He nipped at her neck. "Stop thinking."
"Too late." She turned in his arms and wrapped her own around his torso. He was so beautiful, so deliciously male that it kept surprising her. Her self-restraint where he was concerned was close to zero. But in spite of her lack of impulse control, her mind remained sane.
"I think we're clean enough." His hands were big and warm on her skin. "Come on."
She followed him out onto the drying platform and let him rub her down with a huge fluffy towel. "Silk sheets and plush towels," she said with a sigh, unaccustomed to such hedonistic pleasures. "You like comfort."
"I'm a cat. Soft silky things make me purr." He nipped at the vulnerable skin of her thigh and smiled at her shudder. "Sometimes, though, they make me want to bite." Rising from his kneeling position to tuck the towel around her body, he caught her rusty attempt at a smile.
"What?" One eyebrow rose.
She shook her head. "You're a pu**ycat."
Nothing could have prepared her for the blush that streaked across his cheekbones. Grabbing a towel, he began to dry himself, but the full-bodied grin across his face was so gorgeous and rare that she stared. "Yeah, well, you sucked all the meanness right out of me."
She found her own smile growing wider, an unfamiliar action that was suddenly natural. "How long will this transformation last?"
"Until I get hungry for you again." He wrapped the towel around his hips. "Which could be anytime soon."
His delectably slow kiss was welcome. "You're insatiable."
"Just for you." He tapped his finger on her nose and the gesture was so silly, so tender, so unbelievably heartbreaking.
"Why don't you smile more?" She liked his smile, liked seeing such uncomplicated happiness on his face.
"Never had much to smile about."
Looking into that smile, Faith gave up her last hazy dream of somehow returning to the only world she'd ever known. "I'm never going back."
The smile faded and something darker whispered into his eyes, something wild and savagely possessive. "Good. Because I wasn't planning on letting you go."
She laughed and it was the first time in her life she hadn't been afraid. Silence had numbed her, but what she finally understood was that it was a numbness caused by fear. Her race was so afraid of their own talents, their own unique minds, they'd crippled themselves. But she was no longer in bondage.
Throwing her arms around Vaughn's neck, she let him pick her up and spin her around in a circle. They'd talk about his stubbornness, his liking for getting his own way, but not now. Not in this perfect moment.
Perhaps her newfound happiness was why she made the mistake, why she forgot that there were things hunting her that didn't live on the PsyNet, things that had direct access to her mind. She went to sleep in Vaughn's arms, but woke to find herself in the grip of malignant darkness. She knew she could move, could alert Vaughn, and he'd probably be able to bring her out of it.
But with the fire of Vaughn's chest pressed to her back, she knew where she was, when she was. Her shields against the visions might've burned out, but her emotions were wide awake. And though those emotional muscles were unfamiliar, she was confident she could use them if the need arose - they were as natural a part of her as Silence had been unnatural. It would be hard, but not impossible to break out of this vision.
Decision made, she let the vision sweep her under in an ebony wave of malevolence, let it swirl around her, let it show her.
Vaughn knew Faith was having a vision. Beneath closed eyelids, he could see her eyes flickering in rapid movements that were not those of deep sleep. He'd awakened when the cat had sensed a change in the rhythm of her heart rate. Now her scent, too, changed.
There was something not quite right about it, a sick miasma that made it seem as if she'd been infected by something vile. The beast raged to tear her from the grip of the vision, but Vaughn forced himself to think. Maybe Faith didn't want it to stop - he'd thought she'd been awake and aware when it started. Able to make a choice.
He never wanted to stifle her gift as Silence had, but fighting the beast was hard, especially when the man had the same protective instincts. The urge to shake her awake intensified when he glimpsed the hovering edges of a physical darkness above her. It couldn't get in, but circled like a vulture just waiting for a vulnerable spot.
Growling low in his throat, he held Faith closer. But ironically the sight also calmed him - it hadn't fully clawed into Faith, which meant she could break out on her own. If he made the decision for her, he might steal from her a chance to avenge her sister's death. And the need for vengeance was something both parts of his self understood.
"I'm here," he whispered in her ear. Then he settled down to keep watch over her and hold back the darkness. It didn't matter that a psychic phenomenon should have had no physical form. He knew it existed, he saw it. And he would not let it touch Faith.
Even in the depths of the vision, Faith was aware of Vaughn beside her, a wall of pure fire between her and the ugly menace that awaited. That was unusual enough to have broken her concentration had she not already made the decision to complete this. The darkness would never again steal a life.
Even if Faith had to end his.
The vision began to change from the unclear mix of emotion that had first roiled around her, the curtains of darkness parting to once again show her the face of the woman he meant to kill. The scene was clean - part of the stalk, not the kill - which left her free to concentrate on details that might identify the target rather than battling her own fear responses. By the time the vision faded, she thought she had what she needed. She was about to pull out when she felt a tug that signaled more was to come.