You've gone from being unable to bear anything to accepting and giving a kiss in a very short period." He climbed back onto the bed. And though it went against every one of his instincts, he left enough distance between them so as not to overwhelm her.
"I wish I were strong enough to do more ... be more." Her voice was a whisper, but the cat was sure he heard an undertone of cold rage. Good.
"You see the future, Faith. That makes you extraordinary."
She moved an inch closer, surprising him. "Don't go until I wake. I'm concerned the dark visions will come again and my shields are currently fragmented."
In other words, she was scared. And if she could feel fear, then she could experience pleasure. "When have I ever given you any indication that I'd leave you even if you asked?"
"Will you wait for me the night after tomorrow? I know I said five days but the visions are accelerating too fast. I think I can work it out so no one will miss me."
"Be careful." Her PsyClan was too powerful not to be connected. One hint of suspicion about the clan's prized asset and the Council would put Faith under complete lock-down from which it'd be far bloodier to extract her. He didn't mind blood, but he did mind that she might be caught in the crossfire. "Sleep, Red. I've got you."
Her eyes closed and soon afterward, he felt the fear coating her fade away. While she slept, he stood watch. Perhaps the Psy would've said he could do her no good on the physical plane when she was a psychic being, but twice now he'd seen and smelled the ugly reality of the menace that had held her captive. Instinct said that if he could keep that darkness from her, he'd keep her safe.
He didn't leave her until dawn broke and her eyes opened.
Faith woke just in time to see Vaughn pulling himself through the skylight. He was so agile, so strong, and so exotic that she couldn't help being fascinated.
"What are you doing to me?" she whispered long after he'd gone.
Last night, she'd fragmented, broken conditioning and felt. But it had come at a high cost - her mind had literally stopped as she'd slipped into sleep. And there had been pain, such excruciating pain. She hadn't let Vaughn see the extent of it, somehow knowing that her pain would hurt him. But now she allowed herself to remember the agony, remember the cold emptiness of her mind shutting down section by section.
She'd been reacting to the changelings ever since she'd met them, reacting to Vaughn. Not only had she let them push her into feeling, she'd begun to consider the possibility of breaking Silence. Today she knew differently. The blocks couldn't be so easily bypassed. Yes, she'd somehow skirted the upper levels of prohibition, been able to bear some touch, experience some emotion. But the second she'd tried to go deeper, she'd been punished with vicious swiftness.
It was now starkly clear to her that of course pain had to have been built into the conditioning for it to hold. It was a classic Pavlovian technique - pain for "bad" behavior, rewards for good. As an adult she could reason out the method, but as a child she would've been vulnerable to an extent that was unimaginable.
All they would've had to do was hurt her enough times for "inappropriate" behavior that she shied away from the pain and complied with their demands. It was also certain that the focalized pain wasn't the sole method used to ensure compliance. However, she'd guess it to be one of the major components of the behavior modification section of the Protocol.
Did her knowledge of the underlying basis of conditioning mean she might be able to break it? The harder question was, did she want to? Last night, she'd said she wished to be more than the woman she was. But to become that woman, she'd have to give up everything she'd ever known, turn her back on her whole world. She'd have to abandon her father, her PsyClan, her very people.
And all she'd gain would be a life on the outside with a race so completely unlike her own. She had no idea how to deal with them, a race that considered her an abomination against nature. No, she thought, that wasn't completely fair. Vaughn didn't seem to think her an unfeeling machine. But even he wanted her to change, to not be what she was, to shatter Silence and live a different life.
But giving up her identity as Faith NightStar, Cardinal F-Psy and linchpin asset of the NightStar Group, was no easy choice.
Vaughn catnapped on the high branches of a tree for a few hours before relieving Mercy of her watch. When he saw her waiting dressed in human form, he realized she wanted to talk. Shifting, he caught the pants she threw him and pulled them on. "What is it?"