Calm from the lack of brutality in the opening scenes, she let the next phase roll over her. Blood dripped down pale green walls, soaked into the slightly darker carpet, splattered the comm console. A charnel house she could smell - hints of putrid death hidden in the iron-rich taint of blood. Revolted, she could do nothing as he walked farther into the room, placing his feet in the dark red liquid that had once run in a living being's veins. The blood in the bathroom had had nothing to soak into. His feet slapped into it with a splash.
Her mind shuddered under the overload. The carnage, the smell, the sporadic flashes of backsight that had her hearing screams of such terror that her bones chilled, it all smashed into her with the force of a truck going a hundred miles an hour. That was when she realized she hadn't survived the sexual heat with Vaughn.
The earlier cascade had fractured her mind on the deepest level. It had no ability to withstand the fury of this blood-soaked vision. She felt herself start to cascade again but this time, it was nothing survivable - the Cassandra Spiral. A silent scream tore free from her psyche. The Cassandra Spiral was the worst grade of cascade, turning victims into mute vegetables without reason or sentience.
No one survived without rapid M-Psy intervention.
But there were no M-Psy here and she was drowning, sinking so fast that soon she wouldn't be able to breathe. The blood was creeping up her body, coating her feet, her legs. . . .
It was a shout from a section of her mind she'd never before seen. Stubborn and rebellious, it slapped her back to her senses and told her to pull out. Now! If she didn't, the Council, the M-Psy, the PsyClan, they all won.
The violence worked. Her mind's eye watering with the strength of the emotional slap, she shook off her panic and began to find reason again. She refused to let them win, refused to have Vaughn feel that he'd taken a weak woman as his lover, someone who'd constantly need rescue.
Layered in determination born out of a lifetime of withheld rage, she threw a solid psychic block across the cascade. The Cassandra Spiral wasn't so easily escaped. It shoved at the block with such force that the wall bulged outward. But it didn't break - she had an excruciatingly small window before the avalanche hit. Not allowing herself to focus on that, she began to repair the cracks that had led to the cascade in the first place.
The work was hard.
Very, very hard.
Her mind felt as if it was caught in a vise. Only her unpolished, ungovernable emotional reaction, her fury at the darkness, and her hunger for vengeance kept her going. That and the need she had to make Vaughn proud of her, to be a woman worthy of a jaguar. Without that wild cauldron of emotional fire, she would've been crippled as she had been for so many years, dependent on others to pull her out.
However, none of her previous cascades - triggered by strong business visions - had ever been this severe. Never had she even touched the periphery of a Cassandra Spiral. A trial by fire, it threatened to engulf her in flames of poison, but Faith had no intention of being burned.
She worked with single-minded determination, and as each fracture healed, the psychic block bulged a little less. Oddly, it was her training for commercial forecasts that came to her aid at a critical moment, when exhaustion was starting to dull her mental muscles and she was in danger of making a fatal error. She fell back on the trick of locking her neurons into certain repeating patterns, a step by mechanical step use of her mind that required no conscious thought.
Leaving that pattern to repair the "easy" fractures, she focused her thinking self on fixing the almost invisible breaks in her innermost core. The next time she looked up, it was after she'd successfully rebuilt the core. The surface of her mind was peaceful, the darkness banished, the cascade subjugated. Tired but triumphant, she took a step back from the psychic plane and opened her eyes. She discovered herself cradled tight against Vaughn, the arms wrapped around her front pure immovable muscle.
"You were in trouble." A rough accusation. "I could smell it."
She tilted her head to look up at him. "I got myself out."
His eyes were jaguar, but he wasn't completely gone. "I knew you could." Shifting to lie flat on his back, he curved one hand over her bottom as she rearranged herself to lean up against his chest.
"Why didn't you break it?"
"You knew what you were doing."
Vaughn, she realized, would never let her shortchange herself. He'd always demand that she be all the woman she could be, even if that woman promised to make life more difficult for him. A stark contrast to the people she'd called family for so long.
Heart aching in an inexplicable way, she ran her palm over a jaw roughened by stubble. "Vaughn, when my mind was pure quiet at the end, I saw something." Something so impossible that she wasn't quite ready to believe. And yet...
"What?" His hand smoothed up her spine and little slivers of lightning danced through her bloodstream, sparked in her mind.
"Another bond." She slid her hand down to lie against his shoulder. "Technically similar to the PsyNet link, but different in every other way. It's wild. Like you." Though she was no changeling to scent things, that bond had held Vaughn's mental scent, a scent as familiar to her as her own, though she had no recollection of ever being in his mind. "What is it?"
"It ties you to me. Forever," he said, his tone absolute. "You're my mate."
"Mate," she whispered, considering everything she knew about changeling society, which wasn't much. "Like Sascha and Lucas?"
She could barely breathe. "Really?"