The Jaguar was impressed by Faith's claws. If he hadn't been so sure of her betrayal, his temper might have thawed, soothed by her open emotionality. But that wasn't going to happen today. "Nikita Duncan is Council, our enemy. What were you doing consorting with her?" He understood what he'd heard, but he wanted to know if Faith would tell him the truth.
Her mouth thinned. "This is the second visit I've had from a Councilor. Shoshanna Scott was the first."
"That doesn't answer my question." Anger was a fine tremor over his skin, his muscles held in savage check. He'd never physically hurt her, but damn he was mad.
"If you'd listen instead of just threatening to go jaguar on me, I'd tell you. Do you realize your eyes have gone completely cat?" She shook her head. "Nikita was here for the same reason as Shoshanna. I've been nominated to fill Santano Enrique's position on the Council."
Vaughn curled his hands into fists so tight, his bones protested. "Enrique was a piece of Psy garbage. And you want to take his place?"
Faith jerked at the verbal slap. "What do you know about Councilor Enrique?"
"Ask your f**king precious Council." Eyes no longer even partially human, he stared at her, daring her to continue.
Lines of conditioning already stretched to the limit by her earlier vision snapped with an audible mental sound. She was angry. Really, truly angry. Angry enough not to care about maintaining the appearance of Psy normality. The only thing driving her to keep her voice to a harsh whisper was her awareness of the guards.
"Yes," she hissed. "They are my f**king precious Council, the leaders of my race. How would you feel if I asked you to cut Lucas's throat simply because he didn't behave according to the rules I said were the right ones?"
"Lucas doesn't hide murderers from his own people."
"Neither does the Council." It was an instinctive reaction. The Psy were her people for better or for worse. She refused to withdraw her loyalty so easily.
"Bullshit." Vaughn leaned forward and, in spite of how infuriated he'd made her, she hoped for his touch. But he kept his hands to himself. "The killer you see in your visions is Psy and there are lots of others exactly like him."
She shook her head. "Serial killers are always human or changeling."
"Why the hell would you be having visions about races you've never come into any real contact with?" He was the one who shook his head this time, a violent movement reminiscent of the jaguar, not the man. "Christ, baby, listen to yourself - this bastard is supposed to be a vision, but he holds you prisoner. No human or changeling would have that ability."
The endearment was rough, almost a growl, and it broke her. Because he was making too much sense. "It can't be true. Silence ended violence."
"Yeah, and your sister's still alive."
She slapped him. Hard. The second it was done, her whole body began to tremble. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She stared at the white mark on his face, now filling with blood. "Oh, God." This was her ultimate nightmare come to life. "I thought my inner protections were holding, but I must've been wrong - I must be close to a total psychic and mental breakdown." Insanity by any other name.
"Shit." He cupped her face, his hands gentle. "There's nothing wrong with you. I went way over the line. You had a right to do more than slap me."
She put her hands over his. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she repeated, frantically attempting to locate the fissures in her mind and coming up blank. "I've never hit anyone. I didn't even know I could - why did I hit you?"
"Because Marine was your sister and I had no right to use that loss against you." He dropped his head until their foreheads touched. "I'm the one who should be apologizing. Don't look like that, Red. If you were a cat, you'd probably have gone for my face with your claws."
She shook her head at the savage image. "That can't be true."
"We're not human," he said slowly. "We play by different rules and we're never going to act civilized when in the grip of passion, good or bad. That's when the animal is at its strongest, most powerful."
Faith wondered if she was imagining the underlying warning... the underlying invitation. "But I'm not changeling. I don't hit people."
"Human women have been slapping men for being bastards for centuries. You were doing what comes naturally."
"Not for a Psy."
"Faith, Silence isn't normal. It's an imposition. What you are without it is normal." His head snapped up. "Someone's heading this way."
She felt the brash of a guard's mind hit her peripheral shields. "Go," she whispered. "Go!" Her fear for him was greater than any other emotion.
"Tell me something first - are you going to accept the offer?"
She knew what he wanted her to say, but she couldn't lie to him. "I don't know."
"Decide. You can't live in both worlds."
Then he was gone, a blur within the treetops. Rising, she headed toward the house and away from the approaching guard. She was afraid of what her eyes might reveal. Because for the first time in her life, the night sky within was starting to show something other than the endless Silence of a perfect cardinal; it was starting to show vulnerability.
She could still pass for normal, could still live in her world, but she was changing. That change had to be either embraced without reservation or irrevocably erased from her psyche. There was no middle ground. If she became Council, she couldn't expect the changelings to remain her friends, couldn't expect Vaughn to visit her, hold her, awaken her.