His finger trailed down her cheek. "You have bruises under your eyes - I should've let you sleep."
"No. We need to talk."
He broke the skin-to-skin contact and rose fluidly to sit on the bed. Following, she sat up to face him. "I've been thinking about what you want, about the choice you want me to make, but the fact is I have to live in this world. If I cut the Net link, I die."
"You once asked me if I could do for you what Lucas does for Sascha. The answer is yes."
Every certainty shattered. "How?"
"Make your choice and then ask. I can't risk trusting you with that information while you're hooked up to the Net."
"Because of Sascha." An emotion she recognized as jealousy dug its claws into Faith.
"Because of every Psy who might one day need the knowledge."
"You're asking me to make a decision about my whole future, my life, based on your belief that you can get me out. What if you're wrong?"
"I'm not wrong." His words held the assurance of a predatory male used to having his way.
"How do you know?
He touched her again, a quick, shocking graze of his lips against hers. "Because you're already out - the only thing you have to do is open your eyes and see."
"Vaughn." It was a whisper that held her need, her frustration, her desperation.
"Always." His breath was hot on the shell of her ear.
She shook her head in reproach. "Not if I choose to continue living the life I'm good at living."
Something twisted in those not quite human eyes. "Even then, Faith. Even then. If you call for me, I'll come."
And it would break him apart, destroy his sense of honor and loyalty ... because he'd be sleeping with the enemy. But she had to make him see why this was such a difficult choice for her. "These are my people, my version of Pack, and I'm tied to them by so many bonds. They may not love me in the sense DarkRiver loves you, but my PsyClan needs me.
"If I leave, a hundred jobs directly connected to me will go, from the guards to the M-Psy. But it's the ripple effects that'll really devastate. Money will stop flowing into the PsyClan. Schools won't be affordable, research will be stopped, children will be pulled from mental enrichment programs when it might be those very programs that allow some of us to fight Silence."
"You're talking about loyalty." His voice was uncharacteristically toneless, but she could feel the coiled intensity of his beast as if it were a third being between them.
"Maybe it's not your kind of loyalty, but it is loyalty."
"You're right," he said, surprising her. "But, baby, loyalty has to be earned and honored. Your PsyClan will one day lock you up in a mental institution and call it care."
She knew he hadn't said that to be cruel. Her jaguar was merely using every weapon in his arsenal. "Maybe they won't," she said, silently pleading with him to lie to her, to make this easy. "If you and Sascha are right, then I won't go insane if I embrace my true abilities, if I accept that the darkness will come for me at times."
He shook his head. "What happens the first time you see a vision of murder and realize you're part of the body that's going to authorize it?"
A shadowy realization took form in her mind, but faded away before she could grasp it. "Why would the Council - ?"
"Sascha calls them anchors. Apparently your PsyNet needs them, but for some reason they're the ones most likely to fall victim to one of the lesser-known side effects of Silence - murderous sociopathy."
"You're saying the Council feeds their need to kill." Her heart was a rock crushing her chest from the inside out.
"We know they do." His eyes had gone night-glow, beautiful and wild.
She didn't doubt him - Vaughn was too much animal to lie. "Why?" Why would they continue to support the Protocol if it had proven so fundamentally flawed?
"Because they can." A cruelly honest answer.
And one she couldn't hide from. The Council had been the Psy race's absolute law for over a hundred years. Before Silence, rebellion and dispute had apparently spouted freely in the Net, keeping their rulers in check. Now no one dared to speak and no one kept watch. "Say you're right about everything. Can you imagine how much good I could do from the inside? I could work for the freedom of my race from a position of real power."
"And if you cut free, you might sow the seeds of a revolution so your people, your pack, could fight for themselves."
"They'll never let me go."
"No one could stop me from getting you out if you said yes." Say it, his eyes urged, say yes.
Faith fought the need inside of her that wanted to obey, a hungry, desperate, painful thing. "I need to think. Just let me think."
She hated that the darkness had reduced her to this, to a cowering creature afraid to close her own eyes. "Yes." No more, she thought, furious. No more.
"Always, Faith. Always."
She watched him leave via the skylight. He remained in human form, but was no less graceful, no less magnificent. The play of muscle under his skin was pure beauty, enticing, coaxing, seducing. Her fingers uncurled without her conscious knowledge and she reached for him.
But he was already gone.
Faith had barely gotten dressed the next day when she felt a polite but firm telepathic page. Her eyes widened. The touch was unfamiliar and only one group of individuals had the right to contact anyone they wished in this manner. This is Faith NightStar.
Your presence is requested in the Council chambers. Authentication documents have been sent to your personal inbox.