Maeve stiffened. Pity flooded over her as the girl who couldn't be much older than her stood there, eyes lowered to the ground as she awaited a command. She didn't react in the slightest to the sight of Maeve lying on the rug before the sofa on which Leo still sat.
"Shift," he commanded, and the girl obediently got down on her hands and knees - this must have been the position she was required to be in to change forms. She murmured something quietly and was at once enveloped in a glow the colour of the lighter stripers of her hair. Maeve was reminded of Perry's transformation from panther to vampire in the meadow the previous evening.
The glow faded and in Thalia's place was a Bengal tiger - a magnificent creature with striking fur, powerful-looking muscles and a symmetrical face - that radiated tangible body heat and occasionally flicked its wonderful long tail in the air.
Instinctive fear rose up in Maeve but faded as the tiger did nothing menacing or scary. Mave almost choked with emotion at the sense of semi-fulfilment from seeing a wild animal this close but also at the way it shouldn't be in a house where it was tamed by a stupid vampire. She even felt a slight pang for its supreme beauty. And she found herself developing a controversial opinion as she gazed at it. Perry and Leo weren't the superior beings in the room: Thalia was.
And Perry was about to pet her like a common housecat.
Fury that could not be suppressed overwhelmed Maeve and she sprang up from the rug, shouting "Don't touch her!"
To Leo, she said "I don't care what you do to me! Just don't be... this amazing girl's master. Tie me to a chair, make me cry out in pain - do whatever you will - but leave her alone."
She turned to the tigress as Leo slowly rose to his feet with a look of incredulity on his face.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so, so sorry."
The tigress was unresponsive.
Maeve turned back to Leo who was watching her with a furrowed brow like he didn't understand something.
"You're very odd, human," he told her. "I'd find you incomprehensible if I couldn't read your mind. And why aren't you afraid of me?"
He abruptly turned his head to face Perry.
"Have you been soft with her?" His tone was almost accusatory.
Perry shrugged nonchalantly.
"Perhaps a little. But she's felt witchfire. She knows that supernatural creatures can harm her. She's either ridiculously naïve and stupid, or she has a steel core of sheer willpower."
"Ah, humans can be like that sometimes," Leo said. "We just need to teach them who's boss. Engrave it into the very plaque of their souls. Only then will they learn."
Maeve's insides turned to ice.
Leo looked at her sympathetically, though still addressed Perry.
"It's a shame. It almost feels like she has..." he trailed off, regarding Maeve as if he expected the right word to appear on her face.
"A right to be left alone?" Perry suggested; the look on his face was strange and almost reminiscent of fascination.
Leo regarded him, frowning slightly.
"Potential. Oh well, if she can't accept the futility of resistance, ..."
"Wait," Maeve interrupted.
Leo stared at her, shocked.
Maeve ignored his expression and calmly said "If you want to enslave me, you should probably take me somewhere else. Perry doesn't like me subservient and you don't want him to interfere, I'm guessing?"
Leo's expression became confused and he looked at Perry again.
"What is she talking about? I can't do this without your consent and you don't want her causing trouble, do you?"
Perry looked uncomfortable.
"Don't you remember the challenge I told you I'd set myself?"
Leo frowned. "Vaguely. But surely that's no longer valid? I mean, she's trying to tell us what to do here."
Maeve folded her arms impatiently.
"Are you punishing me or what?"
"She's mad," Leo said, shaking his head in disbelief.
The tigress growled.
Leo looked alarmed. "Shut up, Thalia!"
The tigress fell silent.
Leo looked at Perry angrily.
"She's giving my girls ideas! Now tell me I can break her spirit or I'll bite you!"
Perry snarled. Maeve flinched at the inhuman, unnatural noise.
"I thought you respected the fact that she was mine."
"Perry," Leo said impatiently. "She's a human. There are over 6 billion in the world. This one is dangerous: she might show you your soul. She's already corrupted your mind. Is that you want? To have a heart and a conscience?"
The emphasis on the word ‘conscience' made it clear that Leo was disgusted by the concept. Maeve was appalled by this attitude to the force which practically governed her life because of her admiration of it.
"Are you suggesting I'm susceptible to the influence of the personality of a human?" Perry asked angrily.
"I'm trying to protect your reputation, Perry."
It was at this point that Maeve thought she had spent too much time spectating and not enough doing anything.
"So do it," she told Leo. "Forget Perry - like you said, there are tonnes more human girls on the planet. Enter my mind - or do whatever it is that you're supposed to do - and break my spirit."
"Sorry, Perry," Leo said shortly, and he reached out to touch Maeve's arm.
"No!" Perry yelled furiously and in a second he was standing behind Thalia and touching her fur.
"No!" Maeve cried, but the tigress got into the sphinx position like she and Perry had done in the Blue Meadow and she knew Perry had taken her pride and wildness away.
She sank to her knees, Leo letting go of her and a single tear rolled down her cheek, a solitary symbol of her sadness and anger towards the injustice of life and Perry's cruelty.
Leo averted his eyes to the ground in shame.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I ... I thought you'd gone soft."
Perry's eyes burned like a fire consuming a building.
"Well, you thought wrong then, didn't you?" To Maeve, he said "Come, we're going home."
Maeve wordlessly rose to her feet, unable to take her eyes off Thalia who Leo was now absently petting in a way any other tiger would have found humiliating, feeling betrayed and cold and drained of all energy.
She followed Perry out of the room, waited while he called Sabrina and drank her blood (also caressing her cheek, kissing her and telling her she was special), and let him take her back to her house.
Maeve acted as she had felt a few hours ago, when Perry had ruined her view of the world: subservient and weak. She was almost tired of fighting though this was a gesture of hatred towards Perry. He didn't seem to care this time. His expression was hard and cold like the surface of an iceberg.
This was testament to the futility of kindness. Perry had rescued Maeve from his younger brother and she hated him for it. How on earth did that work? He didn't even see why preserving some aspect of that shapeshifter's wildness mattered - if you resided with a vampire, you became a shell of who you used to be. And yet, it seemed to matter to Maeve that a tiger wasn't tamed. Perry wondered if it was perhaps similar to the way that he hated to see Maeve like this. And perhaps she had seen something of herself reflected in that teenage girl.
But even if that were the case, what could he have done? He had had to make a split-second decision: Thalia or Maeve. And seeing as Leo hadn't really cared what happened to the shapeshifter, Maeve had seemed the best one to save.
Maeve wasn't unscarred, though. Leo had left alone and apologised to Perry because taking Maeve's chance to sacrifice herself away had showed that Perry didn't want her standing up against acts of justice, showed the futility of resistance, showed - in short - his superiority in its purest form. This was why she was numbly letting him be in control - plus the fact that she had truly, deeply cared about Thalia's will. Perry knew that part of Maeve's obedience was an attempt to spite him - an attempt he had to confess was successful in annoying and upsetting him.
Maeve's conviction in the injustice of taming Thalia was so strong that even had Perry been to tell her "I did it for you", her response would have been "I'd rather have suffered at Leo's hands" or "I didn't want you to". She was that stubborn.
There was slight irony in the fact that she so intent on being good and kind to everyone else, she so compassionate in all her intentions and actions, had proved to Perry that niceness was useless. But Perry didn't care for irony - he only cared that Maeve returned to her usual, wilful self before she drove him quite insane.